The persisting mystery over what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 took a somewhat bizarre turn Monday with rumors and conspiracy theories arising from reports by some relatives of the missing passengers that they were able to connect to the cellphones of their missing loved ones.
Others said they found the accounts of their loved ones on a popular Chinese social networking service called QQ still active, indicating that the missing passengers were online.
According to the relatives, the cellphones of the missing passengers are still ringing instead of going to voice mail, although no one picks them up.
A man showed the police the active QQ account of a missing co-worker who was on board the flight, indicating he was still online. He said he sent messages but received no replies.
The "phantom phone calls," as some media reports have labeled them, have sparked off new desperate hope and hysteria among relatives of the missing passengers who are experiencing conflicting emotions of grief, anger and frustration after three days of waiting for information about what happened to their loved ones.
Some of the relatives have accused the investigating authorities of withholding information, demanding to know why the authorities are not trying to use the phone signals to track down the missing passengers.
China.org.cn reports that 19 families signed a statement saying they have been able to connect to the cellphones of their missing relatives and that the calls do not go to voice mail as expected if the phones were in airplane mode or damaged in a fatal plane crash.
The families demanded investigation, alleging they were not being told the whole truth.
According to the International Business Times, the sister of one of the passengers, Bian Liangwei, rang her missing brother's phone live on Chinese television.
She said: "This morning, around 11:40, I called my older brother's number twice, and I got the ringing tone."
She said she connected to her brother’s cellphone again at about 2 p.m. She argued, "If I could get through, the police could locate the position, and there's a chance he could still be alive."
The Singapore Strait Times reports that a Malaysia Airlines official acknowledged that the company got a ring tone when officials tried to call the phone of some of the crew members.
The airlines said it had given the numbers of the crew members to the investigating authorities.
In spite of the excitement among relatives of the missing passengers over the "phantom calls," some experts have weighed in saying that the ring tones do not necessarily mean that the phones of the missing passengers are still on and working.
An expert, Jeff Kagan, told NBC News, "That does not mean the phone you are calling is ringing yet. The network is searching for the phone. First based on where it last was, then it expands. Then if the network can't find the phone, the call terminates."
Kagan explained that the response you get when you call a dead phone depends, among other variables, on the type of phone and the network. He said it is possible to get a ring tone on some networks when calling a phone in airplane mode, out of range or damaged.
He explained that the ring tone is heard for a few seconds while the network tries to make connection before it hangs up if it is unable to do so.
The reaction to the "phantom calls" appears to reflect the emotional states of the families of the missing passengers after three days of frustrating wait for information about their missing loved ones.
According to the Washington Post, many of the relatives were angry that Malaysia Airlines failed to contact them in the first 15 hours after the plane disappeared. They also blamed the Chinese government for not contacting them until Monday, three days after the plane went missing.
The families signed a petition demanding answers to their questions. On Monday, they vented their anger and frustration on officials, throwing water bottles at them and shouting demands angrily while officials tried to calm them down.
Meanwhile, authorities have announced that they have identified one of the two men who used stolen passports to board the Malaysia Airlines flight.
Officials said it was not likely he was a terrorist.
According to investigators, he was 19-year-old Iranian asylum seeker Pouiria Nur Mohammad Mehrdad, traveling to Germany to meet his mother.
According to The Daily Mail, a friend of one of the two men told the BBC that they stayed with him in Kuala Lumpur after arriving from Iran.
The source said he knew one of the men from school and that they were not terrorists.
He said they bought fake passports in Malaysia only because they wanted to go to Europe.
Authorities have also announced that based on suspicions that failure to find the remains of the plane could be due to the plane having changed course before crashing, they have expanded the area of their search on sea and land.
However, investigators are now less convinced that the disappearance was due to a terrorist attack.
According to a security source, it seems more likely that the crash was due a major mechanical problem or an issue involving the pilot.