IBTimes UK

Police in Malaysia's Sarawak province are searching for a Eurocopter AS 350 helicopter that went missing with several VIPs on board on Thursday after leaving from Betong.

The helicopter was carrying five passengers including the Plantation Industries and Commodities Deputy Minister Datuk Noriah Kasnon, her husband and four others. The copter left Betong at 4:12 pm and was heading to Kuching. But till 11:30 pm there was no trace of the helicopter, offials said.

Sarawak Police Commissioner Muham­mad Sabtu Osman said the authorities had lost contact the helicopter 20 minutes after it left Betong.

"It takes between 35 and 40 minutes to travel from Betong to Kuching. The helicopter left at 4.12pm and radar contact was lost at 4.32pm," said Muhammad Sabtu at a press conference late last night reports The Star. He added that there was no distress call as at press time.

Asia One reports that the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) has confirmed that the helicopter did not land anywhere in Sarawak.

The other people who are reported to be in the helicopter with Noriah, who is also Barisan Nasional's Sungai Besar MP, were her husband Asmuni Abdullah, Ministry Secretary-General Datuk Dr Sundaran Annamalai, Kuala Kangsar MP and Malaysian Palm Oil Board chairman Datuk Wan Mohammad Khair-il Anuar Wan Ahmad and Noriah's bodyguard Ahmad Sobri.

Minister Douglas Uggah Embas said that he saw Noriah last at 12.30pm at his constituency of Bukit Saban, where he is contesting in the state election.

Sabtu said the police marine team and several helicopters would be mobilized early on Friday to assist the Sarawakian police in the search for the missing helicopter.

Earlier, DCA director-general Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said a search and rescue (SAR) operation had been launched. But Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein had ordered the air force and army to join the operation.

Deputy Prime Minister Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the Fire and Rescue Department, Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency and National Disaster Management Agency had also agreed for the SAR operation.

Sarawak Fire and Rescue Department director Nor Hisham Mohammad said the operation is still not successful and the status of the copter is still "untraceable". He said that the helicopter last contacted with the authorities when it was near Spaoh.

It is understood that the helicopter had fuel strength of 92 minutes. It has been informed that the helicopter was rented by Hornbill Skyways from an aviation firm in the Philippines.