China, Vietnam, the Philippines, the U.S. and Singapore are assisting Malaysia’s hunt for theBoeing Co. (BA) 777-200 aircraft, with 227 passengers and 12 crew, Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters yesterday in Kuala Lumpur.
Vietnam’s government reported that military aircraft sighted two large oil slicks off the country’s southern tip that may be from the jetliner, which vanished from radar yesterday with no reports of distress calls or emergency-beacon signals. Two people on Flight MH370’s manifest were using stolen passports, one each from Austria and Italy, the countries’ foreign ministries reported.
“We deeply regret that we have lost all contacts with Flight MH370,” Chief Executive Officer Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said. “Our team is currently calling the next-of-kin of passengers and crew.”
While there was no information of a possible bomb or terror attack behind the missing plane, Malaysia is studying all possibilities, Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters. Officials in Austria and Italy said they didn’t have details on those using the stolen passports.
The Austrian national listed as boarding Flight 370 is a 30-year-old man whose passport was stolen two years ago, the foreign ministry said. An Italian foreign ministry spokesman said that country’s national also was a man and had his passport stolen, without giving further details.
Chinese passengers accounted for the largest group of nationals, with 153 travelers including an infant, according to the airline. There was also one Taiwanese aboard.
Three U.S. citizens were on the flight, according to the U.S. State Department, and embassies in Beijing and Kuala Lumpur are working to determine whether there were others. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is monitoring the situation.
The last communication with the aircraft was “normal,” said Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, director general of Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation. The department last contacted the pilot before it handed over the aircraft to Vietnamese authorities, he said. The airliner lost contact one minute before entering Vietnam’s airspace, its government said on its website.
The plane disappeared from Malaysian radar at 1:30 a.m. and the department informed the carrier at 2:40 a.m., Azharuddin said. The last radar contact with the plane was about 120 nautical miles east of Kota Bahru, near the South China Sea, the airline’s CEO said.
Najib said 15 aircraft, including helicopters, and nine ships are involved in the search.
The flight, which was carrying passengers from countries including China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, France,New Zealand, India and the U.S., departed from the Malaysian capital at about 12:41 a.m. local time yesterday and was scheduled to land in Beijing at 6.30 a.m.
“The Australian Government fears the worst for those aboard missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370,” it said in an e-mailed statement.
Najib said he spoke with his counterpart Li Keqiang to express sympathy. The Philippines sent three naval vessels and at least two planes to search for the aircraft, said Lieutenant Cherryl Tindog, spokeswoman of the Armed Forces’ Western Command. China dispatched two ships, China Central Television reported on its official Weibo microblog account. Singapore’s air force dispatched a C130 airplane to search the area, and the U.S. Department of Defense is sending the USS Pinckney destroyer from the Navy’s 7th Fleet.
“I am waiting for my two friends,” Chong Ken Fei, a Malaysian, said at the Beijing Capital (694)International Airport yesterday. “I am very worried. We planned to travel together but I arrived before them because we flew on different planes.” The information board had earlier listed the flight as “delayed” in red.
The passengers’ relatives and friends were told to go to a hotel in northeast Beijing to await information. One elderly woman who arrived at the hotel began to wail for her son before being ushered into a room with other family members.
China’s aviation authority said that the Malaysian flight hadn’t made contact and that the flight-radar signal was lost with Ho Chi Minh City air control, Xinhua News Agency reported.
The Boeing 777-200 plane was 11 years and 10 months old and had fuel to fly to Beijing and beyond, Ahmad Jauhari said.
“Malaysian Air’s safety records have been very good,” said Mohshin Aziz, an analyst at Maybank Investment Bank Bhd., describing the Boeing 777 as the safest aircraft in the world. “They will likely investigate start to finish.”
Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, and First Officer Fariq Ab. Hamid, 27, were the pilots, according to an airline statement. The captain had 18,365 flying hours and joined the company in 1981, while his first officer had 2,763 hours of flying. The first officer joined the Subang Jaya-based airline in 2007.
“We’re closely monitoring reports on Malaysia flight MH370,” Chicago-based Boeing said on its Twitter feed. “Our thoughts are with everyone on board.” The company is assembling a team to provide technical assistance.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said it is aware of the reports of the loss of MH370 and “we are monitoring the situation,” according to a Twitter feed.
The Boeing 777 is among the most-popular long-haul jetliners because it combines the fuel efficiency of a twin-engine model with the ability to carry more than 300 people, depending on the variant and the cabin layout.
A Boeing 777 operated by Asiana Airlines Inc. crashed on landing in San Francisco last year, killing three people. That was the third time a 777 was destroyed in an accident, according toAviationSafetyNetwork, an online log of aviation crashes. No one died in the two previous incidents.
Last year, a plane operated by MASwings, a subsidiary of Malaysian Air, crashed in Sabah state in the country, killing two people. The Twin Otter DHC-6 plane, a twin-engine turboprop aircraft, flying from Kota Kinabalu, landed short of the runway.
State-owned Malaysian Air, drawing up plans to upgrade its fleet after failing to post a profit in each of the past three years, is fending off competition from a rash of budget airlines that have started in the region in the past decade. The growth has also brought more emphasis on safety in Asia, an aircraft market that Boeing and Airbus Group NV (AIR) expect to overtake the U.S. as the world’s biggest due to the boom.
The national carrier, incorporated as Malayan Airways Ltd. in October 1937, operates a fleet of 96planes, according to its website. Of that, 15 are Boeing 777-200 models. The airline, which also operates Airbus jets, moves 37,000 passengers daily to 80 destinations worldwide.
Malaysian Air reported a net loss of 1.17 billion ringgit ($359 million) last year. The company’s shares lost 19 percent of their value this year, lagging behind a 1.9 percent drop in the benchmark index.
“Malaysian Air has been struggling in its business due to competition and managing costs is an issue in the industry,” said Wong Ming Tek, who covers the airline as an analyst at HwangDBS-Vickers Research Sdn. in Kuala Lumpur. “It’s the last thing they want, when they are trying to revive profitability.”
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