Kuala Lumpur/Beijing: Malaysia today launched a terror probe into the mysterious disappearance of a plane with 239 people aboard after it emerged that two passengers boarded the flight with stolen passports, even as a massive multinational search mission continued for the second day without any success.
Preliminary investigation indicated that the Boeing 777-200 flight of Malaysia Airlines that went missing yesterday over the South China Sea en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur may have turned back. The plane had 227 passengers aboard, including five Indians and one Indian-origin Canadian, and 12 crew members.
Planes and ships from six countries today resumed the hunt for the MH370 flight that suddenly disappeared from the radar one hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur Airport on Frida midnight.
The discovery that two passengers were carrying stolen passports raised the unsettling possibility of foul play.
“We are not ruling out anything,” the chief executive of Malaysia Airlines Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said in Kuala Lumpur on being asked whether terror angle was being probed.
On two impostors who boarded the flight using passports lost by an Italian and an Austrian, Malaysian Defence Minister and acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said authorities would screen “the entire manifest” of the flight.
The minister confirmed the FBI has dispatched its officers to Malaysia. “At the same time our own intelligence has been activated, and of course, the counter-terrorism units… from all the relevant countries have been informed,” he said.
Hussein also did not rule out the possibility of a hijack.
Meanwhile, Interpol today said at least two passports recorded as lost or stolen in its database were used by the passengers. International police agency said it was “examining additional suspect passports”.
Officials from Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation today said they have dispatched three jets to join the massive search and were working with a US company that specialises in disaster recovery to locate the aircraft.
They said the search effort continued overnight to locate the missing plane. But the mission made little progress as they have not traced any wreckage or debris afloat.
“The search and rescue teams are still unable to detect the whereabouts of the missing aircraft” en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Airlines said in a statement.
“The airline is continuously working with the authorities in providing assistance. In fearing for the worst, a disaster recovery management specialist from Atlanta, United States, will be assisting Malaysia Airlines in this crucial time.
A command centre would be set up either in Kota Baru, in Kelantan state or in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, as soon as it could establish the location of the missing aircraft, it added.
Malaysian authorities are also looking into the possibility of an air turn back that could have been undertaken by the missing plane, a senior minister said today.
In an air turn back, a plane returns to its airport of origin as a result of a malfunction or suspected malfunction of any item on the aircraft. MORE PTI JB/KJV