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China: Satellite Images May Show Missing Plane

Aired March 12, 2014 - 19:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Next breaking news, the Chinese government has released new satellite images of what could be missing Flight 370. Is this really the downed plane? What happened in the cockpit in the moments before that plane went down. A look at how safe the Boeing 777 really is? Could something like this happen again? Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Erin Burnett. We begin OUTFRONT tonight with breaking news. We have new satellite images from China, which may show the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The Chinese government that three images, these are the three images that were captured at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday. Now, this is a day after the plane went missing.

Still the head of the Malaysian government agency involved in the search from the Malaysian side said they haven't yet even received or seen these images from China. So it took several days to release them. They haven't yet given them to Malaysia. We are going to talk more about that in a moment.

But first let's just take a look at these images because what you're basically looking at, it appears as three floating objects. The size of each of these three is between 43 and 79 feet wide, and 59 and 72 feet long. Those are very big pieces and to put it in perspective the length of a Boeing 777 of the model of the missing jet that's missing, extended range is 209 feet long.

Now the coordinates where these images were taken are not far where the plane made its last known communication. According to our weather team's analysis based on water currents and the speed at which that current is moving it is very possible this is in fact the debris site. If the plane had gone down exactly where its transponder, which indicates its location stopped working.

Hundreds of miles away, though, is where the Malaysian government was looking, where they had indicated the plane had last been spotted on radar after they said it made a U-turn. Obviously this is a highly confusing story but a huge development tonight.

We begin with our coverage with David McKenzie in Beijing. David, the satellite images from the Chinese government appears showed debris in the exact spot where the plane was last known to be. How sure are they that these images that they are releasing are in fact debris from Flight 370? DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are saying this is a quote possible crash site and I have to say, unlike the Malaysians, the Chinese in general do not release information unless they are very careful about knowing that this is significant. A question I have is why so many days after they took this image are they releasing it now and why don't the Malaysians know when this was released a little time ago.

You would think they would be scrambling planes and boats to that area. But it is significant, the location is significant. They say this is an area, according to experts where it could be shallow enough for these objects to float. We're not sure this is the debris of the plane. We had many false starts since the beginning of this mystery.

Many times people saying something it turns out not to be significant. This given it's the Chinese, official state agency showing HD, high- definition satellite images of these major pieces of debris or of something, we have to take this very seriously -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right, David McKenzie, thank you very much. Appreciate it. Our chief national correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is in Washington. Jim, I know you were listening to David's reporting there. You just returned from living in Beijing. You have experience living with the Chinese government.

Let me ask the questions that he was asking that we all have, which is why it did take the Chinese government four days to release these images and would they have released them even though they are not saying for sure this is the plane, would they have released them if they weren't 100 percent sure that this was the plane?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, on the second question first, I agree with David, they would have to have some confidence. They would study these photos and believe there's something to them for them to release them. There's a political force there, saving face. It would be a loss of face to put these out and create the impression they were and then later another red herring.

Plus remember most of the people killed on that flight presuming the flight went down are Chinese, more than 150. This is enormously emotional topic in China. There's been great frustration among the families of the presumed victims of this crash against the Malaysian government, against really anyone involved.

So the Chinese government wouldn't want to add fuel to fire by confusing them or misleading them. Now why wouldn't the Chinese government have shared with the Malaysian government? This is a mystery. But you've had to go in two directions because you have this radar data that we've been looking at the last 24, 48 hours that shows the alternate path. Malaysians had that data for a few days and weren't sharing it widely.

I mean, one force, there's a force at work here. There's a lot of tensions in this part of the South China Sea, territorial disputes. We're talking about a territory dispute in Europe and Ukraine. You have an ongoing one here over a lot of different island chains between China and Japan, between China and those Southeast Asian countries including Malaysia.

So this is a sensitive area of defense and the Chinese may not want to show its competitors in that part of the world or us, the U.S. the extent of its satellite capability so that they would want to be very careful before they release these and maybe I've heard experts say that these satellite photos are not very high resolution, maybe they were higher resolution and they dumbed them down before they released them so as to not show their full capability.

I don't know that. But I know that's a sensitivity there in China, in the Chinese government showing their full military capability.

BURNETT: That's a pretty fascinating point that you make there. We'll have much more on that in just a moment. Former CIA operative this is a crucial part of the story. Thanks very much to Jim.

I want to bring in Tim Haueter now. He is the former director of the Office of Aviation Safety for the NTSB. I really appreciate you taking the time, Tom. So I guess, let's just start off with the question to you. An interesting in the context of what Jim just said, right, which is that some are saying this may have been dumbed down or made to look more blurry than the Chinese satellite images really were. That being said, you looked at them. Does this look to you like the plane?

TOM HAUETER, FORMER DIRECTOR, NTSB OFFICE OF AVIATION SAFETY: No. Just by the size. Any aircraft structure that size will sink. 70 by 70 feet, 70 by 40 feet is too big. It would sink.

BURNETT: You're saying you don't believe these are pieces of the plane?

HAUETER: I don't believe so. You got to trace down everything. You have to look at everything that couples. Certainly you need to find and verify what this is but I would be surprised if it's a piece of the airplane.

BURNETT: You just heard what our reporters said, China for reasons of saving face wouldn't put this out if they weren't sure. What you're saying is a pretty significant thing. Is there any way -- what's your view, then, I guess of what you think might have happened?

HAUETER: There's not enough data to say what happened. Certainly, I imagine the Malaysians are looking at every piece of data they can find. They are trying to verify it. They won't release data until they can verify it. So we don't know what happened. It's a real problem.

BURNETT: What's next for the investigation? We can imagine right now, I had written it down here, 43 ships, 39 planes from 12 countries have been looking for this ship. They looked first and foremost in the location where these three pieces of debris were now just released because that's was where the transponder stopped working.

But what happens they are all going to come in now. They are all going to be looking, these three pieces, we're going to know you would assume pretty quickly because daylight is now starting in that part of the world. What happens next in the investigation?

HAUETER: Well, in terms of the investigation what you do is keep collecting information. Certainly there's a lot of radar data, get all the data together, the data has to be timed together. Start piecing together everything you have. It takes time unfortunately.

BURNETT: So do you think we'll get answers on this pretty quickly? Obviously if you happen to be wrong and this is the plane and we'll know that very quickly, but if you're right and this is not the plane, are we at the beginning of a very long investigation given there's currents and this plane could be anywhere?

HAUETER: Well, exactly. Right now we don't know where to look. Obviously they have been looking, they have been looking through their searches. They didn't find these three pieces several days ago. So you need to go back and look again. The other problem we have is whatever is floating on the surface is moving with the currents. It's several hundred miles from where it was five days ago. It's a real problem.

BURNETT: All right, well, Tom, thank you very much. We appreciate you are taking the time. Interesting already there is a skeptical voice as we said. The former director of the Office of Aviation Safety for NTSB saying he doesn't think this is the plane. We're going to get that answer very soon because it is now light in that part of the world and still to come those satellite images taken a day after the flight went missing.

So here's the question, why are we only seeing them now? We're going to be talking about that as we said former CIA operative among our guests. Plus what may have happened in the cockpit of Flight 370 just before it vanished. We're joined by multiple pilots to talk about that.

And the families of the passengers have been waiting for days for news. Their reaction to these new images. We'll be live in Malaysia this morning.


BURNETT: We are back with our breaking news tonight. News satellite images from China may show debris from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The images captured on Sunday morning one day after the plane carrying 239 people disappeared. It's unclear exactly at this moment, but we're talking about a full day and that can end up being very crucial here, everyone, in terms of whether that debris would be have been floating or not at that point.

But the images here on the Chinese satellite were taken exactly this spot, the plane should have been when it disappeared from radar. Joining me now is CNN intelligence and security analyst, Bob Baer, and Chris Voss, the FBI co-case agent for TWA Flight 800.

All right, I really appreciate having both of you with us. You are the people who have answers to a lot of these questions. Let's start off with this question because the former director of Aviation Safety for the NTSB just said this did not look like a plane -- the plane to him because he said he didn't think the debris pieces of this size would have been floating. What do you all think about that, Bob?

BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: I can't comment on that what would float but it doesn't surprise me that we're having a hard time identifying the pieces. Satellite photography Chinese is very good but it takes days to analyze this stuff. Even what you see from the air is completely different when you actually get to it, and they had to go through this stuff for three or four days and I think the Chinese are doing the best they can. It may not be debris, but we'll have to wait and see.

BURNETT: Chris, what do you think?

CHRIS VOSS, FBI INVESTIGATOR FOR TWA FLIGHT 800: Well, it's really hard to predict how a plane will break apart and what it will look like if that's in fact what happened to the plane. If there was some sort of catastrophic explosion while in the air, broke apart while it was in the air, combined with the pieces being scattered around and then what happens to them when they hit the water. It's really hard to say definitively one way or another from a satellite image what it is until somebody gets there. I would be reluctant to make a call saying it is or isn't part of the plane.

BURNETT: All right, well, Bob, let me ask you what about the point you made about the Chinese doing the best they can because, you know, I was just talking about that with Jim Sciutto, our national security correspondent about this question of look they took this image, this picture on Sunday and now here we are in local time in Asia Thursday morning, right? I mean, that's days and days, the whole world has been looking for this. Why did it take them so long to release it?

BAER: Well, I don't think the satellite is geostationary. It's not sitting over that area and these satellite pictures are filed in a hard drive and you have to go through them manually. I expect the Chinese would assume this plane would have been found a lot faster by aviation and it wasn't and they probably went through the files.

But you know, I have looked for stuff in satellite photography when I was in the CIA and it took days even weeks to find something that should have been obvious. It's hard to pick out. There's a lot of wreckage in that sea, wrecks, and ship wrecks and the rest of it. So, I'm not really surprised. I don't think there's anything underhanded going on here.

BURNETT: And Bob, what about -- or Chris, what about the United States? I mean, you know, we were talking about this area, this, the plane now found really where the Gulf of Thailand meets the South China Sea. It is the South China Sea being one of the most disputed militarized areas in the world right now as China is seeking to expand its sphere of influence. The United States is obviously, very active because of that. Is it possible China is the only one who saw this or did the United States possibly see this as well and not let anyone know that they are spying on this area so they didn't release it. I mean, how much can you read into that? VOSS: No. You can't read that much in to. When on flights 800 it took a long time for us to get all the imagery and the information that we got from satellites and radar. I mean, these things just happened. It take time. People don't have any particular agenda. It takes a while to discover they have it and then they have to understand who they can tell and how they can release the information to follow all the protocols so that the information can be out there publicly. So, unfortunately, these things are painstakingly slow.

BURNETT: And Chris, what about when you look at the TWA flight 800, when you were the lead agent on that, that was -- and people had theories there of it being shot down. As you know, people still have those theories. You obviously came to the conclusion that it was, that there was a problem, malfunction on the plane, mechanical, electrical malfunction.

But in this case, notoriously, a pretty shallow area as you point out, a very busy area. So, it would seem likely if this is the plane that they would be able to get that black box. When are they going to be able to get answers as to what happened?

VOSS: Well, definitive answer is going to be really hard to come to, you know, even if you have what you believe to be witnesses to finding the actual smoke gun piece of evidence could take a really long time because you're going to get a lot of contradictory information off the plane and you have to sort all that out. So, it is actually, it's going take quite a while for them to come what they believe to be a cause what happened to the plane.

BURNETT: And Bob, what about this being a such militarized zone. Does that play at all into what happened?

BAER: Well, the Chinese are probably reluctant to give up satellite photography. That's not something in their nature to do. And you know, the fact that they got surveillance of this by their own satellite, yes, they didn't want to admit that. but I think you're seeing a lot of political pressure on Beijing to find out what happened to this airplane. So that probably took time to get a decision to release it.

BURNETT: All right. Chris and Bob, thank you both very much. Appreciate you taking the time.

And still to come, as we try to figure out whether those images are in fact the down flight 370, the confusion and chaos in the search. Did the Malaysian government botch the investigation forcing China to say look, we have satellite in the zone and here is what they show.

And some eerie parallels to another flight, the crash no long after takeoff and killed everyone on board. Why investigators called that crash a suicide mission. We have a Special Report and we will be talking to pilots about what happened in that cockpit coming up.


BURNETT: And more on our top breaking news story tonight, a possible new lead in the mystery of Malaysia airlines flight 370. possible new lead in the mystery of Malaysia airlines flight 370 possible new lead in the mystery of Malaysia airlines flight 370.

Now here's what you need to know about this. These are three images. And they were captured a day after the plane vanished so within that first 24 hour window. These objects are floating at that time. They may not still be floating but they were when this image was taken on Sunday.

Andrew Stevens is in Kuala Lumpur tonight in Malaysia where the plane took off.

And Andrew, there has been so much criticism how the Malaysian government has handled this investigation. First, they were looking where these pieces of debris were. Then they said the plane may have gone hundreds of miles in the opposite direction. You know, sparking all sorts of theories about hijacking and pilot suicide and on and on. And now, we are hearing Malaysian officials haven't seen these new satellite images. How could they have missed something like this?

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, at this stage we only got communications via text confirming they haven't got them. We can only assume they haven't been given them by the Chinese which is rather ironic because the Chinese foreign ministry is being quoted in a newspaper in Hong Kong as saying -- describing the whole investigations and searches as quote "pretty chaotic" and the fact that they don't know what's actual and what is not in the search with information coming out of Malaysia.

Now, we're hearing the Chinese have these satellite pictures but they perhaps haven't passed them on to Malaysia. So, this is just another sort of level in the amount of confusion that has been going on in this investigation. We've been told the focus has been switched pretty firmly into the western side of this country where the straits of Malacca are because I've been following this unidentified track of a radar track of an aircraft which corresponds to last known position of flight 370 going off into the straits. That's where they have been focusing.

But again the information we're getting here, it was first -- it came up and then they denied it, the prime minister denied that they were looking at that. And then it was confirmed yesterday by the air force. So, it really is difficult to get a clear handle on what's going on here.

BURNETT: As incredibly difficult, but as you point out they had been looking, you know, completely in another place than where the satellite images from China now show there to be debris, whether it is the plane or not, we still, of course, do not know. Although obviously, it's light where you are. We might be getting answers very soon.

What about the passengers' family members? What is their reaction been to this development? I mean, they have been waiting in anguish and clinging on to, many of them, to hope of a miracle for days. STEVENS: Yes. And it would be a miracle, let's be honest about that, if anyone is found alive. We're going into the sixth day now and the families of those passengers will be waking up with this news that there are sightings of debris which could be linked to the jet. We don't know that yet for sure.

But the levels of frustration, the levels of anger have just been mounting by the day because they are not getting information, they say, they should be getting about exactly, just a clear line of communication. Where are we? What's the latest? What are you looking at now? What are the these leads?

You know, we've seen the frustration boiling over in China where there is more than two third of the passengers are Chinese nationals. We've seen videos of water bottles being thrown at Malaysian officials here. The Malaysians -- my colleague I mostly spoken to said that, you know, they are just waiting and hoping and just hoping that they can get some information. If this turns out to be true, it would be tragic, but perhaps they can draw a line to what happened to their relatives.

BURNETT: Perhaps the beginning of closure of knowing maybe what happened.

Well, thank you very much, Andrew, as we said, live in Kuala Lumpur in the morning.

Still to come more of our breaking news coverage as it is daylight now in Asia. China releases those satellite images that could show the flight. We are going to show you what analysts are specifically looking for in those photos, a forensic analysis of someone who does this for a living. What are we really looking at with this blurred three prong shape.

Plus, we are going inside the cockpit of a Boeing 777. We are going to talk to pilots about what may have gone wrong at that moment.


BURNETT: We have more on our breaking news tonight.

Chinese satellites have identified a possible debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. I want to show you those images. Again, they are blurry. We're not sure if this was the resolution of the satellite that China has or whether they purposely blurred it for security reasons.

But we do know this -- they were taken on Sunday morning, right after the passenger jet did you say appeared within a 24 hour window, maybe a few hours more. They show what may be three large pieces of a missing Boeing 777 extended range in the water.

The coordinates of the satellite photos are in line with the jet's original flight path and pretty much spot on to the location where investigators say the plane's transponder, which is what broadcasts its location stopped operating. Investigators are scrambling to try to analyze these photos and determine if this is the crash site. We've been talking about how the fact it's now daylight in Asia and this is obviously -- you know, we're going to have ships going right in there to look for those pieces if they are still in the water, if they sunk, try to do sonar and find out if this is indeed the plane.

I want to go to Tom Foreman now OUTFRONT with the latest before we bring in a couple of pilots here who has some real opinions on whether this is the jet.

Tom, this is the location, though. Let's start with that. The location that authorities were searching for days, it is on the original flight path.

Is it possible that with all the searching in shallow body of water, where there's a whole lot of traffic with what was it, 42 ships and 39 planes from 12 countries, theoretically looking, did they miss it?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they can miss it because I've seen a lot of this -- let me read the map and let's talk about this.

Listen, looking for things in water, looking for plane crashes in my experience, Erin, is always hit or miss. I've seen huge teams sweep over an area, another one comes by later and they find something.

Let's talk about this plane and where it flew. It left Kuala Lumpur. We know that flew for about an hour, ended up missing here, getting kind of mixed signals on precisely where it was, because that's where it seemed to have gone missing. Where we pinpointed where the Chinese took these pictures actually about 140 miles away, so not exactly on- the-spot.

But there can be a lot of variances and uncertainties because heaven knows we've had a lot of that in this story and, of course, there's a question of currents. If we bring in an image from NASA of all the competing currents and this isn't counting what the winds can do or whether or not the plane fell directly down.

Yes, there's a lot of things that could move this around still that question remains. If you look at the image themselves, it is blurry, you can't tell much about it. So is this what matters? Is this part of the plane or it is just something else, Erin?

BURNETT: I mean, that is the big question, is it something else, because as you know, Tom Haueter, former director of safety for NTSB, was on this program at the top of the hour, one of the first to say, he was very firm in saying, going out on the limb and saying he doesn't think this is the plane, and his reason as former member of the NTSB is, look, the pieces would have sunk. There's no way these pieces would have been floating at that time.

What's your view on that theory?

FOREMAN: Well, it's kind of tricky because could something float for a while? Maybe these pictures were taken the first day or so. Maybe. But then they wouldn't be so far away.

These are big pieces. We're talking about big pieces here. That's a lot of weight no matter how you slice it.


FOREMAN: In general, they average them out -- the average out to each be half as big a basketball court. So can you get pieces that big from a plane like the 777?

Well, this is a big airplane. I'll tell you that. If you were standing on one wing of this plane and walked right through the fuselage to the other side you would cover 36 feet. From one wing tip to the other wing tip that would be about 200 feet.

So, it's a very big plane. But, remember the size we just described here, you have to put this together in a very certain way to get pieces that big out of this plane and then to have them float, that's a different matter all together.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Tom, thank you very much. That is one of the biggest questions tonight, which is -- are we now talking about the debris field for this plane, and what happened in the cockpit of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370?

I want to bring OUTFRONT now, Rob Mark, Anthony Roman, both pilots in to this conversation.

Anthony, you're on the set with me. You know, Tom and I were just talking about these pieces. Here's what we know about them. I mean, they are big, 43 to 79 feet wide, and in terms of the length, 59 to 72 feet long.

They are huge. There were only three of them, which would obviously mean that the other pieces were -- there's a lot of things here you have to buy into. Do you think this is the plane?

ANTHONY ROMAN, COMMERCIAL PILOT: I don't. I've examined the satellite image carefully and when you are examining a satellite image you are concerned about certain factors -- shape, size, texture, and light refraction. Things can look different.

The only thing big in an ocean even though this is a huge airplane, the only thing big in the ocean is the ocean. Everything else is infinitesimally small.

When we zoomed into the image that's within the center of that satellite coverage, what we found was that there is the appearance of having the nose cone of a fuselage and two windows that would appear to be the cockpit. But the pattern and shape of the actual wreckage or whatever we have there wouldn't strike me as being the pattern of an accident scene in the ocean. It just would have been much more dispersed and not so concentrated in one such dense area.

BURNETT: That's interesting. So, you've looked at the analysis. You said, if it were, this is what I would see as the cone and those two windows. But you don't think it is.

ROMAN: I don't. BURNETT: Rob, what's your point of view?

ROB MARK, COMMERCIAL PILOT: Well, I was thinking as I was listening to the explanation of the satellite image, one thing that bothers me is that I find it hard to believe that the Chinese were not able to come up with a resolution that was considerably higher and examined this before they released these photos. I'm sure they have technology as good as ours.

But, again, you know, why would we have just these huge pieces? There's so much confusing information flying around about this right now.

BURNETT: So, Anthony, let me ask you about what happened in that cockpit and obviously at this point we don't know. There's still -- even if this is the site and this is where it went down, that doesn't mean we have any idea about what actually happened and whether it was an accident or whether it wasn't an accident.

This transponder issue, it went off at this point, it seems, if this is the debris field, at about the time that the plane would have gone down. All right. Now, again, this may not be the debris field. We may be looking at something very different. But this transponder issue has been central.

Is there -- what would have caused it to turn off if it wasn't deliberate?

ROMAN: There's a number of things that could cause it to turn off. Well, the 777 has had an excellent safety record. However, in the last six to eight months, there have been several incidents of smoke in the cockpit. And back in 2011, there was an actual incident of a fire in the cockpit. A similar airplane went down over the Atlantic with a fire in the cockpit.

So, an electrical fire in the cockpit can spread very quickly and can knock out multiple redundant systems in a very short period of time.

BURNETT: And redundancy on the transponder and on this issue of a mayday or your ability to send a stress call, correct?

ROMAN: That's right.

BURNETT: But a fire in your view could have knocked all of that out?

ROMAN: A fire can knocked most of it out or all of it very rapid sequence. It spread incredibly fast.

BURNETT: All right. Rob, what do you think about that? Do you think that there was some sort of -- at this point, again, I know there's an assumption in this question that's the debris field but some sort of horrific mechanical malfunction. As the flying public, we're always led to believe that once your plane is at cruising altitude, if you don't hit turbulence, that is safe. That's what you're -- that's what we are all told. MARK: Well, there is the issue that -- I'm sure Anthony has heard of this, there was an airworthiness directive that came out from the FAA just last week about possible corrosion on the upper cabin area of the 777. And, again, while that is a rare and unusual situation, they obviously had a great deal of thought behind the airworthiness directive before they released it.

Could that have perhaps peeled away a piece of skin at some point and depressurized the airplane? That's a possibility. But, of course, that doesn't explain the electrical issues. But it might explain the loss of control.

BURNETT: And Tom foreman is with us.

Tom, you're covering some of these. Let's talk about the black box and what information would be on it. Would we be able to get answers on this from that?

FOREMAN: There's no question this is the Holy Grail. If you can get the flight data recorder, if you can get the cockpit voice recorder, those devices will tell you more than anything else can possibly tell you about what happened on this plane. They will have a treasure trove of information about everything, every system on the plane, what it was doing at the moment the plane headed down if in fact this plane crashed.

It will tell you about what was happening to the plane. Was it hitting turbulence at the time? And as they go through the recording in the cockpit, second by second by second, and these committees that look at this actually will spend hours scrutinizing five or six seconds listening to background noise and everything else to figure out what went on there.

That's why these things are so important. If they can find those more than anything else, they will tell us what happened on this flight.

BURNETT: Anthony, what happened on this flight? The theories out there had been, there was a hijacking, there was a terrorist incident, there was some sort of massive electrical malfunction, there was a pilot suicide.

Now, a lot of these were driven by the belief that this plane may have been driven off hundreds of miles off course, which at this point, if this is a debris field, obviously, it would not have been the case. In your mind, are those -- are we starting to narrow this down to some sort of mechanical malfunction or do you feel that you just don't have enough information to make that --


ROMAN: There's insufficient information. The mystery gets more complex and deepens with almost every hour that passes. The co-pilot, there are current allegations that the co-pilot allowed unauthorized personnel to enter the cockpit for extended periods of time on a previous flight.

BURNETT: Right. There were a couple of young Australian women who said he let them in the cockpit in 2011.

ROMAN: Yes, which is -- which is an absolute no-no. That cockpit should remain absolutely protected.

We now have information --

MARK: However --

ROMANS: We have information from Interpol that reflects that the passport issue was of major, major concern.


ROMANS: So security isn't what it should have been.

BURNETT: Rob, what were you about to say?

MARK: I was going to say to Anthony's point about the young ladies in the cockpit in the Malaysian airplanes, however as you know, security standards that we have here in the United States and in much of western Europe does not necessarily follow true or follow through in other parts of the world.


MARK: They don't apparently think it's quite as critical. Is that a part of the role? We don't have enough information.

BURNETT: Look, I was on a plane in Europe and I'm not going to say what airline it was last summer. And they were allowing children and people into the cockpit and letting them sit in the seat. I mean, you know, I remember being terrified by that. This is a call out for all of that.

Well, thanks very much to all of you. We appreciate your time as we try to start to piece together the pieces of this mystery.

Still to come, some eerie similarities to another flight that crashed not long after takeoff. While investigators called that crash a suicide mission.

Plus, just how safe is the 777? You just heard our pilots talk about this safety directive that came out about fires. Could something like this happen again?


BURNETT: More on our top breaking news story tonight following the new satellite images from China they say may show debris from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Many are now drawing parallels between the missing flight and a flight for SilkAir 185. It crashed in 1997. That flight was heading from Indonesia to Singapore, suddenly dove vertically into a river and killed everyone on board.

The National Transportation Safety Board concluded the pilot committed suicide. Kyung Lah is OUTFRONT.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): December 1997, the mysterious plane crash of SilkAir Flight 185, the Boeing 737 with 104 people aboard suddenly nose dived into this murky river. The entire drop happened in about one minute, breaking the speed of sound. Nearly all the bodies were torn to pieces.

Adding to the grief of the families, the National Transportation Safety Board would conclude all this was the act of one man, a pilot who wanted to commit suicide.

THOMAS ANTHONY, USC AVIATION SAFETY AND SECURITY PROGRAM: It ended up crashing here in the Musi River.

LAH: Thomas Anthony remembers SilkAir 185 clearly because he was the FAA Civil Aviation Security Division and was part of the SilkAir investigation. A pilot intentionally downing a passenger plane is still hard for him to think about.

(on camera): How horrifying is that? As someone who is investigating this?

ANTHONY: It's something most of us should never consider because it is so extremely rare. It is beyond -- almost beyond imagination.

LAH: And still disputed Anthony points out, Indonesian investigators said the cause remains inconclusive and in civil trial, a Los Angeles jury decided the crash was caused by a failed part of the plane's rudder. The victims' families never got a clear answer, just like another crash Egypt Air Flight 990. The NTSB ruled the pilot intentionally caused the 1990 crash. Egyptian authorities say it was caused by mechanical failure.

ANTHONY: It's like a jigsaw puzzle. A jigsaw puzzle in which there are thousands of pieces and not all those pieces are at the bottom of the ocean.

LAH: Could someone in the cockpit have done something to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370? These two young women say the co-pilot of the missing plane invited them to ride in the cockpit on a previous flight and did.

Retired American airlines pilot Mark Weiss believes based on prior history, someone perhaps with the crew intentionally cause this plane to vanish.

CAPTAIN MARK WEISS, FORMER BOEING 777 PILOT: Whether it was one of the pilots that maybe had a meltdown or wanted to do something nefarious to the airplane or uninvited visitor or perhaps an invited visitor or another crew member that was bent on perhaps committing suicide or doing some destruction on the aircraft.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BURNETT: Now, there's an intense focus on the wreckage. Obviously, that's not where all the answers lie.

LAH: You're right about that. There's a focus on the wreckage. That's where the answer will be. But look what happened with SilkAir. You have one piece of wreckage, about 75 percent of the wreckage was found and you have three different entities. The civil court here in Los Angeles, the U.S. authorities and the Indonesian authorities, three different responses to the same piece of evidence.

BURNETT: All right. Kyung, thank you very much. Horrific when you see these stories.

Well, joining me now is a former NTSB board member, John Goglia.

John, thank you for taking the time.

We just heard our Kyung Lah reporting on the SilkAir story, the suicide there as it was ruled by the NTSB. You know, look, it's hard at this point to speculate. Of course, everybody is speculating. And now, we have this possible debris field that really could change the view of what happened here because it was essentially on the flight path although not exactly.

Do you think that the case we're looking at now could possibly have been a pilot suicide like the SilkAir?

JOHN GOGLIA, FORMER NTSB BOARD MEMBER: Well, you know, every accident we approach and look at all the factors. And if this airplane suddenly came down and that piece of debris tells us thought came down in that area, we're going to look at all kind of actions, defects in the airplane, pressurization problems.

And I'd like to add to the pressurization, after the Aloha accident in Hawaii in 1988 and 1989 --


BURNETT: Is that when a window -- just remind people is that when a window was blown out affecting the pressure? Or am I thinking of the wrong one?

GOGLIA: That's the wrong one. It's when the whole top of the airplane blew off.

BURNETT: Whole top of the airline, OK.

GOGLIA: About 30 feet. It was a big piece.

Well, we started building our airplanes differently.


GOGLIA: And we now have what we call damage-tolerant air frames. You could see the result of that work on the part of Boeing and Airbus as well with the Southwest Airlines pressure administration blowout that occurred just a couple of years ago in Arizona. The panel, the blowout only proceeded so far and it stopped because the structure has been designed to stop those kinds of blowouts.

The same thing we just mentioned the corrosion with the A.D. note. Well, that same kind of structure, reinforced structure, exists in the airplane, so it would prevent the massive blowout of the airplane but it will still blow out in small pieces.

BURNETT: What about the issue of the fires that our pilots were just talking about? There have been this directive of warning coming out about the 777, which we're going to have more on in just a moment, but, you know, has been known as one of the safest planes in all of aviation.

GOGLIA: It is an unbelievable reliable program or airplane, platform. There is issues with fire. Fire is a very scary event on an airplane. So, they have to make sure that you protect.

And when you have incidents like they had over in Egypt on that 777, that had the fire, you need to make sure the conditions that existed on that airplane in Egypt do not exist on any of the other fleet.

So, there's a lot of people that have looked at that. But the NTSB in this investigation, and I assume Malaysian authorities will follow the ICAO Rules, will look at all of those. We're not going to close our eyes to anything.

So if this event really did happen and the airplane came down about the point where the radar ended, there is a whole protocol in which all the investigators will follow to go through every step of the way.

BURNETT: Does it shock you, though --

GOGLIA: On the suicide --

Go ahead on the suicide. That's what I wanted to ask you about. Yes?

GOGLIA: On the suicide point, I would -- I would assume that the Malaysian authorities are looking into the background of all the crew members on that airplane to see if they had any kind of problems. The SilkAir that you mentioned a little while ago, that particular crew member had amassed a huge amount of financial debt and problems for himself that he couldn't face anymore.

So, there's always reasons behind those actions that are usually have a trail, a paper trail, that will be discovered if the security forces do their job.

BURNETT: All right. Well, John, thank you very much. I do want to say our reporting at CNN today is that Malaysian authorities today just five days after the crash are now visiting the homes and searching the homes of the pilot and copilot. That's the latest we have on that.

Still to come, just how safe is the 777? That report, next.


BURNETT: And our breaking news coverage continues. A potential breakthrough in the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. The Chinese government releasing satellite images very blurry, but they say may show debris floating in the area where the airline vanished from the radar. It could be three very large pieces of the plane.

Now, many on this program tonight have expressed skepticism about that. But, obviously, we do not yet know. One thing we do know, the plane that vanished was a Boeing 777. And it is the world's workhorse of a plane. It's incredibly popular and it is one of the safest jets on the planet that. But that does not mean the 777 doesn't have problems.

Rene Marsh is OUTFRONT.


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 flight in San Francisco last July. Early indicators point to pilot error.

The FAA's Web site lists more than 100 airworthiness directives for the 777. They alert airlines to potential issues with the plane so they can expect or repair it.

Last September, a warning that 777s could have cracks in the top of the plane near an antenna. The FAA called for frequent inspections and warned it 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 airworthiness directive no one would fly, because it's frightening. But it's not. Airworthiness directives are like recalls on cars. They're 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 directive or warning is irrelevant?

GOLDFARB: It's very relevant, because what we don't know is whether Malaysian Air had actually completed that repair.

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

AHMAD JAUHARI YAHYA, MALAYSIA AIRLINES, CEO: On 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 (voice-over): Rene Marsh, CNN, Washington.


BURNETT: And thanks so much to all for watching.

Our breaking news coverage continues with Anderson Cooper.