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THE SITUATION ROOM

No Sign of Missing AirAsia Plane; Search For Missing Plane Resumes; CEO Faces Worst Nightmare as Plane Search Resumes; Top Republican Doesn't Deny Speech to White Supremacist, North Korea Slams Obama Amid Movie Uproar

Aired December 29, 2014 - 18:00   ET

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


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: 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.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KEILAR: We have breaking news this hour.

The search for a missing AirAsia passenger plane is due to get back under way and expand to cover four additional areas. It's about 6:00 a.m. Tuesday in Indonesia just after daybreak. It's been two full days since air controllers lost contact with the Airbus jet with 162 people on board. Local authorities now are formally asking the U.S. for help. The Pentagon says it's ready to assist, possibly with equipment to search from the air and on or below the water's surface.

The aircraft was last detected over the Java Sea about halfway through its flight from Indonesia to Singapore. And there's been no trace of the plane since then. Investigators say bad weather was probably a factor in the plane's disappearance. They suspect it's now at the bottom of the sea.

But nothing is certain until some debris and the jet's black boxes are found. Our correspondents and analysts are standing by, and they're exploring all the newest information about the plane, its pilots and what went wrong.

First to CNN's Andrew Stevens. He's at the airport in Surabaya, Indonesia, where the missing plane took off.

Andrew, give us the latest.

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, it is full light here. The planes have taken off, the ships are resuming their search from the overnight and there's real hopes in the next 24 to 48 hours we will get some way towards unlocking this mystery.

Most aviation experts I speak to say this is the expectation, next two days, within the next two days we will have some clues as to the wreckage of the flight. At this stage, though, it has been fruitless so far. There are now 30 ships in the area, and there are 15 fixed- wing and helicopter aircraft also in the area. It's being joined all the time by other countries.

The Australians joined yesterday. Malaysia is sending vessels as well. China has become the latest country, it's sending boats, land and aircraft as well, surface -- I should say sea and aircraft to the area.

And the U.S. is also being asked to -- if it can provide some sort of sophisticated underwater detection equipment, sonar equipment to help in the search. So it really is ramping up all the time. But at the moment, it is just a desperate wait, desperate wait for the families here.

Surabaya Airport is the crisis center for this -- for what's been happening here. The families are gathering, about 90 families; 150 of the 155 passengers on that flight were Indonesians. Families gathering here increasingly frustrated, understandably, because they're just not getting information. They say they're getting more information from the television than they are from official channels.

But the officials are saying, well, we just don't know at the moment. We need more time, we need new leads so we can pass that on. Very frustrating for everyone concerned at the moment -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, must be very difficult. Andrew, thank you so much for that update.

Now we want to get a detailed account about what we know about the plane really from the moment that it took off.

Let's bring in aviation correspondent Rene Marsh.

Walk us through this, Rene.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, we're talking about just 36 minutes after takeoff, the pilot was concerned, and there were problems. That's when the problems began. But why this plane never arrived at its destination remains a mystery tonight. French crash investigators have been dispatched and experts from Airbus are there to I.D. pieces of the plane if and when it's found.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH (voice-over): Rescuers believe AirAsia Flight 8501 is in the bottom of the sea, but where?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We realize the worst thing that maybe happened.

MARSH: On the full first day of the operation, 15 planes and 30 ships scanned these two areas in the Java Sea for wreckage. Still no sign of the jetliner.

STEVE WALLACE, FORMER FAA ACCIDENT INVESTIGATOR: They have a very good idea where it was. It's in a confined area, and also in an area where the water is relatively shallow, 150 feet vs. 10,000 or 20,000 feet. So all of those factors to me make it likely the airplane will be found. MARSH: Sunday morning, 5:36 local time, the Airbus A-320 takes off

from the Indonesian city of Surabaya, bound for Singapore, about a two-hour flight. Thirty-six minutes later, trying to avoid a violent thunderstorm, the pilot asks air traffic control permission to turn and climb to a higher altitude, the request denied.

JOHN GOGLIA, FORMER MEMBER, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: This airplane was not allowed to climb to 38,000 feet initially after the request was because there were so many other airplanes in the area. So other airplanes are flying through it. What made this airplane crash? Was the weather so bad at that spot?

MARSH: Or was it how the pilot reacted or something else? Those questions remain.

About 42 minutes into the flight, AirAsia 8501 vanishes from radar, all contact lost without even a mayday call. An hour-and-a-half after contact is lost, the plane is declared missing.

GOGLIA: I think the timeline in this case, A, is much better than it was for Malaysia 370, and I think it's most likely reasonable. By the time you get people notified, a whole host of people notified that you have communications issues with an airplane, and it dropped off radar, I think that that timeline is probably fair.

MARSH: The focus also on the man flying. The captain had more than 20,000 hours of experience. A social media post thought to be by the captain's daughter reads in part: "Dad, please come home. I still need you."

The captain's father told the BBC he last saw him at a recent funeral of another son.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH: Based on the flight path and the last known coordinates, search teams believe that 8501 is in the bottom of the sea.

For that reason, Indonesian officials have asked the United States, France, and the U.K. for sonar equipment, which, of course, would be used for an underwater search. But we're moving into that third day of searching and many people say this is the prime reason why aircraft should be tracked in real time, Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, everyone saying that. Yet the technology exists and it's not in planes yet. Rene Marsh, thank you so much.

I want to take a closer look now at the violent weather around the time that the AirAsia flight vanished.

We will be joined now by CNN meteorologist and severe weather expert Chad Myers.

This, Chad, was a very serious thunderstorm.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Sure, sure it was. It was in the ITCZ, Intertropical Convergence Zone. That's an area

around the globe, around the equator, almost on top of the equator at times that storms pop up. But they pop up every day, that's the thing. I'm going to back you up now 48-and-a-half-hours, the plane takes off, gets through some of this weather, bumpy, probably lap belts are still on, but then all of a sudden look at this weather that pops up about 47-and-a-half-hours ago.

Right there is where the plane got into this very heavy thunderstorm activity. That's where we lost it, 50,000-foot tops. Can't fly over that. The plane is just not going to go that high. So even though they requested to go higher, they're not going to fly over that storm. There's just no way. They're going to have to go around it somehow, so they saw something on the radar, that's why they likely requested that.

But when the air collides at the equator, it can't go down, the earth is in the way, it has to go up. When the air goes up, strong thunderstorms, strong updrafts, strong downdrafts are also created and that is what this story is all about. Up and down, big left, right, whatever type of eddies this plane was in. And then look at this.

This now is right now -- this is exactly what has just happened in the past couple of hours. A similar line, although not here, here, a similar long line of storms, difficult to navigate around or through, has just popped up. These storms like this happen every single morning in the tropics, just like right now.

KEILAR: Yes. We're looking at the combination of the weather and also how a plane might have responded to this, how pilots may have responded to this. Chad Myers, thank you so much.

I want to bring in now our team of experts. They're familiar faces here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We have CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, former NTSB Managing Director Peter Goelz, CNN safety analyst David Soucie, and oceanographer David Gallo, who helped discover the wreckage of Air France Flight 447 in the Atlantic Ocean.

David Soucie, to you first. How important is a pilot's reaction when it comes to rough weather?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Well, it's not the reaction as in I feel something and I'm responding to it. It's the reaction to the perception of what's going on in front of them. So that's where the first initial reaction comes in.

That can be changed a lot based on how much they rely on their equipment. So this type of situation, if you over-rely on what you see on the screen, it may not give you the best picture of what's in front of you. So it's the reaction to what is scene and the perception of what is ahead of them that is so critical for the pilots.

They have a lot of choices that they can make. Turn around, continue through, climb or descend or try to go around it. But that's the when most errors are made that cause accidents is when that perception is reacted to improperly.

KEILAR: If you're a frequent flyer, Peter, chances are you have been through rough weather. I fly a lot. I have only been through I think one really terrible downdraft where it felt we were just falling out of the sky. That must be very disorienting to a pilot to be dealing with conditions like that. Where can things go wrong?

PETER GOELZ, FORMER MANAGING DIRECTOR, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: Well, sure.

These planes are extraordinarily robust. They can take almost anything the weather can toss at it. David mentioned about testing wing loads at Cessna. These things are tough.

Where you get into the issue is, how do pilots respond to it? What is the plane telling them and are they correctly interpreting? We won't know that until we get the black box. But this weather in and of itself I don't believe was enough to cause this tragedy.

KEILAR: Do you liken it in a way -- I mean, is it realistic, is it fair to liken it to, for instance, if you skid on ice as a driver, and what you're taught to do, right, is to kind of turn into the skid, don't hit the brakes, and yet everyone wants to turn and hit the brakes. It's sort of -- it's not really what you want to do naturally. But this is something that pilots are prepared for.

GOELZ: Pilots train for this every time they get in the simulator. There's always one kind of challenging event, oftentimes weather- related. And they fly through weather like this on occasion.

This should not have been a challenge. As we have reported, this kind of weather is common on that route throughout the winter months. So, no, I don't think -- I think these pilots were prepared technically for it. There was something else going on.

KEILAR: Something else going on. That's really -- we're looking for the combination factors I think in all this. Obviously the black box will help with that. There's the search continuing for that.

I wonder, David Gallo, having helped in the recovery of Air France Flight 447, where the expectation was that -- was that the plane had ascended, the speed was too slow, the plane stalled and really fell in one piece to the ocean, do you see any possible similarities here?

DAVID GALLO, WOODS HOLE OCEANOGRAPHIC INSTITUTION: Well, Brianna, we got that information from the black boxes after the black boxes were recovered, although we did have some indication from the wreckage that the plane belly-flopped, belly-smacked on the surface of the ocean.

The things that are similar is that both aircraft were heading into turbulence. Both are Airbuses, and both rely a bit, quite a bit on computers to fly the plane. One of the things that I wonder about is that handoff. It was an issue in the Air France 447 case, the handoff between the computer and the pilots. So when the computer said I can't figure this out, you fly the plane,

and in that case, they were unable to fly it. Not only that, but they were totally preoccupied in the cockpit to the point there was no mayday issued in that case either. So we're going to have to wait again until we get those black boxes. But there are some parallels, so it seems.

KEILAR: Tom, this is one of the things that we heard from the former chair of the NTSB, Deborah Hersman. She said when it comes to aviation, this is not just this happens in Indonesia. It's a Malaysian headquartered plane. That doesn't matter. This is an international issue.

You have been talking certainly to people about this investigation. What is the latest that you're hearing?

TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right now, there's no suspicion of anybody, the cockpit crew or the passengers or the ground crew. At this time, although they do the investigation and they look at that and try to and look everybody that was on that plane and look at the baggage that was loaded and the cargo, but there's so far no suspicion of that.

As David mentioned, really they're hoping to find the wreckage, find the black boxes and get the key determination as to what brought it down.

KEILAR: Yes. That's really the only way we are going to know.

David Soucie, there's this screen grab. It reportedly -- well, was leaked by an Indonesian air traffic controller and it appears to show that this flight was rising in altitude, but it was losing speed. This is a very bad combination. I should mention that CNN can't validate the authenticity of this image, but when you're looking at that, explain what could have happened.

SOUCIE: At this point, in the screen grab, if it is indeed correct, as you mentioned, what they're saying that it says is that the aircraft was climbing, because there's a little arrow down there that shows the aircraft was climbing, and it was at 36,300 feet in a climbing attitude.

So at that point, you're saying the aircraft did, in fact, go up to the higher altitude, which it was not approved to do. It was actually waiting for approval, because air traffic controllers, as Peter had said, had not approved that to happen. So at this point, the aircraft has run out of enough forward initiative, forward movement, that the air over the top of the wing, was not sustainable.

It wasn't high enough or there wasn't enough volume over the top of the wing to create lift. Once that lift is lost, then the aircraft goes into a deep stall, a flat stall. At that point, it's incredibly difficult to recover for the aircraft, a lot of training it takes and experience to be able to recover an aircraft from that type of a situation. KEILAR: So, training, some of these -- obviously pilots have been

trained in this. It's difficult circumstances, no doubt. But what do they do to recover from that?

SOUCIE: There's a couple things you do.

The Airbus, if you remember, there was an aircraft accident not too long ago, only about 10 years ago, in which the aircraft had been used as a training mechanism to get out of these types of stalls. What they do is they go full left rudder, full right rudder and they start a swinging motion in the aircraft. As that swinging motion becomes -- gives a direction to the airplane, it gets enough movement going with the aircraft where it can drop the nose, it can pull over and get enough air over the top of the wings to where at that point you can maintain control.

It kind of slips back into the controlled environment of a lift end of the wing and a vacuum kind of on top of the wing. So it's a very difficult maneuver to do that. I have been sitting in simulators as pilots do this training. It's very intense and it's not something that you take lightly.

KEILAR: I'm sort of feeling it in a way just as you describe it.

We're going to continue this conversation with Peter Goelz, Tom Fuentes, David Gallo and David Soucie. We will be talking more about the search for AirAsia Flight 8501 after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: We're back with breaking news.

U.S. help is on the way for the search for the missing AirAsia plane. A senior U.S. military official says the guided missile destroyer the USS Sampson will join the search efforts.

Our panel of experts standing by with us for a lot of questions we still have for them.

But, first, we have new pictures. We have information about the captain of the jet, an experienced pilot who had a death in his family just days ago.

CNN senior correspondent Joe Johns has that for us -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, he's a former military pilot, said to have flown F-16 fighter jets before joining commercial aviation.

He's also a father of school-aged children and a husband, though his wife so far has declined to make any public statements.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS (voice-over): As is common in Indonesia, he's known by only one name, Iriyanto. Pictures on Facebook more than confirm at least one of his known hobbies. Iriyanto is a fan of motorcycles. Reports suggest he's even a member of a motorcycle club. His daughter posted a picture of him on social media with this message, saying, "Dad, please come home. I still need you."

The family had recently suffered a loss. The captain's younger brother died of diabetes just days ago. Captain Iriyanto's father told the BBC, "I want my son to come back alive."

Captain Iriyanto was a veteran of the skies, with more than 20,000 flying hours, of which 6,100 hours were with AirAsia on the Airbus 320,by comparison, slightly more flying time than pilot Chesley Sullenberger, who executed an emergency water landing of a U.S. Air jet in New York, with 155 passengers and crew on board. All survived.

The captain of the AirAsia plane likely had about the same skill set based on his experience, according to commercial pilot and author Les Abend.

LES ABEND, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, "FLYING": Captain Sullenberger would say he would have been just as competent to perform the miracle on the Hudson.

JOHNS: What we don't know is what happened in the cockpit before the plane went off radar. The potential clues include the presence of bad weather in the area and a request to increase altitude radioed to air traffic control, which was denied because of additional air traffic close by.

What the captain may have done with that information is still an open question, for example, whether the pilot may have tried to disregard the controller's guidance.

ABEND: What disturbs me is that did he begin a climb without clearance from air traffic control? That might be indicative of an emergency problem developing.

JOHNS: There was also no known communication before it went off radar, not necessarily a radio malfunction.

ABEND: We're trained very, very early on to aviate, navigate and communicate being the last thing, because communicating in this particular circumstance if indeed a contributing was the weather, the last people that would be able to help you is air traffic control.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: The first officer on the plane, Remi Emmanuel Plesel, is from France, according to the French foreign ministry, which notified his family about the missing plane. Plesel had 2,300 hours flying with AirAsia -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, significantly less than the captain. Joe Johns, thank you so much.

I want to go back to our panel now, CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, former NTSB Managing Director Peter Goelz, CNN safety analyst David Soucie, and we have oceanographer David Gallo here.

David Soucie, you heard Joe Johns' report there. No distress call, communicating very important. Does it surprise you there wasn't one? What is the protocol within the cockpit?

SOUCIE: It does surprise me, because of the fact that, as Les Abend mentioned in the piece, that why would they start that ascent without any approval at this point?

There had to be either some kind of other emergency, but in that case, the airman's information manual tells pilots -- and they're trained to do this -- that you have to communicate that, because if you don't, you're at risk of going into the space of another aircraft and having a midair collision or causing a diversion at that point.

So at this point, even if it was an emergency, someone is flying and someone needs to communicate with the air traffic controllers and say we're going off of our intended flight. That didn't happen and it's very concerning.

KEILAR: We're looking at different factors here, Peter, weather obviously being one. You have the possibility of human error, technical difficulties. Judging by other issues with flights, what is the likelihood it's human error vs. technical?

GOELZ: You can't say yet.

But accidents in general are a chain of events. You break the chain, the accident doesn't occur. And human factors, how the individuals in the cockpit respond to the challenges, are often part of that chain.

KEILAR: How much information, Tom, is inside of the black box? What all is it going to tell us?

FUENTES: That's going to be critical in this case especially. The one advantage we have here compared to MH370 was that the data, the voice recordings loop over themselves ever 30 minutes in most of the cases. So in this case, the fact that the plane went down so quickly or whatever happened to it happened so quickly that we should have all the voice communication that the pilot and co-pilot had with each other, as well as radioed back to the air traffic controllers that they may not have received.

So you will hear everything that was going on in terms of what they were trying to deal with. Then the data recorder, which does record over the whole flight, will be saying everything the airplane was doing, speed, altitude, all of the information of the flight itself.

But the cockpit voice recording is going to be very, very important in this case.

KEILAR: Yes. And the search for that continues.

David Gallo, if you can talk about the timing here. There were mistakes made when we were talking about the March flight of MH370. It really hurt the overall search. How key was the piece of debris that was found early on in the Air France flight that went down, Flight 447 over the Atlantic, how key was it to finding that?

GALLO: It was crucial. There was immediate response by the Brazilian navy, the French navy, and I believe a few other countries, to the last known position.

But it was five days had past before the first piece of debris was found. Now, granted, that was in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, so it was 1,000-miles plus away from the nearest port. But it was five long days, and they kept finding debris for the next couple of weeks.

But knowing that there was something that -- tangible evidence that the plane went down in that area was important, because it allowed us to backtrack, go over the weeks that had past to try to find out where the plane had impacted the Atlantic Ocean.

KEILAR: All right, thank you so much to everyone on our panel, Peter Goelz, Tom Fuentes, David Gallo, and David Soucie. Great talk, gentlemen. Thanks for being with us.

Just ahead, a potentially new edition to the search for the missing plane. We're going live to China for details on that.

And it's really been a devastating year for airlines based in Malaysia, beginning with the disappearance of Flight 370.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: As the hunt for a missing AirAsia jet gets back under way, China says it's sending aircraft and ships to join the search operation. CNN's Will Ripley joins us now live from Beijing.

Will, what's the latest there?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, even though there weren't any Chinese passengers on this flight, China has much more invested in this than you might realize, because in Surabaya, the majority of people ethnically are Indonesian, Chinese, and oftentimes they have extended family here in China.

So clearly, China has an interest in getting their assets to this area, joining the nine countries that are now going to be a part of this search. China also, it's very important after investing a considerable amount of resources to search for the missing Flight 370, a search that has turned up nothing so far. It's important for China to get involved in this and hopefully have a different outcome than the one earlier this year.

Because as you know, Brianna, 154 Chinese passengers are still missing, and there are many, many families here in China who are going through the same anguish ten months on that the families of the AirAsia flight are going through right now, Brianna.

KEILAR: Definitely lessons to be learned from that past flight that went missing.

Will Ripley in Beijing, thank you so much. I want to get a look now at the scope of the search for the AirAsia

jet and also the challenges. CNN's Tom Foreman is our virtual studio, mapping all of this out -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, it's easy to think when you talk about something like this, when you know that the plane took off in Surabaya and flew for less than an hour this way, that it would be easy to have a tiny search area.

But look at the size of the search zones out here. They talk about it all day. It's about the size of South Carolina and Indiana combined. And searching all that is a big challenge out there.

A lot of assets have been brought to bear, and right now, they're spreading out in this new search day. Look at all the different nations that are involved and trying to get assets out there to look for this wreckage out there, looking for seat cushions or anything else they might see floating on top of the water, a big fuel slick, anything like that.

All these nations are involved, and they brought along a significant number of assets. If you look at them out there, we have about 30 different ships involved, 15 airplanes. Still, this is a tremendous area to cover, and it's complicated by this simple fact.

Look at the weather out here. This was the weather when the plane went down, and they've had bits and pieces of the same kind of weather happening out there now. So all of those planes, all of those ships have been trying to search out there. They're encountering the same sort of circumstances that possibly brought this plane down. And that does complicate things, Brianna.

KEILAR: How much is this task also complicated by the fact that we really don't know what happened, how the plane went down?

FOREMAN: That's a huge factor in all this. Because look at it this way: let's say that one theory is correct here and that the plane simply is stalled. It got into such turbulence that somehow, it got some kind of false reading on its speed. Let's say it was traveling 100 miles an hour, as some have said, which would be incredibly slow for this plane, in this terrible turbulence. And the plane essentially went straight down.

Well, for a plane like this to fall from 32,000 feet, that's a fairly large foot print of where it might wind up here, where it might wind up. But let's say that's not what happened. Let's say the plane, in fact, got into some kind of severe trouble, had some severe cataclysmic failure but still was somehow airworthy for a period of time. Then that plane can be going off at an angle that could be much longer. It could fall straight down in about 45 seconds.

But it could go minutes off in some other direction, completely out of control, some unknown direction, and with every second it remains in the air, that search area, Brianna, just gets bigger and bigger and bigger, making it so much harder to know where the plane is, because we don't know how it disappeared. KEILAR: All right. Tom Foreman, thank you so much for that

explainer.

And just ahead, a series of deadly air disasters and now the disappearance of the AirAsia jet. Were flyers more at risk this year?

And the man behind AirAsia, how is he handling what he's calling his worst nightmare?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: We're monitoring the search for the missing AirAsia jet that's getting back underway after 48 hours with no sign of the plane. The airline based in Malaysia, where a nation is reeling from air disasters, including, of course, the Flight 370 mystery. Our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, has more on this.

This is still outstanding.

ELIS LABOTT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, Brianna. Malaysian-based air carriers were involved in three of the deadliest incidents this year, even though the airlines in question have good safety records. So many are asking whether there are some connections here or if Malaysia is just having a terrible run of bad luck.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT (voice-over): For the third time this year, an agonizing wait, as loved ones brace for news of the fate of 162 people aboard AirAsia Flight 8501. It's been a record year for aviation safety worldwide, with the lowest number of crashes in more than 80 years.

For Malaysian carriers, the disasters in 2014 have been unthinkable. If all aboard the missing AirAsia flight have perished, Malaysian- based carriers will have suffered 699 deaths, more than half of aviation deaths this year.

PETER GOELZ, FORMER MANAGING DIRECTOR, NTSB: AirAsia has an unblemished record until this tragedy. They were considered a pioneer in bringing low cost, high quality air service to the Indonesian, Malaysian area. There was no question about their safety.

LABOTT: It started March 8 with the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The Boeing 777 disappeared with 239 people aboard. Authorities believe the plane crashed into the Indian Ocean, and questioned links to terrorism. Ten months later, not a trace of the plane, and no answers as to the cause of the crash.

July 17, just four months after Flight 370 vanished, disaster would describe again for Malaysian Airlines. Russian-backed rebels blamed for shooting down Flight 17 with a Russian-made surface-to-air missile, killing all 298 aboard.

And now, grim prospects for AirAsia Flight 8501 could put Malaysian- based airlines at the center of the world's three deadliest aviation tragedies this year. GOELZ: It's really impossible to draw any kind of connection between

these events. Given the Malaysian Airlines shoot-down over the Ukraine, it just as easily could have been a Singaporean airplane that was five miles flying in front of it. I mean, these were just terrible coincidences.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT: Disappearance of the AirAsia flight comes as southeast Asia is dealing with terrible monsoon rains. Malaysia has been hit particularly bad with epic flooding and landslides. At least ten people killed, more than 160,000 people forced from their homes. So Malaysians are just having a bad year, not only in aviation, Brianna, but also have really been tested in 2014.

KEILAR: They certainly have. Elise, thank you so much.

And this programming note: Be sure to tune in tonight at 9 Eastern for a special report, "Vanished: The Mystery of Flight 370." That's only here on CNN.

KEILAR: Tell us, Alistair, when you're flying through a storm, especially at night, obviously, you can't see anything, it's cloudy. It's dark. So, there aren't visual references for that. You're over the ocean. So, there aren't lights.

Can you trust what you're seeing and feeling as a pilot?

ALISTAIR ROSENSCHEIN, FORMER PILOT AND AVIATION CONSULTANT (via telephone): Well, yes. That's a very good question actually. You do actually look out of the windows of the aircraft. Unless you're embedded in cloud, you should be able to see the thunderstorms from a distance because of the lightning flashes, and that tends a show a very (INAUDIBLE).

And then you back this up with what you can see on your radar. You also listen to aircraft that are ahead of you on the same airway, because they're ahead. They're getting closer to the weather and they may choose to fly left or right to go around that weather. So, you listen out on the radio, if they've requested a flight to say the east, then you may well think that is a good way to go. So, that will start your planning process.

And you commence your diversion route as early as you can in order to minimize the angle that you have to turn to get around the weather. But sometimes you end up zigzagging for hours on end. I mean, the monsoon over (INAUDIBLE) is typical of that. You may have three or four hours of zigzagging around thunderstorms. It's not pleasant, but it's what we're paid to do and generally speaking, there are no incidents as a result.

KEILAR: Miles, take us through, if I guess some scenarios here, if this was indeed a stall, as that screen grab indicates, which would put the nose of the plane up and the plane essentially falling out of the sky, if you allow that, we saw with Air France Flight 447, the plane was in a stall, instrument readings were wrong, it took a long time for the pilots collectively to realize they were falling, that they were in a stall. And then you also have the issue if it's difficult in an airliner like this to recover from a stall, right?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, the problem is, when you're flying at those altitudes, the difference between too slow and too fast is perilously close. It's a very narrow margin of safe flight. The term is coffin corner. I think that's an obvious term and you can understand what that's all about. It's a very narrow envelope of flight, as it were.

So when you're in a thunderstorm at altitude and narrow restriction of speed, and you are buffeted by wind and turbulence and you might be struck by hail and you might be deluged by so much rainfall that it could cause an engine to fail, any number of those scenarios can occur. You could be struck by lightning, momentarily blinded by that. Any of those things can occur. And with that narrow margin, it can be easy to step in to stall.

Another thing to consider here is these planes are extremely automated. And that's great during routine operations. But when things go south, you want the human being in the loop. The robot is not very good at flying when it's trying to figure out why a pitot tube which measures airspeed has been covered over by ice or some other factor like that.

The problem is, pilots are used to flying in automated fashion, and the computers kind of give up and hand control over to the human beings at the worst possible moment. And there's a lot of concern that pilots are not well trained for this.

KEILAR: Yes, certainly there is a concern there, and there definitely will be some takeaway from this.

Miles, Alistair, thank you so much to both of you.

And just ahead, what should the CEO of AirAsia do next? We'll look at how he's handling the search for the missing jet and reaching out to the public.

And North Korea in a war of words with President Obama, hurling a racist insult his way. Tensions are escalating after the release of the film "The Interview."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: The CEO of AirAsia is calling the plane's disappearance his worst nightmare.

As we track the search that's getting back underway now, let's talk about the man at the helm of this airline.

CNN's Poppy Harlow is here with this.

What do we know, Poppy, about Tony Fernandes?

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we know is that he is going through an absolute disaster. This is, as you said, every airline executive's worst nightmare, Brianna. This is the man who has been at the helm of this company since 2001.

He is incredibly outspoken. He is charismatic. Interestingly, he bought AirAsia completely failing airline from the Malaysian government years ago for less than $1. He staged a complete turn- around, a dramatic turn-around.

And he is a former music executive. He worked with Richard Branson, the airline founder, for years and years. He has succeed in the bringing the first budget carrier ever, low cost carrier to Malaysia. So, he has really turned around the industry.

And in terms of how he's dealt with this crisis, right, you've got a lot of crisis management experts that are lauding how he's done so far because he's been so in touch. He has tweeted more than a dozen times since the plane disappeared. Let me read you one of his first tweets in the hours after the disappearance. He wrote, "I as your group CEO will be there through these hard times. We will go through this terrible ordeal together and I will try to see as many of you."

Earlier today, he held another press conference and he said, "Look, we have carried 220 million people on this airline. Obviously, this is a very difficult time but we are going to continue to carry people all across this region."

However, a journalist asked him, (a), what are your plans for compensating the families? And then also, said are you going to implement any changes at the airline? I want to you listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY FERNANDES, AIRASIA CEO: We haven't started talking about compensation. Our focus now is to take care of them and provide them what they require over the next few days. Obviously, we have prepared something in relation to the Indonesian DGCA ruling. Regarding changes in the company, until we have a full investigation, we know what went wrong, that we really can't speculate. We don't want to speculate until we find the aircraft. We know what went wrong and then we'll look into it and see, you know, what we need to improve, if we need to improve. But it's speculation at the moment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Bottom line, the amount that he's been communicating on social media with the families, Brianna, stands in stark contrast to the CEO of Malaysian Airlines after MH370 disappeared. That got a lot of negative headlines, misinformation, text messages sent to the families saying their loved ones were gone. Not the way it should have been.

What we need to see continuing from him -- continued communication going forward in this as we have they search for the plane, Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, so crucial, as he's in this crucial role.

Poppy Harlow, thanks for your report.

And stay right here for more on the search on the AirAsia jet.

Right now, we have a new response from a top House Republican about a report that he gave a speech to a white supremacist group in 2002.

CNN's Athena Jones here with the details.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is not the kind of headline any politician wants to see, Brianna, especially if you are the number three House Republican in leadership there. And so, we're talking about a speech in 2002 that Representative Scalise, who was then a state senator, gave to a group called EURO. That's short for European-American Unit and Rights Organization. It's a group that was founded by David Duke, who, of course, is the former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, a former grand wizard and an avowed long time neo-Nazi.

Now, Scalise says that Scalise that time was running around the state, his spokesperson said, traveling all over Louisiana talking to everyone who would listen to him about his opposition to a tax increase that he said would hurt middle class families, and also his desire to eliminate a slush fund that he believed would helping state politicians. And so, they don't have an agenda but they say it is very, very likely that he appeared before this group.

And his communications director told me, "He has never been affiliated with the abhorrent group in question. And the hate-fueled ignorance and intolerance that group projects is in stark contradiction on what Mr. Scalise believes and practices as a father and husband and a devoted Catholic."

So, bottom line, they say, he did not know the group was affiliated with white supremacists and if he had known, he wouldn't have spoken before them -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Athena, thank you so much.

Turning to North Korea, the rhetoric is heating up as the world waits for new fallout from the controversy over Sony's "The Interview". North Korea and Kim Jong-un are lashing out at President Obama while experts are warning that revenge for the film's unprecedented release is almost certain.

CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown working this story for us -- Pam.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sony's unprecedented move to release "The Interview" online and in independent theaters simultaneously is paying off.

Many moviegoers saying it was their patriotic duty to see the film.

CROWD: I'm proud to be an American where at least I know I'm free --

BROWN: So far, the controversial comedy has raked in about $18 million.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's peanut butter and jealous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is there to be jealous of?

BROWN: Most of it online with more than 2 million downloads.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wanted to see it as quickly as I could, as it came out, to show my support.

BROWN: Now, Apple iTunes is jumping on board the distribution bandwagon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Katy Perry?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've never heard this before in my life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love Katy Perry.

BROWN: As Sony cashes in --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nice tank. Is that real?

BROWN: -- the question looms: will the hackers who the U.S. says were working for the North Korean government strike back?

ROBERT BAER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think they're going to continue to go after Sony as punishment and retribution for putting this film out. I think we're going to see a lot more Sony e-mails. I mean, that's a huge corporation.

BROWN: Law enforcement says even though Sony believes its systems are now secure, the concern is that the hackers will release more confidential information they've already stolen.

BAER: Running sources inside the country is virtually impossible. You know, their plans and intentions are completely opaque to us.

BROWN: Over the weekend, the blame game between the U.S. and North Korea claiming the U.S. cut off its Internet last week and calling President Obama a monkey.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: At the end of the day, have we deterred North Korea?

BROWN: Senator Lindsey Graham on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" suggested China's possible involvement and pushed for aggressive measures against North Korea.

GRAHAM: Put them back on the state sponsor of terrorism list and, you know, attack their infrastructure. I can't imagine anything this massive happening in North Korea without China being involved.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GRAHAM: And an FBI official I spoke with reiterated today, absent any additional information, the government doesn't believe any other countries are involved in the hack -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Thanks so much, Pamela. We really appreciate it.

Thank you for watching. I'm Brianna Keilar in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT " starts right now.