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Australian PM: 'Very Confident' on Signals; No New Debris Found by Air

Aired April 11, 2014 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, the mystery of Flight 370.


TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: We are very confident that the signals that we are detecting are from the black box.


BLITZER: Australian's prime minister says the target area has been cut down significantly, and the searchers are onto something right now. Is the optimism justified? I'll speak live this hour with Australian's ambassador to the United States.

Probably not a ping. Officials now doubt that a signal picked up by an air-dropped buoy from a black box -- is from a black box. So the burden is now on sonar technicians working around the clock to sweep the ocean with a U.S. pinger locator. We're going to show you how they do it.

And how can the plane have flown for so many miles and so many hours without anyone even looking for it? We're taking a closer look at the delay and the dysfunction in Malaysia's response.

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

Right now there's new optimism in the hunt for Flight 370. Here are the latest developments. Five weeks after the airliner disappeared, Australia's prime minister says the search area has been narrowed down significantly. He also says he's very confident that searchers are closing in on at least one of the two black boxes.

More confusion, though, from Malaysian authorities a week after the police chief said all the passengers had been cleared. The country's defense minister says, quote, "Everyone on board remains under suspicion."

Air crews are getting ready to resume their hunt for debris from Flight 370, which may have drifted hundreds of miles since the plane went down. Our analysts and our reporters, they're standing by here in the United States, as well as around the world with the kind of special coverage that only CNN can deliver.

CNN's Michael Holmes is joining us right now from Perth, Australia. What's the latest there, Michael? MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, predawn here in Perth and off the coast, those ships still trawl for any pings from the flight data recorder. And soon the aircraft will join them as they do every day, looking for any wreckage on the surface. It is day 36 of the search, and they're hoping that they will find something. The confidence is growing they'll find something either above or below the surface.


HOLMES: Air and sea crews are relentless in their search for the missing plane. They're combing the smallest target zone yet, a total of 18,000 square miles. And the hunt for pings from the black boxes is in a much smaller area than that. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott says he believes the plane's data recorders are down there.

ABBOTT: We have very much narrowed down the search area, and we are very confident that the signals that we are detecting are from the black box.

HOLMES: Abbott was referring to the four underwater pings that were picked up between Saturday and Tuesday. A search plane detected a fifth possible signal on Thursday, using an underwater listening device called a sonobuoy. But after analysis, the search coordinator now says it is unlikely to be related to the aircraft black boxes.

Crews racing against the clock to try to hear more signals before they are certain that the batteries powering the black box signals are dead.

ABBOTT: The signal, from what we are very confident are the black boxes are starting to fade and we are hoping to get as much information as we can before the signal finally expires.

HOLMES: The Australian prime minister spoke to reporters during a state visit to China where Flight 370 was scheduled to land five weeks ago. The grieving families of passengers listened to his tone of confidence with a heavy dose of skepticism.

SARAH BAJC, PARTNER OF MISSING PASSENGER: Every time some official gives one of those absolute statements of "we're sure it's the pings from the black box" or "we're sure it's in the ocean," we all crash as our feet get knocked out from underneath of us.


HOLMES: And Wolf, I've got to tell you, I was talking to somebody fairly senior in the state government here, and they are hoping, of course, that this leads to something, either those flight data recorders or some sort of wreckage. They're already putting in plans for those grieving relatives to come here to western Australia and setting up some sort of memorial service for them. Even talk here of perhaps a permanent memorial to those who lost their lives here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Michael Holmes in Perth, Australia. We'll get back to you. Malaysia's response to the disappearance of Flight 370 has been marked by delay and apparent dysfunction. So how could the airliner have flown for so many miles over so many hours without anyone even looking for it.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has been looking into this part of the story. What are you discovering, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is a subject of a lot of interest to the Pentagon right now. Malaysia says it is investigating how its commercial aviation and military authorities did or did not work together in the confusing hours when the plane first disappeared. How is it that they didn't know it perhaps was on radar and then fell off of radar?

They didn't understand that a transponder had been turned off, that it might have been several hours before they actually send aircraft to look for it.

This is now considered a rather significant, obvious failure of the commercial aviation and military authorities in Malaysia to work together, and that causes a lot of concern. Because it's all about the security of air space. What if this really was a terrorist attack? Of course, we don't know for sure one way or the other right now. That's the kind of thing that the U.S. is looking at.

And what officials are telling me is, in this part of Asia, there's been a lot of concern for years that countries like Malaysia, its neighbors, Thailand and Indonesia have very weak structures for their commercial aviation and military authorities to work together in Malaysia is very embarrassed in the region and very embarrassed in front of China, which, of course, is the military powerhouse in Asia right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Should be embarrassed. It's hard to imagine, Barbara, this playing out this way, for example, in the United States. If the plane's transponder were to actually go dark, alarm bells would immediately go off. Stuff would happen.

STARR: Oh, you bet, Wolf. And this is the comparison that U.S. military officials are drawing in this country, of course. After 9/11 especially.

Commercial air traffic civil aviation authorities and the U.S. military are always in constant touch around the clock. So if there is a situation where a civilian airliner disappears, heaven forbid, of course, the U.S. military knows about it instantly and then does scramble jets.

If there's an aircraft flying in restricted air space, they know instantly from the FAA. They scramble jets to go up, look, and try and see what exactly is going on.

And it does raise the nightmare scenario that the U.S. military has faced since 9/11. If there is an aircraft that cannot be identified, that ultimate scenario of having to shoot it down. The concern, when they look at places like this area of Asia, they didn't seem to know anything about what was going on in their own air space -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you.

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

Tom, you know, they should be embarrassed, the Malaysians, by this failure. Plane goes missing, the transponder is off. It's flying over Malaysian air space, and basically, I don't -- I sense they're not doing much, if anything?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: No. It's hard to imagine what they are doing about this, Wolf, but in fairness, they didn't experience 9/11, and they apparently didn't learn from our experience on 9/11. When our civil authorities told the military that those jets had been hijacked, jets were scrambled, and they got to New York just in time to see the smoke coming out of World Trade Center.

So you know, we didn't do such a good job on 9/11. We hope we would do better ever since 9/11, but they didn't go through that, and maybe this is a wake-up call for them to get it.

BLITZER: Apparently, there are stories out there, including from Reuters, that the left hand of the Malaysian government wasn't talking to the right hand of the Malaysian government, Reuters quoting a senior Malaysian military source as explaining this, why there was no scrambling of jets.

"When we were alerted, we got our boys to check the military radar. We noticed that there was an unmarked plane. Based on the information we had, we did not send up any jets, because it was possibly mechanical problems and the plane might have been going to Penang." Now what does that mean?

FUENTES: Well, it simply means that they weren't coordinating closely with the military. And it's not as though that air space is not crowded at night. I've looked at it. There's a lot of flight activity. And the idea that they would just assume, well, it was going to Penang and not try and reach it and not try and figure out what was going on is really just unacceptable.

BLITZER: Do you have any explanation of the Malaysian failure in this area?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: It's incomprehensible, inconceivable. I do not understand how a primary target going across the land mass, that they didn't attempt to -- there's no indication they even tried to reach it on the radio.

The other thing we're missing here, Wolf, is what was going on in the Ho Chi Minh City side of this? We have not heard anything about their efforts to raise the crew. I mean, a lot of the problem is, you know, if you wanted to get away with something, this is the opportunity, during the hand-off. One controller thinks the other controller is talking, vice versa. There's this little gap which is, you know -- creates a potential for this kind of thing.

However, 40 minutes to notify the military, a primary target going across your land mass and you're not notifying or scrambling fighters to intercept to see what's going on, you're not even trying to reach that person on the radio? Maybe there's more transcripts we need to see.

BLITZER: They obviously should have gotten in touch with Vietnam, because it was leaving Malaysian air space, heading into Vietnam's air space.

O'BRIEN: Right, and...

BLITZER: Two minutes after the transponder died.

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Right. And one of the interesting things is Vietnam reported that they contacted a Malaysian air flight half hour in front of this one and asked them to reach back. We heard that one report. They said, well, we heard some mumbling and then dropped. There's been no report to follow up on that.

BLITZER: Now the Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, is pretty upbeat, very confident that they're going to find at least one of those two black boxes, probably the flight data recorder. Who gets custody, who gets to look at that first?

FUENTES: Well, who gets to look at it is determined by Malaysia. It's their case. It's their airline. It's their box.

BLITZER: Let's say it's picked up by Australian sailors or U.S. sailors or whatever.


BLITZER: They have custody of it.

FUENTES: The chief of police of Malaysia just said today that they don't have the expertise and they will have somebody else who does have it. So I think what the expectation is, that Malaysia will designate that the Australians take it and work with the NTSB and possibly British and the French and work together on analysis of that box probably in Australia.

BLITZER: Peter, you worked at the NTSB for a long time. So whoever gets first crack at opening it up and going through the data, that's critical, because presumably, if you're not experienced, you don't know what you're doing, you can screw some of that data up?

GOELZ: That's right. The first read is absolutely essentially that it be done right. My guess is, when they get close to getting the boxes, the Malaysians will be on the ship, they'll be there, but this is going to go to the Australians, because they can look at it within six or eight hours. The Americans and the Malaysians will be there. The Malaysians will make announcements, but it will be...

BLITZER: Do the Australians have the experience dealing with a black box that the NTSB, the U.S. has?

GOELZ: They are very similar. They've got the same kind of equipment. They cross-train. I have full confidence that they can take the lead, and the Americans will be there with them.

BLITZER: Well, the U.S.-Australian cooperation is first rate. So presumably the best U.S. expert, the best Australian experts would have the first crack at it?

O'BRIEN: There's no impedance to sharing anything, between the U.S. and Australia, including secrets. So I think that -- I think we can presume there will be a close cooperation.

BLITZER: We heard that that fifth ping -- 24 hours ago we were all obsessed with the fifth ping. It turned out to be nothing.

O'BRIEN: We may not hear another ping. You know, I think another couple of days, I think we're going to see that Bluefin, the autonomous vehicle, going down and beginning painting the ocean floor.

BLITZER: Want to wait to make sure the batteries are completely dead, because that Bluefin-21, that could emit some sounds which could screw up the towed locator pinger?

O'BRIEN: You don't do both at the same time. And so, you know, give it a couple more days, just in case there is another ping. But it's quite possible we're going to hear another one. It's a large area to search, and it's going to take some time, but at least it's not as large as it used to be.

BLITZER: Is four pings enough to find this box?

FUENTES: I think they've stated the more the better. So...

BLITZER: They have four. They have four. One for two hours, one for 15 minutes, two for five or six minutes. Is that enough, within a 17- mile span or whatever, to go down three or four miles or whatever and find that box?

FUENTES: They say it is, but it's just going to take longer. The more they can refine the search, the quicker it will be that they can actually see the bottom with side scan radar.

BLITZER: Because the prime minister is confident they will find the box.

FUENTES: He's been very confident. But it is -- it is that one ping that was 17 miles outside the box. That's pretty hard -- that's an outlier. But the other three give you a much narrower area. I'd focus my attention on right there.

The Australian ambassadors made a point to us here that Malaysia and Australia have a very close partnership, and he was formerly the minister of defense for Australia and that they have a very close working relationship. So when that black box is found, this is not going to be a tug-of-war between Malaysia and Australia, or Australian and the U.S. I think -- I'm confident that they'll make the right decision and have the right experts look at it.

BLITZER: All right, guys, don't go too far away, as I like to say.

Up next, aircraft will soon resume the hunt for debris from Flight 370. We've got a live update from one of the search commanders.

And Australian's prime minister says searchers are very confident they're closing in on the black box signals. Is that optimism justified? The Australian ambassador to the United States, Kim Beazley, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll discuss.


BLITZER: Aircraft will soon be taking off again to continue what so far has been a fruitless search for debris from Flight 370. Meantime, search officials are downplaying any likelihood the signal picked up by a sonobuoy came from one of the airliner's black boxes.

Joining us now Air Commodore Kevin McEvoy, the Royal New Zealand Air Force, who's deeply involved in this search.

Air Commodore, thanks very much for joining us. Any luck today in finding any debris at all?


No, unfortunately, the crews have been out yesterday and flew another mission around, about a ten-hour motion, sort of four hours in the search area. They were looking for debris on the surface, and there was nothing significant to report, unfortunately. They will be going out. They'll have a rest day today, maintain the aircraft and then they'll be back in the air tomorrow.

BLITZER: And as far as you know, none of the other nation's aircraft has found anything at all. Is that right?

MCEVOY: No. So there was a number of aircraft that went out yesterday, nine aircraft looking in the search area and another two command-and-control platforms or aircraft. A similar effort will be applied today, but there was nothing significant that we could link to the missing aircraft yesterday.

BLITZER: When you ask the experts for an explanation of why they have not even found a cushion or anything from that plane floating around, what's the explanation they give you?

MCEVOY: Well, I think that there's a number of variables. First of all, the depth. It's around 4.5 kilometers. So it's going to take a while for anything to surface.

The second thing is that the aircraft state, we're not quite sure whether it's broken up into little pieces or whether there are large chunks.

So the Air France aircraft that was -- they managed to find a tail end but there are other aircraft crashes, such as the one off of Nova Scotia, where they were only finding very small pieces, around 2 meters.

So we'll be looking for any objects of any significance. Our crews are well-trained to pick that stuff up. The aircraft systems are well -- we've recently done an upgrade on them, so we're very confident that if there's something on the surface, we'll find it.

BLITZER: Miles O'Brien has a question, our aviation analyst, for you, Air Commodore.

Go ahead, Miles.

O'BRIEN: Air Commodore, I'm just curious. Thirty-six days now since the disappearance of this aircraft. How confident are you that you're all searching in the right place? I know oceanographers have a hard time predicting these currents, particularly with this amount of time.

MCEVOY: So, we are very confident. I mean, we're going to the area that we've been tasked from the Australian maritime safety authority and we have been doing this with the joint agency coordination center. And they'll be taking a number of feeds. You see the drift modeling from the ocean currents. They'll be looking at all the information from satellite imagery. They'll be taking the data from the recent ping and joining those dots.

So we're confident that we're in the right area. it's just that it's still a very large area, a very challenging search for us. And it's day 36, as you said, and still no information. So we'll keep searching.

BLITZER: Well, you do have some information. You have four pings that are believed, the prime minister of Australia says, believed to have come from at least one of those two black boxes. That fifth ping, apparently, turned out to be a false alarm. Are you 100 percent convinced, Commodore, that the fourth pings are the real deal?

MCEVOY: Well, I don't have specific information and access to the analysis around those pings.

However, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston was talking yesterday and had discounted one of the pings, I think as you've said. So unfortunately, I think he termed it as it wasn't the major breakthrough that they were hoping for.

So we're still confident that those pings will manage to locate the black boxes. But it's still a long way to go, and we're trying as much as possible to refine that search area. If they can refine the search area, it will make any subsequent recovery much easier.

BLITZER: Air Commodore Kevin McEvoy of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, we'll check back with you. Good luck to you, to all of your men and women who are working in this very, very extensive search. Thank you.

MCEVOY: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, Australia's prime minister says searchers are very confident that signals they picked up are from at least one of the two black boxes on the airline. Is that optimism justified? I'll speak live with Australia's ambassador to the United States. Ken Beazley, here he is. Mr. Ambassador, good to have you here.

MCEVOY: Good to be here.

BLITZER: Thank you. Stand by.


BLITZER: We are hearing conflicting statements coming in from various officials, Australia's prime minister telling me one thing, the search coordinating suggesting something other; one pretty much flat-out optimistic about the search, the others sounding some notes of caution.

Let's discuss what's going on with Australia's ambassador to the United States, Kim Beazley.

Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Can you explain what's going on?

Here's Tony Abbott, the prime minister of Australia, speaking about the search right now. Listen to this.


ABBOTT: We have very much narrowed down the search area, and we are very confident that the signals that we are detecting are from the black box on MH-370.


BLITZER: Very confident. That's very significant. Angus Houston, I assume you know him, the Australian who's in charge of this entire search, he says there has been no major breakthrough in the search for MH-370. So what is it?

BEAZLEY: Well, look, the major breakthrough is the verification of those four pings, and there's been no major breakthrough since then. But the very -- insofar as this analysis of those four pings.

And the prime minister is basing his confidence on the fact that the acoustic laboratories have verified to their absolute satisfaction that those came from the black box. Exhibiting the same sound characteristics that the blacks box would have on MH-370 and there being no other known aviation events there in the last four or five weeks, it's got to be them. That's why he's confident.

BLITZER: That's a significant development, hugely significant. Three of those pings came from one area. The fourth came from an area about 17 miles away, but -- so you think they could have come from the two separate, the flight data, the cockpit voice recorders, two black boxes?

BEAZLEY: I'm no aviation (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I myself cannot tell, but I go with the prime minister's confidence.

And in a sense, if you look at the roles of the two men, you can see why there's be slight differences in the things they say. Angus is in charge of the search. He's got to be ultra-careful in everything he goes through. The prime minister needs to make a call.

The prime minister is talking to the Chinese. He's up in China recently. He's talking to the Chinese. He's talking to the Malaysians. He's talking to people who are deeply concerned about this that want to know answers, want to get a sense of the judgment of the Australian government based on its assessment of what's been handed to them by the search teams. And that's the prime minister's decision. And I can thoroughly see why he got it.

BLITZER: But some of the family members, they are a little concerned. I'll read to you, this is a son of one of the passengers from the plane told Reuters this, "If everyone now gets shaken up by this sort of news then I think it will put them under a lot of pressure. They used the word confident but that really doesn't mean that they have confirmed it."

So I guess the question is, is the prime minister perhaps negatively raising false hopes for these families?

No, I don't think so. I think he is going with the best advice that is available to him and the cockpit voice recorders are good advice and that's -- or the black box, I should say, is good advice and that is why he is saying what he is saying.

Look, all of using agonize for those poor people who are the families of those who have --


BLITZER: Including six Australians who were on -- on that plane.

BEAZLEY: Absolutely. And there is a -- and there's all of the concern in the world for them. But it's also important that they get the judgment of the Australian government which is responsible for the search, not the overall --

BLITZER: So let's say they find one of the boxes, the flight data recorder like this one.


BLITZER: Who gets custody of it? Who opens it up? Who goes through the data?

BEAZLEY: Well, in the first instance, the people who take custody of it would be people who picked it up on the search.

BLITZER: So let's say the Australians sailors get it.

BEAZLEY: Yes. And then --

BLITZER: So what do they do with it?

BEAZLEY: Then do as the investigators, the people with overall control of the investigation request. So if the Malaysian authorities may well choose to ask the Australians or the Americans or somebody else with expertise in this to examine the content of that. But they have the overall direction of the investigation.

BLITZER: So the Malaysians are really in charge.

BEAZLEY: Yes, they are.

BLITZER: And you would abide by whatever -- but Malaysia says they have no experience or at least limited experience in dealing with something like this, you would say, yes, you have chain of custody, you take care of it?

BEAZLEY: We don't have to say it with the Malaysians. They are our military ally. They're our military ally. The British as the New Zealand, as the Singaporean. We spend a lot of time with the Malaysians. We have since 1971. We don't have to have conversations like that with them. There'd be a sensible resolution between us and the Malaysian government as to how best to handle it. They trust us, we trust them.

BLITZER: Here's another thing that raised some eyebrows today. The Defense and acting Transport minister of Malaysia said this, he said everyone on board remains under suspicion as it stands. This is a week after the police chief over there said that the passengers had all been cleared. Explain.

BEAZLEY: Yes, well, this is a problem for the interception of a criminal investigation once it's under way. A criminal investigation does not proceed in a straight line. It goes in circles and it meanders. And the theories on one day, totally potent with the investigators and then the next day they're being rejected. If you want to inspect the (INAUDIBLE) of an investigation and I understand why the media and why -- and above all why relatives want to do that.

What you have to be prepared for is changes of line. Because that happens in any criminal investigation. Why wouldn't it happen in this one?

BLITZER: Is there any reason to believe that passengers should be under suspicion?

BEAZLEY: I have no idea why they arrived at those conclusions but I do have an idea of why criminal investigations will sometimes change lines.

BLITZER: Ken Beazley is Australia's ambassador to the United States. A former defense minister of Australia. Thanks very much for coming in.

BEAZLEY: Always good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll have you back for sure.

Up next, that fifth ping now being ruled out as anything but a false positive. Just how hard is it to determine what's going on? We're taking you inside the sonar tech team. That as officials announce they're very confident that search planes are preparing to take off once again right now. Could this be a day of discovery?


BLITZER: Officials are now saying they are, quote, "very confident the signals that have been detected are indeed from Flight 370's black boxes." The huge breakthrough is all thanks to the tireless teams of sonar techs and the grueling work that they perform for hours and hours at a time.

Our Brian Todd got a rare access -- some rare access to the company that deployed those techs. He's joining us with more.

Brian, tell us what you -- what you've learned.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, no one knows their names. They spend hours and days in an isolated confined space in the middle of the Indian Ocean often staring at nothing, listening to silence. But right now those technicians may have the most important jobs in this entire search effort.


TODD (voice-over): The hopes of finding the black boxes for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 rests on a few anonymous technicians hunkered down inside a control bunker on the Ocean Shield.

MIKE DEAN, DEEP EXPLORER FOR SALVAGE AND DIVING, U.S. NAVY: Day and night, you know, there is no break. They are pretty much on all the time and what they do is so important to us.

TODD: We went behind the scenes at Phoenix International, the company that made the towed pinger locator that's scouring the search area for black box pings. Phoenix has nine people on the Ocean Shield. Among them, sonar techs tasked with looking at monitors, listening and listening some more.

PAUL NELSON, PROGRAM MANAGER. PHOENIX INTERNATIONAL: You'll sit for days at a time listening to nothing and then you might hear a chirp but you don't hear another one. So until you can duplicate it and run it back at different angles, only until then are you positive you have it.

TODD: And even then, experts say a sound in the ocean can play so many tricks on your ears.

DEAN: Several people can look at a signal and see different things because all they are recording is sound energy.

TODD: False positives from fishing and research equipment left in the area, from debris and thermal conditions, from the vessel itself can also play tricks on the techs. But they are trained to weed that out, to block out any other sounds and be disciplined.

Paul Nelson who worked the search for Air France Flight 447 describes the sonar tech's work as meticulous, tedious, time devouring.

NELSON: There's two shifts. They work 12-hour shifts. So the first crew will work from midnight to noon and the next team will work noon to midnight. You're monitoring the weather, you're watching what's coming as far as weather, you're monitoring the seas, and you're sitting in front of the screen hoping and praying that you're going to hear something.

TODD (on camera): Does it drive a little stir crazy?


NELSON: Everyone looks forward to the mealtime. That breaks up the monotony.

TODD (voice-over): Some of these techs have been doing this for more than 30 years. Decades of often thankless dedication just to find that one breakthrough pattern of blips.

NELSON: Everybody is so focused on this task at hand that once you know you have it, it's a tremendous feeling. It's -- that's the high.


TODD: Once signals are detected and confirmed, it's reported up the chain of command. Top officials make the announcements that we all hear and the techs simply go back to work with us still not knowing their names -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thank you.

Let's get some more now with former Navy oceanographer Van Gurley.

Van, it's been 36 days now. The batteries are supposed to last 30. Those batteries might be dead, for all we know, although they are not ready to send that Bluefin-21 down to actually start looking at the bottom of the ocean.

VAN GURLEY, FORMER NAVAL OCEANOGRAPHER: Wolf, everything we're seeing in how the Australians have approached this problem is slow and deliberate. And that's what we're seeing right now. They're doing the right thing but they're doing it at their pace. So what they have said is they are going to wait until every last chance that the batteries may still be alive has passed. So I think there's going to be several more days of these towed pinger searches for the batteries in the very slight chance that they've extended out to 35 or 40 days. Then and only then will they start the Bluefin work because those are mutually exclusive. You can't do the two things at the same time.

BLITZER: Because if the Bluefin makes noise, that could be confusing to those guys who are listening. The other point, and I think it's very -- the battery may already be dead but they just don't want to take any chances?

GURLEY: Exactly right. In Brian's piece, you saw what they are trying to get through. They are listening on headphones, they've been very meticulous, and they need a very quiet background. That's why they're keeping all the other ships out of the area and they're keeping the Bluefin on the deck because any chance of hearing that ping, you want it to be as pristine and quiet as possible in the background so nothing interferes with that.

BLITZER: And the fact that they have that fifth ping that they heard turned out to be a false alarm, the fact that they haven't heard any additional pings since the first four, that would also reinforce the notion the batteries are probably dead?

GURLEY: Most likely. And it's important that these false positives, the sonobuoy might have had a hit, that's fairly common in sonar work. But again you look at the accumulation of evidence and how the things line up, and that's what they're doing, and they're doing it the right way.

BLITZER: So your assessment is by next Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, they send the Bluefin-21 down?

GURLEY: I think by mid next week at the very latest they will say we're finished with the TPL searches. There is one intermediate step that I haven't heard anybody go on record yet.

BLITZER: What is that?

GURLEY: One of the -- one of the things before you use the Bluefin-21 is you really want to make sure you have a very good idea of what the bottom terrain looks like, and we don't in this area. They've got another ship, the Echo, that's got the right type of gear that give you a general bottom map, and they may decide -- I don't know if they will. They may decide that they need that before they can really put the Bluefin down really close to the bottom.

BLITZER: They don't want that Bluefin-21 to get stuck down there if there's silt or canyons or whatever.

GURLEY: I mean, we only have one of those out there, right? It's very expensive and it's a very sensitive piece of gear. You don't want to have it bump into something you weren't expecting.

BLITZER: It's a good point. All right, Van Gurley, thanks very, very much.

Just ahead, we're only moments away from search planes taking off again. With the shrinking search area more pings possible. Are officials confident that they are getting closer and closer?

And Malaysian authorities flip-flop again. Are the passengers of 370 still under investigation or not? Richard Quest is standing by live. There he is.


BLITZER: Very confident. Those are the words of the Australian prime minister who is optimistic the latest pings are from Flight 370's black boxes. But we've heard some words like that before as politicians have again promised again and again that they've discovered another, quote, "best lead yet."

Let's discuss what's going on with CNN's Richard Quest.

So he is a politician. Is he giving false hope right now, do you believe, Richard, to the families?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: No, I don't, Wolf. He's the prime minister of Australia and he has the information from his own acoustic defense experts and they are the ones who have said that the pings that they have heard have been consistent, they are stable, they are consistent, they are 1.0106 seconds. All the reasons that you and I have talked about.

So what's he's saying, it's really important to understand he's not saying we know where they are, although he did say that it's in a relatively smaller area. He's saying, I'm very confident they're from the black box. And I think that distinction is significant because somebody is, the Australians and others are going to have to go and find it and that's not going to be easy.

BLITZER: There are confusing statements, though, coming from Malaysia. And I'll put one of them up on the screen. This is the defense minister, the acting transport minister, Hishammuddin, who's saying -- who said this. "Everyone on board remains under suspicion as it stands." That's what Malaysia's defense minister told Sky News earlier in the investigation, though, the police chief, the inspector general of the Malaysian Police said all 227 passengers on board that airliner had been cleared.

So what's going on here? Why are we getting these two different statements from Malaysian officials?

QUEST: It is confusing. It's marginally disturbing. Clearly only one of them can be right. But I think -- I think in this situation -- if we look at any story of any magnitude, there are going to be those occasions when if you pick your way across every statement at every time, there will be inconsistencies.

I agree with you, Wolf, on this one. It's a fairly major matter. You would have expected that the transport minister would have known that the passengers had been cleared, likewise that the police officer wouldn't have said it in the first place. The police officer said something like all passengers have been cleared or it was words to those effect. Ten days between the two. And I guess you just have to put it down to one of those things. We don't know -- the circumstances of the question, we don't know how heated the interview. We don't know how long the interview.

I choose to put it down to one of those things. When anybody's statements are being interpreted in a -- in a passing forensic fashion, this is going to happen.

BLITZER: Although we did just hear from the Australian ambassador to the United States, Kim Beazley, when I asked him a similar question, he seemed to say, you know what, in an ongoing investigation like this, and I'm paraphrasing him, attitudes change, assessments change --

QUEST: Sure.

BLITZER: -- which leads me to believe that maybe in the past few days since that initial statement clearing all of the passengers, something has come to light which says, well, maybe they shouldn't necessarily all be clear.

QUEST: A very, very valid point, and Kim Beazley should know as the former leader of the opposition in Australia. But the problem, of course, for you and me, Wolf, is -- and you and I, is how do we get the politicians and the people to be confident to speak without just simply saying, I don't know, I don't know, or I can't speak?

BLITZER: All right. Richard Quest, we'll speak to you in the next hour. Thank you.

Coming up, the air search is about to resume. We're going back to Perth, Australia, live. Planes getting ready to hunt once again for debris from Flight 370.

We'll also have all the latest developments on the underwater search and on Malaysia's own investigation into a disaster response marked by delay and confusion.


BLITZER: We're going to get back to the mystery of Flight 370 in a moment. But first, some urgent stories we're monitoring right now. Ten people are dead after a horrific crash in California. A FedEx truck crashed the median and slammed head first into a coach bus igniting a fire that engulfed the two vehicles. Both drivers were killed along with five high school students and their three chaperons.

The bus was on its way to visit a college campus. Those five students, part of a group of low-income and first-generation perspective college students. Police are investigating the cause.

The Pope is asking for forgiveness. Pope Francis condemned the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal in the strongest terms yet saying he feels compelled to personally ask for forgiveness. He also pledged to impose penalties on priests and bishops involved in the scandal and the cover-up. Advocates for abuse victims say they remain skeptical until the church takes action. And the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is welcoming six new members. Kiss, Peter Gabriel, Cat Stevens, Linda Ronstadt, Hall and Oates, and Nirvana were all inducted last night at Brooklyn's Barclay's Center. The night was more emotional than usual. Especially as REM's Michael Stipe introduced Nirvana. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the death of front man Kurt Cobain. Surviving members of the revolutionary band honored his legacy.

Up next, as aircraft are about to take off for a new day of searching, we'll have all the latest developments in the hunt for Flight 370 and the investigation into what went wrong. The SITUATION ROOM continues in 60 seconds.