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Malaysian Officials Hold Press Conference; Search for Flight 370; Hunt for Landslide Survivors

Aired March 24, 2014 - 05:30   ET



DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go live to Kuala Lumpur, where Malaysian officials are briefing the media about the latest on the search for Flight 370. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Acting minister of Transport to deliver his statement.

Honorable Minister, if you'd please do me the honor, sir.

HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIAN ACTING TRANSPORTATION MINISTER: Ladies and gentlemen, the search for MH-370 continues. Over the past few days, new leads from satellite data have focused our search and rescue operations in the southern corridor. Our partners continue to deploy assets to assist us, as we work to narrow the search areas.

Yesterday, 18,500 square nautical miles were searched in the Australian search area. Two orange objects approximately one meter in length and one white-colored trunk were sighted by search aircraft but remain unidentified and have not been conclusively linked to MH-370.

HMAS Success detected two radar targets within the search area, but could not locate the targets on further investigation of the area. Earlier today, a Chinese search plane reportedly sighted objects in the Australian search area. These objects are not in the vicinity of those which were identified by the Australian authorities last week.

A few minutes ago the prime minister received a call from the prime minister of Australia, who informed him that an Australian search aircraft had located two objects in the Australian search area, one circular and one rectangular. HMAS Success is in the vicinity and it is possible that the objects could be received within the next few hours or by tomorrow morning at the latest.

These three search areas, totaling approximately 20,000 square nautical miles, have been identified for operations today. RCC Australia anticipates that 10 aircraft will be used. HMAS Success remains the only vessel in the search area. A number of Chinese vessels are expected to commence arriving within the search area on the 25th of March.

Three aircraft, two from Japan and one from the UAE, have already departed from Subang today and are en route to the southern corridor. Six Malaysian ships, with three ship-borne helicopters, are now in northern part of the southern corridor. Ten Chinese ships are in the southern corridor, carrying out search and rescue operations. HMS Echo is currently refueling in the Maldives and will be sailing to the southern corridor this evening.

In the northern corridor, Turkmenistan have confirmed they have had no sightings of MH-370 on their radar. Each piece of information we receive from our partners in the northern corridor helps us to continuously narrow the corridor.

Satellite images. New leads into MH-370's possible location have come from satellite data. This was one of the four tools we identified that could narrow the search area, along with surveillance radar data, increasing surface and air assets, and bringing in more technical experts. The most recent images were obtained by French satellites, which captured radar images of potential objects in the vicinity of the southern corridor on 21st March.

These images were received by Malaysia on the evening of the 22nd of March, and were relayed to RCC Australia on the morning of the 23rd of March, as they are leading the search in that particular area of the southern corridor.

This morning we have received a further set of images from French satellites, this time captured by cameras. These images were taken yesterday and have been relayed to RCC Australia.

Family briefings. Yesterday, the high-level team met with families in Beijing for more than eight hours. The families asked many questions and made detailed requests for radar readings and other data. Some of these questions could not be answered and some of the data they requested was still being held by the investigation, as is standard procedure in investigations of this sort.

After meeting with families for a total of more than 12 hours, and taking hundreds of questions, the high-level team has returned to Kuala Lumpur to discuss the matters raised at the meetings. They will return to Beijing tomorrow to continue.

The briefings in Kuala Lumpur over the last two days went smoothly and the families responded as positively as could be expected, with the families engaging with representatives from the relevant authorities. It has always been our intention to keep the families as fully informed as possible. And we continue to do so.

Specific questions. There are a few specific questions I would like to respond to. On the police investigation, we can confirm that the police have interviewed more than a hundred people, including families of both the pilot and co-pilot. As far as the transcript is concerned, the technical committee is considering releasing it and we will keep you informed about the decision.

The Inspector General of the Police will attend tomorrow's press conference to answer further questions on the investigation. We can also confirm that MH-370 was carrying wooden pallets. However, this is yet -- there is as yet no evidence that these are related to the wooden pallets reportedly sighted in the Australian search area.

Ladies and gentlemen, the search for MH-370 has taken us halfway around the world. At the moment there are new leads, but nothing conclusive. Our thoughts continue to be with the families who are still waiting for news. In the meantime, we are grateful for the on- going co-operation shown by all our partners in this multinational search.

Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, ladies and gentlemen, now the floor is open for Q&A. We'll start with the local media. First one, please.



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, what we heard there are some pretty interesting developments. The prime minister of Australia talking, calling the prime minister just a few moments ago, the prime minister of Malaysia, to say that they have found a circular object and some other objects and that within the next few hours, they hope to be able to retrieve these objects, to get to actually look at them.


ROMANS: And get close to them. If not the next few hours, then maybe tomorrow. So new developments here.

FEYERICK: And a massive surge.

ROMANS: That's right.

FEYERICK: A massive surge of ships headed to that area as well and the families have been briefed, apparently. Twelve hours they met with Malaysian officials to try to get some answers. And also interesting that they're expected to perhaps release some details of interviews with the pilot and the co-pilot. They didn't say what those details were, but they have questioned more than 100 people in connection with this.

Let's get to CNN's Andrew Stevens live in Perth, Australia.

Andrew, a lot of ships now headed to that area, it appears.

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It certainly sounds like there is. Indeed the focus gets ever sharper on this area, and it is all tying into this broader pattern that the -- this does seem to be, obviously, the most important lead they have, but things do seem to be strengthening almost by the hour, certainly by the day.

Today we had spotted -- sightings by Chinese aircraft into two objects of relatively big size in the search zone and some several smaller objects located in a field roughly a few square miles around it. Add that to the objects, smaller objects we saw which we reported just two days ago, and then add that to the satellite images which have been coming in, particularly from the U.S. and from China, and the picture continues to build.

And this is why we are seeing so much activity not only in the air. Today the biggest air force going out, 10 flights out to that target zone today. And the Chinese virtually on target now in that area. The Australians are already there with one vessel and it's going to be critical now in the face of deteriorating weather to actually locate that debris and then identify it.

This is the key. Is this the missing link? Is this the debris which links Flight 370 to the southern ocean? That's obviously the big question. And to get that right, you really have to get very close up. It has to be taken on board a ship, really, and then identified.

FEYERICK: And the fact that you've got planes that are heading there, also they're going to begin moving ships in, because for these planes, they are at maximum capacity. They're operating at the limits of endurance just simply because of the distance from the coast of Perth to where they believe those objects were found.

STEVENS: That's right. I mean, it is 1500 miles. That's 2,500 kilometers. It is a long way, it is pretty much getting into the extreme areas of range for effective searching. The P-3 Orions, which we keep on talking about, they are the backbone of this search operation. They're operated by the Americans, they're operated by the Australians and the New Zealanders, and now the Japanese.

They can only stay on target for about two hours. But what the -- what they're getting support from now is a number of these smaller corporate jets, basically. We're talking about Gulfstreams, we're talking about bombardiers, which seats perhaps 15 people, who are active spotters who are being taken out there. These are ultralong jet -- long-range jets. They can get there in at least half the time and be on target for perhaps twice as long, five hours, we understand they can be on target.

So that is critically important, to get that -- to get that visual sighting. But this is -- as we keep on coming back, this is a remote -- not only is it really, really remote, it's really inhospitable. It is a place of extreme weathers. Storms can brew up very, very quickly. The reports that we get here in Perth at the air base, Australian Air Force airbase here is that the conditions can take you down to -- the cloud down to sea level, virtually zero visibility. And it is patchy.

You get patches of good area and patches of bad area, but we are being told that the weather is going to get worse, right at a crucial time when we're getting more and more evidence there of debris out there just at the wrong time. The weather sounds and we're being told it's going to break and break for the worse in perhaps a significant way.

FEYERICK: I see obviously that night is falling behind you. How will this be affected not only by the darkness, obviously, but also by the drift patterns that you were talking about earlier?

STEVENS: Yes, that's right, the drift patterns are incredibly important in this. Again, such a remote area. It's out of -- out of range of shipping lanes, for example. So you're not going to see passing traffic, it's not going to see things like this. And remember, this -- we are going 17 days now. This debris, whatever debris it is, will have drifted a significant distance. They can model drift patterns, looking at wind speeds, looking at the time of the year, looking at water temperatures, and they've put data buoys, they're called, into this area, into this target zone to monitor exactly that.

So they can build up a model, if you like, they can trace the debris back to -- over the course of time back to where it may have come from. This is going to be vitally important, obviously, when they do and if they do find a full identification, a piece of the missing plane. They will then have to trace it back using these models, using all of the -- all the technology available.

Those planes can search in the dark, no doubt about it. They're equipped to search in the dark, but they're going to get images. They're not going to get I.D. of what those -- positive I.D. of what those images are. The best they can do is find -- get images back, they can drop locator buoys in, and the planes and the ships the next morning at daybreak can get back out there and find out what it was.

But we've already seen twice now, debris fields have been located, and then lost again, cannot be relocated. It's happened two days ago and it's happening today. The Chinese reporting this debris field, two significant objects with smaller objects around it, white ones. But the U.S. -- the U.S. plane in the area hasn't been able to relocate it. That's the frustration. That gives you an idea of, A, visibility, B, just how far and remote it is to get there and just how easy it is if, in basically, a featureless plane, to be slightly off course, which means you are going to miss those objects of extreme importance.

FEYERICK: Yes, no question about it. And also, as you were talking, we showed that map. Just how far that plane was from Kuala Lumpur and, certainly, in the complete opposite direction from Beijing, where it was headed.

Andrew Stevens, thank you so much for us. We will get back to you shortly. Just fascinating that, perhaps, they may have found at least two objects which potentially could be pieces of that plane.

ROMANS: And the Australian prime minister just a few moments ago calling the Malaysian prime minister saying we have these objects in sight, we hope to have them in hand in the next few hours, if not in the next few hours, maybe tomorrow morning.

So clearly zeroing in on some debris, looking for that actual, physical identification of what it is and whether they are searching in the right space, whether they're even closer to finding out what happened.

Much more on this search and new information we have right after the break.


FEYERICK: New details now that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Malaysian officials say Australian search planes spotted two objects in the Southern Indian Ocean. One is circular, one rectangular. They hope to have those objects retrieved in the next couple of hours, certainly by tomorrow.

Let's bring in Steve Wallace. He's a former director of the FAA's Office of Accident Investigation and a CNN aviation analyst.

And Steve, we spoke to someone earlier who basically said there could be three things that happened. It was either a botched hijacking, possibly a suicide, or if that plane did fall to 12,000 feet, perhaps it was a rapid depressurization of the cabin and the pilot may have even gone unconscious.

Is that -- are any of those theories possible, which is why this plane was so far off course?

STEVE WALLACE, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, they're all possible, except to some extent, we're working on two mutually exclusive theories here. So if we accept that those innings off the Inmarsat satellite that resulted in those two arcs, north and south, if we accept that those are solid evidence, and that seems to be among the more solid evidence to me, well, that kind of -- well, we seem to have said that because we're spending millions of dollars a day down there searching in the southern arc.

So the left turn and descent to 12,000 feet. Well, the fuel burn of this airplane is terrible. It's like trying to -- for an airplane to fly at 12,000 feet that's designed to fly 35,000 feet, that's like, you know, you trying to run in water that's up to your waist. It's just, it's very inefficient. So we have two irreconcilable theories. The notion of incapacitation. Well, everything is still on the table. I mean, 17 days into this investigation, everything is still on the table.

FEYERICK: So why was it so far off course, though? I mean, that's one of the big questions, is how would it get that far off course? You look at the map. It is in the middle of nowhere. It's 1500 miles from Perth, Australia.

WALLACE: Right. Well, I mean, we're assuming -- there are two assumptions here. One is that the airplane flew until its fuel was exhausted, and that -- and for it to have flown as far as to where they are looking now, it would have had to have been up at a reasonable cruise altitude, not down at 12,000 feet, where it's reported at one point.

So we have -- you know, the investigators who have the best information, it's kind of leaking out to the public here, not a very good control and flow of information. The investigators who presumably have the very best information seem to be strongly focused on this southern arc. ROMANS: All right, Steven, let me ask you about this, the news this morning, the new development that we're all laser focused on is the Australian prime minister calling the Malaysian prime minister just about 20 minutes ago and saying we have seen some objects, a circular object, a rectangular object, and we are going to have them in hand in the next few hours, if not tomorrow morning. That's what the Malaysian prime minister's saying in his daily briefing just about 25 minutes ago.

We have seen two debris fields so far that upon closer inspection they have not been able to find that debris. This time, it sounds like the Australians, the Australians are more confident.

How important is it for them to retrieve and quickly, in light of this impending cyclone, this storm, how important is it to retrieve actual parts of this debris to find out if it's a plane?

WALLACE: Well, it's very important, Christine. And I guess I would -- the families would look at this two ways. The families who have seen this terrible suffering. One is that if it clearly is identified as part of the aircraft, well, perhaps that brings some closure, but at the same time, it would strike down their hopes that this airplane could possibly have landed someplace. So it's very important.

And I listened to the prime minister. They say they have -- they have sighted a circular object and a rectangular object. Let's hope that it's something that brings us closer to the resolution of this great mystery. There are a lot of circular and rectangular objects floating out there in the ocean.



ROMANS: The debris -- I think a lot of people are now really coming to grips with just how much stuff is out there, also how difficult it is to find. White caps, broiling seas, now we've got this storm coming.

Steven Wallace, thank you so much, former FAA director of Office of Accident Investigation. We'll talk to you again very soon.

FEYERICK: Well, breaking news this morning from Washington state where authorities are trying to find survivors from a deadly landslide. The very latest, right ahead.


FEYERICK: A search-and-rescue operation still ongoing in Washington state after a square-mile-long mudslide in that area. It happened north of Seattle. The death toll rising. Eight people are confirmed dead. 18 still unaccounted for. This is the Snohomish County neighborhood now a pile of muddy rubble.

ROMANS: Kim Ross -- we're also following developments --


SHERIFF TY TRENARY, SNOHOMISH COUNTY: Full devastation. And it's just unbelievable. It reminds me of what a tornado looks like when it's touched the ground.

GOV. JAY INSLEE (D), WASHINGTON: Everything within that path has been leveled, and that is something I've certainly never seen before.

CHERENE GRABER, PSYCHOLOGIST: It's been very surreal. The tragedy is unthinkable. We're just praying for the best and hoping.


ROMANS: All right. Certainly it's sad situation there. We're going to head over to "NEW DAY.

"NEW DAY" starts right now.