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New Evidence Suggesting Air-to-Surface Missile Brought Down Flight 17

Aired July 22, 2014 - 21:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, AC360 HOST: Also tonight, a photographic evidence suggesting not conclusively but to many persuasively that a surface to air missile brought the plane down, if you look at the at the wreckage there, you see a lots of small holes, kind of holes made by shrapnel, produced by missile warhead.

Additionally, it's Nayda new word from the U.S. intelligence community on how deep Russian involvement may have been, we're going to start off tonight in Ukraine in Kharkiv, where the bodied of the victims are being prepared to go home. Nick Paton Walsh is there for us now.

So Dutch investigators are currently going to through the train that transported the victim's bodies, the (inaudible) reporting there's a big discrepancy over the numbers of victims suppose to be in that train. What did you learn?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, earlier it have been thought that there was 282 bodies onboard, that figure in fact confirm that it's first being put our there by Ukrainian officials and the rebels themselves. There was a Malaysian security official traveling on that train, he told me, "Yes," he also thought there were 282 bodies recently good condition on that train and 87 body parts.

But Dutch investigators you are saying Anderson, have been later on today maintaining quite consistently that while they're only going to through the refrigerated wagon slowly that actually open the second of five just earlier on today, they maintain from a separate source who saw the bodies being put on to the train that there may only be as many as 200 of them, it's a very complex messy business. They accept, there could be more than 200 but the overriding fear is because of the wide area in which the wreckage and human remains have scattered when the missile hit that plane, would that maybe unnecessary to return to the crash site and even then extraordinary hard to find those missing parts. Anderson.

COOPER: What happens now? Most -- I know the forensic investigation on the victims, the effort to identify them, return them the most to their families, that's going to take place in the Netherlands. When will they start flying these people back to the Netherlands?

WALSH: They said they've open the first wagon early on today, the second, they begun. There's 50 bodies, we understand that tomorrow will be ready to be flown back to Amsterdam. There will be a farewell ceremony, an Ukraine official told us, about 11:00 local time that will arrive in the Netherlands. Then they continue to go through those wagons slowly, we understand that will take until Friday at the current estimate both Ukraine and the Dutch officials told me earlier on today. And then of course, once they're in the Netherlands, forensic testing and the identification process begins. We are sure repeatedly that no one is trying to identify anything at this stage, it's just simply about what they refer to troublingly is repackaging, getting the remains back to the better resources of the Netherlands where perhaps this process can continue and slightly fast the speed, Anderson.

COOPER: Nick Paton Walsh, appreciate the update from Ukraine, I should point out also, I spoke a relativism but he -- who was onboard that aircraft, they have been in touch with Dutch authorities, Dutch authorities have already taken -- ask for DNA samples from members of the family to compare that to remains that are ultimately brought back but they were told -- this family was told, it could be weeks, it could even be months before proper identification is actually made.

The kind of investigation that you don't always see, because it's only rarely needed, the kind that's being done this time, because the evidence of the scene is hard to come by and may have been tampered with and most of all because the global stakes are so high. We're taking of course about the investigation being done by the intelligence community, especially here at home. We have more on that now from Barbara Starr, listen.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: There are some things that U.S. intelligence community says, they do know.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Airlines Flight 17 was downed by missile that was fired from the ground. That missile was fired from a separatist controlled area.


STARR: What they say they don't know, "Were Russians directly involved?" That is now the key question. U.S. Intelligence Officials say, "They can't pin it down yet."

CNN obtained this diagram, put together by the U.S. Intelligence Community, showing the trajectory of the attack after analyzing several pieces of data. U.S. intelligent picked up the missile launcher being turned on, then the vertical ascend of the missile and its heat plume, enabling the intelligence analyst to then calculate the missile's trajectory and launch point on the ground near the Russian border.

MH17 was on this course when the missile was fired, hitting the plane here. There were secondary explosions from the plane as it crash to the ground. Getting to the wreckage, now vital. Pieces of the missile may still be there and the wreckage of MH17 itself has much to tell.

(BEGIN VEDIO CLIP) LT. COM. RICK FRANCONA, (RET.) CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Analysis of the shrapnel and the damage to the aircraft will tell us exactly where the aircraft were struck, what systems were hit and how the aircraft actually came down.


STARR: In the wake of the attack, there is little military evidence the Russians are going ratchet back. U.S. officials say Russia continues to shift weapons across the border into Ukraine as many as 20 tanks and armored vehicles on Tuesday alone. U.S. officials also released this satellite image of military area near Rostov, just inside the Russian Border. On the left, mid June, then on the right, this Monday, a significant buildup of weapons, many headed for Ukraine.

Rostov is also the area where U.S. officials say the rebels are being trained on how to operate surface to air missile systems. But still the U.S. is uncertain about who gave the order to fire that bought down the Malaysia Airliner.

Barbara Starr, CNN Pentagon.

COOPER: The rest of you from Washington now have viewed a similar efforts in Ukraine from Kyung Lah.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Who operated the missile launcher that did this, killing 298 passengers and crew aboard Malaysia Airline's Flight 17? Based on their own intelligence there is no question in the mind of Ukraine spy chief.


LAH: You believe that was a Russian?


LAH: A Russian-trained.

NAYDA: A Russian-trained, well-equipped, well-educated officer.

LAH: Who pushed that button?

NAYDA: Who pushed the button.


LAH: Not just a pro-Russian rebel but a Russian officer. The Vitaly Nayda says an officer would be the only one who would have the training to operate the missile. Nayda walked us through his evidence. He says, "This image shows a truck with a blue stripe carrying the missiles, known as a Buk M1, the day of the plane crash, hours after Flight17 was shot out of the sky."

Intelligence images show what he says is the same truck crossing into Russia, one missile missing.


LAH: They are trying to get these vehicles out of Ukraine.

NAYDA: Exactly, out of Ukraine.

LAH: To cover up the crime.

NAYDA: Exactly.


LAH: Russia says the images are fake.

More disputed evidence, you can hear the panic in these cellphone conversations reportedly between the rebels, recordings released by Ukraine. But Nayda says his agency has more recorded calls that he can't share yet, calls made three to four minutes before the plane was downed.


NAYDA: If they posses these kinds of military equipment like Buk M1 automatic missile launcher, they should knew that the plane is not a military plane, it's a big target coming with constant speed, in constant direction. They should analyze and they knew that it is -- it was a civilian plane.


LAH: A civilian plane with hundreds of people aboard. Underscoring the horror of the crash, Nayda wanted us to see this video obtained by his agency. Some victims are burned beyond recognition amid the debris. Most of Ukraine's video is too gruesome to show you.


LAH: When you hear the Russian say that they didn't do it, what's your immediate reaction?

NAYDA: It's lie. It's a total, constant lie and propaganda.


LAH: Propaganda is also what the Russians and the rebels accuse the Ukrainians of and they blame Ukraine for the lost of the plane or perhaps bow into the growing international condemnation, Russian President Vladimir Putin says, he will exert pressure on pro-Russian rebel.

"There are calls for us to influence the militant," says Putin, "Well do everything in our power."

(END VEDIO CLIP) COOPER: Joins me now from the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. We've been reporting on the propaganda coming from really both sides of the story, do the Ukrainian officials you are talking to appreciate how skeptical the world is about all their -- the claims and the counter claims?

LAH: Absolutely, they know they don't operate in the (inaudible) and they know that the world is their audience. When you look at the propaganda war Ukraine says, they believe they're winning. And here's why. They believe that what they have is more concrete evidence that they were the ones who came out hours after the plane went down and came forward with audio recordings, with some of the imagery.

Now the Russia disputes, that saying that all of these is doctored and it's fake. But when they look at what the world opinion is, you can call the propaganda, you can call it evidence. What the Ukrainian say that they believe they're winning the United States, Anderson, may not go as far as the Ukrainian Intel Chief is doing today, but he says they have a leg up on Russia.

COOPER: All right, Kyung thanks very much. We'll have much more in this in the hour ahead. Next in the lead, development in Middle East, involving flight in and out of Israel's main airport, not far from where Palestinian rocket landed. The question tonight, is it safe to fly into the country? Also the terrible human cause of the fighting, which in Gaza has being born mostly by the young, the very young.


COOPER: More breaking news tonight. The FAA has suspended U.S. flights to or from Tel Aviv, because of a rocket that landed about a mile about a mile away from Ben Gurion Airport this morning. (Inaudible) airport of course is the gateway Israel and the rest of the world.

In other countries, the airlines, including Israel's El Al are continuing operations but not all of them. The FAA ban comes just a day after the state department issued a travel warning for Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. CNN's Atika Shubert is reporting from the airport, I spoke with her a short time ago.

COOPER: Atika, you've been at the airport all day. Flights continued to come in and out of the airport, correct? What have you been seeing?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I mean, for Tel Aviv international airport, its business as usual, we've seen El Al flights coming and going and DHL cargo plane landing as well. But it's really the U.S. carriers that are most effective and we had, actually really good example of what they're worried about, we had a siren go off and then the red alert went out, few seconds later a rocket from Gaza was intercepted by the antimissile system iron dome, but it was right over Ben Gurion international airport.

And a few seconds late a plane took off and it's exactly that combination of events and timing with which the FAA is so concerned about, they want some sort of a sure ends that the planes are going to be safe enough from these rockets to land and take off from.

COOPER: A lot of push back from Israeli officials over the flight ban, what are they saying?

SHUBERT: Yeah, Israel's transportation minister is very upset about this and he specifically said that this is like giving a price to terrorism, that this is exactly what Hamas wanted. And so Israel is campaigning very hard to have this overruled that this FAA warning overruled and even Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke to Secretary of State John Kerry about this but so far the FAA warning stand.

And I think the important thing here is that this would have a significant impact on Israel because this is the main gateway to the country. If Sec. Kerry comes here for diplomatic hoax, for example, this is where he's going to land and that's why it's so important for Tel Aviv International Airport to remain open.

COOPER: The plans that are flying in to Ben Gurion airport, are they taking any special precautions that they at least announced?

SHUBERT: No, no, special precautions are being taken but a lot of airline carriers are basically saying they're watching and monitoring the situation, even the U.S. Airlines are really saying, "It's only for 24 hours. Now, monitor it after that." But the problem is, of course as you never know when these rocket attacks are going to be launched and these aren't particularly accurate rockets, they're really sort of flying all over the place here, which is part of the problem, you just never know where it's going to come out and where it's going to land.

COOPER: Atika Shubert reporting. Right, Atika, thank you.

Now the death toll continues to rise in Gaza, at least 630 Palestinians have been killed, nearly 4,000 wounded, 28 is really soldiers and two Israeli civilians have died. Senior International Correspondent Ben Wedeman joins me now with the latest, including some scenes that we should warn you are very hard to bear.

Ben, yet another deadly day in Gaza, what's the latest there tonight?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well the latest at this point Anderson is that the death toll has reached 650 since this operation begun, more than 4,000 wounded, today was another day of steady bombardment, particularly focused on the Shuja'iya neighborhood where we've seen four days of intense fighting between Hamas militants and the Israeli army.

But increasingly, there's a lot of concern about the fact that according to the United Nations, more than 70 percent of the victims of these fighting are civilians and more than 100 of them are children and it's the children who are really suffering in this war.


WEDEMAN: They were killed in the morning, buried in the afternoon. Two brothers Mahamad Hamude (ph) 18 and Ahamd (ph), 10, were killed in an Israeli airstrike, Saturday morning, in Beit Lahia, Northern Gaza.

The burial was a hurried affair, as tank rounds landed nearby. Israeli army warn residents to leave the area, many are stay in put.

We can die there, we die here, says Ali Abu Darably. We all end up in the grave, it's more honorable to die at home.

As dangerous as it is here, there's worst. People in livestock are fleeing to Beit Lahia. (Inaudible) came here with his family and his cows for safety. He describes the town he fled Beit Hanoun, northeastern Gaza.

Destruction, destruction he says, it's a disaster, they're hitting house after house, empty ground, everything.

Across the street a house hit an hour ago still smolders as another round lands in the distance. At 2:15 in the afternoon, 10 year old Abdul Hamid Suedi (ph) arrives at the (inaudible) hospital in Beit Lahia. He is the last surviving member of his immediate family, killing in (inaudible) to the east of here.

In another bed, 12 year old, Mohamed Jema (ph) screams out in pain. He was in a horse cart when missiles landed nearby. He suddenly found himself underneath, crushed by the load. It happened in Jabalia, an area where no warning to leave had been issued.

"When I saw my son Mohamed (ph) like this, I lost all hope in this world", says his father. Everyone here is in danger.

Children in the emergency ward, children in the street, children in the graveyard. There's no reason why so many of the casualties of this war, children. According to statistics, 43 percent of the population is 14 years old or younger.

Death come off in Gaza these days and it comes early.


COOPER: Its heart breaking to see where these kids are going through. Is there any where for kids, for civilians to escape to, to go to where they can be safe?

WEDEMAN: To escape to, to go to, no, that is the problem. And what we've seen time and time again that the Israeli army will send either a phone messages, prerecorded or drop these leaflets telling people to go leave certain areas where they say there will be shelling (ph), there will be operations to go to other areas but often times there are airstrikes bombardment in the areas they've gone to for safety.

So really it's all relative, if for instance you stayed in Shuja'iya during this fighting, yes there's a very high chance that you'll be safer if you go to Gaza but you're still not safe. Anderson?

COOPER: Ben Wederman, appreciate the report. Thank you. Will the State Department travel warnings in the FAA's flight suspensions add another global hotspots, the list of countries that are already off limits for U.S. carriers. I'll show you all the places. The FAA says that U.S. airline should not fly, next.


COOPER: Twin Flight 17, Iraq and attacks near Israel's main airport. You can understand why all travelers are nervous, why countries like Israel are upset and why the map of the airline no go zones as it growing. It used to be a boarding pass for the world within reach. And as Tom Foreman explains, it could also put lives in danger.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, look in all the countries in the world where the Federal government says, American air carrier should not go or should be very careful about going. And what this tells you is that there is real concern about the ideal planes being shut from the sky and that is a two false concern. First, there's concern about big systems like what we saw in Ukraine here, something like the Buk system, systems that are so strong and so powerful, they can reach way up into the sky and knocked down a plane cruising altitude 30,000 feet or even higher.

These systems do have limits. Among those limits they must be operated by enlarge by government. They're too big and too costly for rogue terrorist groups to run around with them in most cases. Secondly, they require a high degree of training to operate effectively and third, there's issue of tracking. When you use something this robust, it will attract intension from other nations and they will demand to know who shut it and why they shut it.

Which brings us to the second threat with some believe is actually a bigger threat and that is small handheld missiles, so called Manpads. Now, they can't reach way up into the sky and bring a plane down. They can only be effective up to two or three miles maybe but every plane in the world has to take off and land and during that time, they are expose to these. And why do some think this is maybe more effective and more dangerous? Because they're so portable, they can be carried and conceal easily.

Secondly, because the targeting on them has been vastly improved over the past 15 years. And thirdly because they organized groups out there that now are becoming more serious about how they might use in group like ISIS. We look at what happened in Ukraine and see a great tragedy but other groups look at it and they may see inspiration, that is why Aviation Safety Analyst around the world are looking at air routes and saying, "Is there something we've missed, a vulnerability to either one of these threats." Anderson?

COOPER: Tom, thanks very much. Let's dig deeper now on this. Aviation Safety Analyst, David Soucie joins me. Military Analyst and Retired Air Force, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, also Aviation Correspondent Richard Quest.

Richard you I think reported on a flight from Malaysia to London over the weekend of flew over Syria. I was surprised to learn and maybe just naive of me that flights are going over Syria.

RICHARD QUEST, AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, the air routes aren't close, Syria hasn't closed them. They haven't being designated as closed. Therefore, in exactly the same way as L9HO (ph), which MH17 took, it's open in Malaysia (inaudible), took that flight. When I ask Malaysia's chief commercial directed today about that, he was quite clear. It was a mistake. He said he's going back again and made absolutely certain in an abundance of caution, planes must not take these routes. But Anderson, I'll tell you, if you look tomorrow, at the number of gulf carriers going up and down in the eastern side of Iraq, going over Baghdad, (inaudible).

If you look at the Middle East airlines going over Syria, they're all still doing it because the routes are open.

COOPER: And I got to tell you, for all the time on flights where the pilots, you know, drawn on and on about what route you're going to take when you're fine to sleep.

QUEST: Right.

COOPER: They never mention dangerous place you're flying over, I got to say. They never say, oh look on your left and you'll see, you know, Syria.

QUEST: Oh, sometimes they'll say we're going over Baghdad...

COOPER: Really?

QUEST: ...or going over Afghanistan. Absolutely, we're going out towards Asia from Europe. What we have now is a really awkward messy situation where airlines are having to make decisions about there they think it's safe to fly, simply because the governments, the minimum standards can perhaps no longer be relied on and that's why what I foresee happening in very short order, airlines are going to have to come together the regulator ICAO and actually start to rethink the protocols.

COOPER: But, David has it right now. It's up to just the airlines to determine, yes?

DAVID SOUCIE, SAFETY ANALYST: Well, it is, but the last seven years I was with the FAA we're specifically on safety management systems which are approve that are in place right now. What that entails is identifying a hazard and then once you've identified that hazard you put it in to a probability metrics. You say, what's the probability of occurring? What's the risk and what's the impact if it does occur? And everything is very sophisticated system with all the airlines.

COOPER: So you talk about vehicular hazards are you talking about the existence of a war zone or ...

SOUCIE: Exactly.

COOPER: ... a particular weapon system?

SOUCIE: But you have to know about it to identify the hazard.

COOPER: Well, that the other thing colonel and countries are load to give up sensitive information about what weapon systems they have. LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, MILITARY ANALYST: There's two conflicting concept in the U.S. community, Intelligence community, one is that we will protect our sources and methods. So we're afraid to say there's an SA11 at Point A because the enemy is going to know, that if they know, you can detect something at Point A. You can detect it at Point B which is what they're concerned bout.

So you never want to give up the capability unless you need too. The other concept that sometimes to our own detriment is called duty to warn.

If you know that there's a hazard out there as David suggest then you are duty bound by law to report that to the congress and authority.

COOPER: So you're saying intelligence agencies around the world have a duty to warn?

FRANCONA: The United States Intelligence community has duty to warn.

COOPER: Have a duty to warn.

SOUCIE: As does every state -- every country I mean.

COOPER: So, Richard, do you really believe though that that something is now going to change because of this?

QUEST: The rules changed with MH17. Suddenly, that minimum safety standard that's never been approved by government and regulators was no longer safe. And now, we have this incident tonight or this today with Ben Gurion airport. Think about it, Anderson. Delta? The top three airlines in the world, the three largest in the world, and the fourth that you've had in Lufthansa all say they don't believe it could be safe to fly into Ben Gurion. The Israeli government says quite clearly, "It is safe." because of (inaudible) and the like. The FAA said it's not, the ESA says is not.

So, who makes the decision? The airlines tonight are in an possible position. They're damned if they do. They're criticized if they don't. Only the regulators can now come together and actually sort it out.

SOUCIE: Now that the hazard's been identified, they do know it exist, how -- what's the probability of occurrence? And this is the risk management model that we're talking about little earlier as once the probability occurs, you don't know that, because you still don't know how to evaluate what the true risk is.

COOPER: Right. David Soucie, Colonel Francona, Richard Quest good to have you back

Now, a view of the Flight 17 tragedy that it's hard to even imagine let alone live with, we are talking about people who witnessed the plane falling out of the sky. Phil Black reports

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP). PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The debris of MH17 is scattered over a wide area, so is the trauma inflected on local residents. In the nearby village of Rozsypne, the playground of an orphanage is empty and silent. The children who called this home had been sent away, because on July 17 they saw too much. Valentina teaches here.


BLACK: She says, last Thursday, the children were all outside when there was an explosion.

VALENTINA: (Foreign Language).

BLACK: She says, the children started screaming, "These are dead bodies."

VALENTINA: (Foreign Language).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Valentina shows me when a body of a woman fell on the ages of the field where children were playing. Another woman came down nearby and here, she says, the children saw the body of a boy hit the earth. She says, they were terrified, some screamed, some just sat and cried.

MH17's cockpit now lies down the street. Valentina and other women who work at the orphanage have becoming here with pictures of children killed in the aircraft. They leave them toys, flowers for their parents.

In this village showered in debris, where people fell through ceilings and in yards. People say they will never forget July 17.

For Medesta (ph), the explosions, fear, and bodies were like memories of the Second World War.

As well as trauma, people here feel relief, even gratitude because no one on the ground was hurt by the bodies or the huge pieces of debris which fell so close to their homes.

Here, the main crash site at Grabovo, residents prayed for MH17's victims. These people are living through a civil war but even they never expected to witness death on such an extraordinary scale.


COOPER: As hard as it is to watch that piece and with all the callousness we've seen by rebel commanders and rebels in dealing with the remains, to watch Phil's report and to see the efforts made by local villagers to remember those who died and to honor those died, it's a small bright spot on what's been a very, very difficult week.

Up next, the rebel leader who's emerged as the key suspect in the shoot down of Flight 17 who -- who he is, we're going to tell you about him and what the evidence suggests about his involvement.


COOPER: Whether not a Russian pulled the trigger that took the lives of 298 people aboard Flight 17. Many already hold Russia responsible for lighting the fuse in the larger war. That war has been waged by people like this man. A retired Russian military officer and rebel leader who goes by the nom-de-guerre Igor Strelkov, his real name is much less glamorous, Igor Girkin and then addition to being a leading suspect in the downing of flight 17. Ukrainian officials say he's a covert agent to the GRU, Russia's military intelligence unit.

Freelance Journalist, Noah Sneider has been reporting on this man. We spoke to him earlier.


COOPER: Noah, you've been reporting extensively on the pro-Russian rebels, exactly how direct is the link between them and officials in either in Moscow or even Russian personnel?

NOAH SNEIDER, FREELANCE JOURNALIST: I think what we know for certain is that there is equipment and personnel being transferred across the border from Russia and to Eastern Ukraine. The extent of the lengths between the command decisions that are made on the ground and folks on Moscow who are perhaps overseeing the movement is less clear.

The rebel commander at the top of the pile and then named Igor Strelkov who's real name is Igor Girkin is believed to be deeply connected to the Russian Intelligence Services, in fact he himself has admitted that he served the Russian FSB, a successor to the KGB up until March of last year. But at the same time, he's seen as a bit of a loose canon. His presence here may not be something that was in fact directed or desired by Moscow initially. He instituted a system of rather brutal justice under his rule in Slavyansk. He executed folks based on 1940s era Stalin laws on the Martial Law and military criminal justice. So, he's been known to have a bit of a wild streak in him and perhaps is less controlled than it seems from afar.

COOPER: So, is someone like Strelkov -- I mean, is he overseeing all the different rebel groups and would he have had to give an order -- I mean, if it was in fact a rebel unit which shot down this aircraft, would that order have had to come from him or is that -- not that centrally controlled?

SNEIDER: That's another great question and the sense that the folks have been following this from the beginning have -- of course, it's a patch work than it is a top down control.

From the very beginning, there were essentially local militia groups in several cities throughout Eastern Ukraine who seemed to cooperate in certain cases but at other times even fought amongst themselves. The force is loyal to Strelkov, overtook -- the forces are loyal to a man named Pavel Gubarev when Strelkov moved down into Slavyansk.

He seems to have consolidated control over the majority of the commanders. But one who's always been a bit of a loose canon himself is the man who appears in the leap (ph) phone calls that come from the Ukrainian Intelligence Services, a man named Igor Bezler who goes by the nickname Bes, meaning "demon".

And even back in late May, some of the rebel leadership here in Donetsk spoke of him as essentially the uncontrollable figure who moved on his own. So, it depends on who in fact have control of the launch system, it's of course impossible to say with certainty who gave the order to push the red button. But the command in control is weak, I would say, amongst this groups which adds to -- in fact to the danger.

COOPER: How organize is the fighting force of the rebels? I mean, it's a -- you talked about it being a kind of a patch work of groups, how experienced are they and what kind of discipline do they actually have in the field?

SNEIDER: The groups have seen pretty extensive fighting over the last three months. So, I think in fact some of the rebel fighters maybe more experienced that some of the Ukrainian conscripts or the rivals in the Ukrainian National guard who joined up following the revolution in Kiev.

COOPER: Noah Sneider, it's always good to talk to you, Noah. Thank you.

SNEIDER: Of course, thank you.


COOPER: Or you can always go to for more on the story and others.

Up next, echoes of Korean Airlines Flight 007 shot out at the sky by Soviet fighter pilots in 1983, hundreds died and the Soviets denied any responsibility.


COOPER: The crime scenes, there are many crime scenes. This isn't the first time that Russia denied responsibility for commercial airline being shot down. You may remember Korean Airlines Flight 007, a flight from New York to Seoul that was shot out of the sky by Soviet Union in 1983.

As with Flight 17, hundreds of people were killed and the denial of responsibility came quickly. Randi Kaye reports that.


RANDI KAYE: September 1st, 1983, Korean Airlines Flight 007 heading from New York's JFK Airport to Seoul, South Korea suddenly becomes a target in the sky.

SOVIET PILOT: Yes, I'm approaching the target.

I'm going in closer.

KAYE: That's the voice of a Soviet fighter pilot taking aim at the airliner. The plane is carrying 269 people including at least 22 children and United States Congressman Lawrence McDonald from Georgia. It's been on autopilot for hours but somehow has drifted off course and into Soviet airspace off the coast of Siberia.

It's the height of the Cold War. So, the Soviets scramble fighter jets. A fighter pilot is ordered to destroy the airplane. So, he takes aim from about three miles away and fires.

SOVIET PILOT: Missile warhead's locked down

SOVIET PILOT: I've executed the launch.

SOVIET PILOT: The target is destroyed.

KAYE: According to Flight 007 cockpit voice recorder, there is an explosion but the pilots never regain control of the airplane.

They report rapid decompression and an emergency descent. The airplane spirals downward for 12 terrifying minutes before crashing into the Sea of Japan.

It's destroyed on impact.

President Reagan calls the attack a massacre, but the Soviets denied any responsibility.

RONALD REAGAN, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT: They have persistently refused to admit that their pilot fired on the Korean Aircraft.

They have spun a confused tale of tracking the plane by radar until it just mysteriously disappeared from their radar screens, but no one fired a shot of any kind.

KAYE: When the United States exposed the Soviets by making public the fighter pilot's radio transmissions, the Soviet government turned around and blamed the United States charging that KAL 007 was likely a spy plane and RC-135 reconnaissance plane.

The international investigation concluded that a Soviet pilot was directed by his ground command and control units to shoot down an aircraft which they assumed to be a United States RC-135.

Incredibly though, three years after that report, the Soviet pilot who shot down Flight 007 told the New York Times he had no doubt it was a civilian plane and not a spy plane. He also told the paper this, "I did not tell the ground that it was a Boeing-type plane. They did not ask me."

All these years later, it's still unclear what caused KAL 007 to fly off course, but the investigation did find pilot error likely contributed. If only an attempt was made by the Soviets to contact that plane by radio, it would have become clear the aircraft was off course and 269 lives would not have been lost.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


COOPER: Just ahead, a sister shares her memories of her beloved kid brother who died on Flight 17 and he just finished his second year of medical school.


COOPER: Images of grief. We want to take a few minutes tonight to remember more of the victims who died on Flight 17. We're committed throughout this week to tell in their stories. They're really the most important part of this tragedy course and one that we should never lose side of. 298 men and women and kids boarded that flight last Thursday for nearly as many different reasons.


COOPER: Kevin Jesurun was on his way to Manila with a stop over in Kuala Lumpur to start a new job at a call center. He was a world traveler who loved to document his trips with selfies he posted online, including this one from 2012 posing in front of a Memorial for a downflight in Surinam. Kevin was 43 years old.

Pim de Kuijer was on his way to Melbourne for a Global AIDS Conference and plan to backpack around the country afterwards. His passion was traveling overseas according to his brother.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He devoted his life to trying to change the world around him for the better.

COOPER: Pim was 32 years old.

Jenny Loh and her husband Shun-Po Fan were known for their Asian Restaurant in Rotterdam, it was their life's work that leaves behind a 30 year-old son who's struggling with the loss.

Andrei Anghel from Canada was on his way to Bali for a vacation, he was celebrating the end of his second year in medical school. His sister says, her last e-mail to Andrei before he left for Bali said, "Please be safe, kiddo. I love you."

ALEXANDRA ANGHEL, LOST HER BROTHER ON MH17: Every other minute, I just want to break down and die because I don't -- I don't know how to do this without him.

COOPER: Andrei was 24 years old.


COOPER: Well, Andrei like so many other of the young victims had his whole life ahead of him. Now, his family like all the other families waits for word on when his remains might return home, when he might return home. I spoke earlier to Andrei's sister Lexi.


COOPER: Lexi, I'm so sorry for your loss and your family's loss. First of all, how are you holding up?

ANGHEL: As good as can be expected, I guess. I'm just trying to keep it together for my parents really that bad right now. So, I'm kind of putting off my own grieving and falling apart for now because they need me more than anything right now.

COOPER: It's obviously impossible to sum a person up, but can you tell us a little bit about your brother, what he was like?

ANGHEL: He was a very happy and full of life person. He just -- he loves life, he loved everything about it. He was never down or sad or anything -- he never really get -- let things get to him. He just -- he loved to learn and he loved to help people.

COOPER: I know he was studying to be a doctor, was that something he'd always wanted to do?

ANGHEL: I'm not sure if it was always but I know he always has wanted to help people and make a difference in the world and I think he figured with medicine, that was one of the better ways to do it, because he wanted to cure cancer, he wanted to cure anything he could.

COOPER: I understand there was a vigil at your high school last night. What was that like?

ANGHEL: It was incredible. It was actually really hard to be sad there, because there were so many people there that loved him and knew him. And a lot of them I didn't even know or had never met or recognize because they were younger kids in my high school when I went to that high school. But it was just beautiful to see how many people came out and how many people's lives he's touched. And just the stories they were telling and it was uplifting for sure.

COOPER: I heard you say that a lot of the stories you'd like to tell about your brother, you won't because he'd be mad at you for telling them on TV.

ANGHEL: There is -- yes, I think the top 10 best stories I have with him probably shouldn't hit TV and he'd be very disappointed in me.

COOPER: Is there ...

ANGHEL: To even tell them to my parents ...

COOPER: Is that right? OK. Well, I won't try to push you on that though but is there -- I mean, is there a story? Is there something you can say that sort of just -- something you think of when you think of him?

ANGHEL: I remember the day he -- we sat down and we were having a conversation. I don't even know what it was about exactly but he looked at me and he said, "You know, you're my oldest sister but I always kind of considered you my older brother." because I guess he really valued my opinion on things and he'd always ask me for advice with girls or with anything. I wanted to be insulted by being called as older brother but at the same time I realized that it was probably a very big compliment coming from him and yes, that and when he started calling me his little sister ...

COOPER: Oh, yeah?

ANGHEL: ... because he's been taller than me since he was in grade seven. So, ever since that, I've been little sister. It never mattered that I was older or what I said, it was always, "Be quiet, little sister. You don't know what you're talking about. You're too short."

COOPER: Oh, really. Listen, thank you for just taking a little bit of time and telling us about him. I wish I had met him.

ANGHEL: He would have wanted this. I think he would have gotten such a kick out of all the attention.

COOPER: Really? How so?

ANGHEL: Yeah. I just think he would have thought this was all hilarious and how much it had at being on the front page or paper as in being on TV and just all the attention. He would've -- I think he would have gotten a really good laugh about it.

COOPER: Well ...

ANGHEL: I think he is getting a really good laugh about it.

COOPER: Yeah. I hope so. Again, please extend my condolences to your parents and the rest of your family.

ANGHEL: Thank you.

COOPER: All right. Stay strong. Thank you.


COOPER: Andrei's sister, Lexi. It's a measure of her brother's life that even now he can make his little sister smile and we hope that smile and that love is contagious and that it comforts others in times like these.

That does it for us in this hour. Stay with CNN throughout the night for continuing live coverage of the shoot down of MH17 and the developing situation in the Middle East. I'll be back tomorrow at 12 noon and again tomorrow night on AC360.

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