Massive search for Malaysian plane proves fruitless

Military personnel looked out of a helicopter during a search and rescue mission off Vietnam’s Tho Chu island on Monday

Malaysian authorities said Monday that no debris from a missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner had yet been recovered, despite a massive air and sea search under way for passengers and remains of the plane.

Rescuers at times on Monday gave seemingly conflicting reports on progress in a frustrating hunt for evidence that was punctuated with false leads in the open waters of the suspected crash zone.

A Vietnamese ship tracked down an object spotted from the air that resembled a life raft—only to confirm hours later that the object wasn’t a raft and wasn’t from the lost plane.

A “naval vessel has secured the object suspected to be a life raft and it turned out not to be a life raft and has no connection with the plane,” said Pham Viet Dung, chief of the administration of the Civil Aviation Authority and a coordinator of the search for the missing plane.

Later Monday, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency said lab results of samples from an oil slick discovered over the weekend confirmed that the material wasn’t jet fuel.

Related: The use of stolen passports by two passengers on Malaysia Airlines 3786.KU -4.00% Flight 370 raised concerns over possible weaknesses in immigration and aviation security.

Law-enforcement officials said the stolen passports would have been detected during immigration checks if they had been screened against an international police database—raising questions about the rigor of preflight security checks in Malaysia and elsewhere.

Interpol, the international police coordinating agency, estimates that passengers were able to board aircraft more than a billion times last year without having their passports screened against the agency’s databases.

“The world is speculating whether the stolen passport holders were terrorists, while Interpol is asking why only a handful of countries world-wide are taking care to make sure that persons possessing stolen passports are not boarding international flights,” Ronald Noble, secretary-general of Interpol, said Sunday.

From The Daily Mail: Images have emerged of two plane tickets believed to have been purchased using stolen passports for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight.

Electronic booking records show that one-way tickets with those names were issued Thursday from a travel agency in the beach resort of Pattaya in eastern Thailand.

Thai police Col. Supachai Phuykaeokam said those reservations were placed with the agency by a second travel agency in Pattaya, which in turn made the bookings through a China Southern Airlines office in Bangkok.

The owners of the second Pattaya travel agency, which police said caters mostly to Iranian travelers, refused to talk to reporters. Thai police and Interpol officers went in to question the owners.

Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said on Sunday that officials have footage of the two men, and were examining it. He said local and international intelligence agencies were involved in the investigation.

More: One of two men who boarded doomed Air Malaysia flight on a stolen passport looked like Mario Balotelli’: Authorities reveal key clue as they hunt Mr Ali, mystery Iranian businessman who booked their tickets.

h/t Tom Billesley