Return to Transcripts main page


Update on Ferry Disaster; Search for Flight 370 - Emergency Locator Mystery

Aired April 18, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Where was the captain when that South Korean ship began taking its deadly plunge? Where was he?

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The world lead. Rescue crews on a deep dive to reach hundreds of people, many of them high school students on that South Korean ferry that is now completely upside-down and underwater. The guilt becomes too much for a high school vice principal who made it out, only to take his own life.

Also in world news, yet another mystery in the search for Flight 370 -- CNN has new information about emergency beacons that were on the plane. They were made to go off on impact. Why did they stay silent?

And the politics lead. Let the speculation begin. The Clinton grandchild for president in 2058? The baby bump may be making headlines today, but, frankly, there's even more big news coming from Hillary land.

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

We will begin with the world lead. And we have just learned that the captain of a capsized ferry in South Korea is in custody and has been criminally charged for the accident that has killed 29 people so far confirmed; 270 passengers, many of whom are high school students, remain missing, with the brutal likelihood, experts say, that it's already too late for rescue crews to reach them in time.

The ferry is now completely submerged, and although dive teams were finally able to get on board today, the rough waters quickly forced them back out.

In a grim signal that the effort is shifting from rescue to recovery, CNN has learned that the U.S. is now sending a salvage ship to the area to help pull the wreckage and presumably the bodies from the water. Families of the missing passengers, however, are not ready to give up hope. Some are clinging to the notion that passengers managed to find air pockets beneath the ship.

Even if that's the case, most experts put the maximum survival time at sea in 50-degree temperatures at around six hours. The ferry capsized more than 72 hours ago.

With the search effort hindered by murky, choppy waters, the investigation is moving forward. According to South Korea prosecutors, the captain was not even in the steering room when the ferry started to sink. I suppose that is not surprising, given that we know he was on a lifeboat just 30 minutes after reporting the accident, despite knowing that hundreds of his passengers were still trapped on board. Many had been told to stay where they were.

Let's go live now to CNN's Kyung Lah. She's in Jindo, South Korea.

Kyung, what charges does the captain face?

KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He's facing a total of five criminal charges.

They vary from negligence leading to death, as far as abandoning the ship. He also faces a charge of causing bodily injury and not seeking rescue from nearby ships. This is something that the families who have been holding vigil at this port have wanted. They have wanted this captain to be arrested because they believe that he was the one who issued the order.

In speaking to reporters while handcuffed, he did admit that he was the one who issued the order telling passengers to stay where they are, to stay put as the ship was capsizing. He explained it as he was not sure where they would go, that there weren't rescue ships nearby, that the water was too cold and the currents were too strong.

But the fact that they were trapped as this boat was capsizing, according to these families, they believe that that is criminal intent and this is a man who should be behind bars. So it will bring them a little bit of solace to hear that there has been some sort of prosecutorial step, Jake, but it's not helping them as far as dealing with what is happening with their children at sea -- Jake.

TAPPER: No, of course not. The images of the families at the banks are just -- it's just heartbreaking.

Kyung, I wanted to ask you. Some reports suggest that there are cultural values in South Korea that may have played a role in why so many people remained below deck as the ship sank. Is there anything to that?

LAH: Certainly.

When you talk about Korean children especially, and these are children that we're talking about -- these are high school students who were not under the guardianship of their parents. They were on a high school field trip. What this culture prizes in its children and students is obedience.

And so when they were told to stay put by an adult, of course they would stay put, and so that is really what is infuriating a lot of the parents here, that they feel that the adults should know better, that had their children been told to run to the deck, that perhaps they could have jumped into the water, that they could have survived for a while longer before the rescue ships were there. So it is certainly heartbreaking for them because these are the very parents, Jake, who had instilled that sense of obedience and listening to their elders.

TAPPER: Absolutely tragic. Thank you so much, Kyung Lah in South Korea. We appreciate it.

While we still don't know what caused the ship to sink, at least not yet, the time it took to go under could be telling for investigators.

CNN's Tom Foreman is here to explain.

Tom, it only took about two hours. What are we to make of that?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it may make any number of things about it.

But it does say that this was a catastrophic failure here. Move in here and think about what happened to this ship. It's sailing along and things are seemingly normal. There are various conflicting reports about whether or not people heard something. But, nonetheless, the ship started listing, leaning to one side.

And even though the captain spent about an half-an-hour trying to stop that, eventually it keeled and it went down underneath the water. This is why people think there may be air pockets here because of the way it turned over.

So, how to explain the mechanics of this? Well, bear in mind this ship is big. It's about 900 feet or 700 feet from one end to the other. It weighs about 7,000 tons. Let me show you the decks on this ship because it has five different decks laden with different types of cargo and some of them passenger areas and others.

We also know that a little more than a year ago, part of it was retrofitted. And there's some question as to whether or not that changed the balance of the ship.

Let's talk about that a little bit because this may be a critical thing to consider, whether or not it hit anything that made it start leaning. When you talk about a ship, you have got to talk about the center of buoyancy, the part that raises it up, and then essentially the center of the mass, or the center of the weight of the ship.

You want to keep those basically balanced, and one of the ways you do that is by making sure that there is enough cargo positioned properly in the ship and that anything on board the ship is balanced in the proper way. If this becomes unbalanced, if you end up for whatever reason with the cargo suddenly way over to one side like this, or you have perhaps water, which is very common on something like a ferry like this, slipping into one side of it, what it starts doing is creating a very unbalanced weight situation.

And once you hit that, you can hit what's called the limit of stability on a ship like this. And that limit makes it start tipping and tipping more and tipping more. And then there is simply no way to retrieve it, Jake. So, they will be looking at all of that.

TAPPER: Tom Foreman, thank you.

Plenty of questions also remain about why it took so long to evacuate the ferry and why passengers were ordered at first to stay put. Today, the captain told the media -- quote -- "The tidal current was strong and water temperature was cold, and there was no rescue boat, and so I had everyone on standby and wait for the rescue boat to arrive."

Joining me now is Captain Larry Brudnicki. He's a retired member of the U.S. Coast Guard. He led the rescue mission after the disaster that inspired the movie and the book of course "The Perfect Storm."

Captain Brudnicki, thanks for joining us.

As soon as this accident happened, what should the captain have ordered the passengers to do, in your opinion?

CAPT. LARRY BRUDNICKI (RET.), U.S. COAST GUARD: Well, as I understand it, within five minutes of whatever the event was, he issued a distress call.

That indicates he knew he was in serious trouble. At that time, he should have gotten all of the passengers up on deck, put them in life jackets, and then started instructing them on how they would abandon ship, if necessary.

They had the lifeboats, and from some of the pictures that I have seen, I don't think even two lifeboats were used, if that many. There were many, many lifeboats unused. If they had instructed all of the passengers and had them up on deck and told them how they were going to abandon ship, should that become necessary, then the event would have turned out much differently.

They should have a life jacket for every person. They should have enough lifeboat capacity for every person. So, it's not like he would have asked them to jump into 50-degree water. And if there were no rescue assets on scene, that would not have been a good idea. They would get cold. They could suffer from hypothermia. They would spread out and it would be difficult to recover them.

But keep them on deck in their life jackets, instruct them on how to use the lifeboats, and then when it became obvious that the ship was going to sink, then it would have been time to put them in the lifeboats. If the captain got in a lifeboat and he got off, there was obviously time to put people in lifeboats.

TAPPER: And that's one of the things that's so disheartening about how the leadership of this vessel apparently responded. The reports are that the captain abandoned the ship about half-an-hour after the accident.

Is it just popular culture that we are taught that captains are supposed to, if not go down with the ship, at least be the last one to get off a sinking ship? Is that a real thing or is that just something, just some nonsense we learned from watching the movie the "Titanic"?

BRUDNICKI: It's the captain's responsibility.

The safety of the passengers is his responsibility. And regardless of what the laws are, the requirements of his shipping company, everyone knows that the captain is responsible for what goes on that ship. It was his responsibility to ensure the safety of his passengers.

So, no, we don't want the captain going down with the ship. We don't want anyone going down with the ship, but the captain should have been on the bridge and he should have been directing all of the operations to safely evacuate his passengers.

TAPPER: Captain, we're looking at a situation where it's possible that hundreds of young people, children have died. It sounds like you think it's possible that nobody had to die in this accident.

BRUDNICKI: Well, if they got one lifeboat off the ship, it would seem to me that they would have had time to put more people in lifeboats and get them off the ship, and they would have had a better chance of surviving.

And even if they were just up on deck in their life jackets they would have had a better chance of surviving. Once you put them down deep into the ship and tell them to stay there, as soon as that ship starts rolling over, it's going to be extremely difficult for a trained, professional, licensed crew member to find his way from upside-down with water in the ship or on its side in the dark, and he knows his own ship, to get out.

You can't expect that passengers are going to be able to evacuate the ship in that kind of manner.

TAPPER: Based on what you know, though -- I hate to be so stark and to put you on the spot, but based on what you know, did anyone have to die in this accident?

BRUDNICKI: I can't answer that with 100 percent accuracy or confidence. But I can tell you that there's no reason to have that many people trapped down below the ship whatsoever, no reason at all for that to happen.

TAPPER: Captain Larry Brudnicki, thank you so much for your expertise. We appreciate it.

Coming up on THE LEAD: new questions about the emergency equipment on Flight 370, after a source tells CNN there were four transmitters on the plane that should have sent signals to the ground.

Plus, the single deadliest incident on the world's tallest mountain, 12 Sherpas dead and four missing after an avalanche on Mount Everest -- why these guides risk their lives coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. The world lead -- it's now been six weeks since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared, along with 239 people onboard. Six weeks of new leads that have led nowhere really, and misleading sometimes irresponsible messages from Malaysian government officials, ones that have amplified the grief for the families.

Today, we're learning new potentially critical information about the Boeing 777 and its flight path. A senior Malaysian source tells us that the plane was equipped with four emergency locators transmitters designed to go off during a crash or impact with water. And it's odd that they did not active or get picked up by the emergency monitoring satellite.

The source also tells CNN, interestingly, Flight 370 made that sharp turn while in Vietnamese air space and its altitude rose to 39,000 feet and stayed there for about 20 minutes as it flew over the Malaysian peninsula.

As experts digest this information, our Pamela Brown has all of the latest developments for us.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Now under way, a sixth dive. This Bluefin-21 underwater vehicle is still the best hope for finding the missing plane. A fifth dive ended soon after it went into the water. A problem with the navigation system had to be fixed before it could continue exploring the hostile ocean environment.

FABIEN COSTEAU, OCEAN EXPLORER: It's extraordinarily difficult and then you're talking about an unchartered territory. So, it's like trying to look to see what is going on in the attic through the front door keyhole.

BROWN: More than 46 square miles have been searched near where the Ocean Shield detected pings thought to be from black boxes. None of the sonar images from the Bluefin has been released to the public.

ROB MCCALLUM, CNN ANALYST: It's going to be a game of patience now and 15 square miles a day, every day we get a little more information back and we can write off the area that was searched. We don't have to go back to that. It's done.

BROWN: With the Bluefin so far not finding any wreckage, the Malaysian minister leading the investigation tweeted that the committee is considering sending more vehicles like it to help in the search. Underwater searches can take a long time. It took vehicles similar to Bluefin about 78 days over the course of two years to find the wreckage of Air France 447 and that was after debris was found. With efforts focused underwater for Flight 370, the search above the ocean surface is set to wrap up soon.

AIR COMMODORE KEVIN MCEVOY, ROYAL NEW ZEALAND AIR FORCE: Really, it's not that surprising that over such a vast area in such a long period of time that no debris has been found. It's disappointing for us, absolutely.

BROWN: In Beijing, Chinese families of the missing passengers gathered for a prayer service in a hotel after Chinese police prevented them from entering a park. Family groups also published these documents pushing them to double-check the satellite data and explain Malaysia's initial response when the plane went missing.

Pamela Brown, CNN, Washington.


TAPPER: Thanks, Pamela.

As you just heard, the Malaysians have said there's a committee looking into whether to send more underwater drones to help in the search. How quickly could that happen?

Let's bring in our panel. Captain John Gadzinski -- John Gadzinski flies 737s and he was the director of safety for the Coalition of Airline Pilots Association, and Van Gurley, of course, is a former naval oceanographer and a senior manager with Metron Scientific Solutions.

Van, let's start with you.

How quickly could these autonomous underwater vehicles be moved into the area and which ones do you think they should be sending?

VAN GURLEY, FORMER NAVAL OCEANOGRAPHER: Well, the first is, can they find something that is available? It's not like there's a warehouse with these things waiting for a call. These are fairly specialized pieces of gear and they are in use all the times. I know that the equipment that the Navy owns is what we call high demand and low density asset. It means there's always more to do with them than we have vehicles to do it with.

So, first is finding something that you could use and second is flying it there and maybe having to get another ship. So, you're looking at weeks to be able to get to the logistics of that.

In terms of the types, there are a number of other vehicles similar to Bluefin-21 that can work with this type of water. One of the ones that I'm familiar with was the REMUS 6000. It's actually rated to much deeper depths, but it was the type of vehicle that was used in the Air France 447 search, and it would be perfectly adapted for these areas. There's other vehicles, too. It sort of the production stuff.

And then you get into the other technology that people have talked about. One are manned submersibles. I would highly advise against that. Those are -- it takes a lot of equipment for something that doesn't give you much bottom time and then you still have towed sleds that you tow behind the ship, that there are pluses and minuses with those, too.

So, I think if they are going to do it, they need to start doing it now because it's going to take weeks to get the equipment into the right place and move into the ship and out to the search area.

TAPPER: Also, I want to ask you about the Bluefin-21 because we've been questioning all week whether or not this is the right device. It's the one they have and that's great. But you just mentioned some others that are able to go deeper. It's exceeded its depth limit with some of these dives and people say there may be some residual risk to the vehicle because it is doing that.

What does that mean? Would it make the Bluefin-21 inoperable?

GURLEY: Well, it depends. You've got to remember, when you go down in the ocean, the pressure is building on you the whole time. Just -- you know, you hear your ears pop when you dive into a swimming pool. Think about having four -- it's 3/4 tons on every square inch of that vehicle when it's 4,500 meters. Every 100 meters in addition, it goes down is an extra 150 pounds of pressure squeezing in.

So, a couple of things happened. First, you could have one of the seals give way. Now you have water intruding into the electronics cabinet and that's a catastrophic failure. Water and electronics is a bad combination. You don't want to have that happen.

The other thing you could have happened is some of the things that move freely on the surface start binding up with these pressures. They get slightly out of alignment. So, something that was working great, now, it isn't working at depth (ph).

And then the third is, you can have a catastrophic failure of the pressure vessel, the big steel vessel that you see when it's taken apart.

Those at some point when you get deep enough, those will give way, too. And now, again, you've got a vehicle lost.

TAPPER: Sounds pretty serious.

John, let's talk about some new developments we have about the flight path. CNN has learned that Flight 370 made its initial left deviation from the planned route within Vietnamese air space. Is that significant? Should the Vietnamese have some radar information?

JOHN GADZINSKI, PILOT, BOEING 777: Possibly. I'm surprised we haven't heard more from them.

But if you're within 160, maybe even 200 miles from land, a civilian or possibly a military radar should be able to pick you up at that range. If you're farther out than that, it's not likely that the civilian air traffic control radar will pick you up. But the difference between Vietnamese and Malaysian air space is more of an administrative line than it actually is a technical line in the sand.

TAPPER: And, John, I also want to ask you about this plane being equipped with four emergency locator transmitters. We also learned that today. They were not picked up by the emergency monitoring satellite, if they made contact or hit water. Can you explain what these are and whether or not they should have been picked up? GADZINSKI: Well, they are radio beacons. They're radio beacons that, given certain circumstances, are just like the pinger. They have a battery. They start transmitting a sound, a signal over a certain frequency that is just for emergency beacons. But they normally are designed to activate when there is a G-force.

Like when these pingers are activated when they hit salt water, these ELTs are activated with a G-force. So if you -- let's say you ditched in the water just like the U.S. air flight did in the Hudson, you're not going to have enough G-forces to activate those ELTs. If you hit the water really hard and the airplane sinks right away, then by the time those radio transmitters get underneath the water, the radio waves are not going to be able to propagate all the way up to the satellites. They're going to be attenuated by the water signals.

TAPPER: All right. It doesn't like it's that big a development then. Van Gurley and John Gadzinski, thank you so much.

Coming up next, the search continues underwater for the missing jet. But that doesn't mean that they have not abandoned the search by air. We joined one mission that just ended hours ago. We'll show you what they saw when we come back.

Plus, what does Hillary Clinton need to do to win? Arianna Huffington will join me ahead with her advice for the potential Democratic presidential candidate, also with some information about her new book.

Stay with us.


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

Continuing with our world lead, the hunt for Flight 370 is now focused three miles beneath the waves of the Indian Ocean but that does not mean that search planes have let up combing the surface from the air for clues. CNN's own Miguel Marquez just accompanied one search plane on its flight.

Miguel, day in and day out, no new clues from the air. Is there any sense of fatigue among these aerial search crews?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is fatigue but they are certainly not giving up. This is a P-3 from the New Zealand Royal Air Force that we were on. They have flown, the captain has flown some 30 sorties. The area where they are searching now is hundreds of miles from where the Bluefin 21 is diving. And it is so remote, it takes about five hours to flight out there. They have enough fuel for about an hour and a half of searching and then it's a five-hour flight home.

Here's what the captain has said about the frustration.


MARQUEZ: There must be a certain level of frustration in being out here and staring at that water for so long and hoping to see something and not coming up with it.

CAPTAIN TIM MCALEVEY, ROYAL NEW ZEALAND AIR FORCE: Yes, not so much frustration as in I guess it's our mission to find it, and we want to be the crew that does find it, but it takes time.