Leaders: Flight highlights need for passport checks

A poster carrying messages for the passengers of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight. Picture: Getty
A poster carrying messages for the passengers of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight. Picture: Getty
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Without a sighting of some trace of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, the mystery of how a modern airplane with 239 people on board can just disappear deepens.

But perhaps the most troubling part of the mystery, which must concern all air passengers, is how it was possible for two people carrying stolen passports to get on board.

It may eventually turn out to be the case that they had nothing to do with the aircraft falling from the skies, if indeed that is what it has done, but it seems likely. In June 2009, an Air France flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris with 216 passengers on board vanished over the south Atlantic. Its wreckage was not found for five days. The cause was eventually found to be errors the pilots made in failing to cope with severe turbulence in a heavy storm.

But while weather does not appear to be a factor in this case, something catastrophic seems to have occurred. It seems to be the case that while crossing the Gulf of Thailand, the aircraft turned back. But it is a mystery why the pilots did not communicate this to the ground, suggesting that perhaps the aircraft radio had become disabled.

If no communications were possible, then there may have been a problem that caused a long slow descent, perhaps below radar coverage. This is presumably why the search area has been extended to cover the Malaysian peninsula and even the sea on the other side of the country.

But the equally disturbing possibility also remains that the two people with the stolen passports were the cause of the problem. The fact that no terrorist group has come forward to claim responsibility suggests that they are unlikely to have been involved in a wider conspiracy and no credible theory has been put forward as to why a Malaysian airliner or its mainly Chinese passengers should have been a target.

That, however, doesn’t rule out that theory, nor does it discount the possibility that the two people may have had their own warped plan to hijack the aircraft for their own purposes.

This aspect of the mystery is disturbing because Interpol maintains a database of stolen passports, which contained the details of the travel documents used to book and board this aircraft. The database is presumably accessible by border authorities – there would be little point in maintaining it unless it were so – and yet it was not checked.

It is worrying because anyone boarding a flight in Britain to a European destination does not have their passport checked, save for a cursory glance by airport staff to make sure that pictures, faces and names match those on the boarding pass. But travel in the other direction, and most European countries make passengers pass through police checkpoints where passports are examined. Surely it must be easy to ensure that all passports are checked against Interpol’s database for every flight.

Kelly truly is the golden girl

All praise, congratulations, and even more admiration to Kelly Gallagher, whose feat in winning the gold medal in the super giant slalom at the Sochi Winter Paralympics fully deserves every superlative descriptive word.

To have little eyesight but still to be able to hurtle down a snowslope, twisting and turning through gates at speeds of up to 100mph while absorbing the instructions of a guide, is an awesome enough feat in itself.

To also come from last in a downhill race two days previously to first in this one begins to speak of a magical turnaround. To be able to overcome what she admitted was a complete lack of confidence in herself, her guide, and what they were doing tells of someone who is very special indeed.

But to be the first Briton to win an Olympic or Paralympic gold medal on snow, and thereby to fully merit what is often an overworked phrase for sporting achievement – to have entered the history books – is just terrific.

Her success is an object lesson for any aspiring sportsperson. First, you have to have genuine ability, but to take that ability up to the highest level, you have to do an awful lot of hard work in training and competing; it is 11 years since Ms Gallagher took up skiing. And don’t forget raw courage.

And while getting to that highest level and then getting beaten comprehensively sounds like a cue for self-destruction, in fact the experience, if dealt with in the right way, can be the launchpad for ultimate success.

So well done again Kelly Gallagher, and Charlotte Evans, her guide. A great achievement and one which will surely inspire many others to follow.