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Putin 'Hopes' He Won't Have to Send Troops into Eastern Ukraine


ALEXEI NIKOLSKY/AFP/Getty Images(MOSCOW) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday he hopes Russia will not have to use force in eastern Ukraine.

Speaking during a marathon question and answer show on live television, Putin reminded viewers that Russia’s upper house of parliament had authorized the use of force in Ukraine.

“I very much hope I will not have to use this right,” he said.

Putin denied Western claims that Russian troops are already operating inside Ukraine and that the unrest there has been orchestrated by the Kremlin. He warned that if the situation continues, Russia will not recognize the results of next month’s Ukrainian presidential election.

Putin slammed the new government in Kiev for sending troops to quell the unrest in the east. He blamed them for failing to engage the Russian-speaking population there to calm concerns that the new pro-Western government was not out to get them.

“They are sending tanks, armored personnel carriers and cannons there. Who are they sending these tanks against? Are they out of their minds?” he said.

After the show, journalists asked Putin what might cause Russia to send troops into Ukraine. He declined to say, explaining that it might affect the situation on the ground, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency.

For the first time, however, Putin acknowledged that the heavily armed troops with no insignia on their uniforms who suddenly appeared on the streets of Crimea ahead of last month’s referendum to join Russia were Russian troops. Those troops, he said, were necessary to prevent exactly the type of chaos that is taking place in eastern Ukraine now.

Western and Ukrainian authorities say Russia fabricated reports of threats to Russian speakers in the region in Crimea to scare the population into voting to leave Ukraine. Putin, however, said Thursday that those threats were “real and palpable.”

He insisted Russia’s annexation of Crimea was not planned in advance, but was rather a response to the overwhelming results of the referendum.

“It was highly important for me to see the results of this expression of the people's will,” he said.

He appeared to dismiss former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, who until he was ousted in February, was a Kremlin ally. But said Yanukovich told him that while he thought about ordering the use of force against the protesters who forced him from office, he could not bring himself to do it.

The wide-ranging call-in show lasted nearly four hours as Putin fielded questions from a studio audience of prominent Russians, questions that had been submitted in advance, and questions from Russians appearing live from select cities. In a change from previous years, most of the questions were about Ukraine and Russia’s standing in the world, though some villagers across this vast country inquired about the rising costs of bread and compensation for natural disasters.

A 6-year-old girl wrote in to ask Putin if he thought President Obama would save him if he were drowning. Putin replied that, while he did not have a close relationship with Obama, he considered him a good man and thought that Obama would save him.

Asked if he had plans to annex Alaska next, Putin asked rhetorically “What would you need Alaska for?” Russia, he said, already has enough cold territory.

Earlier in the show, Putin said the U.S.-Russian relationship lacks trust. He blamed the United States, claiming it employs a double standard by intervening in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan while criticizing Russia for, in his words, protecting its own interests.

The head of Russia’s new state-owned media company Russia Today, a man dubbed the Kremlin’s new propaganda chief, told Putin he felt suffocated by NATO expansion into eastern Europe and asked where the red line will be drawn.

Putin said there is no need to be afraid, but said that geopolitics could force Russia to act. He insisted NATO’s plans for a missile defense shield in eastern Europe, which the United States says is aimed at defending against Iran, was instead aimed at Russia. He warned the system’s deployment could spark an arms race.

He seemed to confirm suspicions that his takeover of Crimea was due in part to fears that Ukraine could become part of NATO and would limit Russia’s influence in the Black Sea, where it has a substantial naval presence.

“If NATO troops go there and deploy their assault weapons, then it will have a geopolitical significance for us and Russia will be practically forced out from the Black Sea region,” he said.

The Russian leader brushed aside suggestions that Europe might soon wean itself off its dependence on Russian gas, suggesting it would harm their economies and devalue the U.S. dollar. He warned Ukraine that, unless it repays the billions of dollars it owes for past gas deliveries within a month, Russia will begin demanding payment up front and only ship what has been paid for in advance. That may be an enormous challenge for the fledgling government in Kiev, which is struggling to pay its bills and is begging the international community for a bailout.

In a surprise move, NSA leaker Edward Snowden also submitted a question via video, asking Putin whether Russia employed mass surveillance systems similar to ones used by the U.S. National Security Agency.

The ex-KGB agent (who earlier in the show said that job taught him to be “absolutely loyal”) began his response by telling Snowden he was speaking as one spy to another. Putin denied Russia had a mass surveillance program and said any electronic surveillance was used only for law enforcement purposes. Experts on Russian surveillance, however, said Putin was vastly understating the scope of Russia’s surveillance program.

Snowden has been hiding at an undisclosed location in Russia after receiving asylum last year while on the run after leaking classified information about American spying.

Asked when Russia might have a new first lady, the newly divorced Putin responded wryly that he’ll have to help his ex-wife get re-married first.

The marathon call-in show has become a regular feature in the nearly decade and a half since Putin first became president.

Asked if he planned to remain president for life, Putin briskly responded “No” and moved on.

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Captain of Doomed Ferry Under Investigation as Relatives Grieve


Park Young-Chul-Donga Daily via Getty Images(SEOUL, South Korea) -- The captain of a ferry that sank off the coast of South Korea Wednesday, leaving nearly 300 people missing, is under investigation as a criminal and was one of the first people to escape the doomed vessel, Coast Guard officials said.

Lee Joon-seok, 69, left the ferry on a lifeboat 32 minutes after reporting an accident, officials said.

The captain appeared on Korean television Thursday, his face covered by a gray hoodie.

“I am really sorry and deeply ashamed,” he said, as he was being questioned at the Mokpo Coast Guard Office.

About 290 people remain missing following the accident, with 10 fatalities confirmed and the death toll expected to rise.

Hundreds of Navy and Coast Guard divers are battling murky conditions on Thursday, searching for survivors. But as the hours pass, relatives of the missing passengers are losing hope.

So far, 179 people been rescued.

Text messages sent by passengers to loved ones offer a glimpse into the desperate situation inside the crippled vessel.

“Dad, don’t worry. I’ve got a life vest on and we’re huddled together,” one student, identified only by her last name, Shin, texted her father, according to MBC News, a Korean news station.

The father replied: “I know the rescue is underway but make your way out if you can.”

“Dad, I can’t walk out,” she replied. “The corridor is full of kids, and it’s too tilted.”

The student was among the missing passengers, many of them high schoolers at Danwon High School in Ansan. The students were on a class trip.

Thursday’s rescue efforts have been marked by rain, strong wind, currents and fog -- as well as a lack of organization. Coast guard crews tried to inject air into the boat, but that endeavor was unsuccessful due to the poor weather conditions.

Additionally, the rescue operation center had difficulty communicating with search crews at the sinking site, which is about an hour’s boat ride from Jindo Island.

Relatives of passengers yelled at authorities, demanding answers and seeking miracles at Jindo Island. Some family members visited the location where the passengers are believed to have been trapped.

Other parents gathered at Danwon High School, holding a candlelight vigil.

The only hope is that maybe, somehow the passengers are alive, saved by a pocket of air.

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Oscar Pistorius' Own Expert Witness Contradicts Him


THEMBA HADEBE/AFP/Getty Images(PRETORIA, South Africa) -- Oscar Pistorius' murder trial was adjourned Thursday for two weeks after one of the Blade Runner's own expert witnesses contradicted his testimony.

The expert defense witness, Roger Dixon, told the court under cross examination that after Pistorius shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp through a locked bathroom door, the model fell on to a magazine rack next to the toilet.

Pistorius has claimed that evidence from the police was unreliable because investigators had moved things around, including the magazine rack.

Dixon, who was hired to support the defense's version of events, said his reconstruction of the shooting concluded that the first bullet fired by Pistorius struck her in the hip as she was likely reaching for the door knob, forcing her to fall on the magazine rack.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel quickly noted that Pistorius has claimed the magazine was not in that position when he used a cricket bat to bash a hole in the locked door and get to the mortally wounded Steenkamp.

"Whatever the accused is saying, you say he’s wrong?" Nel asked Dixon. "My lady," Dixon replied, addressing his answer to the female judge. "I'm giving testimony on what I observe and interpret. I'm not saying anyone is right or wrong."

When pressed, Dixon added, "My lady, when the deceased fell, the magazine rack was there. I do not know what happened to it afterwards. It wasn’t there when Mr. Pistorius went in. That is his version of the events."

Pistorius, 27, is charged with the premeditated murder of his model girlfriend before dawn on Valentine's Day 2013. Pistorius, a legless sprinter, insists he heard a noise in the bathroom and mistook Steenkamp for an intruder. He could face at least 25 years in prison if convicted.

During his three days on the stand, Dixon testified that Pistorius' bedroom was so dark during the night with the balcony curtain drawn that he could not see across the room, allowing that Pistorius may not have seen Steenkamp go into the bathroom. He told the court that Steenkamp was leaning forward on her right side as if reaching for the doorknob when she was shot, instead of the prosecution's version that she was standing and facing the door and likely arguing with Pistorius when she was shot.

Nel hammered Dixon so relentlessly on the methods he used and his qualifications to be an expert witness that Dixon took to Facebook on Thursday to complain.

"Third day in court today. Let's see how much of my credibility, integrity and professional reputation is destroyed. It is difficult to get belief in those who will not listen because it is not what they want to hear," Dixon wrote.

Pistorius sat with his head down and hands against his ears barely listening to Thursday's testimony.

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Edward Snowden Asks Vladimir Putin About Russian Intelligence


The Guardian via Getty Images(MOSCOW) -- Intelligence leaker Edward Snowden surprised the audience of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annual question and answer call-in show Thursday by submitting a question via video.

Snowden, who revealed American surveillance secrets by leaking sensitive documents from the National Security Agency, asked Putin if Russia also had a mass surveillance program.

Putin, a former Soviet KGB agent, began his response saying he would speak professionally from one spy to another. He denied that Russia has a mass surveillance program, saying it was against Russian law. He said Russian law enforcement only uses electronic surveillance in specific cases to catch criminals.

Andrei Soldotov, a Russian investigative journalist who has documented Russia’s electronic surveillance system, said there is much more to Russia’s surveillance program than Putin claimed.

“There is no parliamentary oversight of secret services,” he said in response via Twitter. “The FSB is not required to show a warrant to anyone,” he added, referring to Russia’s KGB successor, the Federal Security Services.

Soldotov’s investigations have dug deep into Russia’s sophisticated electronic surveillance program, called SORM. That system, he told ABC News earlier this year, rivals any set up by American intelligence services. The Russian security services are hardwired into the telecommunications infrastructure in Russia, allowing them to tap into raw data whenever they want.

Last year, Snowden fled the United States before leaking the classified information in Hong Kong. He eventually flew to Moscow, where he was trapped in the airport for weeks after the United States canceled his passport and blocked his plans to travel to Latin America.

Eventually, Russia granted Snowden temporary asylum and he has been living in an undisclosed location in Russia ever since.

During Thursday's call-in show, Putin also discussed the unrest in neighboring Ukraine. He said he hopes Russia will not have to send troops into eastern Ukraine, saying he hopes the situation can be resolved diplomatically. Putin denied that Russian troops are already in Ukraine.

And, for the first time, Putin confirmed that the soldiers with unmarked uniforms in Crimea were indeed Russian troops.

When asked if Russia plans to annex Alaska next, he said that Russia already has enough cold territory.

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Oil Slick Not Tied to Flight 370, Preliminary Analysis Shows


(PERTH, Australia) -- The oil slick that Australian vessel Ocean Shield detected Sunday evening during its search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is not connected to the missing jetliner.

A preliminary analysis of the sample "has confirmed that it is not aircraft engine oil or hydraulic fluid," Australia's Joint Agency Coordination Center (JACC), which is leading the search for the Boeing 777, said in a statement Thursday.

The search for Flight 370, which disappeared on March 8 with 239 people on board, continued on Thursday, with up to a dozen aircraft and 11 ships joining in on the effort.

The underwater search of the Indian Ocean also continued. The JACC said the U.S. Navy's Bluefin-21 completed a full mission overnight and the data the robotic submarine obtained is being analyzed. The sub is being prepped to go back in the water; so far it has searched approximately 90 square kilometers.

The JACC on Thursday also cleared up some misconceptions about the Bluefin-21.

"Some media reports today state that it would take Bluefin-21 anywhere from six weeks to two months to scan the entire underwater search area. This is incorrect," the organization said in its statement.

It continued, "Since the US Navy provided comment some days ago, the underwater search has been significantly narrowed through detailed acoustic analysis conducted on the four signal detections made by the Towed Pinger Locator on ADV Ocean Shield."

"This analysis has allowed the definition of a reduced and more focused underwater search area," the JACC added.

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Three Dead After Military Base Attack in Ukraine


berean/Thinkstock(KIEV, Ukraine) -- Three militants were killed, 13 wounded and over 60 arrested when they attacked a military base in Ukraine overnight, the country's interior minister said. The incident happened in the coastal town of Mariupol in the southeast part of the country.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said in a statement Thursday that a crowd of around 300 men, armed with Molotov cocktails, attacked the base late Wednesday but were repelled by the National Guard and police forces.

Soldiers fired warning shots as militants attacked, the minister said, then fired on the attackers. He again accused Russia of being behind the attack.

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What to Expect from Thursday’s Russia/Ukraine Talks


State Department photo/ Public Domain(GENEVA) -- Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, have already spent at least 10 hours together in the past month, not to mention almost daily phone calls, trying to find a diplomatic solution to the Russian incursion in Ukraine.

During that period, the region of Crimea has essentially been lost to Russia and pro-Russian militants have spread throughout the eastern part of the country, with little meaningful resistance from the Ukrainians.

So what good can come from one more set of meetings Thursday in Geneva?

First and foremost, officials say, it’s the first time Russians and Ukrainians will sit together along with the United States and European Union since anti-Russian protests began in Kiev in February.

“The idea here is to try to provide a space where the U.S. and the E.U. can squat with Russia and Ukraine and look first and foremost for ways to de-escalate the security situation which has gotten significantly more perilous over the last ten days,” a senior State Department official told reporters during Kerry’s flight to Geneva.

The Ukrainians have some concrete ideas for de-escalation, the official said, including amnesty to anyone who lays down their weapons and the setup of formal negotiating forums. And the United States will offer additional proposals Thursday, the official said, without elaborating.

But experts inside and outside the government are keeping expectations for the talks low, given that Russia has shown no signs of backing off its claim that it’s getting involved in Ukraine simply to defend a pro-Russian minority.

“We’re going to have these conversations, but I wouldn’t look at this as the end-all, be-all necessarily,” State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said on Wednesday.

It’s more about the optics of Lavrov and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andreii Deschytsia’s meeting together along with Kerry and E.U. High Representative Catherine Ashton, said former State Department official Heather Conley, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Europe Program.

“It’s very difficult to move a process forward, even a nascent process that these talks represent, without there being some commonality of what’s going on on the ground,” Conley said.

Even if they can’t agree on facts on the ground, the talks at least present an opportunity for all sides to discuss some of the other upcoming milestones in the region, namely the drafting of a new Ukrainian constitution as well as presidential elections on May 25.

Some of Russia’s demands will be on the table, the senior State Department official said, including the idea of shifting power from the central Ukrainian government to individual regions, as well as protections for Russian speakers and other minorities.

But Deschytsia, the Ukrainian foreign minister, will make the point that these issues are best resolved through the constitutional process, not Russian-style aggression.

Russia should also be prepared for a discussion on European energy independence, the official added -- one of the most significant long-term ways for the west to cut its financial ties with Russia, on whom it now largely depends for oil.

Conley underscored that even the most optimistic forecast for Thursday’s meeting doesn’t go beyond the parties agreeing on what exactly is happening in eastern Ukraine.

But that could -- and should -- lead to additional changes, including tougher U.S. and E.U. sanctions on Russia and, in the long term, a wholesale shift in how Russia is treated on the world stage.

“For 25 years, Europe and the U.S. have worked towards trying to integrate Russia into the international system and the west,” Conley said. “That policy has now come to a dramatic end.”

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Students Trapped in Sinking Ferry Send Heartbreaking Text Messages


Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images(SEOUL, South Korea) -- Heartbreaking text message exchanges between students trapped in the sinking ferry off the coast of South Korea and their anxious parents are offering a glimpse into the desperate situation in the crippled vessel.

"Dad, don't worry. I've got a life vest on and we're huddled together," one 18-year-old student, identified only by her last name, Shin, texted her father, according to MBC News, a Korean news station.

The father replied: "I know the rescue is underway but make your way out if you can."

"Dad, I can't walk out," she replied. "The corridor is full of kids, and it's too tilted."

The student was among the 287 still reported missing.

In another exchange, a male student texted his mother, who was unaware at the time that the ferry was in distress.

"Mom, I might not be able to tell you in person. I love you," the student texted, according to MBC.

"Me too, son. I love you," the mother texted back, followed with three heart symbols.

Fortunately, that student was among the 179 people who have been rescued, MBC reported.

And one family said they had received a text message saying “I am alive” from one of the missing people while still on board, Korean news agency NEWSIS reported. It was unclear if that person had been rescued.

Survivors told harrowing tales of confusion and desperation as people slid along the floor of the sharply listing ship, colliding with one another, or found themselves trapped in cabins by a wall of water.

Rescued passengers said that immediately after they heard a booming noise, the ship began to lean and they heard an announcement over the ship’s PA system telling the passengers to stay in place.

“The baggage was falling out, and we were saying ‘What’s going on?’ But the announcement told us to stay where we were, so we did,” one rescued student told MBC.

"The ship began tilting all of a sudden, and then people started skidding down from above," rescued passenger Young-Ja Shin told SBS News. "There was a railing, so I held onto it, but I then got hit by one of the falling people and we got pushed down to the bottom."

"It took about 10 seconds to tilt over, and then I began sliding from end to end," rescued passenger Eun-Bok Jang, 50, told SBS News. "I got hit on my side and then I couldn't breathe."

The vessel tipped over completely on its side, and there was mass confusion inside the ferry as refrigerators and other things fell over, Jang said.

When the water started rushing in, many passengers put on life vests and escaped outside. But by the time that announcements told passengers to make their way out, the ship had already submerged significantly, so there were few exits that could be used for escape, rescued passengers said.

Many passengers were gathered in the entertainment center, restaurants and shops on the third floor of the 5-deck ship, but when the ferry capsized, that third floor was fully submerged, authorities told the Yonhap news agency. There was most likely a power outage immediately after the ship capsized, so confused and frantic passengers probably had a hard time finding their way out in the dark and narrow passageways.

"When we were making our way out, the wall was almost all water, and it was completely submerged up to the third floor," survivor In-Hwan Kang, 58, told MBC.

So-Hyun Kim, a teacher accompanying the more than 300 students from Danwon High School in Ansan, said she initially stayed in her cabin because of the announcements, but had to attempt an escape when water came rushing in.

"I couldn't go anywhere. I didn't have the strength to climb further up," she told SBS News. "There was an open emergency exit, so another teacher and I decided to just fall and swim our way toward it. I fell and hit a railing, and that's when I was rescued."

Of the 475 passengers on board the ferry, 179 were rescued. Another 287 were listed as missing.

Rescuers were seen boarding the vessel, which had tipped to its side, and combing through the top of the ship for survivors. One man boarded the boat and quickly found what appeared to be a crew member still on it.

Bodies could be seen scattered through the water in another video shot from a helicopter. A yellow raft was tossed out of the chopper and survivors in the water swam toward it before they were pulled to safety.

Others were winched in slings to the safety of hovering helicopters.

As darkness fell, the ferry took on more water and only the rudder of the vessel remained visible before the ship sank about 100 feet below the water. Rescuers stopped searching for those still reported missing at about 7 p.m. due to strong currents and poor visibility, but they resumed their mission around 12:30 a.m. local time, taking advantage of a lull in the strong currents.

One rescued passenger said he believed that many people had been trapped inside the ferry when it sank.

The ferry, identified as the Sewol, was sailing to the southern island of Jeju when it sent a distress call as it began leaning to one side. The passengers include more than 300 students from Danwon High School in Ansan, near Seoul, who were on a school trip.


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Al Qaeda Affiliate Leader Praised in ‘Atypical’ Terror Gathering


AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The leader of al Qaeda’s most dangerous affiliate is the star of a propaganda video showing an unusually large gathering of apparent militants.

Nasir al-Wahishi, believed to be the leader of al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), appears in good spirits as he addresses dozens of fighters as the black flag of al Qaeda flaps in the breeze among them.

“The enemy crusader still has cards to play,” al-Wahishi says in the footage. “We must remember that we are always fighting against the big enemy. We must eliminate the cross held by the cross bearer America.”

The highly produced, undated video was posted online at least two weeks ago and also shows the other fighters making displays of respect to al-Wahishi.

An American official told ABC News that the U.S. intelligence community believes the video is authentic and may show a gathering of escapees from a Yemen prison.

“The depiction of such a large gathering of fighters and the appearance of senior leaders are atypical of AQAP’s propaganda videos,” the official said.

Top U.S. officials have previously described AQAP as the most dangerous of the al Qaeda affiliates, more so than the terror group’s core cadre led by Ayman al-Zawahiri in southwest Asia.

Counted among AQAP’s members is Ibrahim al-Asiri, a devious bombmaker who is suspected of constructing explosive devices hidden in printer cartridges for the failed cargo planes bomb plot of 2009.

The Center for Combating Terrorism Center at West Point describes al-Wahishi as a “tiny wisp of a man with a jutting beard and soft-spoken manner” who joined al Qaeda before the 9/11 terror attacks on the U.S. Al-Wahishi himself escaped from a maximum security prison in Yemen in 2006, the center said.

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Ferry Survivors Describe Sliding Bodies, Wall of Water


Park Young-Chul-Donga Daily via Getty Images(SEOUL, South Korea) -- Survivors of the ferry that sank off the coast of South Korea told harrowing tales of confusion and desperation as people slid along the floor of the sharply listing ship, colliding with one another, or found themselves trapped in cabins by a wall of water.

Rescued passengers said that immediately after they heard a booming noise, the ship began listing and they heard an announcement over the ship’s PA system telling the passengers to stay in place.

“The baggage was falling out, and we were saying ‘What’s going on?’ But the announcement told us to stay where we were, so we did,” one rescued student told MBC News, a Korean news agency.

"The ship began tilting all of a sudden, and then people started skidding down from above," rescued passenger Young-Ja Shin told SBS News. "There was a railing, so I held onto it, but I then got hit by one of the falling people and we got pushed down to the bottom."

"It took about 10 seconds to tilt over, and then I began sliding from end to end," rescued passenger Eun-Bok Jang, 50, told SBS News. "I got hit on my side and then I couldn't breathe."

The vessel tipped over completely on its side, and there was mass confusion inside the ferry as refrigerators and other things fell over, Jang said.

When the water started rushing in, many passengers put on life vests and escaped outside. But by the time that announcements told passengers to make their way out, the ship had already submerged significantly, so there were few exits that could be used for escape, rescued passengers said.

Many passengers were gathered in the entertainment center, restaurants and shops on the third floor of the 5-deck ship, but when the ferry capsized, that third floor was fully submerged, authorities told the Yonhap news agency. There was most likely a power outage immediately after the ship capsized, so confused and frantic passengers probably had a hard time finding their way out in the dark and narrow passage ways.

"When we were making our way out, the wall was almost all water, and it was completely submerged up to the third floor," survivor In-Hwan Kang, 58, told MBC.

So-Hyun Kim, a teacher accompanying the more than 300 students from Danwon High School in Ansan, said she initially stayed in her cabin because of the announcements, but had to attempt an escape when water came rushing in.

"I couldn't go anywhere. I didn't have the strength to climb further up," she told SBS News. "There was an open emergency exit, so another teacher and I decided to just fall and swim our way toward it. I fell and hit a railing, and that's when I was rescued."

Of the 475 passengers on board the ferry, 164 were rescued. Another 295 were listed as missing.

Rescuers were seen boarding the vessel, which had tipped to its side, and combing through the top of the ship for survivors. One man boarded the boat and quickly found what appeared to be a crew member still on it.

Bodies could be seen scattered through the water in another video shot from a helicopter. A yellow raft was tossed out of the chopper and survivors in the water swam toward it before they were pulled to safety.

Others were winched in slings to the safety of hovering helicopters.

As darkness fell, the ferry took on more water and only the rudder of the vessel remained visible before the ship sank about 100 feet below the water. Rescuers stopped searching for the 294 people who are still reported missing at about 7 p.m. due to strong currents and poor visibility, but they resumed their mission around 12:30 a.m. local time, taking advantage of a lull in the strong currents.

One rescued passenger said he believed that many people had been trapped inside the ferry when it sank.

The ferry, identified as the Sewol, was sailing to the southern island of Jeju when it sent a distress call as it began leaning to one side. The passengers include more than 300 students from Danwon High School in Ansan, near Seoul, who were on a school trip.

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School Kids Get Ride in Popemobile


Franco Origlia/Getty Images(VATICAN CITY) -- Two schoolboys in the general audience at St. Peter’s Square got the thrill of a lifetime Wednesday when Pope Francis gave them a ride in the popemobile.

The pope stepped out to receive a t-shirt from the group of fifth-grade students from Perugia, Italy, when he asked them who wanted to go for a ride.

From the chorus of, “Me! Me! Me!” replies, Francis picked two boys, 11-year-old's Livio Bastianelli and Davide Maria Bianchi.

Pope Francis has made a point of connecting with people in St. Peter’s Square since being elected as the leader of the Catholic Church last year.

Last Sunday, on Palm Sunday, Francis got out of his popemobile after his homily so he could take selfies with tourists from Rio de Janeiro, who had carried a large cross into the square.

In February, Pope Francis was photographed kissing his “Mini-Me” in front of a Vatican crowd. The little boy was dressed in tiny papal robes and a skull cap. The toddler’s grandmother made the outfit for Carnival, when children dress up in costumes in the weeks before Lent.

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Oscar Pistorius Witness' Credentials Challenged in Latest Blow


GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images(PRETORIA, South Africa) -- Oscar Pistorius' defense appeared to have suffered a blow Wednesday when a forensic witness who contradicted the prosecution's version of the shooting of Reeva Steenkamp was challenged on his credentials as an expert in forensics and other elements of his testimony.

The witness, Roger Dixon, was forced to admit under questioning by prosecutor Gerrie Nel that he was not an expert in forensics, pathology, ballistics, blood spatter, or sound and optics.

Dixon told the court Tuesday that Steenkamp was close to the door and angling toward the door on her right side as if she was reaching for the doorknob. He also concluded that Pistorius fired four shots through the bathroom door in quick succession.

Dixon's testimony contradicts the prosecution's forensic experts who determined that Steenkamp was facing the door when the first bullet struck her in the hip and knocked her down. Nel had also told the court that she was afraid of Pistorius and was talking to him through the locked door when he shot her.

The prosecution had also argued that Pistorius fired one shot and Steenkamp screamed before Pistorius fired three more rounds.

Pistorius, 27, is charged with murder for shooting Steenkamp, 29, before dawn on Valentine's Day 2013. He could be sentenced to at least 25 years if convicted. Pistorius, a legless paralypian sprinter known as Blade Runner, claims he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder.

Dixon's testimony included a bullet-by-bullet account of Steenkamp's wounds, prompting another bout of retching by Pistorius in court.

In addition to giving a different version of how Steenkamp was shot, Dixon told the court that he helped record sounds of a cricket bat hitting against a door to show to the court that the sounds neighbors testified were the sound of gunshots could have been Pistorius breaking down the door to get to his mortally wounded girlfriend.

Nel questioned Dixon's expertise and professional affiliations.

"Are you a sound expert?" Nel asked.

"I would hope I'm a sound expert," he replied.

Nel repeated the question, referring to sound and acoustics specifically, to which Dixon said the test he did of the sound made by a cricket bat hitting a door and a gun firing was to determine whether the two could be confused.

"[The] expertise used was attempting to reconstruct the situation...I was not listening to myself making that sound," he said.

Nel asked Dixon how he conducted tests on how dark it would have been in Pistorius' bedroom when he claims he didn't know Steenkamp had gone into the bathroom.

"The instruments that I used were my eyes," Dixon said.

Dixon's qualifications as a forensics expert were also questioned by Nel, with the prosecutor getting so aggressive that the judge admonished him, "Mr. Nel, please restrain yourself.”

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Prince William and Duchess Kate Bring Prince George to Australia


Samir Hussein/WireImage(SYDNEY) -- The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrived in Sydney Wednesday for the second half of their 19-day tour Down Under.

Prince William and Duchess Kate treated local dignitaries to a royal first upon their arrival in Australia’s largest city, introducing them to their 8-month-old son, Prince George.

George -- dressed in a white romper accented by embroidered sailboats -- was alternatively carried by his mother and father as they descended their plane at Sydney Airport and greeted well-wishers and dignitaries that included Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Kate, 32, wore a Roksanda Ilincic Ryedale dress from the London-based designer’s Spring/Summer 2014 collection that retails for around $1,500.

The vibrant yellow color of Kate’s dress paid homage to Australia’s national color but Prince William, 31, reportedly thought the dress reminded him of something else.

“William said I look like a banana,” Kate reportedly told a well-wisher.

The crowds loved William and Kate as they posed in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge while attending a reception at the Sydney Opera House. Even though the new parents left Prince George behind for the event, their son was not far from their minds.

“I suspect George’s first word might be Bilby, only because Koala is harder to say,” Prince William said in a speech, referring to the rabbit-like animals indigenous and iconic to Australia.

It was not a Bilby but a stuffed wombat, another well-known Australian animal, that Prince George was gifted by Australia’s governor-general on Wednesday. George greeted the stuffed animal with a smile, as did his father, Prince William, who was nicknamed ‘wombat’ by his mother, Princess Diana.

Prince William spoke lovingly of his late mother, Diana, who gave her son the nickname when she, Prince William and his father, Prince Charles, traveled to Australia 31 years ago.

“My mother’s deep affection for Australia -- which you were so kind to reciprocate -- needs no reminder,” William said.

Later this week, William and Kate will travel to Ayers Rock, the iconic sandstone monument that Prince Charles and Princess Diana visited as well.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Ukraine’s Offensive Falters as Elite Units Defect to Pro-Russia Side


GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images(SLOVIANSK, Ukraine) -- Ukraine’s “anti-terrorist operation” to take back areas in eastern Ukraine seized by pro-Russian forces faltered Wednesday as units of Ukraine’s elite forces in tanks and armored personnel carriers defected to the pro-Russian side.

In at least two towns -- Sloviansk and Kramatorsk -- armored vehicles were seen flying Russian flags and carrying defected troops.

It comes after Ukraine made a big display of military might for journalists on Sunday, showing off the hardware and forces that would take part in the operation. A little while later, helicopters containing special forces took off on their first mission, taking back the Kramatorsk airfield that had been occupied by armed gunmen.

As the operation continued Monday, Ukrainian jets and helicopters could be seen flying across the skies of the eastern Donetsk region.

Ukraine’s acting president said on Sunday that the operation would be conducted “gradually with caution and responsibility.”

“I want to emphasize that the aim of the operation is to protect the citizens of Ukraine, to stop terror, to stop criminals and to stop attempts at tearing our country apart,” he said.

Pro-Russia protesters have been calling for greater autonomy for the eastern part of the country and for closer ties with Moscow.

Ukraine and the United States have repeatedly accused Russia of fueling the unrest in eastern Ukraine and on Wednesday, Ukraine’s acting Prime Minister Arsenly Yatsenyuk said Russia is “exporting terrorism” to Ukraine.

“Russia must withdraw its sabotage groups, condemn terrorists and liberate all administrative buildings,” Yatsenyuk said.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Sub Deployed in Flight 370 Search Forced to Resurface Early


U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Peter D. Blair/Released(PERTH, Australia) -- The underwater search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was temporarily interrupted on Wednesday.

The U.S. Navy's Bluefin-21, the robotic submarine searching the southern Indian Ocean for the missing Boeing 777, had to resurface Wednesday morning to fix a technical issue, Australia's Joint Agency Coordination Center said in a statement.

The JACC, which is leading the search for the jetliner, said an intial analysis of the data downloaded from the sub while it was on deck showed no significant detections.

The Bluefin-21 has since been redeployed and is continuing the slow process of creating a sonar map of the area to chart any debris on the sea floor. Each mission takes the sub a total of 24 hours to complete: two hours to reach the bottom of the ocean, 16 hours to execute its search, two hours to return to the surface, and four hours to download and analyze the data it collected.

Officials are hoping to find Flight 370's black boxes in order to understand what happened to the plane when it disappeared on March 8 with 239 people on board.

So far, crews have detected four signals consistent with the pings of an airplane's black box, which has a battery life of about a month.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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