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EARLY START

Search for Flight 370; Who Were the Pilots?; Russia Embraces Crimea Vote

Aired March 18, 2014 - 04:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What we do know is that the plane must have had a problem. You know, we talk about the one thing that has changed here. They no longer think that those systems were systematically turned off one by one, one of them before they said, "All right, goodnight." They think that they might have gone down at the same time -- electrical failure, electronic problems on the plane, a fire.

If the pilot were to put in the numbers into that little box, whatever it is -- as I told you, I'm not an aviation expert -- it would navigate the plane in that direction.

He wants to be sure. It's a moonless night. He's flying, hoping to get his plane on the ground to the nearest airport. It isn't back in Kuala Lumpur, it's someplace else.

You know, there were reports by fishermen of a low-flying airliner coming in on a coastline near Malaysia the next morning, and that's, you know, not to be discounted.

So, what we have here is we're once again back to the possibility, the possibility that this is all about a catastrophic failure. Why didn't he make it? Why did the plane fly on? That's the mystery of Flight 370 -- John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Indeed, and a lot of these clues we're getting really do not answer that main question. Although if this path was programmed in, it does indicate, as you said, it was done either by the pilots, or someone at least, at a minimum, who knew how to use this computer to set that path.

Jim, I wonder if you can talk a little bit now about the search area. There is news this morning the USS Kidd, the ship that had been involved, American ship involved in the search, is no longer involved. There is also word that the search area has expanded to the coastal waters off Australia.

CLANCY: The U.S. is looking at the expanse that it faces in this search. The fastest way to do it is obviously by air. We've got Orion reconnaissance aircraft coming in, more of them, from the United States. There's already an advanced P8 as well as a P3 here. New Zealand, Australia sending two Orions, Japan, South Korea, all of them are pitching in here. Now, I want to clear up one thing, too. There was one rumor, a report that the Thai military had picked up a blip on its radar screen. The Thais are telling us, John, that's not true, we didn't see anything.

And the search goes on. It is more of an aerial search now than anything else, trying to cover as much of that sea area as possible -- John.

BERMAN: Yes, you mentioned the Thais are now saying they picked up no radar blip. They join Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, India, Pakistan, this litany of countries that say they have no radar contact, no radar indications of any kind showing that this flight passed over their air space. And China saying today they've gone through the manifest of passengers, Jim, and found no connection to any one of the Chinese passengers on board with any sort of terrorism. They've dismissed that possibility.

Jim Clancy for us in Kuala Lumpur, following this investigation, thank you so much, Jim.

One of the possibilities so many people are discussing, the possibility that this was some kind of a hijacking attempt. The question then would be, why have we not heard a word from the people behind who may have pulled this off? No chatter at all.

It's been 11 days. No claim of responsibility, nothing from possible terrorist groups.

So, the big question is, if this was a 9/11-style plot, why haven't we heard anything yet? Why hasn't anything happened yet?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM TILMON, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: What is the end game? Why would they do this, if they are, in fact, doing it deliberately? Why would they take an airplane full of passengers and roar around the skies and hide it or do whatever else they're doing underneath the radar? Why would they do this? What did they want this for?

Now, what would happen if they did, in fact, find a way to land, refuel, take off again, and then threaten the integrity of certain kinds of structures, structures like the White House, the Eiffel Tower?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Big questions. Again, no answers this morning.

As for the men at the control of that plane, the pilot, the co-pilot, they are still part of the focus of this investigation. Fifty-three- year-old pilot, a 27-year-old 1st officer are being closely looked at to see if there is any reason, any reason at all they might have decided to do something to take this plane off course, some intentional action.

Our Saima Mohsin is live in Kuala Lumpur. She has been following the investigation into these pilots.

What do we know this morning, Saima?

SAIMA MOHSIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, so far, John, I've been speaking to members of the political party, the People's Justice Party, that Captain Zaharie was, I'm told by a friend of his, a silent member of.

Now, I've just spoken to a politician from that party who says, look, he was a member of the party, yes. He came to our events. He was socially active, too. He was part of the people that want to make a change for Malaysia, and it's as simple as that, within a democratic system.

I said to him straight up, was he an extremist? Does he have extremist views? He said, no. It's absolutely absurd to think that or suggest it.

So, it's very difficult here to find any kind of motive or intention or were there psychological problems amongst any of those people inside that cockpit.

Now, by all accounts, Captain Zaharie so far, I've been looking into him over the past four days, seemed like a normal family man who loved his family, was committed to them, his children, his grandchild and his career.

Yes, he was an enthusiast, from all accounts by friends telling us that he had that air simulator. That's caused a lot of mystery and intrigue, of course, John. What was he doing with an air simulator in his home?

Friends tell me, well, he invited us over to have a go on it. He loves flying. He wants to share the joy of flying, he used to map out various challenging courses for himself.

Now, as Jim says, if that's the case, that they were overcome by some kind of catastrophic failure and were taking a new course, perhaps that, his enthusiasm for flying and how he had taken it home and practiced with him, came into handy there.

But police have taken that air simulator away. They've put it back together. They have it at the police station. They are going through it piece by piece, trying to work out if there is anything sinister in there.

So far, they haven't got back to us and told us anything about that. And of course, then, we have the co-pilot, by all accounts an average guy in his 20s, enjoyed his life, has a very proud mother and family behind him. I've spoken to people from his neighborhood, saying he was just a normal guy, we were all very proud of him that he was a pilot for Malaysia Airline -- John.

BERMAN: Saima, as you said, the important key piece of information, no word yet from investigators on what they may or may not have found on that flight simulator. Any new justification of why they waited, basically, a full week before they even took it into possession?

MOHSIN: No, simply. The investigators haven't explained to us why they took a week. We know that authorities in Malaysia were treating this with kid gloves because there is a delicate balance, isn't there? To be sensitive of the families and next of kin of those on board, but at the same time, having to investigate.

And I think, honestly, that they were hoping against hope that the plane would miraculously show up or they'd find out what had happened before having to go to investigating, going through their homes, searching through their personal belongings and interrogating, effectively, their families as though they are carrying out a criminal investigation. They haven't even said that they are carrying out a criminal investigation yet. And from the people I've spoken to, this is a very big deal for Malaysian authorities and police investigators to go inside the home, search it and take away those shopping bags, as I saw them on Saturday night, of what must be some kind of evidence that they want to go through.

So, it took them a week, yes. They have been slow, yes. But now they are going through each and every passenger on board.

And, by the way, of course, there is also that aviation engineer that was on board. I spoke to his family yesterday. Of course, anyone with any kind of aviation expertise will be of particular interest and of high priority, John.

I spoke to his father, his mother, who misses him terribly, his stepsister, who is just 8 years old. And his father said, I have full confidence my son is not involved. If investigators want to speak to me and my family, they're welcome to -- John.

BERMAN: As you say, it is such a sensitive situation, a delicate balance there. One thing investigators can do to bring peace to these families is to investigate thoroughly and rule people out. At a minimum, we've got to hope that is what happens soon.

Saima Mohsin for us in Kuala Lumpur following the investigation into the pilots, into the people on board -- thank you so much.

So, with no clear sign of what happened at this point to Flight 370, really, it does seem nearly all possibilities remain on the table. That has to be very, very frustrating to the men and women from so many countries who are trying to locate this plane.

And in some cases, all those possibilities, all those theories can actually make the investigation even more difficult.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID SOUCIE, SAFETY ANALYST: I think that this whole investigation, all of it, from any investigation I've been involved in, has frustration with it, and the fewer the answers, the more frustrating it becomes. And then your team starts falling apart. And I think that's kind of where we are now.

I was admiring the team for how they came together during the search, and now at this point, it seems like it's diverged into separate investigations with the military drawing out and the navy drawing out. I'm very concerned about where this investigation's headed at this point.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Certainly, we hear from Malaysian officials almost every day in a news conference, and one is scheduled for just about an hour from now. We will bring that to you when it happens live, but there is a very defensive posture being taken by the officials from Malaysia during these news conferences.

Meanwhile, there is frustration bubbling over for many of the families of the people who were on board that flight. These families still holding out hope that their loved ones could be alive, but the lack of answers and the slow pace of this search really has them understandably angry.

Pauline Chiou has been following this live from Beijing. She has been talking to the families, really in the middle of that frustration -- Pauline.

PAULINE CHIOU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, and these families are so impatient with those officials that are giving that news conference every night out of Kuala Lumpur, those briefings you just touched on. They feel that the flow of information is just too slow, and they just want to know what happened to their loved ones.

We also have briefings here in Beijing between the family members and airline representatives. Again, very few answers, and this morning emotions were running high, as one woman said, "Listen, this is my only child. Please, just give us answers. Please don't use them as political pawns."

And in this briefing, you got a sense that the families were starting to get much more focused in their questions. They were asking technical questions to these airline representatives, like what happens to a person, to a passenger when you're flying 35,000 feet in the air and then go up to 45,000 feet in altitude and then down to 5,000 feet, as some reports have suggested.

And this indicates that the family members really want to know whether or not their relatives were feeling pain or discomfort during this experience. So, you're starting to hear more technical questions.

Also, John, one interesting turn that we've noticed is that now they're asking about their legal options. This is something new. And this is not a litigious society here in China.

And so, now they're starting to ask, what are our options, who should we sue? What are the avenues we can take? And we're also starting to see aviation litigation lawyers in the lobby of this hotel. Now, some of them are from the U.S. they've flown over. And according to U.S. regulations, they are not allowed to approach these family members for 45 days, but if the family members would like to talk to them, they're allowed to do that.

So, you're seeing this shift in questions and this shift in options of what these family members can do down the road, John.

BERMAN: That is very interesting, Pauline. I did not know that, aviation lawyers now appearing on the scene for possible litigation.

I do think we can say the one thing we do hope is that it helps them get some answers, if any answers are even possible, from the officials in Malaysia.

There's been another development from China I want to talk to you about. China announced new details about their beefed-up search for this plane. They seem to be getting more involved in the investigation.

Can you tell us about that?

CHIOU: Yes, that's right. They have announced today, the foreign ministry here in China, that they have strengthened the resources. Now they have 10 ships out there, several planes and 21 satellites involved. Some of these satellites are meant to enhance the images that they've been getting.

So, the Chinese foreign ministry announcing that because 154 of these passengers on the plane are Chinese citizens, and they are looking at the northern corridor. Much of that goes through western China, through Xinjiang (ph) Tibet and Yinong (ph) Province. So, there is a whole lot of land to cover.

So, the Chinese government, although they're pressuring heavily the Malaysian government to get their act together and try to pick up the pace of the investigation, the Chinese government also saying they are very, very willing to throw as many resources as possible towards this search.

BERMAN: Great many countries now involved in this investigation.

Pauline Chiou with some great, new information this morning from Beijing -- we appreciate you being with us.

And of course, we will continue to follow the mystery of flight 370 all morning.

But first, a lot of news, important news. Russia warned to leave Ukraine alone, but this morning, Russia taking the world on toe to toe. Vladimir Putin set to speak in just a few hours. He could be leveling new sanctions. We're live in Moscow right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All right, breaking news this morning on the crisis in Ukraine. In just a few hours, Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to address the Russian parliament and talk about his decision to formally recognize Crimea as an independent nation.

Some members, some key members of his administration have now been formally sanctioned by the United States and the European Union. President Obama is warning Russia there will be more consequences to come if Crimea joins the Russian Federation as the Crimeans have voted to do.

Our Frederik Pleitgen is live in Moscow with the latest.

Fred, what can we expect from the Russian leader?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's going to be stepping in front of the press in a couple of hours, as you said, and basically, we'll hear his position on the Crimea issue, and we expect nothing less than for him to say that he's in favor of Crimea joining the Russian Federation.

All indications, John, that we're getting from the ground here in Moscow, everything that politicians have been doing in the morning here seems to indicate that they want to move this process along very quickly. One of the things, in fact, that Vladimir Putin has done today is he approved a draft bill that's essentially a bilateral treaty between the now, at least in Russian eyes, sovereign state of Crimea and the Russian Federation that would allow Crimea to join the Russian federation.

So, they're moving this along very, very quickly, in spite, of course, of the sanctions. And in fact, a lot of the Russian officials that have been hit by sanctions have gone to Twitter and essentially laughed them off, John.

BERMAN: One of those officials says that the only thing he really likes about America are, what, Jackson Pollock, Alan Ginsburg and Tupac Shakur and no sanctions will keep him from appreciating these things. That was flat out mocking the United States, I thought, Fred.

PLEITGEN: Yes. Yes, that's exactly what it was, and it shows the very bold position that many of these Russian politicians and really Russian officials have shown in this as well.

All the indications that we're getting, John, is that Russia is not afraid of a confrontation with the West, certainly not afraid of a confrontation with the United States on this issue. In fact, one of the things that we're hearing is that the parliament here in Moscow today is going to be debating possible counter sanctions, and we would expect there possibly to be U.S. senators on that list as well, if those counter sanctions come through.

These are initial discussions at this point. However, they said they are going to play hard ball, and everything that they're doing right now indicates they are going to take in Crimea, despite the international reactions that are sure to follow.

BERMAN: And as you say, nothing they're doing indicates they're trying to back off this confrontation in any way.

Our Frederik Pleitgen live in Moscow this morning -- great to have you with us. Appreciate it.

Of course, there is more breaking news this morning. We're covering the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. There is reporting this morning that it may have been preprogrammed to change off course.

Does that mean the pilots could have been planning something from the beginning? Does it mean something else? We're going to unpack this. We're live, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: This morning, there are a host of new questions in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 now that Malaysian officials have revealed they're just not sure if the last radio transmission from the cockpit came before or after data transmitters were turned off.

Now, this is coming at the same time as there are new reports that the jet's change of course may have been preprogrammed into its computer. What does that mean and what's the significance?

Let's bring in Alastair Rosenschein. He's a former British Airways pilot and aviation consultant. Alastair joins us from London this morning.

Alastair, please explain to us this notion that the computer was programmed with these waypoints that took it off this course. It was set to go to Beijing. They're now saying the computer was programmed on this alternate course away from Beijing.

Alastair, are you hearing me?

Alastair does not appear to be hearing me. We're going to work to get him up, see if we can get that communication going.

Do we have him yet?

Alastair, can you hear me OK?

ALASTAIR ROSENSCHEIN, FORMER BRITISH AIRWAYS PILOT: -- I would personally go back on to believing that the aircraft is, in fact, actually -- I've got no sound here, so I can't actually hear the questions. Perhaps you can say it again. But in failure to hear from you, I shall go on with what I think has happened here.

In an emergency such as this, and we go back to the idea this was a technical emergency, let's assume that, for example, it might have been a depressurization of some sort, the actions of the pilot could be explained with all of the data we have so far. And the initial turn away from its position on route to Beijing took it over the Malaysian coast, and then, apparently, disappeared.

Now, what the pilot would do in this instance is, first and foremost, depressurization put on their oxygen mask. Let's say they had many failures and there was a miss in the urgency to put on the oxygen mask. They could have started to reprogram the aircraft before passing out. That would leave them turning the aircraft from reciprocal heading, and then perhaps entering some of the waypoints that they would want to put in for return to Kuala Lumpur, their main base, a natural return for pilots.

Had they have only put in a few of these waypoints, the flight would then have continued on its final heading, which would have taken it south, in this case because it was paralleling down to return to Kuala Lumpur. And the aircraft may then be found at the end of an 8 hour and 5 minutes, which is when the fuel would have ran out, that's timing from takeoff, in the southern Indian Ocean, possibly to the southwest of Australia.

BERMAN: Alastair Rosenschein, thank you so very much.

Just to reiterate -- the theory that he's laying out there, the possibility that the pilots programmed the computer because there was some kind of problem. In the midst of programming that computer, something else could have gone wrong, but those waypoints we've been talking about all morning, our flight aviation expert right there is explaining, could have been programmed in to return that flight to Kuala Lumpur, in which case, if it hadn't been completed, flight would have just kept going and going and going.

It is a theory out there, which could explain why this plane was in the air for the five to seven hours that we think it may have been after that last point of contact.

All right, we are following the disappearance and the investigation into Flight 370. The mystery continues this morning. We do have a lot of new information.

EARLY START continues right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Breaking news overnight. The search for the missing Malaysian jetliner refocused this morning. Crews scouring the waters off Australia, as we receive new clues from the cockpit, new information that this plane could have been preprogrammed to go off course. Who programmed those computers and why?