|(Flight MH370) 152 Chinese on board Malaysian Airlines flight to Beijing
Vietnamese air force planes detected two large oil slicks in the area where a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 vanished earlier in the day, the first sign that the aircraft carrying 239 people on board had crashed. It was on route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (Distressed relatives at Beijing airport, await news of Chinese passengers who had boarded the missing flight).
The Malaysian plane was carrying 227 passengers, including two infants, and 12 crew members. The airline said there were 152 passengers from China, 38 from Malaysia, seven from Indonesia, six from Australia, five from India, three from the US, and others from Indonesia, France, New Zealand, Canada, Ukraine, Russia, Italy, Taiwan, the Netherlands and Austria, AP reports.
Vietnamese air force planes were part of a multinational search operation launched after Flight MH370 disappeared from radar screens less than an hour after it took off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing early Saturday morning.
A Vietnamese government statement said the slicks were seen late Saturday off the southern tip of Vietnam and were each between 10 kilometers and 15 kilometers long. There was no confirmation that the slicks were related to the missing plane, but the statement said they were consistent with the kinds that would be produced by the two fuel tanks of a crashed jetliner.
Two-thirds of the missing plane's passengers were from China, while others were from elsewhere in Asia, North America and Europe.
Malaysia Airlines chief executiveAhmad Jauhari Yahya said there was no indication that the pilots had sent a distress signal, suggesting that whatever happened to the plane occurred quickly and possibly catastrophically.
The plane was last detected on radar at 1:30 a.m local time around where the South China Sea meets the Gulf of Thailand, authorities in Malaysia and Vietnam said.
Lai Xuan Thanh, director of Vietnam's civil aviation authority, said air traffic officials in the country never made contact with the plane.
The plane “lost all contact and radar signal one minute before it entered Vietnam's air traffic control,'' Lt. Gen. Vo Van Tuan, deputy chief of staff of the Vietnamese army, said in a statement.
The South China Sea is a tense region with competing territorial claims that have led to several low-level conflicts, particularly between China and the Philippines. That antipathy briefly faded as China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia all sent ships and planes to the region.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said that Malaysia had dispatched 15 planes and nine ships to the area, and that the U.S. Navy was sending some planes as well. Singapore, China and Vietnam also were sending aircraft.
It's not uncommon for it to take several days to find the wreckage of aircraft floating on the ocean. Locating and then recovering the flight data recorders, vital to any investigation, can take months or even years.
“In times of emergencies like this, we have to show unity of efforts that transcends boundaries and issues,'' said Lt. Gen. Roy Deveraturda, commander of the Philippine military's Western Command.