Return to Transcripts main page


Families Receive Devastating News on MH370; Inmarsat Satellite Technology Assists with MH370 Search; Obama Meets World Leaders to Discuss Ukraine, Crimea Situation.

Aired March 24, 2014 - 13:30   ET



WOLF BLITZER: CNN ANCHOR: It's the news that relatives of those on flight 370 have been dreading for more than two weeks now. Today, Malaysia's prime minister said new and ground-breaking site analysis says the plane went down in the southern Indian Ocean. The news was devastating to family members of the 239 people on board. Some were overcome and had to be taken away on stretchers and wheelchairs. The area where officials think the plane went down is the same general location where the search is now focused. Australian officials say they spotted two objects in the area. A Chinese plane also reported seeing, quote, "suspicious objects." But so far, nothing has been linked to flight 370. The Malaysian prime minister's remarks today were not words anyone wanted to hear.

Let's go to CNN's David McKenzie, who is in Beijing, where family members must now adjust to the certainty that the flight went down in the Indian Ocean.

David, many of those relatives, they got the news as a text message ahead of the prime minister's somber announcement. We have been seeing them, getting their reaction. How have they been taking it?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're taking it very badly, of course, with all these days of agonizing wait, hoping against hope their family members might be alive.

Look at how this woman reacted.


UNIDENTIFIED FAMILY MEMBER (through translation): They made this announcement today. Is it really true? What's their proof? First of all, they have not been able to confirm any suspected floating objects. They simply made this announcement today, telling us no one survived, sank into the ocean. What's your proof? It's been 17 days. They simply just give us this result. How can people bear this? The Chinese government of ours should come forward and clarify and tell us. My mother! This happened on the 8th. She died on the 9th. Tell us, how do I live? I'm not done yet. All countries' governments, they are too vicious. They are too dirty. Everyone has their own ego. This society, this world is so horrible, too dirty. No government is merciful.


MCKENZIE: Well, Wolf, you see those terrible cries of that woman, angry, lashing out, at anyone she can. There were other angry scenes here tonight, people coming out of their conference room when they got the news, lashing out at the cameramen on the scene. And many people taken on stretchers out of the scene, because of the sheer overwhelming nature of this news. You really have to feel for these family members. Hundreds of them in this hotel behind me, which have been going through these days of agonizing wait, and now just that information coming to them, which is really the news that they didn't want to hear -- Wolf?

BLITZER: It certainly would have been a little more reassuring, I'm sure, if there actually had been some physical debris that was recovered from that plane. If they have it, they haven't told us about that, David.

The Chinese foreign ministry released a carefully written statement and posted on its website, among other things saying this: "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 conclusion. China's search-and-rescue efforts are continuing. We also hope those of Malaysia and other countries could go on, as well."

So it sounds as if China, the government of China in Beijing, where you are, David, they want more details before they're ready to say everyone is dead.

MCKENZIE: Well, that's right, Wolf. And they certainly -- it's reflecting what we're hearing on the ground here from family members. And the man I just spoke to saying he wants to see physical proof this plane went down. A lot of suspicion right now from the families towards the Malaysian government. Some of it being fueled by the Chinese government, repeatedly pointing out they feel this effort has not been up you to scratch, according to them. China has sent several assets to the southern Indian Ocean, including a giant ice breaker to try and find physical evidence of this plane.

One important cultural thing to note, for Chinese, it's very important to get the body or get the remains so the family can grieve. So even if they find the plane, it's going to be very hard for the people here to have closure, because presumably the amount of time and the place it's gone down, any physical remains will be extremely difficult to find.

So, you know, harrowing scenes here in Beijing, as the final news came through the news that some people still don't want to acknowledge. They want physical proof -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, David, thank you.

David McKenzie, in Beijing.

Just ahead, more on the fate of flight 370. We'll take a closer look at this new technology used to track the plane's path and other satellites being used in the search. That's coming up.


BLITZER: Malaysia says the groundbreaking satellite analysis led to the conclusion that flight 370 went down in the southern Indian Ocean.

Joining us now is Chris McLaughlin, senior vice president of the British satellite company, Inmarsat.

Chris, thanks very much for joining us.

Tell us, are you 100 percent convinced this plane, this 777, went down in the southern Indian Ocean, based on your satellite analysis?

CHRIS MCLAUGHLIN, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, INMARSAT SATELLITE COMPANY: Yes, Wolf. We have looked at a number of other Malaysian airlines 777s to look at the overall model. And the best path fit with the pings we got off the aircraft go to the southern route.

BLITZER: I just want to make sure that the analysis is perfect, because these family members, a lot of them in Beijing and Kuala Lumpur, they're still not convinced. So, you know, they're watching you right now. Do you know for sure, without any doubt whatsoever, that the plane went into the Indian Ocean and that there are no survivors?

MCLAUGHLIN: No. There are a number of jumps there. What I can tell you, for definite, is that as the operator of the world's Global Maritime Distress Service for the last 34 years, we have a lot of experience. We feel the sadness of the families, and we do feel for them at this point. But if you look at the plots that we have using recent adjusted techniques, we can say the most likely route is the south, and the most likely ending in roughly the area where they're looking now. But, of course, nothing is final. We're not earth observation satellites. We're data satellites. So it will require a lot of different skills, a lot of different people, not least the naked eye, to finally confirm what happened to 370.

BLITZER: Because as you point out, most likely is not necessarily perfect. And for the Malaysian government and Malaysia Airlines to inform the family members that their loved ones are dead, that is a jump from what Inmarsat, your company, has told them, based on what I'm hearing now.

MCLAUGHLIN: We have originally, on the 11th, put forward to the investigation a possible north-south route. Our engineers and scientists have continued working on the data and comparing it with other similar flights from Malaysia, to lead to us conclude it was the southern route. I would simply point out that the Malaysians are obviously stating that there was on seven, seven and a half hours of fuel, and that if the plane went to the south, it most likely went into the Indian Ocean. I'm not an expert. I'm just simply saying that does look the inevitable experience.

BLITZER: So, Chris, is Inmarsat saying the plane most likely took that southern route through the Indian Ocean, or that it definitely took that southern route through the Indian Ocean?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, Wolf, I'm trying to be a little bit British about this. You can imagine. I'm saying we've look at the modeled path, and we've have looked at the experience of the pings we got off the aircraft. They closely match each other. So, you know, if you're in this whodunit mode, you're most likely going to be looking in the southern ocean. You are not going to be looking to the north. It's -- I can't give it to you definitively. Because the world's airlines and the world's industry does not specify putting mapping and tracking data off of aircraft at the moment. It's an oversight that I hope will be recognized and dealt with soon.

BLITZER: Tell us what the new analysis, the new technology, the new system that you have used now for the first time to come up with this conclusion that most likely it went into the Indian Ocean, based on what we heard from the prime minister of Malaysia. What is the new analysis you have done?

MCLAUGHLIN: We are trying to do something very rare. We're trying to give a guidance based on just a single piece of data. Normally, you'd expect it to be triangulated. Normally, you'd expect other data. We're also trying to work with a system off an I-3 satellite launched in the mid 1990s, a Lockheed Martin satellite. It was built and operated without the GPS fixes, so later generations could tell you more. But this one can simply tell you the plane was powered, it was traveling in a north or south direction from our own sort of trigonometric sums and, indeed, our testing of the network data we've got. But I must stress, this is very limited data. We're not saying we have definitively where the aircraft came down. Only that the direction of travel is almost certainly to the south.

BLITZER: Any of the information that Inmarsat collected, could you determine if the plane was cruising at 35,000 feet? Did it go up to 45,000? Did it go back down to 20? At one point, did it go to 12,000? We have heard all these numbers out there. Based on your analysis, what can you determine as far as the altitude of the plane?

MCLAUGHLIN: Like you, I have read all the speculation. Like you, I've mapped out 100 different scenarios. All I can say is that we are able to say over a number of hours that the plane was at a fairly constant altitude. We have assumed, with guidance from Boeing, a speed of about 350 knots, which would be the automatic-pilot speed. And we have assumed the range based on what Malaysians said the plane was fueled up for, plus a safety margin. But I can't speak to if the plane varied its speed. I can't speak to if the plane varied its altitude over time. I think most of those changes are off of Malaysian radar, at the early stage of this crisis. So I think you would have to talk to the Malaysians about their readings of radar and perhaps primary military radar.

BLITZER: So just to recap, Chris. I just want to be sure. A lot is at stake right now. Your analysis, based on the new information you have, the new technology, the handshakes, the pings, whatever you want to call it, is that most likely, the plane went into the southern Indian Ocean someplace, did not go into central Asia, that northern arc, if you will. That's the bottom line, right? MCLAUGHLIN: The bottom line is most likely in the southern Indian Ocean, west of Perth. And that the ships and aircraft are now looking in the right area.

BLITZER: Chris McLaughlin, of Inmarsat, thanks so much for joining us. Thanks for that explanation. We really appreciate all the good work you guys are doing at Inmarsat, helping us better appreciate what happened to this flight.

We'll take a quick break. Much more coming up, right after this.


BLITZER: Let's dig deeper now into the technology used to determine the fate of flight 370.

Joining us is Ken Christensen, former U.S. Air Force pilot, NASA liaison for the Department of Homeland Security.

What is your reaction? You just heard my interview in which he suggests most likely the plane went down in the southern Indian Ocean based on the new analysis that they have come up with. What is your reaction when you hear that?

LT. COL. KEN CHRISTENSEN, FORMER U.S. AIR FORCE PILOT: I agree, and I think what we have available certainly points in that direction. Again, I think it's important -- and ships are out there now and search teams are out there now. Their most immediate concern is to get to one of those items and physically take that out of the ocean and look at it and see if that, in fact, is a piece of that aircraft. They will have aircraft manufacturer, the Boeing people in there looking at that, probably take pictures of it, send to them, and see if that, in fact, is a piece of that aircraft. That's definitely confirmation that it was that aircraft in the ocean there.

BLITZER: Let me get reaction to the news that we just had from the interview with Chris McLaughlin. Tom Fuentes, the former FBI assistant director, our law enforcement analyst, is here.

What do you think some he didn't say definitively 100 percent this is the plane that went down and those people are all dead. We heard that basically from the Malaysian government.


BLITZER: But we didn't hear it from the person speaking for Inmarsat.

FUENTES: He couched a statement, saying I'm British, but, to me, my understanding of the English language is most likely it doesn't mean for sure. And that statement from the prime minister pretty much was that plane went down in the south Indian Ocean and his statement was most likely it went down. That doesn't mean it's precisely that's what happened.

BLITZER: And the Malaysian government sent texts to the family members saying your loved ones are dead basically. I didn't hear that 100 percent certainty from Inmarsat, from the vice president of Inmarsat.

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: No, there was nothing new in what he had to say. I think today is about the Malaysian government trying to get the families out of the hotels and home.



BLITZER: -- how can they do that without -- unless they're 100 percent sure that they're giving reliable information? How can they tell these family members there is no hope?

GOELZ: I think they weigh that against another week or 10 days in the hotel. We have no evidence that we're any closer to finding any wreckage that actually came from the plane.

BLITZER: They have spotted --


BLITZER: -- they've spotted wreckage out there. They don't know if it is from some cargo ship or from the plane. But couldn't they simply wait another day or two or three to see that if is really part of the plane?

MARK WEISS, FORMER PILOT: I think they could have waited but, again, I think they're trying to manage the expectations of the families. But there was really no new technology that was brought into this. It was just another set of eyes. So another way of looking at what has already been established or what they have been finding.

BLITZER: So, Ken, let me bring you back into this conversation. Where do we all go from here? What's next?

CHRISTENSEN: Again, if there's sightings in the ocean, you have to send aircraft out there to see the pieces and then you have to, again, confirm it. You confirm it by sending out a boat and picking up a piece out of the water and looking at it and comparing that with the aircraft manufacturer to see if that's, in fact, a piece of the airplane. Once you have that, it's follow the debris field, like I've been saying.

BLITZER: Ken Christensen, we'll continue the conversation with you. Thanks very much.

Peter, Tom, Mark, guys, thanks to you.

Much more coverage of the plane coming up.

Also, the president of the United States meeting face to face with world leaders today as they look for ways to try to end the crisis in Ukraine. That's coming up next.


BLITZER: President Obama is meeting with world leaders in the Netherlands to discuss the ongoing situation in Crimea and Russia. He's meting with the members of the so-called G-7, the normal G-8 but without Russia. On the agenda, talk of possible sanctions against Russia if they keep pushing forward into Ukraine.

Joining us now from near The Hague is our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's traveling with the president.

So what are the options, Jim, that they're discussing when it comes to next steps against Russia?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you just alluded to it. It may be the G-8 no more. Senior administration officials say President Obama will be pushing for a suspension of Russia from the G-8 at this meeting. We understand from just a few minutes ago that the president walked in, sat between Angela Merkel and David Cameron, and they will be talking about what has happened in Ukraine, the Russian intervention in Crimea. And the president said earlier today he wants to impose a cost and he said the United States and Europe are united in imposing that cost. And kicking Russia out of the G-8 would come at a big price for Vladimir Putin. He has hopes of hosting that G-8 summit later this year in Sochi, Russia. Wolf, David Cameron said basically said the G-8 summit is off. So it seems what is going to happen in the next hour or so, as we'll hear the leaders come out and say basically it's over for Russia, they're out of the G-8 -- Wolf?

BLITZER: So what does the president do next as far as today and tomorrow is concerned?

ACOSTA: He's been busy all day long. They had a nuclear security summit where they worked out an agreement with Japan to remove nuclear materials from that country. He met with the Chinese president, got assurances that he would also like to see a political resolution when it comes to Ukraine. And we know that there have been discussions happening on the side lines here. The foreign minister from Russia, Sergei Lavrov, he met with Secretary of State John Kerry earlier today. He also met with the Ukrainian foreign minister here at The Hague, or near where we are at The Hague. And so that might be some promising developments happening on the diplomatic sidelines here in the Netherlands, Wolf. But we've seen these kinds of diplomatic discussions before. They occurred before the Russians basically annexed Crimea. So there is no real sense as to what Vladimir Putin is up to next, even within the Obama administration. They're looking at the 20,000 troops lined up along the Ukrainian border. They're not sure what Vladimir Putin is up to at this point.

BLITZER: A lot of people aren't sure.

All right. Thanks very much, Jim Acosta, traveling with the president.

Back here in the United States, shipping traffic is it at standstill after a massive oil spill near Texas City. Nearly 2,000 gallons of oil gushed out of a tanker in the Gulf of Mexico after it collided with another ship. The cleanup effort is under way, which includes the Coast Guard banning all shipping traffic in the area.

That brings us to this important programming note. It's been 25 years since the "Exxon Valdez" ran aground. Tomorrow night, you'll hear from the captain, Joseph Hazelwood, speaking freely for the first time since it happen. Watch "Oil and Water, the Wreck of the 'Exxon Valdez'" tomorrow night 10:00 p.m. eastern only here on CNN.

That's it for me. Thanks for watching. I'll be back 5:00 p.m. eastern, a special two-hour edition of "The Situation Room."

NEWSROOM starts with Brooke Baldwin right now.