The Boeing 777, with 227 passengers and 12 crew members, mysteriously disappeared after it had taken off from Kuala Lumpur and was expected to land Beijing. As the plane reached the 35,000ft and 120 nautical miles off the coast of the Malaysian town of Kota Bharu, it vanished from radar screens, even though the pilots had reported no problems.
According to the statement by the Vietnamese government, two oil slicks were spotted off the southern tip of the country were between six and nine miles long, what could indicated the jet crash, as the slicks were rather consistent, typical of those that could be produced by the jet’s two fuel tanks.
“Two of our aircraft sighted two oil slicks around 15 to 20 kilometres (10-12 miles) long, running parallel, around 500 metres apart from each other,” the Vietnam army’s deputy chief-of-staff, Vo Van Tuan, told state-run VTV. “We are not certain where these two oil slicks may have come from so we have sent Vietnamese ships to the area.”
“I think the two oil slicks are very likely linked to the missing plane,” said Vice-Admiral Ngo Van Phat, who is helping to direct the search mission.
Adding to the mystery over the sudden loss of communication with the aircraft, it emerged that two people on the flight appeared to have been travelling on stolen EU passports. On Sunday Malaysia’s transport minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, said Malaysian intelligence officials were also checking the identities of two other passengers.
“All the four names are with me and have been given to our intelligence agencies,” Hishammuddin said, according to The AP. “We do not want to target only the four; we are investigating the whole passenger manifest. We are looking at all possibilities.”
An Austrian, named in reports as Christian Kozel, had his passport pinched in Thailand in 2012, while Italian Luigi Maraldi, 37, had his stolen last year, also in Thailand, officials and sources said.
The disclosure raised fears that terrorists could have used false passports to board the craft, which vanished with no prior signals of trouble to air traffic controllers.
Those fears increased when Malaysian authorities later confirmed that they were liaising with the FBI over the suspect identities. The four under suspicion had all bought their flight tickets through China Southern Airlines, said a security official.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said on Saturday it has dispatched a team to Asia to help investigate the crash of a Malaysia Airlines jet. The NTSB team is accompanied by technical advisers from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. air safety regulator and Boeing Co, which made the 777-200ER jet, reports Reuters.
“Once the aircraft location is identified, International Civil Aviation Organization protocols will determine which country will lead the investigation,” the NTSB said.
In a statement on Saturday afternoon, Malaysia Airlines wrote: “We are currently working with international authorities on the search and rescue mission and as at 1400 hours, 08 March 2014, we have no information on the location of the airline.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with all passengers, our crew and their family members.”