A 12-MILE-long streak of oil across the surface waters of the Gulf of Thailand was an early clue to the mysterious disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines jet with 239 aboard that vanished in pre-dawn darkness Saturday morning during a flight from Kuala Lumpur that was supposed to end in Beijing.
But as the sun set over the gulf and the adjacent South China Sea Saturday, the disappearance of the plane was a reminder that even the most modern planes can suddenly and disconcertingly disappear with few traces. In 2009, an Air France Airbus 330 slipped off radar screens into the deep waters of the Atlantic off Brazil, another case in which the wreckage proved difficult to find.
As of Saturday evening, the Malaysian plane, a Boeing 777-200 on Flight MH370, had not yet been confirmed to have crashed, though the limits of its fuel tanks mean that it came down somewhere instead of reaching Beijing at dawn on Saturday. The Gulf of Thailand, if that is where the plane ended up, has one advantage for rescuers in that it is a shallow arm of the South China Sea, with no comparison to the inky depths of the Atlantic.
Malaysia’s deputy minister of transport, Aziz bin Kaprawi, said authorities had not received any distress signals from the aircraft.
In a development that raised fears of foul play, foreign ministry officials in Vienna and Rome confirmed that the names of two citizens, an Italian and an Austrian, listed on the manifest of the missing flight matched the names on two passports reported stolen in Asia, news reports said.
“We are not ruling out anything,” the chief executive of Malaysia Airlines, Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, told reporters at Kuala Lumpur International Airport Saturday night. “As far as we are concerned right now, it’s just a report.”
A senior American intelligence official said law enforcement and intelligence agencies were investigating the matter. But so far, they had no leads.
One uncertainty about the flight involved the timing of its disappearance from radar. Malaysia Airlines said it took off at 12:41 am Malaysia time and disappeared from air traffic control radar in Subang, a suburb of Kuala Lumpur, at 2:40 am. That timeline seemed to suggest that the plane stayed in the air for two hours – long enough to fly not only across the Gulf of Thailand but also far north across Vietnam.
Malaysia, the US and Vietnam dispatched ships and aircraft to the mouth of the Gulf of Thailand Saturday to join an intensive search.
Relatives of those on the flight who were waiting at Beijing Capital International Airport were taken to a hotel and kept waiting in a room for hours, prompting complaints. One woman said no one from Malaysia Airlines had come to the room to talk to relatives.
At the Kuala Lumpur airport, a grief-stricken relative of a passenger aboard MH370 screamed uncontrollably as he was escorted out of the terminal by airline employees. Be truthful about this!” said the man, Koon Chim Wa, whose booming voice echoed through the cavernous terminal. “They say they don’t know where the plane is,” Koon said, his hands and body shaking. “Is this a joke?” NYT