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Malaysia Airlines jet still missing, search off Vietnam

Searchers are stlll scouring the South China Sea off Vietnam for a Malaysia Airlines jet which disappeared on early Saturday. It's emerged that two Europeans were listed but not on the flight because of stolen passports.

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Malaysian jet disappears

Malaysia Airlines said while air searches for the missing Boeing 777 were halted at nightfall on Saturday, sea searches continued overnight into Sunday monring.

Flight MH370 lost contact with air traffic control about an hour after it took off from Kuala Lumpur, heading to Beijing, shortly after midnight local time (16:41 Friday, UTC). Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said there was no indication that the pilots had sent a distress signal.

An international search and rescue operation including Vietnam, China, Malaysia and the Philippines was launched

soon after the jet was reported missing.

Oil slicks spotted

Vietnamese ships are investigating two large oil slicks off the southern tip of Vietnam. The oil slicks were spotted by Vietnam air force planes which had been dispatched to search for signs of the missing jet.

"Two of our aircraft sighted two oil slicks around 15 to 20 kilometers (10-12 miles) long, running parallel, around 500 meters apart from each other," deputy chief-of-staff of the Vietnamese army, Vo Van Tuan, told state-run VTV.

The sighting of the oil is the first indication the plane could have gone down in the waters between northern Malaysia and southern Vietnam. Although there is no confirmation the find was related to the missing aircraft, the Vietnamese government released a statement saying the oil slicks were consistent with the kind that would be produced by the fuel tanks of a crashed plane.

Passport mystery

Meanwhile, an Austrian and an Italian thought to have been on the plane had their passports stolen and are safe, officials and family members said.

"We contacted the person to whom the passport belonged. This person is in Austria and safe and sound. His passport was stolen in 2012 on a trip to Thailand," Austrian foreign ministry spokesman Martin Weiss told the AFP news agency.

Family members of an Italian man also listed onboard reported that he had contacted them to tell him he was safe, after hearing reports that an Italian with his name was among the 227 missing passengers. His passport was stolen last August, also in Thailand.

The airline said the plane was carrying 239 people, including 12 crew members and two infants. There were at least 14 nationalities onboard.

Friends and relatives wait

Authorities posted a notice at Beijing's airport asking relatives and friends of passengers to meet at a hotel nearby and await further information.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with all affected passengers and crew and their family members," airline CEO Ahmad Jauhari said. The airline added that it was contacting next of kin of those on board.

Malaysia Airlines has 15 Boeing 777-200 jets in its fleet of about 100 planes. As Malaysia's national flag carrier and one of Asia's largest airlines, it flies to 87 destinations across six continents, transporting nearly 37,000 passengers daily.

Like the airline, the Boeing 777 has a good record, with only one previous fatal crash in its 19-year history.

se/ccp, ipj (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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