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@THISHOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

CNN Returns from Search Flight With New Details; Search Shifted, Planes Spot Objects; Landslide Death Toll Expected to Rise; Pistorius Murder Trial on Hold; Obama Seeks to Repair Saudi Ties

Aired March 28, 2014 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN CO-ANCHOR: A very good Friday morning to you, I'm Michaela Pereira.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN CO-ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman.

It's 11:00 a.m. in the East. It's 8:00 a.m. out West.

Major developments this morning in the search for Flight 370, new information has changed the search zone. They're now searching about 700 miles of where they had been. Already, it could possibly be bearing some fruit - possibly.

Several flight crews reporting they spotted different colored objects in the new search zone, this is a big change. It could turn out to be nothing of significance, but until now, only satellites had really seen anything.

So, take a look at this. This is what a military plane from New Zealand spotted today.

PEREIRA: Right now, investigators are checking out photographs like these from this new search area to see if they are missing parts or parts of the missing jet.

Also, we should tell you a Chinese patrol ship is getting in position to find those objects. That is expected to happen tomorrow.

As for the forecast, the weather is expected to cooperate.

And remember those satellite images from a few days ago? Well, Australians say, forget about them.

BERMAN: But the Malaysian officials say they still could turn out to be useful.

PEREIRA: Absolutely.

BERMAN: It could be debris that floated of the current search zone.

Speaking of the new search zone, our Kyung Lah was one of the only reporters allowed to fly onboard the P-8 Poseidon. It's being used to search for debris off the coast of Perth. Kyung is with us on the phone right now, just got off the plane. I wonder if you could you tell us what you saw, what it was like, any possible debris sightings?

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): I can tell you that we were -- the P-8 that I was on, that I just stepped off a short time ago, it was one of the planes that did spot some debris.

The debris was spotted right as we were entering the particular -- this new search zone. As we were dipping low to take a look at it, we could catch -- I caught a glimpse of what it was on the high-tech camera, the position on the P-8 plane.

It looked like, at least the one part of it that I saw -- it looked like some white rope or debris. I couldn't quite make it out.

From what the pilot was telling us after we had flown over it and reported it to the Australian authorities, what they spotted was a group of white debris, like a ball and some other broken, white parts.

There was some orange rope spotted. There was also a blue bag.

They don't know what it is. They marked the coordinates. They told the Australian authorities. There was a ship 15 miles away, and the ship was instructed to go check it out.

While we were in the air, the pilot also did tell us that there were two other search planes that it had heard, just in the various conversations in the air, that those planes had also reported seeing debris in the area.

We should point out that this is a part of the ocean where there is a lot of garbage. There's just garbage floating around, so the hard part is going to be figuring out what is the difference between garbage and potential debris that's connected to the plane.

PEREIRA: But, Kyung --

LAH (via telephone): Right now, they don't know. They're checking into all these various leads.

PEREIRA: Let me ask you, what did you see happen on board that aircraft, because you said, this is an area that there is -- a lot of sea debris, if you will, is seen in the ocean in that area.

How did they differentiate? How did they act when they saw this debris that the photograph saw that piqued their interest?

LAH (via telephone): What happens, this particular plane, I can't speak to the others, but on the P-8 plane, there are two giant windows, one to the right, one to the left, and the spotters stare out these windows.

As we were heading down into the search zone, all the sudden, one of the spotters said, I see something. He didn't use those words, but he was indicating to the rest of his crew that he had seen something. And then everyone - basically you felt everyone get very excited. The plane dipped dramatically to the right, and they took two swings, very large swings, all the way through this debris so that they could take a close look at it.

And there was a sense of excitement, because everyone on board wants to find it. They want to be the crew to give the families the answer. Right now, we don't know. They're going to check it out.

BERMAN: All right, Kyung Lah, just getting off a P-8 Poseidon, what a flight that must have been, a look firsthand, really a close look at some of the debris floating in the new search area.

They need to go check it out. They're just not sure if it turns out to be anything.

PEREIRA: This is a big development, because we've talked about, they've been spotted, but to be re-spotted, this is what they wanted to do.

So, let's talk about these new developments now. Mary Schiavo is a CNN aviation analyst and former inspector general for the U.S. Department of Transportation, an aviation attorney who represents victims and families after airplane disasters.

And Raghu Murtugudde is a professor of atmospheric and oceanic science at the University of Maryland.

Great to have you both with us.

Mary, let's talk about this. You heard Kyung Lah talking about being out on the Poseidon and spotting these objects along with the crew on board.

The re-spotting is such a substantial development, correct?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: It is, and for these crews, the excitement that she is describing is exactly it.

While I haven't been out with these crews, I've been out with other search-and-recovery crews, and there is such a sense of excitement, because that's what they train for. That's what they live for. That is their life's mission.

And they really do just devote themselves to it and get so excited when they spot something.

And now that they have seen some debris, maybe it is aircraft debris, maybe not, but not once, but twice, and they can re-spot it, then they're going to get very excited that they can actually bring it on board a ship and confirm that that's what it is.

BERMAN: And that's what they'll be trying to do within the next 24 hours.

Raghu, let me ask you this. Because we heard from Kyung Lah that, this new search area, it is a bit of a trash dump in the sea. There's a lot more debris in this area, but I also understand that this area has much less of a current that where they were looking before, so things might not float away as quickly if there is plane debris there.

PROFESSOR RAGHU MURTUGUDDE, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: Yeah, it is a good news/bad news story, because the original spots had much stronger currents, much stronger winds and the wave heights were literally five-to-10 meters, so you're in a much more benign area.

But I think the bad news is, while the currents are slower a couple of knots, they are going westward which means they are going more into the open ocean, so the original spot, debris would have drifted towards lands, towards Australia, but now they are drifting towards the westwards, Africa and to the open ocean.

And this is a region which has - sorry -- a lot of ship traffic going from Freemantle to various parts of Africa through (inaudible) Island and so on, so the likelihood of finding containership debris may be higher in this region because the original spot is hardly any ships go there. So, the debris there would have been some other origin than here.

PEREIRA: Oh, so that's what you believe that there is no connection between the satellite imagery that spotted the objects earlier this week?

There were some 400 objects in total that were spotted. You don't believe that this could be related, or the currents could have moved debris down into that area, the prior search area.

MURTUGUDDE: Honestly, the currents from the original spots are going westwards and northward.

If they were drifting for a couple of weeks, they would have come in this area anyways, because the so-called Indian Ocean subtropical gyre is going in a counterclockwise direction so it would drift up north and then to the west.

So, they haven't identified any debris as belonging to the Malaysian flight, so that's the critical piece.

BERMAN: Just to be clear, you're saying - the Malaysians are saying that the satellite photos they've had over the last several days, they're saying they still could be connected to this new search area.

Are you saying -- do you agree with that?

MURTUGUDDE: Mary might be able to say more about that, because the new site is related to the change in the speed of the aircraft, not so much that the debris has floated from the original site to this site.

But I am saying if original site was the crash site, the debris would have drifted in this direction anyway.

BERMAN: Mary, what about this new search area, the new conclusions they reach? Tell me how they use this new math from old data to get to this point.

SCHIAVO: They put fresh sets of eyes on this. And, you know, this change is actually a really good sign about the investigation on several levels.

First of all, they have said they've brought in NTSB people. They've brought in FAA people. They've brought in extra people to look at that data, to look at the plane's performance.

Undoubtedly, they checked with Boeing as well. Boeing's kind of being very quiet here, but they surely did to check the plane's performance. And they have calculated this new area.

And what's good about this in the investigation is it shows that they're not making some rookie mistakes, and rookie mistakes, be it a criminal investigation or an air crash investigation, there is something called the anchoring effect in your confirmation bias.

And that means the first piece of data you latch onto, you know, like the 12-second silence gap that turned out not to be the fact at all, well, you glam onto that and you stick with it.

That's a mistake. When new data comes in, as an investigator, you have to be willing to say, hey, our old data was -- could be wrong. We've got to go with the new data. That's a good sign in the investigation.

And then the other is confirmation bias, which means what you thought all along is wrong. Now, for example, they said they're looking at the pilots. This new data may show that that's wrong.

And the fact they're willing to say, let's go with the new data, that's a good thing in an investigation. You are throwing the biases out the window.

So, I'm actually that they're willing to say the previous coordinates were wrong. That's how you get a good investigation and that's how you avoid making mistakes and coming - you know, jumping to the wrong conclusion.

PEREIRA: Certainly investigators need some developments, and they need to stay on point. As you said, it's important to focus on the facts and move that forward.

Mary Schiavo, always a pleasure to have you, and, Raghu Murtugudde, thanks so much for giving us an idea of how those currents in that area work. We appreciate it.

MURTUGUDDE: Thank you.

PEREIRA: All right, other headlines that we are following @ THIS HOUR, the death toll from the Washington state landslide is expected to skyrocket today.

Seventeen bodies have been recovered from the square mile of mud. Several more have been located, yet not recovered. About 90 people remain missing or unaccounted for. One of the fire commanders said houses looked like they had been put in a blender.

Some of the families are realizing what they feared since Saturday.

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DAYN BRUNNER, SISTER DIED IN MUDSLIDE: We're moving debris and we're cutting pieces off of cars and removing the steering wheel stuff.

She was sitting right in her driver's seat. And we got her out enough and then I wrapped my arms around her.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PEREIRA: Absolutely heartbreaking.

We are going to have a live update from Dan Simon in Arlington, Washington, later this hour.

BERMAN: To South Africa now, where the Oscar Pistorius murder trial is on hold.

So, Pistorius was expected to take the stand in his own defense this morning, but the judge postponed proceedings until April 7th because of a sick court assessor. These assessors are the experts who advise judges during trial. There's no jury trials in South Africa.

Pistorius shot his model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, last year. He denies it was intentional.

PEREIRA: President Obama is in Saudi Arabia this morning for a meeting with King Abdullah. On the agenda, repairing strained ties between the U.S. and the Middle Eastern country.

Saudi Arabia is angry at the U.S. for signing a nuclear deal with its rival, Iran. Also, he's upset over Washington's failure to act decisively in Syria.

Riyadh is the president's final stop of a week-long tour.

Ahead @ THIS HOUR, multiple sightings of objects in the new search area, this new location in the south Indian Sea, based on a new analysis of radar data, but did the new analysis get it wrong?

Two experienced 777 captains will join us, next.

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BERMAN: All right, developing @ THIS HOUR, search planes this morning spotted several objects, including this one you are looking at right now, in a new search area, a new area they are now searching for any hints of what happened to flight 370. This new area is almost 700 miles northeast of the previous search zone.

PEREIRA: Authorities shifted their focus after further analyzing radar data from early in the flight. They say that around the time the jet made that unexpected left turn, it was going faster than initially thought. That would mean it burned more fuel, shortening the distance it then flew south into the Indian Ocean.

Joining us to talk about this, CNN aviation analyst Les Abend and aviation safety consultant, Luis Vireilha, both experienced captains of Boeing 777s.

And Les, I want to start with the most simple thing here first. If it was flying faster earlier, explain the significance of that. It means it used more fuel earlier and just won't have lasted as long in the air?

LES ABEND, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, the faster it goes, it's correct, the more fuel it is going to burn. At higher altitudes, the airplane has less resistance in the air, and therefore it's capable of going faster with the assumption that it was at 35,000 feet on its last contact that we know of. And that's where all the calculations began from the point where we knew the airplane was last, all the pings that we were talking about. And they're using basic trigonometry.

But if the airplane had actually gone down to that 12,000 foot altitude that was discussed last week or earlier in the week, -- I'm losing track --then it actually would have burned a little bit more fuel but gone slower, because it is more resistance down lower.

BERMAN: And it's interesting, a lot of people thought the search area was too far south last week. But it was because of the altitude, not because of the speed over Malaysia.

ABEND: Well, I thought the same thing. But I looked at a performance chart, confirmed them with a very credible Boeing source. And he saw the same thing and indicated that, yes, indeed, it would burn more fuel but it would go more slower.

PEREIRA: So Luis, we're looking at, and obviously investigators want to understand what happened so they can try to figure out where the plane is so that they can then figure out why it happened. Does any of this new data and the re-analysis of the data, does it speak to you about intention or what happened here?

LUIS VIREILHA, AVIATION SAFETY CONSULTANT: Well, it concurs with what I have been thinking from the beginning that this was a technical failure of the aircraft and it doesn't show any malicious intent from the part of the pilots. This doesn't change the primary cause of the event. It merely changes the area where the aircraft ended.

BERMAN: You said it still makes you believe there was something mechanical. Explain that.

VIREILHA: I believe that one possible scenario that makes sense for all the data that that we have found would be a fire in the electronics bay that would have caused the failures of the equipment. It could start with the failures of the ACARs and transponder, possibly VHF radios that would preclude the pilots from communicating that would have caused smoke in the cockpit. This would be their first indication.

There would be -- this is the only area of the aircraft that is not monitored for fire alert, unlike the cargo holds. They would have fire warnings. In this case, they wouldn't. They would not have a fire warning. So a fire could be brewing there, destroy equipment. That would cause smoke in the cockpit. That would alert the pilots of serious emergency.

And they would attempt to go back, so the two-minute turn, that would be a standard rate turn. That would be a normal turn. That's what the airplane can do. The airplane is doing 8 miles a minute. It cannot turn on a dime. The pilots cannot do anything about that whether they used heading select or elnaft (ph) to turn the airplane around. The airplane would be in a relatively shallow bank, and it would turn that airplane around in about two minutes.

Then, the subsequent changes of altitude, that indicates to me that the airplane was out of control. And that was most likely because the pilots lost visibility in the cockpit due to smoke. Even with the oxygen mask and the goggles, if there is heavy smoke in the cockpit, they are not effective crew members. They cannot perform their duties.

And if they have switched to manual flying, they could have lost -- or if the autopilot had disconnected, the airplane would then begin a plugoind (ph) movement up or down, and it could do this until at some point the pilots may have regained some visibility, or through feeling the panel, they probably could reengage the autopilot and --

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PEREIRA: Luis Vireilha -- Luis, I'm sorry. We're gonna have to -- we're gonna have to stop you there. Luis Vireilha and Les Abend, we appreciate both of you, 777 pilots yourselves, giving us some insight into this. Thank you so much.

BERMAN: Ahead for us @ THIS HOUR, while everyone tries to unravel the mystery of flight 370, one of the questions is, that some people have, should a Boeing 777 with just two engines be flying over the ocean at all? Was it designed for this? We'll have more on that when we return.

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PEREIRA: All right, three weeks after Malaysian flight 370 disappeared, three weeks. Five patrol planes, at the very least, have spotted objects, including this that you're seeing on your screen. A brand new search area, as well, this new search area is almost seven miles -- 700 miles northeast of yesterday's search zone.

BERMAN: The focus shifted after new analysis of old data showed that the plane could not have flown as far south as they initially believed. At least, that's their belief as of now.

Clive Irving is a corespondent with the "Daily Beast." He's also the author of "Wide-Body: The Triumph of the 747." So Clive, we woke up this morning, there's a whole new search area 700 miles away where they have been searching for more than a week now. You think this makes sense?

CLIVE IRVING, AUTHOR, "WIDE-BODY: THE TRIUMPH OF THE 747": Yes, it does make sense. What to me, is fascinating to this in relation to what your previous discussion was, was the use of the word "faster," that it was flying faster.

I find that a little puzzling because if it flew faster, it would be flying higher, and it would use less gas. So how that relates to the distance flown, I don't know.

But I'll tell you one really fascinating thing for me now is the fact that the engines of this plane, the two engines of this plane kept working perfectly throughout the whole of this flight, which meant the engines supplied power to the rest of the plane, all the other systems.

At the same time, the engines have to be fay (ph) fueled from the three separate gas tanks in the plane. And that has to be managed by the flight management system, so that it doesn't unbalance the plane.

All of those things worked perfectly. So the fascinating thing is, what wasn't working other than the engines in the systems? It is an (inaudible) kind idea where you have a completely empty vessel capable of working, but nobody on board. But there were people on board.

BERMAN: That's right -- one of the theories, Clive, is that there was a catastrophic mechanical failure. You're saying is if there was some catastrophic mechanical failure on board much earlier in the flight, how is it the engines were in such perfect condition for so long? Is that what you're saying?

IRVING: Yeah, why weren't the engines taken out by whatever happened mechanically? If there had been a fire in -- underneath in the electronic space, that might have cut off -- damaged systems. And that would have been -- made it impossible for the engines to function and keep the other systems going.

So there's some mystery here. And it really concerns definitions of fire, smoke, and fumes. And fumes is a whole other area, which people need to look at closely because it doesn't register on the alarms as a fire, but it can take out -- they can take out people on the flight deck and in the cabin. So it all comes back to this -- there's never been anything like this before where a plane is flown for so long and the engine performance has been so perfect.

PERERIA: Because again, this flight, you know, some people were saying, well, it wasn't" -- you know, this built wasn't built to fly over open ocean for so long. This plane wasn't originally scheduled to go that direction. There was a diversion. Again, we don't know what caused that that took it the other direction.

IRVING: If I may point out, Michaela, this plane was specifically designed by Boeing and driven by Boeing to prove that you could safely fly a large aircraft on only two engines over long distances of oceans, and they have progressively been able to do that.

And the record of plane over ocean flights has been impeccable. It's an astonishingly safe plane. So for this to happen to it is ironic that it's flown over this expanse of the Indian Ocean, apparently doing what it was designed to do, fly safely with total engine reliability.

BERMAN: Clive Irving, great to have you with us, really appreciate your insight. Come back soon.

PEREIRA: Ahead @ THIS HOUR, the pilot's flight simulator could hold the key to the mystery. So did investigators find files deleted from the hard drive? We'll look into that coming up.

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