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THE SITUATION ROOM

New Audio of Pings; Air Search to Resume Shortly; Searchers Trying to Detect More Pings; Flight 370 Search May Be Most Expensive Ever

Aired April 8, 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: Jake, thanks very much.

Happening now, the mystery of Flight 370 -- the search area narrows dramatically. A U.S. Navy pinger locator tries to relocate the signals that which may have come from the airliner's two black boxes. And aircraft are getting ready right now to hunt, once again, for debris.

And you're going to hear those pings for yourself in a new audio just released by search authorities. But until searchers are able to hear those pings again, or determine that the batteries powering them are dead, an unmanned submarine will remain on standby.

And Russia now warning of civil war if Ukraine uses force to quell pro-Russian protests, as the war of war escalates right here at home.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: On the issue of Ukraine, my hero, Teddy Roosevelt, used to say, talk softly but carry a big stick. What you're doing is talking strongly and carrying a very small stick. In fact, a twig.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Wait until you hear how the secretary of State, John Kerry, fires back.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin this hour with new details on the hunt for Flight 370.

Here are the latest developments.

Searchers are now scouring a much smaller area of the Indian Ocean trying once again to hear those pinging sounds which may have come from the airliner's black boxes. Because searchers can't afford any competing noise, a drone mini sub will remain out of the ocean until the pings are relocated or completely ruled out.

Aircraft, meanwhile, are getting ready to take off, hunting for the strangely elusive debris, which could help narrow the search further.

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

Let's begin with our senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance.

He's joining us right now from Perth, Australia -- Matthew.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, thanks very much.

Well, Australian officials are saying that over the course of the next coming days, we can expect an increase in activity, as they do everything they can -- they throw air and sea assets -- at trying to find this missing Malaysian plane.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHANCE (voice-over): These are the latest images of the search for missing Flight 370. Aboard the Australian ship Ocean Shield, search teams are racing against the clock, using sophisticated equipment on loan from the U.S. Navy.

But signals detected at the weekend said to be consistent with black box flight recorders now appear to have been lost.

ANGUS HOUSTON, JOINT AGENCY COORDINATION CENTRE: The towed pinger locator work continues. There have been no further contacts with any transmission and we need to continue that several days, right up to when -- the point at which there's absolutely no doubt that the pinger batteries will have expired.

CHANCE: There's more high tech equipment the search teams are waiting to deploy, like this robotic submarine, which can scour the ocean floor. But first, they need to locate the signal again. Australian officials say the search area has been significantly narrowed, but still, they're stepping up efforts in the sea and in the air to find more clues.

DAVID JOHNSTON, AUSTRALIAN DEFENSE MINISTER: We have a positive lead. Today, we have foreign ships and foreign aircraft over those sites, flat out trying to enhance that lead and to deliver up something more tangible.

CHANCE: But after more than a month searching this vast ocean nearly three miles deep, Austrian officials say the hunt for Flight 370 is proving a Herculean task.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

CHANCE: Well, Wolf, it's been well over 30 days now since the search in that remote part of the Indian Ocean began. Within the next few hours -- and, by the way, it's been continuing overnight, as well. They're going 24/7, searching beneath the surface with that sonar equipment. Within the next few hours, the air flights, a observation flights, are going to be restarting, as well. I'm actually going to be on one of those flights myself and so hopefully, I'll bring you more sort of personal information in the hours ahead.

BLITZER: That would be good, Matthew.

What's the weather look like right now?

CHANCE: Yes, it's pretty good at the moment. There has been some stormy weather out at sea. Remember, we're talking about an area 1,000 miles off the Australian coast.

But at the moment, the search teams are saying the weather is very good, very good conditions for trying to spot some debris. They still haven't found anything yet, though, that's related to MH370.

BLITZER: It's pretty shocking when you think about it.

All right, thanks very much, Matthew Chance.

Good luck on that trip. We'll stay in close touch with you.

In the military, let's bring in our aviation analyst, Miles O'Brien, and our law enforcement a lot, the former FBI assistant director, Tom Fuentes.

Are you surprised, first of all, he's going out?

They're looking -- they haven't found any debris. They've heard pings from these two black boxes, they think, but they haven't found any debris.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: It's either the most extraordinary event ever, or those pings weren't real. I think we can say with this fairly high confidence, given what the U.S. Navy has said, and others, that there's reasonable optimism to say those pings were, in fact, from, you know, a black box of some kind.

So if you accept that notion and see no debris in the water, it's a -- it's somewhat befuddling.

There are a couple of scenarios security come to mind. It could have been, you know, a successful ditching, like "Sully" Sullenberger on the Hudson. Or it could have been a very high speed vertical impact that brought all the debris in one very isolated spot.

BLITZER: And there was, not that long ago, a few weeks ago, a cyclone that basically went around that whole area.

O'BRIEN: Right.

BLITZER: And it could have blown stuff who knows where.

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Right. 32 days after the disappearance, 100 mile an hour winds, currents, waves, you know, if there's debris, it could be anywhere.

BLITZER: If they heard what they believed to be the pinging coming from two black boxes, one for two hours, every second for two hours, different, you know, levels of audio, if you will, and another 15 minutes from a second black box, the flight data recorder, the cockpit voice recorder, why isn't that enough to send that unmanned sub, if you will, underneath to start looking for it?

O'BRIEN: You would think -- you would think that would be enough. That seems like a lot of data.

But the problem is, in order -- you know, the acoustics of the ocean can fool you. In order to really triangulate, to hone in on the location, you need multiple hits from multiple angles. You actually do a crisscross pattern. And if you pick it up, you are able to really home in on the location.

They certainly have a much smaller area to search, as we've been saying. And if they have to go with the side scan sonar sub, you know, eventually, they'll find the wreckage. There's no question. It's just going to take a lot of time to do that.

BLITZER: Because to hear that ping, you have to be one or two miles away. So if you do the math, if you're hearing it and you think it's the ping -- you're, let's say, two miles away, you're basically in a five mile radius of those two black boxes, which is still a nice area to look for a couple of black boxes, but it's certainly doable.

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Right. And I think what's interesting is for 30 days, we heard you had to be within two or three miles. And now, for the last two days, we're hearing that depending on a number of factors, it could carry 300 miles. They didn't rule out the Chinese ping that was heard, saying, well, you know, certain aspects of water conditions could carry a sound that far.

So it's pretty amazing to me that they can go from two or three miles to 300 miles suddenly.

BLITZER: So you think they're going to wait until they're absolutely, positively certain the batteries have run out?

Now it's day 33 right now. It's supposed to last 30 days, but sometimes they can last another five or 10 days.

So are we talking 40 days before they'll send that submersible little submarine in there, that one man sub?

O'BRIEN: That seems like a good number. I'm sure they're in close consultation with the manufacturer of the pinger device, you know, what are the outer bounds of this?

But, you know, it doesn't just drop off a cliff. It gets weaker and weaker. It could go on for some time.

The question is, can they get that device down low enough?

It's very deep.

Can they get it close enough to pick up a signal once again?

You know, I think there will be increasing pressure to put that sub in there, because the families need to know.

BLITZER: And they still are working under the assumption of if the black boxes were there, presumably, some of the plane is not that far away, either.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

BLITZER: And if they do go underneath and start mapping that area in a lawn mower kind of motion, over five, 10 square miles...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

BLITZER: -- presumably, they think they might find something.

FUENTES: Right. But the fact that some experts have said the battery can go more than 40 days, that means we're looking at at least one more week of this type of search before they even think about putting the submersibles in.

BLITZER: And in the meantime, they're going to keep that towed pinger locator -- it's going to keep moving around 24/7...

FUENTES: Right.

BLITZER: -- to see if they can relocate that ping.

All right, guys, stand by. We've got a lot more to cover.

Up next, the underwater hunt is intensifying. Planes are getting ready for another day of scouring the surface. I'll speak live with one of the military commanders of the aerial search.

And no one is following the search more closely than the designers of the pinger locator which detected those extraordinary sounds underwater. We're going to give you a behind-the-scenes look at how it works.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The underwater hunt is intensifying as searchers urgently try to relocate those pings heard by a listening device. At the same time, aircraft are getting ready for another day of scouring the ocean surface.

Let's bring in Wing Commander Andy Scott of the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

He's joining us via Skype.

Commander, thanks very much for joining us.

First of all, any updates on what you're learning as far as the search is concerned, underwater and on the surface?

ANDY SCOTT, WING COMMANDER, ROYAL NEW ZEALAND AIR FORCE: So at the moment, what we're looking at today is moving the aircraft search areas out to the west of where the pings were detected by the vessel, Ocean Shield. It is just one search area today, so that has changed from the day before, when we were actually looking at three separate search areas, based on some of those other detections.

So in -- it's one of the great things about the cooperation we're actually seeing as part of this search, with both traditional and nontraditional partners, is that we actually saw yesterday the vessel HMS Echo going and working alongside the Haixun 01 to try and locate any further information with respect to their detections from over the weekend. But it appears that area has now been ruled out for now, and we're now concentrating further up to the northwest. Just, as I said, immediately to the west of where the Ocean Shield detections were.

BLITZER: Which leads me to believe, Commander, that the Chinese pings that were detected clearly were coming from something other than the two black boxes from the Malaysian airliner.

But you're still working under the assumption that the two hours you heard pinging from one box, another 15 minutes or so from a second box, that those were authentic pings coming from the flight data and cockpit voice recorders. Is that your still working assumption?

SCOTT: That is still the working assumption, yes.

BLITZER: And that's why you've moved the aerial search now to this area just west of where those pings were coming from, assuming that, if there is surface debris, it was moving in a westward direction. Is that also your assumption?

SCOTT: So what we're basically looking at now is effectively two different types of search. There's the one that's going on under the surface, as you've discussed with respect to their trying to detect the black boxes. And also, they're trying to locate a debris field, as well.

Now, as part of the search operations that have been going on for the last few weeks, there's been a number of aircraft that have been dropping marker beacons to go and assess drift. Now, anything that's, obviously, sitting at the bottom of the ocean will be subject to a different pattern than that sitting on the top.

So the search areas for today are based off a possible debris field that would be a couple of hundred miles across to the west, and that's just looking at where the ocean currents have been by a computer model and from data that's been received from these marker buoys.

BLITZER: Are you still also working under the assumption that the batteries -- the battery life for those two black boxes, that the batteries are still working? Or do you fear they may have dried up?

SCOTT: So there's conflicting reports that we have out there, and you've seen that in the media, of course. But at the end of the day, until there is no reason to be looking for those or there is every reason to believe that those batteries are still functioning and that they will be putting out a signal that we can detect. And that's likely to go on for a number of days yet.

BLITZER: Commander, Miles O'Brien is here with me. He has a question for you. Go ahead, Miles.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Commander Scott, I cannot recall an aviation incident where there was a pinger discovered before any shed of debris. This is extraordinary. Give us a sense of how much confidence you have in the ability to -- I think the term is hind cast, in other words, trace back from the datum, which is this presumed of the crash-- to where debris might be. Do you have confidence in the ability to do it 30 days later?

SCOTT: So, at the end of the day, as time goes on, of course, you start to say there's more variables that could be thrown in there. We still haven't got a start point, so yes, we do have to hind cast, as you say, back to try and locate those areas. And it's a matter of then trying to refine those data.

Now, throughout this search, there's been a number of assumptions that have been made, hypotheses that have been tested. And if we do end up having a good location for all those black boxes, it will at least give us that starting point to then go and work backwards.

But of course, over the period of the last 30 days, we're still talking about a large potential area it could be. At the moment, we have the remnants of Tropical Cyclone Ivanhoe going through the area, which again will start to go and disperse any potential debris field that could be there. So it's a large task that's still ahead of us.

BLITZER: Let me just clarify. How big of an area underwater -- let's say these two boxes are on the -- at the bottom of the Indian Ocean right now, and you did get those pings over the past few days for two hours and 15 minutes. Usually, for that towed pinger locator to work, it's got to be, what, one or two miles away. So are you basically within a five or ten-mile radius of where you think those two boxes might be?

SCOTT: That's certainly the hope. You know, with having two separate detections over the weekend by Ocean Shield, that was certainly something that gave everyone a great deal of hope and clearly we'd like to have more detections to go and help refine that area more.

But effectively, what we're doing at the moment or what the vessels are doing is a little bit like aircraft used to have to do before GPS beacons were there and to try and hone in on a radio signal. So they're going to be crisscrossing the area at the moment, trying to go and see when the signals...

BLITZER: I just want to clarify, on those Chinese pings that were detected, Commander, you've given up on those. Those clearly were not pings coming from the black boxes, right?

SCOTT: Yes. BLITZER: All right. Commander Andy Scott of the Royal New Zealand Air Force. As usual, you've been a big help for us. Are you still a little cautiously optimistic, Commander, before I let you go?

SCOTT: At the end of the day, there's highs and lows throughout this search. And I've spoken of those many times over the last couple of weeks. We obviously had the high over the weekend. It may be a bit of a lull until we get another detection, but we'll always stay optimistic in this sort of operation.

BLITZER: Good luck to you. Good luck to all the men and women involved in this search. Commander Scott, thanks very much.

Coming up, we're learning more about the critical device at the center of the search. You'll hear from the team whose technology heard those possible signals from the missing plane.

Plus, the cost of this search quickly adding up to the most expensive of its kind, with some estimates suggesting more than $20 million a month. We're going to have the surprising details of that and a lot more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: At the center of the search for Flight 370, critical technology and a race against the clock to detect more possible pings. Our own Brian Todd has this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, with search teams working feverishly to pick up any trace of the plane, the towed pinger locator remains a crucial piece of equipment. WE came here to find out what its operators are up against as they try to reacquire the signal.

(voice-over): They were there, then they weren't. Those crucial signals picked up in the Indian Ocean consistent with pings from the flight recorders. No one is following this more intensely than the team at Phoenix International, which designed the device that heard those sounds.

(on camera): Do you think that, even though they haven't picked up anything for a couple of days, that the pinger locator could still pick up pings?

PAUL NELSON, PROJECT MANAGER, PHOENIX INTERNATIONAL: I believe so. Based on my experience, I believe so. We did a job off Comoros (ph) a few years back, and we actually heard the pinger for up to 53 days.

TODD (voice-over): Tonight, the marine dragnet continues aboard the Australian vessel Ocean Shield, with the pinger locator making long sweeps, trying to reacquire those signals. Search teams likely won't deploy the underwater drone they have, the Bluefin-21, until the pinger locator is finished with its work.

Why not launch that vehicle sooner? Scan a broad area of the sea floor? Try to find a debris field?

NELSON: There's costs involved. There's interference, noise levels. You want to try to focus and concentrate on doing this properly.

TODD: A potential hurdle for the pinger locator? False positives.

NELSON: A manmade source, this could pick it up, especially if it's closer to the surface.

TODD (on camera): What kind of source?

NELSON: A ship. There's engine noise. There's transducers. There's anything that scientists put at the bottom.

TODD (voice-over): One thing that doesn't concern project manager Paul nelson, the idea of whales and other sea life sending confusing signals.

(on camera): Phoenix says operators on board the Ocean Shield are good at weeding out false positives. They do it by carefully monitoring the specific frequencies and the repetition rate.

And in op centers like this one onboard, they're highly trained to be disciplined and to discriminate, to block out any other potential sounds.

(voice-over): That means teams of sonar techs working 12-hour shifts, mustering every ounce of concentration they have, hoping for that one moment.

NELSON: They're sitting around for days listening to silence. The first ping, everybody would perk up, and then if it's a continuous ping, there's this tremendous emotional release.

TODD (on camera): With all the ups and downs of this search, Paul Nelson urges patience. He points out that in the Air France case, it took five different phases of search and recovery, spanning more than 20 weeks over the course of two years before ROVs like this one picked up that wreckage -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Thanks.

Let's get some more now from former U.S. Navy oceanographer Van Gurley, who's here in THE SITUATION ROOM with me.

Van, thanks very much.

In that Air France 2009 search for the black boxes, they found debris after five days, but then two days it took them to find the black boxes. But they had a much bigger area than presumably they're looking at right now.

VAN GURLEY, FORMER U.S. NAVY OCEANOGRAPHER: You're right. That was a two-year effort, and that wasn't two years on the water. That was about 10 weeks, 20 weeks on the water because of logistics of getting things out, to look at a 5,000 square-mile area.

Based on these, you know, very positive returns that were heard over the weekend by the Ocean Shield team and the Phoenix International experts, they have to be within three to four miles of the location of something on the bottom that is manmade, and the only thing that really should be down there at this point would be the pingers.

So if you're looking at something, even conservatively, you're talking about 75 square miles, which they've already have narrowed it down to. And that makes this a very tractable problem. Something that can be done in a matter of weeks.

BLITZER: In the Air France disaster, they never heard any pings to begin with. At least now they believe they heard two hours of pings coming from one of these black boxes and 15 minutes coming from a second one. And in order to detect that ping, as you point out, you have to be a mile, maybe two miles away. So you're dealing with a square mile radius of not that much of an area, relatively speaking.

GURLEY: That's correct, Miles [SIC]. Again, this is very positive and I know everyone is trying to be cautious because we've had false leads, and there hasn't been any luck in this case up until now. But I really think that they're close -- close to being on it.

The problem that we're all going to face now is the remaining operations are going to go excruciatingly slow. They're going to be very slow and very deliberate. And in the Navy we talk about finding submarines as anti-submarine warfare, ASW. The joke is that stands for "awfully slow warfare."

And I think what we're going to be facing out here over the next couple of weeks, is they very methodically make sure they put the right piece of gear in the right place, because you don't want to have something go wrong with the Bluefin and now you're really out of the game.

BLITZER: An they don't want to put that Bluefin down there until they're 100 percent sure that the batteries are dead, because that could interfere with any pinging that might still be coming out?

GURLEY: You're exactly right. What they're doing right now is looking for one last hope of finding it before the batteries die. And you have to be completely quiet. You can't have the Bluefin in the water. They're being incredibly prudent and incredibly conservative, but I think they're on the right lead.

BLITZER: Yes. And the weaker the battery, the shorter the range of those pings, because the pings become weaker, as well. So they really may not have a mile or two to hear those pings. They may have to be a few hundred yards away before they can hear them?

GURLEY: Exactly right.

BLITZER: All right. Van Gurley, thanks very much.

GURLEY: Thank you. BLITZER: Up next, it may go down as the most expensive search in aviation history. We're going to show you why this massive effort to find Flight 370 is so costly.

And other important news we're watching, including Russia. It's warning of civil war if Ukraine uses force to quell pro-Russian protests. Is that a not-so-veiled threat of invasion?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The round the clock hunt for Flight 370 in one of the most remote areas on Earth is massive and extraordinarily costly.

Our senior correspondent, Joe Johns, has been looking into the price tag for us.

He's joining us now live from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with more.

What are you finding out -- Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, with all the satellites, ships, planes and submarines, it's very hard to estimate the price tag on the search for MH370. But it's becoming pretty clear that in terms of cost, this is an entirely new chapter in the chronicles of aviation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS (voice-over): The search for MH370 is quickly becoming the most expensive of its kind in history, the scope of which is unprecedented, says a former lead investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board.

BOB FRANCIS, FORMER VICE CHAIRMAN, NTSB: In the history of aviation, we've never had a challenge that even comes close to this.

JOHNS: More than two dozen countries, seven contributing the most, and Australia taking the lead, 80 ships and 61 aircraft, all part of the effort to locate the plane.

The greatest challenge?

The remote distances of the search.

FRANCIS: A tremendous percentage of the resources, whether it's aircraft or ships or personnel, are spending their time getting there and getting home.

JOHNS: And that comes with a hefty price tag, with some estimates suggesting a cost of $21 million a month, most of the money coming from military training budgets, some from humanitarian organizations and now from U.S. Navy operations.

For example, a Navy P-8 aircraft costs about $4,200 an hour to fly. The Pentagon originally designated $4 million for the search, but has already spent $7.1 million on planes, ships and underwater surveillance equipment.

How does Flight 370 compare to other aviation disasters?

The two year search for Air France 447 cost roughly $50 million. The TWA 800 investigation and recovery cost about $40 million in 1996, one of the longest investigations the NTSB ever conducted. Swiss Air 111, which went down off the coast of Nova Scotia in 1998, the search recovery and investigation took four years and cost $39 million.

But what of the collateral costs of missteps and management of the investigation?

FRANCIS: Frankly, the Malaysian government has not handled this at all well. And that's clearly cost time and resources.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

JOHNS: Now, the many governments engaged in this search already own these assets, including the ships and planes. So one way to look at this is an as an extended high stakes training exercise -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. That's one way of looking at it.

Joe Johns in Kuala Lumpur, thanks very much.

Let's bring in our own Richard Quest, our aviation analyst, Miles O'Brien, our aviation analyst, the former NTSB managing director, Peter Goelz, along with our law enforcement analyst, the former FBI assistant director, Tom Fuentes -- you've been involved, Peter, in these investigations for a long time.

Does Malaysia Airlines, do they have to shell out money as part of this investigation?

Do they have insurance that would pay for this?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: They have insurance. It will pay for some of it. But they're going to walk away from this as quick as they can. An airline can't carry a cost of $50 million plus.

BLITZER: Are there -- is there a risk some countries will opt out because it's getting expensive -- Miles?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Oh, I would suspect so. But then, you know, you've got to couple that with the pressure that the families are putting on and just generally that the aviation industry needs to know if there is, in fact, some sort of mechanical problem with this aircraft. That's a very important question to get answered. And so that drives a lot of the costs and the impetus to do it.

So it may shift from governmental search into a more private mode, which happened in Air France.

BLITZER: But fortunately, the U.S. government does have options to take care of emergencies like this. TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, they do, Wolf. But also, I think that the number of countries working on this now is because it's the search. And once the plane is located, you're going to have fewer countries involved in the actual recovery and salvage operation.

BLITZER: Richard, where do you think this investigation stands right now?

You've been covering it from right at the beginning. They heard the pinging going on for two hours from one box. They think a second box, another 15 minutes. In order to detect those pings, you've got to be a mile or two, maximum, away.

So even if they're not hearing these pings again, they've got to be relatively close to this area.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's the slight unknown, the exact distance and the exact size of the search field. If they never hear another ping again, the amount of data they've already got from the crisscrossing of the two pings that they have, how big is the actual search zone?

Some say it's 76 square miles. Other people say it's just over 100 square miles.

All we can really say is what Angus Houston said last night, that it would take, quote, "a long, long time" if they have to start searching the ocean bed in that area.

Now, to be sure, Wolf, it is certainly a lot smaller than what we were looking at last week. No question about it.

But getting one extra ping and being able to triangulate down to make it smaller and smaller and smaller will be a huge benefit.

But my guess is that they are now very much looking at Plan B, Plan C and Plan D for what happens if they never hear another ping.

BLITZER: And, Miles, we did hear from the New Zealand Wing commander, he said they've basically given up on those Chinese pings. They're not even searching in that area anymore.

In terms of the surface, they're looking to the west of where the pings were detected. That's the area. And compared to where the huge search was at the beginning, this is a relatively modest area.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it is. And, you know, it's just so extraordinary. I mean a couple of -- you know, not only is this an unprecedented search, it's unprecedented to have the pings and not a shred of debris.

And so what they're doing is doing their best, with 30 days of time, plus a cyclone thrown in, trying to figure out how that debris might drift. And they're -- they're about 200 miles west-northwest of this location where these supposed pings are, looking for debris. So far, nothing.

BLITZER: So far nothing on the surface.

You're not surprised that those Chinese pings turned out to be a false alarm, that we heard about over the weekend?

GOELZ: No, not in the least, Wolf. Those were red herring from the beginning. I mean what's going to happen now is they're going to give the search another five to 10 days for the pings. If they don't hear it, then they've got to go into Plan B, which is side scanning sonar over at least 100 square miles.

BLITZER: The unmanned vehicle...

GOELZ: That's right.

BLITZER: -- sending it down there and then crisscrossing.

And that could still take, Tom, quite a while to complete the job, even if you're doing five or 10 square mile radius.

FUENTES: It could take a long time. And winter is coming in the Southern Hemisphere, so they're going to be up against increasing weather problems in that region as the next few months and weeks go on, to where they may have to withdraw all the ships for periods of time...

GOELZ: Right.

FUENTES: -- before they can bring them back. That was another issue in Air France, that they didn't...

(CROSSTALK)

FUENTES: -- continuously search. They had to withdraw periodically.

BLITZER: Richard, I take it at least this is -- the New Zealand Wing commander we just spoke with may be a slightly little bit less optimistic than he was yesterday. But they're still pretty cautiously optimistic that the pings they heard were the real thing, not some false alarm. And so they think they're onto something serious right now.

QUEST: No question. The commander of the U.S. Seventh Fleet we spoke to yesterday was also less optimistic. Everybody is a little less optimistic. But where they are not shifting their ground is the belief that this was the black box sound that they heard. And that is, for all of the reasons that you have been talking about. It's in the right place. It made the right noise. It lasted for a length of time. It was a frequency that was acceptable for the purpose of which you're talking about.

Put all of the factors together and it has, to quote them, "the consistency of a black box emergency beacon."

So they believe it's the right place, the right beacon. They've just got to try and get it again.

BLITZER: They've got to hear that ping, if those batteries are still working.

I want all of you to stand by.

Much more coming up just ahead.

Not only have the searchers been unable to find any traces of debris from Flight 370, they can't even be certain of what they should be looking for. We're going to show you why.

And a war of words over Russia and Ukraine right here at home. Wait until you hear Senator John McCain and Secretary of State John Kerry. They go at it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Much more of our special coverage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in just a few moments. But first, another important story we're monitoring right now, the growing tensions in Ukraine where parliament exploded into chaos following pro-Russian uprisings in three major Ukrainian cities. Meantime, Russia is warning any use of force in Ukraine's eastern region could trigger a civil war.

Our foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott is joining us from the State Department right now.

Elise, this crisis is also fueling some outrage, a fierce debate right here in Washington.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: That's right, Wolf. Well, Secretary of State John Kerry was really from the get-go on the defensive on Ukraine but it didn't end there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT (voice-over): John Kerry came armed with tough words for Russia.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Everything that we've seen in the last 48 hours from Russian provocateurs and agents operating in eastern Ukraine tells us that they have been sent there determined to create chaos.

LABOTT: Instead of merely agreeing, Republican senators used the hearing as a chance to bludgeon the secretary of state on his entire foreign policy.

JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: My hero Teddy Roosevelt used to say talk softly and carry a large stick. What you're doing is talking strongly and carrying a very small stick, in fact, a twig.

LABOTT: Senators voiced frustration over a list of policies they said made the U.S. look weak from failing to take military action in Syria to not being tough enough in nuclear talks with Iran. SEN. BOB CORKER (R), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: You in fact could be presiding over a period of time where more U.S. credibility is lost than anyone could have imagined.

SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Our foreign policy is just spinning out of control.

KERRY: Those are great talking points. They make for good, you know, sound bites on TV nowadays but I have to tell you, Senator, that's just not true.

LABOTT: But that didn't stop Kerry's one-time friend and fellow senator, Republican John McCain.

MCCAIN: I think you're about to hit the trifecta. Geneva, too, is total collapse, Israeli-Palestinian talks are -- even though you may drag them out for a while, are finished. And I predict to you even though we gave the Iranians the right to enrich, which is unbelievable, those talks will collapse, too.

KERRY: Your friend, Teddy Roosevelt, also said that the credit belongs to the people who are in the arena who are trying to get things done. And we're trying to get something done.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT: And, Wolf, that's why Secretary Kerry said these senators can blame him all they want for failures in U.S. foreign policy. He does not care. He said it's worth the effort and the U.S. has a responsibility to lead -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Elise, thank you. Elise Labott at the State Department.

Let's discuss all of this. Joining us now, CNN's Fareed Zakaria, he's the host of "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS." Also the "New Republic" senior editor Julia Ioffe who's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Fareed, what do you think about what Senator McCain and other Republican members of the Foreign Relations Committee basically said that the administration, the U.S., has lost all credibility in foreign policy right now?

FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: I think it's mostly partisan posturing. Senator McCain has had a very different foreign policy that he has wanted followed, you know, one would have to judge on the basis of were that foreign policy have been implemented, what would that look like.

I would suggest that -- you know, the way you gain credibility in a situation like Russia is not to have gone around invading other countries. I mean, the idea that if we had only invaded -- you know, intervened in Syria, we would have more credibility with the Russians. I feel like we tried that experiment in the last administration. We invaded Iraq, we invaded Afghanistan, and Putin still invaded Georgia and he still annexed Abkhazia and South Ossetia. You know, these situations are sufficiently complicated, that if you decide you want to put a partisan spin on them, you can read almost anything the way you want to. I think that this is a tough period we're going through and a very serious crisis we're confronting with -- in eastern Ukraine, and I just wish that the United States were able to speak with one voice rather than using this occasion and this crisis to turn it into yet one more partisan slinging match.

BLITZER: Julia, what do you see as Putin's endgame here as far as Ukraine is concerned? What's he up to?

JULIA IOFFE, SENIOR EDITOR, THE NEW REPUBLIC: I think his ultimate endgame is to create a Ukraine that never joins NATO, that never joins the E.U., that is weak and pliable and, basically, a client state. The question that remains now, Putin hasn't decided how he's going to do it. So he -- what we see him doing now is keeping all options on the table. He hasn't -- clearly hasn't decided if he was going to invade yet, even though he has all these troops amassed on the border.

He's -- it's not clear if he's going to mess with the elections, presidential elections, that are scheduled in Ukraine for May 25th. Right now we see him going the route of escalating the street unrest in southern and eastern Ukraine, but he's trying to figure out how -- and also, he's pursuing the diplomatic route. All of them lead to the same place, which is a weak, decentralized Ukraine that he can manipulate.

BLITZER: You've suggested, Fareed, this may be the most significant crisis involving the U.S. and Russia since the end of the Cold War. Are you still buying that?

ZAKARIA: Absolutely, because since the Cold War ended, we have had a set of rules of the road that have allowed for, you know, an unprecedented level of political stability, of the global economy has prospered, you know, the great powers, Russia, China, the United States, Germany, have all been playing by a certain set of rules of the road, and what Russia has been doing over the last few years, but particularly here, is essentially saying, we're going to tear up this order.

We are not going to abide by the idea that borders are sacrosanct, because what they are trying to do now in eastern Ukraine, Julia is exactly right, is what -- they're trying to foment extreme instability. They have already fomented economic instability. The Russians have caused lots of contracts, business contracts to be torn up, destroyed, they are disrupting economic activity in eastern Ukraine as much as they can. They're trying to send it into a kind of black hole of economics.

Now they are politically destabilizing it by getting these pro-Russian forces to declare independence in various cities, even though it appears that they have very little support. The idea, I think, is to create a general climate of chaos, then declaim that the Russian army has to go in as a matter of protecting its own borders, protecting its own Russian speakers.

This is -- you know, this is all stuff from the 1930s.

BLITZER: Yes.

ZAKARIA: This is -- this is stuff that really has not been employed by any major power really since 1945, but certainly since the end of the Cold War, so it's a big deal.

BLITZER: So, Julia, do the Russians, specifically Putin, do they see the U.S., the E.U., the Europeans, NATO, as weak, indecisive and that's why he's doing this?

IOFFE: I think the view inside Russia is that Putin's winning again, that he can do whatever he wants and there's not all that much the U.S. can do about it. He wanted Crimea, well, then five days, boom, it's done. And there's nothing we can do about it. And, you know, nobody is going to go to war with Russia. Nobody is going to -- I mean, there's really -- not all that much we can do, and I think all of this, what Fareed said was partisan posturing is right.

You know, we can talk a big game in Washington, but ultimately at the end of the day, because we're not playing by Russia's rules, because Russia went back to a different set of rules that we're no longer following, there's really not all that much left in our tool kit.

BLITZER: Julia Ioffe, Fareed Zakaria, guys, good discussion, thanks very much.

And by the way, you can see Fareed's show on CNN every Sunday, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS", Sundays, 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.

Coming up, air crews are about to take off for another day of searching over the Indian Ocean. They are narrowing the search area dramatically, but do they even know just what they should be looking for? A lot depends on how Flight 370 went into the water. We're taking a closer look.