By Stuart Leavenworth, McClatchy Foreign Staff
BEIJING — Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and other nations resumed the search for a missing passenger jet at daybreak Sunday, amid mounting concerns over the possible cause of the plane’s disappearance.
As the search entered its second day, questions about possible terrorism arose after it was discovered that two passengers listed as having been aboard the aircraft were both found to be safe, but had had their passports stolen, one two years ago.
Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia’s transport minister, issued a statement saying that terrorism was not suspected, but that all possibilities were investigated.
Nearly a day and a half after Malaysia Airlines lost track of Flight MH370, a Boeing 777 airliner that took off from Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, early Saturday carrying 239 people, the search for the aircraft was centered off the coast of Vietnam. Officials from Vietnam reported oil slicks off that country’s southern coast that could be from the engines of the plane, but there was no confirmation that the oil is from the aircraft’s engines.
“At this stage, they have failed to find evidence of any wreckage,” Malaysia Airlines said of the searchers in a statement posted on its web site early Sunday. “The sea mission will continue overnight while the air mission will recommence at daylight.
In addition, China has sent ships to help with the rescue, according to China’s Xinhua news service, and a U.S. Navy destroyer equipped with two helicopters is also assisting the operation.
Most crashes involving commercial airliners occur during landing or takeoff so the disappearance of the plane while in flight added to the mystery and raised the prospect that it might be months or years before the fate of the aircraft will be learned.
The crash recalls the June 1, 2009, crash of Air France Flight 447, which disappeared on a flight from Rio de Janeiro with 228 passengers and crew members aboard. The plane’s wreckage wasn’t found for nearly two years, and it was only last year that French investigators determined that pilot error was responsible for the crash.
Despite the Malaysian transport minister’s statement that terrorism was not suspected, interest was high in the eerily similar stories of the two people whose names appeared on the passenger manifest, but were subsequently found to be safe.
One was an Italian named Luigi Maraldi, who called his parents from Thailand to assure them that he was safe after news outlets listed him as a passenger on the flight. Maraldi had had his passport stolen in Thailand last year. He’d since been issued a new one.
“One hypothesis therefore is that he was listed because someone boarded the plane using his stolen passport,” the Italian newspaper Corriera della Serra reported.