Malaysia Airlines, the carrier of a plane that vanished over waters between Malaysia and Vietnam early Saturday with 239 people aboard, has a good safety record, as does the model of the aircraft.
Boeing 777, which had not had a fatal crash in its 19-year history until an Asiana Airlines plane crashed in San Francisco in July 2013, killing three passengers, all teenagers from China.
On Saturday — less than one hour after Flight MH370 left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing — the Boeing 777 disappeared from radar. More than 12 hours after contact was lost, there was still no sign of the aircraft, and no wreckage had been spotted.
Vietnamese air force planes on Saturday spotted two large oil slicks in the area where the aircraft went missing, the first sign that the plane had crashed.
Finding planes that disappear over the ocean can be very difficult. Airliner "black boxes" — the flight data and cockpit voice recorders — are equipped with "pingers" that emit ultrasonic signals that can be detected underwater.
Under good conditions, the signals can be detected from several hundred miles away, said John Goglia, a former member of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. If the boxes are trapped inside the wreckage, the sound may not travel as far, he said. If the boxes are at the bottom of an underwater trench, that also hinders how far the sound can travel. The signals also weaken over time.
Air France Flight 447, with 228 people on board, disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris on June 1, 2009. Some wreckage and bodies were recovered over the next two weeks, but it took nearly two years for the main wreckage of the Airbus 330 and its black boxes to be located and recovered.
Malaysia Airlines said the 53-year-old pilot of Flight MH370, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, has more than 18,000 flying hours and has been flying for the airline since 1981. The first officer, 27-year-old Fariq Hamid, has about 2,800 hours of experience and has flown for the airline since 2007.
The tip of the wing of the same Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777-200 broke off Aug. 9, 2012, as it was taxiing at Pudong International Airport outside Shanghai. The wingtip collided with the tail of a China Eastern Airlines A340 plane. No one was injured.
Malaysia Airlines' last fatal incident was in 1995, when one its planes crashed near the Malaysian city of Tawau, killing 34 people. The deadliest crash in its history occurred in 1977, when a domestic Malaysian flight crashed after being hijacked, killing 100.
In August 2005, a Malaysian Airlines 777 flying from Perth, Australia, to Kuala Lumpur suddenly shot up 3,000 feet before the pilot disengaged the autopilot and landed safely. The plane's software had incorrectly measured speed and acceleration, and the software was quickly updated on planes around the world.
Malaysia Airlines has 15 Boeing 777-200s in its fleet of about 100 planes. The state-owned carrier last month reported its fourth straight quarterly loss and warned of tougher times.
An earlier version of the story said that Malaysia Airlines had not had a fatal crash in its 19-year history until an Asiana Airlines crashed in San Francisco in July 2013. In fact, it was the model of the aircraft, Boeing 777, that had not had a fatal crash in its 19-year history until the San Francisco crash.Mar 08, 2014 10:28 AM ET