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Sub-sea Search Zone May Broaden; Pings Still the Strongest Lead; MH-370 Families Demand Answers; Malaysia PM Defends Flight 370 Response

Aired April 25, 2014 - 12:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So stay with us for any information about that.

Thanks for joining us at this hour. I'm John Berman.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Michaela Pereira. "LEGAL VIEW" with Ashleigh Banfield starts right now.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It is Friday, April the 25th. Welcome to LEGAL VIEW.

If it's Friday, it means it's one more week that's come and gone in the search for MH-370. And now seven weeks have passed and Australians are not giving up on that Bluefin. After 13 trips to very near the bottom of the southern Indian Ocean, the sonar scanning drone on loan from the United States Navy has covered almost the entirety of a circle drawn around those pings that were detected way, way back on April the 8th.

Those pings are still believed to have come from one or both of the black boxes. The black boxes from Flight 370. And they remain the only apparent trace of the missing jet to turn up in 49 days. If the Bluefin turns up no signs of wreckage, and it has not so far, let's be clear, the search leaders say they will plot a brand-new field adjacent to the first one, and they will put that machine right back to work.

For his part, the Malaysian prime minister tells our Richard Quest that he will, quote, "release" his government's preliminary report on the MH-370 mystery. But, and it's a big but, it seems to be quite small comfort to these people, the passengers and crew member's families, who've staged an highly unusual sit-in at the Malaysian embassy in Beijing.

Take a look at the police. They are there in force. The families say they've been lied to, they've been brushed off by the Malaysian officials just too many times already. Now, it is true, the Chinese police far outnumber the demonstrators, but so far those Chinese police have not intervened at all and are letting them have their say.

I want to begin this hour's coverage live in Perth, Australia, with CNN's Erin McLaughlin.

Erin, we know that the bigger and more capable vehicles are out there, they exist, to be able to continue this search, but do we know why the search teams are sticking with that Bluefin?

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not at the moment, Ashleigh. In fact, that is a question that we have put to the Joint Agency Coordination Center here in Perth, the center responsible for coordinating this search efforts. And no comment so far because, you're right, there are more capable underwater submersibles out there such as the Orion, which can go a mile deeper into the water than the Bluefin-21. It can also stay down there for weeks on end.

Now, we do know that this is something that both Australian and Malaysian officials are discussing. They're currently in the process of hammering out a longer term search agreement based on a Malaysian proposal to broaden out the search area and introduce new technology.

And it's also something that the Australian defense minister has talked about. Technology he says that they're considering like the kind of underwater submersibles that discovered the Titanic or the HMAS Sydney, which is a World War II wreckage. So we know they're discussing it. It's not clear when they're actually going to introduce it, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: All right, Erin McLaughlin, live for us in Perth, Australia. Thank you for that.

I am joined, once again, by three of some of the finest experts on maritime search and recovery. Tom Altshuler is VP of Teledyne Marine Systems and a former post-doctoral fellow at MIT's Underwater Vehicle Laboratory. David Soucie is a former air accident investigator and a CNN safety analyst. And Colonel Michael Kay is a CNN aviation analyst, former Royal Air Force pilot and an adviser to the U.K. government.

Tom, I want to begin with you. We are seven weeks in and yet is this perhaps all coming back to the pings?

THOMAS ALTSHULER, TELEDYNE MARINE SYSTEMS: Ashleigh, I think it has to right now. That's the best evidence that there is something in the water in that general area. The pings are a - are what you would expect to hear in a search area. But the issue is, have they really drawn the right circle. Expanding the search area is probably the only solution they have right now. But they probably also should start looking at analyzing the data more carefully, getting other eyes on that data to see if they've interpreted the pings and the locations correctly.

BANFIELD: And certainly the reassessment of Inmarsat data changed things dramatically in just - in terms of the search field. But finding debris would certainly confirm perhaps that the pings were real but does not finding debris confirm that the pings weren't real?

ALTSHULER: Yes, and I don't think that not finding debris really means a lot. There's all kinds of scenarios where you can see the air frame on the water and then sink and not end up with a debris field. You know, it's highly unusual, but in all this, this whole -- this whole process has been unusual.

I think we're seeing the extremes in, you know, losing the vehicle, the airplane the way they did, and then not being able to find any really concrete evidence other than, you know, a fleeting ping from a potential pinger on a black box.

BANFIELD: Colonel Kay, if we're looking at an entire search area almost complete under water and the possibility of just expanding it and starting all over again under water, do we continue with the air search, with the sea search?

MICHAEL KAY, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: We absolutely do, Ashleigh, because the pings have taken us from what is essentially an area over 10 million square miles all the way down to the South Indian Ocean, which is 300 square miles. And that is the sliver of hope, the encouragement, the reinforcement that I think we need to be getting across here.

The air search is absolutely key. There are two ways that we can achieve priority number one, in my opinion. And priority number one is getting closure for the families and the loved ones. If we find even just the remote, smallest bit of debris on the surface that can relate MH-370 to that final resting place, then that is a phenomenal thing. Likewise, if the Bluefin can find some ocean debris, that is a phenomenal thing. And we've got to keep looking at the evidence, looking at the data, reassessing it and making sure that we're in the right place. But, absolutely, we should keep continuing the air search.

BANFIELD: And, David Soucie, if you could just join in, with your, you know, years and years of accident research and knowledge, are you comfortable with the mechanics and the protocols that are in place right now? Is it time for an absolute overhaul, a change out of equipment, a change out of people, fresh eyeballs, any, all of the above?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: You know, I think at this point that would be a little bit premature, but it's just on the cusp. We look right now at finishing the strategy. When you start a strategy, you have to finish it until its extinction, which means that even if we're at 95 percent, then you look at that.

But I think the next step is to continue, as the previous guest said, that, is the circle drawn in the right place? That's perfect because is that circle the right one? I think that circle is limited by the equipment that they have. They could only go maybe 4,000 or 5,000 meters at that point with this piece of equipment. The next phase is this deeper equipment that goes -- that will be able to give them a much greater expanse and a much more detailed search at lower levels. I think that's the next phase. Before we think about new eyes, fresh eyes and re-evaluating anything at this point.

BANFIELD: And 49 days out, David, look, that sounds like a long time. But if we're looking at Air France, that was two years, and yet they had something to go on for those two years. Here, there's nothing. SOUCIE: Well, it's important to remember that that two years figure included all the politics of being able to get there. They had winter to deal with. The actual search period was about four or five months. But even that is much longer than what we've had so far now. so I would expect it to go further. And as you pointed out, they knew within a very few miles from where this is.

But now let's look at the pings. The pings tell us, in my mind, where that aircraft is pretty specifically. So to continue that search is important. Unfortunately, you can't just take these pieces of equipment and pull them out of the closet and say, OK, we're ready to do a deep water search. There's crews that need to be prepped. There's crews that need to be planned. There's a lot of planning that goes into this, as your other guests could tell you, there's plenty of things that go into it. It's not just like you flip a switch and all of a sudden you have a new search strategy going on.

BANFIELD: All right. Thomas Altshuler and Michael Kay and David Soucie, thank you for that. Stand by because there is so much more on this story.

The wife of a missing crew member from Flight 370 is among those who are seeking answers. She says her four-year-old daughter is still asking a question over and over, where is my dad? Her story's next.


BANFIELD: Let's turn our attention to the families of the 239 passengers on board Flight 370. Forty-nine days after the plane vanished, they're still desperate for answers from the Malaysian government and some of their patience is running out. Here's the evidence. About midnight last night, the families of the Chinese passengers on the jet marched through the streets of Beijing, straight to the Malaysian embassy.

And as you can see from this video, some of them are still outside of the embassy right now. The Malaysian prime minister told CNN's Richard Quest on Thursday that they're doing the best they can to satisfy the families of the passengers on board that missing plane.


NAJIR RAZAK, MALAYSIAN PRIME MINISTER: We've done our best. We did many, many briefings, and we give them as much information as we could, in terms of information that could be -- that were corroborated. And, as I promised, next week, we will release the preliminary report that we sent to ICAO. But the most important information that they want, and sadly the one that we cannot provide, is, where is the plane?


BANFIELD: CNN's Sumnima Udas spoke with a woman whose husband was a crew member on board MH-370 about how she's coping with her growing frustration and her grief, all at the same time being eight months pregnant. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUMNIMA UDAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Paris, Frankfurt, London. Intan Othaman and Mohd Hasnan have traveled the world together, both working as flight attendants for Malaysia Airlines. But on the night of March 7th, Hasnan missed his bus to work, so Othaman dropped him off to the airport. His last words, "I love you."

INTAN MAIZARA OTHAMAN, WIFE OF CREW MEMBER MOHD HASNAN: Along the way he's holding my hands. He kept on saying that he loved me. It's a normal conversation, normal good-bye. Yes.

UDAS: Their four-year-old daughter still wondered where her father is.

OTHAMAN: She is asking about her papa every night, every morning.

UDAS (on camera): What do you tell her?

OTHAMAN: Lately, I have been trying to tell that papa might come back, papa might not come back. We just pray.

UDAS (voice-over): Now eight months pregnant, Othaman says she can barely keep herself together.

OTHAMAN: If I receive a call on my phone, I was like, please, I'm hoping that's him.

UDAS: Hoping because there's nothing else, no evidence, no answers.

UDAS (on camera): Those Malaysian families of passengers and crew members on board Flight 370 have been hesitant to speak up. But now, after attending a series of government briefings, they are so outraged they want someone, anyone, to listen to them.

SYAFINAZ HASNAN, SISTER OF CREW MEMBER MOHD HASNAN: At the end of the day, it's just frustration most of the time because we feel that, like I say, it's not enough information.

UDAS (on-camera): Do they look like they're trying to help you?

HASNANA: I don't know if I can trust them.

HAMZAH ZAINUDIN, DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER: I can completely understand the need to find answers. However, as I said, in the briefing just now, we're looking for answers ourselves.

UDAS (on-camera): To make matters worse, the families of crew members are living with the fact that their loved ones have not been cleared from suspicion, the most scrutinized perhaps, captain of the plane, Zaharie Ahmad Shah.

Tina (ph) says she met Shaw's family at one of the briefings.

HASNAN: They're very quiet, very quiet people. I think they're very emotionally down as well.

UDAS: Tina (ph) says the MH-370 crew's families don't believe the captain is responsible.

Othaman will eventually go back to work, fly again for Malaysia Airlines, but right now she says she cannot even bear the sight or sound of an airplane.

Sumnima Udas, CNN, Kuala Lumpur.


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: So was an opportunity missed right after Flight 370 disappeared?

Malaysia's prime minister tells us what happened in an exclusive face- to-face interview with our CNN's Richard Quest.


BANFIELD: Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was in the air less than two hours when it went radio silent and vanished. That's when the big mystery began. Nearly 50 days later, it's no less a mystery.

So we know the plane turned hard left, away from its scheduled flight plane. Why didn't that raise all kinds of red flags on the ground? In an exclusive face-to-face interview with Malaysia's prime minister, our Richard Quest wondered exactly the same thing.


RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: No planes were sent up on the night to investigate.

NAJIB RAZAK, MALAYSIAN PRIME MINISTER: No, because, simply because it was deemed not to be hostile.

QUEST: Don't you find that troubling, that a civil aircraft can turn back, fly across the country and nobody things to go up and have a look? Because one of two things, I understand the threat level and I understand the -- either the plane's in trouble and needs help, or it's nefarious and you really want to know what somebody's going up there to do.

So, as a prime minister, don't you find that troubling?

RAZAK: You see, coming back to my earlier statement, they were not sure whether it was MH-370.

QUEST: Even more reason to go up and have a look.

RAZAK: They were not sure. But it behaved like a commercial airline.


BANFIELD: And we're still not sure.

David Soucie and Lieutenant Colonel Michael Kay are with still me. The prime minister saying it behaved like a commercial airliner, it sure doesn't seem like any other commercial airliner, at least the ones I've seen. They certainly don't take sudden turns away from their flight path.

Colonel Kay, what's the protocol when this happens? It's been sort of the common assumption, especially since 9/11, you go and you take a look, as Richard Quest said. You go up and you fly by.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL MICHAEL KAY (RETIRED), CNN AVIATION ANALYST: It's a graduated response. Deemed not hostile, OK. Suspicious? There's no doubt in my mind it was suspicious.

It was an unidentified trace on a radar scope that did not have a squawk, that four-digit number that the transponder gives you. It wasn't flight planned, IFR or BFR. And it wasn't part of routine airways traffic. That, to me, Ashleigh, is suspicious.

The red flag thing that you raise is absolutely spot on. There are a number of emergency protocols area radar can take when they see an unidentified trace on the screen.

The first one is they go to the distress cell, they pick up the HF radio, they pick up a cell phone, they pick up the satcom and they try and talk to the airplane or whatever it is that's disappeared off radar. Then they speak to other aircraft that are in the vicinity. Have you got anything on TCAS, the aircraft behind, the aircraft before it coming the other way?

So there are lots of checks and balances before you even get to ringing the military to say we've had someone drop off radar, get some jets airborne.

BANFIELD: Look, that makes perfect sense, but when 9/11 happened and those jets perpetrated the foul incident that ensued, the first thing that they did was turn off the transponders, as I recall.

David Soucie, turning off a transponder, how does that not make you immediately potentially hostile? And potentially hostile? Let's just say for the sake of safety, hostile.

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: This answer from the prime minister is absolutely off. I can't understand why he would think that this is acceptable.

As Richard Quest said, he asked the question again, and he said, well, all the more reason, if it was acting like a commercial aircraft, all the more reason that he should have done so, that this system should have worked. It should have gone into place. So I can't imagine what happened here, and the fact that he doesn't know what happened is very concerning to me as well, because he's just saying, well, it was a commercial aircraft, why would we look into that?

It shows a separation of military and commercial that's not talking to each other. It's something that we suffered early on back in 9/11, the firewall between the FBI and CIA, which we've learned, we've managed to progress through that, those changes between how we respond to disasters now with the military and commercial ventures work directly together. It's something we've learned in the United States. Clearly, Malaysia hasn't gotten to that stage yet.

BANFIELD: I can't believe I'm even asking these questions that air traffic controllers may, in fact, Colonel Kay, change their policies when transponders simply stop working and a plane goes dark. Might this event actually have that effect and change policy and protocol for traffic?

KAY: Ashleigh, that is a great question. Air France 447, the French authority, had lessons identified from the man in charge of the search-and-rescue operation.

There were two key lessons -- there were four key lessons identified. Two of them involved air traffic control agencies and better communication and their reluctance to initiate emergency in the first place. Air France 447 was a couple of years ago. Moving forward, again, it's about learning from these lessons. It hasn't happened in this case. It must happen moving forward.

BANFIELD: And, David Soucie, a day doesn't go by, it seems, where we don't hear in America about something that seems suspicious. A flight that's entered airspace perhaps it's not to enter, and the jets are scrambled.

It just doesn't make sense something this bizarre in Malaysia or emanating from Malaysia didn't illicit an immediate scrambling. Is -- are the standards different elsewhere than they are here when it comes to this?

SOUCIE: Well, you know, people have very short memories when it comes to disasters of this kind, and I think not only memories, but the fact that, does it get over there? Does it have the same impact in other countries as it did in the United States?

We responded fantastically to 9/11 in my opinion. Right now if a Cessna 170 -- in fact, it wasn't too long ago a small aircraft drifted into D.C.A. airspace near the Capitol, and it was literally seconds before we had aircraft dispatched, we had missiles aimed.

We were ready to take that airplane down in just a matter of seconds until it veered back out of the controlled area, so we're very sensitive to that.

The fact that it hasn't propagated to the international community doesn't surprise me a great deal, particularly because we don't have strong representation from the United States in the international civil organization from the U.N. We don't.

Right now, we don't even have an ambassador representing us at this critical time.


SOUCIE: It's just -- it's unprecedented. BANFIELD: You know, that raises a whole other crop of issues right there, but I've got to get back to the families. These families, Colonel Kay, have been emotionally battered for 48 -- 49 days. The prime minister finally said to Richard Quest they will release this preliminary report.

Look, we've talked about how there's likely to be very little in that. But won't it go miles in terms of assuaging their concerns or at least feeling like they belong in this investigation?

KAY: Yeah, I mean, Ashleigh, it's definitely a quick win here. If we look at this investigation, it's 49 days long. It's been surrounded by mystery, by controversy, by lack of transparency.

Given the minimal information this preliminary report actually contains facts, not only six not conclusions, no probable cause, it probably won't have anything to do with the data analysis or assumptions made there, this would be a quick win.

It would establish Malaysia as understanding it had made some errors in the beginning and is now getting its act together, it's moving forward, and it's trying, to your point, establish a level of transparency and credibility and give a little. The more they delay on this, the more it just compound the whole perspective, the way Malaysians are conducting this investigation.

BANFIELD: Hearts breaking all around the world, every time you see these pictures. They just can't be forgotten in this story.

Colonel Kay and David Soucie, thank you both for that.

There's this strange story out of North Korea today. There's another American who's been taken into custody. Now, the state media there says, strangely enough, this is an American who is seeking asylum over there, in North Korea. I'm not kidding.

Going to get you the latest on what else the North Koreans are saying about him after this.