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THE SITUATION ROOM

The Search for Flight 370; Planes Returning to New Flight 370 Search Area; Passenger's Partner Emotional Over Announcement

Aired March 28, 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: We're also standing by for results of analysis of photos like this one. Could that be a piece of the missing plane? Our experts will talk about the new evidence and what happens next.

Plus, the partner of an American businessman who was on the flight, Flight 370, opening up about her pain and the connection she still feels to the man she loves.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not too many people get that in life, and even if he doesn't come back, that won't change.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: 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: And we begin with the breaking news this hour.

Search planes are set to take off after a series of critical new developments in the hunt for Flight 370. There's a lot going on right now. Experts are analyzing new photographs of possible debris found in a new search zone in the Southern Indian Ocean. These are the actual photographs. These are not satellite images.

Several ships are now heading to the area to recover objects that were spotted. And I asked the New Zealand air commander just moments ago about all of this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In about two hours' time, there will be four ships in the area.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And there may be a new potential for a break in the investigation three weeks after the jet vanished.

Our correspondents and analysts, they have a lot of new information to share and put into context. They're here in THE SITUATION ROOM and around the world covering all the breaking story.

First, though, let's go to our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto -- Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we may now know why the search for that Malaysian airliner has come up empty so far. That's because officials say they may have, for this last week, been searching in the wrong area. They stress, however, that none of the search up to this point has been a waste of time. They are more confident now that they're more likely to be looking in the right place.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Day 21 of the search for Flight 370 began with an entirely new search area, nearly 700 miles north of the zone searchers had been scouring for more than a week.

MARTIN DOLAN, AUSTRALIAN TRANSPORT SAFETY BUREAU: The new information is based on continuing analysis of radar data about the aircraft's movement between the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca before radar contact was lost.

SCIUTTO: Officials explained the sharp move northward follows further analysis showing the plane may not have flown as far south as previously thought.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's processing the new results, which indicate that MH370 flew at a higher speed than previously thought, which in turn means it used more fuel and could not travel as far.

SCIUTTO: For days, searchers have been focusing here, raising expectations of a breakthrough with successive satellite photos showing what appeared to not just individual pieces of debris, but possible debris fields.

Now satellites and planes have a new target zone, in calmer waters and closer to the Australian coast.

CNN's Kyung Lah traveled aboard a U.S. P-8 Poseidon aircraft, and within minutes of arriving on sight, searchers spotted what could be debris.

KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This plane did spot some debris and there was a bit of excitement. The plane tipped to the right. They got very, very close to the ocean, some white debris, some orange rope, a blue bag. But it wasn't significant enough to say that it was connected to the plane at all.

SCIUTTO: At least four other planes taking part also spotted possible wreckage. A crew from New Zealand took this picture as it returned to base.

Still conscious of the repeated false alarms, officials downplayed the significance of these early sightings. JOHN YOUNG, AUSTRALIA MARITIME SAFETY AUTHORITY: I would not wish to classify any of the satellite imagery as debris, nor would I want to classify any of the few individual sightings that we made as debris. That's not justifiable from what we have seen.

SCIUTTO: Questions continue to linger over whether the captain or first officer played a role in the plane's disappearance. Still, Malaysia Airlines officials said today they conduct regular psychological tests of their air crews.

AHMAD JAUHARI YAHYA, CEO, MALAYSIA AIRLINES: That's something that we check yearly and every six monthly, depending how old they old, on their medical renewal, and it's normally done through an interview with the aviation doctors.

SCIUTTO: Expressing growing frustration with a continuing lack of answers, hundreds of family members walked out of a meeting with airline officials in Beijing in protest.

SARAH BAJC, PARTNER OF MISSING PASSENGER: We haven't seen any evidence of transparency or full competence so far.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: Officials are now analyzing those new photos to try and determine whether they are wreckage from the plane. Crews are scheduled to resume flying in the new search area once the sun comes up and the weather so far, Wolf, looks like it's going to cooperate.

BLITZER: That's encouraging, Jim Sciutto, reporting for us.

We're just getting some new video, by the way, from Reuters. Take a look at this. This is video of this new search area, including that white object that New Zealand plane spotted earlier. We expect within the next couple hours or so, according to the New Zealand air commander, a ship to reach there, pick up that white object and they will begin the process of trying to determine whether or not it is actual wreckage from the plane. This video just coming in.

Let's check in with our correspondent Kyung Lah. She's joining us now from Perth, Australia. That's the staging area for all the planes that are going out and searching this new search zone.

You had a chance to fly out on one of those missions earlier, Kyung. Tell us what happened.

LAH: We were right near that New Zealand plane that you just saw video of.

We were on the United States P-8 Poseidon, a state-of-the-art plane. And it was going back and forth over the search area. What I can tell you is even though we can't show you the video aboard the plane because it is so highly classified, is that we were skimming the surface. We were very close to the ocean, and we actually saw some objects floating as well. One of the spotters saw white objects bobbing in the water. So we took a couple of paths around it, also spotted some orange rope, as well as a blue plastic type bag, unsure of exactly what that was. All of this was marked. The coordinates were marked and the crew did ask that a sea vessel go and check it out. Don't know if it's related to the plane, but certainly it's an intriguing lead, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's already, what, Saturday morning where you are in Perth, Australia, Kyung. I take it the weather is good, the new search zone some 700 miles farther north than the old zone, that is not as turbulent, it should be more conducive to a search, is that right?

LAH: Absolutely.

You hit it right on the head. You can see that the sky is lightening behind me. The latest word that we're getting from AMSA, the agency that's overseeing all of this, the search is scheduled to take place, weather permitting. The weather is much better. What we saw six to eight hours ago, clear skies, incredibly calm seas.

This is a turbulent area as well. It's in the middle of the Indian Ocean, but it certainly seems calmer, and so far it's looking good. Also, we got out there in two hours and 20 minutes and spent four hours on the water. So it is remarkably better than the other area.

BLITZER: That's very encouraging. Kyung Lah reporting from Perth, Australia, thank you.

So if this new search area turns tout out to be the crash site, and that's still a huge, huge if, it could lee investigators to the jet's all-important black boxes, as they're called. Their locator beacons may stop pinging in just a matter of a few days.

CNN's Athena Jones is watching all of this. She's getting more on those black boxes.

Athena Jones, what are you learning?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

There are only a few laboratories in the world that are capable of retrieving data from a black box that's been damaged. Here's a look inside one of those laboratories.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE KOLLY, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: This is one of the more advanced labs in the world. And for that reason that's why we tend to help other countries.

JONES: Here at the National Transportation Safety Board state- of-the-art laboratory, a demonstration of what it takes to get vital information from the all-important black boxes. This is what the pinging of one of the data recorders sounds like once it's made contact with water. Even after a prolonged period in saltwater, data from these devices is still retrievable.

ERIN GORMLEY, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: We have had a good success rate with recovery. All of the recorders, you know, go through different stresses and -- but overall we have had a very good success rate with water recovery.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you ever not gotten data in a water recovery?

GORMLEY: I can't think of one?

JONES: Recorders found in saltwater are first bathed in freshwater and later carefully dried and taken apart to reveal this, the device's memory card. Even a damaged card can be useful, says recorder engineer Erin Gormley.

GORMLEY: The data does jump from chip to chip. Even if you one corrupt chip, because it has cracked or it has gotten some sort of corrosion on it, we should still be able to build the information back.

JONES: Information from the flight data recorder's memory card, which keeps track of data like the plane's pitch, altitude and speed, is downloaded on to a computer system, where teams make sense of the data. To us, it just looks like zeros and ones.

GORMLEY: We get information from the manufacturer of the aircraft that has a data map. And that data map translates all the zeros and ones into actual parameters.

JONES: For the cockpit voice recorder, a team of six to eight people helps transcribe the device's four channels, which picks up not just voices, but everything from a door opening to a seat shifting. The work they do here is difficult, but it's key to understanding what went wrong in airline disasters.

GORMLEY: We want to make sure this never happens again.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JONES: Now, the director of this NTSB lab said it's incredibly rare for them to come across a black box that's too damaged for them to be able to access the data. And it's not water, but high- intensity, a high-duration fire that's most likely to cause that information to be irretrievable -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Athena, thank you, Athena Jones reporting.

Let's bring in our panel, our aviation correspondent Rene Marsh, our aviation analyst Miles O'Brien, "The New York Times" reporter Michael Schmidt, and CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, former assistant director of the FBI. If they find the black box -- and, Miles, you have covered these stories for a long time -- I assume in this case -- and this is the black box, even though it's orange. I assume in this case, the information, the critical information, they find it even after the pinger stops going, will be retrievable?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Yes, there's an unlimited shelf life essentially for that. It's kind of baked into it. It doesn't need to have an active battery in order for that date to be recoverable.

So, there's no need -- just because there's no pinger doesn't mean there's no data on the black box.

BLITZER: Tom, you're the assistant FBI director. I have gotten a lot of questions from viewers out there, whether on Twitter, e-mail, if they get this black box, who will have custody of it? Will Malaysia Airlines have custody, the Malaysian government, or will some other country, like the United States, for example, have first crack at it?

TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The Malaysian government is running the case. It's their case. They will decide if they want to try to do something with that box themselves or whether they will turn it over for NTSB to fly to Washington and work on that box here.

Now, that's -- most of the counties in the world rely on the NTSB's expertise here in Washington, D.C., to do that analysis. We will see if that's their choice as well.

BLITZER: Let's say New Zealand retrieves it or Australia or Japan, or somebody actually gets it. They would then -- would their responsibility be to hand it over to Malaysia and then Malaysia would give it to the NTSB?

FUENTES: Exactly.

BLITZER: Or would they give it right to the NTSB?

FUENTES: No, they will give it to Malaysia to decide what Malaysia wants to do, unless Malaysia tells them to give it directly.

BLITZER: What if Malaysia says we're not giving it to the United States, we're going to take a look at it?

FUENTES: That's their choice, it's their case. It's not finder's keepers. It's Malaysia running the case.

BLITZER: What are you hearing right now, Michael? because this new search zone, that's opened up a whole new area 700 miles away from the old search area. They thought they were making some progress over there. This is a whole new world.

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I think for the U.S., they're not really surprised by this because it's yet another misstep that's gone on here. They were looking in the wrong area. Now they're looking in the right area.

As the U.S. sort of steps back and looks at all this on the investigative side and this side, they're all kind of a bit perplexed by it. But the one thing that they do is, as we come back to, because they don't think this was terrorism and they think that it was something else, they're sort of OK at being on the outside looking in.

BLITZER: What do they think it is?

SCHMIDT: Look, what they think is that it had something to do with the pilots, but they don't know that and no one -- I don't think anyone knows that. We had that report out of Malaysia the other day in which the Malaysian law enforcement was saying, oh, yes, it was the pilot.

But I certainly haven't seen anything, the U.S. hasn't seen anything. I find it hard to believe that the Malaysians actually have.

BLITZER: Right now we're getting also new information that Interpol is critical of Malaysia -- you were talking about this earlier -- that they're critical because they didn't do a check of the two stolen passports before these two Iranian passengers got on board.

Anybody think that that's sending a message out there that Interpol is now suspicious of these two Iranian passengers with the stolen passports?

FUENTES: Well, the suspicion on that aspect of the case has been there from the beginning. It's still being investigated, but the idea that somehow governments don't want to query the Interpol databases because it takes too long is frankly just plain absurd.

BLITZER: Let me play this clip. Miles and everyone else, I want you to weigh in on this. I spoke to the Pentagon spokesman, John Kirby, rear admiral, just a little while ago. I asked him about the opportunity for the U.S. to contribute with its own very advanced satellite imagery. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: My assumption is that the U.S. has the best satellite imagery out there and that U.S. satellites are involved, even though you're not releasing images publicly.

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, U.S. NAVY: Right. That's right. Look, we are helping with imagery to the degree that we can. We're sharing that with investigators and with the Malaysian government, again, best we can. We're not talking about the sources of the imagery, but we are providing it where we can.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, so that's new information, Rene, that we haven't necessarily heard before, but my suspicion is that the U.S., maybe they try to protect the sources and methods, but sharing this information with the NTSB and others and maybe even pointing them in this new direction of this new search zone.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: And not even just the U.S., I mean, even countries like China as well.

I was speaking to one expert today. He said it's very well a possibility that perhaps this sudden shift in focus had something to do with some secret classified information that we will not see publicly because, let's face it, within this region, you have adversaries and you just don't want to reveal your capabilities to someone who may be your enemy down the line.

They may say, hey, you want to look in this area. Trust me on this one. Go to this area. But you're absolutely right. It's a possibility. Do we know that for sure? Not at this point.

BLITZER: They're very sensitive to releasing the actual pictures that these satellites can develop.

O'BRIEN: Yes, but that felt like a non-confirmation confirmation to me, Wolf. In essence, he was winking and nodding and saying that this is happening.

I don't think it's any surprise to -- actually, I would be kind of upset if the U.S. wasn't offering this capability, without revealing its techniques.

BLITZER: They're very sensitive about this. And you're a former FBI assistant director. You understand what's going on here.

FUENTES: The relationship is 100 percent sharing between Australia and the United States on everything, the most sensitive counterterrorism or counterintelligence information.

BLITZER: All sources and methods?

FUENTES: All sources, all methods.

The U.S. would easily provide this to Australia and trust them to protect U.S. sources and methods and let the Australians put this out to the investigative team to change the search area or any of that. But there's no question that the U.S. would completely trust the Australians.

BLITZER: Where is this investigation heading, you think, Michael?

SCHMIDT: I'm really not sure. The U.S. is about to give the information, whatever they found on those hard drives, back to the Malaysians. They didn't really find anything of substance. Perhaps there's something in there. When the Malaysians look at it, they say, oh, maybe this could help us with some other information that we have developed.

But besides that, here we are three weeks in, we still don't know a lot. They were looking in the wrong area earlier today. BLITZER: Do we have an answer to the question whether the FBI succeeded in retrieving all the deleted information, all the -- maybe if there's encrypted information on that hard drive that the pilot had on his flight simulator?

SCHMIDT: All I know is that whatever they were able to see was not anything that shed light on the investigation. I would be very surprised if they weren't able to get into those deleted files, because this is something they really specialize in. But whether they got into those deleted files and it didn't show anything or what they saw, there was still nothing.

BLITZER: I want Miles and Rene to weigh in.

We're going to show our viewers the image, this white object that this New Zealand ship spotted. Take a look at it, Miles. We will put it up on the screen. You tell us what it looks like to you. Does it look like a piece of the plane, this white image that hopefully we will put up there in a moment? But you have seen it so many times.

O'BRIEN: Well, the image that we're about to see is rectangular. There it is. It's got very 90-degree edges.

I can't think of much on an airplane that looks like that. Just think about getting on an airliner. Things are swept back. They're dynamic, they're curved. However, this -- you can't rule that out until you get a little closer. I also don't have an idea of scale in that particular image.

MARSH: Yes, it's interesting. And that's the thing. This -- you know, we don't know how many feet above, but roughly they have been hovering some 200 feet above there.

But they're going to have to get really close to that. And you need those ships out there so that you can get that closer look. When they do eventually get whatever debris, let's just say that is the debris -- once they get it, the Australians will hold on to that and they will hold it for the Malaysians, and then the Malaysians will then take control of it. So there's a process even when we get to that point.

BLITZER: Yes, about an hour or so ago, the New Zealand air commander -- a New Zealand plane took that picture. He said a ship should be reaching there within a couple hours, so maybe only an hour or so away, they will hopefully retrieve it and then they will make a determination whether or not it is wreckage from that airliner.

All right, guys, stand by.

Still ahead, the new analysis of Flight 370's speed and path, does it provide new clues about what happened inside that plane three weeks ago?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news, the hunt for Flight 370 resuming right now after a number of objects were spotted in a new search zone closer to Australia. The target area shifted after a new analysis of the plane's speed and the distance it may have traveled.

Our national correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

So, walk us through, Suzanne, this new analysis.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So, here's how it goes, Wolf, because where investigators are looking for this plane really has everything to do with what they're learning about how the flight started in the early hours.

We're essentially working backwards here, getting more critical information about the beginning of the flight to determine what we suspect happened in the end. So, in doing so, in narrowing where this plane might be, here is what we have learned.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX (voice-over): It's all about when the plane ran out of fuel, how far Malaysia Flight 370 could have flown before falling into the Indian Ocean.

New analysis of radar and satellite data now suggests the aircraft didn't fly as far as investigators initially thought.

DATUK SERI HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIAN TRANSPORT MINISTER: The Australian authorities have indicated that they have shifted the search area approximately 1,100 kilometers to the northeast.

MALVEAUX: Analyzing radar data of the plane's path between the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca, investigators now believe the plane was traveling faster than previously estimated, burning more fuel early on.

LUIS VIREILHA, RETIRED COMMERCIAL PILOT: The more fuel the airplane burns, the faster it burns that fuel, the sooner those engines are going to stop turning. That's why they have to change the area where they're looking for the aircraft because the aircraft would have crashed sooner, rather than later.

MALVEAUX: Investigators have not revealed just how fast the plane was flying, but they say another indicator, the plane's altitude, supports their theory that the aircraft was burning lots of fuel early on. They estimate the aircraft dipped as low as 12,500 feet.

VIREILHA: The airplane was not cruising at high altitude, as it may have been assumed previously, but it was cruising at a much lower altitude and burning a lot more fuel.

MALVEAUX: What does this tell us about what happened on board? Some aviation analysts believe it's consistent with a colossal mechanical failure, potentially from a fire on board in the electronics bay, which would have knocked out the plane's multiple communications systems and overwhelmed the pilots with smoke.

VIREILHA: They probably got intoxicated with the fumes they were breathing in, and at that point, although they were at an altitude that was survivable, 12,500 feet, probably after that, they became totally incapacitated. That airplane would stay at that altitude and on that heading until it would run out of fuel.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: So that low altitude could have been set by the pilots when they realized that the plane was in trouble or by autopilot. Also, this revelation that the plane was flying faster than expected initially supports the notion that the pilots may have been trying to get that plane down as quickly as possible to the nearest airport if there was an emergency on board.

So the role of the pilots not really something suggesting something more sinister here, Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot still to be investigated, all these options obviously still on the table. Suzanne, thanks very, very much.

Let's bring in CNN's Richard Quest. He's a real expert on all of this.

Richard, I want to play for you a sound bite that we just got. This is the New Zealand flight lieutenant who actually spotted that white object floating. He was flying by. Let me play the clip for you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. JAMIN BAKER, ROYAL NEW ZEALAND AIR FORCE: Yes, it's certainly sounds like we're getting into an area of interest. Obviously, we don't know if these are associated with the aircraft yet, but it certainly looks like we're seeing a lot more debris and just general flotsam in the water. So, we could be on to something here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, what do you think? Are they on to something here?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think they are.

I think it's very telling that in the former zone of search, the plane saw virtually nothing, even though satellites were picking up debris left, right and center, but when the planes went to look for it, they couldn't find it. That could be the product of the wave forms and the water.

But here just as soon as they went into the search area, the new area, Wolf, they were over the new search area while the Australians were announcing it. And five planes all claimed to have seen debris or at least objects on the water. Of course, we know this area is called the garbage ocean of the world.

We know there's an enormous amount of garbage there, but I think it is telling that, having refined the search area to this particular place, for the planes to be seeing debris like this so soon is important.

BLITZER: And just to be precise, when you say garbage, these are just a lot of ships out there, and they just dump their garbage out there. They don't care about the environment, and there's just a lot of junk floating around to begin with, right?

QUEST: There's a lot of junk floating around. There's a lot of stuff that's been thrown overboard deliberately. Some was washed overboard.

But also the nature of the currents from that part of the world are such that it does collect in that particular part of the ocean, so the experts tell us. But this is different. Here we have five planes being sent to a specific area, and they're starting to report seeing objects. Now, until the ship gets there on Saturday night, and picks something out and formally identifies it, we can't say for certain.

But what you're looking for, Wolf, is not just one piece of debris. You're looking for lots of it. And that's why yesterday and the day before, when we heard about Thailand's satellite of 300 pieces, we thought, oh, this is really interesting. This could be it, until they moved the search zone to the north. But now we're getting something more.

BLITZER: We got new information in the last hour, you should know, Richard. We spoke with a New Zealand air commander. Remember, a New Zealand plane spotted this white object. He said -- this is an hour or so ago. He said within the next two hours, they now anticipate a ship will reach this area where this white object is.

They will be able to pick it up because the waters are pretty calm over there, the weather is good. So maybe within an hour or so, they will have access from a ship to this object and other objects as well. That's a significant development.

QUEST: It is hugely significant, and it will be interesting to see the manner with which this news will be handled.

I suspect the Australians will announce that they have picked up some debris or some objects. Whether or not they choose to identify it, even if it's -- even if it's glaringly obvious what it is, if it's from the aircraft, will they wait for the -- it to get back to base?

Will they announce it in Australia? Or, more likely perhaps, will it be announced in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, because they are -- that's where the investigator in charge is. That's the investigating country.

BLITZER: And one of the things that they're looking for, a lot of the -- if it is wreckage from the plane, there are a lot of serial numbers out there. And that would be a key indicator. QUEST: Yes. Depending on the part -- depending on what it is. I mean, I don't want to be crude about this, but if it's a seat cushion or if it's something that says Malaysia Airlines on it, you don't need to go much further and you don't need to work out too much farther.

But if it is a piece of metal, if it's a piece of fuselage, if it's something that's not instantly recognizable, yes, there are serial numbers because every time a plane is built, every piece on the plane is noted, it is logged, it is filed and it is kept.

I've never seen such meticulous bookkeeping as when it comes both from airbus and Boeing, and they -- they used to do it on files and little pieces of paper, and they could pull it out. Now it's all computerized. You put it into the system. It tells you where it was manufactured. It tells you what plane it was on.

BLITZER: Richard Quest, good analysis as usual. Thank you.

To our viewers in North America, "CROSSFIRE" won't be seen today so we can bring you more of our special report on the mystery of Flight 370. Coming up, an emotional interview with the partner of an American who was on Flight 370. She's speaking out about the moment when Malaysian officials said the passengers and crew members are likely dead.

And we're waiting for the analysis of the photos of possible plane debris. I'll ask a former triple-7 pilot for his take on the new search area and what it may reveal about the plane.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Yet another heartbreaking moment for Flight 370 families. Just minutes ago marked the exact time three weeks ago when the plane was supposed to land in Beijing but never did.

And there's growing anger in China at Malaysia's handling of the entire investigation. Several top online travel agencies in China reportedly are banning the sale of tickets on Malaysia Airlines.

CNN's David McKenzie is joining us now from Beijing with more of the angry backlash. You also spoke, David, with the partner of an American on the flight, Phillip Wood.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right. Phil Wood was on that plane from Texas on his way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. It's hard to believe it's just three weeks since this plane vanished. It seems like a lifetime for many of these family members I've spoken to. All these harrowing twists and turns, Wolf.

And I spoke to Phil Wood's partner, Sarah Bajc. And I asked her what it was like when she received a text message to say that the plane had gone down and everyone on board had died.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SARAH BAJC, PHIL WOOD'S PARTNER: To me, it was the message that it was over, that everybody was dead and all of this hope that I'd been putting forward and all of the energy I'd been pushing forward to be positive and hopeful had just been wasted, and it was done. I think I crashed into a point of crisis.

And then I was listening to the press conference itself, and I'm thinking, wait, he's not really telling us anything. You know, I started to have a little bit of -- a little nugget of disbelief already. I have to keep moving forward. I mean, life has to go on. And I want life to go on with Phillip back in my life. But the reality is life has to go on even without him.

MCKENZIE: So Sarah, do you still feel his spirit, his presence?

BAJC: I do. And that hasn't changed. It's particularly strong when I'm by myself in those little daily patterns of life. You know, I've continued to keep up with doing yoga every morning, and he's definitely next to me when I'm doing that.

You know, going to sleep and getting up in the morning, but whether that's the piece of his soul that's connected to mine that I hope would always be there, no matter what, or if it's his -- if it's his reach to me to help me keep strong because he's still with us, I don't know where it's coming from, but I still feel it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCKENZIE: Well, Wolf, she's such a remarkably strong woman, Sarah, and just trying to keep it together and moving forward.

She's actually gone to Malaysia now. She wants to keep moving forward with her life, the life that she was planning, you know, with Phil and their kids. This is -- this relationship was a second chance for her, and it's so poignant to talk to her and hear about her dreams and how she's focused on them, with or without him, whether it's with him in person or in spirit -- Wolf.

BLITZER: David, the families in Beijing staged yet another protest today. Tell us about that.

MCKENZIE: Well, that's right. The Malaysian authorities have been giving these daily technical briefings, and a man in the family members stood up and said basically, "You've just been lying to us. We're not getting the questions we want answered."

And to a person, they walked out of the room. Very embarrassing scenes for the Malaysian authorities of them giving a briefing to effectively nobody. So there is this backlash from the families here in Beijing. And as you say, some major travel agencies have been boycotting Malaysian Airlines -- Wolf.

BLITZER: David McKenzie in Beijing for us. Thank you very much.

Meanwhile, British lawyers are offering a new theory about Flight 370. They're suggesting the plane was actually downed by a blow torch fired in the cockpit, similar to a fire on board an Egypt Air Boeing triple-7 three years ago.

Let's bring in our aviation analyst, the former triple-7 pilot Mark Weiss. You've seen this report. What do you make of it?

MARK WEISS, FORMER PILOT: Well, you know, Wolf, Boeing's got almost 12 or 1,300 triple-7s flying currently. They've got new airplanes coming off the line.

What they've done since this -- since these incidents and accidents with the blow torch, they've checked; they've gone back; they've revamped procedures. Now, it would be very interesting to find out whether this particular aircraft had been -- undergone a maintenance check hold and airworthiness directive, an A.D. note, that would have prevented this from happening.

BLITZER: Why don't we know that already?

WEISS: Darn good question. Why don't we know that already? I mean, this is something that I know had just been here, the NTSB would have put this information out to the public already.

BLITZER: When you see these new pictures coming in, and you see this new search area, you're a veteran of all of this. You've flown this plane. Does this new object that New Zealand -- a New Zealand plane has spotted, does it look like a piece of that plane?

WEISS: I sure would like to think it is, but quite frankly, knowing the airplane and taking a look, we don't have the dimensions on that yet, but it really does not look to me to be a part of the aircraft.

BLITZER: And I just want to clarify one point. We know that it's easy to turn off the transponder in the cockpit. You just turn the button; it's off. The ACARS system is a little bit more complicated to turn that off. I don't know if you can do it strictly from sitting in the cockpit someplace or if you have to leave the cockpit, go to the underbelly. How do you turn off the ACARS system?

WEISS: Well, the only reason you'd be pulling a circuit breaker in the cockpit.

BLITZER: If you turned off the circuit breaker.

WEISS: You could turn off part of the ACARS system.

BLITZER: That would turn it off.

WEISS: Yes. The only reason you'd be pulling a circuit breaker in the cockpit by manual operations is to prevent, say, a fire from continuing. It's really to prevent a bus, an electric bus from continuing on a fire pattern.

BLITZER: Mark Weiss, thanks very much. Always good to get your explanation. We'll keep watching for breaking news on the search for Flight 370. Stand by for that. Also coming up, CNN's Karl Penhaul, he's with Ukrainian forces right now as Russian President Vladimir Putin, he phones President Obama to discuss the crisis.

Also exhausted searchers tell us about their desperate hunt for victims of the Washington state landslide. And there's a list of ways you can help the landslide survivors. Check out the "Impact Your World" section of our Web site, CNN.com/impact.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In Washington state, the job at the disaster zone around a massive landslide is drawing comparisons with what recovery crews faced after hurricane Katrina and even after 9/11.

CNN's Dan Simon is joining us now with more on the latest on this search.

What is the latest, Dana?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf. You know, one experienced federal emergency worker compares this to some of the worst tragedies he's ever seen in terms of the complexity of the search. Right now, the death toll remains at 25, but with 90 people still missing, authorities have told us to expect that number to rise significantly.

It's been six days since the catastrophic landslide, yet authorities still don't have a firm grasp on the number of those missing or the actual fatalities. Folks here are empathetic given the enormity of the task.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's definitely frustrating not knowing. You know, I really feel they're doing the best they can do.

SIMON: Defending the slow-moving process in releasing number of those who died, the local fire chiefs says the official tally needs to come from the medical examiner's office. As for the scene and piles of mud and debris, even experienced first responders are still in disbelief over the volume of devastation.

STEVE MASON, SNOHOMISH COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT: Some of the houses are out here in more -- better tack than other ones. Some of them look like they've been put in a blender and dropped on the ground.

SIMON: But it's not just the officials at work. Gordon Storoe is among the community volunteers digging in the waist-high mud.

(on camera): When you say you're digging by hand, Can you explain what that means? Are you literally using your hands?

GORDON STOROE, COMMUNITY VOLUNTEER: Yes, literally, gloves on, and garden tools and you try to use bigger tools to move the debris and mud out of the way, but you're end up down on all fours and you just literally handful of dirt at a time. SIMON (voice-over): One federal emergency official going to far as to say there are similarities to the 9/11 destruction at the World Trade Center, the bombing in Oklahoma City and hurricane Katrina.

TOM MINOR, FEMA: Size-wise, not as large as others, but complexity-wise, it's every bit as complex as any of those. It has all of the same issues and the number of missing people is quite high.

SIMON: Getting an exact handle on the total number of missing may be impossible. Even if bodies are never recovered, Gordon Storoe says he'd like to find anything that might give a family some peace.

STOROE: We don't know what might bring closure to something, memento from grandfathers or something. I don't know, you know? So, anything we can dig out of there, we're trying to dig it all out.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIMON: Well, the rain has been coming down for most of the day. And it's expected to continue this weekend. And as you can imagine, Wolf, this is making things even more difficult for these first responders who are concerned about further landslides -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, Simon with another heartbreaking story there. Thank you.

There are also new developments, major developments in the crisis over Ukrainian. Russian president, Vladimir Putin, may actually phone to President Obama today to discuss the latest U.S. proposal for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis, but at the same time, sources say at least 40,000 Russian troops, they are still massing along the border with Ukraine.

CNN's Karl Penhaul is joining us now. He's on the Ukrainian side of the border with the very latest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KARL PENHAUL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Ukrainian army and the border patrol are beefing up security, but men like these, civilians who turned out and are now forming self-defense committees are the ones setting up small checkpoints like this, and they say too they will join the fight against the Russians.

Now look at some of the preparations here. You see old car tires, tossed against barricades where there are sand bags. They say that if the Russians do come, they will set light to them and set up a smoke screen across the highway.

Bringing this checkpoint as well, trenches several yards of trenches they say that the military, the Ukrainian army can use these areas as fallback positions to fight from here against any Russian advance.

I walk through, they have this little camp set up. Again, very rudimentary. And you see some of the men, there's a mixture of military uniforms, not of these have been issued by the government to them.

This gentleman, for example, wearing a British military uniform. He like the others say they simply went army surplus stores, paid about 100 euros and uniforming themselves.

And look across here -- supplies of food, pickled foods in jars, other supplies. These have been donated. We've seen it. People eulogy up at roadside and unloading boxes of food for them saying they have to support this effort by these self-defense committees.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's go live from the Ukrainian border with Russia.

So, Karl, assuming the Russians move in and no one wants that to happen, obviously, it really would be no military match given Russia's military capabilities and the very limited capabilities of Ukraine's military or these paramilitary forces, right?

PENHAUL: Well, certainly with those paramilitary forces that we've just seen there, one would imagine that there would be no match at all. There's certainly very high on patriotism but very low on real weapons. The kind of military training that they did was several years ago when they did obligatory military service. Though that said, in that paramilitary militia we just saw there, they do say that they have two veterans of the Chechen war against the Russians. You may be able to help them with some of the guerrilla tactics. But we have seen Ukrainian troops with armored personnel carriers and T80 tanks digging in to certain positions today around strategic bridges for example.

But again, as we saw in Crimea, many of them didn't put up any fight at all but a lot defected to the Russians. It's not clear whether that could happen again here or whether they would have some fight in them to protect the eastern border, Wolf.

BLITZER: Karl Penhaul, on the border, a very tense situation continuing. Thank you.

At the top of the hour, CNN's "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" has the latest on the breaking news involving the search for Flight 370.

Up next, here are some new finger-pointing from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Before we go to CNN's "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" for the latest breaking news on Flight 370, there are some new developments in a major political scandal. During a combative news conference this afternoon, the New Jersey Governor Chris Christie insisted a new report clears him of wrongdoing in connection with last year's traffic jams at an entrance to the George Washington Bridge. He also announced the chairman of the group that oversees bridge operations resigned today. The governor revealed the tie ups actually were associated he says with the traffic study but he blamed all the trouble on two people who already lost their jobs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Whether the motive for the traffic study was a traffic study now seems to have been disputed and put into real question if not completely blown away by the report that there seems to have been on the part of Mr. David Wildstein and Ms. Kelly, some type of nefarious or -- you know, inappropriate motivation for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Also today, an attorney for Bridget Anne Kelly, the former aide who we just heard the governor mentioned, hinted that Kelly does have information she will only give to federal investigators.

Remember you can always follow what's going on here on Twitter. Tweet me @WolfBlitzer. You can tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.