The search for Malaysian Airlines jet continues as six Australian passengers were named by DFAT. Courtesy Channel Ten
AS THE FBI joins the international search for answers to what downed missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, security experts say China may have been the intended target.
It has emerged that two travellers being investigated for travelling with stolen passports were travelling together and had booked through China Southern Airlines.
Although there were 14 nationalities aboard the Boeing 777, the vast majority were Chinese and the plane was flying to Beijing as a code share with China Southern Airlines.
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Two European names – Austrian Christian Kozel and Luigi Maraldi of Italy – were listed on the passenger manifest but neither man boarded the plane to Beijing, officials said. Both had their passports stolen in Thailand over the past two years.
The BBC is reporting that the men falsely using these passports purchased tickets at the same time. They had consecutive ticket numbers and were both booked on the same onward plane from Beijing to Europe on Saturday, the BBC said.
Rescue teams are continuing the search for the Malaysia Airlines plane, which was carrying 239 people, including six Australians.
Oil slicks were found in the South China sea on Sunday, but no debris or wreckage has been found yet.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott called the Malaysian Prime Minister on Sunday night and offered two RAAF Orion aircraft for the search and rescue operation. Two aircraft were despatched from Darwin late on Sunday.
Malaysian officials are due to hold a media conference at 11pm AEDT.
Associate Professor Felix Patrikeeff from the University of Adelaide said there could be a connection to Uighur militants from China’s restive Xinjiang province in the country’s northwest, who were responsible for a knife attack that left 33 dead on March 1.
“We had that terrible knife attack at the train station and I just begin to wonder if there might not be some sort of asymmetric action going on, on the part of the separatists … that they’ve taken the struggle out of Xinjiang itself and moved it into China and perhaps abroad,” he said.
But security expert Professor Clive Williams downplayed the Uighur connection, saying if a bomb had been detonated, it was more likely to be a random act connected to organised crime, a personal grudge or an insurance policy.
Earlier, Malaysia’s aviation chief said investigators were examining airport CCTV footage of the two passengers with stolen passports who boarded the missing Malaysia Airlines plane.
The development came as Malaysia’s air force chief raised the possibility that the missing plane may have turned back.
“There are only two passengers on record with false passports,’’ department of civil aviation director general Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said.
“We have CCTV recordings of the two passengers. The recordings in the CCTV are now being investigated.’’
The FBI is sending specialists to Kuala Lumpur to assist with the investigation.
Malaysia’s air force chief told a joint media conference with other officials that radar indicated the missing Boeing 777 may have turned back, but declined to give further details on how far the plane may have veered off course.
Rodzali Daud said there “is a possible indication that the aircraft made a turnback,” adding that authorities were “trying to make sense of that.
Rescue teams searching for the missing flight have widened their search area.
Malaysian authorities expanded their search for wreckage to the country’s west coast, and asked for help from Indonesia. Searches so far had concentrated on waters to the country’s east, in the South China Sea.
A total of 40 ships and 22 aircraft from an array of countries including China and the US are now involved in the hunt across the two areas, officials said.
Another pilot who was flying ahead of the missing Malaysia Airlines plane revealed he made contact with the missing aircraft minutes after he was asked to do so by Vietnamese air traffic control.
He said he heard mumbling and static from the cockpit of flight MH370.
Six Australians including two couples from Queensland and one couple from New South Wales are among the 239 people on board who are missing and feared dead.
Brisbane couples Rodney and Mary Burrows, and Catherine and Robert Lawton of Springfield Lakes are believed to be friends travelling together.
Sydney couple Niajun Gu and Yuan Li, from the Sutherland Shire, were also travelling to China for a long-planned holiday.
Perth-based father-of-two Paul Weeks, originally from New Zealand, is also among those feared dead.
Mr Weeks, a 39-year-old mechanical engineer, was travelling to Mongolia for his first shift in a fly-in-fly-out job.
His devasated wife Danica is praying for a miracle that he will return home safely.
“I can’t give up hope. I would love him to walk through that door, hold him one more time … I see him everywhere in the house,’’ she told the Nine Network.
“It’s so hard, so hard. I mean we are praying for a miracle.’’
The couple have a three-year-old son, Lincoln, and a 10-month-old son, Jack.
Mr Weeks was born in New Zealand and moved to WA with his young family in 2011, following the devastating Christchurch earthquake.