Two passengers travelling on stolen passports on the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 looked like black Italian footballer Mario Balotelli, an investigator tells a Kuala Lumpur press conference.
Malaysia’s civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman dismissed earlier reports that the two were Asian-looking.
He said: “They are not Asian-looking men.”
Asked to elaborate, he added: “Do you know a footballer by the name of [Mario] Balotelli?”
Mr Rahman said airport CCTV footage showed the men completed all security procedures. “We are looking at the possibility of a stolen passport syndicate,” he said.
Mr Rahman also said a hijacking attempt could not be ruled out.
“Unfortunately we have not found anything that appears to be objects from the aircraft, let alone the aircraft,” he told reporters.
“As far as we are concerned, we have to find the aircraft. We have to find a piece of the aircraft if possible.”
Mr Rahman also said an oil slick suspected of coming from the wreckage was not jet fuel, confirming another false lead.
Flight MH370 disappeared early on Saturday about an hour into its flight from Kuala Lumpur after climbing to a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet.
On Monday a Vietnamese rescue helicopter retrieved a floating yellow object from the sea and determined it was not a life raft from a missing Malaysian plane, as was earlier suspected, the country’s civil aviation authority said.
The civil aviation authority of Vietnam said on its website: “It has salvaged the object, at the notice and request by Malaysia’s rescue centre, 130km south west of Tho Chu island. The object has been identified as a moss-covered cap of a cable reel.”
On Sunday a Vietnamese navy plane also spotted an object in the sea suspected of being part of the Boeing 777-200ER, but said it was too dark to be certain.
Mr Rahman earlier said: “Unfortunately, ladies and gentlemen, we have not found anything that appears to be objects from the aircraft, let alone the aircraft.
“We will be intensifying our efforts to locate the missing aircraft.”
Mr Azharuddin said the reason for the jetliner’s disappearance is a mystery which will not be solved until parts of the airplane are found.
He added: “And as far as we are concerned, we are equally puzzled as well. The honourable prime minister used the word ‘perplexing’.
“We are equally puzzled as well and to be confirmed what really happened on that particular day, on this ill-fated aircraft, we need hard evidence, we need concrete evidence, we need parts of the aircraft”.
Questions mounted over possible security lapses and whether a bomb or hijacking could have brought down the Beijing-bound plane, after Interpol confirmed at least two passengers used stolen passports and said it was checking whether others aboard had used false identity documents.
Mr Azharuddin said the DCA is investigating the possibility that the plane was hijacked, but stressed it has not ruled out any possible explanations.
“This (is an) unprecedented missing aircraft mystery, as you can put it, it is mystified and we are increasing our efforts to do what we have to do,” he said.
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.
Malaysia’s state news agency quoted Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as saying the two passengers using the stolen European passports were of Asian appearance, criticising border officials who let them through.
Flight MH370 disappeared after climbing to a cruising altitude of 35,000ft.
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.
A senior source involved in preliminary investigations in Malaysia said the failure to find any debris for two days, despite dozens of vessels and aircraft criss-crossing the sea below the flight path, indicated the plane may have disintegrated in mid-flight.
Investigators also have not ruled out the possibility of some kind of explosion.
The United States extensively reviewed imagery taken by American spy satellites for evidence of a mid-air explosion, but saw none at all, an authoritative US government source said.