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Costs of Airplane Recovery Operations; The Possibility of Scaling Back Search; Families Hold Out Hope; Kidnap Plot Targets Prosecutor's Dad

Aired April 11, 2014 - 12:30   ET



ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone, I'm Ashleigh Banfield. We have breaking news in the search for Flight 370.

Reuters is reporting that Malaysian air force scrambled search aircraft the morning the plane went missing, but failed to tell the department of civil aviation until three days later on March 11th. Malaysia's government has launched an investigation into all of this confusion over the initial response to the missing jet.

You'll probably know by now that it's been exactly five weeks since that plane vanished into thin air, effectively.

Earlier today, the prime minister of Australia did try to renew some optimism in the search for that jet. He was on a trip to China. He was there to discuss the search effort. The Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, said at that time that he is confident the pings search crews found in the southern Indian Ocean are, in fact, from the black boxes from the missing airliner.

In the meantime, the Australian coordinator of the search provided something like a reality check to that. It happened this morning. He said that there's been, quote, "no major breakthrough."

I'm not sure how those two intersect, but we can tell you this. No pings have been detected since Tuesday, at least that we know of. In fact, experts dispelled the signals that were detected by the sonobuoy on Thursday, saying that they were not pings from MH-370's black boxes.

And search crews have still yet to find a single shred of debris, and that is troubling to say the very least, Australia's prime minister describing the search for Flight 370 as the most difficult in human history. And while the search area that once spanned two hemispheres has now been refined to a -- well, a great deal over the month, in fact, it is still monumental.

It is a multinational effort, involving cutting-edge equipment that has to be paid for somehow and by someone.

CNN's Joe Johns breaks down those costs of this Herculean effort. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The search for MH-370 is quickly becoming the most expensive of its kind in history. The scope of which is unprecedented, says a former lead investigator for the national transportation safety board.

BOB FRANCIS, FORMER VICE CHAIRMAN, NTSB : In the history of aviation, we've never had a challenge that even comes close to this.

JOHNS: More than 2 dozen countries, seven contributing the most, and Australian taking the lead, 80 ships and 61 aircraft, all part of the effort to locate the plane. The greatest challenge? The remote distances of the search.

FRANCIS: A tremendous percentage of the resources, whether it's aircraft or ships or personnel, are spending their time getting there and getting home.

JOHNS: And that comes with a hefty price tag, with some estimates suggesting a cost of $21 million a month. Most of the money coming from military training budgets, some from humanitarian organizations. And now from U.S. Navy operations. For example, a Navy P-8 aircraft costs about $4,200 an hour to fly. The Pentagon originally designated $4 million for the search, but has already spent $7.1 million on planes and ships and equipment.

How does Flight 370 compare to other aviation disasters? The two-year search for Air France plane cost roughly $50 million. The TWA 800 investigation and recovery cost about $40 million in 1996, one of the longest investigations the NTSB ever conducted.

Swiss Air 111, which went down off the coast of Nova Scotia in 1988, the search recovery and investigation took four years and cost $39 million. But what of the collateral costs of missteps and mismanagement of the investigation?

FRANCIS: Frankly, the Malaysian government has not handled this at all well. And that's clearly cost time and resources.

JOHNS: The many governments engaged in this search already own these assets, including ships and planes, so one way for them to look at this at least is an extended high-stakes training exercise.

Joe Johns, CNN, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.


BANFIELD: And joining me now to talk about the cost of the search and how long it can be maintained is CNN analyst David Soucie, expedition logistics expert Christine Dennison.

And joining me on the phone from Boston is oceanographer David Gallo, who helped in the search for Air France Flight 447.

So with your background, David Gallo, in searching for two years for Air France, how long can this go on for? At what point, if ever, do you start hearing the news while you're on the job that you got to start scaling back, you got to stop spending money?

DAVID GALLO, OCEANOGRAPHER (via telephone): Yes, I hope we never see that, because we need to find that aircraft. It's for the sake of the loved ones and passengers, for the flying public, for the aircraft industry.

To me, there's no scaling back until the plane is found. We might get more efficient over time in having a look at what's needed and what's not needed. But scaling back completely, I don't see that happening. I hope that doesn't happen.

BANFIELD: And, David Soucie, as an investigator, and with your background at the FAA, does that ever happen? And we're just talking America.

This is a multinational effort and the money's pouring in from all over the world, but from the American perspective, at some point, does this government say, Bring it down?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: You know, I've never experienced that in the FAA. When we committed to something, we stayed with it until we found the cause, and that's what the purpose was, is to find the cause.

The only time we scaled back at all is, as an investigator in charge, you right a point of diminishing returns. You find out we're still be efficient at what we do, but we're no longer effective, and these particular assets aren't effective anymore. For example, as they go into the deep water search, they won't need the airlines as much --

BANFIELD: You reorganize?

SOUCIE: -- you scale that back.

Yeah, reset things so that you're staying efficient and effective is one of the most important things.

BANFIELD: Which brings me to you, because you would be one of the contractors that the governments would call upon to say, bring your gear, get down underwater, and start your search.

And you would probably be operating on a billing cycle, while you're letting them know, this is what you're going to face in the next month or two. What kind of notice do you get? Do you ever hear that those fateful words, you know, Christine, thank you for your service, you're no longer need?

CHRISTINE DENNISON, EXPEDITION LOGISTICS EXPERT: Not really. When I've worked under contract for the government, first of all, it's very quiet. It's not something you put out on Facebook to prove your worth.

You know people that know you. You get contacted. And you put together what you believe you will need to get that job done. Having said that, there is a protocol by which the government assigns a certain amount of money that will allow you to accomplish that as best you can. So there isn't really a timeline. It's get the work done.

BANFIELD: David Gallo, who gets stuck with the biggest part of the bill? Is it accidental in terms of wherever the site is, the country nearest ends up bearing the biggest part of the burden?

GALLO (via telephone): You know, that I'm not sure of, but I know in the case of the Air France 447 investigation, it was France, the country of France, but also the Airbus and Air France airline. They all had, you know, a commitment to find that, to find that aircraft.

BANFIELD: And right now, obviously, with the Australian efforts that we're watching out in the South China Sea, they're spending a lot of money, David Soucie.

The Australians are working remarkably well. They've been so organized, really admirable work. Can they recover any of the money that they're spending?

SOUCIE: Actually, speaking with Mary Schiavo, the former inspector general for the FAA, and she stated that, yes, they can. They can actually go back. There's -- she had mentioned that there's a billion- dollar policy on that flight.

BANFIELD: From the Malaysians?

SOUCIE: From the Malaysian Air. Malaysian Air has a billion-dollar policy on that, so that -- or it typically does. So that billion dollars can be spent to help families, of course, but then also to recover the cost of the search, rescue --

BANFIELD: Do they have to sue for it, or do they just simply have to ask?

SOUCIE: Asking probably doesn't work too well.

BANFIELD: Asking in court. Well, I know it'll be fascinating to see how that plays out, because, again, I mean, these are costs that we've never encountered before, and they are remarkable, to say the very least.

David Gallo, Christine Dennison, and David Soucie, thank you all. Appreciate your insight on that.

We've now reached Week Five. How long can the families endure? How long can they go on waiting for answers and details every day? And sometimes getting pretty mixed messages?

We're going to check back in with these people. They have not gone away. They are committed to finding out what they need to know and getting some kind of closure, if there ever is any.


BANFIELD: After five solid weeks of torment, the families of the passengers on board Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 aren't just waiting or grieving or pressuring the investigators for answers.

Make no mistake, they're doing all those things, but they're also organizing. They've formed a committee of sorts to speak and make decision for the entire group. Each family gets one vote.

And in the absence of any physical signs of the airliner their loved ones vanished on, no amount of leads or theories or time will erase their hope.


AMIRTHAM ARUPILAI, MOTHER OF FLIGHT 370 PASSENGER: Inside, my heart is telling, still, they are alive. All the passengers are alive.


BANFIELD: The mother of a Flight 370 passenger spoke with our Nic Robertson in Kuala Lumpur.

Sarah Bajc is the partner of an American passenger, Philip Wood, and she spoke with our Anderson Cooper.


SARAH BAJC, PARTNER OF FLIGHT 370 PASSENGER: Like most of the other families, I continue to just push by asking more questions. Sooner or later, we're going to get to the truth. Either we're going to find the plane, and there will be a conclusion found as to why it was taken, or why it was crashed.

And so whether the continued data that we're getting is constantly changed or not, we still have to keep asking for it.

It's a real quandary, because on the one hand, I want to be a logical and thoughtful person and say, OK, I get it, the plane has crashed, we need to find the black box, and then we can discover what happened.

The scientific line of inquiry says there was probably some catastrophic failure on flight and the pilots were able to stay in control long enough to get the autopilot going and the plane went until it ran out of fuel. I logically can accept that is the likely path.

But emotionally, it's impossible to accept that because then it means there's no more hope. And, you know, if we run out hope, we stop asking questions, and then the investigation dies. So we just have to keep asking until we find something. Hope is the only thing we have, and the minute we give that up, we have to fall into a grieving cycle and we can't do that until we have evidence.

So, you know, I think a lot of outsiders think the families are just being irrationally, but we're not, we're protecting our emotional health, and we want answers, and we want to keep pressure on the government agencies involved to find those answers.


BANFIELD: Again, that was Sarah Bajc, speaking with our Anderson Cooper.

You have to think about it from their perspective. A lot of family members have been crowded into those briefing rooms every single day.

Every so often, some of them finally leave and go home. And there are those who are still left behind. It's kind of a very sad thought to think of those ones who've stayed behind, how long they will stay there. Most of those passengers are Chinese. Other passengers' family members, they're Australians, New Zealanders, from India, and also, as you saw Sarah, from the United States as well.

Coming up, it reads like a Hollywood movie script. And this was no script. It was real. A prosecutor's dad is kidnapped by an alleged gang member and other members, all apparently in retaliation because she put their leader behind bars. So they went after her dad? Coming up, they were no match for the FBI. Just wait till you hear how they got theirs.


BANFIELD: This is -- I can't describe this any other way, other than a bizarre kidnapping and dramatic FBI rescue. It's a story that really sounds more like a movie plot, but it's real. A North Carolina man abducted, held for five days, targeted, police say, because his daughter is a prosecutor.

Not just any prosecutor, a prosecutor who put a gangster behind bars. All of it happened Saturday in Wake Forest. Frank Arthur Janssen gets a knock at a door and answers it. And out of the blue he finds himself hit with a Taser and snatched by a group of people, including a woman. That group grabbed him, threw him in the car, drove him all the way to Atlanta.

His wife reports him missing. But the days start to count down. And two days later, on Monday, he starts getting text messages. And the messages are chilling. They warn that if she calls the police, her husband is going to be killed. And that, quote, "we will send him back to you in six boxes and every chance we get we will take someone in your family to Italy and torture and kill them."

The days continue to count down. And on Wednesday, four days after her husband is stolen from their home, she's sent a picture of him and he's tied up to a chair. And the text messages now, they're riddled with errors, but they're no less threatening. Quote, "tomorrow we will call you again. And if you cannot tell me where my things are at tomorrow, I will start torturing Frank Janssen."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOHN STRONG, SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE, FBI NORTH CAROLINA: Specific demands were sent to Mr. Janssen's family for the benefit of Kelvin Melton, an inmate at the Polk Correctional Institution in Butner, North Carolina. Melton was previously prosecuted by Frank Janssen's daughter, who is an assistant district attorney, and as a result, Melton received a state sentence of life without parole.


BANFIELD: Well, that's a long sentence. But guess what, since the threats were sent via cell phone texts, the authorities were able to match up phone records and it turns out there were cell phone calls being made from inside a prison cell. And when they listened in to those conversations, they heard talk about disposing of Janssen. So, by midnight on Wednesday, an FBI hostage team stormed in and they rescued Janssen. And the neighbors described what happened.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just heard a lot of commotion, a lot of booms.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of explosions. Like flash bang grenades.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They actually, you know, gave them a warning first. Like, this is a warning, come out with your hands up. And nobody responded. So they threw the bombs in the house and blew the -- yes, blew the door off.


BANFIELD: Janssen was reunited with his family, thank God. Five people now face federal kidnapping charges. A riveting story, did I mention?

Digging a little deeper on this now, with me, CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin, a former federal prosecutor, also here, Mel Robbins, a CNN commentator, criminal defense attorney, has her own experience of being intimidated actually just this week.

Sunny, we want to start with you though. Look, prosecutors put bad guys away day in, day out, by the thousands.


BANFIELD: What risk do they do this at? And is there some kind of protection for them?

HOSTIN: It's a tremendous risk and there is protection because you generally are, as a federal prosecutor, at least protected by the FBI. The U.S. marshals are in our building.

BANFIELD: But your dad?

HOSTIN: But I will tell you, this is a prosecutor's worst nightmare. It happened to me. I was threatened when I was a federal prosecutor. I remember try a case. I was walking out of the courtroom and two guys from a gang -- it was a gang prosecution -- started singing "dead woman walking." What did I do? I sort of freaked out, but I immediately did go to my supervisor and I did have to have FBI escort.

And so this is a real problem that prosecutors face day in and day out. You don't get paid a lot of money to be a federal prosecutor or any prosecutor, state as well, and you do it because you believe in justice and you love your job. But again, I mean, this is a real concern that prosecutors do have. And sometimes you have these crazy guys who --

BANFIELD: You can get protection, but your father, your mother?

HOSTIN: Sometimes they will also protect your family if there have been these threats.


HOSTIN: But I will tell you, what's odd is, most people realize that prosecutors are sort of like cockroaches, right? Like you kill one, there's another one that's coming - coming behind - behind that person.

BANFIELD: There's another one right behind you. Exactly. Exactly.

HOSTIN: Not to mention then you're going to have a charge for the threat.

BANFIELD: No, it's true.

MEL ROBBINS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, you know what else is interesting about this case, because you were talking about what happened to you and it happened like immediately afterwards.


ROBBINS: This was two years after the guy was put in bars.


ROBBINS: So this is after the dust has settled. You're going about your day to day life. You have no idea this is coming, which is terrifying.


BANFIELD: So you're no stranger to a courtroom, counselor -


BANFIELD: And yet you were on a different side of it. Just this week you actually (INAUDIBLE) intimidation though?

ROBBINS: It was nothing like this. it was nothing like this, obviously.

BANFIELD: What happened?

ROBBINS: But I witnessed a horrific car crash involving four high- schoolers. Luckily, nobody died, but it was due to reckless driving. And there will be charging brought. I was the only witness. I was the first responder. And within an hour of telling my story to the police and saying I will testify against these kids, I started receiving threats on Twitter, on Facebook, from high-schoolers, literally.

HOSTIN: Yes. Witness intimidation is a huge problem that prosecutors deal with.

BANFIELD: Yes. You've got to be charged, right?

HOSTIN: Probably. Probably. But I will tell you this. I think what was fascinating for me about this case was the fact that the plans for the kidnapping -- and I have the federal complaint here, were done by the cell phone that this prisoner, who's serving life without the possibility of parole, had in his room, in his cell.

BANFIELD: In his cell.

ROBBINS: You know what, it's a huge problem, Ashleigh.

HOSTIN: It's a huge problem.

BANFIELD: And, you know, I'd like to get into the numbers on another day because this is a crisis -

HOSTIN: It is.

BANFIELD: And they are - they are sneaky and they are getting these cell phones in and then able to actually commit crimes.

I'm flat out of time on this segment. You both have to come back -

HOSTIN: Definitely.

BANFIELD: And talk about the cell phone problems in prisons. Yes, it's like orange is the new black.

HOSTIN: Yes. That's right.

BANFIELD: No joke. All right, Mel Robbins, Sunny Hostin, thank you both.

And I hope you're going to be OK.

ROBBINS: I will be just fine. They picked the wrong person to try to intimidate, let me tell you.

BANFIELD: I don't know what they were thinking, Mel.



BANFIELD: Are you kidding me? Thank you, ladies.

Next on LEGAL VIEW, some other stories that are making headlines, including a heated standoff between a Nevada rancher and the federal government and all of it over cattle and grazing. See what happens.


BANFIELD: A standoff between a Nevada rancher and federal rangers is turning into an old fashioned western showdown. Take a look at the pictures. The dispute gets physical in this YouTube video. Authorities say a protester got tased. A police dog was kicked. It's all over a rancher saying his family's cattle grazed on the land since the 1800s and the government says, no, you owe us more than $1 million in grazing fees. And they started rounding up his cattle last week. Stay tuned for this one.

Thanks for watching, everyone. Have a great weekend. "Wolf" starts right after this break.