Sunday, 9 March 2014

Tracking the mysterious MH370: 2 impostors on board, plane missing 50 min not 2 hrs after take off...

  
Missing MAS flight: Two passengers using passports stolen in Thailand

PETALING JAYA: The mystery of the missing MH370 deepened when it was reported that there were two impostors on board, both with passports that were stolen in Thailand.

Italian Luigi Maraldi, whose name is on the manifest, was not on the missing MH370 flight. Someone else had used his passport to board the plane.

According to news reports from Italy which quoted its Foreign Ministry, Luigi Maraldi’s passport was stolen last August while he was in Thailand.

Maraldi, 37, is now in Thailand.

According to Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Maraldi returned home after his passport was stolen and had a new one issued.

When officials heard of the missing plane, they went to his parents’ home but they said their son was alive and well in Thailand, and had called to say he was fine.

“I am fine, I was not on the flight,” he told his parents.

Meanwhile, London’s Daily Mirror reported that a second passenger was also using a stolen passport.

Austrian Christan Kozel has been confirmed as safe and well by authorities.

He told Austrian newspaper De Standard that his passport was stolen when he visited Thailand two years ago.

It is still unclear as to who had travelled on MH370 under the two names. - The Star/Asia News Network

Tracking firm: Plane missing about 50min after departure

PETALING JAYA: Sweden-based flight tracking service FlightRadar24 was the first to report that Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 had disappeared from radar about 50 minutes of departure, and not two hours as initially stated.

"Flight #MH370 took off from Kuala Lumpur at 1641 UTC time (12.41am local time) and disappeared from www.flightradar24.com at 1720 UTC time (about 1.21am local time) between Malaysia and Vietnam," said the company’s chief executive officer Fredrik Lindahl in an e-mail response to The Star.

Flight MH370, on a B777-200 aircraft, departed Kuala Lumpur at 12.41am on March 8. It was expected to land in Beijing at 6.30am the same day.

"Also, based on our data, there is no doubt that the last reported position of MH370 is about 150km northeast of Kuala Terengganu.

"We have good radar coverage in the area the flight went missing and the last signal was received from an altitude of 35,000 feet," said Lindahl.

MAS group chief executive officer Ahmad Jauhari Yahya had initially said at a press conference at 11am yesterday that the Subang Air Traffic Control had lost contact with the plane around 2.40am.

However, Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) director-general Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman clarified later in the evening that contact was lost at 1.30am.

Meanwhile, aviation website The Aviation Herald stated that the plane was last regularly seen at 1.22am about halfway between Kuala Lumpur and Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City.

"The aircraft was spotted over the Gulf of Thailand about 260 nautical miles north northeast of Kuala Lumpur and 120 nautical miles northeast of Kota Baru 50 minutes into the flight.

"This was followed by anomalies in the radar data of the aircraft over the next minute. Although these may be related to the aircraft, it could also be caused by the flight leaving the receiver range," it stated.

The website also reported aviation sources in China as saying that radar data suggested a steep and sudden descent of the flight, during which time the aircraft had changed track from 24 degrees to 333 degrees.

- The Star/Asia News Network

No sign of Malaysia Airline wreckage; questions over stolen passports

Watch this video

Traces of oil may be clue in plane search



STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: "We have not been able to locate anything," an airline official says
  • U.S. law enforcement sources say both passports were stolen in Thailand
  • One of the two stolen passports is listed in Interpol's database, sources say
  • Vietnamese searchers spot oil slicks in the South China Sea

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (CNN) -- There were few answers Sunday about the fate of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, a day after contact was lost with the commercial jetliner en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

An aerial search resumed at first light, with aircraft searching an area of the South China Sea for any sign of where the flight may have gone down, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, the director general of civil aviation in Malaysia, told reporters

"We have not been able to locate anything, see anything," Rahman said. "There's nothing new to report."

The closest things to clues in the search for the missing jetliner are oil slicks in the Gulf of Thailand, about 90 miles south of Vietnam's Tho Chu Island -- the same area where the flight disappeared from radar early Saturday morning. A Vietnamese reconnaissance plane, part of a massive, multinational search effort, spotted the oil slicks that stretch between six and nine miles, the Vietnam government's official news agency reported.

Malaysian authorities have not yet confirmed the Vietnamese report, Rahman said.

The reported oil discovery has only added to a growing list of questions about the fate of the plane carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members: What happened to the plane, why was no distress signal issued, and who exactly was aboard?

Passenger manifest questioned

Bits and pieces of information have begun to form, but it remains unclear how they fit into the bigger picture, if at all.


Photos: Malaysia airliner loses contact Photos: Malaysia airliner loses contact

Map: Malaysia airliner lost contactMap: Malaysia airliner lost contact

Traces of oil may be clue in search

Quest: I flew with missing first officer

Quest: Odd to lose contact while cruising
 
For instance, after the airline released a manifest, Austria denied that one of its citizens was aboard the flight. The Austrian citizen was safe and sound, and his passport had been stolen two years ago, Austrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Weiss said.

Similarly, Italy's foreign ministry confirmed none of its citizens were on Flight 370, even though an Italian was listed on the manifest.

On Saturday, Italian police visited the home of the parents of Luigi Maraldi, the man whose name appeared on the manifest, to inform them about the missing flight, said a police official in Cesena, in northern Italy.

Maraldi's father, Walter, told police he had just spoken to his son, who was fine and not on the missing flight, said the official, who is not authorized to speak to the media. Maraldi was vacationing in Thailand, his father said.

The police official said Maraldi had reported his passport stolen in Malaysia last August and had obtained a new one. But U.S. law enforcement sources told CNN that both the Austrian and Italian passports were stolen in Thailand.

"No nexus to terrorism yet," a U.S. intelligence official said, "although that's by no means definitive. We're still tracking."

Rahman, Malaysia's top civil aviation official, declined to answer questions Sunday about the stolen passports, and how people using them managed to get past security and on to the plane.

"This is part of the investigation," Rahman said at a news conference.

The U.S. government has been briefed on the stolen passports and reviewed the names of the passengers in question but found nothing at this point to indicate foul play, said a U.S. law enforcement official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Of the two passports in question, the Italian one had been reported stolen and was in Interpol's database, CNN Law Enforcement Analyst Tom Fuentes said, citing sources at Interpol.

Additionally, no inquiry was made by Malaysia Airlines to determine if any passengers on the flight were traveling on stolen passports, he said. Many airlines do not check the database, he said.

During the news conference in Kuala Lumpur, Rahman declined to say whether the airline or Malaysian authorities had checked the database.

Not ruling anything out

Malaysian authorities reiterated during a news conference that they are not ruling anything out regarding the missing aircraft.

The Boeing 777-200ER departed Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 12:41 a.m. Saturday in good weather, and it was expected to land in Beijing at 6:30 a.m., a 2,300-mile (3,700-kilometer) trip.

Air traffic controllers in Subang, outside Kuala Lumpur, lost contact with the plane about 1:30 a.m., Rahman said. Earlier, the airline said the jetliner lost contact at 2:40 a.m.

The pilots did not indicate to the tower there may be a problem, and no distress signal was issued, the airline said.

It may be days, possibly weeks or months, before authorities can offer any firm answers.

It took five days for authorities to locate the wreckage of Air France Flight 447 when it crashed June 1, 2009, in the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 228 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 ocean.

If Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went down in the Gulf of Thailand, the recovery may be a bit easier because it is a relatively shallow area of the South China Sea, according to marine officials.

China, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia were conducting search and rescue operations south of Tho Chu island in the South China Sea, according to the airline and reports from Xinhua, China's official news agency. Ships, helicopters and airplanes are being utilized.

The USS Pinckney, a destroyer conducting training in the South China Sea, is being routed to the southern Vietnamese coast to aid in the search, the U.S. Navy said. The United States is also sending a P-3C Orion surveillance plane from Japan to provide long-range search, radar and communications capabilities, the Navy said.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Coast Guard has ordered on-duty vessels to aid in the search, Xinhua reported, citing government officials. China also sent a diving and salvage team to the area where the airplane is suspected to have gone down, the news agency reported.

Because of the Americans aboard the flight, the FBI has offered to send a team of agents to Malaysia to support the investigation into the disappearance if asked, a U.S. official familiar with the issue told CNN on condition of anonymity. Earlier, an official had said FBI agents were heading to the area.

The FBI is not ruling out terrorism or any other issue as a possible cause in the jetliner's disappearance, the official said.

Officials appeared resigned to accepting the worst outcome.

"I'd just like to say our thoughts and prayers are with the bereaved families," Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said during a news conference.

Grief, especially in China

The plane carried 227 passengers, including five children under 5 years old, and 12 crew members, the airline said. At the time of its disappearance, the Malaysia Airlines plane was carrying about 7.5 hours of fuel, an airline official said.

Among the passengers there were 154 people from China or Taiwan; 38 Malaysians, and three U.S. citizens.

Relatives of the Chinese citizens on board gathered Saturday at a hotel complex in the Lido district of Beijing as a large crowd of reporters gathered outside.

"My son was only 40 years old," one woman wailed as she was led inside. "My son, my son. What am I going to do?"

Family members were kept in a hotel conference room, where media outlets had no access. Most of the family members have so far refused to talk to reporters. The airline said the public can call 603 7884 1234 for further information.

In Malaysia, the families and loved ones of those aboard the flight were gathered at the Everly Hotel in Putrajaya, south of Kuala Lumpur, according to Bernama, the Malaysian national news agency.

Twenty of the passengers aboard the flight work with Freescale Semiconductor, a company based in Austin, Texas. The company said that 12 of the employees are from Malaysia and eight are from China.

The airline's website said the flight was piloted by a veteran.

Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah, a 53-year-old Malaysian, has 18,365 total flying hours and joined Malaysia Airlines in 1981, the website said. The first officer is Fariq Ab Hamid, 27, a Malaysian with a total of 2,763 flying hours. He joined Malaysia Airlines in 2007.

Still an 'urgent need' to find plane

"The lack of communications suggests to me that something most unfortunate has happened," said Mary Schiavo, former inspector general of the U.S. Department of Transportation, in an interview with CNN International.

"But that, of course, does not mean that there are not many persons that need to be rescued and secured. There's still a very urgent need to find that plane and to render aid," she said.

Malaysia Airlines operates in Southeast Asia, East Asia, South Asia, the Middle East and on the route between Europe and Australasia.

It has 15 Boeing 777-200ER planes in its fleet, CNN's Richard Quest reported. The missing airplane was delivered to Malaysia Airlines in 2002.

Part of the company is in the private sector, but the government owns most of it.

Malayan Airways Limited began flying in 1937 as an air service between Penang and Singapore. A decade later, it began flying commercially as the national airline.

In 1963, when Malaysia was formed, the airline was renamed Malaysian Airlines Limited.

Within 20 years, it had grown from a single aircraft operator into a company with 2,400 employees and a fleet operator.

If this aircraft has crashed with a total loss, it would the deadliest aviation incident since November 2001, when an American Airlines Airbus A300 crashed in Belle Harbor, Queens, shortly after takeoff from JFK Airport. Killed were 265 people, including five people on the ground.

- Contributed by Chelsea J. Carter and Jim Clancy, CNN

Related post: