As the world reels from the news a passenger jet carrying 298 people has been shot down, confusion is growing about what has happened to the plane's "black box" flight recorder.
The Malaysia Airline plane was shot down over southern Ukraine, an area fraught with civil and military tensions as pro-Russian groups and pro-Ukrainian separatists vie for the country's future allegiance.
News service Reuters reported that people were searching the area for MH17's flight recorder and that pro-Russian separatists were later quoted as saying they had found one.
Russian radio station Kommersant FM reported that the black box had been sent to Moscow for investigation by the as-yet unidentified group of Russian separatists.
Russian news site Interfax has also reported separatists have the device. They spoke to Konstantin Knyrik, head of an information centre connected to the "South-Eastern Front" in Ukraine, who said they had located the flight recorder and reported its discovery to experts.
The article also claims pro-Russian first deputy Prime Minister Andriy Purgin promised to locate and send the flight recorder to Moscow as soon as it was recovered.
No credible image of the black box has surfaced and thee reports are yet to be confirmed.
The Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak, said: "An international team must have full access to the crash site.
"And no one should interfere with the area, or move any debris, including the black box," he said.
Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop said the separatists needed to co-operate with the search authorities' investigation.
"We urge the separatists to co-operate." she said.
"If they have taken the black box, they need to return it immediately."
Airport security specialist and professor Norman Shanks told The Belfast Telegraph the black box could contain vital clues to what kind of weapon was used to bring the plane down, which will in turn inform the world's understanding of how and why the plane was destroyed.
"This would almost certainly have to be a deliberate act, for whatever reason - we can only speculate," Shanks said.
"It should have been quite visible to people on the ground that it was a civilian aircraft, by the size of it and the shape of it. Anyone who has looked at a civilian aircraft or large military aircraft will know the difference."
He added that locating flight recorders could be difficult in normal situations, and this case could be particularly tricky as the Ukraine was a war zone.
Flight recorders are built to withstand extreme conditions.
Human remains and sections of plane have been located in a 15-kilometre radius from the crash site, as well as intact passports and money.
- Sydney Morning Herald
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