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No Air Pockets in Sunken Ferry; No Success Finding Malaysia Airlines Flight 370; Obama to Asia; Truce Unravels in Kiev; Stowaway Survives; Pujols Hits 500

Aired April 23, 2014 - 04:00   ET


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news overnight, the death toll rising in the South Korean ferry disaster. Divers finding more bodies of people who were trapped inside that sinking ship.

This, as new questions are raised about how long it took the crew to call for help. We are live.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening right now, an intense underwater search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The Bluefin sub has now covered more than 80 percent of the prime search area without finding anything.

Could hope of finding the vanished jetliner be fading fast?

We are live with the very latest.

HARLOW: And in just hours, President Obama arrives in Japan, beginning a week-long diplomatic trip throughout Asia. But it's one Asian world power he will not be visiting that could monopolize that conversation. We'll take you live there as well.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Poppy Harlow.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. It is Wednesday, April 23rd, good to see you. It is 4:00 am in the east. We do begin in South Korea where this morning divers are making their way again through the capsized ferry, looking for survivors, but only finding victims.

The death toll now stands at 150 with roughly the same number still missing. This, as we find out new details of just what happened in the moments after passengers and crew first realized there was something very, very wrong.

Our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is live in Jindo, South Korea.

Nic, we understand the divers searched the ship's cafeteria today. There was a lot of expectation that's where they would find many, many victims.

Doesn't appear to be the case, though, does it?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It hasn't been the case. That appears to have been disappointing for divers. They say they are trying to get to a meeting area on the third floor.

Perhaps what is going to be more troubling is news that's emerging, being reported at the moment by Korean media. We haven't at CNN been able to confirm this yet, but it's reported widely in Korean media that the divers have not found any air pockets on the third and fourth levels of the ship.

Of course we know that they were hoping that the air pockets were going to be the one place people might have held out, where students might have survived. But most of the students were on the third and fourth levels.

So for many of the families, this is very, very grim news, if indeed it proves to be true.

What the divers have said is most of the bodies recovered were from the cabins where the students were located on the fourth floor at the rear of the ship. They are continuing to focus on the third and fourth levels. Of course, this news, if true, about the air pockets is going to be a very tough one for a lot of people who are still hoping against hope their children might have survived -- John.

BERMAN: No, they've been saying it's still a rescue effort, not just recovery. Those air pockets would be essential if there's any hope for survivors. Our Nic Robertson in Jindo in South Korea, thanks so much.

HARLOW: Now, to the search for missing Flight 370. New comments overnight from the Australian prime minister about the search strategy. Tony Abbott, though, is promising they will keep looking until the Boeing 777 is found or until they have searched, quote, "as thoroughly as human ingenuity allows."

An unmanned sub has now scanned more than 80 percent of the search area where officials hope that jet might be. But so far, no debris, not one single piece of debris has been found. That, as families of those on board say they are tired of being stonewalled by investigators. They want answers to their questions.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's just the same thing over and over. They say they are going to send technical experts and then just a mouthpiece shows up. They can't ever answer a question. They never give any information.

So why keep bringing the families through that point of crisis? It doesn't make any sense.

There's a very interesting saying, the definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing and expect a different result. And I think we are in an insane situation right now.


HARLOW: Let's get straight to Erin McLaughlin. She is in Perth, Australia, live for us this morning.

Give me a sense first of what we are hearing from Tony Abbott.

ERIC MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Poppy. We'll just chat about the current search, that aerial search suspended for a second day today due to weather.

Those are the planes that go out looking for debris, though we understand that three planes actually went up in the air today before they decided to make that announcement.

No word on how the weather could potentially be impacting the Bluefin- 21's operations. Earlier this morning we understand it was still on that 10th mission and with 80 percent of the search zone scanned so far, no signs of missing Malaysian Flight 370, which has Australian and Malaysian officials talking about potentially a long-term search plan.

We heard from Tony Abbott today at a press conference alongside the Australian defense minister, David Johnston, in which he, Abbott, reaffirmed his commitment to Australia's role in this search effort. Take a listen.


TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIA PRIME MINISTER: We haven't finished the search. We haven't found anything yet in the area we are searching. The point I make is that Australia will not rest until we have done everything we humanly can to get to the bottom of this mystery.


MCLAUGHLIN: Senator Johnston was also quoted in the Associated Press as saying that they will likely deploy more powerful underwater submersibles capable of going to deeper depths.

He also gave a new timetable for this phase of the operation, saying that it could take them as much as two weeks to completely search the 20 percent remaining in this narrowed area, which is different than what we've been hearing from Australian officials saying previously that this could be wrapped up in a matter of days.

But Johnston saying they wanted to be very thorough about this particular area, given that it is the most likely place where they will find the black box based on their calculations so far -- Poppy.

HARLOW: The family members are so frustrated and so distraught. They were, some of them, supposed to meet in Beijing with Malaysian officials. Yesterday that meeting, for some reason, was called off.

In terms of widening the search area, using more of those submersibles to search, I think a lot of people want to know why more of those underwater devices, submersibles, haven't been used outside of the Bluefin-21.

Is it a cost issue here or is it a resources issue? MCLAUGHLIN: It's not clear what the issue is there. We know the Ocean Shield was scrambling last minute to get out there and get searching for the pings. At that point they were on a very limited timetable. They knew they had about 30 days before that black box pinger battery would expire.

So perhaps that was a factor in their thinking in only using the Bluefin-21. But certainly cost is a factor here although Australian officials said they are committed no matter what to helping and doing their part to solve this mystery.

We know that it's been expensive. Tens of millions of dollars have been spent so far. The Australian transportation and safety board saying that it could cost as much as a quarter of a billion dollars in the long-term, for it's a long search and recovery effort and questions remain who is going to be footing that bill -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Absolutely.

Erin McLaughlin is live for us in Perth, Australia, this morning, thanks so much.

BERMAN: About 10 minutes after the hour right now. It's a very big week in U.S. diplomacy. In just a few hours, President Obama touches down in Tokyo for the first leg of a long delayed trip to Asia. He'll visit South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines. But first he does spend time in Japan. That's where White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski is. Michelle's live in Tokyo.

Michelle, give us a sense of the goal of this long delayed trip.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John, good morning. This is seen as extremely significant by both sides. You might even say pivotal. Ree, this represents that Asia pivot or rebalance as some have called it that the administration has been wanting, especially for President Obama's second term.

The questions are will this be seen by these four nations as credible in the form that it's expected to take, economic, military, diplomatic and what kind of progress could we actually see from this in the near and the long term.

Trade is a big part of it. President Obama is pushing for this transpacific partnership, a trade deal that could involve some 12 different countries. Not for now, China, just as China has been pushing for its own regional trade deal that does not include the U.S.

That's going to be important here in Japan, although, the U.S., some officials have said that Japan really needs to step up more for there to be more progress, needs to open up parts of its economy.

So far, it's been at a point of stalemate. So we are waiting later to hear if there will be any progress in those talks between President Obama and the Japanese prime minister.

But inevitably, other topics are going to come up, mainly North Korea, just as we are seeing what could be provocative moves or preparation for more provocation. That's of extreme significance to South Korea.

Also national sovereignty. Just as we are watching for many weeks now, this Russia-Ukraine crisis, here in Asia some of these countries are involved in their own disputes, territorial disputes with China.

The U.S. has been supportive of those countries in their claims. For example, Japan's claims over some islands in the East China Sea. But, what the U.S. needs to be careful of, they don't want to cause a positioning of this group of nations with the U.S. versus China.

Inevitably, that relationship is going to come up.

What is the relationship?

What kind of cooperation is there?

What will there be moving forward, not only between the U.S. and China but between the U.S. and these countries on this visit, John?

BERMAN: Michelle, so definitely and ironically use the word pivot there. Of course this White House has been talking about a pivot to Asia for years now. Very difficult to do, given what's going on in the Ukraine.

All right. Thanks to Michelle Kosinski in Tokyo, good to see you this morning.

HARLOW: The crisis in Ukraine escalating at this hour. Ukraine and Russia blaming each other for an uprising in the eastern part of that country. Is civil war imminent? We'll take you there live?

BERMAN: Plus we have new details this morning on the high school student that police say flew from California to Hawaii in the wheel well of a plane. Now, we have ideas about why he may have done it, next.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. Developing news this morning in Ukraine. It appears a fragile truce has now completely unraveled with the acting president there promising that his government will restart its operations to go after pro-Russian separatists, this amid claims that a politician was tortured and killed.

The other side says that it's the Ukrainians who are committing the atrocities on them. A confusing situation but combustible, to be sure.

Our Fred Pleitgen is live in Kiev.

Fred, I do not think these developments are what the United States, for its part, wants to see this morning.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, it's certainly not what the U.S. wants to see and certainly not what Vice President Biden wanted to see, who was in town here yesterday. It really still is unclear what is going on there in the east of the country.

As you said, the Ukrainian government says that this politician, Vladimir Rybak, was found in a river, his body was found in the river and that he had signs of torture.

They are blaming those Russian separatists; the Russian separatists for their part are blaming ultra-nationalist right wing Ukrainian groups for doing all of this. So certainly, it's going back and forth.

But the bottom line in all of this is that the Ukrainian government says that a truce that was reached or an agreement that was reached in Geneva and a truce that was held over Easter are basically out the door, all bets are off and now they want to restart an antiterror operation, as they called it, in the east of the country. That's something that they've been conducting in the days leading up to Easter. But it was sort of put on hold for a couple of days.

But now they say they want to weed out what they call terrorists, which of course are those pro-Russian separatists in the coming days.

But of course, all of that is bound to lead to additional tensions. Of course we have to keep in mind that the Russian military has about 40,000 troops on the other side of the border by U.S. estimation. So it really seems like right now the situation is escalating rather than de-escalating, which is of course what the U.S. would have wanted out of all of this -- John.

BERMAN: And Frederik, you know, we have seen the Ukrainian government as it exists try to weed out, try to go after these pro-Russian militants before with very little success.

Any indication they might have a better go of it this time?

PLEITGEN: There really isn't any. You are absolutely right, the last time Ukraine tried to do this, it was really an embarrassment. You have to put it in those terms. They sent a convoy of armored personnel carriers into the east of the country. Part of those personnel carriers were actually apprehended by the pro-Russian separatists. Another batch of those APCs was held up by civilians who apparently were drinking large quantities of alcohol and just stood in the way of these soldiers, who then actually gave up their bullets to these soldiers, to these civilians.

So there are some really tough questions as to whether or not the Ukrainian military is capable of conducting a sophisticated counterinsurgency operation. Because we have keep in mind what we have learned or what the U.S. military learned from the Iraq War is that a counterinsurgency operation requires that you shield the civilian population and go very strong after the armed militants that are fighting against you. Really unclear whether the Ukrainian military is in any way capable of doing that and certainly, even more questions whether they could actually have success of doing it -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Frederik Pleitgen in Kiev and a beautiful shot of the church behind him. Our thanks to you, Fred.

HARLOW: Well, this morning, CNN has learned U.S. Special Operations forces were involved in an unprecedented operation against Al Qaeda in Yemen, including flying Yemeni commandos into the mountains to engage with suspected terrorists.

This, on top of the CIA drone suspected to have also been used in that attack. Right now Yemen is testing the DNA of some 65 people killed to see if any of them were high-level leaders of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

BERMAN: We are finding out new details this morning about a teenager who hitched a ride on a jet from California to Hawaii, hiding in the plane's wheel well. A law enforcement official tells CNN that the 15- year old was trying to get to Somalia to see his mother and seemed to have simply picked the first aircraft he reached after jumping a fence at the San Jose Airport, not realizing that the jet was actually heading for Hawaii.

The teen apparently spent some six hours on the ground before the jet took off. He told police he ran away from home. Classmates call him a quiet and shy kid.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was really shocked and just really glad that he made it and he's all right right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You would have seen him doing this, probably the last person you would expect.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He never talked about going to the airport?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, that was a surprise.


BERMAN: Officials at the San Jose Airport are reviewing security right now to figure out how the teen scaled a six-foot fence, topped the barbed wire and avoided being spotted by all the patrols there.

HARLOW: And it's a stunning story of how he survived.

BERMAN: A stunning medical story.

HARLOW: Can't wait to hear from him and what he has to say.

BERMAN: Exactly.

HARLOW: Meantime, a historic ruling from the Supreme Court that could spell the end of affirmative action on college campuses.

The 6-2 ruling upholds a Michigan amendment banning the use of race in college admissions. The fractured court issued five separate opinions on this one with the majority saying the issue is best decided by voters at the ballot box. Seven states have similar measures; critics say more will follow leading to a drop in minority enrollment.

BERMAN: Another scandal for the IRS. An inspector general's report finds that the agency handed out nearly $3 million in bonuses to employees with disciplinary issues. A million of that money went to employees who hadn't paid their taxes.

Right now the IRS is only allowed to take conduct into account when handing out bonuses to senior officials.

HARLOW: New subpoenas have been issued to some top officials in the investigation in a possible misconduct in the Chris Christie administration. A New Jersey legislative committee is asking Christie's chief spokesman and the head of the Port Authority to testify along with a former administration staffer and a Port Authority commissioner.

The Port Authority runs the George Washington Bridge where those lanes were shut down, allegedly at the direction of a Christie aide.

BERMAN: This morning, the New York Police Department is defending a publicity campaign that really is blowing up on Twitter, and not altogether in a good way.

So the determine encouraged New Yorkers and others to post pictures of its officers with a #MyNYPD. Some of the responses were positive; others, not so much, like this one showing officers holding a man on the hood of a car.

It reads, "Free massages from the NYPD. What does your police department offer?"

The NYPD says it welcomes the open, uncensored dialogue. The lesson here, live by Twitter, die by Twitter.


All right, coming up, this is just a Berman story. I should let you read this, but I won't.

BERMAN: That's a true anchor. I will not let you read anything.

HARLOW: A history-making night for one of baseball's greatest, Albert Pujols.

Did I pronounce it right?

BERMAN: Absolutely not. Albert Pujols.

HARLOW: Should have let Berman read it.

Now joining the 500 club. We are breaking it down and the big plays next.

BERMAN: Pujols!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) HARLOW: It could be a pretty dangerous weather day in the middle of the country. Jennifer Gray is watching our forecast, take a look.

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, John and Poppy. The focus today will be in the Plains. We could see severe weather anywhere from the Texas Panhandle all the way up through Nebraska. We are going to see the possibility of damaging winds, large hail, even a possibility of isolated tornadoes.

So that will be something we are looking for today.

Mostly sunny across the Southeast. A couple of showers in northern New England. However, high pressure remains in place across the Great Lakes. It is still very warm across the South. A lot of this warm air is going to fuel some of those storms a little later this afternoon, 87 degrees, your high temperature in Dallas, 75 in Memphis.

Temperatures stay in the 50s across the North, 62 in D.C.

As we get into tomorrow, those strong storms will start to push into the Mississippi River Valley. The Ohio Valley will see sunny skies remain though, across much of the Southeast and the Northeast.

The Plains will start to clear out and we'll start to see a little bit of rain push into the Pacific Northwest.

As far as highs go tomorrow, we'll stay warm across the South, 70s and 80s from Atlanta to New Orleans to Houston. Temperatures in the 60s in D.C. and New York -- John and Poppy.

BERMAN: We'll take it; 60 sounds pretty good to me.

All right, Albert Pujols, congratulations, you are the newest member of baseball's most exclusive club, the 500 home run club. The LA Angels slugger blasting number 500 into left field, into the bleachers last night with a two-run shot against Nationals pitcher Taylor Jordon in the fifth inning in Washington.

Pujols is the 26th big leaguer to reach the magic milestone. He's the first to do it, though, by hitting his 499th and 500th homer in the same game. Pretty good. The team's publicist later tweeted this picture of the guy who caught the home run ball. Turns out he is an Angels fan there, so he gave the ball back to Albert free of charge. I guarantee you, he'll get something a signed bat or a shirt or (INAUDIBLE).

HARLOW: Is he going to make the 700 club? Can I call it that?

BERMAN: You know, interesting you ask. Albert Pujols is really slow. He makes about $9 billion a year, you know, $30 million a year right now, big contract. But he's slowed way down. So last years, he hasn't been hitting as many. So I don't know if he's going to get to 700.

HARLOW: But this is remarkable.

BERMAN: Very. Congratulations to him.

HARLOW: New allegations this morning of mistreatment by a group of Buffalo Bills cheerleaders. They are suing the team, saying they were not paid enough for all the hours they worked. They also say were harassed, forced to dress in skimpy outfits at team events, auctioned off at the team's annual golf tournament and subjected to a so-called "jiggle test" to check their appearance. The team for its part is saying it is not commenting on pending litigation.

BERMAN: Yikes.

All right, coming up for us next, the top headlines from overnight including new information about what the crew did and did not do in the South Korean ferry disaster.