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NTSB Holds Press Conference

Aired January 6, 2002 - 16:14   ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: We interrupt CNN PRESENTS to bring you this live news conference by the National Transportation Safety Board on the plan crash yesterday into the bank building in Tampa, Florida.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... National Transportation Safety Board is going to speak first.

BUTCH WILSON, LEAD INVESTIGATOR, NTSB: Good afternoon. My name is Butch Wilson, with the National Transportation Safety Board. I'm an air safety investigator, and I've come out of the Atlanta field office.

I arrived here this morning about 7:30 a.m., and my first destination was the building -- Bank of America building. We assessed the damage there and picked up some extra airplane parts that weren't quite picked up the first time. We proceeded then to the aircraft, which is being stored not too far from here. And we did a quick examination of the aircraft. And then we went and interviewed some controllers.

Basically where we're at right now -- the aircraft was airborne approximately 12 -- nine to 12 minutes. We haven't nailed the time down exactly yet, but we are working on that. He flew through some unauthorized airspace; it was an unauthorized takeoff, as everyone is aware. And he eventually crashed into the Bank of America building.

We are currently conducting our investigation. One of the items that were found during the course of investigation was a note inside the aircraft that the pilot had left. Chief Holder will address that. They've done a complete check and background on this, and I think he's better off to fill you in on that situation than I am.

So if you don't mind, I'd like to introduce Chief Holder.


Good afternoon. First let me introduce the people that are standing behind me here. First we have my boss, Mayor Dick Greco; Director James Sewell (ph); Sheriff Perehenesin (ph); Larry Albert (ph), agent in charge of Tampa FBI; Mark Dubina (ph), special agent with FDLE; Captain Jane Castor (ph), head of my (UNINTELLIGIBLE) unit; Lieutenant Rich McClain, representing MacDill Air Force Base; Deputy Jane Coats (ph) representing the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office; Mike McCauliffe (ph), the Tampa office U.S. attorney; and Mr. Butch Wilson also; we also have a representative here from the Florida Highway Patrol.

Before I get started, first I want to thank all these different agencies involved. When this incident occurred yesterday, it was just amazing how quickly everyone began to work together and how quickly the information came together; so I want to thank everyone for working together.

The young man, Charles Bishop, can best be described as a young man who had very few friends, and he was very much a loner. From his action we can assumed he was a troubled young man. As everyone is aware, about 5:00 p.m. January 5, 2002 there was a privately-owned Cessna airplane that crashed into the Bank of America building located at Ashley and Kennedy Boulevard in downtown Tampa.

The investigation thus far has determined that the 15-year-old, Charles Bishop, arrived at the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport for his private flying lesson. He boarded the plane to conduct routine pre-flight activities, and he subsequently took off in the airplane without his instructor onboard.

During this flight pattern, he invaded MacDill Air Force Base airspace and a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter that was on a routine security check of the bay was alerted. The helicopter flew -- the helicopter crew approached the Cessna and made hand gestures to Charles Bishop to take the airplane down. Bishop deliberately flew the plane directly into the building and was killed.

During a subsequent investigation in search the scene, a note was found which belonged to Bishop. According to the note, Bishop clearly stated that he had acted alone, without any help from anyone else. He did, however, make a statement expressing his sympathy toward Osama bin Laden and the event which occurred on September 11, 2001.

More importantly, at this time there is no information to support Bishop's connection with any terror organization. Let me say again: All indications are Charles Bishop was a troubled young man, he acted along without help from anyone else.

At this time myself and Mr. Wilson will address any questions you all may have.

QUESTION: What do you conclude from that note?

HOLDER: Pardon me?

QUESTION: What do you conclude from that note?

HOLDER: As I say, he was a troubled young man that had sympathy for bin Laden, and he was acting out his sympathy for Osama bin Laden.

QUESTION: How did he express that sympathy, chief?

HOLDER: Well, he apparently stole an airplane and he crashed it into the bank building.


QUESTION: Did he write the word "sympathy"?

HOLDER: No, he didn't write the word "sympathy," but he expressed support for what happened on 9/11, including his support of bin Laden.


QUESTION: Have you spoken with his family?

HOLDER: I personally have not talked with his family, but members of the investigative team have interviewed his mother, yes.

QUESTION: Did the note elaborate on why he was supportive of bin Laden or what was the cause that he was acting on?

HOLDER: It's still an open, ongoing investigation, so I don't want to get into any great detail as to exactly what he said. But what I told you was a general overview of what the note stated.

QUESTION: Are you categorizing it as a suicide? And is that a suicide note?

HOLDER: I would carachterize it as a suicide, yes.

QUESTION: Would you consider it a terrorist attack?

HOLDER: No, I would not. You know, it depends on your interpretation of a terrorist act; but no, I do not. And I believe my colleague will support me on that.

QUESTION: How long was the note? (OFF-MIKE) one-page letter?

HOLDER: I believe about three or four paragraphs.

QUESTION: Hand-written?

HOLDER: Hand-written, yes.

QUESTION: Where in the plane was the note?

HOLDER: I believe it was found on Mr. Bishop's person. I think he had it in his pocket, if I'm correct.

QUESTION: Was he intending to harm others with his actions?

HOLDER: There's no indication that he had any inclination of harming anyone else.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) he was intending to fly into a building?

HOLDER: No, we cannot determine whether or not the Bank of America building or MacDill Air Force -- we cannot determine any particular target that he had in mind.

QUESTION: Did the note make any reference to personal, family or girlfriend troubles?


QUESTION: When his family was interviewed, did they mention anything about his reaction to 9/11 or Osama bin Laden?

HOLDER: I don't have that information, no. Not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: Did the note mention any classmates?


QUESTION: Can you elaborate a little bit more on the sympathy for Osama bin Laden -- give us a phrase or a sentence?

HOLDER: He just basically -- you know, what I said basically, you know, summarized what he said. I don't want to get into any great details, because it is still an ongoing investigation. We have several agencies involved interviewing several people which -- we have already interviewed several people which -- and we will continue dealing with in the next few days. So I don't want to get into a lot of great details about the note.

QUESTION: But if you've determined he acted alone, why not release the note?

HOLDER: At this point we don't have any reason, based on what he said in the note, that anyone else was involved. But it is an ongoing investigation, as you know. We are not going to release information that could jeopardize an ongoing investigation.

QUESTION: Did you find any computer or computer hardware or software (OFF-MIKE)?

HOLDER: Part of the investigation will be to check this young man's computer. And I will leave it like that.

QUESTION: Was his family aware of his feelings and sympathies (OFF-MIKE)?

HOLDER: Not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: Could you speak to the fact that the plane was up for anywhere from nine to 12 minutes, and had been reported as an unauthorized takeoff. I mean, if hit been a heavier craft, or other circumstances, was there a quick enough response?

WILSON: Response was occurring when the aircraft hit the building. Air traffic control was in touch with the communications center, who is in touch with Washington, who is in touch with NORAD. Things were moving, but in nine to 12 minutes, by the time you get everybody on line and get everybody up to date and then get the aircraft in air and there, it's too late. It's not enough time. QUESTION: Was there anything that the officials at MacDill could have done when that plane took off and headed their way to have kept him away from their property?

WILSON: I don't believe so. Now, I've not talked to the folks at MacDill yet. That's one of the things I intend to do tomorrow. But I don't believe they have the capabilities to do anything at that particular facility.

QUESTION: So there's nothing that could have been done to stop this, except (OFF-MIKE)

WILSON: From what I'm hearing right now -- we're talking with air traffic and everything -- yes, that's right.

QUESTION: So how is security at MacDill?

HOLDER: Well, I think Colonel McClain should address any security concern at MacDill Air Force Base.


What I'd like to say is that, as Chief Holder has mentioned, we didn't feel there was any threat to MacDill Air Force base at the time. A little around 5:00 we were informed by Tampa tower that there was a Cessna 172 headed our way, piloted by a 15-year-old student.

We at MacDill, at that time it was about three miles outside of our airspace. He entered our airspace about a minute later, and was in our airspace for somewhere around a minute. Now, we're going through tapes to verify all these times. At that time we did not feel he was a threat.

MacDill did nothing to, so to speak, to stop that airplane, except try to contact him. We did contact Coast Guard helicopter, which -- you know about that, and asked him to intercept that airplane and try to make some form of contact with him; and they did that.

He entered our airspace from the west and proceeded directly north. And like I said, he was in our airspace for probably around eight minutes.

QUESTION: At what point do you see him as a threat? Obviously you didn't know what he was doing at that point. He was in the airspace a minute; at what point would he have been a threat?

MCCLAIN: Probably if he would have taken some kind of threatening maneuvers. But right now we...


QUESTION: ... what would you have done?

MCCLAIN: Right now I'm not at liberty to talk about the security at MacDill, for obvious reasons.

QUESTION: How long after takeoff were you informed that he was in the air?

MCCLAIN: We were inform by Tampa tower. I would have to look at the tapes to give you an exact time, but I would say it would probably be six to seven minutes after takeoff.

QUESTION: Colonel, could you explain why, when there's an air base here, your aerial cover had to come from Homestead (OFF-MIKE)?

MCCLAIN: Homestead has those type aircraft based at Homestead; MacDill does not.


QUESTION: At the Central Command, why doesn't MacDill have some...

MCCLAIN: Once again, I can't address those issues, sir.

QUESTION: Where were the fighter planes exactly when the Cessna struck?

MCCLAIN: That, I don't know either.

QUESTION: Are you looking into that?

MCCLAIN: We are looking into that.

QUESTION: Will there be any thought given to (OFF-MIKE)

MCCLAIN: That would be up to (OFF-MIKE)

QUESTION: Are there procedures right now (OFF-MIKE) are there any procedures as to (OFF-MIKE) do they call (OFF-MIKE) do they call...

MCCLAIN: No, the way it stands right now is the air-traffic control facility controlling that aircraft are aware that aircraft took off, and makes the notifications; and those notifications did occur. They made those notifications. Unfortunately, there just wasn't enough time to get the appropriate aircraft there to do anything about it.

QUESTION: Which brings the question: A lot of people might use this incident as a jumping-off point, saying general aviation needs to be more secure. And I'm curious, are they having them look at that in a broader aspect?

MCCLAIN: They're not having me look at that at this point in time, but I think's it's a concern that's been -- is an ongoing concern, especially since 9/11, and it's something that they've been working on for quite some time. I have no idea what impact this will have.

QUESTION: Are there different rules for a small, general- aviation plane compared to an airliner, or are they pretty much the same rules? If somebody is in airspace and has been ordered to leave, action will be taken -- I mean, because obviously a small plane does a lot less damage than a large airliner.

MCCLAIN: I can't address exactly what the air traffic control rules are, relevant to each type of aircraft. I'm sure there are some subtle differences, but basically they'll send up pursuit aircraft, it doesn't matter what you're in. If you're in violation of airspace, they will come up and greet you.

HOLDER: I think we have brought you guys up to date. We gave you everything that we know about the investigation as of this point. I can assure you, as time goes on, we will give you an update. But we can stand here today and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) all day long.

But I can assure you that my office and all of my colleagues, everyone involved in this investigation, will be trying to address all of those issues. But at this point I think we have brought you guys up to date on the investigation as to what we know and to inform the public.

Thank you.

WILSON: I would like to make one final statement, though: I would like to thank all the agencies who've cooperated. They've made this a relatively painless investigation for myself. I've had a lot of assistance. They've all been wonderful, and I appreciate all their help.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) happen tomorrow?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At this point we're going to conclude. I thank you all for being here.

LIN: All right, this just goes to show that truth can sometimes be stranger than fiction.

That was a live news conference by the National Transportation Safety Board on the air crash yesterday of a small plane into a bank building in Tampa, Florida. A 15-year-old teenage boy was at the controls of that plane, and now the NTSB and the Tampa police are confirming that this young man apparently was on a suicide mission, that he intended on killing himself and that he had left a note somewhere on his person, about three to four paragraphs long, clearly stating that he was acting alone, and that he expressed sympathy with Osama bin Laden and support of what happened on September 11.

Apparently, investigators have been looking into whether this 15- year-old had any connection to the terrorist al Qaeda network. They have found none. They are interviewing his mother, who apparently was unaware of her son's feelings. They are about to be checking on his computer, but so far what they have learned about 15-year-old Charles Bishop is that he was a loner, a boy with very few friends, and that his actions clearly indicate that he was a troubled young man.

Took off yesterday in a small plane as he was about to start what was supposed to be a private lesson in that airplane. He had been taking lessons in flying for the last couple of years, and as the police are now saying in Tampa, this 15-year-old deliberately flew this airplane into the Bank of America building.

We are going to have more on this story as it develops. We've got people on the ground working the story, and we've got much more news coming up.




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