Still no clues as search for Malaysian aircraft intensifies

Possibility of an explosion causing flight MH370 to disintegrate mid-air is not ruled out

Malaysian ethnic Chinese launch a lantern at a vigil for the passengers of Malaysia Airlines MH370, held near Independence Square in Kuala Lumpur yesterday. Photograph: Edgar Su/Reuters

Malaysian ethnic Chinese launch a lantern at a vigil for the passengers of Malaysia Airlines MH370, held near Independence Square in Kuala Lumpur yesterday. Photograph: Edgar Su/Reuters

Tue, Mar 11, 2014, 01:00

There was still no trace of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 and its 239 passengers and crew yesterday, despite the efforts of 34 planes, 40 ships and search crews from eight countries to track the aircraft, which vanished from the radar on Saturday en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur.

Contact with flight MH370 was lost along with its radar signal early on Saturday morning as it was flying over the Ho Chi Minh City air traffic control area in Vietnam. For more than three days, the mystery about the plane’s fate has only deepened. Investigators also have not ruled out the possibility of some kind of explosion, causing the plane to disintegrate in mid-air, but there are no clues to confirm or deny this theory.

There have been a series of reports of debris, such as an object that looked like a life raft, or an aircraft door, or even an oil slick, which were subsequently dismissed by Malaysian authorities.

“Unfortunately, ladies and gentlemen, we have not found anything that appears to be objects from the aircraft, let alone the aircraft,” Malaysia’s department of civil aviation chief, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, told a news conference in the Malaysian capital. “We will be intensifying our efforts to locate the missing aircraft.”

No signals
None of the usual ways of locating a lost plane appears to be working. There was no distress signal sent from the aircraft, which might suggest a sudden explosion, but US satellite tracking has not found any evidence to suggest a sudden blast. There were no signals from transponders or clues as to the whereabouts of the “black box”.

Malaysia’s air force chief said radar tracking showed the aircraft may have turned back from its scheduled route before it disappeared. Military and civilian vessels have been traversing the water beneath its flight path and their search area has widened to cover the Andaman Sea, the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea.

Four P-3C Orions, with the capability for long-range searches, supplied by the US, Australia and New Zealand, are scouring the area for trace of the lost jet, the minister said.

Authorities have not ruled out the possibility that the aircraft may have been the victim of a terror attack, and Mr Rahman said investigators were looking at “every angle” to explain the plane’s disappearance, including hijacking.

Working against the theory is the lack of any credible claims of responsibility. Interpol confirmed that at least two stolen passports were used by unidentified passengers on the plane and the agency is investigating a number of other suspicious passports.

The Malaysian state news agency, Bernama, quoted home minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as saying that the passengers using the stolen European passports looked Asian.

Security procedures
However, yesterday, Mr Rahman said that the two men who used stolen passports to board the missing jetliner were “not of Asian appearance”.

Things then took a bizarre turn. “They are not Asian-looking men,” he said. “Do you know a footballer by the name of [Mario] Balotelli, he’s an Italian. That’s what they looked like,” he said.

Mr Rahman said airport CCTV footage showed the men completed all security procedures. “There is an angle we are looking at, the possibility of a stolen passport syndicate,” he said. The flight was carrying 12 crew members and 227 passengers, including 154 Chinese, and China appears unhappy with the way the search is going. In the Beijing Times newspaper, China’s premier Li Keqiang said he was “very worried” over the missing plane and added that the Chinese government would continue to be a “strong shield” for people who are overseas. China adjusted the operations of orbiting satellites to help in the search of the missing flight, according to a website run by the People’s Liberation Army.