BY CLARA CHOOI March 10, 2014
KUALA LUMPUR, March 10 — Over 50 hours have passed since MH370 was reported lost from radar and still, there is little to go on.
Intensive, round-the-clock efforts by an army of rescue workers from at least seven countries, manning as many as 72 vessels by air and by sea have failed to turn up a single indication that the Boeing B777-200 aircraft carrying a staggering 239 people had crashed.
There has been no confirmed signs of wreckage or debris, no distress signal from the aircraft before it lost contact with ground control, and no clear indication that the plane had experienced any technical failure in mid-air.
During take-off at 12.41am on Saturday, weather conditions appeared normal.
The aircraft, described as one of the “safest”, was said to be equipped with the ASD-B flight transponder, which transmits data on its altitude, speed and direction back to air traffic controllers every second.
It also has the Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT), which can be manually activated by the pilot or should transmit information on the aircraft’s location in the event of a crash.
As such, if the plane was experiencing problems in mid-flight, it should have been able to transmit a distress signal back to ground control. The fact that this did not happen has led to speculation on the behaviour of the aircraft at the time it went missing.
The Beijing-bound airship was piloted by 53-year-old Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, a man described by news reports as a “tech geek” so passionate about flying that he even practices on his own flight simulator at home. Zaharie has more than 18,600 flying hours under his belt in the three decades he has served MAS.
Was MH370 Captain Zaharie’s last flight?
If indeed the aircraft had disintegrated in mid-air due to mechanical failure, it would have happened so quickly that there was no time for the plane to inform ground control. Even so, there should be some semblance of debris in the water for rescuers to find.
If indeed the aircraft had crashed into the ocean, search and rescue efforts should have turned up some telltale discoveries by now.
If indeed the aircraft sank into the waters without leaving behind signs of wreckage, it would have taken some time before it disappeared completely from sight. Again, rescuers should have caught at least a glimpse of the airship before it went down.
But Malaysians and the rest of the world woke this morning only to find out that search and rescue efforts, now entering into their third day, have turned up nothing.
It was as if flight MH370 had vanished into thin air, taking with it the lives of 239 people.
Without any sign of the missing aircraft, the only leads the authorities, and the watching world, have to go on are the many speculative, conspiracy theories that have emerged since MH370 disappeared from sight.
Most significant are the reports alleging the possibility of terror links to some of those onboard the missing aircraft.
It has been confirmed that two passengers were allowed to board the aircraft using the stolen passports belonging to one Italian and one Austrian national.
Officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) touched down in Kuala Lumpur yesterday and met with Malaysian intelligence officers to investigate the possibility that a more serious security breach had led to MH370’s disappearance.
According to Interpol, there were no checks on the two passports that were listed on its database between the time the documents were stolen and the flight’s departure.
“Whilst it is too soon to speculate about any connection between these stolen passports and the missing plane, it is clearly of great concern that any passenger was able to board an international flight using a stolen passport listed in Interpol’s databases,” Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble said in a statement, according to international news agency Reuters.
Adding to the intrigue, Interpol said it has widened its probe to other suspect passports, “which may have been reported stolen”.
“This is a situation we had hoped never to see. For years Interpol has asked why should countries wait for a tragedy to put prudent security measures in place at borders and boarding gates,” Noble was quoted as saying.
According to CNN, the duo, who somehow gave local immigration officers the slip, appear to have bought their tickets together.
The two tickets were bought from China Southern Airlines in Thai baht for identical prices and had contiguous numbers, the international broadcaster reported on its website yesterday, citing information from China’s official e-ticket verification system Travelsky.
That the two tickets had adjoining numbers showed they were issued together, CNN said.
The revelation is likely to deepen speculation of foul play over the missing plane.
Malaysian authorities have also confirmed that two passengers had boarded the missing Beijing-bound flight under dubious identities.
“There are only two passengers on record on this aircraft with false passports and we have the CCTV recordings of those passengers from check in, right to the departure point and this record of the CCTVs are now being used in investigations on this,” Department of Civil Aviation Director-General Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman told reporters at the Sama Sama Hotel in Sepang earlier.
Following these reports, talk of terrorism, bombing and hijacking of MH370 were bandied about repeatedly yesterday.
According to Singapore’s The Straits Times yesterday, the authorities were not ruling out Uighur involvement in the mysterious disappearance of flight MH370.
Quoting Malaysian officials familiar with the ongoing probe, the daily said investigators are keeping their minds open to the possibility.
The daily noted that the plane’s disappearance had coincidentally come just a week after knife-wielding assailants killed nearly 20 people at a train station in Kunming, China. The killings have been linked to China’s Uighur Muslim minority group.
“One of the Malaysian officials said the authorities were not ruling out Uighur involvement in the jet’s disappearance, noting that Uighurs were deported to China from Malaysia in 2011 and 2012 for carrying false passports,” ST reported.
“This is not being ruled out. We have sent back Uighurs who had false passports before. It is too early to say whether there is a link,” one official was quoted as saying.
ST reminded that in 2011, Malaysia had deported 11 Uighurs who were allegedly linked to a human trafficking syndicate.
Back in Kuala Lumpur, the official line taken by Malaysian government and aviation officials was one of caution.
Asked if terrorism and hijacking have been ruled out in the disappearance of MH370, acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein and Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) director-general Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman only had one response: “We are looking at all possibilities.”
Despite the authorities’ refusal to divulge more information, and the endless number of theories and uncertainties, however, only one thing has remained true so far — flight MH370 still remains missing.