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Families Told All Lives Lost on Flight 370; Working Backwards to Find MH370; Desperate Search for Landslide Survivors

Aired March 24, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Any hope of seeing the 239 people on Flight 370 ever again now appears to be gone.

I'm Jim Sciutto. And this is THE LEAD.

The world lead, loved ones breaking down, wheeled out on gurneys, some calling Malaysian officials murderers after they're told that no one survived Flight 370. But we will talk to the brother of one passenger who does not sound ready to give up.

Also, without any wreckage found, without any physical proof, Malaysian officials used old information to come to a new conclusion with a technique they say has never been tried before.

And what next? It's now believed the plane was swallowed by one of the most unforgiving places on Earth, what if the debris drifted if searchers know enough the vast underwater world to find those data recorders before the batteries run out.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto, filling in for Jake Tapper.

And we begin with our world lead.

For 18 days now, the families of the 239 people aboard vanished Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 have pleaded with officials for answers. Much of the world has anxiously waited along with them, mystified by the plane's disappearance and frustrated by the uncertainty.

Today, those families learned that officials now believe the worst. The airline telling them "None of those on board survived" now that Malaysian officials believe that the flight ended over the Indian Ocean.

The backlash has been intent. A committee representing 154 Chinese and Taiwanese passengers accuses the airline and Malaysian officials of holding back information and deceiving the entire world with what they call a cover-up.

It reads in part -- quote -- "Such despicable act not only emotionally and physically fooled and destroyed us families of the 154 passengers, but also misled and delayed search efforts and wasted most precious lifesaving time. If our 154 relatives aboard lost their lives due to such reasons, then Malaysia Airlines, Malaysian government and Malaysian military are the real murderers that killed them."

The crushing grief and the anger of the families unleashed after they finally got an answer, but not the one they had hoped to hear.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): In a last-minute press conference, a grim-faced Malaysian prime minister confirmed the worst fears of family and friends of those on board Flight 370.

NAJIB RAZAK, MALAYSIAN PRIME MINISTER: According to this new data, Flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean.

SCIUTTO: For loved ones, the news was simply too much to bear.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): My son, my daughter-in-law and granddaughter are all on board. All three family members are gone. I'm desperate.

SCIUTTO: Malaysia Airlines sent them a simple text message with this stark conclusion: "None of those on board survived."

RAZAK: For them, the past few weeks have been heartbreaking. I know this news must be harder still.

SCIUTTO: Seventeen days after the 777 jet vanished, the conclusion came not from new evidence, but deeper examination of the clues experts have been poring over for days.

An exhaustive and unprecedented study, the British communications company Inmarsat concluded that pings received from the plane in its final hours placed it, without question, over the southern Indian Ocean, ruling out the northern arc that had at one point been considered a possible path for the plane.

CHRIS MCLAUGHLIN, INMARSAT: If you look at the plots that we have using our recent adjusted techniques, we can say that the most likely route is the south and the most likely ending is in roughly in the area where they are looking now.

SCIUTTO: The new satellite data comes as search aircraft spotted possible debris in the southern corridor search area, including at least one item that appears orange. Satellite images over the weekend from France and Australia also captured much larger pieces of possible wreckage.

An Australian ship sent to recover them, however, has so far found nothing.


SCIUTTO: Now that the heartbreaking search is concentrated in the southern Indian Ocean, China will likely send more ships, including one with a data recorder locater as this mission moves from rescue to recovery.

The U.S. Navy is also sending a locator and an underwater vehicle. Both the Malaysian government and airline will have news conferences tomorrow, but their comments today answer nothing about what actually happened aboard Flight 370 and some family members are not willing to give up hope just yet.

Joining me now from New Delhi is Bimal Sharma, whose sister Chandrika was on Flight 370.

And, Bimal, I just want to thank you for joining us and tell you how much our hearts go out to you and your family on what is an extremely difficult day after 17 difficult and painful days. Thank you for joining us.

BIMAL SHARMA, BROTHER OF FLIGHT 370 PASSENGER: I appreciate your concern. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Just as this news came through from the Malaysian prime minister, how are you and your family reacting and coping as you heard those words come from the Malaysian prime minister's mouth, sort of the final word on the fate of this plane?

SHARMA: The only concern which I have is, Jim, I have been a captain in the merchant navy for a very long time. I have been sailing for 38 years. But they have not found any debris. I have sailed those oceans several times myself.

But they have not found any debris. They have not found the black box and they have concluded on the basis of satellite blips and -- there's been no -- I mean, according to me -- I'm sure they have come to a conclusion they have their own -- must have definitely put all of the facts together, but they have not found any debris, neither the black box.

And I hope they are continuing the search to show -- just for the relatives to see that there was something and it's conclusive, conclusive evidence.

SCIUTTO: In your experience as a member of the Indian merchant navy, you have sailed through these waters. You know just how remote they are and how inhospitable they are, just the weather and so on.

As you would sail through there, did you see a lot of debris? Did you see garbage and other things floating through the water that would make this search more difficult?

SHARMA: Yes. It's a concentrated -- it's one of the concentrated patches for garbage also. All of the garbage collects together and accumulates together and sticks together.

And sometimes on the ship, I have noted it giving an echo as if it were a small island, you know?

SCIUTTO: I wonder if you could talk more about your sister. We know that she was traveling. She was on her way to a U.N. conference in Mongolia, leaving behind a daughter in college, a husband, of course, you, the rest of the family. Tell me, what are your thoughts about her today as this news comes through?

SHARMA: Yes. It's very sad. It's definitely very sad. It's -- yes, it's very sad. Everybody's -- I mean, has been waiting anxiously 16 days, and there have been various theories and stories and, you know, lots of things coming up. And finally the prime minister of Malaysia has concluded.

And I -- yes. The only thing I hope, they don't give up the search. I suppose I want for see something from the seas. I don't know why. I just want to see some debris off the aircraft and the black box to know what exactly happened, because there are too many unanswered questions from this flight.

Why was it diverted? Why did it fly low? Why did it -- there are too many questions in my mind.

SCIUTTO: I wonder if you could tell us more about your sister, maybe the last time you spoke with her before she got on board this flight, what you remember of that last conversation or maybe your last meeting.

SHARMA: Last conversation, she said she was going -- I think she said she was going to (INAUDIBLE) but the conversation before that, I just bought a new puppy dog.

And she said, don't scare this puppy dog, please. Don't get angry at him. She was a very sensitive human being and very friendly with everyone. And like I say, she was a social worker all her life. She's done very good social work for the fishermen of the world, and she's very sensitive by nature and very caring towards everybody. So that is it what I remember, yes.

SCIUTTO: I notice you used the present tense. Do you still hold out hope that possibly searchers find debris that they might find survivors? Does that at all sustain itself, that hope sustain itself in your mind and in your heart?

SHARMA: Jim, I come from an industry where ships get hijacked and they don't release the people for six months.

There have been some colleagues of mine who have been hijacked and taken away for six months and not released for six months, and they get released after six months. So my resonance is a little more than the rest. I know several of my colleagues who have done that.

SCIUTTO: Bimal Sharma, thank you so much for your time. And again our thoughts and our prayers are with you and your family.

SHARMA: Thanks, Jim. And thank you, CNN, for keeping us updated all the time.


SCIUTTO: Coming up next, just how certain are Malaysian officials? We will take a closer look at that new satellite data and how experts used the same information from days ago to pinpoint the exact location that plane went down.

Plus, criminal or mechanical? What does this tell us about that theory about what transpired inside the cockpit that night?


SCIUTTO: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

And continuing our world lead, hope has run out in the search for survivors, but the devastating news today at least offers a new level of certainty about where to look for Flight 370, a remote stretch of the southern Indian Ocean.

Malaysia's prime minister broke the news to the world this morning, based on satellite data and what he called a type of analysis never before used in an investigation like this.

So I want to go to CNN's Tom Foreman in his virtual room for a closer look at this.

You know, Tom, I was looking at this data trying to understand and I think our viewers would benefit if you could walk through how it moves forward and actually how they look at this old data to make, in effect, a new conclusion.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's never been used quite this way before, Jim, you're absolutely right about that. But I talked to a professor at Georgia Tech who said it's basic math. This is really mathematics detective work.

We've talked about this arc out there where the plane was believed to go, either to the north or to the south.

How did they get this arc? Think about this. If you were to yell out into a canyon and listen to an echo come back, you would have some idea of how big that canyon was. If it was much bigger, it would take longer for the echo to go back.

That's a really simple part of this equation. Another part is called the Doppler effect. You hear weather people talk about it all the time.

So, let me move our satellite in here and I say move it because this isn't really where it's located. It's further out there, but in terms of its location on the earth. But just for understanding it.

Imagine the satellite is about 22,000 miles above the earth if you went straight down. If it sent a signal out, a handshake with this plane out there and gets the signal back, in a certain period at a time, that would mean that the plane is in a certain area. Then, if you did it again and it were further, took longer to get that signal, it would suggest that it was further out somewhere.

That's how they established the pattern of the dots right here. A series of signals that they received from the plane suggesting it was somewhere along this arc. They knew it wasn't to the north because, as authorities looked at it, they said there wasn't a lot of -- there weren't any radar hits out there. There are so many radars, they should have read something. Plus, the earth is not perfectly round. So, the signature would have been a little different going to the north than to the south. So they started looking at what they believed the speed to be. They took all of the data they could and plugged it into a mathematical equation and said, how do you get this pattern of dots?

And then they do one other really important thing -- they compared it against other planes that they knew the location of. Think about this. This is like you're doing a test in math and you have practiced a problem where you know the answer and if you can figure out how to get that answer, then you can get the answer that you don't know.

In the end, that's what they did, Jim. They ran the math on this whole equation, and that's what led them to this spot to say with great confidence right now the plane must be here based on the math, based on the data.

SCIUTTO: Tom, extremely helpful. Thanks very much, Tom, in the virtual room.

Still, the families say they want more proof -- physical proof -- and while nothing is certain in the search for Flight 370, the senior vice president of Inmarsat spoke with our Wolf Blitzer and said that he is convinced that the plane took the southern route.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I must stress, this is very limited data. We are not saying that we have definitively know where the aircraft came down, only that the direction of travel is almost certainly to the south.


SCIUTTO: So, let's talk about that data and how this technology works.

So, I want to bring in Keith Masback. He's CEO of the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation, a nonprofit company that supports training and education about remote sensing and geospatial information, just the kind of guy that we want to break this down for us.

So, Keith, in speaking to you before about this, you said that in making these calculations it's a combination really of science, of math, as Tom Foreman is saying. But also a little bit of art here. Explain how that works.

KEITH MASBACK, CEO, UNITED STATES GEOSPATIAL INTELLIGENCE FOUNDATION: Well, Jim, I think tom did an excellent job of laying out the science, right, the mathematics behind the equations. And he got to have pictures, right, that I don't have. But -- so, I can talk about some of the art piece.

This is about in-depth analysis, this is about understanding the data and being able to extract information from it that it wasn't necessarily designed to do. Remember that these Inmarsat satellites, this global communication company, 22,000 miles up are there to pass data about the status of the aircraft, status of the aircraft's engines.

And so, you're repurposing that and trying to work the math and work back through the information to determine location data and extract it out of this data that it truly wasn't meant to provide.

SCIUTTO: And it's interesting actually because even when they were analyzing the radar data, a number of the analysts said that's also a bit of an art, too. So, you have to bring in all that you know to make those calculations.

The other comparison that was brought in by the head of Inmarsat, you said that the Doppler effect played a role here and I remember from high school physics, Doppler effect is, you know, the trained whistle is coming towards you, it's higher pitch. If it's going away from you, it's lower pitch. It has to do with wave lengths from those signals, I assume, sent up to the satellites.

Can you explain how that Doppler Effect would have helped in their calculations here?

MASBACK: Right, Jim. It's that phase shift in the way form, just as you mentioned. So, you must have done well in high school physics.

The other example is ambulance. You're standing on a street corner. You hear an ambulance coming. It sounds different when it's approaching different in front of you and different again still when it goes past you, but you haven't moved and the ambulance's siren hasn't changed. It's how that wave form arrived at your ears and how it was processed.

There's a way to measure that time and that wave form and to extract information out of it, which is exactly what they have done at Inmarsat to determine the location.

SCIUTTO: So, here's a frustration I've heard from a lot of viewers. They've just been tweeting it, and even speaking to people on the office. This satellite data, we heard about the northern and southern arc. It's been more than a week now.

Why did it take so long to do this kind of analysis to then say, you know what, forget that northern arc, we're all about the southern arc?

MASBACK: You know, Jim, I'm an intelligence professional. What we strive to do is to be accurate. We want to give the best information the best possible time so that someone can make decisions and take action. In this case, narrow down a search area or direct search aircraft and direct and fine-tune search areas for space craft, remote sensing spacecraft.

So, you've got to think, if you're an Inmarsat and you're trying to do something that your data wasn't really intended to do and you're trying to do this math and you're trying to make sure that you're accurate and you don't want to give false hope to the grieving families that we've just had our hearts go out to in the past few weeks, you want to get it right. So, I think they're taking all of the information that they had into account. The variations and what they are able to get from this older I3 Lockheed Martin satellite in this area and really make sure that they had something as near to definitive as they could, as you heard from their spokesman, before they released it to the public.

SCIUTTO: Keith, in a word before I let you go, how confident are you that this data is conclusive?

MASBACK: I think this is pretty compelling information again with all of the usual caveats, how fast was it going, so far did it get. It narrows down the search area, Jim, really, unfortunately, not nearly as all of us would like.

SCIUTTO: All right. That's really helpful. You certainly helped me understand it better.

Keith Masback of the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation, thanks very much.

MASBACK: Thank you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Still coming up on THE LEAD: finding that flight data recorder, the U.S. Navy moving equipment now into place that could help with an underwater search. How hard will it be to locate even if a debris field is found?

Plus, rescuers are listening for signs of life, as a number of people missing in a Washington landslide here at home rises to 108. Stay with us for a live report on those rescue efforts, right after this.


SCIUTTO: Welcome back to THE LEAD. We're going to have more on the latest developments on the search for Flight 370 in a moment.

But, first, our national lead and the latest on another desperate search happening right now here in the U.S. Rescue crews say 108 people are still unaccounted for after a massive landslide in rural Washington state. But they said that doesn't mean the missing necessarily buried somewhere between the rubble. Saturday's landslide covered about a full square mile in the remote towns of Oso and Darrington, Washington.

Take a look at these satellite photos which show you what the area looked like just before and then after the devastation. It's really incredible to see. Eight people we know were killed and with the thick mud flowing like quicksand in some spots, it's been difficult for rescuers even to search for survivors.

CNN affiliate KING 5 News spoke with one woman holding out hope that her father will be found alive.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's really scary not knowing what happened and just imagining what's going on.


SCIUTTO: I want to go live now to CNN correspondent George Howell. He is in Arlington, Washington, where officials just released some updated information on the rescue efforts.

George, I mean, the first question is, how concerned are they that many or the bulk of the 108 are actually under the rubble there?

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, you know, it's still unclear because we're not talking specifically about names with that 108. It's very generic.

We're talking about anything from reports that family members might have put out on private Web sites, to reports on social media, Twitter. Even, we're talking about vague references. For instance, a neighbor who said, hey, I haven't seen Neil there at his home. That could be a report.

It's part of the 108 collective that they are looking into. They want to narrow that number down and they hope to do here within the next couple of days.

Also, we just got information in the latest news conference here from officials that they are pulling back the search today. They're pulling back on the ground at least, simply because the ground is too unstable. The ground here in many parts -- and I've been told and I know from experience from covering these landslides here in the Pacific Northwest, I used to work here as a reporter here in the Seattle area, it's basically glacial tilt.

So, it's a combination of big boulders, of small rocks, of sediment that's porous when it gets a lot of rain, there are problems. We've heard from officials that their search effort is moving forward. They are optimistic but they do say that, you know, things aren't looking so good. I want to you take a listen.


CHIEF TRAVIS HOTS, SNOHOMISH COUNTY FIRE DEPT: We're still in a rescue mode at this time. However, I want to let everyone know that the situation is very grim. We haven't -- we are still holding out hope that we're going to be able to find people that may still be alive. But keep in mind, we have not found anybody alive on this pile since Saturday.


HOWELL: And here's the thing. We know that there's rain in the forecast. You know, right now, it's a sunny day. That's great.

The ground there is unstable. They are pulling back off the ground, Jim. With rain coming in, it will make the mess even muddier.

SCIUTTO: Yes, George, incredible to think that you've got a harrowing search there in Washington, just like the one going on out in the ocean, south Indian Ocean.

Thanks very much, George Howell in Washington state.

When we come back, experts are still examining every bit of information to determine just what happened to Flight 370, and one detail isn't sitting well with some. If there was a mechanical failure, why didn't the pilots send a distress signal?