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Plane With 116 On Board Crashes In Mali; Investigators Find Large Piece Of MH17's Fuselage; Freelance CNN Journalist Detained In Ukraine; Russian Troops Move Closer To Ukrainian Border; Sixteen Killed in Strike on U.N. Shelter in Gaza

Aired July 24, 2014 - 19:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Next breaking news, another plane, this one with 116 on board vanishes from radar. What caused it to crash and could anyone have survived?

Plus the investigation into the shootdown of Flight 17. The United States says there's new evidence that Russia plans to deliver more missiles to the rebels in Ukraine.

And a rocket hits a shelter in Gaza killing at least 16. The number could be much, much higher than that. Many of the wounded are children. The Israeli ambassador to the United States joins me. Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight the breaks news, desperate search under way for an Air Algerie flight that disappeared late last night with 116 on board. According to the airline based in Algeria, the flight cost contact with ground crews less than an hour after taking off from Burkina Faso in West Africa.

CNN has just confirmed the plane has crashed in Northern Mali, an area that we've seen firsthand on this program is home to al Qaeda-linked militants. Our Joe Johns is following that story for us. It's one of the many breaking stories we're covering around the world.

Phil Black is in Ukraine where there's no evidence of Russian troops building on the border and Karl Penhaul in Gaza to talk about the deadly explosion at a shelter. We'll get to everything in just a moment.

I want to begin though with the Algerian airliner. Joe Johns is live in Washington. Joe, what's the very latest that we know?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the latest guidance from authorities in Mali is that the plane went down in a city called Gou on the Niger River. Since that crash occurred in that country, Malian authorities are beginning to open their own investigation into the accident.


JOHNS (voice-over): At 1:17 a.m. Local time. Air Algerie flight left Ouagadougou bound for Algiers. It was about to be a four-hour flight, but 50 minutes after takeoff it disappeared over Mali close to a zone of ongoing conflict between Islamist rebels and the government. The FAA had warned pilots to stay above 25,000 feet to avoid becoming a target.

As of now there's no indication the plane was hit by a missile, but the early indications suggested bad weather in the area may have contributed to the crash. Air traffic controllers told the pilots to change course to avoid sand storms in a part of the world where conditions are breeding grounds for hurricanes.

The military chief of staff for the Burkina Faso Army. The plane expressly asked to change itinerary because of the bad weather. That may be a reason. Now there may be other hypothesis linked to that, but we cannot at this time venture in that direction. The plane had crashed about 70 kilometers or 45 miles from the south eastern city of Gou.

The plane a small staple in passenger jets was carrying at least 110 passengers plus six or seven crew. 50 of the people on board were reported to be from France, about 25 from Burkina Faso. Authorities listed other nationalities on board. None was American.


JOHNS: The plane apparently was missing for several hours before news of that disappearance was made public. No explanation of that so far -- Erin.

BURNETT: Joe Johns, thank you very much. The plane left Burkina Faso about 1:17 local time. Most of the flights there are night flights. They take off at that time. It was apparently missing for several hours though before news of the disappearance was made public.

A journalist in Ouagadougou, we're looking at pictures of the airport that we filmed when we were with you in Burkina Faso of the airport there in Ouagadougou. You were there today. What have you heard about how this plane went down?

QUEZEN OULON, JOURNALIST (via telephone): This morning nobody knew that something bad happened. In media. When we tried to go to the airport, the situation about the city who are aboard. And they had news of the plane and nobody knew what happened in night we're told that it was over Mali and the border.

BURNETT: So you can tell us tonight that they have found the wreckage on the southeast border and that was Burkina Faso which found it, right?

OULON: Yes. This is what the president of the committee, he said that a helicopter of Burkina Faso went all the way to the border with Mali and found this wreck age at the border of Burkina Faso and Mali.

BURNETT: Thank you very much. Oulon giving us the latest there. They've found that. Obviously no evidence of survivors, but they'll have to return in the morning to look. Joining me tonight, CNN aviation analyst, Miles O'Brien and our safety analyst, David Soucie. Miles, what are the odds that when rescuers get to this wreckage there could be survivors?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Probably pretty slim, frankly, Erin, given the nature of this. It appears they're at high altitude at cruise, a long plummet to earth. And statistically, it has happened -- there have been people who survived subpoena -- such things but very remote.

BURNETT: We emphasize this is a very dangerous part of the world. When we were there along that border, the rebels, the al Qaeda-linked militias had shoulder-fired weapons, RPGs, that air space is still prohibited by the FAA.

O'BRIEN: It is.

BURNETT: At this point everything points to it being weather. The pilots radioed in saying they were in weather. It does appear, no investigation yet, that's what will be what happened. What's going on in the cockpit?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN AVIATION SAFETY ANALYST: It was on their mind about what happened to MH-17. He's aware he's flying over this restricted area. We talked about risk management a lot. He's thinking about or she is thinking about this flight, where am I going, do I have to take this weather diversion, and if I take that, does it put me in a more risk-prone area?

So this has to be in their mind. Now when we talked about sandstorms a minute ago, that put a whole new element to this for me because of the fact that sandstorms can ingest into the engine.

BURNETT: Just disable it, right?

SOUCIE: Exactly or reduce the power significantly so it can't maintain altitude. In this case, it could be potentially survivable because the engines slowly lose -- we saw this a lot after the volcanoes up in the northwest when the ash was up in the air and the engines would start lose performance and they had to be rebuilt after that. When this sand gets into the engine, it can degrade performance.

Now we're talking about risk management not about in flight but the search and recovery of the aircraft, were there survivor, do you get there in time? Those are significant things to consider right now.

BURNETT: The plane asked to change its itinerary because of the bad weather. We want to show a satellite of the conditions at the time to show there was significant weather. We were there literally two years ago almost to the day. When those storms come through they're virulent and violent in a way that I've rarely seen anywhere. Whether there is truly weather. How bad would it have to be for a pilot to change course, for them to say don't take off?

O'BRIEN: Well, you never want to fly into that purple zone, which you see that aircraft apparently flying into. This is the Intratropical Convergence Zone. These are the worst thunderstorms on earth. These are massive thunderstorms that embedded with other massive thunderstorms and become these giant thunderstorms.

You'll recall Air France 447, which crashed in 2009 was flying in the Intertropical Convergence Zone, went into a thunderstorm and that started the chain of events. You never want to nigh into a thunderstorm. You want to fly around them. It was night time, was their weather radar working? You want to steer clear of them. This is a giant cell. There's hail, turbulence, a million reasons not to fly into them.

BURNETT: David, this is the second likely weather-related crash in two days. The one in Taiwan credited to a hurricane. We were talking about an experience I had in that very same zone. You plunge and everything flies and you have a moment of pure terror. Are people risking too much flying in bad weather? Are those risks taken every day?

SOUCIE: Let me explain a little bit about how the aircraft's designed first because I think that's important to understand. I used to work at Cessna Wallace Division. In that division, what our job was to test jet wings. So we'd take the wings and we'd try to break them. These wings would go almost to the point of touching at the top.

When you're flying in the aircraft and those wings move, they have to move. If they don't move, they would break off. I want to put everybody at ease. When you see the wings moving, people are nervous about that, but that's the shock absorbers for the aircraft. As far as structural failures, hardly any risk at all.

Very few accidents that have been caused in flight that have been caused in flight that haven't been recoverable. Air France and this one and there's one other that I did an investigation on as well that did have those problems. Very sophisticated systems now to tell us when you're flying through these things but this is a very unique situation.

BURNETT: And a question about training and what the reaction in the cockpit.

SOUCIE: There's no one cause.

BURNETT: Thanks to both of you. OUTFRONT next, a deadly strike at that shelter in Gaza where there were children. Israel, Hamas pointing the finger at each other. Israel's ambassador to the United States is out front. New details into the investigation of Malaysia Flight 17. New evidence presented of a Russian troop buildup along the border. What is Putin doing?

And 290 killed when the U.S. Navy shot down a commercial airliner in 1988. The U.S. Government refused to apologize.


BURNETT: OUTFRONT, breaking news out of Ukraine. This may be the largest intact piece of the wreckage. A part of the fuselage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 that was shot down one week ago by that missile, 298 lives lost. Many of the bodies have arrived in the Netherlands and are waiting to be identified. The search though for people on that plane is ongoing.

Today the European organization monitoring the crash scene found more signs of human remains. Tensions between Russia and Ukraine, though, you would think given all this, there would be at least some sort of a pretense or something, a cooling off, no, exactly the opposite.

Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has new information about what's happening. Barbara, pretty incredible that you would think there would at least about the facade of calm but not.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Not with these guys, Erin. I mean, today still the State Department offering some new intelligence about what is going on and what Vladimir Putin's Russian forces may be up to. Let's get right to it. Listen to what the State Department spokesperson had to say.


MARIE HARF, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: We have new evidence that the Russians intend to deliver heavier and more powerful multiple rocket launchers to the separatist forces in Ukraine and have evidence that Russia is firing artillery from within Russia to attack Ukrainian military positions.


STARR: Here at CNN, we've learned it actually goes much deeper than that. U.S. intelligence satellites and radars have been tracking Russian artillery firing into Ukraine for the last several days. They think at this point that what the Russians may be up to is trying to push back Ukrainian forces firing from their side of the border in Russia, they can deny the whole thing, push the government forces back on the Ukraine side and give the rebels, who have been a little bit on the run, room to get back in there and try and dominate what is going on.

We have a couple of pictures to show you, actually. This is what U.S. intelligence is scrutinizing right now. Photos like these that we can show you that show what they certainly do believe are Russian artillery pieces on the Russian side of the border very close aimed at firing into Ukraine and you see the empty artillery shells there -- Erin.

BURNETT: Pretty incredible they would do that on their side of the border knowing full well the United States could see it. All right, thanks very much to you, Barbara Starr.

The question is whether they think the United States will do anything about it. Pro-Russian separatists have detained a Ukrainian journalist who was working for us, for CNN. Anton Skiba was taken Tuesday evening outside a hotel in the rebel-controlled city of Donetsk.

He just returned from a day of work at the crash site with a CNN crew. Our correspondent, Phil Black was with Skiba when he was taken away by armed militants and he joins us know. Phil, I know you were trying to see if you can get him back and that was why you've waited to talk about this until now. What happened?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we'd returned, Erin, from our day at the MH-17 crash site. This location, this hotel as we were unloading our vehicle, that we were met by a large group of very heavily armed pro-Russian militants who were studying us very, very closely. In their company a man in civilian clothing with a photo. That photo was of Anton Skiba. They moved in very quickly, led him away. That was two days ago. We haven't seen him since.

BURNETT: What do they accuse him of doing?

BLACK: Well, as we tried to intervene as all of this was taking place, we approached these men, spoke to them. What they made were allegations against Anton Skiba. They said that, "he was a dangerous man," that's a quote. They said that he is a terrorist. Since then as we have engaged with the leadership of the pro-Russian militants here, they've said that he may be a Ukrainian government agent. Those are the allegations made against him.

We only worked with him for a little over 24 hours, but he is well known to international journalists here as a freelancer who has been working with media here throughout this conflict. So there are a lot of international journalists here who know him, trust him and are now very, very worried about his well-being.

Indeed so human rights groups, journalist protection groups even the U.S. State Department has issued a statement asking for him to be released -- Erin.

BURNETT: We hope you're telling this story will move them to do the right thing. Thank you, Phil. Joining me now Retired Air Force General Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA and the NSA.

Thank you very much, General, for being with us. The detained journalist that you just heard us reporting on, Anton Skiba, who has been detained by pro-Russian rebels, why do you think they did this? And do you think given who they are and what they have been known to do, that he will be released and be safe and healthy?

GENERAL MICHAEL HAYDEN, U.S. AIR FORCE (RETIRED): On balance, I do, and I don't want to be Pollyannaish about this, Erin. There's really no interest in them for keeping him for a long time or doing any harm to him. But you have to keep in mind, these guys are pretending to be an army. They're not. They're a mob. They are under very loose control of any control at all.

So what you might have here is a local faction doing whatever it is they want to do. Look, I saw a lot of this in Bosnia in the 1990s where the quote/unquote "Bosnian Serb military" spent an awful lot of time being drunk rather than being disciplined.

BURNETT: A very interesting point. As some have alleged that was the situation with the rebels as this missile was fired at MH-17. I want to ask you about something very central to this entire situation and that is the footage of what appears to be the missing BUK missile. We've all seen this, our viewers have all seen this. It's been presented as evidence, but look, Russia gave this BUK to the Ukrainian rebels. Now you see the BUK leaving Ukraine and going back to Russia and one of the missiles is missing.

There are now though questions, some are saying, look, was this video actually filmed last week or actually much earlier and not related to the shootdown at all. That's really crucial because this the holy grail of evidence against the Russians. Do you find it convincing?

HAYDEN: Look, I find the totality of evidence overwhelming, Erin. Look, you use the word "evidence" and I understand this is a crime scene. It is an atrocity. The president talked Monday to Putin about, in essence, roping off the crime scene so we can do forensics, but that's important but put that aside for the moment.

Erin, we have incontrovertible intelligence that the Russian Federation under Putin has decided to use its armed forces to overthrow the post-Cold War security structure, security architecture in Europe. We know that. At the political and policy level, we have to act on that, let the evidence and the forensics thing find its own weight and its own course. This is the important thing.

BURNETT: So MH-370, the other Malaysian airliner that went down, at the time people said why isn't the United States looking across the Indian Ocean with all the intelligence assets it has. The answer was the United States is looking at the Ukraine border and that's where U.S. assets are focused. That's why perhaps it isn't surprising this week the United States said look, we know Russia's putting more weapons into Ukraine.

And they're actually giving the rebels the same weapons the Ukrainian military has so the rebels can't be blamed when horrible things happen so all that make sense. But then also this week, the U.S government put out a strange statement, General. They said, we didn't know that they had a BUK until after this missile was shot down.

They knew everything else they had, is that possible or is the U.S. trying to say -- U.S. embarrassed that it didn't raise a flag that this weapon was in rebel possession? And it looks like that shot just froze. Let me see, do we have it back? Hold on, I'm just waiting, everybody, give me one second because I know the answer to that question is very important. I think I hear you. General? No. All right.


BURNETT: General Hayden, sorry, did you hear my whole question?

HAYDEN: I did. Can you hear --

BURNETT: No, all right. OK. We're going to get that back and we're going to come back to that because I do think it's an important answer to get. We'll take a quick break here. We'll take a quick break. Sorry, everybody, live television. I don't want to waste more time.

The breaking news on what's on in Gaza. We've got the ambassador from Israel to the United States coming on and the 1988 situation when the United States shot down a passenger jet with 298 innocent souls on board. The U.S. didn't apologize for shooting it down. All of that still to come.


BURNETT: Breaking news out of Ukraine. I want the show you the latest news that we have in right now, which is a picture of the largest piece of wreckage, a fuselage from Flight 17, which was shot down a week ago by that surface-to-air missile. U.S. officials are now telling our Barbara Starr there is more evidence of Russian troops building up along the border of Ukraine.

General Michael Hayden joins me again. General Hayden was saying he thought the evidence against the Russians at this point was overwhelming. General, I want to ask you this question about what the United States knew and when it knew it. The United States, by all accounts, all of the intelligence assets have been looking on this Ukraine/Russia border for quite some time.

In fact, so much so that the U.S. wasn't able to look in the Indian Ocean very heavily for Flight 370. We know Russia has been sending missiles and other weapons to the rebels and they've been sending ones that the Ukrainian military also has so the rebels could get away with doing things and blaming it on the Ukrainian military.

And then at the same time, the United States said, but there is one thing we didn't know about, we didn't know they had a BUK until after they shot down a commercial jet. Do you believe they didn't know or is the U.S. somewhat embarrassed that they knew and didn't raise a flag?

HAYDEN: No, I think they are being very truthful here. A couple of points, Erin, number one, these satellite systems were launched in the era of the Cold War. They're optimized for the northern hemisphere not the southern hemisphere. That's why they weren't much use for the other Malaysian Airliner.

Now with regard to last week's events, I'm a little surprised too that we've admitted we didn't know that the BUK system was there until the launch. The most logical explanation of that is simply they hadn't turned the radar on until that point because they knew we were focusing on that area.

But look, when they go to try to take a shot at the Malaysian Airliner, they've got the track the airliner, they've got to track their missile and they've got to send command signals to their missile. Those are three signals that we would pick up and be able to geo locate to a fairly precise position.

We also would have seen the aircraft explode because of the heat signature. This stuff is good enough, Erin, that we would have seen the plume from the missile because it was creating heat also. I don't think there's any doubt as to what happened last week.

BURNETT: All right, so you believe the United States when they say that. What about Putin himself, all these reports, Barbara Starr saying look there is more weapons, more troops on the border, firing from actually inside Russia. These are brazen acts. And theories out there are either Vladimir Putin is positive Europe is going to do nothing to stop him and the United States is going to be a bit of a eunuch about this, or that Vladimir Putin is actually losing power himself, and this situation is beyond his control and that could be much, much scarier.

Which do you think it is?

HAYDEN: Well, there's a sequence here. You saw what he did in the Crimea -- illegal but quite masterful. And then I think he began to fear he was losing control of his proxies in the Ukraine. Remember the big riots in Odessa where 40 people were killed? He went a little quiet then, reduced the number of troops on the border, even said a few positive things about the Ukrainian government.

And then in late June, early July, the Ukrainians got their military act together. They began to push against the separatists. They had very good military success. And this part now, Erin, I'm making up a bit, but --

BURNETT: All right, looks like we just lost the general again. But at least he was able to answer those questions. I'm sorry we lost him there.

I do want to, though, move on to the breaking news that we're following out of Israel -- a deadly strike on a school housing refugees. This was in Gaza.

Tonight, at least 16 people have been killed, more than 200 injured after explosions hit a school which was serving as a U.N. shelter for families escaping the ongoing violence.

Images from the scene of this attack are horrifying. You see pools of blood. And when you see those they're horrifying and they're sobering, and then you remember that they are probably from children.

It is still unclear who was responsible. The Israeli military says it's investigating, suggests a Hamas rocket could be to blame. The Palestinians called the strike, quote, "brutal aggression" from Israel.

Karl Penhaul is OUTFRONT from Gaza City.

And, Karl, you were there and you saw that. You've seen so many things around the world. I'm sure, though, this is something you won't forget.

Is there any indication of who did it?

KARL PENHAUL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's stumped us a little bit, as you say, both sides playing the blame game. What we saw there on the ground, and we went back to the school about three hours after it had been evacuated to see if we could get any evidence about what caused this blast. There was a small blast area on the ground. It wasn't very deep. It

was only about an inch deep, nothing to speak of in terms of the large crater or anything.

We saw shrapnel that had pockmarked the walls of the school from a very few inches off the ground right up to 25-foot in the air. The blast radius looked to be 30 to 35 yards around but unclear what type of weapon would be used. Also, on that front, unclear who would have fired that weapon.

Now, we know that the Israeli military suggested that possibly this was a Hamas rocket that misfired. Our security consultants tell us if it had been a rocket, we could expect to find rocket parts at the blast site. We did not find any rocket parts at the blast site, nor could we find -- we saw signs that shrapnel had whacked into the walls but we couldn't find conclusive evidence on what kind of shrapnel.

Nothing I could describe as commercially made military shrapnel. The Israeli military says they will investigate. The U.N. says they will call for a full report, Erin.

BURNETT: Karl, thank you.

And now, Israel's ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer.

And, Ambassador Dermer, thank you for being with us tonight.


BURNETT: Obviously, this is -- you know, what happened here is horrific and we don't yet even know the scale of how many children may have died. Initial reports indicate that at least 16 are dead. And the initial reports that this attack had come from Israeli tanks. As you know, the Israeli military said it may have come from Hamas and a rocket which misfired.

Do you know at this point? Do you have any more certainty?

DERMER: No, I don't know. But I do know who is responsible for it. That's Hamas because they're using schools as weapons depots. And I think it would be a disservice to your viewers for a reporter from Gaza not to mention that last week, we had two different U.N.-run schools where we had actually rockets found in the schools and handed over to Hamas.

I also think it's a disservice --

BURNETT: These are two different U.N. schools you're saying?

DERMER: That's correct. That's publicly available information. It's kind of an important fact for your reporter to mention.

And in addition to that, he might have wanted to mention a statement that was made by -- not by the Israeli ambassador, not by a spokesman of the IDF, but by the U.N. secretary general yesterday. And I want to read you what he said yesterday, not last year, yesterday.

He said, "The secretary general is alarmed to hear that rockets were placed in a U.N.-run school in Gaza and subsequently these have gone missing." He expresses his outrage and regret at the placing of weapons in a U.N.-administered school. By doing so -- now listen, Erin, exactly what he says. -- by doing so, those responsible are turning schools into potential military targets and endangering the lives of innocent children. U.N. employees working in such facilities and anyone using the U.N. schools as shelter. This is yesterday.

Do you not think that it's relevant to report on CNN that the secretary general of the United Nations yesterday warned against the use of U.N. schools and shelter for rocket missile depots of Hamas?

BURNETT: Ambassador, it is relevant. And let me ask you this --


DERMER: Well, I've been listening -- Erin, I've been listening to two hour of reports on CNN. I have seen split screens, horrible pictures, horrible pictures that any decent human being would be horrified by. I've not heard a single person say what I just said to you now.

And I think that that does a disservice to your viewers to not give them the context they need to make these judgments.

Hamas is placing missile batteries in schools, in hospitals, in mosques, and there must be outrage by the world at Hamas to end this.

BURNETT: But ambassador, there is also -- there is also this, which is -- and this is the latest information we have. That Israel, you did reach out to the U.N. three days ago. You told them to evacuate the school because of what you just said.

DERMER: That's right.

BURNETT: But here's my question and the reason that we're showing these pictures because these are dead children. Would Israel have taken the time to confirm that those children were out of the school before you fired, send someone in to look or do you think it's OK that you issued the warning and then just went ahead and fired --


DERMER: Well, I think what you just -- I think you have no basis for making the statement that you just made. Of course, we wouldn't fire directly. But I don't know what happened at that school.

What I understand is we gave people days to get out of that area. This is in the northern Gaza Strip. There's a good chance that it may have been a Hamas rocket that hit it. I don't know if somebody fired, a Hamas fighter fired directly at that school at our military who is operating there, and then we responded to fire -- I don't know the facts.

I do know that there's children and I don't blame the media. Don't get me wrong. I'm not blaming the media for showing the picture. What I'm blaming the media is for not connecting the dots. The dots point to the responsibility of Hamas for using schools as weapons depots and caches for Hamas. It's unacceptable and the outrage of the world has to be turned on Hamas.

This is the secretary general of the United Nations speaking yesterday, yesterday warning this could happen.

BURNETT: All right. Ambassador Dermer, thank you very much.

DERMER: Thank you.

BURNETT: And still OUTFRONT, American lawmakers demanding retribution against Russia for Flight 17. Did you know, though, that the United States Navy once did the exact same thing? Three hundred people were shot down.

And will the victims of MH17 ever see justice? Prosecuting those responsible, how hard will be? A special OUTFRONT investigation.


BURNETT: Coffins containing the remains of as many as 74 people who died on Flight 17 arrived in Netherlands from Ukraine today. They followed the first 40 caskets, which were flown in yesterday and greeted by a somber tribute across that country that was seen around the world.

Lawmakers, courts and family members will now attempt to seek justice. But unfortunately, that could be incredibly difficult.

Deborah Feyerick has our investigation.


MARY KAY STRATIS, LOST HUSBAND ON PAN AM 103: We'll bake a lemon cake on his birthday no matter where we are.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mary Kay Stratis feels the pain of families who lost their loved ones on Malaysia Air Flight 17.

STRATIS: It was life changing for me and for my children certainly.

FEYERICK: Stratis lost her husband on Pan Am Flight 103 which exploded over Scotland 25 years ago. A dozen years later, she saw the Lockerbie bombers brought to trial.

STRATIS: It was a sense of justice because facts were presented and proven to be true.

FEYERICK: No one right now is taking responsibility for shooting down Flight 17, not the Russians, not the Ukrainians, not the rebels of Donetsk.

Amidst the grief, families are left wondering if and when justice will ever be done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There isn't a shortage of courts that could try those who are deemed to be responsible.

FEYERICK: Courts in Ukraine, Netherlands and Malaysia could establish jurisdiction as could Russia, but that means first identifying who gave the order and who shot the plane down in Ukrainian territory.

In the bombing of Pan Am 103, a hybrid court tried two Libyan perpetrators under Scottish law in the Netherlands.

JUSTIN GREEN, AVIATION ATTORNEY: They should make the people who do this pay.

FEYERICK: Justin Green is an international aviation lawyer handling civil cases.

(on camera): If you were a family member and you wanted to make a point, would you sue Vladimir Putin? Would you sue the Russian government? Would you sue this former hedge fund guy, Alexander Borodai, who's now the prime minister of this rebel region?

GREEN: Well, first thing is you'd want to sue Malaysia Airlines, because that's -- your legal rights against Malaysia airlines is well- defined by the law.

FEYERICK (voice-over): The Montreal Convention limits the airline's liability to about $150,000 per person, unless the airline is found negligent.

GREEN: The burdens on the airlines to say, look, it was not negligent to fly over the war zone. We would go in and say, look, other airlines have decided not to fly over this troubled zone.

FEYERICK: If found responsible, possible reparations by President Putin or the self-declared Prime Minister Borodai and their respective countries are unlikely.

Britain has threatened to freeze billions in Russian assets, which could be used as potential leverage.

After the Lockerbie tragedy, Libya ultimately paid families of Pan Am 103 so that crushing sanctions against them would be lifted.

After the U.S. Navy shot down an Iran air passenger plane in 1988, America paid the families without ever accepting formal responsibility.

But who will step forward now?

GREEN: It's not really a legal liability. It's a public relations or political liability.

FEYERICK: As for Pan Am widow Mary Kay Stratis, for her and families of those on MH17 --

STRATIS: If there are still questions out there, then that's pursuing justice and we won't give up. We will never give up.

FEYERICK: The bodies not just buried and justice a long way off.

Deborah Feyerick, CNN, New York.


BURNETT: Next, the United States shot down a commercial plane, 290 people lost their lives. And the U.S. never apologized. That story is next.


BURNETT: And now a quick check in with Anderson Cooper with a look at what's coming up on "AC360" -- Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, Erin, a lot more on the breaking news tonight. All the late developments of the devastating crash of another commercial airline, the Air Algerie Flight 5017, which crashed in the desert in northern Mali. You've been covering it. Fifty to 116 onboard were French. Our reporter in Paris has the latest of French efforts to locate the wreckage.

Also, more information on the intentional downing of MH17 over Ukraine. My interview with the Dutch prime minister. I pressed him about how much responsibility Vladimir Putin bears for the tragedy.

Also, Dr. Sanjay Gupta and forensic pathologist Judy Melinek are here to discuss the difficult task of identifying the bodies.

Also, all the latest from Gaza and Israel. That at the top of the hour, Erin.

BURNETT: All right, Anderson. Looking forward to seeing you in just a few moments.

And now, breaking news, the largest piece of wreckage belonging to Malaysia Flight 17 has been found. You are looking at it here. It was a measure piece of the fuselage, twisted and turned as you can see. This plane, of course, is just evidence of how violent and sudden and horrific that act was.

MH17, though, is not the first passenger jet shot out of the sky. Six other planes have been downed over the past several decades by missiles. Among the deadliest was Iran Air Flight 655. That involves the United States Navy.

George Howell has more.


GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The images we're seeing now, 298 victims of a passenger plane shot out of the sky, it's happened before. July 3rd, 1988, what was supposed to be a short roughly 30-minute flight from Iran to Dubai ended in tragedy. Two hundred ninety innocent passengers became victims to on going tensions in the region. Iran air flight 655 mistakenly shot down by the American Navy ship, the USS Vincennes.

KARIM PAKRAVAN, NATIONAL IranIAN AMERICAN COUNCIL: Well, certainly, it was a shock because the Russians had just shot down Korean passenger plane a few months before and the U.S. had never done that. So, it was shock and disbelief, certainly.

HOWELL: And just as we're seeing today, the incident back then sparked international outrage, finger-pointing and controversy, all of it directed at the United States.

MARK GREEN: It seems likely there was an inadvertent tragic mistake. Given the circumstances, why shouldn't the United States pay reparations to the families who have these lost ones?

ALEXANDER HAIG, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Mark, were you out there banging for reparations when our hostages were held against their will for so many months.

HOWELL: Officials claimed the U.S. Navy ship acted in self-defense, in international waters, firing two surface-to-air missiles at what was thought to be an enemy war plane.

GORGE H.W. BUSH, THEN-U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: I'm not going to dignify with a response to the charge that we deliberately destroyed Iran Air 655.

HOWELL: Even the then-vice president and presidential candidate, George H.W. Bush, stood rigged saying, quote, "I will never apologize for the United States. I don't care what the facts are. I'm not an apologize-for-America kind of guy."

Despite the enormous loss of civilian life, military leaders defended the action.

ADM. WILLIAM CROWE, FORMER CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Captain Rogers acted reasonably and did what his nation expected of him, in a defense of his ship and crew.

HOWELL: The tragedy happened at a time of heightened tensions, during the Iran-Iraq war. The USS Vincennes was then assigned to the Persian Gulf to help support friendly shipping.

Iran condemned the attack, claiming the U.S. acted negligently in firing missiles, marking yet another negative milestone between the two countries.

PAKRAVAN: For Iranian leaders, especially for Khomeini, it was an indication the U.S. might really openly come into war with Iran, on the side of Iraq, and that's essentially led him to the conclusion he had to end the war.

HOWELL: Years later, the United States did agree to pay more than $60 million to the victims' families for the downing of Iran Air Flight 655, though never fully admitting responsibility, or apologizing for what happened.

George Howell, CNN, Chicago.


BURNETT: I want to bring in CNN senior political analyst and former presidential advisor David Gergen.

David, no doubt, you were -- you know, intermittently aware with -- of all of this and how it went down. But interestingly, George Howell said, the United States never fully apologized, never really admitted to doing this. It sounds a lot like what we're seeing now from Russia on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It does. I think it's important to point out the United States has generally had a record as a benevolent super power, but we've made mistakes and this is one of them.

There are some striking similarities between this and what will appear to happen to Ukraine and that is of a commercial jet flies into a war zone area is mistaken as a fighter and is shot down by a missile and everybody dies. There was some 290 on each plane and a lot of children on each plane.

But the mistake the United States made -- with the accidental firing, that was not a mistake. That happens in war zones. The mistake was in lying about it afterwards, telling the world we had nothing to do with it, basically wasn't us, and, you know, we falsified the record and never as you have pointed out, never took full responsibility.

Having said all that, Erin, I do think there is one distinction that needs to be made.


GERGEN: And that is back then, our ship was in the Persian Gulf because there was a conflict going on between Iran and Iraq, and we were trying to protect the oil lanes so that oil would flow freely to the rest of the world and keep the economy going. We were not there to stir up trouble.

And that's just the opposite of what was going on with these separatists where Putin and the Russians were there to set -- to stir up trouble and sent them the missiles in order to stir up trouble.

BURNETT: Would the United States, though, admit and do it differently now? Because you can see how if you're Vladimir Putin and a lot of people around the world, the United States does these things and looks at everyone else and says you shouldn't do them and it's a hypocrisy that makes people very angry.

GERGEN: I agree with that and if anything, I think we should be a little more humble about the way we speak about things, not condemn as easily as we did or have done here. I think we need to be less self- righteous sometimes because we have done things in our past that are entirely fair or good. But, Erin, that does not excuse what the Russians have done here and what these separatists have done here. We should not make that mistake. Action is still needed to put Putin and his thugs back in their cage.

BURNETT: Right. Thank you very much, David Gergen.

GERGEN: Thank you.

BURNETT: And we're going to be right back.


BURNETT: Tomorrow on OUTFRONT, a desperate search for answers. You may remember that this week, we spoke to the parents of Fatima Dyczynski, a German aerospace engineer. She was flying home to see her parents when Flight 17 was shot out of the sky. She was only 25 years old. She was an aspiring astronaut.

Now, her parents going against advice of security officials, they are going to the crash site in Ukraine.

OUTFRONT is with them on their journey. That is tomorrow at 7:00, a special report.

Thanks for watching. Anderson is next.