Return to Transcripts main page


Thailand Now Says Its Military Radar Picked Up Flight 370; Putin Says Crimea Referendum Proves Crimea Wants to Be Part of Russia; Obama Awards Medal of Honor to 24 Vets; TV Pitchman Kevin Trudeau Heading to Prison; Inside a 777 Cockpit: Changes to the In-Flight Computer; Two Dead in Seattle Helicopter Crash; China Using 21 Satellites Looking for Missing Jet

Aired March 18, 2014 - 11:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN CO-ANCHOR: Did someone deliberately change the path of that missing jetliner using the cockpit flight computer? We will look at the new details from this new report.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN CO-ANCHOR: For the first time, a foreign government says its military radar picked up Malaysian Flight 370 before and possibly after the plane's transponder was turned off.

BERMAN: And why didn't anyone on board the missing jet make any phone calls, apparently, of any kind? So many people have been asking that question. @ THIS HOUR, we have some possible answers.

Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman.

PEREIRA: And I'm Michaela Pereira. It's 11:00 a.m. in the East, 8:00 a.m. out West, those stories and much more, ahead, @ THIS HOUR.

New evidence emerging to bolster the belief that Flight 370 changed course. It is now day 11 since that jet disappeared into thin air with 239 souls on board.

BERMAN: And this new data, this new radar data, comes from Thailand. Its military says it was receiving normal flight path and communication data from the Malaysian Airline plane on its planned route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing until 1:22 a.m. That's when it disappeared, they say, from radar.

Six minutes later, the Thai military detected an unknown signal heading in the opposite direction.

This morning, a new report from "The New York Times" suggests the plane's path was deliberately altered through the flight computer, so it's likely, they say, that someone in the cockpit programmed Flight 370 to turn west, but no one knows exactly who entered the coordinates or when.

PEREIRA: Malaysian authorities today announced the total search area now stands -- get this -- 2.24-million-square nautical miles.

Let's try and put that in perspective for you. A spokesman for the U.S. Navy Seventh Fleet says it's like looking for a few people somewhere between New York and California.

BERMAN: A huge, huge area.

PEREIRA: That Thai data is the second radar evidence that the plane did, indeed, turn around toward the Strait of Malacca.

BERMAN: CNN aviation analyst Mary Schiavo joins us. She is a former inspector general of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

And retired U.S. Marine Corps Colonel Peter Field join us via Skype from St. Louis. Peter is an air-crash investigator and aviation consultant with 50 years experience in civilian, commercial, military and general aviation.

Mary, I am going to start with you since you're here with us. This new radar data from Thailand, what can this now tell us?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, it doesn't tell us so much something new as it bolsters the theories. Now, we have a second way to say, yes, this plane hit its first mark and then turned left.

And the other thing that it could add, since Thailand is a little bit north, is if it can expand the circle of what we know. You know, all we have from these satellites -- and I don't want to call them pings; they're just coordinates.

But Thailand is a little bit north, and their radar should cover a larger area, and they might be able to give directional information. Did the plane veer to the north or to the south? But, at least, it is a confirmation that it did turn and it started heading west.

PEREIRA: Mary, this information, wouldn't it have helped about a week ago?

SCHIAVO: Oh, yes, this would have helped about a week ago. I guess the only thing we can say is at least they are still looking for additional information, and other governments and countries are helping.

But it certainly would helped, particularly, if the range is bigger than just pinpoint, just a dot, a coordinate that they have, any directionals, speed, altitude information whatsoever.

BERMAN: You know, the Associated Press is saying, quoting the Thais, saying the Malaysians never specifically asked for it, which is shocking if you think about it.

I want to bring in Peter Field. Peter, the other report that we are talking about today is this report in "The New York Times," about the in-flight computer, "The New York times" reporting that someone programmed in these waypoints.

What can you tell us about this computer, and if someone changed it in flight, what exactly does that tell you?

PETER FIELD, AVIATION CONSULTANT: It puts the seven's navigation system is how you navigate the airplane and that is coupled also with the autopilot, so when you program a new waypoint into the computer, the airplane flies to that waypoint.

And that's obviously what the pilots have done or somebody has done with this airplane. It's a perfectly normal mode of control.

PEREIRA: So, what about this notion that seasoned veterans say that, when you are making a flight like this, you always know where the nearby airports are in case you have to land in an emergency.

Is that a plausible scenario for what could have caused that plane to take that sharp left turn?

FIELD: The sharp left turn takes you across Malaysia out into the Bay of Bengal, so it wouldn't seem to me that that would be a logical sanctuary for a crippled airplane.

BERMAN: Would you, though, make these calculations, make these computations, put these numbers, put these waypoints into the computer? Would you be able to do that, Peter, in flight, if something were going wrong?

FIELD: Oh, absolutely right. These waypoints are generally identified.

I don't know about these overseas routes, but here in the U.S., waypoints are identified by a three or four or five-letter names.

And you just type those in, and the system knows where it goes from there, so that's what would happen.

We are talking about perfectly normal operation of the airplane, up and away.

PEREIRA: Mary, this is going to come out of left field, but it occurred to me in the last hour or two that we are talking about a high-tech machine.

You talked to us about this incredible amount of electronics that are below and the computer systems that are involved.

Is there a potential this could have been hacked or there could have been a virus in this computer that could have caused something to fail from that point of view?

SCHIAVO: There is always a problem or a problem with the computers and lots of things on board.

I guess I will only say that there have been several airworthiness directives, and these are warnings that are put out by the Federal Aviation Administration, and in the United States it has the effect of law. And it says to operators, you must go fix or inspect this.

There have been several warnings about everything from the ACARS system to various electronics, et cetera, and that was below the cockpit, under the floor in the belly of the plane, and the pilots wouldn't know right away. There is certainly smoke and fire detection equipment on board, but there is always a possibility for problems, and it's a lot of computer equipment.

PEREIRA: All right, Mary Schiavo and Colonel Peter Field, we thank you so much for joining us, both, to discuss this.

BERMAN: Quick check on some of the other news we're watching right now.

Russian President Vladimir Putin gets a standing ovation as he addresses a joint session of the Russian parliament in Moscow.

The Russian president says that Sunday's referendum on Crimean independence proves the region wants to be part of the Russian Federation and not part of Ukraine.


PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (via translator): In our hearts we know that the Crimea has always been and always will remain an inalienable part of Russia.


BERMAN: President Putin denied allegations that Russia wants to split up other parts of Ukraine saying, quote, "We do not want to divide you."

PEREIRA: President Obama awarding long overdue honors today to some our military heroes. He'll award the Medal of Honor to 24 veterans who served in World War II, Korea, and in Vietnam.

Only three of these army vets are still alive. They were selected after Congress looked into whether Jewish, African-American and Hispanic troops were denied the honor in past because of prejudice.

BERMAN: The head of General Motors promising to change the way that company handles recalls after a botched recall linked to at least 12 deaths. The deaths were caused by a faulty ignition switch that causes cars to shut off and disables air bags.

Yesterday, G.M. announced three new recalls involving 1.5 million vehicles for air bag problems.

CEO Mary Barra apologized in an online video.


MARY BARRA, GENERAL MOTORS CEO: These are serious developments that shouldn't surprise anyone. After all, something went wrong with our process in this instance and terrible things happened.

As a member of the G.M. family and as a mom with a family of my own, this really hits home for me. We have apologized, but that is just one step in the journey to resolve this.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: G.M.'s own filing shows the company was aware of the faulty ignition problem for at least a decade, but did not order the recall until this year.

A congressional committee is now investigating.

PEREIRA: TV pitchman Kevin Trudeau heading to federal prison after years of selling the secrets of weight loss and finding free money, Trudeau will spend ten years locked up for criminal contempt.

A federal judge told Trudeau he spent more than two decades cheating others for his own personal gain. Trudeau's attorney says his client will appeal.

BERMAN: You know in infomercials they also say, "But, wait, there's more."

PEREIRA: But, wait, there's more.

BERMAN: I think "more" is prison in this case.

PEREIRA: Yeah, we just figured out what the "more" was.

BERMAN: Ahead for us @ THIS HOUR, just what went on inside the cockpit of Flight 370? How exactly do you change the coordinates on the flight computer?

We will take a look inside the cockpit at one of these computers, next.


PEREIRA: We're getting some breaking news out of the Pacific Northwest, Seattle, right now, @ THIS HOUR, we're told a helicopter has crashed right near the Space Needle.

No word on injuries at this point. At least two cars were set on fire. That is what we do know.

Witnesses are telling the -- one of the local newspapers that a person in a car nearby managed to get out of that burning vehicle. But you can tell that that is quite a situation, especially near the Space Needle, a heavily trafficked area that tourists frequent and also some of the local businesses in the downtown area, very close to that spot in Seattle.

BERMAN: The crash appears to be near Broad Street right near that landmark there, the Space Needle.

Just a moment ago, we were showing you the aftermath there, quite a scene. We'll bring you more as it comes in.

Meanwhile, investigators still trying to make sense of what happened in the cockpit of Flight 370 while it was on its way to Beijing.

Of course, we now know and or now suspect the plane went off course taking a hard left turn to the west.

"The New York Times" is reporting that the change was made by an onboard computer that was most likely programmed by someone in the cockpit.

PEREIRA: Our Martin Savidge is back in the flight simulator of a 777, and of course, he's joined, once again, by flight trainer Mitchell Casado, right outside Toronto in Mississauga, Ontario.

We're so glad that you guys are there with us for another day.

Martin, really want you to show us this computer and how you could program the computer in flight and, of course, answer the question, why would you?

MARTIN SAVIDGE , CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, sure thing, Michaela.

Here it is. This is the flight management system, and it does a lot of things on this airplane to assist the pilot and co-pilot, but think of it in this way. It is really a GPS on steroids.

And like the GPS for your car, it was programmed before the flight took off for the flight that it was taking. Three-seventy was going from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. All of the information to navigate this aircraft to Beijing was loaded into this computer to help the plane go.

Could you alter the course once you are in the air? Yeah, it can, and, in fact, pilot Mitchell Casado can show us how easily that's done, change it.

MITCHELL CASADO, BOEING 777 PILOT TRAINER: This (inaudible) line here, this is our flight path. I have the flight plan in here, all the legs. There's our airplane.

It's a simple matter of typing in where you want to go, The waypoint or the radio navigation aid. And we punch it into the computer. We verify that's what we want. And now, we have a different route to go. And the airplane will follow that route. So it's a very simple key stroke.

SAVIDGE: The easy thing about this is that, you know, first of all, you have to know what you are doing. It is not like you are just anybody who walks up on deck. The other thing we should point out is that any change in the attitude of the aircraft, you can see you are turning. Btu if you are a passenger back there, you know, back there in the passenger section, it doesn't feel dramatic. It doesn't feel like you have gotten into some sort of problem. It feels very normal. So a course change can be significant but to the passenger, you may not really feel it at all.

BERMAN: (inaudible) If you make the change on the in-flight computer, it takes that turn very gradually. Because of course we are talking about this big left turn, this big western turn that would take the flight radically off the course from Beijing. And one of the questions people have is, wouldn't passengers have taken notice if this plane did take a turn like that

SAVIDGE: You know, again, we are talking about an aircraft that is designed to do things slowly. The autopilot is, even with a sharp turn, is still going to make this plane turn within normal parameters.

CASADO: Yeah, just because you make a sharp turn, it doesn't mean the airplane is going to go out of control. The maximum bank angle for any airplane, commercial airplane, big jet like this, is 30 degrees. Past that, it starts to get unstable. People start spilling their drinks. Things start to get out of control. You don't want that. Thirty degree max bank angle regardless of the radius of the turn.

PEREIRA: Yeah, and generally, you know if though, if any type of turbulence disrupts a plane when you are traveling, the captain or the co-pilot get on and sort of say, "Oh, folks, we are passing through some turbulence. Put your seat belts on." They're very good at trying to communicate with passengers on board. And I'm sure that would be a scenario overseas as well.

Martin Savidge, Mitchell Casado, thank you so much for giving us another look inside. It is such a valuable tool. I keep saying that.

BERMAN: It really is.

PEREIRA: But it's hard for us to sort of imagine what that space is like, the electronics that are all involved there, the technology involved.

BERMAN: People have so many questions. People have so many questions.

PEREIRA: Yeah, they do.

BERMAN: Again, one of them was, if this plane is turning so radically, wouldn't the passengers notice it?

PEREIRA: Would you feel it?

BERMAN: Would you feel it? But now we have an answer.

PEREIRA: All right, ahead at this hour, two thirds of the passengers onboard that missing jet are Chinese. Today, China deployed even more resources in the search. Why this may be about more than just helping the victims.

BERMAN: And the search area spans more than 2 million square nautical miles. Crews are looking at two distinct tracks now. Our next guest says they should probably stick to just one of those.


PEREIRA: Breaking news from Seattle at this hour. We have learned here at CNN that two people are dead in a crash of a helicopter near the Space Needle. We know that this happened on Broad Street near that quite infamous and famous landmark in the city in the Pacific northwest. We do also know the Seattle police department tells us firefighters and police are on the scene putting out the blaze, dealing with the casualties.

We're getting all sorts of new details in right now and working the phones to get you more information. But you can understand that this is a huge concern, especially at such a well-trafficked area.

BERMAN: We do not know if the two deaths at this point -- the two reported deaths come from inside the helicopter or on the ground. You can see there are cars. A truck, obviously, destroyed by this crash. That will be information that is key to get, and we will update you as that information comes.

PEREIRA: Back to our top story now. China now says it has 21 satellites looking to are that missing jet over its territory. China has really taken a high-profile role from the beginning of this search, dispatching a huge rescue flotilla of four warships, five coast guard vessels, and many helicopters and smaller boats.

BERMAN: Investigators believe that the last-known location of the plane lies somewhere along these two very, very long arcs. One stretches north over Asia and the other south into the Indian Ocean. Of course we also know that two-thirds of the passengers on flight 370 were Chinese citizens.

So Peter Brookes is the former assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Affairs.

Peter, you know, China says now it has conducted background checks on all the Chinese passengers on board. China says they found no evidence that any of them were involved in the hijacking, no evidence that any of them were linked to terrorism, including one passenger who we believe was Uighur (ph). That's in that region in China that has been known to be an area where there has been some terrorist activity. But still, the comment from China, there is no connection to terrorism at all. That's a pretty sweeping statement. How can China be sure? And how should the U.S. be looking at that statement?

PETER BROOKES, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR ASIAN AND PACIFIC AFFAIRS: Well, obviously, we are still looking for clues here. China has some reasons to say that there were no terrorism involved, Chinese terrorism involved in this.

Because internationally, they want a certain reputation. They want the world to think that they have their Islamist extremist issues under control. They've also got a very large domestic audience here that is interested in the fate of these passengers. So there's a lot of different groups that they are speaking to in terms of this.

And -- but once again, of course, this did originate in Malaysia. It didn't originate in China. But yeah, China has a lot of reasons for saying what they are saying. It would be good to know if they were correct. They are probably not going to give us any insight into their investigation into this.

BERMAN: Well, that brings me, Peter, to our next question. Is there a chance that there is potentially more going on here than just the search for this missing plane? And granted, we understand they have a big reason to look -- more than 100 passengers were from China. Is there a chance they would be withholding certain data or technology, wanting to keep that a secret?

BROOKES: Well, it is certainly possible. I mean, I have a concern a lot of concerns about China from a security perspective, the rise of their military, their large defense budgets.

But at this point, I really don't -- I really don't sense anything. I think this is humanitarian. Once again, even though China is a repressive government, they do have to pay attention to domestic opinion.

Some of the families of the people that are lost on this aircraft, assuming that they are lost, you know, are undergoing -- there are reports of them undergoing a hunger strike. There is going to be a lot of pressure on the government there to get to some sort of resolution about these number of Chinese passengers, nationals that were on this aircraft. So the government in Beijing is dealing with a lot of pressures right now.

BERMAN: Peter, could I ask you a little bit about the investigation now? Because one of the latest pieces of news we have comes from the government of Thailand, Thailand now saying its radar picked up what could very well be this flight, flight 370, on the day that it went missing, flying north and then making a radical turn south. It flew south. Thai radar picked this up.

They didn't tell anybody for days. They didn't act on it at the time either. Now we know this, today, we know Malaysian radar, military radar, picked this up, picked up the massive big turn a week and a half ago when it happened. They didn't act on it on the time. Should this be reason for concern when we are talking about air security in this region of the world that no actions were taken then and it has taken so long to learn all this?

BROOKES: John, you make a very good point. I have to say in hearing these reports, assuming, you know, that they are all accurate, because information has changed so frequently, I think in the United States, we are actually quite spoiled by the professionalism of our FAA, and our NTSB, and our military and being able to -- and what they do.

There are capacity differences, if I can put this gently, between the United States and what we're seeing with some of these countries in southeast Asia. I think that's the best way. I don't think there is any malfeasance. I don't think there's any, you know, malevolence involved in here.

I think there is just major differences in the capacities of these different institutions here in the United States and overseas. You know, we are asking them to meet our standards. And sometimes we have real challenges this way too. But I'm sure they are doing the best they can. But I think there are differences in capacities.

PEREIRA: Peter, real quick, there is so much focus on these pilots. And I know the investigation is centering on them to a certain extent and Malaysia. If something was to come -- wouldn't something have come up by now if there was something there?

BROOKES: Once again, you know, Michaela, we are dealing with capabilities. You know, we in the United States, we sometimes suffer from the, what they call the CSI effect. We expect we can know everything. We expect we can know more than we can know in a 45 minute or an hour period.

We also have fantastic law enforcement capabilities and intelligence capabilities. Sometimes they stumble, but they really, really do a great job. And I think over there, there are differences in culture. There's differences in laws. And once again, I think there's differences in capabilities.

So our expectations, I think, are very high based on the fantastic jobs that our FBI and CIA and our intelligence community do. So I think in some cases, as much -- as difficult as it is, we have to temper our expectations in this regard.

BERMAN: All right, Peter Brookes, thank you so much for being with us. Always appreciate your insight on this --

BROOKES: Thanks for having me.

BERMAN: -- the questions and the answers here. Appreciate it.

PEREIRA: Ahead at this hour, new radar evidence and a wider search area in the hunt for what happened to flight 370.