8 Mar 2014

Missing Malaysia flight: ‘passengers’ had passports stolen

Two men from Austria and Italy, listed among the passengers on a missing Malaysia Airlines flight, were not in fact on board, officials say – and at least one of them had had his passport stolen.

An Austrian and an Italian had been listed among the passengers on the Malaysia Airlines flight 370, but the foreign ministries in Rome and Vienna have said the men have been found safe.

A spokesman for the Austrian foreign ministry 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.” The foreign ministry in Rome said no Italian was on the plane.

Austrian police found their countryman, Christian Kozel, at his home. His passport was reported to have been stolen two years ago when he was travelling in Thailand.

Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera reported that the passport of Luigi Maraldi, the Italian listed to have been on the flight, was stolen in August.

The Austrian Foreign Ministry spokesman said: “It’s interesting that there were two cases on the same plane but we just know that our Austrian was not on board.

“Someone used a document to get on the plane. But whoever used that, we have nothing to say about that, we don’t know, that would be for the authorities to look into.”

Malaysia Airlines has released a list of the 239 people on board. The flight was carrying 154 people from China and Taiwan, 38 Malaysians, seven Indonesians and six Australians. The Airline list said there were also five Indians, four French, three US citizens, two passengers each from New Zealand, Ukraine, and Canada, and one each from Russia, Italy, the Netherlands and Austria. Two infants were among the passengers.

Search on-going

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Saturday that there was still no sign of the missing plane, and that a search operation was underway in the area from which the last signal from the plane was received.

“I’d like to announce that the search and rescue operation for flight MH-370, is still ongoing at this moment,” he said.

“We focus on the area from where we recieved the last signal from the plane”.

He said search operations in an area about midway between Malaysia and Vietnam’s southern coast were being intensified and that the United States would join Malaysia, China, Vietnam, Singapore, Philippines and Vietnam to look for the aircraft.

The Malaysia Airlines flight went missing over the South China sea on Saturday morning and it is thought that the plane has crashed somewhere off the coast of Vietnam.

Vietnamese state media reported a senior naval source as saying that the Boeing 777-200ER flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing had crashed off south Vietnam. Malaysia’s transport minister has said that no crash site has been identified.

“We are doing everything in our power to locate the plane,” Transport Minister Hishamuddin Hussein said. “We are doing everything we can to ensure every possible angle has been addressed.

“We are looking for accurate information from the Malaysian military. They are waiting for information from the Vietnamese side.”

‘Orange speck’

Malaysia has sent three maritime enforcement ships and a navy vessel to the area, backed by three helicopters, a Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency official said.

“Our aircraft asset spotted an orange speck in the sea where the last signal came from. We sent a vessel to search the area and it was confirmed that it was nothing,” the official said.

Flight MH370 last had contact with air traffic controllers 120 nautical miles off the east coast of the Malaysian town of Kota Bharu, Malaysia Airlines chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said in a statement.

Read more: How can a plane vanish?

Flight tracking website flightaware.com showed the plane flew northeast over Malaysia after take-off and climbed to an altitude of 35,000 feet. The flight vanished from the website’s tracking records a minute later while it was still climbing.

The flight left Kuala Lumpur at 12.21 am (16:21pm GMT on Friday) and had been expected to land in Beijing at 6.30 am.