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Officials Plan to Expand Deep Sea Search; Malaysian P.M. Denies Time Was Wasted; Emergency Beacons on Flight 370 Failed to Activate

Aired April 25, 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 ANCHOR: Jake, thanks very much.

Happening now, Bluefin-21 making its final deep-sea scan of the targeted search area. Authorities now have a plan of action if it finds no trace of Flight 370. .

As Russian forces start new military drills, Ukraine's leader is warning that Moscow wants to start, quote, "World War III." Can President Obama's threat of new sanctions get Russia to back off?

Plus, hail, high winds and tornadoes. Violent storms threatening much of America's midsection and the south right now. We'll go live to our severe weather center.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

There are new details on the hunt for Flight 370, 50 days after it disappeared. Here are the latest developments.

The Bluefin-21, the U.S. Navy's underwater drone, is now scanning the last 5 percent of its targeted area. If it can't find a trace of the airliner, authorities plan to expand the search zone and may bring in different technology.

And angry Flight 370 families making a rare show of civil disobedience in tightly-controlled Beijing. They've marched through the city and they're staged a sit-in at Malaysia's embassy. They're demanding information.

Our analysts are standing by here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Our correspondents are standing by around the world, bringing you the kind of coverage only CNN can deliver on the search for Flight 370, the worsening Ukraine crisis, and a threat of violent storms and tornadoes across much of the country's heartland.

Let's begin with CNN's Miguel Marquez. He's got the very latest in Perth, Australia -- Miguel.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello there, Wolf. Clearly things are in transition here right now, Both the HMS Echo and the HMS Tireless, a submarine and a service ship, that had been participating in this search are now headed to port or in port. The Ocean Shield is continuing to search for that plane, but it says it is now searching areas adjacent to that most hoped-for area to find Flight 370.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ (voice-over): A new show of anger by Flight 370 families camped outside the Malaysian embassy in Beijing, chanting "tell the truth" and "stop lying." They're demanding face-to-face meetings with top Malaysian officials, something they say they'd been promised but repeatedly denied.

Several thousand miles away, a source of their frustration, the Bluefin-21's scan of the most promising search area winds down, nearly two weeks later with nothing to show for it so far.

If no leads turn up once the whole area is covered, coordinators now confirm that the underwater drone will scour stretches of the nearby ocean.

The Bluefin has been combing deep waters, about six miles around the second ping that was detected, a possible signal from the jet's black boxes. No official word yet on what technology will be used next, but we learned today that the British Royal Navy's world submarine is out of the mix. It's no longer needed to hunt for pings now that the black-box batteries are believed to be dead.

Australian and Malaysian authorities are holding urgent talks about the next phase of the operation.

NAJIB NAZAK, MALAYSIAN PRIME MINISTER: This is totally unprecedented. What do we have going for us? What is the evidence? The evidence simply lie with the pings. The handshakes that we have analyzed. That's all we have.

MARQUEZ: The Malaysian prime minister in an exclusive interview with CNN acknowledges the investigators haven't had much to go on, as they've tried to pinpoint any possible crash site. He's promising to release a preliminary report on the Flight 370 investigation next week, exactly seven weeks after the plane vanished. Many relatives of the 239 people on board are skeptical about everything they're being told.

SARAH BAJC, PARTNER OF MH-370 PASSENGER: Actions speak louder than words. The briefings, both in Malaysia and in China, have been a joke.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ: Now, what is not clear, Wolf, is whether or not they have any more math to go to, basically. The way that they picked up those pings and how they map where they are searching right now, where will they go next? Will they just continue to search around the edges? Will they go to the area of the first ping? Or will they reset this entire operation for a much broader search -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Miguel Marquez, from Perth with the very latest. We'll check back with you. Let's get now to the fallout from CNN's exclusive interview with Malaysia's prime minister. He sent out shock waves when he broke his silence on Flight 370. CNN's Richard Quest, who did the interview, is joining us once again, live from Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital.

So what's been the reaction to this very important interview that you conducted, Richard?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: I think the fundamental view is the prime minister spoke, and about time, too. Everybody that I've spoken to said what he -- putting the best foot forward from -- and pointing out what Malaysia has actually done, not the myths of what the country hasn't done, and many here will say why didn't you put this into the international arena sooner?

I think on the family's question, Wolf, there is still quite a lot of people who don't quite understand how this relationship has deteriorated so badly, so quickly. And those are those who simply say the families will never be satisfied and those who say actually what the families are asking for is legitimate, and Malaysia needs to step up to the plate.

BLITZER: Any indication they will be more forthcoming? You told us yesterday the prime minister told you that this preliminary report Malaysia has provided to the International Civil Aviation Organization, this international U.N. body, that that report would be made public. Are you getting any indication when it will be made public, what day?

QUEST: No, I haven't. And I've asked several times, and obviously I've asked before then. And it will be impossible. Note the word. Impossible for the Malaysians not to release that report next week.

Even if the committee looking at it decides the entire report has to be redacted except for one word, preliminary, and then report underneath it, they are going to have to release something next week.

And then, Wolf, it becomes an issue of how the prime minister intends to enforce this transparency on perhaps other areas of government that do not see it in quite the same way. So the cargo manifest, the new passenger list, the maps, any other documents that they may have that would be of use to understanding. You cannot have a P.M. saying he's following a policy of transparency and then, at the first whiff of grapeshot, documents saying we can't let you have this, that or the other.

BLITZER: We'll stand by for that report next week. Richard, don't go away. I want to bring in our aviation analyst, the former NTSB managing director Peter Goelz; our law-enforcement analyst, the former FBI assistant director, Tom Fuentes; along with the retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant, Ken Christensen. He's a commercial pilot, certified aircraft crash investigator.

So they're 50 days in now. They've not found, Peter, at least, not even an iota of the wreckage. Nothing of the wreckage. The initial search area, 95 percent done, 5 percent left to go. Presumably they won't find anything. Where do they go from here?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, they've got to keep searching. And it's terribly disappointing. I don't think it was unforeseen, but it's terribly disappointing. They should have set expectations lower. But they've got to keep searching. They've got to continue to look at each one of the pings and search around those. They made a big deal about those. Let's go check them out.

BLITZER: The aerial search, Ken, is that over for all practical purposes? They've spent 50 days flying around. They haven't seen anything significant, anything at all. Is it over for all practical purposes?

LT. KEN CHRISTIANSON (RET.), COMMERCIAL PILOT/CRASH INVESTIGATOR: I would say at this point, Wolf, the aerial search is over. Any debris that would be from that wreckage would be thousands of miles away at this point.

BLITZER: Tom Fuentes, if you were in charge of this investigation, what would you do now?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I think they're going to have to do, you know, what they've talked about, the regrouping of how they're going to expand the search, what kind of equipment they're going to use for it.

But I would -- I find it interesting that the prime minister, when he mentions all they have to go on, is the Inmarsat satellite data, which is British-controlled data and the pings, which is American machines operated off of an Australian ship. He omitted any mention of Malaysian's defense radar or their civil aviation radar. And I think that that's a, you know, a critical part of it, especially as Richard mentions when they announce that they're going to -- they've released this preliminary report to the International Civil Aviation Organization but not to the families, not to the public. And they're waiting a week, creating a greater mystery, creating greater expectations for what I'm sure the report is going to have next to nothing useful in it.

BLITZER: Well, let's ask Richard Quest to react to that. Richard, you were the one who spent some quality time with the prime minister yesterday. What do you say about what Tom just said?

QUEST: I think -- I've seen and I've spoken to people about the radar data. The radar data is so basic, and if you look at the picture, it is basically blips with a gap in the middle of it after it follows -- after it crosses across Malaysia and into the straits of Malacca.

So to the extent that what Tom said is right. It doesn't actually add a row of beans (ph), other than the fact that it was MH- 370, and it does take the plane into the Straits of Malacca and then onwards.

But thereafter -- and this will be the difficult part, Wolf, if they do have to discount Inmarsat material, then you really do go back to -- and the P.M. basically says this, you do go back to 222, the last known data from the military radar. And if you're back at that level, well then I think we are really turning the lights off and going home, because you've got no idea where the plane goes after that.

BLITZER: Peter, here's a blunt question. They were some confident early on, several moments when they got those pings, those four pings from what they thought was one of these black boxes. They -- it all looked pretty good that they had honed down a huge area to a relatively tiny little area, but they found nothing. Is it possible that they're looking at the wrong place to begin with right now?

GOELZ: Boy, that's hard to believe. I mean, they did the most complex mathematical analysis from the pings, from the handshakes. They believe they had the spot. They believed they had the spot. It's going to be tough. They're going to keep searching there but, boy, I think they were a little enthusiastic when they first announced the pings were heard.

BLITZER: Let me quickly go back to Richard Quest in Kuala Lumpur. Richard, in the interview you did with the prime minister, he acknowledged that there were shortcomings; he acknowledged that mistakes were made. Did he seem to you confident that this is going to be resolved any time soon?

QUEST: No. Absolutely not. I think that anybody -- I mean, Peter will know this from his own investigations over the years. Tom will know this from his investigations. Any of us who have touched this and who have looked at these sorts of incidents will be well aware that the investigators are in this for the long haul. They hope for the best. They believe in maybe the worst, and they know that this is the hard drudgery of deep-water search. So I would say that anybody who is suggesting that this will -- it could happen today, Wolf. Let's be frank. It could happen today. But the reality is we're in this for the long haul, and anyone who says otherwise is either naive or a fool.

BLITZER: Quick question for you, Tom Fuentes. Our own Ted Rowlands, he did a little experiment. He dropped the cell phone into some water, similar properties in the Indian Ocean and, guess what? Videos, photos, once the phone was retrieved, they could go into that cell phone and get a lot of that information. So presumably a lot of those people on that plane, 239 people, they had cell phones, if they ever retrieved some of those phones, they'll be able to collect useful information. Don't you agree?

FUENTES: I agree, and I was amazed. I saw that piece conducted in my home town of Chicago, and I thought it was amazing that they were able to pull that motherboard or the chip out of the immersed cell phone and retrieve data off of it. So that -- I mean, that's a hopeful sign.

Of course, now the question is, it was only in that salt water for a couple of weeks. What will happen if they don't find this plane for two years like the Air France plane, how much more damage will salt do to the phones that are hopefully retrieved if they're on the bodies.

BLITZER: Ken, does it shock you that 50 days into this investigation they have not found even a tiny little piece of that plane?

CHRISTIANSEN: At first it surprised me that there was no wreckage, but that probably says that they were looking in the wrong area, and the currents there in that part of the world in the Indian Ocean are just so unpredictable, the debris field can disperse pretty rapidly.

For a wide body airplane hitting the water, you would think that there would be more wreckage than what they found. I'm confident that the pings that are coming from the underwater locator beacon. They just have not expanded the area and find some wreckage.

BLITZER: Let's see if they do. All right, guys, hold on. We're going to continue our analysis of what's going on. But up next, distress beacons, which are supposed to start transmitting in case of a crash, they stayed silent when Flight 370 went down. Here's the question. Why?

And Russian troops holding military exercises on the border with Ukraine. Ukraine's leader now saying Moscow wants to start World War III. We'll have the latest on the escalating tensions.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Well, the hunt for Flight 370 has focused on the pings from the black boxes. There's another type of locator signal that's supposed to be activated in most crashes. This time, though, it stayed silent. CNN'S Brian Todd has been looking into this part of the story for us. What are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're told by Malaysian officials there are four of these devices called emergency locator transmitters on board the missing plain. They're supposed to send locator signals out on impact where there's some deceleration.

But not one burst was sent from Flight 370. Could the possible reasons why these didn't work lead us closer to finding out what happened?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): It's one of the most baffling questions in an already confounding mystery. Why didn't any emergency beacons on the missing plane send a distress signal? They're called emergency locator transmitters, ELTs. And a senior Malaysian aviation source tells CNN there were four of them on the plane.

JEFF WISE, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: The emergency locator transmitter is a small radio transmitter that sends a signal that's detected by satellites in the event of an airplane crash.

TODD: Signals sent by ELTs to satellites are then relayed to monitoring stations on the ground. The ELTS are not related to the pinger, the signal coming from the black boxes containing the flight recorders.

These beacons are designed to be activated if they sense extreme deceleration or by impact. Those are circumstances which could have played out with Flight 370, but experts say there are other possible scenarios with the missing plane where the ELTs would not have worked.

WISE: If the plane crashes with too much velocity into the surface so that the entire plane is disintegrated. Also, if the plane lands gently enough, for instance, in the case of Captain Sullenberger, the miracle on the Hudson, if the plane set down gently enough that there wasn't such a G-force to activate the ELTS.

TODD: Other reasons why those beacons wouldn't have worked? A crash could have broken the ELTs antennas. Also, there's a time lag after impact. It takes 50 seconds for the first signal to be transmitted.

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Even after it hits the water, it has to stay afloat for more than 50 seconds, or they won't -- they won't do either.

TODD: So even two ELTs placed near the plane's life rafts and triggered by contact with salt water might be useless. That's because ELTs don't work underwater.

WISE: Once these things become submerged, the radio signal is no longer able to reach the satellite.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Could the emergency locator transmitters aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 have been tampered with? Experts say two of them that are attached to the fuselage would probably have been inaccessible to anyone on board. But the two transmitters near the life raft, which are portable, could have been tampered with, Wolf.

BLITZER: This whole issue of these four signals that supposedly were supposed to come from these transmitters and they, none of them worked, it's really become a source of a major concern for the families of those on board.

TODD: It sure has. You know, recently the families submitted a list of 26 questions to Malaysian officials about a whole range of things regarding the investigation. Twelve of those questions dealt just with these devices. They have a real interest in this. It could be a way that they're holding out some that maybe something other than what's commonly believed might happen.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thanks very much.

Let's discuss what we just heard from Brian. Once again joining us, CNN aviation analyst, the former NTSB managing director Peter Goelz and Chris Von Alt. He's co-founder and chairman of Hydroid, a manufacturer of the underwater device which found Air France 447. Those families, Peter, they -- they see this, the fact that these transmitters didn't work, all four of them didn't work for whatever reason, as potential evidence -- they're holding out hope -- that the plane may have actually landed on land someplace and that their loved ones are still alive.

GOELZ: That's exactly right. They think against all reasonableness of, you know, that these are the facts. Maybe, just maybe the plane landed. And if that's the case, any kind of explanation says, well, the antenna could -- might have broken off or it might have dropped too quickly to the ocean depths really rings hollow. We've got to find the wreckage.

BLITZER: Let me bring Chris Von Alt into this. You helped develop some of the technology, some of the equipment that was successful in finding Air France Flight 447, the Remus 6000. Is it time to bring that equipment in now?

CHRIS VON ALT, HYDROID: Well, it's always best to get the best equipment on the scene as quickly as you can. But I would defer to the people who were on site. They know what's going on there. Certainly, the systems that we have in there, their proven capabilities during the flight 447 search would substantiate that they would be a great asset in this location.

BLITZER: Explain why the Remus 6000 is so valuable, why it was successful in the Air France disaster.

VON ALT: Well, many of the people have talked about this as like trying to find a needle in a haystack. And I think a better analogy would be trying to find a dime in a football field at night. And all you had to look for with -- for this dime with was a small pen-hike. And so you'd find yourself crawling around in the dark at night, and you learn very quickly that the biggest problem you have is navigation. You want to make sure that you covered every aspect of the ground and you know you were there.

We owe that to the people who are victims of this -- of this tragedy. And so it's the -- it's the navigation that you become most worried about. Making sure that you have 100 percent coverage. And our vehicles are very good at doing that and they can do it very quickly.

BLITZER: Peter, is it time to bring more submersibles into this search?

GOELZ: There's no question. It's time to bring in submersibles that are, you know, towed, that have contact with the surface, that can do a broader range of search. Because we're now getting into we're going to have to search a lot of that ocean bottom.

BLITZER: Because a much more significant area.

Chris Von Alt, what about the whole notion of wear and tear on those individuals involved in the search? It's now been 50 days. Are you worried about fatigue? Are you worried about that it's simply getting too much and they should take a break and rest up?

VON ALT: No. I think most missions of this nature usually take about 37 days. So I think the time that they've been out there is reasonable. They'll come in when they have to. They do well.

You know, the -- I spent 30 years developing technology for the deep sea, and I spent the first ten years of those 30 developing deeply-towed systems. And I learned the capabilities and limitations of the towed systems, and those limitations led me to write a proposal to develop Remus 6000, because we could do much better with it. And I think in today's world, we've got to use the technology that's available. You don't want to use old technology to solve new problems.

BLITZER: Christopher Von Alt, thanks very much.

Peter Goelz, thanks to you, as well.

We're going to have much more on this story coming up later.

But also coming up, we're getting breaking news of an American man now detained in North Korea. We have more information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

And President Obama says sanctions against Russia are ready to go. But what will it take for him to pull the trigger? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: And the breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now, new information about an American, an American being detained in North Korea.

Let's get right to our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.

What are you learning?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this appears to be a very strange case, extremely unusual.

CNN has learned that the 24-year-old American was with a tour group to North Korea and as members of that group describe it, he appeared to go to the North Koreans willingly, including tearing up his visa, as he did his behavior described as strange. The U.S. first learned of his case days ago, though not from the North Korean government.

Now citing privacy the State Department's public statement to this point had been limited to saying that the U.S. is aware of the reports and is now in touch with Sweden which of course handles U.S. interests in Korea.

BLITZER: Well, actually there a name that's been given. A 24- year-old young man. But it's a very bizarre situation since presumably the U.S. has known about this for days, we're only learning about it right now.

SCIUTTO: That's true. And I think typically in these cases they don't want to create any -- they don't want to inflame the situation. And so to keep it private for as long as possible might allow for discussions which could lead to his release, but also to find out exactly what the circumstances are of how he went over to the North Koreans and those circumstances at this point looking, you know, indeed very strange.

BLITZER: So we don't know if he voluntarily decided to seek asylum or whatever in North Korea. If he voluntarily went across or he was physically abducted or detained or anything like that?

SCIUTTO: Well, right now -- the indications are that he does not appear to have been physically abducted. At least at that point of going to the North Koreans, it was a decision to go based on what witnesses -- how witnesses described it.

BLITZER: Witnesses from the tour group he was on?

SCIUTTO: Exactly. But, you know, there was always a caution involved when you're dealing with North Korea and of course North Korean state media confirming these reports. They're putting out a story about this, you know, not coincidentally as President Obama is visiting South Korea to get the maximum propaganda effect.

BLITZER: The North Koreans like to get attention from time to time.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely.

BLITZER: And presumably now we're going to have more on this part of this story coming up. Hold on for a moment.

We also have some new information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM about the widening crisis in Ukraine. What can you tell us about that?

SCIUTTO: And this relates particularly to the U.S. and the Western response, the European response. The next round of economic sanctions which officials had said could come as soon as today. Now not happening until at least next week.

The goal, as I'm told, is getting the Europeans and the U.S. unified and President Obama wants unity here, not unilateral U.S. sanctions. The delay unlikely to impress the Ukrainians. Kiev officials already critical of the scope of the sanctions being considered so far. They want stronger penalties for Russia and more robust aid for Ukraine as their fear grows of new Russian military action on the ground.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO (voice-over): In Ukraine today, a country bracing itself for war. The Ukrainian military training volunteers to defend the east if Russia were to invade. And dropping leaflets, warning residents to stay at home and keep their children safe. Schools there are already eerily empty.

In an ominous warning delivered on national television, Ukraine's prime minister accused Russia of risking World War III.

ARSENIY YATSENYUK, UKRAINIAN PRIME MINISTER (Through Translator): Military aggression by Russia on Ukraine's territory will lead to military conflict in Europe. The world has not yet forgotten World War II, but Russia already wants to start World War III.

SCIUTTO: With the situation on the ground deteriorating rapidly, President Obama spoke urgently with European leaders to build unity behind a new round of sanctions against Russia. U.S. officials say the additional penalties would target key Putin allies and possibly institutions, such as banks they do business with. But even as officials drafted the final language, the president conceded such measures are unlikely to deter Russian aggression.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it's important for us not to anticipate that the targeted sanctions that we're applying now necessarily solve the problem. What we've been trying to do is to continually raise the costs for Russia of their actions while still leading the possibility of them moving in a different direction.

SCIUTTO: For their part, Russian leaders continue to accuse the U.S. of orchestrating the crisis.

SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: There can be no one- sided demands here and we're being presented that. First of all, I mean the United States of America, which has an outstanding ability to turn everything on its head.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: In another troubling development, a team of European observers has been taken hostage by pro-Russian militants in the eastern city of Slavyansk. Those militants accused the observers of having Ukrainian spy among them. U.S. officials citing a spate of kidnappings by the militants are calling for their immediate and then it could clear that it is Russia that has the power to control these militant groups, Wolf, but of course they are saying Russia is not using that power.

BLITZER: Yes, I'm going to speak to the U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Ambassador Daniel Baer in the next hour. He's obviously deeply concerned about those international monitors who were sent there and could be in trouble.

But let's continue the conversation. Jim Sciutto is still with us. Also joining us right now Julia Ioffe, she's the senior editor at "The New Republic", a former Moscow correspondent, and Steven Pifer, the former U.S. ambassador to the Ukraine, he's now with the Brookings Institution here in Washington.

Ambassador, what do you expect, World War III right now? We're hearing the Ukrainian leaderships saying the Russians are itching for World War III.

STEVEN PIFER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Well, you've seen over the last three weeks that the Russians have increasingly put Ukraine in a very difficult dilemma which is by the stealth taking of these now 10, 11 buildings in Ukraine, which there's a lot of evidence to point that there are professional Russian military personnel among these groups.

And Ukraine, the acting government, has a choice. Either it goes in and uses force to try to retake those buildings and run the risk of creating a pretext that Russia could then use perhaps for a broader military intervention or the Ukraine sit back and do nothing and watch this continue and my guess is that they are beginning to get concerned that they can't just sit back.

BLITZER: What do you make about this talk of World War III from the Ukrainian leadership?

JULIA IOFFE, SENIOR EDITOR, THE NEW REPUBLIC: You know, we've heard a lot of aggressive talk and bluster from the Ukrainian leadership. We've also seen a lot of ultimatums. I've lost count at this point how many times they've given an ultimatum to the militants to clear out, always giving them 48 hours and never following through with their threats precisely because it could be a pretext for Russia to -- I mean, they saw very well what happened to their neighbor Georgia in 2008.

When they -- when you fire at Russia, they are -- you know, within days there will be tanks outside of your capital city. I think that's what they're scared of.

BLITZER: A lot of us were expecting the U.S. to announce new sanctions as early as today.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

BLITZER: You've been hearing all those reports over the past 24 hours. But all of a sudden we're told not so fast, not yet happening. What's the -- what's the problem?

SCIUTTO: I've been hearing it from U.S. officials as well. And you heard the president saying in Japan yesterday that these sanctions are teed up and there's frustration. We have the deputy -- Ukrainian foreign minister here are asking for more robust sanctions. You know, they're not even happy with what is being discussed because this round will look much like the first round. Individuals, perhaps an institution or two.

And it appears the issue here is getting the European and American unity. Getting them on board so these are not unilateral in any way. And there's some difficulty here because economically these countries in Europe are going to bear more of the economic cost.

BLITZER: Specifically, Ambassador, which countries in Europe? Is it Germany that's more reluctant? Is it some of the other countries that are more reluctant because of the pain they will suffer if the energy sector, for example, in Russia is sanctioned?

PIFER: Well, you do have that -- I think there's a spectrum of views. Obviously the Germans because of their economic weight and their political standing. The Germans are the key country and if the Germans come around and want to pursue harsher sanctions on Russia, that probably brings most of the European around.

On the question of energy, though, I think there is some nervousness in Europe about what happens to energy supplies, particularly natural gas that comes from Russia to Ukraine to Europe. But on the other hand the Russians have to -- if they cut that gas supply off, do they begin getting Europe thinking in the longer term, Europeans to find more reliable sources elsewhere so it's a little bit of a double edged sword.

BLITZER: That's a source of their economic recovery, if you will, the export of that energy, natural gas. Go ahead, Julia.

PIFER: Seventy percent of their energy --

BLITZER: Yes, of course.

PIFER: Seventy percent of their export comes from oil and gas.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: John McCain calls it a gas station.

IOFFE: Well, but it's also -- I mean, then there's a question for Russia. If Russia wants to retaliate against Europe and cut off gas exports there, they can't drink and breathe their own gas. You know, and they -- they don't have any kind of backup contracts, say, with China to fill in -- to fill in that demand. So, you know, it will -- it would backfire against Russia as well.

BLITZER: There is that --

IOFFE: And that he is kind of the problem. You know, when it was -- when Russia was a Soviet Union, there was really nothing we could do because they weren't integrated into the world economy. Now they've become integrated and the U.S. and the West can apply pressure to them but it's pressure that we apply on ourselves as well.

BLITZER: Let me get all three of you to weigh on this. "Daily Beast" was reporting that Putin has halted all talks with the White House on a whole range of issues. And the U.S. and Russia work together on a lot of areas like Syria's chemical weapons, for example. Jen Psaki, the State Department spokesperson, tweeted this. "The U.S. has not suspended interactions between U.S.-Russian leadership counterparts and has not been informed by Russian government that it has."

What's your taker on this?

SCIUTTO: Well, you know, it's possible this was coming from an associate of Medvedev and associate of Putin saying that this -- communication has been cut off. It could be more bluster. We certainly heard a lot of bluster. And I've heard, for instance, on other things that the U.S. and Russia are working together on, for instance, Iranian nuclear negotiations. There's a scenario where they are still talking. In fact still cooperating because they have a confluence of interest there that Russia does not want Iran to get a nuclear weapon. So where their interests align, they will still cooperate.

IOFFE: Yes, but At the same time, when they have been talking, what has been the result of that? Every time there was a phone call between Obama and Putin, you read the Kremlin readout of the call. It was about one thing. You read the White House's readout of the phone call, it was about something totally different and you get a sense of two parallel conversations happening rather than a phone call.

BLITZER: Ambassador?

PIFER: And -- if in fact there has been this cut off, it's bluster. When the Russians want to resume the conversation, they will pick up the phone and get back on. So it's a little bit of posturing here I think designed to be pushing back against the talk in the West about further financial sanctions on Russia which even though relatively modest are beginning to have an impact. Today Standard & Poor's reduced Russia's sovereign debt rating down to one level above the (INAUDIBLE) bond status.

SCIUTTO: And you've heard of other -- even countries that haven't imposed sanctions yet that their bankers and other dealers are pulling back from deals because they're worried that this situation is going to get worse.

(CROSSTALK)

PIFER: If you're a Western CEO, you're probably not going to your board of directors now and saying I'd like to make a big investment in Russia.

IOFFE: And what's interesting that happened, I don't know if you saw yesterday Vladimir Putin said that the Internet was a CIA project and continues to be curated by the CIA and he points specifically to Yandex, which is a Russian -- homegrown Russian search engine that started with some investments in the West. And he said they were influenced by the West and the Western controlled. Their stocks plummeted. They lost $1 billion. They are listed on Nasdaq. They lost $1 billion of their valuation.

BLITZER: Julia Ioffe, thanks for coming in.

IOFFE: Sure.

BLITZER: Ambassador, thanks to you as well. Steven Pifer.

Jim will be back with us later.

Up next, horrifying new details about the search for survivors aboard that ferry in South Korea. What mistake caused so many lives? We're going live to South Korea.

And a tornado watch already in effect for parts of the southeast. Could a massive outbreak of severe weather be on the way? We're tracking the forecast. That's just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: And the breaking news, no letup in the heartbreak in the South Korean ferry disaster. Another devastating blow to families we're just learning about. Divers are discovering cabins crowded, crowded with the bodies of teenagers. In one room meant to hold 30 people, they have now found the bodies of 48 girls, all wearing life vests.

Let's go live to CNN's Kyung Lah. She's in Jindo, South Korea.

Kyung, you're getting breaking information, new information on the death toll?

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We just spoke to the Korean Coast Guard and they tell us that they have found two additional bodies, Wolf. The death toll now rising to 187 people, 115 people are still missing.

The search off of this coast here, about 12 miles into the sea, is taking on an expedited pace today because the weather is expected to turn later today. Divers want to get to as many rooms of the vessel as they can. One area that they are looking for is a room where they believe 50 girls may have been huddled together. You mention the 48. There is another room where there'd be -- may be additional 50 girls all huddled together.

They are also expanding the search area. They are asking nearby towns and fishermen also to keep an eye out for anything that may have drifted, whether it be any furniture on the ship as well as people.

So this is widening. They are looking at the weather turning. So this is taking on a rapid pace today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And divers, as you know, they found the bodies of these 48 girls that were all wearing their life vests. Apparently just following instructions. What are the folks, the investigators saying about that?

LAH: Well, it certainly gives us a picture into how confused this entire evacuation was. You may remember the only order that they got initially from the crew itself was to stay in place. Well, once they were there, it appears that no one knew what to do. So teachers and some of the crew members were handing out some of these life vests and those life vests, Wolf, did not appear to help them escape because they were trapped in those rooms.

BLITZER: What a heartbreaking story. Kyung Lah reporting for from South Korea, thank you. Just ahead, hail, high winds and tornadoes. A twister touching down in North Carolina. Violent storms threatening much of America's midsection. Right now we're going live to the CNN's Severe Weather Center.

And international observers are now detained in an area of Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists. I'll talk to a top security official about this latest, very chilling development.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Got some breaking news. Tornado watches are in effect for parts of the southern United States including Virginia, North Carolina.

Our meteorologist Jennifer Gray is at the CNN Severe Weather Center for us.

What can you tell us, Jennifer?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Wolf, it's been a really active day and we're going to see these thunderstorms continue to march to the east over the next couple of hours. Should be dying out by the time we get into around 7:30, 8:00. You'll start to see the weakening. But right now anywhere Raleigh and east, you need to be on the lookout for those showers and storms.

In fact, we'll zoom in just a little bit. And I'm going to get Todd to advance my graphics for me. We're going to see these continue to be severe. We've seen a couple of producing tornadoes. Actually in Green County, we had video of that earlier. We also have tornado warnings still in effect in North Carolina. Those are going to be pushing to the north and east. So if you're in one of those bright pink boxes, you need to get into your lower interior room of your home and stay in your safe spot until the warning expires.

We have seen golf-ball-sized hail with a lot of these storms, Wolf. And so these are going to continue to be severe over the next hour or two.

Also in Virginia, Richmond, area we've seen some very strong thunderstorms. These haven't been severe as of yet, but we have seen some very strong ones there. Of course, we've seen storm reports all across the east. We've seen three tornado reports so far this evening. We've seen quite a few hail reports as well as wind reports -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lots of bad weather and more coming over the weekend and into early next week. We'll check back with you, Jennifer. Thank you very much.

Coming up, what's the best hope of finding Flight 370? The Bluefin-21 is about to finish its search entirely empty handed. So what do investigators do next?

And 13 people have been detained in Ukraine including seven European observers. We're going to get the latest from the U.S. ambassador to that organization.