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Possible New Lead in Airliner Search; New Underwater Assets May Be Brought In for Flight 370 Search; Malaysians Propose Real-Time Flight Tracking; U.S. Troops Touch Down Near Ukraine; Search for South Korean Ferry Survivors Under way, Hope Fading

Aired April 23, 2014 - 17:00   ET


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

Happening now, authorities are studying what they call an object of interest in the mystery of Flight 370. It's a torn piece of metal found on the Australian coast very far from the search area. Officials say they're taking it seriously. We'll have the latest.

With the airliner's black boxes still at the bottom of the ocean, presumably, Malaysia calls for tracking planes in real-time. We're going to show you what that live streaming technology looks like and what it means for the future of emergencies.

And breaking news, NATO allies scrambling fighter jets when Russian bombers approach their airspace. While U.S. troops arrived in Poland for war games as the crisis unfolds in neighboring Ukraine.

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

A potential lead in the search for Flight 370. Here are the latest developments. Australian authorities are looking into what they call an object of interest, an apparent piece of sheet metal studded with rivets, which was picked up on the coast about 1,000 miles or so from the search zone.

Stormy weather slows the aerial search for debris, but the underwater hunt continues. The Bluefin-21 has now surveyed 80 percent of the current search area, and authorities are considering bringing in more assets to expand that search.

Our analysts are standing by here in THE SITUATION ROOM. And our correspondents are standing by around the world bringing you the kind of coverage only CNN can deliver on the hunt for Flight 370, the Ukraine crisis and the South Korean ferry disaster.

Let's begin, though, with CNN's Michael Holmes. He's got the very latest in Perth, Australia -- Michael.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, after weeks of frustration, a development, but we're being cautious on this. It could be a development that proves to be nothing. A piece of debris found on a beach in the southwest of Australia, near a small vacation town.


HOLMES (voice-over): After many futile days of searching above and beneath the water, a new discovery in the hunt for Flight 370. And object of interest picked up near Augusta on Australia's southwestern coast.

Sources tell the Associated Press, after an initial analysis, the object is likely not from the plane, but photos are still being examined.

A top Australian transport official says it looks like sheet metal with rivets, and a source in the Australian defense force tells CNN, the object is kind of rectangular but torn and misshapen, and it appears to have a fiberglass coating on one side.

After so many false leads, search officials and investigators are cautious.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have not seen any verification, any confirmation that it is part of MH-370.

HOLMES: The Bluefin-21 drone is moving onto its 11th dive, scanning the last 20 percent of the most promising underwater area. If nothing turns up, the search will move into a new phase that's being planned right now.

HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, ACTING MALAYSIAN TRANSPORT MINISTER: And I can confirm that in fact we are increasing the assets that are available for deep-sea search.

HOLMES: Aircraft crews are keeping a close watch on the weather, after stormy conditions postponed their missions the past two days. Ships were able to continue combing the ocean surface in choppy seas.

TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: Australia will not rest until we have done everything we humanly can to get to the bottom of this mystery.

HOLMES: The Malaysian cabinet approved the appointment of an international investigation team to look into why the plane vanished. The names of the members will be revealed next week.

But Malaysian officials have not released their preliminary report on the flight of 370.

HUSSEIN: As I have said since the beginning, we have nothing to hide.


HOLMES: All right. And saying, again, that according to the Associated Press, quoting Martin Dolan, the chief transport official here in Australia, initial inspection of that object doesn't lead to them to believe it is from MH-370. They are still investigating, though. That object being kept for the moment in Barltleton. That's about three hours' drive from here in Perth. And the police guard, while they continue to work out whether this is something or just another false lead -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We should know fairly soon. Michael Holmes in Perth, thank you.

Let's discuss --- joining us now, our safety analyst, David Soucie; our aviation analyst, former NTSB managing director Peter Goelz; and our CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, a former FBI assistant director.

Peter, what are you hearing? I know you've got sources. You're a former managing director at the NTSB. What are you hearing about this object?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: I'm told that we should not get very excited about it, because it looks more like the interior panel from a refrigerated container. It does have some rivet lines, but these are not aviation rivets. It's not a structural piece. It's -- afraid it's another false -- false hope.

BLITZER: OK. They have been taking it seriously. They called it an object of interest. They're flying it all over the place to labs. They're looking carefully at it, Peter.

GOELZ: They are, indeed. And they're obligated to do that with any piece of wreckage that could possibly come from the airline. But I think the initial reports are this is not going to turn out.

BLITZER: David, if it's nothing, if it's just junk that was picked up, another false lead, where does that leave everyone right now?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Well, right back where we started, Wolf. In fact, each time there is one of these leads and goes nowhere, it's just that much more painful for these families.

But the one thing that does do is bring to light how to identify aircraft parts, whether it's got the zinc chromate on the inside of it, whether it has an (UNINTELLIGIBLE) paint on the outside, whether it's aluminum or steel, these are all basic things that can be done in the field as soon as they look at it, and perhaps not waste as much time if they can just do some training on people at the scene to do some basic investigative work, there might be -- these leads might be stopped a little bit sooner. But as Peter said, they have to go through with every investigative lead they have.

BLITZER: You would think, Tom, that before they would even say they have an object of interest, they're studying it, they're bringing it from the southern part of the Australian coast -- they're bringing it up to a lab in Perth -- they would at least go through all the investigations. Why raise hopes for the families who have suffered so much if they're not 100 percent sure that it's the real deal?

FUENTES: I agree with you, Wolf. I think that they're just trying to show that they're being diligent as possible, that the search is exhaustive and that they'll check every possible thing, no matter whether it looks like a part or not.

But you're right, it raises hopes. They keep raising the hopes and dashing the hopes later when it turns out to be negative.

BLITZER: These families, Peter, you've worked with these families in other investigations of aviation disasters. They are really suffering. They want answers.

I want you to listen to Steven Wang. He's a family member of someone who was on board, his mom, who he loves very much. He was on CNN earlier today. Listen to what he said.


STEVEN WANG, MOTHER ON FLIGHT 370: They must have covered up something and want to hide something. You know, some of the questions are totally not confidential. It is just a fact. It is like the number. I don't know how it could influence the investigation. But they just give the answer, like it is under investigation. It's just like an excuse, not an answer.


BLITZER: A serial number he says, that's basic information. Why can't they release it?

GOELZ: And they should release it. The NTSB has a rule, if the question can be asked and answered prior to the accident, then it should be. And the factual -- the factuals of this accident have been withheld from the family members in a way that has only hurt them and engendered a massive sense of mistrust. And this is something the Malaysians are going to have to live with going forward.

BLITZER: Yes, because, David, as you well know, I would suspect that, even if they were to say, "You know what? This piece of metal is from the plane," most of those family members of the passengers, they wouldn't believe them anyhow, given the lack of credibility they've -- and the lack of answers they've received over these past six-plus weeks.

SOUCIE: You're right, Wolf, and that's why I keep saying that it would benefit the Malaysian government to bring in a team of independent people and not just the investigative team they're talking about now, but to evaluate the way the investigation's going, what should be released, what shouldn't be, and report that as a separate entity, both for the security perspective -- and Tom can probably speak to this better -- but when you're doing a security investigation you need to have oversight. You need to have someone saying is this the right thing to be doing? They're doing their job right, they're doing it well, but is it the right thing to be doing?

BLITZER: All right.

SOUCIE: That's something that's missing in this entire investigation. BLITZER: Go ahead, Tom.

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Yes, David's exactly right, but I don't think they're going to do it. Today's yet another example. They released a preliminary report to ICAO, the International Civil Aviation Organization, and then they turn around -- and that report has to be as brief as possible, nothing, you know, questionable in it, and yet, they won't release that. They're being secretive about that.

So every move they make they say, "We're doing something," but then they will not release what it is they're doing or any additional information. So they keep giving the appearance, as Mr. Wang just said in the interview, of hiding stuff from everybody, the families and the public.

BLITZER: If they called you in, the Malaysian authorities, and said, you know, "Peter Goelz, you're an expert. You've dealt with these kinds of issues before. You were at the NTSB. Help us get over this problem that we have," what would the immediate piece of advice you'd give them?

GOELZ: The first thing I would do is just open up the books and share what they have, not only with family members, but with a new team of investigators and say, this is what we got. Have we missed something? This is how we have made the decisions that we've made. Were they the right ones to make? I mean this is the greatest aviation mystery in history and we need to have more transparency.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by. We're going to continue our analysis of what's going on.

Up next, we're going to go live for an update on the search for the airliner from one of the commanders of the operation.

And with Flight 370's black boxes at the bottom of the ocean, presumably, Malaysia now wants airliners to get real-time tracking technology. We're going to show you what that looks like and how it could make a huge difference in a future disaster.


BLITZER: Let's get back to our top story this hour. A possible lead in the hunt for Flight 370. It's a large piece of metal washed up in south Australia, far from the search area. But the search itself has been hampered by very stormy weather.

Joining us now, Air Commodore Kevin McEvoy of the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

Commodore, thanks very much for joining us. Any new, significant developments from your perspective today?

AIR COMMODORE KEVIN MCEVOY, ROYAL NEW ZEALAND AIR FORCE: No, unfortunately, the weather's been a major factor in the last two days, Wolf. On Tuesday there was only about four of the eight aircraft were able to get into the search area, and then yesterday another three got airborne but were called back. Tropical cyclone jet really started to impact. We're hoping that the weather's going to be on the improve and there will be another eight or nine sorties today.

BLITZER: You're assuming there will be. Have you heard anything definitively yet about that metal object of interest that washed up ashore in southern Australia?

MCEVOY: No, I've heard nothing of anything. The reporting of the Internet and the papers. From what I can gather, the Transportation Safety Board are assisting that. I think the initial indications whether they were that hopeful, but I haven't seen anything formal yet.

BLITZER: So where do we go from here? Assuming that the underwater search over the next few hours, a couple days at the most, leads nowhere, there's nothing found on the surface of the Indian Ocean, nothing washes ashore, what's your game plan?

MCEVOY: Well, our game plan is that today's day 48, so that's nearly seven weeks of the air search. We'll continue on as is. We've got planes to continue for the rest of the month and then into the following month. So we're prepared for a long haul.

Anzac Day tomorrow, essentially the equivalent of your Memorial Day, that won't stop the crews. They'll be out there, doing their missions the same as if it was a normal day.

So for us, it's very much business as usual. We're focused on the outcome, making sure that we achieve the result that we're after.

BLITZER: So what I hear you saying is that, at least through the end of this month, the aerial search, your role in the aerial search, New Zealand's air force, will continue?

MCEVOY: Yes. We haven't been told otherwise, Wolf, so at this stage we're prepared to continue on as long as the government wants us to be there. And the indications that we're planning for is that it will be into next month.

If we get advised any earlier that we're no longer required that will change the game plan. But the plan at the moment is that we'll continue on as is.

Part of the national -- international contribution, I think all of the nations are very keen that we started this together as a team and that we'll finish this together as a team. So we're just business as usual. The crews are motivated, focused and prepared for another flight.

BLITZER: Good luck, Air Commodore Kevin McEvoy, the Royal New Zealand Air Force. Thanks very much for joining us.

CNN meteorologist Jennifer Grey is watching weather conditions in the search area. She's joining us now with a closer look. What can you tell us, Jennifer?

JENNIFER GREY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Wolf, it looks like the weather will be improving over the next 24 to 48 hours. We've had remnants of a tropical cyclone that's blown through the area. What it's done, it's created very strong winds. It's really roughed up the seas. It's even created swells in the area.

So you can see, this is that surface search, and that's where they're getting the planes out there, so cloud cover's a big deal. And then with that underwater search, conditions of the seas, that's a big deal for those folks. And so we definitely need the weather to improve. And it looks like, as we go forward in time, it will. So that is positive news.

We're also looking at the winds. And over the next couple of days, the wind should start to back off a little bit. We've had winds anywhere from 30 to 40 miles per hour, which makes conditions very, very dangerous.

But over the next 48 hours, they should back off a little bit, Wolf, as well. We should start to see winds, more of 10- to 20-mile-per- hour range, maybe 20- to 25-, which seems like a lot, but in that area it's actually pretty decent.

So over the next 48 hours conditions should definitely improve -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jennifer. Thanks very much. At least the weather will be improving.

Let's turn now to CNN analyst Rob McCallum, an ocean search expert and an expedition leader; along with Chris Von Alt. He's the founder and chairman of Hydroid, manufacturer of the underwater device which found Air France 447.

Chris, let's talk about that device that's called the Remus 6000. Is it time that that be brought into this mission?

CHRIS VON ALT, FOUNDER/CHAIRMAN, HYDROID: Well, I wouldn't be the one to make that call, sir. I think it's a decision that has to be made by the people who are running the search.

There's really two parts to the problem. One is deciding where to search, and the other one is how to search the area that they've decided to search. And that's where our expertise comes in. Find the area to search, and then we take over.

BLITZER: Well, tell us about the Remus 6000. Presumably if it were brought in, what could it do, for example, that the Bluefin-21 can't do?

VON ALT: Well, I wouldn't compare the two. I think the main focus that the -- that these systems offer is maturity. They've been in the field and operating for over a decade. I think equivalently, they've been around the world four, five times by now. And the other aspect is that robots work very well together. So our systems work cooperatively with each other. And on typical missions like Flight 447, there were three vehicles in the water at one time. So this triples your productivity and also allows you to have those systems work cooperatively together to increase the effectiveness of the search that's going on.

BLITZERE: So does that make sense, Rob, to bring in other equipment, and you'd do it simultaneously, the Bluefin-21, the Remus 6000. Presumably, there's other equipment that could be brought in, as well?

ROB MCCALLUM, OCEAN SEARCH EXPERT: There is. And it really is a question of what it is that you're trying to achieve. If you're trying to achieve a very detailed analysis of a relatively small area, as we are with the pinger locations, then an AUV with a short range but high-resolution sonar package is the way to go.

But if the idea is to go more strategic and investigate the entire aircraft flight path, maybe 15 miles or so either side, then you need a more strategic tool, something like a deep-towed sonar that can provide a very large range indeed, at the expense of resolution, is probably the more appropriate tool.

BLITZERE: Christopher, if the search area that's now being thoroughly examined, about 80 percent of it apparently has been examined by that Bluefin-21, comes up with nothing, what would you recommend?

VON ALT: I would recommend that, well, first of all, to go back and do a systemic study of all of the information that's available. And like they did in Flight 447. And then pick key areas where once you've refined results to allow you to focus on where you should search. I think that's the real area to work with.

Any system that you go out and try to did a wide-scale search has to be focused in a specific area to be effective. You just can't simply go out and search the areas that we're talking about with even towed systems, because the towed systems are, in these depths, can only travel about one square nautical mile per hour. And the Remus 60000 was designed in order to be able to triple that kind of productivity.

So the scale of these systems -- the scale of the problem is such that you need to go back and look at everything you know about the situation and then pick where you want to work.

BLITZER: Are you convinced, Rob, that they are even looking in the right area?

MCCALLUM: You know, I think it's very important that we go back and reanalyze all the data. I mean, this is the time that we go back and sit down with a blank sheet, if you like, and make sure that we've not taken on too many assumptions, and then we can verify all of the assumptions that have been made.

Any search -- the minister was talking the other day about a search along the flight path -- is still very large. You know, 11,000 square miles. Our equipment can search around 150 square miles a day. So that's still a two-month job. It's a vast amount of ocean.

BLITZER: Rob McCallum, Christopher Von Alt, guys, thanks very much.

Coming up, with the airliner's black boxes still, we assume, at the bottom of the ocean, Malaysia calls for tracking planes in real time. We're going to show you how that live streaming technology could make a huge difference.

And our breaking news: NATO allies scrambling fighter jets when Russian bombers approach their air space. All of this coming as U.S. troops arrive in Poland for war games as the crisis unfolds in nearby Ukraine.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: CNN is just learning new details about a proposal by Malaysian authorities recommending commercial airlines be tracked in real time following Flight 370's mysterious disappearance. Brian Todd is taking a closer look how this technology would work.

What are you learning, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you know, we can stream movies on our laptops. We can stream music instantly on our phones, but live streaming of data is only used on a few commercial airliners. And some key players in this case might have just injected new momentum in the push to change all of that.


TODD (voice-over): The black boxes from Flight 370 are as elusive as its wreckage. Inside them, the cockpit voice and flight data recorders that could unlock the mystery. Now there's new momentum for the idea to avoid having to recover black boxes.

CNN has learned Malaysian authorities have recommended to international regulators that commercial aircraft should be tracked in real time.

(on camera): Is it time for that? Are these obsolete?

MICHAEL GOLDFARB, FORMER FAA CHIEF OF STAFF: I feel there are few people today in the world after the Malaysian air crash who wouldn't say yes. I mean, clearly, this is old technology.

TODD (voice-over): Now the NTSB is reviewing new technology for airliners to live stream flight data back to the ground as they fly. One challenge the NTSB sees: too many planes transmitting too much information.

JOE KOLLY, NTSB DIRECTOR, RESOURCES AND PROGRAMMING: You only can have so much bandwidth, so much ability to receive data, transmit data, so you're looking for what -- what is the most important information. TODD: But two Canadian companies have already developed real-time streaming that bounces off satellites. The hardware looks like this when it's installed in a plane. As the jet is flying on the right, the airline operators on the ground can see information on the left, like air speed, altitude, and location, in real-time. But it doesn't transmit all the time.

RICHARD HAYDEN, DIRECTOR, FLIGHT AEROSPACE SOLUTIONS: It's only activated when a specific set of circumstances occur that are predefined.

TODD: Predefined by the airline. Circumstances like the plane deviating from its flight path, a sudden pitch or roll. These systems don't send back the cockpit voice recordings.

GOLDFARB: We have a cultural problem with the airlines and the airline unions for the pilots. They do not want Big Brother in the cockpit.

TODD: The FAA doesn't require American carriers to outfit their jets with live streaming. And the Canadian companies tell us only a few U.S.-based airlines carry them. They won't say which ones. Why aren't more major airlines more live streaming?

GOLDFARB: It's cost. The airlines don't want to put anything else in the aircraft that they can't make use of and they don't want to carry anything that adds weight and hence costs more fuel.


TODD: And at about $100,000 per plane, these live stream systems are certainly not cheap. But analysts say, if Malaysia Airlines had had live streaming on that plane, we would at least have some answers right now.

Michael Goldfarb says this case is a game-changer in this whole debate over live streaming, Wolf.

BLITZER: And, Brian, as you know, there's another alternative to these kind of black boxes that exist right now.

TODD: Right. It's called a deployable recorder.

It's a box that would automatically eject from a plane if it's in distress and it would land separately either in the water or on the ground. Those things already exist in some military planes.

BLITZER: Military planes.

TODD: That's right.

BLITZER: Maybe they should do it in commercial airliners as well.

TODD: Possibly.

BLITZER: They have got ideas, the technology's there. They haven't done it though yet.

TODD: Absolutely. That's right, in most commercial planes.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thanks very much.

Let's discuss what Brian just reported.

Joining us now, The Daily Beast contributor Clive Irving. He's also a senior consulting editor for Conde Nast Traveler. And joining us once again, our aviation analyst the former NTSB Managing Director Peter Goelz, as well as our law enforcement analyst, the former FBI Assistant Director Tom Fuentes.

Clive, you wrote a pretty scathing article in The Daily Beast today saying the black box technology that currently exists on most of these airliners is so outdated, you write, "Disgracefully, there are parallel universes here. The talk is all of new revenue streams, not data streams."

What's the biggest disgrace out there now? Why are you so angry?

CLIVE IRVING, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, I'm angry because we have had five years in which to have learned this lesson after Air France 447.

And, by the way, I would like to say, we shouldn't have waited for the Malaysians to point out that this needs to be done. It was obvious long ago that it needed to be done. It was also obvious that the technology was there. And I think, behind this, there's a very simple question.

Who is going to get this done? Where do we turn to, to get action on this? And I'm reminded when I look at the International Civil Aviation Organization, which is the object of my anger in my piece today in The Daily Beast, that this is a bureaucracy. No one I have spoken to in the industry thinks that they're capable of moving fast enough on anything and that they have spent most of their time holding seminars and conferences and junkets.

And I'm reminded of something Winston Churchill said. He knew a lot about bureaucracies and how they worked or didn't work. He said don't mistake activity for action. And what we need here is action. We know the technology's there. We know the technology is essential really to solve this problem.

But another thing I would like to say about this, as a sort of background atmosphere to the story, is that the aviation industry itself seems to be remarkably impervious to the degree of public concern there is over this. They seem to be not saying anything. You were talking earlier about lack of transparency. I think there's also a lack of response to public concerns about this.

And I think that when we look at the ICAO, they seem to be paralyzed, they have done nothing for five years. Various members of the industry seem to be saying, well, yes, it needs to be done. But no one's offering a timetable for doing it or a sensible program for doing it. We're now on the fringe of a really important technical change in the way aircraft navigate in the future.

We will move from a radar-based system, because radars don't reach into the oceans, to a satellite-based system, where eventually we will have total satellite coverage of the globe.

BLITZER: So let me get Peter Goelz to weigh in on that, because a lot of these airlines, they're developing all of the equipment they need to get Wi-Fi for passengers, TV for passengers, but it's sort of -- the technology, there's a company in Toronto that builds these black boxes with live streaming, but they don't use it.

It doesn't make any sense to me.

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: The carriers are not going to put it in unless forced to.

And Mr. Irving and Mr. Goldfarb are both right. ICAO cannot act. They are...


BLITZER: International Civil Aviation Organization.

GOELZ: That's right. They cannot act.

And to top it off, we don't even have an official representative there. That post has gone unfilled since December. So when they meet next month, we won't have anyone...


BLITZER: The United States doesn't have an ambassador, representative there?

GOELZ: The United States does not have an ambassador there.

BLITZER: And the reason being?

GOELZ: We appointed somebody in February. The Senate has not acted on it. There's concerns that he won't be acted on in the near future.

BLITZER: You think this current mystery involving this flight is going to spark the international aviation community, Tom, to do something about this?


We see so many other issues unrelated to aviation that should spark government action and the public outcry should demand it, and things don't happen. And this seems to be yet another area. The things that you mentioned technologically are areas where the airlines can charge you to watch a movie or to have the entertainment system upgraded or all of that, and those are extra service charges now on an airline.

And it just astounds me. This aircraft cost $260 million brand-new, but they don't want to spend $100,000 more, which is nothing since -- compared to the whole cost, to put a system in like this that would be so effective and save tens of millions of dollars in searches later.

BLITZER: One of the arguments against it, Clive, you have heard this argument, it doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense to me, but I will let you react to it, is that it would be bad to be streaming too much information. It would be confusing.

IRVING: Well, the first thing is, you have a priority system here. You don't have to stream every aircraft, because many aircraft never fly over oceans.

Many aircraft fly routes which where, if they were to crash, the wreck would be instantly retrievable. What we need to focus on and have a sense of priority about is those flights like this one, which are going over oceans and in areas where there's no other way of tracking them.

And that seems to me a sensible way to phase in. Eventually, everything can be covered, but the priority -- and I agree with what the previous speakers have said -- it's really outrageous that these cabins have been -- ironically, the same people who are providing the entertainment systems for the cabin, the same satellite systems, Inmarsat and people like that, are also the same people who can provide the pipes through which this information can be transmitted from the plane.

So they have got a double interest. They can grow fat on the income from the services, the Internet services they provide from the cabin, and also they see a very lucrative market ahead for themselves in providing live streaming of essential data.

So, there's pressure from them, but Boeing sits on its hands and says nothing. The industry sits on its hands and says nothing. And the ICAO is sitting on their hands saying nothing.

BLITZER: Peter, what will it take to make these changes?

GOELZ: Well, I think the FAA and the United States ought to act first. We ought to mandate it, for -- as Mr. Irving said, for our what we call ETOPS aircraft, for those aircraft that are certified to fly over open ocean, and that the systems ought to be put in place and we ought to have a very short time frame of a year or two years at the most and just start it out and do it.

We have been the leader in aviation. We need to lead now.

BLITZER: You agree, Tom?

FUENTES: Absolutely, yes.

BLITZER: But you understand the domestic bureaucracy and the international bureaucracy, the politics of all of this, the various interests, the business interests, the manufacturers, the plane manufacturers, the airline companies, the pilot unions and all of that. Is it doable?

FUENTES: Well, it's difficult. You just mentioned why. BLITZER: Because of all of these disparate...

FUENTES: Exactly.

BLITZER: You think anything will be done out of this, Clive, or will we have more experience five years from now where a plane will simply disappear?

IRVING: No, I think it's outrageous that we have spaced the situation out.

And I think there is sufficient public pressure on this and I think that should be translated personally into political pressure. There should be political actions, too. And I think it's a very good idea for the United States to take the lead on this, because in every technical sense, the United States is the leader with aviation. It has the authority, it has the technology, and it has the potential voice to do it.

And it's no good waiting for these people in Montreal to act, because they want.

BLITZER: Montreal is where the International Civil Aviation Organization is headquartered.

Clive Irving, thanks very much. Peter and Tom, thanks to you as well. You will both be back.

Still ahead, we have more on the so-called object of interest in the search for Flight 370. What exactly is -- is it that washed up on a remote Australian beach?

BLITZER: And there's breaking news we're following.

NATO member jets scrambling in response to Russian bombers. Is it a troubling new twist in the crisis in Ukraine?

Plus, CNN's Kyung Lah, she's on a boat just outside the search area in that ferry disaster in South Korea. She will join us live with the latest.


BLITZER: Some breaking news we're following: tensions with Russia on the brink right now, NATO member jets scrambling after two Russian bombers came pretty close to their airspace, this as the crisis in Ukraine is boiling over with the first of what's being called a persistent presence of U.S. troops arriving in the region, all part of a massive show of force against Russia.

Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is working all aspects of this story for us. He's joining us now with the very latest.

It's getting pretty dramatic.


With the tensions in Ukraine, defense officials tell me they're watching interactions like this very closely. And this is what we saw today, three NATO allies in succession scrambling jets and escorting two Russian bombers out of their airspace, away from their airspace, the U.K., Denmark, and Holland working together.

Now, it's fair to say that these Russian flights predate the Ukraine crisis. In fact, they happen several times a year, both in Europe and along American airspace as well off the coast of Alaska, the last one there April 2. They're intended in part to test air defenses and to send a message. But as the British Ministry of Defense said today events in Ukraine have increased awareness of Russian military activity and this, of course, as the West responds with military moves of its own.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): It's a scene reminiscent of the Cold War. U.S. troops landing in Eastern Europe to counter the threat from Russia. These paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne were the first of 600 soldiers to deploy for exercises in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, all NATO allies, all nervous about where Russia could strike next.

And it could be here. Tens of thousands of Russian troops conducting their own exercises today just across the border from eastern Ukraine. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov appeared to lay the rhetorical groundwork for Russia to invade, saying Russian citizens in Ukraine are under threat.

SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: I don't see any other way but to respond in full accordance with international law. Russian citizens being attacked is an attack against the Russian federation.

SCIUTTO: His comments sparked a sharp rebuttal from Washington.

JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: Many of the claims he made in his interview are ludicrous and they're not based in fact of what is happening on the ground.

SCIUTTO: On the ground in Ukraine the situation is becoming more violent. The body of the Ukrainian politician found after his alleged torture and drowning by pro-Russian militants.

We just came over the wall of the Ukrainian Naval base.

SCIUTTO: And American Simon Ostrovsky, a journalist for VICE News, whose reports have appeared on CNN, taken hostage, also by pro-Russian militants.

The State Department called on Russia to use its influence with these groups to secure the immediate and safe release of all hostages.

The U.S. will likely impose a new round of economic sanctions on Russia before the end of the week, targeting more senior Russian leaders and possibly a state bank. But that strategy so far has failed to deter Russian military action.

(On camera): What is the cost that will be too much for Russia to bear to continue this kind of military action inside Ukraine?

REP. MIKE ROGERS (R), INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: Losing face for him is going to be a cost too much to bear. Losing that sense of new strength of the new Russian federation under the leadership of Vladimir Putin. That is where he's at right now.


SCIUTTO: Now the military operations that the Kiev government has promised to push those pro-Russian militants out of cities in the east have gotten off to a halting start at best. Nonlethal aid to the Ukrainian military, particularly intelligence sharing, is intended to help Ukrainian forces do a more convincing job. Some lawmakers, including Congressman Rogers, pushing for further steps including training the Ukrainian military.

And, Wolf, as you know, some Republican lawmakers also calling for lethal aid but that's certainly not on the table now for the Obama administration.

One more point about those scrambled jets. A Defense official tells me that what they're really watching now is not so much the number of times that Russian airplanes kind of buzz, whether it's European or American airspace, but their behavior when they do it. Are they more combative, are they more aggressive? That's the thing they're going to be looking for in these next weeks and months.

BLITZER: That's pretty -- when you think about it only a few months ago U.S./Russian relations seemed to be pretty rosy.


BLITZER: And all of a sudden it's back to the battle days of the Cold War.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely. And you look at those bombers, too, those are 1952 era Russian bombers. So it's all -- so many of these things a throwback to the Cold War.

BLITZER: Yes. Hard to believe.

All right. Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.

Just ahead at the top of the hour, we'll have the latest on the search for Malaysia Flight 370. Getting some new information.

Also we're live off the coast of South Korea at the scene of that ferry disaster. CNN's Kyung Lah is there, she's standing by live. She has new information.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: The search for survivors of that sunken ferry off the coast of South Korea pushing ahead this hour despite fading hope anyone will be found alive. The rising death toll now stands at 159 people. Another 143 remain missing. And authorities now say divers haven't found any air pockets inside the ship.

CNN's Kyung Lah is on a boat just outside the search area. She's joining us now live with the latest details.

What are you learning, Kyung?

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, even with this devastating news for the families that there are no pockets -- you know, if there are no air pockets, very unlikely that there are any survivors.

We're still seeing a lot of activity here at the search site. If you look over my left shoulder, you can see just where that gray military vessel is. That's right there behind that vessel where you see the lights, that's where the sunken ferry is. About 65 feet below those lights is where divers have been going in. About 30 minutes ago, we did see the very first of the divers slip under the sea of the Yellow Sea and begin the arduous search.

If you look further to the left, these orange boats that you're looking at, going back and forth, that's where the divers pop up. Sometimes they come up with bodies. Sometimes they come up just for a rest. So this is very much still a search operation. A lot of activity here. As far as any additional updates that we've gotten, how many bodies they've been pulling out overnight, we don't have very much new, in large part because it's so difficult to search.

You may recall, Wolf, that when we last spoke, this water is very murky. It has been very difficult to find anything. Divers using their hands to feel their way through the vessel -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What's the latest, Kyung, on the criminal investigation?

LAH: Well, that's really where we've been seeing a lot of activity. They've been raiding the offices of the owner of the shipping company. They've also raided his home. There have been a number of investigations into the agencies that oversee the safety of the shipping company. So a larger and widening dragnet every single day -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kyung Lah reporting for us from South Korea. She'll be joining us again next hour.

Coming up at the top of the hour, we have breaking new details in the search for Malaysia Flight 370.

Dozens of suspected terrorists meanwhile are reported killed. Was al Qaeda's top bombmaker among them? New information on that report as well.