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Officials Unclear on Malaysian Airline Path; What Went Wrong With Malaysian Air Flight; Explosion Levels 2 Buildings in Harlem; Republicans Score Major Win in Florida Special Election.

Aired March 12, 2014 - 13:30   ET


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is what we know. We know when the plane took off. We know when it stopped sending a transponder signal. But then it gets very murky. One of the things we were being told yesterday was this idea that there is a radar reflection over here. Why does it say reflection? That means the plane was not answering. Normally when a radar is sending out a signal here, it's saying, "I see something," and the plane is answering saying yes, we're the Malaysian air flight. There was no answer. They just saw something on radar out here. The indication we had, because authorities thought the plane had turned, somehow it followed some kind of line like this and wound up here. But now this is all in question as to exactly where it was or if this was even that plane. And the result is exactly what you said, Wolf. A question of what happens to the search areas.

The search areas were focused up in this area. Now they have been expanded over land. They have been expanded out here. And this isn't a simple task. Every time you expand it, you really tremendously expanded the job. Effectively what they do is they create a grid and then planes and other search vehicles must travel throughout that grid, one by one, eliminating every one of those squares. The search area now is officially at about 29,000 square miles, although one official put it closer to 40,000 square miles.

Point of reference. That's about a quarter of the search area that was conducted for the Air France flight that crashed after leaving South America. And it took them two years to find that wreckage, even though they found debris within a matter of a couple days when that plane went down. And they have no debris here. So this job is just getting more and more complicated with this new information coming in. And it will be even further complicated if, in fact, the plane is in water somewhere, could possibly be on land. This strait here they're talking about, one possible location, maximum depth, 328 feet. Pretty shallow in other areas. This is very, very different than the Air France crash. So finding something here seemingly would be easier. But you have listen for the pinging of these devices they're looking for on the plane. And that could be complicated by the fact this is one of the busiest waterways in the world. So while you're trying to listen, you're going to have all sorts of ships going past at all hours of the day, although maybe, Wolf, maybe, if the plane went down here, somebody might emerge from one of those ships eventually saying they saw something.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yeah, let's hope they find something, and find something soon.

Tom, thanks very much.

While the searchers are trying to figure out where the Malaysia Airlines plane is, aviation experts are also looking at what may have gone wrong. I'll speak live with a veteran airline pilot and our own Richard Quest about the possible scenarios that are unfolding. That's coming up.


BLITZER: The search crews are scouring a 27,000 square mile area. They're trying to find any sign of that missing Malaysia Airlines plane. Aviation experts are going through possible scenarios that might explain what went wrong. Was it a hijacking, was it an explosion? A catastrophic mechanical failure? There are a lot of scenarios out there.

Let's bring in our aviation expert, Richard Quest, also joining us the veteran airline pilot, Kit Darby.

Richard, first of all, you have some new information, a statement just released from the National Transportation Safety Board?

RICHARD QUEST, HOST, QUEST MEANS BUSINESS: Yes, Wolf. This follows on from the statement made by the head of transportation in the investigating authority in Malaysia, in Kuala Lumpur a few hours ago. They said they were going to be seeking further expertise from the FAA and the NTSB, and for those who with specialist knowledge of radar.

The National Transportation Safety Board, who are by far and away the most experienced in investigations, they say -- they say, one of the few statements they have put out since it began. "Investigators with expertise in air traffic control and radar are providing technical assistance to the Malaysia authorities who are working on locating the missing jetliner."

In simple English, it means the American experts in looking at radar and those who have done this over many years in many circumstances, are now getting to grips with the investigation on where that plane might be.

BLITZER: Kit, five days into this hunt for this missing plane that simply seems to have vanished, they're now doubling, tripling the area that they're searching for. How troubling is that to you? What does it suggest?

KIT DARBY, VETERAN BOEING 777 PILOT & PRESIDENT, KITDARBY.COM: Well, the few pieces of information we had that began to give this investigation some direction have now been challenged for their authenticity. And we don't really know. So we have the scenario of the airplane continuing, that this track is false. We have -- the track could be accurate. And now leads us in another direction. So we double the search area. We're really looking at the pilots. There's a slight chance they were involved or made a mistake, perhaps, with a mechanical problem that was shown. And we're looking at the threat of terrorism. So really three areas: the airplane, the threat of terrorism and pilots. But they could interact in many different ways. So without more information, we need to find this plane and we need to get hold of the black boxes to get direct information, or we need to find someone else who has more direct information, perhaps some of the data outputs.

But the takeoff, the climb, the radio conversation, all normal. We don't really have any indication of anything abnormal from what we have been able to gather from the airplane or ATC.

BLITZER: Richard, the police in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, they say they are now searching the home of the airliner's captain, a 53-year-old veteran pilot from Malaysia Airlines. What would they be looking for, based on the information you know?

QUEST: I would say that it's common sense that they would be looking to see was there any reason to suspect that this captain might have been involved in any shape, form or description. They're going to be looking for anything, anything at all that will give them a clue as to why the captain didn't communicate, if his aircraft, if his airliner, is in trouble. He is the master of the ship. It is entirely under his command. So you're going to want to know, what's in his home, was he on any medications they didn't know about. What was he reading, what was on his computer at home. What was he thinking? Anything at all. Because you are -- again and again, you are cutting the pieces of the jigsaw that will make the picture. And by going to the captain's home, talking to his friends, talking to his family, this is all normal stuff when you've got to basically do a full-scale forensic examination of every aspect of this flight. Because as Kip (sic) was saying, we don't have anything here that we would normally expect to have to lead us towards a clue or solution, a reason.

BLITZER: Kit, if there was some catastrophic mechanical failure, all electric power was destroyed for whatever reason, there would still be no way to send out any distress signal, is that right? Is there any backup system that is included in a plane like this, which is the most sophisticated out there?

DARBY: Well, the -- in this airplane, like you say, one of the best, one of the most sophisticated. It has redundancy on top of redundancy. It has two engines, two power generators, each engine has two generators. It has an auxiliary power unit that can power a generator, an air-driven turbine and backup batteries. It's inconceivable -- the reason I think it's the most likely scenario, I can't find any way in my reasoning to understand how all those things could go off simultaneously. The only way I see for that to happen is to cut the power. And that's conjecture on my part. It's simply the only way I see for this type of thing to develop, without there being some type of information from the airplane or radio call from the captain.

Now, the captain could easily be hands full of airplane and not -- his first priority would not be to call us. The first priority would be to save the plane and, with it, himself. So he's motivated to do that. If he has time, he'll give us a call. But there's other data coming from that plane, all of which stops at this moment. It makes no sense.

BLITZER: Richard, button this up for us.

QUEST: Well, there's one bit of data that we can't pin down. But the rumor is the "New Scientists" newspaper has an article that says Rolls-Royce, the plane's engine manufacturer, has received data, big data -- because it monitors all engines from Rolls-Royce aircraft around the world. That Rolls has got data from the engines. But needless to say, Rolls-Royce, not only would they not confirm they've got the data, obviously they wouldn't tell us what the data is. So we're still following that lead, as well, Wolf, of whether or not Rolls-Royce, the aircraft manufacturers of the engines, actually knows a little bit about this story, too.

BLITZER: Richard Quest, Kit Darby, guys, thanks very much.

We're going to have much more coverage of the missing plane. This mystery continuing.

Also another story we're watching, a huge explosion leveling two New York City buildings. We'll have the latest on the victims, the cause of the blast, the major search-and-rescue operation that is under way, in New York, right now.


BLITZER: A frantic search now under way in the rubble of two, yes, two collapsed buildings in New York City. They came crashing down after a huge blast, possibly a natural gas explosion, at around 9:30 this morning. At least two people are confirmed dead. 24 hours are injured, including a child reportedly now in critical condition. The blast set off a five-alarm fire that's still burning right now. A Con Edison official tells CNN there was a report of a possible gas leak about 15 minutes before the explosion. Investigators smelled gas in the air. Law enforcement officials stressed to CNN they are not seeing any connection to terrorism.

Our own Poppy Harlow is on the scene for us in Harlem in New York City.

Poppy, what's the latest? What are you learning?

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, just take a look behind me. We're going to pan in so you can see what dozens and dozens of FDNY New York City responders, digging through the rubble of what was two buildings of two residential apartments, 1644 and 1646 Park Avenue. As you said, 24 injured and being treated at this time. We know two are dead, two women. Mayor de Blasio calling this a tragedy of the worst kind because of the lack of advanced notice. Again, the only notice they were given was that call of someone in the area smelling gas just about 15 minutes prior to this explosion.

Also, I want to tell you that an NYPD detective told me, quote, "1644 Park Avenue appears not to be there anymore, a total collapse of these buildings." An extended operation under way. This is very much a search-and-recovery effort still at this time, Wolf. They have literally just been putting out the final flames from this fire, now searching through all of the rubble.

We got here just about half an hour after it happened, 45 minutes or so, and talked to people who lived in buildings right on the block that were impacted by this. Listen to what one 21-year-old Angelica told me.


UNIDENTIFIED HARLEM RESIDENT: My neighbors came banging on my door, telling me to get out, that I guess they were evacuating the building. And I couldn't get out. My door was jammed. Everything off my window sill fell and I guess the impact of the explosion jammed the door, as well.


HARLOW: And now, you know, we also met people here this morning looking for their loved ones, running up, embracing others, very worried about what would have happened.

I think the big question at this time, and the mayor said time and time again in the press conference, he will not name the number of people unaccounted for. It is just far too early to do that. They could well be alive, not injured, just not being reached or not found by their friends and family. They're not giving us that number.

That is the key question now. How many people are unaccounted for? Are there anymore fatalities, and also the structural integrity of the buildings on this block, Wolf. The mayor said there was a huge impact structurally. The question is, are these buildings intact or is there concern going forward about the structural integrity of the buildings connected on the block. We have reached out to the Department of Buildings. We're waiting to hear back from them on that.

BLITZER: Yeah. Two buildings collapsed in New York City, a huge explosion. We'll stay on top of this story.

Thanks very much, Poppy, for that.

Other news we're following, including Republicans, they score a major win in a Florida special election. So what does that signal for President Obama? And the Democrats, in the upcoming November elections, not good news. Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, standing by.


BLITZER: Florida elections that might indicate serious trouble for the Democrats in the mid-term elections. Republican David Jolly won in the special election of Florida's 13th Congressional district. He will fill out the term of Bill Young who died in October. National Republicans frame it as a referendum on President Obama's health care act. They are looking at the race for the bellwether for the mid-term elections.

Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, is here. What do the results say to you, Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It was an important race. It was a perfect storm where you had a district that is a swing district that had been held by a Republican, a swing district with two candidates pretty well-known, neither of them ideal candidates, $9 million in outside money pouring into the district to try to appeal to Independent voters. And what you had was a fight over Obamacare, the fight that Republicans have been itching to have. And in this particular race, you had the Republican candidate saying Obamacare is a disaster and the Democratic candidate saying, you know what, don't end it, mend it. The Republican won.

You talked to Democrats about this, and they say, look, it would have been worse for her if she had not talked about actually fixing Obamacare. People don't want to kill Obamacare. You talk to Republicans, and they say this message about Obamacare will have resonance in the 2014 election and make a difference in every swing district.

BLITZER: Based on this result last night, plenty of pundits are saying, for the Democrats, forget about taking over the House, and you will probably lose the Senate.

BORGER: Here's the problem for the Democrats. And the president, in every fundraiser he has gone to, he's been talking about this. The problem for the Democrats is they are not turning out to vote. Their base is not as motivated in the 6th year of a Democratic presidency to go out there and support Democratic candidates. Republicans, who are angry about President Obama, who don't like him -- and, don't forget, only 26 percent of the people in this country, according to a poll, believe it's headed in the right direction. That's not going to motivate you if you are a Democrat to support a Democratic candidate, but it will if you are a Republican and you want to see a change.

What the president is doing is telling Democrats, OK, I know you come out during presidential years, but you have to come out for Democrats in the mid-term election or you are going to have this result.

BLITZER: Gloria, thanks very much.


BLITZER: Gloria Borger, reporting for us.

And going back to Harlem in a moment. Don Lemon is standing by at the scene of that massive explosion. Two buildings collapsed. The search for survivors continues.


BLITZER: Watching the breaking news out of New York City, disturbing news around 9:30 a.m. eastern and leveling two buildings in Manhattan.

Don Lemon is in Harlem.

Don, you got us worried when you said the smoke seemed to be accelerating and getting worse. What's the latest?

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They were taking care of it. I'm reporting from inside, and the police are aware that they are here now, and they are allowing me to stay since I'm already here. I've spoken to a couple of them and they said, since they are here, stay, make sure you wear your mask and stay out of everyone's way.

I am standing right in front of the Con Ed people who have gotten into the hole and capped off whatever they need to. When I spoke to you, it was an opportune time that because they had just gotten to the main or what have you that they needed to reach in order to shut it down. They have done it. I don't smell anymore.

This video I shot, that you're looking at, Wolf, was from my iPhone as I was standing here. There was a drone flying over the scene that flew over the scene for several minutes, about 10 or 15 minutes, back and forth. I'm not sure if it's the NYPD. I think it is, but people do have personal drones. This did look official to me. A drone flying over the scenes, probably taking some video, keeping officials informed of what's going on.

BLITZER: Don, I want you to stand by because Brooke Baldwin is in New York as well. She's going to pick up our coverage right now.