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Report: Plane Flew Down to 5,000 Feet to Avoid Radar; U.S. Navy Seals Board Libyan Ship; Oscar Pistorius Trial Continues

Aired March 17, 2014 - 06:30   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome back to NEW DAY. I'm joining you once again from Kuala Lumpur.

This morning, a new report out by "The New Strait Times" in Malaysia is reporting from the resources that they believe the plane could have flown down to some 5,000 feet across three countries and to do that to avoid radar.

CNN, we must say, has not been able to confirm this report, but it surely is getting a lot of attention.

I'm joined by Farrah Naz Karim, editor of "The New Straits Times."

This is your reporting that we've been talking about, you and I have been talking about this throughout the day. Sum it up for me what you have heard from your sources about your report, that they dipped below areas of some 5,000 feet and what is terrain masking? Why would they do it?

FARRAH NAZ KARIM, EDITOR, NEW STRAITS TIMES: OK, this would be the closest way to answer this question that everybody's asking how -- where is it? And how did it -- if it did pass the last point of detection, how did it pass through this airspace, or the countries, without being detected?

So, we spoke to those close to investigations and they explained how it could be done, and investigators, as they look into all possibilities, this is one aspect that they could be looking into, terrain masking. It obviously has to be up north in your search. And when you go that low, you would have to have the kind of avionics knowledge to fly through this type of destination.

But this is all speculation at this point until --

BOLDUAN: One of many theories that you guys are also chasing down as well, as the government has not confirmed one way or another, right?

KARIM: Yes, the best we can do is make sure this information coming in in bits and pieces are -- make sense, because everyone is trying to make sense of what has happened to the plane. (INAUDIBLE)

BOLDUAN: I think a lot of people -- I mean, you've heard -- we talked about this earlier. There has been a lot of criticism on the Malaysian government, on the Malaysian officials, on coordination and their communication with other countries and with, you know, publicly with the media. Talk to me from the Malaysian perspective, do you think that's fair criticism?

KARIM: As a journalist, I understand the thirst for new information, but I think as we enter into this tenth day of the search, the criticism against the Malaysian government has now scaled back and I think people are beginning to appreciate that information that's coming from the Malaysian government are verified and valid.

And if you would have noticed, in the first few days, it was the harshest because that's when all this unverified reports were coming in from the Vietnamese side and from China, but Malaysia had not once confirmed this and when they did, it was not verified, it was not true. The reports were false.

BOLDUAN: Farrah, do you think at some level, there is a cultural difference with how the government works with the media, works with other officials in terms of, in Malaysia and in the United States? Do you think that's part of it?

KARIM: Actually, when I read on the kind of criticism that's going Malaysia's way, it leads me wondering how would other countries, even the most advanced countries who are left just as perplexed as Malaysia would handle it. If you have that kind of information -- I mean, we are talking about advanced countries which hat have the advanced technologies that developing countries I guess my not even have seen. So, when you are equally perplexed, what do you expect from us? That's why from the get-go, the FBI was brought in to look into the other countries with the kind of expertise that we need for this operation.

I think you must be reminded that Malaysia did say it has put its national security secondary to the search. And I guess at this point, Kuala Lumpur would hope that all these countries that it has sought assistance from would cooperate. Are they willing to give that kind of information that Malaysia is willing to offer? Will they be as forthcoming? Are you willing to risk your national security secrets, how far your radar can read?

BOLDUAN: That's a big issue. And we heard "The New York Times" reporting that there's frustration on the U.S. side that Malaysian officials aren't accepting as much or more extensive help they're offering from the U.S. side. So, we can see not only are they searching for answers, but there's a lot of push and pull on who's in charge and who's going to give information and quite a lot of diplomatic answer we go now, 26 countries involved in the search.

KARIM: The transport minister of Malaysia actually was asked this in a press conference about 10 minutes ago, why have we not brought in FBI? And he said we did so from day one.

BOLDUAN: That they were looped in?

KARIM: Yes. BOLDUAN: A lot more questions. We keep talking about it. The more the days pass, the more questions there are.

The search is only broadening. Farrah, you're in the middle of it all. Great reporting. We'll continue to talk to you and lean on you from your expertise. Thank you so much.

KARIM: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: All right. Chris, back to you.


Following it from the beginning, there's little question things could have happened sooner in this investigation. Our job is to push forward and test everything that comes out of the investigation. We're going to do that all morning for you here on CNN.

Coming up on NEW DAY after the break, more of our coverage of the search for Flight 370, including new information about the actions of the pilots in the flight's final hours. We're going to talk to a man who has flown a Boeing 777 to see what he thinks could have happened, what it would have taken to bring this plane down.


CUOMO: Welcome back.

We're following breaking new details in the search for Malaysia Airline Flight 370. There's a new report from a Malaysian newspaper and it is reporting that the plane could have flown down to 5,000 feet. Why? To avoid radar obviously.

Now, this follows reports the plane underwent highly technical maneuvers to remain hidden and that the co-pilot's last communication with air traffic controllers was after the plane veered off course.

All these clues have renewed focused on the pilot's role in the disappearance.

Let's test these ideas. We're joined by Les Abend, a current 777 pilot, a contributing editor for Flying Magazine, as well as Alastair Rosenschein, a former pilot and aviation consultant. Gentlemen, thank you for joining us. Let's deal with just the -- let's start at the beginning here, and the idea that a pilot had to do these things, someone who had to know how to fly this aircraft and understand its systems, had to do these things. Fair enough?

LES ABEND, CURREN 777 PILOT: Fair enough.

CUOMO: Because?

ABEND: If it holds true. But I find it so unfathomable that -- the only people I can really see, if these passengers have been vetted and screened appropriately, the only people I could see that would do that were the people up in the pointy end of the airplane. It's -- I'm here as an expert, but I have knowledge of how to operate this airplane. It's a flying laptop. It's a beautifully, well designed electronic airplane. My knowledge is limited in scope because there's not a lot I can do with mechanical issues. That being said, somebody really would require even more intimate knowledge than I have to be able to disable certain electronic aspects of that airplane.

CUOMO: And you would need tools that you'd have to find a way to get onto the plane, right? Tools not available onboard to go underneath and disconnect things.

ABEND: Well, yes and no. The electronic -- what we call the E&E compartment is eight feet below the cockpit, down below the galley floor. You would have to access -- you could access that from the cabin area and go downstairs and there's a lot of equipment down there. I spoke with a 777 captain, retired now, that said he'd never been down there in all the years he'd flown the airplane. I have. It's -- there's a lot of equipment down there.

CUOMO: So you have to know what you're doing beyond even knowing how to fly.

ABEND: Correct.

CUOMO: Alastair, let me ask you this. The new theory that this plane was flying below 5,000 feet, testing that notion, does it sound like something that's plausible? And what would it take to fly it below 5,000 feet?

ALASTAIR ROSENSCHEIN, AVIATION CONSULTANT: Well, it's both plausible and doable. It's quite -- it's fairly straightforward to fly at that level. That's not going to mask your radar profile. You'll still be picked up on radar, especially military radar. So perhaps considerably lower than that might have some use, but 5,000 feet you'll still be painting a lovely primary radar present.

CUOMO: And interesting. Let me stay with you, Alastair. If the authorities believe this theory that it could have been below 5,000 feet, wouldn't they have to adjust their search area because of changes in fuel consumption and range?

ROSENSCHEIN: Well, yes. You'll use up much more fuel down at that level. I mean, the longer this goes on, the more the conspiracy theorists are going to come out with crazier and crazier solutions to what may have happened. It strikes me, this could still be a technical problem and the aircraft headed out over the Indian Ocean. There's nothing new to suggest otherwise.

And I also want to say, when the Malaysian prime minister stated in his statement, and he quoted AAIB, the NTSB, and the FAA, that the transponder was deactivated -- sorry, was switched off -- and that ACARS was disabled, this suggests considerably more information than they actually have. All they could say is these two pieces of equipment ceased to transmit, an entirely different interpretation there. So there's been -- they've evaluated it and this is an evaluative interpretation. I feel uncomfortable with the statement the prime minister gave on this.

But as for the flying below radar, it is possible and you're quite right, it would reduce the range he could fly at. But I really can't see where that's leading.

CUOMO: Alastair, thank you very much for that. Because, Les, that's the point. If they believed this, why didn't they also readjust their search area? It seems to show an urgency of getting out information as opposed to thinking it through all the way.

And then let's end on your take on what Alastair was just saying. They said pretty definitively we now believe someone did this, turned it off and turned it off before he even said good night, the pilot, but Alastair's saying there's just as much reason to believe that this still happened because of something, not someone. How could that be?

ABEND: It was very well articulated. It's possible that some situation was occurring down in that E&E compartment that I described that was slowly shutting down systems. Remember, as I mentioned, this is an electronic airplane. There could have been some technicality that was occurring that they were attempting to troubleshoot or attempting to go through a checklist and it was starting to get overwhelming.

CUOMO: So a snowball effect is still very much an idea of what happened here, despite what's coming out of the Malaysians about what they believe was done by someone as opposed to something?

ABEND: No accident ever has one cause. There's always many factors. And we keep going back to Air France's thing, an accident. That had many factors involved with that accident.

CUOMO; So to both of your minds, we're still in the realm of this could have been something as well as somebody hijacking it. Les, Alastair, thank you very much. We'll continue to rely on you as we go through and test what comes out of the investigation. Thank you very much. Michaela.

PEREIRA: All right, Chis, next up on NEW DAY, the U.S. Navy SEALs storm a ship, taking it from Libyans carrying illegal cargo We're going to be live with the very latest on that situation.


PEREIRA: Welcome back to NEW DAY. We're going to return to our coverage of Flight 370 in just a moment. We're also following another top story. Breaking overnight, U.S. Navy SEALs seized a commercial tanker in the Mediterranean Sea. The Morning Glory had been seized earlier this month by three armed Libyans and is carrying a cargo of oil owned by the Libyan government.

For more on what's happening here, let's turn to CNN's Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Michaela. President Obama personally approved the mission for the U.S. Navy SEALs to board and raid that ship overnight. It had been followed very closely but it was a bit of a mystery. The ship seized earlier this month by apparently three armed men at a port in Libya, which is part of the country that was seeking more autonomy from the federal government, essentially a breakaway rebel group.

It had about 200,000 barrels of oil on board, it was said, oil that belonged to the government. And the ship was boarded and seized in the Mediterranean, as you say, between Libya and Cyprus. It was boarded by the U.S. with the approval of the Libyan government. No one hurt by all accounts, no shots fired. Another move by the Navy SEALs and the mission, by all accounts, executed successfully.

PEREIRA: Sounds like a fairly easy takeover. Do we have any indication of what happened to those Libyan suspects on board, those three men?

STARR: Right now those three men are still said to be on board the ship, and that ship is now under control of the U.S. Navy. There are a group of U.S. Navy sailors on board who are piloting that tanker back to a Libyan port. And it is expected that the men will be turned back over to the Libyan government. Michaela.

PEREIRA: Quite a situation out there. Barbara Starr, thank you so much.

CUOMO: All right, Mick, let's head to the Oscar Pistorius murder trial now. A crime scene photographer is conceding that bloody pictures marked as taken the day after the shooting actually weren't taken until weeks later. This could be big for the defense. And for the first time since the beginning of the trial, Reeva Steenkamp's mother was in court but she left quickly when those bloody images were shown in court.

International correspondent Robyn Curnow is in Pretoria, South Africa, following every development. Robyn.

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there. Indeed Reeva Steenkamp's mother, June, was in court for the first time since Day 1 of this trial. And she didn't last very long because those gruesome crime scene photos were brought up on the TV screens in court. She left as a picture of Oscar Pistorius shirtless, his torso bloodied, was shown on the TV screens in side court. And of course after that we hadn't seen -- we haven't seen here again. It's now the lunch adjournment. But throughout the rest of the morning, this crime scene photographer methodically went through each of these photographers, determining at what time they were taken in the aftermath of the shooting.

CUOMO: All right, Robyn, thank you very much. Appreciate the reporting. We'll check back in with you.

All right, look at the time. We're now at the top of the hour. That means it is time for our top story.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our priority has always been to find the aircraft. We would not withhold any information that could help.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you tell us what you were doing inside the house?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The authorities are looking at the captain's flight simulator.

UNDIENTIFIED MALE: One of their own pilots or somebody, a citizen, hijacked this airplane.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was a plan so well established and so well executed, that's in total silence.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Many still hope for a miracle.

UNDIENTIFIED MALE: I hope all of them come back safe to their families.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (via telephone): I'm quite certain that Philip (ph) is still alive. I still feel his presence.


CUOMO: Good morning, welcome back to NEW DAY. I'm Chris Cuomo in New York. We're following breaking developments this morning in the search for Malaysia Flight 370, now in its tenth day. Despite rampant criticism, officials in Malaysian are defending themselves against this criticism that they've been releasing the information too slowly. They say they just needed to wait until it was verified. Let's go to Kate. She is in Malaysia with the latest. Kate.

BOLDUAN: And Chris, I am coming to you live from Kuala Lumpur. I'm following all the latest developments including the new twist in a report coming Malaysia's "New Straits Times". Unnamed sources saying the plane could have dropped as low as 5,000 feet, flying across three countries, in order to avoid radar.

We've also learned a Malaysian civil aviation engineer was on the flight. Mohammed Khairul Amri Selamat worked for a private jet company. He'll be scrutinized because, of course, his professional background, as all backgrounds were being scrutinized of anyone who was on that plane. 26 countries are now helping look for the jet as officials expand the search. Once again, it stretches now from Central Asia to deep in the Southern Indian Ocean.

And this morning there's a renewed focus on the pilots. Questions are swirling about these two as more theories point to a deliberate action to veer off course, deliberate action coming from the cockpit. Their homes were searched this weekend. We'll see what police find in a flight simulator found in one of those homes, the pilot's home. Chris?

CUOMO: All right, Kate, thank you very much. Let's bring in former criminal investigator and licensed commercial pilot, John Lucic, as well as CNN national security analyst, Fran Townsend, and former vice chairman of the NTBS, Bob Francis. All right, this is a heavyweight panel. It's good to have all of you here because there's a lot to go through. Let's start first with the understanding of the investigation. They're coming out, they're saying we were waiting to vet this information before we put it out. But we're saying more pings, more radar they had here, more to work off of. Do we believe this was about them just doing things slowly here, Les, do you think that that's what's going on?


CUOMO: John, sorry.

LUCIC: Yes, no problem.