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Search for Flight 370 Wreckage Continues; Trading Fire; Captain's Daughter Lashes Out at Tabloid; North & South Korea Exchange Fire; Senator: White House "Cooking the Books"

Aired March 31, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Malaysian officials change their account of Flight 370's final communication. If they have been wrong about that for weeks, what else did they get wrong?

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

That world lead, the credibility of Malaysian investigators questioned yet again when they alter their claims about the last words emanating from the plane. With time running out to find the black boxes, why does this story keep changing?

And as scrutiny keeps circling back to Flight 370's two pilots, a tabloid prints potentially damning quotes about the captain from his daughter, but now she's lashing out on social media -- what she says is the real truth about her dad.

Also in world news, the border that keeps North and South Korea from each other's throats, well, today, it was not enough, Kim Jong-un's forces accused of firing into South Korean territory. The South responded by letting its guns do the talking.

Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper. Welcome to THE LEAD.

We will begin with the world lead, of course. "All right, good night," for weeks now, the world has believed that those were the last words ever heard from Flight 370 before it disappeared with 239 on board, because that is what Malaysian officials told us and that's what they told the passengers' families.

But now, on the 25th day of this investigation, the Malaysians are once again raising concerns about what we can accept from them as fact. The Malaysian Ministry of Transport now says the last words were not "All right, good night," spoken by the co-pilot, as originally claimed. They were actually, "Good night, Malaysian 370," and investigators do not yet know whether the pilot or co-pilot said it.

It's a small, but distinct difference in a timeline that has been changed again and again. It's certainly not encouraging to see the record revised at this late date, because, as our own Jim Sciutto reports, there is precious little time left to find the black boxes.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Twenty-five days into the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight, a race to locate the plane's data recorder before its pings go silent.

An Australian navy ship set out to sea Monday night with advanced American underwater search gear on board, including a pinger locator. Still, the equipment won't be useful until the search zone is dramatically located.

CMDR. WILLIAM MARKS, U.S. NAVY: Without a starting point, we really can't put our towed pinger locator in the right position, and it's far too big of an area right now.

SCIUTTO: As a new day of searching is set to begin, frustration with the progress. Four orange objects spotted Monday by search aircraft and earlier described as promising turned out, once again, to be a false alarm, just old fishing gear.

TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: The best brains in the world are applying themselves in this task. All of the technological mastery that we have is being applied and brought to bear here. So, if this mystery is solvable, we will solve it.

SCIUTTO: Family members of passengers accuse Malaysian officials of being dishonest since the plane vanished, not helped by the decision, nearly four weeks in, to finally correct the records on the final words from the cockpit.

The Malaysian government said today that the final communication was a simple and perfectly standard "Good night, Malaysian 370," not an unconventional "All right, good night," which officials had hinted weeks ago might have indicated trouble on board.

On Monday, dozens of Chinese family members visit a Kuala Lumpur temple. At another vigil in Beijing, they sobbed, meditated and lit candles for the memories of their loved ones. Malaysian officials say they are planning a high-level briefing for the families, where experts will explain the data and methodology used to guide the search.

HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIAN TRANSPORT MINISTER: We are not hiding anything. We are just following the procedure that has been set.


SCIUTTO: The loss of Air France 447 offers a cautionary tale in the difficulty of finding black boxes at sea. When investigators eventually found the wreckage two years later, they discovered they had scanned right on top of the boxes just after the crash and not heard a thing.

They never established whether the pingers were or were not working properly, but the case shows the challenge even when wreckage is found, something searchers have yet to accomplish, Jake, with Flight 370.

TAPPER: Thanks, Jim.

So 25 days into this, how close are we to finding Flight 370?

Let's turn to our expert panel. Miles O'Brien, of course, is a CNN aviation analyst and science correspondent for "PBS NewsHour." And you know Michael Goldfarb as a former chief of staff for the Federal Aviation Administration.

Gentlemen, thanks so much for being here.

Miles, some false hope over the weekend, some searching that turned out to be nothing that anybody was looking for. We're losing time here on the window where these black boxes are still going to be sending out a signal. Realistically speaking, how much of a window do you think is reasonably there before they can find these black boxes?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: We're talking about batteries and we're talking about Mother Nature. It makes -- a rock and a hard place is what it makes.

The window is very narrow. I think it's going to require astonishingly good luck to get that hydrophone on top of anywhere near a wreckage field in the time allotted for the battery itself. I think it's pretty safe to say that this investigation will move into literally mapping the ocean floor even when we get to a point where we can sort of backtrack, hindcast from a piece of wreckage. But that's several steps away.

TAPPER: But we're told 30 days basically for a black box, give or take. So, by the end of the week, if they haven't found it...

O'BRIEN: They don't always work. It may work longer. We just don't know for sure. We have to assume it's pinging. And certainly the searchers are operating under that assumption. That's why that ship has steamed out there sort of protectively, on spec, if you will, if they find something.

TAPPER: Michael, I have to say, we're 25 days into this and now we're told that they didn't say "Good night, all right"?

MICHAEL GOLDFARB, FORMER FAA CHIEF OF STAFF: Yes. I think we have not had a straight, clear word that we could have a lot of fidelity in since the day.

We have the tragedy of the crash. We have the tragedy of an investigation gone awry. And then we have questions about where we go from here. Back to what you said about that pinger and the batteries in that Malaysian aircraft also are being questioned whether they were contaminated or kept at the right temperature. So we may have lost that.

But I think we need to redefine success. Success right now would simply be a piece of debris. If we lost to the winter season the search like with Air France, if we have to wait until spring to look for that black box, it took two years, just give us a piece of the wreckage to corroborate and validate what happened to that plane.

TAPPER: Miles, Malaysian officials today said they might ask the U.S. or other countries for other assets in the search.

I want to play something that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in response.


CHUCK HAGEL, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: I don't know what additional requests he will make of me. I certainly will listen carefully to whatever those are.


TAPPER: Hagel seemed to be saying something along the lines of, we have given them everything that they have asked for. We have the P-8 aircraft, the towed ping locator you just mentioned, the Blue Fin autonomous underwater vehicle.

Is there anything more that the U.S. should have sent, even without the Malaysians asking for it?

O'BRIEN: Well, how about the George Washington sitting in Japan, an aircraft carrier? Why not put it on station? It removes a lot of the issues with range, certainly.

Granted the aircraft that are able to land and take off on an aircraft carrier are not ideally suited for a search and rescue like the P-8 or a P-3, but it's still more eyeballs on target, helicopters, E-2s, C- 2s. There's certainly a lot that can be deployed there.

For that, we have got about 11 other P-8s and 120 other P-360.


TAPPER: You think you should send the assets even if they don't ask for them?

O'BRIEN: Flood the zone. We have very little time here. If they are asking for help from the U.S., 25 days too late, in my humble opinion, if they are asking for help, we should provide it in spades.

TAPPER: Michael, you know better than anyone that the FAA and other similar organizations look for lessons from situations like this.


TAPPER: What lessons should we be learning right now?

GOLDFARB: Just to go back to what Miles said about -- this should be -- the A-team is coming in, in the fourth quarter down by four touchdowns, quite frankly.

We're putting the best resources in the world at a point in the investigation where we have very little hope of seeing any debris. Let's go back to one lesson. Remember we talked -- you mentioned telemetry in the ACARS system and how ACARS had failed and we didn't get any good data. Malaysia Air chose not to buy the app that would have upgraded...


TAPPER: About $10 a flight?

GOLDFARB: Yes, probably $100,000 per plane in the fleet, Swift, it was called, that would have provided, regardless of the failure of ACARS, it would have provided an essential stream of information, the same thing that Air France investigation used to perimeterize that search and at least understand where that was.

So lessons learned? All major airlines that sell and have jumbo jets, the regulators across the board should require and mandate that that's a part of every base package when you buy an airplane.

TAPPER: And when you think about it, $10 a flight, it seems...


GOLDFARB: Between the United States and Europe, it is required for planes that fly the busy North Atlantic, but it is not elsewhere in the world.

TAPPER: Miles, lastly, what do you think? What lessons should we be learning from this?

O'BRIEN: I think picking up on that, it's a lesson on how important it is for the regulatory bodies to really step up and force these issues.

The airlines are not going to do it on their own. Even $10 a flight, the airlines are -- it's such a close-margin business. They are not going to spend it unless they have to, unless they mandate it. And so it's important that the regulators, the FAA, ICAO, all these entities step up to the plate and realize that these are important things to react to.

O'BRIEN: Behind all of these lessons, of course, the tragedy of these families.

Miles O'Brien, Michael Goldfarb, thank you so much.

Coming up next, she says may God have mercy on your souls and I will not forgive you. Why the captain's daughter is furious at a British newspaper tabloid -- when THE LEAD returns.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Returning now to our world lead, none of the 239 people of Flight 370 have been scrutinized as much as the two men flying the plane. Investigators looking for any motive either may have had for changing the flight.

Anyone who has read Britain's "Daily Mail" may have believed that the newspaper found a sort of smoking gun with potentially damning quotes about the captain's state of mind attributed to his own daughter.

But, as our Sara Sidner reports from Kuala Lumpur, that daughter says this all came as a very nasty, very unwelcome surprise to her.


SARA SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A daughter lashes out at a British tabloid that uses her name to cast doubt on her father's mental state.

Aishah Zaharie's father has become synonymous with Flight MH370. Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, the pilot of the plane. According to a "Daily Mail" article, a family friend quotes Aishah Zaharie, saying her father "wasn't the father I knew. He seemed disturbed and lost in a world of his own."

Captain Zaharie is among many being scrutinized during the investigation into the plane's disappearance. Investigators searched his home and poured through data on his flight simulator but no evidence of wrongdoing has been found.

His heartbroken daughter is incensed and says the article is flat out false. On her Facebook page, she posts a letter saying, quote, "You should consider making movies since you are so good at making up stories and scripts out of thin air. May god have mercy on your soul. You can (EXPLETIVE DELETED) I will not forgive you."

We reached out to "The Daily Mail" and are waiting comment.

As Zaharie's family aches from his absence, they have shied away from media attention and they say all the attention and suspicion surrounding their father is, quote, "torturing them."

Sara Sidner, CNN, Kuala Lumpur.


TAPPER: So how much does the pilot's life become the airline's business?

Let's bring in David Funk. He's a retired Northwest Airlines pilot. He is also an accident investigator for the airline. He's now with Laird and Associates, which is an aviation security consulting firm.

Thanks so much for joining us.

How does this work in the U.S.? The pilots need to disclose personal problems to their employer, "hey, I'm having trouble with my wife," "Hey, I have an unruly child"? What exactly do you have to do?

DAVID FUNK, RETIRED NORTHWEST AIRLINES PILOT: You know, you don't have to disclose anything outside of medical treatment for the FAA. When a pilot who's generally a high performer, which most everyone is in the business, they wouldn't be at these level flying these airplanes. You know, for an airline like Northwest or an airline like Malaysia, suddenly, you see a change in personality. The guys that are flying with him are going to notice and pull him aside and say, hey, what's going on? Or they'll talk to the chief pilot and the chief pilot will bring him in for a cup of coffee and make sure everything's OK.

And if a guy has a problem, you want to get him offline, help him deal with it and get him back out, return him to being a productive employee for the company. Let's face it, there's no upside for Malaysia Airlines to hide this kind of thing, and I obviously feel terrible for the daughter.

TAPPER: So there isn't necessarily a check to make sure that people are doing OK on a regular basis?

FUNK: Other than jury six-month medical checks and if you, of course, are seeking counseling, you'll have to report that to the FAA as a part of that check, Jake. No, it's not. However, you're flying with the same people all the time, particularly with an airline as small as Malaysia, compared to the big U.S. carriers where there are thousands of pilots.

But in a given base, you may only have a few hundred pilots and on a specific airline, you may only have a few dozen. And so, you get to know the personalities of the people you fly with and, in case of the captain like this, the co-pilots are the ones that are going to notice if there's a problem. And Malaysia has a very good safety record and you don't have the kind of safety record if you don't have these kinds of normal checks and balances put in place at an airline.

TAPPER: Dave, one other thing I wanted to ask you about -- these family briefings, you say that in the U.S. there is usually a chief pilot there in these briefings. First of all, what is a chief pilot and, second of all, how could that help here with this situation?

FUNK: Well, a chief pilot is someone that's a part of the management -- the required management structure of any carrier. It's required by federal regulations in the U.S. and really around the world by the worldwide standards.

Why would it help? There's nothing like having a technical expert. You know, you guys don't talk about flying someone that isn't an expert on this subject. That's why you bring someone like myself or Dave Soucie in.

So, when you're doing the briefing, nothing is as helpful as having the guy who all the pilots look up to as most airlines. He's the boss. He's the guy I report to.

The great thing about chief pilots is, they almost never have to interact with us because we go out and do our jobs and come back quietly and get the job done. It's very seldom that chief pilots have disciplinary interactions with pilots because, frankly, these are people that are motivated, they've jumped through a lot of hoops to get to the point in life that they're at and they're not going to do in most cases anything to screw that up.

TAPPER: Lastly, Dave, what lessons do you think we here in the U.S. or other similar organizations to the FAA and around the world can learn from the experience of Flight 370?

FUNK: Well, the biggest problem is kind of been for the Malaysians, they really need to learn how to deal with the crisis management issues. Compared to the U.S. NTSB or the Civil Aviation Accident Investigation Board over in England, they are really quite far behind what would be considered best practices as far as dealing with the passengers, with the family members of the passengers, with the family members of the crew and that's probably or biggest lesson. What we've gotten good at and sophisticated at in the United States, countries like Malaysia maybe aren't quite there yet.

TAPPER: All right. David Funk, thank you so much.

Coming up next on THE LEAD, live fire on the peninsula, North and South Korea just fired hundreds of shells into each other's waters. And the hunt for Flight 370 goes under water and a sophisticated machine is joining the search party. Stay right here.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We'll have more in our world news, the disappearance of Flight 370 in a moment. But, first, in other world news -- long-held tension suddenly exploding between North and South Korea today. The North began live fire exercises near the maritime border with the South. A semi-official news agency in South Korea claims that about 100 artillery shells from Kim Jong-un forces landed in southern waters. South Korea responded by shelling waters to the North and scrambling jet fighters.

No reports of damage or injuries but the White House called North Korea's actions, quote, "dangerous and provocative".

Today's aggressions come amid fears that Kim Jong-un is planning yet another nuclear tests.

The politics lead -- right now, the clock is literally ticking down on the White House Web site, because it's kind of, sort of the last to sign up for the Obamacare Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. But just hours before the midnight enrolment deadline, the glitches were back on


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There is a technical problem. The tech team is on it. There are currently 100,000 people in the system who are enrolling and there's no problem for them to enroll. For the causes of different glitches that are being addressed, I would refer you to CMS.


TAPPER: The White House saying record traffic was to blame. I've heard that before.

One-point-two million visits before noon, peaking at 125,000 users at one point. And while seems to be back online, some users are being told that, quote, "has a lot of visitors right now" and they are being asked to get in line with an e- mail address.

This afternoon's tech issues came after the site had already been unavailable this morning due to maintenance. Those that were locked out will get another extension of a few more days, according to the White House.

But the question is, when the clock strikes midnight, will it be a win or a miss for the administration?

Let's bring in CNN's newest political analyst Maggie Haberman, who is also senior political reporter for

Welcome, Maggie.


TAPPER: And also joining us, CNN political commentator and Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker", Ryan Lizza.

So, Ryan is a political commentator. Maggie, you're a political analyzer. Stay inside your lanes. You commentate. You analyze. Nothing else.


TAPPER: So, Ryan, let's start with you.

Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming is also a doctor. He says he doesn't believe the current enrollee figure of 6 million.

Take a listen.


SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R), WYOMING: I think they're cooking the books on this. People want to know the answers to that. They also want to know is, once all this is said and done, what kind of insurance will those people actually have?


TAPPER: Cooking the books is quite an allegation, but even another Senator Angus King, independent senator from Maine, who was on that same show on FOX acknowledged that there's a transparency issue.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, we don't know the exact numbers because it's being reported by the administration, there's no transparency behind that. And the important number is not only how many people signed up but how many people paid for their premium.

So, cooking the books may go a little too far because that suggests they're doing something Machiavellian --

TAPPER: Untoward, yes.

LIZZA: Untoward on purpose. But it is true that we're relying on the administration for this data and we don't have as much independent verification of that, as you might want.

TAPPER: Maggie, the White House wants this to be a Cinderella story. Dan Pfeiffer, the senior adviser to President Obama tweeted a few days ago, "important to remember that back in October and November, everyone thought hitting the number 6 million was impossible, amazing comeback story." Almost like Wisconsin making the Final Four.

Do you think that spin is going to stick, especially with today's tech issues?

HABERMAN: I don't think it's going to stick but I do think there is some truth to the spin. Look, these are revised downed expectations. It's not the 7 million that we were told was going to signify true health of this law, but it is in line with the revised CBO standards. I think that expectations are so low now for this law, it's hard to get lower. I think in that respect, I think it's a win for the White House and I think getting past the initial enrollment period was very important to them. LIZZA: It is, and the other thing on that is, remember, Republicans were sort of either sort of predicting or hoping, depending on who they were, is that this law would collapse under their own weight, that the tech problems were so serious that they wouldn't get the young and healthy people --

TAPPER: The young invincibles?

LIZZA: The young and invisible to sign up what you need to make the system work. That doesn't look like that has happened. So, Republican predictions of collapse into 2014 have not rung true.

HABERMAN: That's right.

TAPPER: Maggie?

HABERMAN: No, that's right. And actually, there's a poll out that shows that the law in the highest approval rating in months with a surge from Democrats, which you can argue is not that significant for the Democrats heading into a mid-term headwind. But it does matter in terms of the health of the law, and to Ryan's point about where that support is coming from, it does seem to being powered by younger users. Those are the people who the White House needs to reach out to the most to make this law succeed.

TAPPER: And, Maggie, you read my mind -- the 49 percent shows that the health care law support -- they supported it and 48 percent oppose it. But we still don't know how well this law is going to work. I mean, we're still very, very early. HABERMAN: No, we don't.

LIZZA: And the next set of issues, you know, if they make it through the right number of signups, and it's looking promising based on what they're reporting, the next issue is the number of doctors out there available with all these new people have health care.

TAPPER: Right. And if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor promise.

LIZZA: That's right. Are the cost controls going to work? Are people who now have health insurance going to be able to afford premiums? Are they going to be low enough? So, the next wave of problems is covering -- is coming after the sign-up issues get taken care of.

TAPPER: Last word? Last word, Maggie?

HABERMAN: No, that's exactly right. We don't know exactly what this number of users fully looks like. We don't know how many people were uninsured. We don't know who is paying premiums. That's what it is going to depend on.

TAPPER: Ryan Lizza, Maggie Haberman, thank you so much. Great to see you guys.

Coming up, with precious seconds ticking away, an Australian vessel that can actually hear those black box pings, it's out to sea. We'll have an update on the search, live from the darkness of the Indian Ocean. Stay with us.