Searchers Spot Plane Debris as Hints Emerge That Malaysian Arilines Flight May Have Turned Around
In what could be the first real break in the search for the Malaysian Airlines flight 370 that vanished, Vietnamese authorities say a military plane has spotted fragments of a plane that could be from the plane that went missing with 239 people on board. Vietnam’s ministry of information said the search plane spotted what looked like an inner door and a piece of the tail floating off the coast, about 50 miles south of Tho Chu Island, close to where the plane lost contact with radars, reports the Wall Street Journal. But it was too dark for the search plane to land and investigate the objects, noted the Vietnamese statement, adding that efforts to identify the debris would resume Monday morning.
In a revelation that appears to deepen the mystery of what happened to the plane, military officers said the Boeing 777 may have turned around from its scheduled path before disappearing from the radars. Malaysia’s air force chief said Sunday that radar activity suggested the plane may have turned back. "We are trying to make sense of this," the air force chief said at a news conference, according to the Associated Press. "The military radar indicated that the aircraft may have made a turn back, and in some parts this was corroborated by civilian radar." Yet if the pilot did indeed turn around the plane the lack of any kind of distress call was seen as particularly strange.
For now, officials investigating the disappearance appear to be focusing on the possibility that the plane “disintegrated mid-flight,” reports Reuters. If the plane had plunged suddenly into the water, there should be a pattern of debris that would be difficult to miss. Yet the Pentagon used a system that can detect flashes around the world and reportedly saw no sign of an explosion around the area where the plane disappeared, a source tells the New York Times.
While the search continues, investigators are focusing on two passengers who were apparently traveling together on stolen passports. The two men bought the tickets together at a travel agency in Pattaya, Thailand, reports Reuters. The two men were booked on a connecting flight to Amsterdam and then one had a ticket to go to Copenhagen and the other to Frankfurt, according to the Washington Post. International police agency Interpol expressed concern about the use of stolen passports, adding that few countries “systematically” search the agency’s database of lost or stolen passports. "This is a situation we had hoped never to see,” Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble said in a statement. “For years Interpol has asked why should countries wait for a tragedy to put prudent security measures in place at borders and boarding gates.”
A Sign of Foul Play? Two Passengers Used Stolen Passports
The investigation into the disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines plane that took off from Kuala Lampur and vanished with 239 people on board less than an hour later took a sinister turn Saturday amid confirmation that two people on the passenger manifest were not on the plane. Two passengers used stolen Austrian and Italian passports to board the plane, the foreign ministries of both countries confirmed on Saturday, reports Bloomberg. Now U.S. officials are investigating whether there could be a link to terrorism, sources tell NBC News. Investigators in Malaysia are also apparently not discarding a possible link to terrorism.
Officials tell NBC News there are plenty of other reasons besides terrorism why a passenger might use a stolen passport—drug smuggling, for example—but the revelation “significantly changed how U.S. officials looked at the disaster.” It certainly sounds sinister but it could be much ado about nothing. A European security official tells the Wall Street Journal that it isn’t all that uncommon for passengers to board flights using stolen passports. Still, NBC highlights that having two people on one flight with stolen passports is “very rare.”
Christian Kozel, the 30-year-old Austrian whose name was on the manifest had reported his passport stolen in Thailand in 2012. The 37-year-old Italian on the list—Luigi Maraldi—also reported his passport had been stolen in Thailand and was recently given a new passport, according to the Italian embassy in Bangkok, reports the Guardian.
Oil Slicks Spotted Off Vietnam Suggest Malaysian Airlines Flight Carrying 239 Crashed Into Sea
As the hours pass, hope is increasingly vanishing and now two large oil slicks spotted off the southern tip of Vietnam appear to be the first clear evidence that the Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 flight with 239 people on board had crashed. The slicks, which were reportedly between six and nine miles each, were spotted by Vietnamese air force planes as part of a multi-nation operation to search the South China Sea for the jet, reports the Associated Press.
Vietnam, Malaysia, China, Singapore and the Philippines are working on the search mission for the redeye flight that was scheduled to arrive in Beijing at 6:30 a.m. but vanished shortly after taking off from Kuala Lampur. There were 14 nationalities among the 227 passengers, the majority of whom—153 people, including one infant—are Chinese. There were also 38 Malaysians, seven Indonesians, six Australians, five Indians, three (including one infant), three French, and three Americans on board, among others. The Americans listed on the passenger manifest were one 51-year-old, one two-year-old, and one four-year-old, according to USA Today.
The 11-year-old plane seemed to disappear off the map without giving a distress signal, which Reuters describes as “a chilling echo” of the Air France flight that crashed into the South Atlantic in June 2009 killing all of the 228 people who were on board. The wreckage of that plane was only found two days later.
There was some initial discrepancy as to when the plane went missing that may have delayed rescue efforts. The airline first claimed it had lost contact with flight MH370 at 2:40 a.m. local time (1:40 p.m. Eastern or 6:40 p.m. GMT), or two hours after takeoff. But Flightradar24, an online aircraft tracking service, says the plane went missing 40 minutes after takeoff. “It took 11 hours until about 03:00 UTC until a search and rescue operation was started in the area of Gulf of Thailand where Flightradar24 reported lost radar contact,” notes the website in a Facebook post. “It feels very frustrating that the incorrect reports of lost contact after 2 hours has made that Flightradar24 data of lost contact after 40 minutes, has been ignored for so many hours.” The Associated Press notes the plane was last seen on the radar at around 1:30 a.m. local time (12:30 p.m. Eastern) right before it entered Vietnam’s air traffic control.
If the crash is confirmed it would mark the deadliest incident in the airline’s history. The last time Malaysian airlines had a fatal accident was in 1995, when a Fokker50 crashed and killed 34 people, while the deadliest incident was a December 1977 crash that took place after an apparent hijacking attempt and killed 100, reports the Wall Street Journal. It isn’t just the airline that has a good safety record. A financial analyst tells Bloomberg the Boeing 777 is the safest aircraft in the world. It is one of the most popular models for long-haul flights and hadn’t had a fatal accident in its 19-year history until July, 2013, when a Boeing 777 operated by Asiana Airlines crashed in San Francisco, killing three passengers.
Commercial Airplane Carrying 239 Goes Missing En Route to Beijing
For now we'll all have to hold our breath, but the news out of southeast Asia doesn't look good at the moment, via an Associated Press breaking-news alert:
Malaysia Airlines says it has lost contact with a plane carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew on route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The airline says that Flight MH370 has lost contact with Subang air traffic control at 2:40 a.m. Saturday. The flight is operated on the Boeing 777-200 aircraft. It departed Kuala Lumpur at 12:41 a.m. Saturday and was expected to land in Beijing at 6:30 a.m. the same day.
"Malaysia Airlines is currently working with the authorities who have activated their search and rescue team to locate the aircraft," the carrier said in a statement. Boeing, the maker of the plane, released its own statement late Friday night our time that read, in part: "Our thoughts are with everyone on board."
Beijing is 13 hours ahead of the east coast, so the plane had been out of contact with air traffic controllers for more than six hours—and was more than two hours overdue in Beijing—by the time the airline made the announcement.
Slatest PM: Russia Threatens to Shut Off Ukraine's Gas
Russia Ratchets Up the Pressure: New York Times: "Russia ratcheted up pressure on the West over the Ukraine crisis on Friday, moving for the first time to endorse the Crimea region’s secession plan, threatening Ukrainian customers with a gas shut-off and warning the United States that 'hasty and ill-considered steps' toward sanctions would harm relations. The developments illustrated how quickly the crisis has evolved. Just three days earlier, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia had said he did not foresee the possibility of the Crimean Peninsula becoming part of Russia. But leaders of both houses of Russia’s Parliament said on Friday that they would support a vote by Crimeans to break away from Ukraine and become a region of the Russian Federation. That was a clear signal that the Kremlin was throwing its full weight behind a secession drive that Ukraine, the United States and other countries have called unconstitutional and a violation of international law."
Turning the Gas Off: Wall Street Journal: "OAO Gazprom Chief Executive Officer Alexei Miller told journalists Friday that Ukraine owes the Russian energy giant $1.89 billion, having failed to meet a Mar. 7 deadline for payment of its February deliveries. He warned that a failure to pay the bill could result in a repeat of the 2009 gas crisis, when Gazprom switched off supplies to Ukraine for a number of weeks, raising prices in Europe and causing some shortages. ... The moves come as Russia's response to the pro-Europe uprising that has toppled President Viktor Yanukovych in Kiev and taken control of Ukraine's government. The Kremlin, which views neighboring Ukraine as part of its privileged sphere of influence, has denounced the new powers in Kiev as illegitimate."
Diplomacy Stalled: Washington Post: "International efforts to defuse the crisis have so far been stymied. On Friday, for the second time in two days, a team of 47 military and civilian observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was blocked from entering Crimea, according to Agence France-Presse. The group was stopped by armed men at a checkpoint flying a Russian flag. With Russian ships continuing to blockade Ukrainian navy vessels in the Sevastopol harbor, a U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer, USS Truxtun, entered the Black Sea on Friday through Turkey’s Bosphorus Strait for what the Navy said was a routine visit unrelated to the events in Ukraine. The Navy said the destroyer, with 300 sailors on board, was previously scheduled to train with Romanian and Bulgarian naval forces."
Watch President Obama Meet His Professional Doppelganger
As part of the White House's initiative to prosthelytize millennials on the benefits of ObamaCare, President Obama and members of his administration met with various YouTube personalities last week in the West Wing. Among them was Obama impersonator Iman Cross, who treated POTUS to his best impression of the commander in chief, trademark baritone voice and all.
"Either I can get to work or you can. You can take a lunch break, and I can take an hour. Fill in for you," Crosson said, while standing with Obama in the Oval Office as White House staffers cracked up behind them. The president was a good sport, laughing and telling Crosson that he'd need more gray hair on his head in order for the impersonation to be truly dead on.
"It was just a mind blowing moment–because I've been doing this for so many years–to be in his office, doing an impression of him, for him," Crosson said of the experience.
Bad News, Creeps: "Upskirting" Is No Longer Legal in Massachusetts
Two days after the state’s highest court sparked outrage when it ruled that state law allows people to take such photos, Governor Deval Patrick signed a bill today to ban the practice.... The legislation sailed through the House and Senate Thursday, a day after the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the state’s voyeurism law did not specifically prohibit people from secretly photographing under a woman’s clothing. It was a rare act of swift action in a Legislature often known for its glacial approach to making laws. ...
Under the bill signed Friday, it will now be a misdemeanor to take secret photos and videos of “the sexual or other intimate parts of a person under or around the person’s clothing.” The law would apply to times when a “reasonable person” would believe those parts of their body would not be publicly visible. Distributing those images could lead to felony charges and prison time.
As my colleague Hanna Rosin detailed yesterday, the case in question involved a man named Michael Robertson who was arrested for allegedly taking photos under the skirts of unsuspecting women sitting across from him on a Boston trolley back in 2010. The state's high court, however, ruled this week that Robertson could not be charged under the existing "peeping Tom" law because one of the five criteria was that "the subject was another person who was nude or partially nude," and the women whose photos showed up on his cellphone were, like most riders on the Boston trolley, dressed in clothing at the time he took their pictures.
U.S. Adds 175,000 Jobs, but Unemployment Rate Ticks Up to 6.7 Percent
Today's jobs report brings good news and bad. The good: employers added 175,000 jobs in February, a figure well above the anemic job gains recorded in the previous two months. The bad: The gains were down from the average of 189,000 added over the past year and, in the words of the New York Times, "fell a bit short of what policy makers had been hoping to see at this stage of the recovery."
The nation's unemployment rate, meanwhile, ticked up a tenth of a point to 6.7 percent as would-be-workers flooded back into the labor market looking for work. Here's Bloomberg with the half-full reading:
The report indicates employers remain upbeat about the economy’s prospects after winter storms and freezing temperatures across the eastern U.S. slowed consumer spending, housing and manufacturing. ... The figures showed hiring at professional and business services increased by the most in a year, while payrolls also rebounded in education and health services. State and local government agencies, factories and construction firms also added to headcounts last month. Revisions to prior reports added a total of 25,000 jobs to overall payrolls in the previous two months.
A pre-report survey of economists conducted by Bloomberg predicted gains of between 100,000 to 220,000.
Is He or Isn't He? Alleged Bitcoin Founder Denies He Founded Bitcoin.
AP’s anxiously-awaited Nakamoto exclusive is out. The newswire reports the man who Newsweek claimed is the founder of bitcoin in a much-talked about cover story today, denies he had anything to do with the cryptocurrency. Here’s the AP:
In an exclusive two-hour interview with The Associated Press Dorian S. Nakamoto, 64, said he had never heard of Bitcoin until his son told him he had been contacted by a reporter three weeks ago.
Reached at his home in Temple City, Calif., Nakamoto acknowledged that many of the details in Newsweek's report are correct, including that he once worked for a defense contractor. But he strongly disputes the magazine's assertion that he is "the face behind Bitcoin."
Earlier today, Nakamoto's home was staked out by a pack of media and he was chased across Los Angeles as he traveled to lunch and then the offices of an AP reporter for the interview. LA Times Deputy Business Editor Joe Bel Bruno live-tweeted the shenanigans and continues to provide updates. Stay tuned, if today is any clue, this story is far from settled.
Update, 9:30pm ET: Leah McGrath Goodman, the author of Newsweek's investigative piece, is standing by her report, specifically that Nakamoto indicated his involvement with bitcoin. Nakamoto told the AP his comments to Goodman were misunderstood and that he thought she was questioning him about his work as an engineer, not bitcoin. Here's the key passage in question:
Tacitly acknowledging his role in the Bitcoin project, he looks down, staring at the pavement and categorically refuses to answer questions.
"I am no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it," he says, dismissing all further queries with a swat of his left hand. "It's been turned over to other people. They are in charge of it now. I no longer have any connection."
The AP suggests the possibility of a language barrier. While Nakamoto, who was born in Japan, speaks both English and Japanese, his English is not perfect. Or it could be just a simple case of he-said, she-said.
Americans Spend 11-hours a Day with Digital Media
Americans like their digital media. A new report from Nielsen shows the average adult spends nearly half of the day -- 11 hours -- with electronic media. Contrary to what you might think, the old standbys, TV and radio, are doing quite well. Here’s the breakdown for the average American adult (18+):
Live TV: 5 hours, 4 minutes
Radio: 2 hours, 46 minutes
Smartphone: 1 hour, 7 minutes
Internet on a PC: 1 hour, 1 minute
Time-shifted TV: 32 minutes
Game Console: 12 minutes
DVD/Blu Ray: 9 minutes
Other Multimedia device: 2 minutes
Though smartphones have overtaken PC’s and Americans are now making time for time-shifted TV (eg. DVR), Nielsen finds our habits have remained pretty steady over the past few years.
The ratings company also looked at media consumption patterns by age, finding that our TV habits start young, dip during teenage years, then rise steadily for the rest our lives. Here’s a look at weekly TV usage by age group:
2-11: 24 hours, 16 minutes
12-17: 20 hours, 41 minutes
18-24: 22 hours, 27 minutes
25-34: 27 hours, 36 minutes
35-49: 33 hours, 40 minutes
50-64: 43 hours, 56 minutes
65-plus: 50 hours, 34 minutes
So don’t worry about missing this week’s episode of True Detective, you’ll be spending the rest of your life in front of the TV anyway.