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Washington News Conference; Multiple Objects Spotted in New Area in Search of Flight 370

Aired March 28, 2014 - 12:00   ET


CHIEF TRAVIS HOTS, SNOHOMISH COUNTY FIRE DISTRICT: The Snohomish County Sheriff's Office and the Snohomish County Medical Examiner's Office expects to provide us some additional numbers later this afternoon. I know that the media has been reporting different numbers. But as an official government spokesperson, I get my information from the Snohomish County Medical Examiner's Office.

And so, I can only report the number of people that the Snohomish County Medical Examiner's Office reports to me. So that official number right now is seven (ph) fatalities total. We do have additional people that we've recovered out there, but that's not going to be part of the numbers that I'm going to provide today right at this moment. At 4:30 today, we'll have an update.

The Snohomish County Medical Examiner's Office is doing a good job. They've got - they've brought resources in from all over the place. They've got other counties in there. They've got the National Guard in there helping with the process. The new director for the Snohomish County Medical Examiner's Office is an individual that I hold in extremely high regard, and I know that they are firing on all eight cylinders there, and they are moving as quickly as they can. And t get us - they'll get us that information here soon.

The Department of Emergency Management Director Pennington, he has put a request into the Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney's Office to determine if we can release the names of those 90 people that are missing or unaccounted for. And so we hope to have an answer about that later this afternoon. DM Pennington, Director Pennington, he is in an operations planning meeting and so he will not be here at this briefing. He'll likely be here at the evening briefing at 6:00. So he'll have some updates on his part.

Today -- today's operations. The rain and the wind and the weather is basically working against us. A 100 percent chance of rain. We're looking at wind at like 20 miles an hour in places on the site that's going to further complicate things for our responders that are up there at the site. It's -- areas that have dried out are going to become even more saturated with water. The areas that already have water that we've been working in will see some additional, you know, water going into those areas. It just makes things slower and more complicated. And so we've got a hard day ahead of us.

We've got new geologists that are arriving on the scene to offer additional opinions to make sure that there's not the risk of additional slides that could occur up there. Second set of eyes, additional sets of eyes, additional opinions. At this time, we believe that everybody that is at the site there, from an additional slide potential, is safe and we want to make sure that, you know, we're continuing to evaluate that. And we are.

The incident is so large we've had to break the incident up into two different divisions. We've got the west division, which is on this side, and we've got the east division in Darrington. And so because of that, we've got different branches that are set up on both sides of the incident. And it's working well, getting things done and getting the resources that everybody needs on both sides of the incident.

And there's some complexities there with, you know, road systems and stuff like that and we're working on getting an emergency road finished for emergency access only on a power line road so that we can expedite, you know, getting resources and equipment on both sides. But I want to stress that that emergency road is for emergency use only. It's not a public road for people to come in and out of there.

Fatigue of our responders up there. Some of the folks have been there since day one. And that's a huge concern for me. And so we've brought in professionals to help out with making sure there are people's needs taken care. The responders that are out there that have been there since day one and some of the things that they're seeing and have to do and the emotional toll that that's taking.

And to great credit to the Washington State Patrol and the Department of Fish and Game, they've got their entire chaplain team out there working with not only the people who have lost loved ones there, but also our emergency responders because they're going to need the help too. And they're feeling it right now. And we will make sure that they're taken care of, and we have.

There's a community meeting in Darrington. Those meetings will continue. The first night we had about 400 people show up to the community meeting. Last night we had about 100 people. This tells us folks are getting the information that they need. And we'll continue to do those community meetings there as long as they're necessary and people need that.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And as this Snohomish County Fire District chief, Travis Hots continues to do the daily briefings and the update, not a big change in terms of the death toll. Still 17 identified dead. Seven identified dead, but no one's able to get to those bodies yet. Ninety people still missing.

I'm Ashleigh Banfield. Thanks for joining us. We are starting a new hour on CNN with our live coverage of not only the landslide, but we are also updating some very new and perhaps very promising information on Flight 370, Malaysia Airlines, the missing flight.

I want to get back to the significant of what you just heard on the West Coast in the search for any kind of potential survivors or at least those who are missing. Chad Myers joins me live now.

The one thing that stood out from what that fire chief just said was five more days of rain. That can be a bad thing, but it can also be a good thing.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: There is something good to the rain. I know it's going to be hard for the responders to get through the newly made mud. But if there's a leak in the roof and it rains five inches literally over the next five days and there's a survivor below the roof that needs some water, literally they're dehydrating because there's nothing to drink, this rain has been in many instances used by people to survive. We know about it in Haiti. We've heard about it in other earthquakes, in other places where homes are shattered. People are trapped under the debris for days, but they are able to survive on water.

BANFIELD: I mean we're five days away. And Anderson Cooper pointed this out last night, there were survivors in Haiti two weeks later and the rain was what helped them. So this is somewhat promising, but also it is settling and getting thicker -

MYERS: It is.

BANFIELD: And harder, you know - harder for the searchers to actually dig through. Quickly.

MYERS: As the moving mud does hit those houses and starts to settle, it becomes more coagulated at the bottom as the water runs out. That -- it was a moving mudslide. Now it's becoming a concrete slide, just getting heavier and heavier and heavier.

BANFIELD: Not good news. We're going to continue to update and, again, they also said that there will be a 4:30 Eastern Time update from the medical examiner's office. They had said there were likely to be big changes in the body count today. Maybe that's what's going to happen later with the M.E.

Chad Myers, stand by. Lots of questions for you in a moment.

And I also want to get you updated on the newest information, and there is plenty, in the search area shifting in the effort to solve the mystery of the missing Flight 370. Forget those satellite images that we were so promised by yesterday. It was such great news. Well, that's old and this is new. The search area for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 shifting to a brand-new area. We'll tell you where it is, why it's better, and why it's promising today. Live from Australia, next.


BANFIELD: After three full weeks of shock and confusion, the dead ends and the mystery of Flight 370, it has really been a fruitful and potentially pivotal day, as well. Of 10 search planes that took off today from Perth, Australia, to check out a newly identified zone of interest, five of them, half of them, spotted multiple objects of various sizes and colors.

And not only that, but for the first time, a plane was able to come on back and do a second pass and actually relocate something that had been spotted by a plane before it. It's not clear if any of these objects actually came from the Boeing 777, which now vanished less than an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur March 8th, 22 days ago.

But the ships that are being sent out there are going to try to fish some of those objects out of the water at first light. Take a look at the photograph, though. One of the first photographs, actually.

It is after midnight now in that part of the world, but this new zone of interest is critical. It's almost 700 miles northeast of the earlier search areas. And it's based on a brand-new assumption that the airliner ran out of fuel a lot earlier because it burned up a lot of fuel a lot sooner in the flight. At least sooner than first expected, anyway.

This new area is closer to Australia, which is great because that allows the planes to fly a shorter distance and spend more time in the air circling in the search area than actually traveling to their commuter work space, so to speak.

And with that I want to bring in CNN correspondents Kyung Lah and Will Ripley, who are live in Perth right now at this midnight hour, and also CNN's meteorologist, Chad Myers, who's here live at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

Will, first I want you to get me to this newest and I think very exciting prospect, an actual photograph that was seen by two different crews. Walk me through how that information is now getting downloaded, since the crews have arrived back where you are.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, this is a late hour here. Normally things are kind of quieting down at Pierce Air Base. But the energy here tonight is palpable. As these planes have been landing, journalists have been coming up to us saying, look what we saw. And this is the picture right here, going viral. OK, I just scrolled past the picture. Here it is, Ashleigh. The picture going viral online. The iPad never cooperates when you want it to, does it? Anyway --

BANFIELD: We might have the same one you're talking about, Will, right up -- to the right of you. Yes, there it is.

RIPLEY: Let me tell you about the picture that you just showed. The CCTV image. You do. Yes. Yes. This thing is not cooperating with me. But you saw the picture, the square object. It's white. It's light gray. It's blue. They're floating around in the ocean.

And as you mention, a New Zealand aircraft spotted it first and then an Australian aircraft was able to see for the first time the same piece of debris. And those colors are fairly significant, Ashleigh, because the exterior of a Malaysia airliner would have those three colors, the white, the gray, the blue. A lot of other things would, as well. But those pictures, as we speak, are at a lab. They're being analyzed. People are looking at them.

And those ships. We have five ships headed to that area to join a Chinese vessel, which is already there. At first light, they're going to go to the site where that debris is. They're going to try to get it out of the water and see what it is. So, yes, a lot of - a lot of energy, a lot of momentum tonight here.

BANFIELD: And not only that, but, Kyung Lah, you just stepped off that Cadillac search machine, the P-8 Poseidon. You spent, I think, if my math was right, about 10 hours on that search mission out to the old zone and back. But give me a feel for what you saw and what your crew that you were with, what they're debriefing everybody back at that base. What's the information you can bring?

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you that immediately when we hit the search area -- and it was much easier, according to the crew, to get to the search area than the other one -- is it took about two hours and 20 minutes. When we dipped down, one of the crew immediately said that they saw something. He was seated to the left side. There's a window to the left of the plane, a window to the right side that looks out. Very large windows. He saw something.

The plane dipped down, and it made a dramatic turn. And then another crew member said, "I see something." And so we took two passes around. The camera in the front, also making sure that the other crew members did see, as well. So, in all, what the P-8 Poseidon was able to see, the crew members aboard, some white debris. We don't believe that it is connected to the New Zealand debris. But it was separate debris that was found nearby, near this search area. There was orange rope, as well as a blue bag.

Now, what the crew is saying is that they put the coordinates in, and that they have instructed a ship nearby, you know, communicating with the Australian authorities, to go to this area to look at it. We don't know if it's connected to the missing plane. But it is debris that was found.

BANFIELD: And, Kyung --

LAH: We should point out that there is a lot of sea junk in this area, Ashleigh, but this is certainly an intriguing bread crumb.

BANFIELD: And just clarify for me, because I have been following your trip since you announced it, I think with Wolf Blitzer yesterday. You were being held back in the hangar for bad weather and bam, you were mobilized and out you went.

But that was before the search area changed. So effectively, you got on the P-8 not knowing you were headed to the new zone. You thought you were headed to the old zone, but you effectively searched the new zone?

LAH: No, before we got on to this particular flight, they knew that this new search area was being pointed out. They knew that it had happened very dramatically, last-minute, that they were going to go to this new search area.

We had learned about it just a short time before arriving for the flight, and so what the new search area looks like is it's northeast of the old search area.

And the way the planes move is what I find really intriguing. They zigzag back and forth and it's almost like they're mowing the ocean. That's how one of the pilots described it. That's how close they get to the ocean. That's how carefully they look. The crew is determined to try to find some piece of debris and bring it back.

BANFIELD: I want to just bring Chad Myers into this, because this new zone, while on the map it may not look as significant, it is entirely different for all sorts of reasons. Lay them out for me.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: If you have a two hour and thirty flight two on back, that leaves you five hours, on site, not two. That is a big deal.

But, Kyung, can you tell me, what was the sea state like when you were out there? Were there still white caps out there? Was that still annoying, to see white on white, looking for a white plane, or was it better now?

LAH: Well, let's first talk about that five hours. It really was five hours on the sea right there, and they were able to spend a good deal of time looking.

As far as white caps, very, very minimal. The seas were very calm, and in the words of one of the crew members, if there's debris, we're going to find it.

MYERS: Is that the only piece of debris you saw in five hours?

LAH: It is the only piece of debris that we did manage to see. And, you know, given the weather conditions out there, I'm fairly convinced the way this crew was carefully combing the ocean with their eyes, they were using radar, they -- they were being very, very diligent, that they didn't miss anything else.

So, this was debris that was immediately spotted when we went in, three different pieces of debris, all in the general area.

BANFIELD: All right. Kyung Lah, live for us, excellent reporting, and thank you for the hustle, as well. She's just gotten off that extraordinarily long flight, and it's just great to know that there are actually -- there's a way to see it, and there is a professional there logging it and sending those coordinates back.

We're going to get deeper into that and exactly how they mark those spots, what the map is, and when they come back, how they download that information, how it's disseminated.

Now that the search area has shifted, are the objects seen early in those satellite images at different locations, are they relevant anymore? It's only been 24 hours since this was the lead story, 300 objects spotted by satellite. Do they even matter now? A panel will weigh in.


BANFIELD: If you're just tuning in, we've got some powerful new developments in the missing plane ordeal. Search planes over-flying a brand-new area, closer to Australia, have spotted and photographed, quote, "multiple objects" that may or may not be part of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

I want to write bring in my experts with this search and finds, the new location and what we can make of what was spotted so far today.

Michael Kay is a retired lieutenant colonel in the RAF, Royal Air Force, helicopter pilot.

Christine Dennison is the president and co-founder of Mad Dog Expeditions in New York and knows a whole lot about oceanography and has spent a lot of time on the water, as well.

And David Soucie is a CNN safety analyst and former aviation accident investigator.

David, I want to start with you. If you watched television last night and you turned television back on today, you got a very different story. Please clarify for me what seems to be very mixed messages coming from the officials in southeast Asia.

We had an old location, and 300 and 122 satellite objects spotted just 24 hours ago, and now we are close to 700 miles away, looking somewhere entirely different. Is all of that wasted? Do we even need to know about what we saw yesterday?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Well, I wouldn't use the word "wasted" because in any investigation, you have information that comes in, and you act on that information, and then if you're not seeing success there, you have to readjust, you have to decide, is the information good, and reevaluate it.

And I think that's what's happened here, this team has gotten back together and said, you know, this doesn't seem to be producing the results we expected. Let's look at it again. They did. And they ended up re-plotting that -- the speed of that aircraft.

BANFIELD: But I'm still a bit confused, because those satellite images, two sets of them, with hundreds of images of something floating in a confined space, all be it a large one, but a specifically outlined space, all of a sudden we're not even close to that anymore.

Does that mean that that debris field drifted to where we're looking now? Because they seem to be giving us mixed messages about looking for the actual plane as opposed to the drifting, floating debris.

SOUCIE: Yes, I don't have an answer for this floating debris, because I too was looking at it and trying to figure out, does it look like an airplane, does it not?

We talked about the wing possibly being in there, and I was convinced that 75-foot object was a wing. I'm disappointed that we're not ever going to find that out. They're never going to stay there and take a look at that. But with this new information must be very compelling, because for them to take the commitment to completely abandon that site and go to the other, there must be something very compelling that changed their mind about where to search.

BANFIELD: And as we heard from them, they said they have abandoned that first search location. They are not going back there.

Michael Kay, I want to bring you in as a pilot in the royal air force. When you heard the news that they spotted something, and a second plane for the very first time this has happened, a second plane was able to get a read on that object, whatever it was in the water, it made me wonder, what is it does a pilot do once you spot something?

I have seen the diagrams of the P-8 and something called a storage rack in the back. And I wondered if their jettisoned to mark the territory.

Kyung Lah reported they did the math coordinates and sent them in. What do you do as the pilot when you see something?

MICHAEL KAY, LIEUTENANT COLONEL, ROYAL AIR FORCE (RETIRED): Let me just touch on the first question first, Ashleigh.

What we're going through is a process of refinement here. You've had the Inmar satellite able to track out a range, and through correlation and mapping and frequency modulations of what they got back from the pings, they have managed to say there is a southern arc.

The bit we don't know, the unknown bits, are the endurance and speed of the aircraft, for me, still a big gap in the analysis in what happened after that jet after the transponder went off.

Did it go west across the Malacca Strait or turn directly south and start heading towards the area we're looking in? And unless we know that, it's going to be hard to track the endurance and the final ending place of the airplane.

To your second question about sono-buoys, this is the P-8 Poseidon aircraft. It's the most advanced maritime surveillance aircraft that the world knows today.

The Americans had it -- became initial operation capability in 2013 in December, so it's brand-new, and it's got a number of capabilities.

The one that you're talking about are the sono-buoys. It carries 120 of these sono-buoys. That's double the amount of the P-3 Orion.

And what the sono-buoys do is you get two variants. You get the active, and you get the passive. The passive listen. Let's not forget that this aircraft is used to hunt big submarines.

So, you'll get one of these sono-buoys ejected out into the aircraft, which means the aircraft will come into a slow, low fly-past. It will be ejected into the sea, and a passive sono-buoy will listen, and it will listen for the engines. It will listen to anything that can be associated with submarines or ships.

The active sono-buoys, they are sending out pings all the time. They will be able to potentially get some sort of information on debris. The passive, they'll be listening for the pings from the black boxes.

But again, they're used to hunt submarines, so the naked eye that you're talking about is absolutely vital.

BANFIELD: Sure. Sure.

KAY: And when I've done these search operations, the naked eye is the best thing that you can corroborate early, because satellite imagery, aerial imagery that will be taken from the (inaudible), it has to go back to the analysts.

The analysts will have to pore over this imagery for hours to make sure there is some sort of evidence to lend the search to go back and take a closer look.

And they'll be doing this, as someone has already pointed out. There is heaps of debris in this area, so it's a painfully frustrating process.

BANFIELD: So, when you were describing all of that, we were seeing the pictures of them jettisoning what I can only presume are those sono- buoys.

And, Christine, take me down to water level now. If they do get a marking on them, then what happens?

You know the currents. You know the way the waves play havoc with things on the surface. But this has got to be great news.

CHRISTINE DENNISON, PRESIDENT AND CO-FOUNDER, MAD DOG EXPEDITIONS: I think it is. I think it's fabulous, and it's exciting news, and I do believe we're moving ahead.

Keep in mind, we've been hampered by weather issues. What they're doing now is we've been able to -- or they have been able to get to an area which is now 123 square -- 123,000 square miles, which is still vast, but it is considerably smaller.

They're still having to operate on the seas to physically -- I'm sorry, to be able to make contact and physically identify these objects.

Now, ocean currents are ocean currents. They are going to continue drifting and carrying all this debris around this area.

So, they're still looking at -- even though they're picking up debris, there's still the potential that the point of impact could be thousands of miles away, and until they make contact with this debris, we're still sort of in this capsule of time where we're just waiting.

And as Michael said, they're collecting data, and that's a time- consuming process. One question I would have for Michael is I believe that we're still not really privy to a lot of information they have already collected or are collecting and that may be days before we have that.

But is that the case, that they may be holding on to some information they have that they're not ready to disclose?

BANFIELD: Quickly, Michael.

KAY: Yeah, it's a great question, Christine. Look, at the geopolitical level, there are all sorts of sensitives, especially when you start bringing in satellite imagery.

One of the main U.S. military satellites is the EROS-B. That's used by U.S. intelligence, and it's used by Homeland Security. It's in a low orbit around the world and it's high resolution, but the information that that will be providing will be pored over by China and sort of Russia.

So, they have to be very careful and very sensitive to what information they're releasing. So those geopolitical intelligence/security aspects will play a part in this investigation.

BANFIELD: All right, stand by, all three of you, if you will, because now that we have talked about the debris and we have seen some of those currents, look behind me.