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Mystery of Flight 370; Search Area Growing

Aired March 13, 2014 - 15:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: It's the top of hour. And we're going to start with breaking news here on CNN. I'm Don Lemon.

It is a mystery that is still confounding the world. And right now, there is a lot of new information on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. We have just learned something incredible, that the White House believes on day seven that this search is not narrowing. Instead, it is likely going to get bigger.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It is my understanding that based on some new information that is not necessarily conclusive, but new information, an additional search area may be opened in the Indian Ocean, and we are consulting with international partners about the appropriate assets to deploy.


LEMON: So, I want to bring in straight away here Anthony Brickhouse, associate professor at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.

And you have spent a lot of time looking into aircraft accidents. Have you seen anything like this?

ANTHONY BRICKHOUSE, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, EMBRY-RIDDLE AERONAUTICAL UNIVERSITY: No. This is definitely a different type of situation than what we are used to dealing with in aviation safety.


One of your specialties is aircraft accident survivability. From what you know about the specs of this plane, the terrain in that area, what event could these passengers have survived? Could they have survived this event? Is it there a possibility that they are still alive here?

BRICKHOUSE: Well, when it comes to survivability, we typically look into the amount of g-forces that the occupants may receive during an impact and we also look into what is called occupiable living space, how well the aircraft held together during the impact sequence.

Until we find where this aircraft may be, it would be impossible to really speak to survivability.


Let's talk about ghost flights. There have been several other so- called ghost flights in aviation history which have blinked off the radar completely. If you were heading up this investigation, where would you go from here?

BRICKHOUSE: Well, I was telling my students just yesterday if I was running the investigation, you have to focus on facts.

As investigators, we don't go on gut feelings or hands on the back of our neck or anything like that. We basically deal in facts. And what we do know is that this aircraft took off from Kuala Lumpur. It flew for a certain amount of time and then we lot of contact with the plane.

We have a pretty good idea of where the aircraft when we lost contact. So, what you want to do is start at that point and basically go in 360 degrees in a radius, so to speak, and basically emanate out from that point based on how much the fuel the aircraft had on board and how far it could have flown.

And, basically, that is going to be a very, very large area, but you have to start your search somewhere. You start on the edges and you slowly work your way in. And hopefully, in doing that, you would find some type of wreckage or the aircraft itself.

LEMON: There is so -- there is such a large search area, though, over I think it's 12,000 square miles. It's virtually impossible really to sort of hone in on one particular area.

Can you still do that using your theory?

BRICKHOUSE: I believe it's possible.

It would require a tremendous amount of assets, but you have to have something to go on, instead of just searching in various spots based on different reports that might come in. You have to have a systematic approach to doing this.


Thank you, Anthony Brickhouse. Good afternoon. Appreciate you.

I have been wanting to get Mary Schiavo on -- she is a former inspector general for the U.S. Department of Transportation -- ever since we got this new information.

Mary, specifically, I want you to address this. According to the White House, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney in the briefing not long ago said, based on new information, a new search area may be opened up in the Indian Ocean for the missing flight. He also said that many countries are partnering in the search and following leads where we find them, Mary.

MARY SCHIAVO, FORMER TRANSPORTATION INSPECTOR GENERAL: Right. I think what they are doing is taking two pieces of information which may not be accurate, but it's all they have got. I think if you couple the sighting -- it wasn't the sighting -- it was one radar tracing that somebody reported by the island to the west of Malaysia.

Remember, when they said the plane turned around and it headed past Malaysia and it was near a small island? They have a heading. If you put that in connection with the engine information, true or not, whether it exists or not, that the engines may have run for four additional hours, you have got two key pieces of information.

You have a heading and you have a distance. With that, I think that the U.S. government undoubtedly feels an obligation to at least go look.


LEMON: Mary, I hate to cut you off, but you will want to weigh in on this. I want to get some breaking news now.

I want to get to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, with new information.

Barbara, you have new information about data that was sent from the plane past the time that we thought?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: You know, Don, this story takes a turn every few hours, but now a senior U.S. official is telling me that the Malaysians do believe and have communicated this with U.S. authorities that they do have several pings of data from the airliner's engine.

It is set up to transmit data about the engine as it's flying. They believe now they have several pings, if you will, of engine data that was transmitted and picked up by satellite and now is being analyzed. The preliminary analysis they say is that this data was picked up showing a track that the plane may indeed have flown four to five hours across the Indian Ocean, of course, hundreds of miles off course.

U.S. authorities say they working with the Malaysians to analyze all of this, but the flow of data from the engines that they believe they have during that time they think the plane flew is a primary indicator of why the U.S. is now agreeing to expand the search area into the Indian Ocean, and in fact within the coming hours, a U.S. Navy ship that was searching more along the flight path is going to be moved. It will enter the Indian Ocean, we are told, and it will join the search.

Now, this senior U.S. official also telling CNN none of this is 100 percent. It's a confusing picture. There is not complete information. There is some concern on the part of U.S. authorities with the Malaysians may not be sharing everything they have. No one can say why that is or how much is being shared.

This official cautioning, this is where it stands today. As we stand here and talk, they have some preliminary data and they have some data they believe is from the engines of this plane as it flew, and now they are going to look much more closely at the Indian Ocean as a possible area.

But here's the last piece of confusing information for the moment. Don, they have no data, no ping, no beacon that went off that showed the airliner made impact anywhere, either impact on land or impact into the ocean. So, it all adds to the mystery, Don.

LEMON: All right, Barbara Starr, thank you very much. Stand by, Barbara Starr.

I want to update our viewers now. We're getting new information from our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, that there may have been data transmitted from the airplane after the time that we had thought. Barbara Starr is here and also our chief national security, Jim Sciutto, is here and our aviation expert Richard Quest here as well.

And standing by on the phone, Mary Schiavo. We will get information from all of them and feedback as well. And Andrew Stevens as well live in Kuala Lumpur.

First now, Jim Sciutto.

Jim, what do you think of this new information?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: This in conjunction what I have heard from U.S. officials as well, that it is a combination in fact of information that has searchers changing their focus somewhat to the west of the Malay Peninsula, not just the data from the airplane, from the airplane engines, but also the radar data that the Malaysian air force put out and that we have been reporting in the last 24 to 48 hours.

In addition to that, also a sense of the full range of this plane and this idea that it had about seven hours of fuel in it when it took off and that if it indeed took the direction that the radar indicates, and the engine data indicates this is as far as it might be able to go. That is giving them the scope of their search. It's my understanding that it's a combination of data, the data they are getting from the engines and the radar data, as well as their understanding of the range of the plane based on the fuel that was in the tanks when it lost contact.

It is also my understanding that there has been some frustration from investigators as this has proceeded with how some of this raw data has been shared. Delays from the Malaysian side in terms of sharing it with the international groups, including the NTSB from the U.S., that they are getting it after the Malaysians have made their own conclusions rather than raw data when U.S. officials, U.S. agencies and others can help interpret the data to the best conclusion.

There is a lot involved in that hesitation. There's a lot of national pride here. It's a Malaysian flagship airline. it's the Malaysian responsibility since this took off from Malaysian and it was in international waters when is it disappeared. Just more thing if I can add, in light of this new information, I'm told this has not changed to this point U.S. intelligence officials' view of whether terror was involved in this. I'm told by a U.S. intelligence official that we have not seen a tie to terrorism, but we still have not ruled it out. That, as you know -- and, Don, you and I have talked about this and we have said this on our air -- that has been the position of U.S. intelligence officials for a number of days. So far, this new information has not changed that position on a possible terror link.

LEMON: Jim Sciutto, stand by. I'm sure we will have more questions for you, as well as Barbara Starr, who is at the Pentagon

I want to get now to CNN's Richard Quest.

Richard, you have been doing your research on this information. What do you make of it?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What is really interesting about this is, it's the exact opposite of both what the Malaysian minister of transportation said at the news conference this morning in Kuala Lumpur.

He specifically said they had not received any data. Andrew Stevens is in K.L. and will get that. And also a source of mine at Rolls- Royce said also to me today that they had not received any data from the aircraft over the last few hours of its flight, that no data existed.

But if you look at the size and scale of what we are now talking about, you are really talking about a vastly expanded area of search, because previously you were talking about on the eastern side and you were talking about the South China Seas and the Gulf of Thailand.


QUEST: Then you had the Straits of Malacca and the Andaman Sea. Now you are on the western side of Indonesia and you're out into the Indian Ocean.


LEMON: Into here.

QUEST: Absolutely. So, from that point of view, and it all comes down to a very real discrepancy between what we heard overnight from the Malaysian authorities, no data. What we heard from Rolls-Royce, no data. And now strong very reporting from Barbara Starr and Jim Sciutto that the U.S. is sending the fleet into the Indian Ocean to search.

LEMON: Do we still have Mary Schiavo on the line? Is Mary still on the line?

Mary, you heard Barbara Starr's reporting. Mary is a former inspector general for the U.S. Department of transportation. What do you make of this new information from our Barbara Starr?

SCHIAVO: I think, basically, given that there is some information, how reliable or not, we have to respond. There is no way, given that we have at least one radar heading after the plane allegedly turned or someone reported it and we have some people reporting that the engines were turning, there is no way we cannot follow up on this lead.

It would be inhumane and it might turn out to be just the lead we need, but I think it's inevitable we have to do this, given there is any information whatsoever. There is not much. But I think we have to do it.

LEMON: Barbara Starr is back with us.

Barbara, I understand you have more information for us now?

STARR: I just want to agree with everyone here at the moment, which is to say this.

What the U.S. officials are telling us is this is their information at the moment. This is the working theory at the moment based on some intelligence and technical data that they are getting through the Malaysians. So, yes, they are going to go have a look. They are going to make every effort.

They have no reason to doubt at the moment what the Malaysians are telling them, that there has been some sort of data, information received by satellite that corresponds to this type of aircraft and this type of engine flying in that specific region at that time.

That's the baseline that they are working off of. But I think all of us acknowledge that this is a very confusing picture. We have all been through so many twists and turns on this. Just last night, we were talking about Chinese imagery maybe showing debris in the water. That proved not to be true. There are a lot of twists and turns.

The official I spoke to even as he laid it out, he said, be careful. None of this is 100 percent -- Don.

LEMON: Jim Sciutto?

SCIUTTO: Well, Don, echoing Barbara's point, this follows a pattern that we have seen over the last several days, data presented as possibly indicative of a cause to this, data denied by one or another government, and then data in some cases dismissed, for instance, the satellite data.

But you have seen this with the radar data that the Malaysian air force put out. There were some denials initially, some backtracking, but that's out there. You saw it with the satellite data and you saw today some denials from Malaysian officials about these first reports of engine data.

A note of caution to our viewers. We are proceeding with caution here because there have been so many questions here. That said, it's also my understanding that the U.S. has had knowledge of this engine data for at least 24 hours or so. So, it's something that they have been looking into. And, of course, they would look into it before they would start to move assets around, as they are now, sending U.S. Navy ships out to the Indian Ocean to have a closer look there.

LEMON: All right, Jim, stand by.

Go ahead.

QUEST: I just want to point out, having listened to what Barbara and Jim were saying, let's remind ourselves that we are not talking at this point about why. We are talking about where.

Let's not have any discussions about what might have happened on board the plane. What might have -- was it terrorism, was it an explosion? We are right back at the beginning. Where is the plane? This doesn't get more basic than the position of where we are at the moment. Is it to the east, in the middle, or the west?

It's quite extraordinary that six days after this incident -- I can't remember a situation like this where there was simply so little information on the whereabouts of the incident. It's a case of where, not why.


Mary Schiavo, as you listen to this information -- and you're a national transportation -- excuse me -- the U.S. Department of Transportation -- investigating crashes and investigating air mishaps, where does this lead -- where does this put us in the investigation? Are you hopeful with this new information?

SCHIAVO: Well, at least it's some hope.

This information suggests that they would be following the idea that the plane suffered, but not a suffer so much that it would fall from the sky, but it suffered something that then set it on another direction.

Like I say, it's disheartening on one front, because this is not a lot of information, but now we are moving in this direction. It does tell me that we don't have a lot of other things to go on. But if the scenario was that the plane was severely damage, but was able to keep flying, this is where you would want to look. This is where you would have to look to make sure you have satisfied yourself as a country that you have done everything you could.

LEMON: All right, stand by, Mary Schiavo. We have our Barbara Starr at Pentagon. Jim Sciutto is in Washington. Richard Quest is here and Andrew Stevens is here in Kuala Lumpur and again we have Mary Schiavo, who is a former inspector general for the U.S. Department of Transportation, on the line with this new information we are getting from our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr -- Barbara.

STARR: I also wanted to add in, we know a little bit more about what's happening behind the scenes inside the U.S. national security community, the military, and the intelligence agencies.

I have been told by officials very much in the know, multiple officials that for the last several days, as we talked about, intelligence experts are scouring all available satellite data, satellites, and most of it likely is commercial satellite data, because we are talking about a part of the world where U.S. intelligence satellites don't regularly go. There is no reason for them to be that far south. That's very far from North Korea, which is the primary target area for collecting intelligence in that region.

A lot of commercial satellite imagery, but they are looking at it and they're analyzing it, officials from the U.S. military and from an organization called the National Geospatial Agency, which performs high-tech classified analysis of satellite imagery to figure out what it shows from the National Reconnaissance Office, which runs some satellites, from across the intelligence community.

The U.S., even though they are getting a lot of the data from the Malaysians, they are trying to corroborate what they may know by looking at satellite imagery. It's very tough and it's a bit slow going, because you are looking at thousands of miles of ocean as the maps show us.

How to pick out one little element that may be some piece of debris, a lot of that is done through computer analysis these days, but it's still very tough. You have to have some idea of where you want to start looking. It may be sadly somewhere over the Indian Ocean. There's also still of course the very commonsense answer to all of this, which is it went down along its expected flight path. Nobody knows -- Don.

LEMON: And we were looking at that image, the satellite image yesterday and wondering what was to be made of that.

I want to go now to Kuala Lumpur and our Andrew Stevens is standing by

Andrew, you have been listening to this entire conversation that I have had with our correspondent and our contributors here on CNN, and you are there. Any response? What do you make of this?

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is an extraordinary development. It just shows the zigzagging way that the facts or the lack of facts that are emerging, Don.

It's 3:00 in the morning here. We have reached out to the defense ministry who are leading the investigation and hoping to get a response back of them as soon as we can.

But if you look at the press conference today, it was very, very specific, where the defense minister was knocking down a theory put forward by "The Wall Street Journal" that the plane actually flew on for several more hours. He described that report very clearly as inaccurate.

He went on to say he has got people from Rolls-Royce down here and he has got people from Boeing down here. They have been down now here for several days. That story in "The Journal" about the plane flying on or perhaps getting information from the engines was put to Rolls experts here on the ground. This goes back to what Richard Quest was saying.

That information was put to them on the ground here, and they were described as inaccurate by Rolls. This is what we're getting from the defense ministry at a press conference a few hours ago.

What the defense minister also said is that the focus of this search has been and continues to be in the South China Sea, i.e., on the eastern side of Malaysia. The only piece of evidence that really fits into an Indian Ocean scenario is this unidentified aircraft, this so- called plot on a primary radar which shows an aircraft turning back from near where the last reported known correspondence with 370 was, turning back over the west coast, and then heading out.

That blip, if you like, was last seen about 200 miles northwest of the island of Penang on the west coast heading out towards the Indian Ocean. But they say -- the Malaysians have been saying we know all about this. It's our duty to investigate, but the focus, the focus of this investigation is still on the other side in the South China Sea.

Whether this changes the needle at all down here will be interesting to see. But, so far, they have been denying early reports which seemed to suggest the same thing that Barbara has been talking about.

LEMON: All right, Andrew Stevens in Kuala Lumpur, thank you very much.

Listen, our correspondents are on it here, the worldwide resources of CNN. Barbara Starr is reporting this. She's saying there were pings that were gotten from the plane heard after, long after that the plane had vanished. The plane may have flown four to five hours over the Indian Ocean. The White House is saying now that that search area is now being expanded. Breaking news you will only get right here on CNN, more after the break.


LEMON: Back now with breaking news here on CNN.

Our Barbara Starr and our Jim Sciutto are reporting from Washington that there were pings received after the flight had vanished and that there was the flight -- the plane may have flown four to hours into the Indian Ocean and also we are getting information from the White House. The White House said that the search field for this, the search area is expanding.

I want to go now to Shawn Pruchnicki. He's an aviation safety expert at Ohio State University.

You also investigated Comair Flight 5191, that crash. What do you make of this information?


I think this is quite insightful and certainly some of the most focused information that we have had yet out of this mystery. This is going to be a valuable resource that they have to try to get a feel for the range the aircraft could have gone.

But if they know this period of time after the last radar site location that they had that, if they receive engine monitoring data later, then they know how many hours or less than an hour that could have been. Hence, that's going to help you decide possibly the size of the search area.


Listen, I am asking everyone who comes on, because the guests I have been speaking to, all of the experts, all the pilots are saying, this has us shaking our heads, the aviation community shaking their heads. They have no idea. They have never heard of anything like this. Do you agree with that, Mr. Pruchnicki?

PRUCHNICKI: Boy, I certainly do.

This is quite a mystery. And I'll tell you, until we are able to get some wreckage or certainly our hands on the black boxes, the flight recorders, it's going to be pretty close to impossible to tell what exactly happened to this flight. That's certainly going to be the key, us finding -- finding this aircraft and getting ahold of some of those material items.

LEMON: All right. Thank you, sir. We appreciate it.

PRUCHNICKI: Thank you.

LEMON: Listen, the worldwide resources are on top of this story, the mystery that is Flight 370. And there's new information coming in about where the flight was tracked, how long after. We are getting new information from our folks in Washington that there may have been information coming in from the plane hours after we thought it had.

And, also, the search field has been expanded. It now includes the Indian Ocean. This means this is a vast amount of area, water, and land that must be covered.

We will be back right after this break.