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THE SITUATION ROOM

Search for Missing AirAsia Flight Resumes

Aired December 29, 2014 - 17:00   ET

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


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN GUEST HOST: Thanks, Jake.

Happening now: breaking news, search resuming. The massive hunt for a missing AirAsia flight set to get under way soon. Will an expanded search area yield new clues in this latest airline mystery?

Cockpit plea: new details of the crew's request to change altitude in an effort to avoid bad weather. Why was it denied, and how strong was this storm?

Captain's struggle. New information about the pilot, his recent loss and his daughter's emotional outpouring. Does any of it shed new light on what might have happened?

And disaster at sea. The death toll climbing as fire sweeps through a ferry with hundreds of people on board. Why are authorities now launching a criminal investigation?

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Brianna Keilar. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KEILAR: We're following the breaking news. The Indonesian government officially asking for U.S. help in the search for that missing AirAsia flight. The Pentagon says that could include planes, ships, perhaps underwater devices.

And the massive search is about to get under way for a third day as dawn is breaking over the Java Sea, where officials fear the plane crashed with 162 people on board.

We are covering all angles of the breaking news with our correspondents and expert guests, including the former head of the National Transportation Safety Board, Deborah Hersman. We begin where the flight originated, Surabaya, Indonesia, with CNN's Andrew Stevens.

Andrew, give us the latest.

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, as you say, dawn is just breaking here in Surabaya. And the search aircraft will be back in the air any moment now. They've got about an hour to get to the search zone which has actually now been extended.

But so far as we head into day three of the search, it's been a very fruitless and frustrating effort in the search ongoing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEVENS (voice-over): A massive search operation is under way to locate the missing aircraft with 162 people aboard. Officials say 30 ships and 15 planes and helicopters are now searching for AirAsia Flight 8501. Its last known position was over the Java Sea.

Large waves and clouds initially hampered search efforts, which began on Sunday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is not easy, of course, in operation in -- in the sea, especially in the bad weather like this.

STEVENS: Seven zones were patrolled Monday, but there was no sign of wreckage. Four additional areas are now included in the search zone.

Indonesia's president is asking for patience from the families of those aboard the plane.

JOKO WIDODO, PRESIDENT OF INDONESIA (through translator): We will do all it takes to find the missing airplane. And we hope that families of victims will be patient and pray that this search will have a conclusion.

STEVEN: 5:36 a.m., the Airbus A-320 took off from the Indonesian city of Surabaya on Sunday morning. It was bound for Singapore, a flight that usually takes a little over two hours.

6:12, about 45 minutes into the flight, Indonesian officials said one of the pilots asked air traffic control permission to turn and climb to a higher altitude to try to avoid bad weather. Air traffic control approved the pilot's request to turn left but denied permission for the plane to climb to 38,000 feet from 32,000 feet.

6:18, six minutes later, the plane disappeared from radar.

Another six minutes later, 6:24 a.m., air traffic controllers lost contact with the aircraft. There was no distress call. One hundred and fifty-five passengers, most from Indonesia, and seven crew members were on board.

TONY FERNANDES, CEO, AIRASIA: Our concern right now is for the relatives and for the next of kin. There's nothing more important to us for our crew's family and for the passengers' family, that we look after them. That is our No. 1 priority at the moment.

STEVENS: Two teenaged girls looking for their parents are among those gathered at the Juanda International Airport here. Families are getting briefed at a crisis center set up at the airport. Closed-door meetings were held earlier with relatives and airline officials.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEVENS: So basically, Brianna, as you see there, the frustrations are mounting. It's interesting, though. This is a search that you can't help but draw comparisons with MH-370, the still-missing Malaysian Airlines plane. China has now joined this search. Australia is also part of it. Malaysia is. And the U.S., the USA, has been asked to start looking at contributing some sort of sophisticated underwater search equipment. The 7th Fleet says it's standing by, ready to help.

So this really is ramping up. And a lot of aviation analysts that I speak to say they expect some sort of news, some sort of breakthrough in the next 24 to 48 hours.

KEILAR: Certainly, and we'll be hoping for that, as well. Thank you so much, Andrew.

Let's bring in now CNN aviation correspondent Rene Marsh. She's taking a closer look at the plane that was involved, the Airbus A-320. We look at all aspects when something like this happens. What's the safety record of this plane?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: When you look at the A-320, it has a pretty good record. Consider this: every two seconds someplace in the world, every single day, you have an A-320 either taking off or landing. So that essentially just shows you how much this airplane is in the air. It is not only flown by international carriers, but almost every U.S. carrier flies the A-320.

When you talk about safety record, this specific family of aircraft, we know, has made some 85 million flights. But when you look at the accident rate, there have been about 26. So compare that. You have 85 million flights. The ratio of actual flights to the accident rate, 26, that's a pretty good record.

This specific aircraft that we're talking about here, that Flight 8501, we know it was a newer plane. It was delivered about 2008, October 2008. So it was just a little bit over six years old.

KEILAR: And right now it is 5 p.m. where we are. It is 5 a.m. in Surabaya. The search, I assume, will start again at sun-up?

MARSH: Yes, it will. Sun-up is when the aerial search will be back underway. We heard search-and-rescue officials say today that they believe that this aircraft is at the bottom of the Java Sea. And because of that, they have officially requested -- Indonesian officials have officially requested the U.S. help in the search effort here.

What that means is essentially they need that sonar equipment that enables them to search below the surface, if that's where they believe this aircraft is.

We also know two officials, two investigators from the French equivalent of the NTSB, they have been dispatched to the region. We also know -- I spoke with Airbus today. They've sent two experts there. Their role will essentially be to help identify pieces of the plane if and when it is found. They'll also be able to answer for investigators how the plane's systems work. That will be critical. So this is how we will move forward. But key is finding the wreckage.

They need to find that, and they need to find the black boxes in order to piece this together. We saw with MH-370 when you don't have the wreckage, investigators are pretty much at a dead end.

KEILAR: And there are some objects, but we don't know if they are important. So hopefully, those investigators coming from France will be able to shed some light on that, as well.

Rene Marsh, thank you so much. And we now know that the crew reported bad weather and requested a change of altitude just before the plane disappeared. CNN meteorologist Chad Myers is taking a closer look at how the weather might have factored into this.

Chad, what was going on when this plane vanished?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, we were still before sunrise. We were still, as the plane took off, in pretty good shape. But unlike storms in America, that pop up in the heat of the day, the storms along the equator actually can get stronger in the morning. The air separates, the air and the jet stream separate. So these storms can go up a little bit stronger.

I'm going to back you up to when the plane takes off. Here it goes into some bumpy weather. I'm sure the passengers all still had seat belts on, because they already are seeing some bumps. Then all of a sudden somewhere around 6:06 local time, the plane is approaching this wall of weather.

And now the pilots have to decide, where do we go? Left, right, up, down or between these storms? And this is where it gets so tricky, because at 6:16 -- 6:24, that's exactly the place where that plane was, in that most violent area of thunderstorm activity. It's up and down. It's bumpy. It's violent weather; 50,000-foot-tall thunderstorms here. And many of them are close together, up and down next to each other. The pilot has to find the smoothest place possible, because the air goes over the wing to make the plane fly.

This is how a plane flies. Because the wing on top is a longer distance than the wing flap on the bottom, that is -- creates the lift to make the plane go up. If you lose that laminar lift, that laminar flow, you get the potential for stalling. And stalling means the plane no longer has lift. And that's what we can see -- and even right now, that last frame right there, storms are popping up.

Now, this is still about an hour and a half from where the plane was lost. But storms are popping up right now. And so they're popping up, obviously, right now in the search area, and we don't need that. We need clear skies and not much wind. And I don't see that in the forecast.

KEILAR: All right, Chad Myers, thank you so much.

I want to get more now on the breaking news with the former chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, Deborah Hersman. She's now president and CEO of the National Safety Council. Deborah, thanks so much for being with us. And let us know what the

latest is that you're hearing, if there's any new leads as to where the plane could be.

DEBORAH HERSMAN, PRESIDENT/CEO, NATIONAL SAFETY COUNCIL: You know, unfortunately, I think it's been a long night for everyone over there waiting to begin the search again. The good news is they're asking for help from folks who do have assets. And I know that engaging the U.S., everyone is standing by to assist. There is no such thing as a domestic accident anymore. Aviation is an international endeavor, and we all are participating. And we can all learn from what we find in this event.

KEILAR: You've led so many NTSB investigations. Walk us through what steps are likely being taken right now and just how important, how crucial is this time as we speak, these first couple of days, in the investigation?

HERSMAN: The first couple of days really are about holding that evidence down, collecting all the perishable information and making sure you've got things like records, meteorological data, all of the information that everyone can capture. You want to do that.

For the investigators, for many of them -- you heard about those traveling from the BEA of France and from Airbus -- it's really about getting there. And so for some of these locations, you're having to travel halfway around the world. And that does take time for those folks to get on the ground and really begin the work that they're doing.

But really, the hardest -- hardest part of all of this is for those families. And it's really important to take care of those loved ones as this search goes on. That's a very difficult position for them to be in. And for the officials of the airline and of the company, they don't have a lot of information to share with them. And so that gets very difficult, too.

KEILAR: Yes, you definitely -- you can imagine that.

One of the things I think so many people who watched the search for Malaysia Air Flight 370, one of the things that we came to realize was that the Malaysian government really struggled when it came to leading the search for that plane.

So I wonder when it comes to the Indonesian government, is this a reliable partner or a reliable leader in an investigation like this?

HERSMAN: You know, I think the whole world probably learned a lot after 370. And for sure, it's about asking people for information, maybe not people in your own country but others for information about air traffic, about tracking, about radar, about information; and asking for help and asking for equipment. Some of those things are happening now.

And I'd like to think that everyone learned from 370 to begin to engage all of those assets and resources as soon as possible and not to waste time. And so I think what you're seeing now, particularly in engagement with the families, is very different than what we saw in 370; and also what you're seeing as far as international cooperation and asking for help. It's sometimes hard, but it is really important in situations like this.

KEILAR: Yes. Multinational effort coming together very quickly now. We'll be talking about that after the break.

We'll be right back with Deborah Hersman, the former chair of the NTSB. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: We're following breaking news: the search for that missing AirAsia flight set to resume soon with daybreak. That's really just in the next few minutes. And Indonesian officials say they are expanding the hunt to four new areas. The third day of a massive operation looking for any sign of the plane and its 162 passengers and crew.

We are back now with the former chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, Deborah Hersman. Thanks again, Deborah, for being back with us.

And I think so many people look at this particular case and the fact that this plane went into a thunderstorm. They wonder if a thunderstorm in itself would be enough to bring down a commercial plane.

HERSMAN: You know, I think there's a lot of people asking that question. And unfortunately, in aviation, we often see these low- probability, high-consequence events that we don't anticipate.

I think many of us didn't expect that a flock of geese could take down an airliner by ingesting in both engines geese until we had the Miracle on the Hudson.

But we just don't know what happened here. Generally, commercial transport category aircraft are very robust. Thunderstorms, lightning, things like that don't -- don't tend to be the things that give them problems. Smaller aircraft, yes. They are affected. Home- built aircraft, experimental aircraft, small, few seats, you know, on an aircraft, yes. We see in-flight break-ups with convective activity and thunderstorms. But not large transport category airplanes in the recent past.

And so I would say we expect them to generally hold up pretty well. But we're always going to be looking for things that we didn't understand or weaknesses or performance issues that we need to -- we need to figure out.

KEILAR: And typically you're looking at other things, like human error or perhaps mechanical failure that coincided or resulted from bad weather, right?

HERSMAN: Right. Generally weather can be a factor in an investigation. It could be a factor as far as cause, but it's generally not -- again, in transport category aircraft, it's not going to be the sole factor.

But we've learned a lot over the years. There were phenomena like wind shear that had to be understood, that we did lose aircraft before we really fully understood that. But again, we still have wind shear, but it's about making sure that we have alerts, that the pilots can understand what's happening and that we train the pilots so that they know how to get out of those events.

KEILAR: The pilot in this case was flying at 32,000 feet, requested to ascend. Air traffic control said no. We do have a screen grab at this point that we're still trying to confirm that, at least according to this screen grab of air traffic control, that the pilot appears to have ascended anyway to about 36,000 feet. That request, though, to ascend, what does that tell you as an investigator?

HERSMAN: You know, I think the good news is we have information in this one that, actually, there was active communication with air traffic control. They're identifying that there's something that they're concerned about. They feel like either it's a safety risk or a comfort concern for their passengers, and they are asking for clearance to deviate from their flight path. And so that's saying that there's something going on.

You want to take that in context. Look at all of the radar data at the information. Understand what the other aircraft in that area are doing. It is not unusual for a pilot to ask for clearance to get around weather. We all know that there are times when we fly. Pilots will be working to get around weather or around turbulence, that we can have a smoother flight. And it really is up to air traffic control to keep the aircraft separated while they're in-flight. That's their job. And so that's why the pilots have to ask them for clearance.

KEILAR: Just this year, Deborah, we've seen three Malaysian flights. This is AirAsia, but it's headquartered in Malaysia. They've gone missing, or they have crashed. The flight over Ukraine traveling over a war zone, MH-370 still missing. Is this all just a coincidence, or is there something to this?

HERSMAN: I think it's a very unfortunate series of events affecting carriers from a certain part of the world. We still don't know what happened to 370. And certainly, the shooting -- shooting down of the aircraft over the Ukraine, that -- that was being in the wrong place at the wrong time, certainly for that airline. And this one, I think we don't know has happened yet.

But it does point to the incredible growth that we're seeing in this part of the world with respect to traffic, with respect to the number of aircraft that are flying and the demand that is being placed in this part of the world for resources. Whether it's crewing the aircraft with pilots or having mechanics, there is a lot going on. And as we've seen in this one, we have a pilot from another country who is in the co-pilot seat here. So there is definitely a demand. There's a rise in traffic and a huge

growth. They're in the top five in the world as far as capacity and growth.

KEILAR: Do you see perhaps because of that growth and capacity that perhaps Malaysia is taking risks that they should not be taking, that airlines there are taking risks?

HERSMAN: eYou know, I will say that this particular airline, AirAsia, had a good safety record, compared to other air carriers in the region. The air carriers that are blacklisted by the E.U., by the European Union, they're bilateral relationships between the U.S. and other countries.

And so whether there's a concern over the carrier or concern over the country's oversight capabilities, those issues do tend to get dealt with.

But I will say that fast growth is a cause for concern. You've got to pay attention. You're bringing a lot of new capacity into the environment. You're bringing a lot of new -- potentially new pilots into a fleet. You might be bringing or introducing new aircraft types into a fleet.

And so just as we pay attention to a carrier when there's contraction or they file for bankruptcy, it's just as important to pay attention to carriers during times of great expansion, because that also places strain on operations.

KEILAR: This is -- when you talked about introducing new aircraft, this is an Airbus 320. This is a workhorse. This aircraft is used so much around the world. Do you have any worries about this particular aircraft?

HERSMAN: You know, this is a workhorse of the aviation fleet. You were talking earlier about the numbers of take-offs and landings all around the world using this aircraft type.

And what we see from not just this aircraft type but all of our transport category aircraft is that they are incredibly safe. They have a tremendous safety record. It gets better every year when you talk about reliability and performance of the aircraft.

But we have to understand, when we have events like this, we have to understand what happened, why it happened and how we can prevent something like this from occurring in the future. And I think until we find that wreckage, we still have a lot of unanswered questions.

KEILAR: Deborah, it seems like we're in this age of being in constant contact with other human beings certainly. At any given minute, every few minutes, a lot of us are, you know, touching base with someone. And yet when it comes to airplanes, there seem to be these gaps. Why aren't there better real-time tracking devices on commercial planes?

HERSMAN: I would say that a lot of technology has grown exponentially in the last two decades. And I think certainly when we look at the number of cell phone towers that have gone up, the penetration of portable electronic devices that all of us have, we've seen real growth and real change.

But when it comes to aviation, a lot of their tracking systems have been ground-based tracking systems, radar, over the years. And many of these areas where you don't have that ground-based system that operate over water, they're dark. And it's been like that for some time.

We really have the opportunity now to move to satellite-based tracking and to be able to share data and share information in a more coherent way when it comes to aviation. I think that is the opportunity ahead of us, and there's nothing that underscores that like 370 and this event to really bring it home.

KEILAR: Deborah, thanks so much for being with us. Deborah Hersman, the former chair of the National Transportation Safety Board. We really appreciate your time today.

HERSMAN: Thank you.

KEILAR: And coming up, a closer look at how pilots regain control of a plane that's stalled and is falling out of the sky.

Also, one of the biggest unanswered questions: why was there no distress call from the AirAsia jet's cockpit? You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: We continue our breaking news coverage of the search for the missing AirAsia airliner. It's dawn in the Java Sea. Search planes should be in the air anytime now looking for wreckage.

Also, the Pentagon says Indonesia has asked the U.S. for help with the search. And that help could include air, surface, subsurface detection capabilities.

With us now in THE SITUATION ROOM, we have Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board. We have CNN law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes, a former assistant director of the FBI. We have CNN safety analyst, David Souci, who is a safety inspector for the FAA, and we have oceanographer David Gallo, who helped discover the wreckage of Air France 447 in the Atlantic Ocean.

To you first, David Souci. We have a leaked screen grab, and it purportedly showed the flight path of AirAsia 8501. It shows the plane ascending and losing speed. What does that tell us?

DAVID SOUCI, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: It tells us that the aircraft was obviously ascending, but in that flight position going up into that altitude like that, I have two questions. One is, it really had not been authorized, from the information that we have, to make that climb yet. When the air traffic controller went back after clearing the airspace at 38,000 feet, went back to communicate with the aircraft, it wasn't able to reach the aircraft.

So in that realm, I'd have some questions as to why the aircraft went ahead and ascended, which would indicate that there was an emergency of some kind that he had to respond to.

So at that point, and if the reported air speed is correct, which I have some questions about, if you look at the screen grab, there are some questions as to what the air speed really was. So if the air speed was as low as being reported, then the aircraft would have been in a stall position.

But if you look at that screen grab, down in the bottom right-hand corner, it says 353, which is the indicated air speed, which would be a normal speed. It would not be a stall speed. So I'm a little confused on what that screen grab is telling us at this moment.

KEILAR: All right. So that isn't too slow. That isn't -- I read somewhere it was 100 knots too slow to maintain flight in an ascent, no?

SOUCI: Right. And that's -- and that's what was reported, as well. But converting the knots there's there -- now ground speed versus indicated air speed are two entirely different things in terms of, you know, winds aloft and whether the wind is behind them or in front of them. But the wind would have to be very high to make that air speed that low to be able to not sustain flight. And indicated air speed is what keeps that aircraft in the air; it's not ground speed. It has to do with the relative wind speed to the speed of the aircraft. So at that point, I'm still not convinced that that shows us that that air speed was that low.

KEILAR: OK. So we still need kind of to double-check some data?

SOUCI: I think so.

KEILAR: Certainly that's why we're looking -- rescuers and searchers are looking to see if they can find that data. So key.

So Tom, you know, this is an airline and an airplane with a pretty good safety record, right?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Right.

KEILAR: I mean, this is -- so this is sort of -- it's a budget airline. But up until this point, its record was clean, as you understand it?

FUENTES: Yes, yes, there's no indication that they weren't meeting their safety requirements that they needed to meet. There's no indication of any kind of foul play with the aircraft or, you know, something wrong with the pilot or co-pilot. So we don't have any of that.

So far, I think the weather dominates the story until proven otherwise, that this is the one thing that affected this aircraft that was different than the other, that it was in extreme terrible weather, compared to MH-370, which was a clear, calm night when that went missing.

KEILAR: So -- and to that point, Peter, we've been fielding a lot of questions, very good questions, I should say, on Twitter from some viewers. And one of the things that we keep hearing over and over is one about whether the U.S. would essentially allow planes to go through, go around, even really take off, knowing that this weather is out there. What do you think?

FUENTES: Well, I think that there were a number of planes in front of this aircraft, and there were a number of planes behind this aircraft. And I think that the take-off was, in fact, legitimate. The idea that they should have grounded this flight. Nobody else grounded flights that night that I'm aware of. And I think we should interview the pilots that were preceding it and the flights that were following up and see exactly how tough the weather was.

But storms are -- they're living creatures almost. And this guy could have run into a very tough cell.

KEILAR: Certainly. I want to bring in our CNN weather anchor, Chad Myers, to talk about that. Chad, what does weather like this do to a plane?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, it will shake it, and I've been in plenty of airplanes that have fallen 500 feet or gone up 500 in violent up or downdrafts. But I want to put the people out there, viewers at ease, because weather like this happens every day.

This is the inter-tropical convergence zone. This is where hurricanes, typhoons, cyclones are made. This is the air coming together and rising rapidly and thunderstorms develop. And we have a plane going through this type of weather probably every day and we don't have planes missing every day. So, yes, this was a tough situation. But it's more than weather with this. There's something else going on here, weather created the stress, it created the drama. But it likely didn't bring the plane down. We don't even have any significant indications that the weather was that bad.

But something else was going on here. We have weather like this every day.

I want to take you now to what happened as it took off. It took off. There was no weather through here. So when you say, should we have canceled the flight? No, the thunderstorms hadn't even developed yet.

Now, we're getting about -- 30 minutes before the plane disappears, now these storms are getting very big. Now they're getting violent, and now this pilot has to fly through a fence of weather that's going up rather rapidly.

And so when he talked about weather being a living breathing thing, the weather here certainly is a living, breathing in. The storms were 50,000 feet tall. When you get violent weather like that, you can affect the laminar flow over a wing.

The wind takes a plane and lifts it into the air, because the air that went over the wing is faster than the air going down below. We've known this for 100 years. But it's the lift that, if you lose it, it's called the stall in an airplane. And that stall is what possibly happened, especially if that wind speed, or that air speed was correct.

Let me take you back here. This is a satellite picture live all the way up to right now. Now, we're going to back you up again. All of a sudden you're going to see these storms here. They weren't there an hour ago. They have just popped up. It happens every morning here in the ITCZ (ph). And this is what the pilots dealt with yesterday and the day before that and then years before that. It's the same story every day here as storms pop up quickly.

KEILAR: Yes. Quickly developing. Chad, thanks. Stand by for us.

I want to ask David Gallo a question. This weather that we're hearing -- you were involved in that -- recovering the Air France flight going from Rio to Paris. So you know so much about this, this recovery process. When you're talking about searching for wreckage, what impact does that kind of weather that Chad was just showing us have?

DAVID GALLO, OCEANOGRAPHER: Well, while you're doing the air search, it has a fairly large impact, because it makes it difficult for planes to stay in the air; it affects visibility. On the surface of the sea, if the winds are whipping up waves, it can make it difficult for ships to be out there and do their work. So it's all -- the idea in any kind of survey -- search like this is to run a very, very tight grid to you don't miss any spots. And rough weather hampers that.

KEILAR: And generally speaking, though, I mean, when you talk about the Java Sea, this is more shallow than the southern Indian Ocean, for sure, where the search for Malaysian Air Flight 370 is ongoing. I mean, you would expect this -- we heard from Andrew Stevens, that investigators and rescuers, searchers, are hoping they get some sort of break in the next couple of days.

GALLO: I think, yes, that's a bit -- there's not going to be anything easy about this or nothing routine. Certainly, shallow water has its advantages. But also some disadvantages. The currents can be higher at depth, and the visibility may be low because of sediments that come off the land masses. So it will have its own set of issues.

But you're right. We're hoping anytime now. Even though the search area now is larger than the Malaysian Air initial search area. So we're still talking about covering an awful lot of ground, and we're day two into this now, doing into day three.

KEILAR: Do you -- you think 48 hours more hoping for a break might be sort of ambitious?

GALLO: Well, like with Malaysian Air 370, day one when we thought it was in the Gulf of Thailand, I thought that would be over in one day. And here we are still almost ten months later looking for that. So I'm hoping and praying that, especially for the sake of the families and loved ones of the people on board that plane, that there's some break today and someone sees something that gives us tangible evidence that there's an aircraft somewhere in that area.

KEILAR: Peter, we're hearing, it sounds like, the general consensus is, the weather was bad but that's not enough. Perhaps it was human error, perhaps it was some sort of mechanical failure. Perhaps it was a combination of all of these three things. Going into bad weather like this, obviously pilots want to fly around it, but they're trained to deal with something like this, aren't they?

PETER GOELZ, FORMER MANAGING DIRECTOR, NTSB: Pilots train for it all the time. And they occasionally fly through it. And it's part of the unusual situation training that they go through. And particularly with the chief pilot, who had 20,000 hours, both as an Air Force pilot and as a commercial pilot, he would have been absolutely capable of flying into this kind of weather, making the kind of command decisions that are necessary to keep the plane safe.

KEILAR: I wonder if you think, Tom, there's perhaps anything suspicious? When Malaysian Air Flight 370 went down, everyone was sort of looked at. What might there be a motivation to do something like this on purpose? Is there anything suspicious here?

FUENTES: Now that -- looking at the passengers and the crew and all the people involved with an aircraft is going to be a matter of routine investigation even in this case.

But, again, you don't have -- it's less mysterious in a way, even though we don't have the plane and haven't been able to corroborate that that's what happened. But it's just so coincidental that it's flying into horrible weather and then this happens and it was asking to change its altitude. And I think that that's what's making this one different or less mysterious as far as did a pilot do it, did a terrorist hijack the plane? That is so coincidental, it seems like, the horrible weather.

KEILAR: David Souci, the plane is obviously built to handle this turbulence. Is there a certain point, though, where a storm is just too much for a plane to handle?

SOUCI: Well, obviously, there is a point where it would break. But when I did destructive testing down at the Cessna Wallace division, my job was to try to break wings. And we did that. And it takes an enormous amount of pressure to do that, much more pressure than what the physical weight of the aircraft would be coming down on it.

So you're talking about having to go up and down about 1,000 feet up and 1,000 feet down to create the kind of inertia that would break those wings. So that, to me, is highly unlikely in this aircraft. It's well-tested. And just from experience, I wouldn't think that that's the first thing that I would suspect on this accident.

KEILAR: David, when will an underwater search begin? At what point does that happen?

GALLO: Well, maybe if they've got a decent last known position, you start right away trying to hear the pingers on the black boxes. That might be something they want to do. And maybe they've put buoys in the water to look for drift around that area so that we can backtrack any kind of debris that we might find in the days to come.

But, you know, if there's equipment available, and the fact that they're asking the United States halfway around the world kind of says to me that there's not a lot of equipment available. But if it is, you might pick an area around that last known position and just start mowing the lawn back and forth. So it could be any day now that they decide to do it.

KEILAR: OK. And it will take some time for that equipment to get there, as well.

All right. Peter Goelz, thank you so much. David Souci, David Gallo and Tom Fuentes, thanks to all of you for being on our panel today.

And next, why don't airliners carry black boxes that track them in real time, even though the technology, it does exist?

Also, new details and harrowing new stories from survivors who spent hours trapped aboard a burning ferry.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: The mystery of what happened to the AirAsia jet is renewing calls for better tracking devices aboard airliners.

CNN business correspondent Alison Kosik looked into the available technology.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Right now, when an airplane disappears the story of what went wrong vanishes with the black box. But what if we had those answers all along?

RICHARD HAYDEN, FORMER DIRECTOR, FLYHT: We would know where the aircraft has gone, where it is, and we would have information on what happened in the meantime.

KOSIK: Canadian company, FLYHT, makes live streaming recorders that send information in real time. It's part of a satellite based system that monitors the plane's exact lotion, engine conditions and more.

HAYDEN: The system transmits every -- say, every five to 10 minutes on a normal flight.

KOSIK: If something goes wrong like the plane deviating from its route the system will start streaming live second-by-second data.

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: That kind of information is not only life-saving but it adds a tremendous measure of security for a country.

KOSIK: There are several mechanisms that transmit a plane's data. But Hayden says unlike those systems the technology behind FLYHT is more extensive, sharing a tremendous amount of information. So much information, critics say, it could be difficult to monitor and analyze if widely adopted.

Right now, FLYHT's technology is only fitted to a few hundred planes. It can be installed for about $100,000. Normal data transmission costs between a few dollars to $15 per flight hour, and goes up for continuous streaming in a rare emergency, a cost carriers might not be willing to pay.

SCHIAVO: They are very cost sensitive and they simply will not add additional safety measures unless mandated by the federal government.

KOSIK: But with more questions about another missing commercial jet, a high tech black box may get a second look.

HAYDEN: The technology exists. It's in service. It's economical. And the question now is how to get more widespread use.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOSIK: Besides cost, the other reason commercial jets don't have that kind of satellite technology, they're waiting on a task force to decide on which technology to adopt for entire fleets and when they do decide, planes that fly international will get that technology first.

But, Brianna, that's not expected to happen for another five to 10 years.

KEILAR: That is a long time. Alison Kosik, thank you so much.

With us now in THE SITUATION ROOM, aviation writer, Clive Irving. He's a contributor to the "Daily Beast."

Clive, thank you for being with us. And I want to talk to you about this article you've written for "The Daily Beast." It's about flight recording technology. You say that the technology does exist. We heard that it's going to take five to 10 years and even then we're talking just international flights so that you can track these planes that make crash over the sea.

How does this work, this technology?

CLIVE IRVING, CONTRIBUTOR, THE DAILY BEAST: This is the second time in 10 months that we've seen the enormous expense and frustration of these sea searches. It's all about what happens when a plane just goes into an ocean.

You remember that the only thing we had with MH-370 was through a company called Inmarsat, who owned this fleet of satellites and it was because they had one tenuous contact with that plane we know where it went. So I went to London and talked to the people at Inmarsat because they do have the technology that can make this happen.

In fact, their equipment just has 80 percent of the world's wide body fleet. The plane involved in this AirAsia accident was a narrow body but Inmarsat know this technology, they have it, and that they are ready to put it into action. I think the important point about it is it doesn't only tell you where the plane has gone down, and that in itself is essential.

But so when a system which triggers -- when there's any deviation from the plane's planned route, when a plane is upset in any way, it stops -- not only does it stop recording all the vital signs and the information that the flight recorder normally gathers, it can intercept that information, create a (INAUDIBLE) the essential workings of everything that matters in an emergency like.

And it starts transmitting. It will -- these signals will go to the satellite, they will override all other traffic. They'll get a priority, that's the protocol. And so between the time that something happens to a plane, as in this case, for example, and when it hits the water, if that's what it ends up doing, it will already have a lot of data and tell you what went wrong in that plane. You will also have where it went down in the ocean.

Now the idea that this should take another five or 10 years to be installed is to me preposterous because I think any industry responsible to so many lives as the aviation industry is, has to have a damn good reason while they fail to adopt a readily available technology like this and why it will take so long to do it.

I'd like to see one airline which has a responsibility of flying over oceans, for example, like British Airways, perhaps, to step up to the plate and say, we're ready, we are not going to wait for this to happen any longer, we will do it. And I would hope to see that kind of pressure, plus some political pressure, I think, from Congress is also necessary to make this thing -- we should never be living through the kind of thing that we've lived through this year, with this tragic sequence of two crashes into the ocean, all these lost lives and all these expenses, all this equipment required to go looking for them. It's crazy.

KEILAR: So what's the hang-up, Clive? What is it? Bureaucracy, cost?

IRVING: I think there's a consensus amongst all the organizations that run aviation, that govern aviation, that they've (INAUDIBLE) down into so many sub-commissions and subcommittees and so on. It's what Churchill described -- how Churchill described a committee as a horse -- as a camel, as a horse designed by committee would be a camel. And this is a very cumbrous organization and it will never react any faster than it does without some political charge and jolt to it. I think a lot of public is entitled to be very angered about this situation.

KEILAR: Yes. No, certainly they are. Five to 10 years, I think everyone can agree is too long.

Clive Irving, thank you so, so much. Really appreciate your time.

The AirAsia jet's disappearance raises new questions about the search for the Malaysian Airliner that vanished this year. Be sure to watch tonight at 9:00 Eastern when CNN presents a special report on the mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. And at the top of the hour we have much more on the search for the missing AirAsia plane. We're also following the harrowing ordeal off the coast of Italy and

Greece where hundreds of passengers spent hours trapped aboard a burning ferry. Rescuers say that 427 people made it off alive. Amazing, and yet 10 passengers died.

Let's go now to CNN's Nima Elbagir.

Nima, give us the latest here. These pictures are -- I can't even imagine how scared the people were on board this ferry.

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And even safely off it, Brianna. The survivors we've been speaking to, they've been stumbling over their words. You can -- you can see the inability to believe even now that they went through this, that they survived this. One woman told me that they actually had to get to the highest point on this already extraordinarily unstable vessel.

It was right on the roof, there were no railings. It was pitch black. They had to wait there in the hope that one of those helicopter pilots that was battling through the smoke would make it through and pick a handful of them up. Those helicopters could only take three or four at a push.

And even now, Brianna, we're right on the seacoast here, the weather is still really bad. And the ship, with the survivors on it, the remaining survivors, it still hasn't docked at port. And concern is growing because you have a number of different nationalities on this ship. Already there's a lot of conversation about the different numbers of missing we're hearing. The Italian coast guard has 10 dead. The Greek authorities believe there could be even more, Brianna.

KEILAR: Terrible. Nima, thank you so much. We'll be checking in with you to update the story.

We have more breaking news next. The latest on the search for the missing AirAsia jet with 162 people on board. How soon will the U.S. be joining this effort?

Plus, new information about the pilot and the personal loss that he suffered just days before the plane vanished.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: Happening now, the search is resuming. We're tracking new efforts to find an AirAsia passenger jet about 48 hours after it vanished. New international help is on the way as the missing plane mystery unfolds.

Radar clues. Did the jet stall in flight during violent weather? Our aviation experts are analyzing all of the newest evidence about what may have happened to the plane and the people on board.

And grieving pilot. We have new information about the plane's captain, including his flight record and a very personal loss only days ago. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the

world. Wolf Blitzer is off today, I'm Brianna Keilar. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.