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Search for Flight 370 Ramps Up; Flight 370 Families Wait and Wait; Crisis in Ukraine

Aired March 31, 2014 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning: the search intensifies for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Right now, ships and aircraft looking for the wreckage. Time, though, ticking away to find the vanished jetliner's flight data recorder. The batteries in the so-called black box will only be active for about another six days, meaning that unless it is found soon, we may never know what happened on board.

We have live coverage of every angle this morning, the latest on the investigation into why the plane may have crashed and how frustrated families are dealing with the mounting questions and seemingly no answers.

Good morning, everyone. Five a.m. in the East. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christine Romans. It's Monday, March 31st.

And the search for flight 370 ramping up, the clock ticking down on the remaining battery life of the plane's black box recorders. It's estimated they will ping for 30 days, and time is running out. This disappearance was March 8th. Ten aircraft, 10 ships will be scouring the search zone in the Indian Ocean today west of Australia, looking for any sign of the flight -- a big blow this morning, big setback this morning.

Australian officials now say four orange objects spotted Sunday, thought to be a compelling lead. Those four objects are not from the plane. They are fishing junk. This morning an Australian vessel, the Ocean Shield, will make its way to the search area, carrying a high- tech U.S. Navy pinger detector. It can scan under water for the plane's data boxes.

CNN's Paula Newton joins us now. She's live in Perth, Australia.

Certainly, those four pieces, the pieces of orange debris, thought to be a good lead, now an empty lead. Searchers frustrated here.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And you know when we talk to them when they get off those planes, Christine, they are excited when they see those objects. They look different than other things over the last several days and they think, yes, maybe, finally, this is it.

Still, the prime minister of Australia trying to put all of this in perspective today, saying, look, this search will be long, it will be extensive, and he wanted to make sure the world knew that he was ramping up the search at this point.

I want you to listen now to Tony Abbott, the prime minister of Australia.


TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: We are searching a vast area of the Indian Ocean. This is a very, very difficult task. It's far more difficult than the search for the Air France aircraft in the Atlantic Ocean a few years ago, because we had very precise information as to where that aircraft had come down.

We've just got very general information about where this aircraft has come down. But nevertheless, we are giving it the very best shot we can. And if anyone can find this aircraft, it's us.


NEWTON: He's also saying, in fact, that, look, if this mystery is solvable, we will solve it. The problem with that line, Christine, is that he's already starting to put doubts in people's minds to say, will this remain a mystery for months, for years to come? And you can certainly see with the relatives of those missing, they are really distraught and really at the end of their rope still.

ROMANS: That's right. If this is solvable, we will solve it. Paula Newton, thank you.

BERMAN: In the meantime, some experts are questioning whether search crews are even looking in the right place.

Colleen Keller, who helped locate an Air France flight in the Atlantic Ocean, suggests a return to the old search zone if nothing's found soon.


COLLEEN KELLER: Right now, it looks like they're chasing a very hot clue that puts them in this northern area, but they're coming up empty, which is lending credence to the fact that maybe it's not the right place to be looking. So, it might be that after a couple more days, we should be looking back south, because we did see satellite pictures of large numbers of drifting stuff in the ocean. So, they should be keeping track of all their evidence and all their clues and where they've looked to date and be looking at, OK, where's the next best place to look tomorrow?


BERMAN: We're also learning more about the Malaysian government reaching out to the CIA and its counterparts in Britain and China in the Flight 370 investigation. They want to take a deeper look again at the passengers and crew. It is fueling new speculation about what may have happened to the jetliner. So, let's go to CNN's Jim Clancy in Kuala Lumpur. He's been following the investigation really from the very beginning.

Jim, what's new this morning?

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, the theory that a hijacking might have been involved, that terrorism might have been involved, has never gone away. It has remained on the table throughout the -- well, we're going into the fourth week of this investigation. And the only real lead that they have is the passenger list, the passenger manifest, the crew list. And they have asked that intelligence agencies around the world go through that list one more time and to check it out.

Now, this may be the third, may be the fourth time that this has been done by other agencies. Now they're taking it a step higher with so little to go on, with so few actual facts. And with time running out, as you've well noted, they feel that they must re-examine every piece of evidence that they have, to be 100 percent sure. They can't accept that they could make a mistake here that would mislead them somewhere down the road.

Back to you, John.

BERMAN: All right, our Jim Clancy in Kuala Lumpur, where so many families now are still waiting for answers.

ROMANS: And so many of those families are agonizing. This wait has been agonizing for any word on their loved ones, and that wait goes on. CNN's Paula Hancocks spoke with the husband of a flight attendant who told her just how difficult it is to answer questions from his children.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I even promised them I'm going to bring her home, but I really don't know where she is now. And now, I'm not sure whether I could bring her home. Of course, I'm still hoping for God's miracles, but just like what we want is the reality, the true story.


ROMANS: His wife was just going to work, just doing her job. The majority of those on board the flight are from China, those relatives demanding more information about the flight and the search. They want more information from the airline. It's something we've heard from them now entering our fourth week.

CNN's Pauline Chiou live in Beijing.

The sound of that man so worried about his wife and what to tell his children just breaks my heart.

PAULINE CHIOU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and also, you have to keep in mind, here in China, Christine, there's a one-child policy, so this is another poignant angle to this from a cultural angle. So, there are many sons and daughters on that flight that were the only children of families here.

Now, 154 Chinese citizens are on that flight. Christine, it is so difficult. We're going into the 24th day of this search. And behind me now, a technical briefing is going on. It's been going on for about an hour and a half. Relatives are asking Malaysian officials for the maintenance and repair records of the Boeing 777. The officials are saying, no, we cannot give that to you because there's an ongoing criminal investigation.

Lots of questions also about the emergency beacons on this aircraft. There are four emergency beacons. Now, they are supposed to send off signals if the aircraft makes impact, and officials have acknowledged to this day they still have not received any signals from those emergency beacons, and they say we still don't know why.

So, these are some of the very technical issues that are being discussed now, and Christine, in the last hour, we were talking about how these relatives are getting so good at these questions. They've researched this back and forth, and they know these issues. They're like investigators, and they're really pushing these teams hard. Yesterday they asked a lot of questions about these beacons.

Today the team came back and said, OK, we have your answers. We do know that three of them cannot be turned off manually. One of them can.

So, they're starting to get answers to some of these very technical issues -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Thank you so much, Pauline Chiou, for that this morning in Beijing.

BERMAN: One of the biggest obstacles in the search for Flight 370 for the last three weeks has been the weather off the coast of Australia. The question is, what's coming next? Will the weather help or hurt?

Our Indra Petersons is here with that.

Good morning, Indra.

ROMANS: Good morning.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning. So key to know what's going on in the air as well, of course on the water itself.

I want to take you back to the basics and talk about the pinger. A lot of people still confused. We're talking about the commercial aircraft pinger.

Let's talk about how they're hoping to find this. You're going to see a boat go by and it's going to look for the pinger at the right frequency, kind of acts like a microphone, searching at that exact frequency, going by just at several knots. Notice that locator only goes up to about 20,000 feet.

This is key because we need to talk about what that terrain is like underneath the water there, and not all of that terrain is at that 20,000-feet level. You're talking about some of these depths being about three to four miles or deeper. So, that's one of the concerns.

The bulk of the terrain, of course, can be covered by 20,000 feet, but there are going to be some regions they still can't even locate with that method. Now, let's talk about what's going on in the air itself. You can actually see a system has been kind of pushing through the region, still looking over the next several days for another system to be out there.

The key is -- this is not a major system, but just enough that at times the weather can be tricky here or there. One of the things we're going to be watching, of course, is going to be the winds. The bulk of the stronger winds just south of the search area, but periodically, we could see the winds pick up to about 10, 20 miles per hour to about 30 or 40.

Again, very periodically, the weather should be on the generally calmer side, but we are going to see some areas of stormy conditions, so visibilities at times can be poor. But generally speaking, the next couple days, kind of a little bit of a mixed bag, guys.

BERMAN: Yes, the search -- you hear them talking about chop, the white caps on the ocean, so wind does churn up the seas.

PETERSONS: Absolutely, unfortunately.

ROMANS: Thanks, Indra.

BERMAN: Thank you so much.

And we're going to bring you the latest on the search for Malaysia Flight 370 in a moment.

But first, another major story developing right now. Fear in Ukraine. Is Russia gearing up for an invasion? Russian troops building their mass at the border. Diplomatic talks with the U.S. to find a solution in the region seem to be breaking down.

We do have breaking news this morning as well. Russia's prime minister is in Crimea. Provocative actions. We're live with the very latest, coming up next.


ROMANS: Breaking news. Point-counter point on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea and South Korea exchanging artillery fire overnight. The North apparently triggered the confrontation, sending shells into South Korean waters during military exercises, and the south responded in kind -- the escalation of tensions there on the border.

BERMAN: And from one world hotspot to another, the crisis in Ukraine. Secretary of State John Kerry says both the U.S. and Russia agree that a diplomatic solution is needed for Ukraine, but getting there a completely different story. Talks Sunday between Kerry and his Russian counterpart failed to produce a breakthrough, failed to produce much progress of any kind. Kerry says the Russian troop build-up along the Ukrainian border is creating a climate of intimidation.

CNN's Karl Penhaul is live near that border, standing in a fascinating area.

Karl, tell us what's happening.

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, John, also right now we're just getting news that Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has gone to Crimea. That's the region that Russia invaded and annexed from Ukraine a few weeks ago, and that with John Kerry hardly back in Washington yet. That is why people in this corner of northeast Ukraine, where we are now really say they can't take the Russians' word seriously when they say, hey, we don't want to come here and invade.

So, that's why the Ukrainian army in outposts like this is really getting ready for war. We're at a supply, logistics, and also medevac field hospital here. You don't put those kinds of things together unless you think the Russians are really going to come rolling in. So, the preparations for war here really are palpable.

In the surrounding area here -- and we can't show you for security reasons -- there are armored personnel carriers dug in, there are also T-80 tanks dug in there as well, really a sign that the Ukrainian military is trying to prepare for some kind of tank battle with the Russians in these potato fields and forests.

But then take a look at the civilian population. They're not standing idly by either. They know that they have to do their part, especially since their military didn't do too well back in Crimea. So, what the civilians have been doing is breaking down into these small self- defense committees, and they say if the Russians invade that they will break down and fight a guerrilla-style war in the swamplands and forests against the Russians.

Now, yesterday, after Sunday mass at a church just up there on the border, which is only about ten miles away, we saw a priest there preaching to his flock. His message was pretty much the same. It wasn't turn the other cheek if the Russians come rolling in, it was we must stand and fight and defend our homeland. And he said to his flock, if there are any problems, believe you me, I'll be front and center fighting alongside.

So, very much the Ukrainians, both the military and the civilian population in this region, defiant, and they say they will resist any attempt by Moscow to invade, John.

BERMAN: Karl Penhaul, such a telling report and so ominous where you are standing right now, in a field hospital on the Ukrainian/Russian border. Clearly, Ukrainians fearing the worst.

Thank you so much, Karl.

ROMANS: All right. Last call for Obamacare, as open enrollment comes to a close today. The White House now calling the troubled program a success, touting 6 million enrollees last week and another 2 million visitors to this week. Critics, including --

BERMAN: Wyoming.

ROMANS: Wyoming, right, say that many hurdles remain, and some suggest the administration's cooking the books, particularly coming from senator John Barrasso. He's making that claim.

The final tally could take weeks to determine. Those who fail to get any coverage face a fine of up to 1 percent of their income. That fine will go higher over the next three years. \

BERMAN: More troubling questions this morning for General Motors. A parts supplier now says the company accepted ignition switches in 2002 knowing full well they did not meet specifications. Two-point-two million vehicles have now been recalled. The defect linked to 13 deaths and 31 crashes. Congress is investigating why it took G.M. more than a decade to act and why federal regulators device declined to step in.

CEO Mary Barra testifies before Congress in what will be a highly, highly watched session on Tuesday.

ROMANS: The death toll in the Oso, Washington, landslide keeps rising. There are 21 confirmed deaths now. 30 people still missing or unaccounted for.

This weekend, Brenda Neal got the news she hoped wouldn't come about her missing husband.


BRENDA NEAL: And they said they found out, they recovered his body yesterday and they've identified him. So, of course, we melted. I dropped the phone and I screamed a little bit. And that -- but you know, somewhere inside, we knew it was going to be -- it was very likely thing, but we had been holding on to not feeling that he's gone.


ROMANS: Officials say search crews still haven't given up hope they'll find survivors in this massive mud and debris.

Well, stocks kick off the week on a high note. Futures are higher here, pointing to a higher open at the opening bell. It's the last day of the quarter, folks, so looking to maybe end on a high note. One sector to watch today, health care. It's been a lackluster year so far for stocks.

The S&P is up just 0.5 percent, health care stocks, though, up more than 4 percent. Yes, that's right, health care stocks up 4 percent. Why?


ROMANS: Obamacare.

We just told you the sign-up deadline is today and investors are betting more Americans will spend more on health care now that more people will be covered and now that the coverage is mandatory. The health care sector has long been seen as a safe place for investor to put their money because the older we get, the more health care we need, even during market downturns.

But now investors are saying that riskier start-up health stocks, they like those as well, so called bio techs. Those are companies doing genetic engineering, to cell technologies, so there's a lot of interest in this area right now.

For the year, you've got the S&P I think up half a percentage point. The Dow is down 1.5 percent, after a great year last year. Basically, the first quarter was, eh.

BERMAN: Yes, that's not so bad. That's better than going down at this point.

ROMANS: They say holding the game.

BERMAN: That's what I'm saying if that's what you're saying. I say what you say.

All right, about 20 minutes after the hour right now.

Just how mad is March Madness? Well, it doesn't end until April. The final four matchups are now set. Kentucky, this was sick. That is Aaron Harrison. I can't say his name because he is just so awesome. He hit a shot with about two seconds left to send Kentucky to the final four, beating Michigan 75-72. For the Wildcats, this is their third Final Four appearance in the last four years. John Calipari knows how to put them together.

Can't keep them there for more than a year or two, but you can put them together.

So, on Saturday, the top overall seed Florida will take on the Big East's UConn. Of course, there is no Big East anymore. It's an inside joke.

Kentucky battles Wisconsin in the other matchup. Winners meet in the championship game next Monday night. Some amazing games over the weekend.


BERMAN: UConn beat Iowa State, the Cyclones.

ROMANS: They did. It was a fantastic game. They played it well and deserved it.

All right. Back to our top story, the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Time running out to find the plane's flight data recorder. Right now, a ship with the only black box detector on that ship about to launch. We're back with the problems facing these search crews, next.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone.

An Australian warship will soon be heading out to the Flight 370 search zone, carrying a U.S. Navy listening device capable of detecting the pings from the jetliner's black box recorder from great distances, probably not great enough, though.

CNN's Will Ripley is tracking all of this for us. He's live off of Garden Island in western Australia, not far from where that ship is heading out right now.

What's the latest, Will?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the latest that we just learned within the past 30 minutes, John, is that the departure has now been pushed back to 7:30 local time. So, we've seen the departure of time pushed back a couple of times throughout the day. It was 6:00, now 7:30. We know there's a 30-member crew on board.

They're trying to make sure all the equipment, all the high-tech tools are ready to go. In addition to the pinger locator and the underwater drone that can detect debris, there are also three highly trained experts on board. There is a marine investigator who will be tasked with overseeing the search for any potential debris that's spotted. There is also a flight data specialist, somebody who can analyze the information that would be contained in the cockpit voice recorder and the in-flight data recorder.

In addition to that, there is also a specialist who will be able to look at broken pieces of metal and try to figure out exactly what happened to the plane, if, indeed, they do find any trace of it, which so far, we haven't. There's a lot of challenges facing this vessel as they head out of here. We talked to the captain of the boat that we're on about the conditions in the search area.


CAPTAIN RAY RUBY, CHARTER BOAT CAPTAIN: Some days it's really calm, but other days it's absolutely wild. That's why the air force can't fly sometimes and the visibility with the rain and that, you can't, just can't see anything. And if there's anything in the water, everything just looks white because the wind just whips the top off the water and everything is white.


RIPLEY: So, of course, with all these high-tech tools, what you need is a more narrow search area. But right now we still have a search area the size of Poland, John. So, the plan is to get this ship in place and then, hopefully, get an idea where this plane might be and put those high-tech tools into action.

BERMAN: Yes, not narrow at all, the search area. They're very much betting on hope with this mission that you're right on top of right now with that ship about to launch behind you.

Will Ripley off the coast of Western Australia -- thank you so much.

ROMANS: We'll have all of the new developments for you in this morning's search for this jet. A live update from Malaysia's government is expected in about four minutes. We're going to bring you that live, right after the break.