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New Satellite Images; Malaysia Sending Delegation to Australia; Extreme Conditions Handicapping Searchers

Aired March 27, 2014 - 12:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: This very closely. Dig into those 300 plus pages, see what else you find out. We'll check back in with you in a little bit.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Michaela Pereira. That's it for this AT THIS HOUR.

BERMAN: "Legal View" with Ashleigh Banfield starts right now.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It is Thursday, March the 27th. And welcome to LEGAL VIEW.

I want to begin with a major development now in the hunt for Flight 370. Just one day after news that a French satellite found possible debris with about 122 objects, we are getting word of another debris field almost three times the size and not that far away either. A Thai satellite captured these images of 300 floating objects in the southern Indian Ocean. Objects that could be from this missing airliner. And on top of that, the Japanese have come up with images of 10 square-shaped objects. They were spotted near the search area just yesterday. And the largest of those pieces, 26 feet long.

Here's the problem. No one's been able to verify what any of this is yet, and that's mostly due to the bad weather that's forced the search planes back out of the area and onto safer land. That happened earlier today.

And a week after we learn -- a week after we learn that the southern Indian Ocean is likely the place where this jet ended up, Malaysian Airlines and the Malaysian government are just now putting together a delegation to send to Perth, Australia, where the search is being staged and based. Why now?

In the meantime, FBI Director James Comey says that a review of the pilot's hard drives, including the captain's flight simulator, could actually be done by today or tomorrow.

I want to focus right now on the very newest images that came from that Thai satellite with that very big debris field. These pictures taken just on Monday show 300 objects floating in the ocean. Now, if you compare these images to all of the other satellite images of debris that have come in during this story, one image shows debris in the area on March 16th. And another image shows floating objects. That was taken March 18th. And a French satellite photographed 122 objects March 23rd, just about 120 miles away from now this largest debris field just spotted by the Thai satellite.

These images are clustered together in roughly the same area. And all of it not even close to land, 1,700 miles southwest of Perth, Australia. And joining me now from Perth is Will Ripley to talk about just how this might impact the search efforts.

That had to be great news for the searchers, but at the same time that's a lot of areas to add to the already strained search. Will, tell me how this game changed.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it certainly is helping us step up our game because we've seen the size of the search area reduced dramatically over the past couple of weeks. Remember when it was the size of the continental United States and then it was the size of Mexico? Well, at this hour, it's the size of Panama. Still, a lot of ocean for these search planes to cover, but not nearly as much as before.

The big issue that we're facing here is whether the planes are going to be even able to take off today because the weather has been so unpredictable. They were up in the air yesterday and had to turn around because conditions got so dangerous.

BANFIELD: But, Will, with all of these additional areas now, these big debris fields, especially this one today, 300 pieces spotted, do they have enough gear? Do they have enough planes? Do they have enough kit (ph) to actually search all of these areas effectively?

RIPLEY: This truly is an international effort. We have six countries, 11 planes ready to take off right now. They're hoping to take off within the next five hours. We also have five ships that are in this area riding out the storm. And as soon as the conditions improve and they can get better visibility, they will be looking as well.

So the big challenge right now is getting to the area where the satellites say these debris fields are, identifying what the debris is. And then if we have found a possible crash site, well, then the real work begins to begin solving this mystery.

BANFIELD: Will, it was a really big, big headline yesterday when 122 pieces were spotted, and then yet again Americans woke up to the headline that, you know, almost triple that was found today. I'm just wondering if they're bifurcating the search process and actually sending half or more than half of the planes out to one zone and the other zone is covered in a different way. Have they even gotten to that point yet where they've figured out the logistics?

RIPLEY: The latest word that we have is that it's still six planes tackling the east, six planes tackling the west sector. And because the satellite images don't give a specific view as to where this is, there's kind of a several hundred mile radius, plus we know the fact that this is a moving target because the weather conditions have been so bad, the currents are so strong. So, literally, these suspected debris fields are moving every single day.

And then there's also the question of what exactly we're seeing on the images. At least in regards to the Thai satellite, there is the possibility that we could be seeing some white caps, some wave caps in that image. The reason for that is that you have when you're flying over the Indian Ocean, as I did this past weekend, you look down and what looks like debris is actually the tops of waves at times. So that is something to keep in mind. But again, five countries with satellite images, seems like the pieces are starting to come together much better than they have been as of yet.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And let's hope they can get those planes back up and flying just as soon as possible. Great reporting there. Appreciate it. Will Ripley live from Perth for us.

And joining me now to talk about what this could mean, this new debris field added to another massive debris field from yesterday, ocean explorer Christine Dennison is in New York, and marine debris specialist Nick Mallos joins us as well.

Nick, I want to start with you. We just talked to you yesterday about the possibilities of this being a big circular round piece of garbage. I mean that's true. This happens. There are big gyres of garbage out there. And now comes news there's a second one. What are the odds that there are two very close circular areas of garbage as opposed to possibly a plane?

NICK MALLOS, MARINE DEBRIS SPECIALIST: Yes, I think that's a great point. As I noted yesterday, certainly there is a lot of debris already out in our ocean and it's not uncommon to find, you know, small areas where various forms of plastics and other form of floating rubbish aggregate. But particularly, you know, building on the satellite imagery from the French and now to wake up this morning and have another area in fairly close proximity with, you know, upwards of 300, 322 items, is very encouraging.

And moreover, when you think about the size of these items, you know, ranging from two to 15 meters in size, these are exorbitantly large debris items compared to the more traditional items of floating debris we see in the ocean. So with this new evidence, I would say certainly it is a reason to be cautiously optimistic and hopefully leads us to potentially identifying the wreckage.

BANFIELD: And it seems like there are people who share your optimism. And then I get back to the notion, and, Christine, you're going to have to weigh in on this, the notion that these satellite images have lag time. They are three days old. Yesterday's was three days old and today's is three days old. And we know what those oceans can do in three days. So what would your advice be to those people who are mobilizing in Perth to try to track down where these hundreds of items could be right now, Christine?


Well, I agree again with Nick in that you have these debris fields that have been floating. It's been three days, three days on, four days on now, and so in as much as they are tracking and doing the best they can, they're still fighting the wind, the current and the randomness of where the debris field may end up and whether, of course, it's clumping together or the wind is actually pushing it farther apart. I mean these are all factors that they are watching closely.

The one thing that we've got in this area and farther south, not knowing exactly where this is going, is we've got the Antarctic circumpolar current which flows from west to east. Now, I just heard that we've got six planes in the west and six planes in the east, which it shows to me that they're clearly on top of their game in knowing that they are trying to sort of, you know, watch over this as best they can from all angles and knowing that these currents are going possibly from west to east where the debris field happens to be -


DENNISON: They're hoping to pick it up and just try and stabilize it a bit because that's the best they can do at this point.

BANFIELD: So, Nick, with your knowledge of marine debris and how it moves, I read something distressing, and that was that while we all assume it's moving and morphing laterally, it's also moving and morphing vertically, which makes it extremely difficult to spot. Weigh in on how -- what we know about what happens with garbage and how it settles.

MALLOS: Yes. Well, unfortunately, a very challenging issue with research. In traditional forms of marine debris, you know, like buoyant plastics that are most common out in the ocean is that, you know, a certain percentage of them do float. But a large majority of the different types of plastics and debris like wood and other heavier materials that are denser than sea water will sink.

So we not only have this surface layer that has large aggregations of debris out there, but we also know that in the vertical water column of the ocean, we also have, you know, abundances of debris. So particularly things like shipping containers that some may speculate could be identified on these satellite imagery. While these items may float for a certain period of time, over time these items do sink. So, again, all of these reasons point to potentially positive outcomes for identifying what could be the wreckage of the Malaysian Airline flight.

BANFIELD: Nick Mallos and Christine Dennison, thanks so much for your input and your expertise on this.

DENNISON: Thank you.

BANFIELD: It's critical at this time. And time is of the essence.

The Malaysians are mobilizing right now a big delegation, an important delegation. They're headed to Perth, Australia. Sure, they're on the way, but shouldn't they have been there sooner? The search for the missing plane has been strike forced out of that zone for a week now. We're going to talk about what this means in a moment.


BANFIELD: Malaysia is only just now in the process of sending a delegation to Perth, Australia, which is basically mission control right now in this search for Flight 370. The delegation includes the Malaysia Department of Civil Aviation, it includes Malaysia Airlines, the Royal Malaysian Navy, the Royal Malaysian Air Force.

And we still don't know when the team will actually travel or when it will actually arrive, again, at the central base where the search is actually taking place. The government has taken a lot of heat for its handling of Flight 370 and Jim Clancy asked the former CEO of Malaysia Airlines his opinion on that very matter. Listen to what he had to say.


AZIZ ABDUL RAHMAN, FORMER MALAYSIA AIRLINES CEO: I think the government also acted very, very fast. With - the - they had -- from the Department of Civilization (ph). I -- of course, I know Civilization (ph) -- and I think I can give them good marks (ph) in terms of handling it.


BANFIELD: Our Will Ripley is back live with me from Perth, Australia.

When I heard that this delegation was en route, I did the math. CNN has been there for over a week. And the Malaysians are only now just sending this very high level delegation? I wasn't sure if that was appropriate or whether I was thinking too much into this. But how did that news land amongst all of the search and rescue operators that you're working with?

RIPLEY: Well, you know, certainly, Ashleigh, as you've been reporting and we've been reporting here on CNN, you know, speed has not been the Malaysian government's forte as we've seen repeatedly in these last weeks.

But I think the fact that this delegation is finally going to be coming here, what this says is that they feel, the Malaysian government feels that we are getting close. We're getting close to some answers. We're getting close to a discovery.

And that also means if debris is found, then Malaysian Airlines presumably will follow through with the arrangement that they've been working on to fly as many of the families who want to come here into Perth to be here to be part of this process. So this could quickly become the center of the story, just like the search happening, you know, some 1,700 miles from where I'm standing right now.

BANFIELD: Chad Myers is with me as well to weigh in on this.

Chad, you've been with me a couple decades plus. I don't know about you. Any time there's an international disaster, there is mobilization immediately. If CNN could be there a week ago, why are the Malaysians not set up and running the show from Perth right now? CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I believe it took a long time to get these images to prove where it was. We had these big arcs. They could be everywhere along those arcs millions and millions of square miles obviously, and they didn't know exactly where.

But we were focused on this so intently, I can't tell you, but we probably have 90 percent of our focus at sea on this event, and we are focused on things we wouldn't have been focused on had this been an earthquake in Afghanistan. We wouldn't have been drilling down on this so much and seeing all the flaws.


MYERS: You know, we are seeing all the flaws that probably do happen on many of these disasters, but we are there, we are so close to the event. We now see these flaws in true living color.

BANFIELD: I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt on this. I did think it was odd, but perhaps there are other things afoot, and maybe there was a strike force set up in Malaysia that we don't know about that's been very effective, digitally or through the communication lines.

But we'll wait to see. Obviously they're not there yet. When we do we'll give strong coverage to what their work will be.

Chad, stand by if you could, because there are some really strong storms, huge currents and massive distances that this presents to searchers, to rescuers, to people who want to find any answer when it comes to where this missing plane is. But how are they overcoming all of those obstacles? They are, believe it or not, we'll tell you how in a moment.


BANFIELD: The people searching for -- searching the ocean for anything linked to this airplane have so many more factors working against them than working in their favor. because if you think about this, they not only have a churning sea and horrible weather, they have to travel hours and hours before they even get to the search area to start their day.

This is the kind of distance that I'm talking about. I know you've seen the map, but just imagine for a moment you have your morning coffee and you travel from New York City, pack your lunch and head off to Denver for the day.

But you can't land, no, you can't. It's all water. You're just going to search for the possible debris field scattered across an area the size of the city of Denver for pieces of something, anything, that you're not really even sure are there, and you don't know what they look like. And then to get home, it's another 1,500 miles back to where you're going to get your dinner.

That's nothing short of monumental. It's an epic task. Let's not forget this. They're doing all of this sometimes amid what could be considered almost tropical storm conditions.

So let's talk about this with Christine Dennison, ocean explorer, as well as Captain Kit Darby and CNN's Chad Myers.

First to you, Chad, if I didn't already lay out the impossible, when these two ocean currents meet, it looks like a spider web -- for lack -- like a moving spider web. Can you take me to where the Indian ocean meets the southern ocean and what happens?

MYERS: I can't. The currents are what we call eddies, but they're circles. They bounce into each other and they spin around, and then we'll blow another wind on top of it of 60 or 70 miles per hour.

So, all of a sudden you have these eddies, you have spins, you have pieces of debris going every direction. Remember, if the piece of debris happens to stick up in the water just a little bit, it's not only a current moving, it's the windage, it's a sail, it's beginning to move along with the wind as well.

So, those are your boxes we're talking about. Those are search boxes. Here's the graphic you're talking about. It's just absolute chaos. If I wanted to prove chaos theory, that's it right down there. Now, the waves are 20 to 30 feet at times because we had a Category 5 hurricane 1,700 miles north. I know I said far away --

BANFIELD: Gee, I said tropical storm.

MYERS: Oh, no, this was 160-mile-per-hour cyclone making waves. You have wind on top of those waves of 30 to 40 miles per hour and you're looking for a white object. What does that ocean look like? It's a big piece of white foam, and you're trying to look for a white object. There's so many white caps.

BANFIELD: So, Captain Darby, you've done this. You have thousands of flying hours. We are tasking these people with that scenario that I just set out, all of that flying no landing, incredible tricky search work.

Is this actually -- is it plausible that we should be doing this with these people? How tough is it?

KIT DARBY, RETIRED 30-YEAR AIRLINE CAPTAION: Well, we're talking combat duty. A pilot normally protected by very generous rest rules, he's typically going to work a day and have a day off. If he works four or five days, he's going to have four or five days off. There's recovery time.

In this case, we're pushing each day -- I might add that we're going to that 1,500 miles away in a turbo prop, not a jet, so t takes a long time to get there, limits their time on duty and there's a stress of job.

If you're looking out the window in the white caps trying to find a white piece of -- your eyes play tricks and if you get tired that makes it even worse. So, this is a combat duty situation.

BANFIELD: What altitude is he going out there, by the way, and how smooth is that ride?

DARBY: For the turbo props, probably in the high-, low-20s for their most efficient altitudes.

BANFIELD: Not super smooth.

DARBY: For the jets, they'll be up high. For the 737, which is the P- 8, it will go up to altitude and be smooth. It should be pretty smooth at those altitudes, but it's still a long ride.

BANFIELD: It's a long ride, and it's a long ride back and you think about commuting for a work day and having all of that on top of that.

Christine Dennison, I read something in "The Washington Post" that sort of made me shake my head a little bit and it's this. "The ocean can do a lot of things with sound. For instance, if you know how to use thermal layers in the ocean, you can hide a nuclear submarine from some of the most powerful sonar."

So, just the layers of the ocean not even talking about the depth or the debris or the sludge on the bottom, that can also make it next to impossible for these amazing hangers to get anything at all.

CHRISTINE DENNISON, OCEAN EXPLORER AND EXPEDITIONS LOGISTICS EXPERT: Exactly. Having worked out in the very, very rough north Atlantic waters, I understand the boat operations are just -- at this point. they're halted because there's just so -- you can't do anything really. There's no point.

The machines that they're using, the acoustic sound waves as you said, it's a very sensitive issue putting anything in the water. First of all, they can't -- the conditions are very rough. But you're also going to have the issues of waves and wind that are going to disturb what would be a very accurate data reading, which is what they're trying to collect.

So in as much as we are waiting, these teams are very professional. They understand that it would be futile to go out at this point and really work in the water. They're not going to get accurate sound readings. They're not going to get accurate data readings. And it is that "hurry-up-and-wait" situation for them.

BANFIELD: Christine, there's one thing I do want to ask you about, and it's something else I heard one of the experts in ocean debris mention, and that is that the debris field as the days move on gets bigger, which could be a good thing because it allows, you know, us not to perhaps miss a small debris field.

But I would also assume that it gets thinner as it gets bigger. As that cloud moves and getting bigger, it may get thinner. Can you weigh-in on that?

DENNISON: I think what they're doing is they've been very good at tracking and weighing in on different satellite images they're getting and putting together some kind of composite of the direction of the debris fields moving based on the ocean currents. Again, it will depend on wind. It's sort of like if you think of leaves. They're just sort of clumped together depending on the wind, depending on the weight. And they'll be pushed into one corner, they might be pushed in this case the waves might be pushing debris to clump together closer to the east. And then, of course, they'll come around again with the current more to the west.

And I believe at this point that they're being very accurate in being able to sort of cover both sides, east and west, to watch this debris field and monitor it as best they can so that when they can get to the water, they'll know where to go and will have success.

BANFIELD: Christine, I don't know if this is a yes or no question, but I heard it described this morning when you're looking at this confluence of two oceans as looking for the head of a pin while in the washing machine while it's on maybe like the spin cycle.

DENNISON: Well, I would have to agree with that. As impossible as that sounds, I don't believe it will be for them. You're looking at incredible resources, incredible teams of professionals that know what they're doing, have been doing this, and I am hopeful they'll have success.

We have to wait for the weather to really allow them to get in and do what they do best.

BANFIELD: Christine Dennison, thank you for that. Kit Darby, your expertise is so appreciated.

New satellite images of 300 pieces of debris in the south Indian Ocean. Those pictures are pretty darn grainy. Take a look. Could be stars. Could be debris.

Can't we do better than this? Can't we photograph clearer than this? And why does it have to be hands-on before we know if that is Flight 370?

We're going to dig into that in just a moment.