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EARLY START

Obama in Vatican City; 300 Objects Spotted in Indian Ocean; Flight 370 Air Search Suspended; Pilot's Son Speaking Out;

Aired March 27, 2014 - 05:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news overnight. Thai officials reporting they have spotted satellite images of 300 possible pieces of debris in the Southern Indian Ocean. This as the air search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is called off. Thick clouds, heavy turbulence, even ice making it just impossible for investigators to see anything.

Ships remain desperately trying to find clues that the jetliner vanished nearby. They're looking for anything.

And new this morning as well, the son of the captain of Flight 370 breaking his silence, speaking for the first time. We are bringing you live coverage of what is happening right now.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Also happening right now, the president, President Obama just meeting with Pope Francis for the very first time in Rome. We are live with all the coverage of that. The media has just been pushed out of the room, and now the two men are speaking privately.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

HARLOW: And I'm Poppy Harlow. It is 32 minutes past 5:00 a.m. here on the East Coast. Happening at this moment, President Obama in a private meeting with the Pope in Vatican City. This is his first meeting with Pope Francis. The two men are not going to have all that much time together, but they are expected to discuss what they both agree is one of the most pressing challenges of our time -- the growing divide between rich and poor.

Let's get back to the Vatican, back to Rome, and White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski.

Good morning, Michelle.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, good morning. Yes, that's absolutely one of the subjects. I mean, social justice, compassion for the poor, equality and inclusion. That's really been at the core of this Pope's position since he began just about a year ago.

President Obama, too, has really equated those goals and ideals that the president himself said are universal. And in an interview he did with an Italian newspaper that we saw this morning, he was able to really say that, you know, he wants to meet with this Pope on those subjects, that they might discuss things that they don't agree on as well. So we wait to see what those topics range on to.

It's hard to overstate how much this Pope is loved here. I mean, a poll that was just done, in fact, in America, showed that his approval rating was 76 percent. So President Obama wishes he had those kinds of numbers. But this visit, and to really hammer home those ideals, as the president calls them, is great timing, too, isn't it? I mean, it sends forth that message, side by side with the Pope, really, leading into midterm elections.

And we don't want to get too cynical about the reasons for this meeting, of course. The president has said that he has long wanted to meet Pope Francis, that he considers it an honor to do so, and he described Pope Francis's stance as one of courage in the world to tackle some of these subjects and to get away from -- really to urge people to get away from a worship of money and material things and focus on people.

I know the Pope has stated in the past that it's a real shame that when a homeless person dies, it doesn't make any news, but when the stock market changes, that's big news. Well, he was quoted by President Obama in a speech that he gave on the importance of social justice and equality -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Christine and I have been talking about that all morning, as really something that stood out. I do wonder, could you tell us, if you know, how this meeting came about? Was the president invited to the Vatican? I'd assume that that is how it happened. Or did the White House reach out for this meeting? And any indication if the White House is going to give us a readout, at least high level, of what these two discussed?

KOSINSKI: Now we understand that the White House reached out. I mean, these meetings in Europe had been scheduled for some time. We also know that the Pope wants to go to the U.S. It's being talked about for next year, making a visit to America, possibly Philadelphia, I think, is the city that's discussed for a conference.

So we'll be seeing more of the Pope on our shores as well. But since the president was going to meet with European leaders, this was a great time to meet with a leader that represents a billion people worldwide, quite a big force in the world. And you know, we keep mentioning these social justice issues that are so important, so important to this Pope. That's really become his sort of platform, but also the situation in Ukraine.

HARLOW: Yes.

KOSINSKI: The president has said that, you know, diplomacy is the way he's going to go. He's sort of aligned that with the values that Pope Francis has espoused. So we're sure that that will be a topic as well, and what's discussed there we will see later on today, I'm sure.

HARLOW: Yes, we'll see what, if anything, we do hear about that meeting.

Appreciate the reporting live from the Vatican for us this morning.

Michelle Kosinski, thank you.

ROMANS: All right, the other major story we've been following, breaking news now, breaking news this morning in the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370.

Here's what we know. Officials in Thailand confirming they have new satellite images. These images showing 300 objects floating in the South Indian Ocean search zone, and they believe they may be linked -- there's the photo. They may be linked to the missing jetliner. They're not willing to say it is the remnants of this jetliner, but they're saying it's important to follow this. Three hundred, about 200 kilometers from where we've seen some other satellite imagery from the French.

Meanwhile, 11 aircraft were evacuated from the search zone earlier this morning because of bad weather. You know, they were spending a few hours looking for those 122 objects photographed on Sunday by a French satellite. No sign of those.

All while investigators digging deeper into the background now of Flight 370's captain to find out if he could have been responsible for taking this jetliner down.

I want to get the latest on the search from Andrew Stevens, live from Perth, Australia this morning.

And on that digging into the captain, let's be very, very clear, there's conflicting reporting about just how closely they are zeroing in on him and his background. Really, everything is still being investigated at this point, but tell us, Andrew, tell us about the search and where we stand on that.

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The search is called off today, Christine. Bad weather over the search zone. Some of the planes did get out early and got over that search zone. They're now coming back. We've just been speaking to a pilot with the Royal Australian Air Force. They said they're on target for two hours, which is about the maximum they can be on target. They did not see anything.

A second Australian plane coming back just a short while afterwards. That was turned around before it got down there, though. So now the search zone has been closed down to aircraft because of bad conditions. A P-8 U.S. Navy spokesman telling us that there was severe turbulence over the site. There was a risk of icing on the wings, which is incredibly dangerous for planes and visibility in many places was down to virtually zero.

The cloud was actually touching the sea. So another frustrating day on the actual eyes on search. I should add, though, there are ships in that area. They were not driven out of the target zone by the weather, which is a good sign, although it would be difficult both to salvage the ship and to search for objects in the sea. It can -- sort of whip up to big, big swells in those areas. So frustration there but more clues on possible locations coming from yet more satellite images.

You were talking about the Thai satellite images. These were taken three days ago. Three objects. That information has been passed on to the Malaysians. We know -- the only thing we know at this stage is those objects are not too far from the 122 objects that were sighted by a French Defense company via satellite just a couple of days ago.

So all adding up. If you add them to the satellite pictures we know about earlier to bits of objects spotted by planes over the last day, it does suggest there is a lot of objects of interest, shall we say, down there.

You've got to realize, though, Christine, this area does get a lot of garbage, a lot of floats in from passing ships, a lot of just rubbish which tends to congregate in that part of the sea. So these search pilots, they tell us they see a lot of stuff down there. They dismiss most of it. So when they do radio in to say there is something of interest, it means that it could be related to 370.

At this stage, though, we expect another 24 hours of this bad weather before planes can get back on target again.

ROMANS: And before anybody can start literally of the puzzle together.

Andrew Stevens live for us this morning in Perth, Australia. Thank you, Andrew.

HARLOW: And of course, right now, as Andrew just talked about, how bad the weather is. Everyone is waiting for the weather to clear so that the air search for Flight 370 can resume once again.

Jennifer Gray is tracking conditions in the South Indian Ocean for us. And I know in a moment, you're going to get to those wave heights.

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes.

HARLOW: Which is just one of the many problems.

GRAY: Yes, it is one of the problems. And you have to remember, in the southern hemisphere, we're going into fall and winter, so it's going to be even more rare to get these windows of opportunity as the weather continues to deteriorate over the next couple of weeks. So we need to get in that area as soon as we can, and it looks like we're going to have a clearing as we get into the weekend, which is good news.

We had a very strong front move through. It brought in some very heavy rains, brought in low visibility, very high waves. And then you have to add on top of that the swells as we go through the next couple of days. Conditions will begin to clear. We are going to see that low push off to the area. We're going to see clearing conditions behind it. And then we'll begin to see better weather, if you will. Thursday through Friday, that cold front brings wind, rain and low clouds. Of course, rough seas, improving weather by Friday and especially into Saturday. It looks like those winds will start to die down just a little bit more.

Your wind field will get better. Looks like we'll see winds 10 to 20 miles per hour as we get into the weekend, which is very good news. This is an area known for winds of 40 to 50 miles per hour on a regular basis. So if those winds can die down, the seas will lay down just a little bit, it looks like we'll get a little window. Of course, the seas will have to be five to 10, maybe, as we get into the weekend, and that is excellent for this area.

HARLOW: Yes, that's exactly what they needed, some ideal conditions.

GRAY: Yes.

HARLOW: Because they've had more days of bad weather, it seems like, than ideal days.

GRAY: Than good. Yes.

HARLOW: That's for sure. Thank you, Jennifer.

ROMANS: Thanks, Jennifer.

HARLOW: Appreciate it.

Now to that 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 junior co-pilot as a possible suspect. However, this comes from an unnamed source.

And CNN has different reporting. A senior government official tells CNN that investigators are still looking at both the captain and his co-pilot and that there is really no motive that is jumping out at them right now.

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

Jim, so, given that we really need to tread carefully on that report that has come out, at the same time, we are hearing for the first time from the son of Captain Shah, is that correct?

JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that is correct, we are. I want to make clear to our viewers. Usually we have a press briefing around this time. We're not going to have one today.

The son, Seth Zaharie, had this to say. He said, "Whatever I've read has not changed my heart," talking about all the media speculation that's been out there about his father, about the co-pilot, you know, the missing airliner. He says, "I've ignored these speculations because, as a son, I know who my father is compared to other people." And he went on to say, "I may not have been very close to him because he was always on duty, but we did understand one another."

So that's his son coming out and saying that other people have come out to support him as well. People point out politics may color some of this. You know, the police inspectors are known to be highly politicized, part of the government, and he was a supporter of the opposition. This has all come out before. It's really revolving around about two weeks.

We don't have any new developments in the investigation, though, trying to unravel who could have been behind the disappearance of this flight, why it happened. Was it a mechanical failure? Was it purposely steered off course for some other purpose? All of those things have yet to be answered, and those who would like to see the pilots cleared, including the former CEO of Malaysia Airlines, say what we need to do is find the plane. We need to find the black box. We need to find the evidence. Why did this airship disappear?

Back to you, Poppy and Christine.

HARLOW: Absolutely. So many questions remain, and the family of the captain and the co-pilot grieving, just as the families of all 239 people on board that flight.

Thank you, Jim.

ROMANS: They're really racing against time here. Crews racing to find Malaysia -- the missing Malaysia Flight 370. Now this is what's happening this morning. Trying to search thousands of square miles in the Southern Indian Ocean and you've got officials in Thailand releasing new satellite images, 300 objects floating in the search zone. Is this more of that debris field?

We are bringing you the very latest on this flight after the break.

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HARLOW: Welcome back to EARLY START.

New details this morning on the disappearance of Flight 370. "USA Today" is reporting that investigators have narrowed their suspicions to the captain believing he may have done something premeditated.

However, CNN has conflicting reporting. We are being told by sources close to the investigation that they have found no smoking gun and that the captain and his much younger co-pilot are still being closely examined. But really, no answers on who could have taken this flight down or was it a catastrophic accident?

Joining us now to talk about all of this, Alastair Rosenschein. I apologize for botching your last name, sir. A former pilot and an aviation consultant. He's in our London studio.

You've been helping us and giving us excellent insight all week. I want to talk to you about something pretty technical but very important here, and that is the pinger batteries on MH-370, the flight. There is a source that has been telling CNN that they may have already stopped sending off those critical signals because they may have been improperly stored, possibly in high temperatures.

What can you tell us about the importance of how these are stored ahead of time?

ALASTAIR ROSENSCHEIN, FORMER BRITISH AVIATION PILOT: Well, you're quite right there. The ion batteries have to be stored in a cool environment and not too humid environment. But apparently, some batteries of, you know, for flight deck recorders stored by Malaysian Airlines have been stored in inappropriate conditions. In other words humid and warm. And that will reduce the battery transmission time.

ROMANS: It will reduce battery transmission time.

Let me ask you about this then. We are seeing this potentially another debris field.

HARLOW: Right.

ROMANS: Three hundred pieces of shiny, bright objects in the ocean. There you can see this is from the Thai officials. About 200 kilometers from where the French satellite had seen 122 objects. But we can't get there yet. You know, the weather is so difficult. You're talking about the battery time, potentially, on these pingers.

I mean, it's cliche to say race against the clock, but this really is important timing here. They've got to start to find some pieces of this airplane. Are you more encouraged by this other debris field that maybe they're getting closer?

ROSENSCHEIN: Well, yes, but let's just be clear here, the debris field is not where the flight director and cockpit voice recorder are. They have -- that's drifted away. So the search to try and pick up the signal from the flight deck recorder is going on somewhere else, or at least one hopes it's going on somewhere else.

Now last night, I spoke to Professor David Stuffles of City University, and he's a communications systems analyst. And he explained to me that he had recalculated the satellite position from that last ping at 8:11 local time and calculated that the -- that the aircraft will have impacted the water within a 150-mile radius of that point. That gives a search area of 70 square miles, but it is not the same area as where all that debris is.

HARLOW: So many questions.

ROMANS: Wow.

HARLOW: And, you know, there's even questions about the partial ping, possibly a partial ping that Inmarsat says it recorded.

Can you tell us anything? Have you talked to any of the experts about that?

ROSENSCHEIN: Well, again, Professor Stuffles explained to me that the last ping, which was eight minutes later.

HARLOW: Right.

ROSENSCHEIN: At 0819 in the morning, that may have been a message that was sent as the aircraft impacted the water. He believes that was -- it was only a half handshake, so they can't get a position on it. So the last position was actually eight minutes earlier. That's what I can say about that. But I can also say that this aircraft appears to have been deliberately flown from the Andaman Sea heading up north and then west.

One possible argument is to avoid radar on Sumatra, which is Indonesian air space. That is a very real possibility. Does look like it was deliberate.

HARLOW: All possibilities, so many questions and really few answers at this point.

We appreciate the expertise this morning. Thank you.

ROMANS: We're going to have more news and your top headlines right after this very quick break.

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ROMANS: Good morning. Welcome back to EARLY START.

The latest on that catastrophic landslide that buried a small town near Seattle. Officials say there are now 90 people are missing or unaccounted for, about half the number reported yesterday. The official death toll remains at 16, but eight more bodies have been located. They can't be retrieved. So you're looking at up to 24 people killed in that mudslide.

I want you to listen to survivor Robin Youngblood, what she told Anderson Cooper how she got out alive.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBIN YOUNGBLOOD, LANDSLIDE SURVIVOR: My house is matchsticks. There's nothing left. It ripped the roof on. And that's -- I thank God for that, because if the roof had still been on, the house filled up with mud and water, we would have drowned. The only way we got out is we dug the stuff out of our nose and mouth so we could breathe, but I was able to pick my way through debris and get up to the top and call for my friend, Yedi, from Holland, my student who was with me for a week.

And she was pinned under a tree that had fallen. And I couldn't get to her. There was nothing stable to stand on. So I just yelled at her to dig herself out somehow, even if she was hurt. Better to be hurt and alive, because I could see that the house was going to fill up with mud.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The mudslide dragged Robin's home a quarter of a mile from its foundation. A quarter of a mile from its foundation. You're looking at pictures of her thanking the rescue worker, Randy Fay. He's the one who pulled her out of the rubble last weekend.

HARLOW: Meantime, the mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, resigning Wednesday, just hours after his arrest. Patrick Buchanan faces federal charges of theft and bribery, among others, for allegedly taking nearly $50,000 in bribes. That money coming from undercover FBI agents posing as businessmen seeking deals with the city. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison. He was in office just 114 days.

ROMANS: Quick check of the markets right now. European stocks mixed after kicking off the day lower. There are worries about western tensions with Russia. Remember, President Obama threatened a new round of sanctions yesterday after meeting with allies in Europe. That shook confidence in Europe. Asia closed mixed.

Here in the U.S., futures essentially flat this hour with a few hours to go before the Opening Bell. Some stocks to watch today, King Digital. That's the gamemaker that got Candy Crushed yesterday in trade, dropping 16 percent in its debut on the big board.

Also, bank stocks, the Federal Reserve just shut down Citigroup's plan to award investors with dividends. Bank of America just shelled out another $9.5 billion in the legal settlements following the financial crisis this time to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. B&A's current legal tab is around $60 billion.

Watch tech stocks today. Watch the banks, futures essentially flat. And NEW DAY" starts --

HARLOW: Starts right now.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news. A Thai satellite spots 300 objects possibly from Flight 370 as nasty weather ground search planes. Now for the first time the captain's son is speaking out. What he says about the renewed speculations swirling around his father, the pilot.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking this morning, just moments ago, President Obama meeting Pope Francis for the first time. So what did the two leaders discussed? We're live at the Vatican.

PEREIRA: The unthinkable. Survivors of the deadly mudslide now speaking out as the governor tells CNN the death toll will climb. But there is some hope. We hear from the man who rescued this little boy.

Your NEW DAY starts right now.