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EARLY START

Storm Delays Search for Flight 370; Flight 370 Families Devastated; Landslide Death Toll Rises; Crisis in Ukraine

Aired March 25, 2014 - 05:00   ET

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


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

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN ANCHOR: And authorities say that 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, everyone. I'm Deborah Feyerick.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans for you. It's Tuesday, March 25th. It's 4:00 a.m. in the East. We welcome our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world.

Up first, the search for Flight 370. That search is on hold this hour. Violent, stormy weather in the south Indian Ocean extending the wait for pilots hoping to get back in the air by tomorrow, extending the wait for family members overcome by grief and outrage, a day after being told all 239 lives on board that missing jetliner are lost.

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

And just maddening, this wait, you know, wait when so many people want to -- you know, they want to -- they want to find out if there's any debris. The families want something tangible that proves the -- you know, proves the fact that this flight was lost. Just very -- it's frustrating, another frustrating day, Jim.

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, another frustrating day, and you have to perceive for the families what the situation is. Their loved ones were here in Kuala Lumpur on March the 8th, flying home to Beijing, many of them, and you know, the plane ends up at the other end of the earth, literally, and they want some answers. It's very hard for them to understand.

They met with Malaysia airlines today, discussing the possibility some of these family members may be traveling on from Kuala Lumpur down to Perth, Australia, the site of the sea search. The CEO of Malaysia Airlines has made it clear that they are willing to set up a center there for the families so that they can be close to where their loved ones may have perished.

Now, the CEO was defensive today. He talked about the profound sadness for the families of the passengers and the crew, his own Malaysian Airlines family. And he said, you know, he knows that he faces criticism because of that text message that was sent alerting the families, but he says they didn't really have an option.

Let's listen to what he said, told reporters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CLANCY: He said they had to reach 1,000 family members in a very short period of time. This was a bit of a surprise to them, that this announcement was going to be made by the prime minister, and he said they tried to talk to as many as possible directly by phone. Many of them are here in Kuala Lumpur or in Beijing. They were told in person. They just wanted to make sure that the families heard the news before they heard it from the news media.

Meantime, the investigation goes on. We are expecting to get another briefing from Malaysian officials here in about a half hour's time. We'll bring you, of course, any updates as soon as we hear them.

Back to you, Christine.

ROMANS: It's interesting, that text message was in English. Was that -- why? You would think that most of the families -- really, most of the family members are Chinese.

CLANCY: They are. The text message was in English. I'm not sure -- excuse me -- I'm not sure they didn't have a translation. You may know better than I do about that one. A lot of that story broke really in Beijing.

The airline is clear, though, that it wants to accommodate the families as best it can. It's just that right now the families want answers to that fundamental question, where are my loved ones? And until and unless they find the plane, there's no answer to that.

ROMANS: All right. Jim Clancy --

CLANCY: Christine?

ROMANS: -- thank you so much, Jim.

FEYERICK: And just when search teams seemed so close to finding Flight 370, a storm rolled into the south Indian Ocean, gale force winds driving rain, low clouds, all making it much too dangerous to fly. Ships had to pull back out of the region.

As soon as things clear, pilots will be heading back to the area where it is believed that the 239 people on board Flight 370 met their end.

Andrew Stevens is monitoring developments in Perth, Australia, this morning.

And, Andrew, it has got to be so frustrating and so dispiriting for the pilots who knew sort of where this debris was, especially because of the pings that were picked up, the last ping being in the Indian Ocean. The odds of finding this promising debris, it's got to go down significantly, no?

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, so close and yet so far on that debris. It was spotted by an Australian air force plane. They dropped flares nearby.

There were two shapes of interest and they actually gave the colors, a green-gray round shape and a rectangular orange shape. They put flares in.

They had a navy ship close by. That was combing near for four hours before night set and then the dirty weather set in and they didn't find it. Very frustrating for air crews that they can't get back out there and search.

The Australian defense minister paid a surprise visit to the air base here in West Australia, where I am, and there's a lot of whispers going around the press crew here that he was going to give us some significant information about what they had spotted in that last take by the royal Australian air force. But in the end, he came over and the best he could say was that he was confident in the communications they were getting from Inmarsat about those satellite readings. He was confident that is, indeed, where the plane went down.

So, no further information there, and as far as the actual search goes and how close they're getting, Deb, frustrating. We had the deputy chief of Australia's defense forces putting it in perspective for us, and a pretty disappointing perspective at that.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEVENS: So, a haystack not even found, let alone that needle in the haystack. And what it's going to take to find this haystack is eyes- on, visual identification of a piece of debris from that plane. Once they've got that, they can start working back using these very sophisticated drift models to establish in a rough area where that plane actually may have hit the water, and then they've got the task of finding it under, perhaps, three miles of ocean. So, frustrating at the moment, expecting planes to be taking off early tomorrow to resume the search.

The Koreans are joining, bringing two flights down, two planes down tomorrow. They join another five nations.

It's ramping up. The Australian naval vessel is expected to be back on station tomorrow. Three Chinese naval vessels are also expected to be there tomorrow. There is an icebreaker from China also making its way there. It's all continuing to build, but at this moment, the only return we're getting is frustration on more frustration.

FEYERICK: There's no question, it's one step forward, two steps back, and obviously, winter setting in, that's going to make it even more challenging. This plane could not be farther from anything.

All right, Andrew Stevens for us there in Perth, Australia, thanks so much.

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Now to the anguish and outrage of the Flight 370 families. Hundreds of friends and loved ones in China marching to the Malaysian embassy overnight. This is not something you normally see, people marching, protesting in China, some place that really tries to keep public displays of displeasure under wraps. They want to make their voices heard.

Pauline Chiou is in Beijing for us this morning.

You were telling us that they were set to get on buses and go to the Malaysian embassy, but the Chinese government said, no, and then they went off on foot anyway.

PAULINE CHIOU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. And you're exactly right, you don't see many protests in Beijing, because this is a country that closely monitoring its citizens. When they sense an uprising of some sort, they quickly suppress it, so you don't see this very often.

So, we saw 300 to 350 family members try to get on these buses and move to the Malaysian embassy. The police didn't allow them, so they went there on foot. They walked about two miles. And along the way, they held up banners that read, "1.3 million people are waiting for the plane." "Malaysian government, tell us the truth, we've been waiting too long."

A woman held up a signed to her husband, and it said, "Husband, please come home. What about me and our child?" And then the protesters handed a letter of complaint to an official from the embassy. And then afterwards, we talked with one of the relatives. His name is Steve and his mother is on the plane. And he says he just has no faith in the Malaysian government.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHIOU: Now Christine, the issue is, these relatives are not prepared to close the door on this. They are not satisfied with the Malaysian government's explanation that the plane has gone down. They want to see concrete proof.

They say, OK, if we see some debris with the Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 indication on it, we will accept this, or if we see a seat cushion or suitcase of a passenger, we will accept this. But we will not accept data from a satellite and no exact location of where this plane might be. We want more information.

ROMANS: And part of that is that they've been getting so many mixed messages, and you know, almost two steps forward and one step back in the last 15 days from the messages they're getting from the Malaysian government and Malaysian airlines.

And with these text messages that were sent to the family, what has the reaction been? I was asking Jim Clancy. You know, it was in English. I mean, did that anger some people? Was that out of just, you know, a common language they wanted to get it out to everyone? What's the reaction to the text message sent?

CHIOU: You know, they were confused, because they got this text message in English. And actually, when I heard about this, that it was on Sina Weibo, it was like the Twitter here in China, I was skeptical about it, because I thought, why would an airline send a message in English, when most of the passengers are Chinese? And in fact, most of these relatives do not speak English. It's very hard for us to find someone to interview in English.

But there was also some confusion. CNN has spoken with a psychologist who said that one woman received a text message. She didn't understand it, but she thought it was good news and she forwarded it to someone and she said, I feel that they have good news and I go to this briefing. And she was, of course, devastated when this happened. But I will tell you, Christine, in these news briefings between the Chinese and the Malaysian officials, there has always been a translator, there has always been someone who has translated the questions from the relatives from Chinese into English so the Malaysian authorities can understand what their questions are.

So, that's a question for Malaysia airlines. Why didn't they put this in Chinese? But also, the bigger question is, was this the appropriate way to notify relatives?

ROMANS: And they say they were trying to work with the utmost of speed. They did not want any of the relatives to see something at the same time that the international community is, that they really wanted people to hear it from them and that they did reach out personally to many of those people, the people they could get to. They had 1,000 people to notify.

Pauline, such, just heartbreaking, what those families are going through in Beijing. Thank you for following it for us.

FEYERICK: Yes, and even though they thought they were being expeditious, in fact, the delay in language and translation just adds, it compounds the frustration, compounds the pain.

Well, breaking news coming up at the scene of a devastating landslide in Washington state. The number of missing reaching nearly 200 as the death toll rises. The very latest, straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Fourteen dead, as many as 176 are missing, sobering, new numbers 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 -- look at that -- wiping out 30 homes. You've got over 100 emergency responders canvassing the scene with search dogs and heavy equipment, but fire officials say just getting near the homes is a huge challenge.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: In some places, the mud is 15 feet deep. It is like quicksand, and flooding is now a big problem because debris from the slide is jamming up the north fork of the Stillaguamish River, watering spilling over the banks into homes. Again, 176 missing, but there are hopes that -- hope is kind of a strong word to use -- but that the number is much smaller than that. You have people potentially double counted there. FEYERICK: President Obama today is meeting behind closed doors with European allies at The Hague. The G7 leaders are trying to come up with a plan to further punish Russia for taking Crimea. And as they speak, Russian troops, yes, 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.

So, now, Russia's been essentially kicked out unceremoniously. Do the leaders believe that this will be effective in any way?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they did say that they feel that Russia cares deeply about its standing on the world stage, about its image, especially Russian President Vladimir Putin, that he really wanted to put on something of a show by hosting the G8 Summit this summer in Sochi, Russia, not long after, of course, the Olympics were held there.

So, by taking this away from the Russians, essentially kicking them out of the G8, because G7 leaders are going to meet on their own, they feel like this is one more step in, as the administration has put it, isolating Russia. They've said repeatedly that Russia is completely alone in the world in viewing its takeover of Crimea as legitimate, viewing that referendum that it held there as legitimate and that other western nations don't recognize this.

In fact, the question was asked yesterday after the decision was made to just hold the G7 alone, is Crimea lost? Is it gone? Can we see it as belonging to Russia now, essentially?

And administration officials said no. No one else sees that as a legitimate move, and Russia is further isolated now -- Deb.

FEYERICK: All right. Michelle Kosinski, thank you so much. Clearly, isolating Russia a big deal, but at the same time, the E.U. relies on about 30 percent of imports coming from that area. Thanks so much. Appreciate it.

ROMANS: Yes, it's hard to have a Cold War in a post-globalized world.

FEYERICK: Yes.

ROMANS: All right. President Obama's calling for an overhaul of the controversial NSA program that collects bulk phone data. Currently, the NSA collects massive amounts of data. It stores it for five years. This new proposal would keep the data in the hands of carriers. The NSA would need a judge to authorize access to those records. These changes would require congressional approval.

FEYERICK: And breaking overnight, two people found dead after a late- night shooting at Naval Station Norfolk. That's in Virginia. Base officials say that the incident took place at a pier just before midnight. The facility was placed on lockdown as a precaution. That has now been lifted.

An investigation is going on. We will bring you the very latest developments throughout the morning.

And let's get a quick check of your forecast with Jennifer Gray.

What's it looking like, Jennifer?

ROMANS: Good morning.

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You know what, we were talking about that winter storm yesterday, or winter-like storm, even though it is spring. It is still on track. Ingredients are coming together this morning. We have rain into the Carolinas, snow already in places like West Virginia. We even have a blizzard watch in effect for the cape and also a winter storm watch in places in Massachusetts.

We are going to see that rain continue as places like Raleigh, Washington, D.C., New York, boston, all expecting snow. As we go through tonight into tomorrow morning. The models still disagreeing just a little bit. One model we're looking at, the American model, has New York City at less than an inch and boston about an inch and a half.

Look as we compare, though, 3.7 inches in New York.

FEYERICK: Whoa.

GRAY: Eight in boston. So, there is a huge, huge discrepancy there with the models. Also, the major story is going to be the wind. We could see wind gusts higher than 50 miles per hour with this storm. Temperatures are going to be very, very cold, start to moderate again by the time we get to Thursday or so.

ROMANS: I'm still voting for the American model over the European model.

GRAY: Yes, we're all voting for the American model. Yes.

ROMANS: There you go.

FEYERICK: So much now is a little bit more.

ROMANS: Thank you, Jennifer.

GRAY: All right.

ROMANS: More indecision from investors today. Global stock markets right now mixed. European stocks rising. Asia, though, closed down slightly. Futures here flat.

Watch the NASDAQ today. The tech focus index has been the year's best performer, but it took a hit in yesterday's trade. Names, big names like Netflix, Yahoo! and Twitter all down sharply. So, watch tech stocks this morning.

FEYERICK: And coming up, the latest on the search for Flight 370 and new criticism for the Malaysian government, how they're handling this crisis. That's coming up ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back.

This morning the search is suspended off the Australian coast, suspended. Crews have been hunting for debris from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, but now bad weather is calling that all off, at least for today. 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, possibly premature, and it drew new questions about how Malaysia has handled this investigation from the start. Many questioning how they can determine what happened so quickly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: I can't remember a time when the conclusion was drawn this early. In fact, the NTSB is usually criticized for dragging things out much, much longer and then having a series of hearings.

So, this is -- this is rather primary, rather early. And then also to narrow it down to those four causes with absolute -- or potential causes -- with absolutely no evidence is quite irregular, I think.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FEYERICK: And we're going to have the very latest for you on the search for Flight 370, including a press conference and what is happening right now, after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)