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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Mystery of Flight 370

Aired March 25, 2014 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It is 8:00 p.m. here in New York, 8:00 a.m. in Kuala Lumpur and Perth, Australia. As we speak the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is on again. There's a search for the plane but also for answers and the clues that only the wreckage and the Boeing 777's data recorders can provide.

Even before any of that comes, though, investigators now have a new and intriguing piece of evidence to consider. One last partial communication or attempted communication between the plane and a satellite overhead. It came several minutes after the final confirmed ping at 8:11 on the morning in question with plane and satellite trying to connect again at 8:19.

Now this is new information for today. This would suggest the plane stayed in the air longer, potentially making already massive search area even larger. That's the significance.

The other breaking news, help has arrived tonight in the form of a high tech Navy sensor for picking up pings from the plane's black boxes. Landed in Perth a short time ago but will take several days -- sailing days to get into position and can't really do its job until the debris field itself is located.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard it described earlier today, it's like, it's not -- we're not trying to find the needle in the haystack. We're trying to find the haystack. I'd tell you, we're trying to find the farm that the haystack's on right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Remember, too, that search is also erased with the locator pingers and those black boxes only good for about another 13 days and the weather changing daily. There is a window of time, an opportunity for getting the job done, a window of time that is closing.

And there are limits as well of human endurance and patience. Relatives and friends of the 150 Chinese nationals aboard Flight 370 went to the Malaysian embassy last night in Beijing demanding answers. This is incredibly rare to have a -- public demonstration like this on the streets of Beijing.

David McKenzie is there for us tonight. Kyung Lah is at search headquarters at the air base just outside Perth. Kyung, let me start with you. What kind of aircraft are up in the air right now and how are conditions in the search area?

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We can actually hear the turbo props of a P-3 Orion right behind me. It is going to take off shortly. The Australian military says that representing a number of other countries all zooming to this area right now.

It's a variety of planes, some military planes, some civilian planes, a total of 12 planes in the air including a P-8 Poseidon U.S. plane. It's a high-tech military plane that has radar, that has a number of search teams aboard. And they're all looking for that piece of debris, that evidence.

The hard part is as you mentioned the weather, Anderson. The weather conditions are not ideal. The clouds are still quite low. But they are certainly improved enough that they want to take to the air again -- Anderson.

COOPER: And we're going to talk to a U.S. naval commander in just a short amount of time.

David McKenzie in Beijing. Understandably a great deal of anger among family members today. And out of respect for them on this program, we're not showing pictures of the family members in anguish, in mourning, when they don't want cameras pointed at them when they were told the plane ended up in the ocean.

Today, though, it's a different scene. They were out in a show of strength on the streets, protesting to the Malaysian embassy, public protests with signs obviously welcoming cameras there. We were showing our viewers those images.

The families are still not getting the kind of information they want, though, correct?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, Anderson, they're not. They want the information that will give them closure in this agonizing matter. They want to get debris, some proof, some physical proof.

Now as you say they streamed out of the hotel where they've been held up for several weeks now and went onto the street, on foot, carrying placards, wearing T-shirts all the way to the Malaysian embassy. Some of them were able to breach that embassy. And they were shouting out that they wanted evidence, answers, they wanted closure, pointing at the Malaysian government for a lack of information.

Now also many of them angry that they got this information in text messages that the plane had gone down, often in English which they couldn't understand. So you can really see the sense of this pressure cooker here in China with these families just wanting news, wanting some kind of closure -- Anderson.

COOPER: Did Malaysian officials -- I mean, anybody from the embassy actually talk to the families? MCKENZIE: Well, the police of -- the Chinese police both plain- clothed and uniformed police kept reporters very far from the scene, around 100 meters from the scene of the Malaysian embassy. So we weren't able to see what exactly went down inside the embassy. What is clear, that as you say, very rare to allow a public demonstration here in Beijing in China at the center of the communist party.

And I have to stress this, the authorities were allowing this protest. This wouldn't have happened in really any other instance like this. And it at least shows tacit approval or at least that the government here is on a tight rope having to deal with this rising anger from the families. But they present a very strong, profound moral voice now.

The Chinese governments saying that they're sending an envoy to Malaysia to help with the investigation. Unclear how involved they will get. But certainly this is potentially a powder keg between these two countries. These angry families that are just suffering through this anguish.

COOPER: Right.

Kyung, yesterday it wasn't just the planes which weren't flying, the Australian naval -- naval vessel which was in the search waters had to leave the area because of the swells, the height of the swells. I assume that is also back in the region.

LAH: You're absolutely right. And it is steaming to a destination. That is what is different today. For the first time, this Australian naval vessel has a goal. Remember we were telling you about the debris on Monday. A debris spotted by an Australian plane. Green or gray or orange. They dropped a beacon. This Australian naval vessel now knows it has a place to go. It's going to try to find that debris, pull it out and bring it back for those families.

The problem is because of all the weather yesterday they're not sure if that beacon is next to that debris or not. So they are steaming to that area and they're going to try to recover it -- Anderson.

COOPER: OK. Kyung, thanks very much. David McKenzie as well.

Let's bring in our panel who's going to be with us throughout the evening tonight. Also in our 11:00 hour tonight. CNN's safety analyst David Soucie, author of "Why Planes Crash: An Accident Investigator's Fight for Safe Skies". CNN aviation correspondent Richard Quest who recently flew in the cockpit of a Malaysian Airlines 777 with Flight 370's first officer weeks before the crash.

CNN aviation analyst Miles O'Brien, himself an accomplished private pilot and David Gallo, co-leader of the search for Air France Flight 447 and director of special projects at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Richard, let me start off with you. Let's talk about this partial handshake because up until today, everybody believed this last communication occurred, what, at 8:11 a.m. now it seems there was another at least attempt to communicate later on, a few minutes later. RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Right. And if you read what they say about that partial -- that partial handshake in the Inmarsat report that was released today, Inmarsat basically said they couldn't say what it was. They couldn't say whether anything really about it. And they needed to investigate it further.

Now tonight, the Inmarsat spokesman speaking -- writing in the "Wall Street Journal" is saying they can say it wasn't human intervention.

COOPER: It was not a human attempting to communicate.

QUEST: Correct. It was not a human that was activating the ACARS system. It was not a deliberate human act. So that leaves a range of options on the table as to why, how -- other experts here tonight will have views on that. But how or why this half ping is relevant. But if they can prove the integrity of that half ping, then it adds one more if you like dot in the chain and you start to now know a little bit more about where the plane went down.

Because you're no longer -- you've got another point of reference.

COOPER: Right. It's not longer --

QUEST: And you can coordinate that with how much fuel there was and at what point you believe the plane would have been in extremes.

COOPER: Miles O'Brien, first of all, let me just say it's great to have you back on CNN, though not under these circumstances certainly.

What do you make of this so-called partial ping?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: I think it's very significant, Anderson. We're talk about these hourly pings or handshakes, whichever term you like, the device, the ACARS, which is glorified text messaging machine which spit out an hourly handshake with the satellite to saying, you know, are you there, I'm there, that's it. And then suddenly eight minutes after the last one -- remember these were hourly updates.

Suddenly eight minutes after we get this partial ping, whatever that means, you have to -- this is the last time we hear from the aircraft. So you have to wonder what was going on that might have spiked the electrical surge perhaps to reawaken that ACARS device, that text machine. Did one of the engines flame out of that point as it ran out of fuel? Did that change the electrical bus distribution causing some sort of surge?

Was there salt water impingement? Was it just the impact, the G- forces that might have ticked this machine back on in some way to have to give this partial handshake?

So I think it's a very significant thing. And I think most importantly seems to be a good place to be searching.

COOPER: And, David Soucie, Miles raises a lot of really interesting points. The idea that this could have been some sort of electrical surge of an engine shutting off or even salt water that the plane actually ending in the water.

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: I think he's right on with the electrical surge, and here's why I think. The ACARS box, the thing that collects all the data and then it puts that together in a tangible message, something that can be read by the satellite and then by the receiver. And then that takes this wire that takes it all the way back to the satcom system. And that satcom system, the transmitter, the box and the antenna is all located in the top of the aircraft towards the rear back -- back of the fuselage.

So what I suspect might have happened here -- of course it's a shot in the dark as to what happened but if there were some kind of disruption to the ACARS box which hasn't been sending signals. It's the satcom system that's been communicating all this time. And there's no data coming from the ACARS. At this point if something happened in the front that would have put -- made an electrical sent here that would trigger the ACAR -- the satcom to begin transmitting.

Similar to if there's an emergency early on when the ACARS made its report at 1:07 we were kind of curious why it didn't make a 1:37 one. If there were an emergency in the aircraft, after 1:07 the ACARS system would have triggered the same device to come back and try to connect -- to communicate an emergency to the satellites.

COOPER: And also just to reiterate, when you think of these timelines, more than seven hours between, you know, the last ACARS and then this final communication, or attempted communication. Seven hours. Again, that mystery, what was going on for those seven hours in that aircraft.

David Gallo, how optimistic are you at this point? I mean, you co-led the search for Air France Flight 447. You had confirmed debris after a couple of days, after a few days. You'd started to retrieve debris, I think, on day five. Still took two years to recover the main wreckage, the data flight recorders. We're in the third week of this and still no confirmed debris.

DAVID GALLO, CO-LED SEARCH FOR AIR FRANCE FLIGHT 447: Right. Well, Anderson, I talked with my co-leaders on that Air France 447 search. And we think this is a game changer. This last --

COOPER: Really?

GALLO: This is the lucky break.

COOPER: Explain that.

GALLO: Yes. Well, I think we're thinking -- because the key for Air France 447 was the last known position. And then there were a few other clues that we used after that. But having an idea where the last known position is, even if it's fairly sloppy, means that that's a great place to start.

And I couldn't agree more. I agree with Miles completely. We need to be over there. You know, we need to take a closer look at it. But what a great place to start. And the sooner the better to start the underwater search.

COOPER: Richard?

QUEST: Because this ping -- this ping is probably more significant than the other ones, bearing in mind the time that we know that the plane would have gone down or run out of fuel. This isn't like one of the other pings where you've got, you know, an hour before the next check in. With this ping, the investigators will be able to narrow down, as Miles was saying, the timing of it. And this gives you a much closer -- potentially a much closer range of timings. So you can pinpoint much more intensely where it was likely to be.

Still vast distances, Anderson, to be sure. But more intensely.

COOPER: And, Miles, I just want to go back to a point you made earlier. It's also possible that even the impact of the plane could have caused this ping?

O'BRIEN: Yes. It's hard to say for sure, of course. But there's any number of scenarios you could come up with that would sort of reactivate that box in some way to have it try to communicate with that satellite. Whatever it was it was probably some sort of power surge. What would cause that? I think the first suspect would be the flame out of the engine.

Now that's not going to be the exact spot necessarily where it went down because the other engine would be going for a little while but not much longer. But it's certainly -- you know, you talk about trying to find the haystack. That's probably where the haystack is.

COOPER: We're going to be turning to our panel members throughout the hour tonight and again 11:00, we're live at 11:00 to midnight tonight.

Let us know what you think. Follow me on Twitter @andersoncooper, tweet using #ac360.

Coming up next with heavy Indian Ocean waves like these subsiding -- this is what it has looked like in past years, just give you a sense how rough it can be out there. And the search resuming as we've told you this hour. We're going to check in with the U.S. Seventh Fleet on its role. We'll talk to Commander Marks of the Seventh Fleet on the water and above -- and above it as well.

And later there's breaking news in the grim search back home here in the United States in Washington. Additional victims have now been located in Washington state in that landslide. Making matters worse, what we learned today about just how foreseeable and avoidable this disaster may have been.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Our breaking news. The search for Flight 370 now under way again after delay due to weather conditions like these that we've seen in the past years. Past years. Here's the video from the New Zealand Navy. How bad it can get in the search area. Part of the Indian Ocean, 40 degrees, south latitude called the roaring 40s because of the fearsome wind, waves and ocean currents that are found there.

Today, though, we're told conditions have improved. And for the latest I want to check in with Commander William Marks of the U.S. Navy Seventh Fleet who joins us by phone.

Commander Marks, last time we spoke, the Poseidon 8 had been down for scheduled maintenance, wasn't searching the area. Is it back up today? Has it already gone out?

CDR. WILLIAM MARKS, USS BLUE RIDGE SPOKESMAN: We are back up today, Anderson. We have a flight leaving here in a couple of hours. So that's our P-8 Poseidon heading southwest there to the search area.

One point I want to make is that when our P-8 leaves today, I just got the list of participating countries here that have aviation assets in Perth. China, South Korea, Japan, India, Australia, the U.S. and more. That's such an encouraging fact to put out there. That all these countries are working together. So yes, the P-8 is ready to go today. We're in support of the Australian-led sector assignment. But I want to emphasize just one little piece of an incredible international effort.

COOPER: Can you give me a sense of what it's like out there, I mean, given the varying weather conditions? How low are the aircraft flying to actually try to get a visual on the debris?

WILLIAMS: Sure. Yesterday as you know was a pretty rough day for environmental here for the weather. But you know, these planes, at least our planes and the U.S. Navy, it's an all-weather aircraft. And so the pilots are the best in the business. But the people in the back, those tactile coordinators, those are really the experts that determine what sensors they use depending on the weather and the environment.

So, for example, we can use the range from radar, surface search radar to infrared to the electro optical sensor to getting real low to get a visual. So if it's a clear day, things are looking great, it will fly, you know, in that maybe 5,000-foot range. Use the full spectrum of sensors. Get a good surface search. Then if you do get a ping on the radar, can drop lower to get an electro optical sighting or just the visual. You know, with some binoculars.

If the weather does roll in and it's over pass those very low ceiling, it can actually fly really low in that 300-foot range. And get underneath that cloud layer. And you can just look with the binoculars. So we do have a full spectrum of sensors. And it is all- weather capable. So this is a pretty advanced plan. And like I keep saying, if we fly over any piece of debris we're going to see what it is.

COOPER: It's amazing you can fly 300 feet. I didn't realize so low. The Navy is also moving to advance pieces of equipment into the area, the Towed Pinger Locator and something called the blue fin. Can you just briefly describe what each does?

WILLIAMS: Sure. These are going to be some pretty critical pieces of equipment, we hope. And I say we hope, because you really need a good sense of location before we deploy these. One is the TPL 25. That's the Towed Pinger Locator. That's a super sensitive listening device. It's a hydrophone. And that can go down to a depth of about 20,000 feet and just listen to any sound it hears.

So if that black box is down there and it's within range, it will hear it. The key point being there in range. These black boxes don't have a huge range. Maybe a couple of thousand meters. So you really have to have a good sense of where this thing is. Otherwise if we're on the wrong spot we'll never hear it. So just to give you an example of -- to draw a picture of how huge a challenge this is, even if this debris was moving at half a knot an hour, so .5 nautical miles an hour, over the course of 16, 17 days, we're still talking hundreds of miles.

So that's what -- we need to get the first planes out there to get the best location we can. So then our toad pinger locator can listen in the right spot.

COOPER: Well, Commander Marks, it's great to have you out there and I know it's such a huge coordinated effort. I appreciate you taking the time to talk to us. Thank you.

WILLIAMS: You're very welcome. Thank you.

COOPER: For more now on these hydrophones, essentially waterproof microphones, developed to locate any submarines, Stephanie Elam has a demonstration. She joins us from a boat off the Pacific Coast near Santa Barbara, California -- Stephanie.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, it is really interesting technology and it is a difficult task we're talking about. I'm joined right now by James Coleman, he's a senior hydrographer. He's with Teledyne Reson and he is going to show us the hydrophone, first of all, and shows the difference between this and a sonar.

So let's start with a hydrophone. How does this work?

JAMES COLEMAN, TELEDYNE RESON: Exactly. This is a hydrophone. And it's a -- there's a number of varieties of hydrophones but basically a hydrophone is an underwater microphone. This is the type of device they're going to be using either towed behind a boat in long tails or by dipping over the side or while you're launching from aircraft in order to listen for that underwater pinger.

ELAM: And then how far can it hear? How wide?

COLEMAN: Only about five miles.

ELAM: Only about five miles. So this is how you're trying to find the basic area of where any flight data recorder might be.

COLEMAN: Exactly. You need to find the wreck site.

ELAM: All right. So if we go from this, we -- let's take a look at the sonar because the sonar is what you're going to do if you get a little bit closer or if that battery dies on that flight data recorder.

COLEMAN: Exactly. So this is an example of a sonar. The difference is the sonar is going to actively emit sound down to the seafloor. As it receives the signal coming back from the seafloor it's going to interpret that and build up a 3-D map of what's on the bottom. So this device is used to map out what's on the seafloor.

ELAM: But you've got to be right on top of it for that to work.

COLEMAN: Yes.

ELAM: So let's go inside and take a look at how this data is translating starting off with the data coming in from the hydrophone and how that looks when you basically let this computer hear what it's picking up.

COLEMAN: Exactly. Now the hydrophone you could just put on your ears and you could listen to what's in the ocean, and you're listening for that once-per-second click coming from that pinger. Or you could look at it visually. And this is a -- this is a spectrum of the noise in the ocean. This is ocean noise here on the boat.

If that pinger were nearby we'd see a sharp spike at the 30 to 40 kilohertz where we're looking for that pinger once a second on the display.

ELAM: And while that's one bit of data coming in, you also have this data coming in which is the sonar, correct?

COLEMAN: Exactly. So this is the mapping sonar. We're looking below the boat. We're getting that information that comes back to interpret what's on the seafloor. So we're building up a 3-D point cloud of the information that's on the seafloor as well as a visual display of what's down there. We have a pipeline, we have a tire and some different obstructions.

ELAM: So you can see that. And this put all together can tell you let's go back and take a look at it.

It's really great technology. But unless you're right there, Anderson, you're not going to be able to pick this information up. So you really have to go through and look at this data very slowly.

COOPER: And, Stephanie, how long does it take to scan, you know, an area of the ocean floor?

ELAM: Whoa. That's one big question in the Southern Indian Ocean because it is so, so deep there. You've got to work to get this equipment as low as possible down to the ocean floor. And then trailing it behind you. And think about how long that cable is going to be. Trailing that behind you. You can't go too far or too fast because you might lose something, lose connection.

So you're talking about painstakingly slow work to go through the ocean. And especially when you have not really a good idea where it is. It takes a very long time. So that explains why this process has been so long in the Southern Indian Ocean -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Stephanie, appreciate it. Thanks very much for the demonstration.

As always, you can find out more on the search for Flight 370 at CNN.com.

Now just ahead we're going to drill down on one theory what happened to the plane, the ghost plane theory, the possibility that Flight 370 was on auto pilot for much of its doomed journey. The crew and passenger somehow incapacitated. We'll show you what that would look like from inside the cockpit.

Plus the breaking news in the search for dozens of people still unaccounted for. Some feared buried in a devastating landslide north of Seattle. More victims have been found today. We'll have the latest on the search ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: More breaking news tonight. Search teams in rural Washington state have found more victims of the catastrophic landslide. We do not yet know how many more. They're combing a mile-square debris field.

On Saturday morning, a massive chunk of a mountain collapsed and within seconds a wall of mud buried everything in its path. Here are two 911 calls that have been released.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, no, no. There's a freaking mudslide. And all I see is dirt now. We watched hundreds of trees come falling --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Is there --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm on Sea Post Road, Highway 030. And there's not even a house here anymore.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are there any injuries?

UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: Yes. There's people yelling for help.

UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: My neighbor's house and their neighbor's house have been completely taken out. And it's collapsed on several of them. They're trapped.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know that they're inside the home still?

UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: Yes. I'm standing in the location right now and I can hear them tapping underneath and yelling at us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Tapping underneath. Fourteen people are confirmed dead. That does not include the victims found today. Again we don't know the number. Last night as many as 176 people were listed as missing or unaccounted for. On Saturday searchers found this 4-year-old boy stuck in the thick mud. They had to pull him out of his pants to free him to get him out of there. Tonight hope of finding any more survivors is fading. As I mentioned, more victims found in the past few hours.

George Howell is in Darrington, Washington he joins us now. Grim news obviously. More victims. What are authorities telling you? What's the latest?

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, we do expect to learn more. We'll ask the questions, of course, about those victims in a news conference later tonight. This information is important. Many families as you know are waiting for word. They're holding out hope, but today we spoke with one family that does not need word. They already know.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NICHOLE WEBB RIVERA, FAMILY AMONG THE MISSING: If you've seen the maps and you've seen the extent of the devastation and the consistency of the mud, I can tell you with great soundness they're not going to find my parents or my daughter or her fiance. I really feel that they're gone.

HOWELL (voice-over): It's almost like planning a funeral for loved ones, but without any proof or real knowledge that they've died. Nichole Webb Rivera is beyond the hope that her loved ones, Tom and Marcy Satterlee along with daughter, Delani and fiance, Alan are still alive.

RIVERA: It might be weeks or ever if they find our people. So today is the first day that we're getting there. We're going to go and just be with our people and grieve together.

HOWELL: Their only focus now is to come together as a family for Nicole that means getting as close to her parents and daughter as possible. Their home undoubtedly demolished in the disaster zone. So they allowed us to follow them to the place where Nicole grew up in Darrington, arriving at a community shelter this family find some comfort.

RIVERA: It's just fabulous to be with people from the community and see how they're all supporting each other, to hold people that knew my daughter. She was a cheerleader at Darrington high school in 2010. It's just good. It's healing.

HOWELL: They came here to see these volunteers, offering help to other families who have been affected. And to ask simple but now complicated questions. Nicole's aunt wants to know how to close her brother's affairs.

DEBBIE SATTERLEE, FAMILY AMONG THE MISSING: What do I do now? What if they don't recover my brother's body? What do I do?

HOWELL: Amongst all the uncertainty, the decisions and wondering, they reflect on a bit of solace.

SATTERLEE: It would be great to get a body. But I understand, if we can't we can't they're in the right spot. They actually had plans to have a family funeral plot on their place. My brother and sister love that place. So if they had to go and stay.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: George, it's extraordinary. The strength of this family, all them being together and saying they just want to be close to their people. I talked George to Nicole yesterday on this program. She said two reasons that she was speaking out. One, she wanted to thank publicly all the volunteers and all the rescue workers who are out there. In many cases risking their own lives because the conditions can be very treacherous still for those searchers and also to let people know just of the impact this one landslide has had on this whole community. This a very small close-knit community -- George.

HOWELL: Absolutely. And that's really the reason they came here, Anderson. They wanted to see it, to be back home, to see the volunteers working, to be closer to their family's home. And also keep in mind, this was a difficult day for them. The next several days will be difficult. When you consider the size and scope of what happened in this mudslide, officials say it could take weeks before they're able to clear the mud, before they're able to find bodies, and of course, to notify the families.

COOPER: Our thoughts and our prayers are certainly with Nicole and all the other families out there. She's waiting for word on her parents, her daughter and her daughter's fiance. It's unthinkable one family's loss.

Up next with so many questions remaining about Flight 370, we're going to take a look at one of the theories that investigators are looking at. The so-called ghost plane theory that the jet somehow flew on auto pilot for hours after the passengers and crew perhaps were unconscious. That's one theory that investigators have. We'll see what that would look like from inside a flight simulator.

Also ahead from the black boxes may not solve this mystery even if they are found. Details ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: As the search continues for any wreckage of Flight 370, so continues the search for answers. The big question still looming what happened to this plane. The mystery has led to a lot of different avenues for investigators. Right now, we want to take a close look at the so-called ghost plane theory that everyone on board was perhaps unconscious because of loss of pressurization or smoke from a fire and then the plane continued to fly for hours on auto pilot until it ran out of fuel. That's one scenario investigators are examining.

Now it happens very rarely. It does happen. It has happened. So we're going to Martin Savidge to see what that might look like from the flight simulator. Martin, explain that idea what it would look like due to a loss of pressurization or some other incident.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ghost plane, zombie plane, plane without a brain. It would begin with maybe some kind of an alarm that would go off. It could be fire, could be sudden decompression. Either way. We're simplifying this greatly. Pilot Mitchell here puts it into a very steep descent. At the same time the aircraft begins to turn. The idea you want to get this plane heading back to some airport. We were over water at the time so either back to Kuala Lumpur or the closest nearby.

But you're descending primarily because you've only got so much oxygen. Pilots would already have their emergency oxygen on board. If it's a sudden decompression, the passengers have had the masks flopped down in front of them. They only get about 10 minutes. You've got to get down quickly to an altitude where people can breathe. In this case we're saying 12,000, but even per would be about 10,000 feet.

But for the scenario you stabilize. You get the aircraft back into a reasonable position. You level off. You've apparently figured out it's not that severe and somehow you get it on automatic pilot. Or you put it on automatic pilot and you're overcome either by smoke or simply lack of oxygen. You pass out, passengers pass out.

Airplane's got plenty of fuel. It's on a pre-determined course. It will now fly for hours until eventually it runs out of fuel. That's the scenario. We don't know if it really happened that way. Many speculate it could have.

COOPER: Miles O'Brien, the plane did make several turns. So would that be possible under an auto pilot scenario?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: You would have to put in the way-points for those turns. That given the scenario you just laid out is highly unlikely. What that pilot would have done is exactly what Marty and his friend -- I'm sorry spacing on his name --

COOPER: Mitchell.

O'BRIEN: -- Mitchell did in the simulator. They would turn around do, a 180, head back to land. Get down to 10,000 feet as quickly as possible. If they were overcome the plane would just continue on that heading. What we see from the Inmarsat data that was released today are two additional turns. Two additional turns. One sends them up to the northwest, the other one sends them down to the south to the area where we're searching.

So in the heat of that battle as it were, would they have put in extra waypoints or stored waypoints? Even those stored waypoints didn't make any sense or take him to an airport close by. Unfortunately, that's where this theory tend to fall down. There must have been something else going on.

COOPER: And Richard, as you look at the map and you and I were looking at it, it does look as if there's an argument to be made that the plane was perhaps trying to avoid Indonesian air space. RICHARD QUEST, CNN HOST, "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS": Yes. If you actually look at the map an running the animation now, that turn that Miles was talking about to the northwest and then to the south, it's not just a -- that last turn south appears to avoid Indonesian air space deliberately or going over land Indonesia. If you were in extremist, first, you're going over Malaysia and there are airports where you can land in Malaysia including a very large Malaysian air space where you could have landed.

And secondly there are plenty of places with the mayday call that you could have landed in Indonesia. And then you've got this southwest or south turn before you get this long journey down into the South Indian Ocean. So the ghost plane theory is there, and Helios in 2005 did exactly that. The pilots became overcome. Everybody was overcome except for one flight attendant who managed to get to the cockpit.

They scrambled, in Cyprus, this scrambled fighters and the fighters actually watched the plane all the way to the ground. They watched the engines flame out on both sides. Then they watched it go into the mountainside. So was on auto pilot, but that is an example what would have happened.

COOPER: Martin Savidge, if a plane runs out of fuel as is believed happened here, how does a plane this size enter the water? Are there different scenarios? Is it a glide down? One engine loses power before the next?

SAVIDGE: Right. These are things we've been trying to simulate. Put it into like neutral if you will and we'll sort of show you. We can't shut the engines off. The simulator doesn't allow that. It would do all sorts of computer problems, but we have tried this. Put the engines completely in neutral. Take the plane off of auto pilot and then you let go of the controls. The aircraft is designed and engineered, this is true of many aircraft, it is built to fly. Even though the engines are no longer running in this scenario, the plane is designed to be level and controlled and to make a low descent.

We are doing that very slow and gradual. Now again, it's a simulator. So of course the engines, it's possible one would flame out after the other. Mitchell believes that actually one engine if it's still running would compensate automatically for that, right?

MITCHELL CASADO, PILOT TRAINER: Yes. We have a thrust asymmetric compensator in the 777. So yes, in the event of an engine failure, any asymmetric cross will be. Any airplane big or small most of the time it's going to be designed to be stable.

SAVIDGE: We're still descending, still going down, still level. It's possible you could wing over and die.

COOPER: Miles, the thing about this is that no matter what theory you look at that investigators are looking at, there are holes in each one. There are questions that can be raised that don't make it obvious what happened. O'BRIEN: Yes. We don't have any clear cut here. I'd like the guys in the simulator to try one idea if they would. Let's assume the left engine is the first engine to be started generally. That's the custom. Let's assume the left engine flamed out first. If you guys could put it -- let's go with the 12,000-foot altitude, which we've been talking about. I don't believe a lot of these altitude numbers we've been hearing about.

So put it on auto pilot, 12,000 feet. Give it asymmetrical thrust with the right engine going and left engine off. I'm curious if the auto pilot has enough authority to compensate for that asymmetrical thrust. In other words, if one engine is going full gun, the other one's down, will the auto pilot still hold heading or will it disengage and will the plane start turning to the left?

This would be very helpful for searchers because we know at that point, let's say we had that last partial handshake, if that's what happened, they lost one engine, we could get an idea of how far it might be able to fly on one engine, and if in fact it would stay on heading. That's all useful information that might help us.

COOPER: Mitchell, do we know?

CASADO: I can try here. It would take some time.

SAVIDGE: It's going to take us time because we're at 22,000 feet.

CASADO: Another 10,000 feet.

COOPER: What's your sense of what might happen? Do you know, Mitchell?

CASADO: Yes. The thrust asymmetric compensator, if there was electrical power in the airplane then it would compensate. That's what it's designed to do, but we don't know if it had electrical power. That's the key question.

COOPER: We'll be on at the 11:00 hour. We'll try that out. Appreciate our panel being with us. Martin Savidge, Mitchell Casado, Richard Quest, Miles O'Brien.

Up next, searchers racing to find the data recorders, so-called black boxes before they stop pinging. The question will they actually help solve the mystery? Some questions on that ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: If in the Indian Ocean turns up any debris at all from Flight 370, hopefully it will investigators some clue the search that they can start to piece into the larger puzzle of what happened. Now the flight data recorder and the voice data recorder could be the key to solving that mystery. Even if those black boxes are found they may not answer all the questions. Randi Kaye explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the sound of a pilot in trouble. That was the pilot of Swissair Flight 111 talking to air traffic control just minutes before he crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 1998. Everyone on board was killed. When crash investigators found the plane's black boxes at the bottom of the ocean, they were stunned.

LARRY VANCE, DEPUTY CRASH INVESTIGATOR, SWISSAIR FLIGHT 111: Both the recorders stopped recording about 6 minutes before the aircraft actually hit the water.

KAYE: Leaving investigators to wonder why they suddenly lost control of the plane. It was a fire, they later found, in the jet's entertainment system, which also caused the black boxes to fail. But it took putting the plane back together, all 2 million pieces of it, to figure that out.

(on camera): Bottom line, the so-called black boxes aren't perfect and they're not black, either. They're usually orange. On an airplane they're tucked inside an insulated case and surrounded by stainless steel. They're built to withstand temperatures as high as 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit and catastrophic impact.

(voice-over): After TWA Flight 800 went down in July 1996, just 12 minutes after takeoff from New York's JFK Airport, the plane's black boxes were recovered, but they offered little.

PETER GOELZ, FORMER NTSB MANAGING DIRECTOR: Both the voice recorder and the data recorder terminated their operation within a nano second of each other when the explosion took place.

KAYE: Still, despite all the conspiracy theories investigators say they figured out an explosion in the fuel tank caused the crash and shut down the recorders.

On 9/11, 64 people died onboard American Airlines Flight 77 when it slammed into the Pentagon. Fire crews spent days trying to put out the flames. The two black boxes were found in the wreckage, but the cockpit voice recorder was too charred to offer anything of value.

GOELZ: It flew in with such force and the fire was so intense, that nothing could have survived that impact.

KAYE: If the black boxes are ever recovered from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, investigators still may have questions. The cockpit voice recorder starts recording over itself after two hours. So the moment something went very wrong may remain a mystery. Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: David Gallo joins me now. He co-led the search for Air France Flight 447. He's with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. With that crash you weren't able to find the black boxes before the pings ran out of batteries. How much more difficult was it to actually locate the plane because of this? Were you searching in the darkness at 13,000 feet below sea level?

DAVID GALLO, WOOD HOLE OCEANOGRAPHIC INSTITUTION: Literally in the darkness, sure. But figuratively, not so much, Anderson. That's a world we're familiar with. So we were making maps of the bottom and eventually found that wreck. And then from there we went into intensive phase of survey of the wreck itself, so nares and cameras. And handed those images over. It's a method of step-by-step systematic mapping and there they were.

COOPER: By then to find the black boxes submersibles with robotic arms that basically just pick apart the wreckage?

GALLO: Exactly, Anderson. So to find the aircraft we used sonars, made maps with sound using robots like underwater drones. But then to work the wreck site we used a remotely operated camera.

COOPER: And then on that, did the black box still have the recording of what occurred in the moment when the plane started going down? Had it -- I think from the time the plane started going down to the time it hit the water it was relatively quick, right?

GALLO: Four minutes. So the surprising thing there was that it had been two years that those boxes were at about 4,000 meters depth. So 2 1/2 miles depth. We had no idea whether the information would still be there. But Anderson, in this day and age with the right robots, and we've got those robots and the right sensors, they exist as well, you can do a crime scene analysis at depth at a wreck like Air France 447. You can look at every surface, the cockpit, the panels, the landing gear, the flaps. Whatever the investigators want to look at you can look at.

COOPER: That's remarkable. David Gallo, appreciate it. Thanks very much. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: That's it for us. Thanks for watching. We'll see you again at 11 p.m. eastern, a live edition of AC360 two hours from now. Hope you join us for that.

Piers Morgan Live starts now.