The family of a former Christchurch man who was on board a missing Malaysia Airlines jet are today clinging to hope at his grandparents' house while bracing for the worst.
Paul Weeks was one of two New Zealanders named on a passenger list for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which disappeared off the coast of Vietnam yesterday. The other Kiwi was named as Ximin Wang, 50.
The aircraft was carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Chinese authorities said the Boeing 777-200 never made it into Chinese airspace.
Weeks left Christchurch for Perth in 2011 with his wife, Danica, and two young children after the earthquakes in search of a better life.
The 38-year-old was en route to Mongolia for his new job with Transwest Mongolia.
Weeks' older sister, Sara Weeks, of Christchurch, said: ''At the moment we're all just here hoping to find something out. I think we're hoping that it landed somewhere nicely and he's sitting having a coffee. We don't know anything other than what we have seen on the television, but I think when you put two and two together... it's not looking good."
Sara Weeks said she spoke to her brother's wife in Perth about 2am today and "she is very, very upset - naturally. She is of the understanding that it's looking like the plane has crashed. She is bracing herself for the worst".
Paul Weeks' mother, who followed him to Perth and "lives about two doors down on the same street'' flew to Christchurch this morning on a pre-booked flight, Sara Weeks said, to attend her 40th birthday next weekend.
"Everyone other than my grandparent moved over there. My mother, my youngest brother and my oldest daughter all flew over this morning. We're with my grandparents. We're just basically sitting here watching the news," she said.
"We're obviously very upset. But you kind of cling to that little bit of hope when you don't know."
Sara Weeks said she had not seen her brother since he moved to Perth, but they kept in regular contact on Skype.
"He had just taken on a new role. That's why he was heading to Mongolia. He was going to be based there for a month on [at a time]. It was a really good job and he was going to be paid very well," she said.
"He was excited and looking forward to getting started. It was going to set them up. When [Danica] kissed him goodbye she was hoping he would be back in a month."
Sara Weeks said her brother was a "lovely man", "lots of fun" and "very family-oriented".
"He has some very good friends that were in the army with him and from when he was growing up," she said.
Weeks attended Aranui High School before studying at the University of Canterbury. He previously worked for the New Zealand Army.
SEEKING A BETTER LIFE
Weeks spoke to the Press in 2012 saying he would have preferred to stay in New Zealand but the odds were stacked against them.
"Career-wise it is far better in Australia. There is a mining boom here. I sent out 100 job applications before moving and within a week had three job offers. It is chalk and cheese with what is happening in New Zealand," Weeks told The Press in 2012.
Weeks told the Press he doubled his salary and said with the effect of the exchange rate, probably tripled it.
"I consider our move to Australia to be one of necessity, rather than by choice, as we were content starting a family in Christchurch and enjoying the Canterbury outdoors. However, there is only so much an average family can take before one abandons the nest."
He blamed recessionary pressure, high food prices and the continuing rumbling of after shocks in Christchurch for forcing his decision to leave.
"After being in Perth for the past six months I can honestly say that the effort required to flourish in Australia is significantly lower than that of New Zealand."
"The cost of living is probably cheaper to some extent and cars are cheaper. The negatives are being away from family but it is pretty good here and you're never short of money."
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it was in contact with their next of kin and providing consular assistance to the families.
SPECULATION ON JET'S DISAPPEARANCE
There were no reports of bad weather and no sign of why the Boeing 777-200ER would have vanished from radar screens about an hour after it took off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing.
"We are not ruling out any possibilities," Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya told a news conference.
By the early hours of Sunday, there were no confirmed signs of the plane or any wreckage, well over 24 hours after it went missing. Operations will continue through the night, officials said.
There were no indications of sabotage nor claims of a terrorist attack. But the passenger manifest issued by the airline included the names of two Europeans - Austrian Christian Kozel and Italian Luigi Maraldi - who, according to their foreign ministries, were not in fact on the plane.
A foreign ministry spokesman in Vienna said: "Our embassy got the information that there was an Austrian on board. That was the passenger list from Malaysia Airlines. Our system came back with a note that this is a stolen passport."
Austrian police had found the man safe at home. The passport was stolen two years ago while he was travelling in Thailand, the spokesman said.
The foreign ministry in Rome said no Italian was on the plane either, despite the inclusion of Maraldi's name on the list. His mother, Renata Lucchi, told Reuters his passport was lost, presumed stolen, in Thailand in 2013.
US and European security officials said that there was no proof of any terrorist link and there could be other explanations for the use of stolen passports.
The 11-year-old Boeing, powered by Rolls-Royce Trent engines, took off at 12.40am (5.40am Saturday NZT) from Kuala Lumpur International Airport and was apparently flying in good weather conditions when it went missing without a distress call.
Flight MH370 last had contact with air traffic controllers 222km off the east coast of the Malaysian town of Kota Bharu. Flight tracking website flightaware.com showed it flew northeast after takeoff, climbed to 10,668m feet and was still climbing when it vanished from tracking records.
A crash, if confirmed, would likely mark the 777's second fatal incident in less than a year, and its deadliest since entering service 19 years ago. An Asiana Airlines Boeing 777-200ER crash-landed in San Francisco in July 2013, killing three passengers and injuring more than 180.
Boeing said it was monitoring the situation but had no further comment.
Paul Hayes, director of safety at Flightglobal Ascend aviation consultancy, said the flight would normally have been at a routine stage, having reached initial cruise altitude.
"Such a sudden disappearance would suggest either that something is happening so quickly that there is no opportunity to put out a mayday, in which case a deliberate act is one possibility to consider, or that the crew is busy coping with what whatever has taken place," he told Reuters.
He said it was too early to speculate on the causes.
A large number of planes and ships from several countries were scouring the area where the plane last made contact, about halfway between Malaysia and the southern tip of Vietnam.
"The search and rescue operations will continue as long as necessary," Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters. He said his country had deployed 15 air force aircraft, six navy ships and three coast guard vessels.
Search and rescue vessels from the Malaysian maritime enforcement agency reached the area where the plane last made contact but saw no sign of wreckage, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency said.
Vietnam said its rescue planes had spotted two large oil slicks, about 15 km long, and a column of smoke off its coastline.
Deputy transport minister Pham Quy Tieu said no wreckage had been seen in the vicinity of the slicks early Sunday, but that the search was continuing.
China and the Philippines also sent ships to the region to help, while the United States, the Philippines and Singapore dispatched military planes. China also put other ships and aircraft on standby.
'BIG RED FLAG'
The disappearance of the plane is a chilling echo of an Air France flight that crashed into the South Atlantic on June 1, 2009, killing all 228 people on board. It vanished for hours and wreckage was found only two days later.
John Goglia, a former board member of the National Transportation Safety Board, the US agency that investigates plane crashes, said the lack of a distress call suggested that the plane either experienced an explosive decompression or was destroyed by an explosive device.
"It had to be quick because there was no communication," Goglia said.
He said the false identities of the two passengers strongly suggested the possibility of a bomb.
"That's a big red flag," he said.
If there were passengers on board with stolen passports, it was not clear how they passed through security checks.
International police body Interpol maintains a database of more than 39 million travel documents reported lost or stolen by 166 countries, and says on its website that this enables police, immigration or border control officers to check the validity of a suspect document within seconds. No comment was immediately available from the organisation.
Italian police said the passport of Luigi Maraldi was reported stolen on August 1, 2013 and was inserted in the Interpol database.
- Fairfax, with Reuters/AP
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