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Legal View with Ashleigh Banfield

Foam Lines in the Ocean Could Hold Flight 370 Debris; What Happened at Flight 370's Transfer to Vietnamese Air Space?; Search Zone Remote & Unchartered; Families Left in Limbo

Aired April 01, 2014 - 12:30   ET



ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Ten planes and nine ships have wrapped up another long day of searching for anything related to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 off the coast of Western Australia. And once again, they have apparently come up empty-handed.

Today's search area is 46,000 square miles, and if you think that through, that's bigger than the state of Kentucky, just flying over and looking, all water.

Because 25 days after a wide-body jet carrying 239 people disappeared, the Australian expert now heading up this search says, and I'm going to quote him, "We do not have any precision in where the aircraft entered the water." We do now have the transcript, however, the back and forth between the cockpit and the ground controllers during flight 370's takeoff from Kuala Lumpur, the main point of interest, the flight deck's final good night.

One pilot or the other said, "Good night, Malaysian 370," and not "All right, good night," as officials in Malaysia had been reporting 15 days ago, over and over again, never correcting it.

In Perth today, the retired air marshal who has taken on the job of coordinating a massive search like we've never seen before, is warning, and it sounds fairly dire, that this is still a matter of educated guesswork and that it may never succeed.


ANGUS HOUSTON, JOINT AGENCY COORDINATION CENTER: You need to pursue the search with vigor, and we shall continue to do that for some time to come.

But inevitably, I think if we don't find wreckage on the surface, we are eventually going to have to probably in consultation with everybody who has a stake in this, review what we do next.


BANFIELD: So I turn once more to Colonel Michael Kay and Christine Dennison here in New York, and then also, live in Seattle right now, oceanographer and author Curt Ebbesmeyer, a pioneer in a field called flotsometrics.

And, Curt, I want to turn to you first. At what point can we just no longer extrapolate, even if we find one piece of debris, where that debris came from and ultimately end up at an airplane?

CURT EBBESMEYER, OCEANOGRAPHER: That's a good question, Ashleigh. I saw your -- I saw the really fine reporting of the people on the boat, and the winds actually will help us.

The winds actually push debris into long foam lines, and so I would urge the aircraft to actually look for foam lines, and these could be for many, many miles long, and the debris might be concealed within the foam.

So I've been on searches like this before, not for aircraft, but for other things, And these foam lines are often places where turtle eggs and oil and so forth accumulate.

So I would urge that people look for foam lines, and the winds are the best ways for nature to make foam lines.

Now, as to your question, what piece -- I hope we luck out and all the wonderful searchers luck out and find a big piece like the Air France tail, but it's likely that the pieces will be really small and could be, right now with these wind conditions, might all be in foam lines. So it may be hard to actually pick out the pieces.

So I'm hoping we actually see some clearly identifiable pieces. Right now. what's missing is ground truth. If we actually have a piece from the aircraft that is clearly from the aircraft, then we can take oceanographic data and backtrack where that likely came from with a fair degree of accuracy.

BANFIELD: I mean, it's certainly more optimistic than a lot of the reporting that I hear about, which is great to hear, Curt.

I want to bring Christine into that conversation, because she's the person who usually is out there on the water.

We saw the conditions of the water. We saw the troughs, how hard it is to spot. And then Curt says look for foam lines.

Are those easier to spot than massive debris fields when you're looking at those particular conditions?

CHRISTINE DENNISON, OCEAN EXPLORER: I think, at this point, anything that they can spot, they can identify, and then sort of pursue, and if they have to track it and chase it around, they're going to do it.

At this point, what we're referring to as far as the splash zone is really a point of impact, which is what they would ideally either trace back --

BANFIELD: Do you think a foam line, say, if it were found now, could lead you to a splash zone? After 25 days of -- look at that. Just look at your screen. Look what they're going through just today alone. DENNISON: It's really a very difficult situation for them. I would say if they did find that, certainly that would be a positive thing.

Debris , anything at this point, they could start to sort of trace back and see it.

BANFIELD: So, Colonel Kay, if you're flying, and I'd love you to just react specifically to what Curt Ebbesmeyer just reported to us and that is that this kind of weather causes foam lines, not big debris fields.

He says it's helpful, and you're the guy spotting this stuff before. Is it?

LIEUTENANT COLONEL MICHAEL KAY, ROYAL AIR FORCE (RETIRED): Yeah, I think it's a great point brought up, and obviously, it's going to be more identifiable from the air, and the more attitude you can get, the more likelihood of spotting one of these foam lines.

If you've got a sea state, though, where you've got high waves, pitching through crests and troughs, those foam lines are going to be dispersed.

So I think the foam lines are more identifiable when the conditions calm, and that will be the time to seize the opportunity to look at these.

But in order to identify them from the air, the mist has got to go, the fog has got to go, the cloud base has got to raise, so there are a number of factors that go in.

The foam line is a great point, but there are a number of things that lead to identifying that, and weather conditions are absolutely key.

BANFIELD: Curt Ebbesmeyer, it's always great to have your insight. Thank you for that. And Christine Dennison and Michael Kay, as usual --

EBBESMEYER: Thank you, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: -- insight, as well, and hopefully we'll get a chance to speak with you again. So we got a copy of one transcript from the missing plane today, but there is another transcript, and we have not seen that one.

You're probably not hearing much about it, and we're wondering if it could shed more light on what happened to MH-370. You'll find out what it is, what country is responsible for it, and where it exists right now, in a moment.


BANFIELD: A new development in the search for Flight 370, is it possible that there's another transcript between the pilots and air traffic controllers? Because if there is one, it hasn't been released to us yet, hasn't been released to anybody, not even family members, to our knowledge.

CNN safety analyst and former air accident investigator, David Soucie, joins me to talk about this.

He's joined by Lieutenant Colonel Michael Kay from the RAF, Royal Air Force, for those of you who don't know that.

David Soucie, it occurred to me when you brought it up that there was a whole other air space that this flight was headed into.


BANFIELD: To our knowledge, it didn't make it into that air space, the Vietnamese air space, right?

SOUCIE: Right.

BANFIELD: What would happen for air traffic control, and what kind of transcript might be out there if there is one?

SOUCIE: There is communications whenever there is a handoff from one center to the other, so you're going from Lumpur, which is the area control, to Ho Chi Minh.

BANFIELD: So Kuala Lumpur? Right?


BANFIELD: That area?

SOUCIE: It's just called Lumpur in --

BANFIELD: Malaysian air space?

SOUCIE: Yeah, but yeah, that air space. And then you're going into Ho Chi Minh air space. So what happens is --

BANFIELD: Vietnamese air space.

SOUCIE: Correct.

BANFIELD: That's where they were headed toward. That was the path.

SOUCIE: Yes, yes. So what happens is, you're talking with the pilot. If I'm the controlling, talking with the pilot, and I'm saying, I want you to go -- I see you're going to head that way.

I'm going to hand you off. Here is 120.9. Tune your radio to 120.9. So the pilot does that. Underneath that, what's happened is, this controller talks to the controller at Ho Chi Minh and says there is an airplane coming into your air space, somehow --

KAY: Picks up the phone, it's a direct, landline call. It's not over the air. It's a landline call.

SOUCIE: Or sometimes -- I don't know. I'm not familiar with theirs, but sometimes it's a text message, or it's some kind of communication, either a landline call, some kind of communication that says --

BANFIELD: Basically, Kuala Lumpur is calling Vietnam to say, we're handing a plane off to you.

SOUCIE: There you go.

KAY: Yeah, you've got 370. It's squawking, 2157, It's approaching your air space. Happy? And then as soon as 370 contacts Ho Chin Minh air space, this is 370, roger, you're identified.

BANFIELD: He says we're in.

KAY: Yeah. And you'll get a "roger, you're identified" from Ho Chi Minh.

BANFIELD: And at this point, no one knows if that happened at all?

SOUCIE: We're hearing that it didn't happen, that -- we don't know if they didn't contact Ho Chi Minh or if Ho Chi Minh did get the message and didn't hear from the aircraft, and then didn't say anything about it.

But I suspect they did because they searched and they probably talked. Like in 447, it took seven or eight hours of this kind of communication before it ever turned out to be anything significant.

BANFIELD: Look, I don't know an airplane from Adam, but I would assume that Ho Chi Minh knows a plane is coming, right? And wouldn't they expect, where's that Malaysia airlines flight that was due any moment?

SOUCIE: That's the whole point of this double checking, is to make sure that happens. So this is what has got me concerned. If it did happen, that's information. That's another piece of the puzzle that we need in order to get this information out. And that's what I'm still waiting --

BANFIELD: Just quickly wrap it up.

KAY: I think we need to go one step further. I'd like to know what emergency protocols Ho Chi Minh radar took when Malaysia 370 didn't turn up on frequency and the squawk 2157 disappeared.

There should have been conversations between Ho Chi Minh and Lumpur approach. Guys, we don't have 2157 on the scope. There should have been conversations between Ho Chi Minh and Malaysian military radar. You know, guys, we've had something drop off the radar. Do you have anything --

BANFIELD: To our knowledge, it hasn't happened, but it may have and they're keeping it under wraps.

KAY: Again, it goes part to this we need to start deleting the data which would eliminate the aircraft going north, and this is part of that investigation.

BANFIELD: And eliminate a lot of the questions. David Soucie and Colonel Kay, thank you both so much.

And believe it or not, we know more about the surface of the moon than we do about the ocean that's being searched right now for that airplane, and check out that uncharted territory.

And as we go to break, ponder this. About five percent of the ocean is known to us. The rest, Chad Myers is going to tell you about in a moment.


BANFIELD: This may sound a little unsettling, but do you know that we, as a human race, have more information about the mapping of Mars than we do about our own oceans? It's true. We're about at the 5 percent mark when it comes to our oceans. And Chad Myers joins me now to answer a whole bunch of questions about that, a, why, and, b, what do we know and what don't we know?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Why is because you can't take a picture from a satellite of the ocean floor and get the symmetry, get the up and down, get the canyons. You just can't see through the ocean far enough. So how do we get that data? We have a pinger on a ship, and the ship moves along.

Well, the pinger, just like a fish finder, finds the bottom. Depending on how far away the bottom is, that's about a mile or so width. It can be farther. If it's a 12,000 feet, the beam goes out farther, so it's a wider footprint.

Now I'll get you something else. It can't go too fast because if the ship is already here, when the ping goes down and comes back, that means the ping misses the ship. So we're going about five miles per hour. Five miles per hour times one mile gives you five square miles an hour with one ship. One hundred and thirty million square miles to map with one ship. If you don't go far fuel, don't go for new guys and don't go for food, if you just stay in the ocean the whole time, it will take you 2,955 years to do that.


MYERS: So, I don't know of a ship that can go for 2,000 years without fueling up, nor getting new guys or men, women on board. So here's our issue. That's just one ship. Clearly, if we multiply this by 100 ships, then all of a sudden we divide that number by something else.

But this is the issue for Indonesia all the way down to -- all the way to the east coast of Australia. These are all of the pings, these are all of the ship travels that have happened with that (INAUDIBLE) going. So there's a lot of blue in there where we don't have a lot of coverage.

Now I'm going to take you to let's say the United States. So we have a lot of ships and we're -- here. Here's our one line there, one line there. Almost complete coverage of the east coast. Nearly complete coverage in the Gulf of Mexico and all the way up the west coast, as well. So --

BANFIELD: And, Chad, those routes have all been mapped?

MYERS: Those have all been mapped because it's the United States. It's NOAA. NOAA has done all of this for us. And you talked about the moon. I can talk about the moon or I can talk about Mars. Here's the moon itself with just a telescope or two of them. We can see the three dimensionality of anything out there. In fact, there are even some telescopes that can even find where the lunar landers went down. That's what the moon looks like.

Here's what Mars looks like. Pretty incredible, as well. All of the craters that we have here on Mars, all because of 3-D mapping. You get two eyes or you get two cameras, you take a picture of the same thing, it can see three dimensions. We can't see through the water to do the same thing on the ocean floor.

BANFIELD: And, you know what, I can only assume it is pretty darn expensive to do that. Not every country is going to want to weigh in and spend that kind of money, especially in a place like the doldrums where nobody really goes.

MYERS: Sure.

BANFIELD: There's no shipping channel. So, it's fascinating stuff. Chad, I knew you would explain this beautifully. Thank you.

MYERS: I try. Thanks, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Well, you succeed every day. Thank you, Chad Myers. Appreciate it.

Another big story that we've been following on this program and throughout, CNN's broadcast, GM and the delay for that company in recalling defective cars. The delay that came so late for one family.


GORDON HAIR, BEN HAIR'S FATHER: They're talking about people reporting problems with ignition 10 years ago. That's six years before my son had had the accident.


BANFIELD: That accident killed his 20-year-old son. And wait until you hear what families have gone through just trying to get some simple answers from a very big company. It's coming up next.


BANFIELD: In a little more than an hour, GM's brand-new CEO is going to face her first big test on Capitol Hill. And that is trying to explain why her company waited 10 years to recall 2.6 million vehicles because of an ignition problem. Not a small problem either. It cost 13 people their lives. And as Drew Griffin reports, the families still cannot believe it took so long. But the only thing they do know, that any answer is not going to bring their loved ones back.


G. HAIR: This would have been about the time of the day that it happened.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIONS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Gordon Hair's son Ben was just shy of his 21st birthday, heading home on this road four years ago when, in an unexplained flash, his 2007 Pontiac G5 locked into a turn on this slight curve, hit this very tree, and Ben died.

G. HAIR: Even if I would have yanked there, I don't think that that quickly I would have been hitting that tree.

GRIFFIN: Ben Hair had been drinking the night before but stayed overnight with friends before driving home about noon on a Sunday. He was traveling just five miles over the speed limit on a wet road when it happened. Police blamed driver error.

G. HAIR: This is him. He was a pharmacy technician.

GRIFFIN: Hair was a smart student, a star swimmer, and a soon to be pharmacist. He was also Brenda and Gordon Hair's only child.

G. HAIR: It's still hard to believe how it happened.

GRIFFIN (on camera): And there's been no official believable explanation.

G. HAIR: That's true.

BRENDA HAIR, BEN HAIR'S MOTHER: And we just thought it was a horrible accident until I received the letter from GM in September of 2010 stating that there was a recall and to bring the car -- his car in.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Brenda, recovering now from a recent stroke, got the first recall notice from General Motors nine months after Ben's accident. A problem with the power steering was a possible explanation for the crash. But the evidence to prove it, Ben's Pontiac G5, had been scrapped.

G. HAIR: Learned a lesson there. Couldn't find the - couldn't find or retrieve the car.

GRIFFIN: Two weeks ago, GM sent the Hairs a new recall notice. The key to the ignition on Pontiac G5s can unexpectedly turn off, shutting off power to the air bags, the steering and the brakes. It's all just way too late. GM now admits it first noticed problems in its key ignition back in 2004, nearly a decade before this recall.

G. HAIR: They're talking about people reporting problems with ignition 10 years ago. That's six years before my son had the accident. It's just kind of hard to believe those kinds of things.

GRIFFIN: There are hundreds of accidents involving deaths like Ben Hair's, where it's simply not known. If the manufacturer's defect was involved, and worse, General Motors has been reluctant to share any information with the families or even the government until now.

Just like the Hairs, Mary and Leo Ruddy got their first recall notice months after their daughter, 21-year-old Kelly, died in a 2005 Chevy Cobalt. In this case, GM engineers were able to retrieve the black box, the car's data recorder, from a scrapyard. They analyzed its contents, but shared only basic technical data, leaving the Ruddys helpless.

LEO RUDDY, KELLY ERIN RUDDY'S FATHER: And there was no summary of what they found. They said, if you feel there's a problem here with the vehicle, you prove it.

GRIFFIN: Only now, 13 confirmed deaths later, and potentially many, many more is the company finally admitting it messed up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Something went wrong with our process in this instance and terrible things happened.

GRIFFIN: Twice a day, Gordon Hair drives by this spot, this tree.

G. HAIR: That's our tree.

GRIFFIN: And he will always wonder why, how, and potentially who was responsible for the death of his son.

Drew Griffin, CNN, Charlottesville, Virginia.


BANFIELD: And again, stay tuned, because that new CEO, Mary Barra, is going to be testifying on Capitol Hill, just a little over an hour from now. As you see on your screen, we're going to watch a lot of that starting at 2:00 p.m. CNN's going to have full, live coverage. We're also going to be closely following her comments, along with what the families have to say. There are 13 families directly affected, and yet that list not been released. They are all waiting to see it.

Thanks for watching, everyone. Nice to have you with us. My colleague, Wolf Blitzer, starts now.