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Malaysia Airlines Offers New Timeline; Obama Announces New Sanctions Against Russia; Earthquake Hits L.A.; Inside a Boeing Flight Simulator; The Search for Flight 370

Aired March 17, 2014 - 11:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN CO-ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman.


It is 11:00 a.m. in the East. That means it is 8:00 a.m. out West.

Right now, @ THIS HOUR, we are tracking down new information and investigating new theories in the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

Here is what we know @ THIS HOUR.

BERMAN: The airline is offering a new timeline this morning, really a back flip from what was just announced over the weekend.

They are now saying they do not think that one of the jet's communication systems was turned off before the co-pilot said "all right, good night" to Malaysian traffic control.

Now, that contradicts what government officials just said over the weekend, which, again, adds to the confusion about where Malaysia is on this investigation.

PEREIRA: Add to that, the search area is getting bigger by the day. It now stretches north to central Asia and south, deep into the Indian Ocean. Look at the arc there.

Reuters is reporting that Kazakhstan says it did not detect any unsanctioned use of its air space the day the plane disappear.

Right now, 26 nations are aiding in this search.

BERMAN: While that search plays out on land and on sea and, really, under the water, as well, investigators are intensifying their focus on the pilot and the co-pilot.

PEREIRA: Malaysia's prime minister has said somebody deliberately steered the plane off course.

John Lucich joins us. It's so good to have you here with us this morning. You were helpful to us on "NEW DAY" and continuing on our air, looking at all of these theories.

There's flipping. There's flopping. There's this being refuted. There's this claim being made, then it gets shot down.

Where are you today @ THIS HOUR looking at this investigation?

JOHN LUCICH, FORMER STATE CRIMINAL INVESTIGATOR: I think because of all this flipping and flopping that everybody has been doing, I think the Malaysian government is making the right decision in slowing things down before they release the information, because you can see, by releasing information and having to retract it, it is a very embarrassing situation and really confuses this investigation for the investigators.

BERMAN: It has been confused from the very beginning. The latest confusion has to do with the timeline of what was switched off, what was disabled and what was said when.

Over the weekend, they were suggesting that the ACARS system, one of these data-transmission system, was disabled before the pilot said, "All right, good night."

Now, they are saying that does not appear be to the case, or at least, it may not be the case.

Explain to me what the significance of that timeline is.

LUCICH: Well, the significance is that ACARS systems communicates back to the home office if they had the data plan.

It's being reported that they didn't have the data plan, but it's still going to try to communicate with the satellite. It is not going to be allowed through. It's those transmissions to the satellite that they are using to locate this.

So, if this thing had been up four or five hours, even seven hours, how could it be shut off if it's still communicating with satellites?

BERMAN: But isn't the suggestion that, if it was shut off before they said "all right, good night," it seemed to me that the implication being made was that they were already into some kind of plot there.

Now, if it was shut off after they said "all right, good night" and then the transponder shut off, doesn't that leave open the possibility that something mechanically went wrong?

LUCICH: I don't believe so at this time, although that's still a possibility, absolutely. There's many theories of things that could have happened to this airplane. Absent facts, no one's going to know until we get that airplane.

However, if you were going -- let's say this was some type of 9/11- style hijacking, OK? Leaving one ATC and going to the other would have been the perfect time to do something right there.

And I believe that was the time they said that it actually changed course, right? That's exactly when it got off course going to Beijing and it never contacted the next ATC.

PEREIRA: Let's follow the line of thinking that it was turned off, that it wasn't something mechanical.

To turn it off, it's not as simple as turning off the transponder. We know that's just a couple of clicks of the dial. It's a pretty involved process to shut down that ACARS system, no?

LUCICH: They say you have to get it downstairs into -- in fact, I was talking to -

PEREIRA: You have to go out of the cockpit -

LUCICH: Out of the cockpit.

PEREIRA: -- underneath the belly of the plane.

LUCICH: I was talking to a 777 captain who's currently sitting with an airline right now who said that it's a big deal.

And, even if you get down there and he says he's been down there, that there is so much avionic equipment down there, you'd really have to be trained to know what piece of equipment does what.

PEREIRA: That is another point to look at, because the fact is then it absolutely shows intent and it also shows -- because we are looking at the pilot perhaps or somebody on board that was trying to do this purposefully.

LUCICH: Right. I believe the investigation has to look at everything, right down to the guy who fueled the aircraft.

I don't believe there is anything right now that says these pilots did anything wrong.

And I can tell you this. As a former corporate pilot myself, I can tell you that having a simulator in your house, there is nothing wrong with that.

BERMAN: You say there is no proof that the pilots did something wrong, but you also say the fact that there were these satellite pings or handshakes going on for seven hours indicates to you that someone was flying this plane actively for that length of time.

LUCICH: Yes. That that airplane had to be on and operating in order for that ACARS system to be communicating.

PEREIRA: Not on autopilot?

LUCICH: It has to be on. It just has to be on.

The ACARS acts independently of the pilots. The ACAR System does not need any pilot intervention.

Remember what happened with Air France out of Rio de Janeiro. Remember all those little maintenance messages that got back and we were able to make some determination of what happened with the airplane.

That's what the ACARS system does, in part. Pilots use it, also, to communicate back and forth to their home office if they had the data plan and vice versa.

So, the data we could have gotten from there is missed because they didn't have the data plan.

BERMAN: And it's a shame that we don't have it now because it sure would be useful.

John Lucich, thanks so much for being with us, helping to discuss what facts we do know and the facts that we don't know. Thank you very much.

PEREIRA: We'll get back to our top story in just a moment, but just minutes ago, President Obama announced sanctions against key figures in Russia.

The president has been clear that neither the U.S. nor many others in the international community recognize Crimea's referendum vote that was held Sunday to leave Ukraine and join Russia.

His announcement this morning goes after top players in Russia.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have signed a new executive order that expands the scope of our sanctions.

As an initial step, I am authorizing sanctions on Russian officials, entities operating in the arms sector in Russia and individuals who provide material support to senior officials of the Russian government.

And if Russia continues to interfere in Ukraine, we stand ready to impose further sanctions.


PEREIRA: Russian President Vladimir Putin still needs to approve that annexation.

President Obama's announcement comes in addition to the European Union's sanctions against 21 top Crimean and Russian officials.

BERMAN: A busy day for President Obama, @ THIS HOUR, he is also meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House.

They're discussing the fate of the current peace process with Israel. There's a deadline to agree on a so-called framework for discussions by the end of April.

This meeting comes almost two weeks after the president sat down with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The two sides have not made much visible progress, really on many of the major issues, which include borders, security and the status of Jerusalem.

PEREIRA: Week three of Oscar Pistorius' murder trial under way this morning, but then it immediately adjourned until Tuesday. In some of the latest testimony, a gun dealer testified that the 27- year-old South African Olympic star had to know gun safety laws before buying the gun, because he passed a questionnaire.

Pistorius has not pleaded -- has pleaded, rather, not guilty to murdering his girlfriend and contends that he shot her by mistake.

BERMAN: Some big news, unwelcome news, for people out West, an earthquake jolted everyone from their sleep around 6:00 this morning, just outside Los Angeles.

News anchors at our affiliate KTLA felt the earth move during the middle of their morning show. They actually got under their desks. Look at their reaction right here.



Coming up, more problems for a troubled --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Earthquake! We are having an earthquake!


BERMAN: Michaela Pereira has actually sat at that desk and explained to me there are lights overhead. There is a reason they sought protection at that desk.

The quake was measured at magnitude 4.4. So far, no signs of damage. It was centered about 15 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles.

PEREIRA: The epicenter was right near Westwood near the UCLA campus, not too far from there, so I know a lot of people felt in. Tweets have been coming in like crazy.

BERMAN: Better safe than sorry when you're sitting at a desk -

PEREIRA: Trust me. We don't want one of those happening here. There's a lot of lights over us.

BERMAN: All right, eight minutes after the hour right now. Ahead for us, @ THIS HOUR, just what went on inside the cockpit of Flight 370?

We will show you what it is like sitting at the controls of a Boeing 777. That's coming up, next.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone.

@ THIS HOUR, investigators say that the missing Malaysia Airlines jet may have made extreme changes in altitude.

And Malaysia's prime minister has said he believes somebody deliberately steered the plane off course. PEREIRA: It is still unclear who was doing what inside that cockpit.

Our Martin Savidge joins us from -- this is called the (inaudible). It's just right outside of Toronto, and we've been watching you inside this 777 cockpit simulator to give us a little insight.

We want to talk to you specifically, Martin, about the investigators claim that at one point, Flight 370 was climbing up to 45,000 feet then suddenly dropping to 23,000 feet.

Explain how that would happen, what it would feel like. Give us some insight.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah Well, Michaela, we have programmed that very kind of scenario in.

First of all, 45,000 feet, way above what is the normal operating ceiling for the 777. To get the plane up to that altitude, we have to take it off of automatic pilot, which means that Mitchell now is flying this thing manually.

And let me point out something. Here on the navigation -- I guess dial is the best way to put it, you've got two lines, a yellow and a yellow, one on top. If those touch, that means this plane is going to fall out of the sky.

We're really on the razor's edge of either flying almost too fast, but at the same time almost flying too slow, a very delicate balance act.

What do the controls feel like at this altitude?

MITCHELL CASADO, BOEING 777 PILOT TRAINER: Very, very sensitive. I would use the term "flying: very loosely. This is not quite flying. This is almost falling. Very difficult to control.

SAVIDGE: OK, so now that's what it's like to fly at this altitude. We're not even taking into account how the passengers may feel.

Now, let's push the plane into this precipitous dive, and I don't think we're going to be able to do a 45,000-foot dive in one minute, but we'll try to make it as fast as we can.

And when we do, you start to hear the alarms go off. The sink-rate alarm, Mitchell, is what?

CASADO: The sink right now is approaching 15,000-feet-per-minute, OK? And at this point, the airplane would easily be falling apart.

SAVIDGE: That's the problem, Michaela. When you try to replicate this information, this airplane is falling faster than many people think is physically possible.

And it wouldn't hold together. Stuff would be flying off. You have the landing gear hatches ripping offing, antennaes ripping off. It literally would be falling apart in the air and the passengers, many of them, would be unconscious. We're going to try and level off, which is something else that the aircraft reportedly did. But again, it's not easy and you can hear all the alarms from the aircraft itself. So this is another example of you take the information that's out there, you feed it into this really sophisticated computer simulator, and you try to make it work. And the truth is, it doesn't work. The plane couldn't make that kind of a drop and survive.

BERMAN: No, that is what is so interesting about this entire investigation right now. So much of the information is either contradictory or, when we test it, as you said, nearly impossible.

Martin, while we have you, I do want to ask you -- last week, he famously showed us how to turn off the transponder. There is the radar communications. There is another communication system that is in play right now, it is the ACAR system. It is what is supposed to send airplane maintenance data. How could you turn that off? Can you show us in the cockpit how that can be disabled?

SAVIDGE: Yes, let me show you the ACAR system here. I don't know if you can see this screen. This is actually the screen that is used to communicate. It is a very simple texting kind of messaging system between the ground and the pilot, or the pilot to the ground. You usually use a code and it's done with a mouse and a key input.

To turn it off, that system is located in this area. The problem is, for this simulator, it isn't here, so we can't show you specifically. But I can tell you, there is no on/off switch right on that device. This is the part where they start talking about, saying, someone has to open the hatch and go into the electronics bay, which is one level below where we're sitting here. That's where you begin to access the ability to turn it off. It's not easy. You have to know what you're doing, and you have to, at the same time, somebody or something, maybe the autopilot, is controlling the plane while you're down there. Again, this is one of those things that's really hard to imagine.

BERMAN: And it's hard to imagine, again, which does lend credence to the notion that someone knew what they were doing, or had to know what they were doing, because it's an awfully complicated set up there. Not easy at all to do.

PEREIRA: Mary Schiavo brought up a very good point, that it would also take tools. Ad those are not tools that would be in a pilot's kit that they would bring aboard and they certainly wouldn't clear security. So it just adds to the questions that we have, that investigators have, certainly.

BERMAN: Complicated to say the least. So good to have Martin Savidge there.

PEREIRA: Really great. Ahead @ THIS HOUR, investigators are focusing on these two giant arcs where the plane may have flown based on the pings that they received from satellite data. We are going to show you where next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BERMAN: All right, welcome back everyone. @ THIS HOUR, we are following up on all the leads that are out there in this investigation and in the mystery of Flight 370. Where is this Boeing 777? There is new satellite data, also some radar information, that investigators right now are digging through.

PEREIRA: And remember, we're ten days in. Tom Foreman joins us from his virtual map. He is taking a look at some of these scenarios. And Tom, we understand there are these two corridors. It's like these two arcs that you're looking at specifically, or at least investigators are looking at specifically.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, epecially when you look at the map and you consider were we started out ten days ago. Here's what we knew ten days ago. It took off from Kuala Lumpur, flew up here off the coast, and then it vanished without a trace.

Since then, we've watched as the search areas have grown and grown and grown. And now we're looking at these images from these satellites, these ideas from these satellites, which suggests it could have taken either this southern route, which basically takes it off into water, or it could have taken a northern route, which would have taken it up into Asian and as you can see it would have taken it over the Himalayan mountains, which would be a huge trick to pull off.

And if you consider that road, if you were to say that, in fact, it could go seven and a half hours that way, look at all of the countries that come into play as possible landing sites, or places they would have passed over -- Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, Bhutan, China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Krygyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and finally Kazakhstan would be the limit of how far it would go.

But to get to all those places, to consider, you have to an assumption about this plane, which I think the evidence is suggesting would not be the case. That is, the flight time you could actually get out of a plane like this. Think about this plane. If it were flying at around 35,000 feet, that's the optimum flight pattern for a plane like this. A plane like this at 35,000 feet in fact is making the best use of its fuel, it's up in the stratosphere where there's not as much resistance as you'd expect elsewhere, and it's doing what it ought to do.

But if you talk about it flying much lower, if you start dropping down, and it's flying at a much altitude. I'm just picking 5,000 in this case sort of arbitrarily. We have had some reports but that but we're talking about this arbitrarily right now. Look what starts happening. You've heard pilots when you're flying talk about let's get above this weather, let's do something different. Down here in the troposphere, where we all live, the atmosphere is much denser.

Flying in among the mountains like the Himalayans would make a huge difference. And going through all of that would severely impact the performance of this fuel -- this jet in relationship to its fuel. It would reduce its efficiency by maybe 30, 40 percent. The result is that that list that you just saw of all the places it can reach really gets constricted a great deal. You have to start then talking about a list that does not go all the way to Kazakhstan, but probably stops at the furthest point in Western China.

So when we hear the folks from both Pakistan and India saying that they've had no indication on their radar that the plane made it that far, that would fit the pattern, because there would be all these limitations from flying at a lower level.

We don't know that that is what happened. It could have stopped much, much earlier than all of this. We just know that we still are looking for this plane ten days later and having to consider all these very many different factors.

BERMAN: Either it was flying at the higher altitude when you would expect Pakistan or India or nations like that to detect it radar, or as Tom says, it was flying solo as to not be on the radar, in which case, it would never get that close to begin with, Tom. But then how does it inform where they're searching at this point?

FOREMAN: Well, the problem is it does inform it so they at least have an idea based on these satellite images of where -- or these satellite readings from the plane of where it might be along an arc. But I have to say that only helps so much because you're still talking about a tremendous amount of space.

Again, I go back to the Air France crash off of South America a few years ago. They had to breathe air within the first 24, 30 hours. They had debris in the water located. So they knew where it was and it still took two years to find the wreckage. So this can still be a huge task and especially when you look at a big arc like that and you don't know how fast it was flying, how far it was flying, it's just an incredibly difficult job. It narrows it down, but it only narrows it down a little bit.

PEREIRA: And a great illustration of those arcs, the area they're searching. Tom Foreman, we so appreciate that.

I was thinking about the fact that even if it was really low, where he's saying it sort of eats through the fuel, it also makes you wonder if a plane was flying that low, and granted it would have been early, early hours, predawn, why it wasn't spotted. We know that's a heavily traveled area, a lot of shipping traffic there. Wouldn't there have been debris? Wouldn't a fireball have seen if it had crashed? There are so many questions of why nothing has been sort of spotted.

BERMAN: No, again, the directly contradictory theories in this case. So confounding.

PEREIRA: Ahead @ THIS HOUR, a new timeline this morning of the crucial last communication from the co-pilot of that missing jet. "All right, good night." What it means to the investigation next.