Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

New Radar Data Received from Missing Airplane; Indonesia Refuses to Approve U.S. Flight; Crimea on the Brink of Violence

Aired March 19, 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 ANCHOR: Jake, thanks very much.

Happening now, the breaking news. We're following, the mystery of flight 370. Malaysia receives new radar data about the missing airliner but won't say what it shows. As investigators pore over the new information, an urgent appeal for more data goes out to countries in the region.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYING)

BLITZER: Anguish and agony from the families of the passengers. Distraught relatives are dragged away by authorities after begging the media for help.

And the search narrows. Stunning new details on why efforts are now focused at the far end of the southern corridor in a remote area of a vast ocean.

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

We begin with new clues that are emerging right now in the disappearance of Malaysia airlines flight 370. Here are the latest developments.

A senior U.S. official says a route change, that abrupt turn to the west, appears to have been entered into the airliner's flight system at least 12 minutes before the last voice contact was received from the cockpit. The FBI is now looking at hard drives from the computers of the pilot and the co-pilot, including the pilot's flight simulator hard drive. A Malaysian official says simulator data was erased and investigators are trying to recover the files.

And U.S. and Australian officials indicate the hunt the now focused on the far end of the southern search corridor, and that could put it more than 1500 miles off the coast of Perth, Australia in the middle of the vast empty ocean.

Our correspondents and analysts there are all standing with the kind of coverage only CNN can deliver. We being with our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto who have some brand-new information -- Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, CNN has learned that the Malaysian government has obtained new radar data relevant to tracking the path of flight 370 after it lost communications with the ground. And because this data could reveal sensitive military capabilities, Malaysia has yet to detail the new data or which country has provided it, however. It follows a broad appeal to all countries along this path for more data to indicate which direction it went and how far it went.

Meanwhile, as every day passes without hard information about the plane's fate, there's leading emotions of family members to boil over.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Begging for answers for one more day, today, loved ones of passengers on board flight 370 grew frustrated and angry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through text): I don't know where my dear is. Twelve day. My son, where is my son?

SCIUTTO: And when the answers didn't come yet again, the disappointment was simply too much for some of them.

Today, new attention focused on the pilots. The FBI is now reviewing a hard drives from their computers and the captain's flight simulator. Malaysian officials say data had been deleted from it weeks before the flight.

ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: We are in ongoing conversations about how we can help and will make available whatever resources that we have, whatever expertise we have.

SCIUTTO: The massive search area in the Southern Indian Ocean is now narrowing significantly. Surveillance aircraft from the U.S., Australia and New Zealand are now focusing on a much smaller area, roughly the size of France, centered here, 2,000 miles off the Australian coast.

JOHN YOUNG, AUSTRALIAN MARITIME SAFETY AUTHORITY EMERGENCY RESPONSE: Today, the said area has been significantly refined. You can see here, the lines that were prepared by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board have been refined somewhat based on more detailed analysis.

SCIUTTO: Malaysian authorities say they are now getting new radar data after reaching out to every country along the presumed northern and southern flight paths.

HISHAMMUDDIN BIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIAN ACTING MINISTER OF TRANSPORTATION: I can confirm that we have received from radar data, but we are not at liberty to release information from other countries.

SCIUTTO: U.S. officials tell me that one key reason they are increasingly focused on the southern flight path is that the northern route is so well covered by radar and by satellites that had the plane taken that path or like would it have been spotted. Though this southern area is becoming smaller and more refined, it is still huge and 2,000 miles off the Australian coast. Australian officials saying, Wolf, that even -- I mean, it shrank down, it's still going to take at least weeks to search the area.

BLITZER: Yes, even though it shrank on, still huge when you take a look at the relativity of the whole area.

Now, CNN is getting some new information about the flight's initial turn west. What are you learning?

SCIUTTO: Well, here is the thing. Basically, I think it comes down to the details that when the computer's flying the plane, it's more refined and smooth than when the pilot is flying the plane. And the data is showing now that the way the plane directed itself to radar way points, as you can see on the map now, was so precise that that follows a plane following a path of what has been entered into the flight management system. That had the pilot taking those controls, say it made that turn in response to something in the cockpit suddenly, it wouldn't have been as refined path. So it feeds into this theory that we were reporting first yesterday that this turn was preprogrammed into the flight before that final good night.

BLITZER: For whatever reason, very disturbing.

All right, thanks very much.

We're also learning more about the reasons why the search for the airliner is narrowing and why the focus is now on that far end of the southern search zone.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. What are you picking up over that, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Australia is searching a vast area, but right now, focus on about 117,000 square miles, big enough, isn't it, off that western coast of Perth. The map really tells you everything you need to know about this. How are they coming to this calculation?

Well, what they've done is with the help of the U.S. NTSB, the National Transportation safety Board, look at the satellite transmissions, calculated the fuel, the range and how many, most importantly perhaps, how many days this has been going on. And that's what leads to the urgency about all of this, Wolf.

As the days go on, the ocean currents shift everything around every single day. Based on what they know now, calculating all that data from the time they lost contact with the last transmission of the airplane, that's how they come to this box they're looking at right now. But officials are saying every day, the search box is going to change as time goes on and the urgency will probably grow.

BLITZER: And that box still the size of about New Mexico. So, does this mean they have effectively given up on the northern route?

STARR: Well, technically no. But I have to tell you, since this happened, every U.S. military and intelligence official I've spoken so says they've genuinely believe most likely it is somewhere sadly in the Indian Ocean. And why do they say this? Of course, it's because the U.S. has pretty good satellite coverage in Asia, especially China, Pakistan, those countries in there because they watch for ballistic missile launches. U.S., the most classified military satellites as far as anybody publicly knows right now, have seen absolutely nothing that indicates a plane is up in Asia. No country reporting legitimate verified, if you will, radar hits of a plane. Just simply no indication that it is up in Asia in any of those 11 countries and U.S. officials feel pretty confident as each day goes by, if there had been any information about it being up there, they would have heard it by now.

The issue is satellite coverage in the Indian Ocean. Commercial satellites have been moved that way. U.S. satellites, the classified satellites regularly don't cover that area, but they are going back through everything they have -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you.

Let's bring in our law enforcement analyst, the former FBI assistant director, Tom Fuentes along with CNN aviation analyst Mark Weiss, security consultant, former 777 pilot.

So Tom, do you think that now that they've narrowed the search in the southern area, does that mean, you think, that they're getting closer to actually finding something?

THOMAS FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I don't know, Wolf. This is a phrase we've heard about ten times in the last 12 days. We've narrowed the search area. I don't know completely what it's based on. It seems to be based on a negative that surely, some country would have seen it had it gone north.

Well, maybe yes, maybe no. We've seen where Thailand and other countries look back ten days later and say, well, it did come across our radar. So, I just -- I don't know much we can rely on just the fact it didn't show up there, or we don't think it did, to say it for sure went this way.

Now also, you could speculate the reason the area is being narrowed is that maybe Australia saw that plane on their defense radar system and said, OK, it's over here, but don't tell anybody we told you.

BLITZER: So, the FBI is now looking at the hard drive from the pilot, the co-pilot, from their personal computers as well as the flight simulator that the pilot had in his home. What do you think, Mark, they are looking for?

MARK WEISS, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, they certainly going to look for any type of track that pilot may have put in to the simulator flying along that corridor because that would not be normal route to flight that the aircraft would be taking. That's what they should be looking for.

BLITZER: So, they're looking to see if there's anything suspicious that all that might indicate this pilot in effect or co-pilot, the case of the simulator, that the pilot was rehearsing, if you will. That's the keyword I've heard all day. They're looking for some indication of rehearsal.

WEISS: I mean, right now, nothing has been found. And so, certainly, you don't want to cast dispersions right now where they may not belong. But this is what they are going to look for. They are going to look for that smoking gun piece of information.

BLITZER: You're a former assistant director of the FBI, even if it look like it's going someplace sinister on that simulation, it could be a logical explanation.

FUENTES: Right, Wolf. Well, if it's going to the circle that they have put on the globe in the Indian Ocean, there's nothing sinister about going to Australia. Air Malaysia flies to almost every major city in Australia already. And this captain could have -- if he did search going to those location, it may be that he's going to have an upcoming flight to one of those airports or that he's going to request being able to fly there if they have him on a regular Beijing route, maybe he wants to go to Sydney or Melbourne or Perth or (INAUDIBLE) or Brisbane, all which they fly to.

BLITZER: And you are pretty -- from you're hearing from your sources, Jim, that they're pretty confident these FBI experts, that they can retrieve what was deleted on these personal computers as well as on the simulator.

SCIUTTO: To a point, they're confident they can retrieve something, not necessarily everything. They say it is like fitting together pieces of a puzzle, right? It depends on what degree the files were deleted, but they can get an indication from it. And these are teams that that's their job. They've got an expertise in looking on computers for things that people don't want to find on computers. So if you had a team who could pull it off, it would be this team.

BLITZER: But if may come this, the fact that the computer in the cockpit that they had a different flight path that was programmed about 12 minutes before that co-pilot said to ground control, all right, good night?

WEISS: Well, Wolf, I still don't know how that information with that 12 minutes really came from --

BLITZER: It came from law enforcement source who's been briefed.

WEISS: OK. My understanding of how that system would work, it wouldn't know that on the ground. That could have been programmed on the ground at Kuala Lumpur from one of the pilots or somebody getting into the cockpit. I don't know that that system actually would allow that transfer of information back to the --

BLITZER: But it's likely supposed to go from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, non-stop, five hour flight, why would someone program in on the ground that it's going to go somewhere else to the west?

WEISS: Well, that's the point. That, you know, somebody could have done it on the ground or even in the air, but I don't know --

BLITZER: Is someone mischievously would go into the cockpit before the pilot and co-pilot checked all the systems?

WEISS: Well no, it would have had to have been after the pilot and co-pilot checked the systems because what you can is you'd get a flight plan from your operations, you'd check that flight plan against the computers, the distances, the way points have to match, they would have agreed.

But you've been on commercial flights when you've seen pilots get out of the cockpit and go to the bathroom. Go to talk to some of the passengers and people have been in the cockpit. Certainly at that point, something could be done. Or we've heard before that this has, you know, flights allowed other people into the cockpit. It's possible somebody could have tampered with it at that point.

BLITZER: And what are you hearing on that specific point?

SCIUTTO: You know what's interesting about this, in the investigation, we, the investigators, the U.S., the Malaysians, are using data in ways they never have before. And now that is partly because you don't have a plane or piece of the plane to get a lot of indications. But it's also because planes, devices, everything we do today sends more data than it ever has before. And the coverage of the earth, whether the satellites, radar, wireless communications from the plane via ACARS and the engines, these are systems that did not necessarily exist five, ten, 15 years ago. And it is incredible thing.

Also I think relevant, we did a lot of reporting on the NSA story. This is not, you know, the NSA is not spying here, but it is an example of the society that we live in today, where there's data coming from everything we sit in, ride in, use, talk on, you know, in a number of directions at any time and this is helping investigators.

BLITZER: Quickly.

FUENTES: Also, Wolf, you want to know what's the bases of the information. If they're saying we saw this on the ground, the computer change, that would be one thing. But it seems like they're saying the flight turned so smoothly, it must have been programmed. And my question with that is they couldn't tell you for sure if it went up 45,000 feet, down 23,000. At that point when we question that, they said well, it was at edge of the radar zone, so it wasn't precise enough. Suddenly, it's precise enough to know the turn smooth --.

BLITZER: We are getting new information and president where they are getting --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Stand by.

Up next, the CNN correspondent ready to go out on a U.S. search flight, but the American plane is refused permission to fly over Indonesian air space. I'll have a U.S. Navy commander in the region, what is going on.

And based on the latest revelation, we've put together a new minute by minute timeline of what happened aboard flight 370.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the mystery of this Flight 370. Let's take a closer look right now at this new search area, which apparently is narrowing, yet is still the size -- about the size of the state of New Mexico.

CNN's Tom Foreman is joining us from our virtual studio -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

It can look as if this is somewhat chaotic when you see how this has changed day to day to day. Especially when you talk about these two big arcs out here that sort of describe by satellite data, the northern arc and now the southern arc.

Why are they focusing so much on the southern arc now? This is an application of what's called Bayesian theory. They have chosen this place off the coast of Australia, because as they have adjusted the probabilities of where they might find this place, based on all the evidence they have, it started pointing more this direction.

So let me move this out into the floor here where it belongs and talk about what it means to search an area like that, because we know they have focused on this area now. We know that they've had all this information to look here, but this is part of what tells us how intense this is.

If you were out here searching this, it would be a very difficult task, because spotting anything on the water is hard, even for trained searchers. There are glares that come across the water. And there are white caps and also there's other debris that make it difficult to see.

One of the reasons we know they're very serious about this area is this, the P-8 Poseidon. This is a Navy plane that cost about a quarter billion dollars. The development of it took about 35 billion. And this is considered the state-of-the-art right now for submarine hunting in the world.

This plane has been sent down to that quadrant, specifically because it can look past all the things we can't see with our eyes. With its radar, it can search thousands of miles in a day looking for any sign of debris. That's why it's in this quadrant, and that's what tells us this is important.

But Wolf, I want to make a real point here. Even if you find debris on the surface, that's just the beginning, because if we were to fly down from that high level down to the water and then below the water, what you wind up with is what could be the actual resting place of this plane, if it in fact has been lost in the Indian Ocean.

And down there, two miles deep, more in some places, you will find mountains and valleys and all sorts of things that make the search even harder once you've narrowed it down to a real place to search -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Tom. Thank you.

Let's bring in two experts to discuss. Colleen Keller helped with the long search for the wreckage of the Air France airliner that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean back in 2009, and CNN aviation analyst Peter Goelz is a former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Colleen, you helped with the search for the Air France Flight 447. It took, what, five days to find some initial debris, but then it took another two years to recover the flight data recorder. Give us a sense of how daunting this current challenge is.

COLLEEN KELLER, HELPED WITH SEARCH FOR AIR FRANCE FLIGHT 447: Well, if you compare it to the Air France search, it's much more daunting, Wolf. The area is much larger, and we still don't have a very good motivation for what happened to the plane, whether it was a hijacking or some kind of mechanical failure.

We knew in the Air France search that we were looking at a mechanical failure that brought the plane down within four minutes of the last known point. Here, we don't have that kind of information. So we don't even know if the airplane did go into the water or over land. We don't know how it struck the surface. We don't know really anything. We're still searching in what we call a wide area search using wide area search centers like the P-8.

BLITZER: Yes. And Peter, you know, the first few days were wasted, basically. They were looking in the totally wrong area. And if there was an oil slick that had developed, that has long dissipated and you're not going to find that oil slick now.

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Absolutely. We ran a wild goose chase during the most critical part of the search, and Colleen is being a little modest. Two years, that was a miraculous recovery. I mean, they did an extraordinary job on finding that plane. And as she said, they had a hint of where it was. We have no hint where this plane is.

BLITZER: And so, Colleen, if they really don't -- if they're just looking randomly out there with planes and ships and satellites, whatever, give us a little sense of do you believe that it's possible they may never recover this aircraft?

KELLER: Well, yesterday, I was saying that, Wolf, but today, I'm very encouraged that we've narrowed the search area down at least to the southern half. It sounds like we haven't eliminated what we've focused on, on half of the original search area, so that's an improvement off the bat. We do need more data. We need to bring it down much more before we can get any sensors in the water.

BLITZER: How do you get that data?

KELLER: Well, I keep hoping that somebody's military is going to step forward with some secret information, but as far as I know, there's none to date. But that would be wonderful. I mean, if we could get one electronic hit from a cell phone, from an emitter on the plane, a sighting, that would -- that would do it. That would nail it down.

BLITZER: Because Peter, as you know, there's a lot of suspicion out there. Some of the countries in that area, in that region, they don't trust each other, that somebody might be withholding what could be critical information.

GOELZ: We have the Thai government saying nobody asked. And we don't know if there's covert activities or covert station or listening devices, perhaps in the ocean floor, that might have picked up something. We're just going to have to hope that the powers that be are going to come clean at some point.

BLITZER: And so Colleen, if you were involved in this search for this -- this jetliner, what would you be recommending right now?

KELLER: Well, we would love to get involved in the search and use the same Bayesian techniques that we used for the Air France search. It's very important at this point to be documenting everywhere you're looking, including the time you spent over the area, the kinds of sensors you were using, the altitude, the weather conditions. All this helps evaluate how effective that search was and eliminate those areas or at least reduce the probability that they contain the target. And it's not clear that we have all that information being recorded at this point.

BLITZER: Colleen Keller, thanks very much.

Peter Goelz, thanks to you, as well. You'll be back.

We're standing by to talk to a U.S. Navy commander who's in touch with this search area. We'll also dig deeper on today's news that FBI experts there are now examining the computer hard drive, the software from the pilot's personal flight simulator.

Plus, thanks to new information, we're revising our own timeline of the night the flight, the Flight 370, disappeared; and it's raising a glaring question. Why didn't Malaysia do something as soon as the plane disappeared?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: New focus of the missing airliner investigation, the hard drives from the computers of the pilot and the co-pilot, including the flight's flight simulator. The FBI is now on the case.

Brian Todd is here. He's looking into this part of the story. Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that pilot's in-home flight simulator is now a key part of this investigation, a key focus, a top priority, according to a law enforcement source.

We learned today some data was deleted from that simulator, and investigators are now scrambling to find out if that is a key clue.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): CNN is now told U.S. law enforcement officials are examining hard drives belonging to the pilot and first officer of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

At the FBI's forensic lab in Quantico, Virginia, they're combing through the hard drives that include software from the home flight simulator owned by the plane's captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah. Why?

DATUK SERI HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIAN TRANSPORT MINISTER: Some data has been deleted from the simulator, and forensic work to retrieve this data is ongoing.

TODD: Investigators aren't saying what data was deleted or if Captain Shah or someone else deleted it. The deletion is not necessarily evidence of ill intent. As one simulator user said on a Web forum: "All of us load and delete files in the sim continuously" -- 777 pilot Les Abend says Captain Shah may have simply felt there wasn't enough space on the simulator hard drive. He may have deleted a basic recurrent training exercise or:

LES ABEND, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: He may have simply been embarrassed with his performance on a flight simulator and deleted that, didn't want a memory of that particular occurrence.

TODD: But others say the deletion of data is unusual, even suspicious. Simulator manufacturer Jay LeBoff says space shouldn't be an issue. The files and simulator software are tiny and:

JAY LEBOFF, OWNER, HOTSEATSIM.COM: If they were just in a casual flight just for entertainment or for practice, that flight would never be saved and there would be no need to delete it, because it would not exist.

TODD: A company called PMDG, manufacturer of the software Captain Shah used in his simulator, says he had no relation to them, other than being a customer.

In a Web forum the head of PMDG defended Shah, saying those who connect his love of flight simulation to the plane's disappearance are engaging in wild conjecture that's insulting to airline pilots.

As for the forensics:

(on camera): If data from a hard drive and a flight simulator was deleted, how do they reconstruct it? JASON REBHOLZ, COMPUTERS FORENSICS EXPERT, MANDIANT: It's taking a known good image of that data. Because they're familiar with the program, they have an edge. So, they can go in, they can get an idea of the overall structure of that data, and what it looks like on the inside of the file.

From that point, they can go on to the pilot's hard drive and they can start searching on that for the specific signatures.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: But Jason Rebholz says time elapsed is key. If just a couple of days had passed since the deletion, he said it would be fairly easy to recover that data, but the data from the captain's simulator, according to Malaysian officials, was deleted February 3, more than a month before the flight disappeared.

Rebholz says they can still retrieve the deleted material, but if the hard drive was used a lot between the time that material was taken out and the time the plane disappeared, a lot of other data could have entered into that system and smudged that footprint, Wolf. It would be tougher to find it if it's a month between the time of elapsed and the time the plane disappeared. It may be tough to find.

BLITZER: Do we know if the pilot tried to protect any of the data, if it was encrypted, for example?

TODD: A law enforcement source told our Pamela Brown that it's unclear if any data was encrypted, not clear how much data was deleted. All of that information could tell them if this was kind of a routine deletion or if someone was trying to cover their tracks. That's what they're looking at right now at Quantico.

BLITZER: Yes, they're going to be busy over there. All right, thanks very much, Brian, for that.

Up next, we're going to take you inside the crucial moments of the night that Flight 370 disappeared. Why did Malaysia wait so long to sound the alarm after it was obvious something had gone so terribly wrong?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: All right, for the first time, the president of the United States is now taking about the missing airliner.

Just moments ago, he spoke with station KDFW. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have put every resource that we have available at the disposal of the search process. There's been close cooperation with the Malaysian government, and, so, not just NTSB, but FBI, you know, all -- anybody who typically deals with anything related to our aviation system is available. And, so, you know, our thoughts and prayers are with the families, but I want them to be assured that we consider this a top priority, and we're going to keep on working.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's get some analysis.

Peter Goelz is here.

So, the president of the United States, he says this is a top priority. You have been involved in these investigations when you were at the NTSB. When he says that, practically speaking, what does that do to the men and women who are involved in the effort, as well as the foreign countries who have to be out there on the front lines?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: I think two things.

One, for the Americans, everyone takes notice. And they say, all right, the president wants us to do this. If they weren't on their tiptoes, they're on it now. And they want to see something happen.

Secondly, it's encouraging the Malaysians, who have started to share more material, materials that are critical to the investigation with the U.S. over the past four days. It says to them, I see that, keep doing it. We're going to throw everything we can at it.

BLITZER: So, it's an important statement, sort of encouragement from the president. I assume, when you were involved in these negotiations, your reports would eventually go to the White House as well, probably up to the president, if it was a big enough investigation.

GOELZ: We would keep the White House informed on a regular basis on our foreign investigations.

BLITZER: All right, so, the president now says this is a top priority and we're going to keep working on it.

Stand by for a moment.

Today's new revelations as well as the ongoing clarifications from authorities keep changing everyone's understanding of what exactly happened on the night that this flight disappeared.

CNN's Rene Marsh is here.

Rene, you have put together a new timeline incorporating the latest information coming in.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

We figured we would reset. This is day 12 that we're talking about here, since Flight 370 took off from Kuala Lumpur. And its whereabouts are still unknown. This has become the longest search for a missing plane in recent aviation history, so, tonight, we look at the timeline of events we do know so far.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH (voice-over): Airport security cameras apparently capture the captain and first officer of Flight 370 reporting for duty. March 8, 12:41 a.m., the red-eye flight with 239 people on board depart for Beijing. Some time after takeoff, U.S. officials say it appears someone in the cockpit programs an unexpected left turn; 1:07, the last ACARS transmission about the health of the plane, 1:19, the last radio transmission, "All right, good night," believed to be from the co-pilot.

ABEND: All I could tell, it was a routine operation from the time that they should goodbye to the last controller.

MARSH: And 1:21, the transponder, which communicates altitude, coordinates, and flight number, stops. Flight 370 disappears from air traffic control radar.

The plane flies 100 miles off the coast of the Malay Peninsula. Next, it turns left, off its scheduled course; 1:28, Thai radar detects what's believed to be Flight 370 headed towards Kuala Lumpur, then turning northwest into the Strait of Malacca. At 1:30, Malaysia air traffic control loses all radar contact with the plane; 1:37, next expected transmission never happens; 2;15, Malaysian military radar detects what's believed to be the plane hundreds of miles off course near Pulau Perak.

And 2:40, authorities say air traffic control alerts Malaysia Airlines it's lost contact with the plane, 3:45, a code red alert from Malaysia Airlines, 6:30, Flight 370's expected rival time in Beijing, 7:24, six hours after the plane flew off course and disappeared, Malaysia Airlines publicly announces Flight 370 is missing; 8:11, more than seven hours after takeoff, a satellite makes the last electronic connection with the plane somewhere along these two arcs, a sign the plane was still intact with power on.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH: Well, after the airline was told its plane was missing, it waited another four-and-a-half-hours before it told the public. The airline says it first checked every communication possible.

That meant contacting other air traffic controllers and aircraft flying in the area to make sure they hadn't made any contact with this aircraft. They wanted to make sure that it was truly missing before they publicly said so, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, all right, Rene, hold on for a moment.

Peter Goelz, was that the wise, correct steps that the Malaysian government and Malaysia Airlines took? A plane goes missing, and you wait four-and-a-half-hours or so before you alert people there's a plane missing?

GOELZ: Well, there's a moment of absolute disbelief. This can't be happening. There must be some mistake. And that it went on for four- and-a-half-hours is a little...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But they would call the cockpit -- they would call the cockpit.

GOELZ: Repeatedly.

BLITZER: And they get no answer. And, so, they must be freaking out.

GOELZ: They are.

But they're trying every other option, other than the dreaded, we have had an accident, or the plane is gone. They waited too long. There's no question.

BLITZER: And did they alert others, Vietnam, Singapore, China, other countries that may have been in that flight path, hey, we got a plane that's missing, help us?

GOELZ: They undoubtedly called them, and they said, what did you see? Did you see anything? And I'm not sure there was the greatest response. They said, no, we never picked it up.

BLITZER: It's pretty shocking when you think about it, Rene.

GOELZ: Yes.

MARSH: It is. And I'm just wondering, in your experience, Peter, in context, here in the United States, had that happened here, what do you think the span of time would have been compared to what we saw there in Malaysia?

GOELZ: Minutes. Minutes.

BLITZER: When you say minutes, what would have happened within minutes?

GOELZ: Within minutes, there would have been calls going out. If -- when a plane goes off, they get very nervous, very quickly. Particularly because of 9/11. And they start with these procedures, they start trying to reach that plane. They reach other planes nearby. You can hear it on the tower calls from TWA Flight 800.

You know, there were three or four planes that were immediately calling in. They were reaching out to other aircraft, so it would be minutes.

BLITZER: And they would tell other pilots who may be flying along that route, have you seen anything, have you seen this plane? There's a plane missing. Would you scramble jets -- military jets to send them up in the sky?

GOELZ: Only if they had a place to go. If you saw -- if the plane was flying and did not ident, you would do that. But you would certainly contact other planes, say try to reach out to them. Maybe they're communications to the controller is out, try aircraft to aircraft communications. They would try everything. And they would try it quickly.

MARSH: So, in your mind, you drop the ball as far as what we know right now, air traffic control, would you say or --

GOELZ: I think clearly you start with air traffic control.

BLITZER: Malaysian air traffic control.

GOELZ: It's their responsibility to track the aircraft and when the aircraft goes off the screen, it's their responsibility to raise the alarm immediately.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by.

Coming up, a one-hour special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM. Right at the top of the hour, we're getting new information about how Flight 370's guidance computer was reprogrammed. Much more right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: As the hunt for the missing airliner focuses in on the southern Indian Ocean, we're learning that a U.S. search plane has been unable to carry out its mission near Indonesia.

CNN's Atika Shubert was due to fly on the aircraft. She explains what happened. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: As you can see the plane is all set to go but it's been delayed for hours. And it's a big frustration for the crew because they just haven't had clearance to fly over Indonesia to begin their search.

(Voice-over): While they wait for clearance the crew goes over the plan to search 27,000 square nautical miles just south of Java Island. The P-3 Orion was originally designed for hunting submarines but now it uses its radar to look for Flight 370 in the Indian Ocean.

(On camera): We've already done five missions so far. Can you run us through a little bit about what you do with each mission?

JORGE GUILLOT, MARINE COMMANDER: I run the radar, the meds system and the camera. So the radar is a primary sensor for search. Anything large in the water will show up on my radar. I'll take the camera, zoom in on it, and make sure that it's nothing of interests. But if it's something that might be of interest, then we'll drop down low and use observers, the flight station and our eyes just to make sure that it's nothing that could be, you know, survivor wreckage or anything like that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Atika Shubert reporting. Let's bring in Tom Fuentes, our law enforcement analyst, the former assistant FBI director.

It's pretty shocking that Indonesia wouldn't let this U.S. flight. They had to cancel the whole flight. The crew members, the plane, the P-3. They wasted a whole day, they could have been searching. Indonesia wouldn't let this U.S. plane fly through its air space. How do you explain that?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Can't, Wolf. It seems outrageous to me also. We don't know what channels they asked for or whether it got stuck somewhere in the midlevel of their military bureaucracy. But you would think that would be something that the ambassador could straighten out pretty quickly with the highest levels of their government and their defense ministry and say, what are you doing, and get that resolved.

So I think only Indonesia could explain what their reason was for that decision.

BLITZER: This is really an outrage. And we're going to work on this to find out what happened. Make sure it doesn't happen again.

Tom, stand by for that.

We're going to get back to our coverage of Flight 370 just a moment. But first there's another urgent story we're monitoring right now. Crimea stands on the brink of a potentially bloody conflict. Armed Russian supporters stormed Ukraine's naval headquarters in Crimea today and kidnapped Ukraine's Navy chief. Ukraine's acting president demanded his return warning Ukraine would take action.

The siege comes one day after a Ukrainian soldier was killed, another wounded.

Let's go to our senior international correspondent Ivan Watson. He's joining us from Kiev.

Ian, this looks -- Ivan, this looks ominous right now.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It does. I mean, what we see is a pattern now developing on the Crimean peninsula, a day after the Russians declared that they were annexing this piece of Ukrainian territory where these troops without insignia and groups of pro-Russian militia members take over Ukrainian military bases.

It's happened a couple of times now. As you mentioned one Ukrainian soldier killed yesterday with a gunshot that the Russian military has denied came from their direction. The Ukrainian government is trying to put up its tough stand. It has announced that it is going to impose visa restrictions on its neighbor Russia, on its citizens crossing the border.

It has announced that it is going to ask the United Nations to declare Crimea a demilitarized zone which would allow it then to pull its troops, thousands of troops out of Crimea, but the fact of the matter is very quickly Russia's allies on the ground in Crimea are establishing facts on the ground. They're pushing out the Ukrainian troops base by base and so far the Ukrainian troops do not seem to be firing back -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So what are the chances that serious conflict actually could break out between Ukraine and Russia?

WATSON: Well, that's a really important question right now. The Ukrainian government has announced it's put its military on combat readiness. It has announced partial mobilization of its military. It's calling up reservists. It's recruiting people. We've been to recruiting centers. Young men, older men lining up saying they want to come up and defend their country. They're signing up by the hundreds every day we're being told. And the Ukrainians are really preparing their border defenses as well.

The idea of a conflict erupting between these two nations is hard to imagine. It's like Canada fighting the U.S. These are two countries with the same languages, but it does seem like Ukraine is getting pushed into a situation where it feels like it will have no choice but to defend itself -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ivan Watson in Kiev, all right, thank you.

Coming up a one-hour special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM. We're following all of today's new developments in the mystery surrounding Flight 370 including new information about the change in the airliner's flight path.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)