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"Good Night Malaysian Three Seven Zero"; Poor Communication Between Countries Hampering Search; Some Reports Putin Ordered Withdrawal of Troops from Ukrainian Border

Aired April 1, 2014 - 04:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news overnight: the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 intensifying, the mystery of its disappearance widening. A new report this morning claiming that poor communication could have wasted days in the effort to find the vanished jetliner and new information now about the last words from the cockpit. Who said them and how even this information keeps changing.

We cover all the angles and all the twists and turns as they unfold this morning.

Good morning, everyone. Great to see you today. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. It is Tuesday, April 1st, 4:00 a.m. here on the East Coast.

We're getting an early start, because there are some very important, new details to tell you about in the development in that search for Flight 370. A Malaysian government source telling CNN investigators are convinced someone in the cockpit or on board the plane is responsible for that sudden turn off course. They consider the disappearance of Flight 370 a criminal act. And with that explanation, they're altering the official version of the final sign- off from the jetliner's cockpit.

Jim Clancy is live in Kuala Lumpur for us this morning.

And, Jim, we understand you just obtained a transcript of the final communication. What does it show you?

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is the full transcript between the tower and Flight MH370. In it, you hear all of the things that are going on between the pilots on board the aircraft, air traffic control, ground control, the Kuala Lumpur tower, as this flight proceeds. It carries through, you know, from the time that they say that they want to take off, cleared for takeoff at 12:40 and 38 seconds, 370 32r, 32 right, cleared for takeoff, goodnight. And then Malaysian airlines said, "Cleared for takeoff, Malaysia 370, thank you, bye."

The final transmission comes at 1:19.29, and the transcript from -- this is from Malaysia airlines flight 370's cockpit, says "Goodnight Malaysian 370." This came to us via senior government source, highly credible.

I'm not an expert in aviation. We're going to have some pilots take a look at this. But I can tell you, as I went down through this three, four times and read everything, Poppy and John, what stands out to me is how routine it is. There is nothing that appears amiss in this at all.

But it does clear up a lot of the questions, I think. It gives us one of the few really hard facts that remains, one of the few things that is known about this flight. And what was going on in the cockpit, what was going on in the conversation with the tower just before it disappeared.

Back to you.

HARLOW: Well, and that confirming those final words were not, as Malaysian authorities said weeks ago, "All right, good night."

Jim, also, the head of the International Air Travel Association or IATA, is in Kuala Lumpur and had some interesting things to say. What did he say?

CLANCY: This meeting was already scheduled, I believe. It's an operations meeting, if you want to call it that, call it that, an ops meeting that brings together industry experts, executives, airline executives, brings together people that are interested in aviation.

And Tony Tyler, the director general of IATA, said that two things really stand out.

Number one, they have to get a grip, the countries have to get a grip on controlling the passengers who board flights, that the two stolen passports just point out the problems that people have in confidence with their security. They have databases available. They have to see that all countries are using those databases to help insure safety aboard flights. Even if those two people, those two individuals who are Iranians, believed to be trying to emigrate to Europe, even if they had nothing to do with the disappearance of the flight, that's a problem.

Number two -- and I think this stands out in everyone's minds -- they have to implement a way to track planes. The reason that we've got everyone down scouring the southern reaches of the Indian Ocean is because we have no real idea, no real evidence of where this plane went down. That shouldn't happen today in an age where we track packages.

HARLOW: Right, everything.

CLANCY: We track vehicles, we even track pets.

HARLOW: Right. Absolutely. Appreciate the reporting -- appreciate the reporting this morning and telling us more about what is in that transcript from what was communicated between the plane and the tower. Thank you, Jim.

BERMAN: Yes, that's a new development. We've all been waiting for that transcript.

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: It's in Jim Clancy's hands this morning. We'll get back to that in a little bit as Jim pores over the details.

Meanwhile, it has been one dead end after another in the search for Flight 370. This is the latest. Three days wasted. That is according to a new report.

"The Wall Street Journal" says search teams were looking in the wrong place in the southern Indian Ocean for 72 hours because of poor coordination, saying the two separate teams were analyzing different data to calculate the plane's trajectory, one looking at radar data, the other looking at satellite data. They didn't get together. Remember, they changed the search area, about 700 miles. It's been 25 days since Flight 370 vanished. The search at sea is turning up plenty of debris, but none of it so far can be connected to the missing jetliner.

Let's get the latest on this search from Atika Shubert. She's been manning the situation for us from Perth, Australia, near the air base.

Atika, what's the latest this morning?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they've got 12 planes up in the air searching that area, an area the size of Ireland. That's according to the new coordinator, chief air marshal, Angus Houston, who held a press conference earlier today.

And he was very clear that this is not something that's going to be wrapped up quickly, even if they find debris soon. This is something that's going to take weeks, if not longer, he said, to go through. So, some tough words today.

Take a listen to what Mick -- to the deputy CEO of the Australian Maritime Safety situation said, Mick Kinley. He basically put into perspective what we're looking at in this search.


MICK KINLEY, AUSTRALIAN DEPUTY CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER FOR AMSA: Currently, we believe we're looking in the place that gives us the best probability of success. As that information is refined we may move that effort, but currently, that's where we are. We have by no means exhausted that search area yet, and we will continue to make every effort we can to give the people who are flying the best probability we can.


SHUBERT: Reading between the lines there, they're basically saying they're doing the best they can, but the bottom line is, they don't even know whether or not they're looking in the right place, John.

BERMAN: Best they can, Atika. As they keep on searching, they keep turning up debris, which causes some hope, but it keeps turning up to be junk from fishing vessels and the like, causing a lot of frustration, as you've been reporting. Our Atika Shubert in Perth, Australia -- thanks very much.

HARLOW: Well, for the families of the 239 people on board Flight 370, more heartache, more frustration, more confusion, frankly. Debris sightings in the Indian ocean raising their hopes and then dashing them. Their distrust of the Malaysian government mounting by the hour. Now they're preparing legal action.

David McKenzie joins us from Beijing this morning.

David, you have been with these families throughout, and throughout from hope to despair. Tell me what the latest is in terms of the potential legal action they could take here, because I know there was a major development late last night.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Poppy. You know, there are a number of law firms that have representatives at that hotel where hundreds of family members have been held up for these weeks, trying to find out anything about their loved ones.

And as is always the case in an airline crash like this, you know, the legal options start to mount. And at this stage, those legal options could be potentially severe for the manufacturers, but we don't know until, of course, they conduct an investigation. I spoke to the head of litigation at Ribbeck Law.

Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have to believe it crashed. Although the minister of defense said we believe it crashed, we still need to know for sure that it crashed. Even finding a small piece of the plane, a cushion, a window, will help us in our legal case.


MCKENZIE: Well, certainly, no lawsuit can proceed until they find some debris. And as you say, a major development in this, that law firm, Ribbeck Law, which filed a petition to get information from both Boeing and Malaysian airlines from a circuit court in Chicago, they had that petition thrown out. The judge said it was not valid.

The law firm says they will appeal that ruling, but will certainly try to push through with the lawsuit in this case, has very real implications, of course, in aviation law if they push through for the families as well. But every family member I've spoken to say it's not about the money, it's about having some kind of closure about their loved ones.

HARLOW: And I'm wondering, David, if you've gotten any reaction from the family members yet to the fact that we know now from the transcript that the final words out of the cockpit were different than Malaysian authorities originally said, not significantly different, but still different. And in this investigation, any fact we can get our hands on is key. Are they reacted to that or the "Wall Street Journal" report that days were really wasted because of a lack of communication in terms of where that key search area should be?

MCKENZIE: Many of the family members have already accused Malaysian airlines of delaying the investigation and not giving the right amount of information. They have not yet received a transcript from the airline representatives. In a meeting that is ongoing right as we speak.

So, we will see if they get that transcript that Jim was reporting about. And certainly, it would fit with their overall anger and frustration in this case, that as they have tried to figure out what happened to those on board, they have repeatedly pointing the finger at the airlines and at the government, and so has the Chinese government, for that matter. But certainly, the Malaysian airlines say they're doing everything they can to provide information to these families.

So, you know, all in all, as these weeks drag out, it's certainly a very messy situation for everyone involved.

HARLOW: Absolutely.


HARLOW: Thank you, David. Appreciate it.

BERMAN: Again, the breaking news as you just mentioned with David McKenzie, CNN just obtaining the transcript of the final conversation between the cockpit of Flight 370 and air traffic control. Our Jim Clancy in Kuala Lumpur has that transcript. We're going over it right now, trying to figure out if there are any details in there that we did not know before.

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: We'll be following all the latest news on the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 all morning.

But first, Ukraine expected to get big support today from the United States. Congress voting on millions of dollars of aid, also punishment for Russia. We're live in Moscow with reaction right after the break.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. The search for Flight 370 intensifying in the Indian ocean. No sign yet of the missing jetliner.

A report in the "Wall Street Journal" heightening the frustration. It says that search crews spent three days looking for Flight 370 in the wrong place because of poor communication between countries. And now the Malaysian government is backtracking on what they say took place in the final transmission from the cockpit. Instead of "all right, goodnight," authorities now say that the pilot or co-pilot actually signed off by saying "Good night Malaysian 370."

Now, we also just learned of the new transcript. We actually have our hands on it now. Jim Clancy in Kuala Lumpur has a transcript of the full final conversation. We will break that down for you in a little bit, still poring over that. Again, that just in.

Meanwhile, 20 planes and ships searching for any sign of Flight 370 off the coast of Australia, still coming up empty.

HARLOW: Now to the developments unfolding in Ukraine. Here in Washington, the House is finally expected to pass a measure today providing to Ukraine aid and also those tighter sanctions on Russia. And now, there are reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered some of his troops along the Ukraine border to withdraw. At least that is what he told German Chancellor Angela Merkel on a phone call.

Let's go to Phil Black live in Moscow for us this morning.

So, what do we know from that phone call between the two leaders?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's the interesting thing, Poppy, we're not hearing about this from the Kremlin, we're hearing about it from Germany, where the government there says it was a phone call between Putin and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, in which Putin said he had ordered a partial withdrawal of forces from the Ukrainian border.

Now, what does that mean? How many soldiers?

Well, so far, the Russian government has confirmed that only one motorized infantry battalion has finished what it calls exercises near the border and has returned to its home base. One battalion, that's only hundreds of soldiers. That's compared to the tens of thousands that NATO believes are still lined up across the Ukrainian border, standing there at a very high state of readiness.

Now, it's likely we'll hear more about NATO's assessment today as foreign ministers from the alliance get together in Brussels to decide the next step in dealing with this crisis, Poppy.

HARLOW: Phil Black, appreciate the reporting this morning. We'll get back to you later in the show. Thank you.

BERMAN: Some other news we're covering, developing this morning, Obamacare open enrollment officially over. For some people it was deja vu all over again as they were scrambling to get in under the deadline wire. Well, over 1 million people flooded the site Monday, many running into glitches that may have been reminiscent of the rollout last fall, although the glitches nothing compared to the ones last fall. Those thwarted yesterday will get an extension. Now the administration says sign-ups could reach one of their early goals of 7 million. The final tally not expected for some time.

HARLOW: Meantime, new General Motors CEO Mary Barra testifies before the House today on why it took the company a decade to recall some 2.2 million vehicles due to faulty ignition switches, 13 deaths and 31 crashes have been linked to that defect.

Meanwhile, G.M. is recalling 1.3 million more vehicles. This just happened yesterday, for a sudden loss of power steering. That brings G.M.'s total recalled vehicles to nearly 7 million for the year for various issues.

BERMAN: And more importantly, you will be covering this hearing in Washington later today.

ROMANS: We will.

BERMAN: Long day for Poppy Harlow.

Also in Washington today, a closed-door meeting between lawmakers and Secret Service Director Julia Pierson. Last week, three agents were sent home from the president's overseas trip after one of the agents was found out -- was found passed out drunk. That follows a car crash during a detail last month and, of course, the 2012 scandal involving agents and sex workers in Colombia. The meeting today will reassess reforms put in place after that incident.

HARLOW: And a plea from the governor of Washington state as the death toll from that tragic landslide rises. There are now 24 confirmed deaths with 22 people still missing or unaccounted for. On Monday, Governor Jay Inslee asked the president for a major disaster declaration to bring more resources to that state to help. The estimated financial costs have reached tens of millions of dollars. The number of dead is expected to climb.

BERMAN: All right, happening now, ships and aircraft searching the wreckage -- for the wreckage of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. We're live with the conditions that crews are dealing with right now, right after the break.


HARLOW: Welcome back to EARLY START.

At this hour, an Australian ship carrying a U.S. navy pinger locator is churning toward the Flight 370 search zone in the Indian Ocean. It is expected to arrive some time Thursday, ready to attempt to find the jetliner's black box, if, indeed, it is even in that area.

Let's bring in Will Ripley. He is off the coast of Fremantle, Australia, this morning.

Will, what can you tell us? I mean, I know you were even further offshore and the weather was very intense, but the captain told you this is pretty good. It gives you a sense of the conditions, right?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, yes. Can you believe this is a clear day? And we are in a very, very calm area right now, relatively close up to Fremantle here, and you can still see that the boat is bobbing around. You have to kind of watch your footing a little bit. When we headed about 12 miles out, which is just a small fraction of how far the Ocean Shield is right now, because they've been sailing for about 20 hours, about a third of the way to the search zone, but just 12 miles out on a clear, calm day, take a look at how the captain described the weather conditions that we were feeling.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel sorry for the guys on the Shield heading out to the wreck zone, because we're at idle. We're running along about 5 knots. Those guys are punching upwards of 15 knots, so every wave is straight over the top.

RIPLEY: Even for a large ship like the Ocean Shield."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Large ship, it will just be over the top at three times the speed we're doing.


RIPLEY: You know, we had to hold on to the side of the boat just to make sure that we didn't tip over, and what just kept striking me is these are good conditions. The conditions out there much worse when you have waves several stories high, higher than most buildings. You might have a ship relatively close to you that you can see one minute, can't see the next.

Nonetheless, the Ocean Shield making good progress, expected to arrive in the search zone, we are told by the Australian defense force, either late Thursday evening, or by the latest, on Friday, Poppy.

HARLOW: And they made that decision to send the pinger locator out there, even if they don't have any idea if this is the correct search zone, but they're going to do the best they can. Give us a sense of how challenging it is, will, because I know I had heard some fact like it can only go sort of 3 miles an hour and only cover about 150- square-mile area in about an hour's time, or in a day's time, is that correct?

RIPLEY: You're absolutely correct.

HARLOW: In a day's time?

RIPLEY: Yes. Yes, absolutely right. You know, this is what's interesting about this technology. A lot of people are pinning so much hope on the Ocean Shield because it has these two high-tech tools. The underwater microphone can detect the ping from a data recorder. And it has an underwater drone that can scan the ocean floor.

But as great as this technology is, it needs to work within a more narrow search area, and the hope was that we by now would have identified where this jetliner wreckage is, and really, we just don't have a clue at this point because everything that's been recovered, examined on board the ships that are out there right now hasn't been connected to the flight.

And so, for example, the microphone has a one-mile radius. It can hear the ping within one mile. When you have a search zone the size of Poland, well over 100,000 square miles, think of the chances of being one mile away from the data recorder.

HARLOW: Right.

RIPLEY: They're not very good.

HARLOW: Yes, absolutely. Many odds against them, but we're wishing them the best out there. Appreciate it this morning. Thanks, Will.

BERMAN: All right, we do have breaking news in the search for Flight 370.

HARLOW: We do.

BERMAN: Moments ago, CNN obtained the transcript of what was said from the cockpit of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, between the cockpit and air traffic control, the final words, the final conversation. Our Jim Clancy poring over it right now, and we'll have a live report right after the break.