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8.2 Magnitude Earthquake Rocks Chile; Flight 370 Is A "Criminal" Investigation; Police Investigating Food On The Plane; GM CEO To Go Before Senators

Aired April 2, 2014 - 06:00   ET


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Also breaking, police in Malaysia acknowledge they may never know what caused the disappearance of Flight 370, this as they ramp up the investigation. Now reportedly looking at whether the airplane's food was poisoned.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: In the hot seat, another round of grilling for GM CEO today as she answers question before the Senate. Angry families speaking out. Did they get answers?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Your NEW DAY starts right now.

Good morning. Welcome to NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, April 2nd, 6:00 in the east. We're going to bring you the latest on the search for 370 in just a moment, but first, there is breaking coming out of Chile this morning, a massive 8.2 magnitude earthquake triggering landslides, fires, power outages, all through the night. At least five people killed so far. Estimates are very early. They're still trying to figure out the scope of the damage down there.

We do know thousands have been forced to evacuate. The earthquake struck late last night, 61 miles off Chile's northern coastline. We have team coverage on this. Let's start with CNN's Rafael Romo -- Rafael.

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SENIOR LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS EDITOR: Chris, good morning. Chilean authorities says as many as 900,000 people had to be evacuated for fear of a tsunami after the earthquake hit last night. That fear is now gone, but now authorities are waiting for daylight to assess the true extent of the damage.


ROMO (voice-over): Sirens blaring, people running into the streets as a powerful 8.2 magnitude earthquake hits off the coast of Northern Chile causing landslides, power outages and triggering tsunami watch and warnings. Watch the moment of impact as the shelves in this pharmacy rattle, items crashing to the ground. The initial jolt sending shoppers and employees running for the door.

The massive quake proving deadly and forcing officials to evacuate the nation's entire coastline as tsunami waves approached according to Chile's interior minister. The minister also saying about 300 prisoners escaped in the immediate aftermath of the quake, putting police on high alert. In a news conference, Chile's president warning that officials will not know the full extent of damage until inspectors are able to assess during daylight hours, though initial reports show Chile may have dodged a major catastrophe.

PROFESSOR MARK SIMONS, CALTECH GEOPHYSICIST: This is not the large earthquake that we were expecting for this area. We are actually still expecting potentially an even larger earthquake.


ROMO: And President Bachelet has declared three provinces disaster zones. She also dispatched the national police and the military to the area. Kate, back to you.

BOLDUAN: Some fears of looting going on right now. Rafael, we'll continue to check in with you throughout the morning. Thank you very much. So the earthquake in Chile comes, as we mentioned, just five days after a 5.1 magnitude quake shook the Los Angeles area. There have been well over 150 aftershocks since then. That has a lot of people wondering about a possible connection between these two seismic events. Indra Petersons is taking a look at that. So what do you know, Indra?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You know, the one thing we all need to remember, these are two very seismically active regions. We're talking about are two separate plates. We are talking an 8.2 earthquake across the Nazca plate. That's the reason we are talking when you talk about South America. Los Angeles is a completely different plate. This is the Pacific plate.

So keep in mind, just in the last month of March out towards Chile, they've already had about a handful of quakes over 5.0. So that's what we need to keep in mind. Other than the correlation that these earthquakes were on the ring of fire, very seismically active region, they are not correlated.

Remember, we don't have much information as far as earthquakes in order to really get much information as far as timing and correlation. There is still new science. We'll talk about what we do know. It was a magnitude 8.2, just 12.5 miles underneath so very shallow quake. Therefore very close to the shore. They did feel that quake, very strong impact.

So that was the concern. But that was only the first concern as we all know there was a tsunami wave. Keep in mind, it kind of feels like a bulls eye with all that energy spreading out. So it only took about 20 minutes for some 6-foot tsunami waves to reach the region. But keep in mind that energy disburses all the way out into the ocean although weakening the further it goes out.

This threat is not over with just yet. Notice as we go forward in time, we still have that concern even this morning. In fact, there's actually an advisory out in the Hawaiian islands for the next several hours at 3:34 in the morning for their time because that wave is imminent. That's what the advisory means. There's still a threat in their region -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Still have something to watch out for the next few hours. Indra, thank you very much.

Let's turn now back to the search for Flight 370. Now being classified as a criminal investigation with the pilots under continued scrutiny. Extensive interviews have been conducted with people who know them well.

Also new this morning, CNN has learned that Malaysia Airlines has tightened cockpit security on their planes. Let's get straight over to Jim Clancy who has been leading our coverage for us live in Kuala Lumpur this morning.

Jim, what are some of those new measures, the security measures that we are learning that we are learning about?

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They involve the cockpit and who is allowed inside the cockpit. They involve the security procedures that would be in place when a pilot has to take a bathroom break, other things like that. Malaysia Airlines isn't discussing them specifically, but there was a memo that was sent out to employees advising them of all of that.

Meantime, we've got the inspector general of the police today raising the possibility. He said one of the things that they've investigated is the possibility of food poisoning. As unlikely as that seems given the fact that the coms failed, the transponder was turned off, it couldn't be related to that.

But they said that's just one of the things they looked at. They've done more than 170 interviews and he says in this, and he called it a criminal investigation. They still have no direct links to know what happened inside the cockpit. They've done so many interviews. They've asked so many questions. They've talked to just about everyone who touched that aircraft, Kate.

But they still don't know what happened. As a result, they believe that there's a possibility they may never know. Now that may explain why the prime minister is down in Australia. He is thanking some of these search crews that are at work down there because until and unless that flight data recorder is found, they're not likely to have the information that they need to conduct a real investigation into what happened on board the plane -- Chris.

CUOMO: Well, Jim, you certainly put it right there at the end. Whether they get the information to properly investigate. Thank you for the reporting. It is all about possibilities at this point. Not probabilities and that's part of the frustration.

So let's dig into the latest of what the investigators are saying with Mary Schiavo, CNN aviation analyst, former inspector general of the Department of Transportation and also an attorney who represents victims, a former prosecutor. She deals with families after airplane disasters. There couldn't be anybody better to have on this story than Mary. And Mr. David Soucie is no slouch himself, CNN safety analyst, author of "Why Planes Crash," has investigated many of these types of situations for the FAA as an inspector. Thanks to both of you. Possibilities. Things are possible at this point. Right? That's a very low standard of proof and that's part of the frustration for the families certainly.

So investigators say this morning, we don't know if we're ever going to be able to find that out. True. Incontrovertible, not worth debating, maybe you do never know. The question is, what do you know? Even though, David Soucie, you believe that they could be holding back information because it is a criminal investigation.

Mary Schiavo, you don't understand why they say it's criminal investigation based on what they have released. So let's go along with the idea of they are holding back information. What is the information they could have that justifies a criminal investigation when they say they have no connection between the pilots and this event, David?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: The fact that there was a turn at hand, a human hand and that whether that means it was through the autopilot or however it was actually commanded. The fact is that this airplane had intent. It wasn't an automated thing. It wasn't a free flight that just decided to make that turn.

CUOMO: Do they know that?

SOUCIE: Yes, they do.

CUOMO: They know it couldn't have been a turn on trim, so to speak, because of something that happened on the plane, somebody had to turn it?

SOUCIE: Well, because remember it's not just the turn, it's the recovery from the turn. If it turned and just continued to spiral, yes, possibly no one's at the controls and the aircraft just spiraled. But that's not what happened, it spiraled and it continued to fly for so many hours. So the concept at least from the criminal investigation side.

Now, remember, it doesn't have to be proven that it's criminal in order to restrict information. I refer to use restrict because that's the technical term for what they're doing. It's not holding anything back. It's restricting the release of data. So it's a little bit different.

That is -- Mary can speak to the legalities better than I could. As far as the investigations I've done. I've done several that were criminal investigations and we were restricted from releasing information.

CUOMO: OK, so restricting information is good and actually promising because it shows some type of trail. Mary, the question I have for you is what if that's not what it is? What if this is blind conjecture of their trying to figure out why the plane turned and they're just deeming it criminal, which, you know, I guess, has no consequence in terms of process if nobody is ever found on the plane? But it means something to the families. Certainly means something to the families of the pilots.

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, it also means something to the investigation. Look, we did that in TW 800. That was deemed criminal for the first few months until it was ruled out. So it's just a way for them to proceed. There were a few clues in what they said yesterday. First of all, they now say, after releasing the full transcript, that it may not be either the pilot or the co-pilot. That's the first we've heard that.

It's pretty easy to tell. You just get somebody to listen to the voice who is familiar with them, co-workers. That's a clue they're looking elsewhere. They also said a funny thing in their statement. They said, we would be looking at prosecution down the road. Well, you can't prosecute two dead pilots. Can't send them to jail.

So obviously they started looking to persons outside the cockpit and probably because the FBI said they found nothing when they went through their computers and the flight simulator. So we have a couple leads that they're looking to anyone outside the cockpit as well as inside. So I don't really think they have anything definite. I haven't seen any evidence, facts, data, but they have to do it. They have to look everywhere.

CUOMO: So it's important. You went over a couple things there we should pull out and emphasize. The FBI, no red flags on the pilots. Looking at the passenger manifest, nobody pops out as having any significant connections. That's important to know because just like the search with the grid on the ocean, every time you find out that the plane isn't somewhere, that's relevant.

Similarly when you find out that passengers involved don't have terror connections. No red flags on them or the pilots. That's also relevant. So now we hear another bit of information coming out of investigators. They're looking into the food, David. Why? We all know that airplane food is not great. Why might it be suggestive of something more here?

SOUCIE: Well, this shows how dedicated they are to trying to find this. They're looking at every aspect they can. Food is a vulnerability on an airplane. I know it is for me. It's possible for any fair just intent. Not everybody eats. Not everybody has the same food. To me, it doesn't seem like a common thing if --

CUOMO: I hear you on the restricted information and I'm putting a lot of hope on that. It's one thing to have TV people in certain places speculating based on what their experiences, but for investigators taking shots out there would be concerning because the families they hinge on hope so much. I guess they have to look at everything. But when investigators say they're looking at something, it takes on weight. You would hope they look at the food and if they find something, then put out they were looking at the food as opposed to reverse. SOUCIE: And the danger of bringing that out is they can't say with conviction it's not that. That's the danger with putting out these speculative reaches. You put it out without thinking of the end in mind. What if it's not -- what if you don't find anything? Then you go to the families and say, we didn't find anything.

CUOMO: That keeps seeming to happen here. It's difficult to prove. Mary, one of your 15 credentials is former prosecutor. It's hard to prove the nonexistence of a fact, right?

SCHIAVO: Right. And you always want to say sometimes no evidence is that. You have to look elsewhere. I think that was what was in their release yesterday. That they increased the cockpit security measures. The measures they put in place including having the flight attendant go in the cockpit. That's been the rule in the United States for at least a decade, well after 9/11.

And two fold, not just security but also practicality. If there's only one pilot in the cockpit and he or she passes out or dies, that's happened, then the flight attendant can let the other pilot back in the cockpit. We've had those rules for a long time. It's pretty common sense.

SOUCIE: If they haven't had those rules, I really commend them for continuing to make changes. A lot of times in these investigations, the airline would sit and do nothing. Two years later sometimes they'll wait. What they're doing here is very proactive. They're saying we have this piece of information, it's not conclusive, but nonetheless, we're going to do the safest thing which is to move processes forward now and not wait. So I really commend Malaysia Airlines for doing that.

CUOMO: As Mary pointed out, arguably they were behind any way. As you pointed out from one of your sources, they were also behind in terms of storing and maintaining batteries for black boxes.

SOUCIE: Which again they've taken action on that already I've found. So that's good.

CUOMO: Another development this morning, it's worth noting is that submarines are now involved in the search. They obviously have capabilities. It gets a little cloudy because many people, certainly the U.S. won't tell you where their submarines are or how they are deployed for military safety reasons. But it is a step in terms of more intensity for the search. Mary Schiavo, thank you for the perspective. David Soucie, always a pleasure -- Mich.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: All right, let's take a look at more of your headlines now at quarter past the hour. The White House now says 7.1 million Americans have signed up for health coverage under Obamacare surpassing the original target of 7 million. President Obama says the affordable care act is here to say, but a Republican opponents says the fight is not over to kill it.

Mideast peace talks are on life support. Secretary of State John Kerry canceling a trip back to the region today following a surprise move by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who reignited his campaign to gain international recognition for a Palestinian state. This follows reports of an emerging deal involving that U.S. release of an American convicted of spying for Israel. Secretary Kerry says the peace process, which has April 29th as its deadline is not over yet.

The House has given final approval to a bill that sanctions Russia and provides aid to Ukraine. It heads to President Obama's desk for his signature. In the meantime, Russia is accusing NATO of reverting to cold war language after it suspended all practical civilian and military cooperation with Russia because of its annexation of Crimea. The organization says it has seen no sign that Moscow was withdrawing troops from the Ukrainian border.

The search continues this morning for the 20 people still missing after that devastating mudslide in Washington State. The death toll stands now at 28. Fire crews are telling us they have to move very slowly. The work is meticulous and slow because the mud and muck is like quick sand. The whole area is unlike any slide they've seen before.

Another concern and it is a big concern for the search crews, a huge amount of contaminants have leeched into the debris. We're talking raw sewage, propane, gas and oil. So these people are putting their own health and welfare at risk trying to get to those victims of the mudslide. It's important work and it's -- that it's far from over.

BOLDUAN: Started learning how thick the mud is --

PEREIRA: Three stories.

BOLDUAN: You really cannot imagine the work that they have ahead of them.

All right, let's take a break. We're going to continue our coverage of Flight 370. Flight 370 family members are desperately looking for answers about the fate of their loved ones. They've just been briefed by Malaysian authorities. We're going to talk to one man whose mother was on board the missing jetliner.

CUOMO: The GM recall, we are all over because this is just beginning. The CEO is under fire for the handling of faulty ignition switches. She is new there and says she doesn't know how this happened. She's looking into it. Congress is not convinced. We'll show you why.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY. Newly minted CEO Mary Barra answering for General Motor's deadly ignition switch problems. She's set to testify before the Senate today after yesterday's sometimes heated hearing on the House side. Take a look at a little bit.


MARY BARRA, CEO, GENERAL MOTORS: There will be times were there will be a material or a part that doesn't meet the exact specification, but after analysis and looking at the performance, the safety, the durability, the reliability, the functionality, it will be OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What you just answered is gobbledegook.


BOLDUAN: It sums up the hearing pretty well, I guess, you could say, as many hearings are though, let's discuss. Rana Foroohar is here with us. Our CNN's global economic analyst and assistant managing editor for "Time" magazine. So what Barra was trying to do there was make a distinction between a defective part and something that is dangerous.


BOLDUAN: What she was not able to do over and over again or couldn't do or at least wouldn't say is why it took so long for GM to fix A problem that they knew about for years.

FOROOHAR: That's the crux of the problem. That's the big question. She says that investigators within the company and outside the company are still looking into that. You know, in that sound bite, what she was trying to get at is that when a company builds a part, they have a parameter if they fall, even if it's a little bit off, they'll consider it OK to use that part.

We start to get into a lot of nuance here because how far outside the realm of OK was that part and was it, you know, was there enough reason to actually recall these vehicles. One of the most damming parts of the testimony yesterday was the fact that GM did know that there was a problem with these switches before the cars went on the market. And that's going to be tough for the company.

CUOMO: Look, you just answered your own question. It is about nuance if the issue is whether or not you know that this part can be dangerous.


CUOMO: That is not the issue here. The issue is you knew the part was dangerous. We know you changed the part because you knew it was dangerous. You may have done it in a shady way with the serial number thing, which is yet to be discovered. Why did you do it the way you did it? Barra is not going to be able to give them any answer on that.

FOROOHAR: Absolutely not.

CUOMO: Because at least even if she does know, she knows she doesn't have to take ownership of it because she wasn't in power then.

FOROOHAR: And I think you know, speaking of the word, shady, I think you're getting to something important because how did this happen. Was this a case of, you know, who knew what? How far up the management chain did this go?

CUOMO: She can't tell them. FOROOHAR: And she can't tell them. Did somebody make a very cynical decision or was there more of an engineering, somebody's not talking to another department kind of a problem.

BOLDUAN: But one congressman made a very clear point on that when she did honestly answer she wasn't in the position to know at the time. I didn't know. I would like to know. One congressman said very clearly, but you are the company right now. At some point doesn't the "I didn't know" answer not work.

FOROOHAR: Well, I think she's legally correct to say I didn't withhold information and she didn't. At the end of the day, and she said this herself, she has to take responsibility. I think one of the interesting things is that the company is now considering compensation for the business.

BOLDUAN: They're bringing in Ken Feinberg, a man with the reputation to be a victims' advocate. Do you think it's more of a PR move or do you think it's a real --

FOROOHAR: No. I don't it's a PR move and I think that the fact that frankly they may be considering compensation before bankruptcy, but you know, possibly even after the bankruptcy --

BOLDUAN: They're protected so they wouldn't have to pay.

FOROOHAR: They wouldn't have to do that, but this makes me think that they're thinking about that.

CUOMO: They wouldn't have to pay if this is a civil claim. They would have to pay if it considered a criminal activity, you know, a fraud, something. Then there's going to be civil penalties attached. That they would have to pay. So they have to worry about that. I think the confusing part about this is the congressman used the word "gobbledegook." I tell you the word applies to the hearing because they don't know what they're talking about.

FOROOHAR: That's right.

CUOMO: These lawmakers. They are grandstanding much more than anyone on the GM side is.

FOROOHAR: Absolutely.

CUOMO: The good news is because again we keep saying I believe this is just the beginning. GM is not alone. Car makers do this and they've been allowed to do it by government. They've been allowed to do it by NHTSA, the agency that oversees them. That guy was unimpressive when he gave his testimony. He didn't make any sense either. I think that federal prosecutors looking at it is a good sign. I think that's someone's going to crack down and it isn't going to come from Congress.

FOROOHAR: Well, you're right that there's been a culture of cost cutting not only at GM, but a lot of automakers over the years.

BOLDUAN: She herself criticized that during that hearing, right?

FOROOHAR: That's right. There's entire books written about this sort of being counting and the price --

CUOMO: Someone says it's OK when we find out that you put on a table what Chris' life is worth in terms of your 90 cent change. This is an ignition switch. It's not one of the ones involved, but they're all about the same. But you make a financial decision. Period.

BOLDUAN: But can she -- it's still a business. Can she change that culture really?

FOROOHAR: I think she can. Decisions like this are made from the top and GM in the old days had a culture of letting the bean counters make the decisions. The engineers were in the backseat, so to speak. She can change that. She's an engineer and I do think that she's committed to making that change, but she's going to have a big mess to clean up before she can.

BOLDUAN: Another hearing starting in the next few hours on the Senate side. We'll see what more we can learn about that.

CUOMO: It's like a warm up, the hearing. Imagine, it's kind of like cigarettes. If you make something that you know is dangerous to somebody and you allow it to go to market anyway, why isn't that a crime?

BOLDUAN: Make a distinction, though, between cigarettes and cars.

CUOMO: Cigarettes are much worse. No question about it. Cars are not inherently dangerous. If you know as a car manufacturer this may happen and I know enough to do an analysis, why isn't it a crime? If you make it a crime, it stops.

FOROOHAR: Well, it's going to be interesting to see who knew what when and how high up the food chain it went.

BOLDUAN: It's going to take a long time, but it's worthwhile. Rana, thank you very much.

CUOMO: Talk so much needed a zip. Taking a break here on NEW DAY. When we come back, the latest on the search for Flight 370. Family members are frantic for answers. They're meeting with Malaysian officials. We're going to find out what they were told when we speak to one of the family members. His mother was on board that missing jetliner.