Search begun for Boeing 777 carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members.

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BEIJING - A Malaysia Airlines flight carrying 239 people from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing is missing and all 239 people on board are feared dead.

"We deeply regret that we have lost all contact with flight MH370 which departed Kuala Lumpur at 12:41 a.m.earlier this morning bound for Beijing," CEO Ahmad Juahari Yahya said in a statement released Friday night ET.

The airline is contacting next of kin of passengers and crew, Yahya said.

"Focus of the airline is to work with the emergency responders and authorities and mobilize its full support," Yahya's statement read. "Our thoughts and prayers are with all affected passengers and crew and their family members."

News outlets were reporting three Americans or four Americans on board.

At a news conference in Kuala Lumpur broadcast by the Malaysian TV station Astroawani, Malaysia Airlines representatives said the people on board represented 14 nationalities, including 152 from China, 38 from Malaysia, 12 from Indonesia, seven from Australia, three from France, three from the United States and two from Canada.

Subang Air Traffic Control reported that it lost contact with flight MH370 at Saturday at 2:40 a.m. local time (1:40 p.m. Friday ET), about 2½ hours after taking off, according to Yahya and a statement by the airline.

The Boeing 777-200 was to have landed in Beijing at 6:30 a.m. local time (5:30 p.m. Friday ET), the airline reported in its statement.

"Malaysia Airlines is currently working with the authorities who have activated their search and rescue team to locate the aircraft," the carrier said.

The twin-engine jet carried 227 passengers, including 2 infants, and 12 crew members. The airline said there were 13 nationalities represented on the flight, including at least three Americans.

Developments appeared to be on hold at Beijing Capital International Airport at 11 a.m. local time.

The flight was listed as "delayed" on a board with information on international arrivals.

One woman who appeared to be about 30 and a male companionangrily pushed away journalists who approached with questions. Security led her away.

A handwritten sign on a notice board at the airport indicated that anyone there to meet the plane should report to the Beijing Lido Hotel "to understand relevant information."

The public may contact the airline at 011-60-603-7884-1234 for more information, the airline said.

Experts cite the plane's strong safety record. Since it was introduced in 1995, the Boeing 777 has been involved in only two other major accidents and three hijackings,records show.

The most notable accident occurred in July 2013, when an Asiana Airlines Boeing 777-200 with 291 passengers and 16 crew members crashed as it landed at San Francisco, killing three passengers and seriously injuring 48 others. Investigators blamed in pilot error.

The flight was a codeshare with Chinese carrier China Southern Airways, flight number CZ748. At 9.50 am local time, over three hours after the scheduled arrival, both flights were still listed as 'Delayed' on the Beijing airport official website. The flight was bound for Beijing's Terminal 3, a major extension built in time for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.

Some of the passengers are likely to be mainland Chinese tourists to Malaysia, where a quarter of the population are ethnic Chinese. The country has become an increasingly popular destination for Chinese travelers. The Malaysian government has targeted two million Chinese tourist arrivals this year in conjunction with the Visit Malaysia Year 2014.

China used to have a poor reputation for aviation safety, but has greatly improved its safety record in recent decades, even as it has rapidly expanded the number of flights and built scores of new airports across the country.

The search-and-rescue operation comes amid one of the safer stretches of global aviation in history. For instance, in the U.S., 2012 was the airline industry's safest since the dawn of the jet age. An air disaster with a death toll more than 200 hasn't occurred since 2009, when Air France Flight 447 went down during a flight from Brazil to Paris, resulting in the deaths of all 216 passengers and 12 crew members.

Among the deadliest aviation incidents in history:

583 people died in the largest commercial aviation disaster in history, which occurred in 1977. Two Boeing 747 jumbo jets collided on the runway at Los Rodeos airport on the island of Tenerife, off the coast of Western Africa.

Just two months after 9/11, an American Airlines flight on its way to the Dominican Republic crashed in Queens, New York just after taking off from John F. Kennedy International airport, killing all 260 people onboard and five people on the ground.

In 1999, an EgyptAir flight from Los Angeles to Cairo crashed in the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 217 people on board. An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board believed that the Egyptian pilot brought the plane down intentionally. However, the Egyptian Civil Aviation Agency determined that the plane crashed due to a mechanical failure.

All 229 people onboard a 1998 Swissair flight died when the plane, going from New York to Switzerland, crashed in the Atlantic Ocean southwest of Halifax, Canada. The captain was unable to tame a fire that appeared to be coming from an air conditioning unit in the cockpit.

Contributing: Melanie Eversley

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