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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Evaluating A Pilot's Mental Health; Saudi Airstrikes Pound Iran-Backed Rebels; Obama Surprises Harry Rei On The Radio; Experts: Airline Could Pay $1 Billion. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired March 27, 2015 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Moment is the discussion with air traffic that's exactly the same as the pilots would be having if they were in charge of the steering of the aircraft.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Military success with drones has driven much of the interest and some efforts are focused on airplanes in hazardous conditions such as hurricane research and fighting wildfires. Analysts say pilotless planes could be a $400 billion a year global business so why not passenger flights?

First, the airline industry has a remarkable safety record despite high profile disasters. Many believe on-board pilots remain the most reliable way to handle problems and retrofitting planes would cost billions of dollars. Second, passengers may not be ready. Robert Goyer is with "Flying" magazine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I start by asking how would I feel getting into an airliner that didn't have airline pilots up front and I wouldn't do it.

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FOREMAN: One of the reasons is that there are still questions about reliability in these systems and there are unanswered questions. For example, if you want to make this plane safe, by having a ground station control it so a terrorist can't take over up here, what if a terrorist takes over down here?

Now the plane is in their control and they don't even have to be on board. One possible solution is you have more than one ground station. They have to work in tandem. That sort of defeats that problem, but it doesn't answer another question.

What if you just have some sort of hacker who interrupts the data stream and takes over the plane anyway. That's why this is a little more complicated than it seems.

So even though we have planes right now that basically land and take off on their own, this idea of moving to planes that will be controlled from the ground will be a long, slow process, probably not going to come along nearly as fast as some people might expect.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN GUEST ANCHOR: Tom Foreman, so many of the solutions create new problems of their own. Thanks so much, Tom.

His friends say he was just a regular guy who wanted to fly. New evidence tells us something different, something secret about this co- pilot. Just how can you be certain of a pilot's mental state? I will speak with a person who makes the tests that pilots take, that's next.

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BERMAN: We're back with the World Lead, piecing together why a co- pilot deliberately brought down a plane as French authorities now say he did. The search for answers has led detectives to his hometown in Germany. A ripped-up sick note could only begin to explain Andreas Lubitz's state of mind.

Detectives are combing through his home, talking to family, talking to friends, talking to neighbors, looking for any evidence of what could drive a person to do such a thing.

Want to go live now to CNN's Diana Magnay, she is in the co-pilot's hometown. Diana, you have spoken to people who knew him. What are they saying?

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. Well, people are fairly tight-lipped about Andreas Lubitz, especially those who knew him better. They're the ones who don't really want to say much at all. But we have managed to glean bits and pieces from some of the people who live around here.

I spoke to a guy who lives just three doors down from him earlier who said like they all do, that he was a very normal kind of a guy. He didn't particularly stand out. He was perfectly friendly. Let's just take a listen to what he said.

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JOHANNES ROSSBACH, CO-PILOT'S ACQUIANTANCE: He was for me very healthy guy. Jogs, doesn't smoke. I can't imagine that he was mentally ill, depressed and sad. He doesn't seem like so I was shocked when I hear that.

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MAGNAY: There's a running circuit around this part of Montabaur where Andreas Lubitz grew up with his parents just down the road. He spent quite a considerable amount of time between this apartment and the one in Dusseldorf.

As you say, the investigation continues. Investigators were just pictured coming out of the Dusseldorf flat again carrying boxes. It was of course in these documents that they found this ripped-up medical note which they -- led them to believe he was deliberately misleading his employer. The most significant piece of information they say that's come out of the investigation to date -- John.

BERMAN: Indeed. Diana Magnay live for us in Germany. Diana, thanks so much. I want to bring in Diane Damos. She is an aviation psychologist who develops the actual evaluation that airlines use for pilots here in the U.S.

Diane, thanks for being with us. I want to talk to you first as a psychologist without the aviation part, just for a second here. We have heard that this co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, was declared unfit to fly by doctors, yet we just heard from his hometown in Germany that he seemed happy, that everything seemed normal.

Would it be unusual for friends and family and people around him to think there was nothing wrong, but for doctors to say he was somehow unfit to fly?

DIANE DAMOS, AVIATION PSYCHOLOGIST: I would say that's very unusual. Another thing is from what I have been hearing from the news is that it was unfit to work. They didn't say unfit to fly. I'm questioning rather the doctor knew that this was a pilot rather than some type of an office worker.

BERMAN: That's a really good point, deemed unfit to work. Of course, his employment was flying. Perhaps the doctor did not even know that this man was a co-pilot who had lives in his hands every single day, but he was unfit to work, period, no matter what his job was. So then how would a doctor consider a person unfit to work? What makes you unfit to work?

DAMOS: Well, that's a really good question. I would have thought it was some major disease since a clinic said that he was not being treated for depression, and yet everyone seems to think he was quite healthy. So this is a real puzzle.

[16:40:02] BERMAN: There are outlets now saying that it was some form of mental illness. Is there mental illness that as someone who is an aviation psychologist here in the United States, you consider that would make a pilot unfit to do his or her job?

DAMOS: Well, certainly and psychiatrists of course are better at this than I am, but you certainly don't want anyone who is suicidal flying airplanes.

BERMAN: So is there anything in the tests, in the evaluations that you have helped develop, that leaves this type of situation out, that looks for mental illness?

DAMOS: Well, first of all, we have to clarify what happened here. When Andreas was initially screened, apparently, he was screened for the Lufthansa cadet program. That was a number of years ago.

In that type of a selection process, they are going to be looking at things like his cognitive ability, his quantitative ability, oral fluency, how well does he think in three-dimensional space, and also a personality. So that was done some time ago. Now, between the time that that occurred and the time that he crashed here, there is not normally any other type of psychiatric evaluation. He did see a flight surgeon on a regular basis. All airline pilots do that.

And if the German system is similar to the American system, then he would be asked questions about whether he was suicidal and whether he was depressed, but this relies completely on self-report. He has to tell the doctor that he attempted suicide or that he was depressed.

BERMAN: It relies on self-report which is an element in the American system as well. Let's talk about the American system and take it away from Andreas Lubitz for a moment here. Is there anything in the American system that provides a kind of safety net beyond self-report to detect if a pilot is having any kind of problems?

DAMOS: Yes, there is. All of our major air carriers have very strong unions and these unions have things called professional standards committees. Now, if I were a pilot and I came to work one day and I noticed that one of my colleagues seemed to be very agitated or was yelling at a bunch of people or just seemed off somehow.

I could contact the Professional Standards Committee confidentially, tell them I thought there was a problem with a specific pilot and they could immediately get hold of that pilot, talk to him, and if they thought there was a problem, they could contact management and tell them that they thought the pilot was unfit to fly.

Management would pull that person off of the flight line, no questions asked and then it would be up to the union to talk to the person again and determine if he needed professional help.

Generally, the unions have health care providers that they would go to in these circumstances and they would direct the person to those health care providers for further evaluation.

BERMAN: The system relying on co-workers and to a large extent the people themselves. A lot of people suggesting there need to be further screens. Diane Damos, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

Next, is it now the Wild West for terrorists? The exploding region- wide conflict in the Middle East and this question, is the U.S. already at war with Iran by proxy in Yemen?

Plus more on the crash in the Alps, how do you put a price on the lives of so many? Why Lufthansa might be in line to pay out hundreds of millions of dollars to families who will really never be whole again.

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BERMAN: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm John Berman in for Jake today. We will continue our coverage of the crash in the Alps in just a moment, but first, a potentially explosive situation developing in the Middle East. The Saudis and other Arab states are continuing a furious air campaign against Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen.

They are fighting for control of Aden, Yemen's second largest city, and are getting support from the U.S. This situation is sparking concerns that the U.S. and Iran are in a proxy war just as the deadline for a nuclear deal with Tehran is days away.

Want to go right to CNN's Barbara Starr live from the Pentagon. Barbara, the U.S. is in a strange position here. Both countries fighting ISIS in Iraq on opposite sides in Yemen, it's a tough situation between the U.S. and Iran here.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It's very difficult, John. Good afternoon. What this is really coming down to as you say is the U.S. engaging in military actions several places, not so quietly trying to blunt Iran's growing power.

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STARR (voice-over): A second day of air strikes inside Yemen by Saudi jets, bombing Iranian backed Houthi-Shia militias which have taken control of the country. The top U.S. commander for the Middle East worries about what could be Tehran's bid for super power status.

GENERAL LLOYD AUSTIN, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: Iran has been enabling the activity of the Houthis as they have done what they have done. I would go further to say that Iran's desire is to be a hegemon in this region.

STARR: The U.S. trying to stop Iran's march on several fronts.

AUSTIN: As it seeks to increase its influence in various countries, it does so through the reach of the Shia populations.

STARR: In the Yemen war, the U.S. is giving the Saudis military satellite intelligence to help target their strikes.

SETH JONES, RAND CORPORATION: I think the U.S. has an interest in getting involved at least at a limited level, a covert and clandestine level.

STARR: In the Iraqi city of Tikrit, the U.S. also challenging the presence of Iranian-backed Shia militias that have been fighting ISIS alongside Iraqi forces. ISIS continues to maintain dug-in positions in the northwest and south of the city. Iraqi and Shia forces are positioning to encircle Tikrit.

[16:50:05] As a condition of U.S. airstrikes this week, requested by the Iraqi government, the Pentagon insisted those Iranian units pull back from the city. Baghdad is asking for help when the Iranian advance stalled.

AUSTIN: It should really give us a lot of food for thought when it comes to the Iranian military and how good they really are.

STARR: There is still plenty of concern U.S. intelligence about ISIS will get to Tehran.

AUSTIN: The Iraqis are clearly passing at least the gist of the information that they receive from the U.S. to the Iranians. Otherwise the Iranians wouldn't be able to do some of the things that they are doing in Iraq right now.

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STARR: Now of course, the big prize as you say, that nuclear agreement between Washington and Tehran. Expect to see negotiations continue at a furious pace through the weekend. The Iranians are already complaining about the air strikes in Yemen. Everyone is waiting to see if all these other operations begin to affect those nuclear talks -- John.

BERMAN: An incredibly complicated situation. Barbara Starr live for us at the pentagon, thanks so much.

Wolf Blitzer is here with a preview of "THE SITUATION ROOM." Wolf, with everything going on in France and Germany, questions about air safety, you will tackle the debate about putting cameras in the cockpit.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": Yes, not only putting cameras, if there could be cameras in the 7-Eleven why can't there be a camera in the cockpit. More than that, why shouldn't those video images be streamed live back to some place safe on the ground in real time so people know what's going on?

What's wrong with that? That's what a lot of people are asking. All the data on the so-called black boxes, cockpit voice recorder, flight data recorder, why isn't that streamed live back to a safe place so you don't have to go searching for those black boxes later. Those are good questions. We will go in depth.

BERMAN: These are important debates to have, particularly after what we have seen over the last week. Wolf Blitzer, looking forward to that in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

Coming up, there are rules in place for how much families are paid when their loved ones are killed in a plane crash. But this time, it could be different. Why the outcome of this investigation will be so important to how much Lufthansa ends up paying.

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BERMAN: Welcome back to THE LEAD. The Politics Lead now, just hours after he announced that he is retiring from the Senate, he announced that this morning, Minority Leader Harry Reid got quite a surprise on a Las Vegas radio show when a fan called in to wish him well.

No, he didn't get ba-booey. He got Obama, yes, a surprise call from the president that came with a good-natured ribbing. Listen.

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BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Harry is unique and has got that curmudgeonly charm. It's hard to replace. I'm going to miss him, but the good thing is I'm going to get to leave this place with him at the same time.

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BERMAN: Just minutes ago, the man that Reid endorsed to replace him, Chuck Schumer, senator from New York, formally declared his bid to be the next Democratic leader. That didn't take long.

Continuing now our lead story, the deliberate crash of the commercial flight into the French Alps, that's what officials now say happened. An exclusive interview with CNN's Frederik Pleitgen, Lufthansa's CEO said these are the company's darkest hours and showing respect and compassion for the families is his top priority.

It is such a difficult discussion but there is this. How much is a life worth financially to an airline? We could find out soon as potentially millions of dollars in compensation claims come in. CNN Money's Cristina Alesci is following that part of the story for us -- Cristina.

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN MONEY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, if you want the big headline number, insurance coverage for this kind of situation could amount to about $1 billion. That includes costs for everything, a large chunk of that as you mentioned will be allocated to victims' compensation.

Now Experts we spoke to said the tally for that in this case could run up to about $350 million. Now, when it comes down to the individual families, there is an international treaty that tries to protect the victims of the families and that international treaty called the Montreal Convention says that families are entitled to at least $160,000.

But if the airline has any liability that means even just 1 percent responsible for this crash, which by the way, attorneys we spoke to today said it is likely that they will be found liable, the payouts could be much larger.

Now you also have to factor into the consideration here that the payouts will depend on geography, where the families bring the suits, and also, the particular circumstances around each individual victim, how much they earned, how many dependents they had.

On the geography front, you want to really sue in the United States. That's where the payouts are the largest. We had experts tell us that payouts for individual families here could be up to $4 million for a family.

In Europe, they really discourage litigation. You can have the payouts much smaller and when you consider the kinds of people who are on that plane, unfortunately, a lot of them were young people without a family, possibly without a job, and those payouts, experts say, could be really small, maybe $100,000 per family.

BERMAN: It's such a difficult discussion, one these families will have to address fairly soon. Cristina Alesci for us in New York, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Check out our show page at cnn.com/thelead for video blogs and extras. You can also subscribe to the magazine on Flipboard. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm John Berman in for Jake Tapper. I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."