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THE SITUATION ROOM
ISIS Claims Aid Worker Killed in Airstrike; White House 'Deeply Concerned' by Hostage Claim
Aired February 6, 2015 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, shocking claim. ISIS says a female American hostage, 26-year-old Kayla Mueller, was killed in a Jordanian air strike. The U.S. is suspicious but scrambling to investigate.
P.R. stunt. Jordan flatly dismisses the ISIS claim as it once again pounds terrorist targets in revenge for the murder of a captured pilot. I'll speak live this hour with a top Jordanian official in Amman.
And wrong engine? As alarms sounded in the cockpit, did the pilots of the stricken airliner make a fatal mistake in their desperate effort to save the plane and its passengers?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Let's get to the breaking news. The United States now rushing to investigate a shocking claim by ISIS that a young American woman has been killed in a Jordanian airstrike on ISIS targets in Syria.
The humanitarian worker, Kayla Mueller, was taken hostage 18 months ago and held for ransom. But the terror group offers no evidence of her death beyond a photo of a collapsed building. Jordan claims the ISIS claim is a P.R. stunt aimed at hurting the coalition.
The claim by ISIS comes as Jordan steps up its massive air assault on ISIS targets launched in retaliation for the gruesome murder of a captured Jordanian pilot.
Our correspondents and analysts are all standing by, along with the top Jordanian government spokesman, Mohammed al-Momani. Let's begin with Brian Todd. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM with the very latest -- Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, at this hour, we have no definitive proof of ISIS's claim that a Jordanian airstrike killed American Kayla Mueller.
At this hour, while Jordanian, American and other intelligence agencies are scrambling to investigate this claim, the timing of the announcement is fueling a lot of skepticism. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
TODD (voice-over): A picture of a collapsed building. The only image offered by ISIS to illustrate its disturbing claim. The group says a Jordanian airstrike on this building in the Syrian city of Raqqah killed 26-year-old Kayla Mueller, an American woman it had held hostage for a year and a half. Isis does not show Mueller, offers no proof of its claim.
U.S. officials tell CNN they can't corroborate it. Jordan's interior minister calls it a low P.R. stunt. There are strong reasons for skepticism that Mueller died from a Jordanian bomb.
AKI PUNTZ (ph), FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: There are coalition airstrikes going on every day. How are they supposed to ascertain that a Jordanian plane actually dropped the bomb that destroyed this building?
TODD: Another point of doubt: the claim by ISIS that Mueller was alive in the building, and no one else was hurt.
PUNTZ (ph): I'm extremely skeptical. As you can see, this is a multi-story building. Other buildings have been flattened. And she was the only person who was killed in this supposed airstrike? The fact that there were no guards, no passersby, nobody who was even injured except for her suggests that it doesn't pass the smell test.
TODD: Why would ISIS make the claim now? It comes just three days after ISIS released a shocking video showing its militants burning a Jordanian pilot to death. And just hours after Jordan responded to that with a series of stepped-up air strikes against ISIS.
If ISIS had already killed Kayla Mueller, this claim is a way to avoid the kind of backlash ISIS has gotten for burning the pilot.
PUNTZ (ph): If she was actually killed by the organization prior to this current announcement, it's very convenient for the organization, because they were -- they could get rid of an inconvenient hostage, and they could have driven a wedge between the Jordanians and the Americans.
TODD: A ploy which analysts say likely won't work.
MICHAEL O'HANLON, BLOOMBERG INSTITUTION: Even if somehow it was a Jordanian aircraft that injured a western hostage or killed a western hostage, it wasn't Jordan's fault. Jordan was trying to help in a campaign to defeat one of the most brutal and ruthless organizations on the planet.
TODD: Another problem presented by Kayla Mueller for ISIS, analysts say because she's a woman, they would not have wanted to publicize killing her. They wouldn't have wanted to put that on videotape, like they did with their male hostages. If Kayla Mueller is dead, and even if she's not, analysts say it
appears now ISIS is running out of hostages to use as propaganda or as bargaining chips, at least running out of prominent hostages. They may only have one western hostage left. That is, Wolf, of course, as you know, the British journalist, John Canley.
BLITZER: And we're also getting word now that ISIS had demanded a ransom in exchange for the release of Kayla Mueller?
TODD: That's right. A source close to her family has told our Nic Robertson that last summer, ISIS sent a note to Mueller's family, saying they've grown tired of waiting. They were demanding five million euros, close to $6 million, by August 13 of last year. That apparently was a date that ISIS set for her execution, according to that source close to her family, who spoke to Nic.
Now, the question is, did they execute her then? Did they execute her later? Did this Jordanian airstrike possibly kill her? We may not know this for a long time. And, you know, this is fueling a lot of speculation tonight, and it's all very disturbing.
BLITZER: Yes. She had been taken hostage a year earlier before that, on August 4, 2013.
Brian, thanks very much.
Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She's getting more information. Barbara, does the Pentagon believe she was killed in that Jordanian airstrike?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the fact is nobody knows tonight what her fate is. U.S. officials across Washington from the White House to the Pentagon to the State Department to the CIA, all looking at the same information and unable to corroborate this ISIS claim, because of all the reasons Brian Todd just laid out, of course.
So they're going to look through every piece of intelligence. Is there any chatter out there? Is there any intercepted communication, any social media posting, any interaction with trusted operatives on the ground, anything that can possibly corroborate this, anything that can possibly say what has happened to this young woman?
BLITZER: You're also, Barbara, learning new information about a failed attempt to rescue her, right?
STARR: Well, we're learning more information about something CNN reported several months ago.
Last year, there was a rescue attempt in Raqqah by U.S. Special Forces. They went into Raqqah by helicopter and went to a site where they thought that the late journalist, James Foley, also killed by ISIS, and several other hostages, were located. We had reported all of that.
But what we now know, when they got there, the evidence that they found that the hostages had been there but had been moved. The evidence included they saw writings on the cell walls, and they collected some DNA samples, some hair samples.
Our source is not able to corroborate that one of those hair samples was Kayla Mueller's. The "Washington Post" reporting that it is.
But Wolf, let me wrap up tonight by saying that we know here at CNN her family must be in terrible emotional stress, watching all of this news coverage, looking for answers. And right now tonight, Wolf, there just simply are no definitive answers.
BLITZER: Of course, hoping desperately that she may still be alive, despite this ISIS claim that she was killed in this alleged Jordanian airstrike. Barbara, thanks very much.
Let's get some more now. Joining us is Jordan's minister of state, government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani.
Sir al-Momani, thank you very much for joining us. As you know, ISIS is claiming that one of your Jordanian airstrikes in Raqqah over this area destroyed a building, and she, this young American woman, was in that building. And I want your reaction to the ISIS assertion.
MOHAMMED AL-MOMANI, JORDAN SPOKESMAN: Thank you, Wolf.
Great to be with you again. We are actually very suspicious of this claim, not only because the story does not add up logically, but because we also have an experience that we just concluded with ISIS, whereby they negotiated the life of a Jordanian pilot that they had killed weeks ago.
So what we know about this terrorist organization is that they are liars when it comes to these things. They use these events to manipulate facts and to manipulate public opinion. And add to this the fact that what they have said is just impossible for anybody to acquire. How could they recognize the airplanes in the far sky that they were Jordanian airplanes? How would they put an American hostage in an empty building? What would that logic add up in a story that they are trying to promote?
We think this is part of their propaganda. We think this is part of their way to try to make friction or to delude public opinion. We just don't buy it, actually. And we're very suspicious of what they are saying.
BLITZER: Were there Jordanian airstrikes on this area, on this building, in Raqqah?
AL-MOMANI: To my knowledge, we have targeted storage of ammunition and training camps for terrorists. So that will tell you that it will be difficult for us to believe or accept the fact that an American lady hostage was there.
BLITZER: Because they say it was your bomb that killed this woman, and they -- the only thing they've shown, ISIS, as you know, Mr. al-Momani, the only thing they've shown is a destroyed building. So I'm just trying to figure out, was this one of the buildings that your pilots destroyed earlier today in that airstrike over Raqqah?
AL-MOMANI: No, I think what we targeted is the storage of ammunition and training camps for terrorists who have been trained there, and not buildings. Again, it's just for them, if they show a destroyed building doesn't mean it's all that what they're saying is true.
And once again, what they have done with us, with our pilot, proves to us clearly that these people are lying about these things and they're trying to use it for their own political propaganda.
BLITZER: Do you believe this young American woman may still be alive?
AL-MOMANI: Nobody can actually speak for that. It's almost impossible to say this. What we know about this terrorist organization is they are brutal murderers that will not hesitate to take the life of any innocent person. So everything is possible, I think, from an organization with that level of cruelty and criminality.
BLITZER: Mr. al-Momani, we have a lot more to discuss, including the next steps by Jordan.
I want to take a quick break. We'll resume our special coverage right here in THE SITUATION ROOM right after this.
BLITZER: Our breaking news, ISIS claims a 26-year-old female American hostage, Kayla Mueller, from Prescott, Arizona, was killed during stepped-up Jordanian airstrikes. Jordan calls the claim a P.R. stunt.
We're back with the Jordanian government spokesman, Mohammed al- Momani. He's joining us from Amman, the Jordanian capital. A quick question on the Jordanian airstrike over Raqqah where the ISIS militants claimed this Jordanian airstrike killed this young American woman. Was that strictly a Jordanian airstrike, or was it a coalition U.S./Jordanian airstrike, a collaboration, if you will?
AL-MOMANI: I think it was a collaboration. We flew dozens of our F-16s, and I think this was in coordination and collaboration with other coalition members, including the United States.
BLITZER: How does it make you feel, Minister, that the ISIS militants, they first go ahead and brutally kill your pilot and now they claim you killed, through your airstrike, this young American woman?
AL-MOMANI: You know, Wolf, we think this is part of their way to delude public opinion and mislead public opinion. I think that people are becoming increasingly aware of their games and tricks. What we are saying now is that the war in DAISH before the murder
of our pilot, is completely different than the war after the murder of our pilot. We understand their games better. We understand how cruel they are and how they can use and lie about facts in order to dissuade and in order to delude public opinion.
We don't feel at all that what they are saying is -- is making any effect on public opinion, and we should continue to try to make sure that societies and people around the world understand the evil nature of this organization and how they use events and how they lie in order to affect public opinion and even make fractions, even within the coalition members.
BLITZER: So what will Jordan do now?
AL-MOMANI: For us, actually, we said that this is not going to be pass without punishment. We will bring justice to DAISH. Justice will be served. We will make sure that those who committed this atrocity against our pilot will pay for it. We are determined and united more than ever in order to continue with this -- with this effort.
We strongly believe that other countries in the region and around the world should -- should shoulder and support Jordan in its efforts to fight terrorism. And everybody at this point of history should understand that terrorism is cross-national -- cross-national by definition, so everybody should come together in order to fight this evil and to make sure that it is defeated.
BLITZER: Just want to point out, DAISH is the Arabic acronym for ISIS. That's the phrase you're using, but also, it has a derogatory connotation to it, as well.
Do you know, Mr. al-Momani, if King Abdullah, his majesty King Abdullah, has spoken with President Obama today since this ISIS claim that this young American woman was killed?
AL-MOMANI: Well, first on the ISIS thing, you know, they say it's an Islamic state. And we strongly believe it's not a state, and it's not Islamic. That's why we emphasize that we call it DAISH, not the Islamic state.
We had a meeting today, actually, with his majesty just to brief him in the latest efforts on what's going on around 5 a.m. Amman time, and I think up until that time, he did not talk to President Obama.
BLITZER: Do you think there could some crack in this U.S./Jordanian alliance -- and as we all know, it is very, very close -- if, in fact, it was a Jordanian bomb that killed this American woman, as ISIS is claiming; and they're showing no evidence to back up their claim?
AL-MOMANI: Not at all. I think all countries, especially Jordan and the United States, understand that there need to be unity and there need to be strength in the coalition. We all understand that DAISH might be using innocent civilians as human shields. We know that their stories are highly discredited, and we are suspicious about it.
That's why I think very, very strongly that coalition members will stick together in this fight against this terrorist organization with a declared target and objective of defeating it eventually.
BLITZER: When you met earlier today in Amman with King Abdullah, give us a little flavor. How angry is he right now?
AL-MOMANI: He is angry, actually, and he understands that the Jordanian people are very angry about what happened to their pilot. He understands fully, given his strategic and military background, that terrorism is a cross-national threat; and he would like the whole world to continue to understand that, and regional actors, as well.
So he was, on the one hand, angry about what happened; and he continued to tell and direct his organizations and commanders to take action against this terrorist organization.
On the other hand, he is happy with the national unity this country is actually enjoying now and the national unity around our armed forces. In addition to that, he continued to emphasize the need that we continue the same determination and strong tone that we will not blink in front of this terrorist organization, because this is a just war that's totally worth fighting.
BLITZER: Mohammed al-Momani is the Jordanian government spokesman. Thank you so much for joining us, Mr. al-Momani.
AL-MOMANI: Thank you. Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: We're going to continue to follow the breaking news, just as the Obama administration tried to clarify its strategy on terrorist hostage taking. We have new details coming in. Stand by for that.
Plus, there are new revelations from those so-called black boxes recovered from the deadly TransAsia airliner crash. Did the crew react to one engine failure by turning off the wrong engine?
BLITZER: Our breaking news, the United States is investigating an ISIS claim that a female American hostage, 26-year-old Kayla Mueller of Prescott, Arizona, has been killed in a Jordanian airstrike. This comes just as the Obama administration unveils its strategy for protecting the nation from global enemies. Jordan flatly denies that its airstrike killed this young woman.
Let's go to our White House correspondent, Michelle Kosinski. Michelle, what are they saying over there?
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The White House expresses deep concern, saying there is still no credible evidence to support these ISIS claims but that the intelligence community is working on it; and reiterating that the U.S. has been using every available resource to try to free Kayla Mueller. At the same time, we see the White House spell out the
president's national security strategy, looking forward but defending decisions that have been made. ISIS claiming a Jordanian airstrike killed an American hostage.
Against this brutal backdrop, the White House today lays out its broad security strategy and defends the president's own blueprint for the use of American force around the world.
SUSAN RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: With the world united in condemnation of its horrific executions, ISIL should know their barbarism only fortifies the world's collective resolve.
KOSINSKI: Emphasizing defending that collective effort against ISIS and other threats, even when progress is slow as in Syria, where the U.S. is still in the complex vetting stage for arming and training local fighters, which critics, even former members of the administration, say should have been done a long time ago.
RICE: Fighting terrorism is a long-term struggle. There will be setbacks, and there are no one-size-fits-all solutions.
KOSINSKI: The White House says the goal is strong and sustainable global leadership. The military being only a part of that but which they say needs more funding.
Also, in what's been called the Obama doctrine, avoiding long- term conflicts, maximizing diplomacy and, in what sounds like a hit back at critics, not overreacting.
Rice: Yes, there is a lot going on. Still, while the dangers we face may be more numerous and varied, they are not of the existential nature we confronted during World War II or during the Cold War. We cannot afford to be buffeted by alarmism.
KOSINSKI: As early as next week, the president will ask Congress for more tailored authority to go after ISIS. The challenge, trying to gain bipartisan support for what could be a three-year plan targeting ISIS in both Iraq and Syria.
But will the president leave open any possibility, leeway, for using American ground troops, as some in Congress would like, if necessary? So far, he has repeatedly said not an option.
KOSINSKI: National security advisor Susan Rice talked today about this ongoing process of review in how the U.S. government deals with and communicates with families of hostages. This came up in the prior cases of James Foley and that's what prompted this review. But she emphasized, again, that the U.S. does not make concessions to terrorists or does not pay ransoms, Wolf.
BLITZER: Michelle Kosinski at the White House. Thanks very much, Michelle. Let's bring in our CNN national security commentator Mike Rogers,
he's the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Our law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes, he's a former FBI assistant director, our terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank, and our justice reporter Evan Peres.
Evan, you've been meeting with sources here in town. Are you getting some new information. What are you learning?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, the -- everybody in the government from the CIA, from the FBI, everybody has been looking at the same information. And they're not ready to make any conclusions yet, frankly, because there is no intelligence indicating what has happened. What they are ready to do is make some educated guesses.
And based on previous information, previous behavior by ISIS, the way how they killed this Jordanian pilot weeks before we found out that they had actually killed him, they're -- this is leading them to conclude perhaps that this hostage was also killed perhaps some time ago, and now they're finding a way to provide cover for this -- some cover story to explain why they killed a woman which as you know is forbidden in Islamic teaching.
BLITZER: Yes. I think that's a fair point.
Let me ask Mike Rogers what his analysis is.
What do you think about that, Mr. Chairman?
MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Highly unlikely that that bombing of that particular building took the life of that young woman. You know, the intelligence cooperation between the Jordanians and the Americans on these bombing runs is at a very senior level. It is minute-by-minute. They're combining intelligence that they know to make sure they're getting the right targets so none of the story fits.
The ISIL story that she was in this building by herself, none of that comports with exactly what we know, how they have handled prisoners in the past. I think it is as I said highly unlikely.
The unfortunate part here, Wolf, is given the story the way they've concocted it does not bode well for the health of -- and safety and really, if this hostage is still alive.
BLITZER: Yes. Sounds like ISIS made up the whole thing.
And, Tom Fuentes, you're a trained forensic expert over at the FBI. You've looked at the still pictures, the still photos that ISIS released of this building where they claimed that Jordan attacked that building, dropped a bomb there and killed this young American woman.
When you look at the rubble, you look at the damage, tell our viewers why you are skeptical of the ISIS assertions. TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Wolf, I went to many
sites of building bombings, bombed from the air or bombed from the ground, and that building, if it was bombed yesterday, it would still be smoking. Usually the smoldering and the smoke coming out of a bombed building will last for days, sometimes even weeks. So this picture, that might have been bombed in an airstrike but that airstrike was not a recent airstrike.
BLITZER: Yes. It looks really suspicious because there is no smoke coming up. If that -- if that bombing occurred this morning, it would last for several days, at least some sort of smoke, right?
FUENTES: Exactly right.
BLITZER: So that's why you're suspicious of that.
And, Mr. Chairman, Congressman, you agree with that analysis, right?
ROGERS: Absolutely, beyond the shadow of a doubt. And again, they are not hitting targets, if there were any ounce of intelligence that there would be a hostage anywhere near one of these bombing runs, I'm not sure I made that clear before, they wouldn't go there. So -- there clearly wasn't that intelligence leading up to it.
And again, when you go through the story as Tom pointed out about the smoldering of the building, the fact that they would never allow a hostage by themselves in a building, no other militants killed, none of that adds up to a true story.
BLITZER: Yes. I suspect all of you are right.
Paul Cruickshank, you've been monitoring some of these jihadi Web sites. What are you seeing and hearing as far as the fate of this young American woman is concerned?
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, Wolf, the initial claim was put out by the Raqqa Media Center earlier today and then another ISIS linked media group repeated the claim just a few hours ago. I have been in touch with Flashpoint Partners, an American organization tracking this ISIS social media. There is a real buzz around ISIS social media right now they're making sort of mockery of the Jordanians and they're obviously delighted by this news.
This does seem to be an official ISIS communication. Whether it's true or not of course is a very different story indeed.
BLITZER: But they have not shown this woman's body, have they, Paul?
CRUICKSHANK: They have -- they have not shown any evidence whatsoever that she was in the rubble of this building.
BLITZER: Well, your analysis, Paul, and I want to go around and ask everyone, what is your analysis? Do you believe she's alive or dead? CRUICKSHANK: Well, I don't think there's too much hope, you
know, right now, given the fact that this does appear to be an official ISIS communique, for the group -- for her suddenly sort of be alive again would be pretty problematic. So I think unfortunately the prospects are very, very dim indeed. But of course, there is always hope. There has to be hope for the family.
BLITZER: There has to be hope.
Mike Rogers, what do you think?
ROGERS: I think there is not much hope but I also agree you have to have -- save a little bit. Maybe they didn't go as far as to kill the woman but odds at this point are against her.
BLITZER: Yes. I suspect you're right.
Evan, your sources, what are they telling you? Because I know you're well plugged in.
PEREZ: Well, the assessment is that she's not -- most likely was killed some time ago and they've concocted this story just for their own propaganda.
BLITZER: Tom Fuentes?
FUENTES: One aspect of that is just like the Jordanian pilot, you never saw him when all of the negotiations were being talked about with the Japanese hostages, he was never shown. You find out later he's been dead for a month. And I think in this case if she was killed previously, and they might have done it and filmed it in a horrific manner, now they can't even use it because they've said she died in the building airstrike.
BLITZER: Mike Rogers, there was a $6 million ransom that ISIS was asking, five million euro, for this young woman. Do you remember off the top of your head when the last proof of life that she was still alive happened to have been delivered to the United States?
ROGERS: Well, I mean, I do remember those discussions, some of that is still classified, but they were moving hostages and they had a grouping of certain hostages, and there was some good intelligence along the way, and I think it's been publicly discussed about the raid that took place in Syria. That was based on information they had that there was this group of hostages. So I would argue that that was probably the nearest thing to proof of life that they've had about her in some time.
I will say that that $6 million does say that they were actually interested in or at least making believe that they were interested in an exchange. That is in a range where there could be a possible negotiation. But the way they were moving these hostages, it was not likely that any of those hostages' fate was a good one, unfortunately.
BLITZER: Yes, five million euro or $6 million, that's in the range of maybe some kind of swap. The $200 million ISIS supposedly was seeking for those Japanese hostages, that was not even in the cards. So no one really thought ISIS was -- was serious about that.
I want all of you to stand by. We have much more to discuss. The enormous skepticism over ISIS' claims today that it was a Jordanian airstrike in Syria that killed 26-year-old Kayla Mueller.
Up next, though, black box data revealing both of the TransAsia Airliner's engines stopped one after another. Were the problems mechanical? Was there pilot error? Was there both?
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. ISIS claiming a U.S. hostage died as a result of a Jordanian airstrike in Syria. We're going to get much more on this, the fate of this 26-year-old woman, Kayla Mueller. But there's another huge story that's breaking right now as well.
Startling new revelations from the so-called black boxes recovered after the TransAsia Airlines crash in Taiwan. Data shows the engines failed, one after another, raising serious questions about whether the crew reacted to one problem by turning off the wrong engine.
Let's go to our aviation correspondent Rene Marsh. She is working the story for us.
Rene, you're getting new information and it's pretty startling.
RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, new data tonight, hard data from the plane's recorders paint a picture of just how fast disaster unraveled for the crippled turboprop plane. We're talking seconds after takeoff. One of the most dangerous portions of flight. But now that we know what happened, the question tonight is why.
MARSH (voice-over): Newly downloaded data from TransAsia Flight 235's recorders reveal problems started almost immediately after takeoff. Thirty-seven seconds into the flight, alarms sound. Engine two is having a problem. But it appears the pilots reduced power to engine one, the only engine working. It eventually shuts off. By now, engine two has failed.
For one minute and six seconds, there's nothing powering the plane. Five stall alarms sound. Then an emergency call from the cockpit.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mayday, mayday. Engine flameout.
MARSH: Speed alerts warn the plane is going too slow. The crew tries to restart the engine but it's too late. Nearly two minutes after the first warning alarm, the plane crashes into a river.
MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Once they shut the left engine down, when that wasn't the engine with the problem, the flight was doomed because they just didn't have enough altitude and time to really restart.
MARSH: The aircraft could have flown on just one engine. The question now is whether pilot error contributed to the crash. Pilots have switched off the wrong engine before.
SCHIAVO: This happens more than people might realize. I mean, I know of at least 15 crashes killing 185 people where the pilots shut off the wrong engine.
MARSH: Investigators are still trying to determine if pilots of TransAsia Flight 235 shut off the engine mistakenly, or if it was due to a mechanical issue. The mother of one of the pilots defended her son's actions.
CHEN TSAI-KUEY, TRANSASIA PILOT'S MOTHER (Through Translator): My son's life was exchanged for the lives of many others. This is worthwhile. Even though my heart is broken, I am proud to have such a son. What he did was the right thing.
MARSH: More than 30 people died and more than a dozen survived. The search for missing bodies continues.
MARSH: Well, so-called engine outdrills are very common, pilots practice them in training over and over again. The key is to identify which engine is the problem. Now the airline, TransAsia, they have called for all the pilots to be retested before flying again but even though pilot error is on the table, as one possible cause, many analysts who watch this video, they are calling these pilots heroes in that they saved hundreds, possibly thousands of lives by avoiding those buildings -- Wolf.
BLITZER: That's a good point.
Rene, thanks very much. We're going to get some serious analysis now on what is going on. With us in THE SITUATION ROOM, the former commercial airline pilot and aviation consultant, Alastair Rosenschein, our aviation analyst, the former National Transportation Safety Board managing director Peter Goelz, and our CNN aviation analyst Miles O'Brien.
Guys, stand by for a moment. We're getting some new information. I want to take a quick break. Much more with these experts on what is going on when we come back.
BLITZER: Right at the top of the hour, we'll have the latest on the breaking news, the ISIS claim that a U.S. hostage, a 26-year-old American woman, died in a Jordanian airstrike in Syria. There's absolutely no confirmation of that.
We're also, though, following some startling developments in the TransAsia Airways crash investigation. Newly revealed data from the plane's flight recorders show one engine had a problem. The pilots may -- repeat, may -- have shut down the other engine and left the plane gliding for more than a minute.
Our aviation and safety experts are with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Miles, you've taken a look at this theory that perhaps the pilot may have turned off the wrong engine. What do you make of this?
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: It wouldn't be unprecedented in the history of aviation for that to happen. A lot of it is just identifying what's going on. These things happen very quickly. And pilots are trained to do this but can make mistakes. And there's no time for error in these situations.
One thing I think we should look at, or actually two things. The captain was apparently concerned about something to do with the left engine before he took off. Was he predisposed to think he had a problem with the left engine?
Number two, there were actually three pilots on board. And we're told the person sitting in the right seat, normally the first officer, was of captain rank. So you had three captains in the cockpit. The Crew Resource Management, the way they operated that plane, who was really in charge will be a very interesting thing to ascertain when we listen to the cockpit voice recordings.
BLITZER: How do you know the pilot was concerned about that left engine even before takeoff?
O'BRIEN: Well, these are just reports we have heard. I -- he had indicated this. These are reports that we have gotten from the region. I'm not -- not verified by me.
BLITZER: Because that's the problematic engine, the one on the left side, right?
O'BRIEN: Well, no, the -- as it turns out, the left side was the one they turned off, it was the good one. And so he was -- going on board --
BLITZER: He was worried about the good engine.
O'BRIEN: And so when something went wrong, he had that in the back of his mind, perhaps, I'm just offering this as a supposition, that maybe there was something wrong with the left engine. He was spring loaded to take care of it.
BLITZER: Alastair Rosenschein, talk a little bit about the interior of that cockpit. How easy would it have been for the pilot in this kind of plane to accidentally shut off the wrong engine?
ALASTAIR ROSENSCHEIN, FORMER COMMERCIAL AIRLINE PILOT: Well, surprising though it may sound, it's extraordinarily easy to actually shut down the wrong engine. The engine instruments are all on the same screen. And they're right next to each other. It's not like you have the instruments for the right-hand engines on the right-hand side of the cockpit, and for the left-hand engine on the left-hand side.
They're not like that. They're right down the middle. So before you do anything, you know, pilots are trained to -- the first thing you do is you sit on your hands. So you identify what the engine is, which engine is gone. The other pilot confirms it. He then confirms that he's got his hand on the right -- the correct thrust to shut that engine down. And the other pilot confirms it before it's moved.
But, you know, I can tell you that it is a very, very easy thing to do, to shut down the wrong one. British Midland aircraft did it in 1989, that was Flight 92, where they had a right-hand engine failure but they shut down the left-hand one. They ended up with no power on either and crashed. And unfortunately, a number of people died.
So, you know, this -- it is time that the cockpit ergonomics are altered so that this cannot happen. Because at the moment, it's a very easy thing to do.
BLITZER: It certainly sounds like that.
Peter, there are reports that the pilot was found in the cockpit with his hand still on the control. What does that say to you?
PETER GOELZ, FORMER NTSB MANAGING DIRECTOR: Only that they had no time to do anything else other than try and fly this plane. It was a split-second decision. As Miles said, as Alastair said, they probably shut down the wrong engine and they were in a world of hurt.
BLITZER: And they're going to re-train all these pilots right now. And at least stand down all these specific AT airplanes?
GOELZ: Well, they said they're going to give them a written test and review. But that's really insufficient. They need to put their pilots back into simulators and train them in this sort of unusual situation and others. They need to give these pilots the skills so that when something happens, they respond correctly immediately.
BLITZER: Miles, you agree?
O'BRIEN: I do. And I think there's one point we want to come away with here. And I've said this before. Cameras in the cockpit. This would help us understand what happened in this situation. That there's been resistance in the industry worldwide on this. It's high time we had cameras as part of the cockpit voice recorder, cockpit video recorders.
BLITZER: Yes. I totally agree. I don't know why there's been so much resistance but there should be.
All right, guys. Stand by. Coming up, we're going to have full coverage of the breaking news we're following. The shocking and suspicious claim by ISIS that a female American hostage, there she is, 26-year-old Kayla Mueller, was killed in a Jordanian airstrike. New information coming in about the young woman and how she fell into the hands of ISIS nearly two years ago.
BLITZER: Happening now, ISIS ploy. The terrorist claimed Jordanian airstrikes killed an American woman they've been holding hostage in Syria. Is there any truth to that? Is it all a bunch of lies? We'll tell you what we're learning this hour.
So who is Kayla Mueller. Her family is now releasing photos. New information about the young aid worker who was taken captive by ISIS nearly two years ago.