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Families Wait to Find Out if Debris is MH370; Bad Weather Hampers Search Near Perth, Australia; If Found, Takes Years to Find Out What Happened to MH370.

Aired March 20, 2014 - 11:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We're talking about these two pieces of debris spotted by satellite in the Southern Indian Ocean. We want to hone in on exactly where they are, how far they are from land, where they sit on the flight that this plane, this path that it could have taken.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: The man that can do that, Tom Foreman. He joins us from the map room. And you can show us the satellite images and lay it all out for us. Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi Michaela, hi John. Yes, what's going on right now is everyone is trying to close in on this. We told you yesterday that the southern route in this box is where the focus was. This is where they're all going right now to see if they can break down this evidence, bring it into the room with them and actually look at it.

Three key things here. First of all, question of credibility. The government will not look at this if they didn't think it was credible. Second, the issue of size. This will make a difference in this case. The pieces we're talking about are somewhere around 78, 79 feet. This plane, end to end, 200 feet. Side to side, about 200 feet. Can you get a piece out of this of 79 feet? Yes, you can. However many experts caution don't jump down that road too far until you figure out whether or not such a thing could float.

Beyond that, there's the question of location. This is the right location to be finding something like this as we said yesterday. They have an image to think about. It's also a challenging location in terms of finding this. Why? Think about this. The Australians say this is floating beneath the surface of the water. Think how hard it is to spot something on open water with the naked eye slightly below the surface. Once you go deep below the surface, the equation changes. You're talking about going down two miles from the surface to get to the bottom. As much as people talk about the pingers, that's the range, even in good conditions of how far that can go. So the mere fact they have it pinpointed a bit more, still challenges in front of them -- John and Michaela?

BERMAN: An incredible need but still need confirmation. So crucial to point that out.

Tom Foreman, thanks.

Ahead for us at this hour, this information is so important, especially to the families to the people on board that plane. What do you they think of this news? How are they handling the new emotions? We'll find out right after this.


BERMAN: Welcome back everyone.

The families of people on board flight 370 have been through so many emotions, despair, confusion, anger, while trying to hold out hope.

PEREIRA: Now obviously they're waiting to find out if debris spotted in the Indian Ocean is indeed related to flight 370.

Sarah Bajc's partner was on that plane. Here's what she told us here on CNN.


SARAH BAJC, PARTNER OF PHILLIP WILSON: Well, I keep hoping somebody took this flight for a reason, which means they would have preserved it and tried to hide it some place. If this debris is part of that plane, it dashes that wishful thinking to pieces. I really hope it's not a part of the plane. You know, if it is, then at least we can go down another path of deciding that maybe we need to start preparing for another scenario instead.


BERMAN: You can see the conflict they're feeling inside. We want to talk more about these families.

Atika Shubert has been spending time with them. She's joining us on the phone from Kuala Lumpur.

Atika, you've spoken to families. How are they reacting briefed on the investigation and briefed on the debris. What's their reaction?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They've been -- a lot of them are really waiting to see if there's any confirmation. They've just been told the debris has been found. There's no confirmation it's from the plane. Some are still holding out hope that by some miracle the passengers on board have survived. Others are slowly bracing themselves for the possibility of the worst. I would say most families I've spoken to are basically holding judgment and trying to keep calm. In fact, a lot of families that went into the briefing today were very calm. It was very unemotional. Everyone is trying to keep emotions in check hoping to find out more about what exactly has been found out across the coast of Australia.

BERMAN: They've been through so much in the last 13 days. They don't want to jump to conclusions.

Atika Shubert for us in Kuala Lumpur, thanks. PEREIRA: What a torturous limbo.

Let's bring in Robi Ludwig, psychotherapist and author.

Thanks for being here.


PEREIRA: We're trying to imagine. It's impossible to put ourselves in their shoes. Sarah Bajc spoke about being cautiously pessimistic. I'd never heard anybody put it like that. It makes sense when you think about her hope she's holding onto but don't want to let yourself go there.

ROBI LUDWIG, PSYCHOTHERAPIST & AUTHOR: It's a roller coaster ride between hope and despair. When there's no body, it's not like the families saw a plane actually crash. These are missing people. There were reports maybe they were living somewhere else. So the internal images, it's almost like your mind plays tricks on you. You can imagine your family member on a plane in some other country or maybe some deserted island living somewhere, and they're going to walk through the door any moment. That's what happens when there isn't a formal way to grieve and see the body. That's why finding the body members is important for family members. It gives closure. Right now family members have to live in not knowing. As we know, it's harder almost not to know than to know.

BERMAN: One of the things we hear the Malaysia Airlines and the Malaysia government are not going to fly the families to Perth, Australia, yet. There is no conclusive evidence it is debris from the plane. Why do you think they'd want to be closer?

LUDWIG: Again, these family members, the last time they thought about these members on a plane, they were a live and well. So to go from a live and well to missing and a big question mark, it doesn't work well for the human psyche. To get close to the place their family members might be, it's like a grave site. It's to make what seems unreal feel a bit more real. That's what families will need to go through while they're realizing, hey, this family member I love is no longer here, how do I deal with my live moving forward?

PEREIRA: We certainly hope they're getting support from other people going through this same thing. We know other survivors of past incidents have been reaching out to them.


PEREIRA: What a terrible situation.

Robi Ludwig, thank you for joining us --

LUDWIG: Thank you.


PEREIRA: -- to help us look at this. Ahead at this hour, we're going to bring on two veteran pilot and aviation correspondents. They're going to answer you're questions and our questions about this missing flight next.


PEREIRA: All right. So a big problem now for search teams looking for these pieces of debris. Obviously, the bad weather, open ocean, add to that rain and clouds certainly made it hard for surveillance planes and ships to find the objects that the satellites initially located 1,500 miles of the coast of Perth, Australia. That data is four days ago.

BERMAN: The picture took four days to analyze the images. It took that long to analyze it.

Joining us to talk about this search, two veteran pilots, CNN Aviation analyst, Les ABend, from Iowa, I think --


PEREIRA: Connecticut.

BERMAN: Next to Iowa.

And veteran aviation correspondent, Bob Arnett.

Bob, let me start with you. Talk to me about the debris itself. The largest piece 79 feet long. Anything about this that gives you reason to believe it could be from the plane or might not be?

BOB ARNETT, VETERAN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: It really depends how the plane entered the water. After Egypt Air, I was in an airplane looking for debris. It was small because it hit with such speed. Air France was stalled into the ocean. You had a much bigger piece, that famous tail that came up. When Sullenburger landed on the Hudson River, it landed intact. The question is, how did they enter? If the pilots wanted this plane to disappear, I would have landed intact and let it sink. As it sank, would it fall apart and bigger pieces come up? That's one scenario. If they hit the water hard, you expect smaller pieces and not something this big. If you stall it slowly in the water, like Air France, you could expect bigger chunks if they hit lightly. If you ditched it at sea, you could expect bigger chunks.

PEREIRA: Les, you're cautious as we are about making theories about whether this is or isn't. Let's talk about the debris no matter what it is. There's a concern getting there to the spot and locating it because the currents will have affected where it ended up. You add the weather and all these challenges. This is a really instrumental task. It's more than a needle in a haystack.

LES ABEND, CNN AVIATION ANALYST & FORMER 777 PILOT: It really is. From the impact and the fact the picture was taken four days ago. That's -- that piece would be submerged if in fact it's an airplane part. Then if we do find it, there's a debris field that could go for thousands of miles. PEREIRA: The two pieces were 14 miles apart. That may surprise a lot of people.


ABEND: That's just one picture out of the puzzle. The fragmentation part with reference to impact, you know, not dealing with calm seas. We've heard this before. If indeed it was the act or my theory of mechanical and slowly descended into the water, it's possible with high seas, the airplane could have banked and hit this. If indeed that's a wing -- it's conjecture -- if that's a wing, it could have hit at a nature like so and broken off a fairly large piece and the rest fell to chunks. It's the investigation high speed high impact or low speed low impact. The more the speed the more fragments.

BERMAN: We're lucky to have you and Bob with us, couple of experts in the aviation field.

A lot of people on Twitter have been asking questions to CNN the past few days. One person asked flat out, Bob, could you survive a crash like this? I suppose we don't know exactly how it went in the water like you said, but assuming that this debris, if it is part of the plane, is this the type thing anyone could survive?

ARNETT: That's a really good question. If it ditched at sea, it's survivable. I've been through the 777 manual in terms of how you ditch. For example, if you had calm seas, further up in the Indian Ocean might be a good ditching. Otherwise, the seas are as high as 18 feet. What they'll tell you the waves are going like this, you land on the crest of the wave going sideways. A perfect landing would be on top of it, depending on the winds. You have to grab more and more. If they tried to ditch at sea, it's a very tough thing. You know, if like we saw with Sullenburger, it landed intact, you'd have minutes to get out of that, get life rafts out and survive. That would depend on the scenario which we haven't heard so far. And that is would the pilots want to purposely ditch at sea as opposed to crash at sea.

BERMAN: This was 13 days ago.

PEREIRA: Bob Arnett, and Les Abend, thanks so much. Great to have you both here. Appreciate you.


PEREIRA: Ahead at this hour, what if this mystery debris off Australia turns out to be the plane? The answer to what happened to flight 370 could take years. We have somebody with that the theory. We'll talk to him next.


PEREIRA: All right. So even if the debris spotted off the coast of Australia turns out to be the plane, it will be just one answer in a very complicated multilayered puzzle. The big question what happened frankly could still be years away.

BERMAN: Yeah, science journalist, Jeff Wise, is here to talk about this with us.

Jeff, if these two pieces of debris, if they turn out to be the wing, something of this plane, it's just the beginning in terms of investigation.

JEFF WISE, SCIENCE JOURNALIST: Yeah. Now really is where the hard part starts if this is even a start at all. You know, this is very similar to what happened with Air France 447, a plane goes missing over international waters, some debris is located and then comes the process of trying to work backwards from that debris on the surface to the location of the black boxes somewhere on the bottom of the ocean. Inside those boxes are all the answers. We have to find it.

PEREIRA: But hasn't the technology improved even in the five years since that? I mean, you'd think that sort of light speed in technology terms.

WISE: You know, I think we're going to have a lot better chances because of what happened in Air France 447, the lessons we learned and the technology that's come online since then. When they first started looking they were using certain mathematical models to try to calculate the probability of where it might be. They failed. They were plugging in the wrong numbers. They weren't calculating it right. They spent two years looking in the wrong stretch. They recalculated using a new kind of math and found it within a week.

BERMAN: Besides being great at math, what do they need? I mean, what kind of equipment will they use? Are we talking submarines, explorer vessels?

WISE: In Air France 447, they were able to use for the first time a new kind of high-tech underwater autonomous vehicle, basically a robot sub that could on its own navigate under water, go along a straight line and when they get to a mountain range -- it was a very mountainous stretch of ocean -- go up, down, follow the contours. Because you need to be close to the seabed you're scanning to get a good high res image. The previous technology wasn't able to get that close. So we'll be able to use that kind of technology and presumably find it a lot faster.

PEREIRA: Here's the question, who has that technology? The Malaysians have already said we don't have submarine capability, so --

WISE: Americans actually have a bunch of these things. So I'm sure the research institute that has a bunch of these subs will provide them.

BERMAN: Let's talk about the timeframe we're dealing with right here. How important is it to get to these two data sources quickly? There's the voice data recorder and of course the flight data recorder. How quickly do you need to get to them in order for them to tell you what it is you need everyone so desperately wants to know?

WISE: So the clock is ticking. Why? Because inside these black boxes is an acoustic pinger that's sending a signal saying come find me. But they only work for about 30 days. That's what they're certified for, 30 days. So if we can get there -- now, we've used up almost half our time. We have to get within a certain distance to be able to detect this faint acoustic signal. In the case of Air France 447 they didn't get there in time. This water is very deep, up to five kilometers deep.

PEREIRA: Oh, my goodness.

WISE: That's below the -- if it's that deep, it's too far to detect from the surface. So they'll have to go down with subs, with hydrophones, try to listen. It's a huge area of ocean.

PEREIRA: It's a -- I mean, we were just looking at some video right now. One of the search planes -- Australian search planes. We had a photographer on board. You can see the guys throwing buoys overboard to mark the area where they are. And you can see behind them this vast expanse of ocean. It's in the middle of nowhere.

WISE: Somewhere around there is the point in the ocean that's the furthest from land on earth.

BERMAN: Uh-huh.

WISE: This is the southern ocean close to Antarctica, big seas, deep water, strong currents. It's almost the worst possible place to lose something.

BERMAN: 1400 miles, 1460 miles from Perth, Australia. Perth already one of the most isolated cities on earth. Gives you a sense how far this is, almost off the edge of the earth.

Jeff Wise, great to have you here. Thank you so much.

We're following the news all day, the two pieces of debris spotted off the coast of Australia, satellite images, and now there are people out there trying to locate them.

PEREIRA: And remember it is nightfall there, but the search will go on as soon as the sun rises.

That's it for us this hour. I'm Michaela Pereira. Thanks so much for joining us.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman.

"LEGAL VIEW" with Ashleigh Banfield starts after this break.