Missing Malaysia plane: 2 Passengers with false IDs

Officials say two people on board the missing Malaysia Airline plane were using false identities.

A man stands beside the arrival board showing the flight MH370 (top-red) at the Beijing Airport after news of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 plane disappeared on 8 March 2014. AFP PHOTO/Mark RALSTON

KUALA LUMPUR/HO CHI MINH CITY - A Malaysia Airlines flight carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew was presumed to have crashed off the Vietnamese coast on Saturday, and European officials said two people on board were using false identities.

There were no reports of bad weather and no sign of why the Boeing 777-200ER would have vanished from radar screens about an hour after it took off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing.

"We are not ruling out any possibilities," Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya told a news conference.

By the early hours of Sunday, there were no confirmed signs of the plane or any wreckage, well over 24 hours after it went missing. Operations will continue through the night, officials said.

There were no indications of sabotage or claims of an attack. But 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 in fact on the plane.

A foreign ministry spokesman in Vienna said: "Our embassy got the information that there was an Austrian on board. That was the passenger list from Malaysia Airlines. Our system came back with a note that this is a stolen passport."

Austrian police had found the man safe at home. The passport was stolen two years ago while he was travelling in Thailand, the spokesman said.

The foreign ministry in Rome said no Italian was on the plane either, despite the inclusion of Maraldi's name on the list. His mother, Renata Lucchi, told Reuters his passport was lost, presumed stolen, in Thailand in 2013.

U.S. and European security officials said that there was no proof of any terrorist link and there could be other explanations for the use of stolen passports.

Passengers on board the flight included 20 employees of Austin, Texas-based chip maker Freescale Semiconductor Ltd. Twelve of the employees were from Malaysia and eight from China, the company said in a statement.

Rescuers from several nations mounted an air and sea search on 8 March for a Malaysia Airlines jet that has gone missing over Southeast Asia on Saturday 8 March 2014. Picture: AFP.

NO MAYDAY

The 11-year-old Boeing, powered by Rolls-Royce Trent engines, took off at 12:40 a.m. (12.40 p.m. ET Friday) from Kuala Lumpur International Airport and was apparently flying in good weather conditions when it went missing without a distress call.

Flight MH370 last had contact with air traffic controllers 120 nautical miles off the east coast of the Malaysian town of Kota Bharu. Flight tracking website flightaware.com showed it flew northeast after take-off, climbed to 35,000 feet and was still climbing when it vanished from tracking records.

A crash, if confirmed, would likely mark the 777's second fatal incident in less than a year, and its deadliest since entering service 19 years ago. An Asiana Airlines Boeing 777-200ER crash-landed in San Francisco in July 2013, killing three passengers and injuring more than 180.

Boeing said it was monitoring the situation but had no further comment.

Paul Hayes, director of safety at Flightglobal Ascend aviation consultancy, said the flight would normally have been at a routine stage, having reached initial cruise altitude.

"Such a sudden disappearance would suggest either that something is happening so quickly that there is no opportunity to put out a mayday, in which case a deliberate act is one possibility to consider, or that the crew is busy coping with what whatever has taken place," he told Reuters.

He said it was too early to speculate on the causes.

A large number of planes and ships from several countries were scouring the area where the plane last made contact, about halfway between Malaysia and the southern tip of Vietnam.

"The search and rescue operations will continue as long as necessary," Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters. He said his country had deployed 15 air force aircraft, six navy ships and three coast guard vessels.

Search and rescue vessels from the Malaysian maritime enforcement agency reached the area where the plane last made contact but saw no sign of wreckage, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency said.

Vietnam said its rescue planes had spotted two large oil slicks, about 15 km long, and a column of smoke off its coastline, but it was not clear if they were connected to the missing plane.

China and the Philippines also sent ships to the region to help, while the United States, the Philippines and Singapore dispatched military planes. China also put other ships and aircraft on standby.

A woman (R) breaks down while leaving the reception centre for families and friends after an airliner went missing at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on 8 March 2014. Picture: AFP.