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Korean Ferry Now Entirely Under Water; South Korean Families Wait and Worry for Ferry Survivors; Survivors Guilt; Lessons Learned from Flight 370 Search

Aired April 18, 2014 - 12:00   ET



DON LEMON, CNN HOST (voice-over): Divers battling darkness and dangerous currents manage to get inside that sunken ferry. We've just learned that divers got closer than they've ever been to the deck where they believe that most of the passengers are trapped.

Four thousand miles away, the search for Flight 370 now six weeks old and counting. All hope now rests with a single robotic sub scouring the boundless depths for a fifth day without a single sighting.

Is it time to call in the reinforcements?

And tragedy at the top of the world. A massive avalanche kills at least a dozen Sherpa guides. More are missing. The deadliest day ever on Mt. Everest. CNN has it covered like nobody else can. We're going to take you around the world right now. So let's get going, everyone.


LEMON: Hello, I'm Don Lemon in today for Ashleigh Banfield. It is Friday, April 18th. Welcome to LEGAL VIEW.

We have some breaking news for you now. From the cold waters off the South Korean coast, there's nothing left to see sticking out of that water. In the past few hours, the very last part of that overturned ferry slipped under the surface; floating buoys now mark where the ship disappeared from sight.

And here's the newest development: divers believe they know where the trapped passengers are located on the ferry and they are closer than they have ever been to them.

Now, the Korean coast guard says that most of the schoolchildren and adults were on a level of the ship that holds most of the passenger cabins. Divers today got very close to that level -- and when I say very close, they said they were literally right outside that level. But the divers had to end their search for the end of the day before getting to the passenger cabins.

Now here's what we know right now. More than 270 high school students and adults are still inside the ferry, more than two full days since something happened to cause that ship to sink.

Family members on the shore can only watch and pray and become more anguished as the rescue work continues with no good news.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "He left saying, 'Dad, I'll be back,'" he says, "now he's in the sea.

"Please help my baby, my baby is crying with fear in the sea. Please save my baby. All of his friends are there. All his school friends."

"I want to jump in the sea, she says, thinking about my child in the sea. How can I as a parent eat or drink? I hate myself for this."

LEMON (voice-over): And then there is a captain, who did manage to get off the sinking ferry, unlike hundreds of people he was responsible for. South Korean prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for him and two other crew members. They say the captain was not at the controls when the ferry started to go down.


LEMON: And there's another layer to the tragedy and heartbreak in South Korea. One of the adults rescued from the sinking ship was the vice principal of the high school. His body was found this morning near the place where parents are waiting for news. He apparently committed suicide.


LEMON (voice-over): I want you to look at this video, it's shot by one of the rescued passengers in the minutes before the ship flipped over, people holding on for dear life and walking the bulkheads when down -- when down turned to up.

Now we have now heard the radio communication between the bridge of the ferry and the controllers on land. Take a close listen to this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): Please notify the coast guard. Our ship is in danger. The ship is rolling right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): Where is your ship?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): Please hurry. Absolutely hurry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): Yes, OK, we will contact you. This is group 12.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): Ship rolled over a lot right now. Cannot move. Please come quickly.

We're next to Byeongpung Island, Byeongpung Island.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): Yes, understood.


LEMON: I want to bring in some people now. Captain Jim Staples is here, he is a 20-year master mariner with the Merchant Marines and he knows those South Korean waters very well.

Also Bobbie Scholley; she's a retired U.S. Navy captain and former Navy salvage diver.

And our very own legal analyst Paul Callan here. There's a million legal questions to consider in this investigation, in this story as well.

First to you, Captain Staples, how does that radio communications sit with you?

It sounds like the control center was telling the ferry to get passengers ready to evacuate.

CAPT. JIM STAPLES, MASTER MARINER: Yes, again, it's very similar to what we saw with Captain Toshino (ph), the first order of business was evacuate the passengers as quickly as possible.

But it sounded like the crew of the ship might have been carrying on a couple different conversations with the VTS and with whoever they were talking with, the survivor, the coast guard there.

So sounds like there was a lot of confusion but, again, we do see that the coast guard is telling them to get ready to evacuate those passengers, get the life jackets on and prepare to get them off that ship.

LEMON: You know, we learned today that the captain was not in the steering room when the ship started to sink; the third officer was actually there.

How common is it for the captain to leave the helm?

And what should have been in his course of action when the ship was in trouble, Captain?

STAPLES: Well, generally the captain isn't at the helm all the time. The captain's generally not at the helm. You have a helmsman who is physically steering the vessel. Then what we have is what they call a watch officer.

At this time, it seemed to be the third mate who was on; he's typically the guy that's involved with all the safety operations of the vessel. You have a second mate also who does mostly the navigation.

And then you have the chief mate officer. They cover the span of the 24 hours, standing a bridge watch with the watch team, being that the helmsman, the captain oversees all the management of the vessel.

Not only is he seeing that the watch is being conducted properly but he's making sure that all the engine order commands are being done, that the steward services are being done and that the vessel is on its -- maintaining its course and doing what it's supposed to do during its daily routine.

So the captain has a lot of different jobs. But he's not physically standing there steering the vessel, as most people seem to think. He's not at the helm, say as the captain of an airliner, who would be sitting at the command.

He's generally going about the vessel doing his daily business but he's overseeing all the operation of the vessel. He is the one who makes all the command decisions.

It sounds like he was not on the bridge at this time when the incident happened. So when he arrived at the bridge, he probably found, it seems to be, a very chaotic situation.


LEMON: But, Captain, he's ultimately responsible, though, even though he wasn't there, he's ultimately responsible, right, because he is the captain.

STAPLES: Oh, absolutely, the authority is always with him. The responsibility's always on his shoulders. He's never relieved of that responsibility at all.

LEMON: OK. I want to go to Captain Scholley now.

With the information that we have just learned about the divers getting really close to where they believe most of the passengers were, especially those high school students, that level, where do you believe -- where they believe the children are located.

But, you know, they had to turn around because of the conditions in the water today. Talk to us about the current conditions under which the divers are working.

CAPT. BOBBIE SCHOLLEY, U.S. NAVY (RET.): You know, Don this is one of the hardest diving and salvage operations you can ever expect to have to deal with. It is very dangerous for the divers. But they have all the right equipment there.

I saw on the pictures they have the surface supply divers with the hard hats and the air hoses that provide them air from the surface. The Korean navy has all the equipment.

As a matter of fact, they operate and exercise with the U.S. Navy, so they're very highly skilled and trained.

And they're putting the divers in with this equipment to protect the divers and give them maximum stay times to get inside that ship and work their way from the bottom up through those dangerous compartments to get inside and look for any survivors.

But they have to be very careful because they do not want to jeopardize either themselves, of course, but they don't want to jeopardize any survivors by trying to rescue them at this point. And then they have all the environmental conditions you know, outside of the ship, that you saw there that --


LEMON: Can we -- can we stop right there? That you talked about, you had environmental conditions, because there's probably some -- a lot of debris in the water.

But stop right there because you said they don't want to make things worse.

So my question to you is, if they do find people alive in air pockets, they've got to very carefully try to get them out because they've been in there for a couple of days.

How do they do it?

SCHOLLEY: Well, if they have survivors in air pockets, remember that ship has gone beneath the surface now. So those survivors have been pressurized. So it's like a diver who's been under the water in a pressurized compartment. So gas has gone into their tissues and so they have been pressurized.

So they need to be decompressed. They can do that once they bring them to the surface in a recompression chamber. And of course, the Koreans need to make sure they have the recompression chamber set up. That's not life-threatening. They still need to get those survivors out of that cold environment and get them out of there before the ship sinks.

LEMON: Thank you. Very well explained, Captain Bobbie Scholley.

I want to go to Paul Callan now and I want to talk about the legal challenges here. Arrest warrants have been issued for the captain and two other people on the ship.

He's not supposed to, but is he legally not supposed to leave the ship?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, that's an old tradition that everybody knows. The captain goes down with the ship.


LEMON: Is it just tradition though?

CALLAN: It goes back to the Titanic.

LEMON: Can't the captain save his own life? I'm, you know, just asking. CALLAN: Well, the law says -- the law does not require the captain to remain on board. I mean, it's a heroic image, of course, the captain of the Titanic went down with the ship. But the Costa Concordia, that Italian ship that went down, he got off early.

And what the law says basically is that a captain should remain on the ship but if he's in a better position to supervise rescue operation, he can justify leaving the ship. And that most certainly will be the defense that will be offered by this captain because the ship was listing so badly, remaining on the ship may not have been a viable option.

LEMON: So if the ship is listing that badly, then -- because initially we heard that people were told to stay in place, to shelter in place, so to speak, and wait for rescue crews, but now we know that that wasn't the right call and that was supposedly done by the captain or at least whoever was in charge at the time.

Not the right call. Ultimately they're responsible for that, right?

CALLAN: Yes, they will be. And South Korea --

LEMON: Will they be charged with people's lives, with people losing their lives?

CALLAN: Yes, you could -- there could be a charge of reckless manslaughter arising out of this.

South Korea belongs to something called the IMO, which is the International Maritime Organization, part of the United Nations.

And they set the safety regulations for cruise ships around the world. If there's a violation and it's a reckless violation that caused a loss of human life, this captain and others on the ship could be facing very, very serious charges under Korean law.

LEMON: Oh, my gosh. And this is all just starting to play out.

Let's hope, though, let's hope there are survivors in there.

Wouldn't that be amazing?

CALLAN: It would be an amazing situation. But you know, there may be air pockets and we can just have hope. Yes.

LEMON: Thank you very much.

Thank you, Bobbie.

Thank you, Jim Staples.

And of course our very own Paul Callan here.

LEMON: You know, the survivors and family members waiting to find out what happened to their loved ones, they're going to be going through all kinds of emotions, fear, frustration, even guilt. A look at their struggle coming up.




LEMON: Welcome back. More than 270 passengers of the sunken ferry are missing and their families are worried sick. Several have collapsed. At least two women taken away on stretchers.

Life was so much different only three days ago, and today they pack into a gymnasium, and they can't do anything but wait. Some of them manage to get a little sleep.

CNN's Kyung Lah spoke with some of the families, the grieving mothers and fathers, and their cries will break your heart.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hope slipping away, palpable anger replacing grief as families lashed out at whoever they could, the news media and the government, chanting. "Return them to us," they say.

These families who have been here since the ship went down on Wednesday. Police officers were brought in to control the increasingly volatile crowd. What do you expect of us? says this father, whose teenage son is among the missing.

He left saying, "Dad, I'll be back," he says. Now, he's in the sea."

"Please help my baby. My baby is crying with fear in the sea. Please save my baby. All of his friends are there, all his school friends."

"I want to jump in the sea," she says, "Thinking about my child in the sea, how can I as a parent eat or drink? I hate myself for this."

This couple can't bear to show us their son's picture or even utter his name. They and the other parents watching the live video feed of the rescue and news reports say what they need most is answers.

Why did the ferry capsize? Why were their children initially told to stay put instead of escaping?

Are you feeling that there's still hope for your child?

"My little baby is in the sea, in the dark. I worry he is shivering with fear and with hunger. They need to rescue him fast. I don't know what to do. I just want him back."

A nation's prayers from many faiths fill this port, waiting to be answered.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Jindo, South Korea.

(END VIDEOTAPE) LEMON: And the road ahead for those who did survivor is going to be difficult, to say the least.

At least 174 people were rescued, including the vice principal of the high school who was on board the ferry along with more than 300 students. He was among the first to be rescued, and police say he hanged himself with a belt from a tree near a gymnasium in Jindo where the relatives of the missing passengers have been camping out.

And CNN's senior medical correspondent is Elizabeth Cohen, and she joins us now.

Elizabeth, the guilt and the grief apparently too much for the vice principal to bear. What about the families, though? What are they going through now? It's just unimaginable.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is unimaginable, Don. Not only have they lost a child or they're missing a loved one, we heard that mom. It was so disturbing to hear her say, I hate myself for this.

There's the survivor's guilt that can happen. There's no reason she should hate herself. She didn't do anything. But people still feel it. We heard these -- so many of these stories. The 6-year-old girl whose 7-year-old brother and mother helped her get her life jacket on, and now nobody knows where her brother and her mother are. The woman named Catherine Kim. She encouraged her child to go on the field trip, and the child didn't want to go. And she said go. And now she feels terrible guilt.

And, also, there was this 71-year-old woman who said a young stranger wouldn't give up on her. He tried three times to save her. Here's the woman right here. Three types he tried to pull her out, and he finally succeed on that third time. And she said, it's a shame that so many young people didn't survive when she as an older person did survive.

So, again, it's illogical, the guilt people feel, but it's very, very common for people to feel. I could have done something to save this person, or I could have been in their place when of course that's not true, but people feel it all the same.

LEMON: Yeah, guilt and just really overwhelming grief. You don't think you can get through it when something's just, you know, so close and it just happened.

Elizabeth, thank you very much. We appreciate you speaking to us about that.

Now, to our other top story, we want to talk about the missing plane, the search for this missing plane. The sonar sub looking for it on the bottom of the ocean has plunged even deeper than it's designed to go. A look at how the search is going after a very quick break.


LEMON: We're at the six-week mark in the mystery of Flight 370, and though the search team still believe they're close, the only trace of the Boeing 777 that's detected since the night it disappeared is this.

And guess what. Not even that is 100 percent. Those very faint clicks are believed to have been from the missing plane's flight-data or cockpit-voice recorder, shortly before the batteries and their pingers expired. So this week brought a new phase of the search, the Bluefin autonomous underwater vehicle, now in its fifth deployment to very near the bottom of the southern Indian Ocean, at least we think it is.

We now know on its fourth dive it went deeper than it is designed to go, 2.9 miles beneath the surface. It's using sonar to scan for anything that shouldn't be there, but so far has picked up nothing in a 42-square mile area.

Data from each deployment, well, it takes many hours to download and to analyze, so we wait and we wait and we wait.

Even now, each new fact brings a dozen new questions, and joining me now to talk about this is v.p. of Teledyne Marine Systems, maker of undersea communications gear, is Tom Altshuler. He is in Falmouth, Massachusetts.

Good to see you again, and thank you for guiding us --


LEMON: -- through this, by the way. Does finding nothing mean a wasted trip, or are investigators, are they learning anything useful, Tom?

ALTSHULER: I think they're learning a whole bunch of things. The first is that we're ill-equipped for this type of a disaster. You know, the -- we'll start with the pingers. The pingers on the air frame are really designed to find things in shallow water. Find the black box, not the airplane.

And going down in deep water, we really need some other type of device on the plane, some other type of probably more like a transponder that lasts a long time so that they can search.

It also teaches us a little bit about the search methodology when we're using underwater vehicles or other type of towed systems. So I think there's some learning here, but you wouldn't say that it's a good thing.

LEMON: Yeah, you're right. We're ill-equipped with some of the technology.

And here's -- to add to that, the Malaysians today hinted that if the Bluefin comes up empty again, it may have to get some additional AUVs to go down there. Is that a good idea?

ALTSHULER: It's not a bad idea, but it's not necessarily an easy prospect.

First of all, in the Bluefin-21 and vehicles like this, that are able to go down to 4,500 to 6,000 meters, there aren't very many of them in the world. It's a very specialized technology, so mobilization, even getting the assets there, is going to be a big deal, very costly and very complex.

There's other types of equipment that can be used, too. There are deep-towed sonar systems that might aid in this. But all of that's complex, and so as you start to expand the search area to try to either accelerate the search or expand the overall area covered, it's going to be a hard problem. It just gets more and more complex.

LEMON: OK, here's the thing. So, I think the mystery here obviously is that, you know, that it actually disappeared so to speak, the plane.

But it's not really surprising that after six weeks there's still no physical traces of the plane, because it is a very vast ocean, and most times these searches take months, if not years. Am I correct with that?

ALTSHULER: Without a debris field, you really are -- we talk about the needle in a haystack, but it really is that. We think we know where the vehicle is. We think the pings that were heard are from the black box pick pingers.

But in reality, there's a lot acoustic noise in the ocean. We could be searching in the right place. We could be way off base. And the problem is, you look at the vastness of the ocean, this is an incredibly complex problem, so I think your assessment's quite accurate.

LEMON: All right. Thomas Altshuler, always appreciate you, thank you very much.

Now, I want to get back to our top story, the ferry disaster that we have been discussing here. Many of the people who were on that ship are still missing. Ahead, we're going to look at the huge challenges for divers trying to find them.