BEIJING – As passengers’ relatives waited for news on the Malaysian Airlines jet that went missing Saturday en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, reports emerged that military aircraft had spotted two oil slicks off southern Vietnam.
The Associated Press reported that a Vietnamese government statement said the slicks were each between 6 miles and 9 miles long. The statement said the slicks were consistent with the kinds that would be left by fuel from a crashed jetliner.
The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 disappeared from radar screens with 239 people on board.
A delegation of Chinese painters and calligraphers, an American employee of IBM and two vacationing couples from Australia were among those believed to be passengers.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 lost contact with air traffic controllers around 2:40 a.m. local time, two hours after takeoff. More than 14 hours later, airline officials said they had been unable “to establish any contact or determine the whereabouts” of the aircraft, a Boeing 777-200.
The airline’s CEO, Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, told a news conference in Kuala Lumpur that there was no distress call or bad weather report from the pilots before the plane lost contact with air control 120 nautical miles (140 miles) off the east coast of Kota Bharu, Malaysia.
A search-and-rescue effort was underway, officials said. China sent two ships to assist, state-run CCTV reported, while Singapore dispatched a C130 aircraft. Malaysia sent three maritime enforcement ships, a navy vessel and three helicopters, a Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency official told Reuters.
Relatives of some of the missing passengers were brought from the Beijing Capital International Airport to a nearby hotel and were sequestered in a conference room on the second floor of the complex.
Periodically, wails could be heard coming from inside the room, and several people emerged in the midafternoon, complaining that airline officials were not providing sufficient information. “We are being treated like dogs!” one man yelled, pushing through a crowd of reporters.
“We are still trying to locate the current location of the flight based on the last known position of the aircraft,” the airline said in a statement. “We are working with the international search and rescue teams in trying to locate the aircraft. So far, we have not received any emergency signals or distress messages.”
The airline said it was dispatching a “Go Team” of caregivers and volunteers to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur late Saturday afternoon to assist family members of the passengers.
The plane was carrying 227 passengers and a dozen crew members, the airline said. The biggest contingent – 154 — was from China and Taiwan. The airline did not release a manifest but a list of passenger names posted at the Beijing airport, apparently by Chinese authorities, listed three U.S. passport holders: Philip Tallmadge Wood, 50; Nicole Meng, 3; and Leo Meng, 1.
Wood is believed to be an IBM employee who recently began working for the company in Kuala Lumpur after several years in its Beijing offices.
Others on the flight included 38 Malaysians, five Indians, seven Indonesians, six Australians, four French, two Ukranians, two Canadians and two people from New Zealand. There were also a Russian, and Italian, a Dutch and an Austrian aboard.
All 12 crew members were Malaysian, the airline said.
State-run media in China said a delegation of 24 Chinese artists and calligraphers and their family members were aboard the flight. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that two vacationing Australian couples, one from Queensland and the other from Brisbane, were traveling together on the flight.
The airline identified the pilot as Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, who joined the airline in 1981 and had more than 18,000 hours of experience. The first officer was identified as Fariq Ab. Hamid, 27, who joined the airline in 2007 and had about 2,700 hours logged.
The “focus of the airline is to work with the emergency responders and authorities and mobilize its full support,” the airline said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with all affected passengers and crew and their family members.”
Boeing said it was assembling a team to provide technical assistance to investigating authorities.
Those seeking information on passengers may contact Malaysia Airlines at +60-3-7884-1234.
Tommy Yang and Nicole Liu of The Times’ Beijing bureau contributed to this report.