Return to Transcripts main page

Erin Burnett Outfront

Investigation Launched Into Cause Of "Implosion"; Sources: White House Officials Closely Watching Situation In Russia Amid Reports Of Armored Vehicles On Streets. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired June 23, 2023 - 19:00   ET



ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, what went wrong? The mystery surrounding the implosion of the Titanic-bound sub deepening as one man who passed up a seat on the doomed voyage speaks out. Why his gut told him that this trip was not safe, and tonight, he's live to tell the story.

Plus, inside the implosion, we're going to show you what the catastrophe may have looked like underwater. I'm joined by a world renowned explorer and a friend of those onboard to talk about the Titan's warning signs he heard himself.

And breaking news, tanks on the streets of Moscow tonight. Russia breaking into state television with an urgent message. And now, the head of Russia's private army tonight being accused of attempting a coup. Major developments in Moscow tonight.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening, I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, a new mission to the Titan debris field underway at this hour. The robot that found the sub's wreckage near the Titanic is back deep underwater to search and map the debris. It's a slow process, right? It's pitch black, the robot is operating under that crushing pressure, 380 times the pressure on the service.

And as its new mission is underway at this hour, we are learning troubling new details about the Titan submersible. A marine certification company telling CNN that it rejected a request to certify the doomed Titan. The company is called Lloyds Register. It didn't say why it declined to give the Titan its approval back in 2019 when they sought it, but OceanGate defended his position to forgo getting the Titan certified on its website.

They have now taken a defense down. But what it said was bringing in outside entity up to speed on every innovation before it is put into real world testing is anathema to rapid innovation.

Now, there were some potential passengers, though, who are worried about safety on the Titan. These worries were part of the reason why Las Vegas investor Jay Bloom passed on two seats, one for himself and one for some of the doomed Titan's last trip to the Titanic, seats that eventually did go to another father and son Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman.

Now, I'm going to speak to Bloom in just a moment, he said for months, Stockton Rush, the OceanGate CEO who was killed on this trip, was messaging him, pressing him to buy the two tickets. At one point, even knocking $100,000 of the $250,000 price tag.

According to one message, Rush writes, have a space on mission one, May 11, and 19, and two, May 20 to 28, last minute price is $150,000 per person.

Now those trips, according to Bloom, were delayed until June because of weather. So those are the trips that, well, they just happen. And Bloom responded that his son was concerned about the danger. Rush responded, it's way safer than flying in a helicopter or even scuba diving. There has not even been an injury in 35 years in a non- military sub.

Well, in a moment, I'm going to speak to Jay Bloom and his son. And they will be with me.

But, first, Jason Carroll is standing by OUTFRONT in Boston. Gloria Pazmino is in St. John's, Newfoundland, tonight.

Let me begin with you, Jason, because OceanGate now facing more and more scrutiny tonight about what went wrong here.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. And we have been hearing more examples from people who have come forward and said that they took issue with OceanGate. They took issue with the safety of the Titan. This as Canada's transportation safety board has announced today that it is launching its own investigation into what happened.


CARROLL (voice-over): These are some of the first images of the remotely operated vehicles which found portions of the Titan's hull and continue tonight on a new mission to search and map the debris site.

The ROVs will continue searching for more evidence of the accident. A submersible lost contact with the ship on the surface one hour and 45 minutes into its descent on Sunday.

DAVID GALLO, SENIOR ADVISER FOR STRATEGIC INITIATIVES, RMS TITANIC INC: The other thing that I heard was that PH had contacted the surface ship and said there's a problem, or dropping weight and surfacing immediately. Now I can't verify that, but that to me meant something really happened very quickly.

CARROLL: OceanGate did not comment when asked about what Gallo had heard. Deep sea experts questioned the lack of testing of the vessel, and the integrity of materials used to make the hull. A CNN review shows that while OceanGate publicly touted a commitment to safety measures, it rejected industry standards that would have imposed greater scrutiny on its operations and vessels.

ANNOUNCER: Especially trained crew members safely diving to the Titanic wreckage site.


CARROLL: In this promotional video published last year, the company touted an unforgettable but safe voyage. That video also features Paul-Henri Nargeolet, one of the passengers on board Titan.

PAUL-HENRI NARGEOLET, FRENCH MARITIME EXPERT: The sub, for me, it's very well done because it's simple. Usually, they have a lot of equipment and a lot of switches. On this one, you don't have it because you work with the screen and with the keyboard, and it's very easy to do that.

CARROLL: CNN also learned two former OceanGate employee separately voiced safety concerns about the design of the Titan. OceanGate has not responded to CNN about those claims.

And in 2019, Lloyds Register, a marine certification company, declined a request from OceanGate to certify the Titan. The company has not said why.

OceanGate's cofounder, who left the company in 2013, cautioned against rushing to judgment.

GUILLERMO SOHNLEIN, CO-FOUNDER, OCEANGATE: There are teams on site that are still going to be collecting data for the next few days, weeks, maybe months and it's going to be a long time before we know exactly what happened down there.


CARROLL (on camera): And in terms of what's happening out there, let me just give you, Erin, a quick update on the terms of North Atlanta activities. The navy has announced that it is pulling back removing its deep ocean salvage system from the area. However, those smaller robotic vehicles, those ROVs that we talked about, those will continue to try to salvage whatever they can from the ocean floor -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Jason, thank you very much.

And now as promised, I want to go to Gloria, because, Gloria, at any moment we could start to, see right? The mothership of the Titan vessel, the Polar Prince, and other rescue ships returning.

GLORIA PAZMINO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Erin. In fact, we have been monitoring bow traffic in the last several minutes, and we see that there are two ships that are returning right here to where we are harbor side in St. John's. One of them is a Canadian coast guard ship, and the other is a private vessel. Both of them had been participating in the search and rescue mission, and they are returning to shore.

Also coming back here to where we are is the Polar Prince. Now, the Polar Prince had been operating as a mothership to the Titan. Anna polar prince is carrying what is left of Ocean Gates crew. Now you can just imagine what that crew has been through over the last several days. First, losing contact with their vessel on Sunday, then trying to look for it, trying to attempt some sort of rescue, only to learn of that catastrophic implosion.

Now, even though the Polar Prince is returning here to port, it does not mean that the recovery mission is over. In fact, a remote operating vehicle that first found the debris of the vessel is back out on a second mission. That's the Audacious, and it is back out at the bottom of the ocean as we speak. And it's mapping the area where the debris might be found.

That is going to be critical information, especially now that we know the Canadian transportation was connecting investigation. They're going to need that information in order to figure out what happened here, and whether or not it could've been prevented -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Gloria, thank you very much.

And OUTFRONT now, as promised, Jay Bloom and his son Sean. Jay gave up their seats on the Titans on this trip, another father and I did take those seats, they want to Titan and as we know sadly, and tragically lost their lives.

So I appreciate both of you taking the time to talk to me about this.

Jay, I know initially, you and Sean will very intrigued by taking a trip on the Titan, right? You are in a small group of people, right? I just have the intrepid curiosity, you were curious about it.

When you first learned of the Titan was missing, and then those days they were hoping for rescue, you are imagine like everybody else -- but for you is different. That it could've been you down there, right? Gasping for air.

Then you found out it imploded. Then you keep seeing the images of the father and son who did take your seats. What went through your mind?

JAY BLOOM, TURNED DOWN SEATS ON TITAN SUB: Well, it's a very surreal experience in the beginning. You know, you know you're supposed to be on that -- you had the opportunity to beyond that sub. And, you see, it's everywhere, everywhere we look.

And the most haunting thing about it is when you look at the news, out my laptop on social media, television it was everywhere. And then they show pictures of the people who lost their lives, and all I can see when I saw that father and son was myself and my son. It could have been us in that picture.

BURNETT: And, Sean, I mean obviously, the other young man there he was 19, you are 20, right?


I mean, it is eerie, the parallels. What did you first think when you learned what happened?

SEAN BLOOM, FATHER TURNED DOWN SEATS ON TITAN SUB: When the news initially broke, before the news initially broke when we were considering actually going a submarine ourselves, one of the safety concerns I had before getting on was literally about the structural integrity of the submarine. Before we got on, I saw a video of Stockton explaining on the submarine worked with the remote and everything like that, and I saw a lot of red flags with it, it was only meant for five people. I just did not think that it can survive going that low into the ocean.

So, ultimately, I ended up one morning my dad about it, and he ended up agreeing with me and when we tried to ask Stockton questions, he brushed it off a little bit. It was red flags from the start, and then when the story came out, you know in the first day initially we thought that -- the first thing we thought is that the submarine imploded because it's very difficult for a submarine of that size to get to the bottom of the ocean and not implode, but that was the first thing that went through our head was that either it imploded or it got stuck out of the Titanic on the first day.

BURNETT: Right, and I know, you had had these concerns.

Jay, what's interesting is you had an exchange with Stockton Rush in April. He says quote, have a space on mission one and two, last minute price, 150 per person. You replied, I'll check my schedule to see if I can make it work. Three days later, he says, any luck?

And at one point I know that he went to Vegas, he actually traveled to Vegas to see you, to try to meet with you, to close the deal.

Now, Jay, you are talking about red flags. What about that trip raised red flag to you? I mean, he came all the way to see you to get you to buy these tickets?

J. BLOOM: Yes. You know, Stockton -- I think his heart was in the right place, and he really was passionate about this project, and he believed everything he was saying.

But one of the things that concern me was he told me he was flying in to see me, and he was landing at North Las Vegas Airport, which was an odd selection. Most people that come in privately come into either McCarran, which is now Harry Reid International, or they come into Henderson Executive. I asked him why, he said he was coming in on a two-seater experimental plane that he built.

And I started to think about it, he's coming in on a two-seater experimental plane to pitch me to go on a five-seater experimental sub that he built down to the ocean floor to see the Titanic. And it was just -- he has a different risk appetite than I do.

I'm a pilot. I have my helicopter pilot's license. I would not get into an experimental aircraft.

S. BLOOM: Yeah.

BURNETT: I mean, yeah. Sean, when you think about what happened here, and how close you were to being on this, right? I know that you all thought about it. Did you ever convey to Stockton Rush safety concerns?

I mean, I know at one point, Jay, you talked about a friend of Sean's who was worried about things like a squid hitting it, and you know, he dismissed those concerns.

Did you talk to him some of your serious structural issues and worries that you had?

J. BLOOM: Yeah, he came out to Las Vegas in March to see me. We met a couple of times in person, but the March one -- the March trip, he came out, he actually took me through the Titanic exhibition at the Luxor, then we had lunch after.

And we talked about the expedition that he wanted to go on, any walk me through it. And then we talked about the safety concerns. And I think he had so much passion for the project that he was blinded by it. He wasn't objective, and he did not look at things that I saw, and that others saw that were problematic because it just did not fit his narrative. It's unfortunate, you know?

BURNETT: I mean, it's tragic. Sean, I began by saying you and your dad are the kinds of people who would consider something like this. You are already in a small group, right? People who find this that something that could instill curiosity as opposed to, ugh, right?

So, where are you now? As a change that you see it? Would you ever consider doing a trip like this together you seen this happen?

S. BLOOM: I mean, it's very sad and tragic that I kind of predicted this outcome. My dad was very excited to go, and was very excited to take me because I was obsessed with the Titanic as a little kid, and I was really looking forward to doing it. But the second is on the submarine and how it worked, like I knew that one of the first outcomes -- me and my friend Simon actually, that friend that everyone was talking about. We both knew immediately that this submarine could not make it to the bottom of the ocean.

It's sad that our prediction came true. But as far as us doing something like this ever again? I mean, the ocean is scarier than space. We know more about space than we do about the ocean. And so, it's definitely not something we are ever going to be trying to do again.


You know what I mean? Like it's just not -- not for us, you know? Not again.

BURNETT: Well, I'm glad you're brought together and you're safe. I know you have an appreciation for that now that you didn't have, you just, could not tangibly have even days ago.

So, thank you both very much.

J. BLOOM: Thank you for having us.

S. BLOOM: Thank you for having us.

BURNETT: All right. And next, an implosion miles underwater. We are going to show you what that Titan catastrophe may have looked like deep underwater.

Plus, I will talk to world renowned explorer Victor Vescovo, the first person in fact to have reached the bottom of all the world's oceans. He's done it, he's been there, and he just turned down a trip on the Titan to see the Titanic. Why?

And breaking news out of Russia tonight, these developments are coming in quickly this evening. Reports that military vehicles are driving through the streets of Moscow after the head of Putin's private army accused the Kremlin of killing his own man. Putin is involved in the situation, Prigozhin now a wanted man, it's moving quickly.

We'll be right back.


BURNETT: Tonight, warning signs. A submersible expert says he heard cracking noises while he was inside an OceanGate vessel that was diving like this one more than 12,000 feet in the ocean. This is according to "The New York Times", who says the man made the dive in 2019, and says that the noises got louder as the vessel traveled people underwater.

The man says he then warned OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush to cancel future jobs until they can determine the source of the noises. Of course, that didn't happen, and it comes as a mystery grows over what finally caused the Titan to implode.

Nick Watt is OUTFRONT.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The initial thing we found was the nose cone, which was outside of the pressure hull, we then found a large debris field.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Contact had been lost about one hour 45 minutes into what is usually a dissent of two and a half hours. The submersible was probably around two miles underwater on the surface, pressure is 15 pounds per square inch down there, nearly 5,000 psi. That's like having one pick up truck parked on every single square inch of the skin of the sub.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN MAUGER, U.S. COAST GUARD: The debris is consistent with a catastrophic implosion of the vessel.

WATT: An explosion is basically pressure from inside pushing out. An implosion is, watch this discovery channel demonstration, pressure from outside pushing in. On a sub, what would that look like?

DAVID MARQUET, U.S. NAVY SUBMARINE CAPTAIN (RET.): If there was some sort of a flaw, like a little temple in the surface, it would just be this -- almost immediate accordion collapse of the pressure vessel. The other, I think potentialities, is that some cracked available. Water starts to shoot through, and you basically create the Grand Canyon in a millisecond. Then that water comes in, boom, it's like an explosion on the inside, and it blows the vessel apart.

WATT: According to OceanGate, the Titan could drop to nearly two and a half miles. It was definitely not that deep when it imploded. They say it's construction involved the innovative use of modern materials.

STOCKTON RUSH, CEO, OCEANGATE: This is another three and a quarter inch thick Titanium dome vaulted to another Titanium piece glued to the carbon fiber.

WATT: That connection, the glue, and those modern materials, the carbon fiber, will be a focus for investigators.

JAMES CAMERON, "TITANIC" DIRECTOR: It's completely inappropriate for a vessel that sees external pressure.

WATT: James Cameron directed "Titanic", dive down to the wreckage himself 33 times.

CAMERON: We always understood that this was the wrong material for submersible hulls because with each pressure cycle, you can have progressive damage. So it's quite insidious, because you may have a number of successful dives, which is what happened here, and have it failed later.

WATT: Sub implosions are rare when they happen, when it happened. They are almost always catastrophic. Nereus, an unmanned submersible imploded more than six mile down near New Zealand in 2014. And American nuclear sub, the USS Thresher imploded off Cape Cod in 1963 with the loss of all 129 souls on board.

The Titan would have imploded in a fraction of a millisecond, those inside would not have known what happened.


WATT (on camera): Now, that large plexiglass viewing window that you just saw, that is also going to be a focus for investigators. It was seven inches thick, and stock interest said that down by Titanic, under the pressure, that glass would squeeze in by about three quarters of an inch, which brings you back to the carbon fiber. That was, apparently, also supposed to be seven inches thick. Ultimately we hear, it was only five inches thick.

And, you know, carbon fiber is very, very strong, but under too much pressure, it is not going to squeeze like that plexiglass. It is actually going to shatter.

Finally, Erin, a little note, Lloyds Register, the marine certification company --


WATT: -- they tell CNN they declined our request to certify the Titan. They did not say why. Erin?

BURNETT: All right. Nick, thank you very much.

I want to go to Greg Stone now, the chief ocean scientist for The Metals Company. He knew OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush.

And Bobby Chacon, a retired FBI special agent and the former lead diver for the FBI's underwater search and evidence response team.

So I appreciate both of you very much.

Greg, obviously, we are all, sorry for the tragic loss. And we are sorry for the loss of somebody that you knew, right? That you knew personally.

Obviously, carbon fiber is -- the sub had been up and down multiple times to the Titanic. I don't know exactly how many, but it had been back and forth, and back and forth. Carbon fiber, of course, is relatively new even as using airplanes over the past decade. Certainly underwater, this was on the forefront of innovation.

What do you think causes vessel to explode, Greg?

GREG STONE, CHIEF OCEAN SCIENTIST, THE METALS COMPANY: Well, I'm a marine biologist, Erin, so engineering is not my field. Although I have spent a lot of time and submarines, and I do know the feeling of wondering about that, and worried about that during a dive. The -- it obviously couldn't take the pressure as the other submarines that you identify prior to this experience, and they were made of other various materials.

We are going to have to get it up on the surface, and lay it out, and hopefully liquidity with airplane crashes, find where it was that this -- it's very important to find that out.


Otherwise this line of investigation, this line of exploration is that an end, if you can't determine what happened here.

There is tremendous pressure down there. It's -- I usually use elephants per square inch of your body instead of trucks. It's that -- it's that high. I can't tell you what happened.

I do know Stockton was an aerospace engineer (AUDIO GAP) advancing rapidly. It's not integrated for this use (AUDIO GAP) so this is part of that integration. (INAUDIBLE).

BURNETT: Yes. I mean, absolutely. Now, Bobby, we've got five images right now of some of the rescue vehicles that are returning rescue vehicles that are returning to St. John's.

Right now, they have been out searching in the debris field, obviously, there is a remote operated vehicles, an ROV that's being used to recover some of the debris itself. I know that you specialize in these sorts of search efforts, right, and getting these things. How long could it be, Bobby, before experts actually have enough of

materials to answer what happened?

BOBBY CHACON, FORMER FBI DIVE LEADER AND SPECIAL AGENT: Erin, that's going to depend on a few things. It's going to depend on, whether first of all. Then it's going to depend on manpower, second of all, how many people they can throw at this thing. They can, you know, offer 24/7 if they have enough manpower to keep those ROVs on the bottom.

And you, know the weather window this time of year is open, but you know, who knows how long it's going to stay that way? So, you want to make sure that they are on station, and they are doing this.

In TW Flight 800, the 747 that crashed in 1996 over Long Island, I was a diver on that wreck. It took us four months to recover over 90 percent of that 747, and the Boeing engineers put it back together and determine the cause.

But, you know, in this case, it's off as a much smaller craft. The vessel can be, I think, collected as much as they can in a couple of days to a week if they have the right manpower, if they have the right ROVs, and then bring that stuff to the surface for analysis.

BURNETT: Greg, you know, one thing that Nick just mentioned was, obviously, the window. The window you would see in a washing machine, which I know sounds really turned into a lot of people, but for some of these submersibles, right? It was deep -- it was a good window, right? It was wide, he was going through some of the -- how it would -- the material would shrink or expand depending on where it was with the pressure.

Do you think that the window -- I mean, sorry to the layperson it looks like it could be very important, but obviously you've been down these sorts of things so many times? Do you think it could be significant, or couldn't be anywhere along the body?

STONE: I think it could've been anywhere along the body. One thing to remember to, though, submarines are always design under pressure they are meant to get tighter, right? Tighter. As pressure comes in, the window gets pushed in even closer.

Historically, research submarines, submarines of this size class have not had many accidents. They have usually gone entangled, and people have come to death through hypothermia, lack of oxygen.

Another instance, once, a submarine porthole that you are asking me about, inadvertently hit a part of a shipwreck it was looking at. The pilot got a little too close, and his hand hit the thruster too fast, and the -- it went into a piece of rebar, I think, that was coming out of the side of the ship. That's another possibility, as that the submarine could've hit something at a speed that was enough to knock it out of balance.

BURNETT: Bobby, when you talk about the Titan, it had done a lot of dives, a number of drives the Titanic over the past couple of years. And in 2021, a court filing, OceanGate said the Titan itself had undergone more than 50 test dives. Is there any way that they will -- I mean, I guess is what the testing has to yield to determine whether carbon fiber played a role, but that all of that just suddenly you would not get a warning? And that it would snap? Or what?

CHACON: I mean, it depends on where the breach was, that is the key thing they are going to see. Weather is the window, weather was that one of the openings, whether it was -- just a Titan malfunction in one of the walls.

I mean, every time these, these vessels are subject to this pressure, and they come back up they need to be completely broken down, reexamined, because like you know, a specialty to get taken out of rotation after a while and retire. You have to retire some vessels after a while because they just get the wear and tear on them, and sometimes a testing does not reveal some of the weaknesses. And then you just, you know, after wildest to take them out of rotation.

I'm not saying that that was a case here, but that is something that we see in these vessels, and these craft that they're there are subject to pressures.


BURNETT: All right, thank you both very much. I appreciate it.

STONE: Thank you for having us.

BURNETT: All right. And next, the breaking news at a Moscow tonight. State television Russia just interrupting its regular scheduled programming. We will tell you what they said, as Moscow tonight is ramping up security. Tanks and military vehicles in the streets, and now calls for the head of the Wagner group to be detained.

Plus, the U.S. now closely watching this major escalation between Putin and Prigozhin, and we are learning that President Biden has now just been briefed on the situation.


BURNETT: Breaking news, armored vehicles on the streets of Moscow, as the Russian state media this hour says security measures have been stepped up in Moscow. State media also saying Putin is aware of a situation unfolding around Yevgeny Prigozhin, the chief of the Private Wagner Army.

The situation is so serious tonight that state television broke into schedule programming, broke into it to deliver this message to the Russian people from the Russian ministry of defense.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): All the messages and video footage spread on social networks on behalf of Yevgeny Prigozhin that the ministry of defense than the Russian federation allegedly carried out strikes on the rear caps of the Wagner PMC is not true, and is an informational provocation.


BURNETT: Breaking into programming to tell Russian people not to listen to Prigozhin, while armored vehicles are on the streets of Moscow. These developments coming after Prigozhin today essentially declared war the Russian military, because he did.


He accused him of deliberately striking his fighters, and of killing a, quote, huge amount of them. And then he vowed to punish those who did it.


YEVGENY PRIGOZHIN, WAGNER CHIEF (through translator): They saw that we weren't broken, and they launched strikes on our camps. A huge amount of our fighters were killed, our comrades in arms. We will make a decision about how to respond to these atrocities. The next step is ours.


BURNETT: Was that a declaration of war?

Matthew Chance is OUTFRONT.

And, Matthew, look, these are sort of unprecedented and quickly moving situations here. What is going on here?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, it's very difficult to know exactly what is going on, because the situation is moving so quickly. But it is absolutely astonishing that the situation has been allowed by the Kremlin to deteriorate this far before, you know, this kind of significant action was taken.

The tensions between Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner chief, and the Russian defense ministry have been deteriorating and simmering for months now. And, of course now, Prigozhin is vowing to attack Russian troops in retaliation for what he says was an attack on his own paramilitary forces earlier today. Some of these images are quite graphic.


CHANCE (voice-over): These are the chaotic scenes posted by the Wagner mercenary group, of what they say is their forest camp struck by the Russian military. In a clearing, trees appear to have been smashed, some with fabric strewn from their branches. Through a gash in the soil, a fire burns on what appears to be a destroyed bunker. There are gruesome images to, of a corpse in the undergrowth, as well as severed body parts.

The Russian defense ministry denies any role in this, but a furious Wagner leader is vowing revenge. PRIGOZHIN: Those who destroyed our guys today, along with tens of

thousands of lives of Russian soldiers will be punished. I ask nobody to put up any resistance. Justice for the troops will be restored, and then justice for all of Russia.

CHANCE: It is a threat of violence now posing a major challenge to the authority of President Putin. The Kremlin says all necessary measures are being taken, and neither Russian security service has opened a criminal case into what they say is a call for arm rebellions.

Patients with Prigozhin appears to have finally run out. The Wagner chief, who's mercenaries have played a key role in the Ukraine war, has long been at odds with Russia's military command, accusing them repeatedly of mishandling the conflict. But recent weeks have seen tensions escalate after the Kremlin ordered all Russian mercenaries to sign contracts with the defense ministry in a move seen as a crackdown on Wagner.

In the hours before the alleged strike on the Wagner camp, Prigozhin stepped up his war of words, accusing the defense ministry of tricking the country into an unprovoked invasion back in February last year.

WAGNER: On February 24th, nothing extraordinary happened. But the ministry of defense was trying to deceive the public, to deceive the president, and say that there was insane aggression on the part of Ukraine, and that they were going to attack us together with NATO. The war was not needed in order to return Russian citizens to our bosom, and not needed in order to demilitarize, and denazify Ukraine.

CHANCE: It is a bold, even dangerous criticism of Russia's war that, maybe plunging the country into turmoil.


CHANCE (on camera): Well, tonight, Erin, Moscow, the Russian capital has been placed on alert while Yevgeny Prigozhin in his latest address on social media has said that his forces are entering the southern Russian region of Rostov, and the south of the country just across from the border of Ukraine. And he says his intention to go on, in his words, until the end -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Matthew.

Let's go straight to the White House now, because these developments are now front and center there as well.

Jeremy Diamond is OUTFRONT there.

Jeremy, how concerned is the White House about what is, literally unfolding as we speak in Russia? I mean, Matthew talking about Prigozhin saying that he is going to Rostov-on-Don, a Russian city. We don't know in what capacity, what's happening, but this is changing minute by minute.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: There's no question about, it is a fast-moving force situation with massive geopolitical implications.


And so, obviously, the White House, very, very closely monitoring the situation. I am also told that officials are being very cautious about any kind of statements that they put out because of the fast moving nature of what is happening. But I can tell you, Erin, that President Biden has indeed been briefed on this unfolding situation in Russia, and I have a statement from the National Security Council spokesman Adam Hodge who says, quote, we are monitoring the situation and will be consulting with allies and partners on these developments.

Now as I mentioned, this is a situation with so many implications here, obviously in the war in Ukraine. We know the key role that the Wagner group has played in helping Russia with its military invasion of that country. But beyond even the war in Ukraine, you know, Russia is a nuclear power. And so whatever happens, any kind of power struggle is obviously going to have massive geopolitical implications.

Now, the U.S. has long monitored tensions between the Wagner Group and the Russian ministry of defense, we have heard that directly from the podium here at the White House, but obviously this is going to be a very long night here at the White House, and I suppose in capitals around the world monitoring the situation -- Erin.

BURNETT: Absolutely. Jeremy, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

Retired Army Major General Spider Marks joins me and we have spoken throughout this war so many times.

So, General Marks, the latest Prigozhin says he's entering Rostov-on- Don, a Russian city, we don't know whether that's invading, or staying or what it is. It comes as you have armored vehicles on the streets of Moscow, they're breaking a new state TV saying don't believe anything Prigozhin says. He says the Russians attack and killed a lot of his fighters. The next steps are our hours.

It sounds like a declaration of some sort of a war. It is unclear. What do you even make of all of this?

SPIDER MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, what that really describes, Erin, is this element of extreme chaos and uncertainty. I mean, it has been described that these events are rolling, very, very quickly. But what it tells you, I think at the strategic level, is that you end up with circumstances like this when you have strongman, when you have these autocrats, and everybody pledged their loyalty to the individual.

This is not a constitutional crisis. What this is is that two strongmen, Putin and Prigozhin, that have allowed the strategic lunacy to take place. So, looking at this from the outside in, what are all the other global powers thinking that has just been discussed in terms of how they think this is going to play out? And what longer term implications are.

Look, if Prigozhin gets apprehended, and somebody pops him in the head, what does that mean in terms of Putin's longevity?

BURNETT: Right, what does that mean? I mean they are now sending, police security services Russia, you're talking about these disparate groups, are employing Wagner fighters to detain, and turn Prigozhin in. Now who knows what happens? If something like that happens, does that then become something much bigger? I -- it's possible to know?

MARKS: This is internal fighting, and I don't know that we can predict this with any level of certainty, right? I hate the sound cynical, but why not? I mean, this could be some drama that's playing out that enhances Putin's stature at the expense of Prigozhin that is already been pre-baked. Prigozhin goes away, but he manages to live to fight another day in some means.

We simply do not know right now, but we have seen this. This is a failed military, with failed leadership. Putin has allowed that to take place. He has inserted this Wagner group to try to unscrew a number of significant problems and you ended up, cooking up this type of challenge. This is the very highest project levels, because nukes can be involved. That must be the first order of business.

BURNETT: All right. General, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

MARKS: Thanks.

BURNETT: And we are going to stay with this breaking news that is developing by the minute. Russia saying that it has upped its security pressure in Moscow. Prigozhin claiming his men have now entered a city in southern Russia. The Biden administration now watching each development here extremely closely.

Plus, more on that lost Titanic bound sub. I'm going to talk to renowned explorer and diver Victor Vescovo. He has been to the deepest parts of the ocean with his friend who died on the Titan. You will hear why he passed on this doomed trip inside the sub.



BURNETT: We are following the breaking news out of Moscow and more is developing by the minute. We want to get you the information here isn't as we hear it.

Tonight, there are military vehicles on the streets of Moscow. Russia on a heightened sense of alert after the FSB security service accused Wagner group's leader Yevgeny Prigozhin of calling for an armed coup. Prigozhin tonight vowing retaliation after claiming that the Russian military killed a lot of his fighters in a strike.

And he has also just announced that his fighters are entering the Russian region of Rostov, saying, quote, we will destroy everything that gets in our way. That's the very latest we have, we will destroy everything that gets in our way, as he is entering the Russian region of Rostov. Our national security reporter Natasha Bertrand has been covering the

story closely and following the American response as it develops.

And, Natasha, what more do you know?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yeah, Erin, so U.S. officials are telling us as this kind of inflamed rhetoric from Prigozhin is actually much more serious they have seen from him in the past. Importantly, it does not come after some kind of Russian military failure in the Ukraine that he has been so critical of. It comes after he has accused the Russian ministry of defense of actually ordering an air strike on his troops inside Ukraine.

So, they are very concerned that he is out for revenge at this moment. A U.S. official to tell us he believes it is, quote, real. U.S. officials are monitoring this very closely. Previously, they have, of course, look at this relationship between Russia's ministry of defense and Wagner with a lot of possession because, obviously, there is a very intense palace rule that has been underway between those two entities for quite some time. Now there is always a question of whether that would result in perhaps Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, giving Wagner group and Prigozhin more power inside Ukraine.

But U.S. officials now, you know, they are taking what Prigozhin is saying and doing very seriously and they are consulting with allies and with partners on what this could actually mean.


Is it a real coup attempt? Is it something more deceptive than that? Right now, it is still really unclear -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Natasha, thank you very much. And, of course, as she gets more, she'll bring it to us.

Steve Hall is with me now. The former CIA chief of Russia operations.

And, Steve, from these various details that are coming in, what do you read between the lines? What do you hear?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think Natasha's reporting, Erin, was really dead on. This is something different. This is in a different league.

These three comments specifically that Prigozhin made, saying, look, we need to get to Moscow, we need to march to Moscow and take care of the bandits who did these things to us, meaning his troops. He also said, and this is getting a little bit less play. He also said, look, there was nothing going on in Ukraine when we attack. That's directly against what Putin said, well, certainly at the beginning of the war but also a week ago, you know?


HALL: So, all of this is interesting in a completely different category. The FSB is now involved, the most robust of the organizations -- the security organizations that Putin himself used to be in. So, now Putin is in this personally. It is going to be fascinating to see which way it goes.

BURNETT: Yes. So, when you talk -- Prigozhin also just saying, you know, moments ago when he said he's going to the region of Rostov, again the Russian region, not Russian occupied. This is full blown Russian territory.

We will destroy everything that gets in our way. As the FSB has called for, you know, fighters around him to detain him, what do you think Putin will do here? I mean, this is, I know he is not sure himself, but what is his -- how significant is this motive meant for Putin and his retention of power?

HALL: I think it is extremely. It's an extremely important moment because certainly during Putin's regime over the past couple of decades, we have not seen anybody with this kind of pressure saying these kinds of things, to be allowed for a period of time to say the things that Prigozhin is saying. Most people get thrown into jail or exile or worse.

The problem they have got what Prigozhin is, of course, he has an army. So, if the army follows him, the FSB has an army, too, but this could be come very unstable very quickly. And the Russians value stability above almost all else.

BURNETT: Do you think, Steve, the optics of it right now, armed vehicles on the streets of Moscow, they are talking about enough security pressure. They're breaking into television, right? Prigozhin says he is marching there. He is in Rostov. He says he is going to destroy anything gets in his way.

I mean, do you think we're going to -- I mean, even if it ends quickly, and who knows what happens, do you think we will really see armed conflict, you know, Russia on Russia and Russia? I mean, a civil conflict?

HALL: Well, the fact that we are seeing this reaction in the Kremlin indicates that could happen. I mean, you got, you know, armored personnel carriers moving through Moscow. And you got the FSB saying, hey, your own guy should detain, the Wagner guys should try to detain or stop Prigozhin. All those show that there is great concern in Moscow, that could personally be what's going on. That said, Putin still has a lot of leverage on his side to stop Prigozhin. But I don't think we can any longer rule out the possibility that Putin is in serious trouble here.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Steve, thank you very much, obviously there is so much uncertainty and chaos and we appreciate your perspective and expertise. Thanks.

And next, we are continuing to monitor the breaking news out of Moscow.

Plus, more on the search for answers on the implosion of the Titan. I am going to speak to a world renowned explore, a friend of those on board about why he chose to not be on the Titan.



BURNETT: Tonight these are live images from Newfoundland. The ships you are seeing on your screen just returning from their mission to try to find the Titan sub in a debris field. And we are learning more tonight about the warning signs that were flashing about the Titan prior to its last and deadly excursion.

My next guest actually turned down a trip on the Titan just last month and has a lot to say about this, and he's with me now, renowned explorer and diver Victor Vescovo.

And, I should just say, Victor, I wish people could have overheard a conversation part of this. You are the first person to have reached both the very top of all the world's continents and the very bottom of all the world's oceans.

You've been -- you say the deepest trenches, there's a few you still want to go to. But there is very little you have not done. So -- and you love doing it.

Now, you had an opportunity to go on the Titan to see the Titanic recently. You turned it down. How come?

VICTOR VESCOVO, SUBMERSIBLE TEST PILOT, FRIEND OF TITAN SUB IMPLOSION VICTIM: Well, my own operation has been diving in the deepest trenches of the world for four years. We had our own submersible that was commercially certified to go to the very bottom, to 11,000 metes, which is two and a half times the depth of the Titanic. I turned down an offer by Stockton Rush to come on the expedition this summer to look at his operation because I felt that would have been an endorsement of that design and their process, which I felt frankly was unsafe.

BURNETT: All right. So, talk to me about this. Did you -- okay, so did you ever have a conversation with him and expressed his concerns?

VESCOVO: Yes. It is widely known within the submersible community that this design was so unconventional that it had inherent potential instabilities compared to all the other conventional submarines that are based on metal spheres.

BURNETT: And yours is, what, a metal sphere?

VESCOVO: Titanium. Yes.

BURNETT: Titanium. And also, is it more circular?


BURNETT: Because you can distribute things --

VESCOVO: It is basic geometry. But geometry that withstands pressure the best is a sphere. It actually compresses and becomes stronger as it goes deeper and deeper under higher pressure. What the OceanGate submersible was, was a cylinder.


VESCOVO: With titanium on the ends and carbon fiber in the middle, dissimilar materials expand and contract at different rights, and it is not a sphere. So overtime, stresses can build and lead to a failure.

BURNETT: All right. Which obviously is what happened ultimately.

You know, you knew people on board. Hamish Harding, who was on the Titan sub, you know, you made one of the -- of the many, you made a record-breaking trip together to the deepest part of the ocean, Mariana Trench, the Challenger Deep. That is three times deeper than where the Titanic wreckage sits, right? So, you and Hamish went down there.

PH Nargeolet was a friend of yours. He had been to the Titanic with 35 or more times. I mean, he was very experienced.

VESCOVO: He was also my technical adviser for evaluating the safety of my submersible and was the safety officer on my expedition to the five deepest parts of the ocean.

BURNETT: So you have great respect for him and trust.

VESCOVO: Absolutely.

BURNETT: So, are you surprised they decided to do this? They must have had the same knowledge and basics that you're sharing here, you know, on steroids, right?

VESCOVO: Yes, but they also have a burning desire to explore. I think PH Nargeolet was incredibly passionate about the Titanic. He had been there so many times. He wanted to share that experience.

And I also feel that he thought that by being part of OceanGate, that maybe he could help them enhance their safety by being there. Hamish I think very much wanted to see the Titanic. They were the only operation that's offering people to go down.

BURNETT: I know this is a tragedy for you, losing friends, having this happen to your industry. You obviously have your own submersibles. But it doesn't change who you are. As you said, who you are since it your mom got a bike, that you wanted to go everywhere.

Where do you want to go next and dream of going?

VESCOVO: There are still other deep ocean trenches I have not visited. So, I'd like to one day visit them as well. And there's also going into space. I had that at once and it was an extraordinary experience. So, going into orbit would be a fantastic experience.

BURNETT: Well, as I said, it's amazing to even sit here next to someone like you and just imagine how you -- how you see the world. Thank you so much, I appreciate it, Victor.

VESCOVO: Thank you for your time.

BURNETT: And thanks so much to all of you for being with us.

"AC360" starts now.