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Major Shift in Search for Flight 370; Obama Travels to Saudi Arabia; Pistorius Trial On Hold

Aired March 28, 2014 - 04:00   ET


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news overnight: the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 moved nearly 700 miles northeast from where investigators had been looking for days. New clues indicating the plane was flying much faster than previously thought and may have gone down sooner. Now this morning, planes and ships still searching for that vanished jetliner.

We, of course, have live team coverage of all the latest breaking details.

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

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Christine Romans. It's Friday, everybody. March 28th, it's 4:00 a.m. in the East.

Let's begin with breaking news this morning -- this major shift, major shift in the hunt for Flight 370. The focus of the search has now moved to a new area of the Indian Ocean.

This new area, 680 miles to the northeast. This is based on what Australian officials say is new, credible evidence. One -- four aircraft already over the new search zone has since returned and all ten planes and six ships now have new marching orders and are on the way there.

They're now searching somewhere else entirely. Why? Well, new radar analysis suggests the plane was traveling faster than previous estimates. That means it was burning more fuel and would have flown a shorter distance in the Indian Ocean.

Let's get to CNN's Andrew Stevens. He's live in Perth, Australia.

Shifting the focus of that search, Andrew. This is going to allow the Australia-based aircraft more time over the zone. It's actually closer to the continent, isn't it?

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's a very important point, Christine. They are quite a lot closer, about 1,800 kilometers, versus 2,500 kilometers away from this new search site. The planes can get there quicker, and as important, more important, they can stay on site longer.

On top of that, you've got generally better conditions. The seas aren't so rough. We're out of those very high southern latitudes where you get very big seas, very big storms rolling in very quickly.

Where the new search site is, it's much calmer, conditions are much more gentle, and that is certainly going to help. It's still a very deep part of the ocean between two and four kilometers, perhaps one and 2 1/2 miles deep, so they've still got a lot of work to do, but it is an extraordinary change, given that we have been fed this constant information about credible new leads in the southern area of the Indian Ocean.

We've had satellite picture after satellite picture talking about objects in that part. We've had sightings from planes. Now, the Australian search authorities, when they gave the press conference today to announce this change of strategy, this change of area, they had to deal with those questions about, well, what about this sort of so-called debris, these objects you were seeing in the south part of the Indian Ocean, what was that about? This is what they had to say.


JOHN YOUNG, AUSTRALIAN MARITIME SAFETY AUTHORITY: We have not seen any debris, and I would not wish to classify any of the satellite imagery as debris, nor would I want to classify any of the few visual sightings that we made as debris, and that's just not justifiable from what we have seen. So --

REPORTER: The search to today has been a waste of time, given that it's been focusing on that southwest area?

YOUNG: The search to date has been what we had at the time, and I might add, that's actually nothing usual for search-and-rescue operations.


STEVENS: What we had at the time. And this is what they're continuing to say. We have now new information -- this is what we have now at this time, so this is why we're changing the search.

But your heart has to go out to the families. They were being told constantly that there was radar images there was satellite pictures, five independent satellite pictures coming to us. The world was being told that there was objects of interest down there. It now turns out, Christine, that they had nothing at all to do with MH370.

ROMANS: Hmm, that is just fascinating.

Now this has become one giant math and physics problem, quite frankly. I mean, they're looking at if that flight was going faster than they thought, Andrew, that means it wouldn't have gone so far south. I mean, that's essentially what this is, trying to figure out, what are the mathematics behind this plane and its flight to figure out where it went down, and then adding in the currents and the physics of the ocean to figure out where debris would have gone.

STEVENS: That's right. They'll be doing drift models on that area now. Basically, the plane stopped short. It's on the same trajectory as we have been reporting, but it just did not get as far south as had been expected because it was traveling faster but using a lot more fuel to maintain that speed. So, it dropped short of the target area.

There is a lot of comments in the media today, though, why is this information coming out now? This is radar information. As far as we know, it's coming from the Malaysians. We knew pretty much three days after that flight disappeared, Christine -- when I just got to Kuala Lumpur, we were being told unofficially that that flight turned around because they had radar images. They were not fully identified with the flight, but that's what they thought.

Now, you know, two weeks, more than two weeks later, we're getting this information that those radar images are saying the flight was going faster. The question is, why has it taken so long to crunch those numbers, to make this observation to feed it into the search authorities here?

So, still a lot of questions being asked, a lot of planes out on the site now. As you say, we've got one back already, the Chinese, the IL-76 are landing at Perth airport a few hours ago. No information yet from the Chinese, whether they saw anything.

Bear in mind, the search area, 319,000 square kilometers. What's that, about say 150,000, 160,000 square miles? That's roughly the size of the country of Poland. No ships on target yet. They won't get there until at earliest tomorrow afternoon.

So, they've still got a massive search area, and they've got to pinpoint within that search area where the wreckage is.

ROMANS: All right, Andrew Stevens live for us this morning in Perth, Australia -- thank you, Andrew.

HARLOW: Well, Australian officials say the nearly 700-mile shift in the search for missing Flight 370 is based on new information from investigators in Malaysia.

So, what does this all mean for the investigation? Do they have to start from square one?

Our Jim Clancy is live in Kuala L this morning.

Jim, I can imagine what the families must be thinking right now, but in terms of the investigators, what are you hearing from them? I mean, does this erase days and days of work?

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In effect, I think that it does. And what it tells us -- and I was listening to what Andrew had to say there. You know, he's right with all of those questions as we look at this. I think they are going back to the original military data that was obtained. It was recorded radar that showed this plane.

Initially, it wasn't spotted here in Malaysia as it turned around and headed out toward the Indian Ocean. They've gone back to those records, they've re-examined the routing of the plane, the path that it took. Now, what's not answered is whether or not they had additional radar data from Thailand, even from Indonesia that said that they had none, and they actually should have.

The -- with everybody putting in this new data, we can change the area of focus. And we just have to hope that they're right, because we've been wrong so many times in the past. We haven't been very lucky on this one at all, Poppy. And as you pointed out, this takes a toll on the families. They're told it is in one place, for sure, it's gone down and now they're being told something completely different.

You know, working with the Malaysia Airlines, some of their staff working with them talked to the media. It was released on social media. I want you to listen to what this woman had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You try to give them anything and everything you possibly can, it's still not good enough, right? The only thing they wanted was the one thing we couldn't give them, which is answers. That's all they wanted.

They didn't care for the lavish rooms or the food. They really didn't care for those. They just wanted answers.


CLANCY: They wanted answers. They didn't, you know, want anything else. They wanted to know, where are my loved ones? Why, on a flight that was supposed to take them northward to Beijing, could they have possibly have ended up almost on the other side of the earth in the south Indian Ocean? And no one has those answers -- Poppy.

HARLOW: You know, and, Jim, that certainly really helps us understand why so many of them, so many of those families, many in Beijing right now, are hanging on to hope, because they still have not seen any tangible evidence of what could have happened to their loved ones. So, understandably, they're still holding onto hope. What a very sad development for them.

Jim, appreciate it this morning. Thank you.

ROMANS: The Flight 370 families have been told the plane crashed in the Indian Ocean, but 21 days into the search, there is still no definitive proof of it and the families have been lashing out at Malaysian Airlines and the government for the lack of information.

CNN's David McKenzie talked with the partner of one passenger. Her first public comments since being informed that all souls were lost from that flight. David is with us live from Beijing.

The torture continues for these families, David.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Christine. And Sarah Bajc, who you mentioned, her partner was on board that flight, Phil Wood. He was an IBM technician. He had already moved to Malaysia. The family was due to move there in the coming weeks.

Then her world got turned upside down, and she talked to me today and described what it was like to receive that text message saying that the plane had gone down.


SARAH BAJC, PHIL WOOD'S PARTNER: I don't know a better way to explain it but that I felt like I was just pushed over the edge of the cliff and I was falling. So, it was an extreme shock. And then to watch the press conference -- because, I mean, to me, it was the message that it was over, that everybody was dead and all of this hope that I've been putting forward and all of the energy I've been pushing forward to be positive and hopeful had just been wasted, and it was done, you know? So, I think I crashed into a point of crisis.


MCKENZIE: Well, really, that shows how many families have been reacting to this, this closure that then was opened up again. And you see even today, when they changed the search area to a completely different part of the southern Indian Ocean. For the families, that's extremely difficult, as my colleagues have been describing.

Sarah says that she's still hopeful, though she does feel that perhaps reality is starting to sink in. But for her, it's just been this awful, harrowing time. She's put out a Facebook site, she has a Twitter page, wanting people to just communicate with each other, because the trauma of this has gone so much wider than just these families, Christine.

ROMANS: I'll say. David McKenzie live for us this morning in Beijing. Thank you, David.

HARLOW: We're going to have much more on the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 throughout the morning, of course.

But first, President Obama just hours from what could be a pretty tense meeting, sitting down one on one with the leader of Saudi Arabia. We'll have a live report straight ahead.


ROMANS: All right, much more on these new developments in the Flight 370 search in a moment. But first, President Obama wrapping up his week-long overseas trip today after his one-on-one with Pope Francis Thursday. The president heads from Rome to Riyadh to meet with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah.

CNN's Michelle Kosinski traveling for the president. She is live for us in Rome.

It's interesting. You've heard, Michelle, people call the United States "Saudi America" because of how much energy the U.S. is now producing. That changes the balance of power a little bit.

What do you think will be top of mind when he meets with the king?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. I mean, and just look at this in the context of this trip as a whole. It has been a big and important trip, four countries in five days. And really the point, before the issues in Ukraine came up, was to re-establish and emphasize the ties between the U.S. and its strongest allies around the world, not only in Europe, but also Asia and now the Middle East.

And Saudi Arabia has been one of the U.S.'s strongest partners in that region. That's not to say, though, that there haven't been some tensions, and some have come up lately in terms of Saudi Arabia's view of the U.S.'s role in Syria. Saudi Arabia thinking that the U.S. might have taken a stronger line there, may have even intervened. So, there's no doubt that will be talked about. And the hope's that some of these tensions that have arisen, not just between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, but within the Gulf Region, might be smoothed over a little bit more.

I mean, there was originally supposed to be a meeting between the U.S. and other Gulf States, but because of those internal tensions there, it was decided by the White House that it just wasn't the right time, and that's concerning after the Arab Spring, the role of the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups, not something necessarily that the U.S. is directly involved in. But the timing just wasn't great for that.

So, now it's going to be just between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. And as we know, human rights is always an issue, and a very public one, whenever relations between these two countries are concerned. I mean, Saudi Arabia's the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive.

And the kingdom took the unusual and surprising step this week of denying a visa to the only journalist on the trip who was working for the "Jerusalem Post" who is Jewish. That was the only journalist in the White House press team denied a visa. It's embarrassing, and the White House did make a statement saying that it was very disappointed by this move. Doesn't look great as we go into these one-on-one meetings, but the U.S. did say, hey, look, Saudi Arabia is one of our partners and this meeting should go on, Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Michelle Kosinski for us in Rome. The president is on his way to Riyadh. Thank you.

HARLOW: Back at home, big news on Obamacare. Enrollment figures have topped the 6 million mark. To give you a sense of just how important this is to the White House, the president himself broke the news in a phone call with supporters. Although the original target was 7 million, the figure still beats expectations revised after that disastrous rollout in the fall. Open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act ends on Monday.

ROMANS: On Wall Street, that's called beating lowered expectations. That's what that is.

All right. Political junkies, hold on to your hats. More Clinton White House documents are on the way. The National Archives will release 2,500 pages at about 1:00 p.m. Eastern. The records expected to include papers from the president's speech writer and a domestic policy adviser as well as documents regarding his farewell address. Some 8,000 pages have been released since February. HARLOW: And New Jersey Governor Chris Christie heads to Sin City today, Las Vegas. That is where he is hoping to hit the jackpot with some of the GOP's top donors, this after an investigation by his own attorneys cleared him of wrongdoing in the so-called bridge-gate scandal. They announced their findings on Thursday, but, of course, federal prosecutors and state lawmakers say it's not that easy. Their investigation is still ongoing.

A few notes from that report -- the official who ordered those politically motivated lane closures on the George Washington Bridge says he told Christie about them at the time. Christie says he doesn't recall that.

Also, an alleged romance between two top former aides, Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Stepien, who have both refused to turn over subpoena documents.

Today, we'll hear Chris Christie. He's holding his first press conference since January and, of course, CNN will cover that. It will be interesting to hear the questions and what he has to say.

ROMANS: All right. Let's go to Washington state, where the confirmed death toll in the Oso, Washington, landslide is now 17, but apparently not for long. Authorities expect to announce a significant increase in the number of killed this morning. Right now, 90 people are listed as missing or unaccounted for.

According to University of Washington seismologists, there were actually two separate landslides last weekend several minutes apart. They devastated a square-mile-long area just north of Seattle.

HARLOW: Also this morning, criminal charges could be on the way for Pacific Gas and Electric. The California utility giant now says it is expected to be charged in a 2010 natural gas explosion that killed eight people in San Bruno. The company has already been hit with $565 million in legal settlements. In a scathing report, federal officials found over 100 violations and blamed PG&E for, quote, "baffling mistakes" and a litany of failures.

ROMANS: All right. People in Trenton, Missouri, very, very lucky this morning after a powerful storm, possibly a tornado -- look at that -- struck right near the town. Several homes were damaged or destroyed, but no one was seriously injured. Crews are now working to restore power to residents and businesses in the area.

It certainly looks like tornado damage.


ROMANS: Or straight-line winds, but whatever it was, certainly powerful. They're very lucky there were no injuries.

Let's get an early look at our weather, severe in some cases.

HARLOW: Right.

ROMANS: Chad Myers has that.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Christine, Poppy, hi, good morning. Severe weather possible this afternoon across parts of the Deep South, the same kind of weather we had across Missouri yesterday. A couple of tornadoes on the ground. And the rain showers across the deep south into parts of Florida, Georgia as well, and more heavy rain for the Pacific Northwest.

In fact, there may be five inches of rainfall in places up here that certainly don't need more rain over the next five days. Kansas City 53, 81 in Dallas, 82 in Houston. This is the area, because it's so warm, that the severe weather will be later on this afternoon.

The weather moves to the east and out of the Deep South for tomorrow and into Saturday, but look at that, rain. Of course, it's the weekend. What do you call two days in a rain where it rains where it hasn't rained all week? Saturday, Sunday, that's what we're going to get here. Although, probably by Sunday, most of the rain moves away.

And here we go, back out -- the rain will not stop for the Pacific Northwest, and they certainly don't need any more here. Cooler across parts of the Upper Midwest, but not as bad as you've been. Almost feeling like spring in Minneapolis, at 45, 66 in L.A. and 76 in Dallas, Texas.

Guys, back to you.

HARLOW: You hear that? Forty-five in my home state, Minneapolis. They're excited.

ROMANS: That's nice. I mean, that count -- that's basically north of Minnesota. That's considered summer when it's 45.

HARLOW: They'll be in shorts this weekend. I promise you that.

ROMANS: All right. Breaking news this morning, the trial postponed for an Olympic hero accused of murder. We're going to take you live to South Africa with the very latest on the Oscar Pistorius trial, next.


ROMANS: Good morning. Welcome back.

We are following breaking news this morning in the search for Flight 370: a major shift in that search -- a shift to a different area of the Indian Ocean. Australian officials say this is based on new, credible information. You can see it there on your screen -- the new search zone 680 miles to the northeast of where search operations had been focused.

This means those flights that are leaving from Perth will get there quicker and will be able to stay there longer as they search this new zone, that red box you see on your screen.

HARLOW: All right. We're going to get back to all the details on that new development in the search for Flight 370 in just a moment.

First, though, want to bring you breaking news from the Oscar Pistorius murder trial in South Africa. We were expecting that he would testify, take the stand today. But instead, court was suddenly postponed -- big surprise to everyone there.

Kelly Phelps is the CNN legal analyst live for us in Pretoria, South Africa.

This just came within the last hour or so, Kelly. What happened?

KELLY PHELPS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, this trial like life is very unpredictable. They were question marks over whether Pistorius would take the stand today, but no one saw this postponement coming. Apparently, one of the assessors is sick in hospital and they had to adjourn for a week until she recovers.

HARLOW: Talk about what an assessor is, because this is someone that actually plays a pretty critical role alongside the judge in this courtroom, and this is especially critical, since there is no jury.

PHELPS: Well, it is compromised to not having a jury system. South Africa is a judge-led system, but in big trials, the judge is allowed to appoint two lay assessors, people who aren't judged, but who are experts either in law or in the subject matter of the trial to then assist the judge in determining the outcome of the case.

HARLOW: You know, I know that we saw a shot just as that announcement was being made about an hour ago of the Steenkamp family, and also, you know, we saw a shot of Oscar Pistorius waiting, you would assume preparing for days and days to possibly take the stand today.

Did we get any reaction from either of the families to this postponement now for -- a 10-day postponement?

PHELPS: We haven't had a reaction from them, and the families generally have not been speaking directly to the media throughout the course of the trial. One can only imagine, though, that it's actually incredibly traumatic for both families involved, both for Pistorius' family, who have been sitting on tinder hooks waiting for him to finally be subject to probably grueling cross examination, and for Steenkamp's family and friends who need to relive this dramatic ordeal through his testimony.

HARLOW: You know, Kelly, I was reading your opinion piece on about this, and you said that although the state has rested its case, it really all hangs on this testimony that will come in, we'd assume, 10 days' time from Oscar Pistorius. He didn't have to take the stand, but how critical is this and what do you expect to see happen when he's on the stand, in terms of the prosecutor, and certainly, their cross examination of him?

PHELPS: Well, strictly speaking, he doesn't have to take the stand, but practically speaking, he really does have to take the stand in this case, because he's relying on a defense that speaks about his own state of mind. And the only way to put evidence on record about his own state of mind is for him to give his own testimony.

So, he will certainly take the stand. In terms of cross examination, the state has said from the beginning that they have at best a circumstantial case. That means there's no strong evidence conclusively proving their version of events. And the only opportunity they're really going to have to do that is by vigorously cross examining him to try and unpick inconsistencies within his story.

HARLOW: It will be fascinating to watch, but you know, I can't imagine for everyone waiting and waiting, anticipating this day, especially Steenkamp's family, what this is like. Thank you. Appreciate it.

ROMANS: All right. Breaking news this morning, a dramatic shift in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. There is the new search area, about 1,000 miles off the coast of Australia, crews moving hundreds of miles northeast. They are looking for the wreckage at this hour.

Live team coverage of these new clues this morning, next.