Return to Transcripts main page


New Clues Surface in Airliner Mystery; Data Deleted from Pilot's Flight Simulation; FBI Reviewing Pilot's Simulator Hard Drive; Heartbreak for Families; P3 Orion Crew Set to Search Off Java Island; Plane Uses Radar and Camera to Search Sea; Malaysian Opposition Leader Speaks

Aired March 19, 2014 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting from Washington. We've got significant developments this hour on the disappearance of Flight 370. Here is what we know right now. The FBI is examining the hard drives of the computers belonging to both the pilot and the co-pilot. A law enforcement source tells CNN, FBI investigators also are looking at the hard drive of the captain's homemade flight simulator. Malaysian officials announced earlier today that some data on that simulator had been deleted. It's not clear who erased the information or when but a forensic team is now working to try to recover it.

And also right now, to that sharp turn to the west that the jet took about an hour after takeoff, senior U.S. official tells CNN, the altered route was actually entered into the plane's guidance system, at least 12 minutes before the co-pilots signed off with air traffic controllers with the words, quote, "all right, good night."

Meantime, a U.S. government source says all available evidence indicates it's far more likely the plane is in the southern search corridor than up north. And Australians leading the search there are narrowing their focus to the waters off of Perth. They hone the search based on NTSB analysis of the jet's fuel reserves.

Waiting for word of the plane's fate is taking a very, very emotional toll on the families of the 239 passengers and crew members. And many are getting increasingly frustrated with what they see as a lack of transparency by the Malaysian government and Malaysia Airlines. Some protested today at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur. It was an extremely chaotic scene, as security officers physically removed one distraught mother from the room. Watch this.






BLITZER: Awful, awful, horrible scene. Malaysian authorities later released a statement, calling today's scene at that hotel regrettable and they promise they would investigate. We're going to have more on what actually happened coming up later this hour. We're covering all of these developments as only CNN can. Our correspondents and analysts, they are all standing by.

But let's go to our Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto. He's here in Washington. We found out, Jim, today the FBI is actually examining the hard drives of the pilots' computers as well as the captain's flight simulator. Tell us what we know about all of this.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, what it shows is that until they know what happened to this flight and why, they're going to check and recheck everyone involved with that plane, particularly the pilots.

And you'll remember yesterday, Malaysian authorities said they looked at the hard drives. They looked at the simulator. They didn't see anything suspicious but now they're taking it to the next step. You have copies of those hard drives, mirror copies of those hard drives now at Quantico, Virginia, where the FBI, FBI analysts experts, can piece together data there, look for anything suspicious as well as piece together what you mentioned, Wolf, the parts of that flight simulator that had been -- or the data from that flight simulator that had been deleted. And that's what they're doing right now.

Again, they haven't found the clue that is suspicious. But they're going to be -- they're going to keep looking until they have scoured it to the point where they can feel comfortable.

BLITZER: I understand it's not really all that hard to retrieve deleted data from these hard drives. Unless it was done in a very, very sophisticated way.

SCIUTTO: Well, that's the question, it depends on how much it was deleted. You know, I think, you know, we all have this impression when we delete e-mails or files that they disappear. They don't disappear. Experts, particularly the kinds of experts that the FBI has that do this on a regular basis, they can piece it together like pieces of a puzzle.

You know, that it might not all be in one piece, but they could bring them together and get an idea. And I think that that's exactly what they're doing right now. I think it's unlikely that there would be no trace of those deleted files. The question is, and the challenge will be, to what degree it was deleted and, therefore, how much they could bring it together to glean something important and addictive from it.

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto reporting for us. Thank you.

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

Tom, it's significant that now the Malaysians are at least letting the FBI go into those hard drives and investigate. TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Right, Wolf. And they'll be able to tell deleted files that were not written over. And that's the problem with this. I mean, you can commercially buy programs for your own computer to go back to files you've deleted. What technically happens is, you delete a file, actually only the first letter from the name of the file is deleted. So it doesn't come back up. And when you go on your computer and say how much data -- how much room do I have? It doesn't count that. It says that's available space.

Now, the next question is, when you write -- when you save a new file, did it save over the top of, in other words, erasing the previous file, or just pick new or different space. And that's what they have to look at. They bring up every deleted file that they can and determine whether or not it's been written over in the interim.

BLITZER: How suspicious should we be about the deletions from this hard drive of this computerized flight simulator? Why would someone who is doing this kind of stuff go ahead and delete certain files?

FUENTES: Well, it could be that his hard drive was getting full. I mean, I think just the act of deleting a file off your computer is not an indictment of anything. We have to dig into it deeper and we should have been doing this about a week ago.

BLITZER: Yes, that's -- better late than never.


BLITZER: They'll still be able to find out what -- I assume they'll be able to find out what was deleted, right, Mark? I mean, this should not be that difficult.

MARK WEISS, AVIATION ANALYST, FORMER AMERICAN AIRLINES PILOT: No, I would think that they'd be able to get that. Remember, if you're going to be using a simulator, you want all the graphics possible. Now, that seems to be a pretty sophisticated simulator which would have taken up a lot of memory.

BLITZER: Now, what would raise suspicions, if they see some of these flight routes that the -- this pilot was practicing on, for example, they would -- that would raise some alarm bells?

FUENTES: Well, the problem with it is, in a way, it'll raise alarm bells and, in a way it, it could be insignificant. In other words, here's a person who loves flying and might have put in destinations because Malaysian air flies all over Asia. They fly to the major cities of Australia, for example, the major cities of China. So, maybe he finds out that he's going to have different routes later and wants to practice on them. So, finding out that he was going to Brisbane, Australia and then erasing it, you know, may not be suspicious.

BLITZER: But what if -- what if he had practice runs to Somalia?

FUENTES: Well, exactly. BLITZER: Or to Pakistan or Afghanistan? That could raise some alarm bells.

FUENTES: It could raise alarm bells, but he could be doing it just for the fun of it. And that's what you don't know. He could put in there that he wants to go to the north pole, you know, or one of these hot beds of terrorism, a place like that. And, again, what you don't know is, whether he's just for recreation purposes going, well, I -- what's it like if I go here or if I go there? And putting it in there and then realizing, well, that was fun, erase it for the next time. You just don't know the motive.

BLITZER: And now, it looks like it's pretty hard -- it's confirmed that 12 minutes or so before the co-pilot said "all right, good night," seemingly suggesting everything is fine, the computer on the cockpit was actually programmed to make that sharp left turn. Even though it didn't necessarily make it then, it was programmed then. What does that say to you?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, I think if it holds up, it's pretty damning evidence that whatever was going on in the cockpit, the pilot and the co-pilot had to have known about it. One of them had to have entered the data. But I'll defer to Mark. I mean, --

BLITZER: What does that say to you, Mark?

WEISS: Well, first of all, I'm not sure who would have gotten that information, that it happened 12 minutes before.

BLITZER: The programming of it.

WEISS: It was programmed there. I'm not sure how that data would have gotten to somebody on the ground. So, I'm still suspect on something like that. But let's assume that that's real, OK? There certainly -- that certainly puts more light on the potential for one or both of the pilots to have done something. But it also now heightens the suspicion that somebody could have entered the cockpit, either invited in or illegally gotten in there one way or another, and put that in after the flight plan was originally put in on the ground and agreed to.

You know, the way the flight plans are put in, the pilots would get a hard copy of the flight plan. Then it would be uploaded by the company's operations into the flight management system. And you'd read back the data points from the flight management system to the paper. And then you check that off. If the pilots had then left the cockpit because this would have been done on the ground in Kuala Lumpur, then somebody could have gotten in there at that time and put something in.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Don't go away. We're going to keep you here for the hour. Much more coming up.

A sophisticated U.S. surveillance plane stuck on the tarmac in Malaysia right now. We're going to find out why one U.S. Navy search and rescue mission hasn't gotten off the ground. This is shocking new information we're getting.

Also, pure heartbreak for the families of those on board this missing plane. Two hundred thirty-nine people have vanished, now their loved ones reaching a boiling point.


BLITZER: Malaysian officials say the search involves at least 57 ships and 48 aircraft from 13 countries. There have been, though, some frustrating delays. Here's our own Atika Schubert. She's at the Subang Air Base in Malaysia with a look at how one U.S. search and rescue mission was simply grounded.


ATIKA SCHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Now, as you can see , the plane is all set to go, but it's been delayed for hours. And it's a big frustration for the crew, because they just haven't had clearance to fly over Indonesia to begin their search. They have begun five missions so far. And the P3 is ideally suited for a search and rescue mission. Now, we're going to take you inside and show you why.

(voice-over): While they wait for clearance, the crew goes over the plan to search 27,000 square nautical miles just south of Java Island. The P3 Orion was originally designed for hunting submarines, but now it uses its radar to look for flight 370 in the Indian Ocean. Mission commander, Jorge Guillot, introduces us to some of the 11-man crew.

JORGE GUILLOT, MISSION COMMANDER: This is the electronic wiper (ph) operator. Right now, we have Petty Officer Enriquez (ph), he is in charge of running the radar system.

SCHUBERT (on camera): You've already done five missions so far. Can you run us through what you do with each mission?

ENRIQUEZ, PETTY OFFICER: I run the radar, the MAD system and the camera. So, the radar is a primary sensor for search. Anything large in the water will show up on my radar. I'll take the camera, zoom in on it and make sure that it's nothing of interest. But if it's something that might be of interest, then we'll drop down low, and we'll use observers, the flight station, and our eyes just to make sure that it's nothing that could be, you know, a survivor, --


ENRIQUEZ: -- wreckage or anything like that.

GUILLOT: Back here, we have our port and star board observer windows, always two of them, always manned. We constantly rotate them so they don't get tired so we always have a fresh set of eyes out there in order to help out with the search as well.

SCHUBERT: I just want to get your sense of what it's like to be on a mission like this. It's obviously pretty unusual. GUILLOT: It's really quite an honor to be able to be out here participating in the search and rescue effort. And basically as Methaga (ph) was explaining, we probably have the most important job on the plane is keeping constant eyes out on the ocean. (INAUDIBLE), you know, any clue that we find or see that can help out in the search efforts obviously could, you know, make the difference in finding this plane or not.

SHUBERT: Well, the crew was kind enough to take us inside and show us around the plane, but it's still on the ground. They have been delayed now for four hours. And it just goes to show the frustrations of this search, why it's taking so long to find Flight 370.

Atika Shubert, CNN, at the Subban (ph) Air Base in Malaysia.


BLITZER: And we've learned that the -- this U.S. plane never actually took off. Indeed, the flight was completely cancelled because it never received the OK from Indonesian officials to enter their air space.

So let's bring back our panel.

You know, Tom, this is pretty shocking that everyone is supposed to be cooperating, including Indonesia, but they won't let a U.S. P-3 fly through their air space to look for what might be some wreckage?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: You're right. I have no explanation for why they would do that.

BLITZER: Do you have any explanation why they would do that?


BLITZER: What are they afraid of?

GOELZ: I think it's further evidence that when you have the Indonesian government being nervous about the Malaysian military running this investigation, I think it reflects the same thing, the Thais did not reveal their radar data, said, well, nobody asked. If this were a more civilian-run investigation, I don't think you'd have these kinds of problems.

BLITZER: So there are tensions, clearly -

GOELZ: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Are between some of these governments out there. They don't trust each other. And as a result, a sophisticated U.S. surveillance plane is not allowed to fly through Indonesian air space.

MARK WEISS, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Yes. And, you know, you'd think just for reciprocity, because of Indonesian Airlines or international carriers, that if this happened to one of their aircraft, they would want the full support of all the nations involved. And certainly as an ICAO member, you would expect them to want this, the International Civil Aviation Organization.

BLITZER: Yes, they wait all day for hours and hours, this flight crew, to finally go out there and do something and they don't get permission. So the whole mission, at least on this day, has been cancelled. Why are they focusing in now on the southern arc, if you will, off the coast of Indonesia, not far from Australia and that whole area, as opposed to the northern arc? Based on what?

GOELZ: Well, I think the U.S., FAA, NTSB radar experts have agreed that given the handshake returns, that that's the most prominent search area. And had we been involved earlier, that's where we would have been since day one.

BLITZER: Well, day one they were looking in the South China Sea, which was, you know, was a total waste of time -

GOELZ: They were looking in the opposite direction. Yes.

BLITZER: Based on everything we've now learned. Approaching two weeks, it's hard to believe -

GOELZ: Right.

BLITZER: This mystery has now been going on for two weeks. And our heart -- we always have to remember, 239 people were on board that plane.


BLITZER: If you take a look at the passengers and the crew members. And our hearts go out, clearly, to all of them.

So let's say they're looking out there. Finding debris with these aircraft, that's a difficult, difficult challenge.

WEISS: It's a needle in the haystack. If you've ever flown out of open water and tried to spot something, it's enormously difficult.

BLITZER: And there's a lot of junk out there, too 00


BLITZER: Tom, as you know. There's just - you know there -- a lot of random stuff floating around and you could get confused.

FUENTES: Right. And when you travel around the world, you know, many of these cargo ships and cruise ships just throw garbage over the side.


FUENTES: They flush their tanks. They do all kinds of things that are terrible for the environment, but they don't care. And if they think they're in international waters, that debris can drift in and, you know, land on the coast of any of the countries involved. So that's another frequent thing, just standing on the coastline you see the junk come pouring ashore that some ship dumped, you know, out at sea.

BLITZER: You want to (INAUDIBLE) quick.

GOELZ: And we've missed the opportunity to try and find a fuel slick. It's broken up by now. It's gone.

BLITZER: Yes, nearly two weeks into this.

All right, guys, don't go away.

Questions have been raised about the political leanings of the missing pilot for the Malaysia Airlines flight. Up next, our own Christiane Amanpour, she sat down with a key Malaysian opposition leader to hear what he says about the speculation. A live report from London and Christiane, that's coming up.


BLITZER: Malaysia's opposition leader is now speaking out about the political inclinations of the pilot at the controls of the missing Malaysia airlines jet. Our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, just sat down with Anwar Ibrahim. Christiane is joining us from London.

And, Christiane, so what did he tell you?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is the most extraordinary case of this incredible mystery intersecting with Malaysia's democratic opposition leader. He was very upset in that he said, how can these people be connecting us to -- without a single shred of evidence. He denied pointblank that the pilot was in any way motivated by being upset at his current legal case that was reinstated in court. Listen to what he told me about knowing the pilot.


ANWAR IBRAHIM, MALAYSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER: He is related to my daughter-in-law, who is now working in New York. And I've met him on a number of occasions during party meetings, clamoring for reform, supporting us in the elections for democracy in Malaysia.

AMANPOUR: I want to read how one of your spokesmen described Mr. Shah, the pilot. He is Anwar's son's wife's mother's father's brother's son. Does that sound right?

IBRAHIM: That's a bit too complex, but my daughter-in-law told me that he is a family member, not too close, but he -- she calls him "uncle," which is quite common here. But I know him basically as a party activist.

AMANPOUR: Do you think that he was a fanatic?

IBRAHIM: Certainly is not. I mean, he supports our multiracial (ph) coalition. He supports a democratic reform. He's against any form of extremism. And we take a very strong position in clamoring for change through constitutional and democratic means, although the electoral process is fraudulent.


AMANPOUR: So he also said that the pilot, Zaharie Shah, was not in the court when his case was being adjudicated. This case that he's talking about, he's been sentenced back again to jail. He's a target of the government because he's the main opposition threat to the government. So he's saying the pilot was not in court at that time.

He also said something really interesting. That the Malaysian government should have been able to track this flight with no trouble whatsoever. He said when he was finance minister, Anwar Ibrahim, that gentleman I just interviewed was finance minister, they procured very advanced Marconi radar systems that he told me should have been able to detect and to track that flight at any time, anywhere, in that greater area.

BLITZER: Fascinating material, Christiane. And I assume Anwar Ibrahim is not very praiseworthy of the way the current Malaysian government, he's the opposition leader, is conducting this investigation, right?

AMANPOUR: Well, you can imagine that he's not at all. In fact he says that, you know, part of blaming him is a smear to deflect from the criticism that the government is getting. But he also said something very interesting. This government, and for years and decades in Malaysia, has never had a free press, he said, so they are not used to this constant questioning by the independent press who's there right now in droves to try to get some answers. That everything that happens in that part of the world is shrouded in all sorts of secrecy, and they tend to wrap things up in the cloak of national security. And he said that's one reason why perhaps they're simply not used to answering these questions. That in addition to the fact that it obviously has been pretty badly mishandled now 12 days into this mystery.

BLITZER: Certainly is. All right, Christiane, thank you very much. Christiane Amanpour reporting from London.

The mystery surrounding Flight 370 is becoming more painful by the day for the families of the passengers and crew members. Two hundred and thirty-nine people were on board that plane. That anguish boiling over today. The emotional scene is coming up next.