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TPL Detects Pings; New Info Says Flight 370 Skirted Indonesia Entirely; Testing Theories in a Boeing 777 Flight Simulator

Aired April 7, 2014 - 11:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN CO-ANCHOR: Huge news in the search for Flight 370, officials say new developments could happen in days if not hours. Signals detected by an American pinger locator could be zeroing in on the plane's black boxes. Still, time is running out.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN CO-ANCHOR: Plus, an emotional Oscar Pistorius takes the stand in his own defense and begins with a tearful apology to the family of the woman he killed last year in his home.

BERMAN: And from child star to one of the biggest names in film history, the life and career of Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney, who's died at the age of 93.

Hello, everyone, great to see you today. I'm John Berman.

PEREIRA: It is a Monday. Hi, I'm Michaela Pereira. It is 11:00 a.m. in the East, 8:00 a.m. out West, those stories and much more, right now, @ THIS HOUR.

A potential breakthrough in the search for Flight 370, authorities have what they're calling their most promising lead yet. Now, it comes 31 days after that plane vanished.

BERMAN: This is what we know as of right. Two separate signals consistent with flight-data and cockpit-voice recorders have been detected by a U.S. Navy pinger locator.

The high-tech device is being towed by the Australian naval ship Ocean Shield. The sounds were picked up in waters that are almost three miles deep in the Indian Ocean.

The first detection lasted more than two hours. That's significant. A second one lasted about 13 minutes.

Malaysia's transportation minister is voicing cautious optimism.


HISHAMUDDIN HUSSEIN, ACTING MALAYSTIAN TRANSPORTATION MINISTER: We are cautiously hopeful that there will be a positive development in the next few days if not hours.

(END VIDEO CLIP) PEREIRA: Also today, a senior Malaysian government source tells CNN the plane's radar track shows that it skirted Indonesia on its path toward the Indian Ocean, taking a route that to some suggests an intent to avoid radar detections.

BERMAN: Still, right now, so much hinges on pinpointing where the pings from those potential black boxes might be coming from.

And keep in mind that the batteries on those black boxes could run out literally at any minute. They're already past their life expectancy.

PEREIRA: So, let's bring you up to date on the latest on the search. Will Ripley joins us from Pearce Air Force Base in Perth, Australia. Good to see you, Will.

Still no visual sighting of the wreckage, so tell us how authorities are focusing the search today or will be in the next hours when they pick up the search again?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, you're absolutely right, still no visuals. There really are two simultaneous searches that are happening right now.

Every day we see the planes taking off from the air base where I am standing. That search continues. So far it's come up empty.

But the real promising lead that we're looking into and the promising lead that's being investigated right now is a thousand miles from here, where the Ocean Shield is there with that TPL, that underwater listening device, scouring the ocean, trying to detect those signals that the ship found twice over the weekend.

And, so, what they're trying to do is get a lock on this. If they can get a lock on the signal, start passing over the area more carefully, then they can really box in where they think this wreckage might be.

And that is critical because that's just the first step, then you actually have to go down and locate all the wreckage as well.

So, definitely a lot of work happening, and the visual search, so far, even flying over the area today, where those potential pings were heard, the planes didn't see anything.

BERMAN: Will, we heard from the Malaysian defense minister who said he is cautiously possible there could be positive developments maybe as soon as within hours.

What about Australian officials leading the search there from the ground? How confident are they that they've turned a corner here?

RIPLEY: Yeah, the language they're using is much more, you know, like you said, much more cautious than what the Malaysians said when we heard them speak at that press conference.

I want to play for you some sound from Captain Mark Matthews, because he is the guy whose team is actually operating this towed pinger locator. He explains how it works and what else needs to happen.


CAPTAIN MARK MATTHEWS, U.S. NAVY: What I'd like to do before I absolutely say with certainty that it is the aircraft is, one, reacquire the signal; two, deploy the autonomous underwater vehicle with the side-scan sonar to map the debris field; and then, three, switch out that sonar with a camera unit and take photographs of the what would be the wreckage.

But certainly, you know, we're jumping to conclusions here. We need to definitely reacquire the signal to confirm that it is the aircraft.


RIPLEY: Right now, it really is a race against time. I mean every time the Ocean Shield makes a pass, that takes eight hours.

And then you think about, if they do locate this signal, just getting that underwater drone down there, it takes two hours to get down to the bottom almost three miles down, 16 hours to scan, and then two hours back up.

Nothing happens quickly in the deep ocean, and so it's going to be a matter of time.

And as you guys mentioned, those black box batteries could literally run out at any second.

BERMAN: Our thanks to Will Ripley in Perth.

You know, we heard from Commander William Marks this morning. He was talking to Chris Cuomo. You had the sense from Commander Marks that he was worried they could run out as they're searching for them right now. As it's pinging, he's worried that those black boxes, the battery life, could run out.

PEREIRA: That's a very realistic concern, given how down-to-wire they are.

Let's talk about all the developments today in the search with our aviation analyst Mary Schiavo. Good to have you with us once again, Mary. They're calling this one the most promising --


PEREIRA: -- lead yet.

But what is it exactly for you as an investigator who's been on scene many times in this initial excitement, what is it that -- what makes everybody so excited about these pings?

SCHIAVO: Well, the pings themselves aren't so exciting. It's what lies beneath the pings. The pings are so exciting because, one, they're the right frequency, 37.5. They're the right frequency of pinging noises. In other words, the rate at which the ping comes is about once every second, and that's right.

The Ocean Shield mentioned that it had heard not one but two, which would suggest there are two pingers, one on the flight-data recorder, one on the cockpit-voice recorder.

And the fact that they don't travel very far, maybe a mile a half vertically or three miles horizontally from their location in the water means that they were, at some point, right on top of or nearly on top of whatever was making this sound.

So they have the coordinates. They know about where they were when they found it. It sounds like a pinger. The frequent looks like a pinger. Most of us conclude it must be a pinger.

And so that's why everybody is so optimistic, but it doesn't do us any good until we get the black boxes, so it's just another clue. It's the box itself we've got to have.

BERMAN: And, again, Mary, you think these pingers are more indicative of where the search should be headed right now, instead of the Chinese pings.

Of course, these Chinese ships picked up some pingers some three- hundred miles away on Saturday, but you trust the ones picked up by the American equipment more?

SCHIAVO: I think, realistically, both have to be checked out because we still don't have the black boxes yet, and until you do, you can't afford really to overlook any lead because the battery life is dwindling down, or may already be gone, although, presumably, the Chinese ship noted the coordinates.

I know they did. They noted the latitude and longitude. But we really can't afford to discard anything, but because they replicated it, the Ocean Shield.

They heard it a couple of times. They heard for a long period of time. One was two hours. That's a really -- you know, that's a good fix on a sound, and because they have so many indices of reliability, I think that one sounds very reliable.

That would be the one -- if I had to choose, that would be the one I go with.

PEREIRA: I think that many people were sort of hoping, hey, maybe they'll spot some debris, a visual spotting from the planes in conjunction with the area that the pings were detected.

Is it realistic to think that debris would still be afloat, 31 days in? What do we know about debris and how it behaves after this much time? SCHIAVO: No, I wouldn't expect the debris to be right there where you find the wreckage under the sea. In Air France and in other crashes on the water, it moves away with the currents, and it wouldn't say right there where it is, ocean gyre or not.

It's going to move away, so I wouldn't expect to see it there. But, conversely, I would have expected to see some, because when a plane hits the water, it breaks apart.

I mean, you can count -- you can probably count on one finger recently the ones where you know it didn't break apart, and that was the Sullenberger-Skiles landing on the Hudson.

But even when you try and make a landing on the ocean, doesn't usually work, because if your wingtip catches a wave, you'll flip.

So, yeah, I expected to see wreckage.

BERMAN: So, could this plane have sunk completely intact? We'll talk about that in a little bit.

Mary, stay right here. We're going to come back to you for a discussion on many more things, much more analysis, just ahead.

PEREIRA: Ahead, @ THIS HOUR, an urgent new question in the Flight 370 mystery, did the plane deliberately avoid Indonesia's air space and, if so, why?

That question to our experts, coming up.



AIR CHIEF MARSHAL ANGUS HOUSTON (RET.), CHIEF COORDINATOR, JOINT AGENCY COORDINATION CENTER: Today, I can report some very important information which has unfolded over the last 24 hours.

The towed pinger locator deployed from the Australian defense vessel, Ocean Shield, has detected signals consistent with those emitted by aircraft black boxes, two separate signal detections that occurred within the northern part of the defined search area.


PEREIRA: So, it's the best lead so far in what has been a long and frequently frustrating search, but will crews be able to find the plane based on those new signals or the new pings?

Let's bring in two of our experts. Mary Schiavo is a CNN aviation analyst and former inspector general for the U.S. Department of Transportation.

BERMAN: And Jeff Wise is a CNN aviation analyst and pilot.

And, Jeff, I want to leave the pings aside for a moment and talk about another key piece of information that CNN developed overnight.

According to Malaysia officials, they say they now believe that the track that this plane took skirted around Indonesia. They think it literally went around the tip of Indonesia, presumably to avoid Indonesian radar, to avoid Indonesian air space.

Now, it's been curious to you and others for a long time, you know. Why didn't Indonesian radar pick up this plane? This could explain that, but does it make any sense to you?

JEFF WISE, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: It certainly makes sense. It would -- if the plane was heading into the southern Indian Ocean, did not want to be detected.

You know, what we do know about the track was that it went west of the Malay Peninsula, went over the open ocean, and, yes, it would have made a lot of sense for it to curve around and remain out in the open ocean.

The big question for me, hearing this new information is, what is the source of it? Because if it, indeed, was far enough out to sea that it did avoid Indonesian radar, what then is the reason that we know this track was, in fact, the one it took?

PEREIRA: Well, I want to put that to Mary, because, you know, that's interesting that you mention that.

We know, Mary, that the information that's been coming from Indonesia has been incomplete or absent and sometimes a little odd.

Does this mean to you that it can be trusted? Does it put questions, further questions, in your mind?

SCHIAVO: It puts boatloads of questions in my mind and here's why. The Indonesian press - now, granted, I had to read it through Google translations - but the Indonesian press is full of reports of how bad Indonesian radar really was. They said that 70 percent of the units are damaged. The military radar is so bad it only operates half the time, not 24 hours a day, but 12 hours a day. Civilian radar can't pick anything up with the transponder off, and they have new radar on order, but they're just starting to take deliveries in 2014, and it won't be finished for another decade.

In other words, Indonesia has been under tremendous criticism for the lack of radar coverage. I think it sounds like creating a nifty story to explain why they didn't get any radar sightings because they're not likely to. They said that 40 percent of the radar units in Indonesia are damaged and don't work because they're so old. And it's not picking on Indonesia; it's just a fact of life, things get broken. The United States' primary radar units are damaged and broken and old.

So I'm very suspicious. It sounds like a lot of CYA, and I want to see facts before I say, oh yes, it skirted the radar that's largely nonexistent.

BERMAN: Yes, an awfully convenient explanation. The facts will only come with the discovery or the retrieval of the black boxes, Jeff. So what I want to know is, what now? These towed pinger locators has detected these pings; they may run out. These pings may run out before they ever get a better location. So this next 24 hours is crucial. What do you do to find these boxes?

WISE: Well, what you do is you just go back, which I'm sure they're going to do as soon as they can, is go back to that site and try to cross back over it, try to get a firmer fix on where exactly the signal is coming from.

And this is a real Hail Mary pass. I mean, bear in mind, last week we were saying it's incredibly unlikely, given the short range that this technology works at, that they're going to find the pinger in this huge ocean, like the scale of the continental United States. So they're going to go back and time is against us. I mean, talk about a Hail Mary pass. It's right before the end of its life span before the battery runs out and the pinger stops working. And if it does turn out to be the pinger from the black box, we just got incredibly lucky.

BERMAN: But if they go over it one more time, can they get a better location?

WISE: Right, each time you go back, you're going to have a better - you're going to have a new track. And on the track you're going to be able to plot the intensity of that signal. And so they have no two tracks, one was about three hours, one was just a number of minutes. And then, with each pass, hopefully they'll keep hearing it, they'll be able to triangulate down, find out really was it, and then you send down the autonomous underwater vehicle and then hopefully you get an image of it with the sonar.

BERMAN: Key work over the next couple days.

PEREIRA: Certainly is, and we'll take a look at more of the underwater search coming up @ THIS HOUR. We want you both to stick around with us. We're going to take some questions from our viewers. You guys have been great about tweeting us and adding them on Facebook. We're going to take some more of those questions, #370Qs, and we'll ask our experts your questions coming up.

BERMAN: And ahead for us @ THIS HOUR, if Flight 370 was trying to avoid radar and intentionally flew around Indonesia, which is what some people are saying now, where in the world could the missing flight have been headed? We'll have more after this.



HOUSTON: This is quite an extraordinary set of circumstances that we're now in a very well defined search area, which hopefully will eventually yield the information that we need to say MH-370 might have entered the water just here.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: That's Angus Houston, the head of the Australian agency coordinating Flight 370 search operations right now. He was speaking overnight about new promising leads in the hunt for Flight 370.

PEREIRA: Over the weekend, a ship picked up two promising signals consistent with flight data and cockpit voice recorders. In other words, the sounds don't occur in nature. So there's a good chance, at least our experts are saying, that there is something down there.

BERMAN: So joining us now for more on this, our Tom Foreman. So Tom, these signals detected by an Australian naval vessel using U.S. equipment, but just the other day there was a Chinese vessel using equipment that people for whatever reason don't trust quite as much coming from a different location, about 300 plus miles away. Is it possible they could have been detecting the same thing?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No. Unless something really, really strange is happening, this can't be the same thing, not in that period of time. Let's take a look at these acoustic events. You mentioned they are sounds that don't occur in nature that they're reporting out there. But, frankly, there's a lot of searching, a lot of vessels moving around, and there are a lot of sounds that don't occur in nature occurring in these waters right now. So that raises some questions about what people are hearing.

Here's where the Chinese heard their signal on the 5th. And then on the 6th, this is the other one, 373 miles away. There's no pattern of drifting that can go far. No way that a pinger hear could be heard over here or vice versa, unless something really, really unknown has occurred in an acoustic sense. And I don't think there's any reason to believe that.

The pinger types are different, in terms of the locators. That's one of the reasons that people are so suspicious of the Chinese location, because they were using this type pinger, which even the manufacturer has suggested is not necessarily being used in the way that it's meant to be used. It's a fine piece of equipment but not necessarily for this.

This is the second set of pings out there, the one that people are excited about. They were detected by this device, and it works by being towed underwater at a very slow rate. It gets a much more complete signature of what's happening down there. So that's why there's much more confidence in this, John and Michaela.

BERMAN: All right, thank you, Tom Foreman in Washington. And, again, as Tom was saying, you did an interview this morning with the maker of the device that the Chinese ship was using. He didn't seem confident that they could have detected it using his equipment.

PEREIRA: Well, his equipment is meant to be handheld in shallow water, have a diver use it. It's not meant for those depths. They can put an adapter on it, but even still he was doubtful that it was picking up the same pings.

Ahead @ THIS HOUR, just how exactly could an airline carrying 239 people avoid radar detection and then simply vanish? We're going to test some of our theories with CNN's Martin Savidge in Boeing 777 flight simulator.


BERMAN: All right, welcome back, everyone. @ THIS HOUR, authorities have what they are now calling the most promising lead yet in the search for Flight 370. It does come 31 days after that plane vanished.

PEREIRA: Here's what we know now. Two separate signals consistent with flight data and cockpit voice recordres have been detected by a U.S. Navy pinger locator. This high-tech device is being towed by the Australian naval ship, the Ocean Shield. The sounds were picked up in waters that are almost three miles deep in the Indian Ocean. The first detection lasted more than two hours, the second lasted about 13 minutes. Family members are bracing for what might come next.


STEVE WANG, PASSENGER'S SON: Maybe this is the time maybe -- the next couple of days, the next couple of months, the next couple of years, we will find the ending, but there will be a time that it will end. So to me, I don't want that it is MH-370, but if it's a fact, then I have to face it.


BERMAN: Also today, a senior Malaysian government source tells CNN the plane's radar track shows it skirted Indonesia on its path toward the Indian Ocean, taking a route that suggests, they say, an intent to avoid radar detection. So whether the moves of Flight 370 were intentional or not, the fact does remain there are so many questions about how a Boeing 777 could simply vanish. It does raise a slew of security concerns about just how planes are tracked.

PEREIRA: Joining us for more on this is our Martin Savidge and pilot trainer Mitchell Casado. They are both inside a flight simulator in Mississauga, Canada. So it's really interesting, Martin, and I want, Mitchell, to you to sort of chime in on this as well. They talk about the plane - the Indonesians believe it skirted their radar in order - some are saying, it could be in order to avoid detection. Would there not be other radar that it would have picked up on in the area if it had done so?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, I think the way it was described is that they skirted Indonesian air space and whether that was an attempt to avoid radar may or may not have been the case of whoever was flying the aircraft at that time. We know at this point they that they weren't successful, at least not in disappearing completely, because they know of this information and we also know that various pings from the Inmarsat tracked the plane.