Malaysian police have identified one of the two passengers travelling on the missing Malaysia Airlines flight on stolen passports as a 18-year-old Iranian, Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad.
Police say they do not think Mehrdad belonged to a terrorist organisation and believe he was trying to migrate to Germany.
Malaysia’s inspector-general of police, Khalid Abu Bakar, said officers had been in contact with the Mehrdad’s mother, who was expecting him to arrive in Frankfurt and, police say, knew her son was using a stolen passport.
Khalid Abu Bakar said in a press conference today that police were focusing on four main avenues: a possible hijacking, sabotage, psychological problems among the passengers or crew, and personal problem among passengers and crew.
He said the Malaysian authorities had not received any information about a risk of terrorism prior to the missing flight’s take-off.
The authorities have not yet released the identity of the second suspect passenger, who was booked to fly to Amsterdam and on to Denmark. He and Mehrdad booked their flights through a travel agency at the same time.
The police chief dismissed earlier reports that five other passengers who checked in didn’t board flight MH370. Everyone who checked in boarded the aircraft, he said.
There are now 40 ships and 34 aircraft from ten different countries involved in the search for the missing plane, with the ships continuing their operations day and night.
The operation is already covering a one hundred nautical mile radius and will be expanded even further in the coming days. Land searches are also being carried out.
There have been reports today that crew members on a Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur have spotted debris near Vung Tau, off southeast Vietnam, but there is no further information about this sighting.
There are still many more questions than answers about the dissppearance of flight MH370.
If, for instance, the aircraft turned back towards Kuala Lumpur after take-off, as military radar readings suggest, how would it not have been spotted? It would have been flying in a busy area with a great deal of air traffic.
There have been occasional sightings of objects that search teams thought could be part of the aircraft, but none of them have turned out to be plane debris.
It was confirmed yesterday that an oil slick discovered in the South China Sea between Malaysia and Vietnam were not from the missing plane.
There has been a huge amount of speculation and all kinds of unconfirmed reports, including one about a local fisherman who said he saw a plane flying very low on Saturday night.
Questions have been raised about security at Kuala Lumpur’s international airport. Interpol did have the stolen passports on its list, but says no immigration officials checked its database for information about them.
Malaysian police point out that there are 14 million stolen passports on the Interpol data base and checks are not necessarily made if no terrorism alert has been issued.
Interpol says 40 percent of international passports are not screened against its database of stolen or lost travel documents.
The disappearance of flight MH370 remains a huge mystery. When it took off for Beijing, 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.
Malaysia Airlines released a statement today stating that the missing aircraft underwent maintenance 12 days before it disappeared. “There were no issues on the health of the aircraft,” the airline stated.
“The aircraft was delivered to Malaysia Airlines in 2002 and has since recorded 53,465.21 hours with a total of 7,525 cycles.
“All Malaysia Airlines aircraft are equipped with continuous data monitoring system called the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) , which transmits data automatically. Nevertheless, there were no distress calls and no information was relayed.”
Assistance for relatives
Malaysia Airlines also said it had set up a special task force to take care of families of those on board the missing aircraft. “Mercy Malaysia and Tzu Chi and others are also helping Malaysia Airlines by providing special psychological counselling to families and the crew.”
Special prayers are being said around Malaysia for the missing passengers and crew. The Astro TV channel is broadcasting a “Pray for those on flight MH370” message at regular intervals.
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.
The Chinese authorities have called on Malaysia to increase its efforts to find the missing plane.
It’s now more than three days since the aircraft with its 227 passengers and 12 crew members went missing and relatives of those on board have been told to prepare for the worst.