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THE SITUATION ROOM

The Search for Flight 370 Continues; Is U.S. Doing Enough for Search?

Aired April 2, 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: Bill, thanks very much.

Happening now, the mystery of Flight 370. Malaysian authorities now openly confirm the investigation is criminal and has been, indeed, for weeks. Passengers are cleared of wrongdoing. But the flight crew, the cargo handlers, the food service personnel, they are still under scrutiny.

New security rules -- Malaysia Airlines decides that no pilot or first officer may remain alone in the cockpit.

So why did it take them so long to do what the United States has been doing for years?

And the air search is to resume shortly, but the search zone, once again, has been moved. We'll go live to Australia. I'll speak with Australia's ambassador to the United States.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're getting new details on the investigation into Flight 370's disappearance.

Here are the latest developments.

Malaysian police now openly acknowledge that the investigation is criminal in nature. They say all the passengers have been cleared of any role in hijacking or sabotage, but they make no such blanket comment about the crew. Sources say Malaysia Airlines pilots have received a security handout which includes a new rule stating that no pilot or first officer is allowed to be alone in the cockpit.

And as aircraft prepare to resume their search, the focus of the hunt has now shifted again. It's now moved eastward, hundreds of miles closer to the Australian coastline.

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

Let's begin with our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown -- Pamela?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, for the first time, Malaysian authorities are on the record confirming what CNN has been reporting, that this is, in fact, a criminal investigation and has been for weeks. And overnight, we learned, Wolf, that Malaysia Airlines sent out an alert to its employees tightening cockpit security, perhaps another indication of where this investigation is focusing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN (voice-over): Malaysian officials made a bold statement overnight, clearing all 227 passengers of any role in taking down the plane, ruling out their involvement in hijacking, sabotage, personal problems and psychological issues.

KHALID ABU BAKAR, ROYAL MALAYSIAN POLICE INSPECTOR GENERAL: This is a criminal investigation. It is ongoing and we are still waiting for expertise and reports from experts overseas and internally.

BROWN: The Malaysian investigators say they haven't finished interviews with all passengers' relatives.

So how can they be so sure that the passengers on board, from 14 different countries, played no role?

SHAWN HENRY, FORMER FBI EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: To say that everybody has been cleared is really an outrageous statement, in my mind. This takes many months to do a thorough investigation. To me, that's really a bit of a stretch and I would not have confidence in that statement.

BROWN: Still, Malaysian officials making it clear the focus of the investigation is now even more squarely on the crew members, especially the pilots, down to every minute detail -- what they ate, whether they ate the same meals, and even who prepared the food.

HENRY: They're just looking for anything out of the ordinary, anything unusual, somebody that might snow something, something that might have been potentially put into the food.

BROWN: But sources telling CNN investigators believe the culprit was in the cockpit. Overnight, we learned Malaysian Airlines sent out a security memo mandating no pilot or first officer is allowed to be left alone in the cockpit.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BROWN: And adding to this mystery, and perhaps confusion, officials say today they haven't ruled out mechanical failure as a possible cause, even though they're classifying this as a criminal investigation now.

Meantime, the Malaysian prime minister arrives in Australia today. He's in talks with Australian officials about the search efforts.

That's the latest.

BLITZER: All right, Pamela, hold on for a moment, because I want to bring in our law enforcement analyst, the former FBI assistant director, Tom Fuentes, as well as our CNN aviation analyst and former NTSB managing director, Peter Goelz, along with our aviation analyst, the former 777 pilot, Mark Weiss.

Guys, thanks very much.

This search area, Peter, it keeps shifting. Originally, it was in the South China Sea, then it move to the Southern Indian Ocean, 700 miles, more to the center of the Indian Ocean, now a few hundred miles to the east, closer to the Australian coastline.

What is going on here?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, they're not dealing with hard facts. They're dealing with suppositions and they're dealing with very difficult mathematical equations. And they're trying the best they can, but they don't have the hard data to zero in on the smaller sized area. They're shooting in the dark.

BLITZER: Yes. They haven't found any wreckage whatsoever. And it doesn't instill a whole lot of confidence in what's going on -- Tom, right now.

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: No. And I think they'll keep moving that search zone around until they maybe find something and have a better chance. But, you know, it just seems like they're throwing darts in the wind right now.

BLITZER: If they say this is a criminal investigation, as you just reported, Pamela, why are they not ruling out mechanical failure?

How can it either be criminal, someone did this deliberately, an individual, or a catastrophic mechanical failure which just happens because of maybe the Boeing 777 wasn't working properly?

BROWN: Right. And I think that's a question we've all sort of been asking ourselves today. The bottom line, I think that's a reflection, Wolf, that they just don't have the concrete evidence, the facts to back up a criminal act, though that seems like the most logical theory here.

And as we were talking, I was talking with Tom earlier about the fact that it could possibly be, if the plane was sabotaged, perhaps that could lead to mechanical failure and cause a plane to go down.

But I think the biggest message this sends is that every theory remains on the table.

BLITZER: It sounds, though, Mark -- and you're a 777 pilot -- that the focus really is on the pilot and the co-pilot because they had the ability, the skills, the wherewithal to do this, if, in fact, it was done in the way that it has been described.

MARK WEISS, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, it certainly appears that the focus of the attention now is on the cockpit, the pilot and the co- pilot. But again, go back to that, it's based on the cockpit. We till don't even know who was in cockpit. We don't know if there was an invited or uninvited guest or even a jump seat rider. So it focuses on the cockpit. And the easiest ones at the moment are the pilot and co-pilot.

BLITZER: I can only assume, Peter -- and you've been involved in a lot of these investigations -- that these investigators know more. They know something that they're not sharing with all of us. That's why they've said it's a criminal investigation and they're focusing in now on the crew.

GOELZ: Well, you hope they know more than what they're sharing. But, you know, the issue with the families, I think the Malaysian government is going to do anything in their power to get them home. They have been a persuasive and vocal group criticizing them and influencing the investigation. I think they've got so to say, listen, you guys are cleared, time to go home, we'll talk to you later.

BLITZER: Why would they clear all 227 passengers, given that it's a relatively small amount of time?

Do they know for sure none of them, partially, could have had anything to do with this?

FUENTES: I don't think it's possible to know. For my experience, an in-depth investigation of every person is going to take months, not a few weeks. And especially when you're talking about investigation in 14 different countries, as well. So it just seems, to me, to be very premature. On your comment about a criminal investigation, why don't we know more, you wouldn't know more. In a criminal case, the authorities will always hold that information very close to the vest, as it would be in this country.

BLITZER: So you assume, as I do, they know more than they're letting on.

FUENTES: Oh, that's a fact. They know more. And they're not going to let it out.

BLITZER: But they say they've only interviewed 170 people, Malaysian authorities, given the fact that, what, 227 passengers, plus crew members, 239 people altogether. That doesn't sound like a whole lot of interviews.

GOELZ: It's not a lot of interviews. But I agree with Tom, they've got to know more than what they're saying. They're holding back some. Let's hope that it's actually accurate information that has an impact on this solution.

BLITZER: Mark, is there something they should be doing now, based on your years flying these 777s?

And let's not forget, not only 239 people aboard this plane, but this is a U.S.-made Boeing 777, one of the most popular jetliners in the world. There are about 1,200 of them flying around the world right now. New ones cost upward of $200 million apiece. So if there was a mechanical problem, we've got to learn about that to make sure that that problem is resolved, is fixed.

But what should they be doing?

If they said to you, Mark Weiss, you're a pilot, what do we need to do right now, give them some advice.

WEISS: Well, I would certainly want to make sure that they've gone to Boeing and run all the possible scenarios. And at various altitudes and over various tracks, so they would have a better idea where that aircraft might have come down. Do it with explosive decompression and do it with potential fires of the lithium batteries in the cargo compartment. And run all of these scenarios and see what makes the most sense. And then eliminate those and try to focus on where the rest of the evidence takes us.

BLITZER: Well, you know Boeing. That's a pretty responsible company. It's a huge operation. No one has more at stake right now. Their reputation on the line.

I assume they're doing all that, don't you?

WEISS: I can guarantee you, they have hundreds of people working on this investigation 24/7. They are desperate to find out what happened.

BLITZER: Yes. Nobody wants to know more than, obviously...

WEISS: Absolutely.

BLITZER: -- the families want to know, first and foremost. But Boeing really has a huge amount of interest in what's going on.

WEISS: Absolutely. They have the deeper pockets. So when all the litigation starts in this case, it's going to go after Boeing more so than the Malaysian Airlines.

BLITZER: But it's not just the litigation, it's their reputation.

WEISS: Right.

BLITZER: They want to make sure these planes are safe, if there is

WEISS: Well, that's right.

BLITZER: -- a mechanical problem.

WEISS: That's absolutely valid.

BLITZER: But there really -- and just -- I want to just nail down on this, Pamela, because you've been doing a lot of reporting on this. Even though they say they haven't ruled out mechanical failure or something and really don't think that's the cause, they really think it was a criminal -- somebody or some people were involved in doing this? BROWN: Right. Well, we had had heard them say, you know, they believe that this is a deliberate act in the cockpit. And then sources told CNN that they were investigating it as though it was a criminal act, Wolf, even though, at this point, sources we've been speaking to say that they haven't found anything in the backgrounds of those pilots that would implicate them. They looked through their hard drive. They did a search of their homes. They've been interviewing their family members.

But for whatever reason, and perhaps they're withholding information we don't know, for whatever reason, they are focused on the criminal aspect.

BLITZER: Well, you know the -- there were two cases of pilots who committed suicide by taking their planes and killing everybody on board, including themselves.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

BLITZER: The EgyptAir pilot, the SilkAir pilots, SilkAir from Singapore.

Were there indications in advance that either of these pilots -- you investigated the EgyptAir disaster -- that either of these pilots were showing signs of craziness, if you will, that would have led them to do this?

GOELZ: With each affair, we had indications that there were problems with the co-pilot prior to the flight, that they probably never should have let him in the cockpit.

With SilkAir, it wasn't until a week or 10 days after the accident that we were able to start piecing together. There were suspicions, but it wasn't until a week or 10 days that the NTSB started to have a real picture that there could have been a problem there.

BLITZER: And it was the Silk pilot who took out a million dollar life insurance policy.

GOELZ: It was a high ticket insurance policy.

BLITZER: Yes, something like that.

All right, guys, stand by. We're going to continue to investigate.

Up next, is the U.S. doing enough in the hunt for Flight 370?

The Defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, he's getting ready to meet with his Malaysian counterpart.

What more can he offer?

And Australia has certainly been bearing the brunt of the search effort. I'll speak live with Australia's ambassador to the United States.

He's here with me in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The United States is playing an active role in the search for the missing airliner, but is it doing enough?

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is meeting with his Malaysian counterpart in -- in Hawaii in a couple of hours. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is joining us now. She has details -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the two men are attending a long-scheduled defense minister summit, defense ministers from across the Asia-Pacific region, scheduled long before this event happened. And now this will be a topic of discussion and some Questions about how long everyone can stay out there searching.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and his Malaysian counterpart met on Tuesday. Today, they'll talk more in depth about the search for Flight 370.

Malaysia says it wants more U.S. help with the deep-sea search and recovery.

Hagel aides tell CNN the secretary will listen. But it's not clear what more the U.S. can offer. Two U.S. Navy search planes have been flying for weeks, and underwater gear is ready if wreckage is spotted. Hagel says international cooperation has got to improve.

CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Coordination is a key part of this. How do we bring all the complement of full assets of nations together to cooperate and connect when you have these disasters?

STARR: So far the Pentagon has spent over $3.3 million out of a $4 million budget, mainly for the cost of flying search aircraft to look for debris. With batteries on the data recorders fading, accident investigator David Soucie says a fast change is needed.

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Yesterday the prime minister said we don't know what altitude it was. It could have been 12,000; it could have been 35,000. So let's start narrowing that stuff down.

I think that's what Chuck Hagel is going to be looking for, a little bit more specificity as to what are the numbers. Give me the numbers and tell me what those assumptions are so that we can put our people on it and figure this out.

STARR: And it may be time for a desperate measure on the ocean floor.

SOUCIE: I hope their thinking right now, let's get that pinger locator into the deepest, deepest trenches. Let's eliminate those as possibilities to say at least we know the pinger, if it was working, isn't in that trench.

STARR: Chasing satellite images of what turned out to be trash in the ocean has been a failed strategy for finding wreckage.

KEITH MASBACK, U.S. GEOSPATIAL INTELLIGENCE FOUNDATION: I think it comes back to the idea of, "Hey, I've got Google Earth. I can see things in my yard. Why can't we find this plane?"

It gets down to some basic understanding of how satellites operate. They're not on all the time. They're not searching the globe 24/7, 365.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: And even as those batteries begin to run out on the data recorder, the British have sent a submarine and another ship that can map the ocean floor to try and help, but everyone will tell you, Wolf, the first step is to find some debris from this plane -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's really, really hard, as we all know. Barbara, thanks very much. So is there more that the United States could be doing right now or should be doing? Let's look -- take a closer look right now at CNN's Richard Quest, who is joining us.

So, this defense minister, Hishammuddin, who's saying -- he's also the acting transport minister, and let's say right now that transport ministry portfolio is a little bit more important than the defense ministry portfolio. But what do you think is going to emerge if anything from this conversation between these two defense ministers?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think what will emerge from them is a very strong level of support by the United States for what Malaysia is doing and the commitment that they will do whatever they can.

Certainly, when it comes to -- I mean, the numbers that Barbara put out there, 3.3 million out of a 4 million budget so, the U.S. will obviously pay what is necessary from the U.S.' contributions and that will continue.

But they're going to have to come up with more than just -- the Malaysians are going to have to say what it is they want rather than just, "Here, you get on and do it," because the U.S. is going to be turning around and saying, "Well, tell us what you need, show us where you want us to go, and we will then be able to make a judgment on how we best assist."

Putting it another way, Wolf, the NTSB is already there. The pinger and the locator is already there. The FAA is already there. The FBI is already there. All the major assets that have been -- and of course, the Poseidon is already there. What more do they need to ramp it up further?

BLITZER: I assume that they're -- he's going to be asking for more help. What else could the U.S. be doing?

QUEST: I think you're talking about expertise, which certainly has been handed over in large amounts. I'm not certain that there's anything more in terms of expertise on the aviation front they could do.

Are you looking at greater assets, military assets? Even an aircraft carrier or a carrier group. Those are the sort of things. But at the moment, everything we've heard is that is not relevant. Merely sending more stuff in at this point is not the answer.

BLITZER: As you know, Malaysia Airlines now making major security changes in the cockpit, saying a pilot -- there's not going to be allowed to be just one person in that cockpit. There's always going to have to be someone else inside. The timing of this decision, what do you make of that as far as the implications for the investigation?

QUEST: The implication is very clear that something happened within the cockpit, within the two men in the cockpit, and now Malaysia wants to tighten up on its cockpit policy.

But I have to tell you I've been talking to one or two pilots in Europe where, you know, if the captain or the first officer leaves the cockpit, there isn't a second or third -- another person who goes in. So it's in the United States this rule is pretty hard and fast. One comes out, someone else goes in. I would expect in the fullness of time that becomes the global norm.

BLITZER: There was an intriguing comment from the Malaysian police inspector general who said they're looking at food, the food that the crew eats, the food that the pilots eat right now. Explain what may be going on here, why they're doing this.

QUEST: That's a very good question. I wasn't entirely certain. I mean, the old idea that, you know, was it poisoned, did the butler do it? Then you've got the question of, you know -- the traditional view has always been if you'll remember the pilot, one has fish, one has meat. They don't eat the same meal in case there's food poisoning, deliberate or otherwise.

I have to tell you on many airlines now, that is just broken in the bridge. Pilots in low-cost carriers may bring their own food. Food may not be provided. They'll buy it from inside the terminal.

On long-haul carriers they will choose from the menu. And their choice from the menu will not be certainly from the business-class menu, will not necessarily be "What did he have? I'll have the other."

One reason for that, of course, Wolf, on really serious long-haul flights, the flight crew is known as augmented. There's not just two; there's three. On a very long haul there's four.

BLITZER: And you know what? What's frustrating to me is that once again today they announced they're shifting the search area to a different location. It does not instill a whole lot of confidence that they have satellite coordinates or radar, or whatever it takes. They're moving this constantly. What does it instill in you?

QUEST: It tells me that they've very little idea other than those initial radar data between the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca, with the military primary radar. We know that they have that. They've got the handshake pings. We know they've got from Inmarsat. They've literally put one plus one together, and they've come up with this search area. They scour it, they find nothing. They do the only thing they can, which is start to wiggle the search area around that parameter.

Wolf, I'll be blunt. It would not surprise me, and I would not criticize them if the experts on the international front turned around tonight or tomorrow or the next day and say, "We've refined the data. We now think it's a thousand kilometers in the western direction." That is how little they've got to work on.

BLITZER: Yes. All right. Well, wouldn't be surprised by a lot of these developments, because there have been so many twists and turns over these past three weeks. We're now on week four of this mystery. Thanks very much, Richard Quest.

Coming up, aircrews are getting ready to resume the hunt for Flight 370. We're going to go live to the staging area in Australia.

And his country is doing the heavy lifting in the airliner search. Just ahead, my interview with Australia's ambassador to the United States, Tim Beasley. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Aircrews are getting ready to resume the hunt for Flight 370, but their target area has shifted again, moving closer to the Australian coast. This comes as Malaysia's prime minister arrives in Australia to get a firsthand look at the search efforts.

CNN's Kyung Lah is joining us now from the staging area in Perth, Australia. Kyung, tell us, first of all, the latest about this revised search effort.

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The way that this whole plan has worked as far as the new search area, is once they clear a certain section of the Indian Ocean, the planned search, they move it. And it's generally been contiguous. So you may notice if you are following this day by day, the search area moves. The reason why it moveed that much is because they've cleared that entire area. So it shifts. And that means they're actually making some progress. They've cleared an area.

What's going to happen today is they'll try to clear more area. There are about a dozen planes scheduled to take to the air. In about 30 minutes, a new search day does begin off of Perth here. There will be nine ships at sea. They have stayed at sea throughout all of this. Weather conditions have not been terrible. And, Wolf, they are trying -- they did clear about 237 square kilometers yesterday, so they are making some pretty good progress. Wolf?

BLITZER: The Malaysia prime minister, Kyung, he's in Perth, as you know. He wants to get a firsthand look at what's going on. What else is he planning on doing, because cooperation between Malaysia and Australia clearly is critical? LAH: Clearly critical, but we're not sure how much they're actually talking. They do seem like they're two separate investigations. Malaysia dealing with everything that happened before the plane disappeared, and then Australia picking up on the search and recovery. We did see the Malaysian prime minister touch ground yesterday here in Australia. We understand that he will be arriving here at the military base in Australia here just outside of Perth. He'll be doing this all in front of the cameras. He'll be going through and meeting some of the search teams. And so this, Wolf, is interesting because it does appear to be somewhat of an optics game. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Kyung Lah. We'll check back with you. She's in Perth, Australia. Australia, by the way, is certainly bearing the brunt of the Flight 370 search effort.

Joining us now is Australia's ambassador to the United States, Kim Beazley.

Ambassador, thanks very much for coming in.

KIM BEAZLEY, AUSTRALIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Tell us about the coordination, the prime minister of Malaysia now in Australia, ready to meet with your prime minister.

What's the objective here?

BEAZLEY: Well, firstly, the Malaysians are in charge of the overall investigation. And we are responsible for this part of the investigation, or the search, because it's in the Australian search zone. And so we're doing that coordination.

But any materials that are found by any of the parties that are engaged in this will be taken to Perth. It will be collected there and then taken to Malaysia for the investigation.

BLITZER: So just to be precise, Malaysia is in overall charge...

BEAZLEY: Yes.

BLITZER: -- but the search operation Australia is in charge?

BEAZLEY: Yes, we are.

BLITZER: Have you found anything yet?

BEAZLEY: No. As far as I'm aware, we haven't found anything yet. We're eliminating areas from our inquiries, as they -- as you would say. There's a very good search process out there. If there is any chance of finding anything, or anything to be found, this will find it.

BLITZER: What's frustrating is they keep moving the search zone. Originally, in the South China Sea. Then it was the southern part of the Indian Ocean...

BEAZLEY: Yes.

BLITZER: Then 700 miles north, more in the central part of the Indian Ocean. Now closer, a couple hundred miles closer toward Australia.

What is going on here?

BEAZLEY: Well, I think the Boffins (ph) have had unbelievable challenges before them. This is -- the Inmarsat investigation was groundbreaking...

BLITZER: The satellite (INAUDIBLE)?

BEAZLEY: The satellite investigation was groundbreaking. And as a ground-breaking, exercise, it's a bit suck it and see. You suggest the particular areas in which an inquiry might take place and then it's -- we're eliminating those areas.

So it will shift after we've gone through an area that was identified as possible. We'll look further in the areas adjacent to it.

That's what's happening now.

The previous search area was a product of an earlier calculation subsequently adjusted. We're not doing those calculations. Those calculations are being done by people with the sort of real background experience in how the satellites operate and calculations from that, but we do respond to it in the search areas that are created.

BLITZER: What happens if you don't find anything in this new search area, a few hundred miles to the east, closer to Australia?

BEAZLEY: Well, Wolf, we'll keep going until hell freezes over. I mean I have experience of an incident in Western Australia which used to be researched when I was defense minister, trying to find this -- the crews of HMAS Sydney, which was sunk off the Australian coast. It took us 60 years, but we did find it.

From this point on, well, if this aircraft is not found, there will be at the back of the mind of the Australian surveillance planes which operators which operate through this area all the time, that they have got to keep a lookout. Something will happen at some point in time.

If it's gone down off the Australian coast, the Indian Ocean guy (ph) will take seats, cautions, whatever, onto the Australian coastline eventually. Now, this will be found...

BLITZER: That could take months. That could take months.

BEAZLEY: It could take months. It could take years. But -- and that is what the new coordinator of information in Australia (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: And I just want to be precise. You have no doubt, based on everything your government has learned, that this plane wound up in the water? BEAZLEY: Well, all the -- we only go on the advice that we're given, Wolf. And we're given the advice by the people who have investigated this. And we are responding to that.

It's come down, in their mind, in an area that is in Australia's area of search responsibility. Therefore, we coordinate it.

And it's an extraordinary exercise -- Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, New Zealanders, Australians, some of whom get on well, some of them who don't, are all engaged in an exercise which shows just how much the plight of those poor people who are on that aircraft has touched the hearts of all of us.

BLITZER: I want to play for you a clip, the prime minister of Australia, Tony Abbott. He gave us all a lot of hope a couple of weeks ago when he said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: New and credible information has come to light in relation to the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in the Southern Indian Ocean. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority has received information, based on satellite imagery, of objects possibly related to the search.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: At that point, he was pretty upbeat about what was going on. But hopes have been dashed since then.

BEAZLEY: Yes, it's a very difficult process. It's a -- it's not one that we're completely unfamiliar with, as I said, in searches off the Australian coast. This is a vast area. But there is hope and there's also determination.

Hope may get qualified by the length of time it's taking to do things, but determination will stay there.

We are a very close -- we are -- we have very close relationships with the Chinese and very close relationships with the Malaysians. We're not in the business of letting them down.

BLITZER: And you say the search will continue until hell freezes over.

I want to bring Richard Quest into our conversation.

He has a question for you, Ambassador -- Richard, go ahead.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Ambassador, good evening to you.

BEAZLEY: Good evening.

QUEST: One of the big issues is, no one doubts the willingness and the capabilities and the competence of the search operation. But the traveling public is looking at this and absolutely aghast on a question of confidence in aviation, that basically, bluntly, a 777 can go missing and no one knows where it is.

You can see that, can't you?

BEAZLEY: Well, I can see that, Richard. And I can see why you're concerned about that.

And I think one of things that's been happening, and in part, as a result of the intensive activity that you and others have given this, with considerable expertise, is right now, around the world, people must be sitting down and thinking about proper controls on transponders.

What, if any, information ought to be led up for the black box?

You couldn't let it all up, but you might be able to send bits and pieces of it up to satellites from time to time.

People have already learned a lot about aviation safety from the exercise to this point. I don't think the thing will be the same again.

But one thing will be absolutely the case, and that is governments right around the globe will react to this and start to insist on some changes from the airlines.

BLITZER: And I know six Australian citizens were aboard that plane, so this hits home to everyone in Australia, particularly Qantas Airlines.

BEAZLEY: Yes.

BLITZER: I don't know if you fly 777s.

Does Qantas Airlines?

BEAZLEY: I don't fly 777s, but I do fly 777s home, because from Washington to Perth -- Perth is my home.

BLITZER: So Qantas doesn't fly 777s.

BEAZLEY: They don't. But Emirates, which have a -- which has a relationship with Qantas -- does. I fly home every year at least once using a 777.

BLITZER: It's a very popular plane.

BEAZLEY: It's a popular plane. And it is a terrific plane.

In terms of the human dimensions of this, I -- a story needs to be told. Air Chief Marshall

Houston, who is an enormously capable aviator and is in charge of (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: Your air marshal.

BEAZLEY: Yes. Yes, in charge of the process, when that lass has been on your show that -- from Perth, who is terribly troubled by the missing -- her husband missing -- said that she wasn't getting enough information, he gave her his personal cell. So she can contact him anytime she likes and he will respond.

BLITZER: A final question.

Mechanical failure or criminal activity?

BEAZLEY: Well, from what has been told by the Malaysian authorities, they seem to be leaning toward the criminal activity.

BLITZER: Either the pilot or the co-pilot or some crew member?

BEAZLEY: Or somebody else in regard to that claim. (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: And that's Australia's conclusion, as well?

BEAZLEY: No. We -- we take our conclusions from the Malaysians. They're heading up this investigation.

BLITZER: Ambassador, thanks very much for coming in.

We hope you'll come back.

BEAZLEY: Thank you.

BLITZER: Kim Beazley is the ambassador of Australia to the United States.

Our special coverage of the mystery of Flight 370 continues. In the next hour, we're also learning more about today's closed-door meeting of Malaysian officials and some of the passengers' families.

But there's another major story we're watching developing in the wake of a deadly earthquake. We're bringing in some frightening new pictures of the moment everything started shaking and even worst quakes: are they still to come?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We'll get back to our special coverage of the Mystery of Flight 370 in just a few moments, but there's another important story we're follow right now. Aftershocks are rolling across northern Chile today in the wake of last night's deadly magnitude 8.2 earthquake. There's also an earthquake off Panama today, and all of this comes just days after a quake and a swarm of aftershocks in California in the L.A. area.

CNN's Brian Todd checked in with experts today to see what's going on.

Brian, what is going on?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, all those earthquakes you just mentioned are in this notorious ring of fire, this area in the Pacific Rim prone to tectonic shifts, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions.

Chile's earthquake last night was massive. It released a lot of seismic energy. It put that whole region on a tsunami warning. But even with all of that seismologists say Chile dodged a bullet.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): A fearsome jolt inside a grocery store. Customers desperately rush out, with items crashing from shelves.

As a siren sounds, residents hurry along darkened streets. The woman appears to be praying as her home convulses.

This man is racked with fear but grateful he's in a shelter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Through Translator): My house was a little bit destroyed, but the important thing is that we made it here.

TODD: The 8.2 magnitude quake in Chile damaged more than 2,000 homes, triggered a tsunami, at least one major fire, even caused a prison breakout. Roughly a million people were evacuated. Virtually the entire South American Pacific Coast was in danger of tsunamis.

How violent was it?

MIKE BLANPIED, EARTHQUAKE HAZARDS COORDINATOR, USGS: This darker yellow area here outlines where about 50,000 people were shaken extremely strongly right next to the area where the fault broke.

TODD: Mike Blanpied, one of the U.S. government's top seismologists, says experts thought that one fault line in that area of Chile near the city of Iquique would be in trouble.

BLANPIED: This particular area had not had a major earthquake since 1887, therefore seismologists recognized that it was due.

TODD: And it could be just a foreshock. Experts say an even larger earthquake could strike Chile. They just don't know when.

Chile's is the sight of the most powerful earthquake ever reported, a 9.5 magnitude in 1960 that killed thousands and it's in the world's most dangerous quake zone, the ring of fire, an arc of fault lines circling the Pacific basin that's prone to earthquakes.

In that ring, Southern California, where multiple quakes and dozens of aftershocks in recent weeks shook buildings and nerves.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're having an earthquake.

TODD: Is the big one in Southern California going to hit soon?

BLANPIED: We can't know whether a big one is coming to Southern California soon, tomorrow, next week, or next month or a decade from now. What we do know is one's coming eventually and the small earthquakes are indicating that that earthquake process is ongoing.

TODD: Ongoing in a broader region that's recently experienced seismic events which have exacted a staggering human toll. The Sumatra quake and tsunami in 2004 and the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Both measured 9.0. Together, they killed more than 240,000 people.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: But despite being this that same ring of fire, are they all technically connected? Well, not all of them. Mike Blanpied says the recent California tremors are not connected to that earthquake in Chile last night. He says there are different tectonic plates in different regions moving in different ways -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much. Brian working that story.

Just ahead, more of our special coverage of the mystery of Flight 370. Finally Malaysian officials, they are on the record confirming this is now a criminal investigation.

And we expect the air search to resume momentarily. We're going live to Australia. The planes, they're getting ready to take off again.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama spent the afternoon at the University of Michigan. He talked about the new total of signups for health insurance through Obamacare telling students this year's total enrollment could fill Michigan's football stadium 65 times. But the celebrating doesn't mean the health care reform fight is over.

Let's go to our White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski, she's joining us now live with more on the very latest -- Michelle.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf, the president was certainly fired up at that speech today. But just because more Americans than expected signed up for Obamacare and the administration could not be more thrilled hardly means that this is any less of a political hot button right now or that the complexity of this issue on which America is deeply divided is going away.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KOSINSKI (voice-over): President Obama landed at the University of Michigan today to boost another big item on his list this term -- raising the minimum wage, but still basking in the glow of those big Obamacare numbers.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Oh, and by the way, 7.1 million Americans have now signed up for coverage to the Affordable Care Act otherwise known as Obamacare.

KOSINSKI: To encourage those millions to sign on the administration touted the effects of its creative strategy months in the making. The president's 4:00 a.m. to comedian Zach Galifianakis' parody online show "Between Two Ferns" got more than 30 million views. OBAMA: Have you heard of healthcare.gov?

ZACH GALIFIANAKIS, "BETWEEN TWO FERNS": Here we go. OK. Let's get this out of the way. What did you come here to plug?

KOSINSKI: Celebrities, sports stars were drafted to do their part.

JAMES LEBRON, NBA STAR: You can go there to find an affordable health plan as part of the health care law.

KOSINSKI: Sparking "Saturday Night Live" to mock the lengths to which Obama was willing to go to make health care go viral.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we'll give you Pharrell's hat.

KOSINSKI: But Tuesday's address after the signup deadline was like a throwdown to opponent, a chance to tell some success stories.

OBAMA: Sean Casey from Salina Beach, California, always made sure to cover his family on the private market, but pre-existing medical conditions meant his annual tab was over $30,000. The Affordable Care Act changed that.

KOSINSKI: Today, though, Republicans refused to acknowledge an administration win here.

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Obamacare is not a success to the millions who lost their health care policies that they liked.

KOSINSKI: And brought their own stories, from the dark side.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: A young man I talked to last week back in California whose premiums doubled and his co-pays and deductibles tripled.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOSINSKI: And cracks have really hit hard at the numbers that so far the administration has not been able to provide. How many of those enrolling were not insured before, how many are paying their premium, but there are numbers coming out of some states and insurance companies that show that those numbers seem to be quite high -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Michelle Kosinski at the White House with the very latest.

We're getting some disturbing news of some sort of incident on post at Fort Hood in Texas. We're working our sources. We'll have more on that as well as the latest on the mystery of Flight 370 when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, our special coverage of the mystery of Flight 370. Police are zeroing in on the cockpit crew. They're stressing this is now a criminal investigation, and they're also looking at other potential suspects who may not have flown on the plane. Crews are about to head to a new search area. Is there a reason to hope that this time something will be found? We're live in Australia as the search is about to resume.

And what did passengers' families learn today during a closed door briefing? CNN is in Malaysia. We're pressing for answers.