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A Commander 112TC Believed to be Type of Plane in Crash

Aired April 18, 2002 - 13:52   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Miles O'Brien is here. We want to bring him back into the picture to get a better idea about this small plane. That's all we know. That's how we want to describe it at this juncture, a small plane. What do we know?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, we know a little bit more. One thing I just want to caution, we hear Piper, Cessna. That's like saying Ford or Chevy. These are names synonymous with general aviation. There are all kinds of manufactures of general aviation aircraft.

CNN has confirmed that it is now believed this aircraft was a Commander, Commander 112TC. Let's look at the web. We can see a look at this type of aircraft. It clearly, as you are about to see, is not the aircraft in question. This is an aircraft I found for sale for $119,000.00. It is low-wing aircraft. It could be easily mistaken for a Piper, as was previously reported by many of the witnesses on the scene. They see low wing, single-engine, they say Piper. This is a later version of it. This is on the Commander web site. That's a 115TC. TC just stands for turbo charge. That means it can go higher. It has much better engine performance. It can go as high as 20,000 feet is.

This latest version from the Commander web site indicates, and this performance might vary some what with the 112TC, which is a little older version, but this gives you a basic idea that the basic weight of it is about 1,300 pounds, 1,449-kilograms. It carries, when topped off with fuel, 88 gallons or 333 liters of fuel. It has performance, which puts it in the cruise category, at about 187 nauts (ph). That's about 200 miles an hour, thereabouts. I know you can't read these numbers. I apologize. I need the numbers, though, to give them to you. I haven't memorized them just yet.

And just to give you an idea, we were talking about the small aircraft capability. It requires about 1,400 feet or 429 meters runway in order to take off, a little more when have you to get over a 50-foot obstacle. It can fly as high as 25,000 feet or 7,600 meters. That's the kind of aircraft that you probably would want to have if you are flying, if you were based in that part of the world, in and around the Swiss Alps.

Now, let me offer the caveat once again. This is the latest information on the aircraft we have. We were telling you for quite some time that it might have been Piper. We shod you Piper aircraft with the caveat that we didn't know. I just want to tell you, at this juncture, it is early on.

But the Commander aircraft, which you just saw there, would be certainly be capable of flying this short mission and would be well capable of handling the altitudes in that area, which is something the pilot would be concerned about if they're flying in and around the mountains. So we're going to keep working on that. It's very difficult for us to determine right now, just looking at the building because there are no visible signs of any recognizable wreckage there.

WHITFIELD: A lot of information is still trickling in. It's difficult to get confirmation right away. But what is pretty remarkable is that Italian authorities feel pretty confident already in this stage of the investigation. They do want to say they believe that this crash was the cause of a mechanical problem. That's what preceded the impact of that plane into that Pirelli building.

They want to caution, once again, they do not believe that it was a terrorist attack. So the numbers as we know it, so far, at least three people have been killed, between 30 and 40, perhaps even more, injured. Those people have been hospitalized in a nearby hospital. The small plane tat Miles has been talking about originated from Locarno, Switzerland. It was on its way it Bresso, about 60 to 70 miles. And that pilot apparently called in an S.O.S. shortly before the impact.

Kevin Michael Buckley, who was with us moments ago, has joined us again. He is a British journalist in Milan. What's the latest you have there from the ground there, Kevin?

KEVIN BUCKLEY, JOURNALIST: Well, the situation here is that we have, of course, the whole zone taped off by the security services and people milling around, some coming for the train. Some people have who have been working won't know much about this, as they are arriving to take the trains home at the main rail station just across from the building. So again, we saw an enormous number of people wandering around here.

Police want the people as far away from surrounding buildings, which have broken windows and glass falling from them. So far, there have been no reports of any casualties from that kind of thing. From where I'm standing now, I can still this gaping hole inside the building. As we said earlier, it is eerily reminiscent of what we saw in New York last September, but, of course, on a far smaller scale. There is no talk at all of any structural damage to the building. There's no talk of it collapsing or any of the floors collapsing.

As we speak, you still have the military helicopters coming into the zone, which again suggests that the security service are treating it still as a possible attack, entering with caution. There is an awful lot of activity on that particular floor, from what we can see here.

WHITFIELD: Kevin, I'm sorry to interrupt you. Kevin, it is about 8:00 there? You are losing light. People are having a difficult time finding a way home. You mention that the rail station, which was just nearby a very central point, has been closed. I'm sure an awful lot, thousands of people, milling around, and now people trying to find their way home.

It has to be a pretty chaotic scene, given the fact that you are also losing a lot of and the investigation has to continue in darkness.

BUCKLEY: I must say, the local people have handled it far more pragmatically than I expected. When I arrived just minutes after the explosion, there were an enormous amount of people just around the corner on one of the main thoroughfares, which you can see straight away from the station.

Any Americans who may have visited this city will have probably seen this street because, as you come straight out of the main central station, it is right in front of you. And to the right here is this huge 30-floor skyscraper, the 26th floor of which is no longer there. We have, obviously, people now starting to arrive, who live in the area, who have come to look at the scene.

I have to say that early this evening I was talking to a young woman who worked in the Pirelli Tower. She claimed that usually there are about 60 people working on each floor around that time of day, 5:47 local time, p.m., of course. She claimed that a meeting was being held on the 24th or 25th floor, at the very moment when the impact hit, which would suggest we could be talking -- I don't want to cause unnecessary concern, but if she is right that here was a meeting of staff on that floor, then the death toll could be much higher.

So far, we have no news on that from the regional authorities. Remember that this building is the headquarters of the region, the richest region in Italy. It is full of thousands of people everyday. So we don't know yet if anything took place. The woman I spoke to, she and her colleagues working in that tower, knew of a meeting at that time. She seemed to think that most people, somehow, were on the other side of the building on that floor when the plane hit. She didn't seem to be too genuinely concerned about the casualties.

WHITFIELD: Kevin, we're looking at new pictures that we've acquired here, shortly after the impact of that plane into the building. You see the cloud of dust. The building made of concrete, one of the world's tallest concrete buildings. Particularly significant, I reiterate that, because it really is a landmark in downtown Milan there, and a notable building worldwide.

The smoke trailing off a corner of the building. You see here the emergency crews. But now things I'm sure look very, very different, given that you've lost a lot of the daylight that we're looking at in these filed pictures. But you did mention, just as we are seeing here, there still seems to be some helicopter activity overhead. Even though, generally speaking, airspace has been closed. Still authorities are using their helicopters to survey things from above.

BUCKLEY: That's right. And going back to a point you raised earlier. You were talking about whether or not there was any general (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in Italy about terror attacks. That's to say that I'm not completely in agreement (UNINTELLIGIBLE) when she said that most people were pretty casual about it. I have to say that, since September 11th, we've had three or four major alerts here, even one in Rome a few weeks ago.

Now it's publicly a red alert on very sensitive targets around Easter time. And stepped up security very visibly around religious sites, which is the Vatican and so on and so forth. And nothing happened, with a little bit of backtracking, saying that perhaps they received information from security sources.

WHITFIELD: Well, Kevin, you mentioned you do believe that there was some uneasiness. Do you think that's why it was particularly important for Italian authorities to come out rather immediately to perhaps try to allay fears by saying they had reason to believe that this is indeed an accident that was caused by mechanical failure of the plane, especially since one piece of evidence is that the pilot radioed in to the control tower.

BUCKLEY: Unfortunately, the very first official reaction was in Parliament, saying that they believe it was a terror attack. Which obviously -- everybody was treating it as such. And it is very difficult, obviously, in these situations, how to react. They needed to say something. But perhaps they shouldn't have said they believe it was a terror attack. Perhaps they should have waited for more information to come in.

It was quickly retracted within the hour, within the half-hour, even. But again, it did get attention. Here, don't forget, in Milan, there have been two major sets of arrest on alleged terror offenses, even before the terror attack in New York last September. There was a group of people of Moroccan descent, or at least Arabic descent, arrested not far from Milan.

And we had another series of arrests even more recently. And at one stage, at least American sources were identifying one of the main mosques here in Milan. Very controversial. They identified one of the targets as the European headquarters, said of a terror group. Now, obviously, that hasn't been proved and the investigations are going on.

But something like 28 suspects are in detention in Italy after these series of raids. So I would say that there was a far greater alert in Italy as a whole. Obviously the population, the ordinary civilian population, not on high alert. But it does work its way down. And this reaction shows that. The people very ready to believe that, here we are. Here's the terror attack that we were expecting.

WHITFIELD: OK, Kevin Michael Buckley, a British journalist working there in Milan. Thank you very much for joining us over the telephone there and helping to paint a picture as to what is taking place there. We appreciate it.




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