Oil slick in sea between Vietnam and Malaysia may be first hint of vanished aircraft
KOTA KINABALU: As the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 continues, uncertainty has crept in over the time the aircraft disappeared from the radar and how quickly the search began.
MAS has said that the plane with 227 passengers aboard, including two infants, and an all-Malaysian crew of 12, took off at 12.41am Malaysia time, and it disappeared from air traffic control radar in Subang at 2.40am.
That timeline suggests that the plane was in the air for two hours – long enough for it to fly not only across the Gulf of Thailand but also far north across Vietnam, aviation authorities note.
Flightradar 24, an online aircraft tracking service, said that the last radar contact had been at 1.19am, less than 40 minutes after the flight began.
The missing plane, a Boeing 777-200, is said to be equipped with a transponder that regularly transmitted its position, as calculated from the global positioning system of satellites.
The last recorded position of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 was 150 kilometres northeast of Kuala Terengganu, Fredrik Lindahl, the chief executive of Flightradar24, wrote in an email to The New York Times.
That position is a little less than halfway across the entrance of the Gulf of Thailand from northern Malaysia and toward southernmost Vietnam.
A Malaysia Airlines spokesman said on Saturday evening that the last conversation between the flight crew and air traffic control in Malaysia had been around 1.30am, but he reiterated that the plane had not disappeared from air traffic control systems in Subang until 2.40am.
The New York Times report said with no new information about the missing plane, China’s civil aviation authority has urged the Malaysian government to be more forthcoming.
“The Civil Aviation Administration of China has urged the Malaysian civil aviation authority to clarify the situation of flight MH370 as quickly as possible, and to brief the Chinese side as quickly as possible,” it quoted a report by the Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua which cited an unnamed Chinese aviation official.
“It also urged Malaysia Airlines to provide active assistance to families of passengers in accordance with the regulations in international civil aviation covenants.”
Meanwhile, Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam director, Lai Xuan Thanh, said a 20km-long oil slick spotted between Malaysia and Vietnam this afternoon may be from the missing aircraft.
“An AN26 aircraft of the Vietnam Navy has discovered an oil slick about 20 kilometres 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,” Lai was quoted as saying by The New York Times.
He said he did not know whether the slick was closer to the Malaysian or Vietnam side of the entrance to the Gulf of Thailand.
The report said the last coordinates automatically transmitted by the aircraft were from near the midpoint between the two countries.
The discovery came as an international team of rescuers from, among others, Vietnam, Malaysia, China, the United States, Singapore and the Philippines search for the Beijing-bound aircraft which vanished after taking off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 12.41am.
“Vietnam has ordered airplanes and military ships to help in the search and rescue … the possibility of an accident is high,” Lai said,.
Lt Col Pham Hong Soi, the head of the propaganda department of the Vietnam Navy for the region near the crash site, said that one rescue vessel had already been ordered to sea and two more had been made ready for departure.
China Central Television said that according to Chinese air traffic control officials, the aircraft never entered Chinese airspace.
The passengers included 154 citizens from China or Taiwan, 38 Malaysians, seven Indonesians, six Australians, five Indians, four French and three Americans, as well as two citizens each from New Zealand, Ukraine and Canada and one each from Russia, Italy, the Netherlands and Austria.
The airline said that it was notifying the next-of-kin of the passengers and crew. Hundreds of family members gathered in rooms set aside for them at a Beijing hotel, and at least two medical personnel went in to monitor them, news reports said.
Boeing said in a statement that it was assembling a team of technical experts to advise the national authorities investigating the disappearance of the aircraft.
Speaking on the search and rescue efforts, Prime Minister Najib Razak said: ”Our thoughts and prayers are with those who are missing on flight MH370.
“An extensive search and rescue mission is underway. We are grateful for the support in this effort from around the world.
“Fifteen aircraft and nine ships are currently searching for the missing plane. Our priority now is to widen the search area and provide support to relatives of those missing.”