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Pilot May Have Had Trouble With Landing Gear

Aired April 18, 2002 - 14:04   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.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Miles, we're getting a chance to perhaps digest more information about the type of plane that was involved. What are you learning?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I have been watching these pictures, along with pilots all over the world, quite frankly. And quite frankly, many of us are mystified at the extent of the explosion, given the reports that it was a small, single-engine aircraft. Many of these aircraft carry 80, maybe 100 gallons of fuel, and certainly it would be less than that since the plane had been flying.

A couple of reports to give you. First of all, I've been having a hard time getting up the Web site at the moment. I think we're getting a lot of traffic as a result. We have a report from Piper aircraft company, who incidentally, we were talking earlier about the possibility that it might have been a Piper aircraft. I think we can summarily discount that right now. Put that in the category of people who don't know a lot about aviation, just saying "small aircraft equals Piper."

One of the Piper dealers who happened to be in the air in that airspace at the time actually overheard some transmissions which led up to this incident. And according to this Piper dealer, this was actually an Aerocommander -- significant difference from the commander 112-TC, which I just showed you. Let's not put that picture up on the screen. That's not the plane.

It is a twin-engine aircraft. It is a turbo-prop aircraft. It is fueled by jet fuel because it's a turbo-prop. That's what they fueled on. Much heavier, much faster. And would, in fact, cause a much more significant impact -- the kind of impact, quite frankly, that we're seeing.

Also we've heard an additional bit of information, which comes to us via a naval aviator who has some friends in the area who have been monitoring some of the radio transmissions which led up to this crash. And what they're telling me is that apparently this pilot did, in fact, have some difficult with his landing gear.

And in the course of running through your checklist when your landing gear won't go down, the final step after you've gone through all the circuit breakers and checking to see if the lights aren't just burning properly and the gear, in fact, is down. The final step is to actually put yourself almost in the contortionist position and twist around and actually crank that gear down.

Now, if you're alone in the plane, as we have been reporting -- it's possible this pilot was alone in the plane -- this is not an easy thing to do. You have to kind of keep your eye on the instruments and turn back with your right arm and reach down to a crank -- and multiple cranks. On the aircraft that I own and fly frequently, it's more than 20 cranks just to get the gear down.

Now, it's something that pilots practice, and are supposed to practice, alone, frequently, for this very purpose. Because if you're in that situation it can be very difficult to keep control of the aircraft. Now, this could have been a situation where the landing gear was not indicated down. The pilot might have been distracted by the possibility of trying to crank down that gear, and might have gone astray.

Now, the other thing to keep in mind here is that that airspace, I'm told by this aviation source who has a person that's been listening to some of the traffic there and is intimate with the Milan airspace -- closed to general aviation. That aircraft probably should not have been there in the first place under any circumstances.

So in the course, perhaps, of dealing with some other emergency, this plane might very well have strayed into some very serious trouble. Once again, putting this in the category of very early stuff, the fist draft, if you will. But certainly, if, in fact, it was an if you will.

Certainly, if in fact it was an Aerocommander, a fairly heavy, twin-engine turbo-prop aircraft, which I hope to get you a picture of as soon as my Web browser starts working -- if it were in fact that type of aircraft, that would certainly jibe more with the level of damage that we're seeing, the amount of -- the fact that a couple of floors were apparently taken out significantly, and the extent of the explosion that we've seen.

WHITFIELD: Now, most of that information coming from someone who heard -- who was listening to the radio traffic.

O'BRIEN: We will put this in the category of hearsay for now. But I will tell you that the people I've talked to are not people who don't know aviation. These are -- one of them is a U.S. Naval aviator who has familiarity with the area. The other comes directly from Piper aircraft corporation. There was actually a dealer who sells Piper aircraft and happened to be flying in the air at the time and overheard some of these conversations.

But an important caveat that we're trying to figure this out. And in any situation like this, as you watch a 24-hour news network, you're going to hear some things that are wrong, inevitably. And we're doing our level best to sort it out for you.

WHITFIELD: Sure. And there are an awful lot of people on the investigative level who are also trying to sort things out. And they, too are jumping to a lot of conclusions or at least sometimes getting information that may not be complete. And then they have to take some time to get a greater picture.

For example, you know, we heard several scenarios about the origin of this plane. And now investigators want to narrow down it down to Locarno, Switzerland. And it was on the way to Bresso, which is about a 60-70 mile jaunt. And apparently a very popular route, particularly that Milan airspace is very busy, given that it is a financial capital. An awful lot of commerce air traffic.

O'BRIEN: Yes. And we were talking earlier about the fact that -- the fields where this aircraft began in the smaller general aviation category, that the Aerocommander would have the capability of going into all but the very smallest of strips and shortest of strips. It's designed for that level of versatility. Very sophisticated aircraft, though. Complex, high-performance aircraft.

I'm going to try to pull together a little more data for you on it and get you a picture of it. It's kind of a mid-to-high wing aircraft, twin-engine. And it's an aircraft that is really in a very different category than we've been talking about thus far. And as I look at that damage, it explains a lot to me that really hadn't been adding up heretofore.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks very much, Miles O'Brien.

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