Malaysia

Confusion reigns as search for missing Malaysia Airlines plane continues

Five days after Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 went missing, there is widespread confusion about whether the aircraft turned around after take-off from Kuala Lumpur and how far off course it may have gone before it disappeared in the early hours of Saturday morning.

The search-and-rescue operation continues on both sides of the Malaysian peninsular amid conflicting reports about where the plane may have been when it disappeared,

Today an oil rig worker said he saw something burning in the sky 300 kilometres southeast of Vietnam. Vietnam has sent a search team to investigate.

Military radar, however, has shown the plane changing course and turning back around after take-off.

The Malaysian Armed Forces today dismissed reports that a radar signal was received from the plane at the northern approach to the Melacca Strait, west of the Malaysian peninsular.

Royal Malaysian Armed Forces chief General Rodzali Daud said he had been misquoted and the last radar signal from the aircraft was when it was between Malaysia and Vietnam, to the east.

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Reports today suggested there was still contact with the pilots when the aircraft was being handed over to Vietnamese air traffic control.

There is still no explanation as to why the plane would have done a turn-around.

Hijacking was cited by Malaysia’s police chief yesterday as one of four main avenues of investigation.

Forty ships and 34 aircraft from ten different countries have been involved in the search for the missing aircraft. The operation is covering a one hundred nautical mile radius.

Vietnam has scaled down its search until it receives more direction from Malaysia, but the Chinese have extended their search to land areas.

The Chinese authorities have called on Malaysia to increase its efforts to find the missing plane.

Suspect passengers identified

The main development yesterday was the naming of the two passengers who were travelling on stolen passports.
Malaysian police have named one of the men as a 18-year-old Iranian, Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad.

Interpol has named the second suspect passenger as 29-year-old Iranian Delavar Seyed Mohammad Reza.

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Photos released by police of Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad and Delavar Seyed Mohammad Reza.(Mehrdad on the left.)

The secretary-general of Interpol, Ronald K. Noble, said Mehrdad and Reza travelled from Doha, the capital of Qatar, to Kuala Lumpur on legal Iranian passports, then used stolen passports to board the Malaysian Airlines flight.

Police say they don’t think Mehrdad was part of a terrorist organisation; they believe he was trying to migrate to Germany. Reza is also believed to have been heading to Europe in the hope of having a better life and is not thought to have terrorism connections.

Interpol say neither of the Iranian passports used by the two suspect passengers were in Interpol’s “lost or stolen” database.

Malaysian police have been in contact with Mehrdad’s mother, who was expecting him to arrive in Frankfurt. Raza was reportedly booked to fly to Amsterdam and then on to Denmark.

Allegations of earlier security breach

Malaysia Airlines says it is “shocked” by allegations aired in an Australian TV programme of a past security breach involving the co-pilot on flight MH370.

The Sydney-based network “Nine” carried a report on its programme “A Current Affair” in which it is alleged that the co-pilot on the missing plane, First Officer Fariq Abdul Hamid, and a fellow pilot violated airline rules in 2011 by allowing two young South African women into their cockpit during a flight.

The allegation was made by one of the women, Jonti Roos, and the news channel carried photos of the women in the cockpit, with one showing them posing with a man resembling Fariq.

Roos alleged that the pilots were smoking in the cockpit and posed for photos with the tourists, who, she said, stayed there for the duration of the flight.

Passengers have been prohibited from entering an aircraft cockpit during a flight after the 9/11 attacks in the United States.

The alleged breach is reported to have taken place during a one-hour flight from the Thai beach resort of Phuket to Kuala Lumpur.

In a statement, Malaysia Airlines said it was taking the allegations against First Officer Fariq very seriously. “We are shocked by these allegations,” the statement added.

“We have not been able to confirm the validity of the pictures and videos of the alleged incident,” Malaysia Airlines said.

“We are in the midst of a crisis, and we do not want our attention to be diverted.We also urge the media and general public to respect the privacy of the families of our colleagues and passengers.”

The airline says the captain of the missing plane, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, joined the carrier in 1981 and logged 18,365 flying hours.

Malaysia Airlines has flown in many relatives of those on board the missing flight and has set up a special task force to take care of them.

“We have deployed teams of caregivers consisting of trained MAS staff and volunteers from Mercy Malaysia and Tzu Chi Foundation,” the airline said in its latest statement.

“These caregivers are stationed at five different locations at Beijing and four different locations in Kuala Lumpur.

“We have 115 family members in Kuala Lumpur and they are taken care of by 72 different caregivers. At least one caregiver is assigned to each family together with a Mandarin translator for the families from China.”

Malaysia Airlines said financial assistance was being given out to all families of passengers and crew over and above their basic needs. “This amount is extended to families of all crew and passengers in Malaysia as well those from other nations.”

Police investigations

Malaysia’s police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said on Tuesday that officers were focusing on four main avenues of investigation: a possible hijacking, sabotage, psychological problems among the passengers or crew, and personal problem among passengers and crew.

He said the Malaysian authorities had not received any information about any risk of terrorism prior to the missing flight’s take-off.

Malaysian police point out that there are 14 million stolen passports on the Interpol data base and checks are not necessarily made if no terrorism alert has been issued.

The police chief dismissed earlier reports that five passengers who checked in didn’t board flight MH three seventy. Everyone who checked in boarded the plane, he said.

Questions have been raised about security at Kuala Lumpur’s international airport. Interpol did have the stolen passports on its list, but says no immigration officials checked its database for information about them.

Interpol says 40 percent of international passports are not screened against its database of stolen or lost travel documents.

Yesterday the head of Interpol appealed to immigration authorities to use the Interpol data base more. He said people were travelling on passports on the “stolen or lost” database more than a billion times each year.

A young man interviewed by the BBC, who provided accommodation for the two Iranians before they left Kuala Lumpur, says he gave their names to Malaysian airlines on Sunday and told the airline that the two men were travelling on false passports.

A deepening mystery

The disappearance of flight MH370 is a huge mystery. When it took off, the weather was good, the Boeing 777 and Malaysia Airlines both have a very good safety record and the pilot was very experienced.

There was no distress call from the plane and no signal has been picked up from the aircraft’s black box.

Malaysia Airlines has released a statement stating that the plane underwent maintenance 12 days before it disappeared. “There were no issues on the health of the aircraft,” the airline stated.

None of the debris nor the oil slick spotted so far have been found to be linked to the plane’s disappearance.

Relatives of the 227 passengers and 12 crew members on board the missing plane have now been told to prepare for the worst.

Special prayers are being said around Malaysia and the Astro TV channel is showing a “pray for those on flight MH370” message that is now appearing on TV screens at regular intervals.

There is mounting frustration and distress among those waiting for news, but millions of messages of support and calls for prayers have been flooding social media in China, Malaysia, and elsewhere.

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