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Now 121 Dead And 181 Missing In Ferry Sinking; First Distress Call Came From Child Passenger; Bluefin 21 On 10th Mission; Biden's Pep Talk; Ship Crew Tells Passengers Not To Move; Divers Gain Access; Biden Pledges Support for Ukraine

Aired April 22, 2014 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, divers reached the cafeteria of the capsized ferry where they think many of the missing students are located.

Also right now, Vice President Joe Biden offers support in aid to Ukraine as he visits the regions. We'll have a live report straight ahead.

And right now, a major decision coming down from the United States Supreme Court. Justices voting to uphold a controversial Michigan law that bans the use of racial criteria in college admissions.

Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. Dozens more bodies have now been recovered from the sunken ferry off the coast of South Korea. The search official says most of them were wearing life vests. Divers have now gained access to the cafeteria in the interior of the ship. That's where many of the teenage passengers were having breakfast when the accident occurred. Divers believe most of the victims are in this area.

So far, 121 are confirmed dead, another 181 people are still missing.

Our own Will Ripley, he's joining us from Jindo, South Korea right now where the bodies are being brought to shore and identified. Will, is this strictly a recovery operation now or do they -- do they still hold out hope of finding survivors?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They still hold out hope, Wolf, at least officially and publicly. That is the word from the divers. That's the word from officials. It's the word from the company that owns the sunken ferry. They say, well, they still believe that there's the potential there's an air pocket on the ship where somebody -- even a week into this with frigid, cold waters and very, very dangerous conditions, they think there might be a chance somebody could still be alive. They've been looking for survivors but all they keep finding and bringing back to shore are the dead.

And, Wolf, there is a very sad scene playing out here as we speak. It is 2:00 in the morning here. But we just came back to the tent where the bodies are being identified. There is a man speaking into a microphone describing physically what the latest people who they have brought back to shore look like. And even at this hour, in the middle of the night, there are families who are not sleeping. They are anxiously sitting by and waiting to see if that description matches their son or their daughter or their family member. And it is just -- it is just heartbreaking to see this happen here, Wolf.

BLITZER: And we've now learned, Will, that the first distress call actually came from a passenger, not from a member of the crew. Tell us about that.

RIPLEY: Yes, this is a pretty remarkable piece of new information because we have now learned that at 8:52 a.m., a voice described as a young boy who is obviously shaken up by the sound of his voice. He made a call saying that this ferry was in trouble and he thought it was sinking. 8:52 a.m., that time is significant because it is three minutes before the official distress call came from the ship. So, passengers were actually making calls from their cell phones before the ship officially reported that it was in trouble. We know, in those following minutes after 8:52, there were some 20 calls from students, frightened students, onboard the ferry.

BLITZER: What can you tell us, Will, about two more crew members now formally being charged?

RIPLEY: We know there are now nine crew members that have been arrested, Wolf. Some of them are speaking out now for the first time defending their actions. They were asked, why did they not deploy more life boats? They said, they didn't do it because the ship was tilting so severely that they were not able to reach the life boats rendering them, virtually, unusable.

And also, crew members were asked, why did they think the ship tilted over as it did and began to sink so quickly? They said it was a stabilization issue, is what they believe, without going into further specifics. Obviously, all of that will discussed as the investigation continues here in Jindo.

BLITZER: What a story this is. All right, thanks. Will Ripley, reporting from South Korea.

Let's go to Ukraine right now. A new pledge from the vice president of the United States, Joe Biden. While meeting with Ukrainian leaders in Kiev, he offered another $20 million in security aid, offered this rebuke for Russia.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No nation should threaten its neighbor by amassing troops along the border. We call on Russia to pull back these forces. No nation should stoke instability in its neighbor's country. We call on Russia to stop supporting men, hiding behind masks in unmarked uniforms sowing unrest in eastern Ukraine.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Vice president Biden, of course, is referring to those reports and those pictures we all saw yesterday involving Russian troops in generic uniforms, helping the pro-Russian militants.

Let's turn to our Arwa Damon. She's joining us now from eastern Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. Arwa, where do we stand now with that intelligence, with the pro-Russian militants holding buildings in eastern Ukraine?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Exactly where we always have been, Wolf. These pro-Russian militant protestors have absolutely no intention of backing down. In fact, over the last 24 hours, we've been seeing them fortifying some of their various locations as well. The U.S. ice president was also saying they haven't seen any concrete measures by Russia to try to convince these pro-Russian protesters to surrender the buildings, laying a fair amount of blame on Russia as to why there hasn't been any sort of progress.

And there is quite a lot of this blaming, counter-blaming going on here, because the Russians also, and these pro-Russian protesters, are saying that the Ukrainian government itself is not upholding its side of the bargain. So, the stalemate here continues. The organization for security and cooperation in (INAUDIBLE) tasks with trying to negotiate the surrender of these buildings, still meeting with various protest leaders but making, at this stage, no real significant progress -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Arwa, there was an incident over the weekend, a shooting at a checkpoint. Pro-Russian forces say they were attacked. What do we know about that? Is that confirmed?

DAMON: Yes, Wolf, it is. Three pro-Russian protesters who were manning that checkpoint were killed. The funerals for them were held earlier today. People, understandably, emotional, as you can only imagine. And the situation here, no real signs of any sort of de- escalation. There also, yesterday, was yet another takeover of a police headquarters. The police chief seen marched off.

He, as far as we are aware, still being detained by these pro-Russian protesters. A slight sign that, perhaps, something may be negotiated is that here, in Donetsk, at the main administrative building that has been under pro-Russian protesters control, they have, seemingly, agreed to at least clear out of two floors so that people could go back to work. But all things considered, Wolf, no significant progress here as this crisis continues.

BLITZER: And the crisis is continuing. Arwa, thank you. Arwa Damon, reporting live from eastern Ukraine.

We're going to have more on Ukraine a little bit later this hour when Gloria Borger takes a closer look at vice president Biden's trip, what it could mean back here in the United States. Stand by for that.

Now, to the search for Flight 370. The visual search for the plane was called off for this day as a tropical cyclone moved toward the search zone. But the Bluefin 21 underwater robot is still in the under now, churning through its 10th search mission. Time though is running out as it has scanned more than two-thirds of the search zone.

CNN's Erin McLaughlin is in Perth, Australia with the very latest.

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, today's weather may have had an impact on the aerial search for debris, but it Didn't seem to have too much of an effect on the Bluefin 21, now, as far as we know, in the midst of its 10th dive.

Now, as of yesterday, two-thirds of that narrowed search area had been scoured. Still no signs of the missing plane. Some are wondering what are going to be the next steps.

Now, an official with the U.S. Navy telling CNN that the key stakeholders are in the early stages of those discussions. There's been talk of a broader search area, possibly introducing more submersibles into the mix to be able to cover more area in a shorter period of time.

What they're doing right now is they're searching a six-mile radius around the point of the second ping that was detected on April 8th. They're doing that because it was the strongest of the four pings. But some analysts suggesting perhaps they should search in the areas of the other pings as well.

Now, that spokesperson for the U.S. Navy telling CNN that they're planning for as far out as July. So, they are long-term plans but, at the same time, there's a short-term focus. They're focusing on the task at hand. Very important, they say, that the Bluefin 21 either rule this area in or rule it out completely.

Meanwhile, weather continuing to be a factor into tomorrow. Forecasters say more showers, more wind could impact the aerial search -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Erin McLaughlin's in Perth, Australia for us. Thanks to Erin.

Coming up in a few moments, we'll get our panel of experts here to talk about the growing frustration of the family members of Flight 370's passengers.

Just ahead, the captain of that sinking ferry in South Korea told everyone not to move. Did that command cost hundreds of lives? A former U.S. Coast Guard accident investigator standing by live to join us.

And later, the vice president, Joe Biden, gives Ukraine a pep talk. Take a closer look at the significance of his message. Our own Gloria Borger is here.


BLITZER: The captain and eight crew members have been charged in the sinking of the South Korean ferry that has claimed at least, at least 121 lives. Of great interest is this public message to the passengers right after the accident happened.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (translated): Don't move. If you move, it is more dangerous. Don't move.


BLITZER: Mario Vittone is a veteran rescue diver, retired accident investigator with the U.S. Coast Guard. He's joining us now. Mario, you say it would have been better to say nothing than to utter those words. Explain what happened in the disaster that followed that word from the crew, don't move, don't move.

MARIO VITTONE, RETIRED RESCUE DIVER, U.S. COAST GUARD: Well, in an emergency situation, people, who aren't otherwise trained, will do what they're told to do. And these kids were told not to move and that's what they did. And it was absolutely the wrong choice to make, I think. Certainly, those who were on the outside of the ship made it and the rest of them, we're looking for. So, that idea that they should stay still, that it's more dangerous doesn't line up with anyone's training, doesn't line up with the procedures or what we've learned in maritime over the last 100 years.

BLITZER: So, if you -- if -- normally, if there's a situation like this, instead of telling everybody on board, don't move, don't move, you tell everybody, get your life vests on. Come to the deck and get ready to abandon the ship. I assume that would be the correct order.

VITTONE: Yes, you'd want to take them to their muster stations. That's what all the -- that's what all their training has taught them to do is to -- life jackets on and get to the muster station. That big empty area we see on the video next to the life rafts that the crew's now saying they couldn't get to, well, there was a couple of crew standing next to them and plenty of room for passengers to be there. And so, that was the place to have them.

And if the captain says he was waiting on rescue and waiting on rescue boats or the -- and the water was cold, and that's all true, but the idea of preparing just in case doesn't cost anyone anything except for maybe some discomfort. And so I know they're all regretting that decision, but they should have been on the deck and then -- at least you had the option to take the next move, which is the abandonment of the ship.

But deploying those life raft could have been easily done from at least the port side of that boat. The boat that was - the side that was nearest the water, plenty of life rafts, easy to deploy, and they could have had people standing by and getting in them right then.

BLITZER: Is there ever a time for an order like that, don't move, don't move, in a situation like this?

VITTONE: I can't -- I've been thinking about it for a couple of days. I can't figure what they were thinking unless they were thinking of stability. And that order may have come much later when the boat was very far on its side. Maybe that was after it was too late. There was a - there was a sort of no going back point once the vessel got past that 90 degrees, I think. But as long as there was a way out, they should have been telling them to move to get out. And even in the SOLAS, the Safety of Life at Sea requirements, one of the requirements that the crew does during drills is to go into spaces and find passengers who haven't got out and bring them out. So it's very clear in the regulations. It's very clear in marine practice to get everyone on deck and prepare for what's next.

BLITZER: Mario Vittone, thanks very much for your expertise.

VITTONE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, we'll have more on Ukraine, including John McCain's assessment, what he really thinks Russia has to offer.

Also, Vice President Joe Biden's message to the Ukrainian people. Our own Gloria Borger, she's here. She'll take a closer look at Joe Biden's influence in the U.S. and around the world.



SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country. All it --- all he's got is gas and oil and that's really all that - that is sustaining them. Wait, wait, I take that back. It's a gas station run by a mafia that is masquerading as a - as a --

SETH MEYERS, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS: Good, yes, because originally I thought it was a little rough.

MCCAIN: Yes. Yes.

MEYERS: But I'm glad you - I'm glad you softened it.


BLITZER: The Republican Senator John McCain on "Late Night with Seth Meyers" last night talking about Russia and Ukraine. Senator McCain also joked about renewed popularity on Capitol Hill, for him at least, now that he's been personally sanctioned by the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. On the serious side, Senator McCain is pushing the U.S. to provide Ukraine's government with defensive weapons to hold off Russian troops if Putin gives the order to invade. The Obama administration doesn't support McCain's plan, instead pledging what's described as nonlethal aid. The vice president was in Ukraine today, still's there - still is there talking with government leaders. He promised both economic and diplomatic support.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But the United States stands with you and is working to support all Ukrainians in seeking a better future. The road ahead, obviously, as we discussed at length both here and Washington, Mr. Prime Minister, is difficult. And you should know, as I told you at the outset, you will not walk this road alone. We will walk it with you.


BLITZER: Let's bring in Gloria Borger, our chief political analyst.

You've covered the vice president for a long time.


BLITZER: Pretty strong words for him.

BORGER: These are very strong words from him. The message was clear. He also said, Wolf, and this struck me, he said no country should be allowed to behave like an armed bandit, which is essentially what he is - he's calling Russia. I think the question that we all have here is whether the United States at some point is going to come out and say that Russia has crossed some kind of a red line, to use that phrase we've heard in other foreign policy situations.

BLITZER: Syria specifically.

BORGER: Syria specifically. After all, a deal was signed in Geneva that was supposed to defuse this situation. You talk to American diplomats, foreign policy folks, they have absolutely no confidence that the Russians are doing anything but escalating the situation. So while the vice president right now is calling for restraint, he says this process is not open ended, OK. So the question is, when the U.S. gets right up against that red line, what is the U.S. going to do? There are some broad sanctions that have been spoken about, some energy -- affecting the energy sector, the banking community. What exactly are they willing to do and are they willing to do it unilaterally?

BLITZER: Because those sanctions, if they really beef them up, they could bite the Russian economy.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: The downside though is that there's so much interaction with Europe, Germany and other countries in central and eastern Europe -

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: It would bite them too if they lost that energy supply coming in from Russia.

BORGER: Well, and so - and so the big question is, if the United States is saying this to Russia, you cannot do this, you cannot behave like an armed bandit, which is exactly what Joe Biden said (ph), at some point, the United States has to make a decision, which is, if it can't convince the Europeans to go along, what is it willing to do, how far is the United States willing to go unilaterally so it can have an impact?

Because the language has been very -- very strong, Wolf. They're not going to arm rebels at this point, which is what McCain wants to do. They're not going to -- so what's -- what's the next step for the United States?


BORGER: And this is important politically to Joe Biden. If he wants to be the next president of the United States, he's been involved in the Russia reset, as was Hillary Clinton. He has to let the world know that the Obama administration did not miscalculate in this part of the world.

BLITZER: How important is this trip for the vice president?

BORGER: Well, it is. It's important for him, for his political future. Alongside John Kerry, the vice president is clearly the point man here. He's the one who was talking about reset, along with Hillary, as I was just saying. And so they've got to figure out a way to get the upper hand here or else they're very vulnerable to the charge that you misunderstood and misread Vladimir Putin and you let him get the best of you. I mean, he cannot annex Ukraine.

BLITZER: So when he takes an international mission like this, the vice president -


BLITZER: A lot of folks, political types like you and me and a lot of others -


BLITZER: They immediately start speculating about the impact potentially on 2016.

BORGER: Well, look, everyone who runs for the presidency wants to be seen as an effective leader on the world stage. That is why when Hillary Clinton first ran for the presidency, she was talking about her experience. She clearly has a wealth of experience on the foreign stage, and so does Joe Biden, having both been important parts of this administration. What they have to show is that their foreign policy has had credibility. And so there are lots of open questions here. I mean you heard what the former defense secretary said about Joe Biden. He said he disagreed with him. Bob Gates said he disagreed with him on every foreign policy issue. So Joe Biden has to prove that the president's foreign policy has kept us safer, has made us stronger, and that he made the right decision in places like Syria and places like Ukraine.

BLITZER: Gloria Borger, thanks very much.


BLITZER: Up next, the (INAUDIBLE) legal window allows lawsuits by Flight 370 family members. Could it force the release of new information?

And the U.S. Supreme Court deals a blow to affirmative action program at universities. We'll have the details. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)