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Search for Flight 370; Searchng for Items Seen by Satellite

Aired March 21, 2014 - 05:30   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news overnight. The search by air happening at this moment. The search by water to find the missing Malaysian jetliner that vanished two weeks ago with 239 people on board. That debris spotted by a satellite imagery. Could it be linked to the missing plane?

The first search jet has just returned to base. We'll tell you what they saw. We are bringing you live, team coverage of everything that's happened overnight.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow in for Christine Romans this Friday. It is 30 minutes past the hour, 5:30 a.m. here on the East Coast.

First up, hunting for two floating pieces of some sort of debris in one of the most remote places on the entire planet.

Here's the latest on the search for Flight 370. Five jets, four from Australia, one from the United States, scouring the search zone overnight in the South Indian Ocean. Ships are there as well helping out. Visibility in the area is described as ideal. That is a positive turn.

Now the first jet searching the area has just returned to base. No success, no debris sighted. You have multiple jets still out there scouring the area, though.

The issue is, you know, questioning what they can see and when, if ever, they're going to be able to find what was spotted by these satellites. Several -- it's now been five days, by the way, since these satellite images were taken.

I want to kick off our coverage with Jim Clancy. He is live for us in Kuala Lumpur.

Jim, what is the latest? And also, any update on that press conference we're expecting to hear shortly from the Malaysian authorities, is that correct?

JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That is correct. In just a few minutes, we should be getting an update once again from the Defense minister and acting Transportation minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, as well as other officials who often attend this briefing, including the head, the CEO of Malaysian Airlines. But the focus of the search, as you rightly say, Poppy, today is really on what is being done in the southern reaches of the Indian Ocean, far offshore from western Australia.

There, some of the most advanced reconnaissance aircraft known in the world are doing their best to scan the horizon to find any trace of missing Flight 370. They are looking for debris. They are looking, yes, for those two pieces of debris that were spotted about four days ago by satellite. But they're looking for any debris that they might find in that search zone, any hint, any clue that would take us closer to Flight 370, because if we can find where that is, it might lead us to understand why all of this happened, how all of this happened, what exactly happened aboard the aircraft, what made it go missing.

It is a major mystery right now, and people here in Kuala Lumpur, officials admit it, 14 days into this investigation, no one can quite believe how few real facts there are -- Poppy and John.

HARLOW: Absolutely. Absolutely, Jim. We appreciate it very much.

BERMAN: Let's go now to this press conference in Malaysian right now. That's the Malaysian Defense minister briefing the press right now. Let's listen.

HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER: Satellite images released by Australia yesterday are indeed related to MH-370. In the meantime, we are continuing search-and-rescue operations in the rest of the southern and northern corridors.

I will now give you a brief operational update, as usual. Search efforts southwest of Perth continues, and the Australian authorities are intensifying their efforts in the area. HMAS success is due to reach the vicinity of the objects tomorrow. China has deployed five ships and three ship-borne helicopters, which are currently heading towards the southern corridor.

Three Chinese aircraft, two Illusion 1IL-76s and one Shanzi Y-8 arrived in Malaysian at 1100 this morning. They will also be searching in the southern corridor.

Japan is deploying its assets to Perth, including two P-3 Orions to assist with Australian search efforts. This morning I have spoken with the acting high commissioner from the United Kingdom, who confirmed that the prime minister has spoken to the prime minister of the UK, and HMS Echo is already heading towards the southern Indian Ocean to support the search effort.

He also confirmed that UK will be providing us with a list of possible assets that can be deployed, if needed. He also confirmed reaffirmed that in addition to the technical support provided so far, it stands ready to provide further specialist search and investigative assistance once more information about the fate of MH-370 becomes known.

I have also been in touch with the French delegation, which is led by the French ambassador to Malaysian and includes the man who led the investigation into Air France 447 crash. They have agreed to assist us with considerable experience and expertise.

I will also be speaking to the U.S. Secretary of Defense at 2115 tonight to request further specialist assets to help with the search- and-rescue efforts, including the operator be close to deep ocean salvage.

The Kazakhstan authorities have assured us that they have not found any trace of MH-370, and we are awaiting permission for Kazakhstan to be used as a staging point for search operations.

On the police investigation, the Ukraine Police have confirmed that the background checks on the Ukrainian passengers have come back clear.

I would like to briefly discuss the processing of the Inmarsat data. The investigations team included the complete raw Inmarsat satellite data, which included the six handshakes at approximately 1500 on Wednesday, 12th of March. This type of data is not normally used in investigation of this sort. It is only because we have so little other information to go on in this difficult and unprecedented situation that the data is being used.

Upon receiving the raw data, the Malaysian authorities immediately discussed with the U.S. team how this information might be used. The U.S. team and investigations team then sent the data to the U.S. where further processing was needed before it could be used. Initial results were received on Thursday, the 13th of March, at approximately 1313 but it was agreed by the U.S. team and investigations team that further refinement was needed, so the data was again sent back to the U.S.

The results were received at approximately 2:30 on Friday, the 14th of March, and presented to the investigations team at a high-level meeting at 2100 on Friday. The UK AAIB, who had also been processing this data independently, presented their results, which concurred with ours and those of the U.S. team at that meeting.

The prime minister was briefed on the satellite information at 8:00 a.m. Saturday, the 15th of March, and publicly announced it at the press conference at Saturday lunchtime. Search-and-rescue operations were immediately shifted to the northern and southern corridors.

Last night in Kuala Lumpur, we held a briefing for the relatives of those on board MH-370. As I mentioned in yesterday's statement, the briefing was to update family members on the latest developments and to answer questions and clear up any confusion. The meeting was well attended by family members from different nations, including Malaysia, and by representatives from the Chinese embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

A high-level Malaysian delegation, including representatives from Malaysian Airlines, the Department of Civil Aviation, the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Security Council also attended the meeting.

We had a very constructive and frank discussion. Although we answered most of the questions they raised, we could not answer them all. These briefings will continue at the families' convenience for as long as the families want them.

The briefing brought the families and the Malaysian authorities closer together, not just in terms of sharing information but also in terms of listening to the voice of the family members. The prime minister's special envoy to China will be coordinating the briefings in Kuala Lumpur from now on.

The high-level team I announced yesterday arrived in Beijing last night. Today they met with family members for 3 1/2 hours.

Ladies and gentlemen, this continues to be a multinational effort coordinated by Malaysian and involving dozens of countries from around the world. We continue to receive offers of assistance, including specialist assets that can help with the search and rescue, and we welcome all assistance as we continue to follow every credible lead.

Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, ladies and gentlemen, the floor is now open for a question-and-answer session. We will start with the local media first. This, sir.

BERMAN: All right, you've been watching the briefing from the Defense minister, the acting minister of Transportation in Malaysian right now, giving us the latest on the search for missing Flight 370. A couple of tidbits from that. He did announce that the Malaysian officials, they are awaiting news from the search off the coast.

HARLOW: From Australia.

BERMAN: So far they've heard nothing to indicate whether they've seen any further sign of the debris that they spotted by satellite five days ago. He's waiting for more information on that search. He also talked about logistics. They have requested some assets, new assets for the United States, including deepwater search assets, something the Malaysians don't have.

HARLOW: Right, they talked about that.

BERMAN: Submarines, unmanned vehicles, something that will be very important. Kazakhstan in that northern search area --

HARLOW: A base point, a landing ground for that search area.

BERMAN: They want a staging area in Kazakhstan, reports back from Kazakhstan that that nation has seen no sign in their radar data of anything that's flown overhead.

HARLOW: Right. Also important for the families that have been waiting so long for any word. He did say that a high-level team, whatever that consists of, arrived in Beijing last night and met with family members for 3 1/2 hours. I'm sure flooded and flooded with questions. No specificity, though, on what more the families may be being told than we're being told, if anything.

BERMAN: The beginning of a process late in coming with those families so desperate.


BERMAN: There is one other thing that he covered that may be confusing to some people. He was going back very defensively over the timeline over some data that the Malaysians received, the so-called Inmarsat data. These are these satellite handshakes. This was the first information that let them create this two-search -- the northern arc and the southern arc.

HARLOW: And the southern arc.

BERMAN: Those handshakes that satellites had been sending back that let them try to focus the search in that area. There have been some criticism because that data actually came to them last Wednesday, you know, more than a week ago now. They didn't announce what they had found from that data until Saturday, so a four-day delay. They did refocus their search to those areas Saturday.

He defensively went over the timeline, suggesting they needed those extra days between the 12th and the 15th to verify that data, and he also said that the U.S. was critical in helping him do that. He was really trying to sort of I think pass the buck to the United States for that delay. But again, shows the criticism that Malaysian officials have been feeling all along.

Again, we've been listening to the briefing from this Malaysian Defense minister over the last few minutes. I think the most important news, no news yet from that search area.

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: That debris area. Australian planes still flying overhead.

HARLOW: And only one has returned without seeing debris, more still out there at this moment.

We're going to bring you the latest and an expert to talk about what he thinks, what he just heard in the press conference, also someone who can really analyze those satellite images for us. We're going to bring you that straight ahead.


BERMAN: All right, this morning the search very much on over the Southern Indian Ocean.


BERMAN: Planes flying overhead. The first back reported no sign of debris. Four more planes still flying, waiting to hear from them to get a better look at what may be in the satellite images that were released yesterday.

Now we've got an expert with us to look more closely at these pictures. HARLOW: Yes. Sean O'Connor was an intelligence analyst with the U.S. Air Force.

You have a very unique perspective. And let's get your take. Let's get your take on what you think that these images may show. We've been told by others this is as clear as it's going to get.

SEAN O'CONNOR, FORMER INTELLIGENCE ANALYST, U.S. AIR FORCE: Yes. What you're looking at is a 24 or 25-meter object and about a 5-meter object. And what you can basically make out is that there are two objects that appear to be floating at or near the surface of the ocean. So beyond that, you can't really make any conclusive determination. You will notice that they're black-and-white imagery, and that's done sometimes specifically to bring out a little bit more detail.

The panchromatic imagery will give you a little bit more detail in the grayscale sometimes than the color imagery will, and that allows you to extract fine features, but you can't actually get any color information.

So you can't look at it and say, you can recognize the Malaysian Airlines color scheme or anything like that.

BERMAN: Sean, now that we have those pictures, at least, how hard is it to get more pictures right now? Either from the same satellite or different satellites? Do they need to be refocused? Does that take time? It's been five days since these were taken.


BERMAN: I think a lot of people think it's surprising that we haven't seen anything else since then.

O'CONNOR: Part of the problem you have to worry about is that the reason it initially took so long for these images to get released it ran about five days, I think, between when the images were taken and when the Australian government released them. And the reason for that is they weren't able to point at a spot in the ocean right off the bat and say take us a picture of what might be floating there.

They had to order an entire area of the ocean, you know, a couple thousand kilometers worth to search, and then searching and sifting through all that data takes time. So, it's, you know, completely plausible that it took them that long to find the pictures that they did. And we don't know how far into the material they've got when they found those pictures. They may have been at the top of the stack, the middle of the stack.

HARLOW: Right. And quickly, you know, these satellite images coming out of China that ultimately did not lead to anything, do you see material difference between what we're looking at now, what we're looking at now off the coast of Perth and what we saw in those images from the Chinese?

O'CONNOR: Yes. For one, the Chinese images were a little bit lesser quality. And from the other standpoint, they were trying to look at not necessarily a debris field, but I believe that they are trying to image was a potential oil slick on top of the ocean, which is something you'd expect to be there if an aircraft or there was some sort of accident involved.

HARLOW: So these make you more hopeful?

O'CONNOR: Yes. These clearly show something that could be far more readily identifiable as aircraft debris. The problem is, the only way to be conclusively sure is you're going to have to go out there and look.

BERMAN: And that's what they're doing right now.

HARLOW: Yes, that's what they're doing.

BERMAN: Sean O'Connor, thanks for coming in, helping us understand what these pictures show.

HARLOW: We appreciate it.

BERMAN: We are following the investigation into Flight 370 right now. The flight over that debris field. We'll tell you what the pilots have been saying right after this.


HARLOW: It has been 14 days since Flight 370 vanished, 14 days of unrelenting pain for those who know and love the 239 people on board that aircraft. The latest debris sighting in the South Indian Ocean bringing hope to some, bringing tears to others.

Pauline Chiou has been with the families of those on the flight in Beijing. She joins us now live from there.

I know officials finally briefing them in depth for 3 1/2 hours, we're told, for the first time. What is the sentiment in the room? What are the family members saying?

PAULINE CHIOU, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, one woman stood up and said her only son is on that flight, and she said this has been 14 days of pure agony. And the general consensus is that, finally, finally, there's a high-level team from Malaysian here, and these families deserve answers.

So for 3 1/2 hours, these relatives asked very specific, sharp, smart, pointed, technical questions about the timeline of the flight, who knew what when, whether or not the government was sharing their data on time with other governments, because one person stood up and said, don't underestimate the search-and-rescue capabilities of other countries. You should have, if you didn't, release some of this information much earlier and asked for help much earlier.

Now there are a lot of questions that sort of ranged in the spectrum, and there were some questions about theories. And one person had asked, is it possible that another country's military shot down this plane? And the Malaysian Royal Air Force official that's there said, based on the data and radar at this point in time, shooting by the military is not highly possible.

So some very specific questions coming out today, Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes, absolutely. So many questions, very specific questions. They want any answers they can get. We'll come back to you soon.

Thank you so much, Pauline. Appreciate it.

BERMAN: We're going to follow the investigation into the search for missing Flight 370 all morning.


BERMAN: They are searching that area in the Southern Indian Ocean, planes flying overhead, one plane back. We're waiting now to hear from four more planes. An Australian naval ship arrives on the scene tomorrow, holding out major hope for that. We'll have all the latest information on "NEW DAY," right after this.

HARLOW: Right.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's about the most inaccessible box on the fact of the earth.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news. Planes returning from over the Indian Ocean at this hour after looking for possible debris from Flight 370. The Australians urging caution this morning.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: We take you inside those planes trolling the seas. And talk to U.S. Navy about what their finding. Plus here in Malaysian families grappling with new information and speaking to us.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Also breaking Russia's parliament, officials makes Crimea theirs as President Obama ramps up sanction again Russia and now Putin is striking at U.S. lawmakers. We have their response.

CUOMO: Your NEW DAY starts right now.