Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 had four stolen passports aboard according to background checks in Interpol’s Stolen and Lost Travel Documents database. The U.S. checks travelers backgrounds against this database over 250 million times a year but other countries of the 190 which share access to the database are not as stringent. The stolen passports have not been connected with the cause of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight which lost contact on Saturday, but Interpol has revealed that stolen documents are much more common than many realize.
Flight control at Malaysia Airlines lost contact with Flight 370 roughly an hour after it took off from Kuala Lumpur on the way to Beijing. Authorities do not yet suspect terrorism as a cause for the disappearance, but as more information becomes available they have not ruled out the possibility. Oil slicks were found in the ocean that lies between Malaysia and Vietnam, prompting concern that the flight had crashed, but recent information has shown it is more likely the plane carrying 239 passengers and crew turned around before contact was lost.
Theories abound regarding the fate of the flight, from mid-air disintegration to safe landings in an unknown area. The search is narrowing but the news of altered passports has opened the minds of those following the story to a wide range of fears. The exact number of stolen or doctored passports is simply unknown, and the U.S. is far and away the country who checks most comprehensively that the people boarding a flight are who their passports say they are. Two of the passports now under scrutiny were reported stolen by their Austrian and Italian owners when they were traveling in 2012 and 2013. The travel plans tied to those passports showed that whoever is using them currently had planned to board a connecting flight to Amsterdam after landing in Beijing, and further checks showed that they had never been screened previously, leaving authorities in the dark as to whether they had been used to bypass security in the past. Although learning that the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 had four stolen passports aboard does little to answer questions regarding the whereabouts and condition of the plane and its passengers, it certainly raises several more.
Malaysian officials reported they are reviewing security camera footage of the passengers who boarded with the falsified documents recorded in the airport before the flight embarked, but declined to comment when asked if the airport made checks against the Interpol stolen documents database. A joint investigation between Chinese and Malaysian officials is now underway, though international law dictates that country where the remains of a crash are found will lead the investigation into the cause, meaning that serious study into the events behind the sudden disappearance of Flight 370 are not likely to begin until the crash site is found. Assuming the plane crashed at all! There is much mystery here, and the news that the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 had four stolen passports aboard only adds to the dense layers that must now be peeled back to understand what truly happened.
By Daniel O’Brien