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Confident Pings; No Major Breakthrough; Retrieving Black Boxes from the Ocean; Difficulties of a Deep Water Search; Bus Crash Kills Ten

Aired April 11, 2014 - 12:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: New confidence from Australia's prime minister that search teams are finally closing in on Flight 370, despite serious doubts about the latest ping.

And, fiery and deadly. A freeway collision between a wrong-way FedEx truck and a bus taking high school students on a college tour. Survivors share their horror stories.

And a father kidnapped as part of a gang plot for payback to his prosecutor daughter. The threats coming in to torture him, to dismember him, and then the FBI coming in to rescue him. All of it you will see ahead this hour.

Hello, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It is Friday, April the 11th and welcome to LEGAL VIEW.

It has now officially been five weeks almost in fact to the minute since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 took off on a journey like none in aviation history. And like so many days before it, day 35 is a mix of conflicting signals. And I don't mean pings. First this from the Australian prime minister on a visit to China.


TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: We have very much narrowed down the search area. And we are very confident that the signals that we are detecting are from the black box on MH-370.


BANFIELD: Serious confidence sure enough. The areas searched today by air and by sea total just 18,000 square miles. And that sounds like a lot, but it's barely a fifth the size of a week ago. And the listening area some distance away is much smaller still.

And that said, not a single verified scrap of the missing plane, nor any of its contents, has turned up yet. And that suspected ping that was detected yesterday by a sonobuoy, it seemed so exciting for so many. Well, the retired Australian air marshal coordinating the search says that it likely was not a ping at all. Angus Houston, who himself expressed optimism on Wednesday says, quote, "on the information I have available to me, there has been no major breakthrough in the search for MH-370."

CNN's Matthew Chance is following the search today in Perth.

So it just seems so conflicting. How was it determined for the Australian prime minister that he had such confidence that we're hearing the signals from the black boxes?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think that he was just articulating what other people are thinking and perhaps what's being disclosed to him behind closed doors in his private briefing sessions. I mean, look, I mean the official position before this, according to Angus Houston, as you mentioned, is heading up the multinational search operations, is that the pings that have been detected in that area of the Indian Ocean are, in his words, consistent with those that would be emitted by black box flight recorders and voice cockpit recorders, the beacons on them.

He stopped short of saying that they definitely are from those black boxes. But it seems that the Australian prime minister is going a small step further and, you know, putting two and two together, and saying that, you know, he's got a lot of confidence that they are from these black box flight recorders. So it's not a revolutionary statement, just going a little bit further than any other Australian official has done so far.

BANFIELD: Matthew Chance reporting live for us in Perth, Australia. Thank you for that.

I want to bring back in my experts on this newest development. Michael Kay is a retired lieutenant colonel in the Royal Air Force. He's also a former adviser to the U.K. ministry of defense. David Soucie is a CNN safety analyst and a former air accident investigator. And from Boston, Tom Altshuler is the vice president of Teledyne Marine Systems. It just so happens to be the maker of pingers and also pinger detectors.

Tom, I want to start with you, if I can. That fifth ping has now been ruled out as a black box ping. I'm not sure exactly how they do it, but does this sound to you that the sonobuoys maybe aren't quite what we thought they might be in this search?

THOMAS ALTSHULER, V.P., TELEDYNE MARINE SYSTEMS: I don't think that's true at all. So they're different than, let's say the way that the towed pinger ray (ph) works. Sonobuoys are designed operationally for (INAUDIBLE) submarine warfare. They are incredibly sensitive. And so they've been tuned differently.

I think in this particular case, they've looked at them, they've tried to tune them so that they can detect the frequency of what the pinger should emit. That's the first thing. The second thing is they operate deep enough - they go almost 300 meters, maybe deeper, and are able to provide that good link to a better acoustic channel away from the noise of the surface. The only problem with them is they really are a narrow area search tool. And so when you think about it, you've got to drop sonobuoys near something you're interested in, that you think exists in the water.

So, right now, they're looking at an 18,000 square mile search area. That would take between 40 and 80 P-3 Orion drops of 84 sonobuoys to cover the area. So it's really is a tool for narrow search, not a tool for broad area search, like the pinger - the pinger towed array.

BANFIELD: And yet we hang on every single detail and obviously every single ping as well.

Actually, David, maybe you could weigh in on this as an accident investigator. We just heard Matthew Chance talking about the optimism of the Australian prime minister and perhaps that he was just articulating other people's confidence. Everyone's hanging on every word. And so I don't know what to make of that. I don't know whether he actually knows something or whether he's just talking and accidentally saying something that seems much bigger than it is.

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: It appears to me that he is because we have no new evidence. We have nothing clarified from what was said by Angus Houston that he - and this is the fear that I have of getting into the investigation the way that they have from the beginning and making conclusions rather than stating the facts. You know, you say that this is the fact. Even in his position of saying, you know -- in his position of authority and saying, I'm confident, well, there's a lot of us that are confident, a lot of us that are, but we have to reserve that and say, this is what we found.

BANFIELD: Words matter and yet they don't seem to. It's very frustrating. So we had the leader of the search expedition saying, I think within a matter of days we'll get there, to this aircraft. The prime minister saying, we think it's pretty much the black boxes. Nothing else tells us that.

LT. COL. MICHAEL KAY, ROYAL AIR FORCE (RET.): Yes, Ashleigh, we've got to remember that Tony Abbott isn't operating autonomously or independent. He's working as part of a six-country team, under the investigator in charge, which is Malaysia. So it's working with U.K., U.S., France, Russia, Australia, and Malaysia as well. And anything that he will be pushing out to the wider world, I would imagine, would have to be corroborated with those other countries to make sure that everyone's content with the analysis that's going on.

BANFIELD: Well, that's what you would think, which is why we have the optimism. And then you hear Matthew Chance saying, I think he was just articulating what he may have heard. That's - it was something of this magnitude, where there are all those families waiting on -- and they are hinging everything on letters and commas.

KAY: Absolutely.

BANFIELD: It's reckless almost to say something like that if it's not true, right?

SOUCIE: Well, it's good to say it's consistent with what a pinger sound is. That's it. Or, we believe that it is from that. But to express confidence, I mean, I can understand what he's doing. He's expressing what he needs to do. And again, like Michael said, it's not just he's acting alone coming up with some wild comment, there's everything, and in my mind, everything points to that. I can't see that -- at least the two-mile marker that we're getting, the two-mile reception of the ping. The others I believe are auxiliary bounces and pings from it, but it's not giving us location. The two-mile stretch is very encouraging to me and it is consistent and -- with the experience I've had with pingers.

BANFIELD: David Soucie, Michael Kay, Tom Altshuler, thank you for those thoughts. Stand by because, look, it's likely thousands of feet down at the bottom of the ocean, harder than finding a needle in a haystack, and so once they actually locate Flight 370's black boxes, if they ever locate them, well, then what? We're actually going to take you through the extraordinarily delicate process of the recovery, bring in our panel to tell you just what challenges lie ahead there.


BANFIELD: Welcome back, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

As we mentioned, today marks a somber milestone in the search for Flight 370. Five weeks. Five weeks to the day that a plane carrying 239 passengers and crew simply vanished. And we have had not a trace since.

The batteries on the black boxes that send out the locate pings, I think it's fair to say they are close to running out, if they haven't already run out or if they aren't already long run out. But the prime minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, during a trip to China to discuss search efforts, said this morning that he is confident that the pings heard in the southern Indian Ocean from the search crews are, in fact, those black boxes.

So, what happens if they actually locate the black boxes? It's likely that the flight data and voice recorders are at the bottom of the ocean, possibly 14,000 feet below the surface, possibly even covered or resting deep in some silt. CNN's George Howell reports now on how crews are going to go about retrieving them in those circumstances.


GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Once you've found a needle in a haystack, how to you extract it? That's what investigators are up against in the search for flight 370, as they try to hone in on the black boxes.

LT. COL. MICHAEL KAY, ROYAL AIR FORCE (RET.): Authorities and search operators actually found the needle before they found the haystack. It's quite unprecedented.

HOWELL: Once you know where to look, how do you get down there, some 14,000 feet below the Indian Ocean?

PETER GOELZ, FORMER NTSB MANAGING DIRECTOR: Well, there's one of two ways you do it. You either do it with a remote vehicle that is not tethered to a ship on the top, or you do it with a tethered remote vehicle.

HOWELL: The former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board says similar types of vehicles went almost 13,000 feet deep during the search for the cockpit voice and data recorders from the 2009 Air France crash off the coast of Brazil. The recorders were found about two years after the crash, long after the pingers had died. Underwater vehicles were also used to recover artifacts from the Titanic. But before sending the vehicles down, investigators must first map the terrain, a step that takes time and requires patience.

GOELZ: If it is in rocky or cavernous terrain, it could be challenging. But once the wreckage is identified, these vehicles and the operators have extraordinary capabilities.

HOWELL: Locating them is one thing, but pulling the black boxes from the incredible depths is another. The remote controlled vehicles, armed with sonar, cameras, lighting and remote control arms may sift through silt and potentially through wreckage in pitch dark waters.

GOELZ: It can be painstaking. It can be very difficult. The -- you know, sometimes the boxes have separated from the wreckage. Sometimes the boxes have separated from their pingers. So this is going to be a long process.

HOWELL: George Howell, CNN, Chicago.


BANFIELD: And joining me to talk about the difficulties of a deep water operation to retrieve these black boxes is CNN safety analyst David Soucie, expedition logistic specialist Christine Dennison, and from Boston we're joined once again by Thomas Altshuler, V.P. of Teledyne Marine Systems, the maker of the pingers and the pinger detectors.

First off, Thomas, at day 35, should we even be thinking that we're going to have any more days for pinger detection?

THOMAS ALTSHULER, TELEDYNE MARINE SYSTEMS: The pingers are designed with a margin to last longer than 30 days. Let's say the minimum is 30 days, so right now, we really don't know.

Each of them depends on how long they've been -- or how they've been stored, how long they've been on the airframe. So at this point, you're still within a window where you could detect things.

BANFIELD: David, at some point, investigators have to decide that we're no longer in a listening mode, we're in a looking mode, and we're going to have to rely on our eyes and our cameras to do the rest of the job.

When is that decision made? When they've just gone too many days without a sound? How many days do they leave it?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Pretty much. It's driven by when they've received the last ping.

And Commander Marks told us a few days ago that once they stop receiving the signals, and they're still in that same search area, they're going to wait probably two more days of searching. And at the point that they've gone two days without receiving pings in areas where they had received them before, they're going to assume that now the batteries are dead.

BANFIELD: It's been two days without a real ping, because the last one we heard about, turns out it's not one.

SOUCIE: That's right, so tonight will be that extent, that two days.

He's not the one that makes that call. That was what he recommended, but the air marshal said that he thought it would be a week, a week after they stopped receiving pings that they would continue to try it. So a little bit of a disconnect there, but, nonetheless, there's a point at which they're going to do it.

BANFIELD: There has to be.

SOUCIE: I think we're really close to that.

BANFIELD: So, Christine, one of the things that you mentioned during the break I found fascinating was that the silt we keep talking about at the bottom of this ocean floor, some two-and-a-half to three miles down, we've said before that it could wreak havoc with the pingers and the search effort. But you don't think that silt's an issue necessarily right now?

CHRISTINE DENNISON, EXPEDITION LOGISTICS SPECIALIST: I don't think it's an issue with the boxes at the moment in that we're hearing -- they picked up some strong signals a few days ago.

They continue to hear them. I think that's just part of the process that the batteries are dying. I believe, if they were deeply embedded in silt, it wouldn't be -- it wouldn't have been such a great sound.

Having said that, they still have to follow protocol in retrieving these boxes, which at this point, as David was saying, we still have a couple more days before we make the call to say, let's now put in the AUV and --

BANFIELD: When that happens, by the way, and ultimately if the AUV does the detective work that we need it to do and is successful, then it's all about robotics, because there's no diver in the world that can withstand that type of pressure.

But how effective is one of those robotic devices in finding something that's this big? I mean, that's what we're looking for in a very deep, dark, dirty part of the ocean.

DENNISON: Well, we're still working with trying to narrow down the search area, which they are doing hourly. And once that's accomplished, the AUV will be deployed. It will be able to map and photograph. And then they bring back the data, which, again, we're talking about days.

They have to retrieve the data. They have to really examine the data before they then put the next stage, which is the ROV, which will have the manipulator arm, will have the cameras, will have the lights, which will be able to really extricate these black boxes and bring them to the surface, hopefully.

BANFIELD: Hopefully, and, again, that's a big "H," hopefully. Every time I keep thinking about the amount of work it would take, even if there were divers with eyes and hands to find those things, and think about it just being the robotics, it's distressing.

Thank you, David Soucie, Christine Dennison, Thomas Altshuler.

And ahead we're going to talk about all of these problems and what they mean to the bottom line, and how many millions of dollars has been spent? How much does it cost every single day to do this? And how much longer is the commitment going to be there to pay for all of this? You might be surprised at what you hear about that.

And then also up next on LEGAL VIEW, a college tour for a group of California high school students turns deadly when their bus collides with a FedEx truck, the images harrowing.

Perhaps most unbelievable, those who were able to survive this. We've got their stories, coming up next.


BANFIELD: What started as a trip to visit a California college ended in tragedy for a group of high school students. You've probably by now seen these horrifying photos from the scene.

A FedEx big rig slammed head on into a tour bus that was filled with high school students, and it caused the bus to burst into flames, just remarkable images. Probably not surprising when you hear the toll that this took, 10 people in all were killed. Five of them were the high school seniors.

One of the survivors who was jolted awake in this incident said he had to jump from the burning bus to survive.


JONATHAN GUTIERREZ, PASSENGER: There was just fire in front of the bus with the FedEx truck. There was people crossing the street to get to the other side with injuries. It was very, like, surreal moment. I couldn't believe it myself, but it was happening.


BANFIELD: And the aftermath says so much, as well. Today the investigators are trying to get any answers they can.

Our Stephanie Elam has the latest from Orland, California.


STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The images are horrifying. A bus full of high school students burst into flames on the side of a California highway after a head-on collision with a FedEx truck.

LUIS LOPEZ, NEIGHBOR: I went outside, and everything was in flames already. It was a couple of explosions after that.

ELAM: The truck slamming into the bus full of high school seniors after police say it crossed over the median and into oncoming traffic.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All of a sudden I heard a sonic boom. When I got there everything was engulfed, and it was still spewing up black smoke.

ELAM: The collision leaving both drivers and multiple passengers dead, eyewitnesses, helpless as flames consumed the bus.

LOPEZ: A lot of people screaming and begging for help with all the flames and all the smoke, it was just cover your eyes.

ELAM: Emergency crews raced to the scene to help the injured students.

TRACY HOOVER, CALIFORNIA HIGHWAY PATROL: Many of them had cuts, contusions, bumps, minor burns.

The ones I saw, I know that there was one person when we arrived on scene that was, unfortunately, he on fire.

CESAR ENRIQUEZ, WITNESS: Screaming for help, don't let me die, just help me.

ELAM: At least 34 people were rushed to local hospitals. Helicopters airlifted survivors. Others were taken by school bus and ambulances to local care centers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I saw one gentleman on a board and his clothes were gone pretty much. I couldn't tell if his injuries were significant. I just kept praying.

ELAM: The high school students were on their way to visit Humboldt State University this weekend.

Just hours after tweeting a picture from inside the bus, crash survivor, Jonathan Gutierrez, posted this picture of the crash scene, writing, "I can't believe what just happened. I was asleep, and next thing you know, I was jumping out for my life."


ELAM: And, Ashleigh, the NTSB will be making its way out here to investigate this crash and see if they can figure out why that FedEx truck jumped the median and ran into oncoming traffic.


BANFIELD: Stephanie Elam, thank you for that reporting for us from California.

The search for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 is already becoming the most expensive search in history. We're going to break down the actual numbers for you. We're going to tell you who is paying the bill. We're also going to talk about how long those bills will be paid, and how those decisions are made, next.