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EARLY START

Flight 370 Families Devastated; Search on Hold; Grim Search Northeast of Seattle: Landslide Death Toll Rises

Aired March 25, 2014 - 04:30   ET

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


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DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN ANCHOR: Lost and presumed crashed. The Malaysian government says Flight 370 went down in the Indian Ocean with no survivors. But today, bad weather has put the search on hold as anger from the families of those on board, it is growing. They are desperate. We are live with the latest on their pleas for answers.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A grim search northeast of Seattle, where the number of missing in a catastrophic landslide is growing this morning, 176 people, 176 now unaccounted for, and the death toll has climbed to 14.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

FEYERICK: And I'm Deborah Feyerick. It is 31 minutes past the hour.

Well, a ferocious storm in the south Indian Ocean is suspending the search for Flight 370. Pilots are hoping to get back in the air by tomorrow, but right now, it is not safe to fly because there are gale force winds stirring up in the area. Waiting family members overcome by grief, shattered hearts and anger after being told that all 239 people aboard the jetliner are now lost.

Let's bring in Jim Clancy live from Kuala Lumpur.

And, Jim, are we expecting any new updates about why the plane was flying in this direction, how it was able to effectively go for seven hours, virtually without any communication whatsoever?

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're expecting an update to come from government ministers here in Kuala Lumpur in about an hour's time. Perhaps, perhaps, they'll have some update for us on that. We haven't been getting a lot of updates about the investigation that would answer those questions, how and why, what happened inside the cockpit.

Instead, officials have really wanted to find the plane, to find some evidence, to use the cockpit voice recorder, to use the flight data recorder, to try to understand better and more certainly just what happened aboard Flight 370.

But you're absolutely right, some of this uncertainty, these unanswered questions are what are fueling some of the anger among the families.

Now, those families met today with Malaysian Airlines, discussing the prospect of traveling to Perth. The airline has said in the past that it is going to set up a center for the families that would be closest -- in the closest area to wherever the plane may have gone down. That's been on the record for some time.

The CEO of the airline very emotional, talking about the sadness of the families. Meantime, the prime minister, perhaps reflecting some of that criticism you were talking about before the break, saying that, you know, they didn't really want to release that statement that declared that all souls were lost until and unless they had found some debris directly linked to the plane, but they feared in this case the data was coming out and it would show that the plane, indeed, had gone down in the southern areas of the Indian Ocean, and they didn't want the media to announce it first.

They felt that it had to come from them. They faced a lot of criticism. They're trying to get the story straight, if you will. They're trying to corroborate all the facts as best they can and bring some kind of comfort.

The families, of course, there's no consoling them in this situation. As has been said before, you know what they want to hear is where are my loved ones tonight? And that's the question none of us can answer -- Deborah.

FEYERICK: Absolutely. And they made that statement because of the British satellite data as well as information from the aviation investigators. Jim Clancy, thank you.

ROMANS: As Jim mentioned, the Malaysian government is convinced that Flight 370 crashed into the ocean based on that satellite data, but with no flight recorders or even any wreckage yet from this jet, many questioning how they can determine what happened so quickly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: I can't remember a time when the conclusion was drawn this early. In fact, the NTSB is usually criticized for dragging things out much, much longer and then having a series of hearings. So, this is rather primary, rather early, and then also to narrow it down to those four causes with absolute -- or potential causes, with absolutely no evidence is quite irregular, I think.

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ROMANS: Just when search teams appeared to be on the verge of finding Flight 370, the mission had to be suspended. A storm in the south Indian Ocean making it just too dangerous to fly. Pilots now anxiously waiting to get back out there to the area where it's believed Flight 370 went down.

Andrew Stevens monitoring developments in Perth, Australia, this morning. Frustrating for these pilots, frustrating for Australia, because they want to get out there. It's just simply too dangerous.

So, this search for wreckage has been suspended now. What can you tell us?

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The search is expected to resume within 24 hours, but probably closer to 15 hours, Christine. That's what we can tell you at the moment, but it really does obviously depend on conditions on the ground.

It's not just the airplanes that have been suspended from flying. It's also the sea vessels as well. There's an Australian warship on station down there. That actually had to leave. It had to stay about 80 miles south, away from that target area because of the weather conditions. Gives you an idea of just how bad it is.

I mean, this is regularly a very, very treacherous piece of water. Listen to what the Australian defense minister had to say about it.

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DAVID JOHNSTON, AUSTRALIAN DEFENSE MINISTER: The world, the southern ocean, has shipwrecked many, many sailors in our history in Western Australia. It is rough. Sea state 7, you know, there are 20, 30- meter waves. It is very, very dangerous, even for big Panamax class ships.

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STEVENS: So, these big Panamax, these are big container ships. It gives you an idea what they're dealing with down there, Christine. It is big enough as it is, give the sheer remoteness of this location.

And you've got storms brewing up like this really out of nothing and very, very quickly. Even once they find, if they find -- it's still a very big if at the moment -- if they find debris actually linking Flight 370 to that area, they've then got to find the main body of the wreckage, they have then got to find the flight recorders in water that could be up to 3 miles deep in conditions which can blow up like that.

So, that is the size of the task that face these rescuers, that face these searchers, not only finding them in the first place, but then actually identifying the key data recording equipment needed to piece together what actually happened on that flight.

ROMANS: All right, Andrew Stevens. Thanks so much, Andrew.

FEYERICK: And for many flight -- for many members, family members of those on board the plane in China, there is growing anger a day after the announcement that their loved ones are lost. They are marching on the Malaysian embassy this morning to make their voices heard.

Pauline Chiou is in Beijing this morning.

And, Pauline, the families really want something more concrete, more tangible, and it's really staggering to watch the level of distrust that they have in what they're being told.

PAULINE CHIOU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and that mistrust grows day by day. That's exactly right. They want more information.

They're not prepared to close the door on this, because they say, sure, the Malaysian officials say data from satellites indicate that the plane went down, but they say before you actually tell us our loved ones have not survived, show us some evidence, show us a suitcase or show us a seat cushion or some sort of debris with the markings of Malaysia Airlines 370. They want more information. They want evidence.

And as a result, because of this mistrust and also the way things have been communicated, they coordinated today and they've protested, which is not something you see on a regular basis here in Beijing. We saw about 300 to 400 relatives try to get on buses to go to the Malaysian embassy. The police would not let those buses move.

So, these family members walked about two miles to the Malaysian embassy. They handed a letter of complaint to an embassy official. But they just say the delays and contradictions and just the wishy- washiness of the way information has come out has angered them to a level that they are actually ready, many of these families say, Deb, that they're ready to actually get on a plane and go to Kuala Lumpur to confront the people at the highest levels, because they say the Malaysian officials here in Beijing that they've met with on and off are not effective enough -- Deb.

FEYERICK: Yes, it's fascinating to watch, because obviously, the Malaysian officials have to balance the degree of information that they're releasing with the pain that families often feel.

So, Pauline Chiou, thanks so much. We appreciate your following this for us.

ROMANS: A grim update this morning from the scene of that deadly landslide northeast of Seattle. Fourteen people are now confirmed dead, as many as 176 are missing, and authorities say the death toll will almost certainly rise.

Saturday's one-quarter-mile slide wiped out 30 homes. More than 100 emergency responders are now canvassing the scene. They've got search dogs and heavy equipment.

Nichole Webb-Rivera's parents live right where the landslide happened. Her daughter and daughter's fiance were visiting when the ground gave way.

She tells Anderson Cooper she hasn't heard from them since.

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NICHOLE WEBB-RIVERA, FAMILY MISSING IN LANDSLIDE (via telephone): All of us who are waiting for word on our family members know each other, we know the other family members that are missing. It's such beyond the scope of my four missing family members that it's just -- it's grief for our whole town, so just pray for our whole town, please.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: You're seeing some Google images of the before-and-after of that town. In some places, the mud is 15 feet deep, and flooding is now a big problem, because debris from that slide is jamming up the north fork of the Stillaguamish River and water is spilling over banks and into homes. That's still a very desperate situation right there.

FEYERICK: It's so hard to see people's belongings covered in mud, everything just gone.

Well, this morning the search for Flight 370 has been suspended because of very bad weather. The debris spotted yesterday has still not yet been recovered, even though investigators thought they would have it by this time.

What could this delay mean for the search and how can the government be so sure the plane crashed? We're going to break it down, all next.

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ROMANS: Welcome back. 44 minutes past the hour now. The search for flight 370 suspended right now because of a violent storm in the south Indian Ocean. Pilots hoping they can get back in the air by tomorrow to look for any debris that could be connected to the missing jetliner.

I want to bring in Alastair Rosenschein. He's a former pilot, an aviation consultant. He's in our London studio this morning and has given us some excellent insight over the past few days.

Thanks for joining us again.

Let's talk about how the weather is complicating the search for any debris. We've been hearing about how there are families in Beijing. They want to see a suitcase. They want to see a life raft. They want to see something that tangibly ties the news from the Malaysian government, this plane likely went down, to reality.

That's what they want to see. They're not going to see that today, at least, because this has been called off.

This tough weather, how does it complicate finding any of those pieces of this plane? And could that weather further swamp or sink any of this that's still floating after 15 days?

ALASTAIR ROSENSCHEIN, AVIATION CONSULTANT: Good morning, Christine and Deborah. Yes, indeed, the weather's going to be absolutely critical in the next two weeks because that's the length of time that the so-called black boxes, the flight deck recorder and cockpit voice recorder are emitting a signal, a signal which can only be received at a range something up to 10 kilometers.

So, if the search is called off, that period for several days now, it's going to critically impede finding those black boxes. And I think that it's going to be an onerous task anyway, given the conditions.

But also, I understand the aircraft, the P-3 Orions, they're flying at low levels. It's going to be difficult to do that in very blustery conditions.

Also, when the sea is moving rapidly, you get white caps, and really, you're looking for debris that might also be white or in that sort of color range, and it's really, really tricky.

The other thing is, of course, we're moving in towards the winter, because this is the southern hemisphere. So, everything is not looking good. But your weather report earlier showed that there's a period of a few days of calm weather expected. So, that's a hopeful sign.

And as for the relatives and for convincing them that this is the aircraft -- well, of course, you need a piece of the aircraft. There's no question about it.

ROMANS: Right.

ROSENSCHEIN: Relying just on a ping triangulation done remotely in some office with nothing tangible for them to see or feel is not going to convince many of them, because hope is a very, very strong emotion.

FEYERICK: One of the things you had mentioned also is that something had happened inside that plane, perhaps oxygen exploded. One of the greatest mysteries is how that plane was able to fly that far, almost rationally. There wasn't any up-and-down movement, there wasn't -- it was just sort of this straight glide.

Was this plane likely on autopilot? And if so, why wasn't anybody able to wrest control back of that jet?

ROSENSCHEIN: Well, we're in heavy speculation here. But let me tell you that an aircraft on autopilot will fly on its last heading or on program waypoints, which is in the flight management system, if that was so programmed, for as long as it's got fuel. And then when the fuel runs out, it will come down.

And there are two famous examples of that. There was the Helios flight in Athens in Greece, where the pilots became incapacitated and the aircraft just flew on autopilot until it ran out. The other one was your famous golfer in his Learjet flying from --

ROMANS: Payne Stewart.

FEYERICK: Yes, the golfer.

ROSENSCHEIN: Payne Stewart, that's the fellow, and sadly for him, the same thing happened, the pilots were incapacitated.

It has all the hallmarks of incapacitation, but it could equally have done deliberately by somebody. But this aircraft, you wouldn't fly an aircraft at this high altitude by hand. There is no point in doing so, and it is very tricky to do, and if you had hand control, why on earth would you want to go down there in the first place? It is very much a mystery, I have to say.

ROMANS: Are you trusting the satellite data, the British satellite interpretation? I mean, do you trust what the Malaysian government is saying, that this is likely lost, it was likely lost in that part of the ocean?

ROSENSCHEIN: Well, look, trusting Inmarsat executives is one thing, the Malaysian government is another thing entirely. They've put out statements which they've withdrawn, given conflicting information, so trust is not very high on my feelings there.

But Inmarsat, if they said that's where it is, they will have said it with a high degree of confidence, and I'm pretty certain that they --

ROMANS: Let me ask you about the trust that you say about the Malaysian government, because Deborah and I were just talking about this. You know, in a way, for some of these governments, for some of these countries, a few purchases of a Boeing or an Airbus, you know, very high-tech piece of machinery, brings them 100 years into the economy, into globalization. But their civil aviation doesn't necessarily match what their ability to purchase does.

Do you see that mismatch? Is this an example of that mismatch?

ROSENSCHEIN: Well, I have to say, in this case, Boeing and, indeed, Airbus, these two main, big manufacturers, they're very clever. They've produced aircraft which do not require a huge amount of technical skill to operate. They are very, very cleverly designed. And in fact, now you can learn to fly these aircraft purely in a simulator. It's called zero flight time. And they are fabulous.

I have no doubt that, especially the captain, who had enormous experience, 18,000 hours, had his own simulator. He had a complex electronic system at home, would have been, you know, clued up. And I have no doubt about that.

You know, it is a bit disconcerting that they don't have the full package of in-flight data being sent back to the main base. I understand they have to pay extra for that and they didn't do so, and that clearly should not be the case with, you know, a big, modern company like Malaysian Air.

FEYERICK: Yes, it's like the GPS tracking and the ability to keep track of that flight moment by moment, as opposed to just relying on sort of the physical reaching out to let them know where they are.

Alastair Rosenschein, thanks so much.

We will be right back.

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FEYERICK: President Obama is in the Netherlands today for the second day of consultations with world leaders on security. They are supposed to be discussing nuclear security, but Russia's annexation of Crimea is overshadowing the talks. On Monday, members of what is now the G7 voted to suspend Russia from their forum and cancel a meeting scheduled for this June in Sochi, Russia.

ROMANS: Meanwhile, Ukraine has now agreed to pull all troops out of Crimea after Russian forces seized several Ukrainian military bases there. Much of the capital fell into darkness Monday after a major power failure. Russia blamed the Ukrainian government and companies from the mainland that provide electricity, but those companies insist the outage is because of necessary maintenance.

FEYERICK: And President Obama's calling for an overhaul of a controversial NSA program that depends on the bulk collection of phone data. Currently, the NSA collects massive amounts of data and then stores it for five years. The newly unveiled proposal would keep the data in the hands of carriers instead. The NSA would then need a judge to authorize access to the records. These changes need congressional approval.

ROMANS: All right, it's sentencing day for the admitted lone wolf terrorist. Al Qaeda sympathizer Jose Pimentel pleading guilty to making homemade pipe bombs in order to wage a holy war on New York. The 29-year-old cut a deal to avoid a life sentence, instead is expected to spend the next 16 years behind bars. Prosecutors say he took on a jihad mission targeting soldiers, police officers and Jews.

FEYERICK: The port of Houston remains closed as oil containment efforts go into a fifth day. A barge collision led to a massive 175,000-gallon spill this weekend, shutting down one of the nation's busiest sea ports. Officials say more than 90 vessels are in line for transit, about half inbound and half outbound. The Coast Guard says if the channel is reopened today, it will be done in a tapered fashion.

ROMANS: Four men accused of organizing a parachute jump from New York's One World Trade Center have been arrested. The suspects turned themselves in Monday. Security cameras at the 104-story tower captured at least two figures apparently completing the jump last September. The men are described as professional thrill seekers by a defense attorney. They face charges of burglary and reckless endangerment. They are expected to plead not guilty.

FEYERICK: And happening today, King Digital is going public. The maker of the wildly popular Candy Crush saga and other free video games expected to announce its IPO pricing. Wednesday the New York Stock Exchange should start selling shares at about $22 million, offered at $21 to $22 per share. Whether investors will bite remains to be seen.

ROMANS: I'll tell you, I want everybody to read their securities filing that gives all the reasons why this could be a risky investment. It's --

FEYERICK: You think?

ROMANS: It's page after page after page after page, but people are really excited about it. Lots of IPOs going on, so a good sign for Wall Street.

EARLY START continues right after the break.

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