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EARLY START

Search for Flight 370; Blade Runner on the Witness Stand; Crisis in Ukraine: Is War Imminent?

Aired April 11, 2014 - 04:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning, new confidence and intensity in the search for Flight 370. Investigators narrowing in on the area where they believe the vanished jetliner may have crashed.

Also overnight, the Australian prime minister revealing he's confident the search crews have been hearing the plane's black boxes. We are live with all of the new developments you missed overnight.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman. About 31 minutes past the hour right now.

Let's get to the latest from Australia, as the search zone has narrowed down again in the hunt for Flight 370, this a day after CNN learned some truly remarkable, new information about the flight path and its altitude, that coming from Malaysian officials.

Australia's prime minister now says he is confident that the signals being heard under water in the Indian Ocean are from the plane's black boxes, and they could be, he says, very close to finding them. There really may only be a few days left before the batteries do run out on those pingers.

Erin McLaughlin live in Perth with the latest on the search.

Erin, what's the latest this morning?

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John.

Well, this is some of the most optimistic language we've heard from Australian officials so far. The prime minister, Tony Abbott, was in Shanghai earlier today attending a lunch. He gave a speech in which he said that they are confident they are now within some kilometers of the black box, but he said that they are working to get as much information as possible before the batteries run out.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: We're now getting into the stage where the signal from what we are very confident is the black box is starting to fade, and we are hoping to get as much information as we can before the signal finally expires.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCLAUGHLIN: He went on to admit that he was withholding some information ahead of his meeting with the Chinese president, which is expected in about an hour or so. It is worth noting that Australian officials have been long to point out that they are not going to be certain that this is, in fact, from the missing plane until they see actual physical wreckage.

Now, in terms of the search, that is still ongoing. Angus Houston, the man responsible for coordinating (AUDIO GAP) Perth released a statement this morning, in which he said the Ocean Shield with the American pinger towed locator is still trying to detect signals. But no mention of the British vessel, the HMS Echo that we also know is in the area.

And that's perhaps interesting. We were on a Web site called marinetraffic.com, which tracks marine vessels, and showed as of three hours ago, the Ocean Shield had moved out of the search field that they are looking at for this pinger. It moved out by some kilometers, and then the HMS Echo had moved into the center.

Now, that's interesting, because the HMS Echo not only has this sensitive audio detection equipment, but it also has capabilities that allow it to map the ocean floor. Now, we reached out to Australian officials and asked them what exactly is going on, and they said they didn't have any comment, they would look into it and get back to us, and as soon as we know, we'll get back to you, John.

BERMAN: That really could be a shift in what this operation is all about.

Erin McLaughlin, good catch on that. Great to have you this morning.

ROMANS: All right. Now to the investigation and the new information CNN has learned about just what may have happened in the cockpit of that Boeing 777. Malaysian officials now believe the plane did drop in altitude after crossing over Malaysia and disappeared from radar during that time.

It's a story first reported by senior international correspondent Nic Robertson. He's live for us this morning in Kuala Lumpur.

So, Nic, does this change the focus of the investigation right now, the significance of this drop in altitude?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It certainly gives investigators something more to go on. The concerns initially, way back in the beginning of the investigation, mechanical failure or somebody taking control of the aircraft. This seems to add up in the direction of somebody intentionally taking control of the aircraft, the aircraft itself not undergoing such mechanical stress that it couldn't perform this maneuver.

What we are told is that after the aircraft Flight 370 flew back across the Malaysian Peninsula, out over the Malacca Straits, it disappears from military radar, reappearing about 120 nautical miles further northwest, and they're saying, what we're being told by our sources here is that they believe that the aircraft, therefore, dipped down to about 4,000 to 5,000 feet above sea level, getting below the military radar there, flying way below the normal minimum operating height of this aircraft in normal service.

The assessment being made by the experts here is that disappearing from the radar means that it did dip down. The reason, they say, perhaps whoever was flying the aircraft was trying to get underneath and fly underneath what is a very busy airway, a passenger jet airway linking Asia to Europe and to India.

So, that's the rationale, but as for the investigators, it really shows that someone knew precisely what they were doing, were able to control the aircraft and then the aircraft itself not appearing to be under severe mechanical duress. That's the assessment we're getting right now, Christine.

ROMANS: Some really interesting reporting and developments there from Kuala Lumpur for us this morning.

Thanks, Nic.

BERMAN: As we did mention, Australia's prime minister is in China this morning, meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, and set to talk about the search for the plane that had more than 150 Chinese passengers on board. Their families are reacting to all of these new developments.

Our Pauline Chiou live in Beijing, where she's been with those families for weeks.

Pauline, what are they saying this morning?

PAULINE CHIOU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the relatives right now are meeting with Malaysian officials. For the first time, we're seeing a Malaysian official speaking mandarin to the relatives here.

Now, we've been talking about the 154 Chinese citizens that have been on this plane. There were also some Americans, three Americans. Two were children. They are U.S. citizens, but they lived here in China with their Chinese relatives.

The other was an American man, a man from Texas, who we know about now, and his fiancee has been very outspoken. And she talked to us this morning and explained why she and many other relatives need to believe there are survivors.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH BAJC, PARTNER OF PHILIP WOOD: Hope is the only thing that we have, and the minute we give that up, we have to fall into a grieving cycle, and we can't do that until we have evidence. So, you know, I think a lot of outsiders think the families are just being irrational, but we're not. We're protecting our emotional health, and we want answers and we want to keep pressure on the government agencies involved to find those answers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHIOU: And the relatives here behind me in this hotel, they're putting that pressure on to the Malaysian officials, continuing to ask them answers.

And Sarah there talked about emotional health. That's very important, because as you can imagine, the emotional health of all of the relatives is quite fragile. They've been through so many ups and downs.

And John, a few days ago, I received a tweet from a viewer that said, "False optimism is worse than realistic pessimism." I've been thinking about that, and I think it's easy for outsiders to say that, but you have to put yourself in the shoes of all of these relatives.

They have to have hope. These are their loved ones. Because once you close that door, you can't turn back. And that's why they're grasping on to just about everything just to maintain that hope until they can get some sort of concrete information.

And one thing that's very telling is, a few days ago, Chinese government officials were here trying to give advice and counseling to the relatives on how to prepare for bad news. Not a lot of people were listening. They were very distracted. They were socializing amongst themselves.

And so, that perhaps tells you that they're just not ready to accept bad news -- John.

BERMAN: One of the most difficult situations in the world. Whatever it takes to get through it, certainly, I don't begrudge these families anything.

Pauline Chiou live for us in Beijing. Appreciate it.

ROMANS: All right, happening right now, Oscar Pistorius grilled again by prosecutors. Did the Olympic hero shoot and kill his girlfriend in a fit of fury? Was this all just a tragic mistake?

We're live with what he's saying this morning. That's next.

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ROMANS: Happening right now at the Oscar Pistorius murder trial, prosecutors not letting up in their cross examination. They're going after the Olympic sprinter for what he said and did before and after he shot and killed Reeva Steenkamp. Moments ago, moments ago, the prosecutor seemed to catch Pistorius in a contradiction over the alarm system in his home. The judge stepped in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDGE: The question is, are you too tired to proceed?

OSCAR PISTORIUS, OLYMPIC RUNNER: No, my lady.

JUDGE: Because you can be at a disadvantage when you're in that box.

PISTORIUS: I understand.

JUDGE: You understand that?

PISTORIUS: Yes, my lady.

JUDGE: Please, it can't be fair to you. It is not fair to this court either.

GERRIE NEL, PROSECUTOR: The only reason why you are now changing evidence is you're covering up, you're tailoring your evidence. There is no other reason for it.

PISTORIUS: I'm not --

NEL: Give me a reason, if you have another reason.

PROSECUTOR: My lady, it's fact that if I left my room and the alarm was activated, that it would have gone off if I hadn't switched it off, if I hadn't deactivated it. It's not tailoring of evidence, it's the fact.

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ROMANS: CNN legal analyst Kelly Phelps is at the courthouse in Pretoria.

What do you make -- what do you make of what's happening, what Pistorius is saying right now?

KELLY PHELPS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Sorry, can you repeat the question?

ROMANS: What do you make of what's happening there in the courtroom right now?

PHELPS: Well, it's a natural continuation of the strategy that Nel started yesterday, and we know that this is always going to be his main strategy in cross examination, which is to set up a number of inconsistencies within Pistorius' version of events or otherwise improbabilities in terms of the claims that Pistorius is making, in order to set up the foundation for the judge to be able to determine at the end of this trial that there is such a track record of lies and inconsistencies that the only reasonable deduction that the judge can make is that he would only lie so much if he were guilty.

So, that's the strategy he's employing. And in order to do that, he needs to take quite a pedantic approach and put a number of small details on the record so he can bolt towards this track record. ROMANS: This idea that Oscar Pistorius said he was very frightened of crime, that he was frightened of something happening. The prosecutor, how's he doing in sort of poking holes in that?

PHELPS: Well, it's too early to assess how he's doing. We can certainly see what he's trying to do. So, he's taking each individual experience or incident that Pistorius claims to have suffered in terms of crime, and one by one, he's going through them in order to try to suggest that they're very improbable, there's major inconsistencies in terms of what Pistorius was claiming.

And the idea is, is that once he's gone through every single one of these, he sets up a foundation for the judge to decide that, actually, this claim that Pistorius and his legal team are making, that he had this intense fear and paranoia of crime, must be false, because there's no objective surrounding evidence on which to infer that he subjectively would have believed that.

ROMANS: Fascinating. Kelly Phelps, thanks so much for that. I know you want to get back to watching the testimony that's happening right now in that courtroom. Thanks.

BERMAN: Also happening right now, Ukraine warning pro-Russian protesters to stand down or else, as Russian troops gather at the border. Is an invasion coming? We are live with the latest developments, next.

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BERMAN: Happening now in eastern Ukraine, protesters showing no sign of backing down, days after barricading themselves inside government offices and demanding their right to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. This as Russian troops mass along the border. NATO says there are some 40,000 soldiers there now with some equipment and no indication that they might pull back.

Phil Black live in Rostov-on-Don in Russia. That's right along the border. Phil joins us by phone right now.

Phil, give us a sense of the situation there on the ground.

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Yes, John, it is difficult to assess accurately. Today, exploring southwestern Russia, more than 1,000 miles in its remote, vast territory, and we've seen little sign of the NATO-Russian military presence, but NATO released satellite images to back up its claim there are 40,000 soldiers ready to roll across the border with a wide range of hardware and capabilities, motorized infantry, tanks, special forces, artillery, even air assets as well.

We've visited two of the sites mentioned by NATO (INAUDIBLE) and we saw Russian military, but not on the scale or the capabilities shown in those photos. That said, we did not have uninterrupted access or views of these sites. We couldn't see everything.

But at the same time, it's also important to note that these photos, just released by NATO, in the case of these two sites, already more than two weeks old. At one location, locals told us they had seen a big build-up of forces that had come in, conducted exercises and have since left. Russia's always insisted its extra forces in this region are here to conduct drills and then go home. NATO says the potential invasion force, even here on the ground close to the border, it is very difficult to assess precisely where the troop line, John.

BERMAN: You can tell why NATO was nervous there, Phil, given the fact that before the invasion or occupation of Crimea, this seems to have been precisely what happened then as well, these drills with large numbers of Russian troops very close to the border.

BLACK: Yes, that is correct. Just before Crimea, there were large drills at the same time. It's connected to that Crimea operation, but perhaps a distraction was the intention there. There is no doubt there is Russian military in this region. They're asking questions, I think, though, on precisely what their intentions are.

Even NATO itself does not know what they are going to do next. That really is the question. They say these forces have the potential to move into Ukraine. They don't know if Vladimir Putin is going to give the order to do so. What they do know, they say, is that the presence of these forces is a destabilizing factor in a country that is already in a state of crisis, John.

BERMAN: Chaos, almost. Meanwhile, NATO moves wearily ever forward.

All right. Phil black just over the border in Russia, appreciate you being with us this morning.

ROMANS: All right. Alert in your 401(k), a drastic drop in Wall Street, stocks falling, marking the worst day in years for some parts of the market. We're tracking what happened overnight, what you can expect today in your investments. That's next.

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BERMAN: Good morning.

To Wall Street now, where, folks, that was a real legit sell-off. And this morning, stocks overseas, they are following. The NASDAQ yesterday fell the most in 2 1/2 years. The S&P, the Dow also down sharply yesterday, led lower by biotech and technology shares. That NASDAQ, a 3 percent move is a big move for one day, and we certainly got it yesterday.

Investors cashing out after the recent run to record highs. There's been nervousness, there's been some calls for a correction, a 10 percent move being overdue, but what might we see today? Well, right now at last check, futures are slightly higher ahead of the opening bell. We do have several hours to go, though. We'll see if it holds.

BERMAN: Is this the correction?

ROMANS: Three percent? I mean, if you see a couple more days than that, yes, that's a correction. BERMAN: All right. So, he was the public face of the Obamacare rollout, but this morning, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius set to leave the administration, telling the president she will step down now that the health care overhaul has passed its March enrolment milestone.

Secretary Sebelius was hit with much criticism during her five years on the job, much of it surrounding the Affordable Care Act. The president now plans to nominate Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell to replace.

ROMANS: We have a story now of an amazing breakout of a chimpanzee. This is John Berman's favorite story of the day. A chimpanzee at the Kansas City zoo jailbreak.

Zoo officials say the chimp broke off a 6-foot-long tree limb, used it as a ladder to climb out of the enclosure. Then, this is the amazing part, enticed others to follow along! Come on, guys, come on! All were eventually lured back into their buildings. No visitors were hurt. The chimp exhibit is closed today for a safety check.

BERMAN: For a while in Kansas City yesterday, there was a chimp on the lam.

ROMANS: EARLY START continues after the break.

BERMAN: Just saying.

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