Investigators continue to search for any trace of a missing Malaysia Airlines jet that disappeared shortly after taking off Saturday. After reports that investigators may have found oil slicks from the plane and a plane door, both clues were found to be false alarms. Now authorities have identified a man using a stolen passport to board the plane.
After hours of no trace of the airplane, Vietnamese officials said Sunday that they might have spotted a rectangular object in the sea that appeared to be a plane door. By the next day, however, officials said they could no longer see the bit of debris they had initially found, and the clue disappeared. Similarly, the oil slicks found and believed to have potential to be related to the missing flight were tested and found to have nothing to do with the flight.
CNN reports today that the two failed attempts at gathering clues have resulted in an expanded search area for the mission to find the flight. At a press conference to update the media on the search, the official in charge of the investigation, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, told reporters that search teams are expanding their area within the Gulf of Thailand. He also confirmed that the teams– consisting of 40 ships from 10 different countries– had not found any leads. “For the aircraft to go missing just like that… as far as we are concerned, we are equally puzzled as well,” Rahman added.
While investigators have found no clues leading to the whereabouts of the flight, they have found some disturbing inconsistencies with passengers on the plane. Two passengers listed on the plane, both European nationals, were found alive and safe in their homes; their passports had been stolen in Thailand years ago. The identity of one man, according to the LA Times, is now known. Authorities announced that the man is not Malaysian but refused to disclose his identity or his nationality. In the same press conference, authorities noted they received an anonymous tip last week that terrorists were targeting Beijing, the destination of the missing flight.
In a separate conference, Rahman added in the press conference that there were five passengers listed who did not board the aircraft. Authorities are investigating the identities of two other suspicious passports attributed to individuals on the plane.
While the use of stolen passports is not unheard of by non-violent illegal immigrants attempting to move out of the region, authorities are not ruling out terrorism in the case of the missing plane. Malaysia has extensive ties with Al Qaeda; Osama bin Laden held the fateful summit to plan the September 11 terror attacks in its capital, Kuala Lumpur. The lack of distress signal from the pilots or attempts to generate publicity for a hijacking, if there was indeed a hijacking, have baffled investigators.
Malasia Airlines Flight 370 left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing early Saturday morning, disappearing in good weather and without any suggestion that there was a struggle on the plane. Some radar evidence points to the plane attempting to turn around, but authorities have concluded little from that lead. The lack of new evidence and large number of Chinese nationals on the plane have led to Chinese officials and media criticizing the search efforts. An opinion column in the Chinese newspaper Global Times argued that Malaysian authorities have “shirk[ed] their responsibilities” and that, whether terror or mechanical error, Malaysian authorities are to blame for the tragedy.
Adding one more layer to the mystery, relatives report that the telephones of passengers on the airplane ring, but no one answers, suggesting that they have not been fully disconnected or destroyed underwater.