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South Korean Ferry Disaster; Search for Flight 370; Crisis in Ukraine

Aired April 18, 2014 - 04:30   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning: a frantic rescue to save any possible survivors on board a sunken ferry. Two days later, is there any hope the hundreds believed trapped aboard there could still alive? We have the very latest.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening right now, a slow underwater search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The Bluefin sub combing the ocean floor for any sign of the wreckage. This morning, new word that more help could soon be on the way. We're live with the latest.

ROMANS: A diplomatic deal reached to stop the crisis in Ukraine. Russia calling on protesters to stand down and their demonstrations in the street. This comes as a new disturbing twist presents itself. An anti-Semitic flier calling on Jews in eastern Ukraine to register. We are live with the troubling developments in part of the story.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. 32 minutes after the hour right now. Great to see you this morning.

And it is very much a race against time, searching for survivors of a sunken ferry off the coast of South Korea, the confirmed death toll rising overnight to 28. However, that number will almost certainly rise with some 270 people still unaccounted for.

The ship's captain could soon face charges. Prosecutors say he was not at the helm when it capsized. The 3rd officer was in command.

We're told now the ferry is completely submerged. We're learning that divers were able to enter the ferry, but they have found no bodies so far.

CNN's Pauline Chiou live in Jindo, South Korea.

What's the latest on the search, Pauline?

PAULINE CHIOU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, we're getting more information from the coast guards about what the divers encountered. They were able to get into the ship, two of the divers were, and they were able to install a guideline for other divers. This is the line that attaches the divers to the rescue vessel.

But at some point, that guideline was cut off, so they had to come back up, and they also reported that there were many large obstacles in the water. It was difficult to see and the currents are very strong. So, some big challenges.

But we can confirm that the divers were able to enter the ship. They were trying to get to the third level, which is where some of the bedrooms are.

Now, I do want to point out something here at the hospital. I'm in front of Mokpo hospital, John. Within the last 25 minutes, since we last talked, there were 30 ambulances that drove up. They're parked on the side of the road. You can't see it, it's to the side of your screen.

We're being told by the hospital administrator that the central government in Seoul has sent over 30 ambulances with the expectation that the death toll will rise. So, that has just happened in the past 20 minutes or so.

Now, I am in front of a hospital that right now has 13 survivors from this ferry accident. I was able to speak with the doctor who has treated all of them. He told me about a 6-year-old girl that he saw on Wednesday. She survived because her brother, who is only a year older, put a life jacket on her. The two of them were traveling with their parents to Jeju Island.

Somehow, it's still unclear how, somehow, the girl was able to get to the deck, where there were other passengers. She started crying because she was, of course, very afraid. The passengers passed her into one of their rescue boats, so that's how she survived. Her brother and her parents are still missing. Now, the doctor I spoke with told me that when she came into the hospital, physically, she was fine, but here's what he's worried about.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): My biggest concern is after going through this kind of disaster, she may experience post-traumatic stress syndrome, especially when she finds out her parents and brother have died. How she deals with this would be the biggest challenge. In my opinion, recovering from this kind of psychological shock would be the biggest concern.


PAULINE: Now, this little girl's name is (INAUDIBLE). She's from the area outside of Seoul. Now, when she entered the hospital, the hospital staff had no idea who she was, because she has no identification.

She was able to communicate with them. She told them the name of her kindergarten school, so the staff here called her kindergarten outside of Seoul. They talked with the staff there, and they were able to find her aunt and uncle, who came to the hospital to pick her up. So, John, right now, she's under the care of her relatives.

BERMAN: What an image. What an adorable little girl and what a miracle amidst all this tragedy.

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

ROMANS: Now to the search for Flight 370. The Bluefin-21 back in action this morning on its fifth descent to the depths of the Indian Ocean. Analysis of the drone's fourth mission in the underwater search area yielded nothing. The Bluefin has covered 110 square miles so far. Officials say it won't be retracing areas of the ocean floor it has already scanned.

CNN's Erin McLaughlin live for us this morning in Perth, Australia.

Bring us up to speed on the search, Erin.


Well, as far as we know, the Bluefin-21 still engaged in that fifth dive. Overnight, it reached new depths, a fourth dive. It reached some 4.7 kilometers beneath the ocean surface, instead of the 4.5 originally thought to be at the upper reaches of its depth capacity.

And that's important, because as you may remember, it had to cut its first mission short because it reached waters that was too deep for it to be programmed to be able to handle, and therefore, it resurfaced. And this is a really critical area of the search, given it's the most likely place they believe they are going to find the black box.

Now, the engineers have taken a look at the Bluefin-21's hardware, and they now believe it can go to some depths of 5 kilometers, instead of the originally thought 4.5.

So, it's a good sign that overnight it was able to reach that 4.7- kilometer mark, as this search continues. Still no signs of this plane. Tony Abbott, the Australian prime minister a couple days ago saying that it will take them about a week to exhaust their most promising leads, and then they'll assess from there.

The Malaysian, acting Malaysian transportation minister tweeting this morning that they are considering the possibility of deploying more submarines in the water. Of course, more submarines that can perhaps go deeper depths and search for longer periods of time -- Christine.

ROMANS: Erin McLaughlin for us in Perth.

The Flight 370 families are still demanding answers from investigators. They held a prayer vigil in Beijing. CNN's Ivan Watson will be live with details on that in just a few minutes.

BERMAN: Other major news this morning. Expectations were low, but four-party talks produced a deal aimed at ending the volatile situation in Ukraine. Now, the United States says it is up to Moscow to follow through on its pledge to get militants to put down their arms and get out of government buildings that they have overrun in cities in eastern Ukraine.

In the meantime, there is international outrage over these leaflets distributed in the eastern city of Donetsk, in which Jewish people were told to register with pro-Russian separatists.

Our Phil Black is live in that city right now.

And, Phil, such a combustible, historically loaded document, but the authenticity seems very much in question this morning.

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, that's right. But just to take you back to the start, four men were first seen outside a synagogue here in Donetsk, masked men, handing out leaflets. The chief rabbi at the synagogue tells us that when he first read these leaflets, he was shocked and afraid, and that is because they demanded that all Jewish people in this region over the age of 16 register their identities, their property and their vehicle ownership.

And the document said this was necessary because it claimed that Jewish people had supported protesters in Kiev who earlier this year drove out the country's former president. This demand is being made by pro-Russian separatists here in Donetsk. These are the hundreds of people that are still occupying government buildings here, demanding that the region break away from Ukraine and form what they're calling the people's republic of Donetsk.

The man who leads that movement, his name was at the bottom of the document, but we've spoken to him, and he denies any involvement whatsoever, knows nothing of it, says it is some sort of what he says is a provocation.

And that is very much the mood among the Jewish community here, too. They think that someone could be trying to sew fear, perhaps create a pretext for violence, but more than that, they believe that their community is being used as part of a bigger plan, the wider, ongoing political game between people here who want Ukraine to remain one whole nation and those particularly here in the east who are looking to break away, form independent states, or possibly join the Russian Federation.

But it means that someone is trying to inject the ugly idea of anti- Semitism into this ongoing crisis in this country, John.

BERMAN: Political games and a dangerous one given the history in that region. Our Phil Black in the city of Donetsk, thanks very much.

Other news to tell you about. Dramatic, emotional 911 calls after a bus full of high school students crashed. You'll hear from a survivor as she runs away from the fiery wreckage. That's coming up next.


BERMAN: Tragedy overnight atop of the world, a high-altitude avalanche on Mt. Everest killing nine Sherpa guides, leaving three others seriously injured. The group of about 50 Nepali Sherpas were hit by the avalanche at more than 20,000 feet, just above their base camp. Officials say rescue teams have gone to search for other members of this group who are still missing -- a very difficult area to work, though, this morning.

ROMANS: All right, the New York terror trial of Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri now under way. In opening statements, prosecutors describe a man who trained terrorists while hiding behind a cloak of religion. Al-Masri faces 11 terror-related counts, including conspiring to kill Americans in Yemen and planning to build a jihad training camp in Oregon. He is expected to testify.

BERMAN: People in Kansas City breathing a collective sigh of relief after police arrested a man in connection with as many as 20 highway shootings in that area. Police say the suspect was arrested Thursday after a raid at a suburban home. Charges have not yet been filed. The shootings, which began in early March, injured three people and put drivers on edge for weeks.

ROMANS: Former NFL star Darren Sharper is due in court in Los Angeles today. The former New Orleans saint has been accused of drugging and sexually assaulting as many as nine women across five states. Thursday he was denied bail in an Arizona case involving three alleged victims. Detectives there say DNA matching Sharper has been found on one of those women. He's currently in jail in California.

BERMAN: Texas agents have seized the secluded Yearning for Zion Ranch, where the followers of imprisoned polygamist leader Warren Jeffs once lived in near isolation. Jeffs is serving a life sentence after a 2011 conviction for sexually assaulting two young girls he took as child brides. The ranch that the FBI raided in 2008, taking some 430 children into protective custody, was owned by a breakaway sect of the Mormon Church.

ROMANS: Chilling 911 calls released in the horrific California bus crash that injured dozens and left ten people, including five students, dead last week. A FedEx tractor-trailer reportedly smashing into the tour bus carrying 44 high school students. One student who escaped moments before the bus exploded struggled to describe the scene.


OPERATOR: What's your name? Are you still on the bus or are you off the bus at this point?

CALLER: Everyone got off the bus. The bus is on fire!

OPERATOR: I understand that. Are you away from it or are you still on it?

CALLER: Yes, we're getting away from the bus, actually.

OPERATOR: OK. OK. Go as far away as you can safely get, OK?


OERATOR: OK. And what did the bus hit? CALLER: What?

OPERATOR: What did the bus hit?

CALLER: It hit on the -- I guess the left side? It hit the --

OPERATOR: Can you just -- with one or two words, tell me what the bus hit?

CALLER: The bus hit the FedEx truck. The FedEx truck hit into us.


ROMANS: Investigators have returned to the scene north of Sacramento to reconstruct parts of that deadly collision.

BERMAN: Just chilling, chilling sound.

All right, happening right now, a sub slowly combing the ocean floor, searching for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Families of those on board gathering this morning for an emotional prayer service. We're live with that part of the story, coming up next.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone.

Australian officials hoping the fifth time is a charm for the Bluefin- 21 in the search for Flight 370. Analysis from that underwater drone's fourth mission to the floor of the Indian Ocean yielded nothing.

In the meantime, Flight 370 families are still angry, so angry, and demanding answers from investigators in Malaysia.

Last night, they held a prayer service in Beijing, and that's where CNN's Ivan Watson is this morning.

Good morning, Ivan.


The prayer service was here at this hotel in Beijing, actually, just a few hours ago, and it was really a heartbreaking scene, I have to say. You had maybe around 30 husbands and wives of Chinese passengers who were aboard that missing Malaysian Airlines flight sitting on the floor of a hotel conference room, many of them weeping and sobbing as some prayer music was played, sitting in front of a sign that said, "Honey, I don't want to live one more day without you."

So, just an anguished scene there, and if you can imagine these people who have been experiencing this terrible ordeal for more than 40 days, waiting to hear some kind of answer as to what has happened to their loved ones. Many of them, I'm told, still believing that their loved ones are alive somewhere out there, and they're desperate for answers to some kind of questions.

Now, under intense pressure and amid a real firestorm of criticism, the Malaysian authorities have announced that they're going to send a technical team to meet one on one -- not one on one, but rather, face to face with the relatives of the 153 Chinese nationals who were aboard that missing flight next week, Monday, here in Beijing.

The relatives have been coming up with fresh questions, demanding answers, and they're very suspicious, because they feel that there aren't enough answers to what was going on with the plane in its final hours before it was declared missing and where the search has been conducted. They have been demanding, for example, the serial number of the black box aboard the plane.

Today a Malaysian airlines representative said that information simply cannot be given to you. It is basically an investigative secret. Those are answers that are not pleasing the families who are waiting for some kind of an answer here. And again, in anguish as they wait to hear for some kind of further information -- John.

BERMAN: I know, those families are so deeply, deeply frustrated and angry. Not much satisfies them at this point, and that's understandable.

Ivan Watson in Beijing, thanks so much.

ROMANS: The deep-water search for Flight 370 could eventually lead to a manned expedition to retrieve the plane's black boxes.

CNN's David Mattingly is down deep inside the manned submersible to show us what that's like.


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The challenge is, it is an incredibly long list, not the least of which being the tremendous depths you have to go through and the pressure you have to deal with, going all the way to the bottom of the Indian Ocean. We're talking a couple of miles down. There's only a half dozen manned submersibles that can actually go down and do that kind of work.

This vehicle we're in right now is not one of them. We're at the bottom of Horseshoe Bay in British Columbia. I'm with Phil Nuytten, he's internationally known as a deepwater dive expert. You actually develop vehicles like this so people can go deep into the water, places they never have before. And something I've been learning from you, as we've been down here, is how difficult even the simplest move seems to be.

PHIL NUYTTEN, DEEPWATER DIVE EXPERT: Yes, it tends to be quite a chore, no question about it. The biggest attribute you need for this kind of work is patience.

MATTINGLY: And show us. We have a mock-up of a black box, of what a black box would look like down here. It is already in the claw, the device that's on the outside of our vehicle here. And it takes more than ten minutes under the best circumstances for that claw to grab the handle.

Now, watch what happens when we try to put it into the basket that we would need to take it back up to the surface. Go ahead. This isn't something you would think would be difficult, but you have to move by inches here.

This is just two feet in front of our noses, right here, and you can see how tough it is to get that box into the basket. I can feel the submersible moving while we're doing that, so you have to deal with currents, you have to deal with visibility. It would be pitch dark out there, if it weren't for the bright lights on the front of our submersible.

But the point we're making here, you have to move so slowly, because if you drop that box, if you make a quick move, or watch what happens when we turn the propellers really fast, the thrusters on the front. It just blows up the sediment on the bottom. It's sort of like blowing into a handful of flour. You're momentarily blinded. Then you have to stop and wait for everything to settle.

Here it comes in from the side. But it's just so painstaking down here. And these are some of the best circumstances we could have. We're only at 50 feet.

Now, imagine that difficulty multiplied by 200, two miles down. It would just be such painstaking work at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. That is, if they ever find the black boxes and if a human being ever has the opportunity to go down and try and retrieve it.


BERMAN: So interesting.

All right, we'll have the latest breaking news overnight when we come back.