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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Wednesday, August 15, 2018

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Ring-ins on flight add to mystery of MH370 disappearance

Two passengers who boarded the missing Malaysia Airlines were not who they represented to be

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At least two passengers who boarded the missing Malaysia Airlines flight early on Saturday morning were not who they represented to be.

Foreign ministry officials in Italy and Austria have confirmed the nationals named as having being on board are in fact alive and well, and accounted for in their own countries.

A common denominator between the two is that both have recently had their passports stolen. Malaysian officials at a press conference on Sunday morning revealed the identity of two more passengers were being questioned, and as part of a range of investigations, the entire passenger manifest is coming under scrutiny.

While nothing had been ruled out when the aircraft first disappeared over the South China Sea two hours after take-off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 12:41am on Saturday, a major focal point for investigators is now the identity of at least two, and possibly four or more, passengers and whether the plane has been targeted as a terrorist attack. It should be stressed however that at this point there is no evidence the identity theft of any passengers are linked to the plane's disappearance.

"We are looking at all possibilities, but it is too early to make any conclusive remarks," Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told a press conference on Saturday night when asked whether terrorism was suspected.

U.S. officials are also looking at the possibility of terrorism. "We are aware of the reporting on the two stolen passports. We have not determined a nexus to terrorism yet, although it's still very early, and that's by no means definitive," an official was quoted on NBC as saying. The FBI confirmed Saturday night they are sending investigators to Kuala Lumpur to assist authorities. Malaysian officials at Sunday morning's press conference said in fact some FBI agencies were already on the ground in Malaysia.

Italian Louis Maraldi, 37, from Cesena, who was listed as a passenger on the plane has confirmed he was not on board. His passport was stolen in August last year. The Italian Foreign Ministry has confirmed the report.

Austrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Weiss without identifying the concerned passenger said the Austrian reported to have been on board the Malaysia Airlines flight was not in fact on board. His passport was stolen two years ago.

Meantime Vietnamese search plane reported oil slicks several miles long have been seen about 90 miles south of Tho Chu Island. Vietnam's official news agency is reporting that it is believed the slicks are from the missing airliner. Malaysian officials at the press conference confirmed the slicks had been sighted and said aircraft were on the scene. At this stage no debris has been found.

239 passengers were on board the plane, Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which was bound for Beijing.

Air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane at approximately 2:41am Malaysian time Saturday. Airline officials made it clear they had no clue as to the whereabouts of the plane or what had caused it to stop communicating.

Fears were held the plane, a Boeing 777-200, had met with an instant, catastrophic event, which would have prevented the crew from getting off a distress call.

A massive search involving 40 maritime vessels and civil and military aircraft from Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Vietnam, and Singapore swung into action early Saturday morning. Seven ships and 17 aircraft scoured parts of the South China Sea throughout Saturday. While the aircraft ceased searching when nightfall fell, the ships continued the search through the night. Planes were back in the air at first light Sunday. Malaysian officials at a present conference Sunday said 40 ships were searching two areas, one where the plane lost contact, and another off the coast of Penang. The second search location followed the discovery of a recording on radar which could be an indication that the plane had turned back.

Officials said there were 32 aircraft now in the air looking for the missing plane. While the bulk of the search continues in the South China Srea helicopters have been deployed over some land areas. Malaysian and Vietnamese ships have been joined in the search by vessels form a number of countries. The U.S. Navy has a ship involved in the search while there are 3 ships from China, three from Singapore, 5 from Indonesia, and one from Thailand.

Malaysia Airlines has stepped up its concern for families and friends of the 239 passengers and crew on board. "We are dispatching all information as and when we receive it. The situation in Beijing is also being monitored closely. As many families of passengers are in China, we have deployed our "Go Team" to Beijing with a team of caregivers and volunteers to assist the family members of the passengers," the airline said in a statement in the early hours of Sunday morning.

"Immediate families of passengers are advised to gather at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Travel arrangements and expenses will be borne by Malaysia Airlines. Once, the whereabouts of the aircraft is determined, Malaysia Airlines will fly members of the family to the location."

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