Return to Transcripts main page


Breaking Down Theories on Flight 370; Data Deleted from Pilot's Flight Simulator; New Theory on Missing Flight; Longer Flight Missing, More Likely Terrorism.

Aired March 19, 2014 - 11:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everyone.

Twelve days now after the disappearance of Flight 370, there is new information coming into CNN that is reshaping the theories about what happened to that plane and where now to search for it.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: @ THIS HOUR, forensic work is underway to retrieve data that was deleted from a flight simulator taken from the home of the pilot of that missing plane. We're told FBI experts are also examining the simulator. Malaysian officials say the data records were cleared back on February 3rd.

Now, keep in mind, that's more than a month before the flight vanished. Authorities have also -- trying to work to narrow this search area, just a gigantic area, trying to focus in on it more. A U.S. government official says the plane is more likely in the southern Indian Ocean. This new area of focus is based on new data analysis of the plane's fuel reserves and how far it could have flown.

CNN has learned the plane's computer was likely reprogrammed to change course at least 12 minutes before the co-pilot radioed air traffic controllers saying the almost infamous phrase, "All right, good night."

Attorney general, Eric Holder, says the U.S. is offering whatever assistance it can.


ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I've not had direct contact with my counterpart in Malaysia. There has been contact between the various investigative agency, the FBI here and the relevant agencies. All those conversations are on going. Think we are still in the process of trying to determine what happened and helping any way we can.


BERMAN: There have been a lot of discussions about possibilities of what happened, a lot of theories about what might have gone on inside that cockpit. We want to break down some of these theories, some of the things that might have been happening in that plane and learn how pilots have been trained to deal with them.

To discuss this, we are going to bring in Jim Tillman, our aviation analyst, retired airlines pilot. Michael Kay is back with us, former pilot and British military officer.

Jim, I want to start with you. One of the things that has been tossed out there, maybe there was a mechanical problem on this plane. Maybe there was an electrical fire, smoke in the cockpit. If you are a pilot in that type of situation, what are you supposed to do?

JIM TILLMAN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST & FORMER AIRLINE PILOT: You immediately react. Smoke and fire really speak to an incredible emergency, because the thing you don't want to do is to get behind it. You have to get on the ground as quickly as you can. You go for the nearest suitable airport. You put your airplane on the ground where you can handle this. The fires that have happened on aircraft, particularly commercial airplanes have been devastating. What can happen is that you don't necessarily see any flame but you get that toxic fumes and smoke off of smoldering wires or insulation or whatever else. It can be incapacitating. You have to get your oxygen mask on and you have to take action to get the airplane on the ground as quickly as you can.

PEREIRA: Let's explore another possible scenario, because a lot has been made early on in the investigation, early on in the days of the missing jet. Malaysian Air has different procedures for whether cockpit doors are locked, as they are here in the United States. Let's say someone breaks into the cockpit and they have some sort of weapon and it is pointed at you, the pilot, what's your first course of action? What do you do? What are you trained to do?

MICHAEL KAY, FORMER PILOT & FORMER BRITISH MILITARY OFFICER: Michaela, operating under duress, there aren't many options if you have something pointed at the head. You are literally at the whim of what that person wants you to do. Jim is absolutely right in terms of the fire scenario. Whenever you have an emergency in an airplane, most of them involve converting speed to height. You fly the aircraft. You navigate and then you communicate. Another big manager is converting speed to height. Energy is life. If you are flying along at 420 miles an hour and you are halfway across the South China Sea. And you have an engine failure. You need to convert that into an energy to height, it will glide at less than that. The optimum glide speed for a 777 might be 250 miles an hour. If you are traveling to 500, you can convert to height and you have a longer glide range. Most scenarios involve getting away from the ground, stabilizing the emergency and going through the flight and communicate. The fire that Jim alluded to is one of the only scenarios, very few, where you have to get the aircraft on the ground immediately. And if that means considering landing on water, you have to do that, because the aircraft is in the process of breaking up.

PEREIRA: Let me ask Jim, then Michael, based on what we know, either of these scenarios, does what happened on flight 370, match either of these scenarios?

TILLMAN: From the very beginning of this investigation, we have been given just enough information to try to develop logic around the situation so that we could come up with some kind of an answer to the questions that we can articulate. So, for every one of these different kind of scenarios, we have been trying to find, OK, if that happened, then this may have happened and that may have happened, it has made a very frustrating thing out of what should be a lot easier to deal with in terms of its investigation.

KAY: The thing I would also mention at this point is that we have to look back at the Air France 447 flight. The way that untranspired, i don't think anyone could predict. It feeds dynamic pressure to the indicator which acted as an altimeter. They throttled back and entered into a catastrophic stall. The aircraft flew in the sea. No distress call, no emergency transponder code of 7700. Everybody is asking why. We still have to be open to the possibility that this could have been some sort of mechanical failure due to weather conditions or actual mechanical error. The pilots weren't aware it was occurring and flew unintentionally into the sea. That is still an option we need to looking at.

BERMAN: We need an answer. We need the black box, the fly data recorder.

TILLMAN: Couldn't agree more. Couldn't agree more.

BERMAN: Michael Kay, Jim Tillman, great to have you here to talk through this.

PEREIRA: We talked about this data deleted from the pilot simulator. Ahead in this hour, we are going to take a look at that. We have had our Martin Savidge up in Ontario, Canada, looking at this. We will tell you who killed that information out, and why. Certainly got the FBI's attention.


BERMAN: New information. Data deleted from the home flight simulator, The FBI is now reviewing the hard drive from that simulator with the question of who deleted it. What exactly was the data that was deleted and why delete it at all?

PEREIRA: Our Martin Savidge is inside a Boeing simulator. He has been there all week. He has pilot, Mitchell Casado there with him.

Let's talk about this news, Martin. Being wiped from the simulator, does that raise any red flags to you.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'll have Mitchell answer that. Let me just describe for the layman's understanding. A flight simulator is a big sophisticated computer. Instead of a key pad and a mouse, you are using instruments to input. Deleting of information from a computer?

MITCHELL CASADO, PILOT: It is very much like what martin said, just a matter of deleting files. It has no significant -- if they use the computer for other things, if they had home use computers, files, stuff like that, would you be deleting stuff. MARTIN: What about a simulated route that does take a lot of capacity.

CASADO: You have to delete and add more. I don't see any real significance for the deleting of files.

MARTIN: Or if you thought in some way you are hiding it?

CASADO: There is that possibility but it is so normal. It is just almost like --


MARTIN: I think really what we are saying is that the computer forensic experts are going to have to figure that one out.

BERMAN: They are looking at that and trying to retrieve the lost data. I'm sure they are also looking at lower data that wasn't lost, about where he was simulating flights to and what kind of operations he has been doing.

One other bit of information, this 12-minute gap between when the pilot, co-pilot, someone in the cockpit changed the computer settings, 12 minutes later, the last point of vocal contact.

Martin, I understand you have a demonstration to help us better understand that.

MARTIN: Mitchell, if you would, put us in flight. We are going to put the simulator in action here. So stand by.

Remember, this aircraft is now programmed exactly like flight 370. We are on the way to Beijing. Everything about this is plugged into this system. We talk about the course change that as it is now being reported was implemented and inputted into the navigation system 12 minutes in advance. Is it possible one of the pilots did it without the other one knowing?

Maybe. Maybe the guy was in the bathroom. Once they are seated at the controls, you look at this. This is the navigation display. Now, let's show you what should be here and then we will put in what would look like the route to Beijing. This magenta line, that's the way to Beijing. Anybody looking at that screen, even me, what do you see? This huge and very obvious turn. That turn is a major deviation away from the course. It was clear for at least 12 minutes from both perspectives. That change was coming. It is a red flag, a flare in the night. This plane is going to do something very dramatic. What does it mean? It means that both pilots were in on it or one pilot was going to make the turn and the other couldn't do anything to stop them. In other words, incapacitated.


SAVIDGE: Or it could be maybe they anticipated an emergency and were planning to make this turn. All we know for certain is, as you can feel, "All right, good night," and then the turn is starting. It was pre-programmed and they had to know it was there.

The other thing we should point out, when it was entered into the system. The message was sent to Malaysia Airlines. They too should have known 12 minutes in advance their plane was going to go way off course.

PEREIRA: Substantially off course.

BERMAN: Completely different course all the way to the west.

PEREIRA: That was really interesting. I hadn't thought about the fact that maybe one pilot knew and the other didn't. If the screens have the same information and you see it change.

BERMAN: Of course, our thanks to Martin Savidge and Mitchell Casada.

Ahead for us AT THIS HOUR, were the pilots looking to land because there was an emergency on board? This is a very popular theory. That's been burning up the Internet. It is on the Internet. Could it be true? We'll tell you what the evidence really shows right after this.


PEREIRA: If you've been on the Internet, there is this one theory that's catching fire. This guy, he says, he is a pilot. Chris Goodfellow believes there was a fire on board the plane. After discovering the fire, the pilots changed the plane's course and tried to land at the closest airport. At the same time, Goodfellow thinks the pilot started flipping circuit breakers trying to isolate the fire. The cockpit filled with smoke and left the pilots unconscious and unable to steer the plane.

BERMAN: If you have e-mail, you have seen this theory. The question is, how viable is it?

Journalist and pilot, Jeff Wise, he has been breaking it down.

Jeff, you don't think there's any way it could happen?

JEFF WISE, PILOT & JOURNALIST: There are a whole bunch of theories why this doesn't hold water. We had some breaking news involving whoever changed the waypoints in the flight computer did it 12 minutes before the ACARS system was turned off, before the co-pilot said good night in very calm tones. The change in course was not due to something that happened spontaneously, it wasn't a spontaneous reaction to some emergency in a cockpit. It had been planned out. Just additional to that, that waypoint was beyond that so they weren't heading there. You could very easily enter that airport's data information into --


WISE: Yeah. You could go to -- waypoints are (AUDIO PROBLEM).

I understand. It's a very emotionally compelling story. I get it. I see it, though, as a grasping at straws because I think what we would all like to believe is that this is a story about human heroism, about pilots who fell victim to circumstances beyond their control. It's a sense to keep alive the idea that maybe this is about an accident. I think this is a very -- this is the best attempt I've seen to tell the story in which an accident happened and the plane was brought down. Otherwise, beyond this, if you don't believe in this theory, the only conclusion you can reach is this had to be an act of intentional, a plan, a plot.


BERMAN: Something far more sinister.

WISE: The Malaysians are treating this as a criminal case.

BERMAN: Jeff Wise, appreciate it.

PEREIRA: Ahead AT THIS HOUR, how might the missing jetliner affect security here in the United States. We talk to a former Homeland Security official about that.


PEREIRA: Well, the longer that flight 370 remains missing the more people are convinced that its disappearance was act of something sinister, terrorism.

BERMAN: At least one country is taking this very, very seriously. Israel this week tightened its air space.

So we want to talk about this. Michael Balboni joins us to discuss the security angle, former Homeland Security director, currently a senior fellow of the Homeland Security Policy Institute.

You know, Michael, Israel, we always know, takes things seriously, security very, very seriously. Have you heard of any other countries taking similar action right now around the world, tight pg their air space, tightening security as a response, and do you think they should?

MICHAEL BALBONI, SENIOR FELLOW, HOMELAND SECURITY POLICY INSTITUTE & FORMER NEW YORK HOMELAND SECURITY DIRECTOR: A lot of what security aviation experts are talking about is how -- in this part of the world where there is a lot of it tension, people don't want their air space violated. They want to know who is coming in, who is going in, how did this happen, if, in fact, it happened? And so is there a gap? Has there been a new technology that's been developed suddenly that can hide a plane? Those things seem to be unknowing and not feasible. But what happens now, you've got a test. You now have an unknown in a system where you kind of thought you knew what your boundaries were. And a lot of countries are now taking a look at saying, do we have the right radar arrays set up. Do we have the right personnel analyzing it? You know, it's very hard when you have all this data that comes on. If you knew that an attack was going to happen in a moment, of course you would see it coming. It's years and years of time and nothing ever happens. And now suddenly, it happens and everyone says, well, where were you looking, what were you doing? So the question becomes, are the security protocols appropriate. And that's what everybody, particularly in the region, but around the world are looking at. If it happened there, could it happen here?

PEREIRA: It certainly changes the way we all look at things. We have learned, in fact, this week of some of the lapses with the radar and how far they extend and when they're on and off, for one example. But do you think on a smaller level we as travelers, do you think we're going to start seeing a difference at our airports, travelers that are crossing boundaries, oceans. Do you think we'll feel a different when we travel?

BALBONI: You know what's amazing about this story? It's become like a cultural phenomenon. We are a jet set age. Everybody has experience on a plane, some level of fear or trepidation. So it raises lots and lots of questions. This is never supposed to have happened. Just no explanation for this.

BERMAN: But, Michael, again, if someone did steal this plane, you know, which is one of the things being tossed out there right now, Israel, as we said, tightened its air security to prevent a possible attack from I presume the plane itself. Is this something that other countries are doing? Is it something other countries should consider?

BALBONI: Well, it's really -- it's so hard. When you have a plane that comes into an air space and it comes on the radar screen, it's referred to as an uncooperative aircraft. That's the term they use. Because it's not squawking. It's not sending out a message.

BERMAN: Which is what happened here and Thailand didn't do anything, Malaysia didn't do anything.


BALBONI: You assume that the country is going to launch a protocol. Maybe not this part of the world and in the Maldives, maybe you don't have any threats against you. But certainly places like Israel, certainly places that have a high level of tension. You're going to be very, very reactive.

PEREIRA: We talked before, we are hyper sensitive to it here in North America, specifically post 9/11 here in America. But it makes you wonder if these protocols will be looked at with more scrutiny.

Michael Balboni, we appreciate you talking about this.

BALBONI: Thank you so much.

PEREIRA: Obviously, still so many questions.

And again, we should point out, we don't know if it was terrorism related. Because if this is mechanical, nothing to do with our security.

BERMAN: The two guys also got on with stolen passports, that's something we also have to look at. Michael Balboni, really appreciate it.

PEREIRA: I guess that does it for us. I'm Michaela Pereira.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman.

"LEGAL VIEW" with Ashleigh Banfield starts right now.