Kuala Lumpur: The mystery surrounding the disappearance of a Malaysian plane with 239 people aboard deepened today with multinational search teams still unable to find the debris from the missing aircraft after over two days.
“Unfortunately, we have not found anything that appears to be objects from the aircraft, let alone the aircraft itself,” Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, head of Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation, said at a televised news conference.
The Beijing-bound Boeing 777-200 flight of Malaysia Airlines had 227 passengers aboard, including five Indians and one Indian-origin Canadian, and 12 crew members.
Vietnamese searchers on ships worked throughout the night but could not find a rectangle object spotted yesterday that was thought to be one of the doors of the plane.
Rahman said Vietnamese officials had not confirmed to Malaysia, reports that debris believed to be from the plane had been found.
He stressed that authorities were looking into all angles and aspects that could have led to the disappearance of the aircraft including hijacking.
Malaysia yesterday launched a terror probe into the disappearance of MH370 flight that suddenly vanished from the radar one hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur Airport on Friday midnight.
The probe was launched after it emerged that two passengers boarded the flight with stolen passports. Preliminary investigation also indicated that plane may have turned back.
Five passengers holding tickets had failed to board that flight, Rahman said.
“Their luggage was off loaded and would not have been in the plane. All check in luggage was screened,” he said.
Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi yesterday said the two passengers who used stolen passports to board the plane had “Asian facial features”
“I am still puzzled how come (immigration officers) cannot think, an Italian and Austrian (passengers) but with Asian facial features,” he told reporters yesterday.
Asked about how the two passengers with Asian features could have been allowed to pass, Rahman said the investigating officials were looking into it and added that authorities were going though all video footage and records.
“There are a number of reports, number of sightings that we have made. The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement agency also spotted slicks in the South China Sea and they took samples of it and those samples have been sent to the labs,” Rahman said.
The Malaysian official said the authorities were as “puzzled” as others over the mysterious disappearance of the plane and stressed that search efforts had been intensified expanding area of search to the Andaman sea.
The list of passengers on board the plane included 154 Chinese, 38 Malaysians, 7 Indonesians, 6 Australians, 5 Indians, 4 Americans and 2 Canadians.
Indians have been identified as Chetna Kolekar, 55, Swanand Kolekar, 23, Vinod Kolekar, 59, Chandrika Sharma, 51, and Kranti Shirsatha, 44.
“There are various objects our team has seen but none of them confirm any of them are from the aircraft. And for the aircraft to just go missing just like that from the radar…We are equally puzzled. The honourable Prime Minister used the word ‘perplexing’,” Rahman said.
“To confirm what had happened on that particular day to the ill-fated aircraft, we need hard evidence, we need concrete evidence,” he said.
The plane has not emitted any signal from the time it went missing. A massive search operation was launched after the disappearance of the aircraft with 40 vessels and 24 planes scouring the Malaysian, Vietnamese waters and the Andanan Seas in a multi-nation operation.
Rahman said various reports of sightings of parts of debris like a door and a piece of tail had not been verified.
Meanwhile, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said yesterday all air travel security procedures at Malaysian airports would be reviewed after the discovery that two passengers boarded the flight using stolen passports.
Najib said air security protocols would be further enhanced if the review found it necessary.
“At the moment, when we don’t have any solid evidence there are surely many theories swirling about but they are not conclusive,” Najib said.
On the possibility that missing flight’s apparent “turn-back” indicated that there was suspicion of terrorism, Najib said,”We have to find all possible leads and investigate before we can arrive at a definite finding.”
Royal Malaysia Air Force chief Rodzali Daud said yesterday that there were indications on military radar that plane could have made a “turn-back”.
Authorities are also puzzled over the lack of signals from the plane’s Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) emergency beacon, which can help rescuers locate the aircraft.
He said recordings captured from the radar had shown a turn-back. 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.
The airlines group CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said a turn-back could be launched when a pilot is unable to proceed on a planned flight path, and he would inform the air traffic control tower of his intention. “But no distress signal was issued. We are equally puzzled as well.”
The Australian government has joined the search operations for the plane.
“This afternoon I spoke to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to…offer our assistance with the search for the missing aircraft,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott said.