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Satellite Spots 122 Objects in Ocean; The Technology for Searching Underwater; Weather a Big Factor in the Search

Aired March 26, 2014 - 11:00   ET


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN CO-ANCHOR: Now, we really don't know if these images -- we should point were taken Sunday -- if they, indeed, show plane parts.

But this appears to be the most promising lead so far.

Here's what Malaysia's transportation minister said earlier.


HISHAMMUDDIN BIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIA'S ACTING TRANSPORTATION MINISTER: We're able to identify 122 potential objects. Some objects were a medium length. Others were as much as 23 meters in length. Some of the objects appeared to be bright, possibly indicating solid material.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN CO-ANCHOR: So you need to be cautious, obviously, about every one of these leads until you get some kind of confirmation.

And getting that confirmation, not one bet easy. The satellite, as Michaela said, saw them on Sunday, and so far, no search plane, no surface ship has been able to locate them.

PEREIRA: That's the frustration for searchers, because they know that time is running out to find the flight-data recorders. The pings they send out will start fading over the next few days. The batteries will end up dying after 30 days.

Retired Lieutenant Colonel Michael Kay is back with us. He's a former pilot and British military officer. And alongside him is Christine Dennison. She is an ocean explorer and expeditions logistics expert.

BERMAN: Michael, I want to start with you about this new potential discovery that came in just this morning, these 122 pieces of possible debris, or at least objects, spotted in an area a lot smaller than we have been dealing with in the past, about 400 square kilometers.

And they range in size up to 70 feet. Some are much smaller. Some are brightly colored, which seems to have a lot of analysts excited about this.

What is the significance of this find to you? LIEUTENANT COLONEL MICHAEL KAY, BRITISH ROYAL AIR FORCE (RETIRED): I think, firstly, it's wise that we're calling these objects now and we're not calling them debris from the outset, because we've seen from previous imagery right from the very start when we had that first satellite image provided by the U.S. that the Australian prime minister spoke about, that proved to be a bit of a red herring.

What we've seen is that these potential satellite images can be freighters, containers pushed off ships, refractions of light, pods of dolphins, and so there's been nothing conclusive so far.

However, what I would say is that there are 122 pieces and that to me seems like a very accurate assessment from a satellite, so, potentially, a higher resolution satellite.

And, so, my analysis is sort of leading me down the path that it would be harder to mistake 122 objects for a freighter, for a pod of dolphins, et cetera.

But what I would say, as well. is that every little piece of evidence that we're getting, we should be treating this like a huge jigsaw.

As you know, I've been on a couple of boards of investigation, and there's no one piece of evidence that is going to be the eureka moment in this. There is going to be no silver bullet.

So, I think we need to treat each piece of evidence as that single bit of the jigsaw. We place it in, we step back and we have a look at the broader picture and, hopefully, we'll see something just a little bit extra.

PEREIRA: So, Christine, the race is on to get to the place where those objects were spotted. We should point out, again, this image was taken on Sunday. A lot of time has passed and we've had a storm move into those already difficult seas.

The challenge then is to locate them once again. Talk to us about that, because that, they could be miles. We were talking to a currents experts earlier today. They could be moving about a mile an hour.

CHRISTINE DENNISON, OCEAN EXPLORER: That's very fast. That's absolutely right.

And I agree with Michael. It's a very positive thing that we have 122, a large area of which they are seeing objects. It makes it easier for them to follow them, really, as opposed to one or two that are bobbing in the ocean, which, again, weather is always going to be a factor.

So, I think that this is very positive and, hopefully, they will make contact with these objects, but they're still backtracking. They are still following this around.

This is the south Indian Ocean, which is -- it's --

PEREIRA: Inhospitable, to say the least.

DENNISON: It's inhospitable. We've said this enough. It's remote. But, also, we have a large team of -- deployed there.

We do have the resources on-site at the moment, which, again, is more positive. We are moving ahead. Time is running out.

Again, getting to these objects and being able to identify them, you have more eyes out there that are going to be able to follow them back and working with the experts.

BERMAN: It's surprising to me actually that they were -- they took this picture on Sunday. Now, they didn't get the data back, we think, until today, to try to send the search planes to the pinpoint area.

But it's within the area that they are searching. They had 12 planes out today. They have five surface ships out today.

Michael, it does seem a little surprising to me that they haven't been able to pick up more signs. If the satellite's seeing 122 pieces of debris in this area, how come the planes haven't seen it yet? How come the surface ships seen it yet?

KAY: A number of reasons, really. I think the analogy of looking for a needle in a haystack is a good one.

Let's rewind. We're still looking for the haystack, and once we've found the haystack, I think that's where Christine talents come in in finding the needle, sub-surface.

Coming back to your point, I think weather is a huge, huge player in this. I've conducted search operations over the ocean, and when you've got a good day of weather and you can see out to 20 kilometers, it's phenomenal. You can really, really search and scan a wide expanse --

PEREIRA: But ends up, also, not being a whole day, right, because they have that long trek out there, and they need to reserve for the long ride home.

KAY: Brilliant point. And, you know, it's the logistics of the situation, as well.

But when that weather comes in, you know, I've been flying above the sea. The cloud bases come down to 200 feet, the rain starts falling and the visibility comes right in to five kilometers.

And sometimes you get what's called this goldfish bowl effect. And that's where the sky mirrors the ocean, so you don't have a defined horizon. It becomes impossible, because the mark of an eyeball, the guys looking outside of the aircraft is as important as all of this sophisticated technology you've got down the back from the thermal imaging, the synthetic aperture radar, the magnetic anomaly detectors.

The eyeball is equally as important, and when that weather comes in, it makes it impossible.

Now, as we've heard time and time again from the guys doing a fantastic job on the search the operation, you have to literally be over the top of the debris to see the debris in bad weather and high- sea states.

BERMAN: We'll have more planes out tomorrow, hopefully more ships as well. Christine Dennison, Michael Kay, great to have you here.

PEREIRA: And let's hope that the weather cooperates because we know --

BERMAN: It has to.

PEREIRA: -- another system coming in could really be such a huge setback for them.

Let's take a look at some other headlines that we are following @ THIS HOUR.

To Washington state where there is another grim day of searching, authorities say they've located eight more bodies buried under the rubble of Saturday's landslide, but have not been able to reach them.

Sixteen people already confirmed dead, some 176 others are listed as missing.

Searchers are combing through mud that we're told is as perilous as quicksand.

They do this all as relatives grapple with their grief and sorrow.


RAE SMITH, SEARCHING FOR DAUGHTER: It is horrible, because I know she is down there in the mud and the dark.

My heart is broken. It's broken. She was my best friend.


BERMAN: That's awful.

All right, we have some stunning new video to show you. You have to look at this.

This is a construction worker trapped on a ledge as the building he was working on goes up in flames.

So, what does he do? If you look at it there, he managed to swing himself onto a lower ledge. That's the ledge he's on right now.

Firefighters hoisted the ladder to rescue him. As he gets on that ladder, really in the nick of time, because just after he's there, you can see the whole wall comes tumbling down there.

This is a bad, bad fire. The amazing thing, the authorities say the worker was not hurt. They say the strong winds fueled this five-alarm fire, and the cause under investigation.

But that's a miracle.

PEREIRA: It could have been a very different scenario playing out there.

Investigators believe that mechanical failure played a role in Monday's commuter crash, a train crash at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. The train jumped the tracks and slammed into an escalator.

A union official says the driver might have dozed off, but now, the NTSB says an emergency brake failed to stop the train.

More than 30 people were injured, but one expert says if this had happened during the day instead of 3:00 a.m., there would likely have been many more injuries and possibly even deaths.

BERMAN: Yeah. Can you imagine rush hour, those platforms --

PEREIRA: You know how many people jam onto those trains.

BERMAN: All right, ahead for us @ THIS HOUR, we're now seeing satellite images of possible objects in the Indian Ocean, dozens and dozens of them.

But when the planes get out there, when the boats get out there, they're coming up empty. We are going to ask why. That's coming up, next.


PEREIRA: We've been telling you this morning about these new satellite images of objects. Potentially, could they be debris from Flight 370? This time it's 122 objects floating in the southern Indian Ocean.

BERMAN: Now, they are within that range, about 1,500 miles or so off the coast of Perth in Australia where search planes have been flying, where surface vessels have now been scanning the waves there, but so far, they've turned up nothing.

PEREIRA: Our Tom Foreman is in the Virtual Room, and I think so many are feeling like we might be getting close to something, but why aren't searchers spotting these objects?

We know the satellites are picking them up. Why can't our eyeballs or the even the technology that's being implemented, Tom, find these items?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a big area, and it's a moving target. Yeah, there's a lot of excitement about this.

This is why there's a lot of excitement. You hinted at it a moment ago. These are things that simply look like they might be something from a debris field from a plane like this. If you've seen them before, it looks like the right thing.

It's in the right area, generally, if you look at the search areas and you compare it to where this has been found. That's where it's been found. Look at the search areas. They're right in the same general zone there. And they would fit the pattern of what you see when a big plane like this goes in the water. Look at the wreckage from TWA off New York when it was put back together.

Of course, they said the fuel tank exploded here. That changed things a bit, but a lot of the damage came when it hit the ground, and when they reconstructed it, yeah, lots of little pieces which are capable of floating. You talk about seat cushions, things like that.

Still, here is the big challenge. When you say, why can't they find them? Maybe it has to do with just the fact that this is a moving target.

Think about the plane coming into this area if the theories are correct. They draw a grid down here to search for this plane, all out across the water. The grid is huge compared to the plane. We are showing the plane so you can see it here, but it would be a speck in all of this.

They don't know when the fuel ran out on this plane. If the fuel ran out early, it could have gone in way up here at the northern end of this, or it could have gone to one side or the other, or it could have gone much further down.

What they have to do now is look at the pattern of where they found this debris if it turns out to be the right thing and say to themselves, does this represent where the plane went down?

Did it go down there, and is that why the debris is there? Or does this tiny place where we found the debris, if it's the right thing, has it been drifting for days here? Has it come from much further up in the chain? And is the actual resting place of the bulk of the plane much further away?

Bear if mind, and it's worth remembering in all of this, if this were drifting at two-miles-an-hour, which is not ridiculous for that area, this could cover about 150 miles in three days.

So, in all the time since this plane went down, any debris you find out there could be quite a good distance off.

John, Michaela?

PEREIRA: When the currents are at play, it can be a game changer. It really can be.

FOREMAN: Absolutely.

BERMAN: And don't forget, there was a storm between Sunday when the satellite took those pictures and today.

PEREIRA: Stopped the search for a day, which was -- which really was a setback. Tom Foreman, thanks so much. We appreciate it.

Ahead @ THIS HOUR, the hunt for this missing plane after 19 days. Searchers have some satellite images to work with but they haven't found anything, as we've been telling you. We're going to find out what comes next. What's the next step in this search process?


PEREIRA: Well, the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 may go deep under water. New satellite images showing these 122 objects in the southern Indian Ocean not far from other object sightings.

BERMAN: And some underwater tools are now available to help search this area if it does turn out to be debris. The U.S. Navy has sent a Bluefin 21 autonomous underwater vehicle, otherwise known as an AUV.

We have an expert on these vehicles. Our Rosa Flores is in Golden Meados, Louisiana. And, Rosa, you have been looking at one of these underwater devices. Tell us how it works?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So what this is, is this device goes deep into the water several miles and it creates a map of the ocean floor. Let me show you. This is the AUV, an autonomous underwater vehicle. Now, it uses side-skin sonar, you can see it down here, and it also is equipped with a GPS system -- it's this antenna that you see here -- so that the crew can find it wherever it is.

Now, we're going to go ahead and launch this. So let's start that. This probe is owned by C&C Technologies and we're on board the Miss Ginger here in Golden Meadow, Louisiana.

And this particular probe has found wreckage in the deep sea, plane wreckage in the deep sea before. Now, what you are looking at is it's being deployed from the back of the ship. It's a cavity and it's going to drop into the water. You're going to see it in just a moment. And I'm actually going to come around so I can show you exactly how this is done.

So it's going to get deployed into the water. For our purposes, of course, it's tethered because we are not in the middle of the ocean.; we're on a dock. But if this were the Indian Ocean, you would be able to see it deploy, and it's buoyant so you're going to see it on the surface as soon as it is on the water.

So here's the deal. Here's how it works. There is a crew inside a control room that programs what this probe is going to do. In the case of the MH370, it would go down several miles into the Indian Ocean and it would start mapping the ocean floor. And it would start looking for oddities.

So at this point, if the search area is narrowed, it would start looking for the debris field. That's the one thing that this probe would be able to do. And then, hear this. You're able to take stills with this technology so it could be the first eyes on the wreckage. Michaela, John?

PEREIRA: This is really impressive to see the arsenal that we now have on hand. Granted, Rosa, we know this is a step ahead of the game. We haven't even verified that they have a location for the actual debris located or pinpointed. They still have only got these satellite images, but it's interesting to see the kind of technology that is being -- that will be pressed into service.

BERMAN: Yes, it's extraordinary. It's a lot bigger than I actually thought it would be. I thought these autonomous devices were much, much smaller. That is a substantial piece of machinery right there. Our thanks to Rosa Flores, who's down in Louisiana. Sorry. Go ahead, Rosa.

FLORES: No, I was going to say, one of the really good things about this technology is that you get a lot of information in real time. So as soon as this device is able to get close to the ocean floor, you're able to see a preliminary picture. Then, you bring this device back. You connect it to a computer and then you get a high resolution picture of what the ocean floor looks like.

PEREIRA: That real time is going to be paramount.

BERMAN: Yes, our thanks to Rosa. And let's hope they get a chance to use this, which would mean they would get something on the surface that tells them where to start searching.

PEREIRA: Absolutely. Although we keep hearing about satellites sighting of potential debris, nothing has been found so far.

BERMAN: And you could blame the weather. The weather has been awful right there. You can blame the ocean currents. You can blame the size of the search area, which has been very big although it's narrowing down.

And look at this. We wanted to show you this. This is actually video taken from February. Some time ago, but it gives you a sense of what the seas in that area are like. This is the southern Indian Ocean right now in February. A nasty, nasty, treacherous place.

PEREIRA: On a good day.

BERMAN: And you can see why you could be standing on that deck searching an area and not be able to see something 100 yards away from you right now. Very, very difficult.

PEREIRA: Our Will Ripley is in Perth Australia. And I think it is really great visuals for us to be able to show people at home what the searchers are up against, at least the ones that are aboard ships. We've been talking about the search area for Flight 370 now kind of being divided into two sectors. Give us an idea on the different parts that have been focused on for the search.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, even though this search area is about a fourth of the size it once was, it's still a huge area -- 569,000 square nautical miles. That's the size of Mexico. So they're dividing it up into an east and west quadrant. It takes from Pierce Air Base here in Perth, it takes about three to four hours to fly out over it just to get there. And they're going to be dividing up resources, searching both the east and west, trying to find this debris airfield.

PEREIRA: I'm curious what the weather is like, because we know that one of the concerns the other day, and that actually shut down search operations, was a storm moving into already this perilous area. Are they feeling hopeful about the forecast for tomorrow in terms of searching?

RIPLEY: They are feeling hopeful. Pilots are telling us that today was some of the best weather they've all seen week, and the weather conditions are expected to improve tomorrow. But as you know -- I flew out over the Indian Ocean over the weekend. You can have great visibility one minute, zero visibility the next. But we have 12 planes ready to go, six tackling the east, six tackling the west, plus five ships and those underwater vehicles all are going to be out over the next few days and weeks ahead searching.

BERMAN: Well, good weather should give them a leg up, some of the time they need to try to find the debris again. 122 possible objects spotted in that region. They want to get eyeballs at them from the air or also from the surface vessels. Our thanks to Will Ripley, who's monitoring that search from Perth, Australia.

PEREIRA: Ahead @ THIS HOUR, satellites spotted them, now searchers have to locate them, these 100 objects or more spotted floating in the ocean. Could they really be from Flight 370? We're going to have more on the search straight ahead for you.