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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Baltimore Accident Briefing

Aired March 6, 2004 - 19:48   ET

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
SAVIDGE: I'm Martin Savidge at CNN Center, taking you to Baltimore, Maryland. The press conference under way. The fire chief speaking now after the tragedy there in that city. Let's listen.

BILL GOODWIN, BALTIMORE FIRE CHIEF: ... rapidly as you can probably imagine. We had 22 people at one time that were rescued. They went in various degrees to different hospitals. That's why it took so long to piece together all the accurate information we wanted to give you, and unfortunately at this time we still have three individuals unaccounted for.

QUESTION: Are you looking for adults or children? Tell us about the people who (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

GOODWIN: Really, we are not at a point to release any detailed information about sexes, ages, and things like that. None of the next of kin have been notified. All the individuals that were transported to hospitals are still in the hospital. All 22 people who were transported to hospitals, they are still there. Some of them are from out of state, so we know that their next of kind has not been notified. We are setting up a resource center in that store, along with the Red Cross. There will be an 800-number set up shortly, and we'll be able to give that all to you also.

QUESTION: Now, who they were and what happened?

GOODWIN: Excuse me?

QUESTION: Yes. Who were they and what happened?

GOODWIN: The boat -- I'm sure the owner is here -- is a living classrooms, water taxi, that shuttled back and forth between Fort McHenry and Fells Point on a daily operation. The (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that came through hit all us by surprise. Luckily, there were people that were witnessing what happened, the fire boat people saw it actually happen, that they were reservists, were here training for the weekend, they saw it happen. All the forces left immediately and were able to get out there and rescue, as I said, 22 people. Had no one been looking, this tragedy would have certainly been a lot, lot worse than it already is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That might be a good segue to -- Commander McGovern, you want to introduce your men and describe for folks here what happened? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Commander Jim McGovern (ph), this is Master Chief Melvin Johnson (ph). He's the command master chief at the Naval Reserve Center. He saw it happened. And also, Petty Officer Menendez (ph) saw it happen, and he called 911, as well as the master chief.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Commander Master Chief Melvin Johnson (ph), commanding master chief of the Naval Reserve Center in Baltimore, and basically I was at the garage, the back of the garage and back of the building right near the pier, and I saw the ferry coming down with heavy, gale-force winds and the water following, and it looked like it was going to overcome them. And basically, it looked like the ferry tried to make a turn to get back into the upper end of the harbor, and the wind just took it, and it looked like it tilted. Then the boat completely capsized. At that time, myself and another senior person ran inside and called 911, and there were other people on the other decks at that time.

Reservists and our active duty personnel responded immediately. They jumped out onto the landing craft that we have for training in the back. They took off. They met the fire boat out there in the middle, and I guess you know the rest of the story from there.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, basically, everyone responded together. All the emergency services starting coming up to -- our guys went out there because they have a large landing craft that is able to carry multiple people, more than 20, 30 or more. So our guys went out there to assist and also help. Some of our guys were in there trying to help pull some of the people out, and also to save as many people as possible.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I was not on the boat. I was back here coordinating services, so most of the people that were on the boat are now at the various facilities now.

QUESTION: What is the Naval Reserve Center? What do you guys do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Naval Reserve Center -- basically, we provide mission-ready people in order to support the Navy and the Department of Defense. We train in various aspects, in various forms, so we had various units that were here this weekend, training, general training that we do, some people did train with the boats, some people did do emergency type work, and they all responded when they saw this happened.

QUESTION: Was the boat coming up the harbor or out the harbor?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At that time, it was coming out of the harbor, from inner out. We were going out.

QUESTION: Can you tell us how many people were pulled out of the water, and were any of them wearing life jackets?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I can't tell you that right now, because there was so much going with so many people. These folks here could probably tell you a little bit more than I could about that.

QUESTION: We'd like to know a little bit more about live-in classroom...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: James, Mr. James Bond, you want to -- just say who you are and your name.

JAMES BOND, PRESIDENT, LIVING CLASSROOM FOUNDATION: My name is James Bond, and I'm president of the Living Classroom Foundation, and the Seaport Water Taxi business is one of the components that the foundation has oversight of. And it's a business that operates as public transportation for the tourists who visit the harbor and it's been in operation for many years.

And from what we understand from our captain is when we actually had the captain in by the Inner Harbor who -- they originally got the -- the wind came, this microburst, coming through the harbor, and he radioed out to Frank, to captain, and Frank immediately went for the shore, which is what he's supposed to do. And apparently, I didn't see it, but this gentlemen saw it happen, and apparently it was a freak -- a freak wind that came, and we're just -- our sympathy is with -- with the families, and you know, we're still trying to find out information as well.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) life vests?

BOND: There are life vests on every vessel. There is a safety talk given before we leave the dock. We have a man here at the -- right out here at the fort that helps to brief everyone and helps them onboard the boat. And it's something that is done on a daily basis in warm weather.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) water taxi type of ...

BOND: No, no, the passengers are not required to wear life jackets.

QUESTION: Where are they on the ship? How (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

BOND: I'm not sure with this particular boat.

QUESTION: Do you know how many children were on it?

BOND: I don't. And it's not an educational vessel that we operate, this is a vessel that operate...

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

BOND: Water taxi. QUESTION: Water taxi type vessel...

BOND: That operates for the...

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

BOND: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: How many people?

BOND: This boat holds 25, including two crew.

QUESTION: And the people who were on the boat were just tourists that just came on...

BOND: Yes, they get on the boat in the Inner Harbor and then tour the different sites around the harbor and come out to the port.

(CROSSTALK)

BOND: I'm not positive of all the specs of the boat. Again, I'm just coming right down here and hearing about this tragedy like you all are.

(CROSSTALK)

BOND: 30-60 (ph)? OK, thanks.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on a regular basis?

BOND: Yes, this boat is inspected by the Coast Guard, everything was the way it should be. In fact, she was ready for an inspection on Monday, so we were all, from what I understand from our staff, is -- was all ready for an inspection on Monday, and in shape the way she should be.

QUESTION: What happens now (UNINTELLIGIBLE). What happens now to the boat?

BOND: Well, I think they're still trying to recover the vessel, and I'm sure it will be checked out -- I'm sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chief Goodwin can tell you a little bit more about what happens from here.

GOODWIN: Yeah, the National Transportation Safety Board will be coming in and conducting an investigation, as they do with all transportation type accidents.

QUESTION: So it's basically 22 people taken to the hospital, so all are in the hospital?

GOODWIN: Yes.

QUESTION: And what (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

GOODWIN: From exposure to varying conditions.

QUESTION: What?

GOODWIN: Exposure to other varying conditions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But among those 22 is the one fatality.

QUESTION: Chief Goodwin, can you describe now the recovery efforts that are going on now, describe what the people are doing?

GOODWIN: Well, what we're doing, just to give you a little insight into what the weather conditions were like when we arrived, the boat, if you look out from our fire boat pier, capsized just to the west or towards the Inner Harbor of the fire boat pier. And now, when we -- when we arrived, myself meeting some staff people, the boat was down towards the Key Bridge. That's how quick the current was moving and the boat was moving also. So now we've set up a grid pattern. We have boats, we have the state police helicopter, along with the city police helicopter, using their forward-looking infrared, scanning the water, scanning the shoreline just to see if we can find any type of recovery.

QUESTION: What about divers?

GOODWIN: Divers were in service until 7:00. At 7:00, we terminated the diving and went into strictly recovery mood?

QUESTION: How (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

GOODWIN: We haven't made that determination yet.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) recovery versus rescue mode, how you came to that decision?

GOODWIN: Well, the physiological aspects of someone surviving in the water for three hours is pretty slim to none, so at this point we're in the recovery mode, and that's usually what in these situations takes place and gives us the information we need to make that decision.

QUESTION: Did the wind actually pick the boat up and turned it on its side or did it just...

GOODWIN: This gentleman here actually witnessed it. I'm sure he could give you better insight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, my name is Petty Officer Menendez (ph)...

QUESTION: What's your first name, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Edward.

QUESTION: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was on the second floor of the Reserve Center, and as the boat tried to make it back to shore, the wind just took it and there was nothing you could do. It just rolled them right over.

QUESTION: Did it pick it up?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Didn't pick it up. Just -- it just rolled over.

QUESTION: Can someone describe the situation, were the people able to hold on to the boat, (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I saw two people get up out of the water onto the top of the boat, and the rest of the people started getting on top of the boat, which would be the bottom at that point.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I saw two people at first, and then 10, 12, after that, and then it started drifting away (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Twenty minutes.

QUESTION: Petty Officer Menendez (ph), did you see people in the water? Did you see people in the water?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, of course, they -- they were in the water and they climbed on top of the boat.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and how difficult it would be to survive having (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know.

(AUDIO GAP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, well, 10 of our guys went into the water to rescue the passengers.

QUESTION: Can you tell us if they were adults or children?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) were they wearing any special gear at all, (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Couple of guys just dove in to -- to rescue people.

QUESTION: They didn't put on the wet suits to protect...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. We had -- they had life preservers... SAVIDGE: You've just been listening to a news conference that is coming out of Baltimore, Maryland, an eyewitness there describing what happened around 4:00 this afternoon when a freak wind, as it's been described, a microburst called by others, apparently struck the vessel as it was about a mile or two offshore, causing it to roll over. The vessel, described as a water taxi, was fully loaded with 25 people on board, including two crew members. It's about 36 feet in length. Right now, according to the Coast Guard and officials on scene, 22 people had been rescued. However, two people are now reported to be dead. That is what CNN is being told, and three people are missing. It is now being referred to as a recovery operation.

Fortunately, despite the tragedy, Navy reservists were training in the area, witnessed the incident and were able to respond on scene, and that may account for why so many people fortunately were pulled from what could have been a disastrous situation. We'll continue to follow this story.

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