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Search Expands For Missing Malaysia Jet; Report: Plane Flew At 5,000 Feet To Avoid Radar; Investigators Focus On Pilots; Crisis in Ukraine; USS Kidd Helping in Missing Flight Search

Aired March 17, 2014 - 06:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Your NEW DAY starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is "NEW DAY" with Chris Cuomo, Kate Bolduan and Michaela Pereira.

CUOMO: I'm Chris Cuomo in New York. There was just a press conference moments ago with Malaysian officials on that missing plane. They're pushing back on claims that they've been withholding information. There is a lot of news out this morning about this story. So let's get right to Kate in Malaysia.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: And here is the very latest, Chris. This morning a new report from Malaysia's "New Straight Times" citing some unnamed sources of these who say the plane could have been flying as low as 5,000 feet across three countries to avoid radar and we've learn that the missing jet may have flown as far as Central Asia to the north and deep into the Indian Ocean to the south.

This is a massive area we are talking about here. Plus now more than two dozen countries are now helping with the search. Let's get you up to date on the very latest while you've been sleeping overnight.


BOLDUAN (voice-over): Ten days in, the search area now expanding as the mystery of Flight 370's disappearance deepens.

HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIA TRANSPORTATION MINISTER: As soon as we verified and collaborated the new satellite information as to the possible last known whereabouts of the aircraft, we recalibrated our search efforts to the northern and southern corridors as announced by the prime minister.

BOLDUAN: And a shift in the investigation. The focus, on the pilots of that Malaysia Airliner after background check on some of the passengers have back clear. This surveillance footage posted on social media appears to show the captain and first officer passing through airport security. CNN cannot confirm the authenticity of the video or exactly when it was shot. On Saturday, plain clothed police were seen exiting the first officer's home, 27-year-old Fariq Abdul Hamid.

Later police sees this homemade flight simulator from the captain's home, 53-year-old Zaharie Ahmad Shah.

PETER CHONG, CAPTAIN ZAHARIE'S FRIEND: It's a reflection of his love for flying and again it's also a reflection of his love for people because he wants to share the joy of flying with his friends.

BOLDUAN: The last words heard from the cockpit "All right, good night" were spoken after the plane's communication system shut off. The plane then reportedly makes a deliberate sharp turn toward the Indian Ocean, leading many security experts to fear terrorism.

ROBERT BAER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: There's been a lot of rumors out there that al Qaeda was trying to recruit a Malaysian Air pilot. Those were substantiated.

BOLDUAN: Over the weekend, authorities expanded the as much area across thousands of miles of water and land, spanning 11 countries from Kazakhstan to the Indian Ocean. Officials confirm the aircraft sent pings to satellites west of Malaysia the morning it disappeared, possibly flying for more than seven hours after its communication system shut off.

NAJIB RAZAK, MALAYSIAN PRIME MINISTER: Until the point it left military radar coverage, these movements are consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane.

BOLDUAN: Pakistan, one of the 26 countries involved in the investigation said Sunday the airliner did not show up on its radar. Meanwhile, India temporarily halted its search. Now with the possibility that this aircraft could be on land, this desperate search for the airplane and the 239 people on board has become even more urgent.


BOLDUAN: Now all of this, authorities are now looking deep into the background of the pilots. It's also continuing to look at the background of the passengers and anyone who was been involved with the plane. Jim Clancy has been tracking the investigation from the beginning. You've really been here watching it all and there's been a lot of criticism on this government. They address that today. Let's talk about the pilots second. I want to get the new information that came out in in this press conference this morning.

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Great to have you with us. We looked at this press conference today, it's about we're in charge, we're handling all of this and in the meantime families in Beijing are saying if only you had handled this. They can say that they didn't process the data quick enough, that even though the radar data showed that the plane flew that way. They waited to days to announce it publicly. Days were lost days of searching the South China Sea.

As they look all of that, there these questions that are going to be asked about the press conference and the number one question, they talk about their national security? They allowed this aircraft to fly right across their territory. Nobody challenged it. No jets were scrambled. One families in the China asked today, Kate, what if they had scrambled jets, what a different outcome we'd be looking at now.

BOLDUAN: There seems to be as the days progress, more questions than there are answers. The scope of this investigation is broadening rather than narrowing and they're now refocusing on the pilots here. We learned a little bit more about the timeline of the investigation in this press conference, the fact that they said they not on went to the pilots' homes on Saturday. They said they had visited the homes just the day after the plane went missing. But why the new focus? What is becoming clear when nothing seems clear at this point?

CLANCY: The new focus on the pilots is all based in the fact that they've firmly believed somebody in that cockpit really knew how to fly 777. They've got the security video showing the pilots coming in, going through security. It's YouTube video. We can't confirm it. We've seen them searching the homes. They seized that flight simulator. You know what, Kate? I want to share this with your viewers on NEW DAY. This video that was posted to YouTube by the family of Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, it's a bit haunting.

BOLDUAN: It is. We were talking about this earlier. The music that they played in it.

CLANCY: Listen to it. Obviously like so many of the other families, the Shah family really wants him to be remembered. They see him in a different light. This is how they view him. We have to remember something here, there's not a shred of evidence against -- they've looked for mote I, they have looked for involvement, they have looked for terror links and they have not found a shred of hard evidence.

BOLDUAN: All they can say is they believe that there was some deliberate action within the cockpit and we continue to ask those questions. So Jim, Stick close to me. Jim and I are here. Behind us, why we're here, this is the airport, Chris, where the departures where the plane originated and this is the hub where the press conferences are held daily. So this really is the center of it all as everyone continues to search for the plane and so many questions -- Chris.

CUOMO: Kate, you are standing in front of one of the only places that identifies a fact that we absolutely knew and that is that's where the plane took off. So let's starting building there and start testing this new information. We have with us Mary Schiavo. We've been leaning on her all the time to help us big questions, let's deal with this new information. The belief that this plane could have been flying below 5,000 feet. First the assumption, why would it ever be below 5,000 feet? What would be the use in that deception?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Deception, the higher you are, the easier it is for radar to pick you up because of the curvature of the earth so you stay down low, there's a chance radar won't pick you up.

CUOMO: OK, so this forwards the theory that someone, not something affected this aircraft, doesn't help us with which direction they would have gone, because you could have ditched, could have gone somewhere else. But you are not blown away by the basis for this belief that it was purposing. Explain how they get to this under 5,000 and why you don't buy it.

SCHIAVO: Well, because we just have the pieces of data, the bits of data. We're calling them pings, but they're not really pings. They are bits of data from satellite. Satellite data is good on positional. You might be here, might be there. In terms of altitude it's less accurate. The accurate thing on altitude is, of course, would have been to have the transponder on, and say this is aircraft, you know, whatever number and we are at this altitude. So it not real accurate.

CUOMO: Now there's a little bit about this suggestion that helps explain the investigation, right. This assumption is somewhat helpful to the Malaysians to say, well, it might have been 5,000 feet that would explain why we can't detect it. You know it's a little bit helpful for them.

SCHIAVO: Well, it also helps in terms of believing whether this is mechanical or pilot suicide or terrorist hijacking because if someone is flying at 5,000 feet -- remember, you also have to evade any land, terrain, mountainous conditions, et cetera. It's hard to skim the earth when you're flying because you have to avoid everything. So it does suggest the skilled pilot is able to do that.

CUOMO: So if it's true, somebody knew what they are doing, again it checks that box or somebody was forcing a pilot to do something they may or may not have wanted to do. But we're not blown away by this. We don't know this for sure.

SCHIAVO: The altitudes we can't know for sure.

CUOMO: Now we would have known if they had the transponder and the other device on. So that takes us into the cockpit.

SCHIAVO: Correct.

CUOMO: A big revelation if it is that from the authorities is that they believe someone, not something, made the transponder get turned off. Do we accept that? What do you think?

SCHIAVO: Well, the transponder --

CUOMO: That would be over here, right? OK, so that's where it would be.

SCHIAVO: The transponder stopped sending signals. It can be because, you know, much like your computer, somebody pulled the plug, you had no electrical power. You had a fire. You had something to disable it or somebody turned it off, click, click, put it on standby, put it off, that's right there. Whoever did it, the other one would have noticed. So that's new information.

And then the ACARS system, aircraft, communication and reporting system, that's up here. That apparently was not turned off because you can't turn it off. You had pull the fuse and there are fuse panels up here and there are fuse panels on the side. So for somebody to pull the circuit breaker, you have to know the plane. So again we get back to whoever was in there knew the plane.

CUOMO: So let test that theory a little bit more. Let's bring in Steven Wallace, a former director of the FAA's Office of Accident Investigation and a CNN aviation analyst. Certainly, Steven, you understand this body of information and belief that we're dealing with right now. Do you accept the premise that somebody must have done this? If so why and what would it involve?

STEVEN WALLACE, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: It's quite easy to turn over the transponder. As Mary explained, you reach over, click, click, the switch over and it's off. Of course, what would happen in normal circumstances is the air traffic controller would instantly call the pilot and say we just lost your transponder signal.

But if any of the pilot did it deliberately, that is the most likely explanation, that someone turned it off deliberately. If it was accidental, the control would have called their attention to it. It would have been corrected

CUOMO: Hold on a second, Steven, even if they did it on purpose, why didn't they get a message from the control tower saying it's off? Whether it's on purpose or by accident, why didn't get the message?

SCHIAVO: Go ahead.

WALLACE: A few possible explanations. They may have just been -- they were in the middle I think of transitioning from Malaysian air traffic control to Vietnamese air traffic control. So I would like to add one point to this new discussion about this airplane perhaps flying below the radar is that all of those range calculates that we've seen, all these arcs drawn and how -- they are out the window.

If this airplane is operating at low altitudes because a turbo jet aircraft is highly efficient and designed to be efficient in the thin air, at high altitude. So down low the fuel consumption would go way up. The airplane can't fly as fast. The whole arcs that we've seen. They have to be redrawn if we conclude the plane was low. But as Mary just said, you cannot determine the altitude from MR-SAT data.

CUOMO: So that's very interesting point, by the way. Even if they're right about the 5,000 feet, it would change the search area because it would change the fuel economy and dynamics of flying this aircraft. One last point I want bought your take on. There are a lot of points. We are going to be discussing this throughout the morning and we appreciate you being here.

But the idea of the sophistication of dismantling the systems, some of it's done in the cockpit. Some of it would not be. What else would you have to do to, Mary, to really make this aircraft undetectable?

SCHIAVO: Well, what the authorities were saying at one point is they believe somebody went down to the electronics bay, which is actually down below. You can't get there from the cockpit. This is not where the electronics bay is. You'd have to go back into the passenger cabin, you take up the carpet and go down below where you'd have to go down and dissemble and take apart, you have to have tools, that's one of the series. I find that very difficult believe because you'd have to get through security with tools, with something to control the passengers.

CUOMO: They don't have the tools on board necessary?

SCHIAVO: To do that kind of electronic in the electronics bag, no. That's not in the pilot's kit bag.

CUOMO: And one last thing, Stephen, I want your take on that everybody fascinated by everybody got cell phones now, you got your android, your got your iPhones. Why can't we trace the people's phones on board? Why don't we know that?

WALLACE: They might be way out of range of a cell tower. And of course, if they are following the instructions of the airline, the cell phones are turned off. Depending on the weather and the altitude and where this plane went it, may not have been within reach of any cell phones. If it was above and overcast, for example, the passengers would likely have no clue that anything was amiss.

CUOMO: Mary, last point.

SCHIAVO: And this plane didn't have Wi-Fi.

CUOMO: So there was no Wi-Fi on the plane.

SCHIAVO: That's right.

CUOMO: So there was no Wi-Fi on the plane. That's important also. People have been asking it. A lot of other questions, but this is a good start. Mary Schiavo, thank you very much. Steven Wallace, appreciate it. We'll be leaning on you throughout the morning -- Mich.

PEREIRA: All right, Chris, thanks so much. Back to our breaking coverage of the search for Flight 370 in a moment, but we have additional breaking news this morning. Nearly 97 percent of Crimeans choosing to break away from Ukraine and become part of Russia. Ukrainian's president calling Sunday's vote a farce, as he authorizes the mobilization of 40,000 military reserves in the face of the Russian invasion.

President Obama and other western leaders promising Moscow will pay for its aggression, but Vladimir Putin is already putting the wheels in motion to annex Crimea this week. We have every angle of the story covered from Crimea, Moscow and the White House. We begin right now with Nick Paton Walsh in Simferopol, Crimea next.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Michaela, you can see behind me coaches, part of the choreography. They'll take representatives from the Crimean parliament, who've just voted to establish their independence here and to ask Moscow to absorb them into Russian federal.

They'll be taking a delegation to Moscow to discuss the practicalities of that, because after last night's celebration, the jubilation, the majority of ethnic speakers, are Russian speakers, felt the successful referendum. There is a deeply practical issues ahead like where if Ukraine cuts them off, do they get water, electricity, phone services from.

So, despite all of that, we still have a lot of technical things for this newly established independent area, so it claims, to get through in the days ahead. And, of course, to see what is Ukraine's government's response here and we've just heard that Vladimir Putin, who Washington is waiting to hear his final word on, this he will address his own parliament tomorrow. People there are expecting him to perhaps embrace Crimea's decision to try and join Russia, still unrecognized, though, by really much of the rest of the world -- Michaela.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Nick, thank you so much.

Meanwhile, the White House is rejecting the results of Sunday's referendum in Crimea, saying it won't recognize it all. President Obama is promising Putin will pay if who doesn't remove his troops from Crimea now.

So, we bring in White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski for that side of the story -- Michelle.


The White House is using its strongest language yet. After a call between President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday, it said the Crimean referendum was unconstitutional, done under the duress of Russian military intervention. And not only is not recognized by the international community, but will never be. Calling Russia's actions dangerous, destabilizing, saying gone are days when the international community will stand quite by while one country forcibly seizes the territory of another, and saying that the U.S. and others are preparing to impose additional costs.

Yes, that means more senses, which could seriously hurt Russia's slowing economy and the European Union that, so far, has avoid sanctions against Russia, is today expected to agree upon them -- Michaela.

PEREIRA: All right, Michelle.

To Russia now, it doesn't look like the threat of Western sanctions will stop or even slow down Vladimir Putin. Russian officials announcing overnight, they're going to start the process of annexing Crimea in the next few days.

Our breaking news coverage continues now. Fred Pleitgen is in Moscow -- Fred.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Michaela, doesn't see that very much of an impression on Vladimir Putin at all. AS you said, Russian politicians are making every indication that Crimea is going to be part of the Russian Federation very, very soon. The process actually starts on Friday when the Russian parliament is going to start debating motions, on making it easier for territories to join the Russian Federation, if that's something they want to do.

And, look, the indications that we're getting from everyone here in Moscow is that Vladimir Putin has made a very conscious, strategic decision. He knows there's going to be huge backlash after what he's done. He knows it's absolutely no small deal to put troops into Ukraine, but he has made the decision that he is going to go through with this in spite of any sort of sanctions that are going to happen, in spite of possibly getting kicked out of international organizations like for instance as the G8, the Russians are going to go through with this.

And the big question everyone is asking now, far is he going to go? And is he willing to put troops in eastern Ukraine, which is something that many people fear -- Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Fred, thanks for the reporting this morning.

I want to turn back to Flight 370. Let's go to John Berman and other stories as well.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Thanks, Chris.

Breaking overnight, U.S. Navy SEALs have boarded and taking control of a commercial tanker in the Mediterranean. The Morning Glory had been seized earlier this month by three armed Libyans and is carrying a cargo of oil loaned by the Libyan government. The mission happened in the international waters, southwest of Cyprus, at the request of both the Libyan and Cypriote government. The ship is being sailed back to Libya now by the U.S. Navy.

This morning, officials are inspecting a Delta Airplane after part of the wing came off in midflight, as you can see in this photo right there. The aircraft was flying from Orlando to Atlanta, when a panel detached from one of the wings. The plane was able to land safely. No one was hurt. This comes just after a Sun Wing Airlines Boeing 737 from Canada to Mexico was forced to make an emergency landing in Montana after running a new extreme turbulence and injuring two flight attendants.

South Korea now says North Korea has fired 25 short-range missiles from its east coast into open water. It a move the South says is a response to joint drills between South Korea and the U.S. and is meant is stir military tension and create uneasiness. The United States State Department says it is closely monitoring the situation. North Korea calls the military exercises "justifiable self defense."

President Obama will meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House today. The U.S. is pushing a framework for additional talks. Abbas says he made clear he objects to some of the provisions. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Abbas on Sunday, urging him to make tough decisions before the April 29th deadline for this peace deals -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right. John, thank you very much.

We're just days from the official start of spring but yet another round of wicked weather moving in. Not a good day for St. Patrick.


CUOMO: Meteorologist Indra Peterson appropriately dressed in green. But is the weather appropriate?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I do not want to get pinched. That's exactly why I'm wearing green on St. Paddy's.

So, we're talking about 25 million of us today again worried about the threat for more rain and snow. Take a look at the map, how many of us are impacted, definitely not something when you want -- you're just like three days away from spring, but unfortunately this is the case. You can tell where it's warmer down to the South and, of course, we're seeing that cold air that's spilled in overnight. So, now, D.C. seeing some of that snow.

And they've got a good amount already overnight. D.C. already saw about seven inches, and kind of really saw a dip off. Philadelphia, you can see how quick that margin is, only a trace of now.

So, it's really concentrated there, right into the mid-Atlantic. And we're still talking about even more snow expected to fall, D.C. could see another four and a half inches expected there, Philly could see about three inches for all said and done. As far as the timing, morning commute, never a way to start a Monday. We're still talking about that snow falling, but quickly exiting off by early afternoon.

Keep in mind, there's another low in the Southeast, which is going to produce some heavy rain for them. So, definitely a tough story for them in the Southeast as well today. Midwest, why not? Bring some more wind, more cold weather.

And where is spring, guys? We're talking about very windy conditions of that cold air, dies again. You can actually see that temperature contract, looking at really just the 30th and in the in Florida you see the 70s. You have the contrast. You know you have that threat for severe weather so that's looking out for today, down into the Southeast.

PEREIRA: Started to put away my sweaters.



PETERSONS: Don't worry about this, just a little bit to the South. I'm hoping you're right. I'm going with you, Michaela. I'm going to try.

CUOMO: I'm going to pinch you. I don't think --


PEREIRA: It's in the green (INAUDIBLE).

PETERSONS: Where is yours? Go the other way. (INAUDIBLE)

CUOMO: Oh, I have green on. You just can't see it.

PETERSONS: Sure you do.

CUOMO: My bra, my manziere (ph) is green today.

Coming up on NEW DAY, back to our breaking coverage of the search for Flight 370. It is expanding, to cover thousands of miles of ocean and 11 different countries. We're going to talk with the commander of the USS Kidd, which is patrolling the Indian Ocean.

PEREIRA: Investigators are turning their focus on these two men, the pilots of the missing flight 370. A new report out of Malaysia saying the plane may have dropped to 5,000 feet to avoid being detected on radar. What's the intention behind that? We'll talk to the newspaper editor behind the report.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to NEW DAY, everyone. I'm coming to you live from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, this morning.

The search effort to locate the missing Fly 370 now spans two hemispheres, 11 different countries, as well as deep oceans. Assisting in that massive search that only seems to get bigger is the USS Kidd which is patrolling the Andaman Sea in the Indian Ocean.

Joining us now by phone is Commander Gabriel Varela, executive officer of the USS Kidd.

Commander, can you hear me?

COMMANDER GABRIEL VARELA, USS KIDD (via telephone): Yes, I can, Kate. I am commander officer of the USS Kidd.

BOLDUAN: All right. Commander, thank you so much for joining us. There is a delay, as we're always dealing with. But we'll fight through it.

Describe to me the scope of what you guys are trying to accomplish, the area you're trying to search. How do you pull it off? What's the strategy?

VARELA: Thanks, Kate. First of all, let me thank you for allowing me to speak to you today and tell you a little bit about what we're doing.

USS Kidd, along with her embarked helicopters, have been performing a number of different things in our search, in our quest to find any evidence whatsoever with the missing Flight 370. We've been embarking -- I'm sorry, deploying our inherent equipment, radars and visually with our cameras.

Also, as an extension of our ship, we utilize our helicopters and we're searching approximately 1,500 square miles of water every day, every 24 hours.

BOLDUAN: Now, I know in "The New York Times," a spokesman for the Navy's Seventh Fleet said the Indian Ocean, just this aspect of the search, it's like looking for someone somewhere between New York and California.

So, that is a massive area. How do you do it and what are the chances you're going to be able to find evidence at this point?

VARELA: Yes, we've been working closely with the Malaysian government and they've been identifying areas to search. It's interesting that you bring up the wide scope of area of Los Angeles and New York. I put it in the context, my ship, the USS Kidd, has covered approximately 3,500 nautical miles, which is equivalent from San Diego, California, all the way to Rhode Island, as we're clearing massive amount of space each and every day. We'll continue to do so until we find any evidence to the missing plane or the search is called off for some reason.

BOLDUIAN: Do you think you'll find what kind of evidence do you look for? I asked that because there's some thought that any big piece of the plane would no longer be on the surface this many days later.

VARELA: That's correct. We are meticulously looking at every piece of debris we come across. We haven't found anything that's associated with an aircraft or associated with an aircraft crash. But we are investigating each and every piece as we come across it.

There's not a single piece of debris that passes us without us identifying exactly what it is. And to add to that, we've been cooperating with other units in the area --

BOLDUAN: So, you meant --

VARELA: We've been putting out. Go ahead, sorry.

BOLDUAN: No, you please go ahead.

VARELA: OK. Well, whether or not debris is spotted from one of our helicopters or the ship itself, we go down and we identify each and every piece just to make sure that we're not missing anything. In addition, reports from other sources, whether they'd be other open, other ships or other military units, we go and identify whether or not something that's been previously reported could be associated with the aircraft.

BOLDUAN: And with a lot of that comes patience. And I know that you'll continue with your search.

Commander Gabriel Varela, thank you so much for getting on the phone with us. Good luck with your search. We'll check back in with you. Thank you.

All right. We're going to take a break.

Coming up next on NEW DAY: Investigators are now focusing on the pilots of Flight 370 and there are new reports that the Boeing 777 may have dipped below 5,000 feet to avoid being detected by radar. The latest on what we're finding out about the two men flying that plane.

Plus, piecing together the final minutes of the 777. We're going to talk to a veteran pilot who knows the Boeing 777 inside and out. We're going to ask him what he thinks happened to the missing jet liner based on the very latest evidence.