Malaysia Airlines crash: terror fears over stolen passports used on missing plane

ByPamela Geller on March 8, 2014
101 Comments

Whatever it was, it was quick and catastrophic. There seems to be no evidence of a distress signal. “A leading aviation safety expert also said that it was ‘extraordinary’ that the pilots of the jetliner did not have time to make a distress call.”

Two stolen passports is a bit of a “coincidence.” China Southern, which operated a codeshare on the flight, said both the passengers using stolen passports had booked through its ticketing office.

Two thirds of the 227 passengers were Chinese, including one infant, travelling on what has become one of the most popular tourist routes in Asia.

China and Malaysia are certainly in the cross-hairs.

UPDATE: Foreign ministry officials in Rome and Vienna have confirmed that names of two nationals listed on the manifest of the missing Malaysian airlines flight match passports reported stolen in Thailand.

Italy’s Foreign Ministry said that an Italian man whose name was listed as being aboard is traveling in Thailand and was not aboard the plane.

Austrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Weiss confirmed that a name listed on the manifest matches an Austrian passport reported stolen two years ago in Thailand. Weiss would not confirm the identity. (source: Daily Mail) thanks to Van

Malaysia plane crash“Malaysia Airlines crash: terror fears over stolen passports used on missing plane,” The Telegraph, March 8, 2014 (thanks to David W)

Air safety experts investigate whether terrorism was behind the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines flight which vanished over the South China Sea

Air safety experts are investigating whether an airliner that mysteriously vanished in the Far East could have been the target of a terrorist attack.

Twenty-four hours after Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared over the South China Sea, the only clue to the fate of its 239 passengers and crew was the revelation that at least two people on board were using stolen passports.

The disclosure raised fears that terrorists could have used the passport to board the craft, which vanished with no prior signals of trouble to air traffic controllers.

The plane was heading from the Malaysia to China, where last week 33 people were killed and 143 injured in a terrorist attack in the south-western city of Kunming. The attack, in which a gang of men ran amok in a Chinese railway station, was blamed on pro-separatist ethnic Uigurs, who come from the mainly Muslim areas of the Xinjiang region that borders Pakistan and Afghanistan. Some Chinese media have branded it the country’s own “9-11”.

Officials stressed that it was too early to say whether terrorism was a likely cause of the Malaysia airlines crash. But US officials said they were checking into passenger manifests and going back through intelligence.

“We are aware of the reporting on the two stolen passports,” one senior official told NBC news. “We have not determined a nexus to terrorism yet, although it’s still very early, and that’s by no means definitive.”

A leading aviation safety expert also said that it was “extraordinary” that the pilots of the jetliner did not have time to make a distress call.

David Learmount, of the specialist aviation magazine Flight Global, said that as the plane was cruising at about 35,000 feet when it lost contact over the South China sea, the pilots would normally have had “plenty of time” to radio in any technical problems before the plane hit the water.

Chris Yates, another aviation expert, said: “There will be two areas for the investigation: the maintenance of the aircraft and also possible terrorism.”

The last reported position of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 (flightradar24.com)

As darkness fell over the South China Sea last night, rescuers using boats, helicopters and planes had spotted two long oil slicks in the area where the Boeing 777 lost contact with air traffic control.

No wreckage, or survivors, were spotted during a rescue mission that involved five countries and lasted roughly seven hours before the night closed in.

But there was an ominous surprise after Malaysia Airlines released the passenger list for Flight MH370, a red-eye between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing.

After checking the names of passengers 63 and 101, Christian Kozel and Luigi Maraldi, the Austrian and Italian governments said that neither man was on board.

A woman cries in Beijing airport as she waits to hear information about her family (Reuters)

Both had their passports stolen in Thailand over the last two years, and Mr Maraldi had been issued a new one according to the Italian media.

China Southern, which operated a codeshare on the flight, said both the passengers using stolen passports had booked through its ticketing office.

Asked in the wake of the revelations whether terrorists had seized the plane, Najib Razak, the Malaysian prime minister said: “We are looking at all possibilities, but it is too early to make any conclusive remarks.”

An unnamed senior American intelligence official told the New York Times that “at this time, we have not identified this as an act of terrorism. While the stolen passports are interesting, they don’t necessarily say to us that this was a terrorism act”.

The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER that went missing

It was 1.20am on Saturday morning when Flight MH370 simply vanished, in clear weather and with no distress signal, over the sea between Malaysia and Vietnam.

Two thirds of the 227 passengers were Chinese including one infant, travelling on what has become one of the most popular tourist routes in Asia. There were no British passengers on board.

The pilot, 53-year-old Zaharie Ahmad Shah, had more than 18,000 flying hours under his belt and had been flying for Malaysia Airlines for more than three decades.

Data from the plane showed no cause for panic. After a steady climb to 35,000ft, the Boeing 777 jet levelled off and then abruptly stopped sending its location, speed, and altitude. There was no sign of any sudden descent.

The absence of any signal from the plane particularly troubled experts; even if both engines on the jet had failed, there should have been time to issue a distress call as the plane descended.

Family and friends waiting for the plane to arrive break down as they hear the jet has gone missing (AFP)

It was five hours before Malaysia Airlines issued its first statement, simply saying they had lost contact with their plane and had begun a rescue operation.

In Beijing, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi broke off a press conference to deal with the crisis. “We are extremely worried,” he said. Shortly afterwards, Xi Jinping, the president, ordered “all-out efforts” on a rescue operation.

An efficient police operation at Beijing airport shuttled relatives away from a scrum of Chinese and foreign journalists and to a conference room in a downtown hotel, where they sat and waited.

It was six more hours before the search began focusing on the last point of contact from the plane, roughly 120 nautical miles south west of Vietnam.

At 12.15pm, an emergency message was broadcast to all ships in the area asking them to “keep a sharp look out and assist immediately”.

China dispatched two ships from its naval base on Hainan island, while the Vietnamese and Malaysia navies both sent helicopters and ships. Singapore sent C-130 Hercules planes to search from overhead.

A Vietnamese journalist aboard a search and rescue helicopter said they had spotted oil slicks on the waters.

The arrival board shows the missing Malaysia Airlines flight, top in red, cancelled at Beijing International Airport (AFP)

But the Malaysian transport minister, Hishamuddin Hussein, said it was too early to confirm a crash and that there were no signs of wreckage.

“We are doing everything in our power to locate the plane. We are doing everything we can to ensure every possible angle has been addressed,” he said.

Malaysia Airlines has a good safety record; it last lost a plane in 1977. The Boeing 777, equipped with twin Rolls-Royce Trent 892 engines, is also one of the world’s safest planes. Its only fatal crash in a 19-year history came last July when an Asiana Airlines jet missed the runway in San Francisco and three died.

A member of staff from Malaysia Airlines is surrounded by reporters at the airport (Rex Features)

Experts said that investigators would concentrate not only on whether the plane had suffered some catastrophic structural or engine failure, but also on sudden and unforeseen turbulence, some sort of attack on the plane, or even the suicide of the pilot, which has caused previous crashes over water.

But, a full day after the tragedy, the only news that Malaysia Airlines could issue was that “at this stage, our search and rescue teams from Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam have failed to find evidence of any wreckage”.

“The sea mission will continue while the air mission will recommence at daylight,” it added.

By then, the relatives of the passengers in Beijing were furious, having been held throughout the day in the hotel with minimal information.

The only information the relatives had gleaned, complained another man named Mr Jia, was from the internet.

At the end of the day, the relatives retired to rooms in the hotel, still without any news, their hopes fading.

Additional reporting by Adam Wu

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