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Twenty-Three Days, No Answer on Flight 370; 18 Now Dead After Landslide

Aired March 30, 2014 - 07:00   ET


CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: It's already 7:00 on a Sunday morning. I hope that breakfast, coffee is good for you so far. I'm Christi Paul.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: It's a beautiful start to the day. I'm Victor Blackwell. It's 7:00, as we say, here on the East, 4:00 out West and the West Coast. This is NEW DAY SUNDAY.

And this hour, the search for missing Malaysian Airline Flight 370, and the search intensifying as the days go on now on the southern Indian Ocean.

PAUL: This is such a massive effort here. We're talking about 10 aircraft today and several ships combing through that new search area right now as we're speaking. And they're trying to find any sign of that jet that's been missing for 23 days.

We do know that one of the objects spotted yesterday by a Chinese ship, an orange object, turned out to be a dead jelly fish. So, nothing there. But some other suspicious objects have been retrieved already and are in the process of being identified.

BLACKWELL: And as you know, time is running out to find the plane's black boxes. Right now, an Australian ship is being fitted with the U.S. Navy's high-tech black box detector and also a special underwater vehicle that is kind of pulled behind it, towed behind it. The ship is the Ocean Shield. It's expected to leave port tomorrow. It could take about three days to reach that search area.

And that matters because the battery on the black boxes, the digital flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder, those are expected to last maybe seven days more.

PAUL: Meanwhile, back in Malaysia, dozens of angry relatives, we're just talking about this, of Chinese passengers onboard, are demanding answers from Malaysian Airlines. They did this in a fiery news conference carrying banners, begging officials, literally begging them to give them, quote, "truth, evidence and an apology" for sending mixed messages of hope and despair.

BLACKWELL: All right. Australian and Malaysian authorities say they're doing everything they can to find the missing plane, of course. PAUL: CNN's Jim Clancy following the search for Flight 370 for us out of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Jim, so, we heard from Australia's prime minister today, is that right?

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we did. Heard from him on a range of subjects.

You know, the families are here to stress the point that they want this search to continue until they have a definitive answer about their relatives and people have been talking, you know, this isn't a cheap search. There's a lot of fuel costs involved. It's a massive area. As you noted, we've got, what, 10 planes out today, eight ships are on station. They've got a lot of assets that are out there and they're increasing the technological capability of all that.

Listen to what Prime Minister Tony Abbott had to say.


TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: It's costing what's necessary to do the job properly and we're not going to short the job. We will spend what we need to spend to get this job done. Let's not forget that apart from the, amongst the 239 people who perished on that plane, six Australian citizens, one Australian resident, and we owe it to the families, particularly to the Australian families, to do what we can to resolve this mystery.


CLANCY: So, Australia is committed, but when you look at the possibility duration of the search in an area this size, people begin to ask themselves, is this going to become the most expensive search in the history of aviation? They may not be wrong, but there is a determination to go ahead.

At least here in the short term, no one wants to give it up. The aviation industry wants answers, the families want answers. All people that travel on airlines want answers. The public is very much involved -- Christi, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Absolutely. We saw that the families for weeks were there in Beijing waiting for answers and now dozens of the family members are in Malaysia demanding transparency and the answers and they want their family back.

CLANCY: They want their families back and it may be asking for too much. We all know what the families really want. They want for someone to tell them that their loved ones have been found safe. They'll be home this weekend walking through their door, but nobody can tell them that because it's not true. It's a very difficult situation to put the Malaysia government in. They demanded an apology today from the Malaysian government for coming out with a statement that the aircraft was believed lost in the middle of the Indian Ocean with all souls aboard. If the government hadn't announced that, if they hadn't announced that technical data that was given to them, they would be accused of a cover up. So, it's not easy for the people here in Kuala Lumpur, either, trying to come up with answers.

Back to you.

PAUL: Jim Clancy, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

Now, FBI forensic examiners have been taking a close look at the computer hard drive that belongs to the captain of Flight 370. Remember, data was deleted from that hard drive. No one was sure why, but a law enforcement official now tells CNN investigators do believe the deleted data was simply overwritten. That it wasn't deleted in an effort to hide anything.

BLACKWELL: And, of course, search crews have only about a week left to find the plane's black boxes at least using that ping because the batteries soon are going to die.

PAUL: CNN aviation analyst and former inspector general with the U.S. Transportation Department, Mary Schiavo, joining us now, and CNN safety analyst and author of "Why Planes Crash", David Soucie, as well.

Thank you both for being with us. Before we talk about the black box, I love to get your reaction to some of these objects that were retrieved from the ocean.

I know that you've seen the pictures. Does it look like sea garbage, does it look like something from the flight? Is there any, you know, indication -- Mary, let's go to you first -- that you look at it and say, it could be something significant?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, nothing jumps out at me as being clearly from a plane. You know, maybe the instructions in the seat pocket are laminated, so, nothing doesn't jump out at me yet. It doesn't look like airplane parts (INAUDIBLE) to me yet.

BLACKWELL: So, David, the pingers on the black box could expire in seven days, some say maybe it will last for another 10 days, maybe 12 at the most. If they do not find them using the pingers, we know they can't use infrared because there's no temperature change under there. How would they find these black boxes without that ping?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: The only way is just to get down there with the machines and take photographs and scan the area. It's just tedious and very long. It will take a long time to get to that point.

PAUL: Hey, Mary, I wanted to ask you, we were talking about these families and what their demands are. They were demanding answers, as we said, comprehensive evidence they want, as well, from the Malaysian government and they also want apologies. They want the Malaysian government to apologize for the information that caused confusion in the early weeks, as well as they want them to apologize for the irresponsibility announcing on the 24th that that plane has crashed.

If the Malaysian government would apologize, would that not give credence to liability to them? And because of that, do you expect the Malaysian government to do so?

SCHIAVO: No, I think that what people need to realize, especially people in government, is governments can apologize without risking liability because governments are pretty much immune from liability. It's called sovereign immunity. Our government, also.

So, anything that a government does where it's discretionary. You know, should we announce this? Should we not? Should we investigate? Should we not?

By the way in our own country, for the government's role in 9/11, they were completely immune. So, I don't think that the government has any risk in apologizing. And, if frankly, if I was the government official, I would apology for the manner in which I'd deliver it.

I think an apology would go a long way. You can't take back the fact that the plane is presumed to be in the ocean. You wouldn't want to say anything other than. You want to always give them the truth, but, you know, a little tenderness might go a long way.

PAUL: OK. But, Mary, if the government is immune and the government owes Malaysia airlines, how does that work in terms of liability?

SCHIAVO: No, it's a different part of the government. When the government has a company that it runs and it's running an airline, there's something in the law called they're doing a business. It's like a government business or a proprietary business. And so, you can sue the airline, particularly since the airline is insured. The airline probably has a billion dollars of insurance and in the U.S., every major carrier flight is insured for about $1.5 billion.

So, they have insurance and they have insurance because the international treaties require them to have it. The airline must be responsible under the Montreal Treaty and it will be responsible.

By the way, the burden shifts to the airline. The passengers don't have to show what the airline did. Under the Montreal Treaty, the airline is liable, unless the airline can show they took all reasonable measures to prevent the accident. And I don't think the airline can show that here.

So, the burden is going to be less on the passengers in proving this lawsuit than people might think because of the Montreal Treaty.

BLACKWELL: David, next step in this search, we've talked a little earlier about the U.S. equipment that is going in on to the Australian Ocean Shield to search for these black boxes. They've got this towed pinger locater and the Bluefin-21, these two resources of the U.S. government.

Why are there only two? I mean, are they rare? Are the other countries involved in this search bringing theirs, as well? I'm just surprised just the two from the U.S. are making their way to the south Indian Ocean?

SOUCIE: Yes, you would think that there would be more, but, again, remember, we have to get this area down to a very small area for that pinger locator to do its job. There is a ten-mile cable behind it. So, if you could imagine having two ships crossing and trying to cover this area. Now, if they decide to go with a bigger search area, yes, there might be a need for two. But it would indicate to me that they're hoping that they can get it down to a small enough area where one ship will be sufficient.

As far as the Bluefin, yes, they're very rare and very expensive and very rare. But, again, it has to be requested from the Malaysian government as to what they're asking for there.

BLACKWELL: All right, Mary Schiavo, David Soucie, again, thank you so much for your expertise.

SOUCIE: Thank you.

SCHIAVO: Thank you.

PAUL: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: So, we talked a bit this Australian ship. It's the Ocean Shield that is headed there.

PAUL: It's basically going to take the underwater pinger out to sea. We're going to take onboard that and you must think they must be pretty confident they're in the right area if this is what they are ready to send.

BLACKWELL: An elevated level of optimism there.

And also, still digging out for survivors in Washington state. New information overnight on the number of those still unaccounted for in this landslide.


BLACKWELL: Live look at the P-3 Orion from the Royal Australian Air Force just returning after searching this new search area in the south Indian Ocean. We're expecting a press conference led by Lieutenant Russell Adams in just a few moments updating if pilots saw anything of interest, if they've marked anything. We know that they drop a smoke flare and then drop a GPS unit in any case that they see something that hopefully the ships can get to, to determine if it is part of Malaysian Airline 370.

So, we'll continue to watch this and get you the update as soon as they start that news conference.

PAUL: Yes, that pinger locater we have been talking about this morning could be the best chance of recovering wreckage from Flight 370, if it is there. BLACKWELL: Yes, the device is being fitted on to an Australian ship today. It's the Ocean Shield, along with special underwater vehicles, as well. It's scheduled to depart for the search area some time tomorrow.

Paula Newton is live in Perth, Australia.

Paula, you were onboard Ocean Shield earlier today. Tell us about it.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, busy day onboard and also a sobering day. I think, Victor, when you look at all that equipment and we discussed the Bluefin-21 and that's the underwater submergible that is autonomous. It can actually comb the sea bed and then the ping locater, which is so important. It can hear those signals coming from the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder from about a mile away.

All good stuff. The problem, Victor, is that right now with this search zone still being so large that it is really still a tall order. I, though, did speak to Commander Mark Matthews with the U.S. Navy, he is in position right now and he was quite blunt about the task ahead.


COMMANDER MARK MATTHEWS, U.S. NAVY: We certainly have our challenges in front of us. What we're trying to find is an acoustic admission from one of the pingers on the flight data. Typically the batteries last for 30 days, usually they last a little bit longer and that's what we're trying to find.

But what is critical is that the teams that are out there searching for the surface debris they get good position data on that and they feed it back to the oceanographers to help us determine a probable point of impact for where the aircraft went in.


NEWTON: You know, there are so many things that will be triggered by a piece of wreckage being found. What they'll do is try to back track and look at the drifts and the currents in the weather and hopefully be able to pinpoint that impact, as well on Ocean Shield Australian will be investigators from here in Australia, specialists when they see any piece of wreckage, it will be delivered to them, they'll be able to start to look at what kind of stress marks are on the wreckage, serial numbers, things like that and hopefully try to put the pieces of this puzzle together.

Again, all that equipment out there being deployed and, yet, really, it's useless until they can narrow this search field.

PAUL: All right. Paula Newton, thank you so much.

Now, let's talk about Washington state and the search there because they're still going through dirt hoping to find those missing after the deadly landslide. BLACKWELL: Yes, the number of those killed has now risen to 18. Now, yesterday at this time, the number of people unaccounted for was at 90. Overnight that was dropped to 30.

Our Dan Simon has more from Washington.

Dan, good morning.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Victor and Christi, authorities are working very hard to try to pin down who is actually missing and who may have died as a result of this landslide.

As it stands, they tell us that 30 people are missing. That's down sharply from where it was when they said 90 people were missing and still a lot of people and crews have been working through the mud to try and locate bodies.

In some cases, and this really shows you the grim nature of it all, they're only finding body parts and that's making identifying a body very difficult for the medical examiner's office.


JASON BIERMANN, SNOHOMISH CO. EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: We want to make clear that due to the destructive nature of the slide, rescuers are not always making full recoveries. Often they are making partial recovery. And that's a challenge to the M.E.'s office as they try to identify these victims.


SIMON: The official death toll is now up to 18, but we know that there are still bodies in the debris and this is still being called a search and rescue mission, but we should point out the cadaver dogs have been brought in to help locate bodies.

Victor and Christi, back to you.

BLACKWELL: All right. Dan Simon there for us in Arlington, Washington, thank you.

PAUL: You know, we just heard from Paula talking about Flight 370 and how difficult it is to pinpoint anything on the surface.


PAUL: Although they are frantically trying, as we speak here.

BLACKWELL: But that's just the beginning, because wait until the search moves to the ocean floor once debris on the surface is located. Our Tom Foreman is going to show us all the daunting challenges that are ahead for these search crews.


PAUL: Well, the ocean and the weather may be calmer in the new search area for Flight 370 but certainly doesn't mean crews are any closer to finding that missing plane or solving this mystery.

BLACKWELL: Yes, and even if they do find debris on the surface, the search on the deep ocean floor will be daunting.

CNN's Tom Foreman joins us now to explain -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Victor, hi, Christi. You know, you really could talk about this as being two searches.

The search is being conducted above the water by high-tech planes and by ships scouring all these areas out here particularly in the latest search zone out here. But then there's another search that goes on beyond this, and this is the underwater search. And they really have to be treated as two different things.

Now, bear in mind, this latest search area out of the millions of square miles that we've talked about, the latest search area alone is as big as the Air France search area, the entire one, back in 2009. And there, they had on the surface almost immediately.

So, the first thing is you've got to find something on the surface that tells you you're in the right place and we haven't even completed that. But once that is accomplished, if that is accomplished, then you go to the bigger task and the harder task of figuring out what happened beneath the surface, where the plane actually is.

No matter how this plane came down to the water, if authorities are right, in the end, it would have broken up. It hits the water, it gets torn apart by the forces of the water even if it were fully intact before it hits the water and then scatters to some debris. We don't know how much scattered on the bottom.

In the case of Air France, it wasn't much. It only covered a few football fields. But getting down to this depth which may be one miles, two miles or three miles depending where you are in the Indian Ocean there and getting some kind of pingers down here or sonar down here because, frankly, the pinger is such a shot in the dark and reading off this area and working through it to try to find where the plane might actually be is a monumental task. That will make the search above the water look comparably simple, if you want to think of something being very daunting. The reason we know that because I go back to where we started out with our search waters.

This was the same size as the entire Air France search area. This is just the latest search area here and in the case of Air France, the underwater search took two years to find the missing plane.

Huge, huge job, no matter which of these searches you're talking about.

BLACKWELL: Undoubtedly and the just the start. Tom Foreman with us this morning -- Tom, thank you.

PAUL: Thanks, Tom. BLACKWELL: We're awaiting a news conference in Perth, Australia. We're going to get the latest on the search, the P-3 Orion has just returned from the search area.

PAUL: Yes. We're expecting Lieutenant Russell Adams to speak to us from the Australian air force and find out what exactly it is that they saw today. Live pictures of some of those planes, actually, that are coming in. Other flight crews coming in now, as well, we understand.

We will let you know and bring you the latest and take you there live as soon as we see them.


PAUL: It is 7:29. Just a smidge above 7:30, it will be in about 15 seconds.

BLACKWELL: Just a smidge.

PAUL: To show you're on time. I'm Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell.

Here are five things you need to know for your NEW DAY.

Up first, the search for Flight 370 intensifies in the southern Indian Ocean today. An Australian ship is being fitted with high tech black box detectors and trying to hear those pings from the missing jet.