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THE SITUATION ROOM
Questions Raised about Revised Radar Track for Missing Plane; Time Running Out for Black Box Batteries; Koreans Exchange Artillery Fire; Obamacare Deadline Day
Aired March 31, 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: All right, Jake, thank you.
Happening now, the mystery of Flight 370. A new twist in the airliner investigation as passengers' relatives are outraged at a new map of the radar track. Sources tell CNN's Nic Robertson the airliner's turn is being treated as a, quote, "criminal act."
Air crews are getting ready to resume the search for Flight 370, but so far the objects they've spotted have turned out to be dead jellyfish and old fishing gear. Are they looking in the right place?
And a race against time. A U.S. black-box finder is headed to the search zone, but the batteries powering the black-box signal beacons may die within days. Can the device get there in time?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Searchers race against time to find traces of Flight 370. Here are the latest developments.
Questions are now being raised about a new map said to show the airliner's radar track. It shows a much different flight path. Sources tell CNN the airliner's turn is being viewed as a criminal act. Malaysian officials now say the last words from the cockpit were "Good night, Malaysian 3-7-0." The earlier version was, quote, "All right, good night." The new language is routine, but the change raises questions about the handling of the investigation.
And as planes get ready to resume searching for traces of the airliner, U.S. pinger locator equipment is on the way to the search zone, but the batteries powering -- powering the airliner's black-box signals will likely die within days.
Our analysts and our reporters, they are standing by in Washington, as well as around the world with the kind of special coverage that only CNN can deliver.
Let's begin with our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson. He's joining us with the very latest from Kuala Lumpur -- Nic.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, for the last few weeks, we've been hearing increasing frustration from Chinese families unable to get answers to key questions about the investigation, frustrated with the small bits of information that they've been handed. They've been frustrated, because they wanted to know more about where the plane flew, more from Malaysian officials.
Today, we began to get a better understanding of precisely what they've been asking and begin to hear some of the answers now that their questions are being finally put to Malaysian officials. This is what we've learned.
ROBERTSON (voice-over): This map of Flight 370's radar track was much of the reason for upset by survivor families last week. The image captured by still photographers in the family briefing. It shows a very different route from the left turn depicted until now, and it's raising even more questions about what exactly happened to Flight 370, questions the family members were unable to ask at the time.
HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER: The family briefings were closed-door (ph).
ROBERTSON: Chinese officials of Flight 370 passengers say they created the map from publicly available data.
(on camera): A source with knowledge of the investigation tells CNN that, beyond doubt, the new map, if accurate, shows that someone with excellent flying skills was at the controls of the aircraft, that no one on board would have felt the turn. (voice-over): It's a claim that's getting heavy pushback from Malaysian officials.
HUSSEIN: As regards to the issue of information as we revealed outside the press conference and speculation and diagrams and Google or anything else in the Internet, I cannot confirm or discount. I can only explain what I informed you in my piece.
ROBERTSON: Investigation officials insist privately this new map is not theirs, that it doesn't match Malaysian radar readings. Despite refusing to comment publicly, Malaysian officials did say all the radar data is central to their investigation.
AZHARUDDIN ABDUL RAHMAN, DIRECTOR GENERAL, MALAYSIAN CIVIL AVIATION DEPARTMENT: The manner of the air traffic control at the time of the aircraft made the turn back is one of the very important information for the investigators to look at.
ROBERTSON (on camera): In a background briefing given to CNN, Malaysian investigators said they believe MH-370 was, quote, "flown by someone with good flying skills." And now a government source says they consider the turn a criminal act committed by one of the pilots or someone else on board.
Oh, this is great. These are the controls of the aircraft here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
(voice-over): Captain Zaharie's friends refuse to believe he could be the criminal controlling the plane.
JASON LEE, CAPTAIN ZAHARIE'S FRIEND: I think finally, you will come to stage when people think that he's a hero. When things come out, I think he's a hero.
ROBERTSON: They are rallying to his defense, showing me pictures of a young Captain Zaharie at flight school.
MOHD NASIR OTHMAN, CAPTAIN ZAHARIE'S FRIEND: He is not around to defend himself. That's why Mr. Lee and I feel that it's our duty to be at the front line to tell the whole world.
ROBERTSON: But for some, the new map is casting a shadow over Captain Zaharie's memory.
ROBERTSON: Now, the source who has knowledge of the investigation is also a friend of Captain Zaharie, but he told us that emotionally, he doesn't want to believe it but logically has nowhere else to turn with his conclusions. At question for him: was the plane being flown on this arc on the last hours of its flight -- was it being flown on an arc towards the sunrise? Was the person at the controls, who was controlling the aircraft, trying to land it on water so that it would sink without trace and make it so much harder to find -- Wolf.
BLITZER: So Nic, based on this source that you have there, my sense is that what he's suggesting is that it was a criminal act, as opposed to some sort of catastrophic mechanical failure on the plane. Is that right?
ROBERTSON: This source has a lot of knowledge, a lot of information about this specific aircraft, about operations with Malaysian Airlines and a lot of knowledge about the way that the -- this Captain Zaharie flew his aircraft. He's a man who has a lot of information. He has a lot of information about the region, the topography, and these are the conclusions that he's coming to, putting together all the information that he now has available to him.
And for him it very much does seem -- and it's an inescapable deduction of logic, he says. He cannot get away from the fact that whoever was flying the aircraft towards the dawn on that day, Saturday morning, was somebody that knew how to fly the aircraft, knew how to fly it well, had excellent control of it, and it leaves him with a very inescapable logical conclusion, Wolf, one that he finds painful.
BLITZER: Yes, I can understand that. Nic Robertson, doing some excellent reporting for us. Thank you.
Let's bring in our justice reporter, Evan Perez; also our aviation analyst, Miles O'Brien; and CNN law enforcement analyst, the former assistant FBI director, Tom Fuentes.
So Miles, let's start with you. What do you make of this information that Nic was collecting?
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, a 270-degree turn, right all the way down to left, it's very difficult, Wolf, to come up with a scenario where that is the result of some sort of a mechanical failure or malfunction.
If a pilot was in a bad way -- rapid decompression, fire, whatever you want to say -- he or she would not take that long way around to gain that direction. It would be a sharp turn to the left.
And so it's very difficult -- I've talked to a lot of pilots about this. It's very difficult to look at that diagram and not say that it was an intentional act of some kind. So that jives with what Nic Robertson's sources have been telling him. The one thing I might quibble with on his sources, is that could have very well have been flown by autopilot. It's just a matter of turning the heading dial, maybe putting in a way point. It could have been flown automatically and in a gentle way where the passengers would have no idea what was happening.
BLITZER: Tom, are you hearing from your Malaysian sources -- I know you have good sources over there, as well -- that they are increasingly now coming to the conclusion that it was a criminal act responsible for the disappearance of this plane?
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: No, I've heard nothing new today, Wolf, as far as this issue.
My question would be, is what is the source that the plane made that right-hand turn instead of the previously believed left-hand turns? What about all of the radars? What about all the experts that have been looking at the radars from the civil radar of Malaysian aviation, as well as Malaysian defense force radars that were supposedly analyzed the first couple days of this incident? So I'm questioning just how do we know that this new information is even true in the first place?
BLITZER: That's a good question. And I guess we'll only know once this investigation really comes to some sort of conclusion.
But Evan, I know that, you know, you've got good sources with the FBI. Tell us the latest on what they have discovered as far as the captain, the pilot of this plane, the hard drives that they were investigating to see if there were any indications there of wrongdoing.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, one of the more puzzling parts of this whole thing is that, you know, it's natural, according to U.S. officials -- they tell me that it's natural to either suspect that whatever was happening, happening -- was happening inside the cockpit and for to you bring, you know, the full attention to the two pilots and the captain, in particular. But they found nothing.
They've looked at the -- they've looked at the hard drives. They still are going through it. They haven't turned over everything to the Malaysian authorities, but they have been sending some regular reports of what they've found.
And so far, they've found nothing incriminating. They've even recovered some of the deleted data that we've talked about here on THE SITUATION ROOM, and they've found that, you know, the deleted data was actually overwritten data and it doesn't indicate that the pilot was trying to cover his tracks, per se. There was nothing indicating that he was trying to hide anything. So they're left puzzled.
Still here 24 days later, they don't know anything more about what these two pilots were up to before Flight 370 took over -- took off -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Miles, today we learned that the Malaysian authorities, they have new information on the final words coming from the cockpit back to ground control. Originally, we heard the co-pilot supposedly had said, "All right, good night."
Now they've put out a press release, the ministry of transport in Malaysia saying the final words said to air traffic controller was actually, quote, "Good night, Malaysian 3-7-0."
So what, if anything, does that say to you, other than the fact that the Malaysian authorities can't seem to get their act straight four weeks into this? They now finally have the final words correct, as opposed to earlier when we all thought it was "All right, good night"?
O'BRIEN: I think that's the most important takeaway, Wolf. The fact that the airline identifier and flight identifier were included, that is standard procedure to do that. So that means that that response was closer to a standard response. The pilot is expected in that case to repeat the frequency that he or she was assigned. In this case, that apparently isn't what happened, although we haven't seen a complete transcript 25 days in. We have not even seen a transcript of air traffic control to the crew.
I looked it up. In the case of the Asiana crash at San Francisco International Airport, a transcript was released within two days. We actually heard the communications within two days. The FAA released it. There's no reason why we shouldn't be able to hear all of this to hear what the Malaysian authority controllers were saying to that crew and, for that matter, what were they saying in Ho Chi Minh City as they tried to raise the crew on that frequency. It's amazing to me that we don't have that information.
BLITZER: Yes, I hope they change their mind. Better late than ever. They should release the transcript. They should release the audiotape, and then we can move on, at least a little bit.
Guys, stand by.
Up next, aircraft are getting ready to resume the search for Flight 370. We're going live to the staging area in Perth, Australia.
And are searchers looking in the right place? I'll speak live with one of the military commanders on the hunt for the airliner.
BLITZER: Search crews are now getting ready to resume their hunt for traces of Flight 370, but so far the items they've spotted in the water have turned out to be garbage and dead jellyfish.
U.S. equipment that can track sounds underwater is headed to the search zone, but time is quickly running out. CNN's Kyung Lah is joining us now. She's in Perth, Australia. That's the staging ground for the planes.
So what is the very latest, Kyung? How does it look there?
KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we're expecting are the very first planes in the air in the next hour or so, and the pressure is mounting here as the clock continues to tick.
LAH (voice-over): The race begins now in the electronic hunt for Flight 370. This giant Australian navy ship now heading for the Indian Ocean carrying America's towed pinger locator. It can hear the satellite pings from the black box. The batteries expected to last only about another week. Travel time to the search area, three to four days. But even if they arrive in time, the current search zone may be too big for the device to be useful.
CAPTAIN MARK MATTHEWS, U.S. NAVY: I can search approximately 50 square miles a day. So really, if we're searching for a beacon, and we're living on borrowed time, I need something that is less than 1,000 square miles.
LAH: The search zone is 100 times that. The clock winding down, the search so far has been a frustrating chase of objects spotted from the sky. But when hunted down at sea, the objects turn out to be either fishing equipment or jellyfish.
Planes touched down again with little news.
(on camera): More than 100 personnel and search planes like that one in the air, 1,000 sailors at sea. Those numbers, the prime minister says, will only increase as the search operation intensifies.
TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: Thank you so much. Thank you.
LAH (voice-over): Australia's prime minister thanked the search teams working around the clock, saying this is about more than just finding one jet. It's about anyone who flies on a plane.
After dramatically moving the search zone last week, the prime minister says they're now looking in the right spot.
ABBOTT: It's the best information we have. It's the best analysis that we can get. And it's the most professional search that can be mustered.
We are giving it the very best shot we can. And if anyone can find this aircraft, it's us.
LAH: In Malaysia, where families have loudly protested the government's handling of the investigation, a change in an important detail. For weeks, the government said originally this was the time and last words from the cockpit.
RAHMAN: We got the last conversation from the cockpit that says, "All right, good night."
LAH: and now in a statement it says the last spoken words from the cockpit were "Good night, Malaysian 3-7-0."
LAH: It's not the words that are so much the issue. It is a fairly standard signoff. The question is, why didn't the Malaysian authorities know sooner? Why are they releasing it now? And how are they handling this investigation -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And the weather is getting ready -- sunlight on Tuesday morning in Perth. The weather is OK? It looks like it's going to be a good day to fly?
LAH: Well, there is some weather in the area, the search area. There is a system coming through. It's not expected to be terrible, but weather is always a factor. The waves expected to be a little bit higher today, Wolf.
BLITZER: Kyung Lah in Perth, Australia, for us, thank you.
Joining us now is Wing Commander Andy Scott of the Royal New Zealand Air Force. He plays a key operational role in the search area.
Commander, thanks very much for coming in. Do you have any reason to believe all of you guys -- and I'm not -- I don't mean just New Zealand, Australia, the entire multinational effort is really any closer to finding this plane?
WING COMMANDER ANDY SCOTT, ROYAL NEW ZEALAND AIR FORCE: At the moment, Wolf, it's obviously a fairly intensive search that's going on in that particular area. And what we're going off is, of course, that weight of evidence which is pointing to the current area being the correct location.
Obviously, as you've alluded to earlier in the bulletin, the fact that as of yet there's been no sightings that can be directly linked to MH- 370 can at times become frustrating, but we certainly believe it's just a matter of time now.
BLITZER: How confident are you, Commander, you and all of your colleagues, multinational colleagues, that you're even searching in the right area?
SCOTT: Again, it just comes down to that weight of evidence that's there. Of course, if we knew exactly where it was, we would go there. But the search area that's being actually covered every day is comparable to the size of New Zealand.
So as much as we have a lot of assets that are in the area, both in the air and on the surface, it's still a very large amount of ocean that we have to cover. And the key to obviously doing this sort of thing is maintaining that search integrity, making sure that the area you cover, you do cover properly. And that way it's almost as important as finding the actual -- any evidence of MH-370 is actually discounting areas so we can then move on to others.
BLITZER: Commander, you don't have to share the classified information, your sensitive information with us, but as a general principle, do you have access to secret information that leads you to believe you are searching in the right area other than the public information that has already been released?
SCOTT: With the amount of nations that are involved and the large degree of media spotlight that you can actually see, we're going off the same information that you've seen in the media.
BLITZER: So there's nothing confidential, U.S. submarines or U.S. satellites, other nations, that they're sharing with you on a confidential basis that really is pinpointing this specific area?
SCOTT: Certainly no information that's been shared with me, Wolf.
BLITZER: OK. Let's talk a little bit about the frustration. A lot of men and women are involved in this search. It's been going on now -- we're in the fourth week. How frustrating is it to your men and women who actually go out there, and they come back with jellyfish or garbage and junk and nothing to do with the plane. How frustrating is that, Commander?
SCOTT: It's one of the realities of any search and rescue operation, that there will always be highs and lows. That's actually inevitable.
If I can speak of the results from our aircraft yesterday, we identified 14 objects of interest throughout four hours on station conducting the search there. That's some 1,200 miles due west of Perth.
During that time, each of those contacts is then reacquired, investigated, photographed so they can tell whether or not they are objects of interest.
And out of those 14, there was only two objects that we thought were worthy of further investigation, which then were passed back through to AMSA, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.
Now, that's also due to the sea state, as well. And if I can compare that to a previous mission, there was around 70 contacts. So as you can tell from such a dense area, although it is frustrating, there's a lot of -- it does generate a lot of excitement each time something is actually seen to go around and actually have a look again.
With the crews that we have there at the moment, this is now the second screw for the New Zealand Air Force. We swapped those guys out last week as the first crew was reaching its maximum hours that it could actually fly legally in a month. So again, that fresh set of people that go over there, that reinvigorates, obviously, the enthusiasm and the crew is highly focused.
BLITZER: Commander, what happens if, within the next four or five or six days, next week, they don't locate the so-called black boxes, the data recorder, the cockpit voice recorder? The pingers, the batteries run out, and they're no longer pinging. Where does that put this search?
SCOTT: At the end of the day, what we're doing at the moment is still trying to find any system of debris. So although there is clearly an imperative to try to locate any items to try and hone the search area down to allow the black box to be found, fundamentally it doesn't change the mission at the moment, which is to try and actually locate where MH-370 actually last was.
BLITZER: Andy Scott is the wing commander for New Zealand Air Force. So Commander, thanks very much for joining us. Please thank all of the men and women who are involved in this search. They're doing important work right now. We appreciate you joining us very much. Thank you.
SCOTT: I'll pass that on. Thank you.
BLITZER: Let's bring in CNN's Richard Quest; CNN aviation analyst Peter Goelz, the former NTSB managing director; CNN law enforcement analyst and former FBI assistant director Tom Fuentes.
Thanks very much.
So what do you make of this, Richard, this latest? The frustration level must be so enormous.
RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. The -- on the search front, absolutely. On the question of the wording and the change in the last words, it is infuriating, and it is frustrating, for one simple reason.
The Malaysians had numerous opportunities to put the record straight on this one. Most recently, when "The Telegraph" in the U.K., you'll remember, printed what they said was a transcript, and all Malaysia said is, "It's incorrect in parts." That was the moment when they could have scotched this.
And why is it important, Wolf? Because "All right, good night," became a touchstone of supposedly nefarious activity in the cockpit.
BLITZER: You know, as frustrating as that is, here's something that's even more frustrating, in my mind -- and I'm going to let all of you guys weigh in on this. I want to play for you what the prime minister of Malaysia said, basically suggesting the plane wound up in the Indian Ocean, and the acting transport minister who, over the past couple of days, has now revised that. Listen -- listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NAJIB RAZAK, MALAYSIAN PRIME MINSTER: It is, therefore, with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that, according to this new data, Flight MH-370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean.
HUSSEIN: They want me to not give up hope in looking how we look to look for survivors. I said they have always been in my prayers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Peter, how -- you've worked with families involved in these kinds of investigations. How frustrating is it to hear two very different assessments, from the prime minister, the transport minister, one basically saying it's over and the other one saying, "Well, there's always hope"?
PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, it is frustrating. And the idea that the message, even subtly, keeps changing can do nothing but just drive family members into greater hysteria. It's just -- they have been waiting for over three weeks now for some clear picture of what happened.
And if the Malaysian government made the decision a week ago that they were going to say that the plane and everyone agreed that the plane had come down in the Indian Ocean, then that ought to be the position. You can't sugarcoat it. And that's what the transportation minister was trying to do.
BLITZER: So frustrating. All right, guys. Stand by. We're going to continue this analysis.
Coming up, a U.S. black-box finder is on the way right now to the Indian Ocean search zone, but will it get there too late? And the search is the size of the state of New Mexico. Is it just too vast for the available technology? We'll hear from experts.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: U.S. equipment to help locate the airliner's crucial flight and data recorders is on an Australian ship headed to the search zone, but the batteries powering those black box pingers are about to die.
And it's now a race against the clock.
Brian Todd has been looking into this for us. He's got more on what is going on -- Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the tension inside the search teams is building right now, as the clock winds down just a few days until the batteries on that pinger die out.
The technology to help find it won't get there for at least three more days, and it can't even start probing unless wreckage is found.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TODD (voice-over): The Malaysian transportation chief expresses everyone's sense of urgency.
HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIAN TRANSPORT MINISTER: A lot of these answers can be answered if we find the black box. And time is running out.
TODD: Less than a week until the batteries on the pinger of the plane's black box likely run out.
ROB MCCALLUM, OCEAN SEARCH SPECIALIST: The odds of finding the pinger are very slim. Even where you -- when you know roughly where the target is, it can be very tricky to find the pinger. They have a very limited range.
TODD: That's why this Australian vessel, the Ocean Shield, is heading to the search area this on board. The towed pinger locator, American- made, U.S. Navy-operated, can probe the ocean depths down to 20,000 feet, listening for that beacon's signal.
PAUL NELSON, PHOENIX INTERNATIONAL: Here's a black box. And you can see a pinger or a beacon, as we call it, is attached to the black box. When this gets wet, it triggers a signal in here.
TODD: The pinger locator can detect the black box signal from as far as two nautical miles away, but the design team tells us it has limitations.
NELSON: Weather is a big factor. If the boat is doing this on the ocean waves, now you're attached to an umbilical to this thing, so this thing goes up and down, and it's much less stable in the water.
TODD: Obstructions like hills and mountains on the ocean floor can also impede the pinger locator. The maker of the actual pinger offers hope that maybe the signal can extend beyond the 30-day battery life.
ANISH PATEL, PRESIDENT, RADIANT POWER CORPORATION: We think that we can get an additional three to five days of life before the battery starts to diminish to the point where the output signal will be below the minimums required.
TODD: But it's also possible the signal could run out before the 30 days. CNN safety analyst David Soucie cites his sources saying Malaysia Airlines stored batteries for pingers in a place much hotter than recommended, and that that could have already sapped this battery's power.
TODD: But in an e-mail today to CNN, Malaysia Airlines said -- quote -- "We are unaware of any issue with the underwater locator beacon or its batteries" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian, thank you.
Richard Quest is still with us. We're also joined by former Navy oceanographer Van Gurley and oceanographer Erik van Sebille.
This towed pinger locator that is on the way, it's going to get there on Thursday, a few days for that pinging to go off. They don't even have any wreckage yet. Is this just, for all practical purposes, a waste of time?
RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, because the moment they do have a debris or a debris field, which could happen at any time, as you have heard people say, as you heard the wing commander say, they will put that into the water.
It is just not useful to do it willy-nilly in such a vast space.
BLITZER: Van Gurley, I want to play for you a clip. This is the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, today speaking about this entire operation. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHUCK HAGEL, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Just a reminder, that area is the size of New Mexico. And this very sophisticated equipment that we have provided -- and we have provided, as far as I know, everything the Malaysian government has requested of us -- is really reliant totally on defined search areas.
It's got tremendous capability, but we're going to have to narrow the search area.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So can they do it without actually finding any of -- they need really a piece of that plane before they can narrow it significantly, right?
CAPT. VAN GURLEY (RET.), FORMER NAVY OCEANOGRAPHER: Yes, Wolf. There's two real problems here.
First is getting the pinger locator close enough to where the debris may be to be able to hear it. And for that, you either need blind luck or you need surface debris. Right now, both are on short supply.
The other issue is, if in fact they are not able to hear the pingers, then we quickly find ourselves back in a situation we were with Air France 447, which requires a different type of search technique, but it requires a lot of time.
BLITZER: And it took two years to find that, those black boxes from Air France 447.
Richard, the batteries, they say 30 days, but sometimes they last a little bit longer, right?
QUEST: Yes. It's an art, not a science. They believe -- in previous incidents, I have heard them talk about -- I remember in Air France 447, we were back to the same thing, 33, 34, 35 days. It's not like a timer that after 30 days it just switches off. Beyond 30 days, it will degrade.
BLITZER: So far, Erik, everything that they have found out there that they have investigated turned out to be garbage or jellyfish or whatever, nothing from the plane. Talk about what floats in that area. How much garbage is there out there in the Indian Ocean?
ERIK VAN SEBILLE, UNIVERSITY OF NEW SOUTH WALES: Well, the ocean, the Indian Ocean, but also most of the other oceans, are really filthy.
There's just -- everything that is plastic, that is built to last and gets into the ocean just won't really decompose there. So you get something like a piece of fishing gear that can stay in the oceans for decades easily, and everything gets accumulated. It gets swiped up in these areas called the garbage fetches.
Well, where they are searching now is really close to one of those. So you see a lot of garbage there. It's just from manmade. it comes from any coastline around the world, mostly in the Indian Ocean, of course, and it's really hard to find this plane in between all of the other junk.
BLITZER: Yes, there's a lot of junk out there.
Van, let's a little bit talk about the currents. Let's say they found a piece of the plane today or tomorrow or whatever. How far could that have moved, given the currents in the Indian Ocean?
GURLEY: Well, Wolf, the currents in this part of the world are very complex. We were actually doing some modeling at my company this morning looking at what would happen in a -- if there was a debris field in the general vicinity of where the Australians are currently searching.
And it looks like the debris field would pretty much stay in the same location where it starts. It moves around in what is called rotational currents, but it doesn't go moving out quickly, like you would see, say, if something was caught up in the Gulf Stream and starts moving off at three to five knots quickly.
So the currents seem to be very complex in this region, sort of similar to what we saw in the Air France 447 case. So if they can get to a debris field, at least the simulations we were looking at this morning says there's a chance that it's sort of still located where the plane would have entered the water.
But with the amount of time that has already transpired, that field is dispersing. It grows bigger every day. And as it grows bigger, one, it gives you more uncertainty on where the impact area would have been, and also it makes harder and harder to find a concentrated area of debris collect -- you know, that you can trace back to the aircraft.
BLITZER: Let me get a final thought from Richard.
Your bottom-line assessment right now. Are we back to square one? Are we moving ahead? Is there any progress here at all? QUEST: There is progress, but I'm slightly less optimistic than I have been, because I heard one person speak overnight, one of the inventors of the black boxes who helped invent it, who basically said it's now getting almost very difficult that they will ever find it.
And, Wolf, they will keep on looking for many years. They will refine the search area to try and find it. But I think the reality is that they are doing -- the prime minister of Australia summed it up on this program a few moments ago. It's the best lead we have got. It's the only leads we have got. We're going to give it everything we have got.
That's all they can do.
BLITZER: Richard Quest, thanks very much. Van Gurley, thanks to you. Erik van Sebille, thanks to you as well.
We're going to continue watching the latest developments in the search for Flight 370. It's getting close to sunrise Tuesday morning, planes about heading off -- they will be taking off momentarily for the search area. We are going to have an hour-long SITUATION ROOM special report. That's coming up at the top of the hour.
And we're also looking into why the commanding pilot's daughter is lashing out at a British newspaper right now.
BLITZER: We'll continue to monitor developments in the search for Flight 370. We're also watching a troubling increase in tension on the Korean Peninsula right now. Military forces from both the North and the South, they fired hundreds of artillery shells into the sea off each other's coastlines today.
Let's go to CNN's Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. She has the very latest -- Barbara.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in the morning, first thing, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel takes off for a 10-day trip to Asia and he is flying right into this new round of tensions with North Korea.
STARR (voice-over): In a three-hour barrage, North Korea lobbed hundreds of artillery shells off its western coast. The 500 hundred shells landed in the water but some fell close enough that South Korea fired back. And Seoul dispatched fighter jets as the tensions with the North escalated.
On the eve of his departure for Asia, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says he will talk to China about what North Korea is up to.
CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The provocation that the North Koreans have once again engaged in is dangerous and it needs to stop. STARR: It came as 13,000 U.S., South Korean and Australian forces conducted their own long-planned exercises, including the type of amphibian assaults that would be staged to defend South Korea in a real-world crisis.
U.S. officials worried Kim Jong-Un may now be on a new round of provocations and the U.S. could somehow be a target.
VICTOR CHA, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: It certainly follows on to a number of missile tests that they had been doing really for the past month ranging from, you know, ballistic missiles to scores of FROG or anti-ship missiles. When you see both of these militaries operating in the same area, even though they're doing their own exercises, the fact that they're live firing and in such close proximity is concerning.
STARR: All of this is just after one day after North Korean television had another disturbing warning.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Through Translator): We would not rule out the new form of nuclear tests for bolstering up our nuclear deterrence.
STARR: North Korea was not clear what kind of nuclear test it's talking about. The U.S. is worried Pyongyang is trying to make a uranium-based bomb. North Korea's uranium reserves, would give it a guaranteed fuel supply. Another worry? The North may have learned how to make a sophisticated miniaturized nuclear device that could be placed on a ballistic missile and delivered to a target.
STARR: And that is the fundamental worry if North Korea has and can develop a nuclear warhead and put it on the front end of a missile that changes the entire security calculus in the region -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Certainly does. All right, Barbara, thanks very much. Very disturbing developments. A tense Korean Peninsula right now.
Just ahead a SITUATION ROOM special report with all of today's new developments in the mystery of Flight 370.
Plus the husband of one of the plane's flight attendants talks about a question he dreads getting from their children.
BLITZER: These past several months working to make sure it works, but today we're getting some new information.
Our White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski reports.
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The last day to sign up was a surge, a scramble to beat the deadline. Lines at signup centers around the country, the vice president on Rachael Ray's talk show pushing for young people to get on board.
JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT: Do it for mom.
KOSINSKI: Dozens of celebrities tweeted their reminders in support of Obamacare from Zach Braff, "There's nothing sexier than someone with health insurance."
Less sexy was the Web site. Slammed in the morning and afternoon by more than 100,000 people accessing it at a time. But those problems telling people to wait were fixed fairly quickly and the administration did a sort of victory lap, as one reporter called it.
PHIL SCHILIRO, WHITE HOUSE HEALTH POLICY ADVISOR: We're looking at the numbers, it's crushing interest on all the different medium, which is just terrific. It means people are getting insurance.
KOSINSKI: The White House says the number who have now registered is significantly above six million, even more than the Congressional Budget Office projected because of those dark days, as Jay Carney put them, of October and November. But they don't have exact numbers nor on how many of those signing up didn't have insurance before, how many are paying their premiums, how many are young and healthy, sparking some fierce Republican criticism this weekend.
RICK SANTORUM (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A lot of people are just changing from one insurance policy to the other to a more expensive one, I might add.
JOHN BARRASSO (R), WYOMING: I think they're cooking the books on this.
KOSINSKI: To which the administration responded --
SCHILIRO: It's ludicrous. When the numbers were low, those same members were willing to go around and count the numbers. Now that the numbers don't match what they're saying they want to say the numbers are cooked. That's ridiculous. No numbers are cooked. These are the numbers coming in. And it's great.
KOSINSKI: Well, solid numbers characterizing the enrollment won't be in for a couple of weeks but if there really is greater enrollment than expected there's a question as to how this will shape politics going into midterms and beyond. Will Democrats embrace it more? And will Republicans be able to criticize it as much if pushing for a repeal would mean them taking away the insurance that millions now have opted for -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Michelle Kosinski at the White House, thanks.
Coming up at the top of the hour our SITUATION ROOM special report, the mystery of Flight 370.