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The Situation Room

The Mystery of Flight 370; Has Flight 370 Investigation Been Mismanaged?; Iranian Mother Mourns Son on MH-370; G.M. CEO "Deeply Sorry" for Botched Recall, 18 Deaths; Death Toll Rises to 27 After Washington Mudslides; Obama: 7.1 Million Sign Up for Health Insurance

Aired April 01, 2014 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, a SITUATION ROOM special report: "The Mystery of Flight 370."

Search setbacks. We're getting new information about the sea and air operation and why so many things have gone wrong.

Deliberate action. Malaysian authorities say more about the possibility of foul play, as they release full details about communications from the cockpit.

And a CNN exclusive. We are going to hear from a friend of one of the Iranians who boarded the plane with a stolen passport, raising suspicion when the jet first vanished.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Right now, planes are preparing to take off for the search zone, the Flight 370 search zone. And Chinese relatives of passengers are getting ready for a closed-door briefing by officials and technical experts in the coming hours. Malaysian authorities now are publicly saying that the jet's moments are consistent with -- quote -- "deliberate action by someone on the plane."

But they still have no solid proof.

Our correspondents and analysts are around the globe. They are here in THE SITUATION ROOM as well to cover every angle of this story.

Let's go to our chief national correspondent, Jim Sciutto. He has got the very latest -- Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're just learning about a new military asset joining that search in the Southern Indian Ocean. And it's a first, the U.K. announcing that the British submarine the HMS Tireless has arrived in the Southern Indian Ocean to help locate Flight 370.

It has advanced underwater search capability and it is hoped it can do what planes and ships have yet to accomplish there and that is find any trace of the missing jet.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SCIUTTO (voice-over): They are scouring the Indian Ocean from the air and from the sea. But all the clues so far have turned out to be false leads, ocean trash and dead jellyfish.

And today the Australian officer in charge of the search for Flight 370 made clear the end is nowhere in sight.

AIR CHIEF ANGUS HOUSTON, JOINT AGENCY COORDINATION CENTER: This could drag on for a long time. It's not something that's necessarily going to be resolved in the next two weeks.

SCIUTTO: Equally stalled is the investigation into why Flight 370 vanished. Today, authorities released the full radio chatter between air traffic control and the cockpit, the back and forth perfectly routine: "370, 32 right, cleared for takeoff. Good night." "Malaysia Flight 370, 32 right cleared for takeoff." "Malaysia 370, thank you. Bye."

This has led Malaysian authorities and experts to declare the transcript neither abnormal nor suspicious.

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: The transcript has absolutely no clues of any criminal activity. As transcripts go, and I have read a lot of trash transcripts, this was pretty clean.

SCIUTTO: Still, Malaysian officials' belated correction of the pilot's last communication to "Good night Malaysia Flight 370" from the previous reported "All right, good night" have critics again pointing to continuing confusion and contradiction in the investigation.

Now Malaysian authorities are set to ask for more help, Malaysia's defense chief arriving in Hawaii, where he will meet U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and possibly ask for more U.S. military assets designed for deep-water search and recovery.


SCIUTTO: Malaysian authorities have promised family members and loved ones of passengers a private closed-door briefing on the investigation on Wednesday. There will be technical experts to answer questions on how they arrived at this current search zone.

Of course, questions they will not be able are answer exactly what happened to that plane and why and the exact location of the debris fields.

BLITZER: And as they say, we may not know for some time the answers to those questions. Jim, stand by.

Australia is sending an air traffic control plane to the Southern Indian Ocean to prevent a collision of all the aircraft in the search area, so many of them flying around in the same area right now.

Let's check in with CNN's Kyung Lah. She's in Perth, Australia.

So, are you seeing planes taking off yet? It is Wednesday morning where you are.

KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We normally hear planes gearing up to take off right now. You can see that it's just about daylight here. This is typically the time that we hear and see these planes take off. We haven't heard anything yet, but all signs are that the search will resume as scheduled.

They should be taking off at any moment. There are approximately 10 ships at sea already. They stay there overnight, despite the fact that there's been some pretty rough sea conditions, and joining them at sea is that nuclear submarine from the U.K., HMS Tireless. It can comb through the sea, and it will be an extra set of eyes underneath. Will it be successful?

What we're hearing here is that it's still going to be a tough search. It's a tall order, but the search planes, Wolf, returning to the sky, hoping to find a piece of debris for these families -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I know it must be so frustrating for the searchers who are involved. Kyung, do you think they are losing hope right now? Are they losing confidence that eventually they will come up with something?

LAH: Nothing that they are actually sharing with us. I mean, we see them every single day walk by. They are cheery. They seem to be on task. The last that I had any contact with the U.S. Navy teams that were going up in the air, they all seemed very determined, that this is a different sort of mission.

This is something that they can all personally connect to. They all have families. They all work in the sky. And they want to give these families answers. It's a bit of a different task that they have at hand, and they are all aware of it.

BLITZER: Kyung Lah in Perth, Australia, for us, thank you.

Let's bring in our panel, our aviation analysts Peter Goelz and Miles O'Brien, along with CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes and CNN aviation correspondent Rene Marsh.

Miles, this move by Malaysia Airlines to step up security in the cockpit, now, what does that say to you?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: The horse is a little bit out of the barn here, of course.

But clearly security in the cockpit is crucial. We know that since 9/11. The hardened cockpit door is something of course that this aircraft had. But we have seen quite a bit much evidence it was kind of a porous cockpit, the first officer bringing in some young women to show off the cockpit.

You have to wonder if, when you stand that road, if little pieces of procedures were ignored, and could that have some bearing here? Is it possible that one member of the flight crew, perhaps the captain, managed to get himself alone in the cockpit at some point during this flight?

BLITZER: It's understandable that they would be doing that even if they don't have any hard evidence, that out of an abundance of caution, as they like to say.

O'BRIEN: There's plenty of good reasons to do it separate from this.

BLITZER: You're a former director, Tom, of the FBI. You're getting information on the FBI report on the pilot's hard drives, the co- pilot's hard drive, the pilot -- the simulator that was taken from the pilot's home. They have now, what, made that report available to the Malaysians.

TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: They have it over. A senior government Malaysian source contacted me and just said they have received the report and there's nothing in it to indicate anything negative against either pilot.

BLITZER: They have come up with no smoking gun or anything like that. But earlier they said, maybe later, upon reflection, there might be a nuance or something. Have you heard anything along those lines or anything like that?

FUENTES: Well, they provided the report. So, so far, there's been nothing indicated. If somewhere down the line a new fact develops that maybe would relate to that, it's possible. But so far they have received no indication from that report.

BLITZER: So, Peter, what does that say to you, that they studied the hard drives of the pilot and the co-pilot and they found nothing basically incriminating to suggest that either one of them is involved in some sort of criminal act?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: It's a little perplexing because at the same time, they came out today and said we believe this plane was diverted by somebody in the cockpit.


GOELZ: Once you say that, then you're almost obligated to increase security in the cockpit, aren't you?

If you say that that's what happened, then you have got to say we got to make sure this doesn't happen again if we don't have any evidence that the pilot or co-pilot was involved.

BLITZER: The Australians today, Rene, they clearly are suggesting this could drag on and on and on.


And they were careful in saying, look, we're searching the best area that we can possibly search based on the data that we have. But you did hear that uncertainty, saying that a lot of assumptions are going into this data. They don't know really what the speed of this plane was. They really don't know what the altitude was. There are these variables which they don't have precise information on, and so they are searching the best place that they possibly can. But, at the end of the day, it could be the wrong place, three million pieces to a 777 and not one piece found yet.

BLITZER: All right, hold on for a moment.

I want to go back to Kuala Lumpur. Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, is there. He's been doing some serious investigating.

What else are you picking up on this day, Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We understand that there will be today a briefing, a high-level briefing for the Chinese families that are here. And they will be given access to officials, to investigators that they wouldn't get if they were in Beijing.

This does seem to be an attempt to answer some of their questions. We know that they had this air traffic control communication transmission two weeks ago. It does seem to be the same. It hasn't changed over those two weeks compared to the version the government here has released.

But we're told the families will be talking with the experts involved in the investigation about their methodology, about how they collect the data. It does appear that the Chinese families are going to get more of what they have been asking for, more answers. Not clear if we will get to find out anything from those briefings. These have been up until now closed-door, Wolf.

BLITZER: Any new information, Nic, on that map that Chinese families, based on information they had, drew that showed that plane going in a rather convoluted area after it left Malaysian airspace?

ROBERTSON: Wolf, this presentation seems to have been made and drawn up out of desperation by the families. All those we have talked to connected to that particular map have not been able to tell us the precise providence of that map.

It's something that they believe that they wanted answered to their questions about the exact routing that the flight took during that left-hand turn back, if you will, back to fly back across Malaysia. So at the moment, they aren't able to offer us any further clarity on where they got this from, Wolf.

BLITZER: And just to pinpoint what you have been hearing -- and you're there in Malaysia, you're in Kuala Lumpur -- from Malaysian sources, they seem pretty convinced this was not a mechanical failure, this was some sort of deliberate act by someone, we don't know who, someone in the cockpit to do this.

ROBERTSON: In their public statement, officials here in Malaysia continue to say a deliberate act. In background briefings, they continue to say that the aircraft was being flown by someone who knew the aircraft well, who knew what they were doing.

And sources close to the investigation are telling us that it is being described behind the scenes, if you will, as a criminal act. Everything we're being told points to precisely those concerns, Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic Robertson reporting from Kuala Lumpur, thanks very much.

Let's get back to our panel.

Peter, let's talk a little bit about the families, because all the investigations, when you were involved in the NTSB, the investigations you did, that's the most heart-wrenching part of it, having to explain what's going on to the families, and now these Chinese families are going to be meeting with Malaysian authorities once again in Kuala Lumpur.

Will the Malaysians, should the Malaysians really share the most sensitive information with these families at this point, information that they are not willing to share publicly?

GOELZ: They are in a very difficult situation.

Wolf, these briefings should have started three weeks ago. The NTSB starts the briefing with families virtually the first night they are there and they make a commitment the first day that information that's going to released to the public will be released to the families first. They establish a level of trust.

The Malaysians haven't been able to do that. This is going to be a very difficult briefing and I think the family members will come out and they will report on it completely and the Malaysians are going to take that into account, and they will not be completely candid.

BLITZER: And they won't be happy, I assume, the Chinese families who have come from China to Malaysia because they are not going to get satisfaction with what they about to hear, and maybe, Tom, because the Malaysians themselves don't know what's going on.

FUENTES: I was just to say, the Malaysians themselves will not be briefed and they are already complaining the only information they learn typically is from the media, not from their own government.

Now you will have the Chinese getting preferential treatment and the other 13 and 14 countries with victims on that flight being ignored. Again, we will see how this plays out tomorrow. But, you know, it's questionable.

BLITZER: I suspect there will be more frustration.

Let's get back to the transcript that was released today and all of us have gone through it. It's not very long, two-and-a-half pages. We read it. It doesn't look unusual or anything, no suspicions as far as I can tell, and most experts I have spoken to don't see anything unusual.

But what we really need now is the audiotape. Right? O'BRIEN: We need the audiotape of that transcript. It would be very helpful. We hear a lot of things just by who was on the radio, was there a microphone click, background noise, stress in their voices?

And further what about the Ho Chi Minh City side of this, the Vietnam side of this? We have not seen anything about that, no transcript, nothing. There's a lot of information that could be there on their attempts to reach the plane. And there was apparently unconfirmed reports that they tried to relay through another aircraft and that there was some sort of mumbled or garbled response. It would be great to hear that.

BLITZER: It would be great to hear because -- and they know -- they can listen to the audiotape. They know if it's the pilot's voice or the co-pilot's voice. I don't understand why it's such a secret who was doing the talking.

MARSH: That is the question, because originally they came out and said it was the co-pilot and now they have kind of walked back on that and they are saying police are investigating that part of it. They are analyzing the tapes.

But it would be interesting to know if the person who was on the ground when they -- before takeoff is the same voice you hear once they are in the air. Those are all things we won't know until we hear that audio. And to your point about the Vietnamese airspace, how long did it take before they started to check in as to whether Flight 370 was coming their way?

Those are all so many questions that this transcript raises, but you're right, it looks very routine, but leaves a lot of unanswered questions.

BLITZER: Because, Peter, the last words in this official transcript that was released today at 1:19 a.m. local time, "Good night, Malaysian 370." That was the last...

GOELZ: Standard response.

BLITZER: Not unusual at all. And then, what, two, three minutes later, the plane makes that turn.

GOELZ: Starts the turn. And that is the question.

BLITZER: Because that has raised so many suspicions, that that's not coincidental. Early on, a lot of my sources had said we don't believe in coincidences. The fact that all of a sudden two or three minutes after they say good night to ground control, all of a sudden, the plane starts going in a mysterious direction, that has raised a lot of suspicion.

GOELZ: Well, precisely.

And to Miles' point, during that transmission do you hear a click of the cabin door opening? Do you hear, you know, a slide on the chair? Do you hear anything else that might indicate that something else was going on or that somebody else was entering or in the cockpit?

BLITZER: How surprised would you be, Tom, if tomorrow Malaysian authorities, Australian authorities, New Zealand, U.S. everybody comes out and says, you know what, we have refined the information, the data, the radar, the satellite images and now we're moving this search 600 miles in another direction?

FUENTES: Not a bit surprised.

BLITZER: You wouldn't be surprised?

FUENTES: Not at all.

BLITZER: It would cause -- people would start to say, are these competent? Do they know what they're doing?


FUENTES: I understand.

BLITZER: Why wouldn't you be surprised?

FUENTES: Well, because the flight path was calculated early on with the radars and then adding the Inmarsat satellite, new data, then it was reevaluated. And in this situation, this is not the Malaysians' fault. This is analysis being conducted by British, French and American experts telling them the search is here or the search has moved up to here or where it should be.

And then the actual direction of the search is being conducted by the Australians and New Zealand. In this sense, if that data changes or if the analysis of the data, I should say, changes, it's the experts that are changing.

BLITZER: Would you be surprised?


And all it takes is a very minor change in an assumption to move that area even 50 miles. And it is so hard to find a plane.

O'BRIEN: I totally agree. The big assumption here is that it was on some sort of circle that would be demarked by the Inmarsat satellite transmission, the time it takes to get from the plane to the Inmarsat.

We don't know the range of the aircraft. We know it was in the air, we think, for seven hours, but how far did it go? And that's -- there's a huge amount of variability there and a big assumption at the outset.


MARSH: And not to know the speed and altitude for certain, those are two major factors that you really don't know. Altitude alone determines how far this plane could go, and the fact that we don't know that for sure, it just makes everything so cloudy. BLITZER: And I wouldn't be surprised either if we get that announcement, although I think a lot of people will be deeply disappointed if that were to come out.

All right, guys, stand by.

Still ahead: What if searchers never find Flight 370? The answer could affect the safety of everyone who flies. A "Wall Street Journal" reporter is standing by to share his newest information about this investigation and the mistakes that have been made.


BLITZER: This hour, the search for Flight 370 is resuming after more than three weeks without finding any trace of the plane.

Our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh, is back.

A lot of people are wondering if this search will actually wind up finds nothing thing.

MARSH: Right.

As we move into week four, it's a question that you can't help but ask. What if Flight 370 is never found? One thing seems apparent. Proof that 370 had mechanical problems would likely lead to safety improvements. Proof it was hijacked would lead to security improvements.

But with proof of nothing and a whole lot of speculation, no changes may come out of this.


MARSH (voice-over): As searchers race to find any wreckage of Flight 370, the cost of not finding the plane could impact the safety of future flights. Accidents equal safety and security improvements.

In 1983, a fire broke out in a laboratory on Air Canada Flight 797. The plane landed, but 23 people on board died. After that, smoke detectors and automatic fire extinguishers were mandated in aircraft lavatories. In 1996, hazardous cargo on a ValuJet Flight 592 caught fire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What kind of problem are you having?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Smoke in the cabin. Smoke in the cabin.

MARSH: The plane crashed in the Florida Everglades; 110 people died. It led to new cargo hold safety rules.

But not finding Flight 370 or its data recorders could be a missed opportunity for change.

JEFF PRICE, AVIATION SAFETY EXPERT: Whatever brought down that flight, whether it was fire, hijack, pilot suicide, explosive decompression, a bomb, whatever, it's important to find that out so we can fix it, so it doesn't happen again.

MARSH: And it's security too. The September 11 hijackings led to strengthened cockpit doors. The shoe bomber led to shoe checks.

PRICE: Unfortunately, we have had a history of sort of graveyard policy-making. You wait until enough people die and then you make a change.

MARSH: With so few crashes in recent years, the FAA is more proactive in finding problems that could cause crashes before they happen. Now, with Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, there could be lessons to be learned, but only if they find out what went wrong.


MARSH: Well, one example of why finding hard evidence about what went wrong is so important in the words of a former NTSB investigator, if there was a problem with the plane, it could be fleet-wide, and if that's the case and no one knows it, he says, guess what? They will know about it the next time it happens, and that's not a good thing at all. And of the course the same goes for security issues if there's a hole that way as well.

BLITZER: Let's not forget these are Boeing 777s. There's about 1,200 of them flying around the world right now. If there's some sort of mechanical problem, they have to figure out what that was, fix it and make sure it never happens again. Rene, thanks very much.

We're joined now by "Wall Street Journal" reporter Andy Pasztor. He has been some serious digging on this story.

In your investigation, the most recent reports you have suggested, Andy, that international investigators, they are going to have to come up with some major revisions in how they operate as a result of what we're learning now.

ANDY PASZTOR, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": I think that's true, Wolf.

What we're looking at four weeks into this event, into this investigation, unfortunately, the probe looks very fragmented, disjointed and really without a clear sense of direction.

Your viewers may be familiar with a phrase that there's a black swan. It's an event that's supposed to happen so rarely, so infrequently, that it's virtually impossible. And, unfortunately, despite all of the pain and the effort and the valiant searches, aviation safety officials are starting to talk about how this may be the black swan of black swan events.

Many of them are really concerned that we will never get to the answer, and of course that's so contrary to the way the system works. Aviation safety improves, as your previous report indicated, by building on lessons learned. Sometimes, it's accidents and people start making fixes and doing things even before the report is written when you have a good idea, they have a good idea what happened. Often, it's just incidents, nobody gets hurt the plane isn't damaged, but there's some potential danger, there's an incipient threat that needs to be dealt with. But at this point, many safety officials are looking at this and saying they are bewildered, they don't know what to do, there are easy no solutions, there are no solutions, because we don't know what happened.

BLITZER: There have been no -- and you have reported this in "The Wall Street Journal" -- some serious mismanagement during the first three weeks. Tell us one or two examples.

PASZTOR: Well, the Malaysians have had a series of problems and they have been well-documented by many newspapers and TV stations.

Certainly, the most recent example is the search that was shifted just a week ago into a whole new area. And it appears from the reporting that my colleagues and I have done that this was really a basic problem of lack of coordination. They brought in all these outside experts from all over the world, as has been said, and they were doing analysis, some of them looking at satellite data, some of them looking at fuel consumption and aircraft performance data.

But, unfortunately, it appears that the two strands of this investigation were never properly merged. So you really had for at least three days looking -- the searchers were looking in an area that clearly has turned out to be wrong.

And it's ironic because now after all of this effort, according to people who know the Malaysian government and the Malaysian society very well and some reporting that we have been doing over there, the newest position of the Malaysians is to say, look, we have all these experts who are helping us. They told us what to say. They told us what to do. We relied on them. If things haven't gone well, if you're not pleased with the outcome, it's not our fault. Blame them.

And that's a really counterproductive stance, I think.

BLITZER: And who is to blame for the mismanagement, from your reporting, your analysis? Who is responsible for wasting, for example, those three days looking in the wrong place?

PASZTOR: An extremely complex situation with cutting-edge analysis and technology that was never meant to be used to locate a missing plane, and I think an over eagerness on the part of the Malaysians at this point in the investigation to come out with information as quickly as they could.

In the beginning, they were reluctant to provide information and they were roundly criticized for being too slow to divulge details. I think the search mistake or the problems with the search really stemmed from an over eagerness to come out and say, "We know the plane is down. Here's where we think it is." And then a day later, a few days later there was this recalibration to say, well, maybe that's not exactly what the data shows us. And I think that's a really unfortunate state of events. BLITZER: We have a statement from the National Transportation Safety Board, the NTSB, a spokesperson saying this -- and I'll put it up on the screen, Andy. "While the 'Wall Street Journal' may want to suggest there are issues with information sharing, there aren't. Everyone who is working this event is doing so as part of a large multinational team. They are working well and sharing all the relevant information." You buy that?

PASZTOR: Well, they're certainly working as hard as they can. And at this point, I think they are sharing relevant information, but it's obvious that that was not the case before.

And if you talk to folks who have been watching this really closely, you really get a sense that, from the very beginning of this investigation, because it was both a criminal and a classic aircraft accident investigation, there have been tremendous problems in coordination. And the Malaysians, as hard as they try, as tragic as it is for them, and as much as they're in anguish for the people who died and embarrassment for the country, for their country, they just haven't been able to get a good oversight and supervisory situation. So I believe that the investigation is not being handled in what you would call an appropriate way that typical major aircraft investigations are handled.

BLITZER: Is it too early to draw some lessons?

PASZTOR: Well, I mean, as we were speaking before, it's hard to take lessons if you don't know exactly what happened. Air safety experts that I've talked to are increasingly starting to talk about how we're going to do investigations in the future.

Some of them say this will change the way accident investigations are done for commercial airliners, because they're much more complex than they used to be, and in the old days and currently, the country that has control, whether it's because the aircraft crashed in that country or because it's an international waters and it's a flight carrier of that country, that -- that country basically has control.

But in the future, these experts say it will be a much more coordinated, much more international effort from the beginning, because people are beginning to realize that that's what's necessary. Unfortunately, this probe will be looked at as -- as a not very good example of that. The former chairman of the NTSB has call it a textbook case of how not to conduct such an investigation.

BLITZER: I've been suggesting now for a few days some sort of international commission of inquiry or presidential commission, at a minimum, needed to learn lessons so that it doesn't happen again.

Andy Pasztor of the "Wall Street Journal," thanks very much for your reporting. Appreciate you joining us.

A reminder: "CROSSFIRE" won't be seen today so we can bring you more of our special report on the mystery of Flight 370.

Just ahead new information about the Iranians who boarded Flight 370 with stolen passports. One of their friends is speaking exclusively to CNN.

And the deaths and the heartbreak that to a massive recall by General Motors. Did an apology by the company's new chief satisfy victims' families?


BLITZER: We're 26 days now. The families of Flight 370's passengers hear more of their missing loved ones at public news conferences and religious ceremonies. Well, one family is mourning in silence after their son came under suspicion for using a stolen passport to board the plane.

CNN's senior international correspondent Sara Sidner has the exclusive untold story.


SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Of all the grieving families of missing flight MH-370, the family of 18- year-old Pouri Nour Mohammadi is suffering alone.

Nour Mohammadi and his friend, Delavar Seyed Mohammad Reza, were two Iranians on the flight. Nour Mohammadi's family has stayed away from the epicenter of information, not attending briefings or getting the counselling provided by Malaysian Airlines.

In this case, the airline says it has not been in contact with the families. Their case, it said, is in the hands of investigators.

Nour Mohammadi and Reza boarded Flight MH-370 with stolen passports. Able to pass through security without a problem, at first they came under suspicion, but they were cleared of having anything to do with the plane's disappearance.

On Facebook his mother pours out her grief. "From the moment I became a mother," she says, "all I wanted and asked from God was to not see my children die before me, but, of course, that didn't happen."

We tried to talk to Nour Mohammadi's mother, but she did not respond to our calls or e-mails. We managed to get in touch with Nour Mohammadi's friend, who said good-bye to him at the Kuala Lumpur airport on March 8. He refused to show his face for fear he will be harassed by authorities when he travels to and from Iran.

He says Nour Mohammadi and his friend, Reza, are from Christian families, though Nour Mohammadi was not particularly religious.

Nour Mohammadi's Facebook message four days before he got on that plane shows him standing below the iconic Malaysian skyscraper with the words "Feeling excited."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was so sad. She was asking me, when my son was there, he was happy, he was enjoy enjoying. I said yes, as I see. He was happy; he was enjoying. He was OK. And then she just said, "Thanks God." SIDNER: He says he saw the plane ticket with another man's name on it and questioned Nour Mohammadi about it. Ultimately, Nour Mohammadi would only say he was trying to leave Iran forever to live with his mother in Germany.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He said there's more freedom. There's more freedom there.

SIDNER: Instead he disappeared with the other 238 people aboard Flight MH-370. His mother left these words for her missing son. "I dedicated my life to my son," she says, "and all I wanted was for them to be happy in life. I wanted them to live a free life. I have prayed that I would see him again, but that didn't happen. We will see each other in eternity now."

Sara Sidner, CNN, Kuala Lumpur.


BLITZER: What a sad story that is. Just ahead, an historic milestone in Iraq and Afghanistan and much more on CNN's special coverage of the mystery of Flight 370. A British submarine is joining the international search.


BLITZER: We'll continue watching developments in the search for Flight 370, but there's other important news we're following as well.

The CEO of General Motors is here in Washington today facing tough questions from congress over a botched recall, one that ignored the warning signs and led to 13 people's death.

CNN's Poppy Harlow has more.


CHERIE SHARKEY, MOTHER OF CRASH VICTIM: I think how they died and it's not fair.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Cherie Sharkey lost her 21-year-old son Michael in 2012 when his Chevy Cobalt veered off the road and hit a rock wall. She blames a faulty ignition switch.

General Motors admits 13 deaths and 31 accidents are related to the switch, which can turn off when bumped cutting off the airbag, brakes and power steering.

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R), TENNESSEE: Who knew what when? And, Ms. Barra, that includes you.

HARLOW: Today, lawmakers grilled G.M. CEO Mary Barra at a House hearing following a massive recall of 2.6 million vehicles tied to the ignition problem, going back to 2003 models. But the automaker admits it knew about the problem as early as 2004. Barra testified she doesn't know why it took a decade for the safety defect to be announced but vowed to find out.

MARY BARRA, CEO, GENERAL MOTORS: As soon as I learned about the problem, we acted without hesitation. We told the world we had a problem that needed to be fixed.

HARLOW: Barra met Monday with about 20 family members who lost loved ones in crashes of cars included in the recall and apologized to them, but the question of cost remain. A House report finds one possible reason G.M. chose not to act on the faulty switch sooner was, according to G.M. documents, quote, "tooling costs and piece price are too high."

REP. TIM MURPHY (R), PENNSYLVANIA: What does that mean?

BARRA: I find that statement to be very disturbing as we do this investigation and understand it in the context of the whole timeline. If that was the reason the decision was made, that is unacceptable.

MURPHY: How does G.M. balance cost and safety?

BARRA: We don't. Today, if there's a safety issue we take action.

HARLOW (on camera): When you look back to 2005, G.M. was already starting to struggle financially, it was at junk bond status and some are questioning whether or not G.M.'s financial state played into the decision not to order recall.

BARRA: We're definitely moving into a culture that's focused on the consumer, that is focused on the customer, is focused on high quality and safety.

HARLOW (voice-over): But at the hearing, her answers often lacked detail.

BARRA: That's why we're doing this investigation. The investigation will tell us that. We're doing an investigation, part of the investigation.

HARLOW: Lawmakers also want to know why the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration didn't spot a pattern in the G.M. crashes. The agency says it didn't have enough information. That's leaving Cherie Sharkey still searching for answers.

SHARKEY: I'm fighting for my family and I'm fighting for my son.


HARLOW: And I can tell you, Wolf, now, the big question now is going to be liability, especially financial liability for the victims' families.

Because G.M. went through bankruptcy in 2009, technically, they don't legally have to pay out for civil penalties, pay out those fines. Criminally, though, they could be held accountable. Despite the bankruptcy they appointed Ken Feinberg who oversaw the victim compensation funds after the BP oil spill and 9/11 to deal with this situation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a situation it is.

All right. Thanks very much, Poppy Harlow, reporting.

The death toll in Washington state is rising, 27 people are now reported dead after that devastating landslide more than a week ago. Twenty-two people are missing as search teams dig through the mud of the mounds of mud.

CNN's Ana Cabrera is joining us now with the very latest -- Ana.


We've got a chance to go into the landslide zone today, really to ground zero. It was our first up close look at the devastation there. It's a couple of miles up the roadway here.

And I was really struck by what you couldn't see. You look around and so much of the devastation is now below what's become the new surface of land there. So, that and the fact that everything was really obliterated when the landslide happened has resulted instead of seeing large piles of big objects that are displaced, you just see splintered wood and mud every where.


CABRERA (voice-over): An up-close look at the landslide disaster zone reveals a seemingly insurmountable volume of mud and muck.

LT. RICHARD BURKE: Incredible amount of energy was created out here and pushed all this material.

CABRERA: We are ground level, alongside search and rescuers. This was once a neighborhood, now a muddy, mangled and mutilated mound of debris that spans a whole square mile.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are areas here that are still 60 to 80 feet deep that they've not been able to access because it's so unstable. It's a little bit like quicksand.

CABRERA: The dangerous conditions remain 10 days after the landslide. Workers have to mine the debris field full of contaminants, raw sewage, propane tanks, oil and gas. The work is slow and grueling. But searches are laser-focused on one thing -- find the missing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had family members out here digging through the pile. And our commitment to them was we're going to be out here digging through this debris field for as long as they're willing to commit.

CABRERA: The goal is to cover every inch without actually removing the muck until extra eyes were able to investigate.

(on camera): All of this heavy equipment is helping to clear the debris off the road to provide more access for rescuers. But the debris is staying put. Until hand crews can come and go through these piles to pull belongings for family members who lost everything.

(voice-over): Mother Nature created the tragedy but now Mother Nature is assisting is the recovery. Sun shines down, drying up the land just enough for searchers to move forward in the hopes of bringing closure to a crushed community.


CABRERA: Again, two dozen people still missing. We're told they are laser focused on finding the victims so that each and every one of these families can at least have some solace in that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a heartbreaking story that is, Ana Cabrera is on the scene for us. Thank you, Ana.

A major milestone for U.S. forces. March is the first month in more than a decade without an American combat death. The last such month was February, 2003. Over the last 13 1/2 years, more than 4,400 U.S. troops died in Iraq, 2300 in Afghanistan.

Just ahead, the mystery of Flight 370, Malaysia Airlines flight stepping up security. And some are celebrating over at the White House. We're going to tell you what's going on.



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The bottom line is this. Under this law, the share of Americans with insurance is up. And the growth of health care costs is down. And that's good for our middle class, and that's good for our fiscal future.


BLITZER: President Obama gave his administration a pat on the back today after a milestone for Obamacare. The White House says more than 7 million people have now signed up, meeting the original target for this, the last day of open enrollment.

Let's bring in our political commentators Donna Brazile and Ana Navarro.

Ana, big day for the White House. More than 7 million signed up. Millions more young people can stay on their parents' plans till they reach the age of 26. Millions more got expanded Medicaid benefits. Big win for the White House, right?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think the perception of it is a big win. Definitely if he had not hit that 7 million mark, it would have been a huge blow. So the fact that it was hit is yes, a good day for the White House.

Now, we need to dissect those numbers, Wolf. We don't know how many of those people are young people. We don't know how of those people were previously insured that lost their insurance due to Obamacare that have now signed up with Obamacare.

So, there's a lot of cross tabs to look at to see if the formula is going to work. Let's also remember this is a law that has had a lot of delays and exceptions that have been put into place in the last year. We've got to see what the full implementation looks.

BLITZER: All right.

NAVARRO: But I think the bottom line is that Republicans have got to realize that there's some things in this law that people like that the American people like. And Democrats have got to realize that it's also not all milk and honey.

BLITZER: Donna, would you advise those vulnerable Democratic senators up for re-election in some of those red states to run -- they au voted for Obamacare, to run, make a big deal to promote this or try to forget about it?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, there's no question these Democrats have to tell the American people this is a victory for consumers. Prices, health care prices have gone down. Millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions can sleep better tonight knowing they cannot have their policies cancelled.

Senior citizens with prescription drug benefits, there's a lot of good things in the Affordable Care Act. They should not run from it.

BLITZER: So, Mary Landrieu in your home state of Louisiana, should she go out and start selling Obamacare?

BRAZILE: What hundreds of thousands of Louisianans who are poor and unable to get Medicaid because of the governor, she should petition the governor to expand Medicaid in our state and she should hail the fact as a woman, she's no longer a pre-existing conditions and she's not paying higher rates because of it.

I don't think Democrats should run from it. I think we should tell the American people that we provided access. Republicans are trying to take it away.

BLITZER: Quickly, Ana, a quick thought from you and then I'll wrap it up.

CABRERA: Well, look, I think we're going to see what the polls are saying based on what we see these Democrat candidates that have been running away from it and from President Obama do. That's yet to be seen. A lot of this story is yet to unfold, wolf.

BLITZER: Ana Navarro, Donna Brazile to be continued, to be sure, guys. Thanks very, very much.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. Don't forget you can always follow us on Twitter. I'm @WolfBlitzer. You can tweet the show @CNNSitRoom. Send me your questions, or comments. Thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.