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Mystery of Flight 370: Black Box Search; Pistorius on Trial; New NCAA Champion

Aired April 8, 2014 - 04:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news overnight. The intense search for the wreckage of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Right now, crews scouring parts of the Indian Ocean, hoping to hear more signals emitted from those vanished black boxes. The batteries expected to expire any day now, any minute now. Can crews find them before it's too late?

We have live team coverage on the very latest this morning.

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

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christine Romans. It's Tuesday, April 8th. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East.

Let's begin with the breaking news from Australia this morning. Days after U.S. equipment on an Australian ship picked up signals, signals that could be from Flight 370's black boxes, Australian officials announced overnight they haven't heard anything else since. There was hope the sounds could lead them to the jet -- to the missing jet. Now, they're waiting to put an unmanned vehicle in the water until they hear the pingers again.

Today, more than a dozen planes, 14 ships crisscrossing an area roughly the size of South Carolina, trying to find anything at all from the jet, missing now for 32 days.

Erin McLaughlin is live in Perth with the latest for us.

Good morning, Erin.


The focus of the operation continues to be on that American-operated towed ping locator on board the Australian vessel, the Ocean Shield. Angus Houston, the man responsible for this multinational search effort, giving a press conference alongside the Australian defense minister earlier today, in which he delivered the news that they had failed to detect a third acoustic event. Take a listen to what he had to say.


ANGUS HOUSTON, SEARCH COORDINATOR: The towed locator pinger work continues. There have been no further contacts with any transmission, and we need to continue that for several days right up to when the point at which there's absolutely no doubt that the pinger batteries will have expired.


MCLAUGHLIN: Right now, the Ocean Shield is still out there combing the waters in a ladder-like formation, trying to detect any other potential signals from a black box pinger. But again, no luck so far, and this is really critical to their efforts. What they're trying to do here is narrow down this search field.

At the moment, based on the information they have from those two earlier acoustic events, the search area is so vast, Houston saying that if they did deploy that underwater autonomous vehicle, it would be a very, very, very long time before they could verify or find any sort of wreckage -- Christine.

ROMANS: Tell us about the difference in the signal strengths. Is that casting any doubt on their findings?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, the signal that they detected is a total of 33.2 kilohertz, and they're expected to detect a signal of 37.5. Houston addressing that at the press conference earlier today, saying that that doesn't necessarily diminish these results, given the conditions out on these vast, deep ocean waters, some 2.8 miles deep. Sound can do funny things and given the fact that the battery life is set to expire, all factors that could affect the signal.

So, there's still hope, and they're saying this is at the moment their most promising lead. Christine?

ROMANS: For us this morning in Perth, thank you, Erin.

BERMAN: As for Malaysia Airlines, officials not talking about what they think happened on board the jet, but that airline has implemented new security measures that has some flight crews upset. This coming as Malaysia Airlines' new 777s fly the route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with new flight numbers.

Nic Robertson live in Kuala Lumpur.

Nic, you've been speaking to representatives from flight crews. What has them so upset about these new security measures?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, one of the new security measures is whenever one of the pilots in the cockpit leaves to go to the bathroom or for whatever reason, he must be replaced by a crew member from the cabin crew.

Also, when the flight deck's getting their meal delivered, the flight crew at the back of the aircraft is supposed to position a trolley to sort of block the galley way getting towards the cockpit.

What we're hearing from union officials here is two-fold. One is that the crews have not been consulted in this in any way by the management of Malaysian Airlines. It hasn't been explained to them why they need to do this. And beyond that, they say they're not qualified to do it, that they have training to help passengers get off the aircraft in the event of a security -- in the event of sort of a security situation on board the aircraft, help them deplane, but not provide security. And they feel that on board the aircraft, they feel they've been put in the front line of providing security and that there should be a, perhaps, better way of doing this with air marshals.

So, the crew here feel that they're being essentially unfairly and improperly tasked to do something that, the rationale of which hasn't even been explained to them, John.

BERMAN: I understand if the rationale hasn't been that explained, but the measures don't seem all that different than what flight crews here in the U.S. have to do. Doesn't seem like a huge burden. Nevertheless, as you say, if it isn't being explained, I can understand why they might be upset.

Nic Robertson in Kuala Lumpur, thanks very much.

ROMANS: So, the families of those aboard the plane are still waiting for answers a month after Flight 370 disappeared. Many gathered in Beijing overnight for a somber vigil.

Pauline Chiou, excuse me, has been with the families for weeks now.

Pauline, what's the feeling there today?

PAULINE CHIOU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was a very poignant night from 12:41, and that's when this vigil started -- that marked the moment that the plane had taken off a month ago from Kuala Lumpur.

Now, the families all got together, and they gathered in that big room that's normally the briefing room, but they pushed aside all of the chairs and they lit candles in the shape of a heart. They took turns doing that. There was also the letters "MH" and the numbers "370" inside and also the shape of an airplane inside that heart.

You saw people of all ages, grandparents, parents, young adults crying, praying, meditating, and they also had a visual presentation on a big screen of the flight path that the plane would have taken.

And Steve Wang, a family leader, explained to us how difficult this whole time has been.


STEVE WANG, MOTHER WAS ON FLIGHT 370: A month's passed, and we are just going through so many, so many kinds of emotion -- maybe just desperate, sad and something like that, everything. So, a month's passed and we will think about what we should do now. I think it's to just keep on waiting.


CHIOU: And one of the reasons this has been so difficult for the families is that many of the relatives feel that they never had a final proper conversation with their loved ones, because of course, no one expected this to happen.

For example, Steve Wang who you heard from said his last contact with his mother was text messaging on their phones. He had told her that it was cold in Beijing in the morning and he would bring her a coat and she said, "Thank you, I'll see you at the airport." That was their last contact.

Another daughter said her father had gone to Malaysia for a week and they never spoke during that week, Christine, because they wanted to save money on international phone calls, and that was really -- she felt like she had no final good-bye, really. And so, it's that sense of regret on top of this enormous grief as we're seeing this go past a month.

ROMANS: Unbelievable. Pauline Chiou in Beijing for us -- thank you, Pauline.

BERMAN: It's got to be hard.

And, of course, we're following the latest on the sunshine for Malaysia flight 370 as the morning goes on, the desperate search as time runs out.

But, first, happening right now, really captivating testimony from an Olympic hero accused of murder. Can Oscar Pistorius convince that judge that he didn't mean to kill his model girlfriend? We're live.

ROMANS: Plus, controversy for a U.S. congressman caught on camera --


ROMANS: Yes, kissing a woman who is not his wife.

BERMAN: No, not at all.

And this morning, there is a new NCAA basketball champion, and it is not who you picked in your pool. It is not who you picked to win last night. It was an incredible game for one time and one team only. We'll break it all down for you right after the break.


BERMAN: All right, happening right now at this moment in South Africa, Oscar Pistorius back on the witness stand at his murder trial. The Olympic sprinter apologized for shooting and killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, insisting it was all a tragic mistake.

Pistorius has decided not to appear on camera, but you can hear his testimony, his audio testimony. So far today, in really dramatic fashion, he's been talking about how he and Reeva Steenkamp met.

Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OSCAR PISTORIUS, OLYMPIC RUNNER: We both had things that kept us back in our relationship and getting to know each other. We both came out of difficult relationships before. I was very keen on Reeva. I think, if anything, I was maybe more into her than she was at times with me.


BERMAN: CNN legal analyst Kelly Phelps is live outside the courthouse in Pretoria.

And, Kelly, some really key moments today. Pistorius reading back some of these controversial text messages sent by Reeva Steenkamp to him, where she says she's scared of him.

KELLY PHELPS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, absolutely. This is a key moment in his testimony, because it was a very important part of the state's case. Without these text messages, essentially, the state had not managed to put on record any plausible explanation for why he would have wanted to intentionally kill Steenkamp, and they used these text messages to lay a foundation for that, to suggest that they had troubles in their relationship, that he was impulsive and hot-headed.

And today, the defense are tackling those head on. And what they spent time doing so far is trying to suggest that those text messages had been taken out of context and that the state showed the fight, but what they had not shown was the resolution to the fight.

So, Barry Roux (ph) has been getting Pistorius to read through subsequent text messages after those fights, showing that those fights, in fact, had been resolved and moved on from within their relationship.

BERMAN: The defense clearly has to do, but it also opens the door for the prosecution to really dig in more to these text messages, and it is alarming when you see words like "scared" there.

So, when does the prosecution, when they do get their cross examination? When does that start?

PHELPS: Well, it will start when he finishes his testimony in chief. We expect that to go on for probably the whole of today, likely so, because we know that he still has some very important ground to cover in his testimony in chief. He hasn't yet got to any of the firearms charges, and most importantly, he hasn't yet got to his version of the events of the night in question, and that will probably take quite some time, most likely most of today.

So, cross examination is likely to begin tomorrow, around about in the morning tomorrow. And they will certainly tackle him in a searing manner on his take on these text messages and the fights that they've had.

BERMAN: No doubt about the course of events that evening, as you say, laying out his version of how he shot and killed his girlfriend over the next few hours. We're going to stay on top of this. Thanks so much for being with us this morning. Appreciate it.

ROMANS: All right. New details this morning about what may have driven an army specialist to open fire at Fort Hood, killing three people, injuring 16 more before taking his own life. A senior U.S. official tells CNN Specialist Ivan Lopez had complained of being taunted and picked on by soldiers in his unit. He had asked for a transfer. Lopez had an altercation over a request for leave in the moments before he began shooting. He had only been moved to Fort Hood back in February, was being treated for anxiety and depression.

BERMAN: A lot of shots fired, too.


BERMAN: This morning, search crews will be back at the scene of the devastating mudslide northeast of Seattle searching for 12 people still missing more than two weeks now after a square mile of earth and rock slammed into homes in the town of Oso. Thirty-three bodies have now been recovered from the slide. 30 of those have been identified.

ROMANS: All right, millions of Americans who have lost their extended unemployment benefits could be closer to getting them back. The Senate has approved a $9 billion bill to get the checks in the mail again. Six Republicans joined 53 Democrats to vote in favor of the measure, which would restore benefits through the end of May for more than 2 million unemployed workers. Its fate, though, in the House is unclear. House Speaker John Boehner has not scheduled a vote for it.

Meantime, Maryland raised the minimum wage yesterday to $10.10, so some states making moves.

BERMAN: Some other political news happening today at the White House. President Obama set to sign two executive orders addressing the pay gap between men and women. Both set new rules for federal contractors, one requires them to file data with the government showing how they pay their employees. The other says contractors cannot retaliate against employees who discuss their salaries with each other, which is one of the best ways to learn about salaries at your field.

The White House says it is a small step toward dealing with the issue of pay secrecy.

ROMANS: All right, this morning, Congressman Vance McAllister from Louisiana is asking for forgiveness, but for now, he's not saying whether he'll step down after a video surfaced showing the married father of five kissing a staffer who's also married. In a statement, McAllister said he promises to win back the trust of everyone he has disappointed, including his wife, his kids and his constituents.

BERMAN: Yes, it's more than just a casual, friendly kiss.

ROMANS: This morning, a big part of the Southeast trying to dry out after extremely heavy rain and serious storms tore up a big part of the region, leading to the deaths of at least two people. This was the scene in Birmingham, Alabama. More than 4 inches of rain fell in 12 hours, inundating cars and homes. Rescuers had to take to boats to get some people out.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was bad enough that I couldn't get my mom out by myself. I had to have a police officer help me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just to wake up to it, said, man, I'm in the midst of a flood. What do I do? And only thing I could do was grab the items I thought that was important.


BERMAN: Near Atlanta, look at this, roads simply inundated with water, leading police to shut some of them down because of the high water. For drivers, led to difficult choices, trying to find another route or risk clearly a very dangerous journey. You should not try that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. I don't know whether to risk it or not. I don't know. I'm not used to going through rivers to drive, so I don't know!


BERMAN: Don't risk it.

ROMANS: Yes. What's Indra say, like two inches? Just a few inches of water can swipe you off the road.

OK. This storm system also responsible for damaging winds and tornadoes. These pictures are from Mississippi. This isn't far from Jackson. Eight people were hurt. More than 70 homes damaged across that state.

You know, several tornadoes touched down, including an EF-2 twister with the winds of 125 miles per hour.

BERMAN: All right, what's today going to be like?

Chad Myers has a look at the forecast.


A good wet morning to a lot of the northeast this morning. It does dry out today. The cold front takes the rain with it. Still, though, some low clouds, some showers around this morning.

Showers across parts of the southern plains as well, still behind that initial front. It's cooler today than it was yesterday. In Atlanta 66, in Memphis only 62, Chicago 50. But it does, again, warm up little bit better tomorrow as the sunshine now, this spring sunshine is so much more powerful than the winter sunshine, even after a cold front we can climb a few degrees, even 10 degrees the day after. A couple showers in the Pacific Northwest, but nothing really to cause any more havoc up there.

Sixty-six Memphis, 66 Atlanta, all the way to 77 in Dallas and 72 in Kansas City tomorrow.

Have a great day. Back to you, guys.

BERMAN: All right.

ROMANS: You look a little tired this morning.

BERMAN: I look tired this morning?

ROMANS: Were you up all night watching basketball?

BERMAN: I was going to say, gosh, that's not very nice! I think I look good this morning.

ROMANS: You look great, considering.

BERMAN: Thank you. I did not stay up for the entire game, because I would have woken up like 10 minutes ago.

But breaking overnight, I did learn when I woke up, the UConn Huskies, champions of college basketball. They beat the Kentucky Wildcats 60- 54 in the title game. Connecticut led by their star, Shabazz Napier. He scored 22 points. He was named the Final Four's outstanding player.

UConn is the first seven seed ever to win the national title. It is the fourth title in the school's history. The first under head coach Kevin Ollie.

Tonight, by the way, the powerhouse Lady Huskies will try to make it a clean sweep for UConn. They play Notre Dame in the women's championship.

ROMANS: All right, way to go. That's great!

BERMAN: Very good.

ROMANS: Good for them.

All right. Crisis in Ukraine this morning. Pro-Russian demonstrators taking over government buildings in the eastern part of the country. You know, a lot of questions this morning. Is Russia getting ready to invade? We are live with the very latest on this breaking news this morning, next.


BERMAN: All right. We're following breaking news from Australia, where officials say there have been no additional sounds heard emanating from those black boxes, what could be the black box recorders from Flight 370. Crews today searching an area some 1,400 miles northwest of Perth, looking for debris, and they continue to listen for anything that could point them to the plane's wreckage.

Australian officials say the pinger signals really are still their best hope of finding the jet. They will keep on looking until they know for sure that the batteries on those black boxes have run out.

ROMANS: A tense standoff this morning in eastern Ukraine, where pro- Russian protesters are demanding they, too, be allowed to secede from Kiev and join Russia. Overnight, Ukrainian special forces cleared protesters out of a building as the Ukrainian president called on Moscow to stop orchestrating what he called the dismantling of his country.

Phil Black is just across the border. He is in Russia this morning for us.

Phil, Russia with a new warning for Ukraine's leadership this morning. What are they saying?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, they are saying don't try and use force against these protest groups. So, we've had two crowds in two eastern Ukrainian regions, hoping to follow Crimea's lead and break away from Ukraine after occupying local government buildings.

One of these flash points is in the eastern city of Kharkiv, that's where the government says they've had an anti-terror operation, arresting 17 people. Southeast of there, in the city of Donetsk, there's another crowd is still occupying a government building. They said the region has declared independence, it's going to hold a referendum to join the Russian Federation. They've even asked the Russian government to send in peace-keepers in the meantime.

Now, the position of the Ukrainian government is that Moscow is behind all of this in an attempt to break up the country, perhaps provide a pretext for invasion. Moscow says stop blaming us for your problems. As I mentioned, it is warning Ukraine not to use force against these protest groups, because they say it could lead to civil war.

The Russian foreign ministry is even saying there are 150 American mercenaries on the ground in Donetsk working with the Ukrainian government, but has not provided any evidence to back up that claim. From the U.S. State Department, we are hearing comments that clearly indicate suspicion of a Russian hand in all of this, the fact that these crowds, these protests do not appear to be spontaneous, they say they're not locals. They say there are strong indications they are being paid.

And Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, that Russia must stop trying to destabilize Ukraine -- Christine.

ROMANS: Oh, my. All right. Thanks so much. Nice to see you, Phil, this morning.

BERMAN: We are following breaking news this morning, the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. It is not promising news. New fears that time may have run out to find the vanished plane's black boxes, just one day after the most promising lead yet in the search. We're live with the latest, next.