Searchers Spot Plane Debris as Hints Emerge That Flight May Have Turned Around

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 9 2014 12:14 PM

Searchers Spot Plane Debris as Hints Emerge That Malaysian Arilines Flight May Have Turned Around

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Oil slicks off the southern seas of Vietnam could be a sign of a crash

Photo by HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images

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.

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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.”

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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