Vietnam Finds Oil Slicks as Search for Missing Jet Continues

A flight bound for Beijing that departed Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia shortly before 1 p.m. Eastern time on Friday disappeared en route.

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A flight bound for Beijing that departed Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia shortly before 1 p.m. Eastern time on Friday disappeared en route. According to the airline, Malaysia Airlines, Flight 370 is carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members. Two of the passengers are infants. A Vice President at the airline told CNN that the plane sent out no distress calls, or any other indication that something might have gone wrong.

In a press conference Saturday, the airline said that passengers of 14 different nationalities are on board the flight. Among those are four Americans, including one infant. 154 passengers are of Chinese nationality (including the second infant on board). 38 passengers are Malaysian, 12 are Indonesian, seven are Australian, three are French, two are from New Zealand, two are from the Ukraine, one is from Italy (UPDATE: perhaps not, see below), and one is from the Netherlands. The spokesperson was unable to provide more details on the status of the plane itself. The 53-year-old captain of the flight had 18,365 hours of flying experience.

According to FlightAware, the plane last made contact northeast of Kuala Lumpur, as shown in the map at right. The Associated Press reports that the plane "lost communication over Vietnam with control department in Ho Chi Minh City at 1:20 a.m." Malaysian Airlines said it was concentrating its search for the plane on the South China Sea.

The flight left Kuala Lumpur at 12:41 a.m. local time. According to South China Morning Post reporter Lana Lam, the plane "had enough fuel for seven hrs." As James Fallows notes at the Atlantic, FlightAware's data log on the flight shows it flying at 35,000 feet before suddenly ceasing to transmit any more data.

The airline's most recent statement, posted on Facebook, explains what's known about the status of the flight.

We deeply regret that we have lost all contacts with flight MH370 which departed Kuala Lumpur at 12.41 am earlier this morning bound for Beijing. 

The aircraft was scheduled to land at Beijing International Airport at 6.30am local Beijing time. 

Subang Air Traffic Control reported that it lost contact at 2.40am (local Malaysia time) today. 

A search-and-rescue operation is underway. The airline is "currently calling the next-of-kin of passengers and crew."

The airline says citizens of 13 countries are on board. The airplane is a Boeing B777-200. It was a 777 that crashed on landing last July in San Francisco, killing two people.

For updates on the status of the flight, you can follow Malaysia Airlines on Facebook or Twitter. The airline has also set up this page for future updates. 

Update Saturday, 7:49 a.m. ET: Search and rescue teams from Vietnam, Malaysia, China, Singapore and the Philippines are still searching for the missing jet.

In a statement, the Vietnamese government said that its air force spotted two large oil slicks off of the southern tip of the country. The Vietnamese government's statement is far from confirmation that the jet has crashed — it is, however, possibly the first concrete signal we've had of the Malaysia Airlines flight's fate. The Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam's director Lai Xuan Thanh said (via the New York Times):

“An AN26 aircraft of the Vietnam Navy has discovered an oil slick about 20 kilometers in the search area, which is suspected of being a crashed Boeing aircraft -- we have announced that information to Singapore and Malaysia and we continue the search." 

According to the AP's report, the type of slicks spotted would be consistent with leaked fuel from a jet crash.

It's now night in the region where the plane disappeared. Malaysia Airlines released an updated statement on the search indicating that the search would continue into the night by sea. The airline also released the passenger manifest

Update, 11:56 a.m.: There was good news for the family of at least two passengers thought to be on the flight. Luigi Maraldi was not on board the flight after all, Italy's Foreign Ministry confirmed. His passport had been stolen in August and was used to travel on the missing plane. This was also the case for an unnamed Austrian man, whose passport (stolen two years ago in Thailand) was used to board the flight. Police found him safe at home.

Update Sunday, 11:15 a.m.: Almost 24 hours since our last update, and not much more is known as night falls in Malaysia. A Vietnamese plane found what could be debris from the missing plane, but officials have not confirmed this yet. Search teams have found other objects that later turned out not to be from the missing plane, so the Vietnamese finding is far from certain. The use of the stolen passports to board the plane is still being investigated

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.