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Mystery of Flight 370: Black Box Search; Pistorius on Trial; New NCAA Champion; Congressman Caught Kissing Staffer

Aired April 8, 2014 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news overnight. An intense search for the wreckage of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Right now, crews scouring the southern part of the ocean hoping to hear more signals emitted from the jetliner's black boxes.

The batteries could expire any day now. Can crews find them before it is too late? We've got live, team coverage on the very latest this morning.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. It is Tuesday, April 8th. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East.

Thanks so much for joining us. And we do start this morning with the desperate search, and it really is a desperate search at this point, for any sign of Flight 370's underwater pingers.

Days after U.S. equipment and an Australian ship picked up signals that could be from the plane's black boxes. That was the good news. The not promising news overnight, Australian officials said they have not heard anything else since they detected those pings. They say they will keep searching until they are certain that the batteries have expired.

Today, more than a dozen planes, 14 ships are crisscrossing an area roughly the size of South Carolina, trying to find anything at all from this jet, whether it be debris or, again, these pings that are really so important right now.

Erin McLaughlin live in Perth, Australia.

Erin, what's the latest this morning?


Well, the focus of this operation very much remains on that American- operated towed ping locator on board the Australian vessel, the Ocean Shield.

Earlier today, Angus Houston, the man responsible for spearheading this multinational search effort, briefing reporters alongside the Australian defense minister, delivering the news that they so far have been unable to reacquire that signal. Take a listen.


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 is 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 reacquire that signal. And it's absolutely critical, they say, to this operation, critical that they get more data to be able to narrow down a potential search area. Houston today saying that given the information they were able to obtain from the two earlier acoustic events -- well, that search area's too broad.

If they had deployed an underwater vehicle right now to try and find this wreckage, well, the search would take many, many, many days -- John.

BERMAN: It's still too big. They do need to narrow it down.

Erin, tell me about the difference between signal strength that they detected when they were hearing pings. What does that indicate?

MCLAUGHLIN: That's right, John. We saw some video of that detection released today, that 33.2 kilohertz is the strength of the signal they detected on board the Ocean Shield. The signal should have been 37.5 kilohertz. But the manufacturer of the black box pinger saying that it's entirely possible that the signal strength could have been weakened, given any number of variables in an ocean with depths of 2.8 miles that they're looking at, things like temperature also.

So, they're saying that this is entirely possible that this particular frequency is still from the black box. And right now, they're saying here that this is their most promising lead at the moment -- John.

BERMAN: And again, they desperately want to hear something again. They need to if they're going to narrow down that search area.

Erin McLaughlin -- live for us in Perth this morning -- thanks so much.

ROMANS: All right. As for Malaysia Airlines, it's not talking about what it thinks happened on board that jet, but the airline has implemented new security measures that has some in the flight crews upset this morning. That as a Malaysia airlines 777 again flies this route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with, of course, a new flight number.

Nic Robertson is live in Kuala Lumpur this morning. He joins us on the phone.

Nic, let's talk about these new security measures. What is the airline implementing and why is that making some people in the flight crews so upset?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, what the airline has done is make sure that whenever one of the pilots leaves the cockpit, he is replaced by a crew member from the cabin. Also, those crew members, when the pilot leaves, or when one of the pilots leave the cockpit, they are also instructed to block the galley way with one of the carts for delivering food to passengers.

This is what's upsetting the crew members. They say that they're not trained for these type of security procedures, that they shouldn't be put in the front line of security in this way on board the aircraft. They also say that they haven't been told by the airline why this is being requested of them, why one of them should be in the cockpit when one of the pilots leaves.

They believe that air marshals should be used if there's a security issue, so they've got a lot of concerns about the way that this is done without them being consulted and, of course, a lot of concern about the nature of what they're being asked to do. They say they're trained to deal with emergencies but not to deal with security issues -- Christine.

ROMANS: Let's remember, these crew members have lost colleagues, quite frankly, so they are both concerned in the job they're doing, but they are all still hurting during this whole process, too.

Nic Robertson, thanks.

BERMAN: Speaking of hurting, the families, meanwhile, still waiting for answers a month after Flight 370 disappeared. Many gathered in Beijing overnight for this somber vigil.

Pauline Chiou has been with the families for weeks. Pauline, what's the feeling today?

PAULINE CHIOU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, very somber, as you say. None of these relatives ever expected to be in this position and none of these relatives ever expected to be waiting a month for answers. But as you noted with the pictures of the vigil, they did come together at midnight earlier today to come together and remember their loved ones and to actually go through just mentally and emotionally what their loved ones may have gone through on that flight path.

And starting at 12:41, after they lit candles in this vigil, they actually had a visual presentation on a big screen of the flight path of the plane, from 12:41 a.m., when the plane had taken off from Kuala Lumpur all the way until 8:19 a.m., when that partial ping was detected by the satellite. Now, these family members stayed together during these 7 1/2 hours. They prayed, they cried, they meditated. They draw strength from each other. And one relative explains how difficult the past couple of weeks have been. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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: So, they're waiting and waiting. There is a family briefing going on at the moment with Malaysian government officials as well as airline officials. It's happening here in Beijing.

And, John, this is interesting. Just a couple of minutes ago, several family members, different relatives got up and asked the Malaysians why they've abandoned the land search. They are pushing for a land search, saying that they believe -- they're not ruling out the possibility of some sort of a crash landing.

So, that gives you some insight, some indication into the minds of some of these relatives, these handful of relatives that refuse to believe this plane is at the bottom of the Indian ocean. They still hold out hope that the plane is somewhere else and that there may be survivors -- John.

BERMAN: Pauline Chiou in Beijing -- that really is so, so telling. Thanks so much.

ROMANS: OK, what role might the weather play in today's search?

Indra Petersons has a look at that for us.

Good morning, Indra.


Once again, we now know that the search area is farther to the north, which is huge, guys. We're talking about nicer conditions. A cyclone did recently cruise through the area, but you can see in the search area, this has now completely dissipated and the area is quite clear right now. You can actually see the systems in the region are generally farther down to the south.

So, again, things are improving. It looks like they're going to be pretty mild over the next several days, even any remnants of winds that we have, stronger winds, again, farther down to the south. Even these are dissipating. So, very nice conditions really throughout the next 48 hours or so.

The one thing we are continuing to talk about is just keep in mind, now that the search area is farther north, recently, since the disappearance of the plane, there was a large cyclone in that region. At one point, it was as large as a category 5 cyclone. That's the comparison there. You can see how expansive this was. So, this is one of the reasons, of course, debris could be very dispersed, also keep in mind at that time they had wave heights about 15 feet, if not higher. Again, the good news right now, things are clearing out, so it looks good.

ROMANS: All right. Great. Indra Petersons, thanks, Indra.

We're going to follow the latest on this intensifying search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 all morning long, trying to hear those pingers, again.

First, happening right now at this moment, an Olympic hero accused of murder. He is on the stand. He is admitting he and Reeva Steenkamp had a fiery relationship before he killed her. We're live.


ROMANS: Happening right now in South Africa, dramatic testimony from Oscar Pistorius at his murder trial. The Olympic sprinter talking about how he and Reeva Steenkamp met and that they had fights, the fights they had in the months before he shot and killed her, all detailed in text messages, like one from Steenkamp to him.

Listen to this one.


OSCAR PISTORIUS, OLYMPIC RUNNER: "I was not flirting with anyone today. I feel sick that you suggested that and that you made a scene at the table and made us leave early. I'm terribly disappointed in how the day ended and how you left me. We are living in a double- standard relationship where you can be mad about how I feel, about how I deal with stuff, when you're very quick to act odd and offish when you're unhappy."


ROMANS: One of many he read from so far this morning. Afterward, insisting that they made up.

CNN legal analyst Kelly Phelps live outside the courthouse for us in Pretoria this morning.

Kelly, what do you make of these messages? I mean, on the one hand, you know, he's reading Reeva Steenkamp's words, saying she was afraid of him, she was scared of him. On the other hand, there are a lot of other messages that are quite loving and show that they had, you know, gotten over these tiffs.

KELLY PHELPS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely, and I think that's what the state is clearly trying to achieve through this testimony this morning. They're saying that, yes, those fights happened, I acknowledge that, I take responsibility for that, but one needs to put them in the context of the normal ups and downs of any relationship. And if we put on the record all of the positive relationships, they so far outweigh the negative ones, which had been resolved and moved on from, that they can barely be considered relevant as to what he was or wasn't thinking on that night in question.

ROMANS: Hear his voice cracking. I mean, obviously, this is difficult for him, you know. He isn't on camera, though, while testifying. We can only hear his voice.

Why do you think he made that decision?

PHELPS: Well, that was actually the terms of the original court order for broadcasting. So remember, this is a precedent in South Africa. We've never had live broadcasting of a trial before.

His team, as well as Reeva Steenkamp's family, both objected to the application to broadcast the trial live, and therefore, once the judge decided in favor of the applicants to broadcast the trial, the judge then framed the order to give protection to Pistorius and all of the defense witnesses as well as private witnesses on the state's case so that they were not forced into a position with which they felt uncomfortable.

ROMANS: Interesting. All right. Thanks so much. Nice to see you, Kelly Phelps, following that for us this morning.

BERMAN: We have 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 that Specialist Ivan Lopez had complained of being taunted and picked on by soldiers in his unit and 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 and was being treated for anxiety and also depression.

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

All right, looking at what's happening in world markets right now. European stocks down slightly this morning after another sell-off on Wall Street yesterday. It's all about tech right now. Tech stocks fell in Japan. The Nikkei closed down. Tech stocks in Hong Kong led a market rebound.

Let's look at what's happening in the U.S. the technology slump has helped put the market in negative territory. The Dow is down 2 percent for 2014.


ROMANS: Yes, just one week after hitting record highs. Now, new signs investors are feeling more hawkish. Busy stocks are hit hard, Tesla, Netflix tumbling. Meanwhile, safer stocks like energy companies, stocks that pay dividends, those have been doing very well so far this month.

BERMAN: Turn this around, Romans. We're counting on you for this.

ROMANS: I just report it, I don't drive it.

BERMAN: Allegedly.

This morning, a big part of the southeast trying to dry out after extremely heavy rain and some serious storms tore apart a big part of the region, leading to the deaths of at least two people. This was the scene in Birmingham, Alabama. More than four inches of rain fell in just 12 hours, inundating cars. You can see it there. Also homes.

Rescuers had to take 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 wake up to it and say, man, I'm in the midst of a flood. What do I do? Only thing I could do is grab the little item that I thought was important.


ROMANS: My goodness.

Near Atlanta, flash flooding turned roads in rivers, leading police to shut down some roads because of the high water. For drivers, it led to a difficult choice, try to find another route or risk a really dangerous, potentially deadly journey.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 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: Do not risk it. That's the advice from Indra Petersons.

This storm system also responsible for damaging winds and tornadoes. Take a look at these pictures from Mississippi, not far from Jackson. Eight people hurt. More than 70 homes damaged across that state. Several tornadoes touched down, including an EF-2 twister with 115- mile-per-hour winds.

ROMANS: Indra Petersons has a look at the forecast. Is it going to be better today? And don't drive through the rain.

PETERSONS: Please, do not drive through rain. I know you guys can hear me screaming that from over here. Yes, definitely, what are we talking about today? Look at all the moisture. You can see the past satellite here. Look at all this moisture filled in from the Southeast and eventually spread into the Northeast. The good news, this is starting to back off.

Let's talk about what we already saw. Heavy amounts of rain in short periods of time. Anywhere from 2 1/2 inches, but remember how short of a period of time these, over an inch an hour, caused that flooding. All thanks to the cold front making its way across.

Yes, it is exiting this morning. Still showers in the Northeast for the morning commute, kind of lingering a little longer down to the Southeast. Then behind it, a little mini guy, enough of a movement here, a little wave of energy. We'll still see scattered showers.

But I think the bigger thing we'll be looking at is the leftover winds as one system moves out and the other guy starts to cruise in a little bit. Otherwise, look at this. Loving it! Spring finally seeing a pattern, jet stream starting to lift out, warm air moving in.

So, the Northeast, you'll see temperatures kind of fluctuating, sometimes above average, below average, not really a big story there. Southeast, a little bit above normal. It's out west where you're really going to be talking about potentially some record-breaking heat.

So, I know they're warm there, they like it, but no one wants to be hot. There is a big difference.

BERMAN: And that little mini guy, that weather system in the Midwest, belittling the weather system in the Northwest right now.

PETERSONS: Sorry, didn't want to belittle him.

BERMAN: The little mini guy out there, taunting the weather system. All right, Indra.

All right. Breaking overnight, the UConn Huskies, the champions of college basketball. They beat Kentucky 60-54 in the national title game. Kentucky led by the star of the tournament, Shabazz Napier. Here he is sinking a three. 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's the fourth title for the men in the school's history. But you know, the men aren't the only ones who played fantastic basketball there.

ROMANS: That's right.

BERMAN: The Lady Huskies tonight will try to make it a clean sweep. They play Notre Dame for the women's championship.

ROMANS: All right, a U.S. congressman this morning apologizing. He was caught on camera kissing a woman who is not his wife. The very latest on this one, next.


ROMANS: We're following breaking news from Australia, where officials say there have been no additional sounds heard that could be from flight 370's black box recorders. Crews today are searching an area 1,400 miles northwest of Perth. They are looking for debris. They are listening for anything that could point them to the plane's wreckage.

Australian officials say the pinger signals are their best hope of finding this jet. They're going to keep looking until they know for sure that those batteries on the black boxes have run out.

BERMAN: A little political news and marital news mixed into one here. In Louisiana, a Republican congressman is asking for forgiveness from his wife, his family and his constituents. This is just four months into his first term.

As Erin McPike tells us, it's all because of this video you're looking at right now and what he's doing in this video with whom.


ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Another congressman caught canoodling with a woman who is not his wife. Instead, a congressional staffer.

This time, it's Republican Representative Vince McAllister of Louisiana. Images caught in December by a security camera in his Louisiana office and obtained by "The Washington Citizen," a compromising image for a Southern Republican who ran on family values just last year.

REP. VINCE MCALLISTER (R), LOUISANA: You can count on me to take those values to Washington.

MCPIKE: He's in his first term, just winning last November in a special election and faces voters again later this year for a full term. He hastily issued a statement, saying, "There's no doubt I've fallen short and I'm asking for forgiveness," and asking for privacy for his family.

But privacy is hard to come by in Washington, especially for a freshman who made headlines a few months after arriving in congress by inviting "Duck Dynasty" star Willie Robertson as his guest to the State of the Union.

Erin McPike, CNN, Washington.


BERMAN: "Duck Dynasty," that's a TV show people watch. It's not the kind of video show that this congressman now wants people to be watching.

ROMANS: That's right. All right. Breaking news this mortgage morning on the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. New fears time has run out to find the vanished black boxes, just a day after the most promising lead yet in the search. They're hearing nothing this morning and searching so hard to find something, an acoustic event. We're live with the latest, next.