Malaysia Airlines: Search for true identity of passengers with stolen passports launched as terrorism concern grows

Military radar indicates plane may have turned back before vanishing. Vietnamese authorities said they had spotted an object late on Sunday that they suspect is one of the plane's doors

Intelligence agencies from across the world are trying to trace the true identities of two people who used fake passports to board the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, amid growing concerns that terrorists may have hijacked or bombed the flight.

Malaysian officials examining CCTV footage have found images of the pair, the Malaysian Transport Minister said. Authorities suspecting foul play may be involved continue to look over footage from Kuala Lumpur's international airport and question border guards.

“Early indications show some sort of a security lapse, but I cannot say any further right now,” an official with direct knowledge of the investigation told Reuters.

Ground controllers lost contact with flight MH370 as it travelled somewhere between Malaysia and Vietnam early Saturday morning.

It had left Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing around two hours earlier carrying 239 people.

Late on Sunday Vietnamese authorities said they had spotted an object that they suspect is one of the plane's doors. A massive international search is yet to find a confirmed trace of the plane however.

The weather was fine, the plane was cruising at high altitude and the pilots send no distress signal before the plane disappeared - very unusual circumstances for a modern jetliner operated by a professional airline to crash, but that experts say would be consistent with an on board explosion.

Foreign ministries in Italy and Austria said the two identities on the passenger list matched two passports reported stolen in Thailand from citizens of the countries. The pair using the passports appear to have bought the tickets together.

Interpol has criticised boarder controls for having not checked the passports - that were stolen in 2012 and 2013 - against their database. 

Authorities are now looking at two more possible cases of suspicious identities, the Malaysian Transport Minister said, adding that Malaysian intelligence agencies were in contact with international counterparts. He gave no more details.

Adding to speculation, Malaysian military radar indicates the missing plane turned back on itself shortly before vanishing.

Air force chief Rodzali Daud told a media conference: “The military radar indicated that the aircraft may have made a turn back and in some parts, this was corroborated by civilian radar.”

Pilots are supposed to inform the airline and traffic control authorities if a plane does a U-turn, Malaysia Airlines Chief Executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya added. “From what we have, there was no such distress signal or distress call per se, so we are equally puzzled,” he said.

The recent developments further strengthened concerns that terrorism could be the cause of the disappearance, aviation and terrorism experts said.

One Malaysian official told Reuters the authorities were not ruling out involvement of Uighur Muslim militants in the jet's disappearance, noting that Uighurs were deported to China from Malaysia in 2011 and 2012 for carrying false passports. Last week knife-wielding Uighur separatists killed at least 29 people in a Chinese train station.

Other scenarios, including some catastrophic failure of the engines or structure of the plane, extreme turbulence or pilot error or even suicide, were also possible, experts said.

Jason Middleton, the head of the Sydney-based University of New South Wales' School of Aviation: “You're looking at some highly unexpected thing, and the only ones people can think of are basically foul play, being either a bomb or some immediate incapacitating of the pilots by someone doing the wrong thing and that might lead to an airplane going straight into the ocean.”

 “With two stolen passports (on board), you'd have to suspect that that's one of the likely options.”

Just 9 percent of fatal accidents happen when a plane is at cruising altitude, according to a Boeing statistical summary of commercial jet accidents.

The plane was last inspected 10 days ago and found to be “in proper condition,” Ignatius Ong, CEO of Malaysia Airlines subsidiary Firefly airlines, said at a news conference.

Malaysia Airlines has a good safety record, as does the 777, which had not had a fatal crash in its 19-year history until an Asiana Airlines plane crashed last July in San Francisco, killing three passengers, all teenagers from China.

A total of 22 aircraft and 40 ships have been deployed to search for the aircraft by Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, China and the United States, not counting Vietnam's fleet.

China’s administrator of the Civil Aviation Administration said some debris had been spotted, but it was unclear whether it came from the plane. Vietnamese authorities said they had found nothing close to two large oil slicks spotted Saturday.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £22500 per annum + OTE £30K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager - OTE £40,000

£28000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Contracts / Sales Administrator

£19500 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Knowledge of and ability to use...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence