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@THISHOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Time Running Out in Search for Flight 370; Rescuers Continue to Look for Survivors of Washington Mudslide; Could Final Partial Ping Shed Light on Fate of Flight 370?; New Satellite Images Show Hundreds of Objects in Ocean; Obama Speaks in Rome

Aired March 27, 2014 - 11:00   ET

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


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN CO-ANCHOR: Hello and good morning. I'm Michaela Pereira.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN CO-ANCHOR: I'm John Berman. It's 11:00 a.m. in the East, 8:00 a.m. out West, and we have big developments this morning in the search for Flight 370 with time very much running out.

New satellite images released for the first time this morning showing possible objects, hundreds of them, floating in the southern Indian Ocean.

I want you to look at this very closely. A Thai satellite snapped these images on Monday.

Now, adding to the intrigue, they were seen about 125 miles from the area where a French satellite spotted dozens of objects on Sunday.

And, now this, just a short time ago, Japan is saying that its satellite found about 10 objects, some 26-feet long by 13-feet wide. Their pictures, they come from yesterday. And some officials in Japan are reportedly saying they believe there's a high probability they could be linked to the missing jetliner.

PEREIRA: So, great developments, right? Well, consider this, though. Search planes had to pull back early from the search zone today because the weather conditions were just too brutal.

A half dozen ships, however, are still out there looking, but again, they have the challenge of dealing with very low visibility. They are hoping to have the planes up again tomorrow if the weather improves.

Until then, experts are pouring over these images, the new ones, the ones from yesterday, the ones from a few days ago trying to determine if objects are what's left of the Boeing 777.

BERMAN: Yeah, as we said, time running out, because the plane's data recorders are losing battery power. That's if they're working at all, and there are new concerns that they're not, which we'll tell you about in a minute. And the chances of finding these pings, they grow slimmer by the day.

So, let's talk about this. John Lucich is with us. He's a commercial pilot and a former criminal investigator. And Arnold Gordon is an oceanography professor at Columbia University.

John, you're here with us right. I want to ask you. We have these satellite images, 122 possible objects spotted yesterday, 300 objects that at least we're seeing for the first time today, plus the news that Japan took pictures just yesterday of 10 possible objects.

Now, I know that until a boat gets them up and takes a look at exactly what they are, nothing is confirmed. But this is an awful lot of debris sited in the area they think that this flight might have ended.

JOHN LUCICH, COMMERCIAL PILOT: Yeah, absolutely. Absent of other leads, this is a very important lead.

Every sighting has to be checked out, because if we have even a small chance to find this airplane -- and by the way, it is a small chance in this huge ocean -- then we need to take every opportunity.

Finding that debris, though, is going to be very crucial to find out whether it's a linked to this downed aircraft or this aircraft at all.

PEREIRA: And that's been a real elusive proposition, finding it. Once they spot it on the satellite a few days past and then you're stymied by a bad weather day that calls off the search.

Let's bring in our oceanographer here to talk to us about this. Arnold, I think this is a concern about what the currents could have done to any debris that would have been spotted on the satellite.

PROFESSOR ARNOLD GORDON, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: That's correct. On average, the currents are flowing towards the east. However, there's a lot of other factors that make the trajectories very chaotic.

There's eddies in the area. There's also the effect of the waves themselves, and they're very high waves in the area, that push the debris in the direction of the waves.

So when you combine all of these together, the currents, the eddies, and the waves and wind, it's very difficult to build a trajectory to see where these particles are going to go.

And also the many particles that are from the -- perhaps from the aircraft have dispersed with time. They move apart with time because of turbulence within the ocean.

So, it's quite a challenge to find them, and then the biggest challenge is to work backwards to determine where the impact was.

PEREIRA: And I was thinking, John, that that's the frustration there. You get these satellite images -- and, again, I understand you're taking a cautious note. You're saying we don't know what it is. We've got to get there.

But we can't get there. The weather -- a day is such a huge setback. We've had two days of setbacks.

LUCICH: Right. We've got to understand two things. It's not only finding it. It's chasing this, because every time we get a delay, and we have to remember that many men and women out there are risking their lives trying to find this -

PEREIRA: Oh, absolutely.

LUCICH: -- and we don't want another air tragedy by having this go down, so we want to make sure we keep them safe at the same time.

But those delays put us way behind, because in two days, they could be another hundred or so miles away.

BERMAN: Just so I understand, a flight that did end in the ocean, as officials clearly suspect this did -- they flat-out stated it ended in the southern Indian Ocean -- would you see this many pieces of debris, hundreds and hundreds?

LUCICH: It all depends how the aircraft broke up. And if it broke up, then all the luggage would be out there, the -- like we saw in Flight 800 many years ago off Long Island. We saw all the debris out there.

So, it's all going to depend, but, you know, I've been saying from the start there's three theories, and until we find out that this is linked to it, we don't know which theory's -

PEREIRA: Which theory it is.

LUCICH: -- going to hold up. Absolutely. Every one of them are still open.

PEREIRA: Yeah. John Lucich, you've been a great voice on our show. Thanks so much.

And, Arnold Gordon, thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

BERMAN: Great having you here.

Other headlines we're following @ THIS HOUR, in Washington today, rescuers searching for life, five days now after the giant mudslide there, 90 people, unbelievably, still unaccounted for. At least 24 were killed when that mountainside gave way on Saturday.

Robin Youngblood was at home when the mud filled her house and pushed it a quarter of a mile.

On Wednesday, she got the chance to thank the man that pulled her from that rubble.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBIN YOUNGBLOOD, SURVIVED LANDSLIDE: My house is matchsticks. There's nothing left. It ripped the roof off. And that's -- I thank God for that, because if the roof had still been on, the house filled up with mud and water. We would have drowned.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: We will have a live report there from the scene, later this hour.

PEREIRA: Two of the world's most powerful men sitting down, face to face, for the first time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(Inaudible)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PEREIRA: Little difficult to hear there, not just a photo-op, though, but Pope Francis and President Obama were expected to focus on some of their common priorities, like fighting poverty, but also touching on thornier topics, immigration, the Affordable Care Act contraception mandate.

We're going to talk more about their historic meeting at the bottom of the hour.

Also, the president is also meeting with the Italian prime minister @ THIS HOUR. Any moment, we expect the president to speak. We'll take those comments to you live from Rome when he begins.

BERMAN: All right, listen up sports fans. This is huge. It really could be a game changer for college sports.

A regional office of the National Labor Relations Board says that football players at Northwestern University can unionize. They can form a union.

The ruling says that these athletes are essentially university employees. The athletes believe that a union could help them get better medical coverage and open up a possibility of maybe getting some kind of compensation. These universities make a fortune off of college sports.

Northwestern is fighting the ruling. They argue that the players are students first and athletes second.

PEREIRA: When it comes to the world's best airports, the U.S. failing to make the cut. The 2014 World Airport Awards are out.

Singapore's Changi wins. Incheon, Munich, Hong Kong, Amsterdam, all rank in the top five. You see a trend here?

Tokyo, Beijing, Zurich, Vancouver, Canada, and London's Heathrow round out the top 10.

Apparently, 13 million submitted their picks. Not a single U.S. airport managed to make the list.

BERMAN: You looked at me like it was my fault.

PEREIRA: It is.

BERMAN: It's not my fault. PEREIRA: It is. Denver Airport is a lovely airport as is Atlanta.

BERMAN: I also like Burlington, Vermont. It's a gem, a small hidden gem.

PEREIRA: Is it a gem?

BERMAN: Yes, it is.

All right, eight minutes after the hour, ahead @ THIS HOUR, it may be the most mysterious clue yet in the search for Flight 370, that final, partial handshake that the plane sent to the satellite.

Up next, we will speak to a satellite expert about what secret he thinks that that ping, that handshake might hold.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PEREIRA: Developing @ THIS HOUR, new satellite images show what may be hundreds of objects floating in the southern Indian Ocean. The planes combing the sea for missing Flight 370 still cannot spot them.

And, of course, we know the search, the air search, was called off today, so this tedious search continues.

BERMAN: Yeah, ships are still out there, but we have not heard that they recovered anything of any note today.

Meanwhile, investigators honed in on this perilous swath of ocean based on an analysis of a series of pings, really digital handshakes that the plane made with a British satellite.

But investigators still cannot explain a final partial handshake that now stands as the Boeing 777's last known communication.

Now, according to one of our next guests, a quick series of transmissions that the plane made much earlier in the flight could shed some light on that final, partial handshake.

PEREIRA: Joining us to suss this all out is satellite technology consultant Tim Farrar, along with Dr. Bob Arnot, a former pilot and longtime aviation correspondent. Gentlemen, both -- a pleasure to see you both. Thanks for joining us.

Bob, why don't we start with you? What has people so excited about this partial handshake is that it very well could be the last transmission at the point of contact?

DR. ROBERT ARNOT, FORMER PILOT: It could be. It's interesting that when you look at these pings, what we've been told so far is you have them every hour sort of regularly reporting in as it's trying to make a handshake with this Inmarsat satellite high over the Indian Ocean.

So, what's intriguing is that when this airplane took off, there were three pings in more rapid succession. Then when that rapid left turn was made at altitude, there were also three more pings in rapid succession.

So, the question is why? It may have to do with altitude changes or with the presentation of the aircraft to the satellite. So, indication of that big swooping turn, it could mean the plane went into a dive or a rapid climb.

In terms of the final ping here, this is where I think Tim's analysis is spectacular. I think Tim has had the best blog out there on this -- is that it could either be that you have, again, some change in presentation of the aircraft to the satellite, meaning it went into a final dive, or it could mean that there was a power loss.

In either case, it could mean that that particular point is where the aircraft went down or went into its final glide, which would help people find this black box.

And I would say, too, that, you know, the black box obviously is not going to have any of the conversations when this big swooping turn was made back to Malaysia.

But it is going to tell us whether this airplane slowly went into the water, whether it lost one engine and fell in or it was deliberately pushed in.

And, most importantly, we'll know, too, whether there were inputs of the flight management system into the black box, saying that there was a pilot in the cockpit actually commanding it, or it was, as some people are suggesting, a ghost flight.

But, again, I think Tim has done a spectacular job on his blog and has been the smartest guy on the block.

BERMAN: Well, Tim, that is quite an introduction. You have quite a lot to live up to right now, according to Bob.

So, explain to me, again, your analysis of that final, partial handshake and the three irregular pings that Bob was just talking about earlier that really seem significant to you.

TIM FARRAR, SATELLITE TECHNOLOGY CONSULTANT: Yeah, that's right. I mean, there are two sorts of pings. One is a sort of ping initiated by the satellite network; those are the regular hourly pings we see where the network sort of checking in just like it would with your cell phone to check it's still connected.

And then you have irregular pings; those look like they're initiated by the plane's terminal itself. For example, if you drive through a long tunnel, your cellphone will then ping the network to try and re- establish contact.

So it looks a lot like those irregular pings early on associated with this turn -- the plane may have lost contact with the satellite if it turned sharply, went up and down, something like that.

And then the plane's terminal would have tried to re-establish contact with the satellite. It seems like the last partial ping, the same thing was happening. It certainly wasn't a time-out from the network to re-establish, check that the plane was still connected. And so, if it's the same situation, it may well be connected with a turn, a stall, a dive, whatever.

PEREIRA: Interesting, Tim, really interesting notion there.

Bob, we know that you've had a chance to look at these images, the 122 that were first spotted, the 300 -- the field of 300. And then maybe, I don't know if you've had a chance -- we haven't had a chance to look at the Japanese imagery yet -- the 10 larger objects, all roughly in the same area. You've covered a lot of accidents. I'm curious what your reaction is to this satellite imagery.

ARNOT: (INAUDIBLE) flown over these various accident sites. When you look down, it's so hard to find things. You know, one is, of course, there's a differential between, you know, the radar satellite images and the satellite images.

And the question would be, would a lot of this be just under the surface of the water so that these ships aren't seeing it? Also there'll be a big differential in terms of seeing the object. You know, if you've ever been out on a boat and you lost a life preserver overboard, you know, a 40-knot wind is going to take that and rip that through the water.

So you would expect a differential between the very light objects that would be in the cabin, an oxygen masks, a flight graph, a tray or something, which would be blown in the ocean hundreds and hundreds of miles, and, of course, the more substantial objects, I'm wondering (ph) it's possible that it's still floating. Although, it's a little unlikely at this point, but because it would be empty and sealed, it's possible it could be. Fiber carbon parts -- you know, the tail's carbon fiber. You expect that to be up.

So I expect to see a differential in terms of where it goes. And of course, as we look at the wind charts, we've seen east winds and west winds depending on how high and low you are in differentials in currents.

So it's going to take a super computer to figure out -- figure out where the debris came from to find the actual underwater debris field, which is going to be the most critical.

BERMNA: And, of course, the planes can't fly, which would be a big help. The ships still are out there. But --

PEREIRA: Such a point of frustration.

BERMAN: -- so far, nothing back. All right, Dr. Bob Arnot, thank you so much.

ARNOT: John, thanks so much.

BERMAN: Tim, great to have you here with us.

Ahead for us @ THIS HOUR, did the pilot have anything to do with flight 370 just vanishing into thin air? His son now, for the first time, has something to say about it. We'll have the details next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PEREIRA: Developing @ THIS HOUR, new satellite images showing hundreds of objects in the Southern Indian Ocean. Planes still can't locate them, which leaves officials wondering about so many questions. Why did it turn away from the flight path? Was the cause of the plane going into the ocean mechanical? Was it terrorists or a hijacking? Or could it have been suicide? Did the pilot have anything to do with it?

BERMAN: So we still don't know, obviously. And the thing is, until they locate the flight data recorder, we may never know.

But after days of speculation, a pilot's son, for the first time, speaking out about his father. This is what he told a Malaysian newspaper. "I've read everything online, but I've ignored all the speculation. I know my father better. We may not be as close, as he travels so much, but I understand him." That again from the son of the pilot.

Our Will Ripley joins us now from Perth in Australia.

You know, Will, so far, officials are telling CNN that their investigation has turned up nothing in the pilot's background that makes him greater focus. They're still investigating him, but still they found nothing that's a giant red flag. So, you know, what else is the son saying in defense of the father?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well you know, here's a 26-year-old, the pilot's youngest son who has had to listen to his dad being called pretty much everything from a hijacker to a political radical to somebody on a suicide mission.

You know, the reason why there's so much focus on the pilot, obviously, is because a lot of the plane's moves were clearly calculated in the sense that you had to actually punch in demands. The plane did a turn in a matter of a couple of minutes. I mean, this is something that an experienced pilot would have had to do.

The big question, why. As for what he's saying specifically about his father, you read it in the quote there. He said, you know, while we weren't too close, I know who my father was. And he doesn't believe that his father would be responsible for the deliberate deaths of 239 people on this plane. It's certainly, though, been a very difficult time for his family.

One really interesting thing in the "News Straits Times" article, is the fact that the son said when he heard the news from the Malaysian prime minister that they believed the plane had crashed and that no one survived, he said he wasn't surprised by that. A lot of the victim's families certainly -- certainly were. So for him to say it wasn't a surprise was pretty striking.

PEREIRA: That is striking, indeed. We know obviously that we've been watching the course of the investigation, the simulator that was in the pilot's home was taken. They took it. And we know that the FBI was taking a look at it as well. What are investigators now finding out about the files that were deleted from that simulator?

RIPLEY: We're expecting an announcement from the FBI any day now on that. We know that they have had teams literally working around the clock, not only on the flight simulator, but also on just any computers that the pilot had access to, the pilot and co-pilot.

But what CNN sources are saying is that so far, at least, they haven't found a smoking gun, something that would make them indicate, OK here's what we're looking for. It seems like the real answers are still sadly gonna be lying in the Indian Ocean where searchers haven't even been -- haven't been able to get to because of all the weather.

PEREIRA: Can I ask you a quick question here, Will, about the weather tomorrow? Are they expecting conditions to cooperate a little bit more with search efforts?

RIPLEY: As of right now, we are being told that the planes are going to be taking off around 5:00 a.m. local time here. But, you know, we were being told that yesterday, as well.

In fact, of the 11 aircraft that were slated to go up, eight of them reached the search area, and had they had to turn around because visibility went from pretty good to zero. The weather conditions got really ugly really quickly. That's just how volatile this section of the ocean is.

PEREIRA: Disheartening, for sure. We know those rescue -- searchers really want to locate this aircraft as well.

Will Ripley in Perth, Australia, thanks so much.

Ahead @ THIS HOUR, all of these new leads in the search frustrated by bad weather, as we were just talking to Will about. We're gonna talk more about it and about possible changes coming soon to the airline industry that could make searches like this obsolete.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BERMNA: All right. President Obama speaking in Rome right now, a press conference with the Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi. Let's listen to what President Obama has to say.

(BEGIN LIVE FEED)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- foreign minister spent some time in the Hague. But you can never get too much of your Italian friends. And we're able to continue the discussion today.

My day started with the great honor of meeting His Holiness Pope Francis. And like people around the world, I've been incredibly moved by his compassion, his message of inclusion. I was grateful to have the opportunity to speak with him about the responsibilities that we all share to care for the least of these, the poor, the excluded.

And I was extremely moved by his insights about the importance of us all having a moral perspective on world problems and not simply thinking in terms of our own narrow self interests.

Of course, it's wonderful to be back in Rome, one of the truly great cities of the world. I should point out, though, that while this is our first official bilateral meeting, I already had the chance to welcome Matteo Renzi to the White House. He came a few years ago as part of a group of mayors back when he served as the mayor of Florence.

(SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

And I look forward to the opportunity to welcome the prime minister back this time as prime minister.

I also want to say that I had a wonderful meeting with my good friend, President Napolitano. And I think that Italy is lucky to have such an extraordinary stateman -- statesman to help them guide the country through some challenging times.

Italy and the United States share extraordinary bonds of history, and family, and culture. We're especially grateful and proud for the Italian Americans who've made enormous contributions to our country.