Pilots, passengers of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 under scrutiny

Flight 370 pilots' homes searched
Flight 370 pilots' homes searched

    JUST WATCHED

    Flight 370 pilots' homes searched

MUST WATCH

Flight 370 pilots' homes searched 03:25

Story highlights

  • Pilots' computers show nothing to indicate sudden deviation was preplanned
  • Every one of the 239 people on board is both a possible victim and suspect
  • The plane's pilots have become one obvious area of focus
  • A 29-year-old Malaysian civil aviation engineer is also under the spotlight

Until authorities know what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, they'll look for clues in the histories of everyone on board.

The cruel reality is that every one of the 239 people on board is both a possible victim and a possible suspect -- until proved otherwise.

Already, some passengers and the pilots have fallen under increased scrutiny, and more are likely to come into focus as the search for answers continues.

"You have to look at everybody that got onto that plane," Bill Gavin, former assistant director of the FBI in New York, told CNN's "The Lead with Jake Tapper" on Monday.

"You can start peeling the onion there by eliminating some of the people immediately -- you know, like children, and maybe very elderly people, or infirmed people. You might be able to eliminate those folks.

Civil aviation engineer aboard Flight 370
Civil aviation engineer aboard Flight 370

    JUST WATCHED

    Civil aviation engineer aboard Flight 370

MUST WATCH

Civil aviation engineer aboard Flight 370 02:44
How could plane fly under the radar?
How could plane fly under the radar?

    JUST WATCHED

    How could plane fly under the radar?

MUST WATCH

How could plane fly under the radar? 02:30
Could a plane hide from radar detection?
Could a plane hide from radar detection?

    JUST WATCHED

    Could a plane hide from radar detection?

MUST WATCH

Could a plane hide from radar detection? 04:16

"But, by the same token, you really have to look through the whole category of people that are on the plane," he said.

Here's what we have so far about some of the people investigators want to know more about:

Pilot: Zaharie Ahmad Shah

Malaysia's Prime Minister has said that somebody deliberately steered the plane off course. That means the pilots have become one obvious area of focus.

On Saturday, Malaysian police searched Zaharie Ahmad Shah's home. The 53-year-old pilot and father of three lives in an upscale, gated community in Shah Alam, outside Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysian police said Sunday they were still investigating a flight simulator seized from that house.

It's somewhat common among aviation enthusiasts to use online flight simulator programs to replicate various situations.

An initial search of the personal computers and e-mails of the pilots found nothing to indicate that a sudden deviation in the Boeing 777's route was preplanned, U.S. officials said on Tuesday, after being briefed by Malaysian authorities.

U.S. officials reviewed cockpit conversations between the flight and air traffic controllers and again said they saw nothing suspicious or anything that would explain why the jetliner deviated from its course.

The pilot's political beliefs are also being questioned. Zaharie is a public supporter of Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

Just hours before the flight took off, a court ordered Anwar to prison on charges of sodomy, a sentence the opposition leader says is a political vendetta.

Despite the timing of the decision, there is no evidence to tie the plane's disappearance to the pilot or his politics.

"He likely was upset at the verdict that had just been announced several hours before he boarded the aircraft, but to down an airline because of that I think at this point is pure conjecture. Again, I would take any of these accusations with a huge grain of salt," the RAND Corporation's Seth Jones told CNN's "Erin Burnett OutFront."

Peter Chong, a friend of Zaharie's, similarly said it's unfair to imply the pilot had anything to do with what happened to the plane.

When did key system shut down?
When did key system shut down?

    JUST WATCHED

    When did key system shut down?

MUST WATCH

When did key system shut down? 01:49
Relatives of missing passengers react
Relatives of missing passengers react

    JUST WATCHED

    Relatives of missing passengers react

MUST WATCH

Relatives of missing passengers react 01:13

He said he'd been to Zaharie's house and tried out the flight simulator.

"It's a reflection of his love for people," Chong said, "because he wants to share the joy of flying with his friends."

Zaharie joined Malaysia Airlines in 1981 and has more than 18,000 flying hours.

Who were the pilots?

Co-pilot: Fariq Ab Hamid

Fariq Ab Hamid, 27, started at the airline in 2007 and has 2,763 flying hours.

Two vans were loaded with small bags, similar to shopping bags, at the home of the co-pilot, according to a CNN crew that observed activities at the residence.

It was unclear whether the bags were taken from the home, and police made no comment about their activities there.

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 has told CNN.

The official emphasized that no final conclusions have been drawn and that all the internal intelligence discussions are based on preliminary assessments of what is known to date.

Acting Malaysian Transportation Minister Hishammuddin Hussein has told reporters the pilots didn't request to work together.

Passenger: Mohammed Khairul Amri Selamat

The 29-year-old Malaysian civil aviation engineer works for a private jet charter company.

Although police are investigating all passengers and crew, he is likely to be of particular interest because of his aviation knowledge.

"I am confident that he is not involved," his father said Monday. "They're welcome to investigate me and my family."

The bottom line, investigators say, is that whoever flew the plane off course for hours appeared to know what they were doing.

They are 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."

Passengers: Pouri Nourmohammadi and Delavar Seyed Mohammad Reza

In the first few days after the plane went missing, investigators focused intensely on two passengers who boarded the plane using stolen passports.

Authorities have since identified them as Nourmohammadi, 18, and Reza, 29, both Iranians.

The men entered Malaysia on February 28 using valid Iranian passports, according to Interpol.

Malaysian police believe Nourmohammadi was trying to emigrate to Germany using a stolen Austrian passport. His mother contacted police after her son didn't arrive in Frankfurt as expected.

Malaysian investigators say neither of the men has any apparent connection to terrorist organizations.

Stolen passports don't necessarily indicate terrorism. In fact, passengers flew without having their travel documents checked against Interpol's lost-and-stolen passport database more than a billion times in 2013, according to the international police organization.

Terrorist link?

While investigators continue their search, one possibility that has been talked about is that an act of terrorism downed the airliner.

There has been speculation that Uyghur Muslim separatists in China's far western Xinjiang province might have been involved in the plane's disappearance.

The Uyghurs are a predominantly Muslim ethnic group who live in Xinjiang, an area the size of Iran that is rich in natural resources, including oil.

One of the two long corridors where authorities say the plane was last detected stretched over Xinjiang, and unconfirmed reports have suggested the possibility that Uyghurs might be connected to the case.

Chinese authorities have accused separatists from Xinjiang of carrying out a terrorist attack this month in which eight attackers armed with long knives stormed a train station in Kunming, a city in southwestern China, killing 29 people and wounding more than 140.

However, on Tuesday, China said it found no evidence that any of its citizens on board the missing plane were involved in hijacking or terrorism.

Background checks on all passengers from the Chinese mainland on the plane have found nothing to support such suspicions, said Huang Huikang, the Chinese ambassador to Malaysia, according to the state-run Chinese news agency Xinhua.

Authorities have said they are investigating all 239 people who were on board the flight. According to the airline, 153 of the 227 passengers came from mainland China or Hong Kong.

By effectively ruling out suspicions for most of the passengers, Chinese authorities appear to have significantly shortened the list of possible suspects in the investigation.

Snapshots of passengers

        Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

      • nr intv moni basu husbands quiet suffering flight 370_00020822.jpg

        An empty space on earth

        His wife never came home from her flight on MH370, and now K.S. Narendran is left to imagine the worst of possible truths without knowing.
      • This handout photo taken on April 7, 2014 and released on April 9, 2014 by Australian Defence shows Maritime Warfare Officer, Sub Lieutenant Ryan Penrose watching HMAS Success as HMAS Perth approaches for a replenishment at sea while searching for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean. Two fresh signals have been picked up Australian ship Ocean Shield in the search for missing Malaysian flight MH370, raising hopes that wreckage will be found within days even as black box batteries start to expire.

        Is this the sound of the crash?

        Was the sound of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 striking the water captured by ocean devices used to listen for signs of nuclear blasts?
      •  A crew member of a Royal New Zealand Airforce (RNZAF) P-3K2-Orion aircraft helps to look for objects during the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in flight over the Indian Ocean on April 13, 2014 off the coast of Perth, Australia. S

        Search back to square one

        What was believed to be the best hope of finding the missing plane is now being called a false hope. Rene Marsh explains.
      • Caption:A Chinese relative of passengers on the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 uses a lighter as she prays at the Metro Park Hotel in Beijing on April 8, 2014. The hunt for physical evidence that the Malaysia Airlines jet crashed in the Indian Ocean more than three weeks ago has turned up nothing, despite a massive operation involving seven countries and repeated sightings of suspected debris. AFP PHOTO/WANG ZHAO (Photo credit should read WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images)

        Bring in the lawyers

        Involved parties, including the manufacturer Boeing, are bracing for a long public relations siege.
      • The painstaking search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 got a vote of confidence Friday that the effort is headed in the right direction, but officials noted that much work remains.
Credit: 	CNN

        Pings likely not from Flight 370

        Official: The four acoustic pings at the center of the search for Flight 370 are no longer believed to have come from the plane's black boxes.
      • INDIAN OCEAN (April 14, 2014) -- Operators aboard ADF Ocean Shield move U.S. Navy's Bluefin-21 into position for deployment, April 14. Using side scan sonar, the Bluefin will descend to a depth of between 4,000 and 4,500 meters, approximately 35 meters above the ocean floor. It will spend up to 16 hours at this depth collecting data, before potentially moving to other likely search areas. Joint Task Force 658 is currently supporting Operation Southern Indian Ocean, searching for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. (U.S. Navy video by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Peter D. Blair/RELEASED)

        Underwater search on hold

        The underwater search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane will effectively be put on hold this week, and may not resume until August at the earliest.
      • Movie-makers say they have recruited leading Hollywood technicians to bring their experience to mid-air flight sequences.

        An MH370 movie already?

        Movie-makers in Cannes have announced they're making a thriller based on the disappearance of Malaysian flight MH370.
      • The story of the search

        The search for the missing Boeing 777 has gone on for eight weeks now. CNN's David Molko looks back at this difficult, emotional assignment.