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Promising New Lead in the Hunt for Flight 370; U.S. Navy 'Cautiously Optimistic' About Search; Searchers Race to Verify Pings Heard by Locator; New Details on Airline's Flight Path; U.S. Watching Russia with Great Concern

Aired April 7, 2014 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Jake, thanks very much.

Happening now, breaking news -- the mystery of Flight 370. An urgent race to verify not one, but two pings detected by a U.S. underwater listening device. Officials say the signals are consistent with an airliner's black boxes.

Search officials call this the best lead yet and the U.S. Navy is voicing what they call "cautious optimism."

I'll speak live at this hour with a U.S. Navy commander aboard a ship in the region. We'll take a closer look at the next steps in the high tech underwater search.

And a deepening mystery over the plane's flight path right now.

Why did the plane veer north of Indonesia before turning south over the Indian Ocean?

Was it an effort to avoid radar detection?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Search officials call it the most promising lead in the hunt for Flight 370.

Here are the latest developments we're following.

Searchers are scrambling right now to confirm two pings detected by a U.S. locator device. They say the signals from an area nearly three miles deep sounded just like an airliner's recorder beacons. If those pings can be verified, officials say a sonar equipped underwater drone will be deployed to map the ocean floor.

Meantime, aircraft, they are now getting ready to resume a search for debris to try to pinpoint the location.

And there's fresh mystery right now about the airliner's flight path. A senior Malaysian source says that according to radar data, the plane curved north of Indonesia before turning south over the Indian Ocean, perhaps to avoid detection.

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

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

He's joining us from Perth, Australia.

What's the latest -- Matthew?


Intensive efforts now to try and confirm those dramatic findings from over the weekend. There are observation flights that are expected to start taking off here from the Australian city of Perth within the next few hours.

Also, a number of ships have made their way to one location in the Indian Ocean where the Chinese found those pings over the weekend.

But the focus is very much on that Australian vessel, the Ocean Shield, which, using sophisticated equipment on loan from the U.S. Navy, has made what it appears to be a significant breakthrough.


CHANCE (voice-over): After weeks scouring the Indian Ocean, this is the best lead yet in the desperate search for Malaysian Flight 370.

HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, ACTING MALAYSIAN TRANSPORTATION MINISTER: The (INAUDIBLE) pinger locator a part from HMAS Ocean Shield has detected signals consistent with those emitted by aircraft black boxes.

CHANCE: This is a remote area nearly 1,000 miles off the western coast of Australia, where officials say two sets of electronic pings were detected nearly 15,000 feet, more than 4,000 meters, down. Their position needs to be accurately confirmed before this robotic submarine can be deployed to get a visual.

ANGUS HOUSTON, JOINT AGENCY COORDINATION CENTRE: Essentially, this has been done without finding any wreckage thus far. And I think it's quite extraordinary. And what I'd like to see now is us find some wreckage, because that will -- that will basically help solve the mystery.

CHANCE: Recent days have seen the search for the missing plane intensify. Over the weekend, a Chinese ship, the Hishen 01 (ph), said it briefly detected electronic pulses in a different search area. Chinese television showed images of the crew using a basic sonar device on a small rubber boat to pick up sounds.

And Australian officials say the latest sounding, measured by the high tech Ocean Shield, are unrelated and offer the best hope so far of tracking down Malaysia's lost plane. (END VIDEO TAPE)

CHANCE: Well, we've been warned, Wolf, that it could take several days before we get any real clarity on what exactly has been found. In waters this deep -- and we're talking about nearly three miles deep -- officials say things don't happen very quickly -- back to you.

BLITZER: Yes, but it is a very, very, very promising lead.

Matthew Chance, we'll stay in very close touch with you.

Let's bring in our aviation analyst, Miles O'Brien; our aviation analyst, former NTSB managing director, Peter Goelz; and our law enforcement analyst, the former FBI assistant director, Tom Fuentes.

It sounds pretty encouraging to me, based on what the United States Navy is saying in a public statement.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Yes. I think you -- we can take that cautious optimism to the bank when the Navy says it. And what I like about this scenario is, first of all, the amount of time that they heard the pings, the fact that they apparently heard two pings, meaning they might have two black boxes in one location, and then the fact that it matches up so nicely with those Inmarsat circles which we've been talking about for so long. It really verifies what those engineers did, a remarkable piece of engineering, using technology in ways that was never intended, to give us the only lead that we had to go on. It's just -- it's just amazing that we're hearing pings, potentially, without a single shred of wreckage.

BLITZER: We're going to hear directly very soon, Peter, from Commander William Marks of the U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet. We'll speak with him live in a few moments.

But in a statement that the Seventh Fleet put out earlier, among other things, they said this: "Acquisition of the two signals is encouraging, but we are still only cautiously optimistic pending confirmation of the black boxes by the TPL again and visual confirmation with the Blue Fin 21 Side Scan Sonar."

The TPL is the Towed Ping Locator.

If the U.S. Navy says one thing like this, that's pretty encouraging.

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: I think it's pretty solid. I'm with Miles, this is really phenomenal work done by the engineers. And it's really not uncommon that they would pick up both pings relatively close together. If the tail broke off, it might be a little scattered on the ocean floor. But this is really good news.

BLITZER: If they have actually located it -- and we should know fairly soon, Tom, both of these blacks boxes, the flight data recorder, the cockpit voice recorder -- here's one of these black boxes and, as all our viewers by now know, they're really orange -- that would respect a significant development because not only do you get information from these black boxes, but presumably, the wreckage of the plane would be very nearby.

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: The wreckage would be so close that you'd have to get both almost at the same time, or very close together. The idea that we have the signal most sophisticated piece of equipment in the entire search region in the water there finding these pulses in the water is the most encouraging part of all.

BLITZER: The -- what is also clear to me, since they publicly are insisting they still haven't found any wreckage, they must be getting other information. It's not just random luck if they're close to finding these two black boxes. They must be getting information, Miles, from secret sources, classified information that the U.S. or other countries don't want to make public, but they want the information out there.

O'BRIEN: Well, yes, that's just it, though, what do you -- would it be, you know, a satellite image of wreckage?

Well, where's the wreckage?

We haven't heard a thing about it. But maybe there is something in there...

BLITZER: It's something a submarine, for example, could do...

O'BRIEN: Well...

BLITZER: -- because the U.S. never talks about its submarine capabilities.

O'BRIEN: Yes, but submarines are not ideally suited for this mission. Of course, there's a lot of things they don't talk about there, as well, so you're right. There's probably a lot going in back channels right now.

BLITZER: What do you think?

GOELZ: Well, I think these guys really did the math and that this was their best shot and they -- it set up dead on the slight curve that Inmarsat set up. I think it's hard work that paid off.

BLITZER: It would be amazing, though, you have to admit, if they find the black boxes without any wreckage, because usually it's the other way around, you find the wreckage and then it takes a while to find the black boxes, which are so much smaller than a plane.

FUENTES: It seems a little too amazing, for sure.


FUENTES: But, you know, that's what they're saying for now and we may find out more later.

BLITZER: I don't know that it's ever happened before...

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: -- where they've located the black boxes before they've located any wreckage.

O'BRIEN: No one can think -- we can't think of an occasion.

What if the plane is intact?

That's the question that I have tonight.

BLITZER: It's possible, but unlikely given the fact that...

GOELZ: Unlikely...

BLITZER: -- this was a huge 777. And it's going into the Indian Ocean. Presumably, it's going to -- it's not going to be a "Sully" Sullenberger miracle on the Hudson landing.

GOELZ: It wouldn't have been. But it could be largely intact and that might help explain it.

BLITZER: If it's largely intact, then, presumably, with these underwater sonar detectors and other high tech equipment, they'll find it relatively quickly.


O'BRIEN: Well, yes. I mean the side scan sonar is pretty effective once you get on station with it. It takes time, but the wreckage itself will be very obvious using that sonar.

BLITZER: And what's encouraging is that the U.S. Navy says the pings, one lasting for about two hours, one lasting for about 15 minutes, came from two locations fairly close to each other. That would be -- that would be a very encouraging sign.

FUENTES: Right. And especially for the length of time, it would indicate that that's not some marine animal making noises over a two- and-a-half hour period and then reacquired later. So that's, you know, that's pretty encouraging in itself. But that's what we have.

As far as the debris, you know, they did have a category five typhoon right on that exact spot a couple of weeks ago that anything that might have been on the surface could be long gone, again, accentuating the fact that this is awfully lucky to be able to drop that device right on top.

BLITZER: And that they would find it now.

The Chinese, over the weekend, they earlier had said they heard some pinging, for about 90 seconds, then for a few seconds. That's about 300 or 400 miles away from where the U.S. Navy says they detected some pinging.

What do you make of the Chinese claim?

O'BRIEN: It feels like a red herring right now, Wolf. And to the extent that it might have misdirected resources, that would have been unfortunate. The fact that the other ship made this find sort of takes that pressure off the Chinese.

BLITZER: What do you make of the Chinese claim?

GOELZ: I don't think it was taken very seriously, because the device that they were using, you've seen it on TV, dropping it in over the side of the rubber boat, it only had a range of 3,000 to 4,000 feet. It could not have picked up the pinger -- or highly unlikely -- at the depth that it was at.

So I think it probably was an ambient noise from the ship itself.

BLITZER: So just they got confused, because they said it was the exact same, what, megahertz, or whatever...

GOELZ: That's a common (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: That's a commonly...


BLITZER: I thought it was unique to the black boxes.

GOELZ: No, it's common in the marine field.

BLITZER: Oh, really?

So they could have totally been confused.

Is that your analysis?

FUENTES: Yes. And we were questioning Saturday, why did it seem like the Australians seemed so slow to react to the Chinese information?


FUENTES: If they had it at local time and eight hours later, they were saying, well, we're contemplating what we're going to do about this, well, it seems now that they must have already had something from the Ocean Shield that caused them to not quite believe what the Chinese had.

O'BRIEN: I wonder if it was a photo-op for domestic consumption in China, frankly?

BLITZER: Really?

O'BRIEN: And, you know, we did see -- we've carefully looked through that video. And there was a pinging device on the vessel itself, which was used to test the device that's supposed to hear it. But it's not considered good protocol to have a pinger on a de -- on the same boat where you're trying to find actual pings.

BLITZER: So they may have just been confused or they may deliberately have tried to suggest to the people of China they were all over this ahead of the U.S. and others, who actually did find, apparently, some sort of ping. And they say they're cautiously optimistic that they're onto the real thing.

We're going to find out fairly soon whether or not they are right.

Stand by, guys. "Cautiously optimistic" -- those are the words of the United States Navy after weeks of frustration. That counts as a very upbeat statement from the U.S. Navy on the pings heard in the Indian Ocean.

I'm about to speak live with a U.S. Navy commander aboard a ship in the region, Commander William Marks. We'll talk about what's going on.

And a senior Malaysian source says the plane veered north of Indonesia before heading south, perhaps to evade radar.

Is that a new clue or just the latest in a series of mixed messages from Malaysia?


BLITZER: After a month of deep frustration, the detection of pings in the Indian Ocean is being called the best lead yet, and the U.S. Navy now says publicly it's cautiously optimistic.

Joining us on the phone, Commander William Marks of the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet. He's aboard the "USS Blue Ridge."

Commander, thanks as usual for joining us. What do you think? Have you found the plane?

COMMANDER WILLIAM MARKS, U.S. NAVY (via phone): Good morning.

I can't quite say we found the plane yet. We are working around the clock to reacquire the signal. But there was some encouraging developments over the weekend. We are cautiously optimistic. Probably more so just when it happened, and as the weekend goes on we're still working hard to get it back. But I can walk you through the process and what we heard this weekend, if you'd like.

BLITZER: Go ahead. But I just want to make sure I understand. Are you more upbeat now than you were, let's say, 12 hours or so ago?

MARKS: Actually, no. We are probably, if anything, more cautious. By this time, the signal we acquired, it's been almost a day and a half. So we had a solid two hours of detection time earlier.

Actually, two hours on one course, and then we turned around; and what you want to do is turn around on a reciprocal course. And that's how you get these lines of bearing. And if your lines of bearing cross, you get enough of that, you can actually get a location of the object.

We had about two hours of coverage time on one leg as we were towing the TPL, and then we turned around and we had about 15 more minutes of coverage, which was encouraging. And then it dropped off. BLITZER: The 15 minutes -- the 15 minutes, Commander, was from a slightly different location, which would seem to suggest, as you yourself have pointed out, I believe, that maybe these were coming, one from the flight data recorder, one from the cockpit voice recorder, the two so-called black boxes. Is that right?

MARKS: Yes, exactly. So that was just one of a number of encouraging signs from -- and this would have been the 5th by now. So the first encouraging sign was the length of the detection we had. And then when we turned around we did hear -- it was essentially the same frequency, but two different locations and which would correspondent with both the cockpit recorder and the flight data recorder. So that was a second encouraging sign.

But once again, this is a 24-hour operation. We haven't quit since we initially heard these signals. We've been going continuously around the clock, and we haven't been able to reacquire them.

BLITZER: Do you think it's possible the batteries may have run out during those 24 hours, because we know it's -- they usually last for, what, about 30 days, and we're now in day 31?

MARKS: Yes, that's certainly a big factor, the race against the clock. So a couple big challenges. One, like you said, the batteries at any point could die down; and the second thing is, the effectiveness of our towed pinger locator really is only as good as the strength of the signal coming out of the pinger.

So as the battery dies down, or if we're just not in range of about a mile, which is not a long distance at all, then the TPL is not going to hear it. So a lot of challenges, and the final challenge is, we're working in three dimensions. You not only have to get close to it with the Ocean Shield with the U.S. Navy team and Australian team, not only do you have to get close to it in the direction they are going but in the depth.

So we are working in three dimensions. So a lot of challenges, and as time goes on our optimism is becoming more and more cautious until we can reacquire this.

BLITZER: Because the weaker the batteries, also the weaker the signal that is being emitted from those two black boxes, right?

MARKS: Yes, exactly. And eventually, it will die down. It's only a matter of time. As you mentioned, we're past the 30-day mark. And here's the critical point.

When we lose the signal of the black box, our pinger locator really is not effective. You then have to switch to a scanned sonar, which we have on board. But the problem is, if you don't know where to look with that, it is going to be an extremely difficult process to map the ocean floor and to get these visual pictures where you don't even know if you're in the right spot.

So what we're hoping is to have the two pieces of equipment work in tandem. First, the towed pinger locator would get a more exact location, and then we could move in with the Bluefin side scan sonar. So we were hoping to get kind of a one-two punch in there. But until we can reacquire the signal, it's going to be really hard to get our sonar out there.

BLITZER: It would really be a tragedy if those batteries were dead or too weak to emit the pinging sounds that are supposed to come out every one second.

But you would have a much smaller area to search, knowing -- let's assume that what you heard for two hours from one -- one little area, what you heard for 15 minutes from another little area not far away, it's not a huge area compared to the thousands and thousands of square miles that you originally were searching for.

MARKS: You're right. And one thing is you can look back to way back when this started a month ago. We were looking in a tiny area off the coast of Thailand.

So this is -- this effort has been encouraging on a number of levels. The work across the various countries involved up to 25, 26 now, and us there in 7th Fleet, this is important for us to work closely with all these countries.

And another thing for the audience is, don't forget how big of an area this is. To have whittled it down to possibly tens of miles is pretty incredible. This is an area, if you superimposed a map of the U.S. in here, you could fit 50 states of the United States quite easily in the Indian Ocean area.

So you know, it is encouraging. More so probably when we first got these signals. So we're working to reacquire them right now.

BLITZER: I want to talk about what those Chinese signals were in a second. But Miles O'Brien, Commander, has a question for you.

Miles, go ahead.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Commander, thank you very much for your time. I wanted to back up a little bit. Was this, in some respects, while educated, a lucky break, or was there some specific information that you had that put you on this particular spot? I know it's on that 819 arc, the Inmarsat arc. Was there something else that led you to that spot?

MARKS: That's a great question. And what I really have to do is point out how this is a coordinated effort. We are in support under coordination right now from the Australian government for these assignments. So part of it is luck. If it indeed was a signal, it would have been the luck of getting the assignment in the right search sector.

So the U.S. Navy does not control the search sectors. We're kind of underneath this umbrella by the Australian government. So that's probably a question better for them, but either way, even the furthest point kind of in this region is only a couple hundred miles away. So certainly too big to find anything but definitely narrowing it down from where it started.

BLITZER: One quick question before I let you go, Commander. That Chinese signal that was detected, how serious -- seriously are you taking that?

MARKS: Well, you know, at that point when they did make those reports, that was the only thing we had. So you kind of have to go with what you have at the moment.

Personally, I do trust the towed pinger locator and the Bluefin once we do get that in the water. So you know, this is pretty advanced equipment, and these are the best people in the world, both active duty navy and navy civilian out there, along with our Australian partners.

So I only can tell you on a personal level that I'm pretty confident in our equipment but, once again, until we reacquire this, really no one has -- no one is any better off than they were a few days ago. So it's all a matter of reacquiring it, and that's where we are now.

BLITZER: Let's say, Commander, you find those two black boxes. What do you -- who gets custody of those black boxes to inspect them, to determine what's inside and to learn from it?

MARKS: A great question. Here at the 7th Fleet level representing the U.S. Navy, my focus is on finding that, essentially. So don't forget, we're still flying P-8 missions, and we're still looking for debris. And we still have our folks on the Ocean Shield. So we just have to take it one day at a time, and really at this point it's hour- by-hour. Every hour counts.

So I can only focus on finding the signal, getting the side-scan sonar out there to paint us a picture of what's on the ocean floor and, you know, I'll be happy at that point; and we'll worry about where it goes after that.

BLITZER: But then you've got to take a look at it, study it, and learn lessons from it. That's going to be a sensitive issue, I assume, with Malaysia, Australia, the U.S., others may want access to it, though my own sense is the NTSB should get access to it. They have the most experience in dealing with the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder.

So let's just wrap up, Commander. Where do we go from here as far as the U.S. Navy is concerned? What are you guys doing right now? How much longer are you going to stay in that area where you heard for two hours some pinging coming out for 15 minutes nearby a separate set of pinging?

MARKS: So we still have our P-8 Poseidon in the area. That's going to be up later this morning, flying a mission. Our folks on the Ocean Shield, you have to remember, it's a very deliberate, slow, thought- out process. It only moves a couple knots, which is nautical miles per hour.

And just to give you some other perspectives, just to turn this thing around, you have to reel it in, which is a very slow process, turn the shift, try to get back on that same reciprocal course, and then you have to pay it out again and get it to the right depth.

So none of those actions on board the Ocean Shield are quick. They can't be recklessly done. They have to be very deliberate. So we're not talking about reacquiring this in a matter of a couple hours. It's days, and if that's what it takes us, that's how long we'll be out there to do it.

So right now we're focusing on both the flights and our team on board the Ocean Shield, as we very methodically and deliberately listen to all these parts of the nation. The next step is sticking with it until we think the black box really isn't pinging anymore, and then it's a matter of putting a side-scan sonar in the water.

BLITZER: Commander William Marks, as usual, thanks very much. You're obviously always very helpful. Good luck to everyone involved in this search. We'll check back with you tomorrow.

Coming up, we have details on the next step for the critical technology at the center of this operation.

Plus, mixed messages from the Malaysian government as new details emerge about 370's potential flight path. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: It may be the best lead yet for finding Flight 370. Searchers trying to verify the signals detected by a U.S. pinger locator in the Indian Ocean. They're scrambling to confirm whether the pings came from the plane's black boxes.

Brian Todd is joining us.

He's got details on what is going on -- Brian.


We have heard the phrase "cautious optimism" so many times today from officials in the region. But their next steps are so crucial to making the most out of these detections. They've got to move fast to find those signals again. And with the batteries on the black box pinger almost dead, they certainly don't have much time.


TODD (voice-over): It had a tough job from the get go. No wreckage from the plane. It was searching in waters so rough, so deep. But the towed pinger locator deployed from the Australian ship Ocean Shield has detected signals in the Indian Ocean consistent with pings from black boxes.

ROB MCCULLUM, CNN ANALYST: (INAUDIBLE) would call this miraculous. You know, this has come down from an area of hundreds and thousands of square kilometers, tens of thousands of miles. TODD: Two separate signals have been detected, possibly the plane's data and voice recorders.

What happens next?

Officials say they have to reacquire those signals. That means the pinger locator has to make other passes, first at least three runs parallel to those it made when it first detected the signal. Then, perpendicular runs so they can isolate the source and triangulate its position.

Experts caution the ocean is full of sonar sounds and there could be false positives. They say objects from fishing equipment to whales can emit sonar signals. But the frequency of the black box signals is intended to be unique -- 37.5 kilohertz. And the operators of the pinger locator are trained to listen and watch closely.

PAUL NELSON, PROJECT MANAGER, PHOENIX INTERNATIONAL: With this graphic representation, it makes it a lot easier to detect. So the TPL will be towed back and forth and the operators will be so focused on this, just listening and watching for this signal.

TODD: If the pinger locator can zero in on a specific area, this underwater drone is deployed. It's called a Blue Fin 21.

CHRIS MOORE, ROV MANAGER, PHOENIX INTERNATIONAL: It's got the main electronic section, the battery section, the payload section and the nose cone.

TODD: It scans the sea floor looking for the black box and debris, using side scan sonar. The goal -- to produce a map of the debris field, like this one in the search for Air France Flight 447 in the Atlantic. It's also got a high resolution camera.

MOORE: We can take a lot of images real quick flying at 3.5 knots at a constant altitude above the bottom and then stitch those pictures together into a photomosaic or a canvas of the whole area.

TODD: Underwater photos like this one of the Air France wreckage.


TODD: Now, once the autonomous underwater vehicle and the towed ping locator find the black box, another vehicle would recover it -- remotely operated vehicles, like Romara 3 (ph). We're going to show you some video of it. They can go very deep in the ocean with manipulator arms. They can pick up all sorts of debris. There's the video of the Romara 3 from Phoenix International. This one operated, again, by Phoenix International. This recovered the black box and all of the undersea wreckage for Air France Flight 447 in the Atlantic.

But, Wolf, it's not clear right now whether there are any ROVs in the region. The U.S. Navy says none of its ROVs are there. Phoenix International says the Romara 3 is not there and none of its ROVs are there. So it's not clear whether the Australians have any of them, either.

BLITZER: Maybe they can detect it and find it. They're got to figure out a way to get them...

TODD: They've got to get them there.

BLITZER: And bring it up to the surface.

TODD: That's right.

BLITZER: And then they've got to inspect it.

Brian, thanks very much.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now.

Joining us, CNN's Richard Quest.

Also joining us here, Van Gurley, a former Navy oceanographer, along with sonar technology expert, Arnold Carr.

Van, let's say that these are, you know, the pings coming that the U.S. Navy has detected, that these are coming from the so-called black boxes. So walk us through exactly how -- you know, if the batteries are dead, how long could it take, potentially, to find them.

VAN GURLEY, FORMER NAVY OCEANOGRAPHER: Well, the good news is, Wolf, they've got a much smaller area now. Up until now, we've been talking about tens and hundreds and thousands of square miles.

If they are, in fact, on the area, we're now talking about 100 square miles, maybe 200 square miles. So it's a much more tractable problem to try to search through that.

So, if, in fact, the pinger batteries die and they aren't able to reacquire the signal, then what they would do is start going to the Blue Fin 21 and searching small patches of ocean one at a time and work their way through it. But that's going to be, you know, very slow, methodical work.

BLITZER: And presumably, Arnold, if they are getting closer and closer to these relatively tiny black boxes, the wreckage, presumably, is not all that far away, right?

ARNOLD CARR, SONAR EXPERT: Exactly. The black boxes are in the tail of the aircraft and should be right near to the wreckage.

BLITZER: And so there are -- there is equipment that would see that wreckage, at some point, if they were investigating a relatively small area?

CARR: Yes. Side scan sonar is really adept at really picking up wreckage. And you can, with side scan sonar, see tail, if the tail is somewhat intact, wings and other parts of the plane. And you can, to a degree, discriminate, even if the plane has been really broken up. BLITZER: It sounds, Richard, like this is the best hope that we've had over these past four plus weeks. When the U.S. Navy says they're "cautiously optimistic," they're not just making that up.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, this is in a different league, Wolf, from having no idea at all to then cobbling together a theory based on some sort of unproven and untried science of satellites, refining it, changing the search area, to the point where they have said we, you know, pretty much, these are the pings, all but dotting the Is and crossing the Ts of verification.

This is historical, the fact that they have managed to do this at the very edges and frontiers of the technology. So I would go -- I think last night, Angus Houston was being particularly sort of suitably restrained. But even he couldn't avoid using "optimistic," "very promising," "best lead." And the facts themselves tell their own story -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Have you -- are you surprised, Van, if, in fact, that pings were coming from these two black boxes, that they managed to locate this area without any wreckage discovered whatsoever?

GURLEY: I guess the best analogy right now, since we're into March Madness, is this is the buzzer beater from half court. I mean, literally, this was a shot in the dark. They had some good idea where they're at. It's not clear to me how long the Ocean Shield had been out there looking through the area assigned to her. But this is an incredible great piece of luck for a story and a situation that hasn't had a lot of luck.

BLITZER: Arnold, have you ever been -- seen a situation where they've located the two black boxes before they spotted any wreckage?

CARR: I never have. In fact, getting two black box pingers singing to you, presumably, that's what they are doing, the pulse, is really strange.

I'm used to really hearing one pinger going off and then you try to zero in on the two.

There's one thing that is -- really has to be done immediately right now. And I believe the Navy and Phoenix are doing it. And they must really triangulate that area. They make a pass and then they make a perpendicular pass before the batteries get too weak and disappear. That's critical right now, to really tighten up the area.

BLITZER: Arnold Carr, thanks very much.

Van Gurley, thanks to you.

Richard Quest, we'll see you in a while.

Up next, new clues about three -- the 370's potential flight path. But mixed messages from the Malaysian government. New details coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Mixed messages right now from the Malaysian government of the new details emerging about Flight 370's potential flight path.

Our senior correspondent Joe Johns is in Kuala Lumpur. He's working this part of the story for us. He's joining us with the very latest -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the latest information is important because it suggests someone in control of the plane skirted the Indonesian coast in a way that would have avoided attracting attention, which raises all kinds of questions, which are very, very difficult to answer without knowing more about what happened to the plane.


JOHNS (voice-over): A Malaysian government source tells CNN that new analysis of the plane's flight path suggests it flew a route designed to avoid radar detection, flying off course to avoid Indonesian air space. Asked by a Malaysian journalist to confirm the report, Malaysia's acting transport minister both denied and confirmed that radar had been avoided.

HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, ACTING MALAYSIAN TRANSPORT MINISTER: It's untrue. I've got the chief of defense for Malaysia to contact his counterpart in Indonesia, and they have confirmed that they have no sighting of the plane.

JOHNS: This is a sensitive issue here because the pilots are both Malaysian and it raises even more questions than it answers about what happened in the cockpit.

Peter Chong, a friend of flight's captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, says the country's leaders are in a tough position as they try to communicate about things they don't yet know.

PETER CHONG, FRIEND OF PILOT: The authorities are walking on a very tight rope. Yes, and it's very much a balancing act of hearing the reality and the sensitivity, but all of that will come if we find either the black box or the wreckage.

JOHNS: Not surprising then that the acting transport minister who's become the face of his country during the search has ventured into mixed messaging, trying to strike a delicate balance saying one thing about evidence that everyone was lost --

HUSSEIN: But the leads that we have received either from satellite images or from other sightings did not indicate or show survivors.

JOHNS: While still grasping at hope that someone may have survived an apparent crash at sea.

HUSSEIN: I have always said, especially to the families, miracles do happen and we are still hoping against hope. We continue to hope and pray for survivors. JOHNS: Here in Kuala Lumpur as they mark one month since Flight 370 went missing, a candlelight vigil was held organized by one of the opposition political parties here but it still showed how concern for the passengers, the crew, and their families cuts across all the lines in Malaysia.


JOHNS: One thing authorities are stressing is that there's been a lot of confusing and sometimes contradictory information released. They say they are taking painstaking steps to confirm information before they release it for the sake of the passengers' families -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Joe Johns in Kuala Lumpur with the very latest for us, thank you.

Just ahead, we're getting some possible new leads emerging in the search for Flight 370, but could they be more false alarms? We'll have details. That's coming up.


BLITZER: We're going to get back to our special coverage of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 37 0 in just a moment. But there's another major breaking story we're watching right now. The growing unrest in Ukraine, with violence now spilling over into the eastern part of the country. Secretary of State John Kerry is warning the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov the United States is watching the situation, quote, "with great concern."

Our foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott is standing by with the State Department with details.

What's the latest, Elise?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Well, Wolf, we're told Secretary Kerry took a very firm life, tough conversations with Russian foreign minister Lavrov. The U.S. believe that Russia is behind this takeovers of Ukrainian government buildings in eastern Ukraine. And take a listen to State Department spokesman Jen Psaki at the briefing a few hours ago.


JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: There are a few groups, these individuals, who went into these different areas, who are of course pro-Russian separatists. There's strong evidence suggesting that some of them were paid and were not local residents.


LABOTT: Now, Wolf, U.S. doesn't know whether President Putin is taking a play from what he did in Crimea trying to use this as a bait to go over the border and protect these Russian-speaking citizens or whether he's just trying to destabilize Ukraine before the election. In any event, officials tell me it's a serious escalation. And Secretary Kerry told Foreign Minister Lavrov it needs to stop.

They want Russia to disavow these type of actions. Secretary Kerry trying to get a meeting together of the Ukrainian foreign minister and Russian foreign minister, and himself, in a coming weeks.

And, Wolf, I'm told the additional sanctions on Russia could be in the offing. U.S. preparing those right now because they think that this cannot stand and they don't want Russia to go any further into eastern Ukraine.

They also know that the Ukrainians need to step up here and make themselves a harder target, Wolf. The stronger a country they are, the less enthusiastic President Putin might be about going in.

BLITZER: You're getting any hints what the tougher sanctions might include?

LABOTT: Well, you heard President Obama while he was in Europe say that there could be tougher sanctions in the offing, we're told this could be sectoral sanctions, it could energy sanctions, financial sanctions. I don't think the U.S. is really ready to go that far, but they could have some near-term measures, some additional individuals that could be listed on these executive orders, freezing of assets, that type of stuff. But tougher measures in the offing if President Putin goes further into eastern Ukraine -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Elise Labott watching this dangerous situation at the State Department. Thank you.

Coming up, an urgent race to verify two pings detected by a U.S. an underwater listening device. Officials say the signals are consistent with an airliner's black boxes.

And a separate ping detected by a Chinese ship. Why one signal is being taken more seriously than the other.