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Search for Flight 370; Hunt for Landslide Survivors; Obama Attending Hague Nuclear Summit

Aired March 24, 2014 - 05:00   ET



DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, President Obama is wheels down in the Netherlands, heading to The Hague this morning for the first day of a two-day nuclear security summit with over 50 foreign leaders. But that meeting bound to be eclipsed by the broiling trouble in Ukraine and Crimea, as members of the g-7 hold their first face-to-face talks on how to deal with Russia. The president expected to urge continued unity against Moscow.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Meanwhile, in Crimea, Russian troops have seized a Ukrainian navy base, one of several bases they've taken control of in recent days. That as a top NATO commander warns Moscow could have its sights on a new territory, a breakaway pro-Russian region between Ukraine and Moldova. Russian troops continue to mass on the Ukraine border as thousands rallied in Eastern Ukraine Sunday. urging referendum to also rejoin Russia.

FEYERICK: Well, EARLY START continues right now.


ROMANS: Breaking news overnight, 17 days after flight 370 went missing, a Chinese plane spots suspicious objects off the coast of Australia. We're learning more details of what happened on board that jet. We are live with the latest developments on the search, the investigation, and this morning, what the families are saying.

FEYERICK: And the death toll is rising this morning after a landslide buries homes near Seattle. Rescuers hold out hope as they try to get through a square mile of mud to find anyone surviving.

ROMANS: Yes, that is a really dangerous situation there in Washington state.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

FEYERICK: And I'm Deborah Feyerick. It is Monday, March 24th, 5:00 a.m. in the East.

ROMANS: All right. Let's begin with this -- there's word this morning of suspicious objects spotted in the southern Indian Ocean. Could they -- could they unlock the mystery of the whereabouts of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, missing for 17 days now? A Chinese crew reportedly saw them floating on the water, but so far, Australian officials say search planes have been unable to relocate them.

This comes as we're learning more about what happened in the cockpit of that flight. Military radar indicates the Boeing 777 dramatically changed altitude, flying as low as 12,000 after turning off course and disappearing from radar.

CNN's Andrew Stevens live for us in Perth, Australia. Andrew, what do we know about these suspicious objects in the ocean?

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, suspicious objects. That's what they're being called by Xinhua, which is the official state-owned news agency, Chinese news agency, Christine.

What we know is frustratingly vague. There are two relatively big objects surrounded by smaller white objects over an area of several square miles. Nothing more specific than that.

Aviation experts I've been talking to say that could tally with a debris field from something like a downed plane, but could is the operative word here. We just don't know.

Now, you said that a P-8 Poseidon, a U.S. plane was diverted to that area. It's got to the area. And frustratingly, it can't locate that debris field which the Chinese saw.

Now, what we are learning through tweets from the search coordinators is that the Chinese aircraft was actually just heading back out of the search zone on its way back to Perth when it saw these objects. It sounds like they saw them at quite a high altitude, 33,000 feet, perhaps.

We're just trying to confirm that, but this is what we're getting from a tweet from the search organizations. Any visual from 30,000 feet is obviously going to be very, very difficult to identify. The plane had to head back to Perth. The P-8 was diverted into that area and hasn't, as we say, been able to locate it.

But as far as the broader picture's concerned, Christine, it is fitting an emerging pattern, if you like. There has been satellite images now from the U.S., via the Australians, who release them, from China. There have been now two sightings of what looks like some sort of debris field, or at least several objects clustering together, all in the past five or six days, all in the same area.

And when I say the same area, we're talking about still a very, very big area, thousands and thousands of square miles. We can't necessarily join these dots together and say they are all related, but at the moment, it remains very much the strongest lead anyone has. The next step is to get more planes down there. The weather is not helping.

And also, they need sea assets, surface vessels in the area at the moment. There is only one, an Australian warship. More are coming, but it's still going to take time for that to happen.

ROMANS: Really important, you mentioned the weather. You've got really bad weather coming in. That's going to make it much more difficult to get assets in the ocean, close to where they think this debris is, to actually confirm these sightings that the planes and the satellites are finding, right?

STEVENS: Yes, right, that's the problem. The Australians have been saying the last three days at least that it's so important to get eyes on, actually get visual confirmation of what they're seeing, which means they've now drawn in several of these small, corporate jets, ultra long-range. They can take 10, 12 spotters with them. They get down there quite low and they scan the sea. Good, old-fashioned eyeball technology just so they can get an idea.

Now, if you are getting bad weather, visibility is absolutely critical here. And what we're hearing from the planes coming back over the past 24 hours is visibility in some areas in that target zone, Christine, virtually down to not quite zero, but very, very limited because the cloud, this low cloud that has been hanging around in some places is now down to sea level. It's patchy. Some areas are clearer. But the weather picture is for worse to come, so that is just making everything more and more difficult.

At this stage, though, 10 flights in the air today. That is the biggest search day we've had so far. There's no suggestions from the authorities here that they're going to have to scale back because of the weather.

ROMANS: All right, broiling seas, white caps. I cannot imagine how difficult it is to a spotter in one of those corporate jets. Andrew Stevens, thank you so much, Andrew.

The U.S. is committing additional resources to the search right now. NASA is using satellites to try to take pictures of the Indian ocean, but it my take days before the satellites are repositioned, and the Navy is sending its own sophisticated listening equipment right into the search zone.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are sending the ping locator down to aid in locating the black box. Basically, this is highly sensitive equipment that is used, it's towed behind at very slow speeds on a commercial vessel down to depths of about -- it can listen down to depths of about 20,000 feet, listening for the ping coming off the black box, which is going to be critical in helping out with the investigation.

It's a difficult task. The Indian Ocean is a very large area, and we were trying to follow -- you know, we go to every lead that's out there in these identified search areas. We're dedicated to the mission and we'll keep going as long as we're needed out there.


FEYERICK: Such a massive search, so many countries involved. Word that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 dropped as low as 12,000 feet before disappearing from radar. That's raising new questions for investigators about just what happened inside the plane's cockpit and why.

CNN's Jim Clancy's live for us in Kuala Lumpur.

And, Jim, we have heard multiple theories. We've heard that perhaps the cabin depressurized and the pilots tried to fly low. We've heard that perhaps it was a botched hijacking, maybe a suicide. But it's all speculation.

What are you learning there on the ground about why that plane may have been coming back towards Kuala Lumpur?

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, originally, they said this a couple of days after the plane went missing, that they thought it was coming back in the case of an emergency, but there are questions that are raised by all of this. You mentioned 12,000 feet. There have been other altitudes that have been talked about.

You know, one of the investigators told me that as they looked at it, it also at the end climbed up to 29,000 feet. It tells us that someone inside the cockpit, whether it was a pilot, whether it was a hijacker, whoever it was, was steering the plane.

Could it have been a catastrophic failure, as you said there, a loss of pressure in the cabin? Well, possibly, but the pilot in that case would almost certainly be dropping altitude and coming in to land at an airport. And there is more than one airport that this aircraft came very close to before it took off and headed towards the Indian Ocean.

So, why? You know, that raises the question. It's just another one of the puzzle pieces. And it just stresses more than ever before why it's so important to find the plane to get the flight data recorders and discover the real process that took place inside the cockpit.

Right now, we have a mystery. We're waiting for a press briefing that should be starting at any moment. And we'll bring you the latest. If we hear it, you will, too -- Deborah.

FEYERICK: All right. Jim Clancy, thanks so much. Clearly, no mayday call at all, raising more questions and time running out, because that black box only emits the ping for about 30 days, so they've got 13 more to go.

ROMANS: Oh, wow. All right, the families of the 239 people on board Malaysia Airlines flight 370, they simply want answers, and they believe the airline and authorities have been less than forthcoming. For them, this awful waiting game drags on.

CNN's Pauline Chiou, she is in Beijing for us. She's following that important part of the story.

Pauline, what are you hearing from these families? They must be, frankly, so frustrated and in agony here, you know, going into the third week.

PAULINE CHIOU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's been a wait of agony and anguish. These people have been suffering, and they're emotionally exhausted. Now, we heard, Deb, and Jim there talking about speculation and theories, and there's a lot of that going on here in Beijing because the Chinese families of the passengers feel they're not getting enough information. They say they're not getting consistent information from the Malaysian officials.

For the past few days, they've been meeting with this high-level delegation from Malaysia. We had another one of those meetings today.

And again, the families said they posed certain questions to these officials, even that report out of CNN that a source had told CNN that this plane had gone down to 12,000 feet. They asked the officials here in Beijing about that, and the answer was we cannot answer that because there's no one from the military here to address that question. And that's why these families are so frustrated.

Now, I spoke with a group of family members in a hotel. You can see this video of them. We shot them from behind because they say they don't want their elderly relatives to know about their connection with this flight. They have kept this news away from their grandparents and other elderly relatives, but they say they're just so frustrated.

And then earlier, we had spoken with a family whose only son was on the flight. His name is Mr. Li. He walked out of that briefing so angry and he talked about his mistrust in the Malaysian government.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Our relatives were on that flight. This wasn't an accident. Instead, it was caused by the Malaysian government. They are covering up something.


CHIOU: And, Christine, that's a sentiment that we hear from a lot of families here.

But a special envoy from the Malaysian prime minister's office has said to CCTV, the state television station here, that Malaysia will be honest and truthful with the Chinese families. Also, the Malaysian ambassador to China has said that a high-level delegation from Malaysia will be sent to Beijing, but that also is an issue, because the families here say they want a consistent point of contact. They want the same people to answer their questions. They don't want this revolving door -- Christine.

ROMANS: That makes sense. That makes sense -- they need an advocate and they need somebody who's going to give them information they need. So, you know, you're going into the third week now.

Most of the families, are they choosing to stay in Beijing? Are some people going home? I mean, what are -- their life has been suspended here.

CHIOU: Yes, their lives have been on hold. They've had to take leave from their jobs. Many of the relatives say they are staying. There are a few families who have decided to at least send a few relatives home and then have other relatives come back to take their places. And the reason why is because Malaysia Airlines is paying for their hotel rooms here in Beijing. There are about four or five hotels that are being used for this particular issue, and the airline has made it clear that once they leave, there is no guarantee that they'll get accommodations when they come back.

So, there is this rotation that we're seeing among certain family members that if they have to leave and go back to jobs, they try to call another relative in to at least stay in Beijing for a couple of days. And most of them are saying they want a presence here, because these are their loved ones on this plane and they want to get down to the bottom of this.

ROMANS: All right, Pauline Chiou for us this morning in Beijing -- thanks, Pauline.

FEYERICK: And there is word this morning of a problem on board another Malaysia airlines jet, this time a flight from Kuala Lumpur to South Korea. The Airbus A330 had to be diverted to Hong Kong because of a failed generator. The plane landed normally and passengers were transferred to other airlines to make the rest of their trip.

ROMANS: Breaking news this morning from Washington state, where authorities are trying to find survivors from this deadly landslide. The very latest on that, next.


ROMANS: We are following breaking news this morning from Washington state. The death toll from a massive mudslide rising.

Eight people are now confirmed dead in what's described as total devastation in an area north of Seattle. There are still 18 people unaccounted for. Officials are saying rescuers struggling to reach those people because the area is unstable.


GOV. JAY INSLEE (D), WASHINGTON: To a significant extent, Mother Nature holds the cards here on the ability of ground personnel to enter the slide area. It is essentially a slurry. They rescued at least seven people, both being through airlift and through on-the- ground efforts, but some of them who went in literally got caught in up to their armpits and had to be dragged out by ropes themselves.


ROMANS: At least six homes destroyed. Authorities say the destruction comparable to a tornado strike.

FEYERICK: President Obama this morning is in the Netherlands for an important international summit at The Hague. He is joined by 50 world leaders. They're set to discuss nuclear security, but the meeting is likely to be eclipsed by the trouble in Ukraine and Crimea. The president expected to urge continued unity against Moscow.

ROMANS: Meanwhile in Crimea, Russian troops have now seized a Ukrainian navy base, one of several bases they've taken control of in recent days. That as a top NATO commander warns Moscow could have its sights on a new territory, a breakaway pro-Russian region between Ukraine and Moldova. Russian troops continue to mass on the Ukraine border as thousands rallied in eastern Ukraine Sunday, urging a referendum to also rejoin Russia.

FEYERICK: Well, let's get a quick look at your forecast. Jennifer Gray is here.

Good morning, Jennifer.

ROMANS: Good morning.


We are looking at another possible winter storm. It is spring, yet, we could see a major storm develop across the Northeast.

Now, we're still trying to keep our finger on how things are going to play out. We're still a little uncertain here, but we do know there will be a low tracking to the east, and it is going to bring extremely windy conditions and possible snow to places in the Northeast.

Now, the two models we are watching are very, very different scenarios. This is scenario one. It doesn't bring much snow to New York. Boston picks up about two inches. The other scenario -- this is the worst-case scenario -- that low tracks a little bit more to the west and we could be looking at 4 1/2 inches of snow in New York city and up to a foot of snow in boston and possible blizzard-like conditions around the cape.

So, this is going to be something we're really going to be watching. Hopefully, the models will come to better agreement tomorrow. This is going to hit Tuesday night into Wednesday, so this is right around the corner.

ROMANS: Bad news.

GRAY: Yes, I know.

ROMANS: Bad news, but thank you. I'll take it this morning on a Monday morning. I'd rather be prepared. Thanks, Jennifer.

GRAY: All right.

ROMANS: We're now down to the sweet 16 at the NCAA tournament, and some big favorites have fallen.

Andy Scholes is here with more in this morning's "Bleacher Report."

My team, the Cyclones, they're in, so that's all I've got to say.

FEYERICK: She's happy. ROMANS: My team's in! But, oh, man.

FEYERICK: Shockers are what we'll talk about first. We'll get to your cyclones in a minute.

But the amazing run by Wichita State, you know, it finally came to an end. The Shockers were 35-0 coming into the matchup with Kentucky and this was another great game this weekend. Both teams trading clutch shots down the stretch. Wichita State was down two in the closing seconds, and Fred VanVleet's going to get one last shot for the shockers, but it was off the mark. Kentucky pulls off the upset 78- 76.

Now, the other number one seed in action last night had no problem advancing. Virginia took care of Memphis 78-60. They'll now play Michigan State in a huge Sweet 16 matchup. Arizona, meanwhile, is heading to their third sweet 16 in the past four years. The wildcats dominated Gonzaga 84-61.

In other action, the Baylor bears crushed Creighton, ending Doug McDermott's stellar college career. Doug's dad is the head coach of the blue jays and got to watch Doug climb all the way to fifth all time on college basketball's scoring list.

All right, Christine, this is the game I knew you were watching closely yesterday, Iowa State/North Carolina, coming down to the wire. Time winding down here, DeAndre Kane, the clutch drive and finish. The Cyclones survive and head to the sweet 16 for the first time in 14 years.

All the action, of course, is going to pick back up on Thursday and Friday, and you can watch it on TV.

Yes, Christine, I was looking at your bracket earlier. You're not doing too hot right now. But if Iowa State goes to the final four and ends up winning, I think you're doing pretty good.

ROMANS: I put all my eggs in that basket and that basket is wearing cardinal gold.

FEYERICK: Loyalty is loyalty.

ROMANS: Loyalty is loyalty. Go, Cyclones! I know they're going to do it. I'm so excited.

Thanks, Andy.

SCHOLES: All right.

FEYERICK: We'll be right back.


FEYERICK: This morning, we're following the latest breaking news in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. A Chinese plane has reported what they're calling suspicious objects off the coast of Australia, that as CNN has learned the plane dropped down to 12,000 feet after making its turn off course.

There are many theories about what may have happened to flight 370. One of them is called the shadow theory, and it's not impossible. Chad Myers explains.


CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: The shadow theory says that Flight 370 flew to the Northeast but only to waste time, to turn around and fly back over here in order to catch up with a plane that had left Singapore later and they would fly together as one plane on the radar off toward the north and toward the northwest, somewhere up that way. We don't even care about that at this point in time.

Is it possible? I've talked to a lot of pilots, they say yes. They have seen the shadow theory work, in fact, with other people, bad people trying to keep either drug planes away from other planes or whatever.

If you get the planes close enough together, they will show up as one spot on the radar. And if you get a secondary radar, it squawks SQ- 68, doesn't 370, because the transponder's turned off, and 68 doesn't even see 370, because with the transponder off, there is no proximity alert to this plane. It doesn't work that way.

If this is turned off, that plane doesn't even know it, and if it came up from behind or from the back, you may not even see the plane ever there.


ROMANS: Fascinating.

FEYERICK: Absolutely.

ROMANS: We'll get the very latest on the search for this flight right after a break.