Malaysia Airlines plane carrying 239 missing at sea

BY Kayla Ruble  March 8, 2014 at 1:42 PM EDT
A woman holds up identification for a friend who may be aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight. Family and friends gathered in a Beijing hotel on Sunday awaiting news from the ongoing search off the coast of Vietnam.

Surrounded by media at a Beijing hotel, a woman holds up identification for a friend who may be aboard the Malaysia Airlines flight that went missing off the coast of Vietnam on Saturday morning. Credit: Wang Zhao/Getty Images

Rescue crews from multiple countries were still searching on Sunday for a Malaysia Airlines plane missing off the southern coast of Vietnam — more than 20 hours after the Boeing 777-200 aircraft carrying 239 people vanished early Saturday morning.

Air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane at 2:40 a.m. on Saturday, Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jaujari Yahya said at a press conference. The aircraft, carrying passengers from 14 countries including the U.S., departed from Kuala Lumpur at 12:40 a.m. and was due to arrive in Beijing at 6:30 a.m.

In a statement issued by the Vietnamese government, the deputy chief of staff of the country’s army Lt. Gen. Vo Van Tuan said the craft “lost all contact and radar signal one minute before it entered Vietnam’s air traffic control.”

Pilots on board had not reported any problems with the plane. There had not been reports of bad weather or any other sign indicating why the plane might have disappeared.

While no signs of wreckage have been found, search planes did spot two oil slicks off the Vietnamese coastline. Planes and ships were sent to check out the situation, but there was no confirmed connection with the disappeared plane.

Malaysia, Vietnam, China and the Philippines have dispatched ships to assist in the search. The U.S., Singapore and the Philippines have also sent military planes.

The U.S. State department confirmed on Sunday that three U.S. citizens were on board. Most of the passengers on the flight were from Asia, while there were others on board from countries including Australia, France and Ukraine.

At least two of the passengers on board were reportedly using stolen passports linked to an Austrian and Italian citizen who both said their documents were taken while traveling in Thailand.

The last fatal Malaysia Airlines incident occurred in 1995 near the Malaysian city of Tawau, in a crash that left 34 dead.

This is the second deadly crash of a Boeing 777 throughout the 19-year history of the aircraft. The first took place in July of 2013 when three people were killed after an Asiana Airlines flight crashed short of the runway at the San Francisco International Airport.