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CNN Today

Alaska Airlines Flight 261: Investigators Continue Search for Flight Data Recorder; Victims' Families Head to Beach Near Crash Site to Mourn

Aired February 3, 2000 - 2:00 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: It is, perhaps, the best break yet for those investigating the Alaska Airlines crash. Flight 261's voice recorder from the cockpit, plucked from the Pacific Ocean, now is in Washington. Investigators hope it will provide the key to Monday's disaster. Still missing, however, is the plane's flight data recorder.

CNN's Carl Rochelle joins us now from the search outpost at Port Hueneme, California with the latest.

Carl, how's the search going for the flight data recorder?

CARL ROCHELLE, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Lou, it's not going so well. They found the pinger. Unfortunately, the pinger was separated from the second "black box," the flight data recorder. And we heard at a news conference just a little while ago in Washington, Chairman Jim Hall of the National Transportation Safety Board was complaining that the pingers had separated in a number of recent crashes. We know both of them separated in the EgyptAir 990 crash, and some previous crashes...

WATERS: We have some digital problems there, as you can tell. We'll get to Charles -- to Carl Rochelle out there in Port Hueneme when the technology allows us to.

Natalie, what's next?

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, it appears certain now that all 88 passengers and crew died. And for some families, the healing process requires a firsthand look at where their loved ones died. Dozens this hour are leaving Los Angeles for a lonely beach near the crash site to mourn and to say goodbye.

CNN's Don Knapp is with them -- Don.

DON KNAPP, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, we are in front of the Renaissance Hotel just outside Los Angeles International Airport. On the other side of the hotel out of our camera range, probably right now, or very shortly, most if not all 150 family members, who are members of the victims' families who have been staying at the hotel, will get on buses for the brief ride to Point Mugu Naval Air Station where they will have some private time on a beach. Point Mugu is probably about 12-15 miles from the place where Flight 261 went in and where it's believed most of the bodies still remain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS THOMAS, AMERICAN RED CROSS: A beach visit is set up for today on a coastal site where family members will be transported to see the ocean, to walk on the beach, to grieve, to share stories about their family members, to do whatever they like. And in that setting, you know, they will be able to honor and cherish their loved ones that they lost.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KNAPP: For some of those families, the loss of more than one loved one just complicates and makes the misery beyond belief. The Ost family lost five.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): Television pictures of the Alaska Airlines plane crash confirmed one families worst fears:

JANIS OST FORD, FAMILY MEMBER: I lost five people on this crash: My brother, Bob Ost and my mother, Jeanne Permison, my sister-in-law Ileana, their new baby, Emily Ost, who was 4 months old, and my mother's companion of about 10 years, Charlie Russell.

KNAPP: Janis Ford's brother, Bob Ost, was a San Francisco firefighter, his wife a Horizon Airlines employee. The family was returning from a brief Mexican vacation.

GREGORY FORD, FAMILY MEMBER: Bob was one of the best practical jokers I had ever met in my life and had the best jokes. Great with magic, he was a very playful person, and great with kids. Ileana was the sweetest woman that I had ever met, and their baby was beautiful.

KNAPP: These four family members say talking helps them deal with their anguish.

G. FORD: I have visions of what it may have been like on the airplane from the time they knew there was trouble to the time of impact, and have a hard time understanding, believing what actually happened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a terrible tragedy. One would have been too much. For it to be five, is -- can't even describe it.

KNAPP: The tragedy, says Janis, is a painful reminder of what's really important in life.

OST FORD: Love your families because you always think this stuff happens to other people, and you better just cherish your family members.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KNAPP: Clinical psychologists have talked to us about family members. They say that what would be very helpful now would be a memorial service. This is not a memorial service the family members are going to today, it's just a chance for them to get on the beach and to look at the crash site and perhaps talk among themselves. A memorial service is scheduled, we believe, for Saturday. Whether it will take the form of a trip out on a boat to the crash site or whether it will be on the beach, we have yet to learn.

Reporting live, Don Knapp, CNN, Los Angeles.

WATERS: And before Don was reporting, we were live with Carl Rochelle. We had a bit of a digital glitch when Carl was telling us that the pinger had been separated from the flight data recorder, which I imagine, Carl, now that we have you back on the line, is vitally important to this investigation.

ROCHELLE: It makes it more difficult, Lou, in quantum leaps to try to find it without the pinger on it because now they're looking for an object that's about so big in the water with side-scan sonar at a depth of 700 feet. Good news is they've got the cockpit voice recorder, they got it back to Washington, they have opened it up, looked at it, played the tape -- the sound is good, the quality is good -- and they have learned some valuable information from it. We heard that news just a few moments ago from National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Jim Hall.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM HALL, NTSB CHAIRMAN: The crew had difficulty controlling the airplane's tendency to pitch nose-down. The airplane descended, but the crew was able to arrest the descent. The crew continued troubleshooting and preparing the airplane for landing, then control was suddenly lost. The crew made references to being inverted that are consistent with the witness statements to that effect.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROCHELLE: Being inverted simply means the plane was upside down. That is what they were talking about. We know the problem continued for more than a half hour because there's more than a half hour of the audio tape of the crew discussing what the problem is. It got worse; apparently so badly that it got them out of control.

Pingers are a serious question. Jim Hall raised the question because the pingers separated from one of these boxes, the flight data recorder. It separated from the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder in EgyptAir 990. Chairman Hall says that he's going to try to get his experts to put out some rules to try to bolt those things to the boxes because the older standards let them stay away from it. the pinger is that round cylindrical-looking device that is attached to it by a laniard (ph). It came off. That's what makes it more difficult to find.

They are working on that. They would like to have that so they can compare it with the flight data recorder of that American Airlines MD-83 out of Phoenix yesterday that had to make an emergency landing because of a stabilizer trim problem on it. That landing went safely. They've got the flight data recorder back in Washington. They want to compare the two for any additional information it will give them.

It sounds a little difficult, Lou, but it is moving forward -- Lou.

WATERS: All right, Carl Rochelle keeping track of the search- and-recovery effort out there on the Southern California coast. He's in port Hueneme today.

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