.40 ships, 22 planes join search for Malaysian plane
Were there terrorists on the missing Malaysian plane?
Malaysia on Sunday said it has launched a terror probe into the disappearance of the passenger jet carrying 239 people, investigating suspect passengers who boarded with stolen passports, as relatives begged for news of their loved ones.
The United States sent the FBI to investigate after Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 vanished from radar early Saturday somewhere at sea between Malaysia and Vietnam, but stressed there was no evidence of terrorism yet.
Malaysian authorities also expanded their search for wreckage to the country’s west coast, and asked for help from Indonesia. Searches so far had concentrated on waters to the country’s east, in the South China Sea.
A total of 40 ships and 22 aircraft from an array of countries including China and the US are now involved in the hunt across the two areas, officials said.
“There is a distinct possibility the airplane did a turn-back, deviating from the course,” said Malaysia’s air force chief, General Rodzali Daud, citing radar data.
But Malaysia Airlines chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said the Boeing 777’s systems would have set off alarm bells.
“When there is an air turn-back the pilot would be unable to proceed as planned,” he said, adding authorities were “quite puzzled” over the situation.
After it emerged that two people boarded the missing flight with stolen European passports, Malaysia’s transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein said he was looking at four suspect passengers in all.
He declined to offer details, saying authorities were examining “the entire manifest”, but confirmed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was dispatching personnel to Malaysia.
“At the same time our own intelligence has been activated, and of course, the counter-terrorism units… from all the relevant countries have been informed,” Hishammuddin said, refusing also to rule out the possibility that the plane may have been hijacked.
– Scouring CCTV clues –
A Malaysian civil aviation official said authorities still so far believe only two passengers had used stolen passports and were examining CCTV footage of them.
“There are only two passengers on record with false passports,” department of civil aviation director general Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said.
“We have CCTV recordings of the two passengers. The recordings in the CCTV are now being investigated.”
Flight MH370 had relayed no distress signal, indications of rough weather, or other signs of trouble. Both Malaysia’s national carrier and the Boeing 777-200 model used on the route are known for their solid safety records.
The flight went missing about an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur, bound for Beijing. A total of 153 Chinese nationals were on board, and relatives camped out at the main international airport in China’s capital bemoaned the lack of news Sunday.