Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

New Development in Investigation of Malaysian Flight 370; U.S., British Officials Not Ruling out Terrorism in Plane Disappearance; Was Pilot Involved in Disappearance? ; Crisis in Ukraine

Aired March 26, 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: Happening now, breaking news -- the mystery of Flight 370.

Was it a suicide mission?

New focus on the pilot of the airliner, including a report suggesting the captain, quote, "deliberately diverted the plane."

FBI investigators are working around the clock to retrieve data from the pilot's and the co-pilot's hard drives. Right now, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says terrorism or political violence cannot be ruled out.

And search planes are getting ready to take off once again. They're focusing in on finding what authorities call the most credible lead so far -- 122 objects spotted by a satellite in the Indian Ocean search zone.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Extraordinary new information in the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Right now, we're following two breaking developments. "USA Today," the newspaper, quotes a senior Malaysian investigator as saying police now believe the captain deliberately redirected the aircraft. But sources tell CNN there is no firm conclusion on that.

And it may be the best lead yet in the hunt for the airliner -- aircraft will take off shortly and everyone on board will be looking for 122 objects spotted by a satellite. Ranging in size from about three feet to 78 feet, they were floating in the search zone, spread over 154 square miles. But the satellite images were taken Sunday and storms may have scattered that debris even further.

Our analysts and reporters, they are standing by here in Washington, as well as around the world, with the kind of special coverage that only CNN can deliver.

First, though, to the breaking news, stunning new details on the investigation of the men who were actually flying Flight 370. Tonight, "USA Today" is reporting that the overseas investigation is focused in on the captain of the plane and whether he took the plane down deliberately.

CNN is learning more tonight about that investigation and what American officials are saying.

Let's go to our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, for the very latest -- Pam.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, while the "USA Today" article reporting points to a deliberate act by the 53-year-old captain, Zaharie Shah, tonight, U.S. officials tell me they have found no physical evidence to support that theory, though they still aren't ready to rule anything out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN (voice-over): Sources tell CNN the captain, seen here in a new tribute video posted online, did not leave a suicide note or any other evidence at his home that would suggest he planned to take down Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Tonight, CNN has learned from sources that after a preliminary review of the hard drive from Zaharie Shah's home flight simulator, U.S. investigators have found no smoking gun.

JAMES COMEY, DIRECTOR, FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: I have teams working literally around the clock to try and exploit that. I don't want to say more about that in an open setting, but I expect it to be done fairly shortly, within a day or two, to finish that work.

BROWN: Sources say so far, it does not appear Shah went to great lengths to scrub the hard drive when files were deleted last month, or that he had encrypted any of the files.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you tell us what you were doing inside the house?

BROWN: Sources say investigators have also not found any incriminating data on the hard drive of his 27-year-old co-pilot, Fariq Hamid, seen here in an interview with CNN's Richard Quest weeks before the plane disappeared.

Tonight, sources say the FBI is still working to build a profile of the men's emotional, financial and personal backgrounds, and to review interviews of family and friends being done by Malaysian investigators.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The first week, I think people were looking at mechanical failure. So there's probably just about two weeks of actual time to do a thorough investigation. That's not enough time to really turn over all of the potential clues in an investigation like this.

BROWN: Shah, seen here going through airport security, was a respected pilot who had been with Malaysia Airlines since 1981, flying more than 18,000 miles. The 53-year-old, seen here with his family, was married with three grown children.

CNN is not showing their faces.

The family lived here in a gated community. But a source close to the family says his wife routinely stayed somewhere else when he was flying.

In his free time, he posted videos like this one online.

ZAHARIE SHAH, PILOT, MALAYSIAN FLIGHT 370: As a community service...

BROWN: Showing him in front of his home flight simulator, talking not about his job, but about his interest in home improvement projects. While Shah posted frequently to YouTube and Facebook, less is known about Shah's co-pilot, Fariq Hamid, who had just finished his training on the 777 and was on his first flight in the cockpit unsupervised on the jumbo jet.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BROWN: And the co-pilot was also engaged to his flight school sweetheart, we learned. Now, again, sources say while there is no concrete proof, evidence at this point the pilots deliberately sabotaged that plane, examining them is still a top priority for investigators. But, Wolf, as one of my sources said, I don't think there is any prevailing theory right now. There are counterarguments to every theory.

And the sense I get from talking to sources is that people are still baffled by the plane's disappearance.

BLITZER: They certainly are.

Pam, thanks very much.

Pamela Brown reporting.

Let's bring in our aviation analysts, the former 777 pilot, Mark Weiss, along with CNN aviation analyst Peter Goelz, a former NTSB managing director, and CNN law enforcement analyst, the former FBI assistant director, Tom Fuentes.

So, we're going to be speaking shortly with the world editor from "USA Today" on their reporting, why they believe -- they have their sources with the Malaysian police, suggesting that the pilot, not the co- pilot, the pilot may have deliberately diverted the plane, for whatever reason.

So what are you hearing -- Tom, because you are pretty well plugged in with this investigation.

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Wolf, I've been informed by a senior Malaysian government official that there has been no information developed that's derogatory against either pilot. And that includes that they searched their house and there was nothing left in the house, no suicide note. There's been nothing found about their finances, their personal lives, that indicate depression or being in an extremist group or some other reason to be motivated to either commit suicide or that they went crazy or that. There's no evidence of it. There's no indication of it.

They did say that the FBI promised that the report should be in the hands of the Malaysians by Friday or on Friday.

BLITZER: The FBI report of the hard drives...

FUENTES: Yes.

BLITZER: -- from the flight simulator he had in his home...

FUENTES: Exactly.

BLITZER: -- as well as their personal computers.

FUENTES: Right. But they've been informed so far nothing derogatory has been developed. But the investigation is continuing, but will be wrapped up within a day or two and they'll have the results by the end of the week.

BLITZER: That's what you heard James Comey, the FBI director, saying, within the next day or so.

FUENTES: Yes.

BLITZER: They hope to get that...

FUENTES: And I was told that...

BLITZER: -- they hope to get that report...

FUENTES: Right.

BLITZER: -- confirmed.

Have they managed, as far as you know, to re-create all the deleted, erased files?

FUENTES: No. I was not given the details of it. That will all come out when the report is given to the Malaysians, when the Malaysians choose to release that information.

BLITZER: So, Peter, you were involved in the EgyptAir suicide pilot investigation.

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Right.

BLITZER: To this day, the Egyptian government doesn't believe it was pilot suicide. They insist it was something else. You at the NTSB, the United States, concluded it was pilot suicide.

GOELZ: (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: So I raise that because I'm not really surprised the Malaysians, for whatever reasons they may have, they don't want to go as far to make an accusation like this against a fellow Malaysian.

GOELZ: That's right. And the Egyptians, at first, were more receptive to our approach. But I can tell you, the NTSB had no doubt about EgyptAir. We had the evidence. It was clear. But for whatever reason, the Egyptians would not accept that. And we had that evidence starting to build early on in the investigation.

BLITZER: How early?

GOELZ: We knew within 48 hours that the co-pilot had had a confrontation back at his hotel and that he was under severe disciplinary judgment from the airlines.

BLITZER: So that was your initial suspicion and then it bore fruit as you continued the investigation?

GOELZ: Absolutely. BLITZER: How long did it eventually take you to conclude that, for sure, it was pilot suicide?

GOELZ: Three weeks. Once we got the voice recorder and the voice recorder was transcribed, we knew without a shadow of a doubt what had occurred. BLITZER: Now, we don't know -- obviously, we don't know, Mark, that the pilot or the co-pilot had anything to do with it. For all we know, they might have been heroes trying to resist somebody else trying to come into the cockpit or whatever.

But let's assume the pil -- one of the pilots wanted to do this.

Could a pilot, on his own, turn off the transponder, turn off the electrical communications capabilities, all the radar, all the pinging, everything else, silence satellite phones that may have been in business class, or whatever, all the other communications on that plane?

Could one individual potentially have done that and continue that plane flight for seven hours into the Indian Ocean?

MARK WEISS, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, Wolf, again the hypothesis has always existed that this could have happened from the cockpit. Again, we don't know if they were heroes or one of them or both of them were trying to take down the airplane.

But absolutely somebody from the cockpit, one of the pilots could have taken that down. We've seen rogue pilots before. It's not a very big part of the population.

BLITZER: But what if the pilot -- let's say the pilot, the 53-year- old, Zaharie Shah, the veteran pilot, for whatever reason, wanted to do it. He has a co-pilot who's sitting right next to him, the 27- year-old junior pilot, shall we say, and he's resisting.

What do you do then?

WEISS: Well, if he's resisting, you know, again, go back to what we first heard, that there was swings in the altitude. We don't know that that's true, but to me, that early on said there could have been a possible struggle in the cockpit to maintain control or to keep control over that aircraft. So that's a very po -- that's a real scenario.

BLITZER: You think that investigators are looking at this possibility -- and it's just a possibility?

It's just a theory right now, that the pilot may have decided, for whatever unknown reason, to do something like this?

WEISS: They have to look at it. There's no other question. You've got examine it. You've got to put it as a priority. But you can't zero in on it to the exclusion of others. But you've got to look at it.

BLITZER: Does the FBI, are they playing a role in speaking to family, friends, or are they simply relying on Malaysian authorities to do that?

And we know the FBI is looking at the hard drives, trying to recreate the deleted files.

But are they actually on the ground talking to people about, let's say, the pilot?

FUENTES: Right, the Malaysian government is -- their police are doing that. But getting back to the original point, in the EgyptAir case, the rea -- they defended their pilot because either it's EgyptianAir's fault for having this pilot crash that plane, or it's Boeing's fault for the plane breaking in midair and crashing. In this case, the Malaysian government isn't innocent whether the pilot does it or not, because if it turns out to be lack of cockpit security, lack of airport security, somebody from the ground crew, a passenger breaking into the cockpit, all of that still makes it negligent security on the part -- it's not the pilot versus Boeing, it's the pilot and Malaysia.

BLITZER: There -- Peter, there was another pilot suicide that you guys worked on, the Indonesian SilkAirlines plane.

GOELZ: Right.

BLITZER: The U.S. concluded it was pilot suicide. The Indonesian government never accepted that either, did they?

GOELZ: They did not. and...

BLITZER: What was their argument then?

GOELZ: Well, they -- they tried to identify it as a rudder problem. But it was clear to us that this plane did not perform the way a previous 737 that did have a rudder issue crashed. And we looked into his background. He had had severe trading losses on the monetary exchange. He had just taken out an air -- a large life insurance policy. And the way in which the voice recorder was turned off gave us indication.

BLITZER: Mark, you're a 777 pilot. Is there any smoking gun evidence, anything you would look at right now to determine if one of the individuals in the cockpit may have been responsible for this tragedy?

WEISS: Well, certainly, you're going to go back into their training records. You're going to go back into, as we've already heard, into their personal histories, financial histories, talk to the people that they flew with before, talk to the cabin crew members, the cockpit crew members.

Was there anything out of the ordinary?

If you've known them for years -- remember, this pilot had been with them a few decades, so he would have had experience to be working with other people. That would have been an area that we want to (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: How significant, if at all, should it be that the pilot, the 53-year-old pilot, Zaharie Shah, was politically active with the opposition in Malaysia?

I'm sure they're looking at that.

But is that something that investigators should be looking at to see how active politically he was with the opposition, especially the opposition leader...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

BLITZER: -- who was sentenced to a long prison sentence?

And there were reports that the pilot actually may have been close to the courtroom during that sentencing.

FUENTES: They looked at it very closely. And the fact that he had that political affiliation, they still don't find any reason, based on that, that he would crash the plane because of politics. That's their determination as of now.

But, again, it doesn't rule out that any of these things aren't true. It just says that as of now, they have not found anything.

BLITZER: They want really hard evidence...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

BLITZER: -- which is totally understandable. You don't want to convict someone, who may be dead right now...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

BLITZER: -- without giving a fair chance for that person to make his case right now.

What else should they be looking at, if you were involved, Peter, in this investigation? GOELZ: Well, I think you want to go back to look at finances, personal relationships. You want to dig into political affiliations. And you want to see if there was, as Tom pointed out, any change in his personality over the past month or six weeks. I mean that's where you've got to dig. And you've got to dig deeply.

BLITZER: But all those questions are being investigated by Malaysian authorities, not U -- U.S. officials don't have access to that kind of information, Tom, is -- am I right?

FUENTES: They are -- that is a very outstanding police force, the Royal Malaysia. And the FBI has worked closely with them for more than a decade. The FBI worked Jamai Islamia, the al Qaeda. Al Qaeda held their summit meeting in Kuala Lumpur before the 9/11 event here. So this is not just some...

BLITZER: Better than the Indonesian police force?

FUENTES: Well, they're a good -- they're good police, too. But this is...

BLITZER: Because they're the ones who disputed the U.S. conclusion on the SilkAirlines pilot.

FUENTES: Well, I mean there's -- there's political reasons. And if there's a way you can introduce some kind of a mechanical, you take a liability off that country and put it on Boeing, the manufacturer, or Rolls Royce, if they made the engines.

BLITZER: Or if it's national pride.

FUENTES: Or national pride.

BLITZER: We don't want to acknowledge that.

GOELZ: Yes. And it was...

(CROSSTALK)

GOELZ: -- in SilkAir and in Egypt -- in SilkAir, it was national pride. There was an element that they did not want this to be on their shoulders. In EgyptAir, there were a number of other national security issues (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: Very quickly, what were they?

GOELZ: Well, if you recall, the Malaysian government themselves, over the issue of turning the aircraft, said human hands turned that plane...

BLITZER: Right.

GOELZ: -- not mechanical. So they are right there saying it's our liability. It's either our pilots or our lack of security that let somebody else come in and take over.

But a human flew that plane. They're saying right there it was not (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: That's a fair point, an excellent point.

Thanks very much.

Guys, don't go too far away.

Up next, so was it a suicide mission? I'll speak with the "USA Today" editor about that paper's report suggesting the pilot deliberately diverted the airliner. Stand by for that.

And it may be the best lead yet in the hunt for the airliner: 122 objects spotted by a satellite. Now search planes, they are getting ready to take off in a new hunt for the debris.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: As investigators focus on what went on inside the cockpit and the backgrounds of the pilots, could terrorism or political violence have brought the plane down? Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is taking a closer look into this part of the story.

Barbara, what are you finding out?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, when Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the British minister of defense came here into the Pentagon briefing room to talk to reporters earlier today, I asked them whether they had ruled out terrorism once and for all. I want you to listen to what they both have to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I don't think at this point we can rule anything in or out. I think we have to continue to search as we are. And you know the United States continues to stay committed.

PHILIP HAMMOND, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE FOR DEFENSE: We cannot rule out anything at this stage unless, and until -- unless and until we recover the cockpit voice recorder, we will not know for certain. And that search goes on and we, too, are assisting in the search, and we just have to hope that we will be successful in locating that vital piece of evidence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STARR: So, you know, perhaps a real reflection of the bottom line, which is nobody knows at this point, but could it have been a terrorist attack? Well, one of the reasons a lot of government -- U.S. government officials are sort of trending away from that idea is there's been no claim of responsibility by any terrorist group, and that's what you would typically see in a terrorist attack.

But if, in fact, as people are beginning to suspect, it might have been something deliberate from the cockpit, from someone in the cockpit. Always possible they might have had a political motivation; could have been personal trouble, something like that. The idea that it may have been a deliberate action from the cockpit keeps coming back, Wolf, to the notion that people are looking at, at least around the U.S. government, that the plane flew, made some very deliberate turns, flew on for several hours, something that's not very easily explained, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. The suspicion being someone deliberately made all those turns, changed the altitude and all of the rest.

All right, Barbara, thanks very much.

Let's take a closer look now at the suggestion that the airliner's captain deliberately redirected the plane and that the crash was no accident. That's at the heart of a new article just reported in "USA Today."

And I'm joined now by the paper's world news editor, William Dermody, along with CNN law-enforcement analyst, former assistant FBI director Tom Fuentes and our CNN aviation analyst Miles O'Brien.

William, thanks very much for coming in. Let's talk a little bit about this report that you have. Tell us specifically what "USA Today" is reporting.

WILLIAM DERMODY, WORLD NEWS EDITOR, "USA TODAY": That investigators who have been on this since day one are telling our reporter on the ground at Kuala Lumpur that they're focusing solely on the pilot as the reason for the disappearance of the 777.

They believe that -- that there's no mechanical error involved in this, no sort of Payne Stewart-like folks falling asleep, and it falling on auto pilot. They concluded that the pilot himself must have been the one to redirect the plane, bringing it down into the southern Indian Ocean.

They ruled out the co-pilot, who was a 27-year-old staff member. They felt he didn't have the ability to do such a thing.

They've checked through the passenger lists, and they believe that no one on the flight could have manipulated the plane in such a way. So now they're interviewing relatives and friends of the pilot to try to figure out if something happened the day, March 8, the flight took off and perhaps determined what sort of mood he was in or if anyone had an inkling of his plan.

BLITZER: These are Malaysian investigators your sources are citing, right?

DERMODY: We have a source, a high-level source who's been working on the investigation since the beginning for the Kuala Lumpur police. He works for a specialty unit there.

BLITZER: A Malaysian person?

DERMODY: Yes. BLITZER: And so that's your source, and you've obviously checked in with other sources to see if there's corroboration from FBI or other sources here in Washington?

DERMODY: We're doing that now, so we expect to hear from them sometime.

BLITZER: This is a high-level Malaysian law enforcement-type source who is now saying the focus should be on the pilot, the 53-year-old pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah.

DERMODY: Exactly.

BLITZER: So let's ask the former FBI assistant director. You hear the reporting from "USA Today." What goes through your mind?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW-ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, the sources I have -- have been saying from the first day that, yes, they focused intensively on the pilots the very night the plane went missing along with passengers, ground crew, luggage handlers, you name it.

But that nothing has come up that's derogatory about the pilots, that the search of the house came up, of both houses, both pilots came up with nothing. They've reviewed the computers. The hard drive records have been sent to the FBI. That report is due out shortly by the end of the week. And to date, nothing has been developed derogatory.

That doesn't mean they stop looking at them. It doesn't mean it's less intensive today than it was 19 days ago. It just means that from day one to day 19, nothing derogatory has been developed that they can determine.

BLITZER: Have you heard of anything derogatory specifically about the pilot, Captain Shah?

DERMODY: No, in fact, our source tells us they found absolutely no ties to any militant group. They haven't found any evidence of militancy at all, which is why they're baffled as to any sort of motive.

BLITZER: So why do they come to this conclusion that he might have deliberately wanted to kill himself and kill all these other folks?

DERMODY: Some of it is process of elimination. They can't find any other rationale for it and they, according to the evidence they have thus far they don't believe that the plane was somehow mechanically disabled so that it would fly down that way. They believe it had to be done manually, and they feel that the only person who could have done that on the plane is the pilot.

BLITZER: The only person with the technical skills to shut down the transmitter, the transponders and all the other communications capabilities and everything else and redirect the plane toward the Indian Ocean. Your source, your law enforcement source in Malaysia concludes it was the pilot. DERMODY: That's right. So now they're trying to find out from some of the people close to them if there's anything that occurred in the days ahead of the flight that maybe they didn't realize was important but may have been.

They compare it to previous investigations where someone had sort of had what they call a freak out, where something occurred and they decided to do something very drastic, and they had no -- no prior background or inkling that it was going to...

BLITZER: So it's just the presumption basically that they have -- because they don't have any direct evidence that the pilot did it. They're just ruling out other possibilities, and they're coming to this conclusion without direct hard, concrete evidence.

DERMODY: Well, no. They don't have any statements from the pilot or anything that would indicate that. But what they do have is what they say is a lot of circumstantial evidence that who else could have done it? They're focusing on him.

BLITZER: So Miles, you're a pilot. What do you think about all this?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: I think that it sounds like they have a hunch. They have a strong hunch. And the fact that the captain would be at the top of the list, and they're homing in on it, to me frankly isn't much of a news flash. I think we've been talking about that for a long time.

What we see is a lot of evidence of a deliberate act, those two separate turns that occurred after the turn-back, which could have looked like some sort of decompression event, indicates some sort of willful event.

Who was the person that forced that willful event? Certainly suspect No. 1 would be the captain, but I don't know that there's any evidence to say -- to rule out that the co-pilot, he has 2,700 hours, and he just came off his initial operating experience, which makes him very capable in the 777.

And how can they say they don't know for sure that somebody didn't try to commandeer that aircraft? There's no evidence here. And so I think to say that the pilot is at the top of list, we all can agree on that, but there is no evidence to prove that.

BLITZER: All right. Well, it's an intriguing thought, and I'm sure "USA Today" is going to be doing more reporting. We're going to be more -- doing more reporting. We can't confirm this, but we're certainly intrigued, and we're certainly going to follow up.

Guys, thanks very, very much.

When we come back, the massive search for Flight 370 expected to resume any moment now. We're going live to the staging ground in Perth, Australia, for the very latest. Plus, will the searchers find those more than 100 objects seen floating in those new satellite images? Could they be part of the missing plane? We have new details. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The massive search for Flight 370 about to resume just a little while from now, the critical question, whether those planes can find the more than 100 objects revealed in the new satellite images see floating in the Southern Indian Ocean.

Our Brian Todd is taking a closer look at this part of the story. He has got new details -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A significant discovery, here Wolf, possibly the break we have been looking for, according to some analysts.

But those objects are also scattered over an area the size of Denver. The question now, have the objects stayed close together or have the ocean currents and the weather turned against the search teams?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Malaysian officials call this the most credible lead they have, new images from a French satellite, 122 objects floating in the Southern Indian Ocean not far from other sightings that could be related to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

In this possible debris field:

DATUK SERI HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIAN TRANSPORT MINISTER: Some objects were a meter in length. Others were as much as 23 meters in length. Some of the objects appear to be bright, possibly indicating solid material.

TODD: Twenty-three meters, about 75 feet, roughly the size of one wing on a Boeing 777. But these latest images were taken on Sunday. The Australian air force just searched those same rapidly moving waters and found nothing.

RYAN ABERNATHEY, OCEAN CURRENT EXPERT, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: You come back to the same place a day later, you're not looking at the same water. It moves, and it moves very fast. In this part of the ocean, it moves 20, 30 miles per day. And it moves in a random, chaotic way.

TODD: Experts say the possibility that the objects were clumped together does offer hope that this could be the wreckage of the plane or it could be unrelated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It could be something like the docks that we saw wash ashore on the West Coast of the United States following the Japan tsunami, or it could be some other remnant that has fallen overboard on an oceangoing vessel. TODD: Malaysian officials are under intense pressure from the Chinese, who have 154 passengers on board. The Malaysians today gave an extensive briefing to a Chinese envoy. But the anger of relatives of those on board still vented in public.

In stark contrast, a moment of silence in the Australian Parliament for the presumed victims.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: And in the United States, the first steps toward big litigation over the plane's disappearance, a Chicago-based attorney has asked a judge to order Malaysia Airlines and Boeing to provide documents and other information.

The lawyer's firm says it plans to build a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the airline and Boeing. Boeing declined to comment on that and Malaysia Airlines officials were not immediately available. Wolf, litigation already, and we have no plane.

BLITZER: Yes. We're going to have a lot more in the next hour on the potential lawsuits, the legal parts of all this coming up.

Brian, thanks very much.

TODD: Sure.

BLITZER: Let's get some more about the search, specifically the 122 objects revealed in those new satellite images.

Joining us now, the oceanographer Erik van Sebille of the Climate Change Research Center at University of New South Wales in Australia, also joining us, Colleen Keller, a senior analyst at defense contractor Metron, Inc., which helped with the search for Air France Flight 447 in the Atlantic.

Thanks to both of you for joining us.

So you look at these pictures, 122 image, Colleen, on this latest satellite image. It was taken on Sunday. Yesterday, they went out, and they have been looking all day. Apparently, no one has seen anything from the air or on the sea, but what do you make of these images?

COLLEEN KELLER, SENIOR ANALYST, METRON, INC.: Well, Wolf, until now, we have seen Wednesdays and Tuesdays, you know, a couple objects floating in the water.

But this is what we would expect. We would expect a full debris field. The real question was, what did the currents do to that debris over the last 16 days? My colleagues back in my home office back in Virginia have been assembling models of the currents.

They're using the Hybrid Coordinate Ocean Model, or HYCOM, and they're running simulations to see what a debris pattern would do over a 16- day period. And to their surprise, the debris is staying fairly close together and moving in an easterly-southeasterly direction, so that looks consistent with where we found this debris field back on the pictures on Sunday.

I'm very hopeful that this a very good lead. All we need to do now is pick up the piece and associate it with the aircraft.

BLITZER: They did come back, Erik, today from the search area, what, 12 planes, they're now back in Perth and they're getting ready to take off once again. Presumably, they had the information from the Sunday satellite images, but they didn't see anything. They came back empty- handed. Is that surprising to you, Erik?

ERIK VAN SEBILLE, UNIVERSITY OF NEW SOUTH WALES: Well, no, because the current that we're talking about, it runs very fast.

So, this, we're talking about 30, 50, maybe 60 miles every day that the water moves eastward and northward probably. But the point is we don't know exactly how it's going to move. We are not capable enough to predict, to forecast how ocean currents move. It's not like what we can do with weather. We can tell you what the weather will be tomorrow. We can't tell you what the weather in the ocean -- the ocean circulation is going to be.

BLITZER: Good point.

Colleen, if these photos were taken, these images were taken on Sunday, why has it taken until Wednesday to actually direct planes into that area where these images were spotted?

KELLER: Well, I think we had weather delays the last couple days, Wolf. That was my understanding.

It also may take time to do some photo interpretation on the satellite images to get them down and to look at them. Going back to the comment about the ocean currents being pretty unpredictable, I know the Australians have over 17 drift buoys in the water right now that are measuring actual currents, and that data would be invaluable in tuning the models to get the exact drift for this debris field.

BLITZER: So what do you think, Erik? You know these waters. You have studied them in the Indian Ocean for a long time. How unusual is it for a satellite to spot 122 separate images clumped together in the general same area?

VAN SEBILLE: Well, it doesn't happen that often. So the area we're talking about, this far close to Antarctica, is actually one of the most pristine areas in the ocean.

Most of the ocean is horribly littered. It's really lots and lots of pieces of plastic floating around that come from land-based sources, from shipping, and if this plane would have gone down in any other place in the ocean, in the North Pacific or in the North Atlantic, I would be much, much more skeptical that this was actually debris from the plane.

BLITZER: Is there a way just from images, Colleen, to conclude that this is wreckage from the plane or do they actually have to go into the water over there, lift it, put it on a boat and bring it to shore?

KELLER: Well, it is very difficult to tell even with the resolution that we have got -- and I understood these were high-definition pictures from the French satellites.

But I think that if they did measure an object that's 75-feet long, I have been told that the aircraft would hold together in large pieces like that just because of its composite construction. So I find that encouraging that we found such a big piece, because it's much bigger than your typical conex box or other garbage that comes off of ships.

BLITZER: What do we expect for the weather the next few days, Erik?

VAN SEBILLE: Well, we're getting into autumn, so the weather might deteriorate again. It might get worse weather.

This is really a part of the ocean where the winds are strongest, where the tend to be highest in winter and in autumn, where we are now. It will certainly complicate not only the search, but also getting pieces out of the water. Often being on ships in middle the ocean and we needed to recover some of our scientific instruments that were in the water, it's very, very difficult for a captain to actually drive a huge ship, a 300-feet ship next to a piece of debris.

And then it takes a lot of effort by the crew to get out there and actually pick it up. In a rough sea, that will be very dangerous and very difficult to do.

BLITZER: Very dangerous and very difficult.

Erik van Sebille, Colleen Keller, guys, thanks very much. We will check back with you.

Just ahead, the massive search for the missing flight about to get under way momentarily. We're going live to the staging area in Perth, Australia, for the very latest.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: As pilots and crews prepare to head out for another day of aerial searching, let's go live to CNN's Atika Shubert. She's at the staging area in Perth, Australia where planes are getting ready to take off once again.

What's the latest, Atika?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we just started to hear some planes revving up here, not sure if these are the search planes going out but we are expecting about 11 planes to head out today, six military aircraft, five civilian. And they've got a lot of area to cover but of course the most important will be these new images from the French satellite.

It's about 154 square miles that they're focused on with 122 objects that they've seen. Some of them as big as 24 meters. So what we're talking about is potentially the debris, but we really need those planes to get up in the air, get down low, and take some pictures to identify what these objects actually are. And they have to do it pretty soon because unfortunately the latest weather report seems to say that the weather will deteriorate later today. So we'll have to see just how much time the planes actually have to search -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And one U.S. plane is involved, the P-8 -- the P-8, the Poseidon, that will be taking off shortly as well. Is that right?

SHUBERT: That's right. In fact, our reporter Kyung Lah is scheduled to be on the P-8 Poseidon and this is a critical plane because it's basically -- it's sort of a plane that would hunt for submarines and it's able to look for this sort of metal under the water. So hopefully it will be able to get out there, get down low and use specialized equipment to look for any sort of wreckage that might be on the bottom and use its sonar.

But, again, depends on the weather. It hasn't been able to fly -- I think the day before -- the day before yesterday so it just depends on whether or not it's good enough conditions to get it out there.

BLITZER: And there are ships in the area already that are searching. They've been there for days, but they're moving closer to these areas where they suspect this debris may be located?

SHUBERT: They are in the search area. In fact, they have five ships in the search area. I'm not sure if they're actually in this particular 154 square miles where the French satellite images are but they're close by and that's a good thing because once they've identified a potential debris, then you actually have to get the ship there to haul it in and take a look at it, so it will be critical to have them on the scene.

BLITZER: Atika Shubert in Perth, Australia, for us, we'll check back with you. Thank you.

Just ahead at the top of the hour, dramatic new developments in the investigation into the missing plane. We'll have the very latest.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're going to get back to our special coverage of the missing Flight 370 mystery in just a moment but first other major news we're monitoring right now including new video of President Obama just arriving in Rome ahead of tomorrow's historic meeting with Pope Francis.

Earlier the president once again warned Russian President Vladimir Putin he's up against the united international front in the face of the escalating Ukraine crisis.

Let's go to our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta. He's traveling with the president. He's joining us now from Brussels. A major speech by the president today.

Jim, tell us what he said. JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. That's right, Wolf. And aides to the president say that his speech today here in Brussels was written right up until the last minute so the president could make an urgent case that the world is being tested by Russia's actions in Ukraine. The president also made a spirited rebuttal to Russian President Vladimir Putin's justification for annexing Crimea.

He rejected the notion advanced by Putin that the military intervention in Crimea is no different than NATO's military campaign in Kosovo back in the '90s. He also hit back at the Russian president for accusing the U.S. of being hypocritical after the war in Iraq.

Here's what the president had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is true that the Iraq war was a subject of vigorous debate, not just around the world, but in the United States as well. I participated in that debate. And I opposed our military intervention there. But even in Iraq, America sought to work within the international system. We did not claim or annex Iraq's territory. We did not grab its resources for our own gain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: And what appeared to be a response to his critics, the president also said at one point in the speech that he's not being naive when it comes to Russia. The president, while he has ruled out military action to remove Russian troops from that peninsula, he did say that NATO should engage in more joint military exercises over the coming months and years. He also called on NATO partners to step up their defense spending. And he once again vowed the U.S. would come to the defense of any NATO ally that is threatened by Russia -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. That's specifically what Poland and Estonia and Latvia, Lithuania, they want to hear words like that from the president.

What about the president's call, Jim, for more sanctions against Russia if Putin decides to go into other parts of Ukraine, for example. Are the Europeans going to be comfortable with even stronger sanctions?

ACOSTA: Well, Wolf, as you know, they're very nervous about the economic ripple effects. The president basically acknowledged today in this speech that the world economy, the European economy would be hit if Russia were to be sanctioned further, especially those energy and oil sectors of the Russian economy, but the president said that is a price worth paying.

That is a burden worth bearing because the cost of not checking Russia if the Russian troops were to go into other parts of Ukraine, that those costs would be much higher. He said that is something that Europe simply cannot do especially after two wars in this continent over the last century -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And the president also said the U.S. and Russia are not on the verge of another Cold War right now.

Jim Acosta traveling with the president, thanks very much.

Coming up, was it a suicide mission? We have no new focus on the pilot of the Malaysian Airliner including a report in the "USA Today" suggesting the captain deliberately diverted the plane.

And a new day dawns in the Indian Ocean, the search planes get ready for a hunt for what maybe the best lead yet. Dozens of floating objects photographed by a satellite.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)