Malaysian airliner yet untraced; terror suspected (Roundup)
Kuala Lumpur, March 9 (IANS) The whereabouts of a Beijing-bound Malaysia Airlines jetliner missing with 239 aboard remained unknown after 48 hours despite a round-the-clock search operation and the Malaysian authorities for the first time started to look into the terrorist angle in light of several impostors found to have boarded the flight.
The aircraft vanished without a trace about an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur early Saturday. The Boeing 777-200ER was presumed to have crashed off the Vietnamese coast Saturday into the South China Sea.
Malaysia has informed counter-terrorism agencies of various countries in light of several impostors found to have boarded flight MH370 that went missing over the South China Sea, the Malysian Star reported Sunday citing Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein.
Hussein said Malaysia would be working with intelligence agencies, including the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), on the matter.
"If it is an international network, the Malaysian immigration alone will not be sufficient," he was quoted as saying.
"At this point, we have not established if there was a security risk involved (and) we do not want to jump the gun," Hishammuddin said when asked if there could be any hijack or terror elements in the disappearance of the Malaysian Airline flight MH370.
It has emerged that at least three people whose names are in the passenger list of the aircraft, did not board the aircraft.
Two people, an Italian and an Austrian, whose names were on the passenger list, reportedly did not board the aircraft and both had lost their passports, Xinhua reported.
Italian investigators Saturday said Luigi Maraldi, who was thought to be on the missing aircraft, is not on the aircraft as his passport was stolen in Thailand in August last year.
The 37-year-old Italian's name was on the boarding list furnished by Malaysia Airlines.
Maraldi phoned his father Walter, a resident of Italy's Cesena city, Saturday to tell him that he was not on the missing plane but safely in Thailand, Xinhua cited his father as telling the media.
An Austrian, whose name was also on the boarding list, had his passport stolen as well. The Austrian foreign ministry said the man was safe at home.
According to another report, East China police confirmed Sunday that a Chinese national from east China's Fujian Province, whose passport number G25****18 is on the boarding list offered by Malaysia Airlines, did not board the plane.
However, police said the passport owner's name does not match the name provided by Malaysia Airlines. The owner of the passport is still in the southeastern Chinese province of Fujian and has no departure records, Xinhua reported citing police.
The owner said the passport has never been lost or stolen.
According to a CNN report, the two passengers who used the Italian and Austrian passports appear to have bought their tickets together.
"The tickets were bought from China Southern Airlines at identical prices, paid in Thailand's baht currency, according to China's official e-ticket verification system Travelsky. The ticket numbers are contiguous, which indicates the tickets were issued together," the report said.
According to the report, both the tickets were booked with China Southern Airlines and start from Kuala Lumpur, flying to Beijing, and then onward to Amsterdam. The Italian passport's ticket continues to Copenhagen while the Austrian's ends at Frankfurt.
A statement by Malaysian acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the authorities are looking at four possible cases of suspected identities.
Gen. Rodzali Daud, the Royal Malaysian Air Force chief, told a press conference Sunday that the military radar indicated there was a possibility the missing aircraft made a turnback, deviating from its set course.
"We have looked into the recording on the radar and realised that there is a possibility the aircraft did make a turnback," the air force chief said.
A Vietnamese helicopter discovered two oil slicks in waters off the Vietnam coast at the suspected area where the plane went missing, an official with the search operation confirmed Sunday.
The Malaysian rescue teams have expanded their scope of search and have dispatched 22 helicopters and 40 ships in hunt for the missing jetliner.
The air force chief said the plane lost contact with the ground at 1.30 a.m. local time Saturday while flying over the South China Sea.
"There was no sign of abnormalities on the aircraft," civil aviation chief Rahman said.
In a statement, Malaysia Airlines said it feared the worst for the missing plane.
"A disaster recovery management specialist from Atlanta, US, will be assisting Malaysia Airlines in this crucial time," the airline said.
It disclosed that the missing plane's wingtip was repaired by Boeing before returning to fly.
China also sent an emergency response team Sunday morning to find the plane.
A team assembled by the Chinese transport ministry set out from the Sanya port in Hainan province to the South China Sea area where the flight may have plunged, Xinhua reported.
Rescue vessel "South China Sea Rescue 101" with 12 divers and salvagers will join another rescue vessel "South China Sea Rescue 115" at the site.
Sanya port is 700 sea miles from the possible crash site. Both the rescue vessels have helipads which enable air search.
An international search and rescue mission from Malaysia, China, Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand and the United States was mobilised with the sea mission. Search operations continued overnight and air mission resumed at daybreak Sunday.
The plane took off from Kuala Lumpur at 12.41 a.m. Saturday and was due to land in Beijing at 6.30 a.m. the same day. The 227 passengers on the flight included five Indians, 154 Chinese and 38 Malaysians.
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