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Malaysia Airlines Flight Vanishes With 239 On Board


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The Vietnamese government says it has discovered two oil slicks off the coast of Vietnam. It's unclear whether these slicks are related to the Malaysian Airlines flight which vanished somewhere over the South China Sea early this morning. The flight was bound for Beijing and was carrying 239 people including crew. The U.S. State Department has confirmed there are three Americans on board.

Italian and Austrian foreign ministry officials have confirmed that two nationals who'd been listed as passengers on the missing flight were actually not on board. Both men had their passports stolen in the last two years in Thailand. Today, NPR's Anthony Kuhn spent time in Beijing with friends and family members of passengers on board the plane. They spent a long, difficult day waiting for any information about the flight.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: The Malaysia airlines flight left Kuala Lampur after midnight and was due into Beijing at 6:30 in the morning local time. Malaysian air traffic controllers lost contact with the Boeing 777-200 two hours into the flight, in between Malaysia and Vietnam. China's foreign minister, Wang Yi, commented on the incident as he wrapped up his annual press briefing earlier to deal with it.

WANG YI: (Through Translator) This has gotten us all really worried. We hope every one of the passengers is safe and the foreign ministry and the relevant diplomatic and consular missions of China have activated emergency mechanism. We're doing all we can to get more details.

KUHN: Passengers on the flight were from 14 different countries. Most of them were from China but the flight manifest also lists three Americans, including one infant. Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, phoned Malaysian prime minister, Najib Razak, and encouraged him to push forward with the search. Friends and family members of passengers were told to gather at a hotel near the airport to await information.

Many of them arrived looking very distraught.


KUHN: He was only 40 years old. Why couldn't I have gone instead of him? One woman, who did not identify herself, wailed as she struggled through a gauntlet of journalists. Malaysia Airlines says in a statement that crews from Malaysia, Vietnam and Singapore will continue to search by ship through the night. Air rescue efforts will be suspended until the morning. The statement says that at present no wreckage from the flight has been found. A man who identified himself as a Malaysia Airlines spokesman, but who didn't give his name, came out to speak to journalists.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Our office is now to work with emergency response team and the various authorities and mobilize its full support. Our thoughts and prayers are deeply with the affected passengers and the family members.

KUHN: Relatives wept or quietly sought information on their mobile phones in the hotel's holding room. After several hours, the doors opened. A crowd of people came out complaining that neither Malaysia Airlines nor the Chinese government had taken care of them or informed them of the flight's status. One woman who declined to give her name spoke to reporters in the hotel's parking lot.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Through Translator) Look at how this thing has been handled. Everyone's been stuck in there until this evening and we've received no explanation. Most folks were pretty calm but I suggested we come out since there was no point in being stuck in there.

KUHN: There's been no indication that a terrorist attack caused the plane's disappearance. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.