PICTURES, VIDEO

Malaysia Airlines MH370: Hopes dim even as international search is underway

An aerial view of an oil spill is seen from a Vietnamese Air Force aircraft in the search area for a missing Malaysia Airlines plane, 250km from Vietnam and 190km from Malaysia, in this handout photo from Thanh Nien Newpaper taken on March 8, 2014. V
An aerial view of an oil spill is seen from a Vietnamese Air Force aircraft in the search area for a missing Malaysia Airlines plane, 250km from Vietnam and 190km from Malaysia, in this handout photo from Thanh Nien Newpaper taken on March 8, 2014. Vietnamese rescue planes have spotted a column of smoke off its coastline along with large oil slicks, but it was not clear if they were connected to the missing Malaysia Airlines carrier, a transportation ministry official said on Saturday, March 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A Vietnamese Air Force officer takes photos from a search and rescue aircraft in the search area for a missing Malaysia Airlines plane, 250km from Vietnam and 190km from Malaysia, on March 8, 2014. Malaysian authorities have reviewed all CCTV recordi
A Vietnamese Air Force officer takes photos from a search and rescue aircraft in the search area for a missing Malaysia Airlines plane, 250km from Vietnam and 190km from Malaysia, on March 8, 2014. Malaysian authorities have reviewed all CCTV recordings including those of the airport's baggage handling area, and was satisfied about its security. -- PHOTO: REUTERS/THANH NIEN NEWSPAPER
A woman, whose husband is a passenger on Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 leaves a hotel in Beijing, March 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A woman, whose husband is a passenger on Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 leaves a hotel in Beijing, March 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A woman, whose husband is a passenger on Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, leaves a hotel in Beijing, March 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A woman, whose husband is a passenger on Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, leaves a hotel in Beijing, March 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A crying woman is escorted to a bus for relatives of passengers of a missing Malaysia Airlines flight at Beijing International Airport in Beijing on March 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A crying woman is escorted to a bus for relatives of passengers of a missing Malaysia Airlines flight at Beijing International Airport in Beijing on March 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A relative of a passenger of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 talks on a mobile phone as journalists attempt to interview her at a hotel in Beijing, March 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A relative of a passenger of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 talks on a mobile phone as journalists attempt to interview her at a hotel in Beijing, March 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
An information screen displays a message "Let Us Pray For Flight MH370" at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, March 8, 2014. . -- PHOTO: REUTERS
An information screen displays a message "Let Us Pray For Flight MH370" at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, March 8, 2014. . -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A woman breaks down while leaving the reception centre for families and friends after a Malaysia Airlines plane went missing at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on March 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A woman breaks down while leaving the reception centre for families and friends after a Malaysia Airlines plane went missing at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on March 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A Malaysia Airlines flag is seen at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, on March 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A Malaysia Airlines flag is seen at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, on March 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (centre) arrives to meet family members of missing passengers at the reception centre at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, on March 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (centre) arrives to meet family members of missing passengers at the reception centre at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, on March 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Singapore has sent a C130 Hercules aircraft to help in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, the Republic of Singapore Air Force said in a Facebook post on Saturday afternoon, March 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: FACEBOOK OF THE RSAF
Singapore has sent a C130 Hercules aircraft to help in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, the Republic of Singapore Air Force said in a Facebook post on Saturday afternoon, March 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: FACEBOOK OF THE RSAF
Family members of those onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight walk into the waiting area at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, March 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Family members of those onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight walk into the waiting area at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, March 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Chinese police stand beside the arrival board showing the flight MH370 at the Beijing Airport after news of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 plane disapeared on March 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Chinese police stand beside the arrival board showing the flight MH370 at the Beijing Airport after news of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 plane disapeared on March 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A crying woman is escorted to a bus for relatives at the Beijing Airport after news of the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 plane on March 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A crying woman is escorted to a bus for relatives at the Beijing Airport after news of the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 plane on March 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A possible relative cries at the Beijing Airport after news of the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 plane in Beijing on March 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A possible relative cries at the Beijing Airport after news of the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 plane in Beijing on March 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A relative of passengers on a missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 plane cries at their house in Kuala Lumpur, on March 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A relative of passengers on a missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 plane cries at their house in Kuala Lumpur, on March 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A woman displays the driver's licence of a friend who may be a passenger on board the missing Malaysia Airlines flight at a hotel in Beijing, on March 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A woman displays the driver's licence of a friend who may be a passenger on board the missing Malaysia Airlines flight at a hotel in Beijing, on March 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A relative of a passenger onboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 cries as she talks on her mobile phone at the Beijing Capital International Airport, March 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A relative of a passenger onboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 cries as she talks on her mobile phone at the Beijing Capital International Airport, March 8, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR (REUTERS/AFP) - The Malaysia Airlines plane that went missing near the South China Sea early Saturday morning is presumed to have crashed, even as countries in the region joined in the search operation.

There were no reports of bad weather and no sign why the Boeing 777-200ER, powered by Rolls-Royce Trent engines, would have vanished from radar screens about an hour after it took off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing.

A large number of planes and ships from several countries were scouring the area where the aircraft last made contact, about halfway between Malaysia and the southern tip of Vietnam.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak 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.

China and the Philippines have also sent ships to the region to help. The United States, the Philippines, and Singapore dispatched military planes to help. The Republic of Singapore Air Force sent a C130 Hercules aircraft.

China has also put other ships and aircraft on stand-by, said its transport minister.

On Saturday night, Vietnamese authorities said it had spotted two large oil slicks about 15km to 20km long in the sea and was sending boats to the area.

Earlier in the day, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said that no sign has been found of flight MH370, which left KL at 12.41am with 227 passengers and 12 crew

The passengers were from 14 countries. Among them were 153 from China including 24 painters who had visited Malaysia to attend an art exhibition.

There were also 38 passengers from Malaysia and the others were from countries including Indonesia, Australia, France, New Zealand, Ukraine, Canada, India, Taiwan and the United States.

There were no Singaporean passengers although one of the passengers, Mr Tony Tan Wei Chew, 19, a Malaysian, had studied at St Andrew's Junior College here.

Datuk Seri Najib said he had spoken to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and expressed condolences over the affected Chinese passengers. Mr Li had urged Malaysia to act quickly and vigorously in their rescue efforts.

Chinese President Xi Jinping called for emergency measures to find the plane, which had been due to arrive in Beijing at 6.30am.

He ordered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Chinese embassies and consulates to strengthen contact with relevant countries and pay close attention to the search and rescue work.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong tweeted earlier that he had spoken to Datuk Seri Najib to express his sympathies over the missing plane and offer help with the search operations.

The airlines said the last radar contact was 2.40am local time, about 120 nautical miles east of Kota Bahru, near the South China Sea, MAS chief executive officer Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said.

Flight MH370 lost contact one minute before entering Vietnam's airspace.

He said there had been no indication the plane was in distress and that an early review showed that there was no bad weather.

In Beijing, tempers frayed as angry family members left a hotel near Beijng airport on Saturday afternoon, yelling that they were not getting any updates from MAS and demanding that the Chinese government send military planes to conduct search and rescue efforts.

A distraught woman in her 30s shouted to a mob of journalists: "All we have is a piece of paper saying the same things that you guys already know! We demand the Chinese government to send rescue teams immediately."

Questions were raised about why the airline released the news so late.

MAS put out its first statement at 7.24am. The first wire news report came out at 8.20am.

Adding to the confusion were rumours that started early on Saturday morning, first saying the plane had landed safely in Vietnam, then that it had landed in the southern city of Nanning in China.

Later came reports that it had crashed in the waters off Vietnam.

In Kuala Lumpur, MAS told passengers' next of kin to come to the international airport with their passports to prepare to fly to the crash site, which had still not been identified.

There was no information of a possible bomb or terror attack behind the missing plane, and Malaysia is studying all possibilities, Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters on Saturday.

State-owned Malaysian Air recently announced plans to upgrade its fleet after failing to post a profit in each of the past three years.

The aircraft was 11 years and 10 months old and had fuel to fly to Beijing and beyond, CEO Ahmad Jauhari said. Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, and First Officer Fariq Ab. Hamid, 27, were the pilots, according to an airline statement. The captain had 18,365 flying hours and joined the company in 1981, while his first officer had 2,763 hours of flying. - With information from The Straits Times China Bureau.

Register here to get free digital access to The Straits Times until Aug 9, 2015.
Comments