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LEGAL VIEW WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD

Indian Ocean Search; Flight 370 "Ended in Southern Indian Ocean"; Families Told "All Live Are Lost"

Aired March 24, 2014 - 12:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone, I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. It's Monday, March 24, and we're covering the major breaking news in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

BANFIELD: An absolutely heartbreaking announcement has come from the Malaysian prime minister this morning that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 indeed ended in the southern Indian Ocean. And the families were told that all lives were lost.

BERMAN: And that's the language he used, ended in the Indian Ocean. The prime minister said that new analysis of satellite data shows the plane did fly along that so-called southern corridor, as suspected, and its last known position was in the middle of the Indian Ocean, west of Perth in Australia. I want you to listen to what he said just a few hours ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NAJIB RAZAK, MALAYSIAN PRIME MINISTER: MH-370 flew along the southern corridor, and that its last position was in the middle of the Indian Ocean, west of Perth. This is a remote location, far from any possible landing sites. It is, therefore, with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that, according to this new data, flight MH-370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: Obviously for the families, this news is absolutely crushing and heartbreaking. They were called to meetings in both Beijing and Kuala Lumpur before the prime minister's announcement was made publicly. People could be heard screaming and crying.

BERMAN: They received text messages. We learned that they received these text messages from Malaysia Airlines before those meetings. Those messages said, "Malaysia Airlines deeply regrets that we have to assume beyond any reasonable doubt that MH-370 has been lost and that none of those on board survived." As you will hear in the next hour from Malaysia's prime minister, we must now accept all evidence suggests the plane went down in the southern Indian Ocean. Malaysia Airlines said they did make phone calls and have in-person briefings as well as those text messages.

BANFIELD: We do have crews and reporters based all around the world following every development on this story.

BERMAN: We're going to start with Atika Shubert, who's live in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.

And, Atika, explain to us how they came to this conclusion, because all of a sudden this morning we got word that the prime minister of Malaysia was going to have this emergency press conference, and he had this big announcement.

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. There was a lot of buzz and talk beforehand because, remember, search teams have been going out day and night off the coast of Australia. So there was some talk about perhaps something had been found. But when he made the announcement, he came into the room. It was very somber. Everybody was waiting to hear those words. And announced, basically, that this came from British investigators from the Inmarsat (ph) satellite company. And through groundbreaking mathematics, essentially, they were finally able to locate the position of Flight 370, just off the coast of Australia, near Perth, deep in the most remote part of the Indian Ocean. And when the prime minister said this, there was clearly a buzz in the room. Everybody knew what this meant. That the - that most likely the plane had crashed there.

It was a very sad moment. He asked for the media to give privacy to the families to grieve. And then, after making the statement, made no -- took no questions, slowly walked away with the department of transportation minister, with the CEO of Malaysia Airlines and the department of civil aviation by his side. The Malaysian authorities have really been grappling with this unprecedented situation, and it really showed when he was making that statement tonight.

BERMAN: It was really a very somber moment. Now, Atika, all morning we've been reporting on debris sightings now from airplanes this time. It was a Chinese airplane that spotted debris in the south Indian Ocean off the coast of Perth, and also an Australian airplane that spotted something orange and something grayish-white off the coast. Any sense that these debris sightings are connected in any way to this new satellite analysis that led to this announcement from the prime minister?

SHUBERT: There's no confirmation yet, but there will be another press conference tomorrow where more details are likely to come out. That orange object in particular, of course, is very interesting because, of course, that's the color of life rafts and other safety equipment on board. So that's something that they'll be looking for. But the more eyes they have combing that area, the more likely it is they're going to find something.

And the most important thing for Malaysian authorities is time. They have only 15 days left until the battery that sends out the signal to find the flight data recorder runs out. And that's why it's absolutely critical for the search teams to get out there. Malaysia has asked the United States for special equipment that might help it to locate the flight data recorder deep in the ocean. I mean, remember, the Indian Ocean has some of the deepest trenches in the world. Something like three miles deep. So it's not over yet, the search, and it's going to take some time.

BERMAN: No, not over yet by any means. Even if this debris does turn out to be something, then finding the black box is a whole different set of complicated issues.

Our Atika Shubert live in Kuala Lumpur, thanks so much.

BANFIELD: And sadly, like usual, more information and more questions still seem to be out there. And for the families, of course, for those who were on board that flight, this has been more than likely the most difficult day for them. Our senior international correspondent, Sara Sidner, is live right now in Kuala Lumpur.

Can you walk us through exactly what happened with these families today?

SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wow, they've been through so much over the past 17 days. But today, the news they heard from the government, from Malaysian Airlines, they did not want to hear, but they did want answers. And they got just one answer, and that is, that it is believed that no one survived the flight. That the flight actually went into the Indian Ocean.

It was extremely emotional here. There were outbursts. There were people who were sobbing. There was a woman wheeled out in a wheelchair from the briefing. There were beds being wheeled into the briefing. People who didn't want to come out. There were women who were taken down the stairs, they're surrounded by counselors, their backs being rubbed, their hands covering their face. And there were people with puffy eyes, of course. An ambulance had to be called for one of the family members.

It has been an extremely emotional past hour or so. They heard the news first. The officials called them first, called them into the briefing room, where they've been so many times before, every few days they're getting a briefing from officials, from Malaysian Airlines, from the government. But this was the most poignant, because this they finally had at least one answer, that officials believe that this plane did go down and is somewhere in the water. What they don't know is why it happened. What they don't know is where those pieces of the plane are. But I think they are just kind of in shock now because for so long they've had just that little bit of hope that they believe that perhaps, by some miracle, that their family members might actually be alive after all this. And now their hopes dashed, once again.

BANFIELD: And, Sara, could you just clear something up for us? I think -- when the initial reporting came out that these families were first notified by text message, it seemed absolutely heartless. It's not quite that simple, though. As I understand it, there were requests for meetings, there were some people who had requested text messaging, but can you - can you just give us the lay of the land with regard to the notification of the families?

SIDNER: This is a difficulty for us because we're in a hotel where it is mostly the Chinese families who have been put in this hotel. Many of them only speak mandarin. We did - we were able to communicate with some of them.

As to how they got the information, some of that was just telling them that there was a meeting because, of course, not everybody is together. They're in different rooms here. Letting them know to please come down to the briefing room, that something is going to be announced.

At this point, they don't really care how the information got to them. They care that they were briefed. They care that they now know something more about what might have happened to their family members. But that plane appears to be down, and they may never see their family members again. That is what they care about. How it happened, how long it took for it to happen is a whole another matter. But right now just trying to deal way very new reality for them, because for the past seven days, as I mentioned -- 17 days, as I mentioned, they have been clinging to that little bit of hope that this would not happen and that their family members would be found alive.

BANFIELD: And understandable. I think those who walk in their shoes would understand more than those watching this on television who have made a lot of snap decisions. Sara Sidner live in Kuala Lumpur for us in Malaysia. Thank you for that.

BERMAN: You can hear it in Sara's voice, it's not easy to be there with these people who have had their lives upended like this over the last few weeks, so our thanks to Sara.

All right, as we said, this follows - this news from the Malaysian prime minister follows news really of an uptick in the search effort off the coast of Perth, Australia. It really does seem like more resources have been brought to bear over just the last 24 hours. "New Day" anchor Kate Bolduan is in Perth. And Kate has been out on some of these search flights over the last 24 hours.

Kate, give us a sense of the efforts at this moment.

KATE BOLDUAN, ANCHOR, CNN'S "NEW DAY": The effort - as night has fallen, that's when, of course, the planes come in and the searches don't continue overnight because of the simple fact that despite all of the technology that all of these nations have at their disposal and the surveillance planes that they have, radar, camera, lots of sensitive technology, the thing they rely on most is simply looking out the window and getting as close to the ocean's surface as they can to scan the surface, to try to find any objects. So once night falls, all of the planes come in.

But even before the prime minister's announcement, very sad news coming from the prime minister tonight, even before that, there was a real sense of ramping up assets here in Perth which -- at Pierce (ph) Air Force Base to head out into the southern Indian Ocean. Today, there were a scheduled 10 flights, the most so far. In addition to all of the assets that have already been put on this effort from the United States, from Australia, New Zealand, China, to name just a few, they also announced today that they're going to be putting even more assets coming this way. Three more aircraft on the way. Six Malaysian ships with ship-born helicopters on the way, as well as 10 Chinese ships had moved into this corridor.

The ships, of course, they move slower. So their -- those assets are very important to get that confirmation visual if some debris is spotted. But they have been slow to move into this area, which is what gets us to the very important point you guys were talking about.

Big news today that we have yet to confirm if the announcement from the prime minister is connected to the sightings of debris today. We don't know that quite yet and that's something that, obviously, we're asking questions about and we'll learn more in the press conferences tomorrow. The sightings from the Australian plane of that debris, that orange debris, that gray or green debris, that's significant. Also because there is an Australian ship, "The Success," that is in the area and has been searching from about 4:00 today to try to get eyes on that. That is key because despite what you can see in a plane, you have to have the ship there to not only see it, but then eventually try to get it on board and to bring it back we assume here to Pierce Air Force Base or to Perth to finally begin the analysis of what's been happening.

But even before the prime minister came out, John and Ashleigh, a real sense that things were ramping up here, as you can see. Many more flights and the most sightings of debris that we've had so far.

BERMAN: And, Kate, this is no easy task. You had the really rare opportunity to fly in one of these search planes. You went out with some Kiwis (ph) from New Zealand. You look out that window, it's really, really hard to spot anything.

BOLDUAN: I've got to tell you, it was -- no pun intended, it was really an eye-opening experience because we can stand here on solid ground and talk about, it's such a vast area and such a big space. Going up in this plane with them, flying four hours just to get to the search zone, and then sitting there -- they gave me the opportunity to just sit in an open - in a free window and assist in the little I can do, in the search. It really shows you, you can just begin to understand what they're up against. I mean it is not only are you moving -- we got as close to 200 feet above the surface. Not only are you moving at obviously a huge rate of speed in a plane, but the ocean is so vast. You feel so small. It is so easy to miss something.

As I was sitting there, I remember thinking, I'm afraid to blink because what if you miss that one clue when you look away for just a second. And it shows just what they're up against. And we searched -- when I was up with the New Zealand Air Force, John, we searched about 930 square miles. Put that in perspective of that whole search area that we're talking about in the southern corridor. That is a sliver of what they're trying to cover.

BERMAN: A daunting, daunting task. And not necessarily any closer to a conclusion there. Kate Bolduan in Perth, thanks so much. BANFIELD: And, you know, it is not as though every asset the globe has to offer and some of the state-of-the-art assets actually isn't on location or en route to this location. Some of the finest equipment that exists in - you know, in the world today has been dispatched and is in use. It's what Kate said, there's just so much ground to cover and so much ocean to cover.

BERMAN: All right. So what is today's news mean? We're going to talk about that. So many questions. Yes, one chapter may be closing, but it really does raise a host of new questions. We're going to bring back a panel of experts and talk about all of that. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Welcome back to our continuous breaking news.

We are following this news out of Malaysia that the flight that has led the headlines, Flight 370, has now officially ended in the southern Indian Ocean, and the families have been told there are no survivors.

BERMAN: The Malaysian prime minister said today that this new information is coming from a new analysis of satellite data, and he says it rules out that so-called northern corridor.

So, the focus, of course, on the southern Indian Ocean off the coast of Perth.

Now, earlier today, our Anderson Cooper and Richard Quest spoke to an official from the company that did this new satellite analysis. The company is Inmarsat.

I want you to listen to his explanation about how they came to this conclusion, because it's very important.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS MCLAUGHLIN, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT OF EXTERNAL AFFAIRS, INMARSAT (via telephone): We've done something new. We've used the ability to work out the time differences between signals to and from our satellite network to give a direction of travel. That's what we did on the 11th and submitted it to the investigation.

Then, we've continued on looking at those pings, as they have become known as, or handshakes, and we have tried to look in more detail and compare it with other similar flights to establish a pattern.

What we've discovered and what we passed to the investigation yesterday and the Malaysian prime minister has addressed today is that the southern path predicted fits very much with the path that's been indicated by our pings, ruling out the northern path.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: We're lucky to be joined, once again, by our aviation correspondent, Richard Quest. And we're also Lieutenant Colonel Michael Kay, a former adviser to the U.K. Ministry of Defence and also a military pilot.

Christine Dennison is an ocean explorer and expedition logistics expert, and Tim Taylor is a sea operations specialist and submersible specialist.

So, the A-team, and, Richard, I've got to start with you. What I heard Chris McLaughlin say, from Inmarsat, I'm sure made perfect sense to you, but I'm having a tough time putting together.

I'm having a tough time understanding if this is not just the same old data crunched in a whole new way.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION: Right. Mike will do a much better job of explaining the technology of how it works, but let me give you the overarching picture.

What they had was existing data that we had had heard before. What they did was went back and refined it, again and again and again, and it was done between both Inmarsat, who received the data -- it's not -- and then passed it on through a service to the airline, and through the AAIB, the British Air Action Investigation Board

And what we learnt today -- and, again, Mike can tell us the mechanics of it -- this is the extremity of doing what they do. They'd never done this before.

They had to use new techniques, they had to refine the techniques they were doing before and they had to also ensure it was at such a level of confidence that they could come out and the Malaysian prime minister could actually say the flight ended in the southern Indian Ocean.

BANFIELD: If you're going to tell families their hope is done, that they -- that all is lost, you'd better be bloody sure.

And what you're saying is that this new math gets us there, Colonel? Is that what this is? The new math gets to us almost certainty?

LIEUNTENANT COLONEL MICHAEL KAY, FORMER ADVISER, U.K. MINISTRY OF DEFENCE: I wouldn't like to put my life unequivocally on it.

I think given the significant lack of evidence we have had so far, I think this is the most promising lead that we've got and we need to treat it with respect and follow it up.

I think, going -- following on from what Richard was saying, it all revolves around the ACARS. When the ACARS is powered on through the battery master-switch on the pan in an air field, it will talk via VHF.

So, if you imagine a mobile phone, when you take it home and you're on Wi-Fi, it will automatically link onto the Wi-Fi. It does it automatically. That's what the ACARS does. It links automatically on to the VHF signal. Now, the VHF signal is only operable out to maybe 150 miles off the coast. So the ACARS is programmed, firstly, to look for the vhf. It can't find VHF, it goes to sat-com.

As your phone does when you walk out of your house with the Wi-Fi, it loses the Wi-Fi, automatically clicks on to the network, 4G, Verizon, whatever it is.

So, that's kind of the way it works, but we know that that was switched off. Now, incidentally, I've spoken to many, many friends who fly on major of the -- many of the airline carriers, and I said, guys, how do you switch the ACARS off in the cockpit? And I got blank looks from all of them.

They power on the aircraft when they get in, and the ACARS automatically comes on.

I said, how could you? They said maybe a circuit breaker, but they didn't know the consequences of pulling a circuit breaker. So, that to me was fascinating.

Anyway, let's go with the assumption that the ACARS was turned off. Just because the ACARS is turned off, the Inmarsat needs to still know that it's alive and well, because if it gets an incoming, it needs to know that it's on so it can push a signal there.

Otherwise, the Inmarsat, if you imagine how many ACARS receivers that it's looking at on aircraft all over the world, it can't monitor every one, so it's got to know which ones are turned off and on, so, as Richard was saying, it establishes this handshake.

Now, I think what Inmarsat haven't done in the past, they haven't by norm geo-located that handshake, because there's no requirement to because you've got transponders and you've got all this other equipment.

This is a very unusual case, so I think what's happened is they've gone back to Inmarsat and said, look, we're in a bit of a sticky situation here. Is there any way at all that we can try and locate something to do with that ping?

And so I think it's -- I don't want to oversimplify it, but if you look at the speed equals distance over time, distance equals speed times time, what they'll do is Inmarsat may have gone back and gone, right, well, let's look at the time the interrogation signal was sent out, let's look at the time that we got the ping back.

Let's look at how long that took, let's divide it by two, and then that gives you, every hour, it gives you a distance from the geo- located Inmar satellite over the Indian Ocean.

QUEST: That's exactly what they did. In that interview, they basically said, they looked at that narrow time difference for the going up, from the coming down and they basically worked out, knowing what they did about the range of the aircraft, the fuel on board and the length of the flight. And that's the -- BANFIELD: I have to be honest. The wording that's used, I just don't feel as confident as I would have if they had made an announcement saying, we found something, therefore we now know all lives are lost.

BERMAN: And, Richard, just last question, the language they used is actually saying the flight ended in the southern Indian Ocean. That's an interesting choice of words.

BANFIELD: It's so nebulous.

QUEST: No. No, no, that's the sort of language I would expect to see. That is very precise and it's very deliberate. That wording was chosen with great care.

BANFIELD: Given that they've said that the flight ended in the Indian Ocean, it makes me believe, as the wording from the Malaysian government has indicated, that they will continue looking --

BERMAN: Oh, sure.

BANFIELD: -- for any kind of wreckage, if, in fact, there is going to be any.

And coming up after the break, we're going to talk to some of the best in the business about that effort. It is mammoth, trying to search that ocean, not just on the top, but also underneath.

So, coming up, where they go from here.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone.

We are covering the breaking news about Flight 370, the announcement a short time ago from the prime minister of Malaysia saying that Flight 370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean, this based on a new analysis of satellite data.

Now, what we don't know is if this is any way connected to the debris that's been sighted over the last 24 hours by planes flying overhead off the coast of Perth, Australia, a Chinese plane and Australian plane spotting debris.

You can see the area where it was spotted out there, about 1,200 miles or so off the coast of Perth, including something that was orange, which could be a life raft, could be a life vest, and something gray, as well, often the color of things associated with an aircraft. But there is no confirmation of that yet.

We're trying to find out more about what is in the ocean. So, now we're joined by a couple experts on this subject, Christine Dennison, an ocean explorer and expedition logistics expert, and Tim Taylor, sea operations specialist and a submersible specialist. You can see one right in front of them, right there.

And Christine, I want to start with you, because we did get that news just a few hours ago, before the Malaysian prime minister spoke, that these objects were spotted by planes, something orange, something gray, and that an Australian naval vessel was rushing to the scene.

With your experience in this subject, what is the first thing that this ship will be doing when it arrives on the scene?

CHRISTINE DENNISON, OCEAN EXPLORER AND EXPEDITIONS LOGISTICS EXPERT: Well, unfortunately, the dimensions of this disaster are still unclear at this point, so we will need the empirical evidence of the black boxes, the voice recorders, to help us better understand why Flight 370 was lost.

The Navy commander that we spoke with last night said that they do have a ship that's heading to scene that will be carrying the towed pinger locater, the TPL, which will be able to reach or can reach maximum depths of 20,000 feet.