TOPICS > World > Flight 370

26 countries searching for missing airliner face lack of big breaks, vast terrain

March 17, 2014 at 6:29 PM EST
Confusion reigns and theories abound on the 10th day of the burgeoning search for the missing Malaysian jet. Officials offered contradictory information about the timing of the disabling of the jet’s communications, while investigators and the press chase information on the pilot’s political activity. Judy Woodruff gets an update from Andy Pasztor of The Wall Street Journal.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Airline officials also today they are no longer certain when a satellite communications system on the plane was disabled. During the weekend, government officials said they believed it was disconnected before the pilots’ final radio contact with air control, raising more suspicions about criminal intent.

Andy Pasztor of The Wall Street Journal is covering the investigation, and he joins us again from Los Angeles.

Andy, welcome back to the program.

Give us, right now, the status of this investigation.

ANDY PASZTOR, The Wall Street Journal: The investigation has the — the coverage of this investigation has just been breathless.

There are all sorts of theories, accident theories, sabotage theories, terrorism theories. And you have had news reports all over the place. Some of them show the plane rocketing up to 45,000 feet in altitude, something that a plane this heavy and — this heavy probably couldn’t do so quickly.

And others have the plane going down to 5,000 feet, and diving down to 5,000 feet to avoid radar, which is exactly the sweet spot, in fact, of most military radar. So, I really think we have to take a step back and just say, what do we actually know? I think the facts are that the investigation is going relatively slowly.

There haven’t been any major breaks. The search for the wreckage is extremely difficult over vast areas, even perhaps as much as half of the continental United States. Some of the search areas have underwater topography of 12,000 feet depth. And so it’s extremely difficult to find anything, and even if we find the wreckage in the water, the heavier parts will have gone down to the bottom.

The lighter parts will be moved around by the currents, so the longer it takes, the less likely we are to find everything. So I think the reality is, is that we know a little bit more about the plane’s movements. We don’t really know anything firm either about the motives or even who did it, and it’s really going to be a long slog, I think.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Andy, is the Malaysian government now letting in professional, experienced investigators from other countries to help them?

ANDY PASZTOR: I think they’re getting a little better at accepting and asking for help, but I think there is still a lot of concern and criticism among U.S. aviation experts and U.S. law enforcement officials about the extent of information and the extent of cooperation.

And as you mentioned at the very beginning of the show, even today, after all the criticism and all of the difficulties that the Malays have had in dealing with this unprecedented investigation, the chairman, the CEO of the — the CEO of the Malaysian airline came forward and said — basically contradicted, appeared to contradict what the government has been saying about the timeline on when some satellite signals may have been turned off.

And that is just unheard of in such an investigation. That would be tantamount to the NTSB chairman getting up and describing a specific scenario, and next to him on the podium is the chairman of the airline that had the crash, and the chairman gets up and say, well, that’s not how we think it really happened.

So that just shows more confusion and friction and it doesn’t really bode well for the future of this investigation, I would say.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about this late report about the pilot having been active in opposition politics in Malaysia, having attended the trial of a good friend who was jailed in Malaysia? What’s the significance of that?

ANDY PASZTOR: Very hard to tell at this point. Everybody is chasing it. So are we.

It’s difficult to know what the significance is. What we can know, from the past, in other investigations which included suicides of pilots, where planes crashed because pilots deliberately put them into a dive and killed everybody on board, in those cases, it turned out those pilots didn’t have any special features.

They didn’t have any obvious, clear-cut marks or behaviors that would put them into a category and say that they were clearly having some difficulties or had some extreme feelings or extreme groups that they belonged to.

So I think it’s very hard to tell at this point. It will be a long — it will be certainly part of the investigation. It is part of the investigation. But I think it’s way too early to jump to conclusions. We don’t even know for sure whether these pilots were in the cockpit when all of this happened.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And the search, you have described it as an enormous, a huge area being that is searched. In their cooperation now from all the countries or all the areas where this plane could have possibly gone down?

ANDY PASZTOR: That’s probably one of the good points, the good news in this whole story.

There are 26 countries that are actively working together trying to get to the same goal, and you don’t have that often in any sphere of military or civil cooperation. So that is happening. But the task is absolutely daunting.

If you talk to people about it, they have never even conceived of something like this. And I think your viewers shouldn’t delude themselves into thinking that, even if we find the wreck and even if we find the black box, that this is going to be a slam dunk. If we find the black box, if the searchers find the black box and manage to retrieve the information, the flight data recorder will show exactly how this plane behaved, when it climbed, when it dived, how fast it went, when it turned, what automation was on, what the pilots did.

But the cockpit voice recorder only has two hours. It loops on itself. It records over itself. So, it only has two hours of data. It’s very possible, I think, that those two hours will have nothing but switches being flipped, the sound of the airliner going through the air, maybe some engine rumblings, and we won’t really know what happened because there will be no conversation.

That’s the worst-case scenario. I’m not suggesting that’s certain or even very likely, but it’s certainly possible.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Andy Pasztor with The Wall Street Journal, we thank you.

ANDY PASZTOR: Thank you.