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Possible Debris of Plane Crash Found in Indian Ocean; Mudslide Hits Town in Washington State; President Criticizes Russian Action in Ukraine; Flashback to 2012: Obama versus Romney

Aired March 26, 2014 - 07:00   ET


JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Once again, those tantalizing details. But as you rightly note, what we have to do is not only get an aerial locater on that, but you have to get a ship in there to go up close to investigate any or all of the pieces they can locate in order to determine whether or not they have a direct link to fright 370. It is only then that they can say this is a potential debris field from an airliner that went down in the Indian Ocean, and then oceanographers can track backwards.

Details, clues, exactly what this search needs right now. But it also needs that link, that verification of the two things so they can move forward with the investigation, move forward with further underwater exploration that might reveal the location of any submerged objects and specifically those objects related to the flight data recorders that would give up so many details and help us solve the mystery.

On another front here, today we're hearing from the transport minister, the Chinese vice minister for foreign affairs was here meeting with the prime minister and other officials specifically being debriefed on what was found on the Inmarsat data that was used to say this plane likely lost all souls aboard and went down in the Indian Ocean, far from any land, any potential landing strip, all souls lost. That has upset Chinese families. China wanted clarification, they are getting that.

China is one of the members of this working group that is being established. And they are trying to narrow down the search area. As Kate was telling us there, new information coming in, digital information from satellites and others. It is very important to have. John Berman, back to you.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Jim Clancy for us in Kuala Lumpur, thank you so much, laying out the breaking news. We want to dive down a little bit deeper into that. Let's bring in our experts, CNN safety analyst and author of "Why Planes Crash" David Soucie, and from Washington, CNN aviation analyst and science correspondent for the "PBS News Hour" Miles O'Brien. Miles, I want to start with you. The news in just a few minutes ago, 122 pieces of possible debris sighted ranging in size up to 70 feet, the colors, many of them perhaps brightly-colored, in the area located in a much smaller zone than we've been dealing with today, about 400 plus square miles. How significant? MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, we've had two days of really significant news here, I think, John. And we've heard about this half ping, if you will, this sort of partial communication between the aircraft and the Inmarsat satellite yesterday, which very likely might have been its last position roughly. And now this, a debris field with more than 100 objects, some of them very large. Couple those two things together, and I think we certainly are in the neighborhood here.

As you were discussing a little while ago, this debris field does not mean that they are at the crash site. The currents at that part of the ocean are such that it could be quite a bit of distance. So fortunately the experts know about the currents and can sort of march backward from the debris field, but there's a very good chance that this could be the break we've all been waiting for.

BERMAN: David Soucie, we were talking about the size of some of the pieces, ranging up to about 70 feet. That is significant to you?

DAVIS SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: It certainly is because to me, from the time we first got the report of a 78-foot object, I kept thinking it's possible that's a wing, because it was empty, the fuel was out of it, and there's bulkheads that would prevent too much water to get in there. It has potential to be a wing that's floating. So I'm really encouraged by it. I really am.

BERMAN: Miles, I do want to get to the partial handshake in a second. Let's stay on the debris that was spotted we just learned about a few minutes ago for one moment. The number of pieces to me, 122, I called it casually a debris field in passing. Is that a fair way to describe it? Does that make a debris field?

O'BRIEN: I think 122 would make a debris field. I don't know the exact definition of a debris field, but I think we can agree that's what we're seeing here. You're right. The size of the pieces is an important piece of the puzzle. It's interesting to think that a wing could main stain its integrity despite an impact like that. But as we saw in the case of the Air France cash, there were large pieces, including the vertical stabilizer, that were floating.

BERMAN: I guess what I'm getting at with the terminology of "debris field" is if a plane were to end, to somehow go down in the water there, how many pieces might you expect to find? Where does 122 fit in that range?

O'BRIEN: That would fit in the range of a debris field you would see after a plane crash, no question. There's all kinds of things in an airplane that would rise to the surface. And if they maintain enough structural integrity, big pieces of the metal portions of the plane could indeed float.

BERMAN: The key of course here is this picture was taken on Sunday. Today is Wednesday. Planes have been flying overhead since then for at least two of those days. Today the flights came back and said we spotted maybe three objects. We don't know if any of those are connected in any serious way. They might be rogue. Let's shift now to the other big news that Miles was talking about, this news of the partial handshake detected by Inmarsat. David Soucie, what we know from Inmarsat is that this plane was checking in at regular intervals as it was flying in this southern corridor down to the southern Indian Ocean, at regular intervals. And then at the end, though, there was an irregular interval, shall we say, this partial handshake. First you and then I'll go to Miles. Explain to me the significance of this.

SOUCIE: To me, it means something really significant. That is that the satellite attempted again to contact the satellite, but not on a regular basis. That means some event occurred. We don't know what event obviously, but that sat com system is designed to take information or to receive it. If there's an electrical fault or perhaps the engines run out of fuel, go out, that does cause the bus to reset. It shifts over from one power source to the other. During that time would be the ideal time when you would expect that sat com reset itself.

BERMAN: Inmarsat said it wasn't done manually. This wasn't a human being who somehow set this partial handshake. They say that is significant. Miles, you think this partial handshake is a very, very big development?

O'BRIEN: Yes. And that key point there that it wasn't somebody pushing a button is worth putting out. What was happening here, this is an airliner that clearly was running out of fuel. So what happens in that case, you lose one engine, then you lose the next engine. They don't go out simultaneously. They're each drawing off of a separate fuel tank. Usually the left engine goes first because that's the one you start up first. And so either in the process of the flame-out of the one engine, you would have had an electrical disturbance, or when both engines went out, this little windmill device drops out of the plane. It's basically a turbine which provides emergency electrical power to the aircraft. And that would cause some sort of voltage disturbance or spike. And that could be reawakened this satellite transmission just enough to say, hello.

BERMAN: All right, guys, I want you to look at the image we just now got in. I think we're been able to process it right now. This is what the French satellite saw on Sunday. This is what we now agree could be a possible debris field. Miles O'Brien, you're saying wow, wow. Why?

O'BRIEN: That's not like what we've been seeing. That's not just an isolated palette. That's something to go see. I sure hope those aircraft are able to get on scene.

BERMAN: David Soucie?

SOUCIE: Yes, absolutely. That's the first time I've seen that shot. It looks eerily familiar to other accidents I've seen on the water.

BERMAN: All right, David Soucie, Miles O'Brien, we're going to take another look at this picture. Sit tight. Get with that. Analyze a little bit. We'll talk about it in a little bit. Again, the news today, a possible debris field, some 122 objects found off about 1,500 miles off the coast of Perth, Australia. They're trying to get planes, they're trying to get ships near there. Not yet, but we're waiting. Michaela?

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: All right, John. Pardon me. We'll certainly get back to the breaking news. We're also following developments from Washington state. The number of dead in a huge mudslide north of Seattle has jumped to as high as 24. It has now been three days since any sign of life was detected in that wet quicksand. But searchers insist it is still a rescue operation. CNN's Ana Cabrera is live in Arlington, Washington to bring us the latest on the efforts today.

ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Michaela. Certainly, they are still searching for potential survivors, but the death toll is rising. And 16 people now confirmed dead, their bodies have been recovered, and officials believe they've identified another eight victims in the wreckage and are hoping to recover those bodies today.

Now, the weather conditions have certainly impacted the search and rescue and recovery operation. We've seen a lot of rain in the past 24 hours. Dry right now, which is a good sign, but it's definitely making for some tough conditions. In places, it's like quick sand. In other places one emergency personnel responder described it as walking on ice, that the ground could give way underneath their feet. So it is a very methodical task of going over all of the wreckage.

And we do know they are really trying to work quickly. They've brought in local, state, and federal emergency rescue operators who are using everything from search dogs to sonar equipment as they continue to go over what's a massive amount of debris. It includes 50 homes and cars that are under this wreckage. The task of moving some of this debris has also begun as it's covering a square mile, including a big stretch of roadway. But that task of moving all the debris could take weeks, and at this point, the focus still remains on finding those potential victims.

PEREIRA: All right, Ana, we should point out ahead we're going to speak with somebody that has the agonizing wait waiting to hear of the fate of his loved one. that's coming up later this hour.

To developing news this morning, the Russia-Ukraine crisis is expected to dominate today's U.S.-European Union summit. President Obama slamming Russia, its president Vladimir Putin, and his Republican critics at the Hague Tuesday, dismissing Russia as a regional power who is threatening neighbors not out of strength but out of weakness. White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski joins us from Brussels with the latest.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Michaela. Today here in Brussels, President Obama will meet with leaders of the EU and NATO. What an added significance those coalitions have taken on precisely because of the situation in Ukraine. So all eyes will be on his speech President Obama will give to the Belgian people today.

The White House has wanted to make this trip not to be all about the Ukraine situation. But inevitably he has been dogged by questions, sometimes very difficult questions about the U.S.'s response and whether it's been enough. Some of the president's remarks really turned heads yesterday when during a press conference he called Russia a regional power, saying Russia is coming from a position of weakness and isolation, and called the massing of some 30,000 Russia troops at the Ukraine border a show of intimidation.

Obviously not everybody feels that way and the president has been asked has the U.S. miss calculated the intentions in this case. But the White House has said there have been no illusion about the possibilities there, and remains deeply concerned about the situation and the U.S. and the EU are ready to act, further isolating Russia as the situation continues.

PEREIRA: All right, thanks so much. Certainly some really pointed comments from the president yesterday from the Hague.

BERMAN: Indeed.

PEREIRA: All right, let's get to Christine Romans. She's got the rest of today's top stories.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning again. Three Secret Service agents have been sent home from the Netherlands after one was found passed out drunk, a Secret Service agent passed out drunk. The agents were in Amsterdam Sunday in advance of the president's trip. They were believed to be members of the counter assault team whose job it is to eliminate immediate threats. The alleged behavior violates Secret Service rules after the 2012 prostitution scandal. The agents are on administrative leave.

A little bit of wiggle room on Obamacare. Government officials giving people extra time to sign up. The deadline is Monday to get coverage for the year or face penalties. By the White House says a surge in last-minute demand could slow down the enrollment process. People who ask for an extension will have to prove they ran into technical problems.

Ukrainian troops leaving Crimea by the thousands as Russia adds thousands of its troops along the border, the buildup fueling growing concern that Russian forces are now positioned to move into Ukraine if and when they're ordered to do so. A senior defense official said the U.S. still does not know Russia's intentions on the border.

Traffic is flowing once again at the Port of Houston. The Coast Guard partially reopened the busy shipping channel after an oil spill shut it down for four days. A barge collided with a ship spilling 170,000 gallons of crude oil into the water. Officials and environmental groups are now assessing the impact of that spill on wildlife and the shoreline.

BERMAN: Thanks so much. Next up for us on NEW DAY, the families of the people aboard flight 370 saying Malaysia Airlines not taking care of them and also saying they deceived the whole word. Pain and frustration now really just turning to rage. PEREIRA: And we'll have more on that mudslide disaster in Washington state. So many people left waiting desperately, wondering if they're loved ones are still alive. Ahead, we're going to speak to a man actually awaiting news about his father.


BERMAN: All right, welcome back, everyone. The breaking news: new pictures from a French satellite showing some 122 objects, possible pieces of debris. Could they be from flight 370? That's the big question right now.

We're joined again by CNN safety analyst David Soucie, also by Ryan Abernathey, an assistant professor at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University.

I want to bring up the picture again of this satellite debris, possible debris, taken by a French satellite on Sunday. That's a picture of the three squares. I think we have a push-in so you can see just one of the squares. We don't have that picture, but you can see these three images, possible areas of what we're debris fields, 122 objects.

David Soucie, you first saw this image, you know, and your reaction, along with Miles O'Brien, was "Wow."

SOUCIE: Yeah, well this is the -- to me, it just looks familiar. This looks really credible for two reasons. One is that it looks like a debris field. But what makes me question it is by now, that debris field would have been more spread out. So I'm thinking something is holding it together.


BERMAN: We'll, talk about that because we have an expert on ocean currents. But take a look at this again, the idea that it's clumped together, the size of it. You say familiar to you, familiar -- compare it to past accidents you've seen before.

SOUCIE: Well, you know, I'm not thinking of a specific accident right now. But what it -- logically makes sense to me, the pieces, the sizes, the debris that is out there. Flight 800 comes to mind. But now, that was an in-flight break-up, so it was more spread out. But this -- it just has a feel of it. You know, after -- I've been doing accident investigations for a long time. And sometimes you just go with your gut.

BERMAN: Right.

SOUCIE: Yeah, it just feels good to me.

BERMAN: Objects as big as 70 feet, a bunch of them clumped together right now.

SOUCIE: Right. BERMAN: All right, Ryan, so what about the currents? This picture was taken on Sunday; 122 objects are still within a much smaller range than we've seen before. They said, I believe, about 400 square kilometers right now.

That was taken Sunday. If it was found in that search area that we've been looking at down here on the map, you know, what could the currents have done to it by now?

RYAN ABERNATHEY, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: So at this stage, we expect the debris, if that is the debris, will be drawn out into filaments. So what starts as an initial clump will be drawn out into a long filament. And that's probably what we're seeing now. That's in the process of happening.

So I -- I didn't get a good enough look at the picture to say if it's consistent with that, but that's what -- that's what physically we expect the currents will do to this debris.

BERMNA: If it was together like that on Sunday, by now it may have been strained out and certainly with the waves and the bad weather we've seen. I also want to point out an area you showed me before just south of the search area, that that's the brighter line of currents right there. That is a special current.

ABERNATHEY: That's the Antarctic circumpolar current, the strongest, fastest current in the world ocean. And this search area is right at the northern edge of it. So it's full of energetic eddies. And those swirling motions are what's responsible for disbursing this debris, spreading it around, and also moving the whole clump of it to the east.

BERMAN: All right, so we know that picture, again, was taken on Sunday. We also know today, that planes, more than they've had yet, were flying overhead; 12 planes flying overhead. There were five ships in the search area.

You know, the ships haven't seen anything yet. Now, we don't know if they've reached the area where they -- the satellite spotted those 122 pieces, but even in a ship, even if you're close, it can be hard to see these things.

SOUCIE: Oh, absolutely. Because just look at the -- if I'm up here looking down, you see how much more he can see that way. Now you're down on the ship on water, constantly up and down. The ocean's going up and down, and you're trying to figure it out. From the vantage of a satellite, you can actually pick the most calm time to take that picture, take that look and see that debris. But when you're in a ship, you don't have that option. You can't hit the freeze button and say, "Hold still while I take a look." It's a different world out there.

BERMAN: Ryan, the 122 objects clumped together, again, even though it was a few days ago on Sunday, that was still two full weeks after this plane disappeared. That is a lot of objects still to be clumped closely together. You say the currents work often to spread these objects apart, often at an exponential rate, but can the currents work to keep some objects together?

ABERNATHEY: Yes. That can absolutely happen too, on the short term. So within the first month or so, it's very possible that they can all be funneled into a coherent structure and stay together.

But the longer -- more time passes, the more likely it is they'll all be spread apart. And that makes it harder and harder to work backwards to, you know, figure out the original location of the crash where the black box is presumably waiting.

BERMAN: Of course, that is such a key point. Because even if those 122 objects found on Sunday are connected to flight 370, David Soucie, that doesn't mean it is where the flight ended. It does not mean that is where the moment of impact was.

SOUCIE: That's correct. That's correct. But I'm encouraged with the fact that we have that other ping, that out-of-sequence ping which narrows that part of it down a little bit more as to a more specific area. Had that ping occurred half an hour or 45 minutes after the previous ping, we wouldn't have nearly as much information as the fact that it was only a few minutes after the most recent ping. So we know it was in a specific spot, then we have a short span of time. So that will help us narrow down more directly when it actually impacted.

BERMNA: Ryan, we're getting the sense that some -- they're split up now between searching from the air, these planes, about 12 planes flying, five ships. We understand that often the planes are flying to the west, to the west of the search area. And then you have the ships coming in from the other direction. Explain that.

ABERNATHEY: Well, you asking me?



ABERNATHEY: Well, you know, like we said, there's a huge potential area that this could be spread out over. You know, from the original crash site, it's all drifting east.


ABERNATHEY: So it makes sense to spread the search out in longitude along a huge swath. Because presumably, that's the way all the debris is spreading out.

BERMAN: So the plane could spot it, and it would drift towards the ships as they move in.

All right, Ryan Abernathey, great to see you. David Soucie, thank you for helping explain what we're seeing again. Again, 122 of possible debris spotted by this satellite on Sunday. Micheala?

Or I should say, up next on NEW DAY, we're gonna have much more on this breaking news of these objects sighted in the search for flight 370. Also, we're going to talk about the families now lashing out at Malaysia Airlines for promises that these families claim are not being kept.


PEREIRA: All right, welcome back to NEW DAY. We're glad you're here with us. I'm Michaela Pereira. John Berman is alongside me in for Chris Cuomo.

Christine Romans is handling our headlines today.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning both of you. Breaking news this morning in the search for Malaysia flight 370: 122 possible pieces of possible debris spotted by satellite Sunday. Malaysian officials say they were almost 1,600 miles from Perth in the same vicinity where crews have focused the search. Planes and ships from a half dozen countries searching today. Three objects have been spotted. Australian officials say two of the pieces look like rope. Another object said to be blue.

A grim search goes on at the scene at a huge mudslide in Oso, Washington. This is near Seattle. I mean ,as many as 24 people now dead. Authorities recovered 16 bodies. They've located eight other victims, but they can't get to them. Rescuers are working in conditions described as wet quicksand. More than 170 people are on a list of those still unaccounted for there in Oso, Washington.

North Korea reportedly firing two mid-range ballistic missiles into the waters off its east coast this morning. A South Korean military official says they were north of Pyongyang and traveled about 400 miles toward Japan before dropping into the sea. The launches happened right after President Obama met with leaders of South Korean and Japan them to discuss North Korea's nuclear arms program.

A Montana woman who pushed her new husband off a cliff just two days after their wedding wants to now change her plea. Jordan Linn Graham pleaded guilty in December to second-degree murder. But now she wants to withdraw it because prosecutors are pushing for her to spend life in prison. Her attorneys say that's too harsh. Sentencing day is supposed to be tomorrow.

BERMAN: Last-minute complication there.

ROMANS: Change of hearts, I would say.

PEREIRA: All right, Christine.

BERMAN: Time to go Inside Politics on NEW DAY with John King. Flashes of campaign 2012, John?

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, the '80s called, Mr. Berman. They want their foreign policy back. That's one of the items driving Inside Politics today. Back to you guys in a minute. Why that reference? That's how scornfully President Obama referred to Mitt Romney when Mitt Romney, during the debates in the last campaign, said that he considered Russia to be the number one geo-political foe of the United States. It came up yesterday in the president's news conference overseas.

With me this morning to share their reporting and their insights, Margaret Talev of Bloomberg News, Peter Baker of the "New York Times," two reporters who know this president well.

Let's watch the president answer. John Hall (ph) from ABC asked the question. The White House knew if you know John -- if you call on John Hall, you're going to get this kind of a tough question. Here's the president's answer when it comes to think of what do you think about Mitt Romney.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: With respect to Mr. Romney's assertion that Russia's our number one geo-political foe, they don't pose the number one national security threat to the United States.