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Underwater Search Continues; Putin's Next Move?; "They Are Liars"; Nearly 300 Missing in Ferry Disaster

Aired April 16, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Now, I'm no Jacques Cousteau, but wouldn't two robo-subs be better than one in that mission to find Flight 370?

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The world lead, it's really the tool moving forward the search for the missing plane, that Bluefin-21, and it's back in the deep this hour. But every other time it's gone down this week, it's come back way too early. Is this really the best method?

And new questions about why the co-pilot's cell phone was apparently on after the plane made its wild left turn. Was it on the whole time? Did it show up anywhere else? And was he trying to call someone?

Also in world news, heard about those widespread attacks on ethnic Russians in Ukraine? Well, they're a complete invention, according to the United Nations. A new report says that while Russia may claim its war machine isn't in motion, the propaganda machine definitely is.

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

We will begin the world lead.

Here's a very rough, scaled-down way of looking at the task before the Bluefin-21. Imagine, if you would, if New York's Central Park was underwater and it was pitch-black, and you had to search every bit of it, two-and-a-half miles long, a half-mile-wide, and all you had was a single Maglite.

That is the challenge before the searchers, as they use the U.S. Navy's unmanned robotic mini-sub to search for Flight 370, which disappeared 41 days ago now, with 239 people on board.

The Bluefin-21 is on now its third mission to map the search area, miles underwater, after technical issues forced the first two missions to end early. The last dive was cut short when the oil that protects the Bluefin's electronics ran low.

In fact, technical issues abound all across the board in this investigation, from the deep of the Indian Ocean to the briefing rooms of Beijing, where, as our Rene Marsh reports, passengers' families had another meltdown at officials whom they believe are concealing the truth.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're all bloody liars and you're lying to us again now.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Families explode in anger and storm out of a briefing in Beijing, after technical glitches prevented a promised video conference with Malaysian officials.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We will request their team of experts to come to Beijing to conduct face-to-face communications and fulfill their commitment. What is truth? What problem do they want to cover up?

MARSH: Families still waiting for answers to a laundry list of technical questions they sent to Malaysian authorities earlier this week. Did Malaysia Airlines have regular maintenance checks for the emergency locator transmitters? Their disrupt apparent in their demands for a copy of Flight 370's logbook and the raw audiotapes from air traffic control.

JOHN GOGLIA, FORMER MEMBER, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: These are not state secrets, so the families should have access to all of that kind of information.

MARSH: Meanwhile, the search in the Indian Ocean remains stop-and-go, with the second setback in as many days for the Bluefin-21, the underwater robot's 24-hour mission cut to about 11 hours, after an oil used to protect its electronic components from saltwater ran low.

Data collected again showed no sign of Flight 370. Mission three is now under way. The stop-and-go process is frustrating, but not unusual.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It may happen once or twice more. In the Air France 447, we had a lot of aborted runs from our robots, but you learn.

MARSH: Three days after Ocean Shield discovered an oil slick, the two-liter sample has finally arrived in Perth for testing. The Australian Transportation Safety Board now has custody of the sample, but still no timeline on when the results will come in.

RAGHU MURTUGUDDE, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: Would the oil have survived this far? Temperatures are cold, so it depends on how warm the temperatures are and how strong the winds are for how long the oil takes to either evaporate or emulsify and sink to the bottom.


MARSH: Well, I went over all of the families' questions line by line with former NTSB board member John Goglia, and he says there are only two questions investigators would have reservations about, giving out personal phone numbers of members who are part of the investigation and the families also asked for Flight 370's logbook.

That's usually, he says, on board the plane. Obviously, they haven't located the plane as yet. But even if they did have the logbook, he says they wouldn't hand it over. They would only share in general terms relevant information -- Jake.

TAPPER: Rene Marsh, thanks.

We will talk about the families' concerns in a couple minutes. But let's turn now to the search. After its second aborted mission, U.S. search officials said the underwater drone search for Flight 370 could take months.

So, why isn't there an entire fleet of Bluefins to cover the search area faster?

Tom Foreman is in our virtual studio to answer that question for us -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, when you think about what happened on top of the water, that's exactly what we had, dozens of planes, dozens of ships looking everywhere.

So why can't you do that below the water? Why can't you just go down there and put in not one or two, but maybe a dozen or 20 different Bluefins going through all at one time? Think about it.

Right now, with just one down there, it's basically having to mow the lawn, as they describe it. That means a piece at a time, it's got to go back and forth and back and forth, just like we're showing here. And even if everything goes right, it's going to take six weeks to two months to get it done. So, why not kick in with more, bring in some more here down here, and have them all work together to get the job done much more quickly?

Several reasons. First of all, availability. These are highly specialized machines. The ones down there now cost about $3.5 million. There are only about 100 of these in the world. You would have to have the cooperation of a lot of private companies, research organizations and governments to hand them over, even if you wanted to do this in the first place.

Secondly, there is support. Each one of these weighs about 1,700 pounds. Getting it off the deck of a ship into the water is a difficult and dangerous task. It's not unlike taking a small automobile and lifting it by crane and putting it into the ocean and pulling it out, on top of which you have to have the whole crew up here, people who understand how to program it maintain it, how to get the data off of it, how to load it, unload it.

And you're going to have to have that on every ship that you would need up to here to support a fleet of 10 or 20 of these, Jake. Those are some of the beginning logistical problems.

TAPPER: Tom, if they could, theoretically, round up enough of these Bluefins and similar devices, and if they could launch them all at once, would that work?

FOREMAN: They have done it before in shallower water. They have had some of them work in concert with each other. They have never tried it in deep water like this. And there's this huge question about what is below that water.

Take a look. We're not talking about a billiard table. We're talking about something that may be more convoluted, something that may involve all sorts of hills and valleys. It could be very, very complicated, Jake.

TAPPER: Tom Foreman, thanks.

Let's bring in our panel of experts.

Van Gurley is senior manager of Metron Scientific Solutions and a retired Naval oceanographer, and CNN analyst and ocean search specialist Rob McCallum.

Rob, let me start with you.

It seems as though the use of this underwater technology has completely changed the pace of this investigation.


You know, whenever you're using AUVs, because there's a daily cycle of launch, ascend, search, ascend, recovery, you don't know what you found that day until you do the download. So it's a cyclical pattern. If you're using deep towed sonar, then you have real-time data coming up. For those that have active interest in MH370, it's a frustrating time because we have got to wait to the end of the mission to see what we have got.

TAPPER: Frustrating because of the pace and also frustrating, Van, because of all of these technical issues that we have seen with the Bluefin going down and coming up earlier than expected. It's happened now twice.

Does that surprise you at all?

CAPT. VAN GURLEY (RET.), FORMER NAVY OCEANOGRAPHER: It doesn't, Jake. We're using really extreme technology in a really extreme environment.

One of the things that people forget, not only is it the pressure at the bottom, but it's the fact that that Bluefin's got to operate completely on its own. There's no real-time data link that has the wide-bandwidth-type coms we're used to for things in the air. So, it's got to go down and figure it out on its own.

And if anything goes wrong, it's smart enough to say, hey, maybe it's time to go back to the surface before something catastrophic happens. It's not the fact they're having these glitches. The issue is, they're able to fix them pretty quickly on the deck and get the vehicle back into the water. That actually is I think a promising sign.

TAPPER: I want to get you both to respond to this interesting quote I read earlier. David Mearns, a wreckage expert not connected to the search, he told the Australian media -- quote -- "I think essentially they have found the wreckage site. They have got four very, very good detections with the right spectrum of noise coming from them and it can't be from anything else."

Van, do you again?

GURLEY: Basically, yes. I have said so on several previous shows.

The two hour and 15 minute episode, the first event last Saturday, was very compelling. That is a manmade signal and there's only a handful of things it could. Given how everything else lines up, I'm confident that that's the pinger they heard. It does -- it generates a very small area for them to search, and I think they're on it.

But it's just unfortunately going to take a lot of time and a lot of patience because of the pace these things move at now.

TAPPER: Rob, what do you think?

MCCALLUM: I agree. I think the first two pinger locator -- locations are the most promising, and the other two not so much.

And I think that the key sign that you're seeing in the level of confidence and search controllers or from the search controllers is the fact they're essentially using a tactical AUV, honed right down to a very small area, high-resolution imagery, and a very specific place.

TAPPER: Well, let's talk about what they're using, because yesterday I spoke with Mike Dean. He is the deputy director for salvage and diving for the United States Navy, and I asked why other underwater search tools have not been brought in to assist the Bluefin-21.

Here's what he had to say.


MIKE DEAN, DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR SALVAGE AND DIVING, U.S. NAVY: 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: Mike Dean is a diplomatic man, Rob. He seemed to be suggesting, hey, Australia, we have got tools, just ask us and we will bring them to you. What do you think?

MCCALLUM: I think if it goes beyond this phase, I think if these potential pinger locations pan out to be inaccurate or nonexistent, then the next phase is a more broad-scale search along the southern end of the original calculated aircraft track. So that would mean using one, two or more towed sonar assets following along the flight path and mowing a much bigger slice of the lawn.

TAPPER: And, Van, I want to ask about the garbage patch in the ocean. Is that hindering the search?

GURLEY: No, not at this point. But there's actually the reverse on the ocean bottom.

A lot of times, when you use these AUVs in shallow coastal areas, you find a lot of garbage on the ocean bottom, things tossed overboard, barrels, refrigerators cars. It's amazing what is down there.




Each one of these things requires you to go in and put the camera on it...


GURLEY: ... to make sure it's not what you're looking for.

They're so far out in an area that's not really trafficked that much in the Indian Ocean that I don't expect there to be a lot of these sort of false positives on the ocean bottom. So, while there's a garbage patch, maybe above them on the surface, ocean bottom, if they start picking up manmade objects, it's most likely this.

TAPPER: Small bit of good news. It's so far away from where mankind destroys the Earth, it shouldn't affect the search all that much, theoretically.

Rob and Van, thank you so much.

Coming up on THE LEAD: Suspicions mount, as distraught family members confront Malaysian officials, why these daily briefings are becoming more like cross-examinations next.

And later, at least two soldiers have been taken hostage in Ukraine and six armored vehicles are now under Russian control. But are Russian people being told the truth of what's going on beyond their borders?


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

More now on our world lead. We showed you earlier how some families of Flight 370 passengers were lashing out at Malaysian officials today. One point, even calling them, quote, "bloody liars".

It seems lack of information and ever changing details have led to suspicions about how the investigation's being handled and what authorities actually know.


JIANG HUI, SPOKESMAN FOR MH370 PASSENGER FAMILIES (through translator): We'll request the team of experts to come to Beijing to conduct face-to-face communications and fulfill their commitment. If they don't come, I'll go to Malaysia again. I'll ask the prime minister, is it truly so easy to break your promise? What is the truth? What problem do they want to cover up?


TAPPER: CNN's senior international correspondent Nic Robertson joins us now live from Kuala Lumpur with more.

Nic, what is it that the families exactly want from Malaysian authorities?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They want a lot. As time's gone on, they want even more. Specifically, they have a list of 26 different questions, some of them very detailed. The emergency locator transmitter, the ELT on the aircraft, they want to know how many there were, whether the flight crew trained in the use, some designed to hop off the aircraft and flow to the surface if it hits water. They want to know the frequencies they operated at. They want to know whether these were -- had some mechanical structure around them to protect them.

So, there's a lot of details, seven different questions on those ELTs, emergency locator transmitters. They want the serial number from the black box, they want to know precisely what data to expect from the black box, they want the log books, they want the Captain Zaharie Shah's daily contact phone number.

So, it's a very expensive list of questions. The details of which, clearly designed to give them a greater understanding of precisely what they may find out in the future, when the black boxes are recovered. But also to give them a much better sense of how there might be a possibility that their loved ones might still be alive, might be tracked by the locator transmitters. These are details that, in some way, will help them bear and understand why they still don't have information about their loved ones.

Of course, we know they're aware of the pingers, they're aware of the search mission that's going on right now. But many of them cling to that hope. The loved ones are still alive. These questions seem driven towards just more fully appreciating every detail that could have been missed or could be helpful in finding out where they might be, Jake.

TAPPER: Nic Robertson in Malaysia, thank you so much.

This has become a curious subplot in this ever evolving mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Why did only the co-pilot's cell phone try to connect with the tower after the flight disappeared? And did that mean that he was trying to make a call? Malaysia investigators are not saying much, but we have learned there's renewed focus on whether the cell signal was detected anywhere else.

CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown brought us to the story earlier in the week. She's now here with more -- Pamela.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Bottom line here, Jake, there are a lot of more unknowns than knowns at this point. The questions are mounting. And a source and experts we've been speaking with, they're just trying to figure out what it means that the co- pilot's cell phone connected with the cell tower near that busy city at Penang in Malaysia, this is according to the data shared by the Malaysia with U.S. investigators are.

And experts we've been speaking with over the last couple of days are telling us that it's very odd his cell phone, Fariq Hamid cellphone, would have only made contact with one cell tower. They say if it connected with that one tower, it should have connected with other nearby towers as well.

Another question we're trying to get answered here, was Fariq Hamid's phone turned on in the beginning of the flight or was it turned only right before connecting with that tower? Of course, if that happened if it dinged that tower right before, a half hour after the plane's communication systems mysteriously shut off that of course would raise more questions about what was going on in the cockpit. Experts also telling us, a plane has to be flying at only a few thousand feet, about 10,000 feet at most, for a phone to be able to connect with the tower and that's below cruising altitude.

So, right now, officials saying there's no indication, Jake, that a phone call was made by the pilot or the co-pilot. They've been looking through phone records, as we've been talking about.

But I want to put this into perspective. This is just one tiny piece of a much larger, you know, puzzle. And so, it's hard to really make sense of what this could mean without more information. And we're only privy to so much information because this is Malaysian's investigation and they're choosing what to share with U.S. investigators.

TAPPER: And do we have any idea if it's definitively a cell phone or some other device like an iPad?

BROWN: Like an iPad. At this point, sources I have been speaking with believe it's a cell phone because the companies can decipher whether it's an iPad or a cell phone, or what the device is. And also something else they're looking at, whether other passengers' cell phones pinged the tower. If the phones were on and not on airplane mode, other passengers' phones should have pinged, not just the pilot's.

So, of course, that's a big question that we're looking to answer. But at this point, sources I've been speaking with say the only information that we shared with them it was a co-pilot's but that doesn't rule out other possibilities.

TAPPER: Fascinating if you found them.

Pamela Brown, thank you so much.

When we come back, pitch black and freezing cold. Students on a capsized ferry are sharing their stories of survival as rescuers race to find more before it's too late. But why were some students told to stay put while the boat sank?

Plus, Twitter, making a major leap on Wall Street. So, what's next for the tech company? I'll talk to one of the minds behind Twitter, Biz Stone in a rare interview, coming up.


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

In other world news, another desperate search going on right now in bone chilling water with unpredictable currents for close to 300 people, most of them teenagers, after a ferry sank off of South Korea's coast. The ship departed on the 102nd anniversary of the Titanic, with 459 people on board. At least six people are now confirmed dead and dozens injured. It was supposed to be a class trip to a resort island considered something of the Hawaii of Korea. Instead, we're now hearing survivors telling stories of confusion and horror on board and overboard.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I was staying put, but suddenly, the water came up to my face. I think it was a narrow escape from dying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): You're supposed to be still, and jump on the boat, but since the boat could not be next to the ship, they said jump and swim over, so I quickly jumped and swam over.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We were told, stay where you are, so we kept staying. But later on, the water level came up, so we were beside ourselves. Kids were screaming out of the terror, shouting for help.


TAPPER: Our Paula Hancocks joins us live now from Jindo, South Korea.

Paula, horrifying story. Even worse, we are now being told by passengers they were told to stay put on a sinking ship?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, this is going to be very much in focus with this investigation. What exactly were the crew thinking when they said, you should stay put, you should not move. There is a possibility that this ship just sank a lot quicker than they had expected. They had underestimated the danger, clearly, that these people were in. Now, we did see that those that did manage to jump into the water were picked out and were taken into waiting boats. There were a lot of navy boats, a lot of fishing boats, private boats, any vessels around were there to try to save people. But as we know, there are almost 300 people still unaccounted for and the assumption is many of them could still be within the ship.

So, we are hearing, for one particular man who was talking about what he thought when he was told not to move.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Stay put, as it's dangerous. Kept announcing it ten times, so kids were forced to stay put. So, only some of those who moved survived.


HANCOCKS: So the rescue operations we understand started in the early hours of the Thursday morning, and they were delayed for a few hours. According to the Coast Guard, what they've told CNN, they have not made it clear why that is the case but we know there are boats on site, we know there are divers as well. The Yonhap News Agency here reported divers managed to get into three compartments of the ship but did not find either any survivors or any bodies -- Jake.

TAPPER: Paula Hancocks, thank you.