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EARLY START

Search for Flight 370; Narrowed Search Focusing off Southern Australia; Fight Over Crimea Escalates

Aired March 19, 2014 - 05:30   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news overnight. New information in the mystery of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Did the pilots change course before they lost contact with air traffic control?

And this morning, new information about a narrowed search. U.S. officials saying look south, with a focus now on the waters off of southern Australia. We have live team coverage on the very latest. The new developments this morning.

ROSA FLORES, CNN ANCHOR: We are also following breaking news out of Crimea. Is Ukraine on the brink of war with Russia? The fight over Crimea is escalating. We're live with the very latest.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Rosa Flores.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. Thirty-one minutes after the hour right now. We have a lot going on in the search for Flight 370. Right now you're looking at the live press conference in Malaysia. That is the minister of defense, also the minister of transportation. Let's listen to what he has to say now about the investigation.

HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIAN TRANSPORTATION MINISTER: -- the search and rescue operation. We are looking at narrowing the search corridor by firstly gathering satellite information. Secondly, analyzing radar data. Thirdly, increasing air and surface assets. And fourthly, increasing the number of technical experts.

We are also taking further steps to address the needs of the families at this very difficult time. I will start by giving a brief operational update. And as we have said, the search for MH-370 involves diplomatic, technical and logistical challenges -- increasing the number of technical experts. We are also taking further steps to address the needs of the families at this very difficult time.

I will start by giving a brief operational update. And as we have said the search for MH-370 involves diplomatic, technical, and logistical challenges. Accordingly the main technical team organizing the search and rescue operation will be broken into three groups. A diplomatic team led by the ministry of foreign affairs and assets deployment and logistic team led by the armed forces and the technical group retaining overall operational control which is led by the Department of Civil Aviation.

On the diplomatic front, all 26 countries involved in the search and rescue operations have verbally agreed to assist the operation. And Malaysia has written to all countries formally, requesting cooperation. A number of assets have already been committed and are waiting diplomatic clearance to begin operations. Once we receive formal clearance, we can then speed up the deployment of assets along the search corridors.

As I stated yesterday, although the search is still coordinated by Malaysia, our partners are increasingly taking the lead in their own territory and in agreed search sectors. We welcome this. And again, would like to thank all our partners for their continued assistance and support.

I can confirm that we have received some radar data, but we are not at liberty to release information from other countries. I appeal to all our partners to continue volunteering any and all information that could help us with the investigation and the search for MH-370.

Regarding reports that a plane was sighted in the Maldives, I can confirm that the Malaysian chief of the Defense Force has contacted his counterpart in the Maldives who has confirmed that these reports are not true.

I am aware of speculation that additional waypoints were added to the aircraft's flight routine. I can confirm that the aircraft flew on a normal routine up until the waypoint IGARI. There is no additional waypoint on MH-370's documented flight plan which depicts normal route all the way to Beijing.

On the police investigation, as the inspector general of the police confirm, the case has been classified under Section 130-C of the Penal Code. All passengers, crew and ground staff handling the aircraft are being investigated. We are sharing all information relevant to the case, with all relevant international investigative agencies that require it.

We have received passenger background checks from all countries apart from Ukraine and Russia both of which have nationals on board. So far, no information of significance on any passenger has been found. Local and international expertise have been recruited to examine pilot's flight simulator. Some data had been deleted from the simulator. And forensic work to achieve this data is ongoing.

I would like to take this opportunity to state that the passengers, the pilots and the crew remain innocent until proven otherwise. For the sake of their families, I ask that we refrain from any unnecessary speculation that might make an already difficult time even harder.

I would like to announce that in addition to the team that is already on the ground, Malaysia is currently assembling a high-level team that will immediately travel to Beijing. The team will give briefings and updates to the next of kin on the latest situation on the search and rescue plans. The team will include representatives from the prime minister's office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Royal Malaysian Air Force, the Department of Civil Aviation and Malaysian Airlines.

The team will be led by Lieutenant General Dato Sri Ackbal bin Haji Abdul Samad, our RMAF air operation commander of the Royal Malaysian Air Force, assisted by Ahmad Nizar bin Zolfakar, director of Air Traffic Services, Department of Civil Aviation and will include a senior 777 pilot.

We will persevere. Our immediate focus is the search and rescue operation. And we are pursuing every means possible to narrow the two corridors. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Q&A session. We'll start with the local media first.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good afternoon, Minister.

BERMAN: All right. We've been watching the news conference from Kuala Lumpur. We're listening to the minister of Defense, also the minister of transportation, from Malaysia right now. He briefs every morning. This morning, he did give us a few new details here. He says they are working to narrow the search corridor right now for Flight 370. More on that in a second.

He confirms that they are investigating all passengers, crew, both on the ground, in on the air, and the pilots of this plane, they are still looking into that. He said -- he confirmed that they have received some radar data from another country. However, he would not tell us what country they've received data from or what that data might be.

Finally, he said they're going through the pilot's flight simulator, still. He said some data has been deleted from the flight simulator. They are working to restore that, although he did emphasize again that everyone is innocent until proven guilty and they have found no evidence pointing to anyone either in that plane or on the ground just yet.

I want to bring in our Jim Clancy live from Kuala Lumpur.

Jim, I know you've been listening to this news conference as well. Let's start first with the data, the news that they have received flight data from another country but they're not telling us which country that might be.

JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it could be Vietnam, could be Thailand. Probably more likely Thailand. They tracked the jet as well. But, you know, the Malaysians already have their own data records with that. It may assist. It may clarify some things. He mentioned that -- I don't know what that's going to accomplish. The satellite data he's talking about that's not Malaysian data. That's probably U.S. data that's narrowing the search.

When he talks about he's going to make some of that data available to people that require it, that leaves it wide open, whether or not he's going to share it with anybody like the United States, as they continue to try to press this investigation on their front. So I think the glaring hole in all of this, they have finally announced that they are going to send a delegation to Beijing that includes some representatives of the prime minister's office, representatives of the air force and others.

They've been demanding this for days. When he said we're going to increase the assistance to the family, I mean, I can't think of anything that would outrage some of the victims' families more than that. The missing passengers' families have been, for days now, demanding to meet with the ambassador in Beijing. They want answers. They want straight talk. They haven't got it. And they have heard that same line over and over again, John.

We had a demonstration here today. I don't know -- do we have type to share some of that with you? Just to show you what happened inside right before this press briefing? Let's take a look at this feed.

"We can't take it anymore, we can't take it anymore." These people have come to the end of their rope. It was a chaotic scene here in Kuala Lumpur. They went in a briefing room, tried to post a huge poster demanding answers. They were taken away forcibly by security before the press conference -- John.

BERMAN: Again, Jim, another key detail we did learn that will pop out to some people that flight simulator they now confiscated from the home of the pilot, they say there has been some data that was deleted from that flight simulator and they are working to retrieve it. Now this could be nothing. This could be just a normal course of action on any computerized device. But it's interesting because it took them a week to take ahold of this flight simulator to begin with in this investigation and now we are learning today, they say, that some data was deleted.

CLANCY: And so far, there's nothing on the simulator that's untoward. Nothing whatsoever. He was an enthusiast. He was talked -- he was online on -- talking about flight simulation, and what a fun hobby it was. The indications don't point to the pilot that we know of so far. If there's some evidence there, it's not being shared with us. Understandable, it is an investigation, after all, but a lot of these sources on the pilot are coming straight out of Washington. Not out of Kuala Lumpur. Take note of that.

FLORES: Yes, and, Jim, from talking to some of the experts, aviation experts, they were saying that these recorders, these -- the simulator, could have had a memory. So if he, for example, did a simulation of -- on a specific track or course, it could have been recorded. So it could lead to some key information if that information is retrieved.

CLANCY: Well, you know, and here's another thing that's confusing in the press briefing, you're absolutely right. It could be significant if it were to show the re-creation of this flight path. But here for the first time he's saying that there was no record, none of our record showed that he was going to these other waypoints that have been outlined by both the Reuters news agencies and others, saying that the pilot set it on a deliberate course that followed all of this.

He was just saying the only thing that we have on our data is out to the IGARI waypoint. Well, that's on the normal route to Beijing. What he didn't say was, am I looking at my raw primary data from the military or am I looking at that same flight path where we know the transponder went off at, what, 11:19 or 11:21. If that's the case, we already knew that because without the transponder, you don't read those things.

Back to you.

FLORES: One of those things that really stands out to me is -- in the press conference, he said, we're pulling satellite radar increasing air surface assets and increasing technical support. And you would think that they'd have all of the technical support on hand. All of those experts on hand already.

CLANCY: Well, OK. He's adding to it. They've got more data maybe. Certainly the search is being handled in the south, the Australians, the Americans, the New Zealanders were out today. They were flying advanced reconnaissance aircraft, searching their zone -- the last limit where this plane would have run out of fuel at the bottom of that southern arc. And they're going to be working their way northward, hoping to find a trace of the plane.

We heard from the Australians today, they went out there, they spent as much time on station as they possibly could. They didn't find a thing. They've got the merchant marine out scouring the seas as ships pass through. They, too, are on alert to see any kind of wreckage or debris that might be linked to Flight 370. That's all they can do right now. All these teams working. The Indonesians aren't helping much. They said we don't have any radar records.

And they haven't even let some of these flights leave Malaysia and travel over there to search those waters. It's a matter of getting clearance for these flights. It's the second day running they've had that problem. So there's still a lot of coordination problems that they're having right now with Indonesia, specifically. They have to get -- the Indonesians have to get on board and see that this is all done.

We're on day 12. You guys know it. Day 12, we need to find something.

BERMAN: Day 12. Our Jim Clancy in Kuala Lumpur. Thank you so much for just covering that news conference right now from Malaysian officials.

The news just in from that news conference, they say that the pilot's flight simulator has had some data deleted. They are working to retrieve that, that, as a U.S. official tells CNN they're trying to narrow the search area with the focus being in the southern arc of that search area. These are the angles we're going to follow up on because there are breaking developments this morning. We'll have that right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All right. A lot of breaking news this morning in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. We have just heard from Malaysian officials who say that the flight simulator taken from the pilot's home had some data that was deleted. They're now trying to restore, to retrieve that data.

This comes as a senior U.S. official tells CNN that the onboard computer on Flight 370 was likely reprogrammed to make a turn at least 12 minutes before the pilot said, "All right. Good night" to air traffic controllers. That was the last communication from the flight deck.

Also new this morning, the focus of this search now appears to be in an area off of southern Australia. U.S. officials saying the jet is most likely somewhere along the southern arc of the flight path.

A lot of new information this morning. So let's bring in CNN aviation analysis and former director of the FAA's Office of Accident Investigation Steven Wallace.

Steven, I think the most glaring news out of that press conference that we've been listening to right now, word that the pilot's flight simulator had some data deleted and they are working to restore it. When you first hear that, you raised your eyebrows.

Does it raise any red flags to you?

STEVEN WALLACE, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, not particularly, just for a couple of reasons. One is many airline pilots are just obsessed with flying. They just love flying. And, you know, this captain was putting his simulator on Facebook and -- so that's just sort of, I would call, it normal nerdy pilot behavior. So that doesn't raise a flag to me. I mean he had a pretty elaborate simulator for this home.

To plan a flight to some destination other than the intended destination of Beijing, it's not difficult. It wouldn't really take a lot of practice at all. If he had decided to divert it. Also, you know, the fact that the data was deleted. I mean, I hope this is some valuable evidence. But, you know, it's a little bit like deleting an e-mail.

BERMAN: That's right. That's an important point. How much do we all delete stuff in all of our various electronic devices?

WALLACE: Right.

BERMAN: It may not be significant. But again a new piece of information we did learn this morning.

All right. What about this news overnight, Steven, that the flight had been reprogrammed? The computer had been reprogrammed. New waypoints put in before the last point of communication between the co-pilot and air traffic control.

What does that tell you?

WALLACE: Well, it's quite interesting if it's reliable evidence. If it came -- I mean, it's not been clear to me who's seen what off that ACARS communication system. But -- so I'm not sure where that went, so we've had a lot of evidence of marginal value. But if clearly that was -- if that's established as solid evidence, that this turn was programmed 12 minutes in advance of when they lost communication.

OK, that would clearly point to, as many other things have pointed to, some deliberate act either by the pilot or an intruder.

BERMAN: Because you would tell air traffic control, presumably, that you had reprogrammed your flight path, you know, if it was no nefarious reason, correct?

WALLACE: Absolutely. But I mean, that's one of very many things. As soon as you turn off a transponder, if I'm flying an airplane and I turn off the transponder, the controller is going to say immediately, we've lost your transponder signal and we're going to have a conversation about that. So these circumstances are really very difficult to explain. What's apparent to me from that press conference is that the minister there has gotten some very talented help. He talked about family assistance, he talked about innocent until proven guilty. It's all perfect English so these press conferences are very well scripted.

BERMAN: And they change over time. And again, more information coming in this morning, U.S. officials telling CNN that they think it is more likely now that this plane will be found in the southern arc of the search area. There has been a really intensified focus off the southern coast of Australia. And really, the extreme edge of where this plane could have flown.

You know, what does that tell you this morning, Steven?

WALLACE: Well, I think they've just -- you know, you search for a plane by looking for it. And then eliminating places that it might have gone that it didn't go to. So certainly, on the northern route, there's just so much radar coverage by many countries that have less than ideal relationships between them. So they have radars that are designed to detect intruders. To detect aircraft that do not want to be detected.

So I think that's what's what really drives the notion that the two arcs. And that Inmarsat data those arcs drawn from is among the more solid evidence that we've seen in this investigation. So I think they've more or less eliminated the north and that's headed to the south.

BERMAN: All right. Steven Wallace, thank you for helping us walk through this new information we've been getting all night and just a few minutes ago. Great to have you here with us this morning.

WALLACE: Thank you.

BERMAN: Of course, we are following the investigation. The search for missing Flight 370. New details this morning. We are covering them. And we have some other news as well right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) FLORES: Welcome back at 57 minutes past the hour. Happening right now at the Oscar Pistorius trial, a police ballistics expert was on the stand talking about what he thinks happened the night Pistorius shot and killed Reva Steenkamp. Pistorius covered his ears as the expert described the bullets hitting Steenkamp. And how he thinks the first shots did not kill her.

BERMAN: Happening today in New York, the defense expected to rest in the terror trial of Osama bin Laden's son-in-law after the judge bitterly denied a late request to put self-described 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed on the stand. Mohammed said that Sulaiman Abu Ghaith played no military role in al Qaeda. Abu Ghaith is accused of conspiring to kill Americans and acting as a top al Qaeda spokesman after the 2001 attacks.

FLORES: New details this morning about who develops Alzheimer's disease. A new report says roughly two-thirds of the five million Americans with Alzheimer's are women. And women over 60 are nearly twice as likely to develop the disease than breast cancer. The new figures were released this morning in an annual report from the Alzheimer's Association. The number of older Americans living with the disease is expected to increase, hear this, by 40 percent over the next decade.

BERMAN: Some sobering new research.

All right. We have all that, plus new information on the hunt for Flight 370. The mystery. There are new details this morning. A press conference just completed. All those details straight ahead.

"NEW DAY" starts right now.