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Greenville-Spartanburg Airport Press Conference on Accident

Aired January 8, 2003 - 11:24   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: We need to get to a news conference in Greenville, South Carolina, the intended destination of this flight. Let's listen in.
ROSYLIN WESTON, GREENVILLE-SPARTANBURG AIRPORT: ... on Flight 5481. If they do come to the airport, someone from the US Airways ticket counter or a police officer in our lobby or someone at our information counter will direct those individuals to that family assistance room.

That's it. Questions?

It's Rosylin, R-o-s-y-l-i-n, Weston, W-e-s-t-o-n-, GSP Airport spokesperson. At this point, there are probably somewhere between 12 and 15 individuals in that family assistance room. There is a 1-800 number that family members can call. And again, I stress that that is a number for those individuals who were expecting people on US Airways Flight 5481, due to arrive at Greenville-Spartanburg at 9:15 this morning. That number: 1-800-679-8215.

And again, let me stress to those individual who's may be listening, that if you were expecting someone on a later US Airways flight or a flight other than this particular flight number, I encourage you not to dial this number. This is the number for those individuals expecting family members, friends, colleagues, whomever, who were scheduled to arrive on Flight 5481 at 9:15 this morning.

QUESTION: Do you know how many departing flights were scheduled in the next hour and a half that had connecting flights with US Airways?

WESTON: I don't. I don't have that information. I'm told that all of the flights into Charlotte Douglas at this point have been canceled or delayed, at the very least, but a number of flights out of GSP. And what the airline does in situations like that is what they always do if a Flight has been canceled for whatever reason and that is that the reservationists attempt to contact those individuals, so they don't arrive at the airport expecting to depart.

QUESTION: Do you know if this flight was going to land here and then continue on to someplace else?

WESTON: Well, we're an origin and destination airport. And so what that means is that it wasn't connecting to go anywhere else. All 19 of those individuals were going to deplane here at GSP. Now, that same aircraft was probably scheduled to go out on a return flight back into the Charlotte area, but it was not a connecting flight because this is an origin and destination airport.

QUESTION: Do you know if that (inaudible) just from Charlotte or (inaudible)?

WESTON: I'm not sure whether the flight actually originated in Charlotte or not.

QUESTION: (inaudible) this time of day to this airport to Charlotte?

WESTON: Well, it's difficult to say exactly, you know, what the passenger mix was on that Flight. I can tell you that GSP is primarily a business airport. And so that ratio, business to leisure traveler, can be as much as 70/30 or 60/40. So the likelihood is is that, you know, the mix on that aircraft could be anything. It could have been all leisure, could have been all business, it could have been, you know, a mix of individuals. There's just no way to confirm that.

QUESTION: (inaudible) was at capacity or was there any (inaudible)?

WESTON: I believe it was at capacity, yes.

QUESTION: Do you happen to have a passenger list though?

WESTON: That's an airline call and I don't anticipate that the airline is going to release a passenger list. What US Airways officials have told me they are in the process of notifying all of the individuals' family members of those individuals who were on board that Flight. So certainly, there's not going to be any information about who those passengers were, in particular, until they are assured that all family members have been notified.

QUESTION: (inaudible) a plane that had problems here earlier in the week or very recently? Do you know if the plane that crashed in Charlotte was that plane? I understand it was very similar.

WESTON: I can't confirm whether it was, in fact, the same aircraft. Yesterday, there was a Beechcraft 1900, which is the same kind of aircraft that this one was today, that came into GSP yesterday on an alert, simply meaning that the pilot was not getting a signal that his nose ear was locked. He was attempting to land here at GSP. He circled a couple of times and landed without incident. The nosegear was, in fact, locked. He just wasn't getting a signal. So you know, I can't confirm that it was, in fact, the same aircraft, and I don't know what happened to this particular aircraft today. This one took off on -- or this one crashed, you know, shortly after takeoff. The flight yesterday was attempting to land, and the problem there was it wasn't getting a signal that his nosegear was locked.

QUESTION: (inaudible) and you have a lot of flights to still go out today and a lot of people still in the airport waiting to depart, a lot of (inaudible). What are emotions are like at the airport and what can passengers expect maybe going out later today or have people arriving? WESTON: Well, you know, whenever a situation like this happens, you know, suffice it to say that everybody in the airport is affected, you know, because a plane is down and passengers and crew members are injured, if not worse. So again, as I've stated, there are two chaplains that are here or will be here very shortly from the National Organization of Victim Assistance. And their role will be to speak with those individuals employed here at GSP, not only those individuals that are employed with US Airways, but individuals employed with any of the airlines or employed in any capacity by anybody here at GSP who might be experiencing some difficulty with this. This is still pretty new. And, you know, I don't think that people have had time yet to fully grasp or respond to what's going on.

QUESTION: And for hose passengers going out later today, what can they expect from the airport?

WESTON: For those passengers going out later today, there have not been any other airlines or flights that have been affected, as a result of this particular tragedy this morning. If you are expecting to fly on a US Airways Flight, however, with a connection in Charlotte, your best bet is to call the customer service number of US Airways and get specific information about your specific flight, in terms of its scheduled departure.

QUESTION: How does GSP staff prepare for an emergency like this? Do you guys do drills?

WESTON: We do drills. There are table-top drills and actually mock disasters. A few of you, I think, covered our last mock disaster, but we prepare, as much as you can, in a drill situation for this type of thing. So everybody here this morning was prepared to do what they needed to do to respond as appropriately as possible and I think we're doing that.

QUESTION: When was the last time there was an event like this?

WESTON: I'm not sure that there was ever an event like this. To my knowledge, there was one small commuter, a private plane that crashed here at the airport probably about seven or eight years ago. The pilot did not survive that particular crash, was, I believe, transporting some medical supplies. But to my knowledge, there has not been an incident quite like this one. We certainly were prepared for it. The last table-top disaster drill was -- actually took place in October, and we prepared for a mock disaster.

QUESTION: What do you mean "preparing?" Can you give us an example of what you do, actually?

WESTON: Well, I mean if we do an actual mock disaster, we'll actually have people come in and play the role of victims, the walking wounded, fatalities, we get support from the local hospital systems, both Greenville and Spartanburg, as well as EMS, and the various fire stations and fire departments and police departments that surround the airport. You know, you hope that a tragedy like this never happens but, certainly, the only way to be prepared for that or the best way to be as prepared as you possibly can is to stage mock disasters and that's exactly what we do. The last one was in October, yes.

QUESTION: Rosylin?

WESTON: Will you be taking family members and bringing them to Charlotte to identify the bodies?

QUESTION: I'm not sure what the procedure is going to be. That is an airline call. And I suspect that those individuals who are here now in that family assistance room are asking those exact same kinds of questions of the Red Cross individuals here to assist them. And I really don't know what the procedure will be for getting family members from here to Charlotte, but I suspect that provisions will be made.


WESTON: One second. Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: (inaudible) for the crews just getting here now, can you tell us how many relatives, friends, family, are getting assistance right now?

WESTON: There are about 15 -- 12 to 15 family members, when I last checked. Now, that number may have gone up and I suspect that it will go up, as the day goes on. As I indicated earlier, there weren't large numbers of people in the terminal this morning, but as word gets out, no doubt, some of those family members will come here to the airport seeking whatever information that they can get, and we will direct them to the family assistance room, where there are Red Cross volunteers available.


QUESTION: It was a U.S. airplane, but it's operated by a Mesa air crew. Is that common that some other group would operate one of the major airline planes?

WESTON: Well, it was -- as I understand it, I think it was America West. The plane was actually an America West -- well, let me just say I'm not sure who the plane was. I believe that it was an America West. But from time to time, or it is not uncommon for other airlines to provide aircraft for other airlines to operate, but this was a US Airways Express flight, and it is handled by the passengers that would have been ticketed into or out of GSP would have been ticketed into or out of GSP, would have been ticketed via US Airways or US Airways Express and the flight would be handled by US Airways Express individuals here at GSP.

QUESTION: How many flights every day go between here Charlotte?

WESTON: There are about 21 flights, daily departures and arrivals to GSP to Charlotte.

QUESTION: Do you have a sense that today people are deciding maybe they'll not show up for their flight and bus or drive instead? WESTON: I have no idea. At this point, there are not a lot of flights that are scheduled into Charlotte, so I suspect that those individuals who are planning to go through Charlotte or connect through Charlotte are being connected through other connecting cities or simply rescheduled or re-booked for flights at another time.

QUESTION: How many passengers -- total passengers do you see everyday?

WESTON: Somewhere between 3,000 -- you know, 3,000 to 4,000. We normally -- on a normal year and, you know, things haven't been exactly normal since September the 11th. But normally, the annual passenger ridership or passenger load out of GSP is right around 1.5, million annually. It was a little off last year, about 1.3.

QUESTION: And 21 flights between Charlotte Douglas and GSP everyday?


QUESTION: How many flights, total (inaudible)?

WESTON: 70. OK? That's it. If...

QUESTION: Ma'am (inaudible)

WESTON: US Airways. Well, I'll tell you what, that's it for -- unless there are other questions. If I have additional information...

O'BRIEN: It is confusing. This is an aircraft that was run by a company called the Mesa Air Group, operated by Midwest Airlines under the name of US Airways Express. So that -- that's a bit of corporate structure there. The bottom line is that the paint job you see here, the name of the Flight was a US Airways Flight, and that's just to clarify that will point for everybody. We were listening to Rosylin Weston at the Greenville-Spartanburg Airport, giving a fair amount of information there about the passengers.



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