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Mystery of Flight 370
Aired March 29, 2014 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Michael Smerconish.
You just heard a few minutes ago that they have recovered objects in the search for missing Malaysia Airline Flight 370. We have a host of experts ready to offer you their analysis of the latest news.
And here's more of what has happened. Chinese aircraft has spotted three suspicious objects in the new search area. The items are red, orange and white. Several planes and ships scoured the swath of ocean that is now the focus of the investigation. But the search area off the coast of Australia is massive. And with the ocean currents in the part of the world with dangerous and unpredictable weather, where do you even begin?
We'll ask that question to Colleen Keller, a former operations research analyst with the U.S. Navy. She also helped track down and find the wreckage of Air France Flight 447. David Glee is going to joins us this morning on the top of the information sharing. It seems not all of these countries looking for the missing flight are too keen about revealing to each other the kind of spying capabilities that each possesses.
Lawsuits are coming, as furious families look to hold someone accountable. Who better to talk on that subject than Arthur Wolk, attorney and founding partner of the Wolk Law Firm, a firm that specializes in aviation law and crash litigation.
The investigation has focused a lot on the pilot of Malaysia Flight 370. Former FBI profiler and special agent Mary Ellen O'Toole can tell us how investigators are digging into his background. And finding out what happened on that plane and in that cockpit in the final hours of its flight, crucial.
David Soucie is coming on set with me today. He's the author of the book "Why Planes Crash: An Aviation Investigator's Fight for Safe Skies."
So let's get started. As we are now about 10 days away from the flight recorder batteries running out, here is what I most want to know. Why is this taking so long? And specifically, I'm still looking for an answer to a question that I asked a guest here a week ago. Are geopolitics partly to blame?
On Friday, the search shifted to a different section of the Southern Indian Ocean than had been previously focused. The new area is nearly 700 miles northeast of the region previously targeted. It is also four times as large as where search teams had been focused just one day prior. The reason for the shift was an analysis of radar data between the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca before radar contact was lost.
This information suggested that the airplane was traveling at a higher rate of speed than previously believed and therefore ran out of gas sooner than was calculated. If true, it means that the search went on for nearly a week in the wrong area. And remember, for reasons that are still unclear, Malaysia did not announce until one week after the plane's disappearance that its military radar detected the jet flying west away from where the search was initially focused in the South China Sea.
Further complicating the search has been the weather, the wind and the ocean currents. But have the national security interests of those nations participating also hindered the search? I asked that question here last Saturday. And on Thursday the "New York Times" reported that while 26 nations, many typically rivals are working together to find the missing flight, the effort has also underscored the limits of trust among those powers.
Said the "Times," quote, "The imperative among participating countries to cloak their technological capacities and weaknesses has proved irresistible, at times hindering the search, military analysts say." The "Times" cited this example. Indian officials were reluctant to discuss radar data from the Bay of Bengal, along one of the plane's possible paths. Why? Apparently because the area is a weak spot in that country's coverage. A limitation they wish not to reveal.
There have also been complaints that China won't share all of its data and that when it has done so, the images have been altered to hide their true capability. Dumbed down according to one expert.
Thailand has come under scrutiny as well. Its radar picked up the jet heading west back on March 8th. But Thai officials waited 10 days to report that. The list goes on and on, and so did the allegations of secrecy and deceit.
We'll talk more about how that has shaped and hindered this search in just a little bit.
But let's start with the search itself and the planes, the ships, the specialized search equipment being used in the Indian Ocean. My first guest knows a great deal about these types of searches. Colleen Keller was on the team that helped to find the black boxes from Air France Flight 447 on the ocean floor.
Colleen, thank you for joining me. How did mathematical models help find Air France Flight 447?
COLLEEN KELLER, SENIOR ANALYST, METRON INC.: Michael, what my firm Metron is doing and what we did for Air France was to compose all the data in a Bayesian theorem model where we collect everything plus the uncertainties and lay out a probability map that highlights the most likely areas based on everything you know where the aircraft might have hit the water and the less likely areas.
It looks like a heat map. It's got hot and cold areas. And then as they search, what they should do is put effort into the most likely areas and reduce those probabilities. As you search and you don't find something, it reduces the likelihood that the aircraft was there and then you could move on to the next most likely areas. So this approach --
SMERCONISH: Is your approach being used by the Malaysians?
KELLER: It's not being used yet. We're hoping to be brought on board to assist in the search. As far as we can tell, they're just checking leads as they come in.
SMERCONISH: Is it necessary to constantly go back and research areas where satellite images have already been taken and where planes have already flown over because of the shifting nature of debris?
KELLER: Well, it's all a matter of knowing where to go next. What's the best bang for your buck. You never search perfectly. So it's still possible that there could be debris in the south that is from the aircraft. We might want to go back and revisit that but we do have to look at this new lead and confirm that something is there.
SMERCONISH: Colleen, one of the more astonishing things that I've learned this week is just how much debris -- pardon me for this, how much crap, is floating in the ocean. Can you speak to that?
KELLER: Not -- I've just heard other people say that there is a lot of out there and I know -- we see that when we do these searches. There's a lot of what we call false alarms.
SMERCONISH: Where do you think that this search goes next? You heard the reports and they're just breaking as we're speaking at this time that objects have been located. We don't know whether those objects yet are tied to the Malaysian flight. But where do you see this next going?
KELLER: So this is what theoretically should happen next. We bring these objects on board. We verify whether or not they're part of the aircraft. If they are, the next step is to get sensors in the water to detect the beacons from the black boxes if they are still active. In the Air France search both beacons were damaged and that's what caused that search to go for such a length of time. But usually these beacons do survive and we have the equipment a couple of days out.
We'll get it in the water. We'll start searching the underwater environment and see if we can pick those beacons up. If we do, we're golden. We really are on to the target. If we're back to square one and we don't have aircraft wreckage, it's just back to surface searching from aircraft.
SMERCONISH: Is it possible for you to give us an idea of how far things can drift in a period of days or in a period of a week, or is that weight dependent? Do you first need to know exactly what the object is that you're dealing with?
KELLER: It does help. Drift is a combination of the effect of the winds on the object which, in turn, is dependent on how high out of the water the object is riding, and then also the currents. That's what we call leeway. It's a mathematical combination of the two. And I've heard that the currents in the area are about a knot and in some areas, it is just eddies where things are swirling around. So we're looking at about the same types of currents that we were seeing down in the southern region.
SMERCONISH: Colleen Keller, thank you for your expertise.
KELLER: You're welcome.
SMERCONISH: The politics of the search. Countries may actually be holding something back in the investigation as they want to keep their secrets secret.
SMERCONISH: The search for Flight 370 has relied heavily on images like this. A grainy hard-to-see image of something in the water. An object that might or might not be part of the missing plane. But each of these images gives searchers a bit of hope. Hope that they may be a little closer to solving the mystery.
There is so much more to the satellite story in the search. And I want to really dig down on this topic and the politics behind what we've been allowed to see publicly.
For more on the role of geopolitics, I want to bring in aviation safety investigators David Gleave, who is a safety researcher at Loughborough University. He's investigated plane crashes on every continent. Also, Keith Masback is here. He's an expert on satellite technology and has extensive experience in intelligence gathering.
Keith, let me begin with you because folks should know your credentials include the fact that in your final three years of government service, you were responsible for determining where our classified imagine satellites were pointed each and every day. You're the perfect person for me to ask. Do you think that geopolitics are playing a role with regard to hindering this search?
KEITH MASBACK, CEO, GEOSPATIAL INTELLIGENCE FOUNDATION: I think when you look at the geopolitics of the region, Michael, absolutely, right? It is a -- it is a region which is contested. China, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines. Talking about shipping lanes, talking about oil reserves, talking about territorial integrity. There's a lot of tension in this area and certainly it's impacting what they're doing. What they're concerned about revealing to one another about capabilities.
SMERCONISH: Are they concerned about revealing both strength and weakness? Strength meaning that they don't want people to know that they have such a capability in a particular part of the world? Weakness meaning wow, that's dark -- it's a black hole for us and we don't want our adversaries to be aware of that fact?
MASBACK: Absolutely. In our business it's what we call sources and methods. And if people are able to determine what you can do and what you can't do, then it's going to -- going to give them an advantage if they ever are in a position where it's an adversarial relationship.
SMERCONISH: David Gleave, let me ask you for your impression of the role that geopolitics might be playing in this case. And in particular would you comment on the role of the Chinese? It's been pointed out that their satellite image looked awfully blurry for the known capability that they have. And folks are wondering if it was intentionally doctored?
DAVID GLEAVE, AVIATION SAFETY INVESTIGATOR: I can imagine that it would be intentionally doctored. They've said there's something here in this area, please go and have a look for it. I mean, we're identifying objects in the ocean and -- but it would be very helpful to get better pictures of them before we deploy assets into that area.
It never really looked like a wing or a tail, fin or anything like that. And appeared to be too big but they would be able to make much more precise measurements and release better imagery. But obviously they don't want to declare their capabilities in this particular area.
SMERCONISH: David, what about the role of the U.S. government in that regard? Because it seems like the satellite images have come from other nations, not from the United States. As we're talking about the role of geopolitics, might there be some culpability on the part of the States for not revealing all that we know all, all that we have?
GLEAVE: Well, I think we also have to be careful about the number of assets that we have to deploy within the geopolitical region. We still -- over to the west, we still got problems in Somalia as well. We may need to make sure that we're still focusing on real world problems rather than searching for a lost airplane.
That's one of the balances that we've got but it would be really useful if we had some submarines in the area starting to listen for the pinger units. And the problem being that if you start to deploy everybody's intelligence gathering submarines which are ideal for this, then they'll spend their whole time chasing each other around trying to listen to each other's capabilities rather than listening for the pinging unit.
So we do have a difficult balance to reach. And if assets are deployed out of the Indian Ocean region, then perhaps piracy will pick up. So we need to get a balance within the investigation of what we can deploy and what we can't deploy.
SMERCONISH: What do you make of the fact that the Malaysians apparently did not announce for a full week their awareness of the fact that the plane had taken a left turn? GLEAVE: Well, I've analyzed radar data for a lot of the investigations that I have been on. And it doesn't surprise me. We saw the shipping search go often in that direction a couple of days before it was announced. Now we are trying to get verifiable facts into the public domain. So you would want to verify that this primary radar trace was actually the airplane that had disappeared off secondary radar.
And to do that you would really want to look at the radar cross section of the airplane. And that's a relatively difficult thing to do. Fine, you have capability on board U.S. Frigates with their radars to measure things and say, OK, we know what type of airplane that is. But it's not normal capability within many nations to be able to take a few radar hits and say yes, we know what type of airplane that is. So to get a verifiable fact into the public domain may be different from private facts within the investigation.
SMERCONISH: Keith Masback, CNN reporting that two ships have now recovered something in that region. We're not sure if it's tied to the airplane yet. I can tell you that one of them is a Chinese warship that has retrieved a number of objects in the Southern Indian Ocean. So far, no objects confirmed to be related to MH-370. Your thoughts.
MASBACK: Well, we talked about this a little bit yesterday. You know, how do get to definitive information. And I said all along, debris fields are fascinating. Debris in the hands of someone who can verify that's something to do with that plane, that's definitive.
SMERCONISH: And, David Gleave, to have the debris, will that be enough? I'm wondering how essential it is to figuring out exactly what went on here that those black boxes are retrieved. Even if there's nothing on the voice recorder given that it only picks up the final two hours What would be most important to you as one who's investigated accidents?
GLEAVE: Well, one of the things that's being discussed is a potential suicide by somebody on board the airplane. I'm not saying whom. But in that case, we need the cockpit back as well as the digital flight data recorder to see what was switched off, when and the logical sequence of things. But also DNA tracings through the cockpit will be quite vital to establishing what went on as well.
SMERCONISH: David Cleave, Keith Masback, thank you so much for joining me, gentlemen.
We're staying with the search for Malaysian Flight 370. But we're also going to look at other headlines.
The zoo that killed the baby lions. What Chris Christie knew. And the guests who showed up between two ferns.
SMERCONISH: We'll get back to the search for Flight 370 in just a couple of moments. But first, I wanted to take a look at some of the week's other headlines. Headlines that got the story half right.
You saw this one. Number one comes from Newser. The headline was "Zoo that Killed Giraffe, Kills Four Healthy Lions." The zoo is the Copenhagen Zoo. This is the same zoo that very recently killed a healthy 18-month-old giraffe and then allowed school kids to watch as lions ate the euthanized remains.
By the way, those lions that ate the remains are the same ones that we're talking about in this headline. Turns out that the four lions were put down in anticipation of the arrival of a healthy 3-year-old. And the concern was that when the 3-year-old entered the dynamic, he would kill the males and potentially he'd mate with the female. They tried to place the cubs, so says the zoo, but they were unable to do so.
Looks like, they sat, is a jungle out there. Here is how I would have written this headline. It would have been "Zoo Speeds Up Natural Selection."
Number two, this one comes from Mediaite. Representative Mike Rogers leaving Congress to host radio show. This story fascinated me. Mike Rogers is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He's a Republican in a Republican-controlled House. He's got an awfully important job. He's a former FBI agent. The guy gives good sound which is why you often see him on television and hear him on radio interviews. And so now he's chosen in that direction.
I see this as a sign of who really wields power in Washington. And it's not the Congress. It is not the Congress held in low regard by the American people. It is not the Congress that is plagued by gridlock. No, it's people who have microphones in front of them. And I think that's a shame because too often I see our elected officials taking too much direction from individuals who are driving in the polarized media via their platforms.
So here's the way I'd have written this headline. "Conservative Radio Hosts Have More Influence than Congress."
And now for number three. More than six million people have signed up for Obamacare. That's coming from the "L.A. Times," and frankly a lot of other newspapers.
Yes, the White House on Thursday, announced that they have reached the six million milestone. Of course the deadline for this first phase of enrollment is on Monday. They are shy of the seven million that was the initially articulated goal. But it's still a pretty strong number. But we still don't know who is in the pool.
And remember, the economic viability of the Affordable Care Act demands that in that pool you have balanced interests meaning the healthy and the non-healthy alike. And only when there is a proper balance will we know that this model is really going to fly. Of course, this announcement comes soon after the president did that interview with Zach Galifianakis and word is that 25 percent of the enrollees under the Affordable Care Act so far are relatively young Americans. So here's the way I would have written this headline. "Young Invincibles Gathered Between Two Ferns."
And finally, number four, from newjersey.com and the "Newark Star Ledger." Chris Christie Seen in Positive Light in Internal Bridge Scandal Review." You know by now there was an investigation initiated by the Christie administration to take a look at his role and the role of others in his administration vis-a-vis bridgegate. And this internal survey has concluded that Governor Christie himself had clean hands.
It's a 360-page review that was generated. It was generated by an attorney and a law firm with whom the governor enjoys close ties. It reportedly costs nearly $1 million, although yesterday, in his press availability, Governor Christie seemed to dispute that amount. Many are dubious as to the findings because of the close connection between the governor and those who conducted the survey.
There's just one problem with this review so far. And that is that the report acknowledges that the Port Authority official who closed the George Washington Bridge, that would be David Wildstein, apparently has told individuals that indeed he did report to Governor Chris Christie on September 11th, by the way, that those lanes were closed. And if true, that contradicts what Governor Christie has said repeatedly.
By the way, my question about this case is, who gets the David Wildstein or Bridget Kelly interview? Hopefully it'll be me. But here's the way I would have written this headline. "Aide Says Christie Knew While the Lanes Were Closed."
Mechanical failure, human error or an intentional act. Authorities aren't ruling anything out in the Flight 370 investigation, but they are keeping the pilot of the plane as the center of their search for answers.
SMERCONISH: We want to get you up to speed on breaking developments this morning. We've learned crews have recovered objects in the search for missing Malaysia Flight 370. Chinese aircraft spotted three suspicious objects in the new search idea. The items are red, orange and white. Several planes and ships scoured the swath of ocean that is now the focus of the investigation.
But let's not forget that there's also an ongoing investigation into why the plane went missing. And that, according to Malaysian police sources remains focused on the pilot. His youngest son, seen here, was asked this week about the investigation and he said he still doesn't believe all those people are dead, including his father. He says he won't believe it until he sees evidence otherwise.
Joining me now is Mary Ellen O'Toole, who's a former FBI agent and special agent and profiler.
And, Mary Ellen, just so people appreciate your credential, you worked the Elizabeth Smart case, the Natalee Holloway case, the Columbine Case as part of a long list of others that you took a look at. What is icon influence and how does it play a role in this case?
MARY ELLEN O'TOOLE, FORMER SENIOR FBI PROFILER: Icon influence means that a person, for example, a person that the FBI may be looking at who could have been involved in a case, holds a position of status. And that position of status could be a police officer, a coach, a Catholic priest. But their position makes them important and so the general public will look at them and say they could not have done anything wrong because they are so important in our society.
And when that icon influence happens, it can actually influence in a negative way the investigation.
SMERCONISH: You're bringing to my mind, at least, the Jerry Sandusky case.
O'TOOLE: Very much -- very much present in that case as well as other very high profile cases.
SMERCONISH: Mary Ellen, don't you think by now, and I recognize that we're all, including you, despite your credentials on outside looking in. But don't you think that by now, if the investigation had turned up something relative to the pilots, relative to the crew, relative to the passengers, word in the last three weeks would have gotten out, and frankly there's been total silence. Not a single piece of evidence with regard to any of those three groups?
O'TOOLE: Well, let me address it this way. The public and the media will not have access 100 percent to the investigation and what the investigation is uncovering. But number two, what I'm hearing in the media is that people are looking at what I call normal -- trappings of normalcy. Someone has -- you know, is married with children, has a good family life. That happens in all investigations.
We are looking at the wrong things. When I say we I'm talking about the general public. The investigators, on the other hand, they're really drilling down into the personalities, not just of the pilots, but the flight crew and the passengers, and they are looking for nuances in their personality. Changes that occurred right before the flight. They're looking for how people handled stress, how people handled anger.
What happened in their life right before this event that could have basically changed their life and yet on the outside, they look particularly normal. So we're looking for the subtleties that the general public may not be aware of and that may not be released to the press certainly at this point.
SMERCONISH: Are those factors that most interest you as a profiler? I'm glad that you brought this up because there was a report from the CEO of the Malaysian Airline this week that pilots do undergo psychological testing. Are those factors that you're most interested in discernible by a psychological profile?
O'TOOLE: The psychological testing is very important. But what happens is just like with the FBI agents and police officers, when you are tested, that's a point in time. And that has a shelf life. So you can go for a couple of years and every one of us have stressors. Divorces, deaths in the families, disappointments. So those tests that we took a year and a half ago may not measure those day-to-day conflicts that can build up that can cause us to act in ways that others may say that's not typical of that individual.
And yet when you peel away their personality, it may be more consistent with them than what you think. But the test itself has a shelf life.
SMERCONISH: Mary Ellen, something else I wanted to get your reaction to. Interpol says that Malaysia Immigration never checked passengers against Interpol data prior to the disappearance of Malaysia Flight 370. If that's true, that would seem rather troubling.
O'TOOLE: Well, it could on the surface appear to be troubling, yes. And what will become again important is to take that same deep involved look at everyone on that plane. And then you can start to put people in categories. And that's really the best way to do it. People in group one, not likely that they could have any involvement in this. And then you narrow it down to people that could. They may or may not be people on the Interpol list.
But you have to go much deeper than someone just appeared on an Interpol list or someone took flight training. You have to go much deeper when you look at someone's personality and say what is it about them that could have enabled them -- if human error is involved, what could have enabled them to have carried something like this off? What were the triggering factors that occurred prior to -- prior to this plane taking off? So it's --
SMERCONISH: Thank you, Mary Ellen.
O'TOOLE: It's more than looking at normalcy. You're welcome.
SMERCONISH: Mary Ellen O'Toole, thank you so much.
And from the pilots to the families, there are sure to be lawsuits coming. What can the families expect from a case so unique? My next guest is going to break it all down.
SMERCONISH: Let's talk for a moment now about the families of those on Flight 370. It's been heart wrenching to see them taken from pillar to post emotionally as they waited for word on the plane's fate. Now they know the Malaysian government says there are no survivors but still there's no evidence and hence no closure.
But while that plays out, the father of one of those passengers is moving ahead and just preparing a lawsuit.
Joining me now is Arthur Wolk. He's an attorney specializing in aviation cases. He's also himself a pilot.
Arthur, give me your perspective on the investigation and the way it's been conducted thus far.
ARTHUR WOLK, AVIATION ATTORNEY: I think, Michael, there have been two investigations. One of which we don't know much about, which is the official investigation. And since governments move very slowly, it's taken them a long time to ramp up to do what they need to do to try to use the science to find the airplane and try to figure out what happened.
Then, of course, there's the contemporaneous media investigation, which I think has been focused on following every lead whether the lead has been substantiated or not. So you have two things going on at the same time. One, the media is talking about every possible -- possibility that may have caused the crash and you have the governments trying to organize this thing so they can bring science to bear. Sometimes they don't always coalesce.
SMERCONISH: Ultimately, does it all get sorted out in an American court of law?
WOLK: Well, I'm not sure on this one because we have so many international passengers. We have an international airline. People were not destined to go to the U.S. They were going to China. And so I think one of the problems is going to be getting jurisdiction, meaning the power of the court to hear the case in a U.S. courtroom.
Now you mentioned before that someone has already filed suit. That was in Chicago. And that's because Boeing's headquarters is in Chicago and the Chicago courts are very -- I would say very favorable to hearing cases that affect the common people.
SMERCONISH: Arthur, will you speak to the insurance issue and specifically the relative range of payouts on an annual basis for aircraft physical damage as compared to loss of loved ones? You know the issue that I'm referring to.
WOLK: Of course. Most people think that airplane crashes that result in injuries or death to passengers is the principal cost in the insurance market. The actual truth is that in the international aviation insurance marketplace, more money is paid out on an annual basis for airplane and engine repairs and replacements than it is or ever has been for the deaths or injuries to passengers.
SMERCONISH: Yesterday, I flew across country on JetBlue, watching CNN in real-time. I watched Chris Christie's press conference for an hour during my flight. What's wrong with this picture that there's not real-time transmission of data from the cockpit if we have the technology to allow everybody sitting back in coach to watch TV?
WOLK: It is really a scandal. There is absolutely no reason why an airplane can be continuously sending its information on its health to the ground so they can station parts and a mechanic at the next destination so the airplane can be dispatched quickly and not provide information that would be necessary to investigate an accident. It's the same information essentially.
It's the same electronic media that is used and if you are worried about somebody looking at the information to enforce a rule against the pilot, store the information on the cloud while -- unless there is an accident that requires an investigation.
SMERCONISH: The lead story in today's "Washington Post," and I'm holding it in my hand, "Flight 370, A Mysterious One-Off Spurs Calls to Modernize Tracking Technology." Will this be the legacy of Flight 370? Might this finally change the situation you've just described?
WOLK: I certainly hope so. I think it's a longtime and coming. Most of the opposition has come from pilots unions who don't want this information to be used for enforcement actions against them or for actions -- personnel actions against them for their performance in the cockpit.
But I must tell you, most airline pilots I have come in contact with are consummate professionals. They really work at their craft. So I think that concern is really unfounded. And I think in today's technology, it's a scandal that we don't have this real-time information being provided not only for accident investigation, but just so it's available in the instance that one needs to improve one's skills in training or otherwise.
SMERCONISH: Arthur Wolk, thank you for your insights.
SMERCONISH: Items are found bit by bit or are they? We are looking at three weeks, three weeks since this plane disappeared. And it's not that no one wants to find it. My next guest will help us understand why they can't.
SMERCONISH: Just a clues begin to come in on the search for missing Flight 370, hopes rise and then they fall. Search areas change and so does the flight path investigators think the plane took.
The search for this plane seems to change daily and crews have found it difficult to lock in on what happened and where. This investigation needs to move forward, and fast.
I want to bring in David Soucie. He's a CNN safety analyst and author of the book "Why Planes Crash."
David, welcome. Let me pick up where I just left off with what Arthur Wolk. Is this going to be the game changer in terms of how data is transmitted from airplanes?
DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: I have no confidence that it will at all?
SMERCONISH: Really? Why not?
SOUCIE: No, I don't. Because here we are -- four, five years at least -- four or five years after Flight 447 and recommendations by the French government to extend the life of the pingers from 30 days to 90 days haven't been implemented. So if that wasn't tragic enough -- and this is a repeated concept, the regulators at this point need to step forward and actually do something about it. And I've lost confidence in their ability to do that.
SMERCONISH: CNN reporting this morning that debris has been located. We don't know whether it's yet connected to MH-370. What debris from that plane would be most telling to you or an accident investigator beyond the black boxes? What would you most want to retrieve?
SOUCIE: What I want to retrieve would be the inside of the aircraft. Pieces from the interior of the aircraft.
SOUCIE: My suspicion is that the lithium batteries is what's caused this and the gasses from that are very specific. They're hydrogen, chloride gasses with sulfuric acid mixed. So both of those have been itemized and throughout the cockpit. That's the only thing I can figure out in my mind would have debilitated the crew and the passengers.
SMERCONISH: Are there aspects of this aircraft more likely to float than of others? And if so what would they be?
SOUCIE: You have flight control surfaces, the -- specifically the interior elevator would be a nice square piece. If it were upside- down it would be similar to the square one that we saw yesterday. But I don't have a scale so I can't really -- those photographs are difficult because you don't have a scale like you do with the satellite so it's difficult for me at this point with the information I have to identify those parts.
SMERCONISH: With each of these reports of debris having been spotted and now having been retrieved, as a lay person I say to myself, well, if they are representative of Malaysian Flight 370 they would have had to emanate from one spot. It would seem to me that a model could be concocted that would show whether -- with the sea currents the debris would all be able to be traced back to one location.
I don't feel like I'm articulating this well but hopefully you know what I'm trying to say.
SOUCIE: That's OK. I know exactly what you're trying to say. Now especially in this new area because it's encouraging. This new area doesn't have the roaring 40s doing gown underneath. This isn't an area where you've got swirling patterns as much as you did before. So I'm hopeful that at this point they would want to travel that much.
SMERCONISH: Have you ruled anything out?
SOUCIE: Absolutely not. As an accident investigator, this is what I've done for 17 years for the FAA you can't rule anything out, although, you have to qualify and you have to assign levels of confidence to every event, every fact to make sure that it is truly that. In this case we have very few facts, we have few events that have been recorded. So it makes it extremely difficult to try to narrow down. You have to make some assumptions that are beyond your level of comfort as far as your confidence in those assumptions?
SMERCONISH: Have you reached any personal opinion relative to whether this plane was flying on autopilot or being manually driven at the time prior to the crash?
SOUCIE: There's no question in my mind it was running on autopilot. The way that it's got a straight flight path. But again, we have very little clues as to where it was. There's questions to whether it was at 20,000 feet or 35,000 feet. So -- but as far as the flight path goes it's very possible not only autopilot but this aircraft is very well trimmable. So you trim the aircraft to its best configuration. Even without autopilot, it potentially could fly for hundreds of miles without ever deviating from course.
SMERCONISH: OK. Another of my naive questions. Where was it going? Presumably the coordinates that were put into the computer model didn't say let's crash in the Southern Indian Ocean. Right?
SOUCIE: Right. Right.
SMERCONISH: It would have been to a spot, it would have been to an airport.
SMERCONISH: What airport?
SOUCIE: Well, I think that at the time that it made the turn around, if -- following the theory of the lithium batteries or some kind of mechanical failure, the pilot in my mind would have been turning around and going to Subang. Now Subang is just near Kuala Lumpur. But the difference is that that's their maintenance base. So if the severity of the event, if he underestimated the severity of the event, he would have said gees, we're not going to make it where we're headed to Beijing, so let's turn around, let's go back to the maintenance base.
They're not going to go back to Kuala Lumpur if their thinking it's not a severe emergency. They want to get it back to the maintenance base where they can fix the problems and turn that aircraft around.
SMERCONISH: Would that not have necessitated a mayday call or would that not be the sort of thing that rises to a mayday call?
SOUCIE: It definitely would have been. And whenever you're going off course like that it does -- it would -- also the ACAR system would have sent an emergency message, saying something is happening here, the throttles have come back, we're diving down to 12,000 feet. So at that point in my mind when they made the turn the ACAR system was already disabled.
SMERCONISH: Real quick. A bad -- the person of bad intention would have wanted to turn off a transponder but there'd be no motivation to turn off ACAR, correct, or disable it?
SOUCIE: Yes, of course there would because remember, ACAR is sending as many as 10,000 points a second.
SMERCONISH: Thanks so much for being here, David Soucie. Appreciate your time.
Some families of those aboard Flight 370 received a text telling them the plane was considered lost for good. A text. Was it rude? Maybe. I'm going to tell you what really wasn't all that uncommon about the text.
SMERCONISH: One last thing, Malaysia Airlines was roundly criticized this week for sending a text to the family members of the missing passengers from Flight 370. Notifying them electronically of the worst possible news.
The text said, in part, "We deeply regret that we have to assume beyond any reasonable doubt that MH-370 has been lost and that none of those on board have survived."
The company's CEO said that that was the best way to reach family members who the airline didn't reach by phone or talk to in person. And I should add that members had signed up for this means of communication.
Quote, "Whenever humanly possible, we did so in person with the families or by telephone using SMS only as an additional means of ensuring fully that nearly 1,000 family members heard the news from us and not from the media," the CEO further explained. He then added that they had little time to deliver the news before it was known to the world.
One man who lost his older sister aboard the flight immediately texted back, "F You." Many public relations professionals have criticized the airline's text. And I'm not going to defend it but nor do I believe it's an aberration. Rather I see it as a sign of the times.
Mark Tatge, he's a professor at DePauw University's Center for Contemporary Media. He agrees. He told CNN, "It's symptomatic of a breakdown in the way society communicates. Cheap, fast, and efficient but there's no emotion."
And all I needed to do was review my recent in Bin to see that he's right. Last Wednesday I received an e-mail from a close friend alerting me to the fact that I had not opened her electronic birthday card which was sent one week prior when I was celebrating a milestone. Well, the truth is I had seen the electronic card, I knew what it was. I just didn't bother to click on it. If it had come in the mail I would have torn the envelope open.
Another friend recently e-mailed me to say that his 87-year-old father had passed. His notification was well written. He said, quote, "Dad would also ask that you read a newspaper every day and never miss the opportunity to vote in local, state, and national elections." I e- mailed back, I said, "I had the privilege of meeting your father several times. I'm so sorry to hear the news." But shame on me I didn't take the time to pen a letter of condolence or to pick up the phone and call personally which I'm sure would have meant much more. So I'm guilty as charged. I bet we're all complicit in the lack of the personalization these days. And while I can't condone the text informing loved ones awaiting news nor can I condemn it when viewed within the context of today's use of social media.
That's all from this morning. I will be hosting at 9:00 p.m. all week long starting Monday, and I hope you tune in. Otherwise, see you back here next Saturday.