Flight MH17 pushed back from the gate at 11.14 a.m. BST, 14 minutes behind schedule, and took off at 11.30 a.m. for a flight that was scheduled to land at 10.50 p.m. A local plane spotter, Fred Neeleman, photographed the aircraft as it took off, as did another man, Tom Warners.
For the next 110 minutes, the flight was entirely uneventful. With a complement of 280 passengers and 15 crew, MH17 made its way over Germany, Poland and Ukraine, reaching its cruising altitude of 33,000 feet and flying straight and level, but at 1.21 p.m. radar contact was suddenly lost.
On the ground, Igor Strelkov – also known as Igor Girkin – the leader of the pro-Russian separatists fighting the Ukrainian government forces for control of eastern Ukraine, used his page on the social networking site Vkontakte to boast that his men had just shot down an aircraft. In a message posted at 2.50 p.m. BST, he wrote: “In the district of Torez an An-26 was just shot down. It crashed somewhere near the Progress mine.
“We warned them not to fly in ‘our skies.’ Here is video confirmation of the latest ‘fallen bird.’ The bird landed outside the residential zone, no peaceful civilians were injured.”