SEARCHES ARE UNDERWAY for a Malaysia Airlines jet that lost contact with traffic controllers, leading to fears for the lives of the 239 people aboard.
Vietnamese authorities said contact with Flight MH370 was lost near the country’s airspace, but its exact location remained a mystery 12 hours after it went missing.
The airline has said the plane, on an overnight flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, relayed no distress signal or other indications of trouble.
“The plane lost contact near Ca Mau province airspace as it was preparing to transfer to Ho Chi Minh City air traffic control,” a statement posted on the official Vietnamese government website said.
The plane’s signal was never transferred to Ho Chi Minh air traffic control, it added.
The ministry launched a rescue effort to find the plane, working in coordination with Malaysian and Chinese officials, the statement added.
Malaysian authorities dispatched a plane, two helicopters and four vessels to search seas off its east coast in the South China Sea, said Faridah Shuib, a spokeswoman for the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency.
The Philippines said it was sending three navy patrol boats and a surveillance plane to help efforts.
Contact lost two hours after take-off
Contact was lost at 2:40 am Malaysian time (1840 GMT on Friday), about two hours after take-off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport, the carrier’s CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are deeply saddened this morning with the news on MH370,” he told a press conference in Malaysia.
Our focus now is to work with emergency responders and authorities, and mobilise full support. And our thoughts and prayers are with all affected passengers and crew, and their family members.
The airline and Malaysian authorities were liaising with Vietnamese officials, he added.
The Boeing 777-200 was carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members but the nationality breakdown he gave added up to 228 passengers.
They included 153 Chinese nationals plus one infant, 38 Malaysians, and 12 Indonesians.
Seven Australians also were aboard, three French nationals, four from the United States including one infant, plus passengers from several other countries. There were no Irish passengers on board the flight.
A woman cries at the arrival hall of the International Airport in Beijing. (Pic: AP Photo/ Ng Han Guan)
Airplane manufacturer Boeing said in a statement on Twitter that “we’re closely monitoring reports on Malaysia flight MH370. Our thoughts are with everyone on board”.
The information vacuum regarding the flight touched off a frenzy on social media, which saw an outpouring of concern for passengers.
At Beijing airport, an AFP journalist saw one woman at enter the arrivals zone and break down in tears. She was led away by police.