Return to Transcripts main page


Metrojet Flight Voice and Data Recorders Being Analyzed; Turkey's Government Party Wins Majority; Yazidis Join Fight to Drive ISIS from Iraq; Iran Threatens to Leave Syria Peace Talks; Myanmar Preparing for National Election; Russian Plane Crash in Egypt Killed 224 People; Fifteen Years of Living in Space. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired November 2, 2015 - 10:00:00   ET




ROBYN CURNOW, CNN HOST: Hi, there, welcome to the INTERNATIONAL DESK. I'm Robyn Curnow at the CNN Center.

Well, we begin with so much grief and so many questions right now in Russia.


CURNOW (voice-over): People are mourning for 224 lives lost in Saturday's plane crash in Egypt and wondering why it happened. Most of the

victims were Russian tourists, heading home to St. Petersburg after visiting the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.


CURNOW: Russians say it's just too early to rule out terrorism. The Kremlin spokesman said only the investigation can do that. The plane broke

up in midflight shortly after takeoff in an area where Islamic militants are battling the Egyptian government. Arwa Damon has the details on what

we know so far.


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This morning, new photos emerging of the black box from Russian passenger jet

Flight 9268, Metrojet Airlines holding a press conference claiming the airliner could have not broken apart in midair by itself.

Metrojet Airlines holding a press conference this morning in Moscow, saying Russian passenger jet Flight 9268 could not have broken apart in

midair by itself. This amid new reports the passenger jet broke into pieces as it flew over the remote Egyptian countryside.

The fuselage disintegrating around 20 minutes into the flight from an Egyptian resort town to St. Petersburg Saturday, according to Russian

aviation officials. The airline company says the only explanation would be an external influence.

Overnight, nearly 150 of the 224 passengers killed on board arriving in Russia. Mourners of the mostly Russian victims gathering at St.

Petersburg airport where the air jet was supposed to end its journey. Aerials of the crash site show mangled wreckage strewn across nearly 8

square miles.

But Egypt's prime minister says there are no indications that anything out of the ordinary was about to happen on this aircraft.

Egypt's civil aviation minister adding there are no reports that the airplane had faults. Checks done before takeoff did not reveal anything

and no one received any SOS calls.

Still questions linger as to why Flight 9268 hurled to the ground in a remote part of Egypt in clear weather, an area plagued by a violent Islamic


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can certainly see whether there were any signs of a bomb or a missile striking the aircraft. They leave very distinctive

marking and that should be able to be eliminated very quickly.

DAMON (voice-over): The co-pilot's ex-wife telling state-run news he complained before the flight to their daughter, wishing for a better

technical condition of the plane. Most passengers were found with their seat belts on, according to Egypt's military, suggesting the pilot asked

them to buckle up.


CURNOW: OK. Well, Arwa Damon has more from us now from Cairo.

Hi, there, Arwa. Your report underscored it. There's so many conflicts reports and no real understanding of what happened.

DAMON: And that's what's just so difficult because those families obviously want and deserve to know why it is that their loved ones lost

their lives.

Now what we are hearing from the Russian state news agency, they're quoting a Russian source that's on the ground, part of the investigative

team here in Egypt, saying so far of the parts that have been looked at very closely, none of them have tested positive for any sort of explosive


But again, this is just, you know, one small piece of a puzzle, a little piece of information that does not necessarily complete the big


Of course, what people are really hoping for is those two black boxes that were recovered from the site on Saturday will somehow contain

information that will be able to answer those questions.

But when that information's going to be extracted from those black boxes, that we do not yet know at this stage -- Robyn.

CURNOW: Indeed. And as you mentioned there, this continuing forensic examination of the crash site, whether or not there's explosive residue,

there's also an examination of the bodies.

What do we know about that?

DAMON: Well, we spoke to a medical source, who said that he had seen 175 of those bodies and, again, very difficult to speak about, you know,

loved ones, peoples' loved ones in this way, but according --


DAMON: -- to him, he said that 50 percent to 70 percent of the remains that he had seen were intact and that none of them had severe burn


So, again, not all of the bodies but also another indication that perhaps this wasn't an explosion.

But again, we can't emphasize this enough. There's so much conflicting information, there's so many little pieces and threads that

seems to be leaning one way or another that, at this stage, it is very difficult to definitively say what happened.

And you do have the Egyptian government and other authorities coming out, trying to urge people to stay away from any sort of conclusion before

all of the facts are at hand.

But when are we going to have all the facts?

Well, as we have been saying, that we don't know yet.

CURNOW: And just agony for these families as they wait for these answers. Arwa Damon in Cairo, thanks so much.

Well, 25 children were among those lost in the crash. And the tragedy deepened by this heartwrenching photograph of the youngest passenger aboard

the plane. Just look at her, 10 months old, Darina Gromovo is looking out of the window at St. Petersburg Airport just before the family left for

their holiday in Egypt.

The little angel, it was snapped by her mum and posted on social media ahead of their holiday. The little girl and her parents were returning on

that plane that went down. So sad.

Still to come here at the INTERNATIONAL DESK, volunteering to protect their homeland, CNN's exclusive report on the Yazidis on the front lines in

the fight against ISIS in Iraq.




CURNOW: Welcome back, everyone. I'm Robyn Curnow at the CNN Center.

In Turkey, a stunning comeback for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's AKP party, which regained its majority in parliament on Sunday. Now

preliminary results indicate the ruling Justice and Development Party has won enough seats for single-party rule.


CURNOW (voice-over): That's a turnaround from June, when the AKP failed to win a majority and were unable to form a coalition. Now

international observers say Sunday's elections were --


CURNOW (voice-over): -- hindered by the challenging security environment, violent incidents and restrictions on the media.

To Iraq, and exclusive pictures of the latest U.S.-led coalition airstrike.


CURNOW (voice-over): This happened earlier Monday in Sinjar. Kurdish forces have been amassing on nearby Mt. Sinjar, preparing to help drive

ISIS out of the town below. With them are thousands of Yazidis ready to risk their lives to reclaim their homeland.

CNN's Nima Elbagir has exclusive access to the front line as they prepare to defend Sinjar, which, they say, is a fight for their very



NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Yazidi Peshmerga fighters, volunteers, former soldiers and a handful of trained officers,

looking out over the ISIS front line.

He's pointing out to us all along here, you can see the defensive ditches that have been dug. He said they come as close as that valley,

just there. They mortar, they fire on us. They eventually retreat. But it's pretty never-ending.

This vantage point itself was in the not-too-distant past ISIS-held.

ELBAGIR: "Just there" he said, "you can see what they did to the Yazidis, the houses are completely destroyed.


ELBAGIR: They slaughtered all the families inside it. Really drives home how visceral this was.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): Deputy commander Mak Kazidu (ph) is 66, he's a retired soldier, one of the few here with fighting experience.

This is a fragment of skull that they found. This whole patch of ground is mass graves, said they found about 150 bodies from children as

young as 1 year old all the way up to 80.

It is, they say, just a reminder to them of what it is they're fighting for. They're fighting for their very survival.

The massacre of thousands of Yazidi men, women and children by ISIS last year resonated around the world. Here in the foothills of the Sinjar

Mountain, thousands of Yazidi volunteers in are joining up to fight.

Sinjar City and the mountain that looms over it is at the heart of the homeland of the Yazidi minority. It falls along a crucial supply route,

linking ISIS strongholds in Iraq and Syria.

When ISIS took the city, August last year, their intent was to drive the Yazidis to extinction.

Those who managed to escape the ensuing massacre now shelter in tarpaulin tents on barren slopes, overlooking their former homes. These

are the families of the fighters, standing guard down below. This is what they're fighting for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).

ELBAGIR (voice-over): At the front, a poem is being recited. It speaks of lost honor, slaughtered wives and sisters, empty homes. It is

meant to remind the soldiers of what's at stake. They tell us they know only too well, this is a battle for their very existence -- Nima Elbagir,

CNN, Mt. Sinjar.


CURNOW: Powerful report there.

Well, Iran is threatening to pull out of the Syria peace talks, saying Saudi Arabia's played a negative and non-constructive role in the process.

Well, our John Defterios is in Tehran and joins us now live there with more.

Hi, there.

What are you hearing?

JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR: Well, it is interesting, Robyn, 24 hours after the Vienna talks, there's nothing but praise for the

work of the foreign minister here, Mohammad Zarif, suggesting and representing the interests of Iran at table, making sure that the language

of Bashar al-Assad, the president of Syria, not be put forward in that initial delegation and talks that were taking place in Vienna.

Then 24 hours later, we hear from the foreign ministry that they're not happy with the process and they suggest that Saudi Arabia is serving as

a deconstructing force within this organization and that they're at odds with Saudi Arabia about how this will play out over the next two weeks, in

particular, Adel al-Zarif (ph), the foreign minister here, of Iran, suggesting that the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia is criticizing them

for meddling in Syria, meddling in Yemen, meddling in Lebanon and also in Iraq.

And we know that Saudi Arabia's fighting the battle right now in Yemen with Gulf partners, the UAE and also Qatar. And this is putting the

Islamic Republic of Iran at odds with Saudi Arabia in particular And we even see a step back now, Robyn, suggesting they may pull out of the talks

entirely --


DEFTERIOS: -- and the leader here suggesting, Mr. Khamenei, that they call elections in Syria and let that play out and not continue with the

talks in Vienna.

One step forward and one step back, that is what we see here in Tehran tonight.

CURNOW: OK. So that's the wider geopolitical analysis.

But back where you are, Iran's back in the international fold, perhaps, with the nuclear deal and these Syria talks -- slowly, slowly as

you say.

But that also doesn't necessarily go down well domestically. Still huge tensions with the hardliners, isn't there?

DEFTERIOS: Indeed, it is, Robyn. This is part of the push and pull of Iranian politics. And we're on the cusp of something rather big, if it

unfolds, and that is the potential lifting of economic sanctions on Iran.

In fact, Hassan Rouhani, the president of Iran, is suggesting he'd like to see the sanctions lifted by December 15th or 16th. There's

pressure because the economy is starting to slow down and they haven't seen the payback on the July 14th discussions that were taking place here.

The economic potential is large. They want to welcome in U.S. and European companies who have not been here for decades and open up contracts

of $185 billion.

Iran sitting around the table on the Syrian talks and suggesting there could be talks in a couple of weeks and, lo and behold, again, we have the

ruler here, Mr. Khamenei, suggesting that the talks are not constructive at this stage, that Saudi Arabia is flexing its muscles. The foreign minister

criticizing Iran on a daily basis and there's also the threat against the Revolutionary Guard here in Iran, they control a great deal of business

interests, ranging from 50 percent to 75 percent.

If you open up the economy, if sanctions are lifted, Robyn, there's a threat to the Revolutionary Guard, a threat to the conservatives that we're

moving in a moderate path, a Rouhani path right now. And that's why you see the very mixed signals taking place. The initial reaction from the

Vienna talks, very positive. Praise for the foreign minister for removing language against Bashar al-Assad.

And then 24 hours later we see an op-ed in the paper today, suggesting that Saudi Arabia's being very destructive in those negotiations right now

and that perhaps Iran should pull out.

We're not surprised by it but this is the to-and-fro-ing that we seen in the 24 hours of negotiations here in Tehran.

CURNOW: Which, as you say, can be expected. Thanks so much. John Defterios, in Tehran. Appreciate you joining us.

Well, anyone climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris or St. Paul's Cathedral in London, I don't know if you want to climb up St. Paul's

any day. But they won't see very much. A thick layer of fog is blanketing parts of Europe and the inconvenience isn't just for tourists. Stick

around for that report.





CURNOW: Welcome back.

Several years' worth of rain from one powerful storm. That's what war-torn Yemen is facing as a very rare cyclone in that part of the world

pushes toward shore. Take a look at this.


CURNOW (voice-over): Wow. That's what it looked like and sounded like as the storm swept past an island in the Arabian Sea. Right now

Cyclone Chapala's wind is churning at 195 kilometers an hour. The storm is expected to weaken before it hits an Al Qaeda-controlled city Tuesday

morning local time. Forecasters fear there will be flash flooding, never before experienced in the area.


CURNOW: Well, fog is causing big problems across Western Europe for tourists and travelers alike.


CURNOW (voice-over): There's not much of a view from atop the Eiffel tower. Take a look at that. The low visibility is causing plenty of

flight delays; around 10 percent of Heathrow's Monday morning flights were canceled in and out of London and drivers are being warned to watch their



CURNOW: Let's bring in Chad Myers with more on the fog, when it will lift and this is not just about normal English weather. There's something

rather foggy about this one, intensely foggy about this one.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: This is fog on fog, really, honestly.


MYERS: This is going to finally break up on Wednesday but what we have here are clear skies above the fog. Not much wind below on the

surface and so nothing to mix that moisture around and you get very dense fog there.

Now, why do we have to cancel planes, you say?

It's IFR, yes, instrument flight rules. But all these big planes have instruments.

Why not just land like usual?

Because the planes need to space out a little bit further. You like to have a plane in every two minutes but they don't do that. They back

them up a little bit farther to make sure the first plane gets on the ground and off the runway at the right time because the second plane behind

that plane can't see the first one because of that.

Look at that visibility, St. Paul's Cathedral here. Can't see much along the Thames either. You can barely see the Eye here. Not much to see

here. You can see the London Bridge and Tower Bridge in the background but very, very far away. Not much to see.

Temperatures are in the teens to around 10 or 12 degrees across the region but the relative humidity everywhere is 100 percent with visibility

right now, latest here at Manchester right there, 0 kilometers per hour.

So if you can't see the ground, planes have to space out a little bit and we have already lost now about 12 to 15 planes of cancelations. Many

more hundreds have been delayed because of this weather.

More rain coming into Spain, into the Pyrenees, into parts of Southern France but other than that, we'll break up the fog finally on Wednesday.

Tomorrow and coming up tonight it will be a very foggy night throughout the Isles, even into mainland Europe.

CURNOW: Indeed. And really messing with people's travel plans. Thank you so much, Chad.

MYERS: You're welcome.

CURNOW: Well, to Australia now, where knights and dames have gone the way of chain mail and petticoats. The honors were discarded in the 1980s

but revived by former prime minister Tony Abbott.


CURNOW (voice-over): In April, Queen Elizabeth bestowed the designation on husband Prince Philip. In an unpopular move by Abbott, new

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull now says the cabinet once again is to remove knights and dames from Australia's honor system.

MALCOLM TURNBULL, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: It is a long way from being -- it is a change as you know, removing knights and dames from the

Australian honor system has been as a decision the cabinet has taken. Her Majesty's agreed to amend the latest patent, which are essentially the

rules of the Order of Australia.

And the -- this reflects modern Australia. Knights and dames are titles that are really anachronistic and they're out of date. They're not

appropriate in 2015 in Australia.


CURNOW: Well, Mr. Turnbull once helped spearhead a failed referendum to end the country's constitutional monarchy and establish an independent


Myanmar is less than a week away from what will surely be a very close-watched election. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi drew a big

crowd at a rally over the weekend. Our Ivan Watson was there.


IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is part of a river of red shirts and flags, supporters on the National League for Democracy, all streaming

towards the last big campaign rally before elections --


WATSON: -- the last big rally to be held here in Myanmar's largest city, Yangon. The people look like they're in a really good mood right

now, it's very festive. A lot of happy faces and smiles because for these people, it's the first time in a generation that they'll get the chance to

vote in national elections for their party.

There literally isn't room to walk here in this crowd that's seated in the heat, patiently waiting for the lady of the hour, Aung San Suu Kyi, the

leader of the NLD.

AUNG SAN SUU KYI, LEADER, NLD (through translator): Some people say it's not time for us to achieve real democracy yet but I think it's because

they don't want to give it to us. Everyone deserves democracy.

WATSON: Aung San Suu Kyi leads the biggest opposition party. The last time they competed in a national election was in 1990 and, by all

accounts, they won big time but then the military annulled the results of the vote and placed her and many of her colleagues under arrest for


But the main rival will be the incumbent ruling party, which enjoys the support of the military. And the military is guaranteed to hold on to

at least 25 percent of the seats in the next parliament, meaning the generals are not going away any time soon -- Ivan Watson, CNN, Yangon.


CURNOW: Thanks to Ivan for that report.

Still ahead, a plane is lost midair.

What happened and why?

That after the break.




CURNOW: Hi, there. Welcome to the INTERNATIONAL DESK. I'm Robyn Curnow. Here's a check of the headlines.


CURNOW (voice-over): Russians are mourning the 224 lives lost in Saturday's plane crash in Egypt and wondering why it happened. The Kremlin

says it's just too early to rule out terrorism. Flight operator Metrojet says an external influence is the only reasonable explanation.

A stunning comeback for Turkey's AKP party, which regained its majority in parliament Sunday. Preliminary results indicate the

president's ruling Justice and Development Party has won enough seats for a single party rule. That's a turnaround from June, when the AKP failed to

win a majority and was unable to form a coalition.

And fog is blanketing parts of Western Europe. It is causing quite an inconvenience for tourists and travelers. Many flights at London's

Heathrow airport have been canceled because of low visibility and drivers are being warned to slow down.


CURNOW: For more on our top story, the Russian plane crash in Egypt, CNN aviation correspondent Richard Quest is with me now from London.

Hi, there, Richard. I know you have been reporting on this all weekend. Still no real answers as to what happened. But I know when we

have discussed plane crashes before on air, you've always said that that's, you know, cruising altitude is the safest place. I mean, it's the safest

part of the flight.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN HOST: It is the safest part of the flight. The plane is not at maximum power. The crew are not under the same stresses as

takeoff and landing.

And for that reason, when you do get an incident or a dramatic incident in cruise, one of the first things you look at is explosions,

detonations or something similar to that.

That's why people -- look. If you look at the profile of what we know happened, this plane was around at 31,000 feet and all of a sudden

dramatically lost altitude and the speed just disappeared, from some 300, 400 knots to basically 60 to 90 knots. It is as if the thing hit a wall.

And there are only a few things that actually have that sort of dramatic impact on the aircraft. Explosives is one of them. Catastrophic

failure of the airframe is another, possibly from an old repair.

Or you have a situation of a technical fault and it's how the plane was being flown by the pilots.

And these are the parameters. One's not being too clever by half. These are the parameters by which the investigators will now be looking

through the black boxes and through the air traffic control tapes.

CURNOW: OK. So we know that essentially there are four possible options as you said: technical fault, human error, shot down by a missile

or a bomb on board. That's the four summing-up scenarios people are putting out there.

Let's talk about the technical possibility here. There's been conversations about a tail strike on this specific airline, aircraft. And

that's happened before, hasn't it, where a structural issue after a tail strike have caused the sort of catastrophic event midair.

QUEST: All right. Let's talk -- let's first of all describe what we mean by a tail strike.

A tail strike is when either on takeoff or on landing the plane rotates too far too fast and the tail strikes the runway. And even though

the back of the aircraft is reinforced against exactly such a scenario, it does happen.

The A321, because it's a longer aircraft, pilots are warned about the potential for tail strikes on takeoff. Now this happened on landing on

this particular aircraft as it was flying into Cairo in 2001. The plane was owned in those days -- or it was run, it was operated by MEA Airlines.

Everything we have heard from Kolavia, who owned -- currently own the aircraft, say it was repaired properly. They have got no reason, so they

say, to believe that the repair was anything other than correct, full and functional.

However, there are two particular examples, JAL, Japan Airlines, and a Canadian carrier, where a previous tail strike led to the -- where the

repair was not done properly eventually led to the plane coming apart in the air. So that's the tail strike theory. We've no evidence --


QUEST: -- but most certainly it has to remain on the table.

CURNOW: OK. Also remaining on the table we can't take off the possibility of some nefarious deed. So there've been suggestions -- a

missile strike, surface-to-air missile. But in that region, capabilities, experts say, just aren't there for that kind of weapon to hit a plane at

30,000 feet.

QUEST: OK. So, we have to go by what the experts tell us. This isn't me saying this. The experts say that those military and fighting

activities taking place in Sinai are amongst militias who have shoulder- launched surface-to-air missiles -- MANPADS, as they're known, which have a maximum altitude of around 15,000 to 16,000 feet.

And that is why all the NOTAMs -- notices to airmen -- that have been issued by the U.S., the U.K., the German, a variety of authorities have all

said to aircraft to remain at flight level 25,000 or 26,000.

Now, if they are wrong, as they found out, as we discovered painfully with MH17 and the militias have received are equipped with much more

sophisticated ground-to-air missiles, radar-guided, laser-precision guided missiles that can find planes to the altitudes.

And remember if you're talking about a Buk or some similar type of system, you're talking about altitudes up to 60,000 or 70,000 feet, not

just 31,000 feet. But we don't have any evidence.

The wreckage, however, Robyn, the wreckage -- because we know this was from 17 -- will most certainly show if that's what happened.

CURNOW: OK. Still so many questions but, Richard Quest, as always, thank you for laying out some of the possible scenarios. Appreciate your

reporting. Thanks a lot.

Well, it is a human outpost in space that's been orbiting the Earth for more than 15 years. When we come back, the International Space Station

celebrates a milestone.




CURNOW: Here's a milestone.


CURNOW: Astronauts on the International Space Station are celebrating 15 years of human life in space. Now, so much has been accomplished and so

much more is expected of this mission, as Rachel Crane now reports.



RACHEL CRANE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's the most expensive object ever built, costing over $100 billion. And it's a true marvel of

engineering. People have been living on it now for 15 years.

So what do we have to show for it?

First of all, we have the station itself. Astronauts helped put the floating laboratory together 250 miles above Earth. And it was a

monumental task, seeing as it weighs in at nearly 1 million pounds and has the same livable space as a 6-bedroom house and Bob Cabana literally turned

the lights on.

ROBERT CABANA, SPACE CENTER: We actually opened the doors to the space station, powered up the computers and turned on the lights for the

first time and that was a pretty amazing mission. I will never forget that.

CRANE (voice-over): It took over 40 rocket launches to build this thing. The first piece was sent up in 1998 but it wasn't deemed complete

until 2011. It's been occupied since 2000.

CABANA: The International Space Station, it's an international cooperative effort and I think this is the way that, when we leave planet

Earth and go exploring, it set the model for how we'll explore beyond planet Earth.

We have the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan, European Space Agency and all its partners and we are working together, there are six

astronauts up there right now. We are working together as one team.

CRANE: Congress declared the U.S. portion of ISS a national laboratory. Crew members spend about 35 hours per week conducting research

which has led to a critical understanding of how the human body reacts to a micro-gravity environment and has also helped in the development of

vaccines against pathogens like salmonella and developing drugs to combat osteoporosis.

But the overarching goal of the station is much greater.

CABANA: Our goal right now at NASA is to put boots on Mars and in order to do that we need to learn how to operate beyond the confines of low

Earth orbit and using the space station as a test bed, I think it's critical to helping us be able to get to that proving ground and be



CURNOW: Extraordinary feat there.

Well, that does it for us here at the INTERNATIONAL DESK. I'm Robyn Curnow. I'll be back with another edition of IDESK in just over an hour.

In the meantime, "WORLD SPORT" with Christina Macfarlane is up next.