Last updated Wednesday, May 25, 2016 03:03pm

Friday July 18, 2014
08:56 PM GMT+8

UPDATED:
July 18, 2014
09:32 PM GMT+8

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Flowers lie on debris from the MH17 plane near the village of Rozsypne, in the Donetsk region July 18, 2014. — Reuters picFlowers lie on debris from the MH17 plane near the village of Rozsypne, in the Donetsk region July 18, 2014. — Reuters picKUALA LUMPUR, July 18 — Malaysia Airlines (MAS) said tonight that it was told to fly low over Ukrainian airspace by ground controllers, putting it at 33,000 feet, just skimming 1,000 feet above restricted altitude.

In a statement here, MAS explained that MH17 had initially filed a flight plan requesting to fly at 35,000 feet above Ukrainian territory, which it described as close to the “optimum altitude”.

“However, an aircraft’s altitude in flight is determined by air traffic control on the ground.

“Upon entering Ukrainian airspace, MH17 was instructed by Ukrainian air traffic control to fly at 33,000 feet,” the national carrier said.

The decision by MH17’s pilots to skim closely to the prohibited air zone — which is 32,000 feet, according to Europe’s aviation authority Eurocontrol — has prompted numerous questions whether this may have contributed to what is believed to be a case of mistaken identity.

Authorities have yet to confirm what brought down the Amsterdam-Kuala Lumpur flight with 298 on board, but suspicion has fallen on the pro-Russian separatists who are believed to have fired an air-defence missile at the civilian airliner after mistaking it for a military transporter plane.

In the Gallery


  • The Boeing 777 Malaysian Airlines aircraft with the registration number 9M-MRD lands early morning in Vienna in this July 14, 2005 file photo. — Reuters pic

  • A general view shows the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • An Emergencies Ministry member works at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Emergencies Ministry members work at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • The site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash is seen in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • The site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash is seen in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • An armed pro-Russian separatist stands at a site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Emergencies Ministry members walk at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A man walks past the Malaysia Airlines check-in area at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang July 18, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A man stands in front of a display showing plane locations around Malaysia at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang July 18, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • The site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash is seen near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A part of the wreckage of the Malaysia Airlines MH17 plane is seen after it crashed near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 18, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Family members inquire about the flight name list following the tragic news of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH1 at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, July 18, 2014. — Picture by Choo Choi May

  • Family members wait for news outside Anjung Tinjau following the tragic news of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH1 at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, July 18, 2014. — Picture by Choo Choi May

  • The site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash is seen near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • People take photos of a screen showing arrival details of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 (centre) at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang July 18, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A “no entry” sign stands at the entrance to a Malaysia Airlines check-in counter at Kuala Lumpur International Airport July 18, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • The wreckage of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane (back) is seen, with sunflowers in the foreground, near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Smoke rises from the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Armed pro-Russian separatists stand at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • The upper floor of Schiphol Airport is closed for media and reserved for family and relatives of Malaysia Airlines flight MH-17, July 17, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A screen showing arrival details of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 (4th from top) is seen at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang July 18, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A woman (front), who said she believed her sister was on Malaysia Airlines flight MH-17, cries as she waits for more information about the crashed plane, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, July 18, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • People, who said they believed they had relatives on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, wait for more information about the crashed plane at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang July 18, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Armed pro-Russian separatists stand at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Family members of MH17 looking through the name list at the reception centre at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. — Photo by Choo Choo May

  • Smoke rises above the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-17 is seen at the G3 gate of Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, before it took off, heading to Kuala Lumpur, July 17, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A woman holds a sign that reads, 'Putin is a terrorist', as people bring flowers and candles to the Dutch embassy to commemorate the victims of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash, in Kiev, July 17, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • One of the family members collapse after looking at the manifest at Anjung Tinjau, Kuala Lumpur International Airport. — Photo by Choo Choo May

  • People light candles at the Malaysian embassy for victims of Malaysia Airlines MH17, which crashed in eastern Ukraine, in Kiev July 17, 2014. ― Reuters pic

  • People leave candles and flowers at the Dutch embassy for victims of Malaysia Airlines MH17, which crashed in eastern Ukraine, in Kiev July 17, 2014. ― Reuters pic

  • Relatives of passengers onboard the downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang July 18, 2014. ― Reuters pic

  • Family members of passengers on board MH17 are seen here on the airport buggy at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), July 18, 2014. ― Picture by Choo Choy May

  • Datin Siti Dina is seen crying after learning that her daughter, Sherliza Zaini, was on the plane with her husband and their three children. ― Picture by Choo Choy May

  • Families of passengers on board flight MH17 gather at a hotel in Putrajaya July 18, 2014.

  • A member of the Ukrainian Emergency Ministry walks past a white flag marking the location of a body near the settlement of Grabovo, in the Donetsk region July 18, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Debris is seen at the site of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash near the settlement of Grabovo, in the Donetsk region July 18, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Malaysian Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai speaks during a news conference at a hotel in Sepang July 18, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Luggage and belongings are seen near the site of the MH17 crash, near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region July 18, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A member of the Ukrainian Emergency Ministry searches for bodies close to the site of the MH17 crash near the settlement of Grabovo, in the Donetsk region July 18, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Debris from the MH17 plane lies on the ground near the village of Rozsypne in the Donetsk region July 18, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Flowers lie on debris from the MH17 plane near the village of Rozsypne, in the Donetsk region July 18, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A boy places flowers outside the Dutch embassy in Moscow July 18, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Flowers are placed outside the departure hall, in the wake of the downed Flight MH17, at Schiphol Airport July 18, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • The Malaysian national flag flies at half-staff at the Malaysian embassy in The Hague July 18, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A bouquet of flowers is placed on a Malaysia Airlines counter at Schiphol Airport July 18, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A woman lights candles at a memorial for victims of the downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in Kuala Lumpur July 18, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Members of the United Nations Security Council observe a moment of silence for the victims of Flight MH17 at the United Nations headquarters in New York July 18, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A woman prays during a special prayer held for the victims of downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in Kuala Lumpur July 18, 2014. — Reuters pic

Questions have also emerged over the reason why MAS had chosen to fly over a war zone but the troubled carrier insisted tonight that MH17’s flight plan was approved by Eurocontrol, the authority responsible for determining the flight paths of civilian aircraft over European airspace.

Earlier today, the same was confirmed by the European aviation authority.

“According to our information, the aircraft was flying at Flight Level 330 (approximately 10,000 metres/33,000 feet) when it disappeared from the radar.

“This route had been closed by the Ukrainian authorities from ground to flight level 320 but was open at the level at which the aircraft was flying,” EuroControl said on its website.

The airspace is not under any restriction by any aviation and transport authorities beyond that declared by Ukraine, which is currently embroiled in a civil war.

MAS reiterated that the route over Ukrainian airspace where the disaster occurred yesterday is commonly used for Europe and Asia flights.

The national carrier pointed out that another flight from a different carrier was on the same route yesterday, at the same time of the MH17 incident.

“Eurocontrol maintains records of all flights across European airspace, including those across Ukraine,” it pointed out.

To stress its point that it had not flown into restricted airspace, MAS noted that in April, after the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) identified an area over the Crimean peninsula as risky, the aircraft had “at no point” flown into or requested to fly into the area.

“At all times, MH17 was in airspace approved by the ICAO,” MAS said.

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