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New Time Line on Missing Malaysia Airliner; Could Flight 370 Boeing Be Used as a Weapon; Obama Speaks with Mahmoud Abbas; Flight 370 Family, Friends Not Giving Up.

Aired March 17, 2014 - 11:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, @ THIS HOUR, there is a new timeline out from Malaysian officials on the last communication from the co-pilot on board Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. It is a flip-flop from what we were hearing over the weekend. We are trying to sort this out, figure about flight 370 in Malaysia.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: If you feel like it is difficult to keep up with us, trust us, we understand.

Our aviation analyst, Mary Schiavo, is here again.

Mary, you have investigated these things before. Have you ever seen anything this troubling from you investigative point of view and drawn out as long as it has been?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: The third thing that is troubling is the lack of any real information, real information, real tips, anybody coming forward. We don't have a motive. In the aftermath of 9/11, vast information started flowing, sightings, tips. This could mean there is no big plot or a plot so well, we can't uncover it.

PEREIRA: Is that plausible to you, a plot could have been so ingeniously planned?

BERMAN: Is there anyone that good that could pull this off?

SCHIAVO: I don't think so. The key to the plot is an incredible pilot. You have to have a great pilot. There was a great motive. That's what's troubling. The last transmission, the co-pilot, perfectly normal.

PEREIRA: Perfectly normal.


BERMAN: Let me ask you about that transmission. Over the weekend, there ways a suggestion that the ACAR system had been shut off before the last voice transmission. Now we've learned that doesn't appear to be the case, all right, good night, a vocal good-bye before the system started being disabled or shut off. What does that tell you?

SCHIAVO: That says that everything at that point seems fine. If only one was involved in some sort of a plot, the other could give a signal. There's verbal hijack signals, transponder hijack signals. You would think someone would have said something. The co-pilot does do the transmissions and to handle the radio. That's part so far is normal. To turn off ACAR, the aircraft communications and reporting system, you have to pull the fuse or cut the circuit breaker. It is not like you can just switch it off and then the screen would turn dark.

PEREIRA: Failing that, if it had been a catastrophic failure, mechanical failure, we've talked about that with you, could that have disrupted the entire system without sending a message back that there is trouble.

SCHIAVO: There are several kinds of failure scenarios that could do that on this kind of plane, such a good plane. It tries to keep flying. It will shut down various things. There is a spooling effect. One thing shut down and another thing shut down. Here, there are several catastrophic failure scenarios, a fire, a depression, a failure of electricity. That has lots of backups. There are several backup systems on that. It would have to be something fairly catastrophic. The communications bay, the electronics bay is outside the cockpit in the hold. If they were going to mess around, they would have to go out of the cockpit and go down and you would have to have a pretty big crew.

BERMAN: It would have to be very deliberate actions.


BERMAN: What about the fact that we are getting these satellite pings some seven hours after the last point of verbal contact. Does that indicate there had to be some kind of deliberate action or could this have still been mechanical and still get the signals seven hours later?

SCHIAVO: It could be mechanical and get those signals. There is so much variation on the altitude information. I am suspect of that data. I am sure they are working to smooth it out and give us some pure data and better data. 5,000 really isn't enough to avoid the radar. That's where general aviation flies most of the time anyway. I think they need to smooth that out. The directional information gives us two diametrically opposed options. It doesn't seem plausible anymore. It looks like if it was still flying, maybe the southern route is where they went to.

BERMAN: Mary Schiavo, as always, it's great to have you here with us. Thanks so much.

SCHIAVO: Appreciate it.

BERMAN: Other news we're following AT THIS HOUR, the Crimean government is saying this morning that those who remain loyal to Ukraine, will not be persecuted. Crimea has overwhelmingly voted Sunday to leave Ukraine and join Russia. President Obama declared the U.S. will not recognize this referendum. In the past hour, the president announced sanctions against high-ranking Russian officials. PEREIRA: Quite a situation on the high seas. U.S. Navy SEALs took control of an oil tanker that had been seized by three armed Libyans this month. The SEALs boarded the ship "The Morning Glory" in international waters Sunday. The Pentagon says no one was hurt in the night's operation.

BERMAN: An earthquake outside Los Angeles this morning. Seemed to get under the skin of some morning anchors. They got under their desks to protect themselves on the air. As Michaela tells me, that is what you are supposed to do. The Kuwait registered 4.4, centered about 15 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. So far, there are no signs of any damage.

PEREIRA: We are talking about a wide, wide area. There is always a concern about the big one coming in southern California. People take the earth shaking very seriously.

Ahead AT THIS HOUR, back to our top story. As the investigation turns to criminal intent, we look at the possibility, could this plane have landed somewhere and be used as a weapon? We are going to talk to our security guests about possible scenarios.


PEREIRA: AT THIS HOUR, going into day 10 of looking for this missing airliner. There is a possibility -- we have to look at all of the possibilities. There is a possibility that the plane might have landed. If that's the case, there is more urgency to find it.

BERMAN: There's so many questions along with that. Can an aircraft that size actually be hid for this long in what could be plain sight? What would someone, presumably, a bad apple, be able to do this with aircraft?

PEREIRA: Michael Balboni is New York's former homeland security director and a senior fellow at the Homeland Security Policy Institute.

BERMAN: Michael, before we get into scenarios about what may have happened to the plane and where it may be. There are a lot of people with a lot of questions about what has gone on for the last ten days. There is one fact that has blown a lot of people's minds. The Malaysian investigators only took possession of the pilot's flight simulator this weekend. They waited seven days. There might be nothing on it. How big of a red flag is that to you that they waited so long for a key piece of evidence?

MICHAEL BALBONI, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY DIRECTOR, NEW YORK & SENIOR FELLOW, HOMELAND SECURITY POLICY INSTITUTE: I think it has been raised by a lot of people, the pace of the investigation. To me, talking about aviation experts, we all focus on when the transponder got turned off. You have to have some knowledge of it, be involved in the cockpit. When that happens, doesn't that indicate some complicity of someone controlling the plane? Why didn't you begin looking at the pilot's background then? Why not begin immediately, saying, let's take a look at this. And -- (CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: They have to rule that out.

BALBONI: Exactly. Correct. That's right. You check the box and say that's nothing.

PEREIRA: You add to it, there is no debris or plane or evidence it has gone down. There is no evidence of it still flying or being on the ground somewhere else. Also, add to it to make it further mystifying, no chatter. You're not seeing any chatter, no claims of responsibility.

BALBONI: Exactly. Yes.

PEREIRA: Is there anybody out there good enough to pull off a plot this complex?

BALBONI: We don't know that. We don't know the capabilities of the folks in that world. How do you get into the cockpit? You rush it. You blackmail one of the pilots. One of the pilots is in on it. There are one million different ways you can get in on it.

PEREIRA: But a million different ways, with a million opportunities for it all to go terribly wrong.

BALBONI: One of the points that people are not focused at all on -- I haven't heard anyone talk about it. Do you know how much one of these planes costs? $300 million is the average cost for this plane. That's a heck of a lot of money. I don't know if there is any type of secondary market. What would you do with this? Could it be a crime? We are all focused, because our orientation is on terrorism. It may be something else. The real question becomes, what is the motivation or the leverage factors you could use on the pilots? Looking into the background is so crucial.

BERMAN: Even so, you still have to fly it somewhere, you still have to land it, hide it, fuel it, and do something with all the poor souls on board. It seems so complicated.

BALBONI: It is. You talk with aviation experts and you say, if it went up to 45,000 feet, it doesn't make sense that it went up that high because you're stressing the plane and there are so many other things that could go wrong. But if you did, you pressurized the cabin, you put people to sleep. Everyone is out in 30 seconds. No one is going to give you problems. Is that part of the Machiavellian play here? That's the question.


PEREIRA: Michael Balboni, we appreciate you sticking around with us AT THIS HOUR. Thank you.

BALBONI: Pleasure.

BERMAN: Thank you so much. The partner of an American passenger on that missing jet says she feels strongly that he is still alive. We are going to hear her emotional story and what her theory is of this disappearance, this mystery. That's next.


BERMAN: This just in to CNN. A big day for President Obama at the White House. AT THIS HOUR, he is meeting with the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. He has been speaking with President Abbas about the framework to reach a peace deal in the Middle East. He had comments about their discussion. Let's listen in.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is something we have been working on for a very long time, obviously, President Abbas has been working on for a long time, and this is how do we achieve a comprehensive peace between the Palestinians an the Israelis. And I have to commend President Abbas. He has consistently renounced violence and sought a diplomatic and peaceful solution that allows for two states.


BERMAN: The president had Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and now he has Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. We'll see what comes of this.

PEREIRA: Trying to see if they can prevent it from derailing entirely.

Now, back to the missing Malaysian jet. Family members clinging to any sign of hope that the passengers, their family members, their loved ones, those people on flight 370, may still be alive somewhere. It is kind of hard for us, impossible to imagine the anguish they are going through.

The partner of American passenger, Phil Wood, said she is not ready to give up.

She spoke with it with our (INAUDIBLE).


SARAH BAJC, PARTNER OF MISSING PLANE PASSENGER: The entire U.S. population are reliving things like 9/11 in this experience, right? If an unthinkable thing can happen even after we have taken all of these precautions, what could happen next?

This is a planned activity. Somebody wants to do something and make a message out of it. And it would serve no good for them to be seen as callus and brutal, because then they won't have as much bargaining power. I think. I can't imagine to put myself into the mind-set of somebody who would possibly contemplate this. But I've got to believe that the hostages are valuable to them. As the only adult American, Philip would be a valuable asset to them. It happens to be that he is also very calm and very put-together and he would know to step back and not cause any conflict. So he wouldn't be somebody that they would want to get out of the way as a trouble causer.

If there is anybody who can survive a situation like that, it's him. He is very level-headed. I think he is the kind of person who would help to calm a really chaotic situation.

Of course, I have to prepare for the worst, because no matter what, I still have to go forward and no matter what, his family still has to go forward. So we need to know where that fork in the road is going to go. We're not ready to take either branch but we have to know what's coming. Because, otherwise, when it comes, you won't be prepared, and that's when you get into trouble. I think.

UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORRESPONDENT: You need to be prepared for what ever the news is.

BAJC: My bag is packed and ready to go. It has been since Saturday morning.


BAJC: Wherever he is. My son even helped me pick out which clothes to bring for him. So I have an outfit for him in the -- in my backpack. Because he wouldn't want to wear his dirty old stuff anymore, I'm sure. And he probably wouldn't want to wear a hospital gown if that's the case. So, yep, it's all ready.


PEREIRA: How she can hold it together, to even have that conversation with her son, you know -- and it brings up this greater thing. And we -- so many people here in New York had to deal with this post 9/11, how you talk to your children about this impossibility.

BERMAN: Makes it more difficult. For the people there, they don't know even when they can begin to grieve. How do you balance hope versus grief?

PEREIRA: You don't want to give up hope. But at the same time, you've got to look reality in the face, right?

Tomorrow, on our show, we will take a look at this idea of grieving and explaining this conversation, how you might even broach it with your kids. This is a tough one. This is a big one. And how you talk about it with your kids and young people.

BERMAN: All right. We'll be right back.


PEREIRA: Oh, my, where has the year gone? Has it really been a whole year since we saw Michigan and Louisville battle it out for NCAA men's basketball championship? March Madness is on us, people.

BERMAN: You have been counting the days. The brackets are set. I have a war room set up in my office right now. Going through some scenarios.

PEREIRA: Really? Much less scientific.

BERMAN: We will have ours filled out by Thursday.

But first, we want the scope on this year's tournament from a man who understands is better than we do.

Andy Scholes in front of our super size, CNN head wars in Atlanta headquarters in Atlanta.

Andy, tell us everything.

PEREIRA: Ready to take note, Andy, go.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS: I've got this giant bracket here to help me sift through, and hopefully, the picks come to me. This year's one seeds, Florida, Arizona, and then some newcomers. Virginia and Wichita State, those aren't your traditional one seeds but they are here. Wichita State, they're in what they're calling the region of death. The Midwest region has got three of the four final four teams from last year in it. Wichita State, Michigan, Louisville, duke is also in the Midwest region. So that's by far the toughest region out of the four regions we have now. The favorite is the overall top seed Florida, 5-1 odds, according to Las Vegas. The second-best odds of any team is Michigan State, 6-1. And they are a four-seed. So that goes to tell you what kind of parody we have in this year's tournament. Wichita State, first undefeated team to go into a tournament since 1991. 15-1 odds. And Louisville, defending champs also 15-1 odds. Interesting numbers for this year's tournament. More than $12 billion worldwide is expected to be wagered on the tournament with more than 100 million people filling out a bracket.

Now, there's lot of talk about -- you could become a billionaire if you fill out the perfect bracket this year. Warren Buffett is going to give that away if someone does that pairing up with Quicken Loans and Yahoo!. That's not going to happen. The chances of filling out a perfect bracket, one in 9.2 quintillion.


SCHOLES: And if you're wondering what quintillion is, number nine with 18 zeros after it. If you wonder how crazy that number is, if all the people on earth filled out a bracket per second, it would take more than 42 years for every single possible bracket to be filled out.

BERMAN: So no time to spare.

PEREIRA: Better get on that now.

SCHOLES: Better get to this right now.

BERMAN: Andy, what are your tips for filling out a winning bracket. I'm big on the 9-8 match-ups, the 11-5s. What do you do?

PEREIRA: He goes like this. SCHOLES: 9s beat 8s more than 8s beat 9s even though they're seeded opposite. And 16s never beat 1s. Don't ever have a 16 beat a 1. And 12 usually always beats a 5 at some point or in most years during these tournaments. So those are numbers to have. And doing your final four, you want one or two of the one seeds in your final four. The overwhelming majority of the time, at least one or two one seeds end up making it to the final weekend.

PEREIRA: Nobody told me there was going to be math, Andy.

BERMAN: Clearly, I didn't do well on the math either. I'm talking about 11-5s. We've got our work cut out for us.

Andy Scholes, thank you so much.

PEREIRA: You can get in on the fun. Log on to Test your bracket skills against us. Yeah. Oh, and the rest of the CNN news and sports teams. The people who know what they're talking about.

BERMAN: I know what I'm talking about.

PEREIRA: Yeah, sort of.

It's our official NCAA March Madness bracket challenge game on the web, Join the CNN group.

BERMAN: You know what I don't like about this picture here? It already assumes I'm losing, and hasn't started yet. I'm not even on the chart right now and already Blitzer and Tapper ahead of me, you.

PEREIRA: I was going to say something about alphabetical order but I see Wolf ahead of you.


PEREIRA: Can we stick with sports? This might get you outraged. Some little league baseball players have their season interrupt us over the weekend. In Newport Beach, California, more than 700 players could not play because the entire city league was suspended. By the way, no fault of the kids. Turns out the league had too many coaches on the board.

BERMAN: So what?

PEREIRA: Right? One board member called the punishment extreme. Five board members immediately resigned to bring the league back into compliance. So we think that the kids are going to be able to take the field this weekend. One of the situations where the adults get out of the way so the kids with just play.

BERMAN: Let them play no matter what.

I want to leave you with a happy thought right now. Take a look at the luckiest dog in the world. Meet Oreo, black lab, found himself perched on a ledge, couldn't move or he would fall. What happened? A deputy from the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office, dangled a rope, grabbed Oreo, took the dog to safety.

With that happy picture, we leave you.

PEREIRA: They get themselves in the strangest predicaments. That's it for us at this hour. I'm Michaela Pereira.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. "Legal View" with Ashleigh Banfield starts right now.