New details fuel missing flight theories
(CNN) — What made Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 go off the grid? Where is it now? And could two stolen passports be the key to unraveling what happened?
Questions such as these were more common than answers Monday as searchers kept looking for the Boeing 777 that vanished without a trace three days ago.
As boats and planes scoured the water, chasing a series of leads that proved false, authorities revealed new details in their investigation and speculation surged. Among the latest developments:
— Two men who apparently boarded the plane with stolen passports — and the man who bought their tickets — have become one focus for investigators. So far, authorities haven’t said who the men were or why they were on the flight. The FBI was running their thumbprints through a database on Monday after receiving them from Malaysian officials. One U.S. intelligence official noted that the circumstances surrounding the use of the stolen passports follows a pattern similar to human smuggling rings and might not have anything to do with the plane’s disappearance.
— The area that nearly three dozen aircraft and 40 ships from 10 countries are combing has grown. “Now it’s a search area hundreds of miles big,” Cmdr. William Marks of the U.S. Navy 7th Fleet told CNN.
— It’s too soon to know why the plane went missing, but investigators are weighing a number of possibilities and haven’t ruled anything out. The possibility of terrorism is still on the table, though the U.S. intelligence official said that’s looking less likely.
— Family members of passengers are being told to prepare for the worst. But the brothers of Philip Wood, an American passenger who was on the plane, told CNN they’re relying on faith to keep them going. “We’re holding out hope,” Tom Wood said, “because as of yet, there are no answers in any of this.”
The mysteries surrounding Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 — and the true identities of some of its passengers — remain unsolved.
No emergency signal has been detected by any search vessel or aircraft.
“For the aircraft to go missing just like that … as far as we are concerned, we are equally puzzled as well,” said Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, director general of the Malaysian Civil Aviation Department. “We have to find the aircraft.”
The stolen passports
It is perplexing enough that a jetliner seems to have vanished without a trace. Adding to the mystery is the news that at least two people on board were traveling on passports stolen from an Austrian and an Italian.
The FBI is running those passengers’ thumbprints through its database, a law enforcement official told CNN. The thumbprints were taken at the airport check-in in Kuala Lumpur and were shared with intelligence and law enforcement agencies around the world by the Malaysian government.
Later Monday, a law enforcement official told CNN that information has been shared with various agencies that includes what may be the names of the two men who used stolen passports, and that so far nothing has come up to cause concerns.
Malaysian officials have also shared images of the men with the U.S. government, a U.S. intelligence official said.
“They will compare that to what we have in our terrorist databases. These are lists of people on no-fly lists, people with possible terrorist connections, people we have reasons to be suspicious of,” U.S. Rep. Peter King told CNN’s “The Lead.” “We have these listings, and those names and those biometrics will be compared to those.”
According to Thai police officials, an Iranian man by the name of Kazem Ali bought one-way tickets for the two men, describing them as friends who wanted to return home to Europe. While Ali made the initial booking by telephone, either Ali or someone acting on his behalf paid for the tickets in cash, according to police.
But CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes cautioned against concluding too much from details police apparently learned from a travel agency.
“We don’t know if that information is trustworthy. We know that it’s a lead and has been provided to the Royal Thai Police. They’ve furnished it back to the other agencies,” said Fuentes, a former FBI assistant director. “But as far as I’m concerned, it still needs to be confirmed who this gentleman was.”
Authorities have reviewed security footage from the airport and said the men who traveled on the stolen passports “are not Asian-looking men,” Rahman said Monday.
A majority of the 239 people on the plane were from Asia, according to the airline’s manifest. There were 154 people from China or Taiwan and 38 people from Malaysia aboard.
The Italian whose name was on the plane’s manifest, Luigi Maraldi, told reporters in Thailand over the weekend that he’d reported his passport stolen in August.
Interpol tweeted Sunday it was examining additional “suspect #passports.”
“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,” said Interpol Secretary General Ronald K. Noble in a statement.
The passports were reportedly stolen in Thailand, and Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra told CNN’s “Amanpour” on Monday that police are investigating.
“Initially we don’t know about their nationality yet,” she said. “But we gave orders for the police to investigate the passport users. Because this is very important to Thailand, to give full cooperation to Interpol in the investigation about the passport users. We are now following this.”
So far, nothing
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 took off from Kuala Lumpur shortly before 1 a.m. Saturday (12 p.m. Friday ET).
The plane disappeared somewhere between Malaysia and Vietnam. Since then, teams of searchers from Vietnam, China, Singapore, Indonesia, the United States, Thailand, Australia, the Philippines and New Zealand have been working alongside Malaysians to scour the Gulf of Thailand, part of the South China Sea that lies between several Southeast Asian countries.
The focus has now shifted to the Andaman Sea, near Thailand’s border, after radar data indicated the plane may have turned around to head back to Kuala Lumpur.
But the pilot apparently gave no signal to authorities that he was turning around.
Investigators have said several leads have turned out to be dead ends.
An oil slick that searchers had thought might be from the plane turned out to be fuel oil typically used in cargo ships, according to Rahman.
Other leads — reports that a plane door and its tail had been spotted — also turned out to be untrue.
China called on Malaysia to pick up the pace in its search, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
“We hope Malaysia can fully understand China, especially the mood of the Chinese passengers’ families and speed up investigation, search and rescue efforts,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters, according to Xinhua.
Search and rescue officials said Monday they were expanding the search area to encompasses a larger portion of the Gulf of Thailand between Malaysia and Vietnam.
Authorities are sending ships to investigate a report of debris found south of Hong Kong, but it will likely be Tuesday before authorities know if there is anything to those reports, Rahman said.
From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., planes flew over the vast waters. Ships searched through the night.
“Every day that goes by, it makes the search area much, much larger,” said David Gallo, who helped lead the search for the wreckage of Air France Flight 447 after that plane crashed in 2009.
Looking for wreckage and flight data recorders in the water is no easy task, he told CNN’s “The Situation Room.”
“We’ve only explored about 7% of the world beneath the sea, and there’s a reason for that. It’s slow going, and it’s difficult. So, with every day that passes by, crucial time is passing.”
The passport mystery raised concerns about the possibility of terrorism, but officials cautioned that it was still too early to arrive at any conclusions.
One possible explanation for the use of the stolen passports is illegal immigration.
There are previous cases of illegal immigrants using fake passports to try to enter Western countries. And Southeast Asia is known to be a booming market for stolen passports.
Five passengers ended up not boarding the aircraft. Their bags were removed and were not onboard the jet when it disappeared, Rahman said at Monday’s briefing.
Could the plane have been hijacked? “We are looking at every angle, every aspect,” Rahman said.
“We are looking at every inch of the sea.”
There has been some speculation that the flight might have been a test run for a terrorist organization planning a later attack.
The incident has some similarities to such incidents in the past, such as the 1994 bombing of a Philippine jetliner that investigators later learned was a test run for a wider plot to bomb numerous airliners, former U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General Mary Schiavo told CNN on Monday.
But John Magaw, a former Transportation Security Administration official and U.S. Secret Service director, said his best guess is the Malaysia Airlines flight was not a test.
“They’ve already done the dry run,” he said. “This was the actual flight.”
Analysts warned that it’s far too soon to know why the plane went missing or what caused it.
“We have speculation run amok, because we have no facts,” said Michael Goldfarb, a former chief of staff for the Federal Aviation Administration. “Speculation on the cause is always wrong, because it’s a unique accident. It rarely happens.
“And I do believe that they will find the so-called black boxes. … They’ll find where the plane is.”
For the relatives of the 227 passengers and 12 crew members, the wait has been agonizing.
“As of yet, we know as much as everyone else,” Tom Wood told CNN’s “AC360” Monday. “It seems to be getting more bizarre, the twists in the story, where they can’t find anything. So we’re just relying on faith.”
In Beijing, family members gathered in a conference room at a hotel complex.
More than 100 people signed a hand-written petition that demanded “truth” from the airline. They also urged the Chinese government to help them deal with Malaysian authorities.
Malaysia Airlines, which was helping family members apply for expedited passports, said it will fly out five relatives of each passenger to Kuala Lumpur.
A fuller picture of what happened may not become available until searchers find the plane and its flight data recorder.
And so far, that hasn’t happened.
Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370: What we know and don’t know
Search underway for missing Flight 370
(CNN) — In the early hours of Saturday, a Malaysian passenger jet with more than 200 people on board vanished in the skies over Southeast Asia.
On Tuesday, investigators appeared to be no closer to explaining how a large plane could seemingly disappear into thin air.
A large-scale search involving boats and planes from a range of countries continues at sea. Relatives of the people on board keep up their painful wait for news. Officials have warned them to prepare for the worst.
And theories abound about what may have taken place.
Quest: They have ‘no idea where plane is’
Until clearer information comes to light, here’s a summary of what we know and what we don’t know about Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
THE FLIGHT PATH
What we know: The Boeing 777-200 took off from Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, at 12:41 a.m. Saturday (Friday afternoon ET). It was scheduled to arrive in Beijing at 6:30 a.m. the same day, after a roughly 2,700-mile (4,350-kilometer) journey. But around 1:30 a.m., air traffic controllers in Subang, outside Kuala Lumpur, lost contact with the plane as it was flying over the sea between Malaysia and Vietnam.
What we don’t know: What happened next. The pilots did not indicate any problem to the tower, and no distress signal was issued. Malaysian military officials cite radar data as suggesting the plane might have changed course and turned back toward Kuala Lumpur before it vanished. But the pilots didn’t tell air traffic control that they were doing so. And at this point, we don’t know why the plane would have turned around.
‘We have to find the aircraft’
What we know: There were 239 people on board: 227 passengers and 12 crew members. Five of the passengers were younger than 5 years old. Those on board included respected painters and calligraphers, as well as employees of an American semiconductor company.
According to the airline, there were passengers of more than a dozen nationalities, spanning the Asia-Pacific region, Europe and North America. The most heavily represented were people from China or Taiwan at 154, and Malaysia at 38. There were three U.S. citizens on the plane. Five passengers ended up not boarding the aircraft. Their bags were removed and were not on board the jet when it disappeared, authorities said.
What we don’t know: Why two people who boarded the plane under the guise of an Italian and an Austrian citizen were using stolen passports, officials say.
Friends tell of fears as hopes dim for passengers
THE PASSPORT MYSTERY
What we know: The tickets for the two people using the stolen Italian and Austrian passports were both bought Thursday in Thailand, according to ticketing records. Both tickets were one-way and had itineraries continuing on from Beijing to Amsterdam. One ticket’s final destination was Frankfurt, Germany; the other’s Copenhagen, Denmark. The original owners of the passports were not on the missing plane, authorities say. Both had their passports stolen in Thailand — the Austrian’s was taken last year and the Italian’s in 2012.
Interpol identified the men using the stolen passports as Pouria Nour Mohammadi, 18, and Delavar Seyed Mohammad Reza, 29, both Iranians. Malaysian police believe Mohammadi was trying to emigrate to Germany using the stolen Austrian passport. The men entered Malaysia on February 28 using valid Iranian passports.
What we don’t know: Whether they have any connection to the plane’s disappearance.
The stolen passports raised fears that foul play could be behind the plane’s disappearance. There are previous cases of illegal immigrants using fake passports to try to enter Western countries. And Southeast Asia is known to be a booming market for stolen passports.
THE SECURITY SCREENING
What we know: Interpol says the stolen passports were in its database. But no checks were made on them between the time they were entered into the database and the departure of the missing plane. Interpol Secretary General Ronald K. Noble said it was “clearly of great concern” that passengers were able to board an international flight with passports listed in the agency’s database of stolen passports.
What we don’t know: Whether the passports had been used to travel previously. Because no checks were ever made on the stolen documents, Interpol says it’s “unable to determine on how many other occasions these passports were used to board flights or cross borders.” Malaysian authorities are investigating the security process that allowed the passengers to board the flight, but officials insist the airport that the plane departed from complies with international standards.
How does a jet go missing?
What we know: All the crew members on board the plane were Malaysian. The pilot of the missing plane is Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah, a 53-year-old with 18,365 flying hours. He joined Malaysia Airlines in 1981. The first officer, Fariq Ab Hamid, has 2,763 flying hours. Hamid, 27, started at the airline in 2007. He had been flying another jet and was transitioning to the Boeing 777-200 after having completed training in a flight simulator.
What we don’t know: What went on in the cockpit around the time the plane lost contact with air traffic controllers. The passenger jet was in what is considered the safest part of a flight, the cruise portion, when it disappeared. The weather conditions were reported to be good. Aviation experts say it’s particularly puzzling that the pilots didn’t report any kind of problems before contact was lost.
What we know: Thirty-four planes, 40 ships and search crews from 10 countries are scouring a large area of the South China Sea near where the plane was last detected. Pieces of debris spotted in the area have so far turned out not to be from the plane. “We have not found anything that appear to be objects from the aircraft, let alone the aircraft,” Rahman, the of the Malaysian civil aviation department, said Monday. Similarly, oil from a slick discovered in the area was determined to be fuel oil typically used in cargo ships, not from the plane.
What we don’t know: Whether the search is concentrating on the right place. Authorities began focusing on a stretch of sea around the mouth of the Gulf of Thailand, near the plane’s last known position. But they have since expanded search efforts farther west, off the other coast of the Malaysian Peninsula and north into the Andaman Sea, part of the Indian Ocean. And the more time passes, the more ocean currents will move things around, complicating the investigators’ task.
Jet was ‘at safest point’ in flight
What we know: Quite frankly, nothing. “For the aircraft to go missing just like that … as far as we are concerned, we are equally puzzled as well,” Rahman said Monday. The aircraft model in question, the Boeing 777-200, is considered to have an excellent safety record.
What we don’t know: Until searchers are able to find the plane and its voice and data recorders, it will be extremely difficult to figure out what happened. CNN’s national security analyst Peter Bergen says the range of possible reasons behind the disappearance can be divided into three main categories: mechanical failure, pilot actions or terrorism. But until more information becomes available, all we have are theories.
What we know: It’s rare for a big commercial airliner to disappear in midflight. But it’s not unprecedented. In June 2009, Air France Flight 447 was en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris when communications ended suddenly from the Airbus A330, another state-of-the-art aircraft, with 228 people on board. It took four searches over the course of nearly two years to locate the bulk of Flight 447’s wreckage and the majority of the bodies in a mountain range deep under the Atlantic Ocean. It took even longer to establish the cause of the disaster.
What we don’t know: Whether the actual fate of the missing Malaysia Airlines plane is in any way similar to that of the Air France flight. Investigators attributed the Flight 447 crash to a series of errors by the pilots and a failure to react effectively to technical problems. If there are no survivors from the Malaysian plane, it will rank as the deadliest airline disaster since November 12, 2001, when American Airlines Flight 587 crashed into a New York neighborhood, killing all 260 people on board and five more on the ground.
Agonized families await answers over missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
Agonized families await answers
(CNN) — Family members of passengers aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 faced an agonizing wait for answers, as the aircraft remained unaccounted for more than a day after it was scheduled to land.
In China, home of most of the 239 people on board, relatives of the passengers gathered in a conference room at a hotel complex in the Lido district of Beijing.
They grew increasingly frustrated Sunday as the wait continued. More than 100 people signed a hand-written petition that demanded “truth” from the airline by Sunday evening. They also urged the Chinese government to help them deal with Malaysian authorities.
More family members arrived Sunday. Video from Reuters showed Malaysia Airlines personnel in Beijing, where Flight 370 was headed, helping family members apply for expedited passports so they could fly to Kuala Lumpur early this week.
Zhang Guizhi, aunt of passenger Li Yan, told CNN that she had arrived from her native Henan province in central China and remained uncertain about how the airline would help her obtain a passport to travel to wherever the plane is found. She started crying when she mentioned that her 31-year-old niece had traveled to Malaysia with her husband and four friends for vacation.
A man who identified himself as the brother-in-law of passenger Ding Lijun said he had just arrived from Tianjin. He teared up when he said Ding had been working in Malaysia as a construction worker for a year and was taking his first trip home.
Search for missing jet escalates
U.S.-based firm: 20 employees on plane
Stolen passports raise terror concerns
On Saturday, a young woman from the nearby port city of Tianjin broke down in tears as she told CNN that her boyfriend was on board the flight. They had plans to marry, she said.
Another woman wailed for her missing son as she was led inside.
“My son was only 40 years old,” she cried. “My son, my son. What am I going to do?”
A man who identified himself as a friend of passenger Yang Jiabao showed reporters the missing man’s driver’s license in the hope it might help authorities find the man.
Acting Malaysian Transportation Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said he met with families in Malaysia on Sunday.
“It has been another long day. Thank you all for your thoughtful prayers. Hope will get us through the days ahead,” he tweeted.
Late Saturday evening, family members met with a Malaysia Airlines delegation that had been dispatched to the Chinese capital to provide support and information. At a news conference in the early hours of Sunday, Ignatius Ong, CEO of Malaysia Airlines subsidiary Firefly and spokesman for the airline’s management group, announced that immediate families should head to Kuala Lumpur.
The airline would cover their travel expenses and would fly the relatives to the plane’s location “once the whereabouts of the aircraft is determined,” he said.
Chinese media reported Sunday that the airline announced it would help next of kin get passports if needed and was planning to fly the first group to Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday.
With at least 12 nationalities on board, Flight 370’s disappearance left families around the world reeling.
Besides the Chinese passengers — who, according to Chinese state media, included a delegation of painters and calligraphers returning from an exhibition and a group of Buddhists returning from a religious gathering — the flight carried passengers from Malaysia, India, Indonesia, Australia, the United States, France, New Zealand, Ukraine, Canada, Russia and the Netherlands.
The Canadians have been identified as Muktesh Mukherjee, 42, vice president of China operations for Xcoal Energy & Resources, and his wife Bai Xiaomo, 37. The couple, who once lived in Montreal, lived in Beijing with their two young boys, the Canadian broadcaster CTV reported Sunday.
The airline’s manifest showed the passengers hailed from 14 countries, but later it was learned that two people named on the manifest — an Austrian and an Italian whose passports had been stolen — were not aboard the plane. The plane was carrying five children younger than 5 years old, the airline said.
Stolen passports raise questions
Mei Ling Chng is believed to have been one of the people onboard. A Malaysian national who has been living in Pennsylvania since 2010, she worked as a process engineer, according to Tracy Kilgore, spokeswoman at Eastman Chemical Company, where Chng works.
“As you can imagine this has been a very shocking and sad situation, and our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of all aboard the missing flight and in particular to those of our co-worker,” the spokeswoman said.
The family of Philip Wood, one of three Americans identified as among the missing, issued a statement describing him as “a man of God, a man of honor and integrity. His word was gold.”
“Incredibly generous, creative and intelligent, Phil cared about people, his family, and above all, Christ,” the family said. “Though our hearts are hurting, we know so many families around the world are affected just as much as us by this terrible tragedy.”
Texas-based firm Freescale Semiconductor confirmed that 20 employees were passengers on Flight 370. Twelve are from Malaysia and eight from China, the company said Saturday.
“At present, we are solely focused on our employees and their families,” Freescale’s president and CEO Gregg Lowe said in the statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by this tragic event.”
Later, the company tweeted: “Your thoughtful words and prayers for Freescale families and friends affected by MH370 give comfort.”
The company was making counselors available with around-the-clock support for employees affected by the tragedy, the statement said.