The search was stepped up today for debris and clues in the sea on both sides of the Malaysian peninsula, as it was revealed today that five checked in to the flight before it left for Beijing but never boarded the plane.
But Malaysia’s civil aviation chief said today that the search for the Boeing 777 which vanished early Saturday morning had failed to find anything and that a sighting of a yellow object, which was earlier suspected to have been a life raft, was found to be a false alarm.
Underlining the lack of hard information about the plane’s fate, a U.S. Navy P-3 aircraft capable of covering 1,500 sq miles every hour was sweeping the northern part of the Strait of Malacca on Monday, on the other side of the Malay peninsula from where the last contact with MH370 was made.
‘Our aircraft are able to clearly detect small debris in the water, but so far it has all been trash or wood,’ said U.S. 7th Fleet spokesman Commander William Marks in an emailed statement.
As Interpol investigates whether up to four passengers boarded the plane using stolen passports, it was today revealed five passengers checked on to the flight but did not board the plane. Their baggage was removed before it departed.
The Boeing 777 went missing early on Saturday morning on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board.
Malaysia’s civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman described the disappearance of the plane as an ‘unprecedented aviation mystery’.
He said a hijacking could not be ruled out as investigators explore all theories for the loss of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
‘Unfortunately we have not found anything that appears to be objects from the aircraft, let alone the aircraft,’ he told a news conference.
‘As far as we are concerned, we have to find the aircraft, we have to find a piece of the aircraft if possible.’
As dozens of ships and aircraft from seven countries scour the seas around Malaysia and south of Vietnam, questions mounted over possible security lapses and whether a bomb or hijacking could have brought down the Boeing airliner.
It comes as Interpol criticised Thailand’s lax airport security after it emerged at least two passengers’ passports were stolen.
The possibility of a further two stolen passports used on the same flight is now being investigated after it emerged that no cross checks were carried out against Interpol’s lost and stolen database.
Procedural checks would have revealed that at least two passengers were travelling on stolen passports stolen.
Malaysian authorities now believe they have CCTV images of the two men using the stolen passports to board the flights.
The images have been circulated across international intelligence agencies and will be cross-referenced with facial recognition software.
The passports were used to buy tickets booked in the names of Italian Luigi Maraldi and Austrian Christian Kozel on March 6, 2014, and issued in the Thai city of Pattaya, a popular beach resort south of the capital Bangkok.
Flight MH370 disappeared from radar screens in the early hours of Saturday, about an hour into its flight from Kuala Lumpur, after climbing to a cruising altitude of 35,000 ft (10,670 metres).
A Vietnamese navy plane reported seeing what could have been a piece of the aircraft as darkness fell across the Gulf of Thailand and South China Sea on Sunday, but ships and aircraft returning in daylight have so far found nothing.
No distress signal was sent from the lost plane, which experts said suggested a sudden catastrophic failure or explosion, but Malaysia’s air force chief said radar tracking showed it may have turned back from its scheduled route before it disappeared.
A senior source involved in preliminary investigations in Malaysia said the failure to quickly find any debris indicated the plane may have broken up mid-flight, which could disperse wreckage over a very wide area.
‘The fact that we are unable to find any debris so far appears to indicate that the aircraft is likely to have disintegrated at around 35,000 feet,’ said the source.
Asked about the possibility of an explosion, such as a bomb, the source said there was no evidence yet of foul play and that the aircraft could have broken up due to mechanical causes.
Still, the source said the closest parallels were the explosion on board an Air India jetliner in 1985 when it was over the Atlantic Ocean and the Lockerbie air disaster in 1988. Both planes were cruising at around 31,000 feet when bombs exploded on board.
The United States extensively reviewed imagery taken by American spy satellites for evidence of a mid-air explosion, but saw none, a U.S. government source said. The source described U.S. satellite coverage of the region as thorough.
The passenger manifest issued by the airline included the names of two Europeans – Austrian Christian Kozel and Italian Luigi Maraldi – who were not on the plane. Their passports had been stolen in Thailand during the past two years.
An Interpol spokeswoman said a check of all documents used to board the plane had revealed more ‘suspect passports’, which were being investigated.
‘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’s databases,’ Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble said.
Malaysia’s state news agency quoted Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as saying the two passengers using the stolen European passports were of Asian appearance, and criticised the border officials who let them through.
‘I am still perturbed. Can’t these immigration officials think? Italian and Austrian but with Asian faces,’ he was quoted as saying late on Sunday.
A European diplomat in Kuala Lumpur cautioned that the Malaysian capital was an Asian hub for illegal migrants, many of whom used false documents and complex routes including via Beijing or West Africa to reach a final destination in Europe.
‘You shouldn’t automatically think that the fact there were two people on the plane with false passports had anything to do with the disappearance of the plane,” the diplomat said.
‘The more you know about the role of Kuala Lumpur in this chain, the more doubtful you are of the chances of a linkage.’
Boeing declined to comment and referred to its brief earlier statement that said it was monitoring the situation.
The Boeing 777 has one of the best safety records of any commercial aircraft in service. Its only previous fatal crash came on July 6 last year when Asiana Airlines flight 214 struck a seawall on landing in San Francisco, killing three people.
Agony of the relatives of those on board missing passenger jet as they wait for news of loved ones
Across the world, relatives of the passengers on the missing plane have been waiting anxiously for any news as to its whereabouts.
Of the 227 passengers, two-thirds were Chinese. There were also 38 passengers and 12 crew members from Malaysia, and others from elsewhere in Asia, Europe and North America, including three Americans.
Hundreds of distraught relatives of those on board the plane have gathered in a hotel in Beijing, waiting to be flown to Malaysia…