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Full Day of Flyovers Yields Nothing; Pilot Made Phone Call Eight Minutes Before Takeoff; Robot Sub May Help in Search

Aired March 21, 2014 - 12:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: "LEGAL VIEW" with Ashleigh Banfield starts right now.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Smooching (ph) on the side (ph).

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone, I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It is Friday, March 21st, and welcome to LEGAL VIEW.

This hour marks two full weeks since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 took off from Kuala Lumpur and then just disappeared. It is now longer than any other commercial airliner mystery in the history of aviation. And we thought we had a breakthrough with yesterday's announcement of huge chunks of debris that were spotted by satellite in the southern Indian Ocean. And we still actually might. But it's a bit more dismal today. Another day has come and gone and meticulous flyovers by five specially equipped search planes sadly have turned up nothing.


FLIGHT LT. RUSSELL ADAMS, ROYAL AUSTRALIAN AIR FORCE: We had really good opportunity, I think, to see anything visually (ph). And for the task that we had today, the conditions were outstanding. Unfortunately, the conditions back here precluded us from staying on station (ph) as long as we would have liked. However, there are a few other aircraft out there. (INAUDIBLE) P-3, as well as the United States Navy P-8 Poseidon. They are out there still searching. And with any luck we'll find something shortly. We've got a lot of hope and if the conditions remain as they are, hopefully we'll find something soon.


BANFIELD: The mystery has now given way to gear. Because for their part, the Malaysians are now asking the United States and other countries to contribute things called so-called hydrophones to listen for the pings from the missing plane's flight data and cockpit voice recorders. Those will be deployed whenever and wherever any wreckage might finally be located.

For the first time, Malaysia sent a high-level delegation to Beijing, China, today, to brief those devastated family members who decided not to relocate to Kuala Lumpur. And more than half of Flight 370 passengers, you remember, are Chinese nationals.

Joining me now this hour with much more on the state of the investigation at week two, CNN anchor and aviation expert Richard Quest, and the lieutenant colonel, Michael Kay, retired colonel, former adviser to the U.K. ministry of defense and helicopter pilot in Britain's Royal Air Force as well. Also joining us, pilot and CNN aviation analyst Miles O'Brien, who's with us live in Washington.

Richard, to you first. I like to say no news is good news. I don't know that that's the case in this particular circumstance. It's disheartening, but it's not like everything isn't been thrown at this effort to find whatever those chunks were.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: And that's what the Australia prime minister said. Tony Abbott said they're throwing everything they've got at it.

I would describe today as discouraging, but not unexpected. This is not one of those made for TV movies where we can - you know, they go out and ultimately (ph) they find the stuff. They may never find these pieces of debris again. The prime minister of Australia said they would keep going until they find it because he said that was so important. So discouraging, not unexpected. The weather is better. It was described as fair. That looks like it continues for a few more days. So the full panoply of assets that they have at their disposal will be able to be used.

BANFIELD: And one of the more fascinating aspects of this particular search, Colonel Kay, is that this aircraft, this P-8, is something new. They didn't have this in the Air France disaster. They didn't have this in Swiss Air 111. They have it now. But what can it do?

MICHAEL KAY, FORMER HELICOPTER PILOT, RAF: No, Ashleigh. This is the premus (ph) intaparis (ph) of maritime surveillance, antisubmarine hunting aircraft. It is an incredibly new aircraft. The Australians have recently procured eight of them for the tune of $400 billion. It's an adaptation of the 737. It's a 737-800. It can cruise at high altitude of 500 knots. But the great thing about this aircraft is it can get down to the low level at about 200 feet at 180 knots, which is absolutely critical for maritime search operations such as this. The front end of the aircraft is key. You've got the pilot and the co- pilot up there. They're responsible for the aircraft's safety and they will get the jet out to the search area.

BANFIELD: Walk me through what's significant. I look at the guts of this and none of it makes sense.

KAY: This is the - this is obviously the flight area. So the guys will get the aircraft out to the - to the search area. What then happens is, is that sat (ph) down the back here is the TC, the tactical controller, and that's when effectively the responsibility for the mission is handed over from the pilot to the tactical controller. This bit here, this is the nerve center of that airplane, and it's got some absolutely critical equipment on board of it, the latest equipment that will be essential to this search.

The first thing of note is the wes (ph) cam camera. It's got a dual mode. It's got an incredibly powerful camera that has a good telescopic capability on it. So if they see something on the far horizon, they can zoom right in. It's also got a thermal contrasting or thermal imagery capability. That allows it to contrast temperatures, brilliant if you're trying to hunt a ship on the far radar, which has got a hot engine, and it can contrast the engine against the sea.

BANFIELD: From what I understand, it's a quarter billion dollar piece of machinery. This is the Americans' gear that's out there currently searching right now. For all of it we see here, I think there are only nine people that actually man this technology.

KAY: Yes, there's nine people on board and they've all got various roles. You've got three people that are responsible for the radar. This thing's got -- has got what's called a synthetic aperture (ph) radar. Now, we've all heard of the primitive primary radar that sends out pulses and pings then back. This thing can actually send out an energy pulse and it recognizes what a ship is or what an aircraft is through its algorithmic systems.

QUEST: I've got a question, if I may.

BANFIELD: Yes, please.

QUEST: We've seen video of the traditional P-3s and the helicopters. And they are people looking out of the windows, looking to see what's on the water, using just the eyes. Are you saying that this doesn't do any of that? This is entirely electronic searching. Or are there still people --

BANFIELD: There's only two windows on this thing, from what I understand.

QUEST: Or are there still people looking out? Please - yes.

KAY: Yes, I mean, mostly of the effort will be focused down the back, because what the equipment gives you down the back is beyond visual range, BVR. So it will look beyond what we call the mark one (ph) eyeball will be able to see. But that doesn't say that the pilots at the front go heads in. People will be heads out at the same time as the crew that are looking at the various radar screens to see if there's anything out there. So it's a -- it's a balance.

But to your point, Richard, probably 90 or 80 percent inside with all of the radar operators and about 20 percent looking out.

BANFIELD: And let me bring Miles O'Brien into this conversation because, Miles, I think a lot of people who have been listening to how the dispatch has gone on in terms of trying to find whatever might be out there, we've been marveling that so much of this is eyes-on.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Yes, you know, it's interesting. Aviation is an interesting mix of high-tech, and, frankly, low-tech. And in some cases, eyes on is the best way to go. You have something in the P-8 or even the P-3 that will get you way beyond the horizon and at least get you in the zone. But once you get close to a potential siting, you do just want to take a look and see if -- with your own human eyes. And, you know, we've been seeing, for example, the crowd sourced effort to look at satellite imagery. Using, you know, the many hands making light work, actually analyzing imagery just using human eyes.

So at the bottom line here is, some high-tech might have saved us from a lot of this aggravation if we just had a decent amount of telemetry between the airplane and satellites. But in the end, low-tech is probably how we're going to find that debris floating in the water.

BANFIELD: That's what I find so remarkable. With a quarter-billion dollar aircraft flying out there, we still have critical human eyes. And what's hard about this is that they can't be out there for very long because they're a long way from land. There's not a whole lot of refueling. And I'm going to get to more of that in just a moment in terms of just the technology of refueling these planes and keeping them out searching rather than flying back and forth from Perth in a moment.

But there's another issue that's come up as well, and I want to thank Richard Quest for -- always for your insight. Just remarkable, as usual. Miles, stick around, if you will. Colonel Kay, stick around, if you will.

Lithium batteries. Not the first time you've heard this. Because now it's being confirmed they were in the cargo. A load of them in this plane.

Also, that a phone call was made reportedly by the pilot. In fact, just minutes before the flight took off. A cell phone call. What does that mean, if anything? We're going to have the answers in just a moment.


BANFIELD: With each passing day, the mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 seems to just get more mysterious. In addition to all the questions about the pilot seen here, Captain Zaharie Ahmed Shah, there is this new report from "The Sun" newspaper saying that he made a mystery phone call on his cell phone just eight minutes before the flight took off. Investigators say they're now trying to find out who he might have been calling, who was on the receiving end. And when it comes to the cause of the disappearance of the plane, investigators are also looking into the possibilities - like a theory that lithium batteries were being carried in the cargo hold and might have caused a fire. We learned today from Malaysia Airlines, the CEO, that the flight was, in fact, carrying lithium ion batteries, a load of them, in the cargo hold. But they were quick to defend the airline's handling of those batteries.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are not declared (ph) dangerous good (ph) (INAUDIBLE). Nor (INAUDIBLE) fact of, you know, in - as - you know, as recommended by (INAUDIBLE). So we do check them. We check them several times, make sure the packing is right.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BANFIELD: Want to bring in CNN safety analyst, David Soucie, accident investigator and also the author of "Why Planes Crash," also with us again, Colonel Michael Kay, former adviser to the British ministry of defense and retired military pilot with over 3,000 hours in the cockpit. And still with us, pilot and CNN aviation analyst Miles O'Brien, live in Washington, D.C.

David Soucie, first to you. Richard Quest walked off the set, walked right back on a few moments ago and handed me this. It is a report from the FAA. And just rough gauge here. It notes that there have been 141 air incidents since 1991 involving batteries. Batteries being carried as cargo. They range in all sorts of significance, not to suggest they've all been lethal, but here we are with the suggestion that, yes, indeed, there were lithium batteries in the cargo hold. Explain why this is not, perhaps, unusual, and why perhaps it could have been unusual.

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Well, the important word in there is incident, not accident. Incident can go ahead and be occurred -- there's plenty of suppression, fire suppression, a lot of safety mechanisms that go into those 191 issues that did mitigate the issue. So to think that tying this into this aircraft now -- the ones that have the accidents that have been caused by battery fires or any kind of cargo fire have resulted in significant damage to the aircraft, structural damage to the aircraft and subsequent crash.

So -- and I don't suspect that here, obviously, because we have pings from that aircraft from hours and hours later. Had there been a fire in the cargo hold, we also would have gotten notification through the ACARS system. It would have really triggered a new indication. The pilot and co-pilot from the cargo compartment would have had indications of it and been able to notify someone at that point.

BANFIELD: So every day we get a new nugget of information that either, you know, helps us to figure something out or creates more questions, which is typically what happens. Colonel Kay, the cell phone call made eight minutes before takeoff by the pilot. Significant? Insignificant? You've got thousands of hours of flying.

KAY: Yes. I have also served on two boards - crash investigation boards of inquiry. And for us, the most important thing to do is eradicate any logical explanations for anything that might have occurred. And there is always generally a logical explanation. We talk about the data being deleted off the simulator that the guy had in his apartment. Well, he may be using a home PC and he maybe ran out of room on his hard drive. That's a logical explanation.

Regarding the phone calls, I mean we're all guilty of (INAUDIBLE) taxing out to the runway threshold (ph) and I'm a little -

BANFIELD: All right. Well, this is what I want to know -

KAY: We're a little -

BANFIELD: Because those doors are closed -

KAY: Yes.

BANFIELD: And I'm a passenger and I never assumed for a moment my pilot has been talking to his wife or children or friends eight minutes before takeoff.

KAY: Well, I mean, I'm not necessarily advocating that the pilot should be on his cell phone as he's lining up for the runway to take off. But, you know, we're all - we're all guilty of having our phones on when we've been told to turn them off on the airplane right until the last minute. In fact, sometimes I keep mine as we're climbing through 5,000 feet and it loses the cell tower. So, again, we don't know the content of this phone call, we don't know who it was to, and we don't know what it was about.

BANFIELD: It's not that unusual.

KAY: So, I don't -- well, again, it shouldn't be happening -


KAY: But until we know the content of the phone call, we shouldn't be jumping to conclusions.

BANFIELD: So perhaps - and you're right. And, you know, the reason why we're left not knowing is because we don't have any of the recordings released, the flight cockpit data recordings. We don't know any of the transmissions.

Miles O'Brien, they know that the last thing that was said was "all right, good night," but that's all they have released to us.

There's a lot more they have in terms of communications to the ground, right?

O'BRIEN: Yes. I mean, all -- every communication between traffic control and these aircraft are recorded. And those tapes have not been released by the authorities in Malaysia.

And that would be very helpful for all of us, just to get an idea of who was on the radio. Was there a change in who was talking on the radio? Was there any background noise? Was there anything unusual about those communications?

There's also -- independently, there are reports out there that there was an effort to get another aircraft to relay information to the aircraft that was not responding, which is very common situation when air traffic control can't raise an airplane, and supposedly the response was some sort of mumble.

Again, that would be captured probably on a recording somewhere. So it would be nice to hear those recordings, and we could probably shed a little more light on what was going on.

BANFIELD: All right. Miles, thank you for that. Appreciate all your insight. And it's good to see you again, Miles, old colleague of ours at CNN. O'BRIEN: Likewise.

BANFIELD: Really great to see you.

David Soucie and Michael Kay, stay with me, a couple of other questions for you in just a moment.

The key, though, to recovering this flight could be a 13-foot-long underwater robot. If you've ever thought of what an underwater crime scene looks like, that robot scans them and could really be the key to the CSI.

We're going to show how this works, coming up.


BANFIELD: Search crews are trying to eyeball something that is bobbing on the surface of the ocean, but they are well aware that parts of the Indian Ocean happen to be 16,000-feet deep.

And if you to the math, that's more than three miles straight down. And, in a minute, we're going to talk about the extreme challenge that poses if, in fact, the plane did go down in the water.

Nobody can see anything that deep without some serious high-tech kind of help. See what's going on behind me?

CNN's Randi Kaye has more on this little piece of magic.


RANDI KAYE, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: This robot submarine may hold the key to finding Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

It's called the Remus 6000 and was developed by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod.

It's 13-feet long, weighs almost a ton, and costs about $2.5 million.

Mike Purcell is the principle engineer here.

MIKE PURCELL, WOODS HOLE OCEANOGRAPHIC INSTITUTION: They can go up and down mountains that are up to 40 degrees in slope. They are very stable, so you get really good data almost all of the time.

KAYE: Why would this underwater robot find something even the U.S. Navy and search teams from more than two dozen different countries haven't been able to find?

First of all, the torpedo-shaped vehicle can reach depths of up to 6,000 meters or more than three-and-a-half miles below the surface.

And it can survey water swaths of the ocean floor using what's called side-scan sonar.

PURCELL: They send a sound pulse that's sort of a fan beam out to the side, and it will it travel out almost half a mile from the vehicle, and it bounces off the sea floor, and we get a reflection back to the vehicle.

KAYE: They call the process mowing the lawn, because it works its assigned grid back and forth before returning to the surface with images captured on a high-resolution camera.

It's all done at the touch of a laptop on dry land.

How do you tell the difference? How would you know if it's a fish or a rock or a plane engine?

PURCELL: You can just tell from the return. Man-made objects, metal down there on the sea floor responds very strongly.

KAYE: The team here hasn't been asked to help search for the plane in the ocean. But if they are, it won't be the first time. The Remus 6000 was called on to help find Air France Flight 447 after it crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in June 2009.

Two years later, a search team from Woods Hole located the wreckage of the jet about two-and-a-half miles beneath the surface after months of searching, something only possible because of this underwater robot.

This is the initial shot of the Air France debris field captured by the Remus 6000.

PURCELL: There were obvious signs this was from the plane.

KAYE: One team member first noticed a backpack on the ocean floor, belonging to a passenger. Closer images revealed the plane's engine, one of the wings, even the landing gear.

Before you put one of these vehicles in the water, you have to narrow down the search area. The team from here searched 5,000 square miles for the Air France flight, and it still took them more than 100 attempts to find the debris. And that is just a fraction of the area that they're looking at for Flight 370.

And while the team here with their underwater robots is ready for the call if it comes, what they had hoped to discover, more than anything, are survivors.

Randi Kaye, CNN, Woods Hole, Massachusetts.


BANFIELD: That is just fascinating stuff.

And Christine Dennison is here with me, president of Mad Dog Expeditions, an underwater exploration company, a company that finds wrecks and has the technology and the know-how to do it.

When I watch this sort of thing and I think that's fantastic, that kind of gear is second to none, as long as you have a place for that gear to work. CHRISTINE DENNISON, OCEAN EXPLORER: Absolutely.

BANFIELD: We don't have that yet. This is the tragedy.

Ultimately, when we find something, that will be an underwater -- and if it's in the ocean, it will be an underwater crime scene.

Walk me through what you do. How do you process? How do you find? How do you map? What do you do with it?

DENNISON: You're absolutely right. This is a situation that is sort of unprecedented in terms of the scope, the conditions, the number of people that are on-scene and that will continue to sort of swap in and out, given the time frame we may be there.

So, again, it's all -- they're following leads at this point. You have aerials. You have visuals, which is the first phase of the investigation. If you will. And everything is being done on a grid pattern.

So, they're very methodical in how they're going to go about this.

BANFIELD: How long, by the way -- if they find something, and they do find an underwater crime scene, and they do grid it and map it, how long will those people be out there, actually recovering and working two to three miles under the surface of the ocean?

DENNISON: Well, that's if it is two to three miles. It could be a lot deeper. This is an area of ocean which goes down thousands of miles.

BANFIELD: Are you going to find it, though, if it's that deep?

DENNISON: Well, they can. But it's going to take a lot more time. The deeper -- again, you're talking topside conditions that can hamper any operation that they're doing at this point, which is just trying to get in the water.

BANFIELD: And when you say hamper, you don't mean makes it more difficult to see. It's safety. You've got humans --

DENNISON: Absolutely.

BANFIELD: You've got human assets out there in an area from what I gather from you is one of the most fickle weather patterns that could offer sort of another wrench in this --

DENNISON: This area, the south Indian ocean, is so remote and so removed from any land mass, that they're really at the -- in the middle of nowhere, as people are saying.

They're in the middle of nowhere, working with -- there's a gyre down there in this area as well that sort of churns up the water.

So, if you could visually look at sort of a whirlpool that's just turning up whatever garbage, debris happens to be in these waters. It's going to be going around and moved around and shifted. And they're trying to follow this. And that is the problem they're having. They're following debris, and trying to really grab it if you will so they can go from there.

BANFIELD: God forbid that wreckage from this plane doesn't end up as part of the garbage gyre, one of the many that circle the globe, because that was a big concern, that it's just lost forever and ultimately could be so far away, mixed in with so many other pieces of the world's garbage, we'd just never be able to determine it.

What you do is incredibly fascinating. This autonomous underwater submarine is just -- I mean, it's off the rails, fantastic. I hope they get to actually deploy them. Thank you, Christine. Good to have you.

DENNISON: Thank you very much.

BANFIELD: Appreciate your insight, Christine Dennison joining us live on the set.

And then even if -- even if there is debris spotted off the Australian coast, the Australian satellite image, which is part of this whole Flight 370 mystery, could have already drifted more than a thousand miles from where that photo snapped it in the first place.

Ahead, a look at the challenges that the ocean currents are posing for the people desperately trying to find this plane and all those people on board.