Malaysian airliner goes missing, oil slicks draw rescuers (Roundup)

Kuala Lumpur/Hanoi, March 8: Multinational rescue efforts were intensified late Saturday, almost 20 hours after a Beijing-bound Malaysian Airlines plane with 239 people on board lost contact with air traffic control and went missing two hours after taking off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing.

Vietnamese Deputy Transport Minister Pham Quy Tieu said rescuers were expected to arrive in waters near the southern Phu Quoc Island where two “suspicious” oil slicks were spotted, Xinhua reported.

Flight MH370, operating a Boeing B777-200 aircraft, departed Kuala Lumpur at 12.21 a.m. local time Saturday and was expected to land in Beijing at 6.30 a.m. the same day.

Malaysia Airlines said on its website that on board the plane were 12 crew members and 227 passengers, including five Indians, 154 Chinese and 38 Malaysians.

According to the passenger manifesto, the Indians on board are Vinod Kolekar, 59, Chetana Kolekar, 55, Swanand Kolekar, 23, Chandrika Sharma, 51, and Kranti Shirsath, 44.

Two passengers on the passenger manifesto, an Italian and an Austrian, reportedly did not board the aircraft both having lost their passports. But the airlines did not officially confirm this.

According to Vietnam’s Pham, the oil slicks were seen at 5.20 p.m., one 150 km from Tho Chu island and the other 190 km from Ca Mau Cape, he said.

“The oil spills are suspicious but the (search) plane could not reduce height at the time. We are sending rescue ships to the area,” he said, adding search aircraft had returned to base because it was now too dark.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said searchers would widen their area of coverage after initial efforts were unsuccessful.

He said Malaysia had dispatched 15 planes and nine ships to the area, and the US Navy was sending aircraft as well. Singapore, China, Thailand and Vietnam also were sending aircraft.

“The search for MH370 is still ongoing. We are focusing on the area where the last signal was detected but we have yet to find anything,” Najib told a news conference Saturday evening.

Earlier, in a statement, Malaysia Airlines said that “Subang ATC had lost contact with the aircraft at 2.40 a.m.”

“The last known position of MH370 before it disappeared off the radar was 065515 North (longitude) and 1033443 East (latitude),” it stated.

The flight had lost contact with ground control when flying into the Ho Chi Minh air traffic control area in Vietnam, authorities said. Its signal never appeared to Ho Chi Minh City controllers.

In its latest website update issued at 7.20 p.m. Malaysia time, Malaysia Airlines said: “An international search and rescue mission was mobilised this morning. At this stage, our search and rescue teams from Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam have failed to find evidence of any wreckage.”

It added that the sea mission would continue while the air mission would recommence at daylight.

Malaysia Airlines group chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said the missing aircraft made its last contact about 200 km east of the Malaysian town of Kota Baru.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang Saturday ordered emergency measures over the missing Malaysia Airlines flight bound for Beijing with 154 Chinese nationals on board.

Xi ordered the ministry of foreign affairs as well as Chinese embassies and consulates to strengthen contact with departments of relevant countries and pay close attention to the search and rescue work for the plane.

All-out efforts must be made for any emergency treatment necessary in the aftermath of the incident, Xi said in his instruction.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang held emergency talks over the phone with Najib to discuss search and rescue operations Saturday afternoon.

The flight was piloted by Captain Zahaire Ahmad Shah, a Malaysian aged 53. He has a total of 18,365 flying hours to his credit and had joined Malaysia Airlines in 1981.

Fariq Ab. Hamid, 27, also a Malaysian, served as the first officer of the flight. He has logged 2,763 flying hours, the airline said.

IANS