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Stolen passports probed in Malaysian plane mystery



By JIM GOMEZ and THANAYARAT DOKSONE

PATTAYA, Thailand (AP) - Authorities questioned travel agents Monday at a beach resort in Thailand about two men who boarded the vanished Malaysia Airlines plane with stolen passports, part of a growing international investigation into what they were doing on the flight.

Nearly three days after the Boeing 777 with 239 people on board disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, no debris has been seen in Southeast Asian waters.

Five passengers who checked in for Flight MH370 didn't board the plane, and their luggage was removed from it, Malaysian authorities said. Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said this also was being investigated, but he didn't say whether this was suspicious.

The search effort, involving at least 34 aircraft and 40 ships from several countries, was being widened to a 100-nautical mile (115-mile, 185-kilometer) radius from the point the plane vanished from radar screens between Malaysia and Vietnam early Saturday with no distress signal.

Two of the passengers were traveling on passports stolen in Thailand and had onward tickets to Europe, but it's not known whether the two men had anything to do with the plane's disappearance. Criminals and illegal migrants regularly travel on fake or stolen documents.

Hishammuddin said biometric information and CCTV footage of the men has been shared with Chinese and U.S. intelligence agencies, who were helping the investigation. Almost two-thirds of the passengers on the flight were from China.

The stolen passports, one belonging to Christian Kozel of Austria and the other to Luigi Maraldi of Italy, were entered into Interpol's database after they were taken in Thailand in 2012 and 2013, the police organization said.

Electronic booking records show that one-way tickets with those names were issued Thursday from a travel agency in the beach resort of Pattaya in eastern Thailand. Thai police Col. Supachai Phuykaeokam said those reservations were placed with the agency by a second travel agency in Pattaya, Grand Horizon.

Thai police and Interpol officers questioned the owners. Officials at Grand Horizon refused to talk to The Associated Press.

Police Lt. Col. Ratchthapong Tia-sood said the travel agency was contacted by an Iranian man known only as "Mr. Ali" to book the tickets for the two men.

"We have to look further into this Mr. Ali's identity because it's almost a tradition to use an alias when doing business around here," he said.

The travel agency's owner, Benjaporn Krutnait, told The Financial Times she believed Mr. Ali was not connected to terrorism because he had asked for cheapest tickets to Europe and did not specify the Kuala Lumpur to Beijing flight.

Malaysia's police chief was quoted by local media as saying that one of the two men had been identified - something that could speed up the investigation.

Civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman declined to confirm this, but said they were of "non-Asian" appearance, adding that authorities were looking at the possibility the men were connected to a stolen passport syndicate.

Asked by a reporter what they looked like, he said: "Do you know of a footballer by the name of (Mario) Balotelli? He is an Italian. Do you know how he looks like?" A reporter then asked, "Is he black?" and the aviation chief replied, "Yes."

Possible causes of the apparent crash include an explosion, catastrophic engine failure, terrorist attack, extreme turbulence, pilot error or even suicide, according to experts, many of whom cautioned against speculation because so little is known.

On Sunday, a Vietnamese plane spotted a rectangular object that was thought to be one of the plane's doors, but ships could not locate it. On Monday, a Singaporean search plane spotted a yellow object 140 kilometers (87 miles) southwest of Tho Chu island, but it turned out to be sea trash.

Malaysian maritime officials found oil slicks in the South China Sea, but lab tests found that samples of it were not from an aircraft, Azharuddin said.

Selamat Omar, a Malaysian whose 29-year-old son Mohamad Khairul Amri Selamat was a passenger on the flight, told of getting a call from the airline saying the plane was missing.

"We accept God's will," Selamat said. "Whether he is found alive or dead, we surrender to Allah."

___

Gomez reported from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Associated Press writers Gillian Wong and Louise Watt in Beijing, Joan Lowy in Washington and Scott Mayerowitz in New York contributed to this report.


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phpoling March 10 2014 at 7:09 PM

Try to track cell phones if it's still working or still on in the ocean on the 777 airline? Always keep trying. I don't blame people who are getting frustrated with them who keep telling them same answers over & over again.

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2 replies
lwoody phpoling March 10 2014 at 7:34 PM

Trust me, they have.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
Elizabeth phpoling March 10 2014 at 8:05 PM

For the cell phones to be tracked, there would need to be a cell tower nearby. Highly unlikely.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
mac2jr March 11 2014 at 12:54 AM

Last week one of the television shows gave the Blueprints to how to 'enter the copit' of an airliner, it is actually very simple and only takes about two seconds. Once in, there is only one person to deal with, and that can be done in a second, at which time one has control of the aircraft, and if one knows how to fly it, he or she can execute a diving turn to below 1000 feet, and thus land hundreds to thousands of miles distant without being detected.

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1 reply
Anne mac2jr March 11 2014 at 1:24 AM

The possibility you speak of makes sense in light of what was last reported by air traffic control... appeared to be making a u-turn and nothing further? A dive below detection?

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lpengrg March 10 2014 at 11:16 PM

So much for the checking of the stolen passports. The stolen passports were on a watch list, yet they still got past the check point.

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3 replies
flexireal March 10 2014 at 11:18 PM

Not everyone has a little blue passport with a eagle stamp on it and a life biography form to fill out, anyway , most foreign passport are green ,red, brown ,purple, and you can probably but them in Europe black market .

Flag Reply +3 rate up
1 reply
Michelle flexireal March 10 2014 at 11:29 PM

I have dual citizenship. My American passport is obviously blue, but so is my Brazilian. And most Passports in South America are blue. South American passports are actually called Mercosul. All blue.....

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arnibah March 10 2014 at 8:14 PM

Let us all pray that a UFO stole the plane and release the passengers to the world to explain to us that the reason there is crime and war in the world is because of false religion.

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welcom szepi March 10 2014 at 5:39 PM

How come They dont have the picture of the two man with a stolen passport?

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1 reply
THE SHANKERS welcom szepi March 10 2014 at 5:58 PM

They were Muslims and Allah forbid Photo's and any other form of imageries of people, so they refused to be photographed, may be. LOL

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Michelle March 10 2014 at 11:21 PM

For those of you that keep saying that you don't understand how nobody picked up on the fact that the faces of the two individuals didn't match the passports, think about it. I don't think they use the passport scanners at that airport. If that's the case, then that is why they didnt know the passports were stolen and the pictures could have been changed. It could be exactly why that airport was picked.

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Paul March 10 2014 at 6:21 PM

Funny that no one has seemed to yet mention another possible scenario: that the plane was brought down by a missile fired from either N. Vietnam or N. Korea, whether intentional or accidental. Didn't we have that possibility a few years back with another airliner that mysteriously exploded in mid-air over the ocean?

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4 replies
Nancy March 10 2014 at 5:44 PM

One way tickets?

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hello oregon March 11 2014 at 12:19 AM

why has no one..no one said anything about cell phones that may have been in use during this event..hmmm why not....

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2 replies
Darrell Bowling hello oregon March 11 2014 at 12:44 AM

Just how many cell towers do you think there might be in the middle of the South China Sea? Here’s your sign.

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1 reply
homeinsulation Darrell Bowling March 11 2014 at 12:49 AM

and at a cruising altitude of 38,000 feet in a round metallic chamber (the fuselage)...zero coverage, not even Verizon's 4G network covers that

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jmcwholesale hello oregon March 11 2014 at 1:01 AM

I'm sure they are investigating into that... but from the sounds of it, these folks had no clue that there was even a problem... which leads me to believe the plane disintegrated. If they have not found large debris, that means the plane was not whole when it hit the water. Chances are, no one had a clue what was happening...

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