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@THISHOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Flight Search Turns Up Nothing; EU Signs Pact with Ukraine PM; Obama to Meet With Tech Leaders; Mapping Out the Location of Possible Debris; Investigating the Data on the Pilot's Flight Simulator

Aired March 21, 2014 - 11:00   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN CO-ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN CO-ANCHOR: And I'm Michaela Pereira. It is 11:00 a.m. in the East, 8:00 a.m. out West.

BERMAN: And @ THIS HOUR, stymied, the search for missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 has turned up nothing, despite that possible debris spotted by satellite some 1,500 miles off the coast of Australia.

But a huge mobilization is happening with more countries now sending crews to help.

PEREIRA: Here is where the search stands right now.

Two weeks after the Boeing 777 disappeared, search planes from Australia and the U.S. have returned from their mission combing that area. Now, despite much better weather conditions today, none sighted plane debris.

Meanwhile, there is a growing international force of ships steaming toward the southern Indian Ocean to help aid in that search.

Australia's prime minister spoke today warning that the two objects may not be from the plane.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: It could just be a container that's fallen off a ship. We just don't know.

But we owe it to the families and the friends and the loved ones of the almost 240 people on Flight MH-370 to do everything we can to try to resolve what is as yet an extraordinary riddle.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PEREIRA: Owe it to those families.

Investigators are now looking into the activities of the pilot before the flight took off. Malaysia Airlines said today that it is aware of the media reports that the pilot made a cell-phone call eight minutes before the flight took off. BERMAN: And Malaysia Airlines CEO said today that Flight 370 was carrying a small cargo of lithium-ion batteries.

Now, CNN first broke the story last week. The batteries are the type used in laptops and cell phones. They have been known to catch fire, although it is very, very rare.

PEREIRA: This is an exhaustive search with pilots going grid by grid through the area searching for the images. It is truly looking like a needle in a haystack, because we are talking about a piece of debris, about 78-feet across, in a search area of several hundred thousand miles.

BERMAN: Even if that debris is, was something significant, it could have sunk by now, it could have floated away.

I want to bring you two guests to talk about all this. Art Wright is an expert in deep-water search investigations. He's operations manager for the company, Williamson & Associates.

Also, with us right here, our friend, Richard Quest, anchor of CNN INTERNATIONAL'S "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS."

And what I want to do, what we want to do here is really alternate between two separate tracks. We want to talk about the search off the coast of Australia, and we want to talk about, really, the investigation into what happened on that plane, two separate fields.

Art, I want to start with you, because you have searched the area in the southern Indian ocean before. You headed a search for a lost Australian navy vessel which you ended up finding.

So I want to ask you, what are the challenges for looking for things in this place. What are these planes, what are these ships facing right now?

ART WRIGHT, OPERATIONS MANAGER, WILLIAMSON & ASSOCIATES: These ships are facing weather problems in sea states looking for a small object that's going up and down waves.

And with a sea state of 15-to-30 foot waves, probably, the lookouts on the ship have trouble seeing objects, and the radars won't pick them up because it's so jumbled.

And for the searchers, they have to rule out the area, grid by grid, to ensure that they haven't missed anything. It's a very painstaking process.

PEREIRA: I think that's the best word to use, painstaking.

And we also know there are also limitations. These search planes may have, some of them may have a capacity of 10-hour flying time. Takes four hours to get out there, only a couple of hours time they can search and then they have to head back to land.

Richard, let's talk to you. We know for the first time now, Malaysian Airlines CEO has said that, on board, there was a small cargo of lithium-ion batteries.

How concerning is this about the possibility that they have -- could have exploded, caught fire, caused this plane to come down?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: The FAA in the United States did a report into lithium batteries some years ago, and it came up with more than a hundred incidents where lithium batteries had either overheated, smoked, molten coming out of it, and they looked at this in great detail.

So, it is a well-known and well-documented issue with lithium-ion batteries.

But the Malaysia CEO in his news conference specifically said that they knew about those batteries. Those batteries had been packed in accordance with IKO. That's the organization -- the international aviation organization, according with their regulations, and this had been checked and rechecked.

And there is one small point conveniently overlooked by those that want to put the lithium-ion battery argument forward. If they had been an incident, there would have been a warning.

If there had been a warning, the pilots might have got a mayday out.

If there had been a full-scale fire, it probably would have been reported on the ACARS system and we might well have known about it.

So, it's -- you know, the lithium-ion battery theory is there. It will remain there.

PEREIRA: But does it hold a lot of water?

QUEST: It should frankly be somewhere on the back burner, because it doesn't hold a lot of water.

BERMAN: Let's get back to the front burner. Fifteen hundred miles off the coast of Australia, Art, one of the things officials are asking for is more my hydrophones. This is to help in the underwater search. They want to listen for possible pings from the flight-data recorder.

How hard is it to search underwater? What kind of equipment do you need to scan that ocean floor?

WRIGHT: The hydrophone is a passive device. It listens for the ping from the beacon on an aircraft.

Once that ping is heard, then they have an idea where the location is. If that beacon dies and the pings are no longer there, then you have to search with it for a deep-ocean sonars. And we use deep ocean sonars to find objects on the bottom.

They have a range -- our sonars have a range of 1,250 meters, so we do a swath of 2,500 meters which results in 85 square nautical miles a day searching. It' a very slow, painstaking process. And you want to establish on the seabed exactly where that plane is not. If you know where it is not, then you know where you have to search next.

PEREIRA: That's a good point, the process of elimination.

Richard, let's ping back to you now and talk about the news that came out today. Again, Malaysia Airlines looking at these media reports that the pilot, eight minutes before the flight departed, made a cell phone call.

On a regular day, this might not seem unusual.

QUEST: It still doesn't seem unusual to me.

PEREIRA: OK.

QUEST: Absolutely not. When you say departed, I assume you mean before the doors were closed and the plane pushed back as opposed to at the end of the runway before it took off.

Every flight attendant, every pilot I've ever known is making phone calls virtually to the time they close the doors.

PEREIRA: Almost like the passengers.

QUEST: You've got one thing to remember. You and I -- you can't make a phone call, Michaela and John, you can't make a phone call for the next 53 minutes, because you're on-air.

Any flight attendant and pilot may not be able to make a phone call for the next six to eight hours, because they are flying.

And then there may be a turn around and they may not be able to call on the way back. There could be a thousand and one reasons.

So for this particular profession, flight attendants and pilots, they do take the opportunity to make those calls, duties permitting, until the last possible moment.

I am not -- and I'll nail my colors on this one. I could be proved wrong by tea time, as I've said many times, but I am not in the slightest concerned by this call at the moment.

BERMAN: Nailing colors and throwing out tea time in one reference there. Richard Quest, Art Wright, great to have you here with us to walk us through this latest information. Appreciate it.

PEREIRA: @ THIS HOUR, let's take a look at some of the other stories that are making news.

We are watching the situation, Crimea, Crimea now officially a part of Russia. President Vladimir Putin signed the treaty into law today after it was approved almost unanimously by Moscow's parliament.

Meanwhile, European Union leaders and Ukraine's prime minister have signed a political pact -- political part of a trade pact, this a day after the U.S. and E.U. imposed tough sanctions on members of Mr. Putin's inner circle.

BERMAN: President Obama is meeting with tech CEOs today to continue talks on privacy, technology and intelligence. The meeting comes at a really critical juncture of the NSA reform debate. The president is expected to announce the future of the phone metadata-collection program.

PEREIRA: It is now 20 years after Kurt Cobain's suicide, and police are releasing new pictures of the crime scene. These pictures come after much speculation on the Internet that investigators would reopen the case into his death.

Seattle police are insisting, though, that the case is still considered a suicide and remains closed. The rock star shot himself at his home when he was just 27-years-old.

Rumors have swirled for years that foul play was involved. Police say these new pictures are not new evidence

BERMAN: A New Jersey teenager is accused of sneaking to the top of the World Trade Center. Justin Casquejo reportedly slipped past security and headed straight to the top of the 104th floor early Sunday.

The 16-year-old's Twitter account showed pictures of him standing on the roof and hanging from a crane. He is now charged with criminal trespassing in what seems to me like a fairly epically awful idea.

PEREIRA: Puts the things you did as a teen into very pale comparison.

BERMAN: I made some bad decisions in my day.

PEREIRA: That is a terrible one, as Charles Barkley would say.

All right, we're going to take a short break here on @ THIS HOUR, 10 minutes after the hour, in fact.

Ahead, it's one of the most remote parts of our planet. Why there is an added obstacle to the search for Flight 370 and how special technology could help in that search.

BERMAN: Plus, the pilot's home flight simulator, how the FBI is working to dig up the clues that could now be hidden in its data.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: It is one of the most remote places on Earth, some 1,500 miles off the coast of Australia. That is where satellites spotted possible debris. That is where so many hopes lie now in finding answers about Flight 370.

But it's also where planes and pilots have found nothing today, and it may be where time is running out to find the flight-data recorder before it goes silent.

PEREIRA: You can imagine those searchers are frustrated, as well, wanting to find something.

Tom Foreman is mapping out -- literally mapping out the situation for us in Washington.

And, Tom, I think it is really interested and poignant to point out that the Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, today called this area, quote, "about the most inaccessible area you could imagine on the face of our Earth."

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, it's not only a difficult place to get to, but they're going after a moving target. This is where the Indian Ocean collides with the southern ocean, the ocean around Antarctica, and yet produces tremendous currents.

And look at that target area down there. That's what they're aiming for. The reason they have all these planes and all these ships trying to come in here where they were previously looking up here is because it's moving as the current moves.

And let me talk about why that's such a challenge here. Where these oceans collide and you get all of this ability to produce storms and to produce waves and currents, not only on the surface, but below the surface. You have a great challenge in front of you because you could argue if this plane crashed and if there were debris on top of the water, 14 days ago, by now, it may have moved 1100 miles, because the currents can be so strong down there.

So, truly, even if you know where something is, at this moment, it may not be there in an hour. Substantially not there. It could be three miles away. Go down below the water, it is even more complicated because there, you have all these cross currents and different things happening that are quite different than what you have on the surface. And, you have ravines and valleys and all these things. You can go down here with something like side-scan sonar, which goes below the water and essentially creates a 3-d map of what's down there. This is valuable. It's important. It produces images like this that you can then look at and study for details what might be poking out from the bottom and say, is that part of an airplane. As great as this is, it is very focused. You don't just throw this down in a vast swath of ocean. You have to have a clue up there to lead you to this point down here. Michaela, John?

BERMAN: Let's talk more about what'd going on under water right now, Tom, because the Malaysian defense minister today put out a call for hydrophones, basically an international, help-me, send hydrophones to the area. What are these devices and how can they help in the search?

FOREMAN: A hydrophone is what you would use to listen for the pinging of these flight data recorders down there. It's one of the things you can use them for. They are basically microphones under the water. Hydro-phone -- that's what they are for. The problem is, again, you have to know where you are putting it and why you are putting it there.

The pinger on these flight data recorders goes about two miles in perfect condition. You have layers of warm water interlaced with other layers, these are called thermoclines (ph), it dramatically reduces the effectiveness of the pinger. I am not sure why he wants hydrophones. They are such a specific device.

I was saying earlier today, this is like you have lost your keys in your house and you are looking for the keys. The first thing you need is a big look and a big general idea of where they are. This is more like looking through a soda straw and saying I'm going to look at a little, tiny area. That's a really hard way to search the house if you don't know where to start.

PEREIRA: When you look at the size of the area and the enormity of this task, I can understand they want to get all the tools in the tool kit but, like you said, you have to have the right tool at the right time for the right job.

BERMAN: It doesn't seem like they are there yet for those hydrophones. Tom Foreman, great to have you with us. Appreciate it. Ahead @ THIS HOUR, the ocean is not the only place the searchers are looking right now. They are also digging deep inside the pilot's flight simulator and computer. Could deleted data be resurrected. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: As the search for debris off the coast of Australia has turned up nothing so far, there is still a huge focus in the investigation into what happened in the cockpit. It may be more important than ever. A lot of attention has been given to the pilot's home flight simulator. Could something, some clues, be buried deep in it's memory? That is something the FBI is trying to find out right now.

PEREIRA: We know the pilot had deleted some of the data from the system or there was data deleted from the system. Again, we should point out we don't know if it was the pilot, but like your old e-mails and other computer files that data can be resurrected.

Our Pamela Brown is in Washington with details for us, along with computer expert Mark Rasch. So glad to have both of you with us. Pam, why don't we start with you and give us an idea of what investigators are looking for in this data on the hard drive.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bottom line, the FBI is throwing everything at finding out what's on there, in fact finding out what's on the duplicate hard drive from the flight simulator from both of the pilots' laptops. Really, it's a top priority for a team of the FBI's top forensics experts. They are working right now to retrieve those purged files from the simulator as well as the laptop that police took from their homes.

They want too see if there are any clues at all as to what might have happened to flight 370. They are going to look to see' data was deleted in a very simple, standard way or whether someone went to great lengths intentionally destroy those files to hide them permanently. Obviously that would be very telling.

And it is important to note here that they might not find anything significant here but, of course, because it is the best evidence we have, this he have to check.

BERMAN: So, Mark, how hard is it to get this information they are looking for? You know, we all delete e-mails and occasionally you can hit "restore deleted e-mail." Is it that simple and how long could this process take?

MARK RASCH, CYBER AND PRIVACY EXPERT, FMR. JUSTICE DEPT. PROSECUTOR: It can be that simple. It depends, as Pam just pointed out, how the files were deleted. If they were simply deleted using a delete command, you can get them back with a command that says restore. If they were wiped forensically the same way the military does to wipe drives that contain classified information, then it becomes really difficult to restore that data. There are forensic tools that can be used to try to get data back. They have been able to restore data from computers that have been in hurricanes and floods and fires and the like but it takes a long time to do it.

BERMAN: Hey Mark, can I ask you, if it has been wiped that thoroughly, would that raise a red flag to you, because it seems like a far length to go if you are just a casual user of a flight simulator.

RASCH: Sure, typically if you are deleting files to make room for other files, you are just going to delete them and they will be overwritten over the course of time, if you forensically wipe data, you are doing it because you don't want that data to be available to somebody else later. More commonly, people are starting to wipe data even in non-unusual situations just to protect their own privacy. If they selectively wipe data, particularly these flight simulator files, it indicates they did it because they didn't want somebody to see it.

PEREIRA: And Mark, obviously the hard drive is one aspect of it on the simulator, but I'm sure as part of their investigation into his home, they are also going to be looking at his computer, looking at websites, that the captain and first officer, who are both under scrutiny, they will look at that as well.

RASCH: Just so we are clear, the flight simulator is on a computer. The flight simulator is just a Microsoft flight simulator that you can go buy off the shelf. It just had a lot of customization to it. It is just an ordinary computer program like a gaming program that you might find.

There are three things you are going to be looking at. One, what websites was this person looking at to get an idea of what their politics were, whether they had been radicalized, things like that? Two, their communications, both e-mails and chat messages, who are they talking to and about what? And number three, in the flight simulator program, what flights were they simulating? Where are they simulating themselves flying to, to see if there is anything unusual about that. Those are the three things you are going to look for.

PEREIRA: Good correction on that.

BERMAN: Pam, quickly, any sense from the FBI, from your sources, when they expect to get some information they might be able to release. BROWN: All my sources are saying it is going to take some time because of the large volume of the data in that hard drive. At least a couple of terabytes, as one of my sources told me. I'm not a tech expert, but understand that is a lot of data they have to filter through. What they will find out is the degree of those deletions, like we talked about whether they were routine or more sophisticated. Then, they will find out exactly what was on that deleted data. It could take several days. We don't have a specific timeline.

BERMAN: Pamela, Mark, thanks so much for being with us. Interesting.

PEREIRA: Very interesting.

Ahead @ THIS HOUR, It would appear the plane was in the air longer than it was meant to be on its original flight path to Beijing. Could it have run out of gas and drifted into the Indian Ocean where the debris was spotted on satellite? We are going to take a look at that scenario with two veteran pilots next and take a few of your questions.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)