Six Australians are missing feared dead after authorities confirmed that a Malaysia Airlines flight carrying almost 240 people bound for Beijing lost contact with air traffic control early Saturday.
In a press conference held at 2.15pm AEDT, Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya announced that six Australians were on board the missing jet, along with two New Zealanders.
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have confirmed the identities of the six Australians – two couples from Queensland and another couple from New South Wales.
“The Australian Government fears the worst for those aboard missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on 8 March,” a department spokesperson said.
“Our sympathies are with the families and friends of these Australians. We also extend our condolences to the families of the other passengers and to the governments of all those countries affected, in particular China, Indonesia and Malaysia who had significant numbers of nationals on this flight.”
• Malaysia Airlines plane missing with 239 people on board
• 6 Australians confirmed on board, and 2 New Zealanders
• Families are being notified about the missing aircraft
• Reports of a signal from the plane south of Vietnam
The Xinhua News Agency, citing a local Vietnamese media report, said a Vietnamese search and rescue official reported that the signals had been detected from the plane from about 220 kilometres southwest of Vietnam’s southernmost coastal province of Ca Mau.
Authorities began a search and rescue operation for the airliner which reportedly disappeared in Vietnamese airspace, with speculation that the plane may have ditched before it reached Vietnam. Contact was lost about two hours after take-off.
The airline said in a statement that Flight MH370 disappeared on Saturday at 2:40am local time (05.40 AEDT). The plane, a Boeing 777-200, left Kuala Lumpur just after midnight Saturday, and had been due to arrive in Beijing at 6:30 am local time (09.30 AEDT).
“We deeply regret that we have lost all contacts with flight MH370,” the airline said in an earlier statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with all affected passengers and crew and their family members.”
The passenger list
Senator Brett Mason, parliamentary secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, told reporters in Sydney the Department was in contact with relatives of the Australians on board.
“Australian consular officials are currently in touch with Malaysian Airlines and with the families of the missing Australian passengers,” Senator Mason said.
“At the moment there is no clarity as to what has occurred.
“But can I just add that the families of the seven missing Australian passengers must be desperately concerned and the thoughts of the Australian government and I’m sure all Australians go out to them at the moment.”
The airline has advised that it is contacting relatives of the passengers on the flight.
Along with the Australians and New Zealanders on board, the airline said there were 152 Chinese people flying (plus one infant), 38 Malaysians, 12 Indonesians, three people from France and the US (plus one infant), two Ukrainians, one Canada, Russia, Italy, Taiwan, Holland and Austria.
The Malaysian Airlines CEO said the flight was a code share with China Southern Airlines. The 53-year-old captain had 18,365 hours of flight experience and joined the company in 1991.
He said the plane had enough fuel for seven hours in the air but that would have run out by the time he spoke to the media.
Speaking to CNN, Malaysia Airlines Vice President of Operations Control Fuad Sharuji said: “At the moment we have no idea where this aircraft is right now.”
He said it was not known if the aircraft reached land after departing Kuala Lumpur and flying over the South China Sea towards Vietnam.
“Malaysia Airlines is currently working with the authorities who have activated their search and rescue team to locate the aircraft,” the carrier said. “Malaysia Airlines confirms that flight MH370 has lost contact with Subang Air Traffic Control at 2.40am, today (8 March 2014).”
ABC reported that China’s Xinhua news agency said the plane was lost in airspace controlled by Vietnam.
The aircraft did not enter airspace controlled by China and did not make contact with Chinese controllers, Xinhua added, in a report on one of its official microblogs. The airline will issue updates here.
If fatalities are confirmed, Saturday’s crash could be the third deadly incident in Malaysian Airlines’ 67 year history.
On December 4, 1977, 100 people were killed when a Boeing 737-200 was hijacked and crashed in Tanjung Kupang, Johor. On September 15, 1995, Malaysian Airlines flight 2133 – a Fokker 50 – crashed in Tawau, killing 34 people.
— Jon Ostrower (@jonostrower) March 8, 2014
Families of the missing can contact the airline on +603 7884 1234.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade can be contacted on 1300 555 135.
Staff reporters with AAP