An air search for the Malaysian Airlines plane that vanished off the coast of Vietnam has been called off until daylight as it emerged two passengers were travelling using stolen passports.
Two oil slicks were spotted by the Vietnamese air force earlier today, as the major search and rescue operation was launched when Flight MH307 disappeared shortly after losing contact with air traffic controllers.
The Boeing 777, with 227 passengers and 12 crew members on board, took off from Kuala Lumpur at 12.21am (4.21pm GMT) bound for Beijing, where it was expected to land at 6.30am (10.30pm GMT). Among them were three Americans, including two toddlers.
Anxious: Families of those on board the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH307 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, face an anxious wait for news of the search mission at Kuala Lumpur airport
Victims: This handout picture taken on March 7, 2014 and released by Hamid Ramlan shows his daughter Norliakmar Hamid (second right) and her husband Razahan Zamani (right), who were passengers on a missing Malaysia Airlines flight.
Grief: Family and friends waiting for the plane to arrive break down as they hear the jet has gone missing. The flight vanished off the coast of Vietnam around two hours after taking off.
Despair: There were 227 passengers and 12 crew members on board Flight MH370, from 14 different nations.
But after reaching 35,000ft and 120 nautical miles off the coast of the Malaysian town of Kota Bharu the plane vanished, prompting fears the aircraft ‘could have crashed’.
As Malaysian Airlines released a full list of the passengers on board – including five children aged two to four years old – it emerged two passengers were traveling on stolen passports.
A list of passenger names posted at the Beijing airport, apparently by Chinese authorities, listed three U.S. passport holders: Philip Tallmadge Wood, 51; Nicole Meng, 4; and Leo Meng, 2.
As the air search was abandoned overnight, aviation expert Chris Yates said the plane would not be carrying enough fuel to still be in the air and would ‘definitely have crashed’.
He told Sky News: ‘Frankly the plane would not have been carrying enough fuel to stay aloft much longer than an hour after it was due to arrive in Beijing.
‘We simply don’t know the circumstances behind what caused that crash at the moment.
‘There will be two areas for the investigation: the maintenance of the aircraft and also possible terrorism.’
Troubled waters: A fisherman works on his boat near a local naval base at Phu Quoc island, in the waters of southern Vietnam, where a Malaysian Airlines jet was presumed lost.
Search by sea: A Vietnam coast guard ship is seen anchored at a local naval base at Phu Quoc island.
Concern: The arrivals board at Beijing Airport listed flight MH370 as being delayed
Desperate: Relatives waiting for news have been booked into a hotel at Beijing Airport.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said there has been no sign of the missing plane.
He said search operations in an area about midway between Malaysia and Vietnam’s southern coast were being intensified.
It comes as the Vietnamese air force reports it has spotted two oil slicks, thought to be from the wreckage of the crash.
A Vietnamese government statement said the slicks were spotted off the southern tip of Vietnam.
They were each between six miles and nine miles long, officials said.
The statement said the slicks were consistent with the kinds that would be left by fuel from a crashed jetliner, but it was not clear if they were connected to the missing aircraft.
‘Vietnam rescue airplanes saw two oil spills and one smoke column in the area around 150 miles west of Tho Chu island, but we can’t confirm it’s from that Malaysia plane,’ said Pham Quy Tieu, vice minister of transportation.
‘We sent two maritime boats and some military boats there to clarify, each boat with about 20 people. The oil spills are about 15km (9.3 miles) long. Those boats will be there in about three to four hours.’
Less than one hour after Flight MH370 left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing, the plane disappeared from radar.
Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said there was no indication that the pilots sent a distress signal. The fact that there was apparently no call for help suggests that whatever happened to the flight occurred quickly.
‘We are doing everything in our power to locate the plane. We are doing everything we can to ensure every possible angle has been addressed,’ Transport Minister Hishamuddin Hussein told reporters near the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
‘We are looking for accurate information from the Malaysian military. They are waiting for information from the Vietnamese side,’ he said.
Ships in the area have been involved, scouring the vast site for signs of a wreckage.
Malaysian Airlines has confirmed the majority of those on board are from Malaysia and China, with three Americans, two Canadians and seven Australians and passengers from France.
Vietnamese state media, quoting a senior naval official, had reported that the Boeing 777-200ER flight had crashed off south Vietnam, but those reports have been denied, with the plane listed as ‘missing’.
The Vietnamese Navy confirmed it detected the aircraft’s emergency locator signal 153 miles south of Phu Quoc island in the South China sea.
Admiral Ngo Van Phat told the Vietnamese newspaper Tuoi Tre that radar showed the aircraft had crashed into the sea off the southern tip of Vietnam, close to the border with Cambodia.
The paper later reported the Admiral qualifying his statement, saying the radar had revealed the presumed crash site.
Malaysian naval vessels saw no immediate sign of wreckage when they reached the maritime area off the country’s northeast coast this morning, a senior rescue official said.
Malaysia has sent three maritime enforcement ships and a navy vessel to the area, backed by three helicopters, a Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency official said.
‘Our aircraft asset spotted an orange speck in the sea where the last signal came from. We sent a vessel to search the area and it was confirmed that it was nothing,’ he said.
The signal picked up by the Navy is believed to be the Emergency Locator Transmittor, which can be activated manually by the flight crew or automatically upon impact.
Crying relatives of Chinese passengers on board the plane wept at Beijing airport earlier today as it became clear the jet had probably crashed.
An unconfirmed report on a flight tracking website said the aircraft had plunged 650ft and changed course shortly before all contact was lost.
The route would have taken flight MH370, a B777-200 aircraft, across the Malaysian mainland in a north-easterly direction and then across the Gulf of Thailand.