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Still Nothing in the Search for Flight 370; US Navy Ship Headed to Help Search; Discussion of Disparity in Satellite Clarity

Aired March 31, 2014 - 11:00   ET


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN HOST: Will searchers find the missing jetliner before the batteries die on the black boxes? Time is winding down as the search effort ramps up.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: A very big earthquake, bigger than they are used to shaking California. Is this a sign of what's to come? What the West Coast has feared for so long.

PEREIRA: And Web site problems on this, the last day, to enroll in Obamacare, but despite the glitches, earliest return suggests close to 7 million people have signed up.

Welcome to @ THIS HOUR. I'm Michaela Pereira.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It is 11:00 a.m. in the East, 8:00 a.m. out West, and let's start with the hunt for Flight 370.

PEREIRA: Time is certainly running out for the flight -- in the search for Flight 370. It is now 24 days. It's hard to believe that it's been 24 days since the jetliner vanished without a trace.

BERMAN: That is four, full weeks of searching with not much to show for it at this point, which means by next week, the 30-day shelf life of that battery and the plane's black boxes will likely expire. That's if it even lasts that long.

The pinger, which is the beacon that sends a signal from the voice and data recorders, will go silent, again, if it's not silent already.

Right now, an Australian naval vessel outfitted with special U.S. equipment to detect those critical pings is rushing to the search zone. It could take up to three days for it to reach the area.

PEREIRA: Let's talk about the efforts today. Eleven ships, 10 planes scoured the Indian Ocean about 1,100 miles west of Perth, Australia. We should point out that is the most vessels to comb the potential crash area so far. It gives you an idea of the urgency here.

Australia's prime minister tells CNN the search is intensifying.


TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: The effort is ramping up, not winding down. We'll have more aircraft in the sky tomorrow. We've got more ships in the area. So we are ramping this effort up. (END VIDEO CLIP)

PEREIRA: Let's get straight to the Australian air base outside Perth, Australia, where we find our Paula Newton. She's monitoring the latest search effort for us.

Paula, we just heard the Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, say that the search is ramping up, but let's face it -- no debris. No debris field has been found. They don't really know where to look.

So, what is the game plan with time running out?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, at this point, there are key differences in the way they are searching now, Michaela.

The point is, it isn't like it was before, really on those murky, blurry satellite photos. We have really assets on the air and sea, as you were saying, about 11 ships. The Ocean Shield will be joining them in about a day or two with that expert equipment.

What this means is that they'll be able to cover a lot more of those oceans to be able -- of that ocean to be able to see exactly if there is any debris there.

The other thing is, in terms of strategy, when you have those planes in the air and they spot debris, it is really within an hour or two that boats are able to actually go over, investigate and determine if it's just garbage or if it's something significant.

I think Tony Abbott was basically saying, look, everybody settle in. This is going to take a long time. We are no the giving up.

And I think much like the case in Flight 447, the Air France flight that crashed, they're saying that took a long time. They got the answers. They want to try and do the same thing here.


BERMAN: Yeah, of course, the big difference there is they spotted debris within five days, so this seems to be a very different case.

The Australian prime minister you just mentioned, Tony Abbott, he said today that, if this mystery is solvable, Australia will solve it.

But, Paula, you know, he used the word "if" there, seeming to cast doubt or at least create the possibility that it might never be solved.

Do you get the sense that people are starting to wonder whether that's a possibility?

NEWTON: Well, John, it was inescapable. There really is that nagging doubt that's sinking in with everyone.

And I think he, like others, are just trying to make everyone face the facts and be realistic about it. And that really was a message to the families, to say we are doing all we can, but let's be realistic.

John, as you said, in Air France, we found debris within five days. It has been 24, and not one trace of this flight.

But, you know, with all the sophisticated equipment out there, and I did cover the investigation into that Air France crash, no one was more shocked than me when that e-mail alert came in that they had actually found one of the flight-data recorders, and that came two years into the investigation.

Even if the pinger isn't working, John, there are things that can be done. You know, the commander, who is dealing with a lot of that equipment, trying to find that equipment, told me, look, he needs a search zone now to be 1,000 times smaller than it is right now, and then he will have a better shot of seeing this.

We want to bring you some news just in, too, John, is that they want to confirm -- the Malaysian authorities will confirm now that they say the last words from either the co-pilot or the pilot, they are not sure which yet, John, said, "Good night, Malaysian 370."

This is information just coming in to CNN, and why is it significant? First off, the Malaysian authorities have not been clear on exactly what was said.

Did they say, "All right and good night?" Did they say, "All right, good night?" It went through a million times. John and Michaela, I know you've been through this with your analysts on panels.

Right now, Malaysian authorities changing again and saying it said, "Good night, Malaysian 370."

I mean, you'll be checking with your experts to see if that is closer to normal protocol, but again, people are reading into this about the pilot and the co-pilot's state of mind trying to find more clues as to what might have happened on board that flight.

PEREIRA: All right, Paula Newton, thank you so much for that. And that is an important development. We'll make sure to bring that up when we return to our top story, which we'll do in a moment.

But let's get to our other headlines @ THIS HOUR.

North and South Korea traded fire today. It started with a North Korean military drill. The South then responded. Hundreds of shells were fired into disputed waters.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has been conducting joint-military exercises with South Korea as you see here. The White House calls North Korea's actions "dangerous" and "provocative."

North Korea says it hasn't ruled out more nuclear testing.

BERMAN: At least 21 people are dead, 30 missing now, after that mudslide in Washington. Rescue crews searching through the mud and debris, still holding out hope of finding survivors. This landslide triggered huge damage in two towns north of Seattle, of course, when it hit on March 22nd.

PEREIRA: It is deadline day for you to sign up for ObamaCare. Anyone not covered by the Affordable Care Act or other insurance by tomorrow could face a tax penalty.

You'll get extra time if you start an application by today but are unable to finish it. That's because of the many glitches and snags that have dogged the online enrollment process.

The latest technical problem happened just this morning. In fact, it's being blamed on a software bug.

BERMAN: This just in to CNN, we are hearing reports of Russian troop movement along the Ukrainian border

Some troops seem to be pulling back from that border this morning, this, as Russia's prime minister visited Crimea today. Dmitry Medvedev proposed tax breaks and other measures to boost the Crimean economy.

On Sunday, Crimean residents set their clocks on Russian time, a symbolic step to mark Russia's annexation of that region, of course, separating it from Ukraine.

PEREIRA: All right, back to our top story now, there was such promise over the weekend as crews spotted debris in the new search zone, but here we are, Monday, seemingly no closer to any answers.

The size and the hostility of the ocean and the speed of time proving to be pretty huge obstacles.

BERMAN: Yeah, so we want to bring in CNN aviation analyst and former Transportation Department Inspector General Mary Schiavo and veteran aviation correspondent Dr. Bob Arnot.

Mary, I want to start with you, because we did just get in news to CNN about the conversation the pilots had in the cockpit with air traffic control. We are now being told the last words were not "all right, good night," but the last words were "good night, Malaysian 370."

I suppose it's significant because they are slightly different than what we thought, but, Mary, I am wondering if that language is consistent with what you normally hear from a cockpit speaking to air traffic control?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Yes, it is. That language, you usually end with your identification. You give your airline and your flight number, and that's as normal as it could be.

And when they released a transcript, of course, it was doubled translated. It was translated from English to Mandarin, I think, and then from Mandarin back to English. And I read that one and that's consistent.

I mean, the whole transcript, at least the pieces and parts of it that were released, it was very consistent, even the "good night" part, because the air traffic controller was saying to the planes, "Good night."

So that is entirely consistent with practice. And you give your airline and your flight number. And that's what you do. It's normal.

PEREIRA: Mary, does the -- that part is normal. Does the confusion over what the translation say speak to more cultural differences and troubles with translations, or does it speak to credibility issues that some have been pointing to the Malaysian government for having?

SCHIAVO: It speaks to credibility issues, unfortunately. Usually, the protocol for like the NTSB, the British do this, the French do this, is you release a transcript.

Now, you never release the actual recording, because we consider there to be privacy issues. For example, when we have to use it in the case in the investigation or in court, we have to get a special court order, and it's always played in a sequestered environment.

But once you release the transcript, then people can look at that and see if they have gotten it right, and then people working on the case can compare it.

But I will say in the cases, often we do have to hire experts, and we have to refine it to get the clearest translations. And sometimes there are disagreements over translations as to what it means and says.

BERMAN: Interesting, though, that this language about as routine as it comes. Good to know. Good to get your expertise there.

Bob, I want to shift now to the search off the coast of Australia right now, because every time there seems to be reason for hope, every time they spot some kind of debris, they find it, they pull it up and it turns out to be fishing equipment.

You know, not to be too dire here, but seriously, has there been any encouraging signs at all over the last few days that they are any closer to finding Flight 370?

DR. ROBERT ARNOT, FORMER PILOT: John, there really hasn't, and it's because we really don't know where this airplane went down.

I've been saying for the last few days it is absolutely critical that the Malaysians share the data, for a couple of reasons. This morning, "The Times of India's" just reporting, I'll just quote, "In the wake of the crash of MH-370, Malaysian authorities have issued new security instructions ordering the pilot and co-pilot are not allowed to be left alone in the cockpit, even for a toilet break."

So during a toilet break, somebody else has to be in that cockpit. Clearly, they know something went on here. If we had that information, we would know if that airplane went to a variety of waypoints, whether they were NDBs, DORs or actual, what we call five-letter waypoints like PALEO or WIKET (ph), as an example. So that radar overlay would tell us if that flight-management computer basically had been programmed to make all the various turns.

I also have advocated that this data be released to really smart organizations, Google, Harvard astrophysics, NASA, because, John, the only real way we have of sort of looking at this right now is to get the most accurate fix of where we think that went down and how it went down.

That is, these people have outsmarted all of us so far. If I were to try to outsmart the world, I wouldn't make a big footprint and smash this airplane into the ocean. I'd land it and let it sink, so there'd be virtually no footprint.

I think the mistake here has been not to have those side-looking sonars and not to have the equipment in there, really weeks ago, to start looking with this with the best and most accurate sense of where we think that airplane really went down.

BERMAN: Dr. Bob, Mary, hang on for one minute. We're going to bring you back after the break.

We have many more questions for you to talk about this in the search for Flight 370.

PEREIRA: And, in fact, we want to get you at home to tweet us your questions, hash-tag 370Qs. We're also on Facebook/AT THIS HOUR.

We will put some of those questions to our experts, coming up ahead @ THIS HOUR.

BERMAN: And coming up for us, next, is there one decisions that could have been made weeks ago that might have led investigators to Flight 370?

We'll discuss what that one clue, that one right question, might have been, just ahead.


PEREIRA: Well, there certainly is something that has frustrated a lot of people during this -- the course of the investigation looking into the missing flight 370, namely those satellite images that we have seen in the plane search.

BERMAN: Take a look at this. This is a -- this is the images we have been looking at right here. It's about as good as it gets. You barely know what you are looking at right there, trying to decipher what's in the water.

You compare that to the satellite image taken of Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan. You know, and there's a big difference here. You know, the cliche is, these satellites can read license plates coming out of bin Laden's compound. We don't know if that's true, but it does beg the question, why is there such a huge disparity in the clarity here? Our Candy Crowley asked Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein about that.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE CHAIRWOMAN: Well, I think it depends on the satellite and the resolution that's provided by the satellite and how sophisticated the satellite is. I'm not going to go in to what we have and what don't have. But I think what I just said suffices.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN HOST: Can we assume that the U.S. does know more or can see more than we're seeing as relates to this plane?

FEINGSTEIN: Not necessarily. I would answer that that way. I don't know whether more sophisticated satellites could be turned on to this area. I just don't know.

I'm sure, if asked, our intelligence services would provide whatever data they could. They probably do not have data. But it would have to -- the Malaysians are in charge of this. And so they are using the techniques that they know which may very well not be the most so sophisticated.


BERMAN: Let's bring back Mary Schiavo and Dr. Bob Arnot.

Mary, what do you make of the disparity in the satellite quality? You are listening to Senator Feinstein talk about it. She really seemed to suggest that we probably don't have something better out there. A lot of people have wondered, does the CIA have better pictures and they are not telling us? She seemed to suggest they are probably not there.

SCHIAVO: Well, and gave us a clue as to why. Because they weren't focused on that area. I think, you know, we all see Google earth, and we marvel at how cool it is. We can't check out our roofs with Google earth. But they make so many passes, and they do so much with it. And I think we are reading between the lines that -- just that our satellites were not focused on that area.

And I think that's another reason why it is good that Australia and the prime minister this morning very strongly announced that they are leading it. And they set up this joint task force because if no one has asked the nations of the world for their data, Australia needs to ask now. People will respond to Australia. No one has issues with them, so I think it is good what they are doing now.

PEREIRA: That makes a very interesting point. We've talked about the fact that this is an international corporation, Mary. Some of the nations are reticent to show their data and show their hand of what they are capable of doing. We're willing to -- most nations are willing to help Australia. Would there be nations that wouldn't want to help Malaysia? SCHIAVO: I don't know. It seems to be the way they were running the investigation, somewhat secretly, the dribs and drabs of information come out. And I think people were skeptical. And we didn't see clear leadership. And we didn't really have someone like a prime minister step forward and said, this is what we're doing. We've got the joint task force. We are going to go out, and we're going to do this if at all humanely possible.

I think that sets a tone. And they should, once again, ask the nations of the world for the information. And surely, you can figure out, if you are the intelligence service, you can figure out a way to provide the information without giving up, you know, sensitive security information.

BERMAN: So Bob, what have we learned here now? You know, God forbid something like this happens in the future. What have we learned from this disaster that will make it better for the investigation the next time around? What's the one thing they should take from this?

ARNOT: So the one thing they should take is we need these black boxes to stream real time. You know, we stream engine data, lots of performance data right now. This needs to be real time, so an airplane like this never disappears again, so you don't have to try to back figure from pings. We know absolutely where that airplane went.

The other thing, and that Mary is alluding to this, is that this data has to be made immediately available. This morning, the Malaysians are revealing the intelligence services of the United Kingdom, the United States and China, are all looking at this very seriously. And we've also seen this morning that now Malaysia has changed all its cockpit procedures. So there is something going on here in the background that they now know this was either sabotage or suicide mission. I mean, they really sort of know for sure.

The key issue, what we've really learned is all this data has to be pulled immediately. We could have been down there in this area two and a half weeks ago if this information had been made widely available. And that means the radars, the pings, all of this, to NASA, to Google, to big, smart organizations that could figure this out. Great question. Thanks, John

BERMAN: All right, Bob. Mary Schiavo. Great to have you on with us. We're gonna come back in a little bit. If you do have questions for either Bob or Mary, you know, tweet us hashtag -- hashtag I think 370ques and of course our Twitter handle is this hour.

Ahead for us at this hour.

PEREIRA: The most advanced technology in the world now headed to the search area to search under water for flight 370. You'll be surprised or maybe you won't at what it can do. But also, at its limitations.


PEREIRA: Twenty-four days and counting since flight 370 vanished. Let's give you the latest on what's happening. An Australian navy ship is steaming toward the search zone in the Indian Ocean. The Ocean Shield has on board a U.S. Navy pinger. It's mission, to find the plane's black box.

BERMAN: Now, this is the same device that helped locate wreckage from Air Flight 447 in the Atlantic.

Our Brian Todd joins us now from Washington, D.C.

And Brian, you had a rare look inside the place where this incredible device is made. Tell us how it's supposed to work.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John, Michaela. We went to the headquarters of Phoenix International where the towed pinger locator is made. This device weighs about 70 pounds, has a fin on top.

Now if a piece of wreckage is found from this plane, then a ship would tow the pinger locator in a very large grid several miles each way hours at a time. Its towed at great depth. It can go as far down as 20,000 feet below the surface of the ocean. Its sole mission is to listen intently for the pinger on that black box. It can detect the pinger from as far away as two miles. Bill Nelson, the project manager of Phoenix International gave us a pretty good analogy of how it works.


BILL NELSON, PROJECT MANAGER, PHOENIX INTERNATIONAL: Think of your cellphone ringer. If you lose your cellphone, you can call it, and you hear the phone ringing, so you narrowed down your search.


TODD: Now, the pinger locator does not tell you which direction to look in, but it does give you signals that vary in intensity, essentially telling you if you are hotter or colder in proximity to the black box. John and Michaela?

PEREIRA: OK, so here is a question that I think makes a whole lot of sense. Why not just deploy a whole bunch of these into the area and let them do their thing?

TODD: We've asked the manufacturers that question. They say, for one, there are only a few of these in the world, maybe four, maybe five. The U.S. Navy has only two of them. So one of them is being lent to the Australians for that ship. And also, they say these are very expensive to deploy. You really have to have some kind of confirmed sighting of some wreckage just to get into area and use it that way.

BERMAN: You know, Brian, there was a great deal of excitement as we all saw that vessel leave port today with these amazing devices on board. But this is really a Hail Mary. When they don't have any debris to start from, I mean, it's worse than a Hail Mary. In a Hail Mary, at least you know where the end zone is. I mean, they don't even know where the end zone is here.

TODD: They really don't. They have to get this piece of equipment out to the general search area just to be ready in case they find some wreckage. They can't just start to put it in the water and tow it without any kind of a hint of where this plane may be. So it is a bit of a Hail Mary, John.

But, you know, look, if they get any kind of a bite, if they get any kind of confirmed piece of wreckage, this thing can really narrow down that search area significantly, and it can do it pretty fast. So it's worth it to have it out in that area if they find something in the next few days.

BERMAN: I think that's a key point: nearby. The key is to have it nearby.

Brian Todd, great to have you, great report, great insight into this technology.

TODD: Thanks, guys. Appreciate it. Thank you.

PEREIRA: We know that a lot of you that are at home watching have a lot of questions about the search and the mystery. You can tweet your questions to us. At #370ques. We're also on Facebook, slash at this hour.

Ahead at this hour, an emotional roller coaster for the families of flight 370 passengers and the crew. The husband of a flight attendant struggles to tell his children what happened to their mom.