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Mystery of Flight 370; Up to 24 People Dead in Washington Landslide; Search for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 Resumes After Delay; Ghost Plane

Aired March 25, 2014 - 23:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It's 11:00 here in the East Coast of the United States, 11:00 p.m., 11:00 a.m. in Perth, Australia, where the search is under way, the search is back on for the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. And with it, everyone hopes some answers.

Complicating the effort, of course, determining just how far the 777 flew before running out of fuel and therefore where to search exactly. Tom Foreman tonight shows us how investigators have been doing it.

First, I want to bring in our panel, though. Richard Quest, David Soucie, also joining us, Les Abend.

Richard, the news today, the news just in the last several hours that have been particularly significant is now we've learned, confirmed by Inmarsat, of a final communication or attempt at communication made by this plane or what seems to be made by this plane. Explain exactly what it is, a partial hand shake they're calling it.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Right. We've had six pings that they definitely know where the plane -- trying to connect to the ground through the satellite, the so-called handshake. And we know they were confirmed. But there was a seventh, which they called last night the partial ping. And that was significant because they couldn't say, and they were quite open about it, they couldn't say why, and they couldn't say the significance of it.

Today, they said that they don't believe this partial ping came -- was done by human intervention. In other words, Anderson, this last ping only eight minutes after the previous one --

COOPER: 8:11 a.m. was believed to be the last communication from this aircraft.

QUEST: The sixth ping, yes.

COOPER: The sixth ping, right.

QUEST: The sixth ping. Then you have this partial one at -- eight minutes later, 1:19. Now the -- 19 minutes past. The significance is, no human intervention, so nobody has tried to switch it on to register on the network. The significance, this is the plane, because it's a ping not coming from the ground station that way, it's the other way around, it's the plane to the ground station, and this they believe is very significant or will be in honing down exactly where the plane was, because it's only eight minutes.

COOPER: David Soucie, earlier on the 8:00 program, David Galo from Woods Hole called this potentially a game changer. Do you agree with that?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Absolutely it is. Absolutely.


SOUCIE: Well, for a number of reasons. I can derive some information from it, as well. That satcom system is capable of sending a signal when it senses an emergency, which this tells me that there was something still connected to it. Before, if you remember, the ACARS system stopped sending information back to that satcom.

COOPER: Right.

SOUCIE: So somehow that connection was broken. Whether it was turned off or whether it was the wire to it, whatever it may be. Now the satcom system also has other inputs from the engines and other sources that wouldn't go through the ACARS but would still tell that satcom to say I'm in trouble, I need some help, try to connect.

COOPER: And Les Abend, we talked to Miles O'Brien in the 8:00 hour. He was suggesting that partial ping could have been from an electrical surge or even the plane hitting the water, which would really help researcher -- investigators zero in on an area to search.

LES ABEND, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: I've contemplated that for a little bit. And what I thought it might be was the fact that the last engine shut down or flamed out, because of fuel exhaustion, which would have -- this airplane is designed to deploy a RAT, a ram air turbine, which operates both -- one system of hydraulics, one system of electrics.

COOPER: So that final engine stopping --

ABEND: Stopping, deploys that automatically, which would probably not be a priority for that one last electrical system and that would shut off the communication to the satellite one less time.

COOPER: Still would help start to give a timeframe for knowing when the last engine went out.

ABEND: It's possible, it's possible. It's speculation on my part.

QUEST: If these various pings show a radius of X miles from where the plane could be, on the sixth one, you've got up to an hour out of it where it could have been. But a ping only eight minutes later, that you can drill down and prove the significance of that. And suddenly you are honing a new still vast areas but you are really honing in on a much smaller area to search. It will still be herculean, don't get me wrong, but it will be a significant improvement.

COOPER: I want to bring in our Kyung Lah in the search headquarters in the air base just outside Perth, Australia, also David McKenzie is in Beijing because some very dramatic development today in Beijing where family members protesting publicly out in the streets, wanting journalists to see them being held back by authorities trying to stop them from getting to the Malaysian embassy to protest what they say, they believe, is some sort of a cover-up.

We'll talk to David in a moment, but Kyung, let me start off with you. What do we know about the search efforts that are under way both by U.S. Navy, by Australia, by New Zealand, China, even Korea now, Japan, what's going on today?

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We've just gotten the latest update from ANZAC, and what we're hearing -- and that's the Australian authority that's overseeing all this. And we now know that there are four search planes over the search area. It is being divided in three separate areas. Those planes are now on site. Three more are coming, a total of 12 will take to the air. The most planes that we've had since this entire search at least off of the coast of Perth since it all started.

As far as the sea vessel, the Australian naval vessel is zooming its way toward debris that was spotted on Monday, hoping to retrieve that debris. Hoping, Anderson, that this might be it.

COOPER: And, David, obviously as I mentioned, a lot of anger in China from the families of those who are missing. As I said before, out of respect for them, this program, we are not and have not been showing pictures of them in their moments of grief and anguish yesterday when they didn't want to be photographed, and they were told that the flight ended in the South Indian Ocean.

Today, a different story, which is why we are showing the pictures, a show of strength protesting in the streets of Beijing, something unheard of in China, trying to get to the Malaysian embassy. Family members and their supporters.

Do the families have any reason to believe that they'll start to get more information? What was the result of this unprecedented protest?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, it was unprecedented, as you say, here in Beijing in the heart of the communist party. Very unusual to have a protest like this that isn't quickly wrapped up by authorities with people detained. So in this case, the family members got out from that hotel, they gathered a very organized protest. They ended up walking all the way to the Malaysian embassy and they got into that area.

Keeping press away were plainclothes and police in uniform. What they want is evidence. They say they want actual hard, visual evidence of debris. Otherwise they won't believe what they're hearing from the Malaysian government and the Malaysian Airlines authorities.

There's a great deal of mistrust here between the families and the authorities. And until they see that, they won't believe it -- Anderson.

COOPER: Kyung, what do we know about the new piece of equipment from the United States that's arrived in Perth? LAH: It's just arrived here, just within the last hour or so, Anderson. We did get confirmation from the United States embassy in Kuala Lumpur that this piece of equipment, it's a high-tech piece of equipment called the Towed Pinger Locator. The best way to think about this is it's like a giant hearing aid that goes into the water and it can hear those inaudible to our ears at least. pings coming from the black box.

But here's the problem, until the debris is found, it is just going to sit here in Perth, because they have to first find the debris, and then they can use it -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. And, David, what kind of formal pressure does the Chinese government continue to try to exert against Malaysia?

MCKENZIE: Well, there has been no love lost in this issue with the plane going down and the Chinese, even the official Chinese Foreign Ministry saying they want more evidence, as well. So through the days as this drags on, the Chinese state media has put out very pointed editorials, at one point saying that the Malaysians at best showing a dereliction of duty.

That's fed in, in some way, to this anger shown by the families. The Chinese president saying he's going to send a team in and -- an envoy to help with the investigation. Unclear what they'll be doing in Kuala Lumpur. But certainly, both through their actions in terms of the major assets China is sending for the search, Anderson, and through their words, they're ratcheting up the pressure on Malaysia.

COOPER: All right, David McKenzie, appreciate it. Kyung Lah as well. David Soucie, Richard Quest, Les Abend.

Let us know what you think, follow me on Twitter @andersoncooper. Tweet us using #ac360.

Coming up, how do you find a plane in the ocean? We're going to show you how waterproof microphones are listening for any pings from those black boxes.

And later other breaking news. The death toll climbing in the Washington state landslide.


COOPER: Our breaking news tonight. The search is back on for the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. And with it everyone hopes some answers. Complicating the effort determining just how far that plane flew before running out of fuel and therefore exactly where to search. And our Tom Foreman shows us how investigators have been doing that.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, in terms of a primary search area, we're no longer talking about millions of square miles. But we're still talking about a big area. About 621,000 square miles.

How do you break down something that big, even with a lot of assets? Well, this is how it's done. Imagine our plane coming in here over this search area in the Indian Ocean, and this is what they essentially do, they will impose a grid on the ocean. But all of the squares of this searchable area are not equal in value. For example, in this case, you might say the most likely place is the middle, because that's simply where all the averages come together.

That's why you've chosen this square. That doesn't hold true necessarily as more evidence comes in. For example, they have some idea that if this plane were flying slower or faster, it could shift left or right. It might come over here to this side a little bit if they get more data that suggest it was going slower or push over that way if they think it's going faster.

What about when it ran out of fuel? They don't actually know when it ran out of fuel. And if this thing is flying at 400, 450, 500 miles an hour, a 10-minute difference in your anticipation, very, very far off in terms of that distance. So if the fuel depleted quickly, at the earliest possible point and there was no glide at all, then you push your primary search area way up here. And the rest of it becomes a less important box.

But if the opposite is true, if the fuel calculation is off so that it went as far as possible, and it glided as far as it can, a plane like this can glide for well over 200 miles, look, now your primary search area moves much, much further away. That's why the box has to be so big to accommodate all these possibilities.

And yet even as it has that size, Anderson, they try to cut it down a step at a time to increase the likelihood, the probability that they'll find this plane.

COOPER: Tom, thanks very much. And that is why this news tonight of this attempt at communication, attempt at partial handshake is so significant, because it does help try to focus the area of the search if in fact the -- for instance, that attempted handshake was when one of the last engines went out, or perhaps even when it went into the water.

A look now -- we want to take a few moments, just look at the tools that search teams can use in the Indian Ocean and will use. There are sonars, hydrophones, essentially waterproof microphones usually develop to locate enemy submarines.

Stephanie Elam tonight has a demonstration of both -- she's in the boat -- in a boat off the Pacific Coast near Santa Barbara, California.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, it is really interesting technology and it is a difficult task we're talking about. I'm joined right now by James Coleman, he's a senior hydrographer. He's with Teledyne Reson and he is going to show us the hydrophone, first of all, and shows the difference between this and a sonar.

So let's start with a hydrophone. How does this work? JAMES COLEMAN, TELEDYNE RESON: Exactly. This is a hydrophone. And it's a -- there's a number of varieties of hydrophones but basically a hydrophone is an underwater microphone. This is the type of device they're going to be using either towed behind a boat in long tails or by dipping over the side or while you're launching from aircraft in order to listen for that underwater pinger.

ELAM: And then how far can it hear? How wide?

COLEMAN: Only about five miles.

ELAM: Only about five miles. So this is how you're trying to find the basic area of where any flight data recorder might be.

COLEMAN: Exactly. You need to find the wreck site.

ELAM: All right. So if we go from this, we -- let's take a look at the sonar because the sonar is what you're going to do to get a little bit closer or if that battery dies on that flight data recorder.

COLEMAN: Exactly. So this is an example of a sonar. The difference is the sonar is going to actively emit sound down to the seafloor. As it receives the signal coming back from the seafloor it's going to interpret that and build up a 3-D map of what's on the bottom. So this device is used to map out what's on the seafloor.

ELAM: But you've got to be right on top of it for that to work.


ELAM: So let's go inside and take a look at how this data is translating starting off with the data coming in from the hydrophone and how that looks when you basically let this computer hear what it's picking up.

COLEMAN: Exactly. Now the hydrophone you could just put on your ears and you could listen to what's in the ocean, and you're listening for that once-per-second click coming from that pinger. Or you could look at it visually. And this is a -- this is a spectrum of the noise in the ocean. This is ocean noise here on the boat.

If that pinger were nearby we'd see a sharp spike at that 30 to 40 kilohertz where we're looking for that pinger once a second on the display.

ELAM: And while that's one bit of data coming in, you also have this data coming in which is the sonar, correct?

COLEMAN: Exactly. So this is the mapping sonar. We're looking below the boat. We're getting that information that comes back to interpret what's on the seafloor. So we're building up a 3-D point cloud of the information that's on the seafloor as well as a visual display of what's down there. We have a pipeline, we have a tire and some different obstructions.

ELAM: So you can see that. And this put all together can tell you let's go back and take a look at it.

It's really great technology. But unless you're right there, Anderson, you're not going to be able to pick this information up. So you really have to go through and look at this data very slowly.

COOPER: And, Stephanie, how long does it take to scan, you know, an area of the ocean floor?

ELAM: Whoa. That's one big question in the Southern Indian Ocean because it is so, so deep there. You've got to work to get this equipment as low as possible down to the ocean floor. And then trailing it behind you. And think about how long that cable is going to be. Trailing that behind you. You can't go too far or too fast because you might lose something, lose connection.

So you're talking about painstakingly slow work to go through the ocean. And especially when you have not really a good idea where it is. It takes a very long time. So that explains why this process has been so long in the Southern Indian Ocean -- Anderson.

COOPER: We're back with our panel. CNN's safety analyst David Soucie, CNN aviation correspondent Richard Quest and Les Abend, a 777 captain and CNN aviation analyst.

I'm really fascinated, and we talked about it at the top of the program, this partial attempt at a handshake. Let's zero in a little bit more on what could have possibly caused that. Do you believe -- and I ask you this earlier about -- what Miles O'Brien has said, the idea that perhaps as the plane went into the water, it might have caused some sort of a surge that would have attempted this partial handshake.

David Soucie, do (INAUDIBLE) anything to that?

SOUCIE: Yes, surge is a wide term, but when I think of a surge, you're talking about an electrical supply difference, which in my mind wouldn't have caused that but would -- what would have is the input, something being input into it which electricity can be put into the input sensing. So yes, I think that's highly probable.

ABEND: You know, my scenario that this bus system that took over from this ram air turbine that we talked about at the top of the hour, that will surge. In other words, your instrument panel momentarily will go blank when you're using it, you know, in the simulator situation but that could be a surge situation there.

COOPER: Also, Richard, do we have -- are we any closer to understanding, are investigators any closer to understanding whether or not the plane was on autopilot or under manual control, given the turns that we now know the aircraft made?

QUEST: No, we're not. We're not in any shape or form. We know the first turn, then there's west turn, or the southwest turn, and then there's the turn, the long turn that takes it down into the South Indian Ocean. I think clearly no pilot is going to be standing there or sitting there holding the controls for the full seven hours. I think that's highly unlikely for full six, seven hours as the plane winds its way down until fuel exhaustion. But by the same token, even if it's not on full autopilot, the plane will -- the plane will keep going if you take -- it's a myth that you take your hands off the controls, and Les can talk to this, and the thing suddenly turns.

COOPER: Well, I mean, if both engines go out, and again it depends, I guess, how quickly they go out one after the other in terms of any kind of a turn or remain straight, but how long can the plane just basically glide for?

ABEND: Well, it'll -- and David can correct me on this because you've investigated some accidents, but I -- it's going to reach its own natural stability. In this airplane, it's electronic stability. But then Boeing builds in, you know, its own natural, you know, flight control type. I mean, it's an airplane, it's going to fly even if it doesn't have power to fly. That's what it's meant to do.

SOUCIE: And if one engine goes out and the other, remember this a dihedral wing, so it naturally finds its own center. As the -- if the aircraft, let's say the right engine goes out and it starts going like this, eventually that wing is going to reach a flat spot and create more lift than this one because it's lost lift. So a dihedral means that weight is underneath the center of gravity --

COOPER: So it can go for some distance once it's leveled up?

SOUCIE: Absolutely. I think --

ABEND: Will still glide.

SOUCIE: Close to 27 miles actually.

COOPER: Twenty-seven miles. Yes.

ABEND: Well, it depends upon the altitude.

SOUCIE: Without power. Yes.

COOPER: David Soucie, Les Abend, Richard Quest, thank you always.

You can find out more on the search for Flight 370 at

Just ahead, we're going to drill down on one theory of what happened to the plane, the so-called ghost plane theory, the possibility that investigators are looking at that the plane was on autopilot for much of its doomed journey, that the crew and passengers were somehow incapacitated. We're going to show you inside a simulator, what that would look like from the cockpit.

Plus, the breaking news tonight from inside the United States. Up to two dozen now known dead in the landslide north of Seattle. The search under way, has been under way all day for any survivors and for those still unaccounted for, new developments tonight, ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back. There's more breaking news tonight. The death toll rises in the Washington state landslide. Up to two dozen people now confirmed dead. The fire chief saying tonight that two more people were pulled from the rubble and they believe they found eight more bodies.

One of the victims found this morning has been identified as U.S. Navy Commander John Regelbrugge. His dog was with him. Family members say his wife is still unaccounted for.

The fire chief also said just a short time ago that it has been a challenging search effort with so much debris.


CHIEF TRAVIS HOTS, SNOHOMISH COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT: What we're finding is these vehicles are like twisted and tore up into like pieces. You know, I saw a car out there and I saw one piece of the car, like, an eighth of the car. And it was just all twisted and -- it's just amazing the magnitude and the force that this slide has created and what it has done. And it's not just done that to cars, it's done that to these buildings.

And so, you know, your carpeting and photo albums and streaks and boats and woodpiles and all these things, and all this mud that's heavy.


COOPER: One part of the mountain collapsed Saturday morning north of Seattle. A wall of mud buried everything in its path as you were hearing. The debris field is a square mile. Here are two 911 calls that have been released by authorities.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, no, no. There's a freaking mudslide. And all I see is dirt. Now we watched hundreds of trees come falling out of -- I'm on Sea Post Road Highway 530. And there's not even a house here anymore.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are there any injuries?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. There's people yelling for help.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My neighbor's house and their neighbor's house have been completely taken out. And it's collapsed on several of them. And they're trapped.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Let me get that sent through. Advise them. You know that they're inside the home still?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I'm standing in the location right now and I can hear them tapping underneath. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And yelling at us.


COOPER: Just horrific. On Saturday, searchers found this 4-year-old boy stuck in the mud. Mud that's almost like quicksand. They were able to finally to pull him free.

Tonight, the hope of finding anymore survivors is fading. As I mentioned. the death toll has risen.

Gary Tuchman joins me now with more.

Gary, we just heard that the death toll has risen. What are they saying about how the search is going and what's most effective? Are they even able to search at night?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, they're not able to do anything at night. And it's pouring rain right now to boot. It's a very dangerous area. I mean, it's basically, Anderson, it's like quick sand. Some people described it as a mud tsunami. Literally during the daytime, but particularly at night, that's why they can't go full force at night.

You could step in a hole that's five or six feet deep full of mud and water. So the situation is still very dire but it's very important to mention that emergency officials are telling us their top priority is still at this hour to possibly find survivors. We know those are not just empty words. We've seen it before in hurricanes and tornadoes and hurricanes and flood that we've covered that people have been found days or weeks later.

But the sad news is today no survivors were found. And as you say, two more bodies are recovered so the official death toll, 16. They say, though, they saw at least eight more bodies that they can't get to. And that illustrates how dangerous is. They saw bodies that they can't get to so they do believe that at least 24 people are dead and maybe even more than that.

There are hundreds of emergency officials at the scene. What we're being told is among the most valuable people -- among the most valuable beings, and I emphasize the word beings at the scene, are police dogs.


HOTS: What's been most effective is the dogs. The dogs have been most effective at locating people. If we go back to Saturday when we had the most rescues, the most effective tool was our county sheriff's helicopter. Going on the last three days, the most effective tool has been dogs and just our bare hands and shovels in recovering people.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: It's heroic work that they're doing and dangerous work that they are doing given these conditions. It is hard to get a sense of the scale of this from the images. We see them tearing down one house that's been affected by this. Do you have a sense of how many houses, how many structures were impacted by the mud?

TUCHMAN: I mean, that's the thing, Anderson. It's a relatively compact area compared to other disasters we've covered, like the earthquake in Haiti, which was much of the country. This is a one- mile wide area. Just down the street from where I'm standing. There's actually a blockade that is set up behind me, because they don't want civilians going in there. They're basically saying we don't need more rescuers, we have enough rescuers, we have enough machinery, we have police dogs. However, there are some residents who are there who have been helping out with their all-terrain vehicles. So those residents are out there helping out some of the rescuers who are on the scene, but right now, it's very important for us to point out, although there are still some people at the scene, they can't do much at night, they can't do much in the rain. It's expected to rain tomorrow, but when the sun comes up, they will be out there, hoping beyond hope they could find some survivors.

COOPER: Gary, appreciate it, thank you very much. Search teams did not find survivors and have not since Saturday. For families, who are still waiting for word on their missing loved ones, obviously it is the worst possible news. Some have already resigned themselves to the worst. Here's George Howell.


NICHOLE WEBB RIVERA, FAMILY AMONG THE MISSING: If you've seen the maps and you've seen the extent of the devastation and the consistency of the mud, I can tell you with great soundness they're not going to find my parents or my daughter or her fiance. I really feel that they're gone.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's almost like planning a funeral for loved ones, but without any proof or real knowledge that they've died. Nichole Webb Rivera is beyond the hope that her parents, Tom and Marcy Satterlee (ph), along with daughter, Delani (ph) and fiance, Alan (ph), are still alive.

RIVERA: It might be weeks or ever if they find our people. So today is the first day that we're getting there. We're going to go and just be with our people and grieve together.

HOWELL: Their only focus now is to come together as a family. For Nicole, that means getting as close to her parents and their daughter as possible. Their home undoubtedly demolished in the disaster zone. So they allowed us to follow them to the place where Nicole grew up in Darrington, arriving at a community shelter. This family finds some comfort.

RIVERA: It's just fabulous to be with people from the community and see how they're all supporting each other, to hold people that knew my daughter. She was a cheerleader at Darrington high school in 2010. It's just good. It's healing.

HOWELL: They came here to see these volunteers, offering help to other families who have been affected. And to ask simple but now complicated questions. Nicole's aunt wants to know how to close her brother's affairs.

DEBBIE SATTERLEE, FAMILY AMONG THE MISSING: What do I do now? What if they don't recover my brother's body? What do I do?

HOWELL: Amongst all the uncertainty, the decisions and wondering, they reflect on a bit of solace.

SATTERLEE: It would be great to get the body. But I understand, if we can't, if we can't, they're in the right spot. They actually had plans to have a family funeral plot on their place. My brother and sister loved that place. So if they had to go and stay, (inaudible).

HOWELL: George Howell, CNN, Darrington, Washington.


COOPER: I talked to her yesterday on the program. And a lot of people wonder why people talk publicly in a time like this, in a moment of grief. And she made two points, that she wanted you to know, that she wanted people to know. One, she wanted to publicly thank all the first responders who were out there risking their lives, searching. She also just wanted to let people know the impact this event has had on this small town, a town where many people know each other and many people are connected one to another. And just the devastating impact this has had on their community.

Up next, with so many questions remaining about flight 370, we're going to take a look at the so-called ghost plane theory, the idea that the jet flew on automatic pilot for hours. It is a theory that investigators are looking at, perhaps even after the passengers and crew were unconscious. How likely is that? We'll show you in a simulator. Also ahead, why the black boxes may not solve this mystery, even if they are found. We'll tell you what's happened in past instances.


COOPER: Well, as the search continues for any wreckage of flight 370, so continues the search for answers. The big question, still looming, what happened to this plane? The mystery has led to a lot of different avenues for investigators. Right now we want to take a look at the so-called ghost plane theory, that everyone on board was perhaps unconscious because of loss of pressurization or smoke from a fire, and then the plane continued to fly for hours on autopilot until it ran out of fuel. That is one scenario investigators are examining. Now, it happens very rarely. It does happen. It has happened. So we're going to go to Martin Savidge to see what that might look like from the flight simulator. So Martin, explain that idea, what it would look like due to a loss of pressurization or some other incident. MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, ghost plane, zombie plane, plane without a brain. But it would begin with maybe some kind of an alarm that would go off. Could be fire, could be sudden decompression. Either way. And we are simplifying this greatly. Pilot, Mitchell here, puts it into a very steep descent. At the same time the aircraft begins to turn. Now the idea is of course you want to get this plane heading back to some airport. We were over water at the time, so we would head back to Kuala Lumpur or the closest nearby. But you're descending, primarily because you have only got so much oxygen. The pilots would already have their emergency oxygen on board if it's a sudden decompression. The passengers have had the mask flop down in front of them. They only get about ten minutes. So you have got to get down quickly to an altitude where people can breathe, in this case we're saying 12,000 or even better would be about 10,000 feet.

But for this scenario, you are stabilized. You get the aircraft back into a reasonable position. You level off. You apparently have figured out it's not that severe, and somehow you get it on automatic pilot, or you put it on automatic pilot and you're overcome either by smoke or simply lack of oxygen. You pass out, passengers pass out. Airplane has got plenty of fuel, it's on a predetermined course, and it will now fly for hours until it eventually just runs out of fuel. So that's the scenario. We don't know if it really happened that way, but many speculate it could have.

COOPER: Miles O'Brien, the plane though, did make several turns. So would that be possible under an autopilot scenario?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You would have to put in the way (ph) points for those turns, and that, given the scenario you just laid out, is highly unlikely. What that pilot would have done is exactly what Marty and his friend, I'm sorry I'm spacing out on his name.

COOPER: Mitchell.

O'BRIEN: Mitchell, did in the simulator. They would turn around, do a 180, head back to land, get down to 10,000 feet as quickly as possible, and then, if they were overcome, the plane would just continue on that heading.

What we see from the Inmarsat data that was released today are two additional turns. Two additional turns. One sends them up to the northwest, and then the other one sends them down to the south, to the area where we're searching.

So in the heat of that battle, as it were, will they have put in extra way points? Would they have stored way points? But even if those were stored way points, it didn't make any sense. It didn't take them to an airport that was close by. So unfortunately, that's where this theory tends to fall down. There must have been something else going on.

COOPER: And, Richard, as you look at the map, and you and I were looking at it, it does look as if -- there's an argument to be made that it looks -- that the plane was perhaps trying to avoid Indonesian air space.

QUEST: If you actually look at the map, and we're running the animation now, that turn that Miles was talking about to the northwest, and then to the south, it's not just -- that last turn south appears to avoid Indonesian air space deliberately, or at least going over land of Indonesia.

Now, if you were an extremist, first of all, you're going over Malaysia again, and there are airports where you could land in Malaysia, including a very large at Malaysian Royal Air Base where you could have landed. And secondly, there are plenty of places with a mayday call that you could have landed in Indonesia.

And then you've got this southwest -- or this south turn before you get this long journey down into the south Indian Ocean.

So the ghost plane theory is there, and Helios, which was in 2005, was exactly that. The pilots became overcome, everybody was overcome, except for one flight attendant who managed to get to the cockpit. They scrambled -- this was in Cyprus. They scrambled fighters, and the fighters actually watched the plane all the way to the ground. They watched the engines flame out on both sides and then they watched it go into the mountainside. So that was on autopilot. That is an example of what would have happened.

COOPER: Martin Savidge, if a plane runs out of fuel, as is believed happened here, how does a plane this size enter the water? Are there different scenarios? Is it a glide down? One engine loses power before the next?

SAVIDGE: These are things we've been trying to simulate. Put it into like neutral, if you will, and we'll sort of show you. We can't shut the engines off, the simulator just doesn't allow that. It would do all sorts of computer problems. But we have tried this, put the engines completely in neutral, take the plane off of autopilot, and then you let go of the controls, and the aircraft is designed and is engineered -- and this is true of many aircraft -- that it's built to fly. Even though the engines are no longer running in this scenario, the plane is designed to be level and controlled and to make a slow descent, and we are doing that. It's a very slow and gradual.

Now, again, it's a simulator, so of course the engines, it's possible one would flame out after the other. Mitchell believes that actually one engine, if it were still running, would compensate automatically for that, right?

CASADO: Yes. We have a thrust asymmetric compensator in this aircraft, the 777. So yes. In an event of an engine failure on takeoff, for example, any asymmetric thrust is going to be compensated for in an event of an emergency. I'm not so sure the electrical, if you had electrical power, if that would happen. But any airplane, big or small, most of the time it's going to be designed to be stable.

SAVIDGE: We're still descending, we're still going down, but still level. And it's possible that you could wing over and die. COOPER: Miles, what is so -- the thing about this is that no matter what theory you look at, that investigators are looking at, there are holes in each one. There are questions that can be raised that don't make it obvious what happened.

O'BRIEN: Yes, we don't have anything clear cut here. But I'll tell you, I'd like the guys in the simulator try one idea if they would. Let's assume the left engine is the first engine to be started generally. That's the custom. Let's assume the left engine flamed out first. If you guys could put it -- and let's go with the 12,000 foot altitude, which we've been talking about. I don't believe a lot of these altitude numbers we've been hearing about.

So let's put it on autopilot, 12,000 feet, give it asymmetrical thrust with the right engine going and the left engine off. I'm curious if the autopilot has enough authority to compensate for that asymmetrical thrust. In other words, if one engine is going full gun, the other one is down, will the autopilot still hold heading, or will it disengage and will the plane start turning to the left? This would be very helpful for searchers. Because if we know at that point, let's say, they had that last partial handshake, if that's what happened, if they lost one engine, then we could get an idea of how far it might be able to fly on one engine, and if, in fact, it would stay on heading. That's all useful information that might help us.

COOPER: Mitchell, do we know?

CASADO: I can try it here. It would take some time.


SAVIDGE: We're at 22,000 feet.


COOPER: What is your sense of what might happen, do you know, Mitchell?

CASADO: Yes, the thrust asymmetric compensator, once again, if there's electrical power in the airplane, then it would compensate. That's what it's designed to do. But we don't know if it had electrical power, and that's the key question.

COOPER: We'll be on at 11:00 and we'll try that out. Appreciate our panel being with us. Martin Savidge, Mitchell Casado, as always, Richard Quest, Miles O'Brien. Up next, searchers racing against time to find those flight data recorders, the so-called black boxes before they stop pinging. The question is, will they actually help solve the mystery? Some questions on that ahead.


COOPER: Welcome back. If the search in the southern Indian Ocean turns up any debris at all from flight 370, hopefully it will give investigators some clue, or at least the beginnings of clues that they can start to piece together what happened on board the plane. The flight data recorder and obviously the voice data recorder could be key to solving the mystery. You all know that. But the thing is, even if those black boxes are found, they may not answer all the questions. Randi Kaye looks back at some past examples.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the sound of a pilot in trouble.


KAYE: That was the pilot of Swissair Flight 111 talking to air traffic control just minutes before he crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 1998. Everyone on board was killed. When crash investigators found the plane's black boxes at the bottom of the ocean, they were stunned.

LARRY VANCE, DEPUTY CRASH INVESTIGATOR, SWISSAIR FLIGHT 111: Both the recorders stopped recording about 6 minutes before the aircraft actually hit the water.

KAYE: Leaving investigators to wonder why they suddenly lost control of the plane. It was a fire, they later found, in the jet's entertainment system, which also caused the black boxes to fail. But it took putting the plane back together, all 2 million pieces of it, to figure that out.

(on camera): Bottom line, the so-called black boxes aren't perfect and they're not black, either. They're usually orange. On an airplane, they're tucked inside an insulated case, and surrounded by stainless steel. They're built to withstand temperatures as high as 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit and catastrophic impact.

(voice-over): After TWA Flight 800 went down in July 1996, just 12 minutes after takeoff from New York's JFK Airport, the plane's black boxes were recovered, but they offered little.

PETER GOELZ, FORMER NTSB MANAGING DIRECTOR: Both the voice recorder and the data recorder terminated their operation within a nanosecond of each other when the explosion took place.

KAYE: Still, despite all the conspiracy theories, investigators say they figured out an explosion in the fuel tank caused the crash and shut down the recorders.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) American 77, by chance?

KAYE: On 9/11, 64 people died onboard American Airlines Flight 77 when it slammed into the Pentagon. Fire crews spent days trying to put out the flames. The two black boxes were found in the wreckage, but the cockpit voice recorder was too charred to offer anything of value.

GOELZ: It flew in with such force and the fire was so intense, that nothing could have survived that impact. KAYE: If the black boxes are ever recovered from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, investigators still may have questions. The cockpit voice recorder starts recording over itself after two hours. So the moment something went very wrong may remain a mystery.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


COOPER: With me again, CNN safety analyst David Soucie and CNN aviation analyst Les Abend. Is the data recorder or the voice recorder, is one more important than the other?

ABEND: They both complement each other. In this particular case, you know, there's a lot of supposition with reference to the CVR, the cockpit voice recorder may not have any information other than the fact that if it goes blank for the last two hours, there's no talking.

COOPER: Because it's taped over --

ABEND: Right.

COOPER: What would be most fascinating would be immediately after the signoff and the turn, which is not going to be on there.

ABEND: Which you may not have on there.

But still, the fact that it's blank will tell you something also, that there was no control over the airplane, which we're kind of speculating about.

COOPER: And the data recorder, how extensive is the data?

SOUCIE: There's 17,000 data points on that thing. And it's recorded every second. You have a lot of information. You can tell exactly where the ailerons were, the flaps, the engine, the speed of the engine, the vibrations in the engines. There's so much information that can be used in that.

ABEND: And that's all paired up with the cockpit voice recorder and all the data into a program that you can literally track the airplane through its entirety.

COOPER: Is there -- the technology exists that this could be, I don't know if stream is the right word, but transmitted in real time, couldn't it?

SOUCIE: Absolutely.

COOPER: It's just a question of expense.

SOUCIE: Well, maritime ships do it all the time. If the ship goes down in maritime, it has -- it's sending information up there, where it is, what the position is, what its speed is, what its direction is.

COOPER: So planes could do this, it's just an expense for the airlines?

SOUCIE: Yes, it's an expense for the airline, yes.

ABEND: We might have discussed this last night, but in the North Atlantic, it's a required part, because of the -- what's required for navigation.

COOPER: The heavy traffic.

ABEND: Yes, but there's what we call track systems. So there's a lot of airplanes, as you might imagine, at night, going to Europe. So this is part of that system. So that is available.

COOPER: It was interesting just seeing the video in Randi's piece, the black boxes from other crashes, they are kept in water after they're found. Can you explain why?

SOUCIE: Basically what you want to do is, if you have anything that's in saltwater and you take it out, you see those white crystals start to happen on there? So if the container is breached, meaning that any water got into it, you want to make sure that it doesn't start getting that salt on it, and oxidizing pieces inside.

COOPER: So you keep it in water as long as you can.

SOUCIE: Yes, you do want to keep it in there, so when you do take it out in a controlled, dehumidified environment, you can control that kind of corrosion.

COOPER: Fascinating. David Soucie, appreciate you being on as well, Les Abend as well. We'll be right back.


COOPER: That does it for this edition of 360. Thanks very much for watching. We'll see you again tomorrow night, "AC 360" at 8:00 Eastern. Make sure you can set your DVRs so you never miss 360. The CNN special report, "MYSTERY OF FLIGHT 370," hosted by Don Lemon, starts now.