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Search For Flight 370; Families Demand Answers; Explosive Tensions in Ukraine

Aired March 19, 2014 - 04:30   ET



ROSA FLORES, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news overnight. The mystery of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 intensifies. Did the pilots change course before they lost contact with air traffic control? New questions, and this morning, reports of a new area of focus in the search for this plane. We have live team coverage with the very latest developments.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: More breaking news this morning. Explosive tensions in Crimea. Concerns that fighting between Ukraine and Russia right on the brink of serious, serious confrontation. We're live there as well.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

FLORES: And I'm Rosa Flores. It's 4:30 in the East, 1:30 in the West. We are glad that you're here with us.

New this morning, we have breaking developments in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. A senior U.S. official tells CNN the plane's computer was likely reprogrammed to make a turn at least 12 minutes before the co-pilot radioed air traffic controllers with that final message heard from on board the jet, "All right, good night."

This morning, the search for this jet seems to be focused in an area in the waters off the Australian coast.

CNN's Jim Clancy is tracking all the latest developments from Kuala Lumpur.

Jim what can you tell us this morning?

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are looking at that report that, of course, the coordinates were entered into the plane's automated navigation system with some skepticism. The focus, though, seems to be very still much on the pilots with U.S. investigators. If there's some reason why, they haven't shared the evidence with us, because those pilots are coming up clean here in Kuala Lumpur.

Still, everybody on that flight is being further investigated. I'm sure they will carry this through -- the significance, though, unclear at this time.

Meantime, the search goes on, because you're not going to see any evidence unless we find the plane. The Australian maritime authority is doing the best it can to press the search in that area, the maximum that this plane could have gone with its known fuel supply.

Listen to what the Australians had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The search area has been significantly refined. You can see here the lines that I briefed yesterday prepared by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board have been refined somewhat, based on better -- or more detailed analysis. The area at the end of those analyses has been refined by work done by the National Transportation Safety Board on the fuel reserves that the aircraft and how far it could have flown. And you will see that it's also moved a little east. So, it's not the path that it was for yesterday's search.


CLANCY: All right. So you can see the Australians tracking that. They have also put out a call to maritime marine ships in the area, merchant ships, asking them to be on the lookout. Some ships have responded. Three of them went through that area already.

But still, we came up empty today in the search for Flight 370 -- Rosa.

FLORES: You know, Jim, one of the things that really stands out to me, we get all of these tidbits of information, whether it'd be from the reprogramming of the computer. Or the information we got from Thailand radar.

And it begs the question what all information is out there that perhaps we don't know yet? But other governments, or the Malaysian governments might know about, that would have an impact what we all know about this investigation and where this plane is?

CLANCY: You're right. So many questions and so little data. I can tell you, one of -- a very big one, Indonesia, right next door, the plane came very close if not crossing over Indonesia. Well, the defense minister said in Jakarta today that they have no record on their raw data, their military radar, of Flight 370 coming through their airspace. Not a hint of it anywhere.

That was a real disappointment. They're so close many people thought they would be able to give us an idea of where the plane might have gone after it disappeared off Malaysian radar. That's not the case according to the Indonesians.

Another disappointment, it is so far, we're clutching at straws here with the least little bits of information, trying to plot just where Flight 370 might be -- Rosa.

FLORES: All right. Jim Clancy live for us from Kuala Lumpur -- thank you so much. BERMAN: Well, the questions that a lot of people are asking this morning is why this investigation is taking so long. Why the Malaysians seem to have waited so long before looking into the pilots or contacting other foreign governments?

CNN national security analyst Fran Townsend, a former homeland security adviser to President Bush, tells Bill Weir that this would be a different investigation if it all happened in the United States.


FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: The Malaysians said they went to the pilot's home on March 9th but they didn't search them until the 15th. That's a loss of six days.

We're used to in this country, when we conduct sort of a tragic air event investigation, we start both the investigation and the search separation simultaneously, as soon as we're notified of the event. And it doesn't appear, at least by what we're seeing, that happened by the Malaysians. There's been a delay in the investigation and that, frankly, is to the detriment both of the investigation and to the families of the victims.



FLORES: Now, among the passengers on Flight 370 was Philip Wood, an IBM employee, flying home to Beijing after a trip to the U.S. His partner tells Anderson Cooper she believes the jet was hijacked and is actually comforted by the evidence pointing to what happened on board was intentional and an intentional act.


SARAH BJAC, PHILIP WOOD'S PARTNER: I feel like I'm not crazy because that's the scenario that I hypothesized. Way back, the first day it happened. By Sunday, already, I was starting to think, you know, there's clearly no sign of crash. It was a nighttime activity so satellite should have been able to pick up any kind of flame.

So, the only logical answer for a completely silent jet would be that it had been taken. And over the week, of course, all my friends were starting to think that perhaps I was just in denial. And I was even starting to doubt myself a little bit.

So when all of this new evidence started to come out, it gave me confidence that I wasn't so crazy after all.


FLORES: It seems the possibilities over what happened to this jet are endless. Could it have crashed in some remote area? Or have been taken by terrorists? The search zone now searches over nearly 3 million square miles. And some think the jet may have been flown somewhere along these tracks and landed. Chad Myers takes a closer look.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: John, Rosa, we're getting a lot of tweets, a lot of questions about the red line, about the two arcs, one to the north, one to the south. And people trying to find airports along that route that maybe the plane could be sitting at.

Now, you have to remember, Google Earth is not live. The pictures you see are not real time. They may have been taken months ago in some spots.

But let's go right to it right here. Here's where the plane took off, Kuala Lumpur, to right about there. We know about the big left-hand turn. We don't know left to right there too much because it's out to sea at that time.

But something that people are tweeting about Christmas Island. Why? Because there's the island and there's the line. Not a very big place, not very populated. But it does have an airfield, a runway of 1.5 miles. You can see it right through there.

There's the island, not a lot of resorts or vacationers there. And it's kind of a desolate place to put an airplane. I don't know where you'd hide it because it is close to the line.

Something else -- something other place that's close to the line. I'll take you to this here. Let's just go back to the same place. There's Kuala Lumpur, there's the plane, turn left or right. We'll go a little bit farther to the North this time, you'd have to fly up the Bay of Bengal, likely very low to avoid radar. Now, when you're going 5,000 feet off the deck, you are burning fuel like crazy, not like at high altitudes. So, they're really burning fuel, almost twice the amount of fuel.

And all of a sudden, you get to the Himalayas. You have to get those out of the way, but when you get over the Himalayas there are runways, in fact, there are many. But at this point, the plane would have flown 3,000 miles. It had about 3,000 miles of fuel give or take.

And if you're going to look at this and low altitude it may not have had enough fuel to get to those runways but there are plenty of them out there -- John, Rosa.

BERMAN: All right. Our thanks to Chad Myers for that.

You know, one of the things we're thinking about when we think about these possibilities, we have to remember, the families of the people on board this plane, this is more than theories to them. In China, where so many of the families are, remember, two-thirds of the passengers were Chinese, they are demanding answers, some now even threatening a hunger strike until the Malaysian government and the airline give them more information what they call the truth.

Our Pauline Chiou is in Beijing covering that part of the story.

Pauline, it seems so sad. PAULINE CHIOU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So sad and so incredibly frustrating. And on that hunger strike that you mentioned, John, only a handful had expressed in that yesterday. We know already that two people have stopped.

We talked with an aunt, and she said that her two nephews had gone on this hunger strike yesterday. But by 3:00 p.m., she was able to talk them out of it and they were able to eat.

So, we're not exactly sure exactly how much momentum that has gotten. But I can tell you that several relatives today, several of them have said that they're getting sick because of the stress and the fatigue and the lack of sleep. One woman said she's a doctor and she's had to take sleeping pills just to be able to sleep two hours a night. An elderly man today said that he's beginning to feel dizzy. And he doesn't even know where the hospital is in Beijing because he's not from Beijing.

And we have to remember of these 465 registered relatives here in Beijing, many of them are from places far away from the capital city. And they've been here for 12 days now. They're not familiar with the city. They're bringing these complaints to the airline.

The Malaysian Airlines today said, OK, we hear your concerns. We are worried that if you're feeling sick, that you're not getting the proper care, so we will consult and get back to you on this -- John.

BERMAN: Different kind of hardships and strategy. Pauline, I don't think anyone has spent more time with these families than you have. You reported to us that lawyers have started showing up there to support the family. Any sign of lawsuits being filed yet?

CHIOU: Not yet. We haven't heard of any lawsuits, but we do know that these Chinese relatives are starting to research and starting to educate themselves.

As I told you yesterday, aviation litigation lawyers from the United States have flown in, and they're here at this hotel. They've been telling us, they just wait for the passengers' families to approach them because ethically, it's not proper to approach them during this difficult time.

And to put this into more of an aviation incident context, I found this very interesting. You remember the Asiana Airlines crash from last summer. And that was a flight that originated from Shanghai to San Francisco. Well, many of those passengers are from China. And they have filed lawsuits. Lawsuits like personal injury claims.

Now, I've been told that some of those Chinese passengers have reached out to the families here saying it is important for you to arm yourself with legal information to know what your rights are and to educate yourselves because the Chinese society is not a litigious society. Most people tend to take settlements when there's a disagreement. They don't tend to sue here.

But now we're starting to see a shift, where even on social media, some of the passengers from the Asiana flight are starting to reach out to the passengers, the families here from that Malaysia Airlines flight. So, an interesting turn here.

BERMAN: That's a really interesting connection as well.

Pauline Chiou, great reporting as she's been doing for more than for us a week in Beijing. Really appreciate it.

That's an interesting perspective there, the connection between Asiana and this flight.

FLORES: And what they're offering to these family members. I imagine that it's extremely difficult. And who would be even thinking about lawsuits when you're waiting for your loved one.

BERMAN: Well, the advise they're getting is you get start thinking pretty soon.

FLORES: Yes, and we will continue to follow the latest developments of the missing flight, Malaysian Airlines Flight 370.

But first, could Ukraine and Russia be ready to declare war. Both countries fighting for Crimea. We're live with the very latest, next.


FLORES: Welcome back. It's 46 minutes past the hour.

Now, to the latest from Crimea where tensions are near the breaking point this morning. Protesters broke through the fence at a Ukrainian navy headquarters. Now, this after a soldier was killed when armed men stormed the military base near Crimea's capital. It's the first military death since Russian forces entered Crimea last month.

And those armed men who attacked were apparently wearing Russian uniforms. Ukrainian forces have now been authorized to fire in self- defense.

This all happening at the same time Russia signed a treaty formally making Crimea part of the Russian Federation.

Frederik Pleitgen is live from Moscow with the very latest.

Fred, good morning.


You're absolutely right, this conflict is entering a very dangerous phase at this point. The new Ukrainian minister went on the record yesterday saying that he believes that everything has moved from a diplomatic and political confrontation to a military confrontation. What the Ukrainians are doing is they're moving forces into the east of the country and to the south of the country where certainly there might be confrontations with Russian forces.

We also have to keep in mind, though, that Russia, of course, is a far superior military power to the Ukrainians. A conflict of military nature between these two sides would not last very long.

But then you do have these little tit-for-tat skirmishes. You have that one Ukrainian soldier who was killed. Today, you have that base being raided by pro-Russian forces. That is something that, of course, is causing tensions to rise.

At the same time, there is absolutely no indication that the Russian government is willing to back down on all of this, especially after having signed that treaty yesterday making Crimea part of the Russian Federation. There's absolutely no way that the Russians could back down that they could reverse that would destroy Vladimir Putin in opinion polls here in this country. He's simply gone too far along the line at this point.

And the Russians are saying that the sanctions that are already in place and the sanctions that are being threatened right now is not something that impresses them very much. So don't look for them to back down. It's still is a very delicate situation between Ukraine and Russia and certainly could lead to a prolonged ice age between the U.S., the European Union and the Russian Federation. But it seems as though the Russians are up for it at this point, Rosa.

FLORES: All right. The tensions are high and definitely, the world is watching.

Frederik Pleitgen live for us from Moscow -- thank you so much.

BERMAN: Forty-nine minutes after the hour right now.

This morning, we're following the breaking news, the new questions in the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. There is new evidence this morning that the pilots may have changed course on their computer 12 minutes before saying good night to air traffic control. This as the search seems to focus on an area off the southern Australia.

What could this mean? Well, we're going to break it down live after the break.


FLORES: Welcome back. It's 52 minutes past the hour.

We are following the breaking news this morning and the investigation into Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. CNN has learned the plane's turn away from its planned course to Beijing was likely programmed into a computer in the cockpit, at least 12 minutes before the co-pilot made his call to air traffic controllers saying "all right. Good night."

What does this mean for the investigation?

We're joined by former pilot and aviation consultant Alastair Rosenschein. He's in London this morning.

And, you know, it begs the question, does this mean -- the reprogramming of this computer, does it mean foul play in the cockpit? ALASTAIR ROSENSCHEIN, AVIATION CONSULTANT: Well, not necessarily. If there's a developing technical problem on board or even a medical issue of a passenger being ill, which is less likely in this scenario, if there is liking of that, that the pilots may preprogram the flight management system, or FMS, as it's known for a diversion, in this case, probably back to Kuala Lumpur.

But it can also mean something less sensible. And would fit in with those who believe this aircraft might have been taken by force or hijacked in some way or diverted deliberated by the pilots themselves.

BERMAN: It's hard to come up with a reason why, if there was a technical issue, they would program it, and then 12 minutes later say, "All right, good night" to air traffic control. That seems to be one of the things that's hard to reconcile here, Alastair.

ROSENSCHEIN: Well, if the technical problem is not of significant importance to report to air traffic control, then one won't actually say anything. And I've been in scenarios like that myself on the 747.

It is unusual. And the timing is unusual. And then the final disappearance is, of course, unusual. But there are other facts that have been brought into this. And that was, having turned the aircraft and then start -- well obviously, a diversion. The authorities are looking to the southwest of Australia.

Now, that sounds to be very much like they have some pretty strong hard evidence that the aircraft may well be down there that way. And that is based on this radio pulse or ping, as it's called to the Inmarsat satellite which isn't the middle of -- you know, just about the Indian Ocean. So there is all of that to consider, too.

FLORES: And what the computer is reprogrammed in the cockpit, does someone on the ground know that that's happening?

ROSENSCHEIN: Well, if they're talking about it, as they are, then, of course, they know. And they would have known through the ACARS system which transmits the programmed route back to the base station. And I think on the basis of that, they're sable to say 12 minutes before this thing was reprogrammed.

I must admit that it is a great mystery. And I've been talking to many people in the industry and listening, of course, to those pundits on air. And no one really has a -- you know, a good idea what's happened here. It doesn't fit your standard aircraft incident/accident.

And pilot incapacitation would be a course flying off somewhere for eight hours and disappearing. I mean, that could be a logical reason for it. But one can't know for sure.

BERMAN: And as you point out now, this morning, one of these renewed areas of focus, the search area, off the southern coast of Australia. Really, the far extended point of that so-called arc indicates that they do think it's at least possible that this flight was in the air for a long, long, long time before it went down. Alastair, thank you so much for being with us. A voice of reason offering many possibilities -- some of them dire, others not so nefarious. Great to have you with all morning this week.

We're following the investigation, all the breaking news, in the hunt for Flight 370. We'll have more after the break.