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New Signals, New Hope; Flight 370 Disappeared from Radar; Blade Runner on the Witness Stand

Aired April 11, 2014 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning, new confidence from Australia that search crews have detected black boxes at the bottom of the ocean from missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Right now, the search area dramatically narrowed as we're learning new information about what might have happened inside that cockpit before the plane vanished.

We're going to bring you live team coverage of all the new developments right now.

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

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. What day is it?

ROMANS: It's Friday.

BERMAN: It is Friday, April 11th, 5:00 a.m. in the east. And we do 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 he says 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. This is so much smaller than the area they were looking in before, this as they race against time to find the flight recorders before their batteries run out, if, in fact, they haven't run out already.

Our senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance, live in Perth with the latest this morning.

What's going on there, Matthew?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNTIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's been a lot of activity, of course, in the search zone, which as you mentioned has narrowed significantly over the past several days to an area which is much more manageable, I suppose, for the dozen or so aircraft and dozen or so ships that are currently scouring, including the Australian vessel, the Ocean Shield, that's been using technology to scan for underwater pings on loan from the U.S. Navy. Also the British ship HMS Echo is in that search area now as well, using its technology to try and map the ocean floor and also try and detect any further signals from the beacons from that missing Malaysian airliner.

Hopes were elevated, as you mentioned, earlier today by the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. He's on official visit to China. Take a listen to what he said earlier today.


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 HM370.


CHANCE: Well, Tony Abbott also saying that he was very confident that the signals coming from under water that had been detected over four occasions now by the Australian vessel, the Ocean Shield, are indeed from the black boxes of the missing Malaysian airliner.

What the head of the search operation, though, here, Angus Houston, is saying that so far, throughout the course of this day, there's been no real significant breakthrough in the search. They're still continuing to scour the Indian Ocean by air, and of course, in that very much more limited search area about 1,000 miles or so off the coast of Western Australia, John.

BERMAN: So, Angus Houston leading the search, sort of tempering the enthusiasm right now at the same time that the prime minister of Australia really seems to be raising hopes that they are getting very, very close.

Matthew Chance for us in Perth this morning -- thank you so much.

ROMANS: So, as for the investigation into why Flight 370 flew off course, this morning, Malaysian officials are poring over data after revealing to CNN that the jet dropped altitude and disappeared from radar after crossing over Malaysia.

Senior international correspondent Nic Robertson broke this part of the story. He's been working it ever since. He's in Kuala Lumpur for us this morning. It looks like his shot is a little dodgy. Are we going to get Nic? Sounds like no.

OK. We're going to take a closer look at all this new information when we come back. Nic has some incredible reporting over the past couple of days about just what this flight was doing, what might have happened inside the Flight 370 cockpit.

BERMAN: You know, this morning we mentioned how the prime minister of Australia says that he's getting much closer, he thinks, to finding these black boxes. This has an enormous impact on all the families of those some 239 people on board the flight looking for any answers, waiting for all this time now for any answers. That prime minister was in China meeting with the Chinese leader. A lot of information coming out.

Let's go to Pauline Chiou. She's been in Beijing talking to the families. Of course, they want answers -- Pauline.

PAULINE CHIOU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the families here are aware of the comments from Prime Minister Tony Abbott, but they're also aware of the comments coming out of Perth that say that there has been no major breakthrough, so it's a bit of a mixed message, and that's exactly what the families have complained about coming from the Malaysian government early on in the search. But they're trying to tune out all the noise and concentrate on the information coming in.

And right now, they are meeting with Malaysian officials, that technical team we've been talking about for weeks. They come here to Beijing every couple of days, and the families are asking questions. They've been asking a lot of questions about the airplane, about those emergency beacons, speed, altitude, decompression.

But as a whole, the relatives have been quite frustrated by the response. Take a listen.


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're hearing Steve Wang there saying he wants to invite representatives from some of the plane manufacturers, such as Boeing, and also manufacturer of parts, such as Rolls Royce, which makes the engines. They are also asking for Inmarsat representatives to come here to Beijing because they have so many technical questions.

John, as you know, they've been doing their research for the past 35 days. They know what they're talking about. They're digesting all of this. They do a lot of research on the Internet. They're talking with each other. I mean, some of them act like lawyers when they're asking questions.

So, they say they're hitting a brick wall with some of the Malaysian officials in terms of responses. They want the representatives from these particular companies to come here and answer their questions.

BERMAN: Pauline, as Australian officials seem to indicate, they think they may be closing in on those black boxes. Any of the families discussing travel arrangements, maybe heading to Perth to be closer where this investigation is going on?

CHIOU: Not at all. In fact, many of them are saying they're not even thinking about it until they actually see some sort of debris or something, or the black box or images of the plane. In fact, if anything, they're talking about maybe, possibly going back home to their home villages, because they've been here for 35 days. And if they do go back home, they are trying to arrange for relatives to take their spot here at the hotel, because once they leave their room, there's no guarantee that Malaysia Airlines will cover the cost.

But in terms of Perth, they're not quite there yet. They say they just want something definite, something more concrete before they even allow themselves to take that trip -- John.

BERMAN: Cautious approach. All right, Pauline Chiou for us in Beijing this morning. Thanks so much.

ROMANS: All right. We fixed our technical issues. We want to get back to Nic Robertson in Kuala Lumpur for the latest on the investigation.

And, Nic, bring us up to speed with the new developments in terms of the altitude that you were reporting and what Malaysian officials are saying about the investigation this morning.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is a new detail we've been getting, this change in altitude. There's been no mention of any change in altitude in the route of Flight 370. Now, according to officials here, they lost sight of the aircraft flying over the Malacca straits. This is after it crossed back over the Malaysian peninsula, lost sight of it on military radar.

Then, about 120 nautical miles further away, they picked it up again on that military radar. The assessment they've made is what the aircraft did was dip down to about 4,000 to 5,000 feet above sea level. So, it's coming down from about 35,000 to 4,000 to 5,000 before climbing back up again.

That's a 30,000-foot change. And the conclusion that they're coming to, this was done on purpose, whoever's behind the controls knew what they were doing, had good control over the aircraft, an indication there that it's not suffering a significant mechanical issue.

And they believe that whoever was at the controls was trying to, if you will, duck the aircraft under what is a busy civilian passenger jet way, because, of course, at that time, there was no information being transmitted from the aircraft that would have been picked up by other aircraft to give it an indication -- which, again, for investigators would tell them perhaps that whoever was piloting the aircraft would have been aware that that transponder had failed to transmit that information, the ACARS information. So, therefore, it had to fly under the path of these other jets, which again links up a very important fact -- mechanical problem that turned the ACARS satellite locating system off or somebody doing it.

Now, it seems to give indication that perhaps, perhaps whoever was flying the aircraft knew that, knew they had to avoid these other aircraft. They wouldn't be able to see it on their own in-flight radar systems.

ROMANS: Fascinating developments. All right, Nic Robertson live for us in Kuala Lumpur this morning.

BERMAN: Of course, we're going to bring you the latest on the search for Flight 370 all morning long. A lot else happening right now, including intense, dramatic testimony in South Africa as Oscar Pistorius tries to explain why he shot and killed his girlfriend. A confrontational morning in court, surprising comments from the judge. We'll take you there live to tell you what's going on.

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


ROMANS: It is another day of simply intense questioning for Oscar Pistorius at his murder trial going on right this moment. The Olympic sprinter torn into by the prosecutor over what he did in the days and weeks before he shot and killed Reeva Steenkamp, including Pistorius' allegation that he had been targeted for violence by someone who shot at him when he was driving. When the prosecutor asked, why can't Pistorius remember who he called after it happened, listen.


OSCAR PISTORIUS, CHARGED OF MURDER: I don't know who I phoned, my lady. My counsel did ask me and I told them I don't know.

GERRIE NEL, PROSECUTOR: Because it never happened. You don't want anybody to check up. That's the only reason why you would forget who picked you up that night that someone almost shot you.

PISTORIUS: That's not true, my lady.

NEL: It's the one night that somebody almost shot you, am I right?

PISTORIUS: That's correct, my lady.

NEL: And you can remember -- you remember exactly where you turned left, where you turned right and how you got there, exactly.

PISTORIUS: That's correct, my lady.

NEL: But you do not remember who you phoned. That doesn't make sense.

PISTORIUS: That's correct, my lady.

NEL: That doesn't make sense. You don't want anybody to be able to check up on this.

PISTORIUS: That's not true, my lady.


MADDOW: Right now, Pistorius is answering questions about shooting Steenkamp, including why he never waited for her response when he claims he thought he heard an intruder.

CNN legal analyst Kelly Phelps at the courthouse in Pretoria for us right now.

Kelly, walk us through what prosecutors are trying to prove here and what the prosecutor's asking him specifically about shooting Reeva Steenkamp, really compelling testimony happening at this moment.

KELLY PHELPS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: What the prosecutor's trying to do is he's trying to now hone in to specific details about Pistorius' version of events, and one by one, try to illustrate that they are so improbable, there is such a lack of a reasonable explanation for why he would have behaved in that way, that the only reasonable inference or deduction that the judge can make from that is that he must, in fact, not be telling the truth, he must be lying.

ROMANS: Fascinating. When you listen to this talk, all of this conversation about the security in his house, why he didn't call, or why he doesn't know who he called after he was shot at. Are they trying to prove that he's made this big story about being afraid, which is really the premise of shooting Reeva Steenkamp, is that he was very afraid that someone was trying to hurt him and get into his home?

PHELPS: Well, that claim of his, that he was -- that he was so fearful of burglaries, of home intrusions, that that's what caused him to make the mistake, that is absolutely a central claim to his defense, so it's not surprising that the prosecutors are really spending a lot of time trying to dig hole at the reasonableness, of the foundation of that allegation.

So, what they're suggesting is, is that if you go back through his history, he claims he's had all of these interactions with crime. But in fact, if you look at them one by one, none of them were really that severe, none of them would have caused him to be that fearful of crime, and then, therefore, again, by implication, he must be lying.

ROMANS: Let me ask you about this judge, because we've heard just in the last 40 minutes or so, she was asking Oscar Pistorius if he was tired, if he was able to give the testimony, because it's the best thing for him, the best thing for the case for him, to be in good shape, best thing for the court.

Also, just earlier this week, she adjourned when he was so overwrought that he was having trouble testifying on the stand.

There are observers in this country, you know, with different legal systems, but observers in this country who are saying this judge is being very, very friendly to a man who's accused of brutally murdering a woman.

PHELPS: In fairness, in terms of this legal system, she is treating Oscar Pistorius absolutely no differently to how she would treat and has treated any other witness in any other case in this country. We have an accusatorial system. The judge needs to be an impartial umpire. She needs to engage what the testimony of the witness is and all our evidence is largely center around oral testimony.

That is her primary way to apply her mind and issue a judgment that she believes is right and fair. If any witness is not composed, they are so rattled by emotion that she can no longer get a clear and coherent account of what they are saying, it essentially ties her hands behind her back in terms of what she has on the record to reach a fair and just decision.

So, it's not surprising. It's certainly not an indication of undue sympathy with this particular witness or accused person. This would happen with any witness in any case.

ROMANS: Yes, she's been very measured throughout the whole course of this as well.

Thank you so much, Kelly Phelps.

BERMAN: Eighteen minutes after the hour.

A fiery bus crash has left at least nine people dead on a California interstate. Many of them are high school students. This 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 up near Oregon. Nearly three dozen other passengers were hurt. What a horrible accident.

ROMANS: Terrible.

All right, stocks around the world falling today. The Nikkei in Japan, lowest level of the year. Today's drop follows a major sell- off on Wall Street yesterday.

Let me show you. Tech stocks led the way. The NASDAQ down 3.1 percent, its biggest drop since 2011. Very big losses yesterday.

One tech company to watch today, watch shares of Amazon. Its shares got hit, of course, in yesterday's sell-off, but what everyone is buzzing about this morning is CEO Jeff Bezos' letter to shareholders, announcing Amazon would pay employees to quit. Once a year, the company's going to offer staff between $2,000 and $5,000 to quit.

The policy was initially started by another online retailer, Zappos. Remember, Zappos was bought by Amazon in 2009. The theory is, if you're not happy enough at Amazon to pass up that money, you're not going to be a productive employee for the company.

If you're not happy, they don't want you to stick around because you need your paycheck. They want to give you a little something so that you can move along.

BERMAN: It's like the unhappiness bonus there.

All right, 20 minutes after the hour.

Some new information revealed on what may have happened inside the cockpit of Flight 370 just before it vanished. We're going to break this all down for you after the break.

ROMANS: In today's "Road Warriors," a lot of places to pick an airline for your next flight, but how do you know its reputation with travelers? You could check the Better Business Bureau, keeps records on all the major carriers. Right now, Delta, Southwest and United all have A-plus grades from the Better Business Bureau. JetBlue has a B- plus, so does Spirit.

Letter grades are based on factors, such as how long the business has been operating, the number of complaints and the response to those complaints, all available on the Better Business Bureau Web site.


BERMAN: Breaking news this morning, as search crews continue their quest to find any signs of Flight 370. Australia's Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, is expressing confidence that the sounds being heard under water are from the plane's black boxes, and he says they could be within miles of finding them.

This all coming as CNN has learned new details of what Malaysian officials now believe happened in the moments after the jet crossed the Malaysian peninsula, dropping to between 4,000 and 5,000 feet, they say. And they say it just disappeared from the radar there.

We're joined by Geoffrey Dell. He's professor at Central Queensland University, a longtime accident investigator who spent many years as a top official for Qantas Airlines.

Geoffrey, thanks so much for being with us.

The Malaysians are telling CNN that this plane disappeared from radar. They say that they have deduced from that that it must have dropped to somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 feet, but are there any other possible explanations why it might have disappeared from the radar, if it did, as they say it did? Could there have been a bad storm there, clouds, a glitch?

GEOFFREY DELL, CENTRAL QUEENSLAND UNIVERSITY: I guess anything's possible. I'm not across the information that the Malaysians are using for making their decision. It would seem they would have to have, you know, a radar plot that showed the aircraft coming down. It doesn't instantaneously lose altitude. So, right as we're working and the aircraft came down to 5,000 feet, and so, was in the radar shadow, you would see the descent on the radar screens, and my understanding of the data is that's not what happened. So, there would have to be some other corroborating evidence to draw that conclusion.

ROMANS: Let's talk about that evidence, sir, because -- and we've been getting conflicting signals and information, you know, days after, for some time now. Even now, whoever said the last words in the cockpit, now we know it was the pilot. We think it was the pilot, not the co-pilot. That's different than the earlier information.

How confident are you that this information coming from officials is correct?

DELL: Well -- I mean, probably as confident as you are. The information in the public domain is really all we have to go on. There's a lot of conjecture about what took place and also quite a lot of theories about how the circumstances could exist.

The problem is that there's virtually no evidence to base any of those conclusions.

BERMAN: Indeed. In many cases, the officials from Malaysia are making deductions based on what limited information they have.

Geoffrey Dell joining us via Skype from Australia. Thank you so much for being with us. I appreciate it.

There is new confidence this morning that search crews are picking up signals from Flight 370's black boxes. We will tell you if the search is being adjusted and how, right after the break.