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Flight 370 Ended in Southern Indian Ocean; All Families Told All Lives Lost; Objects Spotted; Washington State Landslide

Aired March 24, 2014 - 13:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. We'd like to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

We're following very dramatic developments in the mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Today, Malaysia's prime minister delivered a somber message about the fate of the jetliner, and the news was devastating for the families of the 239 people on board.

In the words of one relative, quote, "They have told us all lives are lost." The prime minister says the plane went down in the southern Indian Ocean. He says the conclusion is based on new and ground- breaking analysis of satellite data. Here is the statement from the prime minister just a little while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NAJIB RAZAK, PRIME MINISTER, MALAYSIA: This evening, I was briefed by representatives from the U.K. Accidents Investigation Branch or AAIB. They informed me that Inmarsat, the U.K. company that provided the satellite data which indicated northern and southern corridors, has been performing further calculations on the data, using a type of analysis never before used in an investigation of this sort. They have been able to shed more light on MH 370's flight path.

Based on the new analysis, Inmarsat and the AAIB have concluded that MH 370 flew along the southern corridor, and that its last position was in the middle of the Indian Ocean west of Perth. This is a remote location far from any possible landing site. 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.

We will be holding a press conference tomorrow with further details. In the meantime, we wanted to inform you of this new development at the earliest opportunity. We share this information out of a commitment to openness and respect for the families, two principles which have guided this investigation. Malaysia Airlines have already spoken to the families of the passengers and crew to inform them of this development. For them, the past few weeks have been heartbreaking. I know this news must be harder still. I urge the media to respect their privacy and allow them the space they need at this very difficult time.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Najib Razak, the prime minister of Malaysia, making the very, very somber announcement. The relatives of the passengers and crew members, they've endured more than two weeks of anguish and uncertainty. Now, they're phase faced with the tragic reality of loss and overwhelming grief.

Our Senior International Correspondent Sara Sidner is joining us from Kuala Lumpur right now. Sara, how were the families actually informed about this conclusion from the Malaysian prime minister that the plane was lost and no one survived?

SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They were told before the media. And that's something they have been asking for, as you know, Wolf, time and again. They wanted the information. Shouldn't go out to the world before the families get to hear it.

What happened was that some of -- some people received a message to come to a meeting. We do know that the family members were being briefed before the press conference. We saw that they were in a room. The moment they heard what the authorities are saying happened, that the plane actually ended up somewhere deep in the southern Indian Ocean, there was a burst of crying.

There was a woman who burst out the door, screaming "Why, why, why?" just saying it over and over and over again. There was a woman screaming, "Where's my son? Where's my son?" The families just don't know because they have no proof. They have no physical evidence of where their family members actually are in their final resting place. That is extremely difficult.

Now, in Beijing, the scene was a bit different. In Beijing, there was screaming. I mean, curdling screams from a family member who doesn't accept what they're hearing, saying, we need proof. We need proof. And we have heard so many lies. We want proof. So, there are some family members who are accepting this, that you can see that they are trying to deal with the grief of never being able to see their loved ones again.

There are other family members that are skeptical of this information, that until they see some kind of proof, some kind of wreckage, they just don't believe it. They are holding on to that tiny sliver of hope that perhaps somehow their family members are still alive at this point. But authorities trying to change their minds, trying to tell them that they believe that all the lives were lost -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What about the airline, the Malaysian airlines? Are they doing something special right now to deal with the anguish to try to console these family members?

SIDNER: Absolutely. We were walking in the hotel room -- I've been staying in the hotel where many of the family members are staying for the last few days, watching them as they go through this turmoil. And the whole time, there have been counselors here.

There have been members of Malaysian Airlines here. They are much more protective of the families. They're not letting anyone really get near them. They are trying to cordon them off from pretty much the rest of the world, especially the media.

But they do have counseling. And I put that question to one of the Malaysian Airlines representatives who was stopping us from being able to move freely in the hotel. And I said, "What is it you're doing for the family members? Are you giving them counseling? Are you helping them at this time?" And they said, yes, we are. They have had counselng this whole time.

We did see a lot of representatives from Malaysia Airlines here. We did see a lot of police officers here. We also saw a woman being wheeled out in a wheelchair. We saw an ambulance show up, because there was an emergency, a medical emergency. This information just overwhelming to the families.

Remember, that for 17 long and difficult days, more than half a month, these family members have not had a clue as to where this missing flight was. And finally, today, to hear from authorities this plane has gone down and that all lives have been lost, just -- they just broke down. There is no other way to put it. Many of the family members just finally broke down and let go of that hope that their family members may somehow still be alive -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Sara Sidner in Kuala Lumpur. We'll go to Beijing later and get reaction from there as well.

Most of the people, two-thirds of the passengers aboard their flight were Chinese. Let's discuss what's going on right now with Mark Weiss. He's an aviation analyst, a former 777 pilot for American Airlines. Peter Goelz is a CNN Aviation Analyst, former NTSB managing director. And Tom Fuentes is CNN's Law Enforcement Analyst, former assistant director of the FBI.

You know, I was a little surprised. I must say, I was plenty surprised that the prime minister of Malaysia would make this announcement, based on analysis from Inmarsat, the British radar company, the satellite company, based on deep analysis. But they still haven't located actually any debris, even though they're apparently getting close to finding something that may or may not be related to the plane. Were you -- were you surprised he would go this far, that Malaysia would tell everybody all hope is lost without any physical evidence?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Actually, I was, Wolf. I thought that, you know, you could wait until you even have one piece of debris confirmed and say, OK, now we know that the plane is in the ocean. So, absent that, just based on the analysis of the satellite data, it seemed like a little bit premature. Unless they already know, maybe that have a debris -- a piece of debris that they've already got in possession and confirmed and they haven't put that part out yet.

BLITZER: Because I have to assume, he knows more than he's saying, the prime minister of Malaysia, Peter, that maybe there is an -- across the board, U.S., Australian, Malaysian, British, everybody is on the same page. But why wouldn't he tell us if they did find some debris from the plane that, yes, we have confirmed that this piece of debris is from that jetliner?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, I think today's statement by the prime minister, which really was extraordinarily compassionate, was aimed at the family members. They had to figure out a strategy to get the family members, both in Kuala Lumpur and in Beijing, out of the hotels and back to the supportive environment of their homes. We had to do that with TWA Flight 800 after about three and a half weeks. It is just essential that family members get the support, the love, the caring, that they can only get at home. This investigation is now recovery. There is no hope for survivors and that message had to be delivered. The prime minister, I thought, did a great job doing that.

BLITZER: Yes, but it would have been maybe even more reassuring, Mark, to the family members -- probably a lot more reassuring, if he would have said, and we have confirmed that we have spotted debris from the plane.

MARK WEISS, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, certainly. And, you know, that's what they really need. They need some level of closure. But at this point, you know, they didn't want to let that information out. But I do agree with peter in the sense that I think a lot of this was for the family and to gain a trust level back.

BLITZER: I want you to stand by. There is a lot more to dissect and to assess, including whether or not this tells us anything about whether a human being was responsible for that plane going into the Indian Ocean or some sort of catastrophic mechanical failure. We're going to continue our analysis on that.

The location where authorities think Flight 370 ended is the same area where crews have been searching for debris. We're going to update you on the hunt for suspicious objects spotted in this very remote Indian Ocean.

Also ahead, we'll have a live report from Beijing. We're waiting for families who did get the heartbreaking news that none of their loved ones survived Flight 370.

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BLITZER: The location where Malaysian authorities now believe Flight 370 went down is a remote area of the Indian Ocean. The same area where the latest search efforts have been focused. Australian officials say they've spotted two objects that could, repeat, could be related to the missing plane. This follows earlier sightings of suspicious objects by a Chinese military plane. Our own Kyung Lah is following all of this. She's joining us from a base outside of Perth, Australia, the western part of Australia.

Kyung, tell us what you can about the objects spotted by Australian officials and how potentially significant they might be.

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we don't quite know what the significance is until they actually get this debris out of the water. What I can tell you is that an Australian plane did spot something in the water. And this is very significant that they spotted it at all. It was a gray object and an orange object. That was the first sighting by the Australians.

There's another sighting by a Chinese plane. A white square object surrounded by some white debris. So two separate sightings. They have not been pulled from the ocean. The ships have to get there, they have to pull them out. So the question may be, well, why didn't the planes hover above? The problem is, is that those planes have limited fuel. This is a remote section of the ocean. So they've got to spot it, they've got to radio down the coordinates and then a ship has to go and get it. So that's the challenge here.

What this operation now becomes, now that we have this news out of Kuala Lumpur, is that they want to bring the evidence home to the families, Wolf, and that's really what's driving this search right now.

Wolf.

BLITZER: And as you know, Kyung, a Chinese plane flying over this search area in the Indian Ocean also reported spotting two objects. What do we know about those objects?

LAH: That those also haven't been pulled up. That's the white object surrounded by other white debris. So there's two pressing searches going on. That Australian plane and the Chinese plane sightings. And once they pull that out, once that's retrieved from the ocean, and then the airline and investigators can take a look at it, and then connect it, perhaps to the plane, remember, this area, Wolf, is remote, but it also has a lot of junk in it. And so they've got to make sure that what they're pulling out is actually connected to the plane, Wolf.

BLITZER: Kyung Lah on the scene for us in Perth, Australia. Thanks very much.

We are just getting in to CNN a formal statement from the government of China. Let me read it to our viewers right now. "China is aware of Malaysia's announcement of the plane crash. We are paying high attention to it. China has requested Malaysian authorities to further provide all information and evidence leading up to such a conclusion. China's search and rescue efforts are continuing. We also hope those of Malaysia and other countries could go on as well."

Let's bring back our panel.

Tom Fuentes, first to you. The Chinese, that statement, a carefully crafted statement. They say they want to see all the evidence from -

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Right.

BLITZER: In Inmarsat (ph), from the U.K., from the British, how they came up with this conclusion for the Malaysian prime minister to make this very somber announcement. A lot of us would like to see all of that, as well. Are you surprised by this sort of cautious Chinese reaction?

FUENTES: Not really because, you know, they have the family members there that are literally screaming at their officials and calling them liars and calling the Malaysians liars, you know, every time they're briefed up there. And I think the Chinese government has a certain degree of skepticism or just wants to have the proof laid out before them. If they've got some new mathematical formula that was applied to the satellite data, then they would like to see that data themselves, you know, from which the conclusions are drawn. So I'm not --

BLITZER: They -- you heard the prime minister say they've never used this technology before.

FUENTES: Right.

BLITZER: This analysis before to come up with this conclusion. The British authorities and Inmarsat (ph), which is a British satellite operation. How concerned should we be that this is legit, that this is a done deal?

PETER GOELZ, FORMER NTSB MANAGING DIRECTOR: Well, there's been issues of transparency throughout this investigation. And this really underscores it. The Chinese believe that this has not been a particularly transparent investigation. Things have been withheld or reversed. They want to see it put on the table, and it should be. In any accident investigation, the facts ought to be put on the table as quickly as they are identified.

BLITZER: And as we point out, this is a new technology, a new analysis, that even the prime minister of Malaysian says has never been used before. But based on that, Mark, and you're a pilot, a 777 pilot. Based on that, they've notified the family members that it's over.

MARK WEISS, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, and, again, going back to what we were talking about before. We think that some of this is really to put some closure for the families themselves. But with the Chinese government, I mean they had over 150 families on board that aircraft. And I think what the Chinese government wants to do is present to both the world and certainly to their people that we are really investigating this. We don't want to put out speculation. We want facts to be able to present to you.

BLITZER: And does this conclusion from the Malaysian prime minister today, based on what the British authorities have told the government of Malaysia, help us better understand whether a human being was responsible for the disappearance of this plane, or some sort of mechanical failure?

WEISS: Well, again, we haven't found anything that actually presents that this is actually the aircraft. So we really don't know. But, you know, if you just go through some logical steps, some rational thinking, what could have presented that caused this aircraft to be in this part of the world, that far off course? If the gyrations are true, if they're not true, how could that have happened? We've gone through explanations. Some absolutely not really plausible and some -- we've had some validity. Electrical fires, mechanical problems, fires in the cargo bay, people being -- intruders into the aircraft, the cockpit, the crew. You know, each one really has to be looked at. I mean if you come to a conclusion too early, that's what you're going to focus on and that's what you're going to determine. So we really need to keep looking at this. But I still believe that there could have been human intervention into that cockpit.

BLITZER: Yes. And I'm going to get Peter and Tom to weigh in on this as well as we continue our analysis.

We're going to have much more on the search for Flight 370 coming up, including what we've learned today about the plane's flight path.

We also want to go to Washington state where the number of missing or unaccounted for in that massive mudslide has gone way up. We'll have the latest on the search for survivors. That's coming up, as well.

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BLITZER: We'll get right back to the latest developments on Flight 370 in just a moment or so.

But first, want to go to Washington state. There is an emergency situation unfolding. Emergency crews are actively searching for survivors in the wreckage of a deadly landslide northeast of Seattle. And the number of people listed as missing has gone way up. So far, eight bodies have been recovered. CNN's George Howell is joining us now.

So, George, what's the latest on the missing?

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a lot of new numbers came out today. Not to lose sight of the heart of the matter, though, that there are families that have now been waiting for days without answers, just uncertain of whether their homes are still there, whether their loved ones are still alive.

But again, we learned several new numbers today. First of all, that 108 reports of missing or unaccounted for people. That's what investigators are focusing on right now. I want to break that down so that you can understand the number, because it is a very big number compared to what we've seen the other few days.

One hundred and eight, they're saying that that could be names, it could be vague identities. For instance, making up a name. Jim, who lived in that home, haven't seen him for several days. That is an identity. They're looking at 108 of those reports, and they're trying to narrow it down. They're asking people to call in and check in. They're asking family members to do the same. They hope to narrow that number in the next several days, the next several hours, obviously, as they continue that search today.

BLITZER: What's the latest, George, with the search and rescue operation? What's going on?

HOWELL: We know that the search today on the ground and by air, Wolf, will intensify. We know that they will have aircraft, search and rescue dogs on the ground. People will be walking the ground today with electronic equipment to probe the ground, to search for people.

We also understand that the Washington Department of Transportation, they're bringing in the heavy equipment to start moving a lot of that mud, especially off of state route -- State Road 530. That's about a mile stretch where this mud came through and basically cut it off. So they're going in with a lot of equipment. They hope to get in there and find more people. But again, officials even admit today, the outlook today is grim given the day -- it's been several days since this happened.

BLITZER: All right, George, thank you. George Howell reporting for us. A horrible situation out in Washington state.

Just ahead, hopes dashed for the families of Flight 370. Some react by angrily lashing out at waiting reporters. We're going live to Beijing when we come back.

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