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Flight 370 Made Rapid Descent Below 5,000 Feet; Last Voice Was Pilot's; No Wreckage Found; New Signals Detected; Colbert to Succeed Letterman

Aired April 10, 2014 - 12:30   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: The news today that a sonobuoy actually picked something up, you know, everybody's just scrambling for any shred of news that might help them in this process, but do you see it as being a big development?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: I wouldn't say it's a big development. It's a complementary development to the other pings that we've seen.

The additional pings -- I think the main ping that means something is the two-hour ping. To me, that's saying that this was in the range of the dispatch of the sound, so you're within three kilometers, let's say, of the pinger.

These others are refractions. These others are echoes. And it's like shouting down through a mountain, and you're saying, hello, and it comes back to you. It's echoing. That's the kind of signal that I think they're getting in these outlying areas, and the sonobuoy's giving that same kind of (inaudible).

BANFIELD: Could it, at the least -- could it narrow the search area? And, by the way, how much more narrow do we need it to be before the robots go in?

SOUCIE: The thousand-feet level doesn't really say it's not here, because it's not far enough to receive a full signal.

What it does do is say, I'm getting something here. Let's go explore it. So you look at the path where the Ocean Shield went, and you see where it's going and going. And if you get this other pinger over here, you think, well, let's look up here a little bit since we know there's some kind of signal there. Let's find out if it's legitimate and the lower level.

BANFIELD: By the way, we've almost forgotten how many aircraft are still out there. There's usually upwards of a dozen aircraft out looking for floating debris and they've seen nothing.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL MICHAEL KAY, ROYAL AIR FORCE (RETIRED): Yeah, but, again, you know, it goes back to the importance of the maritime surveillance aircraft. It's not just about the sonobuoys and about the pings. It's actually corroborating by looking for surface debris and these aircraft are absolutely key to try and corroborating where the aircraft is, either surface debris, either looking on the ocean bed, or getting a ping.

BANFIELD: You've got to admit, though --

And those three things --

BANFIELD: You have to admit at some point you're going to have to scale back those flights.

KAY: Yeah, I mean, at some point, but I think at the moment there's just so much evidence to suggest that we're very, very close that I don't see that happening in the next couple of weeks. I think they're going to keep going hard, and I hope they keep going hard.

BANFIELD: Colonel Kay, David Soucie -- got your names right this time --thank you. Appreciate it.

Coming up next, live, on LEGAL VIEW, a report from Perth, Australia, on the very latest in the search effort.

It is just after midnight there, another very long day for all of those crews, the pilots we just spoke of and the, of course, all the sailors, as well, who are working so hard to find anything they can to end this mystery.

We're also awaiting some live remarks from the president, Mr. Obama at the LBJ library celebrating the anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. Any moment, he will take to the podium, and we will take you there live.


BANFIELD: Want to get you up to speed on some of the new and really intriguing developments in the mystery of Flight 370.

One or more of the floating microphones that are being tossed out of planes like this one, those sonobuoys flying through the air before they dive into the Indian Ocean and deploy those microphones, one of more of them has picked up a ping, picked up a signal that could actually be from the missing plane.

It could be the flight-data or the cockpit-voice recorder, and if so, this would be the fifth encounter with those all-important pings since Saturday and the first involving this really remarkable piece of gear, the sonobuoy.

As you're looking at it deploy on your screen, remember, about 84 of those at a time are being thrown out of the back of those planes and they only live for eight hours before they eventually collapse, stop and just sink and stop sending their messages back to those amazing Orion P-3 aircraft.

Now, back in Malaysia, something else, we've learned that after Flight 370 made its hairpin to the west, it dropped very, very low, below 5,000 feet, maybe as low as 4,000 feet, and right off military radar. But then it climbed back up, back up to 12,000, very odd indeed.

We're also learning that Malaysia's air force, in fact, did send out search planes just hours after the Boeing 777 had its last contact with air traffic control. Now, understandably, those planes headed right up the path that that plane was supposed to go, up towards Beijing, northeastward, the scheduled path of Flight 370.

But they also did something they never told the rest of us. They headed west on that same path we now assume was the doomed path of that airplane.

And, finally, sources say the final recorded words from the missing plane's cockpit, the ones that said, "Good night, Malaysian 370," they were spoken by the captain, Zaharie Shah, and that suggests that the first officer, Fariq Hamid, was at the controls.

All along, we've been told that it was likely the first officer who uttered those words. Then we were told no one knew who uttered those words. And then they decided to get some friends, people who knew their voices to analyze the voices and that's, effectively, how they came up with that answer, confirmed by the people who knew them.

Want to get right now, live, to Perth, Australia, and CNN's who's effectively up, day and night, collecting these details for us and working the story for us.

So the searchers have a little bit more to go on, but, Will, they're not telling us much about this new ping. I'm understanding that they sent it off for analysis. But what are you hearing from your sources there?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, in fact, just in the last hour or so, Ashleigh, we got some new information from our source within the Australian defense force.

You talked about the sonobuoy, how it's this really incredible, old technology that's being putt to a brand-new use here, and we are told that the frequency detected by one of these buoys, it's not 37.5 kilohertz. That number is important because that's the number that the manufacturer of the black box that was on Flight 370, that's the frequency that it was designed to admit, 37.5. This isn't that.

But it's within a range that the manufacturer said that investigators believe strongly suggests that this signal, the fifth signal now detected, is manmade. The first two signals detected on Saturday, they were in the 33 kilohertz range. We don't know what the range is for these, but it's believed to be manmade, Ashleigh, so that's pretty significant new info.

BANFIELD: And what's amazing, though, is that they got it -- they're taking this acoustic data, they call it, and they've got it at the Royal Australian Air Force at one of their centers near Adelaide, as I understand it, for further analysis. It's their base -- their Edinburgh Base. What sort of analysis are they doing? Is it the same as what they did with the other pings?

RIPLEY: Absolutely. Yeah, it's the same kind of analysis that they did with the first two pings You know, we still haven't heard what the analysis results are for the second two pings that were detected, but we know that that analysis, that data analysis, happening as we speak and will continue overnight.

So, if there is something to announce tomorrow, what will likely happen is the search chief will call a press conference. Usually, we get a couple hours notice, so we don't know if there's going to be one yet.

But if there is a press conference called tomorrow morning, Perth time, it would be late in the evening, your time on the East Coast in the U.S., Ashleigh, then we know that there will be something that they'll be wanting to tell us about possibly this fifth ping, possibly the third and fourth, as well.

BANFIELD: Let's hope it's good news. Let's hope it gets us closer to resolving this mystery.

Will Ripley, thank you for that, Will reporting live from Perth, Australia, for us.

Got some big news to tell you about the TV biz. A lot of people have been waiting for this. CBS says that Stephen Colbert is the answer. He's set now to replace David Letterman when Mr. Letterman decides now that he's going to call it quits.

He's stepping down from his "Late Night Show" some time next year. The slot is now officially filled. He's the current host of Comedy Central's "Colbert Report." You've probably seen it, or something like it, anyway.

Here he is, making the announcement. He says he is absolutely thrilled and grateful to get the new gig, in only the way that Stephen Colbert could. Looks like a Madame Tussaud exhibit, doesn't it?

But, hey, so here's what's the most adorable way that he reacted to the news today. He says he now plans to go and grind a gap in his front teeth. Congratulations, Stephen Colbert. I know I'll watch if I can stay awake.

All right, so the experts are saying that -- back on that flight, the missing story, the experts say that it's highly unlikely that Flight 370 remained intact if and when it hit the ocean. So, if that's the case, where the heck is the wreckage? Why can't anybody find a sign of it?

We'll look at other plane disasters and also talk to an expert who designs the black-box pingers, might give you a little bit of an inclination as to why it might be very, very difficult to ever find any wreckage at all.

There you are, the live mike, still waiting President Obama at the Austin, Texas, LBJ library, the presidential library. This is where the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Civil Rights Act being signed into law by President LBJ himself -- that's where the celebration is taking place.

A lot of past presidents convening here for a three-day summit, and the keynote being given by our current president, President Obama himself. We're waiting on that. We'll bring it to you, live.

Back after this.


BANFIELD: We have heard over and over again that finding Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is harder than finding a needle in a haystack. But with such a massive search going on, how is it possible that not even a single piece of wreckage has been found? Gary Tuchman looks at a couple of different scenarios.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Not a speck of wreckage has been found from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, raising the question, is it possible all the wreckage is under water?

JIM TILMON, RETIRED AMERICAN AIRLINES CAPTAIN: The chances of not having debris, very, very remote.

TUCHMAN: Jim Tilmon is an aviation expert with decades of experience as a pilot for American Airlines and the Army Corps of Engineers. He does say the amount of debris on top of the water would vary based on the scenario of how the plane went down.

For example, if it went down in a steep dive at high speeds, that's what happened to an Alaskan Airlines jet that plunged into the Pacific off the coast of California in 2000, killing everyone aboard. Much of the wreckage would go underwater, says Captain Tilmon, but not all.

TILMON: It's not like sticking your hand in the water. It's like slamming your car into a brick wall. And that's the more likely result of that kind of situation. You're going to have lots of debris.

TUCHMAN: What if there was a catastrophic explosion in the plane's last few seconds. That's what happened with TWA Flight 800 off the coast of Long Island in 1996 and PanAm Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1998.

TILMON: In any case where the airplane breaks up while in the air, you're going to have a wider debris field. You may very well have very small fragments of the aircraft that are going to be identifiable.

TUCHMAN: Then, there's this scenario, a hijacking of an Ethiopian Airlines flight in 1996. In that case, the pilots ran out of gas during the hijacking and were forced to make an intentional landing in the Indian Ocean. Even that kind of landing, says Captain Tilmon, would result in significant debris above the water.

TILMON: Remember, water's like concrete. So you hit it hard enough and it just destroys the airplane's integrity. And you're going to have pieces that are going to be there and it will open up things like compartments and sections of the airplane that have items that will float.

TUCHMAN: The best case scenario for the Malaysia Airlines plane would be that type of landing made by U.S. Airways Captain Sully Sullenberger on the Hudson River in New York City. But that is by far the most unlikely scenario.

TILMON: Sully did an incredible job of flying, but he landed on a river. And the river is pretty relaxed, let's say, by comparison with an ocean, where you've got swells of 10, 12, 16 feet. And it's pretty difficult to make that kind of a landing on water.

TUCHMAN: The search continues for the wreckage. The landing scenarios just mentioned, all part of the investigation.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Atlanta.


BANFIELD: And still, despite, you know, five different pings that we've had since Saturday to at least help us get in the vicinity of the search area, no debris, not a piece, from Flight 370. The big question now, based on what we just heard from Gary Tuchman's report, is whether the searchers are ever going to find any of the wreckage, let alone those black boxes.

I want to bring back Thomas Altshuler, the VP and general manager of Teledyne Marine Systems that designs and builds the black boxes, the pingers and the pinger detectors as well.

Thomas, I want you to sort of walk me through this scenario. Some people have said, what if that plane ended up in the Indian Ocean and it was intact. I heard what Captain Tilmon said, that it would, more than likely, brake up. But what if it did landed intact and then ultimately sank intact? It wouldn't end up still being intact that far below the surface, would it?

ALTSHULER: No. So what happens is, it's going to start to sink. The pressure is very, very high as it gets deep in the ocean. On top of that, there - it's moving relatively quickly. Not very fast, but relatively quickly through the water. And that's going to put stress on surfaces like the wings and the tail section. So ultimately it will break up.

A greatest example of this is looking at the Titanic. You know, it sunk and then it broke into pieces as it went down to 12,000 feet. So you would expect it to still break up and then to fill with water. And so you would still have a debris field. It may not be quite as large as if you had a catastrophic landing at the surface, but you would expect it to be in pieces on the bottom.

BANFIELD: And I think I heard one of our oceanographers saying that as that plane potentially sank and broke up under this intense pressure, and intense (INAUDIBLE) pressure, a lot of the things inside the plane would have floated up to the surface. What kinds of things would have been released and floated like that?

ALTSHULER: Well, the cushions. I mean this is speculation, obviously, but you have suitcases, you have cushions, you have, you know, small items, you have actually parts of the air frame that are going to be lighter or buoyant. And so if it breaks up -- and it would not break up very deep. It would start to break up relatively early in the descent to the bottom, those things are going to float back up. So it's really hard to imagine that you would have no debris field. But, you know, these are - these are unchartered areas when you look at how you've lost this plane. There's not a lot of examples of losing, you know, aircraft in this type of a scenario.

BANFIELD: No, and it's such a harrowing image and a harrowing thought to think if that plane were whole and were sinking intact and ultimately then breaking up on the way down, it's just a - it's difficult to imagine it and so sad and so bizarre that we can't find any evidence of it.

Thomas Altshuler, as always, thank you.

ALTSHULER: Thank you.

BANFIELD: So there is big news in the entertainment industry today. It doesn't often make the news. But when you're as big as David Letterman saying good-bye and then your job gets filled by someone potentially bigger, we're talking Colbert here. After the break, the big man, Stephen Colbert, is going to move to late night CBS. What do you do late at night? Will your habits be about to change? Is this the new multi, multi-million dollar man? We're going to talk all about it in a moment.


BANFIELD: News we just mentioned moments ago. CBS says that Stephen Colbert is the man they've chosen to replace David Letterman when the latter steps down from "The Late Show" sometime next year. The current host of Comedy Central's "Colbert Report" says he's thrilled and grateful to get the new gig. The host of "Reliable Sources" another huge, huge personality right here on CNN, Brian Stelter, joins me now to talk about this.

This is fast, Brian.


BANFIELD: I knew that he was a top contender, but I didn't know it was going to be a week after Letterman announced his retirement.

STELTER: David Letterman surprised us this time last week by announcing his retirement in from of his studio audience. And now CBS has surprised us a week later by announcing his successor. But Colbert had always been mentioned as a possible successor to David Letterman. In fact, maybe it's a coincidence, but I don't think so, their contracts are actually lined up, which makes it possible for Colbert to come over from Comedy Central to CBS next year.

BANFIELD: I've got 10 seconds left. Do you have any idea how much he's being paid for the five year deal?

STELTER: No idea, but I know he's not bringing his character with him. He will not be that same character. He's going to have to be a whole new person on "The Late Show."

BANFIELD: Wow. Wow. That's amazing. I can't wait to see what he's going to do. Brian, thank you. Look forward to your show.

Great, great news. 11:00 a.m. Sundays you can see "Reliable Sources" and Brian Stelter.

Thanks for watching us today. It's been nice to have you with us. My colleague, Brianna Keilar, is going to pick up our coverage right after this quick break.