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Why are the cellphones of missing Malaysian Airlines passengers still ringing? Relatives claim that smartphones are still active as the search zone now switches to entirely new area

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  • Cellphones and smartphones of the missing aboard Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 are still ringing according to reports
  • The unsettling development has increased the frustration of relatives who have received no information on their missing friends and relatives
  • According to Chinese media 19 families of missing passengers have claimed to be connected
  • This comes as reports from the BBC claim that the two men who used stolen passports were Iranian in origin
  • Investigators in Malaysia are voicing skepticism that the airliner that disappeared early Saturday with 239 people on board was the target of an attack
  • The fate of the Malaysian airliner that vanished about an hour into a flight to Beijing remained a mystery, as a massive air and sea search, now in its third day, failed to turn up any trace of the Boeing 777

By James Nye

PUBLISHED: 04:20 GMT, 11 March 2014 | UPDATED: 06:16 GMT, 11 March 2014

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The 'unprecedented mystery' behind the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH 370 deepened on Monday when relatives claimed they were able to call the cellphones of their missing loved ones.

According to the Washington Post, family of some of the 239 people on board the vanished Boeing 777 said that they were getting ring tones and could see them active online through a Chinese social networking service called QQ.

One man said that the QQ account of his brother-in-law showed him as online, but frustratingly for those waiting desperately for any news, messages sent have gone unanswered and the calls have not been picked up.

This new eerie development comes as the Malaysian authorities said they were now switching the focus of their search zone for the plane southwards - on the other side of the Malaysian peninsular.

This would mean that if the plane crashed there it would have had to fly over the country, presumably undetected.

Media interest: Relatives of Chinese passengers on Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 were still clutching to faint straws of hope for their loved ones on March 11, four days after the aircraft went missing

Media interest: Relatives of Chinese passengers on Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 were still clutching to faint straws of hope for their loved ones on March 11, four days after the aircraft went missing

Agonizing wait: Chinese relatives of passengers aboard a missing Malaysia Airlines plane wait for the latest news inside a hotel room for relatives or friends of passengers aboard the missing airplane in Beijing, China Tuesday, on March 11, 2014.

Agonizing wait: Chinese relatives of passengers aboard a missing Malaysia Airlines plane wait for the latest news inside a hotel room for relatives or friends of passengers aboard the missing airplane in Beijing, China Tuesday, on March 11, 2014.

Emotional: A relative of passengers on Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 cries in the waiting lounge in Lido Hotel in Beijing

Emotional: A relative of passengers on Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 cries in the waiting lounge in Lido Hotel in Beijing

Fraught: Relatives wait for news about passengers of a missing Malaysia Airlines plane in a Beijing hotel meeting room on Tuesday

Fraught: Relatives wait for news about passengers of a missing Malaysia Airlines plane in a Beijing hotel meeting room on Tuesday

No news: Relatives wait for any news in the Beijing hotel as crash investigators in Malaysia announced they were widening their search for the missing Boeing 777 that disappeared on Saturday

The phantom phone calls and online presence set off a whole new level of hysteria for relatives who have spent the past three-days cooped-up in a Beijing hotel waiting for some concrete information on the missing plane.

Repeatedly telling Malaysian Airlines officials about the QQ accounts and ringing telephone calls, they hoped that modern technology could simply triangulate the GPS signal of the phones and locate their relatives.

However, according to Singapore's Strait Times, a Malaysia Airlines official, Hugh Dunleavy has confirmed to families that his company had tried to call the cellphones of crew members and they too had also rang out.

He is reported to have told relatives that those phone numbers have been turned over to Chinese authorities.

One man who had asked police to come to his house and see the active QQ account on his computer was devastated to see that by Monday afternoon it had switched to inactive.

According to China.org.cn, 19 families of those missing have signed a joint statement confirming that their calls connected to their loved ones but that they rang out.

The relatives have asked for a full investigation and some complained that Malaysian Airlines is not telling the whole truth.

Family members of passengers onboard flight MH370 arrive in a car to the hotel they are staying at, in Putrajaya on March 11, 2014

Family members of passengers onboard flight MH370 arrive in a car to the hotel they are staying at, in Putrajaya on March 11, 2014

Family members of passengers onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 from Beijing arrive at Cyberview Lodge Hotel as they await news on their missing loved ones

Family members of passengers onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 from Beijing arrive at Cyberview Lodge Hotel as they await news on their missing loved ones

No answers yet: Family members from Beijing, China, of a missing Malaysian Airlines flight arrive at a hotel in Cyberjaya, near Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Sepang, Selangor, Malaysia on Tuesday morning

No answers yet: Family members from Beijing, China, of a missing Malaysian Airlines flight arrive at a hotel in Cyberjaya, near Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Sepang, Selangor, Malaysia on Tuesday morning

Hopeful family members from Beijing, China, of a missing Malaysian Airlines flight arrive at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Tuesday morning as they wait for any news

Hopeful family members from Beijing, China, of a missing Malaysian Airlines flight arrive at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Tuesday morning as they wait for any news

A board displaying messages for the passengers from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is seen at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang on March 11, 2014

A board displaying messages for the passengers from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is seen at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang on March 11, 2014

The International Business Times reported that the sister of one of the Chinese passengers also rang his phone on live television.

'This morning, around 11:40, I called my older brother's number twice, and I got the ringing tone,' said Bian Liangwei, sister of one of the passengers according to IBT.

At 2pm, Bian called again and heard it ringing once more.

'If I could get through, the police could locate the position, and there's a chance he could still be alive.'

However, at a press conference in Beijing, Malaysian Airlines spokesman Ignatius Ong said one of the numbers that had been passed on to the airline's head office in Kuala Lumpur failed to get through.

'I myself have called the number five times while the airline's command center also called the number. We got no answering tone,' said Ong.

Indeed, authorities Authorities hunting for the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner expanded their search on land and sea Tuesday, reflecting the difficulties in locating traces of the plane more than three days after it vanished.

Malaysia Airlines said in a statement the western coast of the country, near the Straits of Malacca, was 'now the focus' of the hunt. That is on the other side of peninsular Malaysia from where flight 370 was reported missing.

Shift of focus: Azharuddin Abdul Rahman (R), director general of the Department of Civil Aviation of Malaysia, speaks during a press conference on March 10, 2014 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Shift of focus: Azharuddin Abdul Rahman (R), director general of the Department of Civil Aviation of Malaysia, speaks during a press conference on March 10, 2014 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Vietnamese officers discuss their plan during a meeting before a mission to find the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 at Phu Quoc Airport on Phu Quoc Island March 11, 2014

Vietnamese officers discuss their plan during a meeting before a mission to find the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 at Phu Quoc Airport on Phu Quoc Island March 11, 2014

Civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said the statement didn't imply authorities believed the plane was off the western coast. 'The search is on both sides,' he said.

The Boeing 777 had 239 people on board when it vanished off radar screens early Saturday morning en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, triggering a massive international search effort.

Authorities began their hunt at the point the plane was last known to be, a spot in the seas between Malaysia and Vietnam. With no debris found, they have systematically expanded their search to include areas where the plane could have in theory ended up given the amount of fuel it had on board.

They have also said that the plane might have tried to turn back to Kuala Lumpur. On Sunday, Malaysia's air force chief said there were indications on military radar that the jet may have done a U-turn.

Vietnamese planes and ships are a major component of the international search and rescue effort.

Search: A U.S. Navy SH-60R Seahawk helicopter takes off from the destroyer USS Pinckney in the Gulf of Thailand, to assist in the search for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 on Monday

Search: A U.S. Navy SH-60R Seahawk helicopter takes off from the destroyer USS Pinckney in the Gulf of Thailand, to assist in the search for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 on Monday

Lt. Gen. Vo Van Tuan, deputy chief of staff of Vietnamese People's Army, said authorities on land had also been ordered to search for the plane, which could have crashed into mountains or uninhabited jungle.

He said that military units near the border with Laos and Cambodia had been instructed to search their regions also.

'So far we have found no signs (of the plane) ... so we must widen our search on land,' he said.

Experts say possible causes of the apparent crash include an explosion, catastrophic engine failure, extreme turbulence, pilot error or even suicide.

This deepening of the already baffling mystery into the disappearance of flight MH370 comes as it was claimed that the two passengers traveling on stolen passports on the plane were Iranian nationals.

A friend of one of the two men told BBC Persia that he played host to the pair in Kuala Lumpur after their arrival from Tehran before they took off on the fateful journey.

This photo provided by Laurent Errera taken Dec. 26, 2011, shows the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER that disappeared from air traffic control screens Saturday, taking off from Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport in France

This photo provided by Laurent Errera taken Dec. 26, 2011, shows the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER that disappeared from air traffic control screens Saturday, taking off from Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport in France

The source told the BBC service that the pair had bought the fake passports because they wanted to go and live in Europe.

The two men were using the passports of Christian Kozel - a 30-year-old Austrian and Luigi Maraldi, a 37-year-old Italian.

The friend, who knew one of the men from school said that both purchased the illegal and fake passports in Malaysia and one-way tickets to Amsterdam.

BBC Persia's UN correspondent Bahman Kalbasi told the UK's Daily Telegraph newspaper that the two men were not sinister and were only 'looking for a place to settle.'

Investigators in Malaysia are voicing skepticism that the airliner that disappeared early Saturday with 239 people on board was the target of an attack, U.S. and European government sources close to the probe said.

Disappeared: Map locates search area for missing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370, which departed from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing

Disappeared: Map locates search area for missing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370, which departed from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing

The fate of the Malaysian airliner that vanished about an hour into a flight to Beijing remained a mystery, as a massive air and sea search, now in its third day, failed to turn up any trace of the Boeing 777 plane.

Neither Malaysia's Special Branch, the agency leading the investigation locally, nor spy agencies in the United States and Europe have ruled out the possibility that militants may have been involved in downing Malaysia Airlines Flight.

But Malaysian authorities have indicated that the evidence so far does not strongly back an attack as a cause for the aircraft's disappearance, and that mechanical or pilot problems could have led to the apparent crash, the U.S. sources said.

'There is no evidence to suggest an act of terror,' said a European security source, who added that there was also 'no explanation what's happened to it or where it is.'

Chinese and international journalists wait at the check-in area for Malaysian Airlines at Capital Airport in Beijing, China on Monday

Chinese and international journalists wait at the check-in area for Malaysian Airlines at Capital Airport in Beijing, China on Monday

Meanwhile, dozens of ships and aircraft from 10 countries were still scouring the seas around Malaysia and south of Vietnam as questions mounted over possible security lapses that could have led to a downing of the Boeing 777-200ER after it climbed to an altitude of 35,000 feet.

Interpol confirmed on Sunday at least two passengers used stolen passports and said it was checking whether others aboard had used false identity documents.

Even so, one U.S. source said Malaysian authorities were leaning away from the theory that the plane was attacked.

Their view was mostly based on electronic evidence that indicates the flight may have turned back toward the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur before disappearing.

Even that information has not been clearly confirmed, and investigators and intelligence sources say the fate of the Flight MH370 is still shrouded in mystery.

Chinese students stand by candles while praying for the passengers aboard the missing Boeing 777-200 plane of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 at a school in Zhuji city, east Chinas Zhejiang province

Chinese students stand by candles while praying for the passengers aboard the missing Boeing 777-200 plane of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 at a school in Zhuji city, east Chinas Zhejiang province

One reason was that the aircraft had failed to make automatic contact with a flight data-monitoring system after vanishing from radar screens, two people familiar with the matter said on Monday.

Such contact could have helped investigators determine what happened.

Also raising doubts about the possibility of an attack, the United States extensively reviewed imagery taken by spy satellites for evidence of a mid-air explosion, but saw none, a US government source said. The source described U.S. satellite coverage of the region as thorough.

With no success so far, authorities were planning to widen the search from Tuesday, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, the head of Malaysia's Civil Aviation Authority, told reporters on Monday.

'Unfortunately we have not found anything that appears to be objects from the aircraft, let alone the aircraft,' he said.

'As far as we are concerned, we have to find the aircraft. We have to find a piece of the aircraft if possible.'

Azharuddin said a hijacking attempt could not be ruled out as investigators explore all theories.

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