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The Search Continues for Flight 370j; U.S. Officials Skeptical of Northern Search Arc; U.S. Navy Changing Its Role in Search; Concerns about Pilots' Mental State; Putin Recognizes Crimean Independence

Aired March 17, 2014 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: All right, Jake, thank you.

Happening now, a new time line raising new questions about the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. But as authorities securitize the plane's electronic signals, they're also digging into the backgrounds of the pilots, the crew members and the passengers.

If a skilled pilot were determined to make it invisible, could the airliner have evaded detection by flying in the shadow of another aircraft?

And Malaysia insists this was a deliberate criminal act.

But should mechanical failure be ruled out?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


The mystery of what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 grows even more baffling 11 days after the airliner disappeared. The search now extending over a vast area of hundreds of thousands of square miles, covering a dozen countries, and deep, seemingly endless ending ocean.

The United States is about to scale back its involvement, but the massive search involves ships, planes and satellites, while investigators conduct high tech scrutiny of electronic signals and, increasingly, old-fashioned police work on the ground.

We have the kind of coverage only CNN can deliver. Our correspondents and analysts, they are standing by.

But let's begin with our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, for the very latest -- Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I think you can call it a frustrating 24 hours in the investigation. You had this revelation over the weekend that Malaysian authorities thought that the data streaming system was turned off before that "good night," that final "good night" from the cockpit. Now they say there's some doubt about that. You have investigators expanding the number of people they're looking into, including everyone who touched this plane before it took off. And they're also expanding the search area.

You could say today that the investigation at a stalemate.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): Eleven days after Flight 370 vanished, the confusing, sometimes conflicting information from Malaysian authorities continues. This weekend, investigators said the jet's data streaming system, or ACARS, was switched off before the last communication from pilots. Now they say they're not so sure.


We don't know when the aircraft was switched off after that.

SCIUTTO: That detail is key. Switching the system off before the pilots gave a calm "good night" to air traffic controllers had led authorities to determine the plane's disappearance was likely deliberate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sir, can you tell us what you're doing?

SCIUTTO: That is still the leading theory and police are now scouring the pilots' homes and questioning friends and family for clues. But their list of person of interests is expanding, from the two pilots inside the cockpit to the 10 crew members on duty, to the 227 passengers traveling on board, and now to the many staff who accessed the plane before takeoff, from baggage handlers to technicians.

JAMES BERNAZZANI, FORMER FBI AGENT: That would not only include identifying the passengers and the crew that had touched that aircraft, but also individuals associated, whether they be family members or friends or professional workers that might have some information relative to the mindset of an individual.

SCIUTTO: As the investigation expands, so does the search area. It now encompasses a large section of the Indian Ocean and more than a dozen countries on land.

Back home, for Americans, a burning question remains -- does Flight 370's disappearance expose vulnerabilities in American air travel?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: The hope may be that we see improved airline security around the world, as well as, perhaps, a better way of tracking aircraft. We'll be looking at some of those systems, like the black box, and trying to determine whether we need better safeguards so that pilots can't turn off the communications, so that, perhaps, the black boxes can transit signals rather than having to find them under an ocean.


SCIUTTO: There are a number of other changes they're looking into, including the idea of increasing the security and the screening of passengers, their passports, not just here in the U.S., and around the world. You know, Wolf, a number of times this weekend, I spoke to aviation security analysts and I said, you know, does this expose vulnerabilities for Americans traveling at home, this idea that a plane could be commandeered 13 years after 9/11?

They said that, you know, generally, the security measures we have at home are up to a good standard today. If there is a greater vulnerability, it might be for Americans flying overseas. But as you heard there, Congressman Schiff saying that Congressmen -- members of Congress looking at possible additional security measures in response to an event like this.

BLITZER: They're under -- to be -- to err on the side of prudence, if you will, just to make sure there are not these kinds of problems.

Standing by for a moment.

I want to expand this conversation.

Joining us now, our CNN aviation analyst, Mark Weiss. He's a security consultant, a former 777 pilot. Also, our aviation analyst, Steven Wallace, a safety consultant, former FAA director of accident investigation, and our CNN law enforcement analyst, the former FBI assistant director, Tom Fuentes.

This latest revision of what the Malaysians are saying of when that system was turned off, before or after the formal "good-bye," "good night" from the co-pilot, what does that mean to you?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: It means that there's still confusion about what happened and when it happened and what system was on and when it was turned off. And I think that we don't expect that this late in the game of this event. And, you know, the Malaysian authorities are relying on what the technical analysts, the experts on radio satellites, communication systems and aircraft, they're relying on their analysis and what they believe happened. And the experts are either disagreeing or changing their review of the facts and conclusions about the facts.

So that's the difficulty in this. These are technical questions -- when did that get shut off?

What does that mean?

Who could have shut it off?

How could they shut it off?

We don't have answers completely that are solid yet. That may not change tomorrow.

BLITZER: Even though the Malaysian government, Steven, is basically saying this was a manmade diversion, if you will, it was not a mechanical failure, there are a lot of experts out there who still aren't ruling out some catastrophic mechanical failure. STEVEN WALLACE, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, you know, rule one, at the beginning of an accident investigation, everything is on the table. And here we are, eight or nine days into this, I think everything is still...

BLITZER: It's closer to 10 or 11, though.

WALLACE: Yes. Everything is still on the table. And this -- the last bit of evidence that you and Tom were just discussing, this has been just typical of this entire investigation. Things come out in sort of dribs and drabs. They are a little -- they are not immediately shared with the best experts. And then they are changed.

You know, certainly, the fact that this aircraft turned approximately at the same time that both of the ACARS system and the transponder were apparently turned off, you know, that shifts the investigation -- it's very much a criminal and civil investigation.

BLITZER: At the 35,000 foot level...


BLITZER: -- when the plane is usually just smooth sailing. And at a time when they were in no man's land between Malaysian air space and Vietnamese air space. That would have been a logical time, if you're going to try to sneak away, for them to do it.

WALLACE: Well, you know, so, again, it's -- we clearly have a parallel civil and criminal investigation going on now. I think it's fair to say that this shift with all this issue about the pilots' behavior and admitting people into the cockpit, something that would not happen with a U.S. carrier, slides a little more in the other direction.


BLITZER: Now, this 53-year-old captain, the pilot, the lead pilot, had this simulator in his house. They've taken it away, the local authorities in Malaysia. They're going through the hard drives. They're looking at it.

Potentially, this is pretty significant, right?

WEISS: Well, you know, I'm not quite sure how much significance that really is going to eventually have...

BLITZER: Why do you say that?

Because I don't know how unusual it is for someone to practice flying in the -- you know, an experienced flier like this, in his house.

WEISS: Well, you know, I know a lot of people who are experienced

Pilots. Some of them have the simulators that you can buy at a Microsoft store. So I'm not sure that that's the major area of focus. I don't think you can discount it. I think you have to see what comes out of that, what airports he may have tried to fly into, different attitudes, how airplanes might have flown at 43,000 plus feet.

So I think that needs to be investigated. But it's not unusual to have a simulator.

BLITZER: Jim, you know, the great fear that so many have is that this plane, for whatever reason, surreptitiously landed someplace and will be refueled and used, effectively, potentially, as some sort of missile down the road.

How serious are U.S. officials taking that scenario?

Is it way out there?

Is it too far-fetched?

SCIUTTO: I hear two things consistently. One is that they've established no clear link between this event and terrorism. Clearly, they are exploring it, but they haven't found that evidence yet. That doesn't mean they're not looking there are everybody on that plane, everybody associated with that plane, but they haven't found that yet.

And when they talk about the kinds of groups who might have both the ambition and the capability of carrying out an attack like this, you know, capturing a plane and using it somewhere else, one group that came into suspicion initially is this Uyghur group from Western China, the Shenzhen Province, East Turkestan, Islamic movement...

BLITZER: These are Muslims?

SCIUTTO: These are Muslims. They are Muslims. And they've carried out attacks before, some very recently, in China, but nothing to this scale. And the reason -- I've heard from intelligence officials that that group wouldn't have the capability, even if they had the ambition.

Now, it is true that Malaysia has had al Qaeda presence in the past. And, of course, al Qaeda much greater capability.

But as of yet, no established link.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by, because we have more to assess.

There are a lot more theories out there. A vast search area stretching in two separate directions.

Why U.S. officials think one track is unrealistic, the other a lot more likely.

And the U.S. Navy now scaling back, redirecting its role in the search. We're going to speak with a Navy commander who's in the region and we're going to find out what's going on.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: There's a new development in the hunt for Malaysian airliner.

The U.S. Navy is about to change its role in the operations.

Navy Commander William Marks is standing by to update us. He's standing by to join us live.

But let's go to the search itself.

Investigators are focused on either a northern track, stretching from Northern Thailand to the border of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan in Central Asia, or a southern arc that spans from Indonesia to the vast Southern Indian Ocean.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. Barbara, which track do you U.S. officials think is more likely?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Wolf, officially they're looking at both, no question about that. But let's look at the northern track first.

Every U.S. official I have spoken to in recent days raises some questions about the logic of the northern track. Technically possible but realistically, this is an area where the U.S. military and intelligence community has a good deal of satellite and radar coverage, because they watch for ballistic missile launches. They have now gone through everything one more time, looked at all of their data. The U.S. has not spotted any indication of a crash.

What about the countries in the region? They all have radars. They all have different capabilities, different types of radars, different expertise. There are radar gaps on the ground but is it likely, they ask, that the plane could have flown right into a radar gap, undetected, crossed a border, possibly crossed other borders still undetected and nobody would have noticed? The U.S. firmly believes, we are told, that if a country knew it had crashed in their territory, they would have said something about it.

So there's a good deal of just practical skepticism about the northern track, Wolf.

BLITZER: So how much searching is being done in the southern track, along the southern part of the Indian Ocean?

STARR: Exactly as you said, this is about to change. They have searched, essentially, the Bay of Bengal, the Strait of Malacca, the northern water, if you will. Now moving deep into the southern Indian Ocean, hundreds of thousands of square miles, really, of empty, uninhabited water. Very tough.

The Australians are going to take that over for the U.S. The Kidd, The USS Kidd that we've talked to so much in recent days, it is going to move on to its regular duties. But a U.S. Navy P-8 is going to stay behind. It's going to base out of Perth, Australia. And the reason is, that aircraft will be able to cover that open water much more quickly, much more efficiently than the ship. And, if it spots a debris field, get to it more quickly. In fact, earlier today the P-8 and the Kidd did respond very quickly when they thought they spotted a debris field on radar. It didn't work out. It was a false alarm. But they demonstrated that they can get to a scene very quick if they think there's something there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They certainly do. All right. Barbara Starr, thank you so much. Stand by.

Twenty-six nations are now involved in the hunt for the missing airliner. But the U.S. Navy, as Barbara just reported, is about to change its role in that effort.

Let's get the very latest. Joining us on the phone is Commander William Marks of the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet. He's aboard the USS Blue Ridge.

Commander, we've been checking with you on a daily basis. So what should we read into this decision to scale back the U.S. search operation in the Indian Ocean?

COMMANDER WILLIAM MARKS, U.S. NAVY (via phone): Good morning. Well, actually, this is going to be a lot more beneficial to the operation. We -- we looked at the situation, and in consultation with the government of Malaysia, we said, "Well, where are our assets best used?"

And the Kidd and the helicopter pretty much have covered as much of the Andaman Sea as we can. We feel that we have searched that area just to the west and south of Burma. We're not going to -- we're not going to find anything else out there, we think.

So when you have a destroyer out there doing 10, 15 knots at a time, that's really not the most effective platform for the entirety of the Indian Ocean. So we said -- we got together. We said, "Well, all right. Let's move a P-8 down to Australia. We'll leave our P-3 in Kuala Lumpur. That way we get 1,000 nautical miles of searching at a time." So this is actually much more effective for the overall search.

BLITZER: Those are -- those are aircraft that are being flown, the P- 3 and the P-8, over this area.

There a whole bunch of little islands in the southern Indian Ocean. Have you looked over all of those islands to see, potentially, if anyone is on any of those little islands?

MARKS: Well, that's partially why we made this move to better cover the area. Really, no one has looked to the south very much. Like I said, the Andaman Sea is completely covered and searched by now.

We'll still have our P-3 flying west and northwest. But moving the P- 8 down to Australia in the Perth area really is going to give us that coverage we need. It will fly 1,000, 1,200 nautical miles out and still have four hours on station search time and then be able to fly back. So that area is really where we needed to focus. And overall, this is a much better positioning of our assets.

BLITZER: I've got a question from Jim Sciutto for you, Commander. He's our chief national security correspondent -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Commander Marks, the P-8 is a new air frame down there with remarkable surveillance capabilities. Can you describe that new range and the kind of range it gives in terms of searching an area that size in the southern Indian Ocean?

MARKS: Sure. The P-8 is the very latest in our technology. It's a significant upgrade over the P-3, and it's the most advanced type of its plane in the world right now. Just a few examples to compare: It's about 20 percent faster, so it can fly at nearly 500 knots, versus about 420 for the P-3. So it gives you more agent (ph) time, more search time. And in terms of the radar coverage and software technology, simply a huge leap into the next generation.

I actually have flown on a P-8 recently. The air crews tell me they can see things at some point as far as they used to. It's better communication, better software, overall a world-class airplane. That will help out in the search to the south.

BLITZER: As you know, Commander, that flight data recorder, the voice recorder, they a life span -- they emit some pings for, what, about 30 days. So maybe 20 days left or so. What are you doing, what can you do to see if you can hear any of those pings, given the depth of the Indian Ocean, for example, nearly 13,000 feet?

MARKS: The black box still remains a mystery, and one, where is it going to be if anyone does even find it? Will it be on the surface? Will it be submerged? As you know, the Indian Ocean is an extremely deep body of water. So if it is submerged, who knows about that?

But if it is on the surface, a lot of aircraft, not just the U.S., but many can pick up that beacon signal. It's a matter of getting close enough. The real challenge is the huge expanse of water. I keep saying, if you superimposed a map of the U.S. on here, it would be like trying to find anyone between New York and California. So that's the challenge here. We have amazing, dedicated air crew. It's just a matter of how much area we can search.

BLITZER: Are you and the men and women in the United States Navy, Commander, working under the assumption that this was not some kind of catastrophic, mechanical failure, that this was a deliberate act by an individual or individuals for whatever reason?

MARKS: You know, that's a great question. And we all asked ourselves that same thing. And all have here. It's kind of like being in a mystery in a movie, watching it go by.

But the bottom line is, really it doesn't matter. We're out here doing our job. And we train for this, we crack this all year round. We'll do 80 to 100 exercises every year with 36 countries in the region, just so when this happens we can immediately step in. We have the relationship already. We can communicate, and we can execute the plan. So this is what we train for. For us in the Navy, it doesn't matter what happens. We're out here doing our job.

BLITZER: Commander William Marks of the United States Navy 7th Fleet, Commander, we'll check back with you tomorrow. Thanks very much for all your help.

MARKS: You're welcome. Thank you.

BLITZER: And coming up, a new timeline raising new questions about the airliner's disappearance. We'll have a minute-by-minute reconstruction of the plane's mysterious flight. And we'll also map the search area for you, showing just how massive it is and why searchers have no other choice. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Eleven days after Flight 370 disappeared with 239 people on board, searchers are focusing in on a vast and seemingly impossible area of the operations. The timeline is critical to try and narrow that search and find out what happened.

Slowly, enough information has been trickling out to enable experts to piece together a step-by-step account of the airliner's disappearance.

Our national correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, has been looking into this part of the story. She's here. Suzanne, what are you finding out?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, there are really new details that came out this morning, revealed by the chairman of Malaysia Airlines, providing a clearer timeline for the first hour of the flight. Now, this dramatically alters what we know about the missing plane's his s mysterious journey.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): Saturday, March 8, at 12:41 a.m. local time, Malaysia Flight 370 takes off from Kuala Lumpur, headed to Beijing, China. The Boeing 777 is carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew onboard.

Twenty-six minutes into the flight, at 1:07 a.m., one of the plane's critical communications sends its final transmission. The on-board computer is called the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, or ACARS. It measures thousands of data points about the plane and pilots' performance and sends the information via satellite. It is due to transmit again at 1:37 a.m. But never does.

1:19 a.m., someone inside the cockpit, believed to be the co-pilot, provides the last verbal communication with air traffic controllers. His last words: "All right, good night." It's a common good-bye to controllers after being handed off.

At 1:21 a.m., the transponder, which identifies the plane to civilian radar, goes off. Critical information, like the flight's plane number, height, speed, and heading, are all cut off. This happens at the same time the plane is supposed to check in with air traffic control in Vietnam.

1:30 a.m., authorities say all civilian radars lose contact with the plane altogether. Then it appears to go through erratic altitude changes, perhaps as high as 45,000 feet above the approved altitude.

2:15 a.m., Malaysian military radar last detects the plane off Malaysia's west coast, hundreds of miles off course, but it went unnoticed by radar operators until the following day.

6:30 a.m., Flight 370 is due to land in Beijing. A commercial satellite orbiting more than 22,000 miles above Earth makes electronic connections with the plane known as handshakes.

At 8:11 a.m., more than seven hours after takeoff, the last connection. Using the angle of the satellite, investigators are able to draw two big arcs where they believe the plane could travel.

One of those paths spans from Indonesia to the Indian Ocean. The second stretches across Central Asia to Northern Thailand. This brings us to the current massive search under way by land and by sea involving 26 countries, looking for the missing flight.


MALVEAUX: And although we have got considerably more details, there's still major question that remains unanswered. This is a timeline that's been changing day by day, and, Wolf, even sometimes hour by hour.

BLITZER: I suspect there will be more changes as we learn more. Suzanne, very good report. Thank you.

We have all seen maps showing curve lines stretching north and south of what is thought to be the missing plane's last known location. Those lines don't necessarily show potential flight paths. Instead, they show how monumentally large that search area is.

Let's go to CNN's Tom Foreman. He is in our virtual studio to clear up some of the confusion, some of the uncertainty about the vast search area.

Tom, go ahead.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, it's important to bear in mind in this whole equation, as we bring in our map here, what we really know.

We keep saying this. We know the plane took off about a week-and-a- half ago, flew for less than an hour, and disappeared up here. After that, everything is based upon these satellite readings and possibilities of what might have happened. Search areas have been built upon this sort of information. It's been extrapolated further.

And now we have those arcs that we were just talking about moments ago, one heading south, one heading north, of where it might be. So, how could it keep moving out there and not be noticed in any way? Here's one possibility. It took the southern route.

This route we're talking about down here, once you past the edge of Malaysia, you really get into nothing. It's an area that is not heavily shipped. There's nowhere to land. Any airport that they might have picked up on or veered off to, where it could be landed, people would notice. They would talk about it. It would not be missing after all this time.

So, what's another possibility of why there is nothing new? Maybe because radar missed it. If you look at the northern possibility here, if it were going somewhere up along this arc, even if it were branching off, look at the countries involved, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, China, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan.

Even if it could make it up along this route, somebody's radar might have picked it up, yes, but, also that's a lot spottier coverage in radar there than we know. We know some of those stations are not manned particularly well, aren't state-of-the-art equipment. And some of those governments are not necessarily going to share a lot of information if it compromises their bigger picture of their own security.

So that's another way it could have kept flying and not be noticed. And here's one more. The idea of it being hidden in plain sight, this theory is kind of out there, but in the absence of other evidence, this is one of the reasons people are talking about it, this idea of, what if this plane somehow slipped into the shadow of a different plane?

What if it were able to essentially slide in behind another existing airline, one that did have its transponders on, that was being tracked, and it hid out there and effectively in terms of radar, they created one dot on the radar field that looked a little bigger than usual, but didn't really stand out that much, and, in that way, they managed to slip through?

Again, this is sort of an outlandish theory, and pilots say it would be very hard to pull off. But most of this would be hard to pull off. And in the absence of any other evidence, besides the point that it disappeared, Wolf, these are the things that authorities are having to consider.

BLITZER: Tom Foreman in our virtual studio, thank you.

So, could the Malaysian airliner have disguised its path by closely following another plane?

Once again, let's bring in our chief national correspondent, Jim Sciutto, our CNN aviation analyst Mark Weiss, a security consultant, former 777 pilot, our aviation analyst Steven Wallace, a safety consultant and former FAA direct of accident investigation, and our CNN law enforcement analyst the former FBI Assistant Director Tom Fuentes.

Steven, what about that shadowing theory? Is that at all realistic?

STEVEN WALLACE, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: I think not. It's -- of course, with the transponder off, the normal collision avoidance system on the other airplane might not detect it. But that's about as far out there as anything we have heard in the last 10 days.

BLITZER: Mark, what do you think?

MARK WEISS, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: I have to agree with Steven. If the transponder was off, you would still get some blip on a collision avoidance system from the other aircraft.

The other thing that would have happened was air traffic control would have asked if they heard, that aircraft, hearing any emergency beacons going off.

BLITZER: But what if it was flying at 35,000 feet, the normal route, let's say Singapore Airlines or Emirates Airlines, flying from the Far East to Middle East, just going into an area, would those countries necessarily have paid attention to a huge 777 like this?

WEISS: Well, it would have been off its track. So air traffic control would have alerted somebody and saying, we're missing an airplane.

That airplane, when it goes off of its prescribed track, you would have to tell somebody about that. And if something -- if the airplane did go off, air traffic control, either in Malaysia or Vietnam or any of the other countries that it would potentially have gone over, would have been alerted. They would be looking for it.

BLITZER: Well, apparently, it flew over Malaysia, a big chunk of populated Malaysia. Nobody scrambled jets. No one did anything.

WALLACE: But the Malaysians did see it on the radar.


WALLACE: Well, we had the radar. Maybe they didn't notice and focus on what it was.

But, you know, again, this entire investigation characterized by shifting and sketchy evidence, and like this business now we're hearing about it went to different altitudes, 45,000 feet, which is a couple thousand feet higher than it's certified to fly at. Where did that come from? Derived from some military radar at the end of its range, perhaps, so...

BLITZER: Tom, let me play a clip. This is from Mike McCaul, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. He was on CNN's "NEW DAY" this morning. He said this intriguing comment.


REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R), TEXAS: Somebody did change the flight program from its original flight pattern. That's very significant. That's not just an accident that happens. And there are a couple of unanswered questions about these Iranians who got on the plane with stolen passports. The inter-police were not contacted with respect to that.


BLITZER: All right. So all of a sudden, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, who presumably is well-briefed by the intelligence community, by Homeland Security Department, he's raising the possibility these two young Iranians who boarded that flight with these stolen passports.

Is that credible? Because I thought that had already been discounted.

TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think that it would be something that would need to be looked at, because you have this mysterious guy, Kazem Ali, who allegedly gave both of those passport numbers to the travel agency when he booked the tickets for them.

Here's a guy who books their tickets with stolen documents, gets the stolen documents into their hands, the two passports, and at that point, if he's giving them free tickets, might he have said, carry this package for me, put this in your checked luggage or in your backpack or whatever and carry it?

It could be a box of stolen passports that are going to delivered to be somebody else in another country, could be explosives, could be narcotics. It could be any contraband. You don't know. But that's still a mystery, and a lot of investigation needs to be done in Thailand with that travel agency, with this Kazem Ali.

Is this something that is going on all the time? Back to the stolen passports, they were stolen a year apart, not in the exact same place, but in two different places within Phuket, Thailand...

BLITZER: In Thailand

FUENTES: ... which is a beach resort town. The tickets were purchased in another town of Thailand and paid for in Thailand currency, the baht.

BLITZER: But, because, Jim, when I heard the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee this morning on "NEW DAY" all of a sudden talking about these two Iranians, I said I thought that was already discounted. What are you hearing from your sources?

SCIUTTO: We do know that they ran these names by the U.S. terror database.

This is several days ago. And they didn't find any matches with the two Iranians, and presumably they have done this with the flight crew and others. But what we do hear a lot of refocusing and re-attention focused on other characters, I think, because they don't have answers now. They are going back and looking to see if there are things that they missed. They have to because they haven't gotten to the bottom of this, I think. And they are doing that for a whole host of people who touched or had contact with that plane.

BLITZER: To be continued. All right, guys, thanks very, very much.

Up next: Police search both pilots' homes looking for precious clues about what both men were thinking and doing. We're talking a closer look at that.

Plus, the broader question about who makes sure the pilot of your next flight is fit to fly?

Plus, we're hearing from the families and the friends of the people on board. Remember, there were 239 people aboard that Malaysian airliner. We're going to see how they are coping with all of this uncertainty and all this dread.


BLITZER: Malaysian officials now have materials seized from the homes of both pilots from that Flight 370. They are looking for clues as to what both men were thinking and doing in the days and hours leading up to the flight.

Brian Todd has been looking into how airlines keep tabs on their crews' mental state.

What are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, investigators have indeed combed through that pilot's house, looked at his flight simulator, interviewed his family and the first officer's family.

They are likely looking for any clues in the pilots' lives which might indicate a problem. We looked at the psychological and emotional screening that commercial pilots get and if there are any gaps in the system.


TODD (voice-over): They are a focus of the investigation. Their homes have been searched, but, so far, there is no evidence in the backgrounds of the pilots to suggest any wrongdoing.

Still, Malaysia Airlines' CEO says everyone in the cockpit undergoes routine psychological tests.

AHMAD JAUHARI YAHYA, CEO, MALAYSIA AIRLINES: Going forward, we will obviously look into all this and see whether we can strengthen, tighten all the various, we call entry requirements.

TODD: Current and former pilots tell us the level of psychological screening for pilots depends on their airlines and its governing body. 777 pilot Les Abend says his airline asked questions about his personality. LES ABEND, BOEING 777 PILOT: Do you like your mother? Do you hate your father? You know, things of that nature. You know, have you ever harmed a small animal.

TODD: Abend says some airlines interview the pilot's friends to see if they've got psychological or emotional issues. He says many U.S. based airlines go above and beyond what's required by the government. The FAA has strict rules saying pilots have to get psychological screening as part of their medical exam every year or six months. They can't fly if they've bipolar disorder or similar problems.

Some medications are banned. But some pilots say medical screeners don't always ask about psychological issues. And it's often up to pilots to report those and report any medications they're taking.

MARK WEISS, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: If he or she doesn't self-report, what happens? If you don't self-report, it's -- completely it's gone unnoticed. Typically what happens is if you have an issue one of your crewmembers might recognize something like that.

TODD: Do the airlines check on pilots to see if anything has come up in their personal lives that might cause concern? Financial problems? Maybe a worrisome illness in the family?

ABEND: The short answer is no, not until it becomes -- it affects your job performance and -- you know, if you missed a trip for a particular reason.

TODD: Abend says if airlines started doing that, privacy concerns would be raised. Does this mean there's a dangerous gap in the system?

WEISS: Pilots are for the most part are very mentally stable, very sound people, very determined, very professional. I don't think that you're going to need or have to have the criteria tightened up.


TODD: Mark Weiss also points out that many commercial pilots come straight to those jobs from the military where they've already gotten regular psychological screening -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And pilots normally would try to keep all this most sensitive and personal information hidden from their bosses.

TODD: They have an incentive to do that. You know, if a pilot comes out and says, hey, I need treatment for depression or I'm getting treatment for depression, the FAA can pull the certificates and there goes his career. You know, one pilot told CNN that he knew of another pilot that sought treatment for depression. That treatment lasted eight or nine months, that pilot never told his employer, and so no one ever knew. That's the kind of gap that could exist in this system.

BLITZER: Different standards for U.S. airlines as oppose to other airlines. TODD: That's absolutely right.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thank you.

We're following the latest news on the search for Flight 370. We now have some video showing the pilots as you saw going through security in an hour-long special report that begins in just a few minutes.

We'll also have the latest clues into what happened after the pilots' final message.

Also, new suspicions about when the final transmission actually came. Is it just coincidence that it happened when ground stations may not have been watching?


BLITZER: We're monitoring all the latest developments in the search for the missing airliner, but we're also watching developments in the biggest crisis with Russia since the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Today the United States and Europe announced economic sanctions to punish several dozen people involved in Russia's attempt to take over Ukraine's province of Crimea. Didn't stop the Russian President Vladimir Putin from signing a decree recognizing Crimea's independence from Ukraine.

Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta, he's got the very latest -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a real low point in U.S./Russian relations since the end of the Cold War and it looks like it's going to get worse. Today President Obama warned Russia the sanctions in the U.S. along with those announced by the European Union could be ratcheted up over the coming days depending on Russia's next steps.

The White House fired off the first round of sanctions this morning targeting aides to Vladimir Putin and top Russian officials as well as former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and the acting leaders of Crimea.

As for that referendum over the weekend in Crimea, senior administration officials are all but calling it a fraud pointing to pre-marked ballots that the USS came into various polling stations during the voting. But despite all of that tough talk President Obama said there's still a way out of this crisis for Putin.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We can calibrate our response based on whether Russia chooses to escalate or de-escalate the situation. Now I believe there's still a path to resolve this situation diplomatically, in a way that addresses the interest of both Russia and Ukraine. That includes Russia pulling its forces in Crimea back to their bases, supporting the deployment of additional international monitors in Ukraine and engaging in dialogue with the Ukrainian government.


ACOSTA: Now how did Putin respond to all that? As you said, Wolf, the Kremlin said Putin has signed the decree recognizing Crimea as an independent republic. That could be the next step to annexation, something White House officials said they won't recognize.

As for how the U.S. might respond, White House officials are not ruling out sanctions on Putin himself, the oligarchs in Russia and the administration is even holding out the possibility of supplying Ukraine with military aid. That was not knocked down at the briefing earlier today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting. How do we know if the Russian president is taking any of this really seriously?

ACOSTA: Wolf, that appears to be the big question. So far he has not taken the off-ramp as U.S. officials like to call it. Instead it seems he would rather take Crimea. Senior administration officials understand Putin may announce some of his own sanctions against U.S. targets tomorrow. No word yet from administration officials who those U.S. targets or what those U.S. targets might be. But the Russian president is expected to give a speech to the Russian parliament tomorrow, something we'll all be watching -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We certainly will. Jim Acosta at the White House. Dramatic developments unfolding there. Thank you.

Coming up our one-hour special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM. We're following today's new developments in the mystery of Flight 370 and a significant change coming in the search area.

Plus the disturbing new questions about the missing plane's pilots.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news on the mystery of the Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. Increased alert, Israel taking action as concern about the missing plane grows. We're live in Jerusalem with details of new terror fears.

Caught on camera, two men believed to be the pilot and the co-pilot passing through airport security. What will searches of their homes reveal?

Holding out hope. The partner of one of the three Americans on the plane says she's convinced he's still alive.