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Experts -- Flight Ended in Southern Indian Ocean; No Possibly Flight Turned on Northern Route; Families Devastated in Beijing

Aired March 24, 2014 - 11:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Anderson Cooper. I want to welcome the viewers in the United States and those working around the world. Heartbreaking news for the families of those on board Flight 370, the worst possible news, less than an hour ago, Malaysia's prime minister confirming their worst fears.


NAJIB RAZAK, MALAYSIAN PRIME MINISTER: It is, therefore, with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that, according to this new data, Flight MH-370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean.


COOPER: Shortly, before the prime minister made that announcement, Malaysia Airlines informed the families via text. The message stated outright that no one onboard the flight survived.

While the prime minister was announcing the new information, family members met with airline representatives in Beijing. One relative who went to that meeting says they were told, quote, "all lives are lost."

While the families cope with the new information, search efforts are ongoing. An Australian naval vessel is on its way to an isolated part of the southern Indian Ocean to retrieve two objects that an Australian plane spotted earlier today.

One is said to be circular, the other rectangular, and they could be connected to the crash.

Now, hours before Australian pilots made their discovery, a Chinese military plane reported seeing two relatively big, floating objects along with a number of smaller ones.

A U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft was not able to find those objects spotted earlier, as I said, by the Chinese.

There is a lot going on right now. I am joined now by a number of experts in the field, folks who can help sort everything out for us.

Our Richard Quest is here with me. Atika Shubert is in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Shawn Pruchnicki is an air safety expert and also an investigator for the 2006 crash of Comair Flight 5191.

Richard Quest, let's just start with you. Let's just go over what this now means for what we know about what happened to this aircraft.

We do not know yet why it went down, without a doubt. That we won't know until we start to get debris and even perhaps the black boxes.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: So, we know the aircraft stopped sending ACARS message at 1:07.

COOPER: 1:07 a.m.

QUEST: 1:07 a.m. And we know that there was no further reprogramming of the plane, or at least no waypoints on the plane. We've been told that.

We know there was a turn. We know there was, at 1:19, "all right, good night."

COOPER: Right.

QUEST: We know there was a turn at about 1:22.

We know the plane then flew southwest just using primary radar to show, because the transponder was off, to show its route, which was picked up by Thai military radar and Malaysian military radar.

And then we know the last known contact is about 2:22:40 after it leaves the Malaysian side over the Straits of Malacca, and we know nothing more about it until today.

COOPER: There is a report from a source that the plane at one point flew at some 12,000 feet.

QUEST: Yes. After the turn, immediately after the turn, the plane is said to have descended to 12,000 feet, and one implication being so that the pilot could fly back along the route without getting in the way of danger of other air traffic that would be at normal altitude.

COOPER: But that's based on a source that is not confirmed.

QUEST: Correct. And if that is true, the plane had to go back up to maximum altitude simply to get the range of what we're told today.

He would not have been able to fly that far, Anderson, at 12,000 feet with the fuel burn.

COOPER: And if that is true, at least upon the decent to that altitude, that would have been under human control.

QUEST: Yes. Yes, there is no reason to understand or to believe any other than a human took the aircraft down to 12,000 feet, and that probably a human would have taken the aircraft back up to whatever flight level it needed to, to complete the journey.

COOPER: But whether humans were at the control of the plane for the rest of the time all the way to the crash, we simply don't know at this point.

QUEST: No. We don't know. We don't know, and that's the significance now of getting to the debris field.

The fact this plane flew so far, said to be off the southwest coast of Australia, is an extraordinary distance for that plane to have traveled under those circumstances.

They're going to have to reverse any debris. Remember, also, Anderson, any debris they find now, they are going to have to reverse-drift back up to the location of roughly 13, 14 days ago.

COOPER: And that becomes more and more difficult with each day that passes and that debris is not found.

Atika Shubert, as I said, is in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where families have also been informed, obviously, of the situation.

Are we anticipating any more press conferences by Malaysian authorities? Obviously, it is 11:00 at night, Kuala Lumpur. Tomorrow morning, are they anticipating giving more press conferences?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We are expecting more details tomorrow at a press conference.

A time hasn't been set yet, but presumably, more details about how exactly Inmarsat was finally able to calculate the final position of Flight 370 and how Malaysia will continue to coordinate the search effort, because, as Richard Quest has mentioned, it's imperative now that they find the debris field.

That's the only way they are going to find that flight-data recorder and figure out what happened inside the flight.

The problem here is that there is a limited battery on that, my understanding is, in terms of finding the flight-data recorder, and they've only got 15 days more.

So, that's why they have to find the debris field. They can then send down a censor to try and locate it.

But it really is a race against time to figure out exactly what happened, Anderson.

COOPER: Yeah. And, obviously, in Air France Flight 447, it took two years before actually being able to retrieve those black boxes, the data recorders.

They had stopped sending out any kind of signal, which made the search for the plane and the black boxes all the more difficult. They actually had to be just searched for through the wreckage underneath the water some 13,000 feet, using submersible vehicles.

I want to bring in Shawn Pruchnicki. He is an air safety expert. He also is an investigator. He investigated the 2006 crash of Comair Flight 5191. Shawn, it's good to have you here. How does today's announcement change things? It certainly refocuses, sort of validates the efforts that had been put into searching this area off the southwest coast of Perth?


And this new area of interest really is very close to the area that the NTSB had plotted out as a potential area for finding debris.

I do want to caution, though, if I may. I think there are two things that we need to be mindful of. I've heard several times that we have talked about over the last few weeks the idea that the transponder was off.

Not necessarily true. The transponder was not working. Being off implies an intentionality, right?

And the other point is that we are saying that there were no more points programmed into the FMC.

We don't know what was programmed into the FMC. We can't tell that from any data we have, other than until we get the black boxes, we will be able to look.

But, having said that, I think that this current information that we have now is going to go a long way in helping us finally recover some wreckage and start to unfold the story a little bit better.

COOPER: And it certainly does back up a lot of the reporting, a lot of what the investigators have been focusing on over the last two weeks.

There was that initial report about the leftward turn. There was some question about the accuracy of that.

Now, clearly, this plane did make a left turn. It did fly for some six to seven hours given the distance of the location where it's believed to have gone down.

PRUCHNICKI: You are exactly right. And we said here on CNN a couple of weeks ago that one of the very plausible theories was that this airplane did continue to fly.

And, obviously, the piece of this puzzle that's missing is, was it intentionally flown in this direction with the pilots trying to find a place to land? What was going on in the flight deck?

I think what is really going to be really the next phase of this investigation is to obviously recover some of this wreckage, start taking a look at it and starting to be able to rule out, even before we get the boxes, starting to better understand, could there have been a fire on board?

We don't need all of the wreckage, necessarily, to be able to tell that. And it's possible that some of the material that's floating now might start to unfold that a little better.

I'm cautiously optimistic that we're slowly continuing on our way to unraveling this mystery.

COOPER: And there is a lot you can tell from debris, correct?

PRUCHNICKI: That's exactly right. The material that's floating, not only if there was an onboard fire and if it was in the location that this debris was also located, we are going to see soot marks. We're going to see possibly melted metal.

But also the characteristic of how the airplane hit the water -- was it a controlled decent versus a catastrophic, nose-down decent. We'll be able to tell that by looking at the wreckage and looking at the deformity, how not only it's compressed but how it's torn and so forth.

Those types of analysis will go a long way to better understanding how the airplane impacted the water and, in fact, what might have been going on just prior to that impact.

Getting the boxes will help complete the story without question, but there is potentially some valuable information here.

COOPER: And, Shawn, if a plane did simply run out of fuel after flying for six or seven hours at this kind of a distance, how would it enter the water? Do we know?

PRUCHNICKI: No, we don't, because there's really still, once again, as we continue to gather information, the potential course of action, the potential paths, continue to spider out, right?

So, even if we're going to say, the airplane went in the water, we still don't know if it ran out of fuel. That could have been controlled. It could have been a controlled decent to the water.

But it could have very much also not been a controlled decent into the water.

So, once again, you know, we find more information and we come up with just as many questions as we've already possibly answered.

COOPER: Yeah. Well, Shawn, I appreciate your expertise. We want to check in with you shortly.

We're going to take a quick break, and our coverage continues in a moment.


COOPER: And welcome back to our continuing coverage.

Flight 370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean, that word coming from Malaysian authorities, earlier today. They based that statement on British officials and officials from Inmarsat.

We have Chris McLaughlin who's senior vice president of external affairs for Inmarsat. He is joining us on the phone from London.

Mr. McLaughlin, I appreciate you joining us. I'm here with Richard Quest, as well, who may ask some questions.

How difficult, how complex a task has this been, and how have you gone about coming up with this information?

CHRIS MCLAUGHLIN, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT OF EXTERNAL AFFAIRS, INMARSAT (via telephone): Thank you, first, for your invitation, and may we say how sad we are for the people involved and the families that have had some shocking potential news today.

How difficult? Moderately. We've done something new. We've used the ability to work out the time differences between signals to and from our satellite network to give a direction of travel. That's what we did on the 11th and submitted it to the investigation.

Then, we've continued on looking at those pings, as they have become known as, or handshakes, and we have tried to look in more detail and compare it with other similar flights to establish a pattern.

And what we discovered and what we passed to the investigation yesterday and the Malaysian prime minister has addressed today is that the southern path predicted fits very much with the path that's been indicated by our pings, ruling out the northern path. So it has been ground-breaking but traditional mathematics-based process that was then peer-reviewed by those in the space agency and indeed contributed to by Boeing.

COOPER: So you can say with 100 percent certainty, that northern route, there is no way the plane flew that northern route?

MCLAUGHLIN: To all intents and purposes -- I'm looking at the chart -- there is no way it went north.

QUEST: And, Chris, Richard Quest here. The signals that you received from the plane -- I've got the Inmarsat statement in front of me. It is described as routine automated signals registered on the Inmarsat network. This is, in a sense, the so-called, what's become known as the hand shake. Your satellite looks for planes. It found a plane but didn't receive any data. I'm simplifying. But is that the gist of it?

MCLAUGHLIN: Richard, as ever, you are spot-on. The system is simple. If you think about the satellite network as the same as a mobile phone network, you think of the on-board box, the classic arrow from Inmarsat as the hand set and then any apps like the ACAR system or the voice communications as just being apps on the handset. The app were turned off, but the handset wasn't. So the network was looking every hour on the hour to see whether the service was required. That's all there was.

COOPER: Chris, let me just ask you also. Is there more information from Inmarsat to come? I mean, is there more data that you have access to that you are looking at? Or is this the limits of what you can contribute? MCLAUGHLIN: Sadly, this is the limit. There's no global decision to -- even after the Air France of five years ago -- no global decision to make direction and distance reporting compulsory on ships. You have long-range identification in trafficking. And they have to log in every six hours to say where they are.

Well, obviously, on aircraft, they need to log in at 500, 600 knots every 15 minutes. That could be done tomorrow with the existing technology that we have. But the mandate is not there globally.

COOPER: And, Chris, I want to bring in our Chad Meyers in Atlanta who I know also has some questions for you. Chad?

CHAD MEYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Chris, thank you for being with us today on a very tough day, of course.

MCLAUGHLIN: (inaudible) thank you.

MEYERS: We heard something from Keith Ledgerwood, MH-70 His theory was the plane was shadowed or shadowed another plane to the north. But he heard from you that there was something called doppler shift, and that doppler shift is how you determined that the plane had to go south. Can you at all tell us what that means?

MCLAUGHLIN: Yes. Mr. Ledgerwood has worked very hard, and he's been very assiduous in his thinking. He's shared with us via e-mail his various thoughts. And we appreciate them. I shared with him yesterday that we were certain that we were right with the southern route rather than the northern route.

The Soppler shift, in very simple terms, is just the way in which we see the effect of the slight movement of the satellite in space relative to the aircraft. And from that process, the compression or an expansion of the wave length, you can know whether the aircraft is moving closer or further away from the satellite.

MEYERS: Anderson, that would be exactly how we use Soppler radar to determine that there is a tornado on the grown. The shift in the speed of the signal coming back or going forward is determined by the movement. It is like a train coming to you. If the train is coming to you and blowing its whistle, that train's signal is higher in pitch. As it goes by you, that train is lower in pitch.

COOPER: Chris, it's got to be enormously satisfying for your engineers, for all the people in Inmarsat, to have been able to play a role in trying to help the world and, more importantly, the families of those on board flight 370 understand what happen.

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, that's -- that's right. We are in a strange position here. Inmarsat has been in operating the global maritime distress service for some 34 years. We were created by U.N. charter to save lives at sea. We're now a private company, but safety is still very in our DNA.

Our position is this, that we are both pleased that we have been able to contribute and it would appear to offer some insight on where to look, but very saddened for the families involved here. This is obviously a major tragedy. The only thing you can hope is that from this, just as the Titanic resulted in the Safety of Lives at Sea law, that from this, there will be a mandate that all aircraft should be constantly tracked.

QUEST: Chris, it is Richard again. Briefly, the -- a short question. Going back to the 11, 12th, 13th, and 14th, when -- I mean, when there wasn't any idea of where this aircraft was, what made Inmarsat even go back and look again? And we know that that data was then sent to the various teams who sent it back for further integrity and testing, and it took about three or four more days for that. So talk us, briefly, just through that.

MCLAUGHLIN: OK, well, weren't party to the investigation. We were the -- at that stage, between the 11 and the 14th, we were simply a supplier of data to CETA, who provide the services to Malaysian Airlines. So we weren't within the walls of that stage.

My understanding is that what happened, was that our contribution, along with others, was being weighed against the northern route; was there any radar information; was there any other defense (ph) information; why hadn't anyone spotted it to the north, kind of cutting down on the number of things.

Certainly, when we looked at the number of ships at sea -- because all ships over 300 tons have to carry Inmarsat safety. When we looked at that and we saw the sheer number to the north, it was very difficult to believe that no watch captain would have seen a burning or distressed aircraft in the sky during the course of their watch. We couldn't say for definite. Nor could we say that it would go through the air defense systems to the north, primarily India. So there were certain question marks.

But for us, we only understand that it went to U.S. experts for further study. And I believe the U.S. made some contributions as well. I think -- speculating, I think the sudden turn south that the U.S. Kidd and the delivery of the Poseidon P-8 into the southern ocean represents the turning point on, I think, Thursday, the 13th when, obviously, the U.S. felt it was working (ph).

COOPER: Chris McLaughlin, we appreciate talking to you and also the efforts of everybody at Inmarsat. We appreciate that. We are going to take a short break. Our coverage continues in just a moment.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

COOPER: And welcome back to our continuing coverage. Flight 370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean, that word from Malaysia authorities who were -- had gotten some new information from British officials as well as officials from the satellite company Inmarsat who've been analyzing data.

The Malaysian prime minister making the announcement about an hour and a half ago, 10:00 p.m. in Kuala Lumpur; 10:00 a.m. here on the east coast of the United States.

I want to bring our David McKenzie who is live in Beijing where families were gathered about a half hour before the Malaysian prime minister made that announcement, obviously, just a horrific scene for families, the worst possible news that they could receive. David?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Anderson. And the news rippled through this hotel behind me where hundreds of family members have been holed up for all of these days as we've been trying to figure out what happened to this vanished plane.

Many of them, in fact, Anderson, got it in a text message to their phone, it seems. One family member sent us that text message saying, "Malaysian Airlines deeply regrets that we have to assume beyond any reasonable doubt that the MH-370 has been lost. And none of those on board survived."

Now, I cannot imagine what it must be like when you are holding out in this hope, Anderson and you receive a text message on your phone effectively extinguishing that hope.

We have seen terrible scenes here of particularly elderly women and men being put in ambulances behind me in this area and taken off to nearby hospitals, certainly, a great deal of raw emotion. And after all of these days of trying to cling on to any last shred of hope that their loved ones are alive, it seems at this point, that hope has been extinguished. Anderson?

COOPER: Malaysian Airlines also telling us that they -- they, when possible, tried to do in-phone -- in-person briefings and also over the phone counseling. But there's obviously been lots of criticism of Malaysian Airlines over the last two plus weeks now.

But David, so the -- my understanding also is Malaysia Airlines has told families that they would help to try to arrange flights to Australia if debris is found. Is that what you are hearing?

MCKENZIE: Well, that was always the assumption, if there was any concrete evidence of where this plane went down, that the family members would be taken to the scene. That's also just common practice in these cases.

You know, many people I've spoken to through these days have said they are not sure they even want to go. But culturally, you know, here in China, it is extremely important to take back the body or the remains of an individual that died.

And one counselor, who actually -- a former U.S. veteran, said to me, you know, when people feel now that they might not even get the bodies back, this airline dumped in the ocean, they might never get that closure.

But certainly, what we are seeing here tonight is that raw emotion that's coming out and you just have to feel for these people being stuck here for so many days getting drips and drabs of information as those days unfold thinking maybe the plane landed in the northern part of China. Maybe it was taken somewhere, maybe shadowed another plane, all these theories that we've been talking about.

For these people in this hotel behind me, it has been very real. And it has had very real consequences. And the consequences of that we're seeing playing out today. Anderson?

COOPER: David, I appreciate you being there. We're gonna to take a short break. We want to play you the entire statement from Malaysia's prime minister, which occurred an hour and a half ago next. We'll be right back.