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Transcript From Missing Plan Released; NATO Suspends Cooperation with Russia; Time Running Out to Find Black Boxes; Obamacare on Target

Aired April 1, 2014 - 13:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: There are 13 families directly affected and yet that list has not yet been released. They are all waiting to see it.

Thanks for watching, everyone. Nice to have you with us. My colleague, Wolf Blitzer, starts now.

WOLF BLITZERK, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. It was the last contact with the Malaysia Airlines plane before it disappeared. And now, we have access to the full conversation between the pilots and air traffic controllers.

Here's the latest developments. Malaysia's transport ministry today released the transcript of the final communication. Aviation experts say the last words appear to be routine. But they say the discrepancy with an earlier version raises questions about the entire investigation.

Chinese ships have now checked and ruled out 11 areas where suspicious objects were spotted, that according to China's state-run news agency. In all, nine ships, 10 military planes and a civilian jet took part in today's search.

And a Malaysian government source tells CNN, the jetliners turn -- jetliners turning off the course is being considered a criminal act, either by one of the pilots or someone else on board.

So, for weeks, we were told the last words from the crew were, quote, "All right, good night." Now, we've learned the words were actually, quote, "Good night, Malaysian 370." The release of the transcript is raising many questions, and it's also providing a few answers.

Let's bring in our Aviation and Government Regulation Correspondent Rene Marsh. Rene, walk us through some of the details we've learned from this transcript which has just been released.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, you know what, Wolf? We have learned that communications between the cockpit and air traffic control was pretty normal up until it disappeared. So, this is the transcript here. It's just a little bit over two pages long. And we're going to pull from it. We know that at 12:40, according to this transcript here, the tower instructs 370, it is clear for takeoff from runway 32R, then says good night. Then the cockpit repeats the runway, 32R, cleared for takeoff, mass 370. Thank you, bye.

Then, in the minutes that follow, nothing out of the ordinary. At 1:19 a.m. which is the last time anyone would hear from the plane, as it was leaving Malaysian air space, heading to Vietnamese air space, the tower says, "Malaysia, 370, contact Ho Chi Minh 120.9. Good night." Then, someone in the cockpit says, "Good night, Malaysian 370." the only thing that was missing, the pilot didn't repeat the frequency and the air traffic control center in Vietnam they were heading to. Not major but it does raise some questions. Was that an omission made to alert someone something was wrong, as one former 777 pilot brought up, is a possibility or were they just being sloppy? It's really hard to say without hearing the tapes, to listen for stress in the voice, hear any other background noises that may have been telling.

But what we can tell you, Wolf, this transcript alone doesn't tell us much other than the communications between the cockpit and the ground, pretty routine.

BLITZER: What about the question of whether it was the pilot or the co-pilot who was doing the talking? What do investigators think? Because in this transcript, it doesn't say who was it actually communicating with ground control.

MARSH: Right. And at this point, it is unclear to us whether it was the co-pilot or the pilot. We know, in previous press conferences, they said it was the co-pilot. Now, they seem to be backing off that a bit. So, right now, it is really unclear. But we can tell you this. Usually, if the captain is flying, it's the co-pilot that does the radio transmission and vice versa -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It all sounds pretty routine. I've read the transcript. They haven't released the actual audiotape. They have just released the transcript. Is there anything specific investigators are focusing on?

MARSH: Well, they will likely be listening to the voices. That's what we really want to hear is the recordings. Was it the same voice on the ground versus the voice heard once the plane was in the air? Do they hear any stress in the voice? Are there any other telling sounds in the background that may indicate something was going wrong? Was it indeed the pilot or was it the co-pilot who was speaking? Those are all things that they still need to get to the bottom of if they haven't already -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And are they explaining why they're not releasing that audiotape?

MARSH: Well, you know, Wolf, they keep on with the same line which is, this investigation is a private investigation. They did release this transcript to the family members. Not holding my breath, right now, that we, meaning the media, will get ahold of those audiotapes though. So far, it's --

BLITZER: Rene Marsh. OK, Rene, thanks very much. Rene Marsh reporting for us. So, what is does the release of these transcripts say about the investigation into the plane's disappearance? Let's bring in our panel of experts. Joining us, Mark Weiss, a CNN Aviation Analyst, a former 777 pilot for American Airlines. Peter Goelz is a CNN Aviation Analyst and former NTSB managing director. Tom Fuentes is our CNN Law Enforcement Analyst, former assistant director of the FBI.

Mark, does anything jump out at you? You've read this transcript. You're a seasoned pilot. What does it say to you, if anything?

MARK WEISS, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, as Rene was saying, what really does stand out, to me, and whether it's consequential or inconsequential, at this point, we're really not sure. But that last transmission, where he just said -- he did not repeat the next sector he was talking to, which was Ho Chi Minh Center, and he did not repeat the frequency. That's standard operating procedure. Whether he just was a little lax or sloppy at that, whether he was talking under duress or whether it was not one of the pilots, that's what we don't know.

Blitzer: It would be -- if you were investigating, you would actually -- Peter, you would want to hear the voices and see if there is any ambient sound, anything along those lines, wouldn't you?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Absolutely. You want to hear whether, you know, there were any clicks or whether the seats were moving, whether you could hear the other pilot, or whether you could hear whether the door to the main cabin was open. Were you picking up any sounds from first class? But, certainly, you would want to analyze the original tape as closely as possible.

BLITZER: So, why won't they release that? You have worked with the Malaysians. You've worked with Interpol. You've worked at the FBI. What's the down side, from their perspective, of releasing the conversation between the cockpit and air traffic controllers?

GOELZ: Well, I think part of it is it's not strictly a police matter. You know, it's in the hands of the aviation authorities and the defense ministry and that -- you know, that makes it much different in this situation. But you're right, clearing up the mystery of which person is speaking is fairly easy. It's a small airline. The air traffic controllers, airline management and other pilots would certainly recognize the voices of these pilots and be able to distinguish one from another or hear if there was particular stress or something unusual.

If it was the co-pilot, there might be a little extra stress because he's doing his first ride as, you know, basically coming out of the training program. He's trying to probably impress the captain who is, you know, renowned in the airline. So, you know, if he's stressful, it would be understandable.

BLITZER: At the end of the transcript, the last words -- Mark, the last words, "Good night, Malaysian 370," that's at 119 and 29 seconds. What, two minutes after that, either by coincidence or deliberately, all of a sudden, the plane makes a sharp left turn. WEISS: Yes.

BLITZER: That sounds -- as it was leaving Malaysian air space, about to enter Vietnamese air space, it makes a sharp turn like that, unexpected. How do you explain that, other than, what, there's a lot of suspicions of something sinister was going on?

WEISS: Well, you know, again, with keeping everything on the table, you know, whether there was some type of mechanical or catastrophic event in the cockpit that forced that aircraft off course, to change heading, to apparently want to go to the nearest land at the nearest suitable airport. But there was no distress call. The ACARS was off. The transponders were off. That still leads me to believe that was human intervention. Again, because the waypoints, the points, the flight path for that aircraft was put in and agreed to on the ground and in the flight management system. That was human intervention.

BLITZER: And the suspicion has been, as you well know, Peter, in this no man's land before they enter Vietnamese air traffic controllers, after they leave Malaysian air traffic controllers, if you're going to do something, that would be the time to do it.

WEISS: Sure. There might be a little sloppiness at the Ho Chi Minh Center. Although, Ho Chi Minh did radio another Malaysian plane 10 or 12 minutes after the last transmission to say, hey, have you heard from Malaysian 370? And they said, well, I reached them but it was a little garbled. I couldn't understand. I'm interested in that transmission very much so because that was 10 minutes after.

BLITZER: You're shaking your head too?


BLITZER: You're agreeing?

FUENTES: Oh, absolutely, because, you know, this plane has been turned over to Ho Chi Minh air traffic control. And the controllers at K.L. would have radioed ahead or called on the phone or sent a text --

BLITZER: Kuala Lumpur, K.L.

FUENTES: -- text messages, saying, this plane is leaving our air space. You know, it's coming into your air space. When it doesn't come, they try to check with another airline from the same company, from Malaysian Airlines, saying, you know, can you raise your pilot? They try. They hear something garbled. At that point, you have Kuala Lumpur officials and Ho Chi Minh officials saying, neither of us have any idea what happened to this airplane. We've lost coverage. We've lost the signal. We're not in radio contact. You'd think, at that point, all the bells and whistles go off.


FUENTES: In the whole --


BLITZER: There seems to be a lot of incompetence on that part of this ghost investigation.

FUENTES: Well, we don't know what happened.

BLITZER: That part. We don't know what happened. But they've got a lot more information that they should be releasing.

All right, guys. We're going to have you back. We've got viewers' questions as well. A lot of good questions coming in. We'll get back to the search for Flight 370 in a few moments.

First, there's a developing story out of Brussels happening right now. NATO is taking an extraordinary step, cutting off all practical cooperation with Russia, that's both civilian and military alliances. It's in response to Russia's actions in Ukraine and the deployment of Russian troops near the border.

Let's go to our Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr. Barbara, the U.S. and European Union had already cut off some ties with Russia, but this seems to be a powerful, much more dramatic step.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is the 28 member nations of NATO, including the United States, taking that step, fundamentally, sending a message like you have not seen to Moscow, since the fall of the Soviet Union. Ending all practical cooperation with the Russians today, there will be some ambassadorial level talks but that will be it. And they are doing this because of the Ukraine situation and NATO's belief, along with the U.S., there are still 40,000 Russian troops on Ukraine's eastern border.

What will all of this mean? Look, some of it may be symbolic but it also sends a very clear message. Russia and NATO, along with the U.S., cooperate in nuclear ballistic missile testing by the Russians. That's going to be an issue. That notification, that very precise cooperation has to continue. Russian bombers often fly over northern Europe and along the Alaska coastline. That's going to be an issue. It's going to have to continue. NATO supplies in and out of Afghanistan often transit through Russian territory, air space and land, that is going to be an issue. U.S. helicopter sales of Russian helicopters to the Afghan Army.

So, undoing all these ties is very significant. And what NATO is really doing, along with the U.S., today, is saying, we stand with Eastern Europe. There are also a number of moves to shore up the east European allies. Believe it or not, we are talking about trying to provide military support to countries like Poland, the Baltics, Romania, all the countries that broke away from the old Soviet Union in the face of this crisis, looking to NATO, looking to Washington for more help -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What about something practical like U.S.-Russian cooperation in the elimination, the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons? There was extensive cooperation. How does that fit into this? STARR: I think that's a great question because, of course, for the U.S., the cooperation with Russia on the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons, the cooperation on trying to get Russia to get Assad out of power, the Russian cooperation on -- to try and get Iran to give up its nuclear program. You know, this -- these are the fundamental issues at stake, where the U.S. and Moscow, everyone will tell you, still really need to cooperate.

But unless they can get some resolution on the Ukraine situation, which is fundamentally getting Vladimir Putin to agree to pull back and assure the world once and for all, he has no designs to have his forces march into Ukraine. Until they can do that, many officials will tell you, they just can't make progress on the other.

And, Wolf, I think it's really fair to say, this situation really, right now, rewrites the map of Europe and the relationship with Moscow and the east European allies in a way that it has not since the fall of the Soviet Union.

BLITZER: And we're going to check with NASA to see how this is going to impact U.S.-Russian cooperation in space, because, as you know, American astronauts at the International Space Station, they have been relying on the Russians to get them there, get them back in the aftermath of the cancellation of the U.S. space shuttle.

All right, Barbara, thanks very much. A very important story developing out of NATO. We'll continue to monitor that.

Just ahead, the best hope of finding Flight 370 may rest with this Australian ship if it can get to the search area in time. We'll have a live report from Perth, Australia. That's coming up.

And later, the health care deadline has now come and gone. Did the White House overcome computer problems to log a win? We're taking a closer look.


BLITZER: High-tech equipment from the United States will soon be in position to hunt for the data recorder from Flight 370. But only days remain before the batteries inside the so-called black box run out of power and its audible beacon falls silent. Even if everything goes right from this moment on, the man coordinating the search efforts in Australia sounded this very sobering note.


AIR CHIEF MARSHAL ANGUS HOUSTON, JOINT AGENCY COORDINATION CENTER: 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.


BLITZER: Our Paula Newton is in Perth, Australia, watching the story unfold. This is a very daunting search in every possible way, Paula. How soon before, first of all, that ship, the Ocean Shield, will arrive in that search area to try to -- get that pinger locater down there and see what happens?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It should be there by Thursday, Wolf. But here's the thing. In speaking to the commander there, U.S. Navy Captain Mark Matthews, he's saying, look, even when they're prepositioned there, they really can't use that equipment, Wolf. The search zone has to be reduced to something about 1,000 times size smaller than the size it is right now. I mean, think about that, they still haven't gotten to those modeling areas, the satellite imagery, any kind of discounting of the area they're already looking at. They're not there yet to be able to reduce the size. In fact, he told me the Ocean Shield would do what every other ship is doing out there right now, looking for debris in the meantime. The hope is that within the next 48 to 72 hours when the Ocean Shield is on the scene, that they'll be able to reduce it somewhat so that they can get that equipment out there looking for the black boxes.


BLITZER: As you know, Paula, the search for Flight 370 could be modified, even curtailed, if no debris in the coming days is found. Here's what the man coordinating the search efforts in Australia said.


AIR CHIEF MARSHAL ANGUS HOUSTON, JOINT AGENCY COORDINATION CENTER: But inevitably, I think if we don't find wreckage on the surface, we are eventually going to have to probably, in consultation with everybody who has a stake in this, review what we do next.


BLITZER: So, Paula, it's been almost, what, 26 days, still nothing. Do you have a sense how much longer they will keep looking, what they'll do, if, in the coming few days, they find nothing?

NEWTON: Well, when I was speaking to Chief Houston earlier today, Wolf, we're not talking about days so much as we are weeks and months. And what he's saying is, this kind of tasking of ships, of airplanes, can't go on indefinitely. It will just be fruitless. They might have to try another strategy. And you might see the intensity coming down a notch. He was clearly, though, Wolf, preparing the families for the fact that they're going to give this a good shot over the next few weeks, perhaps months, but then after that they're really going to take a -- have to take a good, hard look at the evidence that they've gathered so far and what they do next to try and find that plane.

BLITZER: Paula Newton reporting from Perth, Australia. Thank you. We'll have much more coverage of the mystery of Flight 370. That's coming up.

Also, open enrollment is over. So did the White House reach the target goal on health care? We're taking a closer look at how it ended and if the president has something to crow about.


BLITZER: The General Motors chief, Mary Barra, will face tough questions on Capitol Hill beginning in less than an hour from now. Lawmakers are demanding to know why GM waited more than 10 years to recall millions of vehicles with faulty ignition switches. GM says switches can unexpectedly turn off, disabling major components of the car. The flaw has been linked to 13 deaths. Families of the victims held their own press conference in Washington ahead of the hearing, including a father who lost his teenage stepdaughter.


KEN RIMER, STEPFATHER OF NATASHA WELGEL (ph), GM CRASH VICTIM: My wife, Jane, lost everything. Natasha was her only child. There will be no boyfriend troubles, no wedding day 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.


BLITZER: Today's hearing also comes a day after GM recalled another 1.3 million vehicles for an unrelated flaw affecting power steering.

The deadline for health insurance open enrollment has come, but hasn't gone quite yet. A senior administration official says they're on target to hit 7 million sign ups, which was the expected target set by the White House. Our chief political analyst Gloria Borger is here with us right now.

Gloria, what, the president is going to speak at 4:15 from the White House Rose Garden later today.


BLITZER: Is this sort of the beginning of a victory lap?

BORGER: Well, you know, I think, when you talk to people at the White House, they don't want to talk about it as a victory lap or crowing and saying we told you so because this rollout has been so plagued with problems. What I think you're going to hear the president say is that we've reached the goal we set originally, despite all of the problems we've had coming into this and that he knows that it's been a rocky road but now they're on the path to making this Affordable Care Act start to work for the American people. I'm presuming that's what the president's going to say.

BLITZER: And if people have trouble enrolling because of last-minute computer glitches -

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: They've have another 15 days or so to go ahead and do it. And in some states -- BORGER: There have been a lot of slipped deadlines.

BLITZER: Some states were there have been some problems in their state computers -


BLITZER: They'll have a month or so to still do it.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: So there's still time for that 7 million number, assuming they've reached that 7 million to go and even higher.

BORGER: Yes, but, Wolf, there are a lot of unanswered questions here. And you don't want to rain on their parade because, really, honestly, nobody anticipated that they would get to this 7 million point. I don't even think folks at the White House anticipated it given the problems that they - that they had.

BLITZER: Given the initial enrollment - yes, the problems.

BORGER: But we still don't know the answers to some basic questions, which is, how many previously uninsured people have enrolled? How many people who have enrolled have paid? And a very important question here, Wolf, is, what is the risk pool going to look like? How many of these people are younger, healthier people? At this point, the number's about 27 percent. But that needs to, you know, that needs to get higher. So these are questions that still remain and that need to be answered.

The largest of which, though, is, Wolf, how much will people's premiums go up in the next four to five months. Because while Republicans may be quieted now for a little bit, although I doubt it, but at least the plan is up and running, the big question is, what kind of increases are people going to see in their insurance premiums, and that will happen right at the time you sort of get in the heat of the midterm elections. And if premiums go up substantially, that would give Republicans something to run on.

BLITZER: I suspect in the last few days a lot of younger people, knowing younger people as you and I know them -


BLITZER: They're probably the last-minute people to sign up.

BORGER: Right. And don't forget -

BLITZER: So that percentage probably will go up.

BORGER: And this also doesn't include what some estimate to be another 4.5 million Medicaid recipients.

BLITZER: In addition to this (INAUDIBLE).

BORGER: Who are also going to get their health care.



BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Gloria.

President Obama will make that statement on the Affordable Care Act at 4:15 p.m. Eastern in the Rose Garden over at the White House. We'll have live coverage for all of our viewers.

Malaysian officials have now released the full transcript of communication between Flight 370 and air traffic controllers. I'll ask a pilot with 30 years of flying experience what he thinks of those conversations.