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FILE - In this July 6, 2013 aerial file photo, the wreckage of Asiana Flight 214 lies on the ground after it crashed at the San Francisco International Airport, in San Francisco. The Boeing 777 has one of the best safety records in aviation history. It first carried passengers in June 1995 and went 18 years without a fatal accident. That streak came to an end with the July 2013 Asiana crash. Three of the 307 people aboard that flight died. “It's one of the most reliable airplanes ever built,” said John Goglia, a former member of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, file)
Two oil slicks give first sign jetliner crashed into ocean
South China Sea » 2 stolen passports add to fears of foul play.
First Published Mar 08 2014 08:48 pm • Last Updated Mar 08 2014 08:48 pm

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia • Two large oil slicks spotted by the Vietnamese air force offered the first sign that a jetliner carrying 239 people had crashed into the ocean after vanishing from radar without sending a single distress call.

An international fleet of planes and ships scouted the waters between Malaysia and Vietnam for any clues to the fate of the Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777, which disappeared Saturday less than an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing.

At a glance

Navy sends destroyer and surveillance plane

Washington » The U.S. Navy says it has dispatched a warship to aid in the search for a missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner. The USS Pinckney, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, is on its way from international waters in the South China Sea to the southern coast of Vietnam to assist in the search for flight MH370. The Boeing 777 with 239 people aboard was flying to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, when it fell off radar screens early Saturday. The Pinckney carries two helicopters that can be used for search and rescue. It is expected to reach the search area within 24 hours. Additionally, the Navy is deploying an Orion patrol and surveillance plane based in Okinawa. It will bring long-range search, radar and communications capabilities to the search mission.

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The oil slicks sighted Saturday off the southern tip of Vietnam were each between 10 kilometers (6 miles) and 15 kilometers (9 miles) long, the Vietnamese government said in a statement.

There was no immediate confirmation that the slicks were related to Flight MH370, but the government said they were consistent with the kind of slick that would be produced by the jet’s two fuel tanks.

In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s deputy civil aviation authority chief, Azhaddin Abdul Rahman, told reporters that the oil slick find had yet to be verified.

He said that the air search, suspended for the night, resumed Sunday, in addition to a sea search that continued through the darkness.

The jet’s disappearance was especially mysterious because it apparently happened when the plane was at cruising altitude, not during the more dangerous phases of takeoff or landing.

Just 9 percent of fatal accidents happen when a plane is at cruising altitude, according to a statistical summary of commercial jet accidents done by Boeing.

Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said there was no indication the pilots had sent a distress signal. That might mean that whatever trouble befell the plane happened so fast the crew did not have time to broadcast even a quick mayday.

The lack of a radio call "suggests something very sudden and very violent happened," said William Waldock, who teaches accident investigation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz.


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The plane was last inspected 10 days ago and found to be "in proper condition," Ignatius Ong, CEO of Malaysia Airlines subsidiary Firefly airlines, said at a news conference.

Two-thirds of the jet’s passengers were from China. The rest were from elsewhere in Asia, North America and Europe.

Asked whether terrorism was suspected, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said authorities were "looking at all possibilities, but it is too early to make any conclusive remarks."

Contributing to fears of foul play was word from foreign ministries in Italy and Austria that the names of two citizens listed on the flight’s manifest matched the names on two passports reported stolen in Thailand.

Italy’s Foreign Ministry said an Italian man who was listed as a passenger, Luigi Maraldi, was traveling in Thailand and was not aboard the plane. It said he reported his passport stolen last August.

Austria’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that a name listed on the manifest matched an Austrian passport reported stolen two years ago. It said the Austrian was not on the plane but would not identify the person.

The amount of time needed to find aircraft that go down over the ocean can vary widely. Planes that crash into relatively shallow areas, like the waters off Vietnam where the Malaysian jet is missing, are far easier to locate and recover than those that plunge deep into undersea canyons or mountain ranges.

At Beijing’s airport, authorities posted a notice asking relatives and friends of passengers to gather at a nearby hotel to await further information. A woman aboard a shuttle bus wept, saying on a mobile phone, "They want us to go to the hotel. It cannot be good."

Nan Jinyan, a relative of a Beijing hospital staffer who was among the passengers, said all the information they were getting was from the Internet and the news.

Passengers’ loved ones were escorted into a private area at the hotel, but reporters were kept away. A man in a gray hooded sweatshirt later stormed out complaining about a lack of information. The man, who said he was a Beijing resident but declined to give his name, said he was anxious because his mother was aboard the flight with a tourist group.

"We have been waiting for hours and there is still no verification," he said.

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