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Malaysia, Vietnam search for missing plane - three French among 239 on board

media Relatives wait for news of the Malaysia Airlines plane at Beijing airport Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Vietnamese planes spotted two large oil slicks late Saturday near the area where a Malaysia Airlines jet vanished from air-traffic control screens with 239 people, including three French citizens, on board, officials said.

France is ready to help find the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 that went missing this morning over Vietnam, Transport Minister Frédéric Cuvillier said on Saturday.  He offered the services of the French accident investigation bureau, BEA, which can provide expertise but not take part in the inquiry.

Flight MH370 was en route to Beijing from Kualar Lumpur when contact was lost near Vietnamese airspace at 2:40 am local time about two hours after take-off.

It was carrying 12 crew and 227 passengers from 14 nationalities, according to Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya.

They included:

  • 153 Chinese nationals including an infant;
  • 38 Malaysians;
  • 12 Indonesians;
  • Six Australians;
  • Three French nationals;
  • Four Americans including an infant.

Vietnam's defence ministry has launched a search for the plane, a statement said.

Malaysian authorities also dispatched a plane, two helicopters and four vessels to search seas off its east coast in the South China Sea, said Faridah Shuib of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency.

The Philippines said it was sending three navy patrol boats and a surveillance plane to help efforts and China is helping the search operations.

Malaysia Airlines said the plane relayed no distress signal, indications of rough weather or other indications of trouble.

Although it has a good safety reord - with its worst-ever crash coming after a hijacking in 1977 - an accident would be a huge blow for the carrier, which recorded its fourth straight quarterly loss at the end of 2013, and is struggling to fend off competition from rival carriers.

The pilot of the missing flight MH370 is Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, who has flown for the airline since 1981.

Its first officer Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27, joined the airline in 2007.

The plane is more than 11 years old.

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