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THE SITUATION ROOM

Bodies, Debris Found from Missing Flight; Bodies and Wreckage Recovered from AirAsia Flight; Could AirAsia Crash Affect Industry in Asia?; Black Boxes Critical in Air Crashes

Aired December 30, 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 HOST: Thanks, Jake.

Happening now, breaking news: Grim discovery. The first bodies and wreckage recovered from that AirAsia jet. A shocking new clue intensifies the search. How crews spotted the plane at the bottom of the sea.

Black box race. Growing urgency to find the plane's cockpit voice and data recorders. Do they hold the key to solving the mystery of what brought down the flight?

Grueling search. High-tech tools combing the ocean floor in search of clues to the disaster. We'll talk to the man who helped find Air France Flight 447 on the bottom of the Atlantic.

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 breaking news. The Pentagon now preparing two dive teams and a reconnaissance aircraft to take part in the search for that AirAsia flight. That's according to a defense official source; and bodies and wreckage from the plane have now been recovered. The search for the Airbus A-320 itself is continuing, fueled by a sighting of a shadow in the water that an Indonesia official says looks like a plane.

We are covering all angles of the breaking news with our correspondents and our expert guests. CNN's Andrew Stevens begins our coverage. He's in Surabaya, Indonesia, where the flight originated.

Andrew, give us the latest.

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, just a few hours ago, the president of Indonesia said that three military vessels were already on site, and more were steaming in. Plus, the recovery operation was continuing. That was a few hours ago, so obviously, they have been pulling out some more bodies, and they've also been pulling out more wreckage, Brianna.

But here in Surabaya, an absolutely harrowing day, as you can imagine, for the families. Their worst fears being confirmed. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEVENS (voice-over): A grim recovery operation is now underway in the waters of Indonesia, as rescue teams work to retrieve bodies and debris from the wreckage of AirAsia Flight 8501. The wreckage was found off the coast of Borneo, about 60 miles from the aircraft's last known location over the Java Sea.

TONY FERNANDES, CEO, AIRASIA: It's an experience I never dreamt of happening, and it's probably an airline CEO's worst nightmare. After 13 years of flying millions of people, it is the worst feeling one could have.

STEVENS: As searchers pulled bodies from the waters, some family members watched the scene on live television. After seeing debris, they then saw video of the helicopter lowering a diver to what appeared to be a floating body. Some people fainted. Others burst into tears. One hundred and fifty-five passengers and seven crew members were on that flight.

MARIA ENDANG WIRASMI, FAMILY ON AIRASIA FLIGHT 5801 (through translator): When they explained that not only did they find debris but also found bodies floating in the water, everyone became hysterical, especially the mothers. One mother even blacked out.

STEVENS: The Airbus 320 that took off from Surabaya lost contact with Indonesian air traffic control early Sunday morning. It happened shortly after the pilot requested permission to turn and climb to a higher altitude because of bad weather.

CNN obtained audio of air traffic control moments before the plane left Indonesia's second biggest city.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wagon 8501, cleared for takeoff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cleared for takeoff Wagon 8501.

STEVENS: Officials are hoping to find the plane's black boxes, which should contain critical information about what happened in the plane's final moments. Search-and-rescue teams are diverting all of their resources to where the debris was found. The U.S. is one of several nations contributing to the efforts. A U.S. Navy destroyer arrived Tuesday. Another is being prepared to deploy from Singapore.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: The USS Fort Worth, that ship is getting ready to sail, and it can be ready in as early as a day or two to get on stage, and it can be there fairly quickly.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEVENS: So what we are being told, Brianna, is that there will be a staging post set up on the island of Borneo. And from there, bodies will start being flown back in.

It's going to be very, very tough for the families. They now have to identify their loved ones. They're already being asked to provide photos, to provide samples and DNA samples in case that's needed to establish their identity. But the pain is not going to go away certainly. It's going to take a long time for this community, for this country to get over what's happened.

KEILAR: A horrible experience for those families. Andrew Stevens, thank you so much.

I want to bring in now our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh. This was a turning point today, Rene, in this investigation. Investigators locating the debris field, or at least part of it. So what are investigators going to be taking away from what they find?

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the debris is going to be really critical, because what they're going to want to do is observe, look, how is it torn apart? It will tell them a lot.

If, for example, there is what they call the crumple effect, it may indicate that this plane was intact when it fell out of the sky, and that impact of hitting the water caused perhaps that crumbling, that crush effect on the metal, because oftentimes when you have a case like that, it is like hitting the water is essentially like hitting concrete.

So imagine what that would do to the metal. However, if you don't see indications of that crumple effect, it may be more of a tear, that may indicate that the plane broke apart before -- before it actually hit the water, Brianna. Essentially, what this wreckage is going to do is give them a big picture as far as how the plane essentially fell out of the sky. And that's going to be critical when they need to piece together this full picture of exactly what happened on Sunday.

KEILAR: When the black boxes are recovered -- and I hope it's a when, and certainly not an if -- I think the expectation is that that wreckage can be located here at some point, where do they go for analysis? What country takes the lead here?

MARSH: Well, at this point, we know that the French equivalent of the NTSB. They have two investigators already on the ground there. The NTSB here in the U.S., they do not have anyone on the ground there. So it is safe to say that, most likely, if we were to guess or put any money on it, it would be the French.

And it makes a lot of sense, because this aircraft, the A-320, is manufactured -- it is a French-based company. So it makes sense for the French investigators to take this over. Oftentimes you will see that happen, because they obviously have -- they have a dog in this fight. This -- this aircraft essentially was made in their country. Not only that, they have experience. I mean, they investigated Air France 447, so they're not inexperienced when it comes to...

KEILAR: You know, they certainly know what they are doing when it comes to that kind of investigation. Will we definitely find out what brought down the plane?

MARSH: I mean, when they get those black boxes, it's going to be critical. The black boxes are located right in the back part of the A-320. So it's in the tail area. And it's strategically placed there, because oftentimes when you have a crash, it's usually nose first. So it's oftentimes protected. The success rate for pulling information from it, very high.

So we do expect to get information. And what you're going to find on those black boxes, the flight data recorder is going to have information like the speed, the altitude, several -- thousands of parameters about the engines and how were they performing.

And on the cockpit voice recorders, you're essentially going to be able to hear were the pilots talking to each other? Did they have an exchange? What were they saying? What was the tone? Were there any other noises within the cockpit that may suggest something else was going on?

So when you have all of these different pieces, Brianna, and you put them all together, they will get a good picture of what happened and what brought this plane down.

KEILAR: Crucial in the search for those voice and data recorders continue. Rene Marsh, thank you.

And I want to talk about this now with all of our experts. We have former National Transportation Safety Board managing director Peter Goelz; CNN law enforcement manager and assistant FBI director Tom Fuentes; and CNN aviation correspondent Richard Quest.

Peter, to you first. When you look at the debris that has been recovered so far -- and we should stress, it's minimal at this point -- what does it tell you?

PETER GOELZ, FORMER MANAGING DIRECTOR, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: It's really too little to tell. I mean, we need more information. It is surprising that there aren't more victims in the sea. That might imply that the plane held together until impact. But it's just -- it's just too soon.

KEILAR: Essentially right now it is three victims we are reporting. There's what looks like a piece of luggage, but it's not. Right? It's maintenance gear?

GOELZ: It's a maintenance container for the aircraft and what looks like an emergency slide and part of the exit door, the emergency door. But that -- it's way too soon to draw any conclusions based on that little amount of evidence.

KEILAR: So we're still waiting, obviously, to find some of the other debris and hopeful that that will be the case.

You know, Tom, several bodies at this point have been recovered and, while gruesome to discuss, it's important to discuss it, because it does tell us something. At least one of the bodies, we know that we've seen, doesn't have clothes, only undergarments on. What do we take away from that?

GOELZ: Well, I think of many crashes, Brianna, if the plane comes apart in the air and they get thrown out of the body of the plane, oftentimes you see that, where they end up naked, basically, at the bottom.

But the crash in the sea could also have affected that, as well. So that's also difficult to tell. It will be able to -- difficult to tell the identification on the bodies and the autopsy. And the autopsies will tell them cause of death. Did they die in the plane, in the air; did they hit the water alive and drown? What actually -- the blunt trauma, maybe, of hitting the sea could have been a cause. So they'll know better when they do the autopsies.

KEILAR: Richard, the head of Indonesia's search-and-rescue agency said that this debris that was discovered was found, actually, when one of the crews flying over the search areas spotted what they said looked to be the shadow of an object that appeared to be a plane in the water. How much stock can we put in that, that this shadow that was spotted may be an aircraft?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Oh, I think we can put as much or as little that we'd like in the sense that, you know, the facts will come out in the next 24 hours.

What he basically was saying is we found this debris and then underneath and looked at the water, we saw this shadow of a plane. I think it's perhaps unlikely that the plane is fully intact. Planes falling out of the air do tend to break up with the impact of the water. So any idea of some sort of lost plane fully intact in the water is perhaps sensible.

What he's talking about is a large section of fuselage. Perhaps also still connected to wing -- we'll wait and find out. We will know that within the next 24 to 48 hours.

KEILAR: What do you think about the shadow, Peter?

GOELZ: Well, I think the wreckage will -- would have drifted at some point from where the impacts are. So I find it a little questionable but, as Richard said, there will be somebody in the water tomorrow, and we'll find out. It's only 100-plus feet deep. They can get down and get a look. But what's clear is this is the first step towards the discovery of what happened.

KEILAR: Yes. And this debris is very key as we look for the black boxes.

All right. Peter, Tom, Richard, thanks so much. And stick with me. We'll be talking more in just a little bit.

We have more breaking news next. We are watching the weather in the crash zone. Very important. Will ocean currents make the search crew's job more important by moving the wreckage? We'll be talking about that and much more with our panel of experts, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: We're following the breaking news. Three bodies pulled from the Java Sea, presumed to be passengers from the AirAsia flight that vanished on Sunday, that was flying from Indonesia to Singapore. Wreckage has also been recovered, and the focus is now on a shadow spotted by a searcher who said it looked like a plane in the water.

Weather may have played a role in the crash, but it's also shaping the recovery mission.

Meteorologist Tom Sater working that part of the story for us. He's in the CNN weather center.

How is the weather, Tom, especially as we're expecting the search to get under way here for another day?

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, unfortunately, Brianna, we're seeing some of the strongest storms in our search area that we've seen in the last several days, but we may get a break and not have another round until Friday.

The good news is we have some debris. And our search grid, which actually is larger than the country of Greece, is getting whittled down just a little bit. And that is always good news. But the thunderstorms are developing to the south and moving up north very, very quickly.

Here is another look at our square, and you can start to see they blossom in this early morning hours. Tremendous downpours now over our search area. These will continue to lift to the north. This time of year, the air currents, along with the ocean currents, are parallel to each other from west to east. And that's good news.

However, this is extremely shallow area. So it shouldn't be a big problem as far as some of the ocean currents.

Today, a big discrepancy: a single report by an Indonesian authority first telling us that the debris was found six miles from last contact with the plane. That's that little yellow dot. In the same report later on, possibly lost in translation, but he tells us from the town of Pangkalan Bun, we have 105 nautical miles at 270 degrees. That places it where the red dot is. This is a difference of not just six miles, but you get up to 60 miles. That's incredible.

We were able to find, through a local newspaper in Indonesia, they actually have coordinates for each part of debris that was found, and it places it here at the red dot. So that's why it's 60 miles.

But the same newspaper says that the Indonesian search-and-rescue operation may change the last contact with the plane. If they move that, it wants to put it well over here to the west. So instead of maybe 60 miles, it could be 124 miles. But we need to see if they release that. That would be major.

So again, even though we have debris, divers are going into the water at 6 in the morning. We're going to need to get out those towed pingers out there, of course, and maybe some of the side scan sonar.

Now, this is the current position and direction that the sea currents are moving. They have changed. Instead of being parallel, which makes sense to have debris off here to the southeast, but I would suspect maybe in the days ahead we could find debris on the coast of Palapatan (ph) or Borneo, as it's called. The island. I'm sure authorities are looking closely at this region or at least contacting the villagers and the communities that they're going to find, possibly some debris on this coastline.

So again, we've got a long way to go, but the good news is the Java Sea is one of the most shallow in the entire world. On average, 150 feet. But where the debris is, it's about 80 to maybe 100 feet. So again, we're not going to have those ocean currents push this debris around very much if it's on the surface of the bottom of the sea. I wanted to share with you a couple of pictures.

This is what they've been dealing with in parts of Indonesia. This is just one community out of several. All of this rain is becoming runoff. It creates murky conditions for divers. Visibility greatly reduced. This is a mass on Christmas day, and you can see how they've been flooded and, of course, this is a problem all across parts of Indonesia. Extremely tropical, Brianna, and again, the thunderstorms are just tremendous this time of year.

KEILAR: Now, weather is so significant in this search. Thank you so much, Tom. Really appreciate that illustration there.

And I want to bring in our experts to talk about this, especially what we just heard from Tom. With us now, we have former National Transportation Safety Board director -- managing director, I should say, Peter Goelz. We have CNN law enforcement analyst and former FBI assistant director Tom Fuentes and CNN aviation correspondent Richard Quest.

So Richard, this -- this seems key, what we're hearing from Tom there. If we're talking about the debris, basically the map is changing here. How does this affect, perhaps, this search and recovery?

QUEST: Well, it's the sort of meat and veg that they're used to dealing with here. I mean, it now looks as though it is further away from where the six miles has now become 100 kilometers away, and you'll be doing the reverse drifts. Still, you know, Brianna, it doesn't matter what the facts are. You still have to work back from where it is, if that makes sense. I know it's sounds, probably, a bit stating the obvious, but now, you know, five hours ago, we thought it was six miles away. Now you're knowing it's a bit further away.

You work backwards, and by working backwards you do eventually get to where this wreckage is. But anybody that's got any notion that somehow they're going to either abandon the search or they're going to not give it full vim and vigor. It's completely -- this thing is going to keep going until they find it, just as they're still looking for 370. And they may not be doing it with as many ships as they were, but the search is going on right at this minute. And so I think you're talking about days, if not weeks before they actually find this thing and get the boxes.

KEILAR: Peter, what about the debris field? So far, when you're talking about what's been found, it's very limited. When you think back to Air France 447, there was a lot more that was found in the -- in the few days after the crash. Do you think we'll find more of that? And are you looking at what's been found so far as really just the tip of the iceberg here?

GOELZ: It's really just the tip of the iceberg. And as Richard said, we're talking about probably weeks before they get down and actually find the black boxes.

KEILAR: But locating, locating the wreckage?

GOELZ: We'll locate more wreckage on the surface, but it's going to take us time to find where the wreckage is underwater. And the way you do that is you've got to get the listening devices into the sea and start listening to where, if you can pick up the pings. The pings will lead you to the wreckage. And if you're talking about 60 miles, that's a lot of ocean to cover.

But I'm confident, with the shallow depth, you can hear those pings some distance away. Five miles. So we'll -- we'll get it, but it's going to take some time.

KEILAR: Going to take days, maybe weeks. And ideally, the hope is not more than the 30 days, and the clock is already ticking on that for the battery that goes out on the pinger.

Tom, what kind of information -- if you don't have the black box, what kind of information can investigators, I guess, ascertain?

FUENTES: First of all, Brianna, from the bodies they can have cause of death. And they can tell what's in the lungs, what's in the -- you know, in the body as far as whether it's explosive material, smoke, if they're damaged from an explosion; you know, if there's shrapnel in the bodies. It's gruesome, but they can tell a lot just from the bodies.

And the pieces that they found, were they torn apart, were they exploded apart? When they look at them under a microscopic examination, can they find various residues from either fire or explosion? And what type of explosion? Are there signatures of explosive material on the torn or broken pieces? So there's a lot that they can tell just from what they have right now.

KEILAR: The whole back to the timing that we're hoping for the black boxes, it's like we've said, 30 days. Are you pretty confident that, if we're talking days into weeks, that there will be a location of the wreckage, so that, really, searchers aren't flying blind?

FUENTES: I'm pretty confident that they're going to have listening devices in the water very quickly. They'll be able to narrow it down. We're in the right area. It's just going to take some time to get to the actual physical location. But we've got time to do it.

KEILAR: OK. You feel -- you feel better about this, right?

FUENTES: I do. KEILAR: You just have some confidence in it, I can sense that.

FUENTES: I do.

KEILAR: All right. Peter, thank you.

Tom, thanks so much.

Richard, thank you so much for your input, as well. And stick with us because we'll be continuing this conversation throughout our time here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Coming up, that daunting task of an underwater search. New information about the high-tech tools used to comb the ocean floor.

Plus, we'll talk to the man who helped find Air France 447 at the bottom of the Atlantic. We have more breaking news straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: We're following breaking news. Searchers are finding wreckage and recovering bodies from the AirAsia jet that crashed. The wreckage is at least 60 miles from the jet's last known location and in water that's about as deep as a ten-story building.

Well, that's better than several miles down. Finding objects on the seabed in murky water will be a challenge.

CNN correspondent Stephanie Elam has more on this task ahead. It's very daunting, Stephanie.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's still daunting even in less deep water that we're talking about here, Brianna. And we're talking about the same technology that was used for looking for MH- 370.

The difference here, though, and there are several of them, the first one being that this field that they're looking at is much smaller than what we saw earlier this year.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELAM (voice-over): As the first pieces from AirAsia Flight 8501 are recovered, the intense hunt for the rest of the plane continues. For investigators, the plane's flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder, otherwise known as the black boxes, may explain what led to this disaster. But how will searchers look for the plane under water? First, they will likely listen for it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a hydrophone.

ELAM: All commercial airplanes are required to carry pingers. Underwater locator beacons that are attached to the black boxes. They emit a ping once a second.

James Coleman is a senior hydrographer with Teledyne Reson, a company that makes technology used for just this purpose.

COLEMAN: A hydrophone is really, simplified, an underwater microphone. This is the type of device. You're going to put it together and tail (ph) that they tow behind the vessel; they dip it over the side, that they're going to use to listen to that pinger locater.

ELAM (on camera): How far can it hear?

COLEMAN: About five miles.

ELAM (voice-over): But unlike the extreme depths of nearly three miles in the Indian Ocean where Malaysia Air Flight 370 disappeared, the Java Sea is shallow, running only about 80 to 100 feet deep. While it is easier to operate hydrophones at this depth, Coleman says there's more interference closer to the surface from waves, passing ships and inclement weather that make isolating the pings harder.

COLEMAN: This is a spectrum view. This shows the frequency in the ocean. If that pinger were nearby, we'd see a sharp spike right at that pinger frequency, around 30 to 40 kilometers.

ELAM: Time is not on the investigators' side. The batteries on the pingers only last about 30 days. But if the pingers fail, searchers will likely turn to sonar.

COLEMAN: So this is the sonar. This is what they're going to use to map the sea floor once they have an idea of where the debris site is, where to search the debris site if the pinger can't quite find it. This is going to emit sound.

ELAM: Yet, like hydrophones, sonars work better in very deep water where the search area can be far more broad. But Coleman says in shallow water, the search can move along more quickly.

(on camera): Sonar is just showing us what's at the bottom, right?

COLEMAN: Exactly. And so it's emitting that sound, and then the sound comes back off the bottom. It's interpreting it in order to draw a 3-D image of what's on the sea floor. And it also generates an image of -- a top-down image of what's on the sea floor.

ELAM: That will help investigators mark the debris field so the process of salvaging as much of the plane can begin.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ELAM: And Brianna, it is a very slow process, to say the least. What they have to do, they call it mowing the lawn. Over the search area, they go back and forth, slowly over it, over it and over again so they can build up this image and increase it so that they can find this debris field and hopefully, hopefully locate this plane.

KEILAR: Yes, that is a lot of work. Stephanie Elam, thanks so much.

With us now in THE SITUATION ROOM, CNN analyst David Gallo, who helped discover the wreckage of Air France Flight 447 in the Atlantic Ocean. From Sydney, Australia, we have oceanographer Eric Van Sadile (ph).

I want to start with you, David. We mentioned that you helped find the Air France Flight 447. You had searchers finding wreckage there within the first week, really within days. But then it took the better part of two years to actually find the majority of the plane. Do you think there are any similarities here in these searches?

DAVID GALLO, CNN ANALYST: Sure. I mean, in the case of Air France 447, the impact area or the last known position was thousands of miles from land. And it took about -- and the weather was not the best at that time. It took about five days to find the first bits of wreckage and bodies.

And in this case, where the ports are closer, the bodies of water is more constrained, and it's taken three days, which has gone pretty quickly, as far as -- as far as I'm concerned. So it's chucking right along what needs to be done. So the next step is to use that debris and, sadly, the bodies to reverse drift and try to find out where the plane impacted the surface of the Java Sea.

KEILAR: Eric, you have the Java Sea -- or actually, I'm going to stick with you, David, as we fix a technical issue with Eric. I wonder, though, David, when you think about, for instance, this shadow that we're hearing about, you have officials who have flown over the area. They've seen the outline of what they think may be a plane. Could it be something else? How much stock should we really put in that observation?

GALLO: The way things have been going here, the information has been tracking right along. We don't see a lot of discrepancies or contradictions. So I put a lot of faith in what they've seen. It kind of amazes me. So we'll have to wait to see if it plays out. Because if it's true, that's fantastic. Direct observation of the plane on the bottom, so you don't have to go to the pingers and you don't have to go to the sonars. You can see it.

KEILAR: OK. Well, that's really good news. You put a lot of faith in that. We've also been talking a lot about some of the weather conditions. So much runoff: a lot of murky water, rough seas, a lot of whitecaps. How is that affecting the search here for the wreckage?

GALLO: Sure. The shallow water is not a cake walk, by any stretch of the imagination. And it's easier to get out there. It's easier to user lighter weight equipment. You don't have to have big robots and big ships. So that makes it a little bit easier.

But the currents can be higher. The visibility can be less, if you're doing -- you know, in Air France 447, we took hundreds of thousands of still images, so that we provided the French NTSB, the BEA, with a visual map of that wreck site on the bottom of the ocean. And they may well want -- the investigators may want that in this case, and that may be hampered -- may be hampered by visibility.

KEILAR: We just heard that officials may be adjusting -- this is what our Tom Sater reported. Officials may be adjusting the point of last contact with the plane. They seem to also have put out a discrepancy when it comes to where the debris was found, although we assume that they know where that is. How does this factor into the search for recovery here?

GALLO: Well, I'm sure, having been on -- behind closed doors, that somewhere there's a room where they know exactly what's going on and they were probably well aware that there was a discrepancy released. And so to them, they probably have already factored this into the game plan.

One of the most important things right now is a cohesive plan on how to get things done from here on in. So I don't -- I mean, for us, it's kind of confusing. And I must admit I'm confused about what's going on. But I'm sure that the operational team has factored that in and has got a solid plan going forward.

KEILAR: Yes. We certainly hope that's the case. Thank you so much for being with us. Really appreciate it, David Gallo.

And we will have oceanographer Eric Van Sadile (ph) with us in the next hour when we work out those technical gremlins.

Coming up, a closer look at where searchers are concentrating their hunt for the main wreckage of the airliner and its vitally important flight and data recorders.

We're also looking at the bigger picture: critical clues that we've learned from the cockpit conversations and data recorded on other airliners that went down.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: We're covering breaking news. It is dawn Wednesday in the Java Sea, where searchers are finding bodies and wreckage of the AirAsia jet. Unlike the vast search area of the past couple of days, the hunt for the airliner's flight and data recorders zeroing in now on a more defined section of the sea floor.

CNN's Tom Foreman is here to give us a look of what that looks like -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Bri.

They're really looking at three different layers at this point. The first point is the one we've been talking about so much today. Think about the flight path of this plane. You think about where they had the search areas. You think where they have found the debris now, where they have all these different currents at work moving the water around.

The first layer is the surface of the water. That's where they found this critical evidence so far. And it's important, because even though they find these items up here, and these may not be the critical items to the investigation itself, they are important, because they help point the way.

As you move down inside the water column, they can reference those items up on top, compare them to all the currents moving underneath here, some of which may be moving in one direction, some of which may be moving in another direction, and essentially reverse engineer some idea of where this plane actually made contact with the water, if it was in one general area. And that can lead them to the bottom, the parts they really need to find.

What are those kind of parts? Well, we're talking about very heavy things, basically. You're talking about the cockpit of the plane. You're talking about the data recorders, things that they may really want to know a great deal about there.

If you look at the data recorders on this plane, what you're going to find is that they're going to be probably near the bottom. You're going to find big, heavy things like the engines, which are going to be about 9,000 pounds each. You're going to find wiring. You're going to find parts of the wings. You're going to find parts of the tail, that sort of thing. All of these very important in terms of what they have to put together to figure out what actually happened to this plane. So three different layers. The bottom layer, what's on the floor of the water here, 180 feet below the surface. That is where the big clues are going to come from -- Brianna.

KEILAR: And when you're looking at not just the depth of the water but you have storms, these currents, how much can investigators expect to find?

FOREMAN: I think they have a reasonable chance of finding a good deal. Think about it this way. Let's say this is 80, 100 feet down, which is what we believe is the case here. If you think about the TWA crash back in the 1990s, TWA 800 off the coast of Long Island. In that case, they were in about 100 feet of water. And though it took them a good many months to collect everything, even at that depth, with divers and with side scan sonar and with mapping the bottom there and getting everything they could, they were able to assemble about 95 percent of that plane. And they recovered every single victim, even though it took months.

That is critical. Because when you have all this put together, that's how you figure out where things went wrong: what broke, when it broke. Was there a fire involved? Was there a massive impact? Or did it hit and gradually tear apart on the water surface? That's what they need all these pieces for. And in these conditions, I think the chances of getting many of the pieces are pretty good -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Tom, that is -- that is good news. Tom Foreman, thank you.

And with us now in THE SITUATION ROOM to talk more about this, aviation writer Clive Irving. He's a contributor to "The Daily Beast." And we also have CNN aviation analyst Miles O'Brien with us.

Clive, you wrote an article today about, really, who should take the lead here when it comes to -- in the search for the black box. You argued that the Indonesians should be leading the investigation. Tell us why. CLIVE IRVING, AVIATION WRITER: Well, I think that, if you look

at the possibilities here, first of all, Europeans are engaged in it, because it's a European aircraft. The Indonesians are engaged in it, because they've got most of the passengers on the plane. And the Malaysians are engaged in it because they are -- the airline's based in Malaysia.

So you have to take into account all the interests involved here, and then you have to take into account who is possibly the most competent agent to handle this investigation. And I have to say, much to my surprise, when I researched the Indonesian accident investigation bureau, I found that they are incredibly impressive and effective.

There was a crash in Bali 18 months ago by a budget airline, Boeing 737, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the U.K. which crash-landed on approach to Bali. And if you -- I read the report on that crash. They were two reports based on the crash. And they read just like the National Transportation Safety Board report would read. They were very thorough. They were systematic and they were incredibly critical of the mishandling of the plane by the crew and then mishandling of the evacuation of the plane -- the people from the plane.

And they also -- they make 13 very critical points about the conduct of that crash. So I would have a pretty -- a lot of confidence in that. Then there's the question about where did the black boxes go and in that region, the closes place where they've got the equipment to analyze this, is in Canberra, Australia where they are also incredibly competent and these are the people that are now leading the search for Flight 370, the Australians.

I think ultimately the kind of international presence is the one group I'd like to keep out of this investigation at all costs are the Malaysians because of their record on 370 was so inadequate and the one report that they issued was almost a joke it was so perfunctory and inadequate. So my vote would go for the Indonesians to lead this investigation and then for the black boxes to go to Australia.

KEILAR: You make very good points there.

Miles, when you heard about the discovery of the debris here in the search, really I guess yesterday in Indonesia, what did that tell you about the timing? Now having found the debris and this general location of the plane, perhaps, does this look like a longer investigation or has the timeline sped up?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: You know, from what I'm gathering, Brianna, given the fact that they found debris and there are these reports that it -- in 140 feet of water, give or take, people have been able to make out the outline of the craft. Wouldn't that be remarkable? This could really shorten the timeline for the investigation because acquiring the black boxes will certainly be easier than it was in the case of Air France 447.

It was very, very deep in the ocean and it took a matter of years to get to the wreckage site itself. Even though they found wreckage floating just a few days after the event. So the black boxes, the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder are -- so long as they survived and they should, they are designed to do that, are going to tell the story. And so I think, as Clive points out, as long as it gets in the right hands at the right time, we should be able to unravel this one fairly quickly.

KEILAR: You put stock in that, Miles, this shadow of the plane that may have been observed from the air? I've heard people -- some people say, you know what, I do put stock in that. I've heard others say that could be anything, that could be an old ship that was sunk at some point.

O'BRIEN: Well, it's hard to say. I haven't seen any images to try to corroborate that myself with my own eyes. I can tell you this, you know, I -- you know, I've been scuba diving myself recently and 100- plus visibility is possible in -- with the right conditions. So it's quite possible that could be the case. Regardless, we're talking about depth which is scuba dive reachable. It doesn't require all the sophisticated unmanned submersibles that were required for Air France 447.

KEILAR: Sure.

O'BRIEN: Or will likely be required for MH-370. And so the ability to work around it and obtain the necessary information, in this case, the investigation will be the black boxes is good. You know, we also have to be circumspect here that there are undoubtedly are bodies that are still intact in the aircraft and that has to be handled appropriately.

KEILAR: Clive, if this -- when the plane is found, and we're hoping that's a when. If the fuselage is largely intact, what does that tell you?

IRVING: Well, I would expect the fuselage would be largely intact as it was in Air France 447. It was crushed from underneath by the impact on the water and it may be the same here but I think the most important thing eventually to find out about the structure of the plane is, was it intact, was the plane intact when it hit the water or did it break up before it hit the water and we'll begin to get clues about that from the condition of the bodies that they discovered.

But you're only finding that result from two things. From looking at the fuselage itself and then from the information of the flight data recorder which would tell the whole story in the end. But it's very important for us to know whether it broke up in the air or whether it was intact as it was in the case of Air France 447 before it hit the water.

KEILAR: Yes.

IRVING: Because that will tell you something about what happened.

KEILAR: Critical information.

Clive Irving, Miles O'Brien, thank you so much to both of you. And, you know, shockwaves from this disaster, they're being felt

especially strongly in Asia where the airline industry is booming.

CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott has more on this.

What are you finding out about the growth in this industry?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Well, air travel throughout Asia has seen tremendous growth, much of it has come from these budget airlines like AirAsia which is attracting travelers who previously couldn't afford to fly. And it's giving a boost to the economies of the region but it's also creating safety challenges as the industry tries to feed the insatiable demand.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT (voice-over): AirAsia is one of the fastest growing carriers in the region and a driving force in the world's largest aviation market. Asian carriers fly more than a billion passengers each year accounting for more than 30 percent of all global travelers. But the rapid growth is presenting challenges for airlines, governments and regulators, all struggling to keep safety at pace with surging demands.

DEBORAH HERSMAN, PRESIDENT AND CEO, NATIONAL SAFETY COUNCIL: Fast growth is a cause for concern. You've got to pay attention. You're bringing a lot of new capacity into the environment. It's just as important to pay attention to carriers during times of great expansion because that also places strain on operations.

LABOTT: In an already booming region scrambling to improve infrastructure, the increased volume is taxing airport terminals and runways and is fueling a shortage of pilots.

To meet the exploding demand, the region's airlines will need an estimated 200,000 new pilots in the next 20 years. That's more than the projected need of European and North American carriers combined.

KIT DARBY, RETIRED UNITED AIRLINES CAPTAIN: It's certainly a safety challenge. The need for a lot of pilots does place stress on the system. The airline is a complex operation. It benefits greatly from experienced pilots in the driver's seat.

LABOTT: The CEO of AirAsia says he still has complete confidence in his fleet and crew.

TONY FERNANDES, AIRASIA CEO: Our pilot was extremely experienced. 20,000 hours. He was one of the -- he came from the Air Force, was one of their best graduates. So I continue to have full faith in our operation in Indonesia and elsewhere.

LABOTT: Still, Asian carriers were at the center of the three deadliest aviation disaster this year. AirAsia had an unblemished safety record before Flight 8501. Malaysian Airlines was also considered safe before Flight 370 disappeared in the Indian Ocean in March and Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine this summer by Russian backed rebels.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT: But poor safety standards have prevented other Asian carriers from including flights to the United States, some are even blacklisted by the European Union from landing there entirely -- Brianna.

KEILAR: And this was an airline that had a very clean record until now. So certainly very important in the region.

Elise Labott, thank you so much.

Well, finding the plane's so-called black box is critical.

CNN's Randi Kaye showing us how they solved other air disaster mysteries.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In July 2000, Air France Flight 4590, that Concorde jet, takes off from Paris. This terrifying video shows the plane on fire as it leaves the runway.

The control tower radios the pilots. 4590, you have strong flames behind you. Moments later, they crash into a hotel killing all 109 on board. The plane's black boxes are recovered.

FRANCOIS BROUSSE, AIR FRANCE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR (Through Translator): Both boxes are in good state to be decrypted. We have to understand what the data mean.

KAYE: The cockpit voice recorder unveils the pilot's last word. The co-pilot tells the captain to land at a nearby airport. His response, too late. The black boxes also reveal a catastrophic fire in one engine and a loss of power in another.

Air France Flight 447 caught in a powerful storm and rolling to the right. It is June 2009, a flight from Rio to Paris, 228 people on board. The plane begins to fall 10,000 feet per minute and crashes into the Atlantic belly first killing everyone.

PAUL-LOUIS ARSLANIAN, FORMER HEAD, FRENCH ACCIDENT INVESTIGATION AGENCY: This is a big deal. This is what we are looking for in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

KAYE: Two years later they find the black boxes deep in the ocean. Before the recovery, it was thought the plane's speed sensors were to blame. But the black boxes revealed the pilots were at fault.

A transcript from the cockpit voice recorder shows confusion in the cockpit. We still have engines. What the hell is happening, one co- pilot asks. Another co-pilot says, climb, climb, climb, then the captain, no, no, no. Don't climb.

In February, 2009, Colgan Air Flight 3407 also stalls and disappears off radar. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Colgan 3407, Buffalo.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Colgan 3407, now approaching.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Delta 1998, look off your right side about five miles for a dash eight, should be 2300. Do you see anything there?

KAYE: The plane's speed drops dangerously low. It begins to dive in heavy snow. The pilot over corrects, a fatal mistake.

WALLY WARNER, CHIEF TEST PILOT, BOMBARDIER: Obviously, the initial reaction to the stall warning was incorrect.

KAYE: The jet crashes into a home in Buffalo, New York, killing all 49 people on board.

MARGIE BRANDOUIST, SISTER OF CRASH VICTIM: We put our lives in the hands of people that we assume that the FAA is -- and the airlines are properly training.

KAYE: Both black boxes, the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder divulge panic in the cockpit as the plane tumbles toward the ground.

Pilot Marvin Renslow blurts out "Jesus Christ" and "we're down." First Officer Rebecca Shaw starts to say something but is cut short by her own scream.

(On camera): The black boxes also reveal the airplane pitched and rolled. And this horrifying fact, the pilots were joking around as the plane slowed in the final minutes before tragedy struck.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: Coming up, we have more on our breaking news. Searchers finding bodies and wreckage from the AirAsia crash.

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