Uncertainly over the fate of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was further compounded Saturday by reports that two men whose names matched those on the passenger manifest had reported their passports stolen.
Malaysian authorities apparently did not check the stolen documents on an international law enforcement agency database, CNN has learned.
After the airline released a manifest of the 239 people on the plane, Austria denied that one of its citizens was on the flight as the list had stated. The Austrian citizen was safe and sound, and his passport had been stolen two years ago, Austrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Weiss said.
Similarly, Italy’s foreign ministry confirmed that no Italians were on the flight, even though an Italian was listed on the manifest. Malaysian officials said they were aware of reports that the Italian’s passport was also stolen but had not confirmed it.
On Saturday, Italian police visited the home of the parents of Luigi Maraldi, the man whose name appeared on the manifest, to inform them about the missing flight, said a police official in Cesena, in northern Italy.
Maraldi’s father, Walter, told police that he had just spoken to his son, who was fine and not on the missing flight, said the official, who is not authorized to speak to the media. Maraldi was vacationing in Thailand, his father said. The police official said that Maraldi had reported his passport stolen in Malaysia last August and had obtained a new one.
U.S. law enforcement sources, however, told CNN they’ve been told that both documents were stolen in Thailand.
Still, the missing passports raised concerns about the possibility of terrorism.
A law enforcement official Saturday told CNN that various U.S. government agencies were briefed about the passports. The names of the persons whose passports were stolen have been circulated and checked, the official said. There’s nothing at this point to indicate foul play on their part.
The National Transportation Safety Board announced late Saturday that a team of its investigators was en route to Asia to help with the investigation, the agency said.
“They will be positioned to offer U.S. assistance,” the NTSB said of the team, which also includes technical advisers from Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration.
The FBI is ready to send agents to Asia if requested by the Malaysian government, but no agents have been sent yet, U.S. officials familiar with the issue told CNN on Saturday night on condition of anonymity. Earlier Saturday, an official said FBI agents were heading to the area.
U.S. authorities have not ruled out terrorism — or anything else — as a cause of the airliner’s disappearance.
CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, a former FBI assistant director, was told by sources at Interpol, which keeps a database of lost or stolen travel documents, that the stolen Italian passport was in the agency’s database. The reportedly stolen Austrian passport was not. Malaysian authorities apparently did not check Interpol’s database, sources told Fuentes.