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Missing Malaysian Airline plane presumed crashed

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) -- Vietnamese air force planes on Saturday spotted two large oil slicks close to where a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 went missing earlier in the day, the first sign that the aircraft carrying 239 people had crashed.

The air force planes were part of a multinational search operation launched after Flight MH370 fell off radar screens less than an hour after it took off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing early Saturday morning.

The oil slicks were spotted late Saturday off the southern tip of Vietnam and were each between 10 kilometers (6 miles) and 15 kilometers (9 miles) long, the Vietnamese government said in a statement. There was no confirmation that the slicks were related to the missing plane, but the statement said they were consistent with the kinds that would be produced by the two fuel tanks of a crashed jetliner.

Two-thirds of the missing plane's passengers were from China, while others were from elsewhere in Asia, North America and Europe.

Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said there was no indication that the pilots had sent a distress signal, suggesting that whatever happened to the plane occurred quickly and possibly catastrophically.

Asked whether terrorism was suspected, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said, "We are looking at all possibilities, but it is too early to make any conclusive remarks."

Fears for Passengers After Malaysian Plane 'Vanishes'

Foreign ministry officials in Italy and Austria said the names of two nationals from those countries listed on the flight's manifest matched passports reported stolen in Thailand.

Italy's Foreign Ministry said the Italian man who was listed as being a passenger, Luigi Maraldi, was traveling in Thailand and was not aboard the plane. It said he reported his passport stolen last August.

Austria's Foreign Ministry confirmed that a name listed on the manifest matched an Austrian passport reported stolen two years ago in Thailand. It said the Austrian was not on the plane, but would not confirm the person's identity.

At Beijing's airport, authorities posted a notice asking relatives and friends of passengers to gather at a nearby hotel to wait for further information, and provided a shuttle bus service. A woman wept aboard the bus while saying on a mobile phone, "They want us to go to the hotel. It cannot be good."

Relatives and friends of passengers were escorted into a private area at the hotel, but reporters were kept away. A man in a gray hooded sweatshirt later stormed out complaining about a lack of information. The man, who said he was a Beijing resident but declined to give his name, said he was anxious because his mother was on board the flight with a group of 10 tourists.

"We have been waiting for hours and there is still no verification," he said.

The plane was last detected on radar at 1:30 a.m. (1730 GMT Friday) around where the South China Sea meets the Gulf of Thailand, authorities in Malaysia and Vietnam said.

Lai Xuan Thanh, director of Vietnam's civil aviation authority, said air traffic officials in the country never made contact with the plane.

The plane "lost all contact and radar signal one minute before it entered Vietnam's air traffic control," Lt. Gen. Vo Van Tuan, deputy chief of staff of the Vietnamese army, said in a statement.

The South China Sea is a tense region with competing territorial claims that have led to several low-level conflicts, particularly between China and the Philippines. That antipathy briefly faded Saturday as China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia all sent ships and planes to the region.

Najib said Malaysia had dispatched 15 planes and nine ships to the area. The U.S. Navy was sending a warship and a surveillance plane, while Singapore said it would send a submarine and a plane. China and Vietnam also were sending aircraft to help in the search.

It's not uncommon for it to take several days to find the wreckage of aircraft floating on the ocean. Locating and then recovering the flight data recorders, vital to any investigation, can take months or even years.

"In times of emergencies like this, we have to show unity of efforts that transcends boundaries and issues," said Lt. Gen. Roy Deveraturda, commander of the Philippine military's Western Command.

After the oil slick was spotted, the air search was suspended for the night and was to resume Sunday morning, while the sea search was ongoing, Malaysia Airlines said.

The plane was carrying 227 passengers, including two infants, and 12 crew members, the airline said. It said there were 152 passengers from China, 38 from Malaysia, seven from Indonesia, six from Australia, five from India, three from the U.S., and others from Indonesia, France, New Zealand, Canada, Ukraine, Russia, Taiwan and the Netherlands.

In Kuala Lumpur, family members gathered at the airport, but were kept away from reporters.

"Our team is currently calling the next of kin of passengers and crew. Focus of the airline is to work with the emergency responders and authorities and mobilize its full support," said Ahmad Jauhari, the airline CEO. "Our thoughts and prayers are with all affected passengers and crew and their family members."

Fuad Sharuji, Malaysia Airlines' vice president of operations control, told CNN that the plane was flying at an altitude of 35,000 feet (10,670 meters) when it disappeared and that the pilots had reported no problem with the aircraft.

Malaysia Airlines has a good safety record, as does the 777, which had not had a fatal crash in its 19-year history until an Asiana Airlines plane crashed in San Francisco in July 2013, killing three passengers, all teenagers from China.

Airliner "black boxes" - the flight data and cockpit voice recorders - are equipped with "pingers" that emit ultrasonic signals that can be detected underwater. Under good conditions, the signals can be detected from several hundred miles away, said John Goglia, a former member of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. If the boxes are trapped inside the wreckage, the sound may not travel as far, he said. If the boxes are at the bottom of an underwater trench, that also hinders how far the sound can travel. The signals also weaken over time.

Air France Flight 447, with 228 people on board, disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris on June 1, 2009. Some wreckage and bodies were recovered over the next two weeks, but it took nearly two years for the main wreckage of the Airbus 330 and its black boxes to be located and recovered.

Malaysia Airlines said the 53-year-old pilot of Flight MH370, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, has more than 18,000 flying hours and has been flying for the airline since 1981. The first officer, 27-year-old Fariq Hamid, has about 2,800 hours of experience and has flown for the airline since 2007.

The tip of the wing of the same Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777-200 broke off Aug. 9, 2012, as it was taxiing at Pudong International Airport outside Shanghai. The wingtip collided with the tail of a China Eastern Airlines A340 plane. No one was injured.

Malaysia Airlines' last fatal incident was in 1995, when one its planes crashed near the Malaysian city of Tawau, killing 34 people. The deadliest crash in its history occurred in 1977, when a domestic Malaysian flight crashed after being hijacked, killing 100 people.

In August 2005, a Malaysian Airlines 777 flying from Perth, Australia, to Kuala Lumpur suddenly shot up 900 meters (3,000 feet) before the pilot disengaged the autopilot and landed safely. The plane's software had incorrectly measured speed and acceleration, and the software was quickly updated on planes around the world.

Malaysia Airlines has 15 Boeing 777-200s in its fleet of about 100 planes. The state-owned carrier last month reported its fourth straight quarterly loss and warned of tougher times.


Chris Brummitt reported from Hanoi, Vietnam. Other Associated Press journalists contributing to this report were Didi Tang and Aritz Parra in Beijing, Stephen Wright in Bangkok, Colleen Barry in Milan, Italy, George Jahn in Vienna, Jim Gomez and Oliver Teves in Manila, Philippines, Joan Lowy in Washington and Scott Mayerowitz in New York.


Join the discussion

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jgrl360 March 08 2014 at 3:13 PM

stolen passports - who beside those two "individuals" was on the plane that would be a reason for a problem? Mechanical but not enough time for a may day call??? Hopefully they will recover the black boxes and the public will find out the truth - not fabricated story as some have been in the past.

Flag Reply +8 rate up
Rita March 08 2014 at 2:51 PM

What an awful, horrible way to go....so very sad...

Flag Reply +5 rate up
tdiplaci March 08 2014 at 2:51 PM

Prayers for the families and victims. Hopefully they will find the black boxes and some light will be shed on how this happened.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
joeljoey5160 March 08 2014 at 2:50 PM

I bet it was a bomb. The 777 has a very good safety record.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
TIM March 08 2014 at 8:27 PM

What a tragedy how do them passports get by security and reservation,lot of heartache misery two infants also world is not fair by no means

Flag Reply +1 rate up
frimada5 March 08 2014 at 2:49 PM

This is a terrible tragedy. Condolences to the families.

Flag Reply +8 rate up
gbeote March 08 2014 at 2:47 PM

My prayers to the families and those lost.

Flag Reply +8 rate up
Steve March 08 2014 at 2:43 PM

What ever happened had to be sudden for the pilots not to be able to even give a radio report of problems. So sad for everyone on board and their family and friends.

Flag Reply +8 rate up
jolyjungle March 08 2014 at 2:42 PM

Two stolen passport owners on board? Sound like something sinister went on and I hope it was not a terrorist shoe bomb or some other bomb.

Flag Reply +11 rate up
1 reply
mielkele jolyjungle March 08 2014 at 7:16 PM

The stolen passport owners were not on board.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
j.koan March 08 2014 at 8:29 PM

Not a doom and gloom type here but from the lack of evidence that should have surfaced by now of mechanical failure I'm leaning to a terrorist attack. A 777 just doesn't vanish in thin air all on its own. I hope and pray it wasn't a terrorist attack but if it was our countries need to ban together and take out these damn thugs. No trial!!! Kill them on site!!

Flag Reply +5 rate up
1 reply
callumevans j.koan March 08 2014 at 8:53 PM

Sadly they do, if they are in a "black zone", of which there are hundreds on the planet its totally possible for an aircraft to crash. Look at the Air France flight of 2009, no one knew what happened to that plane until they found parts of the plane on the ocean floor after identifying oil and floating debris. I should expect it was more like a high altitude stall, limited chance to send a distress signal in that incident.

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