Nightly News Netcast   |  March 28, 2014

March 28: Nightly News Friday Broadcast

Five Airplanes Spot Debris In New Search Zone; Mudslide Death Toll Rises; Obama Urges Putin to Remove Russian Troops from Ukraine Border; Chris Christie Announces Resignation of Key Ally; GM Expands Ignition Switch Recall; It’s Movie Night! Let’s Stay Home; Jeremiah Denton, Who Used His Eyes to Blink Morse Code, Dies at 89;  ‘Soup Ladies’ Cook Up Comfort for Landslide Search Crews

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> williams: on the broadcast tonight, a stunning turn of events in the hunt for that missing plane. it´s been three weeks tonight, and the search has again shifted in a big way. force of nature -- a herculean effort now by the national guard , digging through what was once a mountainside for any signs of life . and tonight, the news that many had feared was coming. on the brink -- late word tonight of a call from putin to the president, while at the pentagon, they are watching and fearing russia could be about to invade the rest of ukraine . and warning signs for the american weekend tradition. "nightly news" begins now.

>> announcer: from nbc news world headquarters in new york , this is " nbc nightly news" with brian williams .

>> williams: good evening. it was three weeks ago tonight when we came on the air and reported that controllers had lost contact with a jumbo jet . three weeks now, still no contact, no proof of where it is. but today, five different planes spotted at least something. tonight, there´s a new search area. it´s sharply to the north now, closer to australia. it´s based on the belief that the plane flew faster on its way down than first believed, used its fuel up faster, and then went down at a different point. it´s where we begin tonight with nbc´s tom costello once again in our d.c. bureau. tom, good evening. >> costello : hi, brian . a week after searching in an area 1,600 miles off of perth, now this new refined search zone is hundreds of miles to the north. and half the aircrews that went out today thought they spotted what could have been debris. those photographs are now being analyzed. from an australian p-3 search plane today, an up-close look at the new search zone 21 days after flight 370 disappeared. at a low pass, crew members thought they spotted something. now ships are headed that way.

>> josh: 11 objects in total is what we´ve come across. a varying range of shapes, sizes, objects that were sitting on the surface of the ocean, some just below.

>> costello: this photo of possible debris, unconfirmed by nbc news, was purportedly shot by a new zealand aircrew also operating in the new zone nearly 700 miles northeast of the previous search area.

>> dolan: this is our best estimate of the area in which the aircraft is likely to have crashed into the ocean .

>> costello: with the help of u.s. investigators, engineers took the plane´s last known altitude of 35,000 feet and projected its fuel burn, then they recalculated the possible flight paths. if the plane was flying at 539 or 546 miles per hour, it likely would have taken one of these two paths. but if the speed was 460 miles per hour, the flight could have ended hundreds of miles to the east and much closer to perth. experts say the ocean there isn´t as rough.

>> pattiaratchi: it´s very different in terms of conditions. the wave conditions are much, much calmer, less than half of what it was in the southern ocean .

>> costello: if the black boxes are found, the malaysians could ask for help from the ntsb lab in washington , where investigators are experienced in removing salt water that could have leaked into the memory compartment.

>> gormley: we make sure that we wash the board several times and get all of the salt particles out of it because it does have the ability to corrode some of the leads and the other parts that are on the memory board.

>> costello: the goal -- to upload hundreds of pieces of recorded flight data and lay out the plane´s final minutes. meanwhile, another team listens to what was said in the cockpit just before a final crash. i would think that this can be emotionally taxing to listen to this kind of a conversation.

>> gormley: i always relate it to what trauma surgeons must go through, is you´re there trying to get the job done.

>> costello: the ntsb says it goes through 175 black boxes a year. a third of them are from foreign governments. also today, the pentagon confirming it is also providing imagery to help in the search, though it won´t be more specific than that, brian .

>> williams: tom costello starting us off from our d.c. newsroom on this friday night. tom, thanks. and we turn now out west to washington state , where it´s been almost a week since a mountainside gave way, consuming a square mile of the earth below, just about everything and everyone in its path. all week, a slow and exhausting search has been going on for the missing in mud up to 40 feet deep in some places. and tonight, the awful news that the death toll has worsened. nbc ´s miguel almaguer remains there for us tonight. miguel , good evening.

>> almaguer: brian , good evening. the official death toll remains at 17, but rescue officials tell us it will certainly climb dramatically. tonight, 90 people are missing as hope fades. boots in the mud -- it´s thick and waist-deep. more than 200 search in slow and dangerous conditions. it could take five months to scour this debris field.

>> hots: the rain and the wind and the weather is basically working against us.

>> almaguer: fresh crews are headed in to relieve teams who are exhausted. even the search dogs are tired.

>> mason: these individuals come in up to waist-deep in mud that they have been going through. they have been digging through stuff. they have seen things that people shouldn´t have to see.

>> almaguer: with so many still missing, there is fear tonight this could become one of the deadliest mudslides in u.s. history . rescue teams are focusing their efforts on steelhead drive, where amanda lennick, a young nurse, had just bought her home. she spent saturday working on repairs with bill welsh , a vietnam veteran , steve hadaway, a marine, and stephen neal , a family man. his daughter caroline had to break the news to his grandchildren.

>> neal: "now he´s watching over all of us, "and he loved you very, very much... ...and that he is always going to be watching after you."

>> almaguer: with 49 homes destroyed, at least 11 were built since 2000 , a year after this report prepared for the u.s. army corps of engineers warned the potential for a large catastrophic failure here.

>> cizek: first off, they were in love.

>> almaguer: larry and sandy miller were building their dream home.

>> cizek: they were very cognizant that there was a certain amount of risk that goes with living in a location like that.

>> almaguer: but not every homeowner was aware of the danger.

>> youngblood: nobody warned anybody. we had no knowledge. we bought that place specifically because it was a quarter mile from the river and it was up on a bench above flood level. there is nothing that should have hurt us there.

>> almaguer: tonight, this entire community is hurting. next week, the first of too many funerals. linda mcpherson was the town librarian everyone knew. leaning on each other, this community is finding strength as tonight it shares its grief. with days of rain in the forecast, there is worry another landslide could be triggered. as a matter of fact, first responders are so concerned, they have put devices in the ground to check for the soil´s movement. brian ?

>> williams: miguel almaguer in arlington, washington , on a friday night. thanks, miguel . let´s turn to news from overseas. there´s late word tonight of a phone call from russian president vladimir putin to president obama , who is traveling overseas right now. white house says putin called to talk about u.s. diplomatic proposals to resolve this crisis in ukraine . officials are telling us the president urged putin to move his troops back from the border. this is important because the pentagon has been very worried about the opposite -- worried that putin is about to move on the rest of ukraine . jim miklaszewski is at the pentagon for us tonight. jim, good evening.

>> miklaszewski: brian , that phone call tonight between the two presidents may have at least won ukraine a short reprieve from a russian invasion. defense officials here tell us that as of tonight, the russians have enough military firepower in place to invade ukraine . there´s an estimated 40,000 heavily armed russian troops positioned near the ukraine border. they are armed with tanks, attack helicopters, even field hospitals to treat any wounded. now, according to u.s. intelligence officials, those troops are now positioned and locked down in three russian military bases about 40 to 60 miles from the russian border. intelligence officials say that it appears russia wants to seize a large part of southeastern ukraine . that would give its military a direct and open land route from russia to crimea. now, if those upcoming u.s./russian talks should break down for any reason, officials here warn that russia could still launch an invasion without warning and admit that the u.s. and ukraine would be powerless to stop it, brian .

>> williams: jim miklaszewski at the pentagon, where they will be keeping eyes on this all weekend. in new jersey today, governor chris christie tried to move beyond the bridge scandal that has consumed his administration for a time. he is pointing to a legal review that he commissioned that cleared him of any wrongdoing. he announced the resignation of a key ally and said he will embrace reforms recommended in the report. we get more tonight from nbc ´s kelly o´donnell.

>> o´donnell: today in his first news conference in 11 weeks...

>> christie: good afternoon, everybody.

>> o´donnell: ...governor chris christie defended the new report commissioned by his own office that concludes he was not involved in the bridge traffic lane scandal. democrats have dismissed the findings as a whitewash.

>> christie: i think the report will stand the test of time, but it will be tested.

>> o´donnell: the report recommends an overhaul of the port authority , and today, christie accepted the resignation of his top appointee, david samson .

>> christie: he believes that the best way to start a new era at the port authority is with new leadership.

>> o´donnell: while christie acknowledged his reputation suffered, he insists none of this will derail his future. how is it possible that this controversy will not impact a choice to run for president or how you might even do?

>> christie: i´m just telling you that it won´t. and the fact of the matter is that i had nothing to do with this, as i said from the beginning.

>> o´donnell: christie claims voters will forget the bridge controversy.

>> christie: in considering my candidacy, if there ever is one, i got a feeling it will be a very small element of it, if any element at all.

>> o´donnell: the internal review heaped all the blame for shutting down lanes on former port authority official david wildstein and christie ´s former top aide, bridget anne kelly . the governor says he must become a better manager.

>> christie: i need to be even more direct about what i will permit and what i won´t permit.

>> o´donnell: today, christie recharged his combative style...

>> christie: and i don´t know whether you can´t take notes or you´re not listening. christine, stop. you have to get the facts right if you are going to ask me a question.

>> o´donnell: ...and acted like the worst of this is behind him.

>> christie: i´d love to say i missed you, but i didn´t.

>> o´donnell: but it´s far from over. state and federal investigations are still under way. and tonight a lawyer for bridget anne kelly is disputing how she was characterized and the conclusions in the christie administration internal review, saying kelly would cooperate with the u.s. attorney if given immunity. brian ?

>> williams: kelly o´donnell at the state capital in trenton tonight. kelly , thanks. more trouble at gm tonight. late word, the company is greatly expanding a recall involving those faulty ignition switches. and there is a separate problem the company has just disclosed. nbc ´s anne thompson has more on all of this for us tonight in our newsroom. anne , good evening.

>> thompson: good evening, brian . first, let´s talk about that expanded recall. it involves the same models of cars that were recalled -- those 1.6 million cars that were recalled last month by gm. but these are just newer versions of those cars. these cars were built from 2008 to 2011 . and the vehicles include the chevy cobalt and hhr, the pontiac g5 and solstice, and the saturn ion and sky. now, unlike the older vehicles, no deaths have been officially linked to these models. the problem, gm says, is that those ignition switches could have been repaired with faulty parts. but gm says it does not know which cars got those faulty parts. so out of an abundance of caution, c.e.o. mary barra says this recall is being expanded. now, this comes on the same day that gm told dealers to stop selling 2013 and 2014 models of the chevy cruze with 1.4 liter turbo engines. so far, gm has given no reason for that order. but you can bet that c.e.o. mary barra will be asked about that reason and a whole lot of other questions when she testifies before congress next week, brian .

>> williams: all right, anne thompson here with us in new york tonight. anne , thanks. and still ahead on this friday evening, big trouble at the movies. a changing american tradition. now theaters are thinking outside the box to get the audience back inside. and later, the incredible moment captured on camera as a woman hears for the very first time in her life. the movie, " noah " is the big opener this weekend, the new york times review says it´s "occasionally clumsy, ridiculous, and unconvincing, but almost never dull." to prove they have a sense of humor, the headline in the times for the " noah " review reads, "rain, heavy at times." hollywood is going to need a sense of humor to get through a changing time from actual film itself to the new stats showing fewer of us are actually going to movie theaters . our report on all of it tonight from nbc ´s gabe gutierrez in los angeles .

>> gutierrez: out in theaters tonight, the latest hollywood epic, " noah ," starring russell crowe and jennifer connelly . but the industry built on big screens and big budgets is now dealing with what´s becoming a big problem.

>> woman: this is my first time going this whole year.

>> woman: i´ll wait a year for the movie to come on netflix rather than go to the movies and pay $13.

>> gutierrez: according to the motion picture association of america , the number of frequent moviegoers ages 18 to 24 plummeted 17% last year. the total amount of tickets sold over the past decade has plunged 11%. but there´s a hollywood plot twist.

>> dergarabedian: we had a record box office year in 2013 . we´re 10% almost ahead of last year at this point.

>> gutierrez: that´s because to compensate for falling attendance, ticket prices have soared, now averaging $8.13, more in some cities, where imax movies can run closer to 20 bucks. to lure people back into these seats, the industry is considering discounted weekday movie nights. some chains already offer luxury amenities, like reclining chairs and more upscale food. but it will be hard to compete with the convenience of spencer louis´ apartment outside l.a., where four 20-somethings enjoyed movie night on the small screen, on demand through services like netflix and hulu.

>> louis: i can choose when i want to watch it, i can pause it, so i think the flexibility makes it really easy to watch things at home.

>> gutierrez: but for ario cowell, old habits die hard .

>> cowell: i don´t think i´ll ever stop going to the movies. it will never be replaced for me. it´s just the entire ritual. it´s buying your tickets, smelling the popcorn, seeing the big screen .

>> gutierrez: an american pastime for many others now seen in a whole new light. gabe gutierrez, nbc news, los angeles .

>> williams: when we come back, remembering an american hero who always said he survived the very worst by living for the moment. jeremiah denton has died, and the most important thing to know about him is following his release after eight years as a prisoner of war in vietnam, four of those years in solitary confinement, he said it had been an honor. denton was a native of alabama, father of seven, an annapolis grad, and a former test pilot. he was shot down on his 12th mission over vietnam in 1965 . he was routinely tortured, often to the point of losing consciousness. but one day, when it stopped, denton was cleaned up, given new clothes. he suspected something was up, and he was right. they sat him down for a more or less staged interview with a japanese tv journalist. during it, denton famously used his eyes to blink the word "torture" in more code, a signal to the pentagon that americans were being mistreated. following his release, he was elected to the u.s. senate from alabama for a single term. the senator and his wife were married for 61 years. jeremiah denton was 89. a prominent republican is leaving congress. mike rogers of michigan, chairman of the house intelligence committee , leaving after seven terms. he´s become a tv news regular on intelligence issues. 50-year-old former fbi agent says he´s going to host a national radio show. an emotional scene in the u.k. has been chronicled by our international partner, itn. a woman named joanne miln who was deaf from birth is shown hearing sounds for the first time, thanks to cochlear implants .

>> woman: november. december.

>> miln: [ laughs ] [ sobs ]

>> woman: could you hear those words?

>> miln. yes. yes.

>> williams: because she longed to hear music , her best friend made her a playlist of great music she needed to hear right away, starting with john lennon´s "imagine." there is also some mccartney, bruce, prince, elo, fleetwood mac , steely dan . now she has time to make up for lost time . he is now making her a mix of christmas music because, to date, she has never heard a christmas song . when we come back, those who are making a difference in a real time of need.

>> announcer: "making a difference," brought to you by pfizer. our "making a difference" report tonight comes from washington state , the scene of so much tragedy this past week. but like so much of the bad that we have to witness, like so many of the awful events we have to cover, and the stories we must tell, great people have come forward, and they have performed great deeds. their stories tonight from nbc ´s joe fryer.

>> passarelli: peas, carrots, corn.

>> fryer: few things in tough times offer more comfort than a home-cooked meal. enter ginger passarelli, better known as "mama."

>> passarelli: ooh, yeah. that´s hot.

>> fryer: this big-hearted restaurant owner is part of a group known as "the soup ladies"...

>> passarelli: yeah, that´s perfect.

>> fryer: ...volunteers who spent this entire week feeding search crews at the site of the oso mud slide.

>> passarelli: i would never want to do their job, but i can cook.

>> fryer: they´ve been doing this for 10 years now, serving food to responders after hurricane katrina , the tornado in joplin, missouri, and superstorm sandy. now disaster has landed just 70 miles from their own backyard.

>> passarelli: i have heard that when they know on the radio that mama´s gonna be at the base camp , that it lightens their load.

>> fryer: mama says they´re just a tiny cog in the wheel of giving.

>> boy: help the mudslide victims!

>> fryer: this week, boy scouts braved the rain for a food drive, and high-school students packed more than 1,300 lunches for first responders.

>> woman: [ voice breaking ] these kids are making sandwiches... for my boys, for the people on the front lines who are doing what we can´t.

>> passarelli: you can just stick it in there.

>> fryer: as for the soup ladies, they´re putting out more than 200 meals a day.

>> passarelli: i feel so privileged and honored that i get to do this. and i love those people. i love them. they are my heroes.

>> fryer: when this world is at its worst, mama is a witness to its best.

>> passarelli: [ voice breaking ] you see a lot of heartache, and when i look into some of their eyes, i get to see into their heart.

>> fryer: she promises to stay here until they´re told to go. so oso can take some comfort in knowing while the road ahead is long, it will not be traveled alone. joe fryer, nbc news, arlington, washington .

>> williams: and if you wish to help the folks in washington state , there is information on how to do just that. it´s on our website tonight. nbcnews.com. that is our broadcast for this friday night and for this week. thank you for being here with us. i´m brian williams . lester holt will be here with you this weekend. we, of course, hope to see you right back here on monday evening. have a good weekend, in the meantime. good night.