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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

NTSB Holds Briefing on I-40 Bridge Collapse

Aired May 27, 2002 - 11:24   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.
KRIS OSBORN, CNN ANCHOR: We are going to take you now live to an NTSB presser. This is taking place in Webbers Falls, Oklahoma, of course, the site where the I-40 bridge collapsed into the Arkansas River. Let's listen.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

GEORGE BLACK, NTSB BOARD MEMBER: ... identified by the state police and others to see -- build a sequence of events in the crash. Parties to our investigation are the state police, the state DOT and the United States Coast Guard.

We also met with the State Department of Transportation yesterday; they are providing plans for the roadway and the design plans for the bridge. We'll be looking at those very carefully and comparing those with the structure as it is now. We're very early in this investigation, obviously. And the facts will come as they will.

And that's about all I have this morning.

QUESTION: Can you tell us anything about the pilot?

BLACK: I cannot, other than I understood at least as late as last night he was still hospitalized. And we will be trying to interview him as soon as we can.

QUESTION: When do you think that interview will take place? How soon do you think you'll be able...

BLACK: I don't know. The team is out there morning trying to set that up. I don't know.

QUESTION: How many were on the boat?

BLACK: Sir?

QUESTION: How many crew were on the boat?

BLACK: I asked that question, and I don't know the answer. It's usually a minimum of three -- I beg your pardon, a minimum of five. But I don't know how many were on this one.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) you're going to be scrutinizing the new design. Was there anything in the original design of this bridge that may have been made it vulnerable to a strike like this?

BLACK: That's exactly what we're looking for. This bridge was originally constructed, I believe, the State Departments of Transportation said in 1967. It was part of the original construction on I-40. To give you an idea, I was in college in 1967, so that means it was a long time ago. And we will be interested in, one, what the original design was, and then how the bridge had aged. I hope it aged better than I have.

QUESTION: But seriously, this is a key part of your investigation.

BLACK: No, it's a key part. We are also looking at what caused barge to go into the bridge, which is the initial event apparently. But then once that happened, should the bridge have fallen? Was it designed within standards? Was there something we can do in the future to keep events like this from occurring? That's what we are looking at.

QUESTION: Weather played such a role in the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) tragedy as the Mobile River one. Is weather a factor in this?

BLACK: We understand that the weather was severe. There was severe weather in the area. That the current was running stronger here than usually. As you know, we have lots of people in our aviation section who do weather. And one of those persons has been assigned to research the weather in great detail in the area, and also the hydrology. In other words, how much water was coming down, that sort of thing, to get current.

QUESTION: What are the key questions you want -- what are the things you want to know from the crew and the pilot?

BLACK: Well what I would like to know, and I think what the investigation and everyone would like to know, is what course of events led this barge into this bridge support? So that's obviously the thing that we're most interested in. And we're interesting in talking to the people who can help us understand that. And that's what we are trying to do today.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) still on the barge itself, on the Magnolia barge or...

BLACK: I don't know the answer to that question.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of your investigation?

BLACK: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: The pilot, the operator, (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

BLACK: Certainly that's right now. But that doesn't necessarily -- obviously, the barge hit the -- hit the bridge. And how that occurred is something we're going to be looking at. It could be a mechanical failure, too. We'll be looking at the steering mechanisms, that sort of thing, on the tow. QUESTION: There seems to be a 10-minute window in which the pilot may have passed out, no one had contact with him. It's hard for a layperson to imagine 10 minutes of the barge going so far off course and none (ph) of its alert crew members realizing it.

BLACK: I don't know that it was 10 minutes. That's the reason we're interviewing people. Certainly, if it were 10 minutes, that's a long time. But that's where we're going. Give us a few days.

QUESTION: Are there bridge structures attached to the piers or are they sitting on top of the piers, the sections of bridge? They definitely sucked off the piers they attached.

BLACK: Well usually -- I don't know the answer to that exactly, but usually there is a support structure, and then there are essentially slabs that are set on the support structure. In other words, the bridge is sitting on top of the supports and it is allowed to expand and contract with temperature and other factors.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) keeping the sections of the bridge on the pier?

BLACK: Usually that's it. There is some lateral support to it, but weight is what you count on to keep it up on the -- keep the decks up on the vertical supports.

QUESTION: So in a sense, the force knocked the bridge off of the pier?

BLACK: I don't know the answer to that yet.

QUESTION: In looking at the placement of the vehicles in the river, what might that tell you about the fact that why (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

BLACK: We won't know until we find it out. I mean, it might -- it's one of these things in any investigation you go down paths that ultimately are not of any consequence, but you still have to pursue them because you never know what you might find -- thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: OK, as we were discussing earlier, the recovery operations are ongoing. We had five dive members from the highway patrol, a dive team that came this morning. At 10:00 they were to be relieved by an additional five divers. So it's going to be ongoing throughout the day.

Our next press conference is scheduled for 2:00 PM today. Then the next -- as soon as we conclude this, in five minutes -- or I'm going to give you 15 minutes. I'm going to take two people back down, we're going to put them on a flat-bottom boat and we're going to get some video and some still photography.

So I need one person with a video camera and I need one still camera. We're going to take them down and get you some additional photos.

If anybody doesn't have any additional questions, that's going to end this one.

OSBORN: You are listening to a live press conference which included remarks from George Black, an NTSB member, talking about the ongoing recovery efforts as well as the investigation, which included looking at the bridge itself, the I-40 Bridge, built in 1967, which of course collapsed into the Arkansas River. As the situation unfolds and details emerge, we will bring them to you along with a lot of other news. So stay tuned here to CNN.

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