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11 March 2014

Stolen passports and Malaysia Airlines flight MH370

The ongoing investigation into the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370; a 777 that went missing about an hour after it departed from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for Beijing, China; continues to have a high level of media interest because no trace of the aircraft has yet to be found.

One of the leads that are being pursued by several authorities, including law enforcement agencies, was the use of stolen passports by two passengers.

These two men, Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad, 19, and Delavar Syed Mohammad Reza, 29, are alleged by Malaysian authorities to have used stolen passports to board flight MH370

While there is no evidence that these two passengers had anything to do with the disappearance of the aircraft, it does raise questions about the use of stolen passports and the ability of authorities prevent passengers from traveling with false documents.

A member of the audience provided some information that suggests that the the problem may be more widespread and insidious than just stolen passports. What follows are two alleged incidents of government officials offering passengers cash to engage in what were likely illegal activities.

Incident #1 - Offered $1,000 to carry two bottles
In 2011, this audience member, who was a citizen of India studying in Europe, was traveling from London to India. After arriving in New Delhi, an immigration officer asked him about his final destination. After learning that he was taking a domestic flight to another city in India, the immigration officer offered him the equivalent of $1,000 USD to carry a bag containing two bottles to his destination airport. He refused. Also, he was encouraged by friends and family to NOT report the incident to the police.

Incident #2 - Offered $4,000 to change travel plans
About two years ago, an acquaintance of the audience member was traveling on an international flight from Kuala Lumpur, Maylaysia to Kolkata, India, and at the immigration counter in Malaysia, an immigration officer offered this passenger the equivalent of $4,000 USD to travel to Taiwan rather than to India, and to deliver a pair of suitcases containing toys to someone in Taiwan.

In addition to the money, he was also a two-day stay at a resort in Taiwan. The Malaysian immigration officer also guaranteed that the passenger would get a passport with a Taiwan visa on it within a couple of minutes, which would have enabled that person to travel legally to Taiwan. This person also refused this offer.

If true, these incidents would imply that misuse of passports in air travel is not limited to criminals, but may also involve government officials entrusted with ensuring the safety and security of all airline passengers. The audience member also shared some additional concerns about his experiences:

"I am not sure if immigration officers are checking the honesty of passengers or if there is a network which they are running to make more money. But after learning about some fake passport involved in the flight 370, I think it could have some potential relevance."

Dr. Curtis 16 March 2014 Radio New Zealand interview (14:11)
Dr. Curtis 15 March 2014 BBC interview (8:58)
Dr. Curtis 13 March 2014 BBC interview (7:23)

BBC radio interview from 13 March 2014 discussing the possibility that the aircraft continued to fly for several hours.


  1. Hi Todd, when I flew from Casablanca to JFK two years ago, the Air Maroc 767 cockpit door was open the entire time--literally waving back and forth. I was in business class (a joke on Air Maroc, but that's another story). The captain kept coming out and hanging out with a friend in business class--leaving the door open and the co pilot alone for 20-30 minutes. The door was not secured until just before landing in NYC when we entered US space. I would never fly Air Maroc again. When I asked someone at the FAA, he said that international airlines can do whatever they want relative to security.

  2. About the aircraft's disappearance I wonder
    why nobody talk about ACARS messages which are automatically sent to company ground station whenever a malfunction arise. When it happened to AF447 in 2009, a high number of this kind of messages where sent from the aircraft giving the possibility at least to ascertain what really happened through the flight parameters.

  3. Flights should not have abilities to disable the communication devices, by default

  4. Now we are aware on the fact that all identification/malfunctioning systems were shut down in the aircraft. I've been flying several times in cockpit and I've met thousands of technical crew and I know that Capt & First Officer are not so familiar/skilled with the aircraft's avionics like those belonging to the maintenance crew, thus, since no flight or ground engineer was on board the flight, somebody of the latter could have given the key on how to deactivate the systems. Of course this is simply another hypothesis.