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Crimeans Vote to Join Russia; News Questions on Malaysia Airline Time Line; Background Checks on Flight 370 Passengers, Crew; Screenings Needed For Pilots; A Political Aspect to Ongoing Flight 370 Investigation?

Aired March 17, 2014 - 13:30   ET


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's calm today, Wolf, extraordinarily calm. But parliament pushing through a series of moves, part of the choreography here of getting this peninsula into the Russian Federation pretty much as quickly as possible -- Wolf?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Are you seeing any actual military signs of the Russians moving beyond Crimea to other parts of Ukraine?

PATON WALSH: Not at this stage. The latest we saw was on sort of a part of land that runs northeast of Crimea, the neighboring region. They landed there about three days ago, causing a lot of alarm. That situation has apparently de-escalated. We're not seeing moves of them moving further north at this appointment. And the focus on the streets is very much taking away signs of Russian military and replacing with so-called self defense forces, a lot of heavily equipment riot police standing around the local parliament.

I think as this fails to be a done deal -- we're waiting for President Putin to sign off on it presumably in a speech to both houses of parliament -- you get the feeling of a done deal. The need for force around is lessening. We still have the question of what happens to Ukrainian troops in their bases still loyal to Kiev. That's very worrisome. But on the streets, it seems like it's passed -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Looks like it's a done deal, as far as the practical situation on the ground is concerned.

Nick Paton Walsh, thanks very much.

We'll take a quick break. When we come back, back to the mystery surrounding the Malaysian airliners -- the flight 370. Families and loved ones of those on the missing flight, they are waiting and watching. So many questions as investigators look for anyone on board who had experience flying planes.

Also, looking for red flags connected to the flight. We're taking a closer look at what type of screening pilots and crew members actually have to go through.


BLITZER: Welcome back. I'm Wolf Blitzer, in Washington. The mystery of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 is now entering its 11th day. And we're focusing in on some key moments in the time line. There are new questions emerging today about a crucial period when the plane was crossing between Malaysian and Vietnamese air space. Earlier, Malaysian authorities said a communication system was shut down before the verbal message from the cockpit when the co-pilot said, quote, "All right, good night." Now they say they're not sure exactly when the system was shut off. Malaysian officials also say they cannot confirm a Malaysian newspaper report that the plane may have dropped below 5,000 feet. The report is from the "New Straits Times." Aviation experts say that's not low enough to evade detection. India's military says radar near the Andaman Islands is not as closely watched as other areas, and that raises the possibility the plane might not have been picked up if it flew through those areas.

As the search field widens for missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370, investigators are also now launching background checks on everyone on board.

Our Saima Mohsin is joining us from Malaysia's capital of Kuala Lumpur.

Saima, you talked to family members of a young flight engineer also on that plane. How are they taking all of this?

SAIMA MOHSIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: With great difficulty, Wolf. It's a really delicate balance, isn't it? Trying to be sensitive to the loved ones and family of those on board the flights, but at the same time having to do the crucial job of asking tough questions and investigating the people on board.

I spoke to them earlier. Let's take a look at my report.


MOHSIN (voice-over): She's crying for her step brother, "I hope he comes back home. Kisha (ph) really misses you, my brother," she says. This is 29-year-old Harold Emory (ph), an aviation engineer who works for a private jet company. As authorities investigate each and every crew member and passenger on board flight MH370, anyone with aviation expertise will be of particular interest and a high priority.

Off camera, his father says, "I am confident that my son is not involved. They're welcome to investigate me and my family."

FATHER OF HAROLD EMORY (ph) (through translation): No police have come to ask about this at all. None at all. This goes to Sydney, Canada, USA, Singapore. He went to Beijing to repair a plane and was going to bring it back here.

MOHSIN: He called them Thursday evening to say he was flying Friday night on flight MH-370. Emory is the youngest of three children from the first marriage. He married his childhood sweetheart. They have a young boy. Just 1 year old.

"Even though I'm his stepmother, he accepted me as a real mother. We were close. He's a good person."

Today, the sultan from the area the family comes from visited to show his support.


MOHSIN: Some comfort for a family searching for answers and hoping for good news.

(on camera): And you miss him.



MOHSIN: Wolf, a lot of families going through exactly the same turmoil that this family has been through. But also under a lot of scrutiny.

This is the tenth day, heading into the tenth night, since the disappearance of flight MH-370. And, of course, not just the passengers, the crew under scrutiny, as well. Over we the weekend, we saw both the pilot and co-pilot's homes searched by plain clothes police officers. We caught up with them as they were leaving with shopping bags. We don't know what they had inside. They won't tell us. They did confirm they took away the flight simulator. They have rebuilt that and are still going through it to find out what exactly that was about. A friend I spoke to, Wolf, told me it was nothing at all bizarre. This is just a man, a pilot, who loves his job, took his career home, and shared it with his friends, challenging himself every day.

But still, Wolf, 10 days on, not enough clarity on what exactly happened to the flight. A lot of confusion here in Kuala Lumpur.

BLITZER: I'm sure they're going through the hard drive on the flight simulator to see what routes this pilot was checking out.

Saima, thanks very much.

Saima Mohsin reporting for us from Kuala Lumpur.

Flying an airliner, no doubt a stressful job. Just what type of screenings do pilots need, especially when it comes to mental and emotional health? Our own Brian Todd is looking into this part of the story.


BLITZER: Investigators are looking at whether there were any red flags before flight 370 took off. Right now, Malaysian authorities are doing background checks on every person on board that plane.

Brian Todd is here looking at this part of the story.

Brian, are they looking into psychological background checks, for example, of the pilot and the co-pilot, because those guys were in the cockpit?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They were in the cockpit, and we know that the pilots are one of the focuses now of the investigation. They have searched the pilots' homes. We can't say for sure whether there were any issues regarding either of these men that would have played a role in this disappearance.

The Malaysia Airlines CEO did say the psychological test, the psychometric test, standard procedure for their airline. But they are going to look at that going forward now, Wolf, and see if they can, quote, "tighten the entry admission." I don't know if that's some kind of a hint that he's giving or not. It may not be. But they're going to look at the psychological screening.

What we do know, every pilot of a commercial airliner goes through some psychological screening. How rigorous it is depends on the governing body of that country and of the airline itself.

Here in the United States, the FAA requires a medical certificate to become a pilot. Psychological screening is part of that. That certificate has to be renewed every year if the pilot is 40 years old or under, or every six months if the piled is 40 years old or over.

But the problem is with that, pilots often have to self-report if something is happening. If they're getting maybe a dose of depression or something like that or something happens in their life, they have to self report it. It's not necessarily checked up on every year. And it's not -- it's up to the pilot to tell them. So that may be an issue here. If the pilot doesn't say anything, if the pilot keeps everything in, then maybe that slips through the cracks, and, you know, there could be a gap there -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Yeah, I know you're working this story and will have more in "The Situation Room."

Brian, thanks very much.

The search for the missing plane now spans 11 different countries. We're taking a look at how political issues are playing into the search and the investigation. Our own Christiane Amanpour is standing by live. We'll discuss with her when we come back.


BLITZER: The pilots and passengers on board the missing Malaysia Airlines flight are once again under scrutiny. That's because Malaysian authorities say someone deliberately diverted the plane. But is there a political aspect to the ongoing investigation?

Let's bring in our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, joining us from London.

Christiane, some are suggesting that Malaysian politics are actually playing a role in this investigation. What's going on here?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you can imagine, after 11 excruciating days, the greatest aviation mystery of our time, there will obviously be a series of moments when people start turning in and feeding on each other and on the lack of information going on.

Yes, you are right. There are unpleasant things, mostly in the tabloid press, being reported, but nothing we should take seriously at all at the moment.

Most people say the initial investigations into the pilots revealed absolutely nothing out of the ordinary at the moment. And don't forget, even though focus is on the pilot, there could be that added situation where somebody forced and commandeered the pilots to do what they may or may not have done. That is, turn off the transponders and turn the plane around, et cetera. So there's a lot of politics, including whether or not the Malaysian government is reacting fast enough and giving enough help to the Americans or others, and, of course, in particular, to the families of those who are waiting so desperately for news. People simply can't believe it has taken this long to come out, first, with the statement and then to say that it is foul play rather than anything else.

BLITZER: We know there have been some irritants in Malaysia's relationship with China as a result of this, with Vietnam as a result, even with India, which said it stopped looking, for all practical purposes. How does all that was play into the search?

AMANPOUR: It's incredibly difficult. With 26 countries searching, the maximum amount of cooperation is vital. Pakistan said they didn't detect anything. India said the same thing. And Malaysia said one of the difficulties in trying to get all these countries to give their evidence or radar evidence or radar evidence or surveillance evidence is a lot of these countries keep that information close to the vest.

Look, this is such an unusual situation that you are bound to get to a certain cycle where politics rears its head. But really what people want are factual answers and particularly the families want that. Of course, those in the security world, who want to know what happened, whether it was a hijacking or whatever it might be.

BLITZER: Given the internal politics in Malaysia, if they blame -- let's say they are throwing the blame on these two pilots, how does it play into the political calculus?

AMANPOUR: Well, you know, again it deflects a lot of the attention that has been drawn towards the Malaysian government. In this part of the world, especially in Beijing and other places where families are waiting for word, they are beginning to treat the government as the bad guy. It's not really the bad guy, but the unhelpful guy and not coming forth with the information in a timely manner. That is excruciating for them. They are accusing the government of playing defensive politics to try to make up for shortcomings.

But again, the real situation here has to be one where as much information as possible is collected and then disbursed as timely as possible. All these political games, as frustrating as they are -- and you heard this Sunday, Dan Pfiefer said the United States would like to help, but they need more information. In other words, Malaysia, come on, we need more answers and we need you to cooperate. At the same time, Malaysia insisting that they are cooperating. You can see what's going on in this tense situation.

BLITZER: Very tense situation.

Christiane, thanks very much.

And to our viewers, stay with CNN throughout the day for all the developments on the missing plane, including a live report from Malaysia just minutes away.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Listen carefully, you'll hear thousands of college hoops fans filling out their March Madness brackets. Most will be shattered before we get to the sweet 16. But it's a safe bet many fans will have Florida, Arizona, Wichita State or Virginia in the number-one seeds in the final four.

Let's go to our sports correspondent, Andy Scholes.

Andy, what is the enormous structure behind you?

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS: It may not be the biggest, but it's the biggest bracket in Atlanta. Wichita State and Virginia, those are the number one states and Florida is the favorite 5-1 odds. Wichita State is the favorite to enter the tournament. 15-1 odds to win it. There is big money put on the tournament every single year. More than $12 billion will be bet on NCAA worldwide. Over 100 million people will be filling out a bracket. This year, if you fill out that perfect bracket, Warren Buffett will give you $1 billion. That's probably not going to happen, Wolf. The chances are 1 in 9.2 quintillion. That's to give you a perspective how that crazy perspective, if all were filled out, they would circle the globe over 21 million times. Absolutely crazy.

BLITZER: I love a live shot when we talk about quintillion. That's a big number.

What's your Cinderella pick?

SCHOLES: You might want to go with Steven S. Austin. They're going to play one of the old Cinderella teams, VCU. A lot of people say Austin has a chance to make a nice run. They are on a 28-game winning streak. Watch out for the Lumberjacks.

BLITZER: I usually do pretty bad in the brackets because I go with my heart as opposed to my head.


SCHOLES: Can't do that. Got to do the numbers. BLITZER: I know. But you know what? Andy, I want the viewers to know, if you want to test your bracket skills against all of the CNN anchors, including me, go to Have some fun.

That's it for me. I will be back 5:00 p.m. in "The Situation Room." A two-hour special edition at 5:00 p.m., "The Situation Room."

NEWSROOM with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.

All right, here we go.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, thank you so much.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. Great to be with you on this Monday.