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Anguished Families Wait for Answers; March Madness Upsets in Full Swing; The Technology of a Black Box; Initial Payments Made to Families

Aired March 21, 2014 - 06:30   ET


COLLEEN KELLER, SENIOR ANALYST, METRON INC.: So, we went back and we said, well, perhaps we should revisit this and consider that there was no target during that search, and that's what led to recommending the area where the crash was found.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: So, hopefully, what we learned about how to question assumptions and what may be right and what may be wrong will help in terms of dealing with the variables here.

KELLER: Absolutely.

CUOMO: Colleen Keller, thank you very much for perspective. Appreciate it here.

KELLER: Thank you.

CUOMO: All right. Let's take a quick break here on NEW DAY. When we come back, all of this is speculation and interesting to those trying to find the plane but agonizing for those waiting for the answers. We're going to talk to the father of an aviation engineer who is on Flight 370. Hear what he has to say about keeping hope alive.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to NEW DAY, everyone. We're live again in Kuala Lumpur this morning, keeping an eye on search planes in Indian Ocean off of Australia.

So far, no sign of debris authorities have said could be linked to Malaysia flight 370. Five planes made their way to the search field. So far, three are back empty handed as far as we know. Another is due back in a few minutes and an American plane is surging for about another two hours this morning. So high hopes there.

But an Australian official suggested the debris may be from the downed plane is dialing down expectations, saying any debris may not be from the plane now, always noting a big dose of caution here. Still, a possibility is bringing a range of emotions from passengers' families.

I spoke with one man today whose son is not only missing but of particular interest to authorities, police looking into his background because he has an aviation engineering background. Selamat Omar says he's sure his son had nothing to do with it, that he welcomes the investigation and says police have yet to contact his family.


BOLDUAN: On some level, do you hope that this is not the plane?

(voice-over): For some of the families on board Flight 370, the discovery of possible debris is being met with despair. But for others, hope.

Selamat Omar says he still believes his son is still alive, but with the search he's preparing for any eventual outcome. His son is Khairul Amri, an aviation engineer who was a passenger on board.

(on camera): As the days pass, does it get harder or is it the same?

"The sadness is still there," he says, "but I'm trying to stay strong."

All of the families of the 239 people on Flight 370 struggle with the same emotion in their own way. Some venting anger at the Malaysian government.

In Beijing, Thursday, paramedics were called to the family's hotel when news of possibly discovering the plane's debris broke. There were fears some might commit suicide.

Here in Malaysia many families are staying at one hotel watching, waiting for any new detail.

(on camera): Mr. Selamat, I look at you, and you are standing so strong. You're waiting for concrete information. Have you yet allowed yourself to cry over the fear of losing your son?

(voice-over): He says he feels extremely depressed, but being with other families makes it more bearable, calms his soul.


BOLDUAN: Now, I asked Mr. Selamat if this was the plane -- if they do find this is the plane off Australia, will he go to Perth. He says absolutely. He also says that Malaysia Airlines assured them if any part of the plane is found, they will be flown to the location. Until then, of course, he waits, watches and waits.

We're going to have much more coming up for you from Kuala Lumpur. But let's get back to New York, let's get to John Berman for some of today's other top stories -- John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks so much, Kate.

We do have breaking news.

Russia's upper house of parliament giving unanimous approval to making Crimea part of the Russian Federation. In the meantime, the European Union has joined the U.S. in expanding sanctions over Moscow's move on Crimea. President Obama targeting nearly two dozen members of Vladimir Putin's inner circle.

In response, Russia has banned nine U.S. officials from that country including house speaker John Boehner and Senator John McCain.

So, Senator John McCain's response, "Guess this means spring break in Siberia is off."

An army general planning to retire now that a judge reprimanded him in a closely watched sexual assault case. Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair avoided jail time but will have to pay $20,000 fine after pleading guilty to having an affair with a female captain who accused him of sexual assault.

No funeral for Fred Phelps, the preacher whose church picketed so many of them. The founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, largely a family ministry that protested what they considered a morally bankrupt society. He died Wednesday. He was 84. The church says it has picketed 53,000 events, from Lady Gaga concerts, to funerals for fallen U.S. soldiers.

A warning now about a nationwide phone scam that federal authorities say has swiped $1 million from unsuspecting victims. An IRS imposter telling people they owe back taxes and must use prepay debit or wire transfer. The IRS has over 20,000 reports about the scam and says if you get a phone call from someone claiming to be the IRS, hang up.

Good advice, guys.

CUOMO: It is.


CUOMO: No, it's not good.

You've got to make sure they are exactly from the IRS. When the IRS calls, pay attention, you have to pay attention.

Also you have to pay attention to your brackets.

PEREIRA: Looking at mine right now.

CUOMO: March Madness going on right now. How are you doing? Dayton over Ohio state. Of course you do. You might still be in the running for a billion dollars courtesy of Warren Buffett. Probably not.

But plenty of upsets on day one of the tournament. Let's talk about them with Andy Sholes in this morning's "Bleacher Report".

PEREIRA: He's dashing all of our hopes, Andy.

CUOMO: Did you have Dayton?


I went 14 for 16 yesterday. I had a pretty good day.

It was a great start to March Madness. The first time ever --

PEREIRA: Yes, for me. There were four overtime games in one day. Just awesome stuff to watch all afternoon. Like we see year after year, upset all the time, 12th seed upsetting five seed, one of the most common. They outlasted Oklahoma in overtime, won 81-75, first ever tournament win.

You had Harvard for the second straight year they won their opening game. They beat Cincinnati. They will be moving on.

Trending on, Louisville they almost blew up everyone's bracket. The Cardinals losing to 11th seed Manhattan with two and a half minutes to go. But they turned down the stretch and ended up squeaking out the win 71-64.

Texas and Arizona state, they were tied at 85 in the closing seconds of their game. The longhorns missed three but Cameron Ridley gets the rebound and puts it in at the buzzer. Texas stuns ASU 87-85. Check out Sun Devils bench. They were understandably just devastated.

Of course the action continues with another flight slate of games on Turner family of network, 12:00 eastern on TruTV, you can check out Nebraska and Baylor. I've got Baylor Bears going to elite eight. So, I'll be cheering today. I went 14 of 16.

One up on, Chris and John. Michaela, you're bringing up the rear. You went for 12 years right yesterday. You've got to pick it up.

CUOMO: Never heard anybody take a shot at Michaela until you, Captain Smiles.


PEREIRA: Andrew.

SCHOLES: Hey, I'm doing pretty -- we got to throw it out there. Kate picked 15 out of 16 right yesterday. I know she's in Malaysia, but good for her.

PEREIRA: Wow, well done, KB, solid.

CUOMO: I take no pleasure in other people's success.

PEREIRA: All right. Next up on NEW DAY, as we go back to the top story, the search for the plane's black box recorder really has become a top priority. Even now it is a race against time.

We have brought our own flight data recorder into the studio. Here it is. Is the black box the only way to find out what happened to Flight 370?


PEREIRA: Happening right now in the search for flight 370. Officials are now asking the international community for more sophisticated technology to help them find the plane's black box.

Joining us this morning to tell us more about the flight recorder, Jeff Wise, a CNN aviation analyst, and an aviation journalist for, also an author of a book called "Extreme Fear." Jeff, we've been wanting to take a look at these. We have one right here in front of us in the studio. It's not black, by the way. This flight recorder, we talk about them all the time. The black box, black box. Give me insight into what's inside.

JEFF WISE, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Right, OK. So, this is a big, solid chunk of metal. This is really heavy.

PEREIRA: About 29 pounds.

WISE: Right. So, this is not just a piece of electronics from the store. This is a solid thing. This is hardened. This is designed -- this can withstand -- this can go 300 miles an hour into a wall and still retain that data.

PEREIRA: Water, fire, explosions.

WISE: Anything you can throw at it -- like I said, it's design for 300 miles an hour impact. In real life cases it's done twice as much as that. This thing is tough. It's recording by the rules, a minimum of 88 channels of data. What this is recording, this is telling accident investigators everything they need to know about the aircraft configuration, where its control surfaces were, what the air speed was, angle of attack, the physical parameters that allow it to reconstruct what was happening in those fateful final moments.

PEREIRA: We hear a lot about the voice recorder, which is also an important piece of this puzzle.

WISE: Right.

PEREIRA: Where is it located?

WISE: It's located in an (INAUDIBLE) -- usually located in the tail. That's the part that is more protected usually depending on the type of crash. When we say black box, we're referring to - not only a box that's not black, but it's also not one box. It's -- collectively these two boxes are, quote, black box. That's recording an audio channel. This is a key, key piece of information in this case. Only the last two hours. Why? We certainly have technology to record more than two hours, but because of the privacy of the pilots, they feel they don't want to have too much intrusive surveillance.

PEREIRA: That can actually hamper the investigation depending what happened in the cockpit in this case. If there's only two hours.


WISE: Exactly. We know this plane was flying for about eight hours.


WISE: We have some really intriguing data points about what happened in the first hour or so.

PEREIRA: Are there some limitations to this? You know what I mean? We're acting as though this thing is the holy grail to answer all our questions, solve all our problems.

WISE: Exactly. We hope, because this is our best chance. First of all, we're very far from -- we don't know where the plane is at this point. We found some debris that may be wreckage, may not. Talking about Air France 447 a lot and that was a case where it took two years after the location of the wreckage to find the black box. Another year before the conclusions that were reached from the analysis of that data was released to the public.

PEREIRA: Have we gotten better at that? Will the timeframe shrink once we get our hands on this, or is it still a lengthy investigation after we get our hands on it, get the data off and analyze it?

WISE: Well, you know, the accident investigators do not like to be rushed. We the public like to have answers.

PEREIRA: The families need answers.

WISE: Families need answers. Litigators need answers. But the job of the aircraft investigators is more important in that their job -- why do we have these? Because this is how we make air travel safe. Every airplane that you've ever been on is different from the plane a generation ago. We've spent a lot of time in the last week talking about air crashes. The public should remember air travel is incredibly safe. It's incredibly safe because of - this right here.

PEREIRA: Because of what we've learned from these things.

Time is running out. The batteries on this 30 days, correct?

WISE: Thirty days if we're lucky, it's been running that long. Air France 447, I just learned that that pinger never worked at all.

PEREIRA: All right, well, we've got to find it first. That he the key. Jeff, thank you very much. We'll be talking to you later. Chris?

CUMO: Colleen Keller told us both black boxes on Air France were defective. A lot of variables they have to deal with in investigations like this. Lets take a break on NEW DAY. What, if anything, has been done for families as they wait for word? No sign of plane or passengers. Can the families make claims for compensation and are they doing it? We'll tell you.


CUOMO: The search for flight 370, five planes flew over the area where a satellite spotted debris today. One has come back so far empty handed. A U.S. jet over the site right now. We will tell you as developments occur in the story. One thing is for sure. There are no answers for the family. They are desperate to find out what happened to their loved ones. We hear some initial payments have been made on insurance policies covering Malaysia Airlines even though the mystery isn't anywhere near solved. Lets discuss what will happen going forward.

Aviation attorney Daniel Rose is with us. He worked with us on the American Airlines flight 587 crash and Swiss Air flight 111 litigation. He's also a former U.S. Navy pilot. Great to have you, Daniel. First, looking at this from the overview, do you believe families are being treated the right way by airlines and investigators in terms of the services they need and information they need?

DANIEL ROSE, AVIATION ATTORNEY: Certainly on the information side I don't see how you can say this has been done by the book or anywhere close to it in terms of how the families have been treated. You see gut wrenching videos of families getting hauled out of the hearing to try to get information about their loved ones is unacceptable. That would never happen here.

CUOMO: Is it just about ethics or are there legal guidelines of what they are supposed to be doing with respect to the families.

ROSE: Certainly ethics. Guidelines in the U.S. are pretty clear. We learned this lesson unfortunately years ago on the TWA 8000 matter it was never close to anything like that. There was a sense after that crash and that disaster how important it was to treat the families right and a key critical part of that is give them timely and accurate information so they can process everything in a predictable and sensitive manner.

CUOMO: Explain to us how payments can be made from insurance before you know what happened. What's going on right now?

ROSE: Sure. It's not unusual, in fact I'd be surprised if they didn't make these automatic payments. They are not much. Minimum of $20,000 or so to get the families through this very difficult time. What triggers that payment is the fact this is an international flight. It's governed by an international treaty called Montreal Convention. That treaty says if you're a signatory to that treaty, like Malaysia is, and one of your airlines crashes that airline is strictly liable for the damage up to a certain point.

Strictly liable means automatically liable. Doesn't made a difference if they did anything wrong or everything right, they are still on the hook for up to what's called 100,000 SBRs, which is standard drawing rights. Too much information, I know, but it's about $158,000. So, the $20,000 automatic payment is really a pittance compared to that.

Then once you develop a case against the airline, for instance, if it's a deliberate act here, then the argument or allegation would be they let an incompetent flight crew in or passenger in or security was an issue and then the airline has to prove they are not negligent, which is difficult. CUOMO: As we know, money is often a poor substitute for what has been lost when you're dealing with life. What they want most of all is obviously good information, as small as that window of possibility is becoming. Your experience with families like this. The oh, we found debris, that's great. Not great for them. It's bittersweet. Many are holding out hope there's some type of survivability expectation here. What are they dealing with?

ROSE: I can't imagine. We've handled thousands of cases like these. Very rarely -- never has it gotten to the point you don't have answers in a major disaster this far into --

CUOMO: This is unusual, right?

ROSE: Definitely. The problem is it's really toying with already incredibly fragile emotions of the families. Just to be told your loved one may have died in a plane crash is unfathomable.

CUOMO: A waiting becomes a suspension of your own life.

ROSE: Right.

CUOMO: They are not going back home, staying here, in limbo until they get an answer. What happens if it doesn't come? I mean we hope that's not the case, but given the scope of the mystery thus far, if it continues this way and they can't find it because of the vastness of the area, what does that mean for the family's ability to become whole?

ROSE: It's monumental. In my experience, everybody deals with it differently, of course. You get to a certain point where you get a sense of closure, whether it's the end of the investigation, which as you point out may be years away. Maybe the litigation itself provides some kind of closure. You're right. Nobody can bring back what they really want. It's a process that provides some kind of closing at the end of the day. Here it's still up for grabs in terms of what that process will be for a lot of families unfortunately.

CUOMO: Good to have you, Daniel. The reality is no matter which way that comes out, the families are going to have to take certain steps to make sure they respect what happened with their family and for themselves through this process, so the law will come into play. Daniel Rose, good to have you here.

That's one angle on the story. A lot breaking, developments on the search for flight 370 plus early morning developments on Ukraine. We're going to bring you up to date right now.