Return to Transcripts main page


Search Technology; TPL Goes to Work as Pinger Batteries Dead or Dying; Solider Hero Slain in Fort Hood as He Held Door Closed

Aired April 4, 2014 - 12:00   ET



MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, now you want to do it (ph).

BERMAN: You got it. You got it.

PEREIRA: I see how that is.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It is Friday, April the 4th and welcome to LEGAL VIEW.

At this very hour, exactly four weeks ago, 239 people were about to take off from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on a state-of-the-art wide- bodied jet bound for Beijing. But Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 never arrived at its destination. And four agonizing weeks later, that is one of the very few things that we know for certain.

Today, for the very first time, the search for Flight 370 went under the surface of the southern Indian Ocean as the Australian navy ship Ocean Shield arrived with its American TPL-25, its towed pinger locater device. As we speak, that super-sensitive microphone is following a 150 mile straight line track at a depth of some 10,000 feet, strange straining to pick up this. It is a faint and sadly fading set of pings that is hopefully right now coming from the plane's flight's data and cockpit voice recorders.

Some similar gear from the British ship Echo is trolling in the opposite direction and working its way right towards the Ocean Shield. With zero physical traces of Flight 370 located by the dozens and dozens of planes and ships that have been searching for weeks, the underwater assets are effectively a total shot in the dark. But darkness is something they can definitely handle.

Since they don't rely on eyeballs, the TPLs, they can work right around the clock. And if they do get a ping, an American AUV, or an autonomous underwater vehicle, is now on the scene, and it is standing by ready to go. It uses side scan sonar to map the ocean floor.

In the meantime, a mystery unprecedented in aviation history just gets more and more mysterious. I want to get straight to my colleague, my CNN colleague, Paula Newton, who is live for us in Perth, Australia.

So, we felt as though there might be something changing when there was significant announcements made yesterday about logistics. Is it a turning point in the search or are we effectively looking at the last acts of desperation, Paula?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's definitely not desperation. To call it a turning point, though, when they haven't narrowed the search that much yet, that might be a bit of a stretch, as well. I will tell you that for the families, though, this does mark a certain sort of operation that they have been waiting for, when you think of them. So many people trying to spot objects on the surface of the water, absolutely no luck, Ashleigh, why not go under water?

And I think this does give them a measure of comfort in saying, look, they're going to give it a shot. It's, as you say, an around-the-clock operation. It will keep going on for 10 to 12 days when they keep getting more models in about where that plane may have gone into the water. More accurate information. They will continue to refine that search.

I spoke to the lead commander on this earlier today, and he's definitely hopeful. He says the conditions are good. If it is pinging, he says, his equipment will hear it.

BANFIELD: Our Paula Newton reporting live for us in Perth, Australia. Thank you for that.

And joining me once again with their invaluable insights, our CNN aviation correspondent, Richard Quest, as well -


BANFIELD: Good morning to you.

And the -- not only a terrific resource on this, and aviator, a former Royal Air Force lieutenant colonel, Michael Kay.


BANFIELD: And ocean explorer and expedition leader, Christine Dennison.

And your insights become even more critical as now the search goes under water.

Richard, I want to start with you. Four weeks ago, I did not think that we would be sitting here today effectively talking about what seems like the very same thing. But have we made more progress than what we knew four weeks ago today?

QUEST: Yes. Since we've made an enormous amount of progress in the sense that four weeks ago, on the night when it happened, if you had said to me, Richard, within days the search area will be 2,000 miles in exactly the opposite direction and you will have absolutely no trace of the plane other than by some hokey pokey science to do with satellite technology that's never been done before, we would have said you are barking mad.

BANFIELD: And you would have said, that's never happened before.

QUEST: It hasn't.

BANFIELD: And there's no reason to think it's happened now. And now we know it has.

QUEST: I would have laid money back then that this plane eventually was going to have been found in or around the south China Seas, somewhere on the route towards Beijing.

BANFIELD: Christine, as I look at these pictures and I think about all those people who are out there with no land to tie up to and no stability, waiting to continue this now underwater search, I wonder if this is the right time, because all along we've been told it isn't until we find something concrete, some evidence. But do they have any other options?

CHRISTINE DENNISON, EXPEDITION LOGISTICS SPECIALIST: Well, at this point, they are doing the best they can within the search. They keep narrowing it down, which is a good thing. But they're also very carefully monitoring the sea state so that they can get the TPL in. And I agree, I don't think that this is just sort of for show. I mean, they need to move, and they know they need to move fast, because we're losing time on these black boxes.

BANFIELD: Precious time.

DENNISON: A lot (ph).

BANFIELD: I mean we're a couple of days -- you know, at best guess, we're a couple of days away from the best pinging available to us.

DENNISON: Right. And at the moment, what they would be hearing is sort of like a - a very weak pulse that's emitting sound. And that is if they can even pick up sound at this point within the search area that they have. And they keep narrowing it down, which is the only way, I believe, they'll have any success in being able to deploy unmanned vehicles to actually continue to mount the bottom of the ocean floor and look for something.

BANFIELD: Colonel Kay, we've had announcement after announcement of either a major shift in the search zone or a refinement in the search zone. And every time we hear of these major shifts, it leads, you know, people to think, do we have any confidence at all in what we're doing, or is this 90 percent guesswork?

KAY: No. I don't think any of it is guesswork, Ashleigh. I think there's a lot of very clever people that are actually analyzing this very huge problem. I think if you go right back to the first time Tony Abbott stood in front of the world and said, we have found something that could be linked to MH-370, there were a lot of commentators, including ourselves, that were a little bit cautious about those statements. I think they've come a long way since then. And if you look at their chief marshal, Angus Houston's press conference yesterday, he seemed to have a slightly more upbeat tone in his voice. I remain optimistic, but I remain cautious. The analysts have been refining this information for four weeks. We're now down to two converging 240 kilometer tracks. That is extremely refined considering the size of the area, 130,000 square miles, we'd been looking at previously. So that is good news.

What I would say, though, is that I still don't think that the revelation moment is going to come from the ping locater. I think it's going to be from the P-8s, the P-3s, the illusions (ph) -

BANFIELD: You do? It's still an aviation story?

KAY: The air - it's still an aviation story -


KAY: Because, at the moment, they're the assets that can cover the most area. Now, the question I would ask is, is that if we do have those two converging tracks, why haven't the aircraft been on top of the location been able to see something? And - because, for me, you don't get one without the other. You don't get the black boxes without some sort of indication of debris.

BANFIELD: So all I can say to that is, why has it taken 28 days for us to crunch numbers, math and data and so many ships? We're going to go into that in just a moment. Stand by if you will, Richard Quest, Michael Kay, Christine Dennison, stick around.

Last, quick comment?

QUEST: I just going to say, do we all think there is something that they know something that we don't know that has driven them -


QUEST: Right to this sort of point.

DENNISON: Absolutely. I do.

BANFIELD: Yes. I think you're absolutely on the money.

DENNISON: Sorry, I do.

KAY: (INAUDIBLE) - it goes -

BANFIELD: And if it helps the process, I'm fine not knowing.

QUEST: Oh, absolutely.

KAY: Given the lessons identified from the first press conference by Tony Abbott, I would agree with you, they wouldn't be doing this again unless they had something very (INAUDIBLE).

BANFIELD: We're going to dig more into this in just a moment.

In the meantime, there is still this issue of the towed pinger locater. This thing is really remarkable stuff. It's a new piece of equipment. It's now being used to look for that missing plane. The way it works is something they have not been able to employ before in a major wreck like this. So the mechanics are everything. You're going to get a quick lesson in it in just a moment.


BANFIELD: Flight 370 vanished four weeks ago today, and the search in the southern Indian Ocean seems to be getting more complicated. The devices that send those locating pings up hopefully from where they are to the surface, well, they are due to start running out of battery power really any time now. Possibly in the next two days it could be the most dire.

And joining the hunt today, however, a real force. A giant submersible microphone that is designed to hear those better than any other microphone we've had. And it is going to be joined with a sophisticated underwater robot that is ready to dive to the deepest depths if the pings are heard.

Our Tom Foreman joins us now with a look at some of this gear.

And maybe you can explain best the marriage of the gear. What the black boxes send out and what this fantastic technology could do to receive it.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is great technology. And it can do a fantastic job if it's in the right place. And that is a little bit tricky because, take a look at these, these are the search areas over the past 17, 18 days. Look at how they've changed, changed, changed, changed, changed, Ashleigh. And finally we wind up here. So here is where they're betting or hoping that maybe this stuff will be in the right place.

This is how it works. When you talk about the towed ping locater, that's the device over here. It's being hauled along and it's listening over a range of one to two miles depending on the ocean depth there and the thermal clines (ph) there, the heat of the water, that sort of thing, and it listens for the pings coming off the box.

Now, this is a very slow process because this thing is traveling along at a rate of probably two to four miles per hour in an operational sense. It can go up to around five or six, if you were really cranking along. But it has to go very slowly. And it's at a depth of one and a quarter to two-and-a-half miles in this search area. So it has to get fairly close to its target to find it, Ashleigh. It's not a very fast way of moving about.

And on top of which, you mentioned the robotic device. The robotic device can dive down just as deep and basically it can go down and search around using what's called side scan sonar. Side scan sonar would allow it to, in effect, go along here and it cast out a signal and it tries to see anything like this that would be in the zone of where it's being - where it's riding by.

But again, it has to get fairly close to make it work. That's -- so the real equation here, again, Ashleigh, is, how close can you get? Because if you're close enough, it works. If you're not close enough, it's great technology that's just dragging through the ocean.


BANFIELD: Right. And it's that zone. I mean that's the critical zone that your - it's the sweet spot that everyone's trying to find. Chad Myers actually, Tom, our colleague, is going to join us later to tell us about slowing things down in trying to get that zone. So it will be very helpful for people to understand not only what they're up against, but how it can actually hamper the speed of trying to get there.

Tom Foreman, as usual, thank you.

FOREMAN: You're welcome, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: And joining me as well to talk about who the batteries on those black boxes will eventually die and then what happens to the search. One, it would seem there's no hope in locating the pings. CNN's aviation correspondent Richard Quest, aviator and former Royal Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Michael Kay and expedition logistics specialist Christine Dennison.

I really hate asking this question, but it has to be asked, Richard Quest. After Sunday, what hope do we really have if those pingers stop pinging?

QUEST: We have as much hope as we had with Air France 447. Now, in that case, they had a debris field. Not only did they have a debris field, but they couldn't find the black boxes and they couldn't find the pingers. And they went backwards and forwards. And actually, when they went over with the locater, they went over the plane several times and they still didn't find it.

BANFIELD: Even though it was pinging.

QUEST: Yes. Thereafter, over several years, they did go back each year. I think it was four attempts in all.

BANFIELD: They had a splash zone.

QUEST: They did.

BANFIELD: They knew.

QUEST: They did. But it was still very deep water, and they had to use underwater vehicles to actually find it.

And they never did find the black box with pingers or anything else. They found it by seeing pieces of the debris down there and by literally working their way through it. Now, you're right. They had a debris field. They had a search zone. That makes a huge difference.

BANFIELD: Yeah, big difference. So, Christine, if we're talking about a diminishing signal, as I understand it, the black boxes just don't stop one day. They just get weaker and weaker and weaker, like a flashlight, eventually dimming out, and those pings become quieter and quieter.

But unlike Air France, we have way better material. Those microphones, for lack of a better name -- the TPL-25, that's really sophisticated stuff. Is it a good match for the diminishing ping?

CHRISTINE DENNISON, EXPEDITION LOGISTICS SPECIALIST: I think at this point they really have state-of-the-art technology working in our favor.

However, as good as this technology is, it's not foolproof, so it really is sort of -- again, we're working against time, but at this point, that TPL-25 is capable of picking up even a very weak sound if they happen to be in the right area.

The AUV, which would be launched or deployed once they find a signal, is also -- we keep mentioning that it has side-scan sonar.

These machines have payloads which can be programmed with a variety of sensors, which one would be a magnetometer, which would pick up -- in addition to sound, it would also pick up any metal objects in that area.

BANFIELD: So when we heard this shift was moving underwater from what's effectively an air search up until now, it made me wonder if you know the answer to this question, Colonel, and that is, what happens to the air search?

What happens to all those pilots who are out there? Do they work in concert with the underwater search? Are they working separately and hoping that one of these two groups is going to get a strike?

LIEUTENANT COLONEL MICHAEL KAY, ROYAL AIR FORCE (RETIRED): Yeah, the air-land interface, or the air-maritime interface is absolutely vital to this search, and it will all coordinated through the RCC, the rescue coordinating center, which is back on the southwestern corner of Australia?

BANFIELD: What can they do together? What they possibly -- what can the airmen possibly do to help those who might be 10,000 feet underwater?

KAY: It's just about communication. It's about communicating where you have looked. It's about communicating anything that might look slightly suspicious.

It's about communicating where the currents are, so if you've got something on the ocean floor, you then communicate that to the air search with algorithms working out where the ocean currents are and then tracking to where the impact point could have been, if you like.

But Ashleigh, there's no smoke out fire. I don't think you're going to find black boxes without finding at least something, whether it be a life jacket, as ghastly as it sounds, a body, something which would indicate you're in the right area.

And as an investigator, or previous investigator, what I want to do is I would want to be going beyond what happens when the pingers fail.



BANFIELD: That's reality.

KAY: And what we need to be doing is we need to be looking at additional -- I've said this along -- additional evidence that we can corroborate it's in that area.

And I'd be looking at the Indonesians. And I'd be looking at their radar tracks for that.

BANFIELD: Just quickly.

QUEST: If we look at the map again, at the search areas, if we can just show the map again --

BANFIELD: The one that Tom Foreman just --

QUEST: Any map that shows where they are searching. What is interesting, the way in which they have refined the area. In some cases, they're not even contiguous. There's gaps between them, and I think it's fascinating how they're refining this down.

BANFIELD: Just doesn't look refined. It looks like such guesswork, but listen, I'm not a member of that cadre of people.

Richard Quest, Michael Kay, Christine Dennison, stick around. I have additional questions for you.

And then there's this. You've heard of ambulance chasers before, and you're going to hear about them again. This time, they're not chasing an ambulance. They're chasing all the family members left behind, wondering what happened to their loved ones on that flight.

So we're going to talk about what's going on with those people and how some of them are being smacked down, as well.

And another big story we're following, as well, that mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas. We are learning some more amazing details about the servicemen who were killed and how one of those victims was so heroic he may have actually saved many, many more lives on that base.

Those details, ahead.


BANFIELD: They survived deployments to places like Iraq and Afghanistan, only to come home to the United States and Fort Hood, in particular, and come face-to-face with a troubled man named Ivan Lopez, carrying a gun. The Army specialist shot and killed three fellow soldiers and wounded 16 others at the Texas military base, before finally turning the gun on himself and taking his own life. And if it weren't for the actions of brave men and women who stepped into action, that death toll could have been so much worse.

We are now learning some new details about the heroic actions of one of the soldiers in particular, who lost his life this week.

Our George Howell is live in Killeen, Texas. And before you tell me about that particular soldier, I know we're also learning more about some of the people who lost their lives.

Maybe you could walk me through that part of the story, first?

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As far as people who lost their lives, we do want to give the names. We've learned the names of these people, Sergeant Timothy Owens, again, he was a counselor here on post; Sergeant Carlos Rodriguez; and also Sergeant Danny Ferguson.

And Ashleigh, you got into that story. You kind of started to explain it. We're hearing from his fiancee, Kristen Haley. She spoke to CNN affiliate WTSP, and she described her fiancee, she described Ferguson, as a man who loved sports.

He loved football, loved basketball, baseball, but he also loved to serve his country, and on that day, two days ago, when this shooting happened, she says he was basically trying to defend, trying to protect his fellow soldiers.

I want you to listen to what she had to say.


KRISTEN HALEY, FIANCEE OF SLAIN SOLDIER DANNY FERGUSON (via telephone): He held that door shut, because there's no locks. Those doors are like -- seemed like they would be bulletproof, but apparently not, and if he was not being the one against that door holding it, that shooter would have been able to get through and shoot everyone else.


HOWELL: A room full of soldiers, and he was there at the door, a door that wouldn't lock, she says, trying to keep that door closed, as Lopez came through. But again, we know that Ferguson lost his life in the shooting.

BANFIELD: And you know something, let's just repeat that name, because it's worth knowing that name more than any other at this point, and that is Sergeant First Class Danny Ferguson.

I'm sure there are a lot of heartfelt thanks that are going out to him from a lot of people on that base, and, of course, right across the country.

George Howell, thank you. Thank you for that.

Even before the search for the missing plane shifted towards its latest swath of the Indian Ocean, one particular group of people was springing into action.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These lawyers launch within days, maybe even hours, of a crash, ambulance chasers, in essence, but they're ambulance chasers on a global scale.


BANFIELD: So just how high are the stakes here? And who might family members of those on board the plane be able to sue? And for how much? And by the way, how many of those ambulance chasers are getting nowhere near those families?


BANFIELD: It's hard to imagine a more vulnerable time for the families of the passengers on Flight 370, and sadly, it did not take long for the lawyers to take full advantage and try to cash in.