One of two passengers traveling with fake passports on board MH370, the missing airliner in Malaysia, reportedly looked like AC Milan and Italian footballer Mario Balotelli.
An Iranian businessman identified by Thai officials as Kazem Ali was thought to have booked tickets on behalf of the two passengers using stolen passports. The men who boarded the plane were said to have not been of "Asian appearance," the Daily Mail reports.
Malaysia's police chief was quoted by local media as saying that one of the men had been identified.
Civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman declined to confirm this, but said authorities looking at the possibility that the men were connected to a stolen passport syndicate.
"I can confirm that he is not a Malaysian, but cannot divulge which country he is from yet," he said, adding that giving their identity away could slow down the investigation.
According the National Post, when asked by a reporter what the men looked like "roughly," he said: "Do you know of a footballer by the name of (Mario) Balotell? He is an Italian. Do you know how he looks like?"
Asked if he was "black," the aviation chief replied, "Yes."
The comment sparked a response on Twitter:
V. Distasteful moment in #Malaysia crash press briefing-stolen passport holders not Asian looking,but 'like Balotelli'; media all laughing.
— Brendan May (@bmay) March 10, 2014
The announcement came as officials said the fate of the 239 passengers on board the Boeing 777 is still an "unprecedented aviation mystery," with no sign of the plane three days after it vanished.
The London Evening Standard reported that 40 ships, including some from the U.S. Seventh Fleet, and 34 planes continued to search the seas around Malaysia and southern Vietnam where the aircraft made its final contact.
According to Rahman, the search is being extended and said all security procedures were complied with.
The two men traveled from Kuala Lumpur, where the plane went missing Saturday morning, with an Italian and an Austrian passport that belonged to Luigi Maraldi and Christian Kozel. The passports were considered stolen and included in Interpol's database but ended up passing immigration control.
According to an Interpol spokeswoman, a check of all documents used to board the plane revealed more "suspect passports," which is now being investigated.
"Whilst it is too soon to speculate about any connection between these stolen passports and the missing plane, it is clearly of great concern that any passenger was able to board an international flight using a stolen passport listed in Interpol's databases," Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble said.
The one-way tickets with those names were booked from a travel agency in Pattaya, eastern Thailand, via a China Southern Airlines office in Bangkok, the International Business Times reported.