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Possible Plane Fragment; Sunken Ferry Disaster; Actions of the Ferry Captain; Effects of Water and Currents on Ferry Passengers; Teen Wheel Well Stowaway Raises Safety Concerns

Aired April 23, 2014 - 12:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: A large chunk of debris washes ashore in Australia. Is it the first piece of real evidence in the search for Flight 370 or is it just another false alarm? All this as families demand that Malaysia release the latest findings on this flight.

Plus, as divers continue to pull bodies out of that sunken ferry and new details emerge about the captain who left the ship, we have now learned about a young crew member who saved the lives of many, many passengers with some last second maneuvers on board that ship.

And he survived the deadliest avalanche in the history of Everest thanks to a quick thinking Sherpa. An American climber relives the moment that boulders of ice came thundering down the mountainside on top of others all around him.

Hello, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. Thanks for being with us. It's Wednesday, April the 23rd. And welcome to LEGAL VIEW.

Forty-seven days after humans last laid eyes on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, police in western Australia are holding a piece of metal that supposedly resembles a plane fragment. It washed ashore near the town of Augusta. And the head of Australia's Transport Safety Bureau says it is, quote, "sufficiently interesting" for MH-370 search experts to take a look at the photos.

If it is from the missing airliner, and that is a far cry from being certain at this point, it would be the first physical trace of the Boeing 777 to turn up since it took off from Kuala Lumpur in the midnight hour of March 8th. No such trace has been detected by the Bluefin sonar scanner robot now on its tenth dive, nor detected by ships or planes eyeballing the ocean's surface.

Aerial searches have been scrapped for a second day because of weather. And back in Malaysia, authorities say they have finally completed a preliminary report that's supposed to be done in the first 30 days of a crash and usually, usually, that information is public. But, guess what, Malaysia is keeping this report private and that's one more bitter grievance for the families.


STEVE WANG, SON OF FLIGHT 370 PASSENGER: We just want to tell them, stop lying. They're telling to the whole world that they have good communication with the relatives, but do you know, for Sunday in Kuala Lumpur, and for Monday in Beijing, they're supposed to be and they promised there will be a technical delegation come to Beijing and talk to us about the technical questions we are concerned about. But they break the promise and they just said, oh, stop asking the questions and face the facts. What is the facts? What kind of facts they want us to face? See, they have the facts. So they are lying to the whole world again.


BANFIELD: There's so much to talk about when these new developments have come in. CNN's Erin McLaughlin weighing in live from Perth, Australia, at this time. And also here in New York I'm joined by CNN aviation analyst and former Royal Air Force pilot Michael Kay, and CNN meteorologist Chad Myers.

First out to you live in Perth. Erin, tell me about this object of interest. What more do we know about it?


Well, we're hearing from the head of the Australian Transportation and Safety Bureau that it was found about 160 miles to the south of here, to the south of Perth. He said that the ATSB is currently analyzing photographs of the object. He described it as a metal sheet with rivets.

Now, we're also hearing from an Australian defense force source saying that it appears as though it's coated in fiberglass. Not exactly sure what that means exactly. Dolan, Martin Dolan, the head of the ATSB, also saying that -- urging caution, saying that the more they analyze these photographs, the less excited they're getting about this find. We understand from officials that it's currently en route to Perth for further analysis.


BANFIELD: And, Erin, is it possible there's been other material that's been found and just not publicized? Has anyone talked about that?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, this is the first report of an object of interest that has washed ashore that we're aware of that authorities are taking seriously, as a serious lead in this investigation. But there have been plenty of objects of interest found in that search for debris. An ongoing, exhaustive search. Hours and hours have been spent by plane and ship scouring the oceans for any signs of MH370. They have found objects of interest before, but so far they have ruled all of those leads out as sea garbage. Of course, it remains to be seen. They're going to do the same for this particular object that was found.


BANFIELD: Erin, stand by for a moment. I want to bring in Chad Myers on this very issue.

One hundred and fifty or so miles south of Perth. Does that area give you any insight at all? CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I did a little calculation today. We're 47 days out. Twenty-four hours in a day. And let's say the current's moving one mile per hour. I get somewhere in the neighborhood of about 1,200 miles. Guess how far Augusta is away from the potential crash site? Just about 1,200 miles.

BANFIELD: Just about 1,200.

MYERS: Now, I don't believe in coincidences, but that could be one. There is the circle of how far we think debris could be going now. All the way from northern Australia, down to Augusta, and maybe even into the central Indian Ocean. That's the potential because there are gyres out there, there are currents out there and there was a category five hurricane. It's called a cyclone, I get it, but it was 155 to 160 mile per hour cyclone right there above where the crash site was, where the potential site is. We know we're calling it a cash site, because this is where the pings are. This is where the Inmarsat line went over. And this is also where now, obviously, the Bluefin is going around looking for these pings (ph).

BANFIELD: The first image you showed me with all of those curling currents makes me wonder, 1,200 miles, so what, it's 1,200 miles of a curlicue, you know, path it would have to take to end up there and that -- it just thwarts this whole concept.

MYERS: But if you have a piece of debris, Ashleigh, that just happens to be sticking out of the water a foot and then you blow 140-mile-per- hour wind on that, you have a sail. It's going to move more than one mile per hour, maybe three, maybe five, maybe 10.

BANFIELD: Currents might not be as much of an issue.

MYERS: So if it was sticking out of the water, if this thing was out of the water, it may have gone faster.

BANFIELD: Mikey Kay, in all the years you have spent in the air flying, have you ever heard of anything that's metal with rivets and fiberglass-like on the other side? Does that sound like any piece of aircraft you know?

MICHAEL KAY, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: No, it doesn't, to be honest. And, you know, there are -- we don't know how the airplane reached its final destination and we don't know the way in which the aircraft actually broke up or impacted. You know, if it was to break up in a fire at 38,000 feet, there's not going to be a lot left of that airplane. You just have to look at what was left after the Twin Towers on 9/11 and you couldn't really distinguish one aspect from the other. So I think, you know, in the absence of knowing how the aircraft - it's resting place, it's almost impossible to say what a piece of wreckage should look like or not.

BANFIELD: Let me ask you about this report that the Malaysians will not release and it is causing great consternation among the family members. Typically, they finished these reports 30 days after the crash. Now, this is an extraordinary circumstance. I think we understand the extra days they were given. But typically, even though they don't have to make them public, these reports are made public and Malaysia's not making this public. Is this odd to you?

KAY: I don't think it's odd. What I would say is that I think that in this mystery it would be nice to introduce a bit of normality. It would be good for the Malaysians to introduce a bit of transparency. The norm is to come out with a preliminary report. Now, it's an important point to stress it's facts based. It doesn't have analysis. It doesn't have conclusions and it doesn't have probable cause. It does have things like history of flight, the background, the departure from Kuala Lumpur, for example. I doubt the preliminary report would include the Inmarsat data, for example. But I think in this mystery, it would be good -- it would be forthcoming of the Malaysians to come forward and give a preliminary report, but it can be updated and that's the important piece is that -

BANFIELD: Chad, last 20 seconds.

MYERS: Back to this piece of debris for a minute, because this was the breaking news of the day. Is there any way that the T-7, because it is a composite airplane, that - could that composite be misconstrued as fiberglass?

KAY: To be honest with you, I -- it would have to go to the analyst (ph) to have a look at it.


KAY: I mean without actually seeing it, we haven't got a picture of it, we don't know where it was, it's almost impossible to say, Chad.


KAY: I'd love to be able to give you an answer, but I'd be speculating otherwise.


BANFIELD: Colonel Kay, Chad Myers and then Erin McLaughlin as well, live for us in Perth. Thank you for bringing that - this newest detail on this - this mystery that doesn't seem to have an ending.

And we've got another big top story as well. The ferry disaster. Half, half of the surviving crew members have now been arrested. But we're getting some new details on one very heroic crew member, just 22 years old. A woman who may have personally saved the lives of 50 passengers. You're going to hear more about her in a moment.


BANFIELD: Hope for survivors in the South Korea ferry disaster almost completely gone at this point. The divers couldn't find any pockets of air on the third and the fourth floors of that ferry. But they are finding one thing, and that is more bodies. That death toll has now climbed to 159 and 143 are still missing.

And if we look at these pictures on your screen, this is essentially the scene we keep seeing over and over again, searchers bringing back the bodies, loading them into the vans, dead teenagers, almost all of them. Their high school, completely devastated. Look at the scene. Flowers on the empty desks of its students. The school is missing most of its sophomores. And the classes are supposed to get back up and running again tomorrow. Will Ripley is live in Jindo, South Korea.

Will, what's the very latest on the search efforts today?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is still technically a search operation, Ashleigh, which is significant because it means that divers are operating right now, exclusively as they have been, going into the ship, searching for the passengers who are still missing right now.

But we do know that this -- there is equipment in the area on standby if this transitions from a search operation to a recovery operation. There's a salvage ship from the United States. There are large cranes that will eventually help pull this ship out of the water, which, of course, will be critical in the investigation as they try to piece together exactly what happened. There are also ships in the area with nets around the perimeter to catch any bodies that may be drifting away from the area, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: And, Will, that's significant. I think that might be the first time we've been hearing about the search operations going on outside of the ferry. Do we know if that's a very significant operation or if that is really taking a second seat to what's going on inside that ferry?

RIPLEY: Inside the ferry is still the primary focus, but we do know that some bodies have actually been discovered outside of the ferry. I remember a couple days ago there was a young girl in a life jacket who was found. She had drifted out to sea. So divers have been focusing on areas outside of the ship, but they still believe that the inside of the ship, now the fifth floor area, is what they're searching right now. That's still their primary focus.

BANFIELD: And so critical, too. Will Ripley, doing the job for us, live in Jindo, thank you for that and for the work that you've been putting in hour after hour.

If you think about the numbers on this story, there were 29 crew members, 29. Twenty-two of them survived. And of the 22, half of them have been arrested. Eleven of them, including the captain.

I want to bring in Christine Dennison, an expedition and logistics specialist, as well as cargo ship captain, Jim Staples, a marine safety consultant.

Captain Staples, first to you. There has been much made of the actions of this captain on this ferry leaving the ship while many of its passengers could not. Is there anything -- knowing the facts that we do know now, and they are thin, is there anything that you could have done differently or would have done differently in this scenario?

CAPTAIN JIM STAPLES, MARINE SAFETY CONSULTANT: Well, I definitely would have sounded the alarm on the initial onset. It sounds like this vessel was in serious trouble from the beginning, and if you're a seasoned mariner, you've been going to sea for an while, you have this second -- this sixth, this degree of sense that you know something is wrong with your vessel. You just feel it in your bones.

And you know that you need to do something. You should do something. Why he did not do anything is surprising to me. I'm horrified by his decision-making.

BANFIELD: And there are so many questions that, you know, some thought might be answered in the same way as an air disaster with the black box, the flight-data recorder and the voice-data recorder give us many answers. And in most ships, many ships, there are voyage-data recorders, but in this ship, there is not. Why?

STAPLES: Well, that's an answer -- a question that's going to have to be given to the IMO, why these ferries do not have data recorders.

Passenger vessels under certain tonnages are required to have voice- data recorders, so that's something that's going to need to be looked at in regulations to see if this needs to be changed or if they just weren't carrying one at the time when it was required.

BANFIELD: If they have these short distance rules in Korean waters, not international waters, and if you're doing these short hauls, you don't have to have them. Do we have those same rules here or do we have voyage-data recorders on all ships that come in and out of the U.S.?

STAPLES: Well, like I said, it's -- on most passenger vessels of a certain gross tonnage is what they talk about having them. So on a lot of the smaller vessels, they do not have them, but on the larger vessels, they do have the voice-data recorders.

BANFIELD: I want to bring in Christine Dennison just on the efforts that these divers are heroically performing to try to find more of these body.

Can you help me understand what Will Ripley is talking about -- some bodies are being found outside the body of the ship -- how those currents and the movements of the water and the movements of the water in a sinking vessel, what that can do to passengers on board?

CHRISTINE DENNISON, EXPEDITION LOGISTICS EXPERT: First, if you can imagine being in a car and the car is submerged or it starts to submerge, water is rushing in.

You have the window. You try and open the window and get out. And the pressure of the water is sort of keeping you pinned inside. Plus, it's cold and you're panicking. It's a very similar scenario to what happened here, which happened very quickly. I think people were just panicked.

The sense of cold water rushing in very quickly from all sides is extremely disorienting, and it does induce panic. And these are young kids that have no idea where to run or what to do.

So you have a really terrible scenario going on, on all levels, in certain terms of they're not being given direction, they don't know where to run to. And if they're trying to get out, if they're in rooms, you've got doors that are now being blocked by the pressure of the water, so they can't get out, if they could see a way out.

BANFIELD: And for those who may have actually been able to get off the ferry and into the water, the currents could have played havoc.

DENNISON: The currents could have played havoc. If they were hitting, which I think it was very -- it was a turbulent day. There were strong currents. There were waves. They could have fallen off the ship. At which point, at this point, they're working with nets to try and maybe catch bodies that are down current, which is --

BANFIELD: Nets, it's just distressing if you think about it.

Christine Dennison, thank you. Captain Jim Staples, as always, thank you, live for us in Boston. And, as always, our Will Ripley.

We do know more about that boy who flew now from California to Hawaii in a jet's wheel well. It turns out that he was trying to get to Somalia to see his mom. We're also hearing a lot of interesting things about him from some of his friends. And we're going to share that with you in just a moment.


BANFIELD: Security officials at a big California airport are going round and round today about a kid who managed to sneak on to an airfield and climb onto a commercial jet.

This is part of the fence we're about to show you that surrounds the airport at San Jose international airport. Looks pretty daunting, but police say the teenager jumped the fence and hid in the wheel well of a plane that took off for Hawaii and somehow survived all of it.

Look at this. This is the actual wheel well, the space where that 15- year-old flew for more than five hours in freezing cold temperatures and almost no oxygen. Back in San Jose, the airport officials are wondering if a kid can crack their perimeter, who else can?

Here's CNN's Dan Simon.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ashleigh, to put it simply, it sounds like this is a teenager who was homesick, who acted out in an irrational way, to say the very least, but we do now have a little insight into what was going through his mind.


SIMON: He wound up in Hawaii, but the 15-year-old stowaway apparently wanted to get to Africa. A law enforcement source tells CNN the teenager told FBI investigators that he was trying to get to Somalia to see his mother. The boy, who now lives in Santa Clara, California, told classmates that he missed his home country. Why did he choose a Hawaiian airliner? The FBI believes it was the first plane he saw. Students also say he was new to this public high school, only a few weeks. What can you tell us about him?

EMANUAEL GOLLA, CLASSMATE: Well, from what I know of, he was a really shy person, you know, he didn't really talk a lot. He mostly kept to himself.

SIMON: We're learning more about the timeline, that the boy jumped the airport fence at approximately 1:00 a.m. Sunday morning.

The plane didn't leave until just before 8:00 a.m. which means he would have been on the tarmac or in that wheel well for approximately seven hours before it even took off. The flight itself was five hours. In San Jose, passengers expressing disbelief over how the teenager could go undetected.

BILL MCMICHAEL, TRAVELER: We're supposed to have all the security, we're spending billions of dollars, tax dollars, since 9/11. Kind of scary sometimes.


SIMON: The teenager is still in a Maui hospital. He's said to be in stable condition. Child welfare officials are going to make plans to return him to California.


BANFIELD: All right, Dan Simon, thank you for that.

And I want to take us back to the top story of the day, the search for the missing Malaysian plane and a big new development, when or if the airliner's black boxes are found, the secrets held within them could be revealed in a very special lab, like this one.

We're going to take you inside this Australian lab and show you how investigators get crucial information.


BANFIELD: In a mystery where every development, no matter how small, is critical, today's blockbuster's eliciting a very different response, quote, "The more we look at it, the less excited we get about it," effectively downplaying the expectations for a piece of metal that washed ashore near the southwest town of Augusta.

Still, after 47 days with no tangible signs of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, it's a tantalizing lead. The search experts are pouring over the photos of that piece of metal.

The Bluefin sonar-scanning robot has come across nothing in ten dives covering more than 80 percent of its planned search area. And though ships and planes have spotted plenty of ocean junk, nothing, not one piece, is related to MH-370. Today, for the second day in row, aerial searches have been halted because of that weather.