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Did Missing Flight 370 Fly Four Hours Longer?; Merkel's Strong Words for Putin; Malaysian Airline Mystery Unlike Any Other

Aired March 13, 2014 - 11:00   ET


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN HOST: Hello and good morning. I'm Michaela Pereira.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: I'm John Berman. It is 11:00 a.m. in the East, 8:00 out west.

PEREIRA: @ THIS HOUR, the startling new developments in the mystery surrounding the jetliner that vanished with 239 people on board. We're in day six of the search.

Right now Malaysian officials are denying that flight 370 may have kept flying for four hours after it lost contact -- reported contact

This denial comes in response to a report in "The Wall Street Journal" that says Rolls Royce engines aboard that Boeing 777 automatically sent data to the engine manufacturer as part of its maintenance program. The report cites two unnamed sources.

BERMAN: Those sources, U.S. officials, according to that article.

All that unfolding as Vietnamese crews have found nothing at that debris field where Chinese satellite images showed objects in the water. The Chinese now say those images were released by mistake.

So, the mystery really does deepen and grows in some ways because of the confusion and the contradictions. Malaysia Airlines says that Rolls Royce and Boeing have told nothing about transmissions of any kind after 1:07 a.m. on Saturday.

PEREIRA: Air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane shortly after that. They're thinking around 1:30 a.m.

Joining us to help sort through some of these new twists, we have retired American Airlines pilot Jim Tilmon, president of the Tilmon Group, and our Richard Quest, who joins us here in the studio.

First, Jim, let's start with you. What do you make of this new report that we're hearing that the plane may have continued to fly for some four additional hours after contact was lost?

JIM TILMON, AVIATION EXPERT: Well, I can tell you that it's about as plausible as many of the other scenarios we've heard.

And, indeed, sure enough, there would have been enough fuel for the airplane to fly that far. Why wasn't it on radar? I don't know, but I don't know how low an airplane like that would have to fly in order to duck under the radar, probably 400 or 500 feet off the deck.

And could they manage to do that? I don't know. But this captain had a flight simulator, very sophisticated simulator, in his home that he could practice doing all kinds of things, if you want to follow that line of reasoning.

You just have to follow the logic and the common sense. And there's not a lot of that, either one of them, that's been applied to this situation.

BERMAN: Still, in the vacuum that exists here, a lot of people are coming up with a whole range of ideas, and as we have said, the Malaysians at this point, Malaysia Airlines, denying this report from "The Wall Street Journal."

Richard Quest here on the set with us, help me understand one thing, Richard. "The Wall Street Journal's" talking about these signals that come back from the Rolls Royce engines to Rolls Royce.

What is that technology? Explain it to me.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's very simple. The engines are -- have lots of sensors inside them that are monitoring the speed, the revolutions, the temperature, the oil pressure, everything you -- it's a bit like your car.

It's a bit like your car getting information from how it's performing. In this case, that information is transmitted from the aircraft by the ACAR System to Malaysia Airlines and to Rolls Royce.

And the reason is both big data, Rolls Royce wants to get as much as it knew about those twin engines as it possible can, and small data, Malaysian Airlines and Rolls Royce want to know when's that engine going to need maintenance, is something going wrong?

BERMAN: Is it possible -- possible -- that those engines could be sending signals back even if there had been an accident, the plane was in the water broken into pieces?


BERMAN: Not at all?

QUEST: No. For the simple reason that the electric -- the ACAR System, the transmitting system, would have failed.

Now, if the transmitting system is still working -- but it's not. We haven't received any -- according to Malaysian Airlines, ACAR, the Aircraft Communication And Reporting System, I think is what it stands for, that is what it -- we've had nothing.

The investigators and the CEO of Malaysia Airlines have said quite clearly that the information from the aircraft stopped at 1:27, and we've had nothing from it since. So, those engines have no mechanism for transmitting information.

Now, could that -- I'm with Captain -- I'm with the captain here on this. We can go down any road on this. We can say, can you switch off the ACAR System? Yes. But then you've still got the radar track.

There comes a point where seasoned investigators say, yeah, that's probable, but that's possible, and that's downright unlikely.

PEREIRA: And, Jim, that's where the problem comes in, especially when we're talking about this, getting very technical about what systems are on board and the technology that's involved, at the end of the day, there are still no answers for those families, and I think that's what makes it even more frustrating for us.

And I know that you're cautious to want to explore some of these avenues that seem plausible, but what to you at this point, day six, seems plausible?

TILMON: I can tell you there's a timeline that I've been looking at for quite some time. Let me give you some idea about what I'm saying.

There was a transmission, a communication on radio from the cockpit to the ground, which was like the last information handed off to the Vietnamese controllers. And there was a roger that was given from the cockpit.

And, immediately following that, then the indications are that the transponders were turned off. It was that abrupt. It was that quick. And if everything was going just fine, if there was no terrorist in the cockpit, if there was nothing amiss, whatever, then what happened in the split seconds between the time that that last communication took place and all the sudden the transponder turned off?

I'm still going back to something that I've thought about for a lot since this thing started. That is that there was some kind of catastrophe that had to take place that quickly and abruptly shut all the systems down that would communicate with the ground and give us better information.

BERMAN: Richard?

QUEST: Captain, I just want to question you on that point, because that really is the nub of the issue at the moment, isn't it?

You have this "All right, good night" on the handover from Malaysian air space to Vietnamese, which is entirely normal, and then you have the loss of information, which, if accurate, that puts the search area, once again, doesn't it, back into the South China Sea/Gulf of Thailand?

TILMON: Yes, it does. It definitely does. We go back to square one, because we don't have anything else to work with.

And we need to have some point of departure. And that's been very difficult to ascertain. PEREIRA: To nail down. Yeah.

BERMAN: The question is, are we even at square one at this point? They're not sure there are any squares -

PEREIRA: Again -

BERMAN: -- that have been reliable so far/

PEREIRA: -- day six.

BERMAN: Richard Quest, Jim Tilmon, thank you so much for being with us.

PEREIRA: We want to take a look at some other stories that we're following @ THIS HOUR.

The death toll in the massive building explosion in New York City has gone up this morning. Officials announced that seven people have died in that blast. Dozens more are injured.

The explosion and fire leveled two five-story apartment buildings. Authorities are still investigating the cause. They do suspect a gas leak.

BERMAN: Some other news, a horrific scene in Austin, Texas, police say a wrong-way driver tried to avoid a DUI stop and plowed into a street filled with South-By-Southwest partiers. That street had actually been closed off to keep pedestrians safe.

The car hit a scooter, killing the two people on board before a crash, and almost two dozen people were hurt. Doctors say they expect some will not survive their injuries.

Police say the driver tried to run way, but they stopped him with a Taser. He's in custody now, facing a number of charges.

PEREIRA: Another real grim story here, a Utah trucker is accused of keeping sex slaves in his semi-trailer for months while he traveled around the country. He allegedly changed the young women's appearance to disguise their identities. He filed their teeth down. He changed the color of their hair.

In one case, police say he kidnapped a 19-year-old relative after she came to work with him. He allegedly choked her until she blacked out and used threats to force her to have sex more than 100 times.

If he's convicted, he could face life in prison.

BERMAN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel has some strong words for Vladimir Putin. She is warning the Russian president that Western leaders will not hesitate to impose sanctions on Russia if he does not back off from Crimea.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCLELOR: If Russia continues its way of the last weeks, it wouldn't only be a catastrophe for Ukraine. It wouldn't only be as neighbors of Russia a danger that would not only change Europe, the E.U. and Russia.

It would also change Russia economically and politically, and I can't say it enough. We can't turn the clock back.


BERMAN: As Crimeans get ready now for a vote on breaking away from Ukraine and joining Russia, Chancellor Merkel is acknowledging her efforts to get President Putin to come to the negotiating table.

She says those efforts have failed, so far.

PEREIRA: A short break here, now.

Ahead @ THIS HOUR, if that missing plane did fly an additional four hours after it was lost contact with, where could it be now? And is it even possible to search an area of this magnitude?

BERMAN: Plus, for families of passengers and crew, no news is simply agonizing news.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Inaudible). He was the most amazing (inaudible) and the most amazing father.



BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone.

Want to take a closer look now at some of the implications from that "Wall Street Journal" report that the missing jet may have flown an additional four hours after losing contact.

So, just how far could it have traveled then?

PEREIRA: A total flight time of five hours after departing Kuala Lumpur means the Boeing 777 really could have gone quite a long distance, way out of range of the current search area.

Tom Foreman has some maps. He's joining us now to illustrate this to give us an idea, some of the options where the jet could have gone and obviously where they're going to be searching, Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, this would absolutely be mind- blowing, because right now, the search area is about here, but they're talking about an area like this. It goes beyond India over there, past Australia way down there. This would be an absolutely mind-blowing amount of territory. Just to give you an idea, this space, this circle that I'm standing in now, would define the area that would be the search area if the "Wall Street Journal" article were true or if we could find out if that were true.

This is much, much bigger than the United States, much bigger. You're talking about close to 20 million square miles if our math is right. And simply put, that is unsearchable. It is far, far, far too big for anyone to even begin searching it.

So, let's bring this in a little bit more and focus on what we have known up until this point, which is the actual search area, what the Malaysian authorities say actually counts in the equation.

We know where the plane took off. We knew that it went from Kuala Lumpur, flew for about 30 minutes or so up here, then it vanished without any sort of a trace up in this area.

And with all these competing reports of people seeing things or thinking maybe the plane turned and a possible radar ping, you see them all there marked out, there are many, many different reports coming in.

These are the search areas as we know them now, and the reason that I say it would be undoable, impossible, to search 20 million square miles, because look at what has to happen in these search areas.

If they want to search one of these areas, even though they have more than 40 ships out there, they have close to 40 aircraft at work, they have satellite imagery, they have all these things we've been talking about -- what they have to do with each of these grids is they have to start by going in and making grid lines. And then one at a time, these boats and these planes and satellite passes have to go over and mark off every single little square. And as the water moves, you have to go back and check it again.

And bear in mind, this is six days now. Something that came down over here might now be well over here or even further because it's been progressing the whole time. This is a tremendously big job. They have about 35,000 land miles, square land miles that they're searching now.

That's still about a quarter of the space that they had to search to find the Air France crash when it left South America. Remember, they had debris of that crash within first two days. They had a pretty good idea where it was, and yet it took them two years to find the wreckage.

With all the question marks around this case, the search has to go on. The Malaysian government is correct. It is only responsible they follow every single lead out there. But there is, although people don't want to say it, the very real possibility this could never be found. Because it's a lot of ocean and are a lot of question marks.

PEREIRA: That virtual set, Tom, really helps us see the scale of it. Because we hear number, we see the maps. And it doesn't really register, I think, for a lot of just us how gigantic this area is that they have to comb through.

BERMAN: Well, but look, the fact that there are still searches and have been on both sides of that peninsula and now earlier today, you know, India said they were dispatching ships in the Indian Ocean to start looking just gives you sense of the uncertainty here, gives you a sense of how little is known.

PEREIRA: And that does not help the people, again, I go back to it, the families that are trying to get some sort of closure.

BERMAN: Not the slightest bit.

All right, our thanks to Tom Foreman.

Ahead for us @ THIS HOUR, GPS can pinpoint you through your cell phone, you know, your computer, your car. Why can't teams of searchers with the latest equipment find this enormous jetliner? We'll ask how Flight 370 seems to have defied modern technology. That's in a moment.


PEREIRA: Welcome back. @ THIS HOUR, you and I have been discussing this at lot. When have you ever heard of a story quite like this Malaysian Airlines mystery? Probably never. Maybe you might think you have heard of something like this in a Hollywood movie because nowadays, planes don't simply just vanish.

BERMAN: And that makes the story so intriguing. It's one of the things. You know, with satellite, GPS, radars, and all the computers onboard the craft, you think there would be something, there'd be anything --

PERERIA: Some sort of digital footprint.

BERMAN: -- to follow up on. But there's just no clue or so few clues here. So that's why we have Jeff Wise with us. He's a science journalist and author.

And Jeff, you just wrote a column where you said flat-out this is unlike anything we have ever known before, unlike anything we've known before. Why?

JEFF WISE, SCIENCE JOURNALIST: Well, just the sheer absence of information. Planes go missing from time to time, not very often. But from time to time, they do go missing but only for a very short period of time before some wreckage is found, some transmission is located, before there's some kind of evidence.

What we have here is a complete absence of clues. And that's unprecedented.

PEREIRA: Well, and the other thing is, this is not a small, you know privately owned airplane. This is a jetliner that traverses the globe --

BERMAN: Layers upon layers.

PEREIRA: -- redundant systems on board. Talk to us about some the technology that would have been transmitting information.

WISE: Right, so there's multiple overlapping ways that airliners stay in communication with the ground, with a traffic controllers, with their own headquarters.

So you have, you know -- there's, first of all, just a pilot can call up the ground, can call a controller, can call his headquarters and say, "Here I am. This is what's going on."


WISE: He might issue a may day call, for instance. That would be an active communication. Then you have radar. So commercial flights use something called secondary radar where a radar station beams a signal to the airplane. The airplane then sends back a signal, "Saying here I am. Here's my identifier. I'm here. I'm in the system."

Then you have a new system, a new technology called ADSB, which is --

PEREIRA: Is it widely used, this ADSB?

WISE: ADSB is just now starting to be rolled out in the States. It's already widely used in Europe and other places around the world. This airliner was equipped with ADSB and it was sending a signal right up until the moment it disappeared.

Well, actually, it was, you know, a little bit before it disappeared. But it was functional. It was working. And you could, you know -- you could just use a commercially available website and see it on the screen. That's ADSB.

And then finally there's an automated system called ACARS, which, in the case of this particular plane, was transmitting every half hour; it was sending automated routine maintenance information back to Malaysian Airlines, also apparently to the manufacture Rolls Royce. And so these are all -- these are four overlapping --

BERMAN: And there's a lot going on there. So the question would be, what would it take for all of them to suddenly go blank?

WISE: Right. And so, you know, to get to the -- to keep it short and sweet, what you would need is either a sudden total electronic failure, all systems go down.

PEREIRA: Something catastrophic.

WISE: Something catastrophic or for it to be turned off.


PEREIRA: Now, that's the question. Would it take some highly trained, highly skilled, sophisticated user to turn off all those systems? Or could somebody go in and simply -- WISE: If you're sitting in a cockpit, and you know where the switches are, you can switch it off.

PEREIRA: All of it.

BERMAN: So pilots? You have to know where this stuff is, correct? Someone trained?

WISE: Yes, yes, yes. Obviously, you'd have to have -- but, you know, this is the age of the internet. So if you're looking for a specific piece of information, if you're clever and you're willing to do some digging to find out where these things are, it doesn't require a degree to do it.

BERMAN: Key part of the mystery. Jeff Wise, thanks so much for coming in here and helping us understand what's going on with the planes.

WISE: My pleasure.

PEREIRA: Short break here. Ahead @ THIS HOUR.

BERMAN: So was the disappearance of Flight 370, was it a deliberate act? New theories being fueled by the news that the plane may -- may have flown four more hours after losing contact with the ground.

PEREIRA: Plus, a day really seems like an eternity for the families of the missing passengers. The wife of one passenger says she's trying to be strong. She's doing her best to be strong for her two boys.