Twenty-two aircraft and 40 ships from half-a-dozen countries were pressed into a frantic search operation across the South China Sea on Sunday as fears grew over the fate of the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 aircraft carrying 239 people.

There were conflicting reports on Sunday whether the 30-hour rescue operation had yielded a breakthrough.

Vietnamese officials on Sunday evening said their Navy had spotted “fragments” floating in the waters off southern Vietnam. Airline officials, however, said they could not confirm if the fragments were aircraft debris. The Malaysian government said it was investigating the identities of at least two passengers who boarded the aircraft using stolen passports. An Italian and an Austrian named on the passenger manifest were not on board, and had reported having their passports stolen in Thailand last year.

It emerged that both passengers had been booked to travel onward from Beijing to Amsterdam (as transit passengers, they would not need Chinese visas). While officials said there was no clear evidence of terrorism, they were not ruling out any possibilities.

Malaysia’s air force chief said the airliner may have turned back from its scheduled route before it vanished from radar screens.

“The fact that we are unable to find any debris so far appears to indicate that the aircraft is likely to have disintegrated at around 35,000 feet,” a source involved in the probe told Reuters.

(With inputs from agencies)

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