(CNN) — A Malaysia Airlines passenger jet crashed in eastern Ukraine on Thursday, prompting swift accusations from Ukrainian officials that “terrorists” shot down the aircraft.
The Boeing 777 carrying 295 people went down near the town of Torez in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, according to a Facebook post from a top Ukrainian official, as it flew at about 10,000 meters (nearly 33,000 feet) on the way from Amsterdam to Malaysia.
Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, said in a Facebook post that “terrorists” fired on the plane operating a Buk surface-to-air missile system.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko described the crash as a “terrorist action.”
“We do not exclude that the plane was shot down and confirm that the Ukraine Armed Forces did not fire at any targets in the sky,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said, according to his website.
The crash sent emergency crews scrambling to what witnesses described as a staggering scene.
“People said the plane kind of exploded in the air, and that everything rained down in bits and pieces, the plane itself, the people inside,” said Noah Sneider, an American freelance journalist who interviewed witnesses at the scene.
Now, charred wreckage stretches for kilometers, he said. Stunned rescue workers and rebel fighters are combing the area, Sneider said, planting sticks with white cotton ribbons where they find bodies in the fields.
“As you walk through the fields, you see a man with his cracked iPhone sticking out of his pocket. You see sort of people’s clothing everywhere. Most of it’s kind of ripped off by the air. There’s some suitcases and stuff in a pile by the road,” Sneider said.
There are many bodies left to be found, he said, but night is falling, and people are trying to figure out what to do next.
Locals in the rural area trying to help were overwhelmed, he said. Firemen who rushed to put out the flames found they had a hose with holes in it, spraying water everywhere, he said.
“One man said to me, ‘Nothing’s happened in this village for 30 years, and now this,'” Sneider said.