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Search Moves 800 Miles To Northeast; Debris Of Some Kind Spotted; Ships To Arrive At New Location Of Debris; Mystery Flight 370; Pilot's Flight Simulator; Autopilot System

Aired March 28, 2014 - 13:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. Dramatic new developments are unfolding right now in the hunt for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The search area has shifted by hundreds of miles and now multiple planes have spotted objects in the new location. This picture from CCTV, Chinese State Television. It shows what's described as a suspicious object spotted by a New Zealand military plane.

Here's the latest on where we stand right now in this mystery. Australian officials say five of 10 search planes that flew over the new area today actually spotted objects in the waters below. Investigators are going over the photographs right now, the photographs of the objects. The ship is expected to arrive at the site tomorrow. The new search zone is 680 miles northeast of the previous sites. It's 1,150 miles from Perth, Australia.

Analysts say this shift in location is based on new calculations of satellite data and fuel consumption patterns. They say the data suggests the plane didn't fly as far south as they originally thought. We want to give you a sense of what it's like on board one of those planes flying over the southern Indian Ocean.

Our Correspondent Kyung Lah is joining us now live from Perth, Australia. Kyung, you were on one of the planes that just returned to Perth after flying over this new search area. Describe what happened when searchers actually spotted something on top of the water.

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I was bedded (ph) with the United States P-8 Poseidon crew. And as we were entering the search area -- it took about two hours and twenty minutes to arrive to the search area. As we got closer to the ocean, the -- one of the crew members, one seated to the left, looking out at the ocean, suddenly saw white debris. A number of white debris spots on the ocean. From that high, all he could see from specks. Then another crew member to the right saw some orange rope, what appeared to be orange rope. And then another sighting, a blue bag. All of it in the same general vicinity.

What they did was they marked the coordinates. They swept through it twice, got a good look at t. A camera was -- we don't know if it was rolling, but a camera did give us a look onboard the plane, what it was. It was really hard to make out. It looked like a misshapen white object. That's the only part I saw, Wolf. And what we can tell you is that it's definitely debris. But we definitely do not know if it is connected to the missing plane. The coordinates have been set and a sea vessel has been directed to go there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, the vessel probably won't get there for several hours. I'm assuming it's going to take a while to get out there. Once they get out there, how did the waves look? How did the weather look? I -- do you think they're going to be able to get close to this specific location where you saw this suspicious object?

LAH: Well, the old search area was described as being so -- the waves being so violent, it looked like a washing machine. A very different story what we saw today. Now, weather is unpredictable. These waters can change. But they were very, very calm today. It was barely any wave activity. There was, at one point, where you could see some white caps, but it was only for a short period of time, maybe about 10 minutes. The rest of the time, very calm waters.

We understand that the sea vessels are staying out there in the overnight Australia hours, and they're going to try to pick up some of this debris.

BLITZER: A lot less violent weather further north where the new search area is. The waters, as you correctly point out, a lot calmer right now. So maybe that will help in identifying what these articles, what these items are. Kyung Lah just back in Perth from this flight. So, it certainly has been a surprising turn in the hunt for Flight 370. A new search area, new objects seen floating in this new area.

Let's discuss what's going on. Mark Weiss is an aviation analyst, former 777 pilot for American Airlines. Peter Goelz is a CNN Aviation Analyst, former NTSB managing director. Tom Fuentes, is our CNN Law Enforcement Analyst and former assistant director of the FBI.

So, Mark, let's talk about this. So, what do you think when you see what's being described as these objects? Does it -- you've flown 777s. Does it sound, does it appear to be, based on the initial indications, wreckage from that plane?

MARK WEISS, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, you know, Wolf, we heard this before when we heard the 300 objects, the 122 objects, and those seem to be debris fields. Again, trying to manage expectations. We've been down this road before and certainly everybody is hopeful. You know, some of the pieces, single pieces, may or may not really be part of the wreckage. We just have to wait. I mean, this one, fortunately, is close enough to a ship that's being repositioned that will have -- hopefully have it in our hands tomorrow.

BLITZER: If it is wreckage, Peter, and you've investigated a lot of these disasters, is it likely there's one individual piece floating around in an area? Wouldn't there be a whole bunch of stuff sort of clogged up together?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, you would have hoped that that was the case three weeks ago. But today, with three weeks' worth of wave action, the debris could be well-separated. So, it's not surprising that you could have individual pieces floating alone.

BLITZER: What are you hearing? Is this a real breakthrough, potentially? Or is this, potentially, another false lead?

GOELZ: Well, I think -- I think they're pretty optimistic. They've been working nonstop over the past 10 days, recalculating the numbers that they got from Inmarsat. This is their best effort. If this falls short, if this is not the site, boy, they're going to have to go back to square one.

BLITZER: Because this is, what, almost 700 miles, Tom, from the other locations where they had been spending the last couple weeks desperately looking for something. They found nothing. They found a lot of objects, but nothing could be confirmed to come from that Malaysian airliner. What's your assessment right now?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, the fact that this time, the airplanes have seen the debris, not five-day-old satellite information. That was the problem before. The satellites would say, well, OK, five days ago, this object was at this location. By the time they got out there, a day or two later with aircraft, they couldn't find anything.

BLITZER: It's a lot more encouraging --


FUENTES: This time, the aircraft are seeing it, they've dropped the sonobuoys on the locations of the debris so they would float with the debris if the waves take them in a different direction. And now, theoretically, you should be able to get to the ships to the actual debris this time for sure. Where before, the ships -- even the airplanes couldn't find it so the ships couldn't find it. So, that's the optimistic part of this one, is at least they'll be able to fish something out of the water, hopefully in the next 24, 48 hours. And it may not be the plane, but at least it's a better chance to actually look at something physical and make that assessment.

BLITZER: And what's encouraging, Peter, is the water is a lot calmer 700 miles further north than that original area and the weather is a lot better, too.

FUENTES: Yes, things are lining up. Let's hope that the new calculations are good because if they're not, we're getting into the final days of the life of the pinger on the recorders. And boy, that's going to present a whole new set of challenges.

BLITZER: And assuming those pingers are still pinging.

FUENTES: Exactly.

BLITZER: That's another matter right there. How could they get this wrong, this destination? Because apparently they recalculated how fast the plane was flying as it crossed the Malaysian Peninsula after it made that left turn moving away from Beijing, heading in the opposite direction. How did they miscalculate where the end point was? What did they do to refine it now by 700 miles?

WEISS: Well, if you remember early on, we had the aircraft turning in multiple directions. We were concerned if the waypoints put it on the ground, in the air, we didn't really know. And there were so many potential variations in altitude which certainly would change the entire fuel calculations which would be the range of the aircraft.

So, I think what they were doing now, based upon the pingers and different altitudes and different speeds, they've refined it now to a point where they really believe that this is going to focus in on the search area.

BLITZER: This reassessment, do you buy it? Because you gave us an indication yesterday --


BLITZER: -- that they were -- they were -- they had discovered this new area where they want to devote their search efforts.

GOELZ: Yes, I think they had really put the pencil to the paper. I mean, remember, this was always a term of art. I mean, this is not something that's been done before. They were -- they were breaking new ground, and I think they're confident this is a more accurate analysis.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Tom. To those who say we're now back at square one, you say?

FUENTES: I say that if Peter and Mark are optimistic, I'm optimistic. They know -- they know the calculations that were done at NTSB and the recalculations. So, you know, that's what I would base it on.

BLITZER: All right, guys. We're going to continue our analysis, stand by. We have shown what it's like searching above the Indian Ocean for Flight 370. Up next, the view from under water. I'll speak with an ocean search specialist about what crews are up against right now.

The hunt for Flight 370, so far, has only raised a lot more questions. By the way, if you have a question you want answered, send it to us. Tweet us, use the hash tag 370QS. QS. 370QS. Our experts will have answers later this hour.


BLITZER: So, we've given a sense of what it's like on a search plane out over the Indian Ocean, hunting for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Now, we want to give some perspective about conditions under water, especially in this new search location. Rob McCallum is a 30-year veteran of ocean exploration. He's an ocean search specialist, a professional expedition leader. He's joining us now. Rob, thanks very much. Let's talk about this new shift. What do you make of this new location, what, about 700 miles further north?

ROB MCCALLUM, OCEAN SEARCH SPECIALIST, PROFESSIONAL EXPEDITION LEADER: It's a great development from a search perspective. Simply because it means we've moved north around 12 degrees of latitude. And so, as we go into the southern winter, the Australia winter, it means that conditions will be better for any later under water search.

BLITZER: So, what about the currents? How accurate would -- this has been now the end of three weeks, about to enter the fourth week of this search, the plane goes down, let's say, in the Indian Ocean. How accurate, assuming they have a rough idea where it may have gone down, would the search be in terms of the currents, where they could move all the wreckage from the plane?

MCCALLUM: It's a very good point. You know, the search area is going to be immense. You know, there's been so much time elapsed now that the debris has had a long chance to dissipate. And, of course, not all debris drifts at the same rate. Some items like seat cushions, for instance, propel by the wind and the waves, less so by the current. Other items, such as, you know, the aircraft tail or wing tips, will be semi-submerged and they're propelled mainly by the current and not so much by the wind. So, it -- you know, the elapsed time has allowed debris to spread over a vast area.

BLITZER: So this could really wind up anywhere. Let's say they find some wreckage from the plane in the Indian Ocean. What do they do next to start deep water searches, because the challenges will be enormous, especially if they're looking for those black boxes, the flight data, the voice recorders?

MCCALLUM: Yes. The next step is to assess what items of debris are recovered from the surface and then to run an exercise of retronavigation (ph), which is a little bit of a marriage between engineers, hydrogaphers and oceanographers, to look at the prevailing wind, the prevailing wave patterns, the prevailing currents and apply that knowledge to the individual parts and try and backtrack, if you like, back to an original source.

BLITZER: How good is that retroactive analysis, if you will? How reliable should we expect it to be?

MCCALLUM: Yes, retronavigation is mostly a science. There's a little bit of an art to it, as well. You know it - it's -- it can be very definitive if you're dealing with a short time frame. But after the elapsed time so far, it's going to be quite a complex exercise. In our business, it's actually much better to be thorough and precise than it is to be fast. So this is not going to end any time soon. But these -- the general channel of the search at the moment is a good one. There's been a lot of area covered and gradually the clues are come together to provide us with at least a starting point.

BLITZER: And one final question. You say it's actually better if wreckage is found in deep water. Why is that?

MCCALLUM: You know the -- if the water is deep and there's a lack of oxygen in the water, it's calm, it's settled, there's not a lot of marine life down there, then it makes it easy for us to search. Our equipment works well down to 6,000 meters or 20,000 feet. So all of the areas that are in question at the moment are within range of the sonar equipment. We like nice, deep, quiet water so that the -- you know, the acoustics can be used to maximum effect.

BLITZER: Robert McCallum is an ocean search specialist. Thanks for your expertise. Thanks for joining us, Rob.

MCCALLUM: Thank you.

BLITZER: Mystery has certainly surrounded what could be on the flight simulator found inside the home of the flight captain. FBI agents have been closely examining the hard drives. Up next, we'll speak to the man who helped the captain put together the flight simulator.


BLITZER: The flight simulator owned by the captain of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has been under the microscope since the FBI got a hold of it for inspection. We now know investigators examining the hard drives on that simulator so far, repeat so far, have not turn up what they're calling a smoking gun. CNN's Saima Mohsin has more now on the international intrigue surrounding the device.


SAIMA MOHSIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a high-tech piece of equipment that's been the subject of much intrigue, concern, even suspicion, the flight simulator Captain Zaharie Ahmed Shah had built in his home. Police searched the homes of the pilot and co-pilot of MH-370, taking away the simulator for investigation. CNN has spoken to Tannis Contanionus (ph), who writes a blog on flight simulators. He sold the captain additional parts and helped him put it all together.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He wanted to build a platform that it can create the rear motion of the plane. In a degree, it has its limits.

MOHSIN: That's done with a chair or platform that moves, as though the pilot is seated in an actual plane, to give the sensation of flying. Contanionus (ph) and Captain Zaharie exchanged at least 15 e-mails, which have been shared with CNN. They mostly discuss technical details, the pilot looking for guidance on setting up his simulator.

MOHSIN (on camera): It's a passion that extended beyond the job. Captain Zaharie often invited his friends over to try out the simulator. They say they saw nothing sinister in his hobby, but investigators still have to ask tough questions and files from the simulator have been sent to the FBI for inspection.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's very normal for pilots to have something like that to practice themselves.

MOHSIN (voice-over): Malaysian authorities mentioned concern over some deleted files. Something Tannis Contanionus says is normal, like deleting data from a game drive or computer. Contanionus says he never discussed with Captain Zaharie what he used the simulator for, but he wasn't concerned.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Letting (ph) that it was actually someone we know, it was really devastating for us. We've got to be sad about it. And on top of that, we couldn't believe all the things that were said about it, that it wasn't close to true. I mean we couldn't believe -- I couldn't believe that the man that had passion for a simulation like that, that wanted to build (INAUDIBLE), to go the extra mile to build something like that would do something stupid or, you know, like sinister.

MOHSIN: Captain Zaharie seemed to have nothing to hide but his enthusiasm for flying. As one of his friends told me, if we were on a plane in trouble, he would want a pilot as passionate as Captain Zaharie in the cockpit.

Saima Mohsin, CNN, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.


BLITZER: Even though there's been so far no evidence the pilots had anything to do with Flight 370's disappears, Malaysia Airlines announced today a new policy to try to ensure all of its new pilots are mentally stable. From now on, pilots joining the airlines must undergo psychological tests. But what about when there's a hijacking or another stressful situation? How do you best counter that threat? There's reportedly autopilot technology out there, patented by Boeing, that takes complete control of the plane, rendering a pilot or are a hijacker powerless. Brian Todd is covering this part of the story for us.

So, Brian, tell us about this system. How does it work?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's called the uninterruptible Autopilot System. This was reported on about seven years ago by the Homeland Security Newswire and by The Daily Mail. According to these reports, Boeing got a patent for some technology that would enable the plane to be flown by remote control from the ground in the event of an emergency. Now, in a situation of distress in this scenario, the pilot could flick a switch or maybe some kind of a sensor could trigger the autopilot. The autopilot could then be activated by radio or satellite. And our aviation analyst, Mark Weiss, explains what would happen next.


MARK WEISS, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Everything now that the pilots would try to do would be inconsequential because the ground controller would be handling its flight path, its landing gear, its flap system, configuring the aircraft for a landing to a safe place and really taking away the hostile threat.


TODD: Now, Mark Weiss says that if that technology was in place now, if this was in all planes and this had widespread capability now, there's a chance -- a chance, Wolf, that this could have saved Malaysia Air Flight 370, but also it may not have. Again, we don't know a lot of detail about what happened in that cockpit. But if this had been in place then, that's why we're raising this now, that it may have played a factor in possibly saving that plane in a certain scenario.

We have to say, Boeing is giving us absolutely no comment on this. We've come back to them repeatedly, tell us about this patent, tell us about this technology, are you still pursuing it. Nothing. They want nothing to say -- they have nothing to say about it right now.

BLITZER: From what I understand, autopilot, you can fly at a cruising altitude.

TODD: That's right.

BLITZER: But you really can't land a plane on autopilot. The pilot has to land the plane. This new technology - and let's say a hijacker's in control and you want to control it from the ground -

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: To save all the passengers on board. Could they actually land the plane from the ground, as well?

TODD: There's certainly an implication in some of these reports that this technology could take control of it and could land the plane. That could be possibly a pretty clumsy landing, but there is an implication that it could happen and that the auto brake system that every plane has would then be employed to bring the plane to a full stop on the ground. But again, there has to have been a lot of testing and probably still needs to be a lot of testing for this to become a reality.

BLITZER: Amazing technology, Brian.

TODD: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

TODD: Sure.

BLITZER: Still ahead, much more on the hunt for Flight 370. The search area shifting dramatically, and so does the focus. Crews are now zeroing in on new colored objects spotted from aircraft. We have details.

Also, tweet us your questions about the search for this airliner. Use the #370qs. We're going to get answers for you later this hour.