Sunday, March 09, 2014

Malaysia Launches Terror Probe Over Vanished Plane

Via France 24:

Malaysia launched a terror probe on Sunday into the disappearance of a passenger jet, investigating passengers who boarded with stolen passports, as relatives begged for news of their loved ones.

The United States sent the FBI to investigate after Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, carrying 239 people, vanished from the radar early Saturday somewhere at sea between Malaysia and Vietnam, but stressed there was no evidence of terrorism yet.

Malaysian authorities also expanded their search for wreckage to the country's west coast, asking neighboring Indonesia for help.

Searches so far had concentrated on waters to the country's east, in the South China Sea.

A total of 40 ships and 22 aircraft from an array of countries including China and the U.S. are now involved in the hunt across the two areas, officials said.

"There is a distinct possibility the airplane did a turn-back, deviating from the course", said Malaysia's air force chief, General Rodzali Daud, citing radar data.

But Malaysia Airlines (MAS) chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said the Boeing 777's systems would have set off alarm bells.

"When there is an air turn-back the pilot would be unable to proceed as planned", he said, adding authorities were "quite puzzled" over the situation.

Flight MH370 had relayed no distress signal, indications of rough weather, or other signs of trouble. Both Malaysia's national carrier and the Boeing 777-200 model used on the route are known for their solid safety records.

After it emerged that two people boarded the flight with stolen European passports, Malaysia's transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein said he was looking at four suspect passengers in all.

He declined to offer details, saying authorities were examining "the entire manifest", but confirmed the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was dispatching personnel to Malaysia.

"At the same time our own intelligence has been activated, and of course, the counter-terrorism units... from all the relevant countries have been informed", Hishammuddin said, refusing also to rule out the possibility of a hijack.

A Malaysian civil aviation official said authorities still so far believe only two passengers had used stolen passports and were examining CCTV footage of them.

Two European names -- reported as Christian Kozel, an Austrian, and Luigi Maraldi of Italy -- were listed on the passenger manifest but neither man boarded the plane, officials said.

Both had their passports stolen in Thailand over the past two years.

The disclosure came after it emerged that two people boarded the missing flight, MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, with stolen European passports.

The flight, which went missing about an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur, bound for Beijing, carried 227 passengers and 12 crew members.

If the worst is confirmed, it would be just the second fatal crash in the nearly 20-year history of the popular Boeing plane.

A 777-200 operated by South Korea's Asiana Airlines skidded off the runway after hitting a sea wall in San Francisco last year, killing three people.

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