Airliner missing, 239 feared dead

March 09, 2014 - 1:50:21 am

A relative of a passenger on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 cries as she talks on her mobile phone at the Beijing Capital International Airport yesterday.

KUALA LUMPUR: A Malaysia Airlines flight carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew was presumed to have crashed off the Vietnamese coast yesterday, 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.

By the early hours today, 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 nor claims of a terrorist attack. 

Vietnam said its rescue planes had spotted two large oil slicks, about 15km long, and a column of smoke off its coastline. 

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.

Austrian police had found the man safe at home. The passport was stolen two years ago while he was travelling in Thailand. 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 presumed stolen, in Thailand in 2013. 

John Goglia, a former board member of the National Transportation Safety Board, the US agency that investigates plane crashes, said the false identities of the two passengers strongly suggested the possibility of a bomb. “That’s a big red flag,” he said.

The airline said people of 14 nationalities were among the 227 passengers, including at least 152 Chinese, 38 Malaysians, seven Indonesians, six Australians, five Indians, four French and three Americans.Reuters