With oil slicks spotted in the South China Sea and the search for Flight MH370 abandoned until morning, scrutiny has turned on a manifest list of passengers published by Malaysia Airlines on its website. Two of the names on the list, Luigi Maraldi and Christian Kozel, have now been reported alive and well.
Luigi Maraldi, aged 37, an Italian from Cesena, phoned his family to reassure them he was safe and well in Thailand. His passport was stolen there last year.
Christian Kozel, a 30-year-old Austrian, also phoned his family to say he was not aboard the apparently doomed flight. His passport was stolen in Thailand two years ago and he was found by police at home. The foreign ministries of Austria and Italy have both verified that the men are safe and well.
An Austrian Foreign Ministry spokesman in Vienna said: "Our embassy got the information that there was an Austrian on board. That was the passenger list from Malaysia Airlines. Our system came back with a note that this is a stolen passport."
Now the airline, already under fierce pressure for their handling of the incident, will need to discover who was traveling on the 777-200 using stolen passports – and why. Asked about the possibility of a terrorist link Malaysia's Deputy Transport Minister Datuk Abdul Aziz Kaprawi said no possibility was being ruled out,
"We cannot reveal too many details about our security. We have reviewed the closed-circuit television video footage pertaining to passengers and their baggages. So far, we are satisfied with everything."
As to the cause of what seems almost certain to be a crash, investigators will focus on how it was that the plane apparently disappeared without any warning signal, in good weather, piloted by an experienced crew.
The 777 is known to be one of the world's safest aircraft, and prior to last year's San Francisco crash had never been involved in a fatal incident, though this particular 777-200 was apparently involved in a minor incident when taxiing at Shanghai's Pudong airport when its wing hit the tail of another plane – damage was said to be substantial.
Hundreds of relatives of those aboard are being accommodated in a Beijing hotel while they wait for news. The search for Flight MH370 will resume at first light.