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Search for Flight 370; Crisis in Ukraine; Obamacare Open Enrollment Closes

Aired April 1, 2014 - 05:00   ET


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news overnight: CNN has just obtained a transcript of the final words between the Flight 370 crew and air traffic control. New information revealing Malaysian authorities incorrectly reported the last words transmitted from the plane's cockpit before it went silent. And now, we're learning it may not have been the captain who uttered those words. Who was it?

Also, this morning a new report claiming poor communication between countries could have wasted days in the effort to find the vanished jetliner.

We have live coverage from all the angles and everything that happened overnight and is happening this morning.

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

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. It is Tuesday, April 1st, 5:00 a.m. in the East. Thanks so much for joining us.

Up first, we have breaking news. We now know the final words spoken between the Flight 370 cockpit crew and air traffic control. CNN just obtaining the full transcript and we'll have those details for you in just a moment.

But first, new this morning, a Malaysian government source telling CNN investigators are convinced that someone in the cockpit or on board the plane is responsible for that sudden turn off course. And again, Malaysian officials, at least one telling CNN that they consider the disappearance of Flight 370 to be a criminal act. And without real explanation, they are altering the official version of the final sign- off from the jetliner's cockpit.

Jim Clancy live on the phone from Kuala Lumpur this morning.

Jim, you obtained the transcript now. A lot of people have been waiting for this for an awful long time, but you now, at least, have it, the transcript of the final communications, the conversation between the cockpit crew and air traffic control.

What have you learned, Jim?

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): John, if you can hear me, we're in the midst of just a major, torrential downpour here. We obtained this transcript of the conversation between the pilots on board Flight 370 and the control tower, Kuala Lumpur tower, as well as ground control. They show, if anything, a completely normal conversation.

We understand now that the government is going to release this transcript to all of the media in the coming hours. It sets the record straight. It is something that they say they held back because of the investigation, that they feel that they can release it now.

It says, and I'm quoting here, there's no indication of anything abnormal in the transcript. It does, perhaps, definitively clear up how the pilot signed off. He signed off, "Goodnight Malaysian 370," and that is what we know at this stage.

But again, what's remarkable is that it's so routine, John. And as you look at this, all you can think of is that moments, moments after that transmission went out, this plane began to vanish, and they are still looking for it in the Indian Ocean.

John, I'm going to have to sign off, because I can't hear you at all. And I just want to say thank you to everybody there at EARLY START, and we'll try to talk with you again in a half hour's time. Bye-bye.

BERMAN: Great to hear from Jim Clancy, in the middle of a torrential downpour in Kuala Lumpur.

But the important bit of information he just delivered, he now has the transcript of that final conversation between the cockpit crew and air traffic control. The language seems very routine, seems mundane. It is confirmation that the final words spoken from the cockpit were, "Goodnight Malaysian 370."

HARLOW: Right, and now the question is who uttered those words? Did it come from the captain? Did it come from the co-pilot? That is something we still don't know.

But you know, it has been one frustrating dead end after another in this search for missing Flight 370. Here's the latest. Three days wasted, according to a new report from "The Wall Street Journal," which says that search teams were looking in the wrong place in the southern Indian Ocean for 72 hours because of poor coordination.

The report says that two separate teams were analyzing different data to calculate the plane's trajectory, one looking at radar data, the other looking at satellite data, and then just not coordinating, not talking for quite a long period of time. It has now 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 straight to Perth, Australia. Our Atika Shubert is live there.

What can you tell us about this search this morning?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the search continues, but weather is deteriorating over the search area, and that means low visibility. And this is pretty key for any search planes up in the air. They really need to get down low and see if they can spot any of that potential debris. We haven't had any reports yet, but we do expect some planes to be landing pretty soon.

In the meantime, the coordinating center did have a press conference today, and they really showed just how difficult the task is.

Take a listen to what Mick Kinley said. He's from the Australian Maritime and Safety Association.


MICK KINLEY, AUSTRALIAN DEPUTY CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER FOR AMSA: Currently, we believe we're looking in the place that gives us the best probability of success. As that information is refined we may move that effort, but currently, that's where we are. We have by no means exhausted that search area yet, and we will continue to make every effort we can to give the people who are flying the best probability we can.


SHUBERT: They've deployed a tremendous amount of assets. They have 12 planes flying over the search area, at least 10 ships scouring the seas trying to find anything. So far, they haven't turned up any potential debris from the plane yet -- Poppy.

HARLOW: You know, when you talk about the terrain that they're searching, the weather not being ideal there by any means, the fact that this pinger locator can only go about 3 square miles an hour. I was listening to an expert who was saying on Anderson Cooper's show last night, talking about how this terrain is even more difficult than the initial search area. Part of it is over an area called Broken Ridge, that can make it so much more difficult to even locate that pinger sound, if they are in the right vicinity. And the days are running out.

SHUBERT: Yes, and the key is there that the TPL-25, that towed pinger locator, is a fantastic piece of equipment, but it needs to be deployed where they know the flight data recorder might be, and at this point, they have no debris to give them any indication where it might be. They don't even know at this point if they're looking at the right place.

HARLOW: Wow. And we know that, of course, the Malaysian prime minister's going to be on the ground there, I believe tomorrow and Thursday, touring the air force base there, seeing the search operations firsthand. So, we look forward to hearing more about that. Thank you for the reporting this morning, Atika.

BERMAN: And, of course, for the families of the 239 people aboard Flight 370, it's more heartache and frustration every time the debris sightings in the Indian Ocean raise hopes, then dash them when they turn out to be just, you know, fishing junk.

And the distrust of the families of the Malaysian government seems to be growing by the hour. Now it seems they're preparing to take legal action.

Our David McKenzie joins us live from Beijing this morning, where there's been a lot of developments all morning, David.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, John. Certainly, they have been briefing the family members here in Beijing with the latest information. It doesn't appear that the families, at least, have gotten that transcript that Jim was talking about, at least not yet, and as you said, these weeks, as they drag on, incredibly frustrating for the families. Some of them have resorted to anger. A bunch of them have gone to Kuala Lumpur to protest and to try and get high-level meetings with Malaysian airline authorities.

A lot of fingers being pointed at the Malaysian authorities. Even today with the new revelations about the change in that transcript. But all of this leads into the possibility, of course, of legal action. And I spoke to a senior attorney who's here on the scene in Beijing, who wants to represent many of these families.


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.


MCKENZIE: Well, that law firm hasn't been without controversy. They had an initial petition thrown out yesterday in a Chicago federal court, saying that it was early too and that they didn't really understand the law.

They're firing back, saying they'll appeal that decision. They want to go after Boeing and Malaysian Airlines, though many experts say it's way too early to tell, of course, what caused this crash -- John.

BERMAN: David, I want to read you a statement we just got from the Malaysian government. It says, "The international investigations team and the Malaysian authorities remain of the opinion that up until the point at which it left military primary radar coverage, MH370's movements were consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane."

That seems consistent with what Malaysian officials have been telling CNN, that they believe that whoever turned that plane did it deliberately. They still are telling CNN they think it could be a criminal act.

Is that what they seem to be telling the families as well?

MCKENZIE: Well, certainly, the family briefings have been in line, in general, in recent days, at least, with what is being told to people in Malaysia and around the world. I think those early days and weeks, they got so much criticism for not giving information that they have been a lot more careful to give the family members information.

The problem is, John, every bit of information we get can be read in multiple ways, so a deliberate action could just mean the pilot trying to save the plane, it could be someone with ulterior motives that then went wrong, and all of this just really has more questions for the families. Nothing exceptionally concrete has come out of this, except for that one statement from the Malaysian prime minister saying that the plane most likely went down in the southern Indian Ocean.

HARLOW: Right.

MCKENZIE: Now, that is also something the family members have criticized heavily. They say that, you know, they haven't seen that evidence and they want concrete evidence before they can start any process of closure.

BERMAN: Frustrating ambiguity.

All right. David McKenzie in Beijing -- thanks so much.

HARLOW: Australian officials continuing to search for Flight 370 around the clock. The weather in the Indian Ocean is a very big factor, because this is really so much a visual search from up in the air and on all of those ships.

Let's turn to Indra Petersons.

Looking at the weather there, today not ideal. What does it look like going forward?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, unfortunately, you'll start to see some clouds making their way into the vicinity. So, those conditions are currently deteriorating as you see the system making its way into the region. All it takes is a little cloud cover, really even add in rain, high winds and the visibility goes way down. Very easy to see.

We do have a system in that region. Unfortunately, right now it's producing some of those tough conditions that they've been concerned with. As far as rain, you can see as you go forward in time, you're still looking at some showers and spotty showers, nonetheless, making their way through the region. That's going to continue, at least for the next 48 hours or so.

The one thing, the one plus we have there is you can actually see the winds are starting to back off throughout the next 48 hours. Not to say there won't be periods where those winds do pick up here and there, but regardless, the general trend is they are backing off, which has a huge impact, of course, on wave heights.

Currently seeing them really between three and 15 feet, but of course, any time you kick up the winds, you kick up wave heights as well, so a mixed bag still.

HARLOW: Absolutely. Some of the toughest terrain in the world and couple that with bad weather. PETERSONS: Only good news is they're further north, where the weather is a little bit better for the search area.

HARLOW: Thanks, Indra. Appreciate it.

We're going to be following the very latest with the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 all morning long, as well as new information obtained by CNN about the final words of the crew to air traffic control.

But, first, Ukraine expected to get big support from the United States today, Congress voting on millions in aid and on punishment for Russia. We're live near the Ukraine-Russia border with reaction, straight ahead.


BERMAN: Now to the unfolding crisis in Ukraine. In Washington, the House is finally expected to pass a measure today providing aid to Ukraine and imposing tighter sanctions on Russia. And now this morning there are reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered some of his troops along the Ukraine border to withdraw. At least, that's what he told German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Our Karl Penhaul is live from the border between Russia and Ukraine this morning.

Good morning, Karl.


The problem is, with that kind of news about a possible Russian pullback, the people in this border region of northeast Ukraine really aren't trusting Moscow's word anymore. At best, as well, we've heard that Putin talking to Germany, saying he's pulling back a battalion, that may be no more than 800 Russian troops, and we know that before, earlier in the week, there were thousands ranged along that border.

And so, that is why we're seeing this kind of response among the local population. These men are civilian volunteers, and they've come together to form a self-defense militia. There are more, but these are the ones manning a checkpoint right now. Some of them have military experience, but essentially, they've been working civilian jobs, and they say the army, the Ukrainian army is not tough enough to stand alone, we must also do our bit to help them.

And so, they've set up these kind of barricades at a roadside check checkpoint. They say if Russians were to roll on, they would set this stuff on fire to set up a smoke screen, if Russian troops come down what is a major highway towards Kiev. They've also been digging trenches as well, pretty shallow trenches, but they say these will serve as firing points, either for them, if they're issued with weapons, or for the Ukrainian soldiers, if they have to use this as a sort of fallback position.

All this, really, John, just to illustrate that the threat of a possible Russian invasion is really palpable for these people, and it's going to take a lot more than a single battalion pulling back from that Russian border to convince people like this that the threat is over -- John.

BERMAN: Wow, Karl Penhaul with a vivid illustration of really the distrust right now in Ukraine about Russian intentions. Thanks so much, Karl. Terrific report.

HARLOW: This morning, Obamacare open enrollment is officially over, and it was really deja vu for those scrambling to get in under the wire. Well over 1 million people flooded the site Monday, many running into technical glitches reminiscent of the disastrous rollout last fall, but those thwarted in the last-minute dash will get an extension to register and not face that penalty.

Also now, the administration says sign-ups could reach an early goal of 7 million, could reach. The final tally, though, not expected for some time.

BERMAN: Though I'll bet if they get over 7 million, the White House will release it as soon as they possibly can.

HARLOW: Right away.

BERMAN: New General Motors CEO Mary Barra testifies before the House of Representatives today on why it took the company more than a decade to recall 2.2 million vehicles due to faulty ignition switches -- 13 deaths, 31 crashes have been linked to the defect. Meanwhile, General Motors recalling 1.3 million more vehicles for a sudden loss of power steering. That brings G.M.'s total to nearly 7 million recalls for various issues this year.

And again, I should say, Poppy Harlow headed to D.C. just after this show.

HARLOW: Right, we'll be covering it.

BERMAN: To cover this hearing.

HARLOW: Absolutely.

And global stocks mostly higher right now, with the exception of Tokyo. We had a slew of economic data already this morning come here in the United States.

Let's take a look. Futures pointing to a higher kickoff for the second quarter, the Dow closing higher yesterday, but it ended lower for the quarter, snapping a four-quarter winning streak. You're going to want to keep an eye on auto stocks today. Not only is General Motors CEO Mary Barra on the Hill testifying before House Representatives about the major G.M. recall, but carmakers are set to release their sales report for the month of March.

We have seen a nice, healthy rebound in auto sales since the depths of the recession, but numbers dropped sharply during the unseasonably cold winter. We'll see if they can bounce back. Investors are hoping they can now that spring is sort of here.

But again, I really think the day today is going to be that General Motors before the House, the first time we're going to hear her public comments, responses to questions. We've read some prepared testimony, but we're going to cover that throughout the day for you on CNN.

BERMAN: Fantastic.

Happening right now, ships and aircraft searching the wreckage to see if they can find any sign of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. We're live with the search conditions that crews are dealing with, right after the break.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone.

At this moment, an Australian naval ship carrying a U.S. Navy pinger locator is churning toward the Flight 370 search zone in the Indian Ocean. It is expected to arrive Thursday, ready to help find the black box, if that black box is, indeed, in that area. That is a huge, huge if, with no debris sightings of any significance even yet.

Let's bring in Will Ripley. He's off the coast of Fremantle, Australia, this morning.

Will, tell us about this technology.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, yes, John. You know, 21 hours into this voyage, the Ocean Shield now heading towards Australia. As you mentioned, an arrival time either late Thursday or Friday at the latest.

But if the ship is running into some pretty bad weather right now. We're told there are strong winds, heavy seas, very low visibility affecting not only the Ocean Shield as it approaches the search area, about one-third of the way there, but also all of the ships that are currently in the search area in the Indian Ocean.

Today, we headed out about 12 miles offshore, because we wanted to see for ourselves what the weather conditions are like. And before I tell you how we were thrown around, because we were thrown around quite a bit on the boat, this was a clear day here. The conditions were considered calm. But you can see from the video just how not calm it was.


CAPTAIN RAY RUBY, CHARTER BOAT CAPTAIN: I feel sorry for the guys on the "shield" heading out to the wreck zone because we're at idle. We're running along about 5 knots. Those guys are punching this at 15 knots, so every wave is straight over the top.

RIPLEY: Even for a large ship like the Ocean Shield?

RUBY: Large ship, it will just be over the top at three times the speed we're doing.


RIPLEY: John, you know, we talked, too, about this equipment, this high-tech equipment that is on the Ocean Shield. We've been telling you all about it how this underwater microphone can detect the ping from a black box.

But here's the problem -- the radius that it can detect is relatively small, and we're heading to a search area that, as you know, is enormous. So, the chances of getting close to the wreckage without any sign of debris just yet, pretty slim, which means the Ocean Shield may serve, essentially, as another search boat with a visual search for debris floating on the water, until we can get a better idea where this plane is.

BERMAN: That's right, it's there really just in case they do look out and find any trace of it. Will Ripley off the coast of Australia, thanks very much.

HARLOW: And, of course, we'll continue to follow the latest on this continued search. Day 25 now for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, including details contained in a transcript of the final cockpit conversations with air traffic controllers.

CNN has just obtained that full transcript. We'll have live team coverage right after the break.