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Possible Detection of Flight 370 Black Box

Aired April 7, 2014 - 01:00   ET


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour, everyone. I'm Don Lemon. I want to welcome in our viewers in the United States and around the world. We're following breaking news here on CNN.

And we have just learned that the U.S. Navy's towed pinger locator has detected two signals consistent with an airplane's black box in the search for this Flight 370.

This ship, the Ocean Shield, first detected a signal that lasted approximately two and a half hours. Two hours and 20 minutes, I should say. And then lost the signal, turned back around, and then again, the pinger locator located -- picked up another signal. This one lasted about 15 minutes. But the head of the search task force is Air Chief Angus Houston; well, he says until they have evidence, they cannot be sure that it is a plane. Take a listen.


AIR CHIEF ANGUS HOUSTON (RET.), CHIEF COORDINATOR, JOINT AGENCY COORDINATION CENTER: I need to be honest with you. It could take some days before the information is available to establish whether these detections can be confirmed as being from MH-370. In very deep oceanic water, nothing happens fast.


LEMON: And when we say deep -- when he says deep in the water, he means really deep, 2.8 miles, almost 3 miles into the water. A U.S. underwater drone, the Bluefin, is now being readied for the job of scouring the ocean floor near where the latest pings were located.

I want to bring in now my panel of experts about this breakthrough announcement. And also, I want to get back on the phone now with Commander William Marks from the U.S. 7th Fleet public affairs. He's from the USS Blue Ridge.

Michael Kay had a question for you. Michael, if you can repeat your question, and then he can answer it for you.

KAY: Hi, Commander. My name is Michael Kay again. Fascinated and hopefully that you will be able to pick up this signal on the rerun. I'd be absolutely curious to know how you fix the position once you receive the signal.

MARKS: Sure. The way the process works is it's called triangulating through lines. And for us in the Navy, this is from (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- I did it way back in high seas at the U.S. Naval academy. So the way you do it is you get a line of bearing. That's just a simple direction.

So for example, 0-9-0 might be a direction. Then you have to continue your motion in order to get another line of bearing. And it needs to be a distance away from the first one, and then when you get that second one, it creates an "X." Then you have the two. And where that "X" crosses in the middle is your indication of where the point may be.

You then continue on, hopefully get a third. And if that third line of bearing crosses in the middle of the first two, you now have three lines of bearing, all meeting in the same spot. Then that's a pretty positive indication of where the signal is coming from. So that's the goal as this towed pinger locator moves across the water.

KAY: So Commander William, just to clarify, you pick up the signal, and then you basically run three times to triangulate, and then you can confirm that you have an unequivocal position? Is that correct?

MARKS: Sure. And the more the better. So three is usually the -- what we use as a minimum. And then -- but if you can go along that same line as long as possible, the more lines of bearing you have, the better.

LEMON: Do you set visual markers?

MARKS: No markers or anything like that. It's just a line. So a direction. So, for example, 0-0-0 would be north; 0-4-5 would be northeast. So it's lines of bearing on a compass.

LEMON: Do you have an exact time for us, Commander, when the first one you spotted, which was two -- two hours and 20 minutes?

MARKS: I don't have that in front of me. Sorry.

LEMON: But it was within the last -- it was after the last press conference at midnight 24 hours ago, correct?

MARKS: Yes, that's correct.

LEMON: OK. How long to do the three runs? How long does it take to do the three runs?

MARKS: Yes. So we need to be very cautiously optimistic here. It takes a long time just to turn this thing around. So we're towing it at one to three knots. It's at a depth of a couple of miles. So it's very slow. Just to turn the ship around and to get this far enough so that you can get these lines of bearing, it's hours upon hours. So I don't expect any confirmation for quite a while, if there is any.

LEMON: OK. But considering, you know, Commander, I've been speaking to you over the weeks on and off here in the evening, during the day. And this seems to be at least the most encouraging bit of news that we have had. Again, we want to be cautious about it. It may not have anything to do with MH-370. But, you know, as Angus Houston said, this is the best news so far for him. Do you agree?

MARKS: Yes, I do. And what's really encouraging is look at the team work going into this. We have on board the ship, Australian navy, U.S. active duty Navy and civilians also. And that's just one part of the international cooperation.

So between our air crews going up, the people on this ship and all the other countries, especially for us here in the 7th Fleet, U.S. 7th Fleet, we are out here building these partnerships every day. To see it come to fruition is something really positive and something we're really proud of. So it doesn't matter who finds this thing, as long as we eventually do. And that's what counts.

LEMON: Commander, Angus Houston said, you know, this is going to take some time, even to get confirmation. And even if they -- you were right on top of the signal, it still would take time to get the cables, to turn everybody around, what have you. This isn't going to be something that's going to happen overnight or in a day or so. Even maybe not in a day or so. This is going to take some time, even if they do find something. If you do find something.

MARKS: Yes, that's correct. You know, this is just giving us a spot where the black box may be, the black boxes may be.

Let's say we do find them a couple of days or so or a week. Well, then you actually have to go down to the bottom of the ocean floor and get a picture of that. That's another very slow process. Bluefin only moves at a couple of knots, which is a couple nautical miles per hour. So a very slow, deliberate process. But you need it to be that slow and deliberate in order to get a good picture. So I completely agree. Under the water (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

LEMON: Thank you, Commander. We appreciate your patience and you joining us here on CNN.

Don't go anywhere, everyone. If the Navy pinger locator can reacquire that signal, the underwater drone, the Bluefin-21 will be launched.

Next, details on the U.S. equipment that could help find the black boxes.


LEMON: Welcome back, everyone. Breaking news. We have heard now the most encouraging words and news from the man heading this investigation. And to be certain that the pings are coming from the missing Malaysian airliner, searchers would send a remote underwater vehicle to take a look at that. Let's get more on this device. It's called the Bluefin-21.

CNN's Brian Todd joins us now from Washington with more.

Tell us about this, Brian. BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, the capability out there is really two vehicles in question. The towed pinger locator that we've heard so much over the past couple of days, which apparently located these signals, and also the Bluefin-21, which is an autonomous underwater vehicle. They're both made by Phoenix International. And we got access to Phoenix's facilities here not far from D.C. near Largo, Maryland. That's their headquarters. That's where they made all of this very sophisticated equipment.

The way it works is the towed pinger locator goes down and sweeps that area first. The towed pinger locator can go down as far as 20,000 feet below the surface of the sea. It can detect the pinger from up to two miles away. It can detect the pinger even if the pinger's signal is fading. So these developments overnight and midday there in the region are very encouraging.

Of course, we know it does not necessarily mean that they've found a black-box signal, but it is encouraging. Now, the next step, now that they've gotten these signals, is to send that autonomous underwater vehicle, the Bluefin-21, down to that area where the signals were picked up. The Bluefin 21 looks like a torpedo. It goes down to significant depths. And it sweeps that area, looking for a debris field, looking for the black box, trying to take both audio and physical video images of whatever is down there.

It's got side-scan sonar capability. It's got picture-taking capability. Not video, but still pictures. It will sweep over that area, take a series of still pictures, transmit it to the vessel on the surface so that they can kind of see what they're looking at, Don. That's the sequence. First the pinger locator finds the signal. Then, the Bluefin-21 goes down and sweeps the area, so that's probably what they're preparing to do right now.

LEMON: Great information. Thank you, Brian Todd. And of course, the commander on board the Bluefin backs up exactly what you're saying, that they have to get down there and also search for debris using the very equipment that Brian Todd just talked about.

Thanks. Our thanks to Brian Todd.

The breaking news here on CNN is that the search for Flight 370, a U.S. pinger locator has detected signals consistent with a flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder. We're going to continue to break down all the details on this right after the break.

Here are the details, though. They said that it was one-second intervals when they spotted this. One-second intervals. They said it was at a 300 meter depth, which caused them some concern, because it was not deep enough. They said they turned all the noise-producing equipment off onboard that ship, which is the Ocean Shield, which is an Australian ship that is carrying a U.S. Pinger locator, towing a U.S. pinger locator. Turned off all the noise-producing equipment, lowered their device to 1,400 feet.

And they said they got some stronger and then it faded out, because they were moving away from it, which they said was encouraging. Then they said they reeled it in. They said they did a course change. And then, when they turned around, once they did the course change, they lowered it to 3,000 meters, and then detected it for about 15 more minutes.

And everything that the commander told us and also that the man in charge of this search told us is consistent with what our audio expert says is what happened before we even had this press conference to reveal that.

GINSBURG: It's very exciting. Very exciting. I think we have finally found the haystack.

LEMON: Right.

GINSBURG: And we are zeroing in on this -- on both of the devices. And remember, he said also that, when they made the turn and came back, what they detected had a slightly different frequency, meaning it might have been the second one. So that we may have both in this narrow field at this point.

LEMON: Alan Diehl, we still don't know if this is it. You know, we're being -- we're being encouraged to, you know -- to be cautiously optimistic. We still don't know. But these are pretty positive indicators.

DIEHL: Absolutely. Clearly, they don't want to raise the expectation until they really know. But this is -- this is extremely encouraging. And I certainly would expect we'll know within a few more days. It sounds like they're going to do a few more sonar -- sonar passes before they really want to say they've found that line of position that the commander was talking about.

LEMON: Details with my panel of experts right after this.


LEMON: Now with the breaking news here on CNN. My panel of experts, Michael Kay, Les Abend, Paul Ginsberg, Alan Diehl, Brian Todd and Rob McCallum.

Rob McCallum, to you, again, as we have been pointing out here on CNN, the experts and the investigators in the field, we don't know if this -- these signals are coming from the black boxes from MH-370. But this is the most encouraging bit of news so far.

MCCALLUM (via phone): Encouraging for two reasons. One is that it's on equipment that's designed to operate at depth. And the deeper you are, the better the quality of signals that you can expect.

And secondly, it's been heard twice by people who are highly trained and actually trying to get the effect that they got. So it's a tremendous achievement when you consider that to get to this very spot to deploy the TPL has taken an awful lot of work by the people in the back room. It's nothing short of miraculous.

LEMON: Yes, and I think it was you who said that it was going to take a bit of luck. And maybe a number of people said that, that it was going to take a bit of luck, considering just how vast this search area is, even with the mathematical equations that have sort of narrowed it down to this particular location.

MCCALLUM: Yes, indeed. I mean, I can't think of another search where there's been a complete absence of surface debris. There's been nothing at all on the surface, nothing tangible to give a start point to this deployment.

And so this is the result of some incredibly clever and very, very thorough analysis by the people in Kuala Lumpur to get the Ocean Shield to the right place. And then, you know, it's just been amazing to get that hit in such a short time.

LEMON: Les Abend, usually you find debris first, and not -- you don't get, you know, a ping from the black box.

ABEND: I think every part of this situation, it's unprecedented. But one of the things that I was considering, assuming that we found exactly, you know, the black boxes is just by position there was an indication from the commander that the position was actually of the two pings was separated by a certain distance, which would indicate how the airplane fragmented when it hit the water.

In addition, the position of how the airplane impacted the water may also be determined just by the fact of these two black boxes being positioned apart.

LEMON: Right. Brian Todd, in your reporting, you know, on this, you've been speaking to a lot of experts on, you know, considering what might be found, when it might be found, and if anything would ever be found in an ocean as vast as the Indian Ocean. This is nothing short of miraculous that they're able to come up with, if this is indeed black boxes from MH-370.

TODD: Don, if this is from the black boxes, this is really extraordinary a discovery. What the manufacturers themselves told us about the towed pinger locator was really, it is most effective when you've already found some kind of confirmed piece of wreckage. Once you find that piece of wreckage, according to the manufacturers, then the towed pinger locator can narrow the search area significantly.

But without a piece of wreckage, it's very limited in its capability. And it has other limitations. The weather can affect the pinger locator. And so if the weather is very bad in that area, very stormy and the ocean is very rough and the pinger locater is kind of moving up and down with the currents and the tides, then it's less effective. Underwater obstacles like underwater hills and mountains can obstruct it. Other kinds of debris can obstruct it.

So if indeed, those limitations, if indeed these are the signals from those black boxes, this is an extraordinary find. I interviewed Rob McCallum just a couple of days ago on this. And again, we were going with the knowledge that there was no confirmed wreckage, which there still isn't. And Rob then told me this is what he called a big ask of this device. Asking it to do something that it may not be quite equipped to do. It has the capability to do it. But it's a shot in the dark. And if this is, indeed, that kind of a discovery, it is extraordinary. And I think it's unprecedented.

LEMON: I'm wondering if we -- do we still have Matthew Chance, who is in Perth, who is where they? No Matthew Chance. Thank you very much, Brian. We appreciate that.

I'll get back now to my panel of experts here. So, again, this is miraculous if it is. Maybe those who believe obviously are more so in mathematics than miracles will say it all has to do with the calculations that have been brought about by the Malaysians, which Angus Houston said in the press conference that gave them that area, at least an area that was what, about 300 kilometers or so, right, from top to bottom where the plane may have impacted the water.

GINSBERG: At this point -- excuse me, at this point in the game, with the batteries, unbelievable that we just happen to have the stroke of luck to have batteries that outlasted what they were expected to do.

LEMON: I want to go to Alan Diehl. Alan, what happens next with this investigation? Where do we go from here -- Alan?

DIEHL: Yes, I'm sorry. Would you repeat it, Don?

LEMON: What happens next with this investigation, this search, I should say. What do we -- where do we go from here?

DIEHL: One more time, Don. I'm sorry.

LEMON: Where do we go from here with the search?

DIEHL: I can't hear you. The audio here is bad. I'm sorry.

LEMON: All right. Go ahead, Mikey Kay, where do we go next?

KAY: If this proves conclusive, this will rewrite history in terms of aircraft investigation, if. Yesterday when we saw the press conference, I was more cautious than optimistic.

Today, after hearing what Air Chief Marshall Houston has just said, I'm now more optimistic than cautious. But -- and this is a big but -- we still haven't found any corroborating debris. And I think before we get our hopes up, this is something that we have to find to make the unequivocal call and link what we're hearing that makes 370. And I think only then we can get on this.

GINSBERG: That's true. We have -- we have all indications that we have -- we have all of the different descriptors of the pinger. We don't know of any other aircraft with a pinger that would be going now.

LEMON: Right.

GINSBURG: So you would expect it's this. And so why isn't there anything?

LEMON: Anything. We've got to go, guys. Thank you very much. I appreciate everyone here. Incredible breaking news coming out in the very early morning hours of Monday morning in the U.S.

I'm Don Lemon. The coverage of the search for Flight 370 continues in just minutes with Rosemary Church and Errol Barnett.