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Latest Update in the Search for Missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370

Aired April 16, 2014 - 20:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, it is 8:00 p.m. here, and 8:00 a.m. off the coast of Australia, where the search for flight 370 is running into technical trouble and doubts about the entire effort are growing. New glitches with the Bluefin-21. And we have breaking news tonight. It just now finally completed a full mission.

New questions about why there is only one of them in the water and new questions as well about the cell phone signals from the aircraft itself. Is it even remotely conceivable that the copilot's phone was the only one transmitting or authorities are they holding something back? And do they have a plan B if the current search comes up empty. A lot of questions tonight, a potentially crucial 24 hours ahead as we have all the angles on that.

Also tonight, survivors say that passengers on that sinking South Korean ferry were told to stay put, don't head for the life boats. Now's now hundreds of them are missing, many of them high school students, some them sent messages home as the ship itself went under. The race tonight to see if anyone is still possibly alive.

And later tonight, here tanks and troops rolling the entire country teetering on the brick. We'll take you to Ukraine for the latest on Russian moves and western moves to stop them.

Again tonight, we have a lot to cover. Let's begin with flight 370 and the Bluefin-21.

Finding the Boeing 777 depends on the Bluefin which could be a problem. The breaking news tonight, it is just back from a third mission, the first full outing after two other were cut short.

Michael Holmes is monitoring that and more. He joins us from search headquarters in Perth, Australia.

So tell us about this third time in the water.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, third time is a charm, Anderson. That is right. It is back and it has done a complete mission, it's first complete mission. Now, you remember the other two miss missions, the first one cut short because of a fail-safe mechanism in the Bluefin that told it when it got to 4500 meters to come back up. They fixed that software problem and now it can go as far as 5,000 meters down, even a little bit more.

The second problem that cut short mission number two was a bit of an oil leak in the Bluefin. Again, the searchers are not that worried about it. They say it was not that big of a deal. They pulled it up. They fixed it and sent it back down.

In all now, they covered about 35 square miles of the ocean floor down there. And once they have downloaded this latest data and analyze it, they will send it back down again, Anderson.

COOPER: And in terms of analyzing the data, there is still no information on what they got on this third trip, right?

HOLMES: Not yet. They do tend to release it to us reasonably quickly. The first two missions they say nothing of significance in the data. Now, we'll remember the first time they went down there that is the area they really want to search. And it was cut short because the Bluefin thought it was a little bit too deep for it to go. They were told it was OK to g that far now.

What they did was they move the HMS Echo, the British warship over which does its owned sonar examination of the seabed from the surface. And they worked out that the depth there is about 4600 meters. So, they are going to send it down and go over that area again at some point. Because of course, that is where the pings that were most promising were -- Anderson.

COOPER: The oil that they collected near the Ocean Shield a few days ago that they believe was oil, any word if it is from the plane?

HOLMES: Not yet word on whether or not it was from the plane. We do expect to hear something in really just a few hours or so from now. You got to remember, of course, the Ocean Shield, which picked up that sample, is 1600 kilometers, a thousand miles offshore.

What they did was they send an Australian naval vessel out towards that area until it was close enough for a helicopter to come and land and bring that sample. The ship then handed closer to shore until it was close enough for the helicopter to come to shore. So that all take a bit of time.

But it is being analyzed literally as we speak. And we hope to get more information in the next few hours. The search or meanwhile, from air and sea continues despite of being told that it would be round down this week. No sign of that happening, Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Michael Holmes, appreciate the update. Thanks.

Late word just in from the U.S. Navy which confirms the underwater search is happening in the area where that second ping was detected. The one detected on Saturday April 5th at 9:27 p.m., detected for 13 minutes, a significant length of time.

Let's dig deep now on the possibility that despite of the glitches, of them it would help to have more of them in the water.

Tom Foreman has been exploring that angle and he joins us with it -- Tom.


The effort above the water has involved dozens of planes and ships going back and forth. So why not apply the exact same thing below the water? We have been talking about how this Bluefin will go back and forth mapping the bottom with a sonic signal. Basically they call it mowing the grass, that is the term they use as it makes its way back and forth.

So why not add another? Or maybe five or ten or 20 of them? Why not have them working altogether because if that is the case couldn't you get it done a lot faster than weeks or even months?

Not really, and here is why. First of all, there is a question of availability. There are only about 100 of these Bluefins like this in the world right now. And this one being used right now costs about $3.5 million. So to get them all assembled, you would have to have governments and research organizations and businesses around the world willing to commit these resources for an indefinite period of time.

Secondly, you would need support for all of these. Each one would require a team of experts who know how to program it, operate it, launch it, retrieve it, get the data off of it. Bear in mind this weighs in about 1700 pounds. Just putting it into the water and retrieving it each time is like putting a small automobile in and out. That is not easy. And lastly, there is the issue we come back to many times. We talk about this as if it is a billiard table where things are going back and forth easily.

Coordinating that is hard enough. But the real terrain maybe even more like this. We may have hills and valleys and all sorts of problems that complicate the ability of these things to coordinate with each other on different planes going up and down, and in and out, all of that, Anderson, makes this seemingly good idea maybe one that is completely unworkable.

COOPER: All right, Tom, thanks very much.

There is growing recognition that is the current phase the operation may not last long before experts decide to try something different. Australian prime minister Tony Abbott saying as much today in a talk with "the Wall Street Journal" quote " we believe that search will be completed within a week or so," he said going on to say quote "if the current search turns out nothing, we won't abandon it. We will simply move to a different phase."

Which is a good theme to explore with our panel has the current operation is and how it is going and what constitutes a plan B, if there is one.

Aviation correspondent Richard Quest is with us, so as David Gallo, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, co-leader of the search for Air France flight 447, also former transportation department inspector general Mary Schiavo who currently represents accident victims and their families, and leading aviation journalist, Geoffrey Thomas joins us from Australia. So Richard, what about what the Australian prime minister is saying? If they regroup, they will railroad consider, what exactly does that mean?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, it means if you have not found anything in the area where you were most promising to find something, and Houston basically said it is around the ping that gave the strongest signal, which we now know this evening was the second ping. If you haven't found anything in that vicinity you have got to really seriously question is it worth keeping going to the first and the third and the fourth? And that is when you have to re-think the strategy.

COOPER: Geoffrey, you have been talking to your sources there. Do you have any special insight into what the prime minister meant? I mean, is there really a plan B here?

GEOFFREY THOMAS, EDITOR IN-CHIEF, AIRLINERATINGS.COM: Look, I think there is a very strong prediction, the way they are looking right now is where the airplane is. That is the undercurrent that I get to the number of people that I speak to on this issue.

Plan B, they're talking about if it is deeper than the four and a half thousand meters, significantly deeper than the four and a half thousand meters, they will have to get vehicles that go significantly deeper.

But I think there is a very strong conviction that they are looking in the right place. This the final resting place of the aircraft -- I mean, as far as the plan B is concern, other than going deeper, if we need to, and I'm not sure what that plan B might be because they're pretty certain it is where they're looking.

COOPER: Geoffrey, do you know -- are you hearing from your sources, and again, you have amazing sources there, do you know how confident they are that they know what the terrain is like, you know, this deep? Because clearly, you know, on day one of this mission with the Bluefin-21, it was deeper in a pocket than they had anticipated.

THOMAS: Look, that is one thing they are confident about. And they are confident that they don't know what it is like down there. And that is why they're talking about a plan B that we may have to have much deeper.

This area of the Indian Ocean, my understanding from local oceanographers, that is the least explored part of the ocean anywhere in the world. It just simply has not been mapped properly at all. The depths are just really estimates in many, many cases. So this is probably where the plan B comes in. We may have to go much deeper than we originally expected.

COOPER: And David Gallo, I mean, it is a good thing for them to admit what they don't know.

DAVID GALLO, CNN ANALYST: Sure, of course. And you know, I spoke with some colleagues before I came in tonight. And there is very little (INAUDIBLE) just like topographic, except at the bottom of the ocean, a very little Information about this part. Usually, there are some thing the whole angle, but here --

COOPER: That is what is so amazing, is that -- I mean, in this day and age, and again it is often said we know more about the surface of the moon than the depths of the ocean. But that it is not completely all mapped out.

GALLO: We have a general feeling for where the big lumps and bumps are, but when you get to the tactical layers, where that vehicles actually living, worrying about pinnacles and (INAUDIBLE) and things like that, there is very little information.

COOPER: Who is -- I mean, is there an effort to do that? Is there a drive to do that?

GALLO: Yes. We have been the oceanographers and ocean scientists who have been pushing for a long time that we need to understand and explore ocean all that told who looks forward about seven percent of our ocean --

COOPER: Seven percent of the ocean, that's it?

GALLO: That is it, most of our planet. So, we're living on an unknown planet.

COOPER: That is crazy. That's incredible. Seven percent.

GALLO: The highest, we find the deepest valleys, we find under waterfalls, lakes, rivers underwater, we find more life there than the tropical rain forests, but we're not giving attention that we need to how important this place really is.

COOPER: It is amazing to me.

Mary, what generally happen in a major operations like this with multiple countries involved? I mean, I assume its Australia's called to make about a possible next phase?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, I would assume they have to do that in conjunction with Malaysia because under the IKEA rule international civil aviation organization, it is Malaysia's investigation to control. So I think that Australia will make the recommendation and Malaysia will concur, or disagree theoretically. I would imagine that they would concur with Australia concludes.

But if this first, you know, the first efforts don't pan out then I would think they will explore all of the area of all the pings and then fan out a little more. Because remember we hear the information about the acoustic tricks of the ocean, that some of these signals can travel a lot further than the three miles or so from the pings. So I think they will exhaust all the pings before they exhaust plan B.

COOPER: You know, David Gallo, as this perform, I keep getting e- mails and tweets from viewers about this. Why not have more Bluefins in the water? GALLO: To protect -- the plan, to me, you have to have the right technology. They do, Bluefin-21 AUV. Right team, they are very talented team they have out there. And then the right plan, and so the plan they have chosen is they said OK, we have the pinger. That is the spot. We'll throw the dart right into the bull's eye, right off the better close to it. So no need to go to a broader search using multiple vehicles which as Tom Foreman said, you know, you need many more support, much more support to pull that up. But that may well be fed, but you know, it is way too soon in the process to go to think about that yet.

QUEST: And that is something that Houston said when he first announced that they were going down on the weekend. Angus Houston, the head of the search committee or the search organization.

He basically said, was asked again and again, what do you do if you don't find anything? What is plan B? And he said we're a long way from that yet. He estimates six weeks to a couple of months to search the area that they have already identified. So he is not expecting -- I don't know why Tony Abbott is putting it into a week. Houston was talking about six weeks or several weeks up to a couple of months for this phase of the operation.

GALLO: Positively, it is a long-term. We're in for the long haul.

COOPER: We have to take a quick break, we have a very full hour including President Obama's new warning in a showdown with Russia.

Let us know what you think. You can follow me on twitter @andersoncooper. Tweet me of any questions you have on this #AC360.

Tough new questions about the 370 investigation next.

Also later, a live demonstration of the actual science of underwater sonar mapping. It is fascinating technology.

Of course, there are also are there lessons to be learned this time from a mysterious disappearance of the billionaire aviators, Steve Faucett, the search for his missing plane went terribly wrong because everyone was essentially looking in the wrong place.

Also, breaking news on the raise to find survivor on a sunken ferry, just a horrific scene in South Korea -- off South Korea in the very chilly waters. We'll have the latest on the sinking, and how many people are missing at this point ahead on "AC360."


COOPER: Well, welcome back.

Again, the breaking news is successful, third mission for that Bluefin sonar submersible. The first successful full mission is now programmed to go deeper because we just now learned that the ocean floor is at 4600 meters in the search area, 100 meters deeper than they expected. As for the area itself, we also just learned that the search is happening where the second ping was detected, that was the one detected Saturday April 5th, at 9:27 a.m., detected for some 13 minutes.

Now, the reason the Navy tells the searchers do the ping is the most promising is because of its quality. That's the word they used, quality. Those details like many others in the search have been coming almost like clockwork. We get them every day from Australian authorities And the search for answers though, information has been much harder to come by. The item, for example, about the co-pilot's cell phone.

Justice correspondent Pamela Brown worked on pinned it out but she did not stop there.

Pamela, what are you learning now tonight?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, bottom line, this is just another tiny piece of the puzzle. And experts and sources we have been speaking with, are trying to figure out what this information about the co-pilot's cell phone really means.

What we do know here is that any of the passengers' phones were on, and not on airplane mode, they too should have ding that cell tower near Penang. And considering about 30 percent of people forget to turn off their phones on flights according to a recent survey, it is likely it was not just the copilot's phone.

But experts are saying that the co-pilot's cell phone should have been off. So the question, of course, looms, was it on from the beginning of the flight or was it turned on right before it hit that cell tower about half an hour after the plane's communications systems mysteriously shut off.

And I want to make it clear here though, Anderson, sources saying that there is no indication any calls were placed. And again, just because a phone connects with a cell phone doesn't mean a call can go through. And just to be transparent, it is really tough to get the answers, the information that we need to know exactly what all of this means.

COOPER: Any information gleaned about the cell phones obviously could aid the OVERALL investigation.

BROWN: Yes. Right. I mean, it could if certain factors become clear like the copilot's phone was turned on and then off after the plane disappeared. But you know, to put this into context, Anderson, investigators in the U.S. don't seem to be jumping up and down over this information. They have known about the data detection for awhile and it doesn't tell us the critical information that we need like a motive and who is alive on that airplane.

And this investigation is ongoing and to the passengers and the crew, But so far it is not leading to the answers that we are looking for here. In many ways, Anderson, folks are sitting on their hands waiting for the black box to provide the real proof of what happened on flight 370.

Everything so far is just a small piece of the overall picture.

COOPER: Yes. Pamela, thanks very much. Appreciate the reporting.

Back with our panel. This is a play dumb question, but I guess -- I mean, or actually, maybe David Gallo, is there any value in retrieving cell phones from the depth or probably not?

GALLO: I have been meaning to check on that. It seems like not, but if there were clues to be had, it is going to be worth doing. So, I don't really know the answer to that.

COOPER: It is interesting, Richard, that the Bluefin has only searched some 90 square kilometers which is a pretty small area.

QUEST: Yes. And we were warned that was exactly where it was going to be. It takes six times as long to search the same area that could be searched in the day by the towed pinger locator. And that was why they were determined to exhaust the TPL to the last possible second, because they knew this was a very slow process.

But they do believe they have narrowed it. The word they used was manageable. It is clearly not desirable, but the area they're looking at now is manageable given time, patience and efforts.

COOPER: And David Gallo, I keep hearing people referring to the Air France investigation which you co-led in that underwater search. And using that two-year figure and I used to use that early on thinking, it took two years to find.

But you clarified this that, a lot of that was getting permission -- convincing people from bureaucracies, getting permission actually to go on site. With actually days searching with vehicles underwater, how long?

GALLO: It depends on how you count it. We were there a total of about ten weeks, and about two months of that, eight weeks we spent in the wrong haystack, there were retro drift of some of the debris on the surface led us to an area where there was no aircraft. So we spent two weeks on that. Then it was eight days once we got on to the right place.

COOPER: Eight days, I mean, that is incredible. So you were using three vehicles at the time?

GALLO: Three vehicles. That's right.

COOPER: So I mean, can you extrapolate to this that I mean, if they were in the right area and they only have one vehicle, that it shouldn't we are not looking at six weeks or six months?

GALLO: It could be to cover the whole area. I mean, they make it lucky -- remember, we're not looking for just an aircraft. You were looking, maybe, for a debris field which could be hundreds of meters across and it could be something as simple as a plastic cup that they find to tell them this is the right spot. So, it make a much bets on that.

COOPER: Do you think there is debris floating on the surface of the water, just the question of they can't find it?

GALLO: Well, I have to come back to the HMS Sidney that Australian warship that sank in World War II.

COOPER: Six hundred people.

GALLO: Yes. And gone without a trace except one raft that shows up I think years later on Christmas island, a thousand miles to the north, maybe more.

COOPER: So Mary, as an attorney for victims and accidents and their families, what does an open ended unresolved investigation mean for potential litigation?

SCHIAVO: Well, what that means is they would be litigating under what is called the Montreal treaty and their litigation would be against the airlines. The airline is going to be responsible for their passengers unless the airline can prove that it took all reasonable pressures to prevent what happened.

Of course, it is impossible for them to show that because, you know, it could be mechanical, it could be a breach of security, it could be, you know, pilot action. So the airline will be responsible for its passengers. And if and when they ever find anything else, usually what happens is they do a full and complete settlement or litigation. A few may opt out and say no, we're going to wait until and hold back on just potential finding something mechanical wrong. But the airline will be responsible.

COOPER: What does this do, Richard, to the industry as a whole? I mean, does something like that have an impact?

QUEST: Yes, it goes to the very core. ICAO, the international organization has already established and set an extraordinary meeting to be held in next month in May, in Montreal, where they will be looking at lessons to be learned.

The airline forum, they will be discussing it at their annual general meeting in June. Let nobody be in any doubt this is going to change the way planes fly, the way data is handled and the way aircraft is tracked.

COOPER: Just as really every crash, every horrific incident like this has had an impact on the industry?

QUEST: This will be in a much greater league.

COOPER: Really?

QUEST: Yes, because quite often you change some minor technicality on the aircraft. Some procedure, some form of CRM management within the cockpit. This will go industry-wide. It will probably go across all forms of metal with different times of aircraft and it will be fundamental. The issue will be how long before the nations can agree on a course of action. ICAO is slow, it is tedious, and it can be very bureaucracy.

COOPER: Mary, do you agree with that that this is going to have the kind of historic impact?

SCHIAVO: Well, I think what is probably going to happen is nations will do it one by one. And one of the biggest problems is going be the United States. Because it is so very difficult to get the FAA to act because whenever they propose new regulations, and they don't even need an act of Congress.

The FAA has the power to propose regulations like this. Whenever they do it the lobbying effort on the hill is immense from transportation lobby interest to prevent expenditures of any kind. For example in the new air traffic control system, they already have made available $7 billion in loans to help to get this done and still they're complaining about expense.

So I think the FAA needs to be the leader to get this done worldwide and they need a lot of pressure. And Congress cannot cave because if they cave it is all over.

COOPER: And also we see pressures comes from passengers as well who are certainly more educated and more well-informed about what is going on in the aircraft, in the cockpit and the mechanicals than before because of this. I certainly feel like I know a lot more than I ever knew before.

We have a lot more ahead. Coming up, what happens next if and when the black boxes are found. We are going to show you the remotely operated vehicles that were able to retrieve from wreckage from incredible depths and how they work. You see there kind of the (INAUDIBLE), some remarkable technology to show you.

Also breaking news, another search going on, an active search right now for hundreds of people missing after a South Korean ferry boat capsizes. Imagine being on this very boat. Authorities apparently told people to stay where they were. Not go to the lifeboats. We'll get more on the latest in a live update when we continue.


COOPER: Well, as you know search teams in the Indian Ocean are using side scan sonar technology to map the ocean floor and look for possible debris. There are a lot of challenges, and as David Gallo said, there are amazing challenges at such a depth.

CNN's Stephanie Elam as more off the coast of California, to tell us how it works.

So take us through it, Stephanie, how does it work?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, it is really interesting because it sounds simple when it is explained to us. This is James Coleman. He is a senior hydrographer with Teledyne Reson. And your sonars are actually being used in the search for the missing plane, tell us how it works.

JAMES COLEMAN, HYDROGRAPHER, TELEDYNE RESON: Right. And there is a number of varieties of sonars. They come in different shapes and sizes. This is 7125. It is a multi-beam sonar. They're using side scan now as their primary search mechanism. But the fundamentals are the same.

The sonar is going to emit sounds. And as that sound bounces off the sea floor, the sonar receives that sound and use the reflection from the sea board and filled an image of what is on the sea board.

ELAM: And does it -- is it easier to do deeper in or higher up?

COLEMAN: It is actually -- the imagery comes out very good when you are deep because you have a nice stable platform and the sort of imagery can be very crisps. The challenge is getting that sonar deep. And that s what is really difficult. You have to put it on a vehicle. That vehicle has all these integrated components and that's where the real challenge is.

ELAM: All right, so let's go inside and take a look at what the data looks like when you are basically getting an image of this sound. That is pretty much what you're doing here, right?

COLEMAN: Right, so we have been building up a map over the course of the day. And you can see we've built up this lawn mower pattern. Here is where we are now and we are going to start adding to that map as we go. In realtime, we're able to see where we are, construct the plan on the fly based on what we see. In the Indian Ocean, they're doing pre-planned missions because that vehicle doesn't come back for a very long time. So they're using their best estimates to build this grid patterns.

ELAM: And the side sonar that imagery as its coming in. It looks a little weird so explain how it works.

COLEMAN: Right, so this is side scan sonar imagery. What the sensor is doing is putting sound out on either side. It travels through the water, hits the sea floor and then continues on and that generates an image of what is on the sea floor.

ELAM: And so Anderson, it is interesting because the closer down they get the better that image can be, but the higher up the more they can see what is underneath them. So it can be a tedious process of changing the mission over and over again to get a better idea of what is down there.

COOPER: I have two more questions, A, are they getting realtime images or is it just data that they have to look? Because I thought it was data they had to look at later. Also the fact that there is silt down there, could it make it harder to identify?

ELAM: Well, the first one is his question.

COLEMAN: Right. And so no, they're not getting realtime images. We're able to do that here on the boat, but they put that on the vehicle. That vehicle is down for a very long time. It's a lot of data. So not only do they have to wait for the vehicle to come back up, but they have to download the data, which takes a lot of time and it is a very time-consuming process.

As for the silt, the silt can definitely impact the data. If something buries fully, you are not going to see it on the sonar at all, but it's likely that just from the impact alone there will be a crater or some kind of indication that there is something --

ELAM: So there could be an indication that something happened there even with the few weeks that have gone by -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, fascinating stuff. Stephanie, thanks very much. The next challenge is bringing it to the surface. That is no easy task, particularly at these depths. What they will use is a remotely operated vehicle, a ROVE. Right now, there are two sitting in a warehouse in Maryland ready to go. The company that operates them has a contract with the U.S. Navy requiring them to be ready to be ship out within four hours when and if they get the call that they're needed.

Rosa Flores has more on the technology that can retrieve objects from the kind of depths that we're talking about. Take a look.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This could be the key to solving the mystery of Flight 370. It is a remotely operated vehicle or ROV for short. Once wreckage of Flight 370 is identified, an ROV like this one is likely the next crucial step in finding the plane's black box. It is controlled from the surface using this joy stick. Has lights to illuminate the stark black of the ocean deep. Cameras transmitting back footage in realtime.


FLORES: And high frequency sonar to sabbatical the famously difficult visibility in the area of the Indian Ocean where the plane is believed to be. But most importantly the ROV has robotic arms called manipulators.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The arm has jaws, you open and close the jaws.

FLORES: They are essentially mechanical hands, able to retrieve objects from the ocean floor far deeper than any human could withstand.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stand and retract.

FLORES: A second manipulator can be equipped with tools for cutting through metal such as on the fuselage of a plane.

MARTIN STITT, ROV SUPERINTENDENT: And ideally, if there is a black box, not a problem at all for an ROV to put it in a basket and recover it back to the vessel. FLORES: Experts say top priority for investigators is to retrieve both the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder. This ROV called the Tridon XLS can go to depths of around 10,000 feet. But the ROV that is brought to the wreckage of Flight 370 could have to withstand the pressure of around 15,000 feet of water, underwater pulses were detected at that depth last week.

And unlike the Bluefin, searchers are currently using, the ROV is connected to the boat through a line called the umbilical with a power source and is able to feedback information immediately. And the hope is with these capabilities, the ROV will finally manage to bring some answers to the surface. Rosa Flores, CNN.


COOPER: Amazing stuff.

Just ahead, breaking news, in the race to find hundreds of missing ferry passengers in the frigid waters off South Korea. As the vessel was sinking, they were told apparently to stay in their seats instead of going to the life boats.

Also, in the search for Steve Faucett's missing plane went terrible wrong seven years ago, does it hold any lessons for the search for Flight 370?


COOPER: The search officials are convinced, very convinced in their words according to Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott that the sonar signals picked up in the current search area are from the black boxes of Flight 370. But the Bluefin-21 has already come back twice without confirming anything.

In more than one month, the search in the area has not picked up a single piece of plane debris. So you can understand why some of the families of the missing are not convinced it is part of the debris. And as Randi Kaye reports, if the investigation is off target, it would not be the first time.


RANDI KAYE, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's September 2007, Steve Faucett takes off from the Flying M Ranch in Nevada, heading south in a single engine airplane. He promises to be back for lunch, but that is the last time anyone sees of him.

MAJOR ED LOCKE, NEVADA NATIONAL GUARD: The best way to characterize this is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

KAYE: Within hours, a desperate search for the famed aviator is under way. The terrain is rugged, the wilderness between Western Nevada and Eastern California is vast.

(on camera): Did that plane have like the equivalent of a black box? MAJ. CYNTHIA RYAN, CIVIL AIR PATROL: It has an ELT, a locater system that can be picked up by satellites.

KAYE (voice-over): Radar picks up the plane's track along the crest of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, following a trail Faucet hiked as a teenager. Colleen Keller volunteered in the search.

COLLEEN KELLER, FAUCETT SEARCH VOLUNTEER: Before they could really pursue this evidence they were distracted by another piece of evidence that popped up, which was a visual sight out in the desert. That one was very tempting because whenever somebody says they see the airplane people tend to put a lot of credence in that.

KAYE (on camera): That visual sight came from a ranch hand in the area who tells authorities the plane flew over him while he was standing on his porch just about 15 miles from where Faucett took off. He says the plane was flying pretty low, just about a thousand feet. The tip changes everything.

KELLER: It was very distracting and they never looked back and looked at a previous evidence they had. They focused everything on this new piece.

KAYE (voice-over): The search area suddenly shifts dramatically, from the mountains about 60 miles northeast to the desert. The search continues for months. Still, no sign of Steve Faucett or his airplane. That is until a hiker finds some of Faucett's personal belongings. It is now October 2008, more than a year after he disappeared.

PRESTON MORROW, HIKER: I came across the ID card and the other cards and the money in the dirt, and the pine needles and stuff. I went wow. We put it all together, it is that Faucett guy.

KAYE: It turns out these items are discovered in the heart of the original search area. The mountains. The search teams quickly change their focus once again.

SHERIFF JOHN ANDERSON, MADERA COUNTY, CALIFORNIA: Just about the time we were going to call off the search the aircraft from Yosemite National Park spotted what they thought was wreckage on the ground.

KAYE: It is Faucett's plane right along the original radar track. The very spot in play before authorities shifted their attention to the desert. Based on a so-called hot tip from a ranch hand.

KELLER: They probably could have found him relatively quickly if they had followed up on the evidence they had very early on in the search.

KAYE: Instead of the plane being located in just days, the search lasted over a year and cost millions. Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


COOPER: Interesting, next, breaking news in the search for hundreds of passengers now missing in the icy waters off South Korea. Also late word from Ukraine as President Obama sends a public message to Vladimir Putin.


COOPER: Breaking news tonight in South Korea where it is already Thursday morning and a desperate search under way now to find more survivors of the sinking of a passenger ferry 24 hours ago. The ship had rolled onto its side by the time the rescue helicopters from South Korea's Coast Guard had already arrived. An army of boats also moved in to pluck survivors from the very cold water.

Hundreds of high school students were on board as part of a field trip. It's not known how many of them are among the nearly 300 people still unaccounted for. Officials say seven are confirmed dead, 179 have been rescued. Survivors say that as the ship was sinking, some passengers were ordered by the crew to stay where they were.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Put your safety vest on and stay put as it is dangerous. Kept announcing that about ten times so kids were forced to stay put. So only some of those who moved survived.


COOPER: Unbelievable, hours after the distress call this was the only part of the ferry sticking out of the water. Paula Hancocks joins us now from Jindo, South Korea. What is the latest, Paula?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, 289 people are still missing, many are high school students. Some of the search and rescue operation is being launched from, we saw just about an hour ago some civilian divers who will be involved in the search. Not just navy divers but anybody who can get involved and add expertise to possibly find survivors is doing so.


HANCOCKS (voice-over): All day, rescue helicopters and boats rushed to the scene as panicked stricken passengers clung to life, some holding on to the capsized ferry, others floating in the water. More than 160 have been rescued. Tonight, divers are still searching for almost 300 people still missing. Officials say hundreds were on board the South Korean ferry, bound for the southwest coast of Korea.

Most of them, high school students on a field trip. This cell phone video claimed to be taken inside the ferry, shows passengers and life vests, taking cover. Raises questions about how the incident was handled.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't move, if you move it is more dangerous, don't move.

HANCOCKS: Some passengers say they were given conflicting instructions over the p.a. system.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We were told to stay where you were. So we kept staying, but later on the water level came up, so we were beside ourselves. Kids were screaming out of terror, shouting for help.

HANCOCKS: The ferry tilted to one side and sank within two hours of the first distress call. Investigators still don't know why it went down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): People screamed on the ship. It tilted and stuff came down, people came sliding down.

HANCOCKS: tonight, parents are left gripping cell phones waiting for calls that may never come. Officials are posting the names of passengers, when it is circled it means the person has been rescued. For those whose loved ones have been found, uncontrollable emotions, for others heart break.


COOPER: It is just so horrific for these families, are they all waiting in a central place for information?

HANCOCKS: Well, Anderson, basically they're here. We have mothers and fathers who have spent all night here. They have been sitting by the side of the water looking out. It has been pitch black throughout the night, but they were still looking at the horizon on the hope of seeing something. That ship is more than 12 miles out from where we are. They have no chance of seeing anything, but there is nowhere else to go.

They want to find information and we've just been hearing one lady screaming and wailing saying why did they announce that they should not move from where they were, why did they not allow my Ninji to get off the boat? So now, the heart break is turning to desperation and it's turning into anger as they discover that there were possibly these P.A. announcement, saying stay where you are, try not to jump off the boat and get into the water -- Anderson.

COOPER: It is just unbelievable people were told to stay where they were. Any information about what possibly could have caused the ferry to sink?

HANCOCKS: We're having nothing official at this point. All we are hearing is from eyewitness, one eyewitness said that he felt a bump and then the ship started to tilt. And that is when they took the life jackets and started to jump into the water. So it does appear that some eyewitnesses are talking about a point of impact and falling. We're hearing absolutely nothing at this point. The search and rescue operation is going on behind the scenes.

COOPER: It is just so horrific, nearly 300 people still missing. Paula Hancock, as we mentioned students were texting loved ones as the ship was sinking. One student wrote to his mother, mom in case you don't get to say this I love you. His mother apparently didn't know this ship was in trouble, and responded why, of course, I love you too, my son.

Another student texted his friend, "I think we are all going to die. If I did anything wrong to you, please forgive me. I love you all." We have no way of knowing what happened to any of these students who actually texted.

I want to bring in James Staples, a cargo ship captain and a maritime safety consultant. Captain Staples, what do you think what could have caused this to happen? Is human error likely or is it simply too soon to tell?

JAMES STAPLES, CARGO SHIP CAPTAIN: Yes, I believe it is human error listening to the reporters. It sounds that initially the ferry left about two hours later than usual due to the heavy fog. So there is a possibility that the captain may have been trying to make up time to make up his schedule and may have taken a shorter route than prescribed. It sounds like he hit a submerged object that caused a large gap, bringing in a large amount of water.

COOPER: When you heard about the passengers told to stay where they were, not to get up and get life boats, does that make sense to you?

STAPLES: No, that makes no sense to me. The first thing you want to do when you have a marine casualty is the preservation of life. That comes first and to evacuate those passengers with the large amount of passengers on board that is the main thing you want to do. Get the people out of the ship, out of danger into the open spaces so they can get to the life rafts and get off the vessel.

One interesting things I noted about the pictures I looked at it doesn't even look like one of the life rafts were even deployed. They were all still in their cradles and nothing has been deployed. It goes back to the training of the crew. How well was this crew trained? How often did they have the training drills? We need to be looking at that to see what kind of training they did. It sounds like it was chaotic and definitely devastating.

COOPER: So obviously, it makes us think what would we do in this situation? What would you recommend we do in this situation, you're a passenger on a ship and obviously you get a life preserver, which I guess they were instructed to do. But then you get to open spaces?

STAPLES: Absolutely, move to an open area where if the vessel capsizes early like this one seems to have done. You can get evacuated early. Staying down in the lower parts of the ship when she is rolling over you should not be doing that. You need to get out. Once the ship goes over on its side you have no lights. All the doors will be on the wrong side. You need to get out in the light, with the buoyancy of the life jacket, you're not going to be able to get out. Everybody needs to egress and get evacuated as quickly as possible to where the station is, the lifesaving station.

COOPER: If you do jump in the water, is it true that it should get as far away -- I mean, as far away from the ship as possible that a ship sinking can kind of suck people down in the water? STAPLES: Well, that does occur, you want to get away from the vessel without a doubt. You want to get as far away as possible. With the cold water you have to think twice about getting in the cold water. The thing to do is get to the life rafts. There were plenty of life rafts that could have been launched and people get into the life rafts. It also sounds like there were plenty of small boats in the area that could have assisted with the evacuation of these passengers. So you know this all gets back to the training and human error. We need to look at the decision-making that is going on with the crew.

COOPER: Captain James Staples, I appreciate you being on. Thank you.

Up next, standoff in the Eastern Ukraine heats up. President Obama weighing in and we have the latest on that.


COOPER: Well, the standoff in Eastern Ukraine deepened today. Pro- Russian forces tightened their grip in the cities they seized despite a push by the Ukrainian army to retake control. Local residents in one city blocked the Ukrainian troops who arrived in armored vehicles. In another town, 30 armed people took a government building. Russia's President Vladimir Putin says Ukraine is on the brink of civil war. CBS News asked President Obama if he believes Putin is provoking it.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Not only have Russians gone into Crimea and annexed it in illegal fashion, violating the sovereignty and territory of Ukraine, but what they have also done is supported at minimum non-state militias in southern and eastern Ukraine and we've seen some of the activity that has been taking place there.


COOPER: President Obama also said Russia may face new sanctions and that does it for us. We'll see you again at 11 p.m. Eastern. Make sure you set your DV so you never miss 360. CNN Tonight with Bill Weir starts now.