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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Tense Standoff Occurred at Crimean Military Base; Malaysian Airlines Flight MH 370 Missing; Ebony Wilkerson Charged with Attempted First Degree Murder of Her Three Children; Malaysia Airlines Working with Authorities to Locate Jumbo Jet Carrying 239 People; Defense Team Argues Pistorius "Sounds Like A Woman" When He Screams
Aired March 7, 2014 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.
Tonight more on the breaking news. Air traffic controllers in Southeast Asia have lost contact with a jumbo jet carrying 239 people. We'll tell you the very latest of that we know. We are getting more information and pieces. We'll have that just shortly.
Also, cries in the South African night. Was it the blade runner screaming in anguish after mistakenly killing his girlfriend or was it her screaming in terror before he pulled the trigger? We'll take you inside the courtroom and the case. Neighbors having differs reports.
Also later, breaking news in the horror story, desperate cry from inside this van our mom is trying to kill us. All right, three kids survived. The alleged attempts now are learning more about the mom's prior incident involving a vehicle in someone's death.
We begin with the breaking news in (INAUDIBLE) airlines flight MH 370. It is Boeing 777 wide body twin jet carrying 227 passengers, 12 crew members. The aircraft state-of-the-art and we should mention has an excellent safety record. However, bound from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, air traffic controllers say they lost contact with it. It happened about two hours into a flight according to a statement from the airline. Search and rescue operations are now under way. We're, of course, doing all we can to try to get as many details as possible from our sources around the region and the world.
Right now, I want to bring in retired American airlines captain Jim Tilmon who joins us by phone.
So Jim, when the air traffic controllers said they lost contact, how often are they monitoring that? Is it constant?
JIM TILMON, RETIRED AMERICAN AIRLINES CAPTAIN (via phone): It is constant to the extent whether they have regular reports that they have to make and that sort of thing. I would suspect, and I don't know this for a fact, but I would suspect that they also may have lost radar contact with them.
This route as you point out on the map there, is mostly over land. They're not dealing with the thing where this airplane was over the middle of the ocean someplace. Being over land means there are lots of places and lots of antennas and lots of radars and lots of radios that would be at your disposal.
This sounds really bad, Anderson. It sounds like a really bad situation. I've been trying to come up with every scenario I could to just to explain this away, but I haven't been very successful.
COOPER: Well, I mean, you point out that it's over land. This plane was two hours late getting to Beijing. You would think unless they're -- I mean, obviously there are some very remote regions in that area that the plane is flying over. But there are no reports from the ground of anybody spotting this plane.
TILMON: Yes, that's true. And again, one can assume that the Chinese government has radar stations all over the place for their own security. I would think that they would have some way of being able to detect where that airplane was and when that airplane wasn't. They're dealing with an airplane that is about as sophisticated as any commercial airplane could possibly be at this point in time. It has as you mentioned an excellent safety record. I mean, their only fatality has been the Asiana crash in San Francisco. There's been one other 777 that had some problems, but no one was hurt in that. This is really a shock in lots of ways.
COOPER: This may be a dumb question. But I mean, when the airline says they are trying to find this airplane, how do they go about trying to find it? Are they just waiting for reports from the ground? I mean, how do they actually go about this?
TILMON: They use everything available to them. You use any reports that are coming in from people on the ground. They also use large aircraft to fly along that route and see anything that's available. This of course goes over international lines. So they're going to have to coordinate with other nations who have access to their air space and ask them to also join them in the search for any wreckage or anything like that.
I came up with one wild scenario that they had a total electrical failure. And if that happened on that airplane, there is a backup to the backup to the backup radio which can be used. It has very limited range. Very, very limited indeed. It's something like maybe 100 miles. So if that happened, and that's a very remote possibility, you would not be able to communicate with anybody by radio until it was able to land someplace. But we don't have any evidence of that. And just the sketchy information that we have so far, it doesn't sound very good.
COOPER: We are going to continue to monitor the situation, obviously, very closely. The Malaysian airlines saying they have lost contact with this jet more than 200 people on board. We're going to bring you any updates as soon as we get them throughout this hour. We do have a very busy night ahead as well.
We want to turn to Ukraine. A lot happening on that front. But first off, a tense standoff at a Crimean military base is over right now, ending when Russian troops and local Cossacks like out of the 19th century withdrew. Russia, meantime, angering Ukrainian nationalists, up and the antis signaling its support to that plan March 16th referendum for Crimea to formally join the Russian federation.
And as the Ukrainian authorities report, new Russian moves to blockade and bottle up Ukraine's Navy. A second U.S. warship entered the Black Sea for planned exercises, where nearly 50 European observers were sent to monitor the situation in Crimea. They were again turned away at a border checkpoint by armed men for the second time in two days.
Back in Washington, breaking news. President Obama working the phones speak at length with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. No details yet on precisely what was said in that conversation.
The main focus, though, remains certainly on the ground where Anna Coren is reporting for us tonight.
So the situation there obviously very tense. Earlier today Russian soldiers actually attempted to storm a Ukrainian base. What do you know?
ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. As we know, Anderson, tensions have been bubbling away for days. But it would seem that things really turned ugly at a military base about an hour and half from where we are. Sixty Russian soldiers arrived in trucks. They are called on Ukrainian troops to surrender, put down their weapons. The Ukrainian's refused. And that is when the Russians got their truck and rammed the gate. They actually managed to get through onto the base.
Apparently, the Ukrainian's then form add human shield and stopped them from getting through. The Russians retreated but it was when the local militia then turned up to support the Russians, that's when it really turned ugly. They attacked journalists on the ground, and some were even hospitalized.
And you know, Anderson, we know that the prime minister here in Crimea has basically said that the only troops that should be here now are Russian and that the Ukrainian's should easterly swear their allegiance to the Russians or leave immediately.
COOPER: It's obviously become a much more difficult situation for Ukrainian troops on the ground and also for journalists now being targeted, I understand, including you and your crew. What exactly is going on on that front? Is it just western journalists?
COREN: Yes. It would appear anyone who is speaking anything other than the pro-Russian line, Anderson. There just seems to be this media crackdown. And you know, they're just stamping out dissent and opposing views.
The government here, it has shut down two Ukrainian television stations operating in Crimea, replaced one of those channels with state Russian TV. And then there was this attack on a Bulgarian journalist, brutal attack captured on CCTV, surveillance video. He was filming. He was filming these paramilitaries who actually confiscating equipment out of one of the TV stations. And they spotted him, they raced over, they pinned him on the ground, put a gun to his head and took his camera and his phone along with his assistant. You know, he gets up, he's in shock as to what happened. But you know, it really goes to highlight, Anderson, just the hostility and the angst being shown to western journalists. The real concern is that this only going to worsen as we get closer to that referendum on the 16th of March.
COOPER: Anna, be careful on the ground there.
Anna Coren, thank you.
Now, a rather stunning claim that goes straight to the question of how foreseeable this was. Remember until now, we've been led to believe the answer is not very foreseeable. We have been told there was little warning or Vladimir Putin's move. There was almost a spur of the moment kind of decision that he made. However, that's not what the head of the defense intelligence agency lieutenant general Michael Flynn said this morning on national public radio. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LT. GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN, DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: I think for easily seven to ten days leading up to the Russian troops as we see them now in Crimea, we were providing very solid reporting on what I would describe as just strategic warning where we move from one level of sort of a condition of warning, which I would just describe for the audience as sort of moderate, to one where we believe things are imminent. And we did that about a week prior to the events that unfolded, really last Friday.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well before Putin went to get military authorization.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You knew he was up to something. You were warning the administration.
FLYNN: That's right. We along with our other intelligence community partners. Absolutely.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: What to make of that. Who knew what and who said what to whom? There are a lot of questions tonight. National security analyst and former CIA officer Robert Baer joins us, perspective as well from Julia Ioffe. She is a senior editor at "the New Republic." Her most recent article titled "eastern Ukraine still fighting its past life under Stalin's long shadow." It is a really fascinating article. Also editor in-chief of 'World Policy Journal" David Andelman joins us as well.
Bob, let me start with you. On the one hand we hear from someone like Senator John McCain who said this was a massive intelligence failure. And now, we are hearing from General Flynn who said there was word that Russian intervention in Crimea was imminent in his words. What are you hearing from your sources? ROBERT BAER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, the question is where did the intelligence go? That's always the problem. I talked to the state department today, a senior official, and said you know, Kerry didn't know about the invasion when he was talking to Lavrov right up until the invasion. I mean, he was taking Lavrov's word for it that there would be no invasion. And Secretary state Kerry saw no intelligence which would convince him otherwise. You know, it is the problem is when you stovepipe this stuff, you don't know where it ends up and who takes it seriously. It's a big intelligence community. And there may have been miscommunications here.
COOPER: David, you wrote a column earlier this week which you said that Putin had already won. What do you mean by that?
DAVID ANDELMAN, EDITOR, WORLD POLICY JOURNAL: Well, in effect what he really wanted was Crimea and he's gotten Crimea. Crimea is a vital strategic importance to first the Soviet Union now to Russia. It helps guarantee their outlet to the Mediterranean and black sea. It's of critical vital importance and he has that now.
COOPER: Julia, in your latest piece in "the new republic "I've been following on twitter all week long. It's been really fascinating to read your stuff. You reference a comment that Putin made back in 2008 at a NATO summit where he told then President Bush that Ukraine isn't even a country. We had professor Steven Cohen on last night when I was in Kiev and he said the same thing. That it's not even a country. Obviously, a lot of people in Kiev take great issue to that. How much is that kind of thinking driving Vladimir Putin's actions right now?
JULIA IOFFE, SENIOR EDITOR, NEW REPUBLIC: I think it's driving a large part of his actions. I mean, he is part of a generation that grew up with Ukraine just being another province of the Soviet Union. It was ruled from Moscow. Now all of a sudden it's its own country. And we have to negotiate with it over our own naval base? That sounds crazy to him. And I think it's pretty widespread that this is not, you know, that these borders are fictitious.
COOPER: Julia, also one of the things you've been writing about this week which I've been following is that, you know, much has been made of sort of language divide in Ukraine, the Russian-speaking parts in the east and in Crimea and in other parts the pro-Russian side, the pro-western side. But you say there's more of a generational split going on in Ukraine that really impacts all of this. Explain that.
IOFFE: That's right. Well, when we see on our TVs -- sorry, or newspapers a map of Ukraine, it's often split in half and we see the Russian-speaking east and the Ukrainian-speaking west. The problem with that is most of the country speaks both Russian and Ukrainian. The question is which comes first. And that's not even the issue.
Like I said, this was all part of a big soviet space. And by Stalin's design this was an inherently Russian space, a Russian-speaking space. Despite all of the nationalities that came under the soviet umbrella. So when people say -- the older generation like Putin's generation, when they say Russian, part of the time they mean soviet. But now there's a new generation that was born after 1991. They're in their early 20s now. They were born into these countries. And they see themselves as Ukrainian's. So some of the students I spoke to at this university in (INAUDIBLE) which is deposed president Viktor Yanukovych's hometown, they're ethnically Russian. They speak Russian at home. But they're fluent in Ukrainian. They can write in Ukrainian. But they still identify themselves as Ukrainian simply because they were born in a country called Ukraine. And that's a very modern understanding of citizenship. And it will take us awhile to get there for that to be a more kind of widespread notion.
COOPER: And David, it's interesting, though. I mean, no matter what, no matter those who want to be more associated with the European Union of the United States. I mean, just the geography of Ukraine demands that they have a relationship with Russia. There's no getting around it.
ANDELMAN: There is no doubt about that. And remember, Russia has always need what it believes is a buffer, a near abroad, that it can guarantee won't be part of NATO, won't be part of the EU, that will be even if not directly linked as part of a nation called Russia of or the soviet union at least will not linked with its clear opponents, its foes, the NATO, for instance, the west. So they need a buffer of some kind. If a real Ukraine manages to break away and to the point can ally with NATO, and join NATO, and join the EU, that is a tremendous threat to Putin and Russia.
COOPER: But no one, I mean at this point, no one is talking about joining NATO certainly.
ANDELMAN: Well, there is talk about that. I mean, if they can actually pry the whole country away, if they can have an election that really elects a western-oriented government, certainly joining up with the EU would be a very interesting concept for them if not NATO.
COOPER: David, appreciate you being on the program. Julia, great to have you on as well, thank you. And Bob Baer as always.
We got to cut this short. We do have more on the breaking news of the crash of that Malaysian airliner. We have breaking news on that.
Plus, what we're just now learning that the woman at the wheel of this van now in custody accused of trying to drive her three children to their deaths on a Florida beach. So unthinkable. We'll be right back.
COOPER: Welcome back. We continue to follow breaking new out of the Fareast, a Boeing 777 is missing. They lost contact Malaysian airlines flight MH 370 with 239 people onboard vanished from radio and radar contact about two hours into its flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. We do not know what has happened to this airline. Search and rescue operations we're told are now under way.
On the phone with us now a Malaysian Airlines vice president of operations Fuad Sharuji.
Mr. Sharuji, I appreciate you being with us. What's the latest you can tell us about this aircraft?
FUAD SHARUJI, MALAYSIAN AIRLINES VICE PRESIDENT OF OPERATIONS (via phone): OK. This aircraft departed KLAI, Kuala Lumpur international airport about 41 minutes after midnight local time. It is supposed to land at Peking at 6:50 a.m. On board is 239 passengers and crew members. The 12 crew members and 227 passengers have been reported missing at about 2:30 a.m. this morning from the control tower. The APC (ph) lost contact with this aircraft so we tried to communicate with this aircraft through various means. We also got aircraft trying to detect the aircraft. And we failed to establish any contact with the aircraft. And the aircraft has got about seven hours of fuel on board this aircraft. And we suspect that by 8:50 this aircraft would have run out of fuel. At the moment we have got no idea where this aircraft is right now.
COOPER: Have you received any reports from other radar installations along the route of this aircraft or any installations on the ground?
SHARUJI: Not at all, not at all. We have indeed got in touch with our search and rescue team from the local authorities. They have mounted a search and rescue. So far, there is no luck.
COOPER: What exactly goes into a search and rescue operation? How does that work? Are you sending out --
SHARUJI: Can you speak a little louder, please?
COOPER: Sure. It's a bad connection. What goes into a search and rescue operation at this stage when you don't know where the aircraft is? Have you sent out other aircraft along the route?
SHARUJI: OK. At the moment I don't have much information about a search and rescue, but we are working with the team right now. They have, we understand, that they have been deployed, but we have no idea of the findings yet.
COOPER: Mr. Sharuji, I appreciate your time. I know it is a very busy -- very stressful --
SHARUJI: Could you speak louder, please? I can't hear you.
COOPER: We'll talk to you later on tonight.
I want to bring back in retired American airlines captain Jim Tilmon who is joining us on the phone.
Jim you just heard from the airlines themselves. They say search and rescue operations are under way but they simply have no idea at this point where this aircraft is.
TILMON: Well, I can understand that. I've been doing a bit of quick research here and found an unofficial site online which is called flight aware. It's one of those tracking services that you can get to track a flight when you have your loved ones flying in, whatever else. This tracking service really has specific information that they list about exact location, latitude and longitude, the course of the heading of the aircraft, the air speed and the altitude and the rate of climb or descent. And it has all the kind of the details that as just every few minutes exactly.
It went on until as indicated here with the indication they have is 12:02 p.m. eastern standard time at such time there were no more reports. I mean, it's just blank. They were at 35,000 feet, according to flight aware, and they had begun to level off when they lost this contact.
COOPER: There are obviously a lot of possibilities here. I don't want to go down the road of speculation at all. Because frankly, there are no doubt people watching this who are trying to find out information about their loved ones. But in terms of search and rescue operations, I mean, we just talked to the representative from the airline. He didn't really have a lot of details on exactly what was going on. Clearly, they are trying to make contact with anybody along the route, local authorities along the route, for any possible information.
TILMON: Yes. That would be standard procedure as well as trying to canvas any of the other airlines that may have been flying in the area. The frequency that they have is an emergency frequency that you would normally transmit on if they had a really severe problem. And most airlines, many airlines, not mandatory but many of them do monitor that emergency frequency just as some means of being willing to cooperate and see if there is a problem. And they might canvas other airlines that might have been in the area so you see if they got any kind of report at all. Even if you had limited radar radio range, the possibility of being able to be heard by another airplane is probably pretty high.
I am very concerned about this one, because airplanes don't just disappear. And apparently this one for all intents and purposes has.
COOPER: And again, I just want to emphasize we do not know what has occurred with this aircraft. Malaysian Airlines saying they have lost contact with the plane, 239 people on board, that is passengers and crew members, 12 of those people are crew members. We're going to again continue to try to gather as much information as we can. Just trying to bring you as accurate information as we can when we know it. We'll take a short break.
We also have new developments in that really terrifying story out of Florida. A mom allegedly trying to kill her three children by driving their minivan into the ocean. Details on that ahead.
COOPER: Well, we continue monitoring developments in the disappearance. For now it is only that a disappearance of a Malaysian Boeing airliner with 239 people onboard, 12 of them crew members. We're going to update you that throughout this program. In our "crime and punishment" segment tonight, Ebony Wilkerson, the woman accused of driving her minivan carrying her three children into the Atlantic ocean was arrested today charged with three counts of attempted first degree murder. And this story is obviously deeply disturbing.
Bystanders shot this video of the minivan driving into very rough surf on Daytona Beach on Tuesday. Three children were inside, a 3-year- old, 9-year-old, 10-year-old. Witnesses say the kids were screaming for help their mother was trying to kill them. Wilkerson denies. She was trying to harm anyone but witnesses said she tried to keep them from rescuing the kids. Thankfully no one was hurt.
And now, just hours before this happened Wilkerson's sister called 911 saying she was worried about Wilkerson's mental health. Here's part of that call.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is she doing?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's talking about Jesus and that there's demons in my house and that I'm trying to control her but I'm trying to keep them safe.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She thinks there is demons in the house?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She has not left. She is still there, right?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She is in the car right now, but I have the keys so she can't go anywhere.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, later in the call, the sister said Wilkerson got another set of keys and drove off. Police later caught off with her, checked her out, and let her go because they thought she didn't appear to be a danger to herself. But clearly, she has some --
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: -- set of keys and drove off. Police later caught up with her, checked her out, but let her go because they thought she didn't appear to be a danger to herself. Though clearly she had some mental illness. Now we're learning about a fatal accident in 2007 that she was also involved with. CNN's Nick Valencia joins me for that. What's the latest, Nick?
NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Good evening, Anderson. You mentioned that fatal accident you were talking about back in 2007. We just got records from Palm Beach County that confirms she was involved in an accident that led to a fatality, charged for an improper lane change, sentenced to about 120 hours of community service in a hospital. And she had her license suspended.
Now, Ebony Wilkerson does maintain that she was not trying to harm her children whatsoever. So when asked by reporters, Volusia County Sheriff's Department said the reason for the first degree murder -- attempted murder charges were very clear. After they interviewed the children it was very evident to them that she did this on purpose. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BEN JOHNSON, VOLUSIA COUNTY SHERIFF: She did intentionally try to kill the children. Witnesses observed this. We had witnesses who actually saw her go into the surf. We had witnesses who tried to get the children out of the car, which she tried to keep them from rescuing the children. We also have the fact of what the children have told us, that their mother was trying to kill them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VALENCIA: Anderson, they're convinced that she was doing this intentionally and that she had every intention to harm these kids.
COOPER: These poor kids to have to deal with this and know that their mother was allegedly trying to do this to them. Appreciate the reporting. We're going to obviously continue to follow this. Do we know by the way if there were -- we'll talk about possible warning signs with our next guests, I want to bring in our equal justice panel, senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin and Dr. Catherine Birndof, who is a reproductive psychiatrist at New York Presbyterian Cornell Medical Center.
Appreciate both of you being with us. So Jeff, what do you make about this fact that just hours before the sister called we heard the 911 tape, police found her said clearly she was disturbed but lucid, not a threat to herself.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: This happens a lot because you don't know in advance when people are going to crack like this. You don't -- we have a hard enough time in the legal system determining what happened in the past. But expecting police or medical personnel to predict what's going to happen in the future, I mean, it's just -- we don't have the tools to do it. So it's tragic or was almost tragic, but it's not that surprising.
COOPER: Dr. Birndorf, so many people find this unthinkable and don't understand how a mother could do this, particularly somebody pregnant with another child. What do you make of it?
DR. CATHERINE BIRNDORF, REPRODUCTIVE PSYCHIATRIST: It's unthinkable. I think that sort of speaks to mental illness. Because a mother in her right mind who would try and kill their kids? So it seems clear to me, and I don't know this person, but that she was not thinking lucidly. That she was obviously talking demons and not clear thinking, confused, and that she may have been trying to help her kids, even though --
COOPER: In her confused mind.
BIRNDORF: In her mind.
COOPER: Obviously you think about other cases, Susan Smith, Andrea Yates. Is that a fair comparison?
BIRNDORF: I think the Yates case is. And again I know nothing about it so I can't speak to specifics. But I think when someone's psychotic, they've lost touch with reality, and they believe things. She may believe as I believe Andrea Yates did that she's a bad person, that she's evil and awful and the only way for her kids to be OK is for them to ascend to heaven. And if she kills them they could be saved.
COOPER: And a psychosis, psychotic episode, is that something that somebody is born with the imprint for that or stress?
BIRNDORF: Good question. I mean, mental illness is very largely genetic. Stress can certainly bring it out. Being ill during pregnancy, what's interesting about this case is that we often think of this during postpartum. Her youngest child is 3, I believe. So she's not particularly postpartum. Her kids are 3, 9, 10 or something. She's pregnant. People actually can be very ill during pregnancy. And I think if nothing else this case highlights the fact that pregnancy is not protective. And I wonder was this woman being treated? Obviously she has a psychotic illness that probably existed long ago.
COOPER: Predates this. Jeff, in terms of the legal aspects of mental illness, how does that --
TOOBIN: You know, we struggle with these cases so much because, you know, on the one hand, we as a society understand that if you are actively mentally ill and you don't know what you're doing, there is no reason to punish you the way you would a hit man or someone who's intentionally committing a crime. However, we don't want to see anyone get away with something like this.
COOPER: What happens to the kids, too?
TOOBIN: Well, the kids will either go with relatives or to a foster family. We can take care of kids, at least somewhat. But how you deal with someone who does something so horrible, but may or may not understand what they're doing is something the legal system has literally struggled with for centuries.
COOPER: And so much stigma around mental illness in this society that this adds to it. BIRNDORF: For sure. People are going to be so upset with this woman and I understand that. It's tragic, it's horrific. It's unthinkable. But I have to believe she's ill, and that we have to consider that, and to criminalize, you know, it is very --
TOOBIN: Although our prisons are full of people who are mentally ill.
BIRNDORF: That's a huge problem.
TOOBIN: That's where we wind up treating a lot of it.
COOPER: Dr. Birndorf, it's great to have you on the program. Thank you very much. Jeff Toobin as well. We have next more on the search for the missing airliner. We'll be right back.
COOPER: Welcome back. We have more now on breaking news that we are following very closely in this hour. Malaysian Airlines reporting that it has lost contact with one of its jumbo jets about two hours into the flight. Reuters is reporting now that radar contact was lost when the jet was in the air space of Vietnam. Exactly where we don't know, but in the air space of Vietnam. The Boeing 777 wide body twin jet was en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, 239 people on board.
Search and rescue operations are now under way. Want to bring in CNN's Richard Quest who coincidentally has been shooting a story on the airline and spent time with the airline's CEO. This is obviously -- we don't know exactly what's happened to this plane, but it is mysterious that some two hours into the plane we were talking during the break, you were saying that this is the safest time of the flight.
RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. According to what we know so far, and everything that you and I now say must be caveated with its early days, but it was an hour and something into the flight. Now, this would be classed as the cruise portion of the flight. You break down the flight into taxi, take off, climb out and then cruise. And so in that particular point of the flight, this is the safest part. Nothing is supposed to go wrong if at all in this part. The aircraft is on auto pilot.
The pilots are making minor correction and changes. As the plane burns off fuel, the plane will be going higher and higher. So this is extremely -- it's always serious, obviously. But that it should have happened at this point in the flight, whatever had happened, whatever contact has been lost, that will make this a much more serious matter in that sense as to what happened. It wasn't taking off, it wasn't landing.
COOPER: And I have not been on Malaysian Airlines for probably 20 years or so. What is as a company how is it? Safety record all that? Modern fleet?
QUEST: The plane we're talking about I believe is the aircraft 777 200s, not the 300 which is the longer aircraft, physically longer aircraft. They have the older fleet. The average age of the Malaysian Airline 777 fleet about 14 years, not particularly old or young. This particular aircraft if it's the one that we believe it is that's been involved in this incident, was delivered in -- it was 11.8 years old, delivered in the late 1990s. It had two Rolls Royce trent engines on it. It was delivered in 2002, thereabouts. So it's not a particularly old aircraft. Malaysia has 15 777 200s in the fleet. Extremely experienced operator of this type of aircraft.
COOPER: And is this owned by the government of Malaysia?
QUEST: Yes. Well, it's an odd hybrid form of ownership. The government -- the part of the float of the shares is in the private sector, part of it is with the government. The government clearly owns the majority. So yes, it is a government -- it is a national carrier of Malaysia. A carrier that's undergoing all sorts of transformation and reform and restructuring at the moment. The chief executive having to make it profitable once again.
At its last set of results just earlier this year they lost several hundred million. So it's a carrier that's in transition. None of which would affect safety I have to tell you. It's also by the way Malaysia also has six a 380s in the fleet as well.
COOPER: We've just gotten word that the airline is apparently contacting next of kin for those on board the aircraft, 239 people, 12 of those crew members aboard the aircraft. Again, we do not know what has taken place with this aircraft.
QUEST: As I looked at the flight radar track of this aircraft on its route from Malaysia up to Beijing, we believe it's over Vietnam where this incident happened, but it could just be a little bit further over almost to the coast of China.
COOPER: Again, we'll continue to follow this. Up next, crime and punishment, it's the end of week one in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial. The question is not if he killed his girlfriend model, Reeva Steenkamp but exactly why. We'll take a look at very emotional testimony that took place. We'll be right back.
COOPER: Welcome back. We're continuing to follow the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight MH 370 with 239 people on board. The airline in a new statement now saying the airline is now contacting next of kin and working with emergency responders along the plane's flight path. Again, Reuters had reported earlier that contact was lost sometime over the air space in Vietnam.
More crime and punishment tonight, a former girlfriend of Oscar Pistorius today testified that he cheated on her with model, Reeva Steenkamp. The girlfriendd that he ended up shooting to death last year. Pistorius doesn't deny killing his girlfriend, but says it was an accident, that he thought she was an intruder. Prosecutors allege they were arguing that night and that he shot her in anger.
It's the end of the first week of the trial, a trial that's been highly emotional and dramatic so far as testimony aims to answer the central question, not if he did it but why. Robyn Curnow reports.
ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is how the week began for Oscar Pistorius, greeted by a crush of cameras while walking into court. The South African Olympic sprinter dubbed the "Blade Runner" is facing charges for killing his model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp last Valentine's Day. Prosecutors claim Pistorius did it in the aftermath of a fight, shooting at her four times through a bathroom door. The charges could put the amputee and national figure behind bars for life.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you understand the charges, Mr. Pistorius?
OSCAR PISTORIUS: I do. I do, my lady.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do you plead?
PISTORIUS: Not guilty, my lady.
CURNOW: In a state to the court, Pistorius admitted shooting Steenkamp through a locked bathroom door, but maintains it was an accident, believing that an intruder had entered his home, posing an imminent threat to the couple. The defense team says the investigation into the shooting was riddled with mistakes.
KENNY OLDWAGE, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: The scene was contaminated, disturbed and tampered with.
CURNOW: But the prosecution says Pistorius knew he was shooting at his girlfriend, calling various neighbors who testified that they heard screams coming from his home that night as gun shots rang out.
MICHELLE BURGER, WITNESS: Just after 3:00 I woke up from a woman's terrible screams. It was very traumatic for me. You could hear that it was blood-curdling screams and it leaves you cold. You can't translate it into words, the anxiousness in her voice and fear.
CHARLIE JOHNSON, WITNESS: The intensity and the fear in her voice escalated, and it was clear that this person's life was in danger.
CURNOW: But the defense attempted to poke holes in the neighbor's story, arguing Steenkamp couldn't have screamed after the final shot, which hit her in the head. And suggesting it was Pistorius screaming and not Steenkamp.
BARRY ROUX, DEFENSE LAWYER: With the head shot, she would have dropped down immediately.
CURNOW: Pistorius slouched down, appearing to cover his ears as a prosecutor described in chilling detail how a bullet hit Steenkamp in the head. More graphic eyewitness testimony came from Pistorius's neighbor, Dr. Johan Stipp who want was among the first to see Steenkamp after she was shot.
DR. JOHAN STIPP, WITNESS: I remember the first thing he said when I got there was that he said I shot her. I thought she was a burglar and I shot her.
CURNOW: The athlete listened with his head in his hands, appearing to wipe away tears as the doctor described the gruesome scene.
STIPP: While I was trying to ascertain if she was survivable, Oscar was crying all the time. He prayed to God to please let her live, she must not die.
CURNOW: Security guard, Pieter Baba testified today that when he first spoke to Pistorius on the phone after shots were fired Pistorius said that everything was fine. But it was clear that wasn't true once they arrived at the home.
PIETER BABA, SILVERWOOD ESTATE SECURITY GUARD (through translator): Last time I realized that Mr. Pistorius was crying. That's when I said not everything is in order. As Mr. Pistorius was telling me.
CURNOW: Baba said they then witnessed Pistorius coming down the stairwell, carrying Reeva Steenkamp to the bottom floor.
BABA (through translator): My lady, I was so shocked. That I couldn't even think for a few moments.
COOPER: Robyn Curnow joins me now live from South Africa. So Robyn, Pistorius's ex-girlfriend also testified today about his use of guns. What did she say?
CURNOW: Indeed. Samantha Taylor took to the stand. She spent nearly two years with him. She described his relationship with guns essentially saying that he kept his 9-millimeter pistol with him all the time, carrying it on his person, that he slept with it next to his bed. She related an incident where she said that they had been driving in a car and that he shot his weapon through the open sun roof while driving on a highway.
Must be said, though, under cross-examination the defense said that Pistorius would be denying that ever happened when he testified. And of course he said in his affidavit that he carried a gun, that he felt he needed his gun because he was scared and that it was there for self-defense. So a lot of information coming out in the last week.
But a lot more obviously expected in the next few weeks, probably more forensic, ballistic type of evidence. Expert witnesses. Rather than these character witnesses we've been seeing over the past few days.
COOPER: All right, Robyn Curnow, thanks very much. Joining me now live anchors of our new CNN program, "MAKING THE CASE," CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Sunny Hostin, and CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney, Mark Geragos.
Mark, I was reading something today that said as far as memorable defenses goes, the defense that Oscar Pistorius screams like a woman is kind of right up there. I mean, that's basically what -- because the neighbors were testifying they were hearing a woman scream, the defense is saying it was Oscar Pistorius screaming. Does that make sense to you?
MARK GERAGOS, CNN LEGAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, look, the thing I think was more significant about it was when they suggested look there could not have been screams after the head shot, and I'm sorry for how graphic that sounds, but the head shot would have been virtually instantaneous for death. So if there was testimony that there were screams after that, it could not have been her. And a lot of the I think part of what happens when people are listening to things like this and hearing things like this is whether it's the gun shots first or the screams after or the screams before or the gun shots, the mind does very peculiar things when you're stressed out and when you hear things.
And the memory can play tricks on you. So I don't know that they're going to bank on this idea that it was his voice that they were hearing or not hearing, and I think that the more compelling argument is that look, she could not have been screaming after the shots were fired.
COOPER: Sunny, what do you make of what you just heard this week?
SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Did you just hear that dodge? Bottom line here is that their defense is that he screams like a girl. And they need that defense, Anderson because every single neighbor that got up on the witness stand said they heard these blood-curdling screams over and over and over again. So to believe Oscar Pistorius's account, every single person either was mistaken or they really heard Oscar Pistorius that sounds like a girl.
COOPER: The forensics on this are going to be critical. You don't buy that he would have gotten out of bed, gone to look for an intruder without checking to see if his girlfriend was in the bed?
HOSTIN: Of course not. How many people haven't been in bed and heard something go thump in the night? The first thing you do if you're laying with someone you say, did you hear that? He did that with one former girlfriend, yet allegedly he didn't do that this time. I think what's also going to be very important is the forensic information at least at this point is telling us that he must have been standing on his prosthetic legs because of the trajectory of the bullets.
He's saying that he was in such a fog and so scared about this potential intruder that in fact he was walking without the prosthetic. That just doesn't make sense. And I'm curious about what mark thinks about this, although he's going to of course dodge this question.
COOPER: Mark, does this boil down to forensics?
GERAGOS: No. I don't think it really does. I think that part of the reason that the prosecution did here in South Africa what they do here in America, which is the character assassination block where they put on the ex-girlfriend is I think the defense is going to come back and say, what in the world, what motivation was there for him to kill her to get up out of the middle of the night and just shoot her to death while she's in the bathroom through a door?
HOSTIN: Because they were having an argument.
GERAGOS: It makes little sense. They don't have the motivation.
HOSTIN: Everybody heard -- all the neighbors heard this argument, Mark. Come on.
HOSTIN: Was it Oscar screaming like a girl then?
GERAGOS: No. I'm going to tell you something, Sunny. You can make the facts whatever you want them to be, but what the testimony has been so far is that they heard the screams --
HOSTIN: An argument.
GERAGOS: -- and they heard the shots and they did not necessarily hear the argument. So that hasn't come up. And the one person who previously said it was 400 yards away.
COOPER: We should also point out not a jury trial like a lot of the trials we've covered in the United States. It's going to be decided by a judge. Sunny, great to have you on. Mark geragos as well. Be sure to tune in Monday night for the premiere episode of Sunny and Mark co-hosting "MAKING THE CASE." they'll bring expertise and brand of fireworks to the most interesting legal cases. Monday night 10:30 eastern on CNN. I'm looking forward to that.
Coming up, incredible video of a crash caught on a dashboard camera. You'll see what the driver who pulled out was doing besides driving. We'll also try for get the latest on the missing airliner right now. We'll be right back.
COOPER: New developments details on the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 with 239 people on board vanished from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Reuters quoting China's official news agency radar contact with lost with the jumbo jet in Vietnamese air space and did not make contact with Chinese air traffic control. The airline says it's begun calling next of kin of those on board and working with authorities to try to locate the plane and find out what has occurred. There is a lot more happening tonight. Susan Hendricks has a 360 bulletin -- Susan.
SUSAN HENDRICKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, a 360 follow, during opening statements today at the court martial of an army general accused of sexual assaulting a female captain, a military prosecutor said brigadier general Jeffrey Sinclair abused his rank to threaten the woman into staying with a sexual relationship. Sinclair says the relationship was consensual.
A California state lawmaker is proposing a bill that would ban the captivity of killer whales for entertainment at SeaWorld. It comes in the wake of CNN's documentary "Black Fish." SeaWorld says the bill seems to reflect, quote, out of the mainstream thinking. And incredible dashcam video of a highway crash. You see it here. This is in Northern Ontario. The driver, look here, pulls out right into traffic and was charged for failing to yield. But look what else the video captures besides the crash, it shows the driver at fault, appears to be on his cell phone at that time -- Anderson.
COOPER: Oh my goodness. All right. Susan, thank you very much.
That does it for us. "PIERS MORGAN LIVE" starts now.