Search for missing Malaysian Air flight intensifies

USA TODAY - The hunt for the missing Malaysian Air jetliner intensified as daylight bathed a search area off the Vietnamese coast Sunday morning.

Ships searched overnight for the Boeing 777 jumbo jet carrying 239 passengers and crew on a flight bound for Beijing from Kaula Lumpur. An air search over the South China Sea resumed Sunday after it was suspended at nightfall Saturday. An area off the southern tip of Vietnam is the focus after two large oil slicks were spotted.

Three Americans were aboard the flight. Austin TV station KVUE reported one of the missing is Philip Wood, 50, from Roanoke, TX.

Freescale Semiconductor, an Austin-based tech company, said 20 employees from China and Malaysia were on board. "Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by this tragic event," said CEO Gregg Lowe.

Vietnamese Air Force planes Saturday located the oil slicks, each 6 to 9 miles long, about 80 miles south of the island of Tho Chu in the Gulf of Thailand. The slicks were located about one-third of a mile apart and are consistent with those from a crashed jetliner, the Vietnamese government said on its website.

Malaysia has sent two helicopters, a plane and four ships to search waters between Malaysia and Vietnam. The Philippines dispatched three Navy ships and a surveillance plane. China sent two ships. A U.S. Navy destroyer equipped with two helicopers is also assisting the operation.

The cause of the missing plane remains a mystery. There's also no explanation yet for the identity of two passengers listed on the flight manifest. Their passports were stolen in Thailand.

News agency ANSA reported that Louis Maraldi, an Italian national, was not on the flight. He contacted his parents after the flight went missing. Maraldi's passport was stolen last August.

Austrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Weiss said a name listed on the manifest matches an Austrian passport stolen two years ago. Weiss would not confirm the identity.

Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said terrorism is not suspected, but that all possibilities were investigated.

The plane had been flying for about two hours when air-traffic control reported it had lost all communications.

Subang Air Traffic Control lost contact with flight MH370 Saturday at 2:40 a.m. local time (1:40 p.m. Friday ET), about two hours after takeoff. It was scheduled to land in Beijing at 6:30 a.m. local time. The last radar signal was received as the aircraft approached Vietnam airspace near the Ca Mau province.

Lai Xuan Thanh, director of Vietnam's civil aviation authority, said air-traffic controllers never made contact with the plane.

Malaysia Airlines said there was no indication that the pilots sent a distress signal.

There were no reports of rough weather or other signs of trouble at the time the airline's disappeared. Some light rain and snow was falling over South and Central China, but it was well below the flight level at about 15,000 feet.

The twin-engine jet was carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew. Besides Wood, the other Americans on the manifest are Nicole Meng, 4; and Yan Zhang, 2.

Passengers are from 14 countries, including 153 from China, 38 from Malaysia, seven from Indonesia, six from Australia, five from India, three from France, two each from New Zealand, Ukraine and Canada and sole travelers from Russia, Italy, Taiwan, Austria and the Netherlands.

Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Juahari Yahya said that the company is working with emergency responders. "Our thoughts and prayers are with all affected passengers and crew and their family members," Yahya said.

At Beijing's airport, authorities posted a notice asking relatives and friends of passengers to gather at a hotel to wait for further information.

The flight crew are seasoned pilots, according to the airline. Capt. Zaharie Ahman Shah, 53, of Malaysia has 18,365 flight hours and has been with the airline since 1981. First Officer Fariq Ab.Hamid, 27, also of Malaysia, has 2,763 flight hours .

Aviation experts say the Boeing 777 has a strong safety record. Since its debut in 1995,it's been in only two major accidents.

The worst was last July, when an Asiana Airlines Boeing 777-200 with 291 passengers and 16 crew crashed on landing at San Francisco International Airport. Three passengers were killed - one by a fire rescue truck. There were serious injuries to 48 passengers. Pilot error is being investigated.

The search for the Malaysia Air flight comes amid one of the safer stretches of commercial aviation. In the U.S., 2012 was the industry's safest since the dawn of the jet age. The last major airline disaster was in 2009, when Air France Flight 447 crashed on a flight from Brazil to Paris, killing all 216 passengers and 12 crew.

Malaysia Air's last air fatalities were in 1995, when a flight crashed near Tawau, Malaysia, killing 34.


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