Return to Transcripts main page


Exasperation and Confusion Grow with Search; The Mysterious Disappearance of Flight 370; Explosion in New York City

Aired March 12, 2014 - 12:30   ET



CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome back here.

We've been monitoring two situations here. Obviously, talking about the fire, the massive explosion that broke out in New York City, but we're also tracking what happened to Malaysia Flight 370, and you know, they say, and it is very true, that not knowing is the most difficult part for the families of people who are missing in a situation like that.

And imagine that it's been five days, and yet the state-of-the-art jetliner with 239 souls on board seems to have simply vanished, on one level, a very intriguing mystery, on the other level, heart wrenching waiting for their family.

And the questions starting to emerge are just not what happened, but why don't we know what happened? There are a lot of significant questions coming out about the nature of the investigation and how much data is under control.

Here's what we kind of know. The search area has been doubled. It's almost twice as big today as it was yesterday, 27,000 square miles. That's bigger than the state of West Virginia. There are actually two search areas as you look at that map, all those kind of contiguous overlapping shapes there, all different grids they have to look to.

This is what came out yesterday, only to be retracted later on, and then clarified, sort of, this morning. And that's the way it's been going, back and forth, and the trick in covering a story like this is to figure out what matters most and when.

The big concern is this. Is this what happened? Watch the plane. The plane was supposed to be going in this direction. And now they believe at some point it may have turned back toward Malaysia. OK, why? We don't know. There's a lot of reasons to speculate about what could have been.

Why do they even believe this? Well, even though it lost radar and voice contact with ground control off the southern tip of Vietnam, they now believe there may have been this reflection, a term of art within the community of understanding radar.

That means there was some signal all of a sudden out where it shouldn't have been and maybe it was the plane. Maybe, you know what I'm saying? So this is an unusual situation in that there is very little known. And they seem to be searching. So that gets you to how are they searching.

I want to bring in Richard Quest.


CUOMO: You don't want to frustrate the process. Of course, it takes time. Of course, it's a needle in a haystack, but, and it's a big but. Do we believe that we are looking at this situation with the urgency and professionalism and expertise we're used to seeing in them?

QUEST: I think one has to say probably not, one level. The urgency? Absolutely. The professionalism? Possibly. The last one is the manageability of this. Let me give you what I'm saying here. In these crises, the art is to get your hands around the information and start analyzing it as soon as possible. That's the crucial part.

So if it was the NTSB and the United States or the FAA or the AAIB in the U.K. or whatever it is, whichever country, now, in this situation, we had a set of information, which is now seemingly not to be true.

But we're asking, Chris, did they ever get their hands around all the information so that they could make a judgment?

CUOMO: Do you think there is data that exists that they don't know about that would explain it or no?

QUEST: No, I don't think that the data is dribbling out. I don't think they've got their hands around it fast enough in that sense.

I'm not saying it's easy, but these are men and women who are trained or should be trained to do this. This is what you practice for. This is not -- we're not in the realms of a state of art here. We're in the realms of good, old-fashioned planning and practicing for aircrafts, accidents at sea.

CUOMO: Do you buy, because you've investigated a lot of these, you've done reporting on it for a lot of years, this theory about the radar reflection? I Googled what that means. I'd never heard of reflection before, seems to be like a shadow trace that isn't there very long.

Do you believe this track, doubling-back theory? Do you believe there is enough there to warrant the speculation?

QUEST: At the moment, we've got it from one senior Malaysian official, and it's not being corroborated by the prime minister's office, and we've got it corroborated by the fact they have shifted a lot of the resources into the Straits of Malacca, out towards the Andaman.

Now, Lord help us if we're talking about the Indian Ocean, because then you're -- I mean, just look at this map. If you think of where this eventually goes, the plane turns around, heads west, goes back across Malaysia --

CUOMO: Right.

QUEST: -- it could be over here. It could be over here. And then you get this widening and then if the plane had continued, then you're out towards the Indian Ocean.

So they will still find it, but I'm starting to come to the view of Mary Schiavo that it's time to let somebody like the United States, the NTSB, the FAA, the AAIB, the authorities elsewhere, get a hold of this.

CUOMO: Now, you say they will find it. Why? Why will they find it? What is on board that plane, because they keep hearing that --

QUEST: They keep searching.

CUOMO: But we keep hearing that it didn't have the technology that you may assume it did. There are things that break off and float to the surface that will tell where you it is, like a transponding beacon like you have in military aircraft.

QUEST: They keep looking.

CUOMO: Just by searching.

QUEST: They keep looking. Yeah. I mean, OK, it's a huge area. It's a huge area, but they know the areas that they've got to -- I'm contradicting myself here. I'm aware of that. Bearing in mind the enormous area -- look at these areas. They are vast. But you keep doing it.

And look, Chris, it may not happen this month or next month or this year or next year. but they have to keep looking, because we come back, as you and I have talked a few times, there are 1,100 of these planes out there.

Until they've got an idea of what happened, Boeing, the FAA, the European authorities, every aviation authority, needs to understand what happened.

CUOMO: But is it also a fair point of observation that we don't know that somebody else would have found this plane sooner. If it were the U.S. --

QUEST: Oh, no. No, absolutely.

CUOMO: It's not that kind of criticism.

QUEST: I completely accept that. We are not saying that the search is not going well, and we are not saying that it's not being organized in an orderly fashion.

What I'm saying is, the information necessary to conduct that search has not, it seems to be, been proceeded as one might have expected. The fact that four days later they are saying, well, there's been this radar track, and we're not sure what it was. This should have been on day one. This should have been on day two. This is the information, when you go into the field, you get immediately, the radar track, the air traffic control communications, any plane-to-plane communications. You lock it all down and you put the experts to work on it. That's what you normally do.

CUOMO: Well, we have a lot of countries involved. There are a lot of resources being put at this, and also a lot of speculation.

Now, there is reason to believe there is a finite set of possibilities here. We're going take a break now. When we come back on CNN, we'll go through some of those.

And we'll keep monitoring this massive explosion in Manhattan that took down two buildings and has two others on fire. Injured and dead are certainly in play, but the numbers too early to tell.

We'll follow both. We'll come back.


CUOMO: Welcome back to CNN. Often in a situation like the mystery of Malaysian Flight 370, the job is to have more questions than answers, because simply not enough is known.

So, if it seems like we're nibbling around the edges, it's because we are. If it seems like you're trying to avoid the suggestion of speculation, it's because you have to, because the facts often will lead you in the right direction, and until you have them, you can just be at scattershot as the theories and ideas we're hearing about where this plane may be.

The bottom line is, the authorities and those who are supposed to know, simply do not. We monitor the situation, learning what we can as we go along.

One way to do that, being everywhere the story is and that's what CNN is doing on this and every story.

We have Andrew Stevens joining us from Kuala Lumpur. The question is the obvious one. Any more information coming out about the apparent investigation of the aspect of the flight crew?

Because we're hearing speculation about how they may have been conducting themselves, anything to it?

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN ANCHOR, CNN INTERNATIONAL: Chris, before I get into that about the flight crew, I think -- there was a big press conference here today, and the important fact that emerged from that is that the Malaysian authorities are tracking a radar track of a plane that veered off course.

It was on a very similar route to the MH-370 when it lost contact. This radar track showed a plane indeed turning back towards Malaysia, flying across Malaysia, and out into the straits of Malacca. This is a story that CNN was talking about last night. That was confirmed by the head of the air force today. What we don't know, though, and this is key, is whether that plane was actually flight MH-370. That's where the investigation is. They're working with the FAA and the NTSB at the moment to try to confirm that. They've known about this for four days, about this track, and they have been working for four days to try to actually identify what this plane is.

Now, this plane was last seen by this radar track, and it's called a primary radar, which means it's not sophisticated, doesn't give you much information at all about the plane. The last time they saw that plane on the primary radar was about 200 nautical miles, say 250 miles, northwest of an island called Penang, which is on the west coast of the Straits of Malacca. If it was heading northwest, and if it was still at altitude, and we don't know what altitude it was flying at, it was heading towards Indian waters. Significantly, the Indian navy has been asked to join the search.

So, slowly joining the dots, cannot say - I repeat -- that this is MH- 370 for sure. But that is where a very key part of this investigation is going on at the moment. Having said that, the Malaysian authorities, at the press conference today, also said that we are splitting our search teams.

Half are covering about 14,000 square miles, nautical miles, on the west coast of Malaysia and half are covering about the same area on the east coast. So they're not moving all their assets into where this plane was last seen because they still don't know the identity of the plane. But that's where we are at the moment with that.

Now, what you're talking about, the pilots, the pilots -- the chief pilot, 53-year-old, police did visit his home. He was an aviation nut. He's been described as he had a simulator, a flying simulator in his house. Police have been there. They say it's part of the routine investigation, leaving no stone unturned, Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: OK, good. So that's just about them checking, as opposed to them having any cause for speculation involving the crew. It's good to at least rule that out for now.

One follow-up question for you, Andrew, is -- help us understand, if they're trying to figure out if this was the plane, why is that difficult, other than the unsophisticated nature of this primary radar? It doesn't give you altitude or flight speed, a lot of the data that more sophisticated radar does. Could it be another flight? Were there other planes in the area? I mean what are the variables involved?

STEVENS: Well, the variable -- it was -- it was - it was last seen at 2:15 in the morning, so not a busy time for flying. As far as the variables are concerned and the fact that they can't identify this plane, this primary radar just doesn't give enough information. These 777s have equipment called transponders, which send out very specific signals saying exactly who and what they are. These are the transponders that stopped working at about an hour or so into the flight. So once they go down, you see this radar image, which is a very, very unsophisticated image. So they just don't know what that (INAUDIBLE).


STEVENS: If you look at it and think, well, that was on a similar path and then it did a turn, a sharp veering towards left and back over Malaysia, really, they've got to cover all leads and they're certainly tracking that one down. It looks quite promising. They're saying we could know by tomorrow whether this is the actual MH-370 or not or it could take a few more days.

CUOMO: Andrew, appreciate you taking the time to report it out. A lot more work to be done.

We're going to take a quick break here. When we come back, we're going to have an engineer from Flight 447 Air France. That crashed in the Atlantic. It was a very protracted investigation. And as we go to break and you're following this story, keep one other thing in mind, the transponder on Flight 370, that went off about an hour into the flight.

We don't know if that was done by choice or because of an event on the plane. Often it's communicated as someone turned it off. We don't know that to be true. Again, many more questions than answers. I'll be back with Richard Quest and an engineer from the Air France Flight 447 to talk about investigations like this and the possibilities when we return on CNN.


CUOMO: Welcome back to CNN.

We're having some trouble getting our shot up with engineer Mike Percel (ph). He was one of the searchers for Flight 447, that notorious now Air France flight that went down in the Atlantic, so let me go to Richard Quest, who's here. We actually have the interim report of that investigation with us.

So there are a lot of comparisons made between this situation and the Air France situation because of the duration of search and the area of search. What matches up that way? What does that teach us?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, what it teaches us is, in many ways, the Malaysia one is falling short because what you had in Air France 447 -- because there's no radar over the South Atlantic. But they had sufficient tracks of where the plane last reported between the Brazilian air traffic controllers and where the others -- where it was then handed off towards the Azurs (ph) and towards Africa. So they had a lot of information.

But even so, they still had a vast and much more inhospitable territory to search in the south -- the south Atlantic than they do -- they do here. But they knew roughly where the plane was. It took them five days before they found the first debris.

CUOMO: And we don't know what the size of the search area was, but we don't believe it was as big as the one they're currently dealing with (INAUDIBLE).

QUEST: It wasn't as -- it wasn't as scatter gunned as this one. You didn't have this thing where you're over in the South China Sea and then you're over in the Gulf of Thailand, and then perhaps in the Straits of Malacca and then maybe up to the Andaman Sea, and who knows, are we even starting to talk now about the Indian Ocean.

With 447, they knew pretty much the route of the plane and where it happened. And more than that, Chris, they knew once they found the debris -- they didn't find the plane when they found the debris. It took them another two years before they found the plane. And what they discovered then was, they'd actually gone over the plane several times and not located it. But they knew they were in the right area.

And one of the reasons, just to conclude, one of the reasons is, 447, the plane continued to send information while it was crashing. This plane has just gone silent.

CUOMO: Right. And I think that's the biggest unknown that is worth examination going forward. The idea that you don't have deployable flight recorders -- flight recorders that send back its own signal, that float up to the top if something happens with water, that there's not more sophistication in modern aircraft to ensure at in tragedy there's constant reporting and availability of data is a little shocking.

QUEST: It is. But 447 talks about that. 447 says there should be -- there needs to be an examination of whether aircraft should be reporting more information in real-time, like the flight data recorder. But it's a cost issue. It's a bandwidth issue. It's all those other issues. And finally, of course, there should be a deployable voice or data recorder. That's also been looked at.

CUOMO: I mean in an age where everybody's uploading everything about themselves on to some mythical cloud, you know, you would think that these types of situations would have technology equal or better, but they don't, at least on the civilian side.

Richard Quest, thank you very much for helping us along on this. Obviously it becomes easier as we get more information. The trick is doing it when you don't know that much.

We're going to leave this part of the story now. I'd like to get back to New York City and the explosion there. Ashleigh Banfield is on the ground monitoring the situation.

The smoke seems back behind you, Ashleigh.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: It is, Chris. You know, just before I tossed to you, things seemed to be clearing here. But I think it's a factor of shifting winds. But I'll say this as well. Just a short time ago, large plumes of smoke began to rise yet again from one of the adjacent buildings, it appeared.

And when we asked around, we were hearing a possible report that there might be another building collapse. We don't have that confirmed, but I can tell you, a contingent of New York City firefighters marched by us, and they were laden down with all sorts of gear. It looked like it could have been pry hooks, could have been also plaster hooks and pry bars. I'm not sure. It was a little hard to tell. They were moving at a fair clip.

There isn't a sense of anxiety, I'll say that. There's just a sense of bewilderment from the many, many people who are displaced. You heard the mayor, Mayor Bill de Blasio, saying there are a number of missing, still unaccounted for. He doesn't want to amp that up, though, because it could just be some of the hundreds and hundreds of people who all fled these buildings and are now wondering what they're going to do, especially with tonight. Roanique Benjamin (ph) is one of the men that I met on the street just a little bit earlier on.

Roanique, you were standing with your wife and your two babies and effectively you've been out on the street since the blast. Tell me what happened when the blast went off.

ROANIQUE BENJAMIN, WITNESSED BLAST: Pretty much me and my little girl was in the room and we just heard this impact and it sounded like a bomb or something went off. And it kind of shook - it shook us. It literally - you felt the ground shake. And I ran to go see my wife and other people in the apartment, how they were doing, and they thought it was a TV that fell. But it actually felt like a truck or something just hit the building. And we heard glass and everything.

BANFIELD: And when I met you, you had -- the babies were bundled up, and you were just sitting on the corner wondering what's next. Do you have any idea what you're going to do? Do you know where you're going to sleep tonight?

BENJAMIN: Actually, we don't, you know. We live right in the next building. So pretty much either we're going to have to go to another family house or something like that. But we're just waiting to see, you know.

BANFIELD: And so far there's no coordination. No one has reached out to your or the Red Cross or anyone to say, here's what we're doing for those who are displaced at this early stage.

BENJAMIN: Absolutely not.

BANFIELD: Well, I -- listen, I wish you good luck, and the babies, they all seem to be handling this pretty carefully and quietly, but best of luck to you because the temperature's really dropping, so I hope you can find somewhere tonight and thank you for staying by to talk to us.

BENJAMIN: Thank you.

BANFIELD: Roanique Benjamin, one of the residents who was just adjacent.

By the way, I can't tell you about that adjacent building because it is directly behind me, behind those ladders. But the plumes of smoke were very thick. And as Chris just mentioned, the plumes got much thicker.

I just want to reiterate that Mayor de Blasio says the search is going to be extremely thorough. We did see a second medical examiner's truck. This one had just come back in and is now backing out again. What I can't confirm for you is whether there's anyone in that medical examiner's truck. So far the count, even at Mayor Bill de Blasio's news conference, is two dead, and I believe the number at this point is 18 injured in this five-alarm blast, 18 injured. And, of course, many unaccounted for at this time.

But again, let me just reiterate, there may be many unaccounted for because there are hundreds of people out on the street. Some wondering what happened, some returning from work because they live here. I can't tell you the number of residents who've asked police, I need to get in there. Some have been allowed to go in to get their dogs out. We saw a reunion with a dog.

But effectively, there's just a lot of confusion at this point until they figure out just exactly where all these people are going to go and how this happened and exactly how many people will remain on the missing, will remain able to be reunited with their families.

But again, that count, the number of missing unknown. The president briefed on this. Two dead and 19 injured. I'm reporting live here in northern Manhattan in east Harlem. We'll continue to follow this story here on CNN. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. My colleague, Wolf Blitzer, starts right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer.