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Japan Satellites Spot 10 Objects; FBI Wrapping Up Exam of Simulator; Flight 370 Pilots Under Scrutiny; Former Airline Executive Defends Pilot and Co-Pilot; Viewer Questions; Zeroing in on Objects

Aired March 27, 2014 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting from Washington. New satellite images are once again raising hopes of finding Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. Here's the latest information, Japan's Kyoto news agency says Japanese intelligence satellites spotted about 10 square shaped objects in the southern Indian Ocean. The report says the photos were taken between 9:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. local time yesterday. The Japanese sighting follows news that a Thai satellite captured images of about 300 objects. They ranged in size from six feet to 50 feet.

Weather, once again, hindering the search for the objects and anything related to the missing jetliner. Search planes had to return to their base today because of very rough conditions.

And the son of the plane's pilot is speaking out in an interview with a Malaysian newspaper. He's objecting information his father may have been involved in the plane's disappearance. He says, quote, "I know my father better."

We're getting almost daily reports of new satellite images and more objects spotted in the Indian Ocean. So far, though, search crews have been unable to find any of the objects, certainly they have not been able to recover any wreckage from the plane.

Let's bring in our CNN Correspondent Will Ripley. He's joining us from Perth, Australia right now where the search has been based. The planes have been grounded, at least on this day. So, give us the breakdown, Will, on the latest satellite reports starting with the newest one we've just received from Japan.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, those pictures, as you mentioned, were taken yesterday. CNN has now confirmed that the largest of these objects is actually rectangular, about 26 feet by 13 feet, the other square objects 10 of them in total. And then, of course, we had just hours before that report the Thai satellite images, 300 objects still not really confirmed what these are. But Japanese officials told the Kyodo news agency that they believe there's a high probability -- and this is remarkable. This is the first time we're hearing this reported by Kyoto, a high probability these objects could be jetliner debris.

CNN has not been able to confirm that yet. We are reaching out to Japanese officials. But, obviously, it's the middle of the night, so that's something that we'll be checking on tomorrow. This is on top of the three other countries, China, Australia and France who all have satellite images all focusing in on this one particular area, 1,700 miles southwest of Perth, Australia. The southern Indian Ocean very remote and we're having a hard time getting planes out there to get a visual on these. So, as of now, it's satellite images. We need to get something more concrete and that what we're hoping will happen later this morning when the planes take off.

BLITZER: Are there any indications, Will, that the planes will, in fact, take off with sun -- with sunlight in a few hours? That's only -- you're only, what, four or five hours away from the early morning hours.

RIPLEY: Yes, first planes have been taking off around 5:00 a.m. The plan is now that they will be taking off. The local weather reports are saying that there should be a good window of opportunity in the morning before weather conditions start to get worse again. We were expecting better weather than what we saw yesterday. There were actually eight planes in the air over the search area when all of a sudden, in a matter of moments, the conditions turned so ugly and so dangerous that they had to turn back. We're hoping that doesn't happen again today.

BLITZER: All right, Will, thanks very much. Will Ripley reporting from Perth, Australia.

The FBI is expected to finish examining the hard drives of the pilot's home flight simulator and personal computer today or tomorrow, but a senior U.S. government official is telling CNN, so far, they've found no smoking gun, nothing yet to indicate the pilot was involved in the plane's disappearance.

And now, the captain's son and a former Malaysia Airline executive who knew the pilot for decades, they are both speaking out in defense of his character. CNN's Jim Clancy has that.


JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a vacuum of evidence, media reports persistently point to the pilots as those likely responsible for the disappearance of Flight 370. They had the skill. They were the last ones in control. Government officials refuse to comment. But the former head and founder of Malaysia Airlines said he personally knew senior captain, Zaharia Shah, from the time he was a cadet 30 years ago.

(on camera): You knew Captain Shah. Some people point a finger at him.

DR. ABDULAZIZ BIN ABDUL RAHMAN, FORMER CEO, MALAYSIA AIRLINES: He's an excellent pilot. And, I think, also an excellent gentleman (ph). I think they're going the wrong way pointing finger at him.

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

RAHMAN: His father learned the Quran by heart. So, he also learn the Quran by heart. He's a good Muslim. And I know the captain was a good Muslim.

CLANCY (voice-over): At times, accusations against Captain Shah have been colored with politics. He was a lifelong supporter of the opposition political party and its leader, Anwar Ibrahim.

JAMES CHIN, PROFESSOR, MONASH UNIVERSITY, MALAYSIA: Some people in the government saw this as an opportunity to link Anwar Ibrahim to the pilot and that's the reason it became a controversy.

CLANCY: It has been reported Captain Shah was in the courtroom hours before the flight when Ibrahim was sentenced to five years on sodomy charges. Charges the opposition insist are designed to eliminate Anwar Ibrahim from politics.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am quite clear about it. Zaharia wasn't there that Friday afternoon right after the point about the sentencing took place.

CLANCY: As a multinational search effort closes in on the suspected resting site of Flight 370, Dr. Aziz hopes the flight data recorder will be located and with it, the evidence to clear the pilots.

RAHMAN: Let us get the black box. Once we get the black box, then we can have the answers. If we can't find all those, then we will start pointing fingers and so on, dare we say all sorts of things and it's very difficult for us to defend.

CLANCY (on camera): Captain Shah's family has gone into seclusion after voluntarily talking with investigators. But his son, Seth Zaharia, talked with local media telling them, whatever I have read has not changed my heart. I have ignored these speculations. I know who my father is. We understood each other.

Jim Clancy, CNN, Kuala Lumpur.


BLITZER: So, continued speculation about the pilot's role is taking an emotional toll, clearly, on the families.

Joining us now, Mark Weiss. He's an aviation analyst, a former pilot, 777 pilot for American Airlines. Peter Goelz is a CNN Aviation Analyst, former NTSB managing director. And Tom Fuentes, a CNN Law Enforcement Analyst, former assistant director of the FBI.

So, what are you hearing, Tom? Because I want to make sure we give the pilot, in this particular, in this particular case, Captain Shah, the appropriate consideration. Understandably, he's been a source of investigation. But, so far, there's been no smoking gun, if you will.

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: That's right, Wolf. And I'm hearing the same thing today that I heard yesterday that the police did not zero in on him. That those reports were false. I've heard more information about that that I'd rather not go into, but they're saying they know the source within the police department where that came out and that the information was false. BLITZER: The Malaysian police source --

FUENTES: The Malaysian police source.

BLITZER: -- that was quoted by "USA Today."

FUENTES: That's right.

BLITZER: And they're discounting that report.

FUENTES: Exactly.

BLITZER: This is what you're hearing?


BLITZER: So, -- but the investigation, clearly, is continuing. And if there's no hard evidence found on the computer drives or flight simulator taken from his home or the other computer drives from his personal computer --


BLITZER: -- or the co-pilot's personal computer, where do -- where does the FBI, the investigators, where do they go from there? Where -- what are the other leads are there, in other words?

FUENTES: Well, the only other leads are to continue the investigation which is ongoing and to further look at additional people that may have known both pilots. And then the -- again, the rest of the investigation continues intensively on passengers, cargo, ground crew, anybody that had access to that airplane. So, they haven't ruled all of the other possibilities out in terms of somebody doing a bad thing on that aircraft --

BLITZER: They haven't ruled out --

FUENTES: -- or to the aircraft.

BLITZER: -- criminal activity or mechanical failure, those are still, obviously, the two areas where they're investigating.

Peter, these latest satellite images that we're seeing seem to suggest more and more potential debris, wreckage from the plane, floating around there some place.

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: You're right, Wolf. These are some of the first images that I've felt are somewhat optimistic about the image of the 300-plus, you know, pieces of wreckage floating on the surface. Boy, if that can be traced back, that looks like a debris field that I'm familiar with.

BLITZER: And is it because of the waves, the currents, the horrible weather that it's so hard for a ship to get anywhere near? Now, these -- this is now the fourth or fifth sighting of various debris but nothing has been picked up yet. GOELZ: Sure. They're estimating that the wreckage is moving perhaps 100 miles each day depending on the wind. When you've got 30-foot seas, boy, that really disburses a debris field. So, they've got to get some luck. They've got to get a boat on the scene way -- where they've got a picture and I hope it's going to happen soon.

BLITZER: And they desperately want to get the flight data recorder and voice recorder. Still supposedly, we are hoping pinging a little bit, but there may be only 10 or 11, 12 days left, Mark, as you well know.

MARK WEISS, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Yes, I mean, we've heard various times that the pingers may have already stopped. But hopefully they're still going. If this is a debris field, maybe we can really narrow that down and move that back to where the actual crash site may have -- may have been. Those pingers are critical to this point. But listening to the information, getting that information from those black boxes is really going to help determine what caused this aircraft to come out of the sky.

BLITZER: What happens if they never retrieve either of those two black boxes?

WEISS: Well, you know, that's certainly going to make this a longer investigation. But if they're able to get the fuselage, and I hate to say body parts, but that's what we're going to be looking at, they're going to be able to tell a lot of information from that alone.

BLITZER: But, Peter, have there been crashes, investigations where you haven't recovered investigators, like you at the NTSB, haven't uncovered the flight data, the voice recorders, but you've still been able to conclude what happened?

GOELZ: They have been rare where we've missed one or the other, but where we've missed both, not recently.

BLITZER: Which raises a question, we're going to discuss this a little bit later, in this day and age, you would think there would be live streaming, all that information, from those flight data and voice recorders so there would be a copy some place if the plane were to go down. We're going to discuss that because the technology is out there, but, for some reason, the airlines, the pilots, they haven't incorporated that technology. All right, guys, standby. We're going to have much more on the hunt for Flight 370 in just a moment.

A couple other stories we're following, a new development in two scandals that have rocked the administration of the New Jersey governor, Chris Christie. A law firm hired by Christie's office to conduct an internal review of last year's controversial lane closures at the George Washington Bridge has now released its report. It concludes the governor had nothing to do with the closures. The law firm also looked at allegations by the Hoboken mayor, Don Zimmer, who claimed the governor's office threatened to withhold Hurricane Sandy's recovery funds if she didn't back a large real estate project in her city. It says it found no evidence of wrongdoing, in this case, either by the governor. President Obama said today, the National Security Agency will no longer be allowed to collect and keep bulk phone records. In announcing the decision, the president said, and I'm quoting now, "I have decided that the best path forward is that the government should not collect or hold this data in bulk. Instead, the data should remain at the telephone companies for the length of time it currently does today." The action requires Congressional approval. The administration will seek a 90-day extension of the program while Congress writes legislation to ensure intelligence agencies can access the phone records with a court order. We'll stay on top of that story as well.

Still ahead this hour, your questions about Flight 370, post them using the hash tag 370QS, 370 QS. And we'll get answers from our panel of experts.

And politicians and religion come face-to-face in the Vatican today. Several topics on the table during President Obama's historic meeting with Pope Francis. We'll discuss the one topic they both agreed on of global importance.


BLITZER: Questions are continuing to pour in from our viewers about the mysterious fate of Flight 370. Let's get some answers from our panel. Once again our aviation analysts Mark Weiss and Peter Goelz, and our law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, they are here.

Let's go right to the questions. This first one for you, Peter. "Why can't the satellites be viewed live in real time?"

PETER GOELZ, FORMER NTSB MANAGING DIRECTOR: Well, because the technology is, the satellite views it, it then transfers it to a ground station, which then transfers it to a station to view.

BLITZER: And sometimes it takes three or four days for the image -- it's like sending your Kodak film to the drugstore to get it developed in a few days. There's got to be a faster way to do it.

GOELZ: Well, there's probably a number of -- somebody - well, there probably is. But the - somebody described it as looking at the earth through a straw and that that's what you get. So you've got to - you've got to look at the hundreds of images individually and most of them show nothing.

BLITZER: Here's one for Tom. "I can see my car in my driveway on Google Maps. Why are the debris photos so poor?"


BLITZER: It's a - it's a -- I think they -- a lot of times they deliberately blur them a little bit to -

FUENTES: They may not be so poor.

BLITZER: To -- they probably - like, for example, the U.S., have you - have we seen a lot of U.S. satellite images Of the debris area?


BLITZER: We have the best satellites in the world flying around and the U.S. doesn't release those for -- I assume for national security reasons, right?

FUENTES: Well, the first day the pictures put out by the Australians were from a U.S. satellite, from a company in Denver, so they were brought out -

BLITZER: But there's better ones than that.


BLITZER: I'm sure that the U.S. is sending some satellites around, but they don't want to necessarily -- maybe they're making the information available to investigators confidentially but they don't want to release the photos publicly.

FUENTES: Yes. And I don't know what the national security secret would be that the paparazzi have better resolution in their lenses than a U.S. spy satellite in the sky. I mean who doesn't --

BLITZER: I guess they don't want people to know that they can take pictures from up in space of some car in the driveway with a license plate number.

FUENTES: Right. Right. But your idea is right, we might need a drugstore in space -

BLITZER: Yes, to develop those pictures.


BLITZER: Here's one for Mark. "Why still the reliance on the black box? Surely modern technology can be used to remotely record flight data in real time." There are companies out there developing a capability where the information from the flight data recorder and from the voice recorder are streamed live to somebody on the ground in case they lose those black boxes.

MARK WEISS, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: There are companies that can do that right now. And let's hope that this accident will help push that forward so that this is going to be mandated.

BLITZER: But you're a 777 pilot. A lot of pilots don't like the idea of having their -- everything they're saying in the cockpit recorded for people down at ground stations to hear.

WEISS: Well, you know, I think there have been protocols put in place now that would prevent use in legal actions against them. That's been the story before. So I think this, again, this accident is now going to put a lot of emphasis on saying, look, as the commercial you can be the driver or you can be the passenger. We can now help create the legislation that will prevent any possible leaks going to media or in legal affairs.

BLITZER: And there's a lot of people who would like video cameras, Peter, in those cockpits as well, live video cameras if you will, streaming back to ground control. But pilots unions don't like that idea very much.

GOELZ: No. The NTSB has made recommendations to have live streaming inside cockpits, but it has been opposed. But you've got three technologies. You've got the streaming technology, you've got deployable recorders and each of those technologies have some drawbacks, but they can be overcome quickly.

BLITZER: Yes. Here's another question, this is for Mark. "Could an electrical failure black out cockpit instruments resulting in pilots becoming disoriented and losing their way?"

WEISS: I think in the past we've seen some pilots becoming disoriented. You certainly saw something like that with -- it was a training issue actually in the Air France flight, the 447 flight. The 777 has many, many redundant backup electrical systems. It's going to take an awful lot to get them to all go out at one time.

BLITZER: Here's another question, Jolly writes, "has anyone even thought that ping in last location intentional to cover up the place it was really going to?" A lot of conspiracy theories out there, as you well know. It's not a surprise.

FUENTES: Right. I don't know who would be controlling the thing and how they would control that, so.

BLITZER: Yes. Just people are always suspicious.

FUENTES: Right. Right.

BLITZER: That something much bigger is going on than meets the eye.


BLITZER: Peter, "at what point is it safe to say that time has lapsed and the flight recorder will not be found?"

GOELZ: I don't think you can say that for a number of almost years. I mean, this search is going to go on. They're going to track that thing down. It may take - it may take a year or more, but they're not going to give up. And I think the pinger may go out in the next two weeks. That's not going to stop the search.

BLITZER: And the information on the flight data recorder and the voice recorder will still be available. Let's say it takes two or three years to find it.

GOELZ: That's right. These are digital recorders. If there's good information on the voice recorder, that will be preserved. And the same thing with the flight data recorder. It will be good.

BLITZER: All right. Good information. Good questions, most of them. Thanks very much.

GOELZ: Thanks.

BLITZER: One critical question remains unanswered, what are these mystery objects, hundreds of them, spotted by satellite in the search area? We're taking an up close look at the search for the debris. That's just ahead.


BLITZER: New potentially promising leads in the effort to find Flight 370. Hundreds of objects have now been spotted on satellite images floating in the southern Indian Ocean. Tom Foreman is joining us now.

Tom, so where exactly were these objects found, what do they look like?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're out in the middle of the ocean, to put it simply. What they look like is the wreckage of a plane. And when you say where are they? They're in relation to each other. That matters.

But what we've been looking at here a lot is the comparison between this and the Air France crash. This does look like the kind of debris you'd expect from a plane crashing that way. But look at the bigger map here. If you look at Perth is over here, you have to travel out some 1,600 miles to get to this area. And all of the finds are in this general sort of tight area here. That could be encouraging. We're talking about well over 400 items right now.

But I do want to point out something here. When the Air France plane went down, in that case there were about 600 items found in an area that was the size of about three miles initially. So you're talking about more objects in a much more compact area. Now, maybe that speaks to how the plane went down or how quickly it was found because in Air France they found it very quickly. In this case, we're talking about 20 some days down the line. And when you consider all the currents that are going on in this part of the world - let me bring in a map here from NOAA on the globe with some animation of time lapse of currents, you can see we move off Australia down here to the search area and you can see that these items are all in an area that is very, very turbulent and that there's all sorts of competing currents. That can move things around.

But, Wolf, that's really going to complicate things as well if you think about it. Let's say that for some reason the reason they're so spread out on the surface compared to Air France would be because these currents have moved things. And they've had time to move things. But that also complicates further the job of finding where they came from because in the case of Air France, I want you to bear in mind that even that circle of debris would be enormous because when they finally found, after two years, $45 million worth of searches, they finally found the Air France debris on the bottom of the ocean and it really was only enough to cover a few football fields, Wolf. It was not spread out over hundreds of miles. So if you're going to reverse engineer from anywhere in this circle, which is about 240 miles apart, even if you can go back through these currents and construct where the plane would have actually hit the water, you're trying to go to a very small target under the water. And that could take a very long time even if this proves to be the right stuff.


BLITZER: Tom Foreman, good analysis, as usual. Thank you.

Every new satellite photo raising new hopes of finding the missing plane, but aviation experts are skeptical about some of the images. We're going to talk with some of them to get their take when we come back.