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MISSING MAS FLIGHT: Oil slicks point to MAS plane crash

Publication Date : 09-03-2014


Two giant oil slicks spotted off southern Vietnam last night offered the strongest sign yet that a missing Malaysia Airlines (MAS) plane with 239 passengers and crew had crashed, though six countries involved in a massive search operation in the South China Sea have found no signs of any wreckage.

Vietnam's civil aviation authorities said the slicks, about 15km in length and discovered about 140km south of Tho Chu island off southern Vietnam, were consistent with the kind that would be left by fuel from a crashed jetliner.

Boats were sent to the area to verify the finding, though no conclusive statement emerged from Vietnam or MAS by press-time.

Singapore sent a C-130 aircraft and offered the use of a submarine vessel with divers on board, which Malaysia has accepted. Vessels from Malaysia, the Philippines, the United States and China are already helping in the search.

The Malaysian government and its national carrier were under intense pressure yesterday to explain how flight MH370, which departed Kuala Lumpur for Beijing with an experienced pilot at the helm and no signs of rough weather, could have gone missing.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak would only say the authorities were "looking at all possibilities", and declined to discuss possible causes, including terrorism.
"It is too soon to speculate," he told reporters at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. "We can't make conclusions, we are investigating all theories."

Late last night, two passengers on the plane were found to have used passports stolen in Thailand. The passports had belonged to an Italian and an Austrian.

The plane took off just after midnight yesterday with passengers and crew from 14 countries and Taiwan. It lost radar contact 50 minutes after take-off, and its last communication with Malaysian air traffic control was to acknowledge the transfer of control to Ho Chi Minh City.

Conflicting accounts of the plane's fate, which swung from rumours about a safe landing in south-western China to retracted reports about a crash off southern Vietnam, left anguished family members of the missing passengers and crew torn between despair and hope.

If the jetliner indeed crashed, it would be the worst aviation accident in South-east Asia, surpassing the death toll recorded in September 1997 when a Garuda Indonesia plane burst into flames on its way from Jakarta to Medan, killing all 234 on board.

China, whose 153 nationals made up the vast majority of passengers on board the MAS flight, called on Malaysia to carry out a "quick and effective search and rescue operation". Datuk Seri Najib said Malaysia had sent 15 aircraft and nine ships to conduct searches yesterday. No Singaporeans were on board MH370, Singapore's Foreign Ministry confirmed last night.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam called their Malaysian counterparts yesterday to express their sympathies and offered Singapore's assistance in finding the missing aircraft.

Shanmugam has also conveyed to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi his concern for the missing Chinese passengers on board MH370.

In Beijing, anger boiled over among anxious family members of the missing passengers as they pressed the airline for answers to no avail.

More than 120 of them were holed up for hours yesterday in a second-floor room at the Crowne Plaza Beijing Lido hotel, located near the capital's international airport, as MAS tried to put together a hastily conducted press conference. The long wait and the lack of details prompted several disgruntled family members to storm out of the hotel.

"The airline did not give us an explanation. It only gave us a piece of paper with the same information that you guys already have," an angry woman in her mid-30s told reporters.

Others questioned why the news of missing MH370 was made public only about six hours after the plane went missing.

Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, MAS' chief executive, said the delay was due to the need to carry out investigations before making information public, and also to inform the next of kin.

Meanwhile, MAS said its operations were continuing as usual, and that it had no plans to ground any planes unless instructed by the manufacturer, Boeing.

Malaysia's national carrier has a good safety record but is struggling financially. The airline reported a net loss of 343.4 million ringgit(US$105 million) for its fourth quarter ended Dec 31, its fourth consecutive quarterly loss.


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