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Malaysia Releases Flight 370 Transcript; Object Sightings Turn Out To Be Trash; GM Crash Victims on Capitol Hill

Aired April 1, 2014 - 11:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: For the first time, a transcript of Flight 370's final communication with ground control is released. Why now, and why the changes?

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Lawmakers and the families of GM crash car -- car-crash victims make an emotional plea on Capitol Hill, as CEO Mary Barra faces tough questions about why her company took so long to address a deadly design flaw.

BERMAN: And Boston Strong, wicked strong, the World Champion Boston Red Sox at the White House, the team that helped galvanize a city after the marathon attack (inaudible) honored @ THIS HOUR by the president, we will bring it to you live.

Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman.

PEREIRA: Did you hear his smile throughout that whole read?

I'm Michael Pereira. It is 11:00 a.m. in the East. It is 8:00 a.m. out West. We have those stories and so much more @ THIS HOUR.

BERMAN: It may very well be the best @ THIS HOUR ever. We'll get to the Red Sox in a little bit, but first, there's a lot of news.

We can finally tell you, word for word. what was said between the cockpit crew and air traffic control the night the Malaysian jetliner, that's Flight 370, vanished with 239 people on board. It has taken 25 days -- 25 days -- to reach this point.

PEREIRA: That's worth a pause to note, 25 days.

CNN has obtained the official flight transcript. It raises new questions about why the Malaysian government initially provided an incorrect version of the final signoff from the cockpit, revising it from "all right, good night," words that we've become familiar with, to "good night, Malaysian 3-7-0."

Now, we're also learning that Malaysian investigators are convinced someone in the cockpit or on board the plane was responsible for that sudden turn off course. A government source tells CNN authorities consider the plane's turn a criminal act.

BERMAN: And then there is this development, a new "Wall Street Journal" report saying that search teams were looking in the wrong place for three days because of poor coordination.

There was one group analyzing radar data, the other, the satellite pings, and it took them that long to get their act together and actually talk.

Today, 20 planes and ships have been scouring the southern Indian Ocean.


AIR CHIEF MARSHAL ANGUS HOUSTON (RETIRED), JOINT AGENCY COORDINATION CENTER: This could drag on for a long time. I think at this stage it's very important to pursue the leads. I'll call them leads, the evidence that is being presented to us.


PEREIRA: Keep in mind the search area spans more than 46,000 square miles in the ocean west of Perth, Australia.

BERMAN: Yeah, that's a search area larger than the state of Pennsylvania.

I want to get more details on all these new developments. Paula Newton joins us from the Australian air force base outside of Perth.

And, Paula, hang on for a second here, because I want to start with the transcript. Let me read a big chunk of this now.

At 12:26 a.m. on March 8th, air traffic control says, "MAS 370, welcome over to ground."

Cockpit MAS-370, "Good day."

Then at 12:40, the plane gets the go-ahead for takeoff.

Air traffic control says, "370, 32R, cleared for takeoff. Good night."

The cockpit, "32R, cleared for takeoff. MAS 370, thank you. Bye."

PEREIRA: And 1:19 would be the last time anyone would hear from the plane.

Air traffic control, "Malaysia Three-Seven-Zero, contact Ho Chi Minh 120.9. Good night.

The cockpit, "Good night, Malaysian Three-Seven-Zero."

Now, it's unclear if it was the pilot, co-pilot or someone else said those last words.

So this will bring you in, Paula. It's kind of baffling that it has taken us 25 days to get the transcript released and then the final word and the truth about those final words.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, and what's so remarkable here is, when you listen to what you just read out, experts say, and I'm sure they have been telling you, there is nothing remarkable about it. It is pretty standard, except that perhaps some of the language isn't quite by the book.

But the point is this all goes to the very heart of the credibility of this investigation. As you say, 25 days, I mean, in many countries, that would have been released within 48 to 72 hours, including some of the discussion that you heard from the control tower communicating with the airplane. That wasn't done.

But then to also say, the first time around, that whatever was the last communication, it was uttered by the co-pilot. They have an audio recording, and now they're telling us they need more forensic evidence.

The point is, from the start, it seemed as if no one had a clear handle on this investigation.

And you can't blame the families for now doubting everything that's said about this investigation at every angle, especially considering the lack of evidence.

BERMAN: Paula, it's a great point. It's why we read those in such detail, too, really to show you how mundane and routine they seem.

So couple this information with "The Wall Street Journal" report that they were three days searching in the wrong area, or what they believe to be the wrong area, only because they weren't communicating.

What are officials in Australia where you are, they're now leading this search, by the way, what are they saying about this delay?

NEWTON: You know, it's interesting you say they are not leading it. They're not, but they might as well be.

Right now, we spoke to the chief coordinator. That is Angus Houston. We have already heard from him. You know, I spoke to him today. We got to talk to him about several issues, and he was incredibly forthcoming and blunt about the task ahead.

And, also, being very clear that this is going to take a long, long time, and he's really not couching any words about his idea about whether or not they'll get to the answers.

I want you to take a listen to him right now.


HOUSTON: I have to say in my experience, and I have got a lot of experience in search-and-rescue over the years, this search-and- recovery operation is probably the most challenging one I have ever seen.


NEWTON: The most challenging he has ever seen, this is a man with decades of experience and being in the business, the former chief of the defense staff here.

They say, though, they're giving this their best shot. When we talk about coordination and how things went wrong in the first few days, that is not the case now.

They tell us, more assets in the air, in the ocean, and, they say, much better coordination all around.

PEREIRA: All right, Paula Newton, we appreciate that, joining us from Perth, Australia. Thank you so much for that.

We're going to check some other stories now that are making headlines @ THIS HOUR.

GM CEO Mary Barra is preparing to testify before a House committee, explain why it took her company, the automaker, 13 years to issue a recall over a design flaw that has now been linked to 13 deaths.

Families of those killed in crashes gathered on Capitol Hill earlier today, urging the government to pursue a criminal investigation into General Motors.

BERMAN: The death toll from the devastating landslide in Washington state continues to rise. Officials say 27 people are now confirmed dead. That just came in a few minutes ago. Twenty-two others are still unaccounted for.

Many of the dead have been identified, including the youngest victim, a 4-month-old child. She was killed along with her 45-year-old grandmother who'd been babysitting.

PEREIRA: Apparently, that baby was found feet from her grandmother's body, a heartbreaking discovery.

BERMAN: A beautiful child.

PEREIRA: After a surge for the last day of open enrollment, ObamaCare is on track to hit the White House's original target of 7 million people signed up, that according to a senior administration official.

President Obama will address the milestone with a statement from the White House Rose Garden. We're told that's expected around 4:15 Eastern, this afternoon.

BERMAN: A convicted spy in prison in the United States for almost three decades could be released within the next two weeks. This is a huge development for people who've been following this story for decades.

Jonathan Pollard is a former U.S. intelligence official. He was convicted of spying for Israel in 1987.

Talk of his possible release comes as Secretary of State John Kerry is working in the Middle East, and this release could be part of some kind of deal, an effort to salvage the current Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Interesting trading chips here.

PEREIRA: Absolutely, yeah.

BERMAN: Back to our top story now and the new developments this morning in the search for Flight 370, Malaysia's transport ministry has released the transcript, we read you part of it, of Flight 370's final communication.

At the end, we first reported yesterday, no one says, "All right good night." Instead, someone says, "Good night, Malaysian Three-Seventy."

PEREIRA: We want to look at the significance of this, if there is any.

Joining us, CNN aviation analyst and former Transportation Department inspector general, Mary Schiavo. Also with us, our aviation analyst here at CNN, Jeff Wise. Good to have you both with us.

Mary, let's start with you about the actual transcript. Earlier, our David Soucie was on our air on "NEW DAY," suggesting there was a bit of anomaly.

The pilots repeated back every command with air traffic control for the whole flight, except for that last command. He said that he found that notable.

How about you? What do you see in the transcript?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: The transcript to me looks pretty routine, business as usual.

I have seen a lot of transcripts in different investigations over the years, and this was pretty clean, actually. It's pretty straightforward.

I actually think that they might have been -- that the pilots might have been a little irritated with air traffic control, because they had to -- they repeated Malaysia Air -- or Malaysia 370 and their altitude a couple of times, sort of prodding them, maybe, to give them the clearance to transfer over.

And a couple times, they had to ask air traffic control to repeat something because air traffic control was garbled or mumbling, so if anything, it was kind of the reverse, that they were doing their job and kind of on air traffic control's case.

BERMAN: So, Jeff, if it's as routine as Mary says, let's talk about the fact of the transcript, the fact that we're now getting it and had it not released for 25 days and the fact it's a different last line than Malaysian officials had sworn to just a few weeks ago.

JEFF WISE, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Yeah, it's almost like we knew less than we did before, because at least before, we believe we knew what the final transmission was. Now, we're just not sure.

And there isn't much we can really determine. With all respect to David Soucie, I don't think there is that much really remarkably informative about this statement, per se.

But we start to wonder about something as basic like this, how could you get it wrong? They were just four words that were uttered or not uttered. How does the confusion arise?

BERMAN: And they have gone from saying it was the co-pilot to now saying they don't know who said the last words.

WISE: Yeah, so it's a bit baffling. And this -- again, as was said earlier, this is just an example of the kind of shifting misinformation that we've been getting kind of consistently throughout this whole episode where it really leaves us uncertain of the footing on which we're standing.

PEREIRA: Absolutely. There has been a lot of criticism of their handling of this, and I think this only adds fuel to that fire.

Mary, I want to talk to you about what Malaysian officials are telling CNN that they believed -- or they believe, rather, that this was a criminal action.

I'm curious if you believe that there was anything in this transcript that makes you believe that, as well, or any other actual fact that would lead you to such a conclusion.

SCHIAVO: So far, publicly, we have heard absolutely nothing that portends of any criminal activity. There's just no evidence. The transcript certainly doesn't contain it.

And, by the way, when they first said that it was the co-pilot that said this and now they say they're not sure or maybe it's the pilot, it is so easy to determine this.

What you do and it's admissible in court, you call in people who are familiar with the pilot and the co-pilot's voices. I mean, the pilot had 18,000 hours.


SCHIAVO: There must be a lot of people familiar with his voice, and, by the way, he is on YouTube.

And if you're still unsure, you can do a voice analysis. The FBI does that all the time. So that should be a mystery.

But there is not one shred of evidence that anybody's heard yet to point to a crime.

And, so, lack of evidence doesn't mean it must be the pilot. I just don't see the evidence.

BERMAN: Yeah, nothing there as far as we can tell, unless there is something they're not telling us.

PEREIRA: And that's the big question, if there is something that is being held close to the vest. Mary, Jeff, we're going to ask you both to stick around, because we want to get our viewers to ask some questions about the ongoing search and this mystery.

You can tweet questions you have, those questions that are pressing you, to #370Qs, which is spelled "three-seven-zero-Q-S." And we're also on Facebook/AT THIS HOUR.

BERMAN: Ahead @ THIS HOUR, searching for a needle in a trash dump, so who knew the ocean was such a big mess?

The extreme challenges facing investigators trying to find any trace of Flight 370 in the middle of so much junk, and what does this junk really mean for the rest of us?


PEREIRA: So this is something that's happened a few times during the search for Flight 370. What looks like a promising lead literally ends up being garbage. This is frustrating. It is distracting, and it's causing searchers to lose valuable time.

BERMAN: It's also taught us all a lesson, though, about just how filthy the ocean is.

Raghu Murtugudde is a professor of atmospheric and oceanic science at the University of Maryland.

Raghu, you know, we've just seen so many of these satellite images and these airplane sightings, all these objects in the water. Everyone gets their hopes up, and it all turns up to be trash.

So, you know, I'm surprised. But I suppose you're probably not surprised that all these objects are trash. What is it?

RAGHU MURTUGUDDE, ATMOSPHERIC AND OCEANIC SCIENCE PROFESSOR, UMD: No, I mean, in the ocean, you have all these container ships running across from east to west, north to south and so on. And they are dumping over 10,000 pieces of containers in storms typically, over board.

And per square mile, you can have ten to 20,000 pieces of debris floating around, anywhere from lighters, bottles, cans, fishing nets, shoes and so on.

On both side of these oceans, you have heavy coastal populations, and people dump birthday balloons, beer cans, the six-pack holders. Everything makes it into the center of the ocean. Stuff drifts and just gets to the center in these so-called subtropical gyres.

PEREIRA: And again, we've talked about those subtropical gyres. They sort of spool everything around, sort of that whirlpool motion, and it kind of drives it all into that center. There's a few of them in the world.

I am curious about this. Because I have lived near the ocean. And we know that salt air and salt water is extremely destructive and corrosive. You've seen what it's done to the hull of a boat. Why does it not eat away at this trash or does it?

MURTUGUDDE: Well, it does. But plastic, you have to remember, it can take tens to hundreds of years to biodegrade. They're not -- plastic is made to last for a long time. So plastic pellets, plastic containers, plastic bottles, fishing nets, they are all surviving for a very long time. And these gyres, even though they are so big, the currents are constantly converging to the middle like the drain at the bottom of your swimming pool, so it's all converging in the middle of these subtropical gyres.

BERMAN: So this is the stuff we see.

PEREIRA: That's a good point.

BERMAN: What about what's under the water? What happens to the stuff after it stops floating?

MURTUGUDDE: A lot of stuff does sink to the bottom. You often find dolphins, turtles, albatrosses and so on with -- caught there, you know -- their necks caught in stuff. A lot of stuff sinks to the bottom. And you find little fish, big fish ending up with plastic pellets in their stomachs when you cut them open, big tunas with all kinds of junk in their stomachs. 10,000-20,000 pieces. So stuff does (inaudible), but remember, 10 to 20,000 pieces, so as much as it sinks, there is still more being produced constantly by the human population along the coast lines.

PEREIRA: And if you talk to your kids, they've -- they've been taught in their schools about the importance of disposing properly of certain trash, why we are getting rid of plastic bags in a lot of the grocery stores and going to paper? Because that can be recycled. This stuff can't and it often ends up in the ocean.

Raghu Murtugudde, we appreciate you joining us. And hopefully, you'll come and join us again @ THIS HOUR.

MURTUGGUDE: Thank you.

BERMAN: We want to hear your questions about the search and the mystery surrounding the Flight 370. So tweet us. The hashtag is 370qs. You know we're also on Facebook, the slashtag -- the slash is @ THIS HOUR.

PEREIRA: I like the face you did when you did the hashtag.

BERMAN: You only saw that face right there, which is much more attractive.

PEREIRA: It's much more reliable.

BERMAN: Ahead for us @ THIS HOUR --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Driving this car was like playing a game of Russian roulette with my safety and that of my friends


BERMAN: GM car crash victims and their families speaking out on Capitol Hill right now slamming General Motors and the cars that they say put their lives on the line. We are going to tell you their emotional stories just ahead.


BERMAN: You know, it's shaping up to be an emotional day on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers and family member of the victims of GM crashes are speaking out this morning just hours before CEO Mary Barra testifies before Congress.

PEREIRA: Earlier this morning, we heard from families who had lost loved ones, including a devastated father who lost his 16-year-old stepdaughter.


KEN RIMER, LOST STEPDAUGHTER IN CAR CRASH: My wife, Jane, lost everything. Natasha was her only child. There will be no boyfriend troubles, no wedding date jitters, no children for Natasha or grandchildren for Jane, no family member to care for her as she grows older, just a forever hole in her heart for the daughter she so loved.


PEREIRA: Our Poppy Harlow is on Capitol Hill. She was at the news conference that was held just a short time ago.

I'm really interested to hear what you've heard the families say. I know it was a point of frustration because they have felt, Poppy, that GM has not been good about letting them know that their family members, perhaps, were ones that were part of this whole recall and the death suit.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's a very important point, Michaela. And they still don't know. That list of the 13 people that GM acknowledges did die in crashes as a result of this ignition switch problem, that list has not been released. The families do not have -- know if they are on it. We do expect to get those names later this week when GM turns that information over to the government.

The problem we're talking about here impacts 2.6 million GM vehicles. The ignition switch can get knocked by one's knee or when you go over a pothole, et cetera. It can turn the ignition into basically an off position. What that does is it means the air bags won't work, the automatic brakes won't work, et cetera. So that is a huge concern.

The key here at this hearing is, GM apparently knew about this in 2004, did not come forward with the recall until a decade later. Why did that happen? And why did government regulators not see a pattern in this if you have more than 30 crashes and more than -- and at least 13 deaths? Very hard to stand here and listen to the family members speaking. You heard from one father. We also heard from a 20-year-old who said that they had two very scary, terrifying encounters in one of these GM vehicles, calling it a death trap, saying they felt that it was playing Russian roulette with their life to drive this car.

Also, you had some senators speaking here, representatives as well. Just sort of a preview of some tough questions, I think, that are going to face the CEO of GM, Marry Barra on the stand today.

BERMAN: And of course, Mary Barra is new to this job. And it really has been a trial by fire for her as she, you know, works her way into this extremely important position.

She's had to deal with nearly nonstop damage control, Poppy, since the beginning.

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: Now, she's face to face with the families today. She will be at the hearing, but she's been reaching out to them already.

HARLOW: Well, she has. So GM has told us, and I also spoke to some families here, who told me who were in the meeting last night. It was held at the GM offices here in D.C. She met with about 20 family members who had lost loved ones. I'm told by some of the families members she apologized directly to each of them.

But frankly, one mother here who lost her 19-year-old daughter told me it is not enough. "I want these cars off the road. I don't want anyone to be able to drive them unless this is fixed."

Right now, GM is saying, take all of the extra stuff off your key chain; just use your key in the ignition switch, and these cars are safe to drive. They are fixing them as well.

But clearly, from the families here, that is -- that is not enough. And I think the question is going to be, what did GM know when? What did regulators know when? And what kind of liability is this company going to face?

PEREIRA: Not only that, but the National Highway Transportation Safety --

HARLOW: Right.

PEREIRA: -- Administration also didn't act on implementing a recall, and they're going to be hauled out to be facing some tough questions as well.

Poppy Harlow.


PEREIRA: Thank you so much for that. And again, like you said, apologies and getting out and talking to these people, but you can't replace their loved ones.


PEREIRA: Those are 13 families that are forever changed.

BERMAN: And a lot of people are wondering, how could they know and act on it?

PEREIRA: Not do anything?

BERMAN: Easy question to ask, but a hard question to answer.

PEREIRA: That far back. That far back, right, 2004.

All right, ahead @ THIS HOUR, back to our top story.

High waves, high swells, brutal wind, brutal chop. That's a nice day. The ocean isn't making it easy for the Flight 370 search crews. We are going to take you out to sea command next.