Return to Transcripts main page


Major Shift in Search for Flight 370; Obama Travels to Saudi Arabia; United Nations: Crimea Referendum Invalid

Aired March 28, 2014 - 04:30   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning: a new direction in the search for missing Malaysia Jetliner 370, moving nearly 700 miles northeast now from where crews had been searching before. New clues from the plane's radar indicating this plane was flying faster than previously thought, so it would have gone down in the Indian Ocean sooner, and there's a new search area this morning.

We have live team coverage of the latest information coming out overnight.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Poppy Harlow. It is Friday morning, 32 minute past 4:00 a.m. here on the East Coast.

We begin with breaking news this morning.

A huge change of direction in the hunt for missing Flight 370, Australian officials all but abandoning the current search area and shifting the focus to a new area of the Indian Ocean nearly 700 miles away. The course correction coming after new radar analysis determined the plane was actually flying faster than previously thought, burning more fuel, and presumably, reducing the distance that it could have covered in the Indian Ocean.

The new site is closer to land. That is the silver lining here. That is good news for search planes. Ten aircraft, six ships now re-tasked to that new area. Officials say four planes are already over that search zone.

Let's get straight to CNN's Andrew Stevens. He is live in Perth, Australia.

Give us some more details, because one of the big details I had is why? Why are we just getting this new radar analysis now?

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's a question that you're not alone in asking, Poppy. It is, I guess, 21 days into this investigation, we shouldn't be too surprised by this extraordinary change of direction, given there's been so many twists and turns, but it is extraordinary. Yesterday, 24 hours ago, I was standing here and we were getting information from a Japanese satellite followed by a Thai satellite, satellite images, which is on top of Chinese and Australian images earlier. Everything seemed to be focusing in, zeroing in on a part of those far southern latitudes in the Indian Ocean.

And today, that search has been called off effectively. All the planes are out of the area. They've all been relocated. The ships are making their way now to this new search zone. It's about 700 miles or so north of the deep southern one.

It is closer to Perth. It's still Deep Ocean out there, but they do have more time on that area. The big question is why now.

This is what the Australian search authorities, the head of the Australian Transport Safety bureau, had to say about the change.


MARTIN DOLAN, AUSTRALIAN TRANSPORT SAFETY BUREAU: The new information is based on continuing analysis of radar data about the aircraft's movement between the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca before radar contact was lost. This continuing analysis indicates the plane was traveling faster than was previously estimated, resulting in increased fuel usage and reducing the possible distance it traveled south into the Indian Ocean.


STEVENS: OK, so, that's what we know about what they now think. The question, as to your question, why are we only finding it 21 days later, after they had seen the radar images -- the Malaysians had seen the radar images, about one day after the plane disappeared.

So, what's the timeline? People say to me, Poppy, this is sophisticated and highly confidential information that governments have, military governments have, about their own capabilities to do with radar, to do with surveillance. They don't want to share it easily. They've been reluctant to share too much information, which has made it difficult.

The Malaysians themselves say that they've been very open about it. But again, defense analysts are saying it's curious that it's taken so long for this information from the Malaysians to actually be crunched to a degree where they can actually make these decisions to move the search area -- Poppy.

HARLOW: And to be clear here, we have no satellite images of this new search zone, is that correct?

STEVENS: That's correct. We've got nothing. All we've got to go on is the trajectory, a radar image, a lot of analysis of that radar image, which suggests the plane was flying faster, which they say, the investigators have spent a lot of time with Boeing, the maker of the 777, working out if it was traveling at these sort of speeds, how far it would go with the fuel it had, and this is the area they've come to.

Satellites are being repositioned to start taking pictures in that area. That's going to take a few hours, we're told.

HARLOW: Right.

STEVENS: So, we could start getting information back fairly soon.

HARLOW: But just remember, once they take those satellite images, we never get them the day they're taken. It takes a few days for them to analyze it, so this just prolongs this hunt.

Well, we wish them all the best of luck. Andrew, thank you.

ROMANS: So, Australian officials say the nearly 700-mile shift now in the search to the northwest for Flight 370 is based on this new information from investigators in Malaysia.

So, let's talk about that new information and that investigation.

CNN's Jim Clancy is live in Kuala Lumpur. He's on the phone with us with more on that investigation. So, it's sort of frustrating, because you think all of this information is three weeks old, essentially, right? But they're analyzing it and reanalyzing it, working with Boeing, Jim, trying to figure out where this plane may have gone down, where to be looking for a debris field.

What are you hearing on the Malaysian investigation end of this?

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, we're hoping to hear something in the coming hour. We're supposed to be briefed by officials here, Christine. It should give us a little bit better idea of why they've got these new computations.

I believe some of it is certainly based on the original radar records of the Malaysian military. But are there new sources of information? At first, not everybody was willing to hand over their radar records out of concerns for their own national security. That may have been the case with Indonesia, that reported it had no records at all, even though the plane was thought to have flown very close to or even over Sumatra.

So, we've got a situation where we really don't know why they've done this. They seem to be convinced. You know, for the families and others, they look on at this and say, this isn't the first time they've told us they've been convinced, this isn't the first time they've told us that they had definitive estimates of where the plane should be. And I think it's just one more thing that underscores how unique, how unprecedented this situation is.

It's a dilemma for everyone trying to determine where the plane is, everyone who knows that they have to find it in order to find the answer, what happened to Flight 370.


CLANCY: Back to you, Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Jim Clancy.

And I guess what amounts to good news in this story is that it is closer to the coast of Australia. That means the Australian planes can get there earlier and they can stay longer in the air. The seas, according to Andrew Stevens, not as horrific there for searching as they are further to the south.

HARLOW: Yes, and conditions have certainly gotten better since the search was halted yesterday. But for the families of Flight 370, the agonizing wait goes on. Although they were told that the plane crashed into the Indian Ocean and that all souls were lost, there's still no tangible, no definitive proof of that.

A Malaysia airlines employee, part of the assistance team that's been working with the families, says she understands that pain.


INTAN DARLINA MUHAMMAD, FLIGHT MH370 CAREGIVER: It was the one thing that we couldn't give them, just answers. That's all they wanted, really. They didn't care for the lavish rooms or the food. They really didn't care for those. They just wanted answers.


HARLOW: CNN's David McKenzie just spoke with the partner of one of the passengers on Flight 370. He joins us today from Beijing. What did she have to say?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, she's been a strong voice during this period, Sarah Bajc, the partner of American Phil Wood. He was working in Malaysia. You know, she has gone through the ups and downs of this like the rest of us, but for her, of course, the consequences are so real. And she says she still feels a deep connection to Phil.


MCKENZIE: Do you still feel his spirit, his presence?

SARAH BAJC, PARTNER OF PHIL WOOD: I do, and that hasn't changed. It's particularly strong when I'm by myself in those little daily patterns of life. You know, I've continued to keep up with doing yoga every morning, and he is definitely next to me when I'm doing that. You know, going to sleep and getting up in the morning.

But, you know, whether that's the piece of his soul that's connected to mine that I hope would always be there, no matter what, or if it's his -- if it's his reach to me to help me keep strong, because he's still with us.

I mean, I don't know where it's coming from, but I still feel it. And I hope it never goes away, because it's a gift. You don't -- not too many people get that in life. (END VIDEO CLIP)

MCKENZIE: Well, Poppy, certainly, she is extremely grief-stricken, but at the same time, determined to move forward. She's, in fact, moving to Malaysia, as she had planned with her partner. She's leaving tonight from Beijing and determined to keep going, just such a strong response. And I've seen that with so many of the family members here in Beijing who have gone through this terrible time -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Your heart breaks. That was very, very difficult to watch, but I think it brings it home. It brings the crucial point of this, the people that are left behind, home for all of us.

Thank you, David.

ROMANS: All right, let's continue following the latest on the search for the missing Malaysian jetliner. We'll be doing that all morning.

Next, President Obama, though, meeting with Saudi Arabia's leader. That's going to happen in just a few hours. Tense moments and disagreements expected.

We're going to break it down live for you after the break.


HARLOW: More on the search for missing Flight 370 in just a moment.

First, though, President Obama waking up in Rome this morning after his meeting with Pope Francis for the first time. Later today, he travels to Saudi Arabia.

This is the last stop on his overseas trip, where he'll sit down with King Abdullah, and things could get tense. Michelle Kosinski has been traveling with the president all week. She is live for us in Rome.

What are we expecting, Michelle?


Right, this has been an eventful trip, to say the least, and now sitting down with one of our most important partners in the Gulf Region, moving from Europe there. I mean, really, President Obama has tackled issues with Europe, Asia, and now the Middle East in the discussions that we will have.

And we also -- we know that in addition to the partnership, there are obvious tensions between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, and some of those have really been highlighted lately. For example, Saudi Arabia's view of the U.S.'s role in the situation in Syria. Should that role have been greater or more extensive?

Human rights is also a big issue that comes up. I think it's doubtful that the president will get into some arguments with the Saudi Arabian king over these matters, but it definitely raises eyebrows and gets a lot of attention in the U.S. when some of these issues come out.

KOSINSKI: You know, the fact that women can't drive in Saudi Arabia, or you know, even embarrassing incidents surrounding this trip, the fact that Saudi Arabia just denied a Visa, the only reporter on the trip denied a Visa, he works for "The Jerusalem Post" and he's Jewish. It was to the point that the U.S. did issue a statement about that, saying that it was disappointed.

But of course, these meetings have to continue, especially as the U.S.'s somewhat new role in the Middle East is being defined. I mean, troops leaving Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. becoming more energy independent.

Gulf States want to know, what will the U.S. role be and how will that evolve, and will we continue to share the same goals in certain areas, at least, Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes. And, you know, it's interesting, Christine and I have been talking all morning about this issue of, you know, with the U.S. producing more and more energy, the shift of power that is going on between these two countries, how that sort of underlying issue of energy production globally changes the conversation.

Appreciate the reporting. We'll get back to you later in the show, Michelle. Thank you.

ROMANS: The U.N. General Assembly has approved a resolution declaring Crimea's secession from Ukraine invalid. The vote was an overwhelming 100-11 with 58 nations abstaining, a clear indication of Russia's growing isolation in the global community. But it's not stopping Moscow's military build-up on its border with Ukraine. Officials in Kiev estimate close to 90,000 Russian soldiers are gathered there on the border right now.

HARLOW: Unanimous condemnation from the U.N. Security Council after North Korea test-fired two medium-range missiles this week. Even China, Pyongyang's main ally, joined in that criticism. The council agreed the test violated resolutions adopted after North Korea's nuclear and long-range rocket test in recent years and said it was considering a, quote, "appropriate response."

ROMANS: All right. Next, a change in direction in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. A big, new change in direction and a new place they are looking for clues. Planes and ships moving hundreds of miles northeast to find that wreckage.

Has the search up until now been a waste of time? And how frustrated are investigators? One search leader answers that question when we come back.


ROMANS: After 21 days, is the search for Flight 370 back to square one? It's a question many are asking after Australian officials essentially moved the square somewhere else. They shifted the search operations to a new area of the Indian Ocean nearly 700 miles away. CNN's Anderson Cooper spoke with the commander of a U.S. ship involved in the Flight 370 search. Anderson asked if they were frustrated by the change.


CDR. WILLIAM J. MARKS, ABOARD USS BLUE RIDGE (via telephone): You know, it's not at all frustrating, because we train for this every day. And these planes, the P-8, it is built for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and antisubmarine warfare. So, its mission every day is to go out and search and patrol.

So, the pilots and the air crew, this is what they train for, and they know they have different missions. Some days it may be ISR, intelligence surveillance reconnaissance, some days antisubmarine warfare, and you know, some days you're looking for aircraft debris.

So, they understand it. And you know, we have a continuous, 24-hour presence, not just in this area but north of Japan all the way to south of Australia, all the way from Hawaii to the India/Pakistan border.

So, we are not frustrated. This is one of our missions, and we're very proud to be doing it. And the other thing is to see all these countries come together is so encouraging. You know, this part of the world is known for having a big melting pot of different governments and ethnicities and religions, and it's the critical part of the world. That's why we're rebalancing here. And to be part of this is something we're proud of, and hopefully, we can help.


ROMANS: They have told us this is what we do, this is what militaries do, this is what they're trained to do, that's why we have all this equipment. Some of the other countries involved in the rescue, it's their military training budgets, actually where it's coming out of.

HARLOW: Yes. You know, we talk so much about the search, but our thanks, obviously, goes out to all these people that are doing this every single day, hours and hours on end, and we wish them luck. But you know, this dramatic shift in the search area, what it does is it underscores the fact that we still have so many more questions than answers concerning what exactly happened on board Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

Our Martin Savidge spent much of the day in a flight simulator.

ROMANS: That's right. He spent much of the past 21 days inside this flight simulator. He's looking at one potential possible crash scenario -- Martin.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Poppy, one of the things we're going to show you is just how remarkably stable the 777 is, even though it is a jumbo jet. And in this scenario we've set up is that one engine will turn off. Essentially, the fuel begins to run up, we lose the left engine.

The simulator shows that now. There's the engine shutdown. Tell us what's going on on the screen there, Mitchell.

UNIDENTIFIED MALLE: This is the left engine gauges, right engine gauges. And we're basically seeing this engine shut down. So, it's decreasing. This is the temperature inside the engine. It's decreasing because it's not working anymore. The speed of the engine is slowing down. And we can see engine "L" shutdown. That's engine left shutdown.

SAVIDGE: So, what we wanted to point out about this fact is that this plane's lost an engine completely, as far as propulsion. No impact whatsoever.

We're still at the same altitude we were at, 10,000 feet, and we're still pretty much at the same speed we were at, which shows you that this aircraft is perfectly capable of flying on one engine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is. It's capable of flying on one engine, but there's one caveat to that, and that's that it gives you a maximum flight level or altitude and a speed range that is ideal to fly with one engine. So, you're correct in that it flies and autopilot keeps it on course, but it gives you an ideal -- hey, we have one engine down, this is where you should be, ideally.

SAVIDGE: Unfortunately, in this scenario, a couple of minutes later, we run out of fuel in the second engine. The only other engine, it begins to shut down. And we would for this exercise have the autopilot go off, because there's no longer power to operate it.

So, now this aircraft has become a glider. But even still, we point out, the gauges are showing us that the plane is slowing down, yes. It's starting to descend, but notice how evenly and stable that descent is.

And we can even show you something the simulator can produce. That is us, an external view. You see one engine shut down, the other one winding down. But look how stable the airplane is.

It was designed and built by Boeing to do just that with no one at the controls, no input. It is slowly going to descend. And it will go a long way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, a couple hundred miles.

SAVIDGE: But we will point out one sad fact, and that is, it will not land on the water by itself. The tragedy is, once it gets to the ocean, it's likely going to tumble and destroy itself, and that's how it would likely end -- Christine and Poppy.


HARLOW: Really interesting. All right, more EARLY START straight after the break.