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Search Continues for Missing Malaysian Airlines Plane; New Satellite Images May be of Missing Plane Wreckage; Debris Found Off Western Coast of Australia; Searching the Ocean

Aired March 20, 2014 - 07:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We are following breaking news here on NEW DAY. I want to welcome once again our viewers in the United States and around the world as we're following developments in the search for Malaysia Flight 370.

This morning, the focus is off the western coast of Australia. Take a look at these pictures. They were taken by satellites four days ago. They have been analyzed since then. Now authorities are saying they feel confident in going to look for what appears to be debris.

But what is it? Is it a part of the flight? It is a question that is just a possibility, not a probability, right now. But there are tons of assets by water and by air from Australia, the U.S., and a lot of other countries that are volunteering to try to find out what it is. Everyone is urging caution. They're still calling this the best lead they've had so far as opposed to anything definitive.

Let's get on the ground in Malaysia. Kate Bolduan is there with the latest. Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Chris. Good morning, everyone, from Kuala Lumpur. It is day 13 of the search. And officials in Malaysia and Beijing can only hope that this debris in the Indian Ocean will help lead them to the missing jet and some confirmation of what happened to the 239 souls onboard.

Australia officials say images showing two pieces of debris were taken several days ago. And they're being analyzed. Four search planes have been deployed almost 1,500 miles off the coast of Perth, Australia. That's a distance between New York and Dallas. But one crew went back empty handed already and three other planes are struggling with limited visibility and setting sun in the area. If you want a frame of reference for how far flight 370 may have gone, if this is indeed from the plane, we, of course, have to offer a lot of caution here, this search is about 3,000 miles south of Kuala Lumpur. That is more than half way to Antarctica, a big distance to be covering. There are still so many questions. We'll look for the answers from our experts and correspondence around the world. Let's start with Andrew Stevens who is in Perth, Australia, covering this for us. Andrew, is there any estimate how long it will be until we really do have eyes on the debris?

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's going to be a very difficult question to answer. The weather conditions are changing and changing rapidly, Kate. We had a tweet from a surveillance plane saying that they couldn't see anything. There was no sign of debris. But they were being hampered, considerably hampered by bad weather, particularly rain and also low clouds. So that was the first of the big search planes which went out early this morning to come back.

We've also heard that the U.S. P-8, very sophisticated plane is also returned to base. And also the spokesman for the seventh fleet is saying that there was no debris spotted in the P-8 either. A lot of this depends on a certain amount of light. This is a vast area to search, a vast ocean and an uninhabited one. This is one of the loneliest places on the planet. I'm here at the pierce air base just outside Perth in western al Australia. This is a staging post. We're expecting to see a couple planes landing in four or five hours, but people are telling us that not likely that they'll get any breakthrough from those either because of the weather.

Given the fact that you do need this visual confirmation, satellites are good. We can get higher res images from commercial sat lights. They're now being directed towards this area. But visual, eyeballs to actually see what that debris, is get it aboard a ship and analyze it, that's going to take a while. The first naval ship is expected to be there, Kate, at least another 36 hours away. That's what we're being told.

BOLDUAN: So this is squarely where all the investigation will be looking now off the coast of Perth, Australia. Andrew Stevens, thank you so much, Andrew.

But the focus also needs to be on the families of those missing. Most of the passengers on flight 370 are from China and families there are understandably on edge. David McKenzie has been with family members gathered in Beijing. He's joining us now. Andrew, what is the latest?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, here at this hotel there are hundreds of family members waiting for any news. And many of them say that they don't believe this is the plane. One man coming out of the conference room minutes ago saying he believes the plane landed somewhere, that his loved ones are OK, because obviously if the news comes up that this debris spotted out in the southern ocean is the plane, it will extinguish the hope that these families have been clinging to all these days, nearly 13 days now.

They've got paramedics on the scene here, several ambulances. I spoke to at least two psychologists and they've told me that they expect if the news does come and the news is bad that the response will be overwhelming, because we've seen those angry and frustrated responses here for days in Beijing and across the region. And they're clinging on to hope, but at this stage, that hope is diminishing.

The families here saying that they want definitive proof from the authorities when it comes and then they will be speaking about this and they will be deciding what to do next. Chinese authorities say that they're ready if it proves that this is the plane debris. They will possibly fly family members directly to Perth. But at this stage, it's the waiting game that continues. Chris, back to you.

CUOMO: David, thank you very much. Very difficult balance right now, families hoping for the best. They're also needing closure. That's why we're going to be very careful with what we understand. We're going to bring in some experts to help break down the situation for us. We have CNN aviation correspondent Richard Quest and Mary Schiavo, CNN aviation analyst. She is also former inspector general for the department of transportation, now a plaintiff's attorney for injuries received in transportation accidents. Mary, great to you have. Richard, always a pleasure.


CUOMO: So let's reset here and get some understanding for people about why we're looking in this area to begin with. Take us through it.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Right. I'm going to go through the various points on the map. Mary, as I'm going through this, if you feel there is an aeronautical point we need to make, just shout out and shout out loud. The flight as we know starts here at Kuala Lumpur, and it heads out towards across the South China Seas and the Bay of Thailand, the Gulf of Thailand, thank you.

At this point it's the last known point we know there is a turn. And the plane turns around and heads back across the Malaysian peninsula and just about here is the last known position, the last report that we have. It then crosses the northern tip of Indonesia, and according to the two theories, Chris, one theory is the northern corridor out this way. The other theory is the southern arc which goes out across the ocean.

CUOMO: Mary, when we look at the northern theory versus the southern theory, give us the pluses and minuses of each.

SCHIAVO: Well, the northern theory was plagued by the fact that Thailand said they never entered their airspace. The fuel would have run out. The simulator reenactment of flying through the Himalayas, the northern route wasn't feasible. The southern route has a couple reasons that make it more plausible, make it more realistic, and one of which, is if they have a mechanical that was the last heading and search areas where they would have run out of fuel.

CUOMO: All right, Mary, thanks. Take us through these concentric circles that they've been searching.

QUEST: Right. The circles come right the way around across through the southern part into the Indian Ocean right way down into towards western Australia. And now we come to where the debris is found. The debris is being found, roughly two pieces of debris, 14 miles apart according to the satellite. And it's been found roughly 1,400 miles from the Perth, west, southwest of Perth in Australia. Now this is roughly the distance. To put this in perspective, this is the distance of say, give or take, New York to Dallas, Austin, London to Moscow, London to Istanbul. Now picture the scenes of what the searchers are having to do. They're flying from Perth in western Australia. They have to fly out across this 1,500 or so miles, do the search, and then fly back again. And, of course, they're still looking at satellites that is roughly three or four or several days old. So it's not -- and in poor weather. So you have 1,460 miles, 1,500 miles or, so Perth to this area. They fly out. There are about 25 planes now and 18 ships in the south corridor, in the Indian Ocean, more arriving. They've come from Japan. They've come from Indonesia. They've come from obviously Thailand, from Malaysia, and obviously Australia and the United States. All of whom have used Perth as their basing point when they used aviation assets to get out there.

CUOMO: One point of good fortune, Mary, that we've understood is there is a merchant vessel in the area that is willing to volunteer and help the search. They believe they could be helpful in two ways, one, surmise on the water, but also Mary, the idea of using it as a way station for people. Depending on the size of the ship, how could it become valuable?

SCHIAVO: Well, not only as a way station, but if they are able to locate some wreckage, they need to snag it, buoy it, get it onboard. And it could also just serve as a working platform and a very valuable one too that will be kind of a staging point until they can get more assets in the area.

QUEST: I want to point out that at some point we can show the area or the satellite photos of the two pieces that we're talking about, because there are suggestions, let's put it out there, it's not confirmed, few facts are this morning, that they are containers.

CUOMO: Right.

QUEST: There is a rumor now that size, the shape and the potential of these things, they could be containers that have fallen overboard.

CUOMO: And part of that is because now, so now you start to get into conflicting information. What do we know about this region of the sea? It's not a common shipping lane so that is a plus in terms you wouldn't have a lot of ships. But it is a location of one of these massive ocean currents that are called gyres where things collect. They're called a confluence. So there's a lot of debris that may be in the area even though there aren't a lot of ships in the area.

QUEST: Which brings us back to this point. It's not a big shipping area, but this is a vast area. Look, to give you a perspective, the Royal Australian forces who are searching this, the marine services, they basically have said this is the most remote part of the world that you can get to. This is it. It's bold. It's big. It's deep. And it's, frankly, in the middle of nowhere.

CUOMO: Right. And also, remember, just to add to why this is a possibility at this point, not a probability, Mary, explain to us that even if this debris were related to flight 370, this doesn't even mark where it struck the water. And that's where they need to find, right? That's the most important part, because certainly that's the best chance of finding the black box, right?

SCHIAVO: Right. They have to extrapolate back to reverse basically on computer reverse currents and find out where it would have struck the water, and that's where they're going it start looking for the black boxes.

CUOMO: Final point, Richard?

QUEST: Vast area. You have got the assets coming in from over here. But if you think of all these countries in the northern part, and they're coming from as far north as Japan. So you have all these and the U.K. sending assets in as well. So you have all these countries that have got to get the assets down here into the search area. But the best hope comes from the planes that are flying from Perth into the region, which, if they can even get a visual, Chris, on what's there.

CUOMO: Remember, just to sum up here. Why are they there? Two reasons. One, it correspondence with what they understood from the last satellite handshakes, you've heard that phrase. The radar pings and what Thailand had to report when Thailand said we didn't see them enter our airspace. So they started to look down this way. This is the area of ocean currents that they're tracking. So that is what's giving them the best bet about this. They're now working off satellite images four days old that they've been analyzing. So everything will have moved during that time. Conditions are very rough. It's going to take time to get there. So there are a lot of what ifs going on. But this is the best bet and it's what the Australian prime minister said to his own parliament is the best lead they've had so far. Richard Quest, Mary, thank you for helping us through part of it. We'll fill in the blanks as we got new information. Michaela?

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: All right, now let's bring in John Blaxland. He is a senior fellow of Australian National University and an expert on Australia's radar system, hoping that he can shed light on how the pieces of the search came together. Good to have with you us, Chris. Obviously our Chris was talking about the fact this information three or four days old. They're looking at the Australian authorities. You are encouraged by this information?

JOHN BLAXLAND, SENIOR FELLOW, AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL UNIVERSITY: Yes. But I'm afraid I'm a little bit pessimistic. When you look at the photographs that we've seen, not only are they four days old, but the object was actually partially submerged and it's about the length of an ISO container. Remember, ISO containers come in 20, 40, and 80 foot lengths. It is about 78 feet. Bearing in mind the satellite photograph is actually -- this is a focused in, a zoomed in version of a massive photograph that a satellite would have taken that analysts have scoured for hours trying to search through just, you know, empty ocean trying to find anything. They picked up this blip that looks a bit like a bit of fuselage or wing. But unfortunately it is also the length of an ISO container, and it's not at all conceivable that is exactly what it is. Now, we can hope against hope that we actually identified part of the aircraft. I'm not so optimistic. Of course, they are steering more satellites onto that to get further granulation, but the problem is that piece of flotsam and jetsam is not where it was. That is why the search has actually moved further to the east of where the photograph is taken.

But the problem is we don't know exactly where. And so the aircraft are looking in poor visibility and this is the area that used to be what we called the roaring 40s, waters that ships got wrecked in. These are really treacherous stretches of water. It's not easy to work in, very hard to detect things in. No matter, you have the P-8 and P-3 aircraft, maritime surveillance aircraft, the best surveillance technology on the planet. But they're not -- even with that best technology, it is still really hard in this kind of environment to pick up these little semi-submerged blips that are not emanating anything necessarily. And you're looking for something that is potentially not even there anymore.

PEREIRA: And that's the concern. Because you're up against these elements. You're up against the conditions of the seas. You're up against the weather.

Talk to us about more of that technology that they're going to be using. There were reports initially, though some people have backed off, that there's reports of those satellite images showing something below the surface as well. Sonar, what kind of radar will they use, and how -- how well would it all work given the conditions out there on the water?

BLAXLAND: Well, that's the problem. The technology is great. And it will pick up subsurface objects. But the problem is you got limited resources. You have limited flying hours. This is, as Richard Chris (ph) was pointing out before, this is a long way away from the Australian shore. This is at the other reaches of the flight capacity of this aircraft. They can only stay out there for a couple of hours. And this is a massive stretch of water we're talking about trying to cover.

So unfortunately, we're flying partially blind here. We've got out of date information. The currents have moved the flotsam and jetsam to another location, which we cannot locate. There's no (inaudible) we're picking up to identify where that would be. And this means it's really a needle in the hay stack.

PEREIRA: Yeah, there's a lot of strikes against them and a lot of forces working against them. But they've got to explore this lead as they do with every other one.

Chris Blaxland, thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate your voice in this conversation. We're going to continue to look at all of these tips and efforts that are going on. Appreciate you.

BLAXLAND: Thank you.

PEREIRA: Chris? CUOMO: Sources in the U.S. side, I suggested, so this is like trying to find a need until a hay stack. They said wouldn't that be nice?

PEREIRA: Yeah, absolutely.

CUOMO: So this is a tall task. That's why it is called a lead at this point. And we'll follow the information as it is warranted.

We'll take a break now. When we come back on NEW DAY, what is the big if? If the floating objects turn out to be the wreckage from flight 370, even in that scenario, it would still only be the beginning of the search. It wouldn't be where the plane landed. So what would happen next? we're Going to tell you how they're going to try to find this wreck, where it would be, how deep is the water, and what they have to do from there. We'll take a closer look.


CUOMO: Welcome back to NEW DAY. We're following breaking news in the search for flight 370. Satellite images from several days ago, about four days ago now, appeared to show what analysts believe is debris floating in the waters off western Australia. Military surveillance planes are over the area. It's very difficult because of weather conditions there. So why are they rushing? Well, they believe it may be a trace of the airplane, flight 370.

If it is, it is only the beginning of what needs to happen to identify this plane and what happened to it.

So let's bring in Timothy Taylor. He's a captain and ocean search expert.

Captain, great to have you here. So there's one scenario, Cap, where everything lines up with what we believe they understand about where the flight took off here in Malaysia, made the left in the Gulf of Thailand. They don't know why because we have all the intrigue about, did they turn off the coms (ph) instruments? Did they get taken off by a mass event? This is the last site they believe they were able to get a radar ping and the satellite hand shake.

And then they start working off two main theories. One is it went to the north. They're not putting as much purchase in that anymore. The other is south, which mainly carried them by ocean current and different feelings about the movement of wind, sea, and different components there and take you into this region.

Then they get the satellite images. They wound up getting two pieces of debris. One of them is like 75 feet. Another is like 20 feet. They're 14, 15 miles apart. If everything is right, if every guess they make is perfect and those are pieces of this flight, it is still just the beginning, right?

CAPTAIN TIMOTHY TAYLOR, OCEAN EXPERT: It's the beginning. This is the beginning. And there's a clock ticking. This is the fourth inning. There's 15 days left, maybe 18 days left. CUOMO: Eighteen days because the black box, which has all the information they need to have any chance of understanding what happened, has about 30 days of life.

TAYLOR: Well, yes. Now, it's not saying they won't find it. But if they can find the pinging, it's going to narrow down and it's going to be a lot faster.

CUOMO: And in terms of finding it, this is Perth and Australia. This is about 1500 nautical miles. That's like if you're in the U.S., New York, Denverish. If you're in London, about London to Moscow. So huge distance to travel.

TAYLOR: You take one step, you stand here. I'll stand here. That's 1,000 miles. That's about -- it could have drifted 1,000 miles. If you do three knots and you do 12 or 13 days, a knot every hour or three knots every hour, you have 1,000 miles.

CUOMO: So --

TAYLOR: So it could be out anywhere in this -- from there to me from there to you.

CUOMO: So -- and -- but we're comfortable with that suggestion, that this is how fast things would be moving. But there are variables in that, right?


CUOMO: Explain about how much water it's in and all that.

TAYLOR: That's a rough estimate. The data they need to collect if they -- it is an object from the plane, they gonna have to take that object and find out what kind of hydrodynamic --

CUOMO: Hydrodynamic meaning how fast it would move in water?

TAYLOR: Correct. If it's 90 percent under water, then the water currents are pushing it. If it's mostly above the water, then the air currents or a combination thereof are pushing it.

So if you know that -- if they take a measurement off it, if they watch it for an hour or two hours and see that it drifts this far in that amount of time, they can then give that to the data crunchers, and they can plug in all the other data from the 15 days prior and try to track it back.

CUOMO: Because even though this is a great lead, that's a good term to use because they're hoping it leads them somewhere else, right? It's not about just about finding this. This is about finding where it crashed because that's most likely going to be where everything you need.

TAYLOR: And correct me if I'm wrong, but the search pattern has moved south, correct?

CUOMO: Yes. It's moving slowly south as they believe the currents are going.

TAYLOR: And that's probably because the current's moving.

CUOMO: Right.

TAYLOR: So it's going to have to go back to find the plane.

CUOMO: Because where the plane actually landed will not be where they find this debris in all likelihood.

TAYLOR: No, not at all. This is a clue.

CUOMO: Unless it is the tail.

TAYLOR: Then they got the black boxes.

CUOMO: And that's what happened in France -- the Air France, right, 447. Is they actually wound up finding the tail. But the black box is in the tail, and that's why they need to find it.

TAYLOR: Correct.

CUOMO: So just given the time and the weather and the dimensions here, any speculation passed lead or possibility is irresponsible, fair?

TAYLOR: Fair enough, yes. But if they get it, they got a clue. It's the first clue. And then it really narrows it down. At least it gives them a trail to start sniffing back on.

CUOMO: You know, and Cap, you made a very interesting perspective. It's so easy to look at this just forensically. But you put a very human dimension to this when we started the conversation before we came on with all of you.

To the families, yes, they want closure. But there are many who are believing they are somewhere around here. They did land. They're OK. We're going to find them. So this will be bittersweet.

TAYLOR: Yes, it could be. Or it could be just a false lead.

CUOMO: Now, what do you put? Best case scenario, how much time would pass before we'll hear word? We see it. We know what it is. We're able to identify it as something that is related or unrelated.

TAYLOR: They have assets out there with planes. They know where it was moving. And I'm sure they have current and drift models already. So I would say a day, guessing. They'll narrow it down if it's still floating.

CUOMO: Best case scenario, it's important to know that it is not part of the relevant structure as that it is.

TAYLOR: Correct. Yes.

CUOMO: Captain, thank you. TAYLOR: You're welcome. Thank you.

CUOMO: Appreciate it. Let's take a quick break here on NEW DAY. When we come back, we have more on what could be a breakthrough in the search for flight 370.

We also have inside politics, the part of President Obama's foreign policy not even Hillary Clinton thinks will work. What's that? John King unpacks it.