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THE SITUATION ROOM

New Developments in the Search for Flight 370; Crews Search Area the Size of U.S.; Putin Ignores West, Claims Crimea for Russia; Cell Phone Mystery On Flight 370

Aired March 18, 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, rerouted -- we're learning new details about Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was put on a new course the night it vanished.

So who reprogrammed the fight path?

Massive search -- crews are combing an area the size of the continental United States looking for any sign of the missing plane. We'll talk live to a U.S. Navy commander who is right in the middle of it, helping lead the U.S. effort.

Cell phone silence -- not a single call from anyone on the plane.

Why weren't passengers able to communicate with the outside world as the plane flew on for hours and hours?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're following multiple new developments in search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Among the latest, confirmation the plane's route was reprogrammed by someone inside the cockpit the night it vanished. Also, Malaysian officials have completed a search of the pilot's and co-pilot's personal computers and e-mail. And Thailand has revealed its military radar was also tracking Flight 370, as it changed course, flew into the night and simply disappeared.

CNN is dedicating its global resources to this story and our correspondents and analysts are working all angles.

Let's begin with our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, who's learning more.

What are you learning?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the reprogramming of the flight, as well this new radar data from Thailand, are two pieces of evidence today that corroborate what has become the leading theory, and that is that this turn to the west of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 off that original course to Beijing was both deliberate and under control, like the actions of a pilot, or a co-pilot, or someone with the knowledge of a pilot, how to fly that 777.

Burning questions, remain who exactly and why?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO (voice-over): The night Flight 370 vanished, someone inside the cockpit, a U.S. official tells CNN, programmed the jet's computer to leave its planned route to Beijing and head west. This new detail corroborates the leading theory of U.S. investigators that the plane's sudden change in course was a deliberate act by the pilots, or someone else on board with extensive knowledge of flying.

Today, investigators revealed, however, that searches of the flight crew's computers and e-mails, as well as the flight simulator the pilot kept at his home, have shown nothing suspicious.

AHMAD JAUHARI YAHYA, CEO, MALAYSIAN AIRLINES: As far as we are concerned, the aircraft was programmed to fly to Beijing. Once you are in the aircraft, anything is possible.

SCIUTTO: The government of Thailand has now said that its air force radar tracked the flight the night it disappeared.

At 1:22 a.m., Thailand says the flight vanished. And then, six minutes later, at 1:28, their radar picked up the plane again, flying west along the same path Malaysian radar had tracked it. Where it went from there remains a mystery. And today, the search area for Flight 370 has expanded to a staggering three million square miles, about the size of the entire continental United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is an enormous search area. And it is something that Malaysia cannot possibly search on its own. I am, therefore, very pleased that so many countries have come forward to offer assistance.

SCIUTTO: The search for suspects also widening to include crew, passengers and any airport staff who had access to the plane. Today, China said background checks on the 150 Chinese nationals on board found no ties to terrorism.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

SCIUTTO: U.S. officials tell me that as they receive names from Malaysian investigators of other people on that plane, or who had access to the plane, they will be run against a U.S. terror watch list. And we know that they have run some names through that database already, including those two Iranians, you'll remember, Wolf, who were traveling on stolen passports. And so far, none of those searches, none of the running of those names by the database, has turned up any links to terror.

BLITZER: And there's no links with those two Iranians with the stolen passports?

Nothing suspicious, other than the fact that they have stolen passports? SCIUTTO: Exactly. Not yet. And you can be confident that these -- that many other names that have come from that plane, whether it's flight crew, passengers, etc. Have been run by terror watch lists already. And, again, the indication is that they haven't turned anything up yet.

BLITZER: All right, stand by, because we're getting some breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM from the Pentagon right now.

Barbara Starr is getting some exclusive new details about a phone call between the Defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, and his Malaysian counterpart.

What are you learning -- Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the call now possibly one of the highest level direct contacts between Washington and the highest levels of the Malaysian government. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel calling the Malaysian defense minister last night, Minister Hussein, saying -- who is also the acting transportation minister.

The two men talked about the search. And the idea of the call was that Hagel was offering U.S. support, the U.S. airplanes continuing to search the South Indian Ocean.

But here is what is so interesting. The subject of transparency by the Malaysian government came up. Apparently, the conversation took a turn and Secretary Hagel took the opportunity to raise the point that the Malaysian government would need to consider transparency, telling the world what they know as soon as they know it. That being described to me by two U.S. officials who are familiar with the call.

They're making the point Hagel was not critical, the conversation was friendly, but the point was made nonetheless, at the highest levels, transparency, telling the world what you know when you know it is needed. This may be a very complex operation, but the Malaysians have come under a lot of criticism and skepticism for perhaps not being as forthcoming as quickly as they might be -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Glad the Secretary made that phone call.

All right, thanks very much, Barbara, for that.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now with our law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, our CNN aviation analyst, the former NTSB managing director, Peter Goelz, who is here with us.

Also joining us, a former 747 pilot, Pamela Almand she's joining us from Jacksonville, Florida.

Pamela, thanks very much.

Jim Sciutto is still here, as well.

So what do you make of this phone call -- Tom, because there has been frustration in what some see as the lack of transparency TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Right.

BLITZER: -- or cooperation or forthrightness, whatever you want to call it, from the Malaysians as far as the other other countries, including the U.S., are concerned?

FUENTES: Well, it's true, Wolf, that the Malaysians have not put out as much information as they could have from the very beginning under the philosophy that they didn't want to put out anything that was wrong, they wanted to wait until they were -- they were being conservative, we want to wait until corroboration is there, to see if it's a true fact that we're going to put out.

They received heavy criticism from the global media and from their own people and the victims' families in the two airports, in Beijing and Kuala Lumpur.

So then they decided, OK, we're going to put things out. And then had to correct it and recorrect it and recorrect it as the technical information changed each day.

So -- so they've gone to each extreme. If they don't put it out, they're not forthcoming. If they do put it out, they're inaccurate. And that's a dilemma that they've faced from the beginning.

BLITZER: And this new development, Peter, that they preprogrammed the flight path, the automatic fight path...

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Right.

BLITZER: -- once the plane took off, presumably, from inside the cockpit, what does that say?

GOELZ: Well, it locks in the theory that whatever happened took place inside the cockpit, with either the pilot and the co-pilot or someone else inside the command center. And there is simply no other explanation at this point.

BLITZER: Because this is -- they have to start punching a bunch of buttons, seven or eight or nine buttons...

GOELZ: Absolutely.

BLITZER: -- in order to do that. It's not as easy as it sounds.

GOELZ: No, this...

BLITZER: You've got to have some skill.

GOELZ: -- these are weigh stations that aid in navigation. You plug them in, the plane turns to the appropriate heading and flies to the weigh station. And if you -- if you put in the wrong weigh station which has happened sometimes, the plane will turn around and go back and get the weigh station.

So it's pretty simple. But it's -- you've got to do it and you've got to do it right.

BLITZER: Pamela, you're an experienced pilot. Tell us the times you would change the automatic flight path inside the cockpit once you're flying.

What would -- what would generate that?

Why would you do that?

PAMELA ALMAND, FORMER 747 PILOT: Well, it would be very similar to GPS in a car, for instance. You -- before you leave, you program your destination and your route pops up. En route, if you decide you want to go someplace else, all you have to do is change the destination.

And on this aircraft, it's actually fairly simple. You can put in the new destination. It will give you a suggested routing. And then both pilots usually check it.

Once the pilot flying says yes, it looks good, he says, execute, then procedurally, what we do is push the button and execute. And then the aircraft automatically flies to that point over those weigh points.

BLITZER: So it's a relatively easy procedure for an experienced, trained pilot who knows what he or she is doing up in the cockpit -- but, and, Jim, I want to be precise on this, because you've been speaking to your sources, your law enforcement sources, intelligence sources, national security sources, from day one. They're still working under the assumption, they have no hard evidence of a terrorist plot, but they do think, increasingly, it was a human being that caused whatever happened, as opposed to some disastrous mechanical failure.

SCIUTTO: That's right. They lean heavily in favor of it being a deliberate act. They still haven't established a terror threat, as we've said many times, but they're leaving their minds open to that possibility.

And, again, when you get to the next step, where is this plane today, I will say that there aren't many sources I've talked to who find it plausible that the plane is on the ground somewhere. They tend to -- and I know that others have heard this. For instance, Barbara has heard this from people inside the Pentagon, that the leading theory -- and this is, again, not eliminating anything -- the leading theory being that the plane more likely to be on the bottom of the ocean than having landed safely somewhere.

BLITZER: Do you agree with that theory?

GOELZ: The plane is in the water and there's no other evidence that would contradict that.

BLITZER: And the fact that no debris has surfaced, nothing is floating...

GOELZ: We just...

BLITZER: -- there's no evidence of that, what does that say to you?

GOELZ: It says to me that the earliest days of the investigation and the search were wasted and that the combination of ocean currents and wind has moved it. It's going to be extraordinarily difficult right now. We'll find something.

BLITZER: Do you agree with that -- Tom?

FUENTES: I agree, Wolf, because the conclusion comes from the reporting of the satellite data. So as we've said all along, when it comes to the technical information, that if the radar is right, if the MR SAT satellite information is correct, well, then, it stayed in the air all those hours. And the logical place it would disappear would be somewhere in the ocean.

So just based on the technical, it would lead you to believe it's in the ocean.

BLITZER: And there's, Pamela, what, there's about 20 days left, or so, maybe 19 or 18 days left, before the pinging from the flight data recorders, the voice recorders, the so-called black boxes, although here's one. It's really orange, it's not black.

Before those stop pinging, so these are critical moments right now, where everyone is looking for the evidence of what happened. And a lot of that evidence will certainly be found in those flight data and voice recorders.

ALMAND: It will. And hopefully, we will get, God willing, some new factual information that will help narrow that search area down, because it is a needle in a haystack. And although the flight off Brazil was found eventually, it took years.

It's just, God willing, we will find some details, because the biggest tragedy of this would be -- for the world and for the families -- would be not knowing, not knowing.

BLITZER: And let's not forget, 239 people were aboard that airliner.

All right, guys, stand by.

Coming up, you heard Jim Sciutto report the massive search area keeps growing and growing. It's now -- get this -- three million square miles, almost as big as the continental United States.

So how does that impact the hunt?

And I'll get the latest on the search from a U.S. Navy commander on board the USS Blue Ridge. Commander William Marks, he's been helping us every single day.

And the -- we'll get the latest from the U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet. That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Let's get back to our top story, the mystery of missing Malaysian Flight 370. New radar data support the idea that the flight took a sharp turn west just after communication was lost, but almost nothing is known about what happened next. Right now crews are searching a massive area of the Indian Ocean, about 3 million square miles.

CNN's Brian Todd is following the latest on the search.

Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that area is almost as big as the continental U.S. Take a look at the area in relation to the map of the United States. The search covers a massive region. The search is complex, and it's getting more so with the deployment of search teams from 26 countries. And there's one key piece of equipment on the plane sending out pings, but it won't be much longer.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): As each day passes, the search widens and the clock ticks. With batteries designed to keep pinging for 30 days, searchers may only have 19 days left to find the box with the flight data and cockpit voice recorders, and the batteries might be down to 63 percent.

ROB MCCALLUM, OCEAN SEARCH SPECIALIST: The odds of finding the pinger are very slim. Even when you know roughly where the target is, it can be very tricky to find the ping. They have a very limited range.

TODD: And you can't find that box until you find the plane.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is an enormous search area, and it is something that Malaysia cannot search on its own.

TODD: Two point twenty-four million square nautical miles, to be precise. An area nearly the size of the continental United States. Dozens of planes, ships and helicopters from 26 countries are scouring this massive region.

China and Kazakhstan are taking the lead in the northern corridor, stretching from northern Thailand into central Asia. Australia and Indonesia take the lead in the potential southern route, patrolling the Indian Ocean. The Australians are focusing their search on this area, the possible flight path they got based on the final pings from the plane to a satellite.

JOHN YOUNG, AUSTRALIAN MARITIME SAFETY AUTHORITY: They can't plot exact positions to each one, but sequentially, they can be built up into a possible route to the aircraft.

TODD: The U.S. Navy is deploying a P-8 Poseidon, built on a 737 frame, and a P-3 Orion, both high-tech submarine hunting planes that can each cover more than 10,000 square miles in one nine-hour flight. If the plane is in the water, another set of challenges. Search specialist Rob McCallum helped find the remains of Air France Flight 447 in the Atlantic. He says if Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 is found off the Bay of Bengal, off India, a key focus of the search, teams will have to go very deep to recover it.

MCCALLUM: The depth range in the Bay of Bengal is between 4 and 7,000 meters, which is around 12 to 24, 25,000 feet. So significant depths.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now, at that point submersibles would likely have to be used, either manned submersibles or remotely operated ones would have to go down to take photographs. On pictures there, you're seeing a manned submersible called the Allen (ph). There's a special arm on the Allen (ph) there you see, upper right now, and when we scan the video here you'll see it again there, that silver arm. That is used sometimes to recover the cockpit data and cockpit voice recorders. But again, the signal that box is sending out, losing battery power each day, Wolf. It is crucial every day that goes by.

BLITZER: It certainly is, Brian. Thank you.

The U.S. Navy is one group scanning the massive area. Joining us now on the phone, Commander William Marks, the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet. He's aboard the USS Blue Ridge.

Commander, thanks very much for joining us. What's the latest as far as U.S. assets searching for this plane in the Indian Ocean are concerned? What do you have going?

COMMANDER WILLIAM MARKS, U.S. NAVY (via phone): Last night our P-8 Poseidon landed in Perth, Australia and repositioned it south to Perth, Australia. We moved it from Malaysia, where both the P-3 and the P-8 were flying out of, repositioned it south, Perth, Australia. And that will effectively double our searching potential. So right now we have the P-3 flying out of Kuala Lumpur. That will fly the west-northwest track, as it has been, through to Andaman Sea and pretty deep into the Bay of Bengal.

BLITZER: So is it one P-3 -- Commander -- Commander, excuse me for interrupting, but is it one P-3 you're using and one P-8, or are there other aircraft that the U.S. is using?

MARKS: It's one of each.

BLITZER: And tell us what the difference is. What can a P-3 do as opposed to a P-8? A P-8, a Poseidon, is a lot more sophisticated.

MARKS: The P-8 is actually a brand-new aircraft in the 7th Fleet. Because of the region of the world we're in, the region where we're rebalancing all U.S. forces here in the Asia Pacific, we get the newest and the best technology first, and that's what the P-8 is, the newest and best control craft technology. It flies about 20 percent faster so 490 knots versus about 420. So wherever it needs to go, it gets there faster.

And more importantly, they have more on-station search time once they're there. In addition, it has advanced software, more advanced avionics, and overall, it's the next-generation aircraft.

BLITZER: They're excellent planes. Has either one of these planes over the past few hours -- and I know you're up to speed on this -- seen anything at all that could resemble wreckage of this airliner, any clues whatsoever?

MARKS: No, they haven't. And I can relate to a story from yesterday. The crew -- they fly at about 5,000 feet or so, and they had a decision to make. They were searching in the direction of an area which was not yet covered. And then over on the other side, a few miles away, they saw a very faint radar return. And so they -- it was a decision point that they decided to check out what the radar return was.

So then at that point they decreased their altitude to a 1,000 foot or so range. That way they could get a visual identification with both their electro-optical camera or people looking, and then they come back up.

So each flight is different, and they have -- we have seen hundreds of different objects in the water, debris, trash sometimes, nothing associated with an aircraft wreckage.

BLITZER: How good is the cooperation, Commander, with other nations who are also involved in this search?

MARKS: It's excellent. We are tremendously glad to see Australia leading the charge to the southern route. If you -- if you know the GPS pings, the one to the north goes over land. And really, the one from the south, stretching from Malaysia to Australia, hasn't really been looked at that much so far.

So that's why we moved the P-8 down here. But it's been an excellent collaboration or cooperation, especially moving from the Gulf of Thailand where it started out nine to ten international partners, and now we're up to 25, 26, bringing in India, Australia. And that he is the epitome of what we do in 7th Fleet, is work with all these maritime nations. So a tremendous collaboration.

BLITZER: One final question, Commander. Any thought in the 7th fleet to bringing in some more aircraft, either more P-3s or P-8s? I know the United States Navy has them.

MARKS: We are looking at that. You have to realize, we have continuous 24-hour operations in support of our missions. So I'll give you an example.

The P-8 and the P-3, those really are designed when we say they're great at searching to find small objects in the water, well, really they're designed to find submarine periscopes in the water. That's the small object they're designed to find.

So we have operations from in Japan and to the north, to the East China Sea to the South China Sea. So we have -- we have operations across 124 million square miles with all of these different countries. So we are looking at that. I don't have any plans, but our forces are out there all doing their mission.

BLITZER: And one last question. How deep could you spot something? In other words, if this plane is at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, let's say 12,000 feet, would you notice that? Would one of your aircraft be able to pick that up?

MARKS: Great question. The Indian Ocean is tremendously deep. I think the answer is not really. What we do first is search the surface of the water. If necessary, these -- the P-8 and P-3 can drop sonar buoys. For example, let's say we found the black box and we thought we knew where it was. A sonar buoy could be used to detect that frequency and triangulate it.

So we have a very slight ability to penetrate underneath the surface of the water, but for the most part, it's the surface and then that very initial sonar buoy later.

BLITZER: Commander William Marks with the U.S. Navy 7th Fleet. We'll check back with you tomorrow, Commander. Thanks to you and thanks to all the women of the 7th Fleet who are helping in this mission.

MARKS: Thank you.

BLITZER: Let's bring in Tom Foreman right now. He's got a closer look at the southern arc where part of this massive search is now focused. What are you seeing, Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's look at the map to get some reference for what the commander is talking about there. We know about the original flight. This is where it took off. This is where it headed up north. This is where it seemingly vanished, and this is where the Thai officials and Malaysian officials believe it turned left.

And if the satellite images are correct and we follow all of these other maps here, this is where it hits that big southern arc that leads down to the area that the commander just said has not been really been explored that much.

When we talk about the search area, we said many times today, if you combine all the search areas, it's an area as big as the continental United States. Look at this as a point of reference here. Now, the southern search area is not this big, but the areas they target are being put together, not simply by instinct but by a complex mathematical formula. They put in everything, the direction, the duration, the likelihood of finding something, all of that, and that's how they wind up with areas like this one, which is one of the areas that is being looked at down here by the Australians, about 2,000 miles off of their coast.

But Wolf, hour by hour, the equation has to be constantly changed, and it has to be changed because everything out here is changing. There's a whole theory of this type of searching and probability called Bayesian theory. And basically what it is saying is, as each element changes, you have to rewrite the equation to decide whether or not this is the best search area or should those resources be pushed off somewhere else.

But I will tell you this, talking about depth here, you may be talking about 2 miles of depth, compared to a couple hundred feet of depth back where the plane originally disappeared. And of course, we have all these currents out here which have been working now for days and days and days moving things around. That's why it's so complicated, Wolf.

But it is not by chance they wind up where they do or by instinct. It is by careful consideration and calculation of all of these places. And it change today. It may look chaotic, but it's not -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The commander said that those P-3s and P-8s, they wouldn't be able to determine if that plane is at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, which is, as you point out, two miles deep.

All right, Tom. Thank you very much.

Coming up, CNN confirms the flight route was reprogrammed from the cockpit. But who did it and why?

Plus, the mysterious silence from passengers. With possibly hundreds of cell phones on board, why wasn't a single call made as the plane flew for hours and hours?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: More now on the major new developments of the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

As we reported at the top of the hour, CNN has learned that someone inside the cockpit reprogrammed the plane's route away from the destination of Beijing, instead of sending it west towards the Indian Ocean.

CNN's Rene Marsh is here with us. She has got more on this very mysterious revelation.

What are you learning?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we know that that information is coming from a law enforcement official, again, that person saying that someone in the cockpit almost certainly programmed that plane to go off course.

And that is based on data. But what we don't know is what data they are looking at. And we don't know who may be responsible. But, as one pilot tells us, it's easy to change the flight path midair. That's if you know what you are doing in the cockpit.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH (voice-over): While people may thing pilots fly by hand, in reality, many of the turns they make are dictated by punching buttons.

Before takeoff, an airline dispatcher creates the flight plan. When pilots arrive at the airplane, their route is already set and programmed into the plane's flight management system, then takeoff.

In the case of Flight 370, as it was following its designated flight path to Beijing, CNN has learned more than 40 minutes after takeoff, the plane made an unexpected left turn that appears to have been programmed.

MARK WEISS, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: You see this over here? This is my route of flight.

MARSH: Former 777 pilot Captain Mark Weiss says altering a flight plan midair is easy. A pilot punches a few commands into the airplane's flight management system, which operates a little like a car's GPS.

WEISS: If I want to change that -- and that's a very typical scenario -- you may have weather in your path -- you may have oncoming traffic in your path -- I can type in another name of an airport, another waypoint that I want to go to.

MARSH: A U.S. official tells CNN, based on data, someone programmed Flight 370 to go off course. It's unclear if that happened during flight or before takeoff.

(on camera): So, if you decided, while you are in the air, to change your original flight path, no one on the ground would know it until you actually did it?

WEISS: That's right.

AHMAD JAUHARI YAHYA, CEO, MALAYSIA AIRLINES: Once you are in the aircraft, anything is possible.

MARSH (voice-over): The plane's ACARS, which communications information about the plane such as engine reports, maintenance requirements, and weather conditions to the ground could have revealed someone programmed a flight switch midair.

Experts tell us, that's not likely, but in this investigation, data is being used in ways it was never envisioned.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH: And, of course, if this is true, it backs up the theory whatever happened on board was deliberate.

But we want to drill down further. If that data can tell us when the change was programmed, that would be very significant. If it was reprogrammed long before the turn, that suggests there may not have been an emergency, and it was premeditated.

However, if it was programmed shortly before the turn, it may suggest mechanical failure or perhaps an intruder was in the cockpit.

BLITZER: Yes, so there are still many, many questions here. Rene, stand by.

I want to dig a little bit deeper.

Joining us now, aviation safety expert Hans Weber. He's joining us from San Diego. Also still here, our law enforcement analyst the former Assistant Director Tom Fuentes and CNN aviation analyst Peter Goelz. They're both with us.

So, Hans, let me show you, and we will show our viewers, this is not the one that is in a 777, but it's similar. You just push a few buttons here, and then you can change the flight path. When you hear these reports that someone in the cockpit changed the flight path for whatever reason, what goes through your mind? What was your first thought when you heard that?

HANS WEBER, AIRLINE SAFETY EXPERT: Well, I expected that.

BLITZER: Tell us why.

WEBER: Because -- oh, there's an echo, so I'm a little discombobulated with an echo.

Because the fact that the airplane changed its flight path indicates that somebody reprogrammed the flight management system. That's how it is done. That's the standard. There's very little hand flying anymore. Shortly after takeoff, you have the flight, the FMS take over until shortly before landing, which, by the way, is a challenge, because pilots don't get to practice their piloting skills all that much anymore.

But it takes a huge burden off the pilots not having to hand-fly the airplane.

BLITZER: Yes, it's an interesting point.

So, if you were leading, Peter, this investigation -- and you have led other investigations, you hear this latest report, someone inside the cockpit for whatever reason. It was clear sailing 40 minutes into the flight or whenever it happened. Instead of going to Beijing, they make a left turn out towards the Indian Ocean. Where does that lead you?

PETER GOELZ, CNN ANALYST: It leads you right back to the flight crew. You have got to be digging into their background, into every communication they have made in the last few months, into their financial situations, into their personal situations, into their political ideologies.

You have got to be able to eliminate them before you move on.

BLITZER: You think they are doing a good job, Tom? Because you have been involved in these kinds of international investigations, if you will, when you were at the FBI. Are they doing that? Are they doing a thorough job?

TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the problem is, even doing that, they could still come up negative because you could have a situation where you can't read the mind of either or both pilots to know exactly what they may have been thinking or what they may have been planning, if they didn't tell anybody else about it or show other outward signs of abnormalities.

So that's a problem, where you just always don't know what someone is thinking until they do it.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by. We're going to continue our analysis. Take a quick break.

Up next: hundreds of passengers, possibly with just as many cell phones. So why wasn't anyone able to make a call as the plane flew on for hours?

Plus, a closer look at what one of the pilots says is one of the most logical explanations, an electrical fire.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We will get back to the mystery of Flight 370 in just a moment.

But we're also monitoring the biggest crisis with Russia since the breakup of the Soviet Union back in 1991.

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has announced that his country is taking control of the Crimean Peninsula from neighboring Ukraine, just one day after President Obama warned there would be consequences if he did.

Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's following the story.

So, Jim, what happens now?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, White House officials condemned Vladimir Putin's move to seize Crimea. And administration officials vowed more penalties are on their way against Russia, as aides to the president maintained he's tough enough to take on Vladimir Putin.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(APPLAUSE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): In a scene that seemed straight out of the Cold War, Russia's Parliament gave Vladimir Putin a standing ovation as he ignored warnings from the U.S. and Europe and officially annexed Crimea.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): In our hearts, we know that Crimea has always been and always will remain an inalienable part of Russia.

ACOSTA: Putin's capture of the Ukrainian peninsula came even after the White House imposed sanctions on top officials in Moscow and raced Vice President Joe Biden to reassure NATO allies in Poland, where he insisted Russia will pay for what he called a land grab.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT: They will, in fact, see additional, additional sanctions by the United States and the EU.

ACOSTA: The crisis in Ukraine edged closer to conflict after one Ukrainian soldier was killed amid reports Russian forces stormed a base in Crimea. In response, Ukraine's armed forces authorized its troops to use weapons in self-defense.

Diplomatic tensions were also building. Russian's foreign minister told Secretary of State John Kerry there will be consequences to U.S. sanctions. Kerry agreed Russia has interest in Ukraine but questioned Putin's motives.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: That doesn't legitimatize just taking what you want because you want it or because you're angry about the end of the Cold War or the end of the Soviet Union or whatever it is.

ACOSTA: But the president's critics charged he showed weakness. In the "Wall Street Journal" Mr. Obama's former rival Mitt Romney accused the president of, quote, "failure when action was possible and needed.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Most of what we here called for, we are doing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now President Obama did talk about the crisis in Ukraine with German Chancellor Angela Merkel earlier today. He also called for a gathering of the G-7 leaders at the Hague next week on what's happening in Ukraine. That is a clear signal to Russia that not only might the Russians lose the opportunity to host a G-8 Summit in Sochi later this year, they might get kicked out of the G-8 altogether -- Wolf.

BLITZER: G-8 will become the G-7. All right. Thanks very much, Jim Acosta, for that.

Coming up next, we'll get back to our top story. The missing Malaysian Flight 370. There are hundreds of passengers when the flight took off. Possibly just many -- just as many cell phones. So why wasn't anyone able to make a call as the plane flew on for hours?

Plus, a closer look at what many pilots say is one of the most logical explanations for what occurred. An electrical fire. Is that realistic?

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BLITZER: It's another mystery surrounding Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 with possibly hundreds of cell phones on the plane, why wasn't there a single call from anyone as the plane flew on for hours before it vanished?

Our national correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is working this part of the story for us. Suzanne, people have been asking you that. What are you finding out?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, we've been discussing this all week essentially. I mean, wondering in this age of sophisticated social media, cell phones, technology, why we haven't gotten any evidence of those on board at the time of distress reaching out.

We know that if a cell phone keeps ring, it doesn't necessarily mean that the person on the other end is still alive. But what if it's possible that anyone in the Malaysian flight tried to contact their loved ones or ask for help.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX (voice-over): On September 11th, when hijackers commandeered four planes, passengers and flight attendants on board started making calls.

BETTY ONG, FLIGHT ATTENDANT, AMERICAN AIRLINES FLIGHT 11: Our number one got stabbed. Our purser is stabbed. Nobody knows who stabbed who, and we -- we can't even get up to business class right now because can breathe.

MALVEAUX: Using cell phones and air phones, those on board reached out to loved ones, sought help and ultimately warned others of the impending attacks. But for the missing Malaysia Flight 370, silence, no phone calls, no texts, no tweets. One theory that the cell phones didn't work because of the plane's altitude.

(On camera): 25,000 feet was much too high for a cell phone service signals to be received, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're just not going to get any consumer grade technology that would talk to the ground from that kind of height.

MALVEAUX: And so your cruising altitude, 25,000 feet, would it be possible to receive a signal from that point?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Occasionally possible but very rare.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): Another possible reason, no nearby cell towers.

(On camera): There was some point that the plane had been flying over Malaysia and there were a couple of cities, major cities, and there were some towns and villages. Is it possible that those signals could have gotten to a cell phone tower?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Again if people were awake trying to use their phone, and they were flying that low, it is certainly possible they got to that tower. However it's also possible that they weren't able to officially communicate because it's not just sending the radio waves, we have to actually be in touch long enough to have a little conversation. MALVEAUX: Those on board 9/11 flights were able to have conversations because the planes were flying very low in densely populated areas when their calls were received. But experts say most of those calls were not made from cell phones but airline phones which use radio or satellite technology.

A technology that has been phased out for the most part because of its high cost. But Malaysia Flight 370 did have air phones in business class. They might have been deliberately disabled along with the transponder and other communication system.

But CNN aviation analyst, Mark Weiss, says the more likely scenario is that no one called. Even when the plane reversed course.

MARK WEISS, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: The lights would have been dimmed. There would probably have been little or no cabin service. It was almost an hour into the flight. It was a very tranquil night. I understand the weather was good so it probably wouldn't have been turbulent. Nobody would have noticed anything. It would have been business as usual.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: There's another theory that aviation analysts are looking into in whether or not the cabin was depressurized either by the pilot or someone who may have wanted to sabotage the flight at 30,000 feet. Passengers would have passed out within seconds or if they had their oxygen masks they would have had 15 minutes.

Now our aviation analyst Mark Weiss, I talked to him. He doesn't put a lot of weight behind that scenario but there are others who say that with so much still to investigate, they're not ruling out anything.

BLITZER: Yes. It's interesting. A fascinating report. A quick thought why no one made any cell phone contact after that plane was simply flying and flying?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think Suzanne had it right. It was too high, traveling too fast. There were no towers. They're not designed to do it.

BLITZER: Yes. The silence is there.

All right, guys, thanks very much.

Just ahead, an experienced pilot says he thinks an electrical fire forced the plane to change course. We're going to tell you how likely or unlikely that theory is.

And the families of passengers are desperate for information. They're now taking their frustration out on Malaysian officials. We're going live to Kuala Lumpur and Beijing for the latest.

Our THE SITUATION ROOM special report continues after this.

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