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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With New York Congressman Peter King; Mystery of Flight 370; CIA Not Ruling Out Terrorism in Missing Flight; Possible Scenarios of Missing Plane Explored; Polls About to Close in Key Race

Aired March 11, 2014 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now: a SITUATION ROOM special report, "The Mystery of Flight 370."

Shocking turn -- Malaysia's military now says the missing jet was hundreds of miles off course and kept flying for more than an hour after its tracking signal was lost.

New questions about the pilot and the crew, they are now being raised. Is it possible they turned their signal off intentionally or under force? We're digging deeper into the newest evidence and the theories.

And inside the search. CNN is on board as the hunt for the Malaysia airliner grows more desperate after four days and not a single trace of the plane.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you're looking for something in this wide sea, it is a reality check, how to find even a huge aircraft like a 777. But we must never, never give up hope.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

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

We begin with an ominous new development in the most baffling aviation mystery in recent history. A Malaysian air force official now says military radar traced the last known location of Flight 370 to a very small island in the Strait of Malacca. That suggests the jet was hundreds of miles off course flying in the opposite direction from its scheduled flight path from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

The official says military radar detected the jet's last location more than an hour after the plane's transponder stopped sending tracking signals.

Also today, the CIA director says his agency is not, repeat, not ruling out the possibility the plane's disappearance is linked to terrorism.

Let's go straight to our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson. He's joining us now with more on the investigation.

Nic, what is the very latest?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The very latest is that the details that we have received from Malaysian officials, they're not putting their name on the record, they're not permitted to talk openly to journalists.

They're saying the flight took off, as we know, about 12:40, got halfway to Vietnam off the coast of Malaysia, then about 1:30 a.m., it switched off the transponder sending out information about the aircraft. It then turned 90 degrees and headed due west, crossed the peninsula of Malaysia again, and then about 2:30 a.m. in the morning, 2:40 a.m. in the morning, it then disappears from the radar right out in the Malacca Strait.

It has taken several days for this information to be provided, even though search has already been going on in this area. Certainly, at the moment, it raises significant questions about who made the decision to turn and why the communications systems were not used and the transponder was switched off.

And certainly what we have heard from Interpol talking about at least two of the passengers, they have ruled them out from the possibility of being involved in terrorism. But it does leave over 200 other passengers and the motives of the crew to be examined closely at this point -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Any explanation why the government of Malaysia, Malaysia Airlines, didn't tell us about this dramatic shift in the route of this plane until today?

ROBERTSON: It could be that this is a sensitive issue for them. We don't know their reasons. Certainly, we're aware that in an investigation, investigators like to keep the information close to their chests, if they will, particularly if they expect foul play.

The Malaysian police say this could be a hijacking, sabotage or a personality or psychological issue between people, crew or passengers on the aircraft. When they talk about hijacking or sabotage, that potentially leaves it open that it could be some kind of act of terrorism. They're not saying that. They don't have the evidence. John Brennan is not ruling that out at the moment.

But that may be that they don't want to give away too much information about what they know. Again, that is speculation on the reasoning. We don't know specifically why they held back on this -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We do know, because I spoke to one of the commanders of the U.S. mission that is going through this area, they started searching in the Gulf of Malacca yesterday and this commander told us an hour or so ago that they have been, the U.S. Navy has been informed that there was a U-turn, but the public had not been informed about that U-turn and the plane was going for at least an hour, maybe an hour and 10 minutes in that opposite direction from the direction towards Beijing. A lot of criticism of the Malaysian government on the inconsistencies, the disparities that have been coming out. What are the folks who are involved in this investigation saying? Do they have confidence in what Malaysia is doing?

ROBERTSON: What we have heard from Interpol, they have indicated that the way that they have been working with the Malaysians to ascertain the details of the two men who were using the stolen passports, they have not complained specifically about this investigation.

Of course, they have said that they think the Malaysians should have cross-referenced Interpol's database of potential stolen or fraudulent passports, a database of some 40 million different records. The Malaysians didn't do that. But specifically to this investigation, we know that the Chinese have been expressing frustration, more than 150 Chinese on board that aircraft, their families desperate for information.

They have come in from criticism from the Chinese, the Chinese sending a delegation a couple of days ago to Malaysia to try to, if you will, hasten things along, get more information loosened up. But why there has been a gap in relaying information to the public about the route of the aircraft, we don't know. But certainly that sort of thing will leave them open to further criticism -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly will. All right, Nic Robertson reporting for us from London.

Let's dig a little bit deeper with CNN's Richard Quest, the former FAA Chief of Staff Michael Goldfarb, and former FBI negotiator Chris Voss.

Chris, first to you. The U-turn that we know about, and the plane continuing for an hour and 10 minutes or so without the transponder pinging, letting anyone know where that plane was, although Malaysian air force radar did detect it for an hour and 10 minutes, what does that say to you?

CHRIS VOSS, FORMER FBI HOSTAGE NEGOTIATOR: Well, it gives me indicators of two things at the same time.

First of all, there is an indicator that whatever happened to the plane, we can rule out as there wasn't a catastrophic event that immediately took down the plane. That begins to give you some insight whether it be catastrophic mechanical failure or catastrophic explosion.

And, secondly, with the U-turn of the plane, it's an indicator of awareness by the crew that they were battling some sort of a problem, possibly valiantly trying to save this plane. And as an investigator now, I'm very interested in pulling their cell phone records, maybe they called someone, maybe they in particular texted someone while they were struggling with this event and some insight can be gained from that.

BLITZER: Michael Goldfarb, what does it say to you that this plane spent an hour and 10 minutes without the transponder? There are two transponders on a Boeing 777 going off. But Malaysian air force was tracking the plane; the radar was still on the plane for at least an hour and 10 minutes.

MICHAEL GOLDFARB, FORMER FAA CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, Wolf, this is wild. You couldn't make this story up. It gets wilder as the hours go on.

And I still believe that all of the speculation will turn out not to be accurate when they actually find some of the physical evidence. But, in effect, the military plays a greater role in Malaysia and other countries than they do in the United States.

In the U.S., FAA, NTSB would lead this. In other countries, the military and the civil authority work much more active in the airspace. So I'm not surprised we have had this conflict of information between the two. Number two, the military radar is a primary radar. And what I mean by that is it paints any target. It gives no information, altitude, heading about the jet.

So it's unclear at this point whether in fact that was the missing aircraft. And, number three, I still go back to the fact for that this plane to turn, one of three things could have happened, still a catastrophic decompression common to what Payne Stewart experienced when the entire crew and passengers lost consciousness and the plane glided for a long time.

Secondarily, Boeing's 777 is all electric. And by all electric, it has triple redundancy, five lines of reliability. If one system fails, another works and another works. So the notion that all the systems failed at the same time is kind of hard to believe.

Third, the cockpit door is locked since 9/11. Both pilots are highly experienced. One had 18,000 hours.

And, Richard, you actually flew with the co-pilot, who loved aviation. So it's hard to believe the pilots were in on this. It's hard to believe, based on the passports problems, that those two people were in on this. And I understand terrorism is on the plate, but I think we're still searching for some physical evidence of what happened to this plane.

BLITZER: That's a good point.

Richard Quest, you spoke to one of the pilots, the co-pilot of this 777. How difficult -- first off, we will show our viewers a picture of the transponder. how difficult is to turn off one of these transponders, or both of them, for that matter?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I have been asking pilots all day about that very question.

It's relatively easy. And indeed the sort of transponder -- you will often hear pilots being told to switch on their transponder to squawk because they haven't switched it on before they take off. It's relatively easy. It's slightly more complicated to switch off the ACARS system. That requires software knowledge.

But it's possible. One pilot e-mailed me today that that was entirely possible if you knew what you were doing. You could switch off the reporting system. Look, I think Michael Goldfarb is pretty much getting this straight and narrow in the sense that anybody who has read these reports, and they go for hundreds of pages, knows that the final reason is usually something way off what was obvious, unless it is terrorism or unless it is something straightforward like a hijacking.

Otherwise, it becomes -- the detail is mind-boggling. Which part of the plane might have failed which caused which system to drop which caused what reaction by the pilots? I think that's where we're heading towards on this one.

BLITZER: A young woman has now come forward, Michael, and I want you to weigh in, Chris, as well, and Richard. According to 9 News in Australia, back in 2011, this young woman Jonti Roos was interviewed -- and she was just interviewed by 9 News Australia -- and she said back in 2011, she was invited by the co-pilot, this 27-year-old, Fariq Abdul Hamid, to go ahead with her girlfriend and sit in the cockpit for an international flight. Listen to what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JONTI ROOS, CLAIMS CO-PILOT INVITED HER INTO COCKPIT: Possibly a little bit sleazy. They invited us -- or not invited us -- they asked to -- if we couldn't arrange our flight to stay in Kuala Lumpur for a new nights, that they could take us out.

Throughout the whole flight, they were talking to us. They were actually smoking throughout the flight, which I don't think they're allowed to be doing. I know, for the whole time, they were not like facing the front of the plane actually flying.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So what does that say to you, Michael, that these two young women were in the cockpit on an international flight invited by this co-pilot, one of the pilots of this Malaysia airliner?

GOLDFARB: I haven't a clue.

I can just tell that you international flights are very boring with the door locked. You may have pilots watching Netflix on their iPads. But that goes beyond the pale. Those pilots -- it just violates every code of conduct. I don't believe Malaysia Air would -- would certainly be shocked at that. I just think it's a tangential story and someone looking for some publicity, to be honest with you.

BLITZER: What do you say, Chris?

VOSS: It's tough to put it in context with just that amount of information. It's quite possible it shows an error in judgment in one area and it might have absolutely nothing to do with their ability to pilot the plane and battle a problem and prioritize. So without that, it's hard to condemn anyone based on that amount of information.

BLITZER: Richard, you spent time with this co-pilot, this officer just the other day.

QUEST: It's really simple. In the United States, there is a complete ban on unauthorized people in the cockpit. Has been long before 9/11. In Europe, some countries like the U.K. have the same ban. Other countries leave it up to the captain and flight officers' discretion.

I will be quite blunt. I have been invited onto the cockpit on non- U.S. and some European carriers on several occasions for takeoff and landing because the rules in that country allow it. In the case of our filming, it was obviously well-authorized, there was a safety captain on board, it was fully procedurally correct.

It's just one of those things. I think this is -- I think this is just downright unpleasant, frankly, Wolf. We're talking about somebody who can't come back and defend themselves. From my understanding of the procedures that they were showing to us at the time, there was nothing untoward.

BLITZER: And the other, the lead pilot, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53-year-old veteran, highly respected.

Richard, there is a YouTube video of him with a flight simulator in his home. He was obviously a very dedicated pilot.

QUEST: He was. And, look, these pilots, like this captain, they're the old school. They still do like to -- if they see somebody on the plane, they might have a look in the cockpit.

Maybe that's not the wisest thing, as seen by the standards of other places. And very few countries still allow it. But there are some times when the captain does have the discretion to invite somebody on into the cockpit.

BLITZER: Michael, tell us about the transponders because you're familiar with what is going on. How unusual is it for a 777, a Boeing 77 to lose a transponder, indeed both transponders?

GOLDFARB: Highly unusual. I don't remember where that has happened before, outside of what's been reported, where they were voluntarily turned off, which would be a whole other issue which we're discussing here this evening.

It just doesn't happen. And then once again, as Richard mentioned, the ACARS, the aircraft reporting system, is an automatic data feed both through satellite and terrestrial and third-party providers to the airport operations. This plane is pinging and making noise like a cell phone. There's so many ways to communicate with this aircraft that the loss of all of it would had to have been catastrophic or intentional.

BLITZER: Or intentional. Michael Goldfarb, Richard Quest, Chris Voss, guys, thanks very much.

We want to take you inside the search for a missing jet that has been going on now for days over many miles of open water.

CNN's Saima Mohsin was invited to fly along with investigators.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAIMA MOHSIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is no easy task. This C-130 plane has been carrying out regular search and rescue missions since flight MH-370 disappeared. It's the first time the minister for defense and transportation and the chief of defense force have been out to survey this massive operation. They invited CNN to join them.

MOHSIN (on camera): I have to put this life jacket on because we're now descending to just 500 feet above sea level.

MOHSIN (voice-over): Flying low, the doors are opened for the search to begin. We flew past a number of ships scouring the sea for the plane, those on board, or any clues at all to what happened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just want to find the plane, you know, at all costs. And as long as we are still standing and as long as people are out there praying for us, we will continue to persevere. And this is something that I will not stop. This is what I promised the families.

MOHSIN: We flew to the Malacca Straits to the west of Malaysia. This isn't the scheduled flight path for the Malaysia Airline flight, but it's a possibility the search team is taking seriously, in case the plane turned back and lost its way.

MOHSIN (on camera): There are 16 ships surveying this area. That's more than 12,000 nautical square miles. They're joined in the air by 14 aircraft.

MOHSIN (voice-over): And that's just the area to the west of Malaysia. There are more than 30 aircraft and more than 40 ships in the entire operation. As we look out across this vast expanse of water, far into the horizon, holding his head in his hands, the minister tells me he's overwhelmed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you're looking for something in this wide sea, it's a reality check how to find even a huge aircraft like a 777. But we must never, never give up hope.

MOHSIN: The team on board maintains this is still a search and rescue operation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm hoping against hope.

MOHSIN: But four days on and with no explanation, all understanding of what's happened to flight MH-370, the question is, just how long can they continue to search for survivors?

Saima Mohsin, CNN, the Malacca Straits, Malaysia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: In Malaysia, a candlelight vigil and prayers for the missing passengers and the crew of the flight, Flight 370. Relatives of the 239 people on board are getting more frustrated and more angry by the hour.

CNN's David McKenzie is joining us now from Beijing, where the flight was headed.

What is the latest there, David?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the latest is as those hours stretch into days, people are upset. They're angry.

Let's take a look at inside one of those meetings between the relatives of passengers and airline officials. Well, Wolf, that man screaming out that he can still get hold of his son on a mobile phone. We talked to experts and they say it's more likely the fact that it's a quirk in the cell network.

But he was screaming out to airline officials, find them, find our people, search for them now. There's a great deal of anger and frustration from those family members, several hundred of them stuck in a hotel in Beijing.

And, of course, as the time ticks by, that lack of closure, that feeling that they must believe that these people have passed away, but they cannot stop holding on to hope -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The Chinese government increasingly frustrated and angry with the way Malaysia is dealing with this, right, David?

MCKENZIE: Well, that's right. The Chinese government has put very pointed statements out, saying, search for these people. Search for this plane. Do it as a matter of urgency.

You can feel for the Chinese government in a way because they have all these people here in Beijing. The airline officials say they want to take the family members to Kuala Lumpur. They say they don't want to go mostly because there is nothing actually there that they can really mourn over. It's a terrible situation for all people involved and all these mixed messages frankly coming from Malaysia and Vietnam.

It's very difficult for people here in Beijing and around the world who might have lost loved ones to deal with, because they just want to have some kind of hope, as -- even though that hope frankly has faded very much now several days after this plane disappeared -- Wolf.

BLITZER: David McKenzie in Beijing, thanks very much for that report.

Still ahead, what the CIA knows about Flight 370 and why the agency is refusing to rule out an act of terror.

Also, Tom Foreman will give us a virtual look inside a Boeing 777 to get a better sense of what the pilots may have experienced during those moments of crisis.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: "CROSSFIRE" won't be seen today, so we can bring you more of the unfolding mystery of Flight 370.

And there are even more questions about a terror link today after learning that the missing Malaysian airliner flew way off course for more than an hour after its tracking signal simply went dark.

Let's bring in our chief national correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

Jim, the CIA director clearly not ruling out terror.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No, he is not.

No, the clues on this flight have been changing so rapidly and as those clues change and new information comes in, intelligence agencies are reacting. They're chasing down these leads to see if there is any evidence of a terror link.

So far, they haven't found that evidence, but, as you say, they are not ruling it out. And just this morning, as the CIA director, John Brennan, was giving a talk in Washington, as I was sitting there, I learned for the first time about this transponder being turned off. So I asked him about that to see if it increased his fears. Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: There is information now that the transponder was turned off on this Malaysia Airlines and that it continued to fly, made that turn after the transponder was turned off, and if that information gives you anymore indication or suspicion that it was an act of terror.

JOHN BRENNAN, CIA DIRECTOR: On this issue of the transponder, there are a number of very curious anomalies about all of this. And it's still a mystery at this point. Did it turn around? Were the individuals with the stolen passports in any way involved?

What about the transponder? Why did it sort of just disappear from the radar? There are a lot of unknowns at this point, and so -- which leads to sort of rampant speculation about what the reasons and the causes of this are. But I think, at this point, we just have to again be patient and wait, and let the authorities continue to investigate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Now, intelligence officials continue to tell me that they have not found any substantial link between this accident or this missing plane and an act of terrorism.

But, as the director there said, they are checking out every lead. One lead they checked out was these two men traveling on stolen passports, checked their names against the terror database, found there was no link to terror. They have eliminated that lead.

But every day, there is a new lead, Wolf. They're looking into it. And they are not going to rule anything out until they determine conclusively what led this plane to go missing.

BLITZER: And he's making it clear, the director of the CIA, John Brennan, that he's not ruling out terrorism. In fact, at one point, he said -- quote -- "not at all."

And that seemed to suggest a different tone than what we heard from Ron Noble, the head of Interpol, the international police agency, if you will, and what we heard from the Malaysian government itself. It looks like John Brennan, the director of the CIA, is at least more inclined to give the whole terror notion more credibility.

SCIUTTO: Well, it is. And it's also a different tone than I have heard from U.S. intelligence officials.

And I asked them about that. And they said, listen, there really is no space between those two positions. These were public comments, and it would be irresponsible, in effect, for a director to say we have eliminated anything. The fact is they have to chase down these leads. They haven't found anything hard to say that there is a link to terrorism.

But they have to keep searching because there are all questions and no answer about this flight. And until that changes, they are not going to rule anything out.

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.

BLITZER: Let's bring in Peter King from New York. So what is your -- I know you're getting a lot of information, congressman. Congressman, what's your inclination right now?

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Wolf, I would say nothing could be ruled in; nothing can be ruled out. I agree that there has been no link shown to terrorism, but on the other hand, there's been no link shown to anything. There's been no answer for any of this.

And certainly, if we have a plane where the transponder is off, where the route does almost a 180, we have to assume that everything has to be looked at and obviously terrorism would be one of those.

Now, if there was another theory that made sense or made more sense, then I would say, OK, maybe we should put terrorism to the side. But I think terrorism right now has to be looked at it, but doesn't mean it was terrorism. Don't get me wrong. But I'm just saying we certainly cannot rule it out on the evidence we have so far.

BLITZER: What about these two young Iranian passengers, the two young men who were flying with these stolen passports? What do you know about them?

KING: Basically, I don't know -- I know what's been reported. The fact is that so far they have shown no links between them and terrorism. And that may well turn out to be true. On the other hand, it's possible that there could be links that we don't know about.

So that's -- again, I think that has to be looked at very, very carefully. Because again you have all these coincidences of almost a one-in-a-billion-type accident. You have two people flying with stolen passports on the plane. You have the transponder going off. You have the plane going in almost the exact opposite direction.

It also raises questions about Malaysia itself. I mean, the fact that they allowed these two passengers on the plane with stolen passports and then when they realized this plane was totally off course, I guess for at least an hour and a half. I mean, if that was any other country in the world, I would think it would have scrambled jets. They would have put out notices to find out what was happening. Instead, as far as I know, they didn't even report that. And so today -- so there's really a lot of unanswered questions here.

BLITZER: Yes. We did hear from the commander of the U.S. Navy. At least one of the ships, the USS Kidd in the Pacific, involved in the search. Yesterday they were told by the Malaysian military that the plane did do a U-turn, and then they began taking a look on the other side of Malaysia where they had not been looking originally.

What I hear you saying is you don't have a whole lot of confidence in the Malaysian authorities, do you?

KING: No, so far they seem to have dropped the ball at every level. And I hate to be, you know, the Monday morning quarterback, but it appears as if they've done nothing right so far. Even if the navy was told about it yesterday, that's 48 hours after the fact. To me every minute counts here.

And that was such a key point, that the plane actually reversed course and was flying back over Malaysia toward Indonesia. I mean, why wasn't that made known? Why weren't jets scrambling? Why wasn't an alert put out on that immediately once they realized that was happening?

BLITZER: What about these two pilots, the pilot and the co-pilot? I'm sure they're taking a very close look at both of them, given the history of the Silk (ph) airliner. That went down because the pilot deliberately wanted to go down, an Egypt airliner that went down, because the pilot deliberately wanted to go down with all those passengers dead in the process.

What are you hearing about these two pilots?

KING: Well, again, I don't have details on the two pilots, per se, but I know they are being looked at very carefully. I know there's been some erratic behavior by at least one of these -- surely, unusual behavior about having people in the cockpit with him. That type thing.

But, no, I think that has to be considered. In fact, when this thing first broke -- this incident first broke on Saturday, I was talking to someone in the airline industry who found it, even then found it all very unusual. And that person said to me that she thought that this could have well have been a pilot suicide.

Now again, that's just one of the theories. But right now it's as good as any, since this is so unusual and nothing else has been explained.

BLITZER: You're on the House Homeland Security Committee. You're a team member. Has the U.S. done anything to beef up security in the aftermath of this Malaysia airliner mystery?

KING: There has been no specific steps taken so far. I mean, again, obviously we are more alert, if you will, but there's been no significant changes, but no official designation of a different status.

But obviously, in an event like this, it certainly causes everyone to focus more than they might have otherwise. You know, we should be focused all the time, but something like this causes us to focus more.

BLITZER: I raised the question, because you and I and others, we discussed at length before the Sochi Winter Olympic Games this alert that went out by the U.S., of toothpaste bombs, for example, being planted on planes in advance of the Sochi Winter Olympic Games. In all the briefings you've had with U.S. intelligence, do you -- do you have any reason to believe there could be a connection between that public U.S. alert, and what happened here?

KING: No, so far the intelligence community has not been able to find any terrorist connections whatsoever. They're still looking. They're certainly not ruling it out. But so far, there has been nothing to indicate that.

BLITZER: Peter King is on the House Homeland Security Committee, also the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thanks very much.

KING: Wolf, thank you very much.

BLITZER: Just ahead, it's certainly one of the safest planes flying anywhere, which only deepens this mystery. We're going to take a closer look inside a Boeing 777. We'll also talk to a retired pilot about one of the most disturbing aspects of all of this: Why were both -- both of the plane's transponders disabled? Kit Darby, the former pilot, is coming in.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There are multiple theories about what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, including a possible catastrophic failure of the plane itself, but the Boeing 777 is considered one of the safest aircraft flying today anywhere.

CNN's Tom Foreman is taking us inside the jumbo jet right now. Tom, tell us what we know about this 777.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's really the key, Wolf. The key is what we know, not just about the plane, but about the incident. Here's what we know about what happened here. We know that the plane lost contact with the land. We know that there was a change of direction. And we know that it is now utterly missing. So how can we explain those things from the vantage point of a cockpit like that?

First of all, let's talk about the scenario of hijacking. Could that account for the basic question here of an inability to have contact with the ground? Yes, of course it could, because hijackers could come in. They could force them to turn off the transponders. They could put the radios off-limits.

Remember this was happening in the middle of the night. If this were happening in the cockpit in a quiet enough way, many people back in the plane may not have been aware it was happening.

Change of direction, could that happen in a hijacking circumstance or terrorism circumstance? Of course it could. If they're trying to destroy the plane, it does beg the question why change direction? Why would you not just crash it where it was? But nonetheless, there was a change of direction, and that does fit.

And the missing plane, of course, a plane could go missing in this scenario.

But there are many other ways to look at this, as well. Let's reset everything here and talk about another possibility here, the idea of a major malfunction.

What if all the power went out in here? What if all the power went out, everything went dark and everything failed? In a plane like this, I have to say, that's a very hard thing to make happen. There are redundant systems. There are backup systems. There are batteries. There are all sorts of ways in which they still ought to have power so that they'd be able to have some kind of contact. It's hard to imagine them completely losing that, but that's one possibility out there.

Change of direction? Yes, if you had some radical problem with the plane, you lost all pressure in the plane, you had something that made the pilots have to do something different with it and make that turn, sure, that could happen. And maybe they can't communicate while they're trying to do that.

And the plane missing, yes, again, if you talk about some kind of radical problem out there, the plane could go missing.

But there is this disagreement up here between the contact and the change of direction. If you're able to change direction of the plane and move it somewhere else, how do you not have enough power at some point in the next hour to call someone and say, "We're in trouble"?

Let's reset again and look at one more possibility here which people have talked about a bit. The idea of a collision of some sort in the middle of the air. Could that have happened?

Imagine something augured into the front of this plane, and it essentially disabled the pilots, disabled the communications, made the plane difficult to fly. Could that mean no contact? Yes, it could, from the cockpit. Could that mean a change of direction? Yes, if could.

But again, if the plane went back over land with passengers in the back, presumably who have cell phones, it seems like there's a possibility somebody would have had some kind of contact.

And the last one is actually a real puzzle here. Could the plane go missing if it collided with some other smaller jet way up in the sky? Of course it could. But another plane would be missing, too. And we would be hearing about that from somewhere.

So, Wolf, when you stack up all these possibilities, we don't have an answer. But when you compare what we know with the possibilities, this is why so many in the aviation community are saying those three facts tell them that it was a deliberate maneuver to turn the plane and go somewhere else. Whether it was done under the duress of a terrorist or because of mechanical problems or something else, they believe it turned for a reason. That seems to be one of the bits of common wisdom right now. Although it still is just another step on the way to explaining what actually happened in the real cockpit.

BLITZER: As you point out, Tom, still a theory that is being investigated. Tom Foreman, thanks for that report.

Let's get a little bit more now with Kit Darby. He's a retired United Airlines pilot, now president of his own aviation consulting firm.

Is there any reason ever why a pilot would want to turn over -- turn off a transponder?

KIT DARBY, RETIRED UNITED AIRLINES PILOT: Well, if they're purposely trying to be not observed. But they're similar --

BLITZER: Why would any pilot not want to be observed?

DARBY: Well, it would -- similar to the one that was hijacked and taken to another --

BLITZER: So in other words, if there was a hijacking, then that would be the reason; if the hijacker says, "I'm going to kill you if you don't kill off that transponder."

DARBY: Or the pilot could hijack the plane. I mean, that was what happened recently. The pilot could seek asylum and want to take over the plane. He did so when the other pilot was out of the cockpit.

BLITZER: When that plane -- that Ethiopian plane went into Geneva.

DARBY: Right. So those are possibilities.

But to me, all of the things failing at once, not just the transponders, but the communication, everything together, leads more to a mechanical electrical problem to me. And I believe on a human factors basis that these pilots were approaching Vietnam, which was not well-known to them. They were headed back -- to me they were headed home. They were returning with a disabled plane. That's speculation, of course. We don't have the facts yet. But they turned it. They didn't turn it, maybe, exactly back home, but they turned it. Disabled navigation, reduced navigation, reduced communication. There is a chance that the only radio left was a short-range radio and not able to make contact initially. And toward the end of the standby power, the batteries he's mentioning, they're only good for 30 minutes or an hour, depending on the plane, and that's about how long they went.

BLITZER: They went an hour and ten minutes until they lost contact. Malaysian air force did have radar watching them go across the country of Malaysia, basically, where there are plenty of -- you know, transponder equipment that could potentially receive a ping or an S.O.S. or some sort of mayday communication.

DARBY: Right. But I'm not sure it was working. That's the -- everything is electrical, so we have to wonder --

BLITZER: And there's no backup in a situation like that? There's nothing even a -- all, you lose all power; you can't push anything; you can't do anything that says, "Mayday, mayday, we're in deep trouble"?

DARBY: There's another transponder. You know, if one doesn't have power and the other doesn't have power, that's what leads me to believe that there's an electrical issue.

BLITZER: So an electrical issue would -- both transponders would go, and the whole plane would still be able to fly for an hour and ten minutes?

DARBY: It would. It would sustain itself until the final backup batteries ran out.

BLITZER: And the pilots could steer it in a direction towards Malaysia?

DARBY: They could. And the fact that it went on a straight course, not exactly perhaps where we would think it would go, but it probably shows that it was under control, and perhaps good control, it wasn't waving or bobbing, it went straight where they thought they were going home.

BLITZER: How unusual is this?

DARBY: Extremely. There were five power sources five powers sources on the way to these batteries and they would have to all fail. Extremely, I've never heard of it in my career. It hasn't been designed for. You ask, isn't there one more thing. We haven't ever needed one more thing. It's always been perfectly adequate to get the job done.

BLITZER: Boeing 777 is one of the most sophisticated aircraft in the world.

DARBY: As good as it gets. I mean, this is the best -- one of the best that's ever made.

BLITZER: All those redundant systems would have to basically go out at the same time.

DARBY: And there is a possibility of combination, you know, problems. We could have a combination of problems on the plane and missteps by the pilot. I mean, there's a million different combinations that could produce this result. But I believe it was a pilot returning home with a seriously disabled airplane is why they ended up where they did.

BLITZER: And this notion that the plane is now flying over Malaysia. It's being tracked by Malaysian air force radar, but they don't scramble jets, they don't do anything. What does that say to you?

DARBY: It wouldn't happen here, I don't believe. It wouldn't happen in Europe. But as we get into less developed areas, it's conceivable.

BLITZER: Malaysia is pretty developed. They've got a pretty sophisticated system over there.

DARBY: It is. But --

BLITZER: Kuala Lumpur is a pretty advanced place.

DARBY: They didn't use it.

BLITZER: They obviously didn't, which raises some -- I don't know what that means.

DARBY: I don't either. Why would they not do anything they could to identify a suspected target.

BLITZER: That's what several people said to me were involved in the investigation. Why didn't Malaysian air force do something as they saw this plane approaching going over, they were just monitoring it and saying have a nice flight?

DARBY: Saving face perhaps. I don't know.

BLITZER: Kit Darby -- I don't know. All right. Kit Darby, thanks very much for joining us.

Up next, Malaysia Airlines CEO, he's speaking out to CNN about the search for the missing plane. And details of the airlines crash history. So what brought down two other planes?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A very hot spot shining right now in Malaysia Airlines, as the search continues for its missing jumbo jet and the 239 people on board. Company officials say they're determined to keep on looking. Listen to what the airline CEO told CNN. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AHMAD JAUHARI YAHYA, CEO, MALAYSIA AIRLINES: What I find amongst the team here is every day that we don't have an answer, we are more resolved to get to the answer. We're not discouraged. So, I think when it gets tougher, we just have to be more tough, we just have to be more resolved and pay more attention to every single detail.

It must be there somewhere. We have to find it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Malaysia Airlines had previously had two fatal incidents in 1977, a hijacking ended in a crash that killed 100 people and a crash landing in 1995 killed 34 people. That was blamed on pilot error.

Other news ahead. Polls only minutes away from closing in a special election that maybe a referendum on Obamacare and a preview of the November midterms.

Stay with us.

BLITZER: We'll have much more on the missing airliner mystery at the top of the hour, on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT".

But we're also following a very important political story. Only minutes from now in Florida, the polls close in the special election for a vacant seat in Congress. Obamacare right now is at the center of the race. So, tonight's results may -- repeat -- may point to what's coming across the whole country this fall.

Let's go to our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash. She's down in Florida watching this race.

Dana, what's going on?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is only a race to fill a congressional seat for eight months. But you certainly wouldn't know it given the millions of dollars pouring in here.

Both parties are using it to try to figure out what works and what doesn't in this year's big midterm elections.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): The pressure is on Republican David Jolly to keep this Florida congressional seat in GOP hands, a seat held by his old boss for 43 years.

(on camera): What do you think this race means on the national level?

DAVID JOLLY (R), FLORIDA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: This is a local race. I think the national pundits will be able to draw what they want from this race. BASH (voice-over): Jolly knows full well national parties are using this special election to road test messages for November's midterms and especially on Obamacare. He wants to repeal and replace.

(on camera): Do you think it would be fair if you didn't win that it would be a message that the repeal Obamacare movement is not that strong?

JOLLY: I think the Obamacare issue has always been about replacing it with specific solutions.

BASH (voice-over): For Democrats, a victory for their candidate Alex Sink would not just mean picking up a GOP House seat. It could also show other Democrats how to beat back attacks on Obamacare. The message: don't end it. Fix it.

ALEX SINK (D), FLORIDA CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Our position is that we can't go back to where we were before. We've got to fix what's wrong with it. And certainly, the rollout was bungled and botched up and the administration didn't do a very good job of the rollout.

BASH: Sink talks about specific reforms, like changing the requirement for business with 50 employees to provide healthcare.

SINK: That 50-employee, just kind of arbitrary limit. And I think it is a totally arbitrary number.

BASH: The stakes are so high, a whopping 11 million dollars plus have been spent. Mostly from the outside, mostly on TV ads, much of it about Obamacare.

But this Florida special election is important beyond Obamacare. It's the first test of a swing district in 2014. About a third of registered voters are Democrats. A third Republicans and nearly a third independents, and a very high percentage of seniors, even by Florida standards.

(END VIDEOTAPE)]

BASH: Now, polls close in just a few minutes. The Republican candidate David Jolly told me today it's 50/50 whether he can eke it out. Here at the Democrats headquarters, we see Alex Sink is going to be here in a little while. They say that they are very happy with their voter turnout model. They're actually boasting about it. But they're also on pins and needles -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Stay with CNN throughout the night. As soon as we can project the winner, we, of course, will.

Dana Bash reporting for us -- thanks very much.

Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. Tweet me @WolfBlitzer. Tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.