Shortly before reports surfaced that a Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 had crashed in eastern Ukraine, a social media site purported to belong to a separatist leader claimed that insurgents had shot down an aircraft.
In a post on VKontakte, Russia's largest social media site, which has since been taken down, separatist leader Igor Girkin, aka Strelkov, wrote: "In the vicinity of Torez, we just downed a plane, an AN-26. It is lying somewhere in the Progress Mine. We have issued warnings not to fly in our airspace. We have video confirming. The bird fell on a waste heap. Residential areas were not hit. Civilians were not injured."
The AN-26 is a Soviet-built twin-engine transport plane used by the Ukrainian military. Torez is a small city of 80,000 located some 40 kilometers east of Donetsk. Included in the post were two videos that showed a rising plume of black smoke in the distance.
The claim was posted at 5:50 pm Moscow time, shortly before reports surfaced that the Malaysian civilian aircraft, on a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, had crashed in eastern Ukraine in the same area near the Russian border.
A Ukrainian Interior Ministry adviser, Anton Herashchenko, claimed the plane had been shot down by a ground-to-air missile.
Andrei Purgin, the self-styled first vice premier of the unrecognized Donetsk People's Republic, told Interfax the separatists do not have weapons that could shoot down a plane flying at an altitude of 10,000 meters.
Both Ukrainian and Russian authorities have denied shooting down the Malaysian passenger aircraft.