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Malaysia Airlines Flight Crashes at Ukraine/Russia Border; Ukraine: Plane May Have Been Shot Down; MH17 Loss Rapidly Becoming European Crisis; Ukrainian Official Gives Press Conference.

Aired July 17, 2014 - 13:30   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And again, I'm here with Richard Quest and Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona. Again, we've talked about this Buk system.


COOPER: The idea, though, that separatists had gotten their hands on it somehow, whether with permission or without permission, do you find it likely that separatists could figure out how to fire and operate this system?

FRANCONA: That's the question. If they got their hands on this, that's a quantum increase in capability. Then the question is, who operated this system? It's not inconceivable the Russians would have provided that expertise to them because you just don't -

COOPER: Or would that somebody be formerly with the military or -

FRANCONA: Could be, or someone that's in the Ukrainian military that has that training that is now part of the Russian separatist group, somebody who knows who you to use that system had to be involved in this. You just don't walk in, sit down and start -- let's just play this by ear and see if we can make it work.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: I just wanted to talk on the aviation side of this, as opposed to the military side of it, it would appear, Anderson, that this area was not under restriction. According to the international airline association, represents all the airlines, although both the Europeans and the Americans had prohibitions over Crimea and parts of the Black Sea, this eastern part of Ukraine was not on the prohibition list for flying over.

Now, in the last hour, we've heard from Lufthansa and Turkish, and I would expect more airlines to say they will avoid flying over Eastern Ukraine.

But as you point out, if we look -- this is an old picture from flight radar. If you look at flight radar 24 now --


CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: There's still aircraft flying there.

FRANCONA: There's still aircraft -- there's still aircraft flying there.

QUEST: If we were to show a picture of flight radar 24 over that area now, you were just showing --


FRANCONA: Yeah, I can't get it on my phone right now, but, yeah, we just took a look at the live radar, there are still aircraft operating in this area.

COOPER: Civilian aircraft --


COOPER: -- flying --


QUEST: And the pilots I've been speaking to this morning still say that -- one of my colleagues, or one of my friends, flew from Missco (ph) to a destination in Western Europe.

COOPER: You're looking at a still photo there. We're looking at live information on various mobile devices.


COOPER: Who makes that decision? Is it individual airlines who then make the decision, OK, we're no longer going to fly, or is there an international body?

QUESTION: No international body. I mean, they might ban it completely, yes. They could in that situation. But normally, it would be the airline. It would be the regulator, so the European regulator, the national regulator, the FAA. I would imagine within the hour we're going to start seeing total regulatory bans on flying over that area.

COOPER: And, again, certainly, the question is, why wasn't that done sooner given the concern Richard was hearing from a number of pilots for some time.

Our Barbara Starr, at the Pentagon, is also gathering information through her sources.

Barbara, what are you hearing?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, this is rapidly shaping up to be a security crisis across Europe. What I am hearing is that both military services and intelligence services across Europe now looking at their intelligence systems for any clues about what may have happened here. There are a number of military and intelligence radars across Europe run by the European nations, also by the United States, some of them. And they are all now scrambling, looking for any clues, any signals in their systems, any infrared heat signatures, any acoustic signatures about what may have happened. What we know now is that the U.S. satellite systems that watch for

ballistic missile launches, those satellites did not record this event because it happened essentially in a different trajectory than what a ballistic missile would have flown. So U.S. satellites did not see it, those that watch Europe for ballistic missile launches. Now the military, the intelligence community in the U.S., going back through everything that they have.

The supreme allied commander in Europe, General Phillip Breedlove, who is a four-star U.S. Air Force general, who runs all NATO military operations in Europe, has been briefed around the clock since this happened. He's been looking at this. He's looking at NATO AWACs airplanes. Those are radar airplanes that NATO flies over Europe because of the Russian crisis to see if they recorded anything. General Breedlove also certainly working with his European military and intelligence counterparts across the continent.

So one of the things happening here, Anderson, very quickly, because this is an airspace issue, you are now really starting to see other European nations move in, weigh in and look at what information they may have.

I also want to go back a minute and underscore some U.S. officials, just as some of your guests said on the air, looking at this Russian system called the BUK, the BUK anti-aircraft missile system. Whether it was Russian, whether it was separatists, whoever may be operating one, whether they were involved with this or not. This is one of the systems that the U.S. military, the U.S. intelligence community scrutinizing right now to see if it was possibly involved. They know that this system is on the border. They know that the Russians know how to operate it. You just have to look at it. You see how complex it is. They are looking to see if there's any possibility the BUK was involved -- Anderson?

COOPER: Barbara Starr, I appreciate that update.

Richard Quest, I think you're getting new information from KLM?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: KLM, yes, the Royal Dutch Airlines, which was a co-chair partner with this flight from Malaysia Airline, has put out a statement, if I may read it, Anderson.


QUEST: "Although not yet officially confirmed by Malaysia Airlines, it's with great regret that KLM has learned about the possible incident with MH17, Malaysia Airlines from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. We are in contact with the airline to obtain more information. As a precautionary measure, KLM avoids flying over the concerned territory. KLM --" and then it gives a variety of numbers for people if they're in the air and they need more information.

COOPER: Again, for family members now, this is going to be just a logistical nightmare, trying to get information.

QUEST: KAOL, the international organization you and I talked about with MH370. KOAL has very strict guidelines about how our airlines and how countries set up the provision of disaster relief for families. You've got to practice it. You've got to be ready. You've got to have the necessary phone lines. It's a very complicated operation. But in this case, once again, it will fall to Malaysia Airlines to do it as the state. You're looking at basically the state of airline. You're talking about that's the people who have to do it. Who will hold the investigation? Normally, Anderson, you'll remember, we talk about the state of occurrence, the state of airline, the state of operator, the state of design. So in that situation, we're still looking at Malaysia, Russia, Ukraine as being those involved.

COOPER: And we're told now that we have video from the moment the plane crashed. We are seeing this now for the first time. Let's take a look.


COOPER: We'll try to re-rack that just to take another look. It's obviously very far in the distance from where this video was. You don't actually, as far as we can see -- it does seem that it came down relatively in one area, or at least the biggest part of it seemed to have come down in one area.

FRANCONA: Well, judging from the amount of flames that we saw at the point of impact, that was a large chunk probably, and that obviously is fuel going up when you get that color of smoke.

QUEST: One's tempted to pause for a moment just to realize the enormity and gravity of what we're looking at in this. The plane would have been fully fueled for the Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur flight. The missile or whatever hit it clearly didn't destroy it in midair. It was sufficient for the tanks to have hit the ground.

Do jump in, sir, if there's more that you can add.

And for the tanks to have exploded on the ground. But what we're looking at there is --

COOPER: And again, the question now, and we have heard our Nick Paton Walsh reporting concerns from Ukrainian officials about their ability to actually get to the crash site. This is obviously essential that officials get to the crash site not only to get the black box, to recover any other items, as we saw with the TWA flight 800 investigation, which again happened -- this is the anniversary of that plane crashing. That was a very lengthy investigation where they basically reassembled the aircraft to try to determine exactly what had happened. Again, access to this site is going to be essential, and it's not clear at this moment exactly how that will occur.

We're going to take a short break. 295 people on board this plane. We have no information about any of them. Hard to imagine, obviously, that there could be any survivors from something like this.

We're going to take a short break, and our coverage continues in a moment.


COOPER: Good afternoon. I'm Anderson Cooper.

We are following breaking news right now. The Malaysia Airlines flight, a Boeing 777, has crashed near the border between Ukraine and Russia.

This is graphic video, we want to warn you, showing the aftermath of this crash.

These are images we are just starting to get in. We are now getting new pictures of the moment the plane itself crashed in a fiery explosion off on the horizon in this video. Malaysia Airlines confirming that they lost contact with flight MH17.

There you see the impact, the fireball, flames, the presence of fuel obviously still there in the fuselage, as Richard Quest, noted a short time ago. This is a plane which would have been loaded up with fuel because of the long flight between Amsterdam, where the plane took off, was heading toward Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. A plane carrying 295 people, 280 of them were passengers, 15 crew members.

For you, what you're looking at right now is the path the plane itself took after departing Amsterdam at 12:30 p.m. local time. As I said, bound for Kuala Lumpur where it was supposed to arrive the next morning. This is where the plane reportedly went down, an area in eastern Ukraine. At this stage in the flight, the plane would have likely been at cruising altitude, some 32,000 or 33,000 feet up.

The location and the timing certainly suspect, considering this is an area of extreme conflict right now, ongoing fighting between pro- Russian separatists, the government of Ukraine and the Russian military based on the border there. The Ukrainian interior ministry claims this plane was shot down, telling CNN that pro-Russian separatists have been, quote, "hunting us for weeks using anti- aircraft missiles." But at this stage, both sides are denying responsibility.

We do have reporters covering this from every corner of the globe.

I want to go first to our Jim Sciutto.

Jim, a Ukrainian cargo plane was reportedly shot down by pro-Russian separatists on Monday. That was at 21,000 feet. This Malaysian jet at some 32,000 feet. Are we any clearer right now on who, if anyone, may have shot the plane down?

Having some problems getting Jim. We'll continue to check in.

Our Richard Quest is here.

Again, at this stage, we still don't know exactly who fired this missile, what would the intent of this missile be. This BUK system, which is a Russian missile system, seems to have been what a lot of people in the Pentagon are certainly focusing on at this point? QUEST: If today's events can now be put into two very distinct

groups, Anderson. You have what has happened and why, the awfulness of the military situation that's led to this, and then you have the aviation side of it, which is why aircraft are in this area, why warnings weren't given, all these sort of issues, and the tragedy of relatives and the dealing with the disaster and the investigation that falls in. So two very distinct -- it's almost unique in these, if I can say that, to have these situations where military activity creates civil aviation. Of course, there's Iran, there's KAL, there are all those incidents, but they're few and far between. And when they happen like this, they call the whole aviation industry into question.

COOPER: I'm here also with Fareed Zakaria, host of "Fareed Zakaria, GPA"; and Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, a CNN military analyst.

Fareed, you are just joining us. Obviously, there's the human horror of this, and that, of course, is primary in our minds. There's also military implications, political implications, strategic implications, which will largely be determined by who fired this missile and why.

FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, FAREED ZAKARIA, GPS: Absolutely, Anderson. If this turns out to be what, frankly, many of us suspect it is, that is a casualty, a terrible casualty of the Ukrainian/Russian conflict, this is huge because it's even bigger than KAL because, in this case, what appears -- what might have happened -- and again, a lot of caveats -- but what might have happened is that the Russian government has been supporting, training, arming rebels, separatists in Ukraine, essentially teaching them how to do this kind of thing. Those forces have, in the past, shot down helicopters of the Ukrainian army, cargo planes, as you noted. It would not be difficult to imagine that they thought this was a Ukrainian cargo plane because these are poorly trained, ill-equipped. They probably don't have the right kind of radar to figure it out, and they probably don't care. These are not, you know, people following safety precautions.

COOPER: In fact, the separatist group, just shortly before this plane went down, had bragged about, on this day, bringing down what they said was Ukrainian military plane.

ZAKARIA: Precisely, which is why, as I say, all the signs suggest that what happened here was that the Russian government has had this strategy of training these rogue elements within Ukraine to make this kind of trouble for the Ukrainian government. This thing went badly awry as a result of that. But frankly, in a perfectly predictable way, when you start using these kinds of forces to do your dirty work for you, something like this is bound to happen because these are not disciplined forces that are under tight command and control from the Kremlin.

And back to the first point you were making, this produces a major international incident because it points out that what Russia has been doing has not only been destabilizing Ukraine but destabilizing it on the cheap, in a dangerous way, largely to preserve a kind of plausible deniability, but now we see the consequences.

COOPER: And we talked to Senator John McCain a short time ago in our last hour. He said -- and he was very cautious about who was behind this -- but he said if, in fact, this is Russia/separatists, that that -- I mean, it could be a game changer in terms of U.S. involvement, bolstering, providing military armaments, weaponry to the Ukrainian government in Kiev.

ZAKARIA: It would absolutely. It would mean that the United States and presumably Europe would be much more involved and invested in helping. I think world opinion will change. But also, however, will make the situation much more tense, much more dangerous. Remember, we were trying to move everybody involved to some kind of negotiated solution here where the Russians would try to stabilize the Ukrainian government because, at the end of the day, they live right next door to them. I think that's going to be impossible. If you think that relations between Russia and Washington are going to get tense, imagine the relations between Russia and Kiev. The Ukrainian government and the Russian government are not going to sit down for a negotiation tomorrow if -- again, with a big caveat -- if this turns out to be what some signs suggest it is.

COOPER: And Lieutenant Colonel Francona, obviously, a lot we still don't know in terms of what sort of a device brought this plane down, but clearly the idea that separatists would have been able to do this without some sort of greater technology from Russia or taken from the Ukrainian military, it seems impossible.

FRANCONA: I think if it were -- if the separatists did get their hands on these systems, a lot of this is starting to make sense now, because they would not be plugged into the air traffic control system, whereas the Russian air defense system is fully integrated into the air traffic control system. They know where civilian airliners are. They know what they're squawking. If this is a rogue element or a group of separatists that got their hands on this high-tech piece of equipment, rolled it out into the field and just turned on the radar and said, that must be Ukrainian aircraft and took a shot at it, they would have no trouble knocking it down, but they didn't know what they were shooting at.

COOPER: For those who oppose Russia, obviously, and Russia's actions in eastern Ukraine, Fareed, none of that will really matter that it could be a rogue element. The fact that there are more than 10,000 Russian forces on the border, the fact that Russia has been on the ground in eastern Ukraine, that they have been behind events in eastern Ukraine, there will be a lot of fingers pointed at Russia in this, whether or not it was Russian forces who actually pressed the button.

ZAKARIA: Absolutely, Anderson, because this has been the distinctive signature of Russian policy in this region. That's how they took over Crimea. That's how they destabilized and tried to disrupt the elections in Ukraine. That's how they've been disrupting in Ukraine. In all cases, there have been no Russian uniformed personnel present. And President Putin has often said, on the one hand, we don't know who these people are. On the other hand, he private -- in one case, public, said, of course, we were involved. So this is the method that was used. And has you're pointing out correctly, this comes with a big cost because these boots aren't really completely under your control, under Russia's control, but also are ill-equipped, poorly trained and, of course, can make mistakes.

#; And if you are sending advanced weapons systems into an area like this, you bear responsibility for whose hands it ends up in.

ZAKARIA: You bear responsibility for it and you bear responsibility for the overall strategy, which has been disrupt, destabilize this government, try -- including shoot down helicopters and airliners.

QUEST: I'm sitting here listening to my colleagues almost in horror at the magnitude of what you're saying. As an aviation geek, as an aviation correspondent who covers this industry morning, noon and night, the fact that these advanced weapons systems can be handed over and then put into an area which is the main artery --

COOPER: I'm told the Ukrainian defense minister is speaking live right now. Let's listen in.

UNIDENTIFIED UKRAINE DEFENSE MINISTER (through translation): -- under control of a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Amsterdam was under control of Ukrainian air traffic control services, the Ukraine air traffic enterprise. At the moment when it disappeared, the aircraft was 30 kilometers before crossing the border, the boundary between the control center. The information was provided to our services through all necessary addresses. We have been contacted by the president of the IKAO council and by the director of (INAUDIBLE), and of course, insure in support of the transparent and objective investigation of this incident. We will involve all international agencies and also countries of the registration and the production of the aircraft in this investigation. Thank you.


(through translation): -- extraordinary situation. The search is conducted by the forces of governmental service in dons region. It's difficult for the wreckage. And the search is also difficult, because of challenges that are supposed by armed terrorists who are -- there is headquarters in one of the essential buildings of the service. 24 hours. The hotline 247-350. Also, you can find information on -- you can ask -- request information from the special hotline 101.

We thank you all. We can assure you that we will take all necessary to resolve and to establish circumstances of this horrible local tragedy and we will keep you updated with those investigations about this tragedy. Thank you for your attention.

COOPER: All right, that press conference from Ukrainian officials.

I want to go to our Jim Acosta, who is getting information from the White House.

Jim, what are you hearing?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, we are hearing the president is expected to talk about the plane crash at the top of his remarks coming up several minutes from now. He's going to be speaking at a previously scheduled event in Wilmington, Delaware. He was supposed to be there to talk about infrastructure endeavors being undertaken here at the White House.

The other thing we want to point out, Anderson, is the White House has read out the phone call between President Obama and President Putin and wanted to read too much of it but to highlight something I think is very important. Of course, we don't want to draw any conclusions, but it was noted during this phone call by the president to Vladimir Putin that "in the face of extensive evidence that Russia is significantly increasing the provision of heavy weapons to separatists of Ukraine and Russia's failure to take other steps to deescalate the crisis, it was necessary to impose additional sanctions."

So the president wasn't drawing any conclusions during the phone call. They talked about the plane crash later on in the phone call but it was during the conversation that the president once again restated his grave concerns about what is happening, the U.S. allegations that there is a steady flow of arms and fighters across that Russian/Ukrainian border -- Anderson?

COOPER: For clarity, the president is expected to speak, what, at the top of the hour?

ACOSTA: Right now, on the schedule at 2:10: p.m. eastern time in Wilmington. He'll be standing in front of the I-495 bridge there, in a serious state of disrepair. He was going to talk about fixing roads and bridges around the country. This has been the White House message all week. But we understand it's now expected that the president will be talking about the plane crash during those remarks, probably at the top of those remarks -- Anderson?

COOPER: All right. We'll obviously bring that to our viewers live.

Jim, appreciate that. We'll come back to you.

I also want to check in with Chad Myers with new information about the flight, the path of this plane took.

Chad, what are you learning?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Not the normal flight that this usually takes. We talked to Miles O'Brien. And you can go ahead and talk to Richard Quest about this. The lines on the map, that's the highway. Those are the roads that the plane can take. And we have L- 980. That's the plane on that one. Typically, though, down here around N-991, or even N-190, just like the highways that you have in America on any roadway, you get numbers, you get names. What happened with this plane is that because what I believe to be a thunderstorm complex down here over the normal flight path -- there's that one right there, we talked about that -- it was on 980. It could have been on 991. And a lot of the time, this is now Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, most of the flights down here on this N-190. But because of the weather down here, right on top of that N-190, the plane was farther to the north right up here, and that's where the plane finally ended -- Anderson?

COOPER: Chad, we're also getting more information I think from other airlines. I want to check in with Rene Marsh.

What are you hearing?

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, perhaps a snapshot we have for you here, it just goes to show you the activity within the air space shortly after this crash, which is unfolding.

So we want to go to this here. This is from If you take a look, you can see most of the commercial airlines. We do know at this point, these flights are avoiding this area. That just simply speaks to the continuing concern of the potential danger of flying over this air space at this hour. We could tell you, just about 20 minutes ago, at last look, we saw that there were only three commercial aircraft which were seen flying within this area. Two were Russian airliners, and that was flying north of Crimea and a Malaysian flight 21 heading to Kuala Lumpur from Paris. But again, if you take a look at these applications here,, just one of them, you can see that there is not heavy traffic within this area where this plane went down, and most likely for good reason. Because there is a lot of concern as to what happened and what caused this plane to go down. Again, we have been in very close contact with the agencies here. It just goes to show you, information doesn't travel as fast as social media or even the news media, because even here in the United States, NTSB doesn't have concrete information they can share with us.

We do know, though, if this plane was indeed shot down, the NTSB would not be involved in this investigation because then it is automatically criminal. That is something for the FBI to take over. So we do know that. We do know what the NTSB's role would look like if this was indeed a criminal activity. But, again, that remains a big question at this point -- Anderson?

COOPER: It also remains a big question, Rene, about the ability to actually investigate this, to actually get to the site.

And we're going to talk about that in the upcoming hour with our analysts and Richard, just as we are awaiting President Obama's comments 10 minutes or so from now. Still a lot we don't know but the picture is starting to form.

QUEST: It is. On what happened, the picture is starting to form. Who investigates it -- I was just listening to the defense minister from Ukraine. He has clearly laid out the case for Ukraine investigating this. Saying he is putting together the necessary investigation. So the Ukrainians are clearly putting a land grab, we will investigate.

COOPER: The only alternative, really, would be that Russian authorities would investigate, and that would obviously raise huge questions if there was some sort of Russian military involvement at all.

QUEST: All Malaysian State Airlines, all --

(CROSSTALK) QUEST: Absolutely. Absolutely.

COOPER: -- in terms of getting access to the site, it's either Russian authorities or Ukrainian authorities.

QUEST: What we have here is really what you were you talking about earlier. We have had a war situation in eastern Ukraine. That nobody has really treated as a war situation globally, basically.

COOPER: We are just now at the top of the hour at 2:00 p.m. on the east coast, in the United States.