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U.S. Pinger Locator Detects Two Signals; "Blade Runner" Murder Trial Resumes; Afghanistan Holds Presidential Elections

Aired April 7, 2014 - 04:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning: new evidence that search crews may be close to finding missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Just hours ago, investigators revealing American black box detectors have received new signals consistent with those deployed by the plane's flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder. Right now, search planes and boats moving in to find those black boxes before their batteries run out, and it could go silent forever. We have live, team coverage on that search.

Plus, some troubling, new questions about the route the pilots may have taken before this plane vanished and how the families of those on board are now dealing with this breaking news.

Good morning, everyone. Good to see you. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christine Romans. It's Monday, April 7th. It is 4:00 a.m. in the east.

Let's begin and welcome all of our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world beginning with this breaking news. Up first, the most promising lead yet in the search for Flight 370. Overnight, a U.S. pinger locator picked up two separate signals that could be coming from the plane's so-called black boxes. One of them lasted for well over two hours.

Now, a U.S. underwater drone is being brought in to find the source of those signals. It's not going to be easy, because if this is indeed coming from the missing jetliner, it's 2.8 miles below the surface of the ocean.

Erin McLaughlin live from Perth, Australia, this morning.

Erin, it's certainly promising, but there's still a lot of work to do. Bring us up to speed.


Well, they're saying these findings are absolutely extraordinary. The Australian vessel, the Ocean Shield detecting not one, but two separate acoustic events. The first event lasting 2 hours and 22 minutes, the second event lasting 13 minutes, consisting of two separate signals, signals that authorities are saying are consistent with the cockpit voice recorder and the in-flight data recorder. But at the same time here in Perth, they are urging caution, saying it will take some time to verify these findings.

Take a listen to what Angus Houston, the man spearheading this international search effort, had to say at a press conference earlier today.


ANGUS HOUSTON, SEARCH COORDINATOR: I need to be honest with you, it could take some days before the information is available to establish whether these detections can be confirmed as being from MH370. In very deep oceanic water, nothing happens fast.


MCLAUGHLIN: Now, at the moment, the Ocean Shield is currently in the area where it detected the signals. What they're trying to do now, use that towed ping locator provided by the United States to detect possibly a third signal. If they get that third signal, their hope is they'll be able to triangulate a narrow search area in which they can deploy the Bluefin-21, also provided by the United States. It's an unmanned autonomous vehicle, able to go underneath the water. The hope is that they will find some signs of physical wreckage. They're saying that that is when they will know for sure if this has anything to do with the missing plane -- Christine.

ROMANS: Oh, but, Erin, the water there so deep, some 2.8 miles deep. Is this going to be a factor in the verification process? I mean, time is running out. They've got these important leads, but now they've got to deal with the deep.

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, if they're able to find that third acoustic event and actually deploy this underwater autonomous vehicle that they have, depth certainly a factor. Houston in that press conference saying that 2.8 miles down is at the very limits of the capabilities of this autonomous vehicle, and if for some reason it doesn't work, they'll have to bring more assets capable of handling that kind of depth, and of course, that will take more time -- Christine.

ROMANS: More time. All right, Erin McLaughlin in Perth for us -- thank you, Erin.

You know, if these signals are from Flight 370's data recorders, it's worth noting that American know-how played a crucial role in finding this missing jetliner. The pinger locator that detected the signals and the underwater drone that will attempt to find the plane, both manufactured by the same Maryland firm.

Let's get more on that from Brian Todd.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's really two vehicles in question, the towed pinger locator that we've heard so much about over the past couple of days that apparently located these signals, and also the Bluefin-21, which is an autonomous underwater vehicle, both made by Phoenix International, and we got access to Phoenix's facilities here not far from D.C., near Largo, Maryland. That's their headquarters. That's where they made all of this very sophisticated equipment.

The way it works that the towed pinger locator goes down and sweeps that area first. The towed pinger locator can go down as far as 20,000 feet below the surface of the sea. It can detect the pinger from up to 2 miles away. It can detect the pinger even if the pinger's signal is fading.

So, these developments overnight and midday there in the region are very encouraging. Of course, we know it does not necessarily mean that they've found the black box signal, but it is encouraging.

Now, the next step, now that they've gotten these signals, is to send that autonomous underwater vehicle, the Bluefin-21, down to that area where the signals were picked up. The Bluefin-21 looks like a torpedo. It goes down to significant depths, and it sweeps that area looking for a debris field, looking for the black box, trying to take both audio and physical video images of whatever is down there.

It's got side-scan sonar capability. It's got picture-taking capability, not video, but still pictures. It will sweep over the area, take a series of still pictures, transmit it to the vessel on the surface, so they can kind of see what they're looking at, Don. That's the sequence. First the pinger locator finds the signal, then the Bluefin-21 goes down and sweeps the area, so that's probably what they're preparing to do right now.


BERMAN: Our thanks to Brian Todd for that information.

So much going on this morning in the search for Flight 370. Let's check in now on the investigation. A senior Malaysian government source tells CNN the jetliner appears to have deliberately skirted Indonesia on its path toward the Indian ocean, taking a route that suggests an intent to avoid radar detection by whoever was at the controls at the time.

Let's bring in our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson. He's in Kuala Lumpur.

Nic, what's going on with this?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, for the investigators, this is important, that they can draw some more conclusions about who was in control of the aircraft, what they were doing and what their intent was. What the Malaysian officials are telling us is that with help of neighboring countries, they've been able to look at the different radar plots and talk to these different countries about what their radar systems have seen.

What they're able to say now is that the plane flew, came back across the Malaysian peninsula and then flew northwards around the top end of Indonesia before turning southwards down towards the south Indian Ocean, where that search effort is ongoing right now.

And they also say that they believe from the way that it flew, from the position that it flew, that it was trying to avoid Indonesian radar, and the conclusion they are drawing is that the pilot or whomever was at the controls of the aircraft was intentionally trying not to be seen by that radar, trying to fly to a remote place.

This is a conclusion they're drawing. This is allowing them, if you will, to sort of narrow down in their investigation into who might have been responsible, what was going through their mind and why -- John, Christine.

BERMAN: Nic, it was confusing for several weeks because the Indonesians weren't releasing any radar data. They didn't say they had any sign at all of Flight 370 flying over their air space. This at a minimum, I suppose, if it's to be believed, would indicate why the Indonesians did not pick them up on radar.

ROBERTSON: It certainly would, and the Indonesians have said that. They said, no, there was no indication that it had flown across their territory. We now know from this source, to the Malaysians' satisfaction, to the investigation's satisfaction, they have been able to now feel comfortable with that information.

They knew where the aircraft was flying, approximately. They knew that from the Inmarsat data. There were various speeds from that Inmarsat data, that it could have been flying, indicating that it might have clipped the tip of Indonesia, might have avoided it a little bit, but this lack of radar information from Indonesia allows them to now more precisely say, okay, this aircraft that whoever was flying it was taking evasive measures, and that, for the investigators, is important -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Nic Robertson for us in Kuala Lumpur -- thank you so much. And we do expect a news conference live from Kuala Lumpur from the Malaysian transportation minister on all the updates, including the discovery of these new pings. That's coming up in our next hour.

ROMANS: About an hour and 20 minutes from now.

Many Flight 370 family members say they need to see hard proof before they give up hope that their loved ones are still alive. Many of them left Malaysia and returned home to Beijing over the weekend, hoping to hear something concrete about the fate of their family members soon.

Our Pauline Chiou is in Malaysia this morning.

Each one of these details -- each of these developments must be so difficult for these families who still don't have the tangible evidence they're looking for.

PAULINE CHIOU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is so difficult. And, Christine, we're seeing them still exercise a lot of caution. One woman today saying of the newest developments, it is a positive lead, but it's just that, a lead, and we are thankful for the international effort.

Another woman whose husband is on the plane, said, "I have no reaction to this until I see physical evidence." So, you're seeing this tone of caution, and that's an ongoing theme that we've been hearing throughout the weekend. When the initial reports of these pings came out on Saturday, we spoke with a relative, Steve Wang, whose mother was on the flight, and he said that he understands what these pings mean and he's coming to grips with the reality of what may have happened to this airplane.


STEVE WANG: Maybe this is a time, maybe the next couple of days, the next couple months, the next couple years, we will find the ending, but there will be a time that it will end. So, to me, I don't want that it is MH370, but if it's the facts, I have to face it.


CHIOU: And to face the facts, to face this new information, it is not easy. This whole ordeal has been so stressful for the past month that the Chinese government is worried about the health of all of these relatives.

So, Christine on Sunday, even today, the government offered to take many relatives to the outskirts of Beijing at their own cost, at the government's cost, to help them get some fresh air and also go to a sanatorium to get a health check, because some of these relatives are elderly, some of them have fallen sick. Many of them have not gotten enough sleep because of all of this stress.

So, the government has decided to at least check on them, to try to make sure everything is okay, at least physically from a health point of view, but it's difficult to take this mental break, especially when you've got this new information coming forward, Christine.

ROMANS: I'll say.

All right, Pauline Chiou -- thank you so much for that, Pauline.

BERMAN: We're covering the breaking news on missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 all morning, including this new detection of possible pings by U.S. equipment.

But first, the trial resumes for the Olympic hero accused of murder. The defense is calling its first witness. Will Oscar Pistorius take the stand? When might this happen? Will he explain why he shot and killed his model girlfriend? We're live, next.


ROMANS: Welcome back to CNN's breaking news coverage of the search for Flight 370.

Officials calling it their most promising lead yet. Two separate signals consistent with black box frequency, two separate signals detected overnight by a U.S. navy pinger locator being towed by an Australian ship. An American underwater drone now being called in to assist with this search in waters that are 2.8 miles deep.

BERMAN: I want to get back to that coverage in just a moment, but we do have other news this morning that is developing as we speak.

After a long hiatus, the Oscar Pistorius murder trial is under way again. Pistorius' defense beginning its case this morning by calling a forensic pathologist to the stand. Pistorius is expected to testify, though it is not clear when.

CNN legal analyst Kelly Phelps joins us live from Pretoria in South Africa this morning.

Good morning, Kelly.


BERMAN: Give us the latest from the courtroom. Tell us about this pathologist who's testifying.

PHELPS: Well, the pathologist who is the defense's expert witness is an incredibly experienced pathologist. He's been the state pathologist on three separate occasions. He's conducted over 25,000 autopsies within his career. So, he's certainly a reliable expert witness for the court.

And so far, he has pointed to two key inconsistencies with the state's pathology evidence. The first relates to the gastric evidence, which the state's relied on in order to suggest an inconsistency with Pistorius' version of events, that they had gone to bed at 10:00, suggesting that Reeva Steenkamp had eaten at about 1:00 in the morning.

The second issue that he's been focusing on is what's called wound ballistics. Essentially, what he's doing with this evidence is striking doubt into the state's version of events that the gunshots would have been fired in a more slow succession. So, he's supporting the defense theory that Pistorius had used double tipping, which means a very quick succession of shots, and that's crucial, because if those shots had been fired quickly, and considering the overwhelmingly mortal nature of them, it is highly unlikely that Reeva Steenkamp would have been the person who was heard screaming.

BERMAN: Yes, I think one of the things a lot of people are waiting to see is Oscar Pistorius on the stand. That could happen tomorrow, the next day, I suppose even later today. What's the most important thing for him to do when he takes the stand?

PHELPS: Well, the most important thing for Pistorius when he takes the stand is that, first of all, he's seen to be consistent with the version of events that they've put on the record as early back as bail, and secondly, that he comes across as sincere and believable. After all, his entire defense rests on essentially his own perception on the night in question, a mistaken perception, he claims, that he was under attack from an intruder. And when the court needs to determine whether they believe this version of events, that comes down to how consistent he's been in relaying it to the court and how sincere he is in retelling that version.

BERMAN: All right. Kelly Phelps, thank you so much for being with us, at the site of the Oscar Pistorius trial, where, again, we do expect Pistorius to take the stand in the coming days.

ROMANS: All right, the family of one of the victims of last week's shooting at Fort Hood says he was friends with the shooter, Ivan Lopez. Private Deon Josephs was shot in the neck by Lopez. The family says Josephs was given a 50/50 chance of survival. Three soldiers were killed, 16 more were wounded Wednesday afternoon after Lopez opened fire before taking his own life.

BERMAN: President Obama will head to Fort Hood on Wednesday to attend the memorial service for the victims of last week's deadly shooting. The president and first lady were already scheduled to begin a two-day trip to Texas to take part in Democratic campaign fund-raisers in Houston. The president visited Fort Hood in 2009 after the shootings that year by an army officer that killed 13 people and injured 30 more.

ROMANS: President Obama is heading back to school. He'll be at a high school in suburban Maryland today to announce the winners of a competition to prepare students for college and jobs. This ahead of tomorrow's signing of an executive order requiring federal contractors to submit wage data in an effort to keep them in line with equal pay laws.

BERMAN: Today, the Senate expected to pass a bill restoring long-term unemployment benefits to nearly 3 million Americans. Six Republicans committing to join Democrats to push the measure through.

After the vote, the bill faces an uncertain future in the House. It's opposed by Speaker John Boehner and Republican opponents. They want to attack several so-called job-creation measures, like construction of the Keystone Pipeline, before passing it.

ROMANS: This is the farthest the unemployment extension has gotten in a long time.

All right. General Motors about to begin repairs on 2.6 million cars. The vehicles at the center of the controversial recall linked to 13 deaths. The automaker is accused of failing to fix faulty ignition switches they knew about 10 years ago. Owners of the six gm models involved can make appointments to bring their cars into dealerships for repairs starting today.

And in many cases, G.M. has reached out to those people with a letter and also telling them what time and what day they can start talking about making an appointment.

BERMAN: That is big news. And this is big news, also, breaking overnight. Mickey Rooney, legendary star of stage and screen, has died. Rooney had been in poor health for some time. He had one of the longest show business careers ever, first starring as a teenager in Andy Hardy movies. In all, he appeared in more than 200 films during a career that spanned 80 years. Mickey Rooney was 93 years old. You know, I saw "Black Stallion" with my boys a few months ago, and I remember thinking, Mickey Rooney's a really good actor!

ROMANS: He is. Then he was in "Night at the Museum."

BERMAN: But he was great in that! >

ROMANS: I know!

BERMAN: Even in that, in a small, cheesy role, you could tell this guy had so much talent.

ROMANS: And was having fun in a career that spanned so long.

BERMAN: Eighty years.

ROMANS: I love that so many generations are familiar with his films.

All right. Days of violence overshadowing elections in Afghanistan. Right now, the votes being tallied there. What's next for the war- torn country and how involved will the U.S. be? We are live next.


ROMANS: Welcome back to CNN's breaking news coverage of the search for Flight 370. Officials calling this their most promising lead yet: two separate signals consistent with black box frequencies detected overnight by a U.S. Navy pinger locator that's being towed by an Australian ship.

Now, an American underwater drone is now being called in to assist with this search. These waters, these waters are 2.8 miles deep, but the most promising, promising developments yet.

BERMAN: We will bring you all the latest developments from Perth in just a moment.

First, despite threats from the Taliban, voters in Afghanistan turned out in droves this weekend to elect a new president. There were some reports of violence and bloodshed, but up to 7 million people were able to successfully cast their votes. That's an amazing number.

Let's bring in Anna Coren live from Kabul in Afghanistan this morning.

Anna, what's the latest?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, this historic election, as you say, was an overwhelming success. There's just, you know, a real sense of pride here in Afghanistan at the moment.

More than 60 percent of eligible voters turned out. That's 7 million Afghans. You know, despite the rain, despite the recent attacks, high-profile attacks that we have seen over the past several weeks, and those Taliban threats. You know, the Taliban said they were going to do everything within its force to disrupt elections.

Afghans turned out to polling stations across the country to cast their vote. These people desperately want change, John. They want to see their new president come in, bring peace, bring stability.

Now, this was always going to be a major test for the Afghan national security forces, and I'm very happy to report that there were no major incidents. It's really quite remarkable. We were anticipating a very bloody day. There were isolated incidents around the country, but by and large, this was generally an extremely peaceful election. You know, certainly, a good news story to come out of this country, which we both know is very rare.

But as we know, the true test for these police, for these military will be after U.S. forces withdraw at the end of the year, whether they can stand on their own two feet, fight the insurgency and move this country forward.

You know, last week, we caught up with ISAF commander, General Dunford, and he said that he's confident that the three top contenders for this presidential race, whoever is president will sign that critical bilateral security agreement that obviously President Karzai did not sign, created an enormous strain between Afghanistan and the United States.

But with that security agreement, that there will be an enduring U.S. presence. So, we will see troops still here on the ground post 2014, John.

BERMAN: They still have to count the votes, Anna, but as you said, the people of Afghanistan showing they want change and are willing to work for it. Anna Coren for us in Kabul. Thanks so much.

ROMANS: All right. Breaking news this morning: promising new leads revealed just hours ago in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Live, team coverage of all these developments right after the break.