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Malaysia Airlines loses contact with passenger jet

See updated story at http://skyblueradio.com/?p=1977

Vietnamese navy planes have reported seeing what could be fragments from Flight MH370, which vanished almost two days ago with 239 people on board.

Officials said it was too dark to confirm the find overnight, but ships would look for the objects on Monday.

Focus is also on two passengers who were travelling on stolen passports.

Malaysia Airlines lost contact with Flight MH370 for five hours before it confirmed the news. The slow pace of information forced Malaysians to turn to social media first – then ask the authorities to confirm speculation or reports that appeared online.

Among the many questions was how two passengers with fake European passports could have boarded the flight.

Over the past four years, I have travelled frequently through the same airport. As a Canadian passport holder I have to scan both index fingers before I enter the country but not when I leave. The biometric system was set up in 2011 to prevent foreigners from repeatedly coming in to work illegally and to curb human trafficking and wildlife smuggling.

Malaysian officials say they are working hard to answer questions. They have reminded people to avoid speculation, but it hasn’t reassured distressed family members.

Malaysian military officials said on Sunday that the plane, a Boeing 777-200ER, may have turned back from its scheduled route shortly before vanishing from radar screens, further deepening the mystery surrounding its fate.

Relatives of the missing passengers have been told to prepare for the worst.

Contact lost

Flight MH730 left Kuala Lumpur, bound for Beijing, at 00:41 local time on Saturday (16:41 GMT on Friday). But radio contact was lost at 17:30 GMT, somewhere between Malaysia and Vietnam.

Late on Sunday, the Vietnamese authorities said possible debris from the plane had been spotted in the sea off south Vietnam.

“We received information from a Vietnamese plane saying that they found two broken objects, which seem like those of an aircraft, located about 50 miles to the south-west of Tho Chu Island,” an unnamed official from the National Committee for Search and Rescue told AFP news agency.

The state-run Thanh Nien newspaper quoted Lt Gen Vo Van Tuan, deputy chief of staff of Vietnam’s army, as saying searchers in a low-flying plane had spotted an object which resembled an aeroplane door. 

The BBC’s John Sudworth: “Family members have been told to prepare for the worst”

Map

The potential debris was in a similar area to a possible oil slick seen by Vietnamese navy planes on Saturday, but officials have cautioned that this too may be nothing to do with the disappearance of Flight MH370.

Fake passports

The BBC’s Nga Pham is on board one of the Vietnamese planes involved in the search.

She says two aircraft will be looking for the possible debris while the Vietnamese navy is sending two ships.

There are now 40 ships and 34 aircraft from nine different nations taking part in the search for the missing plane in the seas off Vietnam and Malaysia.

Commander William Marks from the US Seventh Fleet, which is taking part in the search, told the BBC the difficulty was in covering such a large area, spanning hundreds of kilometres.

“Just from the air we can see things as small as almost the size of your hand, or a basketball. So it’s not a matter of if we can see it – it’s an extremely large area.

Officials say they still have no idea what happened to the aircraft.

Antony Roman, a licensed commercial pilot and investigations expert, told the BBC that the night time conditions would have made a successful emergency landing over the sea almost impossible, if the aircraft had suffered serious technical problems.

“If it was a moonless night, which it looks like it was, the pilot would have no references to the surface – no visual references,” he said.

A successful night landing over the ocean was “very, very unlikely”, he said.

Investigators are looking at all angles, including a possible terror attack. Counter-terrorism agencies and the FBI are involved in the operation.

The identities of some of the people onboard are being probed.

 

The BBC’s Alice Budisatrijo describes the growing search effort

Malaysia’s civil aviation chief, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, said five passengers booked on the flight did not board and their luggage was consequently removed.

International police agency Interpol also confirmed that two passengers were travelling on stolen passports registered on its databases.

The passengers – travelling with Italian and Austrian passports that had been stolen in Thailand – purchased their plane tickets at the same time, and were both booked on the same onward flight from Beijing to Europe on Saturday.

Both had purchased their tickets from China Southern Airlines, which shared the flight with Malaysia Airlines, and they had consecutive ticket numbers.

A patrol vessel of Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency searches for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane off Tok Bali Beach in Kelantan, Malaysia, on 9 March 2014
Ships have been waiting until dawn to investigate the reported debris
 

Manifest for Flight MH370

  • 153 Chinese including one child
  • 38 Malaysians
  • 7 Indonesians
  • 6 Australians
  • 5 Indians
  • 4 French
  • 3 Americans including one child
  • 2 each from New Zealand, Ukraine and Canada
  • One each from Russia, Taiwan, Italy, Netherlands and Austria ( although both Italy and Austria deny any of their nationals were onboard)

Source: Malaysia Airlines

“Whilst it is too soon to speculate about any connection between these stolen passports and the missing plane, it is clearly of great concern that any passenger was able to board an international flight using a stolen passport listed in Interpol databases,” the secretary general of Interpol, Ronald Noble, said in a statement.

He said no checks of Interpol’s database had been made for either passport between the time they were stolen and the departure of the flight, and expressed frustration that few of Interpol’s 190 member countries “systematically” search the database.

The passengers on the flight were of 14 different nationalities. Two-thirds were from China, while others were from elsewhere in Asia, North America and Europe.

China has sent a team of government officials to Kuala Lumpur to look into the case.

The BBC’s John Sudworth in Beijing says relatives waiting for news are getting increasingly frustrated, saying they are not getting information in a timely manner.

They have complained that government officials have not visited the families, our correspondent adds.

Malaysia Airlines is the country’s national carrier, flying nearly 37,000 passengers daily to some 80 destinations worldwide.

STORY at http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-26492748

Filed in: News

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