Martine Rolls: Spooked by spectre of stolen passports

By Martine Rolls

1 comment
They still haven't found the wreckage of the missing  Air Malaysia Boeing 777
They still haven't found the wreckage of the missing Air Malaysia Boeing 777

Anyone who knows me well enough knows that I'm usually pretty gutsy, fairly level-headed and that I do not suffer from any phobias.

I am well aware that air travel is statistically safer than crossing the road, but since I've started following the online thread about the missing Air Malaysia Boeing 777, I've been feeling a little nervous.

While writing this, there has still not been a confirmed sighting of wreckage from the plane that vanished in the seas between Malaysia and Vietnam early on Saturday.

The weather was fine, the plane was already cruising and the pilots did not send out any distress signals at all.

I wouldn't call myself a frequent flyer, if only I had the funds, but I've departed from Kuala Lumpur several times and I've flown in and out of Beijing as well.

They were transfers on the way to either Amsterdam or Auckland, but I know the airports reasonably well, especially KL. I suppose that's what gives me that extra eerie feeling.

By the time this column goes to print, we may know more about what happened to the aircraft with 239 people on board.

So far, it is a complete mystery why the plane suddenly disappeared while cruising over the South China Sea.

Then again, we could stay in the dark much longer about those people's faith as I read that finding traces of an aircraft that disappears over sea can take a long time, even with a continued search effort.

Apparently, it took two years to find the main wreckage of an Air France jet that plunged into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009.

Establishing what happened to flight MH370 with any certainty will need data from flight recorders and a detailed examination of debris, something that will take months if not years. That's if they find those black boxes at all.

What I found particularly distressing was reading an online article that pointed out some of the possible causes for the plane disappearing.

Authorities are checking on the identities of at least two passengers who have boarded with stolen passports and that makes someone sabotaging the plane a real possibility.

It could also be caused by catastrophic failure of the plane's engines or a sudden and extreme change of weather conditions.

Experts seem to agree that it must have been something very sudden that either tore the aeroplane apart or caused it to fall into a quick, steep dive.

But what puzzles me most is those two stolen passports. They were registered in the Interpol database, but no one had checked that.

I then read that most airlines and countries do not usually check for stolen passports.

Does this really mean that with all the tight security we have today at modern airports, passports don't get properly checked before passengers are allowed to board?

We get our hands and eyes scanned at some locations and cannot bring a full sized deodorant aerosol on board, but someone can tamper with a stolen passport and fly around the world with it?

That makes no sense at all.

Further investigation on a whole bunch of news websites teaches me that more than 1 billion times last year, travellers boarded planes without their passports being checked against Interpol's database of 40 million stolen or lost travel documents.

Yes, you read that right. The database holds the details of 40 million missing travel documents.

Interpol names lack of police resources, privacy concerns, or political hostilities with other countries for the failure of several countries not to check passports against the global database.

I'm about to book a long-haul flight for me and the kids so we can see our family in Europe again in August and although I doubt we'd ever fall victim to a terrorist attack, I still don't feel that comfortable about booking those airfares right now.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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