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Thu Aug 21 10:13:58 SAST 2014

Plane crash mystery deepens

Staff reporter, Reuters | 12 March, 2014 00:30
FALSE ID: Security camera pictures of Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad, left, and an unidentified man at Kuala Lumpur airport, boarding flight MH370 using stolen European passports
Image by: AFP

Claims by relatives of some of the passengers aboard the vanished Malaysian Airlines plane that the cellphones of their missing loved ones were still ringing a day later have added to what aviation experts described as "an unprecedented mystery".

The Washington Post reported on Monday that some relatives of the 239 passengers and crew aboard flight MH37 said they were "able to call the cellphones of their loved ones or find them on a Chinese instant messenger service called QQ that indicated that their phones were still online".

The airliner disappeared on Saturday after taking off from Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur. A search involving some 40 ships and 34 aircraft is under way.

The Post said relatives of the missing "tried repeatedly on Sunday and Monday to ask airline and police officials about the ringing calls and QQ accounts" but were largely ignored.

Singapore's Strait Times quoted a Malaysia Airlines official as telling families that the company had also called the phones of crew and that they rang.

Reuters reported yesterday that Malaysia's military believes the missing jetliner turned and flew hundreds of kilometres to the west after it last made contact with civilian air traffic control off the country's east coast.

Malaysian authorities have previously said flight MH370 disappeared about an hour after it took off from Kuala Lumpur.

"It changed course and took a lower altitude. It made it into the Malacca Strait," said a senior military officer who was briefed on the investigation.

That would appear to rule out sudden catastrophic mechanical failure, as it would mean the plane flew at least 500km after its last contact with air traffic control, although its transponder and other tracking systems were off.

At the time it lost contact with civilian air traffic control the plane was roughly midway between Malaysia's east coast town of Kota Bharu and the southern tip of Vietnam, flying at 35000 ft (10670m).

The busy Strait of Malacca runs along Malaysia's west coast.

Malaysia's Berita Harian newspaper quoted air force chief Rodzali Daud as saying the plane was last detected at 2.40am by military radar near the island of Pulau Perak at the northern end of the Strait of Malacca. It was flying about 1000m lower than expected.

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.

Interpol earlier said two Iranians aged 18 and 29 boarded the Beijing-bound flight using stolen passports, but the pair are not believed to be linked to terrorist organisations.

"The more information we get, the more we are inclined to conclude it is not a terrorist incident," Interpol secretary-general Ronald Noble said.

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Thu Aug 21 10:13:59 SAST 2014 ::