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Search for Flight 370: No Clues Found; New Russia Sanctions Expected; Obama in South Korea; Ferry Rescue Anger Grows

Aired April 25, 2014 - 04:30   ET



GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Happening right now: the sea bed search for the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, 95 percent complete and not a trace of that vanished jetliner has been found. What's next in the strategy? This coming with a new twist, as Malaysia's prime minister tells CNN exclusively investigators have no idea where the plane is.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Also, the crisis in Ukraine escalating overnight. Ukraine pushing back against pro-Russian protesters fighting in the streets turning deadly and the U.S. threatening Russia with new sanctions.

An explosive situation all around. We are live on the ground there with what is happening right now.

HOWELL: President Obama closely watching the developments in Ukraine. He's set to hold a news conference within the half hour. He just arrived in Seoul, South Korea, overnight. We are live there with what's expected.

And good morning. I'm George Howell. Welcome back. It is Friday.

It's a good day.

HARLOW: It is Friday, good day, indeed.

I'm Poppy Harlow. It's 30 minutes after 4:00 a.m. here on the East Coast.

We begin with missing Flight 370. We are hearing from Malaysia's prime minister. In an exclusive interview with CNN's Richard Quest, the prime minister defending his country's investigation of the disappearance of MH370 and responding to calls for his country to release that preliminary report they have now completed. But it is being kept under wraps. He says it will be made public soon.


NAJIB RAZAK, MALAYSIAN PRIME MINISTER: Next week, we will release the preliminary report that we sent to ICAO, but the most important information that they want, and sadly, the one that we cannot provide, is where is the plane. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: And this morning, those questions of where is the plane, where is any debris from the plane remain unanswered.

Meantime, an unmanned sub is now on its 13th mission scanning the ocean floor. It is 95 percent done, going over the search zone. No debris has been found at all.

Erin McLaughlin is live in Perth for us this morning. Erin, you know, 90 percent done yesterday, 95 percent done today, but still, there's a real discrepancy on when they are going to say, all right, this Bluefin-21 is complete in searching that entire search zone, that it could be days or it could be weeks.

ERIN MCLAUGLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy, but Malaysian and Australian authorities already discussing next steps, what to do next, if they basically in the end rule out this narrowed area, which is essentially their best guess as to where the black box may be.

Now, I understand the Malaysians have proposed a longer-term search agreement that would potentially broaden out the search area.

Now, what they're doing right now is they're searching about a 6-mile radius around that second ping that was picked up by the towed pinger locator. There were four detections in all. And they're searching there because it was the strongest signal detected.

So, you'd think they might find something, having searched around in that 6-mile radius, but no signs of MH370 so far. Some analysts suggesting, perhaps, they should search in the area of the other three pings that had been detected. Perhaps they should search along that arc, the so-called half handshake between the Inmarsat satellite and the plane, all things being discussed.

Malaysian proposing also, perhaps, introducing more powerful underwater submersibles to help in the search, perhaps along the lines of a submersible called the Orion, which is capable of going about a mile deeper than the Bluefin-21 and staying down weeks on end.

The Australian defense minister was quoted earlier in the week as saying they were considering more powerful underwater submersibles along the lines of those that discovered the Titanic and the World War II wreckage, the HMAS Sydney.

So, all things being discussed, we understand this agreement as expected within the week, Poppy.

HARLOW: You know, Erin, I think the question that that brings is why weren't those used before, first in this frantic search for Flight 370? And are they even on their way to the zone now?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, it's not clear if they're on their way to the zone now. We're still waiting to hear details of this agreement, not clear. Authorities we've been talking to saying that the details of the particular agreement will not be publicized, or all of the details. Perhaps they will choose to disclose some of them as they begin to discuss the next phase, if this search area has been ruled out.

But I think it's important to remember that when the Australian vessel the Ocean Shield set sail in the initial stages of this search, it was very much a race against time. There was that 30-day expiration date on that black box battery, and they were really trying to get there in time to detect those pings, so that might have been a factor as to why they did not bring with them more powerful, more capable underwater submersibles, Poppy.

HARLOW: But to be clear, they haven't given us any public answer on that as of yet, correct, why the Bluefin-21 was chosen instead of other unmanned devices, et cetera, like you just described, that could be under for weeks?

MCLAUGHLIN: Yes, well, authorities have been asked if they were planning on doing, introducing more underwater submersibles. This was about a week ago. And they were expressing confidence in the Bluefin- 21.

Angus Houston, the man responsible for coordinating the search effort, saying that he thought that the Bluefin-21 was more than capable of completing the task at hand, which at that point was a much more narrow, much more focused search area.

HARLOW: Right.

MCLAUGHLIN: But now that they're ruling that out, the discussion now turning to what they can do next.

HARLOW: Absolutely. Appreciate it. Thank you, Erin.

HOWELL: All right, tensions in Ukraine this morning are high as ever, with Russian troops now holding exercises along the eastern border, as separatists begin to mobilize inside an area that's embroiled in fighting. It's been like that for weeks. The U.S. is putting the blame on Russia, and CNN has learned new sanctions could come as early as today against some of Vladimir Putin's key allies.

The administration is making it clear, they want this to stop.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Having failed to halt a legitimate political process, Russia has instead chosen an illegitimate course of armed violence to try and achieve with the barrel of a gun and the force of a mob what couldn't be achieved any other way.


HOWELL: CNN's Phil Black is live in Donetsk, Ukraine.

Phil, what is the situation there on the ground?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: George, we're seeing dramatic events here recently, largely because of the activities taken by the Ukrainian military. Up until this point, Ukraine's military has been accused of being timid, cowardly, they've been humiliated by having their weapons taken from them.

But now for the first time, we've seen them attempt to move directly at positions held by pro-Russian forces. We've seen them approach these checkpoints around the town of Slaviansk, which is the core center of the pro-Russian movement in this region, using armored personnel carriers and on foot. We've seen them engage, and there's been returned fire.

But then, ultimately, having challenged and inspected up close these checkpoints, the Ukrainian military has then withdrawn after risking their lives in those actions.

The question now is what does all of this mean? Is this the start of a bolder effort to try and drive out the pro-Russian forces from this region and the areas where they have consolidated, or is this simply more of the same stop-start hesitant security response we've seen from the Ukrainian government since the early days of this crisis?

No doubt, hanging over the mind of the Ukrainian government will be the very strong language coming from Moscow, which has condemned this use of the military and has now backed up those words with further military mobilizations under the name of exercises taking place just across the Ukrainian border in Russian territory, which continues to keep alive this enduring threat in this crisis that there could still be Russian direct military intervention here in eastern Ukraine, George.

HOWELL: Phil, there was a lot of hope and a lot of optimism about the Geneva deal. Is that just pretty much in the rearview mirror now?

Phil Black may not hear me there, but Phil Black reporting for us in Donetsk. Phil, thank you so much for that report.

HARLOW: All right. Well, the president is in South Korea today on the next leg of his week-long Asian trip. He is supposed to be focusing on issues in that region, but, you know, Russia and Ukraine really dominating this trip.

Michelle Kosinski is traveling with the president.

Michelle, what are we expecting to hear from the president when he speaks in just a few moments?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're not sure exactly yet. He may announce something regarding Ukraine, although I'm not sure that this is really the forum to do so.

The president has really wanted to focus on Asia as much as possible. I mean, these other issues definitely come in, especially when the president takes questions from the press. The worldwide press has been asking about some of these other global issues as well.

But this is supposed to be about trade and firming up alliances with Asian partners. I think the bigger topic for this region is absolutely North Korea and provocative actions or potential provocative actions that we're already seeing at this time.

So, already, you know, even before the president landed, he was talking about that, and U.S. officials were saying that, you know, in light of this, this threat that constantly exists, at least for the past several decades for this region, what the president wants to do is talk security, not only with South Korea, but also with Japan. And they've had trilateral discussions on security.

Another big topic, sort of a side topic that has come up, and an important one for South Korea, is the ferry disaster. And it was significant that today, before the bilateral meeting with the South Korean president, President Obama decided to hold a moment of silence among officials there, and that meant much to South Korean officials. In fact, some that we met with before this trip really thought it was touching and significant that President Obama has been expressing his condolences consistently.

In an interview, in fact, that he gave with a South Korea paper before his arrival today, he also expresses condolences, and here's some of what he said. "Michelle and I sent our deepest condolences to the South Korean people, and as parents, we cannot begin to imagine what all those grieving parents are going through having lost their sons and daughters."

He presented the South Korean president with an American flag as well. And the U.S. has helped in the search for those victims. So, we feel like that may come up in these remarks also.

Trade has been such a big part of this trip.

HARLOW: Right.

KOSINSKI: He may announce some more progress with South Korea and other partners. I know one thing that was interesting in the interview that he gave with a newspaper was that even though South Korea's very amenable to this TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership that the president has been pushing so much on this trip, he said, well, before we tackle that, remember, South Korea needs to step up more for the bilateral trade partnership that has existed between South Korea and the U.S. for the last two years.

So, it looks like he's looking for progress on the old trade partnership even before we start to get to this new potential one, Poppy.

HARLOW: It will be interesting to hear what he says. As you can see on what was just on the screen there, we are awaiting a press conference from the president there in Seoul, South Korea.

Our Michelle Kosinski traveling with the president all week in Asia. Appreciate the reporting. Thank you.

HOWELL: The death toll is rising in the South Korean ferry disaster as investigators try to figure out what went so terribly wrong. There are new clues this morning. We are live next.


HOWELL: We are following breaking news this morning from Bali, Indonesia, where a virgin airlines jet landed after a report of an alleged hijacking, but it wasn't a hijacking. Virgin officials telling CNN there was no threat on board, just an unruly passenger.

The statement reads, "There are incorrect reports that a Virgin Australia aircraft was hijack en route to Denpasar. This is not correct. The aircraft in question has landed safely and at no point was the safety of our passengers ever in question. There was an unruly passenger on board and authorities are removing him on the ground."

HARLOW: Well, family anger is growing in South Korea this morning, more than a week after that ferry overturned, leaving more than 180 dead, 121 people still missing at this time, many of them children.

Relatives of the high school students on board surrounded some of the top officials responsible for the rescue operation, shouting, some cursing, even trying to stop some of them from leaving, this as classmates of the victims return to school for the first time since this accident left so many of their friends dead. We're also finding out that a sister ship to this ferry had its own safety issues.

I want to get straight to Nic Robertson, who is live in South Korea.

Nic, tell me about the families, because you know, it's so -- I was reading about this, and there was one mother who yelled, "How can you fool us into believing you were out there trying to save our children?" These families are beyond frustrated, devastated.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. We were standing there watching last night, and it's an amazing spectacle. I don't think you would see this in many cultures, but here you do. You had a government minister sitting on the ground, the chief of police next to him, the deputy chief of police next to him sitting on the ground, surrounded by family members, bombarding them with questions and with frustrations.

The families have been out to sea, they had inspected the recovery- rescue site. They had seen very little activity by divers. They wanted civilian divers brought back into the operation. They are claiming that the government isn't doing enough. So, incredible frustration.

The government minister literally sat there and listened to this for hours and hours and hours, doing his best to answer questions. There's a lot of skepticism about what the government's doing.

In the building behind me here, this is the regional prosecutor's office that's overseeing the investigation, in the building behind me is the first meeting of a government panel of 15 experts, heads of police, top judges that will oversee this investigation here. And what we have learned from prosecutors in this building today is that a sister ship of the sunken ferry was inspected, 40 of the lifeboats were found not to be working. There was nothing to secure cars on the ship. And also, the equipment that was on board to secure shipping containers, apparently, that wasn't working properly, either.

Another detail -- this ship, the sister ship, had also had the same modification, allowing more passengers on board, just as the sunken ferry had.

So, all of this of much concern to the families, Poppy.

HARLOW: I appreciate the reporting this morning. Thank you, Nic. We'll get back to you later for more.

HOWELL: You can only imagine what the families are dealing with, just sitting in that gymnasium waiting for any information about what's happening out there.

HARLOW: Absolutely. Our hearts go out to all of them.

HOWELL: Well, new details this morning after Americans were attacked and killed at a hospital in Afghanistan. The very latest on that right after the break.


HARLOW: Well, we are finding out more this morning about a Chicago pediatrician killed in Afghanistan. He was killed at a shooting at a charity hospital yesterday. Dr. Jerry Umanos moved to Afghanistan in 2005, saying he felt called to help the children there. He was among three Americans killed when a security guard officer opened fire outside of the Cure International facility.


JAN SCHUITEMA, WIFE OF CHICAGO DOCTOR KILLED IN KABUL: Our family has suffered a great loss. Our family and friends have suffered a great loss, and our hearts are aching. While our hearts are aching for our loss, we're also aching for the loss of the other families, as well as the loss and the multiple losses that the Afghan people have experienced.


HARLOW: Officials say two of the other victims were father and son. An American woman who was shot is being treated. She survived, and you know, so did the gunman. Authorities are still questioning the gunman, trying to figure out a motive. What could have sparked this?

HOWELL: No departure yet for Attorney General Eric Holder, the nation's top law enforcement officer plans to stay in his job at least through this fall's midterm elections, that according to Justice Department officials. But the 63-year-old Holder has made it very clear he will step down before the end of President Obama's second term. Holder was recently hospitalized for an elevated heart rate. He plans to stay through the fall midterm elections.

HARLOW: And you know this housing recovery that we have been experiencing? Well, there are some indications that it could start losing steam.

An industry newsletter called "Inside Mortgage Finance" says that mortgage lending is now at its lowest level in more than a decade, driven lower by a decline in new home purchases or refinancing, despite all those low rates.

This news coming the same week the government reported a double-digit decline in new home sales year over year. But I've got to say something, new home sales are only about 10 percent of the market. Existing home sales are 90 percent of the market. So, that's what you want to keep an eye on.

HOWELL: All right, a major change of course for retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. The 94-year-old says the federal government should legalize marijuana, telling NPR there's really not much distinction between marijuana and alcohol. Stevens is pushing a new book with ways to fix the Constitution. It proposes banning capital punishment and limiting gun rights.

HARLOW: All right, much more news ahead here on EARLY START. We'll be right back after a quick break.


HARLOW: All right, let's get an early look at the weather with Jennifer Gray.

HOWELL: I wanted to do that earlier. Let's go straight to it.

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Poppy, most of the showers will push towards the East Coast for today. We'll see showers from the Great Lakes all the way through the Carolinas. High pressure will push back in in the Mississippi River Valley. We'll see sunshine across the Northern Plains and even the South. And also a couple of showers pushing into the pacific northwest as we go through this afternoon.

Temperatures warm -- 76 in Denver, 79 in Kansas City, and that warm air filters all the way to the Southeast. Temperatures almost hitting 70 degrees at Washington, D.C., for today. But as we look into the weekend, we'll want to keep our eye on the potential for severe weather, severe storms possible for tomorrow anywhere from the hill country of Texas all the way through portions of Kansas, Nebraska. We'll be watching for that.

We're also going to be seeing showers pushing into the Rockies, sunshine for the East Coast. That severe threat will march straight across the country as we go through the next couple of days.

Saturday, right around the Texas Panhandle all the way through Wichita, it will start to move to the east just a bit on Sunday, and then by Monday, it will be pushing into the Mississippi River Valley, even hitting places like Nashville, Birmingham. They'll need to be on the lookout this weekend -- George and Poppy.

HOWELL: Severe weather in Texas and Oklahoma, we'll be monitoring that over the weekend. I may be going there.

HARLOW: Yes, Chad Myers saying this could be a dangerous weekend ahead, as well as Jennifer.

All right, we want to take you right now to Seoul, South Korea, where President Obama is expected to address the press. I do not see him there yet. We are monitoring this. We will bring it to you as soon as we can, and we'll continue with other news right now, but we will monitor this and bring it to you as soon as we can.

EARLY START continues right now.