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Mystery of Flight 370; Obama Attending Hague Nuclear Summit; Hunt for Landslide Survivors

Aired March 24, 2014 - 08:00   ET


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The crew describes one as a gray or green circular object, the other an orange rectangular object, both located in the search area about 1,500 miles southwest of Perth, Australia. This discovery made after another sighting earlier in the day, a Chinese search team spotting suspicions objects in the southern Indian ocean.

HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIAN ACTING TRANSPORTATION MINISTER: These objects are not in the vicinity of which were identified by Australian authorities last week.

BOLDUAN: Also this morning, new information about the cargo aboard Flight 370. We now know it was carrying 200 kilograms of lithium batteries.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those are considered non-hazardous under the ICAO or IATA, because as long as you pack them in a manner that's recommended.

BOLDUAN: And over the weekend, new details emerged about Flight 370's path.

A source tells CNN military radar tracking the flight between 1:19 and 2:40 a.m. shows after the plane made a sharp left turn, it then dropped as low as 12,000 feet in a high traffic airspace before disappearing from radar. This same source says the flight's turn seems to be intentional since it would have taken a Boeing 777 two minutes to execute that maneuver.

Malaysian authorities say they are not ruling out foul play.

HUSSEIN: Other leads which relates to no ransom note, no groups claiming to be responsible leads to further speculation.


BOLDUAN: Now back to those objects. We could know d everyone is offering a much needed dose of healthy caution, but we could have some answers in a few hours. That's what Malaysian authorities saying. They could be coming to Australia at the Perth air force base where I am, and that's important because there might finally be one step forward in breaking this case, finding a clue to solve this mystery that everybody has been confounded by for 17 days. Let's head it back to New York, and Michaela -- Michaela.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, and, Kate, you're right. That cautionary note is important. Let's talk to somebody who knows what is happening right now.

Joining us by phone is U.S. Commander William Marks. He's the spokesman for the U.S. Navy Seventh Fleet. He's aboard the USS Blue Ridge in the Philippine Sea. And that fleet is directing search efforts for Flight 370.

First of all, let's establish we can get connection with him because we know there's a bit of delay.

Commander, can you hear us?

COMMANDER WILLIAM MARKS, U.S. NAVY (via telephone): Yes, I can. I have you loud and clear from under way in the Philippine Sea.

PEREIRA: Can you look around and tell us what conditions are like right now since we have the benefit of having you online with us?

MARKS: Sure. Where you are most concerned is the southern search area, southwest of Perth, Australia, being led by the Australians. I did see the report in today, our P-8 Poseidon just landed a few hours ago. Over the last few days it has been pretty challenging environmental conditions there. The area has been overcast, a little fog rolling in, a little bit of high seas.

But the important thing to realize is that these planes and we have two search-and-rescue patrol planes flying they are all weather capable. They are built for this. And no matter the weather, they can resume their searching whether through radar, infrared, optical camera or visual search. They adjust based on the weather. So, they are all weather capable. And we're fighting through it.

PEREIRA: So, I know we in the media tend to make a lot about the weather but you're saying that the weather is not necessarily a factor if your vessels and air support can get there.

MARKS: Yes. We certainly can get there.

Just to give you and overview of the flight pattern. It's about three, three and a half hours out there. About a 1500 mile strip and once they are on station they have about three hours search time and then have another 1,500 miles or so back and over the course of that flight and on station time, the experts in the back of the plane, you have the pilot and the tactical coordinators in the back they adjust for the environment.

So, for example, if it's a clear day, they may go 50-50 visual to radar.

But this search radar is very advanced. It can cut through that clutter. So what you think about in a civilian or commercial aircraft as being bad weather, for us the software kind of tunes that out and we can adjust based on that. Yes, we do have quite a bit of capability. All weather and can search at night using infrared. Pretty wide range.

PEREIRA: We love the U.S. navy as part of this effort. We know this is an international effort. Can you give us an idea just logistically how that is coordinated, how the information breakdown gets to you so that you know the precious information and then how you coordinate the search? We know it's being done by grids.

MARKS: Sure thing. And you probably know Australia is in the lead in the southern sector. Those are planes based out of Perth.

We're still flying out of Kuala Lumpur and those efforts being led by Malaysia and our P-3 Orion is flying a southern search box.

But what's really encouraging is this international cooperation and right now, Australia is flying out of Perth. Of course the U.S. Navy, China has planes there flying. So that way it's well coordinated, the communication, the flight patterns, the sectors, so that we can rest our planes when we need to, we can get the maintenance done when we need, to and then there's never a gap in the search coverage.

The reason I say that is encouraging is because the reason the seventh fleet is out here, the navy's seventh fleet is for security and stability and to work with all these countries to make sure this region is secure and stable, and that's not just here, that range is from international dateline by Hawaii all the way to Pakistan border and then north of Japan all the way to Antarctica.

So, we're out here doing this every day and we usually work with one or two or three countries at a time every day of the year. But to have all these countries come together 26 by my last count, all these countries come together, communicating in a professional manner, that is extremely encouraging for this region of the world that's so important to the rebalance of our U.S. forces.

PEREIRA: Well, we want to just say a big thank to you the men and women aboard the USS Blue Ridge for your service every day but specifically in this very important task at hand. The ongoing search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

Commander William Marks, really appreciate you giving us an idea of the coordinated effort that's under way. Thank you so much for making time for us today.

MARKS: Thank you. Have a great day.

PEREIRA: You, too.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Thanks, Michaela.

We want to talk about all the developments this morning. There have been a lot of them. So, we're going to bring back our panel of experts to break it all down. Former pilot and former international captain from Northwest Airlines, David Funk, CNN safety analyst and former FAA inspector and author of "Why Planes Crash", David Soucie, and CNN law enforcement analyst and former FBI assistant director, Tom Fuentes.

David Soucie, I want to start with you here because the news this morning that really has broken over the last few hours, Australian planes spotting what they say could be debris in the ocean. Now, these are planes not satellite, people on these planes spotted pieces that were orange and also some circular white items that could be some kind of colored drum. It could turn out to be nothing.

But the fact they are spotting this by plane and not four day old satellite (AUDIO GAP) significant development?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Significant in that they have something to search for. It doesn't sound to me as though the description they are giving fits anything that would be on or part of that aircraft.

So -- but the good thing is by plane so they can quickly get down low, and take a look and see probably tomorrow what specifically it was and at least -- I'm sure they have a sonic buoy to track that material.

BERMAN: David Funk, you know, do you think any of these objects ascribed by the Australian pilots could be something you see on a plane?

DAVID FUNK, PILOT & FORMER INTERNATIONAL CAPT., NORTHWEST AIRLINES: They could be. You know, you'll never know for sure until you get hands on. Get the ship's helicopters up to spot them and bring small boats in to physically recover them.

Nothing is as good as putting your hands on an object. I don't care if it's a piece of torn metal. We video that and back to Boeing, the manufacturer and they're going to will tell us what piece of the airplane was.

BERMAN: And that information could come very, very quickly. And as you point, this key development is in Australian naval vessel the success could be hours away from getting where they spotted this debris.

David Funk, I want to ask you one more question because another development from the news conference again, just a couple of hours ago. We learned the co-pilot on board Flight 370, this was just his sixth flight in a Boeing 777 as co-pilot. The first five, he actually had basically a co-pilot buddy. This was one his first flight alone as the co-pilot.

Is that in and of itself significant?

FUNK: No. As a matter of fact, if you had an in-flight emergency or any kind of problem, the guys fresh just out of training are the sharpest ones at the airlines. So, as a captain, I want a brand new co-pilot. If something happens, who just popped out of the training department, he's got all the procedures down, he knows what to do to help out and make things happen.

So, actually, if there was just an in-flight emergency that led to a loss of this airplane and not a nefarious event, this is a guy I want in my right seat. He's an experienced pilot. He's just new to the 777, but he's fresh out of training. That's good.

BERMAN: Why it's great to have you here. A lot of people are (INAUDIBLE), he's only sixth time flying 777, he's got no experience. But you're saying it may be the best case to have a guy just out of training.

FUNK: Absolutely.

BERMAN: All right. Tom Fuentes, I want to ask you about another development that developed late overnight -- this is word from radar analysis that this plane may have dipped, descended to below 12,000 feet. This is way back when it was still over Malaysia if in fact it was ever there depending on how you believe these radar and satellite things were tracing.

Descended to 12,000 feet, I want to ask you a couple of questions about this -- the first one, a few people may be wondering if it's that low again, wouldn't cell phones, wouldn't passengers, isn't that get close to where they might be able to communicate with people on the ground again?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: That's true, John. But I think they might have to get lower than that for cell phones, maybe closer to 4,000, 5,000 feet.

Starting with the beginning as an investigator when you hear something like this, the first thing I think is, who said that? Who is the source? How do they know what they say they know?

And that's -- we've had this kind of source reporting from day one that many of which turns out to be wrong, and, you know, you still have the issue of the Inmarsat satellite. If all the experts say that the northern arc and southern arc are absolutely that aircraft it went one way or the other but on that arc, then these various turns and especially dropping to that low of an altitude seem to conflict.

But again the stories put out like now we know. Well, do we really know?

BERMAN: Well, I think you make a great point. One thing that makes this entire search story so confounding it contradicts other information. You told me if in fact this flight did descend to 12,000 feet somewhere over the Malay Peninsula it wouldn't be able to get as far south of Perth, Australia, off the coast of that where they are searching right now.

Is that right, Tom?

FUENTES: Well, that's what the aviation experts said the fuel consumption would be so phenomenal at that altitude it would have to go back to cruising altitude to get any kind of distance which would negate what the Inmarsat satellite says. It doesn't say how far it went but it said it was in the air for all these extra hours. In order to stay in the air it would have to be economical with its fuel consumption, burning fuel going up and down from 12,000 to 45,000, back up and down, or purposing as I call it.

If it's doing any kind of acrobatics in the air, it's sucking fuel in a big way. I don't know how it can stay in the air, another six, seven hours.

BERMAN: David Soucie, I see you nodding your head to this. Do you agree?

SOUCIE: Yes. Absolutely, I do. But then remember that the Inmarsat information about those arcs was calculated if it stayed at 35,000 feet.

Now, again, as Tom pointed out we had so much information going back and forth and I tend to dispute this 12,000 because of the fact, my information required even military radar is not accurate with altitudes. They can tell you where it's going, what the speed is, but as far as altitudes go, I'm not confident that's a real reliable altitude, to be honest with you.

BERMAN: All right. That's why we have you guys here to help us understand the information we're getting and how reliable it is.

David Soucie, Tom Fuentes, David, great to have you all here. Stay with us please.


PEREIRA: All right. Thanks so much, John.

We're going to return to Flight 370 coverage in just a moment but right now, to the Hague in the Netherlands where President Obama is meeting with fellow world leaders. The original intent was to talk about nuclear security but as you can imagine the focus of the talks will shift to the crisis ongoing in the Ukraine. Obviously that's because overnight Russian troops stormed and seized a Ukrainian naval base in Crimea. We're told as many as 80 Ukrainian troops were captured.

White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski is live here for us -- Michelle.


Yes, it's clear the situation in Ukraine is going to come to dominate these discussions, especially the special session with G7 leaders excluding Russia late own today. But it's clear early on that these leaders don't want to make this session all about that.

And already this morning there were some announcements made. Many are here for the nuclear summit that was organized by President Obama three years ago and some of the nations involved, Japan, Italy, Belgium had announced they are going to remove large amounts of highly enriched nuclear materials from their countries.

On other topics, too, Netherlands will join the U.S. and other nations in stopping the international public funding of coal fired power plants trying to make a more equal playing field for the creation of more green energy. But, yes, the world will be watching on the Ukraine situation to see if there is an additional response. More action taken or more plans made as regards Russia in this ongoing and some might say escalating crisis in Ukraine -- Michaela.

PEREIRA: All right. Michelle Kosinski, we appreciate that.

Now, we turn to a scene, a devastating scene that's unfolded in Washington state. An enormous mud-slide occurred there and swallowed up an entire neighborhood, wiped out by a giant wall of mud, trees, other debris we know. At least eight people have been killed. Searchers are hoping more survivors are somewhere under all that mud and debris.

Let's go to George Howell in Arlington, Washington, for the latest -- George.


The land where this happened 20 miles east of where we are here in Arlington, Washington, still very much unstable. Delicate matter there and very hard to search. The number of residents who were displaced by all this is uncertain. But what we do know a dozen residents are still unaccounted for and the death toll went up late last night from four to eight.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The devastation, of course, is overwhelming.

HOWELL (voice-over): Officials call the search mission in Snohomish County, Washington, aggressive. Helicopters equipped with heat sensing technology scan fields of debris for any sign of people still trapped underneath.

FIRE CHIEF TRAVIS HOTS, SNOHOMISH COUNTY FIRE: There was no sign of life. The only thing I can report is we found one deceased victim.

HOWELL: The site of this hill came crashing town on the small town of Oso Saturday, morning burying seat road 530. These before and after photos of the area captured the incredible scope of the devastation.


HOWELL: This cell phone video was shot from the ground right after the hillside swollen by recent heavy rains gave way, covering an area of land about a square mile wide.

TAD MERRITT, OSO RESIDENT: It slid a couple of times in my life but never nothing like this. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Total devastation. This is unbelievable.

HOWELL: Officials say the moving slurry like quick sand made Sunday's rescue efforts on foot far too dangerous. Those who were saved had to be airlifted to safety.

As the active rescue continues, many families are still left with uncertainty.

GOV. JAY INSLEE (D), WASHINGTON: You can imagine their devastation, worrying about their family members. We're an active rescue effort right now.

HOWELL: Caroline Neal's (ph) 52-year-old father Steven is among the missing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We just have to think he's somewhere and safe.

HOWELL: Sixteen homes were damaged. At least six destroyed. One of them you see here cemented in mud.


PEREIRA: So, George, here's the question. Are they concerned about the stability of that land? Are they worried about other slides happening?

HOWELL: Michaela, the answer to that is absolutely. And here's why. I can tell you from my experience working as a reporter in this market.

I've covered many mud-slides. This is the time for it. It's because of the land, the terrain here. It's called glacial till, mixture of big boulders of powdery stone. It's porous.

Whenever you get a lot of rain people know many parts of the land here are susceptible to land slides. They know it can happen in any situation here with this particular case.

And the bad news is this -- today is a good sunny day but in the next few days there's rain in the forecast. So, today will be key.

PEREIRA: A concern for rescuers and searchers in that area. George, thank you so much for that.

BERMAN: Tough situation in the days ahead.

All right. Next up for us on NEW DAY -- more of CNN's in depth coverage on the search of Flight 370. What is it like for pilots looking for debris over the South Indian Ocean. Kate Bolduan got a chance to fly with New Zealand's royal air force. That's next.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY, everyone. I'm joining you live in Perth, Australia, once again this morning with breaking news in the search for Flight 370. Overnight, Australian and Chinese jet pilots, search pilots, search planes rather spotted floating objects in the southern Indian Ocean.

It's not clear, though, whether it's debris from the missing jetliner. That, of course, continues in this investigation.

Joining me now to talk about all of this is editor-in-chief and managing director of, Geoffrey Thomas.

Geoffrey, thank you so much for coming in.


BOLDUAN: Important to get your insight here because everyone is looking for a break here. Some clue to find out first what happened to the plane and then we can talk about why, of course. What do you make of the news coming you want especially the objects spotted by this Australian search plane. They seem to be getting a lot of attention. They got color, green or gray and orange and one is circular, one is rectangular.

Do you think this is significant?

THOMAS: Look, I think this debris is significant, combined with the Chinese debris identified earlier in the day. The momentum is building that we're absolutely on to what might be the end of 370.

BOLDUAN: And, I thought it was also significant. I went up with the New Zealand search crew yesterday and one of the things they told me in the flight was, if we spot something the first thing we do is to radio one of the ships to try to get them nearby. That seems to be maybe the key here to the success is that the HMA success, the Australian ship, is close by.

THOMAS: Yes, indeed. In fact, the latest information we just had is it's very, very close to the debris that was identified. Hopefully, they can pick it up tonight. That's a distinct possibility.

BOLDUAN: And ask you, Geoffrey, how long do you think it would be, I guess it depends on the quality of what the object is -- but wouldn't it be pretty simple to say is this part of the missing jet?

THOMAS: It could absolutely. It could have some very simple identification on it. They could even radio back tonight and say yes we found something.

BOLDUAN: That's something obviously I want to track. I want to get your take on a couple of other things. One thing I found interesting is this conversation about lithium batteries in the cargo. We were told today by Malaysian officials it was 200 kilograms of lithium batteries.

I actually have -- I just actually missed it. I had a camera battery I was going to show, it was one kilo and there would be 200 camera batteries that we had. Not saying that's exactly what's in the cargo hold. Does that sound excessive to you?

THOMAS: No, no, no. They transport lithium batteries a lot by aircraft.

However, when you do have a lithium fire, it is very dangerous and very final. There's two aircraft, two cargo aircraft lost in the last four years with lithium charge jobs with lithium battery fires. You lose them within 30 minutes. It's that final.

This airplane supposedly flew on for seven hours. I don't believe it's a lithium battery issue.

BOLDUAN: Those two things might be difficult to put together.

THOMAS: Indeed.

BOLDUAN: Let me ask you about another thing coming out this idea being reported that military radar tracked the flight after the turn descended to an altitude of about 12,000 feet before it went off the radar. For the initiated that seems pretty low.

THOMAS: Look, indeed. I mean there are a lot of theories but going to 12,000 feet and we even had reports of as low as 5,000 feet. If it did that, for whatever reason, to be off the coast of western Australia, it would have had to climb back up to 37,000 feet.

BOLDUAN: Why is that?

THOMAS: Because at 12,000 feet or 5,000 feet it burns too much fuel. It could never make that distance. So, distance has been calculated on a six hour, seven hour flight at a certain altitude, certain range. That's where it ended up off the coast of western Australia. That's if the dead debris is from 370.

BOLDUAN: Like so many smart minds talking about this you're not holding on to one theory north. Pieces of this puzzle don't fit together at all.

THOMAS: No. As an individual yes that could happen. As a collective and if that debris is 370 then a lot of these theories don't stuck up.

BOLDUAN: Just don't stuck up. First things first. Let's find out if this is the debris and then we can start talking about not just what happened but why this happened to 370.

THOMAS: Indeed.

BOLDUAN: Jeffrey Thomas, thank you very much. It's great to see you.

THOMAS: Pleasure.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

We're going to a break. Coming up next on NEW DAY, I had a chance to fly with New Zealand's royal air force looking for the missing jetliner or at least some missing debris. And you're going to get to see what they're up against, ahead.