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Asia-pacific

Officials expand search for missing plane, investigate passengers

© AFP

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-03-09

Officials expanded a search Sunday for a missing Malaysia Airlines flight after radar indicated that it may have turned back from its scheduled route, as well as launching an investigation into several passengers.

Malaysian rescue teams have expanded their search to the country’s western coast, Malaysian military officials said on Sunday, after radar tracking the missing Malaysia Airlines flight indicated that it may have turned back from its scheduled route to Beijing before disappearing.

“What we have done is actually look into the recording on the radar that we have and we realised there is a possibility the aircraft did make a turnback,” Rodzali Daud, the Royal Malaysian Air Force chief, told reporters at a news conference.

The Boeing 777-200 went missing on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8.

The flight carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members was presumed to have crashed off the Vietnamese coast on Saturday, after losing contact with air traffic controllers off the eastern Malaysia coast.

A map showing the plane's journey and the area where contact was lost

Passenger investigation

Investigators also announced Sunday that they are checking the identity of four passengers on the missing flight, but have not yet determined if the plane was downed by an attack, the country’s transport minister Hishamuddin Hussein said on Sunday.

Hussein, who is also defence minister, told confirmed that Malaysian investigators had met counterparts from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, and said the investigation was focusing on the entire passenger manifest.

Hishamuddin Hussein, Malaysia defence and transport minister

Investigators were also examining CCTV footage of two passengers from the flight, an official told Reuters news agency.

Identifying who exactly was onboard has proved to be a bigger challenge than expected, as it became clear that at least one passenger was travelling with a stolen passport.

The original list released by Malaysia Airlines said that 152 passengers were from China, 38 from Malaysia, seven from Indonesia, six from Australia, five from India, three from the US and others from Indonesia, France, New Zealand, Canada, Ukraine, Russia, Italy, Taiwan, the Netherlands and Austria.

As countries began confirming Malaysia Airlines’ list, a spokesman from Austria’s Foreign Ministry in Vienna said that an Austrian reported to have been onboard the flight, Christian Kozel, 30, was actually safe at home, and that his passport had been stolen two years ago while travelling in Thailand.

Italy’s Foreign Ministry in Rome also said that one of its citizens, Luigi Maraldi, 37, was not on the flight, despite having appeared on Malaysian Airlines’ passenger list.

International support

US federal safety officials say a team of experts is en route to Asia to be ready to assist in the investigation of the missing plane.

The team includes accident investigators from National Transportation Safety Board, as well as technical experts from the Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing.

The safety board said in a statement Saturday the team was sent now because of the travel time involved even though the plane hasn’t yet been found.

The board said that once the plane is found, International Civil Aviation Organization protocols will determine which country will lead the investigation.

Malaysia Airlines, which has one of the best safety records among full-service Asia-Pacific carriers, said in a statement that they had launched a team of “caregivers” to provide support for affected families as well as bringing in a disaster recovery management specialist from Atlanta, USA.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AP)

Date created : 2014-03-09

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