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Missing airliner carrying 239 triggers Southeast Asia search

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File picture shows a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 at Kuala Lumpur International airport/AFP

File picture shows a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 at Kuala Lumpur International airport/AFP

HANOI, Mar 8 – Rescuers from several nations mounted an air and sea search Saturday for a Malaysia Airlines jet that has gone missing over Southeast Asia, with grave fears for the 239 people on board.

Vietnam authorities said contact with Flight MH370 was lost near its airspace, but its exact location and fate remained a mystery more than 14 hours after it slipped off air-traffic control screens.

Frustrated officials and passenger’s relatives struggled to make sense of the disappearance of the Boeing 777-200 which – like the Malaysian national carrier – has a solid safety record.

Malaysia Airlines said the plane, on an overnight flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, relayed no distress signal, indications of rough weather, or other signs of trouble.

“The plane lost contact near Ca Mau province airspace as it was preparing to transfer to Ho Chi Minh City air traffic control,” the Vietnamese government said in a statement.

Its signal never appeared to Ho Chi Minh City controllers, it said. Ca Mau province is in southernmost Vietnam, next to the Cambodian border.

The disappearance triggered a search effort centred on the South China Sea, involving vessels from several nations which are rival claimants to the contested region.

China, which has 153 of its nationals on the missing plane, said it had ordered maritime patrol vessels to begin scouring the area.

Vietnam’s defence ministry launched a rescue mission, the government said, and a Malaysian maritime official said the country had sent a plane, two helicopters and four vessels.

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The Philippines said it was sending three navy patrol boats and a surveillance plane and Singapore dispatched an air force C130 transporter on a “search and locate mission”.

It was not clear if the nations were cooperating in the search. Overlapping claims to the South China Sea, a resource-rich region criss-crossed with vital shipping lanes, have been a growing source of tensions between China and its neighbours.

Contact with the aircraft was lost at 2:40am Malaysian time (1840 GMT Friday), about two hours after take-off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport, the carrier’s CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said.

“Our focus now is to work with emergency responders and authorities, and mobilise full support,” he told a press conference, adding the airline’s “thoughts and prayers” were with those affected.

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