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Criticism For Sending Text Messages to Families Regarding Fate of Flight 370; 14 Dead, 176 Missing in Mudslide; Stormy Weather Halts Search for Flight 370

Aired March 25, 2014 - 08:30   ET


BERMAN: The disappearance of flight 370 has put the Malaysian government under intense, intense scrutiny, a lot of people saying they're withholding information. Is this criticism fair? We'll discuss that coming up.


PEREIRA: Welcome back to NEW DAY. The investigation into the disappearance of flight 370 has placed Malaysia's government under unusual and intense international scrutiny. Many have criticized Malaysian authorities for withholding and at times misleading.

Monday, the decision from Malaysian authorities to inform family members that no one likely survived the flight via text message, that certainly brought a whole new wave of criticism.

Joining us to talk more about the way Malaysia has handled this investigation is CNN political commentator and contributing editor for Atlantic media, Peter Beinart, along with CNN aviation analyst and former DOT inspector, General Mary Schiavo.

Mary, let's start with you. Let's talk about the criticism that the Malaysian government has been receiving, both from passengers -- or passenger families and for some -- from some of the nations that are aiding in this search. And we saw that video of the missing family members, the family members of the missing people marching and protesting in Beijing.

Do you think this is just frustration from the people boiling over, these people that desperately need and want answers? Or do you believe there's been negligence on the part of the Malaysians?

MARY SCHIAVO, FORMER U.S. DOT INSPECTOR GENERAL: Well, I think the Malaysians simply didn't understand their role to provide information to the families. And given that they haven't dealt with this kind of accident before, they probably didn't realize that the families want information; they hang on every piece of information. Everything is so important.

And in this, you know, era of instant news and instant communications and anything you want to find you wanna find on the internet, the model that most nations use, or some nations I should say use, is the NTSB model where they establish right from the get go, daily and sometimes twice daily briefings. And they bring families in, and they have a separate private room for the families. And they just lay out what they have, what they don't have. And they don't sugar coat it, and they don't draw conclusions. They just say, "This is what we know."

And I think that's the way to do it. Families can draw their own conclusions. They're smart, intelligent people. They're have -- the have mental health counselors, but they're not mentally ill; they're just grieving. So just give them the information, and that's what the want. Even from lawyers, that's what they want from us. They say, "Tell us everything. Don't sugar coat it."

PEREIRA: And we should actually point out that, you know -- the families that received this text message that a lot of people are making a whole lot of noise about, they had to opt into receiving that text message. And I think it's fair to also acknowledge that the Malaysians wanted to let them know before the press conference and the news went public around the world. But what do you make of the text message? Is it -- is that a bad step, a misstep in your estimation?

SCHIAVO: That was a misstep. It was a text message to call them to the meeting -- but contain information like that contained in the text message. But hey, I've seen worse mistakes. I've seen remains sent home in the mail. I've seen worse, so hopefully they won't continue to make mistakes.

PEREIRA: What a horrifying notion.

Peter, let's bring you in. And we know that a majority of the passengers a board the flight were Chinese. The Chinese have also been particularly critical of the Malaysian government. We've seen Chinese families protesting et cetera. Give us an idea and some understanding into the relationship, that the two countries have, Malaysia and China.

PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well it's an interesting dynamic. Of course China is the regional power in all of southeast Asia and has been increasingly asserting itself. Also, you have to remember that I think about 30 percent of the Malaysian population are ethnic Chinese. They're a very economically successful population, but a population that's been politically discriminated against in Malaysia. There's been history going back to the late 1960s of ethnic violence between Malays and Chinese.

So I think you have to imagine a little bit in what would have happened if there had been a plane, let's say, flying from Guatemala to Mexico with mostly Americans on it, where America being the dominant power in this region and Americans felt that the search was being handled well. I think then that you can imagine a little bit the analogy of what it's like for China.

PEREIRA: Sure, absolutely. In fact, that gives excellent context there.

Mary, we know that one of the things that experts have been sort of saying is we need this information. Why haven't we heard the flight communications between the pilots and air traffic control? Why haven't we seen the data? In fact, a lot of -- we've heard a lot of voices calling for this data that -- Inmarsat used to conclude the flight ended in the Southern Indian Ocean. Why do you think the lack of transparency has -- there's been as much lack of transparency?

SCHAIVO: Well, I think it's a difference in the governments and the culture. I mean, here's we're use to it. And if we didn't get it, there would be Freedom of Information Act requests.

But we -- the traffic control tapes are available for anyone to get through public requests, and the NTSB releases them right away. And the flight cockpit -- excuse me, the cockpit voice recorder information as well as the flight data recorder information is released.

Now, we do not release the actual verbal words of the cockpit voice recording except in a closed session in court. But the transcript is released right away.

PEREIRA: It is released right away.


PEREIRA: We know that some mistakes, Peter, have been -- were made. Certainly, we covered intensity here the fact that there were two people on board the plane that had stolen passports. We also know that there was a mix-up in the -- or wrong direction information sent from the military radar; the Malaysians said that they picked up a unidentified aircraft, but the watch a team didn't track it and sent the Malaysians searching in the eastern area.

How much of the proceed withholding information has been about face saving? Because I think there's been some made of that of late in Malaysia. (ph)

BEINART: I think it's a plausible interpretation. You know, Malaysia is a country although partially Democratic, doesn't have a particularly free press. And it doesn't have a culture in which the government has had to be responsive to the public's need to know as in some other places.

And I think here you're seeing the consequences of that inclination towards secrecy. It can be a veil for incompetence. And as Mary Schiavo was saying, it's transparently I think that's the best way of holding officials to account, and there wasn't always transparency here. And I think that may be part of what led to some of these mistakes.

PEREIRA: And that's only fueling the anger, I'm sure, on part of the families. If they feel that, then that's -- because you're -- in a lack of information, your imagination is gonna fill in the blanks.

BEINART: Right, and this is a brutal enough experience even if you do feel like you're being dealt with honestly. But then when you feel like maybe you don't know what's going on, maybe there could have been opportunities to save your loved ones that weren't taken, then I think it becomes all that more unbearable.

PEREIRA: And then add to that, they haven't found the wreckage. That just makes that grief almost -- well, I would say, unbearable.

BEINART: And -- and may not for days or weeks.

PEREIRA: They may not.

Peter Beinart, Mary Schiavo, a pleasure to have you both with us talking about this.

BEINART: Thank you.

PEREIRA: Thanks so much.

BERMAN: We're gonna keep discussing these issues. Next up on NEW DAY, a closer look at satellite tracking technology, what it tells us about the Malaysian jet's flight path and how it went down or ended somewhere in the current search area.

Tom Foreman in the virtual room lays it out for us.


PEREIRA: Welcome back to NEW DAY.

At least 14 people have died; 176 others remain unaccounted for in an enormous mudslide in Washington State. Rescuers are still searching for survivors. But the outlook is grim.

We want to bring in John Pennington. He's the Emergency Management director for Snohomish County. Mr. Pennington, thank you so much. I hope you can give us an idea about this number. I think it shocked a lot of people -- 176 people remain unaccounted for. Can you explain that to us?

JOHN PENNINGTON, EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT DIRECTOR: Sure. Let's actually start with -- I think the number of structures that are impacted. Right now that number is about 49 structures that were impacted or effectively destroyed. The number 176 is the amount of reports of individuals that have actually been reported in various channels of unaccounted or missing individuals.

Why that's an important number and why I think it's artificially high, of course, is that there are duplications. A good example I use is we would get a report of John Smith who lived at 123 Steelhead Lane and he had brown hair and brown eyes. But then again we would get a report of someone named John, 58 years of age and it turns out these are becoming the same individuals. So over time we expect that to drop. But that's the number of reports that we're dealing with.

PEREIRA: OK. Now, give us an idea of the conditions of the people. We know there's very seriously injured people in the hospital now. Can you give us an idea -- an update on their condition?

PENNINGTON: I'm not able to actually do that. That's outside my purview. I can tell you that the conditions in general now, we're still in the middle of a response mode and turning that towards recovery, unfortunately, to the really grieving community. More than anything else, the debris that's out there, the debris field is huge and very challenging for first responder community. But it goes on constantly 24/7.

PEREIRA: Give us an idea of what your rescuers are up against because we do know that conditions are concerning.

PENNINGTON: I'm sorry. Could you please repeat the question?

PEREIRA: Could you give us an idea of what the people that are conducting your search and rescue operation are up against?

PENNINGTON: Yes, great question. Tremendous challenges. And the best way for me -- the best analogy I think is a microcosm of Mount St. Helens. This went down, it went hard and fast and debris is deep -- anywhere from seven to ten feet to upwards of 20 to 25 to 30 feet -- unknown at this point. And that's the inherent risk that the first responders face.

There's also the delicate nature of trying to respond and potentially recover some fatalities and the delicate nature of going in and removing debris to do that in a respectful manner. But the terrain itself is challenging and the uncertainties are still out there. For all practical purposes, this is a very wet area, dramatically wet area.

PEREIRA: Is the ground unstable? Are you concerned about further slides?

PENNINGTON: The geologists have made us feel very comfortable that it is not unstable. The mud flow, the basic debris that's on the floor is not going anywhere any time soon. In fact it's in the process of really compacting at this time.

Yesterday we did have some concerns about additional landslides up above where this one dropped. Those were reconciled to the point we feel very comfortable that there's no issue there and then no water issues downstream which was a primary threat for us and a risk we felt in the very beginning stages of the disaster.

PEREIRA: Mr. Pennington, with regard to the stability of the land, I understand that back in 1999 and even earlier than that, there were concerns about that area. In 1999 the army corps of engineers warned of a large catastrophic failure. You said this was unseen and came out of nowhere. With all do respect, sir, how can that be?

PENNINGTON: Well, I've not seen that study. And the reality is in 2006 this blew out. It was mitigated very heavily. It was basically a community that knew that it was a safer community at that point. And we can't go into that at this point because we're in response operations. There's going to be lots of time to criticize and analyze. And I want to be a part of that process too.

But at this point, I saw a story this morning but haven't had the chance to really look at it. But the slide blew out in 2006, that's very well-documented and there was a lot of mitigation done and the community felt very comfortable in there.

PEREIRA: You're right the community will want answers. And those questions will come later. As you said, the time right now is to focus on rescue if there are more survivors in there.

We wish you great fortune in doing that because I know there's a lot of families that are waiting for word of their loved ones.

John Pennington, Emergency Management director for Snohomish County, thanks for joining us.

PENNINGTON: I very much appreciate it.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: So many people there waiting to get some kind of word.

PEREIRA: Imagine that anxiety.

BERMAN: We're going to move back now to the search for Flight 370 which is now more focused but on hold until tomorrow because of weather. Malaysian officials say that new evidence shows that the plane ended, the flight ended somewhere in the southern tip of the southern corridor. But why then is this search area still so large?

Our Tom Foreman is live in Washington D.C. with more on the search and the satellite data used now to track that flight.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. You know, I really can't say enough about the satellite mathematical detective work that led to this area because it really was an extraordinary effort here. Basically by taking this data they created that arc that we talked about so long about where it had to be. And then they started breaking it down looking at the Doppler Effect in these little micro transmissions between the satellite, 22,000 miles up above the earth and the airplane down below.

And by studying that they created these rings. We've been going over this a piece at a time. Those rings gave them a sense of where the plane was at any given moment and they created that line. This is really a very ground breaking way of applying that satellite data. It's basic mathematics. It's basic mathematics but applied in a really interesting way.

But here's the problem. When you get to the end of it here, the point where you know the plane has to be somewhere in that area, if all of this is correct, then you find yourself saying, why is the area still so big? Because it's around 621 square miles still or five times as big as the Air France search area. And there are different paths being considered there.

Let's explain why there's a difference there. I'm going to leave that one up there for a moment, come over here and show you a model of the plane itself and talk about really what is different about this. If you look at the plane, you have to consider that first of all the, they don't really know what speed it was traveling. Think about this. For something that's going 400-500 miles per hour, if you're off by ten minutes that's a huge, huge difference in terms of where it winds up. And they don't really know.

So speed is a factor. And that speed, if you look at this map back here, the difference in that map is the yellow line would tell you if it was going faster. The red line if it was going slower. So you can see a gigantic divergence here based on speed. After speed, they don't really know for sure about the altitude. We've had a lot of debates about the altitude of this plane.

That matters because if it is up in a higher altitude, it's up in the stratosphere it will travel much faster and further on the same amount of fuel; lower in the troposphere where we all live, there's much more resistance. It won't go nearly as far.

Beyond that there's this question of fuel depletion. We always talk about the amount of fuel on a plane like this. We talk about it the way we do gas in our car. We say I've got another hour's worth of fuel. When they talk about a fuel load on an airplane, it doesn't really work that way because of just what we mentioned before.

How fast are you going? How much air resistance are you dealing with? What other factors like storms and head winds might you see that change how well that fuel performs. So they don't really know when the fuel would run out or if it would run out perfectly or would it sputter along at the end. And if it sputters along, remember, at that speed every minute widens your space.

And there's one more thing to bear in mind in all of this. And that is the glide. Airplanes like this have enormous gliding potential. They don't look like it. You would think that this plane really can't go very far. But this aircraft can glide from Los Angeles to Las Vegas -- so well over 200 miles. They don't know if that happens. A plane like this could run out of fuel and could very quickly go down or it could drift for a long, long time.

So the bottom line is this is the puzzle of the plane. That's why the search area remains hundreds of square miles, even though hundreds of thousands of square miles, even though they've really narrowed it down from the millions that it was a short time ago.

BERMAN: And the math tells you a lot but it doesn't tell you everything. Tom Foreman for us inside the virtual room.

PEREIRA: One of our aviation analysts said, it's like having two pieces of a puzzle that you're trying to finish and you don't have the remaining pieces. That's so very tricky.

BERMAN: Coming up for us next, a teenager sees a police car parked at a fire lane and decides to take action writing the officer a ticket. Find out why his reaction makes this "The Good Stuff".


PEREIRA: What do you say about a little good stuff today? BERMAN: Let's do it.


PEREIRA: Ready? All right.

In today's edition, 14-year-old Annie James spotted a car parked in the fire lane in her Baytown, Texas apartment complex. She said I'm doing something about this. Not phased one bit by what made the vehicle stand apart from the rest. She wrote up a ticket and left it on the windshield. One important detail, the illegally parked vehicle was a police cruiser.


PEREIRA: Officer Tommy King out who's out patrolling the complex had to cough up $10 to the complex manager.


TOMMY KING, POLICE OFFICER: I came to get my car and saw the piece of paper on my windshield. So I took it off, and I opened it and read it and I started laughing immediately.


PEREIRA: Never let a teaching moment pass by and to show that no one, not even a police officer is above the law, Officer King paid his fine and even threw in a little extra something for Annie.


ANNIE JAMES, WROTE TICKET TO POLICE OFFICER: He gave me a $40 gift card to Toys R Us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did you think about that?

JAMES: I was excited -- really excited.


PEREIRA: That's community policing at its finest. Officer says King the big lesson to be learned from Annie's unwavering respect for the law is that people should never be afraid or shy away from law enforcement. They're here to help.

How about that?

BERMAN: $40 to Toys R Us, I thought she was going to get a night in the slammer.

PEREIRA: Not at all.

ROMANS: I hope she goes to law school and she's the Attorney General someday.

PEREIRA: I think we've got a future AG in the making.

ROMANS: I love her respect for the law. Love it.

PEREIRA: Absolutely.

BERMAN: Very, very cool.

All right. Kate Bolduan will continue her reporting on Flight 370 from Perth, Australia on the search which they hope resumes tomorrow. The flights have been suspended all day.

Right now we're going to the "NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello which begins right now. Hey Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, have a great day. "NEWSROOM" starts now.

Happening now in the "NEWSROOM", breaking new developments in the search for Flight 370 --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The search and rescue operation in the northern corridor has been called off.


COSTELLO: To the south, gale force winds, large waves, heavy rains shutting down operations.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not searching for a needle in a haystack. We're still trying to find where the haystack is.


COSTELLO: Another kind of storm taking over Beijing this morning -- the Malaysian embassy overrun.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They are holding signs saying that they want their sons and their daughters back.