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Objects Detected in South Indian Ocean; Agony of Flight 370 Families

Aired March 20, 2014 - 04:30   ET


ALASTAIR ROSENSCHEIN, AVIATION CONSULTANT: And in fact, that is -- you know, that location is consistent with the full length of time the aircraft could fly with the fuel load it had.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Alastair Rosenschein, thank you so much for being with us this morning, helping us understand what we're seeing right now, which, again, are these two satellite images right now of debris, some 1,400 miles off the coast of Australia, the biggest of these images about 79 feet long.

This is really just the beginning now of a process that will continue, if this does turn out to be pieces of Flight 370. You know, that's just the debris. Then they have to go through the hard work of recovering the black boxes, flight data recorder. We know from the Air France flight, that can take up to two years.

So, this could just be the beginning. Nevertheless, it is possibly a breakthrough this morning. We are covering every angle of it from the ground in Australia, in Kuala Lumpur, all over the world.

We will be back right after this.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BERMAN: Breaking news this morning in the mystery of Flight 370: debris spotted. Australian officials reporting two objects possibly related to the vanished jetliner have been discovered in the southern Indian Ocean.

We have live, team coverage from all the key locations, breaking down the very latest on this investigation, including how the families are reacting to this news this morning.

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

ROSA FLORES, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Rosa Flores, in for Christine Romans. It's 4:34 in the East, 1:34 in the West. We are glad that you're with us.

We are covering this like only CNN can, from every single angle from around the world. BERMAN: And we would like to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world as we deliver this breaking news of a possible breakthrough on day 13 of the search for Flight 370.

Australia's prime minister announcing that debris has been spotted in the southern Indian Ocean, two floating objects. You're looking at them right now. They may have come, maybe -- that's the hope, we just don't know yet. Could they have come from the missing jetliner?

Listen to what Prime Minister Tony Abbott told his parliament earlier this morning.


TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: The Australian Maritime Safety Authority has received information based on satellite imagery of objects possibly related to the search. Following specialist analysis of this satellite imagery, two possible objects related to the search have been identified.


BERMAN: Now, the fact that this announcement came from the Australian prime minister I think shows you the significance of it right now. These are the actual satellite images of the two floating objects that are raising so many hopes that, perhaps, some sign of Flight 370 has finally been found. Let's find out more now about these images, about how they were uncovered.

Let's now go to Perth, Australia. Andrew Stevens is there.

Andrew, what can you tell us?

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, those images we are looking at, which have been the center of what the maritime officials are calling the strongest lead so far, actually came from Australian satellite intelligence. They picked these up, and they were described, actually, at the press conference with the coordinators of the search as being indistinct, and they certainly are indistinct. We know the biggest measures about 80 feet long, but we can't get much more detail than that.

Now, what happens now is that actually, commercial satellites will focus, retune their footprint into that area to try to pick up those objects again and get much more high-resolution pictures.

So, that's what we're waiting for. We're not quite sure how big a process that's going to take.

While that happens, though, planes from here, from the air force base, Australian air force base -- I'm outside, just on the outskirts of Perth -- have been using this base as a staging post. We've got four long-range surveillance planes which have been heading out all day (INAUDIBLE) the idea is to eyeballs on that wreckage.

Those satellite pictures, I should point out, the dateline there is March 16th, so we are a few days on from that. That debris, those objects will have drifted.

So, what's happening is these long-range recognizance planes from Australia, New Zealand, a P8 from the U.S., which is an ultra sophisticated surveillance aircraft, have been to this area. They stay there for a couple of hours. They stagger it so there's always a plane in the air around that area.

We haven't heard yet whether they have actually located those objects by good, old-fashioned eyesight. There has been tweets coming from ABC that radar has picked up objects in the water in the right zone. But at this stage, we don't know what they are.

And as in all of this, and as we so well know now, John, this is all to be underlined with extreme caution. The Australian prime minister is saying it, the search authorities in Cambria are saying it. Everyone is saying it.

Yes, it's a potential lead. But no, it's not a done deal. There have been so many false leads so far. This one, although looking promising at this stage, to try to solve this mystery, is by no means definite.

FLORES: Now, as we look at these images and we know that it's about 1,400 miles southwest of Perth, tell us, what is there and what difficulties are authorities going to have getting there and identifying these pieces of debris?

STEVENS: The short answer is there's not much there at all. It is the deep southern Indian Ocean. This is one of the more remote bodies of water in the world. It's getting towards the high southern latitudes, where the weather systems can be pretty ferocious, not a big maritime passage area, either, not a particularly big air corridor. There's no land nearby.

Just to put this into context, western Australia, on the west coast of Australia where Perth is, the capital of western Australia, is the most isolated state capital in the world, and it goes for another -- these objects we're talking about go for another 1,500 miles southwest into the sea from there, basically into nothing.

So, the problems are: (a), locating it; (b), weather is going to play such a critical part in this now, because to get that visual recognition, you need clear visibility. They don't have clear visibility out there. That's what we're being told, visibility is not good. The sea conditions are moderate.

So, put those together and we've still got a mountain to climb. The rescue coordinators were saying at the press conference just a couple of hours ago that don't expect and don't be surprised if we don't find anything today. And when I say today, where I am, we've probably got another three hours of daylight left in the search zone. There's probably another four hours of daylight left.

BERMAN: Andrew Stevens for us in Perth, Australia. It could be hours before we know whether there are more images available of this debris, whether they get a better look at it. Andrew, our thanks to you. For more now on what they're looking at on this search, let's go to Sydney, Australia, and bring in aviation expert Tom Ballantyne, chief correspondent of "Orient Aviation Magazine."

And, Tom, let me ask you about the debris itself, because we're looking at the pictures right now. We understand the largest piece of debris about 78, 79 feet long.

Is that a piece -- with your experience here -- that could possibly be a piece of this plane?

TOM BALLANTYNE, ORIENT AVIATION MAGAZINE: Oh, yes, absolutely. I mean, excuse me for using metric measurements, but that 79 feet is about 24 meters.

Now, if you look at a Boeing 777-200, the height of the tail is around about the 18-meter mark, the wingspan is 60-odd meters. So, it could easily be the part of one wing.

From nose to tail, the aircraft is something like 69 meters. So, it could quite easily be a part of fuselage.

It could very easily be a part of an aircraft. And the fact is that it isn't a location in which the Australians, the Americans, the New Zealanders were specifically targeting. And they specifically targeted that area for a reason. They had intelligence information that suggested this might be the area where the aircraft had gone to.

FLORES: Now, every piece of information that we've been receiving has just been so important, but this has been the biggest development that we've seen since this story broke.

Now, there's something called an emergency transmitter, an ELT, that goes off when an aircraft hits the water. Wouldn't we know about this ELT and the signal that would go off, or perhaps is that just one piece of the puzzle that we don't have at this point?

BALLANTYNE: Well, we would know about it if we were within range, and I think as the pilot, Alastair, pointed out earlier on, the actual location of that could be hundreds of miles away from where the wreckage is because of the drift factor.

And the fact is that if this is a part of the aircraft and we find that it is, then that's only the beginning of solving this puzzle. There's still a great, long, complex business to go through of modeling the drifts, the winds to see where that wreckage started out and then going to that area and trying to locate the flight data recorder, the black box, which puts out a signal. It could be hundreds of kilometers away from where they are searching for these pieces of wreckage.

BERMAN: Tom, that's because, just to be clear about this, in your mind, the flight data recorder, that would be at point of impact, if, in fact, there was a point of impact. That would be at the point of impact, which could be thousands of miles away from these pictures of debris we're looking at on the screen now. These pictures -- these pieces of debris could have floated thousands of miles away from where this plane, if it did go down, where it did go down.

BALLANTYNE: That's absolutely right. The two black boxes, which is the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder, which are in the tail of the aircraft, they would not float. They would sink to the bottom.

So, they would be in the very, very deep ocean, as Andrew has pointed out, and will probably, if they actually do locate them, they'll need deep sea submersibles to try and find them.

BERMAN: All right. Our thanks to Tom Ballantyne.

As Tom points out, this is just the beginning of the search, because if these pieces of debris turn out to be from Flight 370, it means the black boxes could be 1,000 miles away. When they locate those, it could take much, much longer to find them. Remember, Air France, they were not able to really get that until two full years after the crash, even though they did know where it went down.

Nevertheless, as Rosa's said all morning, this is the biggest development maybe of the last 13 days. So, what about the families? What about the people in Malaysia right now?

Cautious and hopeful, that is how Malaysian officials are reacting to word of this debris sighting in the southern Indian Ocean. The Flight 370 families, they have been briefed. The Malaysians have dispatched navy ships and helicopters to assist with the search.

Our Sara Sidner tracking the latest developments now from Kuala Lumpur.

Sara, what can you tell us this morning?

SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, I think you just mentioned, you know, that they're going to be sending from Malaysia six ships with three helicopters, and it gives you some idea of how seriously they are taking this new information that the Australian prime minister called new and credible information but did not promise, of course, that the debris that they saw, that the objects they've seen via satellite were, indeed, from that missing flight, MH370.

But you can see that the Malaysians as well as the Australians are being very cautious with their language, always giving that caveat that until they're able to put their eyes on this and get a hold of these objects, or at least get to see them close up, they cannot guarantee that they have anything to do with this missing flight. We heard from the acting transportation minister, who just said that we have to be careful, we have to be cautious, we don't want to jump to conclusions. The families have already been through so much.

Of course, they have been criticized for especially the timeline, how long it's been taking not only to get information out to investigators, not only how long it's been taking to get assets moving and get other people's assets moving that have been taking part in this particular search, but also for the families who keep getting information and then that information changes so much.

There is a bit of hope being given to the families, and then that hope is snatched away. The families exhausted, emotionally exhausted by all of this, John.

BERMAN: All right. Our Sara Sidner in Kuala Lumpur. Sara points out, no one can promise anything right now because they just need to get a better look at this debris, and this debris is in the middle of nowhere.

FLORES: And she mentioned that something that stands out to me -- she said the Malaysian government being very cautious, and they have been very cautious throughout this entire process. And if we remember, John, yesterday during the press conference that we took live here on this program, the Malaysian transportation minister mentioned that there is information from another government that they were not going to release.

So, I wonder -- it makes me wonder if this is the information that they are releasing today from the Australian government. And of course, these are the pictures that you're looking at on your screen right now, and these are the satellite photos of those two objects that right now there are planes headed that way, there are navy ships headed that way, to try to figure out if these are, indeed, Malaysian Airlines Flight 370.

BERMAN: Officials need to get a better look. We are hoping for a better look soon. We'll tell you what they're finding, right after this.


BERMAN: All right. Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone, and our breaking news coverage of the search for Flight 370.

Big news this morning: Australian authorities announcing they have spotted two objects floating in the south Indian Ocean. They spotted these from satellite imagery. They have now sent jets to locate, to identify this debris, to get a much better look, to try to confirm whether it is, in fact, connected to this missing jetliner.

So many questions for us, so many questions for the families of the 239 people onboard that flight, Flight 370. For them, the last 13 days have just been pure agony. Loved ones have stormed news conferences, they've threatened hunger strikes. They're demanding answers from the Malaysian government.

This morning, finally, as we learn more about this breaking news, maybe they are getting some of those answers.

Our coverage in the search for Flight 370 continues now with David McKenzie, who's been with those families in Beijing.

Good morning, David.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Yes, we've been with these families for 12 days now, and it's hard to imagine how awful this period has been. For all this time, they're getting frustrated, more anger this morning at this hotel, people just wanting the information that they need to get closure on what happened to their loved ones on that flight.

More than 150 passengers on board from China, many of the families here in this hotel behind me, and they have been setting up a vigil here today to try and to find some peace in this terrible process, writing messages on the boards. One person writing, "Son, dad's waiting for you." Another, "We're waiting for you to come home for dinner."

Even through this process and the unlikelihood of any hope, people have been clinging on to hope that their loved ones are alive, John.

And certainly today, they're not saying much, but hanging on to every detail since that new information that Australian authorities might have found some debris in the ocean that they believe could be this plane. But we've been here before, and this agonizing process has been so bad for the families that they have several ambulances here at the scene, emergency workers as well and psychologists telling me that because of these turns and twists in this tale that the response, when it does come, could be overwhelming for these people here -- John.

BERMAN: Certainly do hope they are able to find some peace after everything they've been through.

Our David McKenzie live this morning in Beijing.

And we are continuing to follow the very latest on the hunt for Flight 370, including this debris spotted off the coast of Australia. The question now, what happens next? That after the break.


FLORES: Welcome back. It's 55 minutes past the hour.

We are following breaking news: Australian authorities announcing they've spotted debris in the south Indian Ocean using satellite imagery. You're looking at it on your screen. Debris that could be -- and focus on could be -- from Flight 370.

Let's bring in former pilot and aviation consultant Alastair Rosenschein. He joins us from London.

And, Alastair, there have been so many theories about where this plane could have been. We've seen maps. We've seen redirections, redirections on computers.

What theory does this support, when you see the area where this debris was spotted, where it's been found, and really, what we're learning at this hour -- and you're looking at it on your screen -- it's about 1,400 miles southwest of Perth.

ROSENSCHEIN: Yes, well, that's a very good reason why it would be there. It's also almost certain that another government would have known how it got there. I can expand on that later.

But right now, it's -- you know, when the Australian navy started looking in that particular spot, a spot which I suspected originally the aircraft could well have been at, if you backtrack from there to the Andaman Sea, the track of the aircraft would have taken it over Sumatra or very close to Sumatra. So, I believe this latest information has come from the Indonesian government, probably delayed by a few days, but finally issued. And that allowed them to search in that particular area.

FLORES: All right, Alastair Rosenschein live for us from London. Thank you so much for that perspective.

BERMAN: Again, you've been looking at the photos, the satellite imagery of that debris spotted about 1,400 miles off the coast of Perth, Australia. The largest piece of debris, about 79 feet. There are planes now headed out there, actually, headed back. They've been trying to get good pictures of that. Australian naval vessels on the way also.

We will update you on the next step in this process right after this.