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U.S. Flights To Israel Grounded After Rocket Fire; Ukraine Claims Russian Officer Launched; Ukraine: "Absolutely" a Russian Who Shot Down Plane; Interview with Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger

Aired July 22, 2014 - 19:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, terror in the skies. U.S. flights to and from Israel grounded after rocket attacks. Hundreds of Americans stranded. We're going to go live to a reporter who witnessed the attacks.

Plus the investigation into Malaysia Flight 17. New evidence tonight that Russia is still supplying the rebels with weapons. A top Ukrainian official tells CNN a Russian officer shot down the plane.

Flying over war zones. The dangerous hot spots we fly over every day. Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight breaking news, a rocket threatens commercial jet, a Delta Flight with 273 passengers on board forced to turn back as it approached Ben-Gurion International Airport in Israel. The incident less than a week since a surface-to-air missile struck down a passenger jet over Ukraine killing all 298 on board.

Today the FAA suspended all U.S. Airlines flying to and from Israel for at least 24 hours. Delta Flight 468 was the first inbound flight affected. It was about an hour away when a large rocket landed about a mile from the airport doing considerable damage to a house nearby according to the Israeli Defense Force.

Israeli officials tells CNN that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry this afternoon to ask the United States to reverse the ban on flights. Earlier, the Israeli Airport Authority urged those U.S. airlines to reconsider saying, quote, "There's no reason that American carriers should stop flying to Israel and thus give a prize to terror."

Several European airlines though have followed the United States lead their flights are cancelled including those from Lufthansa and KLM. If more airlines follow suit, this could affect more than a hundred flights a week. Our reporter, John Vause, was on board the diverted Delta flight and we are going to have more from him in just a moment.

But I want to begin with Atika Shubert who witnessed a rocket attack near the airport today. She's at Ben-Gurion Airport tonight. Atika, what did you see?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The sirens went off, the red alert went out. Fortunately in this case, the rocket was intercepted by the anti-missile system iron dome. But we actually saw it being intercepted just above the air space over Ben-Gurion International Airport.

And then just a few seconds later a plane took off. This is exactly what the FAA and other civil aviation authorities are so concerned about. They want some assurance the planes will be safe when they take off and land, and with these rockets going around, even though, it's very unlikely Iraq will actually hit a plane, they feel that it's just too much of a risk to take -- Erin.

BURNETT: Atika, of course, unlikely, as we all know became likely last week. Thanks very much to Atika Shubert who was there, witnessed that. So what happened on board Delta Flight 468? The plane departed New York's JFK Airport, was about an hour outside Tel-Aviv when the rockets struck. Flight 468 diverted back to Paris.

Our John Vause was on board that flight. What did the crew tell you was happening? Did you have any sense, John, that you were turning around?

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): It was right towards the end of the flight. We were right on final approach into Tel Aviv and everyone was getting ready to come to the end of their journey and then the pilot came on. We're terribly sorry, but we are now diverting back to Paris. They did tell us that a rocket had landed close by to the airport in Ben-Gurion.

And he said for reasons of safety, that as pilot of the plane and the company, Delta, who run the airline made the decision they would not be landing in Tel Aviv because in their opinion it was simply too dangerous and they were turning around and flying back to Paris.

It was then that everyone jumped on their cell phones and started contacting people while it's up in the sky. So the pilot got on again and made another announcement and said, listen, we know that other airline are still landing, but as far as Delta is concerned, it's just too dangerous.

BURNETT: And what was the feeling on the plane? It's interesting, John, you said people were getting on their smartphones and automatically saying, other people are landing. Why can't we land? This sort of seems, given the horrific incident last week that people still wanted to go ahead and land. It was still about convenience to a lot of people.

VAUSE: Yes, I spoke to the cabin crew. They said, yes, the decision was made at a very high level to turn the plane around and to go back to Paris. But they also said it was being made in light of the events with the Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, which was shot down by surface- to-air missile.

Another thing we should take note of is about ten days ago, Hamas warned that they would, in fact, be targeting Ben-Gurion airport and they claimed they had fired a rocket towards Ben Gurion airport and whether it made it or didn't isn't entirely clear. But it rated a mention. Hamas did put out that Ben-Gurion would be a target.

BURNETT: It was ten days ago and no one paid attention. Now the world has changed. John, thank you very much. John Vause in Paris because he was on that flight.

OUTFRONT now, our military analyst, Retired General Spider Marks, Retired FBI counterterrorism agent, Tim Clemente and joining us from Los Angeles, our national correspondent, Sara Sidner, who has been reporting on passenger planes equipped with anti-missile technology and also spent a long time covering the Middle East crisis in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Sara, let me start with you. Israel's national airline, El Al, did not cancel the flights. They are still flying from the United States. A flight I know departed just a couple of hours ago from where you are right now at LAX. So are they taking the risk of attack on or does El Al have defenses against these kinds of things?

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, what you are hearing from El Al is we're going to continue to fly this direct flight to and from LAX and other airports to Tel Aviv. When you consider the threat remember that this region is often in this kind of crisis. I was there in 2012 when Israel said, we've just for the first time been hit with a long range surface-to-surface missile from Gaza.

Hamas has those rockets. They know that now. If you're hearing from Israeli officials -- and I've talked to some of them and also some of those who look at the dangers out there and they're saying they'll be the first to decide, you know what? It is not safe. We believe that our air space is safe. Why is it safe?

Well, El Al does have some anti-missile technology, some missile defense technology. But I talked to a lot of different experts and they said it is not the kind of technology that would thwart this sort of surface-to-surface type of missile. However, they have the iron dome.

And as you heard from Atika who is there in the area, in Tel Aviv, these types of missile detection systems are really what has saved a lot of people and a lot of damage in Israel.

BURNETT: And Tim, what about to the point that Sara's talking about that now there's the awareness that Hamas has long range surface-to- surface missiles. Obviously these are different than surface-to-air missiles. But the prime minister of Israel has appealed to the United States to lift the flight ban.

They're using the words that this would give a prize, quote/unquote, to terrorists. Is that true? Is this flight ban a prize to terrorists or is it foolhardy for commercial planes to be flying in this area?

TIM CLEMENTE, RETIRED FBI COUNTERTERRORISM AGENT: I would say it's both because what is the objective of terrorists? To incite terror in people. To inflict that horror in human beings to cause them to alter their path of life. When two-thirds of the civilians in Israel are now in bomb shelters, I think they've had that effect. Doing this to commercial flights is just a further effect, when they are affecting people outside the population of Israel now.

But at the same token, it's no different than lobbing a hand grenade when they launch these rockets into Israel, they don't have the precision-guided bombs like western powers do. One of these things can drop anywhere. Even with the iron dome defense, that doesn't evaporate these explosives that are on the war head of these rockets.

It causes that to possibly be diverted and you can still hit a plane. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut and these rockets can certainly find their target even if it's not the intended target.

BURNETT: General Marks, as the Malaysia Air flight has brought home to people that in the middle of an air space that seems to be empty. Sometimes horrible things have now happened. Hamas rocket attacks aren't obviously sophisticated like that missile attack. But if one of these were to be the blind squirrel that finds a nut and hits a jet. What damage would it do?

MAJ. GENERAL JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: If any of these rockets were to hit a jet when it was in flight, it clearly would be a stroke of luck. That would be the kind of big sky little bullet theory. And if it happened to run into an aircraft in flight, it would be devastating. But once these aircraft are coming into a landing pattern into Ben-Gurion or some other airfield and this surface-to-surface rocket as described by Tim is very much a terror weapon.

If they begin to launch, clearly that now aircraft on the ground is now a fixed target and clearly in the sights of one of those rockets. Those rockets are not very accurate, but they inflict some tremendous damage. From Gaza, it can reach to Ben-Gurion. It's a legitimate threat. It has altered patterns of life and behaviour, which is clearly what terrorism is all about.

BURNETT: Tim, it's interesting, as you just heard John reporting, you know, ten days ago, Hamas said we're going to target the airport and nobody paid any attention. Then Malaysia 17 happened. This crisis in Israel has been going on for weeks. It has been going on, as we all know, for years. Hamas rockets are pretty well known. Why did they wait to ban the flights?

CLEMENTE: Well, I think because they probably got lucky with this one rocket that came close enough to Ben-Gurion to make it seem like the threat was legitimate. It probably seemed like an empty threat initially. The more and more rockets flying into Israeli air space eventually bound to happen that they could go this far. These projectiles, no different than firing a bullet into the air. It's got to drop in somewhere and that trajectory is not well known by the person who fires it.

BURNETT: Sara, before we go, what training do the El Al pilots, the Israeli pilots have that other commercial pilots may not have when it comes to dealing with these threats? SIDNER: Well, look, they're very cautious about telling people what it is that they have and can do on these flights, as you might imagine, for security reasons. They are equipped with missile defense systems. But as we talked about together yesterday are really for shoulder-fired rockets or man pads as they're known. And it is laser technology that thwarts this kind of technology inside the missile.

Like you're hearing from the guests, they don't have the technology. They're literally like shooting something and hoping it hits something. You did get a warning from Hamas that it was going to start targeting the airport. I don't think Israel took that lightly. They know they're equipped with these Fogier fives that have a 75 kilometer range that easily within range is Tel Aviv and the airport.

But I do think Israel is frustrated because they don't want people to think that it's absolutely not safe to fly into that airport. They've been saying they're raining rockets all over Israel. So it's a very difficult time now for people to believe that they can get into that airport safely.

BURNETT: It's a tough argument for them to make, to say we're getting hit hard but please fly here for your vacation. Thanks to all three of you.

OUTFRONT next, new evidence linking Vladimir Putin to the group that shot down Flight 17. Barbara Starr has the breaking headlines she has.

Plus those who witnessed Flight 17 crashing from the sky, we speak to them for the first time. And why, after what happened to Flight 17, did Malaysia Airlines fly over Syria this week?


BURNETT: Breaking news, a Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

U.S. officials say that Russia is still even now arming and training the pro-Russian rebels. Also tonight new claims from Ukraine that a Russian officer launched the missile at the 777 killing 298 people. We'll have more on that live from Ukraine in just a moment because that's a huge allegation that a Russian directly pushed that button, pulled that trigger.

First, Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon. She just got out of an intelligence briefing.

And Barbara, what are the Americans saying?


U.S. officials are saying is that right now they cannot be sure, they do not know, if there were actual Russian military personnel at the launch site when this happened. But what they do say is they are still absolutely convinced it was Russian separatists who had the Russian weapon that came across the border from Russia and fired it in separatist-controlled pro-Russian areas of Ukraine. That's what they do know.

But are the Russians about to pull back? Are the Russians about to behave? Don't count on it so fast. What they also showed us was this satellite image and I want to put it up for you. Wait a second. I think that's the trajectory. Let me go back a minute.

This is the trajectory of the missile launch that the U.S. came up with. Now we have the satellite image. On the left, you see an area inside Russia call would Rostov. That was last month in June. That's an area where now a month later on the right, you see a large assembly inside Russia of weapons.

And what U.S. officials tell us is those weapons are the ones that are being shipped across the border into separatist-controlled areas of Ukraine and it is still happening. They say they even estimate today right now as many as 20 heavy weapons tanks and armored vehicles were shipped from this area across the border into Ukraine, this area in Rostov that you see on your screen is the area where the separatists have been coming to get trained on how to fire those surface-to-air missiles.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Barbara Starr.

And you know, on that point as Barbara said, training on firing those missiles, tonight there's a major new and direct allegation about that very thing Barbara's talking about, who fired the missile.

A senior Ukrainian official tells CNN it was a Russian officer who triggered the surface-to-air missile, a Russian who hit go, not just advised, not just trained, not just supplied the missile system but a Russian who hit fire.

Kyung Lah is OUTFRONT with the allegations from the Ukraine.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Who operated the missile launcher that did this killing 298 passengers and crew aboard Malaysia airlines Flight 17? Based on their own intelligence, there's no question in the mind of Ukraine's spy chief.

You believe that was a Russian?


LAH: A Russian-trained --

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

LAH: Who pushed the button?

NAYDA: Who pushed the button.

LAH: Not just a pro-Russian rebel but a Russian officer. Vitaly Nayda said an officer would be the only one who would have the training to operate the missile. Nayda walked us through his evidence.

He says this image shows a truck with a blue stripe carrying the missiles known as the Buk M-1 the day of the plane crash. Hours after Flight 17 was shot out of the sky, intelligence images show what he says is the same truck crossing into Russia one missile missing.

They're trying to get these vehicles out of Ukraine to cover up the crime?

NAYDA: Exactly.

LAH: Russia says the images are fake.

More disputed evidence. You can hear the panic in these cell phone conversations purportedly between the rebels, recordings to released from Ukraine. But Nayda says his agency has more recorded calls he can't share yet, calls made three to four minutes before the plane was shot down.

NAYDA: If they possess this kind of military equipment like, Buk M-1 automatic missile launcher, the plane is not a military plane. It's a big target coming with constant speed moving constant direction, they should analyze and they should knew that it was a civilian plane.

LAH: A civilian plane with hundreds of people aboard. Underscoring the horror of the crash, Nayda wanted us to see this video obtained from his agency. Some victims are burned beyond recognition amid the debris. Most of Ukraine's video is too gruesome to show you.

When you hear the Russians say that they didn't do it, what's your immediate reaction?

NAYDA: It's lie. It's a total, constant lie and propaganda.

LAH: Propaganda is also what the Russians and the rebels accuse the Ukrainians of. And they blame Ukraine for the loss of the plane, but perhaps bowing to the international condemnation, Russian president Vladimir Putin said he will exert pressure on pro-Russian rebels.

There are calls for us to influence the militant, says Putin. We'll do everything in our power.


LAH: Now, Ukraine does have these missiles in its arsenal. So how does it know that its officers didn't make that same mistake? Well., the Ukraine intelligence chief says that there were no missiles in this region on that day and their missiles, Erin, could never reach those heights. He's adding that there is more intelligence that he has and he will make that public in the coming days -- Erin.

BURNETT: Kyung Lah, thank you very much with that major allegation.

OUTFRONT now, our safety analyst David Soucie.

And we are going to go to some pictures here while I warn viewers it is difficult to watch this. But as we try to piece together, do what investigators are going to go to find out who did what, and who knew what they're doing . We need to look at what they are going to be looking at. And these are what they found. These are the pieces of the plane.


BURNETT: So, if you could show us what we're looking at and why this is so important.

SOUCIE: OK. What's happening here, we can see this is a piece of aluminum and it's normally wrapped this way but it's wrapped the other direction. So if we look very closely in some of these areas in here, you can see that the aluminum is bent inward. It is the white is on the outside, the green is on the inside. We'll see some other things on the next one here.

BURNETT: All right. So this is now another place where we have these holes.

SOUCIE: Correct. And this is station 290. This is the electronics in the equipment bay of the very front. We talked a little bit about that with the MH 370.

BURNETT: And you can tell that by looking at it.

SOUCIE: Not this, but the next ones we will be able to tell why that is. But you can see here clearly, that something was going this direction. That's something that happened in the air. And you can see again these forfeited holes are all from debris from the missile. And you notice these are all in line, here, here, here. And what that does is create a zip line, called a zip line. And so, what that means is that the structural integrity right there is gone. So the aircraft itself starts coming apart of that.

BURNETT: And starts to split. And then, this, you can tell us --

SOUCIE: This is kind of a close-up of the same thing. And you can see this. And they're all going inward, you can see. And this is not indicative of what you'd see like in an aircraft that it come like in Sioux City when we had that accident 232.

In that case, the engine had an uncontained failure, pieces of titanium went through this to cut like knives through this. This is what we have here. These are plugs. These are pieces that holes going the other way. Now you see from the other side, and you can see that now from the inside that something came from the outside in.

BURNETT: It looks like a piece of paper to the viewer. I mean, it looks so fragile.

SOUCIE: Well, this is thin. I mean, this material on the outside of that aircraft is not very thick. I mean, we're talking 85,000 of an inch thick. Before you go --

BURNETT: Sorry. SOUCIE: This is where we find out where it is. This is station


BURNETT: Which is each part of the plane.

SOUCIE: Correct. Each one of these bulkheads. And this one is 287.06 or something like that. So these are the stringers. You can see they're wider here than they are here. So that tell us which direction it's going as it wider on the bottom on the side.

BURNETT: All right. So now, this is the video of how a Buk would operate. People sees it as the stop or sees the object, then they shoot. We're just going to show that this is, by the way, a Russian re-enactment of how a Buk would work, everybody. This is not actually what happened on this day.

But this is -- show us what happened. The plane is flying along. The Buk locks on to it, flies up and then show me what happens right here.

SOUCIE: Now, this airplane is going along here about 400 miles an hour roughly. And this is going 2,680 miles an hour, three times the speed of sound, very, very fast. So what it does as it comes up here and at that speed, if you are really, really difficult for this missile to actually hit the aircraft. This is out of size proportionally as well.

BURNETT: Of course.

SOUCIE: So, like in this case what it does is actually explodes here.

BURNETT: And how far is this from the plane?

SOUCIE: This is about 150 to 200 meters.

BURNETT: One hundred fifty -- 200 meter and then, so the war head explodes here.

SOUCIE: Correct. And launches pieces of shrapnel out.

BURNETT: To hit the plane.

SOUCIE: Ahead of itself. Remember, it already has this momentum going forward. So you have that. That is how fast these plugs are hitting the aircraft. And this is the area I was talking about here, the ENE (ph) compartment and this where that door was in the compartment we saw in the other picture.

BURNETT: And it does go to show everybody that this wasn't a direct impact. That it was designed to explode nearby and send the shrapnel out to actually hit that plane. And this is actually the inside of it. So these are the little pieces, right? So they each shoot out to hit.

SOUCIE: Right, right. And so, when the explosives are inside of this device and so as the explosives go off, they crack along these lines here and that gives these pieces here, which I believe from what I had heard from Francona and some others that they're about the size of a quarter to a half dollar pieces.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much.

SOUCIE: Which would show on that skin as well.

BURNETT: David Soucie, to show you how something can be so small, could be so fast and so horrifically powerful.

Still to come, the U.S. ground swipes to and from Israel, hundreds of flights, though, go over war zones every single day. So have you been on one of them? It's going to surprise you what we have to show you. We have an OUTFRONT investigation.

Plus, for the first time, eyewitnesses are speaking about what they saw when Flight 17 crashed in eastern Ukraine.


BURNETT: Breaking news: U.S. government banning all flights to and from Israel's airport in Tel Aviv. Their reasoning is that a rocket launched by Hamas in Gaza struck a mile away from Ben-Gurion Airport today. Israel is urging the United States to stop the ban. The White House says it will not overrule the FAA.

This comes just days after the Malaysia jet was shot down in midair over a war zone in eastern Ukraine. All 298 people on board were killed in a horrific way.

There are dangerous fly zones around the world. Shockingly many passenger jets fly through them every single day.

So, why aren't they off limits for flights?

Rene Marsh has this OUTFRONT investigation.


RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When passengers boarded Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, they couldn't know they were flying over a battlefield. But hours later, 33,000 feet above east Ukraine, a missile ended their lives.

HUGH DUNLEAVY, COMMERCIAL DIRECTOR, MALAYSIAN AIRLINES: We followed that flight path accordingly. And it was accepted by the European air traffic control. And like many other airlines that had been flying that route for many, many weeks, and with hundreds of airlines passing that route every day, we believed it was safe to do so.

MARSH: It may shock you just how often planes fly over conflict zones. On the ground in Iraq, the terrorist group ISIS is seizing control, but above, a busy highway in the sky, with hundreds of flights. Every day, this includes American planes like Delta Flight 7 from Dubai to Atlanta. And over Afghanistan, United Flight 82 from Newark to Delhi, India.

(on camera): Well, here's the problem airlines face. Let's just say you're flying to the United States from either Dubai or India. If you look at the map, you almost have to fly over one of those high concern areas. It's either that or fly hours out of the way. And some say that is just not practical.

(voice-over): The FAA can ban U.S. flights in dangerous areas. After MH17 was shot down in eastern Ukraine, that area joined Crimea, North Korea, Northern Ethiopia, Libya and Somalia as off limits to U.S. aircraft. In Iraq, U.S. passenger planes can fly but only above 20,000 feet, out of range of most missiles.

Warnings in effect for eight other areas as well, such as Syria and Afghanistan. The threats include missiles and small arms fire, but airlines can fly there if they want.

TONY TYLER, CEO, INTERNATIONAL AIR TRANSPORT ASSOC.: But airlines have always had to make decisions about whether particular cities are safe to operate to.

MARSH: In fact, three days after MH17 was shot down in Ukraine, another Malaysian plane flying from Kuala Lumpur to London passed over the war-torn city of Homs in Syria.

The airline explained the decision to CNN's Richard Quest.

DUNLEAVY: It was designated as a safe flight corridor. In hindsight, my personal opinion is when I found out about it, we immediately contacted our flight operations guys and said, please take a closer look at these flight corridors.

MARSH: Congressman Duncan Hunter wants the FAA to be more aggressive in protecting U.S. airliners.

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: The FAA, if there was intelligence from our intel community or our military community, that the SA-11 was in the hands of some bad guys, the FAA should have been notified of this.

MARSH: But the U.S. transportation secretary defends the FAA's decision to allow flights in eastern Ukraine prior to the shoot down.

Rene Marsh, CNN, Washington.


BURNETT: OUTFRONT tonight: our aviation analyst Mary Schiavo, who served as inspector general at the Transportation Department, along with aviation analyst Les Abend, who's a commercial pilot, contributing editor of "Flying" magazine, flies the 777, and aviation correspondent Richard Quest, host of "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS."

So, Richard, let me start with you. You just heard in Rene's piece, commercial director of Malaysia Airlines, you spoke to him, Hugh Dunleavy, admitted to you to decision to fly over Syria to avoid Ukraine was a mistake.

But how did that mistake happen? RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think because the

flight planners in Kuala Lumpur, many miles away, they've got a route to take. They think, well, that's the route we're going to take. It's an open route.

It's back to what Tony Tyler was saying. You know, when they're planning the routes, you're talking about people who may be thousands of miles away from where the war is. A Delta planner sitting in New York or in Atlanta has to plan routes on the other side of the world.

Now, intelligence suggests, yes, they should know what's happening in Tel Aviv, but can they know what's happening in Yemen? Can they know Somalia? Or wherever else the airline may have to fly over? That's why you have to rely on the governments. To leave it to the airline, per se, I think is not their job.

BURNETT: It's an interesting point you make.

So, Mary, the former head of safety for the Australian airline, Qantas. Now, I want to emphasize, former head of airline safety, it was a security. They had, some, I'm sure, major airlines, they have someone whose job it is to know this, maybe not at all, but some of the big ones. His name is Ron Bartsch.

And he -- I want to quote him because he can kind of have an analogy. He said, "You can use the analogy of a policeman. They can't be there to tell you when to cross the road and when not to. It's up to individuals in the case of airs to make that assessment."

You know, he's saying Qantas for one regularly makes decision not to fly in areas that airline regulators say are fine.

So, is it true that the regulators sort of provide a minimum bar and the airlines are responsible for the rest. And if so, is that appropriate?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Yes. Yes, it is appropriate.

Remember, government regulations are a floor. The government says, you can't be in the business unless you do this, and it's in every kind of industry, agriculture to any other kind of industry, manufacturing.

This is our floor. You can go above it. You airline can be safer, you can be more secure. And, by the way, the position at Qantas does have to be at every major carrier. You must have those positions. So, airlines can be safer and they can be more safe if they choose to.

In fact, we litigated that in September 11 -- in the cases of September 11th, 2001. And the court said the regulations are the minimum. Airlines can choose to do more but they have to do the minimum.

BURNETT: And, Les, what do you make of that? Do pilots have any sense? You know, because Miles O'Brien was on the other day saying nothing in the world would have made him fly over this space. I mean, as a pilot, you're busy. Do you think about that?

LES ABEND, BOEING 777 CAPTAIN: We have a collaborative process with the dispatcher. Myself as the pilot, captain of the plane and the dispatcher, this dispatcher has a lot of the information. I can't get all of it, but we get a NOTAM form, notices to airman.

So, this information, whether it be intelligence information about air space, information about weather, it's all part of that process. If there's something that we see that says, hey, I don't like this, we make a phone call -- most of the time we get this electronically.

BURNETT: Has it ever crossed your mind?


BURNETT: I mean, keeping in mind, the FAA had had a ban on certain parts of the airspace in Ukraine through the spring.

ABEND: In my op-ed piece that I just put in, it was -- I used the word "inconceivable."

To me, the only threat that possibly would have been out there on a departure situation or an arrival with a MANPAD, because that was the mentality shortly after September 11th. None of us would have conceived that there was a missile that would have made it into the '70s in altitude.

QUEST: But both Mary and Les are making exactly -- are strengthening my argument, to some extent, because Les says the dispatcher would have to have the information. He wouldn't necessarily have to have it. And therefore, it's the government.

Mary says that the regulations have to be the floor, the minimum. Well, Mary, if the floor says it's safe -- yes, certain airline can choose to say we're going to have an abundance of safety. But you have to surely, Mary, be able to rely on that floor that's going to hold you up.

BURNETT: Interesting point.

SCHIAVO: Oh, but the floor was, the floor was 32,000 feet. And Malaysia originally asked for 35,000, they got 33,000. They could have chosen something else.

The floor does not guarantee you safety. The floor just says you can get in the air. You must comply with these regs to get in the air. That was a huge point for the 9/11 planes because they were warned just like here, but they didn't choose to do anything.

BURNETT: All right. Thanks to all. Thank you.

And still OUTFRONT, the biggest accusation against Russia. A Ukrainian official says a Russian official actually launched the missile. Didn't train, didn't help, didn't provide it, actually launched it. A top Democrat of the House Intelligence Committee is OUTFRONT to respond. And the people who saw Flight 17 go down. Witnesses to the crash speak out for the first time tonight, OUTFRONT.


BURNETT: Breaking news. Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 tonight, the most blunt accusation yet against Russia. A senior Ukrainian official tells CNN a Russian officer actually triggered the missile that struck MH17 murdering all 298 people on board.

U.S. intelligence officials say they cannot confirm who fired the missile and whether the Russian military was responsible for not. But Ukraine claims it has the evidence to prove it.


LAH: 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.


BURNETT: OUTFRONT tonight, a top Democrat in the Intelligence Committee, Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger. He's been briefed on the M17 crash.

Good to have you with us, Congressman.


BURNETT: You just heard that top Ukrainian officer talking to our Kyung Lah in Kiev, saying a Russian officer personally pushed that button to launch that missile deliberately. Do you think that's probable?

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, let me say this first, we are have an investigation and we hopefully will determine who fired that missile. At this time, though, we don't have the facts yet. It was classified, I couldn't tell you, but I don't have the facts.

But I wouldn't be surprised if there was a Russian who was involved.

BURNETT: All right. So, you wouldn't be surprised but you don't yet have the facts, important to know that it's not that it's classified. They honestly just don't know at this point, that you're saying that.

RUPPERSBERGER: At this point, we know it's out there. When you have an investigation the whole purpose is to get the facts, and then you come to your conclusions. At this point, we have some information, but we're trying to verify it. That's why we're investigating.

BURNETT: All right. People like Senator Schumer have said President Vladimir Putin has blood on his hands. Those were the words of Senator Schumer. Do you agree? Is Vladimir Putin directly responsible? Are you willing to say that at this point?

RUPPERSBERGER: Yes, I'll say it. First of all, I don't trust Putin. I think he has a tremendous ego. He cares about himself more than anything else, and then Russia. I think if you look at his past conduct, he's told untruth in order to make himself look good. He continues to be in denial on any serious situation against Russia.

Right now, we have a lot of evidence at this point showing Russia's involvement helping to train the people who can shoot these surface- to-air missiles. We know that right before the attack that they brought -- that Russia brought in over 150 tanks and surface-to-air missiles. We know that after the plane was shot down that there was media and -- milling about the fact that a Ukrainian separatist made a comment, that we shot someone down when they realized there wasn't a military Ukrainian plane, they took it away.


RUPPERSBERGER: I mean, look, the more you deny shows me the more that you probably are guilty.

BURNETT: So, Chuck Schumer uses the word blood on his hands, what is the words you would use?

RUPPERSBERGER: I would say that if he was in charge, if he was the individual who was responsible for these deaths, then he needs to be held accountable. And, you know, the unfortunate thing about this, if he would tell the truth and say they made a mistake, it's a horrific mistake, when people like die as a result of that mistake. But if he would at least admit it and say, this is an opportunity to stop what we're doing in Ukraine, try to come together and start working on some of these serious issues like Syria, and I think there's an opportunity.

But he's not doing that. He's in total denial and I do not trust him at this point at all.

BURNETT: So, if it is proven that the Russian military was involved and you then feel comfortable saying Vladimir Putin, what should the United States do about it? I mean, this is a tough situation. There are sanctions already on the table. They could get much, much tougher. No question about that.

But there are already a lot of sanctions on the table and the United States is certainly not going to war over this. So, what's left?

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, first thing, I didn't say Putin was directly responsible. In my opinion, I think he is.

Now, what happened right before this attack is that we came out with strong sanctions and that was good because Russia is being hurt by these sanctions. I think what we have to do right now, though, is to get the European Union more involved. You know, if Russia is not being impacted in negative way, because of the sanctions, Putin can continue to go on.

BURNETT: So, Congressman --

RUPPERSBERGER: So, I think the European Union has to stand strong.

BURNETT: But the E.U., I just want to quickly ask you about that. France says it's going to go ahead with the sale of the warship to Russia, because it already got the $1.5 billion for this warship. The ships are huge, 700 troops, 16 gunships, 50 armored vehicles. They're not going to give Russia they're not going to give the money back. They're going to go ahead with it.

Does that frustrate? Is France our (INAUDIBLE) ally?

RUPPERSBERGER: Extremely frustrating and that allows Putin to go forward and to continue to do the things he's doing. He's taking over another country. He's been involved with Iran. He's not a good person.

And yet we have the ability if we come together as a team, if we come together, the European Union, and United States and other countries, to punish Russia, it will be a deterrent so he will not continue to do the things he's doing now.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Congressman. Appreciate your time as always sir.


BURNETT: Now, OUTFRONT next, witnesses to the crash. For the first time, you're going to hear from people who saw Flight 17 fall from the sky.

And remembering the victims, a memorial service held at the crash site today.


BURNETT: Breaking news: a senior Ukrainian official tells CNN it was a Russian officer who pulled the trigger on the surface-to-air missile that blew Flight 17 from the sky. It has only been five days since that passenger jet was downed, but for many, in the rural area of Ukraine, who actually witnessed that airplane falling out of the sky, it is a day they will never forget.

Phil Black reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The debris of MH17 is scattered over a wide area, so is the trauma inflicted on local residents. In the nearby village of Rosepina (ph), the playground of an orphanage is empty and silent. The children who called this home are sent away because on July 17, they saw too much.

Valentina teaches here.

She says last Thursday, the children were all outside when there was an explosion.

She says the children started screaming. These are dead bodies.


BLACK: Valentina shows me where the body of a woman fell on the edges of the field where children were playing.

Another woman came down nearby and here she says the children saw the body of a boy hit the earth. She says they were terrified, some screamed, some just sat and cried.

MH17's cockpit now lies down the street. Valentina and other woman who work at the orphanage have been coming here with pictures of the children killed in the aircraft. They leave them toys, flowers for their parents. In this village showered in debris where people fell through ceilings and yards, people say they will never forget July 17.

The explosions, fear and bodies were like memories of the Second World War.

(on camera): As well as trauma, people feel relief and gratitude because no one on the ground was hurt by bodies or the huge pieces of debris which fell so close to their homes.

(voice-over): Near the main crash site of Hrabove, residents prayed for MH17's victims. These people are living through a civil war, but even they never expected to witness death on such an extraordinary scale.


BLACK: That civil war continued today with shelling on the northern outskirts of regional capital Donetsk. And you could also hear it at the crash site as well. That is where investigators begun their work for the very first time.

There are other international experts in Ukraine, but it's still unclear when they're going to get to the crash site itself, but when they do, they've got a big job. They're going to be working with wreckage, with evidence that has been traumatically altered during the last five days -- Erin.

BURNETT: Phil, what a beautiful told story and how hard it was to watch. I can imagine those children. Thank you.

And OUTFRONT next, remembering the victims of Flight 17. Around the world, people today were honoring those who were lost.


BURNETT: Since Flight 17 was shot down, a lot of focus has been on the cause of the crash, but in recent days, people have begun the process of mourning those who died on the crash and around the world. It really has been around the world. There have been makeshift memorials erected, everywhere from Kiev, to Kuala Lumpur, to the crash site itself, Amsterdam, to Moscow, flowers, teddy bears, notes of condolences left at airports and embassies to honor the victims.

And today, a memorial service was held at the crash site. And only a few dozen people were in attendance in the rural area, but it was a poignant moment, and the rest of the world mourns with them.

Anderson starts now.