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Motive for Pennsylvania School Stabbings?; New Pings Detected?; Interview with Amb. Kim Beazley

Aired April 10, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Just when you thought you couldn't have any less confidence in Malaysian government officials, a potential bombshell.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The world lead. Malaysian government officials are now denying it, but sources tell CNN the Malaysian air force was on the right track nearly hours after the plane disappeared. So why did they supposedly wait three days to tell anybody about it, as the intense international search went on hundreds of miles away in the wrong area?

Also, after all of those miscalculations and all that misinformation, it's looks as though searchers are finally honing in on the black boxes. Now the U.S. Navy is pouring even more resources into the hunt.

And our national lead, new information about those high school attacks outside Pittsburgh. The suspect's attorney says he was well-liked and came from a good home, never had any mental health issues. So what could have possibly possessed him to allegedly stab 21 people inside his school?

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

We will begin with the world lead. A wealth of new information today in the search for Flight 370. Over much of the next hour, we will try to fit it all together for you. There is a new reason to believe searchers are finally in the right area, but also, somehow, even at this late date, new information is coming out of Malaysia that alters the understanding of the plane's path and raises new questions about what Malaysian government officials knew and when, questions of competence and transparency.

It's been 35 days since Flight 370 disappeared with 239 souls on board. And you heard it here first on CNN. The U.S. Navy is sending a supply ship to the search region to replenish other ships, so they don't have to break away from the hunt, this after a possible signal which could -- could be from the plane's black boxes was detected for a fifth time in the water.

Officials have been using these signals to try to narrow down the search area significantly. At times in this mystery, it's been very hard to know what information to trust out of Malaysia. Sources are giving CNN new details that seem to indicate precious time may have been wasted in the international search effort. Malaysian government officials, however, are taking serious exception.

Our Joe Johns has more on that and on new revelations that could explain how the plane flew so long without making even a blip on radar.


JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It has been one of the lingering mysteries of Flight 370. What happened in those first few hours after it went off course? Why had the plane disappeared from military radar for 120 nautical miles after it made that left turn and crossed over the Malay Peninsula?

Now new details about what happened in those predawn hours. A senior Malaysian government official and a source involved in the investigation tell CNN the plane must have dipped in altitude to between 4,000 and 5,000 feet, a possible sign the pilots were at the controls.

But it's still unclear if the plane was in some sort of trouble, whether they were purposely evading detection, or whether the Malaysian radar system failed somehow.

TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: So that just begs the question of, you fly right over a country that you assume would have air defense, and either shoot you down or come up and at least check you out and find out who you are and what aircraft is this.

JOHNS: What is clear now, MH370's captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, not his co-pilot, was the last person on the jet to speak to air traffic controllers, telling them, "Good night, Malaysian 370," Malaysian sources tell CNN.

The sources said there was nothing unusual about his voice, which betrayed no indication he was under distress, and no third voice is heard.

FUENTES: Not knowing all of the -- what else was going on, it would be very easy that he could switch and take the last transmission of the co-pilot and not have anything sinister be implied about that.

JOHNS: And just today, more than a month after the flight disappeared, we are learning that Malaysian air force aircraft were dispatched soon after the airline reported that its plane was missing, Malaysian sources told CNN.

The aircraft took off before authorities corroborated data indicating it turned suddenly westward from its original course. The Malaysian government denied in a tweet that any Malaysian air force aircraft were scrambled.

FUENTES: And, at that point, you would think all the bells and whistles would go off with Malaysia's Defense Ministry and the people operating their defense radar saying they -- the civil aviation people have lost this aircraft. What do you see? JOHNS: But our source says the air force did not inform the rest of the Malaysian government until three days later, March 11, a source involved in the investigation told CNN.


JOHNS: Malaysian police continue their criminal investigation into the disappearance of the plane, and they say no conclusions have been reached.

The home minister here says 180 people have been interviewed, including the cabin, crew, and employees of the airline. He said police have not been focusing on the family members of the passengers -- Jake.

TAPPER: Joe Johns in Kuala Lumpur, thank you so much.

Let's bring in Ambassador Kim Beazley. He's the Australian ambassador to the United States, also the country's former aviation minister.

Ambassador Beazley, as always, good to see you again.

What's your understanding of whether or not Malaysian aircraft were actually scrambled early on after the plane disappeared?

KIM BEAZLEY, AUSTRALIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Well, we're in the hands of the Malaysians on this.

And there is some statement that that was done, but I think you have got to comprehend, this is not a militarized border that we're talking about here. This is not an area where the terrorist threat is likely to come in the form of a plane fly into a building.

The Malaysian police, working with the FBI and others, our own folks, do a very good job of looking internally at what is a very serious potentially terrorist threat inside Malaysia itself. And that's what they focus on, people who would be suicide bombers, people who would be IED builders, people who would be car bombers.

Those are the folk that get their attention. It's not North Korea vs. South Korea. No one is anticipating at 1:30 in the morning a civilian aircraft is going to be taken over or decide that the pilot changes course and fly over the country with its transponders turned off.

So if there are errors made at that point in time, I think those errors are pretty understandable.

TAPPER: And what's your reaction to the latest back and forth of the information from the Malaysians?

BEAZLEY: Well, they are under a lot of pressure. They are in entirely new territory.

They have got a police investigation under way and various other agencies investigating. The normal standard practice in all these sorts of investigations would be to quietly consider matters until you have reached a conclusion and verified everything.

That's not the sort of atmosphere that you can really operate in, in the circumstances in which we now find ourselves, with so many people demanding information. But it is the only pattern they know. And one of the reasons why they observed that pattern, which, by the way, is the sort of pattern observed by just about everybody else's police force, is that investigations meander.

They don't go in a straight line. You change your mind. The facts change. Your understanding of the facts change. The accusations out there against them at the moment that relate to confusion and confusing information, it's not going to improve by releasing every fact or factoid as it becomes available to them.

TAPPER: And, Mr. Ambassador, your government, the Australian government, is leading the search, and has reportedly paid for half of the more than $44 million that this investigation has already cost.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said -- quote -- "At some point, there might need to be a reckoning. There might need to be some kind of tallying, but, nevertheless, we are happy to be as helpful as we can to all the countries that have a stake in this."

As you probably know, the Air France search reportedly cost $160 million over two years. At some point, is Australia going to have to say to Malaysia, to China, to other countries, look, you need to either help kick in or we're going to have to stop; we don't have unlimited funds?

BEAZLEY: Yes, well, the prime minister's instincts are naturally generous, and I think so are most Australians'.

Now, we're not going to take, I don't believe, a bean counter's attitude to this. There is an expectation that each country in the search pays for its own assets and for keeping those assets functioning. There are all sorts of other costs going to be associated with this. And that will become obvious as folk who are amongst the grieving families are moved to Australia some time later on.

So I'm surprised that the cost has been estimated at $44 million. I would have thought it would be quite a bit more than that now. And it's going to be a great deal more before this -- this craft is found.

We are very lucky. Cutting the cost of all of this down has been extraordinarily effective American equipment that we have been given. And -- but we haven't been given humongous amounts of it, so it's going to take a fair bit longer, as we try to hone down where the best possible locale is for the downed aircraft, because that autonomous vehicle, robot, whatever you want to call it, is all we have got, and it's very, very slow.

And it will take a long time to map whatever it's put down to map. So the cost is going to increase, as you say.

TAPPER: Right. BEAZLEY: But I think the Australian government will err on the side of generosity. But it won't carry it all.

TAPPER: All right, we always welcome you coming to the show. Australian Ambassador to the U.S. Ken Beazley, thank you so much.

BEAZLEY: Good to be with you.

TAPPER: Coming up on THE LEAD: yet another clue into the disappearance of Flight 370, but will it shrink the search area enough to send in underwater devices? That's coming up next.

Plus, he says he did not know if he would live or die, one victim from yesterday's stabbing spree opening up about protecting his friend and how she saved his life.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Continuing our world lead now, the many new developments today in the search for Flight 370, including another potential ping coming from the ocean floor and leading authorities to narrow the search zone even further as they try to locate the black boxes.

The Australian agency coordinating the search says this time it was a sonobuoy that detected a possible black box signal and relayed it to a plane. The first four signals in previous days, they were detected by a U.S. Navy towed pinger locator aboard Australia's ship the Ocean Shield.

That ship is also carrying one of the Navy's underwater drones. And that's ready to go, ready to go underwater to look for wreckage the moment anything is definitively identified. But with batteries that may have died days ago, the question is, has that moment passed?

Aviation correspondent Rene Marsh has all the latest developments.


RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The search for Flight 370's black boxes intensifies, and the ping count may have gone up again.

An Australian Orion aircraft flying over Ocean Shield dropping sonobuoys into the water below, and at least one of them got a hit, a possible fifth ping detected where Ocean Shield already picked up four. That could be a confidence-builder.

MIKE WILLIAMSON, OCEAN SEARCH SPECIALIST: The fact that it's picked up by a sonobuoy, which is probably less well-equipped to detect that signal than the pinger locator, that would indicate that perhaps it is still a pretty strong signal.

MARSH: The acoustic data is being analyzed but the search coordinator says it's potentially from a manmade source, like a flight data recorder. An underwater listening device is attached to the buoy. An antenna relays what it is hearing to the aircraft. The sensors are deployed at least 1,000 feet underwater, but only work for eight hours.

Sonobuoys, usually used to detected submarines, were not designed for this kind of mission.

MIKE WILLIAMSON, OCEAN SEARCH SPECIALIST: The ones that I'm familiar with generally have very poor response to frequencies as high as 37 kilohertz. They are more used for detecting mechanical sounds of submarines, one kilohertz or lower. But that's not to say that there haven't been some changes made.

MARSH: The search surrounding the Ocean Shield continues to intensify. The British ship HMS Echo has pulled out of its position to the southwest and is now focusing where the pings have been detected.

But crews continue to listen for even more pings to shrink the search zone. A smaller zone is necessary. The underwater vehicle can only search 40 square miles a day. That means the roughly 500-square mile area where the pings were detected over a span of three days would take nearly two weeks for Bluefin to search.

Rene Marsh, CNN, Washington.


TAPPER: Let's bring in our panel to discuss the latest developments in the search for Flight 370.

David Soucie, as you know, he is a CNN safety analyst, author of the book "Why Planes Crash," and professor David Stupples, an electronics engineer and the director of the Center for Cyber Security Sciences.

David, I want to start with you.

How reliable -- the first time I as a layman heard about these sonobuoys -- or sonobuoys -- was this week. How reliable are they to detect black box pings?


They are designed to search out submarines, basically. So, that's what this airplane is built for in the first place, is for submarine attack and submarine defense. So, as they get dropped, they are very reliable. They have been in use for years.

They go down 1,000 feet, though. And that quite -- that is kind of questionable in this realm because of how deep it is. But fact that it went down 1,000 feet, it's enough to penetrate the temperature layer boundary, and once it's down in that area, it's quiet. And it's nice, because there's no ship around it. There's nothing. It's sensing everything.

So the fact that we got a ping tells you a good place to go with the Ocean Shield to start looking deeper.

TAPPER: Professor Stupples, how is the listening technology on these buoys different from the technology that the ships are using to pick up the pings?

DAVID STUPPLES, ELECTRONICS AND RADAR ENGINEER: Well, the towed ping locator is very much more sensitive than this buoy. The buoy contains a sort of hydrophone, which will be listening.

My understanding is that they would be more sensitive to lower frequencies. But that is not to say that it hasn't picked up a ping from the locator.

TAPPER: And, David, the big question now, investigators have said these signals have the potential of being from a manmade source. I think we agreed last night that it's hard to imagine what they could be other than the black boxes. But what could it be?

SOUCIE: Well, the only thing that I have looked -- I did some research to try and find out. And the only thing that I came up with was some fishing vessels, some commercial fishing vessels that use this as a fish finder. They use that frequency somewhere in that 30 to 40 kilohertz range.

But the difference and the most distinctive thing about this, it was specifically designed to operate in this quiet area, but this is every second, every second, reliably. And this is within a range, of course.


TAPPER: And a fishing vessel wouldn't have it every second?

SOUCIE: It would be several times per second in a fishing vessel.

TAPPER: Interesting.

Professor Stupples, if these signals are the real deal, what kind of timeline do you think we are looking in terms of when crews might realistically actually find something substantial?

STUPPLES: Well, I think the search area is still, from my estimation anyway, about 140 miles by 140 miles, which is around about -- well, turning into kilometers, about 240,000 square kilometers.

That is still a massive area. What I would like to see is to get more pings and reduce that by a good 80 percent before they start using Bluefin.

TAPPER: David, some other information that we learned today, this new information, that Flight 370 may have dipped into altitude to between 4,000 and 5,000 feet after taking that mysterious turn, what do you make of that?

SOUCIE: Well, what I make of it is that they are making a conclusion from some data. But if you really look at what they said, what the data is, is that they lost the signal between those two areas, which is about 120 miles. At 300 knots, that puts you around 24 minutes of off-radar time. That wouldn't be uncommon if there was a rain shower going through, a thunderstorm. There's a lot of things and there's a lot of times at which that can come off radar.

To conclude that that's because the aircraft went down for just that amount of time and then back up again, it's not easy to get from 35,000 down to 5,000 and back up to 35,000 in 24 minutes, if that's what they're saying.

TAPPER: So, you're skeptical?

SOUCIE: I definitely am.

TAPPER: And, lastly, professor Stupples, your take on this altitude dip. Do you think, based on what we know, that this was something intentionally done to evade radar?

STUPPLES: Well, I would like to say that the radar dip was reported five days after the event started.

So we're talking about the 13th or 14th of March. So, we have known this for quite some time. And I agree with your last speaker. There's lots and lots of reasons why it just vanished from the radar. One of them, it could have been taken down to, let's say, 20,000 feet, because the radar is at its maximum range there. So, therefore, it would have come off radar there, or it could have been some clutter, or the fact is there could have been some fault with the radar.

So, at the moment, I'm still very skeptical of that piece of information.

TAPPER: All right. Professor Stupples, David Soucie here in studio, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

When we come back, we're learning more about the teenager who allegedly stabbed nearly two dozen students yesterday morning outside Pittsburgh. But as details come out about the sophomore, with virtually no online presence, the real question persists: Why? Why did he do it?

Plus, more on the hunt for Flight 370, an area so unknown, more visitors have traveled into outer space than here -- how teams plan to tackle the deepest depths of the Indian Ocean.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

The national lead. They still do not know why. In fact, many victims of yesterday's school stabbing outside Pittsburgh are still trying to come to grips with the what, the what happened.

Today, one of the students who was stabbed in the back as he shielded a friend from the threatening blades spoke about from the hospital and described the confusion and terror in the hallway.

CNN's Pamela Brown is live in Murrysville.

Pamela, what is the latest?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we can tell you many of the victims are still recovering, Jake.

In fact, one of the victims that was in critical condition after the attack had to go back into surgery overnight. We're still awaiting word on how he's doing, as another victim that was wounded who was discharged from the hospital today is speaking out, saying he wasn't sure he was going to survive the attack.


BROWN (voice-over): Still healing from the emotional and physical wounds, one of the victims from Wednesday's attack, Brett Hurt, describes the terrifying moment he was stabbed allegedly by his fellow classmate.

BRETT HURT, ATTACK VICTIM: What was going through my mind? Will I survive, or will I die?

BROWN: Now, one day later, the looming question, why?

PATRICK THOMASSEY, ATTORNEY FOR ALEX HRIBAL: He has never had any mental health problems whatsoever. He's never been in the juvenile court system. He was a well-liked student. He's not a loner.

BROWN: But, in just five minutes, officials say Alex Hribal stabbed 20 of his classmates at random with two eight-inch kitchen knives. Some classmates say Hribal was withdrawn and quiet.

MIA MEIXNER, STUDENT: He talked to himself a lot. He didn't have that many friends that I know of. I actually never heard of him getting bullied.

BROWN: Unlike most teens, authorities say it appears Hribal was not very active on social media. They also say he showed no signs of outward trouble.

THOMASSEY: This wasn't a family or isn't a family that ignored their children. They were very cognizant of who they communicated with online. There wasn't any arguments or any beef that he had with any other student that we're aware of. I have heard these rumors about being bullied. I don't believe that is true.

BROWN: Outside the family's home, Hribal's father would only express concern for the injured.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My prayers go out to everyone who was injured today, and I hope they recover as quickly as possible.

BROWN: Police continue to investigate a motive as they interview students and look through evidence the FBI seized from Hribal's home, including his computer. He's been charged as an adult on aggravated assault and attempted homicide.

THOMAS SEEFELD, MURRYSVILLE POLICE CHIEF: We had received word that there was possibly a phoned threat the night before. We don't have any concrete evidence to that effect yet, but we are investigating that and any other reason that we may find that led to this.

BROWN: Victim Brett Hurt now wonders if he will ever be able to forgive his classmate.

HURT: Maybe if he had more friends or somebody to help him out or to, like, show him a different path, maybe it would have been different.