|Journalists attempt to interview a relative of a passenger on Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, as she crouches on the floor crying, at the Beijing Capital International Airport on Saturday. (Reuters)
Hong Kong, March 8: A China-bound Malaysia Airlines flight carrying 239 people including five Indians disappeared early this morning, and two 15km long oil slicks spotted in the Gulf of Thailand between Vietnam and Malaysia raised fears of a crash.
No sign of the 11-year-old Boeing 777-200 or any wreckage had been found long after nightfall although Vietnam, Malaysia, China, Singapore and the Philippines staged an intensive air-and-sea search.
There were no reports of bad weather or claims of a terrorist attack, but European governments suggested at least two passengers may have been carrying stolen passports. (See chart).
“We are not ruling out any possibilities,” Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya told reporters.
Two key questions hung in the air:
Why did the pilots not send a distress call?
When was the last contact made with Flight MH370, which left Kuala Lumpur at 12.41am local time and was to arrive in Beijing at 6.30am?
Fredrik Lindahl, chief executive of online aircraft tracking service Flightradar24, said the last radar contact had been at 1.19am, about 38 minutes after take-off.
He said the plane was then 150km northeast of the northeastern Malaysian port of Kuala Terengganu. This places the airliner close to the site of the oil slicks, spotted by Vietnamese navy planes along with a column of smoke near the midpoint between Malaysia and Vietnam.
Malaysia Airlines said the last conversation between the flight crew and air traffic control had been around 1.30am but claimed the plane vanished off the radar only at 2.40am.
That timeline seemed to suggest the plane — reported to be in stable flight at 35,000ft when last contacted — had stayed in the air long enough to fly not only across the Gulf of Thailand but also far north across Vietnam.
“Something happened and the pilots did not tell anyone. Why?” aviation safety expert and Flight Global editor David Learmount said.
“They had plenty of time to (call), unless there was a bomb on board but there has been no evidence of that.”
Hours after MH370 disappeared, the rear brake of an IndiGo Airbus 320 from Delhi caught fire as it landed in Kathmandu, but the 175 passengers were evacuated safely through emergency exits.