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THE SITUATION ROOM

Search for A Missing Malaysia Airlines Jet; Two Men Boarded Flight With Stolen Passports; Russia Tightening Grip on Crimea

Aired March 10, 2014 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Jake, thanks very much.

Happening now, the mystery of Flight 370. The search for clues as dozens of ships and aircraft hunt for traces of the Malaysian airliner that vanished three days ago, with 239 people on board.

New details on the two passengers who officials say were traveling on stolen passports. We're now learning about their ticket purchase and the images recorded by airport surveillance.

And if they're eventually found, the plane's data recorders should reveal what went wrong.

But why don't airlines use live streaming of data, giving real time information about an emergency?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

New clues and a series of frustrating dead-ends as the search is stepped up for the Malaysia Airlines jet that disappeared in mid- flight three days ago.

Here are the latest developments.

The search zone for Flight 370 has been expanded and now covers a larger portion of the Gulf of Thailand, between Malaysia and Vietnam. There is new focus now on the Ottoman Sea, near Thailand's border, following indications the plane may have turned around. Thai police say an Iranian purchased tickets for two men traveling on stolen passports. Authorities say airport security footage shows the men were apparently not Asian.

And a group calling itself The China Martyrs Brigade is claiming responsibility for the plane's disappearance, but a U.S. official says that group has not been previously identified and intelligence sources say they have nothing now to indicate terrorism.

Our correspondents and top experts will bring you the kind of coverage only CNN can deliver.

Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, is standing by with the latest on the stolen passports. But let's begin with the search.

CNN's Rene Marsh has the latest -- Rene.

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, when the focus of your search is the ocean, you're starting off at a disadvantage. It's a vast area and winds and currents complicate things. This mysterious disappearance of this jumbo jet has gone hand in hand with lots of false leads, reported sightings of rubbish believed to be parts of the missing plane.

So what do we know and what remains a mystery?

Here's what we can tell you.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH (voice-over): (AUDIO GAP) on board. Now, by air and by water, 34 planes, 40 ships and crews from 10 countries are locked into a massive search. The Boeing 777 lost radar contact 170 miles east of the Malaysia Peninsula. The search started there, in the South China Sea, and has since expanded west of the peninsula and over land.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need hard evidence. We need parts of the aircraft.

MARSH: Crews must find the plane. That's about the only certainty in this mysterious disappearance of Flight 370. Search teams have nothing -- no evidence, no clues, but plenty of false leads.

The Vietnamese search crews spotted an object believed to be the missing plane's door. But it wasn't. A plane found in an oil slick in the Gulf of Thailand.

Was it jet oil from the missing plane?

Test results revealed it wasn't.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have confirmed that the oil is not from an aircraft.

MARSH: A Vietnamese rescue team retrieved a floating yellow object Monday, also in the Gulf of Thailand. Reports suggested it was a life vest from the plane. Wrong again. It appeared to be the cover of a cable reel. It's not conclusive if it was a part of the plane.

The other question, did Flight 370 go off course?

Malaysian military officials say radar data suggests it may have turned around before disappearing. But they aren't even sure of that.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

MARSH: Well, until they find this plane, the investigation is essentially paralyzed. There are members from both the NTSB and the FAA. They arrived there today. But the investigation cannot officially begin until they find this plane -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Rene Marsh, thanks very much.

Rene Marsh reporting.

As the search continues for the airliner, the investigation is starting to pick up some steam.

Let's get the very latest from our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown -- Pamela, what are you learning?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we still have more questions than answers right now. But authorities are now at least chasing leads that will hopefully help them better understand the motives of the two men who boarded Flight 370 with stolen passports.

We've learned Malaysian officials have shared images and biometrics of the two men with the U.S. government.

BROWN (voice-over): The latest twist in the mysterious missing plane is centered on this Thai travel agency that booked tickets for the two passengers stolen passports. Thai police tell CNN an Iranian middleman, known as Mr. Ali, contacted the agency, looking to buy cheap tickets to Europe for two men on two different flights.

He first contacted the agency March 1st to buy the tickets. The booking expired, so the travel agent rebooked the men on the same plan, Flight 370, on March 6th. Ali paid cash.

Two days later, the plane disappeared.

RAFI ROM, PRESIDENT, NEW AGE SECURITY SOLUTIONS: Probably, they had some real goal, illegal goal, to achieve. Whether it is immigration, the illegal immigration, committing a crime, trying to protect their identity.

BROWN: Authorities were able to ID the two passengers through Kuala Lumpur Airport video and determine neither of them were Asian. Investigators are likely looking at every ticket issued from this Thai travel agency and checking airline databases to see if those particular stolen passport numbers have been used to obtain other tickets in the past.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have hereby to confirm that all security protocols have been complied with.

BROWN: Officials say passengers trying to board a plane with stolen or fake passports isn't uncommon. Every year, people board a flight more than one billion times without having their passports checked in Interpol's lost and stolen travel documents database, leaving a gaping hole in the security of international flights worldwide.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BROWN: Now, important to note here, Wolf, right now, there's no evidence linking this to terrorism. Law enforcement officials say so far, there are no credible claims of responsibility by terror groups and the intelligence community hasn't picked up chatter about terrorism so far.

And as Rene said, until the wreckage is found and analyzed, every scenario remains on the table. As one law enforcement official told me earlier, we haven't gotten that much closer to an answer than where we were 48 hours ago -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I know this must be so, so frustrating for everyone involved.

Pamela, thanks very much.

Dozens of ships and aircraft are now involved in the search, and the U.S. Navy is dispatching a second warship to join the effort. Both U.S. vessels can deploy helicopters with sonar capability.

Joining us now on the phone is Commander William Marks of the U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet.

He's aboard the USS Blue Ridge.

Commander, thanks very much.

So update us.

Have you found anything at all, have you heard anything, any indication you're getting any closer to wreckage, if you will?

COMMANDER WILLIAM MARKS, U.S. NAVY: We have not. And it's a very large search area. But it's still a mystery. There's still a lot of question marks.

Yesterday, we had about 11, 12 hours of helicopter coverage over the Gulf of Thailand. We also had about nine hours of P-3 Orion coverage of the Strait of Malacca. Nothing from any of the U.S. Navy assets. And quite frankly, I have heard of nothing from any of the large international contingent here.

BLITZER: Are you looking over land areas in Vietnam, for example, any of the areas in Vietnam?

Could this plane have crashed on land?

MARKS: We are not looking over land. We are looking over a, now, a very large search area in the Gulf of Thailand. And then yesterday, an area northwest of the Strait of Malacca.

But as the hours go by, that area keeps getting bigger and bigger, when you account for currents and the wind. So now it's a search area hundreds of miles big.

BLITZER: Tell us about the equipment, Commander, that you're using.

How sensitive is it?

What's, for example, the smallest piece of debris that might be picked up?

MARKS: So our best asset out here from our helicopter, our P-3 (INAUDIBLE) radars, I'll just give you an example. Our P-3 will fly at an altitude of 5,000 or 10,000 feet. And from there, they can see something the size of a basketball or a soccer ball in the water.

Yesterday, we saw a wooden crate kind of floating by. So it's a very sensitive radar. So it's not a matter of if we can find it. We can certainly find anything that's in the water.

BLITZER: And how do you know that this wide area that's expanding is even the right area?

MARKS: Yes, great question. First, I do have to give a lot of credit to the government of Malaysia. They are coordinating and de- conflicting of 40 ships or so and about 30 to 40 aircraft all in this one state. So they're doing a very good job of coordinating the international effort.

We're pretty much right in the middle between Vietnam and where Thailand and Malaysia connect. And it's just a huge area. So the best we can do is get in our sector and wait for the next tactics.

BLITZER: Commander William Marks of the U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet in the Pacific.

Good luck to you.

Good luck to all the men and women who are working with you.

We'll stay in close touch.

Let's get some more now from Peter Goelz.

He's the former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board. He's helped us coordinate. He helped various investigations coordinate the response to several airline disasters.

Peter, you and I have spoken after these kinds of incidents.

First of all, how unusual is this one?

PETER GOELZ, FORMER MANAGING DIRECTOR, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: GOELZ: Well, this is a very unusual accident. I mean it obviously reflects Air France 447. But, you know, this is a very solid aircraft with a great safety record. And that it just disappeared from the radar screen is very perplexing.

BLITZER: How does that happen, a plane -- a 777, a Boeing 777 flying at 35,000 feet simply disappear?

What are the possible scenarios?

GOELZ: Well, I mean you start with some sort of catastrophic event. But apparently that has not been picked up by any of the satellites in the area. You can go back to an issue where, in Egypt Air, Flight 990, the co-pilot actually flew the plane into the water in a suicide mission.

So you have a range of really unusual events. And the NTSB, their first job in helping the Malaysians is to go over the radar to see if they can narrow the search area down.

Right now, it's -- a needle in a haystack would be an easy assignment.

BLITZER: Well, let's say -- and obviously we don't know -- if the pilot were simply trying to down this plane and fly it into the water, wouldn't that be picked up by radar, as a huge plane like this goes from 35,000 to 30,000, to 25,000, to 10,000 feet...

GOELZ: Yes...

BLITZER: Wouldn't there be indications of that?

GOELZ: Well, you would think that there would be. But one of the issues we have here is that the plane was at the outer reaches, or outer capabilities, of the Malaysian radar. The further the object is away from the radar base, the less accurate the radar is. So it could be explained that it was at the outer reaches.

But it's very perplexing. You would have thought that you would see the plane going down, you would have picked up hits on it. It's very, very unusual.

BLITZER: It's a mystery, to be sure. Peter Goelz, thanks very much.

Up next, other clues in the investigation. The U.S. is given images and biometric information about two men who boarded the missing airliner with stolen passports.

And the plane's data recorders should reveal what went wrong, if they're located.

But why don't airlines live stream that data, giving real-time information about an emergency?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We've been getting new information on the information into the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight and two men who boarded the plane with stolen passports. Let's bring in our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto. Jim, first of all, update us on what you're learning.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a U.S. intelligence official tells me that Malaysian authorizes -- have now shared with you as -- authorities both the images and biometrics of those two men who boarded that flight with stolen passports, biometrics including things like fingerprints. Now, officials continue to tell us that they have nothing to indicate, so far, that this was an act of terrorism.

However, they are exploring all possibilities and this would fall, I think, under that category. They're now going to take this information and compare it against U.S. terror databases that would include people with links to terrorism or suspected links to terrorism, no fly lists, et cetera. This shows that they're continuing to explore all those pass.

I think you could call it a standard step in light of the mystery surrounding this flight, but it does show that they're taking this very seriously and even though they have no indication as of yet this was an act of terrorism, that they want to chase down all leads, in effect -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And this notion has been widely reported that an Iranian was actually involved in the purchasing of the two tickets for these two individuals who flew with stolen passports. What are you hearing about that intriguing element?

SCIUTTO: That's exactly right. An Iranian middle man, a fixer, I suppose, you can say, who made phone calls to a travel agent in Southeast Asia to purchase these tickets in advance to the trip, not very far in advance, fairly last minute. This is the receipt you can see there for buying these tickets, paid in cash. And interestingly, one-way tickets. I mean, some of these are red flags, right, buying it last minute, in cash, one-way tickets.

But this apparently was an Iranian middle man who the travel agent there in Southeast Asia had a relationship with. He'd been doing this before for other clients and did it again so not an unknown figure there, but it does raise questions. It's certainly -- it's an unconventional way to buy your tickets for an international flight and some of the circumstances around it are interesting, including cash, last minute, and one-way tickets.

BLITZER: And stolen passports in the process. All right. Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.

Let's dig deeper now with CNN law enforcement analyst, the former FBI assistant director, Tom Fuentes, along with Mary Schiavo, an aviation attorney and investigator formerly did this work for the government as well. So, Tom, first to you, what does this say to you, that there's an Iranian apparently who was involved in helping to purchase these tickets with cash?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Wolf, I'm not exactly certain that they've been able to verify that it's an Iranian. The travel agency where the tickets were purchased identify this gentleman as an Iranian and gave a name of the person who bought the tickets. But remember, he's using fraudulent passports with false identity. So, how do we know that his identity is correct when he actually goes in there?

And he paid cash. So, it wasn't as if he used a credit card or bank draft or something that could be traced. So, the fact that the travel agent who may be involved with organized crime and in dealing with fraudulent tickets all the time for other people and this gentleman, you know, we don't know yet if that information is trustworthy. We just know that it's a lead. It's been provided to the royal Thai police. They've furnished it now back to the Malaysians and the other agencies, but, as far as I'm concerned, it still needs to be confirmed who this gentleman was. He needs to be taken into custody and find out why he's involved with fraudulent passports or stolen passports.

BLITZER: Yes. I assume, Mary, you agree with that?

MARY SCHIAVO, AVIATION ATTORNEY: Well, I do. And also, if it was somebody who didn't want to leave a trace, which is if this is a trial run (ph) for a sophisticated operation such as al Qaeda or something, the KSM or Ramzi Yousef would run, they would probably, you know, cover their tracks more. So, I think there's a lot of trails here to follow, but certainly, it's outrageous and unacceptable that in a post 9/11 world, this kind of lack of security goes on.

BLITZER: You've spoken throughout the day, Mary, and I want you to update our viewers on this whole notion of a trial run. You say there's some sort of historic precedent. Explain.

SCHIAVO: Well, there is. Long before September 11th, 2001, back in 1995, al Qaeda, KSM, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and Ramzi Yousef had a plan where they were going to take out jetliners, U.S. jetliners across the pacific, but they did a trial run, first on a Philippine airliner. That wasn't their plot. They're also going to take a plane into the CIA headquarters and other things they had and this was called Bojinka.

And they did get the trial run done and they did it with false passports so no one would know who was doing this initial operation. They wanted to save up their identities and their operation for the big, final hit. Luckily, law enforcement caught on to it when one of their bomb-making operations caught on fire, but that was a precursor to 9/11. That was a huge alarm bell which sadly went unheeded in many circles in United States and then 9/11 followed.

BLITZER: You remember that incident back in the 1990s, Tom, don't you?

FUENTES: Yes, exactly. And what happened in January of 1995, the apartment that Ramzi Yousef who had masterminded the first World Trade Center attack in 1993 was sharing with a colleague who were making bombs in that apartment. Now, Ramzi Yousef had left the apartment and was down the street when there was a small explosion, a fire ensued. When the police got to the apartment, they found Ramzi Yousef's laptop. They turned that over to the U.S. authorities.

Ramzi Yousef then flees to Pakistan again using false passports to get out of the country. In the laptop, when it's decrypted, they find what is called the Bojinka plot and that was going to be blowing up 12 airliners traveling over the Pacific Ocean en rogue to the United States, and their theory was that this would be so disastrous that airliners worldwide would shut down while they were trying to figure out how this was managed and especially because the debris would be all over the Pacific Ocean much harder to find that this, and this hasn't been found yet in the Malaysian crash. Now, the trial run was that he used a small explosive in a generator room (ph) of a shopping small, a small explosive in aircraft, just enough to know that it would get media attention but not enough to destroy the aircraft to alert the world, to tighten down security. So, in a trial run, you don't want to do something so terrible that causes the world to tighten up and have increased security such as checking future bookings for stolen passports or travel documents.

BLITZER: Yes.

FUENTES: So, you know, that's the only difference. The trial run is not supposed to be the actual run. It's supposed to be an attempt just to ping the system and see what kind of security measures are in place.

BLITZER: All right. Tom, thanks very much. Tom Fuentes, Mary Schiavo, guys, thanks very, very much. This investigation, apparently, only just beginning.

Coming up, terrorism, mechanical failure, pilot error. So, happened to the Malaysian Airlines flight 370? We're going to dig deeper into some of the troubling theories.

And it's the only way to know for certain what went wrong but finding the flight voice and data recorders could be extremely challenging. I'll speak with an expert who's done it underwater.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, he had a big, big heart. He liked to travel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If he was here right now, he would comfort me and he would just say, don't be sad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll never really give up hope, but that doesn't mean that I won't accept that, you know, he may not come back. I mean, we may not ever see him again, and odds are we won't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That was a family of Phillip Wood (ph), one of three Americans identified as being among the passengers onboard flight 370. So, what could have possibly happened to this plane? Let's bring in CNN's Tom Foreman. Tom, you've been digging deeper into what possibly could have gone wrong. What are you coming up with?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, we've been talking a lot about terrorism, and it is true. A bomb could cause instantaneous failure to an aircraft. There are going to be no time to radio a distressed signal. And what might we see as a result if such (ph) a bomb actually blew up, we would see a very widely scattered debris field over much of the ocean in all likelihood. And as those pieces were recovered, they might show scarring from the blast. But here is another possible scenario. Catastrophic equipment failure. It is rare for a wing or a tail to rip off of a plane, but bear in mind, this plane actually had damage to wing just a couple of years ago that had to be repaired. Should be safe but you never entirely know, and if such a thing happens, it can look like terrorism.

For example, a lot of people thought that a terrorism missile brought down that TWA flight near Long Island in 1996. Although, investigators later concluded a short circuit near a fuel tank is the most likely reason that it exploded.

Here is another type of failure. Explosive depressurization. At 35,000 feet, the difference between the air outside of a plane and that inside is so intense if a door or window were to fail, the cabin would be filled with a deafening roar and everything not buckled down would be sucked towards that openin. The outside temperature, by the way, is so cold, some 60 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, that the moisture inside the plane would instantly turn to a cold, freezing fog that would fill everything. And the crew would actually only have seconds to get their oxygen masks on or risk disorientation, blurred vision and complete incapacitation. Remember the golfer Payne Stewart, his plane right there? His jet? That's what happened to people there. They all lost consciousness.

Scenario number four: pilot error. This happens. It happened with the Air France flight that crashed over the Atlantic after leaving South America. Some equipment malfunction, yes, but investigators say the pilots also responded improperly, and that's what brought the plane down.

These are just some of the possibilities, Wolf. But there are many, many out there, and until we have more evidence, they are all in play.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. Tom Foreman, thanks very much. Let's get a closer look now with Mark Weiss. He's a security consultant, former commercial pilot. Mark, you've actually flown a Boeing 777, right?

MARK WEISS, SECURITY CONSULTANT: Absolutely, Wolf. Yes.

BLITZER: Tell us, what does your gut tell you? What does it look like? Mechanical error, pilot error, terrorism? What are the indications, at least based upon what we know so far? Can we draw any conclusions?

WEISS: Wolf, I think at this point, everything and anybody's ideas are absolute speculation. My thinking at this point would be that there was some foul play perhaps involved with this. If you had had something like an explosive decompression -- that's something, by the way, that pilots train for on a regular basis when you go into a simulator. There would have been time to alert somebody, you would have had a radar signature. The same thing I think if you would have had pilot error, if the airplane would have come down. There still would have been a radar signature. Explosive -- explosion onboard the aircraft -- the parts would have come down, there would have been a debris field. I think you would have seen that.

That's why that leads me to speculate that there was something that happened instantaneously, that somebody or something happened within the cockpit that forced their airplane to deviate from their anticipated flight path.

BLITZER: And just go straight into the water? Is that what you're saying? Just fall down, if you will?

WEISS: Absolutely. That certainly could be a real possibility. That that airplane just absolutely went straight down, and that could have been exactly why it took so little time for that to happen. To get down from 35,000 feet to hit the water would have taken around two minutes, perhaps a little bit less time than that.

BLITZER: And wouldn't there be any recordings, any GPS, any devices, radar, that would have recorded a major object, like a Boeing 777 going into the water?

WEISS: Well, yes. And that's one of the strange things. Even if somebody had gotten into the cockpit, had turned off the transponder, which emits basically data return to ground-based radar, if they were within radar coverage, you would have had even a primary target that would have shown up on radar screens.

BLITZER: So the fact that they haven't found any debris, what does that say to you?

WEISS: Well, at this point I think that's not uncommon. If you recall, during the Air France 447 off of Rio, it took quite a number of days to find that. Now, I recognize that this is a smaller area, but you're still searching in quite a large amount of water and even over parts of land.

BLITZER: So the bottom line in all of this is that we don't know yet. There could be any of these explanations. We're just going to have to wait and see. You can't draw any conclusions at this early stage.

WEISS: Until you get the black boxes, the flight data recorder and the voice recorder, it's all speculative.

BLITZER: Is there any guarantee that we're going to get those data recorders or any of those devices?

WEISS: I think there's enough pressure in the international community, particularly in today's environment where people are very heightened, security conscious, that you're going to find this aircraft. It just may take some time.

BLITZER: Mark Weiss, thanks very much for joining us.

WEISS: Thank you.

BLITZER: All right. So based on that conversation, here's the next question. Should those flight data recorders stream information live? And would that have prevented this missing plane mystery? I'll talk to an expert who helped lead the search for the recorders of AIR FRANCE Flight 447, eventually found them at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The mystery surrounding the missing Malaysian Airlines flight is raising new questions about flight data recorders and whether they should stream information live. Brian Todd is looking into this part of the story for us. He's joining us now. Brian, what are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, right now, we'll likely only be able to find out what happened to Malaysian Airlines flight 370 when that event data recorder is recovered from the crash site. That may take a long time, or there's a possibility that could never be found. But safety experts say the technology exists to get the information while the plane is in distress, and it's time to install that technology.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So many potential answers to this mystery lie in a small metal container that for the moment has disappeared with Malaysia Air Flight 370. They were once called black boxes. They are actually orange. They have the cockpit voice recorder, capturing what the pilots say and the flight data recorder with the plane's speed, direction, crucial mechanical data. They can withstand crashes, and function from the bottom of the ocean, but the clock is ticking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The pingers, the locators on those devices only last for 30 days.

TODD: Safety experts say with this incident, it's time to figure out how to stream that information live instead of waiting for the box to be recovered from the crash site.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can get a lot of information out very quickly, and this could be recorded information for the last ten minutes that is sent almost instantaneously if the aircraft gets in some kind of distress.

TODD: Experts say data would stream live from the aircraft to a satellite, then to the ground. If the plane goes into a rapid roll or sudden loss of altitude, it would automatically trigger the data stream. The technology exists. Why haven't airlines installed it?

PETER GOELZ, FORMER NTSB: It takes a certain amount of money to retrofit the fleets, and secondly, it costs money to stream through a satellite.

TODD: Plus, the airlines would have to build ground stations to take in the data. Expensive, considering most accidents like this are very rare.

GOELZ: We only have this kind of accident rarely. But when you have it, it is extraordinarily expensive, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent searching for Air France had 447.

TODD: Searchers took two years to find the data recorder for that Air France flight that went down in the Atlantic in 2009, killing 228 people.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Experts say there's another possibility as well: a deployable recorder, a box that would automatically eject from a plane when it's in distress and land separately on the ground or in the water. Those already exist in some military planes. Wolf?

BLITZER: And that Air France plane five years ago, Brian, that actually did transmit at least some data in real-time, right?

TODD; It certainly did. That plane sent out some basic maintenance data, which gave some general clues about what they call the pitot tubes, which measure air speed. And that turned out to be the problem on that aircraft. But those signals did not give out the specific information on what the pilots were saying in the cockpit, it did not give the flight data information on the speed, the altitude, the location when the plane went down. That's all on that event data recorder, and that's what experts say they need to now install so we can see that in real time. We could've had some clues on this Malaysia Air flight.

BLITZER: I guess the pressure will mount to do that. All right, Brian, thank you.

Let's get more now with David Gallow of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. He helped lead the search for the recorders of Air France flight 447, which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean back in 2009. Is there a way to upgrade these flight data recorders to make them easier to find underwater? Because you spent two years looking for the Air France recorders.

DAVID GALLOW, WOODS HOLE OCEANOGRAPHIC INSTITUTION: Sure. I'm not an expert in the flight data recorders, but I'm sure that technology exists. We hear it more and more often now. The technology exists. Why isn't it being brought into play?

It's amazing in the case of Air France that in all that stream of mechanical data, maintenance data, that it never once said and by the way, here I am. Just a little bit more knowledge would have cut a long time off the search that went into finding that aircraft.

BLITZER: It took five days to find any of the debris, right?

GALLOW: Yes. It was five days after the tragedy that the first bits of the plane were found. And mind you, that was in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean between Africa and Brazil, South America. In this case, I thought for sure in a highly trafficked area where there's lots of air traffic, lots of ship traffic not far from shore that for sure this would be a more rapid finding of some remnants of the plane. But nothing, there's no evidence that this plane ever hit the water right now.

BLITZER: It looks like it just disappeared for whatever reason. If in fact they do find some debris floating around, it's much more difficult to find, let's say, the recorder if it's underwater, deep underwater. Then all of a sudden it becomes a much greater challenge.

GALLOW: Well, yes. Once they -- now we're getting to the third and fourth days here. So, once a piece of the debris is found, if it did impact on the water, then you've got to backtrack that debris to try to find the x marks the spot on where the plane actually hit the water, because that would be the center of the haystack. And in that haystack you're trying to find bits of that needle. In fact, the case of the flight data recorders, you're looking for a tiny little bit of that needle.

So our job at Woods Hole Oceanographic, our world is to study the oceans and explore the oceans. So we do things like that. We track floats in the ocean because we're interested in currents and we do explore the bottom of the sea because there's a lot going on there.

So it's uniquely suited to this. But it's not -- you know, because it's shallower, it's about 10 times shallower than the search area for Air France. It doesn't mean it's easy. It's easier in some cases but not easy.

BLITZER: And timing, how crucial is timing?

GALLO: Well, every day that goes by it makes that search area much, much larger. And we've only explored about 7 percent of the world beneath sea. And there's a reason for that. It's slow going and it's difficult. So, you know, with every day that passes by, crucial time is passing. That search area, that haystack is getting bigger and bigger and bigger. So I'm hoping -- well, again, you know, Wolf, I heard you say it, we don't know what's going on.

We don't. I mean, there's no evidence that that plane hit the water. The only clue we have is the last known position and that turns out to be an important bit of information if they're sure that the last known position but it's a start.

BLITZER: The mystery continues.

David Gallo, thanks very much.

Just ahead, we're getting new information about the co-pilot. CNN's Richard Quest did a cockpit interview with him just a few weeks ago.

And in other news, a major new development in Ukraine. We have details of what the pro-Russian parliament in Crimea has just voted to do.

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BLITZER: We'll get back to our special coverage of the mysterious disappearance of Flight 370 in just a moment, but first we're following some new developments in Ukraine where the pro-Russian Crimean parliament has appointed its prime minister commander-in-chief of the region clearing the way for him to form an army for the autonomous republic of Crimea.

And pro-Russian forces are tightening their grip on this region by seizing military bases and in one case allegedly kidnapping a commander.

CNN's senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh is in Crimea -- Nick.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the man who's calling himself the prime minister of Crimea today swore in a number of people into what he called the New Crimean Army here. But a key question remains, what happens to the thousands of Ukrainian troops still loyal to the new government of Kiev here but often marooned in their bases, facing increasing pressure from pro-Russian forces. And we got a glimpse today of some of the new tactics being used to pressure them.

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WALSH (voice-over): This is the new face of power at one military base in Crimea. It's not friendly but very much in charge and apparently pro-Russian. The Ukrainian flag here pulled down fast.

Let me show you how in a matter of hours it all unraveled.

Earlier that morning, the flag was up. We came because their commander, Vladimir Sadovnik, had been kidnapped a day before at a checkpoint. His deputy here says the pro-Russian Unity Party were behind it. The commander's called his wife to say he's OK.

SERGEI GUNDER, DEPUTY COMMANDER OF BASE A2904 (Through Translator): If they try blackmail us into giving up the base, it won't happen and we will call his abductors terrorists and won't negotiate with him.

WALSH: We meet Vladimir's wife Yulia at his home, who hasn't slept with worry. Her husband called her 40 minutes ago from a new number to say he was held in Simferopol's military headquarters now in pro- Russian hands.

We couldn't confirm that, but she calls back and says she's Vladimir's wife, but nobody wants to talk to her.

"They want, I think, him to surrender, "she says, "But I believe in my husband and his convictions."

Back at the base things have moved fast. The deputy tells us so- called self-defense forces have burst in. They're not happy to be filmed. He tells me he's Ukrainian resident but not much else that's polite.

(On camera): This is part of the answer what happens to the thousands of Ukrainian soldiers still on their bases, still loyal to the new government in Kiev. Pro-Russian militia muscling in. (Voice-over): A deputy explains to me there are about 15 gunmen inside and they want to take 10 vehicles from the base. He adds that they came back with Vladimir, the commander kidnapped earlier.

This is how power changes hands here. Bloodless, but in the shadow of kidnapping and at the end of an AK-47.

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WALSH: Wolf, now the question remains under what capacity did that base's commander go back in the company of those masked men. It's been suggested by those close to the new government in Kiev that perhaps he defected, perhaps he went back to try and persuade his troops to do something similar. He's categorically denied that and, of course, you have to ask why bother kidnapping somebody if they're going to voluntarily move to your side anyway.

Questions remaining, but what's totally clear here is the tactics being used to pressure these outstanding Ukrainian troops holding out against the increasing pro-Russian forces here are getting increasingly nasty themselves -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nick Paton Walsh joining us. Thank you.

Here's a look at some of the other stories we're monitoring right now.

The father of the Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza speaking publicly about his son for the first time. Peter Lanza tells "New Yorker" magazine Adam would have killed him in a heartbeat if he'd had the chance. He also says he wishes his son had never been born.

Adam Lanza killed his mother before fatally shooting 20 children, six staff members and himself at the Newton, Connecticut, elementary school back in December 2012.

Olympic blade runner Oscar Pistorius broke down and threw up in court today during graphic testimony about his girlfriend's autopsy after he shot her dead. A pathologist told the court that any of model Reeva Steenkamp's three injuries could have been fatal.

Pistorius admits to shooting Steenkamp on Valentine's Day 2013 but says he mistook her for an intruder breaking into his home.

A rare public appearance from NSA leaker Edward Snowden who directly addressed Americans for the first time since fleeing the country with thousands of secret documents. Speaking via teleconference at the South by Southwest Tech Festival at Austin, Texas, Snowden urged the audience to help, quote, "fix the government's surveillance system." He also said he had no regrets about leaking NSA documents.

Snowden was granted temporary asylum in Russia last year.

Coming up, we take a closer look at the possible terror connection to that missing Malaysian airliner. We're learning new details from U.S. intelligence officials plus a cockpit interview with the co-pilot of the plane. CNN's Richard Quest talked to him just weeks ago. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)