Malaysia, Vietnam and China work to locate missing Malaysia Airlines plane

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

KUALA LUMPUR/BEIJING - Authorities in Malaysia. Vietnam and China are working together to locate a Malaysia Airlines (MAS) plane which lost contact with ground air control on Saturday while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

MAS Chief Executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya told a news conference the last reported position of flight MH370 was approximately 120 nautical miles off Kota Bharu, in the South China Sea, in the airspace bordering Vietnam.

He said there was no bad weather report or distress call from the plane before it lost contact with ground air control.

The Boeing 777-200 was carrying 239 people from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing when it disappeared at 2.41 am local time on Saturday, about two hours after leaving Kuala Lumpur International Airport. It had been due to arrive in Beijing at 6.30am on the same.

The flight was carrying 227 passengers, including two infants, and 12 crew members. There were no Singaporeans onboard.

"We deeply regret that we have lost all contacts with flight MH370 which departed Kuala Lumpur at 12.41 am earlier this morning bound for Beijing," said Mr Ahmad Jauhari.

"Our team is currently calling the next-of-kin of passengers and crew... Our thoughts and prayers are with all affected passengers and crew and their family members," he added.

Mr Jauhari added that the Malaysian flag carrier was working with authorities, who had launched an effort to locate the aircraft.

When asked about speculation that the plane had landed in another airport in China, Mr Ahmad Jauhari said MAS was working with the authorities to verify the news.

"So far we have not received any confirmation that the plane has landed," he said.

Meantime in Beijing, anxious family members gathered at the Crowne Hotel Beijing Lido as they awaited news of the MAS flight.

Buses loaded with both journalists and family members arrived in a steady stream to the hotel about 20 minutes from Beijing Capital Airport.

But family members and friends were herded to a room on the second floor of the hotel and sealed off from the more than 50 journalists gathered outside. At least three security guards stood outside.

A relative, who only wanted to be known as Mr Liang, told The Straits Times he was awoken by news on Saturday that his niece Bai Xiaomo, who is in her thirties, was on the flight.

"Her parents and relatives are now all gathered at home and crying, so we're here just to get some information," he added.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China is very worried about the news of the missing flight.

"The news is very disturbing. We hope everyone on the plane is safe," said Mr Wang told a press conference at about 1015am on the sidelines of the annual meetings of China’s parliament, the National People's Congress.

"As soon as we have any more information, we will give it to you immediately," he added, noting that China’s Foreign Ministry and related government agencies have activated an emergency response mechanism.

Flight MH370 was operated on a Boeing 777-200 aircraft, a code share with China Southern Airlines. The plane was 11 years 10 months old and was piloted by Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, a Malaysian aged 53. He has a total flying hours of 18,365 hours.

First officer, Fariq Ab.Hamid, is a Malaysian, aged 27. He has a total flying hours of 2,763 hours. He joined Malaysia Airlines in 2007.

MAS has suffered few accidents in its history. In 1995, a Malaysia Airlines flight crashed when landing in Tawau, Sabah, killing 34.

One of its jets also 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.