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MH17 death toll revised to 298

Authorities confirmed a total of 298 people died after flight MH17 was apparently shot down in Ukraine.

Firefighters extinguish a fire, on 17 July, 2014, amongst the wreckages of the Malaysian Airliner carrying 298 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur after it crashed, near the town of Shaktarsk, in rebel-held east Ukraine. Picture: AFP

JOHANNESBURG - Authorities on Friday morning confirmed a total of 298 people died after a passenger plane crashed in Eastern Ukraine.

The plane was apparently shot down on Thursday evening.

Reports claim close to 100 passengers on board Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur were en route to attend the 20th International Aids Conference taking place in Melbourne.

The @iasociety update on statement on Malaysian Flight #MH17 http://t.co/U09snSmsnk

The flight was travelling at an altitude of 33,000 feet when contact was lost.

The Ukrainian interior ministry says the Boeing 777 was brought down by a BUK M1 surface-to-air-missile.

It's still unclear who fired the missile which was suspected to have been launched close to the Russia-Ukraine border.

#MalaysiaPlane #MalaysiaAirlines have revised the death toll from flight #MH17 to 298. pic.twitter.com/z5rIx5knez

The victims include 154 Dutch citizens, 45 Malaysians, 27 Australians and 12 Indonesians.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak says his country has been dispatched to Kiev to investigate what happened.

"The government of Malaysia is dispatching a special flight to Kiev carrying a special Malaysian disaster assistance and rescue team as well as a medical team."

Reaction has been swift with US president Barack Obama calling for an urgent investigation without interference.

He says it's a terrible tragedy and the US will offer any necessary assistance to help uncover what happened and why.

"I have directed my National Security team to stay in close contact with the Ukrainian government. The US will offer any assistance we can. As a country, our thoughts and prayers are with the passengers of the flight and the place they call home."

"We offer our deep condolences to all those who lost loved ones on board." - @PressSec on #MH17: pic.twitter.com/LN4gNIXfZh

Questions are now being asked about how difficult it would be to bring down a Boeing 777.

US weapons specialist Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona says Russia's basic air missiles would have been capable of shooting down the flight.

"The Russian government has had this capability for decades. This would either have to be something that was carried on a truck or something in a fixed position. The Russians have the capability to do this. All of their infiltrating units carry this capability as part of the standard operating kit that they carry."

Malaysia Airlines is still reeling from the loss of flight MH370 in March which disappeared with 239 people on board.

Russia, meanwhile has placed the blame on pro-Moscow militants, saying the group fired a long-range, Soviet-era BUK M1 surface-to-air missile.

This may crank up global pressure that can fuel a new Cold War.

Leaders of the rebel Donetsk People's Republic denied any involvement and said a Ukrainian air force jet had brought down the intercontinental flight.

But separatists have said that they took control of such a missile system last month and had used it to shoot down a Ukrainian military transport plane that was destroyed on Monday.