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Search for Flight 370 Resumes; China to Malaysia: Turn Over Satellite Data; Obama in Belgium for EU Summit

Aired March 26, 2014 - 04:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning: the search narrows and intensifies for the missing Malaysian jetliner that vanished from the sky nearly three weeks ago. Investigators scouring the southern part of the Indian Ocean by air and by sea. New technology on board to help find that wreckage and reveal what went so terribly wrong. We have live team coverage on everything you've missed overnight.

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

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Poppy Harlow. It is Wednesday, March 26th, 4:00 a.m. here on the East Coast.

Up first, the search for Flight 370 back in full swing this morning. Twelve planes and ships from six countries desperately looking for any sign of the missing jetliner in the south Indian Ocean. China now heavily involved, sending four ships and five aircraft to help in the search. Nothing found so far, though.

Meanwhile, family members in China furious. Some trying to storm the embassy in Beijing in search for answers.

Let's bring in Andrew Stevens. He's monitoring the search for Flight 370 from Perth, Australia, all morning.

What are the latest developments, Andrew?

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good news is, the search did bring a lot, Poppy. So, they had the biggest yet air force out there. Twelve aircraft, all of that include five of the corporate jets they've been talking about, these ultra-long range jets, spotters on them. Now, two are returning to the -- military aircraft returning in the next two hours. And we are hoping to get some sort of word of what has been spied today. Nothing so far.

But as you say, very important now, they've got ships in the area. There are two ships in the area. And three more Chinese naval ships very, very close by.

So, the search is being defined still, still, tantalizingly there is no evidence. There is nothing yet that we know of that suggest they have relocated these two promising areas. The Chinese and Australians both found two areas indicating significant size objects. That was two days ago now. Remember, the search had to be suspended yesterday. Nothing new on whether they had been relocated.

HARLOW: We know that some of the key search equipment from the United States has arrived, but that's only useful if they're able to locate debris or at least a smaller field where it may be. Tell me what the prime minister has said about the search possibly not being open- ended?

STEVENS: Yes. OK, let's just talk first about that equipment arriving, Poppy. It is a very, it's a very sensitive and advanced device tugged behind a boat looking for the pingers on the flight recorders. They will not send that out to the site until they have some sort of proof that this is indeed the correct site.

Same with the submersible. It's basically a remote-controlled submarine that can take images of the floor of the sea looking for live objects. That has not been sent out until they have a clear understanding of the crash site. It may still be a wide area. But they need something to work with. U.S. Navy very, very clear about that.

Now, the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott saying is this not an open-ended search. It's interesting comment because his number two four or five days ago was saying the search would go on indefinitely. Tony Abbott did say, though, that any decision to scale back would not be taken lightly. And right now, they are throwing everything they have into the search.

So, at the moment, as we speak, Poppy, this search is in high gear. And will remain so basically for the foreseeable future. But it has been introduced, the fact that it can't go any differently.

HARLOW: Andrew Stevens reporting for us live in Perth, Australia -- thank you. We appreciate it.

ROMANS: Let's talk about the technology that can be deployed to find that wreckage, finding any piece of that debris that can be connected to Flight 370. That's the only real hope investigators have for locating plane and its flight data recorder.

I want you to look at this exclusive video of the high tech autonomous water vehicle. It has been sent to the area by the U.S. military. It's known as an AUV. Now, this has sophisticated sonar that can detect wreckage at depths of nearly 15,000 feet.

The Pentagon says, hey, it's there, just in case there's a need, Poppy.

HARLOW: Well, in addition to sonar, search teams have also what -- it is called a hydrophone. This is at their disposable. It's basically designed to be used under water. They were originally developed to ferret out enemy submarines. And now, they'll be used to locate the critical pings and hopefully that wreckage.

Then the sonar comes in, creating really a 3D map of what is on the ocean floor.

Here's CNN's Stephanie Elam off the coast, to show us exactly how these work.


STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is really interesting technology. And it say difficult task I'm talking about.

I'm joined right now by James Coleman. He's a senior hydrographer. He's with Teledyne Reson and he is going to show us the hydrophone, first of all.

Show us the difference and a sonar. So, let's start with the hydrophone. How does this work?

JAMES COLEMAN, TELEDYNE RESON: Exactly. This is a hydrophone. There's a number of varieties of hydrophones. But basically a hydrophone is an underwater microphone. This is the type of device that they're going to be using either towed behind the boat in long tails or by dipping over the side of an aircraft, in order to listen for the underwater pinger.

ELAM: And then how far can it hear, how wide?

COLEMAN: Only about five miles.

ELAM: Only about five miles. So, this is how you're just trying to find the basic area of where any flight data recorder might be?

COLEMAN: Exactly. You need to find the wreck site.

ELAM: All right. So, if we go from this -- let's take a look at the sonar, because the sonar is what you're going to do to get a little bit closer or if that battery dies on that flight data flight data recorder.

COLEMAN: Exactly. This is the example of a sonar. The difference is the sonar is going to emit sound down to the seafloor. As it receives a signal from the seafloor, it's going to interpret that and build a 3d map of what's on the bottom.

So this device is used to map out what's on the seafloor.

ELAM: But you've got to be right on top of that for that work?



HARLOW: Deploying all that technology, it's really cutting edge technology. It's crucial to the search, but also painstaking and extremely time consuming.

ROMANS: All right. China this morning demanding the Malaysian government turn over the satellite data that was used to determine that all 239 people on flight 370 are lost. That data is being used to narrow the search area in the southern Indian Ocean, but, clearly, not everyone is convinced it's correct. Jim Clancy is tracking the investigation live from Kuala Lumpur.

And when you think about the Chinese government and its position, Jim, you know, the majority of people on that flight were Chinese citizens. They've been watching this investigation for the past three weeks. They clearly want to know everything that's on the table here?

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, they want to know everything. You know, that is some of the technical data that was arrived Inmarsat, working together with British aviation, accident investigators. They are the ones who came up with all of this. It's been more or less accepted by Malaysia airlines as evidence that the plane most likely went down in the southern regions of the Indian Ocean.

That's not quite enough for Beijing, obviously. They want to see the raw data themselves. They want to have a part in all of this in unraveling the mystery, because just as you said, they have so many citizens that have been involved in this. At the same time, it's a way to push a lot of pressure off of Beijing, so that they don't feel it from their own people and put it on the Malaysian government and that is some, some, of what we've seen in recent days, with the families approaching the embassy there demanding answers.

The Malaysians themselves did not arrive at this conclusion. It came from outside, as we have seen repeatedly as they try to look at where the plane is, to try to trace how it went missing, they're relying in great measure on outside sources that can corroborate what they are telling people. And that's what they've done in this case. The Chinese, obviously, want a fuller accounting.

Back to you, Christine.

ROMANS: Narrowing -- narrowing that search area. That seems like, you know, optimistic and progress narrowing it still the twice the size of Texas or something. But narrowing that search area, Jim, I mean, I wonder if the Chinese aren't convinced they're looking in the right place, or they want to be sure they're looking in the right place?

CLANCY: They want to be seen as actively involved and narrowing that down. They have said that they are not going to give up the search in other areas. And that reflects perhaps their skepticism. They want to show that they are covering all bases.

Meantime, here, the investigation goes on to, you know, the motives behind all of this. And perhaps whether anybody should have been involved, should be a suspect, but why, if will you. The inspector general, the police said they're not going to release any information about this investigation, until and unless they have some conclusions. They say that would prejudice their investigation. And we don't expect to hear anything confirmed from them until that time. And that may be after, after, they potentially were able to recover the flight data recorders -- Christine.

ROMANS: We are still a long way from that. We are still looking for any shred of evidence of that plane in the ocean.

Thank you so much, Jim Clancy in Kuala Lumpur for us this morning.

HARLOW: Yes, and the longer this goes on, the harder it is for all of the families waiting for their loved ones. It's been nearly three weeks since Flight 370 vanished. For family members, it's been unbelievable grief and also outrage. Many of them are suspecting that the Malaysian government is withholding information. Few of them accepting the pronouncement that the jetliner is gone.

Our Paulina Chiou has been spending a lot of time with the families in Beijing.

Pauline, you've been with them for weeks now. I know that they're meeting with the Malaysians at this point in time. Are they meeting with the government, airline representatives, what's the latest?

PAULINE CHIOU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, they're meeting with the government right now with a technical team from the Malaysian government.

And Jim Clancy there was just talking about how the Chinese government wants that satellite data. Well, the Chinese families here want to know more about that satellite data as well. In fact, they're asking questions at this moment to this technical team. They're also asking questions about the search procedure.

This meeting started about 20 minutes ago, so we're following that. We do have a producer and David McKenzie inside there.

Now, before this meeting started, I did speak with some family members. One family member is realistic about the prospect of this airplane. But until he sees direct evidence, hard proof, he's not going to give up.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no evidence, we still have hope. If there is some direct evidence shows that maybe the plane has crashed, OK, I accept. With no evidence, I will still have hope.


CHIOU: So, he still has hope, he says. Poppy, let me just tell you a little bit about this particular person. This name is Steve Wang, we met him early on he was very hesitant to go on camera because his grandmother did not know that his mother is on this flight. So, he didn't want to show his face on camera, but as the search went on as the frustration grew, along with other relatives, he decided to turn his grief into activism.

So, now, he's more than willing to go on camera. He's more than willing to lead he's relatives to that embassy that we saw yesterday. So, that gives you an idea of how this progressed in terms of people not wanting to talk to the media. Now, they're just so frustrated, they want to get their message out.

HARLOW: Yes, I know. You know, we've also seen social media lighting out there in China with a lot of celebrities speaking up and demanding answers as well. So, we're going to talk about that later in the show.

Pauline, appreciate the reporting this morning. Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. We're going to continue to follow all the developments on the Flight 370 throughout the morning.

But, first, death toll rising in this tragic mudslide here at home. Up to 24 people killed. That's a new number, 24 people killed. Dozens more still missing. This morning, we've got everything you need to go about the intense search for possible survivors. The very latest from Washington state, next.


HARLOW: We're going get back to our Flight 370 coverage in just a moment.

First, though, this search for survivors from a deadly and tragic mudslide in Washington state. It is growing more grim by the hour. Fire officials now believe up to 24 people are dead with scores still missing. Investigators admitting the chances of finding anyone else alive at this point are slim.

I want you to listen to this 911 call. It comes moments after the mudslide began. It's followed by the fire chief's sobering assessment of the devastation.


CALLER: No, no, no, there's a freaking mudslide. All see is dirt. We've watched hundreds of trees come falling out of (INAUDIBLE).

DISPATCHER: OK, is there --

CALLER: I'm on Sea Post Road. Highway 530. And there's not even a house here anymore.

DISPATCHER: Are there any injuries?

CALLER: Yes. There's people yelling for help.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we're finding is these vehicles are like twisted and tore up into like pieces. You know, I saw a car, and I saw one piece of the car, like one-eighth of a car, it was just all twisted. And it -- it is just amazing the magnitude and the force that this slide has created and what it has done.

It's not just done that to cars. It's done that to these buildings. So, you know, carpet and photo albums and vehicles and boats and wood piles and all these things. All this mud that's heavy.


HARLOW: The human toll. It is tragic. And there are so many questions still. It's believed as many as 170 people -- 170 people still missing and unaccounted for.

ROMANS: They're searching frantically for any survivor. The last survivor I believe was a 4-year-old boy they pulled out of the mud.

All right. President Obama is in Belgium this morning for the E.U. Summit. Talks will be dominated by the crisis in Ukraine. European leaders expected to press the president for more natural gas from the U.S. so they can reduce their dependency on Russian energy and punish Moscow for invading Crimea.

White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski is traveling with the president. She joins us live from Brussels.

What's the latest, Michelle?


Right. Today, it is Brussels. The president will meet with E.U. leaders as well as NATO, and this trip was really to be based on establishing the importance of partnerships, reaffirming those. But, of course, the discussion surrounding this trip has been dominated by our subjects, yes, Ukraine.

The president surprised some yesterday by calling Russia a regional power during the press conference and saying that Russia has put itself in a position of weakness and isolation. Not everyone agrees with that. But that has dominated. That will be part of the discussion as well.

But a few other topics have come up that have been causing some discussion. One is the fact that three Secret Service agents, part of the advance team arriving before President Obama have been sent home for disciplinary reasons. It turns out they had been out for a night of drinking. And one of them was found asleep in the hallway.

This comes after, remember the 2012 scandal involving Secret Service agents in Cartagena, some were fired because of that. Others resigned.

Also, it's come up that one of the members of press corps working for the "Jerusalem Post" has been denied a visa to go to Saudi Arabia, where the president will end this trip on Friday. The White House responded to that, saying it's disappointing but that doesn't change the nature of the trip or the importance of those discussions.

So, some surprising developments during this trip. It's certainly been eventful. And today, the president will deliver a speech to the Belgium people. We do expect them to answer Ukraine again.

The question will be, wherever the president arrives during this trip, what comes next. We know that the E.U., obviously, along with U.S., has sanctioned Russia in a number of ways. They've eliminated them basically from the G8. And they'll meet as the G7 this summer instead of meeting for the summit that was to take place for Russia.

But what comes after that and what would necessitate more sanctions, that continues to be a question that the president faces along these stops of the trip -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Michelle Kosinski, thank you very much for that.

Oh, my, the Secret Service wrinkle of that story. Goodness.


Meantime with the Obamacare enrolment deadline less than a week away, the White House is giving some people more time. The extension is for anyone who tried to sign up only to be blocked by all those technical problems online. However, here's the catch, they have to prove that the glitches were to blame. States with their own exchanges have taken some similar steps. General enrollment for the Affordable Care Act ends on March 31st.

ROMANS: The Supreme Court seemingly split during ideological lines Tuesday during a long and contentious argument over the Affordable Care Act. Two privately held family companies, family-owned businesses are challenging the Obamacare contraception mandate. They want to avoid offering birth control methods. They say they oppose them on religious grounds.

The question is, can the company have religious freedom?

HARLOW: Big question facing the high court.

Well, President Obama has endorsed a new plan to overhaul the NSA's bulk collection of phone records. If approved, this would mean that the records would be kept in the hands of the phone companies but it would require a court order for the government to access them.

Edward Snowden all but declared victory on Tuesday, calling the proposal, quote, "a turning point and confirmation that mass surveillance programs are necessary and should be ended." This, as a top intelligence official now says, much of the classified data smuggled by Snowden is likely in Russian hands.

ROMANS: And just look at this incredibly home video of a daring rescue by Houston firefighters, that a construction worker, look at that, trapped on the upper balcony of a burning apartment complex under construction. Look at him jump to the balcony below just to escape the heat and the flames. Firefighters racing to get a ladder close enough to him to get him down.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes! Oh, thank, Jesus. Thank you, God.


ROMANS: Oh, my goodness. There were no injuries reported by the fire. Officials believe it's accidentally started by welders working on the roof.


HARLOW: Meantime, the busy Houston shipping channel is partially reopened to traffic this morning after a big oil spill. A waterway has been closed on Saturday when a barge carrying some 900,000 gallons of oil collided with a ship, causing as much as 170,000 gallons of oil to spill into the water there. Environmental groups are now assessing the potential impact with that spill of course on wildlife and shoreline.

ROMANS: All right. The search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 on full force. They are back out there.

HARLOW: They are.

ROMANS: When we come back, new theories on how the plane disappeared and why the crew never asked for help, next.


HARLOW: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. This is our breaking news coverage of the search.

The continued search for Flight 370. Still no sign of debris in the southern Indian Ocean, and jets and ships from six nations now scouring a massive search area for this missing plane.

The newest and perhaps most compelling theory about what may have happened to the jetliner is centering on this so-called "zombie theory".

Let's take you into the flight simulator where CNN's Martin Savidge explores one scenario with Anderson Cooper.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Those planes, zombie planes, plane without a brain. But it would begin with maybe some kind of an alarm that would go off. Could be fire, could be southern decompression, either way.

And we're simplifying this greatly. Pilot Mitchell here puts it into a very steep descent. At the same time, the aircraft begins to turn now. The idea is, of course, you want to get the plane heading back to some airport. We were over water at the time, so we go back to Kuala Lumpur, or the closest nearby.

But you're descending primarily because you only have so much oxygen. Pilots would already have their emergency oxygen onboard if it's a sudden decompression. The passengers have had the masked dropped down in front of them. They only got about 10 minutes.

So you got to get down to an altitude where people can breathe. In this case, we're saying 10,000 but even better would be 12,000 feet. But the scenario, you stabilize. You get the aircraft back into a reasonable position. You level out. You apparently figure out it's not that severe. And somehow you get it on automatic pilot.

Or, you've put it on automatic pilot and you're overcome either by smoke or lack of oxygen. You pass out. Passengers pass out. Airplane's got plenty of fuel. It's on a predetermined course and it will now fly for hours until it eventually just runs out of fuel.

So that's the scenario. We don't know if it really happened that way, but many speculate it could have.


HARLOW: I think it's really important to emphasize, we don't know. This is one theory of so many out there. We know when it took that turn, that unplanned turn. But what caused that, by whom, how. And if that could happen --

ROMANS: And there are conflicting opinions among experts who have been studying and flying these planes for years, conflicting opinions about just exactly what might have happened. That's why the search is so incredibly important.

HARLOW: Find debris that can shed light.


ROMANS: -- that plane to say was will a fire? Was there a rapid decompression? What happened there?

Anyway, right now, investors are searching. They are searching. They're in planes. They're in ships. They are searching for that jet for just the reasons that we have just illustrated.

We have a live team coverage for the very latest on that. We've got everything you need to do about that, right after the break.