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Technological Problems Happening with Bluefin; Growing Tensions in Ukraine; Inside Side-Scan Sonar in the Search for Flight 370; Ebola Death Toll is Rising

Aired April 16, 2014 - 13:30   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Just ahead technology is leading the way in the search for Flight 370, but why haven't all those sophisticated gadgets found the plane?

And tensions are heightened in Ukraine right now. Armed pro-Russian separatists are taking over key buildings in eastern cities. Can this be stopped? We'll ask our military analyst.


BLITZER: Welcome back. I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting from Washington. It's the middle of the night right now in South Korea, where a race against time is under way to find nearly 300 people missing after a large ferry capsized and sank. Most of the passengers were high school students from Seoul on a class trip to a resort island. 179 people were rescued before the ship flipped over. Six people are now confirmed dead.

Survivors were treated for hypothermia after being in the frigid water. Some of those rescued said they were given conflicting commands about whether to stay on the ship or jump in the water.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (Through Translator): Put your safety vest on and stay put as it's dangerous. Kept announcing that about 10 times so kids were forced to stay put. So only some of those who moved survived.


BLACKWELL: Cause of this accident not yet known.

Right now an undersea drone is scanning the Indian Ocean searching for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Here are the latest developments.

A technical glitch caused the Bluefin-21 to resurface during its latest deep dive but the problem was fixed and it was redeployed. Ships and planes were out once again today looking for any signs of debris on the surface of the water. Fourteen planes, 11 ships took part. And angry relatives of those on board Flight 370 stormed out of a conference room at a Beijing hotel today. They were upset about technical problems with the video conference call by Malaysian officials. Those technical problems with the Bluefin-21 are troubling because searchers are relying on it to find the remains of that jumbo jet.

Brian Todd is here with a closer look of what some are calling hiccups, some are saying it's a lot more serious than a hiccup.

What's going on?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the hiccups first. Phoenix International official, they're the ones who own and run the Bluefin- 21, they say this is not unusual. It's not surprising, that this is a minor issue.

What happened was Bluefin -- the Bluefin has electronics sealed in bottles to keep the saltwater out and to protect it from pressure. So as it moves deeper into the ocean, and the pressure rises, the system is designed to push oil into those little bottles where the electronics are. Well, in this case -- the oil usually, you know, encounters the pressure and keeps the saltwater out.

In this case, the oil in a battery junction box on the Bluefin was low. The reading said it was low. So they had to bring it up, replenish the oil, then they sent it back in. They say that's not unusual for this kind of operation and that it's now back in the water and doing its job, Wolf. So they say this is kind of to be expected in one of these operations.

The Bluefin is not the only option, by the way. They have -- there is something called the Orion which is a towed vehicle. It looks a little bit like the Bluefin. It can go about a mile deeper than the Bluefin. There's a picture of it.

The Orion is owned by the Navy. It's maintained and operated by Phoenix International. But right now it's sitting in Largo, Maryland, in Phoenix's facility out there. The U.S. Navy says we've not been asked to send the Orion over there. We have asked the people in Perth, the officials of the search teams in Perth why they haven't asked, we've not gotten an answer to that yet -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Besides the Orion, the Bluefin-21, there are other submersibles.

TODD: That's right.

BLITZER: Other devices potentially could be used. If they don't work or if the Orion never shows up.

TODD: That's right. Well, there is something called the REMUS 6000. It look and it really is a lot like the Bluefin. It's an autonomous underwater vehicle. I believe that's a picture of it right there. It can go 6,000 meters, 3.7 miles below the surface. That's about a mile deeper than the Bluefin.

The problem with the REMUS 6000 the Navy -- the U.S. Navy has three of these things, but they say all three are on military missions. They are tasked to do other things. The Navy won't tell us anything more than that. We get the sense that maybe some of that's classified. But they say basically those are not available.

Now what Phoenix International has just told us is they're considering now tweaking the Bluefin that's out there to be able to go 5,000 meters deep. That's 16,400 feet. A little bit more than 1500 more than it can go right now and about 3.1 miles down. So this vehicle that's out there now in the Indian Ocean, they can tweak it to go a little deeper. They're thinking about doing that right now.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much, appreciate it.

TODD: Sure.

BLITZER: Ukraine's government seems to be losing control in several eastern Ukrainian towns. Pro-Russian separatists are taking over military vehicles, they're planting Russian flags on them. So should the U.S. be worried? What can the U.S. do, if anything? Our military analyst standing by.


BLITZER: In Ukraine, tensions are high right now. Very high. Pro- Russian militants and the army, they are facing off in towns in the eastern part of the country.

Take a look at this. This is a map where the uprisings are taking place up and down eastern Ukraine. All about 100 miles or so from where thousands of Russian troops have massed on the Russian side of the border.

These are scenes today from near Kramatorsk. Locals blocking a convoy of paratroopers acting on orders from Kiev, the Ukrainian capital. It appears standoffs like these aren't ending any time soon.

Let's bring in retired U.S. Army Major General Spider Marks, he's a CNN military analyst.

It looks like the situation is getting increasingly more tense. And the question is what, if anything, can or the U.S. military be doing about this?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, first of all, I think the United States has a very good sense of what's going on, who the actors are. There's good intelligence. I think we have a good view of kind of the players and what's happening. And we really understand that what's happening in eastern Ukraine right now, not Crimea, that's off the table now, but in eastern Ukraine, is entirely instigated by Putin.

These are Spetsnaz forces. I think we can attribute that to the Russians. We need to be able to be very strong not only in our economic sanctions but we have to have an immediate impact. There has to be kind of a blow that Putin understands.

BLITZER: Right. So how does the U.S. do that? What --

MARKS: What we do -- BLITZER: The sanctions, they're intensifying.

MARKS: They are intensifying and there is going to be a downstream effect. That will be felt, absolutely. We have to take advantage of our freedom of navigation. We have access to the Black Sea. We have forces, we have the Navy that can increase its presence in the Black Sea. That's not unprecedented.

BLITZER: That sends a message?

MARKS: A very strong message because that's very strong naval attack capabilities. Putin understands that. We can increase Air Force press answer in NATO. Not just U.S. exclusively, but all NATO forces. And we can get NATO ground forces out of their garrison locations, they can begin to conduct exercises. They have the readiness, they have the capability, they have the wherewithal to send a very powerful message that there's an increased readiness posture. We know what's going on and we've got to demonstrate that we're not afraid to act.

Additionally, Wolf --

BLITZER: But no one wants U.S. military forces to go inside Ukraine right now.

MARKS: No. And I don't think there's much of a chance that that's going to happen. But there have to be --

BLITZER: But short of that, Putin is going to look at some exercises in the NATO allies, another ship in the Black Sea, that's not going to have a big impact on him.

MARKS: But nobody said another ship on the Black Sea, it's a credible presence. We need to be -- we need to be able to look at what Putin is doing right now with the forces that are across the border, not in Ukraine, but across the border from Ukraine. It's exactly what the United States did in 2002, 2003 before we invaded Iraq. We had -- we gave up strategic surprise, we positioned forces and then we asserted our will. There's nothing stopping Putin from doing that.

BLITZER: Yes. My own sense is military options are very, very limited. What the U.S. can do military, to really have an impact on Putin where he -- the U.S., the NATO allies, the Europeans, could have an impact would be economic sanctions, really making it economically painful for Russia to be doing what they're doing.

MARKS: We could also release our ability to export our liquid natural gas, liquefied natural gas.

BLITZER: But technically that's going to be years in the making to get that kind of gas from the U.S. over to Europe.

MARKS: We need to be able to have the -- the EU leadership raise a hand collectively and say, you know, maybe we've been shameless for the last 15 years, we've been in the pocket of Russia, we can -- we can find alternative sources of keeping ourselves viable.

BLITZER: They can but that's going to take years, years down the road.

MARKS: But they have to demonstrate the ability to do that. They've got to demonstrate the confidence that they can stand together and they can confront Putin.


MARKS: This is not unprecedented what we're seeing.

BLITZER: I wouldn't hold my breath because there's a lot of energy, oil, gas, coming from Russia into Germany and these other countries. For the short term, there's really not much of an alternative for them.

MARKS: The short term has to be a very powerful message, it has to be sent to Putin. I'm not suggesting that U.S. boots on the ground is an alternative.


MARKS: There has to be a demonstration of force. We can achieve that.

BLITZER: It's a complicated situation. James "Spider" Marks --

MARKS: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for coming in.

MARKS: Sure. Sure.

BLITZER: Technology is leading the search for Flight 370. One system is called side scan sonar. We're going to show you how it works just ahead. A live report coming up.


BLITZER: The search for missing Flight 370 happening right now at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. It's an extremely challenging mission. Something called side-scan sonar technology is now being used to help map the ocean floor and locate the plane.

This has never been done in that part of the Indian Ocean before.

Stephanie Elam is joining us now. She's on a boat off the Santa Barbara, California, coast with a sonar expert.

Stephanie, so how does this sonar system work?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, when you take a look at it, it is very tedious work. But I want to introduce you first to James Coleman, he's a senior hydrographer with Teledyne Reson so he can break it down for us.

First, James, can you just explain how does sonar work. And I realized that there's multiple versions of sonar, too. Right? JAMES COLEMAN, SENIOR HYDROGRAPHER, TELEDYNE RESON: Right. They come in all shapes and sizes. This is a multibeam bathymetry sonar. It's a 7125. Side-scan sonar, multibeam bathymetry sonar, they all work on the same principle. They are going emit sound from the sonar, that sound is going to hit the sea floor as it returns to the sonar. It's going to receive it and interpret that in terms of an image or some kind of 3D data points of what's on the bottom of the ocean.

ELAM: Now twice the AV has gone down in the Indian Ocean have had difficulties. Can you just describe how challenging it is to work with sonar in this environment, in the Indian Ocean?

COLEMAN: Right. Well, the sonar itself actually works quite well. It's really nice to get it nice and deep. It produces very good imagery when you're nice and deep. But you've got to remember that's just one part of a whole scheme. You have to navigate the vehicle, you have to have controls. There is a lot of complicated interfacing that has to do to get this sonar down near the sea floor. So that AUV has a lot of components in it and it's very challenging to get it to dive, to dive deep.

ELAM: All right. Let's go inside because I want to take a look at how this looks. Because once the sonar is down there it's got to take some data back that you guys are looking at.

COLEMAN: Right. So the idea is to move the sensor back and forth on the sea floor in a regular grid pattern. So we have a grid laid out here. We're moving along now. You've seen that we do -- that we did one line previously. And as you do you're building up a map of what's on the sea floor. We're seeing it real time in the Indian Ocean that's on an AUV. They only see it at the end of their mission.

ELAM: So the thing, though, is that that part of the ocean, it hasn't really been mapped. So therefore they're sort of flying blindly?

COLEMAN: In a way, yes, they are. So they have just the general information of what's down there. And they're going to make their mission planning parameters based on that general information. And once they get that first missions back, they're going to learn more about the environment and that may change the way they search. It may change the spacing of the grid pattern, the type of situation on the sonar that they used. And they're going to have to refine the way they work.

ELAM: And so we know that Teledyne Reson sonars are being used in the search right now. Side-scan sonar is likely what they're using?

COLEMAN: Right. They're using side-scan sonar forensically and this is what side-scan sonar data looks like. It's looking both to the sides of the sensor and it's just generating an image of what's on the sea floor. So as we go along, you're able to see that there's different things on the sea floor. This is -- side-scan is the primary search sonar. That's what they're going to use to find it.

ELAM: So the resolution of the images that you get back when you're dealing with depths like this, how does it look when you see it? COLEMAN: When you're really deep, the image actually comes out much nicer. But you have to make that trade off. You can choose to do a really broad area search and have lower resolution images, you're going to fly higher up the sea floor, or you can do much more detailed and do a shorter search.

ELAM: So, Wolf, when you hear all that, it's just important to note that it takes a lot of going in, doing a search and maybe coming back analyzing that data, and maybe changing your search the next time you go down.

BLITZER: It's a challenging operation. It's going to take some time clearly.

Stephanie, thanks very much.

Coming up, it's a virus that kills 90 percent of the people it infects and now Ebola is spreading in West Africa. Our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He goes inside an Ebola isolation zone in Guinea. That's where doctors are risking their lives to save patience.


BLITZER: An Ebola outbreak in Africa has already claimed nearly 130 lives. The disease is so deadly, those fighting it put their own lives at risk in spite of taking elaborate precautions to avoid exposure.

Among them, our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta, he's reporting on the rising number of cases from Guinea.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: The numbers have continued to go up and it's certainly not the news that people wanted. I mean, there's a real fight here to try and identify these patients, isolate them, treat them.

But I have to tell you, more than -- just by anything else I have seen in medicine, certainly in situations like this, the real issue here that a lot of these doctors and nurses, they're risking their own lives, their own health to be able to take care of these patients. It's extraordinary and take a look at what happens when we go inside an isolation ward.


GUPTA (voice-over): You're about to go inside an isolation ward in Guinea. There is a reason you may not have seen images like this before.

These patients are fighting one of the deadliest diseases in the world -- Ebola. It has disarmed their immune system, shut off their blood's ability to clot and invaded the organs in their body. Up to nine out of 10 patients will die.

But this horror is isolated in Conakry, Guinea. We found traffics still be busy here, markets are full. Children, lots of children are still smiling.

(On camera): You see as scary as Ebola is, it's not particularly contagious. It doesn't disperse easily through the air. It doesn't live long on surfaces either, and people don't typically spread it until they are sick, really sick.

(Voice-over): And when that is the case, the patients are not up walking around on the busy streets. They are down in bed, in hospitals or worse, even the dead are highly contagious.

DR. PIERRE ROLLIN, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL: The story unfortunately always the same.

GUPTA: Dr. Pierre Rollin from CDC has helped traced Ebola outbreaks for more than 30 years.

ROLLIN: The risk is not the people doing with Ebola patients. It's the people doing with regular patients not thinking of Ebola.

GUPTA: You see, it only takes a small amount of the virus anywhere on your skin to cause an infection. And as I learned, no precaution is too small for the doctors who care for these patients.

(On camera): So nothing gets in.


GUPTA: Nothing gets out.

(voice-over): Tim Jagatic is one of the Doctors Without Borders. He's from Canada. He comes into these settings for weeks at a time. He is not married. He has no children. That would be a job liability, he tells me.

Multiple pairs of gloves and masks. The head is completely covered. A multi-layer of gown, boots, and then an apron. It's positively suffocating in the 100-degree weather.

JAGATIC: And these are the final pairs.

GUPTA: Preparing to treat a patient with Ebola is like preparing to land on the moon. But you're their only visitor, the only person helping them survive. They do this so people outside these wards, the people on the streets will never know what it is like to be inside.


GUPTA: There's something else that's worth pointing out as well. The local health care workers, people who live here in Conakry or Guinea, they also -- when they take care of these patients, they're obviously putting themselves at risk from a health standpoint, but oftentimes because of the stigma associated with Ebola, they can't even tell anybody that they're working here. They can't tell their families, their community members.

If they tell people that they are helping patients with Ebola, they themselves, these health care workers, will be stigmatized as well. So it's an extraordinary situation.

Again, with regard to the numbers, they have gone up over the last few says, although a little bit of good news. The rate at which they're going up appears to have slowed down a bit. It will still be a month and a half before we know whether this outbreak is over. We're obviously nowhere close to that as of yet.

Back to you.


BLITZER: Sanjay Gupta risking his life to bring us that important information.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. NEWSROOM with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.