SEPANG, July 18 — Malaysia Airlines’ (MAS) Flight MH17 was flying through an unrestricted and “safe” airspace, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said tonight, hours after the Boeing 777 jetliner went down in the conflict-ridden eastern Ukraine, purportedly after it was shot by Russian rebels.
“The aircraft’s flight route was declared safe by the International Civil Aviation Organisation,” said Najib at an emergency press conference held at the Sama-Sama Hotel here.
Najib pointed out that the International Air Transportation Association also verified that that the airspace the aircraft was traversing was not subject to restrictions.
The prime minister, who was debriefed by MAS at 1.30am, disclosed that the national carrier did not receive a distress call from the Boeing 777-200 aircraft.
Flight MH17 departed Amsterdam at 12.15pm yesterday and it was scheduled to land at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) 6.10am.
MAS said air traffic controllers lost contact with MH17 as it flew over eastern Ukraine towards the Russian border, bound for Asia with 280 passengers and 15 crew aboard.
According Dutch news reports of the the 280 passengers 154 are Dutch, 23 Malaysians, 27 Australians, six British, four Belgians, four Germans, 11 Indonesians, three Filipinos, one Canadian, while nationalities of 47 others is still unclear.
He added that the Malaysian government is preparing to dispatch a “special flight to Kiev” in Ukraine to transport a special disaster assistance and rescue team, as well as a medical unit.
“As we work to understand what happened, our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of those onboard the flight.
“I cannot imagine what they must be going through at this painful time,” said Najib.
“This is a tragic day, in what has already been a tragic year, for Malaysia,” he added.
In March, MAS’ Flight MH370 enroute to Beijing from KLIA mysteriously Vanished from civilian radars with 239 passengers and crew abroad.
No physical trace of the aircraft has been found in what has become largest international search mission the world has seen in the history of modern aviation disasters.
The Boeing 777 jet is believed to have been veered from its Beijing-bound flight path and flew in the opposite direction towards the wild waters of the southern Indian Ocean.