Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has been missing for nearly three days and the already massive search and rescue operation is being intensified all the time. It will be expanded even further in the coming days.
Radar readings suggest that the missing plane may have turned around after take-off so the search has now been extended to the Malacca Strait to the west of peninsular Malaysia.
There are now 40 ships and 34 aircraft from ten different countries involved in a search that is already covering a radius of 100 nautical miles. The ships are continuing their operations throughout the night.
There have been occasional sightings of objects that search teams thought could be from the missing aircraft, but none of them have turned out to be plane debris.
It was confirmed today that oil slicks discovered in the South China Sea between Malaysia and Vietnam were not from the missing plane.
Demands for information
Malaysia’s Director-General of Civil Aviation, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, was under pressure today, with journalists wanting to know more about the identity of two passengers who were travelling on passports stolen from an Austrian and an Italian citizen in Thailand.
Mr Azharuddin did say this evening that CCTV footage revealed that the two passengers were not “Asian looking”. He wouldn’t provide any further information, saying that the investigators were looking into the possibility that they were dealing with a stolen passport syndicate. He insisted that all security protocols had been complied with at the airport.
Police say they have identified one of the men, but are stating only that he is not Malaysian.
The two suspect passengers booked tickets at the same time, and were both booked to fly straight on from Beijing to Amsterdam. One was then reportedly booked to continue on to Frankfurt, and the other to Denmark.
Mr Azharuddin today used the words mystery and mystifying to describe the disappearance of the aircraft in the early hours of Saturday morning.
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.
Appeal for factual reporting
Malaysia’s acting transport minister and defence minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, has appealed to the media and the public not to spread unverified and false news that “affects the search and rescue operation, distracts us from the work at hand, and is unfair to families”.
He said the Malaysian authorities had nothing to hide and would pass on information, including photographs, about the two passengers who were travelling on stolen passports as soon as it was possible.
Mr Hishammuddin said in a tweet today that he was thinking of going to the search and rescue site tomorrow morning. “Can’t just sit n wait. Thinking 24/7 what else we can do,” he tweeted.
The minister said he met US intelligence personnel yesterday and shared biometric and background information about the two suspect passengers, and CCTV images.
The material had to be digested by local and international investigating agencies before it could be released, he added.
The Malaysian authorities say all avenues are being explored, and nothing is being ruled out, and that the priority is to find the aircraft.
Questions have been raised about security at Kuala Lumpur’s international airport. Interpol did have the stolen passports on its list, but says Malaysian immigration authorities didn’t check on them in its data base.
It has been pointed out that very few countries carry out such data base checks.
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.
Most of the listed passengers are Chinese, but there were people from 14 different nationalities on board the missing plane.
The Chinese authorities have called on Malaysia to increase its efforts to find the aircraft.
For now, however, the fate of flight MH370 and its 227 passengers and 12 crew members remains a deep and troubling mystery.