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New Information Released on Missing Malaysian Airplane

Aired April 10, 2014 - 07:00   ET


GENNARO PIRAINO, SUPERINTENDENT, FRANKLIN REGIONAL SCHOOLS: Our teachers care about our kids, and our kids in return care about our teachers and one another. And I think that was evident yesterday in a time of crisis, it showed through. And so when I look at Murrysville, the three communities that feed us our child children.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Superintendent --

PIRAINO: Trust us with their children to educate, it's amazing.

CUOMO: Well, listen, I know that this is an emotional time for everybody and we did see equal and opposite illustrations yesterday of people at their best and people at their worst. And obviously the students stepping up and teachers stepping up and all of you first responders who came in made the difference, kept this from being worse. Thank god nobody lost their lives. Hopefully it will stay that way.

Gentlemen, there is a lot of work in front of you. Our promise is we will stay on this story. Let us know how we can keep bringing attention there that is positive and helps you find progress in this.

PIRAINO: Thank you, Chris.


PIRAINO: Our focus right now is on our kids and our staff.

CUOMO: As it should be. Gentlemen, thank you.

All right, we're going to go to other breaking news this morning, the search for flight 370. We are following the latest on that high school stabbing as well. We're going to give you all the news we have for you right now. Let's get to it.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In 30 seconds I saw three people get stabbed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A 16-year-old sophomore armed with two eight- to ten-inch kitchen knives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of evidence of blood on the floors in the hallway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's blood everywhere. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: An Australian P3 picked up signals in the vicinity of the Ocean Shield from sonar buoys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are not sorry that you killed their daughter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm terribly sorry that I took the life of their daughter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now you say it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I never got the opportunity to tell Reeva that I loved her.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. We're following break news at this hour. Just about an hour ago we learned a possible signal has been picked up in the search for flight 370, another one. It still needs to be studied, further analysis. But the Australians are working on that as we speak.

Also, just coming in, we now know who in the cockpit spoke those final words heard from the plane. We're live with the very latest on all of these fronts covering the search. Let's go first to Erin McLaughlin live in Perth, Australia, the heart of the search effort. Erin?

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kate. That's right. We're hearing from Australian officials that one of their sonar buoys near the vessel the Ocean Shield has picked up a signal that may or may not be a ping. It is being analyzed overnight, but they say it is promising. And that is significant because it could mean the black box batteries have yet to expire. It could also mean that gives them more information with which to narrow down a potential search field. And they need that additional information in order to be able to deploy that underwater autonomous vehicle to have an easier time in searching for potential wreckage.

Now, these buoys are pretty interesting. The P3 surveillance planes, Australia RAF planes have been dropping them on the water by the dozens. And they're equipped with hydrophones that then go 1,000 feet underneath the ocean surface to detect any signals. Those signals are then sent back up to the plane to be analyzed. It's really interesting technology, just one more example of how science is contributing to this search. Kate?

CUOMO: Science and an unusually and unprecedented international cooperative effort. We will keep watching it and hopefully they get more findings and get them soon. Let's bring in Nic Robertson live from Kuala Lumpur with news about what was going on in the cockpit. We have new information. What is it?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We now know, Chris, that it was the pilot who was the last one to speak to air traffic controllers who said good night, Malaysian 370. That has been a very key question to find out who was the last person speaking from the flight deck of that aircraft. We also -- we now know as well that five MAS, Malaysian airlines pilots, have been played the recordings between the cockpit and the air traffic controllers. All these five pilots we're told are familiar with the pilot and the co-pilot aboard that night. They have reported now clearly that it was the pilot's voice they could hear.

But we're also told there was no third voice in the cockpit, that there was no sound of disturbance that nothing was out of the ordinary, that there was no sound of distress coming from the cockpit. Two sources here, a senior Malaysian government official and another source involved in the investigation both telling us this very important detail for investigators. Chris?

CUOMO: Important detail, Nic Robertson, thank you for bringing it to us. Let's get more perspective on why it's so important and these other big developments and what it means for the overall progress here. We have David Soucie, a member of the NEW DAY family and CNN family for sure now as a safety analyst and the author of "Why Planes Crash." He's a former FAA inspector.

And Ms. Mary Schiavo, CNN aviation analyst, former inspector general of the Department of Transportation, also an attorney who represents victims and families after airplane disasters, and I believe the creator of pasteurization if I'm not mistaken. Is that not true also, Mary?


CUOMO: Tell me, Mary, because you have this pedigree, why do I care that it was the pilot whose voice was heard in the cockpit? What does this do for me?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, gives us a couple of clues. We know that at least at that point the pilot was still alive, still able to communicate, still able to function. And, of course, the other thing that we wish we knew is who did all other communications. An important piece of evidence which surely the investigators know because they play the recordings for other pilots, which is pretty standard, that's what you do in an investigation, we would like to know who made all the other communications and if there was a handoff, if the co-pilot or the pilot not flying was communicating and then it switched and the pilot was communicating. That tells us something, too. That tells us that perhaps the control of the aircraft was handed to the other pilot, or, since we have to guess at this, maybe the other pilot wasn't there or wasn't capable of functioning. That would be a simple guess. But usually it's the pilot not flying that handles the communications.

CUOMO: So we know it was the pilot. We don't know what else was going on. We won't know until we get the black box. We still may not know because it only records two hours. And so far to your knowledge, Mary, has there been anything deduced or revealed in this investigation with who he knew or where he was living online that would suggest anything to implicate the pilot or co-pilot in anything nefarious?

SCHIAVO: No, not a thing. And our own FBI reviewed the computer and flight simulator data, and you would expect to find something, if you were hatching a nefarious plot, even online research, of course, you could always go to a library. But if, for example, there are lots of theories like they climbed 45,000 feet to depressurize the plane and kill the passengers, something like that on the Internet, searches, nothing. Not one thing.

CUOMO: It's important.

SCHIAVO: It certainly would suggest, yes.

CUOMO: That's important. And I keep bringing up because you have to have something before you damn these gentlemen and families by implication.

SCHIAVO: I agree.

CUOMO: Something that is relevant in piecing it together is the path that this plane took. We've been cobbling pieces of information together. Let's get back to Nic Robertson because we believe we may have another nugget that helps us understand there. Nic, what else do you have?

ROBERTSON: Chris, this again coming from two sources, one a senior Malaysian government official, another one, a member of the investigation team. We're told now that it is believed that the aircraft dipped significantly in altitude to around 4,000 to 5,000 feet, dipped from the cruising altitude of about 35,000 feet down to about 4,000 to 5,000 feet flying for about 120, 125 nautical miles at that height before coming up again to cruising altitude.

Why do these sources say they believe they have this information? They believe that it's based on -- or they say it's based on radar data, that the Malaysian military radar detected at a certain point as the aircraft, as we know, it flew towards Beijing, came back across the Malaysian peninsula, flew out into the Malacca Straits. In the Malacca Straits there it disappears from the Malaysian military radar. It disappears and then reappears further on.

And from all the data these experts are telling us they believe that the aircraft, therefore, dropped in altitude to about 4,000 to 5,000 feet before coming back up, before flying off around the north of Indonesia out into the -- out into the southern Indian Ocean.

We also have another piece of the information here perhaps more relevant to how authorities were responding at the time. We've heard a lot of discussion why didn't the Malaysian military scramble jets when they realized an aircraft had flown across their airspace. What we're now being told is the Malaysian military did scramble their jets after they heard, after it had been reported to them by Malaysian Airlines that the aircraft had gone missing, scrambled jets, flew them off the west of Malaysian into the Malacca Straits before they could confirm that the aircraft had gone that way, but in case, taking a step in case the aircraft had gone that way to find out what they could find out. They were way behind it. They didn't get any additional information. But this is the first time we're learning now that the Malaysian air force did respond that morning, scrambling fighter jets to search for MH-370. Chris?

CUOMO: Two quick points of clarification. The first one is, Nic, where do they think it dropped altitude again?

ROBERTSON: Off the west coast of the Malaysian peninsula, a place called -- close to a place called Para Island. It reappears about 250 nautical miles northwest of Penang Island. The distance between those two points is about 120 nautical miles.

CUOMO: That's when it happened. The second thing is, it's a little confusing. You're saying that the Malaysian authorities say they did scramble their fighters based on this, and yet early in the investigation, am I wrong, am I misremembering, that they didn't seem to have any information about where the plane could be? But how could they have not had any information if they scrambled jets in that direction?

ROBERTSON: Well, this is correct. There was a lot of early indications from both the Malaysian air force and the civil aviation that have subsequently been contradicted. What we now know from the Malaysian -- from people close to the investigation now is that those jets were scrambled around about 8:00 a.m. in the morning, remembering that about 7:30 a.m. that Saturday morning Malaysian Airlines had told the military that the plane had gone missing.

Now, it isn't until later that the Malaysian military, as a matter of deduction, basically they take their radar, remove from it all the aircraft that have known identifications and therefore they can identify the track that was the radar track of the missing MH370. This is how they did it. But that was later.

They scrambled the jets as a precautionary measure, but they didn't tell the authorities -- I have to add this -- but they didn't tell the authorities for another couple of days, until the Tuesday after the Saturday. Hence, we get into this area where one part of the government say one thing, another saying the other. Chris?

CUOMO: Confusing. Nic, you know what also, very helpful. Thank you for bringing us the information. You get more, get back to the control room so we can come back to you. Appreciate it.

All right, help me understand what's going on here. First part, David Gallo, good to have you. You were pivotal in finding flight 447. You understand the dynamics here, so we will bring you in on the discussion. David, I haven't spoken to you yet this morning. If the plane dipped in altitude which is something you and Mary have been asking a lot about, we need to know altitude, if it did it in that point of the flight, tell us where was that and what sense you make of a dip in altitude at that point. It's too soon to be out of gas.

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: It is. So it seems to me close enough to the turn that it would have had something to do -- indicate to me a rapid decompression on the aircraft because the first thing you want to do is your flight change or the flight level change button and it's going to go to the predesigned altitude, whatever you set that altitude at. CUOMO: Rapid decompression, meaning an accident, something beyond the control of the pilot as opposed to intent.

SOUCIE: Correct.

CUOMO: Do you agree with that?

DAVID GALLO, CNN ANALYST: Yes. It's outside my zone of expertise, but, yes, it sounds like that rapid motion like that, something that severe would be just what David said.

CUOMO: Mary Schiavo, you're nodding your head in the affirmative position. Why?

SCHIAVO: I do agree with it. Also, a drop in altitude to 4,000 now to 5,000 feet is not low enough to avoid radar. So the decrease in altitude is not a stealthy thing but it's probably a lifesaving thing. But you can't evade radar at 4,000 or 5,000 feet.

SOUCIE: They said it did go off radar, though, Mary. It dropped to 5,000 feet. That's how they know it was that low because that's the bottom of the radar scope. At least if I'm hearing that right, it was off radar for 120 miles, then it came back on radar.

CUOMO: But you don't think it was an intentional to evade?

SOUCIE: I don't think so, because if it was it would have stayed there.

CUOMO: Right, and they would have need to be low. That outer range that they were dealing with also with radar, that part gets confusing.

Another part gets confusing. I don't get this. Mary, let me come back to you on this. If you scramble jets, scramble to me suggests sending them in a direction. If you scramble them, which means sending them in a direction, that means you have a direction to send them in. How can the Malaysian authorities say early on we don't know where the plane is if you knew enough to scramble jets in a direction?

SCHIAVO: Well, I'm thinking that the right hand didn't know what the left hand was doing.

CUOMO: For two days?

SCHIAVO: We had some of the same kind of -- very amazing to me. Or they just simply didn't want to say that they had scrambled jets. But, you know, scrambling them, there's no point in doing it if you don't know where to send them. I suppose you could go up and look around, but that makes no sense. One of the stories has to be erroneous.

CUOMO: So David Gallo, put some common sense on this for someone who has been through it. This is not about Malaysian and whether they're up to date and how they govern or not. You certainly don't want to not know where your plane is. That's the last thing you want as the sovereign involved, as the authority involved. And that's exactly where they were.

GALLO: Absolutely.

CUOMO: You would think if you had any information about where the plane may be you would offer it up so you don't look stupid.

GALLO: Absolutely. The last thing you want to do is lose a plane in the ocean without knowing exactly where that plane was when it was last under the sun, because once you get beneath the sea, as we're finding out, it's a whole different ballgame.

CUOMO: So best guess here is military had some indication that something just flew over the airspace and it's at a weird height. We don't like that. Let's do what we always do in these situations, which is go out after it and see what it is. They couldn't find it. And then they just didn't communicate that until the story about the plane came out a couple days later?

SOUCIE: And what's strange about that for me is they said that they dispatched and they scrambled them, and they went over towards Malacca Straits. Well, I thought they didn't know that it went that way at all. They supposedly didn't get this radar information until much later. And now we're just getting information about that radar still. So how --

CUOMO: Although they were -- they were cagey about their first acknowledgment that we think it made a left. Remember, they thought they made a left and we didn't know why they thought -- maybe this is why they thought it made the left. And they just didn't want to say it for one of two reasons. What are the two reasons you don't say it? One is you don't want to give up what happened and, two, is you don't want to be caught late. You should have known so much earlier when you have these families desperate for information.

SOUCIE: Because those air traffic control centers, they were we debating back and forth for hours and hours before they finally said, oh, yeah, it really is missing. We need to do something.

And as you said, now we're behind -- now we're behind the game. Now they notify Malaysia. They dispatch the jets, say we think it went this way. And now you're behind it. Now you don't know where it is.

CUOMO: So most important, when this information hits the atmosphere, it's going to be, oh, it dropped in altitude. You know what that means. This was a hijacking. None of you believe that it is evidence of a hijacking in testing the data. It speaks to an accident as much as it speaks to anything else because it doesn't serve a clear purpose if it was done on purpose. Mary Schiavo, did I get that at least half right?

SCHIAVO: Right. I believe without some evidence of a motive or some evidence of a crime, yeah, there's -- there's a mechanical explanation just as easily as something nefarious.

CUOMO: And at this point, David Gallo, even with the two-day lag between military speaking to representative government in Malaysia, you would know if this pilot or co-pilot was having conversations with somebody that were suspect.

GALLO: Sure, you would think so in this day and age.

CUOMO: You would know if they were connected to a group. You would know what was on hard drive of his simulator. You would know what was on his computer. You would know.

GALLO: You should know.

CUOMO: You should know, right?

GALLO: Yeah.

CUOMO: Right? A month in, somebody would know if there was a reason to connect them. Why am I saying this, David? I'm saying it because isn't this more justification to go slow before blaming the pilots?

SOUCIE: Absolutely. In fact, again, every day we get more and more and more to do with the what happened. We have no idea why it happened. And that's the hard part. That's what we're going to have to try to dig for.

CUOMO: Nic Robertson is telling the control room that he is being told the reason it dipped to that altitude was to avoid other commercial traffic. How would they know that? Who has an answer? How would they know that that's why it dipped if they didn't get any more communication from the cockpit?

SCHIAVO: Because there's no commercial traffic down at that level. Commercial traffic is at higher levels. They just deduct it.

CUOMO: That's an assumption.

SCHIAVO: That's an assumption.

CUOMO: Because that could go for 5,000 feet. It could go for 8,000 feet, right? Because there's a minimum flight ceiling.

SOUCIE (?): Anything below 18,000 feet, he's out of -- he's out of the commercial airway.

CUOMO: So from 18,000 feet down, that could be an explanation. But they don't have any information to drive knowledge.

SOUCIE: But that is a good assumption, in my opinion. I mean, it's a great assumption. Because if you have no navigation, you have -- you don't know what's going on. You can't communicate with anybody around you. It's like being on the highway, driving down the highway, everybody else has lights but you don't. And you're trying to get -- navigate your way through. You're going to get hit.

CUOMO: And because it is a significant navigational route, I'm being told, towards Asia it is making sense that you would want to get out of the way of other planes if you were in trouble.

What still doesn't make sense, though, is if you were in trouble, I understand -- I forget what the acronym was, but it's you navigate and -- and, you know, whatever it is, there are three things you do before -- two things you do before you communicate. But for this length of time, over 100 miles, you navigate, you aviate and then you communicate, wouldn't they have said something if they were in control of what was going on?

SOUCIE: Particularly if it's going to go back up to that altitude again. Would you go underneath the traffic route and then come back up again?

CUOMO: Or at least saying I got to get out of the way of traffic.

GALLO: Unless it was disabled. Maybe they lost the capability.

SOUCIE: The communications, yeah.

CUOMO: And that's also a possibility. It's still possible you can lose capabilities opposed to turning them off.

SOUCIE (?): That's right.

CUOMO: Mary Schiavo, anything before we go?

SCHIAVO: No, I agree. I mean, there are many accidents where fires or decompression, et cetera, took out the communications ability. So we're left to squarely between two camps again.

CUOMO: All right. But at least new information to go off of. New data. Picture coming together. Mary, David, David, thank you very much. Kate?

BOLDUAN: All right, we clearly have a lot of big developments breaking right now in the search for flight 370. We'll have much more on the search and the news when we come back.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY. A lot of breaking news this morning in the hunt for flight 370. Another possible underwater signal in the area where four pings were picked up in the last week. This as CNN learns Malaysia says they scrambled jets the morning after the disappearance of the flight and the flight's altitude dropped as it crossed the Malaysian peninsula.

Also, sources close to the investigation tell CNN it now appears the last person to speak in the cockpit was the pilot, not the co-pilot as was originally said by investigators, by Malaysian officials, actually.

For more, let's bring in senior international correspondent Nic Robertson in Kuala Lumpur.

Nic, this is a lot of your reporting. And I want to, of course, you to clarify all of the plane movements and what you're hearing from your sources.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know that five Malaysian airlines pilots --


ROBERTSON: -- who are familiar with the pilot and with the co-pilot were played -- were played the audio recording of air traffic control with the cockpit. And they have said that they believe that the person who made the last radio communication who said, "Good night, Malaysian 370" was, in fact, the pilot. They also say there's no evidence of a third voice in the cockpit. They also say that it sounded calm, that there was nothing out of the ordinary, no distress.

We know as well, after the plane took its left turn, flew back across the Malaysian peninsula, when it gets back out over the sea, it then disappears from military radar, reappears about 120 nautical miles north-northwest of that location where it disappears.

According to the sources we're talking to, they say that maybe because it was dipping to flight under -- under aircraft lines that are used for flights -- regularly used for flights to Europe and to the Indian subcontinent.

We also understand that Malaysian Airline jets were scrambled as a, quote, "precautionary measure" about half an hour after the Air Force we're told by Malaysian Airlines that the flight itself had gone missing.

So a lot of new details here, but perhaps for investigators the most important one, two minutes before the transponders get switched off, the last radio communication from the cockpit is from the pilot. This is something they've been searching to find out. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Absolutely, Nic. A lot of information to work through. You will continue to work your sources. Thank you so much for the update on your reporting.

Let's bring in Michael Kay to discuss a lot of what we've been learning here from Nic -- Nic Robertson.

Michael, thank you so much for being here. So I want to start with, let's talk about this drop in altitude. It's something that has been a question, really throughout the investigation. When I was over in Malaysia, there was an initial report from a local newspaper there, the "News Straits Times", talking about possible dip to 5,000 feet. It initially was kind of seen as that seems unlikely. But now, we're hearing from Nic Robertson it may have dropped to 4,000 to 5,000 feet. What do you make of this?

MICHAEL KAY, PILOT: Well, I've always been asking the question, Kate, on why the Malaysians couldn't or hadn't identified a blip on their radar as it crossed their country.

Now, we know in the post 9/11 world order, the aircraft cannot just willy-nilly enter sovereign territory without being interrogated. The 777, it's a wide-bodied jet. It's got a huge radar cross section. That means it will show up on an air defense radar as a big blip. Now, if that big blip doesn't wear a squawk, so the transponder has that four digit code, that's what it's for, is to identify it on a radar screen. So if you have a big blip that doesn't have a squawk, that isn't flight planned, that isn't part of any routine airways traffic, this is a big red flag to any sovereign territory that has air defense jets ready to react to -- to -- to anything entering into the sovereign territory. This is always been the question for me.

BOLDUAN: Let's talk about also the area that we're talking about here. Let's walk over to the map take a closer look. One of the areas we're talking about is this is when it was cutting across Malaysia going to the Malacca Straits, right?

KAY: Absolutely. So this is kind of the region here in the South China Sea where it disappeared. And then we know that it actually crossed Malaysia, and it actually did sort of this route. so it came to the north and then went northwest. So it avoided Thailand, and then out into the Malacca Strait.

Now, the question has always been how could a 777 cross an entire country without being seen on the country's radar and without the military reacting to it? That was a worrying question that hadn't been answered.

So I think where we're at now is, we've now got this additional information of it actually descended in altitude. And the question we've got to ask ourself is why did it descend in altitude.

BOLDUAN: The why is a huge question, of course. While we talk about the why, let's throw up the animation of the flight path once again just to remind viewers what we have been focusing on and has been the focus of this investigation, that turn you just pointed out right there, Michael.

One of the reasons Nic Robertson's sources are telling him the dip in altitude, his sources say, was to avoid the commercial traffic in the area because that is a very busy, busy commercial route.

KAY: Yeah, that's a -- that's a completely feasible option. I mean, we were -- we were on the air the other day talking about the route that it took over the coast of Sumatra, was it avoiding radar. And I think that's -- you know, the whole avoiding radar thing is very difficult.

As I've mentioned before, primary radar goes out to about 120 to 150 miles. If you're in a wide-bodied jet and you're at 5,000 feet, you're going to have to go out well beyond 150 miles to avoid detection, possibly 400 or 500 miles. You're also going to have to descend down much below 5,000 feet.

Mary Schiavo alluded to it earlier on. I mean, I spent my life in my previous job avoiding radar, avoided being detected by radar because that's what gets you shot down. And we fly around at 100 feet when I used to fly to avoid radar, so 5,000 feet to me is still very high.

I think it's more likely from -- it's more likely something wanting to avoid the territory, wanting to avoid the airspace. Airspace goes out to about 12 nautical miles off the coast of any country. That's -- and then you're in international airspace or high seas or maritime waters. So for me it's probably more about avoiding the land rather than avoiding radar specifically because that is a really hard thing to try and judge.

BOLDUAN: And it's also difficult to understand as we're kind of talking about it up here, Dean (ph), come on back in. Let's take a look at this closer one more time. One of the things we talked about last week was this -- how it had come out very far around Indonesia, right? That was that big turn because it was initially thought to avoid radar -- possibly avoid radar detection here.

KAY: Absolutely.