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Flight 370 Report Released; Violence in Ukraine

Aired May 1, 2014 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: the most detailed timeline yet of Flight 370's disappearance. We're poring over the official report that's finally been released, revealing stunning gaffes and mixed messages.

We will also take you behind the scenes of an emotional briefing for passengers' families, including an announcement that prompted screams, wails, and tears.

Plus, this -- gunfire, grenades, and tear gas, pro-Russian fighters seizing new ground in the violent battle for control of Ukraine.

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

This hour, we're digging deeper into the long-awaited preliminary report on Flight 370 and the confusion in the hours after the jet vanished. The 10-page document made public today more fully exposes how much time was wasted, how much misleading information was released. It's also remarkable for what it actually leaves out, so much.

Our correspondents are covering every angle of the report and the reaction, which has been intense, along with our experts here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's get the very latest from our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh -- Rene.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, confusion, bad information and a communication breakdown, and hours passed before someone makes the critical move to activate the search-and-rescue operation to find Flight 370.

These are the details we know from today's preliminary report.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right. Cleared for takeoff, MAS370. Thank you. Bye.

MARSH (voice-over): A clearer version of the voice from the cockpit. At 12:41 a.m., March 8, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 took off from Kuala Lumpur. At 1:19 a.m., as the aircraft is leaving Malaysian airspace, everything appeared normal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Malaysian 370, contact. Ho Chi Minh 120 decimal nine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good night, Malaysian 370.

MARSH: But Flight 370 never made contact with Ho Chi Minh.

Moments later, at 1:21 a.m., the plane's transponder goes off, making it disappearance from Malaysian and Vietnamese radar; 17 minutes pass. At 1:38 a.m., Ho Chi Minh centers asks Kuala Lumpur controllers what happened to the plane. Air traffic control centers throughout the region and other planes try to make contact.

In apparent confusion, at 2:03, Malaysia Airlines reports the plane was in Cambodian airspace, then at 2:35 north of Vietnam, both reports false, precious time lost. At 5:30 a.m., four hours after disappearing from radar, the rescue coordination center is activated.

MICHAEL KAY, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Four hours is a long time. The quicker they can get search-and-rescue assets out to the last known point and the quicker they can start forming a search around that last known point, which is absolutely key.

MARSH: Military radar tracked it turning and flying over the Malay Peninsula, before going north, the plane deemed friendly and the military radar operator did nothing, a sign civil aviation authorities and the military weren't communicating.

In the air for more than seven hours, satellite connections continued to track the plane south, the final complete connection at 8:11 a.m. That leads investigators here, the Southern Indian Ocean, where the plane could have gone down, three predicted paths and crash sites, red the most likely. And that's where the undersea search is focused.


MARSH: Now, what is really striking, besides the four-hour delay in activating the search-and-rescue operation, was the fact that a military radar operator saw the plane and did nothing. It really highlights the fact that the controllers who knew something was wrong hadn't communicated with the military right away.

We do know, in the United States, if an aircraft disappeared from radar after trying for two to three minutes to try and get -- or two or three tries to try and get in contact with the aircraft, if they didn't hear anything, jets would have been scrambled. They would have started investigating right away.

BLITZER: Something would have been done. Rene, thanks very much.

Let's bring in our aviation analyst Miles O'Brien and CNN's Richard Quest.

Richard, the plane goes off of radar for 17 minutes and nothing is done? How do you explain that? Do they explain that in his report?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, they don't. And the 17 minutes comes at an opportune moment. It's when it's being passed from one air traffic control region to the next. It's not entirely -- look, it's at the outer edges of what would be reasonable, but it's not unusual on long flights over different countries that planes do go out of radar and out of communication for short periods of time.

What is unusual or more worrying is that not just 17 minutes, but the first hour went by, and then the hour-and-a-half, then two, three, four. By the time you get to the third and fourth hour, there are whole sections, 20, 30 minutes going by, and nobody seems to be asking or raising a panic about where this plane is. That is the most unusual part.


What's the most alarming thing to you, Miles? Because the fact that it disappears at, like, 1:00 a.m. and they don't really do anything for hours and hours and hours.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, before 9/11 and up to the morning of 9/11, the U.S. had problems with the military and civil communicating. That's much more fully embedded now, if you will.

What's interesting to me, Wolf, is if a phone call had gone in either direction, perhaps a fighter jet would have gotten in the air. And imagine for a moment that scenario. If it was in fact a deliberate act of some kind and all of a sudden there is a fighter jet on your wing, what might have happened? How might this have changed the course of events on that evening? It's a tragic thing to think about.

BLITZER: Well, what might have happened? I assume that fighter jet would have followed that plane.

O'BRIEN: Well, they certainly would have stayed in chase, and they would have tried to figure out what's going on, either tried to make radio communication. But would that have somehow change the course of action in the cockpit, assuming a deliberate act?

BLITZER: What do you -- how do you explain the blunder? That's the major word I'm thinking of, Richard -- how do you explain the blunders? They're pretty well-documented, but they don't give the explanation of why these mistakes occurred.

QUEST: I don't think -- you know, I'm going to ratchet down one notch and say not so much mistakes, but just the fog of the moment. And the reason I say that, Wolf, is we saw that in Air France 447. We saw it in Helios.

I pretty much guessed as soon as we knew there was an air traffic controller issue and delay that hours went by with A talking to B talking to C talking back to A again. It's an air traffic control issue that, for some reason -- and we have seen it before -- they did not call crisis soon enough. They should have done, but they didn't.

BLITZER: Is there anything, Miles, in this report, that would give us at least the clue of why this plane disappeared, whether it was a criminal action by an individual or individuals, or if it was some sort of catastrophic mechanical failure?

O'BRIEN: I'm afraid, Wolf, that's in the box at the bottom of the ocean. That's where we're going to find that answer. and it may be in that case we would know deliberate or whether it was a mechanical, but even if we discovered when it's recovered -- and I say when, because they will find it eventually.

When it's recovered, if they do in fact find a perfectly good working airplane, and we'd be able to presume it was a deliberate act, what then? What do we know about who or -- might have done that?

BLITZER: Because, if it was a mechanical problem, there are about 1,200 Boeing 777s flying around the world right now. And we have got to figure out what that mechanical problem was, if it was a mechanical problem, to make sure it doesn't happen again. All right, guys, stand by.

Still ahead, after weeks and weeks of anger and anguish, Flight 370 families, they are now coping with a painful new punch in the gut. We're going live to Beijing.

And you will also find out why riot police in Ukraine were powerless, yes, powerless, to stop pro-Russian militants.


BLITZER: After nearly eight weeks after agony, Flight 370 families holding vigil in China heard two words today. They were very hard, words that were very hard to take, the words, go home.

CNN's David McKenzie, he is joining us live from Beijing right now.

David, a lot of the families, they have to deal with those words right now. They also have deal with this new report from Malaysian officials. What are these family members telling you?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, they're saying, the ones we have spoken to at least, that the report is irrelevant to them because it doesn't tell them any new information that gets them closer to finding out what happened to their loved ones.

Of course, there's a whole different set of requirements for this. And the emotional scenes that we saw at the hotel were because they were told they need to go home, that the assistance centers are being closed here in the Lido hotel, where hundreds have been stuck for nearly two months.

And that led to these terrible scenes of wailing and kneeling on the ground, some of them holding on to the Chinese police on the scene, saying, where are my loved ones? How can we find them? The calm was later restored by Chinese officials. And certainly it appears that there is pressure for the family members both from the Malaysian authorities and the Chinese government to leave and go home in the coming days.

They do say, though, that they will continue supporting them and giving financial assistance through this difficult time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I understand, David, there's been a significant tightening of access by Chinese officials where you are in Beijing. What's going on?

MCKENZIE: Well, that's right. We have had very free access in the recent weeks, which is, frankly, unusual for China with this kind of story.

But, yesterday, we certainly were pulled off the scene, told by the police we had to leave. They shut down our live shot, and effectively no access of cameras anywhere officially with large broadcast cameras inside that hotel. So there is a tightening by the Chinese government. Unclear whether they want to avoid seeing emotional scenes or whether there's something else going on.

It appears to me at least that this story has run its course for the Chinese officials, and they're getting frustrated with the reporting. And, certainly, it appears that at least tacitly they're on the side of the Malaysians to get the families out -- Wolf.

BLITZER: David McKenzie, heartbreaking story continuing there in Beijing, thanks very much.

Let's bring back our aviation analyst, Miles O'Brien, and CNN's Richard Quest.

Richard, these families, they wanted this kind of information that was released today. They wanted it weeks ago. Would it have really made a difference to those families if they would have heard, for example, the audiotape from the cockpit to ground control?

QUEST: No, it wouldn't, other than for their peace of mind. It would make no difference to the investigation.

It is a peace of mind issue. But I have to say, it's unusual that they have been allowed to hear it this time. The sort of information that they have requested falls into several categories. It's either to prove that the plane is still somewhere with everyone alive, or it's to understand what happened, or it is at the sort of, we just need to know. We need to know every nuts and bolts.

And I think that much of the information was given. I know it was given. I have been told it was given. They didn't necessarily register it was given, so they asked for it again and again and again. But this latest development, to close the centers, it's a commonsense thing to do, Wolf, in the sense that, as the authorities, as Malaysia Airlines says, they're not shutting them off. But there's a point upon which you have to say, it's time to go home, and we will keep you informed there as we move to the next part of the process.

BLITZER: Miles, does it bother you the audio that was finally, finally released was edited?

O'BRIEN: Well, I have been thinking about that, because it was condensed. There's no question about that. And it comes from different sources because it's from different frequencies as they go along the way.

I can't come up with any nefarious reason for doing that. I doubt they took out things that were relevant. Probably, what they took out were big dead spaces of no conversation and other transmission with other aircraft that were irrelevant to this whole investigation.

But having said that, you know, we have a lot of people out there who are coming up with all kinds of crazy conspiracy theories. I think they should release the raw tapes, just so they're out there for people to listen to. It makes it a lot more convenient for those of us who want to find out the basic quick facts to have the sort of condensed and short version.


BLITZER: Let me let Richard Quest weigh in on that.

Go ahead, Richard.

QUEST: It -- you know, on one hand, I would love to hear the original tapes in their entirety, but the moment you go down this road, Miles, you know as well as I do, the moment you start going down this road of release this and release that, it is an open sesame. And before long, the likes of you and me -- I'm just giving the other point of view here -- before long, you and me are asking for anything and everything. And...

O'BRIEN: No, listen, all we're doing is -- all I'm saying is, release the full thing for those who would like to listen to them to dispel any ideas that they did, in fact, redact them in some relevant way.

I would say they have just been trimmed for time, like we do in television every day, but why not release the raw stuff, too?


QUEST: If you -- if they have been redacted, they would be the transcript of air traffic controllers and -- to ground, and then we have got all this other stuff, and that's been redacted for some purpose, you know, to hide something, then, frankly, it's a most extraordinary, as I think you probably agree...


O'BRIEN: This whole story is extraordinary. What are you talking about? Of course.

QUEST: Right.


O'BRIEN: Everybody about it is extraordinary.

QUEST: I can't believe they have cut out something that basically, you know, for want of a better phrase, to hijack the moment.


O'BRIEN: I doubt they would cut out anything that's relevant here.

What I'm saying is -- and this goes on to what we have been talking about with the families. This is a credibility issue. The airline has lost all credibility with the families because of the way they have parceled things out and have been stingy with releasing facts to them.

And so why not at this juncture? It doesn't take them any extra effort to release the raw version alongside with the edited version. It makes no sense to hold it back. All it does is raise suspicion where they doesn't need to be suspicion.

BLITZER: Yes, well, I agree. And I think that the more they release, the better off for all of us who are interested, but also especially for those family members who are most interested.

Miles, thanks very much.

Richard, thanks to you as well.

Just ahead, as violence explodes right now in Ukraine, and it's getting dramatically worse, look at these pictures -- Russians are rallying behind Vladimir Putin. Is he laying the groundwork for an all-out war?


BLITZER: The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is demanding that Ukraine withdraw its troops from Eastern Ukrainian cities, where pro- Russian militants are gaining new ground.

Violent new clashes exploded in the region today.

Let's get more from our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

This is clearly escalating.


And, as a result of that, the U.S., Europe now considering a larger military presence in Europe in response to calls from NATO allies there. A senior military official tells CNN that the U.S. is now awaiting additional recommendations from NATO's supreme allied commander, Philip Breedlove, to include both enlarging existing exercises in Eastern Europe and adding additional ones.

One dynamic driving this is that NATO allies, particularly those close to Russia and Ukraine, have requested a more robust NATO presence, including larger permanent deployments on their soil. These additional troops will come from U.S. forces already in Europe. The British may also be contributing, this as it's becoming clearer inside Ukraine that the government there is unable to police and control its own territory, as pro-Russian militants expand their armed action across the eastern part of the country.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): In the scenes of escalating violence in Eastern Ukraine, this one is particularly sobering. The Ukrainian riot police sent in to remove pro-Russian militants from city of Donetsk were instead removed, themselves, chased away and later stripped of their shields, batons, even their bulletproof vests.

The militants were left to bust down doors and shatter windows. Pro- Russian militants are steadily seizing control of communities across Eastern Ukraine. The eastern city of Slavyansk is now under militants' control, as are local government sites from police headquarters to city halls in eight other eastern towns and cities.

Ukrainian officials say they're powerless to stop the militants' advances, but demonstrating their growing fears, Ukraine's president introduced a military draft for all men 18 to 25.

And Ukrainian soldiers guarding the parliament building in the capital, Kiev, are carrying out emergency drills. At home in Russia, Moscow's intervention in Ukraine is broadly popular. At rallies marking May Day, thousands marched in Moscow to show their support. U.S. officials say Russia's ultimate goal is unknowable.

But some analysts see President Putin intending to undermine upcoming elections in Ukraine, possibly to lay the groundwork for an invasion.

ANDREW KUCHINS, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Then the Russian government makes the case that the results of the elections are illegitimate, and then they have the right to protect the rights of those citizens in Eastern Ukraine who they feel are -- their rights are being violated. That then is where I think the real danger for a possible military invasion of Eastern Ukraine comes in.


SCIUTTO: Russian officials are increasingly invoking the responsibility to protect ethnic Russians inside Ukraine, who they claim are under threat from the Kiev government, orchestrated, they say, by the U.S.

It is no coincidence this is the same standard the West used to intervene in Libya -- U.S. and European officials concerned increasingly Moscow might use this as justification for further military action inside Ukraine.

You see them building this case, this narrative. And everybody I have talked to is worried about where it's leading.

BLITZER: It's a very, very dangerous situation. Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.

Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. Just tweet me @WolfBlitzer. Tweet the show @CNNSITROOM. Please be sure to join us again tomorrow right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can always watch us live. DVR the show, so you won't miss a moment.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.