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New Signals, New Hope; Malaysian Officials Believe Jet Dropped Altitude; Pistorius on Trial; Woman Throws Shoe at Hillary Clinton

Aired April 11, 2014 - 04:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning: new confidence from Australia that search crews have detected black boxes at the bottom of the ocean for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Right now, the search area dramatically narrowed, as we learn new information about what may have happened inside the cockpit before that plane vanished. We'll bring you live, team coverage on what is happening right now.

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

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christine Romans. I'll repeat, it is Friday. It is April 11th. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East. We're so glad you're with us this morning.

And let's begin with the latest breaking developments in the search for Flight 370. This morning, Australia's prime minister says he's confident that the signals crews are hearing under water are from the plane's black boxes and that they could be within just a few miles of finding them.

Also this morning, the search zone has narrowed once again. Just 18,000 square miles in a race against time to find the flight recorders before their batteries run out.

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

Narrowing the search area, and investigators, these searchers, they say they are confident, they are confident that they are zeroing in on those black boxes.

Can you bring us up to speed?

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Christine. Some strong, confident language from the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott giving a speech at a lunch in Shanghai earlier today. He said that they are confident that they are now within some kilometers of that black box.

Take a listen to what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: We have very much narrowed down the search area, and we are very confident that the signals that we are detecting are from the black box on MH370.


MCLAUGHLIN: He also went on to say that he was not going to give further details about the search until his meeting with the Chinese President Xi Jinping later today.

Now, as for the search, it continues in earnest. Angus Houston, the man responsible for coordinating this international effort, releasing a statement today in which he said that the Ocean Shield, the American vessel, is continuing to comb the waters with that American towed pinger locator, trying to pick up on any signals. No mention, though, of the British vessel, the HMS Echo, that's also in the area.

And that's interesting, because we noticed on a Web site,, which tracks vessels on the ocean's water, that it actually had moved into the search area. The HMS Echo had moved into the search area around where they think the black box pinger is located, and the Ocean Shield had actually moved out of the area by some kilometers, and that could be significant, given that the British vessel, the HMS Echo is equipped not just with sensitive audio detection equipment, but it's also equipped with equipment capable of mapping the ocean floor.

Now, we reached out to Australian officials for comment on this. They say they are looking into it and will get back to us -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Erin. What happened to the sonobuoy detection from yesterday?

MCLAUGHLIN: That's right. Well, they analyzed that detection overnight yesterday. They said it looked promising, that it could be another ping, but today, officials here in Australia saying that it does not look likely, that the preliminary analysis indicates that it is not, in fact, from Malaysian Flight MH370.

They are nevertheless continuing to deploy these sonobuoys. They're making three passes over the search area today, dropping dozens at a time. They have hydrophones attached to them. And what happens is those buoy drops into the water, the hydrophone drops another 1,000 feet, it sends a signal back up to the aircraft, surveiling overhead, the possible pings, possible detections.

But the only detections we are aware of at the moment have been made by the Ocean Shield. That happened on Tuesday and on Saturday -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Erin McLaughlin, a very busy week for you this weekend in Perth, Australia -- thank you so much.

BERMAN: Moving on to the investigation of why Flight 370 flew off course. This morning, Malaysian officials poring over data after revealing to CNN that they believe the jet dropped altitude and disappeared from radar right after crossing over Malaysia.

Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, broke this story. He's been working it ever since. It has been causing quite a stir in Kuala Lumpur.

Nic, what's latest this morning?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, what they're saying is that it disappeared from military radar, and their assessment of all the data that they have available, they believe, therefore, that it descended to about 4,000 to 5,000 feet above sea level. This is way below the normal up-rating minimum for aircraft in their normal flight, before reappearing almost right at the edge of the military radar capability in Malaysia.

Their assessment based on this data is that whoever was piloting the aircraft at that time was trying to avoid this sort of busy civilian passenger airline or route that goes up the coast of Malaysia there, goes between Asia and India and onwards to Europe. So, that's their assessment of that data. We also understand that the Malaysian military put into the air search aircraft very early in the morning, 8:00 a.m. in the morning, soon after they heard reports from Malaysian Airlines that the aircraft was missing, put aircraft up into the Malacca Straits and into the South China Seas. All this information is certainly, for some government officials, this information being at least a surprise to them, John.

BERMAN: Surprise to them. And of course, there were issues about whether they were communicating, Nic, in those first days after the plane disappeared -- really, those first hours, because there were parts of the government that did not seem to know that those search planes had gone up in the air, correct?

ROBERTSON: That is correct. When you go back and look at some of the press releases closer to that time, the indications were that it wasn't until the prime minister had responded and decided to sort of widen the search area that the military was then tasked with putting up the search aircraft and putting ships out on to the sea.

That is some time later than what we are now being told. Again, it just highlights this difference, these unexplained discrepancies between what we heard from the military, what we hear from government officials, and this has been a repetitive theme through all of this, that information perhaps not shared between these different departments as expeditiously or as fully, clearly as they would like it to have been.

BERMAN: That's a diplomatic way of putting it.

Nic Robertson in Kuala Lumpur, reporting it and really filling in a lot of the blanks here and raised a whole bunch of new questions. Our thanks to Nic.

Coming up, we'll look at what might have happened inside Flight 370's cockpit if the pilots intentionally did take that flight down to a lower altitude. What would it feel like? Why might they do it? Stay with us for that.

ROMANS: All right. This morning, as we mentioned, Australia's prime minister is in China, where he's set to talk about the Flight 370 search with the Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Most of the passengers on the jet were Chinese. Their families say all they want are answers. They're watching every single development, including this latest news.

Pauline Chiou live in Beijing.

Pauline, what are the families saying this morning?

PAULINE CHIOU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, they're very much going to be watching this meeting between Tony Abbott and President Xi Jinping, which will happen in about an hour from now. Now, Prime Minister Abbott did say that he will update President Xi on the search, but it's unclear whether or not he had any more information than what we're getting out of Perth.

In the meantime, the relatives right now are meeting with a Malaysian team, the same team that has been coming about every four or five days. They're asking technical questions again. But for the first time, we now have a Chinese Malaysian representative, someone from the Malaysian government there who actually speaks Mandarin.

So, this is something that the relatives here have been asking for for weeks now, but also for the past couple of weeks, they have been asking all the technical questions about speed, altitude, possible decompression, whether or not the Malaysian officials tried to reach the pilots by satellite phone. But for weeks now, the relatives are saying they're still frustrated by the response.


STEVE WANG, SON OF MH370 PASSENGER: The Malaysian team cannot answer either and we've asked several times and we want to communicate with Inmarsat and Boeing directly, but I'm not sure whether they send out such requests. Boeing and Inmarsat refused to give us that kind of help.


CHIOU: So, you hear Steve Wang there saying that he wants representatives from Boeing and Inmarsat to come to Beijing and to answer their technical questions, because they're just not satisfied with the answers they're getting from the Malaysian officials. A lot of the officials are saying this is still an investigation, we can't answer those questions, and sort of giving vague answers that the relatives are not satisfied with.

The relatives also have said that they've contacted Boeing China but haven't gotten a response. They also said they would like to hear from a representative from Rolls Royce, the manufacturer of the engine. So, it will be interesting to see if these companies actually come forward and actually try meet with some of the relatives -- Christine.

ROMANS: It will be, because essentially, they're asking for their own investigation. They are asking about, they want to do the work that they either think is not being revealed to them, or they want to check the work of this multinational group of investigators. Really interesting.

Pauline Chiou -- thank you so much, Pauline.

BERMAN: Of course, we're going to bring you the latest on the search for Flight 370 all morning long, all the developments.

But, first, happening right now, dramatic, intense testimony as Oscar Pistorius tries to explain why he shot and killed his girlfriend. The prosecution with new questions this morning, trying to corner Pistorius. We'll tell you all about it.

ROMANS: Also this morning, devastation on a California highway. A tour bus filled with high school students crashes. The bus bursts into flames. The very latest after the break.


BERMAN: Moments of intense questioning right now for Oscar Pistorius at his murder trial. The Olympic sprinter really torn into by the prosecutor, who's been calling him a bully, saying Pistorius berated girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the days and weeks before he shot and killed her.

So, testimony resumed moments ago, and this morning, prosecutors asked Pistorius about whether he'd ever been the victim of crime previously. Let's listen.


GERRIE NEL, PROSECUTOR: You were never a victim of crime at your house?

OSCAR PISTORIUS, CHARGED OF MURDER: That's correct, my lady.

NEL: There were no burglaries or anything at your specific house?

PISTORIUS: That's correct, my lady -- except for the police stealing my watches, my lady. That was the only victim of crime I've had at my house.


BERMAN: Pistorius getting a little zinger there. That reference was to when his watches seemed to have disappeared after police showed up to investigate Steenkamp's death.

CNN legal analyst Kelly Phelps is at the courthouse in Pretoria. Kelly, explain what prosecutors are trying to do here. Is it trying to establish -- the watches aside -- trying to establish that Pistorius maybe didn't or shouldn't have had the extreme fear he claims he had about intruders or crime at his house?

KELLY PHELPS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, they're not suggesting necessarily that he shouldn't have had it, because that's what goes to reasonableness, which would be the lesser culpable homicide charge. What they're trying to do is establish the objective surrounding fact, that there was objectively no reason for him to fear crime, in order to suggest to the judge that the only reasonable deduction she can make from that is that, as a matter of fact, he was not afraid of crime.

So, in other words, they're using it as a basis on which to suggest that Pistorius is lying about his version of events.

BERMAN: Kelly, it seems to me up until this point, really until now, the prosecutor's been circling around, circling around, close in and closing in on Pistorius, but he hasn't yet dealt directly with the primary issues dealing with the moment that that gun was fired and those shots were fired. Do we expect that will happen, and if it does happen, today?

PHELPS: It will happen as an absolute certainty. I would expect that it could happen today, because already he has moved his line of questioning back to that night in question. So, we just moments ago heard him asking Pistorius about, and if you say that your alarm was on in that house, on that night when you thought there were intruders, why would the alarm not have gone off? Why didn't that occur to you?

So, we can see him slowly but surely moving in, in terms of his line of questioning, to closer proximity to those fatal moments.

BERMAN: And those moments are the ones that could very well decide this case, correct?

PHELPS: Absolutely. I mean, the prosecutor himself has mentioned on a number of occasions the extent to which his case is circumstantial. So, so much of his case rests on cross examining Pistorius himself, who all parties involved have acknowledged on many occasions is the only surviving eyewitness from that night.

So, it is absolutely a crucial portion of the state's case, that they can essentially convince the judge that Pistorius must be lying about his version of events. They have very little other evidence of intentional killing to support the murder charge.

BERMAN: Which is all to say, as dramatic as it has been so far, the most crucial moment, the key moment in this entire trial is still to come, maybe within a few hours.

Kelly Phelps, great to have you with us. Really appreciate it.

ROMANS: A fiery bus crash has left at least 10 people dead on a California interstate, many of them high school students. The crash happened not far from Chico, the bus colliding head on with a truck. Police say the truck had crossed the median from the other direction. Both the bus and the truck burst into flames.

The bus was carrying prospective college students from southern California, on their way to visit Humboldt State University. Nearly three dozen other passengers were hurt.

BERMAN: New questions this morning about what may have driven a 16- year-old to allegedly go through his school on a rampage with knives, slashing and stabbing some 21 people. An FBI official tells CNN there is no evidence that Alex Hribal was bullied, though the official calls Hribal, quote "disaffected," -- this despite claims from his lawyer that some sort of bullying event might have played a role prior to this rampage.

ROMANS: All right. Overseas markets right now, you guys, selling off this morning. Futures here pointing slightly higher. But look, yesterday was the big story, a major Wall Street sell-off. The NASDAQ falling the most in 2 1/2 years. The S&P and the Dow also falling dramatically. The biotech sector pulling everyone else down, as did tech companies like Facebook and Netflix.

Part of this, something they call profit-taking on Wall Street -- investors trying to cash out after markets climbed to all-time highs. They were up 30 percent this year. A little bit of nervousness. And, boy, that was a real, legitimate code red day on Wall Street.

BERMAN: Big loss. Don't like to see those numbers.

How about a big shake-up in Washington? The public face of President Obama's health care overhaul is leaving the administration. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has told the president she is stepping down, now that the rollout phase of Obamacare has come to an end. Sebelius, as you know, was criticized a lot during her five years on the post over the Obamacare rollout and other decisions, including those including contraceptive coverage and some transplant rules.

The president plans to nominate Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell to replace her.

ROMANS: Now facing charges, a woman so far not identified who threw a shoe at Hillary Clinton. Take a look. This happened during a speech in Las Vegas. The former secretary of state, whoa, was talking to the institute of scrap recycling industries when the woman stood up and tossed the shoe. It missed Clinton who ducked and then she very quickly and deftly joked about it. Listen.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: My goodness, I didn't know solid waste management was so controversial. Thank goodness she didn't play softball like I did.



ROMANS: Then she made a joke about, wait, this is Las Vegas. Cirque du Soleil? What's happening here?

The organizers of the event say the protester didn't have credentials. She must have slipped past security. The woman wouldn't tell reporters her name or why she did it. BERMAN: I think that's a pretty extraordinary reaction that she had. I would have screamed and run, not knowing what's going on. Mrs. Clinton --

CLINTON: That's why you are not the secretary of state or --

BERMAN: Explains a lot of things, frankly. But I do think it was very impressive there.

ROMANS: It was impressive.

BERMAN: The humor especially.

ROMANS: All right, new information revealed on what may have happened inside the cockpit of Flight 370 just before it vanished. We're going to give you an inside look right after this break.


ROMANS: Breaking news this morning in the search for Flight 370. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott tells reporters today he is very confident the sounds heard under water are from the plane's black boxes. The search zone has been narrowed this morning, narrowed to about 18,000 square miles, so there's no breakthrough yet. And the head of the search says a new signal heard yesterday does not appear to be connected to the plane.

BERMAN: Word that Malaysian officials now believe Flight 370 descended to between 4,000 and 5,000 feet after crossing over Malaysia. It has many people asking why, why might this have happened and what would it have felt like in the cockpit?

There is one man who knows the answer to that. CNN's Martin Savidge in a flight simulator, went back to see what it just might have been like.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are cruising in the simulator at 4,500 feet at a speed of 250 knots, and we're headed now up the Strait of Malacca, again, in the simulator.

So, this is what they suggest Malaysian -- or Malaysian sources suggesting the plane did. The only difference is we've got it in daylight just so you can see the horizon, see the aircraft.

If you're trying to avoid radar by doing this, any pilot, anybody with any understanding of radar would tell you, you fail and you fail miserably. Mitchell, show us where we'd have to be if we truly wanted this aircraft to somehow disappear and go off of radar. And I've got to tell you, it's going to have to be something dramatically closer to the ground.

Mitchell's going to put us into a really steep dive here. You're going to see the water racing up to us, through the windshield here. You hear all the alarms going off, alerting us that we're flying way too fast and going way too low, but we're going to bring it into a level that we say would be more realistic if you were trying to take this airplane below a radar level in the Strait of Malacca, and it's really going to have to be about here.

And if you bring up the other vantage point, Mitchell, this is that aircraft, the simulator here, showing it now.

This airplane's about 100 feet off the deck, that's where you would have to be to try to avoid any kind of radar. It would be extremely noisy, it would be -- what would it be like to handle this?

MITCHELL CASADO, PILOT: Just really stressful, really noisy, really dangerous.

SAVIDGE: Remember, it would have been nighttime. This would have been suicidal. OK, so, take us up.

So, then there is another way we could try to explain this, and that is, maybe they weren't trying to avoid radar, but in fact, what they were trying to avoid was other aircraft, commercial aircraft, get down low enough that they are out of the primary plain where any kinds of planes are going to be.

In other words, one way you could pick this, make this look sinister, hiding. If you put it the other way and say they're trying to avoid other planes, it looks like they might be dealing with an accident and they're trying to be safe and not harm other aircraft.


BERMAN: And unfortunately, this raises more questions than it answers.

ROMANS: There's so much conflicting information. That's what's so difficult to try to sort through, figure out.

BERMAN: Conflicting information coming from the officials who have been running this investigation for 35 days now.

ROMANS: Right. All right, new confidence this morning that the search crews are picking up signals, at least, from the Flight 370 black boxes. We're going to have live team coverage. Those details right after the break.