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Mystery of Flight 370; Malaysia Previously Lost Black Box Data; Obama's Health Secretary Shake-Up; Satellite Shows Russian Troop Buildup

Aired April 11, 2014 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: our special coverage of the mystery of Flight 370.

A new show of confidence that searchers are zeroing in on the plane's black boxes even after a new setback. Could they be close to a breakthrough right now?

Malaysia is addressing concerns that it might bungle the investigation of the flight data recorders if and when they're found.

Plus, suspicion and confusion. Have the passengers of Flight 370 been cleared of any wrongdoing or not?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Right now, search planes are ready to take off from Australia just hours after the country's prime minister gave a surprisingly upbeat account of the hunt for Flight 370. To hear him tell it, crews have a very good idea where the plane's black boxes are even as they keep scrambling to pick up some more locator signals.

Our correspondents are following all the new developments around the world. We also have our team of experts here in THE SITUATION ROOM to explain where the search and the investigation stand right now.

Let's go to aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh, for the very latest -- Rene.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as you said, to hear him tell it, prime minister of Australia, you would think a breakthrough is right around the corner. Tony Abbott is in China to update China's president on the search for Flight 370, but it's his tone about how things are progressing that's receiving a lot of attention.


MARSH (voice-over): Forget cautious optimism. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is oozing confidence.

TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: We have very much narrowed down the search area, and we are very confident that the signals that we are detecting are from the black box on MH370.

We are confident that we know the position of the black box flight recorder to within some kilometers.

MARSH: His tone stronger and more upbeat compared to the careful wording two days ago from the man coordinating the search.

ANGUS HOUSTON, CHIEF SEARCH COORDINATOR: I think that we're looking in the right area, but I'm not prepared to say -- to confirm anything until such time as somebody lays eyes on the wreckage.

MARSH: But with rumors flying the black boxes were located overnight, Angus Houston released a statement saying -- quote -- "There has been no major breakthrough in the search for MH370."

Over the past week, Ocean Shield detected four pings within about 15 miles of each other. Excitement over a possible fifth ping vanished overnight. The signal a sonobuoy picked up was not from the plane's black boxes.

ABBOTT: The signal from what we are very confident are the black boxes is starting to fade.

MARSH: It's now 35 days since the plane went missing, five days beyond the battery's required shelf life.

ANISH PATEL, PRESIDENT, DUKANE SEACOM: We call it bonus time. The battery is going to start to degrade. It sounds like we're in that period right now.

MARSH: As we prepare to enter into week six, no wreckage, no debris, no tangible evidence, just four pulsing sounds fueling hope. Crews were once searching all over the Indian Ocean. Now they are looking for debris in zones the size of New Hampshire and Vermont combined.

Searching the ocean floor with an underwater vehicle could be days away.


MARSH: And the Chinese have moved on from the area where one of their patrol boats picked up pinging sounds. They are now focused on the 18,000-square-mile search area where crews are looking on the surface for debris -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Rene, stand by.

There's new confusion today from Malaysian officials. They're sending mixed messages about the Flight 370 investigation and who is and isn't under suspicion right now.

Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, is following this part of the story.

What are you learning, Pamela? PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, once again, Wolf, conflicting statements coming from Malaysian authorities about the investigation into the passengers and crew on board Flight 370, this as CNN is learning an internal investigation is under way in Malaysia to figure out why officials from different agencies missed key opportunities to track the plane.


BROWN (voice-over): The defense and acting transport minister making it clear once again to Sky News Thursday that, quote, "Everyone on board remains under suspicion as it stands."

But just last week, the police chief suggested that the investigation is much more narrow.

KHALID ABU BAKAR, ROYAL MALAYSIAN POLICE FORCE: Only the passengers have been cleared. The rest, no.

BROWN: The mixed messages from different agencies out of Malaysia compounding the confusion about the missing plane, and stumping both law enforcement and aviation experts in the U.S. As far as U.S. officials are concerned, no one has been ruled out, including the passengers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a little bit surprised that they stopped at two or three weeks and said, yes, we don't have a problem with anyone on board the plane.

BROWN: The Malaysian defense minister acknowledging to Sky News lessons have been learned, calling the plane's disappearance, quote, "an unprecedented situation."

HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIAN DEFENSE & ACTING TRANSPORT MINISTER: There are cultural differences and sometimes we are lost in translation and basically I'm not saying that we were -- we must handle it perfectly.

BROWN: Malaysia's government says it's now investigating itself, trying to figure out how different agencies completely dropped the ball on tracking the plane, according to "Reuters", missed opportunities that may have wasted precious time searching the wrong ocean, far from where they believe the plane to now be. But at the same time, Malaysian authorities are refuting CNN's reporting that the air force failed to inform search and rescue operations for three days that the plane had made a westward turn.


BROWN: And, Wolf, Malaysian and U.S. authorities are still digging into those five hard drives from the captain and the co-pilot, but as of right now, authorities we're speaking with, sources saying they're still nothing too suspicious jumping out at them, but they're still trying to put everything into context.

This investigation continues here in the U.S. and elsewhere -- Wolf. BLITZER: And they're taking another look at those hard drives, which is smart. Thanks very much, Pamela, for that.

Let's go to Perth, Australia, right now, at the base of the search operation.

Michael Holmes is on the scene for us.

What's the latest there, Michael?

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, dawn just about to break here in Western Australia.

You know, it's five weeks now, five weeks today since that plane went missing, and it's hard to believe there hasn't been any visual confirmation, no visual sightings of wreckage, just those pings, the four pings that everyone seems to be pretty certain comes from those flight data recorders.

There was that fifth ping that we heard about from the sonobuoys that were dropped from the aircraft. That has now pretty much been discounted as being from the flight recorders, but they're ever trying to narrow down that search area as much as they can, trying to pinpoint where this wreckage might be.

You have got the Ocean Shield out there still towing the ping locator, trying to get one more ping or two more pings, so they can further triangulate and narrow down the search area any further. The batteries, of course, well, they were designed to last 30 days. It's day 36 now.

So hopes are fading they will get much more in the way of pings. And then, of course, once they start to search down there with that submersible, the Bluefin, that's going to be a long and tedious process. It takes pretty much a day to get it down there, back up and have a look at the data. And that doesn't even count going down with any kind of recovery vehicle were they to find anything. This is still a very, very long process, Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly is. Michael Holmes on the scene in Perth, Australia.

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

You have worked, Tom, with the Malaysian authorities. The mixed messages from the police inspector general, the defense minister, who's the acting transport minister, how do you explain that, whether or not the passengers have been cleared or haven't been cleared?

TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I don't no how we explain it. You know, when they made the announcement earlier that the passengers were cleared, I just said right then, that's not possible.

I have been involved in so many investigations. You can't clear anybody that fast of anything. So, to be able to make a statement like that, I thought was unusual at the time, and now we're hearing more correcting statement that they have to look at everybody and they're still going to be looking at everybody.

BLITZER: Yes, sometimes you do in these kinds of investigations get different statements from military officials, as opposed to civilian officials.


Depending how the civil aviation situation is structured, the military sometimes controls portions of it, civilians the other part. Same thing was true in Brazil, where Brazil handled the air traffic control. There can be miscommunication between the two agencies.

BLITZER: What are you hearing, Rene, about this investigation, especially this known now, and Pamela Brown just reported it, that they're going back and looking at the hard drives, the computers from the pilot, and the co-pilot? The FBI has had custody of all of that. They didn't see anything suspicious, but now there -- maybe there's reason to take another look.

MARSH: Right, taking another look is good, but here's the bottom line really when it comes in this criminal investigation.

Tom, you can probably tell me if I'm wrong on this. But essentially they're spinning their wheels until they get some tangible evidence that shows or points to some sort of motive. Until they have that, it really is hard to say, you know, whether we're going this way or going that way. So, at this point, they're right to go through whatever tangible evidence that they do have to see was there something --


BLITZER: Have you heard anything, Miles, at all to raise fresh suspicions as far as passengers or crew members are concerned to take another look at some of this?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: You know what's interesting?

When they summarily discounted everybody behind the cockpit, so to speak, it seemed at that time that there was a tremendous rush to judgment to implicate the captain, that it was all this subtle and not-so-subtle statements about the captain's potential motivations.

And clearly there was a rush to judgment. It's good to see them walking this back, but at this point, who knows where this investigation is? It seems as if it's been a mess from the beginning.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by for a moment. We're getting a live update now from Australia.

Geoffrey Thomas is joining us once again. He's editor in chief of the

What are you hearing, Geoffrey, if anything, about reexamining those hard drives that the FBI was looking at for the pilot and the co- pilot, the fact that now the acting transport minister in Malaysia saying the passengers have not been cleared necessarily, even though the inspector general of the Malaysian police force the other day said they had been cleared? What's going on based on the information you're getting?


They have actually investigated the passengers twice and the crew twice. They have twice been cleared and now they're reexamining it. I guess the bottom line here, until -- as has been said, until we get something concrete, everybody probably still remains under suspicion, because, you know, when it comes to things like, say, hypothetically, a suicide-type situation, in many, many cases, nobody knows that situation's evolving with that particular person until it actually happens.

So, I mean -- and not that we're suggesting that at all, but that's just one scenario that's out there. But, look, there are all sorts of fragments of information in this investigation from the Malaysians which is really causing all sorts of twists and turns in this particular investigation. And really, in many ways, it's quite unhelpful that we are getting all these fragments and nothing definitive.

BLITZER: You know the prime minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, that he's very, very confident that they're on to it. They think they're going to find at least one of those black boxes. Explain his optimism to our viewers.


For Tony Abbott, he's a very considered man. For him to say he is very confident that we are on to -- that the pings are from MH370 gives rise for optimism that there's more to it than he's actually saying. And, in fact, he did tell media in Shanghai yesterday that he wouldn't give any more detail until he had briefed the president of China.

So there is a sense that there is a little bit more to his confidence than we are aware of. And I have been speaking to officials here in Australia. There is, indeed, a very strong confidence, but, of course, at the same time, they don't want to raise expectations out of consideration for the relatives and loved ones left behind, because there's been so many false hopes earlier on in the investigation, and they're ultra-cautious about what they say.

BLITZER: Let me bring Tom back into this conversation, Tom Fuentes, former assistant director of the FBI.

First several days of this entire disappearance of this plane were clearly wasted, in part, we believe these latest reports, including this report from Reuters, because one hand of the Malaysian government wasn't sharing information with the other hand. FUENTES: Well, apparently, that's true, that the civil aviation authorities didn't notify the defense, we're missing an airplane. And then the defense, we're not sure what they did and how soon it took them to figure out a plane that was unidentified crossed their airspace.

We don't know the delay there. We don't know for sure whether they dispatched jets to look for it or not. So there's really a lot of confusion, still, about what the civil aviation authorities in Kuala Lumpur did with their own defense ministry and with Hanoi, with the Ho Chi Minh air traffic control.

BLITZER: Peter, you're still under the strong assumption this was some criminal action by a person or persons, not some sort of mechanical failure.

GOELZ: I am. I think you can't explain the way the plane acted following the last sign-off.

So, if those facts are true, then it's got to be something in the cockpit and we don't know who or what.

BLITZER: Is that your assumption, Miles, as well?

O'BRIEN: It is. It's so hard to come up with a mechanical scenario, even sabotage, a small bomb. To have the sequence of failures, including communication failures, all occur as they did and the way the flight path went, it's very hard to conjure it up. It's not impossible, but it's hard.

BLITZER: That's what I'm hearing from U.S. sources.

I wonder, Rene, if you're hearing the same thing. There certainly is a tiny, tiny possibility of a catastrophic failure, but most likely some person was responsible for this disappearance.

MARSH: Yes, because, you know, the question just keeps on coming up. If it was mechanical, what could it have been that they didn't have enough time to communicate something was wrong with the plane?

So to everyone else's point, things just don't add up, but, again, we really don't know.

BLITZER: Hard to believe, five weeks, Geoffrey. Let's go back to Perth. Geoffrey, what's your assessment? Is it almost certainly a criminal act?

THOMAS: Look, indeed, Wolf.

It is absolutely no question from all the people I have talked to, a number of check captains, 777 check captains. But there's one other element to this, one other element. And that is, could this have been a hijacking gone wrong and could those hijackers have smuggled themselves on board and hidden in the main equipment bay underneath the galley, through a trap door, just behind the cockpit? Because you can disconnect the transponder, you can disconnect ACARS from down in that main equipment bay. So that's the one imponderable. People have been smuggled on airplanes before, and Malaysian authorities say they have checked out, you know, various ground workers and they have kind of cleared them as well, but who knows.

BLITZER: Have you heard that theory, Miles?

O'BRIEN: It's out there, the E&E, electronics and electric bay, which has significant breakers in there, including what he talks about, including the flight data recorder as well and cockpit voice recorder breakers, beneath the cockpit, through a hatch that's actually outside the cockpit door. You have to pull up some carpet to get in it.

It is accessible in flight, but not easily. But the question is, was there somebody in there during takeoff? And that's a question that comes up time and again.

BLITZER: Because, from the beginning, Tom, you have always said they shouldn't just be investigating people on the plane, whether the crew or the passengers. They should be investigating everyone who had access to that plane before it took off, ground personnel as well.

FUENTES: Right, Wolf. And even more than that, I was saying early on that they need the security camera recordings for the perimeter security of the airport, because you could have people that aren't employees breach the security, get into that aircraft.

And we just recently had a plane land at Dulles Airport in Washington. And when the wheels came down, a body fell out. So it's possible to stow away and not be an employee, not be a ground crew worker. All of those factors have to be looked at. We talked early on about the possibly of an intruder into the cockpit.

That's why I was frankly shocked when they cleared the passengers, because I thought you could still have an intruder. You have human hands believed to have flown that plane in the manner and direction that it went. So it's either the pilots, the crew, or the passengers.

BLITZER: And Malaysia, in Kuala Lumpur, they have very sophisticated closed-circuit TV cameras all over the place. You would think that they'd be looking at those videotapes right now.

GOELZ: Well, we assume that's one of the first things they did was review the tape systems, and if they saw something, we would have known about it. We haven't hard that yet.

O'BRIEN: Right.

MARSH: We know that there was the tape, because that's when we saw the video of the two men who got on to the airplane with the stolen passports.

GOELZ: In that time of night -- this is a busy airport. You're going to have a beehive. You're going to have people running all around on that tarmac and the caterers, the luggage handlers, trucks coming and going.

That's not the easiest task in the world to look at those tapes.

BLITZER: All right.

O'BRIEN: The Achilles' heel of any airport is the backside of the airport, the workers, the people, the caterers, that kind of thing.


GOELZ: Yes. And if something like this had happened, he would have had to have or she would have had to have help and we haven't heard any

BLITZER: All right. All right, guys, we're going to continue our analysis of what's going on. Thanks to all of you.

And, Geoffrey Thomas, thanks to you in Perth, Australia, as well.

Still ahead, can Malaysia handle the investigation into the black boxes when and if they're recovered? New information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.


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

Malaysia Flight 370 was due to arrive in Beijing at exactly this hour five weeks ago. And its mysterious disappearance has gripped the world ever since. Australia's prime minister now says search officials are very confident they're picking up signals from the plane's voice and data recorders, but what happens once they're finally recovered?

Our senior correspondent, Joe Johns, is joining us from Kuala Lumpur right now. He's got more.

What are you hearing about the fate of that black box or both black boxes once they're discovered, Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, retrieving information from the black boxes can be a tough job, and, for days now, the question has been, who's going to do it? Now we're learning the Malaysian government is not planning to try to do all of the work by itself.


JOHNS (voice-over): Over two dozen countries have been involved in the search for the missing plane. Any hope of unraveling the mystery and the fate of its 239 passengers and crew rests in two boxes, the flight and data recorders.

TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: We have very much narrowed down the search area and we're very confident that the signals that we are detecting are from the black box on MH370.

JOHNS: If they find them, the question remains who gets the black boxes and who will lead the investigation to uncover what really happened to Flight 370?

Typically, following a crash, the country of origin for the airliner, in this case Malaysia, is tasked with taking charge of the investigation. But Malaysian authorities have already asked for help.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't have the expert to open up the black box and to analyze what are the contents of the black box, the voice data and the flight data. We have to get experts to do it for us.

JOHNS: The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and the British Air Accident Investigation Branch, as well as Australian authorities, each have capabilities with sophisticated labs and technicians, but an international working group of experts has also been suggested.

If they are found, decoding the black boxes could be complicated. The boxes are built to withstand extreme conditions, including fire and heat damage. But depending on the circumstances of the crash, memory chips extracted from the data recorders could still be damaged and might require cleaning until the raw data begins to paint a picture of what happened.

GOELZ: We still don't know what condition they're in. And they have been sitting on bottom of the ocean under extreme pressure for, you know, weeks, perhaps months by the time we get them up. The water could have caused some deterioration of the circuitry. You just need to be careful when you first download it, because if you screw it up, you may lose vital data.

JOHNS: And time is now a vicious enemy.

ANGUS HOUSTON, CHIEF SEARCH COORDINATOR: The batteries are starting to fade, and as a consequence, the signal is becoming weaker.


JOHNS: Even if authorities retrieve the black boxes, there's another worry. Cockpit voice recorders run on a loop, and a lot of critical information and audio can be erased even before investigators get a chance to hear it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Joe Johns in Kuala Lumpur, good report. Thank you.

Let's bring back our aviation correspondent, Richard Quest.

Richard, of all the countries involved in the search, who do you believe should get first crack at that black box if it's found?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's going to be one of the big major countries that have huge expertise in this area. So I guess you're looking at Australian, where the ATSB is enormously experienced, the British where the AAIB, the French with the BEA, or, of course, the United States with the NTSB. Those are the countries that one would look at initially, because they have had -- there are many countries who can do it, but the ones who have really pulled together, pulled apart a black box before and extracted data in very exceptional circumstances -- and it might be, for example, this is the perfect one for the BEA of France, which of course extracted the data on Air France 447, because it will be very complicated and difficult.

BLITZER: It's a British -- excuse me -- it's a U.S.-made plane. It's a Boeing 777, but it was owned by Malaysia Airlines.

So it's a little complicated. What I hear you saying, though, Richard, under no circumstances, given their lack of experience in dealing with a sophisticated black box like this, should Malaysia get first crack at it?

QUEST: Malaysia wouldn't want to, I wouldn't imagine. This isn't something that you tinker about with. You don't have a go at it.

They will know -- the Malaysian investigative authority will know immediately whether or not they are equipped to decode the black box. And the other point to bear in mind is, it is quite common to investigating countries to send the data box to one of the major centers where the data is extracted.

And one other thing, Wolf, don't forget all these other countries are accredited to the investigation. The U.S. is accredited. The U.K. will be accredited. Australia will be. China will be. They will all be sitting in the room watching the investigation closely.

BLITZER: Remind our viewers of what happened back when -- in 2012, when Malaysia actually lost a cockpit voice recorder, one of those black boxes. What happened then?

QUEST: All right. This is the report. It came out this week.

It's a Malaysia Airlines 747. And what happened was the aircraft had a faulty engine upon takeoff from Heathrow. The plane landed. They didn't lose the cockpit voice recorder. What they didn't do was pull the plug on it. So it continued recording. Remember, Wolf, it only records for two hours.

And because they didn't stop the recording, it went over that which is -- that the investigators wanted. They got a slap on the wrist from the British AAIB. "Operators' procedures for preservation were not sufficient in the case of an incident. Revised procedures require the commander to secure the recordings."

In other words, if you think there's going to be a need for the cockpit voice recorder, you pull the plug so that it doesn't continue to record over it. A smack on the wrists.

BLITZER: They lost the data from that cockpit voice recorder. The actual box they had, but it was useless since they let it record over --

QUEST: Right.

BLITZER: -- those two hours, those final two hours.

The Reuters news agency has got a detailed report on the blunders -- I guess that's the only word you can use -- that caused a huge delay in the search looking in the wrong place. Among other things, the Malaysian government did not scramble jets once that plane, a Boeing triple-7, went -- was missing.

Listen to what one source told Reuters: "When we were alerted, we got our boys to check the military radar. We noticed that there was an unmarked plane. Based on the information we had, we did not send up any jets because it was possibly mechanical problems, and the plane might have been going back to Penang" which is, what, in Indonesia.

So what's going on over here? How do you explain this particular blunder, this miscommunication?

QUEST: There's no doubt that this is, but to use the phrase the smoking gun. What did -- everything else is incidental. Names, captains, good nights. This is the smoking gun. What did happen with the military when they were told about what was happening?

BLITZER: And so they just -- obviously a plane goes missing, 239 people onboard. And nobody's paying very much attention to that for several critical, critical hours. Richard Quest, thanks very much.

Just ahead, a closer look at some of the high-tech equipment being used right now to search for Flight 370, including those sonobuoys. How might they have able to locate the black boxes?

finding them is only the beginning. We're going to get details of what happens next from an expert who's been through it all.


BLITZER: Some of the most sophisticated equipment in the world is being used right now in an effort to find Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 which went missing exactly, exactly five weeks ago.

CNN's Tom Foreman is here with a closer look at some of this equipment. What are you seeing there?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, one of the first things they're trying to do is get all the equipment off the top of the water so that only the specialized gear is there so nothing is interfering with it. For example, this towed pinger locator, this had been the one thing that's produced real results so far. All four of the pings that count have come from this. There are many other tools considered as well.

For example, the sonobuoys are being dropped out there. These are actually meant for detecting submarines. One of these picked up a ping but discounted that as in the one that matters right now.

Beyond that, we talk about the Bluefin-21. That's that robotic device for mapping the bottom. It won't be listening for anything. It will simply map the bottom so they can get a picture once they narrowed in on a close enough area.

And then, if we get to this point, you'll see other things. You might see for example, the Alvin, which is actually one that could take a human being down there to take eyes on a target and look at it. Or if you go beyond that to the Remora 6,000. This is the type of robot they used with Air France to actually retrieve things from the bottom.

But right now, Wolf, right now all of this technology is poised but only parts of it has been deployed at this moment. And as they move forward, they'll see how they can add more and more to this armada and hopefully, hopefully leads to the actual wreckage-- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Tom, thank you.

Let's dig deeper right now with Colleen Keller. She's a senior analyst with the scientific consulting firm Metron. She worked on the search for Air France Flight 447. Are you very confident those four pings were, in fact, coming from at least one, if not both of those black boxes, Colleen?

COLLEEN KELLER, SENIOR ANALYST, METRON: Well, I have to trust the experts, Wolf. They've told us that they've analyzed the signals, they've shown them to the people that make the beacons, and they've verified that it looks like the beacon signal.

The one sonobuoy ping that we did pick up appears to have been discarded. I assume they did a signal analysis on it and determined that it didn't meet the correct profile. So I'm just going to defer to the experts here. They've actually seen the data.

BLITZER: Who's going to decide when those batteries on the two black boxes are definitely dead? They're supposed to last 30 days. It's now 36. Maybe they'll go 40. Who's going to decide when those batteries are certainly dead? And that they're going to submerge that Bluefin-21 to do a check on the bottom of the ocean there?

KELLER: Well, I assume they'll defer to the folks on the ship. It's the Navy and the folks from Phoenix International that are actually running the towed pinger locaters. They probably have talked to the beacon manufacturers, and they've heard between 30 and 40 days is all that we can expect.

I mean, for all we know, the beacons are done or they could be just getting so faint that we're not close enough to hear them at this point. But we're predicting that by mid next week you'll see them switch operations, reel in the towed pinger locator, and go to the underwater submersibles, the Bluefin.

BLITZER: The Bluefin-21. How fragile is that equipment, given the nature of the water? It's going to be going down two, three, maybe four miles.

KELLER: Well, it's built to withstand the pressures at depth, but it's not built to ram into rocks. And that's why there is a need to understand what's on the bottom before you put this submarine down there. They would typically map the bottom to get a good idea of what kind of terrain they're looking at so they can determine a flight profile for the submarine flying underwater, obviously.

I don't know if they're going to take that step. It would be a very cautious step. If you think about it, we only have one of these vehicles in theater, so we don't want to lose it. We don't want to damage it. We definitely want to use it as cautiously as possible.

And frankly, there's not a huge rush here. I mean, we want to find the wreckage. We want to do it as methodically as possible and expeditiously, but at this point, we're just recovering wreckage. We're not rescuing people. So we should do this cautiously.

BLITZER: A lot of experts have suggested there's some thick silt at the ocean bottom over there on the floor that could really complicate this search. What are you hearing about that?

KELLER: I really don't know what the bottom's like, but it could very well be silted over and the box could be partially buried. But the fact that we're hearing the signals tells me that at least something's protruding and working properly and hopefully visible to the submersibles.

BLITZER: Colleen Keller, always helping us. Thank you very, very much. Upcoming, we'll have more on the mystery of Flight 370. That's coming up.

Also an alleged military buildup by Russia near the Ukrainian border. CNN goes in search of what some fear could be an invasion force. Stay with us.


BLITZER: We'll have more on the mystery of Flight 370 coming up.

But, first, President Obama says good-bye to his embattled health secretary and announces his pick to replace her.

CNN's Athena Jones is joining us from the White House with more -- Athena.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the administration expects this transition to take place next month. And, look, the disastrous rollout of's is one of the White House's lowest points. With Secretary Sebelius leaving, they're hoping they can turn the page on the difficult phase in the implementation of a controversial law.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Kathleen has been here through the long fight to pass the Affordable Care Act. She helped guide its implementation, even when it got rough.

JONES (voice-over): President Obama bidding farewell to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're now under oath.

JONES: The face of the administration's rocky rollout of

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, THEN-HHS SECRETARY: Hold me accountable for the debacle. I'm responsible.

JONES: And a frequent target of Republican critics and late night comedy shows like "Saturday Night Live", which mocked the Web site's problem.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How it's been crashing and freezing and shutting down and stalling and not working and breaking and sucking.

JONES: The glitch plague site bedeviled the administration for months, raising doubts about how many people would sign up for insurance by the March 31st deadline.

OBAMA: She's got bumps, I've got bumps. Bruises.

JONES: Just Thursday, Sebelius told a congressional committee, some 7.5 million people had signed up for coverage. A number the president touted.

OBAMA: And there were problems, but under Kathleen's leadership, her team at HHS turned the corner, got it fixed, got the job done, and the final score speaks for itself.

JONES: The former Kansas governor spoke about what the HHS post meant to her.

SEBELIUS: Now, this is the most meaningful work I've ever been a part of. In fact, it's been the cause of my life.

JONES: The president named Budget Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell to replace Sebelius, highlighting her skills as a manager and calling on the Senate to confirm her swiftly. She was confirmed 96-0 for her current position last year and needs just 51 votes.

Arizona Republican John McCain has already tweeted his support. Still, the confirmation hearing will be one more chance for opponents to bash Obamacare.


JONES: And Republicans are committed to making Obamacare a central part of the midterm elections in the fall. It will be the third election in a row where Obamacare is playing a major role. And this change at the helm of HHS is not going to change that.

One more thing, Wolf, during those farewell remarks from Secretary Sebelius, she said that a page of her speech was missing. It was a glitch that seemed like a metaphor -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Athena Jones at the White House -- thank you. NATO secretary general is urging Russia to deescalate the situation along the Ukrainian border where the United States now estimates up to 40,000 Russian troops have massed. It's raising serious fears of a move by Moscow potentially to annex parts of eastern Ukraine just as the west accuses it of doing with Crimea. But Russia denies any military buildup at all in the region.

CNN's Phil Black goes there to investigate.


PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We've returned to this remote spot in southwestern Russia, near the villages of Tikolova (ph) and Kosmenski (ph). The first time we were here, we found a training site, a military training site with not a lot of training going on. We've come back because NATO released a satellite image which it says proves this location is part of Russia's military buildup near the Ukrainian border.

(voice-over): The photo claims to show tanks and infantry fighting vehicles. Other images are labeled motorized infantry. NATO says they were captured by a private satellite on March 27th. Two weeks later, we can only trucks coming and going. Some more parked near the perimeter, dozens at the most.

Local shepherd (INAUDIBLE) tells me he saw many armored vehicles, including tanks arrive here last month. Other residents say those forces carried out exercises and have since left. NATO also released images which it says showed another side further east outside the town of Novocherkassk. Here, they said to have captured an artillery brigade and more motorized infantry. Again, the pictures are two weeks old.

(on camera): We found this military encampment just outside of Novocherkassk. It is difficult to make out the size and numbers of the forces back there. We don't want to get too much closer and risk upsetting the local people manning the perimeter. But we can make out at least one armored personnel carrier through the tree line.

(voice-over): It's the Kaminovsky (ph) training ground. We can't be certain it's the same site NATO is referring to, but it's the only place Russia has admitted withdrawing troops from since the crisis has begun. They even allowed media to capture the event. That was on March 31st, four days after the NATO image was snapped from space.

Russia's minister announced a battalion of motorized infantry had finished drills here and was returning to its permanent base.

Russia has always insisted the extra forces in this region are only here to conduct exercises, then they'll go home. NATO says the series of fuzzy satellite photos back up its claim there are 40,000 plus Russian troops ready to roll across the Ukrainian border.

Here on the ground at Russia's western frontier, it is impossible to verify either side's claim. The only certainties are the vastness of the countryside, the poor roads connecting remote communities, and the overwhelming belief among the people here that war with Ukraine is unthinkable.

Phil Black, CNN, in the Rostov Region of southwestern Russia.


BLITZER: Iran's United Nations mission says the United States is violating international law by refusing to issue a visa to Tehran's appointed new ambassador to the United Nations. The White House says Hamid Abutalebi will not be given permission to enter the United States because of his ties to the 1979 takeover of the embassy in Tehran in which 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days.

Just ahead, the newest information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM about the Flight 370 search.

But, first, a look at people who are saving lives and impacting your world.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Actress Kat Graham is used to being surrounded by fantasy for her role in "Vampire Diaries." But for her, there is no denying the reality of war.

KAT GRAHAM, ACTRESS: I come from refugees on both sides of my family. My grandmother was in the Holocaust.

CUOMO: Graham recently traveled with the UNHCR to one of the largest refugee camps in Jordan, meeting Syrian families who were displaced by combat hit home.

GRAHAM: Seeing so many people that look like me. I could have easily been one of them. The biggest surprise to me is that I was expecting to see these people that were completely broken, people that had lost everything and were hopeless. But instead, I saw these people that were resilient.

CUOMO: Like a young boy named Ibrahim. His family was forced to flee Syria in such a hurry, he could only grab cards and marbles.

GRAHAM: So after we were done playing with the marbles, Ibrahim gave me one. And he only had like eight. And I keep that marble. And I bring it with me everywhere I go.

So, this is the marble. This little marble. But I feel like it holds the whole world in it for me.



BLITZER: We're following all the new developments in the mystery of flight 370. Australia's prime minister says he is very confident four signals picked up in the Indian Ocean are indeed coming from the missing jet's black boxes. A fifth possible ping was detected yesterday, but the search for it says it's unlikely that it came from the flight data recorders.

Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. Go ahead, tweet me @WolfBlitzer. You can certainly tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.

Please be sure to join us Monday in THE SITUATION ROOM. Watch us live or you can always DVR the show so you won't miss a moment.

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

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts in 60 seconds.