Return to Transcripts main page


"Miracle" Teen Survives Flight in Landing Gear; The Search for Survivors on Sunken Ferry Drives Divers to Tears; Activity Detected At North Korea Nuclear Site

Aired April 22, 2014 - 06:30   ET


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: The search continues this morning for missing Malaysian Flight 370 as the Bluefin-21 drone makes its tenth underwater mission scanning the ocean floor. Four military aircraft departed for their missions prior to the decision to suspend air search activities because of poor weather, related to tropical cyclone Jack.

Aircraft captains will assess weather conditions on-site and decide whether to continue on with the search or return to base.

The death toll in the South Korean ferry disaster continues to grow, 108 bodies have been brought to the surface; 194 people are still missing. The company operating the sunken ferry issued a formal apology begging for forgiveness from the families of the victims.

Meanwhile, South Korea says it's detected increased activity at North Korea's main nuclear test side. Seoul stepped up military preparedness in response. The North has already said it wouldn't rule out another nuclear test. The last one was over a year ago.

These nuclear concerns happening as President Obama prepares for a trip to Asia. He has stops planned in Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines. The trip was planned for last October but pushed because of the government shutdown.

The president will be stopping in Washington state on his way to meet with victim's families of last month's deadly mudslide. That area still recovering from that devastation.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: It's going to be a long time.

PEREIRA: Certainly will.

BOLDUAN: All right. Altitudes well above that of Mt. Everest. Temperatures lingering in the negative 70s, possibly the negative 80s.

So, how could a teenager survive a flight from California to Hawaii traveling within the landing gear wheel well of a Boeing 767 under those conditions?

Joining us to discuss Dr. John Boockvar, professor of neurosurgery and neuroscience at Weill Cornell Medical College. Doctor, thanks so much for coming in. I'm sure you would say it's hard to believe and this is one lucky boy.

DR. JOHN BOOCKVAR, WEILL CORNELL MEDICAL COLLEGE: I agree with that. I think most of the medical community would agree with that also. This is quite a miraculous recovery. The brain can adapt to these high altitudes and low oxygen situations but surely this is not something that we see frequently.

BOLDUAN: I feel like every doctor I know has a story of a medical miracle they come across that beat all the odds. Have you ever heard of anything like this?

BOOCKVAR: Well, I treated that window washer that fell 47 stories and survived. So these story s do happen, like you said. This is one of those stories that's somewhat hard to believe. The duration and the altitude are the two factors that are truly difficult to understand.

BOLDUAN: I want to ask you kind of the affect of both of those factors. What, first off, the effect of that altitude? Meaning, the lack of oxygen on the body. What does that do?

BOOCKVAR: Well, we all have mechanisms to deal with those situations, should they exist. For example, if a child falls into a pond that's frozen, their body's heart can stop beating, brain can stop functioning. Yet, when that child thaws, they can be revive and live a near normal life.

So, we do have mechanisms to allow us to survive these extreme situations.

BOLDUAN: So, the combination of the affect of the lack of oxygen and the affect of the subzero temperature, do you believe that somehow worked in this boy's favor?

BOOCKVAR: Well, yes, and I think that his youth is his biggest asset here.

BOLDUAN: How so?

BOOCKVAR: Well, much like our brake pads are better three days after we buy a car than three years after we buy that car. Our body's ability to repair itself and survive these extreme situations are better with youth than with age.

BOLDUAN: And then when you take all of that into consideration, I wonder, they say that when they found the boy he was kind of walking around the plane kind of dumbfounded and dazed. Do you believe -- could you see there being lingering or any long-term effects or problems because of what this boy experiences?

BOOCKVAR: Well, that's actually the most remarkable part. I would -- we would have expected that he had a slower return to normalcy than walking out of the plane an hour later. So, it's hard to evaluate exactly what the long-term effects would be, whether there's been tissue damage, whether there's been frostbite, whether there's been kidney, injury, or any muscle related injury. Because he walked an hour later, that's awfully surprising.

BOLDUAN: And he doesn't remember any of this flight. He told investigators that right after liftoff, he went unconscious. At what point of lack of oxygen or the temperature drop do -- would you suspect he went unconscious?

BOOCKVAR: There may have been some gradual affect where there was an abrupt termination of his consciousness and that may have helped him. We don't know the exact moment when he went unconscious. But somewhere above 25,000 feet, we expect him to have lost consciousness, a couple of minutes into the flight.

BOLDUAN: And I guess we can all say, if this is true, but authorities are taking this very seriously.


BOLDUAN: And all of the evidence that they have so far, video in San Jose and video in Hawaii, is that this actually happened. What do you think is -- I think you pointed to it, but what do you think is the hardest thing as a doctor to believe and how this played out?

BOOCKVAR: Duration, altitude, and the low oxygen and temperatures are really very difficult to believe.

BOLDUAN: Should he have frostbite?

BOOCKVAR: He should have frostbite. He should not have walked an hour after this event. That's what's most remarkable.

BOLDUAN: Do you think it's his youth or am I searching for the answer where this answer should have been this shouldn't have been able to happen.

BOOCKVAR: Right. Unless he's a super hero, this is not something that we would have expect to have happened.

BOLDUAN: He is one lucky boy. We can all agree on that. Doctor, it's great to see you. Thanks for coming in.

BOOCKVAR: My pleasure.

BOLDUAN: Really a appreciate it.

CUOMO: There's got to be a reason. It must have been warmer in there or something like that.


CUOMO: Otherwise, it just doesn't make sense.

BOLDUAN: Nothing --

CUOMO: Although Mick was saying earlier, people have survived it before but maybe it is because there's someplace --

BOLDUAN: Nothing you can prepare for.

PEREIRA: You couldn't plan to do it and survive.

BOLDUAN: Exactly right.

CUOMO: I got to figure out. Thanks, doc. Appreciate it.

Let's take a little break here on NEW DAY.

When we come back: divers in South Korea are literally weeping as they pull body after body out of that sunken ferry. The ferry's operator is begging for mercy from the families. We're going to break down the divers' struggle for you, why it's so hard for them, what they're up against. And what happened, we're going to take it on with the captain who knows the route, straight ahead.


CUOMO: Welcome back.

More than 100 people have been confirmed dead in the ferry disaster off South Korea's coast. And really, nearly 200 are still likely somewhere in that sunken ship. The accident is sharking questions about safety and training on passenger ferries worldwide, including here in the United States where millions ride them each year.

Captain James Staples is with Ocean River LLC Maritime Consultants. He's a cargo ship captain and a maritime safety consultant.

Captain, good to have you here.

Two quick questions as we try to figure out what happened here. On the captain's side, you say take a look at the narrow sage way here and his knowledge of the cargo displacement and organization on board. Because?

CAPT. JAMES STAPLES, MARITIME SAFETY CONSULTANT: That's his job. It's his responsibility to know what the stability is, what's been loaded on his ship. He's the overall supervisor of what's happening and all the operations of the ship.

CUOMO: And most likely to you in this scenario right now is that something onboard shifted and caused this problem and in that narrow passageway, it may have been exacerbated by the route he took through it.

STAPLES: That's correct. That's the most obvious conclusion I'm coming to, he had a shift in cargo on board the ship.

CUOMO: Third mate, young at the helm when the captain was not, says she didn't make a sharp turn but the ship did turn much more than usual. What does that mean to you?

STAPLES: We need to look to see if it was a mechanical fail we're the steering gear, maybe on -- if they had it on board this ship, if they were using that. We need to look at that type of stuff, if it was a mechanical or some type of navigational error with the equipment.

CUOMO: All by itself, young third mate at the helm, captain not there. Not entirely unusual?

STAPLES: It's not unusual for the third mate to be by themselves but usually not in a situation where it's a critical area. Where there's a lot of traffic, a lot of current. That's where you would want to be as captain, up there just to make sure in case anything did go wrong you were there to supervise it and to oversee any problems you had.

CUOMO: So, that's a point of concern. That's a real issue.

All right. So, now, let's look at the divers. We're hearing that they are under tremendous strain and now we're going to run a little video simulation of what they're up against. On top of having to deal with all of these dead kids that they're finding and adults, what are the conditions like under water?

STAPLES: They're going to have bad visibility and a lot of current.

CUOMO: So, they're getting blown around, a lot of strength it takes to maintain you're own physical integrity as you're down there.

STAPLES: Absolutely, yes.

CUOMO: And they're going through the corridors, they're having to cut. We're making it visible to make it helpful to people at home. But what's it really like underwater?

STAPLES: They probably can't see their hand in front of their face. It's probably that bad. It's a very hazardous, dangerous situation these guys are working on. My hat's off to them.

I mean, this is very, very dangerous. These guys are doing a great job.

CUOMO: The lines they're using are in lieu of tanks or are they security things, are they fuel ways, what are they?

STAPLES: I'm not a diving expert. I'm not sure what those are but I believe it's something they use to connect to the shore side, up top to the boats.

CUOMO: Right, keep their oxygen going. That makes them careful because if you're tethered, you can't be as mobile when you move around.

STAPLES: I would assume that's correct.

CUOMO: And over time, the emotional strain to deal with death in this way, how much of a toll?

STAPLES: I think that's going to take a great toll on them. I can imagine what they're going through coming upon young children in this state after being under water for almost a week. CUOMO: Right. And now, so that takes us to the people who are really most in agony, which will be those who are left on board. When you look at the levels, we broke it down this way. This is what we believe the capacity was, all right? So, the numbers are right there for us. In a situation like this in, what to do if you are, God for forbid, ever in a situation like this where is the best place to stay?

STAPLES: I would definitely not stay in the lower part of the vessel. I would have gotten up to highest deck as I could --

CUOMO: Common sense?

STAPLES: Common sense, you know? Get to an open space. Get somewhere where you can get off the ship within a couple of seconds. Once you start getting down below the deep of the vessel, it's almost impossible when you're inverted 180 degrees.

CUOMO: The problem is most capacity is in the place you least want to be which is the deepest down in the vessel.

STAPLES: Correct, when a ship is in a critical condition, absolutely.

CUOMO: And that then gets you to the timing of when you're told to evacuate which is another point of scrutiny for the captain.

STAPLES: That's correct. And this is all about timing, and that's what it is -- a timely decision was not made.

CUOMO: Now, the concern that people have back here in the U.S. is a lot of people take ferries. Not on 13-hour trips like this one. This was really like a cruise ship. But the level of certification of the captains, the training, the simulations for what to do in an evacuation, do we do that right here?

STAPLES: In most cases we do. If we look at the Washington state ferry system, they operate 22 ferries. Some of the ferries are as large as this one here. They're up to 400, almost 500 feet with capacity of 2,500 people, 200 vehicles.

These guys have deep sea international licenses. They're very well- trained. They have a great accident rate.

But yet, we can still look back to 2003 with the Staten Island incident that we had when 11 people were killed and 165 people injured. We found there that there were two things we needed to look at.

One was the training and the other one was the medical condition that the operator was in. We found that he was using prescription drugs in combination, caused him to be drowsy.

And then we also went back and looked at the safety management system of the operator and saw that they weren't following the policies and procedures that at the time of birthing when the ferries come alongside the dock there should be two operator tons bridge just in case that happens. We saw that wasn't being done. Something we're going to have to look at with the ferry incident, too. To see if they are following the safety management systems.

CUOMO: So it's not about whether they're properly trained, it's whether their training is being put into practice. Just as big an issue as anything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's correct. And the company has to believe in a safety environment, safety culture. That's where it starts. With the company to impress upon the captains that they're going to be in a safety culture. They need to do the proper training and they need to follow the safety management system, which is in place on every vessel.

CUOMO: We are still trying find out what the training level was taking place on this ferry and feed it into the calculation whether or not they made the right calls at the right time. So the big question is obviously now, when we're hearing about the captain he did make it off. Crew members did make it off obviously so many passengers did not. The question is, do you think the captain should go down with the ship? Answer that question please by going to Tell us what you think right there -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up next on NEW DAY, four emergency transmitters on Flight 370. Not a single one went off. Did they all fail when the plane crashed into the water or does that suggest something else? We'll examine that next.


PEREIRA: Welcome back to NEW DAY. One of the important questions still being asked by family members of Flight 370 is, why the four emergency locator transmitters known as the ELTs, did not send any distress signals. These ELTs are designed to transmit a signal when triggered by a crash. Let's bring in our aviation analyst and author of "Extreme Fear," Mr. Jeff Wise doing a little of a show and tell. We have some props here with us. We have an ELT right here. Tell us this is different than the one on the 777s, correct?

JEFF WISE, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: We don't know actually what's on the 777. This is one of the strangest things that Malaysia Airlines has not told the public what's on the plane. This is the older version. This was actually quite common back in 2002 when the plane was built. This is an old version. This would send satellite signal up to satellites to other aircraft in the area and they would be able to triangulate in and find it. The newer versions transmit information including its location, GPS, identity, a phone number that you can call.

PEREIRA: Really?

WISE: It's much, much easier.

PEREIRA: It's much more technologically advanced.

WISE: Much more advanced.

PEREIRA: And then highlight the difference between the flight data recorder or the black box that we've been looking at.

WISE: OK. So this transmits a radio beacon. This is like an emergency distress locator.


WISE: This is the recorder. So this is recording flight data. It's recording voice, cockpit voice information and inside it we have this acoustic. This is sending out --

PEREIRA: This is the thing of the hour that we're trying to sense.

WISE: This is what the whole world is hoping to find. This is inside this box. It's sending out an acoustic signal, not radio but noise essentially. This is in-water to be detected.

PEREIRA: What's mystifying to everybody is that neither of these were picked up, detected, et cetera. I want to show you something here that actually caused me a little bit of a concern.


PEREIRA: That's an on/off switch right there.

WISE: Right.

PEREIRA: That's an on/off switch. I could easily flick it off. We know there are four of these ELTs on board the plane. Would it be easily accessible and could you switch them off?

WISE: One is in the cockpit. Listen, so it's off or it's on sort of standby mode where it's -- if it gets a certain g-load, meaning if the plane hits or stops abruptly then that will activate it. That's a crash, essentially or you can just turn it on. There might be a situation where a pilot has to land somewhere far away and he hasn't crashed, but he's also off the grid and maybe wants people to know where he is. Then you can manually turn it on.

PEREIRA: Two of them are located indoors in the life rafts, correct?

WISE: Specifically right. The door opens, the life raft comes out. The ELT is in there and then so you're floating around in the ocean and you're sending out the signal so rescuers can come find you.

PEREIRA: Again, that's not easily accessible. The idea that someone would have manually turned them off is unlikely.

WISE: It's likely they were submerged before located.

PEREIRA: And because they do not work in water, the ELTs.

WISE: That's right. If they're under water they're not going to work or if it might have landed so gently the g-force was not sufficient to set it off.

PEREIRA: The older models are not completely reliable, only working about 80 percent of the time? Am I right on that?

WISE: Well, exactly. No, sometimes as low as 25 percent. The new ones only work about 80 percent of the time. So there's a lot of reasons why we might not hear the signal. The pinger only -- you have to be within a mile under water. That's why they've had such a hard time finding it. This, instantaneously, the new ones, anywhere in the world can be detected by the satellite. The older ones you have you to triangulate in. It takes longer. It would be nice to know from the airline if they were carrying the older one or the newer, more sophisticated ones.

PEREIRA: We've heard about the movement already to extend the battery life on the pinger locators. Do you think we're going the see a movement to increase the accuracy of the ELTs because of the mystery of Flight 370?

WISE: We're sort of in the middle of a transition to a newer better technology and that's still under way. So that's definitely something that I think the authorities would like to see.

PEREIRA: Because we haven't had a signal sent from here, admitted from the ELT, does that tell us anything, does it speak to the investigation? Does it change the investigation?

WISE: Well, theoretically it would shift the probability, but it can't determine anything for sure because of the problems of reliability because there's different reasons why you might not hear it. We can't say, well, it definitely didn't. For instance, when Captain Sullenberger land it in the Hudson it didn't set off because it was a fairly gradual, gentle --

PEREIRA: Miracle on the Hudson.

WISE: Right.

PEREIRA: Inside this. This is operated by a lithium battery, correct? \


PEREIRA: And these have been known to -- lithium batteries have been a fire hazard.

WISE: Right. You might have heard about the 787 Dreamliner that there was some smoke and fire in a plane and that caused some hull damage actually to a plane that was on the ground in England. And that was a different configuration from the 777.

PEREIRA: These are all things that investigators and searchers are looking into.

WISE: Yes.

PEREIRA: Every possibility. No stone is being left unturned.

WISE: At this point we've got so little to go on that every contingency has to be examined.

PEREIRA: We wanted to look at these with Jeff because this is one of questions that the community of families put together a list of 26 questions and one of the questions they had was about these ELTs, emergency locator transmitters. Jeff, thanks so much. I always like to do a show and tell because it helps us understand what they're looking for and who they're dealing with. Always a pleasure.

WISE: Thanks, Michaela.

PEREIRA: Thanks so much -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right, Mick, we're going to have new questions in the search for Flight 370. We're going to go through them as well as the desperate efforts in that South Korean ferry accident. All this amid reports North Korea is beefing up its nuclear program. A lot of news, so let's get to it.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The owner of the capsized ferry in South Korea apologizing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The search for survivors in these waters is dangerous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The divers are experiencing just darkness in the sediment.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No end in sight, no sign of Flight 370.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Officials say crews organized Russian activity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have no doubt at all that Putin and the Russians are behind this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are not pressing charges against the teenage boy who climbed into the landing gear compartment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He had to be in the right spot otherwise he would have been crushed like a bug.


CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome to NEW DAY. It is Tuesday, April 22nd. Now 7:00 in the east. Breaking overnight, new fears North Korea is stepping up its nuclear program. South Korea says it picked up new movement at the north main test site. The timing is coming into question with the south dealing with that ferry tragedy. It's also just ahead of President Obama's Asia trip. Paula Hancocks is in Seoul with more -- Paula.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chris, the Ministry of Defense telling CNN they are stepping up their activity in this area in the northeast of the country, the exact area where they have already carried out three underground nuclear tests over the years. Now we do understand from the spokesman that all that is left is the political decision, suggesting that they are all, but practically ready to carry out this nuclear test.

Now, we do understand that they do have to dig the entrance to the underground tunnel and then seal it up. But at this point they're not telling us exactly what the intelligence is that they have, that they do say they have stepped up this activity. So, the South Koreans are on 24-hour watch to see what is going to happen. They have increased their military readiness.

And it does come at a time when President Obama is heading to Asia and he's going to be here on Friday in Seoul. Now, the North Korean foreign minister has talked about Obama's trip calling it reactionary and dangerous trip. Just to put the preparations into context for you. In the past, the underground nuclear tests they have carried them out after warn that they would within a month of this warning.

Now, this time, just last month, 19 days ago, that they said they may carry out a new tripe of nuclear test. Experts are assume that means it will be a uranium test rather than a plutonium test. Kate, back to you.

BOLDUAN: Paula, thank you very much. Let's stay in the region. Off the coast of South Korea, it's become a grim routine for rescue divers recovering bodies from a sunken ferry. At least 108 people are now confirmed dead. Divers are searching under water and very tough conditions around the clock for the nearly 200 who are still unaccounted for.

CNN's Nic Robertson is live in Jindo, South Korea, with the latest. It's evening now where you are, Nic. Does the search continue into the night?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The search continues. It's still considered a rescue mission, hope that pockets of air exists. The divers working today on the third and fourth levels of the ship in an area they described as a lounge area. They want to punch through the wall of that and get into the cafeteria area where they believe there may be more missing people.

They're also searching the cabins. The rear of the ship on the fourth floor, but very emotional scenes today as the bodies brought ashore. Each body given its own ambulance to be driven off in, very sullen, very dignified processions of stretch bringing those bodies to be driven away. For the families, some families from today will have the information they've been dreading, but it will help bring them closure.