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South Korean President Blasts Ferry Captain; "Unprecedented" Operation Against Al Qaeda; Finding Flight 370; Biden Heading to Kiev

Aired April 21, 2014 - 04:00   ET


ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: Unacceptable and unforgivable. South Korea's president lashes out at the captain and crew on a ferry that overturned, leaving dozens dead and hundreds still missing. Divers are back in that ship, a grim task as they hunt for survivors and victims. We are live.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight: an unprecedented operation against al Qaeda in Yemen, dozens of suspected terrorists killed at a training camp and elsewhere. We're live with the very latest this morning.

KOSIK: Eight missions done and still no sign of Flight 370. An unmanned sub is scanning the ocean floor again today, but is it even looking in the right place? As we find out more about the plane's trip off course. We are live in Australia and Malaysia tracking the search.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Alison Kosik.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. It is good to be with you this Monday morning.

KOSIK: Good morning.

BLACKWELL: It is April 21st, 4:00 a.m. in the East.

And we're beginning this morning with the search for more than 200 missing passengers from that South Korean ferry disaster. The actions of the captain and crew described as akin to murder by South Korea's president, with four more crew members arrested this morning. We're also getting new information about the chaos that unfolded in the moments before the vessel capsized and ultimately sank.

Let's get the latest from Will Ripley, live off the coast of Jindo, South Korea.

Akin to murder. Strong words from the president, Will.

We're having problems with will's shot? All right, we'll try to get back to Will Ripley in just a moment.

KOSIK: And we will. So, breaking overnight, a massive, unprecedented operation targeting al Qaeda in the peninsula is ongoing at this hour. At least 30 militants killed by air strikes, part of a joint U.S./Yemeni offensive.

Let's get the latest from international correspondent Mohammed Jamjoom. He's in Washington this morning and joins us on the phone.

Good morning to you.


As you said, this is an unprecedented operation in Yemen. This is taking place in a part of Yemen that it is very rugged, it's very mountainous. It's the kind of place in that country where Yemeni troops don't usually dare to venture because it is so dangerous and it is such a hub for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is the most dangerous and threatening wing of the al Qaeda organization in the entire world.

This organization has been able to try to plot massive and spectacular attacks against not just the U.S., but also various parts of the Middle East from within their hideouts in Yemen over the past several years. This operation now sees Yemeni commandos, according to my sources, on the ground in various parts of the (INAUDIBLE) provinces. We're also told that at least 30 militants have been killed in the raids that took place over the course of the past 24 hours.

The last two days, we've seen drone strikes happening in Yemen as well as air strikes. These are joint U.S. and Yemeni-led attacks against al Qaeda. And my sources are telling me this is a response to a video that was released by AQAP in the past week, showing a lot of AQAP leadership meeting in this part of Yemen.

That video was seen as a real embarrassment to both the U.S. and the Yemeni governments, and as far as counterterrorism efforts over the last few years and trying to vanquish the leadership of al Qaeda. So, my sources tell me they really wanted to send a message, they wanted to go in and strike hard at the core of al Qaeda militants in Yemen and show them they're going to do all they can to really put down that organization once and for all -- Alison.

KOSIK: Was this deliberate provocation by using this video in the way they have?

JAMJOOM: Well, that's a very good question, because AQAP has been a lot more silent this past year than it usually is as far as how provocative they are, as far as the types of attacks that they claim they will carry out. But it looks, at least by what I'm hearing from the Yemeni government and the officials there, that they took this as a provocation and that they wanted to respond in a way that showed AQAP that they were not afraid to go after them.

But this is rare for Yemeni commanders to be on the ground in this type of part of the country. Yemen is a kind of a place where it's very easy for militants to get into, it has very porous borders. This organization AQAP that's based in Yemen is very, very dangerous and they have a lot of hideouts. And the fact that the Yemeni government is actually on the ground there, that is significant.

I will say one more thing -- over the course of Sunday, it was very unclear at the beginning of the day what exactly what happening, how many attacks have been carried out, and if the operation was ongoing. In fact, there was a lot of skepticism from Yemeni officials I was speaking with about if this was just a propaganda effort on behalf of the Yemeni military. But throughout the course of the day, and especially over the course of the past few hours, we understand that it is a massive operation, that it is ongoing, and that the Yemeni government and the U.S. government are really trying to make a point with these attacks -- Alison.

KOSIK: OK. Mohammed Jamjoom, thanks so much.

BLACKWELL: Let's get back to Will Ripley in South Korea on for the latest on the search for survivors from that capsized ferry.

Will, more arrests and some very strong words from the South Korean president.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Victor, yes. I'm sorry, my audio's cutting out a bit. We have a weak signal out here, but I believe you talked about those crew members who were arrested today, along with the very strong language from President Park here in south Korea, where she essentially compared the actions of the crew and the captain who evacuated and got on lifeboats before many of the passengers did, as akin to murder. That sentiment is shared by many people here in South Korea that we've been speaking to.

But right now, the real focus, in addition to seeking justice, which is a process that will take months and even years to come, the real action is out here on the water where I am, as we look over at this massive search operation where you have hundreds of volunteer divers who have been essentially working every hour that they can, going down into this ferry.

There are five ways into the ferry, and we know that these volunteers have been going down using ropes that are guiding them through --

BLACKWELL: All right, some technical issues there, but Will Ripley reporting from the yellow sea near the scene of that capsized ferry. We'll get back to him later this morning.

Let's get the latest now on another search, the agonizing search for Flight 370.

Overnight, the Bluefin-21, that autonomous underwater vehicle, completed its eighth trip to below the ocean surface and has now started its ninth. Still no sign of the missing jetliner, with two- thirds of the underwater search area now covered.

Let's go to Erin McLaughlin. She's live in Perth, Australia, this morning. Erin, it seems as if this portion of this search is wrapping up and still no answers, day 45.

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Victor, and weather could be a factor in the search over the coming days as well. We're hearing of a tropical cyclone named Jack striking to the northwest of where they're searching for debris, and that could, of course, complicate those efforts, very difficult to spot debris as it is. Australian officials saying that it's unlikely that they'll find any sort of debris at this point.

So, the fact that this cyclone, which is not making a direct impact on the search area but could cause more waves and more swells, could make it even more difficult. But for right now, the focus of this search effort very much on the work of the Bluefin-21, currently on its ninth mission as of this morning. It's traversed about two-thirds of this very narrow search area with no signs of the plane so far.

And this is a really critical area, because this is the place where Australian authorities believe is the most likely location that they're going to find the black box, based on the very limited information that they have. What they're doing is they've really focused in on the second ping that was detected on April 8th, and it lasted for around 13 minutes. It was the strongest of the four signals picked up by that towed pinger locator.

So, what they're doing is they're searching in a 10-kilometer, or 6- mile radius around that point. They've got another third to go, but Australian officials saying that they expect that portion of the search to be wrapped up in the coming days, provided that the weather holds and the Bluefin-21 operates as it should, still no signs of the missing plane. Authorities in Malaysia and Australia are going to have to stop and assess what to do next -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: Nothing on the surface, nothing below the surface found just yet.

All right. Erin McLaughlin in Perth, thank you.

KOSIK: It really is a frustrating search as this investigation continues into the disappearance of Flight 370. And aviation sources in Malaysia are giving CNN a more detailed analysis of the final flight path taken by the missing jetliner. We're also confirming the plane was equipped with four emergency locator transmitters designed to send a signal to a satellite in the event of a crash or contact with water.

Now, no one can explain why those ELTs apparently failed to activate.

Sumnima Udas is live from Kuala Lumpur this morning.

Good morning.


We're getting information in bits and pieces, but what we know right now is this particular plane had four ELTS, which is as you mentioned, were designed to go off as soon as they come into contact with water, or crashes. In this plane, there was one in the rear door, in the front door, in the cockpit and the fuselage. So, really, one of those should have gone off, but they didn't, and a lot of people here are asking why.

This question was posed to authorities here as well just a few days ago, and they said that they simply don't have the answer to that. And I should also mention that it's not unusual for these ELTS not to go off. In fact, there's been crashes in the past where they haven't actually worked.

The other information we're getting from a source, that right after that plane made that famous left turn, it actually climbed to about 39,000 feet, which is just a little bit below that 41,000-feet maximum for a Boeing 777, and then it descended.

Now, why it did that, again, like so many other aspects of this story, still a complete mystery -- Alison.

KOSIK: Sumnima Udas, thanks very much.

BLACKWELL: So, this morning, there is supposed to be a truce in Ukraine, but to the contrary, it could actually be close to a tipping point after a deadly shoot-out. We're live with the latest, next. Stay here.


BLACKWELL: Thirteen after the hour. Welcome back to EARLY START.

Vice President Joe Biden is on his way to Kiev at this hour. He's scheduled to hold talks with Ukraine's acting president and prime minister. Now, tensions are running very high in that region after a deadly shoot-out Sunday in eastern Ukraine shattered an Easter truce and renewed fears of a full-scale Russian invasion.

Phil Black joins us live from Donetsk, Ukraine, this morning.

And, Phil, it seems as if even after the Geneva pact and then the decision two days later to try to renew that, there still has been this instability and it's growing.

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Victor, no change on the ground here. What we saw at the weekend took place at the town of Slaviansk. This is a town that is very much under the control of pro-Russian forces, and they say it was the middle of the night when one of their checkpoints on the outskirts of the town came under attack. They say four cars approached, people got out, opened fire. Those at the checkpoint were able to fight back to some degree. They called for reinforcements, and they say in the shoot-out, ultimately six people were killed, three on each side, and the surviving attackers fled after two of their cars were destroyed.

Now, the pro-Russian people in the town say this attack was carried out by a Ukrainian nationalist group known as Right Sector, and the Russian government supports their claim. Right Sector says it had nothing to do with this, they weren't in the area. And indeed, Ukrainian government security services say pro-Russian forces staged this attack presumably as some sort of propaganda stunt.

So, whatever happened, the implications are potentially quite significant, because already across this region, where pro-Russian forces are in control of towns and infrastructure, those with weapons say they're not going to give up their guns now, which was a key part of that agreement struck in Geneva last week, because they say they don't feel safe. And more than that, the mayor of Slaviansk is pleading with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, to send in what he says would be peace keepers, Russian soldiers to come and protect them, and if they can't do that, then at least send weapons and humanitarian support.

So, from one murky incident comes the potential to further escalate this ongoing crisis, Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right. Our Phil Black reporting for us in Donetsk, Ukraine. Thank you.

KOSIK: Happening today in Boston, 36,000 runners will take to a familiar course one year after terror tore apart the finish line at the Boston marathon. Some are the elite athletes who run marathons for a living, but many others are there to show their support for those hurt in the bombing. Security will be extremely tight, no signs or banners allowed, and no backpacks either. Marathon officials insist it will be the safest place on the planet.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have no reservations at all. I'm not concerned about my personal safety. The only reservation is the same reservation I have every time I stand at the starting line of a marathon, and that's, wow, 26.2 miles is a long way. I hope I can finish.


KOSIK: And coming up in our next hour, we're going to go live to the marathon's starting line. John Berman is there with a family's very personal story of the race. That's next hour here on EARLY START.

BLACKWELL: Breaking overnight, an almost unbelievable story. Listen to this. A 16-year-old boy is recovering this morning after apparently stowing away in the wheel well of a Hawaiian Airlines flight. He made it all the way from California to Maui.

Now, again, it's unbelievable to some. Some people doubt his story. They say it would be difficult, if not impossible, to survive with the lack of oxygen and frigid temperatures at 38,000 feet.

But surveillance footage shows him jumping a fence at San Jose and crawling out of the landing gear in Maui.

KOSIK: Amazing. Nashville and country music fans are mourning the death of Kevin Sharp, a country singer who topped the charts after surviving cancer as a teenager. It's a diagnosis that led to him meeting award-winning producer David Foster and the start of his singing career. Sharp's biggest hits were on his first album, "Measure of a Man," including the number one song "Nobody Knows." Sharp went on to become a spokesman for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He was 43 years old.

BLACKWELL: Fans and supporters are also remembering this morning Hurricane Carter, Rubin "Hurricane" Carter. Most people know him as Hurricane, though. The boxer who spent 19 years in prison for three murders he did not commit. Carter was a contender for the middleweight title when he was convicted in 1967, a case that drew international attention and a Bob Dylan song. His convictions were eventually thrown out back in 1985. And in recent years, Carter lived in Canada, where he died of prostate cancer. Rubin Carter was 76.

KOSIK: Happening today in Washington, singer Chris Brown expected back in court, awaiting trial on assault charges. The case was supposed to begin last week, but the judge delayed proceedings as she considers a verdict in an assault case against Brown's bodyguard. Both Brown and the bodyguard are accused of hitting a man who tried to photograph the singer outside a Washington, D.C. hotel last October.

BLACKWELL: We've got a major recall to tell you about this morning. Kraft Foods is recalling 96,000 pounds of hot dogs because of incorrect packaging. Now, the labels say Oscar Mayer Classic Wieners, but inside, actually, the dogs are made with cheese. Now, there are concerns that the milk in the cheese that could cause an allergic reaction, and consumers are urged to call Kraft if they have questions.

Of course, there's also the question for those who practice kosher dining, the milk with the meat. They have no idea that that's in there. So, make sure you contact the store.

KOSIK: All right, let's get a look at the Monday morning forecast. Chad Myers is here. Good morning to you.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hey, good morning. A lot to cover today, so let's get to it.

A great day for the marathon in Boston, 1,000 flights in the sky. If you're flying today, great flying weather. Maybe only one or two delays out of Dallas and maybe Chicago, but other than that, we are in good shape. High pressure flying out of the East Coast.

It will rain, though, Tuesday into Wednesday night. That's the next front that comes by the northeast coast, and so, for Boston, you're in great shape for today. Doesn't get a lot better, sunshine everywhere for you.

The only potential chance for severe weather is right across Texarkana, down into Dallas, Texas, today. And if you're flying through that middle part of the country, could be bumpy later on this afternoon. So, let's get to it. Spring may be finally getting here -- 72 in D.C., 65 in New York City today. And here's your Boston forecast. If you're going to be running, 9:00 a.m., some of you starting, 48. By the time a lot of you would be done, around 3:00. By the time I would get done around midnight, it will be down around 60 degrees. So, there you go. It's going to be a long day for some out there.

We'll keep watching Jack for you. I know you heard about that story, too. A tropical system that may be affecting the search out here near Australia. But the search, the underwater search is about right there, so Jack not affecting that.

Guys, back to you.

BLACKWELL: Good Boston stroll when Chad Myers does it.

KOSIK: I'd be strolling along with you, don't worry.


Thanks, Chad.

The Mile High City is marking a holiday, and it's all about marijuana. Mile High indeed. We'll take you to Denver, next.


KOSIK: This morning, Denver is cleaning up after thousands gathered to celebrate marijuana. It was the first time for activists and users. They had gathered to mark 420 day since recreational pot use became legal in Colorado. But few seemed to realize it's still illegal to light up in public. Police cited dozens of people for doing just that.

CNN's Ana Cabrera was there to witness it all.


ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tens of thousands of people have come here to Denver, Colorado, what many consider to be the cannabis capital of the country. It's the 420 rally, where people are celebrating the legalization of recreational use and sale of marijuana here in Colorado, also here to call for the end of prohibition of marijuana nationwide. We know that 55 percent of Americans now support some form of legal marijuana, according to our latest CNN/ORC poll, with 20 states now legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes, to help ease pain, to treat cancer patients, even to help with epilepsy.

It's also big business. We've been talking to folks here who own cannabis companies, a lot of vendors who have come to what people are calling a marijuana festival, to sell some of their products, such as their pipes, some of the vaporizer pens.

Technically, marijuana is still illegal to consume in public here in Colorado. So, again, they're trying to educate people about the many different types of cannabis that is now on the market here. We spoke with one woman who actually came here with her 5-year-old son today, talking about how marijuana should be more mainstream and calling this rally a sign of progress and freedom.

Ana Cabrera, CNN, Denver.


BLACKWELL: All right, Ana Cabrera, thank you very much.

We'll have all of your top stories, including the latest on the search for survivors in that South Korean ferry accident. Also, a major offensive against al Qaeda in Yemen.

Stay with us. That's after the break.


BLACKWELL: Shock, sorrow and anger, as divers search a ferry for survivors of South Korea's ferry accident there. The president lashes out at the captain and crew. She says what they did was unacceptable, unforgivable and akin to murder.