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Simulator Data Erased; FBI Reviews Simulator Drive; Search Moves South; Flight 370 Emergency Transmitters Will Soon Lose Power

Aired March 19, 2014 - 12:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It is Wednesday, March 19th. Welcome to LEGAL VIEW.

As the focus of the Malaysian airliner search turns south of the equator, one new piece of forensics is keeping the investigators looking at the captain of that plane. CNN has learned the FBI now is analyzing the hard drive from the flight simulator that the captain of Flight 370, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, kept in his home.

This follows word today from Malaysia that some sort of data had been erased from the hard drive by somebody for reasons unknown. Experts are really split at this point on whether that is a routine thing to do, like deleting e-mails, or something out of the ordinary and therefore suspicious instead.

But this much we know, 12 days after Flight 370 vanished without a trace effectively with 239 people on board, it has now become the longest disappearance in the modern history of commercial aviation. Incredibly, almost nothing has been ruled out. But officials seem more and more convinced as time goes by that that plane flew deep into the Indian Ocean, as opposed to northward over what is effectively very heavily monitored air space.

In fact, Australia says that it is, quote, "significantly refining" its search area, and that based on the jet's potential flight path and fuel load. But so far, here's what else we know, absolutely nothing has turned up. And precious time is still being lost, as well.

A P-3 Orion search plane from the United States is one of at least a half dozen that are right now just parked - parked on tarmacs, not doing anything related to a search. Instead, waiting for the country of Indonesian to allow the use of its air space. Waiting.

And every passing hour brings new heartache to these people. These are the families, and particularly the one in the center is a mother whose desperate for information. She was forcibly hauled out of the hotel conference room where Malaysians were holding their daily briefing. And it just brings goose bumps to see that this can actually happen this long after the plane went missing.

I want to get more now on our newest development from CNN's justice correspondent Evan Perez, who is live in Washington, D.C. Get me up to speed on what exactly the FBI is being allowed to do when it comes to this flight simulator that was in the captain's home and how many agents do we actually have on this project?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Ashleigh, the number of agents now that are going to be working on this is going to increase significantly simply because the Malaysians have done some analysis of the drives that were taken from the computers of the two pilots on board this flight. So now what they've done is now that they've done some initial analysis, they found nothing that they can say, you know, explains what happened here with Flight 370.

They've turned over the drives and copies of the drive to investigators from the United States and from Britain so that they can do their own analysis. The FBI has teams of forensics experts at Quantico, their lab in Quantico, Virginia, which that team is now going to start looking at the drives and try to figure out if they can retrieve some of the data that, as you mentioned, has been removed and try to figure out if they can piece back together anything that indicates what could have happened here.

So that process is - has just now begun and we expect it's going to take some time. The FBI has a lot of experience with this stuff, but, obviously, it's not a very easy thing to do, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: And that's great to know, Evan, because, you know, just within the last 48 hours we've had this discussion about "The New York Times" reporting that Americans weren't even being given access to the simulator. So now at least we know this is happening and we've got some good eyes on it, hopefully the best eyes that are out there.

Evan Perez, stand by, if you will. Thank you for that live report from Washington.

Live in New York with me here with more on this actual technology is Brett Larson. He's a CNN analyst and host of the webcast and syndicated radio program "Tech Bites." And also joining Brett and me, once again from our virtual cockpit in Canada, we're joined by CNN's Martin Savidge and flight instructor Mitchell Casado. So we're going to get a lot of insight into exactly what that simulator might provide and, more importantly, perhaps what's missing from the data.

Brett, first and foremost, when we hear the FBI is now combing a hard drive of a flight simulator, how much can you comb? What kind of forensics can we actually get out of this thing?

BRETT LARSON, CNN ANALYST: You can get literally anything that was on that computer. So anything that he threw out, even if it was just as simple as his web history and he deleted that, that is going to show up on these hard drives. Data goes on to a hard drive kind of the same way frosting goes on to a cake. You put it down one layer at a time. And when you take a chunk of that frosting away, if you delete a file, it just creates room on the hard drive where more data is just going to override it. But what was under there is already (ph) still there.

BANFIELD: If you're - if you're a person of this caliber, this is a - this is a tech guru.


BANFIELD: Wouldn't he be savvy enough to delete the right way, meaning delete forever?

LARSON: Yes. And -- but delete forever, in order to do that, you have to physically remove that hard drive from the computer. You have to drill holes in it. You have to put glue in between the platters. So if the FBI is going through this data, they're going to be able to recover virtually anything that he has thrown out. They can go bite by bite over these hard drives to find what was on there and what -- and what he may have thrown out in an effort to hide it.

BANFIELD: I want to bring Martin Savidge and Mitch Casado back into this conversation from the simulator.

You're live in a simulator. It is different, let's just be real frank, than the kind of equipment that was seized from the home of the pilot. And I want to remind our viewers, there is nothing nefarious at this point to suggest this pilot was up to anything other than just being fascinated by flying.

But, Martin, take me through, what effectively might be on the history and the hard drive of a flight simulator.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, you've already brought it up that a flight simulator is a computer. And it's a computer that has a memory. In this particular case, you know, it's got a lot of data in there. You're recreating the scenery. You're recreating a flight plan. You're recreating an aircraft like a jumbo jet and what it does and the inputs you make. A lot of data there, Mitchell. But if you find deletions, as a pilot, would that worry you, especially given, of course, the investigation we're in?

MITCHELL CASADO, 777 FLIGHT INSTRUCTOR: Yes, it depends what kind of deletions. I mean, I'm not a computer expert. I have no knowledge of that type of stuff. But -- so he had a flight simulator. Maybe he made flight plans and he received them in the flight simulator, it takes up space. You want to make more, you delete them. I mean that's normal. I wouldn't find anything (INAUDIBLE) about that.

SAVIDGE: The clear thing here would be, of course, Ashleigh, is that, is there any kind of memory, is there any data that the FBI can recall that shows a turn 12 minutes that's programmed in. In other words, that gives you a clear, key indication that somehow he rehearsed at home what we all see as this mystery and tragedy that's playing out now with 370.

BANFIELD: All right, Martin and Mitchell, (INAUDIBLE).

And one last question to you. And, look, every one of us is effectively somewhat tech savvy today.

LARSON: Right.

BANFIELD: And we all delete. I delete over 300 e-mails a day. And there's nothing nefarious about me deleting.

LARSON: That's absolutely true.

BANFIELD: It is a space issue.


BANFIELD: Does it tell you anything that something's deleted from a guy who may have flown this particular route many times and may have deleted it from his hard drive.

LARSON: It will be interesting to see -- and they'll know this pretty quickly -- if it was just a simple case of, yes, he threw out these flight plans because he's already flown them, versus, yes, he threw out these files and then overwrote them with security software to make sure that those files were wiped off of that hard drive somewhat permanently.

BANFIELD: So deleting is one thing, overwriting a deleted file is something entirely different.

LARSON: Overwriting suggests something that you're trying to cover up with what you threw out.

BANFIELD: Something more specific.


BANFIELD: Brett Larson, thank you for that. And stand by because we do get a lot of details it seems minute-by-minute on this particular story.

And right now, Australian searchers are focusing on an area in the southern part of the vast area where they think this plane just might be. Coming up ahead, we're going to look at why this is where they're honing in. What specifically has taken them, when we're talking about so many millions of square miles, why this spot? Why now?

Also later on, astronaut Chris Hadfield is going to join us to talk about how tiny NASA satellites released from the International Space Station just might be the clue and the key to help in future aviation mysteries so that this, what we're going through now, will never, ever happen again. Stay with us.


BANFIELD: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the search for Flight 370.

The efforts to find the plane have indeed migrated south. Take a look at your screen and you can see effectively where the action is now. American officials believe that this jet headed southwest after its tracking systems just stopped. And now Australia and other nations are converging on a small patch of ocean southwest of Perth, Australia, to try to recover anything they might be able to from that plane. CNN's Tom Foreman has a virtual look at today's search efforts. And you've got a great perspective on how you can show why we're zeroing in on this area, how they ended up there and how big the area is, Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is really growing, Ashleigh, out of the notion of what's called Bayesian search theory. Essentially what's happening is, as they collect more and more information, they change the probabilities of where something might be. So whereas in the beginning it was probably near where it disappeared.

Now they've looked at all this information, from satellites and from witnesses and from anticipated movements and from radar, where this plane was going, how much fuel it had, and NTSB has come up with the idea that the -- one of the better places, the higher probability is now, this little patch over here off the coast of Australia, the western coast of Australia. You can see the lines they've put through there of where they think the plane would be when it ran out of fuel. That's how they came up with this idea.

And this is a moving target because as the ocean currents move and things change, if you're looking for debris on the surface, it will change as well. So let's put the target down here where we can see it in the floor and talk a little bit more about it because going out to search this is incredibly complicated.

You don't simply fly out there and take a look. You can try that, but look at what happens and think about what happens when you're near the water. The surface of water, if you have white caps on the water or anything like that, or if you have a glare passing over the water, can be very hard to see something, especially from up in the air.

The thing that tells us again that this is important is the presence of this airplane. This is a P-8 Poseidon from the Navy. I incorrectly said earlier this is a $35 billion airplane. It's actually a $35 billion program to create it. One of our viewers reminded me that by plane, it's about a quarter billion dollars per plane.

But nonetheless, this is viewed to be the most effective submarine hunting airplane on the planet right now. It's very highly advanced. It has radar to pick up tiny objects on the surface so that they're not just counting at eyes on the water. This can cover many, many, many miles in a day looking at the water in that very specialized place.

But I do want to add this. Even if you have this, and even if your probability has changed through Bayesian theory to say that this is one of the best searching places right now, even if you find something on the surface, finding something below is a different matter, because if we were to fly in back here, we can remind you that compared to where the plane disappearance where it was a couple hundred feet deep, out here in the Indian Ocean, you would actually be going down under the water around two to two-and-a-half miles to reach the bottom.

And there you will encounter a landscape like you might have on land with hills and valleys and all sorts of places where things like that tiny data recorder pinging away can be hidden and can be harder to hear and harder to find in every way.

So this is the best place to be looking today, according to the authorities. That's why they're there. That's why that plane is there. But this is still a long way from necessarily finding something down beneath the water.


BANFIELD: You think about the needle in the haystack and don't even consider the mountains and comprehensive under the water.

Tom, thank you for that, live for us in the virtual room.

And as this search that Tom was just showing us goes on, the clock is ticking. Those batteries don't last forever. The flight data recorder, the cockpit voice recorder, the other transmitters, they're going to run out of juice in a matter of days.

We're going to talk about that and the challenges of trying to find what is effectively a needle in a stack of haystacks.


BANFIELD: The search for Flight 370 spans millions of square miles over land and over sea, the equivalent of trying to find a grain of sand in Manhattan or trying to find one typo in 600 Bibles.

To make matters worse, the search for Flight 370 is becoming a race against time, as well. The flight data and cockpit voice recorders have batteries that are designed to keep sending out pings to help locate them that effectively would last for 30 days. And since we're now 12 days in, that leaves 18 days until those batteries are exhausted, and until they effectively go silent.

Joining me now to talk about the challenges that are facing these search crews, CNN aviation analysts, Mary Schiavo and Les Abend, and safety analyst David Soucie.

First things first, before we get to the battery life and race against time, we have breaking news that the simulator, the flight simulator that was found in the pilot's home, which the FBI has been looking at, we're now being told that it's actually here in the United States at Quantico.

Mary, I just want you to weigh in on this. This is an area of your expertise. Did that surprise you to hear?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: It surprised me to hear, because at first they said they weren't able to get access to it, but that's very good news.

When we did investigations, often we would have to have things that were thought were supposedly erased from computers, reconstructed, and FBI Quantico was very helpful.

So, this is good news, if they indeed have it. BANFIELD: Good news and more gear, more eyes.

From what I gather, there were less than a handful of agents actually over in Malaysia, so now you've got the full force of the FBI and all the technology at their disposal, correct?

SCHIAVO: Well, that's correct. Even though they only had a few agents over in Malaysia, they have agents literally at key points around the world. They always have the backup of the full FBI. I think they probably had the support all the way along.

BANFIELD: David, I want you to weigh in on these transponders.

First of all, there are three things effectively right now that are in the layperson's terms, making noise, making themselves known, somewhere out there -


BANFIELDL -- whether it's land or sea. That is the emergency locator transmitter in the tail.

SOUCIE: That's correct.

BANFIELD: That is the EPIRB, which is on the rafts, right?


BANFIELD: And then, of course, we like to call them the old-fashioned name, the black boxes, that's the cockpit-voice recorder and the flight-data recorder.

Give me a breakdown on those other two transmitters and the battery life that's left on the black boxes.

SOUCIE: Well, the ELT and the EPIRBs are short-term. They're 24 to 48 hours. Once they touch water, they start sending a signal for only 24 to 48 hours.

BANFIELD: So what was in the tail and what was on those life rafts is done?

SOUCIE: Correct.

However, if that had happened, if they did get water in them, there's 16 satellites constantly monitoring that frequency, so that's what brings in some puzzling --

BANFIELD: And they're getting nothing.

SOUCIE: -- questions. They got nothing during that first --

BANFIELD: Water was one trigger.

Les, I thought the other trigger was actual impact. So we know one thing. This plane is not flying 12 days later. It's either on the ground somewhere or it's in the water somewhere, so wouldn't they have triggered on impact as well as on water?

LES ABEND, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: I just got off the phone with a mechanic, very reliable source, and he looked into this.

And on the longer airplane, I can't verify on the shorter airplane that's flying here, the 200, that it's actually up in a very interesting spot toward the tail of the airplane and in the roof, let's just say, of the airplane, back in the cabin area that would go on impact.

So, we should be hearing that, or should have heard that.

BANFIELD: One thing I have found very distressing, Mary, is the statistics on just how powerful these flight-data recorder and cockpit-voice recorder transmissions are.

They go very, very deep. I think to -- about three miles or so deep under the ocean. They can still be detected.


BANFIELD: But you have to be pretty darn close in terms of radius in order to get -- how close do you have to be?

SCHIAVO: Well, you know, ideally, within a few miles. There have been situations where they have been able to pick them up more than just a few miles away, two, three miles, and then further out they have picked them up. But that's why they send the ships back and forth. It's easier if they can hear them right on top.

And then that's also why they send the submersibles, the unmanned submarines that go down and -- to listen and find them. So the Navy equipment and the Coast Guard equipment in this country, the Coast Guard equipment, is very important to try to find those, because it's just not too far. You have to pretty much go over them.

BANFIELD: I think about the submersibles, though. Talk about being just minute in a massive area, and if you have to be within a mile or so in order to be able to access that remarkable depth, this just sounds as though we're never going to find this plane.

SCHIAVO: Well, I would think that, except -- and I also did work on Air France 447, and two years later, they did. In other cases, in ValuJet --

BANFIELD: They knew where that crash was in five days.

SCHIAVO: That's right, which brings us back to why after September 11 when they knew it was so crucial, we don't have --

BANFIELD: Real-time data downloads.

SCHIAVO: Exactly.

BANFIELD: Amen, Mary.

SHIAVO: Exactly.

BANFIELD: And thank you for saying it again. I thought we screamed that loud and clear after 9/11, real-time data downloads.

SHIAVO: Exactly.

BANFIELD: None of this conversation would be going on right now --

SCHIAVO: Precisely.

BANFIELD: -- and those families wouldn't be going through what they're going through, which leads me actually to my next topic.

Thank you to the three of you. You have more than likely been seeing some of the videotape that's coming out of Malaysia, the shoving and the shouting and the screaming for answers, the families of the people on board that missing plane.

Look at this scene, and you tell me whether we shouldn't have real- time data downloads so that people never have to go through what these people are going through.

You're going to find out why this happened, what happened to those families and how on Earth anyone let it get to this stage in the first place.


BANFIELD: Got some video that we want to air for you, and it is very difficult to watch.

And in this particular video, you can hear some excruciating emotion from some of the family members of those passengers who is missing right now, one in particular, a Chinese mother of a passenger on Flight 370.

And she was so overcome with emotion at one of those daily news conferences they're holding to try to update us, the press, she showed up at the hotel in Kuala Lumpur, and ultimately, it was so bad she was dragged from the briefing room while screaming.

And before we bring you that moment, we want to show you the chaos that ensued as our own Kyung Lah got caught in the middle of this crush.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What are you doing? What are you doing? What are you doing?