Return to Transcripts main page


Most Promising Lead Yet in Plane Search; U.S. Pinger Location Picks Up Two Signals; Jeb Bush Could Run for President; Flight May Have Been Avoiding Radar; White House Warns Russia

Aired April 7, 2014 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting from Washington. Are those signals detected in the Indian Ocean from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370? That's the question investigators are now scrambling to answer. They're following what's described as the most promising lead so far in the search for the missing plane. Authorities say a U.S. pinger locator picked up signals consistent with those sent by a plane's black boxes.

The Australian ship, Ocean Shield, is towing the pinger locator through the latest area. The signals picked up by the Ocean Shield are about 375 miles northeast of pings detected by a Chinese ship. Teams are still investigating that development.

And mew questions are emerging about the plane's route. A Malaysian government source tell also CNN the aircraft skirted Indonesian airspace as it veered off course and then disappeared.

We want to focus in first on those signals detected by the U.S. pinger locator. The device picked up two separate signals and they are said to be just like those emitted by a plane's flight data and cockpit voice recorders.

Our Correspondent Will Ripley is joining us now live from Perth Australia. That's where the search efforts are based. So, fill us in on the latest, Will, on what we're learning about the detection, how long those signals last, if, in fact, those signals could be coming from those two black boxes.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's certainly a promising lead, Wolf, although no confirmation yet of any connection to Flight 370. We know that the Ocean Shield detected these signals over the weekend. The first one for two hours and 20 minutes. They had a lock on it for quite a significant length of time. The second one, less than 15 minutes. And so, what they're doing now is they're trying to re- establish contact to see if they can lock, -- get a lock on these signals again and try to box in the area where they suspect these data recorders might be.

BLITZER: Authorities, as you know, will, they're using words like encouraged, promising. They're also urging caution, as you correctly point out. What will it actually take, based on all the interviews you've been doing over there in Perth, to confirm that the signals from the missing plane are -- that those are signals, in fact, from the missing plane's black boxes? RIPLEY: Sure, yes, without question, there is just a lot of work ahead. First of all, they need to get a lock on this signal, again. That's step number one. And it's a pretty -- it's a pretty daunting task, because the Ocean Shield towing that pinger locator, it has about 6,000 meters of tow behind it. So, it takes a good eight hours to do one full sweep. That includes three hours for the Ocean Shield to actually make a turn and turn around the other way. And, of course, as we know, every minute counts here with the black box batteries in danger of running out literally at any moment.

I want to play some sound for you from Captain Mark Matthews. He's leading the team that is running this pinger locator.


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 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: Yes, the key word here, caution, Wolf. That's what -- the message that we keep getting out here in Perth.

BLITZER: Yes, they are, clearly, though, optimistic, or at least cautiously optimistic, they may be on to the real deal.

Teams are also investigating the signals detected earlier by a Chinese ship. But that's, what, almost 400 miles to the southwest. How serious are they taking those signals?

RIPLEY: You know, there are a lot of questions, Wolf, about that. Obviously, it's an interesting location, because it also falls along that arc. But the satellite data shows the plane could have -- could have flown on and possibly gone into the Indian Ocean.

But, you know, there are a lot of questions about the technology that the Chinese were using. You saw the video of that handheld hydrophone being dunked into the water. Some serious questions about whether that device could detect something so deep. And we're talking an ocean that's nearly three miles deep in this particular area.

So, we know that the HMS echo has been there doing surveillance but we haven't heard of anything significant that that ship has found using more advanced technology. The real focus right now is on the Ocean Shield and its mission to try to get a lock on those signals, once again.

BLITZER: Yes, that Australian ship does have a U.S. Navy toed pinger locator, as they say, and that's a much more sophisticated device. Will Ripley, we'll get back to you. But let's bring in our panel of experts to get their take on what's being called the most promising lead so far. Mark Weiss is CNN Aviation Analyst, former 777 pilot for American Airlines. Peter Goelz is CNN Aviation Analyst, former NTSB managing director. And Tom Fuentes is our CNN Law Enforcement Analyst, former assistant director of the FBI.

Let's go around the table. We'll start with you, Mark. How serious is this? How optimistic would you be based on the information that's been released?

MARK WEISS, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, particularly, since a lot of that information came from the U.S. authorities and the Navy, that I feel a lot more comfortable with it. But, still, they're hedging their bet, wanting to make sure and trying to manage expectations.

BLITZER: Because the U.S. Navy did put out a statement, Peter, the Seventh Fleet, in which they said -- and let me read to you a part of that statement. The bottom line, this is the United States Navy. It's not Malaysia. It's not Australia. It's not China. This is the United States Seventh Fleet, the Navy. On this leg, where they're investigating right now, the pinger, the locator, the TPL detected two signals at the same frequency but in different locations. This would be consistent with the MH 370 black box, because the plane had both the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder. Acquisition of the two signals is encouraging but we are still only cautiously optimistic, pending confirmation of the black boxes by the TPL, again, and visual confirmation with the Bluefin-21 side scan sonar.

So, when the U.S. Navy puts out a statement like that, that they're cautiously optimistic based on what they've heard at a -- at a level of, what, 3,000 meters under sea level, that's pretty encouraging.

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: It is encouraging. And having worked with these guys in past stretches, they don't say things casually. That they got two pinger results back is very, very positive. And that it's separated by about 300 meters rings true for a debris field. I mean, we're still weeks away.

WEISS: But this is the best news --

BLITZER: Why are we still -- if they -- if they -- if these are real detection, this is a real pinging coming from those two black boxes, why would that take weeks to find those black boxes?

GOELZ: Well, first of all, you've got to reacquire and triangulate the location of the boxes. Then, you've got to drop down the remote vehicles and that is more difficult than it sounds. It's not as though they're going to run down and hit if on the first run. And they may decide to do side scanning sonar which is, again, a very tedious process of mapping the debris field.


GOELZ: So, it could be weeks away before we know. BLITZER: But if that -- if that beacon only -- the battery is about to go out, we're told. So, let's say the battery has got a few more days left. With a little luck maybe it does. But if the tinger -- the ping locator is within two or three miles, how difficult should it be to find that -- if it's two to three -- because that's the range of what that beeping would be detectible.

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, as I understand it, Wolf, the device being towed by the ship, and it may be a long way behind the ship, and it doesn't have an exact way to mark that spot. So, they have to come back around several times and reacquire the signal.

BLITZER: So, just because you're hearing a signal, if, in fact, it is a signal, doesn't mean it's going to be found within the next day or so.

FUENTES: Right, they can't just say, drop the submarine on this spot. They don't know the exact spot. They're kind of guesstimating by the depth. They can tell the depth, how far under the surface that device is but not the exact latitude, longitude.

BLITZER: If, in fact, this is the real deal, that would be amazing that they located it, because they weren't sure they were looking in the right haystack looking for that needle.

WEISS: Yes, and they finally found the needle, hopefully, rather than just the haystack. It's incredible.

BLITZER: Yes, but this is a pretty amazing development if, in fact, it pans out.

GOELZ: Yes, the analyst that was done, you know, off the Inmarsat data and the speed and fuel consumption of the plane, they -- it really was extraordinary. If this works out, they've done a tremendous job.

BLITZER: It is really very impressive. We'll know in the next few hours. Once that ship moves around, the locator sees if it can reacquire, as they say, that signal. If that happens, they'll be in pretty good shape in finding, presumably, at least those two black boxes.


FUENTES: Right, you'd think so.

BLITZER: All right. Well, we've got a lot more to digest, a lot more to assess. But this is fairly encouraging word of the best lead, according to all authorities, not only Malaysians, not only Chinese, not only Australians, but the United States Navy now saying they're cautiously optimistic that they're on to the real deal.

Up next, we'll have more on Flight 370 and claims that the plane was evading radar on purpose. Our panel is standing by to weigh in. And Jeb Bush sounding a bit more and more like a man interesting in becoming president of the United States. We'll explain what's going on. Stay with us.


BLITZER: There's new information now on the route Flight 370 may have taken. A Malaysian government source tells CNN the plane went around Indonesian airspace and may have been purposely trying to avoid detection by Indonesian radar.

Our Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson is in Kuala Lumpur. Nic, how is this type of information -- why is it just coming out now a month after the plane disappeared?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think the real short answer here is, Wolf, it's taken us that amount of time to get that information out of a senior government official here. I think it's pretty clear that the investigators have had this information for a while, not quite clear how long. And they've been able to draw their conclusions from it. One of those conclusions, they think whoever was controlling the aircraft was, in fact, trying to evade radar detection -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, I guess the suspicion, as far as Malaysian officials are concerned, once again, focusing directly on the pilot or the co-pilot in this particular investigation. Is that fair?

ROBERTSON: That's definitely fair. I mean, you look at, if you will, a triangle of suspicion, at the top end of the triangle, the most experienced person, the captain, 18,000 flying hours in that aircraft. The first officer really only just on his sixth flight in the 777. So, his experience, not so high. All the passengers have been ruled out.

So, what they're looking at here is an aircraft that's taken multiple turns. It doesn't appear to be -- doesn't appear to be, at least, suffering a mechanical failure. Whoever's in control, tries to avoid radar detection, at least some part of the journey, before going off into a very, very remote part of the Indian Ocean. Apparently, apparently, and we have to say that. With apparent knowledge that there wasn't fuel enough on that course to get to land. That opens up so many questions, of course -- Wolf.

BLITZER: If they were trying to land some place, maybe they were -- I mean, the theory is maybe they were trying to go to Australia or some place, but there's no indication that was going on. What are the Indonesians, Nic, saying about all this, because they haven't released any information that they actually picked up any radar on this Malaysian airliner?

ROBERTSON: Yes, they're telling us they didn't pick up any radar information about this -- about this aircraft. That raises -- does raise questions, because they say that their radar can reach about 200 miles. Now we're told that the aircraft flew around the north of Indonesia. If you fly around the north of Indonesia, you fly between Banda Aceh and the Andaman Islands, the southernmost point on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in Dera (ph). That's Indian territory. We know that they also have good military radar in that area. It seems impossible the aircraft would not have been picked up somehow on Indonesian radar, but that's what their officials are saying. That's what the minister of transport, also the defense minister here said. He said a top Malaysian military official went to Indonesia, met with his counterpart and he was told by that counterpart the plane didn't go over their airspace, wasn't picked up by their radar.

So the information doesn't tie up perfectly. There are a lot of unanswered questions. But I guess what we have here is some small gaps filled in. But the most important part I guess we can take away again is an inference from the Malaysians about the mind-set of the person at the controls they think trying to avoid radar detection, and whatever that means beyond that, Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting. All right, another fascinating development. Thanks very much, Nic Robertson, in Kuala Lumpur.

Let's bring back our panel, Mark Weiss, our CNN aviation analyst, former 777 pilot, Peter Goelz, the CNN aviation analyst, former NTSB managing director, and Tom Fuentes, our law enforcement analyst.

Mark, you're the pilot. Can you, on autopilot, make a maneuver like that?

MARK WEISS, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, remember, the autopilot has to take inputs from somewhere. So they were probably at -- when you take a look, the first turn to the southwest, which went back over Malaysia, which we don't understand why the Malaysians never scrambled aircraft to intercept that aircraft, then took a turn to the northwest, and then again to the south. All had to be done by human input. Whether it was on an FMS, a flight management system, or whether it was done by changing the heading of the aircraft, and that would have been done while the airplane was on autopilot but a manual input to the autopilot.

BLITZER: And that turn away from the route towards Beijing, it was supposed to go from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, that turn happened a couple minutes after the last communication, "good night Malaysian 370," which raises a lot of suspicions.

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: It does. And the Malaysians, I think after just a few hours into this investigation, have been focused on the cockpit. And we've all felt that this is something that needs to be looked at because that plane was acting under human control.

BLITZER: The Indonesians, their role, they said they don't know anything about this. They didn't pick up any radar. Do you buy that?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: That's a good question because, you know, you wonder, where were the Malaysians in the first place as they crossed over the peninsula of Malaysia and nobody scrambled jets, nobody went looking for an aircraft intruding their own airspace. And now Indonesia, another country, what about their defense radar systems as it approached? Now maybe, you know, the thought that it went north through the water and circumvented going over land of Indonesia, you know, the one theory is that they were avoiding radar, but another theory is just avoiding going over the land where they might get shot down or going into crowded airspace because of all the civil airports that operate all night long in that part of the world.

BLITZER: How low would a 777 have to fly -- when you say flying below radar -- to be not detectible?

WEISS: On the ground.

BLITZER: Really?


BLITZER: And you're flying at 5,000 feet, are you detectible?

WEISS: You're on radar, absolutely.

BLITZER: How many miles out from Indonesia before radar -- you would - would be un - you would no longer be able to detect via radar?

WEISS: Well, the Indonesians said that their radar went out 200 miles. I honestly don't know. But if they said that, they would have to go beyond the 200 mile range.

BLITZER: You're the investigator, Peter.


BLITZER: When you see that unique turn, making a left turn, going around Indonesia, then heading south through the Indian Ocean, and then beginning to make a little turn as if you're going towards Australia, what do you say?

GOELZ: You say what's going on in the cockpit? Who's steering this plane? And, you know, part of it is, it's on primary return. So you get out past 150 miles, it gets sketchy. It's hard to see. But, still, that has all the hallmarks of a plane being under control.

BLITZER: All right, guys -

GOELZ: Human control.

BLITZER: Yes. We're going to have you back shortly. A lot more to discuss.

We're going to have a lot more coverage coming up on the search for Flight 370. Dramatic developments unfolding. The U.S. Navy now, the seventh fleet, saying they're cautiously optimistic that they may be on - may - may be on to those two black boxes.

Also, demonstrations heating up along the Russia/Ukraine border. Ukraine now saying Russia's behind those demonstrations. Russia says, quit blaming us. We're going to the region. Stand by. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We'll get back to the search for Flight 370 in just a moment, but there's other important news we're following, including Ukraine.

Ukraine's acting president now accusing Russia of stirring things up in eastern Ukraine. Over the weekend, pro-Russian demonstrators took control of government buildings in several cities near the Russian border. Those demonstrators have also asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to send in peacekeeping troops. Moments ago, we heard this from the White House press secretary, Jay Carney.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If Russia moves in to eastern Ukraine, either overtly or covertly, this would be a very serious escalation. We call on President Putin and his government to cease all efforts to destabilize Ukraine and we caution against further military intervention.


BLITZER: Let's go to Russia right now. CNN's Phil Black is monitoring what's going on.

So what's Russia's response to that accusation, Phil?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, they're saying stop blaming us for all of Ukraine's problems. More than that, Russia's response is strong, but it has not been threatening. In fact, you could almost call it diplomatic. What they're talking about in all the statements that they've made this afternoon, they're saying that they're keeping an eye on those events in eastern Ukraine, but what they're pushing for in that country is national dialogue with all political parties, all the regions and they say they want to be a part of it. They want their western partners to be a part of it and they think the ultimate response should be a new federalized constitution that takes powers from the central government in Kiev, gives it to the regions, respects the Russian language as a special language, and also ensures Ukraine's (INAUDIBLE) status, which means Ukraine can't get cozy with NATO.

Now, what's lacking there, what really has changed, is the sort of language that Russia was using consistently at the height of the Ukrainian crisis, saying Russia reserve the right to use military intervention to protect Russian-speaking people in that part of Ukraine. They're not saying that now, which is a significant development. But still, from Kiev, there will be a great deal of suspicion and mistrust towards Russia and any suggested solutions for this crisis that could be coming from Moscow, Wolf.

BLITZER: Phil, Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, also said some of the demonstrators in eastern Ukraine are actually being paid. They're not even residents of those areas. I'm sure the Russians are disputing that as well.

BLACK: Not in that level of detail, but this is certainly something that the Ukrainian government has been concerned about for some time now. People crossing the border from Russia into Ukraine with the intention of causing trouble, creating the sort of instability that could give Russia the pretext to take further action. The Ukrainian government has said they've stopped around 10,000 people from entering the country because they believe they were really Russians who were heading in there to cause trouble.

Russia's blanket statement is that it is not responsible for the instability in Ukraine. This is the cause - this is the fault of the new government in Kiev and the fact that they are not looking to respect everyone's rights and everyone's concerns, particularly the Russian-speaking people in the east and the south of the country, Wolf.

BLITZER: Escalating tensions between Ukraine and Russia. A very serious development. Phil Black in Russia for us, thanks very much.

In a moment, we'll get back to the search for Malaysia Flight 370. We're going to find out how American technology has now played a key role in what could be, could be a huge breakthrough in the search for Flight 370.