TODAY   |  March 15, 2014

Former NTSB investigator: Missing wreckage may never be found

Greg Feith, a former NTSB investigator, said there is a possibility it may never be known what exactly happened to the missing Malaysia Airlines jet. TODAY’s Erica Hill interviews Feith.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> greg feith is a former ntsb investigator, with us this morning. greg, good morning.

>> good morning, erica .

>> as keir pointed out, this is a police investigation, some things may be held back. there is still a lot going on this morning. walk us through the latest developments. the declaration that this is an intentional act, news of those pings and how long they lasted. what do those things tell you as a former investigator?

>> well, with the intentional act, we've been talking about it on our air here all week, about the fact that once that turn was made, there had to be human intervention. that was not going to be anything that was preprogrammed in the flight plan . that wouldn't have happened if there was some sort of explosive decompression and the pilots had passed out. so, now they've finally confirmed, basically, that this airplane, that u-turn, if you will, was an intentional event. now the question is, who made that intentional event or who conducted it? the other thing, what they haven't done right now is identify who made the last radio call. that could help them determine who was in control of the airplane right before they lost all of those communications with the aircraft.

>> and as we're trying to figure those things out, there are obviously not only a number of countries working together on this, but a number of different agencies. there seems to be some conflicting interpretation of some of the data, specifically when it comes to some of this radar information we have and how high the plane may or may not have climbed and how quickly it descended. can you walk us through that?

>> absolutely. one of the things -- and people have taken numbers -- the radar that the military is using only gives you distance and direction. it does not give you altitude. it takes height-finding radar to give you that third dimension. and either you use multiple sites or you can use a very sophisticated single site. what they haven't done, those data points where it shows the airplane going up to 34,000 feet, then 20,000 feet -- you have to be very careful with that data, because the data needs to be smooth. from what i understand, the last valid radar after the transponder was turned off, the last one they had was at 29,500 feet, and that was basically some smooth data, because you will get these errant data points . and we have to be very careful, because if that airplane zoom climbed up and down, the big, wild gyrations, you would break that airplane apart trying to recover it in these high-speed dives.

>> there are so many questions, and because of that, there are so many theories, so much speculation. some of that fueled by the lack of information. there's been this theory that maybe the pilots landed somewhere. based on your experience and based on what you have learned, is that a possibility?

>> no, erica , it is not. i believe that as you look at that map, they finally figured out, based on the satellite from the five or six pings they received from the acars unit that this airplane either went on a northerly track or a southerly track. whoever was flying the airplane, whichever pilot it was, they didn't want to be tracked by radar. they turned the transponders off, they turned the acars system off. well, if you're trying to stay out of radar view, then the best direction to go is to the south, because you're going to be out over open ocean , there is no radar coverage, there is no tracking in that direction. if you go north, you're going to be going into a radar environment. so, they're going to concentrate their efforts south. and i wouldn't be surprised if australia doesn't eventually join this search process to assist.

>> greg, real quickly, is it possible that we never know what happened?

>> that's always a possibility, erica , because we may never know the absolute background, what was the fueling fire, if you will, for this person to take or commandeer the aircraft and do something with it. we may find that, you know, where the airplane crashed with floating debris. we may never find the wreckage, and we definitely may not never find all the answers if we don't have a cockpit voice recorder and a flight data recorder .

>> we do know, though, that the search will continue for as long as possible. greg feith , appreciate your insight. thanks for being with us.

>> you're welcome.