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Turbulence in the Sky; Circus Act Goes Horribly Wrong; Pistorius Murder Trial Resumes

Aired May 5, 2014 - 06:30   ET


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Is it unusual that severe turbulence would happen around this altitude or is that actually more typical?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: It depends on what region of the country you are in, like the Rocky Mountains you get spinning --

BOLDUAN: OK, let's talk about that. Because this was the flight path from Philadelphia to Orlando. It had only made it to about Delaware when this had happened. Does that play into this?

SOUCIE: This is an area in here that has some severe turbulence activities. There is a jet stream that comes through here typically. Probably your weather person could talk more about that. But right here is where you're getting those -- they are like rivers going through the sky.

BOLDUAN: But, David, when you look at this, you might anticipate this as an area where you might get more turbulence. But what can a pilot do? You can't see turbulence when you're flying through the air.

SOUCIE: No, it's called clear air turbulence, CAT. And what clear air turbulence does it sneaks up on you. So what you are relying on the previous flight, the previous flight that went through that said we had some moderate turbulence, we had this problem or that problem. And they'll warn each other; they will speak to each other and the control tower will give instructions as they take off, "Watch off for moderate turbulence." But severe turbulence had not been warned in this area. No one experienced severe turbulence at all other than this aircraft. So the fact that it had happened at that phase is, again, was very fortunate.

BOLDUAN: Is there really anything that a pilot can do? I mean, they said this lasted -- one passenger described it as lasting five to ten seconds, so is there any corrective maneuver?

SOUCIE: No. In fact, if you are an auto pilot mode -- there is a mode called turbulence mode. And what that does is it kind of slows down the reaction time. Because your wings are reacting, it's kind of bouncing like this. And you could see as the aircraft goes up and down, this would be more of a moderate turbulence situation. But the wings are actually flexing and they are designed to do this. If they didn't, they could break.

So they're designed to flex, and you can cause an oscillation if you overreact to it. So you have to kind of ride it through. Avoidance is the best thing to do. Seat belts is very critical, for everybody wear your seat belts, because that is what happens here. This is the only time we've had fatalities and injuries; we have had fatalities with severe turbulence.

BOLDUAN: And it's just a matter of seconds. And the pilot cannot anticipate it -- they can know if there's a little bit of turbulence or they could be coming upon it, but they did not have a warning about the severe turbulence.

SOUCIE: No, they didn't. That's why they say now when you are in your seat, even if seat belt light is off, keep your belt on.

BOLDUAN: Because it can happen anywhere.

SOUCIE: It's clear air. There's no way to anticipate it.

BOLDUAN: David, thanks so much. All right, Michaela.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Kate, David, thank you so much for that. Let's take a look at more of your headlines right now.

At least one person has died as a fire in Oklahoma burns out of control. Authorities say the fire started as a controlled burn; however wind and dry conditions whipped it into a wildfire that has now burned about 4,000 acres. Several homes and other buildings have been destroyed. Now, the man who died apparently he refused to evacuate his home. Fire crews will go back into battle at daybreak.

This morning, federal investigators on the scene of a deadly plane crash during at a California air base, an Air Force base. This happened during an air show event held Sunday, abi-plane crashing upside down into the tarmac during a daring maneuver. The 77-year-old veteran pilot was killed in the crash. Officials are now asking witnesses to come forward with videos or photos of that accident.

The L.A. Clippers' emotional playoff run continues tonight. Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinal series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. In the meantime, Donald Sterling's wife giving a thumb's up to the NBA's plan to find a new executive to run the Clippers. The league is trying to force Sterling to sell the Clippers after his racist comments, but it appears Shelly Sterling, who is a co-owner, may want to hold on to the team.

At least one Harvard Medical school professor says this could be a game-changer, the game being life itself. Scientists found blood from young mice reversed the aging process in old mice by waking up their stem cells and repairing their vital tissues. The research could lead to better treatments for Alzheimer's disease, heart problems and other human health issues that come with aging, which happens to us all.

BOLDUAN: Happens to us all. Doing it gracefully is the key.

PEREIRA: That's the key.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: That was one old looking rat that they had. PEREIRA: That was a mouse and it's very different from a rat. Please, they don't like to be compared.

CUOMO: The black one with the bald head? That's a mouse?

PEREIRA: I'm uncomfortable with vermin.

CUOMO: Berman?

PEREIRA: Vermin. Not Berman.


PEREIRA: Don't put words in my mouth. That's my other TV husband and I need to keep that TV marriage very happy.

BOLDUAN: Ask John, he's the one who started it.

PEREIRA: OK, we're going to take a short break here. Up next on NEW DAY, we have been telling crow about this circus stunt that went terribly wrong. It was all caught on camera. What exactly happened here? Up next, we will speak to a circus performer who knows this routine well.

CUOMO: And I saw the truth that morning. That is what a key witness in the Oscar Pistorius trial is saying; this is about one of the first calls Pistorius made. What did the witness hear that night? We're going to take you live to South Africa for this key testimony.


PEREIRA: A circus act went horribly wrong in Rhode Island on Sunday during an afternoon performance of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey show, "Legends." And we really need to warn you that are watching at home, the footage is upsetting. It shows the accident as it happened. Nine performers were hurt in the accident, they fell between 25 and 35 feet. The cause of the accident is under investigation.

Joining us now, Elaine Alcorn, she's a circus performer, an aerialist who is very familiar with the hair act seen in that video and she joins us from Las Vegas, where it is the middle of the night. Elaine, thank you so much for joining us so bright and early. I want your reaction to seeing this video. Tell me what you see and what you felt when you saw this.

ELAINE ALCORN, CIRCUS PERFORMER: Well, I mean, there is an initial startling surprise of when it actually goes down. But I was also kind of glad the way they fell looked like no one was going to be killed and no one was, so that is good.

PEREIRA: That is very good news. We know one of the performers is in critical condition. The other performers are injured. We know you worked for Ringling Brothers and were actually supposed to perform this very act. So I want you to give us an idea of how it's supposed to go. We have I think some video showing what it's supposed to look like. I want you to tell us what you think went wrong here.

ALCORN: I wasn't there. I don't know what went wrong. But I know the hair act, the concept is one of your strands of hair will break very easily but when you combine them all together, it is a strong rope and it's spread out over your head so it can withstand the weight. Obviously it wasn't anything to do with that particular part of the act, the entire rigging came down.

PEREIRA: You -- we reached out to Ringling Brothers and we know that they say they work very hard to take care of safety and take care of the performers and make sure that everybody is going to be safe in the performance of one of these acts. Give us your sense. You worked for the company. Did you feel safe? Did you ever feel that maybe corners were being cut or there was any reason to be concerned about your own safety?

ALCORN: I feel like I would trust the riggers that I worked with more than I would trust a bus driver or a pilot in an airplane. You don't know how much sleep they've had or how many flights they have taken that day. With the Ringling Brothers, a lot of the people that work for Ringling Brothers are generational circus people. They were born, they live, and they will die in the circus. And they know more than anyone how to rig something. Nothing is ever 100 percent sure. There can always be mistakes. There can always be failures in the rigging, nothing is for sure.

PEREIRA: Nothing is for sure, but, you know, you're hanging by your hair from the roof of a tent. I think many people wonder what, I don't know, makes somebody want to do that. There is obviously inherent risks in what aerialests do. So obviously you know these risks, but you still take them.

ALCORN: They don't call it death defying for nothing. As a circus performer, it is our job to do the impossible, to stare death in the face and conquer it. And we don't just do it for entertainment; we do it to inspire people, to inspire them to conquer their own fears or overcome their own obstacles. If you are the office worker and you have a deadline, or if you're trying to make ends meet or feed your hungry children, whatever your obstacles are, you can come to the circus and be reminded that nothing is impossible. And human beings are amazing.

PEREIRA: We human beings really are amazing. We really hope that these performers that were injured have a speedy recovery. We hope they recover from their injures. Elaine Alcorn, thanks so much for joining us and giving us a little perspective into the life of an aerialest and also the challenges you face when you hang by your hair. My goodness. Thank you so much, Elaine.

CUOMO: All right, so from tragedy to triumph. The NBA playoffs are already making history and we're only through the first round. A record five Game 7s were played over the weekend. Let's bring in Andy Scholes. He's got more in this morning's "Bleacher Report." I mean, inarguably, one of the best first rounds we have ever seen, true?

ANDY SCHOLES, "BLEACHER REPORT": Oh yes. Definitely true. I would say it is by far the best first round we have seen. And, you know, if the rest of the NBA playoffs, Chris, are like this first round, then we should be in for one awesome month of basketball.

Game 7 between the Nets and the Raptors came down to the wire. Toronto is down one with under 10 seconds to go. Check out this heads up play by Terrence Ross. He gets the steal then throws it off Paul Pierce so the Raptors are going to get one last shot at this, but the Nets, they just play great defense. Kyle Lowry's last second attempt is going to blocked by Paul Pierce. Nets get the win, 104-103. They will now play the Heat in the second round.

Trending on this morning, the top seeded Spurs needed seven games to take down the Mavs. But they definitely proved they were the better team. San Antonio winning the series clincher by 23 points. The Spurs now move on to play the Trailblazers. Second round tips off tonight with two games. Wizards and Pacers get things going at 7:00 Eastern, that game followed by Clippers and Thunder. Both of those games can be seen on TNT.

All right, you have a headache this morning? I guarantee you it's not as bad as Yasiel Puig. Marlins-Dodgers, bottom of the ninth, a Cuban missile trying to make a game-saving play. He slams into the wall. And if you watch this closing, the ball bounces off of the wall right into Puig's face. Ouch. The Marlins would win the game. Puig passed a concussion test and he is considered day to day.

CUOMO: I think it hit his head first.

BOLDUAN: And then he has to hit the pole. I mean, I know there's padding there, Andy, but I'm sure that isn't any --

SCHOLES: I have taken a ball to the face before and it hurts.

BOLDUAN: No thank you.

CUOMO: I just look like I have taken a ball to the face before.

BOLDUAN: How many have you taken, Chris?

CUOMO: Too many. I often feel that Andy overplays Yasiel Puig but that was a legit highlight.


BOLDUAN: Thanks, Andy.

CUOMO: And what a playoffs, though, in the NBA. Really has been amazing. Worth watching.

BOLDUAN: Coming up next on NEW DAY, it is back to court today. The former Olympic sprinter, Oscar Pistorius long break is now over as the defense argues why Pistorius is not guilty of murder. We will take you back live to Pretoria next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BOLDUAN: Welcome back. Oscar Pistorius is back in court as his murder trial resumes after a two-week break. His defense team is trying to convince a judge he did not mean to kill his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. The manager of the "Blade Runner's" estate where the shooting took place was on the stand today as for some of his friends and neighbors. Let's get to Robyn Curnow in Pretoria for all of the latest. Robyn, what are the big developments so far today?

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was warm and stuffy in terms of the atmosphere inside that court this morning. The defense beginning its last few weeks of evidence by calling two very important witnesses, the estate manager and his daughter who were, of course, if you remember, the first people on the scene.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I saw the truth that morning. I saw it and I feel it.

CURNOW (voice-over): In an attempt to prove Reeva Steenkamp's death was a tragic mistake Oscar Pistorius's defense team calling the manager of the Olympian's gated community. He was the first person Pistorius called the night he shot and killed his girlfriend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come to my house, please. I shot Reeva. I thought she was an intruder.

CURNOW: He and his daughter were also the first to walk inside Pistorius' home moments after she was shot four times. Stander said Pistorius had the expression of innocence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Expression on his face, the expression of sorrow and pain.

CURNOW: Pistorius heads in hands as Stander's daughter describes the Olympian pleading for help.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was begging me to put her in the car and take her to the hospital.

CURNOW: The Olympian's defense team attempting to bounce back from a grueling cross examination two weeks ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your life is about you, what is important to Oscar?

CURNOW: Pistorius grilled by prosecutor for five days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You shot and killed her. Won't you take responsibility for that?


CURNOW: The Olympian frequently overcome with emotion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why are you getting emotional now? PISTORIUS: I did not fire at Reeva.

CURNOW: Nel pressing the athlete on his version of events unwilling to believe the shooting was anything less than murder.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Reeva doesn't have a life anymore because of what you have done.


CURNOW: OK, Stander's daughter also gave emotional testimony describing how she and Pistorius tried to stem the flow of blood from the wounds by applying towels and saying how Pistorius was pleading for her to stay with me. The court has actually adjourned for today surprisingly just before the lunch session. This is because the defense says they weren't able to line up anymore witnesses. This is because they say there have been quite a lot of public holidays in South Africa. So we'll be back in court again in Tuesday morning.

CUOMO: All right, Robyn, very interesting play by the defense to portray the regret as evidence of mistake. Is it working? Let's bring in legal analyst, Kelly Phelps. She is in Pretoria. She understands the systems and watching everything that's going on there. Kelly, good for you to join us. You are getting attacked by a green cable there. If we can get that green cable off your neck. There you go. Don't want you getting -- that some kind of tree snake attacking you? Tell us this.

KELLY PHELPS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: The dangers on the streets.

CUOMO: The key determination here is whether the judge will take testimony like this as proof of mistake versus the emotion of regret. How do you think it plays?

PHELPS: Well, it is to whether she considers Pistorius's version to be a plausible version and consistency with his version, but it is also very important in terms of the reasonableness of his conduct. You will notice both of the Standers spoke about incidents as a crime. She thought there was an intruder in one of the homes and that an attack was happening. That evidence is being put in to allow the judge to infer his belief was a common one and reasonable to have.

CUOMO: I understand what you are saying. However, we have to distinguish between reasonableness of what happened after which is what we are hearing in testimony that is the truth he was so upset with the reasonableness of what he did before. He has been forced to change some details in his story recently in the last few days of trial. How important are those changes?

PHELPS: Well, if you take each of those changes in their own context they are all very small and petty. Things like not having mentioned a blue LED light and one saying he wasn't on the balcony. It wasn't like the inconsistencies or changes are necessarily fundamental in and of themselves. What Nel was trying to do was create a number of inconsistencies so the judge can consider them all in light of each other. And therefore draw the inference that the only reasonable way to explain the track record is that he must be lying and therefore is guilty. This has been done in other cases before. Though in those cases the inconsistencies have usually been fundamental to the substance of the story itself. So what the judge chooses to make of the track record of inconsistencies will be very interesting to see a verdict.

CUOMO: Kelly, so what do you make on that score of the judge consistently asking Pistorius why he is making mistakes, whether he is tired? What do you make of her questioning him?

PHELPS: She is almost certainly protecting herself in the court against a possible appeal. It would be grounds for his team to appeal for them to argue that his testimony was fundamentally unreliable because he was badgered by Nel in such a state of exhaustion and emotional breakdown that the court shouldn't and shouldn't possibly have taken anything of reliable value from the testimony. She is being very cautious because she is protecting the court against that allegation being made later down the line.

CUOMO: That is a key insight because back here we interpret her behavior as sympathetic. Maybe she is just checking her boxes and showing completeness of testimony. Kelly Phelps, thank you very much for the insight. We will be back to you for sure.

All right, so we have Pistorius, but it is not our only big story. We have violence raging in Ukraine. We have the next phase in the search for Flight 370. And in moments we have a passenger who was on that terrifying flight that hit severe turbulence. They are speaking out about what happened. We are going to get after all of it right now.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The plane felt like it dropped. Shoes were flying. Cell phones flying. People were screaming.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The escalating violence heightening the fears that Russia could say it has a reason to invade.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They fell from anywhere between 25 and 35 feet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A Dallas district judge handing down what some say is an inappropriately light sentence in a rape case.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was shocked a judge would go behind my back. I ended up being trapped in a small room and that is when he put me on the wall.


BOLDUAN: Good morning and welcome to NEW DAY. It's Monday, May 5th, 7:00 in the east. Breaking overnight, panic in the sky. Passengers terrified as their flight from Philadelphia to Orlando hit severe turbulence. CUOMO: Several people were injured including crew members. A passenger on the flight is Mark Pensiaro and he is joining us by phone. Mark, can you hear us?

MARK PENSIARO, PASSENGER (via telephone): I can.

CUOMO: The moment things change, what was that like on the plane?

PENSIARO: We were still climbing and had gone through light turbulence. It was kind of cloudy and stormy in the area. All of a sudden the airplane dropped, obviously hit a strong down draft. The airplane kind of rotated a little bit. Everybody kind of let out a collective holy crap what was that. It lasted no more than four or five seconds maybe and then the plane was recovered. You could clearly tell that we were no longer climbing. I think the pilot kind of decided at that time to settle things down. That's what it felt like.

CUOMO: As we all know it is not about the time but the intensity. We were just looking at a picture of a crack in the ceiling near where you have the overhead storage. What did that?

PENSIARO: That was funny -- not funny, but that was about three rows from where I was. I believe that was a passenger who must not have had seat belt on. I didn't see it happen, but I certainly noticed it. That person when we were deplaning the aircraft, that person had a neck brace on.

CUOMO: How many people in terms of like you said the seat belt, how many people had the seat belt on. Were people flying all over?

PENSIARO: No. Certainly not. It had been bumpy. It was pretty much light turbulence the whole flight. And frankly I was surprised to hear anybody was injured because I don't know who would have had their seat belt off. We were not in smooth air at any time during the flight.

CUOMO: And how did it wind up resolving itself? Did they come on and tell you everything is OK, now, I mean, you know, when did you get a sense that things are going to be all right?

PENSIARO: What they did was, you know, right after the incident, they asked if there were any medical personnel on the aircraft.