Military radar has suggested that the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 may have turned around in its flight path, another baffling element to the mystery of what has happened to this plane with 239 people on board, still vanished without a trace. A general in the Malaysian air force has confirmed that radar picked up the plane trying to turn back on its course, but if it had performed such a manoeuvre, it would have sent an automatic signal, and none was received.
More consternation is caused by the revelations but not two, as previously discovered, but four passengers were on fake passports, and another, a Chinese man’s had a number which did not match his name. Zhao Qiwei is the name on this further suspect passport.
Malaysian Airlines had been hitherto played down the significance of the stolen passports, saying that a visa was required to enter China, and the passports would have to have been validated by the Chinese embassy. This theory is scuppered by the fact that whoever traveled under the assumed names of Luigi Maraldi (an Italian) and Christian Kozel (an Austrian) had tickets which only transitted through Beijing. They were both booked to fly on March 8 to Amsterdam in a KLM economy class.
These two men also had consecutively numbered tickets, highly suggesting they bought them together at the same time. The numbers were 7842280116099 and 7842280116100. An expert in aviation, who wished to remain anonymous, begged the question, “What are the chances that one person boards a Malaysian Airline plane on a stolen Caucasian passport?” He went on to give the odds of one in a thousand. But for two? The odds would have to be more like one in a million.
The names on the other two false passports have not yet been revealed but Hishamuddin Hussein, Transport minister in Malaysia, said all four names were with him and in the process of being investigated.
The counter-terrorism units of all countries involved are now informed, while a massive search by air and sea continues with 22 aircraft and 40 ships now scouring the area. The search site has been extended from the Gulf of Thailand and into the Straits of Malacca, and inland. The FBI are checking the passenger manifest against their lists of known and suspected terrorists.
Another puzzle in the many perplexities around MH370’s disappearance is the non-sighting of any flashes that would indicate an explosion had occurred. These would show up on the sophisticated Pentagon surveillance systems, but an American official, who chose not to be named, said there had been no evidence.
Ahead of MH370 by thirty minutes flying time was another Boeing 777 on its way to Narita in Japan. Its pilot said he had spoken to the other aircraft just prior to it vanishing. He was not sure if he had spoken to the captain or the co-pilot as there was interference on the line. He heard mumbling but no indications they were in any trouble. This was at 1.30 a.m. He established they had crossed into Vietnamese airspace.
As reported on Chinese state television, a Chinese family has managed to ring the mobile phone of one of the passengers and get a tone. Malaysian authorities are working on this new lead and trying to use the signal to locate the plane. The majority of the people on board, 153, are from China.
Malaysian Airlines have now told the family and friends of those on board to “prepare themselves for the worst.” On their Twitter, they posted this message, “As the hours turn into days, we truly appreciate the patience, support & prayers from everyone.”
The School of Aviation at the University of New South Wales said that foul play seems increasingly to be the most likely explanation. It has to be some “highly unexpected thing” said Jason Middelton, head of the school. He points to the stolen passports, as do other aviation experts, as a strong indicator that foul play or terrorism was likely. Catastrophic engine failure, pilot error or even suicide remain other possibilities.
Not everyone agrees that the stolen passports are a key clue. Clive Williams, a former military intelligence officer said there were 39 million lost or stolen passports worldwide, as of December 2013, and the chances of people on fake passports being on a flight of that size, were quite high.
The fact that the missing Malaysian Airlines plane may have turned back has been corroborated by some civilian radar systems. The chief of the Malaysian air force, Rodzali Daud, did not reveal which direction it was purported to have veered to, not how long it was seen to be traveling in a different direction. “We are trying to make sense of this” he told a media conference.
By Kate Henderson