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Passenger Plane Carrying 54 People Missing in Indonesia. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired August 16, 2015 - 06:00   ET



CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: So grateful to have you with us from the U.S. and around the world. Good morning to you. I'm Christi Paul.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell. We want to start with breaking news that's coming in this morning. A passenger plane carrying 54 people has disappeared in a remote area of Papua Province.

PAUL: The National Search and Rescue Agency says the plane lost contact with air traffic control about four hours ago. We do have Mary Schiavo on the phone with us right now. Mary, what have you learned about this particular flight and this area specifically in which it was flying?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST (via telephone): The area in which it was flying depending upon exactly where it may have gone missing can be very mountainous. It's a remote stretch of islands just north of Australia, to the west of Oceania. It's part of the island chain of Indonesia.

I guess what's most striking about this is the airline. It's a very small carrier, Indonesian carrier. Over the years there have been concerns and warning issued by ICAO in Indonesia itself about the quality of the airline.

This is a French plane, a French-Spanish, European consortium aircraft. It's a twin turbo craft and then they also have about ten Boeing 737s but very small airline, usually a regional Indonesian carrier.

So it could be lots of things. It could be the carrier hasn't reported in and had to be put down in an area or it could be a mountain somewhere. There are lots of possibilities at this point.

BLACKWELL: All right, Mary Schiavo, our aviation analyst. Standby for us. We have with us CNN's Kathy Novak live in Seoul, South Korea with a few more details. We can see here on your screen, this is the jet that is missing, again, with 54 people on board. Kathy, what are you learning?

KATHY NOVAK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): It's a very early information that we are getting at this stage from Indonesia's National Search And Rescue Agency, but I can tell you a little bit more about the people on board. As you mentioned, there were 54 passengers on board, among them 44 adults, two children, three infants and five crew members. We're trying to get information about what might have happened. Why this plane has been reported missing?

Of course, the people related to these 54 passengers on board would be extremely concerned and anxious about getting more information about what has happened to this plane in Indonesia. There is a relatively checkered history when it comes to the aviation in that country -- Victor.

PAUL: Can we get back to Mary? Is Mary Schiavo still with us?


PAUL: OK, Mary, you were mentioning all the different scenarios in terms of them maybe just not checking in. But being that four hours has gone by, what does your gut tell you about this?

SCHIAVO: Well and given the region over which it was flying, the mountainous region, my gut tells me they have probably gone down somewhere in the mountains there. I checked weather. It was partly cloudy.

There have been cases in the past where planes have gone missing and they have had just confusion, but after four hours, they usually have that sorted out. So it does sound like they have had some sort of difficulty and may be down in the mountainous area there in the middle of Papua and Papua New Guinea.

BLACKWELL: So here is the timeline, this flight departed at 12:55 a.m. Eastern Time. Air traffic control lost contact with it at about 3:21 a.m. It was scheduled to land at 4:16 a.m. Eastern Time.

We know that it was departing from Jayapura and was headed to Oksibil. Not such a long flight here, Mary. Give us an idea of what is happening right now likely over this intended path.

SCHIAVO: Well, hopefully they have already put up search planes, also sent information to the military to have them help as well.

[06:05:10] We did see a lot -- the world kind of got a bit of a flavor of some of the -- I don't want to say lack of quality. But some of the concerns over Indonesian Air, including both domestic and military and their ability to operate in all sorts of conditions and to handle accidents after the Air Asia crash last year.

And then in the aftermath of MH370 so there's a lot of concern about their ability both to investigate, to you know, fully shall we say oversee their aviation activities.

One thing pops out at me as you're putting these images on the screen. It was an ATR 42 and it was carrying 54 people. Now typically on the ATR, the number after the ATR means the configuration for passengers.

So it was an ATR 42 carrying 54 people -- now 44 were passengers and the other were crew and children and babies in arms. That's still a very, very full plane in the United States.

Under our standards, it might have considered being overloaded, but they might have had a different configuration. That's just typically what the number after the ATR means.

BLACKWELL: So would that caused a problem as it relates to weight? Would it be germane to the reason that this went down or just an uncomfortable over packed flight, Mary?

SCHIAVO: It can be all of the above. If they ran into some sort of difficulty in the mountains, if they were trying to maneuver to do something different, if they had to fight some weather and they were in a situation where they were battling a stall of the plane where the air flow wasn't across the wings to keep it flying -- it could be all of the above.

That would signal in the United States under our regulations, if that were true that it was 42 people, then it wouldn't have been in the United States illegal flight. It's impossible to tell from the information, but that just jumped out at me. That's an overload.

PAUL: That's an overload. All right, David Soucie is with us as well, our aviation analyst. David, I know that you're just hearing this news this morning as well. What is your first thought based on where this plane took off and where it was destined to land?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, one of the things that jumps out at first again, as Mary said, I'm not sure we're accurate of the number of people on board, but for the families needing to get information right now, that's where the primary concern would be.

The Indonesian government has already put out the search and rescue. We have search and rescue teams out right now looking. It is a rescue now. There has been actually an ATR 42 that did spend the night in the mountains actually here in Colorado many years ago.

So there is every hope that there are survivors on board. So let's keep our hopes up about that.

PAUL: You know, she mentioned the concerns over the ability of rescuers in that region. Air Asia passenger jet that she mentioned that crashed back in December that killed 162 people and because of that, that prompted the government to introduce new regulations that were aimed at improving safety in that region when it came to air travel. Do you know if any of those new safety procedures were implemented and what were they?

SOUCIE: Well, a lot of the safety procedures that were put in were the result of increased audits. So the Indonesian government has increased their audits at the direction of ICAO. ICAO had threatened or talked about lowering their safety rating down to a a level in which the United States wouldn't even support them being flown in.

That has been increased. There has been increased surveillance and audits. So their maintenance has been a big issue that's been looked at and also their procedures and their flight tracking and following. So if in fact, those were applied and put in place with the way they were recommended, this search and rescue should be expedited.

BLACKWELL: David, there are people who are tuning in today. You literally wrote the book on MH370, who are seeing another missing plane in this part of the world. Step back a moment, I'd just like your reaction to this happening again in this part of the world.

SOUCIE: It's tragic. And you know, as everyone in the world knows, so much coverage over MH370 and the scrutiny over that in the media as far as how much coverage went on.

[06:10:09] the thing I'd like to point out is the fact that this media coverage and the things we're doing right now at this moment are things that push the government to do things about their safety. Typically, safety is something that comes after the fact.

It comes after the accident report. It comes after two years of investigation and finally during that two or three years to follow, things happen.

What I'm thinking right now is this is very important. We need to get all the informing we can out to everybody, especially the families, so they know what's going on at all times. And that's our duty and obligation.

This area needs that scrutiny and open discussion about how they can improve safety. There's no doubt in my mind that this area is probably the least safe place to be flying right now.

PAUL: David, I just want to recap for folks who might just been joining us. This Indonesian plane that's missing, it is from the Trigana Air Service. That's a picture of a similar plane.

At this point, we are getting information that there were 44 adults, five crew minutes on board, three infants and two children on board, all of them, of course, missing right now. It was about a 50-minute flight.

It did have to go over, as we understand it, some mountainous regions. It left at 12:55:00 a.m. Eastern, lost contact at 3:21. When you look at the topography, how capable are rescue crews to get there in a short period of time?

SOUCIE: I investigated in a very similar care area in Casper, Wyoming, which had similar topography to that area, demand that search -- I'd have to see what the weather conditions are there right now. It starts with the helicopter search.

If there is any kind of flight tracking -- this is what we questioned in MH370 because we didn't have the flight tracking to tell us where the aircraft was.

In this smaller jet, it's under a different set of operating rules. So I doubt they had flight following on this aircraft. So it's going to be a very difficult thing to find. They know where the aircraft was.

They know it was on track on its exact flight plan as filed when it disappeared. That will help a lot. At least you have a corridor to search from the air.

BLACKWELL: David, I want to go back to Kathy Novak, CNN correspondent in Seoul, South Korea. It's a little after 6 a.m. here in the east in the United States, but local time it's after 7:00 p.m., the sun is setting. It's going to be dark soon. Tell us about the search that's going on right now. What are we learning, Kathy?

NOVAK: That's a major concern, yes, because it is getting dark. We are reaching out to the search and rescue teams. Our affiliate was able to speak to the head of the search and rescue. He was saying an air search is set to get underway tomorrow.

As you mentioned, it is getting dark. They are going to do a visual search over the area, but a team from Oksibil will be searching. How are the rescue teams going to get to the area they're going to have to comb over to see what happened here.

BLACKWELL: So Kathy, you're hearing that an air search will begin tomorrow. Is that suggesting this will be the first search so long after air traffic control lost contact from this plane?

NOVAK: This is the early word that we are getting via CNN Indonesia from the head of search and rescue. It seems that they are going to be doing what they can to do a visual search over the area and also get a land search underway.

But of course the concern is what they are able to do when it is dark. We are reaching out for more information from search and rescue. Some of it, it appears, may have to wait until tomorrow because it is getting dark.

[06:15:07] BLACKWELL: Mary Schiavo, is that something you would expect so long after this plane is missing or disappear, that the air search would begin the next day?

SCHIAVO: No. It's quite a delay. On the plane you have emergency locators and of course the world learned about the problem of lack of location ability on planes with MH370. But when the plane goes down on land they also have emergency locators that have a signal that can be emitted.

It's a very long time to wait because I've worked many accidents where if you can get to the plane, if it's a downed plane, if you can get to it promptly, there are many, many more survivors depending on the nature of the accident. The delays are very troubling, very concerning.

PAUL: OK, all of you please stay with us as we continue to follow this breaking news out of Papua. Again, you're looking at the flight path of a plane that is now missing. The earliest word is they will start searching by air tomorrow for this flight. It makes you wonder what's happening to the 44 adults, five crew members, three infants and two children on board that plane. We're back with more in just a moment. Stay close.


BLACKWELL: All right, thanks for staying with us. We are following breaking news this morning. A plane carrying 54 people, 44 adults, two children, three infants and five crew members disappeared on its route from Jayapura to Oksibil on the Papua Province.

[06:20:11] We are getting the very latest here. This is the information we have about those on board and here's the region here. We have with us David Soucie, CNN safety analyst, and Kathy Novak, CNN correspondent in Seoul, South Korea.

Just before the break, David, we learned from Kathy through CNN Indonesia that authorities out of the Jayapura region are going to be joining this search tomorrow. I can't imagine that is going to be the first search. What do you think?

SOUCIE: Well, the first search actually, Victor, is the other planes that are flying over the area. The good sign that we have here is that they haven't reported any kind of smoke or fire or anything like that along that same route.

So that tells us that if it did go down, there's a higher probability that it went down in an area that was more survivable and they may not have been in the act.

Of course, that's speculation on my part. But nonetheless, if you're flying the same route and if it went down over that same route, then there would have been other aircraft flying over that same region and the same area, and would have been spotting.

Because they are aware of the fact that the aircraft went off, they are on the same radio channels and radio frequencies. The first thing air traffic control in that region would do is notify all the other airplanes to keep an eye out for any signs of the aircraft being down.

So that's some good news there is the fact that there is no large smoke plume or fire that was noticed by other aircraft flying overhead.

PAUL: But what do say about this ATR-42 turboprop that believed to have been in the air. What do we know about that kind of plane? We have a picture of one right here.

SOUCIE: Well, it has a mixed history, actually, but most of the history of the ATR 42 when it comes to accidents, have to do with flying in severe weather and icing. There have been some improvements on the aircraft since an accident many years ago in which the ice had built up on the wing and caused it to be too heavy to fly and caused an accident.

But since that time, there have been a lot of improvements to it and a lot of procedural improvements as well to what you fly into and what you don't. There was some weather in the area that may play -- come out to find it to be a factor in what we see here, but at this point, it's too early to tell what actually caused the accident, of course.

PAUL: David, it's a regional jet and there are different operating rules. Was there flight tracking capability on a plane like this?

SOUCIE: There is flight tracking capability. It's not like what we talked about with MH370 where it's satellite related. This is a ground-based system that does flight tracking. Similar information being sent back to say, here's where we are.

It's not nearly as sophisticated as it was or should have been on MH370, nor any airline that crosses large oceans. So that is a little bit different, but it is certainly just as capable because of the fact that it's more land based.

I'll have to look to see exactly where it was because there seems to be some dispute about how far along in the flight the aircraft was. When we get that information, we'll come back and tell you more about what type of flight tracking was able on a ground-based system.

BLACKWELL: All right, David, standby. We want to bring in CNN meteorologist, Ivan Cabrera because undoubtedly the weather conditions at that time will be investigated as crews continue or as we are hearing start to search for this missing plane. Ivan, what do we know?

IVAN CABRERA, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Conditions at the time the plane went down here, we're talking about a few thunderstorms that were out. Normally when we look at this and we see an explosive mass of thunderstorm activity that would be an indication here.

But just to point out this is the area we're talking about here, steep terrain and a few showers and a couple of thunderstorms have blown in. Typically what happens across this part of the world is we get a sea breeze happening here and you get a little bit of lift here right around the mountains.

You can get thunderstorms that develop, but we're not talking about a big system covering Papua New Guinea. What a see over the next few days is actually the weather is going to get worse. We're going to get more activity and more disturbances rolling in.

Search and rescue are going to be there. Obviously the terrain is going to be an issue there as well as we have some pretty steep slopes across the western side of the island.

[06:25:13] The winds, at the time of the incident, five to ten miles per hour. So I don't see any issues. Planes fly through plenty of wind, so the thunderstorm activity could be an issue as far as affecting the vertical wind speeds, but again not any big storm, not anything that covers the whole island.

During the monsoon time, we get plenty of rain here. This is a drier time across Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. We'll keep an eye on it. But I think conditions getting worse over the next couple of days. But at the time of the incident, we had a couple of thunderstorms around. Hard to say at this point if that was the cause there.

BLACKWELL: All right, Ivan, stay with us for a period because we want to continue to have this conversation because now they will likely have to search that mountain region. But no indicators there that was anything explosive as it relates to storms in that area.

The one issue pointed out by Mary Schiavo, our aviation analyst is this is an ATR 42 with 49 passengers on board. A minor issue there, but could relate to weight.

PAUL: Stay with us. This is a picture of a similar plane, the one that is now missing in the Papua Province. We're going to have for you on the other side of the break. Stay close.