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This photo provided by Laurent Errera taken Dec 26, 2011 shows the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER that disappeared from air traffic control screens Saturday. — AP
This photo provided by Laurent Errera taken Dec 26, 2011 shows the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER that disappeared from air traffic control screens Saturday. — AP
Passengers walk past a signboard of Malaysia Airlines at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Saturday, March 8, 2014. — Photo by AP
Passengers walk past a signboard of Malaysia Airlines at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Saturday, March 8, 2014. — Photo by AP

KUALA LUMPUR: Several nations searched waters off Southeast Asia on Saturday after a Malaysia Airlines jet carrying 239 passengers disappeared and was presumed crashed, leaving stunned relatives demanding answers.

Contact with Flight MH370 was lost somewhere between Malaysia's east coast and southern Vietnam, but its fate remained a mystery more than 16 hours after it slipped off radar screens.

Air search operations were halted at nightfall, though ships continued searching, the airline said, adding that no trace of the passenger plane had been found as of late Saturday.

The flight was en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, with 227 passengers and 12 crew members from 14 nations, the airline said.

Frustrated officials and passengers' families struggled to make sense of the disappearance of the Boeing 777-200 which — like the Malaysian national carrier — has a solid safety record.

The airline said the plane, on an overnight flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, relayed no distress signal, indications of rough weather, or other signs of trouble.

“We are looking at all possibilities but it is too soon to speculate,” Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said, when asked whether terrorism could have been a factor.

The plane's disappearance triggered a search effort involving vessels from several nations with rival maritime claims in the tense South China Sea.

China, which had 153 of its nationals on the plane, said it ordered maritime patrol vessels to begin scouring the area.

Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines said they threw aircraft and vessels into the effort, and Singapore dispatched an air force C130 transport plane to the region.

Najib said the US navy also had agreed to send planes to help.

Authorities will search “for as long as it takes,” Najib told reporters.

Overlapping claims to the South China Sea, a resource-rich, vital shipping lane, have been a growing source of friction between China and its neighbours.

Contact lost after two hours

Contact with the aircraft was lost at 2:40 am Malaysian time, about two hours after take-off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport, the airlines' CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said.

“Our focus now is to work with emergency responders and authorities, and mobilise full support,” he told a press conference, adding the airline's “thoughts and prayers” were with those affected.

If a crash is confirmed, it would be only the second fatal crash ever for the widely used Boeing 777.

A 777-200 operated by South Korea's Asiana Airlines skidded off the runway in San Francisco in 2013, killing three.

Malaysia Airlines also has an admirable safety record. Its worst-ever crash occurred in 1977, when 93 passengers and seven crew perished in a hijacking and subsequent crash in southern Malaysia.

Indonesia-based aviation analyst Gerry Soejatman said a “24-hour golden window” for search and rescue efforts was closing fast.

“You can't assume that there are no survivors, and if there are any, it is absolutely crucial that they are picked up within a day, or the chances of survival drops significantly,” he said.

The 153 Chinese passengers aboard the plane included an infant, while 38 Malaysians and seven Indonesians were aboard.

Six Australians, four French nationals, and three Americans including an infant, were also among those listed.

The pilot had flown for the carrier since 1981, it said. The plane is more than 11 years old.

“This news has made us all very worried,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in Beijing.

“We hope every one of the passengers is safe. We are doing all we can to get more details.”

Distraught relatives

Vietnamese state media quoted a naval official in the country as saying the plane had crashed into the sea off Vietnam's southern coast.

But hours later, Hanoi had offered no further information and the claim could not be confirmed.

The lack of information sparked fury among anguished relatives in Beijing.

“They should have told us something before now,” a visibly distressed man in his 30s said at a hotel where passengers' families were asked to gather.

“They are useless,” another young man said of the airline. “I don't know why they haven't released any information.”

At Kuala Lumpur's airport, distraught family members trickled in to a designated waiting area for loved ones, escorted by authorities.

Hamid Ramlan, a 56-year-old Kuala Lumpur police officer, said his daughter and son-in-law were on the flight for an intended holiday in Beijing.

“My wife is crying. Everyone is sad. My house has become a place of mourning,” he said. “This is Allah's will. We have to accept it.”

”Being a policeman over 33 years, this is my worst day.”

A deadly accident would be a huge blow for Malaysian Airlines, which has bled money for years as its struggles to fend off competition from rivals such as fast-growing Malaysia-based AirAsia.

Analysts have blamed poor management, government interference, and union resistance to reform of the airline.

Comments (7) Closed

Kamran Haneef Mar 08, 2014 11:21am

Worst fears arises as it has been 6 hours missing the aircraft. Goosebumps I get every moment I think of outcome of all this.

N K Ali Mar 08, 2014 11:51am

One can empathize the psychological and physical distress the anxious families are going through. May Allah Almighty save the precious lives on board the aircraft and give good news to the world. Ameen. Salams

stanley fernandes Mar 08, 2014 01:59pm

I think its technical fault. Just woke up to hear bad news about the same. possiblities of fuel burnout quite unlikely !!!! Mostly tourists

AbbasToronto Mar 08, 2014 05:19pm

Sad news.

777 is a marvel of engineering, so the probability of technical fault is low. The Malaysians train their pilots well. So a terrorist act can not be ruled out.

I lived in Malaysia in 1996 and taught at the Standards & Research Institute, and visit it often. A quarter of its population is vibrant hard working educated Chinese who produce the national wealth. The 2/3 uneducated Muslims lives off by taxing them and ignorance means heavy Jihadi Salafi bent making Malaysia an important link in the international terrorist Jihadi web. The 2002 Bali bombing that killed over 200 and injured even more was plotted in Malaysia.

I always felt that Malaysia will face terrorism worse than Pakistan one day as what goes around comes around.

Ai Mar 08, 2014 09:56pm

@AbbasToronto: agree it could be either Iran ibranded Shia or Saudi branded Salafai , while both has nothing to do with Islam

abbas kd Mar 08, 2014 11:00pm

@AbbasToronto: You need to grow up for doing such a talk at such a sad time for everyone involved in this tragedy. Iran Airline's aircraft was shot down by the psychotic American who was not a Jihadi, & Korean's Airline's aircraft was shot down by Russian jets & they were not Jihadi either. Quit blaming Muslims for every evil in the world, Muslims are the victims in the world. In this incidence, innocent people have been missing or possibly killed, it very well be a terrorist act but this is not the time to write an essay about it.

M. Khan Mar 09, 2014 03:40am

It is sad to note that people like Abbas are there to link everything to terrorism. This is perhaps to please his neighbourhood and to prove his loyalty.This would not get him any appreciation for his services against Muslims.