Search Goes On For Jetliner That Mysteriously Disappeared

Authorities continue to piece together scant clues as to why a Malaysia Airlines flight disappeared over the weekend. The plane was headed from Malaysia to China with 239 people aboard.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And more and more countries are joining the effort to find a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet that went missing early Saturday morning. The flight was headed from Malaysia to China with 239 people onboard.

NPR's Anthony Kuhn joins us from Beijing to discuss the latest details. Good morning.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Hello, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, this is a massive search, yet it still seems like this flight has just disappeared. I mean, what have they found so far?

KUHN: Very little, Renee. There are about 40 ships and more than two dozen aircraft from around nine nations in the area, all looking for traces of the plane. They started at the last-known location of the plane, and they're searching in an area around 50 square nautical miles from that. Over the weekend, there were several reports of debris sighted in the area. The Vietnamese, for example, said they saw something from a military plane that looks like it could have been the airplane door of the missing flight. Malaysian civil aviation authorities have come out and said no. So, none of these sightings have proved conclusive. None of these sightings of debris or anything can be positively linked to the missing plane.

MONTAGNE: Well, let's talk about what seems like unusual activity among some of the passengers. We've heard that two are believed to have boarded the plane with stolen passports. I gather also five passengers checked in, but they did not board. What is that all about, and what's the latest?

KUHN: On the flight's manifest were listed an Italian and an Austrian passenger. Neither of those two people boarded the plane. They were later found elsewhere. But people using their passports, which were both stolen in Thailand, did get aboard the plane, and Malaysian authorities are using surveillance camera video footage to try to determine who they are. Those two passports were on a database belonging to Interpol. Interpol said Malaysia Airlines never checked with them about these stolen passports. Now, they're going over all of the passports used to board that plane, to see if there were any more that were stolen. Also, we learned this morning from the Malaysian civil aviation authorities that five people checked into that flight who did not board. Now, those people's luggage was taken off the plane, and nothing was found to be amiss. None of the luggage from those people stayed on the plane. But there have been some irregularities, and these are things they have to check into to make sure there was no foul play.

MONTAGNE: Well, does this suggest that Malaysia has unusually lax security at its airport?

KUHN: Well, they have come in for some criticism, particularly from passengers' families, the media and Interpol, who says that actually a lot of airports are not checking passengers' passports against their stolen documents list. Now, here in Beijing, Malaysia Airlines officials have come for some pretty tough questioning from Chinese media, who I think are reflecting the concerns of the passengers' families who are here in Beijing.

MONTAGNE: And what about the passengers' families? How are they holding up under this unique ordeal of not knowing at all what's happening?

KUHN: Obviously, it's been very difficult for them, Renee, as you can imagine. At some point, passions have boiled over. Today, people saw water bottles being hurled at Malaysia Airlines officials. Others have gone to the Chinese government to demand a meeting and ask for explanations. And they're divided as to where to go from here. Some of them want to go down to Malaysia. Malaysia Airlines has offered to take them there. Others feel they're just not getting any information at any rate, so there's just no point in going. So, it's a very hard situation for them to know what to do with.

MONTAGNE: Well, we'll be following this story, of course. And thank you very much, Anthony.

KUHN: You're welcome, Renee.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Anthony Kuhn, speaking to us from Beijing.

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