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46 Days Since Flight 370 Went Missing; Hope for Ferry Survivors Fading; Biden to Meet with Ukrainian Leaders in Kiev; North Korean Provocation?

Aired April 22, 2014 - 04:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Anger and frustration. Forty-six days after Flight 370 disappeared, this morning, part of the search has been suspended. After nine missions under water turned up nothing. We're live with the latest on the search and what the families are saying this morning.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: Nearly a week after a ferry capsized, hope for survivors starting to fade. Divers are searching the ship for the almost 200 still missing, as the ship's operator apologizes and asks for forgiveness. We're live on the coast with the very latest.

BERMAN: And it could be another provocation from North Korea. New signs this morning that the country is testing its nuclear capabilities on the eve of President Obama's visit to Asia.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. A lot going on this morning. I'm John Berman.

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

And we begin with the first sign that authorities may be re-evaluating the search for Flight 370. Overnight, a tropical cyclone forced officials to call off the air search. The underwater search is ongoing with officials now confirming discussions have begun about taking the hunt for Flight 370 back to square one.

Erin McLaughlin live from Perth, Australia, this morning. This search has turned up nothing.

Is that what the conclusion is?

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So far, Alison, and that decision to suspend the air search today, well, before they took that decision, four planes had actually gone out to continue with that visual search for debris, two Australian military aircraft, a Chinese aircraft, as well as a U.S. plane. That despite what has been described as dangerous, hazardous and difficult conditions.

Now, that being said, the weather not affecting the operations of the Bluefin-21. As far as we know, still on its tenth dive. It completed its ninth mission as of this morning. Now, yesterday, it had covered about two-thirds of this very critical search area. Not clear how much more ground it was able to complete in that ninth dive, but Australian authorities saying they do expect it to wrap up this narrowed search area in the next few days. And as I said, it's a really critical area, because this is the place that has been identified as the best guess as to where the black box could be, given the very limited set of information that they do have to work off of.

Australian and Malaysian authorities already discussing what to do next, if and when this portion of the search finishes, and there are still no signs of the missing plane -- Alison.

KOSIK: I know they're going to start sort of from square one, but any idea sort of where the next search will take them and what will lead them there?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, a source within the U.S. Navy saying that all the key stakeholders are discussing this right now, possibly a long-term search, the source said, lasting through July. And they're talking about potentially a broader search area, something perhaps along that arc that was created, the half handshake between the Inmarsat satellite and the plane. So possibly broadening it out, introducing more submersibles, some analysts also talking about a search around some of the other points where they picked up those pings or acoustic detections.

Right now, they're searching the area around the second acoustic detection, which was detected on April 8th. It lasted a total of 13 minutes. And they're searching a 6-mile radius around that point, because they've identified that as the strongest signal. But it's possible they could try and do the same for the other signals that were detected in the area as well.

So, all options are on the table, but at the moment, all eyes on the Bluefin-21 as it completes this more narrowed, more probable search area -- Alison.

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

BERMAN: After 46 heartbreaking days and nights, many Flight 370 families are reaching their breaking point. They are furious with Malaysian officials because they were supposed to be briefed Monday by technical experts who could address their questions and their theories, but without explanation, that briefing was canceled.

Our coverage continues now with senior international correspondent Ivan Watson live from Beijing.

And, Ivan, it really just seems to be one thing after another between these families and the officials from Malaysia.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's incredible, John. In the week that I've been here in Beijing with these families -- you know, last week, the Malaysian officials tried to set up a video conference with a team of technical experts in Kuala Lumpur.

All the Chinese relatives gathered in a hotel conference room. There was a big screen, and there was a technical glitch. There was no audio, and the two sides couldn't hear each other, and the Chinese families stormed out in anger out of the hall.

And then, the Malaysian officials promised to bring a team of technical experts to answer questions about the last moments that the plane was believed to be in the air, before it's believed to have crashed into the Indian Ocean. They were supposed to sit down with the Chinese families on Monday here at Beijing's Lido Hotel.

And instead, what happened? Another last-minute change of plans. A Malaysian diplomat sat down in front of a packed conference room and said, you know what, the Malaysian government has decided now is not the time to answer your questions, which I might add, had been submitted in writing. Instead, there is going to be a new team that will come in 24, perhaps 48 hours, that will sit down and talk to you.

Well, that triggered just an explosion of emotion. I mean, for almost three hours I watched, one by one, the Chinese relatives get up crying, cursing, yelling, in some cases begging for some kind of information from the Malaysian authorities.

This is a very unhealthy relationship right now between the Chinese families here and the Malaysian government, and certainly, their representatives on the ground, who have had to face these families day after day.

Today, the Malaysian authorities announced they're not sending anybody to sit down with the Chinese families -- John.

BERMAN: A very unhealthy relationship. That might be an understatement at this point.

All right. Our Ivan Watson in Beijing -- thanks so much, Ivan.

KOSIK: A grim, heart-wrenching scene in South Korea this morning, the death toll from that tragic ferry disaster rising to 108 now; 194 others remain missing. Divers pulling one lifeless body after another from the sunken ship, while devastated family members look on.

Nic Robertson's live from Jindo, South Korea, this morning.

Nic, at this point, is this still considered a rescue mission?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is, and that's what authorities say. They're not ready to give up yet. There's still that hope that some people may be holding out in air pockets aboard the ship, according to all the experts, and the families here know this and understand this as well. The probability, possibility of that is very, very unlikely. People just don't survive this long, almost a week now, in such conditions.

Dehydration, other issues set in. But this is still a rescue mission. The pace of it does seem to be picking up. The recovery of bodies we've seen at the harbor side today more and more bodies being brought ashore by marine police vessels and then loaded slowly, solemnly into ambulances, and then ambulance after ambulance lining up to take these bodies away.

So, you can see how the divers are becoming more effective. Yet, they still have so many more missing people to account for -- Alison.

KOSIK: And obviously, you know, officials have their hands full in pulling the bodies from the water and trying to, hopefully, find survivors. But is there any focus on what made this boat sink?

ROBERTSON: I believe we're beginning to hear some details of that emerge. I mean, one instance was outside the courtroom today, where four of the crew members were charged today. Two of the first helmsmen, one of the second helmsmen, the chief engineer, they were asked questions and they responded along these lines, that the ship had turned, it was unexpectedly leaning, it was leaning more than they could compensate for.

They even said that this ship historically had a problem with not being able to compensate with the leaning. Also, they talked about the fact there had been renovations, repairs, expansion to the ship. They were asked whether or not those were legal. They said that they weren't sure, but the issue with the stability of the ship has been sort of predated the expansion, the building expansion done aboard the ship.

So, you can begin to see where the investigators are going to look. But as about concrete details yet from the ship, nothing yet that we're told that pertains to precisely why this incident took place.

KOSIK: OK. Nic Robertson live from Jindo, South Korea, thanks.

BERMAN: There is other big news developing this morning on the Korean Peninsula, word that North Korea could be closer to conducting a nuclear test.

Let's go straight to Andrew Salmon, who's live in Seoul monitoring this situation.

Andrew, what can you tell us?

ANDREW SALMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not a great deal, I'm afraid. What we did here this morning from the South Korean defense ministry was that signs of activity have been seen at Pungari (ph), which is the underground nuclear test site in North Korea, which was the setting for underground nuclear test in 2006, 2009 and also 2013.

What those signs are, the defense officials are being very tight- lipped. There are some unconfirmed reports there's more vehicles, more personnel moving up there, even some screens being placed to prevent satellite reconnaissance seeing what's going on.

But those reports are unconfirmed. All we know is that the South Korea government is taking this very, very seriously. They set up a special task force to monitor the situation. So, although we can't say a nuclear test is imminent, it certainly looks possible.

BERMAN: All right, Andrew Salmon in Seoul, South Korea.

Signs of activity. What's so key about this also is the timing, of course, with the events going on in South Korea with the ferry disaster, but also this -- President Obama is heading for Asia this morning for a long-delayed trip. He'll visit Malaysia, the Philippines, Japan and South Korea as well. On his way there, he'll stop in Washington state to meet with families affected by the deadly landslide-mudslide northeast of Seattle. The death toll there now stands at 41.

KOSIK: This morning, the U.S. is promising more support to Ukraine. Vice President Biden is in Kiev for critical meetings with the interim government, but will it be enough to quiet tensions with Russia? We're live with the latest, next.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone.

Vice President Biden is meeting with Ukraine's top leaders in Kiev this morning, a show of support for the country's embattled interim government. But in the eastern part of that country, pro-Russian gunmen are not letting up, seizing more government buildings in dozens of cities and towns.

I want to bring in Fred Pleitgen. He's live from Kiev this morning.

Fred, what can you tell us about what's going on in both parts of the country?


Certainly, a very difficult diplomatic environment the vice president has landed into. As you said, here in Kiev, what he's doing is he's meeting with these top-level officials. On the one hand, he's going to promise them extra economic aid from the U.S., and he also wants to work on energy security for Ukraine.

One of the big issues they have is that they're fully dependent on Russian gas, and the U.S. wants to find ways to mitigate that. Another very important thing for the U.S., however, is it's going to tell -- Vice President Biden is going to tell the Ukrainian officials that they have to combat corruption, which is in the political system as well as economic system in this country, because there are elections coming up soon, and the U.S. firmly believes that those elections need to be successful to take some of those arguments away from the Russians, who are, of course, saying this country is on the brink of civil war.

When you look to the east, certainly, the situation there is not getting any better at this point in time, John. Instead of vacating some of those buildings in the east of the country, those pro-Russian separatist militias have taken another building in the town of Kramatorsk. They have taken a police station. So, they now have buildings in 12 cities and towns in the east of the country.

So, the situation there certainly not de-escalating, and that, of course, makes it very difficult for an agreement that was signed in Geneva last Thursday that calls on the Russians to vacate those buildings and lay down their arms, John.

BERMAN: Whatever the agreement and whatever authority Vice President Biden may bring with him to Kiev, it does seem what the United States lacks is any kind of leverage to force these pro-Russian militants in the east to do anything.

Is there any way U.S. officials believe they can make that happen?

PLEITGEN: Well, the U.S. is really in a very delicate situation at this time. On the one hand, they want to increase pressure on the Russians, because they believe that the Russians are the only ones with any sort of leverage over the pro-Russian protesters in the east. In fact, the U.S. put forward photos that CNN reporters have obtained, showing that some of these people who occupy those buildings in the east of the country apparently have been seen as being part of the Russian military in campaigns in the past, so they certainly believe that the Russians have involvement and they certainly believe that the Russians have leverage over these people.

So, what the U.S. wants to increase pressure on the Russians on the one hand, threaten additional sanctions on the one hand, but also always keep that diplomatic line open. In fact, there is still quite a good working relationship between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of State Kerry. They talked last night. Right now, they're still pretty far apart, but certainly, the U.S. working a two-pronged approach on that.

But you're absolutely right, the leverage at this point in time is limited, and the U.S. believes if there is any sort of leverage, it's going to have to come via Moscow.

BERMAN: And Moscow showing no sign they're trying to influence those Russian militants at all.

All right. Fred Pleitgen in Kiev, thanks so much.

KOSIK: He's lucky to be alive. A 16-year-old stowaway who hid inside a wheel well on a flight from California to Hawaii. And this morning, we're taking a closer look at how he may have survived being 38,000 feet in the air. That's next.


KOSIK: This morning, a 16-year-old stowaway who apparently hid out in the wheel well of a jet flying from San Jose to Maui is in the custody of Child Protective Services and will not face charges, despite breaching security at two airports. Doctors say he's lucky to be alive. When the jet hit 38,000 feet, the lack of oxygen and cold could have killed him.

The teen says he fell unconscious, and that's how he survived. But how did he get into the plane with no one noticing?

CNN's Gary Tuchman went to an airport to find out. Take a look.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is southern California aviation airport in Victorville, California, in the desert, where airlines all over the world are bringing their planes they're not using anymore. We're going to demonstrate to you how someone would get in a wheel well of an aircraft.

This is a Boeing 767 that used to be used. This is the door that is closed, but there is a way to sneak in a hole to get into the wheel well, and we'll show you how the process would start, according to experts here.

Someone would get on the tire, one of the two tires. Step on the bars right here, climb all the way to the top right here, and this right here is where an opening would be to climb into the landing gear wheel well. Once someone would climb through that hole, they would end up here.

And I'm going to show you what happens after they climb through the hole. They get in this area. This is the wheel well area, and we're told there is only one place to sit where you could possibly survive, because when the wheels move in, the two huge wheels, they come right here. There's no room, except for right here in this spot.

And this is where the experts say you would have to sit with your knees close to you. The wheel well would close, the two tires right here, and this is the only place where you could possibly survive. There is nothing stupider in the world to do, but this is where you can do it.


BERMAN: A deeply committed reporter right there, Gary Tuchman.

KOSIK: He almost fell, yet he kept on going.

BERMAN: Yes. You should have heard him when the plane started taking off. He was really worked up then.

All right, history made in Boston, one of the most wonderful days you will ever see. We'll tell you all about it.


BERMAN: Boston is still glowing this morning after the 118th running of the Boston marathon. More than 35,000 participants were on the course, hundreds of thousands more spectators lined the streets for 26.2 miles to celebrate the city and the spirit. This, of course, a year after the bombings at the finish line.

This time, it was an American who topped the field of elite male runners for the first time since 1983. It was 38-year-old Meb Keflezighi, who said afterwards he had one thought on the course, Boston strong. That, my friends, is Boston strong. Look at that picture.

Kenya's Rita Jeptoo was the female winner. She was a repeat winner. She won last year as well. They were joined by thousands of survivors, families and friends, who all crossed the finish line.

I've got to give a shout-out to Kevin White, a guy I profiled last year and again yesterday. He finished the race, his first marathon, after shrapnel in his leg after last year's bombing, finish the race about five years.

KOSIK: From the fans to the people running, just feeling proud.

BERMAN: Great day.

KOSIK: We could soon find out more about the Obama administration's legal reasoning for killing an American citizen overseas. A federal appeals court has told the justice department to release key parts of a classified memo used to justify the killing of Anwar al Awlaki. Intelligence officials say he was a member of al Qaeda and killed him in a 2011 targeted strike in Yemen.

The judges said the administration could no longer claim privacy, since it has talked openly about the killing, and even issued a white paper defending the attack. It's unclear when or if the memo could be made public.

BERMAN: Two planned executions in Oklahoma are on hold this morning after the state Supreme Court stepped in to a battle over the source of the state's lethal injection drugs. The inmates, Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner, challenged the constitutionality of a law allowing the state to keep the source of the drugs secret.

Both were convicted of rape and murder. The state says they will die. It is just a matter of how and when.

KOSIK: A federal appeals court has now been asked to weigh in on the legality of the FAA's ban on private drones. A Texas-based group that searches for missing people wants the right to use unmanned aircraft in its searches, saying the FAA has no authority to ban them. An administrative law judge ruled last month that the agency couldn't find a videographer for using a drone because it was essentially a model airplane. The FAA is appealing that ruling.

BERMAN: The Boy Scouts are saying no to a scouting group near Seattle, formerly revoking its charter over the refusal to fire a gay scout master. The beach United Methodist Church says Eagle Scout Jeffrey McGrath is a good leader and will remain, so the scouts say the troop can no longer use the official logo or badges or call itself a scout troop. The church plans to affiliate with another group.

Let's take a look at weather. Jennifer gray has an early look at weather now. JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: John and Alison, your forecast for today, showers east of the Mississippi, anywhere from South Louisiana, all the way up through the Carolinas and even pushing into the Northeast for today. None of those expected to become severe. High pressure will stay in place across the country's midsection, and possible showers for the Pacific Northwest.

Highs today warm, 80 degrees in Denver for this afternoon. We'll be at 83 in Dallas, and the mild weather continues across the East Coast. D.C. hitting 77 degrees today. And New York City a nice 68.

As we move forward into tomorrow, though, the possibility of severe weather in the Plains, from Texas all the way through Nebraska. We could see anything from damaging winds, large hail, even isolated tornadoes. So, that's going to remain in place for tomorrow across the plains. Sunny conditions across the Southeast, and we'll still see a few lingering showers into the Northeast.

Temperatures tomorrow will stay warm across the South, 85 in Dallas, Memphis at 75. In the 50s, though, across the North -- John and Alison.

KOSIK: Yay, spring. That's all I have to say. Jennifer, thank you.

EARLY START continues right now.