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Press Conference on Commuter Plane Crash

Aired January 8, 2003 - 10:31   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go to the press conference at the airport.
JERRY ORR, DIR. AIRPORT OPERATIONS: Express aircraft, operated by Air Midwest. It had 19 passengers and two crew. There are no survivors.

QUESTION: Jerry, was the building hit by the plane?

ORR: The airplane took off, was unable to maintain altitude, came down, and clipped the corner of the US Airways hangar building.

QUESTION: Is there any indication about what happened? I know it's early on and you probably can't say a lot, but what do you know about what happened?

ORR: We don't know, other than the airplane took off, and couldn't maintain altitude.

QUESTION: Was there any transmission between the pilot and the tower that you were able to -- that you're able to tell us about?

ORR: We haven't been able to sort through that yet.

QUESTION: Jerry, what can you tell us about this, It's a small commuter plane.

ORR: It is a twin-engine turbo prop, 19-passenger commuter plane.

QUESTION: Jerry, can you talk at all about the 19 in terms of are they from Charlotte or are they from other parts of the region, in terms of those that may have lost their lives?

ORR: Well, we don't know all of that yet. We know the airplane was going to Greenville-Spartanburg.

QUESTION: Any idea of when the "Go Team" from NTSB will get here?.

ORR: They'll be here shortly. We're looking for them now.

QUESTION: They're not here now, yet?

ORR: As far as I know, they're not here yet.

QUESTION: Jerry, were you able to talk to any witnesses out there who saw what happened, what it looked like?

ORR: Well, there are a number of witnesses. We're trying to put all that together, together with the information from the tower.

QUESTION: How far an area is the debris scattered? Is it fairly compact?

ORR: It's a fairly compact impact area.

QUESTION: Anyone reported missing on the ground or anything?

ORR: There were three people initially. But they've all been accounted for.

QUESTION: Jerry, can you describe the hangar, what the hangar was for, the use and that type of thing?

ORR: This is US Airways major overhaul base. It is a very large hangar. The airplane just barely hit one corner of it.

QUESTION: There's no one inside that building injured?

ORR: No one inside the building injured.

QUESTION: What impact has this had on the airport operations up to now and through the rest of the day?

ORR: Well, we immediately closed two runways and a major portion of the airport. The airport is back open now. And we're getting back to work.

QUESTION: Are those runways back open as well?

ORR: Yes.

QUESTION: No other impact?

ORR: No other impact area.

QUESTION: What were you able to get from the control tower, that they were trying to take off and then something happened? What was the traffic going on at the time?

ORR: Well, we don't have all of that put together yet. We know they were on takeoff, they did a takeoff, and then weren't able to maintain altitude.

QUESTION: How high did they get?

ORR: We don't know that yet.

QUESTION: Any idea what the damages are?

ORR: I beg your pardon?

QUESTION: Any idea about damages to the hangar? ORR: Damage to the hangar is relatively minor. It's just a door pocket on one end of the hangar. It's not really a structural part of the building.

QUESTION: Jerry, what provisions are you making for victims' families in terms of supporting them, the Red Cross and other things?

ORR: David Siegel from US Airways is on his way here and will be here shortly. Their team, their "Go Team" is en route to contact all of the survivors' relatives. And we'll set up facilities at the terminal building to accommodate them and deal with that.

QUESTION: Any idea of maintenance at this point of the aircraft?

ORR: No, we're sorting through that right now.

QUESTION: Jerry, clarify one point for me. Was there or was there not any communication between the FAA tower and the cockpit of this airplane?

ORR: We're not sure about that yet.

QUESTION: Jerry, was the airport at all shut down at any time?

ORR: Yes, immediately on an impact like that we shut down. Then we reopen the runway that is separate and not a part of that.

QUESTION: How long was it shut down?

ORR: I'm not clear on that.

QUESTION: Jerry, will there be a temporary morgue set up here, or what are you going to do about that?

ORR: Our information is our morgue here is able to handle that. And we'll be transporting shortly.

QUESTION: Jerry, do you know how old the aircraft was?

ORR: I do not.

QUESTION: Is there a tail number of the plane?

ORR: There is a tail number. I don't know what that is.

QUESTION: Jerry, would you be able to describe for us the path of the flight? Which runway it was coming from, where it was going, wind direction, anything like that?

ORR: I don't know a whole lot about that. But the airplane took off on 1-8 right, which means they would be taking off to the south. The hangar is located considerably to the left of that runway, so it veered into that hangar area.

QUESTION: So they were trying to get back around, back to land?

ORR: That would be speculation.

QUESTION: Jerry, where were you when this happened, by the way?

ORR: I was in my office.

QUESTION: Did you hear it, see it?

ORR: Did not hear it or see it. I was told about it.

QUESTION: Jerry, did this commuter plane take off behind a larger jet, perhaps minutes earlier, anything at all?

ORR: I don't know that.

QUESTION: Could you or anybody else here, the chief, talk about what emergency crews found as soon as they got there and how long (inaudible) they were there?

ORR: Sure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We received a call from the tower at 8:49 and were on the scene within two minutes. We had a fire, our officer, command officer called for a second alarm, which brought an additional company. The fire was actually concentrated right around that area of impact. We thought we had a building on fire. And a crash. Of course, we had both of those. We immediately put out the fire and started searching for any survivors.

QUESTION: And at that point, what did your officers encounter, what did you all see when you got there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we immediately went trying to find survivors or anybody that needed help. After a little while, it was determined that we didn't have any survivors.

QUESTION: You believe all the deaths occurred on impact?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't have the answer to that at this point in time.

QUESTION: Were the passengers, is there any physical area where the passengers were still inside or was everything scattered?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any type of crash like this, we still have people still in the fuselage.

QUESTION: Chief, as far as the plane, obviously just taking off, fully fueled, could that have been a problem as you attacked the fire?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, it did not. Not with the equipment here.

QUESTION: Jerry, did you say that the he bodies have not been removed from the scene yet?

ORR: The bodies have not been removed from the scene yet. QUESTION: Jerry, I get the impression with the takeoff, with it fully loaded, as far as full throttle is concerned, and given the debris field, that this was a terribly violent impact, full throttle impact?

ORR: Well, it was an intense fire. We don't know about the impact.

QUESTION: Jerry, how -- what speed does a plane like this have to reach to get to able to get up at certain altitude?

ORR: I don't know that.

QUESTION: How far is the debris scattered?

ORR: The debris field isn't large.

QUESTION: Could you give us an for instance? Are we talking about a hundred yards, a couple hundred yards? Less than that? More?

ORR: A hundred feet.

QUESTION: Everything within a hundred feet? Is the fuselage intact?

ORR: Yes.

QUESTION: And are all of the passengers and crew still inside? No?

ORR: They're in the immediate area.

QUESTION: Are a large number still inside the fuselage?

ORR: Yes.

QUESTION: In terms of investigators, on the scene, who is in charge of the investigation?

ORR: The fire chief is the incident commander right now. That will pass to the MTSB shortly.

QUESTION: Jerry, you were talking about the hangar in the vicinity of the crash (inaudible)

ORR: No, no. No one in the hangar saw the crash as far as we know.

QUESTION: Is that a heavily used part of the hangar?

ORR: No, actually, it's a door pocket. So there's really nothing in that area but the doors and when they're open. Of course, they were closed.

QUESTION: Did closeness to that much fuel cause any problems for firefighters and people on the ground? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, it did not.

QUESTION: What would you say is the approximate distance from the hangar to the runway?

ORR: Well, actually from the runway he took off, it's probably close to 1,500 to 2,000 feet.

QUESTION: From where he took off to where the impact was?

ORR: From the runway, it's -- it would be way over to the side.

QUESTION: OK, so 1,500 -- so he would have flown 1,500, 2,000 feet once he took off -- once wheels up, until impact?

ORR: Or more. Half a mile after he took off.

QUESTION: This type of plane, does the gear go up right at takeoff? Could it still have been down?

ORR: The gear goes up when the pilot retracts it, which is shortly after takeoff.

QUESTION: Have you identified everyone on board and started notifying families?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, we do not do that. That is up to US Air. Currently, we have -- on the scene, we have the Charlotte Fire Department, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, medics, North Carolina Air National Guard, FAA, FBI, TSA, US Air and airport.

QUESTION: Is the FBI's presence routine?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir, it is.

QUESTION: Is there any indication that this is anything other than some kind of accident?

ORR: None.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is no indications other than accidental at this time.

QUESTION: Are they experiencing any extraordinary wind gusts this morning at the airport?

ORR: I don't know that.

QUESTION: Chief, anything else you want to add.

QUESTION: Agent Swecker, can we ask you a question? This is Chris Swecker who heads the local FBI. There has been some question about what the involvement of the FBI is at this time. Obviously, times are different than they have been in the past.

CHRIS SWECKER, FBI: Right. QUESTION: Why are you all here?

SWECKER: We would come out to any scene like this, just to assess whether there is any nexus to terrorism whatsoever. And in this instance, as the fire chief has stated, there are no preliminary indications of any terrorist incident in this plane crash, given that there was no explosion and that there are no other indications at this point.

QUESTION: What do you all do from here on in in terms of your investigation?

SWECKER: We team with the police department, the fire department, NTSB and FAA and just conducting that assessment. Eventually -- well, NTSB, of course, when they get on the scene will take over the scene itself.

QUESTION: But nothing to indicate anything untoward at this point?

SWECKER: At this point. there's no preliminary indication of any terrorist incident.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That concludes for now --

ORR: Let me make one correction. I said Dave Siegel was on his way; it is Chris Chiames that is on his way from US Airways.

QUESTION: Who is he?

ORR: He is executive vice president.

QUESTION: Jerry, do you have any indication about any of the victims (inaudible)

ORR: We don't have that information.

QUESTION: Would you identify yourself?

CARTER LEE (ph), MESA AIR GROUP: My name's Carter Lee, I'm a senior Mesa Air Group representative. And I'd like to read a brief statement and then I'll take a couple of questions. But I have to get back to coordinate our go team.

Mesa Air Group confirms that US Airways flight 5481, operated by Air Midwest Airlines, a wholly owned subsidiary of Mesa Air Group has been involved in an accident in Charlotte, North Carolina. The aircraft was a Raytheon 1900 D aircraft, 19 passenger aircraft with two crew members. At this time we believe there are no survivors. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of flight 5481 and we pledge to fully assist and cooperate in the investigation of the accident.

QUESTION: Have you been able to contact family yet?

LEE (ph): We have not. But I have a couple of numbers that I would like to give out. As far as the media for this accident, Mesa Air Group will be handling it. The phone number is 602-685-4175. I'll repeat that again. It's 602-685-4175. And the family support center, this is only for family members to call, the number is 1-800- 679-8215. Again, that number is 1-800-679-8215.

QUESTION: Do you know where the victims were from? Do you have a passenger list even if you aren't releasing it at this time?

LEE (ph): Clearly, yes, there is definitely a passenger manifest.

QUESTION: And are any of those victims from the Charlotte area?

LEE (ph): I wouldn't know that at this time.

QUESTION: Is a Raytheon the same as a Beechcraft?

LEE (ph): The Raytheon is the former company, it's now known as a Raytheon.

QUESTION: Have you had any problems with this aircraft in the past?

LEE (ph): No, we have not.

QUESTION: Do you know how old this particular plane was?

LEE (ph): I don't -- I do not, but --

QUESTION: Do you by any chance have the tail number?

LEE (ph): I do not have the tail number.

QUESTION: Is that something that will be available?

LEE (ph): It will. At that time, I'd like to return back to our situation room, and we will have information as it becomes available.

QUESTION: Anything else, Mr. Orr?

ORR: That is it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, that's going to conclude for right now. We'll communicate the next briefing to you shortly.

O'BRIEN: So, this briefing that has...

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, we've been listening to this news conference, the first news conference of many I'm sure we'll hear about this plane crash that took place earlier this morning, Air Midwest Express, 5481, a flight that was going from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Greenville, Spartanburg, South Carolina, a distance of only about 100 miles, about 8:45 a.m., almost exactly two hours ago from right now, taking off, as we are learning from Jerry Orr, the director of the airport there, the plane took off but couldn't maintain altitude. It crashed and it clipped the corner of the hangar, the main maintenance facility for the airlines there.

The one little bit of good news we got out of the news conference, at a certain point there were three people on the ground who were unaccounted for. They have now been accounted for. But of course the tragic news this morning, the 19 passengers and two crew members who were on board that flight have lost their lives.


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