HIMALAYAN NEWS SERVICE
KUALA LUMPUR/HANOI: A Malaysia Airlines flight carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew went missing off the Vietnamese coast today as it flew from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
It was presumed to have crashed.
There were no reports of bad weather and no sign why the Boeing 777-200ER would have vanished from radar screens about an hour after take-off. By nightfall, there were no signs of the plane or any wreckage, some 17 hours after it went missing.
A large number of planes and ships from several countries were scouring the area where the plane last made contact, about halfway between Malaysia and the southern tip of Vietnam.
“The search and rescue operations will continue as long as necessary,” Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters in Kuala Lumpur. He said 15 air force aircraft, six navy ships and three coast guard vessels had been pressed into service.
Vietnam dispatched two navy boats from Phu Quoc island and sent two jets and one helicopter from Ho Chi Minh City to search for the missing airliner. It was readying a seven more planes and nine boats to join the search effort. China, and the Philippines have also sent ships to the region. The United States, the Philippines, and Singapore also dispatched military planes to help in the search.
China has also put other ships and aircraft on standby, said Transport Minister Yang Chuantang.
Malaysia’s transport minister later denied any crash scene had been identified.
“We are looking for accurate information from the Malaysian military and from the Vietnamese side,” Transport Minister Hishamuddin Hussein told reporters near Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
A crash, if confirmed, would likely mark the US-built airliner’s deadliest incident since entering service 19 years ago.The 11-year-old plane disappeared without a distress signal.
Search and rescue vessels from the Malaysian maritime enforcement agency reached the area where the plane last made contact, but saw no sign of wreckage.
The flight last had contact with air traffic controllers 120 nautical miles off the east coast of the Malaysian town of Kota Bharu, Malaysia Airlines chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said in a statement.
The airline said people from 14 nationalities were on board, including 152 Chinese, 38 Malaysians, seven Indonesians, six Australians, five Indians, four French and three Americans.
Flight tracking website flightaware.com showed the plane flew northeast over Malaysia after takeoff and climbed to an altitude of 35,000 feet. The flight vanished from the website’s tracking records a minute later while it was still climbing.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters in Beijing that China was “extremely worried” about the fate of the plane and those on board.
Chinese relatives of passengers angrily accused the airline of keeping them in the dark, while state media criticised the carrier’s poor response. “There’s no one from the company here. They’ve just shut us in this room and told us to wait,” said one middle-aged man at a hotel near Beijing airport where the relatives were taken. “They haven’t even given us the passenger list,” he said.
In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Airlines told passengers’ next of kin to come to the international airport with their passports to prepare to fly to the crash site, which has still not been identified. About 20-30 families are being kept in a holding room.
Chinese state media said 24 Chinese artists and family members, who were in Kuala Lumpur for an art exchange programme, were aboard.
If it is confirmed that the plane crashed, the loss would mark the second fatal accident involving a Boeing 777 in less than a year and by far the worst since the jet entered service in 1995.