Malaysia Airlines Flight Carrying 239 Vanishes Off Coast of Vietnam

Friday afternoon, at about 1:40 pm EST, a passenger jet flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing disappeared from radar screens and lost radio contact with air traffic control. Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which was scheduled to land four hours later, was carrying 227 passengers, including two infants, and 12 crew members.

"Malaysia Airlines is currently working with the authorities who have activated their Search and Rescue team to locate the aircraft," the airline said in a statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are with all affected passengers and crew and their family members."

The airline is in the process of contacting family members of the passengers and crew, 160 of whom were from China.

Malaysia Airlines vice president of operations told CNN that, at the time it went missing, the Boeing 777 had about seven hours of fuel left, which means it would have run out by 8:45 pm EST.

UPDATE 10:52 AM: Officials in Italy and Austria have reportedly confirmed that two people listed as passengers were not on board the flight and that their passports had been stolen.

From the Associated Press:

Italy's Foreign Ministry said Saturday that an Italian man whose name was listed as being aboard is traveling in Thailand and was not aboard the plane.

A foreign ministry functionary, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed Italian reports that Luigi Maraldi had reported his passport stolen last August.

Italian news agency ANSA says Maraldi called home after hearing reports that an Italian with his name was aboard the plane.

Austrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Weiss confirmed that a name listed on the manifest matches an Austrian passport reported stolen two years ago in Thailand. Weiss would not confirm the identity.

UPDATE 7:40 AM: Vietnamese aviation officials have spotted a 12-mile long oil slick in the ocean between Malaysia and Vietnam. From the New York Times:

"An AN26 aircraft of the Vietnam Navy has discovered an oil slick about 20 kilometers in the search area, which is suspected of being a crashed Boeing aircraft — we have announced that information to Singapore and Malaysia and we continue the search," Lai Xuan Thanh, the director of the Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam said in reporting the sighting of the slick.

He said he did not know whether the slick was closer to the Malaysian or Vietnam side of the entrance to the Gulf of Thailand. The last coordinates automatically transmitted by the aircraft were from near the midpoint between the two countries, when the plane appeared to be in stable flight at 35,000 feet.

The Associated Press published a similar report, though it says two large oil slicks were found.

A Vietnamese government statement says the slicks were spotted off the southern tip of Vietnam. The slicks were each between 10 kilometers (6 miles) and 15 kilometers (9 miles) long.

UPDATE 11:52 PM: A Vietnamese Navy admiral has reportedly confirmed that the plane crashed. From Yahoo News:

Tuoi Tre, a leading daily in Vietnam, reports that the Vietnamese Navy has confirmed the plane crashed into the ocean. According to Navy Admiral Ngo Van Phat, Commander of the Region 5, military radar recorded that the plane crashed into the sea at a location 153 miles South of Phu Quoc island.

However, the Vietnamese Navy denied Tuoi Tre's report when contacted by the BBC. From BBC Vietnamese (via Google Translate):

BBC contacted the Naval Command 5 and was told Tuoi Tre information of Malaysia Airlines said the plane crashed into adjacent waters between Vietnam and Malaysia is not accurate.

Representatives of the Ministry of Navy Region 5 commander said that coordinates Tuoi Tre newspaper reported on the fact that the coordinates are estimated based on the speed of the aircraft and the time lost contact.

So far, Command Navy Region 5 is still unknown aircraft had crashed somewhere or has fallen or not.

Malaysia Airlines Flight Carrying 239 Vanishes Off Coast of Vietnam

[A woman, believed to be one of the passenger's relatives, awaits word at the Beijing Airport. Photo via Getty]

UPDATE 10:19 PM: Four Americans, including one infant, were onboard the flight, according to a Malaysia Airlines official. From the airline's most recent statement:

The passengers were of 14 different nationalities - citizens from:-

China – 152 plus 1 infant
Malaysia - 38
Indonesia - 12
Australia - 7
France - 3
United States of America – 3 pax plus 1 infant
New Zealand - 2
Ukraine - 2
Canada - 2
Russia - 1
Italy - 1
Taiwan - 1
Netherlands - 1
Austria - 1

UPDATE 9:52 PM: According to a vice president at Malaysia Airlines, there were no distress calls or problems before the plane vanished from radars at 35,000 feet.

From James Fallows at The Atlantic (UPDATE: As commenter StegoToys noted, Flight Aware's coverage usually ends in about the same place for all flights, making it difficult to tell exactly where the plane lost contact):

The most illuminating information I have seen so far is this log from Flight Aware. It shows that the airplane had leveled off at 35,000 feet — and then suddenly was not transmitting any more information about its location, speed, altitude, or rate of climb or descent.

Malaysia Airlines Flight Carrying 239 Vanishes Off Coast of Vietnam

UPDATE 9:16 PM: The flight disappeared from radar in Vietnam-controlled airspace, according to China's Xinhua News.

Here's a screen shot of the flight's path from FlightAware:

Malaysia Airlines Flight Carrying 239 Vanishes Off Coast of Vietnam

[Top image via Getty]