A 20-kilometre long oil slick spotted between Malaysia and Vietnam Saturday afternoon is thought to be the first sign that a missing Malaysia Airlines flight with 239 people aboard went down in the waters between southernmost Vietnam and northern Malaysia, according to Vietnam's director of civil aviation.
PHUKET: A Malaysia Airlines plane carrying 239 passengers and crew has ''lost contact'' with ground control on a flight between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing, the Malaysian national carrier confirmed today.
There were 153 Chinese nationals on board, including one infant, an airline representative said at a press conference on Saturday morning. Also on board were passengers from the following countries and regions:
Malaysia 38; Indonesia 12; Australia 6; France 4; United States 3 (including one infant); New Zealand 2, Ukraine 2, Canada 2; Russia 1, Italy 1, Taiwan 1, Netherlands 1, Austria 1.
MAS said on its Facebook page that flight MH370 lost contact with Subang Air Traffic Control at 2.40am this morning, some two hours after take-off.
The pilots made no distress call. The plane was travelling at 35,000 feet when contact was lost.
The B777-200 aircraft departed from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 12.41am and was due to land in Beijing at 6.30am local time.
It was carrying 227 passengers and a total of 12 crew.
The plane had enough fuel to fly for seven hours, one hour more than the flight time to Beijing.
The flight was being piloted by Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, a Malaysian aged 53, with 18,365 hours' flying experience. He joined Malaysia Airlines in 1981.
A report by China's Xinhua news agency said contact was lost with the plane while it was over Vietnamese airspace.
Xinhua also quoted Chinese aviation authorities saying the plane did not enter China's air traffic control sphere.
Authorities have deployed search and rescue teams to locate the aircraft. The Boeing 777 has not had a fatal crash in its 20 year history until the Asiana crash in San Francisco in July 2013 which killed three people.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that China is very worried over the missing aircraft. China's Foreign Ministry and related departments have activated emergency response mechanisms.
Many flights from Phuket go into Chinese airspace to most of China's largest cities. MAS flies five times between KL and Phuket each day and there are four return flights.
Malaysia Airlines was last year voted was voted Asia's leading airline at the World Travel Awards 2013, beating 11 other big name full service carriers.
But it has been struggling financially. An accident would be a huge blow for the carrier, which has bled money for years as its struggles to fend off competition from rivals such as fast-growing AirAsia.
The last major accident involving a Malaysia Airlines flight was in September 1995, when one of its aircraft crashed in the Malaysian city of Tawau, killing 34 people on board and injuring nine on the ground.
The plane had been attempting to land at the airport when it overshot the runway and plunged into neighboring houses.
Today's MAS statement reads:
''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. The aircraft was scheduled to land at Beijing International Airport at 6.30am local Beijing time. Subang Air Traffic Control reported that it lost contact at 2.40am (local Malaysia time) today.
Flight MH370 was operated on a Boeing B777-200 aircraft. The flight was carrying a total number of 239 passengers and crew - comprising 227 passengers (including 2 infants), 12 crew members. The passengers were of 13 different nationalities. Malaysia Airlines is currently working with the authorities who have activated their Search and Rescue team to locate the aircraft. Our team is currently calling the next-of-kin of passengers and crew.
Focus of the airline is to work with the emergency responders and authorities and mobilize its full support. Our thoughts and prayers are with all affected passengers and crew and their family members. The airline will provide regular updates on the situation.''
Members of the public may contact MAS at +603 7884 1234 for the latest developments.