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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Commuter Plane Crashes in Massachusetts

Aired August 26, 2003 - 16:35   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: As you've been seeing, if you watched your screen the last few minutes, CNN following the crash of a commuter airliner just off Hyannis, Massachusetts, in the Nantucket Sound, a small commuter plane operated by Colgan Air, operating, actually, for U.S. Airways.
It was attempting to fly from Hyannis to Albany, New York. It attempted to circle back to Hyannis and then crashed in the water. At this point, the FAA and the Coast Guard are saying it appears that only two were on board, that this was perhaps a maintenance plane with two crew members on board and no passengers. This happened just about an hour ago. The plane went down in the waters off of Hyannis, Massachusetts.

These are live pictures coming into CNN. Again, the Coast Guard is in the area. You can see the Coast Guard craft. And, at this point, we believe two people on board. This commuter plane operated by Colgan Air, it was a Beech 1900 twin turboprop.

Now, with me on the phone is CNN producer Michael McManus.

Michael, you've been on the phone with Massachusetts authorities. What are they saying?

MICHAEL MCMANUS, CNN PRODUCER: Judy, I've just got off the phone with Coast Guard in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. And they have received information from the Hyannis airport tower that this plane was, indeed, on a maintenance run. And that would mean the aircraft was not carrying any passengers.

The plane, according to our producer Michael Eylers (ph), took off from Hyannis, declared an emergency and did not make it back to the airport, instead hitting the water, as you can see by these live pictures. And as for rescuers responding to the scene, you can see the Coast Guarders responding. And we were also told Hyannis police and Massachusetts State Police are responding as well.

And, again, if the plane is on a maintenance run, that would mean no passengers. And it would mean one or two pilots. And we're just getting word here that, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, we can confirm two people were on the plane, which would probably mean the pilot and the co-pilot -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Michael McManus joining us. He's been on the phone with officials in Massachusetts.

Also here with me in the studio in Washington, CNN's Miles O'Brien, who follows aviation for CNN.

Miles, I guess these maintenance runs are typical for airlines.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

It's obviously when equipment needs to get to and from places and not necessarily needing a manifest or a schedule of desire. And certainly if there is a case where an aircraft has just come out of maintenance type of thing, needs to get to another place, might be in a situation where it wouldn't be ready to carry passengers. And that's the kind of scenario you're seeing.

I hearken back to -- this aircraft might be slightly familiar to some of our viewers because of a crash earlier this year in Charlotte, North Carolina involving a Beechcraft 1900D. If you will recall, at the time, it crashed shortly after takeoff, as -- a matter of fact, its flight lasted I think on the order of 30 seconds.

In that case -- that was, by the way, January 8 of this year. In that case, the aircraft was heavily loaded with passengers and baggage. And one of the contributing causes was just that fact, that the baggage may not have been loaded properly.

If you look at some pictures of the Beechcraft 1900D, which we'll try to get on the screen in just a little bit, it's designed in such a way that it can be loaded sort of rear heavy. And that was one of the contributing causes that the National Transportation Safety Board looked at and issued a recommendation. There you see the 1900D.

And Colgan Air is the co-chair, part of the U.S. Air system here that flies in that region. They have 23 1900 C and D models, 19 passenger aircraft, plus the two crew members. And the D model is distinct in that it has that kind of raised-roof look there. And that was the one involved in that particular incident in Charlotte. We don't know whether this was a 1900D or a 1900C model.

WOODRUFF: Miles, we're being told by the FAA now that this was what they call a repositioning flight, where they were moving the plane from one location to another.

We've been doing a little research on the U.S. Airways Express Web site, where they describe Colgan Air as providing air service to 31 cities and 11 states on the East Coast as far north as Maine and as far west as Columbus, Ohio, down south to Norfolk, Virginia, but with hubs at Boston's Logan, New York's La Guardia and Pittsburgh and even Washington Dulles. But, again, the flight, this plane had two people on board and, as we heard just a minute ago, Miles, just the pilot, we think -- the FAA believes just the pilot and the co-pilot.

O'BRIEN: The two people on board the crew -- we're told the crash occurred about three miles off the coast there. There's a couple of runways that would lead you in that direction before you'd make the long turn toward Albany, New York, taking off to the south, preferred for noise abatement, particularly in that part of the world.

Make a big broad right-hand turn and then gain some altitude and head on your way toward the north and west toward Albany, New York, a fairly short run for that particular aircraft. But, clearly, this was a situation where they did not get very far. Based on what we're seeing right now, it appears the weather does not seem to be a factor. I hesitate to say anything definitively on that, because there could have been a squall in the area at the time. But we haven't heard anything to lead us to believe that.

WOODRUFF: We checked on the water temperature, Miles, in that are. And it's said to be around 65 degrees, not particularly hospitable, not frigid, but still not hospitable for anybody to spend very much time in it.

Again, a commuter plane has gone down in the waters off Hyannis, Massachusetts, in the Nantucket Sound, just about three miles from the Hyannis Airport. It is believed only two people were on board, the pilot and the co-pilot. This was a plane that was moving, repositioning from one city to another, tried to take off to fly to Albany, New York, came back and didn't make it, two people on board.

CNN will continue to follow developments in this. And we'll bring them to you as the afternoon and the evening go on.

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