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EARLY START

Mystery of Flight 370; Russia Defies the World

Aired March 18, 2014 - 04:00   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news overnight, the search for the missing Malaysian airliner is refocused, crews scouring the shores off of Australia this morning. This as we receive new clues from the cockpit, new information that the pilots or someone could have reprogrammed the flight computers to take that plane off course. We have live, team coverage tracking all the latest developments.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning, crisis in Ukraine, Crimea declaring its independence, Russia defying the world, recognizing what many are calling an illegitimate vote and now facing serious sanctions.

President Vladimir Putin prepares to address the world in just a few hours. Is war looming? We are live.

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

It's very early. I've got the 4:00 a.m. voice this morning, John.

BERMAN: You'll work through it. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: I'll work through it.

BERMAN: It is Tuesday, March 18th, 4:00 a.m. in the East.

And we do begin with the latest on the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. It's now been 11 days -- 11 days since that jet went missing.

And this morning, Malaysian officials are admitting they're simply not sure what happened in the cockpit. It's not clear if the final words spoken to air traffic controllers came before or after the plane's data reporting system was shut down. That's a change. The Malaysians reversed course on that one.

This morning, however, there are reports that the plane's turn off course was preprogrammed into the flight computer. However, no one is quite sure if the new coordinates were entered before takeoff or after that jet was already in the air or who entered them.

Now, the search has extended to the waters off Australia, and a U.S. ship is pulling out, being replaced by air power from the United States.

We're going to start with Jim Clancy live in Kuala Lumpur with the latest.

Jim, if you would, I'd like to start with these computers, reported in "The New York Times" and other sources, showing that this jet was programmed to go on this course that it went on. What does that mean?

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, I'm not an aviation expert, John, but I'm becoming one here in the last 11 days and I try to study up on this stuff.

All right, the pilot's in the cockpit, he wants to go someplace. He can punch in, I think it's a five-digit code, which is a specific what they call waypoint. It's a marked navigation area on all of the maps, and he takes the airplane straight in that direction.

And so, what they're saying is somebody did that. Now, this could be done, OK, by somebody who wants to hijack the plane, go a specific route, by a pilot who wants to hide the plane, go a specific route.

It can also be set by a pilot who knows that's the way to the fastest airport. He's just had a major mechanical breakdown and he needs to get his plane on the ground.

What happens after that? We have no idea, but there are a lot of theories out here. You know, what we're hearing about the investigators and all of this about the pilots, it all presupposes the pilots had a reason to take this plane off course, that somehow, they were involved.

Problem is, John, we don't have a shred of evidence yet from them as to a motive with either one of these pilots.

Back to you.

BERMAN: No, we don't. We don't know whether those computers were programmed before the plane took off or in the air. We don't know if it happened during that period of the last voice contact, which was also when the ACARS system was disabled, which was also soon before the transponder, the radar contact was shut down.

So, Jim, as you say, there are so many questions that need to be answered here, but this is just the latest piece of information as so many have come across the transit.

All right. Jim Clancy for us in Kuala Lumpur, thanks so much.

ROMANS: As Jim mentioned, investigators are asking just what happened inside the cockpit of that jet, and as evidence mounts that the flight was deliberately turned off course and the turn may have been preprogrammed into that computer system.

Former FBI agent Jeff Beatty says if it's true, it may actually remove one possibility from the list of what could have happened to this jet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF BEATTY, FORMER FBI AGENT: If I'm a family member, see some encouragement here, because if you've programmed -- if you're the pilot and you program something into the computer and the aircraft begins a turn, you don't need to fly another four or five hours to commit pilot suicide. This kind of takes off the table a little bit in my mind, one of those scenarios that probably families were most fearful of. So, some good news there. One can make an inference of some possible good news.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: So, everyone on board that jet is now being closely scrutinized, including those pilots. Both were experienced. So far, nothing's emerged to definitively point the finger at them, other, of course, than the fact that whoever flew the plane off course had to know how to operate a 777.

Saima Mohsin is in Kuala Lumpur with more for us.

Good morning.

SAIMA MOHSIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine.

Yes, we've been taking a look at the pilots, of course, in great detail. We're trying to get as much detail about them as we can for you, about their families, what they did in their spare time, and, of course, their jobs. And the pilot, of course, under particular scrutiny because of that air simulator that was found in his house.

I spoke to a friend of his, Peter Chong, who told me about it, said he used to practice various scenarios on it. But of course, also, his political affiliation's under scrutiny as well, as investigators go through and try to piece this jigsaw puzzle together.

Now, Peter Chong, his friend told me that he was a silent member of the People's Justice Party, that's the opposition party here in Malaysia. I've just spoken to a politician from that party. He told me that, yes, he knows Captain Zaharie used to attend their meetings, used to attend their social events.

He wasn't terribly vocal. I said to him, was he an extremist? He said absolutely not. It would be absurd to say that or to believe that.

He was just a member of the community who wanted to be a part of our party, which is a party for change within a democratic system -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Saima Mohsin, thank you.

BERMAN: Many of the people who had family members on board that plane are still holding out hope that this was something other than a terrible accident, and perhaps, their loved ones may still be alive. Still, they're not one bit happy at the slow pace of the search and lack of information that is coming in.

Pauline Chiou is live in Beijing with that part of the story.

Good morning, Pauline.

PAULINE CHIOU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, John.

Yes, there's still this steady demand for answers from these relatives here in Beijing, and emotions once again are running high at these daily briefings between the families and the airline representatives. Earlier this morning, one mother stood up and made this very passionate plea.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHIOU: She says, "We have only one child. We are respectful Chinese people. It's hard to control your emotions when you might have lost your loved ones. We just need the truth," she says, "don't use them as political pawns."

Now, she did say this is her only child. And keep in mind that China does have this one-child policy. So, many of the sons and daughters of the 154 Chinese citizens on this plane were only children, so that's another reason why these families are so desperate for information, John.

BERMAN: So awful to hear, Pauline.

We also understand that China is now saying that it has ruled out the possibility that any of its citizens on the plane were responsible for its disappearance.

How can they make such a sweeping statement?

CHIOU: Yes, that's right, they did say that today, and that came from the Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia. He said that the central government has already checked out the backgrounds of the 154 Chinese citizens on board, and there was no evidence of any sort of link to terrorism or any sort of link to sabotage.

Now, you ask how they can make such a sweeping statement. To put this into context, China's central government puts a lot of resources into monitoring its own people in this huge country of 1.3 billion people, and the reason for that is to maintain social stability.

So, one reason they may be able to say this definitively is because they can easily access that kind of information and to check up on people's backgrounds -- John.

BERMAN: We should say, Pauline, that China, we just learned a few minutes ago, has also upped the search on its own territory, including on land and the sea with the use of satellites and other technology. It seems they're getting more involved in this search operation. We'll see if it pays any profits on that.

All right. Pauline Chiou for us in Beijing, thanks very much. ROMANS: Still we have a whole lot more on this mystery of Flight 370. We're going to continue to follow that.

But, first, could a crisis in Ukraine put Russia at war with the world? We are live with breaking news that right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Happening today in Moscow, Vladimir Putin is set to address the Russian parliament to explain his decision to formally recognize Crimea as an independent nation.

Just hours after the U.S. and European Union formally sanctioned some of Putin's top advisers over Crimea's vote to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. Ukraine calling up troops and preparing for possible war.

Michael Holmes is live for us this morning.

Michael, bring us up to speed. What's the latest?

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Christine.

Yes, things are moving along here and at quite a pace, really, when you consider it. Crimean application is in to join the Russian Federation. Of course, Vladimir Putin signing a decree accepting that. It's all part of the procedure.

The Russian parliament, the Duma, is going to vote on the 21st, Friday. And as you mentioned, Vladimir Putin to speak to the Duma at 3:00 local time. That's in less than five hours from now.

Also moving along, those sanctions that we heard announced yesterday by the European Union and the United States. They are sinking in, although at least one target said he was proud to be on the list. He said that it showed his service to Russia.

Now, of course, those sanctions are really phase one. They do take time to bite. There will be more sanctions as this escalates along.

Now, also, the new Crimean leaders are dealing with the realities of being independent or joining the Russian Federation, if indeed it does head that way, all sorts of things -- their water, their electricity, their gas come from Ukraine. They're going to have to sort out where they're going to get it from going forward.

And one other interesting thing that sort of slipped by a little bit, there are some vast oil and gas reserves out in the Black Sea that Ukraine has leases on. Now, Crimea has basically said they're going to nationalize all those industries there, and they have claimed those platforms.

That is something that is going to be a massive, massive issue. There are hundreds of millions of dollars, potentially billions of dollars at stake when it comes to that, and Crimea's saying they're going to give it to Gazprom, the Russian gas giant. So, there is an awful lot at stake here as this goes forward, Christine.

ROMANS: Petrol politics just beginning.

Michael Holmes, thank you so much.

BERMAN: Fourteen minutes after the hour for us.

This morning at the Oscar Pistorius trial in South Africa, a crime scene photographer is due back on the stand answering questions about the pictures he took of the Pistorius home after Oscar shot and killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. The photographer revealing it was just him and Pistorius in the room when he took the picture of the sprinter's hands, and there was unexplained blood on the walls near Pistorius' bed, far from the bedroom where the shooting took place.

Developing this morning, an alleged wannabe al Qaeda terrorist arrested near the Canadian border. 20-year-old Nicholas Toussaint appeared in a Seattle courtroom on Monday. The California man is accused of trying to get to Syria to join al Qaeda and al Qaeda-linked terror groups. He's charged with attempting to provide material support to foreign terrorists. If convicted, he could face 15 years in prison.

ROMANS: Federal prosecutors say self-described 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed should not be allowed to testify in trials of Osama bin Laden's son-in-law. Sulaiman Abu Ghaith is charged with conspiring to kill Americans and acting as the spokesman for al Qaeda. Mohammed who was in prison in Guantanamo Bay says Abu Ghaith had no role in planning military operations. Arguments on admitting his testimony are scheduled for today.

BERMAN: A sentencing hearing expected to continue today at Ft. Bragg for Army Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair, who has now admitted to having an affair and has now apologized to the female captain who he was accused of sexually assaulting.

Sinclair choked up, saying he failed her and caused her harm. He did agree to a plea deal that's likely to force his retirement and possible reduction in rank. A lawyer for his accuser says she is satisfied with the plea but stands by her assertion of sexual assault.

ROMANS: There's been a big surge in Obamacare enrollment as we approach the March 31 sign-up deadline. More than 5 million people have now enrolled for coverage, 1 million in just the last two weeks. The White House initially hoped for 7 million by the end of this month. If this pace keeps up, supporters can point for a strong finish, despite last fall's botched rollout.

How many people have actually paid for the plans, though, that's important and that remains unclear.

BERMAN: Very important. Also the proportion of young people involved. Breaking overnight, new e-mails possibly shedding new light on the involvement of New Jersey Governor Chris Christi's campaign manager, former campaign manager, in the shutdown of lanes on the George Washington Bridge. The e-mails show that Bill Stepien was looped in about complaints over the lane closures and responded "thanks" when forwarded a message from the upset mayor of Fort Lee. A state legislative committee released the e-mails as part of their case to a judge that Stepien should have to abide by a subpoena as they investigate this scandal.

ROMANS: Happening today at the site of a deadly gas explosion in New York, additional testing as authorities try to figure out what led to the blast that killed eight people. Most of the rubble has now been removed, and arson investigators plan to begin a pressure testing on gas lines. Autopsy results show most of the victims died from smoke inhalation or blunt force trauma.

BERMAN: New developments this morning in that awful crash at the South by Southwest festival in Austin. A third person has now died. She had suffered critical injuries when a car plowed into a crowd outside a music venue. Twenty-year-old Rashad Owens is facing murder charges. Police say he was driving drunk and fled from them, leading to the crash.

Right now, at least seven of the injured remain hospitalized.

ROMANS: An autopsy expected today in the apparent suicide of a top fashion designer, 49-year-old L'Wren Scott, a longtime girlfriend of Mick Jagger, found dead Monday in her New York apartment. She was a star in the fashion world, dressing celebrities like Nicole Kidman, Oprah Winfrey, First Lady Michelle Obama. Jagger's spokesperson says he's devastated by the news. The Rolling Stones have canceled their concert set for tomorrow in Australia.

BERMAN: This morning, Chris Brown is waking up in jail, where he will remain for the next month, now that a judge has ordered the singer held for making comments in rehab about using guns and knives. Brown was arrested last week after being dismissed from the facility where he was receiving treatment for anger management and substance abuse. He has been on probation since pleading guilty to assaulting Rihanna back in 2009.

ROMANS: Another huge recall for General Motors, this time involving faulty airbags. The automaker recalling more than 1.2 million SUVs. They may have a wiring problem that could cause their side-mounted airbags to not deploy. G.M. also recalling more than 300,000 full- sized vans to make the instrument panel safer and 64,000 Cadillac STS sedans or overheating brakes.

BERMAN: Pretty interesting video released inside G.M.

ROMANS: I know, Mary Barra, the CEO there, giving kind of a real inside look at what they're doing to clean up some of these recalls. That's the first time we've really heard her. So, she talked about being a mom and what this means to her being a mom, too.

BERMAN: Interesting.

All right. Eighteen minutes after the hour right now.

We do have new developments this morning on the missing Flight 370. Were the pilots planning to take this flight off course before they even took off? We'll have live, team coverage, ahead.

ROMANS: Plus, severe storms battering parts of the country. We're tracking the very latest on that, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: We're following the latest, breaking news in the search for Malaysian airlines flight 370, now missing 11 days today. The search is focused on the waters off Australia, amid reports that the plane's turn off course may have been preprogrammed into the flight computer. We'll bring you the very latest in a few minutes on that.

BERMAN: First, in North Carolina this morning, there is hope that warmer temperatures will help melt a layer of ice after a serious storm just dragged down trees and left roads in really bad shape. There were big accidents on interstates near Greensboro, and officials are warning drivers, stay home this morning, if you can.

ROMANS: All right, let's get an early check of the rest of your weather with Chad Myers.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Christine and John. Good morning, everyone.

Kind of a bumpy day across parts of the Midwest today, a lot of wind from the Rocky Mountain states all the way to the east. Red flag warnings, fire warnings going off there across parts of the Midwest. Everybody else is pretty much high and dry.

That low does get bigger for later on this week and moves into the Great Lakes, but the wind there moving away finally. Warm across parts of the East Coast today, not dramatically, but warmer than we've been, all the way up the East, we're going to be in 40s and even a couple places 50s. Washington, D.C., melting all of that snow that you had overnight and the night before last. Even 47 in Atlanta, 67 in Memphis and warm out west, the beginning of summer almost. In Dallas, a high today of 79.

Christine, John, back to you.

BERMAN: Nice to be in Dallas.

ROMANS: Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

All right. The mystery of Flight 370. This morning, the search refocused. We have new information, new information about the plane's flight plan. Live team coverage, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BERMAN: Breaking news overnight. The search for missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 taking to new waters. This flight vanished into thin air 11 days ago. This morning, new clues on how the plane may have steered so far off course, reports the computer was reprogrammed. We have live, team coverage to bring you the very latest this morning.

Russia ready to defy the world, recognizing part of Ukraine as an independent nation, facing sanctions and warnings from the U.S. and other world leaders. What will President Vladimir Putin say this morning and what is in store for the people of Crimea? We are live with the breaking developments.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm John Berman. Twenty-seven minutes past the hour.

We are following the investigation into Flight 370, the Malaysia Airlines flight that just disappeared with 239 people on board. There are new clues this morning in this investigation, new reports that the plane's turn off course was preprogrammed into the flight computer. The big question: was that done on the ground or was it done in the air?

Now Malaysian officials say it is not clear if the final words spoken by the co-pilot to air traffic controller came before or after the plane's data reporting system was shut down. The Malaysians themselves have changed the timeline here.

The focus of the search now in the waters off Australia, an enormous search area. It seems no one quite is sure at this point where this flight is or where even to look in some cases.

Jim Clancy live in Kuala Lumpur with the latest.

And, Jim, again, I want to start with the reports of the flight computer and the course that may have been preset that the pilots were following.

CLANCY: All right. We're talking about the autopilot and the automated navigation system. This is a system that works off what they call waypoints, points on a map that are well known to the aviators where their system will go directly, take them directly to that point.

We've already heard reports that it did that, but the question is why? What evidence do we have? Was it the pilot trying to take the plane for his own personal reasons? We don't have any motive proved for that with the pilot, either one of them.

Was it hijackers that wanted to take the plane and they used that program to go someplace? Well, we don't have any hijackers so far. Everybody's gone over the list and there's no hijackers on it.

What we do know is that the plane must have had a problem. You know, we talk about the one thing that has changed here. They no longer think that those systems were systematically turned off one by one, one of them before they said, "All right, goodnight." They think that they might have gone down at the same time -- electrical failure, electronic problems on the plane, a fire.