March 23rd, 2014

Schiff: We may never find black box

Today on CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley at 12:00 p.m., Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and Stephen Trimble, aviation editor and reporter at Flight Global, discussed upgrading technology for planes in distress in lieu of the missing Malaysia Flight 370

In a discussion about the search for the black box and the missing aircraft, Schiff said, “If we don’t find that box in the next two weeks, if we don’t find the wreckage, we may never find the box and we may never know exactly what happened.”

Additionally, Luca Centurioni, associate researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Art Wright, retired Navy captain, also spoke to Candy about the continued search for Malaysia Flight 370.

Rev. Earl Johnson, former national disaster spiritual care manager at the American Red Cross discussed how to counsel the grief over Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

A transcript and videos of the discussion are available after the jump.


An agonizing wait for answers

Desperation and anger for MH370 families



I’m Candy Crowley in Washington.

The aerial search for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 is over for the day.  Australian government officials say there were no significant sightings.  French satellite images shows potential objects in the search corridor of the southern Indian Ocean.  No word yet on when those images were taken.

And Malaysian authorities said today the last transmission from the plane showed no change in the plane’s route.  The search area is now 28,000 square miles.  The U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon crew said conditions were terrible today, with low cloud ceilings and poor visibility.

CNN’s Andrew Stevens is in Perth, Australia.

So, obviously, the weather not helpful.  What happens tomorrow in terms of the weather and whether these flights can go?

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT:  Well, we wait and see whether these flights with take off the in the morning, Candy.  At this stage of the day, it’s just turned midnight p — so another trip out tomorrow for at least eight aircraft.  They’re going to be joined by two Chinese aircraft as well.

But it’s interesting, talking to the pilots coming back and talking to own Kate Bolduan who just got off the final flight coming back in tonight, she was out on target for something like two hours for the flight there and back, and she was saying the weather — visibility in some stage were virtually zero, those cloud right down to sea level.  That’s something we’d heard from other pilots as well.  And then it cleared.

So it’s still patchy.  Those planes are very rugged workhorses, particularly the military ones.  Maybe more of a problem for the corporate jets that are going in, but for these military workforces, they can get in.  They got a lot of sophisticated radar, but we keep hearing from Australian officials, Candy, that it’s all about eyes on.  They want visual things from spotters in planes.  That is the key to solving this mystery as in getting firm ID on what any wreckage is and whether it can be linked back to Flight 370.

CROWLEY:  And, Andrew, what are we to make to this whole finding a wooden pallet floating with the straps on, that whole whatever was on the pallet?  Is that something or nothing?

STEVENS:  It’s a lead.  It’s being described as a lead.  The — we can’t give more information because no one has more information than that.  It was found in a debris field of interest in the target zone, which makes it potentially something more than just a lead.

It ties in with the satellite images, Candy.  These are all objects of significant importance and cannot be ruled out obviously until they’re found and identified as to exactly what they are.

So nothing’s been ruled out at the moment.  That pallet, it was spotted yesterday, planes went back to the place where it was supposed to be, didn’t find anything.  There are buoys in that part of the sea to try and track the currents to make sure that the planes can get back to where that debris would be.

But they haven’t been able to.  Partially, it’s visibility very difficult.  Partially, there are big currents there.  It’s a big stretch of water and they’re just having real difficulty pinpointing things.

CROWLEY:  In Perth, Australia, for us — Andrew Stevens, thanks very much and good night.

Ultimately, nothing will be more important in this investigation than this noise.


CROWLEY:  Surprisingly soft but that is the ping from the plane’s black boxes which if they find the debris will be what leads them to all those-important data recorders.  We are past the halfway mark of the 30-day battery life of them — of the black boxes, which were actually red.

Joining me now, Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff is a member of the House Intelligence Committee, who has been briefed by U.S. officials on the missing airliner.

And Stephen Trimble, an aviation reporter and editor for “Flight Global.”

Thank you both for joining me.

First question, why are we halfway through the life of a battery?  It can’t cost much to change out batteries for something that lasts longer than 30 days.

STEPHEN TRIMBLE, AVIATION REPORTER, FLIGHTGLOBAL:  Well, every component on an aircraft goes through a very expensive certification process.  So, when these black boxes were design and certified there was a spec developed and that was certified.  If you change anything in that, it’s a very long and costly process to re-qualify it to the conditions that a black box has to survive.

CROWLEY:  And you mean re-qualify for government and FAA regulations.

TRIMBLE:  Exactly.

CROWLEY:  That’s kind of a problem then, isn’t it?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE:  Well, it seem crazy, though, Candy, in this day and age we can have a major civilian airliner vanish into thin air and we’re down to a 30-day ping in order to try to find it.  The technologies are there to much better track aircraft by satellite instead of relying on these outdated systems.

And as you point out, to make those black boxes easier to find with longer survivability, I hope that this pushes us in that direction, as well as I hope it pushes us to close the other gaping hole that’s been revealed and that is the fact that so many thousands of passengers travel on stolen passports.

CROWLEY:  Whether it had anything to do with the disappearance or not, it was kind of startling to people to find out that it was — seemed relatively easily to get a passport and get on a plane with it, even though those passports had been reported stolen.  So, that’s — that’s something they’ll move into as soon as they can find this — hopefully find this plane.

What is the technology out there and what is the hesitation to installing it on at least these big airplanes that fly over these large expanses of water, little easier to find them on land?  And so, what is the hesitation there?

TRIMBLE:  It is just cost.  I mean, the technology is there.  Local storage of data —

CROWLEY:  Let me just stop you.  When you say the technology is there, to?

TRIMBLE:  Yes.  To transmit the aircraft’s — to track the aircraft and also to note —

CROWLEY:  In real time.

TRIMBLE:  — in real time and also be aware of what’s happening on the aircraft in real time or when there’s a significant event that’s worth finding out about it.

CROWLEY:  So, in reality we could have known if there were cameras in the cockpit, if there was — that were beam me back somewhere.  I mean, to the cloud or back down to earth, someplace we could possibly know where this plane was two weeks ago.

TRIMBLE:  Cameras might be a bit of a stretch because there’s a lot — that’s a very costly data feed.  I’m not sure it would help us exactly pinpoint it.

But the data that is being recorded every second on the aircraft by the black box, it’s tapped into all the computers that are in the cockpit, getting hundreds and thousands of data points every second, that kind of information is stored on the aircraft so it goes down with the aircraft.

And so, to find that information we have to find the aircraft and then hopefully find the box and hopefully it survived.

SCHIFF:  There has to be a cost-effective solution to this where we can transmit the data that we need, maybe not all the data but in the event the flight deviates from the flight path or there are problems with some of the equipment, mechanical failure where vital information is transmitted to satellite because if you compare the cost of doing that — and I know it’s substantial — to the cost of this search, which is substantial and growing, as well as the trauma to the people wondering what happened to their loved ones, and the fact that the delay in finding out what happened to this aircraft could have real consequences.

If it’s a mechanical failure and we don’t know about it, and another plane goes down, that would be just compounding this tragedy.  If we don’t find that box in the next two weeks, if we don’t find the wreckage, we may never find the box and we may never know exactly what happened.

CROWLEY:  I imagine that the airline’s objection to this is if they put it in it would be their money and the search is our money.  That’s taxpayer money.  So — but these are people that charged for Cokes and extra bags and — I mean, surely there is a way to kind of look at flights maybe just the routes and doing to some planes.

TRIMBLE:  Yes, there are specific aircraft that are assigned to these extended operations routes where they’re going into remote arias and crossing oceans where this — you could confine it to those.  Of course, in this particular case, this aircraft didn’t — wasn’t on one of those routes.  It was — it may have diverted from that route.

CROWLEY:  They’re supposed to be —


CROWLEY:  — path across the water.

TRIMBLE:  And I think one of the things regulators have got to focus on is finding out how to foolproof those systems that should have been working but that stopped in that handover between Malaysia and Vietnam.

CROWLEY:  Right, there’s a gap really when there was not a tower watching it, essentially.

TRIMBLE:  Right, when the transponder went off.

CROWLEY:  Right.

Congressman, talk to me about two things first.  Is there — is there a role for Congress here to demand that certain things be installed on airplanes, even given that it’s going to take regulation, it’s going to take forever to do?

SCHIFF:  Absolutely there’s a role for Congress here, particularly considering the expense we’re going through to try to find this plane.  I’d like to see the Congress — I would expect the Congress to have hearings with the NTSB, with the FAA, to find out what is the state of the technology, how quickly they’re moving to satellite transmissions, how cost effectively can we deal with this problem with finding the black boxes, extending battery life, or making them deployable.

So I think Congress will do that.  Now, requirements in terms of our own airline industries, that may have an effect on industries around the world because we’re so involved in the aircraft manufacturing standards.  But we should be working with the International Civil Aviation Organization as well to get them to implement steps.

CROWLEY:  Right.  We should have led the way in certain ways.

Congressman Adam Schiff, thank you so much for being here.

Stephen Trimble, good to see you again as well.

From monstrous waves to strong currents and sheer size, the southern Indian Ocean won’t easily give up clues to what happened to Flight 370.  We’ll talk with two search and recovery experts, next.


CROWLEY:  Joining me now: Luca Centurioni, an oceanographer with the Scripps Institute of Oceanography.  And Art Wright (ph), he is a retired Navy captain who led several ocean searches.

First to you, Mr. Centurioni, the prime minister of Australia, who I guess as close as anyone to the search area, described it as the most inaccessible area on earth.  I understand it’s pretty inhospitable as well.

Can you describe to me generally the atmosphere, the currents, the waves, that kind of thing in the search area?

LUCA CENTURIONI, SCRIPPS INSTITUTION OF OCEANOGRAPHY:  Certainly, he was referring to the atmospheric conditions now.  My field is more ocean currents.  The currents there are somehow strong for the open ocean.  They’re not particularly strong, as you can experience for example in the gulf stream.

But, you know, they can move debris like this amount over the course of several weeks.  And what they can also do and something that happens everywhere in the world’s ocean is to disperse objects on the surface of floating debris, and that is certainly complicating the search operation.

Of course, weather has not been cooperating in the past few days, and the forecast isn’t good either.  That despite of the operation is certainly the main factor because as was said before, we do need to find something that we can start from in order to go back to the presumed site of the crash, if that is what has happened.

CROWLEY:  Right.

And, Captain Wright, knowing the weather here, it’s fall turning into winter in that area of the world, you know, I’m told the seas can go 20-foot waves.  You’ve just heard that the current is pretty rapid.

How does that change the calculation in a search mission?  What does that do to it?

ART WRIGHT, RETIRED NAVY CAPTAIN:  Well, Candy, in my opinion, what you need is a deep-toed sonar, which covers a wide swath so you can get a lot of area in the time.  So, once they have selected the starting point the search box, in other words, they decided which sort of debris they have and where the airliner might have gone down, then you want to get all the assets you can into locating the debris field.

The beauty of a deep-toed sonar is it’s connected to the tow ship by a long cable in the case of 4,000 meters depth, you would have a cable 10,000 meters long towed from a ship between 190 feet and 250 feet.


WRIGHT:  And weather-wise, I have — I’ve seen those devices deep-towed sonars recovered in 30-foot wave, 30-foot seas.

CROWLEY:  So, and obviously the ships can handle that as well.  So the waves are not for these big — for these big ships that would be towing the underwater device, the weather’s not a particularly threatening thing.

WRIGHT:  You might have to pick your course to go in a certain direction because some courts might be untenable.  And you have to be able to maintain your course at a slow speed.  You’re going to tow it about 2.8 nautical miles per hour —


WRIGHT:  — which is — and you’d be towing deep and slow and just mowing along making sure that you’ve got every square meter covered and your analysts are looking at every square meter.

CROWLEY:  And, Mr. Centurioni, when you talk about the strong current, not as strong as the gulf stream, as I understand what you said, how — if a piece of plane debris is at the bottom and it’s not surrounded by — you know, it’s not mountainous terrain, just at the bottom without a lot of inhibiting things not caught on anything, how far could a current move it over the course of a week or so, something that was already settled and on the bottom?

CENTURIONI:  If it’s set on the bottom, I don’t expect it to move very much.  You know, the captain has mentioned that hydrophones should be used on ships.  And that’s certainly a very good point.

The concern is more finding a place where you can go out and look.  And you need to be able to narrow down the search area for the kind of underwater operations.  So the concern is not as much for currents moving debris at the bottom.  It’s for the currents moving debris at the surface.

CROWLEY:  To the surface.

CENTURIONI:  And that is — right.  I mean, that’s where having the most intense and when they’re most effective in disperse debris.  And you need to be able to track it back to the site of the crash and then that’s where you want to focus your underwater search.  Similar to what happened with Air France airplane.

So, in my opinion, we still need to find some evidence on the surface.

CROWLEY:  Something on the surface that would make you want to go deeper.  Right.  Right.

And finally —

CENTURIONI:  And then you want to track it back.

CROWLEY:  And finally, Captain Wright, let me just ask you, once you have identified some material of this debris and you know it’s debris from a plane, be it part of a wing or whatever, if it’s on the surface, you know, seat belts and cushions, whatever it is, how in this kind of weather do you go about retrieving it?

WRIGHT:  Retrieving it is pretty simple.  You see it, then the important thing is to backtrack where it came from.

CROWLEY:  Right.

WRIGHT:  That’s where Luca comes in.  He backtracks where it came from.  And then that’s what you want to center our search on.

As far as recovering your equipment, there are many, many ways to do that, picking it up.  It’s not a problem.

CROWLEY:  OK.  All right.  Listen, I want to thank you both, Captain Art Wright, Luca Centurioni, thanks for your expertise.

Coming up later in the hour we will talk with a former Red Cross minister about how the families of those aboard Malaysia Flight 370 can be helped to cope with grief and the unanswered questions.

CROWLEY: With me now, Reverend Earl Johnson.  He is a former national disaster spiritual care manager for the Red Cross.

I know you have counseled people through a number of crises.  I want to play while we’re talking some of the pictures that we’ve seen earlier last week of these families weeping in front of all these — the media trying to get in to get answers.  There’s so much wrong with this picture.

How do you approach this?  What has gone wrong here?

REV. EARL JOHNSON, FORMER NATIONAL DISASTER SPIRITUAL CARE MANAGER, RED CROSS:  Well, Candy, first of all, assisting the families of the disasters needs to be a part — an immediate part of the response and integrated into that response.

Yes, first things first, it’s important to find the plane or evidence of where it is or whatever.  That’s essential, too.  But supporting the families and identifying resources to support them needs to start at the beginning.  And what’s unique about those photographs and Jim Clancy’s report is these are some of the same questions that families and loved ones of other aviation incidents are asking.  And so we have a large body of information and lessons learned.

And we know the good part about those scenes of the lady is it finally got the attention of the government and briefings starting regularly.  But unfortunately that should not have been the case even though the Malaysian government is doing the best they can.

CROWLEY:  And what about when this first begins?  What’s the first thing you want to do to give as much comfort or provide as much tranquillity as you can in what is clearly a chaotic situation, in which there are no answers?

JOHNSON:  Well, exactly, because I anticipated grief and recognizing that these disasters, these mass fatality, catastrophic events, one, being so unique but they’re also — they put up tremendous tasks and needs that need to be resolved.

And so, a lot of times it’s not about saying something.  It’s providing a safe place for these people to be to congregate, to give them the dignity, the respect because, they are so vulnerable and they can be exploited.  It’s just not fair.

And, you know, the families can get lost in the first couple of hours.  But, you know, the sooner you start giving services, the better it is.  A family and friends reception center at the airport, which is generally an airline club, where they can congregate with mental health nurses, spiritual care chaplain, that will be there that will help them navigate just the basics, because they’re not going to be able to have coffee or rest the evening when they know that their loved one is in harm’s way.

CROWLEY:  Right.

And finally, in the minute we’ve got left, if there are stages of guilt — I mean, I’m sorry, stages of grief, and the first denial.  This is like going to be a never-ending stage for some people.  How do you, when there’s no body, no answers, no anything, how do you get people through that day after day?

JOHNSON:  Well, I think we have to plan for the immediate needs and the long-term needs.  In the absence of actually finding the plane, these people are going to need services.  They’re going to have to have resources identified.  They’re going to have to have family connections.  You’re going to have to see, you know, how to support these families because a number of them were their breadwinners.

CROWLEY:  Meet with them —


JOHNSON:  Exactly.

CROWLEY:  Reverend Earl Johnson, thanks for give us a little insight.

JOHNSON:  You’re welcome.

CROWLEY:  I appreciate it.


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