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Small Plane Hits Milan-High Rise Building

Aired April 18, 2002 - 12:08   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: A frightening scene reminiscent of the terror attacks on New York's World Trade Center. This breaking story now being reported by Reuters. A small tourist plane crashed into a 30-story high-rise building in Milan, Italy.

CNN's Desideria Cavina joins us now on the telephone to gives us a better handle of what's taking place there.

DESIDERIA CAVINA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, hello. What is taking place is that at 10 minutes to 6:00 this afternoon local time in Italy, which means 20 minutes ago, a tourist plane crashed into a very large building that has 30 stories, next to the central railroad station in Milan, which means it's exactly by the central part of the town.

In this building, the Regione Lombardia offices are there, which means it's the federal building, and what we can see now is a very huge fire from half of the building, and there's now a very high danger that the building will collapse soon. There are ambulances rushing on the scene, and the and police are trying to keep away people that are rushing to the scene at the moment.

WHITFIELD: So, Desideria, can you tell me a little bit about the occupants of that building, the scene of people trying to escape, others going in to try to rescue people?

CAVINA: Yes, well, the building, as I was saying, offices a federal building, which the president of the Regione Lombardia, this large industrial area in Milan, has his offices there. So many people were still at work. It's a very nice day today, sun shining, and lots of people were also there to catch the train, because it was the end of the working day. Today is a -- a lot of people rushing to central station, and outside the central station.

What took place in the beginning, it was a very large, you know, huge fear of the scene looked like on September 11. Now there is a confirmation that the plane that has hit the building is actually a tourist plane, which means that it was not the same scene we have seen on September 11.

Given that we know only that it is you tourist plane, are you getting any information as to the size of that plane? What does that really mean? CAVINA: Well, the size becomes a lot of people are telling us they have seen fire in the beginning, think it was an explosion inside the building, and then we have seen people rushing out of the building, saying no, no, no, it is a plane, it is a plane, and there are lots of people who fear it and left have seen the plane crashing inside of the building.

WHITFIELD: And, Desideria, you know very similar to the situation in New York, you know everything is taking place so quickly now, and obviously a number of people who are in that building are trying to escape with their lives and trying to help people along the way.

You said ambulances are on the way, but can you paint a picture as to what kind of emergency efforts are actually taking place.

CAVINA: There are many ambulances who have reached the scene already and are rushing to their hospitals. Nearby, there is one large hospital, and others are about 2-3 miles away from.

WHITFIELD: And, Desideria, we are looking pictures now from Italian TV, giving us the scene of the skyline there, but we're not seeing what would appear to be an emergency situation.

CAVINA: No. Well, what we can tell you is that now we know that the plane has hit the 26th story of the building, and also what we know is that it is helicopter on top of it.

WHITFIELD: I don't know if you can see that, but there are helicopters on top of the scene now, checking if there is people -- same thing on top of the building as well. Of those the helicopters -- I am unable to see it in this picture. Perhaps we're in the wrong part of the frame.

But of those helicopters, are you a able to tell us whether they are, you know, repelling any kind of emergency aide or dropping water tanks or anything from that helicopter?

CAVINA: They are not dropping water tanks no, they are -- I would say they are just overlooking the situation from the top, and maybe I can imagine they are saying to the police cars and ambulances, where is the closest place where they can do their job?

I can tell you there is a small square in front of the central station. There is not much space where they can land as well.

OK, and, Desideria, can you tell me a little bit more about that area from Milan. You say it is a federal building. What are the other buildings? What is the topography and the landscaping there?

CAVINA: OK, I can tell you that it is the tallest building in town, in fact, here alone, and it's next to the central station, which is the largest railroad station in town, and it is very well -- how can I say this, very densely populated around. Lots of hotels are next to this building, and lots of offices as well. CAVINA: So of course at this time of the evening -- it is now here 6:15 p.m., there are lots of people going back at home with the train, and with the subway station as well, which is right -- the subway station is right in front of this building as well.

WHITFIELD: So it's a buzz of activity there, right before this plane crashed, primarily because it's rush hour?

CAVINA: Yes, exactly.

WHITFIELD: All right, Desideria, well, hang with me just a little bit longer just to kind of give us a better sense as to what is taking place there. I am sure developments are happening very quickly there.

Of the emergency workers who have arrived at the scene, are you able to see any sort of rescues that are taking place?

CAVINA: Where I am now, they are pulling us back away from the scene, and it's very hard for us to see right now, because there are cars, and lots of police cars and caribenia (ph) coming by, so we can't really what's taking place in front of us at this point, but we do see a lot of ambulances going back and forth toward the hospitals.

WHITFIELD: Have you had contact with any witnesses thus far to describe for you what they saw perhaps upon impact or just prior to?

CAVINA: Well, the only thing I was able to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) before getting in touch with you is that I talked to people that live not far away from there, and they told us that they could hear the windows shivering and the noise, even from very far away there. It was a very big crash.

WHITFIELD: OK, and this one building, this federal building, what was the name of that building?

CAVINA: Pirelli Leones (ph). Pirelli is the name of a very important and large Italian factory, and it's very well known in town. It's the tallest building in Milan, in that area.

WHITFIELD: So the photograph that we are seeing on the screen now is a photo that highlights this, a very tall building to the left, which is obviously before the emergency were to take place. This what this building looks like.

Where is the nearest airport? Could it have been the case that there was possibly a problem on this plane upon takeoff or landing. What's the proximity of the airport?

CAVINA: The nearest airport is Kenanni (ph) Airport. Just to give you an idea, it's the one where the big crash happened last October with the SAS (ph) plane, and 118 people died, but this airport is about I would say eight kilometers, which is five miles from there. So it's not that near to the airport, to be honest.

WHITFIELD: OK, and being that you're familiar with the area, are you familiar at least with regular flight plan or routes over the city there? Would it have been very unusual for a plane to have been that close to the downtown section?

CAVINA: Well, I have to admit that as I a do very often attend the railway station, I have not seen many planes going by there. It's a very inhabited area of the city and planes do not cross that area so often.

WHITFIELD: OK, so let me just recap once again for the people who are just now joining us, a small tourist plane crashed into what appears to be the 26th floor at the Pirelli building, which is in downtown Milan. It is the tall building which you are seeing on your screen right now that is highlighted. This is the picture of the building before.

Of course the impact right now is an emergency situation there, ambulances, emergency personnel responding, trying to get to people who are most likely ending their business day there, just after 6:00 p.m. there in Milan, the height of rush hour, people obviously leaving that building, people in the area, leaving their places of work, going home.

We don't know anything about the injuries of the people. We don't know enough about this tourist plane that crashed into this building.

Desideria Cavina is joining us now on the telephone, giving us a sense as to how this emergency situation is unfolding there. Right now, Desideria, what more can you tell us about the rescue efforts, about any new vehicles that have arrived on this scene?

CAVINA: I can only see the officials rushing to the scene back and forth, but they are pulling us even more far away from the scene at this point because of the rush of ambulances and police cars going by.

They are trying to isolate the whole area, and they're trying to send us a little back. I can see cars going back and forth, and of course, the traffic is completely jammed and the people screaming, cell phones are constantly ringing because...

WHITFIELD: And, Desideria, you made a point very reminiscent of the fears during the World Trade Center attacks last September 11, the fear now that the fuel from that airplane, the fire that is out of control now on the 26th floor of this 30-story building, may cause what nobody is hoping would happen, a collapse of that building, just similar to what happened in New York last September 11 during the World Trade Center attacks, no one expecting that to happen.

But in light of what has taken place just months ago, now the great fear is that something very similar, eerily similar is taking lace in Milan. We do not know of course the injuries though. Here is a Webcam shot as it is happening. You can see some of the smoke on the top floors of that building, just to the left of your screen. That one protruding building there, it is the tallest building, as Desideria described for us, in that section of Milan. It is a building that accommodates local. regional and government offices.

So once again, if you are just now joining us, a small plane has hit the upper levels of a 30-story building that houses local, and regional and government offices. You are looking at a live picture now, thanks to Italian television, along with our own resources there, CNN, In Milan, helping us to report on what is an unfolding situation there. We're unclear on how many people were in the building at the time of this small tourist plane that is being described to us impacted the 26th floor of this 30-story building.

It is the Pirelli building, I hope I'm am pronouncing that correctly. It is a building that houses both local, regional, and government offices. And there is smoke billowing from the building. Emergency crews have arrived at that building trying to conduct the rescues that they are able to.

It is eerily -- in an eerily similar scene to the World Trade Center attacks. In this case, a small tourist plane, impacting the Pirelli building.

Desideria, are you still on the phone with us?

OK. We've lost her on the telephone there. But once again, a small tourist plane impacting the Pirelli building, which is a government office building that houses offices of regional and local authorities there.

This building is the tallest building in downtown Milan, in this section. The nearest airport is about five miles away, and helicopters were last seen just at the top of this building, perhaps surveying the damage. We don't believe they were dropping any water tanks. We are unaware of whether they were part of the rescue mission. All we know at this point is that a fire has engulfed a good part of that building, at least from the 26th floor up, because it was the 26th floor, officials are telling us where that small tourist plane impacted.

We are looking at the live pictures now.

You can see some of the smoke coming from the right side of that building, but we are still waiting for some information to trickle in from authorities there, to give us a better sense as to how the rescue efforts are coming along, how many people were in the building. It happened -- right now, it is just after 6:00, which is rush hour. Italian television right now is reporting many wounded, but we don't have the exact numbers as of yet.

And according to the Italian television, two floors are completely engulfed and destroyed. Many people have been reported injured. It is -- once again, the tallest structure, the Pirelli skyscraper, in downtown Milan. Many office spaces within that building, it is a 30-story building, this tourist plane hitting the 26th floor, and this building is very near the busy -- the largest and busiest train station.

Desideria is back on the telephone with us now. We want to join her, maybe this has given her an opportunity to get a little bit more reporting. Desideria Cavina, what more do we know about the situation and the rescue efforts?

CAVINA: OK. First thing I want to say is that we know it is the 25th floor that has been hit by the plane, and the tourist plane kind is a Piper plane. We do know that the president of the Regione Lombardia, Roberto Formigoni was not in office at the time when the plane crashed. He is actually out of town, so he was not in the office. And the last news I can tell you is that the president of the Italian senate, Barche Lopera (ph), just said a few seconds ago that he believes this is a terrorist act, and this was not an accident.

WHITFIELD: OK, well, we are still waiting for confirmation on that because all sorts of theories are going to be floating around right now, until we can get official confirmation. Desideria, all we are learning right now about this tourist plane, that is how it has been described, a tourist plane was apparently making its way to Rome while coming from Sofia, Bulgaria. But we don't know who may have been on that plane, or how many people, and now, instead of the 26th floor being impacted, we are told now that it was about the 25th floor, one floor lower, of that building. It is the -- one of the world's highest concrete skyscrapers, the Pirelli building in downtown...

CAVINA: The tallest in town, as I told you. Tallest in Milan, and tallest in the north of Italy as well.

WHITFIELD: That's right. OK. Now, Desideria, you told us earlier there was some helicopter activity just a moment earlier, over that tower. What are you seeing there now, or what are you able to see, because I know that they moved you back quite significantly, and that has blocked your -- an awful lot has probably blocked your vision, but what can you see?

CAVINA: I can see people shouting and looking for relatives and friends. I see everybody trying to get in touch with cell phones, and it is actually quite difficult now to get the lines. I can see ambulances rushing, and I have been told that they do rush to the closest hospital, which is Fatebene Fratelli, which is about one and a half miles away from here and quite nearby, but I have been told that also ambulances are now also going to other hospitals because there -- they are, of course, having lots of people that need help, and I can see police and carbaniera (ph) coming by, and I can see they are trying to isolate even a larger area because, of course, the danger of debris and rubble, of course, collapsing from the building, and there is a part of the building and rubble everywhere in the very large area around the building at this point.

WHITFIELD: OK. And Desideria, we are trying to get information from all sources. Italian television is reporting right now that apparently an SOS came from the plane to the control tower shortly before it impacted that 25th floor of the Pirelli building in downtown Milan. As Desideria said, it is the tallest structure in downtown Milan, but it is one of the world's tallest and largest concrete skyscrapers. The Pirelli building was designed in 1955 -- between 1955 and 1960. CAVINA: Yes, well, it is very tall...

WHITFIELD: Italian television -- I'm sorry, go ahead, Desideria.

CAVINA: It is a very tall building, and you can see from very, very far away. I have to tell you the sky is clear today, the weather is beautiful, the building you really can see from very, very, far away, so what I have just been told from witnesses that were there, is that if you actually have an SOS, then you try to move away from an area that is so much -- of course, densely built, and in fact, when you find yourself in a obstacle so large and huge, as is this building, it is very strange at least.

WHITFIELD: OK. And Desideria, the information is trickling in about details just prior to this crash, and during the impact. We are hearing now from Italian television, as they are reporting, and they are live on the air, they are reporting that the 24th and 25th floors were hit directly when this tourist plane impacted that building.

CAVINA: Yes, but...

WHITFIELD: And now -- I'm sorry, go ahead.

CAVINA: The point is that the fire and the smoke has now reduced a little bit -- the smoke has reduced at this point, but we really can't say which floor was hit here from where I am. I am looking now at the building, but I can't really tell you where the plane hit the the building.

WHITFIELD: Well, that was...

CAVINA: It is in the top part, of course, but we can't see from here.

WHITFIELD: Yes. Well, that would certainly be encouraging if, indeed, the fire and the smoke -- seem like things were getting under control there. But, of course, you are looking at new pictures taking place from Italian television showing us there the -- what appears to be the side where the impact may have taken place there on the 25th and 26th floors.

Injured people the ground, people who have made it out of the building and perhaps even some people who may have been injured as they passed by there -- that building, given that likely an awful lot of debris, large, and small chunks of debris falling, at least 25 stories down. This taking place shortly in the throws -- just in the throws of rush hour. The Pirelli building is quite central, as Desideria has described to us, it is quite central to the downtown area, seen from very far away, right close to -- right close to the train station.




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