Malaysia Plane Mystery Grows as Oil Slicks, Debris Found Not to Be From the Vanished Jetliner

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 10 2014 10:13 AM

Malaysia Plane Mystery Grows as Oil Slicks, Debris Found Not to Be From the Vanished Jetliner

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Officials brief journalists on the new search area as during a press conference at a hotel near Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) in Sepang on March 10, 2014

Photo by Mohd Rasfan/AFP/Getty Images

Day three of the search for the Malaysia Airlines flight that went missing is going much like the previous two did—with new hopes of progress in determining what exactly happened to the Beijing-bound passenger plane coming up empty. Here's the latest from the Washington Post, which is calling the vanished craft "one of the most perplexing aviation disasters in history":

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

Hopes briefly centered on a rectangular orange object that authorities said might have been a lifejacket. But when a Vietnamese helicopter recovered the piece of flotsam, it was identified as “a moss-covered cap of a cable reel,” the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam said on its website.
This was not the first time hopes have been dashed in the past two days. Late on Sunday afternoon, Vietnamese authorities said one of their aircraft had spotted a rectangular object that could have been an inner door from the missing plane, but it was too dark to be sure. By Monday, ships and planes had returned to the area, but could not locate the object. Meanwhile, sightings of what had resembled a piece of the plane’s tail turned out to be logs tied together to form a pontoon, Malaysian authorities said.
Two oil slicks, between six and nine miles long, consistent with fuel left by a downed jetliner, were located on Saturday in the region where the plane vanished. Samples were being sent for testing to see if the slicks contained jet fuel.
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[Update 10:52 a.m.: Malaysian authorities now say that tests of the oil suggest that it did not come from the plane, a preliminary conclusion that will only add to the puzzle.]

The lack of debris or any other concrete sign of what ultimately happened to the plane have authorities scratching their heads. "This unprecedented missing aircraft mystery—as you can put it—it is mystifying," Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, director-general of Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation, said at a news conference in Kuala Lumpur.

The search operation has involved 34 different aircraft and 40 ships from several countries that have offered their help. According to local police, much of the effort is now focused on a 50-nautical mile radius between Malaysia and Vietnam, centered at the point where the plane, carrying 239 people, disappeared from radar screens early Saturday local time. According to the Associated Press, aviation experts say what appears increasingly to have have been a crash could have been caused by any number of things, including: "an explosion, catastrophic engine failure, terrorist attack, extreme turbulence, pilot error or even suicide."

Investigators continue to look into the two stolen passports that were used by two passengers to board the plane, although so far officials and outside experts say that was most likely a coincidence.

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