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Source: Jet Crossed Malaysian Peninsula at High Altitude; After Problem, Bluefin-21 Resumes Dive; 29 People Confirmed Dead in Capsized Ferry

Aired April 18, 2014 - 17:00   ET


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

Happening now, breaking news. A source revealing new details about Malaysia Flight 370 to CNN as the search continues, including some surprising information about the emergency transmitters and the flight path. Can these new clues help with efforts to find the missing plane?

Caught on camera, a ferry disaster as it unfolded. Chilling new video from inside the ship. Do these images contain clues to the deadly accident?

And brink of war. New armed confrontations in Ukraine despite an agreement to end the stand-off with pro-Russian militants. So why is the diplomatic deal being ignored?

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

At this hour, we have fresh and dramatic new information about what happened to Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 in the minutes after it disappeared. Thanks to CNN's worldwide resources, we have crews standing by on four continents right now to bring you the latest information on the search.

Plus today's fast-moving news from the Ukraine crisis, the South Korean ferry accident, and today's deadly accident on Mt. Everest. As always, our expert analysts are standing by here in THE SITUATION ROOM. But let's go to Malaysia first, where a source is giving CNN our most detailed understanding of what happened immediately after things started going wrong aboard Flight 370.

Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, is joining us live from Kuala Lumpur. Nic, you've learned that the plane actually climbed to 39,000 feet after making that initial left-turn deviation from its planned route on the way to Beijing. What are we to make of that?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the source says that once the aircraft reached 39,000 feet, it then stayed there for 20 minutes as it began its flight back across the Malaysian Peninsula. The source wasn't able to give an interpretation or an understanding of why the aircraft had made such a maneuver. It was -- it certainly is the first time that we've been told by an official in the investigation that the aircraft had climbed in altitude. We had been told further, across the Malaysian Peninsula, it then dropped in altitude, getting to a minimum of around 4,000 feet across the sea and Malacca Straits.

But the significance of this, again, it does show -- it does show control of the aircraft, and it does show that the person flying it certainly knew what they were doing and perhaps not in an emergency situation.

But those are the details that we have, that it was above or had just entered Vietnamese air space when it made that left turn, when it climbed to 39,000 feet after completing the turn. Again, this is investigators say it really isn't until they get the black boxes that they can make the determination to understand more and better why that would have happened, Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic, you're also reporting that the plane was equipped with four emergency locator transmitters like this one that either didn't activate or weren't picked up by the emergency monitoring satellite. Some are suggesting potentially that could be, what, catastrophic mechanical failure?

ROBERTSON: Again, the source says it's not clear why they didn't go off. There are four of them. One on the rear door, one on the forward door, one in the cockpit, one in the fuselage. The source said that normally when they come into contact with water or when there's a crash, they automatically go off. They have their own independent power source while they're on the aircraft. There's no reason that he's aware of that would -- that would mean that they didn't go off.

They emit several different frequencies, one that goes to satellite, one that should be picked up more suitable for ships, one for aircraft.

Again, what the source is indicating is that this is very odd, his words. I suggested to him that perhaps if the plane came down very carefully, we'll remember that 737 landing on the Hudson River came down very carefully, very slowly. Maybe the impact didn't trigger the locators to go off. Maybe it then sank before the water could ingress into the aircraft, setting the -- setting the transmitters off, that that may have been the scenario.

Again, he said they couldn't -- he couldn't say, but he thought that there would have been some water getting into the aircraft that would have triggered them.

But what this does, Wolf, it really just raises -- and he was highlighting more questions about this investigation. Every way you turn every strap and more information we get, it raises more questions.

But crucially, the families, Chinese families of people on board have been raising questions to Malaysian Airlines, to investigators, 12 questions about the ELTs, the Emergency Locator Transmitters. They haven't got any answers. We wrote to Malaysian Airlines asking them. They said that they wouldn't comment on this information while it's part of an investigation. So it's really not clear why they didn't go off. The thought is clearly that, if it had gone off, it would have helped make -- made finding this aircraft so much easier, Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly would have. All right. Thanks very much, Nic Robertson, reporting for us from Kuala Lumpur.

We're also following the deep-sea and aerial search for debris from the missing jet. The Bluefin-21 drone quickly resurfaced after a series of technical problems early in its latest dive. The problems were fixed, the underwater search resumed.

Today, CNN'S Miguel Marquez rode along in one of the planes, looking for debris, perhaps floating in the ocean. Miguel is joining us live now from Perth, Australia. What did you see, Miguel?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, despite that search focusing on what is happening underneath the ocean, keep in mind the surface of the ocean has gone on for hundreds if not thousands of sorties. Now planes out there from several different nations. We went out with one from the Royal New Zealand Air Force to see just how tough their day is.


MARQUEZ (voice-over): This is what the search for Flight 370 looks like from the air. Hours and hours of flying, staring out windows and the monitors of high-tech equipment analyzing data in real time. All in the hopes of finding any speck of debris in a vast expanse of ocean.

(on camera): The search area is now so unbelievably remote, it takes us almost five hours to get out here and we only have enough fuel for about an hour and a half of searching before the nearly five- hour journey home.

(voice-over): Officials have suggested the air search may be winding down soon, but right now the crew of this New Zealand P-3 Orion isn't giving up.

FLIGHT LT. PETER JACKSON, ROYAL NEW ZEALAND AIR FORCE: If we don't find a piece of the puzzle, that's more than a little bit disappointing, but one of the reasons we are here now continuing to search is that we may find debris that may assist the investigators -- may assist them to put together, you know, the puzzle.

MARQUEZ: Below the surface, Bluefin-21 on its sixth dive now, about three miles down, its fifth dive cut short, so a problem with the navigation system could be fixed. We got a new look at the search drone undergoing maintenance on board the Ocean Shield. Search leaders say they've now narrowed the area being scanned, but the going is still slow, and with no evidence yet of the plane, Malaysian's defense minister tweeted authorities are looking at deploying more underwater drones. It's been six weeks since Flight 370 vanished. Search teams are feeling the strain.

CAPT. TIM MCALEVEY, ROYAL NEW ZEALAND AIR FORCE: The crew have worked hard. Thousands and thousands of man hours have been poured into it. Everyone is working hard. We've all got families back home, but I really think that we're sort of working for the families of those MH-370.

MARQUEZ: No one suffering more than the relatives of the missing passengers and crew. These Chinese families were forced to hold a prayer service indoors after Beijing police stopped them from gathering in a park, another sign of the tension as Flight 370 families are pushing back at authorities and demanding answers. They're now asking investigators to address very specific questions about the satellite data that led them to the current search area.


MARQUEZ: Now, it's just a little after 5 a.m. here in Perth, and we expect, if everything's going according to plan, that the sixth dive of Bluefin-21 is about to conclude very soon. Then they will be able to download that data and go through it. It has chewed through about 42 square miles so far. Nothing to show for it.

But Angus Houston in an interview with the local newspaper here says they are still confident they're searching in the right place, and they will find it soon -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Miguel Marquez in Perth, Australia.

Lots to discuss with our panel. Joining us now here in THE SITUATION ROOM, our aviation analyst Peter Goelz and our law- enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes.

Peter, the fact that it went up in Vietnamese air space as it was crossing back over Malaysian air force, coming back to 39,000 feet from its 35,000, what does that tell us?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, I think firstly, it's more realistic than originally they said, well, it could have climbed to 45,000 feet, which we were all really skeptical about.

BLITZER: The ring (ph) is, what, 41,000 feet?

GOELZ: That's right. But I think it just confirms a little more that this plane was under human direction and, you know, the mystery is still there; but it's under human direction and that's troubling.

BLITZER: But we don't know if it's under human direction as a result of bad intentions from an individual or individuals, or because of some sort of mechanical problem.

GOELZ: Right. We can't tell that yet, because we simply don't have the data. But when it makes the second turn out over the straits, boy, that seems to concern, you know, bigger trouble.

BLITZER: If it was in Vietnamese air space for 15 or 20 minutes or so, as far as I know we haven't heard from Vietnam that they picked it up, monitored, heard about it. What kind of relationship does the west have with Vietnam? Would the Vietnamese share that kind of information with the United States? Certainly in Malaysia? With Australia?

GOELZ: Certainly with Malaysia in the interests of this investigation, you would think. But one thing we don't know in this latest reporting is what's the source of this? I'm curious, if you have human intervention on the radar units. We have so many different stories...

BLITZER: What do you mean?

GOELZ: Well, going back to the earliest part of this, you know, humans didn't actually see what was on the radar the night of it. They had to go back later and figure out what they missed. But we heard earlier the plane went up to 43,000. It went down to 20-some thousand, went back to 35, then made a smooth left turn, so it had to be on autopilot.

So I would like to know whose radar is this based on, whose analysis of the radar is it based on to know if this is really true or just another -- another story we're hearing about what that plane might have done in the air.

BLITZER: You want to weigh in?

GOELZ: Yes. And when you're tracking a plane on primary radar without the transponder, there is a margin of error. And the further the plane is away from the radar, the higher the margin of error. So we just don't know yet.

BLITZER: We've been reporting and Nic reported, there are four of these emergency locator transmitters on a plane. They're supposed to be activated in case there's a crash, in case it hits water. As far as we know, there was no activation. No one picked up any signals or whatever from these ELTs, as they're called. What does that say?

GOELZ: Well, we don't know again. But these are not crash resistant. You can lose the antenna and they won't signal. There have been a number of times, for instance, when the Ron Brown accident occurred, the ELT...

BLITZER: Former secretary of commerce?

GOELZ: That's right. When that happened, the ELT did not activate, and it took them nine hours to find the wreckage. So it's not unusual that they don't activate. But to have all four not activate, that's unusual.

BLITZER: It is pretty unusual. None of these apparently worked.

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, one thing we'd like to learn later is just the whole maintenance regime of Malaysian Airlines just seems to be a lot of question about, you know, did they do the repairs that they are supposed to do or the regular maintenance they're supposed to do? There's a lot of questions with that that have not been answered yet.

BLITZER: Now, the Bluefin-21 is now down, its fifth mission. So far it's not detected anything significant. There's some indication from the Malaysian transport minister and others maybe they should add some more drones down there to do this search for at least the black box for some sort of wreckage. Is that a good idea?

GOELZ: Sure. If it's coordinated and done, you know, in tandem with the Bluefin-21. You don't want to have a lot of, you know, independent searches, but certainly if you have another drone, you should put it down in coordination.

BLITZER: I know they're frustrated, Tom, but look, this could go on for weeks, the search underwater right now. It's a relatively -- doesn't seem like a huge area, but it's relatively big when you're looking for something the size of this.

FUENTES: Especially at this point. They're so early in this part of the investigation, to all of a sudden be talking about, well, it's not working. Let's bring in something else, that might be premature, on the one hand.

On the other hand, whatever else they're going to bring is going to take a long time to get there and coordinate and put it on a different ship than the Ocean Shield. We probably cannot support two of these. And the crew that would have to come with it to set it up and program it and put it down in the water.

So I think that, you know, that we don't know what else is available out there to get out there on a short-term basis, how long it will take to deploy, what ship is available to get it to the site. So there's a lot of questions have come up, even with the idea of adding more vehicles out there.

BLITZER: Taking things over Richard Quest, our aviation correspondent, joining us from New York right now.

Richard, I want to get your thoughts on these two developments that we've been reporting. One that it went up from 35,000, the Malaysian Airliner up to 39,000. It was in Vietnamese air space for, what, 15, 20 minutes. What do you make of that?

QUEST: The fact that it was in Vietnamese air space is interesting, because -- but it's probably not surprising, because when we have "Good night. Malaysia 3-7-0," of course it was on the borders of that. And so within a few moments of that, it would have crossed over after the hand-over, Wolf, from Kuala Lumpur air traffic control to Ho Chi Minh.

And then you get this turn. Now, the turn is what the whole story is about. What was happening at 1:19 to 1:22 when the transponder gets switched off? And if it seems that the plane climbed to 39,000 feet, and then we get this supposed descent over the straits of Malacca, it just makes the whole event that much more bizarre and difficult to understand, Wolf.

BLITZER: And what about the failure of those four emergency locator transmitters like this one? What does that say to you?

QUEST: Another extraordinary development, seemingly inexplicable. That the very tool that is supposed to tell people where the plane has had an accident or where there's been an impact, fails or wasn't, for whatever reason -- now I can hear maybe somebody suggesting, were they switched off? Were they interfered with? Well, they're dotted around the aircraft, and they're not easily accessible, so that raises other very valid questions about this.

We know there are four of them on board. They don't work underwater. But why they didn't report the impact, if and when it happened, will be one for the inquiry. The failure of the ELT, Wolf, has been one of the biggest conundrums in this drama.

BLITZER: Richard Quest, thanks very much.

Peter Goelz and Tom Fuentes, thanks to you, as well.

Up next, it looks like something from a movie, but these are real images from a disaster at sea as it happened. Now there are new developments with the captain who abandoned his ship. We're live in South Korea, where they're -- they have just revised the death toll.

And we're also live in eastern Ukraine, possibly on the brink of war, despite the agreement to ease tension. So which side is ignoring the diplomatic deal?


BLITZER; An unfolding disaster at sea, all caught on camera. We're seeing gripping new video shot inside the ferry as it slowly capsized off the coast of South Korea. Twenty-nine people are now confirmed dead.

CNN's Kyung Lah is now joining us live from Jindo in South Korea.

Kyung, I know you have some new information on the number of people missing, so many of them high-school students.

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And this really speaks to the frustration of the families, Wolf, because the numbers are constantly revising. Now, what has ticked up is the number of dead. There are now 29 people who are dead. We don't have identities on all of them.

But what was revised down is the number of people who were rescued. It went down to 174. So that's where families are getting so frustrated, because they feel that authorities don't have a handle of even the numbers of people involved in all of this.

And this is happening as we're starting to see even more images, these frightening images of those final moments inside that ferry as it was capsizing. You can see that people are clinging to the walls. They're trying desperately to maintain balance as everything is tipping over. It is simply frightening. You can see the students who are absolutely terrified. This is certainly not helping the families who are involved here.

We are also getting new details about the captain of the ship. Overnight here in Korea, which was yesterday in the United States, he was charged with five criminal counts. They are a variety of counts. Negligence leading to the sinking of the ship, abandoning the ship, causing bodily injury resulting in death, and not seeking rescue from nearby ships.

He did face reporters here in Korea. He was handcuffed. He was arrested along with two of his mates. And he did admit that he was the one who issued that stay put order, the one that the parents say resulted in their children staying in their rooms and not running to their decks. But he said the reason he did it was that there were no rescue ships nearby and that he was afraid of the currents and the freezing temperatures of the water -- Wolf.

BLITZER: One of the vice principals who was on board survived and then, what, committed suicide because he felt so guilty? Is that what happened?

LAH: It is heavy survivor's guilt, and that's something that's a huge concern here on the dock. You see these parents standing at the water. They're huddled in blankets. You can see some of them right over my shoulder. They haven't left here. They are very concerned. There are counselors here that are concerned about the risk of suicide.

So what happened here, according to the local officials, is that the vice principal of the school, the high school where there were 300-plus students aboard this cruise ship for that four-day field trip, he went -- it was right nearby the gym where many of the families are gathered. He went and hung himself at a pine tree nearby -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And Kyung, how many people are still missing? What's the latest number? Do you have that?

LAH: The number of missing is 273 but, Wolf, as I was saying, those numbers are constantly fluctuating. And so the families say, OK, 273 right now, but will that change a little later?

This is the start of the fourth hunt day, the fourth day of looking at that ship. They are hoping that more divers will be able to access the ship, which is now completely submerged and try to find more people inside -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kyung Lah, reporting live for us from South Korea. We'll stay on top of this story. Thank you.

We're also following the crisis in Ukraine. Pro-Russian militants are now rejecting an agreement to end their stand-off with government forces while thousands of Russian troops just over the border are adding to the tension. We're going there live.

Plus, another plane mystery. A private American jet -- look at this -- suddenly appears on the tarmac in Iran. What is it doing there?


BLITZER: Very dramatic scenes playing out right now in Eastern Ukraine. Take a look at this. The video allegedly shows troops on government tanks, firing warning shots at civilians trying to stop them. CNN has not been able to confirm the authenticity of the video, but there's clearly no easing of the crisis, despite a flurry of diplomacy. We'll go live to the heart of it all in Eastern Ukraine in just a few moments.

First, though, CNN foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott is joining us now from the State Department. Elise, what are you hearing over there as far as the U.S. is concerned?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the U.S. is watching this situation on the ground very closely, considering the deal yesterday in Geneva looked very promising. Today it's virtually being ignored on the ground.


LABOTT (voice-over): On the ground, armed pro-Russian militias barricade public buildings, no evidence of the deal struck Thursday by the U.S. and Russia. The Russian flag flying in defiance.

This leader of the uprising says he didn't agree to a deal and that Russia didn't sign anything on his behalf. His forces won't leave, he says, until the government in Kiev, which they believe took power through a coup, steps down or until the last drop of blood is shed.

In the eastern town of Slavyansk, protesters also digging in. This television center taken over by rebels, attempting to broadcast Russian channels.

The U.S. and Russia hope the agreement reached in Geneva would end a week-long standoff. But clashes between separatist and the Ukrainian military in the east and Russian troops on the verge of invading. But tonight, no one is really backing down.

Just hours ago, as the country's acting prime minister and president addressed the nation on TV with an appeal of unity --

OLEKSANDR TURCHINOV, ACTING UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (Through Translator): We are all citizens of a sovereign and independent Ukraine.

LABOTT: Ukraine's foreign minister left the door open to military action. If the rebels don't vacate the public buildings and lay down their arms. Both the minister and Washington put the onus on Russia to rein the separatists in, saying if Moscow was serious about the deal, it needed to prove it.

SUSAN RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We will be watching whether Russia does or does not uphold its responsibility to use its very considerable influence.


LABOTT: And Wolf, this agreement makes no mention of the some 40,000 troops the U.S. says are amassed at the border with Ukraine. The U.S. says that it expects Russia to stop withdrawing them once the agreement stops being implemented but they are there for now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Still a very, very tense moment.

Thanks very much, Elise Labott, at the State Department. Let's go to Ukraine right now.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen is on the ground for us in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital. What are you hearing? What are you seeing? What's the latest over there -- Fred?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the latest is that the government here, the interim, Wolf, is a lot more skeptical than it was about this deal yesterday. It was able to speak to the prime minister last night and he said he actually felt the deal was something that was a lot better than he'd expected out of that Geneva. But now of course the mood is very different.

Not only have those separatists there in Donetsk said they're not leaving those buildings, but the Russians also seemed to all of a sudden have a very different interpretation of that agreement that was reached in Geneva than many people think. For instance, they said they feel that not only the Russian, the pro-Russians in Donetsk need to vacate those buildings, they also say that the Maidan behind me here, behind me here, that of course it became a symbol for the revolution in Ukraine has to be vacated as well. The people who are there have to vacate as well.

They also say that what they call ultra nationalists Ukrainian militia need to disarm. So it's a whole big list that the Russians have put forward that of course makes things a lot more difficult. On the other hand, the Ukrainian government here is saying that it's willing to take steps toward those people in the east of the country, willing to grant them more autonomy, more federalism and is willing to take those steps.

However, it says those buildings need to be vacated before that. Otherwise, they are threatening military action. However, from what we're seeing from the Ukrainian armed forces, and I actually spoke to a military expert just a couple of hours ago. He's not sure what the current state of the Ukrainian military and the failures that we have seen from Ukrainian military on the ground may be able to oust those protesters even if they moved in there with military force -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Fred Pleitgen. Let's get some more now from once again our foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott. She's still joining us. She's at the State Department along with Eli Lake, the senior national security correspondent for the "Daily Beast", and Julia Ioffe, the senior editor of the "New Republic," former Moscow based reporter.

You know, the setting is Ukraine, Eli, but a lot of folks think this is really a battle, eyeball to eyeball, between President Obama and President Putin. How do you see it?

ELI LAKE, SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, I think one of the most interesting points here is that once again, Sergey Lavrov has made a promise to Secretary of State John Kerry.

BLITZER: The former minister of Russia.

LAKE: Yes. Only to see that those words were meaningless 24 hours later. It was Lavrov on the phone before the Russians seized the Crimea that said there was no imminent action only to be proven wrong by events, as it were. So in that respect, is the United States even negotiating with the right guy? In the most terrible interpretation of this is would be that Lavrov doesn't know what Moscow is necessarily doing or how they interpret these understandings because we had a very different impression the day before.

BLITZER: Julia, you spent a lot of time studying Putin. Take us inside his head right now, when he sees these threats coming from the president of the United States. What does he say to himself?

JULIA IOFFE, SENIOR EDITOR, THE NEW REPUBLIC: He says, probably yes, right. I don't think he sees Barack Obama as a serious adversary. As for Sergey Lavrov, he knows exactly what he's doing. He's a very close to Putin. He is a very good messenger and a very skilled implementer of the Putin line and that line seems to be to buy more time to put everybody at ease and then to strike again.

This is it what the people that I talk to in Kiev were saying, is that, you know, in this calm, we know that Moscow is regrouping and that it's about to strike again.

BLITZER: And that's the feeling over there at the State Department, Elise?

LABOTT: Well, Wolf, they know that the Russians could definitely put their influence, as Susan Rice said, on the Russian separatists, the pro-Russian separatists. But at the same time, they feel that this agreement is very favorable to Russia.

Wolf, if you look, not only does this agreement stops sanctions in their tracks, but also it gives Russia a lot of the things that they were looking for in Ukraine, a lot of this autonomy, constitutional reform. For him to effectively have control over eastern Ukraine without having to invade. So they think that he has a lot of reasons to implement this agreement and if he doesn't, they say, sanctions are ready to go. BLITZER: You know, Eli, you have a fascinating article about a new Russian plane that, in your words, has U.S. officials spooked right now. Explain what you have learned.

LAKE: Well, there is something called the Open Skies Agreement which is kind of post Cold War treaty that allowed for Russian surveillance planes to monitor U.S. nuclear missiles and things like that in exchange, of course, Western country could do the same in Russia.

BLITZER: To fly over U.S. air space?

LAKE: It would be able to fly over. And the latest sensor package on these plane is advanced enough that both the joints chief of staff as well as leaders at the U.S. intelligence committee have urged the State Department not to certify this latest plane.

This is an issue predates the Ukraine crisis but it's coming to a head now. This week there was a deputy meeting. Top officials in the White House met to talk about the policy differences. They couldn't reach a consensus. It's now sort of delayed decision. But that's something that I think plays into all of this well.

BLITZER: And they've got some new technology that has really spooked U.S. officials.

LAKE: Yes. It absolutely has.

BLITZER: And what potentially could it do?

LAKE: Well, part of it is how the radars are configured but it allows them to sort of not only look down. But also something that are drones have the ability to kind of get almost a panoramic view and a lot of this is kind of classified assessment but some of this is eked out in some of these congressional letters from members of the Intelligence Committee, the other part of it is that it's a digital kind of resolution of digital cameras is much higher than it was before.

BLITZER: And you know, Julia, if the U.S. were to bar the Russians from flying over U.S. air space to inspect these agreement. The Russians would retaliate and bar the U.S. from flying over Russian air space and that whole U.S./Russia nuclear cooperation, if you will, those arms control agreements, they could collapse.

IOFFE: It's already starting to collapse, or at least around the edges. Earlier this year President Vladimir Putin said that already the checks that were established under various post Cold War arms control treaties were too invasive and they violated Russia's sovereignty and that he would put a stop to them. And that was when Barack Obama wanted to expand his, you know, agenda of nuclear nonproliferation and Vladimir Putin basically poured cold water on it.

BLITZER: Do you think there's any inclination by the Obama administration to provide more significant weaponry to Ukraine? LAKE: We haven't seen anything like that yet. In fact we keep hearing the terms nonlethal aid. And, I mean, Secretary of Defense Hagel about three or four weeks in an interview with the "L.A. Times" said even if there was a land invasion of Ukraine, the United States would not add troops on the ground. Now those calculations could change but for now the message is we're not arming the Ukrainians.

BLITZER: And yesterday the president said there really were no U.S. military options. When Ukrainians hear that, what do they think?

IOFFE: Well, today you had former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko asking for a lethal aid to the Ukrainian military but from what I've heard in my reporting the U.S. is actually putting pressure on Kiev not to fire, not to shoot, to restrain, to be -- to act in a restrained manner. They are praising them publicly for their restraint but in private they are also pushing them not to draw Russia into an open armed conflict.

BLITZER: Julia Ioffe, thanks very much. Eli Lake, thanks to you. And Elise, of course, thanks to you as well.

There's another airplane mystery in the news today. Up next, what is this U.S. plane -- there it is -- doing at an airport in of all places Tehran.

And also ahead the desperate search for survivors after an avalanche on the slopes of one of the world's most dangerous mountains.


BLITZER: Just getting this word in to THE SITUATION ROOM. The White House saying President Obama has signed a new law designed to prevent Iran's designated U.N. ambassador from entering the United States as the result of bipartisan outrage in Congress over Iran's decision to appoint a man who was involved with Iranian militant groups responsible for the 1979 kidnapping of U.S. diplomats in Tehran and holding them hostage in effect for 444 days.

That man not coming to the United States to be Iran's ambassador to the United Nations. This comes amid a new mystery involving a U.S. jet that turned up at a Tehran airport.

Our national correspondent Suzanne Malveaux, she's got the story for us.

What have you learned?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It really is a mystery here because we're talking about the heart of Iran and unidentified American plane parks at the airport in Tehran. What is it doing there? Who owns it? Why is it even sitting in such a highly visible area?

These are just a couple of questions that U.S. officials and journalists as first reported by the "New York Times," they are asking now because of the United States' strict economic sanctions that prevent most American companies from doing business in Tehran.

Why is it sitting in a highly visible area? These are a couple of the questions that journalists are asking now because of the United States' strict sanctions that forbid most American companies from doing business in Iran.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): An American Bombardier CL-600 fixed-wing aircraft captured in a photograph by "The New York Times" sits at the Mehrabad Airport in Iran.

Is someone breaking the law?

JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: The Iranian transactions and sanctions regulations prohibit the exportation of goods, services or technology directly or indirectly from the United States or by any U.S. person to Iran, and would generally prohibit U.S. registered aircraft from flying to Iran.

MALVEAUX: The State Department is investigating but it's the Treasury Department that is taking the lead, and will enforce if appropriate U.S. sanctions.

P.J. CROWLEY, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: You can travel to Iran but you have to get permission from the government and clarity as to the things you can do and the things you can't do. One of the first questions here will be whoever made this trip, did they apply to the Treasury Department, you know, for permission with a clear understanding of how you can spend money in Iran and how you can't spend money in Iran.

MALVEAUX: Adding to the mystery, a spokesman for the airport quoted in Iranian media says no U.S. plane landed there at all. According to federal aviation records, this plane with tail number N604AP is owned by the Bank of Utah held in a trust for a group of investors. We got in touch with the bank which confirmed it owned the plane but doesn't operate it and didn't say why it was sitting in Iran or who flew it there.

A spokesman said the trust relationship is confidential. Additional information must come from the beneficiary. The bank's trust agreement do not allow aircraft to be used in any illegal activity. We were able to track the plane's recent whereabouts through aviation Web sites.

Last October, the aircraft was spotted in Ghana and the UK. In January, Switzerland at the time of the World Economic Forum. February, back to the UK and the next month returning to Ghana.


MALVEAUX: So we're now just hearing from the Iranian news agency just moments ago that an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman says the U.S. plane was chartered by Ghana's presidential office and was carrying a high-ranking Ghanaian delegation. But this question still remains here. U.S. officials are still going to be investigating is that since this was an American plane, whether or not any trade laws were broken because, as we're told by the State Department today that the administration generally prohibits U.S.-registered aircraft from flying to Iran.

And, Wolf, as you know, this comes at a critical time with U.S. and Iran negotiating over a nuclear deal. Tough, tough sanctions on Iran. So this is a very serious investigation and a very sensitive situation.

BLITZER: And it raises serious questions. Did the Ghanaians pay with the bank of Utah for permission to fly this plane? Were American pilots involved? What was going on? Who made money as a result of this deal?

MALVEAUX: Don't know. We still have -- we do not know but investigators, the FAA as well as Treasury are going to be looking to all of those issues.

BLITZER: Yes. All right, so you'll let us know what you find out.

Suzanne Malveaux, thank you.

This is the deadliest day ever recorded on the world's tallest mountain. Up next, a dozen climbers die in an avalanche on the slopes of Mount Everest. Standby from the latest on the hunt for survivors.

And right at the top of the hour, our breaking news coverage on today's startling new details about Malaysian Airlines Flight 370.


BLITZER: It's a potentially deadly journey that's claimed so many lives over the years. But today now marks the single deadliest day on Mount Everest.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is here with details of an avalanche that killed at least a dozen people.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, ever since one of the most dangerous places in the world, but even it has never experienced an accident as deadly as this. Now tonight there is a frantic search for four people who are still trapped under tons of snow.


SERFATY (voice-over): Survivors say the avalanche, which apparently was not captured on camera, rolled down the mountain with a roar of thunder killing at least a dozen people. Tonight there's a frantic search for four men who are still missing. Six others made it out alive. Three are in critical condition. The men were in an area called Popcorn Field filled with giant chunks of ice.

SADIE QUARRIER, SR. PHOTO EDITOR, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC: It's basically Russian roulette. Popcorn Field gets its name from the refrigerator sized chunks of ice that the climbers have to make their way over. It's not just a walk in the part.

SERFATY: All of the dead were ethnic Sherpa often called the heroes of the Himalayas. They live near the mountains acting mostly as guides for other climbers. When the avalanche hit they were fixing ropes for next month when the heavy climbing season begins.

(On camera): They started here at base camp just after 6:30 a.m. this morning. They hiked up the mountain. They had got about a mile and a half up the mountain, 19,000 feet. But that's where they met danger.

(Voice-over): Experts say the Everest avalanche was likely more forceful than this one in Colorado in February captured on video by a snowmobiler. In that case, his friends were close and able to pull him out. And Everest base camp was much farther making a fast rescue harder.

QUARRIER: When you're lying in your tent, it sounds like thunder rumbling and you can feel sometimes vibrations in your tent. It's really scary because of the way the acoustics work in the valley.


SERFATY: Now rescuers were able to pull out the bodies of the dead today. Now some of the injured were helicoptered out. And of course they are still searching for those four missing.

And, Wolf, there are about 300 climbers that approved to climb next month. They're of course using 400 of these Sherpa guides.

BLITZER: A very dangerous, dangerous operation.

Sunlen, thanks very much for that report.

Coming up, the breaking news we're following. Surprising details about Malaysia Flight 370. A source now telling CNN previously unreleased information about the plane's flight path and its emergency transmitter.

And more breaking news, we've obtained disturbing new video. Terrorist ties to al Qaeda. Calling for new attacks. It's a story you will see first right here on CNN.