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Ukraine Claims Proof of Russian Instigators; Funerals for Some and Wait for Others

Aired April 21, 2014 - 12:30   ET


WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Each day, they fight to find survivors. They fight the pain of knowing there may be nobody left alive.

TRANSLATOR: Let's stop here.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Body after body, day after day, these divers don't give up. They say they can't give up -- Will Ripley, CNN, off the coast of Jindo, South Korea.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Just awful, thank you very much, Will Ripley. As you can tell, the divers have a herculean task here. I want you to look at this video.


LEMON (voice-over): It is -- you want to see it. I hate to use the word amazing. But this truly is amazing. This is what the divers are doing.

They're following underwater ropes that guide them in and out of the ship. So they're doing this. They have to feel around for those ropes that will guide them in and out. They don't want to lose their way as well.

They also are cutting through the hull of this ship in order to gain access to parts of the ship they can navigate with the guide ropes. Imagine cutting through the hole with a torch underwater and then using devices to cut through that hole. Again, as we said -- it is to be repeated, it is a herculean task, no other way to put it.


LEMON: Joining me now from Washington is Captain Bobbie Scholley; she's a retired Navy diver.

And here with me in New York, Christine Dennison, an expedition logistics specialist.

Thank you so much for joining us. It's sad to watch this. You see what the divers are going through, but the families as well.

Bobbie, as the ferry continues to sink further and it's now starting to leak oil. You helped recover bodies from TWA Flight 800, that crash, and also the U.S.S. Cole.

What is the biggest challenge for divers right now, it is currents, is it weather, is it water clarity? Is it getting tangled up inside of that ship? What is it?

CAPT. BOBBIE SCHOLLEY, U.S. NAVY (RET.): Well, hello, Don.

And first of all, my deepest condolences to those families. It's very tough right now and very tough for the divers. They are fighting the currents right now. They are fighting the depth of water.

I understand that the ship has settled on the bottom. And the last I heard, the depth of water is about 165 feet. That is down to a depth that is about at the limits of air dives for the divers. So they have a limited amount of time at that depth of -- to be able to work at that depth before they have to come back up to the surface.

Those divers, as you saw on the piece, they are trying to work as fast as they can at that depth to get as many of those victims back and, you know, by some miracle find a survivor. And they have to do that working within their decompression limits, working in that very dark waters with, still, currents. It's a very complex dive situation.

A lot of divers out there working together. So the commander in charge of this operation has to work all these moving parts to make sure that he doesn't lose a diver or hurt a diver.

LEMON: The thing is, Christine, at this point, because they're hoping for a miracle, but at this point, is there a chance of survivors in an air pocket when it's gone this -- ?

CHRISTINE DENNISON, EXPEDITION LOGISTICS SPECIALIST: You know, it is so overwhelmingly tragic. I don't believe so. What you have here is you also have two different teams of divers. You have Navy divers that are diving --

LEMON: You have civilian divers, right --


DENNISON: -- the civilian divers --

LEMON: -- they're not trained for this.

DENNISON: Well, there are. They're trained in overhead environment which can include cave diving, wreck diving. Navy divers are working with surface supplied air so they don't have to worry about running out of air. You have technical divers probably diving on mixed gas which allows them to stay down longer and not have such terrible --

LEMON: I would imagine, Christine, the cave divers, this is probably what they're used to, this is almost like diving in a cave because it's dark and you feel your way around so it's similar.

DENNISON: -- you have an overhead environment, you have low visibility, you have very narrow passageways. I'm sure that they're running reels so they can find their way in and out of the wreck once they go in to try and extricate the bodies, which is a monumental task and a tragic...

LEMON: Yes, it is.

Bobbie, they're dealing with all of this, but then finding bodies. That's what their jobs are. But still it has to be very emotional to find a body. And as they said today, it's really just a graveyard right now in the ocean.

SCHOLLEY: It is. This is one of those jobs that we hate to get. Unfortunately, we get them. The Navy divers get these more often than you'd probably realize. And it is a very emotional job for us.

LEMON: How do you handle it, Bobbie?

How do you deal with it?

SCHOLLEY: You focus on the mission. And we train and we have very specific procedures that we have to follow. And you focus on the mission because we are very determined to get that mission complete for these families. The divers want to make sure that they do this for those families and get it done as quickly as possible.

So we're very focused on getting that mission done quickly. And you try not to think about the personal element while you are doing that, that mission.

But as you saw on the piece, the diver's saying, when you stop and think about it, the emotion comes running back to you.

That's when we have to put in place, especially as the commander of an operation, you want to make sure you have the systems in place to help the divers, counselors, whatever it takes. In a lot of cases, that's when we draw together as a community and look out for each other and try to help each other out.

LEMON: Emotional support is very important. Thank you, Bobbie Scholley, Christine, thank you.

And as we -- you know, it's -- sadly, there's probably not anyone alive there. There are miracles, but...

Thank you. We appreciate both of you.

We've heard how difficult it is to search for the missing plane in the Indian Ocean. A tropical cyclone is into the mix now, add that. And it's about to get even worse. How the bad weather could affect the search, next.


LEMON: As if the search for MH370 needed one more complication, Tropical Cyclone Jack is on the way. CNN meteorologist Chad Myers joins me here in New York. Also, I'm joined again by sea operations specialist Tim Taylor. Good to see both of you.

Especially you.



They welcome me to New York and then they work me to death.

LEMON: That's what happens here.

Let's talk about this. Where is Jack and how big of a problem is Jack going to cause?

MYERS: Jack has really made the entire sea search operation cease. Not the Bluefin, but everything that's on the surface. The surface of this ocean right now looks look a blender. The waves are 10, 15 feet. The winds are 60 miles, 80 miles an hour. You couldn't find any white thing on the ocean because it's just all white caps right here. So Jack, right here, the surface just completely shut down, 85 miles per hour.

The Bluefin is quite a distance away from where the sea surface surge is. So they're still -- they still have that under the ground there. They're still look under the surface. But now where they have it, I was just watching this, you can go to and look for the Shield, the Ocean Shield, it's searching at about 17,000 feet of water.

Let's hope they don't find it there; that would be almost an impossible recovery.

LEMON: To bring it up, wow.

The (INAUDIBLE), nothing to show for it. Should they pack it in?



LEMON: You are the patience person.

TAYLOR: I scanned 18,000 -- 1,800 square nautical miles. It took me three years to do that at my peak. It's patience.

LEMON: What did you find?

TAYLOR: You've got -- we found a lot things. And there's debris all over the bottom. So you will find geology. You'll find all sorts of items. You will find the plane. But it's a matter of chunking off your search area and methodically working out the area they have.

If people would take a look at this and look at it like we have 100 missions before we're going to find something, then nine missions into it, they wouldn't be as impatient. LEMON: A hundred --

MYERS: I think it's interesting to say we have to move if we're going to move next week. No they're not. They're going to keep getting a little bit farther and farther from the center but that's all.

TAYLOR: Expand your search. They have the pings. They have to focus on that. Unless something miraculously changes with data that they figure it's someplace else, this is the spot to look.

LEMON: Let's talk about the here and now. How much does this rough weather affect the submersibles? Because Chad said it's not affecting it that much.

TAYLOR: Operationally, they're fine. Once they're in the water; it's getting them in the water and out of the water. Frankly, that kind of asset and that kind of gear, they'll make the call based on being able to recover it. And they may make that call well in advance of the weather so they may move the boat away from the weather and bring it back.

MYERS: Do they have to fill it up with fuel and bring it out of the water to do that?

TAYLOR: No, this vehicle is a flooded hierarchy, basically. It is all the batteries are flooded with a mineral oil. It's nonconductive. All the motors are flooded. Just the main equipment housings have air in them.

So when they pull them out, this particular system, unlike others that you have to charge, you can swap the batteries out, put them back in. So they'll have an extra set of batteries. They'll tune it up. They'll download the data. They'll service whatever they have to and they'll throw it right back into the water.

LEMON: So you said 100 missions so to speak. You believe that we have -- and so --

TAYLOR: Just figure that.

LEMON: -- the cyclones go in and out of there all the time, so we're looking at a lot of bad weather here and a lot of rough days.

TAYLOR: If you're couching everybody for what's going to be happening, we're in this for the long term. We're in this for -- this is my take on it. You didn't go down there and start the Bluefin expeditions to do nine of them. All right? This is the best likely area that they think and then they work out.

LEMON: But there was so much hope when the Australian prime minister said we're sure that we're in the area and then -- you know what I mean?

TAYLOR: Every dive has a chance of finding it, every dive. So the next dive could be it. MYERS: We can't tell you how lucky we are to have those pings at all because that was a one -- maybe 1 in 100 chance that we found it that soon.

TAYLOR: And the search area could be, you know, we're chunking it off, let's put it that way, we're minimizing it. So it's getting there. Give it some time.

LEMON: We're lucky to have both of you as well. Thank you.

Appreciate it, Tim

Thank you, Chad. Always a pleasure.

LEMON: This is in. You're learning it just as I am. We've just learned that an American man has won the Boston Marathon. And that may well make today's race the most important and emotional ever in its long, proud history.

Meb Keflezighi is the first American to win the race since 1983. Again, this is just in to CNN.

And on the women's side, Kenya's Rita Jeptoo won for a second time. And just to give you an idea of the people watching this race in person, 1 million people line the course right now.

New information to tell you about. Ukraine says it has evidence of Russia's involvement in the crisis there, despite Russia's denials. That story after a break.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: The breaking news is on the unrest in Ukraine. CNN has obtained photographs that a Ukrainian government asserts and the U.S. government believes the amount of proof of Russian instigators in the eastern part of that country, they believe they have proof. Foreign affairs correspondent Elise Labott joins me now with the details.

What do we know and what does this mean?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, these are photos that the Ukrainian government was providing last week at that meeting in Geneva to the United States, what they say is evidence of Russian involvement in eastern Ukraine. And they say that these men, they've been known around Ukraine as the green men, are equipped, just like Russian special forces and military forces, that were in Crimea. They show a group of military individuals that were seen in various locations around Ukraine. And the U.S. now is saying that this is further proof of Russian involvement. Now, CNN can't confirm, Don, the veracity of these photos, but these are what the U.S. says is further involvement of Russia in Ukraine. I have a quote right here. State Department Spokesman Jen Psaki telling CNN there's been broad unity in the international community about the connection between Russia and some of the armed militants in Ukraine and these photos presented by the Ukrainians last week only further confirm this.

And so, Don, obviously, we can't tell for sure whether these are Russian involvement, but it's very interesting that the U.S. is taking Ukraine's word as part of these individuals that are believed to be Russian involved in Ukraine.


LEMON: And again, Elise, just if our viewers are just joining us, CNN has obtained photographs again that the Ukrainian government asserts and the U.S. government believes amount to proof of Russian instigators in eastern - the eastern part of that country. And I'm discussing now with Elise Labott, our foreign affairs correspondent, what it all means and what do we know about this.

So, Elise, the obvious question, what happens next, now that this is proof? What does the international community do, if anything?

LABOTT: Well, Don, these photos have been floating around since last week. They were seen this morning in "The New York Times" first. And now the U.S. is going to say, well, what does this prove and what do we do. But if you look at what's happening on the ground, certainly that agreement from last week in Geneva doesn't seem to be taking root. There are people being killed every day. A lot of clashes between Ukrainian military and the so-called militants. What the Ukrainians and the U.S. are saying are Russian-sponsored militants. And now Foreign Minister Lavrov this morning, of Russia, saying that Ukraine is not holding up its end of the bargain and that perhaps the Russians may have to go in and try and calm the situation.

So seemingly that there is no cease fire and things are continuing to spiral out of control and it remains to be seen what Russia's going to do. It was expected to move its troops back from the border. The U.S. and the Ukrainians want Russia to take its so-called special forces and operatives out that these photos allegedly show. But none of that seems to be happening on the ground. So no matter what the photos show, certainly there's a lot of chaos going on right now in eastern Ukraine, Don.

LEMON: Elise, the vice president in Ukraine today, correct?

LABOTT: Vice President Biden arrived in Ukraine. He's talking to the Ukrainians about a really massive assistance - U.S. assistance package because, Don, what the U.S. hopes is that if Ukraine could be a stronger country, if the government can strengthen its economy, its institution, then it wouldn't be such a soft target for Russia to just be able to go in.

Now the question is, is the U.S. going to give the Ukrainians any military aid? We're told that is not in the offing because the U.S. does not want to get involved in a proxy war and does not want this situation to escalate.


LEMON: Elise Labott, our foreign affairs correspondent. Thank you very much. Appreciate that on the breaking news.

And now we go back to our big story today. Crews are searching desperately for victim of the South Korean ferry disaster. As bodies are carried to shore, everyone is completely silent until the families see the victims. We're going to take you to that emotional scene. That's coming up next.


LEMON: With every new update on the death toll from the South Korea ferry disaster comes the news no parent wants to hear, their beloved son or daughter did not survive. At least 87 people have died, 215 are still missing, and mothers and fathers already burying their children.


LEMON: So there you can hear the soft chorus of women, really people, weeping there, overcome with grief, barely able to catch their breath. Many of the dead are teenagers. CNN's Kyung Lah looks at the solemn moments as their bodies are brought from the sunken ferry.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The first police boat returns from the search site. Parents waiting, bracing. They return one by one in identical plain white bags. Behind the screen, initial inspection. A blanket to cover. Then a short march back to land.

Parents rush to the white tents to identify their children.

"You must have said, daddy save me," weeps this father.

No one is immune to the sound of losing a child. As the families leave the tents, so too do the stretchers, emptied, returning to the gurneys that awaits the next boat.

Another group of someone's children. Another march back to the tents. Thirteen return in this group. But more than 200 are still missing. Gurneys on the left side of the dock, divers board ships to the right to continue the search to bring the rest home.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Jindo, South Korea.


LEMON: Oh, goodness.

I'm going to bring in now Heidi Snow. Heidi lost her fiance on TWA Flight 800. She's also been in contact with the families from the missing Malaysian air disaster.

And, Heidi, I mean how can families begin to - you know, this process of grief now when their children, some of them, are still missing?

HEIDI SNOW, FOUNDER, ACCESS: This reminds me of so many of the senseless tragedies and people that we've worked with, with ACCESS over the last 17 years. And I have to say, we -- since this actually occurred, we have been hearing from some of the TWA 800 families who lost their teenaged children who were studying abroad, going to Europe, after Flight 800. And watching this has brought it up for a lot of the families.

And like with the Malaysia Air disaster, we started to get calls for help from people from past air disasters. We're not getting calls for help from people from Flight 800 who are really walking in the shoes and remember what it was like to lose their children. So it very much resonates with so many of us in our organization.


SNOW: And the other thing, we've had a few 9/11 families come forward saying, you know, that stay put order is what may have killed our loved ones and that is actually what happened with this incident as well. So it's really resonating with a lot of the families that we've worked with, that Air Craft Casualty Emotional Support Services. And this is a very difficult time. There's so many unanswered questions. And just waiting and hoping that their loved ones survive for those who haven't gotten confirmation yet. It really resonates so much with all of us who have been through these senseless tragedies over time. It's extremely difficult.

LEMON: Yes, once you - I can't even imagine. One can only imagine, though, if you will, just what these people are dealing with. And only time will heal them.

Thank you very much. We appreciate you. Our Heidi Snow.

SNOW: Absolutely.

LEMON: Thank you very much.

SNOW: Thank you so much.

LEMON: All right. I'm Don Lemon. Sorry to end on such a sad note. But my colleague, Wolf Blitzer, is up. "WOLF" starts right now.