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Deadly Gas Explosion Kills 6, Several Missing; Flight 370: What Went Wrong; Defense Looking For Forensic Mistakes; Two Dead In Accident At SXSW Festival

Aired March 13, 2014 - 06:30   ET


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was so powerful that you heard the boom, and then it rocked the whole apartment.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The ceiling tiles started to fall down. The back wall was lined with mirrors. The mirrors started to shatter and fall down.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's believed the explosion, which could be felt for blocks, was sparked by a gas leak, a massive five-alarm fire ensued, filling the area with thick, black smoke.

Hundreds of first responders rushed to the scene. Dozens were injured. Some are still missing. At least six people are confirmed dead. Among the dead are Griselde Camacho (ph), a public safety officer at Hunter College. And 67-year-old Carmen Tanco (ph), she lived on the seventh floor of one of the leveled buildings for more than two decades.

Before learning of her aunt's death, Mariasela Frias told us she was frantically calling her.

(on camera) You are close to your aunt.


HARLOW: Tell me about her?

FRIAS: She's sassy, feisty, very loving, very giving, very family- oriented, very connected. She's all about being together.

Life is too short, time is too short. It's about family. Tomorrow's not promised.

HARLOW (voice-over): As this community grieves, authorities are now investigating why this happened. New York City utility company Con Edison received a call from a nearby resident about the smell of gas at 9:13 a.m. They dispatched a crew, but the explosion happened before they arrived.

BILL DE BLASIO, MAYOR, NEW YORK CITY: This is a tragedy of the worst kind because there was no indication in time to save people.


HARLOW: And just moments ago, Brooke, NYPD confirming to us the name of the third victim, a 21-year-old woman, Rosario Hernandez Barrio (ph). She is one of the six that perished in this building collapse.

Complicating efforts as they continue to fight the flames behind me, a massive sinkhole has formed in front of one of the buildings, so they can't get the necessary equipment in to continue digging through all of that rubble.

As the mayor told us yesterday, this is going to be an extended operation, really search and recovery at this hour, Brooke.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Obviously, people affected in the building and those in surrounding buildings, windows, walls gone. Poppy Harlow, thank you, in Harlem for us this morning.

Coming up next here on NEW DAY: day six in the search for the Malaysia Airlines flight 370. Then there is this whole confusion that, you know, this missing jetliner, where could it be? Will it ever be found? Differentiation in reporting from "Wall Street Journal" versus the Malaysian government.

We're going to talk to a former pilot about what he thinks could have happened, next on NEW DAY.



Let's give you a look at your headlines at this hour. Two people are dead, 23 injured after a car plows through a crowd of people outside a nightclub at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas. Police say the driver was driving drunk the wrong way down a one-way street. When they tried to stop him, he sped off, but he was apprehended, is now in police custody. That driver faces two counts of capital murder.

Still no sign of debris from Malaysia Flight 370 has been found near Vietnam. The search focused where satellite images from Sunday located objects after the plane went missing. Now, officials in Malaysia are disputing a recent "Wall Street Journal" report saying the plane was in the air for four hours after its last contact, citing engine data from unnamed U.S. sources.

At least six people now are confirmed dead in that natural gas explosion that flattened two 5-story apartment buildings in New York City. This morning, several people remain unaccounted for. Dozens of others were injured in that blast. Rescue teams and investigators are searching desperately the rubble for the survivors. Residents in the Harlem neighborhood say they had been complaining for weeks about the smell of gas.

FBI agents in Hawaii are on the hunt for the nation's most wanted domestic terrorist. The bureau says credible evidence places Daniel Andreas San Diego on the state's big island. An alleged animal rights extremist, San Diego is charged with detonating homemade explosives outside of two San Francisco area companies with ties to a lab that conducted animal experiments. The 36-year-old has been on the run since 2003.

Do you remember that New Jersey teen who sued her parents for financial support after she moved out? Well, she is back home. Last week a judge denied Rachel Canning's initial request for funds. The family has apparently now reconciled. The 18-year-old has not officially dropped the suit against her parents, however. A follow-up hearing is still scheduled for late April.

Those are your headlines. Let's get back to our top story.


BALDWIN: Michaela, thank you. Back to our top story and this missing flight, the growing confusion surrounding the disappearance of Malaysian Air Flight 370.

So, let's bring in our former pilot here, Anthony Roman.

Anthony, thanks for joining us here in the studio on NEW DAY here.


BALDWIN: Listen, each and every day, it seems like there's all kinds of conflicting information, so let me get this out of the way. And the fact that we're getting reporting from "Wall Street Journal", citing with these two unnamed sources. We now know at least the sources are aviation and national security, right? Versus what Malaysian government officials are saying, that their reporting is incorrect.

Their reporting is basically that this plane flew for four additional hours after that transponder went off. If that is accurate, what would that suggest to you?

ROMAN: Well, if the transponder is off, it can suggest a number of things happening. It could suggest a security problem in the cockpit. It can suggest a catastrophic electrical failure. There has been a history of cockpit fires and smoky conditions in this aircraft. And it could suggest that the pilot actually intentionally shut it off themselves.

BALDWIN: But the four hours, specifically, that it would be flying four hours, and we now know that the U.S. counterterrorism officials are looking into the possibility with this new knowledge that someone could have come into the cockpit.

ROMAN: There are precedents for aircraft flying on their own for four hours where the crew becomes disabled. There is such a thing as called insidious decompression, where the decompression is so slow that the pilots aren't aware of it and start to become incapacitated.

Now, the cockpit warnings can go off, but sometimes with this insidious decompression, the pilots, their judgment becomes affected by the lack of oxygen at the time the alarm goes off and they don't take action.

BALDWIN: So, one possibility, someone with some sort of nefarious intent, wanting to take this plane to an undisclosed location, you're suggesting an accident could have happened by accident on board this plane.


BALDWIN: And it could have been a ghost flight for four additional hours before potentially crashing who knows where.

ROMAN: It's one alternative. The other is a security issue in the cockpit.

BALDWIN: What about the fact we're also learning -- let's play out the "if it was hijacked". We know this plane had fuel for six hours? I was reading it could have gone as far as the Indian Ocean.

ROMAN: It's true.

BALDWIN: It could have gone as far as the border with Pakistan. So, when we talk about the search area, which doubled yesterday, should they be looking elsewhere?

ROMAN: I think they're considering it seriously.

Now, they must have some primary radar plots. Even if the transponder is off. If the aircraft is flying above 10,000 feet, there should be a primary radar plot.

Now, I understand the National Transportation Safety Board from the United States has dispatched radar specialists --


ROMAN: -- to Malaysia to examine those radar plots and make just that determination.

BALDWIN: Yes. Malaysia said to the U.S., we need you, and we're going to help.

Anthony Roman, thank you so much for your expertise this morning. I appreciate it.

Chris, to you.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Brooke, thank you.

Coming up on NEW DAY: more gruesome evidence in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial. Will the Blade Runner's attorneys be able to shoot down the forensic evidence against the former Olympian? We're going to take you live to South Africa.


CUOMO: Welcome back to NEW DAY.

Graphic, bloody images shown on day nine of the Oscar Pistorius murder trial, including some of Reeva Steenkamp's body, which appeared to make Pistorius ill.

On the stand right now, a former police commander who worked the scene. Pistorius' defense has been sifting through the evidence, clearly looking for forensic mistakes, trying to undermine the integrity of the investigation.

International correspondent Robyn Curnow has been watching the trial from Pretoria, following every development for us.

Good morning, Robyn. What do we know?

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: (INAUDIBLE) And of course, that crime scene has been a huge focus in court over the past few days and will continue to be over the next few days.


CURNOW (voice-over): This morning, the Oscar Pistorius murder trial began with his defense team grilling the state's forensic expert, Colonel Johannes Vermeulen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All I really want to know is can you remember who you spoke to?

CURNOW: Pistorius' expression -- his defense challenge the expert and the whereabouts of missing pieces from the bullet-riddled bathroom door, the door Pistorius broke down with a cricket bat to reach his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, after he shot her multiple times.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For you to have stated under oath that nowhere that any of those exhibits appeared in SAB-13. It can only mean one thing, that it was checked and it could not be found there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: During the conversations I had, I could not determine where it was.

CURNOW: Pistorius had told investigators he put on his prosthetic legs before taking down the door.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm in a natural position at the moment with my legs.

CURNOW: And on Wednesday, the forensic expert tried to undercut his story, testifying that based on the height of the cracks in the door, Pistorius was not wearing his prosthetic legs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The marks on the door is actually consistent with him not having his legs on. CURNOW: Showing photo after photo of the crime scene, the defense revealing that a mark on the Olympian's prosthesis could match a mark on the door, supporting Pistorius' version of events that he had kicked the door and then bashed it in with a bat with his legs on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If that was the mark of a prosthetic foot on the door, it would be consistent with him wearing his prosthesis.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is correct, my lady, if that is the mark of a prosthetic.


CURNOW (on-camera): Now, just to give you an update, Oscar Pistorius has largely been quite composed in the morning session. However, in the last hour, he violently gagged, vomited again when pictures of Reeva Steenkamp's dead body were flashed up on the court TV screens.

CUOMO: All right. Robyn, thank you very much.

We're going to take a break now on NEW DAY. When we come back, millions of Americans could be living the dream this year, becoming homeowners for the first time. We have details in "Money Time," just ahead.


BALDWIN: Welcome back. It's "Money Time," your money chief business correspondent, Christine Romans, is here to talk about great news if you're looking to buy your first house. So, really, the question is what's holding people back in the first place?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I know. Well, you know, the housing recovery has really been investors. It's been companies buying up big swaths of foreclosed properties. It's been cash buyers. The first-time home-buyer hasn't really been in there, but a new study from Zillow says there could be up to four million first-time home-buyers this year, renters turning into first-time home-buyers.

That would be double last year. These are the places where renters are planning to buy, Phoenix, Denver, Atlanta, Miami. Now, will they do it? That's the question. Mortgage rates have been rising a little bit. They're up a full percentage point over last year. So, it's going to be a little more expensive to do it this year than last. There's the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, 4.3 percent.

That's still really low, though. So, that's why I see a window here for first-time home-buyers. I think a lot of that, you know, smart, fast money that investors, you know, they're going to be cycling out of this and there's going to be an opportunity for first-time home- buyers, if you can find inventory in your town.

BALDWIN: Time to dip big toe in the market. ROMANS: I think it really is. If you have a job, if you have money in the bank, you have some savings, you can afford the house, this might be the single most important financial thing you do with your money this year, first-time home-buyer.

PEREIRA: There's a group of people, though --

ROMANS: That's right. That's right. Yes.

BALDWIN: Would it mean that rent would go down potentially?

ROMANS: You know, rents have been rising and that could be one thing that's pushing people into first-time home ownership, no question. Rents have been rising. There's been a lot of building of new apartment buildings because the millennial generation, they don't want to buy a house! They want to move in with friends. They want to be able to move to different cities.


ROMANS: I know. I know. But there's a lot of change that's happening in the --

CUOMO: But the financial commitment is the same, whether you buy a condo, or a co-op or a stick home, you know --

ROMANS: That's right.

CUOMO: It's winding up being the same thing. You have to buy it assuming you'll keep it. Too many people think it's going to be like something they trade up really quickly. It doesn't work like that.

ROMANS: There's more job confidence, too. For folks who have a job --


ROMANS: -- comfortable in their job, they're more likely to want to buy a home. Very low inventory, though, places like San Francisco, San Jose, New York.


ROMANS: Right. People want to buy a house, they can't find them. So, hopefully, that's going to loosen up this year.

CUOMO: Christine Romans, good stuff with the "Money Time."


CUOMO: Let's take a break here on NEW DAY. When we come back, we've been telling you about the tragedy at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas. A driver just barreled into a crowd of people, killing a man and a woman. Dozens of others hurt. He's in custody. The investigation is still ongoing. We'll give you the latest just ahead. BALDWIN: Also ahead this morning, another lead, another dead end in the search for a missing Malaysian jetliner as Chinese satellite images turn up nothing. Now, there is a stunning report out that could shed a little light on the plane's final hours. We are live in Kuala Lumpur. NEW DAY back after this.


CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome back to NEW DAY. It's Thursday, March 13th, now seven o'clock in the east. And let's start off with our news blast, the most news you can get anywhere. Let's go.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unfortunate, very sad. People down every ten feet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: U.S. investigators suspect the flight remained in the air an additional four hours.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As this goes on, there is less and less chance of finding anything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We fight for our freedom, we fight for our independence, and we will never surrender.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a tragedy of the worst kind.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At least six people are confirmed dead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You heard the boom, and then it rocked the whole apartment.


CUOMO: We have breaking news this morning from Austin, two people killed, nearly two dozen injured when a driver just plowed into a crowd of people gathered outside a music venue at the South by Southwest Festival. Police say that driver is now in custody and that he was drunk. Earlier on NEW DAY, we spoke with someone who was in the crowd and witnessed the chaos firsthand. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Out of nowhere, a car just barreled through some barricades and directly into a group of people, maliciously, even I would say, as there was an open space in the road where he could have driven. But the car, it was traumatizing. The car barely missed me.


CUOMO: All right. So, let's get more on the story now from Adam Racusin, a CNN affiliate reporter, KEYE in Austin. Adam, can you hear us? What do we know?

ADAM RACUSIN, KEYE REPORTER: Good morning. Police have arrested one man after they say he drove into a crowd of people at the South by Southwest Music Festival. This morning, two people are dead, 23 more injured. We're standing about two blocks from where this came to an end. Austin police say around 12:30 this morning, they tried to pull over a driver for suspected drunk driving.

Instead of stopping, the driver drove past them and through the barricades on to a closed road full of people. Police say the driver almost hit an officer and then went into the crowd, striking multiple people. The suspect then hit a moped (ph), killing both people riding on it, a man and a woman. The driver hit a few other vehicles, came to a stop, and then tried to get away on foot.

Police were able to tase the driver and arrest him. Austin police say they will charge the driver with 23 counts of aggravated assault with a vehicle. They also plan to charge the driver with two counts of capital murder.

BALDWIN: All right. Adam for us in Austin. Thank you.

Meantime, officials in Malaysia are disputing this report this morning that their missing airliner was in the air four hours after its final communication. This is what we have from the "Wall Street Journal" this morning. They're reporting that the information comes from engine data by way of unnamed American sources, specifically, U.S. investigators.

If that is the case, it means the plane could be anywhere in a radius of about 2,500 miles. You see all these possibilities on the screen from its last known spot? So, that stretches all the way from Northwest India to mainland Australia.