By Ian Wishart
Two passports, stolen a year apart, both featuring European men, appear to hold the key to unravelling the mystery of Malaysia Airlines flight MH-370 – the Boeing 777 with 239 souls on board that vanished on Saturday off the Vietnam coast.
China Southern Airlines, which code-shared the ill-starred flight, sold tickets with consecutive numbers to the two men who just happened to be carrying stolen passports. That indicates both men presented at the ticket purchase together. Both were booked on a connecting flight from Beijing to Amsterdam.
While Interpol has pointed out it holds data on 39 million stolen passports – equivalent to a population the size of Poland – and that on average two passengers per flight out of Asia may be travelling this way, that doesn’t explain the coincidence theory needed to explain how a passport stolen in 2012, and another in 2013, both in Thailand, came together for a joint travel booking on a missing aircraft in 2014. Drug mules, who might also use stolen passports, usually travel alone.
Of course, it is still possible the jet experienced some massive structural failure that simply blew the plane apart at 35,000 feet before the pilots could radio for help, but then that doesn’t explain military radar recordings indicating the jet had begun to turn back to Kuala Lumpur.
If the plane was suffering an engineering problem, why did it not radio air controllers or send out a Mayday message?
The room for speculation is rife: have terror cells managed to smuggle on board a piece of electronic equipment capable of jamming the aircraft radio transmissions? Would that explain why the flight began to turn back, as the pilots struggled to figure out why they could no longer communicate: venturing into foreign airspace with no ability to respond would run the risk of being met with lethal force.
Having realised the jet was turning around, did the mystery travellers detonate something in their checked in luggage? Airport security, after all, is not checking suitcases for transmitters, particularly if the devices look just like a cellphone in routine screening.
It’s a conflicted picture emerging for investigators. If it was an accident, it had to have been massive failure. Yet the turning back suggests the crew had an inkling at least that something was seriously wrong. Despite that, there was no mayday.
Another scenario being floated in some quarters is a missile strike, which could also explain a change in course if the air crew saw it coming. Other possibilities – in the realm of incredible but technically possible – are collision with an incoming meteor or piece of space junk.
Twin oil slicks some 15 km long earlier suggested the plane broke up in the air at speed; the slicks from a plane plunging intact into the ocean would have been smaller, and singular. However, petrochemical tests indicate the slicks are not from the missing flight at all.
Investigators are continuing to search for wreckage spotted earlier by surveillance aircraft. Maybe then the grieving families will begin to get answers.