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Thai Air Radar Shows Plane May Have Turned Around; NYT: Flight Path Altered Via Computer; Friend Remembers Missing Co-Pilot; The Psyche Of A Pilot; Crew, Passengers All Under Scrutiny

Aired March 18, 2014 - 10:00   ET



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now in the NEWSROOM breaking overnight, the search expands again.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The search and rescue officials have taken on a new international dimension.


COSTELLO: Twenty five countries now looking at an area the size of the lower 48.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're here at the military air base in the center of the international search and rescue operation.


COSTELLO: Also developing this morning, the grief grows. Families demanding answers as suspicion grows around the pilots.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Someone on the plane put into the computer system that sits between the pilots a new direction for the plane to go in.


COSTELLO: How seven key strokes could have changed everything? You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me. For the very first time, a foreign government now admitting its military radar picked up Malaysia Flight 370 both before and possibly after the plane's transponder was turned off.

Take a look at this map. The Thai military says that around 1:21 a.m. on March 8th, on Saturday, it spotted Flight 370 on its scheduled route to Beijing and then it lost radar contact. Seven minutes later at 1:28 a.m., a Thai radar station saw an unknown aircraft appear. It was flying in the opposite direction, back toward Kuala Lumpur. That unknown plane was not sending out data. Its signal was only broadcasting intermittently.

Once that unknown plain turned into the Strait of Malacca, the signal was lost. Now, this revelation from the Thai Air Force casts new light on what might have happened. CNN's Tom Foreman joins me now from Washington to parse out this latest theory. Take it away, Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Carol, it seems like every time we look at the map here, we keep going between a huge search area and then something tighter again. This moves us back to a tighter pattern. Remember, a point of reference, the plane took off from Kuala Lumpur, flew up here, off the coast, disappeared here, all along, even as these search areas have grown and we have talked about them, there has been this idea that it turned left or to the west at some point there.

Now we have these satellite images suggesting that there could some kind of big sweep towards the south where it might have wound up by turning left or maybe it angled off toward the north. Let's zoom in and look at where Thailand is and how it fits into this equation. You see that Thailand is off there to the right there, a little bit. We just passed it on part of the northern sweep up here towards Kazakhstan and China and Afghanistan, Pakistan. It is down at the bottom of this sweep.

In that area, if it is true that Thailand tracked it, watch as we come back down here, you can write off the rest of the pattern. You might be able to say. You might be able to, you see the end of the route there, the end of the red box to the right there. If the plane actually maybe Thailand could track it as it turned over that little is must there and came into the Strait of Malacca.

You see Banda Aceh and Kuala Lumpur, the Strait of Malacca runs right between them. This would bring us back, Carol, to a model we talked about before. This would bring us back to the idea that it could have disappeared and gone down in the immediate area, not some far flung far of the Indian Ocean or maybe way up in Europe at some hidden airport -- Carol.

COSTELLO: But then there is also that part that the plane possibly flew an additional seven hours. So how does that confuse things?

FOREMAN: Honestly, it just confuses it tremendously because what we know is that the plane was somehow transmitting for these hours. We don't actually know it was flying. The plane could have been running in some fashion but not going anywhere. That's what confuses the issue. A lot of people think that means it might have been sitting on the ground somewhere. Some are going to theorize, maybe some electrical parts are still working even after it crashes if it crashed into the ocean. That's part of the signal.

There is also, I must say, Carol, one of the things I want to bring in here is the idea that a lot of people have been talking about, that maybe there was some kind of really nefarious tricky thing going on. For example, if you had this plane and it turned off all of its systems, but then it fell into the shadow of another plane that came into the area and this other plane was operating normally.

So you have a commercial airline flying a normal route knows nothing about anything, sending out a regular signal, this one seems to get close enough to it that it seems to be the same plane if you look at it on radar. This plane knows nothing about it because it can't see a plane that's not transmitting anything to it. The idea would be they would both merge into a single dot on the radar and in doing so, it would be impossible for controllers or people on the ground to know any difference.

Who knows now, Carol? I must say, the Thai information, while very intriguing, there is this caution. How in midst of this giant search effort can a neighbor so close as Thailand be this far down the line before saying, by the way, we think we saw it. That will have to be one of the questions that will be asked today. Why is this information out there a lot sooner if it is truly reliable?

COSTELLO: Right. It could be as simple as the Thai military said, we have to review some stuff and then they found it. We just don't know.

FOREMAN: The pressure this morning in Malaysia, remember what the Malaysian officials said. While they talked about the search area and search is going way off into the Indian Ocean and how that still matters, they also talked a lot about analysis. The only reason we have these satellite tracks is because of analysis. It is not because somebody looked at an obvious picture and said, look, it is clearly there.

They had to take data they had looked over and over and over and look at it again and say, well, wait a minute. Maybe this means something. Maybe this means something. That's all conjecture. The only thing we still really know is that the plane took off and an hour later, it was gone.

COSTELLO: Tom Foreman, thanks so much.

We are also following another big development though this morning. "The New York Times" reports that someone probably altered the plane's course away from Beijing by pre-programming the flight's computer system. The "Times" sites unidentified American officials insists that whoever was in control of the cockpit would have been somebody knowledgeable about airplane systems.

So what are we talking about? Let's head to the flight simulator. CNN's Martin Savidge at controls of a Boeing 777 simulator in Ontario, Canada. He's joined by pilot, Mitchell Casado. So tell folks what the "New York Times" is talking about.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Carol. You know, what they are talking about now is a different piece of avionics equipment. We've talked about the ACARS. We've talked about the transponder. Now we are talking about the FMS, the flight management system. It is this box here. Mitchell has one up next to him. The co-pilot has one up here as well.

Essentially this does a number of things for the aircraft. It really assists the pilot and co-pilot in flying this jumbo jet airliner. But the primary thing it does is navigate. Think about it like the GPS system for your car. Before taking off, you would program in where you were going and where you left from and a lot of other information.

We programmed in, of course, we left from Kuala Lumpur and we would be headed to Beijing as they were at 370. What Mitchell can demonstrate is that once in the air, you actually can change things if you want and you know what to do.

MITCHELL CASADO, PILOT TRAINER, 777 COCKPIT SIMULATOR: Our flight plan right now, to demonstrate, we are following this magenta line. There is the airplane. Here is my flight plan. What I'm going to do is enter waypoint I'm already familiar with. WMPA. A couple of key strokes. I enter it into the flight plan. It asks me if I'm sure I want to do that. Yes, I do. The airplane is automatically deviated. You can see we are turning to the left here. It is just a simple few keystrokes and the airplane deviates from its flight path.

SAVIDGE: And we should point out, Carol, that the turn is not overly dramatic. So if you are a passenger in the back, it doesn't seem like anything out of the ordinary.

COSTELLO: I was going to ask you. I wanted to ask Mitchell this question and Martin, you can help out too, of course, because you've been doing a fabulous job. You are spending so many hours in that flight simulator, you will be a certified by lot by the time this is all over.

So why would a pilot change course by reprogramming that computer? Could it be because of mechanical problems on board, fire in the cockpit, what?

CASADO: Yes, absolutely. It could be for a number of reasons, so we can have weather, thunderstorms, there could be volcanic eruption in certain parts of the world. This could let us know to deviate. If there is a fire. It depends on the airline. They have different standard operating procedures. If there is a mechanical problem, some fire or something like that, airlines handle that in different ways. North American Airlines, we turn the autopilot off and hand fly it. Other airlines keep it on and deviate through the FMC or the FMS. It all depends on the circumstance.

COSTELLO: So if you change the computer program, though, if you had to because of some failure in the cockpit, wouldn't you communicate that to air traffic control?

CASADO: Yes. I think I mentioned it to Marty here is aviate, navigate, communicate. We are flying first and make sure we are going in the right direction. We have the navigation settled and then we communicate. Communication is primo on the list. We have to communicate. They would have absolutely had to do that, yes.

SAVIDGE: And also the ACARS system we have been discussing should alert or send out an immediate alert especially in the case of something like a fire or even the temperature rising down in the wheel well area. COSTELLO: Interesting.

SAVIDGE: The fire alarm is pretty obvious. You would get all sorts have alerts and warnings that come up on the screen for the pilot and co-pilot to see. It lists just about every aspects from the engines to the cargo hull to the wheel well and the engines. You get quite a readout.

COSTELLO: Martin Savidge and pilot, Mitchell Casado, thanks as usual.

The search area, as I've told you, has expanded to unbelievable proportions. Nearly 3 million square miles. That would be the size of the United States. It is so big, it seems an impossible task even though 25 countries are now involved in the search. Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon with that side of the story. Good morning, Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. Let's just think about this for a minute, 25 countries now. This is a coalition, the kind of thing you hear about, heaven forbid, in a war zone. This is no you a massive coalition of international partners. Many of them using their military assets, radar, satellites, military aircraft, ships, to search everywhere and anywhere they can.

Let's start in the northern sector now. China and Kazakhstan, leading the search in the north. China saying that it is now going to devote something like 10 ships, 21 satellites and a number of airplanes to look for the plane. Also, asking for more information from the Malaysians so we can look at the satellite data.

Down in the south, Australia and New Zealand taking charge of a vast area of the Indian Ocean. Many countries, including the United States now, shifting their military aircraft down there. The U.S. P8 ORion aircraft from the U.S. Navy down in Perth Australia. The navy ship, the "USS Kidd" leaving because with this vast area, aircraft can search the ocean much more quickly, much more efficiently than the aircraft.

Malaysia even now asking countries for help with deep ocean search. The notion of where this plane is, we may be no closer to it, but now a number of countries very deeply involved and in full international coalition at work -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Barbara Starr, reporting live for us from the Pentagon. Thank you.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, CNN meets the next-door neighbor of the co-pilot from Flight 370. Hear how he describes his friend and his family who are now shunning the public spotlight.


COSTELLO: In the 11 days since Flight 370 went missing, many of the family and friends of the co-pilot have stayed out of the public eye. But now, CNN is learning more about Fariq Hamid, the co-pilot, the 27- year-old co-pilot. Kate Bolduan is in Kuala Lumpur with more. Good morning, Kate. KATE BOLDUAN, ANCHOR, CNN'S "NEW DAY": Good morning, Carol. This is a neighbor. This is the next-door neighbor of the Hamid family. He lives there, the co-pilot, with his parents and his siblings. The neighbor says that he often sees the Hamid family, but he says that they have not been to the house since Saturday. Saturday is the very same day the Malaysian police searched his home along with the pilot's home. We now know.

Now, like so many others around here, especially in that suburb of Kuala Lumpur, this neighbor that we spoke with, was very hesitant and timid to speak to the media and asked that his identity might not be revealed. Here is much of our conversation.


BOLDUAN (voice-over): The family of Flight 370's co-pilot, Fariq Abdul Hamid, reclusive since the crush of media attention flooded their home on Saturday. Their relatives, now infamous last words from the cockpit, "all right, good night" are still shrouded in mystery. First Officer Hamid is seen here flying a 777. His reflection in the console just weeks before the Malaysia Airlines flight went missing.

(on camera): How do you know the family?

UNIDENTIFIED CO-PILOT'S NEIGHBOR: I know this family around five years, I think, around five years.

BOLDUAN (voice-over): Along the streets of Shah Alam, a suburb of Kuala Lumpur, the co-pilot's neighbor, a taxi driver, says he doesn't believe the 27-year-old co-pilot would play a role in the flight's disappearance?

UNIDENTIFIED CO-PILOT'S NEIGHBOR: He is a pilot and this is a respected career in Malaysia. It is an honor to have a neighbor like this. The taxi driver describes the co-pilot as ambitious, someone who loves sports cars. After he became a pilot, I bought a GTI gulf and then he bought a BMW. He is a big fan of cars and I don't think he would do something crazy, he said. The neighbor says the Hamid family kept to themselves. He also viewed the father as, quote, "someone important." but he can't forget the most recent conversation he had with this neighbor when he said simply, my son is lost.

BOLDUAN (on camera): When the father talked to you, how did he seem? How did he act?

UNIDENTIFIED CO-PILOT'S NEIGHBOR: He was clearly worried, but he was as a Muslim. He seemed calm and able to accept it, the driver said. His father asked me to pray for his son to be found, for the plane to be found and I assured him that his son will be fine and that they will find the plane. The media intrusion now impacting the surrounding community. The co-pilot's next-door neighbor says the constant attention has forced his own wife and two children to leave.


BOLDUAN: Now, this is all significant because it helps us try to draw somewhat of a picture of at least one of the men that this investigation is focusing so squarely on. Despite the change in the details of the investigation, Carol, the timeline and everything that we are learning day by day, Malaysian authorities still say that they are continuing to reach the conclusion, that whatever happened, they believe it was a deliberate act -- a human deliberate act within the cockpit.

That's why the focus is so much on the pilot and this co-pilot, this 27-year-old man. That's why we are able to speak with his neighbor because we have not heard much about him yet. We are just now getting a better picture of what he is like and who he might be.

COSTELLO: Fascinating. Kate Bolduan reporting live from Kuala Lumpur. Now we want to be careful not to condemn these pilots. We don't know what happened in that cockpit. Right now, nothing about either man appears essentially suspicious. Keep in mind, there are 239 suspects right now. Everyone on board is under scrutiny.

Bob Rose is an industrial psychologist and principal at the Rose Porterfield Group. His company hires, trains and coaches pilots. Welcome, sir.

BOB ROSE: How are you doing?

COSTELLO: I'm good. I'm sure you have been following this tragedy. Does anything stand out in your mind?

DR.BOB ROSE, INDUSTRIAL PSYCHOLOGIST: What stands out is the lack of data we have. There is so much we don't know. The other thing that stands out in my mind, that I haven't heard a great deal about, at least, is what the cockpit management was like. We have heard about the individuals, but what was the interaction like in the cockpit.

COSTELLO: The only thing we know is that they didn't request to fly together. What does that tell you?

ROSE: I don't know. Did they know each other prior? I didn't have a good handle on that either.

COSTELLO: I don't think anyone does. So let's go back to square one and talk in general about pilots and how you hire pilots. What do you look for in a pilot?

ROSE: Well, unlike the experience of one of the previous guests, we never look at whether you did or did not love your mother and whether you hurt small animals. We do look for several different factors, one is the work style. Pilots have to be very careful and deliberate, more so than most of us. Pilots have to be firm. When you are in the left seat, you are really in control of everything in that plane. Pilots have to be very, very emotionally resilient in terms of what they express and what they feel. I'm not always positive and optimistic. I want my pilot to be.

COSTELLO: Absolutely. What are the red flags?

ROSE: Well, the red flags would be the absence of any one of those critical things. In other words, if you run into someone who is impulsive, they shouldn't be in the cockpit. There is always time to do things right, but you shouldn't rush and do things wrong. So you have to be very careful and deliberate. If you see an impulsive person, that's not a good candidate for a pilot position. Someone who is not emotionally resilient, that's one of the primary things we look for. When things go wrong at 40,000 feet, you simply cannot get rattled. You have to be able to focus on what you need to do.

COSTELLO: Bob Francis, former investigator for the NTSB, told me the co-pilot, the 27-year-old, who Kate Bolduan, was talking about, is much more interesting, that's how he put it than the captain is. He cites this young man's lack of experience as a factor. Do you agree?

ROSE: Well, it is hard to say, Carol, because aviation more so than any profession that I know of aviation throughout the world has very, very high standards. Even someone who has a relative lack of experience, even so, his training in order to be a pilot at all was very good. So I don't know if that's a factor or not.

COSTELLO: That he supposedly allowed two young women into the cockpit to take pictures was against regulations in Malaysia, does that send up a red flag? You say you don't like pilots that are impulsive.

ROSE: Yes, that would be a red flag. I mean, anyone who doesn't take that job seriously, anyone who acts without thinking about the consequences of the actions, yes. Of all the things I've heard, that would be the biggest red flag.

COSTELLO: That would be the biggest one. So when an investigation begins, tell me if I'm asking you a question outside of your area of expertise, when an investigation begins into pilots of air mishaps, what do investigators first look for?

ROSE: You know, I'm not sure about that. If they are looking at their background, certainly, they need to look at anything that suggests anything above average. Other than that, I don't know.

COSTELLO: Bob Rose, thanks so much for your insight. Very helpful. I appreciate it.

ROSE: You bet.

COSTELLO: Still to come in the NEWSROOM, is Russia really the victim in the Ukraine crisis, really? After officially making Crimea part of his country this morning, Vladimir Putin complained that his country had essentially been, quote, "robbed." We'll talk about it next.


COSTELLO: A major twist in the Ukraine story this morning. Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a treaty officially taking back Crimea. Speaking earlier in Moscow, Putin told a joint session of parliament Crimea was Russia's to begin with. His country was essentially robbed when Crimea ended up with Ukraine after the breakup of the Soviet Union. President Obama and the European powers are calling the actions illegal and slapped sanctions on more than two dozen Russian official and their allies. Vice President Joe Biden also threatened action.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: It is a simple fact that Russia's political and economic isolation will only increase if it continues down its current path. And it is -- and it will, in fact, see additional sanctions by the United States and the E.U.


COSTELLO: CNN's Ivan Watson live in Kiev this morning.