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Detainees One Hour Into Journey; F-16 Crashed At Firing Range

Aired January 10, 2002 - 12:01   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.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Our Bill Hemmer standing by right now in Kandahar. Let's go back to him now for the latest on the departure of the flight there from Kandahar that is taking the detainees away -- Bill, what's the latest word right now?

BILL HEMMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Leon, they have been in the air by my count about 55 minutes right now, the first group has left Afghanistan airspace bound for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The first group as described before, 20, a smaller group. One person here said it was a trial run to make sure the security measures implemented indeed hold (ph). It was orderly, it was deliberately, and it appears to be successful on this end, all loading up in the back of a C-17. Intense security, there were attack dogs on the runway as well, but what was significant after that, and what we are still waiting to figure out right now, basically on the ground in Kandahar, is as that C-17 was taking off down the runway, there's the reports of gunfire on the north end of the runway, some tracer flare shot up into the air.

Again, that was about -- I would say 45 minutes ago, and about 15 minutes ago, a significant amount of gunfire here at the airport, red tracers crisscrossing the runway outside here. We have talked to the Marines about what they are hearing and what they are seeing, and they say they spotted, in their words, enemy positions to the north.

What that means is quite unclear right now, but I can say it has fallen quiet once again. There was almost an hour of tracer fire up in the the air, but we don't see any more right now. The lights are out, the runway is shut down, and that is unusual for Kandahar, because normally this place is buzzing nearly 24 hours a day with something going on.

Back to the detainee issue, Leon, we do anticipate 20 hours of flight time to Guantanamo Bay. There will be a scheduled refueling stop somewhere, the U.S. military is holding that secret, but it appears at this point the first mission to move detainees halfway around the world, 8,000 miles from Kandahar, appears to have gone off without a hitch save for the small arms fire that we heard a short time ago, and really, right now, we are going to work and try and figure out what that was -- Leon.

HARRIS: Well, Bill, my question is this: I mean, up to this point, we thought the departure time and the logistics involved with getting those detainees out of that camp were secret. It would seem that maybe it wasn't so much of a secret if there is small arms fire on this particular flight that takes off, because this was the first report that I've heard of any kind firing at any planes taking off there, am I right or wrong here?

HEMMER: Yeah, Leon, I think your logic is absolutely right on. The question is, what was it, and how significant of a threat was it, and really those questions aren't answered right now, and as I speak, Leon I hear a helicopter taking off. I am not quite sure which direction it is headed at this point, but I will try and figure it out for you as well. It is a well-fortified base, Leon, upwards of 3,000 U.S. men and women and also other (ph) coalition forces here from Great Britain, Australia, Germany. They all have troops here, Norway has troops as well. It is well fortified. For anyone to penetrate this base would be an absolute -- a feat, because they have dug in well on the perimeter, and they are well armed in terms of guarding this base, Leon.

HARRIS: Alright, let me ask you this one, finally, Bill then, with firing now taking place on the particular flight, and again, what a coincidence it happens to be the flight that is taking these detainees out, does this in any way change the schedule of moving these detainees out? Have you heard any talk at all about that just yet?

HEMMER: Yeah, no telling. It was my understanding, Leon, with talking with the investigators and also the people responsible for the transfer. They were going to sit back and gauge and see how this thing goes.

I mentioned before this was a trial run, according to one of the military lawyers working this operation here. They wanted to see if indeed the security measures they took helped, and, listen, I don't think until they arrive in Guantanamo Bay are we will know fully if they were happy with it, satisfied with it, or if they need to make adjustments or amendments to the original plan -- Leon.

HARRIS: All right, good deal. Obviously more details need to come in before we can continue with that story. Bill Hemmer, good job, thank you very much, Bill. Bill is live in Kandahar right now. He'll get back to us later, once he learns more about that particular story.

We've got another one here developing here state-side, though. This also involves a plane. The pilot of an Air National Guard F-16 that crashed in Southern New Jersey is now being taken to a hospital after ejecting from that fighter plane a short time ago.

The Pentagon says the plane was on a routine mission. We just got word about this one within the last hour or so. We want to show you where it happened. This happened around Little Egg Harbor Township in New Jersey, which is in Southeastern New Jersey, and as it turns out, the plane didn't necessarily crash in what you would call an inhabited area. It crashed in an area that was actually a firing range, and some of the debris, though, from that crash site made it on to the Garden State Parkway. We don't have any word whether or not that caused any injuries or any other casualties there on the highway system, and again, we are continuing to follow this story, that Air National Guard unit flies out of Atlantic City International Airport, and we're still tracking down more details on that story.

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