Saturday, March 8, 2014

Malaysia Airlines Aircraft Missing, 239 Feared Dead

A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 aircraft carrying 239 people from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing went missing after losing contact with air traffic controllers early on Saturday morning.

malaysia airlines boeing 777
Image Source: Sydney Morning Herald
According to Malaysia Airline's Vice President of Operations Control, Fuad Sharuji, the airline currently has no idea where the aircraft is at the moment. Air Traffic Control in Subang, Malaysia lost contact with Flight MH370 at approximately 2:40am local time on Saturday, March 8. 

"We tried to call this aircraft through various means," said Sharuji. He added that Malaysia Airlines investigated reports that the aircraft had landed in several places but concluded that none of the reports were true. 

The Boeing 777-200 aircraft departed from Kuala Lumpur International Airport at approximately 12:41am for the 3,700 kilometre trip to Beijing. It was estimated to land in Beijing at 6:30am. According to Sharuji, the aircraft had 7.5 hours of fuel on board at the time of disappearance. 

The aircraft was carrying 12 crew members and 227 passengers of thirteen different nationalities including 2 infants. Malaysia Airlines reported the following breakdown of passengers: 
  • 154 from China and Taiwan
  • 38 from Malaysia
  • 12 from Indonesia
  • 7 from Australia
  • 3 from France
  • 4 from the United States
  • 2 from New Zealand
  • 2 from the Ukraine
  • 2 from Canada
  • 1 from Russia
  • 1 from Italy
  • 1 from the Netherlands
  • 1 from Austria
Of the two infants on board the aircraft, one was from the United States while the other was from China. It remains unclear if any people of Filipino descent were on board. 

malaysia airlines ceo ahmad juahari yahya
Image Source: The Malaysia Star
In a statement released by Malaysia Airlines, CEO Ahmad Juahari Yahya expressed his deepest regret that the airline had lost all contact with the aircraft. The airline is presently working with authorities to locate the aircraft. It was piloted by Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, a 53 year old Malaysian national with 18,365 total flying hours. The First Officer on board the aircraft was Fariq Ab Hamid, a 27 year old Malaysian with a total of 2,763 flying hours. The Captain has been working for Malaysia Airlines since 1981 while the First Officer joined the company in 2007.

Malaysia Airlines indicated in its statement that representatives of the airline were in the process of contacting relatives of passengers on board. "The focus of the airline is to work with the emergency responders and authorities to mobilize its full support," said the statement. 

malaysia airlines crash
Image Source: Sydney Morning Herald/Reuters
Chinese media have been reporting that the flight lost contact while flying over the area monitored by Ho Chi Minh air traffic control in Vietnam. The Chinese embassy in Malaysia has deployed an emergency team headed by the Chinese ambassador to deal with the incident.  

Aviation experts interviewed on CNN suggested that the outlook does not look positive. "It doesn't sound very good," said Captain Jim Tilmon, a retired American Airlines pilot. Tilmon noted that since the route is primarily over land, there should be plenty of radar, radios, and antennae to contact the aircraft. "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." He added that the Boeing 777 aircraft is "about as sophisticated as any commercial airline could possibly be."

Although the lack of communication with the aircraft suggests that an unfortunate incident has occurred, authorities continue their urgent search for the aircraft in an attempt to locate any possible survivors that may need to be rescued and secured. 

malaysia airlines missing aircraft
Image Source: BBC News
Chinese authorities confirmed that the aircraft never entered Chinese air space. Officials report that contact with the aircraft was lost two hours into the six hour flight. However, no distress calls were ever issued by the pilots. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the aircraft involved in the incident is believed to have been involved in an incident in August 2012 when it damaged the tail of a China Eastern Airlines aircraft at Shanghai Pudong Airport. In that incident, the tip of the wing of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 aircraft broke off. 

No storms were reported in the area of the South China Sea that the plane was flying over. Overall, the weather was generally good with just light clouds. The aircraft was at 35,000 feet when it lost contact. Although the pilots made contact with air traffic control in Ho Chi Minh, no problems were reported. 

The Beijing Capital International Airport has formed an emergency team to deal with the incident. The Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi reported on Saturday that China is very worried about the Beijing-bound plane. "The news is very disturbing," said Wang. "We hope everyone on the plane is safe." The flight was a code share with China Southern Airlines. 

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs reported that it is checking if Filipinos were among the 239 people on board the aircraft. Foreign Affairs spokesperson Raul Hernandez said in a text message to GMA News that the department is checking with the Philippine Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. 

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