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Pentagon Holds Briefing on Bomber Crash

Aired December 12, 2001 - 16:25   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you now to the Pentagon where there is an attempt being made to have reporters talk with the captain of the ship that picked up those four flyers on the B-1B bomber that crashed in the Indian Ocean.


DEFENSE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Captain Steele, sir, can you speak a little more slowly? We just want to be sure we can hear you clearly.

STEELE: OK. Do you need me to repeat what I just said?

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Yes. That's much better right now. Thank you. Please repeat what you just said.

STEELE: OK. First, I'm thankful that the entire aircrew was able to bail out safely. We're all doing very well. I'm also thankful for the KC-10 aircrew, did an outstanding job helping to get us recovered quickly, and the crew of the USS Russell. Everybody did an outstanding job. It was by the book.




STEELE: I'm done.


Commander Miranda?

MIRANDA: Yes, Commander Miranda, here.

I just wanted to say that the crew of USS Russell did everything by the book. We were here on our deployment mission. And when we heard that the aircraft was missing, we did all the proper procedures and then went to the area that we thought would be around the area we thought it would be located.

And we had our boat to the water as soon as possible. We made best speed to the location, and we picked up the pilot. Like Captain Steele said, everything worked like clockwork. It was a very big team effort by the Air Force and the USS Russell here in this very remote area. And we're very thankful that the crew is all safe.

That completes that statement.


For those of us in the room here, there's a little bit of a lag. We have to be careful to wait in between speakers.

Next Lieutenant Dan Manetzke?

MANETZKE: Lieutenant Dan Manetzke here.

Just to echo what the captain said, it was professionally -- the whole situation was taken care of very professionally. The crew has trained to respond at quick notice when something like this happens. It was great to get in the REB (ph) and proceed out to the site and find all four pilots alive and well. Everybody did their job by the book.

That's the end of my statement.

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: OK. Has the KC-10 joined us? KC- 10? New airplane? No. OK. First question.

QUESTION: I have a couple questions for Captain Steele, if you would. Could you tell us, for starters, were you en route to Afghanistan, and did you manage to release your bombs after you declared the emergency, and can you tell us what the emergency was?

STEELE: All I can say is I was flying a normally scheduled mission in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. And as far as aircraft malfunctions, we had multiple malfunctions, the aircraft was out of control, and we all had to eject.

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Captain Steele, I think the first part of what you said did not come through very clearly. I apologize, but if you could say that over again and try to speak slowly and maybe more directly into the handset please, sir.

STEELE: OK. As far as our mission, it was a normally scheduled mission in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. I don't think I'm at liberty to say whether it was coming or going from Afghanistan. (inaudible) us having to eject was multiple aircraft malfunctions which rendered the aircraft uncontrollable, so we had to eject.

QUESTION: Captain, when you ejected, did any of your crew suffer any kind of injuries at all?

STEELE: Yes, minor injuries. I will say that going through an ejection like that is about the most violent thing I've ever felt. We're all pretty bruised up and have some cuts. But overall we're doing very well.

QUESTION: Could you tell us how soon after you took off that you experienced this malfunction and how long you spent in the water? And how did you communicate with the KC-10 or the ship to your location?

STEELE: Well, I'm not going to discuss any mission-related information. I will say, we were in the water for approximately two hours. And as far as communicating with the KC-10 and the ship, we all carry a survival belt and a seat kit, which contains radios and several marking devices so that everybody can see us.

QUESTION: Captain Steele, can you describe for us just a little bit more what you mean by the aircraft being out of control?

QUESTION: How did the malfunction emerge? And what portions of the aircraft were out of control? For example, did you start to spin or what exactly happened?

STEELE: I'm sorry, I'm not going to go into great detail on that. Basically, we had multiple aircraft system malfunctions, which made it impossible for us to fly the aircraft.

QUESTION: Captain, two questions: How long is it between the time you declared the in-flight emergency to the time you ejected? And then could you describe the ejection process, and once you were in the water, how far the four crew members were apart? Thank you.

STEELE: We declared the emergency about 15 minutes prior to us having to eject.

The ejection sequence works very well in the B-1. Each crew member sits on an ACES II ejection seat, which is the best in the world. There are several pyrotechnic events have to go on to get us out of the aircraft. Hatches have to go out the aircraft. And eventually our seat fires and we exit the aircraft. And basically, once you pull the ejection handle everything is automatic. Ejected out of the aircraft, my parachute opened automatically, my seat kit deployed with my life raft. So everything worked as it should have for me.

QUESTION: Captain, after you declared the emergency you had turned the aircraft around and were you trying to do an emergency landing at Diego Garcia? And also, could you describe the situation in the water: Were there any dangers immediately present, any sharks or anything like that that you were aware of?

STEELE: We were attempting to land at Diego Garcia.

In the water, no, we didn't see any hazards, no sharks or anything like that. It was actually kind of comfortable. It was nice warm water.

Let me go back to a question that was asked earlier on. We were separated far enough that I could only see one other of the crew members. I was able to link up with him. And he was the only one that I saw until we were all picked up, so I was thankful to see everybody once we did get picked up.

QUESTION: Can you tell us from what altitude you ejected, and how long did it take to hit the water? STEELE: Approximately 15,000 feet.

QUESTION: This is for Commander Miranda: Were there any particular challenges that the Russell faced in either getting to the site or coordinating the rescue effort? Could you describe that a little bit for us, just exactly how all of that worked?

MIRANDA: Yes. As soon as we lost radar contact with the aircraft, we immediately vectored in aircraft that were in the area at the time and tried to locate to see if there was any life that they could see. The area that they went down in was a particularly shallow area, and we had to navigate very carefully. We brought the ship as close as possible to where we thought the aircraft or the downed pilots were. And we had to put our boats in the water to actually make the recovery, about seven miles away from the ship. So that was the big challenge there, was the particular spot where the pilots went down.

QUESTION: It's a question for both Captain Steele and Lieutenant Manetzke.

First of all, Lieutenant, when you actually pulled these people out of the water, what was their reaction, what did they say to you? I mean, were they -- did they say anything at all? Where they cheering, whatever?

And basically the same question to Captain Steele.

MANETZKE: It's Lieutenant Dan Manetzke. When we arrived on the scene and met up with the pilots, our first response, obviously, was to make voice contact with them and make sure they were OK medically, and everything looked good there.

You know, we needed to get them in the small boats -- gathered up in the small boats. Basically, I think, they were just as happy to see us as we were to see them.

STEELE: This is Captain Steele. I have to say, I got to disagree a little bit on that last point. I think we were much happier to see them than they were to see us.


I don't think we said too much. We shook hands with the crew members on the boats. And we're all professionals here, so we just didn't have much to say besides big smiles, "Thank you," and shake their hands.

QUESTION: This is for Captain Steele. Were any of the multiple malfunctions on the bomber caused by enemy fire of any kind?

STEELE: No, there were not.

WOODRUFF: We have been listening to a fairly remarkable interview, news conference, with the captain of the B-1B bomber that went down, that crashed in the Indian Ocean just a few hours ago, and with his three other -- the airmen who were flying with him, and with the commander of the destroyer, the USS Russell, that picked them up.

And just quickly, the highlights: Captain William Steele said the plane -- why did it -- why did they have to eject? He said the plane was experiencing "multiple system malfunctions." And he said it went out of control. He said: "These made it impossible to fly the aircraft. We ejected after that."

They were all bruised and cut a little, but basically they were fine and clearly grateful to be alive. They spent two hours in the water. He said the water was -- in his words, it was kind of comfortable. It was nice and warm. And there were no hazards. There was a reporter asking if there were any sharks.

So, once again, very good news: All four crew members of that B- 1B that crashed in the Indian Ocean several hours ago are now safe and sound and talking to reporters at the Pentagon.




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