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Malaysia Plane Search Goes Under Water; Pinger Locator Hunts For Black Boxes; Pinger Location A High-Tech Hail Mary?; Why A Soldier Snapped; Families Denied Access to Cockpit Audio;

Aired April 4, 2014 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has gone under water and it's now a race against time. Crews are trying to locate the plane's black boxes before battery-powered pingers go silent.

Here are the latest developments. The Australian ship, Ocean Shield, equipped with a U.S. pinger detector, is scouring 150-mile track beneath the Indian Ocean right now. The British Royal ship, HMS Echo, with advanced sonar equipment is also scanning the ocean.

The search above the water is moving full speed ahead, 14 aircraft and 11 ships were involved in today's search.

And more frustration for the families of the 239 people on board the plane. Malaysian officials won't let them listen to the audio recording of the last communication between the pilots and air traffic controllers. They say it's still part of the ongoing investigation.

As we mentioned, the certain for Flight 370 is a race against time. The batteries on the pingers from the missing plane were only expected to last about 30 days, maybe, at tops, 40 or 45, and this is day 28.

Paula Newton is joining us now from Perth, Australia, the staging point for the aircraft involved in this search. Paula, we know there is a sense of urgency surrounding this underwater search but the process itself is oh so slow and painstaking. Give us a sense of what's involved and what the limitations are.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, the commander in charge says it's basically like walking the ocean surface. They're doing it with that tow ping locater. It takes a long time. But, Wolf, they are working at this 24-7 for the next 10 to 12 days.

I think, you know, the most disconcerting thing is that the commander himself describes it as a shot in the dark. The point is, Wolf, it's got about 150-mile track. You've got the HMS Echo in one direction. The tow ping locator on that ocean shield on that other direction. They will converge. It will take a few days. They are hoping that they are lucky and they will still hear those pingers from beneath the ocean surface. But right now, they're telling us nothing more than guesswork.

BLITZER: Paula, it's been, what, exactly four weeks now since the plane disappeared. Four weeks of anguish and pain for the relatives of those on board. What are you hearing from family members about the -- all the uncertainty over where to search?

NEWTON: It's torturing them, Wolf. I mean, I spoke with Danica Weeks just a few hours ago. You know, incredibly, Wolf, she lives just a 10-minute drive from this base. Her husband, Paul Weeks, an engineer, on his way to Mongolia, on Flight 370. Wolf, she has a lot of the same questions that we've been asking over the last few weeks about what happened to this flight. Take a listen.


DANICA WEEKS: I've got all confidence in the search. If it's there, they will find it. But are they in the right place? It's all calculations. It's all guesswork. It's science behind it, obviously, and -- but all they've got is some pings to go on. But I just -- just as a general, normal person or household wife here in Perth, I just assumed, obviously wrongly, that they always knew where planes were. I thought that just went without thinking about.


NEWTON: She just can't believe that this plane with her husband on board would just vanish like that. Wolf, she says it does give her a measure of comfort, in her words, that they are looking for Paul -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The heartbreaking story this has been over these past four weeks. And it continues. Paula, thanks very much.

So, new advanced devices are now being deployed underwater. This is a change in the entire operation. But no one knows for sure where the plane is. And they have some indications but that's it. The pinger batteries on the flight recorders, they are running out.

So, is this basically a high-tech Hail Mary? Let's bring in our panel of experts. Mark Weiss is a CNN Aviation Analyst, the former 777 pilot for American Airlines. Peter Goelz is a CNN Aviation Analyst, former NTSB managing director. Tom Fuentes is our CNN Law Enforcement Analyst, former assistant director of the FBI.

Peter, they're looking for something. They say this is the best they have. But it certainly doesn't seem like they still have any concrete evidence that where the underwater devices are, they may be very high- tech, that they're going in the right direction.

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Wolf, the only thing I can say is I think it's an act of desperation. Unless they're acting on some sort of, you know, information that they've received recently, the idea that you've got a tow pinger going at two-and-a-half knots with a width of about two miles to three miles, searching in a size of Idaho, this is just -- this is just a stunt.

BLITZER: Because if you go at that pace, that could take years to cover that area. GOELZ: It's a stunt. And, I think, you know, they had to do something. They had to put the pinger in the water. But unless they have got some classified information that says, here's where it is, this is a waste of time.

BLITZER: I have to hope they do, that there is some sensitive information. They don't want to release it publicly how they collected that information. But maybe the U.S. or others have provided some classified information. You know what? We can't tell you why but go ahead and look in this area.

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: You would hope so, Wolf. But why not sooner than -- you know, you would think that we would have had something along those lines sooner in this. But even if that's a fact, that they just obtained classified information or they just located, you know, a secret ship has been underwater there, or discovered something, and they're passing it on and that's why

But it just seems -- I agree with Peter. It just seems unusual and like a stunt when you say we're going to take this equipment out to that part of the ocean and sink it in the water and it can only search a one or two-mile area when you have thousands of miles to deal with. It just seems pretty unlikely.

BLITZER: And this new location, it's like the third or fourth or fifth location that they have been looking at, if there is one little change in the calculation from those satellite or radar pings or whatever, that could change the overall direction dramatically.

MARK WEISS, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: You know, from the very beginning, Wolf, we really didn't have a whole the lot of information to go on. I don't think we have a lot more information now. So, every time they seem to refine the data that they have, maybe they're changing the winds aloft. Maybe they're changing, you know, for the different fuel calculations. They seem to close that area, make it a little smaller each time. And as everybody here has said, hopefully they've gotten other information that really will help locate this.

BLITZER: Peter, they're still looking on the surface. They've got planes flying around.


BLITZER: They haven't -- they've seen a lot of junk out there, nothing connected to wreckage from a -- from a plane. But they -- the new development over the past 24 hours is that they are now sending this high-tech underwater equipment in there, hoping to hear that ping from the batteries --

GOELZ: Right.

BLITZER: -- from the black -- from the black boxes. There's this Blue Fin 21 that's also been sent to the area. But they're not using that yet because they don't know where to send it.

GOELZ: They don't know where to look, no. They haven't heard a thing. And this is really a very -- a Hail Mary would be a positive thing. At least you've got a shot at that. Somebody might catch it. Right? Is in this situation, it is just frustratingly slow. And it's just not going to happen. Unless they've got better information.

BLITZER: In all the years you were investigating for the NTSB, have you ever seen anything like this before?

GOELZ: This has been absolutely inexplicable. This is as tough a situation as I've seen. And I really -- I just don't think it's been handled very well. You can't raise expectations. If you're putting the pinger in the water, what for? Why are you putting it there? And every time they revise the search location, they're not explaining why they're doing it. What is it, another guess? OK, we're going to guess here. Well, the confidence of not just the family members, but the public, I think, is waning.

BLITZER: Have you ever seen an aviation mystery like this one?

FUENTES: No. And I think that, you know, Peter is exactly right. The media doesn't help either when now we've refined the search. And that means it's a better location and now we know. It's not. It's, we tried here, it didn't work. Let's try it there, it's not working. Let's try the next place. And they'll keep moving the search area. I don't think it means a refinement in the analysis of the data as much as, if it's not there, maybe it's another place.

BLITZER: They've got to keep looking. And let's not forget, Mark, 239 people are missing right now. The U.S. made Boeing 777, one of the most popular airliners in the world. About 1,200 of them flying around right now. If there was a mechanical problem, we've got to learn about that. Boeing, the manufacturer, has to learn about it. And, as of now, no one has a clue on any of that. And that's why it's so frustrating, especially for someone like you as a pilot.

WEISS: Right, absolutely. I mean, you know, Boeing has a lot at stake in this but so do the airlines that are flying this equipment. I mean, so much of the advertising dollar has gone in to say, look at the new -- our new fleets. Look at what we're bringing out to the traveling public. You know, people are going to be very leery. There's always going to be that lingering question. Was it problem with the airplane? We want answers.

BLITZER: Right. And if there was -- this was a plane that cost upwards of $200 million apiece. And if there was a mechanical problem, we don't know if it was criminal. We don't know if it was mechanical. Or looking at all these options, we've got to know to fix it to make sure it doesn't happen again. All right, guys, we'll have you back in a moment.

Families on board Flight 370, they want something the Malaysian government isn't willing to give. It's a key piece of the evidence that's being kept under wraps for now. We'll share that with you when we come back.

Also, piecing together what would cause a U.S. Army soldier to open fire on other soldiers. We're going live to Fort Hood, Texas. A live report, coming up.


BLITZER: Looking -- we've got some live pictures coming in from Fort Hood, Texas. The governor of Texas, Governor Rick Perry, has been meeting with military personnel there, families, others. He's going to be making a statement, answering reporters' questions. Military officials will be briefing us on the latest information as well. Once they show up, we'll go there live. The latest on the Fort Hood massacre, that's coming up.

Let's get back to the missing airliner right now. It's been exactly four weeks since Flight 370 disappeared. Families say they still aren't getting the information they want. And one of their biggest frustrations right now, the Malaysian government won't let them hear the audio recording of the cockpit conversations between the pilots and ground control.

Our Senior International Correspondent Sara Sidner is joining us from Kuala Lumpur right now at the Malaysian capital. Sara, so, what reason did the Malaysian government give for not allowing the families to hear the audiotape?

SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they would only say that this is part of an ongoing investigation, and they will not release it while it's part of that ongoing investigation. It's not enough for the families.

Basically, the thing that has gotten the families so upset is all these discrepancies, these inaccuracies that keep coming to light. First, we heard from the Department of Civil Aviation, saying that it was the co-pilot who uttered those last words, and that the last words were "all right, goodnight." Then we were able to see a copy of the transcript that the government, finally after three weeks, sent out to the media and to the families. And, of course, when you look at that transcript, it said something else. Something innocuous, but something else. And so it certainly is making the families wonder if they're doing this purposefully or if they're incompetent or if they're purposely trying to hide something. And that's what has the families so annoyed about this.

And, of course, their emotions are going up and down. For t hem, I think every detail matters because they do not have the information that they really want, and the government said it can't give them that information. And that is, what brought this plane down? Where are their loved ones? Those two questions have gone unanswered. So really, for them, it's the details that they want. They want to be able to extrapolate their own ideas, because they feel like they're simply not getting good information and enough information from the government, Wolf.

BLITZER: Was there anything else the families asked for, Sara, and were denied?

SIDNER: Yes. They wanted to take a look at the cargo manifest. Now, you know that the passenger manifest was put out with all the names and the numbers of the passengers. But the government also denied them the cargo manifest, saying that too was part of the ongoing investigation.

And I think what's happening here is the families are starting to see lots and rumors on the Internet. They're calling us, they're e-mailing us sometimes asking us if we can confirm this or that. Some of them are very outlandish rumors. But every little tiny piece of information they're hanging on to.

You know that the majority of the families that we have talked to still hold out hope that their loved ones are alive somewhere. It is bothering them. They are up late at night thinking about all these details, trying to figure out on their own exactly what happened because they're not satisfied with what they're getting from the government. The government saying to them, look, we're doing everything we can. We've got all these search planes out and ships out and 26 countries involved in this search, but they haven't been able to find concrete evidence. And until they do, the families won't be satisfied.


BLITZER: What a heartbreaking story, as I've been saying. Thank you, Sara, for that.

So the families are getting increasingly angry, increasingly frustrated with the overall handling of the crisis. Let's bring back our panel, our aviation analyst, Mark Weiss and Peter Goelz, our law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes.

So, they've released the transcript, Tom. So we've read the transcript. What's wrong with letting the families hear the audiotape?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I agree, Wolf. And I think that in many investigations, even here in this country, we don't release everything. But you try to have the credibility that the people would know there's a reason for that.

The problem in this case is, anything they say along those lines, they've lost the credibility weeks ago because of what Sara just said, the discrepancies or the falsehoods on things that should have been very accurate from the very start. And once you're running a crisis like this and you've lost credibility, particularly with the victims' families, it's gone. And they haven't done anything really helpful to get it back.

BLITZER: Peter, if this were an NTSB investigation, strictly a U.S., FAA, NTSB investigation, you've released the transcript, would you let the families hear the audiotape?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: From the tower, of course. The tower tape would have been made public shortly after the accident. The FAA controls that. And it's their policy that unless there's some seriously extenuating circumstance, the tower tape is made public.

BLITZER: from the pilot's perspective, is there any problem hearing the pilot or the copilot? We're not exactly sure who uttered those final words at exactly 1:19 a.m. there, and we're approaching 30 seconds or so from now that exact moment when the final words were ushered. In fact, right now, 1:19, that was the time -- 1:19 a.m. over there in that part of the world, 1:19 here on the East Coast of the United States, when we heard, according to the transcript, the pilot or the copilot, they're not saying who, uttered those words "goodnight, Malaysian 370."

MARK WEISS, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: You know there's -- there's been so many misinformation -- so much misinformation being given. Having those tapes would really satisfy a lot of people. You know, certainly the families. But there's also the idea that that information on the handoff, when you talk from Malaysian center to Ho Chi Minh center, and did Ho Chi Minh center try to raise the aircraft? Did they try to get it through other aircraft? That time line, I think, would probably help to determine whether or not and what time that aircraft made that turn. There's a lot of misinformation, and there's a lot of information we're lacking.

BLITZER: What about the second point that the families are frustrated, they want -- what was in the cargo.

GOELZ: Well, again, had you started these family briefings, you know, the second night and held them every night and said, you know, some information we'd like you to keep confidential, others -- this wouldn't be an issue. You can share the cargo manifest. You could have them look at it. If that's what's sticking in their craw, if that's what's driving them, keeping them up at 2:00 a.m., then you share it with them. There's nothing that is not going to eventually come out. And the idea is, these people have been tortured for 30 days.

BLITZER: Yes. And it's -- you know, and they see all these rumors out there on the Internet.

GOELZ: Exactly.

BLITZER: All of us see - well, we know exactly where the plane is, we know - and - but it's only human nature, 239 people were aboard that airliner.

GOELZ: Right.

BLITZER: It's only human nature, you loved someone, a mother or a father, a daughter or a son, you - a husband or a wife, you want to hold out hope, well, maybe that plane landed someplace and those people are alive.

FUENTES: Right. Wolf, we teach in crisis management that the less information you put out, the vacuum that you leave by having that lack of information, someone's going to fill it with things that you don't want out there. That would include media. That will include everybody on the Internet and these Twitter accounts and blogs and all the conspiracy theories that come out. If you don't put creditable information out and give a good reason why you're withholding certain specific details, this is what happens. And that's what they're faced with. BLITZER: Yes. All right, guys, Tom, Peter, Mark, thanks so much.

Right now, crews are using those high-tech devices. They're combing the depths of the southern Indian Ocean trying to find some wreckage from Flight 370. Could there be a game-changer? We're going to talk to an ocean search expert who knows those waters well.

And looking for answers in the wake of a rampage at Fort Hood, Texas. You're looking at live pictures right now. A press conference set to begin any minute now. The governor of Texas is now there, Rick Perry. We're going to see what investigators have discovered about a troubled soldier.


BLITZER: A community in mourning, trying to understand how a U.S. Army soldier could snap and go on a shooting rampage. Authorities say Ivan Lopez killed three of his fellow soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, and wounded 16 others. Our George Howell is in Killeen, Texas, as investigators are trying to piece together what happened.

All right, so, George, authorities are finishing -- are they finished searching the shooter's home? Did they find anything there?

I don't think we're -- George is hearing us. George, can you hear us? Apparently we can't hear -- we've got a problem with communications with George Howell. We're going to fix that audio. We're going to make sure he can hear us.

Once again, we're standing by also for a news conference at Fort Hood. There you see live pictures coming in from the news conference that is about to take place. The governor of Texas, Rick Perry, has been meeting with military officials. He's been visiting with victims of the Fort Hood shootings. He will be speaking shortly, along with other political types, including Senator Ted Cruz, local lawmakers, and others. We'll have live coverage of that coming up. We'll reconnect with George Howell. Take a quick break. Much more right after this.