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EARLY START

Vanished Without a Trace; Crisis in Ukraine; Adam Lanza's Father Speaks; Military Sex Assault Bill; Kidnapped Nuns Freed in Syria

Aired March 10, 2014 - 05:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Vanished without a trace. This morning, there's still no sign of a Malaysian jetliner with 239 people on board. Clues turning into dead ends more than 48 hours after Flight 370 disappeared. We are live with the very latest.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Russia not backing down as Crimea moves closer to a vote on its future. Angry protests on the streets and new support for secession from Vladimir Putin. We are live with an exclusive look at Crimea's tense border.

ROMANS: He calls his own son evil. Peter Lanza speaking out for the first time about the school shooting that left 26 people dead. What he says he now thinks about his own child.

Good morning, and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. It is Monday, March 10th, 5:00 a.m. in the East. Hope you had a great weekend, but it's all over now. Sorry about that.

ROMANS: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: We're going to start, though, with the latest on this tragic mystery surrounding the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Every minute that passes, there seem to be fewer clues and more questions.

Still no sign of the jetliner, despite an exhaustive international effort involving dozens of ships, planes and search crews from eight countries. It has been nearly three days now since this plane vanished in Southeast Asia en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Reports of possible debris sightings have so far turned up nothing. There's been no link to terrorism so far as we have found yet. The search for answers has investigators focusing on two passengers who were traveling, though, with stolen passports.

CNN's David McKenzie is live in Beijing.

What's the latest, David?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, the latest is more unanswered questions at this hour. Vietnamese officials saying that they have seen a yellow object floating in the ocean. Now, search and rescue vessels are on their way to investigate that. That might raise some hopes of an answer to this mystery.

This plane, which early Saturday was flying over Vietnamese air space, which vanished. No real theories at this point as to what happened, but as you mentioned, two passengers which boarded that plane were on stolen passports, who were going on from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on to Europe. They haven't ruled out terrorism at this point or hijacking. In fact, they haven't ruled out any possibility of what exactly happened.

The most of the passengers, more than 150 of them, Chinese nationals. Many of the families of those people are in this hotel behind me waiting, wondering, frustrated, not knowing what has happened. They are going to be flown to Malaysia, like family members of others on that plane. More than a dozen nationality, including at least three Americans on this ill-fated MH-370 jetliner.

So many unanswered questions at this point, but they say it could take days, weeks, perhaps even months to figure out what happened. A priority for them is to find any concrete sign of where this plane presumably went down -- John.

BERMAN: And so far, no sign. And you could tell the unknown is wearing on those families. David McKenzie for us in Beijing, thank you.

ROMANS: No distress call, and the two people traveling on those stolen passports bought them from the same travel agency, so --

BERMAN: At the same time, consecutive numbers.

ROMANS: Really interesting. So, a lot to still follow and so many mysteries.

Now to the crisis in Ukraine, where Russia seems to be tightening its grip in Crimea. President Vladimir Putin defending the breakaway moves by the region's pro-Russian leaders. In phone conversations Sunday he had with British Prime Minister David Cameron and German chancellor Angela Merkel.

CNN has an exclusive look at the situation on the new border between Russian-controlled Crimea and the rest of Ukraine. By all indications, Moscow's military is dug in.

CNN's Anna Coren has that. She's live for us in Crimea this morning.

Good morning.

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Christine.

There is no doubt about it. A new border is being erected between Crimea and Ukraine. We drove up there yesterday, and we came across a checkpoint. Our car was searched, equipment was searched, one of our cameras was taken and turned off.

But the soldiers eventually spoke to us. They said we could not film the area. What we saw were camps of Russian soldiers. When we moved a little bit further, we could see that there were armored personal carriers that are being dug in. They were rolling out barbed wire. They were digging holes for fence posts. And they were also putting up signs that would indicate a mine field. And we spoke to a local, Christine, who said that a local dog, one of his neighbor's dogs had been blown up after he ran into the area a few days ago.

So, there is real concern that this area is now part of Russia, effectively. They didn't want us to film, they did not want us to show the evidence, but I can assure you, Christine, it is happening.

ROMANS: So, the referendum, Anna, is less than a week away. What is the mood there now?

COREN: Well, we've been seeing clashes pretty much on a daily basis, certainly here in Simferopol and down in Sevastopol. These pro- Russian, you know, supporters I should say, are clashing with people who want to remain part of Ukraine. You know, they start out peacefully and then turn ugly very, very quickly. There is also a media crackdown under way here. There are no Ukrainian TV stations being broadcast in Crimea. It is state-sponsored Russian TV.

They want to control the message in the lead-up to that referendum, which takes place, Christine, on the 16th of March.

ROMANS: Anna Coren, thank you so much for that. Again, that referendum to ask the people who live in Crimea whether they want to be part of Russia or part of Ukraine. That will be the next big hurdle. Thank you, Anna.

BERMAN: All right. Six minutes after the hour right now.

Breaking overnight, the father of Adam Lanza speaking publicly for the first time since his son massacred 26 first graders and staff at the Sandy Hook Elementary School back in December 2012. Peter Lanza telling "The New Yorker," "with hindsight, I know Adam would have killed me in a heartbeat if he had the chance." He says he believes when Adam shot his mother four times, each bullet was meant for a member of their family, including himself. Peter Lanza also says he wishes his son had never been born.

ROMANS: Just days after rejecting a bill that would have stripped military commanders of authority in prosecuting sex assault cases, the Senate is poised to pass another measure dealing with how top brass handles alleged sex crimes. The bill, sponsored by Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, would get rid of the so-called good soldier defense that takes the service record of the accused into account. In cases of dual jurisdiction, when a crime's committed off base, the victim would have a say on whether it's handled by a civilian or military court.

BERMAN: Happening today in Massachusetts, we will get more details about what will be done to keep this year's Boston marathon safe. Emergency officials are expected to speak about how they will screen the crowds and what spectators will be allowed to carry along the marathon route, 26.2 miles worth of security there. The race is set for April 21st. The bombing at the finish line last year killed three and injured more than 260 people.

ROMANS: This morning, authorities in Mexico trying to confirm that a notorious drug lord is really dead after a weekend shoot-out they claim killed Nazario Moreno, head of the Knights Templar drug cartel. The questions, because this guy Moreno was declared dead once before back in 2010 after another gun battle with police. This time, authorities say, they have his body and they've checked his fingerprints.

BERMAN: This guy keeps dying. This time they say it's for real.

Happening today in Austin, NSA leaker Edward Snowden expected to take part in an interactive conversation about online privacy at the South by Southwest festival. He will appear via video conference from Russia, where he is now living in asylum. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange also spoke to the festival from the Ecuadorian embassy in London. He's been there for two years since Britain moved to extradite him to Sweden on his sex crime charges. He called his time in embassy like being in prison.

ROMANS: Pre-St. Patrick's Day chaos near the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, leaving dozens arrested. Police in riot gear went to apartment near the campus to break up the annual blarney blowout. They say drunken revelers threw cans and snowballs at them. Authorities had to use pepper spray to get the crowds moving. Some of those taking part had to be treated for alcohol poisoning.

Breaking overnight, a strong 6.9-magnitude earthquake reported off the coast of northern California. This quake centered some 50 miles west of Eureka in the Pacific. We're hearing reports of people feeling the ground shake for up to a minute. No damage or injuries had been reported.

BERMAN: We'll follow up on that.

So, spring not yet here, but this weekend was awfully nice here in New York.

ROMANS: Almost there.

BERMAN: No snow, nice temperatures.

ROMANS: Almost there.

BERMAN: We are almost there. Will it stick?

Indra Petersons, it's all on you.

ROMANS: Good morning.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I'm going to try, how about that? Is that good enough?

BERMAN: Good enough. PETERSONS: We are already starting off this morning, it feels pretty good. A couple weeks ago, I would say these were afternoon highs, but already this morning New York City, 38. Not bad, right? Providence 33, and New Jersey about 34.

So, let's talk about what we are expecting. Now, by the afternoon, look at this, guys, it looks amazing out there, especially anywhere into the South. These temperatures in the mid-70s today for New Orleans. D.C. going for 60s. Looks like New York City 51, even Boston looking for the 40s today.

So, that's how it looks today. Tomorrow, believe it or not, actually gets nicer. Hard to believe. We're talking about 60s in towards New York City, D.C. gets 70s.

But you really want to check out maybe what happens about Wednesday in through Thursday, especially Thursday. D.C. goes from 63 down to 35. So, there's still another big change in our forecast.

A couple things going on. First, a little clipper kind of makes its way north of us today. Not going to be a big deal. It's the system coming in behind it that we will have to start to watch. The cold air and warm air combines again. That system makes its way through the upper Midwest, the Ohio valley.

Then Tuesday, Wednesday, in through Thursday, it's all about where the system goes and how much rain or snow we all get. Good news now, a lot of it staying north of us. We will keep you posted.

BERMAN: Enjoy it while it lasts. All right, Indra.

PETERSONS: Right.

ROMANS: That's your weather look. Now the market look.

Huge drop in exports for China, sending stocks lower worldwide. Markets in Asia closing sharply lower.

Let's take a look at the stock there --

BERMAN: Wow.

ROMANS: Japan and Hong Kong suffering -- yes, but not as much as China's stock market. Big losses there, down almost 3 percent. Stocks in Europe started negative and are now trying to claw back. U.S. futures indicating a mixed open at this hour.

We head into today with the S&P hovering around, you know, a record high. Shares of Boeing dipped about 2 percent in afterhours trading on Friday. Boeing manufactured the 777 Malaysia Airline plane that disappeared and is presumed to have crashed into the ocean off the southern tip of Vietnam over this weekend.

You know, Boeing has a stellar safety reputation. Separately, though, we've learned that hairline cracks were found in the wings of 40 Dreamliner jets being built for Boeing. Boeing says the wing cracks are being addressed and that none of the Dreamliners currently being flown worldwide are affected. We'll watch that today.

We'll also watch the parent of the Malaysian Airlines plane, that stock getting hurt a little bit today, too. So, we'll watch that as well.

BERMAN: All right. Very good.

All right, coming up next, a scary close call at a Florida airport. Look at this skydiver and a plane meet just a few feet off the ground. The whole thing caught on camera. We will have more with these -- oh, my goodness! We'll show you the full story and these frightening pictures, coming up.

ROMANS: But, first, held captive for three months, a group of nuns now free. We are live with their dramatic release, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: We are following new developments this morning from Syria. Reports say 13 nuns and three convent workers kidnapped by rebels, held for more than three months, are now free. The group was released Sunday, reportedly in exchange for some 150 prisoners being held by the Syrian regime.

CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom is following developments, live for us this morning in Beirut.

What can you tell us this morning?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine, this was a very dramatic and tense negotiation process, months in the making, and last night here in Lebanon, officials started talking about how the nuns were going to be released imminently. Then there was a last-minute hiccup. There were what were called logistical difficulties. Other officials were saying, though, if there were problems with the negotiation.

Finally, hours after that, the nuns were released. There is very dramatic video showing the nuns as they arrived on the Syrian/Lebanese border, taken into the custody of Lebanese government officials. What happened after that is that they were then transferred back into the custody of Syrian officials. So, in essence, they went through Lebanon and then went back into Syria.

In exchange for their release, 150 women that were being held by the Syrian government were released. That was the exchange, or the terms of the exchange. Now, Lebanese government officials are telling us today that these nuns are all back in Syria, that they are safe, that they told them that, in fact, they were well taken care of in the custody of Islamist fighters.

There is, however, some discrepancy about why these nuns were taken. While originally, the Syrian government stated the nuns were kidnapped by Islamic fighters. After that, opposition groups in Syria stated, in fact, that the nuns were only being held to protect them, because the part of Syria where they were, Mallola, was under attack by the Syrian government -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Mohammed Jamjoom for us this morning in Beirut, thank you.

BERMAN: Seventeen minutes after the hour.

It's the 66th birthday of an American missing seven years in Iran. Bob Levinson, the former FBI agent whose family says he was working for the CIA when he disappeared, has not been seen or heard from since 2010. The Iranian government says they have no idea where he is, but his family says they will keep asking for answers, especially with U.S. and Iranian negotiators sitting down to discuss a nuclear deal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN LEVINSON, SON OF ROBERT LEVINSON: Although it's been seven years, we've never been more hopeful with the continued developments between our two countries. We're going to keep pressing officials on both ends, and we're not going to go away until this is resolved and my dad's home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: The State Department says it is committed to Levinson's safe return and is asking Iran to work with the United States to find him.

ROMANS: Meanwhile, a top European negotiator warning there are no guarantees the nuclear talks between the West and Iran will be able to reach an agreement. Catherine Ashton called the process challenging and difficult after meeting with Iran's foreign minister in Tehran, and the Iranians said they wouldn't agree to any deal that doesn't respect their country's rights.

BERMAN: Breaking overnight, he has to finish his 28-year murder sentence first, but Peru has agreed to extradite Joran Van Der Sloot to the United States to face extortion charges in Alabama. The 26- year-old remains the prime suspect in the disappearance of Natalee Holloway in Aruba, and her mother says he extorted money from her by offering false information about her daughter's whereabouts. The extradition likely will not happen until 2038, when Van Der Sloot is expected to complete his sentence for murdering a different woman in a Peruvian hotel room.

ROMANS: Incredible pictures to show you from Florida, where a skydiver and a pilot are both very lucky to be alive today after a small plane got tangled up in a skydiver's parachute strings just about 75 feet above ground.

BERMAN: Wow.

ROMANS: The pilot lost control and nose-dived. The 49-year-old skydiver was flipped and thrown to the ground.

BERMAN: Wow.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TIM TELFORD, PHOTOGRAPHER: The plane caught the side of the canopy, spun the airplane completely 180 degrees, flipped the skydiver up into the air. You heard the airplane, the airplane impacted the parachute, which sounded like you falling face first into your pillow. I thought I was going to have a very exciting picture of a very close fly-by. I never in a million years thought I'd see what I saw. It was just bad time, right place, wrong time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The police say the 87-year-old pilot was practicing taking off and landing. Both he and the skydiver went to the hospital, but you know what? John, I can't believe it, both only had minor injuries after that. The NTSB and FAA both investigating just what went wrong.

BERMAN: I cannot believe that they survived that.

ROMANS: I know, amazing.

All right, coming up, it hasn't happened in more than 20 years. A college basketball team perfect heading into the men's tournament. Do you know which team? The answer, Andy Scholes, will shock you. Get it?

John Berman actually wrote that tease, because he feared I would not be able to sell it.

Andy Scholes has details in the "Bleacher Report," next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: The excitement is building. Selection Sunday less than a week away. One team in line for a top seed, Wichita State.

The Shockers completing a perfect season over the weekend by winning their conference.

ROMANS: Andy Scholes joins us with more in this morning's "Bleacher Report."

Hey, Andy.

ANDY SCHOLES, BLEACHER REPORT: Hey, good morning, you guys.

What a season. Wichita state is now 34-0 after winning the Missouri Valley Conference Title over the weekend. The Shockers, first team since the 1991 UNLV Runnin' Rebels to head to the tournament undefeated. While the team is perfect, the t-shirt maker not so much. The conference title shirts say they're champs on the front, but on the bracket on the back, it says Indiana State won.

I guess if you can't beat them on the court, beat them on the t-shirt.

Trending today on bleacherreport.com. The struggling Miami Heat received another kick in the face yesterday as they took on the Bulls, and LeBron, he literally got kicked in the face by Jimmy Butler. The two got tangled up under the basket right here. Both received a technical foul.

Joakim Noah would lead Chicago to the win, and check out his dad during an interview in the stands. He's going to go nuts during a sequence where Noah made a play on both ends of the floor. That's awesome.

All right. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was looking to keep his hot streak going this weekend in Las Vegas. Things were looking gore him as he has a lead on a final lap, but he runs out of gas on the second turn. That opened the door for Brad Keselowski to pass him and get the win. Junior said afterwards, 16 ounces of fuel, that was the difference between getting first or second.

All right, after a stellar third round on Saturday, Tiger Woods' back started acting up again yesterday and he struggled to a 25th-place finish at the WGC-Cadillac Championship. This is the first time in Tiger's career he's failed to birdie a hole on the final round of a tournament.

While he's faded, 23-year-old Patrick Reed had no problems with the course. He won the tournament, and by doing so, he joins some exclusive company. Reed is now one of five golfers to have three tour wins before turning 24 years old. The other four? Tiger, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia.

So, guys, I would say we're probably going to see much more from Patrick Reed this year. I actually wouldn't be surprised if he wins a major.

BERMAN: You know, Patrick Reed is the reason I think it's going to be hard for Tiger to get to those 18 majors to tie Jack Nicholson. There's too many good, young golfers showing up at all these tournaments, so if Tiger's not perfect, one of them is going to end up beating him. This guy, Patrick Reed, 23.

All right. Andy, appreciate it.

ROMANS: We're watching two big developing stories. Still no sign of a 777 that vanished with more than 200 people onboard. Forty-eight hours ago, there are new reports also of violence in Crimea. We've got the very latest on both of these breaking stories, right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)