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Mystery of Flight 370; Son of Flight 370 Pilot Breaks Silence; Obama in Vatican City

Aired March 27, 2014 - 05:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news overnight. Officials from Thailand have new satellite images showing 300 potential objects floating right near the Flight 370 search zone, as the air search for the jetliner is suspended, ice turbulence and thick clouds making the mission impossible for search crews. Those crews reporting zero visibility.

Ships, though, are in the area still looking for any sign of debris, this as the Flight 370's captain's son breaks his silence.

We're going to bring you live coverage of the very latest.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Poppy Harlow.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Nice to have you here, Poppy.

HARLOW: Good to be with you.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's Thursday, March 27th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

Breaking news: officials in Thailand have new satellite images of 300 objects floating in the southern Indian Ocean search zone, a potential debris field Thai officials believe may be linked to the missing jetliner. At the very same time, there's no one up in the air looking for it, because brutal weather has forced search planes to evacuate the south Indian Ocean just a few hours ago.

Now, five ships are still in the area looking for those 122 objects photographed Sunday by a French satellite. But the planes have been called home, and so far, there hasn't been a sighting.

Meanwhile, investigators digging deeper into the background of Flight 370's captain to find out if he could have been involved in taking this jetliner down. Still asking questions, still very careful, investigators tell us, of not ruling anything out.

We want to begin with the search, the latest in the search off the coast of Australia.

Andrew Stevens live from Perth this morning.

So, this Thai satellite data, yet another valuable lead here, some 300 objects. But weather, weather, sir, is not cooperating.

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I think we need to say at this stage potential valuable lead, because we have been down this path before. But having said that, it is all comes together as far as satellite images, debris being spotted by planes, getting more and more common to get more information about what's on the ocean surface down there in this credibly inhospitable part of the world.

Now, 300 pieces found by Thai satellites. Add that to the separate 122 pieces reported yesterday by a French satellite. Add that to the earlier Australian, Chinese and earlier French satellite images, plus spottings on the water. It is all coming together.

But tantalizingly, we cannot make that step, that big step between is this debris associated with the flight.

Just calling it a debris field is actually quite important here, and the 122 objects seen by the French satellite has been described by some aviation experts as a potential debris field. If it's a field of debris, it indicates there may have been an incident from which that debris came from. That's what they're looking for at the moment.

But the flights all suspended today. We've just all been on the tarmac out here behind me to see the two Australian P-3 Orion surveillance craft coming back in. The first one came back in. It did have eyes on the search zone for about two hours, which is a normal search.

The conditions there, though, described as pretty bad, visibility right down to sea level up to about 600 feet, and that tallies also what we've hearing from the Americans. The U.S. Navy saying there was severe turbulence down, very, very low visibility. So, a frustrating day, indeed.

This may continue, this bad weather, Poppy and Christine, for another 24 hours as well.

ROMANS: It's Christine here. Andrew, thank you so much.

Racing against the clock is one of the terrible cliches you hear on television all the time. In this particular case, it really, really fits. The waters are moving swiftly, they could be moving this debris around, and they need to find evidence for these families.

HARLOW: As soon as possible. You know, right now, everyone is waiting for the weather to clear so that that air search, that critical air search for Flight 370 can resume once again.

Jennifer Gray is tracking the conditions in the south Indian Ocean for us.

Just to hear the experts talk about it, it's like it couldn't get any worse for them.

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, it's right when they spot something on those satellites, and then the weather goes downhill. HARLOW: Right.

GRAY: And so, we can't get ahead. But it looks like we are going to have a brief window, which is rare in this part of the world, as we get into the weekend, where things are going to improve dramatically.

So, we're going to need to take advantage of that while we can. We have had a pretty strong storm push through, and that's what brought the very high winds, the very high seas, and you even have swells on top of that. Visibility has been very, very low. Here is the search area, that little box. And as that front moved through, it brought horrible conditions to the area.

As we get into Thursday and Friday, cold front brings more wind, rain and low clouds. Of course, rough seas but improving weather as we get closer to the weekend. The only bad thing is, when you have storms like these roll through, it can displace a lot of those objects that we're seeing on the satellite, so it's going to make it even harder to find when crews get back out there and search.

These are your winds. And as we get closer to the weekend, you can see as we move Friday into Saturday, the winds really do improve. We're talking about in the 10 to 20-mile-per-hour range, and that is very, very low for this area, which is known for winds of 40 to 50 miles per hour, which is great news.

One other thing we are watching, the wave heights. You can see right around the search area wave heights 12 to 15 feet right in the search area. We're looking at waves to start dying down a little bit, which is going to be great news. So, ladies, as we go into the weekend, really going to have to take advantage of that, looks like we'll have a little window there.

HARLOW: They'll take every minute they can get. Appreciate it. Thanks, Jennifer.

Now to the flight 370 investigation. "USA Today" is reporting that police in Malaysia believe that Captain Zaharie Ahmed Shah did something premeditated to bring that plane down, and they're ruling out his more junior co-pilot as a possible suspect.

This, though, is very important to qualify. This comes from an unnamed source at the same time as a senior U.S. government official tells us here at CNN that investigators are still looking at both the captain and his co-pilot, and that there is no smoking gun so far.

Jim Clancy has been tracking this investigation since day one. He joins us live from Kuala Lumpur.

And, Jim, we understand that we are hearing from the captain's son for the first time.

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, we are hearing from the captain's son, Seth Zaharie, came out with a statement, the first time anybody in that family, to my knowledge, has said anything. They published something on YouTube, you know, rather touching photo album, photos of him through his life and asked for him to come home.

But his son gave this interview to a newspaper, a local newspaper here, saying, "Whatever I've read has not changed my heart. I've ignored these speculations, because as a son, I know who my father is compared to other people. I may not have been very close to him because he was always on duty, but we understood each other."

Now, you know, in the vacuum of any real evidence and information in this entire affair, this entire tragedy, we see people gripping more and more at the theories that are out there. And one of the theories, of course, is that the pilots may have been involved. Fine. Let's examine the evidence and see what's going on with all of that.

I talked with a former CEO of Malaysia Airlines. He's 81 years old now. He was one of the founders of that airline, and he says he remembers Captain Shah, the chief pilot on this flight, from when he was a cadet 30 years ago.



CLANCY: You knew Captain Shah. Some people point a finger at him.

AZIZ ABDUL RAHMAN, FORMER MALAYSIA AIRLINES CEO: He is an excellent pilot, and I think also an excellent gentleman. I think going the wrong way if they are pointing finger at him.

CLANCY: You also knew the co-pilot. What can you say about him?

RAHMAN: His father learned the Koran by heart, so he also learned the Koran by heart. He's a good Muslim. And I know that captain is a good Muslim.


CLANCY: Now, the co-pilot was actually from Mr. Aziz's hometown. That's how he knew his father. So, they were a little bit better known, at least with the family.

At the same time, you know there was another allegation at "USA Today" that said that Captain Shah had attended the opposition leader's sentencing just hours before that flight started. I just talked to an opposition leader who's in that party, the people's justice party, and he says there was a lot of people there, it was a crush of people, but he says I'm quite sure that Captain Shah was not there. So, a couple of push-backs against this story.

HARLOW: Right.

CLANCY: A little bit of politics involved in it all. I think what we have to do is wait.


CLANCY: Everybody's hoping to find that flight data recorder -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes, absolutely, and see what could be on it. Appreciate it. Thank you very much, Jim.

ROMANS: So, the frustration and the anger building for the Flight 370 families, not abating at all. Over three weeks, three weeks since their loved ones vanished. Peace and answers still very hard to come by.

David McKenzie's been spending time with the Flight 370 families. He joins us live from Beijing this morning.

And I think that's fair to say, that there's been no letup in their mounting displeasure with both the investigation and also what they're hearing from authorities, and they're not any closer, are they, to having those concerns and doubts put aside?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Christine. Good morning.

You know, as Jim talked about those theories that we've all been chasing, following, trying to understand what happened to this flight when it vanished some way in the middle of the night on its way here to Beijing. It's worth remembering that those theories have very real consequences for these families.

There are hundreds of these family members here in Beijing stuck in a hotel. For weeks now, they've been trying to figure out what happened, just like everyone else. But for them, they get close to closure and then that closure's taken away, and that grieving process cannot start. And many of the family members I've spoken to are still holding on to some kind of hope, clinging to a miracle, as it were, as they describe it to me and as you say, very angry at the Malaysian Airlines authorities. They are very distrustful of any information they get in their regular briefings.

But you've got to feel for all sides here, because many of those Malaysian volunteers and authorities had close friends aboard in the crew and the captains on that flight. So you know, it's just a great deal of sorrow here and that waiting game that is just grating on everyone.

HARLOW: The Thais (ph).

ROMANS: All right, David McKenzie, thanks.

Poppy and I were just talking about new images. We have new satellite images for you to show.

HARLOW: We've been telling you about them this morning, but for the first time, we can show you some of the images. Let's pull them up, if we can. These are Thai satellite images taken on March 24th, so they would be the most recent we've seen, if we can get them up there.

Do we have them, guys? Of 300 objects, potential objects found floating in the southern Indian Ocean. There we go. That's those photos, again, coming from Thai satellites taken March 24th. Three hundred potential knobs the south Indian Ocean.

Key here is proximity. This area is 200 kilometers from the images captured by French satellites a day earlier. So, you're talking about, relatively speaking, pretty close.

ROMANS: Right.

HARLOW: So, that makes this really key here.

ROMANS: And what they're looking for is the brightness of these objects, because that tends to suggest they're solid objects and manmade.

HARLOW: Right.

ROMANS: So they'll be looking for the brightness of those objects and we'll take the raw satellite pictures we've just gotten from the Thai authorities and then our experts will look at that and be able to pinpoint just how large some of the pieces might be, how far apart they are.

HARLOW: And remember, with this bad weather, things are moving all over the place.

ROMANS: All right. We're going to have the very latest on the search for this jetliner throughout the morning, of course, and each new development. We're bringing them to you as we get them.

But first, President Obama just over an hour from meeting the pope for the very first time. We're live on what two of the most powerful men on earth are expected to discuss. Income inequality, anyone? That's next.


HARLOW: President Obama is in Vatican City this morning. In minutes, he's going to meet Pope Francis for the first time. The two men are not going to get all that much time together, but they are expected to discuss what both agree to be one of the most pressing challenges of our time, the growing divide between rich and poor.

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

Of course, this coming from the White House, saying they're going to discuss mutually what they agree on. I think a lot of people want to know, will they discuss what they don't agree on, right? Mandating contraception, Obamacare, abortion, gay marriage. What have you gleaned?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right, I mean, the president gave an interview to an Italian newspaper that we saw today in print, and he did say that, sure, we don't agree on everything, but there is plenty of common ground. And he spells some of that out.

Now, I'm hoping that you're able to see the video that I'm looking at right now. The president, who just arrived in the motorcade. We don't see him stepping out of a vehicle right now.

But if you're seeing what I'm seeing, you're seeing an honor guard waiting. Also, there's an archbishop there to greet him before he goes inside the papal palace, as it's called, which by the way, Pope Francis chose not to live in for his papacy. He wanted a humbler apartment, something far less grand.

Well, that's one of the reasons that President Obama likes him and admires him so much. In this interview that I mentioned, President Obama used words like "I'm grateful that he will meet with me, it's an honor," saying that his devotion to social justice and compassion for the poor especially really gives everyone a challenge to rise up to.

And during that interview, President Obama also took the chance to equate some of what he's been trying to do in the United States with the same ideals that Pope Francis has been espousing to the world. President Obama mentioned the fact that he wants to raise the minimum wage and close the wage gap among Americans and the economic gap between the rich and the poor that he sees as destructive.

Now, he said the pope has also mentioned that. And in fact, you know, in the last year of this pope's papacy, we've heard him mention, even in tweets, he'll tweet out that we shouldn't let money rule our lives, that the poor are just as important and we should all pay attention to him.

There we see President Obama now stepping out of his car, being greeted by the archbishop, other dignitaries. Later on today, he'll meet the secretary of state for the Vatican, which the U.S. has met with before. Because you know, there are issues of diplomacy also between the Vatican and the United States.

Now, President Obama has expressed how much he's wanted to meet this pope. He did meet with Pope Benedict in the past, but this will be his first meeting with Pope Francis. So, his second meeting with a sitting pope.

Other presidents have met popes multiple times. Now, President Obama is able to come here to the Vatican, meet with the pope himself in the Vatican library is where this meeting will take place.

We don't expect it to be extremely long. We're thinking 30 or 40 minutes, although that is subject to change. It seems like, clearly, they have many topics to discuss, and President Obama laid some of those out in the interview that he gave with the newspaper.

But we do know that there are topics that the Vatican does not agree with President Obama's policy on, contraception being one. I think you mentioned that. Also, stem cell research has been a point of contention often between the U.S. and Vatican in recent years.

So, that is something that they may discuss. And we know that this pope has been extremely open in discussing those touchy subjects that popes of the past have stayed away from, including homosexuality. This pope saying that, you know, who is he to judge if someone loves God and seeks good in their lives, who is he to judge someone who is gay?

He's also touched on subjects seen as, you know, difficult within the church, like making a greater role for women, also looking at the issue of divorce, possibly, as a way to open the door to more people to come back to the church, if they felt excluded.

And this subject of equality in general, reaching out and including people, rich and poor, and their differences, including gender equality, as we've mentioned, homosexuality.

President Obama mentioned some of those, too, in his speech to Belgian youth that he gave last night. In that speech, he kind of laid out his plan, too, really spelled it out for the action that he's decided to take in regards to the Ukraine situation.

And there is no doubt that he'll be discussing with the pope as well what's been going on in Ukraine, since it is such an urgent issue, such a crisis, not just for that region but for the world, Poppy.

HARLOW: And you know, Michelle, I think to be a fly on the wall --

ROMANS: I know, right?

HARLOW: -- in this meeting. Anyone, not just journalists, would like to be.

Do we have any sense of whether or not we're going to get some sort of readout from the White House?

ROMANS: Right. Will it be a private meeting?

HARLOW: On what is discussed?

ROMANS: Right.

KOSINSKI: Yes, we're hoping that there will be a formal readout, as the White House generally gives for all these meetings of importance. And this is seen as a meeting not only of great importance to the president and, likely, to the Vatican, but a great curiosity. People, like you say, they want to know what is discussed in there.

So, we are expecting that. We don't know at what time exactly that will come. But also, remember, later today, President Obama will meet with Italy's new prime minister, Prime Minister Renzi.

They'll have their meeting, and after that, there will be a press conference where hopefully, they will take some questions. And you know that the meeting with the pope is going to be a subject of many, if not all, of those questions, because yes, there's great curiosity.

And I think President Obama's having given that interview to the Italian newspaper, that kind of took away some of the mystery as to what will be discussed, although we know that these issues of equality and inclusion, they've been so pivotal to both of these men that that's absolutely going to be at the core of what's discussed in there. I think there's no question of that.

Also, senior administration officials last night, they kind of gave a little bit of a preview, as well as explaining some of the president's anticipation of this meeting. So, they mentioned different topics.

HARLOW: If we glean anything from this meeting, it will be fascinating on the points they agree on and those that they are on different pages on. Appreciate it.

ROMANS: Thanks, Michelle.

HARLOW: Reporting from the Vatican this morning. Thank you, Michelle.

We'll be right back.


ROMANS: We want to get right back to Vatican City in Rome, where we are expecting the president to meet with the pope.

Michelle Kosinski is there.

We're watching live pictures and I want you to join us. We expect the meeting to be 30 or 40 minutes.

HARLOW: Right. Not that long, but this is rare. I mean, this is the first time President Obama has met Pope Francis. He met Pope Benedict back in 2009.

And we are told by the White House the two men are expected to discuss some of those things they are on the same page about, including, I think top of mind, income inequality, the growing gap between the rich and the poor.

But, of course, everyone wants to know, what else will they discuss? The crisis in Ukraine, abortion, gay marriage, things they are not on the same page about. What else will they discuss?

ROMANS: And contraception, the contraceptive mandate --


ROMANS: -- in the president's signature legislation, Obamacare. It's something U.S. bishops have been very, very upset about and vocal with this president.

But this is, I suspect, going to be about common ground first, 30 or 40 minutes, and also, foreign policy. Remember, the pope is the head of a religion and also a head of state, quite frankly, in his moral authority.

We are watching the president walk in. Let's bring in Michelle Kosinski. She can maybe give us a little bit. And our Delia Gallagher -- oh, there's Secretary of State John Kerry, I think, behind there.

HARLOW: Right.

ROMANS: Tell us what this sort of pomp and circumstance is here.

KOSINSKI: Yes, in fact, Delia is in there now. She's seeing them walk by and I'm watching these pictures on a monitor, too, as you're seeing them.

And this is beautiful. I mean, this is the pomp and circumstance of the Vatican, inside. This is the third floor, we believe, third floor, right, guys? I'm asking my crew here who know the ins and outs of the Vatican.

This is the third floor of the papal palace, as it's called. You can see how ornate that is. I personally have never seen pictures of the inside.

Now, these are rare to see, a very rare look inside where the pope does his business. Normally, we would say this is where the pope lives, but this particular pope has chosen not to live here. He's decided that this is too fancy for him, it's too ornate, it doesn't befit his commitment to the poor.

I mean, this is such an interesting history in Pope Francis' life, the way he as a Jesuit starting out, he really committed himself to dealing with the lowest of society. He chose to wear very simple robes.

There he is right now coming out to greet President Obama with a warm handshake. Unfortunately, we can't hear that audio at this point.

ROMANS: But we can hear those flash bulbs. This is the photo op of the meeting, no question. And we'll hope that we'll get some indication from the White House and the Vatican about what it is that they do discuss. You mentioned how his Jesuit tradition of this pope, how he has, you know, gone out, he and some of his bishops have gone out, we're told, at night to give money to the poor.

Let's listen. Let's just watch these pictures unfold, if you don't mind.


ROMANS: You can hear the president saying, the last time I was hear, but I can't quite make out what he was saying.

HARLOW: We heard him saying to the pope that, of course, we're having him, as Michelle was saying, telling an Italian newspaper this morning, he's grateful that the pope is taking time to meet with him. And now, the media will shortly leave that room and the president and the pope will have somewhere between, we're hearing, a 30-minute and a 50-minute private meeting. Whether or not we'll get details from the White House or the Vatican after it concludes is yet to be seen. This, of course, is the first stop of a long day ahead for the president, right, Michelle? He's going to be meeting with other politicians there in Rome?

KOSINSKI: Right, absolutely.

And isn't it interesting to see President Obama on the other side of the table in a meeting there? I didn't realize it would be this formal as they sat down at the desk with the visitor this time being President Obama and the pope being the host.

But yes, President Obama, he really did express what an honor it was to meet with Pope Francis, calling him an inspiration.

In the interview that the president gave to an Italian newspaper, he also sort of equated what he believes in, in his presidency, with the values that Pope Francis has espoused. He mentioned wage equality. President Obama describes that as not being just an economic issue but a moral issue, trying to close that wage gap. Also, President Obama emphasized his role in diplomacy during this Ukraine crisis.

I mean, some of it sounded like he was defending his policies in equating them with the same values the pope has. I think a cynic might say that he was, you know, making the most, I think, to put it in a very nice way, of his visit with the pope.

But clearly, these are values that the president has stuck to during his presidency and something that the pope has stated on numerous times in the year that he has held office here in the Vatican.

So, they will discuss those commonalities, for sure. And on the other issues, who knows? I mean, this pope has been incredibly open about going to the places and topics that other popes haven't wanted to venture.

HARLOW: Right.

KOSINSKI: Homosexuality I think being the main one. Contraception, there's no indication that the church will change course on any of these subjects.

But I think the openness to discuss it, the openness to allow for more inclusion, not only among homosexuals, but divorcees and people who have turned away from the church for different reasons --

ROMANS: And we can tell you, Michelle, the press was pushed out of the room. So, there were two sitting in the table.

HARLOW: Right.

ROMANS: The press has been pushed out. Now, just two men now who can talk about their issues, their agreements and disagreements. It's interesting that one of the men in the room that's an 80 percent approval rating, and the other has 40 percent rating.

HARLOW: That's true.

ROMANS: But both of them have this common appealing to the least - the people who have the least among us. That's something that both men have really been focused on of late.

Thank you, Michelle.

We're following breaking news morning. The president just moments away, as we know he has just met the Pope. We're going to see if we can find out more about what they're talking about.

HARLOW: When that meeting concludes.

ROMANS: Right after the break.