March 10, 2014 00:00 By The Star/The Straits Times
Ships dispatched to check if oil is from missing Malaysian airline
Two giant oil slicks spotted off southern Vietnam on Saturday night offered the strongest sign yet that a missing Malaysia Airlines (MAS) plane with 239 passengers and crew had crashed, though six countries involved in a massive search operation in the South China Sea have found no signs of any wreckage.
A Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) plane has spotted oil slicks about 35 kilometres south of the missing MAS flight MH370’s last point of contact.
MMEA director-general Datuk Mohammad Amdan Kurish, who joined in the search for the missing plane, said his search team spotted “two or three” patches of oil slick measuring about 15km and were yellowish in colour at about 11am yesterday.
“A ship has been dispatched to the location of the slick to take a samples so we could test whether the oil is from a plane,” said Kurish.
Vietnam’s civil aviation authorities said the slicks, about 15km in length and discovered about 140km south of Tho Chu island off southern Vietnam, were consistent with the kind that would be left by fuel from a crashed jetliner.
Boats were sent to the area to verify the finding, though no conclusive statement emerged from Vietnam or MAS by press-time.
Singapore sent a C-130 aircraft and offered the use of a submarine vessel with divers on board, which Malaysia has accepted. Vessels from Malaysia, the Philippines, the United States and China are already helping in the search.
The Malaysian government and its national carrier were under intense pressure yesterday to explain how flight MH370, which departed Kuala Lumpur for Beijing with an experienced pilot at the helm and no signs of rough weather, could have gone missing.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak would only say the authorities were “looking at all possibilities”, and declined to discuss possible causes, including terrorism.
“It is too soon to speculate,” he told reporters at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. “We can't make conclusions, we are investigating all theories.”
The plane took off just after midnight Saturday with passengers and crew from 14 countries and Taiwan. It lost radar contact 50 minutes after take-off, and its last communication with Malaysian air traffic control was to acknowledge the transfer of control to Ho Chi Minh City.
Conflicting accounts of the plane’s fate, which swung from rumours about a safe landing in south-western China to retracted reports about a crash off southern Vietnam, left anguished family members of the missing passengers and crew torn between despair and hope.
If the jetliner indeed crashed, it would be the worst aviation accident in Southeast Asia, surpassing the death toll recorded in September 1997 when a Garuda Indonesia plane burst into flames on its way from Jakarta to Medan, killing all 234 on board.
China, whose 153 nationals made up the vast majority of passengers on board the MAS flight, called on Malaysia to carry out a “quick and effective search and rescue operation”.
Najib said Malaysia had sent 15 aircraft and nine ships to conduct searches yesterday.