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Result of Indian Ocean Debris Analysis; Time Running Out to Find Black Box; Search Area Size Hampers Searchers; View Questions Answers About MH-370; Russia Says Pulling Back Forces from Ukraine Border.

Aired March 31, 2014 - 13:30   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting today from the CNN Center in Atlanta.

New developments in the search for flight 370. The objects retrieved from the Indian Ocean yesterday turned out to be mostly fishing equipment and not any debris from the plane. 11 ships and 10 planes scoured the area today without finding anything connected to the plane. An Australian ship carrying a ping detector also set sail to join the search.

With us here right now is Kit Darby, retired airlines pilot, flew for 30 years, president of Kit Darby Aviation Consulting.

Thanks for coming in.


BLITZER: What do you make of the revise final words from the cockpit to air traffic control in Malaysia? It was originally "all right, good night." as all of us remember. And now in a press release they say the actual words were "good night Malaysian 370."

DARBY: It's unremarkable. Neither right by the book. To me, a normal conversation.

BLITZER: I think it would be normal to say, "All right, good night." What's not normal? Four weeks into this, is for Malaysian authorities, all of a sudden, to revise the final words from the cockpit to the ground, and they refuse to release the transport. Refuse to release the audiotape.

DARBY: And there was some unsubstantiated reports, an emergency radio frequency call, asking another airplane to contact this airplane.

BLITZER: Is there any explanation why they don't become transparent? Why wouldn't they?

DARBY: It's a cross-language, cross-culture translations back and forth. I'm not sure it's an intentional mistake. I don't believe they would do that. But it's not accurate. That's a concern BLITZER: If you're leaving Malaysian air space, heading into Vietnamese air space, would you speak English. You wouldn't be speaking in another language.

DARBY: We normally speak in English all of the time. That's the rule. But when talking to your own country, they do use their native language.

BLITZER: So where do you see this? We haven't spoken in a while. Where do you see this investigation going right now? It's so frustrating, especially, let's not forget, 239 people were on board that airliner. Let's also not forget what -- this is a U.S.-made Boeing 777, one of the most common planes out there, about 1,200 of them flying in the United States and around the world right now. And we have no idea if it was a mechanical problem or something sinister.

DARBY: Pilots love this airplane. If you put all the airplanes in the parking lot and say pick one, I would pick this one to fly and put my family on. It's a tremendous airplane. So many assumptions go into where we are looking. And the pings, new technology, we have tried for the first time. Quite honestly, I'm hopeful, but I'm pessimistic we may not even be in the right spot.

BLITZER: Based on -- the satellite information coming in suggesting that originally it was further in the southern part of the Indian Ocean. They moved it up six or seven hundred miles closer towards Perth, Australia. But you're not even sure that's the right spot?

DARBY: Well, I like it better than the first one. My belief is this radar data from Thailand is accurate. The airplane went down and went back up. Used some gas. Couldn't go as far. So I like the new spot a lot better. But there's so many assumptions that go into that. Altitude, speed, winds, new technology. It's a daunting task.

BLITZER: That radar information is very significant. There was Malaysian radar that detected it crossing the peninsula. Thai radar. Indonesian radar, we don't know about. Vietnamese radar, we don't know about. But the notion that it was flying at 35,000, went up to 45,000, went down to 12,000, back up to 30,000, that's based on the radar analysis, right?

DARBY: It is. And I think perhaps the read at 45,000 may be inaccurate. But the amount of altitude loss from 45 to 23 and the amount of altitude loss by the Thais, 35 to 12, that's the same amount of altitude. And four raiders radars, two different countries, the airplane descended in my view.

BLITZER: What happens to the passengers? There's a lot of passengers. If the plane is going at -- let's say it went to 45 and down to 12, what happens to the passengers?

DARBY: I don't think you can get to 45. But the passengers --


BLITZER: Can a 777 reach 45,000? DARBY: Theoretically, but not loaded the way it was going to Beijing. It's not going to make it. At 35 or 45, when you dive down to 23 or 12, emergency descend. It's not straight down but exciting.

BLITZER: The oxygen masks automatically come out?

DARBY: Only if there is a depressurization. I don't believe there was. Because this airplane made a deliberate autopilot-type turn, two minutes to turn and did not start down. I can tell you, a pilot with a decompression would have his mask on in seconds and the airplane started down in a few more seconds. Two minutes not descending, probably not a decompression. Could be descending for landing, for any other purpose. You know, mechanical problem, intrusion in the cockpit, threat of any kind. But I don't see a decompression right now from what little bit we have. And it is precious little.

BLITZER: And hopefully, we'll learn some more.

Kit Darby, thanks for coming in.

DARBY: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Up next, the hunt for 370s sp-called black boxes and search teams -- they only have around five or six days to find it.


BLITZER: We'll talk some more now about the batteries on flight 370's black box, the locater beacons that will be running out in a few days. Search teams have until this weekend, basically, to detect its underwater pings in a search area the size of the state of New Mexico.

Joining us now is Brian Todd, working this story for us.

Brian, it's -- that ship that's bringing that ping locater out there, only going to get there Thursday. That may be too late to pick up any of these pings.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, you really get the sense, Wolf, this is just such a narrow window of time. But they still think it's worth it to send that vessel out there. As you mentioned, less than a week until the battery life on the pinger of the plane's black box likely runs out. That means a real sense of urgency now.

U.S. Navy commander, Mark Matthews, who is in the area, working with those teams, he talked about that urgency.


MARK MATTHEWS, U.S. NAVY COMMANDER: Typically, these last -- the batteries last for 30 days. Usually they last a little bit longer and that's what we're trying to find out. But what is critical is that the teams out there searching for the surface debris, they get good position data on that and feed it back to the oceanographers to help us determine a possible point of impact for where the aircraft went in. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Now, if these teams can find one confirmable piece of wreckage from the plane, the field of this search can narrow considerably. And a key piece of technology can help the teams zero in on the black box. That's what we have been talking about, the towed pinger locater, owned and operated by the U.S. Navy. You see a picture there. It's now aboard the Australian vessel "Ocean Shield" and headed for the search area. It can be towed to depths of 20,000 feet below the ocean surface. It can detect the pinger from as far as two miles away. But as Wolf mentioned, not getting to the search area for a few days.

Wolf, that sense of urgency ramping up because of that.

BLITZER: A lot of people getting around to the grim conclusion that the battery for the pinger may die before anyone can get close to finding it.

Thanks very much, Brian, for that.

The one variable that could really hamper that pinger ship is the search area as Brian just mentioned. A slow-moving ship can't be effective until the search area is dramatically narrow.

Let's bring in Tom Foreman, in Washington, watching this.

Tom, the Australian prime minister warned this weekend, we're still talking about a vast, vast part of the Indian Ocean that has to be covered by this search. Give us a sense of just how big an area we're talking about.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, just look at all of the search areas we have been through so far. And think about all of this space involved here. Because this has been a steady progression in space after space, the northern route, southern route. Everything out there to lead down to these spaces that at various times have been called as big as New Mexico. As big as Alaska. As big as France. There have been all these descriptions of all these different spaces. And part of the issue, they keep changing. For example, this latest area being refined, once again, and changed to a new space. This is all about the first search. And by that, I mean the above water search. Until they clear that hurdle, the second search, the below water search is pretty much off the table.

What have we found? Satellite images, which have come up and none produced anything conclusive yet. They found some debris on the surface, which they have been able to determine has nothing to do with this plane. So they have to keep going out there with these high-tech planes to search the surface and the ships to scan the surface, because, unless they narrow that area, they can't really get started on the second search. The very thing that Brian was talking about a minute ago, this idea of going below the water, as hard as it is to scan with any reliability, 80,000, 90,000 square miles in a day, like they're trying to do now with these teams, that is a vast area compared to how much they can do down here, where you're maybe one mile, two mile, three miles deep, going through all these areas, trying to pick something out.

The simple truth is, Wolf, at various times, this area has been millions of square miles, sometimes two, sometimes three. At one point, even 20 million square miles. Until they have some evidence of something else, as a practical matter, it remains that big. Because they may narrow it down to something they may want to look at, but with no evidence, there is no proof that's what they're after. They have lots of conjecture, almost no physical clues to go with. And until they get past that first search, they just can't even get down below the water -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Kit Darby said they're not sure they're looking at the right area. How much of an area can be searched in a day?

FOREMAN: Well, we've had numbers as high as 100,000 square miles, and some reports have been a little higher than that. But I will say this, Wolf. When you talk about searching 100,000 square miles in a day, again, you have to talk about just the surface. Because the Air France search area was about 124,000 square miles, because they knew they had to be on top of the water. And even with that, it took them two years to find the debris below the water. So we're talking about the smallest search area we've had in this is as big as the largest search area in the Air France crash. And that took two years. So it's very daunting, Wolf, and every day gets worse.

BLITZER: That's why they've got to find that pinger from the black boxes within the next few days. Otherwise, this could go on and on and on.

Tom Foreman, thanks very much.

Up next, do you have questions about the hunt for flight 370? If you do, tweet them. Use the #370Qs. Our panel of experts will provide some answers. Later, we'll take you to Ukraine where troops are preparing for a possible, possible Russian invasion.


BLITZER: 25 days after the disappearance of flight 370, still very few hard facts. Let's bring back our panel of experts to tackle some of the questions tweeted to us using the #370Qs.

Our aviation analysts, Mark Weiss and Peter Goelz; and law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes.

Let's get to the questions.

To Peter first. Could a submarine pick out ping through their SONAR?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Yes, a submarine could pick up the pings through its SONAR. The U.S. submarines have very sensitive listening devices, and I think a number of us are hoping that perhaps on a classified basis a sub was in the area. Because that might explain why the "Ocean Shield" is heading out to the area as it is today. BLITZER: May have some inside information. And the U.S. Navy ever, ever talks about locations of U.S. submarines.

Tom Fuentes, here's another question. Don't we, the USA, have any high-altitude drones that can take hi-res photos of the Indian Ocean?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST & FORMER FBI DEPUTY DIRECTOR: I think it's true that we do. But the experts are saying that there is some difficulty in getting them out there that far out and how they would be able to use them, especially with the clouds and the bad weather and the other limitations compared to a regular aircraft. So we have them, but apparently they're not appropriate for that environment.

BLITZER: Here's another question for Peter. Four weeks. Why has no aircraft carrier been sent to search zones so aircraft can take off and land to avoid flying 2,000 miles? What do you think about that, Peter?

GOELZ: Well, I think the -- that part of the world is a sensitive part, as we saw today, with stuff beginning on the Korean peninsula. The aircraft carriers that we have are on station. They have national security duties. That's where they're going to stay

BLITZER: Mark, this is for you from Tabitha. And you are a 777 pilot. How do we know the plane hit the water hard enough to break into pieces since no debris was found? Could it have smooth-landed and just sunk?

MARK WEISS, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Tabitha, this is not the same type of a situation you had where on the Hudson River. Remember, this was at night and in an ocean that as we have seen described over the last few weeks has very choppy waters. When you hit the water -- even if you were to try to have control, every manual I have read, is that air craft will come apart. Basically, you are hitting concrete from an airplane.

BLITZER: Good answer.

Let's go to Peter for this one. Antonio tweets, "If the plane is on the bottom of the Indian Ocean, what machinery will be used to retrieve the debris on the ocean floor?

GOELZ: The vessels -- they will bring out vessels with special equipment that can drop down slings and other types of high-tech equipment that would lift critical wreckage off the floor of the ocean. It's very delicate and very hard.

BLITZER: Stacy tweets this, Tom: "I feel Malaysian government knows something critical. Don't other governments have a right to intervene"?

FUENTES: Technically, no. They do not have a right to intervene. They have a right to request and be part of the international working group that has been convened by the Malaysians, but no right for anyone to interfere at this point. BLITZER: Guys, good answers and good questions. We will do this again tomorrow.

Much more coverage of the mystery of flight 370 coming up.

Also, we're live on the Ukraine/Russia border where troops are preparing for a possible battle with Russian forces.


BLITZER: We will get back to the search for flight 370 in a moment, but the latest from Ukraine where troop are preparing for a possible battle with Russian forces. Russia said they are pulling back forces, but moments ago, the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, and the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said they haven't seen it happen yet.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I've heard reports of possible draw-downs of Russian military forces from the border. We haven't that yet, but if they turn out to be accurate, that would be a good thing.


BLITZER: Karl Penhaul is joining us now from the border between Ukraine and Russia.

What is the latest, and what does it feel and look like, Karl?

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right now it is very cold, but it is very tense as well. We've spent most of the day with an armored unit of the Ukrainian army. The Russian boarder is that way, only about five miles away.

And in the course of the day, despite the news we heard that maybe Russia is moving some of the troops back, the Ukrainian government thinks they are repositioning and bringing more to the northeast border here.

What the Ukrainian military has been doing is bringing vehicles like this into the area with a back hoe digging out an area and digging in these vehicles. This is an armored vehicle. It's got a cannon on the front. Across there, in the same armored unit, there is a T-64 Soviet-era tank part of the Ukrainian army. There is anti-aircraft positioned as well.

The Ukrainian army is very much taken seriously the prospect of possibility of a tank battle with the Russians if they roll across into this area.

BLITZER: If Russia were to do that, would the Ukrainian military stand a chance? It would be a lopsided Russian advantage over Ukraine. PENHAUL: You have to ask yourself that question, haven't you? We saw the situation down there in Crimea where the military practically folded. We know many of those bases surrendered, gave up without a fight. And since then, we've heard up to 75 percent of the Ukrainian forces there actually defected to the Russians.

Here in this area on the north eastern border, I think things would be different. Yes, the Ukrainians know this will be an uneven fight. Remember, of course, for many years from Soviet times up to more recent time, the Ukrainian and Russian militaries trained side by side. They know one another very well. In many cases, they still consider one another brothers in arms and they are staring one another down the barrel of a gun. They know it's going to be an uneven fight, but they say they are ready to stand.

There's also the civilian factor here as well. In a lot of the villages along this border, young men have divided themselves up into self defense committees and say they will start a guerilla-style war against the Russians if they roll in. There a lot of swamps and forests. They say that's where they will stand and fight. They look to the legacy of the grandfathers in the Second World War when they divided into what were called partisan units and fought the Germans to push them out of this part of the world. So combing the Ukrainian military with the civilians, they think they can fight a much mightier Russian force. And right down to old ladies, everybody wants to do their bit. There's a wartime spirit. We have seen old ladies with big jars of pickled tomatoes and rice and cooking oil and pasta, donating this to the Ukrainian troops and giving them a sense that they are not alone. They have the support of the population in this area -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Karl Penhaul, a very tense situation on the border between Ukraine and Russia.

Karl, we will check back with you later. Thank you.

Other top stories we are following.

In brief, but fleeting reminders of the messy roll out. The Obamacare website crashed at least twice today ahead of the deadline. Despite the hiccups, the White House says more than six million people signed up as of late last night. We will see what the final number is in the coming days.

General Motors and federal safety regulators missed several chances to fix a problem blamed for 13 deadly car crashes. A new congressional investigation has found that the automaker and government officials were aware of faulty ignition switches as far back as 2007, but they didn't recall two million vehicles until this year because of costs. GM's new CEO is set to testify before Congress tomorrow.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I will be back at 5:00 eastern for a special two-hour edition of "The Situation Room."

NEWSROOM begins right now with Brooke Baldwin.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf Blitzer, thank you so much.