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Ping Search More Urgent; Some Families Cling to Hope Loved Ones are Alive; Russia Warns of Ukrainian Civil War; U.S.: Russia Behind Unrest; Obama Sparks Equal Pay Uproar

Aired April 8, 2014 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: our special coverage of the mystery of Flight 370, the scramble to hear new underwater pings growing more urgent by the hour. Officials are desperately hoping the batteries on the plane's black boxes aren't dead yet.

We have new audio and video of the most promising lead so far.

We are also tracking the sea and air hunt for the wreckage. A new analysis could help explain why no one has seen any debris a full month after the plane vanished.

Plus, cake, candles, and tears. A missing passenger's grieving family remembers his birthday without him.

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

This hour, crews are scanning the sea for those elusive pings, but the air search for debris is as critical as ever to solving the Flight 370 mystery. Planes are getting ready to take off for a dramatically smaller search area, about one-third the size it was before.

Officials are racing against the clock. Right now, they are trying to close in on a potential crash site and find the jet's black boxes. A New Zealand air force commander just told me a little while ago at least one area where a Chinese ship heard a possible ping has now been ruled out.

Our correspondents in the United States and around the world are covering every angle of the search and the investigation, along with our team of experts here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's begin our coverage this hour with our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh -- Rene.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we know that there have been about 133 missions, and Australian authorities say they are just as intense today as they were on day one.

Now you're about to hear for yourself the audio of the pinging sounds search crews detected for a substantial amount of time. The problem is, they have lost contact with it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MARSH (voice-over): It's the sound crews on board the Ocean Shield are desperately trying to find again. The Australian Defense Department released audio of the possible black box signal the towed pinger detected twice over the weekend.

Despite a continuous effort to recapture it -- still, nothing.

CMDR. WILLIAM MARKS, ABOARD USS BLUE BRIDGE: As the hours pass, our optimism is fading away ever so slightly.

MARSH: If it is Flight 370's black boxes, finding it again is the only way to pinpoint its location. The Ocean Shield moves about two miles per hour tracking back and forth around the clock. The towed pinger measures intensity, but not position. So, multiple hits are crucial in triangulating a smaller search area.

ANGUS HOUSTON, CHIEF COORDINATOR, JOINT AGENCY COORDINATION CENTER: It will be several more days. Now, until we stop the pinger search, we will not deploy the submersible. Is that clear? We will not deploy it unless we find -- unless we get another transmission.

MARSH: This is the submersible, Bluefin-21, the underwater drone moves along at a painstakingly slow pace, mapping the ocean floor. The pinger manufacturer is analyzing the recording. It's actually at 33. 3 kilohertz, a lower transmission frequency than the standard 37. 5, a change possibly due to environmental factors.

HOUSTON: If there's a change with the pressure on the ocean floor and the age of the particular batteries, the capacitance can change and you get changes in the transmission level.

MARSH: Meantime, they are guarding against noise interference, limiting the number of ships and aircrafts near the Ocean Shield, 375 miles away, search crews haven't given up hope on the other pinging sounds reported by the Chinese. Two search areas but so far neither has reacquired the sound they need.


MARSH: Well, Australian officials say they will keep searching for that pinging sound until there is absolutely no doubt the pinger batteries have expired. That means roughly another 10 to 12 days or so.

At the same time, locating debris is still critical. Search crews have deployed data buoys to monitor water flow in hopes of locating that debris. Of course, that would help them trace back to that point possibly where the plane went into the water.

BLITZER: All right, Rene, stand by. We're going to get back to you.

Let's go to the base of operations right now, the base of the operations for the search. Our senior international correspondent Matthew Chance is joining us now from Perth, Australia, with the very latest from there.

What are you seeing, what are you hearing, Matthew?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's still very early in the morning, 6:00 a.m., in fact. It's before sunrise, as you can see, but over the course of the next hour or so, the sun is going to come up, the planes are going to resume their observation missions.

They are still very much emphasizing the aerial search for any kind of indication, any kind of lead, or clue as to the whereabouts of this missing Malaysian airliner. They carried out, they tell us, the search teams, 133 airborne search missions up until this point. And that's increasing, or at least maintaining the intensity over the coming days, because they are taking advantage of what they are describing as this last window of opportunity to try and spot some kind of lead that would give an indication during this period where they hope the battery life on board the emergency beacons of the black boxes on the Malaysian airliner could still potentially be detected.

What the Australian officials that we have spoken to, and they have given press conferences to this effect, what they are saying is that they are throwing everything they have got at this over the next few days at least to try and maximize this window of opportunity and see what they can find.

At the moment, though, Wolf, they have found nothing, they haven't managed to reacquire the signal that was detect by the Australian vessel the Ocean Shield over the weekend, and that's of deep concern.

BLITZER: We heard from the New Zealand wing commander who's in charge of the New Zealand effort that they have basically given up hope searching surface area anywhere near where the Chinese pings were discovered over the weekend. They are putting all their eggs in the basket around where the U.S. towed pinger locator heard those pings coming from what they suspect those two black boxes.

That's where the entire search is under way right now. Are you hearing the same thing there?

CHANCE: Well, we haven't had a statement from the JAC, the joint agency coordination unit that's headed up by the Australian retired air chief marshal to that effect, but, yes, I heard that wing commander from New Zealand saying that.

It makes sense, to be frank, in the sense that, all along, the emphasis, every since the Ocean Shield, the Australian vessel recorded those pings that it picked up, one for a period of two hours, 20 minutes, the other for 13 minutes, ever since that acoustic event took place, the focus, in effect, has been on that area.

It's the most sophisticated ship they have got in the multinational fleet of ships looking for this plane. It's got the high-tech equipment which is on loan from the U.S. Navy, and they have always felt, reading between the lines, that this is the most likely spot where the plane went down, but they had to follow up on the lead from the Chinese. I haven't got confirmation that that lead has now been closed off, but I wouldn't be surprised if they come ahead across today and say that it has been.

BLITZER: Yes, the wing commander told us they have basically determined that those pings that the Chinese heard were nothing related to the missing -- the black boxes, so they have given up that search over there, but we will check back with you, Matthew Chance in Perth. Thank you.

Let's bring back our panel, our aviation correspondent Rene Marsh, along with our aviation analysts Miles O'Brien, Peter Goelz, our law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes.

Peter, you agree with this notion they shouldn't put the Bluefin, that drone, if you will, underwater until they are 100 percent convinced the batteries for the two black boxes are dead, because that could interfere with those towed pinger locators.

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: It could interfere, and they have got to give the black box pinger seven to 10 more days.

They have got to hope against hope that it's still pinging and that they can pick it up. If at the end of 10 days, they still have nothing, then they are going to have to sit down and reassess how they are going to map and search the ocean bottom in this new search area.

BLITZER: Would it make any sense or could it interfere if you put two pinger locators in that area? Because it's not a huge area anymore. They have basically narrowed it down to a few square miles, assuming that those pings were, in fact, from the two black boxes?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: The key here is not to interfere with yourself and start listening to each other.

You need sort of a pristine environment. We talk about the Chinese pings. They actually had a pinger on board the vessel that they were using. It's quite possible they were listening to their own ping, so you really want -- first of all, you want to make sure there's not a lot of commercial traffic around that area and you want to make sure you know the noise, you understand the noise that's from your own ship and you try to get the pinger itself as far away as you can.

So putting another ship in the area and another pinger only complicates matters.

BLITZER: All the experts, Rene, you're speaking with agree, don't put the Bluefin down there until you know for sure the batteries are dead?

MARSH: Absolutely, and not just because of interference, but also think about this. In order to communicate with this Bluefin, you have to be within a certain distance of it to communicate navigational directions, also receive information from it.

If you need to be married to that piece of equipment, it doesn't give you the flexibility to do the tracks that you were doing before to look for the pinging sound, so just practically speaking, it makes no sense to have both of these things in the water. You have to designate time to one or the other. BLITZER: I know they are looking on the surface, Tom, for debris. They have been looking for a month, if you will, at least two-and-a- half weeks in this area, the Southern Indian Ocean. They have been going all over.

They haven't seen or spotted anything. So my own sense is, based on what I'm hearing from experts, is they really are relying on the two hours and 15 minutes of pinging that they heard. They think this is the area where they are going to be most likely to find something.

TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, normally, the debris would be the key to this thing, but since they already heard pinging, it is backwards that you would find a pinging device before you would find surface debris, but that's what they have got.

That's what they discovered over the weekend and that's what they have to keep looking for, is to go back to that. On the other hand, the surface debris still is important, and they need to be looking for it.

BLITZER: Hold on for a moment, because aviation expert Geoffrey Thomas is joining us now. Geoffrey is the editor in chief of He's joining us from Perth, Australia.

Geoffrey, what are you hearing right now about the search? I take it they are still convinced those pings that they detected, the U.S. Navy, that towed pinger detector, that's the real thing, the locator, if you will. They are working under the assumption that they basically know roughly where those two black boxes are.


There's a very high level of confidence that the signals that the Ocean Shield got, the two sets of signals they got are the pinger from this aircraft, because, interestingly enough, exactly where it's picked up this ping on this particular line is precisely where the calculations, the seventh set of calculations from the Inmarsat satellites, the handshake that we know all about, they have been continually refining that intelligence, the analysis, getting more data in.

They have drawn up a line, a flight path line of this airplane, and this is where that flight path is, and also Inmarsat have also said that, in fact, the actual location where the Ocean Shield is right now is where they believe the last handshake was made from the 777.

So, from that perspective, there's a very high level of confidence that this is the spot, and the fact that we have got these pings reinforces that significantly.

BLITZER: So, if this is the spot where they heard the pings and where the Inmarsat satellite data suggested the plane may be, I take it Inmarsat must have done a brilliant job finding it without any debris whatsoever, because, as everyone points out, usually, you find some debris, later, you find the black boxes.

THOMAS: Look, indeed, although, of course, we must remember that the initial analysis was -- had the location well south of where we are now, and had we been looking, because -- I should qualify this -- the team putting these numbers together have been getting various data sent to them at different times from countries within Southeast Asia, military data, radar data, that -- in fact, the story was broken on CNN a couple of days ago about the plane flying around Malaysia.

This information has come together in dribs and drabs from various countries, and they have refined it. So, yes, they are on the spot, but, of course, now it's a month later. And we're now looking at a spot one month after the disappearance of this airplane. So a lot of the debris would have sunk in that month period.

And it's interesting that the Australians are now deploying actually divers over the sides of runabouts in the area to have a look at what they think might be some submerged, slightly submerged debris, trying to sort of pick up one little fragment that says, this is MH370.

BLITZER: Is that in the area where the pinging was coming from, from those two boxes where the Australian divers are now going into the water?

THOMAS: Indeed.

In fact, the runabouts, or the small boats, are being deployed, in fact, by the Ocean Shield, and they are towing divers along on the ocean -- on the surface of the ocean, just peering down, trying to see something. I mean, if they are able to pick up a safety card, you know, a Malaysia Airlines 777 safety card, the plastic safety cards you get in your seat-back pocket, pick up one of those, and that tells you this -- we actually have this airplane.

BLITZER: Yes, that would be huge if they found it. So far, they haven't found it.

As much as we have to give Inmarsat credit, we have got to give the radar from the various countries credit, everybody else credit, there's got to be something secret we don't know about that helped all of these experts, Miles, find these two black boxes if, in fact, those pinging sounds were from the two black boxes. There must be something else that they are not sharing for classified information reasons.

O'BRIEN: I'm sure there's a lot. Yesterday, we were talking to Commander Marks of the U.S. Navy. I asked, was this just a lucky spot, or what got you there? And he sidestepped it, as they do.

There's got to be a lot -- the interesting thing is that -- and when this shifted to Australia, that opened up the doors to share all kinds of spy satellite assets that the U.S. has, because of the agreement the U.S. has with the Australians. So you know the door's open to those assets, as they call them.

And who knows. The thing is, though, if, in fact, what would they see? They would see a debris field. We would have spotted that debris field and known about it, so it's unclear to me exactly how they would be deployed or used, but clearly that was used somehow. BLITZER: We may not find out for 20 or 30 years if, in fact, some classified information from U.S. submarines or other highly sophisticated devices were used to locate those two black boxes. We may not know that for awhile, because the U.S. and other countries, they are always reluctant, Peter, to release information that involves what they call sources and methods.

GOELZ: Absolutely. It comes in dribs and drabs, as it was reported.

I think we have just gotten the Indonesian reports that were shared with us last week. You're right. We won't know for 10 years or more.

BLITZER: Yes, I don't believe it was just luck, do you?

GOELZ: Well, also with great fanfare a week or so ago, they deployed the British submarine Tireless and since then we have heard nothing, so we have to assume that it didn't get tired and leave the area. It must still there. It's still there.


BLITZER: -- Tireless is hearing any pings or whatever.

All right, guys, thanks very much. Geoffrey, thanks to you as well. We will certainly check back with you in Perth, Australia.

Still ahead, new scenarios of how Flight 370 may have crashed in the ocean and why there might be some very few clues on the surface of the water.

And there's nothing happy about this birthday. A passenger's family marks his big day, not knowing for sure if he's dead or alive.


BLITZER: "CROSSFIRE" won't be seen tonight so we can bring you more of our special coverage of the mystery of Flight 370.

What's making the search for the missing plane even more complicated is that crews aren't even certain of what they are looking for. The kind of debris they may eventually find depends how the plane actually went down into the water.

CNN's Tom Foreman is here in THE SITUATION ROOM working this part of the story.

What are you finding out, Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You would think, Wolf, that it would make no difference whatsoever, but that's not the case.

The way the plane hits the water actually does make a difference.


FOREMAN (voice-over): Malaysia Air 370 crashed into the sea. Authorities are not wavering on that, but how it hit could make a big difference in the debris field they are seeking.

If the plane cartwheeled in like this hijacked Ethiopian jet in 1996, the destruction would be tremendous. How does that happen? One wing dips lower than the other and catches the water first.

CNN aviation analyst and former pilot Mark Weiss.

(on camera): If it goes into a cartwheel, what does that do to the debris field?

MARK WEISS, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, it depends on the conditions of the water. Remember, that water was very, very choppy, so it would break it up and it would take some of the pieces and actually just wash it away, and some of it would just absolutely -- it would have broken it up in lots of different areas and it would have just thrown it really all around.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Still, that does not necessarily create a wide debris field. For that, a midair explosion is a more likely cause.

Investigators say when a fuel tank erupted on TWA 800 as it climbed to 14,000 feet leaving New York, the result was three separate debris fields and a tireless search to find all the parts. Weiss says the same thing could be true if Malaysia Air exploded or caught on fire.

WEISS: Because that fire would have lasted for a bit of time in a cargo department, perhaps could have gone through the aircraft, and things would have come out, so you would have had more debris along a longer flight path.

FOREMAN: A hard landing or crash into the water is no less destructive, but it may produce a smaller target for searchers. When that Air France jet fell into the Atlantic, the debris on the water's surface spanned only a few miles, and on the ocean floor, the bulk of the plane covered just a few football fields.

And, of course, a soft landing remains a distant, but real possibility. If the Malaysia Air flight landed like that U.S. Airways plane on the Hudson River, it would have slipped under by now, and unless people were alive to scramble out with life rafts, there might be few clues it was ever there and only a small target far beneath the surface.


FOREMAN: So, as tragic as it may seem, the more cataclysmic the event above the water or right on the surface of the water, Wolf, the more debris there is to look for in that area, although to all of this you must now add the factor of time. Even if they find it now, after all this time from drifting and changing, you have to wonder if they could even establish a contact, a connection between what's on the surface and what's beneath.

BLITZER: And there was some horrible weather over these past few weeks, including a cyclone in that area, that could really disperse any debris that might have been on the surface. FOREMAN: Yes, makes the challenge all the worse.

BLITZER: All right, Tom, thanks very much.

Let's dig deeper right now with Colleen Keller. She's a senior analyst with the scientific consulting firm Metron. She's worked on the search for Air France Flight 447.

Do you think the Malaysian plane, Colleen, could have landed intact?

COLLEEN KELLER, SENIOR ANALYST, METRON, INC.: Wolf, I'm very skeptical of that theory.

If the airplane flew five or six hours on its own, or even under pilotage, I don't think somebody's going to be putting down that plane in the South Indian Ocean. I'm pretty sure it just ran out of fuel and went in. The question is whether it was vertical or a gentle climb -- descent like the Air France jet.

BLITZER: Talk a little about what they call the triangulation that's necessary to really determine where the two black boxes are.

They did hear pinging coming for two hours from one of those black boxes, they think, another 15 minutes or so from a second, but before they really know where they are, they want to triangulate, and that means hearing more pings, which they haven't heard over the past couple days, so explain what's going on here.


Well, a lot of people are wondering, why don't we just quit and put the submarine down now? We're on top of it. But the answer is, the debris field could still be spread over the bottom in fairly rocky or mountainous terrain, and you might never find that black box. So while the black box is still beeping out, I'm here, I'm here, you might as well hone in on that signal.

So what they are doing is they are trolling back and forth across the general area and they are hoping to pick up the signal. When you're right on top of it, then the signal's loud, and as you move away, it decreases, or if you're even off to one side, the signal will increase and decrease as you go past your closest point of approach.

So they are trying to get a mental picture on the map, actually, of where the thing is based on the volume of the signal that they are hearing, and the fact they are not hearing any signal right now either means they are in the wrong place, or the signal is too weak to detect. Hard to say.

BLITZER: Or the battery is completely dead and it's not sending out any signal whatsoever, and the weaker the battery, the weaker the signal, right?


But the disturbing thing is, they don't say that the battery, once it hits a threshold, it's just going to drop off. It would die off like a flashlight battery would die off. The signal would get weaker and weaker, until eventually there's no more light.

So it's kind of odd that the signal is just absent now, where they had some nice round, you know, really strong returns before. It's hard to explain that. I'm not sure what's going on.

BLITZER: If they put that Bluefin 21 into the water, they fear -- as long as they are still trying to search for those pings, they fear that could interfere with that search and that's why they want to wait to make sure there's absolutely, positively no more pinging coming out, right?

KELLER: yes. It's like being at a rock concert and trying to hear the conversation next to you. There's too much ambient noise.

They really want to make it as quiet an environment as they can so that they can hear the very faint now signals coming from the box. In addition, using the Bluefin, it's just logistically not compatible with dragging the towed pinger locator through the water. The TPL has to be constantly moving, so it doesn't drop to the bottom.

But the Bluefin, to deploy it and bring it back, you have to stop the ship and lower it into the water, and then you have to stay nearby the Bluefin so you don't completely lose contact with it, so the two things just don't go together. You really have to stop using the TPLs before you move to the Bluefin operations.

BLITZER: Assuming those pings that the U.S. Navy and the Australians heard were the real thing and assuming the batteries die out, they haven't found the black boxes, they haven't found debris, they are basically still searching for a relatively small area, a lot smaller than the Air France area you were using, and it took two years to find those black boxes back in 2009, that Air France plane that went into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Brazil.

They are only going to be looking, what, in 50 or 75, maybe 100 square miles, right?

KELLER: Yes. It's a lot better situation than a week ago, what we thought we were facing.

I mean, it's very encouraging. It's still quite possible we won't find it, because it's like combing through the surface and we don't know what's on the bottom the imagery-wise, but it's very encouraging that they are in the right location, and we know that the tools exist to detect this thing.

It's just a matter of getting them in the water and starting to mow the grass, like we say.

BLITZER: That's what they're going to be doing. All right, Colleen Keller, thank you.

Every day since the plane vanished has been gut-wrenching for the relatives of the passengers and the crew. Some refuse to believe their loved ones aren't coming home.

CNN's David McKenzie is joining us now from Beijing with more on this heartbreaking part of the story -- David.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf. The family members still don't believe that this necessarily the plane went down in the southern Indian Ocean, and they've asked very pointed questions in the last few days of the Malaysian authorities.

You know, in the very first hours, because we've been following this from the first notification that this plane went missing, there was a rumor that went around that the plane landed or crashed in southwest China at an airport called Nanjing (ph). You know, a lot of that is coming back now. The families wanted to know, did it land there, did they have conclusive proof that it didn't, and though all evidence points towards this plane landing in the southern Indian Ocean or crashing in the southern Indian Ocean, the families still -- it's just human nature -- want to ask the questions where the answer might be the most likely scenario that their loved one is alive. But you know, many of them deep down inside, of course, fear for the worst -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They certainly do. David, I know there was an emotional ceremony today involving one of the families in Beijing. Tell us about that.

MCKENZIE: Well, you know, they've had these poignant moments during these weeks' long wait here in Beijing, and it is an awful wait.

There was a birthday celebration for a young Chinese man who was a construction worker in Singapore, Feng Dong had his lunar birthday celebration. His parents had a cake, had some family members there and committee members. And, you know, very tearful talk from the father.

He said, you know, Feng was trying to come home after a long time on construction. He hadn't spoken or seen his son, in fact, in more than a year and a half.

The son decided to take a longer and cheaper flight through Malaysia from Singapore, though it was paid for by the construction company, and, obviously, now he is missing.

And the father said to us, you know, "I don't believe my son is dead. I'm still holding out hope that he might be alive," and just wishing he had taken that more direct route from Singapore to Beijing.

Just one small detail: I met a Nigerian businessman who recognized me from my work in Africa. He said, you know, he was due to come to Beijing on that flight and decided to come a day earlier.

This is such a popular route here in Asia for businessmen, for families, and everybody, and just so many close shaves, as well as these poignant stories, still weeks after, and no concrete evidence for these family members -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Such a sad, sad story, indeed. David McKenzie in Beijing, thanks very much.

Let's bring in our aviation correspondent. Richard Quest is joining us now.

Richard, the Chinese families, all the families there, they want answers. It's a month later. They're not getting a whole lot of answers. You can't really blame them for being so frustrated, being so disappointed in what the leadership of these various countries are saying.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, and I think by now, we should have been having a proper statement of facts from the investigation authorities.

Normally, if you look back, British Airways 32 had a statement of facts within a couple of days. Quantis (ph) had a couple -- had a statement of facts within a month or so.

Normally after a month, Wolf, you do get -- it's not -- it doesn't often tell you much, but it does pull all the strands together of what the investigators know. It sort of pats it all up quite nicely, and it allows you to know what's known and what's not known.

So, for instance, we should have known more details about what they definitely think on the flight route, what they think on the altitude, on the speed. It should have had a few more details about the Inmarsat.

And I think we are now getting to the point where legitimately we can say to the Malaysians, OK, it's been a month. Now it's time for the annex 13 investigation to say something.

BLITZER: Let's say they give up over the next five or ten days in trying to hear a ping from one of the two black boxes. How much longer should it take? Assuming those pings were accurate coming from the two black boxes over the past few days, how much longer do you think realistically it will take to find those black boxes, presumably there on the bottom of the Indian Ocean?

QUEST: If they have to do it by side scanner sonar, literally going down and mapping the bottom of the ocean for 100-odd-square miles, I can -- I'm no expert, but Angus Houston is, and last night he kept saying again and again, it will take a long, long time. It will take many, many days, he said; weeks, could be months.

Now, the good part is -- well, there's no good part, frankly. The encouraging part is that the weather in that part of the ocean is not the roaring 40s, so they won't lose much in terms of the winter. They will be able to keep going for as long as possible, money, political will and determination all being equal.

However, they will have to regroup, because what they will be very, very careful about is, once they start Plan B, searching the ocean bottom, they will want to make sure they've got exactly as much -- they've squeezed as much information from Inmarsat, from the pings, from triangulation, everything they can, because if you remember, you were talking to David Gallow (ph) about 447. They looked in the wrong place for the first time, because they'd got the data wrong. So now they're going to want to make sure whatever little data they've got, it's used to its best advantage.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, we did hear from the New Zealand wing commander who's involved in this operation. They no longer believe the Chinese pings that were detected over the weekend had anything to do with wreckage or from the black boxes of the plane. He, in fact, said they, for all practical purposes, have given up even searching in that area where the Chinese detected something that sounded like pings.

We don't have confirmation from others. The Australians aren't saying that, at least not yet. Maybe they will at their news conference later. What are you hearing about the whole Chinese part of this story?

QUEST: The Chinese government, obviously, is concerned, since it was more than 150 of its nationals that were on the plane. However, exactly what their involvement has been, exactly how much help they have been, is by no means certain.

We get the right diplomatic noises from Angus Houston, as you would expect, but their contribution so far, at least publicly, seems to be one of twofold. Either a satellite picture of the South China Sea that was released by accident, at the very beginning and nearly had everybody heading off to the wrong area, or of ping in the southern Indian Ocean, using equipment that experts say was rudimentary at best, that can't be replicated.

I think the Chinese involvement will be an interesting footnote to any final thoughts on MH-370.

BLITZER: Richard Quest reporting for us. Thank you very much.

Just ahead, pro-Russia uprisings in eastern Ukraine, prompting Moscow to warn of possible civil war, but what about the tens of thousands of Russian troops massed along the border?

Plus, the latest on the round-the-clock search for Malaysian Air Flight 370, now focused on a dramatically smaller search area.


BLITZER: We'll have more on the search for Malaysia Flight 370 in just a moment.

But first, Russia now warning of possible civil war in Ukraine if the Kiev government uses force to put down pro-Moscow uprisings in eastern Ukraine. Our senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh, is on the scene for us in eastern Ukraine right now.

Nick, what are you seeing?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A lot of tension in three key eastern Ukrainian cities, all eyes on Luganz (ph) Square. Ukrainian security officials claim 60 people are being held hostage by armed pro-Russian activists. I should say that those hostages themselves tell Reuters they're not holding hostages.

But here where I am in Donetsk, the local administration seized two pro-Russian advocates. And here's what they had to say to us earlier on today, Wolf.


WALSH (voice-over): It's small, scruffy, but noisy. This tiny space is the self-declared People's Republic of Donetsk, where days ago, it was just the local government building. It's a bit like the pro- Europe protests of Maidan Square in Kiev: the clumsy barricades, Molotov cocktails, tires ready to burn, and the lack of either a leader or concrete plan, fed by local donations.

But there's one huge difference: these people want to join Russia and Russia, even its army, to help them do it.

This man says he's from the Eastern Front, a new local group. "We're about 6,000 people," he says, "men ready to protect the fatherland, but women, too, even the elderly."

(on camera): They say they've let us in because they want to show that they are here entirely peacefully, but there are clear preparations ready here. They're worried about an assault by Ukrainian forces, particularly from the roof. They've barricaded the stairwells.

(voice-over): The power went out last night. Many, like these nurses, fearing special forces were coming, but they didn't, and their numbers and readiness grow.

Fears of poverty fuel this, that the rivalry between Kiev and Moscow will cost them their jobs. Rising prices, wages worth less by the day.

Some, like Tatyana, hanker for the Soviet past. "My father was a retired KGB colonel," she says, "and his genes must have been passed on to me. This is why I'm here, and we're going to stand until the end."

The top floor here was the new office of the Ukrainian billionaire appointed governor by Kiev to fix the economy and to be rich beyond corruption. Sergei Taruta, elsewhere for now, says Moscow isn't behind this. It's mostly local complaints.

"We've had a lot of negotiations with them," he says. "There are no people so committed here who would be prepared to sacrifice their lives."

"This rhetoric borders on bravado," he says, adding the Russian forces on the border are aimed at imposing psychological pressure.

This tiny pocket of grievances and whims sat at the heart of a massive struggle for Europe's east, and so powerful far beyond its size. (END VIDEOTAPE)

WALSH: Now, Wolf, of course, the concern is as you saw there, these moments seem to flare. They go through times that they can concern themselves in that building, about being assaulted by special forces, now the standoff allegedly with hostages involved, people deeply worried each one of these instances, something could go wrong. There could be some bloodshed, and that could be the cause that Moscow needs to send in troops, and they say, to intervene to help their come patriots -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Nick, thank you. Nick Paton Walsh in eastern Ukraine, very tense situation.

Those developments have Secretary of State John Kerry talking about much tougher sanctions against Russia.

Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

So, Barbara, is there a solid military reason right now for the U.S. to be this concerned about what's going on along that border between Ukraine and Russia?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, if you talk to officials, there absolutely is. U.S. spy satellites have been watching that border for days now, the buildup of 40,000 heavily armed Russian troops.

But right now, they are staying on that side of the border. It's this new unrest that Nick was just talking about that has the U.S. so concerned.

Secretary of State John Kerry today using the most blunt words, saying the unrest in these Ukraine cities now is at the behest of Russian agent and provocateurs, his words.

I want you to listen to a little bit more of what he had to say.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: These efforts are as ham-handed as they are transparent, frankly. And quite simply, what we see from Russia is an illegal and illegitimate effort to destabilize a sovereign state and create a contrived crisis with paid operatives across an international boundary engaged in this initiative.


BLITZER: And, Barbara, all of this making the European allies very nervous right now.

STARR: Wolf, I think we have a map to show you. Let's put it up there for just a minute. Look at this arc of concern. The U.S. on Thursday will send another navy warship into the Black Sea, F-16s will go to Romania for exercises. There are additional fighter jets from the U.S. in Poland, in Lithuania. That is the arc of concern, really in the heart of Europe right now. Countries that the U.S. wants to show it will stand with if the Russians make a move, if there is military instability, it leads to political instability, and possibly economic concerns right in the heart of Europe -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Barbara, thank you very much.

Still ahead, why critics accuse President Obama politicizing women, details of his latest move around Congress.

And we'll also have much more on the search for Flight 370.


BLITZER: More on the mystery of Malaysian Flight 370 coming up.

But first to the White House where President Obama is now spotlighting the wage gap between men and women. Republican critics accusing him of politicizing the entire issue, politicizing women, not helping them.

CNN's Athena Jones reports.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: America should be a level playing field.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a move he says will help the economy, President Obama signed two executive actions to promote equal pay for men and women.

OBAMA: Women make up about half of our workforce. And they're increasingly the breadwinners for a whole lot of families out there. So when they make less money, it means less money for gas, less money for groceries, less money for child care, less money for college tuition.

JONES: An executive order bans government contractors from targeting workers who talk about their salaries. A presidential memorandum requires a report on workers pay by race and gender to help identify cases of discrimination. But both moves still leave a lot of women out.

VALERIE JARRETT, SENIOR OBAMA ADVISER: He is leading by example. But at the same time today, he called on Congress to pass a piece of legislation that has been sitting up on the Hill for years. It's called Paycheck Fairness. It would do the same thing as the executive order would do, except it would apply to all employers around the country.

JONES: And while the president often says women make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns, even his own Labor Department puts that number higher, at 81 cents. And the conservative American Enterprise Institute shows the White House has its own wage gap, with female staffers making 88 cents for every dollar the men make. Some opponents say all these figures are exaggerated.

SABRINA SCHAEFFER, INDEPENDENT WOMEN'S FORUM: When you control for any number of very important factors, what someone majored in college, how much time they spent out of the workforce, how much time they spent in the office each day, that that wage gap shrinks to almost nothing, the wage gap does exist maybe four or five cents. I think it may have something to do with discrimination, but it may also have to do with women's choices.

JONES: And Republicans say this is all just politics.

REP. CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS (R), WASHINGTON: On this equal payday, I would urge us to stop politicizing women and let's start focusing on those policies that are actually going to help women and everyone in this country have a better life.


JONES: And, of course, a lot of this is about politics, Wolf. Democrats see equal pay as an issue that is good for them when it comes to appealing to women voters.

And looking ahead to the midterm elects in November, Democrats are going to need women voters to win. Women came out strongly in favor of Democrats in 2008 and 2012, but Republicans won women in 2010. And you'll remember that was not a very good year for congressional Democrats -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Athena Jones at the White House, thank you.

Still ahead, the latest developments in the search for Flight 370.


BLITZER: We're following all the developments in the mystery of Flight 370, the search that detect electronic pings in the southern Indian Ocean could continue for another week to 10 days until the authorities are convinced the batteries in the plane's black boxes are dead.

So far, they haven't been able to relocate signals that were picked up by an Australian ship over the weekend. An underwater drone is now on standby.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.