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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Report: Time Running Out To Reverse Climate Change; GM Announces Another Recall; GM Recall: Why Did It Take So Long?; Mystery Of Flight 370

Aired March 31, 2014 - 16:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. They've searched by satellite, by plane and by ship, combing for any remnants of missing Flight 370. Now the search continues underwater. Australia's naval vessel Ocean Shield is towing behind it a black box locator, courtesy of the United States Navy, one that will try to detect pings sent out by the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder that searchers are desperately hoping still transmitting from the missing Boeing 777.

Let's bring in CNN's Will Ripley with the latest live from a boat 10 miles off the coast from Perth, Australia, in the Indian Ocean. Will?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Jake. Yes, this is really interesting technology and could hold the key to solving one of the greatest aviation mysteries in modern history. But here is the problem. We have to narrow the search area for this technology to work effectively. On board, the ocean shield is a piece of technology called a towed pinger locator. And basically what this is is a giant microphone that they drop into the water and they tow behind the ship. The microphone listens and drags along the ocean floor, listening for the sound of the pings from the data recorders on board the aircraft.

Those data recorders, by the way, only have about a little over a week of battery life left, as we've been telling people. And here's the problem. As great as this technology is, this giant microphone is, it only has about a mile radius. And so, in order for it to work effectively, we need to narrow the search area. And right now, we're looking at an area the size of Poland, Jake. So obviously the technology is not effective unless we can try to pinpoint where there might be some wreckage.

TAPPER: And Will, how strong a signal is the ocean shield capable of picking up? You said it needs to be within a mile. Does the ping need to be at full level because we know there are some reports, some questions about whether or not the batteries are as strong as we wish they were?

RIPLEY: Yes, you're right. We've hearing the batteries have been slowly fading over time and maybe the signal may be getting more weak as we go. As far as the detection abilities of the towed pinger locator, this big microphone, it is pretty sensitive. And we're told that if there is a ping within a mile radius, this technology can hear it. There's also another piece of technology on board called the Blue Fin. It's an underwater drone that can actually scan the bottom of the ocean floor looking for debris. These are two tools that were supplied by the United States Navy. They are some of the best technology available when it comes to a search operation like this.

But again, the problem is, if you don't have a narrow search area, this is a ship that, at best, could cover about 50 square miles a day. We're looking at an area of about 100,000 square miles. We just need to find out some sign of where this plane might be, and we haven't had any confirmed evidence of where it might be yet.

TAPPER: Will Ripley, live from a boat in the Indian Ocean, thank you so much.

So even with the high-tech gadgets being moved to the new search site, could it be too little too late when it comes to finding Flight 370's black box? Joining me now is CNN safety analyst David Soucie. He's also the author of the book "Why Planes Crash." David, do you think they will find the flight data recorders here in time, practically speaking here?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: You know, it's looking -- I hope -- I'm trying to be optimistic. But if you look at that towed pinger, the fastest speed that you can used that towed pinger is about five knots. And so, they mentioned 50 square miles a day, and that's about the extent of it because you're towing this thing 10 miles behind the ship in order to get down to the depths necessary at this part of the ocean. So you can imagine. That ship has got to go 10 miles past the end of the search area, turn around, come back the other way, and then go past it 10 miles on the other side and come back the other way. So, this is not a simple operation, and it's going to take some time.

TAPPER: And you're skeptical that the batteries are still running. Why?

SOUCIE: Well, I had spoke with a mechanic who did the audit of Malaysia Airlines as far as how they store the pingers, how they store everything. But he noticed that the pingers were kept in a hot room, 120 degrees. We spoke with the manufacturer, and it's recommended that it's in a cool and dry place is where it says to store it. So, if it's being stored at a high temperature, then it can definitely -- it can dramatically reduce the life of that battery.

So I'm concerned about that. There's no proof that that's the battery in this aircraft. But it gives me the indication that we may be looking for a ping that might not be there.

TAPPER: David, there is no ping, how can anybody find the plane?

SOUCIE: Well, he mentioned that there was another vehicle on board that ship. And again, we've got to get it narrowed down. We've got to find some debris and get it narrowed down to a much smaller area. And once that is done, then if there's no ping, then we have to get the ship down there and just physically look for it piece by piece, by eyes and try to find some debris. Once you find debris, the boxes would be within a mile. At that depth, the boxes would be within a mile of where that debris pattern would rest on the floor.

TAPPER: I don't want to be skeptical either, David, but as you know, they just changed the search area again just a few days ago. We don't even know that that search area, the size of Poland, is the right one.

SOUCIE: Well, you know, I've been a little concerned about the fact that they are not releasing the ping data because on my Twitter account and on CNN's, we're receiving so much information from really top-notch scientists from around the world asking, just give us some of the L-band information. Give us the parameters. Give us some very specific information. If we could get that and let these people crowd source that information, get some other ideas, some other concepts. In an investigation, you have to do that. You have to work together, take all of the information and then weigh that information. Give it different levels of confidence.

TAPPER: Given all of the false alarms that we've seen, you think that crowd sourcing still might be a good approach? I guess we don't really have much to work with anyway.

SOUCIE: Well, you know, the crowd sourcing for the satellite didn't work very well. The reason I believe it didn't -- I spoke with someone who used to be the executive vice president of Digital Globe. And he said that with satellite technology, unless you have super high definition coming back, it's really going to give you a lot of false leads because you just can't get that narrowed down that well. It's never really been successful. It might give you some clues as to where to start looking, but then you are dispersing resources into areas that are not very confident leads.

TAPPER: And of course, David, we all recall what happened with Air France Flight 447. It took years to find the black boxes after the plane crashed. Are you surprised that the battery life on these recorders is still just 30 days? Shouldn't they be mandated to be much, much longer lasting?

SOUCIE: Oh, absolutely. I'll tell you, it really disappoints me that here we have five years later with exactly same problem that the French warned us about after Flight 447. The BAE came out and made recommendations, strong recommendations to go to 90 days on these boxes. So, IKAO (ph) and all aviation civil authorities, including the FAA and EOSA, took no dramatic action to go back and put those retrofitted in other aircraft.

They said from 2015 on, anything manufactured has to have 90 days. Which is a great move. I'm not discounting that. But they need to go back to the 20,000 other commercial aircraft that are out there flying right now and retrofit those. And there's no requirement for that.

TAPPER: David Soucie, thank you so much.

Coming up, the CEO of General Motors heads to Capitol Hill to defend why it took 13 deaths before the company recalled millions of cars. Grieving families are left in the limbo, unsure if a deadly defect was to blame. And later, we've seen what the search for Flight 370 looks like from above but what about from below? Tom Foreman brings the underwater challenges.

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TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Turning now to the "Buried Lead." A new report released by the United Nations does not minced words about the grim reality of climate change. It essentially says that if nothing is done soon to tackle climate change, all of human civilization could be at risk. Scientists from intergovernmental panel on climate change say we are running out of time to turn back the clock.

And if governments worldwide do not get serious about reducing carbon dioxide emissions, we could not only see a hotter, drier planet, but a shortage of food and water supplies. Not only that, the report warns of, quote, "increases in ill health in many regions, an increase risk of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and a slow-down in economic growth."

The report also shows that it's already too late to reverse some of the global warming-related changes to coral reefs and arctic sea ice.

The "Money Lead" now, just moments ago, GM issued yet another recall, 1.3 million vehicles are being recalled to fix a potential problem with power steering. This comes just one day before top executives from GM including new CEO, Mary Barra will appear before Congress to try and explain how and why the company failed to fix a safety defect that killed 13 people.

The congressional grilling is only the beginning for GM. Sources tell CNN Money, the company is facing a federal criminal investigation concerning the handling of a faulty ignition switch that would suddenly turn the car's power off, cutting off airbags, power steering, and power brakes. More than 2 million GM cars with the problem have been recalled.

But as CNN's Drew Griffin reports, GM will not tell anyone which deadly crashes involved the defects not even the families of the victims.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This would have been about the time of the day that it happened so --

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Gordon Hair's son, Ben, was just shy of his 21st birthday heading home on this road four years ago when in an unexplained flash, his 2007 Pontiac G-5 locked into a turn on this slight curve, hit this very tree and Ben died.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even if I had been there I don't think how quickly I would have been hitting the tree. GRIFFIN: Ben Hair had been drinking the night before, but stayed overnight with friends before driving home about noon on a Sunday. He was traveling just 5 miles over the speed limit on a wet road when it happened. Police blame driver error.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is him. He was a pharmacy technician.

GRIFFIN: He was a smart student, a star swimmer, and a soon-to-be pharmacist. He was also Brenda and Gordon Hair's only child.

GORDON HAIR, FATHER OF BEN HAIR: It's still hard to believe how it happened.

GRIFFIN (on camera): And there's been no official believable explanation?

HAIR: That's true.

BRENDA HAIR, MOTHER OF BEN HAIR: We just thought it was a horrible accident until I received the letter from GM in September of 2010 stating that there was a recall and to bring his car in.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Brenda recovering now from a recent stroke got the first recall notice from General Motors nine months after Ben's accident. A problem with the power steering was a possible explanation for the crash. But the evidence to prove it, Ben's Pontiac G5 had been scrapped.

BEN HAIR: Learned a lesson there. Couldn't find the -- couldn't find or retrieve the car.

GRIFFIN: Two weeks ago, GM sent the Hairs a new recall notice. The key to the ignition on Pontiac G5s can unexpectedly turn off, shutting off power to the airbags, the steering, and the brakes. It's all just way too late. GM now admits it first noticed problems in its key ignition back in 2004, nearly a decade before this recall.

BEN HAIR: They are talking about people reporting problems with ignition ten years ago. That's six years before my son had the accident. It's just kind of hard to believe those kinds of things.

GRIFFIN: There are hundreds of accidents involving deaths like Ben Hair's where it's simply not known if the manufacturer's defect was involved and, worse, General Motors has been unwilling to share information with the families or even the government until now.

Just like the Hair's, Mary and Leo Ruddy got their recall notice months after their daughter, 21-year-old Kelly, died in a 2005 Chevy Cobalt. In this case, GM engineers were able to retrieve the black box, the car's data recorder from a scrapyard. They analyzed the contents, but shared only basic technical data leaving the Ruddys helpless.

LEO RUDDY, FATHER OF KELLY ERIN RUDDY: There was no summary of what they found. They said, if you feel there is a problem here with the vehicle, you prove it. GRIFFIN: Only now, 13 confirmed deaths later and potentially many, many more is the company finally admitting it messed up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Something went wrong with our process, in this instance, and terrible things happened.

GRIFFIN: Twice a day, Gordon Hair drives by this spot, this tree.

GORDON HAIR: That's our tree.

GRIFFIN: And he will always wonder why, how and potentially who was responsible for the death of his son. Drew Griffin, CNN, Charlottesville, Virginia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Some of the families of crash victims will be on Capitol Hill this week including the Ruddys, to try to pressure General Motors to release more information about which crashes involved the defect. Chrysler CEO, Mary Barra, will testify before a House committee tomorrow and the Senate on Wednesday.

We just received prepared remarks for that testimony that say in part, "I cannot tell you why it took years for a safety defect to be announced in that program, but I can tell you that we will find out."

Coming up next on THE LEAD, the search on the water for Flight 370 has turned up nothing but sea garbage. Now that a ping locator is on the way to help find the black box, searchers may run into a whole new set of difficulties under the surface.

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TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Continuing our "World Lead," we are into the fourth week in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, day 24, search teams comprised of 10 aircraft and 11 ships, scoured almost 98,000 square miles looking for any sign of the plane. So far, nothing.

A new search will start soon, but just how large an area do they have left to search? Tom Foreman is joining us now from the virtual studio. Tom, explain what areas they have looked at so far?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, if you think back, Jake, not that long ago they were looking in the South China Sea, the Straits of Malacca, the Andaman Islands and this had this north, south corridor up over land and sea. They went down in the Indian Ocean to the edge of the great southern ocean and now most recently it's been focused here off the coast of Australia, here in Perth, to the area where they identified up north items floating in the water.

That red square was the search area yesterday. It's been searched yet another search area shifted a little bit. It's shifted over and over again. Bottom line is, millions of square miles, hundreds and thousands of square miles already searched and yet all of that is about conjecture. No physical clues. That's why even though they get satellite images and find some things in the water until some plane out there or some ship out there identifies something that is an actual clue, they have to go to the second phase of the search, which is going to be much, much tougher -- Jake.

TAPPER: What about the black boxes, Tom? We have less than a week left, theoretically, before the batteries die, assuming they are still operating. How difficult will it be to find them with the towed ping locator and other resources that searchers have?

FOREMAN: Even if the pinger is working, it's an incredibly difficult job. Let me bring down the lights and show you why this is so difficult. In the portion of the ocean, the only way you can find anything is with a device. You can't see anything. You're looking for electronic window trying to look at little portions at a time. That's the only way to do this.

And you because of that, it's a much slower process. We talked earlier about 50 square miles a day towing something and you're trying to cover 100,000 square miles in one search area, Jake. That means that simply searching that area, something that scans a mile to one side and a mile to another would hopefully cover everything. It's going to take a tremendous, tremendous amount of time, Jake, well over a year to get to just one area. It's a big, big job when you get to phase two.

TAPPER: That's why finding debris is so important. Tom Foreman in the virtual studio, thank you so much. Make sure to follow me on Twitter @jaketapper. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer. He is in "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Mr. Blitzer.