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Stolen Plane Circles Frankfurt

Aired January 5, 2003 - 10:30   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN headquarters in Atlanta. We continue to follow a breaking story for you out of Frankfurt, Germany, where it's reported a stolen plane is circling the city of Frankfurt known as a large banking city, and the pilot apparently is threatening to crash his plane into the tall buildings there if he doesn't speak to a specific American by the name of Charles Resnik. That, according to our Chris Burns, who is there and continuing to follow the story for us, a very dramatic scene there.
The airport has been closed and the tall buildings in that area have been evacuated as people in the air control towers continue to have communications with the pilot trying to figure out how they might be able to talk him down. Apparently even police helicopters are following that Cessna, that single engine Cessna, and our Chris Burns is on the telephone with us again to give us an update on the goings- on there -- Chris.

CHRIS BURNS, CNN FRANKFURT BUREAU CHIEF: Fredricka, still a dramatic situation. We're watching this plane fly at times extremely low over these buildings. In the last few minutes, we saw it actually fly between two skyscrapers, one of those skyscrapers appears to be the European Central Bank that authorities say he is threatened to crash into unless he can talk, perhaps even on the air. He had initially asked to talk to CNN. He is now asking to talk to our sister station in Germany, NTV. At this point we don't know whether he has made contact but so far, authorities think he is just somebody who's lost his mind and is threatening to crash into a building if he doesn't get press.

We don't know exactly what his beef is. But he has been circling over downtown Frankfurt that is a banking center of mainland Europe for the last at least the last 45 minutes to an hour. And in some scenes extremely dramatic, at one point he swooped down so low, that it appeared that he was about ready to crash but he pulled out at the last minute and pulled back up. So this is somebody in a single engine Cessna who's definitely trying to get attention -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And, Chris, he's getting the attention but more specifically, do we know anything about who this American Charles Resnik is? Why would this pilot be demanding to talk to him?

BURNS: A big mystery, big mystery, and it's also a mystery why he would want to crash into the European Central Bank for any reason. The European Central Bank is the headquarters of the euro currency, so anybody's guess what this beef is. WHITFIELD: Now you did a great job explaining to us that there was police helicopters that we retailing that were following this plane. What exactly are you seeing in the area right now?

BURNS: Well, we have been seeing police helicopters still chasing out of sight at this point, but I think it has to be going behind the buildings we're watching. The plane has taken another circling over, and is I believe straight over our heads practically. There it is. And police helicopters have been attempting to get fairly close to the plane, but we don't see a direct attempt to intercept the plane directly. It does appear that a perhaps they're trying to talk him down peacefully.

WHITFIELD: And now, I don't know what time it is there now, but when we talk about evacuations in that primarily banking city, about how many people are we talking about being forced out of these tall buildings?

BURNS: Well, what we're seeing along the banks of the Rhine River here that flows through Frankfurt, we're seeing thousands of people on the sides of the river. Many of them have come over the bridge from downtown Frankfurt. However, keep in mind of course, this is Sunday, a late Sunday afternoon. Sun is going down. So not likely there would be a lot of people there in the first place. But there are thousands of people here along the river watching anxiously -- Fredricka.


BURNS: There goes the fire trucks right there going downtown.

WHITFIELD: And the airport has been closed. All of departures and landings have been ceased temporarily. What can you tell us about what is or isn't taking place at the airport?

BURNS: Well, at the airport, the flights have been halted. However, it is our understanding that the airport has not been shut down completely. The buildings, the terminals have not been shut. People -- its simply there is no flights in or out of Frankfurt at this moment while this ordeal continues.

WHITFIELD: And Chris, is it believed that this single engine Cessna was stolen from the area of Frankfurt, from a smaller airport in that area, or do they know anything about its origins?

BURNS: It's quite likely it did not come from Frankfurt airport proper. That is a major commercial it probably came from some airport not too far from here because it's a small single engine Cessna and wouldn't carry enough fuel to fly very far.

WHITFIELD: Chris Burns, thank you very much for that information from Frankfurt, Germany, where as you're hearing there, a stolen Cessna plane seems to be circling this large banking city of Frankfurt. Evacuations have taken place and the pilot has been in communication with radio control towers threatening to crash the plane if the pilot does not have communication withal specific American who we're still trying to figure out who that person is or specifically who the pilot is. We'll continue to follow this breaking story for you. We're going to take a short break for now and we'll be right back here on CNN SUNDAY.


WHITFIELD: We continue to follow the story for you out of Frankfurt, Germany where pilot is apparently threatening to crash his plane if he doesn't speak to an American by the name of Charles Resnik. In the meantime, what people on the ground and in the air in the Frankfurt area are seeing is this plane seems to be weaving in and out of the tall buildings in this primarily banking community.

The airport nearby has been closed down temporarily. Planes are no longer allowed to fly in or depart. The tall buildings in Frankfurt are being evacuated. It is about late afternoon Sunday in Frankfurt, and of course, there still are quite a few people in the downtown city streets. But what is just now crossing the wires according to Associated Press is -- and according to a German television station is that the person on that plane, the pilot says he does not want to kill anyone but himself. But it's still unclear as to why the demands this person is making are being conveyed the way they are. We'll continue to follow that story for you out of Frankfurt Germany.

Meantime, in Israel, that nation is preparing for possible war with Iraq or at least retaliation if there is indeed a war against Iraq. Remember during the Gulf War, Iraq fired Scud missiles into Israel. As a precaution, Israel is testing its Interceptor missile system. Our Kelly Wallace is live on the telephone south of Tel Aviv where they've already tested at least one time, right -- Kelly?

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Fredricka. And we're still waiting to learn the results of that test. The goal was to see if this $2 billion Arrow missile defense system could actually handle and strike several missiles, targeting Israel at once. What was supposed to happen was four Interceptor missiles were to be fired nearly simultaneously. And they were to go after four different targets. Most of this was going to be done through a computer simulation, and I can tell you with our own eyes, it only appeared that one missile, Interceptor missile was fired. But again, we're waiting for the results. The stakes so very high because these tests come as there are increased tensions with Iraq, Israeli officials have said that this test was planned a longtime ago, but they also say it should send a clear message to Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein.

Now, this is all part of a series of joint exercises going on this week between Israel and the United States. We're also going to see this week the first test of the arrow system teamed up with upgraded U.S. patriot missile batteries. And you'll recall that the patriots were used during the 1991 Gulf War, but they failed to prevent 39 Scud Missiles from Iraq from reaching Israel. So concerns are very high. The Israelis and the Americans concerned about the security of Israelis, but also the Americans very much want to prevent the Israelis from getting involved in any possible war with Iraq, and so they're doing everything they can to prevent any circumstances in which Iraq might fire a missile at Israel and Israel might decide to retaliate -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Kelly Wallace, thank you very much for that report just south of Tel Aviv on the telephone with us.

We want to recap a story we're following for you out of Frankfurt, Germany where the pilot of a reported stolen single engine Cessna plane is making demands as he circles around this primarily banking city threatening now to crash the plane into a large tower there known as the euro tower. It's also the home of the euro currency there. This is a primarily a banking community there. Even though it is late Sunday afternoon there, there are people in some of those buildings and all of those buildings apparently have been evacuated. We don't know how many people specifically it has affected, but the pilot of this will reported stolen plane says he wants to talk to a particular American.

And before he is able to perhaps land that plane safely, he says, and he has talked to apparently German television, which reports that he doesn't want to kill anyone else. Just himself. And the Associated Press is also reporting that police helicopters continue to follow tail and trail this plane as they try to force it down. The nearby major airport in Frankfurt has been temporarily closed down. Planes are no longer allowed to come in or take off. And folks in that community are really watching with bated breath. It is a very dramatic scene there. You heard from our Chris Burns who is reporting from that scene; and of course, we'll continue to follow this story as we get more information. For now, we're going to take a short break.


WHITFIELD: Welcome back. We continue to follow a breaking story out of Frankfurt, Germany, where the pilot of a reported stolen plane is circling his plane in and out of the tall buildings in the banking district of Frankfurt. He is threatening to crash his plane. He says, however, according to German television, that he wants to kill himself and no one else but he does have certain demands and CNN's Chris Burns is on the telephone who can perhaps elaborate on what the demands are thus far -- Chris.

BURNS: Fredricka, this is a very dramatic; in the last few seconds we just saw two F16's buzzing past that single engine Cessna plane that is continuing to circle over downtown Frankfurt. Doesn't seem to have changed the flight course of that plane. He continues to turn, make that circling maneuver around the buildings.

So far, what we know is the demands have been to talk to an American by the name of Charles Resnik. And if he doesn't, he threatens to crash into the European Central Bank building, the headquarters of the European currency, the euro currency. We're seeing those two F16s; it looks like F16 fighter jets that are flying over the plane now. We'll see what they do next. In any case, his demand was -- he's also demanding to talk to the media. He first had been asking to speak to CNN and now at last, he's asking to talk to our sister station, NTV in Germany. So that is the last information that we have on this. We don't know about the actual -- if there are any negotiations going on, but it does appear we've got two fighter jets buzzing that plane. It might indicate that the talks are not going on very well -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And Chris, according to the wires, it's also being reported that had perhaps it's not just a pilot on board this plane, but there may be another person, as well. What do you know about that?

BURNS: No word on that from here. I'm on the ground here watching with thousands of other people along the Main (ph) river. So I don't -- I'm not privy to that information at this point. It has been said that the plane had been stolen or even hijacked, so plenty of reports swirling around this ordeal right now.

He is continuing, now we're seeing the two fighter jets continuing to circle over the plane. The plane is banked around and coming back again toward downtown Frankfurt. These are skyscrapers of some 20, 30 stories tall. Some of the tallest -- in fact, one of them is the tallest on mainland Europe. So very, very intense banking center here has been evacuated and thousands of people have their eyes on this plane watching what he's going to do next -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Now, Chris, one would think because it is late Sunday there and because this is primarily a banking district that there wouldn't be that many people in some of these 30 or 40-story buildings. What is the situation there?

BURNS: The authorities have evacuated the buildings. Obviously wouldn't be quite too many people inside on a late Sunday afternoon. In fact, most of the people are off on vacation, or coming back from vacation tomorrow from New Year's vacation. So not likely there were a lot of people. We have been seeing hundreds of people coming over the main bridge here in Frankfurt from downtown. So, obviously they're having some kind of evacuations going on down there but not at all like the thousands and thousands of people that normally work there every day.

WHITFIELD: And you mentioned, Chris, that this pilot is in communication or has been in communication with the radio towers from the nearby airport. Presumably, this person has also tried to make contact with CNN and you said now another sister station of CNN. This person is able, rather readily to promote kind of communication with people to make this demand with no problem it seems?

BURNS: Well, apparently so. Apparently there is contact going on. There is some kind of either radio or cell phone contact that is going on with authorities and obviously, enough to get authorities extremely concerned and to send these fighter jets out to that plane. Also, we saw in the last about half-hour, 45 minutes, the plane flew between two of the skyscrapers. And about an hour ago, it actually took a dive and it appeared that it was going to crash into the Frankfurt skyline. But he pulled out at the last minute. So the two jets are flying now almost perpendicular to the plane. We're going to see what they're going to do at this point.

What's difficult though is that this plane is flying over highly populated Frankfurt and there's no way that you can really shoot down this plane over this area without causing casualties. So they're trying to persuade this plane to pull away and this is what apparently what those jets are trying to do; but very, very anxious situation here in Frankfurt.

WHITFIELD: Now, it sounds like, Chris, you have a pretty good vantage point of being able to you know, see the jets and the small plane. Are you able to see say like, a tail number on this single engine Cessna?

BURNS: No, not that close. In fact, the sun is going down. This is sunset; it's getting dark. The plane perhaps if you had a pair of binoculars you could have caught it when he did buzz over fairly closely about 45 minutes ago. But at this point, he's flying high enough really not to be able to show the numbers on the plane. He is continuing to fly around and taking another swing around the city. So, who know what's he's going to-do next, we continue to watch. He has been taking a regular circling over the last 10, 15 minutes, not like the other aerobatics that we've been seeing in the last hour or so -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And you said as he flies over this highly populated area, still you know, fairly high overhead from your vantage point, but at the same time you've been reporting that all seem to be flying relatively low. And considering these are 30 to 40-story buildings and there has been some bit of weaving in and out of the buildings, this is very dramatic sight and pretty frightening you know, from an aeronautical standpoint as well, given that they're flying at a very low altitude.

BURNS: Absolutely. His piloting has been very, extremely erratic. He's been taking these zigzag turns at times, increasing his altitude, dropping his altitude, taking these hair pin turns and especially at that point when he was flying between the two towers at almost sort of, you know, banking at the same time that he was doing it. Even brings back some of these nightmare visions that we have of September 11; so a lot of people extremely anxious as they watch what goes on here.

WHITFIELD: All right, Chris. I want you to stick by for little bit. We want to eventually bring in another one of our colleagues but let me quickly recap what is going on if you're just now joining us.

In Frankfurt, Germany, a small plane piloted by a one person who is making pretty definite demands to have contact with a particular American by the name of Charles Resnik. As he makes these demands, having communications with radio control towers and even and you many media outlets, he continues to weave this plane in and out of this very densely populated business district, primarily a banking district of Frankfurt, Germany. Specifically making threats toward the European Central Bank, crashing perhaps that airline into that Euro Tower which is only about 30 or 40 stories high. And that also happens to be the home of the euro currency.

Although this is late Sunday and those buildings aren't as congested as they ordinarily would, there have been evacuations of these tall buildings. Let's talk a little bit more about the aircraft that we know it to be, a single engine Cessna. And on the telephone is Miles O'Brien on the phone with us to give us a little bit more about the power or lack thereof of this will small plane. And it apparently is also being coupled with some F16s in close contact trying to force this plane down -- Miles?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, this airplane, the Cessna 172, also known as a Sky Hawk, is perhaps one of the most docile, forgiving aircraft ever manufactured. It was first manufactured in 1956, it is still in manufacture. There are about 25,000 of them in the air still in various versions of it. It flies not much faster than about 120 miles an hour. And unless it's had special modifications, has about enough fuel on board, 38-40 gallons, to fly for about four hours' time at cruise speed. Now, there is some later models that have more fuel which might give its endurance about five hours. And I think what you're seeing right now probably is an effort to keep this aircraft in the air as long as possible to drain those tanks, to lessen the possible threat.

It weighs empty about 1,500 pounds. With fuel, it can carry probably about 900 pounds of fuel and passengers. So even if it were brimming to the gills with fuel, it would weigh probably less than typical U.S. sport utility vehicles. So I think we have to consider that when you start talking, making analogies to September 11, that the threat of this will very small, very slows low-moving light aircraft is nowhere akin anything near to a 757 or 767 loaded with fuel.

WHITFIELD: Now, Miles, when you say presumably, it's likely these F16's that are flying alongside this small single engine plane are likely trying to force it to run out of fuel and then perhaps be able to make a safe landing because as Chris was describing, this is a very densely populated area, not just the business district, but the residential community just outside this business district.

O'BRIEN: Yes, and the less amount of fuel in those wing tanks, the better. This is a high wing aircraft. It's probably the most commonly associated aircraft with general aviation, and time is certainly on the side of the authorities there. If they can get that pilot to stay in the air longer, the less of a potential of a disaster there would be at the other end, but I do want to caution you that this is a very small light aircraft.

You'll recall in the months after September 11, a plane not unlike this one was commandeered in Tampa, Florida and was flown into a skyscraper there on a suicide mission, sort of a similar scenario. The aircraft flew around the Tampa Bay area for quite sometime, but the damage was limited really just to one office in that office building caused the death of the pilot. The potential force here is nothing compared to an airliner and that's why it's worth pointing that out.

WHITFIELD: Well, Miles, maybe you can help me envision because I'm struggling to try to envision how these F16's, if you've got only two F16's you know, flying alongside this Cessna to force it down; might you need third one to perhaps fly on top of to force it down because I would imagine the landing still has to be done quite delicately especially as you are running out of fuel. You don't want that small plane to run out of fuel completely in order to make a safe landing.

O'BRIEN: Well, the hardest thing for F16's right now is just flying slow enough to stay near that Cessna. At about 100 miles an hour, the F16 is just about to drop out of the sky. So, that's the first problem right there is just getting into a position where they can even stay alongside it. And when you say forcing an aircraft down, basically what they're trying to do is fly in front of it and give that pilot the clear indication that he has been detected and that he should be following in their direction.

In the United States, it is incumbent upon pilots to contact National Guard or Air Force forces on a specific radio frequency. I would assume that's similar in Germany, although I don't know that for a fact. And that might be very well what's going on right now. If he's flying over Frankfurt, he's very likely was in contact with some sort of air traffic control in the first place. And that's probably how the communication is going. So, I would presume that that is the channel of communication although at low altitudes, you can certainly use a cellular telephone, as well.

WHITFIELD: Now of course, Miles, you know, we're doing a lot of guesswork; but really relying on your level of expertise in situations like this, as well. You mentioned that the F16's, this is a struggle for them to go this slowly given that the Cessna is unable to go very fast you know, on the scale of F16 flight pattern. Might it be an option that a different kind of military aircraft would be best used in this situation like this? Or is the F16 the best you have in such circumstances?

O'BRIEN: Well, it depends what the goal is. If the goal is to shoot down the aircraft, which I doubt that that decision has been made, you would want to use a fighter aircraft, which would have the capability of doing that. If you are just trying to get alongside it, encourage in every way that pilot to get down it seems to me a more logical aircraft to launch might be a helicopter that would have the same sort of speed parameters as a Cessna 172. But who knows what's available, who knows what can get there quickly. Who knows what aircraft were on you know, in a combat ready mode, an Interceptor mode type of scenario. It's very likely those F16's were red ready to respond to any sort of threat and that's why they're in the air so quickly.

WHITFIELD: OK, Miles O'Brien, thanks very much for joining us on the telephone. Hopefully you're not going to be going too far because we might have to call upon your expertise again.

But for now we want to go back to our Frankfurt bureau chief, Chris Burns, who is right there on the ground in Frankfurt, Germany, and he's watching the very dramatic events unfold as this single engine plane seems to be weaving in and out of the tall buildings over Frankfurt. Very much a business district, a banking community there placing demands as he has communications with media outlets as well as the radio control tower there -- Chris.

BURNS: Yes, that's right. Fredricka, we're watching the plane as he's flying almost directly over our heads now. Taking wide circles over downtown Frankfurt. At this point not taking any erratic moves at this point. The F16s have been passing overhead in the last 20 minutes, obviously trying to coax the plane to change its path, to pull away. But to no avail, the plane continues to circle over Frankfurt and it's taken a higher altitude at this point.

So far, authorities say that they been trying -- he's been trying to talk to an American named Charles Resnik; and if he doesn't he threatens to crash into the European Central Bank full length. He's also seeking -- initially trying to talk to an American named Charles Resnik. And if he doesn't, he threatens to crash into the European Central Bank building.

He's also seeking -- initially tried to talk to CNN, now changed his mind and now wants to talk to N-TV, the German sister station at CNN. But at this point as far as I know, there's no press that has been given to him yet.

He obviously is trying to talk and get his story across. Authorities obviously negotiating with him, trying to try get him to at least pull away from the city and to talk with authorities about whatever that grievance is.

We don't know what exactly what his grievance is at this point, but a lot of anxious eyes here. I'm among thousands here, along the Rhine River across from downtown Frankfurt, watching this dramatic scene as the plane continues to circle overhead -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And Chris, you mentioned earlier that police helicopters were trailing or were part of trying to coax this aircraft down. Now you describe that there are F-16s.

Either way it seems like a pretty dangerous maneuver, either you've got, you know, the choppers with the blades, you know, to maneuver or now you've got F-16s, which Miles was just explaining to us, this is very difficult for these F-16s to go as slow for a long period of time as this single-engine plane.

And the objective, obviously, is to bring it down or at least bring it carefully away from this residential and business community. Right?

BURNS: Absolutely. As one of the F-16s were flying by the plane, they were going too fast, they couldn't follow along the plane, and the helicopters were trying to catch up with the plane. The plane seemed to be outpacing it, so somewhere -- a speed in between.

Now at this point, if I'm not mistaken, I don't see the plane circling. It does appear to have -- it does appear to have headed away from town. It's not clear exactly what is happening at this point, but we do not now see the plane circling directly over the city. That could be an indication perhaps they might have persuaded this pilot to veer away from the city of hundreds of thousands of people and skyscrapers of 20 to 30 stories high -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And, Chris, we're looking now at some pictures that are coming in for the first time and we're hoping to see something of what you have been able to see. These are taped pictures coming in.

But, by your estimation, is there a way of kind of timing out how long all of this has been taking place? Because I notice that it was 3:52 Frankfurt time when all of this began to unfold.

And here are the pictures for the first time. We're seeing that small, single-engine Cessna as it was making its way and hovering around the downtown district. But I'm going to ask you if there is a way in which to gauge how long this drama has been unfolding before your eyes.

BURNS: Well, you know, I have stepped out of the museum with a family looking out and I mentioned that I saw this plane circling overhead. It was about an hour and a half ago, at least. And I said, well, that's strange. It's surprising that they would allow a plane like that to be circling overhead.

Then I saw police guards and I asked the policemen, what is going on here? Should that plane be there? He said, no, and then at that point they evacuated the bridge, fearing that the plane would come swoop down and fly either into the bridge or under the bridge.

And so it became dramatic quite quickly, about an hour and a half to two hours ago.

Here's another emergency vehicle. At least a half dozen or so heavy fire vehicles went over the bridge in downtown Frankfurt, obviously preparing for the worst if it does happen.

At this point, if I may update you, I'm looking into the sky and I do not see the plane flying over downtown Frankfurt. So it could be an indication that, perhaps, negotiators have had success in getting him to veer, you know, away from the city itself. A city of hundreds of thousands of people.

WHITFIELD: And that would be good news from the interceptors' point of view, of course, because they want very much to try and bring down this plane as safely as possible but bring it down, perhaps, in a less populated area.

You're not able to see that plane any more and you know, and again, Chris, I'm wondering if we're using the term Cessna kind of loosely to describe a single-engine plane or if, indeed, anyone knows for certain that it is a Cessna.

BURNS: Well, the police are identifying it as a Cessna. It is a very, very light plane. It has a single engine in the front, very long wings. I thought it was a glider at first.

WHITFIELD: Yes, I was going to say, my initial view, and I don't know aircraft that well, but it sure did -- these are the first pictures we're seeing, and it sure looks like a glider to me. But the police are describing it as a Cessna.

BURNS: Yes, which actually, now that you mention it, it surprised me because I never saw a Cessna with wings that long. But in any case it is a very light plane. It's certainly not any heavier than a Cessna, and that -- in that fashion it was able to pass between the skyscrapers at one point, which is extremely dramatic. We didn't know whether it would make it or not, but it was small enough to be able to pass between the skyscrapers. Anything bigger might have had a lot more trouble.

WHITFIELD: And is it your understanding, Chris, we've been saying it's reported stolen. I don't know if any of your sources on the ground -- I know you've been working this as I've been talking to you.

But perhaps in between live shots has anybody been able to describe to you whether, indeed, this is a stolen aircraft?

BURNS: That is what the police have been saying.


BURNS: Actually, there were two stories, that it was hijacked. There are conflicting reports that, at least from my standpoint, I am not able to confirm -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: OK, and what are you seeing right now? A moment ago you said that you no longer were seeing that aircraft in the area. Is that still the case right now that a few minutes have passed?

BURNS: Yes. At this point, all we see is a sliver of a moon rising and the sun long gone. We don't see any aircraft in the sky at this point. We don't hear any of the helicopters or F-16s that we had heard in the last hour or so that were trying to coax this plane to get out of the way and come down.

Frankfurt Airport has -- its air traffic has been shut down in -- because of this ordeal, and the plane had been heading, at last sight, the plane was heading towards the direction of Frankfurt Airport, so it is possible that that could be the case.

But, again, from this standpoint, I don't have a bird's-eye view and am unable to confirm that. But the plane, at least I can tell you, is not circling over Frankfurt as it had been over the last couple of hours -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: OK. Well, that's good news at least for now. Our Chris Burns, our Frankfurt bureau chief. Thank you very much for joining us on the telephone. But don't go far, because we are going to talk to you again.

But for now I want to bring into this equation Peter Goelz of the National Transportation Safety Board, the NTSB.

And Mr. Goelz, thanks very much for joining us.

We're looking at these pictures for the first time of this aircraft. The police on the ground there in Frankfurt are describing this as a Cessna. But from the amateur point of view, including mine, we're talking about it looking a lot like a glider.

But our reporters on the ground there, reporter on the ground there has been able to report what appear to be F-16s have been trying to force this aircraft down.

If you're able to look at your monitor, you know, or CNN programming and see for the first time, what strikes you as to what is taking place there?

PETER GOELZ, FORMER NTSB OFFICIAL: Well, first let me correct that. I'm formerly of the NTSB. I'm not -- I was the managing director there for a number of years.

WHITFIELD: Very good, thanks.

GOELZ: And I'm currently in private business.

Well, first of all, if doesn't look like a Cessna to me, but the most important issue here is that the gross weight of a plane like that is probably no more than 2,000 to 3,000 pounds at the most. It's carrying a very modest amount of fuel and whatever damage this -- you know, this guy is claiming to do is going to be fairly modest to the building and fairly extensive to him and his plane.

WHITFIELD: And in a case like this, when our reporter on the ground there, Chris Burns, is reporting it appeared as though military-like jets, of an F-16 stature, were trying to force this aircraft down.

We also, we're hearing from our other correspondent, who is well informed on aeronautical engineering, et cetera, and he was saying that it would be difficult for an F-16 to try and keep up or maintain such a slow pace that this single-engine plane would be carrying out.

Can you explain or help us better understand the difficulty in trying to force down a plane like this?

GOELZ: Sure. Yes, an F-16 or any one of the advanced fighters, its operational speeds are far higher than what this plane is going at. This is conceivably a plane that's cruising at 90 knots, you know.

And if you are going to try and force it down, if you're going to try and shoot it down, you would not use air-to-air missiles or something like that. The best vehicle would be a helicopter.

WHITFIELD: And especially -- well, there was a helicopter apparently, or at least one that was reported to have been seen to tail this plane. But it seemed like the helicopters, police helicopters, had a difficult time then keeping up with that.

GOELZ: Yes, this is a difficult situation.

This is, you know, this is a very light plane. It's probably not -- it's flying in erratic patterns. I think shooting it down is going to be a very difficult proposition, if it's even being considered. WHITFIELD: Yes, and especially because this is a very overly -- densely populated area.

GOELZ: Exactly.

WHITFIELD: So in a case like this, what do you believe the realistic set of scenarios would be?

Our reporter is unable to see that plane right now, as of only about 15 minutes ago, it seemed to kind of escape view of the downtown area. Would it be likely that there might be some success in an F-16 trying to force down this plane in a safer area?

GOELZ: Well, it depends on what you mean by force it down. I mean, in terms of shooting it down, I think that would be a very risky proposition.

I think they're going to have to track it and to keep it under surveillance. And I would -- you know, the damage to a high-rise billing is going to be minimal if it goes down. I think, you know, discretion is the better part of the word right now.

WHITFIELD: OK. Peter Goelz of the NTSB, formerly a managing director. Thank you very much for joining us on the telephone. We appreciate it.

We want to go back now to our Frankfurt bureau chief, Chris Burns, who's on the telephone with us.

And Chris, a moment ago you said that the plane and the F-16s were no longer in your view. Have you seen any resumption of air activity?

All right. It looks as though we may have lost Chris Burns. We'll try to re-establish our communication with him.

All right, Chris, are you there now?

BURNS: Yes, I am.

WHITFIELD: OK, very good. Let me re-ask you this question. A moment ago, maybe about 15 minutes ago or so, you said you were no longer able to see this small plane or the F-16s that were trying to carefully force it down.

BURNS: That's correct.

WHITFIELD: In the amount of time that's elapsed last since you and I spoke, are you now seeing any air activity there?

BURNS: I still see no activity at this point except for the sliver of a moon in the sky. So it does look like the -- at least the authorities have persuaded that plane to move away from downtown Frankfurt.

We do not see -- we have not seen that plane for the last 15 minutes. The last sight of it was that it was headed toward -- in the direction of Frankfurt Airport, whose traffic has been shut down because of this. And obviously, authorities trying to persuade the pilot to land that plane, so that would be the logical place to bring that plane down.

We don't see any more F-16s or helicopters like we saw in the last couple of hours. So it does appear, at least downtown here, that that crisis is over.

WHITFIELD: And, according to the Associated Press, it is reporting right now that the person on board was that of an armed man, who stole this single-engine plane from some western airfield in Germany.

Are your sources telling you anything, in the amount of time that maybe you've been able to have it between live shots?

BURNS: Sorry. I haven't had a chance to catch up on that because of the live shots. But we have -- It is quite possible that that plane came from an airport not too far from here.

It is a very light plane, a single-engine plane, obviously not able to fly very far. So it would have come from a small airport not far from here, and that's quite possible.

But as far as the circumstances of how the plane was taken, stolen, commandeered, lots of reports on that, but I've been unable to confirm that from my standpoint.

WHITFIELD: And perhaps confirming your speculation, Chris, Reuters is now reporting that that aircraft has safely been brought down at the Frankfurt International Airport there.

And, of course, we're continuing to follow up on those leads, to see what the circumstances were and how they were able to do that. And who possibly may be involved in all of this.

So one more time, Chris, let's try to recap one more time, if we could.

You've seen an awful lot of emergency vehicles and we've heard them whiz by you, just in case something terrible were to have happened, meaning that plane or aircraft or any kind of accident were to take place in that densely populated area.

Can you kind of recap all of it you have seen?

BURNS: Absolutely. It started right around the time I stepped out of the museum here along the Rhine River.

Frankfurt, the city, the financial center of the mainland Europe, the European Central Bank building among other skyscrapers here in Frankfurt.

I saw this plane circling over that area, found that very strange. Police said that, yes, it was a plane that was not supposed to be there. It took very spectacular maneuvers, zigzagging at one point between the skyscrapers, 20, 30 stories tall and even coming to a point where it took a dive and appeared to be ready to crash into the city of several hundred thousand people.

However, it did pull out and did continue its erratic course, circling around Frankfurt as downtown was evacuated, as the bridges were evacuated, as thousands along the Rhine River and as the Frankfurt Airport, the busiest airport here on the continent was -- its air traffic was shut down as this ordeal continued.

Now, a couple of F-16s tried to intercept, or at least tried to coax the plane away from downtown. Also, police helicopters trying to do that.

And as the sun was going down, it does appear that authorities have persuaded him to move away from the city and end this ordeal. It had actually thousands of anxious eyes watching for at least a couple of hours here -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Chris, there's still a whole lot of mystery surrounding this as to, you know, why this happened and the people involved, et cetera.

All we know right now, according to various reporting out there, is that this person on board, or at least one of the persons on board, may have seized this aircraft. At least an armed man may have seized this aircraft in a western field somewhere there in Germany before getting up in the air and then causing all of this madness there.

BURNS: Yes, that's correct and according to police, the man was demanding spoke to an American by the name of Charles Resnik. And if he didn't, he was ready to crash that plane into the European Central Bank building. That is the headquarters of the Euro single currency here.

Also that he wanted to initially speak to CNN and then later demanded to talk to our sister station here in Germany, N-TV, trying to get his story across.

But, yes, it was very, very dramatic. What had been happening, again, it's not exactly clear what his grievance was. But we have seen this happen in a similar form a few months ago in Milan, when a disgruntled, angry businessman crashed his plane into a bank building here over in -- sorry in Milan, Italy, killing himself and causing extensive damage to a skyscraper in downtown Milan, the financial center of Italy.

So these are -- it had raised a lot of fears here that something like that could happen again here, as well. This, again, is the financial center of mainland Europe.

So a lot of anxious eyes had been watching and a lot of relieved people now walking along the street and moving away from this in downtown; and obviously, it's a very relaxed situation now.

A lot of traffic, though, as the police redirect people around, move these dozen or so emergency police and fire vehicles out of downtown that they had evacuated.

Quite a dramatic situation over the last couple of hours, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Yes, dramatic, indeed. In fact, Chris, CNN has now learned that that the plane, indeed, that small, single-engine plane, has indeed landed at Frankfurt Airport. No one has been injured in all of this.

And, of course, the questions continue to flow and hopefully there soon will be some answers as to why this person did this and how they did manage to use these F-16s, which is what you saw earlier, if, indeed, it was the F-16s that helped bring this plane down safely at that nearby airport.

Chris, sounds like you were about to say something.

All right. Well, it looks like we lost Chris Burns.

Right now we're going to resume our conversation with our Miles O'Brien, who's on the telephone with us from Atlanta.

And Miles, it sounds as though, if our facts are straight at this point, it sounds as though this F-16 or the pair of F-16s may have accomplished their mission in that they brought this small plane down safely at a nearby international airport.

O'BRIEN: Well, assuming the pilot has any semblance of sanity left, the sight of an F-16 bearing down on him or her would be enough to convince you to get on the ground quickly. And so that is the happy ending and happy landing to this story.

Fredricka, it's an interesting coincidence that you and I were on the air back during that story of the Milan crash. And at the time, you'll recall, there was a lot of talk about it being a Cessna aircraft. And ultimately, of course, it turned out to be a French- made aircraft and not Cessna, although we called it Cessna all throughout the instance.

And at the time I said Cessnas and Pipers are kind of like Fords and Chevys. People assume, small airplane, and they think Cessna.

It turns out this particular aircraft, based on the shape I'm seeing on the screen right now. You see that t-tail in the back, and you see the long wingspan.


O'BRIEN: This is an aircraft called the Diamond Eclipse, I believe. It's a two-seater composite aircraft, which has -- is controlled by stick.

Much lighter and smaller even than the 172, and is -- Cessna 172, that is -- and is used quite widely in the training field right now. It's slower, it's lighter, would carry less fuel than the 172. And the reason I'm saying all of this is it's even less of a threat than the miniscule 172. So it's not a Cessna. It's a different type of aircraft. Cessna in the generic term, yes, but Cessna the brand, no.

WHITFIELD: I'm sure Cessna really appreciates that.

Now, this plane, you had mentioned earlier, this plane would be incapable of flying very fast. And, of course, the F-16s are capable of flying very fast. And you had talked about the conflict or the real challenge that these military jets would have to try to maintain such a slow pace for a lengthy period of time, while in hopes of, perhaps, helping a plane run out of fuel in order to make a safe landing, eventually.

Let's talk about what those potential hurdles are or what hurdles may have finally been cleared at this juncture, since it seems like there's been a very safe landing and a safe end to this part of the story.

O'BRIEN: Well, what would happen typically, when you're talking about F-15s or F-16s or any sort of supersonic fighter, trying to slow down to the speed that this Diamond Eclipse would be very comfortable at, you would be at what's called very near the stall speed of the aircraft, which is when there's just not enough air moving over the wings in order for it to fly.

And so what they would do is fly a series of maneuvers which would sort of allow the aircraft to intersect with the slower aircraft. In other words, a low pass over the top and a turn in a certain direction.

Pilots here in the United States are briefed extensively on what to do if, by some bad happenstance, they end up in that situation.

If you're flying along and suddenly an F-16 starts doing that to you, first thing you try to do is maintain your composure.

Second thing, you're supposed to follow that aircraft, rock your wings in a certain way, acknowledge its presence, try to maintain radio contact with it and then follow it down to the ground.

Now, I suppose not -- we don't know the full story on this. It's possible that this person might have happened into this airspace. But based on the other reporting we've heard from Chris Burns, it sounds like there was more of a potentially malevolent intention.

Now why that person would ultimately decide to land the aircraft safely; perhaps ultimately, it wasn't a death wish that he was after, maybe he truly wanted to just contact this person, so there's a lot of speculation here, obviously.

The point is that the F-16s certainly can make their presence be well known to a slow-moving aircraft. It's not like they can sidle up alongside and fly in formation, however. WHITFIELD: Now, Miles, you mentioned that this is the kind of aircraft, now you've helped to clarify what type of aircraft this is, since it does, you know, it does strike a lot of people as more of a glider type. Or now you're saying that it really is more like a training type of vehicle and that it's likely to be called a Diamond Eclipse, not a Cessna.

And an expert or an experienced pilot might have known that this was a training type aircraft and may not be as apt to grab a plane like this for a mission like this, knowing that it is very slow. So does this tell you anything about, you know, the level of expertise that this alleged hijacker or armed gunman -- armed pilot may have had?

O'BRIEN: It's very hard to speculate on that, but I suggest, given the fact that we're talking about an aircraft that is allegedly stolen, probably availability is the key issue here.

It's quite possible, hearkening back to the incident in Tampa, Fla., some months after the 9/11 attacks, what you had in that case was a young student pilot who had access to the keys and to the flight line and was not viewed with any sort of suspicion being at the airport in the first place.

He went out, told his instructor he was going to preflight the aircraft and wait for him. And instead of doing that, doing the preflight inspection, checking for fuel and so forth, put the key in the ignition, and he took off.

It was very easy to do it because he was trusted and a member of the flight school in good standing.

Once again, we're in speculation here, but the fact is if this person had been taking flying lessons using this Diamond Eclipse, he might very well have come in one -- on a morning, grabbed the keys, told his instructor he was going to go check out the plane.

Or for that matter, as part of his training might have been engaging in a solo training excursion, which is all part of pilot training. And after that, you're off to the races.

So it's -- the availability of the aircraft is probably the key issue here.

WHITFIELD: All right. Miles O'Brien, thanks very much for joining us on the telephone. We really appreciate your expertise on this.

Well, let's go back to Frankfurt, Germany, where Frankfurt bureau chief Chris Burns is on the telephone. He has been watching this whole thing unfold from start and almost now to finish.

And Chris, can you kind of recap for us everything that has taken place in the last, oh, I don't know, hour or so?

BURNS: Fredricka, quite spectacular. And at first it seemed very strange looking up to the sky as we were walking out of the museum today, this afternoon, as we saw this small plane circling around the skyscrapers of downtown Frankfurt. What was it doing there?

I talked to a policeman who told us it wasn't supposed to be there. Emergency vehicles were moving into place. People were being evacuated from bridges around down the Rhine river, also from downtown. Emergency vehicles were moved into downtown.

This plane was flying overhead. The police said a man aboard it was demanding to talk to a Michael Resnik, who it is believed is the Michael Resnik who is the brother of Judith Resnik, the astronaut who was killed in the 1986 "Challenger" accident.

So this being somebody who was obviously was extremely erratic and unpredictable.

Then demanding, though, to also talk to CNN at first and then later to N-TV, our sister station, to try to get whatever story he had across. If not, he threatened to crash this plane into the European Central Bank; that's the headquarters of the European single currency here in downtown Frankfurt.

At one point the plane swooped down as if it was about to crash into this skyline of hundreds of thousands of people. At another -- and then quickly pulled out. At another point, it veered and zigzagged and flew between two of the skyscrapers. These skyscrapers are 20, 30 stories tall, banking buildings. This was a banking center of mainland Europe.

So very, very anxious and spectacular, at the same time, scene for thousands of people as they watched along the Rhine river, as the plane continued to circle overhead as the sun went down.

We saw two F-16 fighter planes move in and swoop past and buzz this plane several times but to no avail. Police helicopters also tried to sway the plane away but couldn't do it.

And it is only in about the last half hour that that plane headed to Frankfurt Airport and landed there. Obviously, authorities were successful in persuading him to land.

WHITFIELD: And now they appear, all parties appear to be at that Frankfurt International Airport.

For awhile the airport, as you had been reporting, was closed down. All aircraft coming in and going out, all those operations had ceased for some time.

And right now, are your sources telling you anything about what may be taking place at that airport, in terms of the pattern of events that are expected for this pilot? You know, entering that aircraft to get him and then questioning him, et cetera?

BURNS: That -- I must admit that I'm still in downtown Frankfurt here, trying to make my way out to the airport, so I'm not privy to that information.

What I do know is that the gentleman aboard the plane has been identified as Frans-Stefan Strammbach. And that is about all we know about him.

So, obviously, probably a German man who had some kind of grievance and so obviously not a terrorist situation, per se, but somebody who obviously had a grievance and lost his head.

So this is what authorities are dealing with. Obviously they're going to arrest him and charge him.

But the Frankfurt Airport, being the biggest and busiest airport on mainland Europe, is obviously anxious to get back down to business again. It had -- Its traffic had been halted in and out of the airport during this ordeal.

However, the airport has remained open to people to come in and out of the buildings. So at this point, obviously, the airport's first mission is to try to get down to business again and get those flights going again.

WHITFIELD: Yes. No kidding.

Now Chris, you had also mentioned -- you mentioned the identity of this one person. Had you heard any more as to whether, indeed, there was a second person on board, because it was reported earlier and then we went with that, too.

BURNS: As far as we know it's only one person.


BURNS: But, again, this is something to be confirmed, once again.

WHITFIELD: All right. Frankfurt bureau chief Chris Burns, thank you very much for all of your reporting in the last hour and being with us on the air here live.

I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN headquarters in Atlanta. Thanks very much for joining us here on CNN SUNDAY. And as we cover this breaking news, we'll continue to follow this story for you throughout the day.


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