Search For Malaysian Jet Spots Oil Slicks In Waters Off Vietnam

March 08, 2014

An international search is underway for a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet that's been missing for more than 24 hours. Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 had 227 passengers and 12 crew members aboard when it took off from Kuala Lumpur early Saturday on a flight bound for Beijing.

A regular inspection of the missing Boeing 777-200 found no technical problems 10 days ago, reports China's state-run Xinhua news agency, citing a Malaysia Airlines spokesman.

"Malaysia Airlines humbly asks all Malaysians and people around the world to pray for flight MH370," the company said in a statement released early Sunday, local time. The airline added that while the search operation on the water continues overnight, search aircraft won't resume their patrols until daylight arrives Sunday.

Vietnamese military planes report seeing two oil slicks off the country's coast that could be a sign of the missing jet.  Officials say the search for the jet continues and that ships are being sent to the location of the sighting.

Citing the head of Vietnam's Civil Aviation Administration, the New York Times says the discovery could be the first hint of the plane's location. The newspaper says the official, Lai Xuan Thanh, said one oil slick is 12 miles long.

The military planes are part of an intense international search for a Malaysia Airlines flight that had 227 passengers and 12 crew members aboard when it went missing after taking off from Kuala Lumpur early Saturday on a flight bound for Beijing.

As day turned to night in Asia Saturday, the search focused on waters between Malaysia and Vietnam where contact was last made with the jet, a Boeing 777. The U.S. State Department has confirmed that at least three U.S. citizens were on board.

Flight MH370 left Malaysia shortly after midnight, local time. That's late morning Friday on the East Coast of the U.S. It should have landed in Beijing around 6:30 a.m. there — 5:30 p.m. ET Friday.

Instead, the airline says, contact was lost about two hours into the flight. Other data, from the online tracking site Fight Radar 24, indicates the plane may have gone missing somewhat earlier.

"Malaysia Airlines is currently working with the authorities who have activated their Search and Rescue team to locate the aircraft," the airline .

As happens when news is breaking, some information that's being reported may later turn out to have been incorrect. We'll focus on reports from officials involved in the search and news outlets that have reporters in important locations.

Update at 10:50 a.m. ET, March 8. Jet's Location Still Uncertain: Malaysian Leader

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak warns against leaping to conclusions based on reports from Vietnam of oil slicks that were found in the search area for the downed jetliner.

"It is too early to come to any conclusion because we are looking at all possibilities," he said, according to the New Straits Times. "Some theories have been put forward but they will remain just that until we have concrete evidence."

Noting that no wreckage has been found, the leader said, "It is too early to make any conclusive remarks."

The prime minister added that the search area was being widened.

Update at 10:35 a.m. ET, March 8. Confusion Over Two Passengers

After Malaysia Airlines released a complete passenger list, two discrepancies have emerged, reports CNN:

"Austria denies that one of the citizens included on the passenger list issued by Malaysia Airlines was on board, Austrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Weiss told CNN Saturday. The Austrian citizen is safe and sound and his passport was stolen two years ago, Weiss said.

"There also was no Italian citizen on board the flight, despite the presence of an Italian name on the passenger list released by the airline, Italian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aldo Amati said Saturday."

Update at 9:05 a.m. ET, March 8. Three Americans On Board

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370's passengers include three U.S. citizens, a a senior State Department official has confirmed.

American embassies in Kuala Lumpur and Beijing are in contact with those citizens' families, the official said, adding that the State Department is also looking into whether any other U.S. citizens might have been on the flight.

Update at 8 a.m. ET, March 8. Oil Slicks Spotted

Vietnamese military planes have spotted two oil slicks off the country's coast that could be a sign of the missing Malaysia Airlines passenger jet, according to several media outlets. Officials say ships are being sent to the location of the sighting.

From the Wall Street Journal:

"'We have sent vessels to the site of the suspected oil spills and they are expected to reach the site tonight. It's very likely that this is the sign of the missing plane,' said Lt. Gen. Vo Van Tuan, deputy chief of staff of Vietnam People's Army, speaking live on Vietnam national television."

Update at 7 a.m. ET, March 8. Search At Sea Continues; Air Searches Suspended Until Daylight:

"An international search and rescue mission was mobilized this morning," Malaysia Airlines says. "At this stage, our search and rescue teams from Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam have failed to find evidence of any wreckage."

With night falling in the area, where it's now 8 p.m. Saturday, search aircraft are apparently heading back to their bases. The airline says that "the sea mission will continue while the air mission will recommence at daylight."

Update at 6:30 a.m. ET, March 8. Some Dispute About When It Went Missing:

While the airline's latest statement repeats earlier information indicating the jet disappeared from air traffic controllers' radar screens about two hours into its flight, the online tracking site Flight Radar 24 reports that "Flight #MH370 took off from Kuala Lumpur at 16:41 UTC time and disappeared from at 17:20 UTC time." That would be about 40 minutes into its flight.

The New York Times reports that:

:"A Malaysia Airlines spokesman said on Saturday evening that the last conversation between the flight crew and air traffic control in Malaysia had been around 1:30 a.m., but he reiterated that the plane had not disappeared from air traffic control systems in Subang [Malaysia] until 2:40 a.m."

Update at 6 a.m. ET, March 8. Jet Has An Impressive Safety Record:

"The Boeing 777 flown by Malaysia Airlines that disappeared Saturday morning over the South China Sea is one of the world's most popular — and safest — jets," The Associated Press points out.

The wire service adds that:

"The long-range jumbo jet has helped connect cities at the far ends of the globe, with flights as long as 16 hours. But more impressive is its safety record: The first fatal crash in its 19-year history only came last July when an Asiana Airlines jet landed short of the runway in San Francisco. Three of the 307 people aboard died."

Much of the focus of investigators looking into that crash in San Francisco has been on the pilots' actions and signs that they approached the airport too low and too slowly.

Update at 5:30 a.m. ET, March 8. Airline's Latest Statement:

"We understand everyone's concern on MH370 pax & crew," Malaysia Airlines just stated on its Twitter page. "We're accelerating every effort with all relevant authorities to locate the aircraft."

The Wall Street Journal reports that "search and rescue crews from across Asia are scrambling to discover the fate" of the missing jet. "Authorities from Malaysia and Vietnam dispatched aircraft to scour the waters between the two countries for signs of flight MH370. The Philippines also said it would mobilize vessels to look for wreckage and survivors."

Update at 4:50 a.m. ET, March 8. No Distress Call:

In its latest statement, Malaysia Airlines says that "so far, we have not received any emergency signals or distress messages from MH370."

the lack of any emergency signal is "a chilling echo of an Air France flight that crashed into the South Atlantic on June 1, 2009, killing all 228 people on board. It vanished for hours without issuing a distress call."

Update at 4:30 a.m. ET, March 8. Latest Numbers On Passengers' Nationalities:

In the past hour, the airline posted updated information on the nationalities of the 227 passengers. One change: Earlier, there were reports about four U.S. citizens, including an infant, on board. Now, the airline says the passenger manifest shows three U.S. citizens, including an infant.

The breakdown by country, according to the airline:

China/Taiwan; 154 including an infant

Malaysia; 38

Indonesia; 7

Australia; 6

India; 5

France; 4

U.S.; 3, including an infant

New Zealand; 2

Ukraine; 2

Canada; 2

Russia; 1

Italy; 1

Netherlands; 1

Austria; 1

The 12 crew members are all Malaysian citizens, the airline says.

Story source: NPR