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THE SITUATION ROOM
Searching for Flight 370; Sources: 40,000 Russian Troops Near Ukraine Border; Landslide Survivor Tells Harrowing Story
Aired March 27, 2014 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, a SITUATION ROOM special report on the mystery of Flight 370.
We're standing by for search planes to take off after being grounded because of horrible weather. Crucial hours have been lost, as more possible debris has been detected. Our experts there studying the latest satellite images that appear to show hundreds of objects near the suspected crash area.
A U.S. Navy commander will join us live at this hour with new information on the search. Plus, new details about the investigation into the plane's captain as his son and his former boss speak out about the theories that he's to blame.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Let's get to the breaking news this hour. The search for Flight 370 is due to resume any moment now. The bad weather that grounded planes for hours appears to have improved.
It may be more urgent than ever to get crews to the suspected crash site. Japan and Thailand have revealed new satellite images of objects in the Southern Indian Ocean. They're in roughly the same area where several other satellite sightings have been reported showing hundreds of pieces of possible debris. Still, no actual wreckage has been found nearly three weeks after the jet vanished.
As always, we have our team of correspondents and analysts. They are here in THE SITUATION ROOM and around the globe to follow every new development.
First, let's go to our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto -- Jim.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we just learned that those search planes will be back up in the air today, and that the weather will cooperate today, at least for one day. This is the key, because they have those satellite images, but the key now is to get eyes much closer to the surface of the ocean to confirm whether what looks like debris in a satellite photo is actually a piece of Flight 370. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
SCIUTTO (voice-over): From miles up in space, new possible signs of Flight 370. Thai satellites picked up some 300 objects of various sizes, while Japan spotted 10 objects all square shaped, both grouped within the search area 1,500 miles southwest of Australia.
But for one more day the search planes tasked with taking a closer look were grounded by bad weather.
LT. CMDR. ADAM SCHANTZ, U.S. NAVY: We were informed the weather was zero visibility with spear turbulence and spear icing, fairly high-risk flying conditions, and with the visibility the way it is, a very low probability of seeing anything out there at all.
SCIUTTO: The conditions so bad, the air crews are at risk.
SCHANTZ: There is no point. There's not -- the risks do not outweigh the potential rewards for flying today.
SCIUTTO: Today, the Pentagon announced it will send a second P-8 Poseidon, the U.S.' most advanced surveillance aircraft, to Australia. There are still no plans however to deploy any U.S. ships to the region.
REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, U.S. NAVY: We believe and just as importantly the Malaysian government believes that the most important asset that we have that we can help them with are these long-range maritime patrol aircraft.
SCIUTTO: Now, as Malaysian authorities reportedly direct new suspicions at the plane's captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah's employer leapt to his defense in an interview with CNN's Jim Clancy.
JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You knew Captain Shah. Some people point a finger at him.
ABDUL AZIZ ABDUL RAHMAN, FORMER CEO, MALAYSIA AIRLINES: He's an excellent pilot and I think also an excellent captain. I think they are going the wrong way pointing a finger at him.
SCIUTTO: Speaking to a Malaysian newspaper, Shah's youngest son also rejected any possibility his father could be behind the plane's disappearance. "I have read everything online," he said, "but I have ignored all the speculation. I know my father better."
With still no answers as to where the plane disappeared and why, family members of passengers are growing increasingly frustrated with Malaysian authorities.
STEVE WANG, SON OF FLIGHT 370 PASSENGER: There are no evidence, no pieces from the plane, none of the other things that could make us trust with that, so we don't believe it.
(END VIDEOTAPE) SCIUTTO: One of the toughest jobs is for those spotters in those search planes. They have to look out for the expanse of the oceans for shifts of 30 to 60 minutes long. They have tricks they use, moving their eyes in X patterns so they don't glaze over, but also difficult to discern pieces of debris from all the other things floating around in the ocean there.
We were told that even patches of seaweed can be orange, a color that debris from the plane might be. So the searchers really have their work cut out for them -- Wolf.
BLITZER: They certainly do. Jim Sciutto, thank you.
This hour, the search for the missing jet is getting back under way.
Let's check in with our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh. She has been watching what is going on.
Rene, there have been a lot of setbacks, including major weather delays, but it looks like they're getting ready to take off today.
RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's the good news today, Wolf, but we have seen these several satellite images, but even with ships in the area and planes doing flyovers, experts say the conditions are ripe to miss the critical pieces.
MARSH (voice-over): Fifteen hundred miles off Australia's west coast, the search is intensifying. New satellite images of possible debris revealed today. So far, a total of five countries have spotted floating objects from satellite images. Australian satellites detected two. Then the Chinese spotted this. The French photographed 122 objects. Thailand's satellites spotted 300 and Wednesday the Japanese detected 10.
But search crews scanning the Indian Ocean have not found a sign of Flight 370 or any floating objects believed to match those captured on satellite.
WILLIAM WALDOCK, EMBRY-RIDDLE AERONAUTICAL UNIVERSITY: It's not perfect. It's a combination of fallibility of the human eye, the surface conditions.
MARSH: Bottom line, a visual search among waves that can be as tall as a two-story building is the best option, but not a perfect one.
WALDOCK: Assume a 100 percent coverage meaning you're actually physically looking at every square inch of search area. The best we normally get on long-term average is about 78 percent probability of detection.
MARSH: And that's in calm water. William Waldock predicts the waves in the Indian Ocean make detecting debris during the first search only about 50 percent. Big waves also make it hard for planes and ships to detect objects on their radar.
CAPT. ALLISON NORRIS, ROYAL AUSTRALIAN NAVY: The type of wreckage or object that we're looking for is so close to the waterline that our radars would not be able to pick it up. So we are very reliant on lookouts who use binoculars.
MARSH: Waldock says twice as many ships are needed.
WALDOCK: You still got to go out and you still got to look. One of the things you start believing in if you do this enough is luck.
MARSH: He says the best bet for crews, focus on finding the larger debris field. It's easier for the human eye to detect.
MARSH: All right, and in the words of one expert, this operation needs more assets. Ideally, you would want an aircraft carrier so the search planes don't have to make these tremendously long trips to and from the search site and you would want more ships with helicopter capability so if something is spotted, it can be retrieved right away -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Rene, thanks very much. The Navy says they are sending a second P-8 Poseidon surveillance plane to Perth to continue with this search operation.
Let's bring in our panel right now.
Joining us, our senior aviation analyst Miles O'Brien, "New York Times" reporter Michael Schmidt and our aviation analysts Peter Goelz and Mark Weiss.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
Michael, you have been reporting what our own Pam Brown has been reporting, that so far the FBI doesn't appear to have found any so- called smoking gun on those hard drives, either the flight simulator, hard drive that the pilot had that was brought to Quantico for the FBI to investigate or the hard drives from the computers from the pilot or co-pilot. Do we know for sure that they have managed to recreate all the deleted files?
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I don't know if they have recreated all the deleted files, but they're basically in the final steps before they go back to the Malaysians to give this to them.
That could happen within hours if not days. Yesterday, the FBI director, Jim Comey, said it would be about a day. It will probably be a little bit longer than that. But there is nothing there. It's yet another dead end in the investigation. And the one thing that the FBI does say when they talk about this is that there's a possibility that down the line something that they found may help the Malaysians. Sure.
What they have right now is not helpful, but as the Malaysians move forward perhaps some of this information may help them, but still nothing.
BLITZER: Yes, but as you know, and Pam Brown has reported this even yesterday here on CNN, that there's no evidence yet.
But what's curious to me, Miles, and you're an expert in this area, is that I just want to make sure if the FBI completes their investigation, they have recreated all those deleted files and if something was encrypted, they'd manage to find that as well. As you well know, that's not that easy.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: No, it isn't that easy, but if anybody has the expertise to do it, the FBI can do it. These are the leading experts that have that capability.
BLITZER: But if they were encrypted files on the hard drives, let's say from the flight simulator, what does that say to you? Why would this pilot be encrypting certain information on his hard drive?
O'BRIEN: Well, yes, that certainly would raise some suspicion, but there's a lot of good reasons to encrypt things, too, including protecting your passwords and so forth. We have to be careful about that.
BLITZER: Have you heard anything about any encryption files that may be on those hard drives?
SCHMIDT: Early on, the FBI reached out to they wouldn't say which companies, but some companies that knew about coding that had been used in these programs.
I don't know if that's because the FBI didn't know how to get around that or if they were just looking for expertise, but early on they were looking.
BLITZER: You're formerly with the NTSB. Peter, what do you think? If the FBI comes out and says, you know what, we don't have any evidence that the pilot or the co-pilot based on the hard drive information we have, there was anything suspicious there?
PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: I think you have to move on. We checked into his personal background in depth, into his financial backgrounds. If there's nothing there, there's nothing there.
BLITZER: Let's say they say we couldn't recreate all the deleted files, what do you do then?
GOELZ: Then you have got a real problem and you may have to go back and tackle it again if there's some other piece of evidence that indicates that the pilot was involved.
BLITZER: All right, I want you guys to hold on for a moment because Commander William Marks is joining us on the phone right now, the U.S. Navy spokesman from the Seventh Fleet. He's aboard the USS Blue Ridge command ship.
Commander, thanks very much for joining us. Let's talk a little bit about the news. What is the very latest you're hearing from the U.S. search operation that is about to resume in Perth, Australia?
CMDR. WILLIAM MARKS, U.S. NAVY: Sure.
The latest news is that we are moving another P-8 Poseidon from its operating base in Okinawa, Japan, down to Perth, Australia. That will give us a continuous everyday flight coverage out of Perth with both our two P-8s, which are the latest and best technology we have for searching.
So that should be there later on today, and we have a flight going up today. As you probably know, all the flights were canceled yesterday. There was some pretty nasty weather out here. But we do expect to get up and flying again today and then with the addition of our second P-8 Poseidon, that will give us daily coverage, once again in support of the Australian coordinated effort and a great international effort, but the U.S. Navy will have that continuous coverage now.
BLITZER: I know there are a lot of planes, different nations. This is a multinational effort, the U.S. involved.
Have they told you or do you know, Commander, which area you specifically, this P-8 Poseidon will be going through, looking at the French satellite imagery, the Thai, Japanese, Australian? Do you know where you're going to be looking today?
MARKS: The way it works is that every morning we get something called an air tasking order or ATO. The ATO coordinates search sectors and communication frequencies, things the like that. That is coordinated by the Australians. So every day is different. It just depends on where they need us. That's an Australian-coordinated assignment that we get via the ATO.
BLITZER: Everybody sort of divides up the territory to make sure you're not overlapping, is that right?
MARKS: Yes, that's correct.
And, you know, one thing to stress is this is still a big area, and we're talking hundreds of miles, and to be quite honest, still too big to effectively get a good sense of where the plane may have crash- landed. And, as you know, we really can't effectively use the towed pinger locator before we get a good sense of where it was.
And that's why we're out here searching, is to get a good datum, a good point where we think the plane may have landed. And then we can get our pinger locator out there to listen to that black box ping, but the search area is still far too big now. It's still hundreds of miles.
BLITZER: Based on the information you're getting, Commander, are you upbeat, are you optimistic that this debris that has been spotted in these satellite images, that the debris is actually wreckage from the plane?
MARKS: You know, from the pilot and the air crew perspective, they are optimistic. I know every day when they launch a flight, they have a good feeling about finding something.
I can tell you, though, the satellite imagery really hasn't been conclusive. To me, the only thing that would be conclusive is when our -- one of our planes or someone else's planes get a radar hit, we decrease our altitudes, and we either zoom in with electro-optical camera or get a visual.
That to me is the defining moment. Satellite imagery is certainly helpful, but what I personally am waiting on is that visual confirmation. Once we get the visual confirmation, then our oceanographer will work backward. They will reverse-engineer the environmentals, meaning the wind, and the current and the sea state and they will go back 18 days and to develop that point where they think this started from.
BLITZER: So I just want to be precise on these two surveillance planes, these Poseidon P-8s. Will two fly on one day or are you just going to rotate one plane one day, another plane the next day?
MARKS: Most likely rotate, but again that's based on the assignment from the Australians.
If they need us, we will do everything in our power to support with two planes at once. If in their opinion a rotation is better, we will support that. An international effort, a lot of planes down here, but we are a support in a supporting role to the international effort, so really it's what's needed of the U.S. Navy.
BLITZER: Does it make any sense, Commander, to send an aircraft carrier to this area in the Indian Ocean, so these planes don't have to fly four or five hours just to get to the suspected site and then fly back? It's a long, long distance from Perth.
MARKS: Yes, great question.
The U.S. Navy and Seventh Fleet have a forward-deployed aircraft carrier based -- or forward-deployed out of Japan. Really, to be honest, these long-range fixed-win patrol aircraft, they do not fly off aircraft carriers. They're land-based. From their forward- deployed base in Okinawa, they can fly out of Malaysia, as we saw earlier, out of Perth, Australia, out of dozens of countries here in Seventh Fleet.
But they are land-based aircraft and the aircraft carrier air wings really is not the same support there.
BLITZER: So the helicopters that fly off aircraft carriers or the planes, they really wouldn't be useful in a search operation like this, is that what you're saying?
MARKS: I specifically was talking about the P-8 and the P-3. the P-8 Poseidons, that's the long-range fixed-wing aircraft. That is land-based. And they take off from land-based airstrips.
BLITZER: What about drones? Would they be useful?
MARKS: Yes, great question, great question there.
You know, I think the combination of satellite imagery, plus our P-8 and the other fixed-wing patrol aircraft, that's the best combination we have. Drones are certainly improving in their technology every day. But I think the range needed, you have to look at where the debris field may be. We're talking 1,400, 1500 miles out.
And really the asset we have with the best range on that is the P-8, and that's what we're using.
BLITZER: Commander William Marks of the U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet, he's aboard the USS Blue Ridge, the command ship.
Commander, we would love to check back with you tomorrow for an update. Thanks to you and thanks to all the men and women of the United States Navy and Marine Corps for what you guys are doing out there to help locate this plane. William Marks joining us.
Let's talk a little bit what we heard.
And, Mark Weiss, you're a 777 pilot, so you know this plane. You would understand obviously the wreckage from this kind of plane. Are you encouraged from what you just heard from the Navy commander? Because he himself acknowledges they haven't spotted anything yet in all these flights going over this area.
MARK WEISS, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Like you said, I'm a pilot, not a wreckage expert.
But from what I have seen and been dealing with in other accidents, this wreckage, this debris field seems to be the best option that we have got so, far and obviously until we have hands on it to make sure that it's part of that Malaysian aircraft, that 777 with serial numbers, paint, debris field, we have to hope that this is the right one.
BLITZER: They have got to find at least some piece of metal or whatever that can be linked to that Boeing 777. At least then they will have a clue. But right now they haven't found that.
GOELZ: And the commander was very cautious. He was saying we have got to narrow this search area down. As we mentioned, the investigators here have tried to do that over the past week and have sent further coordinates to the searchers, so maybe they're getting the search area down to a more manageable area.
BLITZER: And previous investigations you have been involved in, Peter, what's the stuff that floats usually from these planes and what sinks to the bottom?
GOELZ: Well, it's insulation, it's certainly seat cushions, it's luggage, baggage that's been carried and smaller portions of the aircraft.
The vertical stabilizer often floats, the tail. But this has been three weeks. That's a long time for metal to be floating. My guess is, is we're looking at much lighter stuff in the ocean now.
BLITZER: Miles, you covered a lot of these stories. Were you encouraged by what you just heard this naval commander say?
O'BRIEN: That P-8 is the best tool in the toolbox. There's no question.
BLITZER: The Poseidon.
O'BRIEN: The Poseidon. It's the most advanced surveillance...
BLITZER: Because they have got all sorts of technology on there that could presumably spot this.
BLITZER: What the plane usually does, it's looking for submarines.
O'BRIEN: Right. But it's ideally suited for this kind of thing. It does have a search-and-rescue component. My sense of it is there are more tools in the toolbox that could be deployed, up to and including an aircraft carrier. Why not get more eyes on target?
There's a very narrow window to do some searching here. We need more ships, We need more planes down there. Frankly, there's just not enough time. I think the time now is for a full-court press.
BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit, while I have you, Michael, about the FBI, the investigation.
Pam Brown, our justice correspondent, has pointed out the Malaysians are taking the lead, the Australians certainly in Australia, but the Malaysians are taking the overall investigatory lead.
Are U.S. investigators sort of frustrated by that? Do they want more access? Do they want to go to Kuala Lumpur and interview family members and others? Or are they confident that Malaysia's providing them all the information in this investigation that's necessary?
SCHMIDT: I don't think they're confident in the way the investigation is being run, but because they don't think it's terrorism, I think they're OK sitting on the sidelines.
If they thought this was terrorism and they couldn't have access to everything that was going on, they would be...
BLITZER: What do they think it is?
SCHMIDT: They think that it's something that the pilot did purposely, but they don't know that. That's what they think. That's what they say the likelihood is.
BLITZER: That's the assumption, because that's logical. It would explain, right, Miles?
O'BRIEN: It's certainly a scenario that works on everything we have seen so far, but I can come up with a scenario pretty quickly where somebody commandeered that plane either directly or forced the crew to fly that route.
That cannot be ruled out. There are a lot of passengers sitting in the back. We keep saying they have been ruled out. I'm frankly very skeptical that that has occurred.
BLITZER: You're skeptical?
WEISS: You know, Wolf, from the very beginning, we all thought that there was some intervention in the cockpit. We didn't know if it was the pilot and the first officer, but we know that there had been a porous cockpit door on that airline at some time. We don't know if there was jump seat rider. We don't know who that is.
It's very easy to focus on the pilot and the co-pilot and certainly you do need to focus on them, but we don't know.
BLITZER: Good point.
All right, guys, thanks very, very much.
Just ahead, we're going live to Australia and the staging area for the search. Is there any danger that bad weather could again ground planes, even though they're supposed to take off any moment now? We will also take you to China where the families of the Flight 370's passengers, they are getting angry and more desperate for any scrap of news.
BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news.
The search for Flight 370 is taking off again after planes were grounded for bad weather.
CNN's Kyung Lah is at the staging area in Perth, Australia. She has the very latest -- Kyung.
KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the search is resuming at daybreak, according to the Australian government, this after what has been a rough and tough 24 hours for search teams. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
LAH (voice-over): The U.S. P-8 Poseidon, moments away from flying into the search zone. A few journalists, including me, are embedded with the flight crew, but just before we're to board...
SCHANTZ: Yes, I will be back out in just a second.
LAH: ... Lieutenant Commander Adam Schantz gets word the flight is grounded.
SCHANTZ: Shutting it up and packing it up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, they have called it off?
SCHANTZ: Yes. So, anybody who is out there is coming home. Anybody who hasn't gone yet is canceled.
LAH: Eight planes made it to the search site, but faced dangerous conditions, severe wind, ice and zero visibility, conditions so tough that even the P-8 Poseidon, the world's most advanced anti- submarine and anti-surface warfare aircraft, considers it too risky.
(on camera): Zero visibility means nothing? You can't see anything out the windows.
SCHANTZ: Yes. You may not even be able to see the wingtips of the aircraft.
LAH: I can see it on their faces. Can you tell me a little bit about what they're thinking?
SCHANTZ: They're disappointed they don't get to go out and do it.
LAH (voice-over): Do the mission, find a piece of Malaysia Flight 370, evidence the families so desperately wants, six governments, 11 of the world's most sophisticated planes and still nothing.
Satellite images continue to point them in the right direction, but the south Indian Ocean is one of the most remote spots on the planet with no land to break the wind or the waves. They can barely predict the weather. And when it turns, like today, crews risk their lives just trying to fly out and get home.
(on camera): How good would it feel to bring something back?
SCHANTZ: While it would be great for us, it would be even better for the family and friends of the victims of this crash.
LAH (voice-over): Grounded today. Try again on the new search day.
(END VIDEOTAPE) LAH: Now, CNN is embedded with a P-8 again. The last word that we have from the U.S. Navy, Wolf, is that we are on standby. It is expected to take off in about six hours -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And you will be on that flight, this 10-hour round-trip mission, is that right, Kyung?
LAH: That's right. We are told it's going to be about ten hours. It's a four-hour flight down to the search area, two hours to take a look, and then four hours back. We are told, though, that this is very much touch and go, Wolf.
BLITZER: Well hopefully you guys will go. It will be safe. You'll be back and you'll do a full report for us here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Kyung Lah on the ground in Perth, Australia, getting ready, we hope, to make that journey on the P-8 Poseidon surveillance plane.
The vast majority of the passengers on Flight 370 are Chinese. After nearly three weeks of dread and uncertainty, members of their families, they are grieving. So many of them remain in denial, and many of them are very, very angry. Totally understandably.
Our David McKenzie is joining us once again from Beijing where it's early Friday morning. Very smoggy where you are, lots of pollution, as we all know.
So what is the very latest on that front, David?
DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the very latest is, I mean, yes, you call it denial, but they see it as clinging onto hope. They say they haven't seen any direct evidence that this plane went down. So still, they believe their loved ones might be alive.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
MCKENZIE (voice-over): The trauma of waiting. For weeks hundreds of family members of those on board Flight 370 have been stuck in a hotel in Beijing, a pressure cooker of grief and emotion.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
MCKENZIE: When they were told the plane went down, some via text message, it was overwhelming. Then grief boiled over into anger.
These families have banded together, and leaders like Steve Wang have emerged. Without physical evidence, he believes his mother could still be alive. But the wait is weighing on them all.
STEVE WANG, SON OF FLIGHT 370 PASSENGER: Well, it is a hard time. All of us are exhausted, both mental and physical. But we just have to wait. It's a hard time.
MCKENZIE: Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Gordon Peters has deep experience helping families deal with trauma. He calls the situation terrible.
COL. GORDON PETERS (RET.), U.S. AIR FORCE: They have no closure. They're not able to say, "Let's deal with this; let's discuss it." They still have confliction of "Is my loved one alive? Are they really dead?" Those sense of loss just keep perpetuating.
MCKENZIE (on camera): Often family members are stuck inside this conference room for hours each day. Many tell me that they still believe their family members are still alive, even if logically the chances seem quite remote.
PETERS: They go to bed at night, and they probably logically know it's happening, but they don't want to give up. They want to have the good moments with their life. They want to continue to hope for the best.
MCKENZIE (voice-over): And in a culture where family is everything, they are refusing to give up, because the consequences are just too great.
WANG: Well, my mom used to say that where there are people there are family. But one is lost. So (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
MCKENZIE: Well, Wolf, I'm told these families get this hard evidence. They tell me that they won't believe it, and so they'll be stuck in this cycle of trauma -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Such a sad, sad story. David McKenzie in Beijing, thank you very much.
Just ahead, we're going to ask our own Richard Quest about what seems to be some increased optimism that searchers will find something in the Indian Ocean. There he is.
BLITZER: For our North American viewers, CROSSFIRE won't be seen tonight so we can bring you special coverage of the missing Flight 370 mystery.
We're also right now following some breaking news. The search for Flight 370 is resuming after a break in the weather. Let's talk things over with our own Richard Quest, who's joining us from New York.
Richard, these families, they're going through hell right now. What's your gut tell you? How much longer before we know for sure that some wreckage from this plane has been spotted and has been brought to the surface, if you will?
RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If you look over the last few days, whether it was the Chinese pictures from satellite or the French pictures or overnight the Thai pictures, where 300 objects have been seen in the water, you start to conclude that actually it can't be much longer, because we're now talking about many hundreds of objects that are now swirling about.
Now, of course, the distances are large, but the assets being flown out there -- seven, eight, nine, ten planes, several ships -- does lead, I think, to greater encouragement from those I've spoken to that they will not only manage to locate the objects from the satellite, that the satellite saw; they'll be able to get a buoy down to mark them and that the ships will be able to pick something up, Wolf.
BLITZER: We heard from Athena Jones and others that the batteries on the so-called black boxes that send out the ping -- and there's only a few days left for that ping to be going out -- that ping may not even be in existence anymore, because the batteries may not have been stored properly. Tell our viewers what you're hearing about this, because they really need to retrieve the flight data and the voice -- cockpit voice recorder.
QUEST: Yes, I mean, they're absolutely stuffed without them, frankly, in terms of trying to work out properly what happened. So they do need them. But if these batteries, as has been alleged by one person who did an audit of Malaysia Airlines' storage capacity in Kuala Lumpur, if these batteries on the pingers were stored in hot and humid conditions, then that may have degraded their operation capacity.
So we may already be looking at batteries that have not actually got the full charge. If that's the case, which would be extremely serious, Malaysia Airlines hasn't commented on this. The manufacturers of the pingers say they're designed to work in all sorts of extreme circumstances, but the truth is we don't know. Malaysia Airlines has to come up and say these pingers with these batteries were properly stored.
If there is any question, Wolf, that they were not properly stored and that impinged on their operational performance, well, that would be a very, very disappointing news indeed. For the moment, though -- for the moment, we're still -- we're jumping ahead of ourselves. We still need that first piece of debris, which will lead to a debris field, which can then take us down to where the final wreckage is.
BLITZER: As you know, there is technology out there. There are devices where they could stream all that information on those recorders so that you wouldn't even need to search for the bottom of the sea for any wreckage for those recorders, but they haven't been installed in a lot of these planes. Why is that?
QUEST: Two reasons. Firstly, air regulatory hasn't all been approved yet. The correct dots on the "I's," and the "T's" haven't been crossed. So the regulators haven't come to an agreement fully on what the mode will be.
And secondly, cost. Not only do you have to put the equipment on the planes, to stream it you have to buy the data. And these -- look, I can't even believe I'm talking about cost when you're talking about losing an aircraft with hundreds of people on board, but if you take one of the big U.S. carriers with, say, six, seven, 800 aircraft, you're talking about a vast amount of data, because these recorders do take thousands of parameters and churn out the data.
Now, if you've got to put that out like you did with the space shuttle, like you do with spacecraft, you're talking about starting to talk about a sizable cost to the operation.
I know, Wolf, how can you compare that with the loss of 240 lives and the loss of a major aircraft? I guarantee you one thing from this. This particular incident will become the case study and will bring about major changes in aviation. You can take that to the bank.
BLITZER: They'll need a major international commission, in my opinion, to learn the lessons from this so they don't repeat this down the road. Richard, thanks very much. We're standing by for new developments in the search for Flight 370. Stand by with us.
Also a CNN crew has arrived now at Ukraine's border with Russia and sources now say as many as 40,000 Russian troops are massing on the other side. Our Karl Penhaul -- there you see him -- he's live from the area. We're going there in a moment.
Also the dramatic story of how one man survived the devastating landslide in Washington state.
BLITZER: We continue watching developments in the search for Flight 370, but there's other important news you need to know. Two U.S. officials tell CNN Russia now may have as many as 40,000 troops at its border with Ukraine.
CNN's Karl Penhaul is joining us live from the Ukrainian side of the border.
Karl, tell us what's going on.
KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're hearing the village (INAUDIBLE). In fact, if you look around, it's not much more than a collection of a few houses and a few shacks. The Russian border is that way literally just a few hundred yards. We came here already dark and we really don't know what is going on, on the other side of the border. What the Pentagon is telling us is right now on that eastern border of Ukraine and Russia, up to 40,000 Russian troops have massed.
The Ukrainian government's assessment is even more alarming. They say that their intelligence report show 88,000 Russian troops are digging in their on the other side. They say in just the last two days to a city about 20 miles away from here, the Russians have brought in railway trains packed with troops, packed with tanks as well.
They say there are tank units there. They say there are helicopters -- attack helicopters across there, and they also say that there are some of those elite parachute units there as well. Now, worryingly, both the Pentagon and the Ukrainian government say the troop buildup has increased over the last few days and they also say that some of those Russian units are now so close to the border that if they did decide to roll into Ukraine, there would be zero warning. That means there would be no heads up, those tanks, those attack helicopters and those troops could be inside of Ukraine proper before either the Pentagon or the Ukrainian government had any prior warning, Wolf.
BLITZER: Any Ukrainian military on the Ukrainian side of the border, would there be, in other words, any resistance?
PENHAUL: Well, what we have seen as we came up to this border area, a number of beefed-up border patrols. They were checking our papers to see who we were, to see why we were coming to this border region after dark, we did have a chance to talk to a couple of the border patrol agents here and he says there are more people, more agents that have been brought in from Kiev and other parts of the country.
Also, some of the local villages here say that in the last few days, members of self-defense militias, civilian groups have come here, although those in the last few hours have withdrawn. But look at Crimea and look what happened there. The Ukrainian troops just folded in the face of the Russian advance. One by one they surrendered bases. All those bases were overrun by the Russians.
And, in fact, now the defense ministry says 75 percent of the Ukrainian troops who were in Crimea defected to the Russians. So, it's very much in the balance as to whether the Ukrainian armed forces would be able to resist a Russian advance much more advanced military force, Wolf.
BLITZER: Karl Penhaul, be careful over there, on the border between Ukraine and Russia.
Here in the United States and Washington state, searchers are digging down through the equivalent of several stories of mud and debris. They're trying to reach buildings buried in last weekend's massive landslide. At least 24 people are dead, 90 others remain unaccounted for.
Let's go to George Howell. He's on the scene, has the very latest -- George.
GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, our CNN camera today got a first-hand tour of the mudslide there, the damage, the devastation. Officials describe it as beyond imagination. Those search and rescue teams, they are still on the ground sifting through the mud and we continue to hear these incredible stories of survival and painful realities of loss.
STEVE MASON, BATTALION CHIEF: The neighborhood that was here spreads out into these areas. HOWELL (voice-over): These are the latest pictures from the disaster zone. The mud in many places, some three to four stories high, that came crashing down from the hillside and within a matter of seconds, one square mile of what once was a community now coated and covered.
Gary McPherson remembers it felt like being in a blender.
GARY MCPHERSON, LANDSLIDE SURVIVOR: Instead of making a margarita, you just kept mixing it and mixing it and mixing it, when it got going fast enough, you took the top off.
HOWELL: Gary is among the many rescued Saturday, when the wall of mud hit his farm. He says he and his wife, Linda, were sitting in their reclining chairs and before he knew it, he was in the fight for his and her life.
His air force training kicked in. Stay calm, try to find a way out. He grabbed a stick.
MCPHERSON: Stick to the north until I don't have any more stick there and I kept waving it.
HOWELL: A rescuer saw that stick and pulled Gary to safety. But all Gary could think about was trying to save Linda. She didn't make it.
MCPHERSON: She was gone.
HOWELL: There are so many stories of heartbreaking loss in the Oso mudslide. The rising number of those who died, the missing and those who survived.
The search and rescue effort continues in this area, but the outlook for finding anyone alive is grim.
MASON: They're digging through the different piles. There's guys looking in holes. As you notice out here, there's lumber. There are trees, actually, trees, mud, dirt, residences, cars, motor homes, boats. Everything that everyone would have in a neighborhood is now strewn out here.
HOWELL: McPherson says the mudslide threw his home more than 100 yards away. Nothing left standing and everything he knew --
MCPHERSON: Obviously, losing Linda.
HOWELL: -- changed forever.
HOWELL: At this point, we are expecting a news conference here in the next couple of hours to get the latest information, but the numbers that we understand, at least 24 people, Wolf, died in this mudslide and the number of missing and unaccounted for remains at 90. Of course, as we get any new information we'll update it and pass it along -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What a heartbreaking story that is as well.
All right. George Howell, thank you.
President Obama himself announced that his administration is getting closer to its goal of enrolling 7 million people for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. In a phone call with volunteers today, the president said enrollment is now past 6 million, something of a moral victory in light of the Obamacare Web site's massive problems when it first went online last October. Monday, by the way, is the deadline to enroll for this year.
Just ahead, we'll have the latest on the hunt for Flight 370. Thanks to a break in the weather, the search is now resuming.
BLITZER: Give you a quick check of the breaking developments in the mystery of flight 370. Right now, we're told planes were supposed to take off shortly in the search for the missing jet. It's not clear, though, that they will. We're, in fact, told they have not left yet. Search efforts have been grounded for hours because of bad weather in the southern Indian Ocean.
A U.S. Navy commander tells me the Seventh Fleet is sending a second P-8 Poseidon patrol aircraft to Perth, Australia, to aid in the search effort. New satellite images from Thailand and Japan, they're raising hopes that the plane debris may be found soon. Hundreds of objects have been detected by various satellites in the area of the suspected crash. Nothing has been found yet.
Once again, so far, the flights were supposed to take off within the past hour, but the U.S. Navy commander says no flights have yet taken off.
We're standing by. Stay with CNN for complete information on all the latest developments.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.
Our coverage continues.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.