Malaysia Airlines flight 370

Five young children among missing Malaysia Airlines passengers as air search called off

Search for missing plane will resume at daylight, airline says

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 March, 2014, 9:05am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 March, 2014, 12:07pm

An air search for a missing Malaysian Airlines passenger jet was on Saturday night called off until daylight, the company said, as a full list of passengers and crew on board was released by the company.

Five children aged from two to four years - two from the United States and three from China - were among the 239 people on board.

Two French teenagers, aged 14 and 17, were also among the missing, while the eldest flyer was a 79-year-old Chinese national.

A spokesman for the airline said: ”We would like to inform everyone that these are the people onboard our aircraft. All the families and next of kin have been informed.”

Watch: Missing airliner carrying 239 triggers Southeast Asia search

Click here for the full passenger list

Vietnamese authorities said Saturday night that planes searching for the jet had spotted two oil slicks off the southern tip of the country.

A statement from the Vietnamese government said they were consistent with the kind of fuel slicks that would be left from a crashed jet and that they were sending boats to the area.

"Two of our aircraft sighted two oil slicks around 15 to 20 kilometres long, running parallel, around 500 metres apart from each other,”  Lieutenant General Vo Van Tuan told state-run VTV.

President Xi Jinping ordered the Chinese Foreign Ministry and other authorities to take “all-out efforts” for emergency treatment in the aftermath of the incident, state-run Xinhua reported.

Malaysia Airlines said it was ruling out nothing –- including terrorism. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak also refused to rule out a terrorist act.

It emerged on on Saturday night that two of the passports used by passengers – one Austrian, one Italian – had been reported stolen in Thailand.

The passengers who used stolen passports booked their tickets through Guangzhou-based China Southern Airlines, the codeshare partner in the flight.

The Italian and Austrian governments confirmed that none of their nationals were on board.

Two Chinese warships has been dispatched to join the multinational search and rescue operation for the missing MH370 last heard from 1.30 am on Saturday, aviation administration chief Li Jiangxiang said this morning.

"China has dispatched all forces we could possibly dispatch. We hope all onboard the plane could survive," Li said.

Warship Jinggangshan, equipped with underwater detection facilities, left for the possible crash site at about 3 am on Sunday morning from Guangdong Province’s Zhanjiang City. Two helicopters, 30 medical staff. 10 divers are on board Jinggangshan, Xinhua reported this morning.

The other warship Mianyang was dispatched on Saturday night, according to the Xinhua report.

Li said Premier Li Keqiang made another call to his Malaysian counterpart last night.

Vietnamese search force has spotted two large oil slicks in the area where MH370 was last heard, Li said. But there has been no confirmation that the slicks were related to the missing plane. The whereabouts and the condition of the Boeing 777-200 aircraft. that has been missing for more than 24 hours is yet to be determined.

The Boeing 777-200ER plane relayed no distress signal, indications of bad weather or technical problems before vanishing from radar screens some 18 hours ago, as it travelled from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Authorities said they had no idea what had happened to the plane, while Malaysia Airlines said they had "no information" on its whereabouts.

The flight was being piloted by Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, a Malaysian aged 53, with 18,365 hours' flying experience. He joined Malaysia Airlines in 1981.

Heartbreaking scenes were played out at Beijing and Kuala Lumpur airports as family and friends awaited news of the 227 passengers and 12 crew members on board, with tempers fraying as some demanded information.

Indonesia-based aviation analyst Gerry Soejatman said the clock was ticking  on a “24-hour golden window” for search and rescue efforts.

“You can’t assume that there are no survivors, and if there are any, it is absolutely crucial that they are picked up within a day, or the chances of  survival drops significantly,” he said.

The disappearance triggered a South China Sea search effort involving vessels from several nations with rival maritime claims to the region.  

Vietnam’s defence ministry launched a rescue mission, the government said, and a Malaysian maritime official said the country had sent several planes and vessels.

The Philippines said it was sending three navy patrol boats and a  surveillance plane. Singapore dispatched an air force C130 transporter on a  ”search and locate mission”. It was not clear if other nations were cooperating. 

Throughout the day confusing messages emerged, with the Vietnamese at one point being quoted as saying the plane had crashed into the ocean. The claim was later withdrawn.

Malaysia Airlines said in a statement on Saturday afternoon that the company was "working with international authorities on the search and rescue mission" and that there was "no information" on the aircraft.

In a fresh statement released on Saturday evening the airline said: "We understand everyone's concern on MH370 pax & crew. We're accelerating every effort with all relevant authorities to locate the aircraft."

Pham Hien, a Vietnamese search and rescue official, earlier said the last signal had been detected120 nautical miles southwest of Vietnam's southernmost Ca Mau province.

Director of Vietnam's airspace, Lai Xuan Thanh, said the plane had been over the sea and heading towards the country's airspace, but air traffic controllers were unable to make contact with the pilots before it vanished.

There were 153 Chinese nationals on board, including one infant, an airline representative said at a press conference on Saturday morning. Also on board were passengers from the following countries and regions:

Malaysia 38; Indonesia 7;  Australia 6; India 5; France 4; United States 3 (including one infant); New Zealand 2, Ukraine 2, Canada 2; Russia 1, Italy 1, Taiwan 1, Netherlands 1, Austria 1. The spokesperson could not confirm if any HongKongers were among the Chinese nationals on board.

Dozens of relatives were on Saturday taken from Beijing airport to a nearby hotel where they were anxiously awaiting news of the aircraft's fate.

One man at the airport said his 60-year-old wife had been in a tour group with 20 other passengers onboard the flight. 

Flight MH370 lost contact with air traffic controllers near Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam at around 2.40am local time, the airline said in a statement. No distress signal was relayed before the aircraft disappeared.

Malaysia Airlines CEO, Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, said in a press conference Saturday that the company was "deeply saddened" by news of the disappearance.

"Malaysia Airlines confirms that flight MH370 had lost contact with Subang Air Traffic Control at 2.40am, today.

"There has been speculation that the aircraft has landed at Nanming. We are working to verify the authenticity of the report and others.

"Flight MH370 was operated on a Boeing 777-200 aircraft. It departed Kuala Lumpur at 12.41 am earlier this morning bound for Beijing. The aircraft was scheduled to land at Beijing International Airport at 6.30am local Beijing time."

He added: "Our thoughts and prayers are with all affected passengers and crew and their family members."

A Malaysia Airlines spokesperson added that if the plane was in the air, it would have run out of fuel sometime around 8.30am.

Earlier Saturday rumours circulated that the plane had landed safely, but Fuad Sharuji, Malaysian Airlines’ vice president of operations control, told CNN that they were untrue and the airline had no idea where the aircraft was.

“At this moment, we have got no idea where this aircraft is right now," he said on Saturday morning.

At Beijing’s airport, authorities posted a notice asking relatives and friends of passengers to gather to a hotel about 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the airport to wait for further information, and provided a shuttle bus service.

Zhai Le was waiting for her friends, a couple who were on their way back to the Chinese capital on the flight. She said she was very concerned because she had not been able to reach them.

A woman wept aboard the shuttle bus while saying on a mobile phone, “They want us to go to the hotel. It cannot be good.”

At Kuala Lumpur International Airport, family members looking sombre and distraught trickled in to a designated waiting area for loved ones, escorted by authorities.

“They gave us no information so far,” complained one man, who said his niece and her husband were on the flight for a one-week holiday in China.

Wang Yi, China’s Foreign Minister said: “The Foreign Ministry and the related Chinese embassies have started an emergency working mechanism. We will release the information as soon as possible."

“The Foreign Ministry and the relating Chinese embassies have started an emergency working mechanism and worked at our best to know about the concrete situation. We will release the information as soon as possible,” said Wang.

According to data from CAPA Centre for Aviation, the average age of Malaysia Airline’s fleet of Boeing 777-200ER are 14.3 years old. The average age of the fleet is 4.5 years old.

The same aircraft model of the Boeing 777-200ER crashed at San Francisco on July 6, last year. Asiana Airlines OZ214 crashed on landing at the west-coast American airport,  killing three people and injuring 181 people.

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a statement: “We are very concerned learning this news.”

“We are contacting relevant authorities and are trying to confirm relevant information.”

A Beijing airport spokeswoman said the facility had activated an emergency response system. Screens at the airport indicated the flight was “delayed.”

An accident would be a huge blow for the carrier, which has bled money for years as its struggles to fend off competition from rivals such as fast-growing AirAsia.

It recorded its fourth straight quarterly loss during the final three months of last year and warned of a “challenging” year ahead due to intense competition.

In 2012, the carrier admitted it was in “crisis”, forcing it to implement a cost-cutting campaign centred on slashing routes and other measures.

In 2011, it chalked up a record 2.5 billion ringgit ( US$767 million) loss. Boeing, which has been beset by problems with its high-tech 787 Dreamliners put into service two years ago, including a months-long global grounding over battery problems last year, issued a brief statement on its Twitter feed.

“We’re closely monitoring reports on Malaysia flight MH370. Our thoughts are with everyone on board,” it said.

MAS has suffered few accidents in its history.

One of its jets crashed in 1977 in southern Malaysia, killing all 93 passengers and seven crew.

A smaller Twin Otter aircraft, operated by its unit MASwings, crashed upon landing in Malaysia’s Sabah state on Borneo island last October, killing a co-pilot and a passenger.

Additional reporting by Associated Press