There is no public statement that Flight MH370 has crashed but there is little hope left that it has not. Two hours into its journey from Kula Lumpur to Beijing the Malaysian airliner was flying in near-on perfect conditions. Weather is almost certainly not a cause. This leads to two possibilities for its abrupt disappearance without even sending a distress signal. Either a mechanical failure of such magnitude that it destroyed the plane, or an act of terrorism. Neither of these options will be any consolation whatsoever to the relatives of the 239 passengers and crew on board.
It may become significant that two of the passengers were almost certainly travelling on stolen European passports. Luigi Maraldi, an Italian, and Christian Kozel, Austrian, were on the manifest but not on the flight. The Malaysian deputy minister for Transport, Datuk Aziz Kaprawi spoke to reporters and said that this information was “still under review.”
Maraldi, 37, has confirmed to his parents that he is alive and well and in Thailand, and Kozel is safely at home in Austria. He has confirmed that his passport was stolen when he was visiting Thailand some years ago.
Malaysian Airlines is renowned for its safety record. The only major crash in its history was in 1995 in the city of Tawua. According to the Daily Mail, though, this very plane collided at Shanghai airport last year, and knocked off part of a wing tip. The incident occurred while taxi-ing and breaking the tail of another China Eastern Airlines plane. Malaysian Airlines has also been having some financial problems, and struggling with the intense competition from low-cost carriers. One of the first tasks of investigators will be to study its records on maintenance and requisite safety checks. The Department of Civil Aviation in Malaysia (DCA) will lead the enquiry, with help from the US National Transportation Board (NTSB). Boeing 777s also have a good safety record in their 19 year history. The long-haul jumbo can fly for 16 hours without re-fuelling and can even fly for three hours on just one of its engines.
Night has fallen in Asia now, and it will be several hours before more can be established about the sightings of oil slicks in the South China sea as spotted by the Vietnamese Air Force earlier today. The Chinese have sent a boat at full speed which will reach the site by first light. The slicks measured about twelves miles across and are the first possible visual clue to what may have happened. In what may prove to be a small crumb of consolation, the area of ocean there in the Gulf of Thailand is relatively shallow which may abett recovery efforts.
This is in contrast to the Air France Airbus which went down in the Atlantic in 2009, making retrieval efforts extremely difficult. That crash was later established to be due to pilot error.
No terrorist group has come forward to claim responsibility for an attack on the Malaysian airliner, if it was one. The incident has occurred a mere week after the mass stabbings in South China which were blamed on Uigher militants.
Two Americans, thought to be IBM executives, two toddlers on American passports, and two Canadians have been revealed to have been on the flight. An American intelligence officer working on the mystery said they had not so far identified this as an act of terrorism, but they were not ruling anything out.
The Chinese and Malaysian prime ministers have spoken by phone, both confirming they will use all their powers to “clarify the situation” and to aid the search and rescue.
Waiting relatives at Beijing airport, where the flight should have landed, are being kept in a hotel, as they anxiously await any news.
Another anomaly so far is some contradictions in the timing as to when the Malaysian airliner actually went off radar. It took off at 12.42am Malaysian time and vanished from the Kuala Lumpur air traffic control radar at Subang at 2.40am. This suggests it had time to fly further than the Gulf of Thailand, possibly on across north Vietnam. However it has also been said that it disappeared form Flightradar tracking at 1.19am. There have been no reports, as Malaysian Airlines had hoped, that it has landed anywhere else.
Whether the radar, the stolen passports, or some other factor becomes the crucial clue in the hunt for the Malaysian airliner will be revealed in the days to come, as the fate of the MH370, and those on board, is discovered.
By Kate Henderson