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EARLY START

Search for Flight 370 Ramps Up; Flight 370 Families Wait and Wait; Obamacare Deadline Arrives

Aired March 31, 2014 - 04:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning: time ticking away in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Crews really only have about six days to find the plane's flight data recorder before the black box's batteries run out and it goes silent. Right now, planes and ships scouring the southern part of the Indian Ocean, looking for any sign of the vanished jetliner.

We have coverage from every angle this morning, breaking down the latest clues on the search, investigating why this plane may have crashed and how families are just waiting for answers. How they're holding up this morning.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Christine Romans. It's half past the hour right now.

The search intensifying for Flight 370 -- each passing hour, it may be harder to find. The plane's black box is supposed to ping for a month, so there are just days left now. This plane went missing on March 8th. Ten aircraft, 10 ships are going to scour the search zone in the Indian Ocean again today west of Australia looking for any sign of the flight.

Australian officials now say orange objects spotted Sunday thought to be a good lead here. Those orange objects, they're not from the plane. They're fishing gear. Fishing junk in this vast area of the sea that is full, full of debris that's simply commercial debris. This morning, an Australian vessel, the Ocean Shield will head to the search area carrying a high-tech U.S. Navy pinger detector that can scan under water, listening for the plane's black boxes.

CNN's Atika Shubert spoke exclusively with Australian prime minister Tony Abbott. She's live in Perth, Australia, for us this morning.

The search zone still so big, Atika, that searching for the pinger, they really want a smaller search zone. But what did the Australian prime minister tell you?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, basically, he said that Australia's coordinating this effort, and that if any country can help find the debris, this plane, then Australia is the one. Take a listen to what he said. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: Everyone wants to get to the bottom of this mystery. Everyone is united in their common grief, in their common anxiety to resolve this. I don't think we've got a whole lot of competing national pride at stake here. I think we've got at stake here a whole lot of people who just want to solve the problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUBERT: Now, unfortunately, it turns out that those orange objects that they were looking for have turned out to be fishing equipment. It's not the first time this has happened. Unfortunately, a lot of false leads so far. But they now have more ships, more planes searching this area than they've ever had before, so hopes are high that they could find something soon -- Christine.

ROMANS: If it is solvable, we will solve it. That's what the Australian prime minister telling you. Thank you so much for that, Atika.

BERMAN: You know, the absence of concrete leads in the sea, they are once again turning this investigation to the people on board that plane. I say once again, because it's been there before, been there constantly.

Let's go again to Jim Clancy in Kuala Lumpur. He's following the investigation.

Jim, what's the latest this morning?

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, you can look at this like a scale. On one hand, we have the facts we have. It's very light. On the other, we have the grief of the families, very heavy indeed.

More Chinese families came in today. They moved into a hotel. They want answers. They held a prayer service. They lashed out at the government for the lack of facts that are actually available to them, someone to tell them where their loved ones are.

The government is then going back over all of the information that it has, that it knows are facts, like the passenger manifest. They are said to be asking the CIA, MI-6 and others to go through that list one more time to check if anyone has any ties to terror. Because remember, the investigation is focusing not just on where the plane might be, but what happened in the cockpit, what might be the motives of someone on board that plane.

The families would like to know. They would like to have some answers to that as well. Unfortunately, none of us have them, and that's causing a lot of grief. These people have been on a roller coaster of emotions, and they just don't seem to be able to take it much more -- John.

BERMAN: And, of course, Jim, as we say, the black box pingers, time could be running out on them, so there is a deadline fast approaching. Our Jim Clancy in Kuala Lumpur. Thanks so much.

ROMANS: And, again, you know, just like Jim said, for the families, the flight 370 families, the agonizing wait for any word on their loved ones going on. On the husband of one of the flight attendants onboard telling CNN it has been difficult to tell his children about their missing mom.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I even promised them I'm going to bring her home, but I really don't know where she is now. And now I'm not sure whether I could bring her home. Of course, I'm still hoping for God's miracles, but just like what we want is the reality, the true story.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The majority of those on board the flight are from China. Relatives demanding more information about the flight from the airline and from the Malaysian government.

CNN's Pauline Chiou live in Beijing.

Just breaks your heart to hear the husband of that flight attendant, Pauline, you know, waiting to figure out how to tell his story. Multiply that anguish by 239 -- these families, either one of their loved ones working on this flight or taking a flight home. It's just -- and the waiting for these families. Really, still no more clues for them.

PAULINE CHIOU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not a lot of clues and it's so, so difficult, Christine, when you try to digest the fact that this is the 24th day of the search, and try to digest that fact if you're a family member. It has just been pure agony these past more than three weeks going into the fourth week.

Now, about two hours ago, there was a candlelight vigil in a small room next to the family briefing room at the Lido Hotel here in Beijing. And this is really a place where people can meditate and pray, and there's a collection of candles that you'll see on a table in the shape of a heart. And inside that heart is the word "370." You also see handwritten notes. It's just heartbreaking when you see some of them. There's also a picture, a hand-drawn picture by a child of a mother holding a daughter's hand.

And just lots of tears today. There was a moment of meditation, and a son -- his name is Steve Wang -- he tried to provide words of encouragement.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

CHIOU: Steve here says, "We do not want to give up hope. They are definitely still waiting for us somewhere. We hope they'll come home safely, even if that hope is minute, even if it's only a 1 percent chance. We still need to give 100 percent effort to bring them home."

And, Christine, this is about two hours ago. You heard a lot of silence, sniffling, you saw a lot of tears, people holding Kleenexes in their hands and then going to the wall, putting up handwritten notes. And then they went next door into this news briefing with a technical team, which is still under way at the moment -- Christine.

ROMANS: And I know we are in what has become the rhythm of the last, now heading into the fourth week, at 5:30, a little less than an hour, we'll be expecting to hear the Malaysian government give another press briefing.

I know some of the families went to Kuala Lumpur over the weekend to demand an apology from the government. How effective has that been?

CHIOU: Yes, they did. I mean, they are so fed up with the information they were getting here that they decided to go to Kuala Lumpur. And originally, many of them didn't even have passports. They didn't want to make this trip, but they reached that point of frustration that they decided to do it.

They've been effective in at least getting their voices heard. They've asked for an apology from the government for the delays at the beginning of the search.

They also want the prime minister and the Malaysian government to apologize for actually making the announcement that this plane went down when many of the relatives say, prove it. We don't see any debris. We don't see any hard evidence.

And they also want meetings with officials from several different companies, from Boeing to Inmarsat to Rolls Royce, which makes the engines. But at this point, Christine, it's still unclear if they'll actually get those meetings with those officials.

ROMANS: All right, Pauline Chiou. Thank you so much, Pauline, for that this morning.

BERMAN: Pauline's reporting has been so valuable.

ROMANS: I know.

BERMAN: So insightful from the ground in Beijing. Really get a sense of what those families are going through, and it is simply awful.

We are bringing you the very latest on the search for the vanished Malaysian airlines flight all morning.

But first, we have breaking news this morning. North and South Korea opening fire on each other, an artillery barrage. You know, could this be the beginning of a new battle over disputed waters? We'll have a live report right after the break.

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ROMANS: Breaking news from the Korean peninsula this morning, where North and South Korea have been exchanging artillery fire overnight.

Journalist Andrew Salmon joins us now from our CNN bureau in Seoul. Andrew, what triggered this?

ANDREW SALMON, JOURNALIST: Well, North Korea announced early this morning it would be conducting live fire drills into the waters of the yellow sea, which is the maritime border between North and South Korea. While it's conducting these drills, while it was firing these artillery shells, about 100 rounds landed in South Korean waters, so the South Koreans responded with their own barrage of about 300 rounds, again, which landed in North Korean borders.

So, it's important to note here that no damage has been done, no one's actually been killed or hurt. This is two sides firing into the waters just North and South of this tense maritime border. And so, clearly, we're engaged in some kind of war of nerves. The danger is, of course, with a war of nerves, could it escalate into a real war?

But for the last 2 1/2 hours, things have been quiet, so touch wood, it has died down.

ROMANS: Touch wood it has died down, but this is a very tense part of the world, a very tense part of the world. And how rare is it to have them exchanging fire like this? Or is this part of the, you know, punctuation between these two countries and their, you know, decades- long feud?

SALMON: Yes, yes. Well, basically, the area this is taking place in, the NLL, the northern limit line, the maritime border in the yellow sea to the west of the Korean peninsula is pretty much the tensest part of this part of the world. It's been the site of deadly naval clashes in 1999, 2003, 2009 and 2010.

This is the first exchange of fire since 2010, and it's coming at a very tense time. Every spring the Americans and South Koreans jointly conduct military drills, which North Korea is extremely sensitive to. And this morning, elsewhere on the Korean peninsula, the Americans and South Koreans conducted a marine landing drill.

So, possibly, the North Koreans were using this artillery drill as a response to the American/South Korean drill elsewhere on the peninsula.

ROMANS: All right. Andrew Salmon, thank you so much.

BERMAN: Next for us, breaking news in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, and it's not all good. Some of the things they thought could be debris from the plane turns up to be empty, and time is ticking now to find this jetliner as the battery life on the black boxes run out.

We're live with all the breaking news, coming up next.

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BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone.

It may be the best hope yet for locating missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. It's an Australian ship, the Ocean Shield, carrying a high-tech U.S. navy device that can detect pings from the plane's black boxes. Of course, you have to find those black boxes. No matter how specialized or sophisticated this equipment is, it will not be effective unless the vast search area is narrowed down.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COMMANDER MARK MATTHEWS, U.S. NAVY: We need better point of impact estimation than we have right now. I can search approximately 50 square miles a day. So, really, if we're searching for a beacon and we're living on borrowed time, I need something that is only, you know, less than 1,000 square miles.

REPORTER: Right now, we're dealing with over 100,000 square miles.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

REPORTER: As you said, challenging.

MATTEHWS: It's very low probability of detection, if that is our search area.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Low probability of detection if that is our search area.

Let's bring in Erik van Sebille. He's a physical oceanographer, research fellow and lecturer at University of New South Wales in Sydney.

Nice to see you.

Last week, we were talking about how dangerous and wild the oceans further to the south were. Now we've moved into a more forgiving part of the ocean, but it is still such a huge, vast area they're trying to search and so disappointing that the things that they're pulling out of the ocean, it's junk. We're on a garbage fishing expedition at this point.

Tell me a little bit about how hopeful you are that they're going to be able to find those data recorders.

ERIK VAN SEBILLE, OCEANOGRAPHER: Yes, absolutely. This whole new area that they're searching now, it's a completely different part of the ocean. It's actually a different ocean, I would say.

They're used to searching the Southern Ocean, which was harsh and difficult. Now they're in the subtropical Indian Ocean, and that's, essentially, it looks a lot like the ocean off the Bahamas, for instance. It's somewhere you would like to sail in. It's nice, warm, balmy surrounding with low waves. It's actually quite pleasant to work there for a while.

But the big down side of that is that this is also an area where all our garbage, all our debris, all our plastics accumulates. Everything that gets lost into the ocean from all the countries around the Indian Ocean washes up and accumulates in this area, and there's a whole load of garbage there already, even before the plane crashed there, which makes it really hard to try and piece apart which parts are from the plane and which parts are just fishing gear or containers or beach balls or what you have.

BERMAN: And so far, it's all turned up to be the latter, nothing, you know, things from fishing boats.

Erik, the good news is, you know, they can confirm success or failure much more quickly within this search zone. The bad news is, is you do think that if they were going to have success in this new area, you know, we're running up against that barrier where you think they might have had it already.

VAN SEBILLE: Well, I don't know. There's just so much debris there that the chances of you actually finding a piece from the plane, you really have to take it out of the water and look at it very carefully. But I think the ones we have -- only one piece of debris, then we're actually gaining, because one of the other advantages of this part of the ocean is that there's not really a strong current out there.

So, as soon as we find something, we will be able to backtrack it to the site of the plane with much higher accuracy than we could ever have done in the Southern Ocean, a part we were searching before. And I think that oceanography labs around the world, including in the U.S., in Europe, here in Australia, are all really getting ready, and we are taking our best models and our best techniques that we have to, as soon as we find only one piece of debris, to start cracking away and trying to really lower and really confine that search area to really help the people on the ground.

BERMAN: Well, it's good that you are doing that, and we do hope you get the opportunity to use your expertise. But until then, until they reach that point where they do find some debris, it does smell of desperation, to be sending out these ocean vessels with the underwater search equipment. We did hear officials there say it has virtually no chance of being effective, you know, if they don't have something on the surface to start from.

So I guess the question is, you know, is it even worth spending those underwater resources right now when they don't have that narrow search area?

VAN SEBILLE: Yes, well, of course, I am not involved in the search team, and I don't lead these kinds of things, I don't make these decisions.

But I can understand that it takes three, four days for this ship to actually reach the search area. So, why not start moving already so that you're there if we find something.

BERMAN: That's a great point. Erik van Sebille, thank you so much for being with us this morning. A lot to talk about, such an interesting perspective on this search area, the highs and lows of being there. ROMANS: And we talked about the surface of the ocean, then there's also the surface of the floor of the ocean, you know, and we know more about the moon than we do about the ocean floor. And that's the next real challenge, what kind of trenches may lie there.

More news and top headlines right after the break.

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ROMANS: Welcome back.

Last call for Obamacare as open enrollment comes to a close today. The White House now calling the troubled program a success, touting 6 million enrollees last week, another 2 million visitors to Healthcare.gov this weekend.

Critics say many hurdles remain, and Senator John Barrasso suggested the administration is, quote, "cooking the books." That's his charge. The final tally could take weeks to determine. Those who fail to get coverage face a fine of up to 1 percent of their income. And how will they levy that fine? It will come out, folks, of your tax refund.

BERMAN: More troubling questions for General Motors. A parts supplier now says the company accepted ignition switches in 2002, knowing full well they did not meet specifications; 2.2 million vehicles have now been recalled. The defect linked to 13 deaths and 31 crashes. Congress is investigating why it took G.M. more than a decade to act and why federal regulators twice declined to step in.

CEO Mary Barra testifies before Congress on Tuesday. That is a big, big day --

ROMANS: It sure is.

BERMAN: -- in Washington.

ROMANS: All right. A sobering warning on climate change. A new report by U.N. scientists says the worst is yet to come. It's the second of three planned reports as nations try to find consensus on a new global climate treaty next year. It details rising oceans, melting arctic ice, dwindling water supplies. It warns, if greenhouse gases are not reined in, the world's food supplies could be in jeopardy and coastal communities put at risk.

EARLY START continues right now.