NTSB Team Heads to Asia to Assist With Malaysia Airlines Crash Investigation

malaysia airlinesThe U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has sent a team of investigators to Asia to assist with the investigations of the suspected crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 on Saturday, March 8. The Boeing 777-200 went missing on a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Beijing, China.

The flight was carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members. Three Americans including an infant were onboard. The passenger manifest from the flight is here: www.malaysiaairlines.com/content/dam/mas/master/en/pdf/Malaysia%20Airlines%20Flight%20MH%20370%20Passenger%20Manifest_Nationality.pdf

Malaysia Flight 370 disappeared from radar screens while flying in clear weather at 35,000 near the coastline of Vietnam. However, officials have yet to locate the wreckage. Families have been waiting at hotels in Beijing and Kuala Lumpur for word about their loved ones, but given the time that's passed since the plane disappeared, the airline reportedly has told families to expect the worst.

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Two oil slicks have been found in the ocean off Vietnam's coast, but officials said they're not sure if they are from the aircraft. In addition, on Sunday, authorities said a possible aircraft door was also seen in the water, but later they determined it was not from the aircraft.

Separately, the head of Malaysia's Air Force indicated on Sunday that military radar showed the missing jet may have turned back to Kuala Lumpur. Because radar showed the plane at 35,000 feet one minute, and at 0 altitude the next, the fear is that the plane may have broken apart at high altitude, either due to a mechanical failure or a possible terrorist incident.

But as yet, there is no concrete evidence as to why the plane disappeared. Typically, the NTSB and other official investigating agencies do not speculate about "cause" until a full investigation has been concluded -- which may take months and even years.

Stolen Passports and Security Concerns

Authorities said over the weekend that at least two passengers on the flight were traveling on stolen passports -- one Austrian, one Italian. Both those citizens are traveling on new passports and did not board the flight. The identity of those who did board using those stolen passports is unknown.

Over the weekend, the Washington Post also reported there may have been two more suspicious passports onboard. Agents may read that story here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/malaysia-airlines-plane-vanishes-over-south-china-sea/2014/03/08/97b1eb4a-a69f-11e3-bf3d-63f593e487a9_story.html

Malaysia Airlines said in a statement: "We are receiving many queries about how the passengers with the stolen passports purchased their tickets. We are unable to comment on this matter as this is a security issue. We can however confirm that we have given all the flight details to the authorities for further investigation."

Interpol has issued a statement expressing deep concern that passengers were able to board a flight with stolen passports that had been on its Stolen and Lost Travel Documents (SLTD) database; those stolen passports were added to the database in 2012 and 2013.

The big question is why passengers were allowed to board a flight without the passports being checked against that database. Read Interpol's press release expressing concern about that issue, which apparently is happening across the globe: http://www.interpol.int/News-and-media/News/2014/N2014-038

Caring for Families

Malaysia Airlines said its primary focus at this point in time is to care for the families of the passengers and crew of MH370. "This means providing them with timely information, travel facilities, accommodation, meals, medical and emotional support," the airline said. "The costs for these are all borne by Malaysia Airlines.

The airline has assigned one caregiver to each family; these are either well-trained airline staff members or volunteers from the airline and other organizations. In a statement over the weekend, the airline said there were more than 150 "Go Team" members consisting of senior management and caregivers at Beijing to attend to the families. A different team assisted families in Kuala Lumpur.

Accident Investigation

Malaysia Airlines has been actively cooperating with the search and rescue authorities coordinated by the Department of Civil Aviation Malaysia (DCA) and the Ministry of Transport.

It said DCA has confirmed that search-and-rescue teams from Australia, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Philippines, New Zealand and the United States of America have come forward to assist. "We are grateful for these efforts," the airline said in a statement.

Once the location of the airplane is determined, NTSB said International Civil Aviation Organization protocols will determine which country will lead the investigation.

Because of the lengthy travel time from the United States, the NTSB proactively sent its team of investigators, accompanied by technical advisers from Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration, to the area so they're in place as needed. The team departed from the U.S. on Sunday night. NTSB said the country that leads the investigation will release all information about it.

The Boeing 777-200 is considered to be one of the world's safest aircraft. The only major accident occurred last July when an Asiana Airlines plane landed short of the runway at San Francisco International Airport; three of the 307 people onboard died. However, that accident -- while still under NTSB investigation -- is thought by experts to be the result of pilot error.

Transporting Families

Malaysia Airlines said on its Web site that it's working closely with the government of China to expedite the issuance of passports for families intending to travel to Malaysia as well as with Malaysia Immigration officials on issuing visas for the Chinese citizens.

The airline is deploying an aircraft to bring families from Beijing to Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday, March 11.

Malaysia said when the aircraft is located, a Response Coordination Center (RCC) will be established within the vicinity of the crash site to support the needs of the families. This has been communicated specifically to the families. Previously, the airline said that would likely be at Kota Bharu, Malaysia or Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, but it likely depends on the location of the wreckage.

Once that center is operational, the airline will provide transport and accommodation to the designated areas for the family members.

Malaysia also said it had tapped its oneworld partners to help bring family members in other countries (beyond China) into Kuala Lumpur.

The airline said all other Malaysia Airlines’ flights are operating on schedule. "The safety of our passengers and crew has always been and will continue to be of utmost importance to us," the airline said in a statement. "We appreciate the help we are receiving from all local and international parties and agencies during this critical and difficult time."

Keep visiting www.travelagentcentral.com for further updates to this developing story. 

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