Malaysian officials said Monday that debris spotted off the coast of southern Vietnam a day earlier had not been definitively linked to a Malaysia Airlines flight that went missing with 239 people on board early on Saturday.
"Unfortunately, ladies and gentleman, we have not found anything that appears to be objects from the aircraft, let alone the aircraft itself, said Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, head of Malaysia's Department of Civil Aviation, on Monday.
Vietnamese authorities also determined that a floating yellow object retrieved from the sea was not a life raft from the missing airliner as was earlier suspected, the country's civil aviation authority said.
A Vietnamese navy plane spotted two floating objects suspected of belonging to Flight MH370 some 80 kilometres (50 miles) off Tho Chu island on Sunday, Vietnamese authorities said earlier.
"There are various objects that we have seen, but none of them at this moment [have been confirmed to be] from this aircraft," Azharuddin said.
The Malaysia Airlines flight vanished from radar screens without a trace on Saturday, shortly after taking off for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 12:40am (4:40pm GMT Friday).
An extensive search and rescue operation was launched to find the plane, which last had contact with air traffic controllers 120 nautical miles off the east coast of the Malaysian town of Kota Bharu, but has yet to find any sign of the Boeing 777-200ER.
No distress signal was ever sent, authorities said.
There has been speculation that the flight’s disappearance may be linked to foul play after it emerged that at least two of the passengers on board were travelling with stolen Italian and Austrian passports.
Malaysia's Home Minister Zahid Hamidi reportedly said Sunday that the passengers using stolen passports appeared to be ethnically Asian.
"I am still puzzled how come [immigration officers] cannot think: an Italian and Austrian but with Asian facial features," he was quoted as saying by Malaysia's national news agency Bernama.
The country's police chief said Monday that one of the men had been identified, but gave no further details.
A senior source involved with investigations in Malaysia told Reuters that the inquiry was focusing on the possibility that the plane had disintegrated mid-air.
“The fact that we are unable to find any debris so far appears to indicate that the aircraft is likely to have disintegrated at around 35,000 feet,” said the source, speaking shortly before it was announced that an object believed to belong to the flight had been found.
If the plane had plunged intact from such a height, breaking up only on impact with the water, search teams would have expected to find a fairly concentrated pattern of debris, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak publicly on the investigation.
Asked about the possibility of an explosion, such as a bomb, the source said there was no evidence yet and that the aircraft could have broken up due to mechanical issues.
Azharuddin confirmed reports that five passengers who purchased tickets and checked baggage did not make the flight.
He said Malaysia Airlines had removed baggage belonging to those passengers once it was learned they did not board the plane, in accordance with standard safety procedures.
A map showing the plane's journey and the area where contact was lost
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)
Date created : 2014-03-09