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CNN Today

Alaska Airlines Flight 261: Coast Guard, NTSB Expected to Offically End Search for Survivors

Aired February 2, 2000 - 1:01 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: We may learn more about the crash of Alaska Airlines Flight 261 and the search for survivors within the next few minutes. We're awaiting a National Transportation Safety Board briefing, which the Coast Guard will be joining in just a few minutes.

CNN's Carl Rochelle is at Port Hueneme, California where that briefing will take place. Carl has been following this story closely and has the latest on the crash.

CARL ROCHELLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, the briefing will take place in this building right behind me, and we are waiting for them to start. We expect them to start soon. And one of the things that we expect, according to sources that I have talked to this morning, is for them to move this operation from a search-and-rescue operation to a search-and-recovery operation. That would mean that, officially, they had given up the hope of finding any survivors from the crash. It's a hope that waned very early on because of the chilliness of the water and the devastating effect of the crash into the waters off the coast of California. But that may be declared officially, and that would shift the focus of this more to the recovery operation and getting things out of the water.

I can tell you that the Kelly Chouest, which is the sister ship of the Carolyn Chouest, the salvage ship that was operating off of Nantucket in the EgyptAir 990 crash, is being brought in. It is here at Port Hueneme this morning. It is going to be readied up to go out. It does have a remotely operated vehicle, one of those dive-type devices that goes under water with remote cameras, little arms that it can look for those "black boxes," the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data reporter.

One of the areas they're seriously going to be looking at in addition to the "black boxes" is the tail section of the aircraft to determine what was happening back there in the trim stabilizer, why it was jammed, why it wasn't working properly. The FAA has put out an airworthiness directive that tells the airlines that they need to inspect the hinges and some lug screws in that area at the next area of inspection. They had -- the airlines had 18 months to do that. My understanding is that the chairman of Alaska Airlines said this plane had not had the inspection yet, but was scheduled to have it later on this year. Now, there is also a problem on an American Airlines plane with trim stabilizers this morning. We are told that an American Airlines flight from Phoenix, Arizona to Dallas, Texas had some kind of trim stabilizer problem after it departed Phoenix this morning, declared an emergency and turned and flew back in and landed at Phoenix, on the ground, everything OK there. But the point is, when you have some sort of malfunction in an aircraft, the crews are doubly conscious. Anything that shows up in that particular area, they take immediate steps, not that -- it may have a problem; let's get it on the ground and deal with the problem there. Something they are looking into. And there is an airworthiness directive out on that particular device.

Now, the National Transportation Safety Board, Lou, may be getting some more information because Jim Hall, the chairman of the NTSB, told CNN this morning they have tapes of conversations between the crew of the Alaska Airlines flight and the maintenance base.

Now, what that is all about is when the crew discovers that they have a problem, they first report it to the authorities, the air traffic controllers, so that they can deal with it as an emergency, and then usually they will call the maintenance base and get the mechanics for the airline on the line and discuss the problem with this. This is, of course, assuming that they have time to do that.

And I actually have a personal experience: I was riding jump seat on a 727 one time when we had an emergency, declared an emergency, and I watched as the crew pulled out the book, called up the company frequency on the radio and discussed the problem with them and took action. In my case, it turned out not to be an emergency but just a faulty gauge. But that is information that they will have, Lou, that they can factor into this investigation -- Lou.

WATERS: And, Carl, about that MD-80 on the ground now in Phoenix, you mentioned the crews are doubly aware because of the Alaska Air disaster. Can we also assume that maintenance crews are doubly aware? Do they have to wait for this AD, this airworthy directive, to take effect a certain time frame before they take a look at those stabilizers?

ROCHELLE: No, Lou, they could start at any time from the time it comes out. They had 18 months of which to comply with it. But remember, the airworthiness directive says, inspect for corrosion and repair it. Not that there is corrosion there, but they should inspect, and if they find corrosion, then they should repair it. So it's just a look at this point.

WATERS: All right, Carl Rochelle in Port Hueneme, outside the building where that news conference with the NTSB, which is about 24 hours now into its investigation of Alaska Flight 261, is about to get underway. When that happens, we'll get to it live.

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