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Possible Paths of Missing Flight; Obama Announces Russian Sanctions; Earthquake Hits L.A.; Aboard a Searching Ship in the Andaman Sea; Heart-Wrenching Journey for Families

Aired March 17, 2014 - 12:30   ET



ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: A week and a half into this story, and the mystery of the missing Flight 370, unbelievably still has more questions than we have answers.

And the questions just keep coming, too, because today, airline officials gave a brand-new timeline and this time line casts doubt on the other time line, the one that the Malaysian prime minister gave everyone over the weekend.

The prime minister had said that the ACARS communication system, that whole data-communication system, was turned off before the last verbal message came from the cockpit. Remember the verbal message, "all right, good night?"

Now today airline officials are saying something different. They're saying that they actually really don't know exactly when that ACARS system went off and that it's possible, it is possible, it was turned off after the "good night" message.

Now, does that mean anything? Does it change whether this is potentially terror potential or mechanical potential? Again, so many questions.

But right now we do know that 26 countries have skin in this game. They're all involved in the search for the plane. And France just joined that group yesterday.

Tom Foreman joins me live from the virtual room now to take us through the path that I'm sure we're not the only ones doing this, Tom. At this point, this virtual search has changed so many times.

Depending on the altitudes, and they had been everywhere, all over the map, and depending on the last known locations and these timelines, can you now tailor a little bit closer what these searchers are looking for and where they're looking?

TOM FOREMAN: Sure we can. Let me bring in my map here and let's start with what we did know a week and a half ago. We all know about this.

It took off from Kuala Lumpur, flew up here less than an hour, and then vanished at this point. In some ways, Ashleigh, this still remains the key of what we know. We know that other information has now come in that has allowed the search areas to expand and expand and expand and to reach where it currently is, which is this much bigger image of satellite communication which somehow suggested that there are these big arcs that have to be looked along in and the southern route down here and northern route up here.

But precisely because of what you're talking about, all this conflicting information, every time we add new information, it just raises new question.

Southern route fairly clear, a lot of water out there. Northern route, though, this gets much more complicated, because if you were to say this plane were actually flying that whole time, look at the amount of terrain it covers, including passing over the Himalayas, which is a whole different ball of wax in terms of what you're talking about for the plane. This is the highest mountain range in the world.

And look it at the countries that would be at least somewhere along that flight path, if you consider it, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, Bhutan, China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan seems to be the uttermost reach if it actually flew for all seven and a half hours on that fuel.

There are a lot of technical questions, Ashleigh, in terms of whether or not in getting through all that, could it get through all this air space, through all these radar systems? Is it at the same height the whole time?

Even if it's just up or down a little bit, does that carry it from the stratosphere into the troposphere where there's more resistance? And does that pose a problem?

We don't have answers to any of that, but then there are also the political questions of all these different places and all the issues that they may have faced and what groups might for any reason want a plane like this in one of those areas.

So, Ashleigh, as you point out, this is just the lay of the land. It's important to bear in mind that, if it went on the northern route, this all comes into play.

But we don't know that it did. And we don't know when and where or how it might have stopped along the way.

So, every new answer brings a whole new set of questions.

BANFIELD: And that checklist behind you, there's at least a few countries on there that perk up a lot of ears and certainly not in a good way.

Tom, as always, thank you for that. Appreciate it. It really makes it clear, except for that southern route. I'm sorry. I don't understand that southern route at all, because if they want to ditch a plane in the ocean, no need to go seven hours out. It just doesn't make any sense.

This morning, by the way, we've got other news that has been breaking, the president, Mr. Obama, announcing sanctions against 11 key people in Russia and the Ukraine.

This is all a day after Crimea had that referendum vote, the referendum to leave Ukraine and join Russia.

Now, beautiful fireworks and all that, big celebration, but despite that, the United States and the E.U. consider this whole referendum and its result illegal.

The overwhelming 96.7 vote -- yes, 96.7 vote in favor of joining Russia -- clearly something President Obama was not surprised about.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have signed a new executive order that expands the scope of our sanctions.

As an initial step, I'm authorizing sanctions on Russian officials, entities operating in the arms sector in Russia, and individuals who provide material support to senior officials of the Russian government.

And if Russia continues to interfere in Ukraine, we stand ready to impose further sanctions.


BANFIELD: So that's the word from the president in the United States.

But the European Union had its own move, too. The E.U. decided to impose sanctions on 21 Russians and Ukrainians because of what went on this weekend.

Now, here's something we don't see every day, a 4.4-magnitude earthquake shaking the Los Angeles area this morning and really catching it on camera by way of a studio, jolting people before sunrise at 6:25 a.m.

And that's when the morning show was on at our affiliate, KTLA, right in the middle of their newscast. Feast your eyes on this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Coming up, more problems for a troubled --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Earthquake. We're having an earthquake.


BANFIELD: It doesn't get more illustrative than that. The stop, drop and roll routine, everybody in L.A. would know about that. Get under your desk, seek cover and like the anchor lady said, let's get out of here.

The jolt only lasted a couple seconds. It was not strong enough, in fact, to cause any significant damage, except for those who were watching that show, pretty scared, no doubt.

With the search for the missing airliner covering thousands and thousands of miles, what is it like for the people on the boats and the airplanes actually involved in that search, wondering if they're going on a wild goose chase or wondering if they just might be getting close?

Going to take you to the vast Indian Ocean where even civilian boats are on the lookout.


BANFIELD: Ten days in and the search for Flight 370 shows no signs of letting up. In fact, instead, it keeps expanding.

So, where do you look when the search area covers such vast areas of land and sea, and, by the way, when governments keep changing their minds about where this plane could have eventually ended up, bit of a red herring, day to day?

All of this stretches from Kazakhstan to the Indian Ocean, and CNN Sumnima Udas reports from the Andaman Sea where the search efforts are facing monstrous challenges.


SUMNIMA UDAS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This vast expanse of the Andaman Sea, scrutinized by every Indian vessel that sail, the Andaman and Nicobar administration has send a notice to all government, civilian and cargo ships to be on the lookout for any signs of the missing Malaysian aircraft.

CAPTAIN AVTAR BAATH, FORMER INDIAN NAVY COMMANDER: We have been given instruction that if we find any signs of any debris, like life jackets or parts of aircraft, we should report it to the port control.

UDAS: Captain Avtar Baath is a master of the Rani Chang (ph), a passenger ship serving the remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

How difficult is it to find anything in this vast expanse of sea?

BAATH: It is really very, very difficult, especially if the debris is in small pieces. (Inaudible)

UDAS: Baath is a former Indian navy commander who served his country for two decades in this archipelago of 572 islands stretching nearly 800 kilometers or 500 miles in the Indian Ocean.

BAATH: These are very important islands because here right now from Sumatra it is just about 60, 70 miles. So you can control Malacca Strait from these islands. They are strategically very important, economically very important for India.

UDAS: Most famous for its untouched beaches, reserve forests and indigenous tribes who still hunt and gather, 94 percent of these islands are uninhabited or off limits to people.

No one here believes the theory that the Malaysian airplane was hijacked and deliberately headed towards the Andamans.

BAATH: If it had come in this side, it would surely have been detected. Of it landing somewhere over here, not possible. You want my frank opinion? I don't think it is here.

UDAS: For days, the Indian navy and air force have been searching in areas spanning more than 250,000 square kilometers near the 100,000 square miles from the Andaman Sea to the Bay of Bengal.

This is the navy dockyard where the Indian operation was launched. Over there you can see the coast guard vessels. These vessels have been combing the length of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands all way south toward Malacca Strait since Thursday.

After reporting no sightings, India's military search was temporarily suspended on Sunday, but for passenger ships like Rani Chang, the search request still stands.

Sumnima Udas, CNN, Port Blair, India.


BANFIELD: It just seems odd, doesn't it, a ship just plowing through a massive ocean and looking?

Just imagine what this is like for the loved ones who are still waiting, all these changes and theories and yet these families just waiting for anything, anything of what happened to these people on Flight 370.

And just ahead, you're going to hear from significant other of Philip Wood, an American who was on board that plane.

She's going to tell you what she thinks happened and how she is preparing for what might be next.


SARAH BAJC, PARTNER OF PASSENGER ABOARD MISSING PLANE: I have an outfit for him in my backpack, because he wouldn't want to wear his dirty old stuff anymore, I'm sure.


BANFIELD: You know, as fascinating as this mystery has been for you to follow, as every changing and conflicting report comes out about what happened to this plane, just imagine what this has been like for the people whose loved ones were or still are on board. They get a different story every day. They don't know what to think anymore. And one American on board named Phillip Wood was just about to move from China to Malaysia with his partner. She says that she believes he's still alive. She does admit, however, she could be in denial. Listen to what she told CNN's David McKenzie.


SARAH BAJC, PARTNER OF PASSENGER ON FLIGHT 370: The entire U.S. population is reliving things like 9/11 in this experience, right? If an unthinkable thing can happen, even after we've taken all of these precautions, what could happen next? This is a planned activity. Somebody wants to do something and make a message out of it. And it would serve them no good to be seen as callus and brutal and just start killing people unnecessarily, because then they won't have as much bargaining power, I think.

I think -- I mean I don't - I can't imagine to put myself into the mind-set of somebody who would even possibly contemplate this. But I've got a belief that the hostages are valuable to them. And as the only adult American on the flight, Phillip would be a valuable asset to them. And it happens to be that he's also very calm and very put together, and he would know to step back and, you know, not cause any conflict. So he wouldn't be somebody that they would want to get out of the way as a trouble-causer. If there's anybody who can survive a situation like that, it's him. He's very level-headed. And I think he is the kind of person who would help to calm a really chaotic situation.

Of course, I have to prepare for the worst because, no matter what, I still have to go forward. And no matter what, his family still has to go forward. So we need to know where that fork in the road is going to go. And we're not ready to take either branch, but we have to know what's coming because otherwise when it comes, you won't be prepared, and that's when you get into trouble, I think.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You need to be prepared for whatever the news is?

BAJC: Uh-huh. My bag is packed and ready to go. It has been since Saturday morning.

MCKENZIE: Ready to go where?

BAJC: Wherever he is. My son even helped me pick out which clothes to bring for him, so I have an outfit for him in my backpack, because he wouldn't want to wear his dirty old stuff anymore, I'm sure, and he probably wouldn't want to wear a hospital gown, if that's the case. So, yes, it's all ready.


BANFIELD: That is just absolutely heartbreaking to hear that. And I'm joined by someone who has been directly impacted by this same kind of thing, an airline disaster, all be it with an answer far sooner. Heidi Snow lost her fiance in the TWA Flight 800 crash and since then Heidi has started a support group for plane crash victims called ACESS or Aircraft Casualty Emotional Support Services. Heidi, thanks for being with us. I saw an interview with you last week in which you spoke of the uniqueness of what air crash victims go through, meaning they have so long to wait for answers so often. But then this story has become even more bizarre. And I wanted to check back in with you because Sarah, talking the way she did, not knowing from one day to the next whether these conflicting stories mean her loved one is a hostage or her loved one is dead, I can't imagine how you would answer her questions.

HEIDI SNOW, LOST FIANCE ON TWA FLIGHT 800: Right. So a lot of what she said definitely resonates with me and so many people who have called us for help after this incident who have lost people in past air disasters who are really reliving it and remember this waiting time with all these incidents. That's what distinguishes air disasters from other types of sudden loss, is we really don't have information and it usually takes a really long time before we actually can confirm they were, in fact, aboard the plane, before the remains are actually found.

And in this case, there's definitely hope that there might be an alternative. And it is just so difficult. I remember I held on to hope for five weeks waiting for some kind of confirmation that he was actually on the plane. And I can tell you, I thought so many times, maybe he didn't actually get on that plane. And I tried to keep everything the same way it was, because I thought for sure he could come back and things were going to be the way they used to be. And that was definitely something that I held on to, to get through those weeks. It was so critical to have that hope and anyone who would listen and allow me to keep him alive and talk about him was what I needed at that time.

And we really found that with ACESS, the same thing, people are calling and they're reliving it and they're wanting to talk about their loved ones again. And for me, I was lucky. I had a woman who had lost her fiance on Pan Am Flight 103, and she would sit with me. It had been eight years for her, but she allowed me to talk about him and hold out that hope because that's what I needed to get through, was to hold on to that.

BANFIELD: Heidi, I saw -

SNOW: And keep him alive.

BANFIELD: I saw you in an interview saying, and it just made so much sense, that your organization actually sets up like-minded people, meaning a spouse with a spouse, a brother with a brother, so that they have that, you know, that intimate connection about what it's like to have gone through this. They -- both of these people suffering through the same sort of thing. And I can only think that you're exactly like Sarah. You lost your fiance. She lost her life partner. What would you say to her specifically?

SNOW: It is just so difficult. And the hardest thing -- it's like your future is planned and suddenly you have to rethink that and move forward. And when people would say that to me, I couldn't even imagine what that meant. And it wasn't important at that time. At this point in time, I really just needed to keep talking about him and holding out hope. And that is how I got through every hour.

BANFIELD: How long do you do that though, Heidi?

SNOW: And the other side -

BANFIELD: I always wonder about hope is important, I get that right now, but at some point do you have to turn the corner and say, need to move on and the hope needs to be replaced by perhaps a very sad reality.

SNOW: Right. And that's inevitable. And that will happen down the road, depending on what the outcome is. But during this time, this early on, I have to say that this is a form of survival is to be able to hold on to that hope. And it's critical.

BANFIELD: Have you had any - anybody --

SNOW: And I remember so well --

BANFIELD: I'm sorry, we have that very awkward delay. But have you had anybody reach out to you? I know there were only two Americans on board on this particular incident. But has ACESS been -- had an overture already about this crash - or about this incident?

SNOW: We -- usually after incidents like this, when the details start coming in, is when people call us for help. And right now I think it's about that time where we usually begin receiving calls. But since this incident occurred, we -- we've got a surge of calls from people from past incidents just wanting to talk about their loved ones and all reliving this moment which has been extremely difficult for those who have been through a similar situation in the past. And they've reached out to talk to grief mentors, as well.

And certainly we are here for all the people from this crash. We match people according to the relationship of their loss. We match mothers to mothers, siblings to siblings, spouses to spouses so that there's a similarity in what they're going through.

BANFIELD: Heidi, can you -

SNOW: And we also -

BANFIELD: I was just going to ask you if you could stay after the break. I have a question I want you to answer. I hadn't really thought of it until this very moment while you were just speaking. And after the break, if you could let me know when something like this happens, do people who have suffered through this before, people like you, family members of Lockerbie, of 800, of Swiss Air 111, are they having to relive - you know, I'm going to ask you now. I'm not going to go to break. Do you get calls from people who are just suffering all over again even though they didn't know one person on this plane?

SNOW: Absolutely. That's what our influx of calls have been.

BANFIELD: And what do they say? And what - what - how do you counsel them? What do you say? SNOW: We're finding that most of them really want to tell their story again. And they're reliving it, and they are just so concerned and empathetic to all the people aboard this plane. And they feel for them. We all do. We remember what that was like and it's really difficult and it's really painful. And it's a very long process. And we said goodbye and we never thought that would be our final goodbye. That seemed impossible.


SNOW: And there are so many unspoken things that we had that we never got to say. And I just remember, it's just -- it was not real.

BANFIELD: You know, despite the fact that you are the person who is giving out the help, I don't know how -- if anybody has said to you that they're thinking of you at this time because you are as well a victim of a disaster like this. Thank you for the work that you do. I think it's really valuable. And thank you for being with us today. I really appreciate it, Heidi.

SNOW: Thank you very much. Thank you.

BANFIELD: Heidi is It's a great organization. I am flat out of time. Thanks for watching. Wolf starts right after this break.