Return to Transcripts main page


South Korea Ferry Disaster; Bluefin-21 Completes First Full Mission; Crisis in Ukraine

Aired April 17, 2014 - 04:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning: searching for survivors after a ferry capsizes off the coast of South Korea. Right now, nine people dead, hundreds -- hundreds still missing. We are live with the latest.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning: minutes ago, Malaysian officials giving new information on the search for missing Flight 370, this as the Bluefin sub back from completing its first full mission. So, what did it find? We're live.

ROMANS: Crisis in Ukraine. Bloody fights in the streets as troops try to take down pro-Russian protesters. World leaders blame Russia for the chaos. And this morning, Vladimir Putin firing back. We're live with that.

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

Nice to see you back, Berman.

BERMAN: Thank you very much. Good to be here.

I'm John Berman. It is Thursday, April 17th, 4:00 a.m. in the east.

A lot going on this morning.

Let's begin in South Korea, where this morning rescue crews are trying to find hundreds of people missing in the chilly waters off that country's southern coast. It has now been more than 24 hours since the ferry they were riding on overturned and sank with nearly 500 passengers on board, so many of them high school students.

Look at these terrifying pictures from yesterday. Right now, nearly 300 of those passengers are still missing -- 300 people still missing, as we hear these horrifying stories of desperate text messages sent by those on board to their parents.

Our Pauline Chiou is live in Jindo, where families are awaiting word on their loved ones.

Pauline, what's the latest this morning?

PAULINE CHIOU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (AUDIO GAP) desperate for any sort of information, many of them are gathered in this rain at the edge of the harbor. I just want to point out something about those text messages. We're being very cautious about them, because there are reports of several of them going around, and we have talked with parents who showed us on their smartphones some of these text messages, but they're forwarded to them from parents who received them forwarded from another parent.

So, we haven't actually met someone who has said this is a text message from my child. And we do know that at least one of these text messages has been determined to be a hoax.

So, we're quite cautious about that, but we are keeping our eye on it. Now, the conditions, as you can tell, are awful right now. They've gotten (AUDIO GAP) the rain has gotten heavier. Just to give you an idea of what those (AUDIO GAP) about 20 kilometers behind me, that's where the accident site is. Three civilian divers today actually lost their way during high tide, and then they were rescued by fishing vessels. So, that just goes to show you how difficult this has been today.

Now, we've been speaking with family members. We did speak with one mother who talked about how she convinced (AUDIO GAP) this is the resort island that the ferry was headed to. Now, she and her daughter had actually gone two months ago, and her daughter was very reluctant to go again, but her mother encouraged her to go on this field trip.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My daughter said to me, mom, I don't want to go there, because I went there again, a time again. So, I said to her, I think this trip will be a very great experience for you, for your school days. So, I'm very regretted. I'm very regretted --


CHIOU: As you can see, that decision is just weighing on her today. Now, the president of South Korea, Park Geun-hye, visited the accident site hours ago and met with some of the search officials, and then she spoke publicly. She said, every second, every minute is precious.

And one of the family members earlier, before the president had come, had said, "We need the president to come and command the situation here because we need more things and more results as we head into this second day" -- John.

BERMAN: Of course, this deals with the search, Pauline. No word yet on what might have caused this ferry to sink, costing what could be hundreds of lives.

Our Pauline Chiou for us in South Korea -- thanks so much.

ROMANS: All right. Now, to the breaking news in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. This morning, analysts poring over data collected by the Bluefin-21, the unmanned, underwater vehicle that spent its first full day scanning the bottom of the ocean for any debris from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Just moments ago, we heard from Malaysia's transport minister for the first time in days. He's insisting the search will continue until that jet is found.

Miguel Marquez live in Perth with the latest.

Miguel, tell us more about what the transport minister is saying this morning.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, he's also saying something else interesting, which is echoing what the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told "The Wall Street Journal," that if they don't find anything -- and Tony Abbott put about a week's time on this -- if they don't find anything within that week, they're going to have to figure out a plan B.


HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIAN TRANSPORT MINISTER: There will come a time that we need to regroup and reconsider. But in any event, the search will always continue. It's just a matter of approach.


MARQUEZ: Now, it is a little concerning for individuals that are hearing this now, because there was a lot of hope, given that the number of pings that they had, that the prime minister here in Australia said were good information that would lead them to the wreckage site, that is still expected to happen.

The Bluefin-21 getting under water and taking the best bite of the apple so far, down for a full 16 hours, a massive, massive data dump that they will now pore through and try to figure out exactly what it saw down there. It will be up for four hours and then it will go back down again. It may already be back down there.

The P-8, the Poseidon aircraft, a very sophisticated U.S. aircraft, there are two of them here on scene. Each one is flying each day. They are also searching at the same time over the surface of the water, looking for any debris from that plane still.

And the oil that they did pick up yesterday is now in Perth being analyzed, and experts tell us that if it is from that jet, it will have a very fine chemical signature and fingerprint, and they will be able to tell very quickly if that oil is from that plane. That is the one piece that is missing here. They have heard a ping, kind of a shadow of this jet, but they have no physical evidence so far that it is down there. They still believe that they will find that soon. If they don't, they're going to have to readjust their plan but keep looking.

Back to you guys.

ROMANS: Miguel, are they confident they're looking in the right place? MARQUEZ: Well, this is the best information they have. Look, they have a series of pings in the south Indian Ocean. The strongest ping and the most likely area where that plane is, that's where they're beginning that Bluefin search. They have now determined using the Echo, the ship, the bottom there is about 4,600 meters, about 16,500 feet down.


MARQUEZ: They have reconfigured the Bluefin-21, so it can go down to those sorts of depths, and they believe now they are really ready to begin scouring the bottom of that ocean and get a very good sense of it.

We may hear news today. It's about that time they will have gotten through that and we may have news before the sun goes down here.

Back to you.

ROMANS: All right. Keep us posted. Miguel Marquez, thanks.

BERMAN: You know, as Miguel was talking, the search for the bluefin submersible, it is a slow and painstaking process. It was so much ground to cover. It could be many weeks before all those square miles are searched in that search zone in the area completely mapped.

So, one of the questions a lot of people are asking is why not just bring in more of these unmanned subs to speed the whole thing up?

As our Tom Foreman explains, it's really not that simple.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The search above the water has involved dozens of planes and ships scouring thousands of square miles, so why not do the same thing below the water with this submersible robot? Why not have more than one bluefin down there? Let's talk about that. We start with the basic premise here.

What does the Bluefin do? It goes back and forth over the surface, we refer to it as mowing the lawn, taking sonic images of the ocean floor, looking for any anomalies out there.

So, theoretically, you could put in five or 10 or 20 of them, and you could have them do the same thing, and that would cut down the time dramatically. You'd be talking about covering it in a matter of days, maybe, instead of weeks or months.

So, why is that so hard?

This is why. First off, there's an issue of availability. There are only about 100 of these in the world. One being used right now costs about $3.5 million.

So, you have to find everyone who bought them out there -- governments, research agencies, businesses who bought them for a purpose, who are using them, and say give up your work and hand them over to us for an indefinite period of time for this hunt. That's a tall order to fill.

Secondly, you have to have support teams for these. You need to have technicians, scientists who know how to program them, how to read the data off of them, how to maintain them, how to even put them in and out of the water. This thing weighs about 1,700 pounds. It's like lowering a small car into the water and retrieving it over and over again. It is difficult and it is dangerous.

And lastly, there is the issue of the terrain. We've talked about this many times, but we have this image that they're just going down to a flat ocean floor to map it, but that may not be the case at all. It could be much more like this with hills and crags and valleys and these vessels could be going up and down and intersecting with each other and doing all sorts of things that make it so much harder than it may appear.


BERMAN: No one, of course, watching this more closely than the families of those who are on that plane, and this morning their anger is starting to boil over. In just a few minutes, we're going to go live to Beijing -- no, I think we're going to go there now? No, in a few minutes, where Ivan Watson will have the latest. That's coming up.

ROMANS: This morning, eastern Ukraine seems precariously closer to war with attackers overnight going after Ukrainian military base. A shoot-out leaving three dead and dozens more detained, a day after civilians hijacked Ukrainian military vehicles and tried to stop the government's efforts to push pro-Russian militants out of the region.

President Obama is putting the blame for all of this on Russia, saying the Kremlin is destabilizing the region and supporting those militias, issuing this warning to Vladimir Putin. Listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What I've said consistently is that each time Russia takes these kinds of steps that are designed to destabilize Ukraine and violate their sovereignty, that there are going to be consequences. They're not interested in any kind of military confrontation with us, understanding that our conventional forces are significantly superior to the Russians.


ROMANS: Diana Magnay live in Moscow with the latest on this conflict in Ukraine.

Diana, any reaction yet to the president's words from the Kremlin?

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, no. Today, Vladimir Putin's attention is really focused on his own domestic audience. He has just in the last 12 minutes started his annual Q&A session with the people of Russia, where you can call in, and apparently, already in the last week, 2 million Russians have called in to present their questions to Vladimir Putin.

And the first question that was put to him is what do you think of the events unraveling now or going on right now in Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine? He said that the use of force there was a very serious crime and that today's negotiations in Geneva, where you have the E.U., U.S., Ukraine and Russia all sitting down at the table, all discussing a possible peaceful solution to this situation are extremely important. So, this is a very important moment for Vladimir Putin.

Apparently, we heard from the moderators just before this talk began that it wasn't really -- the bulk of the questions haven't necessarily been questions, they've been statements of support, a lot of statements just saying thank you for Crimea, and that really shows you the sentiment of many people here. They feel, you know, Crimea, now a part of Russia, it has now come home, that watching the events in eastern Ukraine with concern. They're angry at what they see as the Western propaganda against Vladimir Putin, against a supposed Russian involvement in eastern Ukraine, which the Russian president clearly denies.

And it will be interesting to see how this sequence of events or sequence of comments pans out. Normally, this takes a very long time. Last year was the record, where Putin answered questions for four hours and 48 minutes. And you can expect that a lot of Putin watchers around the world are going to be listening to see what he says about his intentions, possible empire building, what's going to happen in Ukraine, et cetera, et cetera, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Diana Magnay for us in Moscow -- thank you, Diana.

BERMAN: Crucial session of ask Vlad on the phone.

ROMANS: Or tell him how much you love him.

BERMAN: Tell him how they love him. Yes, tell him how much you love him or if you really, really love him. That's how it goes there, I think.

ROMANS: Right.

BERMAN: New information this morning about the man police say brought a rice cooker in a backpack to the anniversary of the Boston marathon bombings.

ROMANS: Plus, a fire truck slams into a packed restaurant. The latest pictures from the scene, next.


BERMAN: This morning, a Boston area art student is set to undergo a psychiatric evaluation after a bomb scare near the finish line of the Boston marathon. Police arrested Kevin Edson, also known as Kayvon Edson, for carrying a rice cooker in his backpack on the anniversary of the marathon attacks. I think that was a controlled explosion right there.

He was dressed in black, screaming "Boston strong" when police stopped him. Prosecutors say he told police it was a performance and that the art student suffers from bipolar disorder. Edson is being held on $100,000 bond.

ROMANS: Some restrictions may be lifted on Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, as he awaits trial on charges he was responsible for the deaths of three people at the marathon and an MIT police officer during the manhunt afterward. A federal judge ruling the accused terrorist should be allowed to see autopsy photos and is considering allowing Tsarnaev to meet with his sister outside of the earshot of investigators.

Opening statements today in a Manhattan courtroom in the terror trial of the so-called hook-handed terrorist. Radical Muslim cleric Sheik Abu Hamza al-Masri. Prosecutors say his fiery sermons delivered in London and preaching violent jihad influence 9/11 co-conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and attempted shoe bomber Richard Reid. Al-Masri faces multiple charges, including plotting deadly attacks in Yemen and setting up a terror camp in Oregon. He is vowed to take the stand in his own defense.

ROMANS: Nearly one month after the ground gave way northeast of Seattle, the death toll from the catastrophic landslide still rising. Two more bodies have been recovered, pushing the official figure to 39, with up to six people still missing. Search teams have combed through hundreds of acres of muck for over three weeks. Scientists say unusually high rainfall and weak hillside contributed to that slide.

BERMAN: One person in critical condition this morning after this dramatic crash near Los Angeles. Two fire trucks collided at an intersection, sending one barreling into a restaurant. 15 people, including at least six firefighters, were hurt. Fire officials say both trucks were racing to a house fire. The cause of the accident is still under investigation.

ROMANS: Today, investigators trying to figure out what was behind an explosion at a Tennessee ammunition factory that left one dead and three hurt, one of them critically. The blast ripped through a packing area for shotgun shells, touched off a brush fire nearby. Federal ATF agents are among those taking part now in that investigation.

Heroin addiction now claims more lives in some American communities than violent crime or car crashes. That's according to top U.S. law enforcement officials meeting in Washington. Attorney General Eric Holder said a recent surge in heroin availability, a spike in purity has become a national problem, which, quote, "kind of sneaked up on us." The seizure of heroin increased 87 percent between 2009 and 2013.

BERMAN: Have some progress in the battle against diabetes. Federal researchers say rates of amputations, kidney failure, heart attacks and strokes have fallen sharply over the past two decades. From 1990 to 2010, death rates from high blood pressure and heart attacks dropped by over 60 percent, even though the number of Americans with diabetes more than tripled to nearly 26 million during that period. Type 2 diabetes often related to obesity, saw the largest increase.

ROMANS: Tests are due back today on the water supply of Portland, Oregon, after the city had to dump some 38 million gallons of water because a 19-year-old urinated in a public reservoir. Water from that reservoir goes directly to homes, and officials say there's no way to re-treat it, so they got rid of the water as a precaution. The teen and two others with him were cited by police and could face additional charges.

BERMAN: That is gross with consequences.

ROMANS: That's one expensive leak.


ROMANS: All right, breaking news.

Amid the slow, painstaking search for Flight 370, Malaysian officials admit they may have to change their approach here as families of those on board say investigators are keeping them in the dark. We're live next.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone.

This morning, the families of the passengers on Flight 370 say they have had it, a day after many stormed out of a briefing in Beijing, calling Malaysian authorities liars. The families have now put out a list of 26 questions that they want answered about where the investigation stands right now and just why the Australians are so convinced that they do know the rough location of where the jet went down.

James Wood is the brother of Philip Wood, the only American adult on Flight 370. He says all they want is the truth.


JAMES WOOD, BROTHER OF PHILIP WOOD: Anger is my main motivator right now. I don't think that's too weird to say that, either. But I'm trying to direct that anger into something productive and useful, and I think that's why we're actually headed in this direction of asking these questions and trying to use the anger and channel that energy into something that is actually going to get us some answers and some truth to everything.

There's no transparency. There's a lot of information that's provided downstream. Is the information given to them, is it copies of information? Is it just tidbits of information? Are we getting the whole picture?

And from the families' perspective, we're getting very little bit of the picture.


BERMAN: Ivan Watson is live in Beijing, where so many of the families on board Flight 370 have been gathered for weeks.

Ivan, you know, we hear the frustration there in James Wood's voice. We know many of the families feel like that, for sure.

Do they expect that these questions will help solve anything?

WATSON: John, it's remarkable that the attitudes and the anger of the families, the 153 Chinese nationals who were on board that missing plane, really echoes that of James Wood's. I mean, the anger in the conference room behind me in this hotel, when Malaysian officials step forward, is truly palpable.

Yesterday, a walkout after Malaysian officials, a technical glitch. They couldn't succeed in having a video conference with the Chinese families, so the Chinese staged a mass walkout. Today, a representative of the Chinese embassy -- Malaysian embassy, rather, didn't even bother to appear in front of the families of these very anxious people, instead leaving a statement to be read by a Malaysian airlines official, and you had passenger families, representatives of them basically yelling out into the conference room, "Where's the embassy? Where's the ambassador?"

Now, the Malaysian officials are now trying to answer some of these questions.

And to just give you a sense of the distrust, the Chinese families, they published a list of questions from Monday of this week, very technical questions, in which they ask, for instance, who manufactured the black box aboard Flight MH-370? What is the serial number? How many of these kind of emergency locator transmitters were on board that plane? Where were they located? Give us the maintenance logs for that.

So, you hear the family of an American passenger, you hear families of Chinese passengers. They want transparency, they want information. The Malaysian representative who appeared from Malaysian Airlines, he tried to reassure the Chinese families today that a high-level technical committee will come to meet with them and answer some of these very technical questions at the beginning of next week.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Malaysian government in a press conference in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, he announced that he would do all his best to, quote, "Keep families informed and to reduce speculation," and this is key, because what I'm hearing from the Chinese families here is a lot of suspicion, a lot of mistrust, and many of them suggesting that there is some kind of conspiracy here to keep information away from them, of course, charges that the Malaysian authorities deny.

BERMAN: No doubt, channeling that frustration, Ivan, into these details, into these theories. Our Ivan Watson in Beijing. Thanks so much.

ROMANS: Breaking news this morning. A frantic search for hundreds of teenagers who are missing after their ferry suddenly sank. The very latest on that search-and-rescue, next.