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MISSING MAS FLIGHT: Search for MH370 widened as mystery deepens

Publication Date : 10-03-2014


Malaysia has widened its search for a missing jetliner following revelations that it might have attempted to turn back, as Prime Minister Najib Razak ordered a tightening of airport security measures in response to security lapses that allowed at least two impostors to board the ill-fated flight.

Two men - Luigi Maraldi, an Italian, and Christian Kozel, an Austrian - have come forward to say that they were not on the Malaysia Airlines (MAS) flight despite their names appearing on the manifest. Their passports had been reported as lost in Thailand up to two years ago - which international police agency Interpol confirmed last night.

However, it was unclear how many passengers on board the missing plane were travelling with false identification. Malaysia's Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein initially said at least four names on the passenger list were "suspect".

He subsequently told the BBC that there were only two suspect names. But the Reuters news agency, citing sources, said two other travellers with European passports were being investigated.

Separately, China's official Xinhua news agency reported that a Chinese national, whose passport number was listed on the flight manifest, was actually in China. The name associated with the passport was also wrong.

Amid the confusion, Malaysian officials said they were scrutinising closed-circuit TV footage and questioning immigration officers.

The emergence of these suspicious travellers has spurred growing talk of terrorism as a possible cause for the disappearance of the plane, which was bound for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur International Airport with 239 passengers and crew on board.

A team from the United States' Federal Bureau of Investigation is headed for Malaysia to assist with the probe.

"We will review all security protocols and we will enhance them if necessary, because we still do not know the cause of the incident," said Datuk Seri Najib.

Some new clues emerged yesterday about the final minutes of Flight MH370, but they served only to deepen the mystery. Malaysian officials said a review of its military radar records showed the plane may have turned back on the same flight path.

But officials were baffled by the lack of a distress signal from the plane, as pilots are required to inform air traffic control if they intend to deviate from the course.

The New York Times reported that the Pentagon, using "preliminary surveillance data" from a system that scans the globe for the flashes of explosions, found no evidence of one in the area where the plane disappeared.

Meanwhile, a growing multi- nation search effort has had little luck in finding the plane, which disappeared from radar 50 minutes after take- off on Saturday.

Late last night, Vietnamese officials said one of their planes had spotted an object that could belong to the missing plane, but added that it was too dark for them to be certain. Oil slicks and debris found near the plane's last known location between north- eastern Malaysia and southern Vietnam were not conclusive either.

Officials said they have widened the scope of the search from 20 to 50 nautical miles, and that their priority at the moment was to locate the missing aircraft.

The massive multi-nation search effort now includes 24 aircraft and 40 ships from at least seven countries, including Singapore, which has sent more ships and aircraft.

Two C-130 military transport planes, a naval helicopter, two warships and a submarine support and rescue vessel are involved in the search, Singapore's Defence Ministry said in a statement.

The lack of answers caused tension between family members of the missing Chinese passengers and airline officials to hit boiling point in Beijing yesterday. China had 153 nationals on board the plane. At a heated meeting with MAS officials, more than 100 family members of those missing criticised the airline's handling of the crisis and signed a petition demanding to know the "truth".



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