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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

More Data Deletions Discovered On Hard Drive; Critical Data Was Delayed In Flight Search; Descending On "The Roaring Forties"; Families Of Missing Torn Between Grief And Hope

Aired March 21, 2014 - 16:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. We have some breaking news in our "World Lead" about the disappearance of Flight 370. There is some new information about the data that was deleted from the flight simulator that authorities seized from the captain's house. I want to go straight to justice reporter, Evan Perez. Evan, what have you learned?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Jake, we've learned that U.S. investigators have been examining the hard drives, as you know, that was seized from the two pilots and the hard drive belonging to the captain has yielded some information that appears -- it appears that they deleted some information -- someone deleted some information after February 3rd, which is when, as you might remember, Malaysian authorities have said they noticed some deletions done from the hard drive.

We don't know and what investigators are trying to figure out is who made those deletions, when particularly the deletions were made and whether they went right up to the departure of the flight and whether or not there's anything nefarious in this. Now, this could have been done by someone doing the initial investigation of the hard drives, as you know, so that's something that they are not making any conclusions about -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Evan Perez, thank you so much.

Two full weeks have ticked by, but time is still very much of the essence in the search for Flight 370, which makes it is all more puzzling that four days had to pass before Malaysian officials acted on rock solid satellite data showing that the plane was in all likelihood nowhere near the original search area. Could the delay have been enough to make the difference between the discovery of those -- of the plane or not? Our Joe Johns has that story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE0

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): So why did it take four days for the public to learn that the plane may have flown for several hours in either of two corridors away from the area being searched last week? The Malaysian government said it took that long for experts, including some from the U.S., to reach a consensus about the satellite data suggesting the final direction of the plane. Even now, obviously, the reliability of the information is still not clear.

AZHARUDDIN ABDUL RAHMAN: From what we have gathered from the communication with the pilot, we have not come to any conclusion.

JOHNS: Wednesday, March 12th, is when the Malaysian government says it got the raw satellite data from the Inmarsat. The Malaysian minister of defense says his country consulted U.S. officials recognized by many as the best in the world.

RAHMAN: So the U.S. team and the investigation teams of Malaysia are processing what was needed before it could be used.

JOHNS: Thursday, the 13th, Malaysia says initial results came back, but it was agreed by the U.S. team and the investigation's team that further refinement was needed so the data was sent back to the U.S. again. Friday, the 14th, Malaysia says the results were received about 2:30 in the afternoon and presented at a high-level meeting where the U.S., the U.K., and others processing the information concurred. Saturday, the 15th, the Malaysian prime minister was briefed on the results and publicly announced them at a press conference.

NAJIB RAZAK, MALAYSIAN PRIME MINISTER: Data showed that an aircraft, which was believed but not confirmed to be MH-370 did, indeed turn back. It then flew in a westerly direction back over peninsula of Malaysia before turning northwest.

JOHNS: Experts agree that it's hard to analyze the kind of satellite data that Malaysian officials got from Inmarsat. But even if there was an inkling of a different route for the plane, the prudent move would have been to scramble the search teams as soon as possible.

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: The opening hours are critical. If they had an indication of where this possibly could have gone in, we should have had assets on it absolutely as soon as possible.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: The only way to know for sure about the quality of the satellite information is to find the plane which, in a water search, is extremely difficult in the best of circumstances. Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.

TAPPER: Thanks to Joe Johns. Right now, the search remains concentrated in what the Australian prime minister told reporters is, quote, "About the most inaccessible spot that you could imagine on the face of the earth." Almost 1500 miles off the coast of Perth, Australia, in the Southern Indian Ocean that's where five days ago, a satellite photographed object said Australian authorities says could be related to the plane. Today, the search there came up empty.

Let's bring in Ambassador Kim Beazley, Australian ambassador to the U.S. who is also the former aviation minister. Ambassador Beazley, so good to see you again. The fear is that the debris may have sunk or drifted for hundreds of miles since being spotted by satellite. What are the plans for this weekend's search? KIM BEAZLEY, AUSTRALIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: That's entirely possible. What's happening this weekend is the Australian, American and New Zealand aircraft, which have been flying since this point will be joined by two from China and two from Japan, and will operate at the Pierce Air Base. The Chinese, as I understand it, have several ships on the way to the area and the Australian ships will probably reach the general vicinity at that point in time.

After the initial movement of the aircraft to investigate the areas, identified by the Geospatial Intelligence Agency, a Hercules C- 130 was out there dropping buoys by which they could start to measure the movements of objects on the water.

TAPPER: So that was the first spotting of this debris, was from the Australian geospatial --

BEAZLEY: Yes, that was the agency, which spotted it and handed the information across to the Australian government who subsequently passed it over to the Malaysians who were conducting the operation. I did hear your previous speaker on that and what he said made a degree of sense. They are very good. They are really very good.

TAPPER: The Malaysians?

BEAZLEY: No, the Geospatial Intelligence Agency is very good. The Malaysians, my heart goes out to them. Apart from the fact that there are Malaysians that went down with this plane, lots of Chinese, of course, and we've expressed our profound, profound sorrow for them as they try to struggle with the missing. But it's a little country. You are beyond belief brilliant.

The United States is world first class on all of this and I know the Malaysian government has asked them and you've given a lot more assistance to search these areas. These folks could be just overwhelmed with the attention, overwhelmed with the problem of the search. To my knowledge, I don't know that they've ever done this before. It's easy to point a finger at them and they will learn a lot from this and they must learn a lot from this, but they need to temper the criticism.

TAPPER: Mercy -- our sympathies are with the families.

BEAZLEY: Of course.

TAPPER: And we look at how the Malaysian government is handling all of this and they get information from reliable sources, whether it's the Australian Geospatial Intelligence Agency or whomever, and they act on it days later and you know, by then, we are dealing with a situation in which hours are at issue.

BEAZLEY: Yes, but with that satellite stuff, the Australian government was operating on it immediately. This is unbelievably -- this is the roaring '40s.

TAPPER: Tell us what the roaring 40s are. It's latitude between the 40 and 50. BEAZLEY: Yes, that's right. Back in the day what used to happen with the Dutch empire, for example, ships would go down to the 40s and be blasted across the Southern Indian Ocean, which would have the sailing time --

TAPPER: The winds are so strong?

BEAZLEY: So strong. And then they would turn left, hopefully in the direction of the -- often in the direction of the West Australian coast were dozens were wreaked and the crews never seen again except when you test their DNA, Dutch DNA shows up in a great number of people. So they got ashore, joined the tribes, they were never seen by Europeans again.

TAPPER: But the significance of the roaring 40s is that the winds are so strong that it makes the search hard?

BEAZLEY: Awful. It is -- the summer season would have been easier, but we are now into autumn. They don't get much of a summer down in those zones and what you can expect is total misery, which makes searching hard because there are white caps everywhere. And the seas rock up and down 12, 15, 20 feet. And it's a nightmare for folk who are moving over quickly to spot them. I think ships coming into the area, ships have helicopters. That will help. Of course, if the plane did go down, the chance of there being a huge amount around is not strong.

TAPPER: That's a shame. You referred to the Australian Geospatial Intelligence Agency. You're a sophisticated country. You have surveillance and intelligence capabilities. You have satellites. I'm sure you've been pouring over everything. Any clues beyond the ones we know about?

BEAZLEY: No. We have radars that could have reached into the area that we're talking about on the initial event of the night but I -- from what I'm told, they were evicted in that area so we have no information. If one sits down and says, why would Australia being headed aircraft to China? It's not something that we do. We have other problems and priorities in the area and of that I will not talk but in terms of the -- of us seeing anything, if you saw anything in these situations, we'd be straight into them.

We are -- we have intimate defense relations with the Malaysians. We are involved at the air base. Australia has a joint military base agreement with Malaysia. They are involved in air force activities nearby where -- which is nearby where the plane went and whose commander drives the Malaysian government the day after the military radar had picked something up on the way across. So the notion that we would withhold anything --

TAPPER: No, of course not. I just wondered if there's anything that we don't know about.

BEAZLEY: Not that I know of.

TAPPER: It's always great to see you. Thank you so much for stopping by. We appreciate it.

Coming up, 239 people, including this 2-year-old traveling with his parents and grandparents. How anguish families are dealing with the emotional roller coaster next.

Plus, getting closer to first daylight but after a rough day yesterday, will the weather cooperate for this weekend search?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. More now on our "World Lead," the disappearance of Flight 370 has captivated the world, but we should never lose sight of fact that the 239 people on board that plane are not characters in a mystery. They are mothers, sons, husbands, grandparents, grandchildren, some were taking just another routine flight. Some were taking the first flight of their lives. Some boarded the plane in Kuala Lumpur looking forward to the trip of a lifetime.

Katherine and Robert Lawton and Rodney and Mary Burroughs are two Australian couples who were traveling to Beijing together. They were friends and neighbors who loved taking trips, but not as much as they loved their grandkids. Also on board, brothers, Ferry and Harry Sudaya of Indonesia. Their young children keep asking when their daddies will come home. It's a question one family member who asked not to be identified is not prepared to answer for himself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There's a feeling of loss, but for sure we're still hoping because the plane hasn't been found. We still hope that we'll be together the way we were before.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Among the youngest of the missing passengers is this adorable toddler who was returning from vacation to Malaysia with his parents and grandparents. Loved ones say he should soon be celebrating his second birthday. And this 3-year-old was on a trip with her mom and dad. Her mother affectionately called the mother by her nickname, Panpan.

The 39-year-old Paul Weeks was traveling on business. His wife and two young children live in Perth, Australia. She told reporters she has been taking things minute-by-minute and what choice does she have given all the uncertainty over the past 15 days? The family members of these passengers and crew members have been left in an emotional limbo.

While it may seem increasingly unlikely that they will ever see their loved ones again, who could blame them for hanging on to hope? Joining me now is clinical psychologist, Dr. Jeff Gardere. He is also an assistant professor at the Toro College of Medicine in New York. Doctor, good to see you. Until we know for sure what happened, can the grief process for these family members ever truly begin? DR. JEFF GARDERE, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: That's really the issue, isn't it? They've put grief counselors out there to speak with the family members except they can't begin to grieve until they know exactly what has happened. So as you correctly stated, they are in an emotional limbo and this is an emotional roller coaster ride. Jake, I think many of them really do hope that this plane was hijacked because then it gives them that glimmer of hope that their relatives, their friends are still alive.

TAPPER: If the plane is never found, will they ever be able to truly grieve? Will there always be this question, this mystery of whether their loved ones are still out there somewhere?

GARDERE: I think as we look at cold cases, as the days go on, there is less and less hope and then we start looking at probably the fact that there's virtually no way, it's impossible that there are survivors to whatever may have happened here and so in time they will begin to go through that grieving process. In time they will get better.

The relatives of the victim of the Air France flight that went down in the Atlantic Ocean in 2009, they sent a letter to these families who are going through this right now and initially said that, yes, it is almost impossible to deal with your emotions right now, but you have to survive. You have to go on. You have to honor those that are gone and eventually you will. That is the way of life.

TAPPER: And then, of course, Doctor, there is a way that this investigation has been conducted, the way that the media has uncovered this investigation. So many fits and starts and possible breaks. I can't even imagine being in the situation, having the uncertainty and then being on this roller coaster of hopes and hopes dashed.

GARDERE: That's right. A lot of these family members have said, we're getting a lot of inconsistent information. The terms that they used are blurry words and those blurry words, those blurry messages, just if nothing else, add insult to injury. It makes them rageful. It makes them angry. It makes them depressed and that's why we've seen in Kuala Lumpur in particular some of those family members have been outraged having protested and so on.

And the way that they've been treated, sending security guards to try to quiet them down, pulling them out of rooms when they are trying to protest in front of the media, that has made these family members even much more injured emotionally. So a lot more needs to be done. A lot more tenderness, kindness, but if nothing else, consistent information.

TAPPER: Dr. Gardere, I don't know if there are some Americans who were on that flight, I don't know if anybody is watching, but what coping mechanisms would you recommend for these families to get them through this?

GARDERE: Well, the most important thing is, they must communicate to one another within families, other families who are part of this, as I said, the Air France family, people who had families who died, they communicated. So it's an informal support group. But more than anything else, no matter what your spirituality or religion, if you have it, it doesn't matter. Now is the time to turn to that higher power to, pray, to look at a way that together you can communicate in a way to be able to reach -- to other people in their spirituality to gain that strength. Every day is a gift and we must hold on to that.

TAPPER: Dr. Jeff Gardere, thank you so much.

Coming up, we're getting close to the first daylight in Australia where the search for the missing Flight 370 continues.

Next, what teams are up against this weekend?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Continuing with our "World Lead." Of course, nothing comes easy in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Yes, the focus has been greatly narrowed about 1500 miles off Australia's coast. But as Australia's prime minister put it today, that's one of the least hospitable places on earth.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: It's about the most inaccessible spot if you could imagine on the face of the earth, but if there was anything down there, we will find it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: I want to bring in our meteorologist, Chad Myers. Chad, what's the weather looked like for this weekend in that neck of the woods. Will the weather cooperate with the search crews?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: One good day and that's tomorrow. Sunday is shot. Sunday is 20, 30 mile-per-hour winds and white caps everywhere. Tomorrow is still flat. Flattish. As flat as it gets down there, 10 to 20-foot swells, but at least there's not a lot of white caps. White caps, looking for a white plane, you just can't see anything.

This is Sunday. The 60-mile-per-hour wind just south of the debris about 20 to 30 right over the search area, this is not going to be helpful at all. It gets better for Tuesday and Wednesday, but we have a couple of bad days, Sunday into Monday. I know you talked about the roaring 40s a couple minutes ago. We're lucky this is not the furious 50s. That's 60 mile-per-hour winds over the weekend and they last the entire weekend into next week as well.

We are just 10 degrees north of where the real ferocious weather is getting into the fall season here, what we would consider September. The storms are going to get farther and farther to the north for them. The same way our storms gets farther and farther to the south.

TAPPER: All right, Chad Myers, fingers crossed for tomorrow. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tappe. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM -- Mr. Blitzer?