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American Airlines Flight 587 Crashes in New York

Aired November 12, 2001 - 14:00   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take a moment at the top of the hour, it's 2:00 here in the east, to bring everyone up to date. For many of you, we know, it is a holiday. Today you had the day off. You may be just coming in. Here is where we are at 2:00 Eastern time, and it is not a very pleasant day.

American Airlines flight 587 crashed this morning in the Rockaway section of Queens, New York, just moments or a couple of minutes after takeoff from John F Kennedy International. It happened just after 9:00 Eastern time. At about 9:16 it dropped off the radar screen. The A-300 Airbus, 255 people on board, that includes 9 crew members, was on its way from John f. Kennedy to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.

As firefighters work to put out the blaze, and according Jason Carroll on the seen, they have pretty much accomplished that task now. The National Transportation Safety Board says the flight data record has been recovered. That is enormously important news. As of now, the NTSB says the crash is being investigated as an aviation accident.

An FBI official also telling CNN, at this point, that there is no indication that this was an act of terrorism -- at this point. The investigation moves on. Authorities examining more than one crash site as you heard us describe to many of you, pieces of the plane.

This is an engine from the plane that landed in a filling station out in Queens. There are at least four areas where pieces of the plane came down. Earlier today, New York mayor Rudy Giuliani talked about the investigation. Here is what he said.


MAYOR RUDOLPH GIULIANI, NEW YORK: People should not speculate at this point as to the cause. I don't think people should jump to conclusions. There is no reason for anyone to change anything they are 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 eight and half weeks -- almost nine weeks now. There is no reason for any different things being done right now.


BROWN: Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. As a precaution, John F. Kennedy, JFK, La Guardia, which is also in Queens, and Newark Airport in New Jersey has been shut down. There is some, small amount of incoming traffic being allowed in. This had to do with flights that were quite close, and the airport has allowed them to land.

But essentially, New York's three major airports and Westchester Airport, which is a medium sized airport to the north, all shut down. New York bridges and tunnels were closed for several hours today. They have been reopened for traffic leaving the city. So, if I'm understanding this right, and I'm not sure that this is every bridge, but I believe it is, you cannot come into the city by vehicle.

The only way into the city then would be by train or subway, what have you. But outbound you are fine. You can get out of the city that way, but bridges and tunnels remain closed inbound at this moment. Over at the United Nations, on the East Side, a moment of silence was observed for the plane crash victims. That is over at the United Nations, and they are in what is being described, excuse me, as a partial lockdown as a result of the crash.

No cars or pedestrians are being allowed to enter the United Nations, where as many of you may know, from over the weekend's coverage, a high level general assembly session is in progress these days.

As we told you, earlier, this is the plane in question, an Airbus 300 an A-300, 177 feet long, fully configured can carry 266 passengers. There were 246 on board the flight when it left JFK this morning. Cockpit crew of two. Seven other crewmen, flight attendants on board at the time, making nine; 255 total people on board.

American Airlines chairman Don Carty says he doesn't know what their A-300 crashed, nor does anyone else at this point, but he noted that it is very important for the industry and for his company to find out answers quickly.


DON CARTY, CHAIRMAN, CEO, AMR. CORP.: Today's news comes at a difficult time for the nation, a difficult time for the airline industry, and a very difficult time for American Airlines. Given the changed world we live in today it will be as important as it has ever been to quickly, and to accurately, determine the cause of this accident.

First and foremost, however, our thoughts, and our prayers are with the families of our passengers and employees of those lost today.


BROWN: And in that regard American Airlines has set up a number for family members, friends and relatives to call, 1-800 245-0999, 1- 888-245-0999. They didn't specifically say it, but obviously, these kinds of phone numbers get busy, so if it is not a family member and it is not a really close friend, give these people time to do their jobs with the people who need information the most right now. A family center, by the way, has been set up also, by the airline at JFK, and we know the family members have been arriving at the Ramada Plaza Hotel, which is out by the airport, the same place where family members gathered after TWA flight 800 went down a few summers back.

Those are the headlines at 6 minutes past the hour. Let's start filling in some of the details here. And the details are limited, and it is important, yet again, to stay where the facts are and not -- for all of us -- not to get too far ahead of ourselves here.

Jason Carroll, who was with us a few moments ago, joins us again,

Jason, give us a quick summation from your location.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Aaron, I'm standing on the east side of the crash, about three blocks from where it all happened. Lots of emergency vehicles still here. What's gone is the smoke and much of the smell that we saw when we were out here just about two, three hours ago. Most of that is gone, and in fact firefighters telling me that they have extinguished most of the fire that was out here.

I can also tell you we have been speaking to many witnesses here in the neighborhood all morning long and for much afternoon. Many people telling us that they heard some sort of a loud noise. One woman described it, as she said, it sounded like a sonic boom. In fact, she thought it was perhaps the Concorde taking off from JFK airport which is located about five miles from here.

But one other witness saying he knew that something was wrong, because he said the sound was much too loud. He said windows started to shake in his home and actually a few dishes fell off the shelf. I want you to listen to some of the eyewitnesses that we spoke to this morning about what they saw what they heard.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The smell from the plane, and the black smoke was thick, so thick and choking, that I started to move away. I realized that there was nothing I was going to be able to do. There was some other person there that I was speaking to who saw the engine and part of a wing come off the plane. That is what he believed, and then another person, we were just trying to do what we possibly can, and it got to the point where the police came and the fire department came, and everybody got involved in stretching hoses out, and there was absolutely nothing that we can do with the people that were on that block.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was with the children. They don't have school today, so we were together in the kitchen making biscuits, and I heard the noise. I said, that sounded really loud, and my daughter said oh, it is just the Concorde. I said, it sounds too loud for the Concorde. So we looked out the window -- we heard like, a boom -- and we looked out window and we saw something that looked like a plane and it looked like it was on fire and we saw it go down and hit a house diagonally behind us.


CARROLL: Several homes in the area were destroyed in the crash. Mayor Giuliani saying he was not aware of any survivors. The NTSB holding a press conference not too long ago saying that the debris from the plane was spread over a wide area. In fact, some of it was found in Jamaica Bay located not too far from here. Right now. Aaron, I want to bring in John Baxter -- why don't you step right in here, John.

You were here in the neighborhood when this happened. Tell me what you saw, what you heard.

JOHN BAXTER, WITNESS: Well I was sitting on my office, actually, I live right over here, but I happened to be sitting in my office, at Beach and 116th Street when I heard what I thought was it sounded like a shotgun, then, boom.

So I said, my God, what the heck was that? So I went out the door, I saw smoke rising, and I said, something happened. And I ran to get my camera, my video camera, and when I go out again I saw three smokes, not one. I said what in the heck is going on here? So I ran down here, as close as I could get to it. And the smoke was horrendous. It was unbelievable, because the wind, as you can see, is blowing this way, and everybody was running away from it actually, because they couldn't -- the smoke was not to be believed.

So I took some film of the smoke. Then when I came up here, I was walking down Beach, 129th Street, and I see a guy with a hose, and there is no police here, a guy with a hose is trying put out a flame in a gas station. I said what the heck is that?

CARROLL: And that is just a few blocks from here?

BAXTER: Yes, he says, I don't know what it is. So it was on fire.

CARROLL: It appeared to be part of the plane, is that what it was?

BAXTER: That is what we think it was. I don't know what it was. So I said to him, what is it. He says, I don't know, I can't talk to you right now. He is with hose, he is trying put it out. And, it was -- it turned out to be part of the plane, I think.

CARROLL: Also, part of the plane ended up where, in your nephew's backyard?

BAXTER: Yeah, but see, my whole family lives in the area, so I got 130th street, 129, 128, 126. So, I says, oh, my God, where do I go first? So, I tried to go as close to the fire as I can -- or the smoke -- so I went down to my nephew's house, and neighbors are all out, down there. I guess they thought that was the only thing that happened, so they are all out trying to see what was going on.

And my nephew was sitting in his kitchen, right, and apparently the engine of the plane hit the corner of his building and knocked him and his wife and kids right out of the kitchen! This was the miracle of miracles that nobody got killed! They are so thankful for that. I couldn't find him. I couldn't find him because there was so many people around. I couldn't find him. Obviously, he was gone. He was mixed among the crowd.

But I went in behind his building and took films of the plane, the engine, I didn't know what it was. I found out later it was the engine of the plane. So they told me, anyway.

CARROLL: Did you eventually get a chance to talk to your nephew? I mean, what did he say?

BAXTER: Yes, I talked to my nephew, yes, I got him on tape, so...

CARROLL: And what did he tell you?

BAXTER: Well, he told me that he was knocked out of his kitchen, him and his wife and kids were knocked in all directions with this tremendous thump from the engine hitting his building. And that is -- he is very thankful to be alive -- him and his kids.

CARROLL: All right. Quite an incredible story. Mr. Baxter, thank you so very much. Thank you for coming out and joining us this afternoon. Thanks again.

Aaron, as we heard earlier, this is a neighborhood that was already in mourning. They have lost a number of people here in this neighborhood from the World Trade Center disaster. Some of those who worked at Canter Fitzgerald, some of the firefighters and police officers who went to respond to the scene were also lost in the World Trade Center disaster.

So once again, this was a neighborhood already in mourning, and now this -- Aaron.

BROWN: Jason, thank you very much. That was fascinating. I wonder if, in control room you can bring back the picture for a second, of the firefighter looking at the engine. It just struck me -- just put this in the context of all that has gone on in this city in the last, almost nine weeks. It is just yet another reminder to us of the absolute pure power of a still picture sometimes. What must he be thinking?

A couple of pieces of information here. According to the FAA, all three major New York airports are now accepting incoming flights. We assume that means nothing is leaving these airports. You can imagine the kind of problems that is causing. But they are taking incoming flights. That is terrific news, because anything that says to us, normal is returning here today, we find encouraging. On the other side of the ledger, now, the report we have, the first reports we have, is that 28 bodies have now been recovered. They have been taken to a morgue at Floyd Bennett Field, which is an old airfield in the area that is being used by emergency response crews.

One other note and then we will go to Washington again, I think many people outside the city of New York, or people who have not been to the outer burros of New York may get the feeling that everybody lives in a high rise apartment here. It looks to us like this area in Queens is a pretty middle class area, single family homes or perhaps duplexes, but certainly not high-rises. So when we talk about four buildings being hit, I think we are talking about four homes that have been hit. Many other homes damaged.

And again, Jason reports that the fire that you could see from, and even from these pictures, and there are some where the fire looks much more intense even than this, that the fires that burned after the plane crashed, are largely out and that they are doing more cleanup in the area than anything else.

But this is the plane. It was at about 2,800 feet when it came down. It was just after take-off. That is a long flight down to the Dominican, more than four hours. That is a lot of jet fuel on board that airplane that burned when it hit. And we don't know how many casualties, if any, on the ground. We do know a number of people have been hospitalized. You can imagine how fortunate it will be if the casualty count on the ground remains low, given what we have seen so far.




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