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Investigators Looking at Pilots, Passengers; Crimeans Vote Today on Joining Russia

Aired March 16, 2014 - 08:00   ET


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Eight people died. Dozens of others were injured in that blast.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: We are so glad that you're starting your morning with us though.

BLACKWELL: Yes. NEW DAY SUNDAY continues right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

PAUL: Yes, it's 8:00 right now, in case you are looking at the clock wondering am I on time, am I not on time? You're in perfect time.

We're glad to have you here. I'm Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell, 5:00 out west.

Again, this is NEW DAY SUNDAY.

PAUL: As we follow more breaking news on the search for Malaysian Flight 370, this morning, Malaysia defense minister had a news conference and he said the search has entered, quote, "a new phase", that 25 countries are now involved in the search for this missing jet as opposed to the 14 prior.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Huge ramp-off there. The defense minister also said that Malaysia is asking other countries to turn over radar from the region.


HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIAN'S ACTING TRANSPORTATION MINISTER: We're asking countries that have satellite assets, including the U.S., China and France, amongst others, to provide further satellite detail. And we are contacting additional countries who maybe able to contribute specific assets relevant to the search and rescue operation.


BLACKWELL: We've also learned from Malaysia Airlines that the two pilots did not request to fly together on the day the flight disappeared.

And also from the CEO, there was no extra fuel. The jet was not carrying any extra fuel there on 370.

Let's bring in CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr once more.

Barbara, you were told by U.S. officials that the focus is now -- this is a quote -- on those in the cockpit in the flight's disappearance. Why has the focus shifted so heavily toward them?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's be clear. This is a theory. This is a theory that they are looking at. No facts yet. Not sufficient data to back up any single theory. Everything is still on the table.

But it's a hypothesis I think may be the better word to describe it. The Malaysians themselves also are looking at the cockpit crew. They are really leading the way on this going to the homes of the pilot and co-pilot and conducting searches there, removing the flight simulator from the home of one of the pilots.

So, it begins with that. Why look at the cockpit crew, why is this a theory that's he beginning to emerge?

Well, several U.S. officials and agencies across Washington will tell you, because the electronic systems on the aircraft appear to have been deliberately shut off and the plane continued in some form of a flight for four to five hours. It was under control of somebody.

It didn't just go off completely erratically on its own, somebody who knew how to fly a 777. That suggests perhaps not someone from the passenger cabin who suddenly got up and commandeered the cockpit -- though that's possible, no one really knows. But it's the beginning of being able to rule out some logical things, see what's left on the table, the turn-off of the electronic systems, the continued controlled flight for four to five hours, and it begins to make everyone sort of look at what's left.

But we need to be very clear. No one is yet accusing the cockpit crew. No one has any proof of anything. It is what they're beginning to look at.

PAUL: You know, one of the things that's eerie is this -- what this official has said, he called this the perfect place to disappear. Why is that and how much then obviously does that lead to the belief that there is a hijacking here?

STARR: Well, let me just be clear on what we're talking about there.

PAUL: Yes.

STARR: We are talking about that crucial left-hand turn when the plane left Kuala Lumpur and those systems began to turn off, however they were turned off, or were turned off. The plane made a 90-degree left-hand turn. This is very well understood. This was a very deliberate turn picked up on Malaysian radar.

It makes that turn in an area where it's also well understood it was between Malaysian air traffic control and Vietnam's air traffic control.

So, it's possible that both air traffic control systems didn't quickly understand enough that that plane had turned. They thought they handed it off to each other. Everybody think everything is fine. And in the meantime, the plane is going on its way.

Some people who are pilots will tell you that might be a perfect way to begin to disappear. So, that's one of the first clues they are looking at. And then everything that follows on from there.

BLACKWELL: Yes, CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr -- thank you so much, Barbara.

So the focus of the investigation, as we've discussed with Barbara, shifting to the pilots now. Also passengers, engineers aboard Flight 370. Officials are going through the flight manifest as well.

PAUL: Yes. We mentioned, they've searched the homes of both of the pilots and the captain and co-pilot.

CNN's Saima Mohsin is outside the home of the flight's pilot.

Saima, police we know searched that home yesterday. Have they gone back there yet?

SAIMA MOHSIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So far today, Christi, we don't believe that police have been back here. We understand that they did a thorough search yesterday. When they left when we arrived here late last night, they left carrying bags. We're not sure what was inside them, but they certainly it took away whatever evidence they think they need to. There were plain-clothed police officers, presumably investigators, looking into each and every person on-board, the passengers and of course the crew.

This is actually the co-pilot's house. He lives here with his family. He's in his late 20s and he lived here with his parents and his siblings.

We're not sure how many siblings he had. Just down the road, there is a mosque where there are special prayers being carried out right now this evening by people in the neighborhood for his safe keeping and hoping that he comes back here safely.

Now, some things we learned today about the co-pilot and the pilot. They didn't request to fly together. Now look into to that however you will. Right now, we are seeing pictures of the police leaving late last night. As I said, there have been patrols as well, by the way, in the area around both the co-pilot's house and the pilot's house. Now crucially, at the pilot's house, they've been visiting every single day but finally yesterday they did go in to conduct that search. They were in there for up to two hours.

And today, the defense minister confirmed they took that air flight simulator away. Now, this flight simulator has caused a lot of intrigue and mystery and concern, of course, about why he had one in his house.

Yesterday, I spoke to a close friend of his. He told me, look -- he was an enthusiast. He loved flying. It was his passion and he brought it home and he shared it with his friend. He invited many of us over to try the simulator out and all he had was various scenarios.

And a poignant part in that discussion, he tried out flights in thunderstorms, snowstorms, et cetera. He said, he always turned to me and said you know what? It is so much easier and nicer flying a real plane. Sadly, this time around, it didn't turn out that way -- Christi.

BLACKWELL: I'll take it. Saima Mohsin, reporting for us there -- thank you so much, Saima.

PAUL: Remember, investigators are also looking at any engineers who may have had contact with Flight 370 before it took off. This is according to press statements by Malaysia's transport ministry. And "The New York Times" is reporting authorities may also be look at an aircraft engineer who was among the passengers there. We know he is a 29-year-old Malaysian reportedly on his way to China to work on airplanes.

BLACKWELL: Well, Crimeans are going to the polls today to decide whether to join Russia. But Russian and Ukrainian forces are jacking up the pressure against one another.

PAUL: So, we're talking with the former supreme allied commander of NATO about whether the U.S. should heed a new call from a powerful senator and amp up its own military might in Ukraine.


PAUL: Right now, as we speak, there is a vote going on in the hotly disputed region of Ukraine to decide whether to join Russia or stay in Ukraine territory.

BLACKWELL: Yes, this vote -- which the U.S. has already said it expects to swing in favor of Russia -- comes on the heels of a call by Senator John McCain for the U.S. to revive more serious military aid to Ukraine. Here's what he said yesterday in Kiev.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Ukraine is going to need a long- term military assistance program from the United States, equipment both lethal and non-lethal.


BLACKWELL: McCain went on to say that providing aid would be, quote, "right and decent", the "right and decent thing to do."

PAUL: Let's talk to General Wesley Clark about that. He's a former NATO supreme allied commander, now a senior fellow at UCLA's Burkle Center.

General Clark, thank you for being here.


PAUL: I need to ask. Do you agree with Senator McCain's position on this first of all?

CLARK: Yes, I do agree with Senator McCain's position on this. I think that this is a struggle that's fought on three levels. You've got a diplomatic, legitimacy, legal argument, political argument at the top, an economic argument in the middle, and at the bottom, it's about who controls the territory. You can lose it on either -- or any of these levels.

So, yes, we've got to give economic assistance to Ukraine as rapidly as possible, got to get their economy started. We can't let their currency go under and we can't let millions of people become unemployed. And we've got to contest it diplomatically.

But we know the outcome of this referendum in advance. We know the Russian methods at this point. They've already put Russian irregulars, let's call them, into Eastern Ukraine.

And so, the real struggle after this will be what happens on Crimea to the Ukrainian forces isolated there. And then what happens in Eastern Ukraine, in cities like Donetsk.

So, for the Ukrainians to have a chance they've got to be given the assistance they need, financial and they probably need some military equipment.

Now, we need to be sending a NATO mission in to assess this. This is not a NATO intervention. It's just fact finding and information.

But make no mistake about it, what happens in Ukraine is of vital interest to NATO because NATO's all about the security and stability of Eastern Europe and NATO members that border Ukraine and border Russia are paranoid about what's happening. They see a pattern unfolding that could be applied against them.

BLACKWELL: General, Senator Lindsey Graham and "CROSSFIRE" host Newt Gingrich have an op-ed on

The title of it is "Obama's Ukraine policies scream loudly carry no stick." Of course, they criticize the president's policies and his strategy here. But they write anything short of providing arms and intelligence to the sovereign Ukrainian government is unlikely to deter Putin.

My question is -- which has been a non-starter for many -- should troops be included in that level of support for the people of Ukraine?

CLARK: I don't see that at this point. I think you've got to bring NATO together. I think the way it works strategically is Ukraine has to hold on to what it has. It may be police and non- lethal riot gear.

It has to -- and it doesn't have to be provided by the United States. Better if it isn't. Better if it's provided by Poland or Germany or France or Britain.

But it has to hold on to the rest of Ukraine at this point. And then you have to wage the battle at the economic level, at the diplomatic level, at the level of government legitimacy. You have to contest the polls. You have to advocate for the safety of those Ukrainian troops that are going to remain in Crimea.

There are many, many things that have to be done. I don't want this to go to a direct U.S.-Russia confrontation on a military basis and certainly not through a shooting war. But, we do have to understand that what happens in Ukraine is of vital interest to Europe and what happens to Europe is of vital interest to the United States.

PAUL: So, I know you say -- you talk a lot about diplomatic. But I think a big question a lot of people have is does Putin even want a diplomatic resolution, and what sanctions -- if we do provide sanctions or set sanctions, what sanctions would move him?

CLARK: I think Putin will take a diplomatic solution at some point. I think he's got Crimea. That's a huge card in his favor. I think that he would take a diplomatic solution. It would roll everything back, get the west out of there and let him try to dominate Ukrainian elections. At least he would have a few days ago. Whether he will now or not depends.

But this could go to a diplomatic solution or it could go to a simply status quo confrontation that drags on and on and on. I think one thing we can be sure of is that this vote's not the end of it. This is going to continue and the nibbling tactics of sending in these un-insigniaed Russian troops, that are deniable Russian troops, that come in and interfere with things, and irregulars who are engaging in demonstrations and beating up local citizens and attacking them, as they did in Donetsk, that tactic has thus far worked for Putin.

So that tactic has to be fought. It has to be fought by the Ukrainian authorities. Fighting that tactic is not something NATO troops can do. It is not something the United States can do. But they may need some assistance and training for this.

BLACKWELL: Former NATO supreme allied commander, General Wesley Clark -- thank you so much for joining us this morning.

CLARK: Thank you.

PAUL: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Still to come on NEW DAY, with no answers and few leads, every day brings understandably new frustrations for friends and families of the people on Flight 370.

PAUL: But, boy, tensions are really at a boiling point right now. Why some say Malaysian Airlines is not doing enough to help victims' relatives right now.


BLACKWELL: As the families of those on board Flight 370 cling to hope, the Vatican is urging people to keep the victims in their prayers. We know a lot of people have been doing that now for nine days. But during his weekly Sunday message earlier today, Pope Francis told the crowd, we are close to them in this difficult moment.

Now, as information about the investigation trickles out, tensions in Beijing, they are growing. You see here between the families and Malaysian officials.

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

I read a quote from a family member this morning, Pauline, said, "What we ask for is the truth, don't hide things from us." They think the airline has been disingenuous with them. Now we understand the airline would like those families to go home?

PAULINE CHIOU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That has been the general sentiment -- impatience, frustration, anger. And Malaysia Airlines has been holding briefings here with these families every day and the relatives are saying the information coming out is fairly thin. These briefings are not very useful. So they want more information and they feel that if any of them should get the information first, it should be them.

Now, they are digesting new information from a press conference about an hour and half ago. And some interesting threads have come out of that. We have learned that the two pilots of the plane did not request to fly with each other.

We've also learned that no additional fuel was added to the planned trip so this gives investigators a pretty good gauge of how far this plane could have flown.

And the most interesting tidbit, at least for the family members here, who are staying at this hotel behind me, is that the last satellite contact with the airplane may have been from the airplane on the ground. And family members were texting me, Victor and Christi, about that, saying at least the best case scenario could be that the plane has landed and that the passengers are still alive.

BLACKWELL: Pauline Chiou there for us in Beijing -- Pauline, thank you. PAUL: Across Ukraine, meanwhile, demonstrators have been pressing for Crimea to unite with Russia.

BLACKWELL: We'll have a live report from the region where Russian flags have been flying for days now.


BLACKWELL: Well, voters in a hotly disputed region of Ukraine are casting ballots right now to decide whether to join Russia.

PAUL: Polls have been open in Crimea for more than six hours at this point. Turnout already stands at a whopping 44 percent. Voters are facing these two choices -- do you 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?

BLACKWELL: Senior international correspondent Matthew Chance is in Donetsk, a pro-Russian stronghold in Ukraine.

I understand there are reports of demonstrators chanting, "Donetsk is a Russian city."

What's the mood there?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right. In fact, within the course of the past few minutes, thousands of pro-Russian demonstrators here in Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine, have move down this main road to a location elsewhere in the city. They were chanting pro-Russian slogans, waving Russian flags, calling for the same kind of vote that people are undertaking today in Crimea.

They also want a referendum here to join the Russian federation. This is a very deep Russian part of Ukraine. There are strong cultural and economic ties as well, because the factories, coal mines, steel works that are here do all their business with Russia across the border and they are very concerned about Ukraine moving towards the European Union and moving away from Moscow, Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right. Matthew Chance there for in Donetsk in Ukraine, thank you.

PAUL: And we'll keep you posted for everything that's going on today. Go make some great memories, though.

BLACKWELL: And thank you for starting your day with us here on NEW DAY SUNDAY."