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Co-Pilot's Cell Phone Was On; Bluefin Deployed; Russian Jet Flies Near U.S. Warship; Underwater Search For Flight 370 Begins

Aired April 14, 2014 - 12:00   ET


PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Pamela Brown, in for Ashleigh Banfield. It is Monday, April 14th. Welcome to "Legal View." Great to have you with us.

And we begin with breaking news right off the top on missing Malaysia Airliner 370, news about the co-pilot's cell phone and the possibility that it was on midair. U.S. officials with firsthand knowledge of the investigation say the Malaysian officials have shared data information with U.S. investigators indicating a cell tower near Penang, about 250 miles away from where the plane's location when that transponder stopped working detected the co-pilot's cell phone searching for service. At the same time, the U.S. official says there is no evidence an actual phone call was made or attempted by the co-pilot.

Important to emphasize there, again, sources telling us that a cell tower near Penang detected the co-pilot's cell phone, which indicates that that cell phone was on. And then, again, reaffirms the radar data that that plane did turn around. So we want to get more analysis on this by bringing in CNN safety analyst and former air accident investigator David Soucie, and CNN aviation analyst and former NTSB managing director Peter Goelz.

Great to have you both here with us.

Peter, I'm going to start with you here. So the fact that, according to sources that I've been speaking with, the fact that the co-pilot's cell phone communicated with the cell tower, similar to the handshake between the plane and the satellite, that is an indication the cell phone was on. Why would that be?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, there's not an easy explanation. The flight crew would normally not have their cell phones on. That it was on is another piece of evidence that seems to be building and pointing at something going on in the cockpit. We don't know why it was on. We don't know what he could have communicated. But if it was on, it might indicate that the flight crew was certainly alive at that point and that something was going on in the cockpit.

BROWN: And interesting to note, speaking to sources, at this point that the data that the Malaysians have shared with U.S. investigators only shows that there was a connection between the co-pilot's cell phone and that cell tower. So just one cell phone that appeared to be on. And, David, I want to go to you. Does that say to you as well that this plane must have been flying at a fairly low altitude in order for the cell phone to connect with that cell tower?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Well, it may. It just depends on which type of system it was because you've got CDMA (ph). There's several different systems that have different ranges. But there's a great deal of information I think we can learn from cell phones. I've used cell phones in several investigations in the past to try to help figure out the track of the aircraft, the speed and the altitude of the aircraft, in fact. So based on which towers have which overlapping coverage, it's extremely useful information.

But in this case, as Peter had mentioned, too, it's really interested to note that there was only one cell phone that came on. If there were other cell phone, a lot of people forget to turn them off. So if it was the case of it just going into this cell tower range and clicking on and trying to connect, it doesn't appear that way. This appears to be a singular phone that was turned on within that range.

BROWN: And, Peter, from an investigative standpoint with this information we have, what would you use this information to try to tell, to try to uncover in this investigation?

GOELZ: Well, I think you'd go back and look at every cell tower in that range and see if there were any other hits. And you'd go back and look at the air phones that apparently were in business class and say, did anyone attempt to make a call during the first couple of hours? It just opens another door to the investigators.

BROWN: And we have learned from sources I've been speaking with that a search of the phone records, which investigators did very early on in the investigation, didn't turn up any evidence that the captain, the co-pilot or any passengers on board and the crew made phone calls. But this is interesting and raises a lot of questions. And, David, I want to ask you and sort of reiterate what Peter was talking about. For a member of the crew, the co-pilot, to have his phone on, how unusual is that? Or is there sort of a different standard for the crew versus the passengers because, of course, any passenger will tell you, you get alerted over and over again to turn off your cell phone before the flight takes off.

SOUCIE: Well, you know, I've spent thousands of hours riding in the cockpit with pilots and observing them and monitoring their performance and, you know, obviously when the FAA inspector's sitting behind you, you turn off your cell phone. So I'm not sure that's indicative of it. But of course there's times when people would forget. But again, going back to the fact that there weren't a lot of cell phones that try to make connection. There was only one. And that's very suspicious in my mind.

BROWN: Right. But important to note that even though we have this information, it doesn't tell us a motive, it doesn't tell us who was alive, who was dead. So still a lot of unanswered questions. David Soucie, Peter Goelz, thanks for helping us break it down. We appreciate it.

GOELZ: Thank you.

SOUCIE: Thank you, Pam.

BROWN: And continuing with the missing Flight 370. Barring any snags or delays, we should be about seven hours into a new and critical phase of the search for Flight 370. Thirty-eight days after that Boeing 777 disappeared and six days after the last apparent encounter with pings from the jet's black boxes, the chief search coordinator called in the Bluefin. Now that's the autonomous underwater vehicle, AUV, that uses sonar to map the ocean floor. This is a painfully slow process and experts would have liked a few more pings to narrow the field. But it's likely the pinger's batteries, built to last 30 days, have run out.

The continued absence of any debris on the surface means the visual searches will probably end soon as well. But yesterday the same Australian navy ship that deployed the pinger locator and the Bluefin noticed an oil slick and picked up a couple of liters for testing. We don't know whether it's airplane related now and we probably won't know for a few days.

But the focus today on that Bluefin. It's expected to cover 15 square miles in its first 24-hour deployment. At that rate, it could take six to eight weeks to scan the entire area from which the black box pings could have emanated. CNN's Will Ripley has more now on the mission and the conditions so far beneath the surface.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The search for MH370 is moving into a dark corner of the world that, in some ways, is more mysterious than outer space.

PROF. CHARI PATTIARATCHI, UNIVERSITY OF WESTERN AUSTRALIA: We know less about our deep ocean than we know of the moon's surface.

RIPLEY: Chari Pattiaratchi and his research team took this video in the southern Indian Ocean. The professor of coastal oceanography at the University of Western Australia thinks this is what the search zone, nearly three miles down, could look like.

PATTIARATCHI: It's dark, very cold.

RIPLEY: With pressure so intense, it crushes a Styrofoam cup down to a fraction of its size. The missing plane is believed to be 4,500 meters, nearly 15,000 feet down.

PATTIARATCHI: It's flat and it's -- the sediment is -- it's silt.

RIPLEY: The extreme conditions will test the limits of the U.S. Navy's Bluefin-21, which is beginning the slow, painstaking process of mapping the ocean floor.

CAPT. MARK MATTHEWS, U.S. NAVY: Patience. People need patience.

RIPLEY: U.S. Navy Captain Mark Matthews says just one mission takes 24 hours, two hours down, 16 hours of scanning, two hours up, another four hours of downloading data from the side scan sonar which maps out the ocean floor.

MATTHEWS: You can actually see the shapes. It's -- you kind of see the traces, the outlines of the objects.

RIPLEY: Pattiaratchi's team also took this video of what this next step, the salvage phase, would look like. Underwater robots would grab small pieces of the plane and pull them up. A ship would have to hoist up any large pieces.

PATTIARATCHI: Bottom line, it's a very, very slow process.

RIPLEY: A process that is just beginning, meaning MH370 families could wait months or even years for the answers and closure they so desperately need.


BROWN: Will Ripley joins me now with more on this.

Good to have you with us here, Will. Have we gotten any updates?

RIPLEY: You know, Pam, we're just waiting, along with the rest of the world, to find out what the Bluefin-21, what the results will be. The reason that we have to wait is because there's no real time communication between the submersible when it's deployed on its mission. So for those two hours to get down, nearly three miles to the bottom of the ocean there, and then for the 16 hours that it's scanning and then the two hours back, it's basically radio silence.

But then once the submersible gets back on the Ocean Shield and they download that information, that's when they'll start looking at those images. And you have to have experts that are trained to look at this because it's basically one color, an amber screen, and you look for the brighter objects. That signifies what there might be. That's how they read - that's how they read it.

BROWN: So the Bluefin is in an area where searchers had heard those pings. So this is a large area. How hopeful are authorities that they're going to have something relatively soon from this new equipment they're using?

RIPLEY: Well, I think one thing that we've kept hearing repeatedly from the search chief, from Captain Matthews, who was in that piece, and others is, this is going to be a very long process. Something that they're thinking of in terms of weeks or even months. One thing that they are doing though to streamline this process, not just blanket searching the whole area.

They've used the pings and their calculations to find what they call these high probability areas. Those are the areas that they think there's the best chance of finding these data recorders based on the locations that they detected. So right now what they're basically doing is searching the highest priority area and they'll just go down the list.

BROWN: All right, slow and painstaking process we're hearing. Thank you so much, Will Ripley.

And we also have breaking news we're following. Russian planes have apparently buzzed U.S. warships in the Black Sea. We're going to go live to the Pentagon for more on this right after this quick break.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROWN: And we have breaking news out of Ukraine this hour. A Russian military fighter jet came very close to a U.S. warship in the Black Sea over the weekend, passing by the ship several times. Let's bring in Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr for the very latest on this.

Barbara, what can you tell us?


The Pentagon now calling this Russian military action provocative and unprofessional. This is one of the most significant encounters between the U.S. and Russian military in years in the high-tension region of the Black Sea, Pamela. It was on Saturday when this Russian SU-24 Sukhoi fighter basically made 12 passes near the USS Donald Cook in the western Black Sea. That Navy warship in the Black Sea in international waters for exercises and training with east European allies there who are obviously very nervous about what the Russians are up to on that border with Ukraine. So the U.S. Navy sent a ship there for reassurance.

The Russians, on Saturday, had two SU-24s in the air. One of them passing by the Donald Cook 12 times over a 90-minute period, coming as close as 500 feet in altitude as it passed by 1,000 feet off the side. So if you can envision this, the Russians were not about to, you know, cause a crash or anything like that a thousand feet off the side of the ship, 500 feet above the ocean surface. What they were up to was harassment and they got the Donald Cook's attention.

We are told that the ship's captain, the ship's crew tried to call the Russian fighter several times to tell them to back off. They got no response. And about after 90 minutes, the Russians broke contact and flew away. But the Pentagon saying this is provocative, unprofessional and certainly worried because these types of close encounters still, despite any intentions, they can go very wrong.


BROWN: And the plane appeared to be unarmed, is that right?

STARR: That's a good point. Yes, it did appear -- it did not appear to have any missiles under the wings or to be armed for combat. And that's part of the reason the Pentagon says, OK, you know, harassment, provocative, unprofessional, but they're putting the word out there because they want the Russians to know clearly that the U.S. Navy, that they know what the Russians were up to.

BROWN: And what kind of signal, in light of that, Barbara, what do you think they were trying to accomplish here?

What kind of signal do you think were they trying to send? I know earlier you said they were trying to send a signal of harassment?

STARR: I think that most U.S. military people will tell you that this was about signal sending, message sending, this perhaps Moscow's message to Washington, We're out here, we're not going away.

The Russians have 40,000 troops on that border. They're clearly under some pressure, diplomatic pressure, to say the least, from the U.S. and NATO to pull those forces back, perhaps a message from Moscow on the military front that they will go out and about, fly where they wish to, do what they wish to.

But you know, it's this kind of activity that is making eastern Europe so nervous right now, Poland, Romania, the Baltics, all very concerned about these Russian military moves in the region.

It's very unsettling, and it's beginning, Pamela, to have a much broader impact, believe it or not, beyond that. We were noticing, earlier today, the Russian ruble now falling in currency markets to its lowest level in three weeks, just another indicator of how nervous the region is getting.

BROWN: Certainly a ripple effect, as you say. Barbara Starr, thank you for your reporting.

STARR: Thank you.

BROWN: A boy and his grandfather gunned down at a Jewish community center on the eve of Passover. Were they victims of a hate crime? We expect the FBI and local police in Kansas to hold a news conference shortly, and when that happens, we will bring it to you, live.

And, up next, the search for the missing Malaysian plane is all up to a remote-controlled submarine sent out for the first time today. We'll have all the details on how it works, right after this quick break.


BROWN: And this hour's top story, yet another revelation in the mystery of Flight 370, U.S. officials tell CNN that a cell phone tower some 250 miles away from where the transponder turned off detected the co-pilot's cell phone searching for service.

There apparently is no evidence of an actual phone call that was made or attempted. Of course, we'll bring you more details as we get them.

And we're also following a turning point in the search for Flight 370. Today, for the first time, crews off Western Australia have deployed an AUV, autonomous underwater vehicle to map the ocean floor using sonar. It's really a fascinating business, but frustratingly show.

And my CNN colleague Tom Foreman can tell us all about it. We're also joined by Thomas Altshuler, whose Teledyne Marine System designed and built a lot of the equipment in play here. And from Boston, David Kelly, the president and CEO of Bluefin Robotics. Great to have you all with us.

Tom, I want to start with you. First off, there are a lot of complications that can happen here. Can you give us sort of the breakdown of the strengths and the weaknesses of the Bluefin-21?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sure, if you think about what we've done so far, we've been talking about listening with the towed pinger locator or in the case where they've put out these sonobuoys, that sort of thing. That's just listening.

That is comparatively simple compared with the job that the Bluefin has to do. It has to go down here, really to the limits of its performance level, because we're talking about very deep ocean here.

It has to go back and forth over terrain that we really don't know much about, and it has to map down here. And this is at a depth that's completely dark. It's a little above freezing, which always a challenge to batteries which run all sorts of equipment.

And it has to do all this, very calm conditions down here, but supported by a ship up here that's going to be on some of the roughest seas on the planet at any given moment if a storm comes along. So it's a big and complicated job, Pamela.

BROWN: All right, so I want to go to David Kelly now. Curious, this is clearly a very -- really, our -- one of our last options of trying to find the wreckage in this area where the pings were detected.

David, why are we just using one Bluefin? Why not more than that?

DAVID KELLY, PRESIDENT, BLUEFIN ROBOTICS: Well, Pamela, thankfully these events are fairly rare and the equipment we built is used every day around the globe, so there aren't a lot of these vehicles sitting by idly.

BROWN: And the Bluefin is working at the very limits of its capabilities almost three miles down.

David, what if that's not deep enough?

KELLY: Well, Pamela, this vehicle is designed to work at 4,500 meters deep, as you know, about three miles, and that is its operating depth. It can run all its sensors and collect its data at that depth.

We have had discussions with Phoenix International who owns the vehicle. If they need to extend that depth a little further, that is their decision.

But at that depth, this vehicle has operated at that depth before. A few weeks before t was mobilized to Australia, we actually were with Phoenix off of Hawaii, running between 4,000 and 4,500 meters and collecting data with the vehicle.

BROWN: All right, Tom Altshuler, I want to go to you, if you can just kind of walk us through the actual process at play here of using this thing. So they, from my understanding, toss it overboard, and then what? Is it tethered, remote-controlled? Does it beam back information? Just kind of walk us through this, if you would.

THOMAS ALTSHULER, VICE PRESIDENT, TELEDYNE MARINE SYSTEMS: So this is a fully autonomous system, which means the first thing is it's not tethered. It really is a smart system.

So, it's launched. It begins to dive. Depending on a couple of goals, you want with your batteries, typically to dive to this depth for a system like this would be a couple of hours.

It then has about 16 hours on-station, and it starts what's called a "lawn-mowing" pattern, probably about 50 meters off the bottom. It swims back and forth. That flight is such so that you can get the best sonar and the biggest sonar swath.

And then after that, it comes back to the surface. During the whole time it's down, it is in communication with the surface, or it should be, using acoustic modems so that there's data coming back.

But, really, all that data is, is a heartbeat telling that the system's OK and some navigation data that that you need to help keep the map or keep the vehicle on the position that you've asked it to survey in.

So, it's a slow process. Once it's recovered, the data is downloaded, and then analyzed. So it will cycle through maybe once every 24 hours. If the sea state's too high, it's hard to launch, but overall, it's just that slow process of diving, collecting data, and coming back to the surface.

BROWN: Right, two hours down, 16 hours to search the area, two hours back up, and then that data has to be analyzed. As you say, a slow painstaking process, but we hope for some promising results.

Thank you so much, Thomas Altshuler, Tom Foreman, and David Kelly. We appreciate it.

A Kansas community is in anguish today after a shooting that appeared to target Jewish people. In just a few minutes, we're expecting to get an update from police and FBI. And, of course, we'll bring that to you live, right after this break.


BROWN: We are expecting a police and FBI news conference to start any moment now on the Jewish community center shootings near Kansas City.

Authorities say a former KKK leader opened fire Sunday, killing three people and wounding two others. The suspect, Frazier Glenn Miller, seen here from his website, is due in court this afternoon to face murder charges.