Return to Transcripts main page


Ferry Capsizes in South Korea; Bluefin-21 Fails Again; Boston Bomb Hoaxer To Appear in Court; New Al Qaeda Video Worries U.S. Officials

Aired April 16, 2014 - 11:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A trip to a resort island ends in tragedy in South Korea. Four people are dead and almost 300 missing after the ferry they were traveling in capsized.

It's happened again. The robotic submarine comes up short in its search for Flight 370. This time a technical issue is being blamed.

A chilling new video of al-Qaeda fighters meeting with one of their most notorious leaders, this gathering is causing U.S. officials to be very, very concerned.

Hello, I'm Christine Romans. I'm in today for John Berman and Michaela Pereira.

Those stories and more, right now, @ THIS HOUR.

We begin with breaking news. A frantic rescue is under way off the coast of South Korea. Hundreds of people, mostly high school students, they are missing after a ferry capsized in the Yellow Sea.

The boat was traveling from a port just outside Seoul to the resort island of Jeju. At least four passengers, we know, are dead, but get this. There are almost 300 missing.

At least 164 have been rescued. The U.S. Navy is on its way to help, but the clock is ticking on the hopes of finding more survivors.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via telephone): And it is possible that there are air pockets inside some of the compartments. The temperature, of course, will lead to hypothermia quickly.

The other thing to keep in mind is that, once the ship goes on its side or flips over, it's incredibly disorienting. Everything is sideways or upside down. You're no longer walking on decks or floors. You're walking on bulkheads or walls or even trying to move along an inverted ceiling.


ROMANS: What caused the boat to tip remains unknown. Our Paula Hancocks joins us on the phone from Jindo, South Korea. And, Paula, I know you're near where some of the families are gathering. They're waiting for word on their loved ones. How are they doing?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): That's right, Christine. I'm just in the harbor in Jindo, and it is a heartbreaking scene here. There are families that are just sitting on the tarmac by the side of the water, just looking out into the darkness, just waiting for any sign, any news at all of their loved ones.

Now, we know that there were hundreds of high school students on this passenger ship, and many of the parents are here desperately waiting for any news about their children.

Now, just about an hour half ago, there was a tremendous amount of commotion. One of the mothers here said that she had just received a text message from her son.

Basically, the text message said there's no phone connection, no Internet. I'm text you. There are a few people on the ship. We're in total darkness, but tell people that there are people still alive here.

Now, of course, as you can imagine, this text message was taken straight away to the emergency services. There are other parents that are worried that there was just a delay in the delivery of this text message, which would be a very cruel reality for this mother and for other parents who have taken some hope from this.

But it just shows just how tenuous the situation here and how desperately the parents here are waiting for some sign, any sign whatsoever, that their loved ones are still OK.

The search-and-rescue operation is ongoing. We know that the boats are still out there. It's about 20 kilometers out to sea from where I am. It is pitch black out there at the moment, with the exception of the search itself.

And we know there have been divers throughout the day trying to get into the ship underwater. It's unclear if they were able to at this point as there are some strong currents out there.


ROMANS: You know, reports say some of the passengers heard this bump before the boat started listing and then tipped.

Do we know any more about what happened here?

HANCOCKS (via telephone): No. All we have at this point is those eyewitness accounts, one of the passengers saying that that -- that the shock of that impact did make people fall over. People were injured at that point and that's when the listing started.

So, obviously, the assumption is that the ship may well have hit something. But we're not hearing that officially. We're just hearing this from eyewitnesses and those passengers that were on board at the time.

Now, it did go down fairly quickly. It was just over a couple of hours that we saw this ship listing significantly, and many of those on board were actually told to jump into the water and find a life jacket.

And they had to, then at the point as the ship was listing so dramatically, try and swim to one of the many boats that were surrounding the ship.


ROMANS: And we know that water is cold, 40 degrees, 50 degrees in the waters around there, and it has been many hours that some of those people have been missing

Paula, thank you so much.

Another snag in the deep-sea search for Flight 370, the unmanned submarine Bluefin-21 forced to resurface today for a technical issue fix. It was later redeployed to continue scouring the floor of the Indian Ocean.

While it was on deck, authorities downloaded data from the device. Initial analysis of that data shows nothing significant yet on the ocean floor.

Meantime, the families of Chinese passengers missing on that flight, they are fed up.

They say there have been too many lies and broken promises, so today they stormed out of a Malaysian Airlines briefing.

Let's get more now on the search. Miguel Marquez joins us from Perth, Australia. Miguel, do we know if that Bluefin-21 is still in the ocean right now?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As far as we know, at this moment, it is still down under the water. It will be there for several more hours if everything is going to plan.

It will then have to resurface and be downloaded. It will be sometime in the next 12, perhaps 20 hours or so that we'd have a readout from whatever it is they find down there.


ROMANS: This is the second setback, I know, for this underwater vehicle on the second day it was sent to search for this wreckage.

Are officials saying this is the right device for the job?

MARQUEZ: It's the only device for the job at the moment. It's the only and the best tool that they have available to them. It is a very technical tool. It is very deep water. It's not surprising that they would have setbacks and deal with the software. In the first instance, it resurfaced after it reached the 4,500-limit mark, the meter-mark. In the second instance, it was -- it sounds to us like it was a software issue with trying to rejigger that software so that it would go deeper, or perhaps not rise up as quickly as it did the first time.

Now it seems to be operating, hopefully, along the parameters that they were -- that they have expected it to, and we will probably have the first good, long look at the depths there when this one comes back up.


ROMANS: All right, Miguel Marquez, thank you, Miguel.

Quick check of some other headlines @ THIS HOUR.

In eastern Ukraine, the Russian flag flies over a group of Ukrainian armored vehicle and the men on them scream, Russia, Russia!

According to unconfirmed Russian media reports these people were captured by pro-Russian separatists from the Ukrainian army.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is warning world leaders that Ukraine could be on the brink of civil war.

Back here in the U.S., a man accused of a Boston marathon bombing hoax is set to appear in court. Authorities say Kayvon Edson was shouting, "Boston Strong," as he ran toward the finish line where pressure- cooker bombs went off a year ago.

A spokesman for the d.a. say he is aware of the Instagram that you're looking at. He says that he can't officially confirm it, but adds, quote, "It is exactly what it appears to be. It depicts the suspect doing what we know happened on Boylston Street yesterday."

Police say Edson told them he had a rice cooker, and a bomb squad was taking no chances with it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fire in the hole!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fire in the hole.


ROMANS: Police blew up two suspicious backpacks, including the one that Edson was allegedly carrying.

The sonar sub runs into more problems on its hunt for Flight 370, but given the air search is about to end, it could be the best hope, the best hope for finding that plane.

Can it handle the pressure? Is it up to the task? Our experts weigh in, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: The Bluefin sub, back in the deep, looking for Flight 370, its mission suffering a couple of setbacks, the past couple of days.

I want to talk about it with our aviation analysts, Jeff Wise and Mary Schiavo.

Jeff, should we be worried about these issues that this device is having? You know, two days, it hasn't even had a full -- sort of a full cycle yet of two hours down, 16 hours on the ground, two hours back up, four hours downloading the equipment.

Two days now, two problems.

JEFF WISE, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: I think we're all impatient. I mean, we've finally come to this moment where they've finally deployed these subs after waiting almost a week.

And I would love to just get a full 16-hour search in, look at that data, hopefully find something, or at least determine either way.

And it's been frustrating. First, we had the issue with the depth, now some technical details -- technical problems that we don't know the details on, but it's certainly just --

ROMANS: And it seems, Mary, as if this is, though, where the focus is going to be. The focus is on under water, which is why the issues, technical issues, are so frustrating, because clearly the air -- you know, from the air, scanning for debris has not really been that fruitful.

Now, they're looking underwater. That's where the focus needs to be.

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: That's right. And with the air search supposedly going to be ending soon, and rightfully so, they just haven't found anything and they can't keep up that human expense of folks working on that and then the capital expenditure without any results.

And I think that emphasizing the underwater search, and the Bluefin-21 had to be reprogrammed because it was kind of at the edge of what it was used to doing, so they had to retool it and give it some new software.

So, you know, I think Jeff said it well. We have to be patient and let the Bluefin get readjusted and do its job.

ROMANS: Is the Bluefin the right device for this job? Are there other options, other technical options out there, Mary?

SCHIAVO: There are. There are a variety of options, and I'm sure, before this is over, they will have -- they will try several underwater vehicles.

And they have the possibility of both other unmanned submersibles and manned submersibles. They've used one called an Alvin, the Remora.

And the Chinese have one which they've already said in news reports that they want to send down. I forget the Chinese name, but it's translated Sea Dragon, and that holds the record for under water dives. I think it can go down 4.4 miles.

So there's other equipment that they can resort to if this doesn't work.

ROMANS: Jeff, do you think we're doing all we can be doing here right now? Is there other technology? Are they doing the right thing from an investigation and crash standpoint?

WISE: We don't know everything that they know. When Air France 447 was found, there was three autonomous underwater vehicles that were used in a search pattern.

And, so, clearly, we're not using -- we're not doing it as intensively as we could. But then again, the search area that they're looking at right now is fairly compact. We know where those pings were found. The range of the pinger locator is only about a miles, two at tops, and so it should be -- if it's there it should be in a fairly compact area..

ROMANS: If you're doing this lawnmower kind of approach, which they're doing, it's basically taking pictures with sound --

WISE: Right.

ROMANS: -- you know, and mapping the floor, a rolling seafloor, which investigators say is likely helpful, because there aren't caverns and crevasses where any wreckage could be hiding.

It seems as though, even though there's one device out there, and it takes, you know, 24 hours for a full cycle, it seems as though at least the topography there, while deep, is not as bad as it could be.

WISE: Well, our hopes were raised that it was gentle topography that would be well suited to this kind of machine. But then again, I think we were surprised by this depth which they weren't expecting to encounter. Maybe some -- we don't know what happened. Today they cut it short. There might have been some kind of underwater peaks or something. Because, remember, the device goes along, and it's programmed to go a certain height, a certain altitude, as it were, above the seabed. And if there's something that juts up suddenly, it could run into that. And so it's programmed to stop and ascend if something, some danger like that pops up.

ROMANS: How long do you think, Mary, could it take before we finally see something here? If we've got just one Bluefin doing all this work and we have shifted entirely to the undersea search, how long could this take?

SCHIAVO: Well, based on past undersea searches for black boxes, it could take anywhere from two days, which was South African Airways in the Indian Ocean, to several months, eight months. The one that went into the Java Sea, Adam Air, took from January until August. So anywhere in between, and then of course Air France, although it wasn't a solid search, that was two years but they weren't searching the whole time. They had to stop and restart.

So it could be just a matter of a couple of weeks, which given the size of the search area, which Jeff mentioned and I think he's right -- I mean, it's a fairly compact search area, so I don't think we're looking at months. I think we're looking at a couple of weeks.

ROMANS: We certainly know these families need have some information, they need to have some more signs about what really happened here because it's very frustrating for them in Beijing right now. We know that. Thanks, Mary and Jeff. We want you to stand by to answer some viewer questions about the search and this mystery. If you would like to ask Jeff or Mary a question about the plane or the search, you can tweet them at #370Qs. We're also on Facebook/atthishour

Ahead @ THIS HOUR, a chilling new video showing al Qaeda fighters listening to the man known as the terror group's crown prince. The pictures you're watching right now have U.S. officials worried about what these men may be plotting.


ROMANS: We're still around and we're coming to get you. That's the message al Qaeda is sending to the U.S. in a new video on the Internet making the rounds of jihadist websites. It shows what looks like the largest and most dangerous gathering of the terror group in years. And terror experts believe what you're seeing there is authentic.


PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: This is quite an extraordinary video. The leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Nasir al-Wahishi, who's also the No. 2 of al Qaeda worldwide, addressing over 100 fighters somewhere in Yemen, taking a big risk in doing this.


ROMANS: What makes this meeting especially disturbing is that Nasir al-Wahishi appears out in the open, unafraid of being seen, unafraid of being hit by an American drone.

Let's bring in our national security analyst Peter Bergen from Washington. Peter, the U.S. runs a drone program in Yemen. How did such a large group of al Qaeda operatives assemble in the open, flags furled, and the U.S. was unaware?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, that's a good question which I don't have an answer to. I mean, it's an unanswerable question. As you say, the U.S. has had a very aggressive drone program in Yemen. We've had -- there's been seven strikes in this year alone, about 100 drone and cruise missile strikes under President Obama. Those strikes have killed something like at least 30 of al Qaeda's top leaders. So to see this video shows that these guys somehow think that, wherever they are, they're not being surveyed by American drones or satellites.

ROMANS: They've also blurred some of the pictures. When you look at the video, you can see some of the faces are blurred. Some of them are wide open, plain view, but some of the faces are blurred, leading many to say, wow, they're confident that these are fighters who will be out there attacking Americans?

BERGEN: Well, yes, they're certainly trying to disguise their identities. Most of these people are either Yemenese or Saudis and some have gone public, like the that people we see in full view, who are the leaders of the group, and some haven't and they want to disguise their identities. I think it's that simple.

ROMANS: Let's talk about the leaders of the group, then. Ibrahim al- Asiri, the al Qaeda bomb-maker, not seen in this video, but he's still a serious threat to the U.S. Tell us more about the capability of this particular branch of al Qaeda and the people you see and don't see there.

BERGEN: Well al-Asiri, the bomb-maker, is sort of the crown jewel of the organization and I think they really want to protect him,. He has gone completely underground; he's communicating by courier, no electronic communications, according to a senior U.S. official. He's making bombs which are capable of getting on planes without being detected. He did that on the Northwest flight 253 that almost blew up over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009. He's put similar very hard to detect bombs on cargo planes bound for the U.S. in 2010. There's some indication that this group is experimenting with implanting bombs surgically into people so they would be very hard to detect, according to a senior U.S. official.

So these are people with real capabilities and certainly a desire. They keep saying they want to attack the United States. They just released their magazine, the 12th issue called "Inspire" magazine and it was full of information about how to build bombs and instructions to attack the U.S.

ROMANS: A video like this, is this a threat to the U.S., an open threat, propaganda? Are they trying to recruit new fighters? What do you think is the purpose of getting out there and spreading it around?

BERGEN: I guess recruitment is one, Christine, and I think also kind of a -- I think recruitment is the main thing. It probably is not a smart idea because there will be analysts at CIA and geospatial imagery analysts looking at the scene, trying to work out where exactly it happened. Obviously it happened, the video was several weeks old at this point, but every time you release a video like this, it's not just the risk of doing it at the time, it's also what kind of clues can be derived from this much situation. After all, it's 20 minute video. It's quite rich with material that analysts will be poring over.

ROMANS: I'm sure. There were concerns last summer about a terror threat that actually shut down a bunch of embassies. How close do we think these particular men in this video could be to a plot? BERGEN: I think it's impossible to tell. I mean, I think the U.S. government's view is that people who are leading AQAP, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, are constantly planning some kind of operation and therefore they're legitimate targets. And that goes to the question of why isn't there a drone strike on this gathering? Because certainly there's basically -- the CIA and also the joint special operations command and the military is allowed to take shots at these kinds of leaders, particularly if there are no civilians. And there are no civilians in this frame that we can see. So it is a surprise that this assemblage happened.

ROMANS: Peter Bergen, thank you so much. Fascinating. And the video really interesting to watch and to dissect.

OK, ahead @ THIS HOUR, we're going to take you on board a ship to show you how sonar mapping works. It's a really interesting look at the technology being used right now on the search of the ocean floor for the wreckage of Flight 370.