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Victims' Family Members Talk about their Loved Ones; Humanitarian Ceasefire in Gaza

Aired July 20, 2014 - 06:30   ET


CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: And the stories of loss, they are profound. Coming up, we're going to talk to a man who lost both of his nephews in the crash.


PAUL: Thirty-four minutes past the hour right now. So glad to have your company. I'm Christi Paul.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell. We welcome our viewers here in the U.S. and those around the world this morning.

PAUL: And right now large numbers of bodies that may be victims of the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 we know have been taken from the site where the plane went down Thursday, killing all 298 people aboard.

BLACKWELL: Yeah. A CNN team says the remains are being put onto refrigerated train cars at a station there in eastern Ukraine. International observers say that they have been told that these are the bodies from the flight, but they cannot independently confirm this. And they say the train cars will remain in place until international specialists arrive.

PAUL: Yeah, it's not clear when that's going to happen. Our CNN reporters on the ground say armed pro-Russian rebels are giving international observers a little more access to the crash site. The observer team is going over the site right now with the armed guards who watch over them.

BLACKWELL: CNN's Erin McLaughlin is live at Amsterdam's airport where this MH-17 ill-fated flight took off. And more than half of those who died were from the Netherlands.

PAUL: Erin, I know you spoke to a grieving mother who lost her son in the tragedy. Tell us about that conversation.

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Christi. I spoke to Selena Fredricks (ph). She and her family were here at the airport a short while ago. They were here to lay flowers and to sign a condolence book at the make shift memorial just over my shoulder. That way Selena told me how she lost her son, just 20 years old, his name was Bryce, and his girlfriend Daisy who was just 23. They were on board MH-17 on their way to Bali on holiday. And she told me just how horrified she has been to see the news reports and hear some of the accounts from the crash site in eastern Ukraine. She says that it's a mother's human right to have the body of her son back, and to be able to bury him. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Putin must take care of my son and my daughter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who knows where the bodies are.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can do nothing but wait for their bodies.

MCLAUGHLIN: Do you have any idea of where your son's body ...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No idea. I don't even ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe they took it. Maybe it's there.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe it's in one piece, maybe it's thousand pieces.

MCLAUGHLIN: Are government officials telling you anything?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. They don't know. The only thing we know is from the media. How do they know?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've been to the ..

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We still don't know. The officials don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They can't give us any answer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It must be horrifying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's horrible. No doubt about that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's one bad movie.


MCLAUGHLIN: it's impossible to imagine their pain. Selina telling me that she was the one who purchased their plane tickets, Daisy's mother passed away about 2 1/2 months ago. The trip was meant to have been an escape for them, an escape that has turned into an even greater family tragedy. Christi.

BLACKWELL: All right, Erin McLaughlin at the airport in Amsterdam. Erin, thank you.

PAUL: Thank you, Erin. You know, there are so many other families in the same situation. Harun Keilar lost two nephews in the crash.

BLACKWELL: 19-year-old Shaqa (ph) and 10-year-old Miguel were on their way to vacation with a grandmother. Harun is himself an aviation attorney and he says he has fought for a lot of victims of -- crash victims' families and it's surreal now that his own nephews have been killed. Harun joins us by phone from Amsterdam. First, our deepest sympathies to you and your family during this time and we appreciate you taking a few moments to speak with us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you so much, Victor and Christina. I appreciate it.

BLACKWELL: How are you doing this morning?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's hard to say. I'm still in shock. It's very surreal. It's so different to be here as a family member versus being here as an attorney trying to help your family. So it's just very numbing.

PAUL: How is your sister?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now she's being interviewed even as we speak by two Dutch police officers from the forensic team, so she's -- you know, she's fine as fine as can be in a situation like hers but she comes and goes. She's just so poignant to see her in this state.

BLACKWELL: So, when you look at this scene and we've talked a lot about the hope and the effort to bring the bodies back to those families. What are you feeling now as there is all of this confusion about where these victims are and if they will be returned to their families?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel so much sorrow for all of the other victims and my deepest condolences to everybody that's concerned, including, of course, my own family. But it's just so heartbreaking to see how apparently there's not been a very well concerted effort to safeguard the crash site, to prevent contamination, to allow international investigators access to the site. The standard protocols that ought to be -- ought to govern in a very awful situation like this, ought to be respected, but apparently they are not. So it's just heartbreaking to see what's going on.

PAUL: Haroun, you said your sister was being interviewed. Has your family been getting any information either from Malaysia Airlines, from the Netherlands government, from anybody about how things are proceeding?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. The two police officers just informed us that their team has landed, I think at 5:00 a.m. this morning, in Kiev and they were taking a bus to Donetsk, which is a five or six-hour drive. But they didn't have any updates and so far as their investigators having access to the remains. But that's all they could tell me. Malaysian Airlines, we briefly met with a caretaker that's how he identified himself, and I asked the same question, he said we have no answers or updates for you, our team is on the ground and they are trying to make their way to the crash site. But we just don't have any unfettered access to the site. That's what he shared with me.

BLACKWELL: Haroun, you are as we said in the introduction, an aviation attorney. Do you think that the relatives of those who were lost on MH-17 should take some legal action?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In due course, yes, they should be cautious in who they seek assistance from. But of course, yes. I mean, in every situation I hate to put my professional hat on at this time but you know, it's just second nature, but yes, of course. It's been proven in any crash, aviation crash, that those that have competent legal representation will always have their interests better secured than people that are dealing prose on their own with the aviation authorities, with the government, with the carrier, yes.

PAUL: Haroun, tell us about your nephews, you know, how you want them remembered and what you would say to some of the other families that are grieving.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Again, my most profound and deepest condolences to all of the 298 lives that are lost. They are all beautiful lives. You know, of course I did not know the other victims, but I'm sure that they are all very, very decent and good human beings, and they never deserved this. I mean this is such a shocking incident. I mean these - people were on holiday, they were there to see loved ones, they were there to work, to attend seminars, go on vacation. This is the last thing that they expected. And this is I mean, just unfathomable. I don't even have words to explain what these people must be going through, what I'm going through with my sister and my mother is going through. These two boys, they were lovely kids. They were so supportive of their mom who is a single mom the last four years.

And they were never difficult for her, they were always supporting her. Her eldest boy just finished his first year of college. He was always helping her doing the dishes, cooking for her, taking care of his little brother, his little brothers, plural, and you know, he was basically flying ahead of the trip with his little brother, the other one couldn't get a seat, the middle one, and so he was supposed to fly on the next day. So yeah, I mean, they are wonderful kids. The 10- year-old, he was - just turned 11 on April 23rd. He was also a very nice polite boy. They had great grades in school. He loved sports. He loved soccer and all -- basketball and you know, he just got a go cart license so he was just very excited to see my mother, the grandmother. It's just so important. I just don't know what to say.

PAUL: Well, Haroun, thank you for helping us get to know them a little bit in this small way. And certainly our thoughts and prayers to you and your sister. We're glad that the two of you have each other to get through this. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

PAUL: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: We'll be back.


PAUL: The breaking news in the CNN right now. We have just learned there is a two-hour cease-fire beginning in Gaza right now. The Israeli military says it will stop firing into Gaza for the next two hours, this is at the request of the Red Cross which wants to get to those who have been injured in an overnight assault. So, it's for humanitarian purposes.

BLACKWELL: Yeah, but look at this scene just a few hours ago. The skies over Gaza lit up overnight. You see this is the result of Israeli military says it's stepping up its ground offensive in Gaza trying to eliminate Hamas's fire power and destroy the so-called terror tunnels built across from Gaza into Israel.

PAUL: Martin Savidge is there. Martin, what can you tell us about this two hours cease-fire?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christi. Good morning, Victor. We are about well, 20 minutes into what's being described here as a humanitarian pause. Ceasefire might give the impression that this is some sort of long lasting cessation of hostilities. It's a two hour time limit here. And it's essentially only to allow for as you say it was brokered by the International Red Cross, for them to retrieve those who have been injured, perhaps retrieve bodies as well. Of course, when you have any kind of ongoing military activity it makes it very difficult for humanitarian aid efforts, ambulances, to move - to take people to hospitals, things like that. So, it's deemed that it was important enough now that the Israeli Defense Forces have said that all right, we agree, and there is going to be this two-hour pause. Assuming once 3:30 comes, and I'm talking about local time in the afternoon here, it will be on again.

PAUL: Martin, we know in the past sometimes cease-fire means it also opens the borders for people to get out. Is that in effect here as well or no? Martin? Can you hear us?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: It looks like we've lost Martin Savidge there reporting for us from Jerusalem again. On just a humanitarian pause, as he calls it. We'll have more on the crisis in Gaza later in the show. Wolf Blitzer is interviewing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a little more than an hour from now at the top of the 8:00 a.m. hour eastern.

PAUL: And we'll be back with more in just a moment. Stay close.


BLACKWELL: The breaking news in that field there in eastern Ukraine, Malaysian Airline Flight 17, the crash site. Reuters has just released video that appears to show a Ukrainian man there at the scene with recovered black box. We're still learning who found it, who currently has it, where it's headed. We will bring you that information as soon as we get it. But this could be a big development and it now at least appears in the hands of Ukrainian officials, defining exactly what was said, what was done, in the last moments of Flight MH-17.

PAUL: Now I want to point out, and I'm hearing somebody correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe this video that we are just getting in from Reuters, it was video from two days ago. So, that's why we know according to what we're seeing, something that looks to be a black box has been found by a Ukrainian official there. But where it is now and what they have learned from that has not yet been released. We do know now, though, that large numbers of bodies are being collected right now and loaded on refrigerated train cars near the crash site in eastern Ukraine, this is according to a CNN team that's traveling with a convoy of international observers.

Observers say they cannot independently confirm if the bodies are from the downed flight, but the train is expected to stay in place there until international specialists arrive, not clear where those bodies will be taken from that point.

BLACKWELL: Meanwhile, the recovery teams on the ground are still facing considerable pushback from the armed militants there making it difficult to reach the debris. Co-host of CNN's "NEW DAY" Chris Cuomo is on the ground in Ukraine with more for us. Good morning, Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is an active civil war going on here. So, within the tragedy of this plane being taken down you have complete hostility all around it including the fact that the scene is controlled by men in the circle of suspicion for who caused it in the first place. So it's very difficult to travel. There are tons of checkpoints. They are very heated up, they very much want to show a force. They want their guns in your face, they fire into in the air.

So it's not an easy place to get around. And yet, all of that disappears when you get here and you see how raw this scene is and how little dignity to this point has been given to the victims of this crash. There are so many families out there, who aren't going to be able to come here, who were hoping that in the situations like this, that people on the ground are taking care of their loved ones who are now victims. And it's just starting to happen. We're watching finally the bodies are being collected and put in the bags. Where they are going to bring them, who they will have identify them, how long it will take at this point we can't know.

PAUL: All right, Chris Cuomo, thank you so much for the report. Now, the international crisis created by the shooting down of MH-17 is growing. International monitors are having trouble getting to the crash site as we talked about to investigate. And boy, we've got prime ministers all over the place who have a lot to say about this.

BLACKWELL: Yeah, we've got much more on the next hour of your new day starts after a quick break. Stay with us.