22 aircraft, 40 ships involved in search operation
The fate of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 that disappeared over the Gulf of Thailand remained a mystery close to two days after the aircraft lost radar contact, even as 22 aircraft and 40 ships from half-a-dozen countries scoured the waters of the South China Sea in a desperate effort to locate the missing jet.
The airline said on Sunday it was “fearing the worst” for the Beijing-bound aircraft which was carrying 239 people, including five Indians, and vanished an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur at 10-11 p.m. IST Friday.
On Sunday evening the Vietnam government released a photograph of what it said was a part of an aircraft door and tail. Airline officials, however, could not confirm if the fragments were from flight MH370.
The difficulty in locating debris led some aviation experts to suggest a mid-air ‘disintegration’. At last contact, the Boeing 777-200ER, one of 15 such ageing aircraft in service with Malaysia Airlines and due to be phased out over the next three years, was cruising at 35,000 feet, with no apparent reports of extreme weather conditions.
Rodzali Daud, the Royal Malaysian Air Force Chief, said the government was looking into the possibility that the aircraft attempted turning back. Suspicions of foul play have also emerged. Malaysian officials said they were investigating the identities of at least two passengers who boarded the aircraft using stolen Italian and Austrian passports. Officials said there was no clear evidence of terrorism, but they had alerted intelligence officials to begin a probe. FBI agents were travelling to Malaysia to assist. Both passengers had purchased their tickets from China Southern Airlines, which was running a code-share on the flight, and had been booked to travel onward to Amsterdam.