Stolen passports pair at centre of jet mystery with 239 feared dead

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International intelligence agencies have joined the investigation into the two passengers who boarded the missing Boeing 777 plane with stolen passports.

The move came as Malaysian authorities revealed radar images showed the aircraft may have turned back before vanishing.

More than a day and half after Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 went missing, the final minutes before it disappeared remained a mystery, although Vietnamese authorities searching the sea spotted an object that they suspected was one of the aircraft’s doors.

The plane, which was carrying 239 people, lost contact with ground controllers somewhere between Malaysia and Vietnam after leaving Kuala Lumpur early on Saturday for Beijing.

A massive international sea search had last night turned up no trace of the plane. The aircraft apparently fell from the sky at cruising altitude in fine weather, and the pilots were either unable or had no time to send a distress signal – unusual circumstances under which a modern jetliner operated by a professional airline would crash.

Malaysia’s air force chief, Rodzali Daud, said radar indicated that the plane may have turned back, but did not give further details on which direction it went or how far it veered off course.

“We are trying to make sense of this,” Mr Daud told the Press. The military radar indicated that the aircraft may have made a turn back, and in some parts this was corroborated by civilian radar.”

Malaysia Airlines’ chief executive, Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, said pilots were supposed to inform the airline and traffic control authorities if the plane did a U-turn. “From what we have, there was no such distress signal or distress call per se, so we are equally puzzled,” he said. Authorities were checking on the identities of the passengers who boarded the plane with stolen passports.

On Saturday, the foreign ministries in Italy and Austria said the names of two citizens listed on the flight’s manifest matched the names on two passports reported stolen in Thailand. “I can confirm that we have the visuals of these two people on CCTV,” Malaysian transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein said at a news conference, adding that the footage was being examined.

“We have intelligence agencies, both local and international, on board.”

In addition to the plane’s sudden disappearance, which experts say is consistent with a possible onboard explosion, the stolen passports have strengthened concerns about terrorism as a possible cause. Al-Qaida militants have used similar tactics to try to disguise their identities.