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Monday, March 10, 2014

Mystery Of Missing Malaysia Airlines Plane Still Unsolved

Dato' Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, director general of the Malaysian Department of Civil Aviation briefs the media over latest updates on missing Malaysia Airline MH370 on March 10, 2014 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (How Foo Yeen/Getty Images)

Dato’ Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, director general of the Malaysian Department of Civil Aviation briefs the media over latest updates on missing Malaysia Airline MH370 on March 10, 2014 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (How Foo Yeen/Getty Images)

The whereabouts of a missing Malaysia Airlines plane are still unknown, more than two days after it disappeared on its way to Beijing.

China is calling on Malaysia to step up its search, but officials in Kuala Lumpur say they are doing everything the can.

There are also questions about two men who were traveling on stolen passports on the flight, which had 239 people on board.

The BBC’s Jennifer Pak is in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson with details.

Note: Please subscribe to the Here & Now podcast to hear this BBC interview.




From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.


I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW. Coming up, questions raised about passport security after two passengers used stolen passports to board that missing plane.

HOBSON: But first to the latest on the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which has been missing since about an hour and a half into a redeye flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on Saturday. The search continues, and so far there is no sign of the Boeing 777. The BBC's Jennifer Pak joins us from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. She's in the hotel where authorities are providing updates. And Jennifer, what are Malaysian officials saying today?

JENNIFER PAK: Well, Malaysian officials here say that they still have not found any evidence of debris and that they are widening the search not only on the side where the stretch of waters between Malaysia and Vietnam, where they last had contact with the plane, but also on the west side of the peninsula, Malaysia. That's because they have military radar records where they believe the plane was trying to turn back to Kuala Lumpur.

But if that was true, there should've been a distress signal sent out. In this case, there was not. Malaysian officials in fact spent half of the press conferences of the day trying to refute these reports coming from all over different sources - officials from Vietnam, for example, saying that they may have spotted some debris. Malaysian officials later denied all of this.

They also have identified the two men who got onboard with stolen European passports; however, they will not reveal their identities at this point in time because they are being investigated for a possible passport syndicate. So there are many strands in which the Malaysian authorities are trying to go down and try to figure out two key questions, one which is where has the plane gone. And the second one is what happened to it.

And at this point in time Malaysian officials are no further down the road. There are lots of interesting things coming up, especially the one about the stolen passports and how that got through Malaysian security. But really it's still unclear how that fits into the bigger picture, whether these men even have anything to do with the disappearance of this flight.

HOBSON: Well, and we're going to hear more about the passports in a moment, but what you're saying is that even though the last known radar contact with this plane was in the area that has been searched in the Gulf of Thailand, and that is being searched, that officials are now looking on the other side of the peninsula.

PAK: Indeed, because, as I say, they think the plane may have tried to turn around. But a lot of information is missing here, and there's a deep sense of frustration here amongst the journalists. There's lots of Chinese media here as well, because more than half of the passengers on the flight are from China. And they are pushing the Malaysian officials to give more details of how they're going about this search, why are they expanding it, how difficult is the terrain.

This is crucial information that we are not getting here, and understandably because Malaysian officials are being overly cautious. They don't want to further cause anxiety for the families here who are extremely distressed. The information that's trickling out is not as much as what everybody has expected, especially on the third day.

And so now the sky outside, it's dark, the aircrafts have gone back to base. The vessels are still out there. The ships are out there still searching and combing through the waters in the South China Sea, but now we're looking at a much bigger area, which gives the sense that Malaysian authorities still have absolutely no idea where this plane could have landed.

HOBSON: Well, and let's listen to some of the press conference today. This is Malaysia's acting transport minister, Hishammuddin Hussein.

HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN: Coordinating this has not been easy, but I'm very happy to report that things are moving very, very fast. And let us pray that we get some more positive results in the near future.

HOBSON: Now, Jennifer, I know that some of the victims' families, or passengers' families - perhaps we should say at this point - are trying to get from Beijing down to Kuala Lumpur so that, what, they can be closer to where the latest details are coming out? Or why do they want to be there?

PAK: Actually, it's the other way around. Malaysia Airlines has offered to fly these family members to Kuala Lumpur and also I believe they offered to fly them to Vietnam, between the two areas where they last saw the aircraft or had contact with the aircraft. But unfortunately there's a lot of family members who are quite confused why they would need to come all the way to Kuala Lumpur or even to Vietnam to wait because at this point officials are saying they have no idea where the aircraft has gone.

And it's surprising because in this area in Southeast Asia, the airspace is all very - sometimes overlap. Certainly it's surprising to think that no other country's air traffic control was able to pick up the signal from this airplane, which suggests that whatever ended up happening to this aircraft, it happened so suddenly, and so all we can know for sure is that something catastrophic and very tragic has happened.

HOBSON: And what about these reports of pieces of what could be the plane being found in the water, and some of them have been determined not to be pieces of the plane? But do we know more about that?

PAK: No, not at all. Once Malaysian officials have determined that it has nothing to do with the aircraft, then they did not give any more information. You must understand that in Malaysia, the governing coalition here has been in power since they gained independence from the British in 1957. So it's difficult for them to understand why the media would be pushing them further after they say there's a lot of information that they cannot reveal, otherwise it could compromise the investigation.

But of course it's frustrating, and perhaps because the circumstances surrounding this whole aircraft is so mysterious and so many unknowns still, there's a deep sense of frustration that we're not getting any kind of idea of what they're thinking, where they're headed, what the terrain is, how difficult it is. We're not getting any of those details.

HOBSON: The BBC's Jennifer Pak, speaking with us from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Jennifer, thank you so much.

PAK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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