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Black Boxes May Not Solve Mystery; : Despite Debris Sighting, Search Area Still Wide; Challenges of the Southern Indian Ocean Search Area; Story of Max Aaron

Aired March 26, 2014 - 12:30   ET


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The important thing about this field, and, again, it's all very tenuous is, if it plays out, it helps get them closer to figuring out where the bulk of the plane might be, Ashleigh.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And that's the question I have for you. If they've got the field, and I hope they can establish that something there is actually belonging to 370, through those grids and through those squares, can they actually establish where the impact zone would have been?

FOREMAN: It is still very complicated, because you mentioned the currents earlier. You're trying to reverse engineer this thing. Let me go back to that wide picture here of our search area, and remember, if you narrow it down this way, that's going to get much, much, much smaller.

And once you've made it into a much of smaller area that you're looking at, then you have to start saying, OK, all these days, all these currents, where might it have gone? And then it starts drifting up through this pattern here.

If you were to assume a two-mile-per-hour drift rate, which is not impossible in this area, you could have in three days 150 miles, so over all the days this has been gone, much, much, much more than that, and it's not going to be constant. So, you see what happens. It narrows it down --

BANFIELD: I hate to do this to you. I hate to do this to you. Yeah, the currents, but what about all these horrible weather conditions that have stopped the searchers from being able to fly or even close to the vicinity.

That's got to sort of throw a wrench into it, as well, right?

FOREMAN: It throws a wrench into it, and it throws a wrench into it because even the search areas are constantly moving. So, let's say you've searched an area. Let's say you've decided you're done with an area and then you have weather for two days or storms that keep the sea so rough, the ships really can't see much of anything.

Then are you really done with that area, or do you have to go back and do it again? And this remains a very, very large search area. I think the real key right now is, can they find this debris in these photographs?

BANFIELD: And I'm so --

FOREMAN: We've had no luck with that yet.

BANFIELD: I'm so heartsick.

FOREMAN: If they can, that tells us more.

BANFIELD: When the marine expert said that they were right over top of the black boxes in the Air France disaster and didn't even know it, it just makes me so sad for the effort that lies ahead.

Tom, as usual, fantastic work. Thank you for that. Very, very helpful.

FOREMAN: Thanks, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Appreciate it.

So, there is something that, if you didn't know, was called flotsam. It's just junk floating out in our oceans, and there is a lot of it. Ocean debris, how is that messing with the efforts to find 370?

We are going to speak with someone who makes it his business to know all about marine debris. He's a specialist. He's going to join us in just a moment.


BANFIELD: Just in to CNN, our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has been able to get to the secretary of defense here in the United States for a comment about the missing Flight 370 Malaysia airliner.

And Chuck Hagel said to Barbara Starr, to the question of whether terrorism or any other act of political violence could be ruled out in this search, Chuck Hagel said, and I'm going to quote him, "I don't think we can rule anything in or out."

He went on to say that the search for this airliner needs to continue, and that the United States remains committed to assisting in that effort. But he also continued to say, until we have more information, and I'll quote him again, "We don't know."

That's the United States secretary of defense, the top guy at the Pentagon speaking directly to our Barbara Starr, and we thank Barbara for getting that direct reporting for us. It does keep open a very large other avenue of what happened to Flight 370.

In the meantime, still got to find it. That's the biggest problem right now. It's still missing. And one guy who is writing a lot about the search for the missing airliner says this is like looking for a needle in a haystack where the needle moves hundreds of miles every day. And others have said we don't even know where the haystack is. We don't even know where the farm is.

We're talking about the southern Indian Ocean, and Christine Dennison knows a lot about just how hostile that part of the world is and what an unbelievable challenge it is to find anything in a place like that.

And also joining us for the first time, we welcome Nicholas Mallos, ocean debris specialist with the Ocean Conservancy. Welcome to you both.

Nick, first to you. I want to get your reaction to this incredible report today, the satellite imagery from Sunday showing 122 pieces of debris in an area roughly the size of Denver that's been floating out there.

With your vast knowledge with the amount and for lack of a better term, I will say junk that is floating in the ocean, how optimistic are you about this report?

NICHOLAS MALLOS, BIOLOGIST, OCEAN CONSERVANCY: It's very difficult to say, and certainly I'm not an expert on plane wreckage or anything like that, but what I can say is that the oh ocean is a very vast place.

And despite many people's perception of it being this perfectly pristine environment, unfortunately, there is a lot of debris out there, as you call it, junk. And that junk ranges from items like minuscule pieces of plastic ranging all the way up to large derelict fishing nets and fishing boats. So, while we think of this as this vast expanse of ocean, it'll have quite an abundance of debris floating both at its surface and below.

BANFIELD: But 122 pieces in one specific spot.

Christine, I'll get you to weigh in on this. We have talked a lot, you and me, about gyres and patterns, and on Sunday, 122 pieces, that gives a lot of people hope. Should they have that hope?


And Nicholas brought up a point which a lot of us forget. There is a lot of garbage junk out there, the pollution, bottles, plastic, and in this particular area, I think it's very common there will be, given the ocean currents and the gyres, it's going to come up and swell up, especially after a storm, it settles and then moves around.

This could be mixed in with what they are seeing in these 122 pieces. But we still just don't know. I am hopeful that they have a much clearer picture than they are telling us at this point, because it is an investigation, and we have to be sensitive that the experts on scene do not want to put out information that they'll have to backtrack from.

So, they're being very cautious in the information they put forth, and they still haven't made contact with it.

So, as much definition as they have, we still have to see this and see what's floating on the surface, how far below the surface it extends, and these are all, again, as we keep saying, conditions that may be hampered by weather.

BANFIELD: Right. Right. Nick, weigh in on this issue. I was reminded that there is still a lot of tsunami junk from the Japanese disaster that is floating in a number of different gyres, all around the world, in fact. So, is it possible that because there was just such an incredible amount of debris that went out to sea from the tsunami, this might be a collection of that?

MALLOS: It's very difficult to say, but I do think there is certainly an analog here to the Japan tsunami where, first and foremost, both of these catastrophes were human tragedies.

But as we saw from the Japan tsunami, as you've mentioned, is debris that washed into the ocean and off the Japanese coast has traveled thousands of miles, not only to the West Coast of the United States and Canada, but also into other ocean basins. So, there is certainly a possibility of the remnants of tsunami debris drifting into the Indian Ocean.

But as Christine has noted as well, there is an exorbitant quantity of other debris out there that enters our ocean every day from both beaches and waterways. So, it's very difficult, without having those items in your hands and being able to analyze exactly what those items are, to make any conclusive statements.

BANFIELD: Nick, I'm just out of time, but if you could just -- 10 seconds on this. If we don't find this plane, is there a chance that wreckage from this plane, if it in fact did go down here, might one day wash up on the shores of India, Thailand, Australia?

MALLOS: I think that that's certainly a possibility. Through the international coastal cleanup around the world, we have seen everything from, you know, individual plastic bags to the kitchen sink. So, there's no telling what might wash ashore, and we certainly in coming years during these efforts will pay close attention to anything that may resemble, you know, wreckage from that crash.

BANFIELD: Well, Nick Mallos, you've been great. Thank you. And it was great to find you with this particular expertise.

And Christine Dennison, as usual, thank you for your expertise, as well. Just great stuff.

We've got another story we're working on, and it's breaking as we speak. The president of the United States, President Obama, in Brussels, Belgium, today, those live mikes are set up and waiting for him at the E.U. summit.

He's about to speak about the United States and its relationship with Europe, and clearly there is something that's wedging in there very importantly, and that would be Russia, and what's going on with Ukraine, and how that affects Europeans, and how that affects America, how it affects the world.

He's going to speak about it in just a moment. We're going to bring it to you, live.


BANFIELD: Welcome back.

We are live, trained with our cameras on the great seal that we see so often when President Obama's about to speak live, and that's because the microphones are waiting for him. Any moment now he is going to step to the mic in Brussels, Belgium. He's there for an EU summit. He's meeting with European leaders. He's also meeting with NATO's secretary general.

And the topic expects to be at the forefront of this speech is Europe's relationship with the rest of the world, vis-a-vis the United States, given the fact that we've had some pretty big news with Russia seizing control of part of the Ukraine. A lot of this is the suggestion to the European Union that its security is directly affected, and that there is actually a danger to the international system that Europe and the United States have invested so much time, energy and diplomacy in.

So with all those flags as the backdrop, the president is about to speak out at any moment. And we will take you there live just as soon as it happens.

But there is something else that I want to get to you while we're waiting for the president, and that is this. We talk a lot about finding Flight 370. For the families, I'm sure that just finding the fact that it may have actually gone down in this place that people say it went down is probably going to be first and foremost. Finding the black boxes, however, will answer a lot more questions for a lot of other people around the world because there's data on there that can tell us what this mystery is all about in the first place.

But here's what's tough to swallow. The black boxes may not actually have the answers everyone wants, even if they're eventually found. Here's Randi Kaye with the story.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the sound of a pilot in trouble.

PILOT (voice-over): Swissair one-eleven heavy is declaring emergency. Eleven heavy, we starting dump now, we have to land immediate.

KAYE: That was the pilot of Swissair Flight 111, talking to air traffic control just minutes before he crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 1998. Everyone on board was killed. When crash investigators found the plane's black boxes at the bottom of the ocean, they were stunned.

LARRY VANCE, DEPUTY CRASH INVESTIGATOR, SWISSAIR FT. 111: Both the recorders stopped recording about six minutes before the aircraft actually hit the water.

KAYE: Leaving investigators to wonder why they suddenly lost control of the plane. It was a fire, they later found, in the jet's entertainment system, which also caused the black boxes to fail. But it took putting the plane back together, all 2 million pieces of it, to figure that out.

KAYE (on camera): Bottom line, the so-called black boxes aren't perfect. And they're not black, either. They're usually orange. On an airplane, they're tucked inside an insulated case and surrounded by stainless steel. They're built to withstand temperatures as high as 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit and catastrophic impact.

KAYE (voice-over): After TWA Flight 800 went down in July 1996, just 12 minutes after takeoff from New York's JFK Airport, the plane's black boxes were recovered, but they offered little.

PETER GOELZ, FMR. NTSB MANAGING DIRECTOR: Both the voice recorder and the data recorder terminated their operation within a nanosecond of each other when the explosion took place.

KAYE: Still, despite all the conspiracy theories, investigators say they figured out an explosion in the fuel tank caused the crash and shut down the recorders.

CONTROLLER: Indianapolis center, you get a hold of American 77 by chance?

KAYE: On 9/11, 64 people died on board American Airlines Flight 77, when it slammed into the Pentagon. Fire crews spent days trying to put out the flames. The two black boxes were found in the wreckage, but the cockpit voice recorder was too charred to offer anything of value.

GOELZ: It flew in with such force, and the fire was so intense, that nothing could have survived that impact.

KAYE: If the black boxes are ever recovered from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, investigators still may have questions. The cockpit voice recorder starts recording over itself after two hours. So the moment something went very wrong may remain a mystery.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


BANFIELD: And our thanks to Randi Kaye for that report.

We're waiting again, once again, for the president to take to the mics in Brussels, Belgium, at the (INAUDIBLE). And it's a pretty significant diplomatic audience is about to hear him speak about the United States and its relationship with Europe and the amount of investment that both of these nations and many other around the world have actually entered into in order to try to keep free nations free. All of this with Russia as the backdrop, and Crimea as what they're considering more of the victim. We're going to bring you live to Brussels in just a moment. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: We were expecting the president to be live at this moment, but a slight delay in Brussels, Belgium, as the audience waits for the American leader to take to the mic. This is because he's there for an EU meeting and also he's at the NATO headquarters to address this most recent crisis with Ukraine and the fact that Russia's President Putin has effectively taken over a portion of Ukraine, known as the Crimea. I'm sure you're familiar with it by now.

But, effectively, his speech is to highlight Europe has a historic role in the global democratic movement and that the Ukraine crisis has shown that Russia's use of military force is undermining what it takes for nations to be free. Expect freedom to be on that menu as soon as he does come out live. And we will, again, take you there live, as I'm sure there's a lot of anticipation in that crowd. He's to speak any time.

In the meantime, an American by the name of Max Aaron is in Japan right now competing in the world figure skating championship. Why is that a big deal? He had a lot to overcome to get to this point in his life. And our Sanjay Gupta has his story in today's "Human Factor."


SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Looking at the grace of these jumps and turns, you'd probably never guess that 22-year-old figure skater Max Aaron started skating on a different kind of ice. He started as a toddler and he fell in love with ice hockey the first time he picked up a stick.

MAX AARON, 2013 U.S. FIGURE SKATING CHAMPION: I wanted to be on the Detroit Red Wing. I wanted to play University of Michigan hockey. And that was like my goal, my dream.

GUPTA: He used speed to make up for lack of size. He started figure skating with his sisters during the off season to help his game. Soon, he was starting his days in figure skates and ending them in hockey skates. By 2007, he was well on his way to fulfilling his dream. He was on the elite USA hockey development team. But in 2008, he had a major setback.

AARON: My back was constantly bothering me throughout the entire season and I kept pushing on. And by the time -- after the -- both seasons were over, we were in the gym, you know, with my hockey buddies and we were lifting weight and I remember doing a dead lift and then my back all of a sudden it just seized up. I kind of tilted over and I remember I could not walk. I couldn't get off the ground.

GUPTA: His back was broken.

AARON: After three months, I finally got out of the body cast. And I started PT. I just had to learn to walk and, you know, pick things up off the ground and then, you know, I wanted to get on the ice.

GUPTA: But he had to come back slowly and wear just one pair of skates.

AARON: I was never a medalist, and that was tough for me. So I decided I will figure skate and I'm going to pursue that as far as I can.

GUPTA: The medals started adding up, including a bronze in the 2010 junior nationals, a gold in the 2011 junior nationals and a gold in the 2013 nationals.

AARON: If you would have told me that the minute I broke my back, you're going to be a national champion in figure skating, I wouldn't believe it. I would have been like, yeah, right.

GUPTA: He was the U.S. men's first alternate for the Sochi Olympics. And now he's skating for a world title in Japan.

AARON: I was talking to the doctors and they say, you know, you're -- glad you caught it even earlier when you did, you know, you could have been paralyzed and, you know, I don't take that for granted. When other people tell you, you can't do this or you can't do that, don't listen. Go for it and go for your dreams and don't look back.

GUPTA: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.


BANFIELD: All right, and our thanks to Sanjay for that.

I want to take you back live. We do this often. We get a time from the White House as to when the president will speak, and then the reality of logistics set in overseas, and there's a bit of a delay. But mark my words, there's a big audience there waiting at the EU summit for the president of the United States to begin his remarks. All of this is very critical, the timing of it, because it was only on Monday that the United States and its closest allies booted President Putin from the G-8, now effectively the G-7, and you might say that President Putin in the G-1.

The comments are going to reflect that. His actions against Ukraine, specifically the region known as Crimea. And that is effectively what the president is going to highlight when he, we are told, is going to suggest that the Europeans stiffen their spine when it comes to dealing with President Putin. I bet he'll use different language than that.

Listen, thanks for being with us throughout this program. We're going to continue our live coverage of what's happening in Brussels. We're also continuing our coverage of the search for MH Flight 370. And my colleague, Wolf Blitzer, will do that right after this break.