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Search Continues for Missing Malaysian Airlines Plane; Crimea Votes to be Annexed by Russian Federation; The Mystery of Malaysia Flight 370; Inside a 777 Flight Simulator

Aired March 17, 2014 - 07:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Let's bring in former criminal investigator and licensed commercial pilot, John Lucich, 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. Yes, no, I believe they're doing the right thing. I think rushing the information out is what has led to so much confusion about this investigation. We have a tail in the water, we have an aircraft door in the water that turns out to be nothing. How could you mistake that? This rushing of information out. I believe the Malaysian government, if that's what they're doing, verifying information before they release it, is the right thing to do. It's the only way to conduct at investigation. Otherwise you cause so much confusion and lead the investigation into a different path than it should really go.

CUOMO: And, Bob, people keep telling us from your neck of the woods there in the NTSB, we would have had our hands around the neck of all this information sooner, we would have been asking the other countries what they had, we would have had these other radar pings, we would have been able to scramble, and time matters in these situations. Fair criticism?

BOB FRANCIS, FORMER VICE CHAIRMAN, NTSB: I think a bit of criticism is fair, but I think that's an exaggeration. The NTSB does not get into a position that is as convoluted and complex and sort of multi- element and multi-personnel as this situation.

CUOMO: So it has unique challenges here so there's going to be its own set of rules about how it progresses. Fran, let me ask you something that goes along with what this new search area is. Part of it goes up in Tajikistan. There's all these concerns there about how it would have gotten through India-Pakistan airspace when they're on such high alert and so anxious all the time. Let's unpack that part first. What's the chance that a plane of this size could make it through that region of airspace undetected?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: You know, Chris, I think it's pretty remote that we can believe that this plane could have gotten that far. Both Indian and Pakistan have pretty strict air defense systems, especially India. We've seen this morning's reports in the "Malaysia Times" the plane went below 5,000 feet -- hard to imagine. This is a very big plane. It's a commercial aircraft, not a tactical aircraft. The notion it was able to successfully navigate below 5,000 feet multiple times to avoid the radar defenses of all of these countries seems unlikely. So just based on our experience, Chris, it would seem that the southern arc is more likely to produce a result for us in terms of the search for the plane.

CUOMO: I'm going to come back to you about that in one second, but first, John, the idea that the plane was doing this, one, do they even know based on the type of radar ping data, the unsophisticated data they're getting, and, two, what would it take to fly that way, level of sophistication, and three, how would it change the search area in terms of the inefficiency of the aircraft if it were at that level?

LUCICH: Number one, let's handle it that in order. It shows that it was Myanmar by satellite pings, yet we don't have it showing up on radar. So I really have to question whether that got up there.

Remember, this thing is supposedly flying at 5,000 feet coming in off the ocean. That's not too low to be picked up radar. Every day 777s, 747s, they come down below 5,000 feet, they maintain 5,000 feet, they land at airports. Flying at aircraft at 5,000, 1,000 feet, it's not going to be a problem. It is going to consume a lot more fuel than at 35,000 feet. So there are some issues, and the so-called facts all seem to come in and conflict with each other which confuses the investigation.

CUOMO: So that takes us then into the southern route around the Indian Ocean. Fran, back to you on this, and Bob, I'll ask you to follow on the point Fran is about to make -- don't we have, we being the United States, don't we have sophisticated communications outposts in the Indian Ocean that you would think would pick up something this size?

TOWNSEND: That's right, Chris. In Diego Garcia, there's a number of assets the U.S. has, and, by the way, some of our closest allies like Australia, they were all working it. But this is a vast amount of sea space to cover to try and find it. And you have to do that basically from the water. Air assets can support that effort, but mostly you've got to pick up the initial ping based on either something that's observable or hearable in the water or on the water surface.

CUOMO: Bob, the idea of coming to a conclusion that investigators seem -- that they believe somebody turned off the transponder, somebody disabled the other communications equipment, which may have involved going below into the compartment to do it, do you believe there's a substantial and sufficient basis for that finding?

FRANCIS: Well, I think the thing you have to remember is it also could have been some kind of problem, either short circuit or overheating or even a flame down in the bay down below. So, you know, I don't think you can be conclusive about any of this yet. You can sort of try to set up your priorities of what you think, but there really isn't enough evidence to conclusively decide exactly what happened.

CUOMO: It's interesting that they came out so definitively saying we now believe somebody did this deliberately, everybody went on their hijacking conspiracies. But still it could have been something, not someone, that set off these reactions?

LUCICH: The one thing we know for sure is the transponders stopped communicating, stopped transmitting. We don't know why they stopped transmitting, but we can definitely say they stopped transmitting because ATC wasn't receiving --

CUOMO: Would you know? They said it happened before the good night from the pilot. Would you know as the pilot that your transponder had stopped working?

LUCICH: ATC would tell you. When you're talking to ATC, they'll tell you that you're not transmitting. But the thing is, here's a strange part about it, again, strange facts that conflict each other, right, we have one transponder that goes off once and then minutes later --

CUOMO: And 14 minutes.

LUCICH: We have redundant systems in the 777, an aircraft that has an excellent track record, it just so confusing, which is why it's led to where we are today.

CUOMO: So if the investigators say they said good night after it went off, well, then where was the call from the control tower about why their transponder want working?

LUCICH: Here's what happens. When ATC hands you off because you're moving on to the next air traffic controller, and there's going to be a gap sometimes and controllers will give you a little time. Let's say the theory that this was a hijacking. That would be the perfect time to start doing what you're doing because you're no longer talking to ATC and the other ATC is expecting you but you may not come right away, so it may be several minutes before the new ATC starts looking for you.

CUOMO: Bob, the idea of the flight simulator's in the pilot's home, what do you make of the suggestion he has it there and maybe it's indicative of some type of bad intent?

FRANCIS: I think the important thing is to look and see what's on the simulator. If there's something that's indicative that he was planning something, then that's clearly an important piece of evidence. The fact that he had one of these devices really doesn't say anything at all. CUOMO: Not that unusual, pilots have them, enthusiasts have them?

FRANCIS: Absolutely.

CUOMO: Fran, what's the capability of downloading what he had on the simulator and finding out information? Will it be difficult or should it be done quickly?

TOWNSEND: No, it should be done quickly. Frankly, Chris, the more confounding thing to me is they first visited the homes on March 9th but it wasn't until this weekend that they actually conduct the search. U.S. investigators will tell you, you conduct the search for the missing aircraft and the investigation in parallel. You do them at the same time. Here it seems like they're off to a slow start on the investigation, the pilots, the passengers, all of that sort of stuff, which may help uncover what the motive was for this.

CUOMO: Fran, we'll end on this. You have a lot of well-placed sources in the intelligence community here, I only have a few, but I have it tell you I've never seen anyone so blank on a situation as they are on this one. They knew better where Usama bin Laden was before they found him than they do this plan. Bob Francis, thank you very much, Fran Townsend, we'll be leaning on both of you. John, thank you very much, appreciate the perspective. Michaela?

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Chris, thanks so much. We'll have more of our coverage on the search for flight 370 in just a moment. But first today's other top stories starting with Russia. Announcing the annexation of Crimea will begin this week. Nearly 97 percent of Crimeans voting Sunday to break away from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. President Obama and other western leaders are rejecting this vote, promising Vladimir Putin will pay if he does not pull back. Nick Paton Walsh is live from Crimea. Nick?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Michaela, the parliament behind me has today voted to declare themselves independent and ask Russia to make them part of the Russian Federation. And we know Vladimir Putin will tomorrow address both house of his parliament, presumably to make his final decision on that. The only thing that could stop that really happening now is him deciding to take the so called off-ramp offered by western diplomats and not actually bring Crimea into the Russian fold whole sale.

His foreign minister too making perhaps peaceful signals just now, suggesting they'd like an international body established to talk about political reform. But really at the end of the day what's happened here with the de facto rush to annex part of Ukraine, we're still waiting to see whether or not European and U.S. officials are actually going to bring forward sanctions tough enough to punish what's already happened or if they're looking for a protracted political talk about this to try and keep their relations with Moscow at a reasonably friendly atmosphere.

PEREIRA: All right, Nick, thank you so much for that. Meanwhile, we know that President Obama spoke by phone with the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, after the voting in Crimea. The White House for their part is refusing to recognize the results. Let's bring in Michelle Kosinski who is like from the White House this morning.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Michaela. So far the White House is using its strongest language yet, but more action is almost certainly to follow and soon. After a call yesterday between President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the White House said the Crimean referendum is unconstitutional, done under the duress of Russian military intervention, and not only is it not recognized by the international community, but that it never will be, calling Russia's actions dangerous, destabilizing, saying gone are the days when the international community will stand quietly by while one country forcibly seizes the territory of another. It also said the U.S. and others are preparing to impose additional costs, which means, yes, more sanctions against Russia that could seriously hurt its slowing economy. And the European Union, which so far has avoided imposing sanctions, is expected today to agree upon them. Chris?

CUOMO: All right, Michelle, thank you very much. We're going to be following flight 370 throughout the morning, but there's a lot of news to give you, so let's get to John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks so much, Chris. Scary moments for passengers on a delta flight after part of the wing came off while in air. The aircraft was flying from Orlando to Atlanta on Sunday when a panel detached form one of the wings. The plane was able to land safely. No one was hurt. This comes after a Sun Wings Airlines Boeing 737 from Canada and Mexico was forced to make an emergency landing in Montana after running into extreme turbulence. Two flight attendants on that flight were hurt.

Happening today at the White House, President Obama will sit down with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to talk about the state of the Middle East peace process. The U.S. is pushing a framework for additional talks. President Abbas has made clear that he objects to some of the provisions in that framework. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Abbas on Sunday urging him to make some tough decisions before the proposed April 29th deadline for the framework.

The State Department is calling on North Korea to stop launching short range missiles into the Sea of Japan. At least 25 rockets were fired into the open sea on Sunday, the U.S. and South Korea calling on the north to stop what they call provocative actions. North Korea claims the launches are in self-defense in response to military exercises recently conducted between the U.S. and South Korea.

A rare statement made public by the self-described mastermind of September 11. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed standing up for Usama bin Laden's son-in-law who is on trial in New York. In a court statement he called him a pious man who did not have a role in Al Qaeda military activities, that he was simply recruited to make impassioned speeches because he was, quote, "an elegant, spellbinding speaker." Michaela?

PEREIRA: All right, John, thanks so much for that.

We certainly know that winter is heading out with a bang because there is another round of snow and cold that's hitting parts of the east, heavy snow. We saw actually behind Michelle's Kosinski's live shot earlier today, a lot of snow coming down in D.C., Baltimore, New Jersey. So let's talk to Indra about this.

CUOMO: Disrespect for St. Paddy's.

PEREIRA: It does feel a little disrespectful.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I was going to say it looks like Ground Day. When you look at the radar, you can see all that cold air filled in overnight. So what was rain in the D.C. area we know now is snow.

We're seeing a pretty good amount, D.C. about seven inches. Right around Philly, though, a trace. So it's a very confined swath where we're seeing some of the heavier snow kind of coming down. And more snow still expected for the morning commute, but it will taper off after the afternoon. So that's the good news that D.C. could still see several inches, even Philadelphia could see a couple lower inches.

Here's the time, number one, because there are two loads out there. This is the guy currently bringing the snow. That's going to move offshore. Behind it comes a second one. The southeast will be talking about rain today, even in through tomorrow, and good amounts. It looks like anywhere from two to even three inches around Alabama, Georgia, even in through Florida. Just keep in mind, in Midwest, we are not done just yet, another system for you bringing more cold air in. We have the northeast, more snow by the middle of the week. But notice the temperature contrast, 30 down by Florida. That means severe weather today in for Florida, so even the threat for some isolated tornadoes. A lot going on, so hopefully I got that all in that amount time.

PEREIRA: Absolutely, thank you so much for that.

CUOMO: I'm trying to get the translation of what "erin go bragh" means. It says "Ireland Forever". They may have to switch it to "Snow and bad weather from Petersons forever."

PEREIRA: "Winter never ends forever."

PETERSONS: My fault.

PEREIRA: Thanks, become spring.

CUOMO: Coming up on NEW DAY, what happened in that cockpit? There's new concentration of what pilots may have done, how things got turned off. Was it intentional? Do we know that? We're going to take you live inside a flight simulator to test the latest theories in the disappearance of Flight 370.

PEREIRA: Also ahead, President Obama could be persona non grata on the campaign trail, some Democrats even going as far as to call him poisonous. We're going to get the very latest when John King goes inside politics, coming up.


PEREIRA: All right, welcome back. It is Day Ten in the search for missing Flight 370. Much of the investigation we now know centers around what happened inside the cockpit. We're following a breaking report out of a Malaysian newspaper that cites unnamed sources who say the plane could have gone down as low as 5,000 feet to avoid being detected on radar. Malaysian officials say the plane was deliberately diverted and could have flown on a northern or southern arc, putting a renewed focus on those pilots.

We want to take you straight to Martin Savidge and pilot Mitchell Casado in Toronto. They're inside a simulator of a 777, looking at what investigators could possibly be looking at. Martin.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, hello, Michaela. What we're doing here is, for the purpose of this exercise, we're flying over Pakistan, we're heading north. We're at 88,500 (ph) feet. Mitchell, why don't you take us down quickly. We'll show you what a quick descent would look like, at least from the vantage point of the 777 cockpit, as we try to bring it down to 5,000 feet.

One of the things we should point out here, though, 5,000 feet isn't really going to take you a below anybody's radar. So to say that is a little bit misleading. One of the thoughts that's also being floated out by many professional pilots is it could have been that the 777 was trying to hide in the wide open. In other words, flying commercial routes, looking like a typical commercial airliner because the people who might be most upset, not so much ground control but the military radars.

OK, so we bring it down -- one of the things I should ask, Mitchell, what's the problem when you're flying at an altitude of 5,000 feet?

MITCHELL CASADO, FLIGHT SIMULATOR PILOT: You're looking out for a terrain, you're very close to the ground. So you're sending to 5,000 feet, anything below --

SAVIDGE: You can hear the alarm going off on the dash, which we're trying to do. It's already triggering certain alarms. But you're worried about obviously terrain, ground. This is a heavily mountainous kind of region.

As we bring it down here, you also have to realize it's nighttime that we're doing this flight. So, again, this pilot, whoever is in control, you would hope not only had some idea of how to operate the aircraft but knew the terrain he was flying into, especially in this region of the world at night. But was he below radar detection? A lot of radars go down very, very low. They do, don't they?

CASADO: Absolutely, especially military radars. Military, again, they look for things that civilian radars don't. They're looking for things that they don't -- most people are trying to hide. So you're looking, their radar descends all the way to the ground as opposed to a civilian radar, usually 300, 400 feet above the ground where you could hide underneath that.

SAVIDGE: Well, Michaela, if he decided to follow up as a regular airline route, those highways in the skies, it's quite possible the military people would say, oh, must be a commercial airliner. And they would lose interest. Hiding in the open.

PEREIRA: Hiding in the open. Now, interesting perspective you can give us here being inside a simulator of one of these planes. We know that the pilot of the missing airplane had a simulator. I'm not sure how similar it is to the one you have. Investigators want to look at this simulator. What do you think could be gleaned from looking at the simulator they're seeing and inform them of what his intent might be?

SAVIDGE: Well, the simulator he had was not anywhere nearly as sophisticated as this one, but like this one it's a computer, so Mitchell -- computers keep track.

CASADO: Yes, they do. It's like any computer at home, your laptop. It has a hard drive. You're going to store any routes he's flown and that he practiced procedures. It's all going to be stored on the computer.

SAVIDGE: And that's the thing that authorities would be looking for, is what were the routes that he flew? Was there a specific route, say, like the one we're flying now taking you north over Pakistan? It could take you towards Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, any number of the - stans. And of course those are regions of the world where there are concerns for terror. So that's what they would be looking for.

How precisely would that memory hold it all?

CASADO: Those flight simulators are extremely accurate. In fact, we use them in flight school, in certified flight schools, to practice. That's how accurate they are. Very realistic.

SAVIDGE: It wouldn't be unrealistic though for a pilot to have such a system?

CASADO: No, not at all. Because flying is a passion; most pilots, it's a -- they're hobbyists as well. So in addition to using it for training, it's just fun. It's something that they -- it's a lifestyle. And that's part of a lifestyle.

PEREIRA: Martin, another thing that is interesting is that we know that the communication systems, the ACARS and transponder, were switched off before the last words that were heard from the pilot, "All right, good night." Does that give you or Mitchell any indication that the pilots were involved or were somehow coerced?

CASDAO: I would say -- it's hard to say at this point. The fact that they were turned off before he said that, it could have just been coincidence. I wouldn't read too much into it, personally, but you never know.

SAVIDGE: One of the things we have talked about, though, is the fact the timing of when this all happened. Remember, you're transitioning airspace. You're getting out of Malaysian airspace and it's just as you head into Vietnam airspace. So literally, i you're going to choose a point to disappear, that is that moment. Because the Vietnamese haven't accepted you yet and the Malaysians you've said good night. So essentially you're in that kind of no man's land.

CASADO: Yes, exactly.

SAVIDGE: You're off the grid.

CASADO: It's very meticulously planned, absolutely.

SAVIDGE: Michaela.

PEREIRA: Mitchell Casado and Martin Savidge, we really appreciate it. It's helpful for us to see what it's like inside that simulator, give us an idea of what some of the things the investigators are going to be looking at, Chris. Invaluable tool.

CUOMO: Absolutely. Because we keep hearing information that's largely speculative. It has to be put to the test. What better way to do that than with a real pilot in a simulator? Great stuff, Mick.

We're going to take a break now. When we come back on NEW DAY, the mystery surrounding this missing Malaysian flight and why it has been so hard to find. What about the passenger cell phones? So many of you are talking about that. Shouldn't they be used to track down a plane? Can't we find them anywhere? We're going to take you through that.

Also coming up, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice says Ukraine prices should be a wake-up call for the U.S. and President Obama. John King goes inside politics next.