The Malaysia Air missing flight search has found oil slicks, as the search has intensified in its second day. Planes from the Vietnamese military have reported finding six- to nine-mile-long trails of oil, hinting at the aircraft’s location.
The Boeing 777 jumbo jet was reported missing 40 minutes after its takeoff from Beijing headed for Kaula Lumpur. The plane carried 227 passengers on board as well as 12 crew members. It was previously reported by Vietnamese air traffic control that contact was lost at around two hours into the flight, but flightradar24.com reported it disappearing at 17:20 UTC, less than an hour into the flight. This focused the search in the waters between Malaysia and Vietnam, who have both sent ships and helicopters. On Saturday, a U.S. Naval ship stationed in the South China Sea was reportedly heading towards the area to aid efforts.
Vietnamese military first spotted the oil slicks just 80 miles south of Tho Chu, an island in the Gulf of Thailand. The Vietnamese government’s website reported that the two oil slicks are about a quarter of a mile apart, which is consistent with the signs of a crash of this type.
The cause of the Malaysia Air flight troubles remain a mystery. No poor weather conditions were reported in the area besides light snow, which would have been well below the jetliner’s altitude of about 15,000 feet. At this time, there is no indication that the pilots of the flight sent out any sort of distress signals. Ahmad Juahari, CEO of Malaysia Air, noted that the company is working with emergency response units to find answers, adding that “Our thoughts and prayers are with all affected passengers and crew and their family members.”
Immediate family members of those on the flight have gathered at Beijing airport in a secluded area free of press. Other relatives and friends of those affected have been directed to wait at a nearby hotel until more information becomes available. According to the airline, the passenger manifest included three Americans, 154 residents of China, seven from Indonesia, six from Australia, five from India, four from France, two each from New Zealand, Ukraine, and Canada, and one a piece from Italy, Russia, the Netherlands, and Austria. The 12 crew members are all reportedly Malaysian.
There are also questions about the identity of two of the passengers, who were reported on the manifest but were not actually on the plane. Italian national Louis Maraldi reported his passport stolen in Thailand, well before it was used by a currently unknown person to board the flight. Another resident of Thailand reported a missing passport two years ago, which was also used to board the flight. Officials at this point do not have reason to believe that any terrorist activity was involved with the Malaysia Air flight, especially after the search teams found the oil slicks.
The two Malaysia Air pilots shared over 20,000 flight hours between the two of them, and the captain, Zaharie Ahman Shah, had been with the company since 1981. Boeing, as well as aviation experts, note a strong and reliable track record with the company’s twin-engine 777, and it has a strong safety record.
Defense Minister for the Malaysian government, Seri Hishammuddin, attempted to reassure those affected after the Malaysia Air missing flight search found oil slicks. “We are doing everything in our power to locate the plane,” he said. “We are doing everything we can to ensure every possible angle has been addressed.”
By Nathan Rohenkohl