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The Fate of Malaysian Airline Flight 370; A Closer Look at Who's in the Cockpit; Theories on the Fate of Flight 370

Aired March 22, 2014 - 09:00   ET



MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Michael Smerconish.

First off, we want to get you the very latest news on the search for missing Malaysian flight 370. An object 74 feet long and 43 feet wide object has been found floating in the southern search corridor. This object was spotted by satellite and reported by the Chinese government. Ships are headed in that direction right now.

We know that in that same area, the southern corridor, there is a cyclone warning is in effect. That is going to make the search very difficult for ships and planes in that area. We will keep you updated throughout this hour.

You know, this is only my third program on CNN. I'm still learning the ropes. When my show launch just as one of the greatest mysteries of our time began to unfold.

The story of Malaysia Flight 370 has all the elements of compelling news. Missing people who were engaged in a common activity. The presumption of deliberate action, in incalculable enigma and resulting conspiracy theories. How to approach the story is something that I wrestled with all week long.

And I've heard the criticism mostly from this network's competitors who aren't used to second or third place finishes. But your interests is my paramount concern. And I know from my radio show this week, the verdict from water coolers all across the country is that we all want to figure out what became of 239 people and the airplane in which they were flying.

I think we've put together a solid hour that will lend some needed perspective. My goal is all to have you watch and leave with a better understanding of a matter of legitimate public interest. And that's what I came here to do.

So here is the plan. We're going to analyze the continuing conundrum of Flight 370 from the following angles. I'm wondering how investigators are trying to unravel the story of the pilots. And who better to ask than Mary Ellen O'Toole, a former senior FBI profiler. We have Michael Kay who not only distinguished himself in his career flying for the British R.A.F. but has investigated aircraft crashes. We have the expertise of Tim Weller to help guide us this morning. He was the project manager in the extensive underwater search for Air France Flight 447 which crashed into the Atlantic in 2009. You'll also meet Ellen (INAUDIBLE), the widow of the captain of United 175 who has made it her life's mission to reinforce cockpit safety so that no pilot meets the fate that greeted her husband on 9/11. She worries that we are still vulnerable. Clive Irving is the author, an aviation expert who penned something that caught my eye this week. His focus is on the timeline and in particular the significance of reports that the transponder was turned off three minutes after the pilot's final verbal communication.

You want to hear what he thinks that suggests. And we'll have Dr. Nicholas Defanzo, a psychologist whose academic area of expertise is the spread of rumors and why we are so inclined to believe them.

So let's get started.

Assuming Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 is at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, and that's a big if since we really don't know where it is, searching for it poses enormous challenges. It calls to mind the hunt for the Titanic. That ship was found more than two miles beneath the Atlantic in 1986, some 74 years after it sank.

Tim Weller knows a lot about exploring the wreckage of the Titanic. He is the operations manager at Phoenix International, a firm that specializes in deep ocean searches. He also was project manager in the search for Air France 447 in 2009.

Also back with us is Michael Kay, a retired helicopter pilot with the British Royal Air Force, with extensive flying experience in around the world. Tim, let me begin with you, at which stage in regard to the Malaysian flight with someone of your expertise get involved. Of course, the breaking news this morning, is this new satellite imagery. Is that enough information for someone of your experience to now be in this case?

TIM WELLER, PHOENIX INTERNATIONAL: I think we would need to find more surface debris so we might be able to can calculate a better position to start our search in the bottom search. We are looking at water depths anywhere from 3,000 meters to 5,000 meters. So the challenges are enormous. The area is enormous and the search based on one satellite image could take years.

SMERCONISH: How would it compare to your work with regard to Air France? For example, is the ocean floor in this location as well charted as where you were exploring?

WELLER: I've only had cursory looks at the bottom data here. It looks like it could be rough, but you know, the biggest challenge is the area. Without having more information about where the impact was, it is nearly impossible to tell where to start the search. In Air France, you had a large area of debris on the surface. The experts that could do the hind casts or the drift models had a much easier time bringing that information back to a possible point of impact.

So in this case, we don't have any of that.

SMERCONISH: If debris field is located, what then would be the next steps?

WELLER: The next steps would be to mobilize a towed pinger locator which (INAUDIBLE) listen for that pinger everybody is talking about and possibly an AUV to start the scan sonar search in that area.

SMERCONISH: And the pinger that you referenced is the pinger that puts a diminishing amount of time on that clock, right? We really got about two weeks in order to find something on that basis?

WELLER: That's right. As time goes on, the battery voltage decreases. The frequency changes. It could last 40, 45 days, but the sooner that we find debris on the surface, that would give us - we'll know how much time we have to utilize the TPL, the towed pinger locator.

SMERCONISH: Michael Kay, I'm wondering if this search is being hindered by national security gainsmanship. In other words, today, this morning, we now have this image from the Chinese that apparently was reported on Tuesday, it took them four days to provide it. Are there concerns, do you think, on the part of the Chinese that they don't want to reveal what their satellite capabilities are in that part of the world that are now posing an impediment to finding this airplane?

MICHAEL KAY, RETIRED HELICOPTER PILOT: I think it goes broader than the Chinese, Mike. I think there has been from the outset inconsistencies in the data that we've been getting, at the geopolitical level in terms of the diplomatic relationships on what data feeds we have been given.

For example, there has been huge inconsistencies on the (INAUDIBLE) that have been offered up by Thailand and Malaysia who say that they did see something unusual. And Indonesia, they have big radar station based on (INAUDIBLE) just below the Malacca Strait, saying they see nothing. When it comes to China, I mean, China putting a plethora of satellites up into orbit at the moment. The problem we've got is this isn't a geo stationary satellite. It's a satellite in orbit. And I think when you start getting data from various satellite in orbit especially with the Chinese. I don't know what those satellites are in orbit to do. And I think there will be certain securities and suspicions about what data will be coming from what satellite.

So I think I can understand why China would be a little bit guarded about releasing various bits of information because the U.S. will be able to track where the information came from and maybe start inquiring as to what the satellite is used for day-to-day.

SMERCONISH: The process is not exactly inspiring confidence. I was watching CNN early this morning in real-time when the Malaysian representatives were having a press conference. It seemed so haphazard. I had just been handed this note, the note comes via the Chinese ambassador. They say there's a satellite image. I don't really have much more that I can tell you than that.

KAY: I mean there are 26 countries involved in this. A week ago, there were 43 ships and 58 aircraft from 14 countries involved in the search. That is a huge, huge search operation effort to try and coordinate within the country let alone across 26 countries. We just have to go to the southwestern tip of Australia and just look at mammoth efforts that the Australians and the Air Force have been deploying in order to search that area of 125,000 square miles. I mean, we have seen the (INAUDIBLE) going out there. We have seen (INAUDIBLE) of maritime surveillance aircraft. It is not an easy logistics operation to put together on a whim.

SMERCONISH: Michael Kay and Tim Weller, thank you so much for being with us.

KAY: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: The unfinished story, hijacking or not, enough is still not being done to protect pilots. And you're about to hear from one woman who knows that pain all too well.


SMERCONISH: Our unfinished story image could be the last line of defense to keep hijackers at bay. It's a new door to protect pilots as they enter and leave the cockpit. It is a passionate interest to the wife of a pilot lost in the tragedy of 9/11.

And that's another of the theories in the loss of Malaysia Airlines flight 370. What about a hijacking? In this post 9/11 world, is it still possible to get in the cockpit to bring down a plane?

My next guest thinks so. She is Ellen Saracini. And if here name sounds familiar, it should. Her husband, Victor, was the captain of United Airlines Flight 175, one of the planes hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center.

I want to play a piece of video for our viewers. It's a dramatization done by Ellen to show how easy it still is to storm the cockpit and how it can take just moments for fake hijackers to take control.

Ellen, in the aftermath of September 11, the Congress mandated reinforced cockpit doors, but not secondary door. What are we talking about with regard to a secondary door?

ELLEN SARACINI, WIFE OF 9/11 HIJACKED PILOT: We are talking about a lightweight gate that gets locked into place only during those times in flight when the cockpit door is open and operational use has shown us that while the solidified cockpit door works while its closed, pilots need to come out for meal breaks, rest breaks and crew facility. So it is during those times in flight that we are vulnerable and as we can see by the video, the study done showed that the cockpit could be breached in under two seconds once that door was opened.

SMERCONISH: I'm flying later today. And I know that this flight goes, as other flights do, at some point, the staff, the personnel from the airplane are going to put that beverage cart across the aisle. Is that what they are using in lieu of a secondary door now?

SARACINI: Well, realizing that there is an issue, TSA said every airline has to come up with a procedure. So you're going to be lucky if you are on the airlines that do use the cart and flight attendants. Some just use a flight attendant. That method is the most robust form that the airlines have to protect the cockpit during a breach. And we see what could happen, two seconds later.

SMERCONISH: Now, even though it was not mandated by the Congress, your husband's employer said they were going to take this step. They were going to provide secondary doors. Then the dreamliners started to be delivered to United and I guess now Continental. You became aware of the fact that despite what they had said, those secondary doors weren't present.

SARACINI: Legacy United installed them on a lot of airplanes. It words. It's an easy fix and inexpensive. Now that Continental and United have merged, it is really a Continental management team. They do not have the same philosophies. I was appalled when I found out that this company now was removing the doors, but that all the other airlines were not doing this. It is clear in the study that the forms of use to protect the cockpit do not work and the secondary barrier was proven to work 100 percent of the time on 100 percent of the flights.

SMERCONISH: So I know you have been rattling their cage. That is a good thing. What is the explanation?

SARACINI: Well, they say that procedures have evolved over the years and that they are doing everything they are required to do, which they are, the problem is that it is not a requirement yet. Hence that is why legislation has to come through.

SMERCONISH: Do you think it's a cost factor? Is this a dollars and cents issue that has procluded them from giving you this level of safety and satisfaction?

SARACINI: I was told by the head of safety and security for United Airlines that it was not a cost issue, it was not a weight issue. It simply is that the TSA emphasis is on explosives on an airplane and not on a breach of the cockpit. That's their new focus.

I don't know what study or risk-based analysis was done to say that we are only going to have explosives on an airplane. We know that terrorists will look for weakness. And if it is a weakness that that door can be breached in two seconds. That's what they're going to used.

SMERCONISH: I want to ask about the Malaysian flight. Not that it makes it any better but you got the news quickly about Victor on September 11, these folks are now entering their third week of uncertainty. Your thoughts?

SARACINI: My heart goes out to them. You know, at first, when tragedy hits you, you are in shock. It lasts for days or it could last longer than that. Then reality starts to set in. When they are having these hopeful moments that something is there and it goes away. Then another hopeful moment and then it goes way, they can't give up that their loved one is not alive, that their loved one is not going to be found. But it is very difficult. This many days later, it just anguishing for those families.

SMERCONISH: And on September 11th, there were many who did not find out as quickly you found out and went on for a period of days.

SARACINI: I found out right away and when I met all of these people that were in my area, my township who lost somebody in the towers, they were struggling. I remember saying I was the lucky one that I found out right away what the case scenario was. There is just - there is no way to give them any kind of sympathy that they can take in. They are just anguished. It is a shame for them. I really hope that some news can come.

SMERCONISH: I applaud the way that you are keeping the memory of your husband alive and being a champion for cockpit safety. Thank you for being here.

SARACINI: And everyone else.

SMERCONISH: And everyone else. Indeed.

Headlines redefined. A fashion choice by one of the Malaysian Airline pilots has become front page fodder. I'll explain.


SMERCONISH: Time for headlines redefined. The headlines that got the story half right.

Number one, here is what was in "The Daily Mail." Democracy is dead. "Fanatical" Missing airliner pilot pictured wearing political slogan t-shirt. I think there's more to the story. In fact, I had a caller to my radio show this week. A guy called up and he said to me, "Michael, I suspect that the pilots are behind it." And I said "why?" And he said "Well, one of the pilots hates democracy." And I'm sure he gleaned that from that headline or from somebody repeating that headline.

But here is what I think the facts are. The facts are that the pilot is a supporter of Anwar Ibrahim. Ibrahim is the Malaysian opposition leader. He's the guy who was jailed just before this flight took off and some say with trump up charges. Well, Ibrahim is a democracy icon. And as a matter of fact, last year, in 2013, running for prime minister in Malaysia gets the highest recorded number of votes, but still can't wrestle power from the sitting prime minister

So when the pilot's shirt talks about democracy is dead, it is actually being worn, I think, out of frustration. He is complaining that democracy is dead in Malaysia. He wishes that democracy were alive. Ibrahim himself has said of the pilot, "He is a very passionate man about reform, about democracy and about freedom." I'm worried that the presumption of innocence has been waived with regard to these pilots.

So here is the headline that I would have written on this story, "Pro- Democracy Pilot Was At the Controls.

Number two, this comes from Media Eye. I love this. O'Reilly, Krauthammer Blast "Psychotic" Flight 370 Coverage; Corrupting the News Biz. There's some irony missed here. First of all who do you they were talking about in that segment which I watched?

In the segment, Krauthammer say, he admits, I should say, the story has got all the elements. In fact, Charles Krauthammer made reference to Agatha Christie. I agree with him in that regard. He also said that it is all about ratings. That ten prompted Bill O'Reilly, no doubt with references to CNN to regard this all as a burlesque show and today that it is attributable to capitalism.

So here is what I was thinking as I was watching. Guys, if you want to get in on the action and you want to cover the Malaysian flight, you don't need to use CNN as your means of getting in on the action by trumping up a charge that CNN's coverage has been excessive. We can have a conversation and a debate about the subject of coverage given to a subject of worldwide fascination. But be more honest about it. Just start covering the story yourself if that is what you would like to do.

Here is the way I would have written the headline. It would have said this, "Fox is Not covering the plane by covering CNN's coverage of the plane." Headlines redefined. There you go.

All right. When we come back, we will talk to a person who has written some great things about this subject. That's Clive Irving. From zombie flights to faulty time timetables, my upcoming guest has checked all of the possibilities.


SMERCONISH: Welcome back. We want to get you up to speed for the search for missing Malaysia Flight 370.

An object 74 feet long and 43 feet wide has been found floating in the southern search corridor. This object was spotted by satellite and reported by the Chinese government. Ships are headed in that direction right now. We also know that in the same area, the southern corridor, there is a cyclone warning in effect. That is going to make the search very difficult for ships and planes that are in that area. We'll keep you updated throughout this hour.

One theory that gained steam this week was of hero pilots. It surmised that the pilots were dealing an electrical fire in the cockpit. That knocked out critical systems and may have incapacitated the pilots. Joining me now is Clive Irving. Contributor for "The Daily Beast" and senior contributing editor for "Conde Naste Traveler."

Clive, I really appreciated your commonsensical analysis and reporting. I pulled a number of things out of pieces that you've written. I want to hit you with them and have you expand on them.


SMERCONISH: The data system and transponder quit after the pilot said all was OK. (INAUDIBLE) Why?

IRVING: Nothing sinister. I think they keep trying to make the pilots every action and even background seem sinister when there is no red flag here at all about the pilots. Trashing the pilots I think is very unseemly.

SMERCONISH: Turning off a transponder is the first thing you wrote that a hijacker would do.

IRVING: That's right. But also the transponder can be subject to a technical failure like any other part of that cockpit.

SMERCONISH: The prime minister referenced deliberate action. Seemed to be throwing under the bus those pilots. Part of this narrative that has gained steam and it was something nefarious on their part.

IRVING: Let's remember these pilots are human beings. They have families, just like the passengers in the plane. They are in great agony and distress.

SMERCONISH: Why would a bad guy take out the ACARS system? So let's assume that there was some kind of intervention in that cockpit? What would it matter. I can understand getting (INAUDIBLE) transponder.

IRVING: Well, it makes no sense.

SMERCONISH: Differentiate between ACARS and the transponder so that everybody knows.

IRVING: ACARS is transmission technical information about the performance of the engine and the performance of the other systems in the plane. It is not anything that would betray what was going on in the cockpit. It's not like a CCTV camera in the cockpit that they would turn off or take over to avoid being spotted.

So the greatest thing a hijacker would be worried about would be the satellite would somehow see what was going on. That's not the case with the ACARS at all.

SMERCONISH: So far, and maybe I'm cherry picking from the columns that I read of yours.

IRVING: Right.

SMERCONISH: But it would seem as if you're not one who thus far is casting aspersions on the pilots themselves but is headed more on the mechanical direction.

IRVING: In any responsible investigation, there must be a balance between all the suspicions. In this case, so far, the balance is swung very heavily against towards the criminal and not to the technical.

What I have been trying to do all week is to pull it back and say we really need to interrogate all the technical possibilities for this accident as well as the terrorist possibilities and the criminal possibilities.

SMERCONISH: What would literally happen if this were -- if this plane were to have run out of gas?

IRVING: Well, this whole search that's going on now is predicated on the idea that the plane did run out of gas. That's why they're searching in that area because that sets the limitations of its range. So working back from that, you've got to ask the question, what circumstances could have created a situation where this plane would have fly (sic) for so long without communication. Well, it could be flown by people who didn't want to communicate. But that seems highly unlikely.

What's much more likely -- there's a technical prism for this -- is that it was flying on its own. It's quite capable. It's a very stable aircraft. It's quite capable of flying for a long while on its own on auto pilot.

SMERCONISH: The engines would not all have run out of gas at the exact same time.

IRVING: They don't run out of gas until rather at the end. And one pops --

SMERCONISH: One presumably would have run out of gas before the other.

IRVING: That's right. Yes.

SMERCONISH: And then created --

IRVING: Unbalances the plane and then it banks and tips over and goes down.

SMERCONISH: Is the change in the flight plan necessarily evidenced of something sinister having taken place? This is something else that I hear everyone latching on to and assuming, well, my god, they changed that computer seated between the pilot and the co-pilot, so it had to have been with bad intention. Is that true?

IRVING: The priorities are important here. There's a saying among pilots that priorities are these -- to aviate, navigate and communicate. Aviate means flying so the first thing in an emergency, if they thought emergency was not too urgent, they would naturally program in a change to the flight path. They go towards wherever they thought there was a nearby airfield.

It's not like World War II where you grab the joystick and pull it over because the passengers all shaken. The smooth way of doing it is 36,000 feet. It's flying at -- well, in 500 miles an hour, if you grab -- if you switch off the auto pilot and hand fly, it's a very rough thing to do.

SMERCONISH: Something else on which you have written, Clive, that has significance today because of the breaking news that we're dealing with. What floats?

IRVING: The most buoyant parts of the plane for a while would be the wings because they're hallow, they had empty -- at this point they would have empty gas tanks. So that would provide buoyancy. That will be the largest component that will float. The tail, in the case of Flight 447 Air France, the first thing that we saw really was the vertical stabilizer with the liberty of the airliner on it. So we know immediately that that was the plane. So that's what you should be looking for. Pieces of that size.

SMERCONISH: Did the dimensions -- speaking of size, did the dimensions revealed by the Chinese today comport with any particular --

IRVING: No. No, they don't. They're too square. And I wonder why the Chinese keep doing this. This is the second time they've done it. I don't want to jump to the conclusion this isn't the wreckage. But it's very, very improbable that it is. And one wonders about the efficiency of analysts looking at these satellite images, not taking the first step of comparing the dimensions.

SMERCONISH: OK. Is there a sub-plot here of national security? Could it be that the Chinese don't wish to reveal to the Americans and the rest of the globe their capabilities vis-a-vis surveillance in that part of the world? And as a result, that's why an image taken on Tuesday comes out on Saturday and perhaps with far less definition than they really were able to capture it?

IRVING: Yes, I don't know the answer to that. But I would suspect that that's the case because the Chinese and the U.S. -- the United States don't want to reveal to each other the finesse of their assets. So they are obliged to tell us what they find but they're not obliged to give us the total accuracy of how they know this.

SMERCONISH: Time is of the essence. Another fact that comes from --


IRVING: Absolutely. It's a ticking clock.


IRVING: Because the longer it goes on, the harder it is to find the wreckage. The wreckage will be floating far away now from the initial impact site. And with that terrible conditions and those currents and winds down there, it's very -- it's going to be very hard to locate it. The flight data recorder only goes on for 30 days, at the most, the batteries. And then the little pinger comes out of it is recognizable. You can get up to only three or four-miles range. But this is primitive technology we're talking about. It's quite unnecessary for us to be dependent on this time. SMERCONISH: I'm going to say something at the end of the program today as a matter of fact on that very issue. The technology clearly exists that we wouldn't need to go through this and yet we do.

IRVING: Well, let me give you a number here. The Europeans conducted 597 simulations of air crashes all across the world using streaming. A model that streams the information constantly from the plane before it disappeared. Out of those 597 crashes, 82 percent of them were identified within four miles of where they went down.


IRVING: Eighty-two percent of it.

SMERCONISH: Thank you so much, Clive Irving. I appreciate your reportage.

How much do we know about the two men in the cockpit of Flight 370? We will let you know how the FBI will likely profile these men to get some answers.


SMERCONISH: Much of the speculation into what happened to Malaysia Flight 370 is focusing solely on one place. The cockpit. More specifically, what, if anything, did either of the pilots have to do with the disappearance of the flight? One of them had a flight simulator in his home, not uncommon, but the feds are now looking at some deleted data on that simulator. The other pilot was known to let people into the cockpit.

To learn more about how investigators will be looking at these two men and the passengers and the crew, I'm joined by Mary Ellen O'Toole. She's a former FBI special agent and a former senior FBI profiler.

Mary Ellen, welcome. You've been involved in some real "Silence of the Lambs" kind of stuff in your career. So what would you be most interested in learning about not only the pilots, because I think there's been too much attention media wise on them, but also on the crew and also on the passengers?

MARY ELLEN O'TOOLE, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Well, what's important to understand with these kinds of cases, it's very typical to look at the people that are part of the crime scene if you will. And that includes looking at whether or not they could have any involvement. That's not bashing, it's simply part of an investigation. So what we would be looking for is first of all a baseline of the behavior which means how are these individuals on a normal regular day? What were they like regularly?

Then you go back and you can then begin to compare any changes that occurred in their behavior 24 hours, 36 hours before the event. And the reason that we look for that is this, this kind of activity, being involved possibly in a plane that's probably crashed somewhere, it's not impulsive behavior. It's behavior that well thought out, it's planned and purposeful. So there will be obvious indicators along the way of a shift from that baseline of behavior to now they have taken plans to get involved and taking over an airplane. And that's what we would be looking for, is that shift in behavior.

SMERCONISH: So would that shift in behavior -- let me play armchair detective for a moment. Might that shift in behavior involves someone giving away their possessions to a loved one, someone writing a note of some kind. I'm trying to think of the behavior of the 19 on September 11th.

O'TOOLE: It could involve something like that. That's pretty obvious. But it may be more nuanced, it may be more subtle. So we'd look for things like change in their diet, change in their -- what they wore, change in where they spent their time. They've now become more isolated. Maybe they have evidence of nihilistic thinking. The end of the world thinking. And they become not necessarily depressed but their world views begin to change. And you don't look for just one thing. So you don't cherry pick.

SMERCONISH: Mary Ellen, wouldn't a terrorist want a bigger payoff than this? I mean, we're all familiar now with the maps, I take a look at it and I say if someone had commandeered a plane of that size, they could have crashed in Eastern Europe. They could crash in China. They could have crashed in Australia. They would have had their pick of targets. You wouldn't expect that the end game by design would be to crash where presumably this flight went down.

O'TOOLE: Well, that's true to say that in theory. But again it really does, after you look at all of those theories and possibilities, it does come down to the individual. And what is the individual thinking and what is their goal and what are they attempting to accomplish? So they may -- that individual, if it's a terrorist, may not fit into the regular mold of what we have seen in the past.

SMERCONISH: Something else that hasn't gotten a lot of attention that I think is worthy. Security at Kuala Lumpur. I assume if, you know, Mary Ellen O'Toole, on the case, one of the first things you'd want to know is what was the security like? Could someone other than the passengers and the crew and the pilots have gotten on board that plane? Was somebody, for example, in the jump seat?

O'TOOLE: That's all very important information. You'd want to know all of that. You'd want to go back and begin looking from a behavior perspective what was going on both in terms of the passengers on that plane and in terms of the plane itself. So you have to look at this and I think that is happening. You look at this whole event through many different lenses, but the behavior lens cannot be emphasized enough here.

SMERCONISH: I'm so glad you're here. An additional question if I might. Not all terrorists are suicidal. You know, the 19 on September 11th, presumably were suicidal, although maybe you'll offer me a view that some of them didn't know they were about to die. Bin Laden was not suicidal. Even at the end wasn't suicidal.

So in this particular case, what would be the working model? How would you approach that question?

O'TOOLE: Well, first of all, there may not be a working model that is consistent with this. So again, I go back to the idea that you have to really peel it back to the individual once a certain individual is identified. But that's -- we're sort of putting the cart before the horse with that. Again, you look at what we know right now. And one of the most stunning things, I think we have to consider is you have 237 people on that airplane. Two more plus -- including the flight crew.

SMERCONISH: Pilots. Yes.

O'TOOLE: How could 237 people consistently and completely become so quiet in this airplane? At least at this point, that's a consideration. How does that happen? So once we begin to answer some of these more compelling questions, I think we'll get a better sense of the kind of individual that could have done this.

SMERCONISH: Mary Ellen O'Toole, thank you so much for your time.

O'TOOLE: You're welcome.

SMERCONISH: Trying to explain the mystery. Why are we so obsessed with the theories, the rumors? I'll ask the man who knows.


SMERCONISH: The theories on the fate of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, they came fast and furious. From hijacking and hero pilots to aliens and suicide missions. So many scenarios from experts and amateurs alike.

Joining me now is Dr. Nicholas DiFonzo, a psychologist from the Rochester Institute of Technology. He's the author of book "The Water Cooler Effect: An Indispensable Guide to Understanding and Harnessing the Power of Rumors."

Thanks so much for being here, Nick. You say in your book, to rumor is human. Why?

NICHOLAS DIFONZO, AUTHOR, "THE WATERCOOLER EFFECT": People are in a sense making and social animals. We have been rumoring since history began. It's something that we do probably most of the day. We like to make sense of things. We like order. We like method. And in the face of a mystery, and in particular, an intriguing tragic mystery, such as this, we like to solve the puzzle.

SMERCONISH: And I can only imagine that in a world of social media, that's all hastened.

DIFONZO: It pours gasoline upon the tendency to puzzle solved. Not only does the information flow farther and more quickly, but people can be exposed to the information continuously. In the old days when you had to wait for the newspaper or the nightly newscast, you get a breather at least to think about things. But now you can keep up almost to the minute with the latest news and information. SMERCONISH: You know what occurs to me is that the larger conspiracy theories among us, they never seem to pan out. In fact, I'm sitting here trying to scratch my brain and think of one that really did fit the bill. And yet it doesn't diminish interest in them. So I guess the question is, if there should be a rather innocuous answer for the missing Malaysian flight, will that diminish conspiracy interest in it or will it nevertheless persist?

DIFONZO: I don't think it will diminish it. Whenever we face a puzzle like this we bring two things to it. One is our framework, our -- the beliefs that we have, the system of thinking that we have. And the other is the communication or the social network that we have. And those two go together so when I face a puzzle or an unexplained mystery like this, part of what I bring to the mystery is what I think is plausible.

And again, in part, that comes from social network that I'm embedded in and in part from my own way of thinking and my own beliefs and attitudes and beliefs.

SMERCONISH: Well, is part of the --


DIFONZO: And trust or distrust.

SMERCONISH: Is part of the explanation that we conflate fact and fiction? Are some folks among us, on a maybe subliminal level mixing up lost with what they're watching playing itself out on a worldwide stage? Do some among us remember "Capricorn One" which was a well- done movie and suggested we never really did land on the moon and our minds mix up that which was real and that which was fiction?

DIFONZO: Yes, that's quite easy to do. The important thing is to remember the narrative. We're often trained as human beings to look at the overall pattern. And fiction and interesting movies and television series like "Lost" supply these narratives. This narrative of a plane disappearing in a remote part of the earth is an intriguing one, it's one that is among many of us, it's well-known and involving.

SMERCONISH: And what I hear you saying is that our interest and fascination in it is largely driven by, A, the fact that we are social beings, B, in our minds we need a sense of order, we need a sense of explanation, we need to know that it's not a mystery but there's some plausible explanation for that which has transpired.

DIFONZO: That's the root of it. I think all of the -- well, all of the media attention, in part, what we're doing right now adds to it a bit. At least it makes it available for people who are sort of hooked on this puzzle solving to go on and think about it more and more. And I have to add that this puzzle has not been solved. As I keep thinking about this mystery, it's still -- at the heart of it doesn't make sense.

And I think for most people, that drives them on. That makes it an interesting enterprise to sort of dig their teeth into. SMERCONISH: Nick, I just have 30 seconds left with you. The title of your book "Watercooler Effect," there are some environments that foster these kind of rumors more so than others. Is the watercooler truly at the top of that list?

DIFONZO: Well, it is indeed. Of course, in today's world there are many virtual watercoolers, places where people congregate not just to get water but to share information with one another, the latest news, gossip, and so forth.

SMERCONISH: And one of those certainly is social media, as we were just discussing.

Nicholas DiFonzo, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate you being here.

When it's all said and done, how will we remember the mystery of Flight 370 and what does it say about our collective conscience as the entire world copes with what is possibly a global loss?


SMERCONISH: Before we go, one last thing. Two weeks in and we remain mesmerized by the search for Malaysian Flight 370. Yesterday in the "New York Times" author Pico Iron noted it's been humbling, as well as horrifying, to see the entire globe in an age of unprecedented data accumulation up in the air, more or less.

He's right. And it reminds me of our interest in Jessica McClure. Remember the 18-month-old who fell in a well in Texas in 1987 and was trapped for 58 hours? Or the 33 Chilean miners who were rescued in 2010 and, of course, the events of 9/11 which unfortunately didn't have the same outcome as the infant or the miners.

I don't find most of the attention to be voyeuristic or salacious. I prefer to consider it a uniquely human interest in our fellow man. And not that it makes it worth it, but tragedies of this kind often produce a sense of unity and brief respite from the usual fixation on that which separates us. Here at home, there is no partisan divide in praying for the 239 aboard Malaysia Flight 370. There might be many competing theories as to what went wrong but they don't divide along liberal and conservative lines.

We're in midst of a trade war with the Chinese but united in purpose to find the plane. China Japan, they don't see eye to eye when it comes to islands in the East China Sea but they're working with one of our surveillance planes and the Australian military in search of the missing aircraft.

New Zealand has lent a surveillance plane to the effort and now Britain is participating with many other nations that have joined forces to bring this to a conclusion. Before we all go back to our lives, it would be nice for once to harness the emotion and the sense of oneness for a constructive permanent purpose.

And in this case, that should at least involve demanding change of the airline industry so that in an age of instant communication, our ability to figure out what happened and ensure that it doesn't repeat, is no longer dependent upon finding flight records that remain a part of the airplane.

Thank you for watching. We'll see you next Saturday.