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Sonar, Hydrophones and Black Box Technologies; Fate of R-12 and Crew; Text Messages in Court, Steenkamp: "Scared"

Aired March 25, 2014 - 12:30   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: April 5th is only one day before. What good is this incredible gear if it gets there April 5th and the pings stop, effectively, April 6th?

BILL NYE, "THE SCIENCE GUY," FORMER BOEING ENGINEER: Everybody's doing his or her best. This thing ended up in a very unusual place, an unexpected place in a remote part of the world where the weather this time of year is -- makes the ocean very rough.

You hear -- people talk about sea state. And this may complicate the problem enormously. You can't as easily tow things below the hull of a ship. The up and down motion of the ship makes it a little bit complicated, the scope of the cable as it's called.

These are all -- it's a tricky business. And we have this expectation in the developed world that if something is someplace, we can just go find it with our cell phone or our electronic map or air search. It's just -- it's a different deal when you're out in an untraveled part of the world ocean.

BANFIELD: We're just not that good --


BANFIELD: -- as smart as we think we are, right?

QUEST: Well, no. I mean, it's just a tricky thing. It sounds like what happens in air disasters, in my experience, back in the day, if I may, is it's never one thing. It's a combination of things that go wrong. So, maybe there was a hijacker and then there was a leak maybe caused by a scuffle. And then people lost consciousness in the cockpit and then the thing just drove until it ran out of fuel.

I mean -- and then the reason no one has taken credit for it is because they're waiting to see what went wrong before they mount their next attack. I mean, it just -- the complexity of this -- of these unanswered questions. The key --

BANFIELD: So confounding.

NYE: -- is to find the flight-data recorders.


NYE: If not in the next 12 days, sometime.

BANFIELD: And let's hope, because those days are running out.

Bill Nye, it's always good to talk to you. Thank you.

NYE: Thank you. Good morning. Good afternoon.

BANFIELD: Bill Nye, "The Science Guy, joining us. This afternoon, you're right. Thank you for that.

And as we were talking about during the search, we have been hearing about such incredible technologies from the sky right down to the water.

And, up next, you're going to get a live demonstration of what goes into the water, something called a hydrophone, a device listening for those pings from those boxes under the sea.


BANFIELD: When you think about just how big the Indian Ocean is, and just how vast all of the oceans are, covering more than 70 percent of the planet's surface, you tend to get a sense of how difficult this search is for the Malaysia airline that is -- the plane that is missing.

Last week, the search area was the size of the United States. Today, though, through a little bit more number-crunching, it is the size of Alaska.

That's still huge, or as one as Australian air marshal put it this way --


AIR MARSHAL MARK BINSKIN, VICE CHIET, AUSTRALIAN DEFENCE FORCE: We're not searching for the needle in a haystack, we're still define trying to define what a haystack is further. That's just to put it into context.


BANFIELD: So in this particular haystack, the search teams are using some high-tech equipment to look for Flight 370, some of the highest tech that the world has to offer, in fact.

CNN's Stephanie Elam is joining us live in California. She is on a boat in the Santa Barbara harbor.

So, as I understand it, you've got one of these devices, the sonar and hydrophone technology that's being used way overseas in the Indian Ocean.

Walk me through it and show me what you've got.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. Ashleigh, that's the thing. We hear these terminology. We hear people talking about a hydrophone. You hear them talking about sonar, but they're different.

So we came out on the water here to get an idea of how it works. I want to introduce you to James Coleman. He's a senior hydrographer here with Teledyne Reson, and he's going to show us works.

So what we have here are basically two examples of a hydrophone, first. Tell us how this works.

JAMES COLEMAN, HYDROGRAPHIC SURVEYOR, TELEDYNE RESON: Right. A hydrophone is really just a simplified version of a microphone, really. It's just made for underwater use and it captures any sound that hits it under water.

ELAM: For how far away?

COLEMAN: It depends on the sensitivity of the system and how loud that sound is.

And in regards to the pinger locater they're talking about, that's about five miles that they can get a range with the hydrophone.

ELAM: And so how often is that ping going off?

COLEMAN: That ping goes off about once a second, so it's just a short chirp that goes off once a second.

And it's able to be picked up about by these hydrophones and the person that's listening to it, or using visual software connect, can recognize that signal.

So as long as they're within five miles or so, they'll be able to detect it.

ELAM: OK, and this is just a different example of that.

COLEMAN: Exactly. There's a variety. You can put them together in arrays that you tow behind the boat. You can have smaller ones that you put on the unmanned vehicles that you use and -- remotely from the vessel that dives down to the sea floor.

ELAM: OK. So this is where you start, looking for the ping, because this is going to take you wide. And then let's say you find that out. Then you go to the sonar. so let's take a look at sonar. These are two examples of sonar. How does this work?

COLEMAN: So, once you know where the debris site is, you're going to need to map and survey the site so that you know where the wreckage is on the sea floor, and that's what these are.

These are sonars that are used for survey and mapping. These sonars emit sound, they're pointed down to the bottom and then they receive sound and look in different directions along the bottom to see what came back. And so, they're able to build all of that information up to make a map of the sea floor.

ELAM: And let's take a look at what that map looks like. Let's go inside here now, where we'll go and show you exactly how this looks. So now starting off with which one first? This one here.

COLEMAN: Yeah, let's start over here. This is just an output from the hydrophone. Now, you can listen to the hydrophone with your ears. That could just be an audible thing that you'd know and you're listening for that one-second chirp.

But you could also look at a display like this, which, if there is a one-second chirp out there, you'll get a sudden jump in the noise spectrum. This is just random noise from the ocean right now.

When they get near that pinger, they'll see a clear spike where, at 35 kilohertz, or 30 to 40 kilohertz, where that pinger --

ELAM: Where that is. And on this side over here, you're actually mapping it out to see what's on the bottom of the ground right there. Wow, that looks like a boat.

COLEMAN: Right. This is the mapping sonar. And so we're going over a bit of a debris field here, as well.

This sonar is looking down, and it's picking out where the points on the bottom are and building that up into a 3-D cloud, so you're able to get an image of what's beneath you and build up a 3-D point cloud as you go over it.

And, so, once they know where the debris site is, they're going to be using this type of sonar, or similar sonars, to build up a map of the layout of wreckage on the sea floor.

ELAM: And, so, one of the questions that we have -- this looks like a pipeline here.

One of the questions we have is that the water is so deep in the southern Indian Ocean, how far down to the cables have to be -- how long to be able to do this?

COLEMAN: Right. And that's the real difficulty. The ocean is so deep, and these sensors, you need to get near the bottom.

So, you either have to tow them behind the boat on tens of thousands of feet of cable in order to get that sensor down near the bottom, or you put them on remotely operated vehicles, which the boat stays stationary and this vehicle dives all the down to the bottom.

ELAM: But you just can't move very fast.

COLEMAN: You can't move very fast. And then you could put them on autonomous vehicles, little robots that fly down, submarines, and drive along the sea floor. But it's a very slow process. It's a very difficult process. And they have to build up a map of the wreckage.

ELAM: So it's very great, intense technology here, Ashleigh, but obviously, it still takes a lot of work, and it takes a lot of time.

BANFIELD: It's just such a great report that you just did. And by the way, while you're there, Stephanie, I just got the pinger audio example up on the air. Just want to listen to it for a couple seconds, because you were talking about it. This is what those phones are listening for.

To the naked ear, it's not audible, but Stephanie just showed us the remarkable equipment that picks it up. And, God, I hope they can do so in the Indian Ocean.

Stephanie Elam, live for us, great job, thank you for that. And please thank the crew for us, wonderful explanation.

You know, look, I know a lot of people have said there's a pretty good chance that Flight 370 is never found.

But you're going to hear a story about a craft that went missing with a large crew on board and it was decades, seven decades, 70 years, but we found it. We found it. And we found the souls on board. You're going to hear from the person who found it and what it was like notifying the next of kin 70 years later. It happened. Sometimes it takes time, but it happens.


BANFIELD: This is a real tough pill to swallow, the possibility that it could take years, maybe even decades to find Flight 370. Even with the very best technology we have. But it's certainly no reason to give up hope.

And I'll tell you why. It took the better part of a century. It took 70 years to find this. Explorers found U.S. submarine R-12 and its crew of 42 men that mysteriously sank during World War II off the waters in -- of The Keys, the Florida Keys. And the only surviving widow, Marie Clayton Andrews (ph), still mourns the loss of her husband, Howard Clayton. She's 97 years old, but now she finally knows her husband's final resting place. The mystery is solved.

I'm now joined by Lieutenant Colonel Michael Kay, along with ocean explorer Christine Dennison, who led the expedition that found that sub and found that husband, and also former U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Heben. He is with us from Cleveland.

Christine, first the reaction from that widow at 97 years old when you said, 70 years later, we found your husband.

CHRISTINE DENNISON, OCEAN EXPLORER: Well, needless to say, it was overwhelming. It was - it was very emotional. We were able to sit with her. We were able to show her on video the final resting place, what the sub looks like, where he is entombed. And it was very bittersweet. She cried. And she remembered. She went back to that day and she remembered it as though it were yesterday. And it was highly emotional and yet it was extremely rewarding because you were able to give back something after 70 years that she'd never forgotten.

BANFIELD: It makes you think about these families --

DENNISON: Absolutely. Absolutely.

BANFIELD: Of Flight 370 and how many years it's going to be, if ever they're able to get the same kind of information you passed on to her.

You know, Chris Heben, can you weigh in on this? Christine is working with some of the most sophisticated gear that we have. This was three years ago in 2011. Where are we going? Are we going to be exponentially developing equipment that will get us to 370 faster than we got to that sub?

CHRIS HEBEN, SEALTEAMCOUNSULING.COM: Well, that is a definite factor. Right now we've developed equipment that is 10 times better than it was three years ago. Technology is advancing so fast, a lot of times we don't even know what to do with it until like a year or two later, after it's already been invented. Wow, let's apply that to this situation or that scenario.

You know, case in point, when they triangulated this plane location, supposedly, we've triangulated things many times in the global war on terror, cell phones, push to talk radios, using current technology. For these satellite engineers at this company to figure out, wow, we can triangulate this data using our satellites, that was something new applied to that technology. So the short answer is, absolutely, yes.

BANFIELD: And sometimes that short answer is by accident. It can be magic.

HEBEN: By accident.

BANFIELD: And, Colonel Kay, weigh into this because, you know, this is the kind of gear you taught this kind of radar technology, et cetera. How fast are we getting better?

LT. COL. MICHAEL KAY (RET.), FORMER ADVISER TO U.K. MINISTRY OF DEFENSE: Yes. I mean - I mean, look, I mean the last 60, 70 years, we've gone from a Spitfire in a P51 Mustang used in World War II, to the F-35, which is, you know, a hugely expensive, hugely fifth generation fighter. We've gone - we've gone through stealth, we've gone through primitive radar to synthetic aperture radar. We've now got thermal imaging. We're using data links. We're using satellites.

If you look at - we've done all that in the last 60 to 70 years. I mean I have no idea where we're going to be in the next 60 to 70 years. But it's just going to be far more advanced. We're going to be able to do so much more with much more little information. So, you know, I would always - I would always say that given the way the rate of change of technology, that there would always be hope.

BANFIELD: And that's exactly why I wanted you to weigh in on this one. Christine told me this story about finding that sub. I immediately thought, well that gives me hope. Because, Chris Heben, weigh in on this. We are exponential in technology. Look at the Internet for crying out loud.


BANFIELD: And that does give me hope.

HEBEN: Absolutely.

BANFIELD: And I don't know if it's false hope given the realities of where we're looking right now. Can you weigh in quickly? Ten seconds or less?

HEBEN: Well, here's the -- here's the realities where we're looking right now. When we send people up into space, let's say we send people to the moon, that's one atmospheric change. For every 30 meters we go into the ocean deep, that's one atmospheric change. So us trying to get S.O.N.A.R. from 12,000 feet is the equivalent of us trying to shoot SONAR through 1,200 feet of solid lead. It's not an easy task.


HEBEN: It's not an easy task.

BANFIELD: No. Listen, I appreciate your insight into this. It's good to see you. Thanks, Chris Heben. I know it was hard for you to get to us yesterday. You had a bit of an accident, so we're glad you made it today. Thanks so much.

HEBEN: Oh, my pleasure. Thank you.

BANFIELD: And also our thanks - and thanks to Christine Dennison as well. And always, Colonel Kay. Nice to have you both and we appreciate your insight.

KAY: Good to see you. Thanks, Ashleigh.

DENNISON: Thank you.

BANFIELD: Just terrific for you to be here.

I have another story that we're working on and you need an update on this because today feels like a long time but the prosecution rested its case in the murder trial of Olympian Oscar Pistorius. Their final evidence was a real whopping piece of evidence. A text message, a couple of them actually, from Pistorius to his girlfriend and back again. Messages that reveal she was actually scared of him. Details coming next.


BANFIELD: In South Africa, the prosecution has rested its case against Olympic star Oscar Pistorius, the double amputee athlete who rose to fame at the 2012 London summer games, says that he indeed did shoot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, but says it was an accident. Says he thought she was a nighttime intruder. And the prosecution couldn't be farther away. They say it was just murder, plain and simple. Our Robyn Curnow joins us live from Pretoria, South Africa, right now.

And 15 days later, the state called 21 witnesses and now they called it a day. So, tell us, what was the most significant thing that happened in court today. ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, today, especially, we heard these messages. These messages. These intimate, personal conversations on WhatsApp between Reeva and Oscar. And what we saw in these messages was the defense trying to paint a picture, put into context their relationship. Because, of course, yesterday what we heard were these rather damning messages. But let me give you some sense of how the defense played it out in court. Take a listen to this.


BARRY ROUX, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: It's from Mr. Pistorius to Reeva. And it says, "I'm going to turn in. Wish you were here. Please send me a message to let me know you're safe." Do you have it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's correct.

ROUX: And the response by Reeva to Mr. Pistorius, it says, "okay, angel, sweetest of dreams. I'll message you when I get down (ph). Cross, cross, cross."



CURNOW: So we heard how they called each other "my angel," "boo" or "baby," the sense of how they missed each other when they weren't together. And, of course, those kinds of conversations were used to counter this testimony, essentially from Reeva Steenkamp speaking from the grave, her messages read out in court yesterday where she said that she was sometimes scared of Oscar Pistorius, the way he snapped, that he had tantrums, painting him, essentially, as a possessive, jealous, critical boyfriend, which, of course, many legal analysts say it was really the first time the state kind of moved towards establishing some sort of motive.

BANFIELD: Oh, Robyn, it's hard to see that. "I'm scared of you sometimes and how you snap at me and how you will react at me." I mean that's very powerful, obviously. A good way for a prosecution, but the defense has yet to begin.

Robyn Curnow, great work, thank you, joining us live from South Africa.

And I am completely out of time, but thank you very much for being with us. My colleague, Wolf Blitzer, picks up on all the top stories today. He'll be joining us right after this quick break.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting from Washington.

Bad weather frustrates the search for wreckage and unanswered questions, frustrates the relatives of the passengers. Here's the latest developments.