Malaysia on Sunday launched a terror probe into the mysterious disappearance of a plane with 239 people aboard, amid reports that it could have disintegrated mid-flight as Vietnam reported a possible sighting of wreckage from the plane.
International police agency Interpol confirmed that at least two passports recorded in its database as lost or stolen were used by passengers on the flight, raising suspicions of foul play.
The passenger manifest issued by the airline included the names of two Europeans–Austrian Christian Kozel and Italian Luigi Maraldi–who, according to their foreign ministries, were not on the plane. Both had apparently had their passports stolen in Thailand during the past two years.
The BBC reported that the men falsely using their passports had purchased tickets together and were due to fly on to Europe from Beijing, meaning they did not have to apply for a Chinese visa and undergo further checks.
Interpol maintains a vast database of more than 40 million lost and stolen travel documents, and has long urged member nations to make use of it to stop people crossing borders on false papers.
“While 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.
In a sign that Malaysia’s airport controls may have been breached, Prime Minister Najib Razak said security procedures were being reviewed.
Malaysian Transport Minister Hishamuddin Hussein said authorities were also checking the identities of two other passengers. He said help was also being sought from the FBI. However, an attack was only one of the possibilities being investigated.
“We are looking at all possibilities. We cannot jump the gun. Our focus now is to find the plane,” he said.
Malaysia’s air force chief said the Beijing-bound airliner may have turned back from its scheduled route before it vanished from radar screens. In an air turn back, a plane returns to its airport of origin as a result of a malfunction or suspected malfunction of any item on the aircraft.
Meanwhile, a Vietnamese navy plane has spotted an object suspected of belonging to flight MH370, the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam said on its website on Sunday.
The authority said it was too dark to be certain the object was part of the missing plane, and that more aircraft would be dispatched to investigate the site, in waters off southern Vietnam, on Monday morning.