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Asia-pacific

Malaysia Airlines searches for lost plane carrying 239 people

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-03-08

Malaysia Airlines said on Saturday it was searching for a plane carrying 239 people which lost contact with air authorities on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The carrier said it was notifying next-of-kin, in a sign it expected the worst.

Malaysia Airlines (MAS) said it was working in cooperation with international authorities in searching for the plane over the South China Sea, where last contact was made.

The plane, a Boeing 777-200, left Kuala Lumpur 41 minutes after midnight on Saturday, and had been due to arrive in Beijing at 6.30 am local time (10.30 pm GMT Friday).

"We deeply regret that we have lost all contacts with flight MH370," the carrier said in an online statement. "Focus of the airline is to work with the emergency responders and authorities and mobilise its full support. Our team is currently calling the next-of-kin of passengers and crew. Our thoughts and prayers are with all affected."

Alongside 12 Malaysian crew members the flight was carrying 227 passengers from 14 different nationalities, including 154 Chinese and Taiwanese nationals, 38 Malaysians, seven Indonesians, six Australians and five Indians.

There were also four French citizens, three US citizens, two passengers each from New Zealand, Ukraine, and Canada, and one each from Italy, the Netherlands, Austria and Russia, the airline said. Two of those onboard were children.

Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said there was no indication that the pilots sent a distress signal. The fact that there was apparently no call for help suggests that whatever happened to the flight occurred quickly.

More than 12 hours after contact was lost, there was still no sign of the plane, which was last spotted around where the South China Sea meets the Gulf of Thailand. No wreckage had been spotted, and there was no trace of it on radar over southern Vietnam or beyond.

A map showing the plane's journey and the area where contact was lost

China 'very concerned'

China's foreign ministry spokesman, Qin Gang, told reporters on Saturday: "Early this morning we received some very disturbing news. We are very concerned [...]. We hope every one of the passengers is safe."

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

Lai Xuan Thanh, director of Vietnam's civil aviation authority, said Malaysian, Singaporean and Vietnamese search officials were coordinating operations. He said Vietnam had sent aircraft and ships to scour the 11,200-square-kilometre area where the plane was last known to be. Vietnamese fishermen in the area have been asked to report any suspected sign of the missing plane.

China has also dispatched two maritime rescue ships and the Philippines has deployed three air force planes and three navy patrol ships.

Asked whether terrorism was suspected, Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said authorities had “no information but we are looking at all possibilities”.

An accident would be a huge blow for MAS, 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 2013 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 ($767 million) loss.

Few crashes

The airline, which has 15 Boeing 777-200 jets in its fleet of about 100 planes, has had few crashes.

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.

The Boeing 777 had not had a fatal crash in its 20 year history until an Asiana Airlines crash in San Francisco in July 2013.

In December a Mozambique Airlines flight en route to Angola crashed in a game park in northeast Namibia, killing all 34 people on board.

In November, a Russian passenger plane crashed at an airport in the city of Kazan, killing all 50 people aboard.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-03-08

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