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Mystery of Flight 370

Aired March 13, 2014 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: breaking news on the mystery of Flight 370, another stunning lead suggesting the plane may have flown for several hours after it vanished. We're working our sources.

We're sifting through confusing and conflicting data. I'm told the U.S. warship just moved into the entrance of the Indian Ocean as the search area is dramatically expanding right now. We will talk about the challenges of looking for the jet across a very deep and massive expanse of water.

After six days of futile searches and several false leads, have Malaysian officials been holding back information or mishandling this investigation?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: And we begin with the breaking news, the new information that's led investigators to believe that Flight 370 may, I repeat, may have flown for several hours before it disappeared.

We caution, nothing is certain in this rather bizarre mystery, but here's what we know right now. U.S. officials tell CNN Malaysian authorities think they have several pings, pings that were sent from the jet up to five hours after its transponders, the signals went out.

Based on that information and other data, investigators now believe the plane may have made it to the Indian Ocean. The commander of the U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet told me just a short while ago an American warship just turned into the entrance of the Indian Ocean to search the area. He said the USS Kidd moved at the request of the Malaysian government.

Our correspondents and analysts are working their source. Our CNN effort is using the global reach to cover this story like no one else can.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, first. She's got new information -- Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a senior U.S. official told me that the Malaysian government has now said to them, to the U.S., it does have several pings from what they do believe is this airliner.

They're not clear about how much data is actually involved, but essentially electronic pings that have led them to calculate that a plane like this one with engines like this plane had flew several hours out into the Indian Ocean. They come to this conclusion, we are told, based on the pings being transmitted to satellites, the satellites calculating some information from those pings, as well as the reasonable conclusions about the fuel that remained on board from the last time they had real contact with the aircraft.

This all is now leading to the expansion of the search west of Malaysia into the Indian Ocean to see what they can find. It is uncertain, Wolf. U.S. officials have been down this road many times with leads over the last several days. Nothing is 100 percent, they're cautioning us, but they are going to now start looking in the Indian Ocean, vast amounts of water.

The question is, how do you find potentially bits of wreckage floating around in such a large area, Wolf?

BLITZER: Barbara Starr, thanks very much.

I want to go right to our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto. He's got more -- Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, speaking to U.S. officials, my understanding is that these pings that we're hearing about are an important new clue that they're now connecting to other clues, which leads their attention in the direction of the Indian Ocean.

What are those other clues? The key one, this satellite -- this radar data, rather, that we have been reporting the last few days which showed the plane come north, take a turn, then head out west towards the Indian Ocean, which they are then combining with an understanding of how much fuel was in the plane when it was flying and they get this range here, 2,500 miles, an amazing area to look at.

Now, along this course that it was taking, could have taken a turn anywhere in here, which then begins to expand your search area to these limits, possibly even bigger. You know, we had someone on the USS Kidd, one of the destroyers now coming out to this search area, he compared the old search area here in the South China Sea to a chessboard. He calls this one a football field. Imagine the scale and the resources they will need to look here.

And remember the water's deeper as well. Compare it to the Air France crash in 2009. That crashed in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, but they had a sense of where it was when it crashed. Still took them two years to find that fuselage, an incredible task at hand.

But also again just to add some caveats, as we have been going throughout this, this is an investigation. They have a number of clues. They're trying to connect those clues as best they can. They have had clues, for instance, yesterday, those satellite images we were talking about. That turned out to be a false lead. But what gives them some confidence here is that they have more than one clue that leads in the direction here. And I'm told really one of the key ones is that radar data. And remember they have had more time to analyze that radar data to get more confidence that this is the heading the plane was on when they lost contact with it.

BLITZER: Has this new information, Jim -- and I know you're well-plugged-in to the U.S. intelligence community -- increased the likelihood that all of this was terror-related, as opposed to some sort of mechanical problem?

SCIUTTO: Well, speaking to U.S. officials, their position has been consistent throughout from the moment that this plane disappeared. They say that they have nothing to indicate this was a terror event, but they haven't ruled this out as the possibility of a terror event.

I asked them today this new information, does that increase your worry about a terror event? They said, no, we're in the same place we have been for the last several days.

BLITZER: All right, stand by for a moment.

Fran Townsend is here, our law enforcement analyst, our national security analyst. Also, Rene Marsh is here.

Rene, you're looking at a very specific part of this investigation.


This is our own version. This is very much like the plane that is missing now, Flight 370, and when it's 35,000 feet in the air, there are three ways a plane can get urgent messages down to the ground. And that critical information is transmitted by voice or data through satellites or radio frequencies.

Tonight, we look at all of the ways the crew or the plane's systems could have communicated to someone that something was terribly wrong.


MARSH (voice-over): Inside the cockpit of a Boeing 777, there are multiple ways pilots communicate with the ground. The ACARS system automatically beams down information about the health of the plane. Until today, we thought the last transmission was 1:07 a.m. local time. Now there's word it may have been transmitting data hours beyond that.

(on camera): Give me details. What kind of information is being beamed down?

TOM HAUETER, FORMER DIRECTOR, NTSB OFFICE OF AVIATION SAFETY: Commonly, what's downloaded is engine parameters, temperatures, around of fuel burn, any maintenance discrepancies. MARSH (voice-over): Airlines monitor the real-time data. Another way to communicate, radio. "All right, good night," the final call from the pilots as Flight 370 left Malaysian airspace, a common phrase when changing controllers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are in a dive here.

MARSH: In Alaska Airlines Flight 261, when the plane dived out of control, pilots radioed what was happening, but no mayday from Flight 370.

(on camera): In the event of an emergency, is communication secondary?

HAUETER: Yes, the first thing is to fly the airplane, navigate the airplane, then communicate. That's the order of precedence.

MARSH (voice-over): A third way to communicate, by transponder -- 1:21 a.m., Flight 370's transponder signal goes dead. It transmits the plane's location, speed, altitude and position.

(on camera): Is there any good reason that a pilot would want to switch that off?

HAUETER: Clearly, if all the power was lost to the aircraft or something happened to take out that part of the electronics, I mean, the electrical system, yes, that would turn it off, but certainly one aspect of turning it off is because you don't want to be seen.

MARSH (voice-over): Radar tracks Flight 370 flying for another nine minutes. At 1:30 a.m. local time, the plane vanishes. But the one piece of the plane that's likely still communicating, the flight recorders. Only sonar equipment can detect their pings. And time is of essence. The signal only lasts for about 30 days.


MARSH: All right, and those flight recorders located right here in the rear of the plane. Now, there is one other way that the plane could communicate a problem. It's through the plane's emergency locator transmitter, or ELT. It can be manually activated or it can automatically activate on impact.

The signal is sent to the search-and-rescue teams via a satellite system, but the ELT stops working if it sinks below the water's surface. A senior official told CNN's Barbara Starr no emergency beacon activated in this case. And, Wolf, you have one right there in front of you. That's the ELT that we're talking about.


BLITZER: We have got another one over here, too. We have two of these ELTs. This is the transponder. This is the -- to turn on and off the transponder and the switch and this is the transponder. This is what they call the black box, but it's really orange. It's the flight data recorder. MARSH: And do you see right there at the edge of the black boxes? We talk about those pingers that send off that pulse one time per second.

They're located right there, that gold area. That's where the pingers are located. It sends off that pulsing sensation and you cannot detect it with the human ear, but if you have sonar equipment, you can pick it up.

BLITZER: All right, everyone, stand by.

Richard Quest is with us as well.

Richard, I want to go to you right away. What are you hearing now? Given this new, rather dramatic information that we're now collecting, the U.S. Navy now moving ships into the Indian Ocean, we just heard it from a commander in the U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet, what are you hearing?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's time for the Malaysians to actually give some more information.

And it's 10 past 6:00 in the morning in Kuala Lumpur, but the sheer breadth and depth and turn, Wolf, this has taken in the last hour, the suggestions that are now flying around that you have been reporting of what this plane did, where it went, how it behaved, what was happening in the cockpit, clearly suggests we're not being told very much about what the situation is.

And I'm guessing in the next hour or two, as that press conference gets under way in Malaysia, it's going to be a very raucous affair.

BLITZER: It will be a tense moment.

Fran Townsend, you're our national security analyst. You're on the advisory board of the CIA. To a lot of folks, it's increasingly looking like this was not some sort of mechanical failure. This is looking like it was manmade.


But we have to make a distinction even among a manmade event, that doesn't necessarily mean terror. It may be that somebody took control of the cockpit, but that could be a pilot. We saw in Egypt Air 990 where the pilot intentionally downs the plane. Not saying that happened here. We don't know.

But it does look like if this plane was in fact in the air for a number of hours after the responder went -- was turned off, you got to presume some control of the aircraft by somebody capable of continuing to fly it.

BLITZER: How do they determine that? What are they doing? Take us a little bit behind the scenes. You were the homeland security adviser to President Bush. You have had extensive background in the Justice Department in these kind of investigations.

What are they looking for if they are working under the assumption that a person took the switch and turned it off with a transponder and then commandeered the plane for whatever purpose, whether a crazy person, whether for some political reason or whatever, what do they do? Take us into this investigation.

TOWNSEND: So the first thing, we heard that the Malaysians had searched the homes of the pilots. You're looking for...


BLITZER: Now the Malaysian government denies that. They just say they stationed police outside the homes. They say they didn't go inside. I'm surprised if they didn't go inside. I would like them to make sure they investigate not just the pilots, but everyone.


You can be sure U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials are in fact looking at everyone they know to have been on that plane, including the pilots. What are their relationships, what are their affiliations, what travel have they done? Have they had online contact and with whom?

Particularly in a counterterrorism investigation, if they're trying to rule that out, they will look at the pilots or anyone else on that plane that's had contact, electronic contact or phone contact with anyone who's a known extremist. Those are the sorts of things. They're looking for the transfer of money. They're looking for written documents, anything that will give them a hint to motivation and relationships.

BLITZER: Hold on for a moment because Andy Pasztor of "The Wall Street Journal" is joining us.

Andy, you broke a major story on the front page of "The Wall Street Journal" today on this investigation. And you're suggesting that it's even taking some more, shall we say intriguing twists right now. What's the latest information, Andy, that you're learning?

ANDY PASZTOR, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, if it weren't such a serious business and taking place in a big swathe of Asia, it would be almost like fiction.

So what we have in addition to a 250-ton aircraft that purportedly crashed into the water, and there's no debris whatsoever from that accident, we now have increasing indications that investigators strongly suspect that this aircraft had its engines running and was flying around for up to four hours after its last transponder transmission to civil air control, air traffic control.

BLITZER: So go ahead. What was that last point? I missed it.

PASZTOR: That it was flying around for almost up to four hours after its last transponder transmission. So that means the plane was intact for much of that time, for all of that time and in fact flying around, perhaps landing. Investigators believe it's even possible that it landed somewhere.

But the point is that from the scenario that folks had originally that this plane went down when its transponder stopped transmitting and it crashed somewhere near its last location, we now have a widening search looking for a plane that was going to an unclear location and flying around perhaps for up to four hours, which is pretty amazing in this scenario.

BLITZER: And, Andy, I just want to be precise on this, because this is very dramatic, explosive information if in fact U.S. authorities, U.S. investigators are now looking at the possibility, as you have just reported, that this plane may have landed somewhere, that whoever commandeered the cockpit forced this plane to land somewhere -- is that what you're hearing?

PASZTOR: This is certainly a thread of the investigation. I'm not suggesting its the main part of the investigation or that they have very strong evidence supporting it, but they were looking into that because the transmissions from the aircraft indicate that it was intact and it could have landed somewhere.

They do not know -- honestly, at this point they do not know where it is or if it may have crashed subsequent to some of those transmissions. But one thread of the investigation we have been told pretty strongly is a scenario where someone, either a pilot or some passenger or someone on board the aircraft intentionally turned off the transponder so the plane would be invisible to radar and then has some kind of a nefarious scheme to take it to some uncertain location for who knows what, as someone told me, to do something with at a later date.

BLITZER: We're talking with Andy Pasztor, a reporter for "The Wall Street Journal." This is your reporting, Andy, and, as I say, it's pretty dramatic.

I want our panel here to weigh in as well. They may have some follow-up questions.

Fran, I will start with you. First of all, because if in fact U.S. authorities are now investigating, As Andy is just reporting from "The Wall Street Journal" that they're looking at the possibility the plane didn't crash, but it actually landed somewhere, this takes this whole investigation to a whole different area.

TOWNSEND: That's exactly right, Wolf.

And so you look at the area of the search and you say where would that be possible? This is not a small plane. You didn't land this on some remote island in the middle of the South Pacific. So it needed a large -- it would have need a large runway, and you just look at the grid area. It seems unlikely to me.

Is it possible? Look, with as many twists and turns as this investigation is taking, you can't eliminate anything. I think it's unlikely, but certainly they will look at this search area.

BLITZER: Let me ask you Jim Sciutto. Have you heard anything from any of your sources that they're investigating the possibility of the plane -- yes, we reported it flew for maybe four or five hours, but the assumption was that it probably crashed into the Indian Ocean someplace, not necessarily that somebody commandeered it and made it land.

SCIUTTO: Yes. No, I have not been told by anybody that's a serious scenario that they're looking at.

But, listen, they don't know where the plane is, so they have to, by their nature, intelligence analysts, keep all options open and see where the clues lead them. I think that's where we are. But it's an important point I think as well, because we're looking at that search area and you have the piece of the pie, right? There is the possibility that the plane took some turns. So it expands the search area. Every time you talk about a turn...


BLITZER: Maybe you can walk back over to that map and show the area where it could have gone -- it could have gone to India, it could have gone to -- there's a whole piece of land where potentially that plane could have landed.

I want to get Richard Quest into this conversation. Andy Pasztor from "The Wall Street Journal," don't leave us.

Richard, your reaction to what we just heard?

QUEST: It just adds one more extraordinary, bizarre element that tells us that this is completely and utterly unprecedented.

Can I ask Andy one quick question?

BLITZER: Please.

QUEST: Andy, it's Richard quest here. This, the strength of data upon which the authorities are working on, never mind the landing aspect of it, just the strength of data that they believe proves this plane continued flying around, is it pings, is it hard satellite data? What's your understanding?

PASZTOR: My understanding at this point is that it's actually these pings that you refer to, which means that the system on board the aircraft is trying to get in contact with the satellite.

It would have transmitted some data, but it doesn't transmit any data for some reason. It's not quite certain, not quite clear why. But these are these repetitive attempts to reach a satellite and investigators believe that only an intact plane would have been able to do that.

I just want to add that they're not suggesting this is the central theme of this investigation, but the bottom line, after almost a week of intensive searches, is that this 250-ton plane didn't leave any debris if it crashed into the ocean. And no matter whether it's a supersonic dive, vertical dive into water or it's a Chesley Sullenberger gradual belly landing on the Hudson, a plane of this size has got to leave some debris.

Everybody agrees on that. Somebody will float, whether it's seat cushions or parts of galleys or something. And so that's the big conundrum here. If you don't have debris, you don't have a crash site.

And so that's why investigators are starting to look at some of the data and say, well, maybe it didn't -- it didn't go down in the drink.

BLITZER: The possibility, Andy Pasztor of "The Wall Street Journal" reporting that investigators are looking at the possibility -- and this would be a huge, huge development -- the plane didn't crash, but landed somewhere.

I'm going to ask Andy Pasztor of "The Wall Street Journal" to stand by, Richard Quest, everyone else.

We will continue the breaking news right after this.


BLITZER: For our North American viewers, this important note: "CROSSFIRE" won't be seen tonight so we can bring you more of our special report on the mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

We have been following the breaking news, very dramatic news. Andy Pasztor of "The Wall Street Journal," he's been on the phone with us. He's still on the phone. He's reporting that there is a possibility. He says U.S. investigators are looking, are looking at the possibility that this aircraft may actually have landed somewhere. This is "Wall Street Journal" reporting from Andy Pasztor, not CNN reporting.

I want to get to Andy in a moment.

But Jim Sciutto is over here at the magic wall.

Jim, if in fact this plane landed after flying four or five hours after the transponders shut down, stopped sending signals back to ground stations, where potentially could it have landed, if you look at the amount of fuel that it had?

SCIUTTO: Well, let's look at the options then and the range.

You have coast of Australia here, you have the coast of India here, but presumably these are countries with mature civil aviation systems, defensive systems. They would notice a plane that size and I'm sure, as friends of the U.S., would let us know.

You have other smaller -- you have got some islands here and here. You also over here have Diego Garcia, which is a major U.S. military installation, which would have defensive capabilities, but also surveillance capability in the area.

So the options aren't great once you look at that. Now there's also the possibility that it could have landed somewhere in Indonesia very early on in that flight. Here's the radar path as we know it. But let's say even if it didn't -- and to our information we haven't heard this as a major theory that investigators are looking at, but even if it's not landing, it does at least give you the potential that the flight's making turns, turning around and 1,000 other options in there, which does at a minimum make your search area very large.

As we were saying earlier, the original search area over here in the South China Sea, a chessboard. That's a football field, much harder to find an airplane.

BLITZER: Let me bring Andy Pasztor of "The Wall Street Journal" back into this conversation.

It's a dramatic amount of reporting you're doing, Andy, the possibility that this plane may actually have landed, as opposed to crash-landing into the waters, whether the Indian Ocean or someplace else. Can you give us a sense how seriously you believe based on your reporting investigators are considering this possibility?

PASZTOR: I don't think -- in my mind, there's no doubt that they're considering the possibility and looking at it. They have to weigh all the evidence that they have, and so I think that will determine how seriously they continue to go down this path.

But to add one more level of complexity to what is already an incredibly complex situation, until the wreckage is found, there's actually nobody to lead the investigation. So we keep talking about an investigation, as though it were a vibrant, living thing, but in fact until the wreckage is found and some country, jurisdictionally, according to international treaties, takes control, as the chairman -- former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, Jim Hall, told me, at this point, literally, nobody is in control.

There's no real investigative work. There's searches for wreckage, but in terms of really trying to understand what happened aboard this plane, that can't begin until some country establishes its authority and begins to collect evidence, talk to lots of witnesses, and look at the technical data.

And that just complicates things even more, because the longer that gets delayed, I believe the harder it might be to really find the truth.

BLITZER: And I want to stress this is reporting from Andy Pasztor of "The Wall Street Journal" and CNN has not confirmed this.

I want to go to Kuala Lumpur. Andrew Stevens is our correspondent in Malaysia right now.

This is very dramatic information that "The Wall Street Journal" has. I wonder if you're hearing anything at all in Malaysia itself, Andrew, to suggest that there's an investigation under way that, instead of this plane crash-landing somewhere, may actually have landed?

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, getting information out of the Malaysian authorities, Wolf, as we all know now, is proving quite difficult.

I mean, if this is true -- even the point that the plane was flying for another four to five hours -- this is according to U.S. investigators -- is an extraordinary development, given the fact that less than 12 hours ago, the Malaysian authorities leading the search, leading all the information at its disposal, basically put that theory down.

They said that it was an inaccurate report. There was no evidence that they had to suggest certainly that the plane was still flying. Let me quote what the defense minister, who is leading this investigation, says. "I would like to refer to news reports suggesting that the aircraft may have continued flying for some time after the last contact. As Malaysia Airlines will confirm shortly, those reports are inaccurate."

And they base this inaccuracy on the fact that there was no information coming from the engines of that plane to suggest that it continued to fly. Now, they have got experts from Rolls-Royce and from Boeing down here. They checked that with them, and that's what they said.

But you have got U.S. investigators now saying this is a distinct possibility that this plane may still have been flying. We put calls in several hours ago now, Wolf, to the Malaysian authorities, to the civil defense authority here. We haven't heard anything back yet. It's now getting on towards 6:30 in the morning.

This is obviously going to be a major line of inquiry today. But, at the moment, we get a single daily update from authorities here. I don't know what -- we don't know yet what time that will be. But, certainly, this is -- if the U.S. is saying that this plane probably kept flying and the Malaysian authorities are saying, no, it didn't, what's going on?

BLITZER: Andrew Stevens reporting for us from Kuala Lumpur, Andrew, thanks very much.

This flight, Flight 370, the search crews, they are facing a daunting task looking for the aircraft. They're combing the vast Indian Ocean right now for traces of the plane. They'll be guided by lessons from past air disasters.

CNN's Pamela Brown has been looking into this part of the story for us. What are you learning?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're learning, of course, every crash is different, but we've been speaking to aviation experts. And they tell us that planes are like tin cans, and when they break up or have -- or fill up with water, they sink.

But there are enough parts of the plane with buoyancy that could provide clues as to where the wreckage is.


BROWN (voice-over): It was called a miracle, because U.S. Airways pilot Sully Sullenberger pulled off the seemingly impossible : safely crash landing his passenger-packed jet in one piece on the Hudson River.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kudos to him, man. He did a great job.

BROWN: Most of the time, the wreckage is not in one piece: debris scatters, some of it sinking, some of it floating.

STEVE WALLACE, FORMER DIRECTOR, FAA ACCIDENT INVESTIGATION: Life jackets could be in there, seat cushions, anything in the bins that floated. So it's certainly possible that substantial pieces of lightweight debris, not aircraft structure, would be -- could be found floating six days after, if the aircraft struck the water.

BROWN (on camera): Air France Flight 447 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009. In this case, floating debris led search crews to the wreckage five days after it went down. The debris field was relatively contained. That shows it broke up when it hit the water before some of it sank 2 1/2 miles to the ocean floor.

In 1996, TWA Flight 800 exploded in the sky near New York. Debris scattered far and wide. Investigators had to map out several debris fields. The cockpit sank, but the fuselage and wings scattered far because of how high up the plane was when it exploded.

WALLACE: The initial pieces of floating debris just give you a clue where to start looking and listening for the pingers, the transmitting devices that make a ping sound that a sonar picks up that are on the recorders.

BROWN (voice-over): In the case of the 1996 hijacked Ethiopian plane, when the pilot tried ditching the aircraft in shallow waters, it broke into three segments, with the fuselage floating and the rear section submerged.

In the case of the still-missing Malaysia Airline Flight 370, investigators are trying to cover all their bases, conducting searches by air, space and sea.


BROWN: And you know, you talk about how difficult it is to find a needle in a haystack, but in this case, we don't even know where the haystack is. So because there's not been any debris located yet, you're seeing the search area expand more and more, as we've been talking about, Wolf. Now covering 27,000 nautical miles.

BLITZER: That's a huge, huge area. Pamela Brown, thanks very much.

A commander with the U.S. Navy 7th Fleet confirmed to me just a little while ago that the USS Kidd has moved into the entrance of the Indian Ocean, searching for the missing plane.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now, when you have such a huge area, we're focusing on the surface here, and the radar we use for the surface search. So -- so it's essentially still going to be seen on the surface of the water, but really, if you think about this, it's a completely new game now. Before they described the box in the Gulf of Thailand, kind of like moving chess pieces around.

Now, it's a completely new game. And now it's like we're on a football field. So we went from a chessboard to a football field. So now we have to come up with new strategies, new tactics. So that's developing right now as I speak.


BLITZER: Strong words. Let's bring in David Gallo. He's director of special projects at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. He was part of the team that found Air France Flight 447 in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Brazil.

How difficult is it? The waters of the Indian Ocean, specifically, from those waters are very deep. What, about ten times the height of the Empire State Building?

DAVID GALLO, DIRECTOR OF SPECIAL PROJECTS, WOODS HOLE OCEANOGRAPHIC INSTITUTION: Yes, that's right, Wolf. It's going to be very different, much more difficult than working inside the Gulf of Thailand, where the water depth is less than the length of the airplane.

Here we're talking about water depths 2 1/2, 3 miles or more. And also, it could be anything from the smooth sediments on the bottom of the Bay of Bengal to steep rugged volcanic slopes. So it just depends. That's an awful long way. I mean, it can take it almost all the way across the Indian Ocean beyond India into the Arabian sea. So it depends on just where we're talking about.

BLITZER: How fast are those currents move in the Indian Ocean?

GALLO: Yes, there's that, too, you know. We should be collecting that data right away. Because if we do find bits of wreckage on the Indian Ocean, we're going to have to backtrack it almost a week, more than a week to find out where that "X" marks the spot on the surface is to begin to draw our search area. So they could be moving very -- it all depends on the winds. That depends on the tides, and that's data we should be collecting right now.

BLITZER: Just some perspective, David. Took about five days to find some initial debris from that Air France jetliner off the coast of Brazil, but it took two years to actually find the flight data recorder, the so-called black box, right?

GALLO: That's correct. You know, but it wasn't a continuous search for two years. It was several phases. Probably a total of about six weeks or more, maybe; maybe eight weeks out on the -- out on the ocean doing the survey.

And the problem is the first two phases it was the wrong haystack and looking for the needles. The final phase, right haystack, right tool, right team, and we found the plane within just -- almost about a week. So it all happened very quickly then.

But you know, we thought that was the toughest of all searches, but this one is certainly turning out to be one incredible mystery.

BLITZER: Certainly is. David Gallo, thanks very much.

Just ahead, we'll have more of the breaking news and the stunning possibility being raised that the missing plane may have landed. And a very emotional interview with the wife of a passenger on that missing airliner. The heartbreaking gifts he left behind for his family.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have the most amazing husband and the most amazing father.



BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news, new information that's led investigators to believe that Flight 370 may have flown for several hours after it disappeared. The mystery getting stranger every hour.

Let's bring in the former FAA chief of staff, Michael Goldfarb, and our CNN national security analyst, Peter Bergen.

Michael, this -- it is so -- have you ever seen anything like this before?

MICHAEL GOLDFARB, FORMER FAA CHIEF OF STAFF: No one has. But let's remember and take a breath about a lot of the theories going on. We have a plane that took off at Kuala Lumpur and disappeared. That's all we have. We have no facts. We have no -- we have no debris. So what's happening is we're having kind of the breaking news du jour. Yesterday we were all excited about the satellite image.

BLITZER: The Chinese satellite.

GOLDFARB: Because it was consistent with the flight path. They said, oh, you know, and it was lucky. It was a lucky hit that they probably saw something in the ocean that would allow the...

BLITZER: Turned out to be a false lead.

GOLDFARB: Now with a turn to the left, maybe it is terrorism, maybe it is suicide, but let's just look at the other theory.

If the pilot in command turned that plane back -- OK -- and then was overcome in some manner, through a slow decompression or through some kind of structural problem but not a failure, Aloha Airline -- Hawaiian Airlines disintegrated in the air, lost half of its hull and landed safely. So the notion of catastrophic or nothing is not the way the investigators are going to look at this. They're going to look at the maintenance logs. They're going to look and see if that plane met all of its airworthiness directives.

So everything is on the table, but it's just a bit suspicious that that primary radar feed that the military put out is enough. And Rolls Royce is denying the notion that -- that the aircraft was pinging data on the performance of the engine.

BLITZER: I think they're not commenting. I don't know if they're formally denying.

GOLDFARB: So you know, Wolf, such a mess, you know. And not to beat up on the Malaysians. They're just -- they just got caught off- guard over their head with a huge investigation. I think what you're starting to see is the FAA, NTSB begin to put some quality control into this -- into this investigation.

BLITZER: Because the Malaysians really don't have a whole lot of experience.

GOLDFARB: No, they don't. They need help.

BLITZER: The NTSB, the FAA and the U.S. authorities and others who really have had some experience. A lot of folks, Peter -- and you've studied this --they're increasingly looking at the possibility this was not some mechanical failure, but this was someone commandeering, if you will, that aircraft.

BERGER: Yes, and there's a distinction between commandeering and hijacking. Hijacking is for a political purpose. You know, before 9/11 in the United States, commandeering a plane was not at all uncommon. We had a FedEx plane that was commandeered in '94. We had a Southwest Airlines that was commandeered. Alaska Airlines in 2000 and one before 9/11. That's much harder to do in the United States now. But we continue to see commandeerings around the world. Sometimes they're people seeking political asylum. Sometimes for idiosyncratic motives. Sometimes, of course, because people are suicidal. So you can't rule any of those things out. Right now.

BLITZER: We spoke to Andy Pastor, "The Wall Street Journal" reporter, a little while ago. And he's reporting -- we're not reporting it. He's reporting, based on information he has, that U.S. investigators are looking at the possibility that this plane actually may have landed somewhere, as opposed to crash landing into the waters.

GOLDFARB: Think about that for a second and what it would take to land a plane unknown to any authority on a runway anywhere in the world, a plane of that size, how that would go undetected. How would the passengers, if they were conscious, not use cell phones at that point in the flight to communicate? How would the plane not communicate? It has to be on the table. But the reason these things are on the table is we don't have a clue. We don't have a clue yet six days into it. In fact, the investigation is really just starting last night. And that's why you're starting to see, as the White House reported...

BLITZER: Why it is just starting last night? It's been going on for six or seven days.

GOLDFARB: For us it has, not for -- not for the authorities. I mean, they finally have turned to people who have experience in this. And they're now beginning to say, "Let's take a step back. Let's take a breath. Let's look at what we really have here, and let's validate it." That's why the radar feed of the military plane...

BLITZER: If it was a mechanical problem, I know in the U.S. Air Force, for example, when there's a mechanical problem at any military aircraft, they immediately ground the entire fleet for 24 hours just to make sure. As far as I know, all those other 777s, they're flying right now.

GOLDFARB: Here's the nightmare for Boeing and the FAA. We need probable cause. Why? Because people get on every day other 777s. Usually accidents are a unique set of things that happen. So maybe something happened on this plane that heretofore has never happened before, and maybe it affects other 777s. And so that's why it's imperative, and they will find it, imperative they find probable cause. Ultimate cause could take two, three or four years.

BLITZER: Peter, you're an expert on terrorism. Have you seen any indication that anyone out there, any terror group, any lone wolf terror group or anything along those lines have claimed responsibility or talking about this, chatter, if you will?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: The short answer is no, Wolf. I mean, we did see Chinese Martyrs' Brigade, which is something we've never heard of, claim responsibility. But that reminded me a little bit of the jihadi terrorist group who claimed responsibility for the blackout in New York City in 2003, which was just a blackout.

So, you know, this -- it's very easy to claim responsibility. And the one claim we've had doesn't have any validity.

BLITZER: So these bursts of data that they're now investigating which suggests to U.S. authorities the plane was flying for four or five hours after the transponders -- this is -- was shut down, simple. I still don't understand why pilots can shut down the transponders.

GOLDFARB: Pilots want anything in the cockpit they want control over. But it makes no sense.

But the transponder being turned off whether voluntarily turned off or through force, the ACARS reporting would continue. What's interesting is Malaysian Air hasn't come through with any other information about other structural issues. It's just the engine. And I think (INAUDIBLE) of NTSB had said that they didn't have the data package for the structural part of that, that's why it's only the engines being reported. Very strange indeed.

BLITZER: Very strange indeed.

Michael Goldfarb, Peter Bergen, guys, thanks very much.

We're going to have much more on today's breaking news -- indications the Malaysian airliner may have kept flying for hours after its last control with the ground control.


BLITZER: All of us are certainly frustrated by the contradictory hints and theories about what happened to Flight 370. But for the passengers' families, it's sheer agony. Last night, Australian Danica Weeks who's waiting for word about her husband Paul told CNN's Piers Morgan that everyday of waiting is an eternity. She also said her husband left behind a couple of gifts for their two young sons.


DANICA WEEKS, WIFE OF MISSING PASSENGER: He said to me, when he was leaving it, so I'm going to leave my wedding ring here. It's no use leaving it in my room on the site. So, I'm going to leave my wedding ring and my watch and should anything happen to me, I want the ring to go to the first son that's married and the watch to the second.

And I said something to him like, "Don't be stupid. Just you know, just come back and I'll give it back to you and you can give it to me. And so, I'm going to (INAUDIBLE) I'm praying that, you know, I can give it back to him, so I can hold on to it, because I -- there's no finality to it and we're not getting any information and whether they know anything and they're not telling us at this stage. But it's just blank, just blank waiting and praying.

PIERS MORGAN, CNN HOST: What kind of man is Paul?

WEEKS: He's amazing. He's amazing. He is the most amazing husband and the most amazing father. He spent so much time with his kids. I mean he always bathe them every night. He takes Lincoln to golf. He would take them to the zoo and Lincoln (INAUDIBLE) it was just like Lincoln was his little shadow.

And, of course, Jack, he's just adored Jack.

And he was extremely intelligent and he worked hard and he just tried to do everything right for his family, his whole -- all the jobs, everything he does he always thought about us and he was doing this for the right reason. It was his dream job and he'd worked weeks and you know, (INAUDIBLE) time to get up just stayed and you know, be there and hit the ground running. So, that's the kind of man he was.


BLITZER: Danica Weeks' husband Paul was on his way to a mining site in Mongolia. He had a month-long assignment there.

It's early Friday in Malaysia and China, as we're watching for updates on the search for Flight 370. We're especially waiting for reaction to today's breaking news of signals showing the missing plane may have flown for hours after losing contact with the ground.


BLITZER: CNN's coverage of the mystery of Flight 370 continues right at the top of the hour on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT."

But we're also watching other developing stories right now.

About 8,500 Russian troops started military drills near Ukraine today.

On Capitol Hill, an open microphone Republican Senator Lindsey Graham asking John Kerry how he can help convince the House Speaker John Boehner to go along with parts of the Ukraine aid bill that stalled in Congress.

Listen closely.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Let me know what I can do to help you with Boehner.


BLITZER: An aide to Senator Graham tells CNN he was referring to international monetary reforms, which maybe included in the Ukraine aid package.

At least five people are missing because of that natural explosion in New York's East Harlem neighborhood. The blast caused two buildings to collapse. Search crews were slowed when a sink hole opened in front of the debris.

We know the explosion killed seven people, injured dozens more.

Police in Austin, Texas, say an intoxicated driver was trying to get away from a checkpoint and then he sped down a couple of blocks off the streets that were crowded with people attending the South by Southwest Festival. Two of the people he hit are dead, 23 others are hurt. The suspect, a 21-year-old man is alive and will be charged with capital murder.

It was a grueling and upsetting day at the trial of the Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius. He's accused of murdering his girlfriend, although he says he mistook her for an intruder. Twice during today's court session, Pistorius vomited when prosecutors inadvertently showed images of the wounds to his girlfriend's body.

In a new development to a story we brought you first when it broke, a court is dismissing a federal indictment that led to a strip search of an Indian diplomat. That incident sparked outrage in India. A judge says the woman had diplomatic immunity, so the charges of lying in a visa application can't stand.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.