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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
Planes Heading To Suspected Crash Site
Aired March 27, 2014 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Next breaking news, search planes taking off in search of missing Flight 370. New satellite images show more than 300 objects floating in the Indian Ocean. New information about the captain and his son speaks out for the first time.
Plus, more breaking news, tens of thousands of Russian troops on high alert tonight on the border with Ukraine. Those numbers are surging. Why the United States says Vladimir Putin could be about to invade. Let's go OUTFRONT.
Good evening, everyone. I'm Erin Burnett. The latest breaking news, search planes preparing to take off at this hour in search of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. They are trying to make up for lost time. Yesterday planes were grounded due to horrific weather in that part of the ocean. The planes are headed 1,500 miles southwest of Perth, Australia, to investigate possible debris sites in the Southern Indian Ocean.
There are though promising leads tonight and that is a big difference from recent nights. There are new satellite images from Japan. It maybe that these are the highest resolution and most sophisticated images out there. I can't fully tell you because the Japanese government have not released the images, but here's what they have said about them.
They have said that they showed ten objects floating in a six- mile radius that are probably from the plane, the location where these images were captured is not far from where Thai satellites captured 300 objects on Monday. Now these objects all spotted 125 miles away from a spot where the French satellite captured 122 objects on Saturday.
So when you add this up, you've hundreds of objects in a relatively, for this part of the world, small space. Search planes are also investigating earlier images captured by American, Chinese and another French satellite.
Kyung Lah is in Perth tonight beginning our coverage. Kyung, you are obviously embedded to fly with the U.S. Navy on that P-8 Poseidon today. We've shown our viewers the inside of that plane, it is pretty incredible what it could do. Big delay because of weather, what about when now will it take off?
KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The word is that it will take off today. At least it is scheduled. It is very much, Erin, touch and go. We are hearing that the search, though, throughout the day will happen as scheduled. The search planes have not taken off yet. That's a little unusual. Little different than the way it's worked this past week. We don't know exactly what the delay is about, if it is, indeed, connected to the weather.
Weather in this part of the world is very unpredictable. If you look at the way it's swirling and twirling around that area, the Indian Ocean is constantly churning. The winds are constantly flowing. There is no land to break it up. It is very much touch and go, but, Erin, the very latest that we are hearing from the Australian government is that the search will happen today. The planes have not yet taken off -- Erin.
BURNETT: And Kyung, I know there is a second P-8 now on route, what can you tell us about that?
LAH: What we do know is that a second P-8 is on its way and will be replacing the other plane, the P3. The P3 is a turbo prop. The P8 is a long-range plane. It looks like a 737 a high-tech plane and doesn't have propellers and longer range and it is simply the highest tech weapon that the U.S. military has as far as accomplishing this particular mission.
The people who fly this particular jet will tell you that it can skim the water. It is the world's most advance anti-submarine, war fare out there. They are very confident that it is the best arsenal in the tool box to try to achieve this -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right, Kyung, thank you very much. We'll go through the latest satellite pictures sort of zooming in and seeing what we know and don't know with experts later on in the program. When it comes to the investigation, a lot of focus today has centered on the pilot of Flight 370, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah.
Now today, Captain Shah's son broke his family's silence. He is 26 years old. His name is Ahmad Seth Zaharie. He told Malaysia's "New Straits Times" that he doesn't think his father could possibly be responsible, saying, quote, "I've read everything online, but I've ignored all the speculation. I know my father better."
And the former CEO of Malaysia Airlines also coming to Captain Shah's defense telling our Jim Clancy he knew Captain Shah well.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was an excellent pilot and an excellent gentleman. I think they are going the wrong way pointing finger at him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: So, what does this mean? Joining me now, Richard Quest, our aviation analyst, Miles O'Brien, along with Seth Jones, an expert on this region and the associate director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center, Ed Rand, as well as Arthur Rosenberg, aviation attorney. OK, great to have all of you with us. Obviously, there are so many questions here and a lot of have been asked about the people who were piloting this plane. Seth, you have a lot of experience in this region and talking to your sources, what have you learned?
SETH JONES, RAND CORPORATION: Well, Erin, I learned that the Royal Malaysian Police special branch, which is a very good police service is looking very carefully at the pilot himself. They are looking carefully at his state of mind. In particular, they're interested in his state of his marriage, his views of Malaysia Airlines, which he apparently was unhappy with what he perceived as mismanagement and corruption.
They're looking at his views of his son, he was unhappy with his son for his recent unemployment and they are looking at his role in the opposition party. So they are reading his e-mails and reading his Twitter accounts and focusing on social media.
BURNETT: Now obviously, something we can't confirm the information. We don't know at this point what would have contributed and whatever happened on 370, at least from CNN here. But let me ask you the question. If you have this source and you're hearing more information. Obviously, more details than we heard in recent days. Are you concerned that the Malaysian police though, pointing the finger at the pilot are using you, using people to place blame on the pilot because of what you just said? He was a known supporter of the opposition party?
JONES: No. I would say right now if this is where the investigation is going right now. This doesn't mean that this is why he did it. At this point, we don't have is any confirmation about and any story about why he went even if he had some of these issues. Why he went to take down an airliner. All I can say from multiple sources that this is what special branch is looking at and I would just say in general, it's a very good police agency built by the British. This is really what we can say the investigation is at this point.
BURNETT: All right, now, Arthur, let me bring you in here. You know, we have heard obviously the Royal Malaysian Police Special Branch has been talking to people. I have heard from people like Seth who are very credible in this area. This is what he does for a living, did it for U.S. intelligence that this is a highly respected group within the Malaysian government.
However, we have no idea. My question to you is, are you in any way convinced? I mean, they have to look at the pilots because they have to look at the pilots, these were the people in charge of the plane. They have to look at other people too who are on this plane.
ARTHUR ROSENBERG, AVIATION ATTORNEY: So, here's my view. There is no credible, reliable explanation for a mechanical failure. No electrical, no fire, no smoke, no sudden decompression and no structural failure. So in the absence of that, what do you look at? You look at the crew, you look at the passengers. They've eliminated 237 people. You're left with the flight crew. We're not saying that they did it. We're saying that Captain Shah is under the microscope. From my point of view, there is a lot of circumstantial evidence playing into his state of mind with evidence indicating he may have had a failed marriage that could be girlfriends, one newspaper reported that he had. That his state of mind -- he should not be flying. That this was going to be his last hurrah. I'm not saying that that's fact. I am not saying that is fact.
RICHARD QUEST, CNN HOST, "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS": You are. You are. You have basically taken every bit that has been in the newspapers that has been online and just said it was some form of evidence. We haven't heard one confirmed allegation on any of those (inaudible). Now, let's just go through this one second. "USA Today" last night on this program we nearly condemned the captain by nearly saying that the story said they were looking at him. But later that night, FBI tells one of the guests on Don Lemon's program, another source in Malaysian says, we're not specifically interested in the captain. There's no evidence there. The FBI hasn't found anything on the hard drive.
BURNETT: Let me ask you about the hard drives. This is important. Let me bring you in on this, Miles. Obviously, a question not only of who, if this was a deliberate act and if most people in law enforcement believe this was a deliberate act and then the question of motive. Motive could be something inspired by some sort of terrorist group or it could be something like suicide. If it's something like suicide, there may be no trail. There might not be a smoking gun on a hard drive. In other words, these two stories of there's no smoking gun on a hard drive could both be true, right?
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Absolutely. Absolutely. Somebody is distraught and intent on suicide and murder of more than 200 people, is that going to be on the hard drive? I don't know that that's the case. That could be one of his deepest, darkest thoughts. But, remember, everything that we're talking about here still could be supported by a theory where somebody or a group of people commandeered that aircraft and controlled it themselves directly or forced the crew to do it. For all we know, this guy is a hero. I think it's absolutely outrageous the way this is going and pointing this direction. This is clearly some scenario that is plausible. No question about that.
BURNETT: Seth, what are your sources saying in terms of what else they're looking at? I mean, are they -- you know, I mean, you're saying that this group of police is very credible. They're telling you they're looking at all these things of the pilot and are they looking at other things also?
JONES: What they also looked very carefully at and continue to look at are the terrorism connections. So every single passenger has been looked at carefully. The Chinese passengers, they've reached out. The Malaysians have reached out to the Chinese government and intelligence service. The Indonesians and Australians and the Americans about connections to terrorist organizations. They reached out to signals intelligence and human intelligence collection assets to figure out if anybody's been talking about this, bragging about it and nothing at this point. So, this supports at least something else is probably going on other than terrorism because nothing at this point has surfaced along those lines.
BURNETT: All right, thank you very much. All of you, of course, our panel will be with us as we tackle this.
OUTFRONT next, she was about to start a new life with the man she loves until he boarded Flight 370. Why American Sarah Bajc is still holding out hope. She is OUTFRONT next.
Plus a closer look at the new satellite images of more than 300 objects floating in the Indian Ocean. Are investigators getting closer to finding the plane because as of yet, no proof.
How volcanoes along the ocean floor could be the biggest obstacle in the search for any possible debris.
BURNETT: Tonight breaking news in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Search planes about to take off looking for any sign of the vanished plane. It has been four days since the prime minister of Malaysia citing satellite data said the plane, quote, "ended in the Southern Indian Ocean and that no one survived."
But, still, there has been no physical evidence found and the families of those 239 people on board spend each day waiting for a definitive answer on what happened to their loved ones. In some cases holding out hope. This includes the family of Philip Wood, a 50-year- old from Texas. He had two sons. In 2011, he moved to Beijing for a job with IBM and that was the year he met Sarah Bajc who was in the process of relocating with her to Malaysia when he boarded Flight 370 heading back home to help her pack their boxes for a move together to Kuala Lumpur.
Sarah joins me now from Beijing. It's her first interview since receiving that horrible news about Flight 370. I mean, Sarah, you know, I had seen you do some interviews before that news and just was, I mean, just so poised and you've been in my thoughts and after that announcement, we got this question about whether there is physical proof. You put on Facebook, there is still no proof that the plane crashed and all souls were lost. That's what you wrote. I mean, do you think that the Malaysian government spoke too soon?
SARAH BAJC, PARTNER OF PHILIP WOOD, AMERICAN ON FLIGHT 370: Well, first of all, good morning from Beijing. I think they did speak too soon, but it was such an abrupt change in their behavior from before. I mean up until that point, the Malaysian government had been very reserved, very careful in the kinds of information they were releasing, which ended up being basically no information since they didn't know anything. And then to suddenly come out with this pronouncement in the most shocking, possible way.
You know, the last-minute calling of press release already had everybody on edge. Even though they had the information earlier. They kind of set it up for maximum effect and then that text message right before the speaking, it had to be intentional. I can't believe they would have been so callus to do that by accident. BURNETT: And how exactly did you find out? Was it that text message?
BAJC: It was. Well, I found out about the press release, the press conference from the media contact. I actually didn't know about it otherwise. Philip's family didn't either. I texted them to let them know right away there would be a press conference and then literally sitting ready to go on the air with a live broadcast and the text message came in on my phone and I think the build up of fear factor of that half an hour of waiting for the press conference combined with that message and the way it was worded.
You know, the wording of the message led me to believe that they were going to be giving evidence. That it was found, right? There were bodies, et cetera, and then all he did was say they've extrapolated the data and they're sure it went into the water. I think that was extremely irresponsible.
BURNETT: Sarah, you talked about how the airline was on land. You had a fear that they were looking in the wrong place. That the passengers were for some reason being held hostage. Do you still think that is a possibility and they should not have given up these other areas they were searching in the whole northern area and on land?
BAJC: Yes. I do believe it's still a possibility because there's no contradictory evidence to that being a possibility. Even the satellite data that's been pushed forward to show or to demonstrate that the flight took the southerly route. There is really just still guessing. This is not something anyone has ever done before. As brilliant as those mathematicians are, they don't really know. They're only analyzing the data that they have. They don't really know for certain. So, there's just as much likelihood that that airplane is some place else. That it is as opposed to being in the water.
BURNETT: I know, Sarah, you have this -- you and Philip were moving together to Kuala Lumpur. He was coming home to help you with the boxes. I know you're going back there today. Are you, I mean, this is a hard question because there's so much uncertainty, but are you going to go ahead with that plan you had together to make that move and do that move to Kuala Lumpur and that life that you want to have with Philip?
BAJC: Yes. Erin, I have to do that. I mean, it's the plan that we had made to build a new life together. And I've got to continue forward with that. I mean, this crisis has thrown my whole world upside down. It's not only the loss of a loved one. Not only the, the potential loss, I'm not committed to the fact that they're dead yet. But for me it's the loss of a future, as well. And so I need to at least maintain as much stepping forward as I possibly can because otherwise, I mean, what else do I have if I can't at least go forward with our plans.
BURNETT: Sarah, I just want to read something that you posted on Facebook. I feel like I'm intruding on your life by reading this, but it was on Facebook, I know you want today share it. You said this past weekend, I've spent today remembering you. I have scrolled through a very long rolodex of happy memories and we have so much peace together and we have so much fun together and so much love. You have become a permanent part of me.
I was struck by it was beautifully written. I was struck by you using the present tense. I was struck by all of those things. How is it when you're alone by yourself trying to deal with this situation?
BAJC: That's the hardest time because it's the time that I'm alone that I feel him the strongest. And I can only feel him, I can't have him next to me. And, so, my mind is so confused by what my heart is telling me. It makes it really difficult and, you know, the only way I kind of get past that I'm trying not to spend too much time alone and try to stay as busy as I can to push forward.
BURNETT: Thank you, Sarah.
BAJC: You're welcome.
BURNETT: Sarah, as we said, going to Kuala Lumpur today.
Next, we have new images of the possible debris. We're going to talk to a former CIA imagery analyst to talk about what investigators are looking for.
Plus underwater volcanoes and why they can make a search for possible debris much more difficult.
BURNETT: Breaking news in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. This hour search planes resuming efforts to find the remains of the missing plane. Even if debris can be found, though, the ocean floor beneath the search area is unpredictable. In fact, not even fully mapped, shifting currents, a chain of underwater volcanoes and one of the only places in the world where the water goes all the way around the globe.
Chad Myers joins us from our weather center. Chad, I mean, literally, let's just start with the fact that we know this hasn't been mapped. There are volcanoes right through the crash zone, which I guess gives you a sense of the depth and the complication here.
CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Think of the mid-Atlantic ridge because we grew up with that as kids. You know, Europe and America are getting farther and farther apart. It's being torn apart in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. That's the same tear that is happening here. Australia and Antarctica getting a little farther apart. Let me zoom you in and under water. What happens when that happens.
Well, you know what? Iceland has volcanoes because of that tear. Well, under the sea here in this part of the world, there are volcanoes here. One right there, a couple more there in the background, but very rugged where that tear is, too. So, very sharp edges. Not deep trenches like the Mariana Trench seven miles deep, but still up and down, not some nice flat landscape that you might hope for here. There's one of the volcanoes that we saw and literally right under the search area for today.
This literally is one of the most desolate parts away from land. I have to go 900 miles to this French ocean island here. About 50 scientists that live right there. Not an airport at all on this island, but that is the closest island to the search area.
We'll talk about the weather for just a second. I want to touch on what's going on. The weather in the search area absolutely perfect, but can they get there? A lot of weather, Erin, in between Perth and the search area and right through here, severe turbulence and there's Perth. Search area down here and icing. I assume we're going to get a slow down or a slight delay tonight for those takeoffs simply because some planes do better in icing and turbulence than others.
They'll have to wait for that icing to go away. Still plenty of time. Literally, it's only 7:00 a.m. Plenty of daylight hours. Remember, us up here in the northern hemisphere we're getting more and more daylight as the days go on. Down there the southern hemisphere gets less and less daylight and the days get shorter and shorter.
BURNETT: All right, and Chad, just a quick follow up. "Foreign Policy" magazine had written about that. They said something the French was going to use as a colony back in the day, but it was so remote and the conditions so horrific that they thought it would be unfair to even jail people there.
MYERS: No, it appears to me like a perfect place to visit, but I sure wouldn't want to live here. There's a great little, I bet the fishing here is amazing. The record high in March, one of the hottest parts of the year is 70. The normal high is 50 surrounded by ocean water, a very desolate place. No indigenous people on this island at all, only some French scientists and they don't live there that long. They go on and off because it is so desolate down here.
BURNETT: All right, thanks very much to you, Chad.
And now, the satellite images, they show hundreds of objects on the surface of the Indian Ocean, but we talked a lot about garbage and plastic chairs and things like that. We have an expert whose job is interpreting this.
President Obama meets the pope for the first time. Why did he bring carrots?
BURNETT: Breaking news: the search for Flight 370 back on. Tonight 1,500 miles off the coast of Perth, Australia. Authorities forced to pull back 11 planes overnight because of heavy wind, rains and low clouds. It was a major setback. But at the same time, there are new clues to consider. I want to go through exactly what we have at this point.
Japan now is the latest to say its satellites have found about 10 objects floating in the southern Indian Ocean. Some of those objects were big, 26 feet by 13 feet wide. I want to note, that this came out a press release. They haven't put the images out, but a lot of people think these could be very detailed images. But again, we don't have them yet.
This came just hours after a Thai satellite spotted three objects floating in the same general area. These are the latest satellite images that have been pouring in over the past week. Now, despite numerous debris fields, authorities have yet to find a single piece of the jet.
Now, I want to note here, some of these are hundreds of miles apart because of the currents, because it's not the plane. I mean, nobody knows quite for sure.
OUTFRONT tonight, Richard Quest, pilot Arthur Rosenberg, former CIA analyst and satellite imagery expert Stephen Wood, and Miles O'Brien, our aviation analyst.
All right. Let me start with you, Steve, because you're the expert here looking at these images that we have and what they mean. Obviously, we don't have the Japanese ones yet, which could be very important. But we do have now French satellites, Thai satellites, Australian satellites, a lot of pictures.
You've been looking at these images, what do you think?
STEPHEN WOOD, SATELLITE IMAGERY EXPERT: Well, a couple things. I think we're getting closer. A lot of evidence that the story is coming closer the way I described it before. If you think of the series of concentric circles, we now, with all the satellite imagery, were tightening up this radius and we're getting closer.
But we're still lacking that definitive evidence of being able to actually find the physical debris that we're looking for. I think that's one of those challenges that we are getting right now with satellite imagery. It is a piece of the story, but not the complete story.
BURNETT: Are you surprised? Some of us say, gosh, so many hundreds of objects and modern technology and satellites and planes flying over with, imagery ability and ships going through, and why has no one been able to pick a piece up and say what it is.
WOOD: I actually love one of the stories and one of the tag lines that Chad spoke about earlier, if you think about the sea state and how stormy this area has been and his term, it sticks in my mind. He called it bubble bath. If you think about the foam and the debris and just the way that the waves can be churned up, you know, if you go to the beach, you'll often see this.
A satellite, you think of it 450 miles up in space. You can often see objects or reflections of things like foam that may look very bright by contrast to what the background of the water is. So, that can complicate the search, as well. At the end of the day, this is a difficult search because of the expanse of the area, as well. BURNETT: And, obviously, we know if this were to be debris from an airplane, Arthur, it could have we're at 20 days here, it would have moved. So, even if this is the plane or pieces of the plane, does this tell us where it went down?
ARTHUR ROSENBERG, PILOT: Well, I'm cautiously optimistic that we're looking in the right place. And why do I say that?
Very simply. The evidence is coalescing into a general area. Inmarsat data, the performance data from the airplane, the range of the airplane, the fuel, the speed -- it seems that the information we're getting which is now being manifested from satellite pictures and debris are telling us we're looking in the right place.
OK. The bottom line here is, is one piece of wreckage that we pick up that's part of this airplane can tell us volumes about what happened. There could be explosive residue and burn marks and how structure breaks up -- torsion, compression, failures all kinds of stuff. It will tell us what happened here.
BURNETT: Even perhaps without, and we may never get the flight data recorder due to what Chad was talking about, the depth of volcanoes.
Miles, you have been in air looking for debris, looking for a plane crash, Steve (INAUDIBLE) in 2007, you know, we were talking during the commercial break here about how even sophisticated planes in this situation flying low, you blink your eyes and a football field has gone by. How hard is it to see with the naked eye?
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: It was really a lesson for me. And I realized the one thing in the Nevada desert. It's kind of like the ocean. What you're looking at there, the debris is actually leftover from mining.
And your eye will play tricks with you. It's actually a real challenge to train your eye in order to do a proper search and rescue mission. I was flying with the civil air patrol and we were trying to spot this plane and I was trying to understand how they do it.
I realize what a huge challenge it is. You know, there's a lot of electronics aboard that P-8. But in the final analysis, it's going to be a human eyeball on the surface that is going to make this find.
BURNETT: Are we going to get an answer here?
RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Oh, yes. Yes. I'm cautiously optimistic. I'm not -- I mean, the numbers -- the amount of material you're now starting to hear about, 300 from Thailand, 122 from the French, 10 from the Japanese. The difficulty is to get the ships now to that same area from a picture two or three days ago and to retrieve, because each time you're about to just get there a couple days ago and you've got to find it, again.
But, you know, the facts are coalescing around this to be the crucial area. BURNETT: And we may, Steve, you're saying, you know, obviously, the weather in Perth is not the weather at the search location. They're 1,500 miles apart. New York and Denver is what we are sort of explaining.
But the weather at the search location has been good the past couple of days, which might mean since we have all been frustrated by this delay, but this is how it works with satellites, that we might be able to get some new pictures. How good would they be?
WOOD: That's right. So, first of all, the report we just had a few moments ago, it sounds like now we'll get some better weather. The imaging capabilities today in our calendar day were not good. Yesterday, they were very good.
So, we're getting more and more data that can now be searched through and it looks like based on the meteorological forecast we just saw that I think today, imaging time will be good, as well.
BURNETT: Now, are we -- this is an if, too, but if you say you find this and it's debris, Richard, but has moved a long way. Now, this is why that half ping was so important. Perhaps that half ping would have indicated exactly where if there is a big piece of the jet, it is, which could be very far away from the stuff on the surface.
But if we don't find that big piece, if you just find the debris and this is a debris, would we get an answer?
QUEST: The moment you've got debris, you've got certainty about what happened. The moment you have got that, the oceanographers move in, you know the winds, you know the waves. It's not easy. I'm not for a moment suggesting it is easy.
BURNETT: But there is a calculus.
ROSENBERG: Reverse engineer.
QUEST: Reverse drift.
Yes, you follow it back up and you work out where it would have been.
BURNETT: And, Miles, a final word to you. Do you think we'll find the body of this jet? I mean, again, given the floor here is volcanoes. I mean, these are huge mountain ranges that haven't been mapped.
O'BRIEN: Here's my concern, I don't think there are enough assets on station, as it were. We have five ships and 11 aircraft -- I don't understand why wire we're not sending an aircraft carrier in there to enhance the effort here or for that matter additional P8s and P3s. It seems to me the window is very narrow and the fact that winter is coming and a global demand for answers here.
BURNETT: All right. Thanks very much. Thank you. Put that very well. Everyone has a demand for answers.
Thanks to all of you. We appreciate it.
And next, we have breaking news on Russia. American intelligence is now showing 40,000 Russian troops on the border with Ukraine. So, is Putin about to invade? We are live in Ukraine tonight.
Plus, President Obama meets Pope Francis for the first time. Why did he bring carrots?
The tale of road rage all caught up on tape. We're going to show you how one woman came out the winner.
BURNETT: Right now, let's check in with Anderson Cooper with a look at what's coming up on "AC360" -- Anderson.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey. Ahead on the program: more air power. That is what the U.S. believes is needed in the search for missing Flight 370. I'm going to speak with the Commander William Marks of the U.S. Navy Seventh Fleet about that as well, as the difficult weather conditions in the area, and the fatigue of his men and women involved in the intense search.
Plus, as investigation zeros in on the passengers and crew, there are conflicting reports now on whether investigators think the captain himself is to blame. We'll speak to two journalists with different reporting and sourcing on this and where the clues are leading investigators.
And the latest on the landslide in Washington state. Dozens remained missing and unaccounted for as crews search the rubble still, hoping to find anyone alive. We'll speak to volunteer firefighter who's dealing with this tragedy up close and what he is going through every day, along with his wife, who is also searching. It's remarkable.
Those stories and a lot more at the top of the hour -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Anderson, really looking forward to hearing that interview.
And now, the breaking news from Russia. More troops on the border with Ukraine. That tally apparently surging, according to U.S. officials. Now, 40,000 and Ukrainians say it could be nearly 90,000.
Karl Penhaul is on the ground near the Russia/Ukraine border tonight. Really, if you want to know what's happening, you have to go there and he is there.
Karl, 40,000 Russian troops, Ukrainian forces digging in. They set up more Russian troops. What are you able to see and figure out from where you are?
KARL PENHAUL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we got here when it was dark already, Erin. The Russian border is just a few hundred yards and still open to commercial traffic back and forth.
Now, what we have seen, we have talked to some of the Ukrainian border patrol and they say their numbers have been beefed up over the last few days. They say some of them are dug in on this side. They won't tell us exactly where.
And we also do know that some of the civilian self-defense paramilitary militias have also come up to the border, although in the last few hours, they have drawn back somewhat. We don't know where they are right now. But, of course, the question is, as well, if the Russians were to come across to this side of the border, has the Ukrainian military actually got any fight in them because we know that the Russians have much more prepared, better equipped, as well.
And if you look at what happened down in Crimea just the other week, while there, most of the Ukrainian troops never put up a fight and they didn't get the orders to fight from the defense ministry back in Kiev and now the defense ministry is saying that the troops that had been based in Crimea, 75 percent of those actually defected to the Russians.
And so, if there is a fight in this area, then that fight could fall to these paramilitary self-defense militias. In fact in western Ukraine, yesterday, we were talking to some of the nationalist militias and they do say that unlike Crimea, if the Russians come in the Ukraine they will burn the ground under what they call the invaders' feet, Erin.
BURNETT: So, Karl, what you're saying there could be a war here, but Russia could get a huge part of the territory where you're standing right now and cities. And essentially invade and take over part of the country, without having to shed blood.
PENHAUL: Well, that's the other problem. This is, although there is somewhat of a discrepancy on total numbers of Russian troops just there across the other side of the border, the Pentagon puts it around, as you say, 40,000. The Ukrainian government say it's almost -- around twice as high as that. But what they do agree on the Russian troops are so close to the border that they could roll into Ukraine with zero warning. There would be no heads up for the Ukrainian troops to react and the objective of those Russian troops could be whole swaths of eastern Ukraine, Erin.
BURNETT: As he said, that is as close as you can get. Just a few hundred yards from hat border where tens of thousands of troops are masked.
Well, it was a show of pomp and circumstance in Vatican City today. President Obama meeting face-to-face with Pope Francis for the first time, they posed for pictures, they exchanged gifts, before sitting down for a public conversation in front of the cameras.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to thank you for seeing me. It is a great honor. I'm a great admirer. So, it's wonderful to meet you, Pope Francis. Thank you very much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: And that was just the beginning of the meeting. The president met with the pope, that such tradition. It goes back to Woodrow Wilson from 1919. But after that meeting you just saw there at the table, the two met privately for nearly an hour. Wouldn't you want to know what went on during that meeting?
Well, Vatican correspondent Delia Gallagher is better placed to know than anyone else. She was in the apostolic palace where they met. She's OUTFRONT tonight.
And, Delia, you know, what happened in that meeting. I mean, I know the president gave Pope Francis a box of seeds for his garden. What was the significance of that and what did Pope Francis give in return?
DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the gift exchange, Erin, was the box of seeds, fruit and vegetable seeds from the White House garden for the pope's garden here. The president said, you know, if you come to the White House, we can show you the garden, to which the pope responded, (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) in Spanish, sort of "for sure". So, that we take as an invitation on the part of the president to the pope to come and visit the United States.
The pope in return gave the president a copy of a document which he wrote last year called "The Joy of the Gospel", which outlines some of the major themes of his pontificate and the president said, you know, I'll probably read this in my oval office when I'm deeply frustrated and it will strengthen me and calm me down, and the pope responded in English, "I hope."
BURNETT: It's nice. It seems a little bit of a casualness to it, which I know has defined this pope in many ways. I mean, this pope, Delia, is so enormously popular right now. His approval rating is in the high 80s. President Obama in the meantime, very low approval ratings relative to his presidency, in the low 40s.
So, how important was it for the president to be seen with the pope today?
GALLAGHER: Well, I think it's not necessarily going to boost his ratings amongst Catholic voters just because he's visited the pope. However, I do think it goes some way to showing his good will towards the Catholic Church and some of the differences that the Obama administration has had with them. In fact, the president did say that he pledged to continue to work with the U.S. Catholic bishops on some of those issues to strike the right balance.
So, an important occasion for the president because there have been some difficult differences with the Catholic church, but certainly doesn't hurt quite outside of the Catholic vote to be seen with as you say a very popular pope -- Erin.
BURNETT: Delia, thank you. You know, some of the controversial things Delia is talking about include contraception and women in the church. Those were some of the issues I spoke about earlier this week with former President Jimmy Carter. He has a new book out called "Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power." He writes about the system of discrimination that some religious leaders deploy, he says by distorting the bible.
Now, Carter recently wrote a letter to the pope, to talk about issues of women. And, well, the pope wrote him back. Here's Carter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT: I typed it myself and I mailed it to him through his representative in Washington. It pointed out the basic elements I described in my book about the horrible abuse of women and girls around the world.
I asked him to join with me in doing some of these things. I didn't ask him to change the Catholic Church's policy on women priests, although I would like very much to see women be priests in the Catholic Church and also deacons.
And he responded very nicely to me and said in effect that he agreed with me and that the role of women within the Catholic Church should be enhanced in the future.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: The role of women in the Catholic Church should be enhanced. That's what the pope said directly to President Carter. Pretty incredible statement. We're going to have more of our interview with the former president tomorrow.
But, meantime tonight, another big thing for the president beyond meeting the pope in Rome was big news on Obamacare. The White House announcing more than 6 million people have signed up for it. Only 1 million shy of the administration's initial goal, but beating revised targets.
Now, of course, after the botched rollout of the Web site in October, expectations came way down. So, this is a big positive surprise as the president's made a big push for people to sign up. As we've been reporting, young adults are key to keeping insurance costs down.
OUTFRONT next, you know what they say: what goes around comes around. Next, Jeanne Moos shows us how a Florida driver filled with road rage came around literally.
BURNETT: One man's road rage became instant karma on a highway in Florida this week. This is kind of incredible. It was all caught on video.
So, to tell the story, here's Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is a tale about tailgating and karma. A Florida woman used her phone to record a guy in a pickup tailgating her. She was in the fast lane of U.S. Highway 41, doing a little over 55 in a 50-mile-per-hour zone.
Finally, he cut into the right lane, sped by, then he dropped back and pulled alongside, giving her a prolonged middle finger salute. But maybe he should have kept his hands and all of his fingers on the wheel, because when he cut in front of her --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's what you get. All on video, buddy.
MOOS: The laughing lady pulled over and called 911.
(on camera): The Hillsborough County sheriff's office confirmed there was a single car crash with no injuries.
(voice-over): The Florida highway patrol tells CNN that the driver of the pickup, 33-year-old Jeffrey White, fled the scene and was later arrested at his Tampa home, based on information gained from the woman's video. White was charged with leaving the scene of a traffic crash, careless driving and failing to wear a seat belt.
The video caused road rage in the comments sections of Web sites posting it. "Stay out of the left lane you Prius-driving sissy. Get out of the way."
Number one, we don't think it was a Prius, and number two, she says she was getting ready to make a left turn. Still, "He's speeding and you're playing with your phone to film him doing it, you were both in the wrong."
Someone even turned the video into a silent picture, calling her fast lane driving atrocious. The woman has now disabled comments below her video because so many were rude and even included death threats.
(on camera): We couldn't get hold of either driver to comment on the road rage incident.
(voice-over): But the woman wasn't ticketed.
(on camera): Do you know what she could have used? Some road rage cars. Actually maybe he could have used some, too.
(voice-over): Each phrase comes in reverse so you can insult someone looking at you in their rear-view mirror.
See how they can diffuse road rage?
(LAUGHTER) MOOS: As for the karma angle of the crash, one poster noted how the crunch was so satisfying. Not as satisfying as that laugh.
MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's what you get! All on video, buddy.
MOOS: -- New York.
BURNETT: All right, thanks as always for watching. See you back here tomorrow night.
"ANDERSON COOPER 360" starts now.