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Originally published March 7, 2014 at 10:05 PM | Page modified March 7, 2014 at 10:21 PM

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Boeing 777-200 missing over South China Sea, 239 aboard

The Boeing 777-200, operating as Flight MH370, took off at 12:41 a.m. Saturday from Kuala Lumpur International Airport, and air traffic control lost contact with the plane almost two hours later.

The Associated Press and The New York Times

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysia Airlines said Saturday that it had lost contact five hours earlier with one of its flights, which was carrying 239 people to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, and had activated a search-and-rescue team.

The plane, a Boeing 777-200 operating as Flight MH370, took off at 12:41 a.m. from Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Air traffic control in Subang, a suburb of Kuala Lumpur, lost contact with the plane almost two hours later, at 2:40 a.m.

The airline issued its statement at 7:24 a.m. after the plane failed to arrive at Beijing Capital International Airport, where it had been scheduled to land at 6:30 a.m.

Pham Hien, a Vietnamese search-and-rescue official, said the last signal from the plane detected by the aviation authority was 140 miles southwest of Vietnam’s southernmost Ca Mau province. Lai Xuan Thanh, director of Vietnam’s civil-aviation authority, said the plane was over the South China Sea and bound for Vietnamese airspace, but air traffic officials in the country were never able to make contact.

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 issued by the government.

More than 10 hours after last contact, officials from several countries were struggling to find the plane, which carried passengers from at least 14 countries, mostly from Asia but also from the U.S. and Europe.

A Vietnamese newspaper reported that the Vietnamese Navy had confirmed the plane crashed into the ocean. There was no confirmation of the report from Malaysia Airlines, however.

Chinese air traffic control authorities said the plane had not entered airspace that they control or established communications with Chinese air traffic control, according to state-owned

“It couldn’t possibly be in the air because it would have run out of oil by now,” said Shukor Yusof, an aviation analyst at S&P Capital IQ. “It’s either on the ground somewhere, intact, or possibly it has gone down in the water.”

Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said in a statement: “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. Our thoughts and prayers are with all affected passengers and crew and their family members.”

Fuad Sharuji, Malaysia Airlines’ vice president of operations control, told CNN that the plane was flying at an altitude of 35,000 feet and that the pilots reported no problem with the aircraft.

The plane was carrying 227 passengers, including two infants, and 12 crew members, the airline said.

Passengers were from at least 14 countries, including 153 from China, 38 from Malaysia, seven Australians and four Americans. The airline listed the Americans as three adults and one infant.

At Beijing Capital International Airport, Zhai Le was waiting for friends, a couple who were on their way back to the Chinese capital on the flight. She said she was concerned because she hadn’t been able to reach them.

Airport authorities posted a written notice asking relatives and friends of passengers to gather at a hotel near the airport to wait for further information, and provided a shuttle-bus service.

A woman wept aboard the shuttle bus while talking on a cellphone, saying: “They want us to go to the hotel. It cannot be good.”

Yahya, the airline CEO, said the pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, has more than 18,000 flying hours and has been flying for Malaysia Airlines since 1981, and the first officer, Fariq Hamid, has about 2,800 hours of experience and has flown for the airline since 2007.

Boeing, meanwhile, tweeted: “We’re closely monitoring reports on Malaysia flight MH370. Our thoughts are with everyone on board.”

Malaysia Airlines’ last fatal incident was in 1995, when one its planes crashed near the Malaysian city of Tawau, killing 34 people.

There have been two previous crashes of Boeing 777s. Last July 6, an Asiana plane came in too slow and too low and crash-landed at San Francisco International Airport. Three people were killed and several others suffered serious permanent injuries. So far it does not appear that there was a mechanical problem with that aircraft.

In January 2008, a British Airways 777 came in short of the runway at London Heathrow Airport. Both engines failed. The problem was traced to icing in the fuel system. Nobody was killed.

McClatchy Foreign Staff contributed to this report.

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