Wed, Mar 12, 2014 - Page 1 News List

Plane mystery deepens as search area widens

Reuters, KUALA LUMPUR

Interpol Secretary-General Ronald Kenneth Noble, second right, yesterday speaks during a press conference at Interpol headquarters in Lyon, France, about the investigation into a missing Malaysia Airlines plane. The image of two Iranians suspected of using stolen passports to board the plane is displayed on the back wall.

Photo: AFP

Malaysia’s military believes a jetliner missing for almost four days turned and flew hundreds of kilometers to the west after it last made contact with civilian air traffic control off the country’s east coast, a senior officer said yesterday.

In one of the most baffling mysteries in recent aviation history, a massive search operation for the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER has so far found no trace of the aircraft or the 239 passengers and crew.

Malaysian authorities have previously said flight MH370 disappeared about an hour after it took off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing.

“It changed course after Kota Bharu and took a lower altitude. It made it into the Malacca Strait,” said the senior military officer, who has been briefed on investigations.

That would appear to rule out sudden catastrophic mechanical failure, as it would mean the plane flew about 500km at least after its last contact with air traffic control, although its transponder and other tracking systems were off.

A non-military source familiar with the investigations said the report was one of several theories and was being checked.

At the time it lost contact with civilian air traffic control, the plane was about midway between Malaysia’s east coast town of Kota Bharu and the southern tip of Vietnam.

Police had earlier said they were investigating whether any passengers or crew on the plane had personal or psychological problems that might explain its disappearance, along with the possibility of a hijack, sabotage or mechanical failure.

There was no distress signal or radio contact indicating a problem and, in the absence of any wreckage or flight data, police have been left trawling through passenger and crew lists for potential leads.

“Maybe somebody on the flight has bought a huge sum of insurance, who wants family to gain from it or somebody who has owed somebody so much money, you know, we are looking at all possibilities,” Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar told a news conference.

“We are looking very closely at the video footage taken at the KLIA [Kuala Lumpur International Airport], we are studying the behavioral pattern of all the passengers,” he said.

Meanwhile, Interpol Secretary-General Ronald Noble named two Iranian men, aged 18 and 29, who had entered Malaysia using their real passports before using the stolen European documents to board the Beijing-bound flight.

“The more information we get, the more we are inclined to conclude it is not a terrorist incident,” Noble said.

Malaysian police chief Khalid said the younger man, who he said was 19, appeared to be an illegal immigrant. His mother was waiting for him in Frankfurt and had been in contact with authorities, he said.

“We believe he is not likely to be a member of any terrorist group, and we believe he was trying to migrate to Germany,” Khalid said.

Asked if that meant he ruled out a hijack, Khalid said: “[We are giving] same weightage to all [possibilities] until we complete our investigations.”

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