March 10, 2014 11:30 pm

Stolen passports probed, investigators chase ‘every angle’ in missing Malaysia Airlines flight

ABOVE: Authorities are no closer to finding Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 than they were 72 hours ago, when it disappeared from radar. Every potential sighting of wreckage so far has turned out to be false. Mike Drolet reports.

  • Stolen passports probed in Malaysian plane mystery
  • Police say the travel agency was contacted by an Iranian man known only as “Mr. Ali”
  • Floating object turned out to be sea trash, not a life raft
  • Military radar indicates jet may have turned back before vanishing
  • Plane carried 227 passengers and 12 crew members
  • Canadian passengers identified

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Rescue helicopters and ships searching for a Malaysia Airlines jet rushed Monday to investigate a yellow object that looked like a life raft.

It turned out to be moss-covered trash floating in the ocean, once again dashing hopes after more than two days of fruitless search for the plane that disappeared en route to Beijing with 239 people on board.

READ MORE: Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: The missing

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With no confirmation that the Boeing 777 had crashed, hundreds of distraught relatives waited anxiously for any news. Thai police and Interpol questioned the proprietors of a travel agency in the resort town of Pattaya that sold one-way tickets to two men now known to have been travelling on flight MH370 using stolen passports.

READ MORE: What could have happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370?

There has been no indication that the two men had anything to do with the tragedy, but the thefts of the passports fueled speculation of foul play, terrorism or a hijacking gone wrong. Malaysia has shared their details with Chinese and American intelligence agencies.

Malaysia’s police chief was quoted by local media as saying that one of the men had been identified. Civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman didn’t confirm this, but said they were of “non-Asian” appearance. He said authorities were looking at the possibility they were connected to a stolen passport syndicate, but declined to give any more details.

The search operation has involved 34 aircraft and 40 ships from several countries covering a 50-nautical mile radius from the point the plane vanished from radar screens between Malaysia and Vietnam, he said.

Experts say possible causes of the apparent crash include an explosion, catastrophic engine failure, terrorist attack, extreme turbulence, pilot error or even suicide.

WATCH: Malaysian officials update search for missing plane

Stolen passports investigated

Authorities questioned travel agents Monday at a beach resort in Thailand about two men who boarded the vanished Malaysia Airlines plane with stolen passports, part of a growing international investigation into what they were doing on the flight.

The stolen passports, one belonging to Christian Kozel of Austria and the other to Luigi Maraldi of Italy, were entered into Interpol’s database after they were taken in Thailand in 2012 and 2013, the police organization said.

Police Lt. Col. Ratchthapong Tia-sood said the travel agency was contacted by an Iranian man known only as “Mr. Ali” to book the tickets for the two men.

“We have to look further into this Mr. Ali’s identity because it’s almost a tradition to use an alias when doing business around here,” he said.

A poster carrying messages for the passengers of the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 plane is seen at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) in Sepang on March 10, 2014.

MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images

Wingtip

The tip of the wing of the same Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777-200 broke off Aug. 9, 2012, as it was taxiing at Pudong International Airport outside Shanghai. The wingtip collided with the tail of a China Eastern Airlines A340 plane. No one was injured.

Malaysia Airlines’ lack of early word on missing plane angers many

Fed up with awaiting word on the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, relatives of passengers in Beijing lashed out at the carrier with a handwritten ultimatum and an impromptu news conference.

“We don’t believe Malaysia Airlines anymore. Sorry everyone, we just don’t believe them anymore,” the man, who refused to give his name, told a crowd of reporters Sunday.

WATCH: Candlelight vigil held for passengers of missing Malaysia Airlines flight

The initial disorder of Malaysia Airlines’ response, and its lack of official contact with relatives in the early going set the tone for the ensuing hours of waiting.

“One of the most important things to remember here,” said Frank Taylor, director of an aviation safety centre at Cranfield University in Britain, “is that it’s much easier to stand down staff after an initial over-reaction than to play catch-up after an initial under-reaction.”

READ MORE: INTERPOL slams lax security after flagged IDs made it on Flight MH370

The relatives had expected the plane’s arrival at 6:30 a.m. Saturday. About four hours later, a handwritten note was posted on a white board in the arrival hall advising relatives to use a shuttle service to go to the Lido Hotel to await information. “It can’t be good,” said one weeping woman aboard the first bus.

But when the family members got there, they wandered around lost and distressed before hotel staff – apparently unprepared – escorted them into a private area. It was several more hours before an airline spokesman made a brief statement to reporters, providing little information.

Yellow object, oil slicks spotted

On Sunday afternoon, a Vietnamese plane spotted a rectangular object that was thought to be one of the missing plane’s doors, but ships working through the night could not locate it. Then on Monday, a Singaporean search plane spotted a yellow object some 140 kilometres (87 miles) southwest of Tho Chu island, but it turned out to be some sea trash.

Malaysian maritime officials found some oil slicks in the South China Sea and sent a sample to a lab to see if it came from the plane. Tests showed that the oil was not from an aircraft.

© The Canadian Press, 2014

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