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March 27th, 2014
05:10 AM ET

Flight 370 Pilot's Son Dismisses Speculation About His Father

A son of the pilot of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has defended his father, rejecting speculation about his possible role in the plane's disappearance.

"I've read everything online. But I've ignored all the speculation. I know my father better," Ahmad Seth Zaharie, 26, said in an interview published Thursday by the New Straits Times. He is the youngest son of the 53-year-old pilot, Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah.

Investigators have so far been unable to establish why the passenger jet flew far off course on the night it vanished from radar screens almost three weeks ago.

Malaysian authorities say the jetliner and the 239 people it was carrying ended up in the southern Indian Ocean, where a multinational search is trying to locate traces of the plane.

The search efforts were severely hampered by bad weather Thursday, while Thai authorities reported detecting hundreds more objects that could be related to the plane in satellite images.

'I understand him'

The pilot and first officer of the plane have come under particular scrutiny, with a range of speculative theories proffered for why one or both of them might have diverted it from its scheduled flight path to Beijing.

Some of the wilder speculation suggested Zaharie might have hijacked the plane as a political act.

"We may not be as close as he travels so much. But I understand him," Ahmad said of his father in the interview, which was conducted Tuesday.

Ahmad is the first member of the Zaharie's close family to speak publicly to the news media about the plane's disappearance.

No 'smoking gun'

Comments from government officials on the investigation so far support the young man's view.

A senior Malaysian government official on Wednesday told CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes that authorities have found nothing negative in 19 days of investigating the two pilots that leads them to any motive, be it political, suicidal or extremist.

And an ongoing FBI review of the two pilots' hard drives, including Zaharie's flight simulator, has not turned up a "smoking gun," a U.S. official with knowledge of the investigation told CNN.

"They have accessed the data," the official said. "There is nothing that's jumping out and grabbing us right now."

Officials have so far not reported anything suspicious in their investigations into the 10 other crew members and 227 passengers on board the plane.

American investigators continue to be baffled by the plane's disappearance, with one U.S. official saying, "I don't think there is a prevailing theory. There are counterarguments to every theory right now."

Air search halted

With little sign of progress in the investigation on land, search efforts at sea were hampered Thursday by another bout of bad weather.

The conditions brought an early end to the day's aerial search for the plane in the southern Indian Ocean, but five ships in the area are trying to keep up the hunt for debris despite the difficult conditions.

All the planes that had flown out to the search zone are returning to Perth, the western Australian city where they set out from, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said. It initially reported that the ships were leaving the search area, too, but later said they would stay.

The search teams that have been out over the remote area of ocean Thursday have been "beaten up," said Lt. Comm. Adam Schantz of the U.S. Navy.

The visibility is almost zero, with clouds reaching down to the surface of the water, as well as severe turbulence and icing, he said.

"It's very cold," said Capt. Allison Norris, who is in charge of the HMAS Success, the Australian navy ship in the search area. "We rotate the lookouts through every hour and make sure that they are appropriately dressed to combat the very cold conditions down here."

Early Thursday afternoon, more than 60% of the search area was experiencing a mixture of low visibility, strong thunderstorms and powerful winds, said CNN International Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri.

Hopes of resuming

Flight crews hope to be back in the air Friday if the weather clears, Schantz said. But the Australian maritime agency said it expects conditions to remain bad for another 24 hours.

This is the second time this week that operations have been hampered by harsh conditions in the isolated patch of ocean roughly 1,500 miles southwest of Perth. No search missions took place on Tuesday because of stormy weather.

The delay is likely to prolong an already protracted hunt for the missing Boeing 777, which disappeared March 8 over Southeast Asia with 239 people on board.

Citing an analysis of satellite data, Malaysian authorities say the plane ended its errant journey in the southern Indian Ocean. But they still haven't been able to establish why it lost contact with air traffic control and flew so far off course.

The suspension of the aerial search dims hopes that the teams might soon be able to pinpoint objects spotted in satellite images of the ocean captured over the past two weeks.

On Wednesday, Malaysia said it had received satellite images showing 122 potential objects floating in the ocean, not far from other satellite sightings that could be related to the missing passenger jet.

Adding to the list, a Thai satellite spotted 300 "pieces of floating objects potentially linked" to the missing plane in broadly the same region of the southern Indian Ocean, a Thai official said Thursday.

The Thai satellite captured the images on Monday, but it took several days to process them and pass them on to the Malaysian government, said Kampanart Deeudomchan, an official at Thailand's Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency.

Analysts have said the detection of possible objects is an encouraging sign, but so far nothing conclusively linked to the plane has been found.

"The type of wreckage or object that we're looking for is so close to the water line that now radars would not be able to pick it up," Norris of the HMAS Success told CNN's Anderson Cooper. "So we are very reliant on lookouts who use binoculars and night vision glasses to scan the horizon and scan the area around the ship while we conduct our search pattern."

The forecast from Friday morning through Saturday shows much improved conditions in the search zone, CNN's Javaheri said.

"Scattered clouds should be expected," he said. "But the winds and seas will both calm considerably, giving a rare a stretch of generally favorable conditions for this region during this time of year."

March 20th, 2014
05:25 AM ET

Objects Spotted in Indian Ocean May Be Debris From Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

Two objects spotted in the southern Indian Ocean may be debris from the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, Australian authorities said Thursday, fueling hopes of a breakthrough in an international search of unprecedented scale.

The objects are indistinct but of "reasonable size," with the largest about 24 meters (79 feet) across, said John Young, general manager of emergency response for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

They appear to be "awash with water and bobbing up and down" in an area 2,500 kilometers (1,500 miles) southwest of Australia's west coast, he said.

"If that piece of the plane is that big, maybe it's the tail section" said David Gallo, one of the leader of the search for Air France Flight 447, which crashed in the Atlantic Ocean in 2009. But he warned that the size gave him a degree of concern.

"It's a big piece of aircraft to have survived something like this," he said.

The tail height of a Boeing 777, the model of the missing Malaysian plane, is 60 feet.

The announcement raised the prospect of finding parts of the plane amid a huge search that is now in its 13th day. The plane vanished over Southeast Asia on March 8, and previous reports of debris found in the sea have turned out to be red herrings.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott first announced the discovery to the House of Representatives in Canberra on Thursday. Australian search teams have been at the forefront of the hunt for the missing plane in the remote southern Indian Ocean.

"There have been so many false leads and so many starts and changes and then backtracking in the investigation," said Mary Schiavo, a CNN aviation analyst and former inspector general for the U.S. Department of Transportation. "He wouldn't have come forward and said if they weren't fairly certain."

But officials cautioned that there were no guarantees that the objects now being investigated would prove to be from the missing plane.

At the Lido Hotel in Beijing where family members of some of the passengers on the missing plane have waited for news for days, relatives gathered around a large screen television watching the Australian news conference. They leaned forward in their chairs, hanging on every word. Some sighed loudly.

Malaysia Airlines said it won't be sending representatives or family members to Australia unless the objects are confirmed as plane debris.

'The best lead we have right now'

The images of the objects were captured by satellite and were being assessed by the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation. The images were taken near the area of the southern Indian Ocean that has been scoured by search teams in recent days.

Although the total search area for the plane spans nearly 3 million square miles, a U.S. government official familiar with the investigation said the missing plane is most likely somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean.

"This is an area out of normal shipping lanes, out of any commercial flight patterns, with few fishing boats, and there are no islands," the official said.

Young cautioned that the images may not be from the plane. There can be other debris out there, like containers that have fallen overboard from ships, for example.

The objects were seen in the heart of what is known as the Indian Ocean Gyre. There is little to no oceanic current movement in the region and the area is notorious for trapping debris. It's one of the five major gyres in the world's oceans and is known to contain a "garbage patch."

"It is probably the best lead we have right now," Young said. "But we need to get there, find them, see them, assess them to know whether it's really meaningful or not."

The visibility in the area is poor, Young warned. "The weather is not playing the game with us," he said.

Planes arrive

A Royal Australian Air Force Orion aircraft has already arrived in the area, Young said, and three other planes are being sent there, including a New Zealand Air Force Orion and U.S. Navy P8 Poseidon.

The flight crew on the Poseidon say they're getting radar hits of "significant size," indicating something lying below the water's surface, ABC News reported Thursday.

ABC's correspondent David Wright, who is on board the aircraft, says the crew told him that the radar indicates that "there is something down there." But ABC cautioned that it is still too early to tell if the radar hits are related to the missing plane.

An Australian C-130 Hercules plane has been tasked by Australian authorities to drop marker buoys in the area, Young said.

"The first thing they need to do is put eyes on the debris from one of the aircraft," said aviation expert Bill Waddock. The buoys will mark the place and transmit location data.

A merchant ship helping Australian authorities in the search was also expected to arrive in the area Thursday.

'Every lead is a hope'

The Malaysian Navy has six navy ships with three helicopters heading to the southern Indian Ocean to take part in the search, a Malaysian government source said.

"Verification might take some time. It is very far and it will take some time to locate and verify the objects," the Malaysian government source said.

See updates on this story at CNN.com.