Saturday, March 8, 2014

China-Bound Malaysia Airlines Flight Goes Missing- All 239 On Board Feared Dead

Map locates planned flight path of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370, which departed from Kuala Lumpur, bound for Beijing, and has been reported missing. MCT 2014

A Boeing 777 carrying passengers from Kuala Lumpur to Bejing vanished while flying off the southern tip of Vietnam and has triggered a frantic search effort in international waters to find any trace of the aircraft. Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 was last detected by Vietnamese air traffic controllers some 125 nautical miles southwest off the coast of southernmost Ca Mau province.

The plane was a Boeing 777-200- the average age of such aircraft in Malaysia's fleet is just over 14 years. Both Malaysia Airlines and the Boeing have a pretty good safety record- the only fatal accident involving a 777 was in July 2013 at San Francisco International Airport when an Asiana flight crash-landed and three people were killed. Malaysia Airlines hasn't had a fatal accident since a 1995 plane crash in the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah where 34 people were killed after a Fokker 50 crashed on approach.

More ominously, Malaysian officials have begun examining a potential terrorism angle in MH370's disappearance.

Malaysia’s director general of civil aviation told a news conference Saturday night that authorities had reviewed closed-circuit TV footage of passengers and their luggage and hadn’t seen anything of concern. But Prime Minister Najib Razak cautioned that it was "too early" to come to any conclusions, and other officials said nothing was being ruled out of consideration at this point.

At least two of the passengers listed on MH370's manifest boarded using stolen passports from Austria and Italy.

One passenger was traveling with a stolen Austrian passport, Austria's Foreign Ministry said Saturday. A 30-year-old Austrian whose name was on the passenger list for the flight wasn't on board. His passport was stolen in Thailand in 2012, a ministry spokesman said, confirming a report in German newspaper Die Welt.

Another passenger on the list, Italian Luigi Maraldi, was also not on the plane, Italy's Foreign Ministry said Saturday. Mr. Maraldi's passport was stolen in Thailand a year and a half ago, his father said.

Malaysia Airlines had no confirmation from Malaysian authorities that stolen passports were used to board the flight, said Ignatius Ong, a member of the airline's crisis-management team. One European security official said it wasn't uncommon for passengers to board flights using stolen passports.

At least 153 passengers on Flight MH370 are Chinese nationals. The flight went missing less than a week after 29 people were killed in a mass stabbing by knife wielding assailants at a train station in the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming. Local police shot dead five of the suspected assailants and Chinese officials called the attack a well-organized 'premeditated, violent terrorist attack'- although the state-run media didn't identify the assailants and some social-media accounts of the attack were censored.

On late Saturday afternoon, the Vietnamese Air Force reported that an oil slick between six and nine miles long had been spotted off the southern coast. While there was no independent confirmation that the slick was that of flight MH370, it is consistent with an airliner crashing at sea. Malaysian civil aviation officials said that there was no distress signal or other signs of trouble from the flight, leading them to believe that whatever had happened to flight MH370 was quick and catastrophic.

The USS Pinckney and a P3-C Orion aircraft have also been searching for signs of the aircraft and naval assets from Singapore, Philippines and China have also been deployed.

UPDATE 3/9- According to a Malaysia Airlines spokesperson, the tickets for the two unidentified people travelling on the stolen EU passports had consecutive numbers, indicating the tickets were booked together. The tickets were also paid for using Thai Baht and booked through the China Southern Airlines website. The Italian passport was reported stolen in the Thai city of Phuket last year. China Southern [NYSE: ZNH] is a code-share partner with Malaysia Airlines, among others.

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