Sunday 28 December 2014

Malaysia Airlines plane crash: terror experts home in on fake passports as debris found

Interpol is investigating suspect passports used to board missing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 as Vietnamese authorities say they have spotted possible wreckage

Published 09/03/2014 | 20:57

Indian sand artist Sudarshan Patnaik applies the final touches to a sand art sculpture he created wishing for the well being of the passengers of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, on a beach in Puri, in the eastern Indian state of Odisha, March 9, 2014. The Malaysia Airlines flight carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew went missing in area near the South China Sea on Saturday as it flew from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and was presumed to have crashed. REUTERS/Stringer (INDIA - Tags: DISASTER TRANSPORT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY SOCIETY)
Indian sand artist Sudarshan Patnaik applies the final touches to a sand art sculpture he created wishing for the well being of the passengers of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, on a beach in Puri, in the eastern Indian state of Odisha,
A Malaysian police officer checks passengers' identification documents at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, Malaysia, Sunday, March 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Lai Seng Sin)
A Chinese relative of passengers aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines plane cries as she waits for news in Beijing (AP)
In this photo released by Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, Director General of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency Admiral Mohd Amdan Kurish, left, briefs his officers before the start of searching for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane (AP Photo/Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency)
In this photo released by Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, a patrol vessel of Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency searches for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane off Tok Bali Beach in Kelantan, Malaysia, Sunday, March 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency)
Handout shows what is believed to be a piece of debris of missing Malaysia Airlines plane at an undisclosed location (Pic: EPA)
A view of oil slicks (pale line near the bottom right) spotted in an area of the South China Sea about 100 nautical miles (185 km) from Tok Bali Beach in Malaysia's Kelantan state March 9, 2014. REUTERS/Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency/Handout via Reuters
A Chinese relative of passengers aboard a missing Malaysia Airlines plane cries as she leaves a hotel room for relatives or friends of passengers aboard the missing airplane, in Beijing, China Sunday, March 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Hugh Dunleavy of Malaysia Airline, is surrounded by journalists as he arrives to a hotel for relatives or friends of passengers aboard the airline's missing airplane, in Beijing, China Sunday, March 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
A Malaysia Airlines spokesman (C) speaks to journalists regarding information about Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, during a news conference at a hotel in Beijing March 8, 2014. REUTERS/Jason Lee
A Chinese relative of passengers aboard a missing Malaysia Airlines plane cries as she leaves a hotel room for relatives or friends of passengers aboard the missing plane (AP)
Ground staff take a break under a Malaysia Airlines plane at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (AP)
BEIJING, CHINA - MARCH 08: A relative of a passenger onboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 (2nd Right) cries at Beijing International Airport March 8, 2014 in Beijing, China. Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and carrying 239 onboard was reported missing after the crew failed to check in as scheduled while flying over the sea between Malaysia and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, according to published reports. (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)
A woman in tears is helped by airport workers to a bus waiting for relatives of the missing Malaysian airliner at the international airport in Beijing, China, Saturday, March 8, 2014. A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 carrying 239 people lost contact over the South China Sea early Saturday morning on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, and international aviation authorities still hadn't located the jetliner several hours later. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Family members of those onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight walk into the waiting area at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang March 8, 2014. REUTERS/Samsul Said
A boy looks at a Malaysian Airlines plane from the viewing gallery of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, in this file picture. A Malaysia Airlines flight carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew lost contact with air traffic controllers early on March 8, 2014 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, the airline said in a statement. REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad/Files
Journalists wait in a conference room for a news conference regarding the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, at a hotel in Beijing March 8, 2014. REUTERS/Jason Lee
The chief executive of Malaysian Airlines speaks during a press conference at a hotel in Sepang, outside Kuala Lumpur (AP)
A staff member at the Malaysian Airlines' office in Beijing's International Airport reacts to journalists in Beijing (AP)
The arrival board at the International Airport in Beijing shows a Malaysian airliner is delayed (AP)
Family members of those onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight walk into the waiting area at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang March 8, 2014. REUTERS/Samsul Said

THE FBI, Interpol and China’s Ministry of Public Security are all investigating the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370, as fears grew that it had been the victim of a terror attack

As night fell on the second day since the Boeing 777’s disappearance, 35,000ft above the Gulf of Thailand, a huge search and rescue operation had found no trace of the plane or its 239 passengers.

Deepening the sense of mystery surrounding the fate of the plane, Malaysia’s air force chief said “the military radar indicated that the aircraft may have made a turn back” - while others seized upon a 2012 report that showed a portion of its wing, approximately three feet long, had been damaged and subsequently repaired, following a “minor collision”.

It what could be the first potential breakthrough so far, a Vietnamese search-and-rescue plane said it had spotted two pieces of debris around 50 miles south-west of Tho Chu Island.

The fragments were believed to be a part of the inner door and a piece of the missing airline's tail, Vietnam's ministry of information and communication said on its website.

And one Malaysian official, baffled by the lack of evidence 48 hours after the accident, said it “appears to indicate that the aircraft is likely to have disintegrated at around 35,000 feet” - something rubbished by aviation experts who said it was impossible to know whether the plane disintegrated until wreckage was found, and that that could take days.

But more ominous questions emerged about who was on board after the Malaysian authorities said as many as four passengers may have used fake or stolen passports.

Interpol said it was “examining additional suspect passports” and the FBI was assisting Malaysian investigators in probing the identities of the four.

Hishamuddin Hussein, the Malaysian Transport minister, said that while the authorities “do not want to jump the gun”, they have “informed the counter-terrorism units of all relevant countries”.

Investigators are also reviewing the close-circuit television footage of the passengers at Kuala Lumpur airport.

There is a brisk trade in stolen passports in South East Asia and Interpol currently has 39 million stolen or lost passports recorded in its database - equivalent to the population of Poland.

 “Any flight of that size in Asia would be carrying a couple of people with false passports,” said Clive Williams, a counter-terrorism expert at Macquarie university in Australia.

“When you think about the number of passports that have been stolen or gone missing around the world, it could be related, but it is probably not.”

However, others said if it was a coincidence, it was a remarkable one.

“What are the chances that one person boards a Malaysia Airlines plane on a stolen Caucasian passport?” asked one aviation expert who asked not to be named. “Maybe it is one in a thousand. Two? One in a million,” he added.

Initially, Malaysia Airlines had played down the use of two stolen passports, saying that any passengers headed to Beijing would have had to apply for a Chinese visa.

However, the Telegraph confirmed with China Southern, the code-share airline which made the bookings for the men travelling under the names “Luigi Maraldi” and “Christian Kozel”, that both were merely transiting in Beijing and did not require a visa.

Two separate ticketing agents at the airline confirmed that the men were booked to fly onwards from Beijing at 11.55am on March 8 to Amsterdam on a KLM flight in economy.

The real Luigi Maraldi appeared at a police station in the Thai town of Phuket to clarify that he had lost his passport while renting a motorcycle in the area last year. He said the woman in the shop had told him she had given his passport to another Italian man.

Hugh Dunleavy, an executive vice president at Malaysia Airlines, said it was not the carrier’s responsibility to validate a passport.

“We just need to make sure that if we see a passport, it doesn’t look like it has been forged and it has a legitimate visa. If it all looks legitimate and everything else about the customer is legitimate we will load them on the plane,” he said.

Another spokesman for the airline added that all the photographs had matched the passports of the passengers. But the Malaysian authorities have promised to tighten security at Kuala Lumpur after criticism that it had grown lax in recent years.

Meanwhile, the fate of flight MH370 remains a mystery. The jet was only eleven years old, had been recently serviced and was flying in clear weather. There is no sign so far of any debris and nor has any terrorist organisation yet claimed responsibility.

Its pilot, 53-year-old Zaharie Ahmad Shah, was highly experienced and described by friends as an “aviation tech geek¡” who loved his job so much he even spent his days off tinkering with a flight simulator he had set up at home.

“We used to tease him. We would ask him, why are you bringing your work home?” said a pilot who knew Capt Zaharie for 20 years. “He knew everything about the Boeing 777. Something significant would have had to happen for Zaharie and the plane to go missing. It would have to be total electrical failure.”

Friends who saw him the day before the flight said he had been in a “jovial” mood, according to the New Straits Times, a Malaysian newspaper.

An unnamed American government official told the New York Times that the Pentagon had reviewed its surveillance system that looks for flashes around the world, and saw no evidence of an explosion.

And another Boeing 777 pilot, who was flying 30 minutes ahead of MH370 en route to Narita airport in Tokyo, told the New Sunday Times in Malaysia that he had made contact with the plane shortly before it vanished.

“We managed to establish contact with MH370 just after 1.30am and asked them if they have transferred into Vietnamese airspace,” said the captain, who asked not to be named.

“There were a lot of interference, static, but I heard mumbling from the other end. If the plane was in trouble, we would have heard the pilot making the Mayday distress call,” he said.

 

By Malcolm Moore, Telegraph.co.uk

Telegraph.co.uk

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