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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — If the massive undersea search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 turns up nothing by the end of May, the three countries leading the effort will go "back to the drawing board," Malaysia's transport minister said Saturday.
Liow Tiong Lai told a small group of foreign reporters on the eve of the anniversary of the plane's disappearance that he remains cautiously optimistic the Boeing 777 is in the area of the southern Indian Ocean where the search is ongoing.
Despite the exhaustive search for the plane, which disappeared last March 8 during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, no trace of the jet has been found. Malaysia's government on Jan. 29 formally declared the incident an accident and said all 239 people on board were presumed dead.
"By the end of May, if we still can't find the plane, then we will have to go back to the drawing board," Liow said.
Asked if Malaysia might stop the search if there are no new leads by the end of May, when bad weather usually sets in, Liow said it was "too early to pre-empt anything now," and that the government would continue to rely on the group of experts leading the hunt.
"We stand guided by the expert team," he said.
"I am cautiously optimistic it should be in this area," he said, adding that "we need directions, we need plans, we need to review all the data that we have."
Ships looking for debris from the plane on the ocean floor off the coast of Western Australia have so far scoured 44 percent of the 23,166-square-mile area the search has been focused on, Liow said. In the latest report he received Friday, he said the search team had identified 10 hard objects that still need to be analyzed.
Such findings, which often include trash and cargo containers from passing ships, have been common during the search, and so far no trace of wreckage has been located.
Liow said that Australia, Malaysia and China would meet next month to discuss the next steps in the search.
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