BEIJING — A Malaysia Airlines plane with more than 200 people on board lost contact with air traffic controllers shortly after it took off from Kuala Lumpur late Friday. Although a search and rescue mission is underway little is still known about the fate of the flight, which presumably crashed. Family members say they are getting little information about what happened and getting increasingly frustrated.
Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 was flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people, including 227 passengers and 12 crew members. Most of the passengers were Chinese nationals.
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Two infants were also on board. The airline says that in addition to the 152 Chinese nationals board there were also 38 Malaysians, 12 Indonesians, seven Australians, three French and four Americans, one of whom was an infant.
The flight was originally supposed to arrive in Beijing at 6:30 in the morning local time Saturday. Authorities brought many of the family members and loved ones of those on board to a hotel in Beijing where they waited anxiously for news. The situation at the hotel was chaotic with scores of reporters waiting for updates from the airline and family members growing increasingly frustrated.
One man, whose father-in-law was on board says the airline has told them nothing and when a reporter asks how he feels about the support the airline is giving them, he says: what do you think? The man says that in a room at the hotel where they are waiting, there are elderly parents and women crying.
The long time partner of one of the American passengers on board tells VOA that she is getting regular updates from the airline and has not given up hope yet.
"As far as they [the airline] are concerned the flight went missing. It took off at 12:30 and it went missing two hours into the flight," she said.
On board the plane, there were also passengers from New Zealand, Ukraine, Canada, Russia, Italy, Taiwan, The Netherlands and Austria.
A spokesman for Malaysia Airlines says there is much speculation as to the fate of the plane, but nothing so far has been confirmed.
"We are working with authorities who have actively activated the search and rescue team to locate the aircraft. Our team is currently calling the next of kin of passengers and crew," he said.
Vietnamese authorities say the last detected signal from the missing flight was from an area about 240 kilometers off the southwestern coast of Vietnam near Tho Chu island.
The head of Malaysia Airlines, Ahmed Jauhari Yahya, said the flight's Malaysian pilot, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, joined the airline in 1981 and has flown more than 18,000 hours.
The first officer, Fariq Hamid, joined the airline in 2007 and has more than 2,000 flying hours.
Among its fleet of 100 planes, Malaysia Airlines operates 15 Boeing 777-200 jets.
The aircraft has a strong safety record. Since it was commercialized in 1995, there has been only one fatal crash - in July 2013, when an Asiana Airlines 777 crash-landed in San Francisco killing three passengers, all Chinese teenage girls.