CHINA has sent two ships to the South China Sea to begin search and rescue operations for the missing Malaysian Airlines (MAS) flight MH 370, as officials in Beijing scrambled to deal with one of the most serious aviation incidents involving its citizens.
MAS said 153 mainland Chinese passengers, including an infant, were on board the flight that took off from Kuala Lumpur at 12.41am this morning for Beijing. Eighty-six passengers and crew from 13 other countries were also on board.
Chinese state television reported that the two rescue vessels set off from the Paracel Islands and Haikou, provincial capital of southern Hainan, at 10.49am and 11.30am respectively.
The report gave no further details, and it was unclear if Beijing has sent aircrafts to help with the search operation as well.
In Beijing, the Chinese Foreign Ministry authorities activated its emergency response system, and said it was in touch with its embassies in Malaysia and Vietnam to verify conflicting accounts of what happened to the missing plane. Earlier reports, which have since been refuted, claimed that the Boeing 777-200 aircraft landed in southwestern China.
Civil aviation authorities also ordered the Beijing Capital International Airport to respond to the needs of the family members of the missing passengers. Distraught family members have been taken to a near-by hotel to await further news of the flight.
A press conference by the Chinese authorities is expected to be held soon.