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Mystery of Flight 370

Aired April 7, 2014 - 21:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, HOST, THE LEAD: Have Flight 370 searchers rediscover the underwater signal they're looking for? In mere moments, you will hear from the naval commander who will be among the first to know.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is The Lead.

The world lead, two signals and then nothing. The U.S. navy using advanced technology to scour the sea is desperately trying to keep alive their most promising lead yet. The man who speaks for the U.S. effort joins us fresh from his latest briefing.

Also, the batteries in these pingers, they're only supposed to last 30 days, we of course are at date 32, are those pings really from Flight 370's black boxes or are they from something else entirely.

And two weeks after airline officials told families that all lives on 370 were lost, the phase of the Malaysian and of the investigation says "miracles do happen." Miracles do happen? Are the Malaysian's fostering a sense of false hope?

Good evening everyone. I'm Jake Tapper. Welcome to the special prime time edition of The Lead tonight. We begin with The World Lead.

There are no time outs left as we speak at U.S. team aboard in Australian ship operating the key tool in the search for Flight 370 is working around the clock to follow what's been called the most promising lead yet but they do not have much time before that promise will likely fade. The Australians have now greatly narrowed the search to one instead of several areas based on where pings were first picked up which could be, could be from the black boxes.

So far, the search team has not been able to rediscover any signal in the water. The company that makes the pinger now tells CNN that the frequency from the signals was actually at a lower frequency than usual. But, a number of factors could affect that. We'll explore that in a moment.

Remember, the pinger batteries only have an estimated 30 days of power in them. Here we are of course on the 32nd day since Flight 370 vanished with 239 people aboard.

A U.S. official tells CNN that a coalition of nations is discussing whether they'll send a supply ship to the region to service other ships so the searchers don't have to keep coming back in the port.

As our Aviation Correspondent Rene Marsh explains, there really is no time to take a break.


RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Another day of searching and crews have yet to find this elusive signal again.

The pinger locator toad behind the Ocean Shield detected distinct sound over the weekend that may be from the black boxes.

ANGUS HOUSTON, CHIEF COORDINATOR, JOINT AGENCY COORDINATION CENTRE: The first detection (inaudible) two hours and 20 minutes. The ship then must contact the second detection on the return leg was held for approximately 13 minutes.

MARSH: The detections about a mile apart in water more than 14,000 feet deep. On one occasion, two separate pings were heard which only heightened the excitement because the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder pings separately.

HOUSTON: This is a most promising lead.

MARSH: But we've heard that before.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The most promising lead.



MARSH: But this time, it could be different.

HOUSTON: The audible signals sounds to me just like an emergency locator taken.

MARSH: Search crews are cautiously optimistic.

CAPT. MARK MATTHEWS, U.S. NAVY: Certainly, you know, we're jumping to conclusions here. We need to definitely reacquire the signal to confirm that it is the aircraft.

MARSH: The task now, the Ocean Shield is trying to find the signal again and hoping for confirmation. If the ping is detected again, crews will lodge this underwater drone. They can scan the ocean floor and take photos of any potential debris. At the same time, 375 miles away, Chinese ships and the British HMS Echo are trying to confirm pings the Chinese briefly detected Friday and Saturday. Australian official say it's unlikely to be from the same source.

COMMODORE PETER LEAVY, ROYAL AUSTRALIAN NAVY: It's quite possible for sound to travel great distances laterally but be very difficult to hear near the surface of the ocean for instance.

MARSH: All of the activities happening right along this arc where a partial satellite connection placed the plane at 8:19 a.m. the day it disappeared. The Australians believed it's the most likely place the plane went down.


MARSH: Also emerging, new details about the plane's flight path. An official tells CNN, after the plane makes it's initial left turn, it skirts Indonesia with the person in the cockpit trying to avoid radar, we'd maybe one step closer to finding out if the new signals detected are truly from the black boxes. But crews have not been able to recapture those signals. Jake.

TAPPER: Thanks to Rene. Tonight, you can expect to hear two updates on this search for Flight 370. The first will come in a moment right here on The Lead from the spokesman for the navy's Seventh Fleet which is operating that pinger locator on the Ocean Shield by the Australian ship. The second will come later from the Australians themselves.

I want to get to our own Matthew Chance live in Perth, Australia. Matthew, are we expecting anything significant today?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, in about two hours from now Jake, we're going to have the Australian Defence Minister David Johnston. He's come to this air base around just outside Perth appears (ph) air base and he's going to be meeting with these crews getting a briefing from the commanders of the search operation. And then taking questions from the media and making some statements as well. And so, that's going to be interesting.

Next team is going to be Angus Houston who's the Australian retired air force official who's heading up the multinational search efforts that he might make some remarks as well. So, potentially, it could be significant. Angus Houston has spoken a couple of times in the past week and made a very significant remarks. We're expecting more of the same today.

TAPPER: Matthew Chance in Australia. Thank you so much.

It's unclear if tonight's presser from the Australian Defence Minister will answer our key questions or just create more questions. One big question is over the reporting we confirmed just minutes ago that this pings detected by Ocean Shield were actually at a frequency of 33.3 kilohertz. That's lower than the standard locator beacon frequency of 37.5 kilohertz. Does that cast more doubt on whether the signal is coming from the black boxes of Flight 370?

Let's bring in our panel. Captain Tim Taylor is a Submersible Specialist and President of Tiburon Subsea Services. Steve Wallace is the former Director of the Federal Aviation Administrations Office of Accident Investigation. And of course, Mile O'Brien is a CNN Aviation Analyst and Science Correspondent for PBS NewsHour. Gentlemen, thanks for being here.

Tim, I want to start with you. We now know that this frequency came in at 33.3 kilohertz lower than the standard 37.5. Does that rule out that this is possibly from the black boxes?

TIM TAYLOR, SEA OPERATIONS SPECIALIST: No, not necessarily. The battery strength -- water is a very diffused medium and it's full of layers of temperature and pressure gradients that can distort and reflect this. So, I think that it is in the range. These manufacturers always say that there are plus or minus on the range as well as. So they're not always right get on. And if you factor all that in, it's the regularity of that heat. It's unnatural. It's not a biological type of thing. It sounds manmade. So, that -- in my book, does not count it out at all. This is actually -- it makes -- it's a credible head even if it's a 33.3 kilohertz.

TAPPER: Miles, we're going to get more into the frequency discussion later in this show. I want to play some sound now from the brother of one of the passengers, Flight 370 passenger Philip Wood from Texas. He was on Erin Burnett out front just a few moments ago.


JAMES WOOD, BROTHER OF PHILIP WOOD, AMERICAN ON FLIGHT 370: At midnight last night when I was watching the Australian spokesperson talk about this and the evidence that they have found, I was actually really hopeful. As the days going on, it's been a little less (inaudible).


TAPPER: Let's take the temperature in the room here based on what we know right now. How confident are we that these are beacons from the black boxes, from the data recorders?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Everything I've heard from Tim, and I'm not expert on this aspect of it. I mean, I've heard from Tim and the U.S. navy, you would express a lot about optimism that if these are in fact the pingers. There's just no other explanation for what you'd be hearing in that metronome fashion at that frequency plus or minus of few kilohertz. So that's the good news. It's quite possible they might have heard the last gasp of those pingers as the batteries died. Wouldn't that be an amazing stroke of luck and a little bit of bad luck too?

Having said that, just by being in that vicinity, even though they have another chance to, you know, acquire and reacquire and reacquire so they can really home it down, that still put some in an area where they've got a much more manageable haystack if you will unlike if they realized that the pingers aren't going to be doing anymore work, they can get that side-scan sonar down there, instruct (ph) the laborious effort of mapping the ocean floor.

TAPPER: And Steve, what's your take? Just taking your temperature here, what do you think?

STEVE WALLACE, FMR. DIRECTOR, FAA'S OFFICE OF ACCIDENT INVESTIGATION: Right. And you know, I defer to Tim as Miles did. It -- this news is perhaps the best news we've had. I'm also pleased that the officials in charge down there on Australia are trilliant (ph) with a good measure of caution. So -- and just to think back to the Air France accident where the pingers were long dead if they even worked, but we knew exactly where Air France went in the water. Perhaps, these pingers, even if they are here on the 32nd day, as you said, if they are about to expire, perhaps, they have given at least provide a much more precise location of where to start searching with the side-scan sonar on the other assets.

TAPPER: And Tim, if the fact of the frequency was lower than the normal frequency, was indeed because it was something of a last gasp from these pingers from their dying batteries. That would be remarkable luck that it was detected at that moment.

TAYLOR: It would -- these things don't necessarily just stop. They kind of taper down. I think what is a big factor in this is people need to understand that oceans are layers and there's a layer in the ocean that has a propensity to channel these sounds, these frequencies, and run them for miles. So, although the pinger only goes for a few miles, it sunk (ph) and get in that channel and start bouncing and travel hundreds of miles away. So, it's extremely important that they get more pings and triangulate on where it is because they've got like one line of the map here. They need three or four lines so they can vector in on it. And then the AUVs will be extremely effective. Right now, it still could be a very, very large AUV task at hand if for luck of a better way to say that, it's still not narrowed down enough to make those AUVs the best choice. We need some more fixes. And hopefully tonight, when they get back -- get their report or we heard at midnight here, we'll know, we'll know something more.

TAPPER: As we know, there are up to 14 planes out today in the search, 14 ships. Which are more important at this stage of the search, the planes or the ships?

O'BRIEN: Well, you know, this is just amazing unprecedented in aviation that we've got pingers before a single piece of debris. Single piece of debris is remarkable. So, yes ...

TAPPER: If these are indeed the pingers.

O'BRIEN: Indeed. And thank you for that. I appreciate it. But, the fact is, the planes perform a very valuable role right now in double checking this. I mean, it's quite possible. There still is floating debris out there. We -- one would suspect that would be the case. Is that aircraft intact at the bottom of the ocean, was all that debris blown away by the cyclone that happened at the early part of the search, we don't know. But, I'm just flabbergasted that we have what is potentially pingers without even a floating sea cushion.

TAPPER: And lastly Steve. We heard a few days ago there were this talk of nations pulling back the resources from the search but our own Barbara Starr depending on reports that the nations involved in the search are now debating whether or not to send a supply ship which would seem to suggest that they're aiming for the long haul I think. Is that what you take from that?

WALLACE: Yes. And this is just an absolutely unprecedented effort and that suggest to me that this is going to go on. And, you know, which asset (ph) is more important? I think there is an element of luck in this and an aircraft might just spot a definitive piece of aircraft wreckage or debris, a ship might just seer (ph) one of these pings. So, this is just an absolutely unprecedented international effort and I think it's going to continue.

TAPPER: All right. Miles, Steve, Tim, stick around. We have lots more to discuss.

Coming up, if they find it, you will likely hear it from him first. The spokesman for the navy team that found the most promising lead yet joins us just moments after he was briefed on the latest. And the frequency was off according to the company that made the pingers. Does that mean the signal was junk? Not necessarily. Stick with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to The Lead. I'm Jake Tapper. For more now on our world lead, the search for Flight 370 now significantly narrowed down to a much tighter area as crews raised (inaudible) the U.S. navy team picked up which could be from the pingers on the black box recorders. The (inaudible) search to pick up those signals again has been going around the clock because the pinger batteries are running out if, if they're not dead already.

Let's get to Commander William Marks right now. He's the spokesman for the navy's Seventh Fleet which is overseeing the U.S. role in the search. Commander, thanks for joining us. We understand you just got out of a briefing on the search, any new information to share with us?

CMDR. WILLIAM MARKS, SPOKESMAN, U.S. NAVY SEVENTH FLEET: Well, pretty much, we are still in this continuous 24-hour search to reacquire those initial pings we saw. And now, it's approaching 72 hours. So it's between two and three days ago. So, we're -- we were costly optimistic as each minutes passes that that fades -- as the battery life of the black boxes fades. So, you know, there were some reasons, and actually, there's still are some reasons to be encouraged. One, we did have two plus hours of detection time and that certainly is significant and I should also say it's -- it was on two courses. So, two hours on one course then we reeled (ph) in the TPL, turned around on our reciprocal course. It had almost another 15 minutes. So that was very encouraging.

And the second thing that was encouraging was that as we -- as the Ocean Shield move through the water, as we approach what we thought could be the black boxes that signal got stronger and stronger. I mean, as you pass it, it gets weaker and weaker. And that's very consistent with what we would expect as we do approach the black box and then pass (ph) it and that's when we do that turn around to reacquire it again. The second thing that was encouraging was we did have two distinct locations. So, about the same frequency, two locations, and once again, that's consistent with the fact that there were two black boxes on this aircraft, the voice data recorder from the cockpit (inaudible) the separate data recorder. So, you know, if you look at those things, it was encouraging.

Now, we do have some challenges. One, the batteries on these pingers, the TPL is only effective when there is a signal coming from the black box. If there is no signal from the black box, there is nothing to hear. And so, our towed pinger locator really will end its usefulness (ph). And then the other thing is rises (ph), this signal going in and going out maybe a mile or so and that's not a huge length at which we can hear this. So, a lot of these challenges have to do with the black boxes, but, you know, we're still out there.

It's 24 hours of continuous search. We've got active duty navy. We have navy civilians and of course our Australian partners. And they're out there as we speak. And don't forget, we're flying -- we're still flying our P-8 Poseidon as we seek (ph). We should have that point up (ph) during a couple of hours for the day's first mission.

TAPPER: And commander, what do you expect to hear from the Australians of their news conference in the next couple of hours?

MARKS: Good question. You know, I think what we're looking at here is where's the decision point at which really it's not effective to keep listening for the pings coming from the black boxes. The TPL, the towed pinger locator, that's a passive hydrophone system. It's essentially a very sensitive listening device.

What we'd like to do ideally is use this in sequence. So, you have the TPL, get a defense triangulation on the location of the black boxes and then we can move in our Bluefin-21 side-scan sonar. That allows us to get a picture of the bottom of the ocean floor there. So what -- ideally, we've got to use this in sequence first with a triangulation with the TPL and then our active side-scan sonar. But, unless we do get really a definitive reacquisition of that signal, it is -- it's a big challenge for our side-scan sonar because the area is still pretty big.

TAPPER: What do we make of the fact that those countries involved in the search are now debating whether or not to have a supply ship there? Does this mean the U.S., China, Australia, Malaysia, any others, countries aiding this search are really settling in for the long haul?

MARKS: Yeah. I think that is a good indication of that. Our role here in Seventh Fleet, the U.S. Seventh Fleet, a supporting role for the Australian government and of course the Malaysian government. So, as the secretary of defense said, every request that has come my way, we've fortunately been able to fulfill and have instruct (ph) back from sending two destroyers to the region with these helicopters flying out of Kuala Lumpur then of course flying now out of Perth. So, we're standing by. That's what we do here in Seventh Fleet. We train for this type of things. We build partnerships. We hold 80 to a 100 exercises every single year. So, working with all these countries is our bread and butter. We do it every single day and, you know, we're here to support this international effort.

TAPPER: Commander, just one last question. I understand, correct me if I'm wrong, that Ocean Shield has gone back to areas where it had previously picked up these pingers. How many hours has it been in locations where it had previously picked up the pinger and what do you do if you just don't pick it up ever again? MARKS: Yeah, you know, that's the decision and as optimistic as we were, you know, to even get any detection really is pretty miraculous. So, I don't want to just tell how important that was, you know, we still are in an area hundreds of miles. And without any leads, this area was simply be incredibly huge -- an incredibly huge area to try to search. So, any leads, we do have are encouraging and, you know, it doesn't necessarily have to come from the U.S. navy, you know, we've have leads from other countries and anything that we can do to narrow this search area to a more defined field will help us tremendously because the next -- so the shift will be from listening to the active search with the side-scan sonar.

It's much harder to search for the side-scan sonar. It's very slow, methodical, and deliberate. It takes a lot of time. So, you know, we're just happy to have any leads, and you know, these two hours of detection time is something that was encouraging. And at least, if we don't reacquire it, that's OK. It's something we can build out of.

TAPPER: All right. Commander William Marks, thank you so much for your time.

Let's bring back our panel to understand the importance of what Commander Marks just told us.

Tim, I'll go to you first. You just heard from Commander Marks, how difficult of a task is ahead of them to reacquire these signals.

TAYLOR: Well, I'm encouraged with the TPL because it's actually going to depth and there was those levels I talked about earlier and maybe little void some of that. So, where they're picking up this ping at what depth level may be a big factor in how small they're getting that field. And I think they're going to have to analyze this data. This -- they've got two hits. That's two vectors that they can dial into a coordinate and I think that's a lot of information than we give a credit for two hours of time and then 15 minutes of time then maybe able to gleam (ph) some information of for that. It may be an underwater version of the Inmarsat data systems that we'll be using, so.

TAPPER: And Steve, he said, without picking up again on that signal, the search is going to be a big challenge and I almost felt like luck picking up that signals. So, is there a back up plan beyond sending planes out looking for debris and beyond that sonar which he said was far less likely to pick anything out.

WALLACE: Well, I think the -- again, it was impressive what Commander Marks said. I mean, the scope of this international effort and the competence of the people involved in it gives me -- and I think also, nobody's going to -- nobody's close to giving up on this. That's not even in discussion. So, determination of this coalition of people who are doing this is tremendous. And I think those pingers have already greatly narrowed the search area. Obviously, the enormity the challenge it remains was clearly spelled out by Commander Marks there.

TAPPER: Miles, your take? O'BRIEN: My take is that the -- what I like about this side it gives me some degree of hope is that it falls right out of that arc, that 8:19 last ...

TAPPER: And it's already been ...

O'BRIEN: ... partially ahead (ph).

TAPPER: ... partially (ph) out, yeah.

O'BRIEN: You draw the arc and there's the spot right there. So that's sort of backs up where we are, doesn't it? And it validates both the Inmarsat data and also validates what they're hearing. So, I think anytime, you can get evidence overlap that way, it gives you more hope.

TAPPER: All right. Miles O'Brien, Steve Wallace, Tim Taylor, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

Coming up on The Lead, planes and ships racing to find what these pings are coming from. How daunting a search area? Are they still up against? Plus, families were told all hope is lost, but now, Malaysia's transport minister says "miracles do happen." Can't Malaysian officials get their story straight? Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to The Lead. Continuing our world lead in the search for Flight 370. As many as 14 planes are taking off from Australia to start of another searching day, but for the ships involved, it's 24/7 process. Two ships detected signals that could be the pings from the black boxes, although over 300 miles apart. And just as the batteries for the boxes are expected to run out, it's almost too good to be true.

Now, those ships split today's search area, looking for confirmation that the signals picked up were in fact what they're looking for. Could this be a step towards some finality for the families or just another false alarm?

Tom Foreman joins us live at the magic wall. Tom, how much stocks (ph) should we put into these signal detections at this point?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: At this point, I guess it depends on whether you think they're good or really lucky or maybe neither one, that's the problem. We don't know the answer (inaudible).

Look at this progression of what's happened here. Over time, what they came up with was this arc by looking at the satellite data. Then off this arc, they've developed search areas which changed and changed and change and changed. And all of a sudden they come down to this particular search area where they start getting this pings near.

This ping is the Chinese pings that they're not paying as much attention to it. These are the pings they care about and they're in the search area. So what has that done? That is effectively taken in area that originally was around three million square miles and taking it down to maybe three-square miles. So this is a gigantic step here. But as you pointed out Jake, maybe there's a lot of chance here because it's a little hard to understand how you get that kind of condensation of effort based on nothing but mathematics and these satellite pings there are so few in number.

TAPPER: And how much of a reliable data the searchers have to work with here?

FOREMAN: Not much.


FOREMAN: We know most of the data, unless as many of us have asked, is there something they're not telling us?

TAPPER: All those surveillance ...

FOREMAN: Yes, there's some kind of secret thing going on that we can't be told by about subs or something out there. If you look at the tow ping that went out there, this is a remarkable idea, you're within hours. It's all about the timing. You're within hours seemingly if this thing running out of juice, they drop one of this in the water for the first time, and look, it goes within range to get it. That's pretty remarkable based upon everything else.

But here's the other part of this equation. If you think about this they had location right, they get the timing right at this extraordinary moment like this and then we have this other question though, are they going to be able to connect the surface with the bottom part here, right? Because this is one of the questions we have. We have had a steady flow up here since the day this thing started. There has been current flowing up here. There was a giant storm that went through up here shortly after the wreck.

So, even if this is moving at one mile an hour and especially if it's moving three or four miles an hour, anything on the surface could now be 700, 800 miles from where it started. Meaning, a fundamental disconnect between the upper layer up here and the lower layer down here. So, if they found something down here, they may not find anything up here. If they find something up here, they might not find anything down here. That's an artifact that's have been going on for weeks.

So again, are they good? Are they lucky? Or they needed one? You don't know until we get real hard evidence.

TAPPER: And that evidence could come tomorrow or not for months.

FOREMAN: Or never.

TAPPER: Or never. Tom Foreman, thank you so much.

Coming up on The Lead, I'll talk to two experts who know exactly how these pingers, and pinger trackers work, because they build them. More breaking news coverage right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to The Lead. I'm Jake Tapper. Continuing our world lead at missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, and signals that may, may be coming from the black boxes. Separate pings were detected by an Australian ship and a Chinese ship. Tonight, we're learning that the pings detected by Australian's Ocean Shield were actually a lower frequency than the standard for black box pingers, and the reliability of the information from the Chinese ship is a doubt for many reasons.

So, is hope fading? Yet again, joining us now from Boston, Thomas Altshuler, Vice President of Teledyne Marine Systems. That's the company that manufactures the ping detection equipment on the Chinese ship. And from Sarasota, Florida, Chris Portale from pinger maker Dukane Seacom. So we have the pinger maker and the ping detector maker with us both.

Chris, first to you, your company confirmed to CNN that the pings detected by the Ocean Shield ship were actually at 33.3 kilohertz that's a lower frequency than the standard locator beacon frequency of 37.5 kilohertz. Does this mean this can't be the plane or is there some other explanation and it still could be?

CHRIS PORTALE, DIRECTOR, DUKANE SEACOM: It definitely still could be. What you have with the pinger frequency can be affected by the temperature of the water, the depth, the pressure, the current, and actually, the battery life and actual orientation of the pinger on the floor. All those could affect it. So definitely it could be.

TAPPER: Right. Chris, just to follow, we were told that the batteries on this beacons would be out of juice by now, that they only last 30 days, obviously, it's been 32. How could that explain the change in frequency, and do these batteries ever last longer than 30 days?

PORTALE: Well, the batteries are required to last 30 days, even if they're aged, their older batteries are on the air craft. We usually get a plus five-day variance on our batteries. So, we anticipated them lasting longer. And as the battery degrade, the signal will go down and the first -- the frequency will change a little bit and then the ping cadence will actually slow down from the normal one ping a second. So, it is consistent.

In having heard the actual pings and having our team analyzed it, the noise is definitely consistent with what our ping is designed to do when it hits the water.

TAPPER: Thomas, how big of a development is this? How could this change the calculation for searchers right now?

THOMAS ALTSHULER, VICE PRESIDENT, TELEDYNE MARINE SYSTEMS: Well, I think the information is coming from the Australian ship is pretty significant. It is a fact that you have this period to see, this one second or approximately one second rapidity. And then the fact that you're in the frequency band that is close to where you're supposed to be. You know, the pingers are designed to be 37.5 kilohertz. And the FAA requirement is plus or minus one kilohertz, so it can be 37.5, 36.5, to 38.5.

But Chris is actually right, there are a lot of reasons that you can begin to see a shift in the pinging, the pinging frequency, and that is the kind of parameters he talked about. It could be just the mechanical structure went inside the ceramic that's inside the pinger. So, this is nothing to be disturbed by and it's just is one of the piece of evidence that when you're in the real world and you have real world equipment, it doesn't function quite the way the ideal system does.

TAPPER: Now Chris, turning to the Chinese ship for one second. One reason, some were optimistic about this is that the Chinese ship reportedly detected pulses at the 37.5 kilohertz frequency. That frequency is not chosen by accident. Can you explain why 37.5?

PORTALE: Well, it's an ultrasonic frequency that is not readily found in nature. The reason for it is you want it to standout in the bandwidth if you want it to able to found -- be found by rescuers or a recovery team. So, it's designed to be unique and not readily found in nature.

TAPPER: Thomas, the ping detector that the Chinese have onboard is designed for use in shallow water, water as deep 15,000 feet in these areas, is it possible to pick up a pulse that deep with this equipment?

ALTSHULER: Well, so the, you know, to say that it's designed to work in shallow water, that means that the sensor only goes into shallow water. The ability for a sound to propagate, to move through the water is very complex. And I think earlier in this segment there was discussion about the water column and the layers. That is very important in how sound moves. So, we would say that it is possible but it's very unlikely, it would have to be the perfect set of conditions to have. Any frequency like 37.5 propagate that far

TAPPER: Thomas Altchuler, Chris Portale, thank you so much for your time and for sharing your expertise, we appreciate it.

Coming up on The Lead, they are storming government buildings, barricading themselves inside, raising Russian flags. Now, the White House says Vladimir Putin maybe paying off protesters to cause chaos in Ukraine. And the plane's been missing a month, so why is the Malaysian government suddenly telling the families to hold out hope for a miracle?

Stay with us for more of our breaking news coverage on the search for Flight 370.


TAPPER: Welcome back to The Lead. We'll have more on our breaking news coverage on the search for Flight 370 in a minute. But first, in other world news, they took Crimea, but the story does not end there. Pro Russian protesters are now battling for cities in Eastern Ukraine. Barricaded themselves inside government buildings, claiming independence in what the country's Prime Minister calls chaos scripted by the Kremlin to justify an even bigger land grab." The White House now says some of these protesters are likely on Moscow's payroll.


JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: These groups, these individuals who went into these different areas were of course pro Russian separatist. There's strong evidence suggesting that some of them were paid and were not local residents.


TAPPER: Russian denies having anything to do with the pandemonium, but the White House is threatening new sanctions if Putin keeps pushing. And all the while, tens of thousands of Russian troops remain on the border.

Let's bring in Harvard Kennedy School professor and former U.S. Undersecretary of State, Nicholas Burns. Mr. Ambassador thanks for joining us. So, the conservative writer Bret Stephens who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 for his commentary, he writes in the Wall Street Journal tonight that Putin is about to, "Eat President Obama's lunch", quote "If I were Vladimir Putin I'd invade eastern Ukraine this week. Strike while the iron is hot. Never again will the taking be so easy. Mr. Putin knows Mr. Obama. He knows that the U.S. president has the digestive fortitude of a tourist in Tijuana. And that's why Mr. Putin should move quickly."

Putting aside some of the colorful writing there. If Putin decides to take Eastern Ukraine, is there anything President Obama can really do to stop him?

NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO NATO: Well, first of all, I think Bret Stephens commentary is a little bit over the top. We have to remember that when Putin invaded Georgia in August 2008, George W. Bush really couldn't do much and he was no shrinking violet, he was a very tough president. But, you know, we don't have a security commitment to Ukraine. Ukraine is not a member of NATO.

And so, I think the president could do if this happen. And I'm not sure that it is likely, because Putin is rational. He understands that sanctions would come, real sanctions this time. And thus, I think are deterrent here. If President Obama can't in a credible way convince President Putin that major sectoral sanctions, meaning Russian exports, the United States shut off in many areas. American badly needed exports to Russia shut off. That could be compelling for President Putin.

Now the weakness in this Jake, is the European Union, because there are bigger trade partner and much more important trader partner to Russia and they have not shown I think anywhere near the focus that the United States has put on this issue.

TAPPER: And right. And actually, the administer Asian (ph) sources have told me that one of the problems with these potential greater sanctions at that, is the economies of many of these European Union Countries especially the ones surrounding the Mediterranean, Spain, Italy, Greece are so fragile that they're afraid and that's why the E.U. is bulky (ph). How widespread do you think these uprisings really are? And how much of Ukraine do you think, is it truly in jeopardy of being scooped up by Putin here?

BURNS: Well, it's Eastern Ukraine that's in question, because in the major cities Kharkiv, Luhansk, Donetsk, there are significant ethnic Russian populations. And some of those -- in some towns, the city is majority ethnic Russians. But there is also a heavy concentration of Ukrainian nationals there. So it's a mixed region. It's the part of Ukraine that is most heavily ethnic Russian. And these seem Jake, to be orchestrated demonstrations. There were people who are armed, they were very well planed, they took over municipal buildings. They don't seem to be spontaneous. They weren't provoked by the Ukrainian authorities.

It was a very serious threat to the territorial integrity, the sovereignty of Ukraine, when you're loosing government buildings by force. And there are reports tonight I think on CNN that Ukrainian Special Force have taken back one of those buildings. So this is a very dangerous situation. It's exactly the type of situation that Putin could possibly capitalized on to say, the rights of ethnic Russians are being trampled on, I have to protect them. That's the argument he made in Crimea.

TAPPER: Very quickly if you would. How are we to discern? How are we able to discern who maybe paid protesters and who are sincerely Russian speaking Ukrainians, Ethnic Russians, who support Putin? I don't know how we sort out who's who.

BURNS: I think this distance is very difficult to do that, except for this Jake, the public opinion polls and lots of travelers to Eastern Ukraine over the last several months do not detect an overwhelming sentiment for separation from Ukraine. There are lots of Ukrainians there. There are people who live in this country for 23 years since this become independent from the Soviet Union in 1991.

And so, the Russian I think, if they're going to try to destabilize Ukraine and they will do that. They're going to try to so discord these kinds of demonstrations to weaken this new government in Kiev and call on to question his own credibility.

TAPPER: Ambassador Nick Burns, thank you so much.

Coming up on The Lead, just weeks after announcing Flight 370 ended in the ocean with no survivors, Malaysia's government now says, "Don't rule out a miraculous ending to this tragic story." We'll have more on these mixed messages that have families fed up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to The Lead. More now on our world lead with so much influx over the past 32 days in the search for Flight 370. One thing that has remained constant is that Malaysian officials just cannot seem to put out a clear message regarding the investigation into the plane's disappearance and what happened to the 239 people onboard. And for of those desperate for answers about their loved ones, these mixed messages have caused increasing frustration not to mention a growing lack of trust.


TAPPER: For many critics it was not just bizarre, it was downright irresponsible. As search crews continue to look for the remains of Flight 370 which all reliable data suggest plunged into the Indian Ocean 31 days ago.

HUSSEIN: I specify it was a consent.

TAPPER: Malaysian authorities said they might still reel in a miracle.

HUSSEIN: Miracles do happen and we are still hoping against hope. We continue to hope and pray for survivors.

TAPPER: Survivors? Well, some of the families insist they're holding out hope and we certainly respect that. Survivor seems unlikely more than a month after the plane went missing. The search crews after all are looking under water. And that certainly was the message from the Malaysian government on March 24th when they told the world all hope was lost.

NAJIB RAZAK, MALAYSIAN PRIME MINISTER: It is therefore with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you Flight MH370 ended in the Southern Indian Ocean.

TAPPER: Malaysia Airlines actually delivered the devastating news to passenger's families by text message.

MH370 has been lost and none of those onboard survived.

This latest statement is certainly not the only time Malaysian officials have been stunned by the smack of critics around the world. Remember when the country's top cop floated the idea this could all be part of an elaborate life insurance scam?

KHALID ABU BAKAR, ROYAL MALAYSIAN POLICE INSPECTOR GENERAL: It maybe somebody there on the flight who has brought huge sums of insurance who wants the family to gain from it.

TAPPER: There is the Malaysian politician who got in some Twitter trouble for tweeting that Flight 370 might have vanished into a new Bermuda Triangle. And early on, there was the huge error by Malaysia's civil aviation director who went on TV and said two man who boarded the plane with stolen passports resembled this black Italian soccer player.


(FOREIGHN LANGUAGE) TAPPER: Except of course the two passengers looked, well, nothing like that. Another misstep, for weeks, Malaysian authorities were adamant to the last words from the cockpit were, "All right, good night". And then last week that suddenly changed to "Good night, Malaysia 370." Now, the Australian ambassador to the U.S. reprimanded me when I raised some of these issues.

KIM BEAZLEY, AUSTRALIAN AMBASSADOR TO UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: But, its little country. This flow can just be overwhelmed with the attention, overwhelmed with the problem of the search.

TAPPER: No Ambassador Beazley has a point, but on the other hand, how merciful is false hope?

HUSSEIN: That as long as there is even a remote chance of a survivor, we will pray and do whatever it takes.


TAPPER: That's it for The Lead. I'm Jake Tapper. Be sure to check out The Lead weekdays at 4:00 p.m. Eastern. We'll also be here at 9:00 Eastern p.m. all this week. CNN's coverage of the Mystery of Flight 370 continues now.