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Signals Detected; New Plane Route; New Info Says Flight 370 Skirted Indonesia Entirely; Pings Detected in Area Recently Struck by Cyclone

Aired April 7, 2014 - 12:00   ET


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: We know the end of his life wasn't terribly easy. He actually testified before Congress about abuse of the elderly. So he obviously had some challenges, but he certainly put on smiles on so many faces through the years.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Eighty years in the business.


That's it for us at this hour. I'm Michaela Pereira.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. "Legal View" with Ashleigh Banfield starts right now.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. And it is Monday, April 7th. Welcome to LEGAL VIEW.

The box in the lower left-hand corner of your screen should be telling you that the mystery of Flight 370 has now gone on for 31 days. And that's longer than the expected life-span of the batteries in the pingers on the so-called black boxes that were on that plane. And yet after all this time, the chief coordinator of the search says that, quote, "we are encouraged that we are very close to where we need to be."

And it just so happens that pings are the very reason why. Since Friday, Australia's Ocean Shield vessel and a Chinese ship have picked up pings, albeit 370 miles apart. The Chinese team heard fleeting pings on Friday and Saturday, but they were using some gear that is not particularly designed for deep ocean searches.

The Australians, however, are using gear from the U.S. Navy, particularly designed for the kind of search that we're in at this point. Twice yesterday and once more for two hours and then later for 13 minutes was what they were able to detect. And importantly, the second batch consisted of two distinct pings. That's something that you might expect from two pingers. Don't forget, there's one each on the flight data and the cockpit voice recorders.

And still another day of eyeball scans on the ocean's surface turning up no signs of any kind of aircraft debris. And the Australian search leader is admitting that while the pings are a promising lead, and I'm going to quote him, "we have to get confirming evidence."

Back in Malaysia, the authorities are confirming that Flight 370 was never picked up by radar in neighboring Indonesia. And as you can see on that map, a source telling CNN the plane flew around Indonesian airspace before finally heading south, but making a very curious northern arc.

So what's next? Tops on the wish list for the U.S. Navy captain in charge of the towed ping locator is to reacquire those signals that were so promising again and again until the source can be nailed down. That officer spoke with my CNN colleague Will Ripley.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If this really is the missing plane, and that's still a big if, how could you even begin to describe such a discovery?

COMMANDER MARK MATTHEWS, U.S. NAVY: It certainly would be a miracle if this does turn out to be the aircraft location.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Miracle, a strong word with an even stronger warning from U.S. Navy Captain Mark Matthews.

MATTHEWS: I caution not to be overly optimistic here. We've got some work to do before that we can - before we can say that we have a true contact here.

RIPLEY: Matthews' team is on the Ocean Shield using a towed pinger locator, or a TPL, listening for pings from MH-370's black boxes. Over the weekend, they heard two promising signals in the southern Indian Ocean. One of them held for more than two hours.

MATTHEWS: What I'd like to do before I absolutely say with certainty that it is the aircraft is, one, reacquire the signal, two, deploy the autonomous underwater vehicle with the side scan sonar to map the debris field, and then, three, switch out that sonar with a camera unit and take photographs of what would be the wreckage.

RIPLEY: Slow and tedious work nearly 15,000 feet, almost three miles down. The extreme depth pushing the limits of the underwater drone, the Bluefin 21, that would do a visual search for wreckage.

MATTHEWS: But certainly, you know, we're jumping to conclusions here. We need to definitely reacquire the signal to confirm that it is the aircraft.

RIPLEY: Their biggest obstacle, time. The black box batteries are rated for 30 days, a deadline that's already passed.

MATTHEWS: Cautious measured optimism, right? We certainly want to reacquire it before we say, yes, we've done something good here.


BANFIELD: Will joins me live now from Perth, Australia, where it is just past midnight on Tuesday morning. I heard that cautious measured optimism. And to me that says, pings are great, we've got to find some debris. Are they tempered in their excitement over these pings?

RIPLEY: Absolutely. Tempered is the perfect word to use, Ashleigh, because, you know, the fact is, we had flights fly over this spot on Monday here in Perth in the area where these pings, these possible pings, were detected by the Ocean Shield's equipment. And, guess what, there was no debris anywhere. And so there's still a lot of unanswered questions. And until you actually can locate something tangible, you have no confirmation that this is connected to Flight 370. Promising, yes, but tempered optimism is a great way to put it.

BANFIELD: Will Ripley putting in some late hours for us in Perth, Australia, thank you for that.

I am joined live here in New York by two men with some pretty deep expertise in the underwater aspect of this search. Thomas Altshuler is the vice president and general manager of Teledyne Marine Systems. That's a firm that designs and builds advanced underwater communications gear, including black box pingers and also the pinger detectors.

David Kelly is president and CEO of Bluefin Robotics, whose underwater robot is effectively standing by and ready to map the ocean floor whenever the search teams are confident that they have found the spot.

So effectively it moves from your gear, at least one part of the gear you make, to your gear. You listen for the boxes. You look for the gear. I want to start with the pinging. I'm not sure if I understand clearly, Thomas, why it is that you can listen for two hours to pinging and here we are, 12 hours later, and we haven't redetected it.

THOMAS ALTSHULER, V.P., TELEDYNE MARINE SYSTEMS: Well, the trajectory, how the boat is moving across the water, where it is close to that device that they heard or what they think they heard is very important. It has to be close enough to hear it. Miles make a big difference. And it doesn't sound like a lot when we're on the ground, but in the ocean, miles are very, very hard to line up. So it depends.

BANFIELD: They're hard to line up, but you would think today, in this day and age with GPS, it's actually simple. It isn't?

ALTSHULER: Well, it's -- we're looking at something that could be a half a mile at the surface but much, much more at the base of the ocean. This 4,500 meters deep where they think this pinger might be.

BANFIELD: And it's a cone. It's not a simple straight line, it's a cone.

ALTSHULER: It is a cone. It comes up. You can think of it as a hemisphere. Somewhere on that, that's the sound. And if you're not in the right spot, you can't hear it.

BANFIELD: And, David, at this point, would this be the stage at which the robotics are employed, or do they have to get perfect specifics in order to launch those AUVs? DAVID KELLY, PRES. & CEO, BLUEFIN ROBOTICS: Well, I think, Ashleigh, you can look at it as trying to refine the area to be searched. So of narrowing down a funnel.

BANFIELD: How narrow?

KELLY: The vehicle can search 40 square miles a day and so the closer you can get to where you want to look and the more methodical a search you can do to collect the data.

BANFIELD: Now, and I understand you're not there, but hearing what we've heard, and that is, you know, two hours of continuous detection, does that tell you they're ready to go deep down with the AUVs?

KELLY: Well, we're really not - I'm not in a position to discuss how the search is progressing. But once they have an area they want to search, then the vehicle can be launched. It can survey 40 square miles. It will bring back the data that can then be analyze to see if there's any objects of interest.

BANFIELD: All right, so I'm going to do something very unusual. If I could just ask our director to pop up camera two for us over here because I have this very rudimentary piece of cardboard. If you just imagine a pizza for a moment. This will explain why we could have two hours of searching, the boat turns back around and only gets 15 minutes of pinging at that point, because it didn't make much sense to me. But effectively, and I'm not sure if you can see the lines that I've drawn in here. And, Thomas, if you can help me get through here.


BANFIELD: We'll do it -- let's do it on camera one and then you can point this out.


BANFIELD: You can see - you can see the dot in the middle. This is a pizza floating on the ocean's surface. And if the boat is going this way and crossing towards this pinger way deep down, it's getting louder as it gets close and it's getting softer as it goes away. But if they're getting a two-hour long line, what would it be if they were farther away? Would this be the 15 minute line? I'm not even doing this straight. But would this be the 15 minute line?

ALTSHULER: That's correct. So if you think about it, the range of the pinger is something on the order of a mile, maybe a little bit longer. So if you're at the surface moving across this, that would be -- you would take the ship directly over the pinger. You might get two hours of (INAUDIBLE).

BANFIELD: Two hours of listening.

ALTSHULER: But if - if you think about it -

BANFIELD: And if you turn the ship around here and you're starting to come back over here? ALTSHULER: This is only a mile, so you're off by two-thirds of a mile and now you're much shorter.

BANFIELD: And now you're getting 15 minutes of listening. And this is effectively if the pinger, which is in the center - and, again, it's deep down in the ocean, is sending up a perfect circumference cone of signal.

ALTSHULER: Right. And there are a lot of things that can affect that. The properties of the ocean, the bathymetry, how the shape of the bottom is. You can have reflections. You can have almost shadowing.

BANFIELD: They should be able to narrow that down fairly well, though, with that much signal.

ALTSHULER: They need to do that now. Yes.

BANFIELD: That certainly did help me to figure out why one turn of a boat could change so dramatically in terms of length of being able to detect.

Tom and David, hold on, if you will, for a moment. We've got some new information on the path that Flight 370 took as well. A Malaysian government official, a source in the government, telling CNN that the plane apparently flew around the northern part of Indonesia's airspace, deliberately avoiding that country's airspace. Was someone trying to avoid being detected by radar? There's one small wrinkle in that theory. And you'll hear what it is, next.


BANFIELD: Some stunning new information about Flight 370's path that indicates the airliner took a deliberate route around Indonesia, the northern part, to detect -- to avoid detection by that country. A senior Malaysian official is telling CNN that after the plane deviated from its planned route to Beijing, the jet flew in that curious arc north of Indonesian airspace and, quote, "may - may have done so to steer clear of Indonesia's radar."

For more now on this new flight path and what it could mean, I want to bring in our former - a former - I want to bring in former adviser to the U.K. ministry of defense and retired lieutenant colonel in the British military, also CNN analyst, Michael Kay, as well as Martin Savidge joins us now, live with the high-tech simulator in Canada, and he is joined as well by Mitch Casado.

I'm going to go right into the simulator first if I can, guys.

And, Mitch and Marty, perhaps you could just walk me through as co- pilot and pilot would be sitting next to each other, what kind of maneuvers it would take in order to fly that route, that brand-new, unusually curious route and would it be something that one of you could do without the other detecting?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: All right. A couple of questions here. We'll go through them real quick. We are on that, Flight 370. We've taken off from Kuala Lumpur. It's night, as you can tell, outside. And we're on the course to go to Beijing.

Let me show you what Mitchell has (INAUDIBLE) flight management system. That's this screen here. The pink line is us. Actually the triangle's us. We're traveling on the pink line. We get up to Agari (ph) here, and that's where everything started to change when this flight went from normal to grossly abnormal. And you can see he's programmed in a turn. This would take us over northern Malaysian, the peninsula. And then this is the part that takes us around Indonesia. That was all preprogrammed in. How long did that take?

MITCHELL CASADO, 777 FLIGHT SIMULATOR: It took about a minute and a half. About 18 waypoints.

SAVIDGE: OK. So that's a lot of waypoints to put in. But if you knew the course ahead of time, you could punch it in very easily in the flight management system where you can see it's on the dashboard here. The other way you could have done this was up on here.

CASADO: With the heading select, that's correct, Martin. Just with the simple turn of this knob, we can select a different heading. You push it and the airplane takes that heading.

SAVIDGE: Right. So you could manually set the heading you want. And now you can feel the plane's turning and heading in the direction. For every course correction to get around Indonesia, you would do that. You could also, I presume, do it manually. You could take control and --

CASADO: If you were really sure where you were going, you could absolutely do it manually. Yeah.

SAVIDGE: Although that's a long way to fly and a lot of course corrections.


SAVIDGE: And, so, could this all have been done with one pilot totally unaware?

CASADO: No, there's no way. The airplane would be turning. If he was here, he would have noticed.

SAVIDGE: Plus, he would see this altered course in front of him.

CASADO: Of course.

SAVIDGE: And that can't be hidden? That can't be masked in any way?

CASADO: That cannot be masked in any way.

SAVIDGE: All right. So, there you go. That's not how we would do it. That's not to say that's exactly how it was done if it truly happened that way. BANFIELD: Let me bring Colonel Kay into this conversation. As a pilot, if you're trying to skirt the radar, why would you follow waypoints?

LIEUTENANT COLONEL MICHAEL KAY, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: I think that's a great question, Ashleigh. And I think what we need to do, what would be really useful, is to chat to Marty and Mitch in the cockpit to interrogate this notion of trying to avoid radar a little more.

And if I can, can I just throw it to the guys in the --

BANFIELD: Fire away.

Guys, listen up.

KAY: Marty and Mitch, hi. It's Michael Kay.

We've also heard of this notion about the potential for the pilots to trying to avoid radar. I just want to get a sense from you guys. Would there have been any way whatsoever that either the pilot or the co- pilot would have been able to detect the big radar sites at Banda Ache, which is just on the northern tip of Sumatra?

That would have been the primary radar that would have detected the aircraft had it been close enough. Is there any way the pilots would have known about that radar site or could have detected it?

CASADO: If they did their preflight planning -- I mean, before they took off, we always do that preflight stuff. And it would just be a matter of looking at the pertinent charts and noting it. From the cockpit itself in flight --

SAVIDGE: This is a military radar. I presume primary radar, so is that kind of stuff on general aviation?

CASADO: Yeah, you could -- if it were a flight crew that flew internationally, you could access those charts. They could have asked their dispatchers for those charts.

SAVIDGE: There's nothing in the aircraft that would tell you, oh, I've got to avoid that radar right now?

CASADO: Not so much it would have to be on the charts.

SAVIDGE: What has been described as they were trying to avoid Indonesian airspace, avoiding Indonesian radar, I don't know. That's a trickier thing. You'd have to know a great deal about radar in general, Michael.

BANFIELD: It just makes more questions out of fewer answers. It's an unusual circumstance.

We're going to ask you a couple other questions in a moment. Stand by, guys, if you will, Marty Savidge, Mitch Casado and Michael Kay.

If you find the black boxes from, in fact, these pings, if that's something that is successful, finding the black boxes, would that actually lead to finding the wreckage from the rest of the airliner? Did you know that a Category-5 cyclone recently blew that that area? While everyone else was searching a long way away, this place was disastrous when it came to the weather. So, what will that mean for these searchers now?


BANFIELD: Even if search crews are lucky enough to find the black boxes from Flight 370, the debris from the jet at this stage could be spread out over hundreds of miles across the Indian Ocean.

The currents may have carried the debris in all sorts of different directions, and the currents aren't the only thing. There's the wind, and when the winds get strong, you can make matters much worse, especially when they turn into powerful cyclones. And one of those recently blew through an area right near where two ships made those detections, those possible pings, again, possibly from the plane.

Joining me to talk about the path of this storm and how this might complicate the search for the missing jet is CNN's meteorologist Chad Myers.

Chad, a lot of us had our eyes off of this area because the search was a long way away. And so this hurricane, cyclone, didn't really matter that much at the time, and now it matters a whole lot.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Now, it matters a whole lot more.

We were 1,500 miles from this cyclone. That was a Category 5 hurricane. They call them cyclones. They call them typhoons because they're in different oceans.

Just like Americans could never get the Celsius thing down back in the '70s, we can't all agree on what it should be called. It's still a cyclone. It goes the opposite direction of a northern hemisphere hurricane, but it was a 160-mile-per-hour storm, only 350 miles from the current ping location.

It started off the north coast there of Australia. It moved here into very warm water south of Jakarta and became a very big storm. You saw the picture of that.

This is a monster hurricane/cyclone, Category 5, pressure 937 millibars, as big as we see in America probably almost all the time, the biggest cyclone in this water in four years. And the waves were 12 to 14 feet right over where, now, the pings are.

We were looking down here. We weren't worried about this. We talked about it, said it will make some waves. We were looking way down here at the time. And, so, here's -- there's a 12-foot wave, 10-foot wave, a six-foot wave. So, we're talking about four-footers coming off of this, or even from the south. We weren't worried about it. We talk about this thing being a washing machine, this ocean being a washing machine anyway.

But with that now over where we believe, there could have been surface debris. That debris was jostled. Anything that could have been a (inaudible) slightly a boat with some kind of least buoyancy is at the bottom of the ocean. It could not have stayed on top of the water with 160-mile-per-hour winds.

BANFIELD: It almost sounds like the typical watching machine would have, in fact, turned into a blender with this.

MYERS: That's right.

BANFIELD: Yeah, Chad Myers, thank you for that. Do appreciate it.

So far, the search for the missing plane has been described as trying to find the haystack, not the needle, the actual haystack in which the needle is hiding. But is this the haystack that they may have found now with these recent pings? More on that in a moment.


BANFIELD: The hunt for missing Flight 370 now has a very promising lead. After weeks of frustrating dead-end searches, officials say a pinger locator has detected two signals consistent with a plane's flight-voice and data recorders.

The signals were picked up yesterday by a U.S. pinger locator that's being towed by the Australian ship, Ocean Shield, in the Indian Ocean.

The first was detected for more than two hours. Now, when they turned around, the second detection lasted much shorter, about 13 minutes, but the bonus was there was two signals they were detecting at the same time.

Now, that's a pretty important little detail right there, because investigators are expecting to hear two signals because there are two recorders. There's the data recorder and there's the voice recorder.

And over the weekend, the authorities also say that a Chinese ship also picked up two signals but a very different area, about 300 miles away. At this point, officials cannot confirm that anything that has been heard over the last 48 hours is connected to this plane.

I want to dig into what this latest information can actually mean for the search. I'm joined now by expeditions logistics specialist Christine Dennison, CNN aviation analyst Lieutenant Colonel Michael Kay, who's a former advisor to the U.K. Ministry of Defense, and Thomas Altshuler, who's the V.P. and general manager of Teledyne Marine Systems, which designs and builds the black box pingers and also the pinger detectors.