KUALA LUMPUR — Shares in Malaysia Airlines tumbled almost 18 per cent on Friday after one of its passenger jets crashed in violence-wracked Ukraine, just months after the carrier was hit by the loss of a plane over the Indian Ocean.
The firm fell 17.8 per cent to 0.185 ringgit at one point in morning trade on the Kuala Lumpur stock exchange, before paring some of those losses to sit 13 per cent lower.
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was carrying 298 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it came down late on Thursday over eastern Ukraine, with US officials saying it was shot down by a surface-to-air missile.
Ukrainian government forces are engaged in a fierce battle to quell a rebellion in the country's east by pro-Russian insurgents.
Malaysia Airlines is still reeling from the unexplained disappearance March 8 of flight MH370 with 239 people aboard.
Combined with the airline's perennial losses, the MH370 debacle has pummelled its shares this year – it has lost more than a third of its value since January 1 – and sparked intense speculation over whether it may be sold off or restructured.
The latest crash worsens the carrier's outlook, said Mohshin Aziz, research analyst at Maybank Investment Bank.
"In the history of aviation... there's never been an airline that had to go through two huge disasters in the span of four months, so I don't think there's any historical evidence that they can get out of this," he told Dow Jones Newswires.
MH370 mysteriously diverted off its Kuala Lumpur-Beijing route and is now believed to have crashed in a remote part of the Indian Ocean. However, no clues to its fate have been found despite an exhaustive multi-national search effort, and the carrier's often chaotic handling of the crisis drew wide criticism.
Netherlands mourns victims
Distraught and sobbing relatives poured into Amsterdam's Schiphol airport as the nation reeled from the news 154 of its citizens were aboard a Malaysian plane believed to have been shot down in Ukraine.
Bewildered family members of those travelling on the ill-fated jet were whisked away into a restaurant on the upper deck of the airport, shielded from massing journalists.
They then boarded buses headed for an unknown destination.
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur disappeared from radar screens before crashing with 298 people on board in strife-torn eastern Ukraine.
Pro-Russian separatists in the region and officials in Kiev blamed each other for the crash, after the plane was apparently hit by a surface-to-air missile. Red, white and blue Dutch flags were lowered to half-mast inside the country and at embassies around the world.
"I am deeply saddened by this horrible news," King Willem-Alexander said in a statement.
"Our thoughts go to the families, friends and colleagues of the victims, and to those who do not know yet if one of their loved ones was on board the plane."
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he was "deeply shocked" by the catastrophe, while Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten added that "the images I saw were terrible."
Malaysian Airlines vice president Huib Gorter told a press briefing at Schiphol that a plane would take victims' relatives to Ukraine to visit the crash site if they wished to make the trip.
According to US Vice President Joe Biden, the Boeing 777 was "blown out of the sky" by what US defence officials strongly believed was a ground-air missile.
AFP correspondents at the scene of the crash in Ukraine reported grisly scenes of carnage with no trace of survivors.
Many were stunned by the news their family and friends were on the Malaysian airliner which went down just four months after a flight from the same carrier disappeared over the Indian Ocean with 239 people on board.
"This can't be true!" exclaimed Alicia de Boer in a Facebook comment as it emerged her friend Cor Pan, a young Dutchman, had been on the flight.
In a chilling post just before he boarded the flight, Pan posted an image of the doomed flight with the comment: "If it should disappear, this is what it looks like."
Cor Pan, who appeared to be going on a beach holiday to Malaysia, posted the photo as a joking reference to the missing Malaysia Airlines flight. — AFP