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Satellite Images Captured of Possible Missing Plane

Aired March 12, 2014 - 20:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. We begin tonight with breaking news. A potential new development in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. It comes from China which has an especially strong interest in locating the airliner which was carrying so many Chinese nationals on board.

Late today, Chinese authorities released satellite photos of what they call a suspected crash site. They were taken on a high definition camera on the morning of March 9th, a day and a night after the Boeing 777 vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Three images in the open ocean, each showing floating objects. What precisely they are, that remains to be seen.

We should point out there have been several false sightings so far. What is intriguing is the location. According to the Chinese it's within a 20-kilometer or 12.5 mile radius of this spot on the map which corresponds closely to the point where controllers lost contact with the airliner's radar transponder.

And we should stress again, this is very preliminary information. However, it may help narrow back down a search effort that grew enormously today.

More from Pamela Brown.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These satellite photos released by the Chinese punctuate a day of chaos and missed messages. Five days into the search investigators are still struggling to locate the missing Boeing 777 or the 239 people on board. Again expanding the search area to 27,000 square nautical miles.

DATUK SERI HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER: The way forward, ladies and gentlemen, is to bring more experts to analyze both the civilian and the military data in the east or in the west.

BROWN: Twelve countries now assisting with search operations. Manning 42 ships and 39 aircrafts. But complicating efforts are a string of confusion and conflicting statements by Malaysian authorities. Military officials there now appear to be backing off an earlier suggestion that the plane made an abrupt turn to the west less than an hour into the flight. Re-crossing the Malay Peninsula and ending up near an island in the middle of the Malacca Strait. Other Malaysian officials doubted this theory.

Then the military offered another theory, saying instead an unidentified blip turned up on military radar 200 miles northwest of the city of Penang, close together Thai island of Phuket.

GEN. TAN SRI RODZALI DAUD, ROYAL MALAYSIA AIR FORCE: We say it is a possible. Possible turn back. Why possible? Because we are trying to corroborate with all the other radars including the civil radar.

BROWN: Contradictory statements like these have dogged the Malaysian response, leading to accusations of incompetence at best or deliberately withholding information at worst. Contributing to the confusion, it's still unclear at this point who's in command of the investigation -- the government, the airline or the military. And the appearance that none are sharing potentially vital information with each other.

Foreign powers most vocally China have criticized the seemingly chaotic response and say their resources are being underutilized. Vietnam briefly scaled back its efforts claiming Malaysian officials were providing confusing information on where to search but changed their minds a few hours later.

Theories about Flight 370's fate continue to swirl. And investigators are not ruling out any possibilities, including catastrophic mechanical failure or even terrorism. Fears the jet's transponders were deliberately turned off have spawned new concerns about the pilots. Police said Wednesday they're searching one of the missing pilot's homes outside Kuala Lumpur.

Meanwhile, family and friends continue to demand answers and pray for their loved ones, frustrated, angry and unsatisfied by the lack of information.

PAUL YIN, GRIEF COUNSELOR: When it is not the final closure, I think any ray of hope, even however remote or however improbable, many of these people will still hold onto it.

BROWN: Holding on and hoping their days of waiting in limbo will be over soon.

Pamela Brown, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: A lot to get to tonight now that there seems to be more for searchers to go on.

Let's check in first with CNN's David McKenzie who joins us from Beijing.

So these satellite images, what can you tell us about them? Do we have any idea why the Chinese government released them now?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, that's a question I want answered. There are two things that trouble me. One is why this was released now. And the second is, really, why are we seeing these images that weren't shared necessarily with the Malaysian authorities?

They say they took these photographs from satellite, high definition of these three large objects which were very close to the tracking path when that plane vanished over the sea on Saturday. It is now several days later and this appears to be a significant lead, Anderson. These are large objects. They call it, quote, "a potential crash site." And so it could help narrow the search as you say that is expanded widely in recent days.

And it gives some level of hope of closure for the many families here in Beijing who have lost scores of loved ones -- Anderson.

COOPER: The size of the debris has raised some questions from aviation experts we've heard from already who say maybe the debris is actually too large given the size of the aircraft. But the Chinese, I mean, they seem to have been frustrated with the response by the Malaysian government.

Could the release of these photos somehow be tied to that frustration, forcing the Malaysian government's hands somehow?

MCKENZIE: Well, that's a good point, Anderson. Yes, they've given very pointed statements toward the Malaysian government calling this search sometimes chaotic. They have also criticized the Malaysians and other countries for giving out false leads and giving hope to these families here. So it might be that they've waited to release this information until they were absolutely sure it's significant. And we should also believe it's significant because of that.

The Chinese are much more deliberate with these issues, so they would have carefully looked at these images and thought about what they could be before they released it out. But again because it was several days after they took these images, it's a troubling sign. They have also taken more satellites into that region to look at that whole area to figure out if there's anything that gives any lead to find this plane.

But certainly significant on the part we believe of the plane when it vanished. So there'll be definitely ships, airplanes, everything going to that area, scouring it from a closer vantage point to see if it indeed is this crashed plane that everyone at this point wants to find, particularly the families here in Beijing.

COOPER: We're going to talk to a U.S. Navy commander who's involved in the search about those satellite images which they are looking at very closely right now.

David McKenzie, thanks.

More now on the frustration that we talked about that's been building on the ground as well as the possibility that automated messages from the airliner itself could help locate the plane and make better sense of exactly what went wrong.

Jim Clancy is handling the Malaysian end of things from Kuala Lumpur tonight. Jim Sciutto is joining us from Washington.

So, Jim Clancy, let me start with you. Another day, no answers, more confusion over these differing accounts from Malaysian authorities of where the plane might have last been spotted.

Is there any sense of why things are so inconsistent even at the highest levels? I mean, this public effort by the Malaysian government, the public response, has just been ridiculous. It's been all over the place.

JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It has been seemingly going in several different directions. The Malaysians have been intent on, number one, exhausting every single lead. And you can bet they'll be exhausting the lead that they got from China. The Chinese ambassador was in the press conference yesterday so -- or today. They are going to be looking at everything the Chinese have, they're going to be exhausting all possibilities.

And yes, this does give them the sense -- you get the impression they may be going in several different directions at once. After all, we are searching hundreds of miles to the west of the crash site. Hundreds of miles off the planned flight path of Flight 370. So it's obvious why we're getting that impression. That is what is out there.

COOPER: And Jim Clancy, I mean, the release of these photos, it really just adds confusion over where the plane might have last been spotted in terms of the information coming from the Malaysian government. I mean, yesterday -- you know, we were hearing reports from some sources in the Malaysian government that the plane having made a -- basically a 180, you know, made a complete turnaround.

Is there any sense of why things are so inconsistent?

CLANCY: No, there isn't. Nothing absolute. But let me -- let me pose something here. If this is so significant, these satellite photos, and you can bet they're going to be checked out. If it's so significant, why isn't it being reported on Chinese state media?

Yes, the Chinese are going to be careful, they're going to try to make sure that these are right before they release them to the international community. But at the same time, they're not reporting it as a headline. They're not raising the hopes of their own people.

I think we're just going to have to wait until the cold light of day, Anderson, and see what those produce. The Malaysian authorities already know they've got a mess on their hands. They've got a lot of fingers in the pie. You see the press conferences. You've got multiple people up there trying to answer different questions. They know they've got to get it right and they're going to try, try to do their best. I've talked with them. They're determined to do that.

COOPER: Well, they certainly haven't been getting it right up to now.

Jim Sciutto, we're also hearing today word that the engines of the plane transmitted technical data back to Malaysian Airlines.

What are you hearing about that?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is one yet more confusing even conflicting, you know, clue in this investigation because Malaysian Airlines said that the engines were equipped with the system that sends data at regular points along the course of the trip.

An aviation expert told me today that that also would be standard on Rolls Royce engines. There was a report that Rolls Royce said that it did receive two data transmissions, one on takeoff and then one shortly after takeoff from the engines. Nothing abnormal apparently. But Rolls Royce hasn't confirmed that to CNN.

The key then is what happened when the plane lost contact. Not just with its transponder but all those other streams of data coming out of the plane. You may remember that with the Air France flight that disappeared in 2009 over the Atlantic Ocean, one clue that investigators had even after they lost the plane, transponder, all communications, was they were still getting mechanical updates in effect, fault messages from that plane which were one of the early clues as to what brought it down.

To our knowledge, to public knowledge, Malaysian authorities don't have any such information from this plane. Now why would that be? You know, you'd have to have a catastrophic system failure for the plane not to send anything. The transponder, the pilot can turn off in the cockpit. That's a safety measure, I'm told, because he has to be able to turn it off in case it was short circuiting and wouldn't bring down other systems. So they have that capability to turn it off.

The other systems it's not like there's a switch in the cockpit to shut all the other systems off. So to get no data from that plane there had to be something catastrophic and unusual. But again, you know, one of those places where you got a lot of questions but no answers.

COOPER: Jim Clancy, we're now hearing that -- from the director general of the Malaysian Department of Civil Aviation. He tells CNN that his agency has not received or even seen these Chinese satellite images. How is that possible?

CLANCY: Well, it may be a surprise to them. That's a great question. And I don't have the answer because middle of the night here, I don't quite understand why he wouldn't have them. It depends on -- you know, we've got a huge Chinese delegation here that would be handling that. They're liaising very closely. And I said, the Chinese ambassador to Malaysia was right there staring at the generals inside that press conference yesterday.

We'll just have to wait and see why that happened. But you can bet they're going to see it this morning.

COOPER: All right. Jim Clancy, appreciate it. Jim Sciutto, as well.

I want to bring more expertise to bear on this. Joining us is former inspector general for the U.S. Department of Transportation, Mary Schiavo. She currently represents victims of transportation accidents and their families.

Also David Gallo of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, co-leader of the search for Air France Flight 447.

David, first of all, what do you make of these satellite images released by China? I mean, this is --


COOPER: One piece of the puzzle.

DAVID GALLO, CO-LED SEARCH FOR AIR FRANCE FLIGHT 447: Yes, Anderson, I got a couple of things --

COOPER: What do you make -- are they too big? I've heard some experts say they're simply too big.

GALLO: Yes. Just using my good old algebra, adding those numbers up that's close to the full-length of the plane depending on how you look at it. They are -- they do seem awfully large to me. And if they're that large how did they miss them during the aerial search? You know, I am encouraged by the fact that they're close to the last known position. I can't stress how important that is.

One of the lessons we learned from Air France 447 is that you should always look close to the LKP, last known position. Air France wasn't far from that. And it was within that 20 kilometer circle. So I'm enthused by that. But if those pieces are that large, which is odd, how could they have been missed in the aerial search unless they sank? Or, you know, how do you do that?

COOPER: So, David, the fact that they're so large, you're saying it's possible they're from a plane. That just raises questions about why they were missed. But I mean, is it possible that that large a chunk of plane would be intact?

GALLO: It would surprise me because, you know, Air France it was hard to find anything much bigger than a desk. And --

COOPER: Really? It broke up that much?

GALLO: Yes. Pretty much obliterated into smaller pieces. But you know, this is -- those are pretty large chunks of aircraft. And it would suggest that if it landed on the water that it landed in a fairly safe way. You know, it was a fairly gentle landing which brings up a whole another list of questions.


GALLO: You know, I -- I guess we're going to have to see, Anderson, in the next couple of hours what's reported because I'm sure ships are on the scene by now and certainly aircraft is out there. So we're going to have to just wait and see. And this is one lead we can't ignore so we'll soon find out. COOPER: I talked to a naval commander. We're going to have that a little bit later on in the program. He said he'll have an update probably in couple of hours as they know more.

But, Mary, what do you make, first of all, of these images?

MARY SCHIAVO, FORMER INSPECTOR GENERAL, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION: Well, I'm actually hopeful that they are images because it would end the wondering and start the work. And they do seem large but if the plane came down, there have been a couple of planes that have come down on water largely in one piece and then broke apart at the water.

It's always possible. But the most important thing is they can get the naval ships there and they can get the submersibles and they can start looking again for the black boxes. And sometimes the simplest explanation is the explanation. If the plane experienced a catastrophic failure right there this would be where it would be. And often, you know, statistically speaking that's often where it is. It's a failure of the plane and then some issue on getting the plane down. And that's where it would be. And let's hope that it can start the real hard work and end the wondering.

COOPER: And, David, at this point, I mean, yesterday people -- a lot of people talked and said well, it doesn't seem like it would have been a catastrophic failure or catastrophic incident at a high altitude if the plane in fact did turn around and fly a fair distance without the transponder on.

GALLO: Right.

COOPER: If it is found in this area, that brings back the possibility of some sort of something catastrophic happening.

GALLO: Well, you know, in Air France 447 it was an issue -- a combination of the speed sensors on the outside of the plane and the pilots. So there was no -- I wouldn't call that failure catastrophic. And the plane landed within -- as I said within a very close radius to the last known position. So again, you know, I don't think we're going have those answers until we either take -- put eyeballs on that fuselage or recover those flight recorders, the black boxes.


SCHIAVO: Well, and also if this was like an Air France scenario, again there was a mechanical problem followed by a pilot error, and what it did is stalled and then it falls to the earth. You know, it's been likened like to a leaf. And that's where it would break up is that it fell to the earth. So it's hopeful. It's possible. And for the families' sake I hope that it is.


SCHIAVO: Because every piece of information is just excruciatingly painful for them. I hope this is it for their sake. COOPER: And, David, just what do you make of the -- of the communication by Malaysian authorities? I mean, I keep thinking about those families.

GALLO: You know --

COOPER: You know, obviously they want any piece of information they can get. But to have such wildly conflicting one arm seeming like not knowing what the other arm is doing.

GALLO: Yes. It's horrible. In the case of Air France 447 and being inside that command center, you know, the French were very ,very careful -- the BEA, their version of the NTSB, very careful with the way -- what was released and the way it was released. And now -- I now appreciate that because these conflicting bits of information and contradictory bits of information and confusing bits of information are -- have got to be tearing them apart. This is a horrible situation for them to be in.

COOPER: Yes. David Gallo, appreciate you being on with us tonight. And Mary Schiavo as well.

Let me know what you think. Follow me on Twitter @andersoncooper. Tweet using #ac360.

Coming up next we'll talk to one of the American commanders on board a search vessel. The latest on what they are doing and how they are holding up.

Later we've heard about how safe the Boeing 777 has been over the years. But we'll tell you about an FAA bulletin on the plane that is raising some questions tonight.


COOPER: Today's breaking news, Chinese satellite images that may show the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. That's a big may. The come after several days of confusion and mixed messages about whether the airliner changed course after it stopped sending radar information to controllers on the ground.

The question now, will this new information bring new focus to a search effort that seemed to be getting out of hand?

Tom Foreman takes a look for us tonight.

So the debris seen in these new satellite images from China, where exactly was it found?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Anderson, this is why this is like a jigsaw piece that doesn't quite fit the puzzle. Let's bring in the map here. Think about this flight. Took off from Kuala Lumpur. Flew up here. We know it disappeared about this spot. And the Chinese images are actually from right over here or about, Anderson, 140, 141 miles away from where the plane disappeared. COOPER: And we've been talking about the massive search area that was expanded today. This is -- this is in the original path that the plane took. I mean, it is the same general area.

FOREMAN: Yes. The same general area. And if you bring in the currents of the ocean there you could say that maybe depending on exactly when the photographs were taken the images that maybe it drifted over that way if it would float that long. But again, it's right on the edge of that search area, Anderson. And that makes it a little bit troubling to say whether or not this is really the right thing.

COOPER: The assets being deployed, what are we talking about? What does the search look like?

FOREMAN: Well, there have been dozens of ships out there, dozens of airplanes out there from a dozen different countries. And they have been scouring an awful lot of territory. Certainly some of them will be directed to this area now where the water is about 200 feet deep. But in this process they have to go through an analysis, Anderson, the very thing you've been talking about on the show.

They have to look at these pieces. And bear in mind not very good satellite imagery but these are really quite large. Each one of these pieces if you average them out is about half as big as a basketball court. So the question is, can you get pieces that big out of an airplane like the 777?

The 777 is a very big airplane. There's no question about that. If you were to walk from one side of the plane to the other on the wings you'd walk about 36 feet from wing tip to wing tip. It's about 200 feet. So is there a way that you could tear this apart and reshape it to make three great big pieces like that? Maybe.

But like the search area, Anderson, it's right on the edge of possibility. And that's what's fueling a lot of the healthy skepticism right now even as people continue this grim, grim business of trying to find out what happened to this plane.

COOPER: Yes. A lot of the experts we're talking to find it hard to believe the pieces would be that big. But again, so much we don't know.

Tom, appreciate it.

I do want to bring in U.S. Navy Commander William Marks. He's on board the USS Blue Ridge command ship for the United States Seventh Fleet which is helping in the search. He joins us by phone.

Commander, you're obviously aware of the satellite images released by China showing possible, and I say possible, debris that might not be far from the plane's original flight path. What do you make of that?

CMDR. WILLIAM J. MARKS, U.S. BLUE RIDGE: We are just looking at that right now. It looks -- from an initial look at the size, if those are as big of chunks that they are in that -- those initial images, it's something that our radars would pretty easily pick up. So we are looking at that right now. We are in plan development at this stage. A couple of initial plans, we're looking at where to move our destroyers and we're looking at bringing in a second aircraft, search aircraft called a P-8 Poseidon into the theater.

Just to tell you, I can't guarantee we'd get double coverage. We'd probably alternate or rotate those flights. But that P-8 is the latest technology, best technology we have for searching right now.

COOPER: So these new images of what appears to be debris, we don't know what they are, picked up by the Chinese, how will that work? How close are you to where that debris is? Would you start heading there? How would this work?

MARKS: Yes. I know everyone's looking at those right now. I think you're the first ones to have them. But us in the Navy, we are looking also. I can't give you a definitive plan. But I can tell you everything we do will be coordinated. We are -- we will not go off riding into the sunset on our own. It's very well-coordinated. And if a U.S. Navy asset is the best to search there, we'll do it. But if another country's assets are, then we'll let them do it.

So it's not just the U.S. Navy here trying to do our own thing. It's very well-coordinated and integrated.

COOPER: In terms of the area where this debris, I know you said you're just starting to look at this area, do you know -- do you have a sense of how deep the water is there?

MARKS: Overall, it's not a very deep area. It's relatively shallow water throughout the Gulf of Thailand. So I don't know exactly where it is, but overall this is not very deep water.

I'm actually watching CNN to try to get a better view of where this thing is.

COOPER: So you're actually watching CNN to look at those images to try to get a better view of them, to find out exactly where they are?

MARKS: That's correct. But I should say, you know, we have -- we have very smart people here. So myself just being the spokesperson, I personally am looking at CNN.


MARKS: But we have other people reviewing all the information.

COOPER: Well, Commander Marks, a lot of people appreciate very much what you're doing right now. And we wish you the best to all the people under your command as well. Thank you.

MARKS: Thank you.

COOPER: Up next, how confusion all this can be. This is one of the satellite images released by the Chinese today. Coming up we're going to show you a photo from over the weekend that looks very similar but was dismissed by officials who said it was not from the missing plane.

Also tonight the families of the missing, seeking answers. We are learning more about those on board the aircraft. Fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers. We'll tell you their stories ahead.


COOPER: Welcome back. Tonight's breaking news about Flight 370 is adding new confusion to the story. Over the past five days, we've seen and heard a lot of different images and reports. You know this. Remember there was this aerial photo that surfaced over the weekend that showed what appeared to be debris off the coast of Vietnam. Officials quickly debunked it saying it was not wreckage from Flight 370.

Now look at it side by side with one of China's satellite photos. On the left they were both taken on March 9th. To the untrained eye at least they look pretty similar. Although it depends on the distance by which they were taken.

Joining me now is John Hansman, professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT and also CNN's Richard Quest is joining. Richard, what do you make of all the back and forth on this?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The reality of this is we don't know, but we have to hope that it is because frankly this is the single best clue that we've had since this thing began. We've had numerous twists and turns. These pictures were taken a couple of days or 48 hours or so after the incident happened. If you look at the currents in that part of the world they are moving in the right direction. So the difference between the proposed flight plan of the plane and this debris was found does make a certain element of sense.

COOER: Jim Clancy raising a question though that Chinese state media is not making much of this. They are not reporting this. Did that mean anything?

QUEST: There are political reasons of other events taking place in China at the moment that may also affect that perspective. Ultimately there, we've got nothing else to go on, Anderson. This is it. It's either that or some very peculiar reports and rumors of radar pings and tracks that puts it a couple of hundred miles in the opposite direction.

COOPER: John, what do you make of these new images? I mean, three large objects?

JOHN HANSMAN, PROFESSOR OF AERONAUTICS AND ASTRONAUTICS, MIT: Three large objects, but it looks skeptical to me. They're too big to be pieces of the airplane. I mean, they are 70 feet by 70 feet across. The fuselage of a 777 is only 20 feet across. So if the size is right, of course maybe the satellite has miscalibrated or something like that. So that makes me skeptical. It's in the right location. Everybody wants it to be there. So we've just got to be careful jumping to conclusions.

COOPER: When you say that it's too large, meaning -- we've had other guests say this as well, that the plane would have broken up into smaller pieces if something catastrophic had happened to it or if it hit the water at speed?

HANSMAN: There's no piece of airplane that's that big. Even if it didn't break up, entire wing was sitting there, fuselage was sitting there it's not that big because it's square. The fuselage is long and skinny. It's only 20 feet across. The wing is long and skinny, and it's 25, 30 feet across. You don't have anything that's 70 feet by 70 feet.

COOPER: John, at this point, where are you on what happened? I don't want to speculate, but I mean obviously this is the question everybody is -- in your mind have you ruled out something or what are the questions you most want answered?

HANSMAN: OK. Everything's on the table right now because the data that we're getting is pretty crappy. So you know, the radar reports we don't have solid data on. This image doesn't look right, but this is something -- we've got to track down everything. So we'll get data on this or get better data in this area if indeed and we'll search, if indeed this was part of the airplane or some piece of plastic that unwrapped or something like that, then there will be other pieces and we'll be able to track it down.

So it's absolutely a lead to go down. It's the best lead we have right now. But again, people are so desperate for an answer that everybody wants to jump on the next piece of information and say that's it.

COOPER: Yes. And Richard, I mean, there's just been so much confusion coming from Malaysian authorities. I mean, you know this company. You profiled this company. It's got to be for the families of the people involved in this, it just adds to the horror of it all.

QUEST: More than that. It's heart-breaking to see this because what they have failed to do, which is the exact opposite of all other investigations, they have failed to master the fundamental facts and gather them together. The radar track, the air traffic control chatter, any other chatter from pilots, the eyewitness reports. Instead we've had this leaking, we've had this very odd forms of information being given out, which consequently means we really don't know.

And while I fully understand these pieces may be way off beam in terms of size and scope, although the Chinese I suspect -- I would question why they would release them in such a fashion. But if they are not, then we're back to square one, Anderson. Then we are back to square one having no idea where this plane was, no idea which direction it was flying, and no idea where it may have come down.

COOPER: It's so bizarre. Richard Quest, appreciate it. John Hansman, as well. Just ahead, the warning that the FAA raised about Boeing 777s months before Flight 370 vanished. The agency called for frequent inspections on hundreds of planes.

Plus the latest on that deadly explosion that levelled two buildings in New York today.


COOPER: Tonight's breaking news, five days into the search and rescue mission for Flight 370, potential key development. China released satellite photos today of what they call a suspected crash site. They were taken on high definition cameras on the morning of March 9th. Three images of open ocean each showing what appeared to be large floating objects.

Ron Brown, a pilot for more than 30 years know that area well. He's flown the Kuala Lumpur to Beijing route countless times and he knows Boeing 777s inside and out. I appreciate you being with you. So as I said, you've flown that out, that Malaysia Airlines was to fly. A, what do you make of these new images, particularly their location?

RON BROWN, AIRLINE PILOT: First of all you've got to understand those waters aren't clean. There's a lot of trash floating around out there. And it just needs to have an eyeball on it to make sure what it is what it really is because anybody can speculate from high above an image. It makes it tough because the mind is one that tries to see things that it wants to see.

COOPER: And a lot of people too have commented on the size of these pieces. Are you skeptical that they would have come from a Boeing 777?

BROWN: Yes. First of all, your wing span's about 212 feet. Your body's about 209, something of that nature. The tube that you fly in is about 20 feet wide in a round circle. So if it came down and actually the pilot tried to land it in the water, it would be more intact than just a few square pieces and you couldn't -- you wouldn't have square pieces. You'd have round pieces and narrow pieces.

COOPER: Yes, a guest earlier was saying when Air France flight was found, there were no pieces really larger than I think a desk he said. I mean, it was in that small pieces. The Malaysian Air Force had said that radar data indicated the plane operating without its transponders on make a U-turn headed back toward the Malacca Strait. It's hard to see what radar is picked up alone. Isn't that correct?

BROWN: That's very correct. The transponders are a safety device so that the people on the ground can identify that airplane and know where that airplane is. And the airplane then itself knows where it is besides GPS. Now, the problem is if they're turned off, it's like somebody turning the lights off. You don't know where that airplane is and you don't know where it's going.

There's backup systems, there's always more than one transponder. But somebody had to physically turn them off for them to go a different direction and nobody know where they're going if they did go in a different direction.

COOPER: You're saying they had to be physically turned off. They couldn't have just broken or malfunctioned.

BROWN: No. You have backups and the 777 has a redundancy all the way around in all the different categories of hydraulics, electrical, pneumatics and so on down the line. So for both of them to be inoperative, all of a sudden, that would be unbelievable.

COOPER: I don't want to speculate because I just think there's too much riding on this to do that. But what are the data points that most jump out at you or the things that you want to note most? What are you looking for in the next 24 hours that our viewers can kind of watch for as well?

BROWN: Well, first of all, common sense means a lot. And I would start out with number one, the aircraft, very dependable aircraft, been in the industry for over 20 years. Did something mechanically go wrong with the aircraft? I seriously doubt it.

Number two, the pilot and the crew. The pilots and the crew. You had a captain that has 18,000 hours, every six months he's in the simulator practicing emergencies. This wasn't a green horn. You had a first officer over there that either had 1,800 or 2,800 hours. We all start out at zero and we all work our way up and he was learning. I don't think that it was the pilots that caused that airplane to go down.

Because other than the Egyptian pilot who tried to commit suicide, we haven't had any pilots do that. So the other thing that you look at, the third thing is somebody interfering such as someone trying hijack the airplane or take control of the airplane. To me, I look at that because that makes common sense to me.

When the automation of an airplane, when you load up the flight plan and you're going somewhere, that airplane flies that flight plan unless you tell it to go somewhere else. So somebody had to physically do something to that airplane to make it do other than what it was programmed to do.

COOPER: All right, Ron, I appreciate your expertise. I'm glad you're on the program tonight. Thank you, Ron Brown. Tonight, there are troubling new questions about a possible problem with the Boeing 777, the make and model of the jet at the center of the mystery.

Over the past five days, we've heard how safe the Boeing 777 is. Ron has just talked about it, virtually every expert we've talked to has called it one of safest planes flying today. A FAA bulletin on the plane is raising some questions tonight. Rene Marsh has that angle.


RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With more than 1,100 Boeing 777s worldwide having flown roughly 5 million flights capable of carrying more than 1 billion people, it's considered one of the safest in the sky. But now with the disappearance of Malaysia Airline Flight 370, the plane is under the microscope. The first 777 rolled off the assembly line in the early 90s. Now it's flown by almost every major airline. American has 57, Delta 18 and United 74.

In its 19-year history, only one fatal crash. The Asiana Airlines crash in San Francisco last July. Early indicators point to pilot error. The FAA's web site lists more than 100 air worthiness directives for the 777. They alert airlines to potential issues with the plane so they can inspect or repair it.

Last September, a warning that 777's could have cracks in the top of the plane near an antenna. The FAA called for frequent inspections and more they could lead to rapid decompression and loss of structural integrity of the plane.

MICHAEL GOLDFARB, FORMER FAA CHIEF OF STAFF: The general public read every air worthiness directives they wouldn't fly because they're frightening but it's not. Air worthiness directives are like recalls on cars. They are routine. Every plane has issues.

MARSH: Michael Goldfarb is the former FAA chief of staff. He says if the FAA thought the potential cracking was significant enough, they would have grounded the fleet.

(on camera): Does that mean this air directive and history of this air directive or warning is irrelevant?

GOLDFARB: No, it's very relevant because what we don't know is whether Malaysia Airline had actually completed that repair.

MARSH (voice-over): Wednesday Malaysia Airlines CEO couldn't answer if Flight 370 was checked for that issue.

AHMAD JAUHARI YAHYA, MALAYSIA AIRLINES CEO: With this specific plane, I will have to check on the record.

MARSH (on camera): Let's just say that Malaysian Airlines did not do the required inspection. Does that change things at all?

GOLDFARB: It only adds another piece of the puzzle. It only tells investigators that going in theory there may be a structural problem needs to be run to ground.

MARSH: Rene Marsh, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: We'll have more on the missing flight. We are learning more about the passengers on board. We'll tell you their stories coming up.

Also deadly explosion, raging fire cause, chaos in New York City neighborhood today. Two buildings collapse. Rescuers searching through the rubble for hours looking for survivors. We'll have a live update from East Harlem next.


COOPER: An explosion ripped through two buildings here in New York City this morning causing a fire that collapse of those two buildings in Upper Manhattan. Don Lemon is live in East Harlem with the latest -- Don.

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, this is as close as anyone has been to the scene. This all started about 9:30 this morning. You can see even tonight they're still trying to get some of the rubble and some of the debris out here. They're looking, still looking for people. There's smoke still billowing from this particular scene, even into the evening. And as I said, firefighters have been out here all day.

There's tons of rubble in the street that they have pulled out here and also exclusively, we were able to obtain -- CNN able to obtain some video that police officers are using to try to figure out exactly how this particular situation started. Just about 15 minutes, Anderson, before this explosion we are told that one of the residents called smelling gas here and then 15 minutes later it exploded.

According to the mayor, the mayor says he's actually glad that firefighters didn't show up earlier. If they had there might have been more injuries. There are about 60 people who are injured, maybe more. There are three people who are confirmed dead so far. And so far, nine people are unaccounted for in all of this.

But again, back now live to the scene you can see firefighters have changed shifts here about three times. They're still going through this rubble and they said they're still looking for people. They don't know exactly how many people are in there, but nine people, as many as nine people unaccounted for.

On the right of your screen there if you'll look that's the medical examiner's van. Earlier they found a body. We saw them pulling a body out. There were two people confirmed dead. Now three. We saw them pull that body out. They have been bringing whatever it is they find, and if it's a body into the medical examiner's van that they have set up here on the street and put the body into the van and then taking it away.

Also earlier there were cars that were parked here. NYPD towed those cars away that were on the street. And again, nine people unaccounted for, three people dead so far and they are still searching for more -- Anderson.

COOPER: Don, thanks very much.

Let's get you caught up on some other stories we're following. Deborah Feyerick has the 360 Bulletin.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, a foreign expert today testified in the murder trial of Olympic "Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius. The expert said evidence shows Pistorius was not wearing his prosthetic legs when he shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp and then knock down the bathroom door with a cricket bat. Pistorius said he was wearing his artificial legs. That question could be important to the defense, which could argue that he was feeling vulnerable when he allegedly mistook her for an intruder.

President Obama today met with Ukraine's interim prime minister who told the president that Ukraine will, quote, "never surrender." Meanwhile, flights to Crimea from cities except Moscow have been suspended for the week ahead of Sunday's referendum on reuniting with Russia.

The parents of 7-year-old cancer patient, Josh Hardy, have won their fight to get a pharmaceutical company to give them an experimental drug that could help him live. The little boy will become the first patient in a new trial to fight a virus although the hospital says it effectiveness has the not been established for use in children -- Anderson.

COOPER: Deborah, thanks very much. Coming up, the search for answers in the Malaysian Airlines disappearance as family members endure an agonizing wait five days and counting. We remember the missing. We'll tell you more about those on board the flight.


COOPER: Five days in we still do not know what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Perplexing to everyone, but for the loved ones, the passengers the mystery is deeply personal. It's appalling. It's not where is the plane, but where is my mother, my father, my child, my friend? As we continue to cover the investigation we also remember that this is a story about people. The 239 people on board and the countless others who love and miss them.


COOPER (voice-over): Day five of the search and rescue, and still no clear answers on the missing.

DATUK SERI HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIAN MINISTER OF DEFENSE AND TRANSPORTATION: Each time that passes I hear that the search and rescue becomes just a search. But we will never give up hope. And this we owe to the families.

COOPER: Frustration and anger is growing among some of the families. Watch as someone throws a water bottle at Malaysia Airline officials at this private briefing. Despite the frustration, some families still hold out hope for their loved ones. Rodney and Mary Borros were looking forward to becoming first-time grandparents after their return home to Australia.

They were traveling with their long-time friends Catherine and Robert Lauden also among the missing. Rodney Borros' mother told the "Morning Bulletin" newspaper there is always hope though her hope is fading fast. Drew Kun was returning home to Beijing after working in Malaysia. He's a popular stuntsman. Known as hard-working and sincere his fans have left hundreds of comments online hoping for his safe return.

Shandrika Sharma was also traveling for work. The 51-year-old was on her way to a food and agriculture conference in Mongolia. She was going to represent fish workers from India. Her mother told reporters she's praying her daughter is still alive. My daughter will come back, she say. She has to come back.

Two Indonesian brothers were on board the missing plane. Hare and Perry Sudaya. Both have young children asking why their fathers haven't come home. A family member who didn't want to show his face spoke to CNN.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There's a feeling of loss, but for sure we're still hoping because the plane hasn't been found. We still hope that we'll be together the way we were before.

COOPER: Some families cling to hope, others grieve. All wait desperately for any news, a resolution on what happened to their loved ones.


COOPER: Thanks very much for watching. "PIERS MORGAN LIVE" starts now.