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Flight 370 Passengers Cleared in Investigation; Senate Panel Grills CEO; Chile Quake Zone a "Disaster Area"

Aired April 2, 2014 - 13:30   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome back, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. Let's get you caught up on the latest on the search for Flight 370. The search zone has now moved a couple hundred miles closer to the Australian coast. The zone is being patrolled by several ships and planes. There is also a British Navy nuclear submarine there, joining in the search.

Also today, Malaysia's police inspector general announced that all 227 passengers have been cleared of any wrongdoing in four major areas of the investigation, hijacking, sabotage, any personal or psychological problems that may have affected the flight.

But police also said the criminal investigation doesn't end there. The crew is still under scrutiny and they are also taking a closer look at the food and that cargo that would have been on the flight.

Now to Chile, where emergency crews are out in force assessing the damage from a very powerful earthquake. The 8.2 magnitude quake hit off the country's northern coast last night and triggered a tsunami and small landslides.

At least six people have been killed, three crushed to death. More than 2,500 homes have been seriously damaged. Nearly 1 million people were evacuated. Military troops have been deployed to the area to keep order. Officials say right now everything is calm.

General Motors' CEO is being grilled by a Senate panel again today. Mary Barra has acknowledged that GM knew about ignition problems as early as 2001.

The problem could cut off the engine and deactivate air bags, power steering and power brakes. The issue has been linked to 13 deaths. Barra stressed that GM is now a new company. It does things differently than the old GM. But Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts had some very harsh words.


SEN. ED MARKEY (D), MASS.: I am very troubled that you are not willing to commit to ending this culture of secrecy at General Motors.

MARY BARRA, CEO, GM: I didn't say that. MARKEY: Yes, you have. And I know this because I have tried year after year for more than 10 years to have legislation passed that would require the disclosure of all of this information. And it was the automobile industry that killed my legislation year after year. And this is the moment now for you to say more than that you're sorry.


BLITZER: Strong words from Senator Markey. Barra has been CEO for three months. GM has is protected from liability in these cases after their bankruptcy back in 2009.

Now back to the search for Flight 370. The area of the search has moved closer to the Australian coast; as we get closer to when the pings from those black boxes are expected to go silent. Our own Will Ripley is joining us now from Perth, Australia, that's the staging point for the search area.

First of all, Will, what's the explanation?

Why did they again decide to move the entire search zone? Originally it was in the southern Indian Ocean and they moved it up north about 700 miles. Now they're moving it to the east, closer to Australia by another couple hundred miles.

What's the thinking? What went into that third shift in the Indian Ocean?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: : Yet another move to report. The official word that we're getting out here, Wolf, is just that they're continuing to analyze this data and refine the search area. They're saying that maybe some new objects have been spotted in this search area closer to the Australian coastline.

But let's be frank here for a moment. They have been scouring the other area and they haven't found anything yet. So they're now searching the areas around the perimeter, hoping that maybe they'll come up with something, which we haven't seen yet.

BLITZER: How many ships and planes will be on the search operation in a few hours when it resumes?

RIPLEY: You know, yesterday we saw 10 planes, nine ships. We expect those assets to continue to be deployed today, with the addition now of the Ocean Shield, which could actually arrive as early as later this morning here in Perth. The Ocean Shield, as you know, equipped with that high technology from the U.S. Navy, the tow pinger locater, the giant underwater microphone that can listen for the pings, the fading pings from the flight data recorders and also that underwater drone submarine to scan the ocean surface.

Then you mentioned also we have that British submarine in the area, which has the sonar equipment that could also scan the ocean floor and listen for pings. But all of this technology is pretty much useless if we don't narrow down the search area. It needs to be about 1,000 times smaller than what it is right now. BLITZER: They got to find something. They've got to find some wreckage to give them at least a clue. So far they have come up with no wreckage at all.

Will Ripley in Perth, we'll check back with you and will stand by for the resumption of this search in a few hours. We'll have much more ongoing coverage of the search for Flight 370 coming up.

Also, nerves rattled after recent earthquakes in both North and South America. But are both continents overdue for a bigger and much more devastating quake? Our own Chad Myers standing by with his assessment on what they're calling the next big one.



BLITZER: Last night's powerful earthquake in Chile was deadly and destructive, but geologists say it could have been much worse. They were in a larger even more devastating quake could be right around the corner.

Same is true for California, which has experienced several smaller quakes over the last few weeks. The thought that the so-called "big one" could hit sooner rather than later is making a lot of people sort of nervous right now. Chad Myers is watching all of this. He knows a lot about this kind of stuff.

Chad, just how likely is it that the so-called "big one" could hit Chile or California, these parts of the world, in some really high- risk, seismic area?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: There is a new risk, a newer risk. We have known about it since 1999. But we're not talking about the San Andreas Fault. We're not talking about the big fault that runs all the way from north of San Francisco all the way down to Mexico, right through Riverside and into the east of L.A. We're talking about a different fault.

Let me get right down to this. This is what the San Andreas Fault is eventually going to do in Southern California. It's been doing it all along, all along the fault, it's going to slide, it's called the slip strike.

You see how that moves and you can even see some of the pictures where defenses don't line up anymore. That's when the Earth moves this way and buildings shake back and forth like this.

But with this new thrust fault here, from about Puente Hills, it's not the same area. It's not a horizontal thrust anymore. It's a vertical issue that we're worried about. We're worried the strike, the slip, is going to be this way. It's going to slide up, and so all the buildings that are up here on top of the Earth are going to be pushed up by a couple of feet. And it's not an even push up.

You think, well, that's OK, I'm two feet higher, that's great. But your neighbor is one foot higher, your neighbor over here is three feet higher, you're two feet higher. Think about what that does to the infrastructure when all those pipes and all those sewers and all those lines are under water.

We had a big earthquake down here. And this is a different type of fault. This is called a thrust fault. The thrust fault in Chile last night was because this Nazca Plate here is pushing under the South American Plate. This is on top, this one's going down, almost kind of like a -- think about a cold front or a warm front.

As this goes down, you get some tension. And the tension built up under the water and all of a sudden that tension couldn't hold anymore. And one side of the plate popped. When it popped, pushed all the water above it up. Probably a couple feet. That's where the tsunami came from.

And that tsunami ran all the way across, even a foot and a half tsunami, wave, if you will, at Hilo, Hawaii this morning -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, so that we had some relatively smaller earthquakes and aftershocks in California. Now an 8.2 off the coast of Chile and now the U.S. Geological Survey suggesting there was -- they're reporting that an earthquake magnitude 6.2., 6.2 just hit off the coast of Panama right now.

So what does that say? It looks sort -- is it a coincidence that these earthquakes are happening in this part of the world?

MYERS: I rarely believe in coincidences. And even in this place, in this case, I don't. When one big earthquake happens in one part of the world, that can relieve some stress in another but can also create some stress in another. So when these plates move a little bit, these plates are all connected in a big, long line.

And you get that friction in one spot to slide, and all of a sudden you've made more friction up here a thousand miles away, you'll get another slide here. I likely don't think California and Peru, Chile, are connected. But because this happened yesterday at 8.2, this is 6.2 along the same plate boundaries, I believe they are not coincidental.

BLITZER: Not coincidental. All right, Chad, thanks very much. Excellent explanation.

MYERS: Thanks, buddy.

BLITZER: Twenty-seven days after the disappearance of Flight 370, and we're apparently no closer to knowing what actually happened. Tweet us your questions about the search, use the hashtag #370QS. We're going to get some answers.



BLITZER: Questions continue to pour in daily about the search for Flight 370. Let's bring back our panel of experts to tackle some of your questions, our aviation analysts, Mark Weiss and Peter Goelz and our law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes.

Tom, Rose asked this.

Do you feel that the searchers have found evidence of the jet but officials are keeping it quiet for now?

TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I don't think so. I think they just haven't found anything yet.

BLITZER: You agree with that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I agree. I don't -- if they find something they would announce it.

BLITZER: They can't keep something like that secret.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, especially somebody like Boeing. If there is a problem with the airplane, they want to make sure it gets fixed.

BLITZER: Kelly tweets this question.

Will the debris ever wash up on shore, and if so, when would they expect to see it and when?

Good question.

Peter, what do you think?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, eventually, it will wash up. Some piece will show up some place. But it's going to take weeks and months before that happens.

BLITZER: Assuming it landed.

GOELZ: That's right, assuming --


BLITZER: -- in the ocean where they think it did.

GOELZ: There will be a piece that will wash up some time in months or years from now and which somebody is going to bring it in and say here it is. But, boy, it's going to take time.

BLITZER: Yes. All right.

Amelia writes this; Mark, it's for you.

Why is a transponder in a location that makes it accessible to be turned off?

And tell our viewers, first of all, what a transponder is.

MARK WEISS, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: A transponder is a unit on the aircraft that's an electronic unit that basically sends out a signal, a beam to a ground unit, ground-based radar unit, that lets the air traffic controller know it's the airplane's altitude, the speed, its direction of flight. It's basically telling you who I am, where I am and where I'm going.

So it kind of builds a little bit of a cocoon around an airplane.

BLITZER: It's very important for ground control to know where the plane is at all times, the altitude and the speed.

So why -- and this is a great question from Amelia -- why is it so easy to turn it off if you are a bad guy and you want to make sure that plane disappears, the hijacker or whatever, why do they make it so easy to turn it off?

WEISS: Well, but you have to look at it from a perspective of this really doesn't happen very often.

BLITZER: If it happens once, that's enough.

WEISS: Well, it's true but you also have to have it accessible to the pilots.


WEISS: Well, for a couple of different reasons.

One, it's a method of communication to a ground unit, it's a method of saying you have a problem on an airplane whether it's a mechanical or a security problem. And it's also a way of going from different radar sectors to different radar sectors.

BLITZER: But if you're in the air, you never turn it off.

WEISS: No, you never turn it off. But you sometimes change the code on it.

BLITZER: But you don't -- why was it so -- why can't they figure out a way to keep it on at all times and not be allowed to turn it off? Because you're in the cockpit; I saw what it looks like. You just turn it from off to on. And it's over with and then three of the four planes that were hijacked on 9/11, the first things the terrorists did was turned off the transponder. I mean, that seems like a no-brainer. They should fix that.

GOELZ: Well, and maybe they will. There's a very rare chance that the unit itself could overheat or short-circuit and the pilot might consider that he has to turn it off. In that kind of emergency situation, but I agree with you, Wolf, I think they ought to revisit that.

BLITZER: And I'm glad that they're going to consider an international panel now that's going to take a look at some lessons.

All right. That was a good question. Here's another question. After the flight was deemed missing, why wasn't military personnel in that region alerted to look for the plane immediately?

Who wants to tackle that?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Great question.



BLITZER: The military seemed to --


BLITZER: Nobody cared. It was like 1:30 in the morning. And all of a sudden they realize a plane is missing and they don't divert, they don't scramble jets, they don't do anything?

GOELZ: And we have never yet seen the transcript of the internal communications. We don't know what they were saying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of the many questions that have come up because of this, and it certainly seems so opaque. You can't see what's going on. That was one of the big questions. You're going over somebody's territory, where was the Malaysian Air Force or the Thai Air Force? Why wasn't that scrambled or if it was, we certainly don't know about it.

BLITZER: Here's another question from Aaron.

Does the U.S. or any military have technology to locate the 370 but not want to use it because it would expose a cryptic not known?

What do you think?

FUENTES: I don't think so. I think that if they had a way, they wouldn't say how they knew it, revealed the source or the method, but they would say, look here.

BLITZER: Do you agree?

GOELZ: I agree.

I don't think the country would be that cynical. The agony is be too great. They would reveal what they knew. They might not --

BLITZER: They're always sensitive about revealing what they call sources and methods, whether satellite or sonar or submarines, stuff like that. They don't want any bad guys to know how the U.S. collects this information.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But they would have refined the search area and say I think this is a better area to search ins --

BLITZER: Without revealing how they found out that.


BLITZER: All right.

All right, guys, stand by. We have got more questions after the break. We're going to try to answer more of your viewer questions. If you have one, by the way, tweet us the question and use the hashtag #370QS.


BLITZER: Get to some more viewer questions about Flight 370. We'll put them to our analysts, Mark Weiss, Peter Goelz, Tom Fuentes.

A question from Prashanna. In future, is it possible to use a cloud storage for all data? In other words, make sure everything is streamed; you don't need the black boxes. They have it in emergency. It's already someplace that they can get access to even if the plane disappears.

GOELZ: That's one of the options and they will create this commission to look at that. That will be one of the options they look at because that has been a complaint that the data will clog up the entire system. With the cloud that may be the solar system.

BLITZER: And it will cost a few hundred thousand dollars to equip planes to do that, but if the plane already costs $200 million, a 777, a few hundred thousand is not going to break the backs of these airliners.

GOELZ: It's less than the cost of an entertainment system on an aircraft.

BLITZER: You agree, we need this, right?

FUENTES: I agree.

BLITZER: Yes, I think it'll -- one of the lessons we got to learn from this.

Here's another question from James.

Any large recent life insurance policies taken out on passengers?

I assume they looked at that.

FUENTES: Well, that is something that the investigators look at and, again, you are relying on all of the countries that had nationals on that plane, of what type of insurance, checked their financial records, recent deposits, withdrawals, other information like that that would be relevant.

So that's why I'm -- BLITZER: That would be one of the first things you look at, right?

GOELZ: That was one of the first things we looked at with the Silk Air accident in 1967. See whether either one of the flight crew had taken out a large policy. We found that one had.

BLITZER: They had? How much?

GOELZ: I think it was a million dollars.

BLITZER: Just a few days before?

GOELZ: It became effective just around the time of the flight.

BLITZER: Interesting.

All right. Here's another question from Sara.

Could the plane have been remotely controlled and all communication jammed by a device?

You are a 777 pilot.

WEISS: Sara, the answer really is no to that question. There have been a lot of talk about that and there has been some speculation in print and in other media about being able to do that, but the answer really is no. You can't do that.

BLITZER: Dixie tweets this question.

Would the missing plane have had enough fuel to land in Somalia or another African country?

I'll refer that to you again.

WEISS: I'm not sure of the distance on that, but typically that airplane would have taken off; it was on a 7.5 or so hour flight; with the fuel that would have been required to go to Beijing then an alternate airport then 45 minutes after that, it would have had, say, 8.5 hours or so of fuel on board.

I don't know what the flying time, but then remember, we don't know what altitude that aircraft was at. So...

BLITZER: Still a lot of people, conspiracy types, out there who still think that plane landed on ground someplace, even though there is no evidence of that.

FUENTES: That's true. And I looked at that early on, the first week of the disappearance and I'm guessing what the altitude, speed and heading and everything was. And noticed that that plane could land almost half of the cities in Australia and Malaysia Air does fly there. It could have gone as far as Manila in the Philippines, Japan, all over, all the major cities (INAUDIBLE).

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: (INAUDIBLE) Middle East. It could have gotten to Kazakhstan or Central -- and Asia, too, if it had enough fuel and presumably it did.

Here's a question from Rob.

Is it possible the plane could have landed and sunk intact? This could explain no debris and no emergency beacon.

In other words, done a Sully Sullenberger miracle on the Hudson?

WEISS: You know, remember Sully's marvelous landing on the Hudson was during the day on flat, open water. This was at night. This airplane would have come down, probably broken into many parts.

BLITZER: All right, guys. We got to leave it there but will continue tomorrow. Thanks very much.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'll be back 5:00 pm Eastern, another special two-hour edition of THE SITUATION ROOM. "NEWSROOM" with Deb Feyerick starts right now.