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EARLY START

Search for Flight 370; Congress Expected to Pass Ukraine Aid Bill

Aired April 1, 2014 - 04:30   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, CNN obtaining the transcript of the final cockpit conversations between Flight 370's crew and air traffic control. Malaysian investigators now admitting they were wrong about the last words that came from the cockpit of Flight 370 before it went silent. CNN has gotten a hold of that official transcript.

What was really said and what officials are saying now? They're not sure who said the final words, the captain or the co-pilot.

Also right now, boats and aircraft searching for the wreckage of Flight 370, but how do they know they're in the right place? So many questions still to be answered. We have live, team coverage on all of the angles and everything that has happened overnight.

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

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. Thirty minutes past the hour. Great to see you this morning.

Up first, we are covering the breaking news. CNN just minutes ago obtaining the transcript of the final conversation between the Flight 370 crew and traffic control. We'll have the details of that in just a moment.

Also new this morning, a source telling CNN that investigators are now convinced someone in the cockpit or on board that plane is responsible for that sudden turn off course.

These Malaysian officials telling CNN they consider the disappearance of Flight 370 to be a criminal act. And without explanation, they are altering the official version of the final sign-off from the jetliner's cockpit, that as part of this transcript that CNN just got its hands on.

Jim Clancy live in Kuala Lumpur, has been poring over the details of that.

I've just been looking at it myself, Jim. Tell me what you make of it so far. JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Routine. Routine is the word that jumps out at you when you look this over. You hear other aircraft, you know, MH370's put on hold, if you will, as a flight from Frankfurt is given a little bit of priority for ground control. You hear the pilot preparing to go out or takeoff, the pushback.

All these of things are recorded here. And you get down to the end of it, which on my copy here is three pages long. You have air traffic control in Kuala Lumpur at 1:19.24 saying, "Malaysia 370, contact Ho Chi Minh 120.9, goodnight."

Now, that's the frequency that the plane would contact the Ho Chi Minh City control tower. Malaysia 370 replies "Goodnight Malaysian 370." now, some aviation experts, people more familiar with this, say that the pilot or co-pilot -- we don't know which one was saying that now -- we were told earlier it was the co-pilot.

But whoever said it should have, in the proper terminology, repeated that frequency, 120.9. They did not. Not a major transgression. Again, what stands out, John, this was a totally normal flight, right up to those final seconds that we heard, double check the time, 1:19 and 21 seconds, the last transmission.

BERMAN: A lot of language like maintaining level, climbing, climbing. Nothing out of the ordinary, seeming to us, Jim.

But again, this is a significant piece of information to now have in your hands over there. Investigators have been reluctant to turn this over. A lot of people wanting to see they for the first time, so not insignificant that at least we see these details.

CLANCY: It is, you know, for us, we've been asking for this since practically day one. What we need to see now are the military radar records that would give us an idea of how the plane made its turn, how it veered off of its scheduled flight path, and suddenly ended up on route to the Indian Ocean, you know, less than 90 minutes after it took off from Kuala Lumpur.

As you reported, Nic Robertson reported that some of the investigators are saying they're investigating this as a criminal act. That radar record would really speak to that as well. It might help to differentiate, you know, why they believe that, rather than a severe mechanical failure, John.

So many questions, so few answers, so few facts, but the transcript of what went on between the cockpit and the control tower that night is one of them that we have in our hands.

Back to you.

BERMAN: And we will continue to go over that. Great reporting.

Jim Clancy in Kuala Lumpur, thanks so much.

HARLOW: It has been one dead end after another in this search for Flight 370. Here is the latest. Three days wasted. That's according to a new report out from the "Wall Street Journal," which says search teams were looking in the wrong place in the southern Indian Ocean for 72 hours. Why?

Because of poor coordination, saying there were two separate teams analyzing different data to calculate the plane's trajectory, one looking at radar data, the other looking at satellite data. It has been 25 days since Flight 370 vanished -- the search at sea turning up plenty of debris but nothing that can be connected to the missing jetliner.

Let's get the latest on the search from Atika Shubert. She joins us live from Perth, Australia. I know the search is going on, ten planes in the area, some multiple ships, but tell us about the weather conditions, because that is critical for this really visual search at this point in time, and the days are running out to find the data recorder.

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the days are definitely running out. The weather, unfortunately, is not so great today. It has been deteriorating.

But according to the group commander here, he says that the planes are pushing ahead and so are the ships. Visibility is pretty low, but they're still trying to spot any pieces of debris that could potentially be from the plane.

So far, however, we have not had any reports. We are expecting some of the planes to be landing back here at Pearce Air Base, and if they report anything, we'll definitely let you know, Poppy.

HARLOW: And in terms of who's coming there, I know that you've got the Malaysian prime minister coming there this week, correct, who's going to be touring the base?

SHUBERT: Yes, he's going to be touring not just Pearce air base here, but also, of course, talking to all the coordinators of the search as well as the investigation, because it's not just planes that are taking off from Pearce Air Base, but anything that they do find in the Indian Ocean is going to be brought back to Perth.

HARLOW: Right.

SHUBERT: And this is where, essentially, they're going to try to put the plane back together with any debris they actually find.

HARLOW: Thanks for the reporting this morning, Atika. Appreciate it. We'll bate back to you shortly.

BERMAN: For the families of the 239 people on board Flight 370, it's just been more heartache, more frustration. All those debris sightings that Atika's been reporting on in the Indian ocean, they've been raising hopes, but they've all turned out to be fishing junk and other debris, dashing the hopes of the families. And their distrust of the Malaysian government really seems to be mounting by the hour.

Our David McKenzie joins us live from Beijing this morning. David, give us a sense of what they're doing right now.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, they're in a briefing with Malaysian airline officials and Malaysian government officials, and this has been a regular scenario in the afternoons here in Beijing, morning your time, and they have been getting these briefings to understand technically why they are coming to the decisions that they are coming to.

But certainly, as you say, the family members have repeatedly expressed their frustration, their anger, even storming the Malaysian embassy last week.

So, you know, now the situation is this. It really could end up being a legal battle. And I spoke to one of the leading law firms that is at the hotel, trying to gain clients from these family members that are still in shock.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MONICA KELLY, HEAD OF AVIATION LITIGATION: We have to be certain that the plane actually crashed. Although the minister of defense from Malaysia has said that they believe it crashed, we still need to know for sure that it crashed. And only finding even a small piece of the plane, a cushion, a window, will help us in our legal case.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCKENZIE: Well, certainly, they say that once they get that debris, they'll have a parallel investigation. That law firm, Ribbeck Law, has had some questions asked about it, including the fact that the initial planes have been -- the information that they were seeking from a Chicago court wasn't, in fact, a direct family member of somebody on board.

So, certainly some questions being asked about them. They say they've done everything by the book, but certainly now, the issue is will this go to court? Some new news that happened overnight was that the Asiana Airline, which was the airline that most recently had a deadly incident on a Boeing 777, which crash-landed, effectively, in San Francisco last year, they are admitting now that that was a combination of a mechanical issue and pilot error.

And certainly, that will be also a major lawsuit against Boeing, I suspect -- John.

BERMAN: Interesting confluence of developments there. David McKenzie in Beijing for us -- thanks so much.

HARLOW: For weeks now, the search for flight 370 has been conducted above sea level. Part one of what will hopefully be a two-part mission, because when and if a plane or a ship spots something connected to Flight 370, that is when the hunt for the missing jetliner goes below sea level.

Here's our Tom Foreman. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: All of the searching so far up in the South China Sea over the Malacca Straits, up into Europe, down into the Indian Ocean, to the edge of the southern ocean, all of that has been really part of just the first search, the search for one solid clue to tell them where to look under water.

The search above water can be fairly fast. We're off the coast of Australia now. They've been moving through those areas over there. They've defined and redefined them and moved them around. They can search maybe 90,000, 100,000 square miles a day in one of those areas because they can fly over it and look.

But when you talk about diving down into the water, when you talk about getting deeper down under the surface there, it gets much more complicated and far, far more time-consuming.

Let me show you what we're talking about here. If you start talking about being underneath the water, you can no longer look with your eyes in any fashion, because it's dark down there. You actually have to use a device of some sort, whether it's a sonar device to image the bottom of the ocean or whether it's a pinger listener trying to find those data recorders back there.

But what you get is a very small window that you can look into, not a vast vista, and this may only reach out a mile, maybe two miles in very good conditions. That limits how much you can search, maybe 50 square miles a day. So, if you have 90,000 square miles to search, that's a big, big difference and it's going to make a big difference to how much ground you can cover.

Still, they must get the top part of this equation worked out before they can even think about starting the underwater part.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARLOW: Yes, absolutely, and that is the challenge ahead, to get a small enough area so that pinger locator can work and they don't have that right now.

BERMAN: They haven't even started with the difficult part of the search yet. We'll follow the latest breaking news in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and new details about the final words from the cockpit crew to air traffic control in a little bit.

But first, the U.S. getting more involved in the crisis in Ukraine. Today, Congress voting on aid and how Russia should be punished for really trying to take over, actually, effectively taking over part of the Ukraine. We're live with the latest after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. We'll have more coverage in the search for flight 370 in just a moment. But first, new developments in the crisis in Ukraine. Here in the United States, in Washington, the House finally expected to pass a measure today providing aid to Ukraine and imposing tighter sanctions on Russia, and there are reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered some of his troops along the Ukraine border to withdraw, to pull back. That is what he reportedly told German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Let's get the latest from Phil Black live in Moscow this morning.

Phil, what can you tell us?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, that's right. It has not come from the Kremlin, this talk of withdrawal, but from the German government, that says it was in a phone call between Vladimir Putin and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, that Putin said he had ordered a partial military withdrawal.

Now, what does that mean exactly? How many troops are we talking about?

Well, so far, the Russian government has confirmed that only one motorized infantry battalion has been called back from the border after completing exercises there. A battalion, that's just hundreds of soldiers. That's compared to the tens of thousands that NATO believes are still stretched along that Ukrainian border at a very high state of readiness.

Now, it's likely we'll hear more of NATO's assessment today as foreign ministers from the alliance get together in Brussels to discuss their next steps in dealing with the Ukrainian crisis. And while Russia is signaling its intention for what so far looks to be like a modest military withdrawal, it is also pushing what it believes to be a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

Moscow says Ukraine should adopt a new federalized constitution. That's one that would take powers away from the central government in Kiev and give them to local, regional administrations.

Now, not surprisingly, the Ukrainian government is a little suspicious of Russia's intentions here. Its belief is that Russia is looking for another way to carve up the country, only this time without firing a single shot. It believes that Russia would seek influence, perhaps even control of those Russian-speaking regions and their local administrations, and thus, essentially bypass that central government in Kiev.

So, from Ukraine's point of view, that initial idea looks to be a nonstarter, John.

BERMAN: You can understand, Phil, why the Ukraine government might be a little suspicious of the intentions from Russia, certainly understandable.

Our thanks to you. As you said, perhaps an insignificant operational pullback from the border there, but could be symbolically important. Phil Black in Moscow, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Yes, we'll continue to follow that.

And breaking news this morning on that transcript that CNN has obtained between Flight 370 and the tower. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All right. Welcome back, everyone. As the search for Flight 370 unfolds, CNN has obtained the official transcript of the final conversation between the crew and air traffic control. We'll have more on that in just a few moments.

Also, I want to show you a picture now that's caused a lot of controversy. The image seen here is a composite put together by grieving Flight 370 families in China. They say from available public information. Look at that route there. It shows a lot of twists and turns, not straight lines like we've seen from the official Malaysian versions, a lot going on before that final left turn south.

It's raising even more questions about exactly what happened to Flight 370. CNN and other organizations asked Malaysian officials about the track Monday, getting only a cannot confirm or deny response.

Joining us from London is former pilot and aviation consultant Alastair Rosenschein.

You know, Alastair, thanks for being with us.

Give me a sense, as you look at that composite sketch from the families, does that even seem possible to you?

ALASTAIR ROSENSCHEI, AVIATION CONSULTANT: Well, of course, it's possible, but I have no idea how they got hold of it. You know, there's an awful lot that the families have claimed that is really off the wall, in some cases. I'm afraid I don't know where on earth they got that picture from, and I would be very skeptical about it.

BERMAN: Yes, no, they say they get it from composite information that they've been given. They've pieced it together. That's how they came up with this sort of loopy de loop, which is different than the left- hand turn so far described by Malaysian officials.

HARLOW: Right.

And one of the questions, as we try to get more information on that image and what information exactly went into creating it and if the airline or Malaysian officials will comment on it, what we do know now, because CNN has the official transcript between Flight 370 and the tower, is that the final words were not "All right, goodnight," they were "Goodnight Malaysia 370."

As a pilot who does, you know, these sign-offs all the time, is that a material difference? Should we be paying attention to what Malaysian officials told us weeks ago were the final words and now we're hearing it is something different? ROSENSCHEIN: No, it sounds perfectly innocuous.

I think that the Malaysian authorities putting out the incorrect final words was really a question of benign incompetence, rather than anything significant.

BERMAN: Benign incompetence, Alastair, has been afflicting this entire investigation, it does seem. We learned today from "The Wall Street Journal" -- "The Wall Street Journal" reporting that the search area, 700 miles from where they're now searching, they may have been searching in that wrong area because two separate teams were simply not communicating --

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: -- on what they thought the flight route was. Is that an example in your mind of the benign incompetence you're talking about?

ROSENSCHEIN: Well, that would certainly be a case in question. I mean, you know, to involve so many assets in a search and such huge cost and urgency, to not communicate between the various agencies would be a very grave error. And it appears that they're still looking in the wrong place in any event.

You know, I have to add here that everything that I've heard about this could well be explained by a technical problem which occurs suddenly, causing the flight crew to turn back. And then if they had become unconscious due to hypoxia, depressurization, the plane could have flown on its own into the Indian Ocean and could be well west of where they're searching at the moment.

BERMAN: Excellent insight, Alastair Rosenschein. We should say, it's also the analysis we're getting from other experts, too. Still very much a possibility that it was a mechanical situation, craft failure, rather than a criminal act, which at least one Malaysian official continues to tell CNN.

Alastair Rosenschein, thanks very much.

We'll have more on the top news about Flight 370, including the new transcript just obtained by CNN between the cockpit and air traffic control right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All right, the month of March came in like a lion, and it is going out like a lion, at least for some. A blinding spring blizzard slamming the border of Minnesota.

HARLOW: Wow!

BERMAN: Did I say that correctly?

HARLOW: Minnesota.

BERMAN: Minnesota and North Dakota Monday, whipping up winds in excess of 50 miles per hour, shutting down highways, dumping more than a foot of snow. Five fresh inches expected today.

HARLOW: Man, I can say Minnesota that way, being a proud native. And speaking of my home state, take a look at a frightening scene in rural Minnesota, a funnel cloud ripping through the tiny town of St. Leo. Three farms reported damaged. Some counties had simultaneous blizzard and tornado warnings. They cannot wait for the summer there, that's for sure.

Let's take an early look at our weather, including thunderstorms and tornado watches.

Chad Myers has that.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: And good morning.

An active looking map here really, although blizzards across part of the Upper Midwest. We have severe storms beginning to fire across the Midwest, also a lot of wind in the area, too. A lot of red flag warnings or fire warnings out there across the Midwest. Obviously, things haven't really started to grow yet, so they're not green. Those brown things in the wind can burn rather quickly.

Eighty-one in Dallas, 78 in Houston. And when you have cold weather, or at least cool in Kansas City, and temperatures above 80 degrees in Dallas and also all of North Texas, you can certainly get severe weather, and that's possible again for a little bit tomorrow.

But really, Wednesday and into Thursday, as this cold front pushes the warm air away. It's that battle, warm and cold. We get it every spring.

BERMAN: All right. Happy April, everyone.

EARLY START continues right now.