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Tax Day; Flight 370 Search Resumes; Ukraine in Crisis; Too Deep for Bluefin?; Hurting the Search?

Aired April 15, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: If you drive a car, he will tax the street. If you try to sit, he will tax your seat because he's the tax man.

And I'm Jake Tapper. And this is THE LEAD.

The world lead. Try, try again. The best shot at finding Flight 370 and the 239 passengers on board is now back in the ocean. The first time, that did not go so well. We will ask our experts, if this is going to take so long, why can't they stick more than one of these robo-subs down there?

Also in world news, Ukrainian forces are on the march against separates, many of whom suspected by the U.S. of being on Russia's payroll. Is this the brink of civil war or is Ukraine fighting a covert Russian invasion?

And today, as you know, the tax man cometh. As you're finishing up your returns, we will tell you some of the taxes the government wants to collect on items you might have trouble believing.

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

We're going to begin with the world lead. It's the object on which all hopes of finding Flight 370 are currently pinned. It's about 16- feet long. It must map a section of the ocean about 230 square miles. Imagine the city of Chicago underwater. That's the size of the area the U.S. Navy's Bluefin-21 must now search.

The company that created it tells CNN that the robo-sub is back in the water on what is now, unbelievably, the 40th day since the plane disappeared. This is the second time the team is sending down the sub.

They had to make adjustments because, as our own aviation correspondent Rene Marsh reports, the first dive came to an abrupt and unexpected end.


RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After an abbreviated first launch, Bluefin-21 is back in the water and searching, but, so far, no trace of Flight 370. Extremely deep water caused it to abort its first mission.

CAPT. MARK MATTHEWS, U.S. NAVY: One condition that causes it to abort its dive is if it reaches its maximum operating depth of 4,500 meters. So, that's what happened in this case.

MARSH: Bluefin can operate in water almost three miles deep, but it turns out the search area, which is so remote and has never been mapped before, was deeper than expected. Bluefin was pushed to its limit.

It should have spent two hours diving to the ocean floor, 16 hours searching for wreckage, and two hours resurfacing. Instead, it only spent seven-and-a-half-hours in the water, including its trip to and from the surface.

MATTHEWS: Once it hit that max depth, it said, hey, this is deeper than I am programmed to be, so it aborted the mission.

MARSH: The Bluefin did collect data, which included first ever images of the seafloor, but they showed nothing of interest in areas crews consider to be the most promising.

As for the oil slick spotted nearly three-and-a-half miles away, they are still chasing that lead, waiting for the water sample to reach Australia.

MATTHEWS: Certainly, we're analyzing the water sample from that area to see if it was a petroleum product related to the aircraft, and we will know that over the next couple of days. And there's many possible sources of an oil sheen on the surface of the ocean, but it's -- would be one explanation is that it was lubricating fluid or control oil from the aircraft.

MARSH: As the search for the critical black boxes continues, an almost equally critical question looms: Who will get them?

HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIAN TRANSPORT MINISTER: I don't think it's important who gets custody as far as I'm concerned. And this is my own personal position. It's finding out the truth.

MARSH: That truth likely only to be found if or when the black boxes are.


MARSH: Well, today the Malaysian government said it would be setting up an international investigation separate from the criminal investigation into Flight 370's disappearance. The teams will look at whether mechanical or operational issues or human error caused something to go wrong -- Jake.

TAPPER: Rene Marsh, thank you.

The Bluefin-21 is back in the water and performing well, we're told, but why would that be the case if it's in the same search area?

Joining me is Mike Dean. He's deputy director for salvage and diving for the U.S. Navy.

So, Mike, if this Bluefin-21, this underwater drone, had to abort the mission because the water was too deep, and it's back in the same water and the same depths, I guess I don't really fully understand, why would you send it back in if it already self-aborted yesterday?


Bluefin has a lot of capability, and let's not misunderstand abort. What Bluefin did was, it detected that it was nearing its maximum operating depth. And it sent a signal back to the operators. After two of those signals which were deeper than what we anticipated based on the ocean tracks, the operators decided to bring the Bluefin back and reassess the boundaries in which they were operating it.

TAPPER: I know this is the only Bluefin-21 that you have, but you have similar underwater vehicles. could any of them be used in the search simultaneous with the Bluefin-21?

DEAN: Sure.

There's a number of vehicles. There's commercial vehicles, as well as Navy vehicles that could be used, and absolutely in a large search area, you could have multiple vehicles working as long as they were spaced far enough that they were not interfering with themselves.

There are AUVs more like Bluefin and there are towed systems. The Navy operates a 20,000-foot towed system called Orion.

TAPPER: What's -- and that's the towed system is basically an underwater sonar?

DEAN: The towed system is very much like what we are seeing on the Bluefin, except it's towed behind a vessel, and it gives you a real- time image on the ship of what you're seeing.

TAPPER: And other nations obviously also have similar technology that could be used right now. I guess what I don't understand is, why do we only have one of these devices in the water right now?

DEAN: Well, that's up to the planners. And as I said, when we finished from TPL and Bluefin was brought in really as a tool to do a tactical inspection to confirm what we found and triangulated to on TPL.

Now as we move out of that sprint mode, we're going to get more into a marathon pace and things are going to be long, it's going to be slower, and there may be in fact a much different equipment set that is brought in.

TAPPER: And what is the maximum depth for Bluefin-21?

DEAN: It's rated at 4,500 meters, but I can tell you that today, the engineers, we have gone through and looked at all of the components in Bluefin, and we're comfortable that we can exceed that 4,500-meter limit at this point.

TAPPER: Do we know how deep this water is? DEAN: This water -- again, if we look at the chart, the chart told us it was at 4,500 in the box we were searching. It may only be off by about 100 meters or so.

And so we're looking at, can we push Bluefin beyond 4,500 and potentially down to as deep as 5,000? There is some software and that software has been tested now. And we believe that with some confidence that we could push Bluefin to that depth.

TAPPER: I guess what I wonder, Mike, is the Bluefin really the right device to be using here? If it goes down here, it goes down into the water and it says, oh, this is deeper than I'm programmed for, it goes back up, we send it back again today -- you just mentioned the Orion, which is a similar device that can I think go deeper, right?

DEAN: Correct.

TAPPER: Why not use that?

DEAN: Well, Orion is a completely different load-out. So you're going to have to bring the ship in. You're going to have load it out with different handling systems.

And you can't operate Orion and an AUV from the same platform as we're operating this. So it would be a much different change-out. For instance, Orion is tons of equipment, to airlift. There's a lot of logistic challenges to taking Orion out there.

Bluefin, as we set out in the beginning, is a sprint. We need to get there quick and get TPL in the water. That was the lightest, most nimble package to get on scene quickly.

TAPPER: OK. I understand why it's there right now. But I guess looking long term, wouldn't it be better to have something that can go deeper than the Bluefin-21? Wouldn't it be better to have a different piece of equipment in there?

DEAN: There may be.

And if we look at the search area right now as it is laid out, about two-thirds of that search area is certainly below the 4,500 meters.

TAPPER: Below 4,500?

DEAN: Or -- I'm sorry -- shallower than 4,500.

TAPPER: Oh, shallower, OK.

DEAN: Which Bluefin can operate.

It's capable of conducting most of that search. We're right on the edge of that deeper -- and if we do need to go there, then in fact a second vehicle might be necessary.

TAPPER: Should they ask for it? Is the U.S. Navy just waiting for an invitation from the Australians? DEAN: The Navy has not been asked as what the follow-on tasking will be.

But I think, again, they're looking at -- they have Ocean Shield on station. It's conducting and they are getting valuable information back. At some point, Ocean Shield will have to come off-station to replenish. At that point, I think the Australians will really look at what the next load-out will be when the ship has to come back into port for replenishment.

TAPPER: But the U.S. Navy is not sending an Orion to Australia for when Ocean Shield comes back?

DEAN: No. Jake, at this point, Orion is ready. It's standing by. But we have not been asked to move Orion.

TAPPER: Where is it?

DEAN: It's in Largo, Maryland, at our facility there.

TAPPER: And it's just sitting there waiting for the Aussies to give a phone call?

DEAN: It's ready for tasking. Again, we're a military organization. So when we're tasked, we will be ready to send it.

TAPPER: Right. Well, hopefully, somebody is watching. Mike Dean, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up next,as deep as they thought it was, it is even deeper, the ocean opening up a whole new set of mysteries and new problems in the search for Flight 370.

And China's satellite images and those pings they supposedly picked up, a couple of dead ends there. With help like this from the Chinese, who needs help?


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

Continuing our world lead and the search for missing Flight 370, the Bluefin-21 had to cut its last search short by 14 hours because the water was deeper than expected, taking the vehicle to its depth limit and forcing it to abort the mission and return to the surface. That's just the latest challenge investigators face in this underwater search.

Tom Foreman joining us now from the virtual studio.

Tom, what are the main challenges of conducting underwater searches?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: At this depth, Jake, everything.

People are even asking like -- people keep acting like this Bluefin-21 thing is a simple deal, like you simply throw it in the water and dive down here and you just let it go riding around and it maps the bottom. And that is simply not the case.

What this thing is trying to accomplish is very difficult and really right at the limits of its performance when you get to the deeper parts of the ocean here. Let me talk a little bit about this, because there's so much we don't know about it.

And one of the big issues out there is terrain. Right now, this area is as far into us as the dark side of the moon, maybe more so. Maybe it's nice and smooth down there even with a slope or maybe it's more like the Grand Canyon or the Rocky Mountains or something like that. They simply don't know. It's an unchartered area.

They know that it's bitterly cold, not freezing, but close to it. They know that it's completely dark, and they know there are many things that can get in the way of riding around and getting smooth pictures down there.

One of those things is pressure. The pressure at this level is really quite extraordinary. Think about it. If you're just down, say, 10 feet, it's going to be about 19 pounds per square inch. That's really not much. You swim down there out at the beach. You can feel that.

But when you go down to, say, two miles, look how that pressure builds, more than 4,700 pounds per square inch. And if you go down to the deeper levels, like three miles down, then you're getting to a level of pressure that, Jake, would be the same as if you took an African elephant and had it stand with all of its weight on just your big toe and you had all of the pressure around you.

So, all of these things are what makes the deployment of the Bluefin much, much, much more complicated than we imagine from afar.

TAPPER: And, Tom, let's talk about what is at the bottom there, the silt. One of the things that silt is made out of is space debris.

FOREMAN: Yes. It's made out of a lot of things and silt is a genuine problem or it can be. And the thing is, again, we don't know how much of it is there. We know that it can be made out of things that fall from space, bits of dust that are collected for many, many, many years. It can be from volcanic ash. It can be from the decay of different animals and critters that swim in the water and can be simply from dirt that is washed down there. But this is the result.

It can muck up the water tremendously. Things that go down there can be buried beneath the silt where you can't find them and if you get too close trying to look for them, you can stir up the silt where it's hard to see things.

These are tremendous challenges, Jake. In the end, what it does is make this search, yes, well within the parameters of what the Bluefin can do but it makes it much more experimental than many people might want to admit at this point -- Jake.

TAPPER: Tom Foreman in the virtual studio, thanks.

Let's go to our CNN analyst Rob McCallum, an ocean search specialist, and David Soucie, author of "Why Planes Crash."

Rob, I want to start with you. You think the searchers might not be using the right equipment. It sounded like our friend from the Navy might have diplomatically agreed with you.

ROB MCCALLUM, CNN ANALYST: Well, I think it's good practice to have a layer of redundancy whenever you're operating out on the ocean far from land. At the moment, we have all of our eggs in one basket, the Bluefin-21. That's operating at the very edge of its operational limits. Those limits might be extended a little bit through some discussions with the manufacturer but it's not going to change the number of assets that we have on scene.

TAPPER: And, Rob, you heard him say, they have the Orion, the towed sonar ready to go, it can go deeper than Bluefin. That seemed like a pretty direct call that if the Aussies wanted, it's there and the U.S. is willing and eager to bring it.

MCCALLUM: That's right. You know, side scan sonar is deployed one of two ways. Either by AUV, as you're seeing with the Bluefin, or by deep towed sonar like the Orion. And the advantage of deep towed sonar is it's not independent. It's on the end of the cable and you're not having to bring it up every day and deploy it again every day. It's down there and it stays there. It doesn't matter what is happening on the surface.

You also have the advantage that it's providing data and real time and because it's being provided electricity, power down the cable, it's able to throw out a lot more sound, a lot more sonar, if you'd like, in order to gather imagery over a much wider swath.

TAPPER: David, why not get two of these robo subs to search in the water? Didn't they have more than one with the search for 447?

SOUCIE: Yes. They actually had three. Bu that area was started -- they started from the outside and work in because they had no idea where that was.

What I'm suspicious of here, what I suspect is that they feel they have a really good idea as to where this thing is and they expected to put this thing -- this Bluefin in there and come back with some results pretty quickly. Of course, they won't say that because they are -- Angus Houston has been very cautious about speculating about how quickly things will be done.

But the fact that they only have one vehicle there, with the intent later of coming back, this is obviously not a recovery vehicle, they are going to have to resupply and come back out with Ocean Shield with recovery equipment, but I get the indication that they have a very good idea where it's going to be and if it's not there, they can rule it out quickly and move on.

TAPPER: And, Rob, let's talk about these towed sonars. Even at the pitch dark at this depth, using a towed sonar, you are able to recover a coffee pot three miles under water? These must be incredibly precise machines. MCCALLUM: That's right. I mean, this coffee pot here was recovered from very great depths. So, this gives you an indication of the size of target that can be seen by sonar imagery. This was found by a deep towed sonar.

But, you know, sonars are being designed for lots of applications and sometimes, in this case it was looking for military hardware. You can find very small images and very small targets indeed. So with MH370, there will be little doubt what it is that they found.

TAPPER: And, David, there was a lot of excitement about this fuel slick or oil slick near the search area. You compare matching that to the plane as almost like matching blood types. Explain what you mean.

SOUCIE: Well, there's a lot of types of oil out there, but there's military specifications for each one of them. And this aircraft or aircraft in general uses a very specific type of oil and they have a certain amount of synthetics in it. And the other thing about it is that engines on aircraft are continually subjected to engine oil analysis.

So, this engine oil analysis that they are doing right now cannot only be compared to other aircraft, is it an aircraft or not. But it can be put into the analysis of the engine before the accident and compare it and see if it has similar properties to what it had before as far as wear and cooking (ph).

TAPPER: Rob, at this depth, will the oil have even made it to the surface?

MCCALLUM: Quite possibly not. You know, the main fuel on board is aviation kerosene. We believe the aircraft was out of fuel. That may have made it to the surface but it would very quickly disperse. Any heavier oils, like engine lubricating oils or hydraulic oil, once it gets down to very great depths, it's subjected to pressure and temperature changes which changes its composition and essentially make it into more of an asphalt or tar consistency.

TAPPER: David, I want to ask you about something that we heard from a Malaysian government official in Rene Marsh's piece just a few minutes ago about he expressed -- you know, it doesn't matter who takes control of the black boxes, he just wants to get to the truth. I think there are probably a lot of people who don't share that opinion. With all of these different countries involved in the search, how can we assure the families that somebody who actually knows what he is doing opens this black box if, of course, it is found?

SOUCIE: You know, it was very concerning to hear that to me as well because here's the -- he's given the entire control over what goes to whom and where. And if he doesn't care, that worries me. So -- but I think he knows, they have already said they don't have the capabilities, they know it needs to go somewhere but you only get one shot at that thing and it is very sensitive as far as how you open it and what you do with it.

It worries me a great deal but I'm going to trust that Angus Houston is going to influence that in a great deal and if they don't care, I think Angus Houston is going to step in and say, I do care and I'm going to make sure it gets done properly.

TAPPER: Yes, it's important to know what you don't know.

David Soucie, Rob McCallum, thanks so much as always.

Coming up on THE LEAD next, Ukrainian soldiers face down the barrel of Russian guns as the battle for Ukraine's future veers precipitously and dangerously close to civil war. We'll have a live report from the country on the brink.

And have the Chinese been a help or a hindrance in the search for the missing plane? One report suggests that they badly bungled their attempts to help and now China's lashing back. That's next.


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

More now on our world lead. From the very beginning, China has played a major role in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and it made sense. More than 150 of the 239 passengers on board were Chinese citizens.

But the country's all hands on deck approach has not exactly paid off. An article in "The New York Times" slams China's role in the search effort, painting officials as being more concerned about showing off their technological capabilities, sometimes it backfired on in the international stage. Early on the search, China released satellite photos thought to be plane wreckage in the South China Sea, but the debris, it turns out, had no connection to Flight 370.

Just 10 days ago, Chinese officials revealed that their search teams picked up two underwater signals. But a photo showed crews were using handheld listening devices, incapable of picking up deepwater pings. It all wasted researches that had been diverted to the area.

Let's bring in CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.

Jim, Chinese officials are not pleased with the tone of this report.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No, understandably so. China is under a lot of pressure here. As you mentioned, more than 150 passengers on board were Chinese. They've got to show that they can protect their citizens and find them in an event of accident like this and there have been some embarrassing episodes in the past.

You remember in Libya, when there are evacuations there, China loads of Chinese personnel, they had to rely on commercial aircraft to get them out. This was an embarrassing story. So, here, you have all these resources thrown at a dozen ships, airplanes, et cetera.

But there are other things you have to do besides just sending resources that way. And some of it is just the way you cooperate. Do you play nicely with your friends? There have been incidents where the Chinese haven't shared the information that they had quickly. First instance, those pings, it turned out to be false, they first reported back to Beijing before they reported back to the Australians that are dealing the search, and that delayed a couple of days analyzing this to discover that, in fact, they were not accurate.

So, those kinds of things make a difference.

TAPPER: And the satellite photos which are weird, because they leaked out somehow and were not shown on Chinese television but, obviously, they were big news in the rest of the world.

SCIUTTO: Well, clearly, they had some reservation about them. But the other pressure that China is under is they don't want to reveal too many of their capabilities. There's a lot of competition going on in this part of the world. They don't want to show how well their satellites see all of the capabilities in their ships and the kind of irony of that is that that one reason that China doesn't want to show the full extent of those capabilities is because they don't want to reveal that those capabilities have shortcomings.

TAPPER: That's actually what I'm wondering all these things keep happening and I wonder myself, oh, this is the Chinese century, supposedly, according to the Chinese propaganda machine. I'm not really super-impressed with how they are going about it.

SCIUTTO: Yes, there were moments when you saw that ping detector that they were using, something you -- it looked like something you and I can buy.

TAPPER: It could change --


SCIUTTO: Exactly. Exactly. That's the thing. You see that pressure playing out. They want to be the first but don't necessarily have the capabilities.