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Planes Grounded In Flight 370 Search; Captain's Son: My Father Not A Hijacker; Pope, President Obama Meet For First Time; Search Still A Rescue Operation

Aired March 27, 2014 - 06:00   ET


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news. A Thai satellite spots 300 objects possibly from Flight 370 as nasty weather ground search planes. Now for the first time the captain's son is speaking out. What he says about the renewed speculations swirling around his father, the pilot.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking this morning, just moments ago, President Obama meeting Pope Francis for the first time. So what did the two leaders discussed? We're live at the Vatican.

PEREIRA: The unthinkable. Survivors of the deadly mudslide now speaking out as the governor tells CNN the death toll will climb. But there is some hope. We hear from the man who rescued this little boy.

Your NEW DAY starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo, Kate Bolduan and Michaela Pereira.

PEREIRA: Good morning and welcome to NEW DAY. It is Thursday, the 27th of March. It is just before 6:00 a.m. in the east. I'm Michaela Pereira alongside John Berman. Chris Cuomo has the day off, and Kate Bolduan is flying back from Australia.

Breaking this morning, another big field of possible debris. Objects spotted in the Southern Indian Ocean. Thai satellites have picked up about 300 objects potentially linked Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

BERMAN: But even with the sighting of the new possible objects, search planes cannot look for them, at least not anymore. They were ordered back to Perth about five hours ago because of bad weather, weather now that we understand could last until tomorrow. Five ships, five surface vessels do remain on the water in that area and a new Australian ship is headed out to help.

Also this morning, the son of the flight's pilot is speaking out for the first time defending his father as new reports are swirling that the pilot is the focus of the investigation. For the latest on all this, let's go to Andrew Stevens live in Perth, Australia this morning. Good morning, Andrew.

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. A very frustrating day again for the pilots on this search. Crucial that the ships remain on station given the size of the storm down there. While there's frustration for the pilots, there could be potential new developments coming to us from satellite images.


STEVENS (voice-over): New this morning, Thailand's state news agency says a Thai satellite has spotted about 300 floating objects in the Southern Indian Ocean. A possible debris field linked to Flight 370. These pieces located just over 120 miles from the area where a French satellite spotted 122 floating objects, those images released on Wednesday, that potential debris spotted Sunday more than 1500 miles off the coast of Perth, Australia. That's about the distance from Washington D.C. to Denver, Colorado.

The objects scattered over 154 square miles about the size of Denver. This as today's aerial search for wreckage called off. Severe weather forcing all planes to return to base. The reconnaissance teams beaten up by turbulence, icing and low visibility in the remote search area. Ships will continue searching despite the rough seas.

The Australian naval vessel "Ocean Shield" on its way to Perth to be outfitted with the U.S. unmanned underwater robot and listening device to assist in the search for wreckage. The full search effort expected to resume Friday.

Teams are now racing against time as new information suggests the batteries for the plane's pingers may already be dead. CNN's safety analyst, David Soucie, says a mechanic who expected Malaysia Airlines told him the batteries may have been stored improperly.


STEVENS: So those storms now ending flights two out of the past three days. What's critical here, Michaela, is that the big winds down here are going to be scattering these new finds. This debris was spotted before the bad weather moved in. So we don't know just how far it may now be scattered.

PEREIRA: And that is an important point to show us. Andrew Stevens in Perth, thank you so much. Now, as this mystery unfolds, many have wondered if the plane was brought down deliberately. "USA Today" is reporting that Malaysian authorities are looking at Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah. They are reporting points to something pre-meditated that brought down the jetliner.

But his son, as we mentioned, is defending him, and U.S. officials tell CNN both pilots are still being looked at but that nothing is jumping out of them. For more, let's get to Jim Clancy live in Kuala Lumpur -- Jim.

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As we look at this story as it develops, there's been a real vacuum of evidence. We haven't really had much to go on, and that has fueled speculation in all kinds of different directions, on all kinds of theories and it's only natural. The pilots are, of course, always going to be a factor when you consider any accident, any mystery really like the one that we have with Flight 370.

And because of that, there's so much speculation that the father may have had personal reasons, personal troubles, he may have had political allegiances, all of these other things that were brought up. His son for the first time came out today. The family really retreated from all of this and went into seclusion after talking with police.

But his son came out, talked to a local newspaper and said this, "Whatever I have read has not changed my heart, I have ignored these speculations because as a son, I know who my father is compared to other people." He went on to say, "I may not have been very close to him because he was always on duty, but we understood each other."

That was from the son. I talked to the former CEO of Malaysia Airlines who remembered Zaharie Shah as a bright, young cadet 30 years ago. Listen to a part of that interview.


STEVENS: You knew Captain Shah. Some people pointing the finger at him.

DR. ABDUL AZIZ ABDUL RAHMAN, FORMER CEO, MALAYSIA AIRLINES: He's an excellent pilot. I think they're going the wrong way pointing finger at him.

STEVENS: You also knew the co-pilot. What can you say about him?

RAHMAN: He also learned the Koran by heart. He's a good Muslim and I know that the captain is a very good Muslim.


CLANCY: Now he stressed that what we really need to do is find those flight data recorders because only then will you be able to clear the pilots. He's convinced they don't have anything to do with it and find out what really happened to Flight 370. Back to you, John Berman.

BERMAN: All right, Jim Clancy, thanks so much. We'll talk about the pilots in just a second. First, we want to talk about the new news. We've only known about it for about an hour. We've only seen these pictures now for a few minutes. New images from a Thai satellite showing some 300 possible objects in the sea. It's just about 120 miles from where the French satellites spotted 122 objects. We just learned about that yesterday.

So now we have two possible debris fields or is it one that's moving? A lot of important questions here. Let's break this all down with David Soucie and Mary Schiavo. David is a CNN safety analyst and a former FAA inspector. He is also the author of "Why Planes Crash" and Mary is a CNN aviation analyst and the former inspector general of the Department of Transportation. She is also an aviation attorney who represents victims and families after air disasters. David, I want to start with you here. Let's put up this image once again. This new satellite image, 300 objects spotted by a Thai satellite about 120 miles from where we saw the previous images. Again, looks very much like a debris field from these satellites. What do you see here?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Well, to me, this is a little different than what we saw yesterday. There's less specificity. As far as the size of these objects, if they were saying it's 75 feet again, then I would be more confident about it. To me, this one seems less likely than the one yesterday because of its size and just the sheer number of objects. I'm just doubtful about this one.

BERMAN: Three hundred objects, the ones we're seeing today. This photo was taken Monday, the day after the French satellite took the photo of about 122 images. You're looking at the one that we're just getting in right now. We do not know the size of these -- some 300 objects. But Nary Schiavo, what about the location about 120 miles from where the French satellite took pictures. Does this indicate possibly some drift from that first field or if a plane were to end its flight in the ocean like that, is it possible that things could be scattered over 120 miles?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, it's possible. And then the drift, I mean, that's a lot of drift in a day. Some of the other experts have mentioned currents that would possibly take it a hundred miles in a day. And on a debris field on an airplane crash, you do get a pretty wide dispersion because -- unless it's bound together. In some cases, it clings together. There's wiring. There are all sorts of things that kind of bunch it in almost like netting.

But then once that dissipates, it really gets spread wide and far. I had one accident where weeks later fishermen snagged one of my clients purses. So you never know where it's going to go and what it's going to do but it's possible that's the wreckage.

BERMAN: Two field sightings like this in two days, certainly very interesting. But certainly, Mary, very frustrating for the people flying in the planes over the search area now because the news today again, those planes called back. We've heard no word whether they spotted anything, but they were called back because of bad weather. Very frustrating, no?

SCHIAVO: Yes. Especially for them because the folks, at least I know the folks who worked on it in the United States back when I was inspector general, that's what they want to do. They want to go out and find things. They want to save people. My goodness, the weather they go out in to do this. I imagine they are very, very frustrated because that's what they're trained and driven to do. Their frustration levels must be pretty high all the way around.

BERMAN: We should note, by the way, that the boats, the ships are still out there searching. It could be that they have a very specific area now to identify with these two separate debris fields and they want to stay in the area and maybe they will see something. SCHIAVO: Well, and it's important -- even one's of wreckage, they've got to get their hands on it and confirm one way or another. Just a few pieces dragged upon the boat so they can confirm that it is the aircraft could help so very much. Since they're staying out there, maybe they will get fortunate. Obviously, I hope for their safety. Maybe they will get fortunate to pull just a few pieces on board. Even from a few pieces, they will be able to rule out some things.

BERMAN: And of course, David Soucie, spotting debris, locating and confirming debris, just the first step to trying to locate the black box, the flight data recorder, the cockpit voice recorder. You have information about this black box, the pingers. We thought the pingers were supposed to last 30 days. You have serious concerns whether that is even the case.

SOUCIE: I do. There's a mechanic that currently works on aircraft for Malaysia Air. He called me. We've talked the other day and he was very concerned because he had done a maintenance audit, which is routine to do an audit of the processes and procedures, storage procedures and parts that sort of thing. He found that the pingers, which had the battery included in them were put in a room that was very high temperature, very high humidity as opposed to what the manufacturer recommends, which is to have it in a dry space, a room temperature type of environment or in a refrigerator.

So he wrote that up. They responded to it. They took those old pingers off because by storing them that way, the life of that battery is reduced to about half-life. So they were all taken out, replaced with new ones. Subsequently, he went back and checked more recently and found that they were still not following that procedure and those parts were still be stored in an improper environment.

BERMAN: So that means this pinger could not even be lasting the 30 days it's supposed to. That would be awful, awful news considering no debris spotted. Mary, last point I want to make. There's a lot of swirling reporting much of it in "USA Today" and a New Zealand paper about a new focus allegedly on the pilot. "USA Today" reporting that there's an official in Malaysia who's got reason to believe the pilot acted in a premeditated way.

Now I should say CNN's reporting indicates nothing of this sort. That there's no new focus, no renewed suspicion, no extra fingers pointing in his direction, but what do you make of the reporting?

SCHIAVO: Well, basically what I see is that there is no evidence. The FBI hasn't surfaced any and they were the ones looking at the computer. There is no new evidence from interviewing people in Malaysia. Zero evidence and so the authorities are saying since we have no evidence, it must be the pilots. That's going to put their investigation into serious jeopardy. Once they focus in on what they want it to be, then they will make all evidence fit that.

It's a very common, but it's a dangerous problem in a criminal investigation. You have to fight against that bias. They've already said they have no evidence. Since they have no evidence, ah, it must be the pilots. It's just too convenient an excuse and most often that is wrong when they do that in an investigation.

BERMAN: Let's hope the facts will present themselves and people won't get out in front of them like "USA Today" seems to be. All right, Mary Schiavo, David Soucie, great to have you here, thanks so much -- Michaela.

PEREIRA: So many challenges in this ongoing mystery, John. Thank you so much for that. We'll have much more on our breaking news in a moment.

But first, also this morning, and also breaking, the most powerful world leader meets the world's most powerful religious leader. President Obama is at the Vatican meeting Pope Francis for the first time. We want to bring White House correspondent, Michelle Kosinski and CNN's senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman, who covers the pope. Good to have you both with us.

Let's start with you, Michelle. Obviously, the importance is what the men are expected to discuss. Do we have any idea what was said during that initial meeting?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Senior White House officials yesterday sort of spelled out what the president wanted to talk about and why he was here in the first place saying that the pope has been an inspiration to him. It's an honor for President Obama to meet Pope Francis. That they wanted to talk about those issues and values on which they have common ground, social justice, income equality, the rights of the individual, democracy, diplomacy.

If all that sounds very familiar, those are the exact same values that President Obama has been espousing throughout this trip in dealing with the situation in Ukraine. So it seems doubtless that that will also come up, how the U.S. response has been, what should be the way going forward. Obviously, the pope has also been watching that situation. He's called for prayer. You know, he always plays a role in whatever the topic is going on of the day.

Both men have expressed some of those same values in their policies and Pope Francis has been the one who really sort of change the way the church discusses even taboo subjects. It's not to say that the Catholic Church and President Obama agree on all things. President Obama did win the Catholic vote in 2008, but they disagree on fundamentals like contraception, providing that. That's a big topic of debate within the U.S. just politically as well.

And also abortion, stem cell research, these have all been topics of tension between religious leaders and the U.S. at times. So the president said in an interview that he gave with an Italian newspaper that he knows that they don't agree on everything, but they will discuss these things. They've already been in that meeting for about 40 minutes now, going over the time that we thought was allotted for it. So we'll see how long they meet together away from the cameras.

PEREIRA: Certainly the men have a lot in common, but they also, as you mentioned, have issues that certainly divide them. Ben, let's bring you into this and talk about what each man has to gain from this meeting. And in terms of President Obama, I mean, he's clearly aware of the fact that the pope's approval rating is sort of sky high.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, in fact, Michaela, the pope's approval rating is about double that of Barack Obama. So definitely there's some star dust to be gotten from this visit with the pope. For his part, the pope, this is a man somewhat different from his predecessors. He considers this just another meeting in the day. In fact, he started off the day by holding the mass with members of the Italian parliament who we saw streaming out of Saint Peters at about 8:00 this morning.

He also has to keep in mind his American constituency. He will be raising, we understand questions of abortion, contraception and gay marriage. This in response to the concerns of American bishops who have come out with their objections to the president's position on these issues.

And for instance, when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Vatican counterpart in January, they did discuss these issues of contraception, abortion what whatnot. Although in their hour and a half meeting, apparently all they spent was 5 minutes on those issues. So they have wider subjects to discuss, Syria, the Ukraine, the Middle East peace process.

PEREIRA: Certainly many topics for the two men to discuss. Always a great level of expectation when the American leader meets with the Catholic Church's highest pontiff obviously. Michelle Kosinski, always a pleasure to have you. Ben Wedeman, good to have you here talking with us about the pope. Thanks so much.

BERMAN: Question is are approval ratings contagious, right? I mean, I think that would be helpful to him.

Want to move now to the Ukraine and the serious and growing concern this morning that Russia could be planning to invade the eastern part of that nation. There's a new classified intelligence report that has top officials in Washington very, very worried this morning. Let's go to Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Barbara, what can you tell us?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. This new classified assessment says that it is more likely than previously thought that Russia will go into Eastern Ukraine, a full-on military incursion. Why are they coming to this conclusion now? They've been worried for weeks. Well, the buildup on that border between Russia and Ukraine now increasing over 30,000 troops.

There are additional Russian troops on alert further back in Russia. Airborne troops, quick response forces, Special Forces, all of this leading to growing concern. The Russians have told the Pentagon they're there just for exercises. But a senior military official told me last night there is no evidence that they are conducting military exercises, and that buildup that the U.S. sees is now of the scope and sort of formation that they saw before Russia went into Chechnya and also into Georgia.

The big worry, John, is that they will make a move. They are now so close to the Ukraine border. They could go without any warning. The U.S. might only see it as it happens -- John, Michaela.

BERMAN: All right, our Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Of course, the intelligence committee very criticized for not giving early warning to what the Russians were planning to do in Crimea. Perhaps this is their way of correcting that getting out in front of what might happen now.

PEREIRA: Getting out in front always key. All right, Barbara Starr, thanks.

Next up on NEW DAY, bad weather has grounded the air search for Flight 370. It's the second time this week that this has happened. This as we learn of new leads. A satellite spotting objects, hundreds of them, 300 in fact floating in the Southern Indian Ocean. We want to talk about what this means. We'll talk to our experts. Get them to break it down for us.

BERMAN: Plus, a grim search in a community reeling after the deadly landslide in Washington State. We're live on the scene just ahead.


PEREIRA: This morning, officials in Washington State say there are 90 people missing or unaccounted for after that devastating landslide north of Seattle. It is being blamed for as many as 24 deaths. The search for survivors in that massive pile of mud and debris resumes this morning. Ana Cabrera is live in Arlington, Washington to bring us the very the latest -- Ana.

ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Michaela. The official death toll remained unchanged in the past 24 hours, but officials weren't likely to get some new numbers this morning. While the search effort remains unwavering, you can feel the weight of this tragedy starting to take its toll.


CABRERA (voice-over): This morning, a mother's unspeakable pain after her son pulled the body of her daughter from the debris.

RAE SMITH, LOST HER DAUGHTER IN LANDSLIDE: My heart is broken. It's broken.

CABRERA: Summer Raffo was driving on a state road at the time of the slide. Rescue workers continue their mission five days after the side of this hill came cascading down on Snohomish County. Peter Salvig, a volunteer with the state's Incident and Response team knows this community well. He's lived here for 40 years. Familiar places on this map have a new somber reality.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This guy lived and his wife died. We were on the school board together for about 30 years.

CABRERA: The heavy equipment used to breakthrough concrete and lumber continues to unearth personal tragedies.

ERIC FINZIMER, FIREFIGHTER: We can't lose hope. We're here to find those people.

CABRERA: Governor Inslee telling CNN he expects the death toll to rise significantly.

GOVERNOR JAY INSLEE, WASHINGTON STATE (via telephone): I don't think anyone could reach any other conclusion. The force defies imagination.

CABRERA: This daring rescue of a 4-year-old boy plucked from the mud on Saturday is one of several miraculous stories of survival. The man who helped saved him telling CNN, he saw his own grandson in the boy.

RANDY FAY, SNOHOMISH COUNTY HELICOPTER CREW CHIEF: I see myself thinking about Eli when that's going on. So you want to help and so you kind of carry that.

CABRERA: An event that has touched so many here showing both how fleeting and precious life can be.

PETER SELVIG, RETIRED FOREST SERVICE WORKER: I always told my kids, you know, after you -- after you call them, it's kind of hard for me, but say I love you because that might be the last time you're going to see them.


CABRERA: People in this community have so much love for each other. That's certainly helping everybody to get through this. Some 200 emergency responders continue to scour that one square mile of unspeakable devastation and we're still seeing the volunteers pour in ready to help in any way they can -- John.

BERMAN: Thanks so much. Ana Cabrera for us in Washington State. The images from there just so haunting in so many ways.

PEREIRA: And then the people talking and you can just feel their sadness. It's going to take them a long time to recover from that. That is going to leave a scar on that community.

BERMAN: All right, let's get a check of the weather right now. Jennifer Gray in for Indra Petersons. Good morning, Jennifer.

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning to you guys. Yesterday, it was snow we were watching. Today, it's the possibility of severe weather. We're focusing mainly on the Mississippi River Valley as we go through the next 24 to 48 hours. All the ingredients are there. We have very warm, moist air coming in from the Gulf of Mexico and with a cold front approaching, it's definitely there. We could spark up some showers and storms.

The severe threat today from St. Louis all the way down to the Arclitex (ph). Tomorrow anywhere from Shreveport down to New Orleans into western portions of Alabama. This is a slow-mover, so it could produce a couple of inches of rain as it pushes into the east. So we'll be in the north east, the east coast as we get into Friday evening into Saturday. The severe threat mainly along the gulf coast. Doesn't have a lot of very cold air behind it. Temperatures are going to stay in the 70s across the south all the way through this thing into the weekend. Atlanta reaching 71 on Friday, 70 on Saturday. Even in the northeast, same story. We'll see rain as we approach the weekend, but at least temperatures aren't going to be all that bad, 61 in New York City on Friday guys and a little bit cooler on Saturday. There's your warm weather, but it looks like we'll see a little rain with it.

PEREIRA: It is spring. You get that combination, cool and warm.

BERMAN: I'll take the 61 degrees.

PEREIRA: I'm going to put on some sunscreen.

BERMAN: And a tank top, no.

PEREIRA: Thanks, Jennifer.

Next up on NEW DAY, it could be a huge new break in the mystery of Flight 370, 300 floating objects spotted by satellite. Here's the challenge though, bad weather is making the search by air impossible right now. We'll talk more about this coming up.