Was it a terror attack? Two people aboard Boeing 777 that disappeared over Vietnam were traveling on STOLEN PASSPORTS as missing U.S passengers identified as IBM exec and two toddlers
- Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 took off from Kuala Lumpur at 12.21am
- Vietnamese Navy detected emergency signal 153 miles out to sea
- Flight MH370 declared missing nearly 90 minutes after it was due to land
- Malaysian Transport Minister said ‘no crash site has been found’
- 227 passengers and 12 crew were from 14 different countries including Malaysia, China, U.S., France, Canada, and Australia
- Three Americans, including two toddlers, feared dead
- IBM employee Philip Wood, 51, identified as sole adult American national aboard the missing plane
- Two passengers believed to have been travelling on a stolen passports
- Aviation expert Chris Yates said the aircraft will not have been carrying enough fuel to still be flying and ‘will have crashed’
- He said the investigation will look at two areas, the maintenance of the aircraft and possible terrorism
- Vietnamese air force spot two oil slicks suspected to be from the wreckage
PUBLISHED: 19:56 EST, 7 March 2014 | UPDATED: 13:17 EST, 8 March 2014
An American national working for IBM in Malaysia has been identified as one of the passengers traveling aboard the Malaysian Airlines plane that vanished off the coast of Vietnam as new information concerning stolen passports has raised fears that it may have been an act of terror.
Philip Wood, 51, was identified as the only adult passenger traveling on a U.S. passport on Flight MH307. Two other American travelers have been named as toddlers Leo Meng, 2, and Nicole Meng, 4.
Earlier today, two oil slicks were spotted by the Vietnamese air force earlier today, as the major search and rescue operation was launched when the aircraft 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.
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.
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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
Luigi Maraldi, 27, was listed as the sole Italian national aboard the missing flight, but according to his father, was not on the plane.
‘Luigi called us early this morning to reassure us he was fine, but we didn’t know about the accident,’ Walter Maraldi told NBC News. ‘Thank God he heard about it before us.’
The name of Austrian citizen Christian Kozel, 30, also appeared on the passenger manifest, but the European nation’s foreign ministry stated that the man was safe back home, and that his passport had been stolen.
Officials from Italy and Austria confirmed that the travel documents of both men were reported stolen in Thailand.
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.
Wood is believed to be an IBM technical storage executive who began working in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, only three months ago, according to his LinkedIn profile.
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.
- Malaysian transport minister Hishamuddin Hussein
‘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.
The South China Sea is a tense region with competing territorial claims that have led to several low-level conflicts, particularly between China and the Philippines.
That antipathy briefly faded Saturday as China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia all sent ships and planes to the region.
Clue in the water: A handout picture provided by Tienphong.vn shows what is believed to be an oil slick stretching a length of about 9 miles in the sea off the Vietnamese coast
Malaysia had dispatched 15 planes and nine ships to the area. The U.S. Navy was sending a warship and a surveillance plane, while Singapore said it would send a submarine and a plane. China and Vietnam also were sending aircraft to help in the search.
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.
TIMELINE OF FLIGHT MH307
12.21am (4.21pm GMT): Flight MH307 takes off from Kuala Lumpur airport
1.21am (5.21pm GMT): The flight failed to check in as scheduled while flying between Malaysia and Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam
2.40am (6.40pm GMT): The flight loses contact with air traffic controllers
6.30am (10.30pm GMT): The flight was scheduled to land at Beijing
7.54am (11.54pm GMT): The airline issued a statement saying it had not landed and was officially missing
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.
Shock: Distressed relatives wait for news of the Malaysia Airlines plane which was due to land in Beijing. Malaysia’s Transport Minister said 14 hours into the massive search and rescue mission, that ‘no crash site’ has been located
Missing: Flight MH370 was flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing when it lost contact over Vietnam
Notice: A message written on a board at Beijing Airport tells relatives the Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 is delayed
Those on the flight included two American toddlers and a Chinese baby, and 12 crew members, Malaysian Airlines said in a statement, adding it was working with all authorities in the region and search and rescue teams had been mobilized.
The aircraft had been due to land in Beijing at 6.30am local time but at 7.54am the airline issued a statement saying it had not landed and was officially missing.
It said there were 152 passengers from China, 38 from Malaysia, seven from Indonesia, six from Australia, five from India, three from the U.S., and others from Indonesia, France, New Zealand, Canada, Ukraine, Russia, Taiwan and the Netherlands.
Chinese state media said 24 Chinese artists and family members, who were in Kuala Lumpur for an art exchange program, were aboard. The Sichuan provincial government said Zhang Jinquan, a well-known calligrapher, was on the flight.
The pilot of the passenger plane is Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, a 53-year-old Malaysia who joined the airline in 1981.
His co-pilot was 27-year-old First Officer Fariq Ab. Hamid, also from Malaysia, who joined the airline in 2007.
If the aircraft has crashed, and all the passengers and crew are killed, it would the deadliest aviation incident since November 2001.
In that incident, 265 people died after an American Airlines Airbus A300 crashed in Belle Harbor, Queens, after leaving JFK Airport in New York. The deaths included five people on the ground.
MAS Operations Control Vice President Fuad Sharuji said: ‘We tried to call this aircraft through various means,’ adding that it was carrying fuel for 7.5 hours when it disappeared.
Lai Xuan Thanh, director of Vietnam’s civil aviation authority, said the plane was over the sea and bound for Vietnamese airspace but air traffic officials in the country were never able to make contact.
The plane ‘lost all contact and radar signal one minute before it entered Vietnam’s air traffic control,’ Lieutenant General Vo Van Tuan, deputy chief of staff of the Vietnamese army, said in a statement issued by the government.
More than 10 hours after last contact, officials from several countries were struggling to locate the plane.
All countries in the possible flight path of the missing aircraft were performing a ‘communications and radio search’, John Andrews, deputy chief of the Philippines’ civil aviation agency, said.
Xinhua said China has sent two maritime rescue ships to the South China Sea to help in the search and rescue efforts.
‘It couldn’t possibly be in the air because it would have run out of oil by now,’ Shukor Yusof, an aviation analyst at S&P Capital IQ, said.
‘It’s either on the ground somewhere, intact, or possibly it has gone down in the water.’
Aviation experts said that if the report of the aircraft suddenly plunging was correct it could be due to a number of factors.
Long wait: A Malaysian man with relatives on the plane arrives at Beijing airport. An unconfirmed report on a flight tracking website said the aircraft had plunged 650ft and changed course shortly before all contact was lost
Devastating: A woman cries in Beijing airport as she waits to hear information about her family
Anxious: A man with family on the missing flight is escorted to the relatives room at Kuala Lumpur airport
‘CRASH’ WOULD BE DEADLIEST IN PLANE’S 19-YEAR HISTORY
If it is confirmed that the plane has crashed, the loss would mark the second fatal accident involving a Boeing 777 in less than a year and by far the worst since the jet entered service in 1995.
It would mark the U.S.-built Boeing 777-200ER airliner’s deadliest incident since entering service 19 years ago.
An Asiana Airlines Boeing 777-200ER crash-landed in San Francisco in July 2013, killing three passengers and injuring more than 180.
Boeing said it was aware of reports that the Malaysia Airlines plane was missing and was monitoring the situation but had no further comment.
The flight was operating as a China Southern Airlines codeshare.
An official at the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam (CAAV) said the plane had failed to check in as scheduled at 5.21pm GMT while it was flying over the sea between Malaysia and Ho Chi Minh city.
These include a catastrophic engine failure; the pilots taking evasive action to avoid another aircraft; or an explosion.
The airline has not said whether the pilots were able to issue a distress call – but if they did not, experts said this could indicate a catastrophy that had occurred without warning.
At Beijing’s airport, authorities posted a notice asking relatives and friends of passengers to gather to a hotel about 15km from the airport to wait for further information, and provided a shuttle bus service.
A woman wept on the shuttle bus while saying on a mobile phone: ‘They want us to go to the hotel. It cannot be good.’
Periodically, wails could be heard coming from inside the hotel conference room where the relatives were sequestered, and several people emerged in the mid-afternoon, complaining that airline officials were not providing sufficient information.
‘We are being treated like dogs!’ one man yelled, pushing through a crowd of reporters.
A waiting area for family and friends was also set up at the Kuala Lumpur airport the flight had left from.
Fuad Sharuji, Malaysian Airlines’ vice president of operations control, told CNN that the plane was flying at an altitude of 35,000ft and that the pilots had reported no problem with the aircraft.
The Boeing jet lost contact with Malaysian air traffic controllers a little over two hours into its flight.
Reports from China’s Xinhua news agency said later that the aircraft was lost in air space controlled by Vietnam and did not enter Chinese airspace or make any contact with Chinese controllers.
‘Our team is currently calling the next of kin of passengers and crew,’ the airline’s chief executive, Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, said as the airline issued a statement saying its ‘thoughts and prayers’ were with all those on board as well as their families.
Waiting room: Family and friends are being directed to a reception area at Kuala Lumpur airport, where the plane left, as the airline gathers details about the missing aircraft
Information: A member of staff from Malaysia Airlines is surrounded by reporters at the airport
NATIONALITIES OF THE MISSING
China/Taiwan: 152, including an infant
U.S.: 3, including two toddlers
New Zealand: 2
Finding planes that disappear over the ocean can be difficult. Airliner ‘black boxes’ - the flight data and cockpit voice recorders – are equipped with ‘pingers’ that emit ultrasonic signals that can be detected underwater.
Under good conditions, the signals can be detected from several hundred miles away, John Goglia, a former member of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, said.
If the boxes are trapped inside the wreckage, the sound may not travel as far, he said. If the boxes are in an underwater trench, that also hinders how far the sound can travel. The signals also weaken over time.
Unconfirmed reports said it was believed the missing aircraft was involved in a crash in August 2012 when it damaged the tail of a China Eastern Airlines plane at Shanghai Pudong Airport.
The reports said that in that incident the tip of the wing of the Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 broke off.
Family room: Women waiting to hear about loved ones on the plane arrive at Kuala Lumpur airport
Update: Malaysian Airlines chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahyain speaks at a press conference on Saturday
Retired American Airlines captain Jim Tilmon told CNN that ‘it doesn’t sound very good,’ as the search continued for the missing jet.
‘The route is mostly overland, which means there would be plenty of radars and radios to contact the plane.
‘I’ve been trying to come up with every scenario that I could just to explain this away, but I haven’t been very successful.’
Mr Tilmon said the jet was ‘about as sophisticated as any commercial airplane could possibly be.’
Expert view: Aviation expert David Learmount said it is extraordinary that the crew aboard the Malaysia Airlines flight, which disappeared yesterday, did not make an emergency call
A leading aviation safety expert has said it is ‘extraordinary’ that the pilots of a missing Malaysia Airlines plane carrying 239 people did not make a distress call.
The Boeing B777-200 aircraft would have been cruising at about 35,000 feet when it lost contact over the South China Sea, giving the pilots ‘plenty of time’ to report any technical problems, Flight Global’s operations and safety editor David Learmount said.
Mr Learmount said: ‘Something happened and the pilots did not tell anyone. Why? It’s a good question.
‘It’s extraordinary the pilots failed to call because they had plenty of time to. Unless there was a bomb on board but there has been no evidence of that.’
Mr Learmount, who is a pilot, drew comparisons with the Air France 447 plane crash over the Atlantic Ocean in 2009, which killed 216 passengers and 12 aircrew, including five Britons.
The aircraft crashed when pilots lost control after ice crystals affected sensors used to measure the plane’s speed, he said.
Mr Learmount said: ‘This is an historical comparison and could be a coincidence.
‘It also happened in the early hours of morning, after midnight in the dead of night, and went missing without a call from the pilots.
‘Modern aircrafts are beautifully built and incredibly safe.
‘If the engines were to fail because of some kind of interruption to the fuel flow, they can glide with no problems whatsoever for about 40 minutes at that height.’
Incident echos tragedy: Mr Learmount said the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH307 echos the Air France crash in 2009, which killed 216 passengers and 12 crew
Route: An online flight tracker for MH37 ends shortly after takeoff from Kuala Lumpur
Mr Learmount said the time which the Malaysia Airlines plane went missing may be significant.
He said: ‘Between midnight and 2am you’re not at a mental or physical performance high – you’re at the lowest performance standard in the 24-hour cycle.’
Plane’s disappearance crash echoes Air France crash
- Air France flight 447 crashed over the Atlantic in 2009
- 216 passengers were killed along with 12 crew members – five Britons were among the dead
- Aircraft crashed when pilots lost control when ice crystals affected sensors used to measure the plane’s speed
- Investigators took two years to find the Air France plane
The failure to locate the plane so far was not unusual, he added, with investigators taking two years to find the missing Air France 447 plane.
However, Mr Learmount admitted he was ‘puzzled’ why authorities had not divulged a more accurate location of where the aircraft went missing.
‘They may not know precisely but they know pretty accurately,’ he said.
The 53-year-old Malaysia Airlines pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, has more than 18,000 flying hours and has been flying for the airline since 1981, the company’s chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said.
The first officer, 27-year-old Fariq Hamid, has about 2,800 hours of experience and has flown for the airline since 2007.
BOEING 777: ONE OF THE WORLD’S SAFEST JETS
The Boeing 777 flown by Malaysia Airlines that disappeared over the South China Sea is one of the world’s most popular – and safest – jets.
The long-range jumbo jet has helped connect cities at the far ends of the globe, with flights as long as 16 hours.
But more impressive is its safety record: The first fatal crash in its 19-year history only came last July when an Asiana Airlines jet landed short of the runway in San Francisco. Three of the 307 people aboard died.
Missing: The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 lost contact with Air Traffic Control over the Pacific with 227 passengers aboard
Airlines like the plane because it is capable of flying extremely long distances thanks to two giant engines.
Each engine is so massive that a row of at least five coach seats could fit inside it. By having just two engines, the plane burns through less fuel than four-engine jets, like the Boeing 747, which it has essentially replaced.
“It has provided a new standard in both efficiency and safety,” said Richard Aboulafia, an aviation consultant with the Teal Group.
“The 777 has enjoyed one of the safest records of any jetliner built.”
Besides last year’s Asiana crash, the only other serious incident with the 777 came in January 2008 when a British Airways jet landed about 1,000 feet short of the runway at London’s Heathrow Airport.
Malaysia Airlines did have an incident in August 2005 with a 777 flying from Perth, Australia, to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s largest city.
While flying 38,000 feet above the Indian Ocean, the plane’s software incorrectly measured speed and acceleration, causing the plane to suddenly shoot up 3,000 feet.
The pilot disengaged the autopilot and descended and landed safely back in Perth. A software update was quickly made on planes around the world.
Malaysia Airlines has 15 Boeing 777-200ER jets in its fleet of about 100 planes. The first was delivered on April 23, 1997, and the most recent on December 13, 2004, according to Boeing. The 200ER is one of four versions of the 777.
The 777 is capable of flying 7,250 miles non-stop. Its two Rolls-Royce Trent 875 engines each have 74,600lb of thrust, letting the plane cruise at Mach 0.84, or nearly 640 mph.
A new model has a list price of 261.5 million US dollars (£156 million), although airlines usually negotiate discounts.
The 777 was the first twin-engine plane to be immediately certified to fly over the ocean as far as 180 minutes from any emergency landing airport.
Government safety regulators have determined that it could fly for nearly three hours on a single engine in the case of an emergency.