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Focused Renewed on Flight 370's Pilots; Crimeans Vote Today on Joining Russia

Aired March 16, 2014 - 07:00   ET


PAULINE CHIOU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You can see about half of the room stood up. The general sentiment here is that too much precious time has been lost. It is Sunday night here in Asia, and ending up day nine of this search. You can imagine the frustration. These family members want to know where the plane has ended up.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: We can understand that, certainly. Pauline Chiu there in Beijing for us -- thank you.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: And thank you so much for starting your morning with us.

BLACKWELL: We've got much more ahead in the next hour of NEW DAY starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

PAUL: I do want to wish you a good morning on Sunday. We have so much to talk to you about. So, sit back and relax a little bit. But this is just a story that continues to evolve by the hour.

BLACKWELL: Yes, I was going to say day, but it is indeed by the hour, it changes. Thanks for joining us.

I'm Victor Blackwell. It's 7:00 here on the East Coast, 4:00 out West. This is NEW DAY SUNDAY.

And we are following more breaking news on the search of Malaysia Flight 370.

PAUL: Yes, Malaysia's defense minister said during a news conference this morning that the search has entered a new phase and 25 countries are now involved in the search for the missing plane. It had been 14.

BLACKWELL: Yes, the defense minister also said that Malaysia is asking the U.S. and China to turn over more satellite information as this search now refocuses to include remote oceans and you can see it in the map, we're going to show you large tracks of land. We also learned from Malaysia Airlines, that the two pilots did not request to fly together on the day the flight disappeared and that the jet was carrying no extra fuel. PAUL: So, adding to intrigue here, of course, of the plane's disappearance, one U.S. official called the spot where the plane turned in between Malaysia and Vietnamese airspace, quote, "the perfect place" to disappear.

BLACKWELL: Let's bring in CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, you were told by U.S. officials that the focus is now on, quote, "those in the cockpit", in the flight's disappearance. Why is the focus now shifting to the pilots now?

STARR: Well, good morning. You know, several U.S. officials across various agencies say that a bit of hair focus now is looking on the pilots, perhaps out sense of logic. If you begin to rule other things out, and really it goes back to the point that it appears by all accounts so many of the plane's electronic systems were turned off and possibly maybe turned off deliberately.

The reason I caveat all this, nothing is for certain. As they begin to rule things out, that's what they're left with. It appears that -- it starts with that left-hand turn between Kuala Lumpur and Vietnam. It disappears in that spot. It begins to disappear essentially, a very deliberate 90-degree left-hand turn. That's very well understood. And the systems begin to turn off.

Perhaps only able to turn off at the hand of someone very experienced in aviation. So, that begins to point them towards the cockpit. Malaysian officials, of course, searching the homes of the two cockpit crew members, the two pilots, taking the flight simulators from one of the houses.

So, you can begin to see a pattern not just U.S. officials but Malaysian officials today even saying they are looking at the cockpit crew. They are looking still at all of the passengers and still a lot of mystery here about what happen.

PAUL: Yes, a lot of people are watching this wondering if there had been a demand made, you know, if somebody took this plane and wanted to do something nefarious with it, where is it, what would they be? Of course, what is the motive of one of the biggest concerns? Are they monitoring very closely some of those Web sites that they know to be related to terrorist activity and to -- looking for any sort of chatter in that regard?

STARR: Well, the U.S. intelligence community certainly since this incident happened looking at everything and they always look at those Web sites very early on there was one claim that proved to be not credible. So far, it is -- terrorism not ruled in and not ruled out. But so far, they don't see any credible claim of that.

Let me go back to another point. You know, one of the big things that they are going to be looking for is any satellite or radar data on that northern track in the southern Indian Ocean. There's very little radar coverage. So that's not going to work very well. In the northern trek, you should go back towards Asia, and the U.S. intelligence community, the U.S. military, and again scouring all of its satellite radar electronic signals data.

One more time from that region to see if they can get any little indication, anything that might have appeared on their screens and so far, officials tell us they simply don't see anything.

BLACKWELL: All right. Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr with us this morning -- thank you, Barbara.

PAUL: All right. Other big story, we are following this morning, voters in Crimea, they are going to be going to the polls. Actually at the polls right now, casting ballots as to whether they are going to join Russia or they're going to stay autonomous.

BLACKWELL: Polls have been open in Crimea for about five hours now with voters facing these two choices to support the reunification of Crimea with Russia or do you support the restoration of the constitution of the republic of Crimea in 1992, leaving it as part of Ukraine? That's from the ballot.

Michael Holmes is in Lenin Square in the Crimean capital of Simferopol.

Michael, we have been talking about the mood there this morning and we have also talked about the mood in Moscow and Kiev. What can you tell us from there in Lenin Square, what people are feeling as they look ahead to the results from this referendum?

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Victor. We are expecting a huge crowd out here in the next few hours. Probably about four, five hours now, this place behind me will be packed. They've already been testing out the music, blaring. Thank goodness it's down at the moment.

It's going to be a celebration of a vote that everyone knew the result before the polls have even closed. We are at a polling station earlier today and the people there were universally -- except for one lonely voice as saying they were voting pro-Russia. And everyone has known all along that's the way the folk us will go, despite the fact that most of the world will see it on this referendum and says it is illegal and illegitimate and it won't count. Crucially, though, Russia, says it's very legitimate and it very much will count -- Victor.

PAUL: Michael, let me ask you about something. There was -- as we understand it -- a hotel therein Simferopol taken over by roughly two dozen commandos yesterday. What do you know about this invasion? As I understand it is almost an invasion of this hotel without any real clear reason as to why.

HOLMES: Yes. I can give you a very good idea. I was there and our crew was there. And we were sitting there in the lobby having a meeting and all of a sudden, we saw about a dozen guys come running in, uniforms, very heavily armed. They knew what they were doing. They went running across the lobby, went up the staircase, and as we were recovering from the site of that, another group came in, probably another dozen or so. And then another group came in separately, probably 30 to 40 soldiers. Some of them were in plainclothes. Some were in black. Most were in green uniforms, very, very well armed, balaclavas, ran up the stair, sealed off a lot of the floors of the hotel. It's a hotel where we're staying and basically conducted a search. You know, a couple of our people went up to their floor, elevator doors open, and two of these guys with guns basically saying in clear terms get back downstairs.

What they were doing there, we had one pseudo spokesman say it was an anti-terror training exercise. I can tell you these guys did not look like they needed training. They knew what they were doing. And another spokesmen came out and said they were looking for someone but didn't find them. So, all very much a mystery. But who these guys were exactly, we don't know.

I can tell you from my own observation that they were dead serious about what they were doing. Some photographers had their cards removed from their cameras. But, by and large, they left us alone. But a bizarre, bizarre scene, I can tell you -- Christi.

BLACKWELL: Michael Holmes there at Lenin Square in Simferopol for us.

Michael, thanks. We'll check back.

Still to come on NEW DAY, of course, the search for the missing plane.

PAUL: Search of the pilots' homes. What do investigators hope to find. We'll tell you what they are doing with that system that's within the captain's home.

We'll be right back.

BLACKWELL: That simulator.

PAUL: Yes, the simulator.

Back in a moment.


BLACKWELL: Malaysian authorities have taken away the flight simulator from the captain's home and are investigating the plane's captain and co-pilots. They were also seen leaving those homes with small bags.

PAUL: Meanwhile, experts say whoever disabled this plane's communication systems must have had an awful lot of flying experience and been adroit at what they were doing.

CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes joining us now.

Tom, good to see you. Thank you for being with us again. I want to get to a report that Victor and I were talking about earlier this morning. That for several days, apparently, the Malaysian government had been looking for a reason to go inside of the home of these pilots. Now, we know they were standing outside the home for eight days prior to -- or after, I guess, the flight disappeared. We know in the U.S. we would have waited two hours before they --

BLACKWELL: Maybe not that long.

PAUL: Maybe not that long, before they would have gone into those homes. Why was a plane that they were piloting with 239 people that vanished not good enough reason?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Good morning, Christie. Good morning, Victor.

I think that, you know, one of the things we have to try to understand is that English is not their first language. So, when they put a term out like we were looking for a reason, that could have just as easily been we didn't have sufficient legal justification in our system to do that while we were doing other checks on those pilots, passengers, crew, other people. You know, they could have already been doing the equivalent of when we subpoena financial records that they have a large recent bank deposit or bank withdrawal, did they get a new life insurance policy recently? Their phone records, their Internet service provider records. Many of the records and items that you would need to learn about them could be done without going into the home.

The fact they had the home surrounded I think was as much to keep possibly intruders out as it was to keep any evidence or material in, because then you have all kinds of people showing up will trying to break in and get souvenirs or solve the case on their own. So, there is a problem understanding exactly what compares in their system to ours.

You are right. In the U.S., and -- you know, when I traveled all over the world running the FBI's international program I heard frequently from many countries that, you know, the techniques and the abilities that we have in the U.S. is too aggressive, would not be used or tolerated in those countries, and things we routinely do. We put out Amber alerts. Many countries ban that. You can't put out bank robber pictures. You can't put out anything that would prejudice the case.

So, there's many differences in these systems and in the way that the investigation is being described as they give it to us in English.

PAUL: Hmm, isn't that interesting?

BLACKWELL: Yes, let's put the video back up of the captain, that YouTube video. We learned from our Gary Tuchman that the YouTube video that flows the plight simulator, the video is actually about home heating and air conditioning. But we see it here and know investigators now are looking through this system and have taken it from the home, reassembled it at their own facility.

What could this provide? What information can they pull from this?

FUENTES: Well, I talked to many pilots and individuals here at CNN over the last week waiting to go on the air. And many of them have flight simulators in their homes and they say that, you know, some said that you can look into the memory and see what previous plans or potential flights he may have practiced. Others say, no, it wouldn't record that and save that.

So, I don't know technically. But they have to look at that now and see, you know, if -- also, in the home, are there notes or other information on his personal computer, possibly of, you know, putting down information about some airport in the distant destination that he normally would be unfamiliar with if he did fly that plane off to Asia or Kazakhstan, as has been said as a possibility.

So, you know, they would be looking for indications of knowledge, of him, trying to practice going somewhere else. Don't forget also in their culture, their society, the captain of an airliner is a very prestigious elite position. They would have a great deal of respect and from everything we having previously have heard about this captain, deservedly so.

And so, what we don't know -- unfortunately we may never know -- is that that captain, they might have if hijackers got on that plane previously trained and knew what they were doing, he could have been killed if it had been hijacked. He may have had his life taken trying to defend the aircraft and, you know, this cloud will happening over him forever if we don't get to the bottom of it.

PAUL: You know, I wanted to get to -- since you are talking about the morning press conference. One of the questions that was asked -- they were talking about that last ping at 8:11 that we detected. Somebody asked if the plane -- and that ping, if that would come from a plane that was on the ground.

And the answer was yes. That there is -- electric power to the plane it could. So, does that mean that now they are going to be looking at where that ping was and the fact that -- or the thought that the plane could have been grounded and could have landed somewhere when that last ping was detected? How does that change the investigation?

FUENTES: I don't think it changes the investigation. I don't think that that's something that now they are looking at and I think much of the reporting over the last eight, nine days has been to make it look like everything is being done sequentially rather than concurrently. So, the idea that that plane could be on the ground somewhere, the idea it could have crashed and land or in the sea, has been something all along.

But, you know, again, the authorities of Malaysia, it appears that they have had a great deal of trouble interpreting their own data and interpreting their own radar systems and then now relying on other satellite systems, you know, they have the expertise of the FAA and NTSB investigators and from other countries, the investigators that arrived there.

So, you know, they are -- they are not excluding any possibility and I don't think they have from the very beginning. And they didn't from the very beginning, that it could be either mechanical or human intervention. Either a hijacking or a pilot suicide or a pilot forced to, let's say, extortion situation. So, there's many possibilities that have been in play but they have been in place simultaneously, not sequentially.

BLACKWELL: All right. CNN law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes, it's good to have you as we extend this conversation. Every time we speak with you we learn something how investigators are looking at this from so many different angles. We appreciate it.

FUENTES: Thank you.

PAUL: Thank you.

We have so much more to cover on Flight 370. First, though, let's face it. It was a big night for college basketball fans.

BLACKWELL: Sure was.

PAUL: Oh, yes. March Madness people, you are on a roar.

BLACKWELL: If you're getting ready to fill out your bracket, I'll fill one out. I don't even know what I'm talking about here when it comes to basketball, I'll admit. But we will tell you which teams to keep an eye on after the break.


PAUL: Look at this. Rise and shine, folks.

BLACKWELL: No sun yet.

PAUL: Not yet. Shine through the light and spirits. We know you are here in spirit. Live look at the Centennial Olympic Park right now, outside of CNN headquarters here, 58 degrees. You saw there, definitely some rain in the forecast. But there's also thousands of college basketball fans and they are ready to go.

BLACKWELL: Oh, yes. I'm walking through yesterday. You know, college basketball experts are saying it's wide open this year.

PAUL: If you're filling out your bracket, I want to pick Louisville, the defending champ. They're definitely hot at the right time. You can tell Victor and I are like, OK, we are going to put it in. We have no idea what we're doing.

BLACKWELL: I'm happy to learn in this segment.

PAUL: Exactly. I'm hoping that, you know, us novices might do something. JOE CARTER, CNN SPORTS: I'll tell you what, those that know the least usually end up going the furthest in the tournament.

PAUL: Thank you. So I heard.

CARTER: Those of us that watch and think we know, not doing very well with our brackets. So, you guys have a much better shot than I do.

Louisville, they won, of course, the championship last year. They lost a couple of guys. But this is a team that essentially has rebuilt itself very well at the right time. They are super, super hot right now. And, you know, if you're looking for a team that's going to go very deep in the tournament, play in their best basketball, this is them.

Louisville definitely had a great game yesterday. They won their conference tournament by beating UConn. Some are saying that Louisville is going to possibly be the number one seed tonight, most likely going to be a number two seed. So, still take Louisville if you are looking for a good team to go deep into the tournament.

Now, I will tell you that it's going to take a talent team to dethrone the Louisville Cardinals. So, if you're looking for a good team to go deep, take Louisville.

The championship yesterday, if you watched the game guys, it felt a lot more like a national championship game but it's a very thrilling game. Unranked UCLA, pull out a huge upset. They beat number four Arizona.

Now, even though Arizona lost yesterday, they are still likely going to come away with a number one seed. So, Arizona likely number one seed going into the tournament. UCLA likely a high number 5 seed.

Again, looking for deep teams, Louisville and Arizona. Two teams that are likely to go very far in the tournament.

This video is trending this morning in Now, these two basketball teams likely not going deep in the tournament, Albany and Stony Brook. But look at the right side of your screen -- during the game the mascots started duking it out. Apparently these two mascots have pretty bad blood. This is not a joke.


PAUL: Oh, really? I thought maybe they were just doing it to get the crowd going.

CARTER: No, no. Who would think there was a heated rivalry between the mascots? But the security actually had to come over and break up the melee. But I will tell you that Albany won the American East Championship. So, Albany will be in the NCAA tournament. Their mascot trying to post bond.

Just kidding. I'm sure he will be there as well, but yes. So -- PAUL: Good heavens. Thank you, Joe.

CARTER: Yes. Tonight's selection Sunday. I will be looking forward to your brackets. I know you guys got a challenge --


PAUL: We are looking forward to yours because we defer to you really.

CARTER: I wouldn't. I would defer to the guy who knows nothing about college basketball.

BLACKWELL: That would be me, admittedly.

PAUL: So, if you want to get in all the March Madness, which we're going to do here, you can test your bracket skills against, you know, me and Victor, in the official NCAA March Madness bracket challenge game. Good luck to you. You are going to do fine against us.

Go to Join the CNN group and you can see, you know, you can pick the NCAA bracket better than us.

BLACKWELL: Last place last year.

PAUL: Were you going (ph)?

BLACKWELL: Yes. Last year, last place.

PAUL: He's got some hope. Yes, you do. The big story this weekend, of course, we have been following it. Big story for nine days, the search for 370. And now, the home simulator, seven hours off the grid, and growing suspicion of a flying expert making a deliberate wrong turn. The mystery of this flight continues. And we've got more after this.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

PAUL: We want to wish you a good Sunday morning. Hopefully, you are getting a R and R. I'm Christi Paul.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Want to wish you a good Sunday morning. And hopefully you are getting a little R&R.

I'm Christi Paul.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell. Thanks for spending your Sunday with us.

Even nine days after now officials are trying to piece together what happened to Flight 370 after it left Kuala Lumpur. And here's what we know so far. First they are leaning toward the theory that those in the cockpit may be responsible. Police are also investigating all the crew members, the passengers as well. And they say the place where the plane turned around was the perfect place to disappear.

PAUL: Now but they have not ruled out the notion of hijacking here. The homes of the captain and the co-pilots have been searched. They're also looking at any engineers that may have been near the plane around this time. But our Rene Marsh is going to give us a good timeline here.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christi and Victor, there are antennas on various parts of the plane intended to beam down vital information about the plane. All of them stopped communicating with the ground. And now the strongest language yet from Malaysian authorities suggesting this was no accident. It appears to be deliberate. All of this after the NTSB and FAA analyzed new satellite data suggesting the plane's last known position was the west side of the Malaysian Peninsula, not the east.


MARSH (voice-over): Takeoff from Kuala Lumpur 12:41 a.m. local time last Saturday. Flight 370 headed north along its planned route to Beijing. But then two communications systems stopped working within minutes of each other. And investigators now believe someone almost surely turned them off.

At 1:07 a.m. near the east coast of Malaysia, the system known as ACARS stops transmitting information about the plane's operating condition. And that was before the last radio transmission, "All right. Good night," indicating everything was normal.

1:21 a.m., the transponder which identifies the aircraft on radar stops transmitting. Was someone trying to hide the plane? We also now know blips then seen on Malaysian military radar were, in fact, Flight 370 headed west, and authorities say there's every indication someone was in control.

NAJIB RAZAK, MALAYSIAN PRIME MINISTER: Up until the point at which it left military primary radar coverage, these movement are consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane.

MARSH: Still unclear whether it was a pilot or a hijacker. CNN has confirmed the plane made erratic changes in altitude and was flying what officials describe as a strange path. At one point, it appears to have climbed to 45,000 feet, well above its approved altitude, then descending to 23,000.

Now a new analysis of satellite information shows the plane kept flying more than seven hours after takeoff. Much longer than previously thought. A satellite searching for operational data from the plane detected the aircraft every hour in a so-called handshake, but no data was transmitted.

Its last contact, 8:11 a.m., somewhere along this arc that stretches as far north as Kazakhstan and as far south as the Indian Ocean, west of Australia.


MARSH: Well, after more than eight hours in the air, it would have been close to running out of fuel and something we haven't talked a lot about but there is a possibility we won't get all of the answers we are looking for in this mystery. The cockpit voice recorders are located right in the back of the plane and they are only required to record the last two hours of the flight.

So if the plane flew for hours we may never know what happened in the very beginning. Now the cockpit data recorder, which stores information on all of the airplane's systems should have captured the whole flight. It records 36 hours. One other thing. So many people are asking why didn't any of the passengers either text or call home. Well, we do know that this plane did not have the equipment that would have allowed cell phone service -- Christi, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Rene Marsh for us -- Rene, thank you.

PAUL: Now remember, investigators, as I said, are looking at any engineers who may have had contact with Flight 370 before it took off. This is according to a press statement by Malaysia's Transport Ministry. And "The New York Times" reports authorities may also be looking at an aircraft engineer who was among the passengers. The 29- year-old Malaysian reportedly was on his way to China to work on airplanes.

BLACKWELL: Now even as U.S. officials lean toward a theory that the pilots may have been involved, maybe the crew engineers, there's still a lot of questions that have not yet been answered.

PAUL: Yes. We want to talk about that with CNN aviation analyst Mark Weiss. He is also a former American Airline pilot.

Thank you so much, Mark, for being with us. We know investigators have taken this flight simulator that belonged to the captain from his home. They dismantled it then they reassembled it at a facility to look at the data. I want to first point out we know that a lot of pilots have simulators. This is not unusual. But what kind of information can they glean from this?

MARK WEISS, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, good morning, Christi, Victor. It's nice to be here. Thank you.

Well, what you are looking for in the simulator is whether or not -- and you've heard this before, is whether or not that simulator had any flights to destinations that may have -- may be proven suspicious. That would be off the normal flight path. If that, in fact, could be even kept on a home simulator, something like that.

But one of the -- a couple of other questions that really are very significant, when you bring up the fact of that other engineer that might have been on the aircraft, we don't know. And as Rene Marsh just alluded to, the cockpit voice recorder, the CVR, only takes two hours worth of data. So we don't know who was in that cockpit. Whether legally, illegally, it very well could have been somebody who had knowledge of the airplane and there could have been that struggle.

Certainly it seems to indicate with that such erratic altitude changes of the aircraft that there was a struggle in the cockpit. And that leads me to believe that there may have been another party in the cockpit trying to -- who had knowledge of aviation or flying or the instrumentation and how to disable some of that, trying to wrestle the controls. So there is a major question.

And, again, we are not going to -- unless somebody spoke during the latter part of the flight we are not going to any voice recognition. We're not going on know who was there.

BLACKWELL: You know, and this is a pilot question. And I'm glad we have you on because when I leave this -- we've been in breaking news situation for days now. But when you go to the supermarket, or you go to the barbershop, the question is what do they think happened. A basic general question.

PAUL: Right.

BLACKWELL: So my question to you, as a pilot, and you look at all the information we have and those two corridors over land, one over the south Indian Ocean, is there one -- for you one baseline theory of what happened here and the others are just alternatives with varying levels of credibility? Is there one theory here you think is probably what happened?

WEISS: Yes, there is. I mean, and it's right or wrong as anybody else's theory and it's just that. It's speculation. May thinking is somebody -- this was a very deliberate action. My thinking from the very beginning has been that this had to be a deliberate action.

The way a flight plan would be put into the computer, if a paper flight plan will be given to the crew in Kuala Lumpur, the -- the flight plan would have been uploaded by Malaysian Air operations into the flight computer, onboard the aircraft, you read back from the computer to the paper flight plan, all the way points, all the distances and the headings, so it's checked off that the flight plan on the aircraft matches the paper flight plan that's been agreed to by air traffic control and the airline and then you check that off.

So to me what it says is that when that airplane made that left turn, somebody deliberately turned that aircraft. Now the erratic behavior, again, as I said before, it seems to me to indicate a struggle in the cockpit. And before we vilify a crew or a crewmember or anybody else, we really have to get more information.

And I know this is so still very premature, we don't have that information. But we could have -- in these pilots who are perhaps even the flight attendant could have been in there trying to help save that aircraft, we don't know. PAUL: Mark, let me ask you a question about a theory that somebody said something to me yesterday. And as a pilot you would be able to answer this question better than anyone. That there is a theory that the plane landed somewhere and that perhaps it flew so long to burn off fuel because we know this is -- over 600,000-pound plane. And you would need a one-mile runway, they kept saying, to land it.

But somebody was saying if they lost -- if they burn down the fuel, they wouldn't need a runway so long to land it. Is there any truth to that? And do you find that to be a possibility?

WEISS: Well, it is a real -- it's a real stretch.


WEISS: You know, you can burn down fuel. You can also dump fuel on that aircraft. You can -- and it dumps fuel very quickly. That standard practice for emergencies because you don't want to land an airplane overweight. But you'd still need a runway of at least probably 7,000 to 8,000 feet long to get that airplane on the ground.

PAUL: So do you think it's possible that that plane landed somewhere without being detected? That's what I think --


PAUL: Got everybody so, you know, perplexed.

WEISS: You know, it's within the realm of possibility. I mean, I don't think you can completely discount that at this point. I mean, I know that, you know, in the past years ago there was, I believe, an Avianca Flight that was a much smaller airplane, though. It was a twin engine turbo prop that had actually been hijacked and flown into a jungle airfield and the passengers onboard weren't released, in fact, for over a year and a half in some cases. So the possibility exists. At this point you still can't discount that.

PAUL: OK. Mark Weiss, we so appreciate your expertise. Thank you for taking the time to spend with us today.

WEISS: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Quick break and we'll continue our breaking news coverage of the search for Flight 370.


BLACKWELL: Families of the victims of Flight 370, those at least who are still missing, are losing patience with Malaysian officials. This morning, some relatives accused Malaysia Airlines of not providing enough support after it was suggested that their travel home would be paid for if they decided to leave Beijing.

PAUL: CNN's Pauline Chiou joins us live from Beijing.

Pauline, good to see you. First have families reacted to this press conference from the Defense minister that happened in the last hour?

PAULINE CHIOU, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They have. And I know that they were watching from their hotel rooms here in the hotel behind me where about 500 relatives gather every day. There are a couple of interesting threads that came out of that news conference. We've learned that the pilots, the two pilots, did not request to fly together.

And we also found out that the last satellite contact with the airplane may have been coming from the plane on the ground and that last point is actually a sliver of good news for the families here because they say at this point the best case scenario is that maybe this was foul play and maybe the plane has landed somewhere with the passengers onboard.

Now earlier today, there was a family briefing where tempers flared. And that's because Malaysia Airlines, which has been paying for the hotel and the meals for all of these relatives, had said that going into day nine, if the relatives wanted to go home, the airline would pay for their return journey home.

Well, many of the families took this as sort of an insult and one woman stood up and started screaming at an airline representative.

This woman is saying, we are not going anywhere. We will wait right here. And there were other outbursts during this meeting. One man took the microphone and asked all of the people in the room who has lost faith in the Malaysian government. Who has lost faith in the Malaysia Airlines, if you have, stand up. And more than half of the room stood up.

The general consensus is that the flow of information coming out the past nine days has been too slow and families just say too much precious time has been lost.

So, Victor and Christi, understandably these families are very, very frustrated.

BLACKWELL: Difficult to even imagine that pain as we're now in day nine.

PAUL: Can't even do it.

BLACKWELL: Pauline Chiou in Beijing for us -- Pauline, thanks.

PAUL: So the other big story that we're watching today, voters in Ukraine's Crimea region voting right now on the country's future. We're going to defect to that vote.

BLACKWELL: And if Crimea joins Russia, does Moscow really win here? And what could the U.S. gain or lose as it continues to pump diplomatic and economic resources into Ukraine?


BLACKWELL: Thousands of pro-Russian protesters turned out Saturday ahead of today's referendum there in Crimea. Voting is happening right now on the peninsula. That's where voters will decide whether to join Russia or to support the restoration of the constitution of the Republic of Crimea in '92 leaving it as part of Ukraine.

PAUL: Well, let me bring in Ian Bremmer right now to talk more about today's vote in Crimea. He's president of the Eurasia Group, a firm that gives expert advice to that little development affect the financial markets.

BLACKWELL: Yes, so, you wrote an op-ed and it's for Reuters. And you say that the U.S. missed several chances to diffuse this crisis. How could the U.S. have calmed tensions there?

IAN BREMMER, PRESIDENT, EURASIA GROUP: Well, first of all, before we had the demonstrations in Ukraine, the president, former President Yanukovych was desperately looking to balance Russian cash and the Russian offer for a Eurasian customs union with the Europeans and the Americans. At that point the Americans and Europeans had no interest in providing that level of support. So kind of forced with no other alternative but to go towards Putin.

But the other point here, and this is a big one, that the United States has yet again said, don't go into Crimea or else, to the Russians. But the "or else" is not seen as remotely credible by Putin. And we'll see this in the next 24 hours when the Americans and the Europeans put sanctions on. They're going to be very limited. They're not going to hurt -- they're going to try to avoid hurting American and European businesses. Certainly avoid hurting the Europeans getting all their gas from Russia.

And that means things like visa restrictions and some asset freezes for some oligarch. This is going to be seen as incredibly asymmetrical in terms of the importance of Crimea and Ukraine more broadly to the Russians.

PAUL: So the U.S. expects Crimeans to vote to join Russia. I think everybody expects that to happen. If it does, what would Moscow -- what would they really gain? I mean, is it a win for Russia in the long run?

BREMMER: Well, it's a win for Putin in the short run. I mean, certainly his popularity has gone up domestically in Russia since this Ukraine crisis has gone ahead. From the Russian perspective they are the losers of the Cold War. The Americans have been happy to help that along through NATO enlargement that the Americans originally said they wouldn't do, then we did through energy diversification away from Russia. The Caspian towards the West.

So I mean, this is Putin saying that's it, no more, we're not going to tolerate you taking Ukraine. But having said that, the Russians are also -- if Crimea leaves and becomes a part of Russia, as they will, then you're going to have 1.5 million Russians that are no longer available to vote for Russian candidates in Ukraine and the Ukrainian people are clearly very strongly anti-Russian at this point so it's hard for the Russians to maintain any influence over the rest of that country. The question is what leverage will they use? Will it be purely the economic lever, cut off gas to the Ukrainians in if the United States and Europeans decide that we don't care as much as about funding these guys after they leave the headlines which seemed likely. The Russians can get some economic influence back. But the big question of course we're going to be watching over the coming days and weeks are, will the Russians actually directly invade east Ukraine, but then you have a civil war then we have a very serious problem on our hands.

PAUL: All right. Ian Bremmer in New York for us -- good to hear from you, Ian. Thank you for taking the time.


BLACKWELL: Still to come on NEW DAY SUNDAY, the blade runner, his murder trial enters its third week now. A heads-up on what you can expect as prosecutors keep pushing down their list of dozens and dozens of witnesses.

PAUL: Really emotional trial, too.

Plus U.S. officials saying they're focused on Flight 370's pilots right now as Malaysian Police search the pilot's houses. They removed a flight simulator from the home of the captain but they are looking at other people.

We're going to be back with more details in a moment.


BLACKWELL: Coming up at 8:30, John King is taking a deep dive into midterm campaigns and the ramp-up to 2016, that campaign for the White House -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: At the bottom of the hour we'll look back on a special election that was anything but special for the Democrats. One party strategist tells me a 2x4 to the head.

We're also releasing the results of a brand-new CNN poll of the likely 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls. And yes, there are plenty of surprises.

We'll see you at the bottom of the hour for "INSIDE POLITICS."

PAUL: "INSIDE POLITICS", John King, begins at 8:30 a.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

BLACKWELL: Tomorrow marks the third week of the Oscar Pistorius murder trial. And legal experts predict that some of the police officers who responded to the scene, also a ballistic expert or two, will take the stand.

Now the South African Olympic runner, as I'm sure you know, faces charges for killing his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp. Pistorius claims the shooting was an accident but prosecutors are trying to make the case that it was premeditated and that he shot at Steenkamp through a lock bathroom door after a heated argument. Pistorius faces a life sentence if he's convicted.

A very old gas main may have caused a building explosion in New York early this week. Investigators still have not released an official cause. But they say the gas pipes were 127 years old. And soil tests in the area after the explosion found natural gas at levels as high at 20 percent when no one -- none, rather, should have been present. Eight people died. Dozens of others were injured in that blast.

PAUL: We are so glad that you're starting the morning with us, though.

BLACKWELL: Yes, NEW DAY SUNDAY continues right now.