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American Airlines Flight 587 Crashes Into Queens Neighborhood After JFK Takeoff

Aired November 12, 2001 - 13:32   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: As you can imagine, there is going to be enormous, almost unimaginable pressure on the NTSB and other investigate units of the government right now to come up with some preliminary explanation for what happened. The kind of pressure -- there's always a pressure to do that, of course. But because of what happened on September 11th, that pressure, I would guess, is going to be an enormous. And there is going to be a battle in the minds of investigators who want to take their time and who want to reconstruct every possible second -- and there weren't very many of that fright. There weren't very many seconds at all. But try and reconstruct every second of that before they reach any conclusions. And the counterpressure is going to be from the aviation industry, certainly from us in the media. And we suspect all those people have to get on airplanes as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches to come up with some answer very quickly.

Out in Queens, this is an awfully familiar scene to us. This is outside the Ramada, I think the Ramada Plaza Hotel, but out in Queens. Family members are gathering there. The reason -- and those of you with -- who remember these sorts of things might recall that this was also where the families of TWA Flight 800 gathered, and gathered and stayed -- in many cases for days and weeks -- while the investigation into that tragedy was being worked through.

They are gathering at the Ramada again. Again this flight was headed to the Dominican Republic. There's a large Dominican community here in New York.

The first report we saw out of the Dominican, by the way, said that about 150 of the passengers onboard were Dominican citizens. The rest we don't know. And that's a report that came out of the Dominican Republic.

Mayor Giuliani has been at the scene, we said earlier, and it bears repeating. His first reaction we suspect was not dissimilar to the reaction of a good many people, including ours, and we dare suspect yours as well. When he heard the news, he said, oh, my god.

The city is stretched because of the tragedy of September 11th, but the mayor was out there, and here are some comments the mayor made a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MAYOR RUDY GIULIANI (R), NEW YORK: We have the plane in several different places. There appears to be the wing of the plane in the bay that we were able to see from the helicopter. And it looks like either the entire wing or a large portion of it in the bay.

Then geographically that would be the first thing that's down on the ground or in the water. Then the rest of the plane -- or it appears that the rest of the plane is on Rockaway. An engine fell at a gas station at 129th Street. The engine hit the outside of the gas station.

The man inside reports hearing it hit. He is very fortunate, thank God, that it didn't hit his gas station, because he was inside. He and one of his co-workers came outside and put out the fire with an extinguisher.

Then the main part of the airline came down at Newport and 131st Streed. It did a tremendous amount of damage. Altogether, it appears as if there are four homes that are totally destroyed, at least four others that are seriously damaged. And maybe as many as 12, 14 homes that have been damaged in some way.

And then there's a fourth small fire a few blocks away. We are -- the fires are not under control yet, but they're contained.

We're recovering as many bodies as we can. They'll be taken to Floyd Bennett Field for identification, and we will -- as soon as we finish here, we'll go to Kennedy Airport and be with as many of the families as possible, see whether we can coordinate there -- getting as much information as we can give them.

People should not speculate at this point as to the cause. I don't think people should jump to conclusions. There's no reason for anyone to change anything they're going to do in their life right now as a result of this.

The city is on the highest state of alert, but the city is always on the highest state of alert and has been for the last, you know, for the last 8 1/2, almost nine weeks now. And there's no reason for any different things being done right now.

People should go to work, people should go to school, people should go about their normal way of life. There is no threat to them. And they should leave it to the NTSB to investigate it. This may well have been a mechanical failure of some kind. It may have been something else. The FBI and police will investigate that part of it. And at this point, I think the best thing for people to do is to suspend judgment and wait until all the facts are in, until there's a chance to interview all of the eyewitnesses and there's a chance to examine the plane physically to determine will that tell us anything about what happened.

It's reported that there were no unusual communications between the tower and the aircraft. But that's the preliminary report.

I emphasize that every single fact that I gave you is preliminary. We have interviewed a number of witnesses. There are somewhat differing accounts that witnesses give. That is totally normal in a situation like this.

And I commend the very, very quick and rapid response of the Fire Department and the Police Department at getting this fire out as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: Mr. Mayor...

QUESTION: Mr. Mayor, were there any survivors? Did you rescue any people?

GIULIANI: I don't -- I don't believe there are any survivors at this point. And I don't -- no, I don't think we know that there are any survivors.

QUESTION: Mr. Mayor, there is what appears to be a second engine on the ground about a block away that demolished the back half of a Victorian home. That would be two engines on the plane. Have you seen that one as well?

GIULIANI: No, I have not seen that second one. I saw the first one. I saw the first one.

QUESTION: Mr. Mayor, (OFF-MIKE) might have been on that flight. How do I get (OFF-MIKE)?

GIULIANI: At Kennedy Airport, there's a family center I believe was set up at the Ramada -- I think it's set up at the Ramada Inn. And they should have all of that information there. And you have my condolences and my sympathy and my prayers. I'm very sorry.

We'll try to help you get that information. I'm very, very sorry.


BROWN: That was mayor Rudolph Giuliani a short time ago. We expect -- well, I'm not sure when. We expect some time this afternoon we'll hear from the mayor again. That's certainly the mayor's pattern. And we would assume that. I think that's a fair assumption. We also expect to hear from Governor George Pataki as well.

The plane, American 587, was en route to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. As you can imagine, the airport there is, and the people there are reacting to all of this.

Ellis Perez is on the phone with us from the airport and can give us a sense of what it is like there.

Mr. Perez, can you hear me OK?

ELLIS PEREZ, SANTO DOMINGO AIRPORT SPOKESMAN: Yes, I can hear you well. I'm here at the airport. We have been certainly taking care of the people, the relatives and close friends of the passengers that were on board 587. We have about a hundred people that have gone to the airport, of course all grieving. It's a very sad picture.

Both the airport administration and American Airlines have separated a special area of the airport to treat these relatives of the passengers of the flight, and there's a number of doctors and psychiatrists and sociologists that are now talking to them.

Everybody is waiting for the passenger list. As you probably know, Aaron, the FAA does not give out the passenger list until everything is verified and the relatives are informed prior to making it public: that is to the general public.

So we have all of the media here looking for details, and of course, the big question is, as you know, was this an act of terrorism or a legitimate aviation accident. We hope for the second.

BROWN: Well, it certainly is the question. Mr. Perez, can you tell me anything about how people at the airport learned of the crash?

PEREZ: Well, you know, there is very keen interest in world news here in the Dominican Republic. And through cable television, we, and satellite, we are very much aware. We listen to CNN constantly. So the news just spread like a bonfire, just almost as soon as it happened.

Some people saw stories on CNN and other channels, and they called the Dominican radio and television stations. I was called immediately and set out to the airport.

BROWN: And how soon after you started to get word of this tragedy did people start arriving at the airport? Family members, friends and the like? Any idea?

PEREZ: Well, you know, this plane was supposed to arrive here, departing normal departure time, 8 o'clock from New York. It's the most popular of the American Airlines flights, the one that leaves at 7 o'clock in the morning, which is 8 o'clock our time. So normally people would be here 10:30, 11 o'clock, because they expect that arrival time is normally just after 11:00.

So although planes these days are arriving late very frequently, people normally come in time, one hour ahead of time, half an hour ahead of time, just to make sure that they are at the airport when the plane arrives. So we have people already here between 10 and 10:30 already expecting this plane to be here.

When the news broke, it was about close to 7:30. I mean, 10:30 local Dominican time. So they learned about it almost immediately, and we began assembling them here at the airport, I mean, the airport authorities and American Airlines. And of course, everybody is waiting for that.

We don't know yet how many Dominicans were in the 146 general list of passengers, but we do know that it's a very much ethnic flight. So I would venture to say that between 80 and 90 percent of the passengers were from the Dominican Republic.

BROWN: Sir, thank you. Mr. Perez, thank you for your time today.

PEREZ: My pleasure.

BROWN: I know there's a lot going on there and we appreciate the time.

On just that last point, according to the office of the Dominican president -- and like all early reports, these things have a way of changing -- OK? -- 150 of the people on board -- and there were 246 passengers, nine crew members on board -- 150 of them, according to the office of the president of the Dominican Republic, were Dominican citizens. The others, almost a hundred others, we don't know. It could be some combination of lots of different things. We won't guess there.




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