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Ocean Search To Resume For Boeing 777; Flight 370 Families Aren't Buying It; Massive Wall of Earth Devastates Town

Aired March 25, 2014 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting from Washington. Bad weather frustrates the search for wreckage and unanswered questions frustrate the relatives of the passengers.

Here's the latest developments on the Malaysia Airlines mystery, Flight 370. Crews are set to resume, scouring the southern Indian Ocean in just a few hours after a stormy weather halted the search earlier today. Heavy rain, strong winds, large waves moved through the area. The search is now focused completely on the Indian Ocean, the southern part to be specific.

Malaysia's transportation minister says authorities have stopped searching the so-called northern arc, stretching from Vietnam to Kazakhstan.

And in Beijing today, angry relatives and friends of the passengers marched to the Malaysian embassy to protest the way authorities have handled this entire investigation.

We're not searching for a needle in a haystack, we're still trying to define where the haystack is. That's how Australia's defense minister describes the search for Flight 370 in the remote Indian Ocean.

I want to bring in CNN's Saima Mohsin. She's joining us from Kuala Lumpur. And Will Ripley. He's in Perth, Australia where planes are getting ready, in a few hours, to take off, we hope, again.

Saima, first to you. What can you tell us about this so-called international working group that the Malaysian government is now forming to help narrow the search area? What's involved here?

SAIMA MOHSIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that still remains a mystery. That's all they've told us so far. As you know, we get very little information in these press conferences which is amounting to a lot of frustration for a lot of people, including us trying to report this story. And, of course, more importantly, the families that are involved in this.

Now, what we know is that this working group will be heavily reliant on the data that particularly countries like the United States and the United Kingdom can offer. We know that they relied on the United Kingdom's Inmarsat satellite data, the Doppler affect that looked at the frequency and velocity of the aircraft to work out that it did likely end its journey in the southern Indian Ocean and which is why they decided to go and announce that they believed that all hope was lost in finding MH 370 and those on board alive -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Saima, you know that Malaysian authorities, Malaysia Airlines, the Malaysian government, the prime minister, they've come under enormous fire of criticism for saying that the plane went down in the Indian Ocean, no hope left for the passengers based solely on new and revised satellite data, mathematical calculations from Inmarsat and maybe other sources. But they have no hard evidence, no wreckage from the plane, certainly no bodies. How are they responding in Kuala Lumpur to the criticism being leveled at the Malaysian government?

MOHSIN: Yes, Wolf, a lot of criticism leveled at them. And a mixture of emotions reflected in today's press conferences. All the denial of anger, of sorrow and sadness. And calls at one point, Wolf, for the CEO and chairman to resign, people questioning, will you now resign? And they said, well, that's a private matter. Right now, we're trying to deal with this crisis situation. It still is a crisis situation for this country and Malaysia Airlines.

Now, particularly, the problem is, Wolf, as you say, we don't know how and we don't know why Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 370 didn't make its destination for Beijing. In fact, went completely in the opposite direction, ending up in the southern Indian Ocean, one of the remotest parts of the world. And they have very little answers for us and little or no concrete evidence, solely this data that you refer to.

So, the families say they want to see something solid. They want to see debris, or they want to know where their loved ones are, Wolf. And Malaysia Airlines said they were sorry that they haven't got anything yet, but they are doing their best to try and do that and work with all these countries around the world to get them the answers they so desperately need -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, maybe they should have held off making that definitive statement yesterday. All right, Saima, thanks very much. A few hours from now, the search for wreckage from Flight 370 is set to resume off the coast of Australia after bad weather forced the delay.

Our own Will Ripley, he's joining us now from the scene. Will, I understand you have some new information. It's, what, a little after 1:00 a.m. Wednesday already over there. How big of an area are they trying to search? Are we certain that these planes will take off in a few hours?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's the latest that we know right now. Planes will be taking off about five hours from now at 6:00 a.m. local time. And the search area about a fourth of the size of what it was at its largest point. But it's still a huge area, Wolf, about the size of Mexico or two and a half times the size of Texas. And this is over the southern Indian Ocean, about 1,500 miles from where I'm standing right now. And we're talking about an area where there are waves several stories high.

I was flying out there in a P-3 Orion and we saw weather conditions change in an instant. You can have great visibility, then all of a sudden, the clouds can roll in, the rain comes down and you can see almost nothing. If this is an area where you don't want to find a plane, well, unfortunately, this is the area that we're talking about. It's very easy to get lost and it's easy for the debris to get pushed around as well.

BLITZER: Will, how are they trying -- are they -- I assume they're still trying to narrow this search area. It's still pretty large.

RIPLEY: It's very large. You know, Australian officials are saying, you know, as you mentioned, they're trying to reduce the size of this search area. We have the satellite data from Australia, China and France, pinpointing an area that they want to focus at specifically. We have those two flights that flew overhead where they actually spotted debris, so they're going to that area. But as we've seen, even if you spot debris once, it's a challenge when you go back out to that area. You don't find it again. And that is what crews are running into. That's what's making this so difficult.

BLITZER: Will Ripley in Perth. We'll check back with you and see if those planes actually take off in a few hours.

So, where is the proof? That's what families of Flight 370 passengers are asking after Malaysia's announcement that the plane and everyone on board went down in the Indian Ocean. The conclusion with no hard evidence to support it. A conclusion Malaysia may have thought would bring some closure but seems to have done anything but.

Here's CNN's Pauline Chu in Beijing.


PAULINE CHU, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This morning, outrage and fury, as relatives face off with police outside the Malaysian embassy in Beijing. Over 300 Chinese friends and family members of Flight 370 protesting.

STEVE: From the beginning, they just hide everything. And I don't think that this kind of government, a liar and even a murder, can solve anything.

CHU: Following Monday's dire announcement by Malaysia's prime minister.

NAJIB RAZAK, PRIME MINISTER, MALAYSIA: Flight MH 370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean.

CHU: Frustrated by Malaysia's handing of the incident, they descend upon the embassy on foot, marching over two miles after police prevented them from taking buses and blocked the embassy once they arrived.

Furious and skeptical of Malaysia's investigation, some Chinese family members released a statement, reading, in part, the Malaysian government and the Malaysian military continue putting off, holding back and covering up the truth of the incident as well as trying to deceive the families of passengers and people of the entire world. BIMAL SHARMA (ph): I don't know why I just want to see some debris of the aircraft and the black box to know what happened because there are too many unanswered questions.

CHU: Because of the questions that still remain, some Chinese families say they're now willing to go to Kuala Lumpur in order to confront the officials there at the highest level. And now China's president, Xi Jinping, has sent his deputy foreign minister to Malaysia to put pressure on the government there.

Pauline Chu, CNN, Beijing.


BLITZER: Up next, did Flight 370 deliberately avoid the radar of certain countries? Our experts standing by to weigh in.

And later, a full square mile covered in a sort of quick sand. The landslide in Washington state leaving nothing vertical in its path. We'll go there live.


BLITZER: The clock is certainly ticking in the search for Flight 370. The plane's flight data recorder will soon run out of battery and stop sending out its signal. Search planes are already grounded because of bad weather. And as winter sets in for the south Indian Ocean, things are expected to get even worse. And then, there are the currents that could potentially be moving wreckage hundreds of miles.

Let's bring in our panel of experts, Mark Weiss as an aviation analyst, the former 777 pilot for America Airlines. Peter Goelz as a CNN Aviation Analyst, former NTSB managing director. Tom Fuentes is CNN's Law Enforcement Analyst, the former assistant director of the FBI.

Peter, the Australian defense minister was very blunt. He said they're not looking for a needle in a haystack. They're looking for the haystack right now. They can't even find the haystack which three weeks in is so depressing.

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATON ANALYST: It is depressing but I think it's reality. And I think we've tried to indicate that, that this was never a matter of days or even weeks. It's going to be a matter of months and years. And I think, you know, that everyone involved on the ground there ought to be knowledgeable about not raising expectations. You know, every piece of junk floating in the ocean isn't a possible, you know, piece of evidence.

BLITZER: A possible site because there's a lot of junk --

GOELZ: Yes, there's a lot of stuff floating there.

BLITZER: -- floating around there. It's been moved around by the currents and waves and whatever. GOELZ: And people -- yes. And people get their expectations up. The family members are tortured by it. We need to just get into the hard grind of searching for this.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting. There's some suspicion out there, and I want you to weigh in, Mark, because you're a 777 pilot, that the -- for whatever reason, the crew may have been deliberately trying to evade certain radar, Thai radar, Indonesian radar, because they were making turns. The Thais say they never saw the plane on their radar. The Indonesians say they never saw the plane on their radar. Now, both of them may have missed it. But if you look at the map, and we're showing what's going on, it sounds like maybe the crew was deliberately trying -- if you believe the Thai and the -- the Thai radar experts and the Indonesian radar experts, you may be -- you may be convinced that the crew was deliberately trying to avoid radar.

MARK WEISS, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: I think there's a lot of fantasy to something like that. I think if somebody wanted to deliberately avoid radar, I mean -- it looked as though -- you know, they turned off the transponder. The ACARS stopped. I don't know that it was the crew. It could have been somebody else in the cockpit. It could have been one of the crew members. But I don't know that those actions were purposely taken to deliberately forestall the radar (INAUDIBLE.)

BLITZER: So, you don't necessarily buy --


BLITZER: -- that theory. What do you think of the way the Malaysians, over the past 24 hours, have handled this? Because -- and -- it's -- the prime minister comes out and says, definitively, the plane is in the water. Malaysia Airlines says the people are all dead. And today, they say, well, you know, that was the best evidence we have. We can't -- there's no -- obviously no bodies. There's no wreckage. What do you think of the way they're handling this?

PETER FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I think it was very insensitive. And, you know, we've looked at this and why they would say that.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: They say, well, you know, that was the best evidence we have. We can't -- there's no -- obviously no bodies. There's no wreckage. What do you think of the way they're handling this?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I think it was very insensitive. And, you know, we've looked at this and, you know, why they would say that and you have people, you know, screaming at officials in Beijing and Kuala Lumpur that there's no debris. How do you know this for sure? It's based on a new mathematical calculation. And this is kind of like high school math. If you've come up with a new answer, show us your work. Don't just say what the answer is.

And, you know, the Chinese have a space program. They have some of the best mathematicians in the world. Let them -- show them some of your calculations or share it with them. Have some buy-in from the other countries that have lost dozens of people in this event.

BLITZER: You've done a lot of aviation accidents, Peter, and you've studied them, you've gone back. Have you ever seen a case where a country definitively makes an announcement like this without any wreckage or bodies simply on mathematical and radar calculations, pings, handshakes, whatever?

PETER GOELZ, FORMER NTSB MANAGING DIRECTOR: No. This has - this has been poorly handled from the get-go. And had Malaysia, the government, and the military been committed to a more transparent process, as the treaty that they signed mandates, they would have been much better off because it wouldn't have just been the Malaysian government saying this. It would have been the investigative team, which would have involved people, Chinese investigators, American and Brits. They have been behind the curve from the beginning. And yesterday's performance was simply designed to try and close out the family operations.

BLITZER: Well, explain what you mean by that because a lot of folks are suggesting now, they just want to sweep it under the carpet and move on.

GOELZ: They want the family members to go home. They do not want the family members at the hotels sitting there because that could go on indefinitely. They want the family members on the best case basis back with their own families, in their own communities, in their own villages and towns, where they have support. But on a worst case basis, they're tired of seeing the media focus on that. They want to shut these operations down.

BLITZER: And, Mark, everything you've seen over the past 24 hours still convinces you, this is criminal, this was not mechanical.

MARK WEISS, SECURITY CONSULTANT: I'm still leaning in that direction. Again, you know, you don't want to close out options, because then everything that your -- every hypothesis you want will lead to what you - what you think it's going to be. But my feeling, my gut feeling, based upon the evidence that seems to present itself at this time, all points to me that the vast majority of that information leads to someone in the aircraft, in the cockpit, that wanted to take that aircraft deliberately off its intended flight path.

BLITZER: All right, guys, don't go too far away. We have a lot more questions. Our viewers have been sending us a lot of questions for you, as well. We'll do that later this hour.

We'll have much more on the missing plane mystery.

Also coming up, a deadly landslide crushing homes near Seattle, Washington. Nearly 200 people are still unaccounted for. We'll go there live. That's coming up.


BLITZER: We'll have much more on the fate of Flight 370 in a few minutes.

But first to Washington state and the devastating landslide that tore through several communities. Right now, 176 people are unaccounted for. Let's go to Darrington in Washington state. Bill Weir is on the scene for us.

Is there still a lot of hope out there that they're going to find survivors? What's the latest, Bill?

BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it depends on who you talk to, Wolf. Frankly, I mean, we're now about 72 hours since that huge chunk of mountain detached and came roaring into this valley. We're set up here in Darrington, on the west side. A beautiful landscape here. These gorgeous cascades. But this has been sort of the one little gathering spot out in front of the Darrington IGA where you see the banners, homemade banners to pray for the 530 slide victims. That's Highway 530. First responders, thanks for everything.

And the information, it's really kind of sad, because there's not a whole lot to go on. We've got a sheet of plywood here with a map of the area that was taken out so they know which properties were there. Now that big number that you've been reporting, we now know, of course, 14 fatalities, 176 unaccounted for. They think that number is going to come way down. Those -- there may be some duplications in there as well. Those may be folks who people think might have lived in that area, aren't there anymore. But we do know folks, one satellite dish installer who was working on a job in that area, the family who had him out to install the dish was there. So this death toll is certain to climb.

And I've got the - sort of the most grim reality check. You asked about the mood and hope. From one of the rescue -- search and rescue guys, a fireman by the name of Lenin (ph), who spent three days on that pile and changed our entire perception of this search. He had a little sample of the clay -- it's like a clay. And we were describing it almost like a wet cement or a quicksand. It's like oily, slick clay. And he said, the bodies that they are finding, it's really grim to describe. The clothes are torn off them. They're not intact. Cars have been ripped in half. So the hope that there are air pockets, as you would find in an earthquake or a hurricane, don't seem to exist in this thing. It was sort of this perfect catastrophic mix of water and mud that took out that entire town.

So as -- right next to the information board, you see "The Daily Herald" from Everett, Washington, you can see the headline today, "hope starts to dim." But we did talk to the governor, Jay Inslee, in the state of Washington and, you know, this is a small town, a lot of people know a lot of folks, third and fourth generation Washingtonians there. And that's all they can have is hope right now. People are giving everything they can, food, water, tears and prayer. And the folks in this area of the country will take everything they can get, Wolf.

BLITZER: Are they bracing for more landslides, Bill?

WEIR: It sounds like it's stabilized today. There was some worry yesterday. Search and rescue crews had to be pulled off the pile when it started to shift a little bit. That's the problem with this particular kind of earth, it's too solid for boats, but it's too soft for heavy machinery. So they're using hovercraft now, you know, search and rescue, urban rescue. Dog teams are trying to sniff out any signs of life. They're listening with acoustic equipment and so forth. But just going 50 feet in this muck takes five minutes because it's so slow going.

But as of today, we hadn't heard any worries. And they are allowing civilians, about 50 to 100 volunteers showed up here today with their hip waders and their axes and their chainsaws ready to go to work and help everywhere they can. So that's a sign that the authorities are convinced that it's at least safe enough to let those folks up (ph).

BLITZER: Our hearts certainly go out to all of the folks over there. Bill Weir on the scene for us. We'll continue to check back with you. Thank you.

Up next, the latest on the search for missing Flight 370. One analyst will tell us why he's not surprised it's taking this long.

And later, we take a closer look at some of the new technology being used in the search to see how it could possibly help find the plane.


BLITZER: The search for the missing Malaysia airlines plane is moving into day 19. Hard to believe. Here's the latest developments.

Search planes will be back in the skies over the Indian Ocean just a few hours from now looking for debris. Bad weather in the search area grounded the planes yesterday.

Malaysian officials are forming an international working group to help pinpoint the search for the plane. The group will include experts in satellite communications and aircraft performance.

And passengers, relatives marched on the Malaysian embassy in Beijing today. They say they're angry, they're frustrated over Malaysia's handling of this entire investigation.