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Day of Mourning in Netherlands; "Deliberate" Attack on Flight 17?; FAA Bans U.S. Airlines from Tel Aviv

Aired July 23, 2014 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Christine Romans. It's Wednesday, July 23rd, 5:00 a.m. in the East.

We welcome all of our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world this morning. A day of mourning has been declared in the Netherlands today as the first wave of victims in the attack of Flight MH17 lift off from Ukraine on the way home, on the way to the Netherlands, that nation preparing for the return of the victims from Flight 17 later today. It turns out 200 bodies on those death trains leaving Donetsk, meaning the remains of nearly 100 people on the doomed jetliner are still missing.

Nick Paton Walsh has been there. He's joining us this morning from Kharkiv, Ukraine, where the victims of Flight 17 have been put on a plane bound for the Netherlands. He's just seen the C-130 roll away after really, I think, a respectful transfer bit officials who are there.

Bring us up to speed, Nick.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine, you join me as one of C-130s has just taken off. That was the one on to which we saw four bodies being loaded. We understand more than that number were, in fact, on that aircraft. But those four were given the dignified moments of silence here. And then the Ukrainian military, slow march to that plane where they were handed over to officials of Australian military. We have Dutch and Australian military on the tarmac here.

Dignitaries from all the nation affected by the deaths of MH17 spoke, great sadness from the representative of the prime minister of Australia here, focusing not on what happened but the resolve of the nations and the grief and anger. And Ukrainian deputy prime minister said (INAUDIBLE) Ukraine very clear believes Russia is directly responsible (INAUDIBLE) in the firing that brought down MH17.

Let me explain what's happening behind us here. We see another C-130 coming to land. We think that is going to move in for the second place here as they continue to load on the bodies. Now, the first cargo we believe were of 50, they were taken from the first and second of the five refrigerated wagons of the train to the Kharkiv from the separatist areas where the crash site yesterday.

We talked about discrepancy, there's great confusion. Dutch officials say with the bodies on that train, confusion lies there Ukrainian separatists and even officials traveling on that train itself said there were 282 bodies and 87 body parts.

The discrepancies suggesting that perhaps maybe the remains on the crash site saying at the crash site, (INAUDIBLE) 200 bodies were in fact on that plane. But they expect until Friday continuing with the bodies, being placed on the C-130, that complex process as one described repackaging contents of the refrigerated wagons of that train in a closed compound. The Dutch officials here, Australians assisting in that, but of course, the most important task, identification of those bodies will only happen when they land back in the Netherlands later today and throughout the week -- Christine.

ROMANS: Nick Paton Walsh. One can only imagine the emotions of people behind closed doors who are trying to do this task.

BERMAN: A somber morning.

As to the investigation, U.S. officials all but directly blaming Russia for the attack on Flight 17. Here's the very latest: Malaysian prime minister charging that pro-Russian rebels continue to interfere with officials at the crash site. The crime scene clearly contaminated. The plane's cockpit found sliced open by a diesel- powered saw.

In the United States, the White House ratcheting up the rhetoric insisting it was the Russians that created this condition that led to this disaster.


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: Let's go to Donetsk right now live joining us. Phil Black is there.

Phil, give me a sense of the crash scene. This crime scene, what's happening there this morning.

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, investigators are beginning their work. And it really is just the beginning and it is still a long way from being adequate. We've seen Malaysian investigators on the ground for the first time, the first international team to begin picking through this wreckage in some detail. There are other international experts in Ukraine, but it's unclear when they're going to actually get on to the ground itself.

And, of course, when they do, they're going to find a crash site that has been dramatically altered over the last six days.

You mentioned that buzz saw incident with the cockpit. That was where emergency workers were really cutting the guts out of it, if you like, a few days ago. We saw that, we witnessed it. We've seen lots of other incidents as well involving cranes and other hydraulic equipment lift and move large pieces of debris with very little care going into returning them to their original position.

So, that was all part of the operation, that much delayed the operation to recover the bodies. The problem is before that operation began, no qualified investigator got to inspect the scene in its raw, untainted state. So, those investigators have a big job ahead of them.

The other side to this, of course, a key point in this investigation of those cockpit flight and data recorders that were handed over by the pro-Russian rebels a couple of days ago. They have now just arrived in Great Britain, United Kingdom, where experts there will begin the process of uploading that information, hopefully and determining just what insight they can give into the causes of this disaster, John.

BERMAN: It will be very, very interesting to see what that information reveals. Our aviation experts tell us it's very difficult to alter those black boxes. You can fully destroy them or remove that information. If that would be the case, that would certainly be incriminating, but the information on those devices itself could point in several directions all at once.

Phil Black, thanks so much for joining us.

BERMAN: All right. Vladimir Putin promising to use his influence on the pro-Russian rebels suspected of shooting down Flight 17. 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, "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."

Meanwhile, Ukraine's top intelligence official claims Putin has the blood of 298 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 a 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.


ROMANS: Right now, there's a lot of scrutiny on this man rebel leader Igor Girkin. He reportedly bragged about shooting down the Ukrainian plane, making those brags at the same time when Flight 17 fell from the sky.

Diana Magnay live from months now this morning.

Give us the latest.

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine, well, Igor Girkin is better known in Ukraine and also in Russia by his moniker which is Igor Strelkov and he was the rebel military commander in Slavyansk when it was the separatist stronghold in the east.

So -- and then the Ukrainian army routed Slavyansk and he has retreated to Donetsk. He is a Russian. He is friends with the self- declared prime minister of Donetsk, Alexander Borodai. According to Borodai, they both fought along side each other in Transnistria, in the breakaway republic of Moldova in the '90s in defense of Russian people living there.

And Borodai also is Russian. And these characters appeared for the first time in connection with the Ukraine crisis in Crimea, when Sergey Aksyonv, who was the pro-Russian leader there was appointed premiere.

And it was interesting, I was there at the time, and his adviser then, Aksyonv's adviser then popped up a couple of months later in Donetsk advising Alexander Borodai.

Now, it's difficult to know what association, if any, these men have with the Kremlin. There are suggestions, allegations that Strelkov himself is somehow associated with Russia's foreign military intelligence arm, or with the FSB itself. He's extremely hard to prove, as you can imagine. And therefore, it is no real -- it's not particularly controversial, I don't think to say that it could have been a Russian who was in charge of that missile, if it is ever proven that the rebels did fire it because there are so many Russians who are involved in the fighting in eastern Ukraine.

But that is a very different story, of course, from suggesting that Mr. Putin somehow had direct authority over those rebels. I think that is something that must be taken into account. How much control he still has over these bands of rebels who have really retreated into two areas, Luhansk and Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine right now.

And I think to a certain, where it must have served Mr. Putin's purpose in terms of keeping the east away from Kiev to date. Certainly now, you know, it is best -- they have -- they are best sort of left aside given the fact that, you know, what has occurred, if it is the rebels doing, is a terrible thing, and for Mr. Putin also a terrible thing.

ROMANS: All right, Diana Magnay, thank you so much from Moscow. Of course, the White House saying that Russia created the atmosphere, the chaos. Bringing the shipments and heavy military machinery across the border, aiding these rebels as the Ukrainians were starting to push them back. That is the circumstance into which all of this happened.

BERMAN: Of course, they'll be following the very latest into the investigation into Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 all morning, as well as the bodies that just left moments ago bound for the Netherlands.

But first, flights to Tel Aviv suspended. The FAA advising that the gar in Gaza has made flying unsafe to Israel. We're live, next.


BERMAN: As we speak, U.S. air carriers banned from flying into or out of Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. That is Israel's largest airport. The FAA taking this pretty drastic step after a missile slammed into a home about a mile away from the airport. The ban will be reassessed shortly after noon Eastern Time.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is urging the FAA to reverse its decision. He boarded an El Al flight to Tel Aviv last night to make a point.


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: Some time after 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry has already arrived Tel Aviv, despite the flight ban. He is there trying to broker a cease-fire.

We're joined this morning by Martin Savidge, who is standing live at Israel's Ben Gurion international airport, which is the scene, Martin, of a great deal of controversy.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You see the plane behind me?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not anymore. SAVIDGE: Not El-Al, the other one?

BERMAN: Martin, we're seeing you with a fairly empty airport behind you, obviously, the action there greatly affected by this travel ban.

SAVIDGE: You see behind me here, it pretty much tells the entire story. Extremely quiet. There is one aircraft sitting out there. It doesn't appear to be an American plane and right now, doesn't appear to be going much of anywhere.

El-Al which is the national carrier or international carrier for Israel is continuing to fly. It always has and has maintained always will.

Israel has expressed deep concern about the temporary ban, I guess that's what you call it. It was expressed by the prime minister to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. It was also expressed by the transportation minister of Israel to both the American and European counterparts. They believe that Israel is being punished for essentially what they say is a terrorist attack that occurred on their country.

So, right now, we continue to monitor the aircraft here. See what is coming and going. The terminal inside extremely quiet as well.

Let me point out something to you, and the Israelis would maintain that their airport is safe and secure for all travel. But to tell you about that rocket that came from Gaza and landed in Yahod (ph), to give you perspective, if you look behind me here, off in the distance, of past the runways, those tall buildings, the apartment buildings behind the runway, that's Yahod, from this vantage point can appear to be close.

Again, Israel maintains its Iron Dome missile defense program is highly effective, 90 percent effective they say. The international air carriers and U.S. carriers would be concerned about that 10 percent. That does seem close to major aircraft -- John.

BERMAN: Indeed. Martin Savidge at Ben Gurion Airport there, and, of course, that's just part of the much larger conflict that has killed some 650 people in Gaza already.

ROMANS: All right. A mystery on the Brooklyn Bridge, who raised these white flags? And were they trying to send sort of a message?

BERMAN: Plus, new court rulings could change the future for Obamacare. That's next.


BERMAN: Just a few minutes ago, the first wave of victims on the attack on Flight MH17 left Ukraine in a flight bound for the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, pro-Russian rebels continue to interfere with officials at the crash site, that accusation from Malaysia's prime minister as we get clear evidence that that crime scene has been badly contaminated. You can see just by looking at it. The plane's cockpit found sliced open by a diesel-powered saw.

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

ROMANS: A mystery unfolding at New York's famed Brooklyn Bridge. Police trying to figure out how two white flags were replaced with bleached white flags. They're said to be searching for four or five people who they believe scaled the towers in the dead of the night, covered the lights illuminating the flags and made the switch.

Officials say, clearly, much preparation went into this.


WILLIAM BRATTON, NEW YORK POLICE DEPARTMENT: No matter what the motive was, that is not our concern. I'm not particularly happy about the event and have charged Commissioner Miller to conduct a full and thorough investigation into the circumstances. And, again, we're requesting the help of the public on this issue.


ROMANS: The NYPD says there appears to be no connection to terrorism or any political statement.

BERMAN: Conflicting court rulings complicating the future of Obamacare this morning. Two appeals courts, one in Washington, the other in Virginia, at odds. Direct odds, over whether the federal government can subsidize health insurance coverage for millions of Americans. Plaintiffs in both cases claiming that the subsidies from Obamacare should only apply to coverage by state agencies.

This would apply to insurance purchased through state exchanges. Now, this would roll out subsides to millions consumers in 36 states that do not have state-run exchanges but use federal exchanges. After this is all done, the issue will likely be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

ROMANS: All right. Time now for an early start on your money this morning.

The unrest in Ukraine, the fighting in Gaza, uncertainty around the world, stocks are moving higher. It's actually remarkable. European shares higher right now. Asian shares ended the day higher.

U.S. futures, stock futures are pointing higher right now. The S&P 500 intraday high yesterday, up half a percent. The Dow yesterday, higher.

It's been a great year so far for stocks. The Dow up 3.2 percent. But look at the NASDAQ and the S&P 500 up both around 7:00 percent. There are a lot of short-term risks here but so far investors are not spooked. They're looking at profit growth. They're looking at growth in the American economy and looking at a fed that has been able to execute a so-called taper without any consequences.

BERMAN: You said three days ago, we were talking about this crisis, the chaos around the world, how it might affect the market, and you said they're in it for the long game. The long game says that economies around the world are improving slightly in the old driving market.

ROMANS: On a human level, it's horrible. Markets are not (INAUDIBLE)

BERMAN: Twenty-three minutes after the hour right now.

Tragedy in a Florida Beach, three people struck by lightning Tuesday afternoon in Ft. Myers. One of the victims killed, two others injured. Listen to shaken witnesses describing what they saw.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was the most traumatic experience I've ever been through.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just got killed immediately on the spot. They were headed back to their car, running from the rain. It just happened out of nowhere. It's terrible. It's unbelievable.


BERMAN: Wow, that lightning storm that hit Ft. Myers was so intense that emergency workers couldn't get to the victims until the storm subsided.


More extreme on the way for parts of the country. Let's get an early look at the forecast with Indra Petersons.


We're talking about the pattern here. We're talking about into the desert southwest, temperatures warming up.

Meanwhile, a complete opposite in the Northeast. That's where we'll get a shot of mild air, and even storms expected as we go through the late afternoon and overnight tonight. Temperature-wise, one of the big stories is these heat indices. Really kind of climbing into the planes, all the way in the upper Midwest.

But notice starting to cool after that event just exited out of Chicago is now cooling off the region. Easy way to look at it, Chicago yesterday was 90, today, 71. It's going to feel a lot better. It's the same cool air that's going to be making its way into the Northeast.

So, everyone should catch a break here. Of course, as you look at the temperatures itself. Notice New York City hot and steamy at 90 degrees, showers coming in the late afternoon. But, finally, once that front passes dropping down into the 80s. Boston should get a 20- degree temperature drop from yesterday into tomorrow.

So, there you can see, it's late afternoon to overnight hours. Pretty quick moving system by late afternoon tomorrow, the Northeast, should see the bulk of this out of here. Of course, the system does sag and hang out into the southeast. Little threat of severe weather, we're talking about New England area, we're stretching all the way back into Scranton, we can time out the heavier thunderstorms tonight.

Do you want to mention that everyone talked about this, about two weeks ago a blast of cool air? Another blast expected next week. So, heads up for that. It's hot, enjoy it though, right? Now, you can enjoy it.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks, Indra.

BERMAN: Cool summer nights. Thanks, Indra.

All right. New U.S. intelligence pointing to the notion of pro- Russian rebels most likely shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 thinking it was a military aircraft. Not thinking it was commercial. The questions still remain: who pulled the trigger and was Russia directly involved? We are live with new developments right after the break.