Missing Malaysia Airlines Plane ‘May Have Turned Back’
17 minutes ago
Friends and relatives expecting to meet passengers from the flight in Beijing were taken to a nearby hotel
Radar signals show a Malaysia Airlines plane that has been missing for more than 24 hours may have turned back, Malaysian officials have said.
Rescue teams looking for the plane have now widened their search area.
Investigators are also checking CCTV footage of two passengers who are believed to have boarded the plane using stolen passports.
Flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing disappeared south of Vietnam with 239 people on board.
Air and sea rescue teams have been searching an area of the South China Sea south of Vietnam for more than 24 hours.
But Malaysia’s civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman told a press conference in Kuala Lumpur that the search area had been expanded, to include the west coast of Malaysia.
He also said five passengers booked on to the flight did not board, though their luggage was removed.
Twenty-two aircraft and 40 ships are now involved in the search, armed forces chief Gen Zulkefli Zin said.
Air force chief Rodzali Daud said the investigation was now focusing on a recording of radar signals that showed there was a “possibility” that the aircraft turned back from its flight path.
Vietnamese navy ships which reached two oil slicks spotted earlier in the South China Sea found no signs of wreckage.
Earlier Malaysia’s transport minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, said that at least four names on the passenger list were “suspect”, but the whole manifest was being investigated.
Malaysia transport minister: “The four names are with me and I have spoken to intelligence agencies”
It follows reports that two of the passengers listed as travelling – an Italian and an Austrian – were not actually on the flight.
They both reportedly had their passports stolen in Thailand in recent years.
Mr Hussein said international agencies including the FBI had joined the investigation and that all angles were being examined.
“Our own intelligence have been activated, and of course, the counterterrorism units… from all the relevant countries have been informed,” he said.
“The main thing here for me and for the families concerned is that we find the aircraft.”
Developments have been the subject of intense media attention in Beijing
Aerial search teams have yet to spot any wreckage
Military ships have been searching the sea south of Vietnam
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.
When he was asked earlier whether terrorism was suspected as a reason for the plane’s disappearance, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said: “We are looking at all possibilities, but it is too early to make any conclusive remarks.”
The plane vanished at 17:30 GMT Friday (01:30 local time Saturday).
It reportedly went off the radar south of Vietnam.
Malaysian Airlines had previously said it last had contact with air traffic controllers 120 nautical miles off the east coast of the Malaysian town of Kota Bharu.
Chinese airports have stepped up security in the wake of the incident, as John Sudworth reports
Distraught relatives and loved ones of those on board are being given assistance at both the arrival and departure airports.
Many have expressed anger at the lack of information.
“I can’t understand the airline company. They should have contacted the families first thing,” a middle-aged woman told AFP news agency at Beijing airport, after finding out her brother-in-law was on the flight.
“I don’t have any news. I’m very worried,” she said.
Some relatives said they were still hoping for miracle, reports the BBC’s John Sudworth in Beijing.
But many others will have concluded that there is little hope of aircraft being found, our correspondent adds.
The aerial search was suspended overnight but resumed on Sunday morning.
Malaysia and Vietnam have both sent planes and naval vessels to look for the missing flight.
The US is sending the USS Pinckney, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, which could be in the central search area within three hours.
US transport safety experts are also joining the investigation.
Territorial disputes over the South China Sea were set aside temporarily as China dispatched two maritime rescue ships and the Philippines deployed three air force planes and three navy patrol ships.
Singapore is also involved, while Vietnam sent aircraft and ships and asked fishermen in the area to report any suspected sign of the missing plane.
Texas firm Freescale Semiconductor says 20 of its Malaysian and Chinese employees were on the flight, according to a statement on its website.
Malaysia’s national carrier is one of Asia’s largest, flying nearly 37,000 passengers daily to some 80 destinations worldwide.
Correspondents say the route between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing has become more and more popular as Malaysia and China increase trade.
CNN: Malaysian authorities have been in contact with counterterrorism organizations about possible passport issues for those aboard missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the transportation minister said. He did not say how many passport issues there are.
Hishamuddin Hussein, who is Malaysia’s acting transportation minister and its defense minister, also said that the search area has been expanded because of the possibility the plane had turned back.
The National Transportation Safety Board says it has sent a team to Asia to be ready to assist with the investigation.
The investigators from the NTSB are accompanied by technical advisers from the FAA, according to the NTSB. Boeing, the maker of the 777-200, has announced it will also be part of the NTSB team.
Meanwhile, officials say the FBI is ready to send agents to Asia if requested by the Malaysian government. The information from U.S. officials corrects an earlier report that an official told CNN that FBI agents were being sent to the area.
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March 9, 2014
Stolen Passports Add to Lost 777 Mystery
By FT reporters
The mystery surrounding the disappearance of a plane carrying 239 people bound for Beijing has taken a sinister turn as it appears at least two passengers on board may have been travelling on stolen passports.
A frantic search was still under way on Saturday night by three south east Asian nations for Malaysia Airlines flight 370 after it disappeared from air traffic control screens two hours after leaving Kuala Lumpur en route to Beijing.
The flight, a code-sharing operation with China Southern Airlines, which left the Malaysian capital at 12.41am on Saturday, had been due to arrive in Beijing at 6.30am but disappeared at 2.40am while in Vietnamese airspace.
The last signal received from the Boeing 777 aircraft was 120 nautical miles off the coast of Kota Baharu over the South China Sea between Malaysia and Vietnam when the flight had already reached cruising altitude of 35,000 feet.
Austrian officials confirmed that an Austrian citizen named on the flight’s passenger list had not been on the plane and his passport had been stolen two years ago when he was travelling in Asia.
The Austrian on the passenger list, 30 year-old Christian Kozel, was alive and well in Austria.
The Italian Foreign Ministry said another passenger named on the manifest, Italian citizen Luigi Maraldi, 37, was alive and in Phuket, Thailand, where he has been living and where his passport was stolen more than a year ago.
The two passengers apparently using the stolen Austrian and Italian passports were among just seven of the 227 passengers who bought tickets through China Southern Airlines, rather than Malaysian Airlines, according to Chinese state media.
Earlier on Saturday, Malaysian media quoted the country’s defense minister saying the authorities had not ruled out terrorism as a possible cause for the flight’s disappearance.
On Saturday night teams from Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam were still searching the area where the flight disappeared, parts of which are the subject of territorial disputes.
“At this stage, they have failed to find evidence of any wreckage. The sea mission will continue overnight while the air mission will recommence at daylight,” Malaysia Airlines said at 2am local time.
It added that it was planning its next press conference for 9am local time but would release “all information as and when we receive it.”
A Vietnamese newspaper, Tuoi Tre, said that the aircraft had crashed off Vietnam’s Tho Chu Island, northwest of the country’s southernmost Cape Ca Mau, citing Vietnamese Navy.
Vietnamese rescue planes reported large oil slicks and a column of smoke off its coastline, but it was not clear whether they were connected to the missing airliner, a transportation ministry official told Reuters.
Malaysia Airlines said no sign of wreckage had been seen by 7.20 local time and the air search was being suspended until first light on Sunday. The sea search would continue through the night, the airline said.
Angry relatives of the passengers said they had waited for hours at a Beijing hotel but received only minimal information from the airline.
Malaysia Airlines, which has a good safety record and last experienced the loss of an aircraft in 1977, said it had “not received any emergency signals or distress messages” from flight MH370.
“We are still trying to locate the current location of the flight based on the last known position of the aircraft. We are working with the international search and rescue teams in trying to locate the aircraft,” the airline said on Saturday afternoon.
Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak, had taken personal charge of the search and rescue effort and arrived at Malaysia Airlines’ “emergency centre” at Kuala Lumpur airport a short while ago, a spokesman for his office said.
Mr Najib said on Twitter: “My thoughts and prayers are with the family members of flight MH370. I’ve asked all measures possible to be taken.”
“Fifteen aircraft and nine ships are currently searching for the missing plane,” he said.
Earlier the country’s Maritime Enforcement Agency sent a C415 aircraft and three ships on a search-and-rescue operation.
The disappearance of the airline is a rare test of the ability of Southeast Asian nations to co-operate on air and maritime searches, experts said. Areas of the South China Sea are mired in territorial disputes involving Vietnam and China, as well as Malaysia.
The US Navy also dispatched aircraft from Japan and a destroyer that was already in the vicinity to participate in the search.
“I’ve never heard of them [Malaysia and Vietnam] conducting a major exercise related to this kind of thing,” said Greg Waldron, managing editor of Flight global, a trade publication for the aviation sector.
Malaysia Airlines has said that Subang air traffic control in Kuala Lumpur had lost contact with the flight. On board were 227 passengers and 12 crew.
Malaysia Airlines, which flies nearly 47,000 passengers daily, said it would this afternoon send a team of “caregivers and volunteers” to “assist the family members of the passengers”.
Distraught family members gathering at the airport in Beijing were quickly moved by buses to a hotel about half an hour away in the northeast of the city. A message in red lettering on the arrivals board saying the flight had been delayed was later removed.
“Malaysia Airlines is currently working with the authorities who have activated their search and rescue team to locate the aircraft,” the airline said.
Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, the airline’s chief executive, said there had yet to be any evidence pointing to the possibility of technical failure on the missing flight.
The 777-200ER aircraft was delivered to the airline in 2002. It had been operational for 11 years and 10 months and was carrying enough fuel to last up till 8.30am on Saturday morning.
“In line with the industry as a whole, Malaysia Airlines has an excellent safety record, and operates in accordance with the highest international standards,” said Andrew Herdman, director-general of the Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines, which is based in Kuala Lumpur.
Boeing said it offered its “deepest concern” to the families of those aboard the flight. “Boeing is assembling a team to provide technical assistance to investigating authorities,” it said.
The US National Transportation Safety Board said it was aware of the reports of the flight’s disappearance and was “monitoring the situation”.
Reporting by Jeremy Grant in Singapore, Jamil Anderlini and Gu Yu in Beijing, James Shotter in Zurich, Giullia Segretti in Rome and Robert Wright in New York
Passengers mostly Chinese Of the 227 passengers on board, 153 – including one infant – were from China; 38 from Malaysia; seven from Indonesia, five from India, six from Australia; five from France and three – including one infant – from the US. The rest were from New Zealand, Ukraine, Canada, Russia, Italy, Taiwan, the Netherlands and Austria, according to the flight passenger list. However, Italian and Austrian authorities later indicated that the names of their nationals on the list may have come from stolen passports. “Our team is currently calling the next of kin of passengers and crew,” Mr Yahya said. The flight was piloted by a 53-year-old Malaysian citizen, Zaharie Ahmad Shah. He had clocked 18,365 flight hours and joined Malaysia Airlines in 1981.The first officer, Fariq Hamid, also a Malaysian, is aged 27 and had 2,763 flight hours. He joined the airline in 2007.