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THE SITUATION ROOM
China Satellite Images May Show Missing Plane; Satellite Images May Show Missing Plane; Crisis in Ukraine
Aired March 12, 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: All right. Jake, thank you. Happening now, the breaking news, we're following the mystery of flight 370. China releasing satellite images of the suspected crash scene. They appear to show large suspected floating objects.
Police in Kuala Lumpur searched the home of the pilot and the flight simulator he kept in that home provide any clues.
And Boeing 777 is viewed as a very reliable airliner, but did airline authorities act on a troubling FAA safety directive?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
BLITZER: And let's get right to the breaking news. China now says one of it satellites has found what could be a crash area for Malaysia Airlines flight 370. It's released images of what appear to be large floating objects. We have the kind of coverage that only CNN can deliver. Our correspondents are standing by along with our top analysts and experts.
Let's go straight to CNNs chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto. He's got the very latest on these satellite images. What are we learning, Jim?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is a truly a remarkable development in what has been six very confusing days of misdirection we were looking. In one part on the map, another part on the map, and now, we have these images. If I can throw them up on the screen again just so we get a closer look at them. They look very small. They may not look to impressive at home, but they are very large.
Forty-three feet by 49 feet one of them, 46 by 62 feet, another one 79 feet by 72 feet. A flatbed truck is 48 feet long, a mobile home 28 feet long. So, these are big pieces floating in the water. Let me show you on the map where they were found. You'll remember the flight took off from Kuala Lumpur on its way to Beijing. This was the point of last contact when its transponder was turned off.
And you'll remember, this was the concentration, this was the area that they were searching in in those early days but not finding anything. And then, you'll remember, they had this radar signal they were tracking which Malaysian authorities said might have taken the plane all the way over here to the west of the Malay Peninsula. They started looking over here at the same time. They weren't fully confident in it, but they at least, were looking here.
Now, you have the Chinese state television reporting these images located here just to the south and east of where that transponder turned off and also close to where some eye witnesses had said they saw something that night, that Friday night in the middle of the night when the plane disappeared. You'll remember there was an oil rig worker somewhere off the coast of Vietnam who spotted, he said, a burning plane, not verified, but you have eyewitnesses who saw something happen over here.
So, remarkable, but in a way, a simpler explanation for what happened. This was a very confusing event to have a plane go over here, fly for nearly an hour without any communication with the pilot, any data coming from the plane. Over here, much simpler to explain that there was some event when it lost that contact with its transponder, lost contact with ground control at the border between Malaysian and Vietnamese radar control space that something catastrophic happened here that might have lost that plane.
It's early days. These are just satellite images at this point, but certainly, one of the most promising clues we've had so far.
BLITZER: And you spent considerable amount of time, Jim, in China yourself, in Beijing. You know how the Chinese operate. The fact that China, the government of China through its state administration of science technology has released these images. We should give them some added weight because they wouldn't be doing it, unless, they were pretty convinced it's the real deal.
SCIUTTO: No question, and it's coming from China state TV, which would have connections with those Chinese satellite organizations as well. But there's a back story here as well. As this is happening, there is a massive territorial dispute going on in the South China Sea not far over here. There are a number of island chains that are disputed between these countries.
You got Malaysia, you got Indonesia, you got Vietnam, China, as well. You might understand that from a national security standpoint that China with its satellites revealing to the world how good those satellites are, how accurately they can depict things on the ground, how big objects they can pick up would be an issue of sensitivity. So, for the Chinese government to come out and share these now, you know, it's revealing something.
Another thing I should note, the satellite images were dated March 9th, which is Sunday. So, that would have been just a little more than 24 hours after the plane lost that contact here. And remember, this is not far from the search area where all those ships from ten countries, including the United States. You got two U.S. navy ships out there have been looking with no luck.
So, not far off that search area. But clearly, they're going to be focusing some resources over here now to see if they could find those big pieces.
BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.
I'm going to go to Andrew Stevens in Kuala Lumpur in a moment, but I want to bring in our panel of experts right now to assess what's going on. Joining us, Peter Goelz, the former managing director of the NTSB, the National Transportation Safety Board, retired U.S. Air Force general, Richard Myers, the former chairman of the joint chief of staff, and Tom Fuentes, our CNN law enforcement analyst, former assistant director of the FBI.
Peter, let me start with you. These new images that have just been released, what do they say to you?
PETER GOELZ, FORMER NTSB MANAGING DIRECTOR: Well, these are very important and these are the first solid piece of evidence that we have that's on the correct flight track. There was great skepticism about the information that the plane did a 90-degree turn.
BLITZER: That was information that came from the Malaysian Air Force.
GOELZ: That's right.
BLITZER: They said that the plane went out there. Once the transponder stopped working, it made a U-turn and flew for basically an hour and ten minutes over Malaysia to the other side. If these Chinese satellite images are accurate, then that plane never made any U-turn. It just went right down.
GOELZ: And I think the general will confirm, radar -- it was a primary return. It's very difficult to identify what aircraft that was. All you know is where it's headed. That's all you know. So, I think this is really significant. As it was mentioned, the Chinese wouldn't have released it, unless, they had a pretty good feeling on what this is. This is where they need to go and they need to go quickly.
BLITZER: All right. General, what does it say to you? You're familiar with these kinds of operation.
GEN. RICHARD MYERS, U.S. AIR FORCE (ret): Right, I am. And going back to my space command days, one of the reasons they might not have released the images right away is because they might not have known they had them. Some space assets collect data over time and if you're in arrested (ph) in a specific day, a specific timeframe, then you have to go and take the data that is being collected and delog it as we say and try and find these needles in a haystack.
I think that's probably what went on here and why it was delayed. I'm just guessing, of course. But it's the first clue that we've had, substantial clue, and so, it gives us a place to focus.
BLITZER: And you agree also that if the Malaysian Air Force, which is a pretty good air force, has a good reputation, the radar detection when they said it made that U-turn, flew over Malaysia, that was inaccurate. That could just be a simple mistake. MYERS: It could be inaccurate. As was said, you have to have positive identification of what that track is, who that track is. If they just saw a radar return in the general vicinity make a left-hand turn, they don't know who that was.
BLITZER: What does it say to you, Tom? Because, you know, if the transponder goes down at that area and the next thing you know that there's debris that the Chinese satellite images now show, what does it say to you?
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, it says that they can analyze the ocean currents and wind at the time and get a better idea of if those objects are floating in that location say 12 hours after the time the plane went down, then backtrack to where the crash site might be and go down from there. The transmitting device with the black boxes is supposed to transmit for 30 days.
So, they still have plenty of time to get submarines or destroyers that have the appropriate sonar and look for the pinging of the black boxes that should still be ongoing.
BLITZER: This is the area where the U.S. navy southern fleet may have been searching in this area, then they moved over to the other side of Malaysia. But this area presumably over the past five days, they've been searching pretty thoroughly.
FUENTES: Somewhat surprising, they haven't found any debris at all.
BLITZER: Because now you have specific coordinates of where this debris was located.
FUENTES (ph): But it will keep -- as we mentioned, it's going to keep moving. It's not going to go with the currents, but at least the U.S. navy is very good at figuring that out and figuring where stuff might --
BLITZER: All right. So, let's say, Peter, that this is the remnants of this plane, this is debris from the Boeing 777, the Malaysia airliner. Does it give us a better sense that there was some sort of catastrophic acts -- some catastrophic explosion, if you will or if it was man made, terrorist, hijackers, pilot suicide? Do we have any better sense on that?
GOELZ: No. I think it's just the opposite. It puts everything back on the table, whereas if you had this 90-degree turn you'd say, all right, somebody was in control of this aircraft and they were taken it someplace it shouldn't have gone. In this case now, we're back at square one. Four options, structural, terrorism, are on the table. And as soon as we get a look at the wreckage and start to zero in on the data recorder and voice recorder, we will have a solution.
BLITZER: Now that they have the coordinates of where this debris was found, how long do you think it presumably will take to find anymore wreckage including those flight and data recorders?
MYERS: I don't think we know. Since they've been on the area, it's obviously going to take some time, but they do have a place to focus. They can study the currents and figure out where this has most probably moved from and where it's moving to. In fact, we're speculating all the time. We don't even know if this is actually the airplane. We know we have a big blob in the middle of the ocean, but we don't know if that's the airplane, but it's going to take some time --
BLITZER: It's going to take some time for ships to get there and actually --
BLITZER: If it's floating on the surface, they can actually get a hold of it. They can determine that pretty quickly whether or not --
MYERS: Or they'll see, you know, remnants of the aircraft.
BLITZER: Remnants of the aircraft. Hold on for a moment, I want to go to Kuala Lumpur. Andrew Stevens is our correspondent there. So, what are they saying over there in Malaysia, Andrew, specifically the families of the folks that were on that plane? They must be in such, such agony.
ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. It's now 5:00 in the morning, so people will be starting to wake up to this news. And this, obviously, at this stage is the biggest clue that we've had over the past six days now -- six days of search. And there has been so much confusion, so much pain for the relatives as the search which is being organized through Kuala Lumpur really hasn't been able to get to groups of anything (ph).
And there's been a lot of talk lately about the plane being on the western side of Malaysia, the Straits of Malacca. We were talking about it yesterday. There was this right on track which a lot of people would say could be the clue which would give us an idea. That turned today into if that was true, it just would increase the search area exponentially out into the Indian Ocean which could have meant days or weeks.
The transport minister was saying he was fearing it could take days, weeks, even longer to get some idea of what happened. But, if these three pieces of debris are found, if they link up with the down plane, it will be an enormously painful moment for the families, but it will be a moment of clarity. They will know exactly what happened.
So, you know, watch and wait now. Certainly, they're here. There would be relief just in the fact that there is now something tangible. It looks like something tangible that those people can now hold on to,
BLITZER: Andrew Stevens, stand by. We're going to get back to you. Andrew Stevens in Kuala Lumpur. We're going to continue to follow the breaking news. These Chinese satellite images that show what could, could have been the crash site. Large floating objects according to the Chinese government, all this coming even as search efforts had greatly expanded. I'll speak with a U.S. navy commander aboard a ship in the region. He's looking together with the other members of the U.S. navy, the Marine Corps, they're looking for debris.
BLITZER: We're continuing to follow the break news. We're learning more about these Chinese satellite images of a suspected crash. Two U.S. navy destroyers are among dozens of ships now which have been searching in the area for days. We're now into day five of this massive search.
Joining us now on the phone, Commander William Marks of the U.S. Navy 7th fleet. He's aboard the "USS Blue Ridge." Commander, you've been very helpful to us over the past few days. This new Chinese satellite imagery, the specific coordinates of where they say these huge pieces of debris have been spotted, has that altered your effort? Where are you guys searching now?
Voice of Commander William Marks, U.S. Navy 7th fleet: Yes, I do not have specific information about that satellite image, but I can tell you we are shifting some of our search priorities. So, a couple developments there. One, right now, as I speak, we're developing plans to move both our destroyers west, "USS Kidd" and "USS Pinckney" to head south and west to the Strait of Malacca, in that direction.
Then the second thing is we're developing a plan to bring key aides (ph) Poseidon into the area. That plan actually is the next technological advancement above the P-3. So, that will give us a second plane. Now, I do have to tell you that doesn't mean we're relatively (ph) flying dual simultaneous missions, but it will allow us to alternate or rotate those.
So, that allows now the p-3 we're looking at tonight or actually flying night mission which can use its radar, infrared, and even night vision goggles there, and then rotate our key aides aside into that search and rescue flight rotation.
BLITZER: Hold on for a moment, commander, because General Myers is with us, the former chairman of the joint chiefs. You hear the commander explaining what the U.S. military, the navy, is doing in that area. It sounds pretty sophisticated. What does it say to you?
MYERS: Well, the same thing. They've got great assets that can do it day or night. He pointed out, this particular model of the P-3 can do the radar and infrared. And so -- I mean, if there's stuff out there, they're going to find it. That's their wartime mission, too. So, if there's things on the surface, it will give a return. They'll see that. It tells me the navy is going all out for the search.
BLITZER: I think this is a high priority. Peter Goelz, you're the former managing director of the national transportation safety board, if you have some advice for what the U.S. Navy is doing in the search, what would you tell them right now? What would you, as an investigator, want Commander Marks and the men and women who work with him to do? GOELZ: When I was at the NTSB, we had a standing contract with the supervisor of salvage. They were the most impressive and dedicated men and women I've ever seen. I would never give them advice. I listened to what they say. They know what they're doing. They were spectacular, TWA 800. I mean, courageous beyond any just couldn't imagine (ph).
BLITZER: If you find debris, commander, let's say the men and women who are working with you, you can confirm what the Chinese have now suggested with these satellite images. Walk us through what would happen. Let's say one of your ships gets nearby. You send some -- the sailors out to actually try to pick up this debris? What do you do?
MARKS: The first thing to remember is this is a coordinated international effort. So, we do follow a command and control structure. First thing we would do is report that to the government of Malaysia. That only takes a few minutes. One thing we do is we can stack our aviation assets. So, for example, if you have a P-3 flying at, say, 5,000 or 10,000 feet that sees something with radar, then you can get a helicopter in lower, say at 500 feet, and then it can get a visual I.D.
So, if you have enough assets, you can stack those and get a coverage above and then below to get that visual identification. So, what we're doing -- if we get on radar, then vector someone in who's closer. Now, that may not be a U.S. asset. So, let's say our P-8 finds it on radar and the close of ship is a Malaysian ship. Well, that's fine because we have coordinated command and control and the Malaysian government can vector in whoever happens to be closest.
BLITZER: And that debris right now, at least, according to these Chinese satellite images just south of Vietnam, but presumably, in international waters. Isn't that right, commander?
MARKS: Yes. Thus far, everything we've done has been in international waters. Correct.
BLITZER: So, even though it's in international waters, you still want to coordinate with all of America's international partners in this search operation.
MARKS: Yes, that's correct. And I do want to stress a couple of things. One, this is a very complex water space environment and air spaces. In addition to that, you have to coordinate the communication. So, you have all these people trying to communicate at the same time. You have to deconflict those circuits.
So, in two dimensions, you have the water space. In three dimensions, you have the air space, and then add to that, the communications. So, very complex environment here.
BLITZER: Do you know off the top of your head, commander, who's closest to this suspected debris that the Chinese are talking about?
MARKS: I do not. I'm sorry I don't. BLITZER: Yes. But it won't take long to get there because they have in this statement that they put out they have put out the specific coordinates of where these three large pieces of metal or whatever they are have been detected. Anything else you want to tell us before I let you go, commander?
MARKS: This is a quick note. At this point, you have to start watching fatigue. And that's not just fatigue on your people, which is a factor, but on equipment also. You can't run your equipment 24 hours or else it's going to fail. So, we're watching crew fatigue and our equipment fatigue. Both of those. I'm sure everyone out here is. But that's something we're looking closely at.
BLITZER: Commander William Marks with the U.S. Navy 7th fleet aboard the "USS Blue Ridge" command ship. We'll stay in close touch with you. You've been very helpful to us here in the SITUATION ROOM over the past several days. Good luck to all the men and women who are with you.
Up next, so what do these new satellite images reveal about what might have happened to Malaysia flight 370? We'll have more of the breaking news.
BLITZER: Major breaking news we're following here in the SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Once again, we want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the World.
China says one of its satellites has now found what may, repeat, may be a crash site where the Malaysia Airlines flight 370. It's released photos of what seem to be large floating objects. Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, has been looking into all these late developments. And for viewers who are tuning in, update us because this is significant.
SCIUTTO: It is, no question, particularly, after six days, five days of confusion since this flight was lost. And to be clear, these photos, these satellite images released by the Chinese government, the State Administration for Science Technology and Industry, and they are now calling this, in their words, "a suspected crash area at sea." So, let's have a look at where on the map.
First of all, you'll remember, this was the last communication here when the transponder was turned off from flight 370. This is where these satellite images are. So, just to the south and east of where that plane first finally lost contract. Then I want to show you what those images looked like. Here they are. Now, they're satellite images. They may not look like much at home.
In fact, they might look very small at home, but they're very large, in fact, the three of them, one 43 feet by 59 feet, another 46 feet by 62 feet, another 79 feet by 72 feet. Just for comparison, a mobile home is smaller than that, 28 by 60 feet, a flatbed truck, only 48 feet long. So, these are bigger than that. And all in this area here. And what's interesting, you'll remember in the last couple of days, we began to hear about this alternative path that the flight may have taken. There were some radar signals that showed it taking a left turn going all the way south and west of the Malay Peninsula here, a last communication so said the Malaysian military.
At a little island right here and then somewhere out to the sea, maybe Indonesia, that now, if these satellite images prove to be part of this plane, appears to have been false. So, red herring (ph). And this much more natural if, in fact, there was some catastrophic event when that transponder went off, perhaps a crash, perhaps an act of terrorism.
To be clear, intelligence officials have consistently told us they have no indication of terrorism, but this location here much more consistent with a catastrophic event. And you remember, up to this point, the search area has been around here. Lost contact, one of lost contact. When they came up with this potential theory, they had to expand their search area over here all the way out into the Indian Ocean, obviously, a very difficult thing to do.
This, you can imagine, is going to have those resources, ships from ten countries including two ships from the U.S. Navy to focus their attention down here to see if these pieces are, in fact, pieces of that missing flight.
BLITZER: Yes. It's a very, very important potential development. We don't know if it's 100 percent accurate right now, but it's clearly very significant. Stand by.
I want to go to Beijing right now. CNN's Pauline Chiou is standing by there.
The Chinese government, Pauline, they have released these satellite images. They have released the specific coordinates of where these large chunks of metal or whatever they are have been found. Tell our viewers what you're hearing in Beijing.
PAULINE CHIOU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're getting our information from the state Web site of China's Satellite Resource Center.
And it's important to look at the timeline, because these satellite images were captured Sunday morning, March 9, at 11:00 a.m., a day after the plane disappeared. They just released these images Wednesday evening, 6:00 p.m. local time. So that is four full days after these images were captured.
So that brings to the forefront the question of, did China know about these images beforehand, before they released them, and how much earlier did they know about them, and did they share these images with the Malaysian government and also with Malaysia Airlines?
Keep in mind that more than two-thirds of the passengers on this flight were from China, more than 150 of them, and China has been stepping up the pressure to the Malaysian government to step up their search-and-rescue efforts. So it would seem odd if this information had been withheld.
But the timeline is critical. Also, on the Web site, Wolf, there is a translation that we got in comments about these images. They say that the agency, this Satellite Resource Center, will be continuing to organize satellite resources based on developments of the investigation and they will optimize their imaging and they will share that with Malaysia Airlines, as well as the government.
But, once again, it's key to focus on this timeline.
BLITZER: Have they given any explanation, the Chinese, Pauline, why they waited from Sunday morning until now to actually release these satellite images?
CHIOU: No explanation.
This was just released at 6:00 p.m. Wednesday night, so no explanation. All they are saying is that these images were captured on Sunday morning, and then we started to see these images four days later, but no explanation. All they are saying is that they will optimize and they will continue to scan these photos and these images and share that with Malaysia.
BLITZER: Pauline Chiou in Beijing, thank you, Pauline.
I want to go back to Jim Sciutto.
You're getting more some sense of what's going on. What else are you picking up?
SCIUTTO: Well, it is far from an exact science, just as a matter of caution.
We have up on the wall here the dimensions of a 777, 200 -- wingspan 200-feet-long, the length, about 200 feet long as well. So, when you talk of these potential pieces as seen many the satellite images, 43- by-59 feet, 43-by-62, that could be any part of the plane or, in fact, these are busy water. It could conceivably be something else.
And because the speed of the plane may have hit the water, hard to identify. It might not look like a piece of a plane from the air. And that's the real difficulty right now. We're told by our own Barbara Starr, who spoke to a senior Pentagon official, that they are -- the U.S., which, of course, has its very own accurate and capable satellites, is now going to look back at its own satellite data in that same area to compare to see if it can find any information to corroborate what these Chinese government officials are seeing.
BLITZER: And experts have told me these are heavily traveled areas, and that a lot of ships, they just dump a lot of junk in those areas as well. So let's have a little, a little caution in terms of concluding 100 percent that this is the wreckage.
SCIUTTO: Like so many things we have seen here, remember, the radar imagery we got in the last 24, 48 hours, this is a clue. And they're still piecing it together in this investigation to confirm. BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.
Let's get a little bit more now.
Joining us, the aviation expert Clive Irving. He's in London. He's a senior consulting editor to Conde Nast Traveler, a contributor to The Daily Beast. Also joining us, Patrick Smith in Boston. He's a pilot, traveler blogger, author of the Web site AskThePilot.com, and CNN's own Richard Quest.
So, let me start with you, Clive. What do you make of these Chinese satellite images? Do you think this could actually be the wreckage of the plane?
I don't know if Clive is hearing me.
Clive, can you hear me?
CLIVE IRVING, THE DAILY BEAST: Yes, I can hear you. Yes.
BLITZER: We're going to have to fix that audio.
Let me bring Patrick Smith into this conversation.
What's the answer, Patrick? What's your reaction to this dramatic development, China releasing satellite that may -- may be the missing plane?
PATRICK SMITH, ASKTHEPILOT.COM: Well, the key word there, as we know, is may.
And this story really has become transcendent, and by that, I mean it's moved from being a story about a presumed air disaster to a mystery story. Where is the missing airplane? And I think that's the aspect that's really captivated people to this point.
And, meanwhile, also, it's been subject to all sorts of miscommunication, I think, right from the start. And the reasons for that, you have got these different investigative entities halfway around the world, at least for some of us. There are language issues. And their message gets put into the media, which, you know, filters it through.
And by the time we hear the latest news, it may or may not be exactly what the people on the other end are saying. And so things get garbled. We heard that the plane had veered off course, and now apparently that may not have been true.
And then you have got the very confusing vernacular of commercial aviation and attempts to simplify terms like transponder and radar. I mean, these things mean different things. And by trying to super- simplify them, again, the message gets garbled. And so there's been a lot of confusion.
And now this piece of wreckage, if that's what it is, is bringing us full circle almost back to the idea that something very quick and instantaneous and catastrophic may have happened.
But that itself goes one of two ways. Are we talking about some kind of foul play, a hijacking that ended in a catastrophe, or was it something strictly mechanical? We don't know.
SMITH: And everybody wants an answer right away. And, unfortunately, with these sorts of things, that's not how it works. Air disasters sometimes take weeks, months, even longer before we know really what happened.
And I think people have to be prepared for the possibility, though it's not a likely one, that we will never really know completely what happened.
BLITZER: Good point. Patrick, stand by.
Richard Quest, our correspondent who's also an expert on all of this, what's your reaction when you heard the Chinese government say they have what may -- may be some of the wreckage of the flight?
RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm going to be a little more definitive than maybe some of your other guests.
Look, I recognize it could be, possibly, there's the potential, but I'm much more optimistic that it is. For all the reasons that we have heard, I can caveat my answer up the wazoo, but it's in the right place. If you look at the distance between where the plane was last and where this wreckage or this debris has been found, the current suggests it's the right direction.
The Chinese, knowing as we do, would not be just willy-nilly putting out this sort of information if it hadn't been well and truly vetted and looked at. So, as a piece of evidence, it's this -- Wolf, you said it yourself at the beginning of the program. As a piece of evidence, it's the single biggest, most important development that this story has had since the plane went missing, because it's the only piece of evidence, it's the only part of the story that, frankly, makes sense.
BLITZER: Richard, stand by.
I want to go back to Clive Irving in London again and get his assessment of what's going on.
Go ahead, Clive. Tell us, in the aftermath of the Chinese satellite images being released, what's your thought?
IRVING: Well, I'm looking at the dimensions of these pieces of wreckage, and they don't conform to anything that's on the plane.
If you put up the image that you had earlier of the dimensions of the 777, you can see that it's got very long, slender wings. They're called high-aspect-ratio wings. They're designed so that the plane is very efficient flying at high altitude. And these pieces of wreckage, you have -- I have got the dimensions here. You said 79-by-72 feet. That's very square and it's very big. And you have to think about what pieces of a plane survive and float around on the water? And the pieces that float are basically obviously the lightest pieces. The heaviest pieces sink.
The lightest pieces are usually the wings and the tail. And there's no part, as far as I can see in the dimensions of the 777, where those metal parts conform to those sizes. They're very big square sizes.
The most rugged part of a plane, the part that never breaks apart, whatever happens to it, virtually, is what's called the wing box, which is where the wing joins the fuselage. And that's sometimes found in one piece, but that's nothing like this size or shape.
So I would love to think that this is really the wreckage, and, as Richard says, it's in the right place -- it's seems to be in the right place, if it's so close to that course. And it seems to be floating.
Mind you, these images are not that distinct, so it could possibly be -- if I wanted to be more optimistic, I could say it could be clusters of wreckage. But, at the moment, if those are the right -- if those are the correct dimensions of what they have spotted from the satellite, then they don't conform to any part of that plane that I can see.
BLITZER: All right, stand by, Clive Irving, Patrick Smith, Richard Quest.
I want to take a quick break.
The safety record of the Boeing 777, what is exactly that safety record? We're going to have more on that, more on the possible sighting of Malaysia Flight 370 wreckage by Chinese satellites.
Our breaking news coverage continues in a moment.
BLITZER: Once again, our breaking news: China releasing satellite images of a suspected crash site for Malaysia Airlines 370.
They appear to show large floating objects, all this coming as experts try to determine what may have gone wrong aboard that Boeing 777, which has a reputation as an extremely safe and reliable aircraft.
CNN's Rene Marsh has been looking into the Boeing 777.
What are you finding out?
RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we can tell you that more than 300 have been sold to U.S. companies and worldwide.
There are even more than 1,100 of these planes. People are still getting on these planes every day, so it is critical to find out what went wrong with Flight 370. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
MARSH (voice-over): With more than 1100 Boeing 777s worldwide having flown roughly five million flight, capable of carrying more than a billion people, it's considered one of the safest in the sky. But now with the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the plane is under the microscope.
The first 777 rolled off the assembly line in the early '90s. Now it's flown by almost every major airline. American has 57, Delta 18, and United 74. In its 19-year history only one fatal crash. The Asiana Airlines crash in San Francisco last July. Early indicators point to pilot error.
The FAA's Web site lists more than 100 airworthiness directives for the 777. They alert airlines to potential issues with the plane so they can inspect or repair it. Last September a warning that 777s could have cracks in the top of the plane near an antenna. The FAA called for frequent inspections and warned it could lead to rapid decompression and loss of structural integrity of the plane.
MICHAEL GOLDFARB, FORMER FAA CHIEF OF STAFF: The general public read every airworthiness directive no one would fly because it's frightening, but it's not. Airworthiness directives are recalls on cars. They're routine. Every plane has issues.
MARSH: Michael Goldfarb is the former FAA chief of staff. He says if the FAA thought that the potential cracking was significant enough it would have grounded the fleet.
(On camera): Does that mean this air directive and the history of this air directive or warning is irrelevant?
GOLDFARB: No. It's very relevant. Because what we don't know is whether Malaysian Air had actually completed that repair.
MARSH (voice-over): Wednesday Malaysia Airlines CEO couldn't answer if Flight 370 was checked for that issue.
AHMAD JAUHARI YAHYA, MALAYSIA AIRLINES CEO: For this specific plane I will have to check on the record.
MARSH (on camera): Let's just say that Malaysian Airlines did not do the required inspection. Does that change things at all?
GOLDFARB: It only adds another piece of the puzzle. It only tells investigators that going in that there may be structural problem needs to be run to ground.
MARSH: Well, along with hunting down that potential lead they're also going to be looking at maintenance records, transmission from the plane's engines, and they're also going to be looking to learn all they can about the crew -- Wolf.
BLITZER: They certainly will. Rene Marsh, reporting for us, thanks very much.
Let's dig a little bit deeper right now. Joining us, the pilot Keith Wolzinger, he flies 777s. Also still with us, Patrick Smith, he's a pilot, travel blogger, author of the Web site askthepilot.com.
Keith, if these satellite images are correct, and we don't know if they are, they may be correct, they may not be, this is what the Chinese satellite agency has released saying they found these three suspicious large pieces of debris floating there in the waters just south of Vietnam. But let's say they are correct. What does that say to you?
KEITH WOLZINGER, BOEING 777 PILOT: Wolf, I'm by no means a satellite imagery expert but if those images are correct and if those images are parts of the missing airplane, that might indicate that the aircraft was intact upon impact with the water. If the airplane had had a structural in-flight breakup there would have been a much larger debris field covering many, many miles.
BLITZER: Does it -- as a pilot of the 777, Keith, does it say anything to you at all about the potential cause of a plane simply losing its transponder and crashing into the water, let's say?
WOLZINGER: No, not exactly. Simply losing a transponder or had a malfunction with the transponder, for example, wouldn't be related to any kind of crash scenario. Normally transponders operate all the way until, in this example, for example, impact with the water. So the fact that the transponder may have stopped functioning somewhat prior to the impact may or may not play into it.
BLITZER: And Patrick Smith, what -- you know a lot of about these 777s. What would it take for a 777 like that to lose its electrical power, simply crash into the sea?
PATRICK SMITH, ASKTHEPILOT.COM: Well, it would take quite a bit, but to back up a step, Wolf, I don't necessarily like this line of analysis where you're talking about the 777 itself comparing it to other aircraft. And this is a point I make in my book where the fact is that all modern commercial aircraft are extraordinarily safe. And the 777 is no exception.
And when you start comparing plane to plane, that's not a fair analysis because different models are suited for different roles. The 777 is a long haul aircraft so comparing it to, say, the 737, it's apples and oranges to some extent. It becomes kind of an academic exercise. I think we should be just content with the fact all commercial airplanes are very, very safe, and then kind of go from there.
And further to that point, I hope this incident doesn't start to undermine really the fact that commercial air travel nowadays is extraordinarily safe. Last year --
BLITZER: You're absolutely right. SMITH: As you probably know was the safest year in the entire history of commercial aviation.
BLITZER: All right.
SMITH: And we've done such a good job at engineering out what used to be the most common causes of accidents, the ones that we do see --
BLITZER: All right, Patrick.
SMITH: -- tend to be, you know, kind of strange like this.
BLITZER: Yes, we --
SMITH: And we have to be ready for that.
BLITZER: We're up against a clock, but you make an excellent point.
Patrick Smith, thanks so much. Keith Wolzinger, thanks to you as well.
Just ahead, more of the breaking news. Our coverage of the Chinese satellite images that may, repeat, may show the wreckage of Malaysia Flight 370.
Our breaking news coverage continues. We don't know if it is wreckage, but we're getting more information. We'll have a special report coming up also at the top of the hour.
BLITZER: We have much more of the breaking news coverage of the possible sighting of wreckage from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. That's coming up in a moment. But first some of the other major news we're following.
The crisis in Ukraine arriving at the White House doorstep. President Obama met with the country's interim prime minister just a little while ago.
Let's go to our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta, he's got details -- Jim.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, President Obama reassured the interim prime minister of Ukraine, Yatsenyuk -- Yatsenyuk, excuse me, that the United States will oppose the upcoming referendum this weekend in Crimea. The president is saying -- he says that this referendum scheduled for Sunday is not legitimate in the eyes of the Obama administration.
But he also said, Wolf, that he hopes in the days ahead that there will be a rethinking on the part of the Russians when it comes to this referendum. And that's an indication of what's happening next. And the next couple of days, Secretary of State John Kerry is headed to London to meet with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. And the State Department had said earlier this week that Kerry would not make such a trip unless Russia was showing concrete steps in terms of being open to a diplomatic path forward.
I talked to a senior administration official who said the secretary would not be making that trip unless they saw those steps being taken, so there's a small glimmer of hope there, but a very stark assessment coming from the Ukrainian prime minister, Yatsenyuk, not only in the Oval Office where he told the president, quote, "We will never surrender," when talking about the Russian occupation of Crimea, but I asked him just outside the West Wing when he came out to talk to reporters just briefly, would President Putin of Russia stand down? Does he believe that Vladimir Putin would back down?
And it was very striking what he said, Wolf. He said if Russia's allowed to invade and occupy and take over Crimea, the rest of Ukraine could come next -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta with the latest on that important story. Thank you.
Coming up, we'll get back to the breaking news including our special report on Malaysia flight -- Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The just- released satellite photos that may show some wreckage of the plane.
We'll be right back.