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MH17 Shot Down: A Tragic Mistake?; Day of Mourning in Netherlands; FAA Bans Flight to Tel Aviv

Aired July 23, 2014 - 04:30   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Shot down by mistake. New U.S. intelligence revealing pro-Russian rebels may have taken out Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 thinking it was a Ukrainian military transport. So who pulled the trigger? And could Russian and its president Vladimir Putin be culpable?

This after a day of mourning sets over the Netherlands. In just hours, the first plane of victims' bodies will arrive.

We're covering every angle of this big developing story for you this morning.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Danger in the air. This morning, the FAA banning U.S. flights into and out of Tel Aviv. The deadly violence blamed. Nevertheless, Secretary of State John Kerry just arrived there moments ago. We're live with the very latest.

A lot going on this morning. Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's 30 minutes past the hour. We welcome all our viewers here in the U.S. and all of you around the world.

A day of mourning is declared as that nation prepares for the return of the victims from Flight 17. It's happening later today. It turns out there were about 200 bodies on those death trains leaving Donetsk, meaning the remains of nearly 100 other people on the doomed airliner are still missing.

Nick Paton Walsh joining us live on the phone this morning from Kharkiv, Ukraine, where the victims of Flight 17 are being put on a plane bound for the Netherlands.

Nick, you say the mood very somber, trying to restore the dignity of these people, whose bodies have not been treated with dignity over the last few days.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Certainly, the C-130 about to fly a number of bodies. We didn't see the full number of coffins loaded. We saw four brought by Ukrainian soldiers in dress uniform. Very somber moment. The C-130 engines have now started and in fact the door has closed. It's a situation, it's very hard to describe, how sad. People have managed to muster the atmosphere here on this tarmac. A remarkable scene. (INAUDIBLE) dignitaries from all the various nations affected speaking mostly of grief, mostly of sadness, felt in the countries which they represent.

Anger from the Ukraine vice prime minister, (INAUDIBLE) and above all, the moments of silence, slowly marched toward the C-130. One of two here where those coffins a deeply tragic moment, seeing those pictures now asked to move away from the aircraft as it's about to take off, Christine.

ROMANS: And when you look at these pictures, you can see lines of people in uniform, carefully carrying each coffin into the back of that C-130 with a reverence that is remarkable to me, given the disregard these victims were treated with in the first days of being in that field in eastern Ukraine. Tell us a little bit about what happens next here.

WALSH: Well, there are two processes now that will now continue. These 50 bodies, the first 50 are taken from the first and second of the five refrigerated wagons on the train that came from the area yesterday. They will now go total Netherlands where they will begin forensic testing to be identified, which is one of the most tragic moments here, for burial and closure for the relatives because many don't know the bodies taken from the wreckage who is who.

And second, a more complex and perhaps more traumatizing process for those little relatives waiting news is going to continue in the next few days here in Ukraine.

You mentioned discrepancy in the numbers. There's no clear figure really from anybody as to who is entirely on that train. We know in fact that Ukrainian officials and separatist officials are saying there were 282 bodies in reasonable condition on that train and 87 body parts. That was confirmed to me yesterday by a Malaysia official traveling back from Kharkiv.

But later in the day yesterday, Dutch officials saying they weren't confident with that number, that it was too large. In fact, as far as they were aware, according to a source that had seen the bodies loaded from the crash site, there may have been as many as 200 bodies on that plane.

Now as they continue to go through the five wagons, the refrigerated wagons on that train, that number could rise. There were concerns here that not all the bodies were on that train. And not enough access will be given to the crash site now, given the civil war raging in that area to enable that further human remains to be collected -- Christine.

ROMANS: The discrepancies, Nick, in the numbers just shows you the trauma of what happened at that crash site, and the chaos in the Russian-backed separatists' handling of the situation. Thank you so much, nick. BERMAN: You know what's interesting, we see too often the tragic

transfer of bodies at airports. Dover Airport, soldiers returning home. But we see these pictures so reminiscent of that. But these are people who are not combatants. These are people who are not even from the countries involved in this conflict. Innocent victims caught in the middle of something here.

ROMANS: People going on holiday. People going to an AIDS conference to try and help save the world. Just regular people.

BERMAN: As for the investigation, there are disturbing new accusations against the pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine. Malaysia's prime minister claiming these rebels are still interfering with investigator at the site of the wreckage.

It's clear now that the crime scene is badly tainted. That's obvious just by looking at it. Investigators say they found the plane's cockpit sliced open by a diesel-powered saw. In the United States, the White House turning up the heat on Moscow,

insisting the Russians created the conditions that helped cause this tragedy.


JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We know that for months now, heavy weapons have been moving across the border from Russia into Ukraine. We know that the Russians have been training Russian-backed separatists in the use of those weapons, including anti-aircraft weapons. We know that the separatists have claimed credit for shooting down three different aircraft in the last several weeks.


BERMAN: Phil Black joins us live now from Donetsk in Ukraine.

Phil, give me a sense of what's going on at this crash scene, this crime scene now.

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, we are seeing some activity there. We saw Malaysian investigators there on the ground there for the very first time. I think that the real first international team to take a detailed look and begin examining the site in some detail.

But as you mentioned there, they're not happy entirely with the degree of access and the freedom that they have. There are other international teams in Ukraine. But there's still a real question mark about when they can get to the site and begin their work. The work on the site is so crucially important. Not least, and primarily, I think, because there could still be further bodies. Further remains of the victims, somewhere across that very wide crash site, that debris field that have not yet been found.

And then there is still the actual physical forensic examination of the site, trying to piece together precisely what happened. And read as much from that as possible. And you make the point that this is a dramatically different crash site to what it was six days ago. There's no doubt about that whatsoever.

Every day on the site, we have seen it degrade, change, alter further. The cockpit incident that you mentioned, we saw that. We saw Ukrainian emergency workers cutting into the cockpit with a high- powered saw. Presumably, they said they were looking for human remains.

We don't think they found any at that location. But I can tell you the damage that was done to what could only be thought as a very crucial piece of evidence was very, very significant.

So, the investigation on the ground, six days on still really underway with any force. And even when that does happen, it's unclear just how effective that ultimately be based upon those changes, that damage to the site itself, John.

BERMAN: You can hear the concern, the frustration with the international observers, investigation on the ground there, as well as leaders from around the world.

Phil Black in Donetsk, thanks so much.

ROMANS: Vladimir Putin is pledging to exert his influence on the pro- Russian rebels suspected of shooting down that flight. In a televised speech, he reassured Russians they face no direct military threat at the moment, while at the same time distancing himself from the separatists, saying, quote, "We are being urged to use our influence with the militias in southeastern Ukraine. We, of course, will do everything in our power. But that is not nearly enough."

Ukraine's top intelligence official not mincing words insisting Putin has the blood of people on his hands.

Listen to what he told CNN's Kyung Lah.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This wasn't a drunk rebel sitting on top of the missile?


LAH: You believe that was a Russian?

NAYDA: Absolutely.

LAH: A Russian-trained --

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

LAH: Who pushed that button?

NADYA: Who pushed on the button. Deliberately.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: The European Union now calling for a series of new sanctions to deter Russia from supporting the rebels. What impact will that have?

Joining us from London to break this all down for us, Howard Wheeldon, a commercial and defense aviation consultant and senior strategist BGC Partners.

Thanks so much for being with us.

It does seem that the European nations had a chance to make a strong, bold, aggressive statement against Vladimir Putin and Russia and simply chose not to.

HOWARD WHEELDON, SENIOR STRATEGIST, BGC PARTNERS: Yes, I think you worded that very well. A lot of noise coming out of Europe, particularly out of the U.K. and France, but actually not much bold action. Nor do I think there will be. Europeans are in a very, very difficult situation here, they want to take action, but actually in part of sanctions, their part in that process would be very, very small.

It's a double-edged sword here. We require -- or Germany and certain parts of Europe require -- places great emphasis on what they take from Russia in terms of energy. So, it's going to be very, very difficult for Germany.

France has to be very careful in not upsetting Germany by pushing too hard. The U.K. -- well, the U.K. on Russia in terms of economic partnership is actually quite small. So, but we've got to be careful not to upset the European Union.

So, it's politically very, very difficult. And I don't think we're going get that much more than we've already seen rhetoric but not much action.

ROMANS: I think it's ironic, too, many thought the interdependence between Europe and Russia would mean Russia's rise with the rest of Europe would be good for everyone. And politically that would mean that some of the verbose nature of Vladimir Putin could be contained. Instead, you have Europe I think on its heels a bit.

I mean, look at France, for example. France has Russian sailors right now in France being trained for four months on how to use warships that France is selling to Russia. I think that's a perfect example of how, as these countries are trying to figure out how to sanction Russia, they're still doing a lot of expensive business with Russia.

WHEELDON: They are. Of course, I mean, to be fair to France, it's very, very difficult when you're well partway through such a large billion-dollar contract as they are with these two ships, to suddenly say, oh, we'll put them up -- we'll put everything on hold. It requires a lot of political decision-making. And also, it requires the diplomatic process makes it a lot more difficult.

So, you know, once they do that they've got two ships on their hands that the Russians --

ROMANS: But does that mean that what happened over the past week then doesn't really change anything, in terms of Europe's position with Russia?

WHEELDON: I think, really, the defense issue, the defense equipment issue is secondary to Germany and other country's requirement to take energy from Russia. So, I mean, the problem for Europe is that whatever they decide to do, in terms of sanctions, they will lose more than they would gain by doing so. And that's the problem for the economy. Remember, the E.U. economy, the euro zone economy is in a mess. That situation such as taking great greater sanctions on Russia, which I would like to see, make no mistake about that, but if they did, Europe would be the loser in terms of the economic advantage.

BERMAN: Howard Wheeldon, thanks so much for being with us. I really appreciate your insight. You know, it is interesting the chancellor of the exchequer in Britain did say, though, that the cost for not doing anything, the cost of having a plane shot from the sky, of having these conflicts run neely wheely, those maybe too high not to take action.

ROMANS: I can tell you there's some pandering going on. What's the right thing to do? And what's the right thing to do for the unemployment in your own country, for the industries in your country, very interesting stuff.

BERMAN: So far, just hand wringing, though.

We're going to continue to follow the latest on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 all morning long. But, first, danger in the air, the FAA shutting down flights to Tel Aviv, as violence in Gaza now makes flying to Israel unsafe. Not unsafe enough for Secretary of State John Kerry who just arrived a short time ago.

We're live with all of this next.


BERMAN: U.S. air carriers right now forbidden to fly into or out of Ben Gurion international airport in Tel Aviv. The FAA taking this really drastic measure after a missile landed just a mile away from the airport.

An update on the ban is expected shortly after noon Eastern Time. A lot of people expect the FAA will reverse that ban.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants the FAA to reverse the decision. He wants that so badly that he boarded an El-Al flight to Tel Aviv last night to drive home the message.


REPORTER: What are you trying to prove by going there today? MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, FORMER NYC MAYOR: I'm not trying to prove

anything. I'm just trying to show that it's safe and it's a great place to visit. And Israel has a right to defend its people and they're doing exactly what they should.


BERMAN: Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry, he has arrived in Tel Aviv, despite the flight ban. He's trying to talk to leaders there to help broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas and Gaza.

Our Martin Savidge is standing by live at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv which -- Martin, I imagine it looks very different than you've ever seen it before?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly does, John. Good morning to you.

We're at the departure terminal I think pretty much the tarmac behind us and the runways beyond tell the story. Not a lot of activity.

A short while ago we did see a cargo, so apparently your packages can get here if many Americans cannot travel here at least on U.S. carriers for the time being. It was a little over 24 hours ago that the rocket barrage and it was a barrage of rockets that came out of Gaza headed towards Tel Aviv. At that time, Israel's defense mechanism known as Iron Dome did go into effect and did bring down at least one of those missiles.

But as you've already reported, there was another one that struck a house in Ehud (ph) which is about a while away from the airport here. It did do significant damage and there were injuries reported on the ground. But it appears that rocket has done perhaps the most damage of the over 2,000 fired from Gaza because of the economic impact, the PR impact that it's had on Israel.

And the Israeli government is quite upset you saying look you're punishing us when we were the victims not the perpetrators of it.

I had a conversation with the Israeli defense force, they were in charge of the Iron Dome. I said what happened there did the system fail? They said they're still investigating right now. I said do you feel confident about the securing of the airport. They maintain that their system is 90 percent effective. That is an incredible success rate.

But it's that other 10 percent that clearly has the international air carriers worried at this time -- John.

ROMANS: All right. Martin Savidge for us in Ben Gurion -- thank you, Martin.

BERMAN: All right. I want to show you live pictures right now from Ukraine right now, Kharkiv, that flight, about to take off to the Netherlands, with the bodies of many of those on board MH Flight 17, returning them -- the first leg, returning them either to the Netherlands or their home nations.

We're joined by Nick Paton Walsh who's witnessing the scene live from Kharkiv.

Good morning, Nick.

We seem -- Nick, can you hear me, it's John Berman in New York?

WALSH: What you're seeing behind me is one of two C-130s, you can see those, they're being loaded on to that plane, a number of coffins. (INAUDIBLE)

We know that today 50 of the first bodies are being flown back to the Netherlands. That is the very first here, with the foreign dignitary and the military (INAUDIBLE) to give as much dignity as possible for these bodies to be traveling and the journey back from the separatist area.

This plane one of two the Australian and Dutch aircraft. We have seen the C-130 land and taxiing over there, with two that's here, to replace the C-130 about to take off behind me.

These bodies were the first brought out of the crime scene, from the train that traveled back from separatist areas. There's still confusion about how many bodies were actually on that train. One Dutch investigator, one of the team, are increasingly saying there were 200 bodies on that train. While other Ukrainian official separatists down to the security officials who have been travel on that train as well say there were 282 and 87 body parts but now, I think we're about to see that C-130 start to move off the runway, taxiing back towards the Netherlands, John.

BERMAN: Our Nick Paton Walsh on that tarmac in Kharkiv right now. You see that airplane right behind him getting ready to go. The cargo on this flight is grim. It is the bodies -- many of the bodies of the victims of MH Flight 17.

Christine, as we've been pointing out all morning, the dignity the pageantry, solemn, very, very dignified, very poignant, in stark contrast to what happened over the last six days when they were left to lay in the field, when they were shot down from the sky, in their flight over Ukraine.

ROMANS: That's the difference between war and peace. It's the difference between barbarism and civilization, basically. I mean, that's what these people are finally getting a little bit of respect. And this is being handled in a professional and somber manner and for the first time in several days.

BERMAN: As Nick said, this flight, you're just seeing the tail go out of frame here on the tar mark. This flight heads to the Netherlands. We do not know the nationality of the bodies onboard this particular flight. We do know about 200 of the 300 some odd passengers on board M17 were Dutch. So, the Netherlands would be home for many of these, and many of the families would be there at the scene in Netherlands to greet them. But the Netherlands will as be the point from those on board other

countries will be a processing point and they'll be shipped home to their home nations from the Netherlands.

ROMANS: All right. We thank Nick Paton Walsh from his live reporting from the scene this morning. And the tone and tenor really of that as well is really --

ROMANS: We'll stay on this, and we'll bring are you the latest developments when we come back.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone.

A plane bound for the Netherlands is taking off from Ukraine right about now. Onboard, some of the victims of the attack on Flight 17. Pro-Russian rebels were we're told continue to interfere with investigators at the crash site. That accusation is coming from Malaysia's prime minister. It says we get new evidence that the crime scene has been badly contaminated. The plane's cockpit was found sliced open by a diesel-powered saw. Our own Phil Black saw it happening.

In the United States, the White house not letting up on the Russians, insisting it was the Russians that created the conditions that led to this disaster.

BERMAN: And all of this political uncertainty, geopolitical risk, as they call it, it's so interesting, you got John Kerry arriving also this morning in Israel. These two big things happening.

But markets around the world have actually been moving higher. It's so interesting. European shares moving higher this morning. U.S. futures are up.

The unrest and uncertainty around the world gets stocks some of them near record highs. The S&P 500 hit an intraday record yesterday up half a percent. The Dow and the NASDAQ up higher as well.

For the year stocks are up, the Dow up 3.2 percent, the NASDAQ and the S&P 500 both up around 7 percent. Now, the European Union extending sanctions on Russia, but stopping short of tougher penalties. In attempt to increase on Russian President Vladimir Putin, E.U. officials agreed to expand the list of people, subject to asset freezes and travel bans.

They threatened tougher sanctions into the economy's back bone if Russia does not cooperate over the Malaysia Airlines crash. You know, Europe's economy very tightly linked to Russia's. So, harsh penalties, the harsh penalties that some say Russia deserves would hurt Europe, too. And that is the tricky position they're in.

BERMAN: There are a lot of words there, but not a lot of action from European leaders.

ROMANS: That's right.

BERMAN: A lot of people thought what happened over the skies of Ukraine would finally push them --

ROMANS: Change things, yes.

BERMAN: But does not appear to be the case.

EARLY START continues right now.

ROMANS: A tragic mistake. U.S. intelligence revealing pro-Russian rebels shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17. Most likely thinking it was a Ukrainian military transport. But who pulled the trigger. And could Russia be responsible somehow for this crime?

This as the Netherlands marks a day of mourning. The first plane of bodies set to arrive today. We're bringing you live team coverage in all of the angles of the story.

BERMAN: Flight suspended. The U.S. and Europe halting air travel from Tel Aviv after a rocket from Hamas comes dangerously close to the airport there. This as violence intensifies in Gaza with no end in sight. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Israel a short time ago. We're live with the very latest.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.