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Flight 370 Pings Detected?; Different Devices Used; Stern Words for Russia

Aired April 7, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: It's being called the most promising lead yet, a signal perhaps emanating from Flight 370's black boxes, but the big question is, will ships be able to relocate the signal, and is it the missing plane?

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The world lead. Finally, a ship using advanced U.S. technology picks up a signal in the water, not once, but twice, and now the search takes on a new urgency because the pinger batteries were not even expected to last this long.

And what about that Chinese ship, the one that over the weekend also supposedly detected signals in the water using far less sophisticated means on perhaps the last day of battery life? After all the dead ends, does this all sound almost too good to be true?

Also, in the politics lead, he says that illegal immigration is often an act of love. No, not some Democrat. I'm talking about the former Republican Governor of Florida Jeb Bush. Did Bush just fuel the fire for his potential 2016 rival Texas Senator Ted Cruz? Well, we will ask Senator Ted Cruz this hour.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We will begin with the world lead. Yes, more than once we have heard officials describe a clue as the most promising and yet of course here we are, 32 days after Flight 370 disappeared with 239 people on board without any concrete sign of it.

So, please consider this the most promising of these most promising leads, a signal detected in the Indian Ocean, using highly specialized equipment from the U.S. This is what picked the signal up, a pinger locator from the U.S. Navy towed by the Australian ship Ocean Shield. If it is from the black box recorders, crews could be very close to finally finding the plane and uncovering what may have happened to throw it so wildly off course, except, by many estimates, the batteries in the pingers should have already run out of juice.

Let's bring in our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh.

Rene, this signal is one of the most encouraging signs we have seen yet, but searchers are really under the gun now.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: They absolutely are under the gun.

We are already two days past the required shelf life of these batteries. There's really no guarantee at this point how much longer they will last. But here's why authorities are cautiously optimistic. While there's still no sign of wreckage, there was a distinct sound coming from underwater.

As we speak, they are trying to determine if it's flight 370 s black boxes that are calling.


MARSH (voice-over): It's the sound search teams have desperately been trying to find, and now they just may have. The pinger locator towed behind the Ocean Shield detected distinct sounds over the weekend that may be from the black boxes.

AIR CHIEF ANGUS HOUSTON, JOINT AGENCY COORDINATION CENTER: The first detection was held for approximately two hours and 20 minutes. The ship then lost contact. The second detection on the return leg was held for approximately 13 minutes.

MARSH: The detections about a mile apart in water more than 14,000 feet deep. On one occasion, two separate pings were heard, which only heightened the excitement, because the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder ping separately.

HOUSTON: This is a most promising lead.

MARSH: But we have heard that before.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The most promising lead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Credible leads.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Credible leads.

MARSH: But this time, it could be different.

HOUSTON: The audible signal sounds to me just like an emergency locator beacon.

MARSH: Search crews are cautiously optimistic.

CAPT. MARK MATTHEWS, U.S. NAVY: Certainly, we're jumping to conclusions here. We need to definitely reacquire the signal to confirm that it is the aircraft.

MARSH: The task now? The Ocean Shield is trying to find the signal again and hoping for confirmation. If the ping is detected again, crews will launch this underwater drone. It can scan the ocean floor and take photos of any potential debris.

At the same time, 375 miles away, Chinese ships and the British HMS Echo are trying to confirm pings the Chinese briefly detected Friday and Saturday. Australian officials as you know it's unlikely to be from the same source.

PETER LEAVY, ROYAL AUSTRALIAN NAVY: It's quite possible for sound to travel quite distances laterally, but very difficult to hear near the surface of the ocean, for instance.

MARSH: All of the activity is happening right along this arc, where a partial satellite connection placed the plane at 8:19 a.m. the day it disappeared.

The Australians believe it's the most likely place the plane went down.


MARSH: Also emerging, new details about the plane's flight path. An official tells CNN early in the flight, the plane made a left turn skirting Indonesia.

Could it be that someone who was in the cockpit and flying was trying to avoid radar? We may be one step closer to finding out if the new signals detected are truly from the plane's black boxes. And if it is, and they have found the black boxes, that truly would be extraordinary because they would have done it without finding any wreckage first, based on unproven satellite data, coupled with assumptions.

When you think about aviation history and how they search for this sort of thing, it's never unfolded like this before, Jake.

TAPPER: Rene Marsh, thank you so much.

As Rene pointed out, we have had promising and credible leads before in the search for Flight 370. So how important is this one?

Let's bring in our expert panel. Captain Tim Taylor is a submersible specialist and president of Tiburon Subsea Services, and Miles O'Brien is a CNN aviation analyst and science correspondent for "PBS NewsHour."

Miles, we were so optimistic so many times in the last 32 days, satellite images, plane sightings of orange objects. Is this more promising than those earlier ones? Do you actually think this is a legitimately promising sign?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: In a word, yes. What I like about this whole thing is that it matches that arc. It validates that Inmarsat data that we have been talking so much about, puts it right on that arc, which correlates with that last -- they called it the half-handshake or half-ping, which we presume to be the last communication from the aircraft to the satellite itself.

TAPPER: The fact that it's taking place where we would want it to be from these other data points?

O'BRIEN: Yes. It just verifies what we're hearing with these hydrophones. And so, unfortunately, the challenges are, it's in an extremely deep location. Tim will talk a little bit more about this. Getting to it will be another matter entirely.

TAPPER: Tim, let's talk about these pings. I want you to listen to U.S. Navy Captain Mark Matthews, who is overseeing operations on the Ocean Shield. He spoke to CNN about the confirmation process of these pings.


MATTHEWS: What I would like to do before I absolutely say with certainty that it's 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 what would be the wreckage.


TAPPER: So, some real caution there. Tim, what could these pings be other than the black box? I think the whole world and certainly our viewers, they have had an education of how much garbage is floating on the ocean, for example, with all these false positives when it comes to debris on the ocean surface. What could these sounds be?

TIM TAYLOR, PRESIDENT, TIBURON SUBSEA SERVICES: Well, let me say, I think what he's trying to tell you right there is he wants to get positive I.D. on the wreckage site, which means he's getting everybody ready for, this is going to be a long search, because what he just said he wanted to do could take months, maybe years, even with the pinger locating, getting it down to a searchable area.

So --


TAPPER: I'm sorry to interrupt him. Months or years?

TAYLOR: Months or years.

TAPPER: Even though they have this pinger sound, you're saying that's that really --

TAYLOR: This pinger sound, if it's the plane, will narrow the search area down, but they're still going to narrow it down to a hundred square miles, maybe, and then they have to go -- or bigger -- 1,000 square miles -- and they have to then go put their autonomous vehicle down and that takes time.

And then we're going into winter and it's weather. What he's couching everybody for is that this is going to take a tremendous amount of time. It's not fast. It's not going to happen -- he wants to be able to get positive I.D. that this is the plane with sonar data. That's not going to happen tomorrow or the next day or the next day. I find that that is just not going to happen. But the pings, to answer your question, in that part of the ocean, people have said could it be a biological tag on an animal for scientists or fishing gear or that type of thing? And I think I stated last night on CNN that most of the scientists that we have worked with in the past when they have used biological tags, they don't have it pinging every second, because that chews up the battery and it would be gone in 30 days or 60 days.

So what they do is they have a ping every minute or every 30 minutes or whatever so they can track what the animal when they want to track it or usually they put listening stations up and when an animal goes by it, it lets them know that it came in this particular part of the water. And that's the data set they're looking for.

TAPPER: Miles, I also want to talk about the fact that this new flight path that goes from around -- seems to go around Indonesia. What do you make of it? Is this evidence that this was a purposeful path trying to avoid Indonesian detection?

O'BRIEN: Well, it's just very hard to imagine an emergency scenario where you would see that flight path. That has all the hallmarks of a deliberate act.

And what is even more interesting about that flight path is when you overlay it to the known waypoints, as we call them in aviation -- these are arbitrary points in the sky that you use to make navigation a little simpler -- it turns out this plane was flying to waypoints and presumably that had been programed in to the flight management system on the aircraft.

So, somebody with some aviation expertise was involved one way or another in charting out that course. Not only was it deliberately set up to avoid radar exposure. It had the waypoints built in, or apparently so.

TAPPER: Yet more evidence that this was done purposefully in some way, shape or form.

O'BRIEN: Some way, shape or form.

TAPPER: Yes. Miles O'Brien and Tim Taylor, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

Coming up on THE LEAD: Could the underwater signals picked up by the Chinese be related to the ones picked up by an Australian ship, even though they are 375 miles away? Stay with us.

And in politics, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush calls illegal immigration an act of love. I will ask Senator Ted Cruz what he thinks about that and his potential 2016 rival when he joins me live on THE LEAD. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Continuing our world lead and the search for Flight 370. Two ships have detected some sort of signal or acoustic event that has raised hopes over finding the missing plane, but these signals were detected more than 300 miles away from each other. So where does that leave the search zone and could the type of equipment used have an impact?

Tom Foreman joins us from the magic wall to explain.

Tom, we used the term towed ping locator a lot, towed ping locator. But that doesn't apply to every device used to detect pings from the black boxes. What pieces of search equipment are these ships using?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that really is the key here as to one set of ping is being taken seriously and one is not. If you look at the acoustic events, as they are called, this is the Chinese one from April 5th down here. Here is the April 6th one, 370 miles away.

First question, can this be the same thing? Not likely unless something really strange is happening with sound underneath the water there.

But when you talk about the things that they were using -- for the Chinese search, they were using this, which is sort of a handheld device that you stick into the water and it's not really made for this kind of listening in these conditions.

The Ocean Shield towed locator, this one is made for this kind of search and that's what was used in the other location. This is how it operates. You've seen this graphic before. They drag it along very slowly and it can listen at a much higher quality level than the other one does. Although again, Jake, you've got to be close for it to work. So if it's working, unless there is strange acoustic properties underneath the water, which might be, it has to be somewhere near the target.

TAPPER: And, Tom, as I know you know, some white objects were seen floating I think 50, 60 miles away from where the Chinese detected their sound. At this point, how important is the search for the debris or is the thought that the debris is all gone?

FOREMAN: I think the debris is still important in that it tells you for sure that the plane crashed if you find it.

But look at this and think about this. If you were to look at the water as two different layers, there is the top layer where so much of the search has been so far and then there's the bottom, 1 1/2 to 3 miles deep depending on where you are. The top layer has been in motion from the time this began on top of which there was a major storm, a hurricane that blew through here shortly after the plane crash.

Arguably what that has done is taken anything on the surface and moved it substantially at least. And by substantially, look, if it were only going one mile an hour, at this amount of time, it could be 750, 800 miles an hour. That essentially separates this area from the event down below, wherever the plane is. So if you find what is down below, that doesn't necessarily connect you to something up above. If you find something up above, it may not connect to something below.

So, could it still be the picker locators and you have nothing on the surface? Sure. Because the surface have been moving, and now for a long time. There may not be debris on the surface.

But the converse is also true. If you find debris on the surface, that may not at this point tell you anything about where the debris is below the water.

TAPPER: All right. Tom Foreman, thank you so much.

I want to bring in CNN safety analyst and author of the book "Why Planes Crash," David Soucie.

And from London, Professor David Stupples. He's an electronics and radio engineer from City University of London.

Professor Stupples, I'll start with you. You say that the devices the Australians were using to get these pings were far more sensitive and advanced than the devices being used by the Chinese. Explain.

PROF. DAVID STUPPLES, CITY UNIVERSITY LONDON: Yes. Your last commentator mentioned it. The devices that the Chinese were using were devices that you would use perhaps for something which is roughly 400 meters or so beneath the surface and they are quite simple in the way that they are constructed. So the Chinese were probably receiving a great deal of noise. The ocean creates a lot of noise and the 37.5 kilohertz signal could easily be lost in that and you could easily misinterpret that signal. Now, the devices being used on the Ocean Shield are American devices from U.S. Navy specifically for looking at pings in deep ocean. This will be drawn along the ocean floor at four to five miles an hour, perhaps only 1,000 feet off the bottom of the floor.

So they are much, much closer to the ping -- the beacons themselves or the black boxes. And so, therefore the chances of them being picked up are considerably higher.

TAPPER: David Soucie, if this is it, without a debris field can we assume that the plane stayed relatively whole or is the assumption that there might have been debris but that it floated a long, long time ago far, far away?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Well, because it's within the search area, you would expect that if this is the pinger and it had been broken up into a lot of pieces you'd see at least some debris but as Tom was saying, that's been through a lot of weather there, a lot of movement. So I wouldn't be surprised that there wasn't debris right above that pinger locator.

But as he said, the opposite is true. If you found something on the surface, you wouldn't necessarily be able to trace that back to the pinger. So, we're very fortunate that we're looking for the pinger first and may have located that before we found debris. So, yes, I think that to me, could indicate that it went down as a whole unit as opposed to little pieces since we haven't found debris anywhere in that search area.

TAPPER: Professor Stupples, this is nearly three miles underwater. How reliable are the pings and how difficult are they to track back to their source at this tremendous depth?

STUPPLES: Well, the ping locator that's being used by Ocean Shield is very close to the ocean floor, so it's quite likely that it will be able to be picked it up if indeed the black box is there. The black box range is probably around 1,500 to 2,000 meters, just about over a mile to two miles. And the locator that is being put down there is only about a mile away from the possible source of this. So, it's very likely, if it is there, it will be picked up.

TAPPER: David Soucie, it's day 32. We can assume that the batteries are at the very least dying if not altogether dead. They were meant to last 30 days.

How much more time could possibly be left before they are gone altogether?

SOUCIE: Well, we talked to the manufacturer at Dukane and they said Dukane can go as far as 35 and does go as far as 35 days quite often. But I have some hesitation about that because I have information from an inside mechanic that did the Malaysian inspections, the audits, and found that they weren't properly stored which could have a dramatic effect on the life of that battery. So I'm a little bit hesitant to think that we're going to get anything more than what we've seen already.

TAPPER: Professor Stupples, one of the things being pointed out is we have two pings consistent with the voice recorder and the flight data recorder. But transmitting. Are these devices similar and do they give off the same message?

STUPPLES: The locator beacon is identical. They actually put off the 37.5 kilohertz and repulse out every second, for short burst. So if you don't know which one is which, it would be very difficult to tell. But the interesting thing is that if you find one, it is quite likely that the other one will not be too far away depending on how the aircraft hit the water but it's quite likely that they will be within a mile of each other.

TAPPER: And lastly, for David Soucie, do these batteries weaken and signal strength before dying, or is it more like what happens with my iPhone, it's just all of a sudden, it's dark?

SOUCIE: Well, (AUDIO GAP). You have the repeated signal every second and then you have the frequency range as well. So, as the battery decreases, the frequency band will start to drop like you're changing your radio station, it will start to drop a little bit.

Now, as far as the second interval, it's going to try to maintain that second interval over the frequency. So both of them will degrade over time but you rarely would see it click and go off. You can see some kind of indication. That's why it would be interesting to find out what kind of changes they saw within that pinger, if they had it on there for two hours, to see the very minute change. Was there a slight frequency change which of course could be explained by changes in the ocean as well? So, you have to be careful about that?

But as far as the sequence of time, that could give you a lot of clues as to how much time is left on the battery.

TAPPER: David Soucie and Professor Stupples, thank you so much. Appreciate your time.

Coming up on THE LEAD: it's a move that seems hauntingly familiar. Pro-Russian protesters seizing government buildings, this time they're doing it outside of Crimea, in eastern Ukraine. And some suspect, they're getting their orders straight from Moscow. How the White House is responding to the latest sign of unrest. That's coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Some more world news: tough words for Russia from Secretary of State John Kerry, but will Russia regard them as anything more than that, just words.

Pro-Russian protesters have seized a number of government buildings, including regional headquarters in -- not in Crimea -- in eastern Ukraine. The State Department says there is strong evidence indicating that some of these so-called separatists are being paid and that some of them aren't really locals at all.

Secretary Kerry spoke on the phone with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, warning Russia not to get greedy or greedier after taking Crimea from Ukraine. Sanctions and tough talk have done little to dissuade Russia. But Kerry tried again.


JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: He called on Russia to publicly disavow the activities of separatists, saboteurs and provocateurs, calling for de-escalation and dialogue. He made clear that any further Russian efforts to destabilize Ukraine would incur further costs for Russia.


TAPPER: Ukraine's foreign minister also spoke with Lavrov today, warning Russia not to use any military force in eastern Ukraine but there is hope that a diplomatic solution can still be worked out.

Kerry and Lavrov discussed holding talks in 10 days, among the U.S., Russia and the European Union.