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STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY

Investigators Examine Flight Simulator; Crimea Votes on Joining Russia

Aired March 16, 2014 - 12:00   ET

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


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Candy Crowley in Washington.

And there are two breaking stories we're following this hour. The disappearance of Malaysian Air Flight 370 and a crucial vote in Crimea on whether it will realign itself with Russia. The U.S. and its Western allies say they consider today's referendum invalid.

We will hear from Senator John McCain, who just returned from Ukraine, and talk about what's next with the German, British and French ambassadors to the United States.

Now to the very latest on the search for Flight 370, Malaysian authorities say the search for the missing jetliner has entered a new phase.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIAN'S ACTING TRANSPORTATION MINISTER: The search area has been significantly expanded and the nature of the search has changed -- from focusing mainly on shallow seas, we are now looking at large tracts of land, crossing 11 countries as well as deep and remote oceans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Other highlights from this morning's news conference with Malaysian authorities, 25 nations including the U.S. are involved in the search. Malaysian investigators are examining the captain's flight simulator, which was taken from his home. The plane's pilots did not request to fly together. Malaysian authorities say it is possible the plane was on the ground when some satellite signals were sent. And the CEO of Malaysian Airlines says there were no hazardous materials on board.

In another development, "The Times of India" is reporting India's military authorities are denying the possibility the missing jetliner flew over India en route to Central Asia.

I want to turn now to CNN's Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

A significantly wider search area, does the U.S. need to send more assets to the region? BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it's hundreds of thousands of square miles. Let's be clear -- 11 countries in Central Asia to the north and thousands of square miles in the Indian Ocean to the south, sending more to look at all of this, where do you begin to look.

This is really I think the dilemma is facing all of the countries trying to help search. A lot of people are talking about satellites, but satellites don't just go wandering around up in the sky. They have to know where to send these things to some extent.

There are navy ships. There are helicopters. There are aircraft search, but this is going to be very slow going. This area is just massive, Candy.

CROWLEY: And, Barbara, whenever I see that map that we show where the plane possibly was, when they picked up that last satellite proof or supposed proof that it was there, it just seems almost impossible to me that that plane could have flown north over all those countries where, by the way, there is lot of radar and a lot of countries involved in some pretty contested territory, and not been detected.

STARR: This is -- this is, you know, one of the -- you know, we're going to call it a theory, call it a hypothesis because, of course, no one knows for sure. But I have to tell you, all of the officials I've been speaking to are saying pretty much same thing.

Look at that map. India, Pakistan, China, Myanmar, Thailand, all these countries. This is -- they may have very military capabilities, but these are skies, this is air traffic control in this region, it is very heavily watched by both military radars and civilian air traffic control radars.

Does anybody really think that, you know, a large aircraft went into one of these countries without them noticing? It begins to, you know, sort of defy logic.

It is possible. Anything in this terrible tragedy is possible. But the sources I've been talking to are saying they're trying to focus on logic. And to them, that dictates that maybe it probably went into the ocean to the south. They find it very hard to believe that it could have gone into one of these land areas and not been noticed, not picked up by somebody.

CROWLEY: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us -- thanks, Barbara.

Joining me now around the table, Chad Sweet. He's a former CIA officer and current CEO of the Chertoff Group. And Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at the Teal Group, and an expert on the Boeing 777.

Let me start here. What are you picking up in terms of the intelligence community? I mean, by and large, it doesn't look like terrorism and I think it's the biggest thing of all. Nobody said, hey, we did this.

CHAD SWEET, CHERTOFF GROUP: Well, two points. I'm getting signals to the opposite. There are signals of potential foul play. And I think in terms of the claim of responsibility, Candy, there are a couple scenarios we may not have seen a claim of responsibility yet.

One would be if all the numbers of the terrorist cell were on the plane itself and we saw something unfold like we did in United 93 where the passengers and crew actually overtook the terrorists and ultimately the plane crashed, you wouldn't have a claim of responsibility.

Two other scenarios might be where the cell went beyond the aircraft but they didn't believe they accomplished the mission, so they don't want to claim credit yet.

The third is that the plane landed elsewhere. The plot hasn't fully unfolded yet.

So, there's a variety of scenario where is the lack of a claim of responsibility doesn't conclusively prove that this is not terrorism.

CROWLEY: I think as Barbara alluded to, when there's no proof of anything, almost anything seems possible. Let me talk to you about the 777.

And I have a couple of questions. First of all, is it true that you would have to actively turn off these communications systems? I think you were the one that said that would be like accidentally hot wiring a car.

RICHARD ABOULAFIA, TEAL GROUP: Yes. You know, the ACAR System basically you'd have to rummage around, find the circuit breaker, rip it out of play. Transponder can be turned off. It's a deliberately turning off. You know what you're doing.

CROWLEY: You couldn't just hit it or --

ABOULAFIA: That's exactly right, you know? But the ACAR System, you have to actively rummage around and decide to remove that.

SWEET: On that point, I just think that if we go back and look at 9/11, 3 of the 4 aircraft that were used had their transponders turned off. And I think we see time and time again, these terrorists are using this as part of their core playbook. They're obsessed with aviation as one of the threat factors.

It does raise the issue. No matter what happens here, no matter what we find, this is a teachable moment where we've identified vulnerability that needs to be addressed. And the question has to be asked, if you're flying aircraft over a certain way, with a certain number of passenger, should it be the case that you cannot manually disable the transponders. There's safety issues have to be addressed, but it's an important counterterrorism issue that has to be addressed.

CROWLEY: I agree, and tell me about the data blocks, what we've called the black boxes. But the data boxes which basically would tell us recordings in the cockpit, because we know that U.S. officials are looking at the cockpit saying somebody that knew something about this plane did these things deliberately.

Could they have also messed with the data box and the voice boxes?

ABOULAFIA: When it comes to the emergency locator transmitter, you can mess around with that, yes. But on the other hand, you should have recording for up to two hours of what happened in the cockpit.

Now, one possibility they left it on, kept fly, in which case it might be erased by just mere noise. That would be unfortunate.

CROWLEY: So, they -- it is possible they could find those at some point and not have the information that we're all trying to figure out at that point.

ABOULAFIA: Right. If they flew for three hours after whatever struggle took place, if indeed there was a struggle, then it's possible they may just find noise.

CROWLEY: And what about reinforced doors? Is that strictly a U.S. requirement? The whole thing after 9/11 was make it so you cannot get into the cockpit. Is there a possible that someone did get into the cockpit and forced these pilots?

SWEET: You're touching on an important point because post-9/11, we have implemented a number of security provisions that are in agreement with ICAO and international organizations to reinforce the cockpit. But at the core assumption is that pilots are in the trusted inner circle.

What we've seen in the case of the 1999 Egyptian suicide flight by the pilot as well as what we may see here, which is all fingers are pointing right now to looking at the pilot having a simulator in his house, there are a number of indicators that would suggest that whoever did this knew how to disable the transponders and did it precisely at the moment of hand off between air traffic control --

CROWLEY: The time when people might not have noticed right away.

SWEET: Correct. So, this is -- you're touching on -- no matter how much we reinforce the cockpit door, we may have to ask the question of do we need additional screening of both psychological as well as security of the pilots themselves?

CROWLEY: Is there any wonder whether this particular 777 had a reinforced door?

ABOULAFIA: It's believed that it was, yes.

CROWLEY: So, it did have a reinforced door.

ABOULAFIA: Yes. CROWLEY: By that, not just the flight attendants standing there with -- you know, the drink cart. It had a door you actually were not supposed to be able to get into.

ABOULAFIA: That's right. But of course you still have two people inside and a lot of people outside, and it's not just the possibility there are bad guys inside. It's also the possibility that they might be coerced by action outside at the cockpit door.

CROWLEY: Right, the flight attendant and the gun and all that.

ABOULAFIA: Exactly.

CROWLEY: So, the question about 777, if you look at all the things we're told happened, the transponder go dead, no more voice contact, turning off the communications system, is there any way for that to happen by a failure of something on the plane? For the things that we know that did happen, could there have been something on the plane that would cause all those things to happen?

ABOULAFIA: Absolutely not. There are simply too many backup systems. This wouldn't happen just by accident.

SWEET: That's what I would say too, Candy. Before there's been rightfully a lot of caution over not overly asserting this is some sort of foul play or terrorism, but I think there's enough preponderance of the evidence, too much, as Richard said, coincidental information. The preponderance of the proof, the burden of proof is shifting now from those who argue it's simply and accident, that those who have been -- to those who have been arguing it's not terrorism to those who have said it is.

CROWLEY: And so -- and we should say you're a huge supporter of the 777, you believe it's perfect plane and all that. So, you see no many way any accident could have caused any of this?

ABOULAFIA: Absolutely not. And of course the track record of the jet speaks for itself. You've got an extraordinary 19-year service record with 1,200 jets in service. There are about 14 percent, 15 percent of world capacity. Trillion of seat miles flown and absolutely no fatalities associated with the design of the jet.

CROWLEY: So, when you look at this, it sounds to me you're both looking at a human - somebody inside that cockpit did something to cause this plane to veer and maybe ran out of gas, maybe it was a suicide mission, something like that.

SWEET: Correct. And I think what we'll have to see in the coming days is on the voice recorder, the black box, there is an underwater beacon that will last for about 30 days --

CROWLEY: Right.

SWEET: -- for depths up to 14,000 feet.

So the search-and-rescue that will take place now, we have about 30 days to get it right and it's a huge amount of area to cover. If this plane did land in some other location, there are about 600-plus other airports it could have landed, but we'll focus on the ones privately controlled you could land without having been detected.

CROWLEY: We're going to have you on a little later in the hour. So, please don't go anywhere. But thanks for now, Chad Sweet and Richard Aboulafia. We will be back with you.

And when we get back to this story, a little later. Coming up, Crimeans are voting to either join Russia or effectively become an independent state. What does Western Europe do next? We'll talk with their ambassador.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: A turning point in Ukraine. Voters in the country's Crimea region are casting ballots, even as speak, on whether to become independent or rejoin Russia. Western nations have said they consider the referendum illegal.

We want to go to CNN's Nick Paton Walsh. He joins us from the capital of Crimea.

Nick, what have you seen today?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, results here have never been in doubt at all. We've heard from de facto prime minister that they think about two-thirds of the electorate have voted and they think about an 80 percent vote will go towards joining Russia. So it seems to be pretty much in the bag here.

Celebrations are getting under way. You can see perhaps in the building behind me, laser writing the world "Crimeans spring". That's a bizarre take on the Prague spring in the past, Soviet past.

Really on the ground we've seen strange scenes of polling booths themselves. One colleague has seen two ballots stuffed into a box by one voter. We've seen ourselves electoral officials expected only a fifth of the people turning up to be on the electoral role. The rest are asked to show a passport and they decide on the spot whether or not to let them vote.

But these small irregularities, frankly, you know, in a part of the world where often elections are about endorsing decisions politicians have made weeks earlier, those irregularities aren't the big deal. The key thing is the fact there are 21,500 Russian troops on this peninsula according to Ukraine defenseman, whose presence have led this. Otherwise, the Ukrainian new government of Kiev would have prevented it from happening.

It seems to be pretty much a done deal on the ground here. The outstanding questions are what happens to the Crimean troops still on their bases, but celebrations (INAUDIBLE) this call getting under way behind me, Candy.

CROWLEY: Nick Paton Walsh, thanks so much. Earlier this morning, Arizona Senator John McCain fresh off another trip to Ukraine said while the situation in Ukraine will not take a turn toward traditional war anytime soon, he did seem to concede that Russia has won in the short term.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: And let me ask you, because just the tone of some of the things you've said lead me to believe that you do agree that Crimea is gone, and that now, it's about protecting the rest of eastern Ukraine.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Candy, I hate to say that, because obviously it has an effect on those brave people in Ukraine, including those 4,000 that are in bases in Crimea.

What I would like to see is a long-term commitment to the freedom and democracy and the assistance we can provide Ukraine, including, over time, regaining Crimea. That would be one of our goals. It is an integral part of that country.

CROWLEY: But it is not a short-term goal at the moment.

MCCAIN: I'd love to tell you otherwise.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Joining me now, Peter Ammon, Germany's ambassador to the U.S., Peter Westmacott, Britain's ambassador to the U.S., and Francois Delattre, France's ambassador to the U.S. So, we have a power panel here today and I thank you for coming. Going off with John McCain, just that he really did seem to concede that Crimea belongs to Russia at the moment, if not in legalities but certainly indeed.

PETER AMMON, GERMAN'S AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: I can't agree with a lot of things John McCain said, but I think there's no doubt about it. This referendum was illegal and results don't count.

CROWLEY: On the other hand, again, legally results don't count but is the fact of the matter on the ground that Russia controls Crimea?

PETER WESTMACOTT, BRITAIN'S AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: I think we have to wait and see how this turns out. We do not believe it to be constitutional or legal as Peter says, but this referendum has taken place. It is a fraud and asking people what they think at the barrel of a gun is not exactly an exercise in participatory democracy. It's also contrary to all the agreements which Russia had signed in terms of the statutes of the Ukrainian sovereign territory.

So, let's see how this comes out. I think what's going to happen is that tomorrow you will see a close coordination between European and American partners, international community coming together to determine its response. But I think we are a very long way from accepting that Crimea should just be some chopped up, that Crimea should be chopped up from Ukrainian territory and handed on a plate to Russia.

CROWLEY: Right. I don't expect the west, the United States, or any of your countries would accept it. I'm trying to figure out if there's anything that you believe that will in the short term push President Putin out of Crimea.

FRANCOIS DELATTRE, FRANCE'S AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: You know, Candy, and you said it very well, as President Francois Hollande very clearly said, we cannot accept the validity of this pseudo- consultation. It is in clear violation enough, I believe, the Crimean constitution and in international law, it has no basis.

I think it's important for our audience to put things into perspective here. What is at stake in Ukraine is of course, and in this crisis, one of the most dangerous crises since the end of the cold war, is number one the future of a country, Ukraine, of its territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Number two, it's also about the danger of returning to Cold War, to an outbreak of nationalism in Europe.

And number three, you know, Candy, accepting the Russian fait accompli here would mean opening Pandora's Box and challenging orders worldwide. It is simply something that we cannot do. And we the democracies, by the way, are the strongest when our values and our interests are aligned.

And this is exactly the case in the Ukrainian crisis. They are allied and that is why the Europeans are together and Americans are solidly together in supporting Ukraine, imposing costs and potentially high costs on Russia.

CROWLEY: What's a high cost on Russia? What do you think that European countries and the U.S. would do in unison? Because there are Russian interests in Europe. Russia does -- Western Europe certainly many countries are dependent or at least rely heavily upon Russia's gas.

So what do you think you could get unanimity on to punish Russia?

AMMON: Never seen such a degree of unanimity across the Atlantic. We are singing from the same hymn sheet, as you say here. And we'll have the European foreign ministers meeting tomorrow. They will discuss sanctions for the first time probably will include travel bans, visa bans and asset freezes. So, this is really hard stuff.

CROWLEY: Across the board, travel bans across the board, asset freezing so you say to the Russian elites -- sorry, you're not coming here, we've frozen your assets?

AMMON: Well, the indicators they will hammer it out tomorrow, but let me say it clearly because it was discussed in the U.S. quite often, the German foreign policy is not written about anything about gas or oil. And the German industry federation has made it very clear, foreign policy is the priority and all other interests have to step back in this. CROWLEY: And would you all agree, and I want to answer what sort of sanctions. But would you all agree that in terms of actual military action, that's a nonstarter in Western Europe as it is in the U.S.?

WESTMACOTT: I think that's right. None of our countries are thinking of getting involved militarily, but what we are about is trying to show clearly to Putin that this is a miscalculation if he thinks he can simply get away with this because the West has lost its will to stand up to him or something.

At the same time, what we are doing is offering a number of different ways in which Putin can back down or, if you like, back down maybe not that term, but if you like, change his strategy so that Russia can define its relationship with the west in some other way than simply being in opposition to us.

We understand there is a special relationship between Ukraine and Russia. We ourselves are integrated in many respects to the Russian economy. We would like to work with Russia.

But we cannot accept this sort of behavior. And that is why Russia was completely isolated out of the United Nations Security Council yesterday even with China not supporting it, which is not something that happens every single day, on principles of territorial integrity and sovereignty, which is something which Russia sometimes when it believes is important.

So, I think what you're going to see is a united response with a number of different measures, some of them we know broadly speaking what they will be, exactly who is on which list and when remains to be seen. And if we do not make progress, there may need to be a further wave of measures taken further down the track by the international community to make this point absolutely clear.

CROWLEY: What's at that extreme end? Because it does seem to me that Putin has made a calculation that what you could do to hurt him is not worth as much to him as Crimea.

DELATTRE: That's a really good question, Candy. I think our efforts have to be guided by two principles: firmness and dialogue at the same time.

Firmness as the two Peters very well said, eloquently said, we're going to take tomorrow, as early as tomorrow, importance sanctions at the European level, and there is a third stage, a third round that could follow in the coming days.

And at the same time, we have to keep the channels of communication with Russia. That's why our three countries together with our American and European friends have been from day one at the forefront of international efforts to promote political solution of the crisis. We all know, to answer your question, that the only solution can be -- will be political.

So we are, you know, joining efforts in that direction. We all know the lasting solution would be would be to respect Ukraine's sovereignty and, you know, territorial integrity. There is no doubt about it. There is no other solution.

At the same time, we have to take into account the history, the geography, the diversity of the Ukrainian population.

So, I believe it's along these lines, firmness and dialogue, that we have to continue working, in the coming days and weeks.

CROWLEY: I've got 20 seconds. The first step, you can't have diplomacy unless both sides are willing to participate in it. And at the moment, it does not appear, despite some efforts certainly made by all of you of trying to press Putin into talking to the Ukrainian government, it hasn't happened.

DELATTRE: We continue to have this entire group with Russia and Ukraine, together with us, trying to get a political solution. And you're absolutely right, the threat of sanctions and the phased increase of sanctions.

WESTMACOTT: All of our heads of government have tried. They've all spoke to Putin and they've all done their best. We have done all we can to find a way.

AMMON: And let's not forge -- we have to prop up Ukraine. Ukraine needs our assistance and this must be part of our strategy.

CROWLEY: And we'll get it, I'm assuming.

AMMON: Yes.

CROWLEY: Thank you so much. Ambassador Ammon, Ambassador Westmacott, and Ambassador Francois Delattre, thank you so much for being here. We appreciate your time.

AMMON: Thank you, Candy.

CROWLEY: Ahead, U.S. intelligence officials are leaning toward a theory saying the pilots of Malaysian flight 370 were responsible for the jet's disappearance. Next up, the clues leading them down this path.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Back now to our top story. A U.S. official says investigators have renewed their focus on the pilots of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Police have searched the homes of both, even confiscating a flight simulator that belonged to the pilot.

Atika Shubert joins us now in Kuala Lumpur.

Atika, we've heard experts rule out malfunction. Naturally that means you go to, you know, the human element here. And that's the pilots. What do we know so far about them?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we know is that the captain of the flight, Zaharie Ahmed Shah, was a very experienced pilot, somebody who was known as -- somebody who was very active in the commune, followed politics very closely, and also had his own homemade flight simulator at home.

Now, police did spend two hours searching the home and also took a look at what he had built at his home, apparently to simulate a 777 flight.

Take a listen to what was said at the press briefing earlier today.

Oh, sorry. We don't have that SOT. But I'll go ahead and let you know.

It appears to be something that he basically constructed on his own at home and according to friends, for his own enjoyment, just to sort of share his passion for aviation. And I do have to say that Malaysian officials have not only focused on pilot and the co-pilot but also on the other passengers on board. They're screening all of them to see if anybody else might have had any experience flying a plane, but also ground crew here that might have helped to get the plane off the ground.

So, at this point, they're not ruling anybody out. They're looking at anybody who had anything to do with Flight 370.

CROWLEY: Atika Shubert, thanks for that report. I know we'll be back to you throughout the day.

I'm joined now by Dr. Christopher Unger. He's a physician designated by the FAA to perform physical exams on pilots to determine if they're fit to fly.

And I should just say exams because I have to imagine that there are standards both in the U.S. and around the world for pilots but they differ.

DR. CHRISTOPHER UNGER, FAA PHYSICIAN: That's true. As I mentioned earlier, the standards that exist around the world may not be quite as rigorous as the standards that are used here in the USA. And I feel that those governments are looking to the U.S. to eventually improve and upgrade their standards. They're very actively outreaching to us.

CROWLEY: So, for instance, in terms of mental health, because people can be perfectly well and then get dressed for any number of reasons, and, you know, that would be missed if the exam was a year ago. So how often and what do -- what constitutes passing an exam for pilot flight here and abroad from what you know about it?

UNGER: Well, the exam is very comprehensive, and a really good exam should be based on continuity. It's more difficult for us to screen somebody that we've never met before. We attempt to spend an extended period of time, especially with our new pilots.

And we're able to ask questions in such a way as to avoid evasion, essentially. And a lot of times pilots don't think that, for example, taking over the counter medicines because they're not prescription medications.

The point that you have -- that you have made is that combinations of medicines, circumstances, and events can converge and give rise to relatively acute psychological factors which would make someone essentially not at their normal level of judgment. And those things do have to be screened for.

CROWLEY: And so what we're talking about is we do know from reporting from Barbara Starr is that they are focused on what happened in that cockpit. There was talk of, you know, is this a suicide pilot. And again, as Atika just reported, they're looking at everybody who got on that plane because there are other scenarios that would not, you know, have anything to do with the pilots or at least the pilots doing something voluntarily.

But in your line of work as you work with pilots, it would seem to me -- and we heard it from a couple neighbors saying he's a really nice guy, well respected, all of those sorts of things again.

So, how does one even detect if you have a pilot that's in trouble?

And as we know, there have been some pilots in the U.S. that didn't end apparently as badly as this has, but have had some mental problems and been taken off planes.

UNGER: Candy, let me give you two examples. One is -- one example is medicines we use to lower cholesterol. These may be among the most prescribed medicines in the world. These medicines give rise to memory deficits. They give rise to transient global amnesia, and we're sort of naive to that, especially when they might be mixed with something else.

We also have conditions such as what is called spatial disorientation. Spatial disorientation may not be detectable while we're examining the pilot on the ground, but it can happen in the air. And essentially in those situations the pilot may be -- the plane may be losing altitude and in turn while the pilot thinks they're at straight and level flight. These things can converge and can cause havoc in a situation like this.

Now, we also had a situation I believe a year or two ago where both the pilot and the flight engineer fell asleep. I also have some concerns about pilots everywhere overusing flight management systems. In my generation, we called it autopilot.

CROWLEY: Right.

UNGER: Flight management systems are something that makes life very nice for the pilots. But I'm not entirely sure they can be trusted.

And one of the reasons why they can't be trusted is if there is an attack such as an electromagnetic pulse, that thing is blown and it's shot, then you have to recover the airplane. One of our incidents was in an aircraft that went down over the Atlantic a number of years ago was that the pilots came back in the system, when that system failed. And they were expected to fly the plane manually but they didn't know how to fly it really well.

CROWLEY: Yes.

UNGER: So overreliance on technology is a concern.

CROWLEY: Right. Yes.

I think the one thing we do know about this pilot, he was quite trained on the 777, so I think they're looking at other things, as to whether he had planned this for whatever reason.

But I want to thank you for your time today, for beginning to look into this subject matter for us. We appreciate it. Dr. Christopher Unger, thank you very much.

UNGER: Enjoyed it very much.

CROWLEY: Thank you.

UNGER: Thank you.

CROWLEY: When we return, the search area expands north to Kazakhstan and Central Asia, and as far south as the Indian Ocean near the coast of Australia, encompassing some 35,000 square miles. Can it be found?

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Joining me now, Colleen Keller, former operations research analyst for the U.S. Navy, she is a licensed pilot who helped find Air France 447 when it crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009. Steven Wallace is the former director for the FAA's Office of Accident Investigation, also a CNN aviation analyst. We are rejoined by Chad Sweet and Richard Aboulafia.

So thank you all for being here. We're going to solve this thing right now. Right? So when you -- they have widened the search area to something that is almost impossible it seems to me just in terms of how big it is. So how do they winnow down, Colleen, where you look in this gigantic area?

COLLEEN KELLER, FORMER OPERATIONS RESEARCH ANALYST, U.S. NAVY: So something we were talking about earlier is a way of using negative information to contain the search area. And by that I mean if there's a radar or something else that should have detected the aircraft in a certain area and did not, you can say the aircraft never made it to that area.

And we were talking earlier about the radars on the coast in India and Pakistan, some of those countries up there in that northern arc, if we could get them to look at their radar tapes and see that there was no target when the aircraft should have gone through there then that would make us focus more over the water or down south.

CROWLEY: Right. So you can rule out, you know, look, there's no way this plane -- I think, the India -- in fact it's being reported that India said there's just no way they could have flown through here. We would have noticed it in some way, shape, or form.

Is that true?

RICHARD ABOULAFIA, AVIATION EXPERT: Possibly and possibly not. I mean, most likely they do have coverage. This is a country that is in a state of tension with several of its neighbors. On the other hand, if there were gaps in that coverage the last thing they would ever do is admit that there were gaps in that coverage.

CROWLEY: Right.

CHAD SWEET, CEO AND CO-FOUNDER, THE CHERTOFF GROUP: I would also point out, in 9/11 we'll all remember that it took a long time for us to actually detect what was going on with the aircraft that were off track. And then we also were very slow in responding to that. And so with all due respect to the Indians I think they are still working on upping their game and that's certainly a scenario where -- not likely but you can't rule it out.

CROWLEY: Just seems impossible that something that large could go undetected by radar or satellites. So many of them in that area when you look at it you think it has to be completely covered but it's not.

STEVEN WALLACE, FORMER DIRECTOR, FAA'S OFFICE OF ACCIDENT INVESTIGATION: Well, you know, the accident investigation is not solely a matter of -- you know, of finding the aircraft or the wreckage of the aircraft. I mean, so there's a lot going on and I think we're starting to see two things. This is clearly a simultaneous criminal and civil investigation.

I think we're seeing an improvement in the level of cooperation I'm getting the best information before the best experts. So, you know, they're doing things like looking at that pilot's flight simulator if they could detect where it was used or looking at the history --

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: Which by the way nothing weird for a pilot. I mean, you know, they tend to be fanatics. You're a pilot. Right? I mean, they love flying so that he would build himself a simulator is not necessarily --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely right. He was very open about it, you know.

CROWLEY: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Facebook page, join me sometime for flying. You know, I mean.

CROWLEY: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not unusual at all.

SWEET: The only issue would be if he was looking to do something unusual, i.e. something like this, that's where you might try to train himself do a different standard. Secondly point I would make is, the theory that they wouldn't fly to the northern route, i.e., because of the intensive radar coverage is on the presumption that they wouldn't get detected.

If the intent was to actually hit a target along the coastline of India, for example, then the presumption that the radar is there is actually irrelevant as being a cause for this not being a likely route.

CROWLEY: So let me -- we've got about 90 seconds so I want to ask each of you if you could have one piece of information now that would tell you something important, what is it that you would first want to know that would lead you down the right path?

WALLACE: I would want the flight data and voice reporters.

CROWLEY: What we used to call the black boxes.

WALLACE: They're orange.

CROWLEY: They're orange. Right. The orange box.

(LAUGHTER)

We tried calling them orange boxes. It just sounded -- so now we call them the data recorders. Like which we assume are at the bottom of the ocean someplace or --

WALLACE: We can assume they're in the tail section of that airplane.

KELLER: That's right.

CROWLEY: Someplace.

SWEET: And as we talk about before -- because it does have an underwater beacon that is activated when it hits the water they'll have about 30 days to find this at a level of at least 14,000 feet. So I would agree with Steve, that's the -- that's the data that you need.

ABOULAFIA: You know, I think it's absolutely essential but on the other hand, in the absence of that until we find it, the best thing they could do is look over the manifest and discover every possible international link of every person on board, where they've traveled, who they know, everything. And that's where I think the focus is now. CROWLEY: Sounds a little bit like they are doing that. And who actually even touched the plane in terms of putting things on board and that kind of thing.

Colleen, what do you think?

KELLER: And the flight data recorders are critical and they were very, very helpful when we recovered the wreckage for France. Unfortunately the time is ticking away and we don't even know where to put the sensors in the water right now to listen for those beacons.

CROWLEY: And there are sensors you can put down that you could pick up that.

KELLER: Yes.

CROWLEY: So OK.

WALLACE: They usually say, on day one of the investigation, everything is on the table. And I think we're still there and we need to hold out the possibility that this will just be something we've never seen before.

CROWLEY: On day eight of the investigation, everything's still on the table.

Our panel is actually going to stay with us and tell us if they've ever seen an airline mystery like this when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: We are back with our aviation panel. Colleen Keller, Steve Wallace, Chad Sweet, and Richard Aboulafia.

Thank you all for being here.

You sort of started going this way, which is, you know, have you ever seen a mystery like this? And you seem to be saying we correct things pretty quickly and therefore everything kind of is new each time something --

WALLACE: Right. I mean, kind of like polio and smallpox. We used to have recurring things that we solved. An accident happened for repeating causes, that they pretty well all been solved. There aren't any recurring causes of large airplane accidents anymore. Every one of them is a one-off event.

Now here, this airplane went missing. In the modern jet era, this is really unprecedented. We're not talking about the Bermuda Triangle or Amelia Earhart, we're talking about the modern jet era and we haven't seen an airplane disappear like this for this length of time.

CROWLEY: And, Richard, you would -- again, you're a huge fan, Richard, of the 777, but there is no way that you can see that after as many years as it's been in service that it would develop a problem so serious that it could have caused any of this.

ABOULAFIA: No. This jet's in its sweet spot. It's been around long enough, 19 years, to know all the kicks and yet none of the planes have aged out. This one is only 12 years old, which in car years is 2 1/2. It's really not the jet.

CROWLEY: And I think probably, you know, as we look at, Chad, the fears of terrorism, that this again, I remember, so I said something last night they didn't take the plane and take it to an island and do it, and I said, yes, and you would have said in 1999 that no one would take a jet plane and crash it into a building so --

SWEET: That's right. And I think, Candy, in a world where -- like with TV shows like "Homeland" and "24," or people like Edward Snowden who were, you know, alleging that the governments can follow our every call, our every movement, it's difficult for people to understand how this could possibly happen. But we -- the world is a big place. And the reality is you can't rule that out.

CROWLEY: Colleen, from your perspective, it is sort of where you can find your iPhone but you can't find the 777.

KELLER: I don't know. Sometimes.

(LAUGHTER)

No, I mean, in today's technologically connected world people find it very hard to believe that there can be something -- a mystery that can go on like this, that things can be lost. But the fact is that searching is an imperfect science and it's a very, very big area. So there's a lot of uncertainty there.

CROWLEY: So hopefully -- any doubts anyplace here that this will remain unsolved?

WALLACE: No. I'm still confident I have to say not quite as confident as I was on day one that this accident will be solved to a high degree of certainty.

CROWLEY: What do you think?

ABOULAFIA: I agree with Steve. Yes. (INAUDIBLE) totally go away.

CROWLEY: Too big to let go, right?

KELLER: It's too big, yes.

CROWLEY: Exactly.

So I want to thank you all for your expertise. As we like to say sometimes, to be continued because it's certainly -- every little piece of information I think either rule something out or something in. So thank you so much for your expertise.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our pleasure. CROWLEY: And we will talk to you later I'm sure.

Thank you all so much for watching STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. CNN's coverage of Flight 370 continues now with Fredricka Whitfield and a special edition of "NEWSROOM."