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Official: Lost Jet "May Have Turned Back"; Obama Calls For Support

Aired March 9, 2014 - 07:00   ET


PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Good Sunday morning. Great to have you along with us. I'm Pamela Brown.

JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Joe Johns. Christi Paul and Victor Blackwell are off today.

It's 7:00 on the East Coast, 4:00 on the West. This is NEW DAY SUNDAY.

We begin with breaking news overnight on the Malaysia Airline mystery at sea. Rescuers have expanded their search for the jet carrying 239 people, including three Americans. And now, new evidence suggests flight 370 may have turned back before vanishing off the Southern coast of Vietnam.

BROWN: Forty ships and 22 planes are now combing those waters where miles-long oil slicks have been spotted and any minute now, we expect a Vietnamese boat to reach a strange, yellow object that was seen on the surface there. Meantime, investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board are on their way to Asia and the FBI has offered to help.

JOHNS: We also now know that two people who boarded that flight using stolen passports appear to have bought their tickets together and other names on the manifest are raising questions about who was really on the plane.

BROWN: Well, stolen passports are (INAUDIBLE) trade for human smugglers and officials are telling us that they have not ruled out terrorism at this point. And as you can imagine, it's been an absolutely agonizing two days for the families of the passengers and crew on Flight 370.

JOHNS: So far, there's been no definitive word on what happened to their loved ones. CNN's David McKenzie is in Beijing where the plane was supposed to arrive yesterday morning but never did.

David, tell us a little bit more about those two passengers who were traveling with stolen passports and apparently bought their tickets together?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Joe and Pamela, a disturbing revelation that these two passengers who were on the manifest and then those people said they weren't onboard. It seems like it's a case of stolen identity. These two people impersonating an Italian and an Austrian national appear to have bought those tickets together in Thai baht, the currency there, and were due to fly from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, and then on to Europe, and then separate to two different destinations.

We don't know at all what the intent of these people were, but it does point to potential security lapses at the airport and immigration side in Malaysia and certainly a worrying development -- Joe and Pamela.

BROWN: Yes, we'll continue to dig on that for sure.

And also, Malaysia Airlines had a pretty grim message for the families. Tell us about that.

MCKENZIE: Well, they've been waiting, Pamela, here for hours and now more than a day here in Beijing and more than 150 of the passengers onboard that flight were Chinese. So, the vast majority of people who are agonizingly waiting to get news, some definitive news of what happened are here in China and the Malaysian Airline official unfortunately gave them pretty bad news today. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have communicated to the family members that after more than 30 hours without any contact with the aircraft, we believe that the family members should prepare themselves for the worst.


MCKENZIE: Well, certainly, they're preparing themselves for the worst, but telling us that they're just frustrate would the lack of information as dozens of ships and planes are spotting on the ocean trying to find out whether that unusual piece of debris in the sea has any evidence towards where this plane went down -- John and Pamela.

JOHNS: So, how is the airline responding with information for the families given that they only know so much apparently?

MCKENZIE: Well, that can be very careful, Joe, that they don't give rumors or even some of the information that we have corroborated ourselves because, you know, you need to find out something definitive if you're a family member. So, they have to weigh those two things -- the big contingent of Malaysian officials here in China to provide counseling. The word from state Chinese media is that they're helping them get passports, those who don't have travel documents and possibly fly out close family members, but only on Tuesday here in China to Malaysia where there will be this main staging ground of this operation.

But very agonizing for those family members as this international effort, including U.S. missile destroyer in the region of the South China Sea to try and find out what exactly happened.

JOHNS: David McKenzie in Beijing, thank you for that report.

A Texas company says 20 of its employees were on the Malaysia Airlines flight that disappeared. The company Freescale Semiconductors says 12 of those employees are from Malaysia and eight are from China. The company set up counselors to be available for family members of those employees.

BROWN: And three Americans were aboard Malaysia Airline flight including Phil Wood. The 50-year-old father of two was, quote, "a man of God, a man of honor and integrity." Wood had been working for IBM in Asia. A long-time friend who knew Wood for more than 30 years says he was a wonderful person who loved to travel since he was a teenager.


BILL GOAD, OKLAHOMA CHRISTIAN UNIVERSITY: His job with IBM took him multiple places around the world. He was in the process of being transferred from Beijing to Malaysia. He loved the world. He loved everyone.


BROWN: Wood has two sons who are living in Texas.

JOHNS: A Malaysian air force general said today that new data suggests flight 370 may have turned back before it disappeared off the southern coast of Vietnam.

BROWN: Let's bring in Mary Schiavo who is an inspector general and now an aviation attorney.

First off, Mary, obviously, we still have a lot to learn and just speculation at this point about what happened. But what is your take on the situation on this mystery?

MARY SCHIAVO, FORMER INSPECTOR GENERAL U.S. DOT: Well, speculation at least that it may have turned back may indicate a mechanical or catastrophic problem with the plane. You know, turning back, if you had experienced what we had talked about yesterday, a catastrophic explosion or catastrophic event, there wouldn't be time to turn back. So, this does point to maybe something where the pilots had time to think about a strategy or a plan, but then, again, we come back to this plane. This is a 777. It's a very advanced plane and the plane itself sends out messages.

So, again, we would look to hear from Malaysian air to see if they had received any of these messages from the plane. Of course, the pilot is going to send out computer messages, but the plane itself would have done it. So, without the debris field yet, starting to be very mysterious because by this time on the Air France flight from Brazil to Paris a number of years ago, there was a debris field. Same thing on Swiss Air 111. So, it's very mysterious.

JOHNS: So, how could this new data help investigators find this plane and what other technology are they relying on in the search? SCHIAVO: Well, you know, first of all, they have additional equipment they can bring in when it was necessary to find the Air France flight. They eventually brought in that navy submersible team listening for the ping. The pinger will send out signals from its battery from the black boxes for some time.

The key is to get that before the salt water gets to it or the battery runs out. And there are also reports and who knows if they're accurate, where some other pilots said they have heard some sort of a fuzzy transmission from the plane that would give it an indication that it might not be where they are looking.

Now, those reports haven't been verified but saying another pilot was trying to contact this aircraft and may have heard a fuzzy transmission, give them a different place to look or zero in on a place where they should be looking and that would be very important to get those black boxes. While they still have time to find them with the batteries in the water.

BROWN: Yes, speaking of the black boxes, it took investigators three years to figure out what happened to Air France Flight 447, which disappeared over the Atlantic in 2009. We talked about that earlier.

Could this investigation take that long until we have some more answers?

SCHIAVO: Well, it could and it will take that long, even after the black boxes because, you know, you have to pore over the data of what happened. And it's possible you may get the data recorder without the cockpit voice recorder or vice versa. They are very, very good, though, on what they record because this plane has not just a dozen or so parameters meaning recording a dozen things, but hundreds of things it records.

So, once you get those, they will know what happened. But every major airline investigation takes on average about three and a half years and then you have to sort out what you do for the families, the legal recourse for the families, as well.

So, it's a very long process. I'm still working on the AirTran case. That's how long it takes.


JOHNS: Wow. Mary, one of the biggest questions is why there was apparently no mayday signal. Why do they have radioed? Does it mean they had a catastrophic loss of power or what?

BROWN: Well, they probably had a catastrophic loss of power or they had a catastrophic event that made it either impossible to call for a mayday, or the pilot simply had no time. On TW-800, if you remember the one that exploded off the coast of the United States, they had no time for a mayday. It was catastrophic event.

On Air France, they had no time for mayday because by the time they realized what happened to the plane and they were losing air speed and stalling, they had to react to that. I worked another one similarly, West Caribbean Airways, they encountered in-flight icing and by the time they were fighting for the plane, they didn't have time to do the mayday.

BROWN: But if there's evidence, Mary, that the plane might have turned around they're still that possibility, they're looking into that -- don't you think they would have had enough time then to send a mayday signal?

SCHIAVO: You would think in that case they would have and you would suggest a transmission problem if they were not able to transmit. Again, this aircraft has at least three separate systems. You don't just lose one set of radios or batteries or transmission systems. They have duplicate systems. It was a new design back in 1995. So, they have triple redundancy.

BROWN: And this was a plane that was recently inspected, as well.

Mary Schiavo, thank you very much for that.

JOHNS: Still to come on NEW DAY: this missing plane investigation is moving very quickly. We're following all the new developments as investigators try to pinpoint exactly what happened.

Plus, this --


SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: I do not like this Uncle Sam, I do not like his health care scam. I do not --


JOHNS: We know who that is. Talking about President Obama. The talk of the CPAC convention and not in a good way.


JOHNS: Oil slicks in the Gulf of Thailand have been discovered in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The plane carrying 220 passengers and 12 crew members disappeared Friday. New details from overnight that the plane may have actually turned back before it disappeared.

BROWN: Any minute now, we expect a Vietnamese boat to reach a strange yellow object that was spotted near the place where the plane apparently vanished.

JOHNS: The new development comes as information about the plane's possible path has prompted investigators to expand their search of the waters off Vietnam and Malaysia.

BROWN: Jim Clancy in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur.

Jim, this is still such a mystery. It seems like the more we learn, the more of a mystery it becomes. What have you learned?

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're waiting for the final press briefing of the day. It's going to happen behind me just about 100 meters here in this hotel being used as a center by the military, by the government, by Malaysian Airlines to tell us what is going on.

And, you're right, all those things you have detailed during the day, we had this trickling out of new leads, if you will. I think they should be called leads. But the problem is that mysterious yellow object that was spotted in the South China Sea -- well, that has been found, according to some sources, and dismissed. It's not a piece of any downed airliner.

Other things that we have found like those oil slicks and we heard them reported, seen pictures of them, not verified that they're from the jetliner and some point out in the absence of any debris field, it doesn't seem likely. It's still a mystery.

Earlier today, though, we did hear from Rodzali Daud, the general in charge of the air force here saying they were examining radar records closely to determine whether this plane had tried to come back home. Listen.


GEN. RODZALI DAUD, ROYAL MALAYSIAN AIR FORCE: We achieved, we look back at the recording and there is an indication, possible indication, that the aircraft may have turned back and this is, you know, (INAUDIBLE) at the moment we are, as we speak, trying to make sense of this.


CLANCY: Now, the data is there. They're trying to examine it. They are trying to get some international assistance in really going through these radar records to determine the altitude of the plane. Did it turn around? Where was it headed? How fast was it going? How far did it travel?

As a result of that finding, they have enlarged the search area and today, there were more than 40 ships and 20 aircraft that were all out there scouring the suspected field where they might find Flight 370, or at least some trace of it. But no word yet.

Back to you.

BROWN: Certainly, an aggressive search under way. Jim Clancy in Kuala Lumpur, thank you for reporting.

JOHNS: Still to come, it's a working vacation for President Obama as he tries to rally support from European leaders while on a getaway in Florida.

BROWN: We're going to take you live to Washington to find out what may come next.

Stick around. We'll be right back.


JOHNS: President Obama may not be at the White House today, but the crisis in Ukraine is still front and center.

BROWN: The president is reaching out to world leaders this weekend as Russian troops are gaining ground in Crimea.

Erin McPike is in Washington following the story for us.

So, Erin, what can you tell us about the president's efforts to reach out to these leaders?

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pamela, the president has been traveling with his deputy national security adviser -- excuse me -- Tony Blinken, so he can closely monitor the situation and Blinken will actually be on "STATE OF THE UNION" later this morning. But the one big concern is that one week from today is this proposed referendum that would allow Crimea to secede from Ukraine, but the United States is strong opposed to it. And that was one of the takeaways from a series of phone calls President Obama held with those foreign leaders Saturday while he was vacationing.

He spoke with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and French President Francois Hollande, and all the European leaders agreed that this referendum would violate Ukraine's constitution. They also insisted that any decisions made with respect to Crimea include the interim government in Kiev.

Well, the way the calls were described by a senior administration official also showed how much the United States is amping up the pressure on Russia right now, saying that European leaders agreed with President Obama that if Russia continues its military moves in Ukraine, that violation of international law would further isolate Russia from the entire international community.

Now, President Obama also conferenced with the three presidents of Baltic states Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, and the additional military assistance the United States is providing in the form of a half dozen F-15 fighter jets for some air policing exercises there.

Now, separately, I should tell you that Secretary of State John Kerry phoned Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Saturday and those two have spoken many times over the past week, but on Friday, Lavrov warned Kerry that if the United States imposed sanctions on Russia, it would boomerang back to the United States. And now, in the phone call yesterday, Kerry shot back that if Russia continues its military provocation in the Ukraine, it would eliminate the United States ability to negotiate diplomatically.

So, even though the United States would prefer not to be talking about these sanctions, it's clear the tension in the crisis is building -- Pamela and Joe.

JOHNS: Erin McPike in Washington, thank you for that. And don't miss "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King coming up this morning at 8:30 Eastern, right here on CNN.

BROWN: Speaking of politics, leave it to Sarah Palin to fire up a crowd of conservatives. The former governor of Alaska was a keynote speaker for the final day at CPAC yesterday.

JOHNS: And at one point, the crowd was so energized they started chanting "run, Sarah, run." But it was her political spin on Dr. Seuss "Green Eggs and Ham" that caught our attention. Take a listen to this.


PALIN: I do not like these dirty crooks for how they lie and cook the books. I do not like when Congress steals, I do not like their crony deals. I do not like this spying man, I do not like, oh, yes we can.



BROWN: Palin, who is considered a Tea Party favorite, has not said whether she plans to make a bid for the White House in 2016. But she did get a standing ovation after that.

JOHNS: That was funny.


JOHNS: And Newt Gingrich had a warning for the Republicans. He said the party needs to stop being the opposition party and start becoming the party of the future, with ideas on how to make people's lives better and not the party that just highlights what the Democrats are doing wrong.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: And I also came to issue a warning, if our movement is primarily anti-Obama, we will, in fact, reduce the number of victories we should win this fall. If we spend the next three years being primarily anti-Hillary, we will virtually guarantee her election.


JOHNS: A lot of talk at CPAC this week.

BROWN: Yes, absolutely. You've been there covering --

JOHNS: Yes, I have covered it a couple of times and missed it this year. So, maybe next year.

BROWN: Maybe next year.

JOHNS: All right. We'll be right back. Stay with us.


JOHNS: Police have busted what could be one of the largest known counterfeit schemes in the United States.

BROWN: Authorities say these two brothers you see right here from New York made millions by selling knockoffs of products like ChapStick, Johnson's Baby Oil and Vaseline up and down the east coast.

JOHNS: On Thursday, police seized four tractor trailers full of counterfeit products including fake over-the-counter medications.

BROWN: That's troubling to think about.

Both brothers are expected to appear in court on Tuesday and being held on $100,000 bond.

JOHNS: George Zimmerman was all smiles this weekend at a Florida gun show, autographing photos and greeting the small crowd that came out to see the controversial guest of honor. According to reports, the gun show was forced to move out of its original, larger venue because of public backlash. It's been just over two years since the former neighborhood watch captain shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

The crisis in Ukraine is front page news, which also means it's fair game for "Saturday Night Live."

BROWN: Yes, we saw this coming, didn't we? Last night, they had a little fun at the expense of President Obama's relationship with Vladimir Putin.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thursday, I spoke with President Putin on the phone for an hour. It did not go well. I told him that one country can't violate international law by invading another country. And he spent the rest of our conversation pretending to sneeze while loudly saying, Iraq!



JOHNS: Oh my God! That's hilarious.

BROWN: That is. The one earlier from Liam Neeson coming in. Too funny.

JOHNS: They definitely keep it current.

BROWN: They certainly do, that is for sure. Certainly make us laugh, as well.

Well, thank you so much for starting your morning with us on this Sunday. We're going to see you back here at the top of the hour with some more of the fast-moving developments of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight.

JOHNS: "SANJAY GUPTA, M.D." starts right now.