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Urgent Search for Missing Airliner, 162 Aboard

Aired December 28, 2014 - 11:00   ET


BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Brian Stelter.

It's 11:00 a.m. here in New York, 11:00 p.m. in Indonesia. That is where 162 people boarded AirAsia Flight 8501 16 hours ago, 155 passengers, seven crewmembers. It was supposed to be a short hop, a two-hour flight to Singapore, just like every other morning, every other day.

But 8501 vanished from radar about 45 minutes into the flight, no mayday, no distressed call, no anything. Now, there are desperate gathered in Indonesia and in Singapore hoping for any information.

In the warm, stormy waters of the Java Sea, boats are trying to help those families. They are searching for any sign of the aircraft, while the aerial search has been halted until daylight. Daylight is almost seven hours away.

Meanwhile, in the past 15 minutes, we received a new statement from AirAsia with unfortunately no new facts.

But let me redo this statement from the airline's CEO. He says, "We are deeply shocked and saddened by this incident. We're cooperating with the relevant authorities to the fullest extent to determine the cause of this incident. In the meantime, our main priority is keeping the families of our passengers and colleagues informed on the latest developments.

We have aviation experts, pilots and journalists standing by, including at that airport in Indonesia.

But let's begin with CNN's aviation correspondent Richard Quest. He joins me now.

Actually, I believe we have Andrew Stevens up. He's now at the airport and he's been there for a few hours now.

Andrew, thank you for being here. How are officials and the officials dealing with what's happened?

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a very, very tough situation as you can imagine, Brian. The families have been gathering here. We understand that they have been taken to a hotel nearby. They are AirAsia staff, obviously with them. We're also being told that CEO Tony Fernandez, who you're quoting

earlier, he touched down here about two or three hours ago, gave a press conference, and he's also expected to be seeing those family members as well.

But at this stage, it's just a waiting game. There is, as Tony Fernandez kept on saying during his press conference here, we don't have any facts to operate on, which -- so we're just sticking to what we know and absolutely no speculation at all.

But it's interesting, the vice president, the number two person in Indonesia, who's been quoted as saying that it appears as if this flight suffered an accident. That's all he said, but obviously, Indonesian authorities are now fearing the worst. And for the families, as Tony Fernandez was saying, they are the priority, getting information to them. It's frustratingly little information, an enormously difficult tough time for everyone at the airline, and, of course, those family members, Brian.

STELTER: And, oftentimes, we hear misinformation in the early hours of the story like this. There was a report about eight, nine hours ago now of wreckage seen in the water of the Java Sea. But that is not been confirmed, right, Andrew, and furthermore, there's no evidence to back that up.

STEVENS: Absolutely, not confirmed, and there has been no indication, certainly, Tony Fernandez, not mentioning that at all at his press conference, I have seen those reports and we have been asking here and we have been checking with Indonesian authorities, they say they are not aware of them.

But as you so rightly say, in the first few hours of any major, what looks like a catastrophe, an air catastrophe here, there is a lot of information, Indonesia, a lot of local media here reporting a lot of information. So, we're being very careful about what we're saying, certainly nothing at this stage to back up those claims that wreckage has been sighted.

STELTER: You landed there a few hours ago, what is the scene at the airport like?

STEVENS: Well, they have put up a crisis center here. It's just behind me here, and there's really just a few journalists waiting now, just waiting if anymore information comes out.

The families did gather here. I'm being told by local media that a lot of families are from Surabaya, that 70 of 150 or so Indonesian families who were on that flight. And a lot of those people taking that flight at 5:30 in the morning, were going to Singapore for a New Year's celebration.

So, as you can imagine, as the family members started to gather here, the shock, the sadness, the fears of what may be, just rippling across this entire airport. It's interesting, when we flew in, the airport itself is very much business as usual. There are people smiling, people still waiting to welcome people off of planes. You come out of the main terminal building and you move along a little bit to where this crisis center is. It's a much different mood, much more somber.

We haven't actually spoken to any of the family members yet, they're being held in their hotel and not being made accessible to the media, locally or internationally for that matter, Brian, getting a couple of stories floating through the local media, the terrible stories of people waiting for their two children, two other family members.

But one story if confirmed sounds quite remarkable. A family of ten was supposed to be on that flight, a family of ten in Surabaya, they missed it because of miss communication. So, they actually thought that flight was leaving two hours later. If that story is confirmed, that's an extraordinary piece of luck for that family.

But, again, an overwhelming sort of list of passengers who at this stage, search it doesn't look good for what happened or what may have happened to those passengers.

STELTER: Somehow, even more sad to hear about the other flights that are still landing and taking off, business as usual in other parts of the airport. I imagine it's closing in on midnight there, I assume it's starting to trickle down there, it's less busy now?

STEVENS: That's right, it is. It's thinning out around this press center too, the crisis center, it is thinning out as well.

But AirAsia has been very active in getting information out, Brian. So, people are still waiting here, waiting to get perhaps more information. But as we have been reporting, the actual aerial search has been called off.

We understand there are ships in the vicinity where they think the plane may have gone down, based on the final messages from the pilot and the flight path, they have spotlights, the conditions in that area are supposed to be pretty tough.

I asked Tony Fernandez at that press conference, was he aware that the weather could have been in any way responsible and he said that conditions were not good, heavy clouds there, but he couldn't speculate beyond that. But certainly, things are getting quiet here. We're being told there will be a press conference here early tomorrow morning, where we're hoping a little bit more information could come out.

STELTER: Andrew Stevens at the airport, thank you for being here.

And we'll talk more about the weather conditions in just a moment. But I want to share a heart-wrenching piece of audio. One of the family members that Andrew was just describing was speaking earlier in front of microphones and here it is.


was on that plane. And in the morning, we lost contact, but I didn't think of anything, I didn't have any feeling at all. And when I was on my way to the airport, I listened to the radio, local radio and they said that his plane was missing. That's all -- and, yes, it was supposed to be their last vacation before us got married, which was to be his last vacation with his family.


STELTER: And as Andrew was saying, some people there traveling to Singapore for the New Year holiday.

Let's go to Richard Quest now. He is CNN's aviation correspondent, and he's joining me via Skype.

Richard, what can you tell us about the pilot, about his amount of experience flying this aircraft and about the safety record of the aircraft?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, the pilot had 6,000 or so hours all that time of flying experience. The first officer had 2,000 hours also. Now, neither of them will be described as extremely experienced with those levels. But certainly not inexperienced either.

Quite often, you'll see captains in the left hand seat going to 12,000, 14,000, 15,000 hours of experience. So, I would say you had a moderately experienced crew at the helm, 6,000 and 2,000. But not a terribly experienced.

Now, as for the aircraft itself, the A320, if you take the family of aircraft, that goes from 320, to 318, 319, 320 and 321, there's about 6,000 of them that have been delivered. It has an exceptionally good record. It is the workhorse of the low cost carrier fleet right across the world. And I think in terms of the 320 itself, just a couple of dozen fatal accidents.

Also, Brian, note, all the major U.S. carriers, United, Delta and American, they also have 320s, 321s, 319s in their fleet. It has an excellent safety record.

STELTER: And this plane and this airline, AirAsia, isn't it part of a story of modernization and globalization in this part of the world?

QUEST: What Southwest did in the United States, Tony Fernandez and AirAsia did in Southeast Asia, and he did it starting in Kuala Lumpur, in Malaysia, and as aviation has grown throughout the region, to get over protection and national laws, he has expanded that and he has had to do it through -- for example, there's a tie of -- he's looking at one in India, one in Japan, and of course there is Indonesia AirAsia.

So this airline, yes, it is Indonesian by registration, by ownership, but Fernandez in Asia owns about 48 percent, 49 percent of it, and de facto they run this airline. It's a hybrid if you like, but the most part of this vast group of aviation has taken place. AirAsia, the parent company itself, has a pretty much perfect safety record. There is not a blemish against AirAsia.

STELTER: You would be wrong to link this MH370, the missing plane nine months ago now. There isn't a link between the two. But I did hear you say on air a few hours ago that at this moment is exactly the same as 370. How so?

QUEST: Well, because the plane is missing, it went down over water, you have to have assets heading in that general direction and they have to do the low flights, overwater flights. So, you've got to get ships there.

So, you start with the last known place of the aircraft when it went missing. Now in the case of Malaysia airlines, it was between Malaysia and Vietnam, we'll remember that forever. In case of this, it's over the Java Sea, it's -- we know roughly where it should be.

It's a question of getting those planes and ships -- I heard in an earlier program, I heard Peter Goelz talking about the Java Sea. The South Indian Ocean is thousands, thousands of feet deep. The Java Sea is 200 feet deep. If this plane did come down at 38,000 feet, there will be a large debris field where it's pretty clear that that happened and relatively easy to find that which remains, sad though that will be.

STELTER: Did 370 change the way we talk about these incidents? We now talk about planes vanishing going missing, whereas in the past, didn't we talk about them presuming to them to have crashed?

QUEST: Well, everybody -- I mean, you're right, absolutely. 370 was put on to the table the very concept that you won't know what's happened and you won't know where the plane is.

And, Brian, you raise a very good point, because besides Amelia Earhart, it's almost unthinkable that you would never know where the plane is, certainly a modern airline. 370 put that into the domain. And so, now, it is a legitimate question who say, will we find it?

Now, people like myself, who cover these cases says, 370 was the anomaly, 370 was the unique.


QUEST: However, it will be some hours before we get there. And what we do have and this is different. I mean, since we're talking on RELIABLE SOURCES, what we do have that we never had before, Brian, is access to things like Flight Radar 24 and FlightAware, we have a lot more information coming to us online, via webs, by PPRuNe, these chat rooms for pilots. For instance, for instance, we know for example what flight the -- what altitude that the plane was heading for, we know it was radar tracked, we know it might have been go too slow, these are facts now coming into the domain that we never normally wouldn't have known in the past.

STELTER: In some ways, we know so much, yet we don't know the most important details at all.

Richard, thanks for being here at this hour.

QUEST: Thank you.

STELTER: A lot more to talk about and report on in this hour. We're going to talk about the weather in the region then and now. Also, the government's response. We have a panel of experts standing by.

So, stay with us. We'll be right back.


STELTER: Welcome back.

What we're about to show you is the actual area the plane that went missing over the Java Sea early Sunday morning local time. One hundred sixty-two people were onboard, 17 of them children. The flight was going to Indonesia to Singapore when it hit bad weather, and the pilot then asked to increase altitude. Now the whole world is watching as this situation unfolds.

Aviation expert Miles O'Brien, CNN's former science and space correspondent, wrote on this on Twitter earlier today. He wrote that "this flight has given me a flash back to Air France 447, beware the ITCZ, it creates the worst thunderstorms on earth, no flying over them."

He's referring to the area near the equator, the intertropical convergence zone. This is where southeast and northeast trade winds meet, so the weather can be erratic and very dangerous.

Let's take a closer look at the weather in the region with meteorologist Karen Maginnis. She's in the CNN weather center.

And, Karen, it's worth saying. Planes fly this stretch of sea every day, something went wrong in this particular flight obviously. But what do we know the conditions at the time the plan vanished from radar?

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, they were -- it was very treacherous. We have seen an enhanced monsoon season, meaning we normally see this escalated precipitation event that takes place over the course of months, and this is the monsoon season there.

But over the last couple of weeks, this has been upped a little bit. We have seen staggering rainfall totals across Malaysia and Indonesia.

Here is the Java Sea right here at the South China Sea, Surabaya and Singapore. This would be like if you're traveling from New York City to Atlanta, Georgia, it's about 850 miles, that's direct, that's just about the distance that this plane would fly, it's a couple of hours in the air. You would think nothing of it, except if you're the pilot, you see this, these huge clusters of heavy precipitation, super cells that just kind of erupt.

That's why more than likely, the pilot asked for a diversion, and once it did, then we lost track of the airplane. No doubt it is in the Java Sea and that's where they're going to begin their search -- Brian.

STELTER: When the aerial search resumes in a little over seven hours, what will conditions be like then.

MAGINNIS: During the early morning hours, Brian, we typically see those thunderstorms, they'll pop-up here and there, but they like the heat of the day. They see that warm, moist air start to build and we see these huge clusters of thunderstorms.

Now, here is the South China Sea. Here you can see, it dies down a little bit and then it flares up. That's the kind of thing that we're going to see.

One other thing that we look at is the water temperature here, if it is indeed a search and rescue, the water temperature is here running between 80 and 85 degrees -- Brian.

STELTER: One possible bit of good news there. Karen, thank you. Stay with us this hour.

And let me now ask two aviation experts about this set of facts that we have.

First, David Soucie, CNN aviation analyst and a former FAA safety management expert. And Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the NTSB.

Tell me, Peter, when we hear about this report that the pilot requested to go higher, why would he do that and is that a normal thing to do?

PETER GOELZ, FORMER NTSB MANAGING DIRECTOR: Sure, it's a normal procedure that a pilot will take. If he's looking at his forward- looking radar for weather, he's trying to figure out a way to get around the most serious storm clouds, if he couldn't divert, he's going to make an attempt to fly over it.

I don't think there's anything unusual about that at all. It happens on many flights every day.

STELTER: David, why would there have been no distress signal in a situation like this?

DAVID SOUCIE, FORMER FAA SAFETY INSPECTOR: Well, during this time, there's a lot going on in the cockpit, he's responding to whatever has happened. So, as far as the diversion goes, that's normal, there's no reason to call a distress signal.

What concerns me most, Brian, is that we have reports that the ADS-B continued to transmit, continued to try to reach out and send information during that time. If it was only a few minutes, then I could see why the pilots wouldn't have had time to communicate. In this case, if the aircraft continued to fly for almost 30 minutes, at that time you would have expected that if the aircraft -- if the pilots were able to communicate, they certainly would have made a distress call.

STELTER: Richard Quest was talking in the last block about how we get so much data on these flights these days in situations like this, people can look it up right on the Internet. But how reliable is that data, some of the information we get about altitude and latitude and longitude?

SOUCIE: It's very reliable. The problem is it's not always current. And Peter had mentioned this before. When he was with the NTSB, he recommended this and it's been recommended many times since then, is the fact that there needs to be streaming information. We need to have real time information from the aircraft so that when these incidents happen, we know exactly where the aircraft went and exactly where it went down.

So, yes, we have a lot of information and as you said, Brian, too, we have so much information but it's seems like so little at the same time.

STELTER: And for people sitting at home, rocking their brains thinking, if I can find my stolen iPhone, why can't we find a plane like this? What is the answer for why we're not getting that streaming data yet?

GOELZ: Well, I think -- there's a couple of reasons.


SOUCIE: Go ahead, Peter.

GOELZ: I think, as David was going to say, there's a couple of reasons. One is that the International Civil Aviation Authority which operates out of Montreal, Canada, is painfully slow in adopting safety recommendations. They're still debating Malaysia Flight 370 and it takes unanimous consent to implement it.

So, I think individual airlines have to be more aggressive in expending their own funds and tracking their own aircraft over transoceanic flights. It's basic.

STELTER: David, what is the one question you have in your mind that you most want the answers to, other than the obvious ones here?

SOUCIE: Well, again, as I mentioned, the ADS-B, that's the first thing I would key in on, is that false information, because if that's true, then something very serious went wrong in parallel with what went wrong with flight 370. So, that's the first thing I would look at.

Secondarily, on more of a latent thing we need to really look at, what Peter brought up about ICAO, and do they really have the authority? Maybe we need to look at the Chicago Convention again and put that authority on them?

STELTER: And, Peter, what are you asking yourself, the viewers at home probably are asking themselves, besides what David just said?

GOELZ: Well, I'm inspecting that the Indonesian authorities, working through the night, gathering up every piece of technical data that they can get their hands, filtering any firsthand reports that they're getting, so that before dawn breaks, they are dispatching aircraft and vessels to the area they think most likely contains where this aircraft went down, because we can't waste time on this. We need to get people out there in a likely area as soon as possible.

STELTER: David Soucie and Peter Goelz, thank you both for being here and please stay with us.

A quick break here, but when we come back, we're going to go back to Indonesia where families are gathering for any shred of news about their loved ones. We're also going to talk more about what authorities there are doing. We'll share what they're saying they'll do, in a moment.


STELTER: Welcome back.

We are continuing to cover the disappearance of the AirAsia flight about 16 hours ago. And let's take a closer look now at the actions of the plane that we do know about as there's so much we still don't know.

I want to bring in two guests that can talk more about this with us. Mary Schiavo is with us and so is Len Abend.

And I appreciate you both being here.

Mary, let me ask you about what you have heard so far, from this limited a lot of data that we have. What is your best guess, for lack of a better phrase, about what happened here?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, I think it sounds very similar -- with a very small amount of detail that we have -- but it sounds very similar to a couple of other accidents that happened at altitude, at cruising altitude during thunderstorms, one being West Caribbean 708, that was eight years ago, and then Air France 447. And in both of those cases, the planes had encountered terrible thunderstorms, icing conditions and the pilots responded in a way that put the plane further at jeopardy and caused the plane to stall and literally fall out of the sky.

So, at this point, with a very sketchy information that we have, that's what it sounds like, given they were going through thunderstorms and then the plane disappeared from the radar. That's not a lot to go on, and of course a lot more could have occurred.

STELTER: Let me ask you more about 447. This was about five years ago. And it took many days for any sign of the plane to be found, right?

SCHIAVO: Right, that's correct. However, it's a couple of days before they found some wreckage, but they had a very important piece of information in that case. And that is that the plane sent system status update messages. And the plane sent these back to the airline headquarters. And so, they knew that something was going wrong with the plane. The plane was falling down and it was losing systems and then the pilots did not respond to the loss of air speed.

STELTER: And, in this case, we don't know if that data is available to AirAsia?

SCHIAVO: That's correct. We do not know if that data is available.

And if it is available, they have not released any of it yet. That was a very sophisticated system. And it's a system to which the airline has to subscribe. Even if the plane is equipped with it, the airline does have to subscribe to that system. And we haven't heard any information on that yet.

STELTER: Let me bring in Les as well.

And, Les, I'm sorry. I called you Len a minute a go there.


STELTER: But you're a commercial pilot. You have had many, many years of experience flying into a wide array of conditions. Flying into a thunderstorm like this, it sounds very intimidating to someone like me, but to someone like you, it is something that actually happens all the time.

ABEND: Absolutely. It does.

And let me qualify your question is that we don't fly into thunderstorms. The whole objective is to deviate around the thunderstorms. The more experience we have, the more we have a good idea on what each individual thunderstorm may do.

It's a pure automation standpoint from the radar, what it may show us. However, we're able to control that radar with some certain -- with dials and switches. But we use a heading select mode, most of the sophisticated airplanes that we fly in this day and age, to deviate around these particular thunderstorms.

We do our best to mitigate the turbulence. And this is an important part of keeping the airplane safe. But this is something that we do day in and day out in all types of environments.

STELTER: We were talking about Air France 447. Does that seem in some ways analogous to this, given what little we do know?

ABEND: Well, and let me qualify everything. This is all pure speculation and assumption on our part. If it is indeed related to the environment and thunderstorms, it

could be related from the standpoint of we haven't discussed the fact that the Air France accident occurred as a result of the pitot tubes freezing up, giving erroneous information to the crew.

STELTER: And tell us what those are, for viewers at home.

ABEND: Yes, I'm sorry.

The pitot tube are instruments -- or they are tubes on the bottom of the airplane that pick up airspeed, basically, are related to airspeed,and in addition to there are static ports related to altitude. And this all ties into what we call an air data computer. And the computer puts all this information together and combines it into the cockpit displays that we have.

So that information, if it's erroneous, and these pitot tubes iced up during a portion of that flight, the pilots have to react accordingly. And as we all know by that accident, their reaction wasn't necessarily appropriate to what occurred and unfortunately we had tragic results.

So that may have also been a possible source of this airplane disappearing.

STELTER: Mary, when I first heard the news about this last night on the East Coast of the U.S., I thought about the plane that landed on the Hudson River here in New York a number of years ago. That would feel like a best-case scenario for any type of plane emergency, any sort of in-flight emergency. And of course that is an extraordinarily different case.

That was an airline that was flying only a couple of thousand feet up in the air. We're talking about an airliner that was at one point up 38,000 feet. But tell me about the possibilities here that can give family members hope. Tell me about the possibilities that can be hopeful.

SCHIAVO: It is possible to make a water landing. Of course, credit to Sullenberger and Stiles, the flight crew on that plane. They had both been trained on water landings. They were able to do it. The Hudson River was very calm. Fortunately, nothing was in their way as they came down to make that landing.

And so it is possible to make a water landing. We talked extensively about this in the coverage of Malaysia 370, hoping that perhaps that plane had done that and it was possible that people could be saved. However, when you come in to do this, you only have one shot. And if you have wave action or your wing dips in one way or the other and catches the water at all -- there was a case like this many years ago where it was a hijacking situation and they forced it to land on the water.

And about half the plane survived. It is possible. It's very rare. It's extremely difficult. And you would want your pilots to have been trained in it. STELTER: Mary Schiavo and Les Abend, thank you both for being

here. I appreciate it.

SCHIAVO: Thank you.

ABEND: Thank you.

STELTER: And stay with us.

I have one of the world's foremost aviation journalists standing by. He's been covering this story for the past 16 hours, and he will join me right after this short break.


STELTER: Welcome back to our viewers in the U.S. and around the world. I'm Brian Stelter.

And let's reset now with this really haunting photo. This is the arrivals board at Changi Airport in Singapore. AirAsia Flight 8501 is listed as go to info counter. And this is the logo of AirAsia changed from read to gray on its Web site, because 8501 is missing in the waters off Southeast Asia.

It's now nearing midnight at the airport in Indonesia, where the flight took off and where desperate families are now gathering for any information, any scraps of information about what has happened.

CNN's Andrew Stevens is there and has new information for us now.

Andrew, what are you learning?

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brian, we're just hearing that Malaysia is going to be sending three vessels to help in the search which gets under way properly again tomorrow.

There are big ships in the area with lights, but certainly there's no aerial searching at the moment. So, the Malaysians, who obviously have learned a lot and have a lot of hard, hard experience with what happened with 370, they're sending three vessels.

And Singapore is also going to be adding a plane to do aerial surveillance. So, the search certainly will be ramping up tomorrow, as investigators try to find out exactly what happened to 8501. It's interesting, standing here, Brian. Just in the last half-an-hour or so, we just noticed two women going into the building behind me, which is the crisis center, that they are -- they didn't want to speak to us.

They said they were two upset. They were obviously very, very distraught. So they may be been very close friends or indeed family members. So there are people still trickling in here trying to get information. Most of the passengers' families have been taken to a hotel nearby and are being shielded from the media.

But there are people still coming in. In fact, one of my colleagues spoke to the brother of one of the passengers. And he said that he first heard about what was happening on television. He hadn't been contacted by the authorities or indeed by AirAsia.

So, the information is getting out, but it's getting out slowly, obviously. And there are still, as you can imagine, absolutely distraught family members and friends across this country tonight.

STELTER: Andrew Stevens at the airport, thank you.

And we just received this sound from the CEO of the airline. He was speaking at a press conference where Andrew was, I believe, in the last hour. Let's take a look at it.


TONY FERNANDES, CEO, AIRASIA GROUP: We're very devastated by what's happened. It's unbelievable.

But we do not know what's happened yet. So, we will wait for the accident investigation to really find out what has happened.

Our concern right now is for the relatives and for the next of kin. There is nothing more important to us, for our crew's family and for the passengers' family. We look after them. That is our number one priority at the moment.


STELTER: And as Andrew was pointing out, the connection to Malaysia here is remarkable, given the missing airline, the still missing airline, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

Let me show you, if I can, what Malaysia's defense minister wrote on Twitter a few hours ago. He has been through this three times now this year, given the flight over Ukraine a number of months ago as well. He was commenting to someone who said, "Praying for all of you, sir."

And he just replied with three words: "Can't believe it."

History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme occasionally. That's what Jon Ostrower told me. He's the aerospace and Boeing beat reporter for "The Wall Street Journal." And he's joining me now in Washington.

Jon, tell me what you mean by that.

JON OSTROWER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, certainly, whenever you see a situation like this unfolding again, there's always, number one, intense interest and an intense demand for new information.

As of right now, obviously, we have very little of that. But certainly there are things that we do know in regards to the weather in the area that certainly will remind people of these earlier accidents, most notably -- got kind of flagged earlier -- that it looks like a situation similar to Air France 447, which back in 2009 disappeared around the equator.


Let's talk for just a minute about the psychology of this, because it came up so many times in March and April as the whole world was captivated by Flight 370. The notion that anything can disappear in the year 2014 is so unnerving to so many people.

OSTROWER: Exactly.

And certainly air safety as a whole has been unbelievably safe for the decade and longer following September 11. Certainly, what we have seen is a steady increase in safety. But in 2014, there are certainly events that have ultimately inflated the level of attention and interest in air accidents like the ones that we have seen this year.

So, certainly, in terms of the ability to lose an airplane, certainly what we have got is aircraft transiting over water, so, certainly, it's an area that wouldn't have, you know, beyond surface traffic with ships, not really a whole lot of, you know, coverage, just human population in the area, to see anything happen.

And certainly if there are storms, people are deviating around it -- but getting back to the central thrust of your question, which is, how is it still possible in 2014 for this to happen, well, certainly we saw this back in March. And it ignited this enormous debate over aircraft tracking. And there's been a steady march by ICAO and the airlines to try and establish a way to do this in an economically efficient and also way that emphasizes both, most importantly, the safety and reliability of the system, and ultimately to make sure that there are answers in situations like these.


Yes. The world feels so interconnected. It feels so small and then this happens and it suddenly feels so big and so unpredictable. Tell me, Jon. People are probably wondering at home what the status of 370 is, because it did fade from the headlines after a number of months.

There's really no new reliable information about the status of that aircraft, right?

OSTROWER: Well, that search is still ongoing in the Southern Indian Ocean.

And certainly in a year with so many high-profile accidents, I think it's impossible not to include that in the discussion of this, only because the year itself was so notable for the lack of answers we do have in civil aviation accidents.

STELTER: Right. There's obviously not a link between the two, but it does come within a number of months.

Let me go back to this current situation, Jon, because you were covering it last night for "The Journal." They will be covering it for the days to come. What are the key questions you want to have answered about the investigation right now?

OSTROWER: Well, certainly, the number one thing we need to know is where that aircraft ultimately came to rest.

Certainly, what we have seen in recent situations, most notably Malaysia 370, which was almost certainly an outlier in terms of how these situations unfold, is that the information we have now, we're about 12 hours, 12-plus hours beyond the actual disappearance of the aircraft...


STELTER: And beyond the amount of time where they had the fuel for flying.

OSTROWER: Exactly, exactly.

And so what we have right now is whatever understanding of the situation is right now, it's going to evolve in the hours to come, certainly in the days to come, as we look at what information we do have, and really emphasizing separating that from the similarities to other incidents or speculative things that can happen.

Certainly, what we do know is that weather is going to be something that an investigation is going to look at, as a result of that pilot response to that weather, but, again, it kind of comes back to wondering what was going on, on the aircraft at the time. And that's really what you ask in any air accident investigation, whether it's this one, whether it was 370 and ultimately going back through this year and through accidents past.

STELTER: A viewer on Twitter makes an important point here. We shouldn't assume the weather was involved, but the weather does lead us down a number of different roads, doesn't it?

OSTROWER: It certainly does. Those are sort of the foundational facts that we have.

OK. So we know, because of the publicly available information on thing like flight radar, we know where the aircraft was and generally where it was flying. And that's again what's available to us.

Certainly, we have heard in the last half-day in regards to what the air navigation services of Indonesia were aware of during the course of the flight. So, again, these come to be the foundational facts by which any new investigation begins to use as a springboard, so certainly, again, weather, speed, altitude, all those different factors.

STELTER: Jon Ostrower, thank you for being here.

OSTROWER: Thanks for having me.

STELTER: There were, there are 138 adults on board, 16 children, one infant. And we want to humanize that in a moment, show you more about what we know about the passengers, so we will be right back.


STELTER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the missing AirAsia flight somewhere over the Java Sea.

We played in the last block some sound from the CEO of the airline. And we have a bit more I want to show you. In this bite, he's specifically talking about the weather conditions. Here it is.


FERNANDES: The weather conditions were not good.

But other than that, we don't really want to speculate anything more. Obviously, there was storm clouds. And the pilot had made a request to change altitude. That is as far as we know. We don't want to speculate as to whether weather was a contribution. We don't really know. Let's find the aircraft and then we will do the proper investigation.


STELTER: Find the aircraft, he says.

Tom Fuentes, CNN law enforcement analyst, is a former assistant director of the FBI and he ran the FBI's Office of International Operations until 2008, and he is joining me now.

Tom, it is almost midnight. And the aerial search has been halted. From your former position at the FBI, tell me what sort of interactions the U.S. government would be having with the airline and with the countries involved.


Well, the interaction now would be to offer assistance at every level, to offer the NTSB and to offer the U.S. Navy and other military assets if they're available. The FBI has an office in Jakarta, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur. They would be offering assistance with the passenger manifest, if that was an issue.

But in this case, it seems to be so weather-related, that that may be something that is being done, but not at the forefront at the moment.

STELTER: Would you expect U.S. military assets to also be offered? I know the USS Sam Worth (ph) has been mentioned as being in the region, for example.

FUENTES: Well, I would expect that virtually everything that we have would be offered to the government of Indonesia.

We are talking about a much smaller water area than we were with the Indian Ocean. The Java Sea is not that large. It is very shallow, average depth of 150 feet, which will make it much easier if that plane is located under the water to recover it and find the black boxes and find out what happened.

STELTER: And our best sense at the moment is that there is no criminal connection to this or terroristic connection to this. Is that what you're hearing as well?

FUENTES: Yes, yes. And I have been in consultation with the Indonesian ambassador here in Washington. And there is no indication of any kind other that it was other than either the weather or the pilots or the aircraft, possibly all of the above, related to the weather.

STELTER: Tom, thank you for being here.

FUENTES: Thank you, Brian.

STELTER: And let me put on the screen the nationalities and what we do know about the people who were on board this plane.

One from Singapore heading home to Singapore and one from Malaysia and two South Korean and 157 Indonesian on board.

And let me bring back Richard Quest. I believe he's with us again from Skype.

Richard, are you there?

QUEST: I am indeed, Brian. I am indeed.

STELTER: And as we wrap up the hour, Richard, I'm wondering what is the top question on your mind as an expert in this, and what are you thinking about that viewers at home might not be asking themselves right now?

QUEST: The only issue at the moment is to find the plane and to find the wreckage and to find the black boxes.

We have several pieces of a jigsaw on the table, the speed, the weather, the altitude, the last known communication from the cockpit. They are just pieces of a big puzzle. Until we get that plane and that wreckage and those black boxes, we really won't know anymore about it. But we do know, and we have got a misty scenario that needs clearing.

STELTER: Do you find yourself mystified by situations like this, or do you tell yourself that this is how technology operates, this is how our world works, it is mostly foolproof and mostly fault-proof, but occasionally accidents still do happen?

QUEST: Oh, I am not at all mystified by it, because, fundamentally, you are talking about men and machines, men and women and machines.

Now, the machines can fail and the men and the women can fail. Both can fail. You have extraneous circumstances like weather. We will never, ever have a foolproof system of flight or of a ship or of a car. That is simply not going to happen. All we can do is to reduce risk as much as possible. And that is

why -- I know I say it all the time and we all say it. And I can hear some viewers saying, here we go again. But aviation is the safest form of travel.

STELTER: Richard Quest, thank you for being here this hour.

And before I go to a break, let me show you this Twitter message from, of all places, Malaysian Airlines, now known famously, infamously, for Flight 370, which is still missing.

They wrote this on Twitter a few hours ago: "Our thoughts and prayers are with all families and friends of those on board 8501."

Ours as well. And we will be right back.


STELTER: Sometimes, the worst kind of news is no news at all.

And that is where we are right now, wondering if it is possible that 155 passengers and seven crew members of AirAsia 8501 are alive somewhere, are healthy somewhere waiting to be rescued, or if AirAsia and Indonesia and Singapore and the world's worst fears of the world have been realized amid a flight full of families and friends, some of them on the way to New Year's celebrations.

For those of us and for those of you in the United States, we will be back next week with a regular edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. And you can find all of our media coverage on

But stay with CNN all day today for the latest on this vanished airliner.