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Sunday, 9 March 2014

Malaysian Aircraft Missing In Vietnam Is Presumed Crashed

A Malaysia Airlines flight carrying 227
passengers and 12 crew went missing off
the Vietnamese coast on Saturday and 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 it took off from Kuala Lumpur for
Beijing. There were no signs of sabotage
nor claims of a terrorist attack.

However, in Europe, news reports and
officials said at least two people on board
may have been carrying stolen passports.
The Italian foreign ministry said in Rome
that an Italian was listed on the flight's
manifest although no national from the
country was on board.

The passenger list provided by the airline
includes Luigi Maraldi, 37, an Italian
citizen. Newspaper Corriere Della Sera
reported that Maraldi's passport was stolen
in Thailand last August. The Italian Interior
Ministry was unable to immediately
comment on the report.

In Vienna, the Austrian foreign ministry
said an Austrian listed among the
passengers was safe and had reported his
passport stolen two years ago while he was
travelling in Thailand.

Asked for a possible explanation for the
plane's disappearance, Malaysia Airlines
CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya told a news
conference: "We are not ruling out any
possibilities."

By late on Saturday night, there were no
confirmed signs of the plane or any
wreckage, over 20 hours after it went
missing. Operations will continue through
the night, officials said.

Vietnam said its rescue planes had spotted
two large oil slicks and a column of smoke
off its coastline, but it was not clear if they
were connected to the missing plane.

"We sent two maritime boats and some
military boats there to clarify, each boat
with about 20 people," Pham Quy Tieu, vice
minister of transportation, told Reuters by
telephone on Saturday evening. "The oil
spills are about 15km long. Those boats will
be there in about three to four hours."

A crash, if confirmed, would likely mark the
U.S.-built airliner's deadliest incident since
entering service 19 years ago. And it would
also mark the second fatal accident
involving a Boeing 777 in less than a year.

An Asiana Airlines Boeing 777-200ER crash-
landed in San Francisco in July 2013, killing
three passengers and injuring more than
180.

Boeing said it was monitoring the situation
but had no further comment.

MASSIVE SEARCH

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 by Malaysia.
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
further seven planes and nine boats to join
the search effort.

Other than Vietnamese and Malaysian
search operations, China and the
Philippines have also sent ships to the
region to help. The United States, the
Philippines, and Singapore also dispatched
military planes.

China has also put other ships and aircraft
on standby, said Transport Minister Yang
Chuantang.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told
reporters in Beijing that China was
"extremely worried" about the fate of the
plane and those on board.

Search and rescue vessels from the
Malaysian maritime enforcement agency
reached the area where the plane last made
contact at about 4:30 p.m. local time (0830
GMT) but saw no sign of wreckage, a
Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency
told Reuters.

The 11-year-old Boeing, powered by Rolls-
Royce Trent engines, took off at 12:40 a.m.
(1640 GMT Friday) from Kuala Lumpur
International Airport and was apparently
flying in good weather conditions when it
went missing without a distress call.

RELATIVES ANGRY

The disappearance of the plane is a chilling
echo of an Air France flight that crashed
into the South Atlantic on June 1, 2009,
killing all 228 people on board. It vanished
for hours and wreckage was found only two
days later.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 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.

Earlier on Saturday, the airline had said
people from 14 nationalities were among
the 227 passengers, including at least 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 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, we
can't find a single person. 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.

"We want someone to show their face. They
haven't even given us the passenger list,"
he said.

Another relative, trying to evade a throng of
reporters, muttered: "They're treating us
worse than dogs."

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 were being kept in a
holding room at the airport, where they
were being guarded by security officials and
kept away from reporters.

Malaysia Airlines has one of the best safety
records among full-service carriers in the
Asia-Pacific region.

It identified the pilot of MH370 as Captain
Zaharie Ahmad Shah, a 53-year-old
Malaysian who joined the carrier in 1981
and has 18,365 hours of flight experience.

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