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Search For Flight 370; Fishermen Claim Jet Sighting; Families Demand Answers; Crisis in Ukraine

Aired March 19, 2014 - 05:00   ET



ROSA FLORES, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news overnight: the search and mystery intensifying for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. New clues suggesting the pilots may have changed course while they were still in contact with air traffic control.

The plane vanishing into thin air, millions of square miles being searched this morning. And also this morning, reports of a new area of focus for that plane.

We're bringing you live team coverage in the latest breaking developments.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And more breaking news overnight. Tensions on a tipping point in Crimea. Ukraine and Russia on the verge of conflict, this as Russia warns the rest of the world any country that gets involved will face consequences.

We're live with developments overnight.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. A lot going on this morning, I'm John Berman.

FLORES: And I'm Rosa Flores. It's Wednesday, March 19th, it's 5:00 a.m. in the East, and 2:00 a.m. in the West.

We begin with the latest breaking news in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, now missing for 12 days. CNN has now learned the plane's computer was likely reprogrammed to make a turn at least 12 minutes before the co-pilot radioed air traffic controllers saying, "All right. Good night." that, as the search for this jet this morning is now refocused on an area off southern Australia, the southernmost part of that arc, where the jet may have flown.

CNN's Jim Clancy is tracking all of the latest developments from Kuala Lumpur.

Jim, what do you know?

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're waiting to hear from Malaysian authorities. They should hold a regular press briefing in about 30 minutes' time, before they can even get started, some apparent family members came into the briefing room here and tried to hang up a huge banner or put up a large poster. They're critical of the way the Malaysian government is handling it. They were taken out forcibly by the police here in Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, we don't have all the details of how that happened, a couple minutes ago.

Our Kate Bolduan is on that, taking a look at what happened there. But I can tell you the families are really upset in Beijing. They shouted you are shameless to Malaysian Airline officials bought they haven't gotten any answers. They want government officials from Malaysia to come and talk to them. That has remained the same.

In the meantime, we report on the programming of the automatic navigation system, that it might have been preprogrammed, even before it made that hard left turn away from its -- and deviated from its normal course of flight. We are looking at that, and wondering what the significance is. We know that they've concentrated on the pilots. But that doesn't necessarily mean that the pilots were doing something wrong, or had a nefarious plan. They could have been putting in alternate route to an airport that they would need in case of an emergency.

And these kinds of cases, as we've heard in the past, there are many things going on in an aircraft we may not understand.

Here's CNN aviation analyst Mary Schiavo.


MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: I've worked on many cases where the pilots were suspect, and it turned out to be mechanical and a horrible, horrible problem. I have a saying myself -- sometimes an erratic flight path is heroism, not terrorism. And I always remind myself not to jump to that conclusion, because sometimes, pilots are fighting just amazing battles, and we never hear about it.


CLANCY: All right. Now, we know that the NTSB and the FAA have several members here, about five members of their respective agencies that are in Kuala Lumpur. I understand that more FBI agents are coming in. They were working a support role to the ongoing investigation. The search, as you noted, very far southwest of Australia, in the area where they believe the plane would have been the maximum that it could have gone with its own fuel supply.

The Australians were out there today. I believe there's at least three, maybe four search aircraft, including a sophisticated U.S. P8 Poseidon on scene. They're also asking merchant mariners to get involved. They, too, are looking all across that search scene there for any trace they can find the flight 370 -- Rosa.

FLORES: All right. Jim Clancy, live for us in Kuala Lumpur -- thank you so much.

BERMAN: And we want to give you some information just in to CNN. A U.S. official is telling CNN they do believe it is far more likely that this flight did head south, is in that southern search area, rather than the north. This is why as Jim Clancy just reported we may be seeing much more activity off the coast of Australia right now in the search for this plane.

Now, I should also tell you despite this information, despite U.S. officials saying that that southern location is much more likely, there are countries taking precautions. Israel, a little concerned that the possibility that this missing flight could be used for some kind of nefarious terrorist purposes.

CNN's national security analyst Fran Townsend, a former homeland security adviser to President Bush, she told Bill Weir last night that she believes that scenario is unlikely.



FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: If you look at the northern route, would have had to skirt very close to the Pakistan/Indian border, probably the best air defenses in the world. You also would have been very close if not over the United Arab Emirates, which also has incredible air defenses.

I mean, I'm not sure where that takes you. I mean, I can't imagine that it could have actually navigated that far, skirted all those air defenses, and the theory is you landed where, in Iran? To load up with some sort of weapon.

But in fairness to Israel -- I mean, it's a tiny country, it's not as though, they -- you know what I mean, they take this air defense system very seriously because they don't have a lot of time to react. And so, until you know where the plane is, that is, do you know it's in the Indian Ocean -- until you've accounted for it, it's in some ways given their own security posture, it's understandable that they would simply go to a heightened state of alert.


BERMAN: All right. Again, the news we're getting in just now, the U.S. officials saying they do believe it's much more likely that the plane is in the southern area off the coast of Australia. Still this morning, people continue to ask how no one on the ground noticed anything when this jet disappeared. It did fly over land over the Malaysian peninsula.

Our Saima Mohsin is in northern Malaysia this morning, talking to some people who say they did see something flying low over the Gulf of Thailand.

Saima joins us on the phone right now.

What can you tell us, Saima?

SAIMA MOHSIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): John, I'm in the northeast of Malaysia, in a town called Kota Bharu. Now, this is along the coastline of Malaysia. I've been speaking to fishermen who were out with a good night fishing the evening, Friday evening, when MH370 disappeared. Now, they say that around 1:30 in the morning, let's not forget that is around the same time that MH370 vanished, they said that they saw an incredibly low-flying aircraft. I asked them, this unusual, you operate under a normal flight path, you see planes all the time.

They said this was incredible unusual. They have never seen a plane flying this low before. I asked them, what they could see on it? And one of the fishermen said the lights looked the size of coconuts to me. They were incredibly big.

So, this is two fishermen. There were ten people on board. Eight others were actually sleeping at the time. Two fishermen on board say they saw this aircraft flying very low.

Now, this, of course, is the last time that we believe MH370 sent out the crucial signal that identify the aircraft MH370 shortly before we believe it made that crucial turnaround.

Now, those on board say it was flying low. They went back home. They told their families and their friends and immediately reported it to the police. Now, this was in the morning when they came back from their fishing trip. That was before they had heard --


BERMAN: We're losing contract right now with Saima Mohsin who's in that area on the map of Kota Bharu, who's speaking with fishermen who said they saw a very low-flying plane the day that this Flight 370 disappeared. They have alerted authorities.

Investigators will tell you that often eye witnesses are not the most reliable here. People do see things in the sky particularly at night. However, every piece of information is crucial to this investigation.

FLORES: Important that she did mention that those fishermen went to authorities and expressed what they saw. And that was local police so it's difficult to figure out if that information has gotten to investigators. But we're going to have to see based on information she gathers today while she's there with the fishermen.

BERMAN: There were three Americans on the flight including Philip Wood, an IBM employee who's returning home to Beijing after a trip to the United States. His partner tells Anderson Cooper that she believes this jet was hijacked. She believes Wood is still alive.


SARAH BAJC, PHILIP WOOD'S PARTNER: And I don't have any expertise in flight, planes and satellites, but I have intuition, and I have a feeling that they're still alive. And common sense to say, you know, if I was a terrorist, what would I want to do? I would want to protect the valuable assets on the plane because that would be the leverage point.

So, you know, if we spent so much energy looking into motives and potential places where that plane could be hidden, you know, maybe we'd be coming up with different answers. But the reality is, whoever has done has been successful. I mean, they have fooled all the experts and all the governments in the world. They have made a very serious point.

But I think they can accomplish their goals without hurting people. Because, you know, in the end, in the end, the families and the god of whoever is doing this could forgive them creating this crisis. You know, it's a terrible thing that they've done, but I think they couldn't forgive if they took innocent lives.

You know, I'm just hoping, I'm hoping, and I'm asking please to not hurt the people on the plane. You know, find some other way to accomplish what you're trying to accomplish. But don't hurt the people. Let Philip come back to me, please.


FLORES: There are a lot of emotional family members. We know the majority of the people on board were Chinese nationals, and many of their families are now threatening a hunger strike until they get answers, from the airline and the Malaysian government.

Pauline Chiou is in Beijing covering that emotional part of the story.

And, Pauline, you have spent a lot of time with these families. What are they telling you?

PAULINE CHIOU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I spent a lot of time with them. And I was listening to that interview with Sarah Bajc, and several of the family members here in Beijing are echoing exactly what she had said in that interview. They're saying if this was a political act of terror, they're saying please don't use our loved ones as political pawns. That's what they've been saying for days now.

Now, earlier today, at a news briefing with Malaysia Airlines, many family members say they're starting to get sick. They're feeling ill because of the fatigue and the stress and the lack of sleep. One elderly man said he was getting dizzy and he didn't know what hospital to go to becuae he's not from Beijing.

Now, many of these families, there are 465 relatives here in Beijing, from all parts of China, they're saying they're not getting enough support, emotional support from the Malaysian government or Malaysia Airlines. So they've decided to take matters into their own hands.

And two people today stood up and said, we are going to start a self- help family support group. And they pulled out pieces of paper, they said, we want everyone to sign their names, tell us what they're jobs are and what their strengths and skills are, and we're going to take care of ourselves.

So, we've seen a little bit of this grassroots effort with these families. They've been here for 12 days together, these families coming together, and saying, we're just going to take care of ourselves because the government and the airline is not -- Rosa. FLORES: Some stuff words there. Sometimes, it just takes neighbors helping neighbors. In this case, we're definitely seeing the best of human beings out there with those families.

Pauline Chiou, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

And, of course, we will continue to follow the breaking developments in the mystery of Flight 370, all morning long, including the new renewed focus on that southern arc of the search area. The news just in that the plane is more likely in that southern arc which would put it off the coast of Australia. And there has been a renewed focus by the Australians in that extreme southern area this morning. We'll have more on that coming up.

But first, Ukraine authorizing its forces to shoot after an attack on a military base. They are vowing to keep Crimea from leaving that country. The question is, is it too late even for that discussion? Could war be looming?

We're live with the latest after the break.


BERMAN: All right. Breaking news this morning in Crimea, where protesters have now gotten through the fence of Ukraine neighboring naval installations in Sevastopol. Ukrainian forces have now been authorized to fire in self defense after a soldier was killed when armed men stormed the military base near Crimean capital. This will be the first military death since Russian forces marched into Crimea last month. And those armed men who attacked were apparently wearing Russian uniforms.

This is just add to get confusion over the fate of Crimea now that it has signed a treaty with Russia which really formally makes it part now of the Russian Federation.

Our Nick Paton Walsh is live in Crimean capital Simferopol this morning.

Nick, what can you tell us?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this morning, according to a Russian agency, 200 protesters marched into the naval headquarters in Sevastopol, the port city sort of southwest of where I'm standing here. We understand they began talking to the Ukrainian soldiers inside, and witnesses are now seeing unarmed Ukrainian soldiers coming out and the Russian flag being hoisted above the place.

There have been reports, perhaps of violence, the suggestion from the Russian agency no Russian soldiers were involved. Of course, they would say that.

This is, of course, an extremely tense development because of the violence we saw here in the capital yesterday where one chief warrant officer on the base was shot in the heart, dead. And another wounded, shot in the neck, a captain. So, the real fear I think for intense standoffs.

We saw one in the northwest of country when pro-Russian protesters massed at the gates, asked people peacefully if they would leave the base, the Ukrainian soldiers to surrender. But in the case we saw, backed out by Russian troops with heavy weapons very close to them. This tension could snap or cause a loss of life or bloodshed.

Not so in this case, and it does seem despite the noises from Kiev, and the new government there, saying the troops have armed themselves and not going to give up Crimea or withdraw troops from it, despite those noises, it does seem that most Ukrainian forces seem abandoned by their commanders in central Ukraine and choosing instead to take the easier way out here.

But deep tensions, many concerned we have the holdouts of loyalty to Kiev. And now that many of pro-Russian forces here feel emboldened by being called part of Russia by Moscow, Moscow alone, the West doesn't recognize that, that we could see violence.

But thankfully, it seems what's happening in Sevastopol, the naval headquarters there, that seems to be being defused peacefully -- John.

BERMAN: A complicated situation, deep tension as you say and these fears as you point out that it could spiral out of control.

Our Nick Paton Walsh in Crimea for us this morning -- thanks so much.

FLORES: And switch gears. It could be a critical day at the Oscar Pistorius trial in South Africa, with a police ballistic expert back on the stand, discussing his analysis of what happened the night that Pistorius shot and killed Reeva Steenkamp. Pistorius covered his ears as the expert described bullets hitting Steenkamp in a bathroom inside Pistorius' home.

BERMAN: In New York today, the defense is expected to (AUDIO GAP) in the terror trial in New York of Osama bin Laden son-in-law. The judge literally denying a late request to put self-described 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed on the stand remotely from prison in Guantanamo Bay. Mohammed says that Sulaiman Abu Ghaith played no military role in al Qaeda. Abu Ghaith is accused of conspiring to kill Americans and acting as a top al Qaeda spokesman after the 2001 attacks.

FLORES: And this morning, the NTSB investigators are starting to piece together clues of a deadly crash of a news helicopter in Seattle. Two people on board died. Another on the ground was seriously hurt when the chopper slammed into a street and burst into flames. Witnesses say they heard strange noises when the helicopter took off after refueling.

BERMAN: That's such a sad story. Let's get a check of weather on this Wednesday.

Indra Petersons here with that.

Good morning, Indra.


Last day of winter, guys, and we definitely want to be enjoying that. Keep in mind, of course, there's another system out there. Why wouldn't there be?

We're talking about snow and rain this morning, so we're going to have be watching for is some freezing drizzle, especially in the east in the morning hours where the temperatures are hovering above freezing. We will be watching out for that.

But, otherwise, generally, a pretty nice day out there. Unfortunately, we're going to watch that system makes its way across. Many of you are going to be dealing this again. Behind the warmth, a lot of rain in the northeast but there will be some snow and the bulk of that concentrated farther to the upper north, upper portions of the Midwest and upper portions of New York state is what we're watching for.

Otherwise, yes, temperatures will finally start to rebound. It's going to be feel better out there. So, not a lot seeing snow. A light rain throughout the day today and tonight, not a biggie. Focus on tomorrow, first day of spring, we want it badly.

BERMAN: Yes, indeed. Second source right here on that one.

Indra Petersons, thank you so much.

FLORES: And we're, of course, following the breaking news from overnight. New clues in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. What could have happened inside that cockpit of that jetliner before it vanished? One expert pilot offers his theories, next.


FLORES: Welcome back. It's 25 minutes past the hour.

You know, it seems everyone has a theory about what happened to Flight 370, including those who used to fly passenger jets.

Barry Schiff was at the helm for TWA for 34 years and he thinks that the simplest explanation is probably the right one, that the reprogramming and the turn was the result of pilots trying to deal with some sort of problem on board.


BARRY SCHIFF, FORMER TWA PILOT: If you have a serious problem aboard a jetliner like a fire, one thing you're going to want to do is get on the ground as soon as possible. And turning back toward Malaysia, toward a large airport is the first thing I would do. The most imperative thing is to take care of that fire. The last thing you're going to do is communicate unless you have the time to do it because no one on the ground can help you.

Now, I seriously doubt that anyone would try to land a jetliner in the ocean at night, without lighting. Imagine hitting the water at 100, 200, 300 miles an hour. It's going to make that airplane just splatter into pieces.

The ocean is huge, and I simply don't think that they found it yet. I don't know that all the ocean has been looked at yet. I kind of doubt it. My guess is, and it's strictly a guess, that they will find pieces of this airplane some place soon.

It's very possible that they were working their asses off, doing the very best they could to overcome a very difficult problem and became overcome by perhaps a fire, perhaps smoke.

From everything I've seen about these pilots, they were pretty sharp guys.


BERMAN: All right. We're covering all the angles in the disappearance of Flight 370. We're waiting for a news conference to begin in just a few minutes. We'll bring that to you live.

Plus, there's new dramatic video from families of passengers on board that flight. We'll have that right after this.