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Pilot Made Phone Call Before Flight 370; Lithium Ion Batteries in MH370 Cargo; Families Not Giving Up Hope; Should Flight Data Be Uploaded to the Cloud?

Aired March 21, 2014 - 11:30   ET



MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: @ THIS HOUR, the search for missing Malaysian flight 370 has turned up nothing despite the possible debris spotted by satellite some 1500 miles off the coast. A huge mobilization is happening with many more countries joining the effort to send crews to help.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Here is where it stands right now, the search. Two weeks after the Boeing 777 disappeared, search planes have returned from the mission combing the area, today at least. Despite much better weather, nothing was cited today by these planes. Meanwhile, the growing international force of ships is steaming to the southern Indian Ocean to help with this search. There is an Australian naval vessel that will alive.

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

Investigators are looking into the activities of the pilot before the flight took off. Malaysia Airlines said today it is aware of the media reports that the pilot made a cell phone call some eight minutes before the flight took off.

PEREIRA: A Malaysia Airlines CEO said today that flight 370 was, indeed, carrying a small cargo of lithium ion batteries. CNN first broke this story last week. Those are the type that are used in laptops and cell phones. They have been known to catch fire but it is rare.

BERMAN: Malaysian officials say they are in this search for the long- hall.

PEREIRA: Two pilots join us, John Lucich, who is also a former investigator; and CNN aviation analyst, Jeff Wise.

Really good to have you both here.

Let's go to the phone call. Malaysian authorities say they are aware the pilot made a phone call some eight minutes before the flight departed. Richard Quest says he doesn't see a red flag.

Let's start with you, Jeff. Any concern? JEFF WISE, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: We all make cell phone calls all the time. Nothing inherently suspicious. We would all love to know to whom that call was made.

BERMAN: You want to know the last person he spoke with before the flight took off.

WISE: It is easy to imagine if this person was about to undertake some kind of life-changing adventure, the last person they talked to would probably be a significant choice.

BERMAN: Something else that is being discussed today, because of how far this plane may have flown, the search area they are in now, the debris that they are at least looking for, people are wondering, how far can a plane go when it runs out of fuel. This plane may have been flying for a very, very long time, John. What would have happened? Would it glide to a calm stop or when it runs out of fuel, did it end up crashing into the sea in a violent way?

JOHN LUCICH, COMMERCIAL PILOT: We know that aircrafts glide. We saw that in the miracle on the Hudson with Sully Sullenberger. That could be on the co-pilot. If a progressive failure of all the electrical systems occurred. That's not unprecedented. In 1996, a Value Jet out of Miami took off. They had a fire on board down in the cargo hold. That in the NTSB report showed a progressive failure of flight controls and electronics. This is not without precedence. It could have happened. If that had happened, the autopilot would have been destroyed also and this would be an airplane with no pilots and no autopilot and it would be out of control. Other than that, if the pilots had a situation where they ran out of gas, like Sullenberger, they could have collided that aircraft to safety or at least tried to get it to safety.

PEREIRA: We want to look at what folks on twitter are asking. We thought we would put some questions to you guys. We'll ask one question from the viewer. Assuming the transponder and ACARS were disconnected deliberately, is it possible the recorders would have been switched off zoo. Could they be turned off manually from inside the plane?

BERMAN: The flight data recorders, could they be turned off in any way manually from inside that plane.

LUCICH: I've talk to some 777 pilots. According to these guys, they had advised me, there is nothing on that airplane they shouldn't be able to turn off if it is an electrical fire. I cannot believe you would be able to turn the flight recorders off. According to these two pilots, you can. If that was the case, or they knew, one of the 777 pilots said, you would have to go in the back. I don't fly a 777. I don't know. But, yes, it is possible if you know what you are doing or have been trained. You don't have to be a pilot. You have to be somebody that's trained.

BERMAN: A 777 pilot I talked to said something similar.

WISE: Yeah, I know. It absolutely does according to 777 pilots I've talks to.

BERMAN: We will ask you the second question from Twitter. Jeff, I'll ask it to you. People are wondering about this debris. Someone writes, why not drop the black box ping listener and listen in in that area where they think they spotted that debris? The question is, what harm would that do just to listen in right now?

WISE: That's absolutely what they are doing. The problem is that the pinger, this acoustic device, only has a range of about two miles. So it gets too faint to detect. What you have to do is try to drop a series of these and drag along a listening device through the water, try to make a grid. You need to get within a certain distance of this pinger in order for it to work. Here is the problem. This water, in some places, is more than two miles deep. Nowhere on the surface will you be able to detect this pinger. If you get a more advanced listening device, that might increase your range. Huge stretch of ocean. No real clear idea where the wreckage is. If there is wreckage, it is a big problem.

PEREIRA: The cargo manifest is something that investigators will be looking at as part of their on going investigation. Malaysia Airlines talked about the fact that there was a small collection of lithium ion on batteries. We talked again earlier about the possibility they could have caught fire. It happens, although rare. The indications would be that if that had happened, a pilot would have a chance to put out a May Day or call or at least alert that there was a problem on board.

LUCICH: We have an aircraft that takes off reported at 12:55 a.m. At 1:07, 12 minutes later, it diverted from its path. 12 minutes later, it is off about 90 minutes later. When he is handed off to Ho Chi Min control, he says, OK, good night.


LUCICH: If they had diverted because of the fire, he would have said, we are diverted, going to this airfield, descending at flight level 350, on and on and on. That's not what happened. I do not think, while anything is possible, I don't believe that's what happened in this case at all.

WISE: Can I add something about lithium ion?


WISE: We have heard about fires and smoldering involved in lithium eye on batteries with 787s. We have heard about laptops spontaneously combusting. Slightly different situation. Those are batteries hooked into a device. What we are talking about here is --

PEREIRA: Stored batteries.

WISE: -- stored batteries in a box. It's a different situation. Not to say it is impossible but when we hear about that.

PEREIRA: It's a different scenario. WISE: It's a different scenario.

BERMAN: Jeff Wise, John Lucich, thanks so much for being with us. Great discussion. Appreciate it.

PEREIRA: Ahead @ THIS HOUR, we know the plight of the families. We have talked about it here before. Families of the passengers are awaiting, hanging on every word for news of what happened to flight 370 and they are certainly not giving up hope that their loved ones will come home.


PEREIRA: Wives, husbands, children, mothers, fathers, waiting for their loved ones to return and keeping hope that they are alive.

BERMAN: Our David McKenzie spoke with one man whose son was on flight 370. Let's hear what he had to say.


WEN WANCHENO, FATHER OF MISSING PASSENGER (through translation): I can't sleep each night, because all I think about is my son. Up until now, what else can we do? This is about his flight. There is nothing you can do to help. We can only wait for further updates.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Do you still believe your son is alive?

WANCHENO (through translation): I firmly believe that my son, together with everyone on board, will all survive.


BERMAN: Malaysian authorities say that briefings for the families on the missing plane will continue as long as the families want them.

PEREIRA: Let's bring in Dr. Gail Saltz.

Dr. Saltz, we are so pleased you could join us to talk about it.

We know these families have gone on an emotional roller coaster for the past two weeks, still, no concrete information that they can be given. Communication was sketchy at the beginning to begin with. I don't know that there is a right way to tell these people how to handle this. What kind of advice do you give someone that is going through this kind of grief?

DR. GAIL SALTZ, PSYCHIATRIST, PSYCHOANALYST & AUTHOR: It is traumatic. You are right. There isn't one right way to handle trauma. It does depend on that person's individual psychology, whether it is better for them to be able to talk about it. Some people would really benefit from counseling in this situation. If they would provide some people in these rooms with them, that they could go and talk to or having meetings with so they can talk about how they are feeling or how symptomatic they are and get some help. PEREIRA: One size doesn't fit all.

SALTZ: One size doesn't fit all. We know some people really don't do well-being asked to talk. They just need support of families and friends. It can make you feel worse. Some people do. You shouldn't force them to talk. The way it is handled, with people being dragged from the room and so on, is only amplifying the trauma. That, obviously, no place for that.

BERMAN: The families, a lot of them feel like today was the first chance they had, to get the briefings they want, to ask the question they want.

SALTZ: Right.

BERMAN: We were hearing some of the questions they were asking. There was someone who asked the Malaysian officials, do you have any proof that flight 370 was shot down by some country's military. What struck me about this, it made me think, what must these families be going through. That sounds like a fairly outlandish theory right there. What must they be going through to be thinking those things?

SALTZ: When there isn't any information, you are left with the vacuum of your fantasy --


PEREIRA: You start filling in the blanks, don't you?

SALTZ: Given what people watch on television and given what happens in real life, imitating real life, people are left to go to their worst place. And, in fact, to some degree, it is a better place for them. The idea there is somebody to hold responsible, somebody to blame, somebody they can ask, that there is somebody that they can stop or some way of rescuing their loved one. That is the fantasy that people want to hold on to. That's why they are going to all these strange places. It would be better for them to some degree if they would not watch everything that's said.

PEREIRA: That's the hard part because they are waiting for any outlet to give them a grain of information.


SALTZ: What they are doing, it is like a compulsive thing. You want the hope to diminish your anxiety. You have this hope to keep looking. You can't turn away from the accident. Every time they do, they are not getting an answer. It only churns them up more. I am sure some of these people are terribly symptomatic and need some help. After, come what may, if there is an after, that that's when the people are going to need more help and in different ways, too.

PEREIRA: Here's another thing. After whatever -- come what may --


PEREIRA: -- that's when the people are going to need more help and in different ways, too.

SALTZ: In different ways. The problem is, the longer there isn't an answer, the greater the possibility of complicated grief. Your ability to process the information, digest it, resolve it and move on. Is diminished so we can go on a long, long time of where you don't know what it is going to be. The anger they feel also makes it worse. I would be very concerned about risk of suicide in people. But for many of these people, it is their only child, losing a child, particularly, at the top of the trauma, it puts you at great risk for that.

BERMAN: We hope that people get the support they need, each individual, whatever that support might need.

Thanks so much for being with us.

SALTZ: My pleasure.

BERMAN: Really appreciate it.

Ahead for us @ THIS HOUR, out of the box and into the cloud. Big question here: Why isn't crucial flight data uploaded into the virtual world? It happens to our iPhones. So why can't it happen to the black box? That's next.


PEREIRA: Finding that flight data recorder is complicated. Like finding a needle in a haystack.

The former head of the NTSB says retrieving the info shouldn't be so hard.

BERMAN: He says that the flight data and cockpit voice recording should be unloaded to a cloud like information from your Smartphone. It happens with our personal devices. So why can't it happen with something this? Investigators could download it and not have to dive for it in the ocean.

Brett Larson is here.

Brett, as we said, we're not tech experts, but this sounds like a decent idea.

BRETT LARSON, CNN TECHNOLOGY ANALYST & FORMER NTSB DIRECTOR: Sounds so simple. And it would work. That's what's so crazy about it. When you go to the store and you buy the new iPhone and you turn it on and you left your password in, all your stuff comes back.

Now, granted, we are in large metropolitan area, we have excellent cell coverage. So that's a different story. But I get that we're talking about 10,000 aircraft at a time flying over. But we're also talking about voice and data, which is very -- not a lot of bandwidth would be required. And if you can have Wi-Fi on board, TV signals to these airplanes, you could very easily be uploading this information at the same time. PEREIRA: It occurred to me, too, it would then also target exactly where the search area is.

LARSON: Absolutely. Then you would know the point of last contact.



LARSON: You could see from the data that they, OK, this was their last GPS position before --


PEREIRA: Let's go there.

LARSON: You would have basically the same information that's on the black box. Which for some of these older airlines are still magnetic tape.

PEREIRA: Is it surprising to you that technology has not really evolved?

LARSON: It is, and it isn't. Because when you look at the airline industry as a whole, they tend to not fix things until it absolutely has to be fixed. We saw this with Air France. They looked for that black box for two years, and that was well beyond the 30 days of ping they got. And they said then it should at least go for 90 days.

BERMAN: If anything was turned off on this plane either deliberately or through some kind of big disaster, presumably the cloud servicing device could be turned off also. So perhaps the data would be limited and could have been sent up there, is there any security concerns for that? Look, if it data is constantly being transferred, you know, isn't that an opportunity for hackers to break in?

LARSON: I mean, it is from a one-way communication standpoint in that hackers would be able to figure out where an airplane is, and everything coming out of the airplane. Could you offer limited amounts of data that would come out, so that it wouldn't be the full black box? Wouldn't be something you could plug into a simulator so you could say do this. It could be simple waypoint or GPS coordinates. There are free apps that tell you where airplanes are in the world within three or four feet.

PEREIRA: You can track if you have an incoming flight, a guest arriving, see where its progress is.

LARSON: And I get the privacy concerns in terms of I don't want my conversation in the cockpit being constantly transmitted. But again, this is something they're only going to really need to turn to in the event of an incident or in this case a missing aircraft.

PEREIRA: Watching how people react to the story online, theories flying around quickly. The idea that these electronics could have been compromised, hacked, if you will -- LARSON: Right.

PEREIRA: -- from a remote location.


LARSON: Again, it goes back to -- you know, these systems that fly these airplanes in the 777 is all fly by wire, computer controlled. But the systems are proprietary and not connected, not on the Wi-Fi, so if you're on your laptop, you're not going to see a shared computer that's the cockpit computer. It would be very difficult to do so that. And it would also require, again, a constant connection to the ground somewhere, which if you're flying over 90 percent of the earth's water, you need to have some sort of satellite connection someone would notice on board.

BERMAN: Interesting. All right. Brett Larson, great to have you here. Really appreciate it.

PEREIRA: Have a great weekend.

Ahead of this hour, Congressman John Lewis, like you probably haven't seen before, getting real happy. When you see the civil rights icon doing his thing, I'm going to tell you, on this Friday, you are going to get happy, too.


BERMAN: So tomorrow is World Water Day. And Chad Pabracke (ph) and his nearly 70,000 volunteers have removed more than seven million pounds of garbage from rivers.

PEREIRA: During that work, the "2013 CNN Hero of the year" accumulated what he believes is one of the world's largest message in a bottle collections.


CHAD PABRACKE (ph), CNN HERO: This is the message in a bottle collection. We have collected over the years. It's pretty cool to find them, because you never know how far they came, where they came from, who they came from. Each tells its own story.

This is pretty cool from the '93 flood. Had a flag on it. This is a bunch of lottery tickets. I don't know if they're winners or not. But obviously not.

Here's one. This is cool. Picture of Bill Clinton. Pretty neat.

Some of them have been found three or four times and past on and they'll keep going down the river, down the river. People sign and date them.

This one had money in it with postage so you could send it back to them. Cool. Vice president. Haven't done that yet. Probably should. Stamps went up, though. This is a voodoo one. Better not be for me. Has nails in it and a note, with a string tied on it. It said you are bound now.

There's actually a lot of them that are pretty heavy, written to a lost loved one. Didn't want to keep it. Not meant to be kept.

It's fun for the volunteers. But it's a pretty unique collection, because I don't know who else finds this many messages in a bottle. So pretty cool.


PEREIRA: You ever done that with the kids?

BERMAN: I haven't.

PEREIRA: I think you might do it now.

If you know someone who deserve to be a CNN hero, tell us about them,

We want to end on this Friday with this. Take a look.




REP. JOHN LEWIS, (D), GEORGIA: This is my song.


PEREIRA: Getting down with the good foot. That is Congressman John Lewis, getting happy.

BERMAN: 74 years old. This video has gone viral. Understandably. I can be cynical about anything. It is impossible to be cynical about this. It makes you happy, no matter what the song, obviously, Pharrell Williams.

PEREIRA: 74 years old.

BERMAN: It was recorded for International Day of Happy.

PEREIRA: We tweeted a picture -- I was going to say us smooching, not us smooching. Happily married man. But we tweeted happiness out there.

BERMAN: We're smooching on the inside. John Lewis can sure dance, making a whole lot of people smiling.

PEREIRA: I'm not sure how that works, John Berman. Smooching on the inside.

That's it for us @ THIS HOUR. Have a great weekend. BERMAN: "LEGAL VIEW" with Ashleigh Banfield starts right now.