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Malaysia Airlines plane goes missing, mystery deepens as two passengers had stolen passports

Last Updated: Sunday, March 9, 2014 - 02:24

Zee Media Bureau

Kuala Lumpur: The reason leading to the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 carrying 239 passengers continues to be a mystery even as the Vietnamese Air Force on Saturday found oil slicks close to the location where the plane went missing.

Meanwhile, authorities have said that two passengers – Austrian Christian Kozel and Italian Luigi Maraldi – were travelling on stolen passports on the ill-fated aircraft. However, both the passengers were not travelling on the flight at the time when it went missing.

The authorities are now probing the recent developments to assess whether it had any link to the incident.

The oil slicks were spotted late Saturday off the southern tip of Vietnam and were each between 10 kilometers (6 miles) and 15 kilometers (9 miles) long, the Vietnamese government said in a statement. There was no confirmation that the slicks were related to the missing plane, but the statement said they were consistent with the kinds that would be produced by the two fuel tanks of a crashed jetliner.

Two-thirds of the missing plane`s passengers were from China, while others were from elsewhere in Asia, North America and Europe.

Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said there was no indication that the pilots had sent a distress signal, suggesting that whatever happened to the plane occurred quickly and possibly catastrophically.

Asked whether terrorism was suspected, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said, "We are looking at all possibilities, but it is too early to make any conclusive remarks."

Foreign ministry officials in Italy and Austria said the names of two nationals from those countries listed on the flight`s manifest matched passports reported stolen in Thailand.

Italy`s Foreign Ministry said the Italian man who was listed as being a passenger, Luigi Maraldi, was traveling in Thailand and was not aboard the plane. It said he reported his passport stolen last August.

Austria`s Foreign Ministry confirmed that a name listed on the manifest matched an Austrian passport reported stolen two years ago in Thailand. It said the Austrian was not on the plane, but would not confirm the person`s identity.

At Beijing`s airport, authorities posted a notice asking relatives and friends of passengers to gather at a nearby hotel to wait for further information, and provided a shuttle bus service. A woman wept aboard the bus while saying on a mobile phone, "They want us to go to the hotel. It cannot be good."

The plane was last detected on radar at 1:30 a.m. (1730 GMT Friday) around where the South China Sea meets the Gulf of Thailand, authorities in Malaysia and Vietnam said.

Lai Xuan Thanh, director of Vietnam`s civil aviation authority, said air traffic officials in the country never made contact with the plane.

The plane "lost all contact and radar signal one minute before it entered Vietnam`s air traffic control," Lt. Gen. Vo Van Tuan, deputy chief of staff of the Vietnamese army, said in a statement.

After the oil slick was spotted, the air search was suspended for the night and was to resume Sunday morning, while the sea search was ongoing, Malaysia Airlines said.

(With Agency Inputs)

First Published: Sunday, March 9, 2014 - 00:06

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