Kuala Lumpur, March 9 (IANS) The whereabouts of a Beijing-bound Malaysia Airlines jetliner missing with 227 passengers and 12 crew since early Saturday are still unknown despite a round-the-clock multilateral search and rescue operation, officials said.
The aircraft went missing about an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur, bound for Beijing. Over 30 hours since it was last contacted the air controllers, there was no trace of it.
The vanished Boeing 777-200ER was presumed to have crashed off the Vietnamese coast Saturday.
Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, director general of the Department of Civil Aviation Malaysia, told a press conference Sunday morning that the search area has been expanded but still the rescue team is not able to locate any wreckage.
"As also mentioned last night, we have expanded our area of operations, which includes the west side of Malaysian peninsula," he said.
The official added that the plane lost contact with the ground at 1.30 a.m. local time Saturday while flying over the South China Sea. "There was no sign of abnormalities on the aircraft."
Three aircraft have been dispatched to assist in the search operation, but so far there was no report of any sightings, said the official.
In its latest statement issued at 9.30 a.m. Malaysia time, Malaysia Airlines said it was "doing its utmost to provide support to the affected family members, this includes immediate financial aid".
"More than 24 hours after the loss of contact with Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, the search and rescue teams are still unable to detect the whereabouts of the missing aircraft," it stated.
The company said it would establish a command centre at Kota Baru, Malaysia, or Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, as soon as the aircraft was located.
Till Sunday noon, no confirmed signs of the plane or any wreckage were detected well over 30 hours after it went missing.
The closest things to clues in the search for the missing plane are two suspicious oil slicks spotted in the Gulf of Thailand at 5.20 p.m. Saturday.
One of oil slicks was seen about 150 km from Tho Chu island and the other 190 km from Ca Mau Cape, according to Vietnamese Deputy Transport Minister Pham Quy Tieu.
An international search and rescue mission from Malaysia, China, Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand and the United States was mobilised with the sea mission. Search operations continued overnight and air mission resumed at daybreak Sunday.
Flight MH370, a Boeing B777-200ER aircraft, took off from Kuala Lumpur at 12:41 a.m. Saturday and was due to land in Beijing at 6.30 a.m. the same day. The 227 passengers on the flight included five Indians, 154 Chinese and 38 Malaysians.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has ordered that all-out efforts be made to help search and rescue the missing aircraft. Two warships of the Chinese navy, Jinggangshan and Mianyang, are already on their way to the sea area where the jet is suspected to have plunged.
Two low-flying aircraft of Vietnam's defence ministry also started to head for the sea to search for the vanished plane early Sunday morning.