WATCH: (Mar. 8, 2014) The flight was travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing when communication was lost about 250 kilometres off a tiny Vietnamese island. There was no distress call, the plane just disappeared. Mike Drolet reports.
- Missing Malaysia Airlines flight may have turned back before disappearing
- Two Canadian passengers identified
- Two oil slicks spotted near Vietnam
- Austrian and Italian passports on board reported stolen
- Boeing 777-200 left Kuala Lumpur at 12:41 a.m.
- Aircraft carried 227 passengers from at least 14 countries
Two Canadian passengers aboard a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 carrying 239 people that vanished Saturday have been identified.
Xiaomo Bai, 37, and Muktesh Mukherjee, 42, were listed on the flight manifest and a spokesperson with the airline confirmed to Global News they were aboard the flight.
Xcoal Energy & Resources CEO Ernie Thraser told Global News via email that Mukerjee is married to Bai and works for Xcoal, a U.S. mining company, in their Beijing office. The couple have two children.
“Muktesh is a dear friend, colleague, and member of the Xcoal family,” said Thraser.
An airline spokesperson says company officials are not able to get in touch with their families but have contacted the Canadian embassy in Malaysia.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper tweeted his condolences.
Lynne Yelich, Canada’s minister of state (Foreign Affairs and Consular), released the following statement Saturday afternoon:
“Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with the families and friends of those on board.
“We have received preliminary reports indicating that two Canadian citizens were aboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, en route from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Beijing, China.
“We are working with local authorities to gather more information on the situation, and officials are in the process of contacting the next of kin. No further information is available at this time.”
Search operation continues
A multinational search operation is currently underway after Flight MH370 fell off radar screens less than an hour after it took off from Kuala Lumpur at 12:41 a.m. (local time) for Beijing Saturday. The flight was expected to land approximately six hours later.
Vietnamese air force planes on Saturday spotted two large oil slicks in the area where the air craft disappeared — the first signs the aircraft may have crashed.
READ MORE: A look at world’s deadliest air disasters
A Vietnamese government statement said the slicks were spotted off the southern tip of Vietnam and were each between 10 kilometres and 15 kilometres long. There was no confirmation that the slicks were related to the missing plane, but the statement said they were consistent with the kinds that would be produced by the two fuel tanks of a crashed jetliner.
The U.S. Navy says it has sent a warship to aid in the search the 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.
Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said there was no indication that the pilots had sent a distress signal, suggesting that whatever happened to the plane occurred quickly and possibly catastrophically.
Asked whether terrorism was suspected, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said, “We are looking at all possibilities, but it is too early to make any conclusive remarks.”
Foreign ministry officials in Italy and Austria said the names of two nationals from those countries listed on the flight’s manifest matched passports reported stolen in Thailand.
Italy’s Foreign Ministry said the Italian man who was listed as being a passenger, Luigi Maraldi, was travelling 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 in Thailand. It said the Austrian was not on the plane, but would not confirm the person’s identity.
Family members wait for news
At Beijing’s airport, authorities posted a notice asking relatives and friends of passengers to gather at a nearby hotel to wait for further information, and provided a shuttle bus service. A woman wept aboard the bus while saying on a mobile phone, “They want us to go to the hotel. It cannot be good.”
Relatives and friends of passengers were escorted into a private area at the hotel, but reporters were kept away. A man in a grey 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 on board the flight with a group of 10 tourists.
“We have been waiting for hours and there is still no verification,” he said.
The plane was last detected on radar at 1:30 a.m. (1730 GMT Friday) around where the South China Sea meets the Gulf of Thailand, authorities in Malaysia and Vietnam said.
Lai Xuan Thanh, director of Vietnam’s civil aviation authority, said air traffic officials in the country never made contact with the plane.
The plane “lost all contact and radar signal one minute before it entered Vietnam’s air traffic control,” Lt. Gen. Vo Van Tuan, deputy chief of staff of the Vietnamese army, said in a statement.
The South China Sea is a tense region with competing territorial claims that have led to several low-level conflicts, particularly between China and the Philippines. That antipathy briefly faded Saturday as China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia all sent ships and planes to the region.
WATCH: Malaysia Airlines chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya gives statement
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said that Malaysia had dispatched 15 planes and nine ships to the area, and that the U.S. Navy was sending some planes as well. Singapore, China and Vietnam also were sending aircraft.
It’s not uncommon for it to take several days to find the wreckage of aircraft floating on the ocean. Locating and then recovering the flight data recorders, vital to any investigation, can take months or even years.
“In times of emergencies like this, we have to show unity of efforts that transcends boundaries and issues,” said Lt. Gen. Roy Deveraturda, commander of the Philippine military’s Western Command.
After the oil slick was spotted, the air search was suspended for the night and was to resume Sunday morning, while the sea search was ongoing, Malaysia Airlines said.
The plane was carrying 227 passengers, including two infants, and 12 crew members, the airline said. It said there were 152 passengers from China, 38 from Malaysia, seven from Indonesia, six from Australia, five from India, three from the U.S., two from Canada and others from Indonesia, France, New Zealand, Ukraine, Russia, Taiwan and the Netherlands.
In Kuala Lumpur, family members gathered at the airport, but were kept away from reporters.
“Our team is currently calling the next of kin of passengers and crew. Focus of the airline is to work with the emergency responders and authorities and mobilize its full support,” said Yahya, the airline CEO. “Our thoughts and prayers are with all affected passengers and crew and their family members.”
According to flight tracking website FightAware.com, the plane was at an altitude of 35,000 feet (10,668 metres) and cruising at 539 mph (867 km/h) when contact between the aircraft and air traffic control ceased.
According to AirlineRatings.com, Malaysia Airlines has a safety rating of 6.5/7.
Anyone requiring further information can contact Malaysia Airlines at +603 7884 1234.
How safe is a Boeing 777?
The fate of Malaysia Airlines’ Flight MH 370 has yet to be determined after air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane Friday evening. This is the second time in seven months a Boeing 777 flight has made international headlines for safety reasons.
In July 2013, the fatal crash-landing of Asiana Flight 214 at San Francisco International Airport garnered worldwide attention, in part because it was the first time a Boeing 777 had ever been involved in flight-related fatalities.
VIDEO GALLERY: Asiana Flight 214 Crash
The Aviation Safety Network, which is affiliated with Flight Safety Foundation, a non-profit organization that tracks airline safety, has only recorded nine entries involving a Boeing 777 in their safety database.
According to CBS News, Asiana Flight 214 marked the second major accident involving a Boeing 777 since it entered commercial service in 1995.
Prior to that, a crash at London’s Heathrow Airport in January 2008 resulted in 47 injuries, but no fatalities.
Boeing’s website says that the 777 has logged more than 18 million hours of flight time.
*With files from The Associated Press