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Objects Almost 1,500 Miles From Australia Could Possibly Be Missing Flight; Clouds And Rain Limit Search Visibility

Aired March 20, 2014 - 06:00   ET

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


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to NEW DAY. I'm Chris Cuomo. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. We are following breaking developments off the coast of Australia. Authorities are saying they have their best lead so far in the search for Malaysia Flight 370 and you are looking at it right now. This, they believe, are pictures of debris captured by Australian satellites, the obvious question, is what you're looking at part of the missing jet?

Investigators say they had the image for several days. They now feel confident enough to at least go out and try to see what they can find. For more on this, let's get to Kate Bolduan live in Kuala Lumpur -- Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Chris, thank you so much. Good morning once again, everyone from Malaysia. On day 13, if you can believe it, of this search. Australian officials do say that those two objects seen bobbing around in the Southern Indian Ocean could be debris from the aircraft. One piece is almost 79 feet long. It's about, you could estimate, the same length as one wing coming from a 777. That is getting way of ahead of where we are right now.

Search planes headed to the debris field almost 1,500 miles off the coast of Perth to get a better look. But the Australian Maritime Safety Authority just minutes ago, they tweeted the crew has been unable to locate any debris that's thanks partly to limited visibility because of rain and clouds. That could hamper the search somewhat, of course.

Still if you want a frame of reference for how far Flight 370 may have gone if this debris is from the plane is about 3,000 miles south of Kuala Lumpur where I am joining from this morning. That's more than half way to Antarctica. Again, this isn't definitive, but one Australian official calls it probably the best lead that we have right now.

That's what that came straight from Australian officials. We have CNN's resources deployed around the world to bring you the very latest this morning. Let's start with Andrew Stevens who is live in Perth, Australia, where it truly is a race against time to get visual confirmation of what those objects are in the water.

As sun set approaches, Andrew, you were telling us that the planes are still out there, but what do we know so far from your vantage point? ANDREW STEVENS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's been interesting, Kate, because that tweet you mentioned, that's really frustrating development for the searchers, rain and low cloud hampering visibility there. We've had four planes from Australia, New Zealand and from the U.S. out on that target area. The area that the Australian prime minister says is new and credible. Underlying credible information. That's coming from the prime minister's office, the highest office in the land. There is a lot of hope this will lead to something. There is still that hope that we may find --

CUOMO: All right, we lost Andrew for now. We'll get back to him when we can. The obvious question is does this debris actually mean crews are any closer to finding the jet liner? If it is the plane, what does it say about how it got there? All right, let's bring in Richard Quest. Please Richard, this is --

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Good morning.

CUOMO: Yes, it's an interesting time in terms of let's just diagram what they believe at this time. The most important detail probably has nothing to do with the map. Several days ago, they got the satellite images. They've been doing analysis of it. They feel confident enough to go look. However, it will not be where it was three days ago. That's part of the calculus here. Take us through starting with Malaysia. Retrace the steps of what they believed happened during the flight, the arcs and understanding of satellite data that take us to where they are looking now.

QUEST: So if we start up here in Kuala Lumpur, let's put a mark just on Kuala Lumpur here, roughly where we would have begun the journey. We know the plane came out in the South China Sea and the bay of Thailand. That was the last known point where it made the turn. So the plane makes the turn and then heads back over.

Now we know also that the plane came back over the Malaysian Peninsula. That is the last known ping, if you like. We don't know what happened after there. The two arcs that we've been talking about, one arc goes that way up towards Kazakhstan. They no longer believe that is the operative one.

CUOMO: And one of the reasons for that is they've had reporting from just about every country except for Ukraine and Crimea, which is obviously they have the wrong confusion now. Nobody has reported having any sense of anything coming into their airspace.

QUEST: And the Bay of Bengal has been well and truly searched by the Indian forces and nothing has been found. So in any event, the main focus of attention has been down into the southern arc and this is the vast area that we have been talking about.

CUOMO: Some of it is extremely deep. Weather conditions are also relevant right now, right?

QUEST: They are now indeed because we now know it is overcast. It's misty. We know that the conditions are, I think, they're calling it moderate. That means they weren't able to spot anything. But several days ago satellite telemetry did show that there was debris about 1,400 miles off the southwest coast of Australia. So that is Perth. That's Perth just about there, just on the coast. There we go.

CUOMO: It slipped. The positioning was right, it just slipped.

QUEST: I'll take your word for it and then we come out into India. So you're talking about this sort of area is where the debris was last seen.

CUOMO: All right, so let's go with the factors there. If this is where it was --

QUEST: Two pieces of debris, about 14 miles apart.

CUOMO: Right. Why would that happen? Ocean currents, wind are very important right now. The fact that they're having white cap seas, that means two things for searchers. One, visibility. It's going to be hard to see things. Two, it's going to increase the speed that things are moving, something that is important, even if they're right about what this debris is. It doesn't mean that's where the entire plane is.

QUEST: Absolutely not. I want to remind us what we're talking about here. You're talking about very, very small amounts. Approximately 24 meters for that one. Approximately five meters for that one, 14 miles apart and we're talking about it 1,400 miles off the coast.

CUOMO: So when you see that dot. That dot is so much bigger by scale. Even though it looks like a small dot on your TV right now, if you can see it, it is so much bigger than what they're looking for relative to the area, hundreds of times though.

QUEST: And the sort of questions that they'll be looking at is the route that plane might have taken. They'll know the winds. They'll know the tides. They'll know -- the oceanographers are extremely experienced working this sort of thing out. But even so, plotting a route that would have taken it on that arc that would have then allowed it to have the incident happen around here and debris to move, to be found -- to be finding debris off the southwest coast of Australia, we might have thought it would have been here, back into the Southeast Asia region. But to be finding it way down into the southeast ocean is something.

CUOMO: Reasons for confidence, U.S. military, Australian military have believed for some time when using cross referencing what they knew about the last pings and handshakes, these terms we've been hearing, which the Thai government had identified as a potential arc. They started to think that this was a more likely realm and these satellite images happen to coincided with one of those arcs giving them a little greater confidence.

You're going to start hearing the terms today, flotsam and jetsam. People are going to start using them. They're hoping this could be flotsam, which is the debris of a shipwreck at opposed to jetsam. Something that's been intentionally discarded.

QUEST: Correct. Flotsam is what was -- a shipwreck jetsam is what was thrown over to save the ship.

CUOMO: So you'll start hearing these terms. That's what they are hoping. That's their cause for confidence. This area is on one of the arcs they were studying.

QUEST: The one thing we have heard in the last few minutes and I think Kate was just reporting is that the first planes who have been over the area because it's going to take some time to get assets, planes and ships into this area. By the way, there is a merchant ship also involved in the search much it's going to take some time to get people out there.

The first search has come back unsuccessful. This is more than the needle in a hay stack. Maybe it's a pitch fork or a dinner fork in the hay stack. But it's still an extremely long option, to find it, to drop the buoy so that they can locate it again and then to retrieve it so that they can get the confidence of what it might be.

CUOMO: Initially they'll try to get a visual inspection. That will by the air. Again, just to, you know, deal with controlling expectations, it's going to take a while to get there even by plane. The conditions are not good. We'll have our meteorologist, Indra Petersons throughout the morning explaining what those conditions are. They have been studying these images for days. They feel confident enough to look but beyond that, nobody is willing to take a step in term of what this debris is in until they find it.

Again search conditions are very difficult. It may be slow and coming for more information. Richard, thank you for helping us understand how we might have gotten to this point. For reporting on the ground, let's get back to Kate who is in Malaysia -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Now let's turn to the families once again of passengers on that flight. It's been almost two weeks of pure agony with little to no concrete information coming their way. Atika Shubert is here in Kuala Lumpur with me. Atika, how are the families coping with the news of this potential discovery?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we've heard from family members is that they're being cautious right now. They've had their hopes up and then crushed in the same day and all they want to know is whether or not this is actually confirmed. I had the chance to speak with the father of one of the passengers on board. What he told me is this -- he said he has hope that all the passengers are safe. But if it's true the plane has been found, he told me I will accept that, too.

He also thanked Australian and Malaysian government for doing their best to search for plane, but he said he still needs confirmation. He is hoping to get that later tonight. We understand Malaysian Airway officials are having a briefing with family members at 8:00. We're hoping for more details then -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: All right, Atika, thank you very much. Let's go from Kuala Lumpur over to Beijing. Most of the passengers, more than half of the passengers on that flight, on Flight 370, are from China. Families there understandably also on edge. Their frustration has been visibly spilling over in the past few days. David McKenzie has been with family members gathered in Beijing. David, what is the latest from there?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, the frustration and anger has been boiling over here in recent days. Today certainly psychologists telling us they very worry when this news comes out if, it does come out that it could be overwhelming for these hundreds of families stuck in this hotel behind me. They have four ambulances on scene. At least a dozen paramedics. One psychologist telling me that some of the elderly here have been suicidal thoughts because they have one child on that plane because of China's one child policy.

The stakes are just so high here. Every time we've had a false lead and that lead was then dashed, it's been difficult for these families to deal with. In fact, impossible. So as they wait and wonder, not so much today because they don't want to get their hopes up. And they do believe whether the news comes, it's probably going to be bad news. So until they have clarification, at least they can cling on to that hope. Chris, back to you.

CUOMO: All right, thank you very much. Now let's bring you back into the NEW DAY studio. We put a map of the area where the two objects related to Flight 370 have possibly been found. Keep hearing the words. It's all about possibility here right now. Not even probability. But this is where the search is underway. We know that.

We're going to take a look at the newly narrowed area and what the search teams are looking for. To help us do that, let's bring in Christine Dennison. She is an expert in expedition logistics in the remote regions. You have the right qualifications for this.

So speaking of qualifications, let's qualify what we know. We do know that they are searching in this area. We do know that Australian and U.S. military sources have been somewhat confident and expanding the search into this area and just several hundred miles into Antarctica mostly because of what they believe in the reasonable arcs that they've kind of cross referenced from what the Thai government said, radar pings, satellite handshakes.

Things that we've been hearing over the last few days. Does that square with your reckoning so far? And then, let's get to the main question, which is who do they have? What do they have in terms of this search and conducting it? What do we know?

CHRISTINE DENNISON, EXPEDITIONS LOGISTICS EXPERT: First of all, I think at this point they have been following debris for two, three days now.

CUOMO: Yes, satellite images that they're working off and showing you this morning are from several days ago.

DENNISON: So they've had some idea and they've been pretty accurately following this debris with planes, helicopters, trying to get a visual. So now you've got the issues with drift and currents and they've been able to locate. They're working off grids. They're squaring off different areas that they're going to keep looking for and try to sort of take it off. But what we're finding is they have this area locked in for right now.

CUOMO: So what we know is they see these two objects, not exactly sure what they are. Again, you're going to hear the words, flotsam and jetsam. They're hoping it is intentional debris from a ship. You're going to hear the words. They believe that two objects are about 15 miles apart right now, nautical miles. The search area is 1,500 nautical miles. What assets are they using to locate this? How long do you think it could take allowing for conditions, which are getting worse right now because of the storm season?

DENNISON: That's a big factor. They're working with planes. They're working with the P-3. They have the p-8 out. So they're really covering aerials in and trying to pick this up and get a real visual on it and then move on.

CUOMO: P-3, P-8, these are different surveillance aircraft.

DENNISON: Yes. They pick up magnetic signatures. They know they have something that is metal floating in that ocean and they've been following it. Again, they're narrowing the search and trying to make it tighter and get to it.

CUOMO: One of the objects is very large, which plays both ways for experts. Some say that's pretty big to be a piece of an aircraft. Others say that this is a good sign. If it's big and it's aircraft, it may be identifiable. There is a lot of stuff floating in the ocean, right?

DENNISON: There is. The one thing this area is not heavily trafficked. You're not going to have a lot of -- it's on a shipping lane, you don't have a lot of fishing boats. It's pretty far down and pretty remote.

CUOMO: OK. And now again, just dealing with 1,500 miles, even in perfect conditions, a lot of the ships that they're using by water, they're moving maybe 10, 15, maybe 20 knots an hour. It's going to take literally days for them to get there. They move much more quickly by air.

Now, one of the lucky breaks to the extent there is any, will is a merchant vessel that we heard is in the area and wants to volunteer to help. They may get there first in terms of being on the water.

Why is it important to be on the water and not just by air here other than the obvious to, you know, visually identify something?

DENNISON: Well, you have to really physically see it. Right now, satellite images are saying there is something in the water. It is a metal object. You have to physically get people there to look at it, to identify it and then try and collect it which will be the next phase.

CUOMO: Right. And again, you know, we're hearing from military sources, the reason you should have confidence isn't in the satellite image. It's that it squares with their understanding. You know, remember, just quickly, it took off in Malaysia. It came out into the China Sea and then made this, they believe, odd turn to the west. And that was last time they picked it up around here, by the Strait of Malacca.

However, data from radar and GPS and notably from the Thai government, they started to create arcs. One came from the south and one to the north. They've given up confidence in the north. Countries said they didn't find anything in their airspace. They reviewed records, no reports on the ground.

One of the arcs going south into the Indian Ocean led them to this area where the satellite images three days ago showed this. Why three days? They have been studying and analyzing the images to get confidence to continue the search in that area. They believe they have that now. But beyond that, not so much.

So we're looking at several days for actual physical confrontation with this you know, getting their hands on what it is.

DENNISON: Absolutely. They have to move ships into place. They have to really they're fighting currents, they're fighting wind, they're fighting weather.

CUOMO: Right. We're hearing white cap waves out there. That's going to be a problem.

DENNISON: That's a problem. That's going to slow it down. You know, there is progress. There is success. And that there is something that we can work with that makes sense.

CUOMO: Australian authorities, the prime minister called it the best lead so far. I would submit that is intentionally qualified language. So we'll have to see what they find. There will be eyes from the air bringing some reporting sooner rather than later. We're waiting on a merchant vessel to get there.

Christine Dennison, thank you very much for explaining the logistics of it.

DENNISON: Thank you.

CUOMO: Important right now.

All right. Let's take a quick break. Whether we come back, we're going to try to analyze this -- how confident should it be? What does this mean to the family members? Remember how desperate they are waiting for word, but it's good to be good word. Is this a false alarm for the search of Flight 370?

We'll analyze the clues. We'll have experts to explain why they're searching where they are and where the confidence comes from, just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CUOMO: Welcome back to NEW DAY.

We're tracking breaking news in search for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. You're looking at what they believe may be the best lead to date. Two objected spotted on radar in the Indian Ocean some days ago. They've been analyzing them. You're looking at them.

One of them is unusually big, 24 meters. They believe some 10 to 15 miles away is another object, five meters, relatively small. Where are they? Off the southwest coast of Australia.

Let's bring in experts who can break this down for us and why there is confidence at all in this as a lead. David Soucie, CNN's safety analyst, former FAA inspector and author of "Why Planes Crash."

And then, Jeffrey Beatty, security consultant, former CIA counter- terrorism officer, FBI special agent, Delta Force officer, now an adjunct professor of national security studies at the University of New Haven.

Great credentials in a situation where it's very difficult to know much. But let's deal with why there's confidence, OK?

Three days old? Jeff, why are we only hearing about it now? How does it work?

JEFFREY BEATTY, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Well, first of all, we have to make sure that whoever took the satellite imagery is confident that it's not going to compromise their true capabilities before they disseminate that information. So, in fact, they may even have degraded the image before they pass it on.

CUOMO: What does that mean?

BEATTY: That would mean if they had more clarity on the image, they may have decided to say we're going to dumb that image down a little bit and not make it look like we could read a label on a basketball or something, but to degrade it slightly.

CUOMO: Why?

BEATTY: Because people don't want to give away their national level capability to use satellite imagery because it has wartime, you know, consequences.

CUOMO: So that's part of the internalities, or what they're dealing with in this investigation, 26 countries are cooperating. But you believe there is reason to be guarded about what you share?

BEATTY: And the same thing holds true for what they've been able to see on radar. They don't want to necessarily let people know where their gaps and radar coverage are, et cetera. So, they haven't been too bad. They've been good about moving information along. But that does account for possibly some of the delay.

CUOMO: All right. Now, another check, David, on optimism here. Even if everything lines up the right way and this is what they're hoping it is, that does not make this an easy task at all.

How big an area? How small an object? You know, what would this be like in terms of setting out to find something like this?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Well, you're talking 1400 miles from Perth. So even just getting the ships there you're talking about a long time to try to get there. They're only going to go 20, 30 knots if they're flank speed they could go better than. That they're not going to go flank speed because (INAUDIBLE) and also they burn up too much fuel. Seven times as much fuel when at flank speed than it is standard speed.

CUOMO: Flank speed is high speed. They have to consider how do we get back?

SOUCIE: That's right.

COUMO: All right. And also, just in terms of the vastness of the area and how small the object is. We've been trying to find metaphors about this. You know, the original search area is the size of United States and looking for three people.

If you're talking about just about 1,500 nautical miles and something that's at best 80 feet long, if not partially submerged, how difficult a task, Jeff?

BEATTY: Well, fortunately, you have the technology on station right now to do that. And you can tell, by the way, that they tried to phase in these aircraft that they want to maintain some technology on station. And the capabilities you've been recently talking about the ability to determine what metal objects in the water from the high speed submarine detection platforms, basically. Once you find out and in the area, you want to keep something on station. They will probably deploy buoys to stay with the wreckage. As it floats, they deal with darkness.

I think a real good factor working for them is the fact they even have a merchant ship coming into the area.

CUOMO: Right, a nonmilitary cargo ship that says they want to volunteer to help. They're getting closer than anybody else, could function not so much for search but a weigh station, right, to give people a place to land, any resource for an emergency given the weather and distance.

BEATTY: If in fact, hopefully, it's a flat form can you put a helicopter on --

CUOMO: Right. They have to decide that. Now, sources were telling me last night that the best source for confidence in where this is also one of the constraints. That following the arc, they didn't want to talk to me about the northern route. They say all the countries reporting there would have had to be intentional deception that something landed and they're not telling us and they're not willing to accept that as a premise. So, they made the two arcs into the south. This is on one of the arcs. That is because of ocean current and what we understood from the Thai government.

The constraint is this stuff is moving. This is three days old. It will be farther away, hard to track. Fair assessment?

SOUCIE: It is. The other thing about this area is the garbage section of that area. So, it's got current that's constantly bringing things together. That's how we were able to narrow it down more in the search because the currents are going to that area.

CUOMO: But if there is a confluence to use one of the terms of art this is where different waterways come together, different currents come together, what does that mean, Jeff, of how much stuff is in the water?

BEATTY: It means that there's a lot of stuff in the water. Fortunately, most of the stuff is going to be small compared to a significant size component like has been described here, 24 meter- sized component, which if it turns out to be part the aircraft is going to be a significant part of the aircraft.

If that's the case, then I think it leads more towards the theory of perhaps a more gentle landing on to the water. I'm always hopeful for the possibility of survivors. And it's not a high possibility but if they ditch the aircraft, the Hudson had some tremendous --

CUOMO: True. And in absence of fact, otherwise, why not have cause for optimism? It doesn't hurt to have it. Obviously, you don't want to have unreasonable expectations.

I was making a mistake when doing the reporting, you think there's a chance the plane might be there? And I was being corrected. No, not the plane. Just these pieces of debris.

The black box which everybody wants, the flight recorder, that would almost certainly sink. And it would be in different area, obviously, than anything that floated.

So, this would only be the beginning of what could a favorable discovery, fair?

SOUCIE: Absolutely. What I would be doing at this point is looking for that impact point, the scatter point that we talked about. And that is most likely where the box would be, because it's a heavy box.

CUOMO: In the tail of the aircraft.

SOUCIE: Some people talk about this is tail, it will be in there. Remember, Flight 447, the tail was floating. And there was no black box in there.

CUOMO: Because it had fallen out.

SOUCIE: That's right. So, the thing that concerns me most is we only have 425 hours, 424 now of pinging going on with those black boxes. So if we don't get there in that amount of time, if we don't find where that impact point is, then we're going have a heck of a time finding it. It may two years before we find those boxes.

CUOMO: As it was in Air France. Obviously, the crash happened in 2009. (INAUDIBLE) a couple years later. Although they identified where it hit relatively soon.

And, again, this is a maybe, this is a possibility, this is based off their understanding of currents and where it could be as much as they see on satellite images days old.

So, why our optimism? Well, the prime minister of Australia, they're heading up the search in this region got in front of parliament and said he believes this is their best lead to date. So, that's cause for optimism.

There are a lot of assets in the area. It will take days by water to get to where they need to be and figure out what they need to figure out.

Air will happen much sooner. That is qualified by changing weather. This is storm season there. Our meteorologist Indra Petersons will be tracking that part for us.

David, Jeff, thank you very much for the perspective. It's important to understand what this could be and why versus what we certainly know it is. Very little on that front right now.

Thank you very much.

Mick?

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Most credible lead, right, Chris?

All right. Next up on NEW DAY, we continue our breaking news coverage. We're going to speak to efforts about the efforts to identify those images on your screen. Those satellite images the show the objects floating in the southern Indian Ocean off the coast of Australia.

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