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American Airlines Flight 587 Crashes Into Queens Neighborhood After JFK Takeoff

Aired November 12, 2001 - 13:52   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Jason Carroll has been, for the last couple of hours, moving ever closer to the scene, about three blocks away now. Jason, I gather, tell us what you have been able to pick up in just the last half hour or so.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you, Aaron, we're now located east of the crash site, as you say, about three blocks from where it all happened. We've been talking to witnesses all morning about what they saw, about what they heard.

Some witnesses telling us that it sounded like a sonic boom shortly before the crash. In fact, one woman saying that she thought it was perhaps the Concorde taking off from JFK, which is, as you know, just about 5 miles from where -- from where we are located.

Witnesses saying that when they went outside to see what was going on, they saw a plane. It appeared as if there was either some sort of a fire or explosion that had -- some sort of an event that had taken place on the plane. Portions of the plane were falling off as it tilted and then finally crashed into this neighborhood.

I want you to listen in to one eyewitness that we spoke to early this morning, what he had to say about what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was walking down about 3 miles from where I was standing, taking my morning walk. And I was walking north, looking up in the sky, and I saw this airplane. And I saw the plane explode. I saw a small explosion, not too large, on the actual plane. The plane was -- looked like it had just made its usual turn out of Kennedy Airport and was flying east out toward Long Island to go on its way.

And I saw a very distinct orange explosion, and I think I saw part of -- or the whole wing fall, and then the airplane just arced directly down into Rockaway, where I live.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARROLL: Now, Aaron, we've been hearing conflicting reports in terms of how many buildings on the ground were damaged. Early this morning, I heard New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani say that according to his information he had heard that 12 buildings were affected by this crash on the ground. And in speaking to some of the neighbors out here, they're telling us that in terms of, based on what they know, about five or six homes, possibly more, were damaged right here in this neighborhood.

Right now, I want to bring in Congressman Anthony Weiner. He is the congressman here from this area. He actually toured the crash site not too long ago.

Mr. Congressman, what can you tell us about what you saw, what you know?

REP. ANTHONY WEINER D), NEW YORK: Well, it is remarkable how limited the impact area is. There are two homes on the southeast corner of Newport and Beach 131st that are completely devastated. The fire is now virtually out in them. But even on just the corner homes across the street, while they have some damage, they have not been devastated by any stretch of the imagination.

There is an enormous amount of human carnage, unfortunately, on the ground, but there's no indication that they came from the homes here in Rockaway. They seem to have come from the -- from the crash itself.

CARROLL: Interesting that you would say that when you're talking about the homes that were damaged, because I spoke to an emergency official who said that he was confused as to why a plane would crash and then not cause more damage, which led him to believe that perhaps there were chunks of the plane that had fallen on the neighborhood in that way.

WEINER: Well, it could be. I mean, one thing you know from being here is there's a smell of unspent airline fuel in the air, which leads you to believe that it hasn't burned off completely, which maybe means that they didn't hit on impact and blow up. I really don't know. The NTSB has taken over the investigation. The FBI guys here on the ground say that they are just a supporting role right now. And I certainly don't know any more about that.

CARROLL: This must have been incredibly difficult for you to go in there and to view the crash site.

WEINER: Well, this is a neighborhood that has been devastated. Two months ago, we lost about 70 people here in the Rockaway Peninsula. Right down the block, at St. Francis (UNINTELLIGIBLE), there are about 25 people that are missing. Just about every day, there's another firefighter who's buried in this neighborhood.

CARROLL: In fact, some of the neighbors were telling me that some of them were firefighters who went to respond to the World Trade Center disaster. Some of them were police officers, and others who worked at Cantor Fitzgerald.

WEINER: Well, that's right. A lot of folks here in the Peninsula, particularly in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Point down at the tip, worked at Cantor Fitzgerald. It's interesting: You know, just about dozens of off-duty firefighters and police officers responded to this crash, because they all live here in the neighborhood.

If September 11th was an earthquake in this neighborhood, this has been a terrible aftershock.

CARROLL: Can you give me a sense of how people in the neighborhood are dealing with this since they've already had to deal with so much?

WEINER: Well, people are literally shaking their heads. You know, Rockaway has been waiting to exhale since September 11th. And this certainly doesn't help things.

Just a few blocks away at PS 114, the students, the elementary school students could look at the skyline of New York City. Now to have this explained to them is difficult.

CARROLL: I also want to find out, is there anything that's being done for those who live here in the neighborhood? Are you offering any special services?

WEINER: Well, for the time being, we're just trying to get the essential services of government up and running. In the immediate area around Beach 131st is very spotty. Phone service, some electrical service was knocked out. All of the power lines were sheared in that neighborhood.

We're getting folks back online as quickly as possible. I think everyone understands that this is not another day at the office. But all of the discussions that we always have in this neighborhood about the noise of the flights overhead, I don't think anyone ever imagined it would come to this.

CARROLL: Has anyone told you anything at all about the investigation, the possible cause? Have you been told anything at all?

WEINER: Well, there is all kinds of anecdotal information -- you've been getting it as well -- about an explosion in the air. Parts of the plane perhaps spread out over a wider area.

Just coming here this morning, I saw Coast Guard boats circling in specific areas in the bay. But the answer is no. I mean, let's wait until the investigation happens.

CARROLL: All right, thank you very much, Mr. Congressman. Thanks very much again.

Also I want to point out in terms of the investigation, Aaron, I'm sure that you were listening in on to the NTSB press conference. Nothing is really being ruled in or ruled out at this point. But early evidence seems to suggest -- and I want to caution seems to suggest -- that this was some sort of an accident -- Aaron.

BROWN: Well, at least there's nothing at this point to suggest otherwise. Let's leave it at that.

What exactly happened I think is a little less clear to me. But there's nothing to suggest at this point that it was not an accident.

In the time that you've been out there, Jason, I gather -- and I'm not sure if the fire was behind you or in front of you. OK? But either look behind you or look out and tell me: Is it still smoky? Can you still smell it, taste it? All of those things that we are too used to in situations like this.

CARROLL: Actually, I have been out here, as you said, for several hours. And without even looking behind me, I can tell you there is no more spoke. In fact, there hasn't been smoke for at least two hours.

The smell, I can tell you, when I first got out here was so very strong, and the smell has dissipated along with the smoke. And in fact, when I had an opportunity to speak with one of the firefighters a little earlier, I said, you know, what is the situation in there in terms of the fire, in terms of the smoke. And he says, basically, he says, it's out.

At this point, what they're doing is they are searching for the victims of this crash, going from home to home and focusing their intention in that way -- Aaron.

BROWN: And is there, beyond the normal police presence, have you seen National Guard, anything like that, that would say this is being treated in a way out of the ordinary from an awful tragedy, which it is no matter what caused it?

CARROLL: Have not seen members of the National Guard. But I have to tell you I've seen representatives from just about every other agency: the FBI, the Fire Department, the Police Department. We've seen all of these members out here in full force. But as of yet, no members of the National Guard have been out here, at least not that I've seen.

BROWN: OK. Jason, stand by for a minute or so here.

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