Malaysia probes passenger backgrounds for clues on missing flight

Malaysia probes passenger backgrounds for clues on missing flight

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia is investigating whether any passengers or crew aboard a missing airliner had personal or psychological problems that might explain its disappearance, along with the possibility of a hijack, sabotage or mechanical failure, police said on Tuesday.

A massive search operation for the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER is in its fourth day, with no trace yet of the aircraft or the 239 people on board, one of the most baffling mysteries in aviation history.

Flight MH370 left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing early on Saturday morning, vanishing from radar screens about an hour after take-off over the sea separating Malaysia from the southern tip of Vietnam. Adding to the puzzle, Malaysian military radar tracking suggested it may have turned back from its scheduled route.

There was no distress signal or radio contact indicating a problem and, in the absence of any wreckage or flight data, police have been left trawling through passenger and crew lists for potential leads. "Maybe somebody on the flight has bought a huge sum of insurance, who wants family to gain from it or somebody who has owed somebody so much money, you know, we are looking at all possibilities," Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar told a news conference. "We are looking very closely at the video footage taken at the KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport), we are studying the behavioural pattern of all the passengers."

STOLEN PASSPORTS

The fact that at least two passengers on board had used stolen passports, confirmed by Interpol, has raised suspicions of foul play. But Southeast Asia is known as a hub for false documents that are also used by smugglers, illegal migrants and asylum seekers.

Police chief Khali said one of the men had been identified as a 19-year-old Iranian, who appeared to be an illegal immigrant. The identity of the other was still being checked. "We believe he is not likely to be a member of any terrorist group, and we believe he was trying to migrate to Germany,"Khali said of the teenager. His mother was waiting for him in Frankfurt and had been in contact with authorities, he said.

Asked if that meant he ruled out a hijack, Khalid said: "(We are giving) same weightage to all (possibilities) until we complete our investigations." Both men entered Malaysia on Feb 28, at least one from Phuket, in Thailand, eight days before boarding the flight to Beijing, Malaysian immigration chief Aloyah Mamat told the news conference. Both held onward reservations to Western Europe.

Police in Thailand, where the passports were stolen and the tickets used by the two men were booked, said they did not think they were linked to the disappearance of the plane. "We haven't ruled it out, but the weight of evidence we're getting swings against the idea that these men are or were involved in terrorism," Supachai Puikaewcome, chief of police in the Thai resort city of Pattaya, told Reuters.

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