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 yesterday, a day before the anniversary of the plane's disappearance.

Liow Tiong Lai said he remains cautiously optimistic the Boeing 777 is in the area of the southern Indian Ocean where the search continues.

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. In late January, Malaysia's government 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.

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"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 plane debris off the coast of western Australia have scoured 44 percent of the 23,166-square-mile area the search has 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.

Liow said an interim report on the investigation would be presented to the Malaysian government yesterday and released to the public today.