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Ferry Tragedy in South Korea; Underwater Search for Flight 370 Resumes; Violence in the Streets of Ukraine; Families in Beijing Waiting on Search Update; Oscar Pistorius Defense Makes Case for Tragic Accident

Aired April 16, 2014 - 04:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning, tragedy when a South Korean ferry sinks into the ocean. Rescuers racing the clock to get people to safety. This morning, hundreds are reported missing. The very latest ahead.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, the underwater search for missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 resumes. The Bluefin submarine combing the sea bed for the second day now. And it find any sign of the vanished jetliner, and will it be able to withstand the deep depths of the search? We are live with the very latest on that this morning.

BLACKWELL: Violence in the streets of Ukraine this morning. Troops are taking on pro-Russian protesters who have occupied government buildings for days now. Demonstrators are not backing down. Is civil war imminent? And could Russia be scheming to tear the country apart? We are live.

ROMANS: Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START, everyone. I'm Christine Romans. Chilly morning in the east.

BLACKWELL: Yes, very chilly. I'm Victor Blackwell. It's Wednesday, April 16, 4:00 a.m. in the east now.

ROMANS: Let's begin this morning with breaking news overnight. A desperate search off the coast of South Korea where a ferry capsized and sank. It was carrying hundreds of passengers, many of them students. Officials say many have been rescued, but up to 300 people still missing. Two are confirmed dead. It's unclear what caused the boat to sink. But witnesses say they heard a loud bump just before the ship began to lift and sink. Some had to jump into water to swim to safety.

BLACKWELL: Now to what's happening at this moment. Deep in the Indian Ocean, an unmanned vehicle, the Bluefin 21, is scanning the ocean floor looking for any debris from Flight 370, missing 40 days now. This is a slow, pain-staking process that could go on for several more hours. And we may not know for hours just what, if anything, is found.

Erin McClaughlin is live in Perth with the latest.

Erin, we understand the sub had to surface briefly because of some technical issue. Talk about that.

ERIN MCCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Victor. It was a technical issue that brought it to the surface earlier this morning. We are trying to get more information as to the nature of that technical issue. We'll bring that to you as soon as we have it.

We understand it was brought on board the Australian vessel, the Ocean Shield. They downloaded the data, found no objects of interest. But I think the good news here is they put it back into the water. It went right back to work.

Now many are questioning whether or not the Bluefin 21 is up to the task at hand given that it is operating in the upper reaches of its depth capacity. Engineers have analyzed it, we understand. And they now believe it can go five kilometers beneath the ocean surface instead the originally thought 4.5, but it would need to be reprogrammed in order to do that.

But I think the important thing to remember here is that operating at waters this deep is tricky business no matter what. A tremendous amount of pressure is being exerted on this underwater submersible, some two and a half family cars (ph) worth per square inch that it's having to deal with.

In addition to that, relatively unknown terrain. This terrain largely unexplored. They think it's flat and rolling. But they're not entirely certain, so whatever is down there, the Bluefin 21 is going to have to navigate.

And then you have the silt that they think is down there. Again, they are not sure how much, possibly complicating its sonar imaging effort. So there's a lot of pressure on the Bluefin 21, both literally and figuratively.

We are not certain when it's going to complete its current mission, but we'll let you know as soon as that happens. Victor?

BLACKWELL: All right, Erin McClaughlin there for us in Perth. Thank you, Erin.

And the Bluefin 21, as we know, scans the ocean floor using sonar, bounces sound waves off the sea bed and any objects to create a map of what might be down there.

Now this area of the Indian Ocean is uncharted. And it's unclear what the unmanned vehicle might find. But oceanographers believe the sea floor is covered in rolling hills and silt, as Erin Said, which could make the investigation easier, maybe. And it's a job they say is perfectly suited for an unmanned sub.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From all that I've known in doing oceanography now for 30 years, I think the worst thing to do would be to send a manned vehicle down. I think everything we've learned, is that, you know, if you look at the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, they were actually able to fix that with what we call an ROV, a remote operational vehicle. We have lots of experience with remote operational vehicles that will have tools on them, that can cut, that can -- can hold wrenches, that can do things, that can certainly bring black boxes up. And they can work 24/7.

If you're an Alvin, you don't have that much time on the bottom. You are much better off with these remote tools, in my estimation.

ROMANS: Interesting, well, for the families who had loved ones on Flight 370, the reality may finally be sinking in here 40 days after the jet went missing that it could be it could be a very, very long time before this plane is found.

Ivan Watson is live with us this morning in Beijing where he's been talking to the families about where they stand on this investigation and this search.

Ivan, what are they telling you?

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm in front of the hotel where many of the families, hundreds of them, have been staying. This morning, the relatives of the Chinese passengers of flight MH 370 were supposed to be given a video conference briefing with Malaysian authorities in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.

Well, on a big screen, the video came up of these Malaysian officials, but there was no audio transmission. They couldn't hear each other. And after about 20 minutes, the Chinese relatives got very angry. They started hurling abuse at the screen, starting yelling things like "liars". And then they all stood up and marched out of the conference room in protest.

And I think that's a very good example of how tense the relations are right now between the families of more than 150 Chinese passengers of -- who are aboard that Malaysian air flight and Malaysian authorities.

And I just watched a briefing between a Malaysian diplomat and official from Malaysian airlines face-to-face here in the hotel. It was very abusive with Chinese representatives of the families saying, "Listen, we have submitted a number of questions to you guys. We've asked for you to send a team of technical experts to come meet us face-to-face. Clearly, you couldn't even set up a video conference."

And the Malaysian officials just couldn't answer any of these questions with some of them being as simple as, when can you move all the relatives of the Chinese passengers, more than 150 of them, to hotels here in downtown Beijing. Some of them are spread in other hotels across this sprawling city. And those officials couldn't even give concrete answers to those questions.

It gives a sense of how antagonistic the relationship has become, how frustrated some of these Chinese families are after their agonizing wait of more than a month to learn about their loved ones. One of these Chinese relatives telling me, this hotel right now feels very much like a cage. Christine?


WATSON: So there you have an example of one of these Chinese representatives yelling as the anger we were seeing in the conference room with some of the relatives saying Malaysian airlines simply -- obviously doesn't care about our time or our lives. Now that's one side of this dramatic and very difficult and upsetting story.

But again, it gives you a sense, Christine, of how upset the people are and how, as time goes on, they demand answers, and they feel they're not getting them. And so, many of these relatives are telling me they think there is a cover up under way.

Malaysian officials saying, listen, we are trying the best that we can. But clearly, that information isn't good enough for the hundreds of Chinese relatives desperate to know something about their missing loved ones. Christine?

ROMANS: All right, Ivan Watson for us this morning in Beijing with the very dramatic story from the families' point of view.

BLACKWELL: Well, now, to the situation in Ukraine, growing more dangerous and closer to war by the hour. The Ukrainian military is now fighting back against pro-Russian militants in the eastern part of Ukraine, retaking an airport and promising to do even more to force those militants out of government buildings.

This is happening one day after -- or rather one day before Russian, Ukraine, and the U.S. and European Union are set to sit down and try to find a diplomatic way out of this crisis.

Diana Magnay has the latest from Moscow.

Diana, we understand that German chancellor Angela Merkel spoke with the Russian president Vladimir Putin over night. What was this conversation about? What did they say?

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Vladimir Putin told Angela Merkel that he thought that Ukraine was essentially on the brink of civil war and despite what Merkel's press office said, the very different estimates that both leaders had on the events on the ground. They agreed and discussed these talks and how they should try to find a peaceful solution through them and also the importance of stabilizing the Ukrainian economy. That guarantees gas supplies through to Europe.

It's clear that President Putin and the Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister who's currently on a trip of Asia, are to be the ones to look as though they are pushing for a diplomatic solution. It was President Putin who initiated the telephone call with the U.S. president on Monday.

Yesterday, he spoke with Ban Ki-Moon, the U.N. secretary general. Now he's speaking with Angela Merkel, constantly talking about the fact that a peaceful solution needs to be found, a political solution whereby all the regions of Ukraine are brought into an inclusive discussion on constitutional reform. That seems to be the argument that Russia is pushing now and will be pushing in Geneva tomorrow.

But always, Victor, you have this implicit threat, this backdrop of the 40,000 troops who amassed on Russia's border. Russia says they're just there for training purposes. NATO feels that their intentions are very different. Victor?

BLACKWELL: Well, the hope, of course, that this can be solved through diplomatic means. Diana Magnay, in Moscow for us, thank you.

ROMANS: All right, breaking news overnight: a bomb scare in Boston on the anniversary of the marathon attack. A man arrested near the finish line with a rice cooker inside his backpack. The very latest details on that ahead.

BLACKWELL: And al Qaeda rebuilding? Well, chilling new video painting an alarming picture this morning. Look at this. We'll explain, next.


ROMANS: Welcome back. Rattled nerves this morning in Boston after a scare on the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings. Police there have arrested a man they say was carrying a rice cooker in a backpack near the marathon finish line, the same place where pressure cooker bombs went off last year killing three and leaving more than 260 hurt.

The backpack was blown up as a precaution. The man has been charged with conducting a hoax device.

Meanwhile, the anniversary remembrance brought thousands to Boston, including J.P. and Paul Norden. The brothers each lost a leg in the blast. They've been at the marathon to cheer on a friend. But on Tuesday, they were ones being cheered as they walked across the finish line themselves raising money for charity.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think it hit me yet, but it's an amazing feeling. It really is. Just so happy now.

It just brings me back to the last year and how they were with us. So it's kind of like the same thing. Every day that we needed something, they were there and they're still here. So it's a lot to take in right now. We are getting it. It's good.


BLACKWELL: Well done. Well done.

Lawyers for the marathon bombing suspect will be back in court today arguing some of the charges against him should be dropped. He faces 27 counts now for the deaths of four people, three in the bombings and one, an MIT (ph) police officer that happened in the man-hunt afterwards.

But his lawyers say some of the charges are duplicates for the same alleged crimes and wants the judge to throw some of the charges out.

ROMANS: This morning, we are getting an extraordinary new glimpse at the inner workings of al Qaeda through a video that's appeared on a jihadist website. It shows one of the terror network's top leaders, the head of al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula, addressing fighters in Yemen, talking about how he wants to go after the U.S., outly open with seemingly no concern for a possible drone strike.

This is being called the largest and most dangerous al Qaeda gathering in years. And this morning, the U.S. isn't saying if it knew about the meeting or tried to take any action to stop it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is quite an extraordinary video. The leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, who's also the number two of al Qaeda worldwide, addressing over 100 fighters somewhere in Yemen taking a big risk in doing it.

UNINIDENTIFIED MALE: The main problem about this group is it has a bomb maker who can put bombs on planes that can't be detected.


ROMANS: U.S. officials tell CNN the video is recent. They are analyzing it to learn if any new attacks are being plotted.

BLACKWELL: A much criticism operation by the New York Police Department to eavesdrop on Muslims has been abandoned. This program sent plain-clothed officers into neighborhoods, detailing where Muslims ate, prayed and shopped, even listening in on conversations.

Now, the NYPD had long defended the operation as being an important way of collecting intelligence. But the new mayor and police commissioner have abandoned it, they say to help ease tensions with the Muslim community.

ROMANS: Accused killer, Frazier Glenn Cross, also known as Frazier Glenn Miller, is now formally facing murder charges in the shooting deaths of three people outside a Jewish center and retirement community near Kansas City.

The avowed racist and anti-Semite made a brief video appearance in court.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have a copy of the complaint in front of you? CROSS: Yes, I do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Charged for capital murder and first degree murder? (inaudible) your own attorney or are you requesting a court appointed attorney?

CROSS: Request. I don't have the money.


ROMANS: Prosecutors could seek the death penalty on the capital murder charged filed in the slayings of 69-year-old Dr. William Corporon and his 14-year-old son, Reat Underwood.

Cross is being held on a $10 million bond. The hearing is scheduled for next week.

BLACKWELL: It is an anxious return to campus this morning for students in Pennsylvania that were shattered by a frightening knife attack. Franklin Regional Senior High School holds classes today for the first time since 16-year-old sophomore Alex Hribal allegedly stabbed or slashed 21 students and a security guard last week.

Officials are working to make the return as normal as possible opening up campus for a walk-through a day early.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's just hard to go back there. And I think walking through helped.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kinda eager to get back to normal, get back into the old schedule.


BLACKWELL: The FBI is now analyzing computers, video games and other electronics belonging to the suspect, including a cell phone seized from his locker and a personal notebook and cutlery holder with two missing knives taken from his home.

He's been charged as an adult with four counts of attempted homicide and 21 counts of aggravated assault. Four victims are in the hospital in critical condition.

ROMANS: This morning, the clean-up underway for a big part of the country after severe storms rolled through taking down trees, dropping a lot of rain.

These are pictures right now from Orlando. Winds in that part of Florida topped 46 miles per hour.

BLACKWELL: Wow. Behind the storms comes the cold. We're already feeling some of it. Not the snow, but we're feeling the cold. April showers as well as the snow. These pictures you see here from New York overnight where heavy, wet flakes fell. It's mid April. Earlier, more than an inch landed on the Chicago area despite the calendar saying it is spring. Really? Really.

Jennifer Gray has a closer look at the forecast.

JENNIFER GRAY, METEOROLOGIST: Christine and Victor, all that rain we saw yesterday pushing off the eastern sea board for today should see a much calmer day.

The big story, though, this morning, we could see record-breaking cold temperatures for the morning, basically anywhere east of the Mississippi. We are talking cities like Boston, Atlanta, also Pittsburgh, very cold morning.

We will be rebounding nicely, though. Temperatures will end up in the 50s and upper 50s especially in Atlanta, 55 in Chicago. A little bit warmer today than yesterday.

Temperatures really nice across the deep south. We are going to see those temperatures drop again tonight. The cold weather sticking around. Temperatures in the 30s in the northeast, D.C., 35; 36 in New York; and 33 in Boston. Chicago, you'll bottom out around 41 tonight.

Tomorrow's forecast, though, we'll bring the sunshine into the southeast. High pressure in control across the northeast, not much happening across the country. We'll see a little bit of rain and snow in the Pacific northwest and some scattered showers starting to develop across the whole country of Texas.

Now, high temperatures tomorrow, a little bit warmer, gradually warming throughout the week: 69 in Memphis, 64 in Atlanta. Temperatures in the 50s across the northeast. Victor and Christine?

ROMANS: Thank you, Jennifer.

BLACKWELL: You know, I was looking forward to leaving New York, although everything's been great here, to get back to the southern temperatures. Thirty-seven in Atlanta.

ROMANS: I know. I'm going to Chicago for Easter, and I think it's going to be 21 or something.

BLACKWELL: It's going to be everywhere.

ROMANS: Bring your winter coats.


All right, Miley Cyrus, good news, recovering this morning. Unfortunately, she had to go to a Kansas City hospital after a severe allergic reaction to antibiotics. The 21-year-old singer canceling a performance because she was too sick to sing, but apparently, not too sick to tweet.

She sent out this picture from her hospital bed reassuring fans and thanking her amazing doctors.

ROMANS: All right, there's new evidence this morning that using marijuana can cause casually -- even casually, may change your brain. Researchers from Northwestern University and Harvard found that more -- wow, I can't read. This is ironic. Look, it's -- even self- defined light pot users, who use the drug, they had more obvious changes to crucial parts of their brain, including those that control emotion and motivation.

Researchers say this is the first step to understanding the impact of casual marijuana use on the body. It's a really interesting, interesting study. I mean, essentially, your brain is developing into the 20s and 30s. And even casual use of marijuana causes these changes. They can see these changes in the brain. Some of these researchers are very concerned. They want to make sure that we are not sending this message that casual use is benign -- casual use of any drug is not benign.

BLACKWELL: A question that a lot of people had (ph) after the president's comments about using marijuana and comparing it to cigarette smoke. And so, that's a conversation I'm sure we'll have more of.

Happening right now at the Oscar Pistorius murder trial. The defense presenting its case trying to convince a judge that the Olympic athlete did not mean to kill his model girlfriend. But is their strategy working? We are live, next.


BLACKWELL: Happening now at the Oscar Pistorius murder trial in South Africa. The defense is making its case for why it says it was all a tragic accident when Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

But after five days of grueling cross-examination, it seems even the sprinter himself cannot keep this entire story straight about what happened that night.

CNN legal analyst Kelly Phelps is in Pretoria.

Kelly, where does the defense stand now, especially after the grueling cross-examination?

KELLY PHELPS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's really too soon to access the extent of the damage that was done by the cross-examination. So we can certainly assess areas that were damaging. But until the rest of the defense's case is being placed on as a matter of record and we have a context in which to understand the testimony that Mr. Pistorius himself gave, one isn't really in a position to understand the full extent of any damage that he may have done.

And one always expects there to be some damage when an accused person testifies in their own defense. No one will give a flawless performance. So the really crucial issue is getting to the end of the trial in order to be able to ascertain just how damaging any of the concessions may have been.

BLACKWELL: Getting to the end of the trial, the judge made a decision on that request to postpone the trial for some time. What was that decision? PHELPS: She agreed to the postponement. So we will go into the end of this week, a two-week postponement. I think this was a very pragmatic decision on her behalf. There are a spate (ph) of public holidays coming up in South Africa. So the court would have been very disturbed anyway.

And what was interesting was that she emphasized to the courts and to the lawyer that she and the assessors intend to use this postponement, this adjournment, as an opportunity to get ahead of their workload for this trial. And she implored the lawyers to do the same, essentially emphasizing the need to expedite this trial and not delay justice.

BLACKWELL: All right, Kelly Phelps for us covering the Oscar Pistorius trial in Pretoria. Thank you, Kelly.

ROMANS: All right, happening now, an underwater search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. In its second day under water, we are going to tell you what -- what they are looking for and what they found.