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The Mystery of Flight 370; Time Running Out to Find Black Box; Flight Attendant's Husband Copes with Disappearance; Search Resumes Over Massive Area; Estimated 40,000 Russian Troops on Border; Multiple Earthquakes Rock L.A.

Aired March 31, 2014 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: a SITUATION ROOM special report on the Mystery of Flight 370.

New pushback from the captain's daughter after a disturbing report about his state of mind. Stand by for the newest information about the pilots and possible evidence of a criminal act.

The black box detector is headed to the search zone with just days left until the locator pings are expected to fade. We will have a live report at sea on what's expected in the desperate hours ahead.

And a heartbreaking message to Flight 370 families who are clinging to prayers and hope. An official Chinese newspaper says it's time for them to accept the worst.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We expect search planes to take off any moment now in the frustrating race against the clock to find any trace of Flight 370. More than three weeks after the plane vanished, more mystery and more confusion today. Authorities now say the final voice message to air traffic controllers wasn't exactly what we originally thought. And there are now new questions about whether the jet's flight path may have been different than we have been told.

Our correspondents are working their sources for new details on the search and the investigation, and our team of analysts is here to put it all into context.

First to our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, for the very latest -- Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the past 24 to 48 hours have been frustrating for search teams. Several potentially interesting objects spotted from the sky turned out to be nothing tied to the flight once picked up at sea.

It's a reminder that searchers are still working on best guesses rather than hard facts as they scour the Indian Ocean for any sign of Flight 370.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SCIUTTO (voice-over): Twenty-five days into the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight, a race to locate the plane's data recorder before its pings go silent.

An Australian navy ship set out to sea Monday night with advanced American underwater search gear on board, including a pinger locator. Still, the equipment won't be useful until the search zone is dramatically located.

CMDR. WILLIAM MARKS, U.S. NAVY: Without a starting point, we really can't put our towed pinger locator in the right position, and it's far too big of an area right now.

SCIUTTO: As a new day of searching is set to begin, frustration with the progress. Four orange objects spotted Monday by search aircraft and earlier described as promising turned out, once again, to be a false alarm, just old fishing gear.

TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: The best brains in the world are applying themselves in this task. All of the technological mastery that we have is being applied and brought to bear here. So, if this mystery is solvable, we will solve it.

SCIUTTO: Family members of passengers accuse Malaysian officials of being dishonest since the plane vanished, not helped by the decision, nearly four weeks in, to finally correct the records on the final words from the cockpit.

The Malaysian government said today that the final communication was a simple and perfectly standard "Good night, Malaysian 370," not an unconventional "All right, good night," which officials had hinted weeks ago might have indicated trouble on board.

On Monday, dozens of Chinese family members visit a Kuala Lumpur temple. At another vigil in Beijing, they sobbed, meditated and lit candles for the memories of their loved ones. Malaysian officials say they are planning a high-level briefing for the families, where experts will explain the data and methodology used to guide the search.

HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIAN TRANSPORT MINISTER: We are not hiding anything. We are just following the procedure that has been set.


SCIUTTO: The loss of Air France 447 offers one more cautionary tale in the difficulty of finding black boxes at sea. When investigators eventually found that wreckage and it was two years later, they discovered they had scanned right on top of the boxes just after the crash and not heard a thing.

They never established whether the pingers were or were not working properly, but the case shows the challenge even when the wreckage is found, something searchers have yet to accomplish with Flight 370 -- Wolf. BLITZER: Yes. As you say, that Air France plane took two years to actually locate those black boxes. Thanks very much, Jim Sciutto reporting.

New questions about the plane's flight path, possible evidence of criminal intent.

Let's go to our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, who is joining us from the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur.

What are you learning, Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that issue of criminal intent, what we're learning from government sources here is that they believe from the radar data that they have that the turn-back of the aircraft, when it turned back flying back towards Malaysia within the first hour of flight, that they consider the nature of that turn to be a criminal act.

So we perhaps become a little closer to understanding more of the nature of that -- that turn. I say perhaps. The Chinese families, relatives of people who were on board Flight 370 have been desperate to ask Malaysian officials specific questions. And one of them is a question about the precise flight route, the radar reading in that first hour-and-a-half or so.

They have made up a map taken, they say, from publicly available data. They wanted to show it to Malaysian officials and ask some questions about it. They weren't able -- they weren't able to do that, but now they have. And this is what we have learned.


ROBERTSON (voice-over): This map of Flight 370's radar track was much of the reason for upset by survivor families last week, the image captured by still photographers in the family briefing. It shows a very different route from the left turn depicted until now. And it's raising even more questions about what exactly happened to Flight 370, questions the family members were unable to ask at the time.

HUSSEIN: The family briefings were personal. Next?

ROBERTSON: Chinese relatives of Flight 370 passengers say they created the map from publicly available data.

(on camera): A source with knowledge of the investigation tells CNN that beyond doubt the new map, if accurate, shows that someone with excellent flying skills was at the controls of the aircraft, that no one on board would have felt the turn. It's a claim that's getting heavy pushback from Malaysian officials.

HUSSEIN: As regards to the issue of information that's been revealed outside the press conference and of speculation and diagrams in Google or anything else in the Internet, I cannot confirm or discount. I can only base on what I have informed you in my pieces. ROBERTSON (voice-over): Investigation officials insist privately this new map is not theirs, that it doesn't match Malaysian radar readings. Despite refusing to comment publicly, Malaysian officials did say all the radar data is central to their investigation.

ABDUL AZIZ ABDUL RAHMAN, FORMER CEO, MALAYSIA AIRLINES: The manner of the air traffic control at the time of the aircraft make an air turn back is one of the very important criteria for the investigators to look at.

ROBERTSON (on camera): In a background meeting given to CNN, Malaysian investigators say they believe MH370 was -- quote -- "flown by someone with good flying skills," and now a government source says they consider the turn a criminal act committed by one of the pilots or someone else on board.

(on camera): Oh, this is great. These are the controls of the aircraft here?



(voice-over): Captain Zaharie's friends refuse to believe he could be the criminal controlling the plane.

JASON LEE, FRIEND OF PILOT: I think finally it will come to a stage that people will think that he's a hero. When the things come out, I think he's a hero.

ROBERTSON: They're rallying to his defense, show me pictures of a young Captain Zaharie at flight school.

MOHD NASIR OTHMAN, FRIEND OF PILOT: He is not around to defend himself. That's why Mr. lee and I feel that it's our duty to be at the front line to tell the whole world.

ROBERTSON: But for some, the new map is casting a shadow over Captain Zaharie's memory.


ROBERTSON: Now, the source who has knowledge of the investigation is also a friend of Captain Zaharie, and he tells us that emotionally he doesn't want to believe the conclusions that he's coming to, but logically he says he has nowhere else to turn.

What's at question for him here are the final few hours of the flight, that it appears as if the pilot was flying on an arc towards sunrise. It appears as if the pilot or whoever was in control intended to land the plane on sea in daylight and let it sink intact and therefore to make the investigation so much harder, Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic Robertson, excellent reporting, thanks very, very much.

Let's dig deeper into the suspicions about the plane's captain right now, whether he suffered some kind of mental breakdown. We're seeing new pushback from his daughter. She's denying a published report that claims she believed he was disturbed.

Our senior international correspondent, Sara Sidner, has more now from Kuala Lumpur.


SARA SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A daughter lashes out at a British tabloid that uses her name to cast doubt on her father's mental state.

Aishah Zaharie's father has become synonymous with Flight MH370. Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, the pilot of the plane. According to a "Daily Mail" article, a family friend quotes Aishah Zaharie, saying her father "wasn't the father I knew. He seemed disturbed and lost in a world of his own."

Captain Zaharie is among many being scrutinized during the investigation into the plane's disappearance. Investigators searched his home and poured through data on his flight simulator but no evidence of wrongdoing has been found.

His heartbroken daughter is incensed and says the article is flat out false. On her Facebook page, she posts a letter saying, quote, "You should consider making movies since you are so good at making up stories and scripts out of thin air. May god have mercy on your soul. You can (EXPLETIVE DELETED) I will not forgive you."

We reached out to "The Daily Mail" and are waiting comment.

(on camera): As Zaharie's family aches from his absence, they have shied away from media attention and they say all the attention and suspicion surrounding their father is -- quote -- "torturing them."

Sara Sidner, CNN, Kuala Lumpur.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our panel, our aviation analyst Miles O'Brien, Peter Goelz, and our law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes.

Miles, first to you. What do you make of all these reports now coming out about the captain of this airliner?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, you know, it seems like a lot of circumstance and really borderline rumor stuff, but obviously he's on the list of potential suspects, of possibilities as to what might have happened to Flight 370.

The captain at the controls has to be given a great degree of scrutiny, particularly given the circumstances in all this. But as his friends said, he's not around to defend himself and we don't have anything that absolutely incriminates him.

Now, that flight path which Nic Robertson talked about, if that proves to be true, that leads us down the road toward an intentional act. Now, was it the captain, was it the first officer or some intruder in the cockpit? That's open questions.

BLITZER: Peter, I assume you agree that if in fact that convoluted flight path turns out to be accurate based on radar or whatever, it would suggest strongly that there was some sort of criminal act here as opposed to mechanical failure.

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Yes, I would say that that confirms that there was somebody in the cockpit that who how to flight and was controlling the aircraft.

The reality is, you know, Malaysia, the government has been so inept at releasing information and verifying what are facts, there's no reason not to consider that. I think the family members are justified in giving that credence, and it's up to Malaysia to set the record straight with raw data.

BLITZER: Tom, you're a former assistant director of the FBI, an FBI agent. What else can the use investigators, the Malaysian investigators, other investigators do now to try to get into the mind of this captain?

TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all, Wolf, with regard to the radar that is causing everyone now to believe the captain did this, you know, we have been told that the best experts from the United States and United Kingdom have been looking at the Malaysian defense radar and civil aviation radars to come up with their initial assessment that the plane made a left turn, not a right turn.

I don't know where this new source information comes from or how accurate it could be or if it is accurate at all, but it's yet one more thing being thrown out there. As far as the daughter and what the family's been through, I think that's horrendous, the type of things that they have been talked about in terms of the captain that aren't true, newspaper reporting that he flipped out, newspaper reporting now that he was mentally disturbed because of his marital situation, when members of the family repeatedly deny it and they have repeatedly denied it to the special branch police officers known as the core pilot team who have been looking at this case

They're the ones that say not one member of the family, not anyone else and none of the computer information has found -- has furnished any derogatory information concerning either pilot. So I don't know, but we have had so much source information over the last three weeks turn out to be false, to me it indicates that all of the trash in this case is not just in the ocean. There's a whole lot in newspaper print also.

BLITZER: And so you're skeptical at least -- and all of us are skeptical.

FUENTES: Extremely.

BLITZER: Because there have been so many false leads, false indications over these past three weeks. We're now in week four. The notion, though, Peter, of criminal intent, as opposed to mechanical failure, are you still inclined, whether the captain or the co-pilot or somebody getting in there, hijackers, terrorists or whatever, are you still more inclined to believe criminal activity was responsible for the disappearance of this plane as opposed to mechanical failure, Peter?

GOELZ: If the radar tracks, either one of them are accurate that we have been given, then I'm more inclined to believe that someone with a nefarious goal was controlling that aircraft, yes.

BLITZER: Miles, you agree?

O'BRIEN: I do. I would like to point out the source that told Nic Robertson this would require some great degree of piloting skill, it is possible that that maneuver as depicted in the Chinese family briefing, that sort of long right turn, which ultimately led to a left turn, a 270-degree turn, that could have easily been performed on autopilot with just a twist of a knob or perhaps putting in some geographical waypoint.

It may not have required a high-time captain, which is the implication in that statement.

BLITZER: You know, your heart goes out to the families, and let's not forget 239 people were aboard that plane. It was also a U.S.-made Boeing 777. There are about 1,200 of those airliners flying around the world right now.

Peter, if there was some sort of mechanical problem, they have got to come up with an answer pretty quickly because potentially there could be some serious problem awaiting another one of these 777s.

GOELZ: Boeing cannot allow a cloud to be over its flagship long haul aircraft. They must pursue finding what happened.

BLITZER: Tom, how long do they go on with this search? Assuming the pingers, the batteries die in the coming days, they found no wreckage from the plane, what do they do then?

FUENTES: Wolf, that's a political question that's got to be answered by every one of the countries involved in the search. And we don't have an answer to it.

You know, I see what the prime minister of Australia said, now we're ramping up. My response to that would be, what have you been doing the last two weeks that you weren't ramped up? There's so much about this case that's difficult to understand, and that's yet one more thing about it.

BLITZER: Are you convinced, Miles, that they're actually looking in the right area right now?

O'BRIEN: You know, Wolf, the information which leads them to that place, as you well recall, is based on this Inmarsat satellite, which is designed to send and receive essentially text messages between ships and airplanes at sea or in the air.

And it wasn't designed to be a tracking device. The engineers there did some really good work to try to come up with some locations for the searchers, but it's a huge, wide area and there's a lot of margin for error, frankly, in all that.

And the fact that 25 days in, 25 days in, the Malaysians finally say, you know, we might want some help from the U.S. Navy is extraordinary to me. Why the U.S. hasn't been down there with an aircraft carrier, an additional land-based search aircraft, P-8s and P-360, I guess, is because they hadn't been asked, but maybe it's time to engage in some kind of full-court press before the weather turns and it's too late.

BLITZER: You heard Chuck Hagel, the defense secretary, Peter, say today just ask and we will try to accommodate. The U.S. has two P-8 Poseidon aircraft, they're the most advanced, in Perth right now. They apparently go out one day after another. Is that enough?

GOELZ: It is not enough, Wolf.

And the reality is we need to get this -- the cliche is boots on the ground. We need boats on the water in the search area picking up everything they can. We have got to find some piece of this aircraft, so we can have at least one shot at hearing the pinger.

BLITZER: Tom, there was an interesting article in "The China Daily" today in Beijing. I want to read an element from that article.

"Today, no matter how distressed we are and how many details that are not clear, it is certain that flight MH370 crashed in the Indian Ocean and no one on board survived. All related parties can do is to continue to search for the wreckage, carry on negotiations with the Malaysian side with more information and prepare to make arrangements for funerals."

When you read this, what did you make about this? It was a very blunt article in "The China Daily."

FUENTES: Well, I think it indicates that the Chinese government and the people related to the families are indicating maybe let's accept reality that we're probably not going to find anybody on that plane alive anyplace and that's just a fact of life. And I think that maybe they're just trying to inject some -- a reality check into this, into all of the confusion.

BLITZER: Tom, Peter, Miles, guys, don't go too far away.

Still ahead, we will go live to the staging area for the search as the sun rises and with time running out to find those black boxes. Plus, we will hear from the husband of a flight attendant on the missing plane. He says he doesn't know what to tell his young children who keep asking for their mother.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And now I'm not sure whether I could bring her home, you see.



BLITZER: It's early Tuesday morning off the coast of Australia. The search for Flight 370 is resuming. It may be another long day of frustration.

Let's check in with CNN's Kyung Lah. She's joining us from Perth with more.

What's the latest there, Kyung?

KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the first of the planes scheduled to be in the air right now, Wolf. We haven't gotten confirmation of that, but we have learned that a total of 10 planes now will be taking off heading to the search zone today.

There will be nine ships at sea, the planes spotting, looking for debris, the ships then going and confirming whether or not what the planes see in the air is actual debris from the missing plane. And that is the key here. They're still trying to track this plane. We have learned that the weather is going to be a bit of a factor. Visibility is going to be limited in some sections, according to the Australian government.

So we have to see how this day still plays out. So it's going to be a bit of a challenging day, but they're continuing to search, Wolf. They're continuing to hit this as hard as possible -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What's the mood over there? Because I know you speak to the pilots, the crew members. It must be very frustrating to pick up jellyfish and junk and other stuff, think it might be the wreckage; on the other hand, they examine it and they see it's just garbage.

LAH: Yes, it's a roller coaster. They see it, they think that maybe this is it, but then the ships, when they go out there and they pull it out, yes, it's absolutely a disappointment.

And these are very, very long hours. The ships are staying out there with all the personnel. There are some 1,000 sailors at sea right now, every day in the air some 100 personnel. And they are going in for 12 hours at a time. So it is certainly disappointing. But what we're not hearing is the sense that they want to give up.

The prime minister here in Australia saying that he is absolutely not setting a timeline. There is no end date. He is going to continue to pour as many resources as possible into finding this debris -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, that's good to hear. All right, Kyung, thank you.

Crews certainly are desperate to find the plane's black box before the battery runs out. That's expected to happen when it hits 30 days. That means the battery's pinging could stop in less than a week. And when that happens, chances of finding the plane will drop dramatically.

CNN's Will Ripley is on board a boat following one of the ships with the black box locator. He's joining us now.

Will, set the scene for us. Where are you guys now?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sure. We're just off Rottnest Island. This is where we had to stop as we followed the Ocean Shield out toward the Indian Ocean there now 10 hours into their journey.

We're on a chartered fishing boat. We just don't have the size or the fuel to be able to continue out to the search area, but the Ocean Shield is well-equipped. Not only well-equipped with a 30-member crew who are going to be trained to handle the ins and outs of this search, but also some very high-tech tools from the U.S. Navy. Tools that represent the hope for many of solving this mystery and the hope for these families of finally finding closure.


RIPLEY (voice-over): Mysteries in modern aviation. The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

An Australian naval ship departing under the cover of night heading to one of the most remote places on earth.

(on camera): The Ocean Shield's three-day journey to the search zone in the Indian Ocean is now underway, but what exactly this ship is going to do once it reaches the area is still unclear. There's a lot of technology on board, technology that could be crucial to finding the missing Malaysian airliner Flight 370. But the problem is, for that technology to work, the search zone needs to be narrowed in. We need to know where, roughly, the debris is. And with an area the size of Poland being scoured right now, those answers don't exist.

(voice-over): With each new discovery comes new disappointment. Objects pulled from the ocean have no link to the missing airliner.

CAPTAIN RAY RUBY, DOWN UNDER MARINE CHARTERS: We started off, running on about eight to ten knots and slowly picking up speed. I think by the time he was doing about 15 knots, we're still in the channel.

RIPLEY: Charter boat Captain Ray Ruby tries keeping up with the Ocean Shield as the ship accelerates towards the search zone. Time is running out. The batteries on the data recorders are dying, the recorders that could tell the world what happened to the plane and those 239 people on board.

RUBY: And then the next thing you know, we're getting flashed an S.O.S.

RIPLEY: A dangerous situation: another boat trying to follow the Ocean Shield blows its engine in the middle of a busy shipping lane.

RUBY: That's always an emergency. And we had to give up following the Ocean Shield. RIPLEY: As we tow the boat to safety, the Ocean Shield disappears on the horizon, searching for answers about MH-370. Searching for closure for the families of the missing.


RIPLEY: Even here just ten miles off of Fremantle -- Fremantle, which a Perth port, you can see how the weather conditions can change. We've had winds that are whipping up. Here the seas are just 100 feet deep. But out in the search area, Wolf, 4,000 -- I should say 14,000 feet deep, 4,000 meters. So you're talking about waves that can be higher than most buildings. Weather conditions that can change instantly, turning a calm day into a very stormy day.

So a lot of challenges as the Ocean Shield embarks on this journey.

BLITZER: When you look over, the water over there where you are, you see a lot of junk floating around there, Will?

RIPLEY: Not particularly in Coburn (ph) Sound where we are. There are little pieces of junk that are floating around here, but out in the ocean, absolutely. It is -- you know, one thing that we've learned covering this story is just how much trash is floating around, especially in this part of the world in the Indian Ocean, trash from fishing vessels like this one and other larger vessels. We saw a lot of cargo ships traveling through, as well.

So it is pretty remarkable how -- how many objects there are and, as we've pulled these objects from the water, none of them so far connected to the disappearance of Flight 370.

BLITZER: Will Ripley, thanks very much. He's in the Indian Ocean right now.

We've seen vigils, prayers, anger from the Flight 370 families. We've also heard less from relatives of the 12 members of the plane's crew.

CNN's Paula Hancocks talked to the husband of a flight attendant who's struggling to figure out what he should tell his young children.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Foong Wai Yueng's 10- year-old daughter and 4-year-old son keep asking where she is. Eighteen years as a Malaysia Airlines flight attendant, she was working aboard MH-370.

LEE KHIM FATT, HUSBAND, MH-370 FLIGHT ATTENDANT: It will take a bit longer to come home this time. And I even -- I even promised them I'm going to bring her home. But I really don't know where she is now. And now I'm not sure whether I could bring her home, you see.

HANCOCKS: Lee, in fact, asked me what he should tell his daughter. He says Foong is caring; she is loving. He speaks in the present tense.

LEE: Of course, I'm still hoping for God's miracles, but it's just like what we want is the reality, the true story.

HANCOCKS: Showing me mobile photos of his wife, he tells me he's angry at the way he's been treated. His wife was part of the cabin crew but Lee feels the airline tells the media more than it tells him. He says he gets most of his information from televised press conferences. Part of the reason he's hired a lawyer.

MANUEL VON RIEBECK, ATTORNEY: It is not their fault that this happened to the plane, so therefore, they have to be compensated for their damages.

HANCOCKS: Lee and Foong were together for 20 years. He says they were happy. Now she is lost, Lee says he has lost all direction.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.


BLITZER: Just ahead, we'll map out the enormous area under scrutiny, more than 98,000 square miles searched in one day, and that's barely a dip.


BLITZER: CROSSFIRE won't be seen tonight so we can bring you more of our special report on the mystery of Flight 370. The search is back on, but do the crews stand any chance of finding the plane?

CNN's Tom Foreman is in our virtual studio to show us just how big the search zone is right now -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, if you think about it, from the very beginning as they spread this out in the South China Sea, they went over to the Straits of Malacca. They went to the Andaman islands and went up into Europe. And now all the way down here, the juxtaposition between the Indian Ocean and the southern ocean, they have covered hundreds of thousands of square miles already.

They've considered millions of square miles, and here they are coming from Perth off Australia here some 1,400 miles, depending on which location you're looking at, over here to these various search areas where they had satellite images. They found some debris. Now they're up in that red area which they've refined and moved a couple of times.

And yet the planes keep flying, and the ships keep rolling across the ocean out there. They're doing this for one very important reason, because everything that has led the search so far has been conjecture. Ideas about where the plane might have gone. And they need to find clues, hard evidence before they go beneath the water.

And this is why. Let's fly down underneath the water here and talk about the difference in circumstances.

By the time you get to the bottom of the Indian Ocean anywhere out here, you're going to be so deep that there is really no light whatsoever. It's going to be flat-out dark down there.

And in those environments, you cannot look the way you do from a ship or from a plane using your eyes. You can only use instruments, whether that side-scan sonar to let you look at parts of the floor down there or these listening devices to try to track different pings that they might be able to hear down there. No matter how you go about it, that's the only way to get it done.

And unlike the planes or the ships that might be able to reach out over great distances, here you can only reach out maybe a mile in each direction, maybe two in some cases, and every little ridge down here, every hill will slow you down and limit your search area.

So the search area in the bottom, up there it may be 80,000, 90,000, 100,000 square miles a day. Down here it may be more like 50 or 60 on a really good day. So the same amount of space you can search up there in a day down here could easily take more than a year, Wolf.

So the truth is they don't dare go underwater, as much as people want them to go, with all this high-tech equipment, without some kind of guidance. Because without that, it is truly just taking a chance that you'll be in the right space, and those chances are not good at all -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They need to find at least some wreckage from that plane to have at least a clue where to go. Tom Foreman, thank you.

We're going to continue watching developments in the hunt for Flight 370. Stand by for that.

Also coming up, the crisis in Ukraine. Up to 40,000 armed Russian troops are positioned along the country's border. We're going live to the Ukrainian/Russian border for the very latest.

And Southern California rocked by multiple earthquakes and now more than a hundred aftershocks. Is it over or are there still more to come?


BLITZER: Let's go to Ukraine right now where there are new fears of a full scale Russian invasion. U.S. officials have told CNN there may be up to 40,000 armed Russian troops positioned along the eastern border of Ukraine.

Joining us now from the Ukrainian/Russian border, CNN's Karl Penhaul.

What are you seeing there on the ground?

KARL PENHAUL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, from where we are now it's just about five miles in a straight line to the Russian border. Yes, we have heard the diplomatic talk and hear on the ground as well they are hearing reports coming out of Russia that possibly Vladimir Putin is pulling some of those troops back from the border, but all day here on the ground preparations have been made in case the Russians do decide to roll in. We've had an armored unit roll in, an armored vehicle like this. It's armed with a cannon. That in the course of the day pulled in. They dug it in. And then around the landscape here, part of the same battle unit T-64 tanks. We've seen anti-aircraft gun as well.

Certainly, the troops -- there's a palpable sense they're getting ready just in case they're called upon. Just another hint of that, looking at some of the soldiers there you may notice that around the stocks of their rifle, they have a rubber band, a tourniquet. That's another sign that they're combat-ready in case fighting breaks out and they suffer some kind of injury. One of them as well because some of this equipment you have is old equipment. And he says, look, you're right. We believe the Ukrainian military has been rundown, underfinanced for a number of years.

He said, to be honest, this is really the first line of defense if the Russians do roll in. We realize, he said, in his words, we may be cannon meat. He said, but our job up here on this ridge is to make sure that this whole area is turned into a graveyard for all of us if the Russians come in.

Certainly, a palpable sense that combat could be close, Wolf.

BLITZER: What else are those Ukrainian troops telling you off camera?

PENHAUL: Well, again, you know, talk obviously turns to family, their families are worried. It's really the only way of getting information back and forth right now. We were telling them, of course, that in the course of the day we've heard the news out of Russia that maybe at least one battalion has been pulled back from the eastern border. One of the commanders here said, well, one battalion is nothing. That in Russian terms is about 500 soldiers.

Of course, and that's the other thing why there's some disbelief amongst this group of soldiers up here right close to the border because the Ukrainians and the Russians have for years trained together. They feel still that they're in many ways brothers in arms and they feel a sense of disbelief now that they're staring at one another down the barrel of a gun, Wolf.

BLITZER: Karl Penhaul on the border between Ukraine and Russia, thank you.

So, how's the United States handling the most tense standoff with Russia since the Cold War.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is joining us right now.

Barbara, as you know, a lot of talk about diplomacy, pulling back troops, but for U.S. intelligence, the U.S. intelligence community for the Pentagon, what is the hard reality that they are actually seeing on the ground?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I must tell you first, wolf, that several sources in the government I've spoken today have watched the reports from Karl Penhaul, our colleague on that frontier, and are watching very closely his photo, his pictures of what is happening on that border. For the U.S. government, it's still very much a "show me", show me the withdrawal because they are aware of the reports out of Russia, but still they consider that nothing has changed on the ground.

Their view is that Russia still has those 40,000 troops right on the border, another 25,000 a bit further back in potential reinforcement positions ready to move in if it came to that. They do not yet see anything to verify that Vladimir Putin is withdrawing his forces from that border, Wolf.

BLITZER: So, what's the next step? Where does everyone go from here?

STARR: Well, I think tomorrow will be very interesting. As you know, the NATO foreign ministers meeting to discuss all of this and they will be meeting with NATO supreme allied commander, General Philip Breedlove, who was recalled to NATO headquarters. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel sent him back to Europe over the weekend to deal with all of this. He had been in Washington.

What is on the table tomorrow is discussions about what to do next, possibly beefing up NATO air and naval presence, possibly beefing up the NATO response force. But all of these are diplomatic moves. Putin knows no military force is coming after him.

So, the bottom line right now this remains in the hands and decision making of Vladimir Putin -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr reporting from the Pentagon -- thanks. A very tense situation between Ukraine and Russia.

Just ahead, southern California is rattled by multiple earthquakes and about 100 after shocks. Does this mean a huge quake is just around the corner?

New details about the final communications between missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 and air traffic controllers. Why the Malaysian government is now saying the last words from the cockpit were not -- were not, "All right, good night."


BLITZER: Southern California is on the edge of multiple earthquakes and more than 100 after shocks hit the region this weekend.

Our national correspondent Jason Carroll is in Los Angeles right now.

Jason, scary weekend for a lot of folks in southern California. What's the very latest?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, absolutely, a lot of moving, a lot of shaking out here, Wolf, as you can imagine. The big question is, are people ready? And the answer is for some, they are not.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) CARROLL (voice-over): Friday night's performance of "Bye Bye Birdie" at Brea-Olinda High School interrupted when the earth started to shake.

Surveillance camera capturing the moment the magnitude 5.1 quake had customers at Ferrell's ice cream parlor, former home of a concoction called the 8-scoop earthquake sundae getting a taste of the real thing as customers dodged under tables for cover.

At an apartment building near the epicenter, in La Habra, falling pictures, frayed nerves.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I ran out of my car and ran right into the arms of this man. We were in the middle of the street just like hugging. We were so scared. And then it stopped. He invited me to his house and there was an after shock and we were hugging again with his wife.

CARROLL: More than 100 after shocks hit the region, including a magnitude 4.1, that struck Saturday afternoon. The quake centered around 25 miles south of downtown Los Angeles on the Puente Hills Fault. One seismologist had been closely watching.

LUCY JONES, SEISMOLOGIST: When we have a earthquake, a big earthquake on the Puente Hills, the strong shaking is going to be downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood, East L.A. And we're going to see a much, much higher level of damage.

CARROLL: While there were no injuries reported and damage mostly minor, tremors were a wakeup call of what it means to live in quake country. California hasn't seen a major one since the 1994 North Ridge quake. The magnitude 6.7 was felt as far away as Las Vegas, 57 were killed, 5,000 injured, property damage estimated at $20 billion.

What was learned after that happened?

ANTHONY AKINS, LOS ANGELES COUNTY FIRE DEPT: >> any large disaster will overwhelm any public service - agency. We saw in North Ridge we need channels of communication open, and to be able to respond quickly not just among ourselves but with like city and some nearby agencies probably one of the big focuses that came out of North Ridge.

CARROLL: The L.A. County Office of Emergency Management estimates, there's an 86 percent chance of a magnitude 7.0 or greater earthquake hitting California in the next 30 years. Akins says the recent quakes are a reminder to be prepared and while the tremors sent some ducking for cover his message not being felt by everyone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nervous. Not prepared.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd say we are sufficiently or sort of ready, as ready as one can be.


CARROLL: So, again, Wolf, when you listen to emergency officials here, they say this is again about being prepared. As a general rule, they suggest having enough food, water and supplies to last for 72 hours. Once again, this time the earth shook in minor ways. Next time it could be a much different story -- Wolf.


I suspect folks are getting nervous out there and that is totally, totally understandable.

Jason Carroll, thanks for that report. Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter.

You can tweet me @WolfBlitzer. You can tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.