As the search continues for the Malaysia Airlines’ Boeing 777 which vanished from radar screens on Friday while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, the questions are piling up: two oil slicks have been found, but no wreckage as yet. How can an aircraft of that size leave so little trace? Why has no signal been picked up from the flight’s “black boxes”? And then there are the passengers.
It has been widely reported that four of the names of those on board were regarded as “suspect”, but now this has been reduced to two. One of those is a Chinese national. In addition, five passengers who had checked in luggage did not board flight MH370. The carrier has asserted that their luggage was therefore removed from the hold before the aircraft was closed up.
But the most worrying aspect is the two individuals travelling on stolen passports: assuming the names of Italian citizen Luigi Maraldi – who has been issued a replacement in the meantime – and Austrian Christian Kozel. They booked their tickets the day before the flight, and booked them together, obtaining consecutive ticket numbers. They also booked flights on from Beijing.
And this is where it gets interesting: both men would only have been transiting Beijing Airport, and so would not have had to apply for visas to enter China, a process which would have almost certainly led to the discovery that they were travelling on stolen passports. Their flight onward was to Amsterdam, and as EU nationals they would not have needed any visa to enter the Netherlands.
Nor would they have needed a visa to travel to their final destinations, Frankfurt am Main and Copenhagen. So there would have been little chance, provided the photos in the passports were a good likeness, of discovery. But here is where it gets truly strange: why would anyone travel from Kuala Lumpur to Amsterdam via Beijing in the first place, when direct flights are offered?
Both KLM, with whom the two were booked to fly on from Beijing, and Malaysia fly direct from Kuala Lumpur to Amsterdam. Yet these two individuals booked – together – to make the journey via Beijing, with a ten hour stopover. And why book with China Southern, the codeshare partner of Malaysia Airlines, when the booking was made in Malaysia? Moreover, why pay in cash with Thai baht?
While the search for the missing aircraft continues, there will also be a search via CCTV and elsewhere to find out exactly who was impersonating Maraldi and Kozel. And, while that search goes on, action needs to be taken to give air carriers and security agencies better information on stolen passports. These two were not on board that flight by coincidence.
Then steps can be taken to stop the next such attempt getting through.