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Analysis of Flight 370 Investigation; Weather Conditions on Search Spot; Earthquakes in Los Angeles; Possible Legal Actions Against Malaysia Air and Malaysia Government

Aired March 30, 2014 - 06:30   ET


CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: The photo was taken at the royal family's London residence, Kensington Palace. Family heads to New Zealand and Australia next week. Looks like a happy baby.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: This morning we're learning more about the personal flight simulator that was taken from the home of pilot - the pilot of Flight 370. A law enforcement source tells CNN that forensic experts believe data was overwritten on the flight simulator and not deleted in an effort to hide something.

PAUL: So, is it too soon to rule out foul play by the captain? I want to bring in the retired airline pilot John Ransom with us. John, thank you so much for being here.


PAUL: So, the fact that investigators, and they say they're not finished with their investigation of this yet, but they can conclude that what was deleted was not deleted intentionally to hide something. Is there anything anywhere in this investigation so far that you think points to the pilot doing something nefarious?

RANSOM: Not at all. I think the pilot has been shown to be - to have a background that has not indicated anything that might have caused him to be predisposed to do something to the airplane. And that is not unexpected.

PAUL: So, do you think foul play could be ruled out on their part?

RANSOM: No, no, it's too early. I mean it's not to say that something didn't take place that one or the two of them may have started. I just think it's way too early to be able to tell one way or the other.

BLACKWELL: John, I think one reason that so many people around the world are fascinated with this story and want answers about 370 is because so many people fly and there are Boeing 777 everywhere.


BLACKWELL: What do these unanswered questions, the lack of information, what does that mean to the airline industry, to the flying public at large? RANSOM: Well, luckily the 777 has been around a while, has amassed millions of hours of flight time by now and that it's been shown to be very, very safe airplane. On the other hand, having this big question mark out there does put a little bit of hole - over the whole industry until we can find out what happened. So, essentially, there is three phases of the recovery in the investigation. The first phase is just to make sure that they can find parts of the airplane, which has taken at least three weeks so far. The second will be to, once they found that, to actually find out where the wreckage is. And the third will be to find out what caused the accident in the first place. And that could take a very long time for a question mark to be up there for that long.

PAUL: We were just talking about with Tom Foreman the fact that it's such a mountainous region underneath the water.

RANSOM: Right.

PAUL: In your experience in terms of what you know about these planes, once it hits the water, we know that it breaks apart to some degree. I was wondering what happens as it goes down if it hits one of those mountainous peaks, would it break apart even further, in your opinion, making it more difficult or does it generally once it starts sinking stay intact?

RANSOM: I don't know that much about what the airplane would do under the water.


RANSOM: I do know that the more mountainous the terrain, the more difficult it would be to find. On the other hand, I was involved in an accident investigation for an airliner not as large as the 777, but an airliner that crashed into a river and in that accident we knew right where the recorders were, we knew within a 200 yard radius where the recorders were and it took us well over a week to find them. So, just the sheer magnitude of this recovery is difficult to imagine how they're going to find the recorders.

BLACKWELL: Now, in that investigation and that's interesting because we were talking during the break about the possibility that the signal from the pinger could be blocked by some of these underwater mountains. Did you find in your investigation of this search in the river that the terrain below the water can block the signal horizontally?

RANSOM: No, in this case, the water was shallow enough, it was mostly the debris field that was difficult to negotiate to find the recorders. Now, when you get to deep water and there's thermoclines and things like that that actually could block the signal that becomes an issue, as well.

PAUL: The families came out today overnight, really, saying, and I'm quoting here, we want evidence, we want truth and we want our family. How vulnerable do you think is Boeing, is Malaysia Air to lawsuits from this family, even if we don't find anything? RANSOM: I don't know how vulnerable they would be. I know that Boeing's focus right now is just to assist in the accident recovery and investigation as well as they can. So, I'm sure there is a side of Boeing that is used to being sued whenever there is any incident that involves a Boeing airplane. And I'm sure the engine manufacturers - the same way, most any component that's on the airplane, they know they're probably not shielded from being approached with lawsuits, even this early in the investigation.

BLACKWELL: John, we've talked a lot about the pilots, the captain, the co-pilot, their homes, their families, their family lives, we've seen pictures, we've seen video. But we don't know much of anything about the crew members there. Do you think we should and possibly why haven't we heard much about that?

RANSOM: Well, there is privacy issues, obviously. This is a very difficult time for all of them, as it is for the passengers. So, I think over a period of time information about them will come out, as if their families want it, it should. Each of them has a story and in any accident, you find out little pieces of that story and it's intriguing.

PAUL: All right.

BLACKWELL: Aviation's safety specialist John Ransom, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

RANSOM: My pleasure.

PAUL: Thanks, John.

And for more on the active search for Flight 370, we want to bring in meteorologist Alexandra Steele, because we know the weather has hampered efforts out there, what does it look like right now for them today?

ALEXANDRA STEELE, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, it doesn't look good on the horizon. So, we'll talk about the future forecast. You know, listening to John talking about the difficulty within 200 yards in a river and this is the area we're looking for. Right, you talk about a needle in a haystack. Haven't even found the haystack. It's how they are saying it. You know, this is a size of New Mexico. And here, of course, is where we are. That sonar, though, can be heard to a depth of 20,000 feet and it's going to be bouncing off these mountains that are actually these boulders under water that are the size of houses. So, here's a look. There it is. There's the size of New Mexico, the search area. The depth of the water is really immense and you certainly can see this broken bridge that we have been talking about. It's kind of like an underwater cliff. So, the sonar will be bouncing off all of these massive boulders that are as big as homes. The depth here, two to four miles deep within the water. Contingent upon where that's found in the search area, kind of the northern portion is a little more shallow and also a little flatter than the southern portion, is really more rocky terrain.

Also these objects you can see, unbelievable. Now, they just can move 25 miles at least in a day, so that's why they're finding these potential pieces hundreds of miles from each other, because these currents are so strong and sometimes they're even stronger. Farther north, they're stronger than farther south within this parameter, the size of New Mexico. So, there's the average height of the wave, which is six feet in height. Now, compare that to the old search area where those heights of the waves were between 16 and 19 feet high. So, so many variables. Old location, new location now within this location. Many variables, as well.

In terms of the forecast, this is a forecast model looking out. So, what we see, we've got some wet weather coming in. So, it's going to be a rough day on Monday with clouds and showers. Also, of course, the winds were really for their Monday searching will be rough. 20 to 30-mile-per-hour wind gusts. So, we're back at that, again. And then of course, here's the weather day by day. Monday the weather will be rough, Tuesday we're looking at decent weather, because this is the big world here and all these areas of low pressure. Wednesday it is bad, Christi, Thursday it is going to be good and Friday it is good as well. Now, we get into some more rougher seas again.

PAUL: Alexandra Steele, thank you.


BLACKWELL: Still to come on "NEW DAY", this weekend's quakes in the Los Angeles area left cracked buildings, broken glass and relatively minor damage. But could these tremors mean the area is getting closer to the big one?



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everything's fallen over. And there's cracks inside our building and the floor separated from the walls. Everything fell off. Our kitchen's a mess. It got worse as it went on. I didn't think it would be as bad as this. I didn't think there is going to be too much damage.


BLACKWELL: Jennifer lives in Los Angeles and she's describing that 5.1 magnitude earthquake that rattled the Los Angeles area Friday. It was followed by several aftershocks and another 4.1 quake on Saturday.

PAUL: Yesterday, yeah, no significant injuries, fortunately. A lot of toppled furniture, though, broken glass, even some broken water main and I'm thinking probably some rattled nerves, too, at this point.

BLACKWELL: Certainly. Certainly. And these earthquakes were yet another reminder that California lies along a fault line, several fault lines and that a mega quake could devastate the region.

PAUL: Yeah, in fact, L.A. mayor came out and said tonight, he said after Friday, tonight's earthquake is the second in two weeks and reminds us to be prepared. Prepared for what is the question. Seismologists were wondering, can they predict the big one and when it will hit that area, if at all. Nick Valencia finds out.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Major earthquake. At 8:00 we have one that was about only 3.6 this one felt like it was about a 10.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It may have felt like a ten to this CNN I-Reporter but Friday night's earthquake in Los Angeles was nowhere near the big one. Still, people are wondering.

(on camera): Is there a chance that tonight's earthquake could be a pre-shot before a larger earthquake?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There always is. Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Five percent of California earthquakes are followed by something larger within three days.

VALENCIA: The trembler centered along the Puente Hills Fault. It was one of the strongest in California since the devastating 1994 Northridge earthquake, 20 years ago. That quake registered 6.7 on the Richter scale, killing more than 50 people and causing an estimated $42 billion in damage. CNN meteorologist Alexandra Steele says the chance for a catastrophe like Northridge exists anywhere a fault line is present.

STEELE: Our planet's seemingly stable surfaces are actually constantly moving, and it's composed of enormous rock that's slowly moving underneath our feet. And when they rub and touch and crash against each other or crack, then there is this massive release of energy and that's an earthquake.

VALENCIA (on camera): But we still can't predict a big one - the big one is unpredictable.

STEELE: Unpredictable. You know, in the last 100 years we can detect them. We know their origin, their magnitude, but one thing yet we don't know is when they will happen.

VALENCIA (voice over): And while scientists still can't predict the big one, that hasn't stopped some from imagining the dooms day scenario. The USGS said recently California has a 46 percent chance of a magnitude 7.5 or larger in the next 30 years and that it would likely hit southern California. A recent virtual earthquake study by Stanford University tried to envision what would happen if the big one did hit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The waves travel through that corridor towards Los Angeles and are essentially guided into the sedimentary basin that underlies Los Angeles. Once they're in that basin, they reverberate, they get amplified and they cause stronger shaking and whatever it ...

VALENCIA: The scale of disaster that hopefully won't become a reality any time soon. Nick Valencia, CNN, Atlanta. (END VIDEOTAPE)

PAUL: Thank you, Nick.

So, as we try to understand what happens on Flight 370. Martin Savidge is taking us on this one - is a really harrowing ride inside a 777 simulator. You're going to get a virtual look at how Flight 370 may have gone down into the ocean. But it's terrifying. Still to come.


PAUL: 29 minutes past the hour right now. They have not ruled out foul play in the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. However, one of the stronger theories coming out by experts is that there was some sort of mechanical failure or, you know, fire onboard which is really frightening when you think this plane could have been flying on auto pilot for hours. What was that like? What did it mean?

BLACKWELL: Yes, with no one in control and no one watching the controls. So, we go into it now, a flight simulator with CNN's Martin Savidge to show us what might have happened during the 777's mysterious last hours and its final descent. Martin, good morning.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Victor. Good morning, Christi. As this new effort is focused on the new search site, we have been looking at ways that the 777 might possibly have gone down. This is important to know because depending on how it went into the water could depend on the kind of debris or wreckage that is found. But this scenario, Mitchell Casado here has set it up so that the engines are shutting down now. This is to simulate running out of fuel. But what we're going to do is we're going to leave the auto pilot on. If the auto pilot were off the plane might make a gentle descent towards the ocean but eventually tumble when it hit the water. With the auto pilot still on, you get a very different effect. And that's what we are going to demonstrate here. So, what are we seeing here?

MITCHELL CASADO: The engines are both shut down here. You can see this, this is the left engine, this is the right engine, this is engine shut down. Basically the temperatures are cooling down and the arc (INAUDIBLE) is decreasing.

SAVIDGE: OK. And we also know that without any engines we're not really climbing any more.


SAVIDGE: But the aircraft is trying to maintain altitude.

CASADO: It is. You can see here we're going to stall in a few seconds. We're trying to maintain 9,000 feet, because that's the way we have set in an auto pilot. An airplane now is going to start stalling because it can't - it doesn't have any more forward thrust.

SAVIDGE: You are going to turn - to hold the nose up, even though it cannot.

CASADO: That's right.

SAVIDGE: There's the first signal. And, now, that's the stick shaker meaning ...

CASADO: The stick shaker meaning the stick would start shaking to warn the pilots would stall.

SAVIDGE: And that essentially means the aircraft has lost lift. The nose is coming up, coming up dramatically. Now, the sink rate alarm is going off which means we're starting to fall. Aircraft becomes extremely unstable and you can tell that by the horizon. We're literally now falling tail first into the water and I think we'll stop it before we reach that point because it's really too severe to show you. So, that's one way that this aircraft might have gone down. And it would have struck the ocean with great force. Christi and Victor.

PAUL: Martin Savidge, in that 777 simulator, thank you so much, Martin.

BLACKWELL: Thank you, Martin.

Well, you know that the families continuing to grieve now have gone some of them from China to Malaysia. They're demanding answers and we're taking a look at what sort of long, hard, legal battle may be ahead for them and just how much Malaysia Air may be liable here.



AUDIENCE (chanting)


BLACKWELL: A demand, not just a chant there in Malaysia and they're saying, we want evidence. We want truth. We want our family. That's what dozens of Flight 370 families are demanding now after more than three weeks of heartache and confusion and, of course, the mixed messages.

PAUL: And this, this news conference here just really showed their agony as they were demanding answers, not just answers but transparency, specifically from officials in Malaysia.

BLACKWELL: Criminal defense attorney Brian Silver joins us now for more on what is next for these understandably devastated families. Good to have you this morning. The first question here, what are their rights here? I would imagine that in many ways some people would feel powerless, but what are their rights?

BRIAN SILVER, ATTORNEY: Well, first of all, we have to understand that this case, if the legal matter does develop is going to be about getting the truth for these victims. It's not about profitability as most people might think, but their rights as victims are the number one thing that is going to drive this case. And this will be a wrongful death action. So, whenever you lose a family member, let's say, God forbid a parent, a sibling, a child, you have the right to get compensation for that loss. From a legal perspective, that's what that is going to be about in the courtroom.

PAUL: OK, so the bottom line is the plaintiffs need a viable theory of negligence to bring about a lawsuit.

SILVER: Absolutely.

PAUL: How can families find negligence if we can't even find the plane right now? How does that all work?

SILVER: I get that question all the time. You know, and quite frankly, it's just like a homicide case where they don't have a body. OK? There are other sources of evidence, other than knowing that the plane actually crashed and where it crashed. You know, number one, for instance. We know that this plane was intentionally diverted. That is a fact everybody agrees on it. Number two, we know that the datacom was disconnected. That's a fact. Everybody agrees on it. And based on those two things, there are a slew of theories of liability. For instance, why did Boeing design an airplane where you can disconnect the datacom? I mean we live in a post-9/11 world where the NSA can follow my cell phone 24/7. Why can't we know where a jet airplane is full of passengers? It's just unacceptable. You know, that would have been a very affordable, cheap thing to do for them to find where the airplane is. Second, why did the government of Malaysia not seek help from other countries? They - you know, it's very clear that they flubbed this whole investigation and I think they lost valuable, precious time where there may have been survivors floating in the water but now three weeks, four weeks going on much later, the likelihood of a viable survivor is just very little. And I think it's because they flubbed it. And that's just one or two theories that you can come up with that are very clear based on the accepted evidence and facts that we have today.

BLACKWELL: So, we know that Malaysia Airlines is the flag carrier of Malaysia. It's owned by the Malaysian government. How insulated is the Malaysian government from these lawsuits that will, obviously, mount up?

SILVER: Well, I think they're a step removed. You know, obviously, the main players are going to be the airline and potentially Boeing. You know, the secondary liability comes from how they flubbed the investigation and the search and rescue effort. You know, so, they will have liability in that aspect. But I don't think the government of Malaysia necessarily is a primary actor in what caused the plane to go down, unless this is a terror event. Because if there was a mistake in how they handled security, let's say at the airport where they screened people, that's something that the government controls. Not the airline and not the individual passengers, obviously. So, that could be a source of liability. But that assumes facts we're not 100 percent sure yet. I think there are better theories of liability based on what we already know.

PAUL: All right. Criminal defense attorney Brian Silver, thank you so much ...

SILVER: For cleaning some of that up for us.

BLACKWELL: Thank you, Brian.

SILVER: Thank you.

PAUL: It's already 7:00 on a Sunday morning, I hope that breakfast, coffee is good for you so far.