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Files From Pilot's Flight Simulator Deleted; Putin Defies Threats From West

Aired March 19, 2014 - 19:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Next, breaking news, President Obama speaking for the first time about Flight 370 today. What he said about the investigation tonight.

Plus, why was information deleted from the pilot's homemade flight simulator, the FBI looking for answers tonight.

And an "OUTFRONT" investigation, just how easy is it for 777 to disappear from radar? Well, we went and we found out. Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening to everyone. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight we begin with the breaking news, President Obama making his first public comments tonight about the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We have put every resource that we have available at the disposal of the search process. There's been close cooperation with the Malaysian government and so not just NTSB but FBI, you know, anybody who typically deals with anything related to our aviation system is available. And so, you know, our thoughts and prayers were with the families, but I want them to be assured that we consider this a top priority and we are going to keep on working.


BURNETT: A top priority, it is now day 13 in the search for the missing plane and investigators in a race against time. They have just 17 days to find the plane's black box, which is sort of an old term for basically the flight data recorder, which stops transmitting crucial signals that could help locate the wreckage.

At this hour, here is what we know in that search. An unnamed source tells Malaysia's daily newspaper, "Berita Harian," that investigators have discovered the runways of five airports near the Indian Ocean loaded into the pilot's homemade flight simulator. Obviously, that is a hugely significant headline. We emphasize we have not independently confirmed that. That comes from a daily newspaper in Malaysia.

Malaysian officials announced today that some data on the simulator though had been deleted and they gave us a date for that, February 3rd. Still though it is unclear who deleted the information and what motive they may have had to do that. We are going to talk much more about that this hour because there's a really big, crucial caveat there.

The FBI, meantime, is now examining the simulators hard drive as well as computer hard drives belonging to both the pilot and co-pilot. As for the search, a U.S. government source tells us tonight that all evidence points to the southern search corridor. You may remember the northern one went all the way up with the stance, Kazakhstan, Western China.

Now they are focusing pretty much exclusively on the southern corridor, which is really the entire swath there of the Indian Ocean. Australia is now leading the search there says it has narrowed its focus to the waters off of Perth, which is on the south western coast of Australia.

Pamela Brown has been following the investigation. And Pamela, how seriously is the FBI taking this development, that there is missing data from the pilot's home simulator?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, a source with knowledge of the investigation I spoke with earlier today says it is top priority to find out what's on that hard drive. It's being handled with a great deal of urgency right now because so far it is the best trove of evidence we have at this point.

But it's important to keep in mind it could take some time, days, even weeks, before experts at Quantico's forensics lab are able to piece together a full picture of what was on that simulators hard drive in the captain's home. There are many variables at play here, whether the data was deleted in a simple, routine way or whether someone took extra steps to make sure it was permanently deleted.

But Erin, from talking to expert, the only way that's possible is if the deleted file was overwritten or nuked and the fact that Malaysian authorities say the data was deleted on February 3rd, a specific date and that there is recoverable data on the hard drive, a promising sign that investigators will be able to pull all or at least part of the information from that hard drive.

But Erin, what is found from the hard drive could end up being an insignificant detail. We just simply don't know.

BURNETT: All right, Pamela, thank you very much. Obviously crucial at this point because we just don't know the motives and what may have been innocent and what may not have been.

Joining me now is former FBI agent, Ed Stroz and Jay Leboff, CEO of Hotseat, which is a company that makes flight simulators. You two gentlemen obviously really understanding what is going on with this investigation.

Jay, let me start with you, and this crucial question, is there any reason a pilot would have, if you're at home, by the way, I have a talked to a lot of pilots who say they have flight simulators at home, they love to fly all the time. Having one in and of itself would not necessarily be suspicious. Some disagree, but many pilots have said that. But deleting files off a flight simulator?

JAY LEBOFF, CEO, HOTSEAT CHASSIS INC, A FLIGHT SIMULATOR MANUFACTURER: Well, the -- one of the considerations would be how big the hard drive on the computer that this pilot was using. So if the computer was, you know, 1 terabyte or larger kind of hard drive, it would not indicate that there would be a lack of space on that storage facility. The files that are stored in flight simulator don't reside in flight simulator to delete them. You have to go into my documents go find the folder for flight sim and click off each of those -- there are generally three files that belong to each flight.


LEBOFF: And you would have to go in there and delete those files.

BURNETT: All right, so it's not as easy as just dragging into it into your recycle bin and emptying it? It takes work?

LEBOFF: You have to know how to do it and there would have to be a reason why you would do it specifically, pilots are saving flights to re-fly them.

BURNETT: So you don't want to delete it. You want to practice.

LEBOFF: You want to keep it.

BURNETT: All right, what is the FBI then looking for? You have done this sort of forensic analysis. So what are they looking for and obviously the headline we have is the deletion date was February 3rd. Obviously, if he was practicing a bunch of routes, that's kind of long time ago to have deleted, but now you have this Malaysian newspaper, emphasized, we have not confirmed this, saying that they have found there are five airports near the Indian Ocean on that flight simulator.

EDWARD STROZ, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: I think the FBI will be looking for deleted files for sure, but that is only one part of the treasure trove of information that you find on a computer. Every computer, every investigation right now has a computer somewhere in the mix and if you're talking about somebody who is a pilot, had this device at home, I don't think there's anything nefarious about that.

He would had to be using this computer to power the flight simulator, but he may have also been using the computer for other purposes. It's the same type of back end that you have on any kind of computer system so that will be an area of investigation for the FBI, to the extent that files were deleted, were they deleted deliberately? Were they deleted and overwritten, deleted at a certain point in time? Just as you were saying.

BURNETT: Right. And which is an interesting point. By the way if it is true that these five airports near the Indian Ocean were programmed, obviously, there could be reasons that would be not nefarious that that would have happened. But even if it did happen, the question would be when was that deleted?

Because was that in the -- before February 3rd or after? The guy wasn't trying to cover it up because it was sitting there, along with Diego Garcia, by the way, which we know was also on that flight simulator.

STROZ: I think it is also important to remember, in a matter like this you have to account for everything that occurred. So it isn't just looking for things that are troublesome.


STROZ: It's also investigating to if there are innocent explanations. People can be cleared. If investigative theories can be shut down based on certain things that are determined. So, it's important to keep in mind that they are looking for all of the truth that may be on that drive.

BURNETT: Right. And Jay, the point is right now, there's the simulator and there is nothing else because there's no plane so people are focusing in on this. We spoke to a former Israeli Air Force pilot, who now uses -- you know, designs flight simulators for use in high-end searching and things like that says someone as experienced as the pilot of MH-370 would have had no need to practice on a simulator. His view, the only reason he would have been using it would be to try unfamiliar, untested routes. LEBOFF: You know, you can fly any airport on the planet geographically and topographically, correct. Virtually any airplane. So there are millions of people out there who enjoy flight simulation and fly all over the world with this tool and it's not unusual for a pilot to practice.

BURNETT: You want to fly a new route, right? You're bored with the regular route to Beijing.

LEBOFF: And he may have been flying -- I don't know if he flew those trips during his rotation as a pilot. And if he did, then he would want to practice. There is nothing nasty about that.

BURNETT: Right. There's so many questions here, but again this is the key piece of data that we have. So obviously, everyone is going to be obsessing over it. Thanks very much to both of you. Appreciate it, Ed and Jay.

OUTFRONT, next, one of the things investigators need to know, was the pilot practicing landing on a short runway? We are going to show what you that landing looks like, literally, from start to finish. We looked through the Indian Ocean. We found a runway that a 777 low on fuel might be able to land on and we are going to show what it looks like.

Also, Miles O'Brien, a very familiar face to CNN viewers, a pilot himself, joins us to talk about what he thinks happened to the plane.

And chaotic scene as families demand to know what happened to their loved ones on Flight 370.


BURNETT: A major development tonight in the investigation to Flight 370. Tonight, the FBI working to recover deleted files from the pilot's flight simulator hard drive. Investigators hope the erased files will provide insight into the pilot's mind set before the flight went missing. The big question here is whether the pilot used that homemade simulator to practice flying unfamiliar territory or perhaps landing on a short runway.

As we said earlier, a Malaysian daily newspaper is reporting that flight simulator had five runways in the Indian Ocean that were programmed onto it. Unsure whether that's true, but that is the report that we have right now. And that, if true is a very, very significant development, which leads us exactly to where we are going right now, which is landing on one of those runways.

Martin Savidge is live in a 777 simulator with pilot trainer, Mitchell Casado. Our viewers now know Mitchell pretty well, Martin. The 777 usually needs a runway of about 8,000 feet. The 777 pilot, Les Abend, who is with me here says most runways he lands at are over 10,000 feet.

All right, but this is all hypothetical. The question is I know this 777 ER could land on a much smaller runway if there was an emergency, if fuel was low, right? How short and can you do it?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, it's a simulator. So a simulator is not exactly as the 777 might act, but it is doggone close, as close as we can get safely. What we have is a small island located off of Western Australia. We are not saying this is what happened. What we want to show you is the safety aspect of the plane itself.

What we are talking about here is that we are dealing with an aircraft that has so many safety features built into it. Yes, they need 6,000 to maybe 8,000 feet. They can do it with less. We are looking at runway here, Mitchell, what do we think it's at --

MITCHELL CASADO, PILOT TRAINER: I'm sorry, what is that?

SAVIDGE: We are about 4,000 feet. If he can't make it on the approach, we will go around. This runway is not ideal. Got some of the best and biggest landing gear of any major plane and you can see the weather is a problem. So whether he is going to get it down and have enough runway at the end, I guess we watch and see. 130 miles a hour, there's the ground. Reverse thrusters. And he -- you can see there's the back of the runway coming up quick. And correction. And you are right at the end. Speed's 40 miles.

BURNETT: Crashing here?

SAVIDGE: Forty miles an hour. It can be done. But again, it's a simulator.

BURNETT: But are you on the runway now -- you're off, it aren't you? SAVIDGE: Well, it's gone -- it has gone just beyond the edge.


SAVIDGE: But in theory, you know, with that speed and with again this landing gear, as say some of the biggest and most fortified of any aircraft like this, it's survivable. That's what you're talking about here. This is emergency. Not going to turn the plane around again, refuel and take off. This is last-ditch scenario. Could it be done? This simulator says, yes, it could. We certainly know 777 could land on much less than, say an 8,000, 6,000-foot runway.

BURNETT: All right, let me bring in Les Abend because Les is a 777 pilot. Les is watching Mitchell perform thank move. And I wasn't thrilled with the look going across your face.

LES ABEND, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Yes. He was -- that's test pilot stuff right there. I was going to ask whether they were using max braking on that because there's a setting that we have that will --

BURNETT: And that's something that the pilot would have known on this plane?

ABEND: He would have done -- right, exactly, had he been aware --

BURNETT: Can Mitchell hear me? Martin, can you hear me? Were you using max braking?

MITCHELL CASADO, COMMERCIAL PILOT INSTRUCTOR: I can hear you. We did use max braking, but one thing I should mention on this landing. I put the reverses on and the reversers did not come on and that's why we ended up landing long. If the reverses had come on that loud roaring that you hear after you touched down, we would have stopped short of the end of the runway.

BURNETT: Just made it. And obviously, the assumption here, Les, was that this plane was running out of fuel. You know, obviously, aren't landing the fully fueled plane on this.

I guess here's the question is this something that pilots would have prepared for, especially given this latest potential development, the Malaysian newspaper reporting that there were five run ways in the Indian Ocean programmed on the flight simulator in the pilot's home?

ABEND: I -- no. Just -- it's very improbable. Yes. It's not something that I think any professional crew, regardless of nefarious ideas, would even attempt.

BURNETT: Right. So I guess it's conceivable, if indeed that, indeed, we have no idea, again, if the pilot tried to do it and perhaps failed. I think all these run ways in this area, the plane is not there.

ABEND: Probably not.

BURNETT: Right. ABEND: Probably not.

BURNETT: All right. Les Abend, thank you very much. We appreciate it. And thanks also to Mitchell and to Martin.

So many of you had questions about that, just to watch exactly how that would be executed.

Still to come, families of the passengers desperate for information about their loved ones, hoping against hope for a landing like the one you saw there. But their pleas have been met with silence. And today, things got incredibly tense.

And just how did flight 370 vanish from radar? That is one of the most central questions here, with all of these military stations looking for it, we wanted to know. So went and found out, an OUTFRONT investigation.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: How likely is it that this flight was able to elude radar just by accident?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Highly unlikely.



BURNETT: An emotional and chaotic scene today involving some of the families of those aboard missing Malaysia airlines flight 370. One mother pleading with authorities for more information about the investigation. It was incredibly emotional.


BURNETT: That woman was dragged away by Malaysian authorities. As you can see, it's rather frightening just to see all the media that was there, the anguish. Kyung Lah was there in the middle of it.

Now Kyung, did you get to see -- there you are, Kyung, and right in the middle as you can see. You almost getting knocked over yourself. I mean, did you see her, these families after they were dragged away?

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I actually stood outside that double door and waited for the families to come out. Remember, Erin, these women came to a press briefing where they knew there were going to be hundreds of cameras. They had a message that they wanted to talk to the press. They wanted to get the press on their side so that we would take the Malaysian government to task. That was essentially the message. We need more information.

After they disappeared into that room, we stood outside waiting for them to come out. I kept repeatedly asking the official there, what's happening? Where -- what have you done with these women? And they boldfaced and said there were no women in there, even though I could see them through the doors.

After a short time, the authorities basically stood side by side, locking their arms to keep the cameras away from these women as they were led out of the hotel. We gave them chase but they disappeared.

BURNETT: I mean, that's pretty incredible. They would just say there was no women in there. I mean, it sort of adds, Kyung, to the whole perception we have had from the Malaysian government, as they say that this happened. And then they say, no, whoever said that was a liar. I didn't say that. I mean, just the kind of disaster that the investigation's been so far. I mean, what did the government then say?

LAH: Well, the government in the press briefing that followed, and I should point out, it was on time. They kept to that. They wanted to keep the task on finding this plane, getting out their message. And what they did say in answering one question about this is that they did understand that this was hard for the families.

But after the press briefing, the acting transportation secretary did release this statement. I want to show it to you. And what he basically says is "one can only imagine the anguish they, referring to the families, are going through. Malaysia is doing everything in its power to find MH 370 and hopefully bring some degree of closure for those whose family members are missing."

But what all this does show us, Erin, is that the Malaysian government has a message they want to get out. They want to show that they are in control, but they are having a lot of trouble trying to maintain control and try to push this investigation forward in the way that they want.

BURNETT: Kyung Lah, thank you very much live from Kuala Lumpur this morning.

Still to come, an OUTFRONT investigation, just how difficult is it for a 777 to completely disappear from radar? That is a crucial question we have an exclusive investigation and access how that would have happened.

Plus, new details how the missing plane's flight plan was changed midair.


BURNETT: Developing news in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet.

A law enforcement official telling CNN tonight that the missing jet's first turn to the west was almost certainly preprogrammed by somebody in the cockpit. Now, before you jump to conclusions there, that could have been a pilot, that could have been a co-pilot, or it could have been someone else who came into the cockpit and took it over. All of this is spawning countless conspiracy theories about what happened to the jet, and one theory points to a U.S. military base on the island Diego Garcia in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Jay Carney was actually asked about it today, and here's what he said.


REPORTER: Some news reports saying that the missing flight could have landed in the U.S. military base, Diego Garcia, in the center of Indian Ocean. Do you rule in that or rule out that?



BURNETT: Jay did not look like he actually wanted to smile there but at the end he did. Look, these theories are out there. But, you know, a lot of them are gaining traction with each passing day.

OUTFRONT to talk about it and the other theories are Richard Quest, Jeff Wise, a private pilot and aviation journalist, Robert Goyer, a land and sea pilot and aviation journalist, and Jim Tilmon, a CNN aviation analyst.

All right. Gentlemen, thanks very much for doing this.

Let me start with you, Jeff, because this issue of the Diego Garcia.

All right. Obviously, this is something that's been pretty much been dismissed as one of those, you know, water cooler conversations. But there was a reason this one came occupy, right?

JEFF WISE, AVIATION JOURNALIST: Well, there was, and apparently, investigators went to the captain's house. They looked at his flight simulator. There's been a lot of speculation about why this fellow had a flight simulator. Was it suspicious?


WISE: And, in fact, they went in there and looked into the computer files. And lo and behold, there was Diego Garcia logged into his -- you know, among the places he visited. So logical conclusion perhaps, maybe he wasn't to Diego Garcia.

Unfortunately, Diego Garcia is not in those areas that we've now determined it must have been that morning. What's more, they've checked Diego Garcia and it wasn't there. So, that one seems to --

BURNETT: Right. We would have known it was there, obviously, as Richard was saying during the commercial.

Robert, you know, a lot of people -- this spawns the other set of theories which is, well, could someone have shot this plane down and don't want to admit it?

ROBERT GOYER, AVIATION JOURNALIST: Yes, that's very unlike. The whole reason for launching a terrorist attack like that is to claim credit for it. There's no reason to do it if you don't.

BURNETT: Right. That's a fair point.

Now, Richard, I get to you, because, you know, I saw this. The tabloids of England, they are ripe with ideas.



QUEST: Go on. I'm not pleased to be doing this because there are so many theories that need to be scotched.

BURNETT: Which is -- that's why we're calling this theory busters. I mean, the goal here is, I mean, look, if you believe one of these, go ahead, be my guest. But I don't expect you will, at least most of them. But here -- world's first cyber hijack, which, by the way, there are some people whom legitimately believe. Did al Qaeda hijack the missing plane? Lost plane feels (ph) of a 9/11 style plot.

Let me start with the cyber hijack, because I'm curious what you think about this one. Is it possible for someone to hack into the main computer network on a plane?

QUEST: Virtually impossible. There are a couple ways you get to the computer and reprogram it. And they are high technical. And from my understanding, from those I've spoken to, just about impossible.

Yes, there are coms links that allow the ops center for the airline to upload information into the computers and there are maintenance avenues into it. But for anybody else, it's just about impossible.

BURNETT: Jim, what do you think about that? When you talk about a dry run and cyber warfare, one of the most terrifying things would be for someone who had the ability to hack into multiple airplanes.

JIM TILMON, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, there are lots of theories. I think that's one of the worst. I don't have any feeling at all that that could happen.

BURNETT: Sounds like his audio wasn't work. Was it just me? Did the viewers hear it?

You heard it?



Well, he scoffed at it. I heard you both laughing.

QUEST: It's one of the worst theories. He said.

BURNETT: All right. Let's move on the al Qaeda one. Did al Qaeda hijack the missing plane? This is one a lot of people believe, Jeff.

How difficult would it be for terrorists given what we now know is that there were no communications from this cockpit to the ground that indicated anything was wrong. But there was also no communication between these pilots to themselves or anyone else that indicated they had intent to do anything.

WISE: Well, al Qaeda has said we wished we had thought of it and we didn't.

But it just doesn't jibe. I mean, there's ways that a pilot can signal that the airline is being hijacked without a hijacker knowing it.

BURNETT: Right, the codes, right? And none of those happened.

What about, though, the theory, Richard, that a lot of people have, which is that they wanted to take this jet, commandeer it for some sort of a future attack. Whether that was to lead it up immediately with some sort of radioactive material and fly it over a city.

QUEST: No, no, it's time to have a reality check.

WISE: I believe this one actually.

QUEST: It's time for you to have a reality check.

WISE: Each should have a reality check.

QUEST: How are you going to land a plane, refuel it, get it back into the air and get it to your ultimate destination without somebody spotting or knowing about it?

WISE: OK, listen, we don't know what their intention was. This is where you and I disagree. You still think it's an accident. I think that -- listen, the Malaysian investigators have concluded this was an intentional act, this was a deliberate plan carefully executed meticulously planned.

QUEST: I believe there's a spectrum, and on the one end, you have terrorist activity and on the other end, you have the mechanical fault.

WISE: Are they mutually exclusive?

QUEST: They are mutually exclusive. Yes. I'm saying there's a spectrum of possibility in this, but I do not think you go to that next level of suggesting they landed the plane. Look, I may be wrong by tee time tomorrow. I do not think it's credible.

BURNETT: All right. Was it Robert or Jim who was trying to jump in on that? Go ahead.

GOYER: I was trying to jump in on that.

BURNETT: Yes, go ahead.

GOYER: Yes, the whole idea that the plane was stolen in order to use it as a weapon of mass destruction is patently absurd. Why would you choose to fly an airplane many thousands of miles, an airplane that was full of people that everyone was going to be looking at when you could very easily hijack a plane right near where you wanted to do the attack and do it right before the attack so that there wouldn't be any kind of response? It doesn't make any logistical sense.

BURNETT: That's interesting you put it that way. Look, we polled our viewers, 46 percent of them actually believe in that story, that it was stolen for a later terrorist attack. So, we're curious to see what our viewers make of what you all are saying.

But I guess my question, Robert, would be maybe they needed to test it. I mean, people would say, they wanted to bring it to an area that was friendly to them as opposed to close to a major city where it would can more difficult. I'm just -- I'm playing here to the theory.


GOYER: It's a fair question. It's a fair question, but the problem then becomes where do they put the airplane? How do they secret it away?

We have such great satellite coverage over much of the subcontinent, the Middle East. It would be -- I think just practically impossible to hide it the airplane from us.

QUEST: There's one point that we do need to make I think. The more incredulous the possibilities with due respect to yourself, but the more incredulous or more outlandish some of these things, the more damaging it becomes to finding the plane, to the credibility of what's going on, because you've got to the sort of stay within the realms of terrorism, of hijacking, of mechanical fault.

What's possible? What's likely? What's realistic? But the moment you start looking on islands for planes, and again I could be wrong by tomorrow.

BURNETT: Well, I think part of that is the human spirit. Nobody wants to -- you know, everyone wants to cling to the chard of hope, even though obviously a plane this could have landed we would have been aware of it.

WISE: This whole thing is so unlikely. The whole thing is unlikely. We've never seen anything like this before. Never before.

BURNETT: Jim, a final word to you, and we're going to talk about the mechanical ones in just a moment. But I want to, Jim, first give you a chance. Do you think that there's any chance this could have been a dry run for something? Even though there was no chatter? Would a would-be terrorist have been smart enough to not provide that chatter advance of this?

TILMON: No, I don't know that they would or would not. I'll simply say that the longer this thing goes, the less possibility that it was a terrorist situation.

The terrorists are smart enough to know if they have an advantage to use, they ought to use it and get it done. One of the great advantages they would have had with this is an airplane full of people, people from all over the world, different nationalities. How do you shoot that down?

BURNETT: All right. Well, gentlemen, thank you.

We're going to keep talking about this because as Richard I think aptly put it, you've got the spectrum and over here some of the more outlandish ideas. And over here, you have a mechanical failure or some sort of catastrophic event. One expert believes there was a fire aboard Flight 370, and that even with all these things that seem to add up to a hijacking, that mechanical error adds up. We're going to talk about that.

Plus, why a heartbroken and angry mother took Malaysia Airlines to task today.


BURNETT: All right. We're going to back in our flight simulator in just a moment.

But, first, I want to check in with Anderson with a look what's coming up on "AC360" -- Anderson.


Yes, we're working on new details about the last moments before all communications were lost with Flight 370. As with many developments in the investigation, new details raise even more questions. We'll talk it over with our panel of experts.

We'll also continue to dig on the theory that someone went down into a space like this, into the plane's belly to disable the communication system. Former aircraft mechanic and National Transportation Safety Board member John Goglia shows us what it's like inside. You'll be surprised how easy it is to turn off that ACARS system.

We'll also talk with Sara Bajc. Her partner Philip Wood is one of three Americans who are on Flight 370. We'll get her perspective on the flow of information and how she's holding up with all this changing information day by day. That's all at the top of the hour -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Anderson, we'll look forward to seeing you in just a few minutes.

And now, back to the theories about exactly what we're hearing. Some of the conspiracy theories.

Martin Savidge is now here again with the 777 flight simulator. Richard Quest, Jeff Wise, aviation reporter for "Slate", also with us.

All right. Martin, pilot with 20 years experience, suggested in "Wire Magazine" that there was a fire. And a lot of people say, how would that be possible because we would have heard something on the ground? But he said a veteran pilot would be taught to find the nearest airport that hadn't risen to a mass level of crisis. They might have turned that plane and started to turn dramatically left to try to head back to Kuala Lumpur. He says the loss of the transponder makes perfect sense in a fire. You're in the simulator. Does that add up?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I mean, certain aspects of it, yes, definitely do add up. I was covering the Value Jet crash, so I know the catastrophic effects of a fire on an airliner. But, you know, the most likely way the crew is going to become aware of a fire, just like in your home, just like in your office, there is a fire alarm system, a fire detection system. In fact, we can test it for you here.

You know, it's a series of bells that go off. It's a series of lights that begin to illuminate whether indicating it's a fire in the engine, if it's a fire that's down in cargo hold, if it's the APU, if it's down in the wheel well. So, any number of compartments are immediately identified.

I mean, if it's in the engines, what do you do, Mitchell?

MITCHELL CASADO, FLIGHT SIMULATOR INSTRUCTOR: We have these levers. We can discharge foam, anti -- fire retardant.

SAVIDGE: Say it's the cargo hold or the wheel well.

CASADO: They have automatic systems, as well.

SAVIDGE: Automatically. It's not like you have to make it go?

CASADO: Yes, exactly. Yes.

SAVIDGE: So I mean, then, if you're starting to talk about something maybe back in the passenger cabin, attendances with fire extinguishers. Right here in this cabin, same thing. Fire extinguisher is gong to be nearby. That's how you would deal with it.

BURNETT: Right, you've been trying to jump.

QUEST: Yes, because the problem with the theory of the fire is this -- this is from Air France 4467. And what happened when that he incident happened on air France, 24 automatic messages came out automatically.

BURNETT: From the plane.

QUEST: From the plane via the ACAR system.

If we asked the pilot there if there was a fire in that wheel well or on that plane or in that cargo, and that flight deck lit up like a Christmas tree with warning lights, the ACAR system if it wasn't disabled would have sent one of those warnings, wouldn't it?

CASADO: Absolutely correct. Yes, it would have. And who knows, maybe it did and for all we know, right? SAVIDGE: It is possible that somehow it got incapacitated. I think Richard's right that the ACARS system was functioning we think at that time and it would be sensing things as subtle as temperature changes in the areas where these fires could be started. So, yes, in theory that would be reporting something which apparently was not received.


WISE: Yes, there's an even worse problem with this theory, which is that the idea is that this is an attempt to kind of salvage the idea that there was an accident, not an intentional act. The idea being that they got disoriented, they pulled their Nav equipment and made this head together left. They were heading for this island.

The problem is that once they -- and then they became incapacitated, unconscious, and went towards Langkawi and beyond it and they went off into the ocean. The problem is after they turned, went to a waypoint, turned. Again at another way point.

Very meticulously following these airways and so at no point were they headed towards the southern ocean, which is where it was supposedly this would take --


QUEST: I have one more problem with this theory, in which one pilot sent to me.

There were several other airports after the initial turn in over the South China Sea, before Langkawi, that they could have gotten to.

BURNETT: All right. Very quickly, favorite theory, Richard.

QUEST: Oh, no, I'm not going down that road.

BURNETT: All right. Jeff will.

WISE: Yes, my favorite theory, I don't know but it has something to do with an intentional act -- they have a plane, they have passengers, they have more than 150 Chinese nationals. Muslims, something involving grievances.

BURNETT: Some part of that will probably be right. Some part of it.

WISE: He doesn't think so.

QUEST: I'm keeping an open mind until we have more facts.

BURNETT: All right. Well, thank you both very much. We appreciate it.

Well, tonight, the families of those onboard Flight 370 are desperately waiting for any information, hoping for a situation where there could have been hostages, where their loved ones are alive. It has been 12 days since the disappearance of that plane. And there are still no answers for the families. Hundreds of Chinese family members are refusing to leave a Beijing hotel, hoping for news from Malaysia Airlines.

One woman could barely control her emotions.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We only have one child. We are respectful Chinese people. It's hard to control your emotions when you might have lost your loved ones. We just need the truth. Don't use them as political pawns.


BURNETT: Political pawns.

David McKenzie is live in Beijing this morning.

And, David, what is the latest -- you know them, you've been talking to the families and seeing this emotion up close. What are they saying?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, those emotions are so raw as you can imagine as these days stretch on. They just don't know what to believe. They don't believe the Malaysian government, they don't believe at times the Chinese government. Sometimes they do feel like they're being pushed around as pawns. And, certainly, they want to know any bit of information they can.

As you heard from that woman, she says I have one child. That child's on that plane. I don't know if they're alive or dead. They're looking for this information because for them it has very real consequences. When we talk about a plane flying up to an extreme height and dipping down potentially to evade radar, they are asking the airline on the scene at that hotel, well, does this mean if it goes up high, is my family member going to asphyxiate? Are they still alive?

They need to know this information because they want to know if they still can have hope. But as the days stretch on and this mystery kind of deepens rather than gets more obvious, it's just terrible for those families. And now that they've expanded this to more than 2.2 square million miles, that was in fact very depressing news for them, because they feel that they're getting further away from a resolution, not closer to it -- Erin.

BURNETT: And more than 150 people on this plane were from China. This is obviously very sensitive for the communist party. They're not used to these kinds of questions.

MCKENZIE: Well, that's right. And this anger that's coming from all these family members who obviously at this point have a very strong moral voice on this issue, at the moment, it's directed towards the Malaysian government and the airlines. But at times I've heard people saying where are the Chinese authorities on this one? Why aren't they comforting us, why don't the giving us more support?

If that anger shifts direction towards China, that's a very big problem for the communist party here, which is always looking to manage the message -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. David McKenzie, thank you very much.

Well, next the other developing story we are watching tonight, a major land grab and possible military action. Live to Crimea.


BURNETT: Vladimir Putin came out swinging today, moving forward fast to take over Crimea, today holding a rally in Red Square after formally reclaiming Crimea for Russia. Putin continue announced to the crowd the Crimea is, quote, "returning to the home harbor." So far, he has not blinked at President Obama's move to impose sanctions, barring some Russian officials and their allies from things like getting visas to the United States.

Earlier today, Putin signed a treaty with Crimean leaders, after voters there chose to leave Ukraine for Russia. The treaty does still require approval by Russian's parliament but that is a rubber stamp and will happen at the end of the week.

Vice President Joe Biden responded.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia has offered a variety of arguments to justify when it's nothing more than a land grab, including what was said today. But the world has seen through -- has seen through Russia's action and has rejected the logic -- the flawed logic behind those actions.


BURNETT: Nick Paton Walsh is in Crimea tonight.

And, Nick, President Obama obviously threatening sanctions against some in the political sphere but none of the really wealthy oligarchs who have a lot of out real estate and assets in the United States. Are the threats from United States hurting Putin and having an impact on him?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, not at all, clearly. In fact, they'll respond with their own kind of sanctions back against the West, perhaps asset that are in Russia at the moment. We saw no sign in that speech he gave today, 50 minutes, of anything other than him trying to reclaim perhaps the former Soviet glory that Russia once knew.

One sticks to me, he said how if you crush a spring too much, it will eventually rebound strongly. So I think the suggestion, Erin, this is part of even a broader scheme to try and re-establish Russia as a great power to the east of Europe. And today inside Crimea, we saw really quite how quickly some people seem to be moving to flush out the last remnants of Ukrainian influence here.

One base there, we have the first fatality of Ukrainian soldier since the move into Crimea, where shots were fired here in Simferopol, the capital. The chief (INAUDIBLE) killed his captain injured, shot in the neck supposedly by armed men in masks thought to be Russian troops who came towards the base. Many concerned that we will see the remaining Ukrainian troops and bases here come under increasing pressure. One base I was at today saw Russian troops move against it, no shots fired but increased pressure for the Ukrainians inside to surrender, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Nick Paton Walsh, thank you very much, reporting live from Simferopol this morning in Crimea.

Tomorrow on OUTFRONT, much more on our continuing coverage of missing Flight 370. The question we've all been asking, how does the 777 vanish from the radar? We're going to go tomorrow inside the state- of-the-art facility where the nation's top radar technicians are trained to track flights. That's tomorrow on OUTFRONT.

Thanks so much for watching.

"ANDERSON COOPER 360" starts right now.