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Storm Delays Search for Flight 370; Flight 370 Families Outraged; Landslide Death Toll Rises

Aired March 25, 2014 - 04:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Heartbreak in the search for Flight 370. Desperate families flood the Malaysian embassy in Beijing hours after learning the jet likely crashed and all lives on board were lost. For the very latest on the search for the plane, the investigation and the families who just want to know what happened.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN ANCHOR: And authorities say they're still in rescue mode, but this morning, the number of dead and missing in a landslide near Seattle is rising and the situation is being called grim.

Good morning, and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Deborah Feyerick.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's Tuesday. It's March 25th, 4:00 a.m. in the East.

We welcome our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world.

We begin with an agonizing holding pattern in the search for Flight 370. Violent, stormy weather in the south Indian Ocean extending the wait not just for pilots hoping to get back in the air by tomorrow, but also for family members overcome by grief, overcome by outrage, a day after being told by Malaysian Airline and government officials all 239 lives on board that missing jetliner are presumed lost.

Let's bring in Jim Clancy. He's been covering this story since the day Flight 370 vanished. He is in Kuala Lumpur for us this morning.

Jim, bring us up to speed with the latest this morning.

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, some of the family members that are here in Kuala Lumpur, flown here by Malaysia Airlines, had a meeting with airlines officials today discussing the possibility of going to Perth, Australia, in order to be closer to the victims of this now deemed air disaster with all lives lost.

However, they couldn't get a direct answer because the airline is waiting to see some confirmed debris before it starts moving any relatives to that location. But it has said in the past it is willing to do that, it is ready to set up special centers that will help cope with their needs and take them to the scene of where their loved ones may have perished. Now, the prime minister, Najib Razak, talked with Malaysian officials and lawmakers today, telling them that he came out with this announcement because he didn't want the families to hear it first from someone else, and he didn't want to be accused of hiding anything.

Malaysian Airlines said that the text messages that had been sent to family members were only a way to reach out to them and inform them. They said they tried telephone calls. Of course, many of the families were brought in and personally told the news before the announcement of the prime minister last night. This is what the CEO of the airline had to say about sending those text messages.


AHMAD JAUHARI YAHYA, MALAYSIAN AIRLINES CEO: Our sole and only motivation last night was to ensure that the incredibly short amount of time available to us, the families heard the tragic news before the world did.


CLANCY: Now, Mr. Yahya did stress that wherever possible, they reached out and tried to telephone the family members. He said their sole motivation in all of this was to give them the announcement first, in person, as close as they could, you know, before they heard it from the news media.

Well, meantime, it's noteworthy that the investigation here continues. They've interviewed about 1,000 people, including relatives of both pilots. Malaysia has been very sensitive to criticism in all this. We saw more of that today in Beijing.

But in recent days, in the last two weeks, we've seen really an improvement in the way Malaysia's been handling this crisis, coordinating the search, doing all of the difficult diplomatic moves that have to be made in order to get 24 countries together. This is truly amazing that so many countries are participating in this, and Malaysia is trying to organize it, coordinate it and see that the one goal that they have, find some trace of the missing Flight 370 out there in the vast reaches of the Indian Ocean -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. In Kuala Lumpur for us this morning, Jim Clancy -- thank you, Jim, for your excellent work.

FEYERICK: And just when search teams seemed closer than ever to finding Flight 370, a storm rolled into the south Indian Ocean. Gale force winds, driving rain, low clouds all making it too dangerous to fly.

As soon as things clear, pilots will be had heading back to the area where it's believe Flight 370 met its end.

Andrew Stevens is monitoring developments in Perth this morning.

Good morning, Andrew. Well, winter is setting in, the upstream currents very, very difficult right now. That's going to affect the location of any potential debris, correct?

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. So frustrating for all the search crews here that they can't get out again today. And they may have been on the brink of making a vital breakthrough, a turning point, some people are calling it, which is, of course, linking a piece of debris to actually the flight, the downed flight.

There was evidence yesterday from a royal Australian air force plane that saw two objects in the sea, which provoked a lot of interest. They were described as a green, a grey, circular-shaped object and an orange rectangular-shaped object. There was an Australian defense, maybe defense vessel, actually in the zone when they made that sighting. It steamed towards where they had reported it.

The airplanes actually dropped flares in there, but they still actually couldn't find it after four hours of searching, so frustrating for them, and then the bad weather set in, so bad in fact that it actually drove this Australian warship off the target zone. They had to stay about 80 miles away to get out of the worst of the weather. Gives you an idea how bad the conditions are, the defense minister here calling them horrendous.

But also, we heard from the deputy chief of the armed forces in Australia as well today, just telling us about how far they are along this search. It was quite a disappointing statement for the families, given that their hopes have been raised that there may be some conclusion to this. He put it in context. This is what he had to say.


MARK BINSKIN, VICE CHIEF, AUSTRALIAN DEFENSE FORCE: We're not searching for a needle in a haystack. We're still trying to define where the haystack is. So that's just to put it in context.


STEVENS: Now, a needle in a haystack. They don't know where the haystack is. What they mean by that, they won't know where that haystack is until they can make a positive ID on the piece of wreckage. Then, they can work back there and find what will be still quite a big body of water where that plane may have gone down, where most of the wreckage is lying. But there is a lot of work still before they get to that point.

And the weather, Deb, certainly is not helping one little bit. We're 100 miles away. I hope you can get a sense of just how windy it is here. We've got a sort of awning here. We've got people actually holding it down, and that's 1,500 miles away. The weather system down there is considerably worse.

FEYERICK: And are they quickly suggesting that the orange item might be some sort of life preserver or life vest or something like that? Is that the suggestion?

STEVENS: That is the suggestion. But be careful, this is not an official suggestion. This is -- this is experts, aviation experts saying it could be linked.

It was interesting that the air force crews spotted, actually gave out to the press the actual colors, which could be significant. But at the moment, getting that firm information is very difficult. The government will tell us, the search coordinators will tell us they're giving us as much information as they can. So, at this stage, there is no definite linkage to anything at the moment.

FEYERICK: All right, Andrew Stevens for us live. Thank you so much.

And when they do finally locate this plane, how hard will it be to retrieve the flight recorders and the rest of the jet? Well, one deepwater search expert says it will be like nothing else they've ever done before.


DAVID MEARNS, MARINE SCIENTIST, DEEP WATER SEARCH AND RESCUE EXPERT: It's going to be a monumental challenge, unprecedented, really, in its scale. And comparing it directly to the Air France 447, which everybody has been talking about. Previously, that was probably the biggest, most complex and most challenging aircraft investigation in deep water in the middle of an ocean. The scale of this is many times greater.


ROMANS: Now to the anguish and outrage of the Flight 370 families this morning. Hundreds of friends and loved ones in China marching to the Malaysian embassy overnight to voice their concerns, to make their voices heard.

Pauline Chiou is in Beijing for us this morning.

These families, now they have this sort of official designation that all lives on that flight are lost. They are quite, quite angry, and next steps here.

PAULINE CHIOU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Christine, they have this official designation, but they're not buying it, because they are not satisfied with the Malaysians' explanation that this plane has gone down. In fact, they think it was a premature announcement. They say they want to see hard evidence, they want to see a seat cushion, they want to see a suitcase or some sort of debris from the plane.

So, as a result, they've been so frustrated with the way information has come out and with the way this message was delivered, that they got up this morning and they coordinated a protest. They all got on to these buses outside their hotel. They wanted to go to the Malaysian embassy. Chinese police did not let those buses go, because here in China, the last thing the government wants to see is social instability. So, we saw this pushback here. So, the family members, they got off the bus and they walked two miles to the Malaysian embassy. And you see some of the signs here, some of the people holding up signs saying, "Malaysian government, tell us the truth, we've been waiting too long." One woman held up a sign that said, "Husband, please come home. What's going to happen to me and our child?"

So, there's so much frustration. They stood in front of the embassy. They gave what's called a letter of complaint to someone from the embassy. But they are not happy.

And another relative talked with the media. His name is Steve. His mother is on the plane, and he says he has no faith in the Malaysian government.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think that they could, because from the beginning, they just hype everything, and I don't think that this kind of government, a liar and even a murderer, can solve anything. I don't think they can solve everything, anything.


CHIOU: You really hear the anger there. Christine, on the issue of communication, the relatives here say there have been so many mixed messages. For example, on Sunday, during this intense briefing with Malaysian authorities, family members were asking a lot of questions and the Malaysian authorities, we're told from the families, were saying we can't give you certain information for the safety of the passengers. That's Sunday. Then on Monday, they get this text message, and then the prime minister tells them that the plane went down with no survivors.

So, you can understand the anger coming from these 450, 500 relatives of these passengers.

Now, I should note, behind me, I'm in front of the hotel where most of the family members are staying. There was a scheduled meeting between the family members as well as the Malaysian ambassador and Chinese government officials. We're trying to get word on what's going on at that meeting.

But clearly, there's an expectation of some sort of confrontation, because security is very high. We saw SWAT teams go in about an hour ago.

So, we'll keep you posted on what happened out of that meeting -- Christine.

ROMANS: After all these weeks of a little bit of hope, maybe some hope and then told their lives are lost. You can just see how frustrated they must be and grasping, grasping this morning, really.

Pauline Chiou -- thank you, Pauline. FEYERICK: And breaking news from the scene of the devastating landslide in Washington state. The number of missing reaching nearly 200 as the death toll rises. The very latest, coming up.


ROMANS: In Washington state, 14 dead, as many as 176 listed as missing. Grim new totals this morning from that deadly landslide northeast of Seattle. And authorities say the death toll will almost certainly rise.

Saturday's one-square-mile slide wiping out 30 homes. More than 100 emergency responders, they're canvassing the scene with search dogs and heavy equipment. But, you know, fire officials say just getting near the homes is a huge challenge.


CHIEF TRAVIS HOT, SNOHOMIS COUNTY FIRE DISTRICT 21/22: It's muddy, in areas it's like quicksand. The debris field's like big berms of clay and quicksand. One of the folks out there told me, he says, you know, chief, sometimes it takes five minutes to walk, you know, 40, 50 feet and get our equipment over these berms. It's very challenging debris to walk across.


ROMANS: In some places, that mud is 15 feet deep, and flooding is now a big problem, because debris from the slide is jamming up the north fork of the Stillaguamish River and water is spilling over banks and into homes.

FEYERICK: President Obama today is meeting behind closed doors with European allies at The Hague. The G7 leaders trying to come up with a plan to further punish Russia for taking Crimea. As they speak, Russian troops are seizing control of every last military base on the peninsula.

White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski is traveling with the president. She is near The Hague monitoring the latest developments.

Michelle, what's happening?


Well, meetings haven't really progressed that issue since yesterday, but the big headline has been that they decided to, essentially, suspend Russia from the G8. So, we're talking about the G7 now. That's the group that is meeting in place of the G8 Summit that Russia was supposed to host this summer, and they'll meet instead on their own in Brussels.

Now, because of the way that it works technically, it's not as if they could vote Russia out of it. The group is formed by consensus. So Russia would have a say in it. But the G7 broke away and decided -- well, there's no reason, as the U.S. put it, to engage with Russia at this point, and they decided that they would ramp up sanctions that would hit Russia's, basically, their economic sectors -- energy, engineering, financial services, different parts of their economy that the U.S. administration feels would have a significant impact on Russia.

It's not to say that the sanctions they and European leaders have already imposed would not have any impact, but they said they wanted to leave some room to ramp things up, as Russia may do. The U.S. saying, though, that they have a deep concern about those troops that are massed at the Ukrainian border -- Deb.

FEYERICK: Has there been any response from Russia with this news?

KOSINSKI: Yes. Right after that announcement was made yesterday, the Russian foreign minister said, well, they don't cling to the G8, they don't see a big problem in it. Although you have to think -- you know, this is hugely embarrassing for Russia, that they were going to host the G8, which was something of a coup for them, and they just came out of the Olympics, being this glorious celebration of Russia and proving that they could put on something like that.

So, the U.S. has said that Russia highly values its standing on the world stage, if this is something that Russia deeply cares about. However, when you look at what has happened and then consistently defying the West's demands that they pull back troops, that they reverse course in Crimea, Russia hasn't done so. In fact, they've really made no changes to their tacts there.

So, how much do they care about their standing on the world stage? I think that's open to interpretation at this point, Deb.

FEYERICK: Yes, without question. Michelle Kosinski for us at The Hague -- thanks so much.

ROMANS: Meantime, President Obama is calling for an overhaul of the controversial NSA program that collects bulk phone data. It's according to "The New York Times." Currently, the NSA collects massive amounts of data, stores it for five years. The newly unveiled proposal would keep the data in the hands of carriers. The NSA would then need a judge to authorize access to those records. The changes require congressional approval.

FEYERICK: And breaking overnight, two people found dead after a late- night shooting at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia. Base officials say the incident took place at a pier just before midnight. The victims are described as a male sailor and a male civilian. The facility was placed on lockdown as a precaution, but that's been lifted now. An investigation is ongoing. We'll bring you the very latest developments throughout the morning.

ROMANS: Asleep at the controls. A Chicago union official now says the operator whose train crashed Monday morning, injuring 32 people, may have fallen asleep. The operator reportedly told several witnesses that she nodded off. The CTA blue line train jumped the tracks. Pictures are really dramatic. It climbed up an escalator at O'Hare International Airport. None of the injuries are believed to be life-threatening. The NTSB is investigating.

FEYERICK: And the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today in two cases challenging the Affordable Care Act. At issue, the requirement that employers offer insurance that includes contraceptive coverage. Both suits were brought by religious business owners who say the directive violates their religious liberty. Last year, U.S. Appeals Court of Appeals sided with the business owners.

ROMANS: Happening now at the Oscar Pistorius trial, a police captain back on the stand detailing the text messages Reeva Steenkamp sent to the Olympic sprinter in the days and weeks before he shot and killed her. Captain Francois Moeller read from the texts in court, including one where Steenkamp said she was sometimes scared of Pistorius. The defense is expected to cross examine him today.

FEYERICK: Five new convictions Monday in the Bernie Madoff scandal. Former Madoff employees found guilty of conspiracy for helping conceal a massive Ponzi scheme that bilked investors out of some $17 billion. Madoff was arrested in 2008 and has said he acted alone. Prosecutors argued that the fraud began as early as the 1970s. Each of the five defendants faces decades in prison.

ROMANS: All right, let's get an early look at our weather this morning. Chad Myers has that for us.


Kind of a complicated forecast for the Northeast -- a couple of different storms trying to interact. I just don't think they're going to get their act together here with big snow, although it's possible with the European model predicting more than anyone else.

There is the low heading up the east coast on the American model. Some light snow in the cape and also in parts of Maine, you know, four to six inches probably on the extreme eastern edge here, but nothing for the city. A little bit back here in Washington, D.C., into the blue ridge parkway.

Now, the European model, a completely different idea -- a little bit closer to the shore, so the snow is not in the ocean, a little bit more onshore, so there could be 10 to 12 inches from Chatham, all the way back to about Plymouth and also up here into parts of Maine. We even see a little bit of snow in the city, which I think is possible one way or the other, also snow into Atlantic City and D.C.

We will see which one is more accurate and also have Jennifer Gray with a live, new update on the new computer models coming up here next hour.

For Wednesday afternoon, mountain snows, good news for skiers out there going spring skiing, and also high pressure in the Southeast warming things up there.

Guys, back to you.

FEYERICK: Thanks, Chad. Well, coming up, the latest on the search for Flight 370 and new criticism targeting the Malaysian government. That's next.


ROMANS: Welcome back. Twenty-five minutes past the hour.

This morning, the search is suspended off the Australian coast where crews have been hunting for debris from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Bad weather suspending that search for debris this morning, this a day after the Malaysian government announced satellite information shows the plane crashed into the Indian Ocean, and they believe everyone on board is lost.

The announcement struck many who have been involved in air disaster investigations as sudden, may be premature, and it drew new questions about how Malaysia has handled this investigation.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: If a country like Malaysia wants to fly something as complicated as the 777, shouldn't it demonstrate to the world that it has the capability of investigating an accident, should, God forbid, it happen? And if not, maybe there should be a memorandum of understanding with another country, in this case, nearby Australia, maybe New Zealand, that has a tremendous amount of capability in this regard to take over these investigations and run them in a systemic way.

JIM TILMON, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: There are little bits of this information that have kind of been left by the wayside. All this business about changing altitudes from whatever altitude up to 45,000, back down to 23,000, and then settling on 12,000. All of these things -- you know, we need a definite timeline that we can just slice out this much time, that much time, this happened there, this happened there, so that things begin to make some sense. We're running a very, very highly technical situation with reduced common sense.


TILMON: That's a mistake.


ROMANS: You know, Deb, it's so interesting, some of these emerging economies in one move, they can rise into the 21st century by buying a quarter a billion aircraft.


ROMANS: It doesn't mean that they have the 100 years of civil aviation background in the country, in the culture that can support it, and that's what's such demand for those flights, because for those airplanes, those aircraft, because this is such a way to modernize for these economies. But this is kind of an interesting -- I think it's an interesting element of that story. FEYERICK: It's -- not only that, but the co-pilot was 27 years old and this was one of six flights that he had on board this plane.

ROMANS: Right.

FEYERICK: So, you have to put that in perspective, too.

Well, we are going to have the very latest on the search for Flight 370 and what's happening right now, after the break.