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New Efforts to Find MH370; SONAR, Towed Pinger Locator Could Help in MH370 Search; Answering Viewer Questions on MH370; Obama Talks Ukraine, Russia.

Aired March 25, 2014 - 13:30   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: They say they're angry, they're frustrated over Malaysia's handling of the entire investigation.

So what should we make of the new efforts to find flight 370?

Joining us now, two guests. Ken Christensen, former retired U.S. Air Force pilot, former NASA liaison to the Department of Homeland Security. Also Stephen Wood, CEO and co-founder of All Source Analysis. He spent many years in the CIA as an image analyst.

Stephen, I'll start with you.

You've told us you're not at all surprised the search has taken this long to find even any debris. Why is that? Why aren't you surprised?

STEPHEN WOOD, CEO & CO-FOUNDER, ALL SOURCE ANALYST & FORMER CIA IMAGE ANALYST: Well, Wolf, I think the real challenge is, as many of your guests have been saying, the sheer size of the area where the search has to go on. It's enormous. To put in perspective, if you look at just the imagery that's being collected by a commercial satellites, it would extend from Washington, D.C., out to the west, out to Cincinnati, or up to the north, up to Hartford, Connecticut. And to try and find an object that is small, in some cases maybe only a couple feet long, that's a tremendous amount of area to be covered, and to try and find an object.

BLITZER: Ken, you're very familiar with the aviation-point part of this story. The reports that the plane was cruising at 35,000 and then went up to 45,000, down to 23,000, eventually down to 12,000, and then may have gone back up to 35,000, if it were going to reach all the way to that southern part of the Indian Ocean. Do you buy all of that, or do you think that that's the wrong direction for us to be working?

KEN CHRISTENSEN, FORMER U.S. AIR FORCE PILOT & FORMER NASA LIAISON, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Wolf, I think it's an excellent point, and it doesn't make sense to me, if you're up high and have a problem, rapid depressurization or an in-flight fire, you want to descend down and land at the nearest airport. So there would be no reason for you to re-ascend or climb back up to the higher altitudes again. And if the Inmarsat was getting seven and a half hours of data, that means the plane was still in the air. There was no way that plane could fly that long at a low altitude like 12,000 feet. When a large airplane goes down in altitude, the air is denser and it takes more power to go through that, so you're going to be burning a lot more fuel going through those lower altitudes, and so the plane would not get as far as where the search at this current time. That's why that doesn't make sense to me.

BLITZER: Stephen, you're very familiar with satellite imagery. You spent a career dealing with these kinds of images. The prime minister of Malaysia, based on Inmarsat, based on the information, the new analysis, he makes a definitive statement the plane was in the waters of the Indian Ocean. Malaysia Airlines releases a statement that all of the people on board are dead. Is that information enough for a prime minister to make a definitive statement like that?

WOOD: It must have been terribly challenging, Wolf. And the way I look at it, you still need to see that conclusive evidence. I think that's what everybody is still looking for. The search will continue on and needs to. People want to see the physical evidence. And thus far -- I believe the Australian defense minister last night was speaking on CNN, and in his press conference, I think he said it well, this is the best possible evidence we have to date, between the Inmarsat data, between the various satellite imagery data, some of the aircraft sightings themselves. But now we need to actually find the debris. And I think that is what ultimately the world is still looking for. And the search will continue until that happens.

BLITZER: How good is that Inmarsat data, the recalculation? The prime minister of Malaysia said they had never done this before, this new analysis of the pings or the handshakes or whatever they call it. Is it that reliable, or are some experts questioning its reliability?

WOOD: Well, again, Wolf, I'm not a communications expert, so I can't speak as authoritatively as somebody from Inmarsat. But the evidence to date, again, I believe we have now been able to narrow down the area and start being able to have more of a bull's-eye approach on what this area needs to be focused on. And using all of the sources of data, whether it's airplanes or satellite imagery, or in this case, Inmarsat date, that's what needs to happens, is to really triangulate and concentrate the search area, even more intensely.

BLITZER: And a final question to you, ken. This whole notion that maybe, maybe the plane was -- after it made that left turn, left Malaysian air space, was about to enter Vietnamese air space but made that U-turn or left turn or whatever you want to call it, avoiding Thai radar, avoiding Indonesian radar, because both of those countries say they have no evidence that that plane was flying through their air space. What do you make of that?

CHRISTENSEN: Well, if they're over water, Wolf, and they are at a low altitude, they could technically evade that radar. They would have to be very low to do that.


BLITZER: At 12,000 feet -- but 12,000 feet is not that low. The radar from the ground can still detect them.

CHRISTENSEN: No. Exactly. Exactly. So if they were further out from the water -- because it's not quite clear to me where they actually were when they were at that altitude. So some radars have gaps in them, some don't, depending on where they're transient through. So they could have -- you could get -- there's sometimes when you're at 5,000, 6,000 feet and you're not picked up on radar, just because you're so far out. So you start dropping off as the earth will curve, and you have to be at a -- at a higher altitude to be visible to radar.

BLITZER: But if you're flying over land, people will hear that plane flying over, and probably --


CHRISTENSEN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Yeah. All right. Ken, thanks very much. Ken Christensen.

CHRISTENSEN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Guys, thanks for your expertise.

SONAR and super-sensitive listening devices could help in the search for the plane. We'll bring a live demonstration of these high-tech devices, how these devices work, what a difference potentially they could make.

And later, many of you are asking great questions about this entire mystery of flight 370. Our panel of experts will join us and try to offer some answers.


BLITZER: When and if search crews find debris from flight 370, they'll bring in some super sensitive listening devices. The U.S. has sent one of those devices known as a hydrophone to Australia to be on stand-by. We want to get an idea of how this device works and how SONAR is being used in these kinds of searches.

Stephanie Elam joining us from Santa Barbara Harbor with a demonstration.

Stephanie, show us how this works. Because they've got to locate that flight data and voice recorder.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And we don't have a lot of time, Wolf. And that's exactly what we wanted to show here today, the difference between hydrophones and also taking a look at SONAR. They're different and they do different things.

I want to introduce you to James Coleman, senior hydrographer. I keep saying that wrong. And he's going to show you how this works.

So, Jim, break it down for us and show how this hydrophone works.

JAMES COLEMAN, SENIOR HYDROGRAPHER: That under water locater beacon is sending out sound, these pings. And to pick it up, you need a hydrophone, which put simply is an underwater microphone. This is one of our sensitive models. What they'll do is take microphones like this and string them into arrays, dip them into the water to listen for the pinger.

ELAM: How far out does it listen?

COLEMAN: With the strength of the signal, about five miles is what we're expecting.

ELAM: Five miles. So every second they hear that tick, which we call a ping, it's listening for that?

COLEMAN: Exactly. So you put on a headset or look at a visual display to listen for that once-a-second ping with a hydrophone.

ELAM: And how deep down can these go?

COLEMAN: These are pressure-rated to go to the bottom of the ocean. So you can put things on a remotely operated vehicle that may fly to the bottom or an autonomous vehicle that can go to the bottom. They're both able to do that.

ELAM: This is a hydrophone. That's where you would start if you're looking for the ping? But let's say it gets to the situation where the ping has stopped, the batteries have run out. Then they just have SONAR. How does SONAR work?

COLEMAN: Right. This is much different than the hydrophone. The hydrophone is just listening, where this is SONAR. So this is going to emit sound and receive the sound bouncing back off the sea floor and you interpret it and look for what's on the sea floor and construct an image of what's down there. They're going to look for the wreckage using an active SONAR.

ELAM: So the hydrophone says it's in this general area, the SONAR says it's right about here.

COLEMAN: Exactly.

ELAM: All right. So let's go see what this looks like with the technology once we go inside.

You lead the way.

COLEMAN: Yeah, absolutely.

ELAM: We're going to go inside and take a look at how this works.

So what we have on this screen here, explain this one to us.

COLEMAN: So this is just a visual readout of what the hydrophone is listening to right now. All we really see right now is random ocean noise. If there was the beacon out there, you would see all of a sudden a strong spike at the 30 to 40 kilohertz range, the frequency that beacon is emitting. And you'd see a strong spike coming in once a second, and that's where you know you're within range. (CROSSTALK)

ELAM: So how deep is the water here?

COLEMAN: Here we are only at 40 feet deep.

ELAM: 40 feet. But just to give an idea here, if you look on this side over here, it's showing you what's on the bottom of the floor right here of the water?

COLEMAN: Exactly. So this is the mapping SONAR and so we're emitting sound and looking downward at the sea floor. As we look down at the sea floor, we're rebuilding, as the SONAR returns come in, what the shape of the sea floor is. And we're constructing an image of what things look like on the bottom. So this is a 3-D point cloud of what the structure of the bottom looks like. And this is an image of what targets and objects are on the bottom.

ELAM: This is a really slow process. You can't just move the boat very fast through the water?

COLEMAN: No, not at all. And more complicated than that, is that these sensors need to be near the bottom. And if we're in the Southern Indian Ocean, that means they need to be thousands of feet down in order to be able to get them near the bottom. And that's the real complication, is to get sensors like this near the bottom, and then map out small segments of sea floor, and build up a large map of the sea floor to find out what's down there.

ELAM: And this here I'm assuming is a pipeline, correct?

COLEMAN: Exactly. Exactly.

ELAM: So you can see exactly what that is.

It's very clear to see what that is. And to see how this technology is working, Wolf. But it gives a very clear picture of something worth going back to investigate. And that's how they're going to go about looking for any debris field and hopefully finding this plane.

BLITZER: Hopefully, indeed. Good explanation, Stephanie. Thank you very much.

Another of the tools used in the search is the U.S. Navy's towed pinger locater.

Brian Todd has seen one of these devices.

Tell us about this one.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very high-tech device, Wolf. It will arrive in Perth overnight tonight, our time. Wednesday, their time.

We visited the manufacturer of Phoenix International Holdings today. They showed us how this pinger locater works. It is towed from a ship, very slowly, less than 10 miles per hour. It looks leak like a fin, weighs 70 pounds. This can extend to 20,000 feet below the surface. It's towed very slowly, as we said, and has to be two-thirds of the ocean depth so that it does not hit obstacles.

Paul Nelson, the project manager for Phoenix International, which did he deploys this device, explained it once it picks up a signal.


PAUL NELSON, PROJECT MANAGER, PHOENIX INTERNATIONAL HOLDINGS: This is a towed pinger locater. This gets pulled behind the vessel "Opportunity" and detects the ping or chirp of this pinger. This is the devise that's attached to the black boxes on an airplane. There are two of these on the two black boxes. So this unit will get pulled through the ocean, and then it listens to a tiny little chirp at 37.5 kilohertz frequency.


TODD: Now from there, Wolf, they have people looking at -- the vessel towing it, looking at a reading of it in a graphic readout and also listening, for the very sensitive pings. So it's a very high-tech operation there. That's the people in the vessel above it listening for all of that.

Now, this arrives in Perth on Wednesday, we said, and deployed on the Australian ship, the "Sea Horse Standard," operated by two U.S. Navy officers and eight contractors from that Phoenix International company. But what we don't know is exactly when it's going to get to the search area. May take several days to get to the search area. And we only have about 13 days left until that pinger signal runs out.

So that towed pinger locater operated by the Navy has got to get there as soon as possible.

BLITZER: Clearly, the clock is ticking.

Brian, thanks very much. You'll have more of a demonstration later in "The Situation Room."

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: Just ahead, many of you have gone on Twitter to ask questions about flight 370. Our panel of experts standing by to try and provide some answers. And later, President Obama at the nuclear summit in Europe, talking about Russian troops amassed on Ukraine's border. We're going to hear what the president of the United States has said.


BLITZER: As search crews in the South Indian Ocean continue to hunt for any sign of flight 370, many of you are posting questions about the missing plane at #370Qs.

Joining us, our panel of experts, Mark Weiss, aviation analyst and former 777 pilot for American Airlines; Peter Goelz, a CNN aviation analyst, former NTSB managing director; and Tom Fuentes, CNN's law enforcement analyst, former assistant director of the FBI.

Let's get right to the questions.

Tom, first one for you. How can they say the flight crashed in the Indian Ocean and yet they still haven't recovered anything, #what are they hiding.

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST & FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DEPUTY DIRECTOR: That's the question, Wolf. They are basing it on the mathematical calculations of the Inmarsat technicians. There is no debris, no other separate proof to corroborate their information. Whether they're hiding it or they want to have some closure, maybe slightly prematurely.


BLITZER: They want a closure, but this is not bringing closure. This is only bringing more frustration to the families of the passengers.


BLITZER: Mark, here's a question. How does autopilot work in an onboard emergency? Is it possible the pilots became incapacitated?

MARK WEISS, CNN AVIATION ANALYST & FORMER PILOT: Well, it depends on the emergency that you have. You're normally flying with it on, other than necessarily the takeoff. You could have it on for a landing. In an emergency, depending on the type of situation, you would turn it off. If you had it on, on this airplane, it could either be programmed to follow the flight management system or it could follow manual inputs from the pilots.

BLITZER: The autopilot does not change the altitude level. It goes a constant altitude.

WEISS: The autopilot will change the altitude if you request it to change the altitude.

BLITZER: Here's a question for you, Peter. Could someone hack the system and give a false ping to throw the investigation off, maybe just invert the signal?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Boy, I think that's getting out there. I don't think so. Talking about hacking the system so that the Inmarsat scientists received a false positive. You need to direct it to them. I don't think that's possible.

BLITZER: Or hack the computer, onboard computer to change the direction of the plane.

GOELZ: That has not happened. It's highly unlikely that it could happen. These planes have multiple protections on them.

BLITZER: Here's another question for our pilot, Mark. I can understand the sudden drop to 12k due to decompression. Then it went back up. Does that not make sense? Does make sense, basically? WEISS: It depends on what theory you're looking at. It doesn't make sense from a practical point of view. If it had a decompression or a mechanical problem, certainly, you'd want to get down. But you'd want to get down to the nearest suitable airport. If the information is correct, that it climbed back up, to me, again, going along with perhaps some of my thinking, it could have been a struggle in the cockpit for control over the airplane.

BLITZER: Here's a question, Peter. How much oxygen was available? Would it have run out about the same time as the last change in direction or ruined by fire? I've actually heard that, when those oxygen masks come down, there's only about 15 minutes of oxygen per passenger.

GOELZ: Yeah, it usually comes out of a container, two chemicals mixed that produces anywhere from 12 to 15 minutes of oxygen. Designed only for the passenger to use until they get down under 12,000 feet.

BLITZER: But if you need that oxygen for longer than 15 minutes that's --


GOELZ: You're out of luck. The pilots have full oxygen for much longer.

BLITZER: How long do the pilots have oxygen?

GOELZ: Mark? You want to answer?

WEISS: Depends on the airplane. But you've got like an hour's worth of oxygen. And it's 100 percent oxygen.

BLITZER: I was pretty surprised when I heard only 15 minutes per passenger. They do all the demonstrations, the flight attendants. I assumed that if you need the oxygen, you do it until you land.


BLITZER: 15 minutes is not necessarily good enough, in my opinion. That's just my opinion.


All right, guys. We'll continue our Q&A tomorrow.

Much more coming up on the missing plane.

Also, the president of the United States taking questions at the end of the nuclear summit in Europe. We're going to hear what he had to say about Russia and Vladimir Putin and planned changes also for NSA surveillance.


BLITZER: We'll get back to the latest developments on this search for flight 370 in just a few moments.

But first, President Obama wrapped up the nuclear summit in The Hague today with more discussions nuclear issues and world security. Afterwards, the president talked about another security issue, Ukraine and the buildup of Russian troops on the border.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: With respect to the Russian troops that are along the border of Ukraine at the moment, right now, they are on Russian soil. And if they stay on Russian soil, we -- we oppose what appears to be an effort of intimidation. But Russia has a right legally to have its troops on its own soil. I don't think it's a done deal. And I think Russia is still making a series of calculations.


BLITZER: Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's joining us live from the Netherlands.

Jim, the president spoke about additional steps on Russia, if the Russians presumably take additional steps of their own. We're talking about more sanctions, right?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The president was quite clear during this news conference that the sanctions would ramp up pretty quickly, hitting the Russia energy sector, their banking and finance sector is they were to move into other parts of Ukraine.

He also issued a pretty clear warning, Wolf, in terms of NATO countries. If Russia were to try to move against any NATO ally that is in Russia's neighborhood, he said there would be military options, they would come to the defense of those NATO allies.

But when it came to Crimea, you heard them saying basically, because of the facts on the ground, that that peninsula is under Russian control, there's not a whole lot that the U.S. Can do right now. But he thinks Putin is making some calculations.

There was another very interesting moment during this news conference, Wolf, when President Obama was asked about Mitt Romney's claim to you, during the 2012 campaign, that Russia is the U.S. top geopolitical foe. The president took exception to that. He said he still doesn't feel that Mitt Romney is right. He said he's much more concerned about a nuclear bomb going off in Manhattan than the Russians, who he called a regional power that is threatening its neighbors. A bit of a jab there at Putin -- Wolf?

BLITZER: It certainly was.

Tell us what -- the major news on NSA surveillance that the president spoke about today. ACOSTA: That's right. The president confirmed what his administration basically said earlier this morning, is that the NSA is no longer going to be in the business of holding on to that bulk phone metadata. That are looking at -- one leading option they are looking at is having the phone companies hold on to that data and then the NSA could go in there and search it when they need to. The president is expected to make a more complete proposal in the next couple of days. But for now, that's right, the NSA is getting out of the business of collecting that data, at least after Congress passes legislation making it final. That's the next step in this process -- Wolf?

BLITZER: I will watch it together with you.

Jim Acosta joining us from near The Hague. Thanks very much.

I'll be back 5:00 p.m. eastern. Another special two-hour edition of "THE SITUATION ROOM."

NEWSROOM with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Mr. Blitzer, thank you, as always.