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Interview with Rob Brisley

Aired January 8, 2003 - 10:00   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, we want to bring in Captain Rob Brisley. He is with the Charlotte Fire Department. And captain, as I understand it, you are on the ground very close to the crash site right now?
CAPT. ROB BRISLEY, CHARLOTTE FIRE DEPARTMENT: Right. I'm working with incident command officials, and the fire department is starting to demobilize and relieve some of our firefighters, but we have got a long and difficult day ahead of us when it comes to investigating and support everybody as necessary.

KAGAN: What can you tell us, though, about first glance?

BRISLEY: Well, the airport fire station, Number 17, was notified very quickly with the ring-down (ph) line of a plane crashing into the maintenance building here on airport property. Firefighters from the airport fire station were on scene in approximately three minutes and very quickly went into a fire attack mode with the foam attack lines to knock down the flames, extinguish the blaze, and then all efforts were looking for survivors or take care of the victims. But it's difficult to report that -- indications are nobody survived this crash.

KAGAN: That is tragic news, indeed. As we look at the pictures, captain, it would appear that this must have been an incredible fireball, something that burned very quickly and completely.

BRISLEY: Well, when you look at a plane like this, it in the takeoff-type operation, the fuel situation is a concern. But our first three airport fire trucks are loaded with water, with foam suppression. So extinguishment of this blazing-type fire was taken care of very quickly, and we were able to also stop the fire from reaching the main part of the building. So there is no damage to the hangar facility except some exterior-type damage. But it's tough when you have to go to these things. The firefighters, medics, police officers, they work very quickly to try to control it.

KAGAN: Absolutely. Can you tell us a little bit more about that area right around where the plane crashed, how this could have been even worse, if that fire had not been contained?

BRISLEY: Well, this type of building that the plane collided with has been here for up to ten years, and it's sprinklered, et cetera. But you have a large building that was a big factor when it comes to this plane colliding with it, and firefighters were able to stretch hoses into the building, but there was no fire conditions inside the building. All efforts were placed to quickly control the blaze around the plane and try to look for survivors.

KAGAN: All right. Captain Rob Brisley with the Charlotte Fire Department, thank you so much, sir, for that information.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Captain, if we can hold on...

KAGAN: Are you still there?


KAGAN: OK. Go ahead.

HARRIS: Captain, Leon Harris here. What I'm wondering about is, when the firefighters did come in, first of all, how long did it take you to put the fire out? And secondly, how close did it get to any of those cars that we see or any of the other aircraft that were on the ground outside the hanger there?

BRISLEY: Well, as far as what we call a quick knockdown, extinguishment of the immediate fire was probably less than two minutes if not quicker, but when you look at a fuel-type product, it's going to flare up off and on, so we still have hoses in place.

When you look at the parking lot and the vehicles, there might be some secondary damage, but the fire conditions were contained to an immediate area. There was a brush fire nearby, but that was quickly knocked down.

HARRIS: OK. I know that these airline hangars usually do contain a lot of other chemicals as well. Is there a Hazmat concern at this point?

BRISLEY: The fire department Hazmat team was quickly dispatched on this situation. The building itself has not been a Hazmat concern, it's structurally sound. Like I said, it has got a good sprinkler system.

Our concern now is dealing with the fuel product related to the plane and making sure it doesn't flare up, and more importantly contain it. And all of this has got to be done carefully with authorities, because we have got an extensive investigation ahead of us.

KAGAN: Absolutely. You have two concerns there at the same time. You have the investigation, trying to find out what went wrong, but also keeping it safe for the rest of the day.

HARRIS: Yes, and is there any way for you to tell -- after the crews there, your fire crews arrived there on the ground, was there any way to tell how many people were actually on the outside of the ground around that terminal where that plane hit?

BRISLEY: Well, this is a busy, busy maintenance hangar for U.S. Airways and other airlines that might need servicing. Part of our secondary search is a head count, employee accountability. It's all speculation to say how many numbers of people were in and around this building when this plane crashed.

HARRIS: Understood, understood.

KAGAN: Captain Rob Brisley with the Charlotte Fire Department, thank you so much, and we want to remind our viewers, we are standing by. We expect any moment for a news conference to be held from the airport with the latest on what we know about what possibly caused the crash, and the people on board.

BRISLEY: Yes, thank you very much.

HARRIS: We'll continue to try to dig up what information we can, while those folks are there working on the ground, and we're waiting for that press conference to get underway.

Our Patty Davis is standing by in Washington, and Patty, I understand you've been doing snooping around there, talking to authorities to find out exactly what's going on. What do you know?

PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Well, the latest from the National Transportation Safety Board has confirmed, indeed, that it is organizing a team of investigators, crash investigators, right now.

They plan to leave from Reagan National Airport here in Washington, D.C. a little afternoon today. They will head to the scene, and then they will begin briefing, once they're on the ground and they know better about what has been going on.

Now, just looking back,, this appears to have been the sixth crash now, according to, involving a Beech 1900. The sixth fatal crash since 1987. As far as U.S. Airways is concerned now, the last crash U.S. Airways had, according to, was in 1994, that is when that plane, the 737-300, crashed outside of Pittsburgh and there were a lot of fatalities on board that as well. In fact, everybody on board that flight was killed.

I'm told by sources that, obviously from the severity of this crash, that it does not look good. There's no confirmation exactly from my sources about how many are dead in this crash.

But this -- this aircraft used quite often in these regional operations by these regional subsidiaries of the airlines, this turbo prop, quite commonly used. A source telling me, indeed, that no difficulty reported by the crew as it took off from the airport in Charlotte. Also, no weather problems. There was a light wind, but it does not appear that there was any problem noted by the crew or that weather was a factor.

So certainly that would seem to indicate mechanical. That is something that the NTSB is certainly going to be looking into as it gets to that scene today. A source also telling me that it appears, indeed, that this did crash into the U.S. Airways maintenance hangar.

This airplane does have the capacity to carry 19 passengers, two crew members. And at this point, unconfirmed reports, at least, looking not very good for the people that are on board. This flight shortly before 9:00 a.m., indeed crashed into that hangar, and that's the latest from here. The National Transportation Safety Board indeed going to be on the way shortly.

HARRIS: OK, Patty. We just want to -- before we continue we want to advise anyone who may need to know any more information about the passengers who may have been on board Flight 5481, the phone number that we had up on the screen momentarily -- there it is, the number there, again. If you need to call U.S. Airways to find out about anyone, any loved one, any friend, relative, or whatever who may have been on flight number 5481, the number to call is 1-800-679-8215. That is 1-800-679-8215.

KAGAN: Once again, we're standing by, that news conference is supposed to begin, I guess, as soon as they get their information together at the Charlotte Airport. Patty, are you still with us?


KAGAN: Yes, I want to just ask you a question. It's almost like a maze, trying to decipher which airline belongs to which airline. Air Midwest is the official airline, but as I understand it, it belongs to Mesa Airlines which is in Phoenix, and what's the involvement with U.S. Air?

DAVIS: That's right, it's a subsidiary. Basically, you have a lot of different -- different -- these tiny little airlines that service the larger airlines, serve as connector or feeder airlines for them. This one is a subsidiary. Not wholly owned by U.S. Airways, but serves U.S. Airways to connect passengers to the smaller cities until they can hook up with the larger U.S. Airways jet service. So that was...

I'm also told by FAA that a ground stop was to be lifted at that airport, meaning that they were not allowing any incoming flights there into Charlotte this morning after that crash happened, but that ground stop was to have been lifted at 10:00 a.m. The reason why that was in place was simply because they needed to have the fire engines, the police vehicles to be able to -- the rescue squads to be able to get in and be unencumbered and not jeopardize any of the flight operations there.

HARRIS: I'm glad you brought that up, I was going to ask you about that. I had read in the wires that an air space about three miles around the airport had been shut down, which also meant that any planes that were on their way in were also being diverted or being told to just basically go into holding patterns. Also saw a report that flights east of Houston were also being stopped heading in that direction as well.


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