Ten countries scour sea for Malaysia jet lost in 'unprecedented mystery

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon
31 PHOTOS
Missing Malaysian Flight
See Gallery
Ten countries scour sea for Malaysia jet lost in 'unprecedented mystery
Flight officer Rayan Gharazeddine, on board a Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion, scans for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean on March 22, 2014. The Orion under took a four-hour journey to search an area approximately 2,500 kms southwest of Perth, two hours on station searching at about 400 feet above the ocean, and then a four-hour return. China released on March 22 a new satellite image of a large floating object possibly linked to missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, boosting search efforts as anger with the pace of the operation boiled over among Chinese relatives in Beijing. AFP PHOTO / POOL / Rob Griffith (Photo credit should read ROB GRIFFITH/AFP/Getty Images)
Crew on board a Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion scan ahead as they search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean on March 22, 2014. The Orion under took a four-hour journey to search an area approximately 2,500 kms southwest of Perth, two hours on station searching at about 400 feet above the ocean, and then a four-hour return. China released on March 22 a new satellite image of a large floating object possibly linked to missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, boosting search efforts as anger with the pace of the operation boiled over among Chinese relatives in Beijing. AFP PHOTO / POOL / Rob Griffith (Photo credit should read ROB GRIFFITH/AFP/Getty Images)
A Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion flies past the HMAS Success as they search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 debris or wreckage in the southern Indian Ocean on March 22, 2014. The Orion under took a four-hour journey to search an area approximately 2,500 kms southwest of Perth, two hours on station searching at about 400 feet above the ocean, and then a four-hour return. China released on March 22 a new satellite image of a large floating object possibly linked to missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, boosting search efforts as anger with the pace of the operation boiled over among Chinese relatives in Beijing. AFP PHOTO / POOL / Rob Griffith (Photo credit should read ROB GRIFFITH/AFP/Getty Images)
SOUTHERN INDIAN OCEAN - MARCH 22: Flight Lieutenant Jason Nichols on board a Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion, takes notes as they search for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 debris or wreckage on March 22, 2014 in Southern Indian Ocean, off the west coast of Australia. The Orion under took a four hour journey to the search an area approximately 2500km south west of Perth, two hours on station searching at about 400 foot above the ocean with then a four hour return. The search to identify whether two large objects spotted via satellite in the Indian Ocean are related to missing flight MH370 continued today, for the third day, with no results. The airliner went missing nearly two weeks ago carrying 239 passengers and crew on route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. (Photo by Rob Griffith-Pool/Getty Images)
PERTH, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 21: A Royal Australian Air Force P3 Orion is seen on the tarmac after returning to Pearce air base following a search mission for possible MH370 debris on March 21, 2014 in Perth, Australia. Australian authorities yesterday received satellite imagery that shows two large objects in the Indian Ocean that may be debris from missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. The airliner went missing nearly two weeks ago carrying 239 passengers and crew on route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)
A photo taken on March 21, 2014, shows a crew member on a Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion aircraft participating in the Australian Maritime Safety Authority-led search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in the Southern Indian Ocean. Spotter planes spent a second fruitless day scouring a remote stretch of the Indian Ocean for wreckage from a Malaysian jet. Australian and US military aircraft usually used for anti-submarine operations criss-crossed the isolated search area 2,500 kilometres (1,500 miles) southwest of Perth, looking for two floating objects that had shown up on grainy satellite photos taken several days before. AFP PHOTO - POOL / BOHDAN WARCHOMIJ (Photo credit should read BOHDAN WARCHOMIJ/AFP/Getty Images)
PERTH, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 21: Royal Australian Air Force pilot Capt. Russell Adams addresses the media after returning from a search mission in a P3 Orion at Pearce air base on March 21, 2014 in Perth, Australia. Australian authorities yesterday received satellite imagery that shows two large objects in the Indian Ocean that may be debris from missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. The airliner went missing nearly two weeks ago carrying 239 passengers and crew on route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)
Chinese relatives of passengers from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 wait for news at the Metro Park Lido Hotel in Beijing on March 20, 2014. Surveillance aircraft scoured a remote and stormy section of the Indian Ocean on March 20 for a pair of floating objects that Australia and Malaysia guardedly called a 'credible' lead in the 12-day-old hunt for a missing passenger jet. AFP PHOTO/Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
INDIAN OCEAN - This handout Satellite image made available by the AMSA (Australian Maritime Safety Authority) shows a map of the areas searched between March 18 and March 20, 2014 for missing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370. Two objects possibly connected to the search for the passenger liner, missing for nearly two weeks after disappearing on a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Beijing, have been spotted in the southern Indian Ocean, according to published reports quoting Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. (Photo by AMSA via Getty Images)
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 20: Australian Maritime Safety Authority Emergency Response Division General Manager John Young speaks to the media about satellite imagery of objects possibly related to the search for Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 March 20, 2014 in Canberra, Australia. Two objects possibly connected to the search for the passenger liner, missing for nearly two weeks after disappearing on a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Beijing, have been spotted in the southern Indian Ocean. (Photo by Stefan Postles/Getty Images)
A navigational radar on Indonesia's National Search and Rescue boat shows details during a search in the Andaman sea area around northern tip of Indonesia's Sumatra island for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 on March 17, 2014. The last words spoken from the cockpit of the Malaysian passenger jet that went missing 10 days ago were believed to have been spoken by the co-pilot, the airline's top executive said Monday. AFP PHOTO / CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN (Photo credit should read CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN/AFP/Getty Images)
A personnel of Indonesia's National Search and Rescue checks the map during a search in the Andaman sea area around northern tip of Indonesia's Sumatra island for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 on March 17, 2014. The last words spoken from the cockpit of the Malaysian passenger jet that went missing 10 days ago were believed to have been spoken by the co-pilot, the airline's top executive said Monday. AFP PHOTO / CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN (Photo credit should read CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN/AFP/Getty Images)
A personnel of Indonesia's National Search and Rescue looks over horizon during a search in the Andaman sea area around northern tip of Indonesia's Sumatra island for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 on March 17, 2014. The last words spoken from the cockpit of the Malaysian passenger jet that went missing 10 days ago were believed to have been spoken by the co-pilot, the airline's top executive said Monday. AFP PHOTO / CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN (Photo credit should read CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Colonel Do Duc Minh (2st L), Vietnam Air Force's 370 Division's Chief of Staff, points at a map as he speaks to reporters about search flights aimed at finding the missing Malaysia Airlines plane at Tan Son Nhat airport in Ho Chi Minh city on March 15, 2014. Do Duc Minh said Vietnam continues their search flights while widening the search areas close to air spaces under control of Thailand and Singapore. AFP PHOTO/HOANG DINH NAM (Photo credit should read HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images)
A ground worker carries out maintenance works on a Vietnam Air Force's Russian-made AN-26 aircraft that was used along with other types of aircrafts at finding the missing Malaysia Airlines plane at Tan Son Nhat airport in Ho Chi Minh city on March 15, 2014. A Malaysian jet that vanished a week ago appears to have changed course and continued flying for hours, a senior Malaysian military official said, citing radar data indicating a 'skilled, competent' pilot was at the controls. AFP PHOTO/HOANG DINH NAM (Photo credit should read HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images)
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA MARCH 15: Mystery over the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines passenger Flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing, China continues on March 15, 2014. The flight MH370 departed Kuala Lumpur at 12:41 a.m. (local time) on March 8 and lost contact with air traffic control near the Island of Pulau Perak, in less than an hour after take-off, at approximately 2:40 a.m. A joint search and rescue effort covering an area of the Strait of Malacca, the South China Sea and Andaman Sea is being conducted by more than 12 countries. ( Photo by AA Graphic/Anadolu Agency/ Getty Images)
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - MARCH 14: Members of the public, MAS staff, and politicians pray during a special prayer as the search for missing Malaysian airline MH370 expands to the Indian Ocean March 14, 2014 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The missing aircraft carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew disappeared six days ago baffling the international rescue and search team who have found no remains or clues in the waters surrounding South East Asia. All passengers and crew are currently under investigation for possible sabotage although no evidence of such activity has been found. (Photo by Rahman Roslan/Getty Images)
Indonesian Air Force officials at Medan city military base plot the Indonesian military search operation for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 on March 12, 2014 in the area of Malacca Strait, a sea passageway between Indonesia (seen left of the map) and Malaysia (seen right on the map). Malaysia faced a storm of criticism on March 12 over contradictions and information gaps in the hunt for a missing airliner with 239 people on board, as the search zone dramatically veered far from the intended flight path. AFP PHOTO / ATAR (Photo credit should read ATAR/AFP/Getty Images)
A member of the Indonesian Air Force at Medan city military base inspects the Indonesian military search operation for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 on March 12, 2014 in the area of Malacca Strait, a sea passageway between Indonesia (seen left of the map) and Malaysia (seen top left of the map). Malaysia faced a storm of criticism on March 12 over contradictions and information gaps in the hunt for a missing airliner with 239 people on board, as the search zone dramatically veered far from the intended flight path. AFP PHOTO / ATAR (Photo credit should read ATAR/AFP/Getty Images)
Beachgoers walk past a sand sculpture made by Indian sand artist Sudersan Pattnaik with a message of prayers for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 - which vanished from radar early on March 8 with ongoing search operations mounted by multiple nations taking place in the South China Sea, the Malacca Strait, and the Andaman Sea - at Puri beach, some 65 kilometers away from Bhubaneswar, on March 14, 2014. Malaysia denied March 12 that the hunt for a missing jet was in disarray, after the search veered far from the planned route and China said that conflicting information about its course was 'pretty chaotic'. AFP PHOTO/ ASIT KUMAR (Photo credit should read ASIT KUMAR/AFP/Getty Images)
A relative of a passenger on board missing Malaysia Airlines (MAS) flight MH370 cries as she arrives at the Everly hotel in Putrajaya on March 12, 2014. Malaysia's air force chief said authorities have not ruled out the possibility a missing airliner inexplicably changed course before losing contact, but denied reports the jet had been detected far from its planned flight path. AFP PHOTO / MANAN VATSYAYANA (Photo credit should read MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images)
An Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency personnel scans the seas aboard a boat on patrol in the Malacca Strait off Aceh province located in the area of northern Sumatra island on March 12, 2014 during the continued search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. The search for a missing Malaysian jet swung northwest towards the Andaman Sea on March 12, far from its intended flight path, exposing Malaysia to mounting criticism that its response was in disarray. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - MARCH 11: This composite of images #477770287 & #477770285 shows cctv imagery released by police of an Iranian suspect, Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad, who was travelling on Flight MH370 with a stolen Austrian passport, (L) and an unindentified suspect who was travelling on Flight MH370 with a stolen Italian passport (R), on March 11, 2014 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Officials have expanded the search area for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 to include more of the Gulf of Thailand between Malayisa and Vietnam and land along the Malay Pensinusula. The flight carrying 239 passengers from Kuala Lumpur to Thailand was reported missing on the morning of March 8 after the crew failed to check in as scheduled. Relatives of the missing passengers have been advised to prepare for the worst as authorities focus on two passengers on board travelling with stolen passports. (Photo by How Foo Yeen/Getty Images)
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - MARCH 10: Major General Datuk Affendi Buang briefs the media over latest updates on missing Malaysia Airline MH370 on March 10, 2014 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Potential sightings of possible airliner debris and a possible oil slick in the sea off Vietnam have not been officially verified or confirmed as investigative teams continue to search for the whereabouts of missing Malaysia Airlines flight MG370 and its 293 passengers, travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The airliner was reported missing on the morning of March 8 after the crew failed to check in as scheduled. Relatives of the missing passengers have been advised to prepare for the worst as authorities focus on two passengers on board travelling with stolen passports. (Photo by How Foo Yeen/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - MARCH 08: Medical staff (C) arrive at a hotel meeting room care of families of missing persons at Lidu Hotel on March 8, 2014 in Beijing, China. Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and carrying 239 onboard was reported missing after the crew failed to check in as scheduled while flying over the sea between Malaysia and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, according to published reports. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
Malaysian Airlines senior officials Dr Hugh Dunleavy (L) and a member of the airline's crisis management team, Ignatius Ong (R), face the Chinese media after arriving in China to deal with the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 plane, in Beijing on March 8, 2014. Malaysia Airlines said a flight carrying 239 people from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing went missing early on March 8, and the airline was notifying next of kin in a sign it expected the worst. AFP PHOTO / MARK RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - MARCH 08: (CHINA OUT, SOUTH KOREA) Joshua Law Kok Hwa (C), Malaysia Airlines' regional senior vice president of China, speaks at a conference regarding the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 at the Metropark Lido Hotel on March 8, 2014, in Beijing, China. Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and carrying 239 onboard was reported missing after the crew failed to check in as scheduled while flying over the sea between Malaysia and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, according to published reports. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
AT SEA, KELANTAN COAST, MALAYSIA - MARCH 09: In this handout provided by the Malaysian Maritime Agency, a patrol vessel of Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency searches during the search and rescue mission for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 on March 9, 2014 off the Kelantan coast, Malaysia. Potential sightings of possible airliner debris and a possible oil slick in the sea off Vietnam have not been officially verified or confirmed as investigative teams continue to search for the whereabouts of missing Malaysia Airlines flight MG370 and its 293 passengers, travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The airliner was reported missing on the morning of March 8 after the crew failed to check in as scheduled. Relatives of the missing passengers have been advised to prepare for the worst as authorities focus on two passengers on board travelling with stolen passports. (Photo by Malaysian Maritime Agency via Getty Images)
Buddhist monks offer special prayers for passengers aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang on March 9, 2014. Malaysia said a missing airliner carrying 239 people may have inexplicably turned back as authorities launched a terror probe into the plane's sudden disappearance, investigating suspect passengers who boarded with stolen passports. AFP PHOTO/ STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE


(Reuters) - The disappearance of a Malaysian airliner about an hour into a flight to Beijing is an "unprecedented mystery," the civil aviation chief said on Monday, as a massive air and sea search now in its third day failed to find any trace of the plane or 239 people on board.

Dozens of ships and aircraft from 10 countries scoured the seas around Malaysia and south of Vietnam as questions mounted over possible security lapses and whether a bomb or hijacking attempt could have brought down the Boeing 777-200ER which took off from the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.

The area of the search would be widened from Tuesday, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, the head of Malaysia's Civil Aviation Authority, told reporters.

A senior police official told Reuters that people armed with explosives and carrying false identity papers had tried to fly out of Kuala Lumpur in the past, and that current investigations were focused on two passengers who were on the missing plane with stolen passports.

"We have stopped men with false or stolen passports and carrying explosives, who have tried to get past KLIA (airport) security and get on to a plane," he said. "There have been two or three incidents, but I will not divulge the details."

Interpol confirmed on Sunday at least two passengers used stolen passports and said it was checking whether others aboard had used false identity documents.

Azharuddin said a hijacking attempt could not be ruled out as investigators explore all theories for the loss of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.

"Unfortunately we have not found anything that appears to be objects from the aircraft, let alone the aircraft," he told a news conference. "As far as we are concerned, we have to find the aircraft. We have to find a piece of the aircraft if possible."

Azharuddin also said the two men with stolen passports did not look like Asians, but he did not elaborate. Airport CCTV footage showed they completed all security procedures, he said.

"We are looking at the possibility of a stolen passport syndicate," he said.

About two-thirds of the 227 passengers and 12 crew members now presumed to have died aboard the plane were Chinese. The airline said other nationalities included 38 Malaysians, seven Indonesians, six Australians, five Indians, four French and three Americans.

China urged Malaysia to speed up the search for the plane.

"This incident happened more than two days ago, and we hope that the Malaysians can fully understand the urgency of China, especially of the family members, and can step up the speed of the investigation and increase efforts on search and rescue," Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters in Beijing.

A senior source involved in preliminary investigations in Malaysia said the failure to find any debris indicated the plane may have broken up mid-flight, which could disperse wreckage over a very wide area.

"The fact that we are unable to find any debris so far appears to indicate that the aircraft is likely to have disintegrated at around 35,000 feet," said the source.

Asked about the possibility of an explosion, the source said there was no evidence of foul play and that the aircraft could have broken up due to mechanical causes.

Still, the source said the closest parallels were the bomb explosions on board an Air India jetliner in 1985 when it was over the Atlantic Ocean and a Pan Am aircraft over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988. Both planes were cruising at around 31,000 feet at the time.

The United States extensively reviewed imagery taken by American spy satellites for evidence of a mid-air explosion, but saw none, a U.S. government source said. The source described U.S. satellite coverage of the region as thorough.

MOSS-COVERED CABLE REEL

Hopes for a breakthrough rose briefly when Vietnam scrambled helicopters to investigate a floating yellow object it was thought could have been a life raft. But the country's Civil Aviation Authority said on its website that the object turned out to be a "moss-covered cap of a cable reel."

Flight MH370 disappeared from radar screens in the early hours of Saturday, about an hour into its flight from Kuala Lumpur, after climbing to a cruising altitude of 35,000 ft.

Underlining the lack of hard information about the plane's fate, a U.S. Navy P-3 aircraft capable of covering 1,500 sq. miles every hour was sweeping the northern part of the Strait of Malacca, on the other side of the Malaysian peninsula from where the last contact with MH370 was made.

No distress signal was sent from the lost plane, which experts said suggested a sudden catastrophic failure or explosion, but Malaysia's air force chief said radar tracking showed it may have turned back from its scheduled route before it disappeared.

The Boeing 777 has one of the best safety records of any commercial aircraft in service. Its only previous fatal crash came on July 6 last year when Asiana Airlines Flight 214 struck a seawall on landing in San Francisco, killing three people.

The passenger manifest issued by the airline included the names of two Europeans - Austrian Christian Kozel and Italian Luigi Maraldi - who were not on the plane. Their passports had been stolen in Thailand during the past two years.

An Interpol spokeswoman said a check of all documents used to board the plane had revealed more "suspect passports," which were being investigated.

"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.

A European diplomat in Kuala Lumpur cautioned that the Malaysian capital was an Asian hub for illegal migrants, many of whom used false documents and complex routes including via Beijing or West Africa to reach a final destination in Europe.

"You shouldn't automatically think that the fact there were two people on the plane with false passports had anything to do with the disappearance of the plane," the diplomat said.

"The more you know about the role of Kuala Lumpur in this chain, the more doubtful you are of the chances of a linkage."

A Thai travel agent who arranged the tickets for the two passengers using the stolen passports said she had booked them on the flight via Beijing because they were the cheapest tickets, the Financial Times reported.

The travel agent in the resort of Pattaya said an Iranian business contact she knew only as "Mr. Ali" had asked her to book tickets for the two men on March 1.

She had initially booked them on other airlines but those reservations expired and, on March 6, Mr. Ali had asked her to book them again. She told the newspaper she did not think Mr. Ali, who paid her in cash and booked tickets with her regularly, was linked to terrorism.

(Additional reporting by Siva Govindasamy, Niluksi Koswanage, Stuart Grudgings, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Yantoultra Ngui in KUALA LUMPUR, Ben Blanchard, Megha Rajagopalan and Adam Rose in BEIJING, Martin Petty in HANOI, Robert Birsel in BANGKOK, Alwyn Scott in NEW YORK, Naomi O'Leary in ROME, Tim Hepher in PARIS, Brian Leonal in SINGAPORE and Mark Hosenball and Ian Simpson in WASHINGTON; Writing by Alex Richardson; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.

From Our Partners