Early Saturday morning local time a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 enroute from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing lost contact with air traffic controllers while it was crossing through Vietnamese air space over the South China Sea.
The airline says the plane had 227 passengers and 12 (all Malaysian) crew members aboard, with the majority of the 14 different nationalities - 153 - Chinese nationals. According to MAS, MH370 departed Kuala Lumpur at 12.41 am Saturday bound for Beijing. The aircraft was scheduled to land at Beijing International Airport at 6.30am local Beijing time.
The crew last had contact with air traffic controllers 120 nautical miles off the east coast of the Malaysian town of Kota Bharu, Malaysia Airlines chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said in a statement read to a news conference in Kuala Lumpur.
Said MAS in a statement issued Saturday at 1620 local time: "We are still trying to locate the current location of the flight based on the last known position of the aircraft. We are working with the International search and rescue teams in trying to locate the aircraft. So far, we have not received any emergency signals or distress messages from MH370."
Update: As of 1500ET a Vietnam Government official said the country was dispatching vessels to where its aircraft had spotted what appeared to be two oil slicks that might be from the plane, 90 miles south of Tho Chu island off the Vietnamese coast. "It's very likely that this is a sign of the missing plane," Vo Van Tuan, deputy chief of staff of Vietnam's armed forces, told reporters.
Investigators are now believed to have widened their work to focus on at least two travellers with suspicious documents. Click here to read more.
The flight was a code share with China Southern Airlines. Earlier it was believed that the flight might have made an emergency landing in Nanming, China, said MAS.
Our experts observe that, two hours into the flight and at a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet (10,700m), the crew would almost certainly been operating on auto pilot. Furthermore, aviation experts repeatedly tell us that this is normally the most uneventful phase of a flight. Commercial aircraft at this altitude do however encounter such threats as severe turbulence and other aircraft. As with the Air France AF447 Airbus A330 that crashed into the south Atlantic Ocean in May 2009, a cascade of catastrophic events could endanger the aircraft (such as freezing navigation instruments and pilot error).
Like the Air France crash, the MAS crew did not issue a distress call, possibly indicating it encountered a sudden, catastrophic event - such as a complete loss of electricity, communication gear - or an explosion or a collision with an object. We do know that state-of-the-art aircraft, such as the twin-engine Boeing 777, can fly on one engine and even glide for long periods. The wide-body jet also has fail-safe equipment to allow the crew to perform basic functions.
At this early stage, there are some eerie similarities between the loss of MH380 and AF447: both disappeared at altitude, issued no distress call, encountered difficulties just after midnight - and no debris was immediately visible.
MH370 was piloted by a captain with over 18,000 flight hours. Furthermore, the Boeing 777 is one of the most popular and safest airplanes in the skies. The only total loss recorded was the crash of an Asiana 777 at San Francisco International Airport on July 6, 2013, after it struck a wall at the end of the runway.
Malaysia Airlines too has a very good safety record. Although it has struggled financially over the years and has had to rely on government handouts, the airlines has escaped any catastrophic events for the better part of two decades. In September 1995, a Malaysia Airlines Fokker 50 crashed in Tawau, Sabah, killing 34. The deadliest incident involving the airline was a December 1977 crash of a Boeing 737-200 jet in southern Johor state after an apparent hijacking attempt, killing all 100 on board.
The site, AirlineRatings.com gives MAS a safety rating of six stars out of seven.
From the moment the disappearance of the aircraft become public, Malaysian Airlines was extremely quick, in our view, to share information about the flight, its crew and the nationalities of the passengers. Its Twitter and Facebook feeds were updated frequently, a hotline was advertised, next of kin were contacted and the Group chairman made a media statement just hours after the news broke. The airline pledged to issue a statement every two hours. It was a text book response to an adverse event that other airlines will likely study.
"We are deeply saddened this morning with the news on MH370," said Yahya.
MAS is a member of the One World alliance. The flag carrier is one of Asia's largest, flying nearly 37,000 passengers daily to some 80 destinations worldwide.