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Underwater Search For Flight 370 Intensifying; Tense Stand-Off in Ukraine; A Solemn Anniversary in Boston; It's Tax Day!; Oscar Pistorius' Emotional Testimony

Aired April 15, 2014 - 05:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news overnight: the underwater search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 intensifying. Investigators are revealing just hours ago what the Bluefin submarine saw in its first day combing the sea bed for clues.

Now, this comes as we learn new details about what was happening in the plane's cockpit just before it disappeared. Was the co-pilot trying to send someone a warning?

We're live with the latest this morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A tense standoff in Ukraine. Pro- Russian protesters refusing to disarm, refusing to step aside, ignoring Ukraine's threat to send in troops, as the U.S. and Russia blame each other for this escalating crisis. Is civil war imminent?

We're live with what's happening right now.

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

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell, Tuesday, April 15th. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East.

And we begin with latest on Malaysia Airlines 370. And breaking news overnight, that an unmanned underwater vehicle, the Bluefin-21, found nothing of interest during its first search of the ocean floor, the Indian Ocean there, and that journey ended abruptly after just six hours when the unmanned sub had to surface after going too deep.

And this morning, crews are preparing again to put the vehicle back in the water for another 16-hour trip scanning for wreckage from the jet missing for 39 days now.

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

Erin, also, there was some news, aside from the bluefin, that aerial search and what that means moving forward -- Erin.

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, victor. Well, I really don't think it's too surprising that they didn't find anything, that the Bluefin-21 didn't find anything during that search. It really only lasted about two hours on the ocean floor, covering what must have been a fraction of the 15-square-mile area that was designated for the day's mission, that area being the most probable place for the black box, that according to officials based on those pings that were heard last week.

This is going to be a slow and painstaking process, that according to officials here. Nothing happens quickly in waters of this depth. And what happened in terms of the Bluefin-21 in its first mission is it went down and it entered waters that were deeper than its capacity of some 2.8 miles, and it was simply then just resurfaced. And according to the company, that it's programmed to do that, it's programmed to behave conservatively.

So, we understand that technicians aboard the Ocean Shield now are adjusting that search field to more shallow waters, waters that the Bluefin-21's more capable of handling before sending it back down, but we understand that weather is a factor here and causing some delay -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: Also, air chief marshal angus Houston, who's leading the search, says in the next two or three days, the aerial search for any possible debris is going to wrap up. Talk more about that, if you will.

MCLAUGHLIN: That's right. We expect that to wrap up in the next day or so. Despite hours and hours and hours, days and days of searching, some eight countries participating in that search, not a single piece of debris from this plane has been found.

And I think many people here in Perth are seeing that as increasingly unlikely. It's something that Angus Houston said yesterday that they're going to reassess in the next day or so, but again, would not be surprising if they decided to conclude those efforts -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: And that's what I think to most people is shocking. Thirty-nine days, not a piece of debris.

Erin McLaughlin there for us in Perth -- thank you.

ROMANS: Meanwhile, we're learning new details about what may have been going on inside the cockpit of that 777. A U.S. official tells CNN the co-pilot's cell phone was turned on during the flight and that cell phone tried to make contact with a cell tower over Penang, some 30 minutes, 30 minutes after the plane made its turn off course.

Senior international correspondent Nic Robertson live for us this morning in Kuala Lumpur. He's got the latest on the investigation.

Nic, what does this new information mean about what might have been happening on board that jet?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Penang is on the western side of Malaysia. And what we understand is that the aircraft, as it made that left turn, crossed back over the Malaysian peninsula, we understand that once it had gone about 80 miles offshore, it was down to about 4,000 or 5,000 feet above sea level. It now appears that before it was even crossing over the shoreline over Penang, it was already coming down, lowering in altitude.

That appears to be potentially the reason why the co-pilot's cell phone was able to make a connection to the cell tower in Penang, right on the coast there. We don't know at this time what the meaning of it is. Was it trying to make a call? Was it just sort of a handshake connection because the phone was on? Phones typically will try to find the nearest cell tower to operate.

But what it really shows is that the aircraft was potentially quite low crossing over the Malaysian peninsula, far away from its cruising altitude. We're also learning details of the decision-making that's going into determining who will get the black box. The acting transport minister today was saying that it will involve the International Civil Aviation Organization and other bodies as well.

This is what he had to say.


HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIAN ACTING TRANSPORT MINISTER: Whether it is an ICAO practice, whether it is a challenge which involves diplomacy, because you must understand that it involves 14 nations. And when it comes to the search and rescue, at the beginning, it involves 26 nations.

So, we have diplomatic challenges, we've got legal challenges, we've got next of kin, and that is why we have established these committees.


ROBERTSON: So, we've just heard from the transport mini minister's Twitter account, that they say that the cabinet of the government here has just ratified the decision to form an international investigation committee here. So, we're at 39 days after Flight 370 disappeared.

The government here now taking an official step to form what we've been told will happen all along, this international investigation committee. We don't know the composition of it yet, but again, this another step along that very slow process to figure out precisely what happened here -- Christine.

ROMANS: A very slow process, no question.

Nic Robertson -- thank you, Nic.

BLACKWELL: Now to Ukraine, a country on the brink of civil war. Pro- Russian militants this morning continue to hold government buildings in the eastern part of Ukraine. And despite calls for them to give up their arms and leave, they do not appear to be budging.

President Obama and Vladimir Putin spoke last evening. They traded barbs over who is behind the escalating violence. As Ukraine's acting president is asking the U.N. to send in peacekeepers.

Phil Black is live in Kharkiv. What's the latest there, Phil?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor, clearly, there is an ongoing trend here that the government in Ukraine and Kiev is powerless to stop, and that is, its authority leaking away here in this eastern region. Across nine cities and towns, there are now key government buildings, pieces of infrastructure that had been occupied by pro-Russian supporters, protesters, and indeed, militants. Some of them are certainly armed.

And nothing that the Ukrainian government has said or threatened to do has shown any sign that it has the ability to dislodge these occupations to return its authority to this region. It has talked about threats, ultimatums, deadlines, anti-terror operations, of which, according to local media reports, there is said to be one that is beginning to get under way in the region surrounding the Ukrainian city of Donetsk just today.

And the Ukrainian government has also tried to talk peace and reconciliation and amnesties and negotiations, political inclusiveness going forward -- again, no impact there at all. So, it is in this context that we've now heard this idea for an international peacekeeping force under United Nations mandate. Two big obstacles there, the idea that the foreign governments would like to see their troops on the ground in eastern Ukraine, potentially facing off against Russian forces across the border.

But then also the idea that such a resolution that would be needed would get through the United Nations Security Council, which is where Russia has a veto. It is very difficult to imagine that happening successfully. But what Ukraine seems to be saying, certainly, is that it needs more international assistance in preventing the further fracturing of this country and overcoming the threat it believes still comes from Moscow, Victor.

BLACKWELL: We'll see with all these hurdles if that international assistance comes.

Phil Black for us there in Kharkiv -- thank you, Phil.

ROMANS: All right, "Boston Strong" one year later. I can't believe it's been a year. Marking the first anniversary today of the marathon bombings. We're going to tell you what the city is planning today to mark this occasion, next.


BLACKWELL: A solemn anniversary today in Boston. One year since a bomb destroyed the calm of the Boston marathon, shattering hundreds of lives, leaving three dead and more than 260 injured. Today the city is focused on remembering the fallen and also looking forward. The memorial ceremony this afternoon will pay tribute, and there will be a moment of silence to mark the time the first bomb went off.

But "Boston Strong" banners, you see them here, they hang everywhere, and the marathon will go on as scheduled next week. And many of those running say they're doing it in honor of those who cannot run now themselves, and they want the world to know the city cannot be knocked down.

ROMANS: All right, we could find out today if a man police say shot and killed three people at a Jewish center and retirement community near Kansas City will face state and federal hate crime charges. Frazier Glenn Cross, also known as Frazier Glenn Miller, is in jail. And federal prosecutors say they do have enough evidence to bring hate crime charges in federal court, meaning he could face the death penalty.

Cross is a former grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. He has a history of racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric. The three people he's accused of killing are Christians. Dr. William Corporon and his grandson, Reat Underwood, were at there for a singing competition. Terri LaManno was killed outside of the retirement community where she had gone to visit her mother. Today would have been her 25th wedding anniversary.

BLACKWELL: California police say a pair of sex offenders charged now with raping and murdering four women were wearing court-ordered GPS devices during the crimes. The two were suspected in a string of attacks beginning last fall, and police say they are confident there is a fifth victim. Both men had been ordered to wear the devices after serving prison terms for sexually assaulting a child under 14.

ROMANS: A second mental health evaluation will move ahead in the Colorado movie theater shooting case. A judge turning aside attempts by defense lawyers for James Holmes to block this examination. The judge had thrown out an earlier exam, saying it was inadequate. Holmes has entered an insanity plea for the July 2012 shooting, a shooting that left 12 people dead and injured 70 others.

BLACKWELL: Police this morning say the woman in Utah suspected of killing six of her newborn babies has admitted to the killings. Thirty-nine-year-old Megan Huntsman reportedly told police that she strangled or smothered the infants immediately after birth. Seven tiny corpses were found Saturday in a garage at huntsman's former home, one thought to be stillborn. She's being held on six counts of murder. No word yet on a motive.

ROMANS: Happening today near Pittsburgh, students are being allowed to visit Franklin Regional High School. It's the site of a stabbing and slashing attack that left nearly two dozen people hurt, some critically. Counselors and therapy dogs are going to be on hand at the school one day before classes officially resume. The suspect in the attack, Alex Hribal, is being held without bail. He's facing attempted murder and assault charges.

BLACKWELL: New details this morning about the bus crash on a northern California interstate that left ten people dead, many of them high school students. Officials say the driver of the bus and the FedEx truck that crashed into it both had clean driving records.

Well, this morning, one of the students on board is being called a hero. Officials say his -- his high school, rather, said Ishmael Jimenez died helping others escape that bus. The students were from southern California, heading north for a college tour. ROMANS: Now facing federal charges, a woman caught on camera throwing a shoe at Hillary Clinton during a speech in Las Vegas. Police have identified the shoe thrower as Alison Michelle Ernst from Phoenix. But she and authorities aren't revealing any motive for why she threw the footwear at the former secretary of state. The new charges include trespassing, violence against a person in a restricted building, that on top of misdemeanor disorderly conduct charges, all of those from Las Vegas police.

BLACKWELL: Obamacare may not drive up health care costs as much as previously thought. New estimates from the Congressional Budget Office and committee on taxation show premiums are likely to only rise about 3 percent in 2015, far less than many predicted. And the overall cost for implementing the law is expected to run about $5 billion less than expected. But less money in penalties will be collected because the administration decided to delay the employer coverage mandate.

ROMANS: All right, European stocks right now slightly, you know, slightly lower, you can see, after Asia closed mixed. Futures pointing to a lower open in the U.S. today after we saw a bit of a comeback in stocks yesterday.

The big story today: it's tax day! I'm sorry. Good morning. It's tax day! It's the deadline for filing. Keep your eye out for tax deals today. Restaurants like Arby's, Hard Rock Cafe, Sonic and Boston Market are offering deals today.

If you're looking to buy -- there you go. If you're looking to buy a house, maybe take advantage of homeowner tax breaks. Detroit might be the city for you.

I want to show you this. The city is auctioning off houses. Bidding starts at $1,000, right? You can bid online for a house for $1,000. The catch? Buyers have to rehab the homes and move in within six months.

Detroit hopes the sale will boost property values, keep people in the city and help solve the problem of 16,000 vacant homes, trying to clean up some urban blight there in Detroit. You can buy a house for a grand, turn it around, rent it, you could live in it. Got to have somebody in there within six months.

BLACKWELL: I don't know if you heard it, but there was a national groan when you said, "It's tax day!" and everybody went --

ROMANS: I know. But check out the fast-food restaurants, because they'll have tax day perks.

BLACKWELL: Good Arby's sandwich.

Extreme weather ripping through the south overnight. Look at this. We have pictures from Mississippi, not far from Biloxi. Officials say the heavy winds caused all this -- all this damage. Dozens of trailers flipped over at an RV park. At least two people were hurt here. ROMANS: That storm system moving east, I'm sad to say. Indra Petersons tracking the storm for us this morning.

Hi, Indra.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, I mean, great video. It shows you, it doesn't require just a tornado to have damage like that. I mean, straight-line winds, that's the focus today, straight-line winds and even hail out there.

But the bigger story is the huge temperature clash, obviously the reason we're talking about severe weather. Look at the warm temperatures ahead of the cold front, and notice what happens. Rain switches over to what? Snow. Yes, snow, as temperatures behind the front are freezing, if not below.

So, Cincinnati already seeing the snow. And yes, it is spreading east. So, let's take each part separately. Into the Southeast, still seeing explosive thunderstorms out there, so the severe weather threat is out there today, including those straight-line winds that caused a lot of damage yesterday.

So, Norfolk all the way down through Jacksonville, that's where we have the biggest threat today for some severe thunderstorms. Then comes the frontal system moving all the way into the northeast throughout the day, exiting overnight tonight. But as it exits, let's zoom in a little bit closer.

Again, do I have to say this, a chance for flurries, even in towards New York City. Look at that, as the system makes its way in overnight. Because temperatures are going to be dropping from cold air in the Northeast, even all the way down into the Southeast. We're talking about very chilly temperatures as the cold front makes its way in.

So, yes, snow is going to be out there, even some heavy rain throughout the day today. Just keep in mind, that also means we're talking about snow. Temperatures not so bad just yet, but by tomorrow, 20 degrees cooler than what we saw today, almost 30 degrees cooler than what we saw yesterday.

ROMANS: Just say no to snow, Indra Petersons.

PETERSONS: I can't even say anything, but I love that slogan.

ROMANS: Just say no to snow.

BLACKWELL: She's making t-shirts this morning. Just say no to snow.

ROMANS: Say yes to Indra. Say no to snow.


BLACKWELL: Did you see it? Did you see it? Did you see it? If not, stunning pictures of a spectacular sight. It was more spectacular a little while ago -- I got to say that. Lunar eclipse turning the moon -- there it is -- blood red, something scientists say is very rare, and it's all because of the way the earth blocked light from reaching the moon.

OK, so, rather than blacking it out, the light was bent in the earth's atmosphere and then reflected back, and you can see the result there. At least you saw it a moment ago, the first of four lunar eclipses expected in the next two years.

ROMANS: And our Paul Vercammen was saying it was more copper red than vermilion.


ROMANS: It's beautiful, whatever you want to call it, it's beautiful.

BLACKWELL: Thank you for that, Paul.

Happening right now, the emotional testimony for an Olympic hero at his murder trial, breaking down in front of a packed room under questioning from prosecutors. Got a major update there and we're live with what Oscar Pistorius is saying this morning in a moment.


ROMANS: Happening now at the Oscar Pistorius murder trial in South Africa, the intense cross examination from prosecutors has just come to an end. After five days of detailed questioning about what happened the night he shot and killed girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, including what he did once he realized it was his girlfriend and not an intruder that he shot.



OSCAR PISTORIUS, OLYMPIC RUNNER: I pulled her around on to me.

PROSECUTOR: Yes, and then?

PISTORIUS: And then I heard her breathing, my lady, and so, I immediately tried to pick her up and get her out of the toilet.

PROSECUTOR: Yes, and then?

PISTORIUS: I wasn't able to pick her up, my lady, so I scuffled around with my legs, which is probably how I kicked the magazine rack.


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

Kelly, talk a little bit about what Pretorius said. Despite all the consistencies, his story about handling Reeva's body seems to match what he said earlier. What do you make of it? KELLY PHELPS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. And in fact, the state tried to use that to the advantage of the strategy they've been employing. So, we saw Nel questioning him for far shorter period over that portion of the evening's events and then put to the court and to Mr. Pistorius that the reason they don't disagree on any of this is because this is the part of the story that both sides say the same thing.

But with regard to the crucial part of the story, that being the moments that he shot her and what he was thinking in those moments, the reason now so many discrepancies there, and therefore, cause for cross examination, is because Mr. Nel asserts he is not telling the truth.

So, clearly, he was trying to tie up this very long process of cross examination by emphasizing the core contention that he has been maintaining the whole way through, that the only reasonable inference the judge can draw is that Mr. Pistorius must be guilty.

ROMANS: So, what happens next? Seven days, some of these very intense days, on the stand. The cross examination is over. What happens next in this trial?

KELLY: Well, now Mr. Pistorius' legal team, Barry Roux, in particular, has the opportunity to re-examine Mr. Pistorius. And I would expect him to take quite a different approach to the approach that Nel has taken.

While Nel has tried to keep Pistorius on the stand for as long as possible and essentially show that he is confusing the matter, I think Mr. Roux will keep his re-examination short, sharp and to the point and try to use it as an opportunity to draw out key points for the court's consideration that cast doubt over the state's version of events.

ROMANS: All right, Kelly Phelps for us in Pretoria -- thank you, Kelly.

BLACKWELL: Breaking news overnight. Investigators revealing what the bluefin submarine saw in its first day searching the bottom of the ocean floor for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Live team coverage after the break.