* No confirmed wreckage found, "life raft" report false
* Officials say possibility of hijacking cannot be ruled out
* Questions over security after at least 2 stolen passports
* Jet may have disintegrated in mid-air - investigation
* 227 passengers and 12 crew presumed dead aboard lost
By Eveline Danubrata and Nguyen Phuong Linh
KUALA LUMPUR/PHU QUOC ISLAND, Vietnam, March 10 (Reuters) -
T he disappearance of a Malaysian airliner about an hour into a
flight to Beijing is an "unprecedented mystery", the civil
aviation chief said on Monday, as a massive air and sea search
now in its third day failed to find any trace of the plane or
239 people on board.
Dozens of ships and aircraft from 10 countries scoured the
seas around Malaysia and south of Vietnam as questions mounted
over possible security lapses and whether a bomb or hijacking
attempt could have brought down the Boeing 777-200ER which took
off from the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.
The area of the search would be widened from Tuesday,
Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, the head of Malaysia's Civil Aviation
Authority, told reporters.
A senior police official told Reuters that people armed with
explosives and carrying false identity papers had tried to fly
out of Kuala Lumpur in the past, and that current investigations
were focused on two passengers who were on the missing plane
with stolen passports.
"We have stopped men with false or stolen passports and
carrying explosives, who have tried to get past KLIA (airport)
security and get on to a plane," he said. "There have been two
or three incidents, but I will not divulge the details."
Interpol confirmed on Sunday at least two passengers used
stolen passports and said it was checking whether others aboard
had used false identity documents.
Azharuddin said a hijacking attempt could not be ruled out
as investigators explore all theories for the loss of Malaysia
Airlines Flight MH370.
"Unfortunately we have not found anything that appears to be
objects from the aircraft, let alone the aircraft," he told a
news conference. "As far as we are concerned, we have to find
the aircraft. We have to find a piece of the aircraft if
Azharuddin also said the two men with stolen passports did
not look like Asians, but he did not elaborate. Airport CCTV
footage showed they completed all security procedures, he said.
"We are looking at the possibility of a stolen passport
syndicate," he said.
About two-thirds of the 227 passengers and 12 crew now
presumed to have died aboard the plane were Chinese. The airline
said other nationalities included 38 Malaysians, seven
Indonesians, six Australians, five Indians, four French and
China urged Malaysia to speed up the search for the plane.
"This incident happened more than two days ago, and we hope
that the Malaysians can fully understand the urgency of China,
especially of the family members, and can step up the speed of
the investigation and increase efforts on search and rescue,"
Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters in Beijing.
A senior source involved in preliminary investigations in
Malaysia said the failure to find any debris indicated the plane
may have broken up mid-flight, which could disperse wreckage
over a very wide area.
"The fact that we are unable to find any debris so far
appears to indicate that the aircraft is likely to have
disintegrated at around 35,000 feet," said the source.
Asked about the possibility of an explosion, the source said
there was no evidence of foul play and that the aircraft could
have broken up due to mechanical causes.
Still, the source said the closest parallels were the bomb
explosions on board an Air India jetliner in 1985 when it was
over the Atlantic Ocean and a Pan Am aircraft over the Scottish
town of Lockerbie in 1988. Both planes were cruising at around
31,000 feet at the time.
The United States extensively reviewed imagery taken by
American spy satellites for evidence of a mid-air explosion, but
saw none, a U.S. government source said. The source described
U.S. satellite coverage of the region as thorough.
MOSS-COVERED CABLE REEL
Hopes for a breakthrough rose briefly when Vietnam scrambled
helicopters to investigate a floating yellow object it was
thought could have been a life raft. But the country's Civil
Aviation Authority said on its website that the object turned
out to be a "moss-covered cap of a cable reel".
Flight MH370 disappeared from radar screens in the early
hours of Saturday, about an hour into its flight from Kuala
Lumpur, after climbing to a cruising altitude of 35,000 ft
Underlining the lack of hard information about the plane's
fate, a U.S. Navy P-3 aircraft capable of covering 1,500 sq
miles every hour was sweeping the northern part of the Strait of
Malacca, on the other side of the Malaysian peninsula from where
the last contact with MH370 was made.
No distress signal was sent from the lost plane, which
experts said suggested a sudden catastrophic failure or
explosion, but Malaysia's air force chief said radar tracking
showed it may have turned back from its scheduled route before
The Boeing 777 has one of the best safety records of any
commercial aircraft in service. Its only previous fatal crash
came on July 6 last year when Asiana Airlines Flight 214 struck
a seawall on landing in San Francisco, killing three people.
The passenger manifest issued by the airline included the
names of two Europeans - Austrian Christian Kozel and Italian
Luigi Maraldi - who were not on the plane. Their passports had
been stolen in Thailand during the past two years.
An Interpol spokeswoman said a check of all documents used
to board the plane had revealed more "suspect passports", which
were being investigated.
"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," Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble
A European diplomat in Kuala Lumpur cautioned that the
Malaysian capital was an Asian hub for illegal migrants, many of
whom used false documents and complex routes including via
Beijing or West Africa to reach a final destination in Europe.
"You shouldn't automatically think that the fact there were
two people on the plane with false passports had anything to do
with the disappearance of the plane," the diplomat said.
"The more you know about the role of Kuala Lumpur in this
chain, the more doubtful you are of the chances of a linkage."
A Thai travel agent who arranged the tickets for the two
passengers using the stolen passports said she had booked them
on the flight via Beijing because they were the cheapest
tickets, the Financial Times reported.
The travel agent in the resort of Pattaya said an Iranian
business contact she knew only as "Mr Ali" had asked her to book
tickets for the two men on March 1.
She had initially booked them on other airlines but those
reservations expired and on March 6, Mr Ali had asked her to
book them again. She told the newspaper she did not think Mr
Ali, who paid her in cash and booked tickets with her regularly,
was linked to terrorism.