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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Has Debris From Flight 370 Been Found?; Catholic Church And Divorce; Families of Flight 370 Demand Answers; Devastating Discovery for Ferry Rescue Team

Aired April 23, 2014 - 16:00   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Is it the evidence we have been waiting for or is it just another piece of sea garbage?

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The world lead, six weeks of searching turned up nothing, not a wing, not a seat, not so much as a pack of peanuts from missing Flight 370. But now a -- quote -- "object of interest" washes up into investigators' hands. Dare, we ask, is it from the plane?

Also, 11 ferry crew members already arrested, their actions on that sinking ferry compared to murder to be that sinking ferry compared to murder by South Korea's president. Now authorities raid the offices of the company that owns the doomed ship. Did they find anything incriminating inside?

And you can sum up the Catholic Church's view on divorce with one word: Don't. But did Pope Francis just change the way the church regards divorced people with a single, surprise phone call?

Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper. Welcome to THE LEAD.

We're going to begin with the world lead. Could a mysterious object found just off the coast of Australia be the long-awaited clue investigators have been looking for in the search for Flight 370? No pictures have been released of this so-called object of interest, and Malaysian officials say it's still too soon to tell if it's the real deal or just another false alarm.

CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown joins us now with more.

Pamela, while we wait to hear back about this, is there any word on how the underwater search is going?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's a good question.

Malaysian officials basically saying that over the next two days, Jake, they're going to be working to figure out what the next phase of the search should be. And I think that's telling. Of course, there is that debris you mentioned that was found on the shores of Western Australia. We're still waiting to hear from investigators whether it's from the plane or just more ocean trash that we have had before.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BROWN (voice-over): More than 1,000 miles from where crews are searching for Flight 370, debris from something containing sheet metal with rivets and fiberglass coating washed ashore near Augusta, Australia. Authorities are investigating, but are skeptical it's from the plane.

THOMAS ALTSHULER, TELEDYNE MARINE SYSTEMS: The airplane, the 777 is a very complex system. Boeing knows their plane very well. It will be very easy to identify whether it's from that air frame at the end of the day.

BROWN: The subsea search of the six-mile radius area by the Bluefin, considered the most likely crash site for Flight 370, is more than 80 percent complete. As investigators consider bringing in more assets to help underwater, the air search hits a snag. For the second day in a row, bad weather grounded planes looking for floating debris.

Today, as expected, the Malaysian government appointed a formal team to determine the cause of the accident.

HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIAN TRANSPORT MINISTER: It's imperative for the government to form an independent team of investigators, which is not only competent and transparent, but also highly credible. As I have consistently said since the beginning, we have nothing to hide.

BROWN: But Malaysian authorities have chosen not to make public a preliminary report of facts submitted to the International Civil Aviation Organization.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have not made any decision yet on whether to release it to the media or to the public.

BROWN: As the search continues, Australia's prime minister says investigators will not give up.

TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: We haven't found anything yet in the area that we're searching, but the point I make that is Australia will not rest until we have done everything we humanly can to get to the bottom of this mystery.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And based on their calculations, investigators say they have found a number of search areas to explore, expanding the search from where they are now or shifting to where another ping in the area was detected.

And, also, Jake, when you circle back to the debris, Australian officials coming out and saying that they're more suspicious about it, basically saying that the more they look at it, the less excited that they get.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: All right, the Bluefin is almost finished scanning the most promising search zone without finding anything. Are we starting to near the point where Australian officials are going to scale back the effort, the general effort, or no?

BROWN: It seems like from hearing from the prime minister in Australia, that they want to throw all of the resources they can and not scale back, but in fact stay committed to the search and they're talking about long term, how they want to do everything they can to find the wreckage.

Jake, so there's no sense from the Australian side, from the Malaysian side that there's going to be any scaling back of efforts. Just trying to figure out what the next phase should look like seems to be the focus right now.

TAPPER: As some point, they're going to run out of places to search, one would think. But hopefully they will find something.

Pamela Brown, thank you so much.

Is this object of interest a potential confirmation on the fate of Flight 370 or will it become just the latest dead end in the search?

Let's bring in our panel. David Soucie is the CNN safety analyst and author of "Why Planes Crash." Rob McCallum is a CNN analyst and an ocean search specialist.

David, let me start with you.

Judging by the description of what was found, metal, rectangular, has rivets, a fiberglass coating, how would they verify this is part of the plane or rule it out?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: From what I have heard, it really wouldn't be convincing to me, but, of course, without looking at the picture, we wouldn't know.

What you would be looking for to make sure this is or isn't part of the aircraft is on the inside of the sheet metal that's on outside of the aircraft, inside of that is a zinc chromate finish. It's a dark or light green color, and that green color's very distinctive, and it's very easy to test to see if that zinc chromate is there.

On the outside, you have a Imron paint, which is very strong paint. It's easy to identify. It wouldn't be rusted. It wouldn't have any signs of extended wear other than along the edges, for example. And then the third thing you would be looking at mostly is, is it aluminum or is it steel? That's very easy to tell. You use a magnet. If a magnet sticks to it, it's not probably part of that airplane.

If a magnet doesn't stick to it, it's aluminum, and you would do some more investigative tests to see what it was at that point.

TAPPER: Rob, let's talk about where this object was found. Looking at the location of where it ended up washing ashore and where the pings were detected, does the geography even work?

ROB MCCALLUM, CNN ANALYST: You know, this late stage, Jake, almost anything can work for the debris, which has been, you know, swirled around in eddies and through now two tropical cyclones.

So, debris, whatever debris there was will be scattered far and wide. And this is a message to anybody that's living on a coastline around the Indian Ocean, that your beachcombing could yield a very important clue.

TAPPER: That means you think there is likely going to be debris, because I have heard some people say if there hasn't been debris that's shown by now, there isn't. You disagree?

MCCALLUM: I can't think of another example where an aircraft that's -- a large aircraft has disappeared completely. You hear of aircraft like Amelia Earhart back in another era, a relatively small aircraft, but a large commercial aircraft disappearing completely without any trace? That would be a first, and unlikely, in my opinion.

TAPPER: David, CNN's own Richard Quest asked Malaysian government officials today, if a preliminary report about the missing plane had been filed with what's called the International Civil Aviation Organization. The Malaysian government official said, yes, but that it would not be made public. What would be in that report, and are preliminary ones typically released to the public?

SOUCIE: You know, in my experience, they are released to the public.

What's in a preliminary report is just the facts, ma'am. It's just the pilot's name, the pilot's security -- not security number -- but pilot certificate, the ratings, how many hours they had. It would say what was the intended route of the aircraft was, what the flight altitude was at last contact.

It's not going to yield answers to a lot of the questions that the families have, although those questions are easily answered. So, I'm not sure why they haven't been. But the preliminary report wouldn't yield too many answers to those questions. It would yield some, though.

TAPPER: Rob, you and I have been talking for weeks now about whether or not the Bluefin-21 is the proper device to be searching the ship with, because there are other devices that can go deep.

The Australian defense minister, David Johnston, e-mailed "The Wall Street Journal" about the next stage of the search and he said -- quote -- "The next phase I think is that we step up with potentially more powerful, capable side-scan sonar to do deeper water."

If you are going to do something more powerful, how powerful would it be, how would you step it up?

MCCALLUM: Well, you have heard me say that sonar's always a trade-off between range or distance and resolution.

And the Bluefin is a great tool for getting relatively high-resolution over a small area. But to give you an indication of scale, if you put deep towed sonar in the water, everything that's been done by the Bluefin so far could have been achieved in a single day, admittedly without that great resolution, but certainly great enough to find a 777.

TAPPER: David, what do you think?

SOUCIE: You know, I think that's right. I agree with Rob on that.

The concern I have, though, is that what you don't want to find yourself in is another situation where you might have the wrong tool out there. I'm not saying the deep towed sonar is the wrong tool, but I think, more importantly, at this point to step back and really evaluate which tools are going to be used and for what purpose. What are you looking for?

And why are you looking in those specific areas? All of those questions, all of those assumptions need to be challenged, once again, even back to the Malaysian radar.

TAPPER: And, quickly, David, the Malaysian government officials say the Royal Malaysian Police still in charge of the criminal investigation. Does that make sense to you?

SOUCIE: You know, it makes sense that the initial investigation is done by them, because that's their responsibility.

What doesn't make sense is there's not a secondary organization, there's not an internal audit, there's not any kind of auditing going on, not only in the criminal investigation to see if it's being handled properly, but there isn't an alternative audit that's going on, on how the investigation itself is going on in general terms.

That's what is missing. This idea they have this new set of eyes or a joint task force, an international task force, to oversee that, that would probably work if they had the right experts in for the expertise. But it seems to me they're just asking any country to participate, which is just going to be a huge number of people that can't achieve anything, a huge bureaucracy.

TAPPER: I can think of another word for it.

David Soucie and Rob McCallum, thank you so much.

SOUCIE: Thank you.

TAPPER: Thanks for holding back on the word you were thinking.

Coming up on THE LEAD: canceled meetings, unanswered questions. Why do Malaysian officials seem to be avoiding the poor family members in all this? I will ask one man whose mother was on board Flight 370.

Plus, two Russian bomber planes escorted by fighter jets, after they entered unauthorized airspace off the coast of Scotland. What were they doing there? That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. And as the search for missing airliner hits day 48, the families of Flight 370 passengers are looking for answers to dozens of technical questions about the plane's disappearance. But briefings with families in Beijing have been delayed or canceled, which has only frustrated them more.

Now with this object of interest being examined by officials, could this be the confirmation families have been finally looking for?

Joining me now is Steve Wang, a family representative whose mother was on board Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

Steve, first of all, our thoughts and prayers are with you and the other family members during this difficult time. I can imagine what it's been like.

I want to start with this "object of interest", as it's being called, that was recovered off the coast of western Australia. If confirmed to have been part of the plane, would that give you some confirmation that the plane crash in the Indian Ocean?

STEVE WANG, MOTHER ABOARD MALAYSIA AIRLINES FLIGHT 370: Well, I'm not sure because it hasn't been confirmed, and you know, there are such kind of news and such kind of objects found every day since the beginning. We want to make sure. You know, it is just a small pieces from the MH370. We want some more things to be found, because it has been more than one month and just suddenly a small piece was pushed on to the beach, that was a little bit strange.

TAPPER: At this point, seeking closure, seeking information, are you hopeful that it is part of the plane, that you can finally start arriving at a point where there are answers or does it fill you with dread?

WANG: You know, that is really confusing. One part, I want something was found so that we could -- we could found where MH370 is but on the other hand I don't want that, because if it is, it means that the -- it is a bad result.

TAPPER: I know that there have been a lot of issues with the briefings that you and the other families have been receiving. When's the last time you were briefed? Who briefed you? Did they answer your questions?

WANG: For today's briefing, it is just from Malaysia Airlines. And yesterday they just canceled the briefing without informing all of the relatives. We are at the meeting room at 7:00 (ph), but no one from the embassy or from the Malaysian Airlines has been there. So, that is -- it's terrible and shows that irrespect to all relatives and they're supposed to be a high level technical delegation come to Beijing Monday.

They promised several times for their government representative from the officer and the embassy and from Malaysian Airlines, they promised several times but break their promise. No one was in Beijing on Monday. They stopped asking about the technical question, go on to the next, that is totally terrible.

TAPPER: Both the Australians and the Malaysians today promised the search will continue for Flight 370. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: Australia will not rest until we have done everything we humanly can to get to the bottom of this mystery.

HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, ACTING TRANSPORT MINISTER: The search continues. This is an assurance we give to the families of the passengers.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

TAPPER: Does that give you any reassurance that they are going to keep looking until there is an answer to this mystery?

WANG: Well, I think the first thing they have to do is to make sure, to make a confirmation, about whether they are searching right place because they have been searching for nearly a month, all of the ships, the planes, (INAUDIBLE) they're using, not even small pieces from the plane was found.

TAPPER: Steve, tell us about your mom.

WANG: Well, it is really hard to talk about her because she's such a nice woman and she really loves the life, she likes to take photographs, she likes to travel. She likes to help others. She's such a nice person.

TAPPER: Our thoughts and prayers are with you and other families. Steve Wang, thank you so much.

WANG: Thanks.

TAPPER: When we come back, as divers continue to sent for victims of that ferry disaster in South Korea, prosecutors are now saying the ferry company's owner's home was searched. What were police looking for?

Plus, U.S. troops begin military exercises close to Ukraine, and Russia's foreign minister is making it clear Russia will respond to anything they perceived to be an as attack.

We'll go live to Ukraine, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

In other world news, it's still being called a rescue operation, but a new discovery has all but eliminated any hopes that dive teams will fine survivors beneath a sunken South Korean ferry. Divers clinging to the possibility that some of the missing 143 passengers managed to find air pockets on the ferry's third and fourth floors, but no air pockets were located in the latest underwater search.

There have been 159 confirmed deaths, many of them young teenagers who had been on a school trip. Some of the dead are being remembered as heroes for their actions as the ferry went under. Twenty-two-year-old Park Jee Young said to have helped passengers escape, refused to leave the ferry with so many people in need of help.

Let's go live to CNN correspondent Kyung Lah, who is in a boat off the coast of Jindo, South Korea.

Kyung, has latest news about the air pockets changed what you're seeing at search site behind you?

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, for the last few days, it has looked very much like today. The only difference, Jake, is that it has eerily quiet. It is a lot more quiet today than the other days that we've been here. But still, very much an active operation. You can see the flares being dropped from planes up above.

And then as you look down toward the horizon, you can see these giant banks of lights, these are squid boats that light up the area for this operation to be 24 hours a day, still in the very early hours of the day. Take a closer look, zooming all the way in, that is the heart of the operation. We can see divers getting on and off boats. We are very, very close to the center of where this sunken ferry has disappeared.

So, all of this still happening while the chance of finding survivors drops to nearly zero.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAH (voice-over): A heartbreaking discovery aboard the sunken ferry -- divers working tirelessly around the clock found no air pockets, dashing lingering hopes that survivors are still trapped in the submerged hull. That announcement comes as a blow to waiting families holding on to the possibility someone might be found alive. Searchers had been focusing on the third and fourth levels of the five-story vessel, believing many of those still missing were likely to be there. Most passenger bedrooms are on the fourth level of the now upended ship.

The search turned up only more bodies. In fact, for the first time, the number of dead is higher than the number missing. Boats are bringing those bodies back to grief-stricken families waiting on shore.

Meanwhile, the number of crew members under arrest is now up to 11, including the Sewol's captain, Lee Joon-seok, seen in this video released today, receiving treatment at a medical facility after being among the first to be rescued from the doomed ship.

Prosecutors also said Wednesday that the offices of the ferry operator, Chonghaejin Marine, were searched, as was the home of the billionaire whose family appears to control the company.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAH: Now, back here live, you can see the operations still happening even though the news is getting more and more difficult for the families. What we have heard from search crews is that even if there are no air pockets, even if there are no survivors, they're going to keep going as long as they can to try to pull out all of these children and bring them home to their families -- Jake.

TAPPER: Kyung Lah, thank you, with a devastating, heartbreaking story.

Coming up, British and Dutch fighter jets scramble after Russian bombers entered unauthorized airspace. What were they doing off the coast of Scotland?

Plus, she wrote a letter to the pope to complain about one of the strictest rules of the Catholic Church, and he responded by picking up the phone and giving her a call. What the pope reportedly said and what it might mean for the future of the church, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)