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Search for Flight 370; Pistorius on Trial; Tense Standoff in Ukraine

Aired April 9, 2014 - 04:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning. New signals detected in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Overnight, investigators revealing two new transmissions heard from man-made devices they believe could be the vanished jetliners black boxes. The batteries on those black boxes could be going dead any day now, any moment now really.

This moment, the search intensifying as crews scour the ocean, hoping to pick up more close on where the missing planes wreckage could be.

We have a team of reporters covering every angle of the story.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And another huge story happening right now, the Olympic hero accused of murder on the witness stand right now for a second day. Can Oscar Pistorius convince a judge he did not mean to kill his model girlfriend? We're live with the latest developments from South Africa as they happen.

Good morning, everyone. A lot going on right now. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It's Wednesday, April 9th. It is 4:00 a.m. on the nose in the East.

Let's begin now with the latest on the search for Flight 370 and the news breaking overnight that once again, the crews have heard signals, signals possibly from the plane's black boxes. Two noises were detected by the U.S. equipment on an Australian ship. It was only for a few minutes, and the signals were weaker than they had been before but it's being called a positive sign and likely the best chance to find Flight 370, perhaps within a number of days.

CNN's Erin McLaughlin is live for us in Perth with the latest on the search.

And, Erin, after hearing yesterday, the signals had been lost. This was a huge development for investigators and rescuers overnight.

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Christine. The bottom line is they are now more confident that they are looking in the right place than they have ever been before. Angus Houston, the chief coordinator behind this multinational search operation, he gave a press conference earlier today in which he talked about these new detections. Take a listen to what he had to say.


ANGUS HOUSTON, CHIEF COORDINATOR: I can now tell you that Ocean Shield has been able to reacquire the signals on two more occasions. Like yesterday afternoon, and like last night, Perth time. A detection team yesterday afternoon was held for approximately five minutes and 32 seconds. The detection late last night was held for approximately seven minutes.


MCLAUGHLIN: Houston saying those detections noticeably weaker than the signals detected on Saturday. And he says that's most likely because the batteries on the black box pinger are likely to expire. They have a shelf life of 30 days, and we are now on day 33.

So, he said the priority right now is for the Australian vessel, the Ocean Shield, to continue combing those waters, equipped with the American towed ping locator to try and detect more signal, to try and get more information, to narrow down that potential search field so that they then can deploy the Bluefin 21, the U.S.-provided autonomous underwater vehicle that will be able to go down and try and find the actual wreckage. Only then will we know for sure that these signals are in fact from the missing plane, Christine.

ROMANS: And so then, if they can pinpoint where they think this is, how long might this search take? Is this days, is still weeks? What are the investigators saying?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, right now, they want to be certain that the batteries of that black box pinger have died. They want to be absolute certain. And until they are certain, they're going to continue to comb the waters trying to detect that signal again. Only then, will they deploy this under water autonomous vehicle, as I mentioned, the Bluefin 21.

And just to give you a sense of that process, it takes the Bluefin 21 about two hours to get to the ocean floor. And it can search around 16. And then another two hours to come up to the surface, in which they download all that information before sending it down once again. It can only search around 11 square miles in a given day.

So, you can see why it is paramount right now for them to be able to collect as much information about that signal location before sending that underwater drone down there, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Erin McLaughlin for us this morning in Perth, Australia, thank you, Erin.

BERMAN: What they hope they can do is get any information about what caused this plane to make a dramatic turn to the southern Indian Ocean. What caused the flight to end to the Indian Ocean if that is indeed what happened. But, of course, it's been days now since we heard anything from investigators themselves about what might have gone on in that cockpit, what they think happened to that jet.

We're joined now by Nic Robertson live in Kuala Lumpur.

Nic, really, at this point, this investigation does turn on finding these data recorders?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It does, absolutely. The most senior government official in the investigation here tweeted, this is the acting transport minister, he's cautiously more optimistic, he says that he prays that this information will help move everyone forward.

He's also -- he prays on the lead of the investigation there, of the search off Australia. Angus Houston describing him as a professional for the Malaysian officials here. They won't say about any of the developments they're making on the investigation because they say that really the black box information is going to be critical to their investigation, to filling out some of the unknowns that they don't have at the moment.

If we think about it, the Malaysians have organized their investigation to sort of three separate areas. One of those areas deals with the voice data and the data recorders. But there's another -- another group within the investigation, the medical group, which will also look at the pathology, so that there are other things on board, potentially, that are vital for this investigation.

So, the black box is a critical, but, of course, if there's any medical information that can be derived from where people are in the aircraft if these sort of things can be known and other medical information, that's going to be important as well, John.

BERMAN: Analysis that will happen to any debris they might find, Nic. Of course, the cockpit voice recorder only records the last two hours so that might not yield the data they're looking for, the data recorder itself, the flight data recorder which could indicate, Nic, if there was any kind of mechanical failure on board, isn't that correct?

BERMAN: That is correct. And this is why they believe that perhaps these data recorders will be only able to provide part of the information, of course, for the investigators, as much as they can get from the aircraft, which would be an aircraft that can be recovered or searched somewhat intact. We understand, that the seabed it is on contains deep silt, that may make it harder for this underwater vehicle to perhaps look through the windows.

But critical for this investigation has been all along, who was at the controls of the aircraft, if anyone. And a view into that cockpit if it is still impact, for these investigators here, is going to be absolutely important information. So, the data recorders important, as you say, to a limited degree. But again, there's a lot of physical information. And perhaps some of that coming from the pathology that they may be able to do with sort of the medical side of the investigation that will be important, John.

BERMAN: Absolutely right. Nic Robertson in Kuala Lumpur, whether you're hanging on the investigation right now, happening off the coast of Perth, Australia.

Thanks, Nic.

ROMANS: There was one American adult on Flight 370, Philip Wood, an IBM employee heading home to Beijing. His partner Sarah Bajc tells CNN's Jake Tapper on "THE LEAD" she thinks Philip Wood may still be alive and doesn't think we're hearing the truth about what happened to the jet.


SARAH BAJC, PARTNER OF PHILIP WOOD: I do believe there's some sort of cover-up by some sort of government agency. Whether that's Malaysia, United States, China, I don't know. But it's impossible to me that all of those governments' radars were so silent and so quiet when a 777 was flying over their airspace. There's clearly something we don't know.


ROMANS: Most of the people on that flight were Chinese, and they want answers, too. But they're saying there's so much false information. They just don't know what to believe.

Pauline Chiou is live in Beijing with that part of the story.

Pauline, there was a meeting with the Americans and the families. What happened?

PAULINE CHIOU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. These Americans lost loved ones in plane accidents in the past. So, their perspective is deeply valuable for the Chinese families.

And the Chinese met with these three Americans early this morning, they asked them a lot of questions and the Americans advised them and they guided them. And they said you need to keep asking questions, keep pushing for answers from the government involved, from the investigators, from the searchers.

And I asked one of the Americans what they tells some of these families and also families like Sarah Bajc that we just heard from, who truly believe that this plane is not in the Indian ocean and that there may be survivors.


GALE DUNHAM, PLANESAFE.ORG: I respect every single family member and what they personally believe and the questions that they have. I think it's a very good question. There's -- we have no proof that this plane has crashed at this point.

And we have satellites that can read the license plate on a car. Don't tell me that after a month, we can't find an airplane?


CHIOU: Now, Gale Dunham and the two other Americans here are from an organization, a nonprofit called It's an advocacy group that's really pushing for better security and better safety in the aviation industry. One of the other women lost her husband on 9/11. He was working on the World Trade Center that day.

And another American said she lost her parents in an airplane crash when she was only 5 years old. And this incident happened more than 50 years ago. She said it took more than 20 years to get answers so she's telling the relatives here that it can take a long time and it requires patience.

And I'll tell you, Christine, it was very helpful for these Chinese families to hear from these women, because these women can sincerely say, I know what you're going through.

ROMANS: Unbelievable. We certainly feel for them as this process just drags on.

Pauline Chiou -- thank you, Pauline.

BERMAN: Amazing. And, of course, we're following the latest breaking news, the new twists and turns, and the search for Flight 370 all morning long.

But, first, happening right now, dramatic testimony from Oscar Pistorius, accused of murdering his girlfriend. He broke down. They cancelled testimony yesterday. He's back on the stand right now.

We'll tell you what he's saying live right after this.


BERMAN: Breaking news this morning from Australia, where officials say they are once again hearing signals in the Indian Ocean that could be coming from Flight 370's black box. Now, the signals did not last long, just five minutes and seven minutes. They're weaker than they had been a couple days ago, but that could be a sign that they're on to something and the batteries are just dying.

This new find, these new pings they've heard does give new hope that search crews could be closer to finding the missing jet which, of course, has now been gone for 33 days.

ROMANS: It's another emotional day for Oscar Pistorius on the stand again in his murder trial in South Africa. He's recounting just what happened in the moments after he shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Testimony has just resumed a few minutes ago. Pistorius was asked about walking into the bathroom where her body lay and what he did, once he realized she was gravely injured.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OSCAR PISTORIUS, ACCUSED OF MURDER: I checked to see if she was breathing, and she wasn't. And I put my arms underneath her shoulders and I put her weight on to me, and I sat there crying for some time. And I had her head on my left shoulder, and I could -- I could feel the blood was running down on me.


ROMANS: CNN legal analyst Kelly Phelps is outside the courthouse in Pretoria. It's just sad and emotional. You know, look, yesterday, the judge had to sort of adjourn for the day, he was so emotional on the stand.

Does it surprise you at all just how emotional he is in recounting this horrific scene?

KELLY PHELPS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No, it doesn't surprise me, really. I think it's very common when a person's been involved in a very gruesome and traumatic event that they would have certain elements of post traumatic stress, be very emotional about it. You do see that in cases that involve particularly gory details.

I think it is important to remember, though, that that doesn't tell us anything about his potential guilt or innocence, because the only thing that it shows is that he has been traumatized by the events of that evening. It doesn't speak to what his state of mind was when he actually fired the shots.

ROMANS: (AUDIO GAP) the late Reeva Steenkamp, that's one thing, people say this is such a -- he's getting emotional support from people who say he's been broken up from this. But only one person walked away from that night. Talk about the dramatic reenactment of the shooting, shooting reenactment. He stood in the courtroom showing what he did on the night of the shooting.

What kind of risk was that for the defense?

PHELPS: Well, in a sense, he has to do that, because a lot of his story, his version of events rest around allegations that his team have made in response to allegations that the state have made about what he is and isn't physically capable of doing. So, in order to try and poke doubt at the state's version and support their own version of events, essentially, they do need to demonstrate what he is physically capable of doing.

In fact, right now in court, we're seeing a continuation of that kind of evidence. So we're just hearing about certain demonstrations that Mr. Pistorius at the moment is being asked to do. We know that he's going to be asked to demonstrate how high he can kick with his prosthetic leg on. And that refers to this third mark on the door that the state never investigated. That they have always alleged had markings from the sock on his prosthetic foot and supported his version of events that he was wearing his prosthetic after the shooting to kick the door down.

He's also going to be demonstrations wielding the cricket bats, to show both his height and also his stability when he's on his stumps versus when he's on his legs. So, they are continuing with those practical demonstrations.

ROMANS: Practical demonstrations that are so dramatic and emotional because he's basically reliving that night, in front of all those people, including Reeva Steenkamp's parents.

PHELPS: Well, it's not her parents. It's her mother. She's sitting next to -- her mother is sitting next to their family lawyer. It's got to be absolutely gruesome for her to be sitting through this. In fact, she must be a very strong woman because oftentimes, family members can't sit through this testimony.

But the emotional, dramatic nature of the testimony in a sense is likely to have less impact on the outcome of this trial because we don't have a jury system and it's a judge-led system. The judge will be focusing on the facts that are being demonstrated. So, the specific details, is he tall enough to reach there without his legs on? Can he balance when he's on his stumps?

So, that's really what she'll be focusing on rather than the drama on the demonstration itself.

ROMANS: Kelly Phelps, thank you so much. Again, the testimony resuming right now --

BERMAN: It is fascinating to listen to him on the stand, again, giving his version of the events. The prosecution will test that version when he gets to cross examine him. I imagine it will be much different situation then.

We do have more breaking news this morning: Toyota is recalling more than 6 million cars worldwide. Now, this is Toyota this time from problems ranging from airbags not deploying, to steering columns breaking, the seats not locking in position. There are a total of five different issues affecting 27 different models. Some 2 million of the cars involved are in North America. This is a very big recall throughout unusually wide range of issues, it seems to me.

ROMANS: And there have been I think 11 recalls already so far this year, in general, from a bunch of different carmakers. So, we're on track for about half of the recalls we saw last year.

BERMAN: I wonder if Toyota is also thinking like get this in now while everyone is focused on G.M. and it won't get the bad publicity.

ROMANS: Maybe. Or they want to get out ahead of it.

BERMAN: That could be true.

ROMANS: All right. Happening now: crisis in Ukraine, pro-Russian protesters taking over buildings demanding independence. Could civil war soon break out? We're live, next.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone.

More developing news this morning in Ukraine. Protesters remain holed up at government buildings in Donetsk and elsewhere, demanding their independence and asking for a referendum so that they can become part of Russia at this point. The United States is warning it could be a pretext for a Russian invasion, Moscow for its part urging caution.

Our senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh is live this morning in Donetsk, in Ukraine.

And, Nick, this morning, what's the feeling on the ground? Give us a sense of the situation.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: While I'm in Donetsk, it seems like the numbers at local administration still held by protesters ebb slightly, the tension is very much palpable in eastern Ukraine here. Ukrainian interior minister has just been reported saying he gives the situation 48 hours to resolve itself. The real part of this speech saying either this comes out for goals or they have force ready to implement if require.

Now, tension was very high last night in the city of (INAUDIBLE), to the east of where I'm standing because a number of Russian protesters armed were inside the security service building that they're occupying. And Ukrainian officials say they had hostages, 60 of them, and they wired the building with explosives. Now, that was denied by the protesters inside. We saw little independent evidence, we do know from social media there they are armed, because they took weapons from inside that building armory.

But that seems overnight to have somehow very quickly been resolved. Ukraine officials saying over 50 people were released. We simply don't know what happened there. There's kind of information going on. It's just causing the fears here to ratchet up, because whatever small step people take towards tension for bloodshed, it's amplified.

The real key issue here, while this is causing so much geopolitical hate here, John, there are 40,000 Russian troops miles from where I'm standing, and NATO and U.S. say they're potentially there to intervene if Moscow wants, John.

BERMAN: Our Nick Paton Walsh in Donetsk this morning. And, Nick, it's a great point. It might seem like a small situation, but exactly the situation that U.S. officials fear could be some kind of pretense for Russian troops to get involved.

ROMANS: All right. Breaking news this morning as well: new signals detected. New signals in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Investigators could be just days away from finding this vanished jetliner. That's the hope at least this morning. Live team coverage on that, next.