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FBI Examines Pilot's Home Flight Simulator; Families Demanding Answers

Aired March 19, 2014 - 11:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN CO-ANCHOR: Hello there, everyone. I'm John Berman.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN CO-ANCHOR: And I'm Michaela Pereira. It is 11:00 a.m. in the East. That means it's 8:00 a.m. out West.

New @ THIS HOUR, information is reshaping theories about what happened to Flight 370 and where now to search for it.

We're in day 12 now since that jetliner disappeared with 239 people on board.

BERMAN: Yeah, we learned hours ago that something was deleted from a flight simulator taken from the home of the pilot of that missing plane.

We learned just minutes ago that the FBI is examining that flight simulator, presumably to try to retrieve that data.

Malaysian officials say that the data records were cleared on February 3rd. That's more than a month before this flight vanished.

Authorities are also trying to narrow down the search area. U.S. government officials tell CNN that the plane is more likely to be in the southern Indian Ocean. The new area focus is based on data analysis of the plane's fuel reserves and how far it could have flown.

Another potentially critical piece of the puzzle, CNN has learned that the plane's computer was likely reprogrammed to change course at least 12 minutes before the co-pilot radioed air traffic controllers for the last time saying, "All right, good night."

PEREIRA: Now, imagine, these details are all coming to light as anguished family members are demanding answers.

We want to show you what happened as a Chinese family tried to protest at a hotel where the international press is staying.



PEREIRA: So hard to listen to the grief, the anguish. Malaysian police then took that grieving woman away.

We really can only imagine their pain as this search area widens and shifts almost, seemingly, day by day. The area now that they are looking at is roughly the size of the continental United States.

BERMAN: And as the days pass and the time passes, the focus remains on the co-pilot, the pilot, the flight simulator, that missing data, that deleted data we just found out about today.

We want to talk about that, so here with us, retired Lieutenant Colonel Michael Kay joins us. He's a former pilot, a British military officer.

Michael, we learned just minutes ago that the FBI is now looking at this flight simulator. Why the FBI? What are they looking for?

LIEUTENANT COLONEL MICHAEL KAY, BRITISH MILITARY (RETIRED): John, good to see you. I think let's just have a look at the importance simulator to begin with. It's absolutely critical to the training of pilots, not just in normal flying, but more importantly, in emergency procedures.

And these can range from any possible number of combinations. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of combinations of emergencies and potential diversions that these guys have to think about if something goes wrong.

And it could be something form as simple as the popping of the circuit breaker that would lead to a light that is used to look at the center console at night. Very simple, you put the circuit breaker back in again.

It goes through to potentially losing all of the four engines where they're going to have to convert speed to height, go into a glide and they are going to have to fly, navigate and communicate pretty rapidly.

And I think we've all kind of this mantra now, the fly, communicate and navigate piece. I think it's important to add this isn't something that happens sequentially. It's something that happens in parallel. And that's the reason you've got two pilots.

The simulator is very important, not just for going through procedures but for building what's called CRM, crew resource management, and that, effectively, is the relationship between the two pilots that are flying this thing.

So, for example, if they had a catastrophic failure of an engine, the first thing the pilot would be doing is climbing, speed-to-height. He'd be turning the aircraft, simultaneously, to look at the potential nearest airfield. And at the same time, the co-pilot would be putting out a mayday call.

So, for me, the importance of the simulator goes beyond just the simple procedures. It's key to the training. And these guys have to sit in the simulator every year and pass a simulator test. BERMAN: So, sorry, are they going through that simulator now, the FBI, to determine whether he had been practicing these scenarios you were mentioning?

KAY: I think it's a very real, real scenario.

If you look at the number of airfields and the potential hundreds and hundreds of combinations of different emergencies with where those potential diversions could be, depending on what parts of the route that they're on, then I could see why this guy, who's a trained captain would want to practice those type of scenarios. It's not unusual for me.

And we've also heard about some of the airfields and some of the data being deleted. I mean, for me --

PEREIRA: Does that strike you as odd? Does it raise a red flag with you at all?

KAY: It doesn't really, Michaela, and the reason for that is because there's so much information.

If this guy is using a home-based p.c. or a home-based Mac, his hard drive is only going to be so big. So, it might be that he's just having to delete certain bits of information to input other sort of scenarios that he's been playing out in terms of practicing.

PEREIRA: Fair enough.

OK, so, they take a look at this information, and I was thinking about the fact, because there is the absence of the flight-data recorder, they have to look at the keys and the clues that they do have. This is a piece of the puzzle that they do have.

How hard is it to then take that, extrapolate what the intention is of this pilot?

KAY: I think it's almost impossible, and I think what we have to do is -- I mean, I've been part of two crash investigations in my career, and what you have to do is maintain an impartial and objective outlook on the investigation.

And that means never closing off unless you have specific empirical evidence (inaudible) options. So, it could be hijack. It could be sabotage -- sorry -- but it also could be mechanical failure.

Let's rewind and look at the Air France 447 board of inquiry. There was no distress call on that. It was found two years later. And the reason was is because the aircraft got into a flight envelope that the pilots weren't aware of and they crashed without the pilots aware of what was going on.

BERMAN: Before we go, I just want to ask about these 12 minutes between when we learned that they reprogrammed, or someone reprogrammed, the flight computer and the last point of contact with air traffic control. Is there a benign explanation for why they would change the route in the computer and then say, "All right, good night," 12 minutes later without telling anyone on the ground that they changed the route in the computer.

KAY: It's a good question. John, it does strike me as slightly unusual, I have to admit.

However, a logical explanation might be -- I mean, all these guys, the traffic flies through specific airways corridors. It is like a road in the sky. They can't transfer off that unless there is a particular problem which would need them to divert.

Why would there be something in the computer which took them away from the original flight plan? The only thing that I can potentially think of is that as they go across the South China Sea, the diversions will change.

So, as they cross the midpoint, then a diversion could potentially go to Vietnam rather than the turn back to Malaysia.

We don't have the information on where this point was that they changed it to. If the point was changed to a specific airfield in Vietnam, that would just be something in the computer that gives them a diversion opportunity if they have a catastrophic failure.

That would be an example or a logical explanation. However, until we find out the destination of that point that was inputted in the computer -

PEREIRA: We simply don't know.

KAY: -- we don't know.

PEREIRA: Michael Kay, we appreciate it so much. Thank you for joining us here @ THIS HOUR.

Taking a look at some of the other headlines that are making news @ THIS HOUR, a day after Russia claimed Crimea, pro-Russian self-defense forces entered the Ukrainian navy's Black Sea headquarters in Sevastopol and raised the Russian flag.

Crimean officials are asking all Ukrainian soldiers to leave the area and are calling Ukrainian military installations on that peninsula illegal.

A Ukrainian soldier was killed yesterday on an army base in the Crimean capital, Simferopol.

BERMAN: Toyota has just settled with the Justice Department for more than a billion dollars to end a criminal investigation. The automaker admitted misleading customers and regulators about unintended acceleration problems.

Toyota recalled millions of cars in 2009 and 2010 after years of doing little beyond changing floor mats in response to complaints. PEREIRA: NSA leaker Edward Snowden talked via a robot at the TED conference in Vancouver, Canada.

Speaking from a location in Russia where he is under asylum, Snowden told the crowd, quote, "Some of the most important reporting is yet to come." However, he did not go any further.

The former CIA analyst said Americans should still be worried about their privacy and that it's up to everyone to help preserve a free Internet for the next generation.

BERMAN: Four hundred million dollars was up for grabs last night.

PEREIRA: Did we win?

BERMAN: I certainly did not, else I would not be here right now.

The winning numbers for the Mega Millions jackpot, 11, 19, 24, 33, 51 and the Mega Ball was seven.

Two tickets hit, one in Maryland, one in Florida, but more than 70 million people won at least one dollar.

PEREIRA: Learned a lot about you. So, just a couple of millions of dollars and you would be out of here @ THIS HOUR?

BERMAN: Abso-freakin'-lutely.

PEREIRA: OK, good to know. Now we know his priorities.

All right, back to our top story, ahead @ THIS HOUR, so where exactly is this more focused area for the missing plane in this southern corridor everybody keeps (inaudible)?

We want to show it to you. In fact, guess what. Tom Foreman is going to walk the map for you and show you exactly where the southern corridor is.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone.

@ THIS HOUR, a U.S. government source says missing Flight 370 is far more likely in this southern arc of search areas where the plane might have flown. This includes a large area off the coast of Australia in the southern Indian Ocean.

PEREIRA: The Australians are working that area, doing what they can to find it. In fact, they have significantly refined their search in this area.

Tom Foreman joins us, once again. Tom, one of the reasons that they say the plane is likely in this southern corridor is because it's kind of outside of the normal shipping lanes and commercial flight patterns, not a lot of islands in the area, so there'd be very, very few fishing boats or fishing vessels that might have seen it. Give us an idea where this is. Paint the picture for us.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If you talk about these two arcs that they've talked about based on satellite date, the northern arc and the southern arc, this falls into the parameters of the southern arc here.

Here's what's important to remember. Not all search areas are created equal. Using complex mathematical formulas based on everything they know about currents and the likelihood of the plane flying for a certain distance and at a certain speed, the full load, they come up with areas like this and this is actually a moving target.

Yesterday, it was is also further to the west. It was also bigger. Now, it's down to about the size of New Mexico. They've managed to move it over and get a better sense of where it might be.

But the mere fact that they honed in a bit more on where this thing could be doesn't change the basic challenge. Look at what they are facing when they fly over this.

When all these planes and boats get out there, what they're seeing is a great, big empty slate that is difficult to search on. All it takes is a glare passing over the water as a plane searches or a ship searches, or something else, a different lighting condition, and they can easily miss something in that water.

But one of the reasons we know this is the area that they are most interested now, because of that whole formula of what makes it most likely for it to be here is the presence of this.

This is a $35 billion Navy plane called the P8-Poseidon. It is the most advanced submarine-hunting plane in the world if you're to believe the reports, although there have been some difficulties with it.

And it is able to cover thousands of square miles in the course of a single flight searching for any sign of debris on the surface. It is not perfect, but the presence of this plane is an effort to overcome all those physical limitations of simply looking at the water. So the place to watch today is this place off the coast of Australia. And the presence of this plane tells you how important that site is, at least for the next couple of days.

PEREIRA: Somebody on our air said it's like looking for a needle in a haystack among many, many, many haystacks. I mean, it is such a gigantic area, 2.24 million square nautical miles. Tom Foreman, thanks for giving us a look of it from that perspective.

BERMAN: All right, ahead for us @ THIS HOUR, the families of the passengers on Flight 370, emotional, frustrated, angry, demanding answers from Malaysian officials. And you know what? They are just not getting them yet.


BERMAN: Anguish, frustration, now anger. The families of the passengers of the missing plane, they are furious at this point with the Malaysian government. They just say they're not being given enough information.

PEREIRA: In fact, when some relatives showed up to protest at the hotel where we've been seeing these daily briefings for the press, they were dragged away by security staff.





BERMAN: That emotion is just raw. So just after that, the Malaysian government released this statement saying, quote, "We regret the scenes at this afternoon's press conference involving some of the relatives of the passengers on board MH370. One can only imagine the anguish they are going through. Malaysia is doing everything in its power to find MH370 and hopefully bring some degree of closure for those whose family members are missing. I have ordered an immediate inquiry."

PEREIRA: Let's bring in psychologist Erik Fisher.

Erik, I actually want to talk about that right off the bat. We saw the statements from Malaysia Air. They're in a really, really challenging position. Because the fact is, on board that missing jetliner are some of their people, some of their family members, employees.

What can they, what should they tell the families? How should they be handling them? How can they even approach them?

ERIK FISHER, PSYCOLOGIST: Well, I think one of the things we have to consider here is different cultural views and expressions of emotion.

In Asian cultures, emotions are usually kept close to the vest. And what you want to look at in this situation is they almost apologize for the behavior of this woman who's expressing grief.

When grief comes out, it comes out big usually in those cultures. But there is also a lot of feelings of helplessness here, helplessness on the side of the Malaysian Airline officials, helplessness on the families. And where there's helplessness, our feeling of power go down. And when we feel powerless, we want to bring up other emotions that can help us feel more powerful, like anger, rage and hatred, and emotions that protect us. So I these emotions --

BERMAN: You know, I think --

FISHER: Yes, go ahead?

BERMAN: All I was gonna say, I think anger and frustration are prevalent in any culture, and when it starts to bubble over from the lack of information, again, I think that has no cultural boundaries.

So these Malaysian officials, you know, to Michaela's point here, is there some way they should be treating these families that they are not? Because hauling them off with security guards, that might not be the most sensitive way of doing it.

FISHER: Exactly. And I think what we have to look at here is sensitivity to the situation. Like I said, to these people who are going through this grief, going through these situations, and there seems to be not a trust that the families are getting all the information they need.

With a lot of the different stories going around about was it a pilot -- purposeful pilot act here or were there other errors that happened, when you don't have trust, you also have fear and helplessness.

So what they need to do is manage these situations is continue to communicate with the family, keep them as up to date as they can, and build trust, rather than build mistrust, which carrying somebody off like that tends to build a sense of mistrust and feeling that you are trying to keep your people quiet rather than really communicate openly.

PEREIRA: You know, I was thinking about the fact, too, that unlike somebody who has lost a person to tragedy, and you might stay away from the headlines if it was a news-making event that claimed their life, these people are watching every headline, every press briefing, every update. Because they are hoping against hope that there might be an update. So it's almost -- the wound is so raw. And it never is getting a chance to heal aside from the fact that they haven't found their family members.

FISHER: Well, it is kind of like, you know, somebody who is missing in action in a war. There is a feeling of powerlessness, helplessness, even survivor's guilt, sometimes, why -- why am I still here and this person, I have no idea where they are? I have know idea if they are in pain. I have no idea if they are alive.

That's such a terrifying and helpless feeling that they are try trying to manage. And sounds like -- it doesn't seem like they have the support to help them through this from the people who are supposed to be managing the situation.

BERMAN: Well, they are getting some support from an unusual or interesting group of people, I should say. These are the survivors of past air tragedies, the Air France flight.

PEREIRA: Asiana.

BERMAN: Asiana flight. Some of these families of victims are now reaching out, suggesting in a way that the Malaysian airflight family start lawyering up. You know, can you start thinking about that? Can you start thinking about legal issues right now if you're one of these family members? Or is it almost just too much to bear?

FISHER: You're going to be guided a lot by emotion in these situations. And a lot of legal matters are driven by emotion really, and the desire to go ahead and start legal matters, you know, can be a knee-jerk reaction.

I think what we have to do, or what we want the families to do, is sit back and make sure they are getting support emotionally, psychologically, if they need it, from their family members and communities. And one thing that the family members can do that have been through previous tragedies is support them emotionally, help them to know that these are the things that we need to take good care of ourselves. And that can also help people of previous tragedies grieve because they are doing something positive with their grief to help others and empower other people who have been through what they have been through.

BERMAN: And I think they are doing that, too.

Erik Fisher, thank you so much for joining us to talk about this. There's really so much emotion here to try to understand. And of course, I do think they need to start thinking a little bit about the future as well. They don't want to be in a situation where there is no way to right whatever wrongs may have happened here.

PEREIRA: But I think about those families. Logic is not the first thing that is happening.


PERERIA: You are in pain. You are grieving. You are in anguish. We heard the raw emotion from that one mother. And that's one mother. Replicate that.

BERMAN: 239 times.

PEREIRA: Exactly.

Ahead @ THIS HOUR, OK, let's imagine you are a pilot. There's a fire in your cockpit, or perhaps somebody breaks into the cockpit and points a gun at your head. What are you to do? We're gonna to ask two pilots next.