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China: "Suspicious" Objects Spotted; Australian Aircraft Located Two Objects In Indian Ocean; Source: Flight Descended To 12,000 Feet; Nations Work Together to Find Lost Plane; Ukraine Crisis Overshadows Summit

Aired March 24, 2014 - 06:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two orange objects and one white-colored drum were sighted by search aircraft.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news, Australia announcing just moments ago, they found two objects in the search zone. Could this be Flight 370? We're live here in Australia as more search planes return.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN GUEST ANCHOR: Also breaking overnight, CNN learning the plane dropped to 12,000 feet before vanishing. And a new twist in the timeline. Malaysian officials say no change was made to the plane's course before they lost contact. We break it all down with our experts.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, President Obama overseas, trying to build opposition to Vladimir Putin as Russians storm a Crimean base this morning.

Plus, in Washington State, at least eight dead and more missing after a mud slide suddenly swallows a whole neighborhood. Your NEW DAY starts right now.

Good morning and welcome to NEW DAY. We want to welcome our viewers from the United States and around the world. I'm Michaela Pereira alongside John Berman who is in for Chris Cuomo. We begin with breaking news this morning. A possible breakthrough in the search for Flight 370.

BERMAN: It could be a big one. Pilots from Australia and China reporting debris sightings in the South Indian Ocean. Kate Bolduan is tracking it all from Perth, Australia -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Good morning, everybody. A news conference with Malaysian authorities wrapped up just moments ago. We got a quite a bit of news out of it. They said the Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, had told them two objects, one round, one rectangular had been spotted by Australian pilots in the Southern Indian Ocean and they could have those objects in their possession within hours. That's the near end of that timeline. That's big news.

Also earlier today, a Chinese search plane spotted two large white suspicious objects. So far high tech U.S. search aircraft has been unable to locate them. We are also learning new details about what might have happened in the cockpit. According to a source close to the investigation, military radar shows the jetliner descended to 12,000 feet after making that now infamous sharp left-hand turn.


HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIAN ACTING TRANSPORTATION MINISTER: A few minutes ago, the prime minister received a call from the prime minister of Australia who informed that an Australian search aircraft had located two objects in the Australian search area, one circular and one rectangular.

BOLDUAN: This as new details emerged about Flight 370's path. A source close to the investigation tells CNN, a military radar tracking the flight between 1:19 and 2:40 a.m. shows after the flight made a sharp left turn, it then dropped as low as 12,000 feet in a high traffic air space before disappearing from radar. This same source says the flight's turn seems to be intentional since it would have taken a Boeing 777 2 minutes to execute that maneuver.

Also Sunday Malaysian officials issued an update to the timeline of Flight 370 possibly discounting the theory of trouble in the cockpit. Last week, a U.S. official told CNN they suspected someone altered the flight's program path before the co-pilot's last call at 1:19 a.m. saying "All right, good night."

But now Malaysian officials say the plane's last transmitted ping at 1:07 a.m. showed a normal route to its destination, Beijing. Aviation expert say if the plane's route had been reprogrammed, that change would have shown up in that final electronic transmission.


BOLDUAN: Lots of work for today. For more let's bring in CNN's Andrew Stevens. Andrew, you've been in Perth since kind of all of the focus shifted here and we are learning a lot more about objects from various countries being spotted. Let's walk through this a little bit because I think viewers and myself need to get caught up. Let's talk about what Australia has sighted first. This seems pretty significant.

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This thus seem significant, Kate. But everything at the moment carries a big warning. We don't know what these objects are, but this is significant because this is another piece perhaps in this jigsaw. What the Australians have seen are two objects. They are in the right place as far as the search zone is concerned and perhaps even more importantly, there is an Australian warship perhaps within hours of finding that.

That could absolutely be critical. NATO adds that what the Australians have seen is separate to the Chinese have spotted just a few hours ago. That hasn't been (inaudible) and relocated. But again, it's a broad pattern, which is slowly emerging. It's very blurry at the moment, but it's sort of starting perhaps a little bit to come into focus.

BOLDUAN: And I think what you said is absolutely important because one of the problems has been we have a satellite image, but it's four days old because we've had to analyze it and we've had to try then to get some eyes on it. That's been difficult to, but now you have a sighting from an Australian plane and a ship in the vicinity. They say they could have it in their possession within hours. The latest they think is early tomorrow morning. That seems optimistic, though, this could be an object unrelated to Flight 370.

STEVENS: Absolutely right. It's also important to note the air search and the sea search is now ramping up significantly. The biggest air force out today, ten planes, they are covering more grounds and more focused ground as well. So the more that goes out, the more we're learning basically. We are getting more and more of these sightings, two today. If you think about it, there hasn't been this much action, if you like, since we started this search.

BOLDUAN: I was out in a search plane yesterday. We didn't see a single thing in the ten and a half hours we were out there. The fact that you're getting two sightings in one day shows that not only there are more eyes out there. But they might be narrowing on an important part of the investigation.

STEVENS: The big thing now is where that play such -- there is a black storm coming our way. The weather, we're getting reports, and you said it first hand, it sounds patchy, but the reports we're getting back is it's bad visibility, bad and it's going to get worse.

BOLDUAN: So now, I mean, time is of the essence. We couldn't emphasize that enough. Critical hours ahead. Andrew is going to be here. We're going to need him. Thanks so much. All right, we're going to be tracking all of the developments here. There's a lot to work through here in Perth, Australia, where the heart of the investigation and the search here at Pierce Air Force Base. But for now let's head back to John Berman in New York -- John.

BERMAN: Thanks so much, Kate. We do have important developments today. We want to break it down with our panel our experts, CNN aviation analyst and former Department of Transportation inspector general, Mary Schiavo, former pilot and international captain for Northwest Airlines, David Funk and CNN law enforcement analyst and a former FBI assistant director, Tom Fuentes.

Mary, I want to start with you here because we started with the sort of mathematical extrapolation from satellite connections and then we moved to satellite pictures and satellite radar data. Now finally we have planes sighting what could be debris in the ocean. It seems to me that this is an encouraging process. This is what you want to see, honing in on possible objects in the ocean.

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: That's right. If they can identify what these objects are even before actually bringing them on board a ship then these pieces will provide clues from which they can backtrack and find out where the approximate place the plane first impacted the water is or was. That's where they will be searching for the black boxes.

Once they put these items on a ship, if they can actually get these items on board, then they can start analyzing the items themselves for things like any kind of explosive residue, tearing, ripping, any indication of what happened to that plane and also how it landed.

Did it come down and make a somewhat smooth landing or did it basically nose into the ocean? All those will provide really important clues, but the biggest clue of all will be to point back to where they need to look with those submersibles for the black box.

BERMAN: And of course, if they do recover this debris, that's just the beginning in trying to locating those black boxes. Mary one more question to you, from what we've seen of these pictures, the pictures from first the Chinese satellite, the GO spotting satellite from the U.S. that the Australians got, and now this word that they're seeing rectangular and circular debris, all of that fit into what could be pieces of Flight 370 possibly?

SCHIAVO: Yes. The indications that they are different sizes, the round shape was significant and that they actually have shapes rather than just sort of an amorphous mass of what's been described as ocean trash having particular shapes, particularly a round shape is highly significant.

BERMAN: All right, we are going to keep one eye off the coast of Australia, off of Perth. But we are also going to talk a little bit about the investigation of the path that the flight took because we got information overnight about altitude, David. CNN reporting that it looks like the plane descended to 12,000 feet. That would be too high to evade radar, but that descent is still significant to you why?

DAVID FUNK, FORMER PILOT, NORTHWEST AIRLIINES: A couple reasons. If they did turn back because they had a problem, they probably would have initiated a descent also and there was an airport that's right along the route. There is a military airport where if you had a fire in the cockpit or if you had a fire indication in the airplane, you're going to go to the nearest suitable place to land. And they had a 10,000, 12,000-foot runway out there at that military field. They just declare an emergency and you have the authority to land there.

BERMAN: I've heard Mary say and I've heard other pilots say it also, if one of the possibilities we've been talking about is a rapid decompression in the cabin, if there is some kind of decompression, getting to that lower altitude is important?

FUNK: It is. It is and in the area where they descended to, they would have been well above the terrain. The higher terrain is actually further south down the Mayan Peninsula than the route that they have taken. Probably as I said before, the captain hit the heading select button, spun the airplane towards land. That's what we are all going to do when we have a problem. And then if there was a decompression problem or a fire, he's going initiate an immediate descent. BERMAN: Because you can breathe on your own below that point --

FUNK: Below 14,000 you can, yes.

BERMAN: All right, so it's important to get down there. All right, Tom Fuentes, we've also been talking a lot about what may or may not have happened in the cockpit. There's been speculation that those pilots had changed the computer flight path prior to checking in with air traffic control. Now the timeline seems I would say in question at a minimum. So does this take the focus off, in your mind, deliberate action in the cockpit?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: No, John, it doesn't. You know, you just said that you know, we've heard various versions before that come out to be changed later. That could very easily be the case with this rapid descent to 12,000 feet. As Steve Wallace mentioned earlier, you can't have it both ways. If that plane down to 12,000 feet, then we're wasting a lot of time picking up trash in the South Indian Ocean because it couldn't have flown that far.

So that makes a big difference and all these little rumors that pop out, they have a huge impact and they are certainly going to have a huge impact on that search. If they're searching in the wrong place and that turns out to be the situation later. So the other comment I'd like to make is that picking up debris that's not related to the plane crash does not make the picture more clear in terms of the search. It just means it's meaningless trash and it adds nothing.

The only thing that will add to this investigation is when they pick up the first piece of anything in that water that then can traced to be part of the airplane or reasonably pretty certain to be part of that airline. In the meantime, just finding trash in the ocean adds nothing to the investigation.

BERMAN: And that's a great point, Tom. There is a ship, the Australian ship's success, which could be a few hours away from these pieces of debris. Hopefully they will get eyeballs and maybe even analyze it on board that ship when they get there to find out as you say is it just trash or is it connected possibly to Flight 370.

Mary, Tom said something interesting there. If the flight did descend to 12,000 feet, is it possible it went back up higher and could be on this southern arc, this southern route off the coast of Australia? Or if it went to 12,000 feet, does that mean it's impossible that it got this far.

SCHIAVO: Well, looking back on other cases that I worked on, there was one case where the aircraft continued to porpoise when the pilots had become incapacitated. If the pilot still had control of the plane, obviously they could bring the altitude back up if the plane was capable of responding. If either those scenarios worked in the auto pilot that is still on or the plane on the last heading, would continue on as it was last instructed. If it was at a lower altitude, it would fly on there. Unless something intervened such as auto pilot or the airplane seeking to equalize its altitude and pressure. BERMAN: David last question, we did heard about lithium batteries. We understand there were 200 kilograms of lithium batteries on this flight. We know sometimes they can catch fire. Is that a lot?

FUNK: It's probably a lot, but not more than what the airplane can handle. Plus it's so far removed. We haven't heard whether the compartment is forward or aft. If that happened it, would have been in the water much sooner and we would not have tend to have the pings we had for hours afterward.

BERMAN: Great information. Mary, David and Tom, great to have you as more information comes in and it is coming in by the minute this hour.

PEREIRA: All right, we want to take a look at some of our other top stories.

The crisis in Ukraine threatening to overtake a major nuclear summit at The Hague in the Netherlands. President Obama and other major world leaders planning to hold emergency G-7 talks as Russia tightens its grip on Crimea overnight. Russian troops stormed and seized the Ukrainian naval base in Crimea as many as 80 Ukrainian troops were captured. Let's bring in our White House correspondent, Michelle Kosinski who is live near The Hague -- Michelle.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Michaela. President Obama is here in the Netherlands now. He meet with the prime minister. He will meet with the president of China as well as the G-7 leaders. Note the exclusion of Russia. This is about meeting with America's strongest allies. Even though some of these meetings were planned prior. I mean, President Obama is here for the nuclear security summit that he started three years ago.

The situation in Ukraine will dominate these discussions. It might be easy for some, especially in America, to say, well, how is that our problem? When you think about it, what Russia has done here, essentially invaded its neighbor and taken over a chunk of it, in the view of the west. Russia views it much differently, has changed the game for these allies. The question being what should and can be done about it?

I think it will be interesting to hear in these talks, if escalation of the situation will lead to more action by the west, what exactly at this point is escalation? Is it Russia staying there? And by the same token, what would be the de-escalation that the west is looking for? Because Russia shows no sign of leaving Crimea. Michaela?

PEREIRA: Critical conversations and negotiations ahead. What else does the president have on his docket? I imagine he's trying to take advantage of every meeting, every encounter.

KOSINSKI: Yes, I mean, this is a big deal and it's become bigger in light of Ukraine. He'll be making stops in Brussels. But he's also going to stop in Rome and meet with the Pope; that's more on a personal level, something that he's been wanting to do. And then he'll stop in Saudi Arabia to meet with the king to discuss America's position in the Gulf, as well as North Africa, obviously another source of tension for that reason. Michaela.

PEREIRA: All right, Michelle Kosinski, with that from The Hague. We appreciate that. There's obviously lots of other headlines making news today. Christine Romans is here with our look at that.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, you two. Happy Monday morning.

Breaking overnight, another scare for Malaysia Airlines. One of its jets, an Airbus A330 forced to make an emergency landing in Hong Kong this morning with 271 passengers on board. The officials say the plane's electrical generator stopped working. An auxiliary power unit kicked in and the South Korea-bound flight was able to land in Hong Kong where passengers were placed on different flights.

In Chicago, 30 people were injured after a CTA blue line train derailed at O'Hare International Airport earlier this morning. Look at that. Officials say none of the injuries appear to be life threatening. And according to the Chicago Fire Department, the train jumped a bumper at the end of line and then moved up an escalator.

In South Africa, it's week four of the Oscar Pistorius trial. Both sides have returned to court after a sudden adjournment put the trial on hold. A neighbor is on the stand this morning describing screaming and gunshots she says she heard the night that Reeva Steenkamp was killed. Prosecutors say they plan to wrap up their case this week. Pistorius expected to take the stand in his defense.

Authorities say a Texas oil barge that slammed into a ship this weekend, spilling some 168,000 gallons of fuel, it is no longer leaking. This morning, emergency crews racing to clean up that spill which shut down the Houston ship channel and sent out one of the world's busiest water ways to a grinding halt. Oil is now reportedly washing up on nearby beaches. It's been detected up to 12 miles offshore, you guys. What a mess. It stopped leaking but they still have a big clean-up to do now.

PEREIRA: All right, Christine, thanks so much for those headlines. Next up on NEW DAY, new leads in that search for Flight 370. China and Australia both spotting objects worth checking out. Could this be the big break that we have been waiting for?

BERMAN: Plus, another search under way this morning. Rescuers frantically look for survivors in a sea of mud and debris in Washington State. Could even more people be alive after this weekend's mud slide? Stay with us.


BERMAN: All right, welcome back to NEW DAY, everyone, and CNN's breaking coverage in the search for Flight 370. Overnight, Australian and Chinese jet pilots spotted floating objects in the South Indian Ocean.

Now, it is not clear, it is not clear at this point whether the debris is from the missing jetliner. But joining me to talk about this development, and it could be a big one, is CNN military analyst and former commanding general of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center, Major James "Spider" Marks. Spider, great to have you here.


BERMAN: The news this morning, Australian planes that have been flying out over this search area spotted two pieces of debris, one circular, one rectangular, in this area that they've been honing in on. And then there's this development also. You can see the flight path they've been taking right there, from Perth, over that small area that everyone is now focused on right there. And then the news that we're getting now, that an Australian ship, the Success, could be on site, where that debris was spotted, within the next few hours. That's a big development.

MARKS: It's a huge development. The fact that these pieces of debris have some shape and form to them, as opposed to just debris that you might see in the ocean that's been floating around for a while, very significant. Also, if there are pieces of metal, you're going to get some magnetic return on the radar that's being used by these aircraft. But the fact that you have a ship on a board, you have a confirmation. You have redundancy in terms of the capabilities that are out there. Not only the aircraft, from altitude, which have a limited loiter time --

BERMAN: That's right, we were looking at them flying out there. They can only stay above the site there for a couple of hours.

MARKS: Absolutely. You've got these long legs that come out to the search area, and then they're going to do this little pattern that goes across, and then they have to get back before they run out of fuel. The fact that you've got the HMS Success, which is an Aussie ship, on site, it allows you to have consistent and persistent stare and reconfirmation of what they're seeing.

BERMAN: It really seems like they're closing in now on a fairly specific area. First it was mathematical extrapolation. Now you have these satellite images, first the one from the U.S. commercial company, then the Chinese satellite pictures, and the French radar satellite right now. In your mind, that's helping focus on this small area here and you think the whole northern arc, all the way up here, that's a total waste of time?

MARKS: John ,absolutely. What we've been is all over the map. Literally today we're all over the map. The northern arc is not as possibility.

BERMAN: In your mind.

MARKS: Absolutely in my mind. In fact, we would have had a bunch of en indicators from a whole bunch of different nations up in this part of the world on flight patterns, if somebody had shot at it, if somebody had gotten a ping from that aircraft. We don't see anything. The lack of information up here is what's most significant. What we have is indicators down here. There's nothing up here. We should be concentrating and focusing all our efforts and all our resources on this part of the world. It's extremely important at this point to kind of rush and continue to just persistently get on that target.

BERMAN: Speaking of resources, there will be some new resources from the United States on site as soon as later today or tomorrow. Towed Pinger Locator System, this is from ship, capable of locating the flight information recorder, the so-called black box, to depths of 20,000 feet. Explain to me what they'll be using and why this is significant.

MARKS: Yes, this is very, very deep. Very precise. It's an acoustic type of detection collection system. It gets under the water and it just kind of trolls within a very specific area. Again, you're not all over the place. You're in a very specific area and you're getting returns if that black box is talking to you.

BERMAN: And what's so key is if this debris that they're looking at today and the ship may get next to within the next few hours, if it turns out to be something, and that's a huge if, then they still need to locate the black boxes underwater and that's what this new technology would be for.

MARKS: Absolutely. And not new technology, technology that we've had for a while but new on the search. So it's new to these boys as they're doing their effort to find -- their very, very best to find this stuff. Very critical.

BERMAN: You've worked with countries all over the world on intelligence operations. The Chinese seem much more involved over the last few days than they had maybe two weeks ago.

MARKS: Are we surprised?

BERMAN: Well, you tell me. I mean, first we have the satellite imagery, now we have the Chinese planes spotting possible debris. What do you make of it?

MARKS: The Chinese always want to play nice. I've been looking at the Chinese for the past 30 years. They want to play nice with you. And then overtly they want to be their good friend. You have to be very, very cautious in terms of our relationships with them. However, if the door's open, you allow yourself to work that relationship as cautiously as you can.

But you take their offers of support and you integrate that into your overall picture. That's a little bit tough. All these nations -- everybody wants to lean in and everybody wants to help. And that's a good thing. The coordination of all this disparate information, and different nations coming together -- when you don't routinely have an overarching alliance or agreement, like we do in NATO, by comparison, becomes very, very difficult. Every relationship is a bilateral relationship; you've got to tie it all together.

BERMAN: Well, difficult but let's hope politics don't play too big of a role in this search and rescue.

MARKS: Do they ever not?

BERMAN: Good point. Spider Marks, great to have you, walking all over the world with me.

Next up on NEW DAY, a firsthand look into the search for Flight 370. Kate Bolduan goes up in a plane with a crew from New Zealand to see what obstacles they're up against. Stay with us.