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Update on Missing Flight 370; Passenger's Partner Certain He's Alive; Investigation Focuses on Pilots

Aired March 17, 2014 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: 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. She talks to CNN about the excruciating wait for information.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The search for the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is now in its 11th day, and as new information trickles out the mystery of what happened to the 777 and the 239 people on board only getting deeper. More than two dozen countries are now taking part in efforts to try to locate the plane which disappeared on an overnight flight to Beijing, but the task is monumental, with the last possible known location believed to be somewhere between the Southern Indian Ocean and Central Asia.

CNN is putting our unmatched resources on this story with our correspondents covering all angles around the world.

Let's get straight to Jerusalem though and our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson.

Nic, the Flight 370, the mystery prompting Israel, I understand, to take action. What is Israel doing right now?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Israel has put its air traffic controllers at Ben-Gurion International Airport, its main air traffic control facility.

It's put them on a higher state of alert. It has told them to implement the checks that they do more rigorously, and they should follow the detail and follow the letter, if you will, of an implementation of all the procedures that they would normally follow. They're saying that the procedures remain the same, but they're going to check them and that they're going to follow them much more closely.

And the reason for this is they want to be able to identify aircraft while they are further away from Israel, so that the air traffic controllers know that there can be no incoming threat from a plane that is misidentified, semi-identified or perhaps doesn't have its identification beacon on, as is the case with MH370. Israel taking concrete steps. And let's be very clear about this. The air traffic controllers in so many countries around the world are in many ways a first line of defense against what could potentially be a civil airliner full of passengers coming towards that country with a potentially bad intent. They're in the front line of security for their countries, Wolf.

BLITZER: The statement coming from the Israeli Transportation Ministry very significant. I'm going to bring Jim Sciutto into this as well.

This is the statement from Avner Shavi (ph), a spokesman for the Israel Transportation Ministry. "In the security room where we identify every plane that enters the state of Israel, a notification went out to increase the alertness to a level which is higher than the usual. There are rules that are in place before a plane enters Israeli airspace. The procedures have not changed, but they are being applied more closely. There is more implementation of checks than are required to be done."

Jim Sciutto, this sounds like a precautionary measure by the Israeli. If in fact this missing Malaysian airliner did land someplace, would be refueled, the Israelis would fear this plane could head towards Israel.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question. You and I have flown to Israel a number of times. We know there is no country in the world that has more strict security than the Israelis do on the ground and in the air.

But it's interesting. I have been speaking to people on Capitol Hill here as well in the U.S. They're considering steps, proposals for steps to increase security here, not necessarily immediately because the concern about this plane coming this direction today, but to prevent commandeering a plane in the future. You have a lot countries looking at this now and looking at how they will respond.

BLITZER: Back to Jerusalem and Nic Robertson.

Nic, as we see this, what the Israelis are doing, is it just out of an abundance of precaution or based on what you're hearing over there, Nic, do they really fear this plane potentially could be someplace and could be sort of a guided missile, if you will, down the road?

ROBERTSON: Wolf, it seems to be potentially part of what you're saying, that there is a potential that they cannot rule out because there isn't adequate information about MH370, but it is also therefore an abundance of caution in this case.

But it's a realization of the fact that there is potentially a threat that hadn't been considered before, a civilian airliner full of passengers unidentified in the air, and that's of a concern that this could be a new threat in the future. Aviation experts here have sat down over a number of days, we're told, considered the implications of what we're learning about this flight in Malaysia, MH370, and have come to these conclusions. What we understand as well is that there is a longer list of security steps and measures, but for security reasons those are not being made public. So, it's being given a huge amount of consideration, a lot of weight here, again, recognizing that whatever happens with MH370, whatever's discovered, there is now a potential for a threat that perhaps hadn't been adequately considered before, Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic Robertson reporting on the latest news coming out of Israel, stepping up its own security, fearful potentially that this airliner or others could be headed towards Israel. We will stay on top of this. Nic, thanks very much.

Let's go back to Jim Sciutto, our chief national security correspondent. Let's take a look at the investigation, where it stands right now.

SCIUTTO: No question.

Speaking to intelligence officials and other U.S. officials involved in this investigation, this would normally be the time you would be narrowing down your targets, but in fact the opposite is happening. They're expanding their targets of investigation and inquiry, first of all, on the possible people involved in this, first, you know, focusing on the two people in the cockpit, but now 10 people in the flight crew, 227 passengers and even more than that, folks who have access to that plane on the ground, cleaning crews, baggage handlers, you name it.

But let's look at the search area which is expanding as well. I think people have become familiar with this arc, where that last satellite contact was somewhere along here. They don't know where, but somewhere in that arc. Let's look at the Indian Ocean. Imagine a map of the continental United States fitting here.

That's the kind of area you're talking about, very deep ocean, very remote, a difficult place to search. And you have U.S. assets going there now, including airplanes precisely because they have greater range than the ships which have now turned away have previously. But let's go north for a moment, because this is where you have a whole 'nother dynamic that comes to play, and that's politics, the geopolitics of this region.

You have more than 12 countries, 14 countries on this path here from Southeast Asia all the way up to Central Asia, Kazakstan, Tajikistan, this is Western China here, Tibet, and a dozen countries and a dozen rivalries among those countries as well. Why is that important?

They don't want to expose their capabilities to each other, their radar capability, their satellite capability. So, as you have seen countries reveal, they don't want to reveal too much or too little. They don't want to show that they have too much capability or in fact reveal they have less coverage than their adversaries might have imagined.

That's a worry here. Are they sharing enough information? Just today, you had the Chinese government say to the Malaysian government please release more detailed info. The Malaysian government is sensitive to China's influence here, they're also a bit little embarrassed perhaps that this plane flew through three radar coverage zones here without any jets being scrambled.

That politics plays a part. It's a tension because there's concern that there is not going to be as much sharing in the investigation as there should be. Keep in mind, as we talk about this, Wolf, the U.S. is involved in this power struggle in the region as well with China and a lot of the assets that we're sending out there, that the U.S. is sending out there have to some degree China in mind, including that P- 8, that we talked about, that Poseidon aircraft that will now be searching down in the southern part of the ocean here.

That capability, there's a reason why that capability is in Asia now and that's in effect to look at China. Everybody is watching everybody else, what they have and what they don't have.

BLITZER: Yes. And that U.S. aircraft will be based in Perth, Australia, flying out of there and covering a wide area looking for anything that could be debris or anything else.

Thanks very much. Jim Sciutto will be back with us.

If someone wanted to make a plane disappear, they would do it when no one else is watching. That's exactly when Flight 370 vanished during a brief void in contact with air traffic control.

CNN's Rene Marsh is digging deeper into this part of the story for us.

Rene, what are you finding out?

Well, I will go to Rene in a moment, but, Barbara Starr, let's go to you first, because you're getting new information right now on this search that the U.S. is now apparently scaling back at least as far as ships are concerned.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are taking the USS Kidd out of there, as we have chatted about, Wolf, because they simply feel that the P-8 aircraft out of Australia will provide much more coverage and will be able to get to any debris field much more quickly.

And that was proven earlier today when they responded to a possible debris field. That turned out to be a false alarm, but it can get there more quickly. There was no way a U.S. Navy ship was going to stay there forever. The search in the southern Indian Ocean very wide open, hundreds of thousands of miles of open ocean , and the aircraft will do much better efficiently getting to that part of the search.

As for the northern track, Wolf, I have to tell you that the U.S. military, the U.S. intelligence community has once again scoured all of their satellite data, all of their radar data, because they have pretty good coverage up there. The U.S. watches constantly for any kind of missile launch out of China, Pakistan, Kazakstan, any of these places. They know what's going on up there. And the U.S. military, the U.S. intelligence community has not seen any indication of any kind of crash landing of a 777. They simply don't see it.

And they feel that they would. Could the plane have landed? That's the next question. You asked about it being potentially taking off again as a guided missile in some sort of terrorist attack. We have asked about that. And officials say you would have to assume then there's a large runway and a refueling capability and an ability to repair the plane. That calls into question whether there'd be some kind of international conspiracy here, not something the U.S. thinks is very realistic.

BLITZER: But they got to err on the side of caution on every conceivable contingency. Barbara, stand by.

I want our viewers to hear what Commander William Marks, spokesman for the U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet, told me just a little while ago.


CMDR. WILLIAM MARKS, U.S. NAVY: The Kidd and its helicopters 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 find anything out there, we think.

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 let's move a P-8 down to Australia, we will leave our P-3 in Kuala Lumpur. That way, we get 1,200 nautical miles of searching at a time, so this is actually much more effective.


BLITZER: Commander William Marks of the U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet speaking with me just a little while ago.

Once again, if someone wanted to make a plane disappear while no one was watching, there would be some ways of trying to do that.

Let's bring in Rene Marsh. She's looking into this part of the story of us -- Rene.


When jets like this, they are flying very long distances, they're passed from one air traffic control center to the next and sometimes it takes minutes before a plane makes radio contact with the next set of controllers.

So could someone on board Flight 370 have taken advantage of this gap in responsibility and disappear when no one was looking?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MARSH (voice-over): 1:19 a.m., Malaysian say the co-pilot signs off with Malaysian air traffic control. "All right, good night," he says. It's a common sign-off, as one plane is being handed off to the next controller, this time in Vietnam.

LES ABEND, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, "FLYING": All I could tell is, it was a routine operation from the time that they said goodbye to the last controller.

MARSH: Here's how a similar handoff sounds in the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: American 370, contact Washington Center, 127.7. Good day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And 127.7, American 370, so long.

MARSH: But what is different with Malaysia Flight 370 is the pilot never contacted the next controller in Vietnam, which should have happened moments later. Instead, the plane's transponder used to track it goes off at 1:21 and a data transmission at 1:37 doesn't happen.

JOHN HANSMAN, MIT: If you're trying to disappear, this would a time where again the Vietnamese controller is expecting you, but doesn't know exactly when you're going to show up. And that controller doesn't yet have responsibility for you. You're in this kind of no- man's land where nobody has clear responsibility for you.

MARSH: Could whoever was in control of the plane use this gap in responsibility to try to disappear?

Perhaps, but some experts see the potential of a mechanical failure.

ABEND: They may have started to shut things down because of an electrical fire. An electrical fire is a nightmare. It requires a process that none of us ever want to go through. You're pulling -- shutting certain things down to isolate the problem.

MARSH: Malaysian authorities don't know when the plane's ACARS system, which beams down information about the health of the plane, stopped working.

AHMAD JAUHARI YAHYA, CEO, MALAYSIA AIRLINES: The last ACARS transmission was 1:07. OK? We don't know when the ACARS was switched off after that.

MARSH: In a normal flight, ACARS should have transmitted information about how the plane was flying, engine data, fuel burn and any maintenance discrepancies. Pilots say it's abnormal to voluntarily shut ACARS off.


MARSH: And we also learned today from Malaysian authorities they have not found any evidence from any telephone company that anyone on board was trying to call or text out, but they say they're still checking into those phone records. There are millions of them.

BLITZER: A lot of people are looking for those, too. Rene, stand by.

I want to bring in our CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen, our CNN aviation analyst Peter Goelz, the former NTSB managing director, and CNN's Jim Sciutto is with us and CNN's Richard Quest is joining us from New York.

Peter, first to you. That report at the top of the hour we heard from Nic Robertson that out of a measure of prudence the Israelis are beefing up their air defense system right now, worried potentially that maybe this airliner is on the ground someplace, could be refueled and flown towards Israel as sort of a missile. How serious should the Israelis and other countries be about that contingency?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: They're paid to worry about these kinds of things. And El-Al has very effective security, the best of any airline out there.

But it's puzzling to me if this was some kind of terrorist event. There's been no claim of responsibility. There's been no overt political acts like we saw on 9/11. The groups that either have capability or intentions of doing this really don't have really the capabilities to get something as sophisticated as this done.

The local al Qaeda affiliate wouldn't, I don't think, target a Malaysia Airlines. They're likely to target a Western airline. And Chinese Uighurs separatists who have been mentioned their previous hijacking attempts have been very incompetent. Terrorism seems unlikely right now.

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, from your sources are you hearing that the U.S. has taken sort of new steps to beef up its air defense security?

SCIUTTO: Not in response to this, but after 9/11 U.S. surveillance and identification measures are very severe, some of the best in the world. They may already have a higher standard than some. And, as we know, Israel is always the first, I think to take the most severe standards because of the nature of the threat to them.

But to this point, the U.S., no, has not taken any new measures in response to this.

BLITZER: Could this airliner have flown on that northern route over these countries in Central Asia, sort of just trying to blend in with other commercial airliners and not be detected by any of these countries?

PETER GOELZ, CNN ANALYST: I think that would be very difficult because you would have to either drop down to such a low altitude that people would see you.

BLITZER: Because even if it went down to 5,000 feet, as one of the Malaysian newspapers suggested, radar could still detect that aircraft.

GOELZ: And people would hear and see you and the fuel burn would be much higher. It would limit their distance.


BLITZER: What if you were shadowing a commercial airliner, trying to blend in that way?

GOELZ: You would have to be a very good pilot. It might set off TCAS alerts on the lead plane. It would be a very challenging event.

BLITZER: Let me bring Richard Quest into this conversation as well.

Richard, for a pilot to do that, to blend in, sort of shadow another commercial airliner and pretend that the radar, whatever signals that are being emitted are coming from one plane as opposed to two, that would be, as Peter Goelz points out, an extremely sophisticated maneuver.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It would be so sophisticated, it would be so challenging, what method are you going to use to actually follow this aircraft?

Anything you do, any of the normal mechanisms of radar or coms or anything at all that you would use to follow them would naturally be picked up by somebody else. The TCAS, that you can't switch on your responder to try and find him because his TCAS, that's the emergency collision avoidance system, would light up like a Christmas tree if you were that close to him.

You can't switch on your ACARS. Your radar will be relatively limited. At any moment, you might fly into a fog bank or cloud. Whilst it's a deliciously enticing theory, it doesn't bear scrutiny in the cold light of facts. Now, possible? Maybe. Probable? Unlikely.

BLITZER: Peter, what bothers me is that this Boeing 77 apparently flew over very populated areas of Malaysia and the Malaysian air force didn't scramble jet fighters, didn't do anything as far as we know, right?

GOELZ: That's the question. They were tracking it on primary radar, which can occasionally, particularly at the outer limits, be unreliable, but that's the question. How did it get -- come back over the island without anyone being alerted?

SCIUTTO: Think in the U.S. when you have had those incidents where a private pilot takes a left turn anywhere near Washington, D.C., and everything lights up like a red alert.

You know that's a measure of where the U.S. is in terms of unidentified flying aircraft. Here you have this aircraft crossing not one, two, but three separate military radar zones in Malaysia. It's a real failure, yes.

BLITZER: Rene, in your piece, you reported this notion of a pilot deliberately shutting down that so-called ACARS system, there's no real reason to ever do that, right? MARSH: Absolutely no real reason. And just to talk a little bit about that switch-off point going from one airspace to the next and whether that's the best time to disappear if you wanted to, you know, I spoke some time with some experts today.

And they say in the United States within five minutes they would know that a plane is missing and it's not where it's supposed to be. However, it gets a little ambiguous when it gets to certain areas, certain regions where you're talking about being over water and you're in between countries. You may be out of radar contact, you may be out of radio communications, so that possibility of maybe not picking up within five minutes that this plane is missing, that's possible.

But in this case, a trained expert says within 15 to 20 minutes someone should have realized that something was wrong.

BLITZER: This case, all the suspicious stuff happened when they were in this sort of no-man's land between Malaysian airspace and Vietnamese airspace, and the co-pilot or whoever was in the cockpit says, "All right, good night." I guess the Malaysian air traffic controllers, Peter, they just went to sleep. Right?

GOELZ: They weren't there. They should have sparked and said, where is Malaysian air flight? Why hasn't it checked in? And the company should have sparked.


MARSH: The piece to that, though, is also the transponder went off after "All right, good night." So it would make it really difficult for the Vietnamese airspace to even be able to begin to identify on their radar who is this person because they cut off their identifier.


BLITZER: Clearly some failure there.

All right, guys, stand by because there's a lot more to dissect.

Still ahead, Malaysian officials reveal new information about Flight 370 and their investigation. We're about to go live to Kuala Lumpur.

And we're also live in Beijing, where the partner of one of the three missing Americans is speaking out in an emotional interview with CNN, why she's convinced he's still alive.

Much more of our special report right after this.


BLITZER: To our North American viewers, "CROSSFIRE" won't be seen tonight, so we can bring you more of our special report of the mystery of Flight 370.

Malaysian officials are giving new information about their investigation into the disappearance of the flight even as they face sharp criticism over their handling of this mystery and conflicting information that they have been giving out.

CNN's Andrew Stevens is joining us from Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia.

Andrew, so what's the latest you're getting over there?

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the facts remain, Wolf, very few and far between.

What we have learned in the past 24 hours is it was the co-pilot who signed off, the "All right, good night" line. But that has been compounding the confusion, because the Malaysians are now saying, apparently backtracking on the timeline in that cockpit -- they now say they can't establish whether the pilot actually said that after things had started to change in the cockpit.

That was what we were being led to believe by the Malaysian government. If they can't establish that, that casts some doubt over whether it was a deliberate move to turn that plane back across Malaysia or perhaps it was a mechanical failure. If the pilots were still in control when they signed off, whatever happened, happened after that event. And we don't know, because we have been working on the assumption that something was happening before the pilots made that sign-off.

Wolf, so that's significant. And it just adds to the mystery. The facts, as I said, are few and far between. They're still looking at the simulator two days or almost three days on now. We don't know what was on that simulator which was at the home of the pilot. The background checks continue. It's emerged that there was a civil aviation engineer on that flight.

And as far as the search is concerned, 26 countries are now involved in this search, 11 countries over land getting reports about radar sightings or non-sightings, the Indians and the Pakistanis saying we haven't seen anything. Still waiting for more information on that.

I should add, finally, Wolf, that the Malaysians are saying that they are getting cooperation with the countries involved in the search and the plane's potential overflight. At this stage, we don't know to what degree. Are they giving up sensitive radar satellite information to the Malaysians as they try to track this plane?

BLITZER: We saw that video of the two pilots -- we believe it's the two pilots -- going through security to board the airliner, the Boeing 777. There you see the video they're going through some security checks. They have not released the actual video of the Malaysian airliner taking off from the Kuala Lumpur airport.

I assume they have video, closed-circuit video of all landings and takeoffs of that airport, but they haven't released that video if they have it, is that right?

STEVENS: That's right, Wolf. No video has surfaced yet. I can't confirm whether they have that video, but I think it would be likely that they would have that as part of security and as part of anything, anything untoward, they can immediately check what's going on at that airport.

It just goes to the whole heart of this -- the outflow of information from the authorities here. Their point is "We don't give anything out unless we can verify and corroborate it." So in this vacuum of facts, we're getting a lot of theory, a lot of conjecture. Is it the hijack theory? Is it the terrorist theory? Is it a mechanical failure? Is it a suicide theory? All of theories are out there. They're on the table still. All of them still have massive question marks.

For example, if it was a suicide, why did the plane continue to fly for seven hours? If it was a hijacking, why was the -- why don't we know what that -- what the hijackers wanted, where they were trying to put the plane down? If it was mechanical failure, still a lot of question marks over that. And also, if it was a terror attack, why don't we know about responsibility or what they were trying to achieve there?

So still massive question marks. Think about we're going to the 12th day, and we still know so little.

BLITZER: It's an amazing, amazing story. Andrew Stevens reporting for us for Kuala -- from Kuala Lumpur. Thank you.

All of this certainly leaves loved ones of the passengers in an excruciating limbo, uncertain of what has become of those onboard Flight 370 and 239 people were on board that flight.

CNN's David McKenzie is now joining us from Beijing. David, you spoke with the partner of Philip Wood, one of the three Americans on that aircraft. She tells you she believes Wood is still alive, right?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf. She is certain he's alive, based on her logic and on her gut feel. Sarah Bajc is a former high-powered businesswoman. She's now a teacher here in Beijing. They were planning to move together to Kuala Lumpur soon before -- soon after this plane vanished, and she says she believes he's alive and well somewhere out there.


SARAH BAJC, PARTNER OF PHILIP WOOD, MISSING PASSENGER: The entire U.S. population is reliving things like 9/11 in this experience, right? If -- if an unthinkable thing can happen even after we've taken all these precautions, what could happen next?

This is a planned activity. Somebody wants to do something and make a message out of it. And it would serve them no good to be seen as callous and brutal and just start killing people unnecessarily, because then they won't have as much bargaining power, I think. I think.

I mean, I don't -- I can't imagine to put myself into the mind-set of somebody who would possibly even contemplate this. But I've got to believe that the hostages are valuable to them. And as the only adult American on the flight, Philip would be a valuable asset to them. And it happens to be that he's also very calm and very put together, and he would know to step back and, you know, not cause any conflict so he wouldn't be somebody that they would want to get out of the way as a trouble causer. If there's anybody who can survive a situation like that, it's him. He's very level-headed, and I think he is the kind of person who would help to calm a really chaotic situation.

Of course, I have to prepare for the worst, because no matter what, I still have to go forward. And no matter what, his family still has to go forward. So we need to know where that fork in the road is going to go. And we're not ready to take either branch, but we have to know what's coming, because otherwise when it comes, you won't be prepared, and that's when you get into trouble, I think.

MCKENZIE: You need to be prepared for whatever the news is?

BAJC: Mm-hmm. My bag is packed and ready to go. It has been since Saturday morning.

MCKENZIE: Ready to go where?

BAJC: Wherever he is. My son even helped me pick out which clothes to bring for him. So I have an outfit for him in my backpack, because he wouldn't want to wear his dirty old stuff anymore, I'm sure, and he probably wouldn't want to wear a hospital gown, if that's the case. So yes, it's all ready.


MCKENZIE: Well, Sarah believes he's alive. She feels that direct connection with him, Wolf. It's quite poignant to see that.

But she's also a logical, intelligent person and she says, though family and friends tell her that she's in denial, she says the facts out there suggest to her that he might be out there somewhere, too, so she's going to cling to that hope. She started a Facebook page and a Twitter site, "Finding Philip Wood," so that people can come in and share information. She's trying to figure this out like a mystery like many of us are, as well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's one story, David. Two hundred thirty-nine people, 238 were on that flight. And I suppose their families, their loved ones feel the same way. Have you had a chance to speak with others to get their sense, their reaction to this excruciatingly difficult ordeal they're going through?

MCKENZIE: Well, Wolf, there's all ranges of emotion. Yes, I've spoken to many family members and friends of those on board. Some of them are angry; some of them are frustrated. Some of them are pointing fingers at the Malaysian government and the Malaysian authorities.

You've seen these Chinese family members here in Beijing stuck in a hotel, hundreds of them at times, sometimes coming to physical blows with the airline staff. So yes, the frustration is boiling over at times, but with such a long wait and all these, you know, roller coaster of emotions, at this point it's kind of getting into a rhythm of some kind. But with every new lead, they really hope for the best but, frankly, expect the worst.

BLITZER: A heartbreaking story indeed. David McKenzie reporting for us from Beijing. And we're going to hear much more from Philip Woods' partner later tonight. She'll be a guest on "ANDERSON COOPER 360" at 8 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.

Just ahead, new video allegedly showing the flight, that Flight 370, pilots going through security as the investigation focuses in on two men in charge of the vanished plane. Plus why we may never know what happened, even if the flight recorders are located. Our special report on the mystery of Flight 370 continues right after this.


BLITZER: You're watching a SITUATION ROOM special report, "The Mystery of Flight 370." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

It's been 11 days since the last transmission from the plane. And while mechanical failure still can't be ruled out, the dramatic change in the flight path would seem to suggest the plane was intentionally flown off course. It's leading investigators to turn their focus back to the two men who left Kuala Lumpur in control of the aircraft, the pilots.

Our senior Washington correspondent, Joe Johns, is here. He's been digging into their background. Joe, what are you learning?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are learning bits and pieces about the lives of the pilots.

For example, the captain of the triple-7 has been called a silent member of a Malaysian opposition political party, but so far no signs pointing to malicious intent in the cockpit.


JOHNS (voice-over): Surveillance video posted on social media appears to show the captain and first officer of Flight 370 passing through airport security. CNN cannot confirm the authenticity of this video or exactly when it was shot. It doesn't show the men doing anything unusual, but the two are now facing intense scrutiny by investigators.

HISHAMMUDDIN SIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIAN ACTING MINISTER OF TRANSPORTATION: On Sunday, ninth March, police officers visited the homes of the pilot and the co-pilot. A police officer spoke to the family members of the pilot and the co-pilot. Police visited the homes of the pilot and co- pilot again on Saturday.

JOHNS: Police have now searched the homes of both pilots. Authorities in plainclothes seen here leaving the home of first officer, 27-year-old Fariq Abdul Hamid, and later seizing this homemade flight simulator from the home of 53-year-old Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, evidence, a friend said, of his devotion to his job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a reflection of his love for flying.

JOHNS: Investigators are interested in the simulated routes the pilot may have been flying that could still be on the simulator's hard drive.

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: The other thing that could be important on the simulator is whether the pilot trained anyone else on the simulator.

JOHNS: Investigating the pilots requires a deep dive into their health and personal history: bank accounts, recent life insurance purchases, divorces, separations.

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: There could be a number of things that cause personal stress, and under severe stress a person can do bad things.

JOHNS: It hasn't been easy. Hamid is described as a humble man with less than 3,000 hours of flight experience who lives on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.

Zaharie is described as an experienced pilot with more than 18,000 hours of flight under his belt. His family posted this tribute on YouTube. Zaharie has been described as politically active, a supporter of Malaysia's opposition party, but nothing so far revealed suggests a motive in either man to fly a jumbo jet off course and make it disappear.


JOHNS: Pilots generally get psychological screening, but how rigorous it is often depends on the airline. If there are any issues, it's often up to the pilots to actually report it.

BLITZER: All right. Joe Johns, stand by. I want to bring in our national security analyst, Peter Bergen, also Michael Schmidt of "The New York Times."

Peter, intriguing comment today from Mike McCaul, the congressman who's the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. He was on CNN's "NEW DAY" this morning, and he said this.


REP. MIKE MCCAUL (R-TX), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE: And one is that it got turned back -- for whatever reason we don't know -- but it ran out of fuel, and it landed in the Indian Ocean, where they're searching today.

The other possible theory, but more unlikely, is that it landed somewhere to hook up with potential terrorists to use it as a weapon, as a cruise missile in a future terrorist attack.


BLITZER: Is that credible, you think, that the plane landed somewhere, terrorists got a hold of it, they're going to refuel it and use it as a cruise missile against someone in a terrorist attack down the road?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I don't think it's that credible. I mean, if you think about the universe -- of the countries this plane might have gone over. Think Pakistan; think about the Osama bin Laden raid that the United States did. I mean, the United States flew stealth helicopters at night. Because they were so concerned about the effectiveness of Pakistani radar.

And each of those countries has similarly good radar systems. So the idea that you can waltz over them with a 777 just doesn't pass the commonsense test.

BLITZER: You've been reporting a lot on the Malaysian investigation, some of the frustration some of the other countries, including the United States, are feeling now with how this investigation is going. What are you hearing?

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, NEW YORK TIMES REPORTER: The U.S. is still really on the outside looking in. This is pretty frustrating for them, because they say, hey, we're great at looking at computers, we're great at forensics and that kind of stuff, but the Malaysians haven't asked us for help.

In regards to the terrorism question, someone told me -- a law enforcement official told me yesterday, he said, if this is terrorism it's like nothing we've ever seen before. No chatter coming in, no responsibility afterwards. Because of that they say, hey, this may be a new paradigm but until we see that, we're not going to look at it that way.

BLITZER: They're not ruling it out, including the CIA Director John Brennan, who said the other day they're not ruling out terrorism by any means or whatever phrase he used. Not at all, he said.

SCHMIDT: Yes. But they have to build themselves some room, because if this turns out to be terrorism, they don't want to look like they're on the wrong side of this thing. But at the end of the day, they've looked back, gone through the signals intelligence, gone through everything in the databases about everyone on the flight, they've done -- the FBI's done interviews in Europe and the United States, and they just don't have anything that leads them to believe that.

BLITZER: The audio and communications coming in from this flight, are they going through that? Are they trying to determine first 40 minutes, there was communications between these two pilots and ground control?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And that's something that investigators say is very important. The notion that there was chatter in the cockpit, it was recorded. And the question is, number one, is there any stress in the voice of the pilots? And the second question is, do you hear anything in the background, anything unusual, someone else there, any sign of trouble in the cockpit?

This is something a lot of investigators are saying needs to be looked at if it hasn't been already.

BLITZER: They should look at all this stuff.

All right, guys. Thanks very much.

Coming up key communications systems on the flight stopped working shortly after takeoff. We're going to go inside the cockpit of the 777 to figure out how it might have happened as our SITUATION ROOM special report, "The Mystery of Flight 370" continues.


BLITZER: We're digging deep on the mystery of Flight 370 in our SITUATION ROOM special report.

A key clue to the plane's whereabouts could lie with one of the communications systems. There's a mechanism on the 777 that collects critical data about the plane and sends it via satellite to the airline about half an hour after the flight took off. This system stops sending information.

To better understand how exactly this could happen, let's go to CNN's Martin Savidge. He's inside the cockpit of a flight simulator.

Martin, tell us what you're learning.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the ACAR System is tied in a number of different ways into the communication of a 777. One way it operates is here off of this multifunction display. This would allow the pilot and co-pilot to send very simple text messaging down to the airline company or they could send messages back.

You can see I can maneuver this small cursor by simply touching this pad here and entering with a thumb press here. It's a texting (INAUDIBLE).

Here, this is different. This is ACARS again, but this is the communication display unit. It's tied into the navigation. It knows everything that this airplane and aircraft is doing at this particular time.

Here, too, I can find ACARS. You see it right here. I can enter the menu and from here, I can also send messages, but it's also this unit that's sending those automatic messaging system. What the speed of the aircraft is, what the altitude is, where it is headed. All of this basic information sent out in half hour bursts.

But also to I could get in here and begin to shut things down. Think of your iPhone, where you can go into your iPhone system and you could turn off the Wi-Fi, or I could turn off the Bluetooth. Eventually, I could turn off the cellular data. Your phone would stop sending information, but it's still pinging. It would still be communicating to the home base telephone system. So, ACARS is still transmitting even if it has no data to send. That's where, if you want to shut it down, it gets a lot more difficult. You're going to have to get down into the electronics. You have to know something about the construction of the aircraft. Get down into the electronics bay and figure out how to unplug it, turn the power off.

Did somebody do that? We don't know. We do know the system was disabled, Wolf.

BLITZER: And it could be disabled from the cockpit.

All right. Thanks very much, Martin Savidge, in that 777 simulator.

Just ahead, we're going to have much on the mystery of Flight 370. CNN is digging into what political ties the two pilots may have had. Our SITUATION ROOM special report continues.


BLITZER: We're going to have much more on the missing plane right at the top of the hour.

But, first, let's take a quick look at some of the other stories coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

The U.S. and European Union announced sanctions on 28 Russian and Ukrainian officials for their role in the Crimean crisis, including freezing their assets and banning travel. On Sunday, Crimeans voted in favor of leaving Ukraine, but many in the West don't believe the vote was legitimate, including Ukraine's interim president who is vowing to never accept annexation by Russia.

A third person has died from last week's crash at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. Police identified her as a 26- year-old woman. Authorities say 21-year-old Rashad Owens (ph) drove into a crowd of people while he was intoxicated after refusing to stop when an officer tried to pull him over. Twenty-three people were also hospitalized.

General Motors is announcing three new recalls involving one and a half million vehicles. Most of them are G.M.'s popular crossover SUVs. But the auto maker is also recalling some Cadillac sedans and full-sized vans. It says three, there are no injuries related to the issues, but G.M. has been under fire recently for knowing about a deadly ignition switch problem for a decade before announcing a recall.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. Coming up, more problems for --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Earthquake. We are having an earthquake.


BLITZER: Wow, that's our affiliate KTLA in Los Angeles as a 4.4 magnitude earthquake hit the city early this morning.

The quake was centered about 15 miles from downtown, wow. At least six aftershocks followed, the strongest of which was a magnitude 2.7. Good news, there are no reports of casualties or serious damage.

Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. Tweet @WolfBlitzer. You can tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.

In the meantime thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.