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EARLY START

Debris from Flight 370?; Divers Continue Search for Survivors on Capsized Ferry; Unprecedented U.S. Operation against Al Qaeda in Yemen; Obama Trip to Asia

Aired April 23, 2014 - 05:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

POPPY HARLOW, CNNMONEY.COM CORRESPONDENT: Breaking news from Australia where investigators are asking if an item that has washed ashore is from missing Flight 370.

Is it an important clue or just another false lead? We'll take you live.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Breaking news, also from South Korea. Divers moving through a capsized ferry. They find no air pockets. This seems to be dashing hopes to find more survivors on board that ferry. We are live for the very latest there as well.

In just hours, President Obama arrives in Japan kicking off a one-week high-stakes trip to Asia. Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

And I'm John Berman, about 31 minutes past the hour right now, we do have breaking news in the search for Flight 370 coming in just minutes ago. Officials in Western Australia say they have an object of interest that they are now looking at. They're trying to see if it's possibly connected to the missing jet.

That, as an unmanned sub has turned up nothing despite scanning more than 80 percent in its search zone. We are expecting an update from Malaysian officials in just a few minutes because there's a lot of information this morning.

First, we want to go to Erin McLaughlin on the phone live from Perth, Australia.

And Erin, these objects of interest washed up on shore some 150 miles from Perth.

What are they? What do they look like? How excited do officials seem to be this morning?

ERIC MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John, we are now hearing new details from the head of the Australia Port and Safety Bureau, Martin Dolan telling CNN the APSB is studying a series of photos of the objects that had been provided by police. He says that the photos have also been provided to Malaysian investigators. He described the object as sheet metal attached to something with rivets. Dolan says it's sufficiently interesting, but he says, and this is a direct quote, "The more we look at it, the less excited we get." Now he says the object is currently in the custody of police.

The APSB is assessing and will decide how to proceed.

We are also hearing from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, telling CNN the object is being sent to the Joint Agency Coordination Center here in Perth for further analysis.

We have seen plenty of these kinds of leads throughout the course of this search so far, investigators stressing they have been pursuing them vigorously and it's very important to either rule in these kinds of leads or rule them out during the course of the investigation -- John.

BERMAN: Erin, it's just important to rule it out. And I think you have the appropriate amount of caution here, given as many leads as we have had over the last six weeks. Nevertheless, this is an actual physical object, it did wash up on shore. They do think it's of sufficient interest to further investigate and to release the information that they are investigating it to the public, Erin. That's not something they do with every little twist and turn in this investigation.

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, joint officials saying that they are trying to be as transparent as possible about this search for the sake of the public as well as the victims' families and friends. So they are really trying to be as transparent and open about the process, but you are absolutely right.

They have been searching hours and hours, days and days by air and by sea for pieces of debris from this plane. Nothing found so far.

Angus Houston (ph), the man responsible for coordinating the search effort, has long said that it's looking less and less likely that they are going to find debris from this plane. So if this is in fact from MA370, it would be a truly remarkable find.

But again, as we heard from Martin Dolan, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau chief, say there that the more they look at this object, the less excited they are getting about it -- John.

BERMAN: Now a piece of metal apparently with some kind of rivets attached to it. You know, I believe it was the Australian ambassador to the United States who was speaking with Wolf Blitzer -- this is weeks and weeks ago -- who said as this search goes on, at some point if the plane's flight did end where they think it ends, then eventually they thought they would see some objects wash up on shore.

HARLOW: I want, Erin, if you can stand by for us, I also want to get to Chad Myers, who can talk a little bit about that.

You know the area well, Chad, in terms of the currents and the weather that we have seen through there in the last six weeks. Could this make sense? Keeping in mind, we don't know how big the objective is. It's been described as long metal with rivets. That's all we know.

But would this make sense that it could end up about 150 miles south of Perth?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Forty-five days, 24 hours a day, it drifts 1-mile-per-hour, it makes it here, so yes. Not out of the question.

We have to back up, though. 45 days for when this plane went missing. There was a giant, equal to category 5 hurricane, Cyclone Jillian, right here, right where this underwater search is going on right now. There was 150- to 160-mile-per-hour cyclone spinning around.

The opposite direction of a hurricane because we are Southern Hemisphere. If this thing had something, this piece of object, may have had something sticking out of the water, it's called windage or a sail, the sail area, they have pushed the object farther to the south, almost to where the surface search area is now.

But then the current pushed it back toward Australia. And that could happen for two different reasons.

We know about these gyres, the gyre that is the big spin here around Australia, back to the other side of the Australian continent, back here to India and all around. That for -- over and over and over. But there's also a piece that breaks off and goes to the south and goes under Australia and that, right there, would be where that would have landed.

Now this is all yes, yes, maybe, maybe. But I tell you what, it's not impossible that this could be something from the plane.

I think that's where I'm going --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Key words there. And again, that's why officials are taking a close look at this object and at these photos to rule it in or rule it out, a key part of any investigation.

Chad, thanks for that.

HARLOW: Appreciate it, Chad.

But I think one of the important things -- and Erin is still with us, and she's saying is that, yes, it is significant that they are letting us know that they have found some sort of object, that they're looking at photos.

But Erin, you've also said, look, because of all the criticism that especially the Malaysian authorities have come under in this investigation, they are trying to be as transparent as possible.

How do you think that that is factoring in here?

MCLAUGHLIN: I think, well, they've said openly, that that is a factor. And they have also said that when it comes to these kinds of leads, they are vigorously pursuing them. Take case in point, the oil slick that was discovered in the vicinity of the Ocean Shield, some speculating that that oil slick could have potentially been from a plane engine.

They went to great lengths to test that oil. They brought it to shore by a military vessel. They choppered it to a military base and then jetted it to Perth for testing and they compared it against oil provided by Malaysia Airlines. It turned out to be absolutely nothing, yet another false lead. But it really sort of shows how seriously they are taking and aggressively pursuing every single lead.

And again, Angus Houston (ph), the man responsible for coordinating the search effort, has acknowledged the aerial search has become less and less likely that they're going to find debris from this plane. But yet we are seeing planes taking off, military jets, 10 to 12 a day, scouring the ocean, still looking for any signs of the plane, despite the fact he said that.

Now we understand they are going to be affecting that operation in coming days. We may hear more about that. But for now, authorities very much aggressively pursuing any and all leads. In the case of this piece of metal that appears to have washed up on shore, it seems to be just another indication of that -- John.

BERMAN: And Erin, just give us an update as they are looking at this object, again, a metal object with rivets found on shore about 150 miles south of Perth, they're looking at the photographs, they're looking at the object trying to determine if it is connected to Flight 370.

As they are looking at this object, they have found what's going on underwater because they have done 10 searches now with the Bluefin-21 and turned up no important items of contact, no sightings at all on the ocean floor.

MCLAUGHLIN: That's right, John. We understand, as of this morning, that they had -- that 10th dive, that 10th mission was underway. These are really critical moments in the search, investigators say. It's looking in the place that has been identified as the most likely place where they are going to find the black box, based on the very limited information that they have.

So as of this morning, we know it was on dive 10. We also know that as of yesterday, it had covered about 80 percent of that search area. It has about 20 percent more to go. We heard from the Australian defense minister today, quoted in the Associated Press, as saying that it could take them another two weeks to finish that last 20 percent.

They are really wanting to make sure they are thorough in searching that area. The timetable is different than the timetable that we have been hearing from Australian authorities so far. They have been saying that that portion of the search could be wrapped in a matter of days.

But clearly, investigators really wanting to slow things down, so to speak, and really take a good thorough look at that area, which, again, has been identified as the most probable place where they're going to find the black box. And already Australian and Malaysian authorities are talking about potential next steps, possibly a long- term search operation involving more powerful, more capable underwater submersibles -- John.

BERMAN: One more question, Erin, about this object that they are looking at right now that washed up on shore about 150 miles south of Perth, again, metal with rivets.

Give us a sense of timing here. They indicated how long it will take to look at this. And given that I know it's nighttime there, is it going to be hours and hours more until we hear more verification about what this might be?

MCLAUGHLIN: Not at the moment, we have not been given that timeframe. We know that at the moment, APSB is looking at photographs of this object that has been provided by police.

We understand, again, from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, the object is being sent to the Joint Agency Coordination Center here in Perth. Now it's currently about 190 miles or 300 kilometers south of Perth.

It's not clear how long it's going to take for this particular object to get here, then from there, how long it will take for investigators to figure out if this, in fact, is related to the missing plane.

HARLOW: And one thing you can bet, they will be extremely cautious in looking at this and investigating it before putting any final word out on what it is. Again, if you're just joining us, an object of interest found on the shore about 150 miles south of Perth, Australia.

No indication that it is from MA370, the missing flight. But investigators are looking at it with the possibility that it may be. We will have more breaking news straight after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back. We do have breaking news this morning from Australia. Just a few minutes ago, we learned that authorities are looking at an object of interest in the search for Flight 370.

It's a piece of metal with rivets found on the coast of Australia, about 150 miles south of Perth. Now officials are cautioning, there is no evidence yet that the metal is from the missing jet. But they are looking into it. Stay with us for the very latest on this. There's a news conference coming up from Malaysia in just a few minutes. EARLY START and "NEW DAY" will be covering this all morning.

HARLOW: There's also breaking news this morning from South Korea, where officials can now confirm to CNN that divers have found no air pockets and no more survivors on the capsized ferry's third and fourth floors. The death toll now stands at 150. More than 150 others are still missing.

This, as investigators ask why a passenger on board called emergency officials minutes, three minutes before the crew ever made its first distress call.

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

Nic, what is the latest there this morning?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, a very worrying development for families still waiting to find out, hoping against hope that perhaps their children have survived aboard the ferry. From the divers now, the fact there are no air pockets on the third and fourth levels, this is where the divers were focusing all their efforts on.

The air pockets would have been the one place where people could have survived and the fact that they are now saying that there are no air pockets there and this, of course, the third and fourth levels where the students were believed to be, where many of the students' bodies have been recovered from, really does turn this perhaps now from a rescue mission into a recovery mission.

That's not what officials are saying, so far. But it is only bodies that have been brought ashore here and really the hope for survivors does seem to be running out even more at this time -- Poppy.

HARLOW: It is so difficult to watch as the ship has been bringing in those bodies and the parents wailing and waiting. I know that there's a memorial being held at the school where a number of those children were students.

ROBERTSON: A very emotional, very somber, very silent at many times, memorial. This, of course, a school where so many of their children attended. And some of the parents attending the memorial don't yet know whether their -- about their children. Their bodies have not yet been recovered.

So while the memorial is going ahead, it is going ahead before the government has sort of ended the rescue mission. It's going ahead before all those bodies have been recovered. So it's an incredibly painful day for those parents and for the whole community there. And I do have to say, for the country at large, we have watched on the harbor side here as bodies have come ashore.

We have talked to people who traveled long distances to come here, to offer help and support. They are not connected to any of the people on board the ship, yet they've stood there in tears as well. This is affecting the whole country -- Poppy.

HARLOW: A national tragedy, indeed. It is heartbreaking. Thank you for the report this morning.

BERMAN: Just over 10 minutes before the hour right now. A huge anti- terror strike in Yemen targeting top Al Qaeda leaders. The U.S. now acknowledging its role in the attack. We are live with these details right after the break.

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(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: We have breaking news to tell you about this morning in the search for Flight 370. Just a short time ago we learned that Australian authorities are looking at an object of interest found along the coast some 150 miles south of Perth.

It's a piece of metal, we are told, with rivets. Photographs have now been shared with search officials who plan to look at the object in person. They want to see obviously if it is connected to the jet.

We are getting a big note of caution from those officials. They say there's no evidence, as of now, it is metal from the plane. But it is interesting enough to them to take a much closer look. That's what's happening right now. So stay with us for the latest. We'll have more information on EARLY START and coming up on "NEW DAY" as well.

HARLOW: Also this morning we are finding out more about an unprecedented operation against Al Qaeda in Yemen, including the major role the United States played in the raid. Our Mohammed Jamjoom is live for us in Washington with the details.

What can you tell us?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, the details of this operation get more fascinating by the hour. Now the big question this morning is still whether or not Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's top bomb maker, a Saudi citizen by the name of Ibrahim al-Asiri was killed in this ambush that Yemeni commandos encountered the other day with militants in Shabwa province.

We know that they believe that they were able to kill a high-value target who was a Saudi citizen that fits the profile of Ibrahim al- Asiri. Again, he's the top bomb maker for Al Qaeda in Yemen.

The U.S. and Yemen has been going after him for years. If they were able to have killed him, that would be considered a major victory for the war on terror in Yemen. DNA tests are still being carried out. It could take several days, could take a couple of weeks to confirm if in fact that was Ibrahim al-Asiri who was killed.

More than that, now we know more about the U.S.'s role in this counterterrorism raid. We learned that in this ambush, in which this Saudi militant was killed, that in fact, Yemeni commandos were on the ground and that U.S. pilots flew Russian made helicopters to the scene in order to whisk away those bodies of the deceased militants so that DNA tests could be carried out.

Now while this did not suggest or indicate that there are any U.S. military boots on ground in Yemen assisting with this operation it does confirm yet again the level of cooperation between the U.S. government and the Yemeni government. They have tried for years now to vanquish Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is the most dangerous, the most threatening wing of the Al Qaeda network worldwide. They are hoping that they have really been able to degrade the capabilities of AQAP with these strikes the past few days -- Poppy.

HARLOW: That was the question late Sunday night when this broke, was the United States involved? If so, how? We are learning more at this hour. We appreciate the reporting. Thank you.

We have breaking news in the search for Flight 370. An object of interest found. We'll tell you all about it right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC PLAYING)

BERMAN: There is breaking news this morning. The search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, an object of interest found. They're investigating it right now. "NEW DAY" covering all the breaking developments starting right now.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

ABBOTT: We have done everything we humanly can to get to the bottom of this mystery.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news. Objects of interest wash up on the Australian coast. They are investigating at this moment for any connection to Flight 370. Malaysians are holding a press conference any minute. We're going to bring it to you live.