Malaysian Jetline's Status Still Unknown After Day Of Searching

The Malaysian plane en route to Beijing has been missing for more than 24 hours. NPR's Arun Rath speaks with correspondent Anthony Kuhn in Beijing.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.

Malaysian Airlines flight 370 bound for Beijing vanished after taking off from Kuala Lumpur airport early Saturday morning local time. The flight had 239 people on board and lost contact after takeoff without sending a distress signal. Several countries continue to search the waters off the coast of Vietnam near where the plane was last heard from.

NPR's Anthony Kuhn is in Beijing and joins us now. Anthony, what is the latest on the search operations?

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Well, flights to search for the plane had to be suspended overnight. Ships have continued to search. Vietnamese, Malaysian and Singapore rescue teams are working on the operation. The U.S. is also reportedly sending ships to the area to help. But it's now been more than 24 hours since that plane disappeared, and we still have no positive word on exactly what happened to the flight.

RATH: And we've been hearing for hours about this oil slick that was spotted by Vietnamese planes in the ocean. Do we know if that's connected with this flight?

KUHN: Well, Vietnamese air force planes flying over the area say they saw two six-mile-long slicks on the water. They also reported seeing some pieces of debris, but there's been no explicit link made yet. And Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak warned against jumping to any conclusions. Now, some experts think that is a sign of the plane's engines, but nobody has gone as far as saying yet that this is for sure.

RATH: We've also been hearing about two passengers who were said to be on board the plane but who are apparently not. What do we know about that at this point?

KUHN: That's right, Arun. The Italian and Austrian governments say the people that were listed on the flight manifest as their citizens are actually not. And these people's passports were apparently stolen, and that means somebody got on that plane using that - those passports, and we do not know who they are. They're still trying to confirm those people's identity.

RATH: Well, naturally, that raises some suspicions about foul play or terrorism. Is there any sense of a possibility that a terrorist attack was behind the plane's disappearance?

KUHN: Well, U.S. intelligence officials who I've spoke to, my colleagues at NPR, on background say that there is no link established at this point. However, here in Beijing, it's natural for people to think about this issue because just on March 1st, they suffered what they're calling a terrorist attack on an unprecedented scale. It was a stabbing attack in which 29 people were killed in an attack at a train station. However, there's been no evidence by any side in this investigation so far of any foul play or any terrorist activity behind this.

RATH: Anthony, quickly, do we have any idea what's being - do you know what's being done to help the family members there in China?

KUHN: Well, Malaysia Airlines says that it is sending caregivers to Beijing. And once they do locate the plane, if they locate the plane, they say they will fly relatives to that place. People here in Beijing yesterday were extremely upset at the lack of attention both from the government and from the airlines, the lack of information about the plane's status.

RATH: NPR's Anthony Kuhn is in Beijing. Anthony, thank you.

KUHN: Thank you, Arun.

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