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"Unacceptable, Unforgivable"; "Unprecedented" Operation Against Al Qaeda; Finding Flight 370; Biden Heading to Kiev; Boston Marathon: One Year Later

Aired April 21, 2014 - 04:30   ET


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: 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. We're live with the latest.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight, dozens of suspected terrorists killed in Yemen as the government there goes after al Qaeda. Drones are in the air, commandos are on the ground. We are live with the late-breaking details.

BLACKWELL: Back in the water, an unmanned sub is scanning the Indian Ocean again today for any debris from Flight 370. But so far, no sign of the jet, as many ask, are they even looking in the right place? We're live with the latest on the search and the new details CNN has learned about the investigation.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Victor Blackwell.

KOSIK: And I'm Alison Kosik. It is half past the hour.

"Unacceptable and unforgivable", harsh words from the president of South Korea, describing the actions of the captain and crew from that tragic ferry disaster. She goes on to call their behavior akin to murder, as South Korea officials announce the arrest of four more crew members this morning. We're also getting new information this morning about the chaos that unfolded in the moments before the vessel capsized.

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

Good morning to you.


The search continues here in force, and you can see there's a number of ships, number of aircraft behind us right now, but the real action is happening under water. That's where hundreds of volunteer divers have been working tirelessly, diving down into the ferry and also the area around the ferry, searching for victims and also searching for survivors. I spoke with the head of the volunteer divers today, and he says, as unlikely as the odds may be, as we are now six days into this search, he believes in his heart that there is a chance that someone could still be alive inside the sunken ferry Sewol, and he says they're going to do whatever they can to try to find those people, to try to find any air pockets.

But with each hour passing, hope is fading, Alison, because sadly now, since the day of the disaster, all that the divers have been able to recover are bodies. And we know that today, the divers were trying to get into the third-floor cafeteria. That's the part of the ferry where we believe many of the students were at the time that the water started rushing in.

We haven't gotten an update in several hours, so we don't know if divers have reached the cafeteria or what exactly they're finding there, but if other previous instances are any indication, and there were a number of students in that particular gathering space, what they find, Alison, could be a very terrible sight, indeed.

KOSIK: Are families still holding vigil there?

RIPLEY: They are. They are. They're gathering at the shore. We saw -- today, we saw a monk who was offering prayers and song, facing out into the ocean in the direction of where the ferry went down. There are also along the shore, there are people who have placed offerings. As part of the Buddhist religion, they place offerings to the gods, offerings for support, for love, for strength for the people who were on the ferry and also their families.

And I have to tell you, it's been raw emotion, so many tears. I saw a mother walking out of the tent earlier today where the bodies were being identified, and she was making a wailing noise, the kind of noise that only a parent would make after losing a child. It was very difficult for all of us to listen to.

So, you can only imagine the anguish that these families are going through.

KOSIK: All right, obviously, devastating. Will Ripley, live off the coast of Jindo, South Korea -- thanks.

BLACKWELL: Breaking overnight, deadly air strikes targeting al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. They're described by Yemeni officials as massive and unprecedented. The operation ongoing right now. At least 30 militants have been killed by the joint U.S./Yemeni offensive.

Now, let's get the latest from international correspondent Mohammed Jamjoom. He is in Washington.

Mohammed, good morning. And what's the latest here?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Good morning, Victor. Well, to give an example of just how significant an operation this is, this offensive is taking place in a part of Yemen that the military would usually not dare to enter, because it is such a hot bed of militants. There are so many al Qaeda battalions there. This is a part of Yemen called Abian (ph), and we learned of a massive operation going on there. This is a joint U.S./Yemeni-led operation.

At this point, we know at least 30 AQAP militants have been killed in this operation. We also understand that there are Yemeni commandos on the ground there going after high-value targets. Still a lot of questions about who exactly has been killed, and has anybody from the top tier of leadership of AQAP, which is the most dangerous wing of the al Qaeda network in the entire world, which is based in Yemen, how many high-value targets or top-tier leadership of that organization may have been hit or are still being gone after.

This is the kind of operation you would never have expected the Yemeni government to really have undertaken. Yemen has a weak central government. They have been dealing with a resurgent al Qaeda for many years. That's why they get so much help from the U.S.

What we know is that the Yemeni government was quite embarrassed by a videotape that was released last week that showed leadership from al Qaeda there in Yemen meeting in this province. And because of that, because it was such an embarrassment to the efforts of the U.S. and the Yemenis, they wanted to show a massive show of force. They have done so. The operation is ongoing.

Still a lot of questions as to how much longer it will be going on or how many more militants may be killed or captured, but as of this stage, my source is telling me they're very happy with what's happened so far -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: Mohammed, that characterization of the air strikes as massive and unprecedented, that comes from a Yemeni government source, but there's also another official who is concerned about that characterization, says that maybe it's propaganda from the Yemeni military hoping to convince Yemenis that the U.S. and Yemen have turned the corner.

Is that an isolated concern or is this concern of propaganda more prevalent?

JAMJOOM: That is not an isolated concern and it's a very good question. And, in fact, when details were first emerging about this operation yesterday, most of the officials that I was speaking with in Yemen were quite concerned. They said, look, the details are murky. They said it's not above the Yemeni government to put out statements that makes it sound like top-tier al Qaeda leadership may have been captured or killed or that this operation is bigger than it initially sounds.

But as, of course, the day wore on, it became clear that the operation was the biggest one that they have launched yet in Yemen, that they were trying to make a point with the U.S. government that al Qaeda shouldn't be so brazen in how they release these tapes, and as far as how comfortable they feel there in Yemen, but it's going to take a lot of work for the Yemeni military to really accomplish something here, because Yemen is a country that is a hub for militancy, it has very porous borders. The AQAP network is very well established there and they have many hideouts.

And frankly, after years of drone strikes and other strikes against that network, that network is, according to many analysts, as strong as it's ever been and continuing to recruit people there -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right. International correspondent Mohammed Jamjoom reporting from Washington -- Mohammed, thank you.

KOSIK: Still no sign of Flight 370. Overnight, Bluefin-21, that's the autonomous underwater vehicle, completed its eighth trip below the ocean surface and has now re-entered the water for its ninth dive. Two-thirds of the underwater search area has now been covered without a trace of the missing plane.

Let's get right to Erin McLaughlin. She's in Perth, Australia, this morning.

Good morning to you.

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alison. As you said, that ninth dive currently under way, that according to Australian officials just about an hour ago.

This is a really critical time in this search, because they are searching the area they believe is the most likely place that they will find the black box based on the very limited information they have. Namely, they're really focusing in on the second ping that was detected on April 8th, a ping that lasted some 13 minutes. It was the strongest of the four signals picked up by the American-operated towed pinger locator.

And what they're doing right now is searching a 6-mile radius around the point of that detection. And as you've said, they're two-thirds of the way through so far, and Australian officials saying it will take another few days or so to complete that search.

If at that point, still no signs of the plane, authorities in Malaysia and Australia saying they're really going to have to sit down and assess what they're going to do next, on the table, possibly broadening out the search area along that arc that the half handshake that occurred between the Inmarsat satellite and the plane.

There's also been talk of exploring, introducing more submersibles into the mix as well, but we're really going to have to see. Time will tell. And people here waiting, hoping, even praying that some signs of this plane will be found -- Alison.

KOSIK: Erin, is there this expectation that that sort of plan B, that next search area is really going to have to happen at this point because nothing seems to be coming up in the current one?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I think it's really important right now, officials focusing on exhausting this current area, which again, they believe is the most likely place that they'll find the black box. It's really important to them that they either be able to rule it in or rule it out of the search. If they do rule it out, of course, they're going to say possibly broadening out that search area. They're certainly at this point saying they are not going to give up, Alison.

KOSIK: OK. Erin McLaughlin live in Perth, Australia -- thanks.

BLACKWELL: So, that's the latest on the search. There is some potential progress on the investigation front. Aviation sources in Malaysia are telling CNN more detailed information and giving more detailed analysis of the final flight path taken by the missing jetliner, now also confirming the plane was equipped with four emergency locator transmitters designed to send an emergency signal to a satellite in the event of a crash.

Now, no one can explain why they apparently did not activate. Flight path taken by the missing jetliner, now also confirming the plane was equipped with four emergency locator transmitters designed to send an emergency signal to a satellite in the event of a crash. Now, no one can explain why they apparently did not activate.

Sumnima Udas is in Kuala Lumpur this morning, joining us on the phone.

Sumnima, what is the impact of this information?

SUMNIMA UDAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Officials have basically determined that this plane had four emergency transmitter locators, one in the front door, the rear door, in the fuselage and in the cockpit. So, practically, one of those four should have really gone off. But they didn't. And authorities here say they simply don't know why it didn't.

But I should mention, it is not unusual for these ELTS not to go off. There have been past plane crashes where they haven't worked, but it's a question that families in particular keep asking authorities, because many of them, of course, still believe the plane was hijacked and did not crash into the ocean, which is why, perhaps, those ELTS didn't go off, and this is what the families are saying.

Also, some update on the flight path. A source tells CNN, right after MH370 made that left turn, while they were still inside Vietnamese air space, it actually climbed to 39,000 feet, just short of that 41,000- feet maximum operating limit, and it maintained that altitude for about 20 minutes over the Malaysian peninsula just before it began to descend.

Now, again, why did that, like so many other questions of the story, is still a complete mystery, but what it does tell us is that perhaps someone was steering that plane -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: Still no definite answer on why. Sumnima Udas, thank you for reporting there from Kuala Lumpur.

KOSIK: This morning, Vice President Biden is on his way to Ukraine amid new worries that a fragile truce there could be falling apart. We're live with the latest next.


KOSIK: Welcome back to EARLY START.

Vice President Biden is headed to Kiev this hour. He's scheduled to meet today with Ukraine's acting president and prime minister. Tensions running very high in the region this morning after a deadly shoot-out Sunday in eastern Ukraine shattered an Easter truce.

Phil Black joining us live now from Donetsk, Ukraine, this morning.

Phil, what is the vice president hoping to accomplish in this trip?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's all about consolidating the control of the government in Kiev, backing its authority, and then ultimately, trying to put an end to the uprisings, which we've seen here across the east of the region.

And as you say, there was a significant escalation, in a sense, here over the weekend in the form of what pro-Russian forces say was a bold attack on one of their checkpoints outside a town, Slaviansk, which they control. They say that some cars drove up in the middle of the night, people got out and opened fire. And in the shoot-out that followed, six people were killed, three on each side. They say the attackers fled after two of their cars were destroyed.

Now, the pro-Russian groups here blame a Ukrainian ultranationalist group known as Right Sector, for this attack. The Russian government has publicly backed that view. Right Sector itself has denied any and all involvement, and the Ukrainian secret service here has said that, really, they believe the pro-Russian groups were responsible for staging this as some sort of propaganda event.

Now, whatever happened, the implications are pretty significant, because the people in these pro-Russian controlled towns are now saying they're not going to give up their weapons, which was a key part of the international agreement struck last week to end this. And more than that, you have people now here in these pro-Russian towns calling for the Russians to send in soldiers to protect them. So, whether or not this was a bold attack, or if it was some sort of propaganda stunt, either way, it was a very clear attempt to escalate the tension here on the ground, Alison.

KOSIK: OK, Phil Black reporting live from Donetsk, Ukraine. Thanks.

BLACKWELL: Happening now, divers are working in the waters off South Korea, desperately trying to find survivors from that deadly ferry accident. More than 200 people are still missing. We'll take you there and tell you what those divers are experiencing, next.


BLACKWELL: This morning, the death toll is rising again in that deadly ferry accident off the coast of South Korea. Divers have now found 64 bodies, many of them high school students trapped when the ferry overturned, but more than 200 people are still missing. A transcript of radio communication from the bridge to shore shows confusion from the crew and suggests the passengers could not reach lifeboats because the ship tilted too quickly.

South Korea's president, she now calls what the captain and crew did akin to murder, as officials announce the arrest of four more crew members.

And as divers continue their grim task, former Navy sub officer David Jourdan tells CNN's Brianna Keilar that searching for survivors and victims is physically demanding, and really, mentally exhausting.


DAVID JOURDAN, FORMER NAVY SUB OFFICER: There are physiological limits to how long they can stay under water, and they're racing against the clock as they're trying to maneuver their way through these dark corridors. And of course, the vessel is not upright, so everything is inverted or at some funny angle. It's impossible to see. If you see anything, it may be in an unfamiliar orientation.

So, the divers are incredible people who have to deal with really quite a large combination of factors. And in the end, they're hoping to find really kind of a gruesome result. There's a story, actually, just back in December of a Nigerian cook who was found after two days under water in a capsized vessel, and the divers were in a similar situation, searching for bodies and were incredibly surprised to come across a live person, but that was only two days, and that was quite remarkable.

Even at these relatively shallow depths, about 100 feet, in the cold water, it's a very difficult condition to survive in for more than a short period of time. So, it's pretty unlikely, and I think the divers' job, as has been described, is really quite a sad job.


KOSIK: And we will continue to bring you the latest on the search off the coast of South Korea all morning long.

But first, marathon day in Boston, a year after bombs shattered the finish line. What's being done today to keep the race safe? That's next.


BLACKWELL: Coming up on the top of the hour, and it is marathon Monday in Boston, and today, 36,000 runners will take to the streets, one year after that deadly attack on the finish line. The theme for today's race seems to be "Boston Strong," with racers saying they're doing it in honor of those who no longer can run because they were hurt when the bombs went off last year. Marathon organizers say the route will be the safest place on the planet this year. No signs or banners allowed, no backpacks either. Runners are not worried.


JERI CONBOY, MARATHON RUNNER: 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.


BLACKWELL: And coming up in just a few minutes, we'll go live to the marathon's starting line. John Berman is there with a family's very personal story of the race. That's right here on EARLY START.

KOSIK: Breaking overnight, a major security breach at a California airport. A 16-year-old boy apparently stowed away in the wheel well of a Hawaiian Airlines flight. He flew all the way to Maui at 38,000 feet. That has some doubting his story. After all, there is very little oxygen at that altitude, and the air is almost frozen. But officials say they have surveillance video showing the teen jumping a fence at San Jose's airport and crawling away from the plane in Maui.

No clear winner yet in Afghanistan's presidential election, with about half of the ballots counted. Former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah is in the lead, but he needs to reach 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff, growing more likely with other candidates getting 30 percent-plus. Final results are expected to be announced Thursday.

BLACKWELL: Nepal is warning it could cut off expeditions to the top of Mt. Everest for the rest of the year after an avalanche killed at least 13 Sherpa guides on the mountain. Three others are still missing. Many of those guides say the work is too dangerous for the small amount they're paid and they're threatening a strike. An American adventurer, Joby Ogwyn, he has now canceled his wing suit jump on the mountain slated for next month.

KOSIK: Officials in Wyoming say a landslide threatening the town of Jackson is slowing down again, but is still threatening to bury homes and businesses in that resort town. The landslide has already destroyed one home. It's advancing at about an inch a day. Still, they say it's unlikely the hillside will suddenly give way, like in Washington state, which left 39 dead.

EARLY START continues right now.


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

KOSIK: Breaking overnight: an unprecedented operation against al Qaeda in Yemen. Dozens of suspected terrorists killed at a training camp and elsewhere. We are live with the very latest.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And one year later, Boston hits the road. A marathon marked with tragedy in 2013 is filled with hope today and filled with very tight security.

BLACKWELL: Good morning, and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Victor Blackwell.

KOSIK: And I'm Alison Kosik.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman.