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EARLY START

Mystery of Flight 370; South Korean Ferry Disaster; North Korea Nuclear Worries; Biden in Ukraine

Aired April 22, 2014 - 05:00   ET

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


ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: EARLY START continues right now.

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KOSIK: Forty-six days and still no sign of Flight 370. This morning, the air search for the missing Malaysian Airlines jet is suspended as an unmanned sub scours the ocean floor again. We are live with the latest.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Begging for forgiveness. The company in charge of a sunken ferry says it is sorry, as divers grimly retrieve the bodies of the victims. We're live with the search for the nearly 200 people still missing.

KOSIK: A show of support in Ukraine. Vice President Biden brings economic aid and U.S. pressure to Kiev as Russia blames the Ukrainian government for breaking a truce.

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

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. Great to see you this morning. It is Tuesday, April 22nd, 5:00 a.m. in the East.

And up first, it is day 46 in the search for Flight 370, but authorities admit, discussions have begun about returning to square one. A tropical cyclone forced officials to suspend the air search overnight. The underwater search is ongoing, but so far, it's turned up nothing of any consequence.

The Bluefin-21 drone making its tenth dive overnight, and there is growing concern that the hunt for Flight 370 may be taking place now in the wrong location.

Erin McLaughlin live from Perth, Australia, this morning.

And, Erin, it is the tenth dive going on right now. The first nine turned up nothing.

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. It seems that hope may be fading fast, at least for just this portion of the search.

Now, four planes actually were up in the air today, despite the fact that that aerial search had been suspended due to weather, and even though officials said that the conditions out there were difficult, even hazardous. It has to be said, for that aerial search for debris, that there have been hours and hours and hours of searching for any signs of this plane and not a single piece has been found. Nevertheless, searchers are dedicated to this. They want to be able to get some sort of closure to the families.

Now, as for the Bluefin-21, it is still in the water, as far as we know, on its tenth mission, having completed its ninth mission earlier today. And this is really mission critical. This is the area where they believe is the most likely place that they're going to find the black box, based on a very limited set of data.

And as of yesterday, two-thirds of this area had already been searched. Australian authorities saying that they could search the rest within the coming days, and if no signs of the missing plane, then they're going to have to really stop and reassess what to do next, possibly broadening out the search area, possibly introducing more submersibles -- John.

BERMAN: How do you broaden that search area, Erin? Because they've been searching based on these pings they believe they heard from the towed pinger locator, they believe came from the black boxes before those batteries ran out. So, if they do expand the search, how exactly would they do that?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, right now, they're searching in the area of the second ping detection, which was the strongest signal they detected. They're searching in a 6-mile radius around that point.

Now, once they've exhausted that, there's been talk of potentially, some analysts saying maybe searching in the locations where the other pings were detected. There's also been talk of maybe just broadening out the search area to search along that arc, the half handshake, so- called half handshake between the Inmarsat satellite and the plane, and that introducing more submersibles, obviously, would allow them to be able to cover more ground in order to be able to do that.

A source within the U.S. Navy saying that the long-term search plan right now, talks of this long-term search plan could last through July -- John.

BERMAN: Months to go. Erin McLaughlin live for us in Perth, Australia, this morning. Thanks so much.

KOSIK: And with each passing hour, the numbers become more grim. The death toll from the South Korean ferry disaster now at 108; 194 others are missing. Divers pulling body after body from the sunken ship. Horrified family members watching it all unfold.

Senior international correspondent Nic Robertson live from Jindo, South Korea, this morning.

Is there any hope for finding survivors at this point?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There still is hope. This is being called a rescue mission, and it won't turn into a recovery mission until the government says so, until there is an official acknowledgement that really no one else can survive.

The family members today, though, another very tough day, a day where they don't know if they're going to get some answers to their questions. Where is their missing loved one?

What we've witnessed on the harbor side today were marine police vessels bringing ashore bodies, transferring them into a temporary tented morgue on the harbor side and then ambulances reversing up, the bodies slowly, very solemnly carried out by stretchers (INAUDIBLE) one per ambulances. The ambulance has driven off, more ambulances coming in.

So, the pace is picking up. So, for some family members, for a few, closure, or certainly, a better understanding of what happened may be coming closer. But, of course, more families, 194 other families of missing people, there are still so many unanswered questions at the moment. The waiting just continues, Alison.

KOSIK: And about those unanswered questions, how much focus has started to shift to what caused this ferry to sink?

ROBERTSON: Well, the focus really is at the ferry itself really is with the divers, the really bad visibility, the difficulty that they're having working on the third and fourth levels of the ship, trying to get in and retrieve these bodies. The focus for them is really very much on the rescue still, not so much the investigation, not trying to examine the ship to see what cargo may have moved around, what damage the ship may have suffered to give an indication of what caused all this.

But we are beginning to get details coming out of some of the court proceedings here. Seven crew members have been charged. Four of them were in court today.

We heard a couple of them talking outside the court, and they were saying that the ship itself lacked stability. They said that this was a historic problem with the ship, that it had undergone renovations and extensions. They didn't know if those were legal or not, but they said this instability issue or lack of ability of the ship to stabilize.

So, this was a problem that the ship had had for some time, and they also talked about how the ship made a sudden and strong turn. They couldn't explain that fully. So, in this way, we're beginning to get an idea of more of what happened, more of the history of this ship, more of the areas the investigators will look into, but physical signs from the ship, not yet, Alison.

KOSIK: Nic Robertson live from Jindo, South Korea -- thank you.

BERMAN: Of course, while the search goes on in the south, there is big news, potentially, from North Korea as well. New worries that North Korea could be on the verge of conducting a nuclear test.

I want to get the latest on this from Andrew Salmon, monitoring developments for us live in Seoul.

Andrew, what's the latest?

ANDREW SALMON, CNN CORRESPNDENT: The latest, we're not really getting much update. We heard this morning that the South Korean defense ministry is seeing through some intelligence, which they're unwilling to reveal source of, increased signs of activity at the test site in North Korea, where the underground nuclear tests were conducted previously in '06, '09 and in 2013.

I should perhaps point out that if a test were to take place right now, that would suggest that a pretty significant acceleration of their program, given that previously, there's been a two to three-year timeline between tests. That having been said, we can't say for sure this is actually an indication that a test is coming.

President Barack Obama will be in Korea on Friday and Saturday. I think if a nuclear test took place during his visit, that would be a pretty extraordinary provocation, even by the standards of the Pyongyang regime.

So, touch wood. Hopefully, this is just activity at the site. But again, coming back, we should say, South Korean officials tell us that, in fact, if North Korea wants to conduct a nuclear test, they have all the personnel, they have all the equipment and presumably the materials in place at the test site. All they need to do is do a little tunneling work, seal the tunnel and then they can basically press the button, just awaiting a political decision from Pyongyang.

BERMAN: All right, Andrew Salmon live for us in Seoul.

As Andrew mentioned, the timing of this, the timing of the signs of activity so, so interesting, because President Obama is now headed on a trip to Asia. He will visit Malaysia, the Philippines, Japan and South Korea as well.

First, the president plans to stop in Washington state. Where he'll meet with families that have been affected by the deadly mudslide northeast of Seattle. The death toll there now stands at 41.

KOSIK: Happening now, Vice President Biden in Ukraine meeting with the president and prime minister, promising U.S. support, but with protesters still demanding independence in the east, will his trip really make a difference? We're live in Kiev with the latest, next.

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BERMAN: Welcome back EARLY START, everyone.

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

So, let's bring in Fred Pleitgen. He's tracking the developments live from Kiev this morning.

Really, two things going on at once there, there are two different parts of the country. Diplomacy in Kiev and action or inaction on the part of pro-Russian activists in the eastern part of the country -- Fred.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you're absolutely right. There's really three things going on at the same time. You still have diplomacy between the U.S. and Moscow as well. Right now, what we're waiting for, John, is a press conference to begin with Joe Biden as well as the current prime minister of Ukraine, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, where we'll hear more details at some of that economic aid and technical assistance that the U.S. wants to provide to Kiev.

Also want to hear some details on how the U.S. plans to help them achieve energy security, because one of the big weapons, of course, that Moscow is using in the standoff right now is the fact that Ukraine is pretty much totally dependent on Russian gas for its energy needs and the U.S. certainly wants to try and find ways, also with western Europe to counteract that as much as it can.

One of the big points, one of the big points that the vice president is going to touch on as well is the fact that he says the Ukrainians have to weed out endemic corruption, which is present both in the political as well as in the economic process. And then, of course, as you just said, you have that situation in the east, where pro-Russian separatists were supposed to vacate buildings that they've been holding for a while as part of that agreement that was reached between the U.S., the Russia, the E.U. and the Ukraine last week, and so far, that hasn't happened. There was an incident over the weekend where there was a shoot-out that went on. Several people were killed in that.

The U.S., of course, also has put forward photos that CNN has obtained that seem to show Russian military members on the ground as part of those separatists.

So, the situation, if anything, in the east seems to be heating up in this environment that the vice president has landed into to try and find some sort of solution to de-escalate the situation, John.

BERMAN: Potentially embarrassing for the vice president if it deteriorates during his visit there. Our Fred Pleitgen in Kiev -- thanks so much.

KOSIK: An update now on what doctors are calling a medical miracle. This morning, the 16-year-old runaway turned stowaway who hid in the landing gear of a jet and flew five hours from California to Hawaii, well, he is with Child Welfare Services. The 767 soaring to 38,000 feet as exterior temperatures plummeted to well below zero. And miraculously, the teen emerged unharmed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. BEN HONIGMAN, ALTITUTE MEDICINE CLINIC U. OF COLORADO: He probably became unconscious rather quickly at that elevation, and perhaps with the cold, and if it was in the range of zero to perhaps 30 degrees, then perhaps he went into what we call this slowing down of the machinery state or hibernation that might have protected him and caused him not to need as much oxygen as normally we would if we were exerting ourselves or even sitting here on TV.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSIK: And police in San Jose say they will not pursue charges, that investigators are still trying to figure out how the boy managed to slip past security.

BERMAN: Amazing story of survival, but still filled with plenty of questions.

KOSIK: Oh, definitely, yes.

Weather, let's go to weather. You know, it's spring, right, Chad Myers?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It is. You know, we had the polar vortex? Now we have like the pollen vortex.

I can barely see you from here.

KOSIK: I feel like a tree sitting here. I want to sneeze.

MYERS: I need windshield wipers for my eyeballs, honestly. They're so -- the pollen is landing on my coat.

But today, it gets better. There will be a cold front that comes through, bringing some rain showers, and that rain will wash away the pollen. We might even see it in the streets.

Seventy for a high today in New York City, 77 in D.C. And here we go. There is the front coming through, washing away some of that pollen, if you're suffering. High pressure in control of the rest of the week here, really pretty much, for us.

Couple stories, one big one, I think. If you're heading out west, a major wind event for Vegas, for Cedar City, even for parts of L.A. There will be dust in the air out there, and that storm moves to the east tomorrow with some severe weather all the way from Nebraska back down into Texas.

Talked about Jack, here is where the air search got canceled overnight because of Jack itself, and now the underwater search. That's where the bluefin is. That's where we'll see some of that big weather for today, maybe even some bluefin problems with that, remnants of Jack, now only 34 miles per hour, but that's what I've got for you today.

BERMAN: Chad Myers, you do know Jack.

(LAUGHTER)

MYERS: I do know that.

BERMAN: You could say that.

MYERS: His last name is Daniels.

KOSIK: Very good, ba, bum, bum. Very funny.

BERMAN: Chad Myers, thanks so much.

KOSIK: European stocks higher after a long weekend, Asia posts slightly slower, and futures in the U.S. are mostly flat after an update yesterday. No matter what stocks do today, though, it turns out most Americans are still skeptical about the market. In fact, there's a new survey by bank rate that shows that 73 percent of Americans are, quote, "not more inclined" to invest in stocks, despite a 30 percent rally last year, which is just jaw-dropping. Only 22 percent of people said they were more inclined to invest.

Americans have a history of buying stocks when the market is high and exiting during a downturn, but not investing at all could be bad news for portfolios, too. The S&P 500 has more than doubled in value since bottoming in 2009 following the financial crisis, and investors who sat on the sidelines are missing the bull market payoff.

BERMAN: No, but I think for a lot of average investors, instead of the institutional ones, I think the scars of the crash --

KOSIK: And so many people say like it's rigged.

BERMAN: There's that, too.

All right, 18 minutes after the hour.

Going after al Qaeda in Yemen, an unprecedented offensive takes aim at the terror network. Dozens killed at a training camp, and now officials want to know just who they hit.

We're live with an update, next.

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KOSIK: This morning, officials in Yemen are trying to make sense of just who was killed in what they called an unprecedented operation against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Mohammed Jamjoom broke the story for us. He is live in Washington with the latest.

Mohammed, what makes this operation so significant?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alison, nothing of this scale has really been attempted in Yemen before. It's not just drones that we're talking about here. This operation has been under way for three days now. It is still ongoing.

It's also -- there are boots on the ground in these parts of Yemen, actual Yemeni commandos going into parts of this country that are real hotbeds of militants, that are controlled by al Qaeda, and they're going after high-value targets there. That's just something that the weak central government in Yemen hasn't done before.

So, it really is a massive scale. You're talking at least 65 al Qaeda-linked militants that have been killed in the past three days in these various provinces. But what's really even more interesting about it is that now that so many of these men have been killed, the hard work for the Yemeni government is really beginning, because many bodies have been taken away to different parts of the countries now.

DNA testing is under way, because what the Yemeni government is trying to do is to identify if any very high-value targets, any core leadership people from the al Qaeda organization were killed in these strikes, because if that's the case, then there is the possibility that these strikes, that this counter-terror operation will be able to actually degrade this group in Yemen, which is so strong, which is considered to be the most dangerous wing of the al Qaeda network.

There's been a lot of speculation these last few days that, perhaps al Qaeda's top bomb-maker in Yemen, Ibrahim al-Asiri, who's so wanted by the U.S. government and the Yemeni government, perhaps he may have been killed in these operations, but the officials that I've been speaking with saying that's all rumor, that's all speculation at this point. It will be several days before they figure out who exactly was killed.

Yemeni officials are happy with how the operation is going thus far, but there's going to be a lot of work to be done. Time and again, even after so many years of drone strikes and other counter-terror operations that have gone on between the U.S. and Yemeni government there in Yemen to try to vanquish this organization, the fact of the matter is, the ranks of this organization are still swelled with new recruits every day, it is resurgent, still very strong, and this group has been able to continue to plot attacks against not just Yemen, other countries in the region and the U.S. from that area, their hub there in Yemen -- Alison.

KOSIK: Knowing that this organization has been around so long, what about the timing of this operation? Why now?

JAMJOOM: The timing is very specific. The reason for that, according to my sources in Yemen, is because of this videotape that appeared in this past week, that was aired on CNN first, which shows top al Qaeda leadership meeting in that part of Yemen, in Shabwa (ph) Province. It shows many of the group's leaders sitting pretty, very comfortable. They're basically showing themselves to be unafraid of the Americans and the Yemeni government.

And because of that, that was a real embarrassment to both the U.S. and to Yemeni officials, and there was a decision that was made. They've got to go in, they've got to strike hard, they've got to strike fast, they've got to send a message to AQAP that they can't feel this comfortable in Yemen.

But the fact of the matter is, again, this is a sad realization, but al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula does on many occasions feel quite comfortable in Yemen. Yemen is a very poor country with a weak central government, and that organization has really been able to thrive there, despite years of drone strikes and other type of counter-terror operations that go on all the time that are joint efforts between the U.S. and Yemen -- Alison.

KOSIK: OK, Mohammed Jamjoom, live from Washington -- thanks.

BERMAN: It is 25 minutes after the hour right now.

Coming up for us next, all the developing news overnight, including the search for Flight 370, missing now for 46 days. Also, the latest on the desperate effort to find survivors in that capsized South Korean ferry. We'll tell you all about it after the break.

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