TODAY   |  March 09, 2014

Missing plane may have attempted to turn back

Malaysian authorities say a military radar indicates the missing Malaysia Airlines plane may have attempted to turn back before disappearing. Now, a massive international search is underway, involving 40 ships and 22 airplanes. NBC’s Tom Costello reports.

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>> been more than 36 hours since that malaysia airlines plane disappeared. the search operation to find it is getting larger.

>> here are the latest developments. 50-year-old philip wood was identified as one of the american victims on board, an ibm executive from north texas .

>> during a press conference malaysian officials say they're looking into the possibility that the jet tried to turn around to head back to kuala lumpur international airport .

>> united states is sending multiple teams to the region if needed. investigators from the nt stfrnlthsb and faa on the way. malaysian officials are also in talks with the fbi.

>> our team is in place to cover it all. we want to begin with tom costello with the latest on the investigation as to where the plane may be and what could have gone wrong. tom, good morning.

>> reporter: malaysian authorities say radar may indicate the plane attempted to turn back before it disappeared. this massive international search involving 40 ships and 22 aircraft including ships and planes from the u.s.

>> reporter: sunrise in the waters south of vietnam brought an all-out search for malaysia airlines flight 370. what may be the only trace of the plane, two large fuel slicks in vietnamese waters.

>> our search now has been extended to even wider areas because there is the possibility -- looking at the possibility of an aircraft air turn-back.

>> reporter: the plane left kuala lumpur at 12:30 a.m . saturday, the overnight flight to beijing with 239 passengers and crew. among them, american philip wood, an ibm executive from texas. one to two hours into the flight at 35,000 feet, air traffic controllers suddenly lost contact with the plane. in 2014 modern jet liners rarely just disappear.

>> that the plane simply disappeared indicates some sort of catastrophic event which prevented the flight crew from sending out any kind of distress call .

>> reporter: also of concern to investigators, two europeans who were listed as passengers, an austrian and italian were never on the plane. both reported their passports stolen in thailand within the past two years. who used their stolen passports to board the plane and what were their intentions?

>> the u.s. intelligence community got very energized because you want to know who are these people traveling on these false papers? did they have involvement? how did they get on the plane?

>> reporter: the plane is among the world's most reliable, boeing 777 200 series . in august 2012 , this plane lost the tip of a wing after clipping another plane in shanghai. that damage was repaired. last summer's crash of asiana flight 214 in sdpran was the first fatal accident involving a boeing 777 since its introduction in the 1990s . investigators believe that was the result of pilot error . this morning the search for flight 370 continues. an ntsb team is en route to assist in the investigation. meanwhile malaysian authorities say they're looking at closed circuit television images of the two individuals who used those false passports. there may be two more passengers with suspicious identities. that would bring to four the total. the malaysians are consulting with the fbi. the possible explanations for this missing plane include a total engine and electrical system shutdown, catastrophic failure of the fuselage, turbulence or even terrorism. we have no idea at this point.

>> tom costello this morning. thanks.