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Search for Flight 370 Area Moves 600 Miles to Northeast; Obama Speaks with Putin about Ukraine

Aired March 28, 2014 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Jim, thanks very much.

Happening now, the mystery of Flight 370 -- a whole new search zone. That's the target as aircraft get ready to take off for a fresh sweep of the area momentarily. Based on analysis showing the airliner could not have flown as far as originally thought, the search area moves hundreds of miles to the northeast.

Objects spotted -- five planes quickly locate possible debris in the new search area. Their information immediately sent for analysis, as ships are moving in for a closer look.

And pilot versus autopilot -- we have new details on the background of the airliner's captain, plus, a look at how ground controllers might automatically take charge of an airliner if there's trouble in the cockpit.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


We begin with a stunning new turn in the hunt for Flight 370.

Here are the latest developments.

Forget the old search zone, there's a new search zone, 680 miles to the northeast, much closer to Australia. Authorities say a new analysis of data shows the airliner could not have flown as far as previously thought. Planes which were unable to confirm satellite images in the old search zone have already spotted multiple objects in the new area. We're awaiting the results of the scrutiny of those photos. We hope to get those results shortly. Right now, aircraft are getting ready to return to the search zone. China says one of its ships has arrived in the new area. Authorities hope it can retrieve at least some of the objects. Other ships, they are on the way right now.

Our analysts and reporters, they're all standing by here in Washington, as well as around the world, with the kind of special coverage that only CNN can deliver.

Let's begin with our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh, for the very latest -- Rene.

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you just said, today, a sudden shift in focus. Again, this search zone has moved. And authorities say that's thanks to a credible lead.

That lead?

More analysis of existing data, with an entirely new search zone in play.

Does that mean crews wasted time searching the wrong area for more than a week?


MARSH (voice-over): The new zone, roughly 123,000 square miles, larger than the State of New York and 300 miles closer to the Australian coastline, a shorter trip for search planes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is our best estimate of the area in which the aircraft is likely to have crashed into the ocean.

MARSH: So why change everything three weeks after the plane disappeared?

More radar and satellite analysis makes investigators believe the plane was flying faster than previously thought as it moved between the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca. A faster fuel burn early on means the plane can't go as far.

But what about those satellite pings that first led searchers to the South Indian Ocean?

Investigators say since the plane went faster, it used more fuel and there's no way it had enough gas to make it to the bottom of this arc. So now the search moves to the northeast.

JOHN YOUNG, AUSTRALIA MARITIME SAFETY AUTHORITY: It is now the most credible lead as to where debris may be located.

MARSH: Critics suggest we've heard that before. Previous leads such as satellite images of floating objects near the old search area, were called credible, too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This area seems to corroborate some form of objects and debris.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have now had a number of very credible leads.

MARSH: None of them led to Flight 370. But Malaysian authorities still think they could be relevant.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because of ocean drift, this new search area could still be consistent with the potential objects identified by various satellite images.

MARSH: The hunt for Flight 370 started in the South China Sea, moved to the Strait of Malacca before expanding into the Andaman Sea and Northern Indian Ocean. Then came these arcs, the search stretching from South Kazakhstan to the South Indian Ocean. But even more data analysis refocused the search on the South Indian Ocean, until now.

Were the last eight days of searching the old area a waste of time?

Australian officials say no.

YOUNG: This is the normal business of search and rescue operations that new information comes to light, refined analyses take you to a different place. I don't count the original work a waste of time.


MARSH: All right. Well, meanwhile, today the NTSB had a show and tell at its laboratory here in Washington, DC, where Flight 370's black boxes may -- may be examined if and when they are recovered. You're looking at video from that show and tell. And the lab examines 650 flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders a year. About a third of them come from foreign governments.

They're very hopeful that they'll be able to recover some information, if and when it's recovered. And someone actually asked, you know, what has been your luck as far as pulling information out of it If it's been submerged in water for a long period of time?

Again, very hopeful. They couldn't think of a time when they weren't able to pull information off.

BLITZER: And this is it, a little -- a small box like this, what they're searching for.


BLITZER: The so-called black box, which is really orange, the flight data recorder. They've got a huge search underway. And there's -- that pinging is only going to go on if the batteries are still working.

MARSH: Right.

BLITZER: Maybe another 10 days or so.

Rene, stand by.

Thank you.

Let's bring in our aviation a lot, Miles O'Brien, along with our CNN aviation analyst, Peter Goelz, a former NTSB managing director, CNN law enforcement analyst, the former FBI assistant director, Tom Fuentes.

Let's start with you -- Peter.

So is this new area the real deal or is this another false hope? PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, I think it's the best deal that they can come up with today. I mean this is all new territory. The analysis is difficult. The analysis hasn't been done before. They had a fresh set of eyes looking at the data. They did it in a more extensive way. This is their best call right now. We've got to pursue it.

BLITZER: Tom, what do you think?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I think the same thing. And also, you know, they're finding debris in the area with the airplanes rather than just five day old satellite images. So that's hopeful.

BLITZER: Yes, how long does it take, Miles, a pilot flying over, they see something white or something gray or whatever, how long should it take to determine, is wreckage from the plane?

O'BRIEN: Well, I mean once you get a ship on site, it should be very easy.

BLITZER: You can't just do it from the air...

O'BRIEN: That's...

BLITZER: -- even if a pilot goes pretty low, you couldn't make out that this is wreckage -- this is, you know, from the belly or the wing or whatever?

O'BRIEN: Well, I suppose if you saw something with a Malaysia logo on it, delivery, yes. But I mean in many cases, what we're talking about are small pieces where you need to look at serial numbers, that kind of thing.

So, you know, they might get lucky and find a piece like that. Obviously, remember in Air France in 2009, that vertical stabilizer was floating in the water. It was quite obvious what that was.

BLITZER: Yes, is it -- is it impossible or is it likely that even if you don't get a ship in the area, a plane could fly at a relatively low level and make a decision, this is it?

GOELZ: No. They would not be able to do that. They've got to get their eyes and their hands on an actual physical piece of wreckage that has the serial number, that is clearly identified to the aircraft. The families, at the least, would not accept anything less.

BLITZER: And they shouldn't -- Rene, what are you hearing from your sources here in Washington?

Are they encouraged?

Are they upbeat or are they still tentative?

MARSH: Well, again, to echo everything that was just said here, it is the best case scenario now, just based on this data, they've been able to drill down even further. But nothing is 100 percent until you get to those pieces, you examine them very closely and you're able to definitively say, yes, this belongs to the plane.

Other than that, you really can't get that excited, because look what happened. We're now looking in a totally different area than we were looking yesterday.

BLITZER: Some nearly 700 miles away.


BLITZER: Is it your assessment, Tom, that it's strictly the result of what they said publicly, the political leadership in Australia and Malaysia, that new arithmetic, shall we say, of the original data showed that the location was slightly different, 700 miles, not so slight?

Or -- or -- I'm throwing this out as just a possibility -- was there some secret information out there maybe collected by the United States that shared -- that was shared with all the investigators, maybe you guys are looking in the wrong place?

FUENTES: If there is such secret information, I'm not aware of it.

BLITZER: I'm talking about, Peter, you know, the -- because the U.S. has satellites and has all sorts of high tech capabilities that it doesn't want to share with the world...

GOELZ: Right.

BLITZER: -- for obvious sources and methods, confidentiality, national security reasons. But if the U.S. did spot something 700 miles away, presumably, the U.S. would have told the NTSB, the FAA, hey, guys, you know what, do some more math.

FUENTES: Sure. I think that's possible. But remember, the South Indian Ocean, that was pegged by the NTSB and the U.S. off the bat as the most likely spot. I think it's a further refinement of their first analysis. They know the pinger is dying out. They made their last best guess at this point based on the facts that they had.

BLITZER: I can't tell you how many people have Tweeted me or e- mailed me. They're losing total credibility. They're losing total confidence in the credibility of all of these investigators, given this major, major shift.

O'BRIEN: Well, the thing is we just -- there's no transparency. So there could be some very good reasons for all this.

And you hit on one of them. The data we're talking about here is sensitive for everybody, because we're talking about military radars and capabilities, and perhaps we might be able to identify some holes in their system.

And so there -- there's a great reluctance, and couple that with natural rivalries between these countries. It took them a very long time to pull this together, to start herding the cats and start crunching this data.

Certainly, if all of those complications hadn't been in play, we would have known a lot sooner that they were flying faster at 12,000 feet.

BLITZER: And what U.S. officials and everybody else involved in the investigation, they're really worried about right now, is that the longer it goes the less likely they will retrieve this flight data recorder or the cockpit voice recorder?

MARSH: Absolutely. And, you know, once they do retrieve this, we'll start getting that critical information relatively quickly. I mean they start releasing that information to investigators within 24 hours. So we'll start to get a picture of what is on there.

But, again, of course, it goes back to finding the recorders first -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, we've heard some conflicting opinions from the Malaysian authorities and the Australian authorities earlier today, Miles. The Malaysians suggesting, well, some of the earlier stuff that was spotted in the old search area could have drifted toward the new search area, so it wasn't a total waste. The Australians saying all that stuff, the 122 pieces that were spotted by one piece of satellite, 300 spotted by another, that's all junk. It has nothing to do with the wreckage.

O'BRIEN: I think, you know, if, in fact, the Malaysians are correct, that would be hard to explain based on the ocean currents, unless they found some sort of (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: So you believe the Australians are right?

O'BRIEN: I do. I do believe the Australians.

BLITZER: Peter, what about you?

GOELZ: Yes. I think the Australians are speaking straight.

BLITZER: You accept the Australian version?

GOELZ: Hopefully, yes.

BLITZER: And you don't -- you have more confidence in the Australians than the Malaysians?

You've worked with both when you were at the FBI.

GOELZ: Yes, well the Australians have a long-term relationship of sharing 100 percent with the United States on all intelligence matters, so there's nothing that's withheld from either country by the other.

But just in terms of -- since we want to throw out wild speculation, ask the Navy if we could have had U.S. submarines with the acoustical array looking for that box. And if they found something, alert the people above and get out before they're located.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to talk about how they came up with this new calculation maybe late in the game, maybe still in time, but we'll get to that later.

Guys, stand by.

Up next, they spotted objects on their first mission over the new search zone, now, as aircraft prepare to head out again, we're going to show you the latest on this search. U.S. Navy Rear Admiral John Kirby, he's the Pentagon press secretary. He's walking into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.


BLITZER: Admiral, thanks very much for coming in.

We're going to talk about what's going on in a moment.

Stand by.

Also, he's been the object of a lot of scrutiny. We'll take a closer look at the captain of Flight 370 and his flight simulator, which has sparked a lot of curiosity and a lot of suspicion.


BLITZER: We're going to get back to the mystery surrounding Flight 370 in a moment, but the breaking news just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM, President Obama spoke with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, by phone today to discuss the escalating crisis in Ukraine.

The White House says the president discussed a proposal that the U.S. would put forward for a diplomatic resolution. The phone call was initiated by President Putin to President Obama. That's an interesting news item there in and of itself.

The White House statement saying President Obama suggested that Russia put a concrete response in writing, and the presidents agreed that Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov would meet soon to discuss the next steps.

Once again, President Putin phoned President Obama today to speak about the crisis in Ukraine. We're going to have much more on this coming up, including a live report from the border between Ukraine and Russia, where Russian troops are massing right now. Stand by for that.

In the meantime, let's get back to the mystery surrounding Flight 370. Before they could find a needle, they need to find the haystack. And before they can find the haystack, they need to find the farm. Are searchers finally in the right place? As planes prepare to head out to the new search zone, let's get the very latest from Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, who's joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Those were your comments the other day. You suggested that it's not just looking for a needle in the haystack. You've got to find a farm first.


BLITZER: Here's the question, Admiral. The investigators, have they found the farm at least?

KIRBY: We don't know. Certainly, we hope so, Wolf. I mean, that's everybody's hope, that they've gotten a little bit closer. As you've pointed out, the area's moved now to the north. It's roughly the size of New Mexico. It's a pretty big chunk of water, and I'd remind you that, in Air France, when we used Navy equipment to try to find that black box, I mean, that search area was about 40 square miles. This is 123,000 square miles or some such. So it's still a large volume of space on the water surface that we're looking for.

BLITZER: So basically, this is -- correct me if I'm wrong, the best estimate now where, if there is wreckage, the wreckage exists someplace in this huge area, right? But it's just an estimate; it's not a certainty.

KIRBY: That's exactly right. Estimate's a great word for that. It's based on data now that we've been investigators have been collecting here and estimates of how fast the plane might have been flying; therefore burning more fuel; therefore, didn't perhaps go as far. So it is just an estimate, but it is based on some new information.

BLITZER: The old search zone, was that a waste of time?

KIRBY: No, I don't -- look, in the search operation, especially at sea, Wolf, with currents and winds and weather -- we've seen the weather -- there's no guarantees. No, there's no waste of time when you're trying to -- when you're trying to solve a mystery like that.

BLITZER: How active is the United States military right now in trying to find this?

KIRBY: Well, we're being very active, and we're doing it very much in consultation with the Malaysian government and with our Australian partners, what they need, what they've asked for. And right now the focus for us in the United States Navy, particularly, is fixed-wing search aircraft. We now have two. The second P-8 Poseidon arrived in Perth today. We'll be adding to the search efforts. This will allow us to fly one sortie every day, so you'll fly one aircraft and that aircraft will take a break. The next one will go the next day.

BLITZER: Even though it's much closer now, 700 miles closer to Perth than the old search zone, you still could only do one sortie a day? KIRBY: One sortie a day in this particular aircraft. And it can stay -- the aircraft can stay aloft for eight to ten hours. It can be on station for three to four hours. The fact that it's a little closer to Perth will help keep it on station a little bit longer.

And as you know, we've also sent some underwater surveillance equipment to Australia to be boarded onto a ship that they could use, but that's only valuable if you've got a much more defined search area than we have right now.

BLITZER: You'd think that Poseidon, given the capabilities -- it's the most advanced surveillance airplane the U.S. Navy has -- could determine whether or not something floating out there is wreckage from the plane, or do they actually need a ship to go there, pick it up, investigate it, bring it to shore? Or can do you that from the air?

KIRBY: Most likely you'd need to have a ship go get the debris. With the Poseidon we'll be able to do for you search a wider swath of water over a given period of time, map those locations. But you're most likely -- you're going to have to have somebody go out there and actually take a look at it to be able to identify.

BLITZER: I don't want you to release any classified information or really sensitive information. But my assumption is that the U.S. has the best satellite imagery out there, that U.S. satellites are -- are involved, even though you're not releasing images publicly.

KIRBY: That's right. And we are helping with imagery to the degree that we can. We're sharing that with investigators and the Malaysian government, again, best we can. We're not talking about the sources of the imagery, but we are providing it where we can.

BLITZER: Usually, you don't talk about submarine movements at all, but can we assume there might be a sub or two in the area. Also, trying to find out if there's this little box, this orange box which they called a black box, a ping coming out of it?

We don't talk about submarine operations, Wolf. What I'll tell you is our -- we're really focusing our attention on the fixed-wing surveillance aircraft.

BLITZER: These two P-8. The P-3 is the Orion?

KIRBY: Right. The P-3 is the Orion. We had a P-3 participating in the search. It just left a couple of days ago. Now it's two P-8 Poseidon. A P-8 is the successor to the P-3. The P-3 will eventually go away.

BLITZER: I know the U.S. has a very close military to military, intelligence to intelligence relationship with Australia.

But other countries in the region, including Malaysia, not so much, right?

KIRBY: Well, we, you know, we -- we're in very close partnership with Australia. We share the information that we can.

BLITZER: And some information you can't share, for obvious sources and methods?

KIRBY: That's right.

BLITZER: So what do you think about this whole operation? Are we -- are you upbeat that, in the next few days, we're actually going to see something? Or is this, you know, another sort of unfounded hope?

KIRBY: I wouldn't call it an unfounded hope. I think we're all hoping that this -- that this helps refine the search a little bit. I can tell you we're all mindful in the United States military that we've got 230-some-odd grieving families who want answers, and we understand that. And we also want to participate in what has become a very international effort.

So we're -- I think we're very focused on the mission. We believe in the mission. We believe in the importance of it. And if this search area pans out and then produces results, well, that's great.

BLITZER: Two very quick questions. Ships. We know there are other countries have ships in the area. Does the U.S. plan on sending any ships to the area?

KIRBY: There are no plans right now for U.S. warships to participate in this new search area.

BLITZER: And moving an aircraft carrier there, is that...

KIRBY: There's been no discussion of that. But again, I'll tell you. I mean, search operations as you're seeing it here today with a new search area, they change over time. Particularly when they're at sea, when you have all the different conditions at sea. So they'll change over time. This one will probably continue to change over time. And if there's a need for other assets, you know, we'll have that discussion with the government.

BLITZER: Drones?

KIRBY: Well, again, right now the focus is on these...

BLITZER: So we started with your excellent quote that you're not only looking for a needle in a haystack; you're not only looking for the haystack. You're looking for the farm where that haystack might -- and once again you're not even sure the farm has been located.

KIRBY: That is exactly right.

BLITZER: Let's hope it has been. All right. Thanks so much, rear admiral John Kirby, the spokesman for the Pentagon.

KIRBY: Thank you.

BLITZER: Don't leave.

When we come back, we'll have much more on the massive search expected to get under way very shortly. I'll speak live with the commander behind the military search operation that spotted the debris.

Also, flying a plane on remote-controlled autopilot from the ground. We have details on new technology that might have prevented Flight 370's mysterious fate.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The massive search for Flight 370 expected to resume momentarily from Perth, Australia.

Joining us now via Skype, General Kevin Short. He's commander of joint forces with the New Zealand defense force, which spotted some of the debris in this new search zone.

Also joining us from here in Washington, former naval oceanographer, Van Gurley.

General Short, thanks very much for joining us. Tell us what exactly your men and women have spotted and how -- how realistic is that this potentially could be wreckage from the airliner?


The crew from New Zealand went on task yesterday morning, Perth time, and came off task late afternoon. During that time, 4 1/2 hours on task, they identified, picked up 11 objects. Those objects varied from what looked like orange fishing buoy through to objects that were around about 1 meter square, white in shape.

They have taken high-definition photos of those objects and sent the information back to the headquarters in Perth. But they weren't able to actually identify those objects. We'll actually have to wait for them to be picked up by a ship.

BLITZER: When will that happen, based on the information, General, that you have, that a ship will get close enough to those objects to determine whether or not they are from the airliner?

GEN. KEVIN SHORT, AIR VICE-MARSHAL COMMANDER, JOINT FORCES NEW ZEALAND DEFENSE FORCE: Well, I expect in about two hours time there will be four ships in the area and able to be directed onto the location of the objects. The aircraft that took over from us, the Royal Australian Air Force P-3, immediately found the same objects and so I think we've got a very good position to direct the ships in to assist in that recovery of the objects from the sea.

BLITZER: And I take it the waves, the current, the weather is a lot better in this new search zone 700 miles away from the earlier search zone, and that it will make it easier for ships to get to this area and actually pick up some of this debris from the surface of the Indian Ocean?

SHORT: Yes. The weather is very good in the area. There's only 15 knots of wind from the northwest. Sea state is 1 to 2. So there's only a few white caps and very good visibility. So the weather is actually meant to improve from again today. So there should be every chance to make that rendezvous and pick up these objects.

BLITZER: And New Zealand is flying, what, P-3, the Orion service planes. Is that right?

SHORT: Yes. It's a P-3, it's P-3 K-2. K for kiwi and two, meaning it's the second major upgrade with head on those aircraft.

BLITZER: And so how good do you believe this -- based on what the experts are telling you, how encouraged are you that what you spotted may in fact be wreckage? Obviously you don't know for sure but what is your assessment?

SHORT: We don't know for sure but we're not the only aircraft in the search area that's come across debris. In fact, five of 10 aircraft have located objects in that general area and so there's a high probability that it will identify or otherwise the missing Malaysian aircraft.

BLITZER: General Kevin Short is the Air Vice-Marshal Commander of the Joint Forces New Zealand Defense Force.

General, thanks very much. We'll stay in close touch with you. Hopefully in the next few hours we'll learn whether or not any of those pieces of debris are in fact from the airliner.

Let's get some reaction now. Van Gurley is joining us here in Washington. Former naval oceanographer.

What is your assessment right now of this search -- this new search zone?

VAL GURLEY, FORMER NAVAL OCEANOGRAPHER: Well, it's intriguing that the shift happened so quickly. One of the things that we would be interested in the type of analysis we've done for other air accidents and -- at Metron is just really understand how strong the officials believe in this new area versus the old area. What you don't want to do is get yourself caught in a position where everybody is running to the same spot based on the latest information.

You don't want to get into a game of playing little kids' soccer. I'm sure that's not happening but again what you have to do is make sure that you keep some folks looking at even the places where you haven't seen something yet but there's still a chance there you might something.

BLITZER: And your bottom line assessment is?

GURLEY: Our bottom line assessment is the fact that we have five of 10 aircraft coming back and seeing something is intriguing and has to be investigated. But again, this is the first day in this new zone and what are the odds of seeing something on the first day after all the work that's already gone in?

BLITZER: Van Gurley, your assessment guy. Van, thanks very much.

Up next, the airliner's captain and his home flight simulator subject of extraordinary scrutiny. We're taking a closer look.

And Interpol slamming Malaysia for completely ignoring its database for stolen or lost passports. Does that raise new questions about the passengers on Flight 370?


BLITZER: Let's get the very latest now on Flight 370. The investigation, a closer look at the airliner's captain has been the focus of so much attention.

Our justice correspondent Pamela Brown is here.

Pam, what are you learning?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: We're learning from sources, Wolf, that the FBI is getting closer to wrapping up mining the data from that hard drive of Captain Zaharie Shah's flight simulator. So far it's offered few clues about whether Shah deliberately diverted that plane but those who knew him are speaking to CNN and shedding new light on the captain.


BROWN (voice-over): The man who helped Captain Zaharie Shah build his home flight simulator now also offering CNN a glimpse into the mind of a veteran pilot whose source say remains a mysterious key figure in the investigation of Flight 370.

THANOS KONTOGIANNIS, BLOGGER, SOLD PARTS TO CAPTAIN ZAHARIE: It's not unusual to have a simulator at home. He was just very passionate for his hobby. He wanted to make it as close to real as it could be.

BROWN: Thanos Kontogiannis sold Shah some of the parts he used to build his simulator. He tells CNN the 53-year-old father was so interested in making the simulator feel real he wanted a robotic seat like the one seen here that would mimic what it would feel like in a cockpit.

Kontogiannis says he doesn't believe Shah could have been involved.

KONTOGIANNIS: He was a very serious and to down-to-earth guy even if he was flying, he's a pilot. But I wouldn't think that he would go that far, no, to turn a plane around and fly for hours just to do something stupid. BROWN: Overnight, those who knew Shah and his co-pilot Fariq Hamid told the "Wall Street Journal" both men lived ordinary lives. One long-time colleague described Shah as, quote, "the ideal pilot, an invisible pilot." An acquaintance said he was patient and efficient and far from a political fanatic.

Neighbors of Hamid said the 27-year-old first officer was friendly and well-mannered and seldom socialized within the community.

Still, sources say investigators are focusing on both men, especially Shah, if for no other reason that he was in charge in the cockpit.

SETH JONES, RAND CORPORATION: They are interested in his state of his marriage, his views of Malaysian Airlines which he apparently was unhappy with what he perceived as mismanagement and corruption. They were looking at his views of his son. He was unhappy with his son for his recent unemployment.

BROWN: So far sources haven't confirmed those concerns to CNN and say interviews with Shah's family, searches of his home and the forensic examination of his hard drive haven't turned up anything that would explain the plane's disappearance. Though investigators also say a lack of evidence indicating premeditation also doesn't rule out the theory that one of the pilots could have snapped in the cockpit.

PAT MORSEY, FORMER SECRET SERVICE AGENT: Just because there's no previous history does not mean that the individual didn't have an episode that led them to do something that they would not normally otherwise do. That happens all the time, unfortunately.


BROWN: We want to stress again that there is no evidence, as of now, according to sources, of any involvement from the pilots whatsoever. Today the CEO of Malaysia Airlines did not speak specifically about the co-pilot and the pilot but did say that all new pilots of the airline go through a psychological examination and have follow-up exams depending on certain conditions, such as their age -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Pamela, stay with us because I want to bring in our justice reporter Evan Perez is here, along with our law enforcement analyst, the former FBI assistant director Tom Fuentes.

I want to get back to that in a moment, the whole pilot issue. But Interpol released an interesting statement today really critical of the Malaysians for not checking the database that Interpol has. As we know, two passengers with stolen passports got on to that flight. The truth is -- this is from the Interpol press release, the truth is that in 2014 prior to the tragic disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-370, Malaysia's immigration department did not conduct a single check of passengers' passports against Interpol's databases."

What do you make of this? Because Malaysia claims that Interpol's computer system were too slow. That's why they never bother. What do you make of this?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, first of all, Wolf, that's an absurd claim. The United States --

BLITZER: The Malaysian claimed.

FUENTES: The Malaysian claimed but it's slow because the United States queries that database 240 million times a year. The British 140 million times a year. United Arab Emirates, 30 -- I mean, Singapore 30 million, United Arab Emirates 100 million times.

And those checks take less than one second. In two-tenths of a second when the passport is scanned, it goes through that database and comes back plus the country's own databases so frankly that's a false claim.

BLITZER: Should we read anything into the fact that Interpol is now releasing this statement? Because there's always from the beginning a little suspicion these two Iranian passengers who have these stolen passport. Should we read anything into that?

FUENTES: Oh no, I worked for years with Interpol and I was a member of the executive committee and I know that Secretary General Ron Noble has been adamantly trying to get the countries of the world to query that database for all outgoing flights. One billion tickets a year are issued, international flights with no check being conducted by the country, and has tried to get these countries to do it.

So I think maybe he's lost a little patience with any country that wants to use -- that it's too slow or too cumbersome or whatever, this is off of Interpol's virtual private network and it's, you know, again, two-tenths of a second to query the database in Leon, France and get an answer.

BLITZER: I hope they change their policy. So what are you hearing, Evan, about the pilot, the co-put, so much focus, as Pamela just reported, especially on the pilot right now. The hard drives that the -- FBI have been trying to recreate some of those deleted files. What's the latest that you're hearing?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I don't think -- from talking to officials, they don't think that the hard drives themselves will resolve everything. Obviously they're looking at it. And what this serves, for the purpose of for later on when they have additional information that comes in from other parts of the investigation, perhaps from the black box when that's recovered, they can take all of that information and perhaps compare it with what is found on the hard drives.

And that might give them some more clues as to what might be -- might have been going on in the captain's head before this flight or in the co-pilot's head before this flight.

BLITZER: So the information right now may not seem very significant but later if new information comes in, it could prove to be significant? PEREZ: That's exactly right.

BLITZER: All right, Evan, thanks very much. Tom, Pamela, thanks to you as well.

Just ahead, we're expecting flights to begin taking off very soon, momentarily, in fact, in the search for Flight 370. We're going to the staging area in Perth, Australia, that's coming up right at the top of the hour.

Plus, flying a plane from the ground by remote control. We have new details on technology that could potentially prevent -- potentially -- another mysterious disappearance.


BLITZER: We're learning new details about technology which could prevent another plane from suffering the same mysterious fate that Flight 370 suffered from.

Our Brian Todd is here. His team is uncovering some new documentation on this new cutting edge program.

Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we found documents for a patent that Boeing applied for 10 years ago. It's for a system that could enable a plane to be flown by remote control from the ground in an emergency.

The system hasn't been deployed. One of our experts say s if it had, this Malaysia Airlines incident may well have turned out very differently.


TODD (voice-over): A lost signal, a vanished plane, and on the ground a feeling of complete helplessness. But an idea has circulated to put autopilot on passenger planes on remote control in stressful situations. In 2004, Boeing applied for a patent for a system referred to as interruptible autopilot.

MARK WEISS, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: The ground controller could now take control away from the pilots so that they wouldn't have control over the throttles, over the yoke, over the rudder pedals. And now this would be handled by the ground. So everything now that the pilots would try to do would be inconsequential.

TODD: With this idea, pilots could flick a switch when under stress. Sensors in the cockpit could go off or sensors on the cockpit door could activate the ground autopilot if a certain amount of force was used against the cockpit door, then ground operators could take control of the plane using radio or satellite signals and steer it to a predetermined airport. They'd be flying it almost like a drone.

If Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was hijacked or if a member of the crew purposefully did something to alter the path, could this have saved that plane?

WEISS: If in fact they determined that it was a problem that -- then they tried to get in touch with the pilot and the co-pilot and they couldn't, then if that system were in place, it seems as though the ground controller could then have landed this aircraft.

TODD: Right now autopilot systems are manually switched on and off only at the discretion of the pilots in the air. And autopilot cannot land or take off. But this potential solution could also present a new problem.

(On camera): This wouldn't necessarily be hack proof, right?

MARK RASCH, CYBER AND PRIVACY EXPERT: This system wouldn't necessarily be hack proof, and so terrorists might be able to get into this data stream and force the plane to land or do whatever they wanted it to do.


TODD: Has Boeing advanced this idea from 10 years ago? Is the company still testing it out or has it scrapped the idea entirely? We tried multiple times to get information from Boeing on this project. The company would not speak to us about it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So basically the technology would convert an airliner into a remotely piloted vehicle like a drone?

TODD: Absolutely it would. And it would be flown like a drone by remote control from the ground, and they say they could even land this plane and possibly activate like an emergency brake system on the runway. It's incredible technology. If it can be tested and deployed properly. We don't know anything about it because Boeing's not talking to us about it.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, good report. Thanks very much.

Let's get some more now on what's going on, some other important news we're watching. Our special coverage of the mystery surrounding Flight 370 will continue, but there's breaking news right now.

Russian President Vladimir Putin phoned President Obama today to discuss the crisis in Ukraine. Right now the president is in Saudi Arabia for meetings about two more crises, the ones in Iran and Syria.

Our White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski is joining us now from Riyadh -- Michelle.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is remarkable news that the White House now says that today Russian President Vladimir Putin called President Obama on the phone to discuss the U.S. proposal for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis in Ukraine. They said that this week in the Hague Secretary of State John Kerry presented again this proposal to the Russian foreign minister. And we knew that this is at least the second time that the U.S. has presented this written proposal. We know back in Paris early this month on March 7th it was presented and that it entailed Russia pulling back its troops, disarming militant groups, forming a contact group to open a dialogue with Ukraine. But at that time Russia seemed to dismiss this outright.

One thing that Russia emphasized was that the U.S. proposal legitimized the current new government in Ukraine and assumed that Russia would be OK with that. Well, clearly Russia was not OK with that. We knew that they were going to form a counter proposal. And now we hear that President Putin wants to talk about this.

President Obama emphasized to him on the phone, the White House says, that he would need to pull back troops for there to remain this diplomatic path to a resolution, and that they wanted Russia to work with Ukraine on some of the things that Ukraine has been trying to do because they've maintained that Ukraine has been open to diplomacy with constitutional reforms that would protect the rights of ethnic minorities, that would presumably leave some autonomy in Crimea, among other things.

So now it seems that Russia wants to talk about this, and President Obama told Putin to put a concrete response in writing and that the next steps would be the foreign ministers would meet again soon.

This is truly remarkable to hear. But it's tough to imagine what exactly pulling back troops means. Does that mean this massing of tens of thousands of Russian troops at the Ukrainian border that threaten some other provocation, which the U.S. has forbidden, or does this mean pulling out of Crimea?

I mean, Russia has said that Crimea is now a part of Russia. Well, at the same time you have Ukraine saying it will not cede a centimeter of its country to Russia and the international community saying no one is going to recognize that Crimea is a part of Russia. So how this will turn out diplomatically if Russia has to pull back its troops is a mystery at this point, but hopefully soon we will see some real step towards a resolution -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Michelle Kosinski, our White House correspondent. Thanks very much, Michelle, is new to CNN. Welcome to CNN. Good to have you on our team.

Coming up, aircraft about to take off heading for a new search zone. We'll have the latest on the hunt for Flight 370. And CNN's Kyung Lah was aboard a U.S. Navy surveillance aircraft when it actually spotted objects in the new search zone. She's standing by. She'll tell us all about it.


BLITZER: Happening now a SITUATION ROOM special report on the mystery of Flight 370. We're following a critical shift in the search. We expect planes to return momentarily to a new target area in the Indian Ocean where crews spotted objects that might be debris from their -- with their own eyes.

We're also standing by for the results of analysis of photos like this one. Could that be a piece of the missing plane? Our experts will talk about the new evidence and what happens next.