China has sent two rescue ships after a Malaysian jet carrying 239 people disappeared over the South China Sea. The last signals from the plane, headed from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, were detected south of Vietnam.
Chinese state television said two rescue ships had been dispatched to the South China Sea to help in search and rescue efforts for the missing aircraft.
The Boeing 777-200 had set off from Kuala Lumpur shortly after midnight local time, (16:41 UTC), carrying 239 people, according to carrier Malaysia Airlines. Subang air traffic control officials lost contact with the jet some two hours later.
“Malaysia Airlines is currently working with the authorities who have activated their search-and-rescue teams to locate the aircraft,” the carrier said.
The plane, flight number MH370, had been due to land in Beijing at 6.30 a.m. local time (22:30 GMT).
In a statement, airline CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said the flight was carrying a total number of 239 passengers and crew – comprising 227 passengers (including 2 infants) and 12 crew members.
“(The) focus of the airline is to work with the emergency responders and authorities and mobilize its full support,” Ahmad Jauhari said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with all affected passengers and crew and their family members.” The airline added that it was contacting next of kin of those on board.
A later statement by the carrier said it had not been ascertained if the flight had crashed, the plane having last had contact with Malaysian air traffic controllers 120 nautical miles (222 kilometers) off the east coast of the Malaysian town of Kota Bharu.
Malaysia Airlines said there were at least 12 nationalities on board, including 153 from China, 38 Malaysians, 12 Indonesians, seven Australians and four Americans, including an infant.
“This news has made us all very worried,” said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing. “We hope every one of the passengers is safe. We are doing all we can to get more details.”
Signals from South China Sea
China’s Xinhua news agency said radar detection of the plane ceased while it was in airspace controlled by Vietnam and that it had lost contact with Vietnamese officials at Ho Chi Min City.
Chinese and Vietnamese media reported that an unspecified signal had been picked up from the plane near Cape Ca Mau, 250 km (155 miles) southwest of Ho Chi Minh city, but a Vietnamese maritime search and rescue official later said that was not true.
Xinhua said the Chinese embassy in Malaysia had formed an emergency team, led by the ambassador, to respond to the incident.
A spokesman for Beijing airport said it had activated an emergency response system. Screens at the airport showed the flight was “delayed.”
Malaysia Airlines has 15 Boeing 777-200 jets in its fleet of about 100 planes. As Malaysia’s national flag carrier and one of Asia’s largest airlines, it flies to 87 destinations across six continents, transporting nearly 37,000 passengers daily.
rc/av (AFP, AP, Reuters)