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What Happened To Malaysia Airlines Flight 370?

by Jethro Mullen and Jim Clancy, CNN Saturday March 8, 2014    11:19 PM

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the passenger jet missing since early Saturday, may have changed course and turned back toward Kuala Lumpur, military officials said at a news conference Sunday.

But the pilot appears to have given no signal to authorities that he was turning around, the officials said, attributing the change of course to indications from radar data. The latest revelation added to the questions that have puzzled authorities since the Boeing 777-200ER, carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members, went missing while flying from the Malaysian capital to Beijing:

What happened to the plane? Why was no distress signal issued? Who exactly was aboard? Forty ships and 22 planes were scouring a portion of the South China Sea on Sunday for any sign of where the flight operated by Malaysia's flagship airline may have gone down, the military officials said at the news briefing.

The large, multinational team is focusing its efforts near the Gulf of Thailand, part of the South China Sea that lies between several Southeast Asian countries.

The area in focus, about 90 miles south of Vietnam's Tho Chu Island, is the same one where a Vietnamese search plane reportedly spotted oil slicks that stretched between six and nine miles. Malaysian authorities have not yet confirmed the report of the oil slicks, which came from Vietnam's official news agency. As the search continues, anguished family members of those on board the plane are being forced to endure an agonizing wait to find out the fate of their loved ones.

Among the passengers were 154 people from China or Taiwan; 38 Malaysians, and three U.S. citizens. Five of the passengers were less than 5 years old.

Fragments of information have begun to emerge about the flight, but none of them so far tell us what happened to it.

A fuller picture may not emerge until searchers find the plane and its flight data recorder. "We have not been able to locate anything, see anything," Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, the director general of civil aviation in Malaysia, told reporters Sunday.

Confusion over who exactly was on the plane has drawn particular attention. The airline released a list of passengers on the flight that included an Austrian and an Italian. But the governments of those two countries both denied that any of their citizens were on board the missing plane.

More disturbingly, the two people whose names were on the list had both reported their passports stolen in Southeast Asia in recent years, officials said.

The passport mystery raised concerns about the possibility of terrorism, but officials cautioned that it was still too early to arrive at any conclusions.

A U.S. intelligence official said that no link to terrorism had been discovered so far, but that authorities were still investigating.

Malaysian authorities have been in contact with counterterrorism organizations about possible passport issues, Malaysia's transportation minister Hishamuddin Hussein said.

He didn't specify how many potential passport issues there were, saying authorities are looking at the whole passenger manifest.

The U.S. government has been briefed on the stolen passports and reviewed the names of the passengers in question but found nothing at this point to indicate foul play, said a U.S. law enforcement official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Of the two passports in question, the Italian one had been reported stolen and was in Interpol's database, CNN Law Enforcement Analyst Tom Fuentes said, citing sources at Interpol.

Additionally, no inquiry was made by Malaysia Airlines to determine if any passengers on the flight were traveling on stolen passports, he said. Many airlines do not check the database, he said. Rahman, the Malaysian aviation official, declined to say whether the airline or Malaysian authorities had checked the database.

The National Transportation Safety Board announced late Saturday that a team of its investigators was en route to Asia to help with the investigation, the agency said.

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