(CNN, March 17, 2014) — 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 proven 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.
“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’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.
The pilot’s political beliefs have also being questioned. Zaharie is a public supporter of 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,” 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.
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.
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 who 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 no final conclusions have been drawn and 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 on 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.”