Where do you even begin to look, when the search area covers vast swaths of land and water, stretching thousands of miles, from Kazakhstan to the Indian Ocean?
That’s the question for Malaysian officials and authorities from 24 other nations as people search for a ninth day, trying to find Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and the 239 people on board.
As the search area grows bigger, authorities are also increasing their scrutiny of the pilots, searching their homes in the quest for clues. That includes a flight simulator from the captain’s home.
It also includes interviewing the engineers who were in contact with MH370 before it took off, according to a statement from acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein to BERNAMA, Malaysia’s official news agency. The transport minister characterized the interviews as “normal procedure.”
“Police are still working on it. … Nothing conclusive yet,” a senior police official who has direct knowledge of the investigation told CNN on Sunday night, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak to the press.
With news that the Boeing 777-200ER might have flown for six and a half hours after its transponder stopped sending signals March 8, officials said the expanding search area extends over 11 countries, stretching as far north as Kazakhstan, a large nation in Central Asia far from any ocean.
“This is a significant recalibration of the search,” Malaysia’s acting Transportation Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Sunday.
There are still more questions than answers about the missing flight. Figuring out the motive of whoever apparently steered the plane off course is key, analysts told CNN Sunday.
“I think they had an end game in mind from the very beginning,” CNN aviation analyst Jim Tilmon said, “and they have executed a lot of things that have led us down a road. Are we going to the right place? I’m not sure.”
The plane disappeared on March 8, en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Airline CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said Sunday the missing passenger jet took off with its normal amount of fuel needed for the roughly six-hour flight and did not have extra fuel on board that could have extended its range.
One of the nations involved in the search, Pakistan, said Sunday that the plane never showed up on its civilian radars and would have been treated as a threat if it had.
The Times of India reported that India’s military also said there was no way the plane could have flown over India without being picked up on radar.
A study of the flight’s cargo manifest showed there were no dangerous materials on board that concerned investigators, he told reporters.
Investigators are still looking into the backgrounds of the passengers to see whether any of them were trained pilots.
“There are still a few countries who have yet to respond to our request for a background check,” said Khalid Abu Bakar, inspector general of the Royal Malaysian Police Force. “But there are a few … foreign intelligence agencies who have cleared all the(ir) passengers.”
U.S. intelligence officials are leaning toward the theory that “those in the cockpit” — the captain and co-pilot — were responsible for the mysterious disappearance, a U.S. official with direct knowledge of the latest thinking told CNN.
The official emphasized no final conclusions have been drawn and all the internal intelligence discussions are based on preliminary assessments of what is known to date.
Other scenarios could still emerge. The notion of a hijacking has not been ruled out, the official said Saturday.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters on Saturday that the plane veered off course due to apparent deliberate action taken by somebody on board.