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Singapore Airlines 747 Crashes in Taiwan; Pilot Reports Hitting an Object on the Runway

Aired October 31, 2000 - 2:40 p.m. ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: The other top story we're following developments on: Singapore Airlines Flight 6 out of Taipei, Taiwan en route to Los Angeles has crashed just seconds after takeoff, according to witnesses. The pilot saying that, the pilot of the plane, hit something as it was taxiing down the runway or after it just had lifted off. That is unknown -- as this investigation will go forward.

Here are the latest numbers we have as far as injuries and deaths: A reporter in Taiwan tells us 47 people confirmed dead, 68 injured, 16 people have been treated and released, 48 people still unaccounted for. Whether they're injured or dead or have left the scene, we just don't know. We continue to keep close tabs with the correspondent bringing us information there in Taiwan. We also expect to hear again from Singapore Airlines spokespeople out of Los Angeles in just a few minutes. An hour ago, they promised they would get back to reporters in another hour and try to bring more information.

Let's talk with CNN correspondent Carl Rochelle, who is also a pilot, and can talk with us about what you have heard from other witnesses from this air disaster today.

Carl, that has to be quite an advantage, that investigators will have so many witnesses to talk with.

CARL ROCHELLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is true, Natalie, and of course, they will pay attention to what they said. One of the -- one of the points that John Diaz -- and you may recall Jeanne Meserve and I talked with John Diaz, one of the survivors of the crash, oh, about three hours ago -- and he said that when the plane was taking off, he felt a bump. He felt like the airplane had hit something. He was up in the forward cabin area, up toward the front part of the airplane, and he said that he felt something like a bump.

And I asked him about the engines, whether the engines seemed to be developing full power, if he heard them throttle back or anything. And he said that the engines did appear to be developing full power right up to the point.

Now, were they -- were they off the ground, had the airplane actually begun to fly? He wasn't sure, but he thought it was very close to the point of where it would be taking off. And as you can see, the plane is still on the runway that it was trying to take off from when it hit something, apparently, according to the pilot -- and you know, you really have to pay attention to what the pilot says; he was there and he knows. Weather had to be a factor at least in affecting the visibility of what he could see down the runway.

Of course, a few minutes ago, Orelon Sidney was talking about the visibility, a quarter mile, half mile, in that range. You're talking about a city block, a couple of city blocks, how far you can see down the runway, runway typically -- not sure about that, but likely in the neighborhood of 10,000, 11,000 foot of runway. But just going down the runway.

But also, consider this: that the airplane, when it reaches takeoff speed, it's running somewhere in the neighborhood of 140 to 150 miles an hour. So you can see down, down the runway a block, maybe two blocks. But when you think about the -- if you run into a rainstorm in your car and you're driving 50 or 60 miles an hour, and you say, oh my gosh, I can't see -- and some people even pull off to the side of the road. Well, imagine going twice to three times that speed down the runway trying to see. And if something is out there, you -- you wouldn't know it.

That's why the runways, they go to very particular lengths to keep them clear.

Now, something could have gotten on the runway. A person, an airport vehicle could have gotten on the runway. It could be an animal. I'm not sure about the wildlife in that area. Certainly, in this part of the country deer occasionally get on the runway and that causes a problem. So a lot of things out there.

But Natalie, we need to listen to what the captain said, because that may point us in that direction.

ALLEN: And we hear that the cockpit crew was unhurt, so no doubt they'll be talking with them in the early stages of this investigation.

Carl Rochelle, we thank you. Now, we're going to talk with Bob Francis, formally with the NTSB. An investigator on many plane crashes. He is at a flight safety convention. Again, we go to New Orleans to talk with him.

Mr. Francis, there are witnesses, the cockpit crew is OK. What are all the factors that investigators will be taking in, in the early stages of this investigation?

BOB FRANCIS, FORMER VICE CHAIRMAN, NTSB: Well, I think as in any investigation, the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder will be enormously important. Obviously, to have a flight crew to be able to interview, as Carl Rochelle mentioned a couple of minutes ago, is enormously important.

One of the things I'd like to mention, it's very interesting. Kay Yong was on -- is here with me in the studio, was just on. He has been very responsible for setting up an NTSB of Taiwan so that they will be in a position now to have a professional organization, accident investigative organization, doing an on-the-spot and very quick investigation, starting initiating quickly, of what happened. And I think -- I think they're to be commended for doing that. And other countries, such as Egypt and the Philippines, are considering the same thing. And that's to be encouraged, because it's in the interest of international aviation safety.

ALLEN: Well, what are the things, the factors that interest you surrounding what we're hearing about this crash in Taiwan that as an investigator you would be interested in?

FRANCIS: Well, I think that again the issues that Carl just mentioned, the bump, if there was a bump. And eyewitnesses are always interesting, passengers. But I think that when you're talking to the flight crew, then you're getting a professional, knowledgeable, more reliable. So if they think they ran into something on the runway, that will be a pretty easy thing to determine, and obviously, enormously important, if they did hit something on the runway that caused an aircraft to do this. I think probably it'll be more than an animal.

But certainly, the weather, air traffic control factors, looking at all of the parameters that will come out -- this is a sophisticated, modern airplane -- all of the parameters that come out of the flight data recorder. All of those things will be of very immediate and of interest and importance.

ALLEN: And throughout this day, covering this story, we have heard nothing but pretty glowing comments about Singapore Airlines.

FRANCIS: Well, Singapore Airlines is one of the great airlines of the world, and not just in terms of their service, but in terms of their safety. And interesting enough, the vice president of Singapore, Alex Desilva (ph), for safety will be going from here to tonight with Mr. Yong back to Taiwan to participate in the investigation.

ALLEN: Bob Francis, thank you for talking with us.

FRANCIS: You're welcome.



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