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Australian Official: Searchers Saw 4 Orange Objects Today

Aired March 30, 2014 - 08:00   ET


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: -- is being fitted with the U.S. Navy's black box detector. That ship is the ocean shield that's expected to leave for tomorrow. It could take about three days, depending on a few other factors to reach the search area. The travel time is critical because the battery on the black box pinger is only expected to last maybe a week more, maybe up to 10 days.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, back in Malaysia, dozens of angry relatives of the Chinese passengers on board were demanding answers overnight from Malaysian officials specifically. You see them here carrying their banners. They were pleading with officials to give them quote, evidence and the truth. And they want an apology for sending mixed messages and the hope and despair that we have been seeing on every side of the spectrum over the last few weeks.

So, let's discuss the latest developments here -- CNN aviation analysts Mary Schiavo, Miles O'Brien, Mark Weiss. Mark is also a retired American Airlines pilot.

Thank you all so much for being with us.


BLACKWELL: So when you see the objects and we know that the video is not great because it is shot at night here. They were pulled out of the ocean. It's hard to tell what we're looking at.

Mary, you said last hour nothing jumps out at you. We're starting with you, Miles, then to the Mark. Anything you see here of any interest?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, I don't think you can exclude it from being on an aircraft. But there is nothing I see on that that says definitely. Could it have been, one of the placards, that gets stuff in the seat in front of you, you know, the emergency exit information? You know, you've got to ask yourself what kinds of paper would survive something like that or is it something that fell off a fishing boat? Hard to say.


WEISS: I agree, I mean, you would have seen something lying an exit sign, some of the magazines in the back of the seat. Perhaps some of the passengers' personal effects or small luggage that would have been floating. But so far, it's nothing.

PAUL: You know, Mary, we were talking about the families here, and their pleas today to the Malaysian government. One of the families here, they were also asking for organized meetings and some of the direct service companies including Boeing. They said it's been 22 days. Nobody from those companies came to see us.

Are you surprised or alarmed that nobody has reached out to the families yet other than Malaysian Air?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, no, I'm not surprised that Boeing has not. Boeing usually takes a hands-off approach. And in the United States, the NTSB makes it very clear to all parties to the investigation and basically a party to an investigation is anyone who could potentially be responsible. The NTSB asked them not to do that. So, Boeing is trained not to you know, making a lot of conversation with anyone involved.

But what happens is they usually involve briefings and they set up the briefings so the family members get that funneled through the investigators, so it is much more organized. And I think if the Malaysians do that or would have done that, they can still do it, is set up the briefings so they know what input is being given to the investigation. For example, Boeing is participating and yet the families don't know that. And that's unfortunate, because if they would know that they would understand what's going on. Again, I think it is the fault of the investigators for not having these daily briefings.

BLACKWELL: You know, we've had this conversation I guess five days, 10, 15 days, we're approaching 23 days in, Miles. I have asked at different points -- is there a point where this investigation should go to an independent body and how that could happen? Because we know even today, there is new information coming out that is being analyzed or viewed in a different way that the Malaysian Airlines have had for sometime now.

Have we reached that point?

O'BRIEN: Well, you know, I think it would be very great idea could at the very least demonstrate to have the capability to conduct an investigation like this. If you're going to fly a 777, that should be part of the rules of the road as it were.

It's interesting to see how as events move toward Perth, Australia, and the parts will be gathered there. To some extent, I think the Australians might in a de facto way begin to take a little more of a lead in this investigation. And I think probably that would be good.

PAUL: Mark, I wanted to ask you, the Australian naval officials say Ocean Shield, which is the ship trying to locate the flight data recorders, is leaving tomorrow and should arrive in that search area in about three days. That fact that they're sending that specific ship out there for that specific reason makes it sound like they are very confident this is exactly where that the plane went down somewhere in this area.

Give me -- but a lot of people look at it and say, how can they be so confident when they haven't found anything tangible yet? Give me your top two or three reasons why you believe the plane is indeed in this area and it went down in the Indian Ocean?

WEISS: Well, first of all, I'm not sure we're that confident. We have been down this road before. I think what they have done now is absolutely narrow down the field. Narrow down the area.

But remember, it is still the size of New Mexico. It is still a very large area. I think what you're doing now is based on the pingers, based upon the new fuel calculations, perhaps altitude calculations to see that the distance that the aircraft could have traveled, I think what they're trying to do is remember, the pingers only have a small shelf life left to them.

And I think what they're trying to do now is take the limited resources that are out there and use them most effectively to try to capture the sounds while there is still an opportunity.

BLACKWELL: All right, Mary, Mike, OK, Mark, as well -- I'm just getting in my ear that the news conference in Perth has just begun.

Lieutenant Russell Adams with the Australian air force will give an update on whether anything has been found.

LIEUTENANT RUSSELL ADAMS, ROYAL AUSTRALIAN AIR FORCE: From our perspective this was the most visibility we have had of any objects in the water and gave us the most promising leads. The weather was great and hopefully if it continues like this, we will continue to find objects in the water. I'm happy to take your questions, thanks.


ADAMS: Yes, when we went on station today, we had fuel to hold for approximately four to five hours. Because we were investigating a few contacts, we stayed in one area for a bit longer, which caused us to extend our own station time. And we really wanted to investigate those objects and give ourselves the best chance of identifying them before we came home.

REPORTER: What kind of pressure are you (INAUDIBLE) --

ADAMS: I don't feel as though the crew is under any pressure from the media, as such. I think the most amount of pressure we put is on ourselves to perform professionally and to do our jobs as well as we can, as professional aviators, the perfect flight (ph). And we want to be able to go out there and make sure we go out there and make sure that we provide the best (INAUDIBLE) or the best answers to families of those aboard the aircraft.

REPORTER: What would be the follow up on those sightings that you have made?

ADAMS: Yes, the sightings that we've made, as I mentioned, we passed the coordinate zone, and any imagery that we took today will be passed along to the rescue coordination center. And from there, they will analyze those images and determine whether its worth sending surface vessel to investigate and recover them. And I must stress, we can't confirm what the origin of these objects in the waters were, just the fact we found some and (INAUDIBLE) they will be sent to be analyzed.

Thanks very much. Good day.

BLACKWELL: All right. So, that was Lieutenant Russell Adams giving us an update there. Great weather there -- and indicating there were sightings made today. That information, those images will be passed on to the rescue coordination center and the decision will be made if investigators will be going out to determine what those are.

PAUL: But he did say that they stayed in one particular area this time around, based on some of the information they had. We are going to look at that and get you information as well as getting talk to our panel here in a moment to go over some of the other things that we just learned.

Stay close.


PAUL: Eleven minutes past the hour.

We just heard from Lieutenant Russell Adams with the Australian air force, with the P-3 Orion that came in just after searching the new area in the Indian Ocean. And he did say that they detected many objects in the water -- specifically that caught their interest, four orange colored objects about six and a half feet in length. And again, all the sightings are being passed on to coordinates who will analyze it and decide what to do from there.

BLACKWELL: Let's bring in our panel back in. We've got Mary Schiavo, Miles O'Brien, and Mark Weiss.

I want to start with you, Mark, on this. Tell us -- we've got these four orange colored objects that are six and a half feet in length, anything pop out to you and say it could be this or that?

WEISS: Well, it might be something, a cluster of life preservers or it could be a life raft for all we know. We don't know if it is in a single piece or broken apart. But that is potentially something that could have come from an airplane.

PAUL: OK, Miles, what about you?

O'BRIEN: Well, I would like to know -- I have not heard what color the rafts were on this particular aircraft. Mark might know that it's standard or not. I don't know.

Orange is certainly one the colors you use to make it identifiable for either a life raft or a life vest. Six and a half feet is kind of too small to be a raft and too big to be a life preserver. But again, sometimes this stuff clusters or breaks apart. And so, certainly, that's going to get your attention.

BLACKWELL: Yes, the last object sighted turned out to be a dead jelly fish.

PAUL: Dead jelly fish, yes.

Mary, I wanted to ask you about the visibility of this search. They're saying they had some of the best visibility that they have had so far. Does that give you hope that what they're seeing down there is probably possibly more significant than what they've seen in the past?

SCHIAVO: Well, the visibility does. And also that they say they're seeing more objects. The life vests on the plane are probably yellow, not orange. So that's not heartening to me.

And the slides, the evacuation slides that are used as life rafts are yellow. But there might be some -- there are also on board ones that could be orange. But they're bigger than that.

So what gives me hope is that there are more objects and the visibility will let them find out what they are. So I don't know that the current sighting is so hopeful. But the number is hopeful.

BLACKWELL: Mary, I'm going to stick with you on this question. We know that there are at least ten planes involved, several ships in the area, as well.

We know that the battery on the black box pinger is going to die within the next few days or so.

Do you expect that the acceleration of this search will be up to that point? Or because we know it will be so much more difficult to find these black boxes that after the pinger dies, it's going to -- the search effort is going to accelerate after that, because you're going to need more people because you have fewer resources from the actual box to find it?

SCHIAVO: No, I think from what we have been hearing, they have geared up. And the increase in resources is already occurred. I think that the new coordinates and moving the search area, those 680 miles to the north was when they beefed up the assets and the resources.

So I think the beef-up has already occurred. The issue is going to be keeping that intensity and keeping that level as the days you know, drag on. So what I'm really hoping is that they start to find something so countries don't wonder whether it is wise to continue to commit their assets.

If they start to find debris they will keep that going until they have exhausted the debris field. I just worry that they've got to find something to keep that effort up. PAUL: Hey, miles, and if people are just joining us, I just want to reiterate the news that we just got. The plane, the PS (ph) Orion just came back and detected four objects that are about six and a half feet in length in the search area.

Miles, so they have the sightings. They passed them onto the coordinates and they will analyze it. How long does that process take? Because as we sit here and watch, you know it's torture to wait. And it seems like it is taking a long time but I'm sure it's probably chaotic there. Any gauge?

O'BRIEN: Well, it is a little quicker than basing things on satellite imagery, which has a little more lag build into it. If it's an aircraft down to a ship, the ship is in the region, in theory, you can get to it more quickly. But, you know, the ocean is a dynamic place. And whatever you see in one moment is not going to be there the next.

So, by the time a ship with its speed limit gets to the actual sighting of the orange object, it may very well have gone somewhere else. As a matter of fact it stands to reason it will. So that's the challenge is getting -- you know, finding these things, making sure you don't run out of daylight before you get them, being lucky to find something that is in closer proximity to a ship, so you can get on target more quickly. It's a huge challenge and it's not a forgiving environment whatsoever.

PAUL: Good point.

Mary, Mark and Miles, we so appreciate your perspective. Thank you for taking the time for us today.

BLACKWELL: Thank you.

WEISS: Thanks.

SCHIAVO: Thanks.

BLACKWELL: Satellite images are playing a huge part in the search for Flight 370.

PAUL: That Miles was just talking about.


PAUL: Find out how these grainy pictures are helping officials narrow that search area.


BLACKWELL: Twenty minutes after the hour now, and we just learned from an Australian naval officer that searchers today saw four orange objects in these new search zones. They were longer than six and a half feet each. And those sightings will be further analyzed. They will go back to the rescue coordination center, rather, and then they will be analyzed to determine if someone should go out and collect.

PAUL: Right, and every couple of days, you know, we've been getting these grainy satellite pictures that show potential debris from the plane.

Well, let's talk to Keith Masback, a satellite reconnaissance expert and the CEO of the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation.

Thank you so much, Keith, for being with us. We appreciate you being here.

Do you think the grainy pictures -- I mean, we look at them and in today's technological world, is this the best we can do?

KEITH MASBACK, U.S. GEOSPATIAL INTELLIGENCE FOUNDATION: Well, you know, there is a range of capabilities and what you're seeing is different countries contributing what it is they have. Whether it's the Thais, the Japanese, the Chinese early on, some speculation about whether are those were actually taken by their spy satellites and, quote-unquote, "dumbed down."

So there are a range of capabilities that nations have around the globe. And so, you're seeing everybody trying to contribute to the best of their ability.

BLACKWELL: Speaking of spying, there's a report in the "Sydney Morning Herald" that MI-6 and the CIA, they're getting involved with this search and investigation.

What do you make of that?

MASBACK: I don't think it should be a surprise to anybody, Victor. There are a number of things going on simultaneously right now. You've got a maritime search operation. You've got a criminal investigation. You've got an intelligence problem and you've got an air safety issue.

So everything is in until it is definitively ruled out. Right, we've got everybody from FBI cyber experts going over this gentleman's flight simulator, to oceanographers talking ocean garbage and sub- surface conditions. So, it really should not be a surprise to anybody that anybody that might contribute to this issue is going to be involved.

PAUL: So what do you think based on the fact that this has taken so long needs to change to expedite the process in a situation like this?

MASBACK: Well, Christi, I think it's a little bit of a geo- political issue in some sense in that if this were happening in the North Atlantic, you've got the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, you've got a bunch of countries that have worked together for a long time, know how to share, know how to work with another, know how to coordinate.

And in this part of the world, a contested part of the world, they're not necessarily inclined to work with one another. And they don't necessarily have the structures in place to facilitate it. So, we have this geopolitical issue which is sort of the backdrop for trying to get at the very specific types of coordination that is required to get things done here.

BLACKWELL: And while there is possible hiding of resources right now, do you think there is a point at which if the weeks of searching for debris stretches into months of searching, the countries will pull out of the search based on protecting their intelligence?

MASBACK: You know, there has been speculation about that. I think it's interesting, for instance, I was reading on a navy blog just last night that this -- some people feel it revealed a weakness in the Chinese anti-submarine warfare because they don't have a plane that matches the Boeing P-8 Poseidon that the U.S. Navy has on station, or even the P-3s that are being flown by other nations.

So there's already been some concern about that. There's already been some speculation about that in the press and otherwise. But I think everybody is going to contribute to the best they can. Everybody wants to see a resolution to this for those grieving families and to solve this mystery.

PAUL: So, specifically, when it comes to the satellite and pictures when you look at what is out there do you look at it and say I know that we could get a better picture of this through another technological advance. I mean, what should we be seeing that maybe we're not?

MASBACK: Christi, this is the hardest sort of problem. I think people ask me right at home, because they know what I do for a living. My daughter, Clara, for instance, would say, dad, I can see the car from our driveway on Google Earth. I think Steve Wood and others pointed out, that picture was probably taken by an airplane, by your county's tax office contracting with a very low-flying airplane to get a high resolution picture of your house.

I say to people, blow up your house in thousands of pieces and scatter it in an area in the ocean with swells and winds and currents and see how easy it is to spot your house then. So, this is the most stressing problem, especially for an electro optical remote sensing observation satellite.

PAUL: That is a -- that is a great explanation.

Keith Masback, CEO of the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation -- so grateful to have your time, thank you.

BLACKWELL: Thank you, Keith.

MASBACK: Thank you, both.

PAUL: We'll be right back.

BLACKWELL: Quick break.


BLACKWELL: "STATE OF THE UNION" is a little more than half hour away.

PAUL: Host Candy Crowley joins us with a preview.

So, Candy, I know we've been following the disappearance of Flight 370. Are U.S. intelligence any closer to saying whether or not it was an intentional act?

CANDY CROWLEY, HOST, "STATE OF THE UNION": All along, they sort of left it open. But you always got the feeling when you were talking to someone, whether it was the CIA or FBI or the FAA for that matter that they did not see this as a terrorist act. I think there are obvious things, no one has claimed responsibility. But they haven't closed it off.

I think you're asking yourself the same question, and certainly in Washington, saying, don't our intelligence agencies know more than they're telling us? It's almost impossible I think for anyone to believe because we've talked about this, you know, big reach of the CIA, the FBI and the American surveillance. And something as big as a 777 disappears and I think there is some doubt that oh, is that even possible? Do they know more than they're telling us?

So far, I get from folks saying, no, we really don't know anymore than what you're seeing. It is just -- it seems so hard to believe.

BLACKWELL: Yes, so many people believe that they know more.

Candy Crowley, thank you so much.

PAUL: Thanks, Candy.

BLACKWELL: And you can catch "STATE OF THE UNION" right here on CNN at 9:00 a.m. Eastern today.

PAUL: Make some great memories.