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EARLY START

Flight 370 Plane Found?; Australian Officials Report Two Objects Spotted in Indian Ocean

Aired March 20, 2014 - 05:30   ET

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


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning in the search for Flight 370. Is this the news that so many people have been hoping for? Debris spotted, possible debris. Australian officials reporting two objects possibly related to the missing jetliner have been spotted in the southern Indian Ocean.

We have live, team coverage, covering this like only CNN can, breaking down the very latest on the 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 is 30 minutes past the hour. We'd like to welcome all our viewers in the United States and around the world.

BERMAN: And we do begin with this breaking news of what some think could maybe be a possible breakthrough on day 13 in the search for Flight 370. Australia's prime minister made the announcement of that debris spotted off the coast. That was several hours ago. But now we're going to take you to another press conference in Kuala Lumpur.

That is the Malaysian defense minister, the acting transportation minister. He is now briefing the press on the latest developments, and there have been a great many. We'll wait for when he begins talking to listen to him. But just to update you again, what they've been talking about and looking at, the debris spotted off the coast of Australia, 1400 miles away, the largest piece possibly about 79 feet long.

We've been waiting to hear what Malaysian officials believe about this. They said, of course, there needs to be much more confirmation right now before hopes get too high. There are planes flying overhead to get a much closer look. There are now naval vessels, surface vessels headed to that region right now to get as close as they can. That will take some time to get there, maybe even days to get there by sea.

But right now, the planes have been flying overhead and are now flying back to Perth, Australia, which is the closest land point.

FLORES: Some of the difficulties that officials are telling us that there could be, of course, is visibility in this area. It's a very remote area, and I believe the -- the minister is -- Transportation minister is starting to speak now. Let's listen in.

HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER: The prime minister of Australia, informing him that two possible objects related to the search for MH-370 had been identified in the southern Indian Ocean. The Australia authorities in Kuala Lumpur have also briefed me on the situation and the Australian Foreign minister has spoken to the Foreign minister of Malaysia.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority continues coordinating the search for the missing Malaysian Airlines aircraft within Australia's search-and-rescue area, with assistance from the Australian Defense Force, the New Zealand Air Force and the U.S. Navy.

Rescue Coordination Center, RCC Australia, has received satellite imagery of objects possibly related to the search for MH-370. RCC Australia received an expert assessment of commercial satellite imagery. The images were captured by satellite. They may not be related to the aircraft. The assessment of these images was provided by the Australian Geopartial Intelligence Organization as a possible indication of debris southwest of Perth.

As a result of this information, four aircraft have been reoriented to the area 2500 kilometers southwest of Perth. A royal Australian Air Force P-3 Orion aircraft arrived in the area at about 10:50 a.m. Another three aircraft have been tasked by RCC Australia to the area, including a second RAAF Orion. A royal New Zealand Air Force Orion and a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon.

The Poseidon was expected to arrive earlier this afternoon. The second RAAF Orion was expected to depart RAAF base -- at Perth midafternoon. The New Zealand Orion was due to depart this afternoon.

An RAAF c-130 Hercules aircraft has been tasked by RCC Australia to drop data mark-up buoys to provide in drift modeling. They will provide an ongoing reference point if the task of relocating the objects becomes perfected.

Much in ship that responded to a shipping broadcast issued by RCC Australia on Monday was also expected to arrive in the area this afternoon. The Royal Australian Navy ship HMS Success is en route to the area but is some days away. The ship is well equipped to recover any objects located and proven to be from MH-370.

Every effort is being made to locate the objects seen in the satellite imagery. It must be stressed that these sightings, while credible, are still to be confirmed.

The search for MH-370 is a multinational effort. I will now give you an update on the assets which have been deployed. During the course of this operation, the chief of the Defense Force has spoken to his counterparts from countries including Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Maldives, Nepal, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, the UK and the USA. All were very supportive and all offered their assistance.

As the focus of the search has moved from the South China Sea and Straits of Malacca to northern and southern corridors, our international partners have continued to provide whatever support they can. A number of assets have been deployed at different phases of the search-and-rescue operation, and currently, there are 18 ships, 29 aircraft and six ship-borne helicopters deployed along the northern and southern corridors as follows.

In the northern corridor, there are four aircraft, two from Malaysia, one from Japan and one from the U.S. In the southern corridor, there are 25 aircraft, two from Malaysia, five from Australia, three from China, four from Indonesia, two from India, four from Japan, one from New Zealand, two from South Korea, one from the UAE and one from the U.S. of A.

All 18 ships are in the southern corridor, six from Malaysia, one from Australia, five from China and six from Indonesia. This deployment includes six helicopters, three from Malaysia and three from China.

Until we are certain that we have located MH-370, search-and-rescue operations will continue in both corridors. I can confirm that Malaysia is sending two aircraft to Kazakhstan, and the UK is planning to send one ship to the southern corridor.

In addition to the assets I just listed above, a number of countries in the northern corridor are carrying out search-and-rescue operations within their own territory. China is using every means possible, including 21 satellites, to search the area within its borders and is ready to send more ships and aircraft wherever they are needed.

In Cambodia, four helicopters are conducting search operations within Cambodia territory. The Laos Air Force is carrying out search operations within Laos. Singapore are using their International Information Fusion Center, where a Malaysian representative is stationed to notify mariners and help with the search.

The Thai military are conducting search operations in the northern part of Thailand with all available aircraft. And Vietnam are conducting search operations within their territory using an unspecified number of aircraft.

Together, this represents a significant international force deployment, and I am thankful for the cooperation of our partners, as we continue to focus on finding MH-370.

Families, the high-level team I announced yesterday is leaving for Beijing this evening. I would also like to confirm that representatives from the Malaysian government spoke to the families who were present here yesterday. In addition, the prime minister's special envoy to China and the Chinese ambassador to Malaysia will lead a briefing today for the Chinese families who are here in Kuala Lumpur.

Also in attendance will be the Department of Civil Aviation, the Armed Forces, the Royal Malaysian Police, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and MES. A similar briefing will also be held for the other families.

Ladies and gentlemen, for the families around the world, the one piece of information that we want most, that they want most, is the information we just don't have, the location of MH-370. Our primary focus has always been to find the aircraft, and with every passing day, our efforts have intensified.

Yesterday I said we wanted to reduce the area of the search. We now have a credible lead. There remains much work to be done to deploy these assets and this work will continue overnight.

Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, now we will have the Q&A session. We'll start with the local media. We'll start from this corner, please. Local media? OK.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It now seems that we have a credible lead in the southern. The focus now in (INAUDIBLE) will be less? Second, is there other country that requested that we deploy more assets in our effort?

HUSSEIN: I've listed down all the assets that we have deployed, and we have not de-intensified those efforts. But we are intensifying the area, the search area in which we had that credible lead from the Australian authorities.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, please.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Keith from ESM 89.9.

HUSSEIN: Hi, Keith.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know the priority is to find the aircraft and we are doing all we can and we will never give up looking for the aircraft, but judging from the commotion that we saw yesterday, I think it's fair that we should address these couple of things.

The way this incident is shaping up, so many instances where leads turn up to be nothing. I see four possible outcomes. Number one, the plane is found, everyone is OK, maybe injured, but we know how to move on from there. Number two, the plane or debris is found, everyone is perished. We also know how to move on from there. Number three, someone claims responsibility, so we know its fate, we also know how to move on from there.

The fourth one is that there is no evidence, no proof for a prolonged period of time. How do we go forward, just bear in mind that life still needs to go on, bills need to be paid, mortgages need to be settled? What would your position be as the leader of this search operation?

Thank you, sir.

HUSSEIN: Yes, I know this is a very pertinent question, but as of today, I can only tell you on a daily basis today what I am comfortable with saying is that at least there is a credible lead, and that credible lead requires us overnight that we verify and corroborate it. That gives us hope. As long as there is hope, we will continue. And that is why I said that it is a priority to find the aircraft, and possibly the black box. But to be fair to the families, we must also show that we must never, never give up hope.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, your question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My question is, when was (INAUDIBLE) particular flight released? Was it before the February or after February?

HUSSEIN: The second?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That you (INAUDIBLE) for this particular flight, was it released before February or after February?

AHMAD JAUHARI YAHYA, MALAYSIA AIRLINE CEO: We normally, you know, release it as normal. There is change in term of -- it's just a normal (INAUDIBLE) also. We don't release before.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please, could you pass the mike over to the gentleman in that corner, please. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking in foreign language)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Introduce yourself --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking in foreign language)

BERMAN: All right, you've been watching a press conference from Malaysia right now. That's the Malaysian Defense minister, the Transportation minister, talking about the search for Flight 370, commenting on this possible debris sighting off the coast of Australia. The Malaysian Defense minister calls this new lead credible but still needs confirmation.

You're looking at the satellite images right now, those two possible pieces of debris. The largest could be up to 79 feet long. That news from Australia overnight. The Malaysian Defense minister is announcing that just, really, an enormous amount of resources dispatched in the search right now, 18 ships, 29 aircraft, 36 helicopters.

An Australian Naval Defense vessel headed to the region right now. He says that could take days for it to get on scene from where that debris is believed to have been sighted 1400 miles off the coast of Australia. And one other piece of information, I believe he says there is a commercial vessel, though, in the region that could arrive within hours from there. So that's interesting in and of itself.

So let's talk about all this that we have just learned and all the news that's been coming in all overnight. It's been so busy.

We want to bring in David Soucie, a CNN safety analyst, former FAA inspector, the author of "Why Planes Crash." Also with us, Les Abend, a Boeing 777 pilot and CNN aviation analyst.

David, I want to start with you because you've been talking about the length of time that it will take to get to this area where the debris has been spotted.

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Yes, the ships take a long time to get there. It's just simply that. Even at flank speed, even at their highest speed, it could take 40, 50 hours to get there. But more importantly, I think what I'm impressed with is the amount of resources from so many different countries working together. That's unprecedented in any accident investigation I'm aware of. But let's talk about the Orion just for a moment.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Those are some of the planes that are now headed to that area, presumably have actually flown over it by this point.

SOUCIE: Right. Right. The Orion has been around since the '60s. It was designed for antisubmarine, so it's got sensing equipment on it that is the top of the -- is best you could ever hope for as far as finding not only what's floating on the water, but what's submerged in the water.

So I give some really good hope that they're going to find this piece, even though it's been four days since the satellite. If those -- if it's out there, I think those Orions will be able to find it.

FLORES: How deep would it go? Because I know we were mentioning earlier that this is a pretty deep part of the Indian Ocean.

SOUCIE: It's approximately about 6,000 feet deep, I think about this -- about that right now. But the good thing about it is when we talked about the ELT and the transmitting of it, what prevented that from really making any kind of a noise and being able to find the black boxes was another issue with Flight 447. It was 13,000 feet, almost twice as deep as what we're looking at now, and it was a mountainous-type terrain underneath there.

This is a fairly flat terrain. So the chance of any kind of interruption from that signal being able to transfer or transmit past that one mile of water and out into the rest, it has a few miles extra.

BERMAN: Les, the Malaysian Defense minister being clear, this is credible information now, these new leads, this possible debris sighting. He calls it credible but he says it still needs confirmation.

LES ABEND, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Yes, that' -- I thought that was a very articulate speech that he offered, especially I think he was talking more to the families than anybody else. But one of the -- one of the things that I was considering during part of our break was that if, indeed -- I'll go out on a limb and say that's possibly a wing because of the length. You know, 78 feet would be bigger than the tail, so that's why I'm going that direction. And the wing may have been -- if, indeed, it flew around for a while, it would be empty.

What would be interesting about it, but you can start the beginning of a real accident investigation from the standpoint of what part of that wing broke off, how it fragmented, and so you might be able to gain some insight on to how it impacted the water, you know. Did it just simply run out of fuel into the ocean? Did it impact at an angle?

So there are some pretty sharp people out there with accident investigation that may be able to determine that before we even have other pieces of the airplane so.

FLORES: And if it did run out of fuel, what would happen? Is a landing possible? Would it crash into the ocean?

ABEND: Well, I mean, if it -- if it was under a pilot control, I mean, certainly, me as a pilot, I would attempt just like, you know, the miracle on the Hudson, I would certainly attempt a decent landing on the water. Of course, you know, this is -- this would have been a rough water situation from all the information that I've been seeing. But regardless, I probably would have landed, you know, parallel to the waves.

I mean, this is stuff that we read about, not necessarily practice, because it's just -- the likelihood of that happening.

BERMAN: David, one of the things we thought we heard the Defense minister say was that it was a commercial vessel actually fairly close by where they believe this debris has been spotted. What kind of help can that provide?

SOUCIE: Well, that's really good news, actually, because in order to identify whether it's an aircraft, you have to be on the water, if it's an aircraft part. Looking at it from the sea -- I mean, from the air, you won't be able to really tell what it is. So if the merchant ship can get there, get it up out of the water and get some pictures back and take a look at it and see what it is and verify that that is the aircraft, then rather than going to that location and spending a lot of time there, they can also deploy to where they would anticipate it, hit it with the point of impact, what we call the scatter point. That's the place to focus if you're looking for that black box.

(CROSSTALK)

FLORES: So they would actually be able to take it out of the water? That wouldn't be like tampering with any evidence or anything or --

SOUCIE: At this point, it's a matter of --

FLORES: It's a matter of getting it quickly.

SOUCIE: -- identifying what it is. You know.

CUOMO: This is just the beginning of the process right now, if this debris does turn out to be part of Flight 370.

David Soucie, Les Abend, thank you so much for being with us this morning. Really appreciate it.

We are continuing to follow the breaking news that has been developing all night on the search for Flight 370, these possible pieces of debris. You're looking at them right now, found some 1400 miles off the coast of Australia. I say found. Spotted by satellite. They have planes, they have ships now headed to the area to see if they can get a better look. We will tell you the latest updates, how those planes are doing, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All right. Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. We do have some breaking news just into CNN, this from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. They just sent out information that one of their planes, the P-3 crew that's been sent to the area where satellite images believe there could be possible debris, that plane has come back and has been unable to locate any debris yet because of cloud and rain, limited visibility.

They have more aircraft right now out there searching the area. Again, just a reminder, there has been satellite images of possible debris some 1400 miles off the coast of Australia, spotting two pieces that could be floating in the ocean right now. You're looking at them right now. Planes have been searching for this debris right now, but the first plane back unable to locate it so far because of clouds, rain and limited visibility, and it is crucial for planes or for surface vessels to get their eyes on this possible debris.

FLORES: And we have been talking about this, this morning, how difficult it was going to be to get there, how difficult both the visibility and the weather conditions were going to be there. You're looking a map -- looking at a map right now. This gives you an idea of that search area. It's about 1400 miles southwest of Perth, Australia, and there are Navy ships on the way, there have been aircraft that have been dispatched.

And the goal here is to get eyeballs on this debris to identify what it is because right now all we have are those images that you're looking at on your screen. Now these are satellite images. You can see that they're a bit grainy, they're difficult to discern what that is. But like the Malaysian minister, Transportation minister said a little while ago, this is credible, but it needs to be confirmed, and those are the efforts that are going on right now on the air and by sea, trying to confirm what these images, in fact, are.

Now one of the things that we've been talking about, too, is just the time, the time that these pictures were taken and when the search started for MH-370, and then now all of these new developments. Of course, we are following all of these developments and lots of information.

BERMAN: We've been following it all morning. Right now again the latest is the first planes to fly overhead where they believe this debris could be, the first planes were not able to spot any debris yet because of rain, because of clouds, because of low visibility. But again, satellites have picked up what could be two pieces of possible debris some 1400 miles off the coast of Australia.

"NEW DAY" will cover all the new information that's coming in at this very moment right after the break. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)