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NEW DAY SATURDAY

Seafloor Scan Set to Conclude in a Week; Top Diplomats Reach Ukraine Deal; Ferry Death Toll Rises to 33; Drone Strike Kills 12 Terror Suspects; Divers Trying to Get Back Inside Ferry

Aired April 19, 2014 - 08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: You can hear it. The outrage from families of the students missing on the Korean ferry. Watch a live stream of the recovery efforts. They are doing that helplessness just gives way the fury in the demand for answers.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Forty dives planned for today, 40. As they try to look for more survivors of that ferry and look for bodies. A former Navy diver is walking us through the missions here.

BLACKWELL: The Bluefin AUV has ended its sixth deployment started the seventh in the search for missing Flight 370. This morning, we are learning just how much longer it will be in the water. Your NEW DAY continues right now.

PAUL: It is your day. Your Saturday. Hopefully you can maybe the best of it. We hope. I'm Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. Now 8:00 here on the east coast and 5:00 out west. We begin with breaking news this morning. A suspected U.S. drone strike has killed 15 people, 12 of them al Qaeda suspects, three civilians in Central Yemen.

PAUL: Yes, this is the stronghold extremist group in Yemen there. The terrorist suspects were traveling in a vehicle. Three civilians were passing in another car. This is the same region where a chilling video of al Qaeda fighters meeting with their leader, Nasir Al-Wahashi surfaced on the internet just recently.

We want to bring in CNN law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes, and our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr joining us by phone. Thank you both so much for being here. Barbara, let me start with you. Talk us through the significance, the importance of this strike.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): When we talk about a drone strike in Yemen, what we are really talking about these days is it is either the Pentagon, the Defense Department or the CIA. These are some of the most sensitive, classified missions they undertake. Right now at this point, no one in Washington is commenting on all of this. We are reaching out to all of our sources. The information from the Yemeni government that these people were killed in a very interesting language.

They are saying that amongst the killed were three senior al Qaeda fighters. How senior we don't know. Leadership of the group? We don't know. What was so interesting about the video is we saw, you know, 100 plus fighters plus their leader all together outside and very calm and very relaxed, apparently in no fear of being caught.

If they were now traveling some of the leadership together, that would be an extraordinary breach of their own security because they know they are most vulnerable when they are in vehicles. That's when these drone strikes tend to happen, when they are on the move in vehicles. Why is that? That is because how the U.S. can most readily identify their only getting militants and limit civilian casualties. They may not have been able to do it in this case, but they tried. That is why they go after them in a convoy vehicle. We have to see how this sorts out and who they have.

BLACKWELL: Tom, are there any indicators here considering the timing or CNN's airing of that video of that meeting that indicate to you that the drone strike that's reported today is connected to that meeting and those specific members of al Qaeda?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Good morning, Victor. We don't know that for a fact and I know much was made when Barbara Starr earlier reported the first video of why no drone strikes. I was thinking at that time was it would be a good possibility that there may have been agents, possibly Saudi or others that may have infiltrated that meeting and authorities did not want to get their own people killed because they were providing valuable intelligence staying in the group at that time.

And then now that they possibly separated to some extent and in smaller clusters of terrorists, that they are more prone to being struck now. There might have been the first meeting a great intelligence gathering opportunity for the authorities for the U.S. and for the Yemenis and now they are taking advantage of that what they got out of the first meeting and the intelligence from the first opportunity.

PAUL: Barbara, how imperative are these kinds of videos to, you know, behind the scenes to what is happening at the Pentagon and the DOD and CIA?

STARR: Well, I have to say and I suspect and Tom may agree with me what was so extraordinary about that video and we had not seen that in so long, it is such a large gathering. I had talked to a number of sources and nobody could remember in recent years seeing such a large gathering. This is a part of Yemen that is a stronghold for them. It is very remote and very isolated. Not a lot of people live there, very underpopulated. They had a place where they felt safe.

One source called it the Tora Bora of Yemen. Reminder of the mountain hideouts of Osama Bin Laden at one point. So it was extraordinary in terms of the number of people. How many people got together and how sure they were not going to come under attack. The drone strikes right now are very sensitive and the fundamental issue for the CIA, for the Pentagon right now, when they want to do one of these strikes, they really have to demonstrate to the White House under the rules, everyone they are going after presents a threat to the United States. The president has made it very clear, he wants everything done to limit civilian casualties. If they go after large groups, everybody has to be a threat. And that also is what makes this strike potentially interesting. If they went after a target of about a dozen or more people, how did they know they were all a threat? Had they been tracking them? Had they been watching them before they took this hit?

BLACKWELL: Tom, quickly to you, because we've run out of time. If one of these three senior members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was indeed, one of the leaders, you think they would isolate that and not just three senior members?

FUENTES: Well, I think they will confirm that. It will take a while for them to examine the bodies and do DNA analysis. They will confirm it if it was true.

BLACKWELL: OK. Barbara Starr, thank you so much. Tom Fuentes, thank you as well.

PAUL: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: So right now, hundreds of parents, they are waiting for any word of the fate of their children who have been missing since that ferry tipped over on Wednesday.

PAUL: And you just see it in them. The grief and their desperation. Some of them, you know, still hoping but their hope is fading right now. We know that divers at this moment are heading back into the frigid murky water off the South Korean coast and trying to get back inside the sunken ferry. They were able to get inside the vessel yesterday and retrieve three bodies.

BLACKWELL: That brought the death toll now to 32. It could rise much higher because more than 270 people are still missing. The captain, his third mate and crew technician, all of whom were rescued from the ferry are under arrest. They face charges. Prosecutors say the third mate was at the helm when the ship capsized. The captain said he stepped away for a moment.

Of course, the search continues and the families now of those missing are giving DNA samples to try to help identify anyone who's found.

PAUL: Yes. We want to bring in CNN's Paula Hancocks who is in Jindo in South Korea. So Paula, I understand you got a look at the search operations earlier today. What did you experience? What did you see?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christi, we got about 300 feet away from the area where this ferry actually sunk. There were just two large inflatables on the surface of the water, which were marking the spot where it was. That was the only way you would have known there was a 6,800-ton ferry under the water. There were more than 100 vessels ranging from the very large war ships and helicopter ships and also some very small local fishing ships.

Everybody is trying to get involved in the hope that there may be some survivors under the water. Now the above the water, there was not too much activity. It did not look like an urgent search and rescue operation. What is happening below the water is more important.

We saw a number of dingeys with divers on board. They have tried to get inside today to get to the third floor. Later on this afternoon, when we went back to the same area, the weather conditions had deteriorated significantly. We could not see any more of those divers.

The swell had increased, the water currents, according to the captain on our boat, were dangerous. It shows how difficult the weather conditions have been and how they are making the rescue operation stop/start.

BLACKWELL: Paula, charges have been filled against the captain and crew and third mate. Tell us more about the charges.

HANCOCKS: Victor, there are five charges against the captain himself. Bear in mind, the captain wasn't at the helm at the time of this accident. He wasn't even in the steering room. The charges against him include negligence, causing bodily injury and abandoning the boat. He was one of the first to be rescued.

It is of course traditionally expected of the captain to be the last to leave the boat. He was actually defending what he had done today saying that he didn't believe that he should have -- he was defending the fact he did not tell people to abandon ship even though it was sinking saying that he was worried because there were no rescue boats insight.

So the third mate, this is a woman who was at the helm, she was charged with causing injuries leading to death and also negligence which led the ship to sinking. It wasn't her fault that the ship did make that sharp detour saying, quote, "the steering turned much more than usual." Back to you.

BLACKWELL: All right, Paula Hancocks in Jindo, South Korea. Paula, thank you so much. The divers are confronting rough currents and tough conditions. They tried to get back inside that sunken ferry. We will talk with a retired Navy diver and captain about the challenges they are facing here on CNN's NEW DAY.

Also, the underwater search for Flight 370, it may soon be over, but are investigators closer to finding anything about the black boxes or the wreckage or anything the night that plane vanished.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PAUL: Let's talk about the search for Malaysia Airline Flight 370 this morning because we are just learning in the past couple of hours here that the underwater drone that's been scanning the sea floor should complete its work within about a week, which is much sooner than a lot of experts have predicted.

BLACKWELL: Yes, officials say the Bluefin-21 has captured clear and sharp images of territory that's been uncharted until now although it has not found any trace of the plane. Malaysian acting transport minister also said the next two days could be crucial in the hunt for the jet that vanished six weeks ago with 230 people on board.

He also echoed the Australian prime minister saying that if the search does not yield anything in the next few days, officials may have to -- and these are the two important words here, regroup and reconsider.

PAUL: Today, 11 military planes and 12 ships are scouring a search zone that's been narrowly -- I should say has been narrowed dramatically. Searchers are expected to cover about 20,000 square miles today. They will have to contend with showers, which of course can complicate efforts to scan the ocean surface.

BLACKWELL: Let's talk more now about this critical turning point, this crucial juncture, the phrase that was used this morning. Van Gurley is a former naval oceanographer and Fred Hegg is vice president of Engineering with Falmouth Scientific. He's helped design ping detectors and black boxes.

Fred, I'm going to start with you. So the Bluefin is looking at the unexplored part of the Indian Ocean. Is this hampering the effort to find and recover wreckage from the plane considering we know so little about this portion of the Indian Ocean?

FRED HEGG, VICE PRESIDENT OF ENGINEERING, FALMOUTH SCIENTIFIC INC.: The Bluefin is a high level of technology that is being used right now for the recovery efforts for the vehicle. And by using that, it gives me the impression that they have a pretty high degree of confidence that they're operating the Bluefin in the area that they want to be in.

In the beginning, we heard that they were not sure of the water depths and they brought in a ship, the HMS Echo. The HMS Echo has a multibeam sonar. That kind of gives you a view almost you can imagine it like your satellite view. Looking down and giving you that high level aspect of what the sea floor looks like.

That would aid in creating the missions that the Bluefin would operate in. You have a second level of systems that are deep water towed systems that can look out over a much wider swath, a couple of kilometers or so. The fact that they are using the Bluefin, that is the third tier in the recovery efforts.

That gives me the impression they have a pretty high degree of confidence that they're in the area they want to be. If they aren't, that's why the regrouping effort was mentioned.

PAUL: I was thinking the same thing. Van, I want to ask you, when they say the Bluefin should complete its work within a week, that sounds confident of something. Do you think that -- we have been talking about they know more than they are releasing, but how confident are you that they have that much more to put the time frame on it at this point?

VAN GURLEY, SENIOR MANAGER, METRON SCIENTIFIC SOLUTIONS: Christi, this is the first time they talked about the time frame. They are circumspect with the time lines and zones they are working on. If they are saying that within the next week if they don't find anything, they will take a brief pause. That tells me that they have a smaller target area within the general area where they heard the pings than we previously discussed.

Because to cover that whole area where the four pings were heard, would take more than two weeks. It tells me two things. They have a tighter target area that they are focused on. If they don't find anything, they reassess. Secondly, it indicates as Fred was saying, they learned some things as they have gone through the operation in the last two-to-three weeks and they want to take a planning pause to reassess the tools they want to use.

Because remember, the Bluefin and "Ocean Shield" were all sent to the area in late March before we were looking in the area. You know, they had to make assumptions early on, on what types of gear they would need and that's what they been using. Maybe now they want to take a step back and reassess given what they have learned.

BLACKWELL: So let's talk about another are that over last ten days to two weeks has not been discussed much. If over the next week, these black boxes, the source of the pings, that is not discovered where the "Ocean Shield" picked up those pings. Fred, do you think that reconsideration is what the Chinese reported several weeks ago when they picked up the pings with a hydrophone or is that not credible at this point?

HEGG: Remember our discussions last week, what the sound can do in the water especially in those upper few layers. It really can -- there is a lot of refraction and ray bending and a lot of additional noise from the vessel. So it would be really difficult for me to, you know, say that what the Chinese actually heard with their device that was right at the surface trying to listen three miles down to where the, you know, suspected black box pinger would be, would be a valid assumption.

BLACKWELL: That likely won't be something that will be considered?

HEGG: Well, in my opinion, it wouldn't be considered such like where the towed-pinger locator detected pings for two hours. So a few seconds of detecting something that sounded like pings near the surface with that type of device, I wouldn't expect that to be reliable source.

BLACKWELL: OK.

PAUL: All right, got you. Fred Hegg and Van Gurley, thank you both so much.

GURLEY: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Also this morning, we are talking about this tragedy at 20,000 feet. The death toll is now rising after an avalanche on the planet's highest peak there at Mt. Everest.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLACKWELL: A bomb threat written on a note prompted security screening after a Delta flight landed in Denver. The plane with 157 people on board, the plane landed safely yesterday afternoon.

PAUL: The FBI questioned passengers at a remote airport location and we were told to allow the majority of them to go on their way. We have not heard that they are keeping anybody or holding anyone. They said the majority of them were allowed to leave.

BLACKWELL: Which indicated some weren't. We have not gotten that from them yet. Let's turn to CNN's Nick Valencia to get caught up on other stories making headlines.

PAUL: Good morning, Nick.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, guys. Good morning to you at home. Let's catch you up here at 25 minutes past of the hour. Police arrest a suspect and started shooting at the Los Angeles --

BLACKWELL: Hold on. We can't hear you. No mic on. Other news, Nick. We need other batteries.

PAUL: I don't know if it is you.

VALENCIA: It's the batteries. That's embarrassing.

PAUL: It's not your fault.

VALENCIA: My rookie season.

BLACKWELL: You can't blame yourself for the batteries, Nick.

VALENCIA: It's 26 minutes past the hour. Police have arrested a suspect who started shooting at the "Los Angeles Times" building. The man did not work for the newspaper, but for another company in the building. Witnesses tell the "Times" the man had been depressed and wanted to kill somebody. The building was on lockdown until the area was cleared.

An update now out of Nepal, the death toll is now 13, the Mt. Everest avalanche. The search is ongoing for three others. The dead and missing are sherpa guides. The avalanche hit a group of about 50 people including some climbers. The spring season is the busiest time of the year in the highest mountain. Climbers arrive in April to get used to the altitude before heading up towards that 29,000-foot summit.

Jennifer Gray will update us on the tornado watch in Florida. It has been a relatively calm severe weather season. Some more could come.

PAUL: Just in time. Who knows?

BLACKWELL: Glad we got the batteries working.

PAUL: Thank you, Nick. The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 could wrap up in a week. The Bluefin has been mapping the Indian Ocean in areas we have never seen. We will talk to the Navy captain who works for the company that operates the AUV.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PAUL: It is the weekend. So I hope that makes getting out of bed worth it.

BLACKWELL: Celebrate.

PAUL: (inaudible) a little bit today. I'm Christi Paul. We're glad to have you with us.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell.

Let's start this half with five things you need to know for your NEW DAY. Up first what's happening right now, hundreds of parents are waiting for any word on the fate of their missing children.

PAUL: Yes there's grief, desperation and for some, they are trying to hold out hope, but that hope does seem to be fading. We know that divers at this moment are heading back into that frigid murky water off the South Korea's coast line to get back into that sunken ferry. We do know they were able to get inside the vessel earlier today and retrieve three bodies.

BLACKWELL: That brought the death toll now to 33, but it could rise much higher. 269 people are still missing. The captain, his third mate and a crew technician all of whom were rescued from the ferry, they are under arrest, they face charges. Prosecutors say the third mate was at the helm when the ship capsized. The captain says he stepped away for a moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where were you at the time of the turning?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is not that I was away at the time of the turning I had given the route instructions and while I briefly went to the bedroom to use the bathroom, it happened that way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a story that you were drinking at the time, were you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You weren't?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wasn't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL: We want to talk about the latest developments here with Bobby Scholley he is a retired Navy captain and diver and our Paula Hancocks said a short time ago that the weather is getting worse there. So Bobby, thank you for being with us.

How do conditions above the surface -- since you're talking about the weather -- affect conditions below the water?

CAPT. BOBBY SCHOLLEY, U.S. NAVY (Ret.): Well good morning. The conditions above the surface really are going to play havoc with the diving operations. The divers have to go into the skin of the ship off of those diving ships. They are using surface supply divers. Those are the divers you see that have the yellow helmets on and the air hoses that are feeding the air into those helmets. Those are the type of divers you have to use in this situation to actually go inside the ships.

The scuba divers you see there in the pictures that are in the black rubber rafts, those are the divers that they are using just to go around the outside of the ship looking for survivors and looking at the conditions of outside the ships. Those divers, you can't use to go actually inside the ship to look for the survivors.

So to use the divers going inside the ship, you have to launch those off of the Korean Navy diving ships. And to get them into the ship, the ferry, you are going to have to launch them from the -- off of the ship. You can still get them into the water when the weather conditions are rainy and when you have some high winds and seas, but it is just going to make it very difficult.

The current is the big problem they're facing right now getting those divers into the ship.

BLACKWELL: Our Paula Hancocks also said that there was an oil slick creeping up with a very strong smell. If that is from the ferry and I guess from anything else, what dangers could that pose?

SCHOLLEY: Well, the divers are probably already facing a scenario where they are diving in contaminated water. And that's another reason why they are using the hard hat diving equipment with that helmet over their heads and the air supply going into that helmet. That's the type of diving equipment that we would use in hazardous water, water that is contaminated with the fuel oil and the lube oil that's coming off of the ferry.

To me, I would say that if they are smelling that, that means that some of the engineering spaces are becoming flooded as the ship slowly sinks down to the bottom. And those engineering spaces are usually the spaces that are up -- that are at the very bottom of the ferry which is now the top of the ferry. So as the ship -- the ferry is sinking lower in the water, those spaces, those engineering spaces, are starting to become flooded with water as the ferry slowly sinks down.

But I think that there is still a possibility that there are air pockets in those passenger spaces unless the ferry has completely sunk to the bottom of the water right there that it's at. So I'm sure that they are trying to get those hard hat divers back inside the ship where they found the floating bodies earlier and get them back inside to those places looking for possible air pockets and possible survivors.

BLACKWELL: Yes. SCHOLLEY: There is still that possibility. And they need to get those hard hat divers back in there to continue searching. And I'm positive that that's what they are trying to do.

PAUL: Ok we certainly hope so and for those families as well. Thank you retired Navy captain and diver Bobby Scholley. We appreciate your expertise.

SCHOLLEY: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Also this morning we learned just hours ago that the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle that's been combing the ocean floor in the Southern Indian Ocean, well searching for any trace of Flight 370 will finish its work within a week. That's much sooner than many experts predicted.

PAUL: The Bluefin-21 now on its seventh mission. And although it has not found any sign of the plane officials say it has captured clear and sharp images of the part of the sea that has never been mapped before. We're going to show you those images as soon as we get them.

BLACKWELL: Joining us from Sarasota, Florida Charles Maclin a retired captain in the U.S. Navy and the program manager at Phoenix International Holdings the underwater salvage company that operates the Bluefin-21.

Charles although these images don't show the plane I think what is actually valuable to many people is that we're seeing a part of the ocean that was unchartered before. Talk about the value of the pictures that they are -- they are capturing.

CHARLES MACLIN, PROGRAM MANAGER, PHOENIX INTERNATIONAL HOLDINGS: Well, the value to us is obviously it helps us program the Bluefin or the Artemis and to be able to navigate over those mountains or whatever. I have not seen any images. But that certainly is an important area. I guess the main reason nobody has ever really charted out there is that nobody goes there. And it's a very isolated part of the ocean.

PAUL: The Bluefin-21, we know has been searching. We still don't know where the plane hit the water, though which is a big problem. How important is that point of impact to the AUV's work?

MACLIN: It's crucial because at the point of impact the aircraft will most likely disintegrate and come apart. And the heavier objects the engine, the landing gear will fall relatively straight down from the point of impact. Whereas, other pieces of the aircraft, the lighter ones, will extend themselves over the ocean bottom.

In the case of the Air France 447, the wreckage was strewn over about three quarters of a mile on the bottom at 12,800 feet.

BLACKWELL: Captain Maclin, do you think there should have been more than one Bluefin for this search?

MACLIN: No, actually, I don't at this point. It would be nice if the batteries in the pingers could last 60 days. Because that would give us a lot more time to determine where the pingers might be -- the flight data recorders.

BLACKWELL: Yes.

PAUL: Well Retired U.S. Navy Captain Charles Maclin, we thank you for sharing your time with us this morning for taking time.

MACLIN: Thank you.

PAUL: Sure.

Diplomacy put to the test -- as we switch gears here -- pro-Russian separatists refuse to follow international orders as the top leaders demand they put down their arms. So what's next? And will diplomacy be able to halt violence in Ukraine?

BLACKWELL: Also for ways to make an impact and help the victims of that ferry disaster in the Yellow Sea there in South Korea. Go to CNN.com/impact.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PAUL: Well more disturbing developments in Ukraine this morning. Pro-Russian separatists are defying a new international deal to vacate those seized buildings and are calling for the Kiev government to step down.

BLACKWELL: Yes this is coming after a seven-hour negotiation in Geneva that included Secretary of State John Kerry but even President Obama is not completely hopeful that this deal would immediately work.

PAUL: James Rubin is a former U.S. assistant Secretary of State. Thank you so much Mr. Rubin for being with us. Do you think based on the fact that there is such blatant defiance to this agreement already in the region that there can be a resolution without violence?

JAMES RUBIN, FORMER U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, there is unlikely to be total calm in the Ukraine in the coming weeks and months. There are huge numbers of people who have been influenced by the Russian government by Vladimir Putin to believe that what happened in the Crimea, that is, Russia's invasion of the Crimea, might well happen in eastern Ukraine. And even the fact that Russia still has 40,000 troops hovered right outside the eastern Ukrainian border is evidence that there is very little chance this will be resolved with no violence.

The hope is that Russia will change course that Vladimir Putin will see that the world has rejected his policies of gobbling up his neighbors and that sanctions will be imposed if he doesn't act very soon to convince these people on the ground to desist.

BLACKWELL: So there was a leader of this so-called "Donetsk People's Republic" that spoke to CNN this week and called for a vote to choose sovereignty in that area in eastern Ukraine. Considering the Crimean precedent, do you think that is possible at all? RUBIN: No, I don't. This is an attempt to break off a little chunk of the eastern Ukraine and create separate little fiefdoms led by pro- Russian thugs essentially. That's not going to happen. There is going to be an election in Ukraine in May. And I think if that election goes smoothly across the country that will have a positive effect on the region.

The idea of having a little referendum so that every little city or every little county or every little region can decide to leave Ukraine and join Russia is absurd. I don't think the Ukrainians will allow it. I don't think they should allow it.

Instead, what we have to do is unify the west. We have to all together -- Germany, France, Britain, the United States, Congress, the President -- everybody accept that a fundamental policy is at stake. Will a large country gobble up a little country? And that's what's been going on.

PAUL: But do you see anything that would influence President Putin to back off?

RUBIN: Well, I think it is possible that if Germany and France and Britain join us in firmer economic steps that really cause economic effect -- up to now we haven't really done very much in the economics sphere. We put sanctions some on individuals. But we could begin with the banking sector which is a huge sector that would affect dramatically Russia and crucially, the oligarchs -- the people at the top of the Russian system who care about the international banking system; Putin himself who probably has billions in the bank. If we address that I think it might have an impact.

BLACKWELL: And we will see if this pact actually holds and what the effect will be.

Former assistant Secretary of State James Rubin -- thank you so much for your time and insight.

RUBIN: Thank you.

PAUL: Thank you, sir.

And we are back in just a moment. Stay close.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: Good morning. I'm Michael Smerconish. Coming up on my program this morning, the al Qaeda meeting called one of the largest and most dangerous to date, but should you even be worried?

Plus, should Democrats run from Obamacare? We will look at problem of sexual assaults at U.S. universities and share with you the fascinating story of hostages, murder and a multimillion dollar baseball player. All of that comes on my program at the top of the hour -- Victor, Christi. PAUL: Michael, thank you. "SMERCONISH" airs right here 9:00 a.m. Eastern as he said -- so just about seven and a half minutes away for you.

BLACKWELL: Looking forward to it.

Hey check out this video. Look at this screen. This was captured by CNN affiliate WPLG, in Miami this morning. The National Weather Service just called off a tornado watch there.

PAUL: Jennifer Gray, our meteorologist here, what is going on?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, things are getting better by the minute in South Florida. These rains are moving very quickly pushing towards the Bahamas. And now we're just left with a couple of little showers right around downtown Miami. The lightning has all pushed offshore as well. So better news for the afternoon.

Can't say the same though for the Carolinas -- we're going to be dealing with a lot of rain. We dealt with the rain yesterday -- still coming down today, pushing into eastern portions of North Carolina on Easter Sunday. It is going to be a washout for you especially if you are right along those Outer Banks. And we could see anywhere from four, close to five inches of rain tomorrow in the Outer Banks. We're going to see about a quarter of an inch elsewhere -- still just a little bit of rain leftover here in Atlanta but it is wrapping up for us.

Here is the big picture for your Easter Sunday -- best places to be, the Deep South and the Northeast. Lots of sunshine, temperatures will be warming just a little bit across the south. So very nice for you.

We are going to deal with a little bit of rain in those higher elevations. We're going to see rain in the Rockies as well.

A lot of folks heading to Boston this weekend, a lot of people already there and the weekend forecast looks fantastic. We're going to see a lot of sunshine Easter Sunday, 51 degrees. And then warming to 65 in time for that marathon, as runners get going thought temperatures will be around 44 degrees, guys. It's going to very, very nice weather for the folks in Boston.

BLACKWELL: All right. Some good news there.

GRAY: Yes.

BLACKWELL: Jennifer Gray, thank you very much. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLACKWELL: It's evening right now in South Korea as the death toll continues to climb in that country's ferry disaster.

PAUL: Yes, it has changed a couple of times since we started the show at 6:00 a.m. BLACKWELL: Yes.

PAUL: It is now 33 people who are confirmed dead and 269 -- many of them students who all went to the same high school -- missing as this search continues as we speak.

BLACKWELL: Let's bring in CNN's Paula Hancocks. Paula -- the captain was not at the ship's helm, it was third mate. But tell us more about the charges the captain is facing.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor, there are five charges against the captain at this point, including negligence, abandoning the boat, causing bodily injury and violating quote, "the seaman's law". Of course, he is the captain he should not be leaving the ship until everyone else has left. But as we know and we saw the footage, he was one of the first to be rescued and arrive in the port here in Jindo.

So if he is found guilty of most or all of those charges, he could face anything between five years and life imprisonment. Now, he wasn't at the helm. He wasn't even in the steering room. He said that he had gone to the toilet in his room at the time of the accident.

But it was the third mate, a woman who was in control and she has also been charged. She's been charged of causing injuries leading to deaths and also negligence which led to the ship's sinking. Although she does say that it wasn't her fault, that there was a sharp deviation in the ship's course saying quote, the steering turned much more than usual.

Now earlier this Saturday, we've actually been to the site just a few hundred feet from where they are trying to get the divers inside the submerged hull. It is a very large search operation. Hundreds of vessels are there from the very large war ships to the very small shipping vessels. Everyone is desperately trying to get into that submerged vessel hoping against hope that there is still a chance of survivors inside -- Victor and Christi, back to you.

PAUL: Paula, you were talking about an oil slick in that area. We're going to talk to you about that hopefully in the 10:00 hour. So thank you so much.

Want to know how that might be complicating some things there.

BLACKWELL: Certainly -- and the weather.

And thank you for starting your morning with us.

PAUL: We will see you back here at 10:00 a.m. Eastern.

"SMERCONISH" starts right now.