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Families of Flight 370 Passengers Desperate for Answers; Data Deleted from Pilot's Simulator

Aired March 19, 2014 - 08:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: We're following breaking news on the missing Malaysian jet, most notably two factors concerning both pilots. The pilots - main pilot's flight simulator data wiped out for a month before the flight took off. What could that mean? The co-pilot changing the timeline of when he was talking to tower and saying good night versus when they put in a different waypoint. What does it all mean?

Let's get live to Kate with the latest -- Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Chris. That's absolutely right.

Twelve days into the search and questions keep on coming about the folks in the cockpit. There's nothing definitive yet. But among the new issues what data was deleted from that simulator and why? Was it even the pilot who deleted it?

Meantime, the search is focused on the bottom corridor of that map that we watched so closely. A U.S. government source tells CNN it's likely the plane headed south after losing contact.

Now, Australian officials have narrowed their search down there.

On the flip side, Indonesia is fending off criticism for apparently slowing the process. The U.S. Navy has a plane there that locates large objects under water but they haven't been allowed to fly yet.

And overnight, a law enforcement official confirmed to CNN the plane likely changed direction after orders were put in a cockpit computer. That was about 12 minutes before the co-pilot last spoke with the ground.

Most countries have completed background checks of their passengers. Only Russia and Ukraine have yet to respond to their request, and obviously the investigation of everyone involved continues.

This morning, revelations about the simulator aren't even the most dramatic that we saw, unfortunately. Family members of missing passengers laid their emotions on the line.

Our Kyung Lah was there as this whole thing unfolded. And she joins us once again to discuss.

Kyung, let's just watch this video and we can talk about what more we're learning about the woman involved.




LAH: Back up! Back up!




BOLDUAN: It's heartbreaking honestly to watch and to hear the desperation in her voice.

Kyung, what more are you learning, not only we know a bit of translation of what these women were saying, but what are we learning about that woman that was carried out?

LAH: That woman wearing the reddish shirt, we have learned that she's the mother of number 80 on the manifest. Her son is Lei Lei (ph), and the reason she came to the back of this press room, this is where all the press congregates for the daily press briefings.

She said she wanted her son back. She wants the international media to help bring her son back. Get information from Malaysian government and Malaysia airlines.

So, that was the reason why she was there. There were other mothers. You saw that one moment where I'm saying, "back up, back up," they were taken away by the police. They came to talk to the press and they were forced away by the police.

So, what we have here are two things -- you see a snapshot into what's happening to these families, the pain they are feeling, the lack of information, the information void, and what it means for them, but also that the government simply seems little out of step with what the families want.

BOLDUAN: The families are not having it. When translation that I was seeing of their comments, the Malaysian government is lying to them, that they have been sitting here -- these women said we've been here for ten days and you're giving us nothing. They just want their sons back. They want to know what happened. And they clearly are not getting the answers.

Are they going to get the answers? Is the Malaysian government going to do anything more to at least make them feel better about the process, because clearly what they want to know is where the plane is and clearly no one has found that yet. So, they can't be given the comfort that they're looking for.

LAH: We have a couple of messages that we're getting from the government. What we heard from the man who is leading the news conferences every day he's saying, OK, yes, we hear you but we have to find the plane. He's very much on task. But at the same time, he issued a statement at the end of the day after, I think the government started to realize what these pictures were making them look like, and said that we understand your anguish, we understand your devastation and we'll try to get you answers.

BOLDUAN: And look, it's a difficult position to be in. The Malaysian government under a lot of pressure to get this right and to get the information out there, but also to simply find the plane and coordinate with 25 other countries to make this happen. But they have to be focused on these families.

LAH: They have to. But at the same time they have to bridge those two problems. Find the plane, be compassionate to these families.

BOLDUAN: You got to get it right, and we saw that today. But clearly, it's not happening. Kyung, thank you very much. Glad you were in there, that's for sure, because I just wanted to make their message.

Let's send it back to Chris in New York. We'll have much more here, coming up.

CUOMO: All right. Kate.

Let's bring aviation analyst and former U.S. DOT inspector general, Mary Schiavo, as well as pilot and former international captain for Northwest Airlines, Mr. David Funk.

It's good to have both of you here.

Let's tick off what's seen as the moments in this story and see what we believe and trust and what we do not. First, the pilots flight simulator files being deleted, data being deleted. To me, it seems like there are more questions than this suggestion deserves. But it's getting a lot of attention, why?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATON ANALYST: Well, because you're going to wonder, what was in the files that were deleted? I feel confident since we've done it in under investigations that they'll be able to recover that information unless something was rewritten over it. So, the deletion looks suspicious especially if you're using your flight simulator to try out fun things and keep your skills. I think they'll get the data back.

CUOMO: So, well at least get an answer to that one?


CUOMO: Because again, David, you know, they're starting, the investigation kind of goes back and forth. It flip flops between let's look at the pilot, this must have been a bad accident, this must have been a hijacking. We wonder what happened on board.

So, now they are swinging back to the pilots again. They are going rigorously through the passenger manifest. Interestingly, they've heard from every country involved in the investigation except for Ukraine and Crimea. Obviously, there's a lot of other politics involved in that.

So, our second factor this new understanding, not necessarily new information, that after the co-pilot said good night, that's when we used to end the timeline. Last thing we knew. Now they believe that 12 minutes before that, the co-pilot or somebody inputted a waypoint that wasn't part of the direct route. Can you think of a good reason that was done?

DAVID FUNK, FORMER INTERNATIONAL CAPTAIN, NORTHWEST AIRLINES: Sure. It would be normal. They hit the top of climb, the airplane is stable in cruise flight. The captain being a training captain, he's going to know every possible procedure. He's always thinking what's the worst thing that can happen? I'll put in an airport I know I can get to again gate help on the ground.

My guess is he probably uploaded that airport on his flight management system. A lot of guys do it. I don't. It's just my personal choice. I like to keep the FMS as clean as possible. But perhaps that's his normal procedure.

We can fight that out or the Malaysians will find that out by talking with other crew members that flew with this captain, and then looking, of course, at what are Malaysians' procedures. You're always thinking about when you are out over water or really any time you are flying, where can I go in an emergency?

This captain looks like he was really on top of thing and probably pre-loaded his alternate airport, nearest alternate, suitable alternate airport, not necessarily the closest place just to land but the place where I can go and get passenger service if I have a medical emergency, if I have a mechanical, something that doesn't allow me to continue flying over water away from land under this extended two- engine operations over water, he's looking there.

My guess is, if he had continued on up a little further north, he would have loaded probably Ho Chi Minh City, because that would pass equal time point between two spots out over the ocean.

CUOMO: OK, David --

FUNK: This doesn't look suspicious to me. It looks quite normal.

CUOMO: So, you take it all by itself and this is a cautious pilot. Don't read into it. It doesn't matter what the timing is, and you don't know if it was the pilot who put it and/or co-pilot. And you can't tag to it when the co-pilot said anything because you don't know who did what.

But then you put it into context with the other facts which is the flight does wind up deviating in this direction, they believe the transponder does go off, the ACARS does go offline, does the picture change, Mary? Are they still potentially disassociated events? SCHIAVO: No, I think what the captain said was right. You want to have those safety nets. But where the picture gets murky is in this gap, in this 12 minutes, 11 minutes, whatever it turns out to be. It's a kind of a fluid gap. The timeline has changed.

But if you were having a problem that's what your safety airports for. And the one that everyone is looking at is a big wide runway with no obstructions. If you were having control problem, problem with (INAUDIBLE) or something, you'd what that airport because there's no obstructions in the way you don't have to maneuver anything.

But I think what people are troubled about is in those 12 minutes you probably would have wanted not probably you would have wanted to tell your airline and probably even flight control so you can get in there. So, you get priority over other flights even if you were in a full blown mayday you want priority, you'd be a pan-pan. You tell someone, "I'm coming. I have a problem."

CUOMO: Pan-pan is we have a circumstance, but it's not critical, critical, but it's important enough, but you need to help us.

SCHIAVO: Right. Pan-pan is we don't think we're going crash but we're in trouble.

CUOMO: So, David would be right, I put in this waypoint just in case, because I'm cautious. I care so much, I have a flight simulator in my own house. But then if something happened and I ended up heading towards that waypoint why didn't I communicate?

SCHIAVO: Exactly.

CUOMO: All right. And then you have the idea of this search shifting to the southwestern part of the Indian Ocean near Australia.

Do we believe this is an intelligent move based on what they learned from the Thai government and radar or do you think that they are just trying to make it smaller?

FUNK: I think it's probably an intelligent move. You got a lot of assets down there, takes a lot of money and takes an effort to move this big ship that is a search and rescue operation to an area. They probably have some info base opened the arc and time from the last pings off of the engine monitoring system that was reported -- remember the last ping is the last known location or last time we heard from them they were probably flying.

There were other pings along the way that were probably somewhere on that arc which would lead me to believe that's where they want to start their search, not just happen to fly by as they do it.

It's a big ocean. We were talking about as -- I heard one of the CNN reporters say we're looking for three or four people in the United States walking around on the ground. This is a very difficult search. The investigation will concentrate on what we know about the people and maintenance status of the airplane and its history and the search- and-rescue folks' job is to go fine the airplane. CUOMO: It's difficult if you assume the plane is on the surface, let alone if it is sunk and what the debris field is doing and there's so many variables in this investigation. It's difficult to track of it.

But let's end on this, David. At this point, have you been told anything that you believe that makes you feel that this was more likely an intentional pilot-driven event or hijacking than it was an accident and a chain of events that they couldn't control? Do you feel more inclination --

FUNK: Absolutely not. No. I'm still back where I was when this first happened, you know seven, 10 days ago. This is probably a cascading electrical fault that turned into a fire. And my guess is when we do find this airplane and we will, at some point, when we do find this airplane, the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder probably will show us that's what occurred, not unlike Swiss Air 111, they didn't make it unfortunately either, and these guys I think had their hands full.

When you fighting the airplane, it's pretty tough to just pick up the radio to ask for help. There's nobody on the ground can do anything for you anyway.

CUOMO: Strong point.

FUNK: When you think about it, you're calling for help. Nobody can -- what are they going to do for you?

CUOMO: Right. It would just -- I guess, Mary, it would just go to how you behave in those circumstance, which is why you would communicate, right?

SCHIAVO: Well, plus, sometimes you can do en route trouble shoot but that often doesn't have a good outcome. Alaska 261, they had problems. They had many airports, they could have put it down, but they did an en route troubleshoot and it ended up in the Pacific Ocean.

So, you can get help from the airline and your manufacturer. Boeing will get on the phone and help the plane in distress, which I guess is why the 12 minutes they could have communicated cause people trouble. And I, too, I think you have to follow both leads, both mechanical or catastrophic and some kind of criminal activity.

But the 12 minutes where they didn't communicate and couldn't have gotten information to do a troubleshoot, if they had trouble, is a problem to reconcile.

CUOMO: OK. Mary, thank you very much.

FUNK: We don't know what was going on with the flight deck.

CUOMO: That's right. We don't know. And hopefully, at some point, we'll get answers, especially for the 239 families that are out there waiting for them so desperately. We're going to return to the coverage as the information warrants, but there's a lot of other news as well. So let's get to John Berman for that -- John.


Overnight, pro-Russian forces taking control of the Ukrainian naval headquarters in Crimea and raising the Russian flag. Now, besides this image here, no reports of other violence. This comes a day after the Ukrainian soldier was killed in an attack on a military base near Simferopol. President Obama plans to meet with other leaders on the sidelines of a summit next week to discuss broader sanctions against Moscow for annexing Crimea.

Possible break through in the disappearance of British girl Madeleine McCann. Scotland Yard investigators say they want to speak to a man who is linked to a dozen break-ins at holiday villas in southern Portugal. In some cases, they say young girls were sexually assaulted in their beds. McCann was 3 years old when she vanished from her vacation apartment in Portugal way back in 2007.

Toyota has agreed to a $1 billion settlement with the Justice Department following claims that the company misled authorities on complaints about unintended acceleration. In exchange, Toyota is expected to avoid criminal charges. The problem led to the recall of some 10 million vehicles. More details on the agreement are expected later today.

Court adjourned in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial until Monday. The judge granting the prosecutor's request to consult with its remaining witnesses through the weekend. Earlier this morning, gruesome testimony, blood splatter and ballistic experts testifying about Reeva Steenkamp's wounds. Pistorius could be seen covering his ears during this testimony.

You have to take a look at this frightening moment captured on a trooper's dashcam in Iowa. Oh my goodness! A pickup truck just goes airborne, flying straight by there. Nearly takes out the cop. Both cops are at the scene of the accident. Police say 49-year-old Michael Schmitt (ph) crashed his semi into the back of a pickup truck in Interstate 80, sending it airborne there, just missing those officers on the side of the road who were looking at another crash.

Amazingly no one was seriously hurt in this. Wow.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: That's crazy. It really does.

All right. J.B., thanks so much for that.

Back now to the search for Flight 370. A U.S. government source told CNN it's likely the plane flew south. Australia is narrowing its search towards that bottom of the southern arc that we've looked at.

We know that obviously maritime conditions and ocean currents and weather play a factor. And that's we thought we'd bring in meteorologist Indra Petersons to look at some of that stuff. INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I mean, you remember these images, obviously, the contact with the plane. The last satellite contact we had yesterday and what a vast area it was. Today, we have narrowed down that search just off the coast of Australia. We're talking about 2,300 kilometers off of Australia.

So, let's talk about this large region what kind of things could be problematic. One of those things is the ocean. We're talking about the southern Indian Ocean. You have that extremely deep, 4 1/2 miles deep off the coast of Australia. Of course, there's the southeast Indian ridge a depth of half a mile, on the other side again, you're talking about deep ocean.

So, keep in mind, this is why they are focusing just on the surface today because they know it's a vast region, take several weeks just to search the surface. One of the factors they have that's favorable for them is the fact that this is actually their hurricane season now, in the cyclone. They're actually just call it cyclones in the Indian Ocean.

But keep in mind, look at the trade winds. This is what causes hurricanes. The good news, very easy to see in the search region, clear, nice conditions right now. That's really going to help aircraft with visibility conditions in the region. Yesterday, they had nine-foot seas. Today where they are searching five-foot seas.

But keep in mind, if any of that debris did float further to the south, 20 foot seas there, so very difficult to see anything that could be floating around. Also, keep in mind, you're look at the currents. At least today, anything in that area would kind of stay in that region as the currents go in that circular fashion. But again, hard to say in the last several weeks now whether or not that has been the case.

What we're going to be looking also to the north still not ruling it out. While it's that hurricane season or that cyclone season in the southern Indian -- up north, it is still winter. So, several days, continue to look at fronts moving through the area today, kind of moving through Kazakhstan, you can see another cold front pushing through, definitely some inclement weather, every couple of days, they're going to be looking for this.

Large storms, we're talking about peaks over 20,000 feet high and poor visibility conditions in the region. So, something they're still not going to be ruling out there as well.

So, you're talking about really inclement weather in the north and further down to the south, the threat for cyclones. At least today, there's nothing in that region.


PEREIRA: They don't need any more challenges in the search.

CUOMO: Nope. I don't think you could have more variables than they're dealing with right now. PEREIRA: That's a good way of putting it. All right.

CUOMO: All right. We're going to take a break here on NEW DAY. When we come back we'll continue the coverage of the Flight 370. We've learned data was deleted off the pilot's personal flight simulator. Why? What kind of data is this unusual? Well, fortunately, we have a man who knows the answers. We have our own flight simulator and take you through what is known and unknown.


PEREIRA: Welcome back to NEW DAY.

Breaking news this morning in the disappearance of Flight 370. Now, according to Malaysian authorities, some data from the pilot's in-home flight simulator was deleted. No indication yet what exactly was deleted and no confirmation that it was the pilot that is the one that did the deleting of that data.

Forensic investigators are trying to retrieve the erased information. Here's the question, though, is it suspicious?

Let's bring in Les Abend. He's a 777 pilot and CNN aviation analyst.

Good to have you back with us.

And Jay Leboff is here. He's flying our virtual Boeing 777. He's CEO of and he actually designs this simulator.

Les, I want to talk to you about this new data about the information being deleted from pilot's in-home simulator. Is that nefarious to you at first blush?

LES ABEND, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, pilots are organized people. And we try to keep our life that way. It may have been deleted because he felt there wasn't enough space on the hard drive. But I don't really see it as something nefarious.

PEREIRA: It doesn't set any flags off for you? But how about you, in terms of the capacity of a hard drive, is this a regular maintenance thing somebody would do to clear out space on their hard drive or did these files not take up a lot of space?

JAY LEBOFF, HOTSEATSIM.COM: That would be very unusual to go in and delete a file. A flight is saved in a folder, a menu folder and it represent as tiny bit of space. It's not gigabytes, it's kilobytes.

PEREIRA: OK. So, it's a little bit of information.

ABEND: But as pilots we may not have that information let's get it out of the way. We don't have information and just say, you know, let's just delete --


ABEND: We don't have knowledge of that kind of IT information. PEREIRA: OK. The information that was deleted, obviously investigators are going to do what they can, forensic experts are going to try to get that data back and figure out what was deleted. What could it point to?

It could point to what they were training for?

ABEND: Possibly. I mean if you go with that scenario.


PEREIRA: Even non-nefarious, right? Either way.

ABEND: Yes, right. Possibly, maybe he had a recurrent training coming up and trying out various abnormalities, you know, engine out procedures, you know, on the entire flight. So, yes, it's possible that company have been just doing -- getting prepared for regular recurrent training program.

PEREIRA: In terms of this notion that the data was deleted about a month they are looking at, about a month before the flight disappeared what does that say to you? Does it say anything to you?

ABEND: Not really. I mean -- not really. It doesn't really -- you know, I go back to that, that he might have been preparing for a recurrent training program or just enjoying himself.

PEREIRA: So, you can point to either side, nefarious or non- nefarious, and say that they support either way?

ABEND: Of course, yes.

PEREIRA: How about you? Do you think that it says to you something in your gut, to set off a red flag?

LEBOFF: Well, the way this works is you would be setting a location, an altitude and a heading, and the purpose of saving it would be to return to it.


LEBOFF: So, for instance in this scene joy set this plane up at 35,000 feign hit the reset button, it's going to reload that flight at exactly where I tell it to start.

So, the purpose of saving it is to practice a flight from a particular location at a particular heading, altitude, and air speed, and then you would fly it from that beginning point on. So, the purpose of saving it would be to return to a point in space or a location and then fly from that.


LEBOFF: So many times we'll save locations like if we want to fly out of LaGuardia.


LEBOFF: We'll name it with a plane.

PEREIRA: See as you name a file in your computer. To that end in terms of retrieving this data -- is it you know -- I lost information on my hard drive that I can't find it? We know these guys are much more capable than any of us are. They'll be able to easily retrieve this data and look at it and examine what was he was training?

LEBOFF: If the file exists you would reload and --

PEREIRA: Put it right back up. In terms of safety features on this, on a simulator are there any protections, or security you would have?

LEBOFF: You could run failure modes. If a pilot is training, there's all kind of failure modes for a pilot to train in that event. That's typically what a simulator would be used for.

ABEND: He may have been simply embarrassed with his performance on a flight simulator and didn't want a memory of that particular occurrence.

PEREIRA: Do most flying pilots, working pilots, do they have simulators, they either have in home or they have access to?

ABEND: Microsoft has a simulator. For the most part I would say no --

PEREIRA: Because you're flying enough to keep your skills up.

ABEND: This is like going to work for me. But, you know, other pilots are very into -- they enjoy it. It becomes a hobby to them.

So, it's not typical, but then, again, you know it's not unusual.

PEREIRA: Bottom line to you it doesn't set out any major red flag?

ABEND: It really doesn't.

PEREIRA: OK. Well, we want to thank both of you for bringing in. This is fantastic. We've enjoyed having this simulator.

Les Abend is our aviation analyst and Jay Leboff bringing in the simulator and taking us into a bit of a voyage today. Thank you, gentlemen, for being here.

LEBOFF: My pleasure.

PEREIRA: All right. Chris, over to you.

CUOMO: Important stuff, Mick, because people hear he deleted the information and it sounds so suggestive. It's great to have somebody who understand the system to take you through why it may not be that spectacular someone deleted. That's what testing these ideas is all about. Let's take a break here on NEW DAY. When we come back, the families of those 239 families on board -- they are desperate or answers and obviously they are slow and coming. Now, they are getting desperate themselves, threatening a hunger strike if they don't get more information.

We also hear about stark words from Vice President Biden this morning. He said NATO allies will be defended after Russia grabs Crimea. Is the region poised for war? We're going to bring you the latest.