Return to Transcripts main page


Flight 370 Update; Ocean Shield Leaves Port; Ukrainians Prepare for Russian Invasion

Aired March 31, 2014 - 12:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. And it is Monday, March 31st. Welcome to LEGAL VIEW.

You know, we've now had 24 days of false leads and dashed hopes in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. And each of them seems to be more painful than the last. Today, floating objects that an Australian airman described only yesterday as the most promising leads to date, well, they just turned out to be fishing equipment, sadly, entirely unrelated to this missing airliner.

One way or the other, this is a critical week because the batteries in the flight - those black boxes have only about six days left in them. And for that reason, even with no hard evidence to narrow the search, an Australian navy ship is heading out with some very specialized American equipment on board to help listen for those pings that are presumably coming from somewhere on the floor of the Indian Ocean.

In all, 10 planes and about 11 ships from approximately two dozen countries today crisscrossed an area roughly 1,200 miles off the coast of Perth, Australia. Now, that's the biggest turnout so far. But again, none of them turned up anything that is deemed to be significant.

And we have another big development in the investigation into the missing Flight 370. Originally, Malaysian officials said that the last words ever spoken from that flight to air traffic controllers were "all right, good night." And for three weeks, that's what we've gone on. But now it's changed. Now they say the actual last words spoken by someone in that cockpit were, "good night, Malaysia 3-7-0."

The transcripts of the communication between the pilots of Flight 370 and flight controllers may be a crucial piece of evidence, and it seems to be an unknown at this point in this unraveling mystery. Investigators have not released the actual transcripts to the public yet, but they say there is a chance that a copy of the transcript could be released to the passengers' families at their next briefing. It remains to be seen, but we are keeping a close eye.

This morning, the Malaysian transportation minister said his organization has not handed over the documents, citing standard operating procedure as the main reason. He also said he doesn't think the transcripts will show anything sinister.

Now, joining me to talk about what these transcripts could reveal, or whether they reveal anything at all, is Michael Kay, a retired lieutenant colonel in the R.A.F., and CNN's safety analyst and former accident - or aviation accident investigator, David Soucie.

David, first to you. Are we making much ado about nothing in the fact that for three-and-a-half weeks we've been thinking the last words spoken were "all right, good night," and apparently they really weren't?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Well, if that's the information we had in the first place, it would be about nothing. But the fact that it came out as something and then changed to something that's more normal, that's more of what you would hear in an international flight. It's a little more structured. It's more along the lines of what should be said. But the fact that it was something different first and we spent all this time trying to figure that out and then now it's something that makes more sense, it gives me concern about this information.

BANFIELD: Lieutenant Kay, look at that, "good night Malaysia 3-7-0," That does sound very official. It sounds like it should be the words last spoken instead of "all right, good night." I always thought the "all right, good night" sounded odd.


BANFIELD: But again, semantics, does it - does it really matter at this point?

KAY: I think the Malaysia 3-7-0 is the identifier. It's -- you've got to tag that whenever you're talking to air traffic because it could be any number of jets talking if you don't put your official identifier, which in this case is Malaysia 3-7-0. So the formality would be to sign off and then say Malaysia 3-7-0 en route via Vietnam air space or whatever it is.

BANFIELD: So up until now did you think it was odd that the last words were "all right, good night"?

KAY: I don't think it was odd because there are - there are informalities that occur as you get more familiar with working with the various area radars. I mean if that's a - if that's a familiar route that the captain was flying or the co-pilot was flying and they develop a relationship over the days and months with the area radar controllers, you become familiar with the voices on the other end of the radio.


KAY: So, you know, you can drop the Malaysia 370 if you just had a two-minute conversation and it's pretty obvious who you are when you're signing off. I mean it's slightly informal, but I can understand why it would happen.

BANFIELD: And for anybody who thinks, look, what's the problem? Let's find the plane. You know, in a court of law, transcripts matter and every word matters. And there's this old expression, the devil is in the details. And they can be the tiniest of details. David Soucie, the fact that we don't have the actual transcript, that hasn't been released, and now that we're hearing the Malaysian officials saying we don't expect there to be anything sinister, does that speak to anything in this investigation? You're an accident investigator. Don't you get your hands on transcripts a lot sooner than this?

SOUCIE: You know, I do, but the transcript that was released was something that was translated from English to Malaysian and then from Malaysian back to English. So it -- there was errors in it. And I do expect - I do see that when you're talking about multinational translations.

BANFIELD: Could we be missing clues though?

SOUCIE: But -- I don't - I don't know. I read - I read what we had and I'm convinced that that gives us what we need. You know, as far as clues, information that could have been shared that would help us find the plane, I just don't see much there, really.

KAY: I mean I think the problem is, we've already alluded to how disconnected the investigation has been to date. I think what happens is, when you get something else, which, you know, uncovers a little bit more uncertainty, it's predicated on the way that the investigation has been conducted thus far.

BANFIELD: I'll tell you one thing -

KAY: If it would have been water-tight, then this wouldn't really be an issue.

BANFIELD: Exactly. And if there's one thing the families have been so frustrated with, it's the misinformation. It's the not - you know, one hand not knowing what the other hand is doing at times and then releasing it publicly anyway.

KAY: Yes.

BANFIELD: Hold those thoughts for a moment. I've got more that I want to dig into when it comes to that.

Guys, thank you.

And also, what do you suppose those things in the water really meant? We're going to dig into what was floating and why we're not seeing more in this ocean search.

And take a look at the view from the sky. Could you spot anything even at that altitude? Our CNN cameras are going to take you out into the Indian Ocean. We're going live as our crews go along with the search crews on the water, next.


BANFIELD: After 24 days, we still have no physical trace of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. But with less than a week remaining in the battery life of the pingers on the plane's flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder, an Australian ship set out today for a three- day voyage to what crew members can only hope will be within listening range. My CNN colleague, Will Ripley, is chasing the vessel called the Ocean Shield and sent us this report.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ashleigh, we are heading away now from Garden Island, off the coast of western Australia, where the Ocean Shield just moments ago began its three-day journey to the search zone in the Indian Ocean, where it will attempt to locate the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

This journey and what's going to happen is really unclear. And here's why. This ship has a lot of crucial technology on it. Technology that could be the key to solving this mystery. There's a black box locator, a giant under water microphone that is towed behind this boat listening for the sound from the in-flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder.

But the problem is, that giant microphone, as powerful as it is, it can only hear from about a mile around. So we have to be within a mile of the black box to get a signal. And with only about a week of battery life left and still no clear leads as to where 370 may be in this massive Indian Ocean, the technology pretty much will be useless unless we can narrow down that information.

There's other technology on this ship, as well, an underwater drone that can scan the ocean floor looking for debris. But again, even that technology can only cover about 50 square miles a day. And we are talking about a search area that's well over 100,000 square miles. The task of finding this is still too difficult, even for technology like this.

But nonetheless, the journey for the Ocean Shield now underway. The hope, if this ship can be positioned in the Indian Ocean, if we can get it close to the area. And then if one of the search planes or one of the search boats spots some debris, something that's connected to Flight 370, this ship will be ready to help solve the mystery.

Will Ripley, CNN, off the coast of western Australia.



BANFIELD: That's great. Will, thank you for that. And he's got a long journey ahead of him. He'll continue to file reports for us from within an area in the Indian Ocean that is -- there's no other way to put it, it's massive.

The Australian prime minister was in Perth today declaring, if this mystery is solvable, we will solve it. The big unknowns are when and how. And that's where I turn to my experts. David Soucie and Michael Kay are back with me again, along with ocean explorer and president of Mad Dog Expeditions, Christine Dennison. Christine, you saw Will heading out in the dark. The Tow Pinger Locator 25, the piece de resistance in the search process, is on board. I think it's got one day from the moment it arrives within the vicinity until effectively the batteries wear out, which is really just distressing to say the least. But, honestly speaking, all of this garbage that we've been looking at over the weekend, are you surprised there isn't more garbage that we've been seeing, and are you not surprised that perhaps we haven't been able to locate any piece of this plane at this point?

CHRISTINE DENNISON, PRES. MAD DOG EXPEDITIONS: I think, like many of us, I am a little surprised at this point. I'm still hopeful, but I think this is such a process, and it's such -- there's such a tremendous expanse of ocean that they're trying to cover. And every day they're sort of hampered in some way, either by weather or just something seems to come up. But having said that, I think that these teams, these -- that are deployed are really at the ready and prepared to - I think really they're searching -- the area is becoming less and less and so there will be some success. At this point it's just time -

BANFIELD: You know, I just get -- I get so disheartened every time I hear how remarkable the gear is and how spectacular the kit aboard the gear is. It's the best of the best that the world has to offer. Twenty-four-some-odd countries offering their best equipment but we don't know where to put it, effectively. And with all due respect to the R.A.F. and the Brits and everybody else, the Malaysians keep saying they're going to expand this and that they're going to ask the Americans to provide even more of its stellar equipment.

KAY: Well, I think - I think Will makes a really critical point that we need to zone in on in terms of the Ocean Shield. Yes, it is a unique and it is an advanced technology, but it has serious constraints. And that constraint is, is that it can only see a mile around where its ping locator is. And when you look at the size of the area, you know, it's not designed to go straight into find the needle. We use the P-3s, we use the P-8s, the Illussions (ph) to get over the area, scan the area and find that haystack. And then you bring the ships in.

We're kind of subverting that process at the moment because we don't know where to look. So we shouldn't be putting all our eggs in the one basket of the technology piece. We also know the human eye is absolutely critical to this investigation, as well. But let's go back at the international level. Let's interrogate the data that we've got to understand that we're absolutely in the south.

BANFIELD: You think we can do that (INAUDIBLE).

KAY: And let's eliminate the data for the north.

BANFIELD: David, look, as an accident investigator, is there some point where you and your colleagues look at the data, relook it at the data, analyze all of the equipment and the people and the eyeballs and eventually say, our optimism is now waning and it is time to pull back. SOUCIE: Well, it should be done every day. I mean every day in my investigations we get together, we get the experts together, we cross- check each other to make sure that we're not inventing data or that our analysis and our confidence level and the details still stays the same.

So every day you have to -- in your algorithms for figuring out the most probable or likely event, you have to constantly say, am I confident in this data, am I confident in that event. This deal with changing the - changing the -- from "all right, good night" to "all right," it seems small but what it does is it changes your algorithm because it says now we're less confident in the information we have now.

BANFIELD: You said there is an expression for it. It's called "detail confidence."

SOUCIE: Yes, it's the "detail confidence" factor, and it's basically weights --

BANFIELD: And it's waning.

SOUCIE: It weights each of those details, so other details come forward and they become more important, because they don't have -- they have a better weight than something else.

So now we can take this, "all right, good night" and put that at a lower confidence level which affects the Bayesian theory. It affects the outcome of the model.

BANFIELD: For anyone who flies, obviously, we want to have the optimism that we can solve this very sad mystery and particularly for the families who are waiting to find out what happened to their loved ones. We certainly want to have the optimism. But it's really hard to gin that up, day after day, with all of these other reports.

If I can ask the three of you to stand by? Thank you for that. Hold on. There is other big news that we're following, as well.

Big story today, tense times along the Russia-Ukraine border. Listen to this.


KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We've just been stopped by the border guard. They've told us that is a closed military area. We have no authorization to be there, so they're now escorting us out.


BANFIELD: Russian troops on the move while Ukrainians prepare for the possibility of an invasion, we're show what our reporter on the ground has just uncovered, straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BANFIELD: Want to update you now on the new developments in Ukraine. Ukrainian officials say Russia is repositioning some of the troops that are amassed on its border, all of this as the State Department tells us that Secretary of State John Kerry has spoken with Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov.

That happened today, and yet we don't have details on the conversation. Not sure if we're going to get them, either. All of this comes just 15 days since the Crimeans voted to secede from Ukraine.

Now, head to the north, up on to the mainland, and that's where Russia may have 40,000 troops near its border with eastern Ukraine and another 25,000 inland on high alert, prepared to move in at any time.

CNN's Karl Penhaul has more from the Ukraine-Russia border.


PENHAUL: Faith, they can avoid a war are the Russians, but just in case, a little prayer.

This church sits on Ukraine's eastern border. Its priest, once an officer in the Soviet army, can't believe it's old comrades will invade. But if they do, he's telling his flock to stand and fight.

FATHER MIKHAIL ZORIVCHAK, VILLAGE PRIEST (via translator): I preach to our people to defend our homeland from any invader. This is the land of our grandfathers. I'll pray for our army. And if they need me, I'm ready to join them to protect our holy land.

PENHAUL: Luba Kostroma has brought here three-year-old grandson, Alexi, for communion. Her son Igor, here, too, is an army reservist. If conflict comes, he'll be on the front line.

LUBA KOSTROMA, MOTHER OF UKRAINIAN RESERVIST: Every mother worries when her son is mobilized. We understand our young men have to protect the homeland. It's painful that our sons must go to war in the 21st century, so we are praying for peace.

PENHAUL: But fate does not lie only in divine hands. In a nearby potato field, Ukrainian troops man a mobile radar station.

The commander's, not authorized to speak on cam remarks but he tells me in the last few days they have been tracking a huge buildup of Russian troops just over the border. He says they've also spotted tanks, attack helicopters and even missile batteries.

At a border checkpoint, Ukrainian guards shrug off the threat of war, but a fallback plan seems to be in place.

The Russian border is just a few hundred yards away, and we've come across this, a series of what appear to be recently dug defensive positions, including this trench, but right now there's no sign of any Ukrainian troops.

The open farmland is classic tank terrain. The Ukrainian villages say their best chance would be deep in the swamps where their grandfathers, known as "partisans," waged a guerrilla fight during World War II.

Our trip along the frontier is cut short. We have just been stopped by the border guard. They told us that is a closed military area. We have no authorization to be there, so they're now escorting us out. If things do turn bad, Father Mikhail and the other villagers believe they have two tactical advantages over the Russians.

ZORIVCHAK (via translator): We know the forests and swamps like the back of our hand. It will be very hard to fight us, and truth will always win. God is on our side.

PENHAUL: Even so, the mood here is somber, mothers afraid they may lose their sons, Ukrainians afraid they may have to battle old neighbors.

There's not then to ask for whom the bell tolls.


BANFIELD: And Karl Penhaul joins me live from the Ukraine-Russia border.

Karl, if Russia wanted to invade Ukraine, is there a force that could even stop them?

PENHAUL: That, of course, Ashleigh, is the key question, because, as everybody knows, the Russians have a mighty military machine, but certainly the Ukrainian army is taking their mission very seriously. They know it would be an uneven fight, but they are making serious preparations throughout the course of the day.

In fact, in the last few hours, this machine, an armored vehicle, it's armed with a cannon, as well, has been dug into a position here. They have put some camouflage, some pine trees over the top to hide it.

The Russian border is that way, five miles. Across the other side of the highway, a battle tank, a T-64 battle tank, has also been dug in. And we have seen other armored vehicles around this area, anti- aircraft, as well.

They know, if the Russians do roll in, they're going to roll at them with tanks, with attack helicopters, and they also know that Russians have artillery pieces there across the other side of the border, as well.

But the other interesting thing is that the army is not alone, because the civilians in this area also know that it's going to be a mighty task to face down the Russians, so they have been dividing up into self-defense committees.

And they say that if the Russians roll in, they'll support their army, helping them with supplies, maybe digging trenches for them.

But they also say that they'll start a guerrilla war against the Russians. They'll take to the swamps and the forests and do what their grandfathers did in World War II, and that is fight a guerrilla war to keep out what they say is the invader, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: That's incredible. And I remember the Russians only a few weeks ago calling their forces the self-defense forces.

Karl Penhaul, you're great work and at great risk to your crew and you. Be careful in what you're doing. Just wonderful, wonderful work from Karl and his group, and thank you to him.

The ships and the planes and the special sonars are all searching in the Indian Ocean, but what happens if and when these searchers call it quits? Do the eyes take over from space?

We're going to talk about this with a satellite expert, just ahead.