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EARLY START

Multinational Search for Flight 370 Debris; Crimea Officially Joining Russia; Military Veterans and Jobs

Aired March 21, 2014 - 04:00   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news overnight: searching for the wreckage of the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Planes and ships now scouring a remote southern section of the Indian Ocean up above at this moment. Are they seeing the debris that some believe could be part of the vanished jetliner?

We're bringing you live, team coverage of all of the latest developments overnight.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. Good to see you. I'm John Berman.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Poppy Harlow, in for Christine Romans today. It is Friday, March 21st, 4:00 a.m. on the East Coast, an early start for us because of all this breaking news.

BERMAN: An especially EARLY START.

HARLOW: Absolutely.

Up first, the race against time to find missing Flight 370. Five jets, four from Australia, one from the United States, scouring the surf zone in the Indian Ocean overnight, looking for two objects that could be connected to the missing jetliner. Ships are in the area as well. Visibility today described as excellent. That is a positive change.

But the search so far has turned up nothing. Listen to this update from the Australian maritime boss, John Young.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN YOUNG, AUSTRALIA'S MARITIME SAFETY CHIEF: Although the search area is much smaller than we started with, it nonetheless is a big area when you're looking out the window and trying to see something by eye. So, we may have to do this a few times to be confident about the coverage of that search area.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Let's go live straight right now to our Jim Clancy. He is in Kuala Lumpur. You know, I was just listening to that update, Jim, from the head of the Australian Maritime Authority, and they said, thus far, radar has picked up nothing. So, this is really a visual search at this point in time.

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, stop and take a look at the overall map and that search area. This is huge! And you have the probability that the planes are not able to stay on station for more than two hours. They spend most of their time going to and from that search area, burning up fuel in the process. That limits the search.

One plane we are told has returned already. Other planes are on station or on their way. They will continue to search as much of this area as they can.

We just heard from the defense minister/acting transportation minister here, Hishammuddin bin Hussein. He was coming into the hotel when he was mobbed by people. Really, it was a scene that reflects to us all just how desperate people are for any scrap of information, but he dashed those hopes, saying there is nothing new. He could not confirm reports that the flight simulator is being taken to the FBI headquarters in Langley, Virginia, for further examination.

He did say that they were getting great cooperation, that he had been on the telephone this day with officials in Britain, talking about what assets they might be able to send in. But really, this is a search, while coordinated from Kuala Lumpur, is right now very much in the hands of the Australians, at least on this front. And as you noted, there is nothing new.

Back to you.

HARLOW: And, Jim, they're also calling this still at this point the best lead that they have, and that transportation minister saying there in Kuala Lumpur that they are still holding out hope, because this is the best lead they have.

Talk to us a little bit about the response this morning from Australia's prime minister. He was asked about his statements yesterday, and he qualified them somewhat this morning.

Can you give us the latest on that?

CLANCY: Well, he dialed back I think the expectations that many people had. He noted that -- yes, it might be a cargo container floating out in the ocean. These are known to fall off some of the container ships, and as a result, we don't know what it might be.

So, it is the best lead that we have at this time because it's in the general area where they suspect that the plane might have been forced to go down, because that would be the area where it would have run out of fuel. At the same time, the Australians are saying this is the remotest place on earth. That was from Tony Abbott.

When you look at this search area, you begin to realize what a vast expanse of Open Ocean it is, how difficult it's going to be. And here in Kuala Lumpur, there's a sense on day 14, fully two weeks into this mystery, there's no unraveling it, there's no evidence.

And like many others, the defense minister said that he went to the mosque today, he prayed, and he prayed that some trace of this airliner was going to be located, some evidence was going to be found, because that is the wish of the families of all the officials here, of people around the world, from all different countries, that are waiting and hoping to find out, what is it that happened to this airliner with 239 souls aboard that simply vanished into thin air on a calm, moonless night.

Back to you.

HARLOW: Absolutely, Jim. Appreciate the reporting. So many questions and so many families in agony. We're going to take our viewers to Beijing live for that in just a moment. Thank you, Jim. Appreciate it.

BERMAN: And remember, these planes are flying over that search area at this minute. We're actually waiting for them to arrive back in Perth, Australia, to report on any results of what they may or may not be seeing from the sky right now.

Again, clear skies, a better day to search. We'll bring you the very latest when those planes report back.

President Obama has called finding Flight 370 a top U.S. priority, and right now, one of the U.S.'s most sophisticated surveillance planes is front and center in the south Indian Ocean search.

I want you to listen to CNN's chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, describe the role that the United States and other nations are now playing in the hunt for Flight 370.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: The U.S. has deployed its P8 Poseidon, most advanced surveillance aircraft. It can see very far and can travel very far and stay on station for a very long time to search for this. It's also got a P3 Orion taking part as well.

You know that the U.S. is looking at its satellites in this area, commercial, and perhaps some military, to see what they can add to these images that we've seen already.

In addition to that, the U.S. and Australia, along with New Zealand, the U.K. and Canada, are part of what's called the five is. This is really the U.S.'s closest allies in terms of sharing intelligence, and you can be sure they are able to share intelligence that we can't do even with allies in Europe, Germany, France, et cetera. That includes the most sensitive satellite data, the most sensitive radar data.

One thing we've become aware of is that Australia has some very advanced, over-the-horizon radar, which could come into play in a search like this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: And our thanks to Jim Sciutto for that.

Now, 14 days since flight 370 vanished, 14 days of unimaginable anguish for those who knew and loved the 239 people on board that plane. This latest debris sighting in the southern Indian Ocean did bring some hope for some of those families but also tears to others.

Our Pauline Chiou has been spending time with so many of these families in Beijing for the last two weeks. Pauline joining us live from Beijing again this morning, where I do understand that these Malaysian officials are now briefing the families, really for the first time, on the logistics of the search.

PAULINE CHIOU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and the families, John, are saying, finally, because we have been asking for days to have high- level executives from Malaysia Airlines and high-level government officials to come here to Beijing, where most of the families are, to answer our questions. And in this (VIDEO GAP) the focus is very intense.

These 450 relatives asked very pointed questions, very methodical questions of these officials and executives. Studying the information so carefully -- they've had 14 days to go over it --

BERMAN: All right. That's Pauline Chiou in Beijing.

We're having a hard time with the connection.

Pauline has been spending so much time with these families who were briefed by officials from Malaysia today.

HARLOW: Finally. Agony for them, waiting and waiting.

BERMAN: Waiting and waiting. As Pauline was saying, they've been asking very technical questions. They want to know where the nearest islands are, if those islands have been searched, they want to know about flight patterns, flight arcs, what satellites are seeing what, what new satellites can be deployed.

It's clear that they're following every twist and turn here and grasping for any concrete piece of evidence that may explain what's happened.

And Pauline's been spending so much time with them. We'll get back to her as soon as we get that connection back up.

HARLOW: We absolutely will, holding out hope that, possibly, their loved ones can be alive.

BERMAN: For some of them, I think that's part of it.

HARLOW: Of course.

BERMAN: For others, I think they just want some sense of closure.

HARLOW: Some answers.

We'll get back to Pauline as soon as we can.

Meantime, visibility in the south Indian Ocean is ideal right now. This is a good development.

BERMAN: That window of opportunity, however, could be closing soon. It's a brief window.

Meteorologist Chad Myers is tracking conditions in the search for missing flight 370.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: John and Poppy, what a difference 24 hours makes in the weather across parts of Australia. We had ugly weather yesterday, I mean, white caps everywhere. Think about looking for a white plane with white caps everywhere. Didn't happen.

Now, for today, now finally ending, it's getting dark down there pretty soon, things have been perfect. High sun, lots of sun, clear skies, calming seas and very, very few white caps. So, that has really helped tremendously.

Yesterday, honestly, there wasn't even a chance of finding anything out there, the weather was so bad. Now it has certainly changed. High pressure in control of the area for just one more day.

Need to really get some debris going here, find some of this stuff, because there's another storm on the way. Not really for rain. In the next 48 hours, the rain is well to the west of the area that they found those things here.

Now, the debris here -- there's the debris. And look at this red zone here. This is 48 hours. This really comes in, so for them, almost on Sunday.

This is a major windstorm. I mean, we're going to have 40 to 50-mile- per-hour winds. Again, back to the white caps, 30, 40-foot seas out there and very, very difficult conditions for any kind of search or rescue out there.

So, you really need to get some things done today, and again, tomorrow, good weather for them -- John, Poppy.

BERMAN: Thanks to Chad. Really explains why the next 24 are so crucial in the search.

HARLOW: So critical. And those satellite pictures are now four days old.

BERMAN: They are.

HARLOW: So, you have to consider the drift and bad weather is going to make that even harder to track.

BERMAN: We're going to talk to an expert in a bit about these satellite images and if more satellites can be searching that area. HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: Remember, the planes flying above that wreckage right now, or possible wreckage, or hoping to fly above where they think it might be. First of those planes is due back in Perth, Australia, at any minute. We're following that. We'll bring you any information as it comes in, as we follow the latest, breaking developments in the mystery of Flight 370.

First, though, the United States and Russia in a war of words this morning, and now a war of sanctions. Could the crisis in Ukraine escalate even further? We're live with the latest developments this morning right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARLOW: Welcome back to our breaking coverage of the disappearance of Flight 370, the search for debris that could be connected to this missing jet turning up nothing so far in the south Indian Ocean.

Overnight, five jets, four from Australia, one from the United States, flying over the region where two big objects were detected by satellite images. Ships in the area are searching as well. Visibility today, though, ideal. That is good for this search, but another storm moving in over the weekend. That could really hamper search efforts.

BERMAN: All right, we're following this every minute. We will bring you more coverage of the search for Flight 370 as it develops.

Remember, planes are searching the area right now.

First, though, we want to bring you really one of our other top stories this morning.

In Crimea, as it officially becomes part of the Russian Federation today. Russia's Lower House of Parliament voting 443-1 in favor of the treaty signed Tuesday by President Vladimir Putin. There is now one more procedural vote in the upper house that will cement, really, this annexation, and this is triggering another round of dueling sanctions.

The U.S. and the E.U. black-listing more Russians with ties to Vladimir Putin. Moscow responding by banning nine U.S. officials, among them John McCain.

So, the Arizona senator not exactly broken up over this. He's saying, quote, "I guess this means my spring break in Siberia is off." John McCain canceling his vacation plans. But this is a very serious matter.

Our Fred Pleitgen is in Moscow this morning -- Fred, with all the latest developments.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, John. It seems like John McCain is absolutely devastated by those sanctions against him, judging by his entry into twitter there. But you said it, the Russians at this point are cementing their grip on the Crimean peninsula.

As we speak right now, the Russian upper house of parliament is in session, and it's continuing that vote that will ratify that treaty between itself and the Crimean peninsula. After that, it needs to get signed by Vladimir Putin, but that really is nothing more than a formality.

So, even with these new sanctions happening, certainly, the Russians are showing no signs of being deterred. However, we do have to say that this new round of sanctions, very tough sanctions against Vladimir Putin's inner circle, it is having more of an effect than the first round has. Certainly, there's more of a climate of uncertainty among the business community here, there's a lot more anger that you can feel among Russian officials. That's also portrayed in the fact that they did these countersanctions.

So, certainly, this is having more of an effect than before. It's causing the relations to be even cooler than before, but the Crimean peninsula, for all intents and purposes, is something that the Russians are clearly saying they're not going to let go of, John.

BERMAN: While the president hasn't done it yet, he did put a target on the huge fuel, gas and oil industry of Russia, really threatening if things don't improve soon. That could be the next step, some sanctions in those crucial areas.

PLEITGEN: That could be the next step, and that is -- I mean, I hate to use the word red line, because it's been used so often in the past half year, but it is something that clearly shows that the president is drawing a red line if it comes to Russia possibly invading the east of Ukraine.

At the same time, however, the Russians do feel emboldened that their grip on Crimea is not going to be challenged. Essentially, if you listen to what Barack Obama said last night, he said that the sanctions he's putting in place now are for Russia annexing Crimea. So, it's some sanctions against a bunch of Vladimir Putin's friends, however, nothing beyond that, only if he takes a step further will there be additional sanctions that, obviously, would be a huge escalation of the situation.

If Russia moved into eastern Ukraine, that would basically put all bets off. Then certainly, you'd also see the European countries massively step up their sanctions against Russia as well.

So, I think that the U.S. is clearly showing Vladimir Putin, you've gone this far, we don't condone this in any way, shape or form, but if you go any further, then things are seriously going to get ratcheted up, John.

BERMAN: The situation clearly at a critical point.

All right. Fred Pleitgen in Moscow this morning -- thanks so much, Fred.

HARLOW: Other news this morning, mixed news on veterans and jobs. According to new federal data, as a whole, military veterans saw their unemployment rate fall last year below the national average, but troops who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, generally the younger troops coming home -- well, they are faring far worse when it comes to finding a job.

Those who served after the 9/11 attack had a 9 percent unemployment rate in 2013. That compares to the national average of 7.3 percent. And listen to this state, among 18 to 24-year-olds returning from war, 21 percent, that is their average unemployment rate. That is a big problem in this country.

BERMAN: We can all agree that everyone should work to improve on that.

HARLOW: Yes.

BERMAN: All right. Nineteen minutes after the hour.

Happening today, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush delivering the keynote address at an economic forum in Florida. The former governor is reportedly mulling a presidential run in 2016. He hasn't ruled it out. His public schedule is seriously picking up steam over the next few weeks as he does lend his name to a dizzying array of events, many in support of Republican congressional candidates.

A recent CNN poll placed Bush in fifth place in a matchup of possible GOP contenders, but that could rise if he becomes more serious and seen as more clearly serious, I think, to the Republican base.

HARLOW: Yes, it's going to be fascinating to watch, even though we are months and months and months away.

BERMAN: It's time. Let's start talking about it now. Why wait?

HARLOW: We watch every move.

Meantime, I want to bring you this story. Victims of an alleged south Houston stash house are being interviewed by investigators today as we learn more about just squalled conditions at this site.

Federal agents now say some 115 undocumented immigrants, mostly from Mexico and Central America, were discovered there. Quote, "Bodies upon bodies held in filthy conditions," according to police. They say five suspects will be charged with hostage-taking and conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens.

BERMAN: The founder of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church, Fred Phelps, has died. His Topeka, Kansas, congregation was infamous for its vehement antigay rhetoric and public events for funerals of American soldiers. Phelps had been called by some as the most hated man in America and seemed to wear that as a badge of honor. He died of natural causes. Fred Phelps was 84. HARLOW: Next month, General Motors CEO Mary Barra will testify before a congressional committee that is investigating the automaker's handling of faulty ignition switches. The problem is linked to at least 31 accidents and at least 12 deaths. General Motors has admitted that it knew about this issue back in 2004 but only announced a recall last month.

Barra has been the CEO of G.M. only since January, and she does admit that the company mishandled the situation. She also says that no one should be surprised if there is, indeed, a criminal investigation. That hearing will be in D.C. on April 1st.

BERMAN: They've got some PR issues they're dealing with very carefully at G.M. right now.

HARLOW: Yes.

BERMAN: We are following the breaking news overnight, all the twists and turns in the search for flight 370. At this moment, planes and ships searching the southern Indian Ocean for the missing Malaysian flight. They're hoping to get a better look at that debris that appeared to be captured by that satellite image.

What are those planes finding this morning? We're live with how investigators are trying to piece together this puzzle, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All right. Welcome back, everyone.

As we speak, search teams are flying over the south Indian Ocean in a race against time to find those two objects, two apparent objects pictured in these satellite images that could possibly, maybe be debris from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

Everyone says this is the best lead so far, really, in the desperate attempt to find the missing jetliner. But in the end, the question is, what are the odds that they will be successful in identifying them?

We turn to John Blaxland, senior fellow from the Australian National University. He joins us live from Canberra, Australia.

And, John, thanks so much for being with us.

I wonder if you can give me a sense of where they are in the search now. It's day two of these planes flying overhead, day two of that Norwegian cruise ship being in that vicinity. And now, you know, it's five days after the satellites first took those images.

So, where do we stand today?

JOHN BLAXLAND, SENIOR FELLOW, AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL UNIVERSITY: Well, you're absolutely right, it's five days after that image. So, the debris that was identified in those photographs is now quite at a different location. It's moved on. It's moved on to a different spot entirely, probably several hundred miles further to the east.

And the problem is now, OK, there's been a request for additional imagery, but the imagery may not necessarily identify very much at all. The problem is that even though we've got good conditions at the moment, the photos that we saw from five days ago had an item that was just below the surface of the water. We don't know today if it's a meter or 3 feet further down or if it's still visible at all.

So, it's really problematic for the imagery analysts to be able to pick out from the pictures that they're seeing anything at all, and the same applied to the pilots and the air crew flying the surveillance aircraft out there at the moment. While the conditions are good, they're really trying to focus and make that happen right now, making that happen now.

But the problem is that it's still a needle in a haystack. There's no knowing what's going on.

And in addition, there's a lot of pressure. A lot of other countries got buy-in, Malaysia and China in particular has got some buy-in on this. And we're seeing some pressure building at the moment for China to participate in this activity. And, of course, that's a big deal.

Now, traditionally, Australia has operated very, very closely with the U.S. Armed Forces, operated very closely with New Zealand and also with countries like Malaysia, because we have got formal defense arrangements with Malaysia, but China hasn't featured very prominently in the past. It's new ground.

So, if China is to play, there's a lot of teething issues, a lot of stuff to iron out. And so, there's resistance to go there at the moment.

BERMAN: Right. Certainly hope international tensions don't get in the way of a successful or potentially successful search.

Our John Blaxland, thanks for being with us. We'll speak to you again this morning as we follow the minute-by-minute developments in the search for this possible debris. Thanks, John.

HARLOW: All right, we also have more live, team coverage of the mystery of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. We'll bring you that live, straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)