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Commuter Plane Crash in Charlotte, North Carolina

Aired January 8, 2003 - 09:54   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And joining us now is a man we think who can give us more facts right now, Jonathan Ornstein, who runs Mesa Airlines.
Thank you very much for joining us, sir.

Is it true your airline operated this commuter flight?

JONATHAN ORNSTEIN, MESA AIRLINES: Our wholly owned subsidiary Air Midwest (ph) operated the group. We are Mesa Air group, which included Airman West Airlines, Mesa Airlines, Freedom Airlines and CC Air.

ZAHN: Thank you for clarifying that. Can you tell us what you're being told about wrong here today?

ORNSTEIN: At this point in time, I think it's rather early to speculate in terms what have went wrong. What we do know is one of our Beechcraft 1900D passenger aircraft, we believe it's aged about eight years, we believe. It was flight 5481. It was departing from Charlotte. There were 19 passengers and two crew members aboard. Our understanding is that the accident occurred on takeoff, and that all aboard the aircraft perished. The flight was en route from Charlotte to Greenville-Spartanburg, South Carolina. We are, as you can imagine, doing everything we can to get as much information as possible.

We, obviously, have to contact the crew members family, as well as the passengers families and just putting together all of the information in regards to the aircraft that we have available to us.

ZAHN: You say the plane is eight years old. Are you able to share with us just how many flight hours have been recorded on the plane?

ORNSTEIN: No, the aircraft is operated by Air Midwest, which is our subsidiary operating in Wichita, so the records are at the maintenance operation there. We are getting all of that data. Again, I said this is approximately eight years old, and I'm looking at the tail number, which is the tail number of the aircraft is 233 Yankee Victor. That's a later model aircraft, so I'm just guesstimating at this time this the age. I'll have the exact information as soon as possible.

ZAHN: And, Jonathan, I understand you're in the same situation we are, a lot of information that has come in has been conforming. We will understand why with hundreds of people on the ground obviously, trying to figure out what went wrong in the aftermath.

We have just been handed a bulletin from the Associated Press, saying police now believe two people who were inside the hangar are unaccounted for, in addition to the 21 killed. Is there anything you could tell us about that information?

ORNSTEIN: I have no information regarding any folks on the ground at this time at all.

ZAHN: And, Jonathan, where are you physically right now?

ORNSTEIN: I'm in Phoenix, Arizona, which is where Mesa Airlines is, our corporate offices.

ZAHN: Has anybody been able to describe to you, I don't know if you're seeing the same live picture we are looking at, the point of impact with this crash and someone was describing the debris field, at least a couple hundred yards wide. It looked like the plane might have hit the hangar. Do you know anything specifically?

ORNSTEIN: I really don't. And, again, we will, in fact, update you as soon as possible. I do have some additional information regarding the aircraft. There are approximately about 15,000 hours on the airport, and about 21,000 cycles, and the aircraft, we delivered the aircraft in August of 1996. So as I said, it is one of our newer 1.900 aircraft. We operate a fleet of approximately 50 of these aircraft. And, again, in terms of the detail of the accident, you know, I'm afraid that I have nothing other than that, and as soon as I do, I will be more than happy to share that information with you.

ZAHN: Well, we respect the situation you're in, Jonathan Ornstein.

ORNSTEIN: We clearly are deeply concerned about this event, about our crews and our passengers. I can only express our greatest sympathy, my personal sympathy, to all of those involved, and we are going to be contacting everyone very shortly, as you can imagine. We're just pulling our team together here. We have folks from Air Midwest who are going to be on the scene shortly. We are flying people from Phoenix to our corporate office to the scene, and we have the president of our CC Air operation in Charlotte, Carter Leek (ph), who is, in fact, on the scene, who, in fact, contacted me initially about the potential for when it was -- the incident was initially reported.

ZAHN: Jonathan Ornstein, thank you very much for joining us.


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