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American Airlines Flight 587 Crashes In Queens

Aired November 12, 2001 - 09:36   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's bring in my colleague Bill Hemmer for some new information now that he has gotten from working the phones. Bill.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Yeah, Paula, thank you. The Port Authority in New York and New Jersey saying inbound American Airlines plane. Bound for JFK is the word we have right now. And after the -- events of 9-11, two months ago yesterday, we know all too well a whole lot information about the 767. Enormous aircraft in size. For those who fly on board a 767, the easiest way to identify this plane is the 2-3-2 setup for seats that run from the front of the plane to the back.

It was a 767 that hit not only the North Tower in lower Manhattan, but also a 767 that hit the South Tower as well. One thing that keep in mind, that one of the reasons why many people believe those towers were brought down was the enormous amount of fuel on board these planes. 16,000 gallons of fuel can be carried.

However, what we don't know, Paula, is the planes that hit those World Trade Center, and on September 11th, were loaded with fuel. They'd just taken from eastern cities. This plane, however, we don't have an origination city just yet. We're working that, again. What we do know, an American Airlines 767, inbound to, apparently, JFK has gone down in Queens. The Rockaway section of Queens.

And we heard WCBS a short time ago say there were four buildings on fire. The Associated Press also indicating that there could be many more than four. They say several buildings on fire right now in that part of Queens. More momentarily, Paula, when we get it.

ZAHN: All right, thanks so much, Bill. As you and I continue to work the phones and try to make sense of some of this information that's coming in to our desk. We're going to return to the coverage of WCBS, which is the local station here in New York. We have correspondents on their way to the area. They should arrive there shortly. Until then, let's dip back into WCBS's coverage.

GARY TOMS: -- as far as the population, it's a very well populated area with upper income. It's pretty much, well, a very tight knit community. A very well-grouped community.

MICHAEL, WCBS ANCHOR: And they're used to seeing, clearly, a lot of plane traffic over that air space. But with what the United States is recently gone through and recent FAA flight path restrictions, has the area noticed an increase or decrease in the amount of flight traffic?

TOMS: It's hard to say. I -- I could venture to give you an answer to that, I would say that the traffic has been steady at best, but nothing out of the ordinary to indicate that anything like this would ever take place. I mean, the flight center has been pretty much normal as it has in the past.

MICHAEL: Uh-huh. Okay. We're -- again, just want to remind people who are just joining us. You're looking live at the scene of the Rockaways of reports of an American Airlines plane going down at Beach 129th Street and Newport Avenue. On the phone with us is Gary Toms with one of the local publications in that area. You said you're about -- I want to say 60 blocks, 40 blocks away?

TOMS: About 40 blocks.

MICHAEL: 40 blocks away from that area. When you look outside your window now, from whatever is your vantage point, what are you seeing?

TOMS: Just a lot of smoke. Tons and tons of smoke. I can see emergency vehicles, you know, heading to the area. A lot of people standing in the streets like it's pandemonium. It's really -- it's really a tense situation here. Very tense.

MICHAEL: What -- you said you sent a reporter to the scene and clearly are waiting to hear back from them. We see about three or so choppers in the air. Are those -- can you identify those at all?

TOMS: No. At this time I cannot.

MICHAEL: And so we're seeing the flashing lights here at the bottom of the screen that we can assume to some degree are emergency personnel. David Diaz working this story for us as well in our news room, who has told us that emergency personnel at a level one right now. Which is, in essence, an all hands on deck situation. Anything else that you might be able to add for us, Gary?

TOMS: Other than they are basically giving orders for people who are in the residential area to evacuate their homes as quickly as possible. Other than that, as I said, we're awaiting more details to come it.

MICHAEL: Does it appear that the roads in your area, are passable or are they jammed with traffic, and can people go that direction?

TOMS: The roads are passable. But, at this point, what we've been able to determine is that local law enforcement is shutting down various segments leading into the site.

MICHAEL: As Gary is mentioning as the day -- police clearly urging everybody to stay away from the vicinity. Beach 129th Street and Newport Avenue is the area that you're looking at there, in the Rockaways. The word that we have is that it is American Airlines jet. So, clearly, at this point, we are under the impression from authorities that it is commercial plane. We have no word, confirmation, anyway, as to the type of plane or the number of passengers on board. And we're still working to find out if this was an inbound or outbound flight.

Gary Toms on the phone with us, as he continues to give us what is close as we can get to an eyewitness account. Gary, give me a last assessment, if you would, of exactly what you see, and you said you're at 188th?

TOMS: No, no, we're at 88 -- Beach 88th Street.

MICHAEL: Oh, I'm sorry. Beach 88th Street. Give me, again, a look at what it is you see.

TOMS: Just a lot of smoke from the area. Emergency vehicles still rushing past the office to the location. People standing in the streets. Everybody's basically in -- stunned. And in a shock -- state of shock.

MICHAEL: Gary Toms is joining on the phone. Maybe you could stay with us if we could. David Diaz, are you still available with us in the news room? I know you're working very hard to get some information, wondering if --


MICHAEL: as this information slow to come in, if you're any -- able to find any new developments?

DIAZ: Yes, Michael. Let me repeat for you something that we had mentioned, perhaps you had been setting up the interview with Gary Toms and didn't hear it, but we have the information, now, that plane was, in fact, heading into JFK. It was heading to JFK. It was an American Airlines 767. We don't know where it originated from or certainly -- we don't know the flight number, and we don't know how many passengers and crew on board.

Emergency crews are setting up command centers in the area. You can see a lot of the flashing lights, even though it's daylight, of emergency vehicles. They're moving both from the left and coming out from the right as you look in the picture. There's at least three helicopters up there.

Let me tell you a little bit about the 767. It is one the planes, of course, people will remember that type of plane that crashed into the World Trade Center. They -- it is a plane that began being manufactured in -- first flown, rather, in 1985. It is produced by Boeing. It has a passenger capacity of 290-350 people. It's 156- foot wing span. 176-feet long. So, it is a major -- you're talking about a serious airliner, and it is one of those that -- to repeat -- the 767 was also used by hijackers in crashing into the World Trade Center.

Now, let me hasten to add that there is no indication, as of this time, that this is anything other than an accident. But what -- is good news to this extent, Michael, if you look at the picture, you see that there is more and more of the smoke is turning white rather than black. That suggests that whatever is burning is beginning to be at least put out. That doesn't mean it's put out completely. The effect of it is to have -- when water and other substances are used to douse fire you're starting to see effects of it. The smoke turns from black -- from black to gray to white. So that would appear to be a good sign.

And, this just in, Michael. Both -- oh, La Guardia, Newark and JFK airports, all three area airports are now closed. La Guardia, Newark, John F. Kennedy airports all closed. John F. Kennedy is the airport, in Queens not far from Rockaways, where this 767 an American Airlines jetliner was heading to, to JFK. And now JFK, Newark, La Guardia, all are closed.

ZAHN: All right, we are going to dip out of WCBS's coverage to bring you -- for those of you who are just joining us up to date on what we know at this hour. Both the Port Authority of New York and American Airlines confirming an American Airlines 767 has gone down into the Rockaways.

We are told that that crash happened literally about one half hour ago. We can also confirm from the Port Authority that plane was on its way to a landing JFA -- JFK Airport. La Guardia, Newark, and JFK airports, the three major commercial airports servicing this area are now closed at this hour. A level 1 emergency personnel warning has been called in the city, which means all emergency personnel have been advised to go to the area. The weather, as you can see from this picture, is crystal clear.

So clearly, at this point, weather could be ruled out. We know that at least four buildings are on fire at the crash site. There was some concern, if you've just been listening to the WCBS reporting that this plane went down not far from a gas station. We cannot tell, at this point, whether this is involved at all in this fiery mess.

Mayor Giuliani on his way to the crash site. We have not been able to get a really clear location of the crash site. The estimate is that it sits anywhere from 5-10 miles from JFK Airport. In the meantime once again, La Guardia airport, Newark in New Jersey, and JFK International are all closed to air travel. Let's quickly check back in with Bill Hemmer for more.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Paula, thank you. Going to show a model we have here of the 767, the 200 series. It is a very large aircraft, and for many people have flown across the country, or even trans-Atlantic are quite familiar with this aircraft. Two large engines, right here, on both sides, both wings.

On the interior, you might recognize this plane the most from its seat configuration. It goes 2-3-2. And, this is the 200 series, we indicated, but again, the newest 767s now have upgraded past the 300 to the 400 series. If you flown on them recently, I know Delta Air Lines has put a number into service as well. These are large planes. They are very clean. They are quite capable. Since in service of 1982, more than 2 billion people have flown on board these planes.

Did I mention the fuel capacity before? I mention that just because of the amount of smoke we're seeing right here. It was largely thought that the 767s that hit the north and south tower at the World Trade Center site back on 9-11 contained 16,000 gallons of fuel. I mean an enormous amount of fuel we're talking here. But actual fuel capacity, even, stretches much larger than that, up to 24,000 gallons of fuel can be contained on these -- on these very popular and very large aircraft.

Again a 767, the word we have, we are not sure right now. We want to stress this. The early word we have from the Port Authority in New York and New Jersey was that this was an incoming plane bound for JFK. The origination city, though, not immediately known right now. Now we're told that that is not quite certain. So, we're going to hold off on that for now.

But suffice to say the pictures we're seeing there in that part of Queens, the Rockaway district, which is said to be near the shoreline there, near the water, is the area of concentration right now. More as we get it, Paula, but for now we'll continue to watch these pictures now through courtesy of WPIX. And as we watch this affiliate of CNN, we're going to go back to our coverage at WCBS again, with their reporters working their way to the scene. The coverage continues from Queens, New York.

SUSAN LOCK, PUBLISHER, THE WAVE: There's a school with a -- luckily they were in a church on the next block. There's -- it's our main shopping street, and it's a street that's used by many, many families, especially on a beautiful day like today. It's got bakeries, and -- and delis , and -- and, you know, grocery stores and people are out with their kids on a day like today getting bagels and their breakfast.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE ANCHOR: Susan, have you been outside, close to the scene at all?

LOCK: I haven't been that close to the scene. I came to the office, so I drove down. It's just -- it's just black smoke. It's just plumes of black smoke. And -- I didn't go close to the scene.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE ANCHOR: Susan, since September 11th, the mayor, the president, so many officials urging people to get on with their lives, as usual. Your area there, being so close to the airport. Have you gotten a sense that people have able to do that?

LOCK: Well, I think people want to do it, and they do try to do it. I tell you, when I was driving down the street I heard the rumble of another plane, and it terrified me. Because the planes come directly over our homes here. And take-off and landing, and the Concorde flies directly over our homes, and often you can't even hear, you know, you can't -- can't listen to television or talk on the phone. It's noisy. And so -- but we've grown to get used to that.

I think people wanted to get on with their lives. They were traveling into the city. They were going on trips. I know people who have traveled. It's just very scary. I'm very -- I'm shaken up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE ANCHOR: I'm certain it would be --

LOCK: My power was out when I left the house. There was no phone. No electrical service at the time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE ANCHOR: Just want to remind people that this -- this accident apparently has happened just shortly after 9:00 this morning at Beach 129th Street and Newport Avenue. And joining on the phone, Susan Lock, the publisher of "The Wave" out there in that area. We certainly appreciate you taking some time in what we know is a very difficult situation. If you have a couple of moments, if you could describe to us what it is you're seeing right now outside your window in the way of emergency personnel, and civilians as well.

LOCK: Well, it's hard to say. We're on a street --

ZAHN: Break into WCBS's coverage to try to make sense of some of the reporting going on. And you have to please bear with us so you understand why this information is going back and forth. CNN has now confirmed that this, in fact, was not a 767 that went down. It was an Airbus A-300. It was not an incoming flight as reported earlier. We had counted on the local reporting, where Port Authority officials had said it was an incoming flight. It was indeed American Airlines Flight 587 that was leaving, departing JFK Airport on its way to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.

The crash site, of course, is in the Rockaways area of the Queens section, which is a borough of New York City. You heard one of the local reporters describing the area where the plane went down as an area frequented by shoppers. An area not far from a local church. We can tell you that at this hour that at least four buildings are involved in the crash site. There was a report earlier that the crash site not far from a gas station. We still can't confirm whether that is involved in this fiery mess or not.

Once again, CNN confirming that this was American Airlines Flight 587, an Airbus A-300. That is a -- an aircraft that is often used in the shuttle system back and forth between New York, and Washington, and Boston. It was leaving JFK airport. It was on way to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. The crash site, we are told, is anywhere from 5-10 miles from JFK. Once again, we need for you to bear with us because the reporting is -- if you've been with since the top of the hour, has changed considerably.

This, once again, was an Airbus A-300 that went down about 9:15 this morning. It was an outbound flight from JFK. All of the area airports are closed right now. JFK airport, which, I just mentioned, sits 5-10 miles from the crash site, La Guardia Airport and Newark Airport in New Jersey. The mayor of New York City is on his way to the crash site. They have called for a level one emergency, which means that all emergency personnel in the city have been advised to go to the crash area. Let me quickly check in with Bill Hemmer, who is handing by in Atlanta with more.

HEMMER: Yeah, Paula, thank you. And as you appropriately point out, many times in stories like these, the initial facts that we get are not always the most correct. But what is absolutely indistinguishable at this point is the picture you're seeing right there, and the amount of smoke that is coming out from the borough of Queens, and that Airbus 300 which has gone down there in the early morning hours. Gary Levine is near the area. We have him by telephone. Sir, can you hear me this morning.

GARY LEVINE: Yes, I can.

HEMMER: Tell us where are you and what are you seeing?

LEVINE: I live in Long Beach, which is a community about 7-8 miles or so away from the site. And basically we saw some smoke and we went down by the beach. We live at another beach community in western Nassau County. And we went down to the beach, and where the Rockaways are, it curves around. So we have direct line of sight to the smoke. We saw giant cloud of black and then gray smoke straight up into the air.

HEMMER: Sir, did you hear anything?

LEVINE: No. We did not.

HEMMER: You did not hear anything, either in the air or --.

LEVINE: One of the neighbors had the TV on, and they came out and were, you know -- talking about it, and saying what happened. And some of the neighbors were up on their roofs. The community here -- you know, of one-family homes. The people on their roofs. People went up to the boardwalks and people on the beach looking out to distance. But, unfortunately we can't see.

HEMMER: I can tell you what we're seeing. We're seeing several helicopters. I assume them to be news helicopters in the area. We also see a mixture of black and white smoke. Is that the same thing you're seeing?

LEVINE: Yes. It is.

HEMMER: And, Rick, if you could expand on that, go right ahead.

LEVINE: Ah, basically about the same. We have binoculars up there, and we're just looking off to the distance. We just saw some helicopters and smoke, you know, unfortunately, nothing else.

HEMMER: Describe this part of Queens, this neighborhood. The Rockaways as it is called.

LEVINE: Right. Rockaways is a narrow -- community. It's a peninsula. Basically, you have Jamaica Bay on the north side, and the Atlantic Ocean on the south side, and it's just -- that area that -- where the crash occurred is basically a residential neighborhood. And it's -- you know -- there's homes.

HEMMER: And the picture we're seeing also appears to be quite clear weather wise. Can you give us a more accurate description of what you're seeing with daybreak there?

LEVINE: It's -- basically, it's a clear sky. And, off to the west of us, you can see a cloud of black and gray smoke.

HEMMER: Are there people around you, Gary?

LEVINE: Not right now, no sir. I went back to my home, so --.

HEMMER: And again, your location, you indicated several miles from there?

LEVINE: Right.

HEMMER: All right, Gary Levine an eyewitness there. And as we continue to watch the pictures here, the answers here are quite elusive, but the picture tells an awful lot. You have to think not only in the city of New York but across the country right now, and for that matter, around the world, there are numerous questions as to what happened here on board this American Airlines Flight 587, bound from JFK in New York City for Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. That's an Airbus 300. It can contain a number of passengers and crew on board. The exact manifest not released at this time, it may be several hours before that's given to members of the media.

We do know that mayor is en route, Rudy Giuliani, and what a horrific two months it has been for him and the other millions of people who live in the New York City area. We are all at this point a collective -- a collective breath being held that the -- the outcome of this is better than it appears at this point. It is clear day in New York City. And, certainly, this is not the kind of news we thought we would wake up to this morning, but as what we are seeing right now, through courtesy of our affiliates WCBS, on the scene there, and WPIX on the scene as well, and we have reporters en route.

Jason Carroll, Michael Okwu, and several others trying to get to that part of Queens. It may be a bit tough going because we know that there are several emergency crews who have surrounded that area and are working again the best they can to alleviate what we're seeing, which, at this point looks nothing short of another disaster in New York.

ZAHN: All right, Bill, what I want to do, right now, for those West Coast viewers that are just joining us. You know, we're about to reach that 10:00 mark here on the East Coast, 7:00 on the West Coast to bring them up to date on everything we know. And, please bear with us, because this has information changed a lot over the last hour.

American Airlines is confirming, along with the FAA, that, in fact, it was flight 587 that went down. It was a flight departing JFK on its way to Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic. It was Airbus A-300 that went down. That is a plane that can carry as many as 266 passengers. As Bill just mentioned, we don't have a passenger manifest, so we have no idea how many crew were on board or passengers.

I am reading an advisory that has just crossed my desk saying the FAA says that there is no indication of a terrorist attack. However, as Bill just mentioned, there's so many unanswered questions as to why a plane would go down on such a beautiful crystal-clear day. We can tell you, right now, that all of the area airports are closed. That includes JFK, which is the closest airport to this site. We still can't get an exact location, but there's an estimate, now, of anywhere from 7-10 miles from JFK. JFK is closed. La Guardia Airport, which is also not too far from here, and Newark Airport in New Jersey, in addition to that, CNN is confirming that bridges and tunnels going in and out of New York City have been closed.

Mayor Giuliani, the mayor of the city, is on his way to the crash site. He has called for a level 1, which is a mobilization of all emergency crews to the crash site. We are waiting for our reporters to reach the scene, but we've been dipping in and out of WCBS's coverage. Their reporters are confirming there are at least four buildings on fire. There is some speculation that a gas station sits not far from the crash site. We will continue to listen to their reporting on that, because it not clear at this point whether that's also involved in -- was involved in the ensuing explosion.

Once again, we now confirm, the FAA confirming it as well as American Airlines that an Airbus A-300 Flight 587 crashed on takeoff in the New York City borough of Queens. It went down in an area that one local resident just described as sort of the shopping district for the Rockaway areas of Queens. The plane was on its way to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. It went down at an area called 119th Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard. Some of the people on the scene have been describing that the value of the smoke has changed from black to white indicating that there they be some limited success in -- in controlling this fire. Let's go back to Bill Hemmer who has more information for us now. Bill.




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