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Cockpit Transcript; Rough Seas & Low Clouds Hinder Search; Weather Complicates Search for Jet; G.M. CEO Mary Barra Testifies Before Congress on Car Recall

Aired April 1, 2014 - 12:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It's Tuesday, April the 1st, and welcome to LEGAL VIEW.

Twenty-five days into the mind-blowing mystery of Flight 370, the world's top experts are once again focused on the first 40 minutes of the flight. The only seemingly normal minutes, it seems, in what's believed to have been a seven and a half hour odyssey ending somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean.

We now have a transcript of the cockpit communications with air traffic controllers in Kuala Lumpur and officials in Malaysia say there is, quote, "no indication of anything abnormal." They also say the jet's hairpin (ph) turn after communications halted was deliberate, at least, and criminal at worst.

In western Australia, the new point man for the multinational search says it could, quote, "drag on for a long time," end quote. And even now he says we do not have any precision in where the aircraft entered the water. "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting that precious days were lost in all of this because two teams of analysts, separately plotting the airliner's possible course, just simply weren't working together.

If there's an ah-ha moment in the transcript of a routine takeoff, it's only the final recorded words from Flight 370's cockpit. Instead of "all right, goodnight," as the Malaysians initially reported, either the captain or the first officer uttered the much more standard, "goodnight, Malaysian 370."

Joining me now with their thoughts on all of this is CNN's safety analyst and former air accident investigator, David Soucie, as well as CNN's business anchor and aviation correspondent, Richard Quest, and expert airman and retired lieutenant colonel in the Royal Air Force, Michael Kay.

Michael, you've had a look now at the transcript. Very short. A quick read. Anything seem out of the ordinary to you?

LT. COL. MICHAEL KAY, ROYAL AIR FORCE (RET.): There's still a couple of bits of information, Ashleigh, which I think are quite pertinent to this in terms of who actually made up the transcript. Was it a single pilot (INAUDIBLE), was it the captain, was it the copilot or was it a mixture of two conversations that were going on. I think there were some key pieces to the transcript in terms of, we now know that the aircraft had an individual squawk (ph). It was 2157. That's quite important because on transoceanic flights, the aircraft are given a generic squawk 2000. So you're going to see, going across an airways corridor, you're going to see a number of aircraft at the same squawk 2000. This was given 2157, because it was given what's called an S.I.D., a Standard Instrument Departure. And what that means is that, when you have heavy traffic flow, it's a procedural departure that approach can give the jet to then get it on its way to Beijing.

Now, what they did was, when they went on to approach, that SID, Standard Instrument Departure, was canceled. Not unusual, but it was canceled because of low air traffic volume. So effectively they don't have to go out to five miles, climb to 4,000 feet, turn right, climb to flight level whatever it is. They can just go direct to the next waypoint.

So I think - I think there was some specifics in there that tell us that actually it's fairly normal in terms of the conversations that existed and also that there's a -- there's inconsistency in some of the radio calls. So sometimes they don't always sign off and say "Malaysian 370," they'll just say, you know, whatever the last instruction was.

BANFIELD: Well, they sure didn't say "all right, goodnight."

KAY: Yes.

BANFIELD: And imagine that being one of the cornerstones of the very little information that we had for such a long time period of time.

David Soucie, you said something on "New Day" this morning that struck me as unusual. You said there was something missing in one of the responses that sort of peaked your interest. They didn't repeat something. What was the significance -- what was it and what was the significance?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: It was the radio signal back. On every other response, every other time that the crew received an instruction or frequency, they responded back saying "this is 370, and here's the frequency," again, back to them.

On the very last one, though, now there was 12 minutes that went by between the last communication - but when they did the last one, it seems to me like a different voice because it's -- of course, you can't hear it, but I mean voice in how it was spoken, that he said, "370" but he didn't repeat the "120.9" Is it significant or not? May be to do about nothing, I don't know, but it is different.

BANFIELD: What do you think, Richard?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN: AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is the bit we're talking about. I'll be the air traffic controller, you be the pilot.

SOUCIE: OK. QUEST: This is how it should have been, OK. So the air traffic controller says, "Malaysia 370 contact Ho Chi Minh 120.9. Good night." He should have said.

SOUCIE: Yes. "Goodnight, Malaysia 370, 120.9."

QUEST: And he doesn't say - he doesn't repeat that last bit of what he should have said.

BANFIELD: And at this point we have always been lead to believe that those last words, now as you see on your screen from the cockpit -

QUEST: Right.

BANFIELD: Were from the copilot. And now they're absolutely uncertain. But isn't there something to who signs off on an aircraft? Are they the ones who are or are not at the controls?

QUEST: No. No. The person who is -- you have a pilot flying, and a pilot not flying. And the pilot not flying tends to do the radio checks. He will work the instruments. He will do the checklists and all those sort of things and the pilot flying is the one who's physically at the controls. Now, they take it in turns. Even though the captain in the left-hand seat is in charge throughout.


QUEST: But one pilot will fly one way. One pilot will fly the other way. So on any round trip, one is always pilot flying, one is always pilot not flying. They take it in turns.

KAY: I think it's important -- I think it's important, Richard, to say that both people can do the same job.


KAY: There's no -- there's no difference in capabilities of that person.

BANFIELD: Just not at the same time.

KAY: They're trained to do the same thing.

BANFIELD: So all -- again, all of this, extraordinary and fascinating, but no answers. Quickly.

QUEST: But - well -- the significance of the "all right, goodnight" was that it was so unusual, and so out of the realms, that everybody said it clearly must have been either an extraneous person or said in extremist or gun to the head or whatever.

BANFIELD: And now we don't think so.

QUEST: Well now we're much more - we're not exactly standard but we're much more normal. KAY: And there are no consider -- as I said, there are inconsistencies in the terminology. And that -- if there were consistencies throughout in terms of, they always use "Malaysian 370" to sign off, or every frequency change they said - they repeated the frequency saying, you know, to tower (ph),122.1, and they did that and then they didn't repeat it on the last one, that would be slightly more unusual. But there are inconsistencies throughout this transcript which kind of sort of lead you to believe that it's more strange (ph).

BANFIELD: And, you know what, if you - if you are a family member who is hanging on, not every word but every letter of what's being uttered from this airline and from this government, this is massive to you. I mean the inconsistencies are frightening because they're waiting just to find out anything. Anything they can.

Hold those thoughts for a moment. David Soucie and Richard Quest and Michael Kay, Colonel Kay, thank you all.

The search for this plane is taking to the skies, but it is also taking to some extraordinarily rough seas. Just take a look at your screen. That's what you call a hold-on ride. Waves crashing over the boat. And this, by the way, if you can believe it, is considered a calm day in the Indian Ocean. Our cameras are out on the water. Our reporters are out there too. And they're going to show you exactly what it's like to be one of those searchers.

And then our other big story of the day. General Motors, a recall scandal. GM apparently knew about an ignition switch problem for a very long time before ever telling the people who drive the cars. And some of those people died. Today, the CEO apologizes, but what happens next? We're coming right back.


BANFIELD: It's been 25 days since Flight 370 disappeared, and the search carries on and sadly to report without a single piece of confirmed debris from that plane. Plus we're now just days away from the batteries on those black boxes running out of life. And to make matter worse, the weather will not cooperate in this part of the world.

I want you to take a look really closely at something. That is the shadow of a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3 Orion, and that's as good as it gets today. It's flying over the search zone in the southern Indian Ocean. And looking up at it, you can imagine it's looking down through those very same pea soup conditions. Low cloud cover has caused problems for the air search over the last two days.

The search on the water, sad to report, hasn't been a whole lot better. In fact, CNN's Will Ripley hung on for dear life I think might be the best way to describe it, so that he could show you from the water the extremely rough seas and what those searchers are dealing with in the southern Indian Ocean.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We have moved about 12 miles off shore here in the Indian Ocean to give you a sense of what the weather conditions can be like. And believe it or not, this is considered a clear day. We have swells. We have waves. You have to hold on to something on the boat just to stay standing.

Captain Ray Ruby, I can't believe that this is a clear day.

RAY RUBY, BOAT CAPTAIN: Yes, what you saw last night was like glass. This is just a normal day. I feel sorry for the guys on the shield heading out to the wreck zone because we're at idle. We're running along about five knots. Those guys are punching this at 15 knots, so every wave is straight over the top.

RIPLEY: Even for a large ship like the Ocean Shield.

RUBY: That ship over - it will just be over the top at three times the speed we're doing.

RIPLEY: How large are these waves?

RUBY: These are a meter and a half with a wind chop on top. They're not bad. You know, when the guys get out further, they'll be up to five, six-meter waves, plus swells.

RIPLEY: Wow. So literally waves that are the size of many buildings here.

You certainly have to hold on. You deal with the windy conditions, as well. Just imagine if there were a storm moving in, and all of a sudden your visibility drops down to zero. You could have a ship very close to you that you can't even see in just a manner of seconds. It's really incredible the conditions out here. The conditions that the Ocean Shield is facing right now as they move towards the search zone.

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


BANFIELD: Wow. Better him than me. I mean that is a very rough assignment. Don't forget, when Will goes out, it's not like you can just get back real quickly, either. That's a long way out to sea. And so they're dealing with those conditions for hours and hours and sometimes days and days on end.

And joining me now to talk about how to execute this kind of open water search, in this sort of weather, is ocean explorer and expeditions logistics expert Christine Dennison, who's seen a few of these conditions in her lifetime. Also retired lieutenant colonel of the Royal Air Force, Michael Kay.

First to you, Christine. Will had to hold on for dear life, let alone being able to look out, let alone being able to see in the troughs of those waves. I hate to ask this, because I know there's a point to it, but what is the point of trying to search from that level? CHRISTINE DENNISON, OCEAN EXPLORER: Well, this is the difficulty. There is very little point. There is nothing that these crews can do in conditions like that.

BANFIELD: You - what you just -- it's as simple as that, Christine, there's very little point. It's very distressing to hear that.

DENNISON: It is. And it's disappointing. But that's the reality and that's what they're dealing with at the moment. And it could get worse because these are the conditions that they're sort of going into with the season. And that's going to be a real problem. It's sort of one step forward, 10 steps back because these waves and these conditions, you cannot -- you can't see, which is what they're still trying to do, is find a debris field and have a visual and --

BANFIELD: Look, 8.5 meters is 25 feet. These are waves that are like buildings. It's like trying to peek through the streets of Manhattan.

DENNISON: Oh, it's horrendous. It's horrendous and it makes it impossible to go even further if they were to find a debris field than to launch any (INAUDIBLE).

BANFIELD: So if you were doing logistics on something like this, and you had someone like Colonel Kay with a fleet of aircraft, how would the two of you, and maybe, colonel you weigh in on this, how would you coordinate with the boats on the surface if you can be, say, upwards of 200 to 500 feet above them?

LT. COL. MICHAEL KAY, ROYAL AIR FORCE (RET.): Yes. I think one of the problems we've got here is the temperamental nature of the weather. So we're talking about these low mist fog conditions. You usually get a fog bank up to about 500 feet and then you can actually have beautiful, clear skies above that, which is not good if obviously you're trying to spot objects on the surface. The problem that we have as aviators is, is that we've already seen it's 1,200 miles to get out there.

So that's about three - three to four hours endurance. If the weather clears quickly, which it has an ability to do, as soon as you get any sort of warming as the sun comes up, you get the dissipation of the fog. As soon as that happens, you then need to scramble the aircraft to get over there. But if you've got aircraft already over there as it clears, then you're three to four hours ahead of the game. So it's trying to anticipate that clearance.

BANFIELD: Do you think -- and just quickly -- do you think there is a lot air-sea coordination going on, or is the air operation separate? They spot something, they throw the buoys, they go back to mainland and then the searchers are notified where those buoys are. How much coordination would there be, live-time?

DENNISON: We've been doing this -- there has to be communication, because you are working in unison. These are --

BANFIELD: You don't have a lot of time when things are being churned and blown away. DENNISON: You don't.

But you've got the Ocean Shield that's on the waves, and they're looking, and they're communicating with the aircraft, saying, we don't see anything. They're saying, we see something, go, move this direction.

So it's a constant back and forth, trying to establish something.

BANFIELD: It's so, so sluggish. I hate to say it.

All right, hold those thoughts, Christine and Michael, for a moment, if you will.

Today the CEO of General Motors, to say is on the hot seat is an understatement, she's having to apologize before Congress, and the reason is that car company knew about some serious problems with some of its fleet, with the ignitions and they knew for a decade, a full decade, before alerting the drivers about the problem.

And in the meantime, more than a dozen people died.

Going to get the LEGAL VIEW on what that means, not only for G.M., for those people who may just want to sue and why G.M. has a funny little loophole that might get them out of this.


BANFIELD: It's a chilling thought. You're driving 60-miles-per-hour, and then suddenly, without any notice, your car just shuts off.

And when your car just shuts off, power steering stops working, too. Power brakes, air bags, they don't deploy either.

That's a pretty dangerous cocktail, and General Motors knew about this potential problem for 10 years. It affected some of its vehicles, and yet that company did not issue any recalls until about two months ago -- 10 years, two months.

At 2:00 p.m. Eastern today, G.M.'s new CEO is going to have to answer to that massive delay at a hearing on Capitol Hill, and Poppy Harlow is live on Capitol Hill, where the lawmakers and family members, as well, of some of the people who died as a result of that problem are also waiting to see her.

So, Poppy, maybe just give me a little bit about the people who are there now awaiting this meeting and awaiting this hearing. Especially those family members. What are they saying?

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, Ashleigh, this is a massive recall. This is really a big test for the new CEO of General Motors. She has only been at the helm of this company for about three months.

And the family members of victims, people that died, their families say as a result of this ignition switch getting switched off and then the car suddenly halting, air bag not deploying, brakes not working, et cetera, they were here right outside the Capitol, holding a big press conference, along with some senators and representatives, saying everything from, you know, one young person saying a 20-year-old that they escaped a four-car pileup, calling one of these G.M. vehicles a death trap, other parents talking about what it is like for them to go through the loss of their child, and then to believe that it is at the same time could have been preventable.

I want you to take a listen to two of those people that spoke a little bit earlier today in the press conference.


SAMANTHA DENTI, G.M. CRASH SURVIVOR: Driving this car was like playing a game of Russian roulette with my safety and that of my friends.

I can't even begin to explain the fear and confusion that runs through you that moment you have no control over your car.

I cannot comprehend the loss these families behind me are going through. My hope is that the horror stops right now.

LAURA CHRISTIAN, G.M. CRASH VICTIM'S MOTHER: This is just the tip of the iceberg.

We are the people left behind when a loved one got into what was supposed to be a safe car, a G.M. car, a car that G.M. knew for years was dangerous and defective.


HARLOW: And Ashleigh, a lot of family members will be in the hearing right behind me today.

This is not going to be the first time, though, they hear from G.M. CEO Mary Barra. She met with family members, we're told, here in D.C. at G.M.'s offices last night. We're told she apologized to each and every family member.

The key question facing her today is how could this have happened? How could General Motors have known about an error that turned out to be deadly for some as far back as 2004 and have not recalled those cars until just a few months ago, 10 years later?

Not only G.M. that's going to face these questions, NTSA, the government agency tasked with protecting people on the road, many say they fell short, they did not notice a trend and did not recall these cars in time. General Motors has apologized for this over recent weeks, but they do not have answers.

We will hear Mary Barra testifying, saying I cannot tell why it took years for a safety defect to be announced, but I can tell you, we will find out. So the question is, are these family members going to get the answers today, frankly, they're looking for.

BANFIELD: All right. Poppy, thank you for that. So another really hard pill for these families to swallow, because G.M. filed for bankruptcy back in 2009, so effectively, the company says it doesn't have to pay accident victims for any crash that might have happened before the declaration of bankruptcy.

Want to bring in CNN's legal analyst and defense attorney, Danny Cevallos on this.

You have written extensively about what this means. If you could lay it out in terms of old company, pre-2009, pre-bankruptcy declaration, versus new company, post-declaration, how does that change things?

DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: When it comes to bankruptcy, Ashleigh, it's sort of counterintuitive to most of what we do in society.

Basically, bankruptcy gives a company a chance to start over, and that's exactly what G.M., one of the biggest companies in the world, nation, did. It started over. It transferred its assets pursuant to a court order in bankruptcy.

But that same court allowed it to absolve itself, to wash its hands of any injuries that happened prior to July of 2009. That's really interesting, because when an injury happens, doesn't really go to when the defect occurred.

In essence, July 10, 2009 cutoff date is arbitrary. If your defect is hidden in the car and manifests itself after that date, you're really not that much different than someone it happened to a month prior.

BANFIELD: Danny, hold on a second. When you're pitching your case to the bankruptcy court and you don't tell them about information that you have, doesn't that sort of neutralize your agreement?

Can't the bankruptcy court say, well, had we known that, we never would have absolved you of any liability pre-2009.

CEVALLOS: Ashleigh, you're starting to think like a plaintiff's lawyer. It was just a matter of time before I got to you, because you're exactly right.

If there is no fraud on the part of G.M., if they didn't do any deliberate concealment, then they may be able to assert immunity from any claims, because the bankruptcy court gave them those assets free and clear.

They shouldn't have any liability, unless a plaintiff's lawyer can prove in pending lawsuits that they defrauded the court, that they knew and concealed these defects, and from what we're seeing so far, there may be evidence of that fraud.

The only person answering today is new G.M., and new G.M. wants no part of the liability of old G.M.

BANFIELD: Yes, I can imagine why.

Danny, thank you, and by the way, your writing on it is very clear. I'm going to give you a quick promo.

If you want to check out Danny's opinion, Danny Cevallos joining us live this morning, thank you for that.

Back to our other top story of the day, the missing plane, where exactly did it hit the ocean? Do we really know that where we're searching is the right place? And will searchers ever be able to pinpoint what's called the splash zone?

We'll talk about that, straight ahead.