Stolen Passports Raise Questions In Missing Plane Investigation

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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (CNN) What happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370?

The closest thing to a clue in the search for a missing commercial jetliner are oil slicks in the Gulf of Thailand where all contact was lost with the flight, which was en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

A Vietnamese search plane, part of a massive, multinational search effort, spotted the oil slicks that stretch between 6 and 9 miles, the Vietnam government’s official news agency reported.

The traces of oil were found about 90 miles south of Tho Chu Island, the report said, in the same area where the flight disappeared from radar early Saturday morning.

The oil discovery only added to a growing list of questions about the fate of the plane carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members: When and where did the plane go, and who exactly was on board?

“It has been more than 24 hours since we last heard from MH370. …The search and rescue team is yet to determine the whereabouts of the Boeing 777-200 aircraft,” the airline said in a statement posted to its website. At this stage, search and rescue efforts “have failed to find evidence of any wreckage.”

In the meantime, the search area in the South China Sea is being expanded and efforts to locate the plane will continue overnight and into early Sunday morning, said Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, director general of civil aviation in Malaysia.

Bits and pieces of information have begun to form, but it remains unclear how they fit into the bigger picture, if at all.

For instance, after the airline released a manifest, Austria denied that one of its citizens was aboard the flight.

The Austrian citizen was safe and sound, and his passport had been stolen two years ago, Austrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Weiss told CNN.

Similarly, Italy’s foreign ministry confirmed that no Italians were on MH370, even though an Italian was listed on the manifest. Police in Italy said the man’s passport was stolen last year.

A U.S. intelligence official said authorities are aware of reporting about lost or stolen passports used by passengers on the missing flight.
“No nexus to terrorism yet,” the official said, “although that’s by no means definitive. We’re still tracking.”

Malaysian authorities reiterated during a news conference that they are not ruling anything out regarding the missing aircraft.

China, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia were conducting search and rescue operations south of Tho Chu island in the South China Sea, according to the airline and reports from Xinhua, China’s official news agency.

Ships, helicopters and airplanes are being utilized.

The USS Pinckney, a destroyer conducting training in the South China Sea, is being routed to the southern Vietnamese coast to aid in the search, the U.S. Navy said.

The United States is also sending a P-3C Orion surveillance plane from Japan to provide long-range search, radar and communications capabilities, the Navy said.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Coast Guard has ordered on-duty vessels to aid in the search, Xinhua reported, citing government officials.

China also sent a diving and salvage team to the area where the airplane is suspected to have gone down, as well as a Coast Guard vessel, the news agency reported.

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