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Mystery of Flight 370; Looking for the Black Boxes; Analyzing the Images

Aired March 27, 2014 - 06:30   ET


BERMAN: All right. Breaking news overnight. New pictures, 300 objects spotted by satellite in the hunt for Flight 370. These pictures taken by a satellite from Thailand just a day after a satellite from France spotted 122 objects. The thing is as we're getting these pictures from satellites, bad weather has put the air search from airplanes on hold. They had to turn back today before their mission was even complete.

Here to talk through the latest challenges in this search is CNN aviation analyst Jeff Wise. Also a contributor to Slate.

Let's put that satellite image up there one more time. This picture again taken from Thailand, a satellite from Thailand, showing 300 objects they say, 120 miles from where the French satellite spotted about 122 objects.

What do you make of this latest picture, Jeff?

JEFF WISE, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, John, this is consistent with the kind of data we've been getting for days now where satellites go up there and the satellite imagery comes down from space. And it's very enticing looking with lots of potential aircraft wreckage. We just need to get on the ground, get on the surface. Look at this stuff close up and determine if it is or is it not.

BERMAN: You said too much debris may not be a good thing?

WISE: Well, that's right. Listen, if you see something floating, it's -- that's 60 feet across, that could be a big chunk of fuselage. If you have 10 pieces that are 60 feet across, that would indicate that they're not from the plane because the plane has only so much stuff in it. You see too much stuff on the ground, it actually starts to decrease the chances that you're looking at.

BERMAN: All right. Which is why they need to get there and see it by plane or by boat. And it is such a challenge right now for these searchers. Of course, you have all the currents in the area right there, including that bright current under the search right there. You can see some of the most powerful currents in the world. And we have that image right there. You can see it floating away.

That's just a little graphic interpretation of how the current could be carrying whatever debris might be out there. It's very, very difficult. Then of course there's the cloud cover. So the satellites may see something one day and then today the clouds come in, they can't see beneath the clouds so they can't spot what the satellites are showing. And of course, you know, sometimes the satellite can't even see through the clouds themselves. So a lot of challenges there.

We should say the ships, the surface vessels are still out there searching.

WISE: Right. But they haven't managed to get to one of these debris fields which is so frustrating. Ideally, you'd see something on the surface and then you'd be able to track it. You'd be able to follow its motion. But as you say, we've got cloud cover. We've got night falling and we've got these chaotic swirling currents, the very strong currents that are tending to maybe change the pattern of the debris on the ocean.

And so we're not able to consistently follow a single debris field. It should make it very easy for the ship to go there and just, you know, stick a net in the ocean, pull something up and take a look. It's a moving target, constantly shifting and changing.

BERMAN: If the weather would help, they have more resources to bring to bear than they've had yet. You know today they had out some nine planes, they wanted to have over the search area, six ships, the six ships still are out there. But, again, they're having a hard time because of the weather situation. Very, very difficult.

Now, Jeff, I know you've been doing a lot of analysis on one other key piece of information. This partial handshake again that went from, you know, Malaysia Air Flight 370 to the Inmarsat satellite. That happened in the flight path. It was the last bit of communication as the plane was flying on the southern corridor toward where the search area is right now. That's one thing that a lot of analysts say could be the most important piece of data. You still have a lot of questions.

WISE: Right. There are a lot of questions. You know, yes, the flight path leads to the search area. That's why we're searching this search area. That's important to realize. This wasn't just a randomly chosen patch of ocean. It's the end point of this -- of this generated flight path that's been generated from the Inmarsat data. However, that's a theoretical construct. OK? It depends on the data you put into it, namely, what speed was the airplane flying.

You have to assume that the plane was flying a certain speed. Now you can say well, there's the most efficient speed that these planes normally fly. It was the system that was doing that. That's just an assumption. Now if for some reason the plane was flying in a different speed, if it was, for instance, flying at a different altitude, you would wind up at a different part of the ocean.

And if we're able to rule out this square, that might say let's look somewhere else. Unfortunately this gets back to the original problem we have. Everything's shifting and swirling. It's not like a land search where you can put a grid on the ground and look at every square. And say well, it's not there, it must be somewhere else. Everything is moving, everything is shifting. It might be here today and somewhere else tomorrow. BERMAN: I was going to ask, can you ever rule out this area? At what point can you say, you know, it's not there in this area they've been searching now seemingly for a few weeks? The problem you seem to be suggesting is it might not be there today but it could flown in tomorrow.

WISE: Right. And vice versa. It could be here today -- not today, tomorrow. The longer we wait, the more time elapses, the more the natural dynamics of the ocean are going to pull things apart, shift them, take them elsewhere. You know, a couple of months go by, this wreckage could be in the Atlantic Ocean because all the ocean is constantly circulating. And this gets back also the issue of the pinger. Day by day, our chances of finding the black boxes gets worse. So time is of the essence.

BERMAN: Time is running out. What they really need is a few days of good weather in a row. You know, we thought today was going to be nice, it did not turn out that way.

Jeff Wise, great to have you here. Really appreciate it.

Christine Romans has some of the day's other top stories -- Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, John. You know, we begin with the historic first meeting of President Obama and Pope Francis. The two shared a smile and a handshake then sat across from one another. The White House says the president and the pontiff talked about their shared commitment to fighting poverty and growing income inequality and more gently handled thornier issues like same-sex marriage, contraception and abortion.

Some good news, if you can call it good news, from the scene of a devastating landslide in Washington State. Officials say the number of people missing and unaccounted for has dropped dramatically to 90 from 176 the day before. As many as 24 people have died. No one's been found alive in the mud and debris since the weekend. But it's still considered a rescue operation.

Charlotte, North Carolina, is minus a mayor this morning. Patrick Cannon resigned shortly after he was arrested on theft and bribery charges. The FBI says undercover agents posing as real estate developers got the mayor to take almost $50,000 in bribes in exchange for favorable treatment by the city. Cannon could face up to 50 years in prison if he's convicted.

Syria is now more than halfway toward removing or destroying its chemical weapons. And the rest could be gone by the end of April. That's according to a new report by the world's chemical weapons watchdog. The battle scarred country has missed two deadlines so far. Deadlines imposed after video of a chemical attack shocked the world last year. The Syrian conflict is now in its fourth year. Those are your headlines.

BERMAN: Of course -- that's done by a deal brokered with the help of the Russians. Be interesting to see how that operates going forward.


PEREIRA: Certainly one of the concerns when people been looking what's going on in the world right now. Part Russia certainly plays.

Christine, good to have you.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

PEREIRA: Coming up next, we've been talking about the search being limited today by air being called off, but we know ships are still in the water searching. Clues continue to come from satellite photos in the search for Flight 370. We're going to take look, a closer look at just how analysts know what is in these pictures.

BERMAN: And the flight recorders, they are supposed to ping for about a month, but what if they have gone silent. We have new developments to tell you about this morning.


PEREIRA: We know this morning that the air search for Flight 370 has been grounded. Bad weather sending planes back to Perth on the same day that new Thai satellite images show another 300 objects floating in the South Indian Ocean. It's almost like they can't get ahead. Investigators are desperate to find the 777's black boxes and then figure out what went wrong.

We thought they had at least a week left, but what's the chance that those batteries on the flight recorders have already run out? We're going to ask a CNN safety analyst David Soucie who's done some really interesting reporting.

You have a source that tells you that that could have happened. Why is that? Tell us what you're reporting.

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Well, what's happened is that this mechanic that's talked to me, he still works on these aircraft, but he's working for a contract carrier who takes care of the Malaysian aircraft. What we do in this industry is we have cross checks. We go audit the other people, so we kind of keep the -- keep ourselves honest in the industry. So this guy went over and did the audit of Malaysian Air. Found out that the pingers which are -- the thing giving out the signal.

PEREIRA: Yes. Inside the flight data recorder.

SOUCIE: Exactly. Which has its own battery.


SOUCIE: Was stored improperly. The manufacturer said they're supposed to be at 70 degrees, in a dry area. Because remember they're sensitive to water.


SOUCIE: Water's what makes them work.


SOUCIE: So when they're stored improperly, the life decreases. It gets less and less.

PEREIRA: We've talked about this 30-day life expectancy of the batteries. But if they weren't stored properly that greatly reduces them? By half or even more?

SOUCIE: Yes. By half. This mechanic said that the ones that they retired they did respond to his audit. They say we're going to take these off of the shelf, we're going to retire those, get rid them. And when they did, they tested them and found out they only had about 15 or so days left. So it was a half-life.

They did replace them. They put new ones in the refrigerated. They started storing it in the refrigerated. But what's most disturbing is he had done a follow-up on that, found out that they were still doing -- the process that they put in place to put them in the refrigerator wasn't being followed. They're being very nonchalant about where they are and where they put them.

PEREIRA: And nonchalance is what upsets a lot of people.


PEREIRA: Is there -- Is there any indication that improperly stored batteries would have been on this flight or on the 777s?

SOUCIE: Well, where they would -- remember these are chains. They're at the C check. Which is every thousand hours the airplane is brought it,


SOUCIE: And they do a C check. In the C check, they replace the pinger with a replacement out of the stock. So if indeed these most recent ones had been taken from that stock, there's a good possibility these a good possibility that these are the ones that are on that aircraft.

PEREIRA: Is there any chance -- let's go and take this theory all the way through. Faulty battery used in this, it dies or it stopped sending out pings. Could it also make the flight data recorder malfunction? Could it cause it to send out false pings? Remember we had partial pings the other day.

SOUCIE: Right. Yes.

PEREIRA: That we were talking about. Could that cause that or is that not likely?

SOUCIE: Well, it's a very good question. I think we're overusing the word "ping" just a little bit because if every time we talk about communication it seems to be that we refer to this as ping. PEREIRA: We label it as a ping.

SOUCIE: Yes. Right. So the pings that we talk about the partial ping is when it's communicating with the satellite.

PEREIRA: The partial handshake.

SOUCIE: The handshake. Yes.


SOUCIE: So let's talk about that as a handshake. This is actually a ping.

PEREIRA: This is the actual ping.


PEREIRA: Can we play it again because I think we --


PEREIRA: It's more of a clicking.

SOUCIE: Yes. You hear that?


SOUCIE: Not much.

PEREIRA: It isn't much.

SOUCIE: Right.

PEREIRA: And you have to be right over top of it to be able to pick that up, correct?

SOUCIE: Not necessarily. The reason they say that is if the box is in a canyon or ravine or among -- even seaweed will stop that ping from propagating properly. So yes, if it's on a plain open, if it was on the floor here, it's anywhere within a two-mile radius, you'd be able to pick that up. But typically, it's not. It's usually interfering with something.

PEREIRA: Interesting reporting. And it's certainly going to cause a lot more questioning of how those batteries were stored if they were stored properly.

David Soucie, thank you so much for this.

SOUCIE: You bet.

PEREIRA: It adds another potential challenge.

SOUCIE: Thank you.

PEREIRA: In the investigation.

BERMAN: To say the least.

All right. Next up for us on NEW DAY, what experts see in the new satellite images we're seeing for the very first time this morning? What can the experts see that the untrained eye cannot? For a lot of us really hard to see what each one of those dots may be but the experts will lay it out to us. We're going to speak to a satellite analyst. That's coming up.

PEREIRA: Plus a first for President Obama and Pope Francis. The two of them are in the same place at the same time. For the first time, but everyone's wondering what exactly they discussed.


PEREIRA: Breaking overnight, we're getting new images this morning of what possibly -- could it be debris from Flight 370? This is what we're seeing. A Thai satellite showing some 300 objects, possibly potentially from Malaysia Airlines missing 777. A day after a French satellite showed some 122 objects in the Indian Ocean near the jet's likely flight path.

We want to bring in Stephen Wood, he's a satellite imagery analyst. And he's CEO and co-founder of All Sorts Analysis. Also a former CIA intelligence officer and former vice president of Digital Globe, the very company that took the initial Australian satellite images.

You are the man to talk to about this because you look at these images in a way that we would not to the untrained naked eye. We don't see much. But you see things differently. What do you see here on these new images?

STEPHEN WOOD, SATELLITE IMAGERY EXPERT: Well, Michaela, first and foremost, I mean, I think this is another piece of evidence that is beginning to tell the story. I think what's most important, and we haven't really been able to really dissect these images quite yet. To me it's somewhat analogous to a radiologist looking at an x-ray.


WOOD: You know, I think we all can look at an x-ray and we can see a hand or we can see a foot.


WOOD: But how do you interpret that image? That's going to become the critical task here.

PEREIRA: Can you give us a little insight without giving away government secrets?


WOOD: I'll do what I can, sure. PEREIRA: How do you tell and how do analysts looking at these images determine they're credible, not a pod of whales or not floating pallets or something?

WOOD: Right. Well, first and foremost, what you have to do is you look at geography. So where does this particular objects, where did they show up? Where can they be seen? What is unusual about the size, the shape, the configuration and do they all clump together?

To me what's most important and while these images may be a little bit difficult to see because of the resolution in terms of what you can actually see with the details, if you wouldn't mind going to the other images as well.

PEREIRA: Let's take a look at it because it does sort of zoom in a little bit more.

WOOD: Right. Now I mean what I see from my eye and my training is clearly white objects. Now this is also part of the problem.

PEREIRA: So some of these things here.

WOOD: Exactly. And here's a larger one right at the top. The challenge is this. The ocean surface reflects light. So oftentimes you'll see sunlight that reflects off of waves.

PEREIRA: And the satellite would see that, too.

WOOD: The satellite sees that and sometimes a white object on a black image may show up. Now that's also a very difficult problem is when you're going to get wind. And we've been hearing a lot about the weather in the area.


WOOD: So you get 15-foot waves and white caps, oftentimes the glint or that reflection of the white, can look like an object.

PEREIRA: I'll liken it to when you're on an airplane flying over the ocean, you look down and you think it might look -- because I'm always looking for whales or dolphins.

WOOD: Yes. Absolutely.

PEREIRA: But you realize it's merely whitecaps.

WOOD: It's just the wind. That's right. So that's one of the challenges. The other problem and if you could get to the next set of images.

PEREIRA: Absolutely.

WOOD: It goes back to the French imagery that was released the day before. And really to me it's this timeline that becomes important. If you start looking at the very first images --

PEREIRA: What, the -- the 16th?

WOOD: The 16th. Digital Globe, a U.S. commercial imaging company provided with the Australians.


WOOD: That image. Then the next thing, there was actually a Chinese image right here.

PEREIRA: On the 18th.

WOOD: On the 18th. Right. A few days later was this image of -- it was released yesterday on the 23rd.

PEREIRA: And then now --

WOOD: And then most recently this one from Thailand.

PEREIRA: But here's the key. All of it in this area.

WOOD: Exactly. So that is what I see is most important. Is forensically starting to put together the geography, the objects, seeing how this could possibly all be related. You're narrowing down the search area. We started at a very, very large area. And now we're actually starting to focus most of our time and attention in this region.

PEREIRA: What about what our meteorologist -- meteorological team here at CNN has talked about quite a lot are the currents in this area.

WOOD: Right.

PEREIRA: That's this area, the gyre, that this is a place that collects a lot of debris. Could that just be what we're seeing?

WOOD: Unfortunately, it is still possible. And I know there's been speculation before, could these be containers from a ship.


WOOD: Part of again what an imagery analyst will do is he'll start looking at these sizes and shapes. They are regular shapes. So I can fairly quickly rule out that these aren't just shipping containers.

PEREIRA: To that end, Jeff Wise a moment ago was saying that when this much big of a debris field --

WOOD: Right.

PEREIRA: -- with that many large chunks, it's unlikely in his estimation that it could be debris from a plane. Your thoughts?

WOOD: I think that's a very valid thought. It think again, you know, nobody wants to speculate completely and say this is conclusively --

PEREIRA: We got to get there. We got to get there and pick them up. Look at them.

WOOD: Yes. That's the bottom line. That's exactly right.

PEREIRA: Stephen Wood, really interesting.

WOOD: Thanks very much.

PEREIRA: Thank you so much for that. We really appreciate it.

WOOD: You're welcome.


BERMAN: So great to hear from an expert on that.

We do have a lot of news breaking overnight in the search for Flight 370. Let's get the latest right now, our top story.


ANDREW STEVENS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The Thai satellite has spotted about 300 floating objects.

JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Unnamed source in "USA Today" pointing a finger at the captain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's an excellent pilot. Also an excellent temperament.

ERIC FINZIMER, FIREFIGHTER: We can't lose hope. We're here to find those people.

ROBIN YOUNGBLOOD, LANDSLIDE SURVIVOR: It hit so fast that we went down. We were under water and mud.

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: At time stoic, at times physically ill, Oscar Pistorius on the stand to tell his story.


PEREIRA: Good morning and welcome to NEW DAY. It is Thursday, March 27th, 7:00 a.m. in the East. I'm Michaela Pereira. Joined by John Berman. Chris Cuomo has the day off and Kate is flying back from Australia.

We start with our breaking news this morning in the ongoing search for Malaysian Flight 370. Another big field of objects. Could it be linked to the missing jet? Well that's the question. It was captured by Thai satellites Monday in the Indian Ocean about a hundred miles from another field of possible debris spotted by French satellites.

BERMAN: The thing is the search itself has now hit a snag thanks to the weather, bad weather. The airplanes have been sent back to land, could be there for days, depending on how things break. As this bad weather is hitting off western Australia. Now about a half dozen ships, they do remain in the water in that search zone. And now with hope building that Flight 370 maybe perhaps could be located, Malaysia is preparing to send a delegation to Australia, including navy, air force, airline and aviation personnel.

Want to go back to Andrew Stevens right now live in Perth, Australia with the latest developments this morning.

Good morning, Andrew.

STEVENS: Good morning, John. You're right. Hope is building after these latest satellite pictures coming from Thailand. Three hundred objects and they are in that specific zone of interest not far from the 122 objects that the French satellite picked up a few days ago.

I need to remind viewers, though, that both of these pictures were taken before this latest round of bad weather. Bad weather has grounded flights now two out of the past three days. And that means that that debris, whatever was there could have been scattered quite widely by high winds and high seas.

So that is going to be yet another challenge for the flights when they resume. We don't know when the flight to get back out over that search zone but we are expecting it to happen in the next 18 hours or so. They did get some aircraft, some assets down onto the zone today before the search was called off. But we were talking to an AAF, Australian Air Force pilot, who landed about two hours ago.

And he said he was on station for two hours. The conditions were tough, low visibility in many places, and I did not see anything. And this remains the biggest frustration. Getting a lot of satellite images, getting objects spotted from planes, at least two separate sightings, but they still haven't linked up with the vessels actually on the site. The good news is the vessels stayed on site today despite that bad weather two days ago. They're actually driven off the side.

But still, they can't locate where those objects are. And we spoke to the Australian Defense chief about that two days ago, saying, you know, the ships, they said they're close to where these objects are being spotted. And he said, well, close could be still a couple hundred miles away. So it's still a big zone to search and still nothing to show for it.

BERMAN: Huge frustration, Andrew. Seen from space, yet to be seen from the air or from the surface of the seas right there.

Andrew Stevens, in Perth, thanks so much.

Want to go back to talk about the pilots on board Flight 370 right now because a lot of new focus is being placed on Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah. "USA Today" is reporting that Malaysian authorities are looking at whether he brought the plane down deliberately. But U.S. officials say to CNN that while both pilots are being looked at, nothing jumps out yet. And now the captain's son is coming to his defense.

So let's get more on this now from Jim Clancy live in Kuala Lumpur -- Jim. CLANCY: You know, the family of Captain Shah has gone into seclusion. They voluntarily talked to the investigators, John.