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Urgent Search For Missing Airliner, 162 Aboard

Aired December 28, 2014 - 12:00   ET



Breaking news this Sunday. It is hard to believe we're saying it again, but an urgent search is under way right now for a Malaysia based airliner that vanished without a trace.

This time it's an AirAsia jet carrying 162 people. The plane is an airbus A320. It lost contact with ground controllers less than an hour after taking off from the Indonesian city of Surabaya bound for Singapore. In his last message from the cockpit, the pilot asked to deviate from the flight plan due to bad weather.

Searchers spent the day over the Java Sea until the sun went down and Indonesia's transportation ministry said, looking, but the defense minister says, (INAUDIBLE) 00:00:57 will stay at the sea through the night using powerful search lights to try to spot possible signs of any floating wreckage.

We have correspondents and analysts standing around - standing by around the world to bring you the very latest on the search. CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, the former assistant director of the FBI, Steven Wallace, a former director of the FAA's Office of Accident Investigation. Also with us, Peter Goelz. He is a former managing director for the National Transportation Safety Board, and CNN aviation correspondent Renee Marsh.

Now, the plane was due to land at Singapore at about 8:30 Sunday morning. Stunned relatives of the passengers gather in a waiting area setup in one of the airport terminals. And we're going to go to a reporter we have on the scene there in just a moment but first we want to go here in the studio to our aviation correspondent Rene Marsh.

Rene, what do you have the latest here from your sources here about what actually happened to this plane?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, at this point, you know, we don't have any hard information of exactly what went wrong here. We know that weather was definitely an issue. We know that because the pilot requested to deviate course. We also know that he requested to go higher in altitude most likely to try to avoid this weather.

But as far as what detailing what exactly caused the situation that we have now which is essentially this plane is missing, we don't have that at this point. But we do know authorities here in the United States, they are paying very close attention to this. We know the lines of communication - they are open at this hour. The NTSB telling me this morning that they've been in touch with airbus, the manufacturer of the airplane. They've been in touch with the Indonesians. They've also been in touch with French authorities, investigators who would likely have the most prominent role.

BASH: And that is what I was going to ask you about because unlike what happened with MH370 which is a U.S. based company, Boeing, this is a French-based company Airbus, so that plays into who is involved in the search and rescue a little bit, doesn't (ph) it?

MARSH: Absolutely.

Because Airbus - again, manufactured, a French product, we believe that and we know pretty much we can say with certainty that the French investigators would have a more prominent role than an NTSB. Also, the U.S. did not have any citizens onboard this plane. That also plays into it as well. We do know that the co-pilot was a French national.

So, looking at this as we move forward to the investigative stage, we believe that the French, they will have a more prominent role. Of course, we don't rule out that the NTSB could be called on for other technical expertise because they know -- they know this very well.

BASH: And let's breakdown the little that we do know, the weather. The weather was bad as you said. The pilot asked to go - to go a bit higher. Apparently three were different thunderstorm systems in that area at the time. I mean, it doesn't take a leap probably to say that that had to play a role in this?

PETER GOELZ, FORMER NTSB MANAGING DIRECTOR: Well, we can speculate. I mean, this kind of weather is not uncommon in that area this time of year and pilots are used to flying through it. And planes earlier in the evening and later in the evening flew the same route. So, we don't know but we have to assume the pilots were concerned about it, we ought to be concerned about it as investigators.

BASH: And Steven, talk about the investigation. This is the Java Sea like sort of a pond compared to the Indian Ocean which is so vast and it is more shallow, so that should make search and rescue a little bit easier?

STEVEN WALLACE, FORMER DIRECTOR, FAA OFFICE OF ACCIDENT INVESTIGATION: Right. It will not surprise me if this airplane is found in the next 12 hours of daylight, because they know to a fairly high degree of certainly where it was. The water is 150 feet deep as opposed to 10 or 20,000 feet deep in the Indian Ocean as you mentioned. So, I'm confident that investigators will find this airplane fairly quickly. MH370 was really an unheard of event in the modern jet era.

BASH: And a Tom, this is the third Malaysian-airline-based tragedy in the past year. So, what should that tell people out there, consumers, airline travelers about the region and about safety in this area?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, probably not much, because they are so unrelated.

BASH: So, you think it is just a --

FUENTES: Yes, I think it's just a terrible coincidence, because you have obviously MH370. We don't know what happen (INAUDIBLE) still the lingering mystery. But the second Malaysian aircraft was shot down, and we know that. So, that's not weather or a pilot error or something. It was just shot down. And in this one, so far, if it turns out to be weather-related is vastly different. Again, all three are very different.


MARSH: I was just going to say we were all talking about this earlier, you know, despite these very high-profile incidents, MH17 and 370, and now AirAsia, I mean, when you consider how many takeoffs and landings, and how many people travel every single day, this really is a small number of incidents when you look at the big picture. I mean the Airbus 320 for example according to the manufacturer themselves one takes off and lands every two seconds somewhere around the world --

BASH: Wow.

MARSH: -- every single day.

BASH: Right.

MARSH: And this particular aircraft, we're only talking about maybe 17 to 20 something incidents, but with those kind of reps and that just goes to show and puts it in context.

BASH: And the airbus, I mean, let's talk about it because I think for anybody who gets on a plane people are probably watching in an airport right now. Maybe they're watching on an airplane. They want to know, is this a safe one? An airbus is exceptionally safe generally, right?

GOELZ: It is a solid workhorse. It's chosen by the top airlines across the world, in the United States. JetBlue and American and United, all fly A320s. I mean, these are - it's comparable to the Boeing 737. It's ubiquitous.

WALLACE: It has been out there since 1988. And there are over 6,000 of them in service. It is - it is - the other workhorse is the 737, very comparable, excellent safety records.

BASH: Is there -- I know we are focusing on the ocean, and rescue and so forth, but knowing what you know, and I will start with you, Tom, about the way these things go, is there reason for optimism and hope that the people on board will be found and that there will be survivors? I mean, yes, it is an ocean, but there are 18,000 islands around there.

FUENTES: Well, let's just say you're right it's not impossible. You could have that plane go down close to the island where the people could possibly make it ashore or be on rafts on the sea. You have water temperatures in the 80 degree Fahrenheit range. You have air temperatures daytime highs in the high 80s in that area. So, you wouldn't have the concern of hypothermia like you would if it went down in Alaska or something. So you know, that does make it survivable if they could survive the actual crash.

BASH: And you know, Rene talked about the fact that so far the NTSB, the United States government, isn't going to be involved. You all have had experience working in various parts of the U.S. government search and rescue, I mean, is this something that the U.S. should help with even though there were no Americans on it, it is not a U.S.-based company?

WALLACE: Well, the - there's sort of two things, the search and the rescue, and then the actual accident investigation. So, under the international rules, the country of manufacture which is France, the country of register which is either Malaysia or I think Indonesia because (ph) this airplane, they would certainly participate. The country where the accident happens is actually in charge. We don't know where this accident happened yet, because it could have hit one of several islands. So -- but the investigation will be, you know, organized according to those international principles, and --

BASH: I'm going to have you hold it there. We're going to -- we have a lot to talk about throughout the hour but we are going to take a quick break. We are following the disappearance as you heard of an AirAsia airliner with 162 people on board. Our breaking news coverage continues in just a minute.

And when we come back, we're going to take a closer look at the weather in the area, and where searchers are looking for the missing jet. Stay with us.


BASH: We are covering breaking news. It is now 18 hours since an AirAsia passenger jet carrying 162 people vanished over the Java Sea.

So far its whereabouts and the reason for its disappearance remain a mystery. The plane was on its way from Indonesia to Singapore. Officials say, the last call from the plane was a request from the flight's captain to climb to a higher altitude because of the weather.

To help us understand what may have happened to the plane we are joined now by CNN safety analyst David Soucie. He is a former FAA safety inspector and author of the book "Why Planes Crash."

So, let's start there with you, David. We have all been on planes those of us who travel even semi frequently where there is a lot of turbulence, and it is scary, but we are told that the planes are built to sustain that. How --


BASH: -- much turbulence can they sustain thought?

SOUCIE: A lot more than you would expect. I have worked on destructive testing down in Cessna on the jets division down in Cessna in Wichita, and my job was to try to break the wings on these airplanes. So, we would jack the wings up and try to break them and -


BASH: And what did it take to break a wing?

SOUCIE: Nearly touch each other -- well, they nearly touch each other before they actually release and cause a fracture. So, it's incredibly stout (ph) and in the - in the airbus, these wings are even made to absorb kind of like a shock absorber to absorb the up and down motion of the body of the aircraft. So, it's really designed for that, and in-flight breakup due to turbulence is nearly unheard of really in commercial airlines.

BASH: Now David, you are the author of "Why Planes Crash." Based on the little information that we do have now, but we at least know what the pilot last asked back at ground control, what is your suspicion of what might have gone wrong here?

SOUCIE: Well, it is hard to come to any kind of conclusion obviously at this point and I look at these as just simply clues right now and the clues are very sketchy. The fact that it moved or that the aircraft had to divert or go high or low due to the weather in that region almost every flight goes through that or has to do some kind of adjustment to go around clouds, go around thunderstorms at this time of the year particularly. So while it is a clue, it certainly doesn't give us anything conclusive as to what happened to the aircraft.

It is pretty common thing to have to happen there where it really falls apart for me is the fact that the -- there was no distress call, there was no one who tried to reach out. Again, if something catastrophic happened on the aircraft, it is possible that they didn't have time to respond.

BASH: And that's a very interesting point, and Steven, I will take it to you, no distress call. No mayday or pan-pan which is something that I have just learned about in the last couple of hours, what does that tell you?

WALLACE: Well, actually what pilots really do these days for the most part is they just declare the emergency and explain their problem. Those are international code words but pilots usually just explain their problem. And there's another thing, they can set the transponder to actually transmit an emergency signal. But, you know, these pilots are plugged in just like we are, and all they have to do is push a button on the yoke and talk. They're constantly connected to the air traffic control. So it takes very little. So, I --

BASH: So given the fact that it takes so little, the fact that Tom - the fact that they didn't get a distressed signal, that tells you that this happened pretty fast whatever the "it" was, right?

FUENTES: (INAUDIBLE). It will happen very fast and if they are just frantically trying to control the plane or fly the plane or deal with some, you know, catastrophic emergency on the aircraft that didn't give them time, let's say to even think about sending an additional detailed transmission of what was going on.

BASH: I want to go now to Alastair Rosenschein who is an aviation expert. He is with us by phone.

Alastair, you not only are an expert, you also have flown this route, this very route that this plane went or at least try to go in Indonesia. Talk about the route and any kind of treachery that goes along with that given what we've been talking about with pretty major weather issues there year round.

Alastair, are you there? OK. OK. Alastair disappeared. We're going to get him back in a minute.

But let's just pick up from where we were talking about on the idea of whether or not it is the basically the pilot or if it is possibly just weather or if it's a combination of both.

GOELZ: Well, it is unusual that the pilot -- in some ways unusual that the pilot - one of the crew members did not radio an emergency. But then there is also the culture of the cockpit in which the pilots are loathe to declare emergencies. You know, in ValuJet, a terrible accident, the pilots never declared an emergency. Never. Even though the plane - the cockpit --

BASH: Well, that sounds like a big deficiency. I mean, is it because - I mean, let's be honest there --

GOELZ: Well it is - it is the culture of --

BASH: It is bravado?

GOELZ: It's - there's a little of that. It's the culture in front of the plane. But in this case, I mean, you would think that it must have been a catastrophic event if neither one of them were able - because generally the pilot flying is not handling the radio.

WALLACE: I mean, (INAUDIBLE) three words we always say --


WALLACE: -- aviate keep the airplane (INAUDIBLE), navigate, communicate. So, communicate is number three. And so if they were dealing with (ph) them (ph), I mean, Peter talked about the ValuJet, well they knew they had a roaring fire in the airplane. They're trying to get back to Miami International Airport and so talking is a lower priority. So, that in some kind of a rapidly deteriorating catastrophic situation --

BASH: But let me ask you a question, Rene, maybe you know the answer to this, is it -- everything is recorded. So, even if they are talking to each other about what they are trying to do, people back in ground control should be able to hear that, right? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

MARCH: Not necessarily.

BASH: Isn't that a deficiency? I mean, shouldn't we be able to hear those things?

MARSH: And that is why we always talk about the black boxes, the data recorders, because those sort of conversations would be picked up on the cockpit --

BASH: Right.

MARSH: -- voice recorder. And we'd also learn about issues with the plane perhaps if there was a mechanical issue on the flight data recorder.

To Peter's point about this culture. I mean, we even saw that in Asiana (ph) in which the younger co-pilot was resistant in questioning the movements or the decisions of the pilot in charge, because he had deference to this older more experienced pilot. So, we have seen that in the past.

But getting back to which you were talking about with the weather.

BASH: Yes.

MARSH: I mean, I spent some time at Boeing's facility. I know it is a different manufacturer, but all of the manufacturers make sure their jetliners are able to not only deal with the turbulence, but also things like lightning which -- reports that there was lightning in the area.

BASH: Right.

MARSH: Boeing has their own lightning lab in which they simulate lightning to essentially make sure that the aircraft is engineered in a way to shed that electricity so it doesn't penetrate the skin of the plane and become a catastrophic situation. So, it is engineered to deal with all of this sort of weather conditions.

But the question becomes when a pilot finds himself or herself in this situation, does this individual react properly? So, it could be a combination of the weather pattern and how did this pilot react.

BASH: I believe we're going to try one more time, that we have Alastair on the phone. Alastair, are you there? OK. We're having some problems getting Alastair. I think we're - I think the gremlins (ph) have given us the message.

Tom, what do you make of that - that's fascinating first of all a lightning lab. I'd love to go to that because it's just pretty remarkable but --

FUENTES: I think another issue here we've seen this other aircraft crashes that even though it's day light if they're in a severe storm that reduces visibility, if they can't see, if the readings on the instruments are accurate but they don't believe it, and ignore it, that can cause a disaster. If the instruments are inaccurate and they follow it that can cause a disaster. So, there's a lot going on and the pilots are really flying blind if those instruments aren't providing accurate information and they're following based on that information.

BASH: We're going to talk more about that about what it's really like in the cockpit in a minute. Standby all of you. Thank you very much. And we're going to take a quick break. But following the breaking news we're going to be continuing to do that. The mystery of why an AirAsia airliner with 162 people vanished.

Next, we're going to get reaction from the airline's CEO. Stay with us.


BASH: We are covering breaking news as unbelievable as it sounds a passenger jet is missing, again in the seas off of Southeast Asia.

The AirAsia jet was carrying 162 people when it lost contact with Indonesian air traffic control early Sunday morning. The plane was on a flight from Indonesia to Singapore and the flight's last transmission was a request to change altitude because of the weather.

Searchers spent a day over the Java Sea. Indonesia's transportation ministry now says, big ships will stay at sea throughout the night using powerful search lights to try to spot possible signs of floating wreckage. Karen McGinnis is standing by at the weather center. She'll join us soon, but first, take a listen to what the CEO of AirAsia said just a short while ago in Indonesia.


TONY FERNANDES, CEO OF AIRASIA: The weather conditions were not good but further 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's as far as we know. We don't want to speculate as to whether weather (INAUDIBLE) we really don't know. Let's find the aircraft and then we will do the proper investigation.


BASH: And Karen McGinnis again at the CNN severe weather center.

Karen, you just heard the CEO talking about the weather, you're the expert on the weather what do you make of -- first, let's start what happened, and how severe the weather problems were at the time this plane went missing?

KAREN MCGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: What we are looking at is kind of the compilation of enhanced satellite imagery. This is the Java Sea, here is Surabaya. You get above here, and that's the South China Sea.

Here you can see the thunderstorm clusters associated with what is now the monsoon season. That's this enhanced moisture that develops during November, December and into the beginning of the year. And when a pilot sees something like that on the radar, they know there is trouble ahead. To make their passengers comfortable, because a lot of people don't like the idea of bouncing around in the sky, they try to go around these thunderstorms or somehow divert around them. In this particular case, we know that the pilots asked for a diversion from 32,000 feet to 38,000 feet.

This is what we are looking at. Where you see the brighter white- shaded areas, that is where the super cell cluster is located. In a monsoonal season, you will get heavy precipitation super cells. We have seen torrential rainfall even from Malaysia and Indonesia standards even. We have seen incredible, and fierce flooding across this region over the last several weeks even exceptional by monsoon standards.

But we see a flow in the South China Sea out of the northeast and just south of the equator down to the southwest. So, we are looking in generally this area. That's where they last lost contact. It looks most (ph) likely at least from the information that we have available right now in the South China Sea, but more so in this western or northwestern edge of the Java Sea. That's where last contact was lost.

What can we expect if there is a search and rescue which there will be daylight or sunrise is around -- between 5:30 and 7:00 between Surabaya and Singapore. We're looking at the during the morning hours, usually those thunderstorms are not as eruptive. Although, this is a very enhanced season, but you get the afternoon heating and those thunderstorms build up to around 50 -- 55,000 feet.

A flight is not going to go above those, Dana. It is going to go around those, and these are magnificent fierce super cells.

BASH: You certainly -- I mean, I'm not a weather expert and I can tell just by looking at that map behind you. Karen, thank you for that update.

I want to go now to Mary Schiavo. You heard what Karen said and we've been reporting on the idea that the pilot asked to go higher in altitude. Given your vast experience in search and rescue and in trying to figure out what goes wrong, what do you think that tells us about what could have happened?

MARY SCHIAVO, FORMER TRANSPORTATION DEPARTMENT INSPECTOR GENERAL: Well, I think it tells us that the plane and the flight were, you know, in dire trouble in this kind of weather and we have to back it up a little bit more and that is the modern weather forecasting and weather radar would have given them that picture, that very frightening to a pilot at least, that very freighting picture of that the solid sea of red. Those are very strong thunderstorms.

In the United States we have had accidents for example there's one June 1, 1999, American Airlines Little Rock, they went into a level six thunderstorm, shouldn't have been there at all, and so we have ask about the decision-making process, because a lot of U.S. carriers British Airways and Lufthansa and others they have their very fine in- house meteorology departments and they try to keep their plains out of those solid seas in red, and so I think they were in trouble and that's all they had, their only option.

BASH: You know, we've been talking a lot about the weather because it's so bad there, but you think that most of the time it is pilot error and not outside forces so to speak?

SCHIAVO: According to the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and I have actually crunched the numbers, about 3/4ths of the time. The chief causal factor is pilot error.

Now there are also are very many other contributing factors in many cases. For example, you could have speed indicator warning on the plane that directive was issued in December and a number of things that could go wrong.

But usually what the NTSB finds, and there won't be a NTSB investigation in this case, but our NTSB finds that pilots should be trained to handle many of these kinds of emergencies or things that go wrong and that is why 3/4.

BASH: But isn't part of the problem, as we talk about here, the pilots don't always follow the protocol sometimes?

SCHIAVO: Exactly. They don't always follow the protocol, and sometimes they don't understand the situation they are in. For example, if something goes wrong on the plane and they have not encountered it or trained for it, then they have not had the training to deal with sort of the problem.

So you can't really just say, pilot, you should have known this, no, the pilots have to be trained to deal with all these kinds of emergencies. That training is expensive, but that training is very valuable, and not all pilots get it.

BASH: Speaking of pilots, we are going to roll the dice here. We are going to the try one more time the go to Alastair Rosenschein, who is a pilot. Alastair, are you there?

ALASTAIR ROSENSCHEIN, AVIATION CONSULTANT (via telephone): Yes, I am here. I'm listening.

BASH: OK, what is your take, again, your expertise is not only in flying, but you've actually flown this exact route that this plane flew before it disappeared. Based on your experience -- or at least let me start there, tell us about your experience flying this route.

ROSENSCHEIN: Well, primarily, I have flown the route between Singapore and Australia which goes down just so to the -- well, the same airway even that the aircraft was flying, and the same problem that other analysts are saying that you get the large thunderstorms.

And the pilots of course try to the avoid them, and we have a lot of information to help us to make that decision. For example where the aircraft ahead have been routing and diverting, and we will listen to the next radio frequency if somebody has gone through the west.

It's possibly the best way to go through because we are anticipating having to divert. And climbing up over the top of the tropical thunderstorms is not normally advisable, because it is very hard, if not impossible.

BASH: Right. You don't know where the top is?


BASH: You probably don't know where the top is?

ROSENSCHEIN: Well, no, precisely, but apart from that the thunderstorm system may be still growing. They can go up to a good 20,000 feet higher than they are flying, and if you go up to the maximum altitude, you have little air speed to play with, and the aircraft is susceptible to the jet upset.

It is neither of which is advisable, and very difficult to recover from. We don't know that this was the case in this instance. We are speculating. It seems a likelihood, and strong likelihood, but we should not rule out other causes that may have resulted.

BASH: Do the pilots flying in that area get special training for that area given the fact that now it is monsoon season, and they have particular weather patterns to deal with, but around the year, it is a very, very difficult air space to fly in because of the unpredictable weather?

ROSENSCHEIN: Well, I think they we should be clear here, that all pilots will encounter some storms no matter where they are flying in the world because 90 percent of the world suffers from thunderstorms.

So once you have the training in the simulators and theoretical training, your real training is experience on the routes and that is flying the aircraft and learning from your colleagues who presumably have more experience when you are new and therefore learning the best practice is.

But you know, it is not an exact science and you try to draw on all of the expertise to avoid the worst weather. It is not always possible to do so. I have been in West Africa, and Mexico, and over Europe where I have actually had to fly through a thunderstorm.

It is not desirable, but there was no other way, and you choose the smallest, and the least painted red area on the radar. You have a lockdown on the aircraft and the galleys locked down and the crew belted in, and passengers and grin and bear it.

But with the very big tropical storms, the aircraft cannot always be guaranteed to survive passing through a major cell. We know that the aircraft have been lost in that way. And it is quite frightening, I have to admit.

BASH: Yes, and I have been a passenger flying through the thunderstorms and frightening is an understatement, and a lot of people watching will feel the same way.

We have to take a quick break. Stay with us, everybody, and we are continuing to follow this breaking news, the urgent search for the Airasia jet that's missing over the Java Sea.

Up next, desperate families searching for answers. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BASH: We are covering breaking news, an Airasia jet carrying 162 people vanished today during a flight from Indonesia to Singapore. Airasia is a discount airline based in Malaysia.

The company CEO spoke a few moments ago and addressed the desperate families waiting for word from the missing jetliner.


TONY FERNANDES, CEO, AIRASIA GROUP: We are very devastated on what's happened. It is unbelievable, but we don't know what has happened yet. We will wait for the accident and investigation team to find out what has happened.

Our concern right now is for the relatives and the next of kin. There is nothing more important to us. For our crews and the family and the passenger's family, and we will look after them, and that is the number one priority at the moment.


BASH: Number one priority is the families. I want to go back to the panel. Rene, I'll start with you. A very different reaction and sort of execution of the way that they are handling the families now versus what happened ten months ago with the Malaysia Airline, lessons learned, right?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And if you go back even further to the crash involving Asiana airlines, they had issues as well as far as their communication and giving information to the families, the ones who really need that information.

In fact, a Department of Transportation investigation found that they did move quick enough in Asiana's case. They were penalized half a million dollars because they didn't give the families information in a timely fashion.

Forward to MH-370, the families felt they weren't getting enough information to the point that they printed a long list of questions they demanded answers to. They were very unhappy. They felt like they were in limbo.

But in this situation, the information is coming out pretty quickly, relatively quickly. We saw a hotline being set up for anyone who had questions.

BASH: The CEO tweeted before he made his way to Indonesia giving as much information as he could, right. The other thing is that, look, we in the media, like to have access. We like transparency, but we are human and we understand that these are families in limbo, and they are just frozen with fear.

Right now, they are doing something they have not done in ten months ago, and they have put them in their own area, and they have left the airport, and in a hotel is what the reporters on the ground are saying.

You are the father of this kind of process, because you wrote the plan of in when you were working for the government, talk about why ou did this and what exactly the plan is.

PETER GOELZ, FORMER NTSB MANAGING DIRECTOR: Well, we saw following a number of accidents that the response by the air carriers was unsupervised, was really spotty at best, and the family members who were getting organize, they were demanding better treatment, more timely treatment.

And when I was at the NTSB, we figured out that there was no way that you can have an intermediary dealing with family members. They wanted the information from the investigators and they wanted it first.

We set up a very complex system to do that. We went to the FBI and met with the Office of Victims Assistance. We went to Dover Air Force base to meet with the military reception to find out how to put together a program in this kind of terrible situation. It is hard.

BASH: And Tom, you were one of those investigators. How much did you -- I mean, your job was to find out what happened and the search and the rescue, and so forth, but how much dealing with the families and communicating with the families and consoling the families as part of the job?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, fortunately the FBI runs a program, the Victim Assistance Program which includes anything, any situation where an American is a victim of a crime or the terrorist act anywhere in the world whether it is in the U.S. or out.

In the case of the TWA-800, for example, that was believed to be a terrorist act by the nature of the way the plane went down. It took years to determine that it was actually a mechanical failure in the 747.

So during that time, the victim assistance people or the FBI were arranging the hotel rooms for the family, transportation of the family members to New York to be right there at Long Island where the plane debris was being brought in, where victims were brought there from recovered from the sea.

BASH: I remember that. It was horrible.

FUENTES: This is a worldwide program. If we had an American on this plane, it would involve helping that family get there.

BASH: But Indonesia you were saying has adopted these standards, and most other countries?

STEVEN WALLACE, FORMER DIRECTOR, FAA OFFICE OF ACCIDENT INVESTIGATION: Right. The U.S. NTSB and the FBI have made this standard and others are held to it. It is the appropriate focus. Those of us involved on the technical side of this, you don't want to lose sight of this being a terrible tragedy. We saw that Captain Sullenberger set this down safely, and we can hold out some small hope, but it is a human tragedy.

FUENTES: And also, what is to be that they don't want to be isolated and boxed up and put in jail. And when they are taken to the hotel and fed and housed and everything, the investigators do need to make sure they are right there with them, and giving them the information they need and don't make them feel like they have been put in prison.

BASH: Let's hope it is happening, and it is hard to get the information of what is happen, but let's hope that it is happening and this time, it is a lot better. We are will need to take a break, but stay with us for continuing coverage.


BASH: Recapping this hour's breaking news. An urgent search is under way for a missing Malaysia-based airliner that vanished without a trace. This time, it is an Airasia jet carrying 162 people. The plane is an airbus A-320.

It lost contact with ground controllers less than an hour after taking off from the Indonesian city of Surabaya bound for Singapore. In his last message from the cockpit, the pilot asked to deviate from the flight plan due to bad weather.

CNN's Andrew Stevens is at the Indonesian Airport where the plane took off. Andrew, what is the latest there that you are hearing from not just the CEO, but any representative of the families?

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is heading to 1:00 in the morning, and there hasn't been any new information coming out from the airport, but we have heard from the vice president of Indonesia in the last couple of hours, Dana, and he is saying that it does look like in his words an accident, a tragic accident.

And the search when it resumes tomorrow at first light will be joined by three ships from Malaysia, and a plane from Singapore, including of course, the Indonesian assets to make their way to see roughly between Singapore and Indonesia.

But such sad and heart rendering scenes here in the last 30 minutes or so, Dana, we just saw two teenaged girls chaperoned in by representatives from their school.

Now they'd flown down from Singapore, and they have been waiting at the Singapore Airport for their girls. They are friends and not related, and both sets of parents were on that plane, and those girls are waiting at Singapore.

Obviously, the plane didn't arrive, and they have flown down here to the Surabaya Airport to try to get more information, and they have been speaking to the airport with their teachers. They did not want to speak to us, but you can imagine what is going through those poor girl's minds. BASH: I can't even imagine. It is absolutely heartbreaking. Heartbreaking. Andrew, before we let you go, it appears that the CEO of this company the local officials there learned from what the mistakes were made 10 months ago with the Malaysian Airline. Do you see that there? Are they treating the families better and getting them more information more quickly?

STEVENS: Well, certainly on the information-front, Dana, they have been so far ahead of what we saw with MH-370 in March of this year, when the information came out at a painfully slow rate, and what came out was wrong.

Airasia is being very, very good for want of a better word to get the relevant information, and obviously, they can't say too much at this stage, and Tony Fernandes, the CEO, he in fact is the founder of Airasia.

He gave a press conference here. He was very, very clear that he would not speculate. He would not go into the realm of speculation on any that may or may not have happened to Flight 8501, but certainly Airasia has been giving information out.

The Indonesian authorities too have been getting information about the weather conditions en route, and the search ramping up so there has been much more information coming up.

So having said that, Dana, I should point out that the people we have managed to speak to here, family members say they found out, and they got their information that their loved ones were on a plane that disappeared was from the TV and not from the airlines.

So it is difficult to reach out and to get in touch with everybody, and they have not been able to achieve it in this case.

BASH: Well, it is not easy in this today's day and age with social media and those of us in cable television, but that certainly not the way to find out, and not the way to supposed to find out. Andrew, thank you very much. I know we will get back to you throughout the day.

With us now from New York is a commercial airline pilot, Les Abend and in Denver, again, CNN safety analyst, David Soucie, author of "Why Planes Crash."

David, I want to start with you. Talk to me about the data, and the fact that in today's day and age, you would think that we would be getting information from this plane, why aren't we?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Well, at best right now, we have clues. Those clues are just simply not enough. We can only speculate. Thousands of different things could have happened right now, but there is no excuse for not having that information right now.

Inmarsat six months ago told us following the Malaysian Airlines 370 that they could for free supply all the aircraft to have the equipment on board, which this aircraft did with a free flight tracking. We would know data of where the aircraft is. We would know information about the cabin altitude. We would know everything about that aircraft right now had that been implemented.

It is simply bureaucracy that is stopping that from happening, and it is just unfathomable that we don't right now track every aircraft out there. Inmarsat has been offered it. It's out there and now these families are suffering because we don't know where that aircraft is once again for the third time.

BASH: Listen, we're in Washington. We know from bureaucracy, but that's mind blowing because this is about safety and it's about families. Les, what do you make of that? That this was offered and not only offered, but for free, and not done because of bureaucracy.

LES ABEND, BOEING 777 CAPTAIN: I agree with my friend, David Soucie, it should be available. But that being said, if we have this catastrophic situation and you know, God forbid, the airplane did break apart in flight we wouldn't have any power to the systems that David is talking about.

So that information would only be available for a short period of time, but I absolutely agree with what he's saying and then when we go back to the last known thing that we talked about requesting higher altitude.

That might be a matter, of course, and I want the ride more comfortable for my passengers, and just for that, and maybe not for deviation purposes.

BASH: That is interesting as a pilot, the other thing we have been talking about is, if you request to go to a higher altitude, you don't know, and you have radar, I guess, but we don't know how high that thunderstorm system goes. Isn't that a little bit dangerous?

ABEND: Well, it is not the best way to go around deviating around the thunderstorm, and there is a way to determine it, and art to fine tuning the radar per se, and sophisticated radar can and on the airbus 320 was a sophisticated piece.

It has an automatic system to it, but we generally will deviate left to right, of course, and it is something that is not emergency. And this is going to come as a standard procedure, and what they were seeing, it is hard to say, because we are all sitting on the ground speculating about this.

BASH: Right. Absolutely, but one thing we are not speculating about is what David was talking about the bureaucracy. I mean, with respect, you guys have all worked for and been part of bureaucracies here in Washington, important ones.

Does it surprise you that this kind of data tracking system was offered to the airlines, and they haven't gotten it yet because of the bureaucracies?

GOELZ: And the airlines refer to the ICO, the International Civil Organization, and they have the different reasons, I don't way to spend money in advance of the rule, because maybe --

BASH: This is free.

GOELZ: And this is free, and no reason, as David said, why these flights on Transocean flights are not being tracked. It is inexcusable.

BASH: I want to get to another point with the tracking, and that is what is going to happen now. We are in the search and rescue mode, and everybody is waiting to hear the ping to find the black box that will give us a clue as to what happened, talk about what they will be doing now or at least what they are going to do when the sun comes up.

GOELZ: It is typical when the aircraft crashes into the water, it will break up, and light components will float up, and some people will see pieces of the tail, but interior components that are light and they will spot wreckage.

And then they will look for -- they will listen for the pings, and the pings are just on the flight data and the cockpit voice recorders. This is shallow water. They have at least 30-day battery and the world is shifting to 90-day batteries, so I they will properly locate those quickly.

BASH: Do you agree, Tom?

FUENTES: Yes. I believe they will have to find out why no other tracking devices are going off, and so they will have to look for the pings of the flight data recorder, and if it crashed on land somewhere and or in the jungle, then it is a different situation because they will is to visually fly over it.

BASH: Rene, you get the last word. You have been covering way too many of these lately, and based on the sources, and your reporting, what are you looking for throughout the day?

MARSH: Well, you know, again, we can't stress how important it is to going to be not only for the black boxes, but the wreckage, itself, because those two pieces are going to be so critical to answering so many of the questions that we have been raising here, that we don't have the answer to.

Right now, we can say, perhaps played a role, but when you get to hear the conversations on the cockpit recorder and the debris, we will get a fuller picture.

BASH: Thank you all, and your expertise has been remarkable. Thank you for watching "STATE OF THE UNION" and I'm Dana Bash in Washington. Martin Savidge will pick up our coverage right after the break.