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Official: Radar Picked Up Erratic Plane Movements

Aired March 14, 2014 - 19:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Next breaking news about missing Flight 370. A new report says the plane changed altitude dramatically after losing contact with ground control and that it changed direction more than once. So what happened in that cockpit?

Plus, what it may have felt like inside the plane during those dramatic altitude changes, a live demonstration.

And why some families of missing loved ones say they are hoping it was a hijacking. Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Erin Burnett. We begin OUTFRONT tonight with breaking news. A major new report from "The New York Times" says Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went through several SARP changes in altitude after losing contact with ground control.

It was during this hour exactly one week ago we first found out that plane was missing. We now know its last communication took place about an hour after takeoff from Kuala Lumpur. From there the plane diverted from its scheduled path to Beijing.

Now if you look at this map, I'll explain what we're looking at. According to this "New York Times" report we have tonight Malaysian military radar showed the plane climbing at that turn to 45,000 feet. That altitude is above the approved limit for this type of aircraft.

We're going to talk about why that's so significant later this hour. The radar track then shows the plane descending quote/unquote, unevenly to 23,000 feet as it approached the highly populated Penang Island. From there it climbed again flying northwest over the Straits of Malacca towards the Indian Ocean. That's that red line you see going out there to the left on your screen.

All right, another very significant development is what you're looking at between those -- in those two white boxes. Our Barbara Starr reporting breaking at this hour. The plane then continued to fly on one of two possible flight paths. So as you can see a dramatic turn to the right or toward the left.

Officials say the plane flew either in a north westerly direction crashing into the Bay of Bengal of the coast of India or in a southeast direction as they tell Barbara Starr crashing somewhere in the Indian Ocean. All told the plane is thought to have flown for five hours after its last transponder contact.

The latest information that we had had was that it was carrying about 7 1/2 total hours of fuel. OUTFRONT tonight, our Barbara Starr and "The New York Times" reporter, Michael Schmidt who broke the news about altitude changes. All right, thanks very much to both of you.

Obviously when you put your two reports together you sort of get what happened from that turn all the way to what may have been a crash site now for Flight 370. Michael, let me start with you. How were you able to piece together your part of the story with these dramatic altitude changes?

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, we're relying on Malaysian military radar that was able to pick this up. This was picked up after the plane came off of civilian radar, but the thing is the Malaysian government hasn't made this public, but they've shared it with the United States and other partners that are looking at this.

But this is what the Malaysian military has picked up and it sort provides for the first time an idea of where this was going. And it raises all these questions. Why is it that the plane was going -- was moving in all these different directions and going up and down in such a way? Who was controlling it at that point and why was it that that was happening? These are all questions like this entire thing that we don't have answers to.


SCHMIDT: But it provides some insight and it's -- it just makes it all the more confusing in some ways.

BURNETT: Obviously we're going to be spending the entire hour talking about some of those key issues, for example, who was in control of the plane and why it did what it did? Barbara, what more can you tell us, again, about when we looked at that picture all of a sudden that plane making a dramatic turn to the right or toward the left?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, let me start, Erin, by saying, you know, I've just talked to some U.S. military officials who are very aware of these reports by the Malaysian military radars of these dramatic altitude shifts. What they assess, they tell me they're not terribly surprised by it, that the Malaysian military radar was so far away that it didn't pick up an accurate reading of the plane's altitude. That accounts for some of it.

They don't believe just yet that these dramatic shifts may be exactly what happened. I think Michael is exactly right. This all awaits an investigation. All this have is what the reports -- the initial reports are. They think the military radar was too far away for a pure, accurate reading.

But once the plane crossed the Malay Peninsula and headed out towards the Indian Ocean, they have now plotted based on radar hits and pings from the airplane that were picked up by satellites, based on all the data that they do have, let's go back to that map. They have plotted two search areas that they believe are most optimum to search.

One of them is a northern search area in the Bay of Bengal off India now being searched by the Indian military and the U.S. Navy and then a more southerly search pattern to the southeast, if you will, looking at whether the plane flew that way. That also being searched by the U.S. Navy.

A lot of nations doing everything they can to look for this. What they are looking for has not changed in one week. Any sign of where the plane is. Any sign of a debris field on the ocean -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right, Barbara, we're going to be talking in just a few moments to the "USS Kidd" talking about exactly what is they're looking for in that southerly area that Barbara just described.

Michael, I'm very curious because you know Barbara obviously pointing out. The radar stations, at least as we understand them, that found these dramatic changes in altitude were fairly far away from this object. Why didn't Malaysian officials respond in real time to something like this?

I mean, it's in your air space and you see an unidentified flying object changing altitude that dramatically, you think you would have done something about it, right?

SCHMIDT: Yes. I mean, we only have so much insight into a lot of these things.


SCHMIDT: And what is also, you know, confused the Americans on this is some pings that came off the Rolls-Royce engine that was on the plane. That shows that the plane fell 40,000 feet in the span of a minute. When the U.S. looked at that information they said, that doesn't make any sense. That's inconceivable.

But at the same time it's thrown in with the mix with the other information that they're looking at. How do you make heads or tails of any of this? One of the problems that the Americans have had is that the Malaysians have not shared everything with them and the U.S. government and investigators feel like they're sort of on the outside looking in.

We have a lot of expertise here and we, you know, investigatively and air wise, there's just not a lot of communication going on there.

BURNETT: Barbara, before we go, obviously there are still questions. I mean, the reporting now is it's more clear and more solid than it has been. There's been some real breakthroughs between both of you have been reporting. But obviously there's still questions. We still don't know exactly what we know or what don't know.

But that being said, what are you hearing about motive, about the issue? Obviously are you still hearing mechanical malfunction is possible? What are you hearing in the question between whether this was a pilot driven decision or someone else on the plane, some sort of a hijacking situation?

STARR: I have to tell you a week later, Erin, U.S. officials are still where they were. Not ruling anything in or out. Looking at every single scenario and essentially gaming it out. Trying to see if they carry it to a conclusion in their analysis, does it give them any clues they can start to work on? Nothing is certain in any of this.

BURNETT: All right, thank you very much. Michael and Barbara there with the very latest reporting. A dramatic and sudden changes in altitude and multiple changes in direction with a plane that flew for up to five hours after finally losing contact with ground control.

Joining me now CNN military analyst, Major General James "Spider" Marks. Spider, let me just ask you the question where I left out with Barbara. In terms of motive now that we have these two pieces even with all the question marks that surround the latest reporting, this is a significant breakthrough in reporting from both Barbara and Michael were saying. What do you think now was the motive, was the intent? What drove this?

MAJ. GENERAL JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, clearly in my mind what the largest missing piece in all of this, Erin, is that there has been very little discussion, and if it's taking place, we certainly just don't know about it, in terms of the 239 souls that were on that airplane and all the folks that touched that airplane, the ground crew, the air crew, the folks who sold tickets, the folks that worked at the KL Airport 24 hours before that thing took off and then disappeared.

So what we need to be able to do is really put some hard core forensics investigation look in terms of the folks. Now if this was taking place in the United States, I can guarantee you we would be all over not just the pilots, but everybody who was manifested on that airplane and get into lots of details in terms of where they had visited online, who were their associations, et cetera. We just simply don't know that.

BURNETT: Now you're going to be with us throughout the hour. Your background, I should make sure our viewers know, counterintelligence in Southern Asia. I mean, you know, a lot about this area. Are you surprised that at least according to the latest reporting we have here at CNN that authorities in Malaysia while they've had police outside the pilot and co-pilot's homes have not yet searched them?

MARKS: Very surprised. Very surprised. And the way I view this is that there would be an inordinate amount of pressure coming from the United States and others to squeeze their way in, especially from the FBI and from our intelligence agencies, to squeeze their way in to make sure that we can begin to assist completely and open and transparent with the Malaysians. Ostensibly that hasn't happened and I don't understand why.

BURNETT: All right, we're going to be talking a lot more about this through the hour with these two significant developments in the story. Our breaking news coverage continues tonight. We're going to take a break.

When we come back, Flight 370s dramatic changes in altitude. What does that mean when you talk about possibly going from 45,000 feet down to 23,000 feet? We have a live demonstration of exactly what it feels like inside a flight simulator live next.

Plus, we're going to talk to pilots who have flown the 777 about what happened in that cockpit now with this new information.

And the families of the passengers speak out tonight. Why they are hoping this was a hijacking?


BURNETT: More on the top breaking news story tonight. Huge developments in the Flight 370. A U.S. official just telling our Barbara Starr that radar showed erratic movements by a plane that the U.S. believes is Flight 370. Those movements happening in the early morning hours when that flight disappeared off radar.

"The New York Times" is also reporting that the missing airliner experienced significant changes in altitude after it lost contact with ground control. "The New York Times" reporting that according to Malaysian military radar those altitude changes went up to 45,000 feet right after it made that sharp turn to the west deviating dramatically from its flight path, which would have been north, and that, of course, is well above the approved altitude limit. We'll have more on that from a 777 pilot in a moment because that could be the most crucial part of this story.

Martin Savidge is live in a 777 simulator right now. Martin, this is now becoming the center of this entire story. I guess could you talk about, first, what it would be like to fly at 45,000 feet above the 43,100 foot approved level for this 777 plane?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, the real problem we're having here because we've been trying to emulate in the simulator here what's been reported. It's almost beyond the laws of physics and the physical ability of an aircraft to do at least what has been described in the article and described by those radar signatures.

We're at 45,000 feet the automatic pilot won't even go this high. The airplane was never designed to fly this high. Let me show you the controls we're dealing with here. These yellow lines, one on top, one on the bottom. Normally they should be pretty far apart.

What this indicates, this aircraft at this altitude is teetering on the brick of disaster. It has to be flown manually to reach this altitude. We should point out that Mitchell Casado is the one flying this. What would the controls feel like at this altitude?

MITCHELL CASADO, COMMERCIAL PILOT AND INSTRUCTOR AT UFLY: Very, very unstable. Almost to the point where they're uncontrollable. Akin to trying to juggle while you're on a unicycle. You can think of the craziest analogy possible.

SAVIDGE: What would the passengers be feeling?

CASADO: Very unstable. Hard to breathe. Close to being unconscious. If you wanted to kill your passengers, this is a good way to do it. SAVIDGE: Now let's push it down. There's no way to try to even to simulate dropping 40,000 feet in a minute. It's just -- it can't be done, not with this thing, but we're going to push the plane as steeply as we can and you'll begin to see there's all sorts of things that start to go wrong. You get the signaling. What is this telling us?

CASADO: This is telling us that we're sinking at close to -- this is 40,000 feet per minute approaching 700 miles an hour. I mean, this is -- the plane would be breaking apart at this point.

SAVIDGE: This is where stuff is falling off the aircraft at this point, I mean, major stuff. There could be structural damage that would make it almost impossible to fly, which then that brings us to the next thing, trying to level off. To think that this airplane reported leveled off at around 23,000 feet? It's hard to believe it was still structurally intact to do that and the g forces alone on the impact of the passengers would be --

CASADO: Astronomical.

SAVIDGE: Yes. Almost to the point of being lethal.


SAVIDGE: So that's why when you put it through the simulator, it doesn't even seem possible.

BURNETT: All right, Martin, that's just incredible. All right, I think that sort of speaks a thousand words when you actually see that in the simulator. I want to go to a pilot of 777. Mark Weiss is sitting with me on set in New York. You've flown the Boeing 777. You've watched that simulation.

So I guess let me start with the first thing, flying at 45,000 feet, that was reported. By the way, I want to put caveat on this. The "New York Times," Michael Schmidt did that reporting and Barbara Starr was saying, look, this was based off military radar on the ground, which could have been 100, 200 miles away from the plane.

Meaning those readings may not be exactly accurate, OK, which might end up having all of this make a lot more sense. Right now with the information that we have, about 45,000 feet, that's above the 43,100 level approved, so why is that the level that's approved? What happens at 45,000 feet to the people on the plane?

MARK WEISS, RETIRED AMERICAN AIRLINES PILOT: What happens to the wing aerodynamically, the air is only so -- think about it being thick? Molecules of air. It's supporting the lift on the wing. As you go higher, the molecules of air are further and further apart. It won't be able to support the weight of the aircraft or the weight of the wing.

The aircraft is going to basically be on a teeter totter and descend, immediately descent, 40,000 feet, when you hear something like that going down 40,000 feet in one moment, for myself, that makes me very skeptical that that really is a very accurate report.

BURNETT: Right. We are hearing from the engine maker, that may be an erroneous reading.

WEISS: Absolutely.

BURNETT: But if it went from 45,000 feet that they were able to get up there, to your point, then it goes back down to 23,000 feet and then it goes back up again and levels off and flies on a relatively straight path as Barbara Starr is reporting, is that something you would think as a pilot would be conceivable?

WEISS: Not really. I mean, let's just take the premise that even if these numbers are close to where the altitudes would have been --


WEISS: -- let's take the idea of how would that have happened? To me it seems like there was incapacitation of some of the crew members in the cockpit. Would that have come from a struggle in the airplane? That could fit one scenario, that trying to gain control over that aircraft and pulling back and pushing forward, pulling back, pushing forward, turning, that's certainly a potential.

Again, as we mentioned over the last few days, until you get the voice recorder, certainly the flight data recorder, but the voice recorder in particular, you don't know who was in the cockpit and who was flying and controlling the aircraft movement.

BURNETT: I know you since the very beginning have been a proponent of thinking there was a hijacking. And I want to ask you about that. But Marty, what about what Mark is talking about, the difficulty of moving altitude so quickly as that was happening, as we know the reporting, Marty, is showing the plane was dramatically changing directions, moving around and then eventually settling on what appears at this point to be a straight path. What does that look like from the simulator?

SAVIDGE: Well, I mean, you know, here we're going to try to show you a sharp turn. The problem is, what is a sharp turn? There's no definition. For a commercial airliner, let's do that, Mitchell, let's turn. You can see the rise and it's twisting pretty severely. Let's go 35, 40 degrees and turn. Another alarm starts to sound. This is telling us, you're really turning too steeply here.

The problem is if you push it beyond that point, Mitchell, now we start to run into where an aircraft is doing a spiral. An airplane like this was never set to do any aerobatics like that. You're now into what could potentially be a death spiral. Again, what is a sharp turn? We've pushed it beyond what an airplane can do.

BURNETT: As Marty was saying, spiral, Mark was sitting here making the spiral motion. How hard would it be because, again, I know you're a proponent that someone else might have gone in the cockpit, but how hard is it to learn to turn a plane if you're not a pilot? WEISS: Not hard at all, but depending on where you are, what you're trying to accomplish, are you trying to accomplish turning the aircraft with a heading mode or how are you trying to turn the aircraft? Whether the airplane was on an auto pilot or not, it's not a hard thing to learn. Anybody with basic flying skills or a little bit of training could have been able to maneuver the aircraft to make a turn. That doesn't mean that the person who tried to do this had very many piloting skills.

BURNETT: All right, well, thanks very much to Mark Weiss, as we said, pilots of 777 and our Martin Savidge reporting from the flight simulator. As you can see from this conversation, there are still so many more questions. Some of the reporting that's coming out, but despite the recording on the sudden changes in direction and the altitude shift don't necessarily at this point seem to add up to reality.

There are still so many questions as we get more information about where this jet may be. Next, family members of the passengers say that they actually hope Flight 370 was the victim of a hijacking. Tonight you'll hear why.

Plus, U.S. officials say the flight likely crashed eventually in the Indian Ocean. So we're going to talk about exactly where the U.S. Navy is searching for the wreckage. We are going to be live talking to them on the phone as they search. We'll be right back.


BURNETT: Breaking news coverage in the Malaysia Airlines jet, which disappeared a week ago. We found out about it at this hour. In fact about 10 minutes from now a week ago, we got the first report. A U.S. official tells our Barbara Starr that radar reading showed erratic movements were made by a plane the U.S. believes is Flight 370 on the morning it vanished. Those movements were made right after that turn.

"The New York Times" is reporting the plane experienced those sharp altitude changes right after it lost contact with ground control. Again, that point is the point on the right of your screen, the sight of last contact. There were those that were turns and then it proceeded all the way out there past the Straits of Malacca and turned north or south according to American officials.

For the families of those missing, it's been agonizing wait for answers in an unprecedented situation. Some are still clinging to hope that their loved ones have landed somewhere and that they're still alive.

David McKenzie is OUTFRONT in Beijing and obviously David, a lot of the family members are there with you. The plane was expected to have landed about this time in Beijing a week ago. What are you hearing now from families who had loved ones on that flight with all of these developments?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, these developments have been confusing, frustrating and angering to the family members. As you say, a week exactly since this plane was due to land here in Beijing with more than 230 passengers and crew on board and the worst case scenario for many in an airline investigation is hijacking. For the families, that's become the best case scenario.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This situation has broken my heart. My tears have run dry. I hope the plane was hijacked because then at least there is hope.


MCKENZIE: That hope is really what they're clinging to, but after so many days, of course, Erin, it's extremely unlikely that anyone survived what we can presume is a crash. All of these theories that perhaps the plane landed and then went somewhere else. The family members here in Beijing and around the world who are connected very personally to this flight MH 370.

That is for them, that's hope that they want to believe even though logically speaking they don't. Counselors say that this not knowing through all these days is though intriguing to many of us to try and figure it out, for them it's incredibly traumatic -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right, David McKenzie, thank you very much. We should emphasize U.S. officials telling Barbara Starr that they believe now that the plane once it went north or south in the Indian Ocean did crash. They are still leaving every possible option on the table and not fully ruling out some sort of a landing.

OUTFRONT next, we have more breaking news coverage on the erratic movements in the air experienced by Flight 370 in terms of the altitude move and a new report shows the plane made those sharp changes after losing contact with ground control. So does that mean someone seize control of the cockpit or was a pilot involved?

We have experts on hand who are going to talk about that issue and U.S. officials believe the plane flew those two possible paths. Where is the U.S. Navy focusing it search? They are out right now in the Indian Ocean looking. We're going to go there live next.


BURNETT: More on our (AUDIO GAP) missing Malaysia Airlines jet.

A U.S. official tells our Barbara Starr radar reading show erratic movements were made by a plane the United States believes was Flight 370 on the morning it vanished. "The New York Times" is also reporting that the jet, which had 239 on board, went through several sharp altitude changes after its last known contact with ground control.

CNN has also learned that the plane continued to fly intact for more than five hours after the last known contact on one of two possible -- in two possible directions is probably the best way to say it, either in the northwesterly direction crashing into the Bay of Bengal off the coast of India, you see that on your screen, or in the southeast direction, crashing somewhere in the Indian Ocean.

I want to hold this map up for a second while I just make two very clear points here. These two areas are now being searched are in the opposite direction of where that plane was flying.

Obviously, that plane was supposed to fly north over Vietnam up to Beijing. So, this shows the plane completely changed direction and was going somewhere it was not supposed to go. Obviously, I also use the word crashed. That's the latest reporting that CNN hears that U.S. officials say it did end with a crash, but they are leaving other options on the table at this moment, even though they are remote in possibility.

OUTFRONT -- CNN military analyst Major General James Spider Marks, who has focused on counterterrorism and counterintelligence in Southeast Asia, and John Nance, an aviation analyst for "ABC World News".

Great to have you both with us.

All right. Let me start with you because --


BURNETT: There's so much here to talk about now but when we put all of this reporting together, John, we have a plane that turned off of its flight path, started to switch direction dramatically, switch altitude dramatically and then finally seemed to sort of level out heading out and then made a choice. I'm going to go left or I'm going to go right.

When you put all that together, let's talk about motive. Who would want to do this or could this have happened in any way, shape or form with everybody on the plane being incapacitated or dead and the plane kept flying?

NANCE: I think not. I think that's ruled out by the very physiology of it. The aircraft is not going to make course changes. It might make altitude changes but you would see the type of altitude change would not be sharp.

If this airline went up to 45,000 feet after it turned away and off course, and it sustained that 45,000 foot altitude which is above its ceiling, as you pointed, for any length of time and there's only one reason for doing that, and that is to incapacitate, quite frankly kill, get rid of all the passengers in the back. All you have to do is depressurize the airplane and you're on an oxygen mask upfront, whoever you is, and that's it. And that would explain coming down later on to a more comfortable altitude for the pilots who were left.

BURNETT: So, passengers on the back, when you talk about the mask -- I mean, I know this is a technical question, but do masks nod come down to people in the back of the plane?

NANCE: Even if they come down, those masks are only designed to give you enough oxygen to sustain you without any brain damage from the highest altitude that you're authorized to fly a jet at 43,000 feet down, all the way down to 14,000. They're never designed to stay up there. And, consequently, they'll run out of oxygen at 10, 15 minutes at the maximum.

On top of that, there were things called walk-around bottles in the cabin that the crew may get on. Those may last longer, they will last longer and those are breathable even up to 45 thousand ambient altitude, with the depressurization. But those are going to run out, too. Only the crew oxygen and the cockpit is going to sustain for as long as you need it.

BURNETT: All right. It sounds like you're saying, and I want to get Spider, but it sounds like you're saying, you know, you believe this was not just purposeful in terms of someone taking over the jet but that the decision, a decision, I'm using that word purposefully, to go up to 45,000 feet which I emphasize is a general altitude because it's coming from radar on the ground so it may be off a little bit, but you're saying that altitude, the choice to go above the altitude is very purposeful?

NANCE: Yes. I'm saying basically, Erin, when you look at this, we don't know. I mean, obviously. And we've all been saying that. We really don't know. We're just speculating.

But the thing is, with these facts on the table if they are, in fact, facts, they make sense in a very twisted way, and that's the problem. You would not have that kind of an ascent to 45,000 unless you had a specific purpose for it.

BURNETT: So, Spider, what do you think happened? I mean, first of all, I guess, are you in agreement with that? But do you think that that then was a pilot who was on some sort of a bizarre suicide mission or someone else? Because I want to emphasize the reporting from our Barbara Starr, that plane went out on the ocean and made a very sharp turn to go to the left or right as if, Spider, it was to go somewhere specific.

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Right. Erin, I can't challenge anything John said nor would I want to. He's the expert in this field.

I'm looking at this from the perspective of what were the motivations of priority this airplane taking off and then when it -- in order, as I said earlier, you want to move the investigation left of when the aircraft kind of disappeared.

So what occurred before all of that? What were the motivations of the individuals? And that, Erin, is a very, very difficult, very unromantic and hard intelligence and forensics work in terms of all the souls that were on that aircraft, everybody who touched that aircraft.

So, the fact that it goes to 45,000 feet, that might be an inaccurate reading. It could be --

BURNETT: Right. MARKS: -- the deviation from the radar signal. So, that could be wrong.

So, my point is there's this cacophony of speculation and this should be expected at this point, but let's look at the facts as we know them and let's start with the folks that are on that aircraft and figure out what their motivations and what their associations are. That's where we need to bend our elbows right now.

BURNETT: Right. And, of course, as we've reported, at least it's our authorities the Malaysian authorities have not searched the houses by one of the pilots, and the research that they've done so far on the two with fake passports, the two young Iranian men, they said they thought was link to smuggling.

MARKS: And why was that discounted? Why was that discounted so immediately out of hand?


All right. Thanks to both of you.

And, of course, we're going to be back. We're going to talk more about this.

I want to go, though, now to Commander William Marks of the U.S. Navy 7th Fleet. That fleet is assisting in the search right now for possible debris of the flight. He is aboard the USS Blue Ridge and joins me on the phone.

And, Commander, thank you very much for taking the time.

When we look at the map, where our CNN reporting has this jet making a decision to turn north or to turn south, my understanding is you've got the USS Kidd in the southern region there where the search is underway. I know it is light there.

What are they looking for right now?

COMMANDER WILLIAM MARKS, U.S. NAVY (via telephone): Yes. We have the USS Kidd, one of our destroyers in the northwest part of the Strait of Malacca, actually moving a little bit more to the northwest now. Just to give you from the fleet perspective, which is the tactical perspective here, the stealth of this operation, how huge we're looking -- normally when there is a crisis and you go into search and rescue mode, you launch your helicopter. That's the first thing we do.

So, we have two MH16 search and rescue helicopters. Their ranges are a couple hundred miles. That's kind of your radius there. Well, the scope of this operation is so huge, it's almost beyond the capabilities of even this international force.

So, now, fortunately, the U.S. Navy, we have a Poseidon fleet. That's the most advanced patrol search aircraft. In that range, it has a nine-hour or so flight time. That range is upwards of 1,000 miles out and (INAUDIBLE) and time can come back.

BURNETT: Well, and that -- obviously, I know you're hoping that will make a significant difference here.

But let me ask you. This is the tough question but I have to ask it. It's been a week. People are saying the only things that really would be floating would be maybe seats, maybe life jackets for now. How long do you keep looking?

MARKS: Great question. You know, at first the way you look at it in that Navy is that first 72 hours is critical for survivors. They can go without food and water that long, pretty much on sheer will power. After that, it's anyone's guess.

So very close coordination, every day we look at what we can do. We have to watch very closely. We have 700 sailors out here, young men and women of the U.S. Navy we have to watch the fatigue level.


MARKS: We also have to watch the fatigue on our equipment. So, it's hard to -- a person can't operate continuously for 24 hours. Neither can a piece of equipment. We're looking at that now. We do have a chaplain out there, grief counselors out there because it's very mentally and physically challenging.

BURNETT: All right. Commander Marks, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

And, of course, we're hoping that everyone on that ship is all right but has the ability to find that missing flight.

Still to come, we're going to show you what a significant altitude change would have looked like. Again, as we know, these were dramatic. We don't know exactly if these numbers that are out there right now are 100 percent accurate, but it seems that there were significant changes in altitude as this plane changed direction. Tom Foreman in our virtual room.

Plus, the agony of waiting. A woman searching for answers 60 years after her father's plane disappeared.


BURNETT: Our breaking news coverage continues in the search for the Malaysian Airlines flight which disappeared one week ago at this hour. A U.S. official tells our Barbara Starr that radar reading show erratic movements were made by a plane the U.S. believes was Flight 370, on the morning it vanished. U.S. officials also tell Barbara they believe the jet likely went down in the Indian Ocean hours and hours away from where it was supposed to be flying.

This is classified analysis which shows it may have taken one of two different paths.

Tom Foreman is OUTFRONT. So, Tom, this latest reporting that we have -- how did officials determine this is where the plane would be? Since, obviously, it was supposed to be over here and now they're saying it was possibly all the way over here.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What they're trying is basically a brand-new idea here to use technology that isn't really meant to tell them this information. Remember, this is the flight path of the plane here. Here are the search areas we're talking about.

Here are the expanded areas out to the west, that the U.S. is now focusing, at the Bay of Bengal and down here in the Indian Ocean. Think about this, people on the sea for many years have looked at the stars to figure out where they are. This is reversing the process in a sense and using a star in this case, a stationary satellite, a geostationary satellite -- meaning it's always above the same spot on the earth.

This satellite, through the ACAR system, every hour basically reaches down to earth and it sends a signal. Light this up. And basically is an electronic handshake with the airplane on the ground.

It sends a signal, the airplane answers with a signal and then everything is green, everybody's happy because the satellite can communicate with the plane. An hour later, it does the same thing. This happened five times in the course of the time after the plane disappeared from all communications, five times the satellite said, is there a plane down there like this plane? Five times the plane answered, and then it did not answer.

This satellite is not designed to tell you where these planes are specifically, but if you reverse that process that I was describing of somebody at sea looking at the stars and using a sextant to figure out where they are, if you reverse that trigonometry and say, I'm going to use this geo satellite to give me an idea where the plane would have been in the hour after its last successful handshake, you wind up with these areas. That's why the U.S. is focusing so much here, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Tom, thank you very much.

I want to bring in commercial airlines pilot, Les Abend. He's flown a 777. And John Nance is back with us, aviation analyst for "ABC World News".

Les, let me start with you because this is important. We've been talking a lot, you know, since people prior on this hour have talked about possibly hijacking, pilot suicide as things they thought were realistic. But you're putting this thing together, five hours this plane may have flown, opposite direction of where it may -- it was supposed to be going. Dramatic altitude changes and turns, and you still think it was possible it was a mechanical malfunction, right?

LES ABEND, CONTRIBUTOR EDITOR, FLYING MAGAZINE: I'm very skeptical with the data still. When you're talking losing 40,000 feet or just dramatic amounts of altitude, it's not -- it's impossible to me, which amounts of altitude, it's just -- it's impossible to me. Which means that the data if it was coming from the engines, there's a possibility that that data was corrupted, maybe by an icing situation, even though we're saying that it was clear air -- we don't know. I'm talking about a situation from the engines itself. Because the engines have as we talked during the break have a similar system to the airplane itself as a pitot --

BURNETT: The pitot tubes which were in a different part of the plane though, correct, responsible for the crash of Air France Flight 447.

ABEND: They contributed to the crash, correct.

BURNETT: All right. But you're saying the dramatic changes in direction could have happened because the flight crew what so busy dealing with something else.

ABEND: Well, what might have been happening is, now, this is my contention, is that something was occurring in that E and E compartment, down below, eight feet behind the cockpit door and below the galley where it was disabling the entire guts of the airplane, the electronic guts of the airplane, and they were having problems controlling the airplane.

BURNETT: And, John, your point of view, though, is that the erratic maneuvers and altitude do suggest some sort of struggle in the cockpit?

NANCE: Well, Les could be right. But it is a very low probability in my view. And it continues to deteriorate in terms of probability with the things that we're learning. It doesn't mean it couldn't be mechanical. I just think that's a very low possibility at this point.

BURNETT: And, John, where do you fall given what we know about how the plane was moving in terms of whether this was driven by the pilots of the plane or somebody else who came in and incapacitated or directed those pilots?

NANCE: Again, total speculation, but my money right now with everything that we supposedly know, if it all is factual, is internal or external hijack. Internal meaning the pilots already assigned to the plane, or external somebody burst into the cockpit because I think we've got positive control here and we've got a twisted rationale from being at 45,000 feet and even at 29,500 if that's an accurate altitude, which is VF 4 altitude between flight levels. It makes sense.

BURNETT: And, Les, quickly before we go, if this was someone trying to take this plane somewhere else and then land this plane -- obviously, the U.S. government is now believing that it crashed into the ocean -- but trying to land it, do you think given what we know about the erratic movements that the person in charge would have known how to do that?

ABEND: I doubt it very much. I mean, you're talking about landing a very sophisticated airplane in possibly remote areas to cover it up. Where are they going to cover it up? What's the motive behind this? They would have to have more flying skills than I think was demonstrated, To do what might be on that data.

BURNETT: Thank you both very much.

NANCE: And he's right.

BURNETT: Yes, yes.

NANCE: Motive is really one of the problems here.

BURNETT: Motive is one of the problems. As we try to figure out what might have happened and why someone might have wanted to do this. Again, we have emphasize at this point to our knowledge, there hadn't been any increased, for example, in chatter from known terrorist groups to support any sort of theory that level.

Still to come, more than 60 years after her father's plane vanished, one woman is still looking for closure tonight.

We'll be right back.


BURNETT: The disappearance of Flight 370 isn't just weighing on the families of the passengers onboard, it's also causing the surviving family members of other plane crashes to relive their tragedies. Tonight, we talk to a woman whose father's plane vanished more than 60 years ago. But she still can't find the closure she needs.

Kyung Lah is OUTFRONT.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sixty-four years later and the pain is still there for Darlene Larson, when she was just 5 years old, her father, Leo Wohler, was flying home to his wife and seven children after a business trip. On June 23rd, 1950, he boarded Northwest Orient Flight 2501 heading to Minnesota. It never made it, vanishing somewhere over Lake Michigan.

DARLENE LARSON, CRASH VICTIM'S DAUGHTER: I was awoken by my mother's crying. She did her best to try to tell me what had happened, that my father was gone and would not be coming back.

LAH: Flight 2501 was at that time America's worst aviation disaster. The plane, except for some bits of human remains, was never found. The cause never determined. The 58 passengers never recovered.

LARSON: It's hard to concept because you don't have something to hold to. Like a funeral or a casket or a grave. I was certain that he was wandering around the streets of Chicago with amnesia, and he would one day realize where he was and come home.

VALERIE VAN HEEST, AUTHOR, "FATAL CROSSING": Therein lies much of the mystery, why was this plane so far off its course.

LAH: Author Valerie Van Heest has interviewed more than 200 family members of the passengers from Flight 2501.

VAN HEEST: They don't understand that it really happened. It's hard to conceive of an accident killing a loved one if you don't have their body. The mystery of what happened to flight 2501 is a mystery that's plagued these people for now 64 years.

LAH: Haunted by the family's stories, Van Heest and a search team have been hunting Lake Michigan for the plane's debris.

VAN HEEST: Ultimately, finding that plane on the bottom of the lake would provide the final answers. And that's what we hope can happen with the Malaysia Airlines accident. We need answers.

LAH: Answers that the families of Flight 2501 never got.

Darlene Larson and her six siblings grew up without their father. Her mother never remarried. And asked that her ashes be spread at the suspected crash site in Lake Michigan so she could find her husband in death. A single grave site where some of the unidentified human remains are buried marks the loss of all aboard the fateful flight, the living still coping.

LARSON: It's an eerie thing just wondering, wondering, and just not knowing what actually happened.


LAH: So while most of us are riveted by all of this coverage, all the ins and outs of Malaysia Airlines, Darlene Larson said she can't bear to watch it saying it is too traumatic and simply too familiar -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Kyung, thank you very much. The human toll of this, David McKenzie reporting with families hoping for a hijacking because it left open the possibility of some sort of a miracle.

As our breaking news coverage continues, we'll give you the latest here we have. The United States using unprecedented technology along with Malaysian authorities to determine where this flight is, they say it was pinging back and forth to satellites up to five times, one time an hour. They never got that sixth ping. That is why they believe at this time that it flew on for about five hours after losing with the ground.

Our breaking news coverage continues with Anderson.