Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Missing jet's door possibly spotted

Boats on way to suspected debris location

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BEIJING -- Vietnamese aircraft searching for a missing Malaysia Airlines jet spotted what authorities said may be a door from the plane and boats were attempting to reach the debris early Monday.

As about 40 ships and more than 20 airplanes continued looking for Flight MH370 for a third day, Interpol confirmed that at least two stolen passports were used by passengers on the plane, and the police agency's head railed that few countries were regularly checking its international database on lost and stolen travel documents.

Interpol said the two stolen passports -- one Italian, one Austrian -- had been entered into the agency's database after they had been stolen in Thailand in 2012 and 2013 but no checks of those passport numbers were made by any country between the time they were entered into Interpol's database and the time the Malaysia Airlines flight departed Kuala Lumpur early Saturday bound for Beijing.

"Whilst it is too soon to speculate about any connection between these stolen passports and the missing plane, it is clearly of great concern that any passenger was able to board an international flight using a stolen passport listed in Interpol's databases," the agency's secretary-general, Ronald K. Noble, said in a statement.

"What is important at the moment is to find out what caused Malaysian (Airlines) Flight 370 to go missing, and in this regard Interpol is making all needed resources available to help relevant authorities in Malaysia and elsewhere find out what happened," he said, adding the agency was in contact with officials in Malaysia and elsewhere to "determine the true identities of the passengers who used these stolen passports."

He also said the agency would review the documents used by other passengers to see if others were travelling on lost or stolen papers.

Vietnam's state-run Thanh Nien newspaper said two ships from the country's maritime police were en route to the area where the object that looked like a door was spotted, about 100 kilometres south of Tho Chu island off the country's south coast, The Associated Press reported.

"From this object, hopefully (we) will find the missing plane," the deputy chief of staff of Vietnam's army, Lt. Gen. Vo Van Tuan, told the paper.

If the Boeing 777 disintegrated in the air, the debris could be spread over a massive area hundreds of kilometres across. Malaysian authorities said Sunday a patrol ship from their country's Maritime Enforcement Agency discovered a large oil slick in the waters 100 nautical miles from Tok Bali that could be connected to the plane.

The agency's director-general, Mohd Amdan Kurish, said the ship was ordered to collect samples of the oil to determine whether it came from the plane, which vanished Saturday en route to the Chinese capital with 239 people aboard.

If the plane did crash into the sea, "obviously we will find clothes, bags and debris that float," he added, Malaysia's state-run Bernama news agency reported. Fishermen working in the area were also going to be interviewed by the agency as part of the search operation.

Indonesia, Thailand, Australia, China, the U.S. and other countries were participating in the quest to find the jetliner off southern Vietnam where the Gulf of Thailand meets the South China Sea. Malaysia was deploying submarine rescue vessels, officials said.

With no wreckage yet to examine, investigators were probing the identities of the passengers who used the stolen passports. Malaysia's acting transportation minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, said at one point Sunday authorities were looking at four passengers "said to have been travelling on fake passports." But he later backtracked and said investigators were looking at only two suspected cases of stolen identity, creating some confusion.

Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, Malaysia's director-general of civil aviation, said at a news conference in Malaysia investigators had closed-circuit TV images of the two men travelling on the European passports.

-- Los Angeles Times

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 10, 2014 A11

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