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Malaysia 17: Shot Down; Crisis in the Middle East; Can Malaysia Airlines Recover?; Gunfire, Explosions Near MH17 Crash Site; Israel: Hamas Using Animals With Bombs; Malaysia Flight 17 Victims Remembered

Aired July 19, 2014 - 08:00   ET


CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: This is happening as remains of the crash victims we are hearing are being put in body bags and left by the side of the road right now. Efforts to stop the bloodshed are ramping up too. We have this report from Reuters at this hour that Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are agreeing on the need for a thorough investigation and peace talks between Ukraine and rebel forces now.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: International monitors say they have been given permission to inspect the site, yes, and that they are getting more access than they had yesterday. Although again, those reports of explosions and gunfire nearby.

PAUL: Two hundred ninety eight people were killed when that plane went down on Thursday in the rebel-held area of the Eastern Ukraine. The U.S. believes it was shot down by a missile.

BLACKWELL: Dutch police have been taking samples from the families of these crash victims. We want to bring in CNN's Phil Black. He's been there at the crash site.

PAUL: So you are in Donetsk, Phil, we have been hearing these reports about gunfire and explosions near the crash site. You were there earlier. I understand you heard mortar fire yourself?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Christi. It was indirect fire. It was nearby the crash site. Another reminder that this accident, this tragedy has taken place within a war zone and within an ongoing conflict area. It is another complication in trying to get the people and resources that are so desperately needed to that area to recover bodies and find out precisely what happened.

BLACKWELL: Phil, we have the reports this morning that the body bags are taken to this area and body parts are placed in them, but they are being left on the side of the road. Is this any indication that these rebels will allow the larger group of investigators in?

BLACK: Well, it's a little confusing because it is contradictory. The line about the body bags coming from European observers on the ground. We did not see it where we were, but it is a large crash site. A moment ago, the pro-Russian leadership held a press conference and they defended the fact that they are not moving the bodies. They say they are doing this deliberately. They want to leave the crash site intact they say.

So that when Ukrainian and potentially international experts get there, they can examine it and without the site have been corrupted by them moving things around at all. They are actually blaming the Ukrainian government for not getting those experts to the site sooner.

PAUL: So, Phil, if they are disputing that, are they talking at all in the press conference? Did they mention the allegation that they, the rebels, gave the black box to Russian authorities?

BLACK: Yes, they deny that absolutely. They say they have not seen the black box because they say they're not walking around. They are not going through the crash site in that detail. They believe that would be corrupting the scene as it were ruing the potential for an accurate investigation. That's what they're saying.

We have seen pro-Russian rebels walking around, moving around, not necessarily rifling or looking for things or that sort of stuff, but certainly moving around within the crash site itself in such a way that this leadership is now denying is taking place. They are of the view they are not contaminating that crime scene really in any way whatsoever. It is another shifting -- it's an exercise in shifting blame.

We have seen this so much and we have seen and heard so much in terms of who is responsible for the accident, but the response to the tragedy should be. Until the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian rebels are able to find some common ground in what the response to this tragedy should be, there will be little dignity for its victims.

BLACKWELL: That's what so many people are hoping to preserve for the 298 people there. Phil Black reporting from Donetsk there. Thank you so much. Many layers here as Phil said, a crime scene and a crash site, both have to be preserved as two simultaneous investigations will begin.

PAUL: Yes, which is a tough task certainly. It could be one of the biggest clues in the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. The Ukrainian Secret Service says intercepted communications between pro-Russian rebels just shortly after the jetliner was blown out of the sky.

BLACKWELL: Still unclear who made the final call, but we want let you listen to part of that intercepted recording.

PAUL: We need to point out that CNN has independently translated the audio. We do not know if the audio was edited or when it was recorded. Let's talk about this with CNN counterterrorism analyst, Philip Mudd, and CNN aviation analyst, Jeff Wise. Philip, when you hear those words, what is the first thing that comes to your head?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRISM ANALYST: A couple of things come to my head. The first is validation from the U.S. side. Do we have direct access to the Ukrainians and what they have to determine the validity to that intercepted communication? But the second and bigger question is what we have ourselves that is what we've acquired from our communications intercept before and after the incident. Let me make one clear comment here that we have not talked about. I was at CIA for 25 years. I help prepare the pre-war intelligence for Iraq. I watched the disaster of the intelligence after Iraq. When you put the president of the United States out in 2014 to talk about intelligence and talk about how certain we are this was a rebel-fired missile.

You don't put him out there in the wake of the Iraq debacle without some certainty that it was a rebel missile. When I heard what you just played, that suggests to me that if anything the White House knows more than the president is saying.

BLACKWELL: You would expect that if the Ukrainians have this and it is authentic that the U.S., which has been involved for some time now, knows more than what we are hearing. Jeff, what can we learn about who is responsible from what is left there of this 777?

JEFF WISE, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, I think it will be very difficult to determine by looking at the wreckage who is responsible because remember both the separatist rebels and the Russians and indeed even the Ukrainians all apparently operate this BUK missile system. First of all, you want to look at the debris and try to determine if it indeed was shot down by a missile.

Because that hasn't been to my mind definitively established. Then, even if you do say look, this clearly shows the signs of proximity high explosive warhead detonation and so forth, that would indicate that it was a surface-to-air missile, you are then completely not at all closer to who shot it.

Remember, we are calling this an accident, but we don't know it was an accident. Nobody is claiming responsibility. No one is admitting, which we did not mean to do this and it is a mistake. It is enveloped by fog at this point.

PAUL: Another portion of this recording where you can apparently hear rebels talking about the BUK missile. Let's listen here quickly.

We need to unload her somewhere to hide it is what they're saying. Philip, what other intelligence besides this are investigators combing through and how substantial obviously is that one?

MUDD: I think it is substantial, but what Jeff said, it is critically important. When I witness the fog of events like this in the 72 hours afterwards and even weeks and months afterwards, people without experience tend to transition very quickly from what they think or from one bit of intelligence, which is what you have there, to what we know.

We do not know if this was accident. We cannot even confirm it was taken down by a missile. I listen to this bit of intelligence and I know my peers who are running the program at CI, this is the generation I joined with, are looking at with some caution. You cannot take, even if this looks compelling, you cannot take one grain of sand and make a beach. Let me make one point about time before I close here. The frustration here for us and for the families will be the time it takes to piece this together might extend to months or years. There is intelligence we've collected and will collect. Things like the communications intercept you just cited.

But there are people you know what happened here. The people who shot this missile and chain of command who ordered to shoot the missile. My bet is over the course of not months, but years, we will gain access to these people. The story might not be told for years to come.

BLACKWELL: Jeff, help us understand the scope of that. We know, of course, this is happening in a war zone, but there are many people who have called it the biggest crime scene in the world. The scope of what should happen, what needs to happen to actually complete this investigation that many countries are calling for?

WISE: If you are talking about examining and trying to investigate the accident site, it is a big job under the best of circumstances from the reports I have seen. The debris is widely scattered over kilometers wide area. It is a massive undertaking. You have nearly 300 bodies in various stages of completeness scattered around. It is not the best of circumstances. It is the opposite.

We heard that the Donetsk People's Republic representative are criticizing that they are not letting investigators in and they are being hostile to observers. It is a muddy picture. It is not clear who is in charge and what they want to happen. It is a dangerous situation at this point.

PAUL: All right, Philip Mudd and Jeff Wise, so great to have your minds in with us this morning and get your perspective. Thank you.

MUDD: My pleasure.

WISE: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Let's talk more about the fighting in Gaza now because the world is watching the body count rise and innocent civilians are caught in the crossfire.

PAUL: Plus remembering the victims. The people who are on Malaysia Flight 17. Today, we are learning more about their lives and what they left behind.


BLACKWELL: New video coming in from the Israeli military, you see them targeting tunnels they say are being built by Hamas in an attempt to get into Israel from Gaza.

PAUL: The Israeli military says they found and targeted 13 tunnels in the conflict. This is a conflict that has become deadlier by the day. More than 300 people have been killed inside Gaza. Today the Israeli military has had more fatalities. BLACKWELL: Wolf Blitzer is live in Jerusalem. Wolf, what do we know about the latest movements from the Israeli military?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": It is very intense. You can see what is going on in terms of the casualties. A lot of civilian casualties as we've been pointing out. The Israelis say they are making significant progress. One of the things they say going into the recent exchange with Hamas, the Israeli intelligence community estimated 10,000 rockets and missiles. They believe half of them are now gone, maybe 1,500 or 1,600 came into Israel.

Most did not do much damage. Some did some damage, but most of them did not do much damage thanks to Israel's iron dome anti-missile system, which destroyed a lot of those missiles coming into populated areas. They think in the last few days with the Israeli ground forces on the ground in Gaza as well as continued air strikes, they think about 3,500 or so other rockets and missiles have been destroyed.

So they believe at least 5,000 missiles and rockets remain in the stockpiles. They are going after those. There have been close exchanges as you point out. They've had these underground tunnels that Hamas has going from Gaza into Israel. Israelis have found 13 of them.

They think there are in the words of the IDF, Israeli Defense Forces, about 10,000 more. This operation is continuing. It is not all high tech. Listen to the exchange I had in the last hour with the IDF spokesperson, Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner.


LT. COL. PETER LERNER, ISRAEL IDF SPOKESPERSON: They have explosive donkeys.

BLITZER: What does that mean, an explosive donkey? Explain that.

LERNER: They take an animal. They load explosives on it and they send them in the way of the forces hoping that it will explode near the forces?

BLITZER: That happened today?

LERNER: It was late last night.


BLITZER: Lerner said that Israeli intelligence heard about the explosive donkey, if you will. When they saw it approaching Israeli troops, they shot the donkey and all the explosives on the donkey exploded. That was that. He says this happened before. I have not heard about explosive donkeys before -- Victor, Christi.

PAUL: Wolf, some people would take that as an indication that Hamas doesn't have the power to try to overcome Israel. Is there any indication why Hamas is not going to back down or at what point they might? BLITZER: They clearly are out gunned. The Israelis are a very sophisticated modern military. Hamas does have some sophisticated rockets and missiles that can hit virtually all of Israel. They do have some capabilities, but when it comes to the fire power, they are no match for the Israelis.

That's a good question because the Egyptians, a lot of the Arab countries wanted Hamas including the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. They wanted Hamas to accept the cease-fire that the Israelis accepted the one put forward by the Egyptian government.

Even at this stage, Hamas, apparently, at least some of their military and political leaders, they think they are going to achieve objectives if this continues a few more days in terms of easing Israel's blockade, for example, of Gaza or opening up some of those border check points, not only between Israel and Gaza, but between Gaza and Egypt, which have been pretty much sealed off. They are trying to make life better for Palestinians.

Continuing the shelling of rockets and missiles, Israelis are not going to back down. The prime minister of Israel is suggesting they will presumably if there is no cease-fire intensify the operation.

PAUL: All right, Wolf Blitzer, you and the crew stay safe. Thank you so much.

BLACKWELL: We are learning more about the revered AIDS researcher and the family and the young student who loved rugby and soccer. They are some of the victims on MH-17.



FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: It's awful. I mean, those people are -- they're really in a way, martyrs to the cause that we are going to Australia to talk about.


PAUL: Former President Bill Clinton there speaking to CNN about the crash of Malaysia Airline Flight 17.

BLACKWELL: Now President Clinton actually knew one of the passengers on board, an AIDS researcher, one of several on board the flight on the way to the International AIDS Conference in Australia.

PAUL: Other victims on the flight were students, vacationing families and a nun. CNN's Alexandra Field has a closer look at those who will no longer walk the earth with us.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You walk to the field and see the bodies and a man with his cracked iPhone out of his pocket.

CLINTON: Thinking about those people being knocked out of the sky, it is pretty tough.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is unbelievable. It is not really real yet.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sister Felimine Ternin, an Australian nun, a beloved teacher at King Couple Rose Base School was heading home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She has been a great mentor. She is a personal friend. We're just devastated. The shock has been incredible. She very much brought love in all her interactions.

FIELD: Nick Norris was traveling with his three young grandchildren.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just gentle and clever and beautiful kids.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most magnificent parents to us as kids. My sister and my brother, David, and myself and just generally the most wonderful people. We are absolutely devastated to lose them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mom, we love you and we love you so much. We are going to miss you so much.

FIELD: Families in pain now turning to prayer from Malaysia to Moscow in Amsterdam and Ukraine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Clothing everywhere. Most of it is ripped off by the air. There are some suitcases and stuff.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Their deaths are outrage of unspeakable proportion.

FIELD: Quinn Lucas Shansman is the only American to be identified so far. Caroline Kaitzer was a Dutch doctoral student and a rower at Indiana University.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People have been listening to music and watching movies. They have been finding lots of headphones.

FIELD: Glen Thomas, the spokesperson for the World Health Organization about to celebrate his 50th birthday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His twin sister says he died doing what he loved.

FIELD: Joep Lange, a leading AIDS researchers on the way to an HIV/AIDS conference.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: These were men and women who had dedicated their own lives to saving lives of others and they were taken from us in a senseless act of violence.

FIELD: They leave burning questions behind. What if? What for?


FIELD: We continue to learn the names of the people on board the plane and to hear their stories, but there is a long process ahead of identifying remains. Christi and Victor, we know that their families all around the world who are waiting now for loved ones to be returned home to them.

BLACKWELL: Unbelievable that grandfather and his three grandchildren.

PAUL: I cannot even imagine for that family.

BLACKWELL: Alexandra Field there for us. Alexandra, thank you.

PAUL: You know, when we all heard about this, you know, there was something going through everybody's mind, a second airline disaster in four and a half months for Malaysia Airlines? Can they withstand the social and financial pressures of another doomed flight? The country's uphill battle in protecting their national airline.


PAUL: We return now to our coverage of the crash of the Malaysian jet. This morning Dutch police are taking DNA samples, we've learned, from families of those on the ill-fated Flight 17 so they can try to, you know, determine who was there and how to proceed.

BLACKWELL: Yes. And OSCE monitors, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, they are surveying the scene of the crash there on the ground.

I want to talk more about alls this means politically, militarily as the investigation continues. Let's bring in Lt. Col. Rick Francona, CNN military analyst; Steven Wallace, former director of FAA's Office of Accident Investigation; and Miles O'Brien, CNN aviation analyst. Welcome to all.

And Colonel, I want to start with you. There is, of course, as we reported over the last two days, the use of these BUK missiles. If that is exactly what happened here, how does that change this conflict there between Russia and Ukraine?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, this has catapulted into the main headline now. The use of this weapon system, although not new, shooting down this airliner has brought everybody's attention to this. So, maybe more attention than everybody wanted.

There's a real tragedy here. I mean this system was used against a Ukrainian military aircraft and it hit it at 21,000 feet. That should have been a signal to everybody that this is a game changer now. We have a new weapon system being used here and it puts civil aviation at risk. We see the tragic results of that.

PAUL: Steven, apart from the black box, which we don't know where that is, either, we want to point out, but would investigators -- else at the scene would give investigators clues as to what specifically happened here?

STEVEN WALLACE, FORMER DIRECTOR OF FAA'S OFFICE OF ACCIDENT INVESTIGATION: Well, this is -- first of all the black boxes may actually be less important in this event than in a typical accident because it can just be a situation as we had with TWA 800 where it is just recording and suddenly it just stops. Likely, they can do brilliant things now even analyzing sounds on the voice recorders to determine what might have happened as well.

The investigators -- again, this is a very unique situation. This is not at all a typical civilian accident investigation. You've, of course, had all sorts military and intelligence experts on and they have talked about things like explosive bomb residues and evidence of proximity triggered weapons and things like that.

So I think it will be a very much joint effort of experts in that sort of weaponry and as well as the civilian side, people can look at components of the aircraft and tell what's what. So they can find out a lot on the ground.

BLACKWELL: Miles, just a few hours ago, live here on CNN, the Malaysian transport minister, Liow Tiong said that in response to the question of why was the plane in this area, that many other airlines send jets through the area. Should they have been flying through an area that essentially was a war zone? Should there have been stronger guidance?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Victor, I think we know the answer now. They should not have been there. And I think a couple of things are at play here. First of all the closest distance between two points is a straight line. Airlines are always looking for the most efficient, direct and fuel-saving route. And this is an airline that in the wake of the 370 loss has great financial pressure on it.

Now I looked at what the MH-17 flight yesterday did. They did not change the flight number which is kind of interesting. That is normally the custom in the airline industry. I watched the track of that flight. It went significantly to the south over the Black Sea well clear of the war zone. And the total time of that flight was about five minutes longer than the one the day before. So we are not talking about a huge amount of time here.

As much as anything, you can relate this back to the accidents that destroyed the Challenger and the Columbia. There are -- what happens in organizations, complex organizations is, they take a risk, they succeed, and they incorrectly conclude that by doing that, by having succeeded previously that their odds are good that they will get away with it the next time. Of course, that's wrong. That's a little trap in human thinking. So they become apathetic about the risk.

So it is a combination of financial pressures and being quite apathetic about what is the reality on the ground beneath you.

PAUL: Lt. Col. Francona, as we look at the possibility that Russia was supplying these capabilities into the rebel hands, we -- looking outside the legal realm, I'm curious, do you think anyone will claim responsibility for this -- that there will be a scapegoat so to speak?

FRANCONA: Oh there will be a scapegoat it's just that we are starting to see the finger pointing begin. But when we get access to the aircraft, we'll be able to as the FAA expert says, we will be able to look at the residue and figure out exactly what kind of warhead was used.

It will be probably the SA-11 system. That only comes from certain places. It either comes from the Ukrainian army or the Russian army. And I suspect in this since the Ukrainians have already accounted for theirs, this is going to come from the Russian army.

And then we've got the issue of who trained these guys to use it. I think there will not just be a scapegoat, there will actually be someone fingered as the culprit here.

BLACKWELL: Steven, can you tell us what the outlook is for defenses as it relates to missiles that could target these jets? We know that (inaudible), in Israel, they explored that and added some of that to their jets. What is the future for these larger airports and airlines?

WALLACE: Well, it really hasn't been, you know, certainly like our presidential aircraft which is all classified, where there is some extraordinary measures there. It has been discussed before. It really hasn't gotten very far. Certainly, the greater threat or the greater concern, I think, is shoulder-fired missile just from some rogue terrorist at the end of an airport runway.

Now if we are talking about trying to build airliners so that they can be -- defend themselves against something as sophisticated as what appears to have been used here, that is quite a long stretch. I think a little bit more like what Miles was talking about earlier, just avoiding the hot spots.

You know, like in 9/11, we perhaps lacked imagination to see what was going to happen. And here, you know, perhaps hindsight is perfect. We need to be much more conservative in avoiding war zones or avoiding any place where someone might have access to a weapon of the level of sophistication that was apparently used here.

BLACKWELL: All right. Col. Rick Francona and Steve Wallace and Miles O'Brien -- thank you all.

PAUL: Thank you gentlemen.

Let's talk about Gaza because the ground war there is raging on this morning; death toll -- rising above 300 now. We're going to hear next from the former legal advisor for the Palestinian Liberation Organization who is live from the West Bank.


BLACKWELL: Israeli tanks and soldiers are now plunging deeper into Gaza. And for Palestinians, the death toll continues to rise.

PAUL: Palestinian officials say more than 300 people have died in the conflict, another 2,200 have been injured. And the U.N. telling us up to 50,000 displaced from their homes as parts of Gaza have been reduced to nothing but rubble.

BLACKWELL: That led a lot of people to ask why this fight continues and why Hamas continues the fight; and when they are so clearly out gunned by Israelis, why continue this offensive? To discuss, we're joined now by Diana Buttu.

PAUL: She's the former advisor to Palestinian negotiators and a human rights attorney as well. Diana, thank you so much for being with us. We know that Egypt tried to broker a ceasefire that was agreed to at one point. Even the Palestinians, as I understand, Palestinian authorities wanted Hamas to back down. What will it take to get them to do so?

DIANA BUTTU, FORMER ADVISOR TO PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATORS: I think it is very important to put this in its proper political context which is this isn't just a question of fight, but there has been an ongoing siege that's been in place on the Gaza Strip for over seven years now.

And so what the people in Gaza are saying is that you can't simply have a ceasefire without addressing these long-term issues and without addressing the blockade and the siege that has been ongoing in the Gaza Strip.

And it is for this reason that they have been saying that we have to start bringing in politics into this issue. This isn't just a question of security any longer, but we have to address the long-term issues.

I say this because in the past, the Israeli officials have said that every few years they're going to quote/unquote, "mow the lawn" meaning that they're going to go in and bomb Gaza. So unless we actually start addressing the political issues, meaning the blockade, meaning the siege, meaning the denial of freedom for Palestinians, I'm afraid we won't be able to move forward.

BLACKWELL: But doesn't it happen through talks? I mean we've read the numbers this morning -- more than 300 and these are Palestinians who are dying.

BUTTU: Yes, that is precisely right. This is why the initial ceasefire that was attempted to be brokered, it was supposed to be brokered through with the people who are in Gaza which is Hamas and the other people who are in Gaza and nobody even bothered to speak to them. This is why I think it is very crucial and very important for the United States rather than just be sitting back and allowing Israel to do this, for them to get involved, for the international community to get involved and to make sure that a comprehensive ceasefire is put into place and make sure that Israel is held accountable for its actions.

PAUL: You know, there's such (inaudible) and criticism over the use of civilians as human shields. Wondering as we look at what's happening in Gaza and some of the horrendous pictures that are coming in of the children that are being killed, what is it that keeps them there when they are getting notices to get out of the area? Are they choosing not to leave or is there just no place for them to go?

BUTTU: This is a very tiny place. There is absolutely no place for anybody to go in the Gaza Strip. The Gaza Strip is all of 26 miles long and 12 miles wide at its widest point. They can't exit to go into Israel. They're not allowed to exit to go into Egypt. They certainly can't live in the sea.

And so at the end of the day, where Israel is telling people to flee, there is no place for these people to go. Even if they do flee there is no place that is safe in the Gaza Strip as we saw with the massacre of children that happened on the beach. And each and every time what Israel does is it kills these children and then it says, "Sorry, we're going to investigate."

That is simply not good enough particularly when a lot of its weaponry is coming from the United States. We should not, as American citizens, be allowing this type of action to continue to take place in the names of U.S. --

PAUL: But Diana, are they using children as human shields? Is there truth to that?

BUTTU: Absolutely not. And that is one of the most offensive things that I've ever heard. The idea that somehow Palestinians are going to willingly hide behind somebody or that Palestinians are going to use their own children as cannon fodder is very sad and it's a bad state of affairs that this is the type of allegations that were perpetuating.

PAUL: Not Palestinians, but perhaps Hamas. I mean could Hamas be tricking people into being at a certain place at a certain time?

BUTTU: No mother, no child, no person is going to put themselves in any harm's way. The fact of the matter is that 80 percent of the people who have been killed are civilians and it's because Israel is deliberately targeting civilians and these people are being killed. I mean if you can only imagine how reprehensible it would be if I were to say that Hamas is simply targeting Israeli soldiers or that Hamas is trying to hit the ministry of defense which is located in the heart of Tel Aviv.

And the same is true. We have to move away from simply accepting what Israel is saying and look at the numbers. And when you see 80 percent of the people being killed are civilians it's certainly sending a message that what Israel is doing is targeting civilians.

BLACKWELL: Diana Buttu, thank you so much. And just to let you know we will have a conversation with the former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren in just a few moments.

All right. Here is a question. Would you be less likely to fly Malaysia Airlines because of these two recent tragedies -- MH-370 and MH-17? Several major airlines have folded after historic crashes. We'll explore how Malaysia Airlines might, in some way save face here.


MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: New developments in the crash of MH Flight 17 and the ground incursion in Gaza. We will have live reports from Ukraine and Israel. We will also talk with the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Is Vladimir Putin to blame for the loss of 298 innocent lives? And if so, will the U.S. do anything about it?

That is coming up at the top of the hour -- Victor, Christi.

BLACKWELL: All right Michael. Thank you so much. "SMERCONISH" airs this morning as he said at the top of the hour, 9:00 a.m. Eastern.

Malaysia airline is offering, we learned, a full refund to any ticket holder who does not want to fly on the airline anymore.

PAUL: Within the next five days. So it's something you have to ask as fast. They are trying to show we understand why there could be some hesitation here. With two major tragedies in the last four and a half months, what does the future look like for this airline? CNN's Cristina Alesci takes a look.

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Can an airline withstand a bow to its reputation even after one of take a hit after one of its planes goes down? In most cases the answer is yes. In fact many have endured despite crashes and even terrorist attacks.


ALESCI: TWA folded after Flight 800 went down off the coast of Long Island in 1996 and Pan Am went bust after terrorists downed Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Those airlines were already struggling financially before the disasters.

Despite some terrible catastrophes most other airlines are still flying today. In 1983, Soviet fighter jets shot down Korean Air Flight 007. A Geneva-bound Swiss airplane crashed in 1996 near Halifax. Five years later, no one survived American Airlines Flight 587 which crashed in Belle Harbor Queens. Air France flight 447 went down in the Atlantic Ocean while en route to Brazil in 2009.

Now 9/11 is an extreme example -- terrorists hijacked American and United planes for the attacks, yet today, they are among the biggest airlines in the world thanks in part to a financial lifeline from the U.S. government.

Most airlines don't take a substantial hit to their bottom lines in the wake of crashes. Insurance covers most of the costs according to Justin Green, a lawyer with Kreindler & Kreindler, the firm represents Pan Am 103 and 9/11.

But what happened to Malaysia airline is unprecedented. The recent death toll of 289 on Flight 17 more than doubles the number of people who died on its flights in the last few months. 239 people went missing on Flight 370.

JUSTIN GREEN, AVIATION LAW AND SAFETY EXPERT: There are going to be people thinking about whether they want their children or their spouse or their parents to be flying on this airline and I think that's really the -- if I was -- it is more of a public relations problem for the airline than it is legal liability. ALESCI: There's a good chance that it won't falter, though. At the

moment, neither incident has been blamed on the airline.

GREEN: It is a state airline in many regards. And I doubt very much the government's going to let Malaysia Airlines go out of business.

ALESCI: Ticket sales may slide, but national pride may trump profits in this case. Cristina Alesci, CNN Money, New York.


BLACKWELL: All right. Cristina, thank you so much. A quick break, we'll be back.


BLACKWELL: All right. We've got some good news if you are looking for something to do this summer. A nice get away.

PAUL: Yes. Let's follow along as country music star Craig Morgan, that's a good guy, takes us on a back stage tour of the Grand Ole Opry in today's "Travel Insider".



CRAIG MORGAN, COUNTRY SINGER: I'm country singer Craig Morgan and Nashville is my city. It's the capital of country music. We're taking you on a VIP back stage tour here at the Grand Ole Opry.

First thing we do when we get in, is we have to check in and find out where our dressing room is. Where am I at tonight? As a member, you have a mailbox so the fans can send mail to us here.

Not everybody that plays at the Grand Ole Opry is a member of the Grand Ole Opry. To date, there are just over 200 members. This is the list of every member past and present. There's 19 dressing rooms -- well, actually there's only 18 because there's not a number 13.


MORGAN: You never know who you're going to run into.

What is your favorite thing about being here at the Opry?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, Porter, Roy and standing in them big, tall shoes.

MORGAN: Look who we have here. Mr. Ricky Skaggs.

This is the green room. During the flood of 2010, this is how high the water level got.

This is the infamous circle here at the Grand Ole Opry where the legends, as well as the new artists, stand to perform. Thanks for spending time with me back stage at the Grand Ole Opry. Hope to see you in Nashville soon. It's time for me to hit the stage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome Mr. Craig Morgan.


PAUL: That's good music.

BLACKWELL: Indeed. Indeed.

We know we've had a very difficult morning talking about what is happening not only there in eastern Ukraine, but also at the Gaza and Israel border there -- that conflict. We're going to have a lot more. Unpacking all the angles of both stories -- both big stories -- coming up when we return at 10:00 a.m.

PAUL: Right now we take you to "SMERCONISH".