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Mystery of Flight 370; Signals 'Consistent' with Black Box Pings; Crisis Intensifying in Eastern Ukraine; Senate Votes to Restore Long Term Jobless Benefits

Aired April 7, 2014 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, a SITUATION ROOM special report on the mystery of Flight 370.

New beacons of hope. Ships hear electronic binges deep below the sea. And now they're scrambling to find them again. A New Zealand air force commander joins us with a live update this hour.

We also have new details about the flight path and a possible move to avoid radar. Is it an important clue about what happened? We're digging deeper into the claims and counterclaims.

Plus, grief and doubt. Some passengers' relatives simply can't or won't believe that the newest lead might pan out.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Right now, crews are working around the clock to investigate underwater signals that just may, repeat, may have come from Flight 370. The United States Navy says it's cautiously optimistic the signals heard hours ago could be from the jet's two black boxes.

A month after the plane vanished, the batteries of those flight recorders may die at any moment, if they're not dead already. That's only adding to the urgency as high-tech devices comb the sea and planes get ready right now to return to the search area. They're all looking for some definitive proof that the missing airliner crashed.

Our correspondents are in the field, and they're covering all the breaking developments. We have our own team of experts here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's bring in our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh, for the very latest -- Rene.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's really down to the wire for these crews. We're now two days past the required shelf life of these batteries. There's no guarantee how much longer they will last if they haven't died already. But tonight, authorities are cautiously optimistic. There's still no wreckage, but there was a distinct sound coming from underwater, and as we speak, they are trying to determine if it's Flight 370's black boxes. They haven't been able to recapture that sound just yet.


MARSH (voice-over): It's the sound search teams have desperately been trying to find, and now they just may have. The pinger locator towed behind the Ocean Shield detected distinct sounds over the weekend that may be from the black boxes.

AIR CHIEF ANGUS HOUSTON, JOINT AGENCY COORDINATION CENTER: The first detection was held for approximately two hours and 20 minutes. The ship then lost contact. The second detection on the return leg was held for approximately 13 minutes.

MARSH: The detections about a mile apart in water more than 14,000 feet deep. On one occasion, two separate pings were heard, which only heightened the excitement, because the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder ping separately.

HOUSTON: This is a most promising lead.

MARSH: But we have heard that before.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The most promising lead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Credible leads.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Credible leads.

MARSH: But this time, it could be different.

HOUSTON: The audible signal sounds to me just like an emergency locator beacon.

MARSH: Search crews are cautiously optimistic.

CAPT. MARK MATTHEWS, U.S. NAVY: Certainly, we're jumping to conclusions here. We need to definitely reacquire the signal to confirm that it is the aircraft.

MARSH: The task now? The Ocean Shield is trying to find the signal again and hoping for confirmation. If the ping is detected again, crews will launch this underwater drone. It can scan the ocean floor and take photos of any potential debris.

At the same time, 375 miles away, Chinese ships and the British HMS Echo are trying to confirm pings the Chinese briefly detected Friday and Saturday. Australian officials as you know it's unlikely to be from the same source.

PETER LEAVY, ROYAL AUSTRALIAN NAVY: It's quite possible for sound to travel quite distances laterally, but very difficult to hear near the surface of the ocean, for instance.

MARSH: All of the activity is happening right along this arc, where a partial satellite connection placed the plane at 8:19 a.m. the day it disappeared.

The Australians believe it's the most likely place the plane went down.


MARSH: Also emerging, new details about the plane's flight path. An official tells CNN after it makes that left turn, based on radar data, it skirts Indonesia, which you're seeing there.

That just suggests or raises the question, was the person in the cockpit trying to avoid radar? We may be one step closer to finding out if the new signals detected are truly from the black boxes, but you just had the Navy commander on our air and they still haven't been able to recapture that sound as yet.

BLITZER: Maybe a result of the batteries having died in the interval or they just haven't gotten close enough because there's a limited amount of opportunity. The weaker the batteries, the weaker the signal it's emitting. Rene, stand by.

I want go to go the base of operations for the search right now.

Our senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance, is in Perth, Australia.

They're getting ready to take off, planes over there, to resume the aerial search. On the sea, the ships have been working 24/7, right?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. There's been no letup, Wolf, in this search operation.

Now with this subsurface search under way, of course, they can carry on even when it's dark. Carry on 24 hours. So that's been continuing through the night. You're right, they haven't managed to relocate those signals that were emitted and that they recorded over the weekend.

But even if they don't find them again, I think it's important to remember that it will have narrowed significantly the search area down from that fast tract of Indian Ocean down to a much smaller kind of three-mile-square box. So I think it's a positive development that they even detected these signals in the first place.

But you're right, in the next hour or so, we're expecting the observation flights, a dozen or so military and civilian planes taking off mainly from this air base outside of Perth because they haven't let up on looking in other areas of the search zone as well. They're still kind of looking for debris on the surface of the ocean, and so that will continue.

That aspect of the search will continue even as the focus remains this ocean shield and them trying to sort of relocate that pinger that they detected earlier -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You're talking to officials over there in Perth, Matthew. Take us a little bit behind the scenes. Are they giving you an upbeat assessment privately that they think they have located these two black boxes? Are they very, very cautious? What kind of sense are you getting from your private conversations with these folks?

CHANCE: Well, I think, you know, Angus Houston, the Australian air chief marshal, the retired air chief marshal that's heading up this multinational effort, he's a very measured character. You know, he doesn't say things that he feels he may have to retract in a few days' time or few weeks' time.

I think there's been a shift in the sort of level of clarity since he started doing those press conferences. So he said he's much more optimistic this week, yesterday, than he was last week. And I don't think he'd be saying that if he didn't have a pretty good indication that what they located there -- remember, they were listening to those regular second interval pings for more than two hours, two hours, 20 minutes on one occasion.

I think he wouldn't be saying he was optimistic unless they were pretty confident this was going to come to something. So, yes, I think there's a lot more confidence. They're much more upbeat. They haven't located the plane yet. They're keen to emphasize that. But they appear to be on the right track.

BLITZER: Yes, the U.S. Navy similarly saying it's cautiously optimistic that they may have located those two black boxes. Matthew, thank you.

American military hardware and know-how are proving to be crucial for the underwater search for the plane.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, how confident is the Navy this, in fact, could be pingers coming from those two black boxes?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as we have been saying, optimistic, encouraged, but nothing definitive yet.

Crucially, that's what the technology must demonstrate, something definitive. What we are talking about, Wolf, and we have shown pictures of it for several days now. This pinger locator device you see in the water, think of it this way. It's like mowing grass. It's going to go back and forth, back and forth until it can begin to narrow down the area where it is hearing the sound. That is what's going to get it down to that, what Matt was just talking about, that three-mile-by-three-mile box.

Once they can do that, once they get that pinger sound isolated into a much more narrow area, then the second piece of technology goes to work and that's that underwater submersible device with its side-scan sonar. That will go in the water, go down and try and get further information, acoustic signatures, photos, whatever it can from the data recorder and the voice recorder that they believe hopefully are on the sea floor there. But until they can narrow that area down, this technology isn't really designed for a wide area search, so it doesn't do them as much good as you might think.

BLITZER: Barbara, did the U.S. Navy play a specific role in where to deploy the towed pinger locator? In other words, how much of a say did the U.S. play in that situation?

STARR: Well, you know, Wolf, when you talk to folks involved in this, they will tell you this is now a very collaborative effort between Australia, which is in the lead, Malaysia, the United States, other nations that are devoting their assets to it.

This is where the data has taken them. The Australians say everything they have shows this is the most likely spot where the plane went down. The early days of, perhaps, not a lot of cooperation from the Malaysians seems to have faded, everybody, they say, working together very well now.

And one indication is there is discussion behind the scenes that they may have to send a supply ship to this area, that if this is really what it turns out to be, there could be an operation at sea for some time to come. A supply ship may have to move in, so all of these other ships can stay on station and do their work around the clock, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Barbara, thanks very much. Good information, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

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

Peter, let's say they put that Blue Fin 21 down there, the sonar to detect wreckage from the plane, the plane or whatever. How long presumably would that take if, in fact, those pings were coming from those two black boxes?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, if they had the pings narrowed down and they had them zeroed in, it could take a few days or couple of weeks. But if they're going -- if they're not able to reacquire the pings, it's going to take a very long time.

BLITZER: When you say long time, Miles, could take weeks if not months. A lot of us remember the Air France plane. They found wreckage within five days and it took them two years to find the black box.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: They searched one season, they had to wait for the winter. They came back the next season and then they finally made the find.

This is, as some have been describing it, a little bit like watching paint dry as this process unfolds. The only way to do it is do it slowly and in a laborious manner. Remember where it is, we're talking 15,000 feet of water. It's pitch dark, it's cold. There's all kinds of issues that work against them as they do this work.

BLITZER: But all of us are a little bit more upbeat now that they may have located the plane, because the plane presumably would not be far away from the two black boxes if in fact the two hours of pinging that the U.S. Navy says it detected were coming from the one black box, another 15 minutes from the second. That's a very encouraging development.

TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right. That's what they're saying, Wolf, is that marine life and seismic events could not have lasted that long, that precisely at that frequency. That's what they're basing their optimism on right now.

BLITZER: The Chinese detection of pings the day before, most experts I take it, Rene, are sort of discounting that, because one lasted only 90 seconds. One lasted a few seconds. It was not considered all that credible.

MARSH: You know, when you listen to the press conference that Angus Houston gave, he really only talked about the pinging that the Australian ship Ocean Shield picked up. And he called that their most promising lead speaking about what they picked up.

The reason why more attention is being paid to Ocean Shield and what they detected is because they're using that very sophisticated equipment, the towed pinger locator, very, very high-tech equipment here. And also, we can't discount the fact that they heard this sound for a two-hour block. That's a long period of time.

What the Chinese were talking about, 90 seconds. The manufacturer, himself, said if this pinger is working, it's continuously pinging. It's not going to ping for two seconds and then stop. So that's probably why they're weighing more heavily on what the Ocean Shield...

BLITZER: The Chinese detection capabilities were minuscule compared to what the U.S. has out there.

GOELZ: Yes, they were designed for shallow water work. They were only good for a few thousand feet attached to the end of a pole in a, you know, ad hoc manner. It was not a serious detection.

BLITZER: At least 300 miles or so away from where the U.S. Navy detected those pinging signals coming in for about two hours.

I want to play a clip, and this is the U.S. Navy Commander William Marks. I spoke with him in the past hour. Listen to this.


CMDR. WILLIAM MARKS, U.S. NAVY: We are working around the clock to reacquire the signal, but there were 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. This is a 24-hour operation. We haven't quit since we have initially heard these signals. We have been going continuously around the clock and we haven't been able to reacquire them.


BLITZER: William Marks, the commander of the U.S. Navy, commander, speaking with me in the last hour.

Let's get a live update now on this search once again to try to reconnect, find it, listen to those pings. The New Zealand air force wing Commander Andy Scott is joining us via Skype.

Commander, thanks very much for joining us.

What's the very latest information you're getting? Because New Zealand is part of this multinational force. Do you think you have actually found this plane based on the pings coming from those two black boxes?


At the end of the day, what we're looking at now is a new dimension that the search is going into, so it doesn't fundamentally change the job we had for the fixed-wing aircraft that are participating in the search in that we still need to try to locate the debris which will help refine that search area for the black boxes even more.

As you have all have heard in the bulletin earlier, no doubt, the amount of ocean that the vessels can actually cover with the detectors, it's at a very slow speed, and so they still need to try and refine that area down even more.

And so what we're now seeing with those search aircraft is although it's still primarily a visual search with a bit of radar there to go and help pick up larger objects as well, it's actually just still looking at all of those individual leads, whether it's from the Chinese vessel, whether it's from Ocean Shield, and there are multiple search areas every day now.

BLITZER: Do you believe that two hours of pinging that the U.S. Navy detected thanks to the towed pinger locator, and another 15 minutes from a separate site a little bit further away, not very far away, do you think, in fact, those pings were coming from the two black boxes?

SCOTT: It's the most encouraging evidence that we have had to date. Now, of course, there's been highs and lows throughout the search, and it is part and parcel of this sort of activity, unfortunately. But certainly it is very, very promising news that we're hearing at the moment.

BLITZER: The fact that you haven't been able to recreate that pinging capability, some are suggesting it's because maybe the batteries are so weak or they have actually died and because the 30 days are up. What's your assessment?

SCOTT: So, the batteries, themselves, they just start to lose power. So it doesn't necessarily mean that it stops.

It's not a switch that turns off. It's just the signal strength isn't going to be quite as strong. But what you're actually seeing at the moment is with the detections that are being made underwater, there's a very large propagation that that signal can effectively be heard. The equipment that's being used is very, very sensitive.

It is picking up all manner of noises underneath the ocean, whether that's marine life, and, of course, in this particular case, a steady signal coming from something. But, ultimately, it's going to be hard to reacquire again because changes in water density, storms, they can all go and affect effect how that signal propagates.

BLITZER: I take it, though, Commander, you're much more upbeat about the U.S.-detected pings as opposed to what the Chinese detected about 300 miles away?

SCOTT: Well, all of those leads are still being followed, so yesterday, for example, a New Zealand aircraft was actually searching in an area based off those Chinese detections, so those signals can carry so far underwater, literally, we're talking hundreds of kilometers basically, that we still need to go and explore every avenue.

So, yes, as I said yesterday, New Zealand was going looking in the area of the Chinese detections.

BLITZER: Andy Scott, the wing commander Royal New Zealand Air Force, Commander, thanks very much for joining us.

SCOTT: You're welcome.

BLITZER: Still ahead, the Flight 370 families mark one month since their loved ones vanished along with the plane. They will wonder if they will ever have closure. We're going to show you the different kinds of equipment now being used to find those two black boxes. Are some more reliable than others?


BLITZER: "CROSSFIRE" won't be seen tonight, so we can bring you more of our special report on the search for Flight 370.

We're following the breaking news about Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. U.S. Navy now saying it's "cautiously optimistic" signals picked up in the search area are, in fact, pings from the plane's two black boxes.

Meanwhile, families of the passengers are marking an emotional milestone. The mystery is now one-month-old.

CNN's David McKenzie is joining us from Beijing with more.

David, tell us about the vigil that's being held there in the Chinese capital.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this vigil has been going on for hours now. They're effectively retracing the moments that this flight vanished, when it was due to be here in Beijing, and these family members have been stuck in this hotel behind me for many, many days now.

And it was a time for them to reflect with all of these emotions that have been going through them for all of these days, as they wait to get word, confirmation what happened to their loved ones.


MCKENZIE (voice-over): After 31 days without knowing, the trauma for families of the missing is raw and unending.

(on camera): For the family members, it's been a harrowing month of waiting and wondering what happened to their loved ones that vanished on Flight 370. And, tonight, they're trying to pray and commemorate to get some kind of closure.

STEVE WANG, SON OF PASSENGER: We're just going so many, so many kinds of emotion, maybe just desperate, sad, and helpless and something like that, everything.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): They're marking the milestone with a nightlong vigil, retracing every detail they do know about the flight and the enormous effort to find it. But after weeks stuck in this hotel waiting, it's just too much to bear for some.

(on camera): Do you think people are starting the grieving process yet?

WANG: Oh, my.

No, not yet. Until something was found, if anything was soon found, we would never give up.

MCKENZIE: Never give up hope?

WANG: Yes, right. We know that, with the time passing, the hope -- we have just more and more less hope, but we will still have hope.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): Even if that hope runs out, they want to keep the spirit and the memories alive of the 239 souls aboard Flight 370.


MCKENZIE: Well, Wolf, so much of the focus has been on the search for this plane, on any debris that might be found, on the pinger locations.

All of this is obviously fascinating and important, but this is ultimately a human story with very real consequences for very real people. And with more than 150 on board from here in China, the Chinese families are certainly bearing the brunt of that not knowing and that at this stage I think is what they really want, so they can move on with their lives -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a heartbreaking story it is now in week five. David McKenzie in Beijing, thank you.

Let's bring in CNN's Tom Foreman right now. He's got a closer look at those underwater pings that have the U.S. Navy saying they're cautiously optimistic.

Walk us through a little bit, Tom, right now the kind of search equipment that's being used.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, the differences between these different teams and different equipment is one of the reasons these families have such a hard time, because they're getting different messages from different people.

We know there were two acoustic events as they describe them. The Chinese ship that found something on April 5 and this other ship, the Ocean Shield, on April 6 had something. This contact is already being discredited and forgotten. This one 373 miles away is getting all the attention. And this is why.

If you look at the types of pingers involved, the Chinese were using a handheld device like this which even the manufacturers say is really not made for the conditions in which they're using it nor the way they were using it.

On the other one, the Ocean Shield, the other location, this was being used. This is the towed ping that we have talked so much about here. It's way behind the ship on a long cable moving very slowly. It is a much more robust, much more powerful, much more serious piece of equipment for this job.

And this is the one that has given the pings that they're interested in. So even though family members could be very excited by hearing about either one of these devices, this is the one that may actually make a difference -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A number of white objects were sighted by various folks out there, especially the planes, 56 miles or so from where the sound was detected from the Chinese ship. How important is the search, bottom line, right now, for debris?

FOREMAN: You know, for so long, this was the holy grail out there. People were saying, let's find some kind of debris. I think it's arguable now that it is less important, and the reason has to do with the passage of time.

If you think about it, up here on the surface of the water, all of this has now been moving. There was a big storm in the area just days after the plane disappeared. And there have been regular currents. No matter which way it's going, even if you figured it was moving at a rate of one mile an hour, which is very modest, it could be moving two, three, four miles an hour, it could easily be 700, 800, 900 miles away from where it started.

So here's the thing. If they think they have wreckage down on the bottom, and they have nothing up on the top, that doesn't necessarily mean anything because what was ever on the top could have long ago disappeared or been washed away.

And the flip side is also true, Wolf. If they do find debris on the top and they now know it's from Malaysian Air, that doesn't necessarily connect it to anything on the bottom at this point, because there's been so much time and so much movement and all of that adds up to what, just what we started with, more uncertainty and difficulty for the families, who just want to know what happened.

BLITZER: All right, Tom Foreman, thanks very much.

Let's dig a little bit deeper now with sonar expert Greg Charvat. Greg, thanks very much for joining us. Let's say the pings that the U.S. Navy detected, one going on for about two hours, the second going on for about 15 minutes, are from those two black boxes? What are the next steps toward actually finding the black boxes, finding the plane?

GREG CHARVAT, SONAR EXPERT: Well, the next step here is going to be to have to geolocate the source of those pings. And I'm sure they have probably already done that already, because the tow behind ping detector will likely provide a geolocation feature. So they should have approximate depth and location of the actual ping. So the next step is to send a vehicle down there to actually find the box, itself.

BLITZER: So how long -- how long do you think that could take?

CHARVAT: It could take a while. I mean, I think -- let me back up one step here. The other thing they're likely going to do is they'll probably try to image the area from where the ping came from and see, if they look for some sort of geometric wreckage, something you know, that doesn't look natural, doesn't look like a rock, doesn't look like the ocean bottom or sand. They'll do that first.

Then, if they find some interesting looking targets, then they'll send something down to physically take a picture of it. And this could take days to weeks, or longer even.

BLITZER: Yes. Officials say the pings that the U.S. Navy detected, thanks to that sophisticated towed pinger locator, that it was near the 37.5 kilohertz, which is the standard beacon frequency for those two black boxes. Is there anything else that could make that kind of sound that would confuse those who are searching for the black boxes?

CHARVAT: Well, I mean, the sound is very unique. It's going to be a 37 1/2 kilohertz pulse with a specific duration depending on the model of the pinger. So if they say that that's from one of these pingers, I would be surprised if it could be anything else.

BLITZER: So that's why they're cautiously optimistic right now. But they're now trying to recreate that sound. The past 10 or 12 hours, they have been unable to so, even though there's a 24-hour-a-day search underway.

My suspicion is, and this is my fear, and I'm sure a fear of a lot of others, that either the two batteries are very, very weak. The weaker the batteries, the less the beacon sound goes out, or the batteries may have died. They're only supposed to last what, about 30 days, now we're in day 31 or 32. What's your sense?

CHARVAT: You know, we could have caught it on the bitter end of the battery life. That's entirely possible. You know, they're in deep water. Varying temperatures. Very cold down there. And so it's possible we may have caught them at just the end and may be very lucky.

BLITZER: The pinger frequency gets stronger the closer you are to those black boxes, right?

CHARVAT: Yes. The intensity gets stronger. The frequency remains the same.

BLITZER: So if they were hearing for two hours that signal coming out, what they suspect is one of the black boxes, it's important to determine how strong that signal was during the course of those two hours. I'm sure the experts have done that. Don't you think?

CHARVAT: I would think so. I think they probably did more than just that. I think they probably -- they probably plotted the intensity and the phase of that signal over the duration of their tow as they were towing that sensor. And with that information, they could actually compute, they could likely very much compute a position -- an approximate position. I would guess that's probably what they did.

BLITZER: Is there any way that what the Chinese detected could be the same as what the U.S. Navy detected, even though they're close to 400 miles apart?

CHARVAT: You know, given the distance, it seems kind of unlikely to me that that's the same signal, quite honestly. And also, the equipment they were using looked a little on the primitive side, Wolf. It looked like a coffee can and string attached to it, so I don't know.

BLITZER: So the bottom line is your sense is -- you're an expert on sonar. Your sense is the U.S. Navy really did hear the pinging coming from those two black boxes? One lasting for about two hours. One lasting for 15 minutes. And the sounds coming from a relatively close location. It seems like that's the real deal, at least to me.

CHARVAT: I would trust what the U.S. Navy and Australian Navy are providing us. I don't know what the Chinese have found, but I would go with what they're telling us at the moment.

BLITZER: Let's hope they are able to recreate that. Greg Charvat, thanks very much for joining us.

CHARVAT: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, questions about the underwater pings heard by that Chinese ship. Is that equipment that the Chinese have really reliable for this kind of search? Our own Richard Quest, he's standing by with his take. And whether searchers may be closer to finding not only the black boxes, but the plane.


BLITZER: We're following a 24/7 hunt at sea. Crews now desperate to find the electronic signals they heard hours ago, signals that might be coming from Flight 370's two black boxes. Separate pings were detected by an Australian ship and a Chinese ship. One discovery may be more credible than the other.

CNN's Athena Jones is here at THE SITUATION ROOM looking into this part of the story. What did you discover?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you mentioned, right now investigators are looking very closely at those signals picked up by the Australians and trying to find them again. Because they were using a more sophisticated detector. That's the towed pinger detector we've been talking so much about, the detector provided by the U.S.

But teams are also still investigating the pulses that the Chinese detected. Here's more on what that ship found.


ANGUS HOUSTON, AUSTRALIAN JOINT AGENCY COORDINATION CENTER CHIEF: This is an important and encouraging lead, but one which I urge you to continue to treat carefully.

JONES (voice-over): Words of warning over the weekend from Angus Houston, the head of the international search team, about a possible breakthrough from this Chinese crew, which used a hydrophone attached to a pole to detect two electronic signals from what could be the plane's black boxes.

The sounds detected Friday and Saturday were just over a mile apart. But were heard more than 350 miles south of where an Australian ship later heard similar but longer lasting signals.

LT. COL. MICHAEL KAY, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: What I find still odd is the fact that we don't have an associated debris field. You don't have smoke without fire. We've never had a crash investigation where black boxes were found without debris.

JONES: Indeed, questions about the fleeting signals the Chinese picked up remain. For instance, how could a relatively rudimentary detector -- this one cost no more than $16,000, designed for use in shallow water -- pick up pulses potentially miles deep? It's technically possible, but not likely, says the company that makes the detector.

THOMAS W. ALTSHULER: It would be right at the edge of the detection limit of that system.

JONES: The signals are the right frequency, but the ocean is noisy, and the Chinese team wasn't operating in ideal conditions, using earbuds instead of more reliable headsets to listen for the pulses.

The team was also traveling with a spare pinger onboard, which could have been emitting a signal of its own. And the Chinese said they did not have time to record the pulses, making a scientific analysis impossible.

One thing is certain: China is eager to show it's working on behalf of the 154 Chinese citizens onboard Flight 370.

RONNIE GLASER, SENIOR ADVISOR FOR ASIA, CSIS: The Chinese government wants to be seen domestically by its own people as doing its utmost to find out what happened to this plane to give closure to their families.


JONES: That last point there is one that all of the experts I spoke with today stressed to me. Whatever doubts people might have about the strength of the evidence China's provided when it comes to these pulses or pings, whatever conspiracy theories may be out there, the bottom line is that it's in China's interests to do everything it can to help find this plane. And that's what these experts say China is doing, Wolf.

BLITZER: Athena Jones reporting for us. Thanks, Athena, very much.

Let's bring in Richard Quest right now. He's joining us from New York.

Well, very quickly, Richard, what do you make of the Chinese single pulse signal? Are you giving that any credence?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: No, frankly. And the only reason I'm not giving it any credence any more is the experts privately will tell you it's technically possible that the -- it picked it up, but not one of the experts I've spoken to who know about this and look into this even think it's remotely likely.

The pictures you're looking at now, Wolf, I believe are designed for Chinese domestic consumption. Not necessarily -- they're designed to show the Chinese involved in the search. This is to show the experts that they're putting towards.

But as a realistic -- as a realistic ping from a black box, even Angus Houston last night said he did not believe that the two were related.

BLITZER: What is a lot more credible, in my assessment, a lot of others, is the U.S. Navy's hearing a ping going on for about two hours from one location, another 15 minutes from a second location. The U.S. Navy saying publicly they're cautiously optimistic. These two sets of pings were coming from these two boxes. I assume this is a lot more credible to you.

QUEST: Night and day, Wolf. The way in which Ocean Shield has not only detected these for a sustained period of time, but has also managed to record them. Excuse me. Peg my pardon. But has also managed to record them and sent the recordings to Perth, where the wave form has been viewed and has been heard and has managed to replicate it. It shows a very great difference. Now, look, this isn't Chinese bashing. This is science. This is basically saying in this scenario, the assets and the belief has to go at the moment to the Ocean Shield. Whether it's Australian, whether it's American, whether it's British, whether it's Chinese, whether it's Uncle Tom Conkley (ph) and all, it doesn't matter. The fact is, it has the more sophisticated equipment, and it has the more reliable data tonight.

BLITZER: The fact that they haven't found any debris before hearing what they suspect are pings from the two black boxes, that's highly unusual, if not unprecedented.

QUEST: I would -- the word I'm using is troubling, because you would have expected to see something. Unless the plane is virtually intact underwater on the bed of the ocean.

But here's something that Tom Sater, the CNN international weather center, pointed out. If you remember, a couple of weeks ago, a gale, a tropical cyclone went through there on the 23rd and 25th of March. Do you remember we were talking about how it was going to have to delay and it may even stop searches?

Well, although it didn't affect the actual search area in the far south of the corridor, that tropical cyclone, according to our weather experts, went right through that area. It churned the sea. It had huge waves. It created enormous winds.

Now, if there was a small debris field, some of our weather experts at the CNN weather center believe that could certainly have dramatically dissipated the debris, any debris there was, because it was such a dramatic weather system, a tropical cyclone, on the 23rd, 25th of March.

BLITZER: Yes, that would explain why there's no visible debris, to be sure.

I want to play a clip for you. This is the Australian air chief marshal, Angus Houston, talking. Listen to what he says, and then we'll discuss.


ANGUS HOUSTON, AUSTRALIAN AIR CHIEF MARSHAL: A short time after the sixth exchange, there was another exchange with a slightly different signal. This was a matter of, I think, about eight minutes after the sixth ping.

And the expert team considered this as very significant. They think something happened at that stage and we assess that that's about where the aircraft would have run out of fuel.


BLITZER: So the pings that were detected by the U.S. Navy towed ping locator approximately where the plane probably would have run out of fuel, this sounds like they're on to something extremely significant right now.

QUEST: Absolutely no doubt. What he's talking about where the famous Inmarsat handshakes. We know that they were at every hour except for that last one, Wolf. That last one was just eight minutes later.

And we also know from handshakes earlier that there was a handshake every hour all where there's some event, possibly major change in altitude, where the airplane tries to reconnect to the satellite.

What he's saying is that that last half handshake that has always troubled us, that has always given us cause for, what was it all about? Is that where the plane went down? Is that the moment of extremist?

Now, he's saying all roads converge, all tracks come together. The increased integrity of the Inmarsat data, the 6 1/2 handshake ping. The location in the ocean at that part of the corridor, and finally the various pings from the pingers, not just one type, but from both of them twice.

There is a confluence of events around what's happening there at the moment that has to raise this to the highest levels of integrity and credibility.

I think they are clearly moving in the right direction. We'll see how long it takes to finalize them.

All right. Thanks very much, Richard Quest, reporting for us.

Just ahead, we'll have much more on the plane, but also the crisis in Ukraine. Now, it's intensifying in the eastern part of the country. We're going live to Russia for what's going on.

Plus, as I said, we'll have more breaking news coverage of the search for Flight 370. What one official is now calling the most promising lead yet.


BLITZER: We'll have more on the urgent search under way right now for Malaysia Flight 370. That's coming up in a moment.

But, first, another important story we're following, the crisis in Ukraine, now intensifying in the eastern part of the country.

CNN's Phil Black is monitoring the situation for us in Russia. He's in the city of (INAUDIBLE). That's not far from the Ukrainian border.

Phil, what are you picking up? What's the latest?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we know that a number of major cities in the eastern part of Ukraine, pro-Russian protesters have taken over. Central (AUDIO GAP) some of them are calling for Russian help, Russian intervention, calling for a referendum to declare independence or join the Russian Federation, just like Crimea did. And the Ukrainian government is accusing Russia of directly orchestrating these events, controlling these protesters, effectively trying to create a pretext for military intervention and further annexation in parts of Ukraine.

Now, the Russian government says, don't blame us for all of your problems. They insist they are pushing for a diplomatic solution, bringing everyone together to come up with a new constitution that will keep everyone happy.

It's very different to what was the Russian position until very recently, that they have the right to take military intervention in order to protect Russian-speaking people in the east of the country.

And clearly, there's still concern that could be Russia's intention, because the State Department says Secretary of State John Kerry said exactly that to his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, warning Russia again not to invade further parts of Ukraine, warning there will be serious consequences, and very much stating the belief that it appears there is a Russian hand in these events that are taking place in the east of Ukraine today, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, this crisis, clearly, escalating right now. We'll stay in close touch with you, Phil Black. He's on the border between Russia and Ukraine.

Just ahead, more of the breaking news coverage on the search for Flight 370 and why the U.S. Navy is now, quote, "cautiously optimistic."


BLITZER: This just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. The U.S. Senate has voted to restore jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed that ran out in December. The vote, 59-38, the measure would affect more than 2 million Americans, but the bill's fate in the Republican- controlled House of Representatives is not clear. House Speaker John Boehner says he opposes the bill because it doesn't include measures to create more private sector jobs. Some rank-and-file Republicans are pushing for him to allow a vote. However, we'll stay on top of that important story.

We're also following all the breaking developments in the mystery of Flight 370. Crews are now searching the waters off Australia around the clock. They are trying to relocate electronic pings consistent with signals from a jet's black box. A commander tells me the U.S. Navy remains cautiously optimistic about this lead, but the caution is increasing every hour that they don't hear those pings once again.

The batteries, by the way, in the two black boxes for all we know right now may already be dead. They are due to run out about now, a month after the plane took off and then vanished. Without battery power, the pings would stop. They are supposed to last, what, about 30 days. They could last a few days longer, so there's a desperate, desperate search right now to find those two black boxes. That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. You can always follow us on Twitter. Go ahead and tweet me @WolfBlitzer. You can tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.