THE air and sea search for a Malaysia Airlines plane that vanished off the coast of Vietnam with 239 people on board will continue today in the area where two large oil slicks and a plume of smoke were spotted yesterday.
The multinational search and rescue operation will focus on the area in the South China Sea where a Vietnamese air force plane spotted the oil slicks, although it is not believed that any of the 227 passengers and 12 crew who were on board survived.
Last night it emerged that two of the passengers on board the flight from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia to Beijing were travelling on stolen passports.
Foreign ministry officials in Rome and Vienna confirmed that the names of two nationals listed on the manifest matched passports reported stolen in Thailand.
Flight MH307 disappeared in the early hours of yesterday morning. The Boeing 777 took off from Kuala Lumpur at 12.21am (4.21pm GMT) and was expected to land just over five hours later.
It vanished from radar screens less than one hour into the flight after reaching 35,000ft when it was 120 nautical miles off the coast of the Malaysian town of Kota Bharu.
Malaysia Airlines chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said there was no indication the pilots had sent out a distress signal.
Malaysia prime minister Najib Razak said an act of terrorism had not been ruled out: “We are looking at all possibilities, but it is too early to make any conclusive remarks.”
Two oil slicks were spotted late last night local time off the southern tip of Vietnam, each between six and nine miles long. The Vietnamese government said they were consistent with a slick produced by the two fuel tanks of a jetliner.
The mystery of what caused the crash deepened last night as it emerged that two passengers named on the manifest and believed dead were actually alive and had had their passports stolen while in Thailand during the past two years.
Malaysia Airlines listed one of the passengers on the plane as a 37-year-old Italian called Luigi Maraldi. However, according to reports in Italy, Maraldi contacted his parents to say he was not on the airliner and had his passport stolen in Thailand several months ago.
An Austrian reported to have been aboard the plane was safe at home. His passport had also been stolen.
The plane was carrying 227 passengers, including two infants, and 12 crew members, according to the airline. It said there were 152 passengers from China, 38 from Malaysia, seven from Indonesia, six from Australia, five from India, three from the United States, and others from Indonesia, France, New Zealand, Canada, Ukraine, Russia, Taiwan and the Netherlands.
Yesterday, the relatives and friends waiting to meet passengers off flight MH370 were taken to the Lido Hotel, a short drive from Beijing Airport’s Terminal Three. In Kuala Lumpur, Hamid Ramlan, a 56-year-old police officer, said his daughter and son-in-law had been on the flight for an intended holiday in Beijing.
He said: “My wife is crying. Everyone is sad. My house has become a place of mourning. This is Allah’s will. We have to accept it.”
Last night at Kuala Lumpur Airport all the television monitors had signs in red that said: “Let us pray for flight MH370”.
Jetliner is renowned as one of the world’s safest aircraft
THE Boeing 777 flown by Malaysia Airlines that disappeared yesterday morning over the South China Sea is one of the world’s most popular – and safest – jets.
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.
Airlines like the plane because it is capable of flying extremely long distances – such as New York to Hong Kong nonstop – thanks to two giant engines. Each engine is so massive that a row of at least five coach seats could fit inside it. By having just two engines, the plane burns through less fuel than four-engine jets, like the Boeing 747, which it has essentially replaced.
“It has provided a new standard in both efficiency and safety,” said Richard Aboulafia, an aviation consultant with the Teal Group. “The 777 has enjoyed one of the safest records of any jetliner built.”
Besides last year’s Asiana crash, the only other serious incident with the 777 came in January 2008 when a British Airways jet landed about 1,000ft short of the runway at Heathrow Airport.
Malaysia Airlines did have an incident in August 2005 with a 777 flying from Perth, Australia, to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s largest city. While flying 38,000ft above the Indian Ocean, the plane’s software incorrectly measured speed and acceleration, causing the plane to suddenly shoot up 3,000ft. The pilot disengaged the autopilot and landed safely back in Perth. A software update was quickly made on planes around the world.
Malaysia Airlines has 15 Boeing 777-200ER jets in its fleet of about 100 planes. The first was delivered on 23 April, 1997. The most recent on 13 December, 2004, according to Boeing. The 200ER is one of four versions of the 777.
The 777 is capable of flying 7,250 miles nonstop. Its two Rolls-Royce Trent 875 engines each have 74,600lb of thrust, letting it cruise at Mach 0.84, or nearly 640mph. A new model has a list price of $261.5 million (£156m), although airlines typically negotiate discounts.
‘Plenty of time’ for SOS call from pilots
AN AVIATION safety expert has said it is “extraordinary” that the pilots of the missing Malaysia Airlines plane did not make a distress call.
The Boeing B777-200 aircraft would have been cruising at about 35,000 feet when it lost contact over the South China Sea, giving the pilots “plenty of time” to report any technical problems, Flight Global’s operations and safety editor David Learmount said.
“Something happened and the pilots did not tell anyone. Why? It’s a good question,” Learmount said.
“It’s extraordinary the pilots failed to call because they had plenty of time to. Unless there was a bomb on board but there has been no evidence of that.”
Learmount, a pilot himself, added: “If the engines were to fail because of some interruption to the fuel flow, they can glide with no problems whatsoever for about 40 minutes at that height.”
He also said the time which the plane went missing may be significant. “Between midnight and 2am you’re not at a mental or physical performance high – you’re at the lowest performance standard in the 24-hour cycle.”
However, he admitted he was “puzzled” why authorities had not divulged a more accurate location of where the aircraft went missing.
The pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, has had more than 18,000 flying hours.