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Search for Flight 370: New Signals Detected; Pistorius on Trial

Aired April 9, 2014 - 04:30   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And the breaking news this morning, new clues in the search for the missing Malaysian jetliner. Two new signals detected under water from what investigators believe could be the plane's black boxes. Right now, an intense search to find those recorders before the batteries run out, and they do appear to be running out. Search leaders now saying it could take days, or they could find flight 370 within days.

We have live team coverage breaking down the very latest this morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Also breaking this morning -- happening right now. Emotional testimony from an Olympic hero accused of murdering his model girlfriend. Can he convince a judge this was all just a tragic accident? We're live with what Oscar Pistorius is saying this morning.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans. And I'm John Berman.

A lot going on this morning. About 31 minutes past the hour right now. We want to get right to the breaking news for the search for Flight 370. Overnight, word from Australia, that search crews have heard two new signals, possibly from the jet's missing black boxes.

Now, the signals were weaker than they had been days earlier. And they only lasted for a few minutes. At this point, the search is optimistic that this could be the information they need to track down the wreckage really within a matter of days.

CNN's Erin McLaughlin live in Perth with the latest on this search and the discovery of these new pings -- Erin.


Well, news of these new detections certainly encouraging. Angus Houston, the man responsible for coordinating this multinational search gave a press conference earlier today in which he expressed his optimism. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ANGUS HOUSTON, SEARCH COORDINATOR: But if you had asked me, let's say, when I arrived last Sunday night, I would have been probably more pessimistic than I am now. I'm now optimistic that we will find the aircraft, or what's left of the aircraft in the not-too-distant future.


MCLAUGHLIN: Houston went on to say that the signal detected was weaker than the detections on Saturday. And he said that was most likely because the battery of the black box pinger was likely expiring. It has a shelf life of some 30 days. We're now on day 33.

So, the focus of this mission very much on the Australian vessel, the Ocean Shield equipped with the American-operated towed ping locator, which is still out there scouring the waters trying to reacquire those signals. And that's really key to this effort right now. The more detections they have, the more information they have about the source, the location of the signal source.

And that allowed them to narrow down a potential search field and deploy the Bluefin-21, which is the U.S.-provided underwater autonomous vehicle which is able to search the ocean seafloor for any signs of wreckage. And only then will they know for sure if this has anything to do with the missing plane, John.

BERMAN: They need that for pure confirmation, Erin, of course. But all the body language in this news conference of Angus Houston seems to indicate they think they have it. They think they now know the general area where it is. And they're just trying to narrow it down to the most specific location, so that when they do deploy the Bluefin, it has the greatest chance of finding it quickly.

Any sense when that Bluefin might get in the water?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, first, Houston's saying they want to make sure that the batteries of the black box pinger have in fact completely expired, that they can drive no further information from the pinger.

Once they have done that, then they will deploy the Bluefin 21, which to give you a sense of that process, it takes the underwater autonomous vehicle some two hours to be lowered on the seafloor. It can then search for another 16, and then another two hours to come back up to the surface. They then need to download the information from that. And then read it. Take the Bluefin 21 again. And then put it back down on the seabed. It can only search some 11 square miles in a given day.

So, it gives you a sense of why they want to get as much information from this towed pinger locator as possible before doing that, John.

BERMAN: It's a great point. Erin McLaughlin live for us in Perth.

And, Romans, you get the sense what they want to do here is there's no rush anymore in the sense if they have this general area, they want to get all the data they can from the batteries while they might be pinging. So, at this point, it's just waiting that out.

ROMANS: And you're totally right about that body language of Angus Houston. They're more confident than we've seen them before. They think they're zeroing in --

BERMAN: It doesn't mean it's going to be easy.

ROMANS: No, it's not going to be easy. But at least they feel like they are a little more confident about where they're looking and they're in the right spot. So, let's talk about the investigation and the new optimism from Malaysia now that the search appears to be narrowing in on the possible location of the plane.

Nic Robertson live in Kuala Lumpur for us.

You know, two new pings, very important. A little weaker signal. Not a surprise, given the lifespan of those batteries. And now, just this feeling that they really are narrowing in, that they are going to find this plane.

What has been the reaction of this latest news?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, cautiously more optimistic is what we've heard from the most senior government official who's in essence the face of the investigation here, the interim transport minister. He's also said that he prays that this new development will help move everyone forward. He also prays that Angus Houston who's leading that search mission off the coast of Australia, describing him and all the work being done as very professional.

But we continue to hear from officials here that they cannot talk more about the investigation without the information from the onboard black box recorders, the voice recorder, the data recorder. Those are going to be vital to their investigation here. They don't want to give away any details that they have so far.

And, of course, as we've heard that the aircraft is believed, if it is the aircraft, the location is believed to be above about 30 feet of silt on the seabed. So, of course, the Malaysians here hoping that -- that the search will actually get the aircraft, that they will be able to retrieve these devices from the aircraft. They recognize that that silt on the bottom of the sea can potentially cause visibility issues, could cause location issues, in trying to identify the location, and, of course, recovery issues. And what they would really like for their investigation would be to have as complete a picture as possible of everything what happened aboard the aircraft, where people were sitting.

Pathology reports, we know part of the investigation team here is dedicated to the medical side of what they can glean from the aircraft, if this is the aircraft, once it's found and whatever is recovered from it, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Nic Robertson in Kuala Lumpur for us -- thank you, Nick. BERMAN: Of course, there was one adult American on the plane, Philip Wood, an IBM employee who's heading home to Beijing. His partner Sarah Bajc tells CNN's Jake Tapper on "THE LEAD" that she doesn't believe we're hearing the truth about what happened to the jet. And she's holding out hope that Wood may have survived.


SARAH BAJC, PARTNER OF PHILIP WOOD: I'm convinced that he's still alive because I still feel him and because there's absolutely no evidence to tell me contrary to that. I mean, we really don't know anything except the circumstantial things that's different from the day it went missing. So that tells me that all of the supposed pieces of data have all been wrong so far. That means the plane can still be impact and the people can still be alive. So both my heart and my head are telling me that that is a very real possibility.


BERMAN: Both her heart and her head. Many families of those on board have similar feelings saying they will not believe those pingers are connected to the plane until they see wreckage for themselves.

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

And, Pauline, it really does seem like this has entered a new phase of this search in this investigation. They're closing in on these pings right now. So, how is this information sitting with the families in Beijing?

PAULINE CHIOU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the Chinese families are well aware of the latest developments about these two new ping events.

But again, they're saying the same thing they've said for the past couple of weeks. They're very cautious because they just want to see more information. They want to see an image of the plane. Or they want to see markings. They want to seat black box. They want to see what's on that floor before they see anything else. But they do say it could lead to an answer.

Now, there was a meeting earlier today between the Chinese families and three Americans who came over on their own to speak with these families. And they have personal experience from past airplane accidents. And this was the kind of insight that's very valuable to these family members.

One American woman lost her parents in an airplane crash over North Carolina. She was only 5 years old at the time. Another woman lost her husband on September 11th in the World Trade Center. And they encouraged the Chinese families to push for more answers. And also they talk about their experiences and how they tried to get over the grief.

One relative, Steve Wang, who you know now, talked about what was the most valuable piece of advice he got from the Americans.


STEVE WANG, MOTHER WAS ON FLIGHT 370: It's hard, 20 years to know what happens to the plane. And she told us that the truth will come. Keep strong.

REPORTER: Is that difficult to hear for you?

WANG: Yes, of course. But we will wait. And we will do what we can do.


CHIOU: Very difficult. And they are understand that this could be a very long process. One of the American women said that she lost her parents when she was only 5. And it took her 20 years to actually get some sort of answer.

And, John, this might be an interesting telling detail to the mindset of the families right now, because Chinese government officials are in the Lido Hotel behind me now giving a counseling session to the Chinese relatives, trying to prepare them for that and giving them psychological advice. Well, only a handful of relatives are sitting in that room listening to them. There's a lot of activity, a lot of relatives going in and out. Not a lot of people listening to them so this may kind of indicate that some of these relative, not quite prepared to receive bad news, John.

BERMAN: It's interesting they do not want to hear the news that may be coming.

Pauline Chiou, thanks so much, reporting for us from Beijing. Appreciate it.

ROMANS: I have to say Pauline's reporting has been just so good there from the past 30-some days.

BERMAN: Really, really interesting and difficult in Beijing --

ROMANS: I know.

BERMAN: -- with those families day in and day out.

ROMANS: I know. She's just done some really incredible reporting as he's trying to tell their side of the story.

We're following the latest breaking developments in the search for Flight 370 all this morning.

But, first, happening now -- Olympic hero Oscar Pistorius on the witness stand for a third difficult day, trying to convince a judge he didn't mean to kill her. He didn't mean to kill his model girlfriend. We're live with what he's saying this morning next.


BERMAN: All right. Happening right now in South Africa, dramatic testimony, Oscar Pistorius on the stand, talking about why he shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Breaking down his side of the story. What he says he went through that day, calling a neighbor for help also an ambulance. Listen to a part of his testimony.


OSCAR PISTORIUS, CHARGED OF MURDER: That Reeva had already died. I was holding her before the ambulance arrived so I knew there was nothing they could do for her.


BERMAN: Just moments ago, crucially, the cross-examination began. This is the prosecution's chance now to test the Oscar Pistorius version of events that night.

Let's go to Kelly -- let's go to Kelly Phelps for us in Pretoria right now.

Kelly, what does the prosecution now need to do to poke holes in the Pistorius version of events?

KELLY PHELPS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, they essentially need to either show some evidence of inconsistency in his version of events. That he's chopping and changing his version of events, or they need to try and show that he's lying. Or they need to try and show that certain parts of his story are deeply implausible. So we expect them to go after him very aggressively. And in fact in just the first few minutes of cross-examination that has just started, we already see that confident aggression of the prosecutor Gerrie Nel.

And he's busy right now having his first duel with Barry Roux, Pistorius defense lawyer, which we expect will be the first of many during this cross examination.

BERMAN: In some ways, I was surprise that the prosecution didn't get more involved during the direct testimony, during the defense. It's interesting to see the lawyers now sparring. But I'm very interested in the prosecutions relationship with Oscar Pistorius on the stand because he's been so meek and so emotional as he's testified. That, of course, with a friendly attorney doing the questioning.

How now do you expect his behavior to change, as he faces the prosecution?

PHELPS: Well, first of all, I expect that he has been prepared for this moment, for a very long type. And at this point, he and his team will have to hope that all of the hours of preparation are going to pay off in terms of him managing to maintain his composure.

It is very likely, if we look back at his testimony in chief which is in a sense was on friendly terms for him and he was still that emotional, it is very likely he will become emotional when he gets drawn to that night in question. But the crucial thing will be for him not to be aggressive. And I suspect that's what Gerrie Nel will be trying to get at. He'll be essentially try to be unnerved and show some of that aggression that their version of events have always claimed within Oscar Pistorius.

BERMAN: It's fascinating to see, Kelly, because the emotion can be controlled with his own attorney doing the questioning. Much more difficult for the prosecution.

Kelly Phelps for us in Pretoria, we'll stay on this all morning, because it is happening right now. We'll bring you the details as they develop. Thanks, Kelly.

ROMANS: Also breaking this morning, new clues in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Crews detecting new signals in the Indian Ocean. New audio signals that could be from the black boxes. So, now, can the wreckage be found before those batteries run out? And could we finally learn why this plane vanished midair without a trace?

Investigators have a very good hope that they're narrowing in on this jet. We're live, next.


ROMANS: The latest now in the breaking news overnight in the search for Flight 370. Officials in Australia say a ship has again heard signals that could be from the jet's black boxes. Two sounds were heard in the Indian Ocean lasting just five and seven minutes. And the signals were weaker than they have been. A possible sign the batteries on those flight recorders are starting to run out.

I want to bring in Geoffrey Thomas. He's an aviation expert and editor in chief of He joins us via Skype from Perth.

So nice to see you this morning.

Do you think investigators are confident that they know where that plane is?

GEOFFREY THOMAS, AVIATION EXPERT: Christine, I think they're very confident indeed, although they're tampering that by saying, you know, we do need to find some wreckage, some debris before they're absolutely certain. But there are a number of factors here, first of all, the search line that they're examining that -- the Ocean Shield has been dragged the towed pinger locator which has been loaned to us from the U.S. Navy, that's only on calculation they've done on the Inmarsat satellite handshakes that we've heard about all over the last few weeks.

They've recalculated that line seven times, as new information has come from various countries in Asia with some military radar data coming to bear. And they recalculated it. And this is the line that the Ocean Shield has been searching on. Also, its exact location now and the location of these pings is also where Inmarsat, the British telecommunications company, says the last handshake, they feel like the last ping from the plane was recorded, was at this location. So there's a number of corroborating part of this jigsaw puzzle that give them a very high degree of certainty that they've got the location.

BERMAN: Geoffrey, it seems to me now that the discovery of these two new pings, it changes the time line in a way in the investigation. It gives them a general sense, more than a general sense, a fairly specific sense, of where they need to search on the bottom of the ocean. And now, what they're trying to do is really hone in on as exact a location as possible.

So, where before, they were in a race against time to find these pings --


BERMAN: -- now they want have the pings, now, they want to get as many pings as possible before the batteries run out, before they put that Bluefin submersible in the water.

THOMAS: Indeed, John. The factory life as we've heard many, many times is certified for 30 days. That's the certification, FAA standard 30 days. However, the reality is with many things in aviation, these items are over-engineered, including the batteries. The experience has been 40 days is what we can expect.

So, yes, indeed, they want to do more towing of this pinger locator. Because it's six times faster to locate it doing this than it is to launch the Bluefin 21, which is also on loan from the U.S. navy which will go down to the bottom and use its side-scan sonar and/or camera to actually identify the wreck amount which we believe is on the bottom of the ocean here.

ROMANS: All right. Geoffrey Thomas, -- thank you so much for insight. Over-engineered like so many things, certified for 30 days, those batteries but maybe they can last 40 days, which will be excellent for researchers.

BERMAN: Any more information they can get makes the search much easier.

ROMANS: All right. More live team coverage in these breaking developments in the search, right after the break.