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Prime Ministers Meet as MH370 Search Zone Shifts Again; Debate Reignites About Putting Cameras in Cockpits; House Republicans Planning Vote to Hold Former IRS Official in Contempt of Congress; If Found, Could MH370 Be Salvaged?

Aired April 3, 2014 - 13:30   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting from Washington.

There are a number of new twists and turns in the search for flight 370. Here's what we know right now. Officials coordinating the search in the southern Indian Ocean will soon make a major announcement. So far, officials aren't revealing the nature of the announcement, but they do describe it, in their word, as "big."

We've also learned that a British ship in the search zone will be conducting what they describe as a specific search in the coming hours. It's not clear what they're zeroing in on right now, but we'll, of course, continue to work our sources.

The search zone has shifted yet again, this time, a bit to the north. Officials say they're refining the zone based on continuing analysis of satellite communications and the plane's capabilities.

In just a few hours, search crews will get some high-tech help. The Australian vessel, "Ocean Shield," is expected to arrive carrying a device that could help find the pingers on the data recorders. The batteries on those pingers are expected to run out in about four or five days.

Today, Australia's prime minister called the search "the most difficult in human history." And his Malaysian counterpart vowed he'll never give up until answers are found. The two leaders met in Perth, Australia. That's where the search operation is based.

Our Kyung Lah is there.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Side by side, the prime ministers, one representing the search, and the other, the investigation into why Malaysia flight 370 vanished. In a choreographed photo op through the Australia air base, they thanked troops from eight nations, repunted relentlessly over the remote Indian Ocean for more than two weeks.

NAJIB RAZAK, MALAYSIAN PRIME MINISTER: (INAUDIBLE) -- questions. LAH: But what neither leader could give was any real direction on the location of the missing plane.

TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINSTER: We cannot be certain of ultimate success in the search for MH-370. But we can be certain that we will spare no effort, that we will not rest.

RAZAK: The search era is lost and the conditions are not easy, but a new refined area of search has given us new hope.

LAH (on camera): Malaysia's prime minister arriving here at the base in Australia as the families of the passengers continue to blast his country for its poor handling of the investigation.


LAH (voice-over): The most vocal, the Chinese families. "Malaysia botched this from the beginning," says Steven Wang, whose mother was on the flight.

STEVEN WANG, MOTHER ON BOARD FLIGHT MH-370: Flight heading to Beijing but it turns west, and flying over the whole Malaysia for more than one hour, but they didn't take any action. It was ridiculous.

LAH: The Malaysian government maintains it is doing all it can. And after a meeting with families yesterday, the country's civil aviation chief insisted he'd answered all of their questions.

GEOFFREY THOMAS, EDITOR, AIRLINESRATING.COM: I think overall they haven't handled it well. I think they're improving significantly in the last week or so. But early on, definitely not.

LAH: Malaysia's prime minister refused to field any reporter questions the entire time he was in Australia, offering no answers --

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Prime Minister Razak, given there's so much information --

LAH: Or hope for how long this hunt will go on.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Perth, Australia.


BLITZER: Cameras have helped shed light on accidents involving buses and trains. But what about planes? The Malaysia Airlines mystery has renewed the debate over cameras in the cockpit. You're going to hear the arguments on both sides when we come back.


BLITZER: The search for Malaysia Airlines flight 370 is heading into day 28. Crews are racing against the clock to try to find the plane's so-called black boxes. They hold the best clues about what happened to the plane. And the disappearance of flight 370 has reignited the debate over putting cameras in the cockpit. Stephanie Elam investigates.


UNIDENTIFIED PILOT: We're descending to 3000.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As pilots guide commercial planes across the skies, everything they say is recorded. But unlike other modes of transportation, we can't see what's happening at the controls. Cameras have shed lights on accidents, like when this bus driver was caught on surveillance camera texting just before rear-ending an SUV. Cameras are also keeping an eye on train conductors. And now the mystery surrounding Malaysia Airlines flight 370 has re-energized the debate of putting cameras in the cockpit.

MIKE KARN, PRESIDENT, COALITION OF AIRLINE PILOTS ASSOCIATION: The amount of information they're deriving right now from the aircraft exceeds anything than the other transport industries.

ELAM: Mike Karn, of the Coalition of Airline Pilots Association, says cameras would be intrusive.

(on camera): Why not put cameras in the cockpit of commercial airliners?

KARN: I want the pilot worrying about flying the aircraft. The second thing is current technology allows you to monitor so many more parameters of the aircraft that it's not necessary. You're going to know the attitude, the speed, the configuration, everything that can tell you about that aircraft.

ELAM (voice-over): In 2000, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended the Federal Aviation Administration require airlines to record electronic images, data that would be included in two redundant cockpit data recorders, one in the front of the plane, another in the rear. But in the last 14 years, that recommendation has gone nowhere beyond being a suggestion.

JIM HALL, FORMER NTSB CHAIRMAN: This information would be limited to accident investigation use and, otherwise, would not be available for viewing by anyone.

ELAM: Jim Hall was chairman of the NTSB when the recommendation was made. After the investigation of several crashes, found there wasn't enough cockpit data to determine what went wrong.

HALL: The cameras would not be on the face of either of the pilot or the co-pilot. They would focus on the instruments and on the manipulations that are made.

KARN: We constantly see the edging and edging more towards taking away the privacy of the pilots. We're performing our job up there. I would rather be focused on doing my job than what people are seeing.

ELAM: Yet, Hall sees passenger safety as a higher priority than pilot privacy.

HALL: I hope that we won't wait until we have a similar incident involving a United States airline and United States citizens to take the action that's necessary to provide for the safety and security of the traveling public.

ELAM: Stephanie Elam, CNN.


BLITZER: Let's bring back our panel again, our aviation analysts, Mark Weiss and Peter Goelz; and Tom Fuentes, our CNN law enforcement analyst.

Peter, what do you think? Cameras in the cockpit, good or bad idea?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST & FORMER NTSB DIRECTOR: I was there at the board when we recommended it. I'm in favor of it. I think it gives an extra added piece of evidence on exactly what was going on. I can think of a number of accidents where a camera in the cockpit would have been very useful.

BLITZER: Mark, you're a former 777 pilot. What do you think?

MARK WEISS, CNN AVIATION ANALYST & FORMER 777 PILOT: I have mixed emotions about it, quite honestly. As long as it's not being used punitively, I think you can gain a lot of information from that. I think, at this point, it would behoove both the pilot unions and the NTSB and the FAA to start having a real serious dialogue about how to come to a conclusion on this.

BLITZER: Because, as Stephanie points out, if you've got cameras for bus drivers, for truck drivers, for trains, why not for planes?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST & FORMER FBI DEPUTY DIRECTOR: Right. Using this case as an example, if they get the flight data recorder some day, if the voice cockpit recorder has been written over and, therefore, has no real information of what happened at the time the plane turned, you're going to know the plane went up, down, sideways, north, south, all of that, where all the settings were on the aircraft. But you won't know positively who was controlling that aircraft. And really only -- you know, even if you come up with a variation of a video camera system, put a camera up there that when the cockpit door opens it clicks on and records who's coming and going, just so you'd know that there's no other intruder. That once that cockpit door shuts at takeoff time, that's it. You would know if someone else came in there. Right now, if we recover this data from this flight at some point, we may not know who was in that cockpit that made the plane do all the movements.

BLITZER: And here's -- the technology as we all know is there, not only to stream live all the information that goes into flight data recorder, the cockpit voice recorder, so in case of an emergency, the plane disappears, at least you have that information that investigators can then review that. But the technology is also there to stream video images, live, back to some ground control place and hold it, not release it, but only use it if necessary for an investigation. I don't see anything wrong with that, do you?

GOELZ: No. And pilots are concerned that it's going to be used punitively for --


BLITZER: But what if there's an agreement it's only used if the plane disappears and we have to find out what was going on inside that cockpit in the hours before the disappearance -- like the case with flight 370 right now?

GOELZ: Absolutely. And the protection of the voice recorder has been pretty ironclad over the past 30, 40 years. I think the same protections can be applied.

BLITZER: Will the Pilots Associations agree to this, you think?

WEISS: I think there's going to be a great deal of pushback. So I really believe that you're going to have to come up with some compromises on both sides to make this work.

BLITZER: What if it's only used in a case like this? They'll have all the information, but if there's a disappearance of a major airliner with 239 people on board, at that point, they go to the videotape.

WEISS: Well, you know, personally I believe in that. Remember, we have families too. We want to come home. We wouldn't want to leave them in the same feeling that these poor families, these 239 families are.

FUENTES: You know, workers at a casino are under camera the whole time they're working. And they don't have 240 lives in their hands.

BLITZER: Yeah. I think it sort of makes sense.

You know what, the International Airport Transport Association are engaged in a task force to come up with recommendations over the next six months. Let's hope they come up with a good strong recommendation on this. We'll see where we go.

We've got to learn lessons from what happened.

FUENTES: We do, in this particular case.

BLITZER: Just ahead, Congress versus the IRS over allegations of targeting conservative political groups. A former official with the tax agency could end up in a lot of hot water. Right now, lawmakers are about to vote. Standby.


BLITZER: Breaking news coming from Capitol Hill. House Republicans are planning a vote on whether to hold a formal IRS official in contempt of Congress.

Our Lisa Desjardins is going joining us from Washington. She has the details.

This stems from the IRS targeting conservative groups seeking tax- exempt status, so what is the latest -- Lisa?

LISA DESJARDINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. This was a huge story last year and this is the latest development in it. CNN first got word about this a short while ago. House Republicans are planning to vote in committee next week on whether to hold Lois Lerner, the former IRS official, in contempt of Congress. Lerner has refused for the past year to testify about her role in the targeting of conservative and Tea Party groups. And she is now looking like she will face a Contempt of Congress charge.

Now, this investigation goes back a few years. Lerner ran the tax- exempt organization division of the IRS, which decided who gets tax- exempt status or not. As many of our viewers remember, many conservative groups were delayed in their application state and later we found out that the IRS was looking for terms, like "Tea Party," and pulling them out of the line and thereby delaying the request.

Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Wolf, of course, has been trying to see if there is any link between what the IRS did and anyone else in the administration. In other words, was there an overall political targeting of these groups from the White House. There has been no proof that such a targeting existed. But Lois Lerner has not testified. And now, Darrell Issa is pushing her to -- saying she will face a Contempt of Congress charge potentially if she decides not to.

BLITZER: Doesn't she have the right to remain silent if she -- and her lawyers think it could be incriminating? That's a constitutional right, right?

DESJARDINS: That's one of the things that makes this case so fascinating. Here's the thing. Before she invoked her Fifth Amendment right. She has said she does not need to testify, because she does not need to testify against herself, as the Constitution guarantees.

Here's the thing, Wolf. Before she invoked that right to the committee, she also read a statement saying she was innocent, that she had done no wrong. By reading that statement, House Republicans and, in fact, the House counsel, the attorney for the House of Representatives, have found that she waved her First Amendment (sic) right, that essentially, she cannot, in one part of the statement, give some testimony, in that case, saying she did nothing wrong, but right after that, invoke her Fifth Amendment right. They are arguing it is either Fifth Amendment all the way or nothing. Her attorney disagrees.

So what we have here, Wolf, is a case about politics and also some potentially disturbing targeting of political groups, on the one hand. But we also have a tremendous constitutional case over exactly what the Fifth Amendment right does here in Congress when you are testifying. BLITZER: Lisa, thanks very much. Given the Republican majority on that committee, Darrell Issa's committee, I assume the final vote, if it happens, is a foregone conclusion. We will see what happens.

Thanks very much.

Finding the Malaysian passenger jet is an enormous task. If searchers do find any sign of the plane, what are the chance that is it could be salvaged? We will have a report when we come back.


BLITZER: "The most difficult search ever in history," that's how Australia's prime minister described the race to find Malaysian flight 370. Now the British "Echo," the survey ship, is set to hone in on a specific area off the coast of Australia. Even if it's found, how much of the plane could be salvaged?

Our Randi Kay takes a look at the technology and the challenges involved.


RANDI KAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is what it looks like trying to recover an airplane in the ocean. You are watching a U.S. Navy salvage team gathering pieces of TWA flight 800 that went down off of New York in 1996. Here, divers are maneuvering among pieces of the twisted wreckage.

CAPT. RAYMOND SCOTT MCCORD, U.S. NAVY, RETIRED: The U.S. Navy has recovered an intact helicopter from about 17,000 feet. So they have the capability and they have done this before.

KAY: Retired Navy captain, Chip McCord, has been involved in at least ocean salvage operations, including TWA 800 and Swiss Air flight 111, which crashed in 1998 off the coast of Nova Scotia. Those were both in water much shallower than the Indian Ocean, but the Navy has remote underwater vehicles designed for deep water salvage operations.

They can go as deep as 20,000 feet, but the deeper the recovery, the slower the process.

MCCORD: It takes about an hour for every 1000 of feet you're going to descend. So if you are going to 11,000 feet, you can count on 11 hours to get down.

KAY: At those depths, it's pitch black. The underwater vehicles are equipped with lights and cameras and outfitted with SONAR to scout for debris. They are steered by two operators on board the ship above, who use instant feedback from the salvage vehicle's cameras to direct the robotic arms.

MCCORD: They can hover and move left, right, forward, and back, and go to where they may carefully hover over a piece and pick it up if they need to. KAY: Remember Air France flight 447, which crash in the Atlantic Ocean in 2009? Two years later, an unmanned underwater vehicle found the debris field for the flight 13,000 feet beneath the surface. The engines were pulled from the ocean floor. If flight 370 is found, search teams are prepared to do the same.

MCCORD: If it's small like the black boxes, you can put a basket on the ROV and the arms of the ROV can pick it up and put it in the basket.

KAY: But the remote underwater vehicles can only carry about 4,000 pounds. Anything heavier, like a piece of the fuselage, will have to be attached to a cable and pulled by a crane on the ship.

(on camera): Keep in mind this could be happening miles below the surface. An incredibly difficult task. Still, no doubt, salvage teams will keep their eyes peeled for the black box, hoping to get much needed answers first.

Randi Kay, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: It's being called a historic meeting. Queen Elizabeth II paid a visit to the Vatican today. The queen met for the first time with Pope Francis. There they are. Two world leaders talked about a half hour. They exchanged gifts. And we hear that the queen gave the pope a basket of food. The queen reportedly received a small globe for her new grandson and a personal parchment scroll. There they are, at the Vatican, the queen and the pope.

That's it for me. Thanks for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer, in Washington. I will be back at 5:00 p.m. Eastern for a special two- hour edition of "THE SITUATION ROOM." Lots of news to report.

For now, let's turn it over to Brooke Baldwin and Don Lemon.