Mystery deepens over missing plane

The mystery of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 deepened Monday after search crews in the waters south of Vietnam failed to find any debris from the plane that disappeared on Saturday local time.

Vietnamese authorities thought they may have spotted a door from the missing Boeing 777 jet about 90 kilometres south of the country’s Tho Chu Island, but ships searching the area could not find the rectangular object seen from the sky.

Oil slicks were also found in the South China Sea, but it’s unclear if they came from the airliner. Oil samples were sent to a lab for testing.

Flight MH370 took off from Kuala Lumpur at 12:41 a.m. Saturday en route to Beijing. Somewhere between Malaysia and Vietnam, the plane carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members lost contact with ground controllers.

Two Canadians – a married couple who had been vacationing in Vietnam – were on board.

Because the flight crew didn’t send out any distress signals or attempt to make contact with ground control before the Boeing 777 disappeared, authorities have not been able to rule out the possibility that terrorists, or a hijacking attempt, brought the plane down.

It has been confirmed that two people got on the plane using stolen passports, but there is still no indication that they had anything to do with the plane’s demise. Malaysian authorities are also investigating unconfirmed reports of two other passengers with stolen or forged passports.

More than two days after flight MH370 disappeared, there are more questions than answers. Among them:

What could have brought the Boeing 777 – a jet known for its excellent safety record – down mid-flight?

Aviation experts have said that catastrophic accidents at a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet are rare – most airline disasters happen at takeoff or landing. And if the plane had somehow disintegrated over the South China Sea, debris would have been scattered over a large area, security and counter-terrorism expert Alan Bell told CTV’s Canada AM Monday.

Still, Bell said it’s possible that much of that debris sank, making it difficult to find any trace of the plane.

“We may never find anything because of the depth of the water,” he said.

Bad weather could have also brought the plane down, but there is no evidence of storms in flight MH370’s path on Saturday. Other possible causes include an explosion, engine failure or pilot error.

“We are looking at every angle but again, we have to find concrete evidence," Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation Chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said Monday.

How did the passengers with stolen passports bypass security?

The passports reported stolen in Thailand had belonged to an Austrian man, Christian Kozel, and an Italian citizen, Luigi Maraldi.

Both documents were entered into an Interpol database of stolen passports, but the agency said only a “handful” of countries routinely check it. The database contains 40 million stolen or lost travel documents, Interpol said.

Bell told Canada AM that terrorists, drug smugglers, human traffickers and other types of criminals around the world routinely use stolen passports to get around. Most airport security staff don’t have the time or manpower to run every passport through the Interpol database – checks are usually only done if a passenger seems suspicious, Bell said.

However, he noted that some countries are more diligent than others when it comes to checking for use of stolen passports. The United States, for example, uses the Interpol database about 250 million times a year, he said.

In the meantime, international and Thai authorities are working to confirm the real identities of the two passengers with stolen passports.

Will we ever find out what happened to flight MH370?

Searching for pieces of a plane that went down over a large body of water could take days, or weeks, since bits of wreckage could be kilometres apart. If the plane was intact when it hit the water, it may have sunk, leaving little evidence of the crash.

If the plane’s black box recorder is recovered, it could give investigators an idea of what was happening in the cockpit before the plane disappeared.

In 2009, Air France flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris crashed in the Atlantic Ocean without a distress signal. There were no survivors and it took investigators three years to finally piece together what happened. They concluded that a combination of ice buildup, mechanical failure and pilot error were to blame.


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