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New Details Emerge About Missing Plane; Plane's Route Altered By Computer; Thai Radar Shows Plane May Have Turned Around

Aired March 18, 2014 - 13:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. There are new developments unfolding right now in the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Here are the latest developments. Thailand's military now says it picked up an unknown radar signal the day the plane vanished. Thai military radar was tracking the flight after it disappeared. Radar showed an unknown aircraft flying in the opposite direction to the west. This is the second radar evidence that the plane turned west.

New information suggests the plane's route was most likely altered by computer, by someone in the cockpit. Airline officials say the course was originally set for Beijing, but they couldn't rule out the possibility that the flight was reprogrammed. And the search area now covers, get this, 2.2 million square nautical miles. That's about the size of the continental United States.

We're covering this story as only CNN can. Our correspondents and analysts, they are all standing by. But let's begin with a closer look at the report that the plane's course was most likely altered by a computer by someone inside the cockpit.

Our Justice Correspondent Evan Perez is joining us now. Evan, you have some new information.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes, Wolf. We know from -- that the government -- from the latest government briefings that the U.S. believes it has enough information to indicate that the heading of this aircraft, and when it deviated course from its scheduled -- from where it was scheduled to go to Beijing, somewhere over the Gulf of Thailand, it decides to start heading west. And that course was set using -- you know, via -- the -- inputted via the computer that controls the aircraft.

Now, you know, who did this? You know, when was this done exactly? That's still very much an open question. But we know that, you know, there was enough data that was being sent in during the first 40 minutes of this flight that the government now has and is taking a look at. And that information indicates that the specific course -- there was some specific coordinates that the aircraft was heading towards and that those were specifically inputted in the flight computer system.

Now, I'm not sure -- I'm not an aircraft engineer, so I don't know all the technicalities of how this data is getting sent back. But this is -- this is how the government has determined -- the Malaysian government and U.S. government has determined with some certainty that they know this aircraft decided to go west and then, you know, falls off the radar.

BLITZER: Is it technically possible, Evan, for that computer to be hacked, the cockpit computer to be hacked? Someone on the ground to key in and change the autopilot from the ground, as opposed to the pilot or co-pilot changing the dimensions inside the computer, inside the cockpit?

PEREZ: You know, over the years, there has been a lot of concern about whether or not especially the more modern aircraft could be subject to something like a cyber hi-jacking or something like that. It's been discussed over a period of time here. You know, I just don't know whether or not it's exactly -- I mean, it's in the realm of possibilities, I'm told, by officials looking at this. But they just don't know enough information to indicate that that's even likely here.

Again, it's -- you know, the more modern these aircraft become, the more connected they are. It is possible to do something like that. But, you know, it's not in -- there is nothing indicating, yet, that that perhaps happened here. Again, the headings that were entered into the computer system appear to have been done, they believe, inside the cockpit. Whether it was done preflight, which is what happens most times, with aircraft and with pilots, or whether it was done while the plane was already in the air, that they just don't know. And they don't know with any certainty and they probably won't until they can recover the black boxes -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Evan Perez, thanks very much.

Let's bring in our Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto. You've been talking about your sources, Jim. So, what does this suggest, this new information? How significant, potentially, is it?

JIM SCIUTTO, CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, if it's true, it corroborates what had been already the working theory. And that is that whatever turned this plane was a deliberate action by someone inside that cockpit. Now, that brings the possibility of the pilot or the co-pilot or the pilot or the co-pilot under duress of some sort or being forced to do it or someone else who managed to get into the cockpit and had knowledge about how to do this. But it adds to the sense that whoever did it knew details about how to fly the plane.

And it also undermines another theory that's been put out there, that some kind of catastrophic failure of systems could also have been responsible for that turn of the plane. Here, you know, it's still possible that there was a fire or something that led a pilot or someone in the cockpit to take that turn. But it looks unlikely now that you had a sudden failure, a sudden decompressurization (ph) of the plane, that kind of thing, because they had the wherewithal and the ability to plug in something into that flight management system, or the FMS as it's called, to change the direction. So, it adds to what has been the working theory. But, again, more evidence that there was a deliberate act involved in that turn. BLITZER: As opposed to some sort of catastrophic mechanical failure or whatever. All right, thanks, Jim Sciutto, for that.

Military radar in Thailand seems to confirm what Malaysian radar had also suspected, that a signal thought to be from the flight, Flight 370, showed that it was turning west.

CNN now confirms the turn was likely initiated by a computer in the cockpit. And a former Malaysia Airlines pilot tells CNN, the whole thing is very suspicious.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CAPTAIN NIK HUZLAN, RETIRED PILOT, MALAYSIA AIRLINES: I know for sure, I flew this plane.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST, "OUTFRONT": You flew this airliner?

HUZLAN: Yes, how many times.

BURNETT: And so, what do you think happened? Being someone who has actually been behind the controls of this plane?

HUZLAN: Yes, very, very strange because the lack of communication is the one that's really, really puzzling. That we -- you know, the pilots could not communicate if there was an emergency. And I think from the second or third day, I've already come to my own private conclusion that there must be some form of unlawful human interference. It could be anyone on the airplane.

BURNETT: If you're convinced it's not the pilot, --

HUZLAN: Yes.

BURNETT: -- does your attention turn to the co-pilot?

HUZLAN: Well, like I said, unlawful human interference says that a human is involved. So, we start going down, personally, we start going down.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: The entire interview, by the way, will air later tonight on Erin Burnett "OUTFRONT" at 7:00 Eastern.

With us now is CNN Aviation Analyst and former NTSB managing director, Peter Goelz, also our Aviation Analyst, the former American Airlines pilot, Mark Weiss, and CNN Law Enforcement Analyst Tom Fuentes, a former assistant director of the FBI.

Mark, if there had been a fire or some emergency, wouldn't the pilot still have been able to communicate at least something back to ground control? We've got an emergency, SOS, or whatever?

MARK WEISS, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Yes, absolutely, Wolf. And there is a couple ways they could've done this. Certainly with a transponder, by alerting an emergency code. But remember the three tenants of aviation, you want to aviate, navigate and communicate. And an airline cockpit is a very choreographed arena, so somebody would always be flying the airplane, somebody working the problem. And at same time, you would be going off your intended track, intruding in somebody's air space so you would certainly communicate that event to air traffic control.

BLITZER: So, you would generally agree the working assumption that something -- someone, something nefarious, an individual or individuals were responsible for whatever happened?

WEISS: Absolutely.

BLITZER: And that's -- I just want to make sure.

Peter, let's talk a little bit about the notion that someone, 40 minutes into this flight, reprogrammed that automatic pilot computer to make it fly in a different direction. First of all, could it be done, someone hacking into that computer from the ground and changing the direction of that plane or is that too wild, too far-fetched?

PETER GOELZ, FORMER MANAGING DIRECTOR, NTSB: I find that hard to believe but the captain would know better.

BLITZER: What do you think, Mark?

WEISS: I don't believe that that really was going to be the case.

BLITZER: Do you think it's technically possible in this day and age of hacking, for someone on the ground to hack into the computer on board inside that cockpit?

WEISS: Well, you know, Wolf, I think that that's been looked at for years. And I know that there has been a lot of roadblocks put up inside the cockpit to prevent that from happening.

BLITZER: I assume that that would be unlikely but in this at that age, you never know.

WEISS: If somebody had been planning that, they would have tried to test it somewhere. And I think -- I just think that is really far- fetched.

BLITZER: Because, as you know, there's a lot of folks out there who think this whole thick was just a test for something bigger down the road. You've heard that theory.

WEISS: I have seen it all through the Internet. Absolutely.

BLITZER: Yes, so they -- so, that's one of the things. So, what do you make of this reprogramming? When you see these reports, and we've confirmed these reports now at CNN, that that flight plan was reprogrammed, presumably during the first 40 minutes after the plane took off, what do you make of that?

GOELZ: Well, I think it -- I think it focuses the attention on the flight crew. And that is real estate reinforced by the conclusions of the ties that they had seen the plane change direction. That we have to wait to almost two weeks to get that confirmed is disappointing. But that confirms, in think in my mind, that the plane was deliberately -- the course changed its course and then was altered inside the cockpit.

BLITZER: Here's what also is disappointing, Tom. And I want you to weigh in on this. Apparently, based on what we know, at least as of last few hours, the Malaysians have not yet allowed the NTSB, the FAA, U.S. authorities or the FBI access to that flight simulator that was taken from the pilot's home to determine if there is anything sinister that -- any clues that could be discerned from that.

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I think right now, Wolf, you have the Malaysians themselves examining that. If this ends up being a criminal case, you know, they're investigating all possibilities, but I think that they may believe that they can look at --

BLITZER: But they don't have the experience that the United States has --

FUENTES: Well, I --

BLITZER: -- in going through these kinds of hard drives.

FUENTES: No, that's true.

BLITZER: Seeing if there is some nuance there, you know, that maybe could give a clue to what happened.

FUENTES: I think that's true. Well, it is true. But, you know, they may be looking at it, that, you know, a normal flight simulator, like the one that Martin Savidge has been reporting from, costs about a quarter million dollars. The one he had in his home was home-made and maybe cost $6,000. And lacking additional sophistication, it really becomes more of a computer forensic search --

BLITZER: Right.

FUENTES: -- which the police does all of the time. So, it's not so much the sophistication of the gear of simulating a flight but what gets programmed into the software. I mean, using the software and the hardware that they could look at and is see the previous routes that were put in there.

BLITZER: But the Malaysians, you know, I don't think there is anything sinister going on and they're well-intentioned. They simply don't have the experience to undertake a massive investigation like this. I assume you agree.

FUENTES: Well, I agree that -- you know, that this is a huge investigation compared to anything they've ever seen. You know, it's got to be close.

BLITZER: They've probably never done anything like this before. FUENTES: Right.

BLITZER: Peter, I want you to weigh in as well but hold your thought for a moment. I want to take a quick break. Our experts are going to stay with us. Thai officials shedding new light on what happened to Flight 370. Radar systems may have actually spotted the missing plane.

We're going to go deeper. Our own Tom Foreman is standing by. He'll take a look at whether the 777 veered west.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Thailand's air radar is casting new light on what may have happened to the missing 777 and the 239 people on board. Tom Foreman is joining us now to show us what Thailand's Air Force has now revealed. What are you learning, Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this at least fits into the model we've seen, as we bring in our maps here and talk about this flight. Again, the flight took off from Kuala Lumpur about a week and a half ago, a little more, flew up this way, disappeared off this coast.

So how does that fit into the big picture? Well, think about all the search areas we've had so far, the main search area there to begin with, and then these big arcs that we developed out of the information from the satellites and where the plane might be in the arcs. And this fits into the upper part of the arc and the idea that this plane would have turned left at the end. If you look at where we are in here, if you look at Thailand up there, you can see that if you took the box on the right there, the red box on the right, the first search area, and the one on the left over there, it could have turned that way and headed that way, assuming it was not going further up into Asia along one of these routes somewhere else, Wolf.

So at least this information from Thailand fits the model as we've heard it so far, that there was some sort of turn, and that it would have at some point been in the Strait of Malacca, as people have said, Wolf.

BLITZER: How hard is it to believe, Tom, that this plane actually flew through such a wide, wide space without being picked up by radar?

FOREMAN: I find it very hard to believe, Wolf, because that's just a lot of countries and a lot of areas to see nothing. Now, here's one theory out there about how it might have done it. I -- all the experts say this is a very difficult theory to believe, but that this plane turned off all of its communications and in the process of turning off all of its communications at some point it basically slipped into the radar shadow of another plane. And this other plane was flying along unaware of the presence of this plane. So they had full radar working just fine on the small plane, or the other plane, not a small plane but the other plane, it was doing everything normally, being tracked normally. And this one slipped in behind it. And together they just created a single dot on the radar map. So nobody noticed it as it worked its way up the country amid all the other dots out there.

Because, remember, the Asian air space is one of the most heavily traveled in the world. Tremendous number of flights there. So maybe you wouldn't notice if one dot was a little odd or a little bigger, especially since one plane there is sending out a normal signal. But that seems like a reach. So, Wolf, the question of how could it have slip past all these other radar sites if it continued going north after the Thais saw it there? That seems very unlikely, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it certainly does. All right, Tom, thank you.

Just ahead, the daunting challenges of searching for the missing Boeing 777 in a body of deep water the size of the United States.

We're also standing by, Evan Perez, our justice reporter, he's getting more information right now. He'll share it with us right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: All right, we're getting new information right now. Let's go back to our justice reporter, Evan Perez.

Evan, what are you learning?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Wolf, we know that the Malaysian authorities have shared with U.S. authorities some of the initial findings they they've got from doing some of the searches of the pilots' homes. As we know, they've taken computers, they've looked -- they're looking at e-mail traffic, they've looked at the flight simulator that one of the pilots, the captain, had on his computer. And so far they've found - they've found nothing to indicate that any of this could have been preplanned. For instance, they were looking to see whether or not perhaps this heading that the flight went on after it departed from its scheduled route to Beijing, whether that was on the computer. And so far they've found nothing to indicate any of this. And so that's -- adding to the mystery that investigators still are focused on right now.

We also know that they have reviewed cockpit conversations with air traffic control, for instance. And again, there's nothing that has been -- that they find that is suspicious and that indicates anything that perhaps -- that could explain the mystery of why the flight deviated from its course. So here we are, day 11, I suppose, and, you know, this only deepens the mystery of what exactly happened to Flight 370, Wolf.

BLITZER: Evan, do we know if the Malaysians are actually allowing U.S. investigators access to the computers, the hard drives, the flight simulators, the audiotapes, the videotapes, or are they just getting reports from Malaysian authorities about what Malaysian authorities have discovered?

PEREZ: Well, they are sharing. They're asking for help with some of the technical data that they have recovered. And we know that they are sharing some of that information. In the early days of this investigation, there was some frustration on the part of the U.S. that the Malaysians were holding back some of this information. I'm told that that has changed in recent days, and that the Malaysians are being more forthcoming.

For instance, today, we know that they've already shared information that they've retrieved from the computers, which was seized just in the last couple of days. So I'm told that a lot of that information is being shared, the raw data, and so the U.S. is trying to make some of its own conclusions to check against the other information that the Malaysians are coming up with.

I should also mention that there are British investigators, French investigators, there's an entire team now that is working on this and they're looking at the same data, I'm told, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, well that's encouraging to hear that. Evan, thanks very much.

Let's assess what we just heard. Once again, joining us, our aviation analyst, Mark Weiss and Peter Goelz, and our law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes.

What do you make of this new development, Tom?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I think that shows, Wolf, that they're, you know, they are having the other experts, the U.S. and the British and other experts look at the data, look at the information. As I mentioned earlier, in terms of the flight simulator, would they need to look at the monitor or the joystick or the wires. They need to look at the memory in the computer itself or did he have any other evidence in the house, like thumb drives, that might have flight plans for other -- some other exotic city that he might have intended to take that airplane to. So, so far, if they're finding none of that information -- doing that kind of a computer search is definitely not as difficult as searching raiders and satellite and that type of information. It's a much -- it's something the police do all the time, practically every day, to look at data on a computer.

BLITZER: Peter, what should the Malaysians do to reassure the families of the -- of those 239 people who were on board that they know what they're doing, that they're on top of this investigation, and that everything is out there?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: They may have lost that opportunity, to be honest, Wolf. During the opening days of this investigation, it was so chaotic. I'm not sure that, particularly in Beijing, whether the family members are going to believe anything the Malaysian government says now because there's been so many twists and turns to this. And the one thing we learned at the NTSB was, you need to tell the family members the truth and tell it to them first. They don't want to see something on TV that they haven't been informed of first. And with the ubiquitousness of the Internet, this is a terribly challenging event and it hasn't been handled well.

BLITZER: Should they hand over the investigation to another outside source?

GOELZ: I don't think there's any question that sometime in the future the Malaysians are going to step back. This has stopped their country in its tracks. And the investigation going forward is so massive and so expensive that they're going to have to step back.

BLITZER: Mark, you're a pilot. So is it possible that a 777, a huge plane like this, could go into the Indian Ocean and disappear without any debris, without any evidence whatsoever and just go right to the bottom of the ocean?

MARK WEISS, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, you know, I think most of the aircraft would probably sink. But there are parts of the aircraft that would float, whether now or in a short period of time from now. I think you're going to see something, some debris coming to the surface that either through serial number or through paint you'll be able to determine that it was this aircraft.

BLITZER: Well, even if it just flew straight in, there would be some debris that would crack off or whatever that would be at the top. Now, what if they did a Sully Sullenberger type landing? They tried to land on the water and they actually landed in the middle of the Indian Ocean and then slowly the plane began to sink?

WEISS: Well, you know, I don't know how the currents run over there, but I think when you take an airplane and you try to ditch the airplane like that -- remember, Sully landed in the Hudson. It didn't have waves, it didn't have currents like that. It was calm and it was daylight. I mean you -- this aircraft didn't have anything going for it. If that was the case, I'm sure it's in the bottom.

BLITZER: And even if it were floating for -- like the Sully Sullenberger's plane on the Hudson, people would start getting out of the doors and they'd be on their -- so they would be floating -

WEISS: Yes.

BLITZER: If you will. So it's -- these are all the theories that are out there, as you guys well know. And it's heartbreaking to even think about it. And let's not forget, 239 people were aboard that airliner.

WEISS: Absolutely.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by.

As new data from Thailand reveals a possible change in course, we're also going to check in with our own Martin Savidge. He's in a flight simulator to get a feel for being in the cockpit. Just how would someone switch the path of a huge jumbo jet like this one?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)