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"Most Promising Lead" Yet; "Blade Runner" Murder Trial Resumes; Mickey Rooney Dies

Aired April 7, 2014 - 04:30   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning: new signals detected from what investigators believe could be the wreckage of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Just hours ago, investigators revealing search crews have now picked up two signals, two signals consistent with those emitted by the plane's black box recorders.

Right now, a desperate race against time to locate the flight data recorders before the batteries run out. Frustrated families of those on board the missing plane are reeling from this news this morning, this as new questions are raised about the path the vanished jetliner was taking before it disappeared.

We have a team of reporters covering all of these angles live this morning.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans. A busy morning.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. Thirty-two minutes after the hour. A lot going on.

We are going to start with what some people are calling the most promising lead yet in the search for Flight 370. I have to say, this surprised a lot of people overnight. A U.S. pinger locator picked up two separate signals that could, could be coming from the plane's black boxes. One of these signals lasted for well over two hours.

So, now a U.S. underwater drone is being brought in to help find the source of those signals. Now, this will not be easy, not easy at all, because if this is indeed the missing jetliner, the ocean there is more than 2 1/2 miles deep.

Erin McLaughlin joins us live now from Perth, Australia, this morning. Erin, what's the latest?


Well, encouraging, extraordinary, promising -- all words they're using to describe this find. Angus Houston is the man responsible for this multinational search effort. He gave a press conference earlier today in which he detailed the nature of these signals detected on board the Australian Ocean Shield. Take a listen to what he had to say. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANGUS HOUSTON, SEARCH COORDINATOR: The towed pinger locator deployed from the Australian defense vessel, Ocean Shield, has detected signals consistent with those emitted by aircraft black boxes. Two separate signal detections have occurred within the northern part of the defined search area. The first detection was held for approximately two hours and 20 minutes. The ship then lost contact before conducting a turn and attempting to reacquire the signal. The second detection on the return leg was held for approximately 13 minutes.


MCLAUGHLIN: Houston went on to say that these signals are consistent with the characteristics of an in-flight data recorder and a cockpit voice recorder. So, incredibly promising development, but at the same time, they're urging caution. All of this still needs to be verified.

They still need to find actual physical wreckage from this plane. And to that end, the Ocean Shield, the Australian vessel, is still out in the area in which they detected these signals using that U.S.-provided towed ping locator, trying to detect a third acoustic event.

The hope is, if they're able to get a third acoustic event, they'll then be able to triangulate those signals to narrow down to a specific search area. They will then deploy the U.S.-provided Bluefin-21, an autonomous underwater vehicle, to go down underneath the ocean and try and find this physical wreckage. Then and only then, Houston says, will they be able to verify that this actually comes from the missing flight MH-370.

BERMAN: That will not be easy, Erin. The water there, as we said, nearly 3 miles deep. Did they give any indication about the discrepancy between these pings detected by the Australian vessel with U.S. equipment and then the pings they had heard earlier in the weekend from the Chinese vessel, about 375 miles away?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, Houston was asked about it. He said he does not believe that those pings are from this same location. He said he does not think that they are in any way related, although he did say that it is possible that we're talking about very deep waters here, and sometimes, noise can travel in a funny manner, but not looking likely that these two occurrences are in any way related at this time, John.

BERMAN: All right. Erin McLaughlin for us, nearly 3 miles deep the water. That is a very complicated process, just one step to finding Flight 370. Thanks, Erin.

MCLAUGHLIN: All right. Now to the latest on the investigation. A senior Malaysian government source telling CNN this 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.

I want to bring in senior international correspondent Nic Robertson. He is in Kuala Lumpur. And this is an important, new detail for the investigation from that standpoint. Tell us what investigators are saying.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what they're saying is they believe that the person that was flying the aircraft was intentionally flying around Indonesia, trying to avoid its radar detection, stay on the outer edge of that, and then fly off, as we now know, into the south Indian Ocean to a very, very remote area.

It gives the investigators the impression the person at the controls knew what they were doing, had the aircraft fully under control, was intentionally trying to avoid that radar detection, and beyond that, fly the aircraft to a very remote location. So, for investigators, that is an important part of the puzzle of trying to understand what has happened. But also, part of that is understanding the psychology, whoever is at the controls.

And so, for the investigators right now, this is useful information. It ties together pieces of data they already had, but very important step for them right now, Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Nic Robertson. Thank you so much for that. Certainly very interesting development in the investigation.

BERMAN: All these developments for the families so hard to hear. They say they need hard evidence before they make up their minds whether to give up hope, continue hope that their loved ones still might be alive. Many of them left Malaysia and returned home to Beijing over the weekend, wanting to hear something concrete about the fate of their family members, and they want to hear that soon.

Our Pauline Chiou is live in Beijing this morning.

Pauline, what can you tell us?

PAULINE CHIOU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's true. They still want hard evidence, concrete proof. And many of the relatives are saying after this news conference from Australia that, sure, it is a lead, but that's all, it's just a lead. They want confirmation.

And one woman said, "Don't even bother me with this information, because I won't even react until you show me physical proof. So, that's the sentiment that we're seeing here.

And in fact, just a couple of days ago, John, I was talking with one woman who said she wants to see the body. She said there's an old Chinese saying, if a person is alive, I need to see the person. If a person is dead, I need to see the body.

And many of these relatives are saying the same thing. Sure, this may be focused, in terms of the search area, but just show me something, show me a body, show me debris from the plane, show me markings from MH370.

And until they see that, many of these relatives just will not close the door on the possibility that something else had happened to this plane -- John. BERMAN: They want to see some concrete evidence. And, of course, it is important to note, they have not spotted any debris yet that might be associated with Flight 370.

Our Pauline Chiou live in Beijing this morning -- thanks so much.

ROMANS: All right, happening now, the defense begins in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial. Can his team convince the judge that the Olympic hero did not murder his model girlfriend, but that this was all a terrible accident? We're live with who is taking the stand. That's next.


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

Officials are calling this the most promising lead yet. Two separate signals consistent with black box frequencies detected overnight by a U.S. Navy pinger locator being towed right now by an Australian ship. Now, an American underwater drone is now being called in to assist with the search. The waters there, though, where this was detected, nearly three miles deep.

ROMANS: After a 10-day delay, the Oscar Pistorius murder trial under way again. The Blade Runner's defense beginning its case this morning by calling a forensic pathologist to testify.

CNN legal analyst Kelly Phelps live for us this morning from Pretoria, South Africa.

Kelly, any indication when Pistorius might be called to testify?

KELLY PHELPS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: We certainly expect Pistorius to testify once cross examination and re-examination of the pathologist is finished. The defense alluded this morning that after the special circumstance was taken into account to let the pathologist go first for family reasons, the defense team said they would then continue with the normal order of their case.

And normally in South African criminal law, if a defendant is going to testify, an accused person, they will be the first to testify, so we do assume that he will be next on the stand.

ROMANS: What are we hearing from the pathologist, and I guess, how is that fitting into how we think the defense is going to look like?

PHELPS: Well, we're hearing some crucial evidence from the pathologist at the moment with regard to two key contentions that the state made in their case through their pathological evidence. So, the first relates to evidence of gastric emptying. The state relied on that in order to suggest that Reeva Steenkamp had last eaten at about 1:00 in the morning, and that contradicted Pistorius' version of events, that they had gone to bed at about 10:00 in the evening.

The pathologist began his testimony by citing very well-recognized, well-regarded international sources that essentially described evidence around gastric emptying as mere speculation, therefore, casting doubts on the state's reliance on this.

And secondly, we've been hearing about the order of gunshot wounds, and this is being done in order to cast doubt on the state's reliance on evidence of having heard Reeva Steenkamp screaming. Essentially, they're saying that the gunshots were fired in such quick succession, as you can tell from the wound ballistics on her body, that it's very unlikely that it would have been Reeva Steenkamp who even had the capacity to scream at that stage.

ROMANS: Kelly, I know that just moments ago, really, Oscar Pistorius put his hands on his head, clasped his fingers behind his head when they were describing the kinds of injuries she had. So, this is still very dramatic, very difficult for the defendant. Kelly Phelps, thank you so much.

BERMAN: About a quarter until the hour right now, and we have new clues and new pings, intensifying the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 this morning. Investigators believe they could be closer -- could be closer to finding the vanished jetliner's black boxes, but this will not be easy. There could be serious trouble ahead. We're live with the kind of challenges that they face in this crazy ocean terrain, next.


ROMANS: Welcome back to CNN's breaking news coverage of the search for Flight 370. Officials are calling this their most promising lead yet. Two separate signals consistent with black box frequencies 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, John Berman, that are 2.8 miles deep.

BERMAN: Yes, not a lot of people have been to this part of the ocean.


BERMAN: It's very, very remote, about 1,000 miles off the coast of Perth, Australia. This is where the analysts now believe that flight 370 may have ended. And as I said, the conditions there are simply treacherous.

ROMANS: Our next guest knows this region well. Eric Raes is an oceanographer with the Ocean Institute University of Western Australia. He joins us live via Skype from Perth.

We're so interested to talk to you, Eric, because you've recently been in a research vessel very close, if not right on this location. You can tell us exactly what the terrain is like underneath the ocean. Very deep.

What kind of challenges are we looking at here?

ERIC RAES, OCEANOGRAPHER: As you just mentioned, absolutely the vast remoteness of the site. We've been almost exactly to the site where the signal was received. We dropped a mooring looking into the large- scale appearance of the Indian ocean over there in cooperation with the University (INAUDIBLE) and NOAA, the American Atmospheric and Oceanographic Agency, looking at the currents and this took us seven days nonstop teaming from Perth, so very, very remote.

BERMAN: Talk to us about what it means when we say nearly 3 miles deep. That seems almost impossibly deep. When you do get to the bottom, what's the terrain like underneath?

RAES: Unfortunately, on the ocean terrain so far offshore, I have not really an idea, but we're talking about 5,500 meters depth. That is just half of the biggest Mariana Trench where last year, two years ago where deep down the submarines, the pressure down there is so tremendous.

It's, yes, just incredible. I have no idea how the terrain exactly will be, whether it will be caves or big mountains, but I think it's going to be pretty flat. Please don't quote me on that one, because we are more interested in the large-scale currents that are occurring over there.

ROMANS: So, let's talk about those currents, Eric. So, when we're talking about trying to find the location of black boxes, data recorders, potential wreckage, and then we're talking about trying to find any remnants of this plane floating on the top of the ocean, how are they going to try to use any debris on the surface of the ocean to pinpoint further where any wreckage might be?

RAES: Yes, in the northern part, there are two major currents. You have the east general current, which is coming down in the more tropical current, both flowing easterly and feeding into the current that is almost an eastern boundary current as it is flowing downwards, rather than if you have looking at Nigeria or in Peru, where these currents are moving upwards. These two currents are going together and flowing down along the west Australian coastline.

We're talking -- that's more part of the African/Asian/Australian monsoonal rate to be able to better predict ocean currents, where they are going, how they affect the climate, temperature of those upper boundary currents of the ocean. So, it's a very complex structure over there. That's why there is -- and unfortunately, such an understudied region.

BERMAN: Eric Raes, thank you so much for helping us understand this area of the ocean, one of the most remote on earth, describing the currents there for us, which could, perhaps, explain why they have not been able to locate any debris in this area, because the current could have just swept anything away.

RAES: Thanks so much.

BERMAN: Eric, thanks so much.

We are covering the breaking news with this discovery of possible pings from Flight 370. There is other breaking news as well. Te passing of a Hollywood legend, after the break.


ROMANS: Welcome back to CNN's breaking news coverage of the search for Flight 370. Officials are calling this their most promising lead yet. Two separate signals consistent with black box frequencies detected overnight by a U.S. Navy pinger locator being towed by an Australian ship. Now, an underwater, American underwater drone, now being called in to assist with this search. These waters 2.8 miles deep -- again, all of this developing over the past few hours.

BERMAN: We'll get back to that news in just a moment. First, there are some other news to tell you about.

The family of one of the victims at 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.

Three soldiers were killed, 16 more wounded Wednesday afternoon after Lopez opened fire before taking his own life.

ROMANS: And the families says josephs is given a 50/50 chance to survive that.

In other news we are following this morning, President Obama will head to Fort Hood on Wednesday to attend a memorial service for 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 that shooting rampage by army officer Nidal Hasan that killed 13 people and injured 30 more.

BERMAN: Officials in Washington state have now identified 29 of the 30 victims from last month's landslide that devastated the town of Oso, northeast of Seattle. Thirteen people still listed as missing. Some warmer, drier conditions are expected to now help search crews who have been combing through the mud and trying to excavate the area, looking possibly for any bodies.

ROMANS: All right, breaking overnight, Mickey Rooney, the legendary star of stage and screen, he 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 the Andy Hardy movies.

In all, he appeared in more than 200 films during a career that spanned 80 years. Mickey Rooney, 93 years old.

My grandfather watched him and my son watched him in "Night at the Museum." He's span four, five generations in this country.

BERMAN: A supreme talent for 80 years, and he will be missed.

ROMANS: He will.

BERMAN: EARLY START continues right now.