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LEGAL VIEW WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD

Narrowing the Search After Hearing the Pings; Lessons From the Air France Crash; Pistorius Apologizes

Aired April 7, 2014 - 12:30   ET

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


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: 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 is 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.

So, Mr. Altshuler, perhaps you can tell me what the job is now, now that we've had these two very promising detections, particularly from the Ocean Shield, because it seems to be the longest, the two-hour ping followed by the 15-minute ping that had the echo.

What's the job now for the Ocean Shield? What are they trying to do at this moment?

THOMAS ALTSHULER, VICE PRESIDENT, TELEDYNE MARINE SYSTEMS: So, they're trying to do -- kind of re-cover the area and narrow where they think that the ping's coming from. They need to shrink the box they're going to look in when they put the vehicle down.

The problem right now is that the sound propagates through the ocean, so they don't have any real knowledge about where exactly that is. And as you look at the time and difficulty of putting like the Bluefin 21 down in the water, you want to have a very good understanding of where that pinger would be.

BANFIELD: Are those pings different by the way? Let's just go on the second detection that lasted only 13 or so minutes, and there was this double ping going on, which many people say is terrific, because there's two, two boxes that we're looking for, flight-data and cockpit-voice recorder.

Is there something different about the way they ping? Are they identical?

ALTSHULER: Actually, they're not. And I'm holding a pinger now. And one of the things we've been saying that it's 37.5 kilohertz, but in reality it's around 37.5 kilohertz. It's not exactly.

So, each pinger's a little different. And, so, what you would expect is the voice recorder and the flight-data recorder should have slightly different frequencies. They should come in a little differently and they should have different times.

And, so, if you think about it, they're talking that they're hearing an echo or a ping and a ping, but what we haven't heard yet is they're hearing a ping at one frequency and a ping at another frequency.

BANFIELD: Which would be entirely different.

ALTSHULER: Which would say it's from two different devices compared to an echo or something bouncing off the bottom or something in the water.

BANFIELD: Yeah, that's the other question I had for Christine is that what are the odds that double echo or that double ping actually could have been as simple as a bounce off of a thermal layer or a cavern or a mountain or other debris?

CHRISTINE DENNISON, EXPEDITIONS LOGISTICS EXPERT: Well, Ashleigh, we're working -- or, they're working in very deep water, approximately 4,500 meters, 10,000, 12,000 feet.

And, so, it's very dense water. Sound travels faster in deeper water, so that 350-mile radius between the Chinese ship and the Ocean Shield, it's very possible they're both getting the same sound, and it could be closer -- farther south. It's just traveling at that distance by the time the Ocean Shield picks it up, because according to what I've been reading, the Chinese picked up the pings first.

BANFIELD: So, Michael Kay, is this effectively the haystack that we've been looking for, or is that too optimistic?

LIEUTENANT COLONEL MICHAEL KAY, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: No, I think we've completely bypassed the haystack. I think this is unprecedented. I think we're going straight in for the needle.

DENNISON: I agree.

KAY: I can't remember a time in history on any accident investigation where authorities and search operators actually found the needle before they found the haystack. It's quite unprecedented.

Just like to pick up on a point you've been raising quite a lot, Ashleigh. This is a critical time. The weakness of the signal will be deteriorating, or the strength of the signal will be deteriorating, so we're kind of now in very critical territory in terms of Ocean Shield now having to go and do those three long legs to try and triangulate and fix where the point is.

We've got to remember all we know from this is its strength. We don't know its position, and that's key over the next two to three days.

BANFIELD: All right, Michael Kay, thank you. Christine Dennison, Thomas Altshuler, thanks to all three of you. The big question for all of us today are the noises heard by two different ships in this area, the pings, are they from Flight 370?

We're going to talk about that with a guest from the company that makes the pingers used on the planes, coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Some really significant news over the weekend, an Australian vessel using U.S. equipment hearing pinging for two straight hours, turning the boat around and picking it up again for 13 minutes.

That's a big deal, because if those pingers are actually strong as they should be, they don't have a whole lot of time on them. In fact, this is Day 31. Effectively they should have been out of batteries by now. But if they do run out of batteries, then what, if we haven't picked up the signal again?

Joining me now, two experts, David Kelly, president and CEO of Bluefin Robotics, the company that makes the submarine that effectively will be used to look for debris, and Thomas Altshuler is the vice president of Teledyne Marine Systems. His company makes the pingers as well as the equipment that the Chinese were using to hear the pinger sounds, earlier on, before this even larger find this weekend.

So let me start with you, if I can, Tom, and that is the TPL 25, which this remarkable piece of equipment that the U.S. Navy has supplied which has effectively picked up the sounds for two hours and then 13 minutes. Is it such remarkable equipment that it can pick up even the dying battery?

ALTSHULER: Absolutely. The battery has a really good characteristic. It doesn't die immediately at 30 days. It's going to linger for a while, weaken, and then it will -- what we call -- fall off the cliff. It will just stop pinging.

And so there's an opportunity. We don't know. It will depend on how the battery was stored, how long it's been in the pinger. We know then -- that's the only way to know how long it will last. So there's a possibility it will be out there for more days. We just don't know.

BANFIELD: And at what point, David, would they just -- because I felt as though they said all along, we're not putting any of this in the water until we find debris. They did that anyway. Effectively, they say, we're not going to put the AUVs in the water until we narrow the search. Might they do that anyway?

DAVID KELLY, PRESIDENT AND CEO, BLUEFIN ROBOTICS: Well, again, Ashleigh, that's a question better left to the people running the mission.

BANFIELD: Can they do the job?

KELLY: But the vehicle can -- we're talking about operating at depths of two-and-a-half miles down. The pressure there is equivalent to having a Cadillac Escalade balanced on your thumbnail.

The vehicle can survey 40 square miles a day. It can detect objects about a meter in size. And then, with experts analyzing the imagery, they can determine if there's objects of interest. BANFIELD: So, let me ask you this. If all we had to go on, because this is Day 31 and those batteries are not going to last forever, if all we had to go on is what we had now, that two hour line of listening, the return and the 13 minutes of listening, how many submersibles might it take to cover the distance that that might incorporate?

KELLY: Well, a search like this, I think it's a matter of tenacity and persistence. And every piece of data you collect helps narrow the search area, helps move the solution forward.

BANFIELD: Why is the range so small? I'm not clear on why these -- look, perhaps it's not. Perhaps that's an unfair question. It just seems to me this two-mile radius for a pinger when you're obviously looking for them in oceans, oftentimes, doesn't seem like a lot.

ALTSHULER: Well, probably -- I mean, first, it's a regulatory issue. That's an FAA decision to have the frequency they have.

The reality is the majority of times you lose an aircraft, it's in shallow water and you have a debris field, so you're not really looking for that needle in the haystack.

You have the haystack that's relatively well defined, and now what you're really looking for is the black box in the mud in the bottom.

And, so, the whole concept is turned on its head with this. It is not designed to go out in the open ocean and find something you've lost.

BANFIELD: Right, and this is the anomaly, which is why it has so many people scratching their heads and wondering what possibly could have happened. It's just not the rule. It is the exception that we've been looking at today.

David Kelly, thank you. Thomas Altshuler, thank you, both.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

BANFIELD: Appreciate your insight.

The search for this missing Malaysian plane has striking similarities to the search for the Air France flight that crashed into the ocean off the coast of Brazil.

But what lessons from that situation could help today? We're going to talk with an oceanographer who helped to actually find the Air France plane, coming up straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: A critical clue is giving new energy to the search for the missing plane. Two signals were detected in the southern Indian Ocean, and they are consistent with the plane's black boxes. Officials say it is their most promising lead yet in this mystery. But we still don't know if this is related to the missing plane. And even if it is, how much easier will this really make it to find the wreckage? Everyone seems to think much, but is it?

After Air France Flight 447 went down in the Atlantic, debris was found just days later floating on the surface, and yet it still took about two years to find the black boxes of the wreckage on the ocean floor.

I'm joined now on the phone by CNN analyst and oceanographer David Gallo, who co-led the search for Air France Flight 447 in the Atlantic Ocean and he's currently the director of special projects at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

David, thanks for being with us.

The question I have for you, did we ever actually get pinging like we're - we think we may be hearing now in relation to this mystery? Did we ever get the pinging with Air France?

DAVID GALLO, CNN ANALYST (via telephone): Hi, Ashleigh. No, we didn't, despite a lot of effort to try and hear it by submarines and surface ships of the very same kinds of armada we have off the coast of Australia. But there was never any pinging that was heard.

BANFIELD: And I think a lot of people wonder, if you have the debris field within a couple of days, what took so long to find the wreckage on the floor and the black boxes?

GALLO: Sure. Well, that debris field was floating on the ocean and we had a pretty -- we had several clues that we don't have in this case. We had the last known position, we had the debris floating on the surface, and we had about four minutes of ACARS, that information -- maintenance information from the plane. So we were able to draw a search area, but it was huge. It was 5,000 square miles. Not huge by Malaysia Air standards, but for the time it was big.

It took really only about eight weeks of being out at sea for our team, but a lot - and a lot of that two years was spent with the logistics and the politics and the preparation of being able to get out there. It was two separate phases. So a lot of it was spent doing that. But it's a -- from here on in, it's not going to be easy. It's going to mean a lot of hard work surveying the floor of the ocean.

BANFIELD: The logistics and the politics playing into that two-year time period does not sound promising in terms of what we're facing here. Do you feel the same way many other people feel when you heard about these two sets of pings being registered in the search for this plane in terms of being closer and closer to finding this missing plane?

GALLO: Sure. Well initially I was skeptical and then, you know, it looked more and more into it. And the more I heard, the more promising it sounds. The right frequency. The right rep rate. So that's already going in our favor. And they also heard two of them. And there are two pingers out there, one for the cockpit voice recorder, one for the flight data recorder. So that's good. And they listened to one of them for more than an hour, which is really great.

BANFIELD: Two - two hours, David.

GALLO: And that group, Phoenix International, is suburb at this, so they're not just jumping to conclusions, they must be fairly strongly certain that this is that -- the black boxes.

BANFIELD: Yes. You know, and - and two hours. I mean the remarkable nature of this is that not only did they have the two hours of straight listening, but when they turned the ship around and returned, they re-established contact, albeit for only 13 minutes.

GALLO: Right.

BANFIELD: But that's significant. One big difference, David, and that is depth. Air France, not quite as deep as this. We're talking about almost three miles. How long in your best estimate might it be before they can even start mapping the ocean floor and getting to anything that might resemble some sense of resolution to this mystery?

GALLO: Sure. I mean one thing they'll try to do (INAUDIBLE) the TPL, the towed pinger locator, is to triangulate, to really nail down that position as closely as possible. Make that haystack as tiny as possible. And then into that haystack will go the next vehicle. And it might be the Bluefin 21, if it's shallow enough. I think the operating depth is 4,500 meters. And if we're below that, then they're going to have to go to plan b, so they'll have to come up with - and they've got lots of things if their quiver that they can reach out and use to try to get to that depth. And I would expect to see something happening on that -- in the order of days to a week or so.

BANFIELD: Yes. Well, I'm glad they have a very robust quiver and perhaps even more so than the Air France days. But it's always great to talk to you. Your insight is remarkable. Thank you, David.

GALLO: Thank you, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: David Gallo joining us live on the phone.

Another story that we're following, Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius shot his girlfriend to death and today in court he took the stand. That's not something you often see. Something else you don't often see, he tearfully apologized to her family.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OSCAR PISTORIUS: So there hasn't been a moment since -- since this tragedy happened that I haven't thought about your family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: An emotional day in court as he tries to prove that the shooting death was a horrible accident and not a terrible murder. LEGAL VIEW on that just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BANFIELD: Emotional, exhausting testimony in a South African courtroom today as Oscar Pistorius took the stand in his own defense. The double amputee athlete says he shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, by accident. And for the first time, we're hearing the blade runner's voice. Some of the first things out of his mouth, an apology to Reeva Steenkamp's family. He appeared haunted by her death. He also speaks of his childhood, his mother, and his fears and hers. Robyn Curnow reports now from Pretoria.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He does look exhausted. He does sound exhausted.

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): And with that, Oscar Pistorius' much anticipated appearance on the stand came to an end. After nearly two hours of testimony, the judge agreeing with the defense that a day of unreserved emotion deserved an early adjournment.

OSCAR PISTORIUS, DEFENDANT: I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to -- to Mrs. And Mr. Steenkamp, to Reeva's family, to those of you who knew her who are here today. And the --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Pistorius -

PISTORIUS: (INAUDIBLE) -

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't like doing this to you, but I can hardly hear you.

CURNOW: Even before beginning his testimony, a teary-eyed Pistorius turned away from the judge and toward the mother of Reeva Steenkamp.

PISTORIUS: I wake up every morning and you're the first people I think of, the first people I pray for. I can't imagine the pain and the sorrow and the emptiness that I've caused you and your family.

CURNOW: The Olympian telling the court he still replays the night he shot and killed Steenkamp.

PISTORIUS: I wake up and I smell - I can smell - I can smell the blood and I wake up to being terrified.

KELLY PHELPS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: They're clearly laying a foundation for symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. This speaks to the manner in which the extent to which the events of that night in question have profoundly affected him.

CURNOW: Pistorius says he's on antidepressants and sleep aids because he's scared to sleep and has terrible nightmares. The defense also building an image of Pistorius as a young boy growing up afraid. His mother, often alone with her children, acutely aware of South Africa's high crime rate. He remembers her calling police in the middle of the night when she heard noises.

PISTORIUS: She would come, you know, at night and call us to go sit in her room and many times we'd just wait for the police to arrive.

CURNOW: Where did she keep her firearm for the incidents (ph)?

PISTORIUS: My lady, she kept her firearm on her - on her -- under her bed, under -- in her -- under her pillow.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BANFIELD: And Robyn joins us live now from Pretoria.

Robyn, they have the option not to appear on camera, all witnesses, and he's no different. But you could see him. What was his demeanor like in the courtroom?

CURNOW: Well, what was interesting is particularly that apology, which was so unusual. He stood up and he looked at Mrs. Steenkamp. And, you know, I suppose there's a danger in that kind of situation that perhaps he looked over-rehearsed, theatrical, over strategized.

But instead, Oscar Pistorius came off looking quite authentic, genuine, was very emotional. So much so that it felt very intimate and personal, this communication or this attempt of communication with the mother of the woman he killed. And it really felt like us in the gallery were intruding in this moment. So, you know, however his lawyers - I think -- we got a sense that his lawyers actually tried to dissuade him from doing this. It seems like he felt that he needed to do it and he did it because he just had to say sorry.

BANFIELD: Well, and it has been some time and there has not been this overture to the parents as of yet. Robyn Curnow, thank you.

Joining me live now is CNN legal analyst and trial attorney Danny Cevallos and CNN commentator and defense attorney Mel Robbins.

Danny Cevallos, as a lawyer, you usually counsel your clients not to take the stand. This is not your average courtroom. It's just a judge. No jury. But still there's got to be a con to taking the stand.

DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: There always is. But in a case like this, where the entire trial is based on, what were the thoughts going through Pistorius' mind when he shot, arguably, you really don't have any other way to establish the reasonableness or supposed reasonableness of firing into a closed door in the middle of the night.

Now, in most cases, the general rule is, don't have your client testify unless, and it's a big unless, unless you need him or her to establish an element of your case. And I think that may be the case here. I mean there -- no one else in the world can establish what was in his mind when he fired those shots.

MEL ROBBINS, CNN COMMENTATOR AND DEFENSE ATTORNEY: And he did a great job doing that today. I mean -

BANFIELD: Well, except for the whole part of, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry."

ROBBINS: I actually think that -

BANFIELD: Isn't that something you also tell your clients, don't say "I'm sorry." We don't want that on a trail record.

ROBBINS: Well, not in this particular - maybe not before. But for him to stand up and have a moment that our contributor just described as feeling as though she was intruding because it felt so authentic, you got to remember, the prosecution has painted him as an aggressive, gun-loving guy that snapped and then killed his girlfriend.

When the truth is, this is a guy with no criminal record, no track record for violence. They had two texts where they were negative against him, 1,700 where it showed a loving relationship. He might just be racked with guilt. He might just be innocent. And I think today there was a tipping point that happened in this trial.

BANFIELD: You know, I don't know how attorneys work in South Africa, but up until now those parents had not heard boo from this man. And doesn't it seem awfully convenient -

CEVALLOS: Yes.

BANFIELD: That all of the, you know, crocodile tears come out the first moment you step up on the stand?

CEVALLOS: This is an interesting thing because sometimes the super risk averse approach of attorneys can backfire. Consider that his attorneys probably told him, don't talk to anybody, least of all her parents. But on the other side, he's gotten some horrible press from the parents coming out and saying, we've never heard from this guy. He's never contacted us.

ROBBINS: Yes, but the press doesn't determine the case. The judge will determine in this case.

CEVALLOS: No, but - but that -- right, absolutely. But that arguably could really damaged him. What if he had the parents completely behind him? That could make a huge difference.

BANFIELD: All right, guys, I have to stop it there, but thank you both, Mel Robbins and Danny Cevallos. Always good to see you. Thank you for that.

And thank you, everyone, for watching. We're continuing our coverage of the new developments in the missing plane as well off the coast of Perth, Australia. I'm going to hand the baton over to my colleague, Wolf Blitzer. His program starts right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington.

Are those signals detected in the Indian Ocean from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370? That's the question investigators are now scrambling to answer.