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Plane Carrying 54 People Missing. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired August 16, 2015 - 07:00   ET



[07:00:14] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. So grateful to have your company. I'm Christi Paul.


PAUL: Yes. We're following breaking news this morning, that a passenger plane carrying 54 people, including two children and three infants, is missing right now in a remote area of Indonesia.

BLACKWELL: The plane took off from a local airport on the country's coast, when what was supposed to be about a 50-minute flight. But in a little more than 30 minutes, air traffic control lost contact.

PAUL: Here's the thing -- it is dark there now, because night as fallen. And this is a densely forested region, we understand, very mountainous. Officials say they will begin searching on land, by air tomorrow.

Kathy Novak following the story live with us from Seoul, South Korea.

Kathy, what is the latest that you heard there?

KATHY NOVAK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): What we're being told by the transportation ministry is as you mentioned, because of bad weather and because it is dark now, that the search has been called off. It was launched earlier in the day, about five hours roughly since that plane was due in. But now, it's going to be called off because of bad weather and the darkness. But the spokesman is saying the priority is to look for the plane and crucially saying it has not said that it has crashed, just that the search will be resumed in the morning.

PAUL: Do we have any idea what consisted of that initial search and how quickly they pulled their forces together to do so?

NOVAK: Very little information about how much searching has already been done. What we do know is that the plane took off around 2:00 p.m. local time and was supposed to land roughly 3:00 p.m. local time. But about 10 minutes before 3:00, that's when no contacts made. But we're being told there was no sign of a distress call. So, lots of questions around what actually happened. But you keep

talking about, it seems like a lot of those answers are going to be coming tomorrow at the earliest.

BLACKWELL: Kathy, we understand that this first search was -- the initial search was suspended because not only was it getting dark, but there were weather problems as well. Do you know anything more about the weather there?

NOVAK: Well, we were told earlier or at least the head of the search and rescue team at Jayapura told our affiliate at CNN Indonesia, he said at that time, he thought the weather was clear when the plane took off. Of course, we're reaching out to get more information about the weather condition told now is that the weather conditions are too bad to search and of course it's too dark because it's become nighttime now. About five hours have gone by since the plane was last heard from.

PAUL: OK. Kathy, stand by for us.

We want to go to CNN correspondent David Molko. He's joining us from Singapore with more.

David, I think families in particular, who we're watching. And those are always the first people I think of, are sitting there thinking, OK, this plane has been missing. They've called off a search. What -- where are they? What are they going through?

You know this region apparently very extensively. Help us understand where it is that this plane disappeared specifically in that route between the two cities.

DAVID MOLKO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christi, what's extraordinarily troubling about this one is how remote and rugged that region is. The province of Papua in the island of New Guinea, the western half there, the city of Jayapura on the northern shore there on the Pacific Ocean from where this plane took off on this 45-minute flight. This was, you know, a short hop to a city in the interior, Oksibil.

The thing about this terrain, it is so remote and there is a mountain range that runs from west to east across the island, some of those peaks up to 10,000 feet high. Just giving you the idea of the context of what was going on at this point. Now, we know that the plane lost contact about ten minutes before it was scheduled to land. That is roughly where it would have been over those mountains, extraordinarily remote, difficult to reach. The fact that it is now dark there, of course, doesn't help -- Christi.

BLACKWELL: David, you know, I remember that you were there covering the crash of AirAsia Flight 8501. And it's supposed to -- this month, we're supposed to get a report on that investigation. I know that it's preliminary to discuss what we've learned from that, but I know there were some changes that were supposed to be made after that crash.

MOLKO: Victor, that's right. One of the questions that came up from AirAsia 8501, that was 162 people on that flight when it went down in December, there was a question about how pilots were receiving their weather information, whether they were getting online or via e-mail or whether they actually had to go physically pick it up from the weather office.

[07:05:06] Indonesia said that it was basically mandating across the board that all pilots did so.

Interesting thing about this time of year in this part of the world in Indonesia, it is the try season dry season. But still, the weather can be quite unpredictable. We heard that potentially, they had pulled off the search during daylight hours, because of bad weather.

Another thing I want to mention think about this plane, the ATR-42, you know, these fly all over the place in the region. It's not an unusual aircraft at all. Twin turbo prop engine, they're fuel efficient. They make short regional hops, you know, whether it's in Indonesia or other places in Southeast Asia.

So, there's nothing that stand out right now as a warning sign, especially with the weather being clear on takeoff. But the fact this plane is missing. They have no trace of it. No distress call and, of course, night has fallen -- Victor.

PAUL: All right. David, we appreciate it so much.

And again, to David's point there, the spokesperson for the transportation ministry says they have not said it has crashed. They will not go there at this point. They will only say that it's missing.

But David did mention the weather. And we want to get to that with Ivan Cabrera, because he's been trying to examine the weather and some of the flying conditions in that region overnight.

What have you discovered, Ivan?

IVAN CABRERA, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, we're going to get a little bit more exact here and pull a satellite. I wish I had radar in this part of the world. We don't. So, we have to work with satellite. But you can get a pretty good indication of weather conditions in any part of the world. And you can look perspective from infrared and even visible satellite perspective.

I've put the clock here and we're going to put this in motion. This is Saturday night local time, as we forward this. This is Jayapura. This is Oksibil here. This is 3:00, 3:30 p.m. This is the time that potentially the plane went missing, somewhere across this mountainous terrain.

There was no thunderstorm activity across that region during that time as the plane went missing here. So, we talk about wind patterns across the region. Sure, you can get some gusty winds. If the winds are horizon, that is not an issue. The issue would be vertical wind. As you're passing through the mountains, the winds can variate. And so, that can cause turbulence and that would be a separate thing. But no big thunderstorms across the region. In fact, we'll put this

into motion a little bit farther. You'll be able to see on a visible perspective that this is what we can see during the daylight. Again, not much activity here.

The peaks here, upwards to 10,000 to 13,000 feet. The airport itself, 2,500 feet. So we're talking some pretty high elevation as far as sea level, which is where it took off, and heading towards Oksibil, which is by the way a part of Indonesia, not Papua New Guinea. This is just called Papua, this is a province of Indonesia, and this is the area we're dealing with here.

Over the next few days, because of local effects here, we are going to see some showers and thunderstorms impacting the search and rescue here. That will continue in the next 24 to 48 hours. So, the weather turning a little bit worse in the next couple of days. But no torrential downpours, no significant thunderstorms here as I see it. Again, we are in the drier season. This time of year, all the wet weather moves up toward the north. That's why we get the big tropical cycle and ends up north.

But here we are with the accumulation potential in the next 24 to 48 hours. So, at the time the plane went missing, just to reiterate, as I see it, no significant weather across the region. I can't tell you what the winds were doing in the vertical at the time at the time that the prop plane was going through the terrain. That may have been an issue here. But as far as thunderstorm activity and any very heavy rainfall, that was not the case at around 3:00 p.m. local.

PAUL: All right. Ivan Cabrera, thank you so much for that.

BLACKWELL: All right. Let's bring in now CNN aviation analyst and former inspector general of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Mary Schiavo. And we also have with us, CNN aviation analyst and former FAA safety inspector, David Soucie.

Again, this search for the plane, the visual search will resume tomorrow. But, David, help us understand, I think most people understand after 370 -- MH370, the underwater beacons, the underwater search. But technologically, what resources are available beyond the visual search for a search on land potentially in this mountain region?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, the emergency locator transmitter which is on board this aircraft is designed to in the case of rapid deceleration would trigger this device. It sends out a signal to a network of satellites that can receive and triangulate the position of that emergency transmitter.

So, we haven't heard anything yet about whether that signal was received or not. I suspected we would have heard if it was. So, that can indicate a couple of things. One is that it did fail and, two, that it hasn't received that rapid deceleration.

[07:10:00] In other words, there hasn't been a devastating accident and the aircraft has possibly landed. So, it's too early to tell what that means exactly. But there are systems in place that are designed to report back similar to what we've talked about in MH370.

PAUL: Mary Schiavo, as well, does the lack of distress call indicate anything? Because as we know, the transportation ministry spokesman said there are no reports that any sort of distress call was made?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, I can indicate many things. Two of which would be that they were so busy dealing with whatever they were dealing with, you know, a situation, that they just didn't have time to do a distress call or that they didn't realize they were in trouble. I mean, so many of the crashes that David has worked and I have worked in the mountains come up in situations like this, where you have partly cloudy, not necessarily horrendous weather but partly cloudy in the mountains, and then you've got something else going on that distracts your attention.

And there you have kind of a bad situation where you wouldn't have time. Now, another thing that we learned from MH370, from AirAsia and several crashes in region, is that your emergency beacons are only as good as the maintenance they're on. Meaning, if you don't change the batteries, if you don't check them, if it's not something that has kept up and check every year on these inspections, that they may not have even had the power to power these emergency locators.

So, it may not mean anything that there wasn't a locater beacon. It could have been that, you know, it might not be a situation where it's flown up, it could be a situation where they haven't maintained it. And remember, this is one of the carriers on the E.U.'s list of do not fly, all the Indonesian carriers, except the handful five (ph), the European Union says don't fly them.

BLACKWELL: David, this was a relatively short flight from Jayapura to Oksibil, maybe 50 minutes or so, not very long at all. Help us understand the degree of difficulty even in just a small area of searching for a plane in this terrain.

SOUCIE: You know, it's incredibly difficult, victor. Because of the terrain, you have problems with radio frequencies, so the communication between the search teams themselves can be very troubling. And so, coordinating where they are, what grids -- the first thing's done is the search area, the suspected search area is broken out into grids. Then the assignment of the search area in those grids is assigned to various teams. So, now, you have to prioritize which ones you start with based on how many teams you have.

Now, so, this can get very complex, very quickly in those types of regions. If it was just a big flat open field, it would be an entirely different search. But this kind of thing, you've got steep mountains, ravines. You first start searching in those areas that are the most survivable, because in a search and rescue, you don't want to spend a lot of time knowing in a non-survivable area, you wouldn't search that area first. You've been looking for a place that the aircraft may have attempted to land. So, that narrows it down quite a lot.

So, I suspect tomorrow morning, first thing, which is our nighttime, so our evening this evening they're start the search in those lower areas down below where the aircraft could have made a successful landing.

BLACKWELL: All right. David Soucie, Mary Schiavo, stay with us.

Of course, we want to learn as much as we can about this plane that is now missing and the search for it that we understand will resume tomorrow. After the break, we'll talk more about the airline that operated this flight.


[07:16:57] PAUL: Following breaking news this morning of a passenger plane that's carrying 54 people, including children and infants, is missing in a remote area of Indonesia. You see the map there.

BLACKWELL: Yes, the plane took off from a local airport there in Jayapura on the country's northern coast. It was supposed to be a flight that lasted about 50 minutes to Oksibil.

But about 30 minutes in, 32 minutes or so, the air traffic control lost contact with the plane.

PAUL: And here's the problem right now, it's dark there and this is a densely forested region, we're told, very mountainous. Bad weather has moved into the area, we're told, as well. So officials say they have suspended the search and will resume the search tomorrow.

But we should point out that the transportation ministry spokesman says we have not said it has crashed. They will not go to that place yet. They will only say it is missing.

CNN correspondent David Molko joining us now from Singapore.

And, David, you know the area extensively, which we just talked about. But what about this airline, Trigana, you are familiar with it?

MOLKO: Trigana air service, Christi and Victor, one of many, many domestic airlines in Indonesia. You know, I've just been looking through their website. It appears They're based in Jakarta. They fly a lot of domestic flights.

Talking about their fleets, ATR-72 and the ATR-42, the twin turbo prop that's involved in this incident, they have a handful of those. They also fly some Boeing 737s.

Christi and Victor, what's important to think about at this point too as they begin this search effort, or rather the search effort will continue once the sun comes up, what's important to note is two things. You have a lot of these aircraft flying back and forth from remote islands in Indonesia, and across the country, you know, a very vast country with thousands of islands.

For some people, this is the only way they can access one place to another. There's a question of maintenance, this is a big, big point, because this is fairly typical -- I'm not saying these happens with this airline, we don't know their immediate practices -- fairly typical for these flights to fly a route, land on the tarmac and then quickly turn around and then head out on the next route. Sometimes, they'll hop from one destination to the other across the country, in an effort to save money and take on passengers.

There was a case I'm sure you'll remember of this case in Taiwan TransAsia 235 back in February, just to give you an example with a similar type of aircraft, typical turnaround time for a plane like that was about 30 minutes. So, that gives you an indication of what they might be doing with the planes in between flights.

BLACKWELL: Hey, David, there's one element that our Mary Schiavo pointed out this is an ATR-42-300. And that 42 typically indicative of capacity, the number of passengers. We know there were 49 passengers here, 44 adults, two children, three infants, obviously above the 42 suggested.

[07:20:01] Is that something that is typical of this region, of this airline? Capacity, the number of passengers. We know there were 49 passengers here, obviously above the 42 suggested. Is that typical of this region, of this airline?

MOLKO: Victor, it's hard to say. We certainly know that these airlines do like to make money and presumably would like to fly with a full aircraft rather than an empty plane.

In terms of capacity, you know, just something to note, this is a single engine -- sorry, single aisle airliner. So that's two seats on each side of an aisle. One thing that's unique to the ATR or special about the ATR is the main door, the main door where you board it via stairs is actually in the back of the plane. There are emergency exits or at least one near the front outside the cockpit. But that main entrance and exit is actually in the back.


PAUL: Hmm. OK.

David Molko, we appreciate it. Thank you so much.

After the break, we're going to take you live to China with the latest on the deadly chemical explosion there.

Also, of course, still looking in to any developments here in this plane that is missing in Papua.

Stay close.


PAUL: Listen, we have breaking news. Just to catch you up real quickly here -- a plane has disappeared over the skies of Papua. And there were 54 people on board this flight. We're talking about 44 adults, five crew members, two children and three infants. This is the flight path they were due to make. It's about a 50-minute flight. And a little over 30 minutes into the flight they lost contact.

We want to go now to Mary Schiavo and David Soucie to talk a little bit about this plane itself and the airline.

[07:25:04] It was Trigana Airline, air service. It is a small airline, we understand. This was a regional jet.

And, Mary, you were talking about it earlier. But our Renee Marsh, CNN aviation and government correspondent, did some research on this. And according to, this particular airline, in July of 2007 the E.U. added this airline to its list of banned carriers because of safety oversight issues.

What issues normally would warrant a ban like that, Mary?

SCHIAVO: Well, in the case of airlines out of Indonesia, there were two main ones. One was that Indonesia itself had ineffective safety oversight. In other words, Indonesia's version of the Federation Aviation Administration like our FAA was simply ineffective. They didn't have inspectors. They didn't have really the ability to police or control the airlines.

And the second problem was training, just really inadequate training, sometimes classroom book training where you needed hands-on training. Real lack of experience. And the kind of training that we would hope that our own FAA enforces on the careers of this country and finally on the ATR itself.

If there's one major criticism of the ATR, it's operations in bad weather, particularly icing. You wouldn't expect that without bad weather in the area, you wouldn't expect icing conditions. But the plane is not rugged in bad weather.

PAUL: So, Mary, what has to be done to reinstate it or to remove the airline from that list? And obviously, just putting on that list does not ban the airline from flying all together.

SCHIAVO: Right. In other words, the E.U., and it's something that our country, something the United States does not do, we don't have a banned airline list. I mean, everybody, you know, we were -- in the United States we resort to the Internet to get our news, unfortunately, about which airline we should get on or not get on, where the E.U. actually has lists of airlines. It's the E.U. blacklist is what it's called of the airlines that can operate there.

In the case of airlines out of Indonesia, almost all Indonesian carriers except for five are banned. It would take two steps. One, the airline would have to prove that it surpassed Indonesia's oversight or lack thereof. And then, it had good training and maintenance on its planes and, of course, this airline hasn't done that.

BLACKWELL: Let's bring back David Soucie, former FAA safety inspector.

David, we've also learned from Renee Marsh, our aviation correspondent, that this plane is 27 years old, first flight back in May of 1988. How does that rate in comparison to other jets that are flying this amount of traffic? Is it pretty old for a plane? SOUCIE: It's old for an airplane but it's not atypical at all,

Victor. These aircraft can fly that long. And under a good routine maintenance program, they can fly a lot longer than that.

But my concern, as Mary pointed out, is the fact that this particular country has had limited oversight over the maintenance and over the service of this carrier. Indonesia itself rates, of the top air careers, top 26 or so countries that have air carriers with over 30 million passengers a year, Indonesia is the bottom of those carriers. So, and that's the result of an ICAO audit that was done back in May of 2014.

So, there's some serious concerns over maintenance of the airline. Of course, I'm way jumping ahead of the gun on this particular accident as to whether or not we know the plane has crashed yet. So, it's hard -- early to speculate. But nonetheless, this is a safety risk that's been out there for quite some time.

BLACKWELL: And we know from the authorities that they're saying that -- they are just staying shy of saying it has crashed. They are looking for it.

But help us understand the regulations here in Indonesia of a plane or an airline that has been banned in the E.U. still has regular flight there is from Jayapura to Oksibil. Several a day from what I've read.

SOUCIE: Yes. And there's a difference here between a safety rating or a safety audit rating and the actual work that's being done on the aircraft, that sort of thing. There's the -- safety regulations of the airline in that country in that country may be very good. But the challenge here and the problem with safety they've noted with the ICAO audits, is the fact that are they following those regulations. That's really what the audit entails.

It does look at the regulations themselves, but I've also reviewed the regulations in Indonesia. They're very similar to the USA -- to what we use in the U.S.

But, again, where they fall short is the audit of are they following those regulations? Do they have the right systems and processes in place to ensure those regulations are being satisfied? That's where the safety problems lie.

BLACKWELL: All right. David Soucie, Mary Schiavo, stay with us.