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Search Continues for South Korean Ferry-Sinking Survivors; Bluefin-21 Completes First Full-Day Search for Flight 370; Oil Sample in Search Area Not from Airplane; Malay Transportation Minister Says May Have to Rethink Op; Exploring the ROV

Aired April 17, 2014 - 11:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: He was responsible for hundreds of souls on board, but the captain of the sunken South Korean ferry managed to escape and survive. Only one lifeboat reportedly was deployed.

Now the search is on for almost 300 people still lost at sea.

What has been spotted on the ocean floor in the search for Flight 370? The answer now even more critical after an oil sample taken from the search area turns out not to be connected.

And the hunt for the missing plane has gone deep under the Indian Ocean. Our Martin Savidge is in a submarine taking a look at the difficulties of an underwater search. We will take you there live.

Hello, everyone, I'm John Berman. Michaela Pereira is off today.

Those stories and more, right now, @ THIS HOUR.

And we do begin with questions around the captain of that sunken vessel off the coast of South Korea. He managed to escape the doomed vessel.

You can see him earlier today hiding his face there, this at the same moment the rescuers were combing the message for almost 300 missing passengers including scores of high-school students.

The captain was making apologies.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via translator): Any words for the family members of the missing?

LEE JOON SUK, SUNKEN FERRY'S CAPTAIN (via translator): I'm sorry. I'm at a loss for words.


BERMAN: In the meantime, investigators are looking into a report that only one -- only one -- of the ship's 46 lifeboats was deployed. And a senior official said there is a high possibility that the ferry deviated from its route, all this as agonized parents wait for any sign that their children may have survived.

One young man reportedly sent this text from the sinking vessel. He wrote, "Mom, in case I won't get to tell you, I'm sending this. I love you."

Our Paula Hancocks is in South Korea. Paula, what's the latest on the rescue effort? How are the relatives there holding up?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, we do have some latest information for you. This is from the South Korean government, the ministry of security public administration.

They now have revised the death toll, saying that 18 people have been confirmed dead in this incident, that was nine not so long ago, and they say now 278 people are missing, so they are finding some of those unaccounted for.

But unfortunately they are not finding them alive at this point, but relatives are still keeping hope alive. They are praying about their loved ones about 12 miles out to sea are still alive.

We heard from the maritime police earlier this Thursday that they're working under the assumption there are still survivors. They're hoping there will be air pockets within the ship, and so they say they're working around the clock to try and get to them.

But this Thursday, unfortunately the weather has just not been cooperating. There has been very low visibility in the water itself.

More than 500 divers involved in this search-and-rescue operation. And at least six or seven times they tried to get inside the cabins that are submerged at this point, but they just could not.

They failed because of strong underwater currents. Conditions were very dangerous for those divers as well. So, of course, the hope is that the weather is going to improve, that they will be able to at least get divers in there very soon.


BERMAN: Paula, the reports of these text messages are simply haunting. One teen is said to have written his mother this. "There are a few people in the ship, and we are not dead yet, so please send along this message."

Again, as I said, these are haunting. Do these messages, reported messages, give parents any hope, or does it make it all the worse for them as they wait for any sign, any word of what happened to their kids?

HANCOCKS: Well, John, about 24 hours ago, we actually heard from a mother just down by the water behind me, and she said that she had received a text message that her son on the ship had sent to her other son, and she believed that it was sent recently.

So, she believed that it could well have been after the ship had sunk. And it basically said, Don't give up on us. We're not dead. Please help us.

Now, of course, this gives some of these parents immense hope. But, of course, it could also be the case that this text message just came through late.

It could be the case that it is not an ongoing text message at all. So it's really a very painful time for these families here.

And there was one woman who was screaming at one point earlier today, saying, Who told my children not to get off the boat?

And of course, this is referring to this p.a. announcement that eyewitnesses have told local media that they heard, saying that they were told not to move, that it was dangerous for them to move, and so they had to stay put.

And that eyewitness, a student who got out alive, said the reason he got out alive is because he disobeyed that order.

BERMAN: One of the key questions we're going to ask experts, coming up. Why were they told not to move? How is it that the captain managed to survive with only one lifeboat deployed?

Paula Hancocks from Seoul -- from South Korea, I should say -- thank you so much for being with us right now, a tragic story, and we're following all the twists and turns.

We do want to turn now, though, to new developments in the search for Flight 370. Preliminary analysis of an oil sample taken from the search area has determined that this oil slick was not from an aircraft engine.

Malaysia's transportation minister now says if no traces of the missing jetliner are found, either on the water or under water, officials will have to rethink the operation.


HISHAMUDDIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIAN ACTING TRANSPORTATION MINISTER: There will come a time that we may need to regroup and reconsider. But in any event, the search will always continue. It's just a matter of approach.


BERMAN: The U.S. Navy underwater drone the Bluefin-21 today completed its first full scan of the ocean floor after its first two missions were cut short by technical problems.

The data from the Bluefin-21 is being analyzed. Let's talk about what might be on it. Let's go live now to Erin McLaughlin in Perth, Australia. Erin, when do we expect to get full results from the first day on the ocean floor, and when might it begin its next full day on the water?

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. Well, no timetable has been given for that analysis of those results.

Also, we don't know exactly when they're going to put the Bluefin-21 back into the water.

But this is a really critical time in this search operation, the Bluefin-21 having completed its very first mission. It scanned some 34 square miles.

That area is really important because it's the area that officials have, in part, identified as the most likely place to find the black box.

And that is based on analysis of pings, according to the U.S. Navy, the second ping that was detected on April 5th, in particular. It lasted some 13 minutes. It was the strongest signal detected.

Now, if the Bluefin had, in fact, found something, it is possible that they could fit it with an actual camera. It's using sonar technology now to go down and take pictures of what it's found.

But the bottom line is we don't know what their next steps are, and we're waiting to hear from them for that information.


BERMAN: Let's talk about some other dead ends right now. We now know that that oil slick, the sample, they tested it, and they see no connection to Flight 370.

This means there is still no physical trace at all of this plane, no debris, no oil slick. Is this discouraging to officials there?

MCLAUGHLIN: I think officials here in Perth are confident that they are looking in the right place, and they're still very determined to see this mission through.

All along, Angus Houston, the man responsible for coordinating this effort, when referencing that oil slick and the two-liter oil sample that was being brought to shore to be analyzed, he said it was just another lead that either needed to be ruled in or ruled out.

And that's really a process that we've seen all along in this search. They've been searching by ship, by air, by satellite for any physical signs of this plane, as you mentioned, nothing so far despite hours and hours and hours of painstaking work.

But the people involved in this search are determined to solve this mystery to give closure to the family and friends of the victims involved.

John? BERMAN: What they have to go on right now is their math and those four pings, a lot riding on that right now.

Erin McLaughlin in Perth for us, thanks so much.

Let's look at some other headlines.

A memorial service under way at a Jewish community center in Kansas City. The event honors three people who were shot dead Sunday outside the center and at a nearby assisted-living facility. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to make remarks there.

A known white supremacist has been charged in the killing of Corporon, Underwood and LaManno.

Right now at the White House, the president and vice president are hosting members of the Wounded Warrior Project. Their seventh annual soldier ride celebration is getting under way.

The White House says that this bicycle rally helps wounded soldiers restore their physical and emotional well-being. It also increases national awareness of those who battle the physical and psychological damages of war. It's a wonderful cause.

World leaders discussing the Ukraine crisis now in Geneva, so far there's been no resolution on how to end the unrest. But Vladimir Putin says it is important to figure out how to get out of this situation.

More than 300 pro-Russian separatist attacked a military base in east Ukraine today. We'll have details on that, later this hour.

Ahead @ THIS HOUR, we'll ask experts from sobering words from an official, regroup and reconsider.

What do those words mean? Does it mean now that they believe this search has hit a snag?

Stay with us.



HUSSEIN: Firstly, the visuals that we managed to get from the Bluefin- 21 were very clear, not in finding what we were looking for, but what the seabed looks like, and that gives us a bit of relief as the next few days we're going to intensify the deepwater search.


BERMAN: That update from Malaysia's acting transportation minister.

We want to talk about all the developments right now in the search for Flight 370. Our aviation analyst, Jeff Wise, is here and Steven Wallace is with us, as well. He is the former director of accident investigations at the FAA.

And I want to start with something that the acting Malaysian transportation minister also said at that news conference, Steven.

He said officials might be forced to regroup, to reassess if they don't find any sign of anything on the ocean floor before long.

Those words, regroup and reassess, is that basically an admission that if they don't find anything within a week, they might be looking in the wrong place?


First of all, I think that really the Australians and this tremendous international effort down there in Australia is really doing the right thing.

I think they is -- I think that there is kind of a continual process of reassessing and regrouping where they, as the evidence becomes refined -- they narrow the search area. You know, there were some glitches with this Bluefin 21 where they maybe needed to adjust the depth that it was going to go to. So I didn't put a lot of weight on those words from the defense minister up there in Malaysia.

BERMAN: So Jeff, what about the oil slick? They tested that oil now. It doesn't turn out to be connected to flight 370. That leaves no physical evidence at this point of this flight.

WISE: Right, exactly, and that's a big problem. We've been hearing a lot of positive language over the last few weeks from both Australian and Malaysian authorities, basically assuring us that had a -- that they were narrowing in on the wreckage and that it would be found soon.

Now we're hearing very different language. And I would say that I do think there was much to interpret in this kind of language we're hearing now, to regroup, to reassess. Is it in the vicinity of where they've been looking? Is it somewhere else entirely?

As you indicated earlier, the only evidence we have of what happened to this plane now are these pings from Inmarsat, this stationary satellite. And the interpretation of that data is crucial. And the thing we need to remember is we don't know how Inmarsat carried out those calculations. We cannot independently assess their reasons for saying that we are in this area that we're looking.

BERMAN: They have the Inmarsat data, Jeff, but they also have the underwater pings picked up by the towed pinger locator. They have heard something under the water there.

WISE: Right.

BERMAN: So Steve, the question is how long do you look for it where you did hear those pings? The Australian official in charge of this essentially said we're going to give this another week under water with the Bluefin 21. Is that really enough time?

WALLACE: Well, I think we're going to take as much time as it needs. You know, as Jeff said, perhaps the Inmarsat data hasn't been viewed by -- as transparently and by as wide a group of experts as it might have been, but I have a lot of confidence in the two pieces of data which seem to be aligning in that, the Inmarsat pings and the pings picked up by the towed pinger locator. So that's what's focused this area.

I think there's an unprecedented level of international cooperation and determination here. I don't see anybody giving up on this. It's a huge search area. This Bluefin 21 is apparently doing, you know, 10 or 12 or 15 square miles a day, depending on whose measurements you accept the search area could be, you know, 100 times that big or 1,000 times that big. I don't see anybody giving up here.

BERMAN: I don't think they're going to give up at all. Malaysia made that clear that they'll keep the search going in some form as long as they possibly can.

Jeff, there was some more information coming up in the "Wall Street Journal" today. The "Wall Street Journal" reporting from a source in Australia that they think now that Flight 370, there are signs it might have been on autopilot. There are some signs based on the Inmarsat data and other data. It may have actually been heading towards Perth.

WISE: That's really interesting. That would seem to be beyond the range that we believed it could fly. And I think it's important to realize that the average non-aviation person might be a little bit confused by this idea of flying on autopilot.

Usually, planes are flown on autopilot, meaning the captain or the pilot flying would input into the flight management system a waypoint or a destination, and the plane will essentially take itself there. So the fact that it's on autopilot, meaning flying itself, that's actually the normal state of affairs.

BERMAN: The idea that it was heading towards Perth right now is just another one of these extrapolations. And there have been so, so many, haven't there?

WISE: That's absolutely right, yeah.

BERMAN: So Steven, what next? I mean, at this point, you just say keep searching with the Bluefin? Should they start considering bringing in this next layer of technology, the -- possibly the manned subs that would search the ocean floor if they had to just to be ready?

WALLACE: Well, I think they will do that. I -- this Bluefin has only been down there for three days. So I would say we're kind of at the beginning of that phase, and certainly the experts are looking at the -- at the next phases.

I might just add one thing here. Jeff, of course, is absolutely right, airplanes are routinely, almost all the time, flown on autopilot. You know, the fact that this oil slick didn't appear to be from the plane and there's no debris, I mean, an explanation, perhaps not the explanation, but an explanation for that is that this airplane impacted the water and remained intact. That could be the result of being hand flown or it being even perhaps on autopilot that it was intact and then a level attitude and completely out of fuel. So that's possible.

BERMAN: Certainly one of the possibilities here that has led to this mystery and so much hypothesizing.

All right, Steve Wallace, Jeff Wise, thanks so much for being with us. Stick around, guys, because we want you to answer some questions from our viewers about the search for 370. We'll check back in with you toward the end of the hour.

If you want to ask these guys a question, tweet us the hashtag #370qs. We're also on facebook/atthishour.


BERMAN: Once the wreckage of Flight 370 is found, if ever, a new phase of the search will begin. A sophisticated remote-controlled vehicle will take up the challenge of trying to find the black boxes. Its camera will show what's happening deep below the ocean in real time. This also has sonar and robotic arms. But the big question, can it go deep enough? Here's Rosa Flores.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This could be the key to solving the mystery of Flight 370. It's a remotely operated vehicle, or ROV for short. Once wreckage of flight 370 is identified, an ROV like this one is likely the next crucial step in finding the plane's black box.

MARTIN STITT, ROV SUPERINTENDENT: All of the hydraulics running.

FLORES: It's controlled from the surface using this joystick.

STITT: I'm coming around now.

FLORES: Has lights to illuminate the stark black of the ocean deep. Cameras transmitting back footage in real time.

STITT: TMS hydraulics on.

FLORES: And high-frequency sonar to combat the notoriously difficult visibility in the area of the Indian Ocean where the plane is believed to be. But most importantly, the ROV has robotic arms called manipulators.

STITT: The arm has jaws. You can open and close the jaws.

FLORES: They are essentially mechanical hands, able to retrieve objects from the ocean floor, far deeper than any human could withstand.

STITT: Stand and retract.

FLORES: A second manipulator can be equipped with tools for cutting through metal such as on the fuselage of a plane.

STITT: It would be ideal for a black box, not a problem at all for an ROV to pick it up, put it in a basket and recover it back to the vessel.

FLORES: Experts say top priority for investigators is to retrieve both the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder. This ROV, called the Triton XLS, can go to depths of around 10,000 feet.

But the ROV that is brought to the wreckage of Flight 370 could have to withstand the pressure of around 15,000 feet of water. Underwater pulses were detected at that depth last week. And unlike the Bluefin searchers are currently using, the ROV is connected to the boat through a line called an umbilical and has a constant power source and is able to feed back information immediately.

STITT: The ROV can stay submerged for days.

FLORES: And the hope is with these capabilities the ROV will finally manage to bring some answers to the surface.

Rosa Flores, CNN.


BERMAN: Our thanks to Rosa for that story.

Ahead for us @ THIS HOUR, passengers aboard the sunken ferry off South Korea say crew members told them to stay put, but many ignored those orders, and they survived.

The question is, what is the right decision? We'll consult an expert straight ahead.