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Search Plane Headed To Possible Debris Site; FBI Confident It Can Recover Some Simulator Files; Search Plane Heading to Possible Debris Site

Aired March 20, 2014 - 19:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Next, breaking news, a search plane just taking off from the coast of Australia in the hopes of finding Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Is there a major weather delay today?

Plus satellite images show possible debris from the flight. Why these pictures have some investigators thinking this time they actually have the plane. We're going to show you sort of frame by frame.

If the debris is from the missing plane, what does it tell us about all those conspiracy theories? Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Erin Burnett. We begin with breaking news. The first search plane of the day right now heading to the possible debris site in midst -- hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. A second search plane scheduled to take off from Perth, Australia in less than an hour. They are headed to a remote area about 1,500 miles southwest off of Australia's coast.

That is where satellite images taken four days ago show two objects located about 14 miles from each other. The objects are roughly 16 feet by 79 feet long and they are believed to be debris from Flight 370. Just to compare, a wing of the missing plane, of the 777 would be about 81 feet long.

Now, Australia's prime minister was confident today when he released these images calling them, quote, "new and credible information in the search." I do want to note though this area, you know, Australia, itself, is remote in many ways when you look at the oceans and this particular spot in the world is incredibly remote. Far from regular shipping channels where crews might have seen the debris earlier. There is really no reason to be down in this area.

We have the story covered tonight. Kyung Lah is in Perth where it's now day break and the search planes are taking off from the base behind her. Chad Myers is at the CNN Weather Center with a look at the mechanics of the search and Jim Sciutto in Washington with new information from the FBI.

I want to begin where the planes are taking off where you are, Kyung. You earlier was standing in torrential downpour rain. The weather did clear up. I know that first plane was just able to take off. When will it actually get to the search zone and be able to look?

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a little unclear about the status of that first plane and it's a little changing. So I hope you'll be patient with me, Erin. What happened was because of all that rain you saw on my last live shot, there was a delay in whether or not that plane could take off. We originally told it would be leaving at 6:00 a.m. or 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time and that had to be pushed back.

So it is daybreak now and our assumption it is on the way to the water, so those remote waters. We can't hear it take off so we just have to wait for the government to tell us whether or not it is actually on its way. But the assumption right now that that first plane has taken off and a second one scheduled to take off at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time and it takes a while to get down to this area.

You talked about how remote it is. It is about 3-1/2 to 4-1/2 hours flight time for these long-range planes to get down there. They are only going to have two hours to look in this area. This, even though it seems like the search has narrowed down to a small area, it's still the size of New Mexico or Arizona. It's a big area.

And, so, two hours is a frustratingly short amount of time and then they have to haul it all the way back here to Perth Air Base. When I spoke to the spokesperson, Erin, what we heard in his voice was they want to find this. They want to be able to confirm this. But they want everyone to know that they don't know what this is -- Erin.

BURNETT: Kyung, you're talking about having a couple hours for the search in a space that, you know, the size of New Mexico or Arizona. That's got to be hard and you're going at a really high speed and you're high up, even if you're trying to slow down and go low, it has to be a needle in a hay stack even with all of this.

LAH: You're right. It is. And you can definitely tell that even though they want to find it, it is. It's going to be very difficult. They have to comb through that area. Interesting thing that the government of Australia has done is that they put out a maritime all call any area ships that are there, they asked them to go on the sea and scour it back and forth. So, there's actually a cargo vessel that was in that area and it is working there, it worked throughout the night and the sailors on the decks scouring that area by sea using binoculars and lights through the night.

BURNETT: All right, well, Kyung Lah, thank you very much. It's just incredible. As Kyung reporting, you know, that there is a container ship there, a merchant ship, again, just to emphasize the remoteness of this area we are talking about. So many parts of this planet. If there was something, they would be these ships everywhere. This is not that.

Chad Myers is in the weather center. So not only do you have so few people looking for it and planes that have to fly so far before they have a chance, Chad, you have the weather. Obviously, in Perth where the planes were taking off, there are delays. It looks clearer now. But the search zone is 1,500 miles away. You're talking about taking off from New York and flying to Denver. The weather, obviously, I mean, what is it going to be like?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Then looking for things under a very rough ocean, five to ten foot waves out there trying to find something on that surface. Yesterday the weather was awful. It was terrible. It was raining, low clouds and couldn't get high enough to really get a good perspective. There is the weather that moved through Perth about an hour ago. Now the planes have been released. Everybody can leave now, but that was a very big thunderstorm complex that did move over Perth just in the past hour.

This is our search area. You can't get better weather than that. That is a big high pressure. The cold front has pushed on by. That's great. So, sunshine today and lots of it. But it's so far away and they only really have about 48 hours of good weather right now. And you only have two hours at a time. It's such a long flight, use all your fuel and then you have it use that fuel to get back home, that's a ten-hour flight and that's all the fuel they have.

Here comes the weather for the next couple days. That's a wind storm. That red, Erin, is 40-mile-per-hour winds and that happens in 48 hours. Get it now, find it now or all of a sudden it's all jumbled up, again, because not only do you have currents, but a wind of 40 is going to push all of this stuff all over the place.

BURNETT: That is pretty incredible. And we should emphasize to our viewers, our understanding at this point, at least the U.S. doesn't have any plans to put an aircraft carrier. Can't you put an aircraft carrier close so planes can take off and hunt? At this point, no one is doing that, which is a whole other set of questions. For those of you asking the questions, I wanted to give you the answer we have.

Now Chad, you are talk about the brief window that they have to look. So far we know that not only is the window to look brief, but the satellite images are four days old. So in that time, how far would the debris have moved thanks to those five to ten-foot seas you're talking about, the weather.

MYERS: Yes, that's the big question mark because the current is only about on one-mile-per-hour so. OK, 14 days, multiply that out. You could be 300 miles with the current, but it's the wind. If anything is sticking up, it's called windage. It will have a sail and it will want to move, not only with that current, but it will also want to move with the wind itself and some of those wind, we've seen over the past 14 days, we've kind of reversed the clock back, assuming that stuff has been there 14 days.

There have been storms, actually three of them now over this area. Right now the winds and all this current now to the south, maybe southwest at 15 or so miles per hour. Big circle here. The good news is the current isn't moving that fast. The bad news three storms over that area and could have scattered it left and right -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right, Chad, thank you very much. And now, the investigation, Jim Sciutto has been breaking the headlines from Washington. Now Jim, we know the FBI is analyzing the hard drive from the pilot's homemade flight simulator. That files obviously were deleted on that simulator on February 3rd. So do they think they're going to be able to retrieve anything and also when it comes to this search, Jim, are they only looking in this spot and giving up everywhere else where we were looking before?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: First, on the FBI, we've heard today that they have confidence that they can piece together what they found on this drive to tell them something. You know, will they get back to the original condition of those deleted files? Maybe not, but they have good confidence. And this is the best team to have it. Their job is to find things on computers that people don't want found on computers. Whether it's child pornography or extremist websites, literature, that sort of thing.

So, you know, that's the right team to have down at Quantico, the FBI headquarters. On the search, officially they have not given up on the northern quarter search and Malaysian officials were saying today that still a number of countries in Southeast Asia, across Southeast Asia, Laos, Vietnam going up to China, Kazakhstan they are sending planes up to the air and looking at their radar and satellite data to look for this.

But when you look at the real allocation of resources where they're heading. China sending nine ships down to the Southern Indian Ocean. Unprecedented overseas deployment for Chinese Naval forces and a good four out of five of the aircraft now involved in this international search, they're all heading south. So, that allocation of resources gives you a real sense of where the real focus of this search is today.

BURNETT: Where the intelligence is leading them. All right, thank you very much to Jim Sciutto.

So OUTFRONT next, here's the question, I mean, they are still looking everywhere, but really allocating all the resources to this spot. Is it really there? The new satellite images have prompted this search. Is this the best lead yet? We've seen these images before, remember a few days ago, last week, everybody thought they found it, no. If this is the missing plane, what does it tell us what happened aboard the flight. The whole question of motive.

The families of the passengers hoping and praying tonight that this is not Flight 370.


BURNETT: Breaking news in the search for Malaysian Flight 370. An Australian search plane, the first of the day, heading to a possible debris site in the Southern Indian Ocean some 1,500 miles off the coast of Australia west in the middle of nowhere. We are awaiting confirmation it has taken off after some horrific weather went through Perth, Australia where it was scheduled to take off. Now this location 1,500 miles off the western coast of Australia is where satellite images taken four days ago show two object, potential debris from Flight 370 located 14 miles apart. The objects are roughly 16 feet and 79 feet long.

Now, I want to emphasize two things here. One, the reason it takes four days we learned this from the Chinese released their satellite images, which turned out to be wrong last week. It takes that long to actually go through all these images and noticed that there is something there. A human has to look at them. That's why the delay.

Now these images happened to be from an American satellite, a commercial company called Digital Globe based in Colorado. Australia's prime minister calls this, the first tangible breakthrough in the mystery of the vanished flight. So, is it?

Joining me now former inspector general for the U.S. Department of Transportation, Mary Schiavo and Steve Wallace, former director of the FAA's Office of Accident Investigation. All right, both aviation analysts for us here and the people we need to talk to on this issue. Because Mary, if you look at the size and the location of what we see in these satellite images, you know, some people might say, gosh, this is way too big.

I mean, I remember when we had the NTSB on last week he said that Chinese satellite imagery was wrong because those pieces were way too big. They wouldn't have floated. When you look at these images and see the size, do you think this is the plane?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: I hope it's the plane. I think enough minds including the NTSB, which we learned is helping, and the Australians have a reason to believe it. I think that it could be. For example, a wing. This is a composite wing on the 777. Boeing takes great pains to seal the inside of the wing. It's not just a composite wing, but they have teams go through and it's not caulk, but it's like caulk and they seal them up. It could float.

I know that the tail floated on TW-800 and American Airlines 587. Both of those tails floated. So, it's possible the large pieces can float and it would be in the right place if it took the southern route and I think everyone agrees it didn't take the northern route. This is where it would be if it ran out of fuel. So I'm encouraged to find the pieces and to find the plane.

BURNETT: Steve, you know, last week, let's talk about those Chinese satellite images. Everyone said, gosh, no way China would put these out if they didn't know it was the plane. It turns out, of course, it was not the plane. When you look at these images. Last night, I had the same reaction as a lot of other people. If the prime minister of Australia is going to come out and says that this is a break through, it probably is the plane. Are you more confident?

STEVEN WALLACE, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Yes, I agree with everything that Mary just said. I would just add one point, which is that since this, as compared to the Chinese satellite image, which this, this airplane was in a point in the flight where it was almost certainly out of fuel. So, what it would take for that wing to float and the Chinese image I would not have expected that wing to float would be perhaps for the engine to sheer off, which is not unusual. And because it is so, it is empty, the fuel tank is empty and Mary just described how it is sealed. So, there is a tremendous amount of buoyancy there. Those are factors which are different from the Chinese satellite.

BURNETT: So, Steve, I'm kind of reading between the lines on what you're saying. Tell me if I'm wrong. The Chinese images have been right when we looked at those that would have been a plane that exploded in mid-air. It's running out of fuel, you're saying it's gradually coming down so the break up is different or no?

WALLACE: Well, it might. It could have gone down on auto pilot. People don't understand jet transport aircraft, especially this one, are very good gliders. They can go long ways at a very shallow altitude. That's a bit speculative, but it could have happened. Whereas, you know, jet fuel weighs 6.8 pounds per gallon and water weighs 8. Jet fuel is just a little bit lighter than water, but this thing was completely empty, it would provide a tremendous amount of buoyancy.

BURNETT: Mary, what do you think? You were nodding as he was talking about the glider, how this plane could have really glided because, as it ran out of fuel this far on its path.

SCHIAVO: Because this plane wants to fly. Boeing engineered it. It was engineered and designed largely on computer. One of the first ones, the first one to do that. They engineered it to want to fly. So, I'm thinking this one would have been a much better glider had an aerodynamic stall. This one literally had a chance of gliding down, so, it is possible that the wing broke off, remained intact to float and certainly that would help them find the point of impact and the black boxes. They just need a few clues to do that.

BURNETT: Steve, you know, I had a flash back today one time when I was in Panama. You know, going out in the water, just like an incredible sea of trash. One of the more disturbing experiences I had in the ocean. Just disgusting and huge pieces of stuff everywhere. Not this big, but huge. There's trash all over the ocean and places I believe where the garbage gets stuck in patches. Are they sure that this isn't something like that?

WALLACE: No. They're open to the possibility that it is something like that, which would be a disappointment. But, I've heard, you can have a freight container or you could that fell off a ship or clinging masses of debris. People who are long distance sailors report these kinds of things. So, those are good questions.

BURNETT: Well, thanks very much to both of you. We appreciate the time. So, interesting people are really starting to say that they think this is the plane and addressing the issue of the floating of the big objects, which I know a lot of you probably had.

Still to come, the human side of the drama playing out in front of us. You're hearing people say they hope it is the plane because they want an answer. For many of the family members, it is a tough choice. Do they want that answer or have the hope continue that this plane is intact somewhere?

Plus, the challenges of searching in the Indian Ocean. We're going to show you the equipment that could be used on Flight 370 to find it, if it is there. If it is there that water in that space is more than two miles deep. We'll be back.


BURNETT: Tonight, breaking news in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The first Australian search plane expected to a debris site in the Southern Indian Ocean was scheduled for takeoff about 25 minutes ago. The weather though had been horrific in Perth and cleared up now. We are waiting for confirmation that that plane is formally en route and then of course, it will take a couple hours to get there and then only there for a couple hours before it heads home before it runs out of fuel.

This lead is the most promising in the investigation so far according to intelligence officials, but families of Flight 370 passengers are being faced with a horribly grim reality. It's been 14 days since that plane disappeared. There are no answers, but many of them are hoping this is not the plane.

David McKenzie is live in Beijing. David, I know you've been talking to the families and I know that they want answers and they want answers and have to be realistic on some level. But, obviously, for a lot of them, they don't want this to be the plane.


BURNETT: It looks like we're having a little bit of a problem there. Are we going to get David? OK. You've got me now, David, I'll let you take it away. I was wondering how families are reacting to news. We lost him, again. This is what happens when you're programming with live shots from around the world.

But, we're going to get David in just -- all right. We want to play you a piece of sound because David had a chance to talk to some of these family members and talk about their reaction about whether this is the plane. Here's what one of them told him.


WEN WANCHENG, FATHER OF MALAYSIA FLIGHT 370 PASSENGER (through translator): I can't sleep each night because all I think about is my son. Up until now, what else can we do? This is about his flight. There is nothing you can do to help. We can only wait for further updates.

MCKENZIE: Do you still believe your son is alive?

WANCHENG (through translator): I firmly believe that my son, together with everyone on board, will all survive.


BURNETT: And we do now have David McKenzie. David, we just heard you talking to that family member. This is a really tough choice for them, whether they want this to be the plane or not.

MCKENZIE: Well, that's right. It is a tough choice because many of them, Erin, want closure in this matter. But, honestly, they don't want that closure because they feel that if this debris in the southern ocean is that plane, it means they've extinguished all hope and that man whose son, these aren't just numbers. He was passenger 167 on the manifest, a 34-year-old businessman.

And I asked him if how can he stay so strong, he had tears in his eyes, but he said, well, other families are there, too, and he has to be an example for them, Erin. To stay strong and wait for the news when it does come.

BURNETT: All right, David McKenzie, thank you very much, reporting live from Beijing this morning.

Well, OUTFRONT next, the search for Flight 370. If the missing plane is deep in the Indian Ocean, as these images show, how will it be retrieved? Will it ever be retrieved? We're going to show you the exact technology that is going to be used to find that plane and exactly how mechanically it would work.

Plus, if this is debris from the missing plane, what in the world was it doing off the coast of Australia 1,500 miles? Our pilots are next.


BURNETT: Breaking news in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight. With the sun up, it is now daybreak and it's believed the first search plane is on its way to the possible debris site in the Indian Ocean. This is an all-day affair.

Once we have that confirmation that flight is in the air, it's a few hours to get there, only a couple hours to search and then a few hours to come back. That's how far it is -- 1, 500 miles away from the coast.

Another plane is scheduled to take off in half an hour. The planes are headed from Perth, 1,500 miles away, 1,460 miles -- that is a long way away and that is truly, when you look at planet earth, the middle of nowhere. It is one of the world's most remote places and if part of the plane is found, recovery crews are going to be up against the elements and a search area that could be more than two miles under water in addition to 1,500 miles away from land.

Rosa Flores is OUTFRONT with more on how the crews will do it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Unmanned probes, like this, have searched the ocean for plane wreckage before. It took years of sweeping the ocean bottom, but it found a downed plane, carrying Italian fashion designer, Vittorio Missoni, his wife and four others off the coast of Venezuela last year. It helped find Air France Flight 447 after it went missing, locating the wreckage and hundreds of bodies onboard.

It has found ships that sunk decades ago, like the Arc Royal and these probes even allow for detail imaging of the Titanic.

DAVID SOUCIE, FLIGHT CRASH ANALYST: The smaller ones will only go down to 5,000 feet. And the next class is a much larger, much more expensive device 15 by 25 feet. It's very large because it has a lot of battery capability and a lot of hydraulics capability.

FLORES: The autonomous underwater vehicles, AUVs as they're called, can go as deep as 20,000 feet sending acoustic pulses to the sea floor to find debris and then maps are drawn to guide search teams. They can even find things up to 300 feet under the sea floor.

The search zone needs to be narrowed down first. This AUV can only search eight square miles a day. It would take four days to search an area as big as Manhattan. The equipment works around obstacles, so it doesn't get damaged and maps them so divers don't get hurt.

CHRIS MOORE: Under water obstructions are always a concern. We tend to fly the AUV at about a 45-meter altitude above the bottom. It keeps us usually out of the way of any obstructions.

FLORES: These types of searches can take months or years. But the payoff is high -- wreckage that gives clues about what happened, data recorders and the thing that matters most, the fate of the people onboard.


FLORES: Now, the technology that you just saw, that is step one in trying to find the debris field. And then you step it up to something called an ROV, a remote operating vehicle.

And what it is, these are robots that have little hands and claws and a lot of times, they are equipped with high-resolution cameras and they're able to find those critical pieces of the wreckage, things like the data recorder, Erin, which, in this case, we are all waiting to see and hear what is going to be in that data recorder that will tell us what happened to that plane and all those people onboard.

BURNETT: So many questions about what will be on that record, whether it's seven hours of silence, or perhaps some sort of manifesto. I mean, these are the questions.

Thanks to you, Rosa.

I want to talk more about the recovery and what will happen with Captain Timothy Taylor, an ocean search expert. And retired Navy Captain Bobbie Scholley, she helped recover the wreckage of TWA Flight 800 which crashed, of course, in the water off of the coast of Long Island. She also worked as a diver for the recovery of the USS Cole.

All right. Timothy, if this is debris from the plane and you just heard Rosa's reporting. But if this is debris for the plane and you have the currents and you have this now is two weeks ago that this plane went down and four days ago since we saw the images -- what is the first thing that happens?

CAPTAIN TIMOTHY TAYLOR (RET), OCEAN SEARCH EXPERT: Well, if this is debris from the plane, you have to track it back. So, they have been deploying current monitor buoys and you'll see the shots of them throwing things out of the back of a plane. Those are current monitors. They basically jump in the water and they send, they drift and give you position reports. If you can plot those over time, which way everything is drifting.

BURNETT: So, you'll figure out what the current is. And even with the storms that we've been reporting --

TAYLOR: That's right. These storms, if they get enough of them in the water over a long period of time, they could have baseline data they could plug in and then find -- it's not a perfect scenario by any means, but find a way back close to where the plane went down.

BURNETT: All right. So, if they're able to do that and sort of map it and plot point by point to where it might be, Bobbie, then they'll find it and it's two miles under water. I mean, we're talking about incredibly deep ocean, right? Incredibly deep. You know, so what type of equipment do you bring in to find the black box because if there's only one thing you're going to find to find out what happened the flight data recorder that they need to find?

CAPTAIN BOBBIE SCHOLLEY (RET.), U.S. NAVY: Right. Well, once they've got a better idea of where the starting point is to find the debris field that the aircraft is at the bottom of the ocean. Then, you bring in your ship that's loaded with your underwater search and recovery equipment. That would be your AUV, your autonomous underwater vehicle, or bring inside and scan sonar. Both systems are available in depths up to 20,000 feet of operating depth.

And you use those to search for the debris field and then map out the debris field so you know exactly where all the aircraft is located on the ocean bottom. And once you've made a comprehensive map of the debris field for the aircraft, then you put your remote operated vehicle, your robot into the water. They have manipulator arms and you go down and you start searching for the black box. And that, of course, is the first priority.

BURNETT: Right, of course. So, Tim, now, what about the black box? They're designed to withstand 3.8 miles of depth, which is an incredible amount of pressure, when you think about every millimeter of pressure when you're getting down that low.

TAYLOR: Not as deep of the ocean. BURNETT: Right, right, not as deep as the ocean. You know, when I think the Air France, I remember one of the issues was they knew where the plane was really quickly because they found the floating life jackets and things like that, finding the plane was incredibly difficult because of how deep it was and it was a mountain range under that. So, it was kind of a miracle the flight data recorder was at the top of a peak.

TAYLOR: They had clues two days afterwards. So, now, we're 15 days. This is a clock ticking. And as Bobbie said, the AUVs can go out and scan with sonar, but, first, I think more importantly, what they will do if they find debris in the next day or so, they will be looking for the signature of the beacon on the plane. It will have a beacon that lasts, they say 30 days, maybe 35 if the batteries are good.

So, acoustically listening devices. They'll go out and listen for it first, and then find it and then, Bobbie and the AUVs and the scanner.

But the best chance to finding it right now is that they can find it before the beacon stops.

BURNETT: So, Tim, do people ever go, the people involved, do people die and go kind in any submersibles?

TAYLOR: Submersibles, yes, they can reach this depth. But manned -- unmanned ROVs are much more efficient at this. Less risk and they can spend days at a time just rotate shifts and do the work.

BURNETT: All right. Tim, Bobbie, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

And still to come, if this debris turns out to be the missing plane, what does that tell us about what happened on Flight 370? Here's the thing -- even if it, the chances of finding that flight data recorder, who knows, right? Are we ever going to be able to figure out what happened? Pilots are next.

Plus, other so-called sightings of this plane.


BURNETT: Now, let's check in with Anderson Cooper with a look at what's coming up on "AC360".

Hey, Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Erin. Yes, much more obviously on the breaking news tonight in "360".

Resources are pouring south in the search for Malaysia Flight 370, including search planes taking off right now in the early morning hours in Australia. This is what they're looking for, images of what could be the plane our panel of experts on how you conduct this search from the air and under the ocean. They'll join me ahead. Also, we'll go back to Martin Savidge in the 777 simulator. He's going through the scenarios of how 370 could have made it from Kuala Lumpur to the isolated waters off of Australia's west coast, if, in fact, it did. If so, what were the plane's final moments when it ran out of fuel been like? How the plane could have gone down and how it went down could tell investigators just what happened in the air.

Those stories, we're also going to talk to David Soucie, CNN safety analyst, about this very important piece of solving the mystery of Flight 370. It's an emergency locater transmitter or ELT. He'll explain exactly what it does and how it could be helpful in an investigation like this. That's all at the top of the hour, Erin.

BURNETT: All right, Anderson. Looking forward to that. Especially that ELT demonstration.

And we continue with the breaking news coverage on the search for Flight 370. The first search plane of the day as Anderson just reference is now heading to the possible debris site in the southern Indian Ocean. Now, as I said, takes a few hours to get out there and then look for a couple hours and they're going to fly all the way before it runs out of fuel itself.

These satellite images show what officials say could be debris from the missing jet. As you could see, two pieces, one about 16 feet and one about 79 feet, I'm sorry, long. And all of these about 1,500 miles off the western coast of Australia in absolutely the middle of nowhere.

Authorities say this is the best lead so far, but it has been almost two weeks, tomorrow it will be two weeks to the day in this hour that that plane disappeared with 239 people onboard. We still have no idea what happened.

OUTFRONT tonight, Martin Savidge live in the 777 simulator and also with me, Miles O'Brien, CNN aviation analyst and science correspondent for "PBS NewsHour", Jeff Wise, a private pilot and aviation journalist, and Captain Les Abend, another familiar face who flies the Boeing 777 and he's also a CNN aviation analyst.

All right. Miles, I want to start with you. If this turns out to be debris from Flight 370, and I've got to preface everything with that, right? Because we don't know.

But the question would be: how did it get there? And I'm curious what you thought about deadly fumes that could have incapacitated the passengers and the crew so there was no nefarious intent, but it would have created some sort of zombie plane on auto pilot?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: It's hard to come up with that scenario to make that one work I think, Erin.

You know, first of all, we know whatever problem may have occurred with the pressurization system or what might have caused these fumes wasn't happening as they took off? They had a fairly uneventful first part of their flight. They got to 35,000 feet. They were there for some minutes, obviously, everything was working up to the point when they said that good night, or so it would seem.

If there was a problem with depressurization, presumably they would have been able to get some sort of radio call off because they would have hearing all kinds of alarms indicating there was a problem.

Now, was there some sort of fire or some sort of fumes which took hold? Both the flight crew have ready access to oxygen masks which, in a situation like that, they would put on and be able to continue flying the airplane.

So, I'm not a big believer in the zombie aircraft scenario.

BURNETT: OK. All right. Les, I'm going to go to you, because you think that's a little bit more realistic, right?

LES ABEND, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: I really do. I may sound like a broken record, but yes, I do.

BURNETT: And how do you explain, though, what Miles is fairly pointing out, which is, wouldn't have a lot of warnings gone off, warnings gone to the ground, and you would have had the chance to communicate before the plane turned?

ABEND: After that communication, that we all seem, we're making an assessment that it sounded normal. OK, I think at that point we're in agreement of that.

BURNETT: We're all making that assumption yes.

ABEND: OK. After that, even prior, I've asserted that they may have got a little indication, like a status message that said something might not be right so they just shrugged their shoulders, not a big deal. Something they've seen before and then things started to compound.

With a smoldering fire, once again, things would start to get worse and worse and worse, and they would have put on their oxygen masks and then this process would have started and then we get into the zombie scenario.

BURNETT: The zombie plane. All right. So, let me go to you, Martin, because let's just assume somehow it happened. And, you know, as the disagreement here on the likelihood and if it happened and the plane flew on auto pilot for whatever reason until it crashed, what would have happened there from where you're sitting?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, a couple of things. One of the things we wanted to test and we did earlier was to find out, based upon the fuel level we thought the plane would have had seven hours to go to Beijing, they built in extra fuel. Could it have made it to the area where this debris was found? What we found out, yes, they could have made it with even fuel to spare.

So, that's one theory we put to the test. We realize the plane could make it. The next step, though, is the most important thing is the plane would have had to be on auto pilot. Remember, there were reports it went to 45,000 feet and then descended dramatically and at some point leveled off. So, the plane wasn't always on auto pilot, if that is true. But somehow towards the end of that struggle or whatever was happening in the air that caused that variation, it had to have been on auto pilot to fly so far so long to get here.

BURNETT: And then, Jeff, had to be on auto pilot and no communication. I mean, you do have the possibility here that there was nobody alive for the vast majority of this flight?

JEFF WISE, PRIVATE PILOT: Not really. Listen, there's a lot of holes in that story. It's a very popular theory. Les is a very smart guy.

But maybe thinks there is a bit of nomenclature problem we could clarify here. The fact that a plane is on auto pilot doesn't mean that the captain isn't on duty and flying it, because you could be having a cup of coffee or chatting and playing Tetris. And, so, to say that the plane must have been on auto pilot doesn't rule out the fact that you've got two people or one person in the cockpit making decisions, actively engaged in flying this plane.

Another problem to reinforce what Miles is saying, if the zombie plane theory is accurate, they turn this heading to head to Langkawi, and one iteration of this idea. And you just keep going because you're incapacitated. You don't wind up southwest of Australia, you wind up in Africa.

ABEND: I disagree.

WISE: You disagree, OK.

ABEND: I imagine that.

By virtue of him putting in the waypoint, that was potential diversionary airport, he would have hit that diversionary airport at the altitude that they leveled off at and then it would have gone into heading mode and then at some point if we had a degradation of the auto pilot system. The auto pilot system may have turned the -- we don't, we're in test pilot range, it might have degraded the flight control systems, where it did start that turn, and that's where, you know, we don't know.

BURNETT: Miles, do you see any situation here where there's not a human driver? I don't use the word in terms of controlling the plane. I use the word in terms of making decisions that made the plane go off course and go on this path.

O'BRIEN: Well, the decision to go in that direction, one way or another, a human is involved, whether that was waypoints, when they were entered and how they were entered, and whether it was a mistake, or whether it was the pilot was responding to some sort of emergency situation. It certainly looks like that plane was trying to get to the nearest air field. So, that does buttress what Les has been saying.

But the fact is that to create this whole scenario where the plane is a zombie and they can't get a radio call off to say we're in trouble here because we've got a fire burning, I just find that a little bit hard to believe. They had good radio contact.

You look at previous crashes where there have been fires or smoldering fires, and the crew is talking back and forth to air traffic control for quite a bit.

So, I want to go back to what I've been hitting on here. I want to hear those air traffic control tapes from beginning through good night and beyond and see what kind of conversations, who was talking, was there background noise? I'd like to see the maintenance records of this aircraft. Was there a problem with the pressurization system or the oxygen system?

And also, I'd love to know, who was flying with these two guys, this captain and his first officer on previous flights? Were they acting unusual? Were they practicing what appeared to be short field landings? There's a lot of gaps in the knowledge we just don't have right now.

BURNETT: Plus, where would they -- my question is here it doesn't add up. I mean, if you're going to buy into some sort of suicide theory or something, I mean, I suppose it's almost impossible to understand what someone would do in the situation, Les. But the last thing anybody would think of you go to the middle of the ocean and fly for seven hours before you do it.

ABEND: That scenario doesn't make sense.

BURNETT: I mean, you think of Egypt Air where the guy nose dives into the ocean. That's what you would think of, as horrific as it is. You would not think of this.

ABEND: No, but one of the things that was just brought up with reference to the communication issue, we go over the aviate, navigate, communicate. Well, there's documentation from what I understand that there was another aircraft that was heading to Narita, near Tokyo, that tried to communicate with it, indicating to that air traffic controller had some issue saying, where is that airplane? So, he communicated through a relay system to that other airplane and they couldn't raise them which is not untypical.

But it still might have said, hey, these guys were busy with an emergency. They couldn't respond or they were in a situation where they were away from VHF radios where they couldn't.

BURNETT: From where you are, Martin, in that cockpit, do you -- what you've been learning over this week that you've been sitting in there or longer with Mitchell 00-- I mean, is there a situation where you wouldn't have had any warning from that plane, any significant warning, that could have resulted in some sort of a death or incapacitation that does not result in the airplane losing its integrity structurally? SAVIDGE: Well, you know, you can talk about Payne Stewart situation where maybe there had somehow been a way that unbeknownst to the crew, that the oxygen just, you know, lack, the depressurization, they're all sort of knocked out.

The problem with all these scenarios, there is no one that we found that we test and try to run through here that works to cover everything. And the reason for that is, of course, there is so much we do not know.

And the other stuff that we sort of know, a lot of that came through leaks, which the truth is we don't even know if that is accurate.

For instance, that turn that everyone talks about that this plane deviated from its course. Of course the plane deviated in some way. But exactly did it turn that way? You know, that's stuff that is coming again from these unverifiable sources.


SAVIDGE: So, how much of this is really true that we're pinning it on? I can't say and the computers don't bear it out.

BURNETT: All right. Well, thanks very much to all of you. I guess that's why there's just so many questions about this. And as Miles said, there's a lot of information out there that is known that is not yet known to you the viewer, to us the media. And there may be reasons for that from investigative purposes.

But there are some things that are known that don't answer the full question but could very important.

Still to come, Australian authorities believe they have spotted those debris that could be the missing plane. But some of you out there may be very skeptical. You may say, look, I've heard of fishermen who saw it flying over, all kinds of instances of sightings. You'd be right about that. We have them all.


BURNETT: Actual sightings or mistakes? Who has really seen Flight 370? A lot of people say they have.

Here's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the search focuses on pieces --

COOPER: They saw two objects in the water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two large pieces of something.

MOOS: Imagine seeing Malaysia Flight 370 flying overhead intact. Our first apparent eyewitnesses reported what they saw to police before they even knew a plane was missing.

These two fishermen told CNN they sought plane the night it disappeared.

SAIMA MOHSIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They said, no, I have never seen a plane flying so low. We both remarked, "Wow, is this pilot crazy?" I quote.

MOOS: Around the same time, ABC News reported a worker aboard this oil rig saw something.

REPORTER: E-mailing that he saw what looked like the plane burning at high altitude in the night sky.

MOOS: ABC says Vietnam send a plane to search the area but it found nothing.

Meanwhile, volunteers searching satellite photos of the ocean found this. Using the crowdsourcing web site, Tomnod -- it means big eye in Mongolian -- someone stumbled on what sort of looked like the plane's fuselage underwater. Even singer Courtney Love tweeted out the photo with airs to oil and plane.

But the satellite photo supplier, Digital Globe, enhanced the picture saying it is looking much more like the boats operating in the region rather than a submerged plane.

But what if Flight 370 had flown 2,000 miles west above a remote island in the Maldives?

(on camera): A daily newspaper in the Maldives reported residents saw a white plane with red stripes flying very low, making a tremendous noise.

(voice-over): But Malaysian officials knocked down the sighting.


MOOS: The Maldives defense ministry says it saw nothing on its radar. A student in Taiwan reportedly saw this while going through Tomnod satellite images. A plane in the jungle? A satellite company told CNN, we believe this to be an airplane in flight and not MH370.

And then there are the scammers out there trying to get folks to click on their links by putting out fake screen shots captioned, "Flight 370 found in sea, 50 people alive."

With so much sea to search, seeing is not believing.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BURNETT: Thanks for joining us.

Anderson starts now.