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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Air France Jet Overshoots Runway in Toronto

Aired August 2, 2005 - 16:29   ET

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


ED HENRY, CNN HOST: A 737 plane is in flames just off the runway in Toronto, Canada. You can see the smoke and flames there, that live picture.
This is at Pearson Airport in Toronto, Canada. It's a Lufthansa plane with 200 passengers aboard, this coming in from CTV. They're saying, again, that this passenger jet is in flames. It skidded off the runway at Toronto's Pearson Airport. You can see right now rescue efforts under way, smoke and flames shooting out.

This is in Toronto, Canada. And it is breaking as we speak. We can see, again, the smoke and flames in Toronto in Canada, about 200 people aboard this passenger jet at Pearson Airport. Again, it's a Lufthansa jet, 200 passengers aboard. You can see -- you can see the rain there as well, some difficult weather that the rescue workers will be dealing with, in addition to the difficult incident that is unfolding right there with those live pictures.

You can see the flames in the left-hand corner and the smoke is also billowing out. This is a Lufthansa jet in Toronto, Canada. A short while ago, it skidded off the runway and you can see there the weather also, obviously, making it a bit more difficult for the rescue effort underway right now.

Two hundred passengers aboard. We do not have any more information about their situation right now, but you can see the flames right there. Obviously, a very difficult situation. CTV reporting, again, that this is a 737 plane in flames, just off the runway at Pearson Airport in Toronto. Just coming into CNN.

You can see the weather there, also making it much more difficult. Visibility not too good right there and you can also see rain coming down. Traffic stopped right outside the airport as everyone tries to deal with this and takes a gander at those dramatic pictures right now unfolding in Toronto.

There are apparently severe thunderstorms in the area in addition to what you can see from the rain. There's been severe thunderstorms in Toronto today. You can see the flames, again, shooting out from the plane there. Two hundred passengers aboard this Lufthansa jet -- a passenger jet -- a 737 plane that has been in flames for some time. You can see the rescue effort. They're trying to get that underway and deal with this emergency situation in Toronto right now.

This plane skidded off the runway. That's all we know about what caused it. But it skidded off the runway, is now in flames. You can see the black smoke billowing out from the plane over at Pearson Airport in Toronto, Canada. A Lufthansa jet with 200 passengers aboard.

There is a rescue effort underway, but you can see the weather obviously making that potentially much more difficult. Thunderstorms, severe thunderstorms in Toronto throughout the afternoon. They are now also dealing with this emergency situation at Pearson Airport in Toronto.

Now, CTV has been reporting today that this is a 737 plane, 200 passengers aboard. In Toronto, they are trying to assess the situation as we speak. Again, you can see the traffic just outside the airport, some cars stopped trying to take a look at these dramatic pictures, that are just coming into CNN, of the situation.

You can see the flames as well as the smoke, at the airport, jumping out from the 737 plane. It's a Lufthansa passenger jet. OK. Now see a lot of emergency vehicles there by the fire trying to deal with the situation. This is a Lufthansa jet, about 200 passengers aboard. You can see the flames and the black smoke billowing out of the plane as we speak.

This again at Pearson Airport in Toronto, Canada. Just breaking over the last few minutes. It's a situation that emergency personnel are trying to get a handle of. You can see some of the emergency vehicles there, all though the visibility is difficult because of those severe thunderstorms.

They're trying to deal with the situation. They obviously have an emergency underway, with the flames and smoke shooting out from that passenger jet. Also, visibility trouble, severe thunderstorms in Toronto today. You can see the emergency rescue effort. They're trying to get that underway, all of those vehicles on the runway.

You can also see off the runway there, just outside the airport grounds, there are a lot of vehicles, people stopped in the road watching these dramatic pictures unfold live, as we speak. There are about, again, 200 passengers aboard. It's a Lufthansa passenger jet. CTV has been reporting that it is a 737 jet. It's in flames on the runway.

Pearson Airport in Toronto, Canada. You can see the emergency rescue effort. They're trying to get that underway, trying to deal with the situation. We have no information about how the plane slid off the runway, what caused that. But you can see, obviously, that they're dealing with an emergency situation right now.

You can see an ambulance coming across the roadway just outside the airport, trying to get onto the airport grounds. Again, there have been severe thunderstorms in Toronto today, adding to the visibility troubles there in trying to assess the situation. We have no idea at this point, whether weather was any factor.

Again, this plane, a 737 plane, in flames just off the runway at Pearson Airport in Toronto, Canada. A Lufthansa jet that has some 200 passengers aboard. You can see the rescue effort underway there. A lot of sirens trying to respond to the scene as quickly as possible. This plane just skidded off the runway in Toronto, in the last few minutes. You can see the smoke still billowing up. Flames, still there. They have not been able to contain that fire just yet.

You can see it unfolding right there. This is at Pearson Airport in Toronto, Canada. A Lufthansa jet that has about 200 passengers aboard. They are right now, trying to assess the situation and as we can see right now -- you can see right now, the smoke billowing out from the passenger jet as well as flames on that passenger jet coming out, right now.

Emergency vehicles, on the scene. Throughout the afternoon in Toronto, there have been severe thunderstorms. You can see visibility troubles there. Passenger -- you can see the trucks and cars moving very slowly on that expressway in Toronto, just outside of the airport grounds.

You can obviously see a lot of the cars coming to a halt right now, trying to get a handle of the situation. These dramatic pictures coming into CNN as we speak. Flames and smoke, right now, on the runway at Pearson Airport in Toronto, Canada.

All we know about the plane is that it's a 737 passenger jet. It's a Lufthansa jet with 200 passengers aboard. You can see the sirens there on the runway. Various emergency vehicles trying to get to the scene, trying to deal with the situation. You can also see just outside the airport grounds, there's this expressway. There are a lot of vehicles there slowing down, trying to get a look at this. There was one ambulance that just went by on that expressway to enter the airport grounds.

These are live pictures coming in. Again, CTV is reporting that there are about 200 passengers aboard this plane in Toronto, Pearson Airport. And you can see also, visibility is difficult. We have -- are trying to assess the situation right now, as to what led to this plane going off the runway in Toronto at Pearson Airport. But you can see, obviously, weather is something that is difficult right now, to say the least.

There have been severe thunderstorms in Toronto today. You can also see the fog and mist. Visibility is very difficult there right now. That could obviously play a factor in the actual rescue effort, but we do not know what actually caused this plane to skid off the runway.

CTV has been reporting that there are about 200 passengers aboard and you can see there on that expressway again -- now, also the Associated Press is reporting that the plane crashed into a ravine, just as you can there, right off the runway.

You can see the smoke almost picking up a little bit there and flames. As we have been reporting now for almost 10 minutes, flames continuing as we speak. You can see all of the sirens, the emergency vehicles there on the runway trying to deal with the situation.

And now let's bring in -- CNN's Wolf Blitzer is here, as well, to join us.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ed, this is very dramatic, obviously, as you've been reporting and as we're getting additional information, this passenger jet is in flames after skidding off the runway earlier today at Toronto's Pearson Airport, which is the huge, major international airport in Toronto, which is Canada's largest city.

The plane crashed, according to the Associated Press, into a ravine after apparently running off the end of the runway. This is a huge Boeing 737 we're told. The aircraft, clearly visible in these pictures that we're getting courtesy of our affiliate CTV in Canada. The pictures coming in; the area around this runway; the plane skidding off.

We have no idea about the extent of injuries, but the pictures, clearly very dramatic.

CNN's Miles O'Brien is watching all of this, together with all of us from New York, as well. As you look at these pictures, Miles, what goes through your mind?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A couple thoughts, Wolf. A couple of things aren't adding up here, just in the early reporting here. And the viewers, at this point, understand how that goes. Two hundred passengers in a 737. That's pretty much a mutually exclusive pair of statistics there.

Also, the likelihood with the Lufthansa fleet -- and we're told this is a Lufthansa airplane -- the greater likelihood is that this is probably an Airbus airplane of some kind: The A-330 or the A-340. Both of those are kind of similar airplanes. The three -- the latter, the 340, having four engines; the 330, with two engines and would be more ideally suited to the type of routes Lufthansa would be flying from Toronto, which is to say probably back to Germany.

Indications of this incident as to what happened, it's hard to tell, but as you just said, the indications are they -- it somehow slid of the runway or perhaps some sort of aborted takeoff scenario, which put them into that ravine.

You know, we've talked a lot about what happens, unfortunately, in these cases when airplanes are running down a runway and making decisions on when to abort and whether an abort is necessary. The flight crew has to be in really careful coordination for engine failures at very specific times, sort of spring-loaded for specific failures at specific moments. And a lot of decision making -- there is no decision-making time. You have to have sort of a reflex reaction.

So, you know, when you're in a situation like this and you're running down a runway and there are any number of things that could happen which would spoil your ability to fly and how you react to that is obviously very critical, Wolf.

So, once again, just trying to restate here. Early indications of a 737, I think I would discount, especially with that number of passengers on board. And when you start thinking about scenarios going down runways and possibilities of engine failures, there's a lot of scenarios that could come up here. Do we know, Wolf -- have we heard what the weather was like at the time there?

BLITZER: The weather was not great, but we are getting additional information in from Toronto, from the Associated Press. Police there are telling the AP the plane was an Air France passenger jet that was attempting to land when it ran into trouble. Emergency crews clearly on the scene. We see the smoke billowing from this wooded area. It's described, near Highway 401, which is Canada's busiest highway, not far from the airport, right on the outskirts of Toronto's Pearson Airport.

Having been there on many occasions, it's a very, very busy airport. If in fact this was an Air France jetliner -- passenger jetliner, I suspect it was not a 737, Miles. I tend to agree with you. It was a much larger aircraft, whether an Airbus or a Boeing 747 or some sort of wide-body plane that would fly transatlantic -- Air France flying from France, clearly, to Toronto. Isn't that your assessment, Miles?

O'BRIEN: Yes, Wolf. You know -- as a lot of folks know who are familiar with flying, the 737, which is the most popular airliner in the world as far as numbers of airliners out there, is a shorter-run airplane. More inter-city; something you'd see on a route here in the United States.

And add to that the fact that Air France -- and we thought Lufthansa a moment ago -- are more inclined to purchase the Airbus products, as well. So, that leads us down that road. And as you say, the Boeing 747 used in the fleets of both airlines, as well.

Now, if it was a landing situation, then that raises a different, you know, crop of scenarios and certainly weather comes into it a little more. If you say there was bad weather there -- you know, one of the things we've seen over the years, Wolf and a lot pilots have run into this in these situations coming in and around thunderstorms either immediately adjacent to thunderstorms before or after, you get a situation which can be very deadly called wind sheer, where essentially the quick shifts in the wind direction over a short period of time can cause the pilot to overcompensate in the wrong way and put new a situation where the plane is not flying fast enough through the air, essentially it stalls, falls out of the air.

We've had crashes in the past. There was a crash not too many years ago in Dallas/Fort Worth involving a Delta -- I believe it was an L-1011 -- on approach there that got into a wind-sheer scenario. The plane stalled out, essentially not enough speed or wind passing over the wings to keep it aloft. So, thunderstorms create all kinds of difficult propositions for pilots and that is one of the things you'd want to look at, at least in the initial stages of this, Wolf.

BLITZER: And I just want to reset for viewers who may just be tuning in. We're getting this information from our affiliates in Toronto. Our Canadian Television Affiliates as well as the Associated Press, now reporting that this passenger jet -- you're seeing the flames, the black flames, the smoke billowing from this passenger jet liner -- caught fire shortly after skidding off the runway at Pearson International Airport, that's the big airport in Toronto.

We're told, according to the Associated Press, this was an Air France passenger jet that was trying to land when it ran into trouble. There's no word on casualties. We have been told earlier, more than 200 passengers, crew members, aboard this aircraft.

We're also told there will be a news conference. Canadian authorities have scheduled a news conference at the top of the hour, 5:00 p.m. Eastern, a little bit more than 15 minutes from now. We'll, of course, try to bring you that news conference, live, on what exactly has happened.

We're also standing by our -- CNN meteorologist Jacqui Jeras is getting ready to tell us what the weather has been like in Toronto over these past couple hours. But, clearly, the flames that we're seeing, the smoke that we're seeing certainly does not bode well for what has just occurred, if in fact this is an Air France jet liner that tried to make a landing and got itself in trouble, skidding off the runway.

Jacqui Jeras, are you there? Can you tell us what the weather has been like in Toronto?

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, they're looking at a thunderstorm now, Wolf. There's been one that's been kind of hovering over the area for at least an hour. If you can see right here, right here on my radar picture, that's the storm of concern and the conditions are pretty ripe here for severe thunderstorms.

And I don't have the ability to go in and check in their radar site, because it's not a U.S. radar, to see the wind velocities in this. I'd like to take a better look at that, but we could be looking at a severe thunderstorm across the area. Down burst winds possibly. Very gusty winds and maybe even a little bit of hail in this thunderstorm. So, as soon as I can get into that information, I'll know a little bit more. But, certainly dangerous weather across the area.

BLITZER: Usually, Miles -- and I want to have Jacqui stand by and we'll get right back to her. Miles, in this kind of a weather situation, a big plane, assuming this is a wide-body aircraft -- an Air France jetliner according to the Associated Press flying, we assume from Paris to Toronto -- and a lot of those transatlantic flights are scheduled to land in the late afternoon along the East Coast of the United States and in Canada.

Assuming the weather has been bad, would a big wide-body plane attempt a landing in kind of severe weather?

O'BRIEN: Well, I mean, certainly you want to avoid it, Wolf, I mean, in a perfect world. But there are all kinds of other factors that come into play in these situations as time goes on. As you say, you're at the end of a long leg -- transoceanic leg. We don't know what the fuel situation was on this aircraft, for example.

Obviously, there is some fuel left on board. You're seeing the fire that has resulted as a result of this crash. But there's any number of scenarios: How was the pilot notified about the weather in the area? What -- you know, what did the controllers tell him, for example? What sort of capability do they have at that particular airport for wind sheer detection?

Some airports are better than others, have -- there are many airports in this country that have wind sheer detectors strategically placed all over the airport. In other words, anemometers or wind gauges that give the controllers and ultimately the pilots, you know, sort of a real-time view of where wind sheer exists on the airport, because at the control tower, it might be one sort of wind direction and speed. It might be very different at the threshold of the runway a couple miles away.

And so, a lot of it is how much data that they have at the time, and then the decision-making on the part of the crew as to whether to press on. These are all real-time decisions. When controllers tell you of a wind sheer alert, it is ultimately the captain and the flight crew's decision one way or another whether to proceed.

That's kind of a popular misnomer: Is that controllers, because their term is controller, actually control the flights. The captain is in charge. The flight crew is in charge in these situations and makes the decision, ultimately, as to whether to press on and go for landing, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to go to the scene now. Leah Walker (ph), a local radio reporter in Toronto, is joining us on the phone. Leah, tell us what you know about what our viewers are seeing now: The smoke billowing from this aircraft -- from this passenger jet liner.

LEAH WALKER, TORONTO RADIO REPORTER: Well, what I know is that this plane came off the runway. It slid off the runway and into this gully that you can probably see here. It's come off with, obviously, a great amount of force and into these trees and a creek here.

As I was watching, I could see the flames take over this plane and the last third or so of the plane fall. The rest of the plane go up into flames. It's essentially a fireball and we're just watching as they attempt to put foam on it and try and get these flames out.

BLITZER: No word on casualties or the passengers, the crew members? You're not getting anything along those lines yet, are you?

WALKER: No, we have no information on that. There are hundreds of emergency vehicles here to do whatever is possible to be done at this point. We haven't heard about any kind of experience like that.

BLITZER: We are being told by local authorities, the Associated Press is reporting, the Canadian Press is now reporting, this is an Air France passenger jetliner. Have you confirmed that, Leah?

WALKER: Well, it's certainly Air France. I can confirm that. As to the size and the make, no, I can't confirm those reports. BLITZER: Presumably a flight coming in from Paris or someplace else in France. This is the time of day when those transatlantic flights are usually making their way to Toronto...

WALKER: That's right.

BLITZER: ... or other destinations here on the East Coast of the United States.

WALKER: Yes.

BLITZER: What's the weather been like? Our CNN meteorologist tells us there's been pretty bad thunderstorms in the area. You're there. What do you see?

WALKER: Well, there have been some horrendous thunderstorms actually. There was an alert at the airport earlier today -- warning because of the delays -- because there were thunder strikes right above the airport -- thunder and lightning.

So, this has attempted to land in some very fierce weather that we've had today. I was traveling along the highway here that runs right beside the airport and the cars were just crawling. You couldn't even see the airport at that stage, because it was just gray with water and rain and pelting rain coming kind of on a sideways angle.

BLITZER: Because we're told that not only severe thunderstorms in the area, but heavy lightning, as well. Our Miles O'Brien, who himself is a pilot, has been telling us this is certainly, as we all know, not necessarily propitious moments for which a plane to land.

Miles, give us your thoughts as we see these pictures. We see rescue crews, fire fighters on the scene. Water now really coming into this aircraft and we also know based on all the times we've flown ourselves, the emergency procedures for getting off an aircraft in these kinds of situations. We assume -- we assume those emergency procedures were intact.

O'BRIEN: Well, Wolf, there are two types of crashes. There are crashes where those possibilities exist and then there are crashes like this one, where it is less likely, because what you're talking about is a plane that is low and slow and there is -- if in fact -- let's just say for a moment here that it is wind sheer and there was a sudden stall, it's not -- it's not a scenario where you can -- you're performing a dead stick landing. You're more or less falling out of the sky.

So, the initial -- my initial reaction and indication on this would not be highly optimistic for a lot of survivors in this particular case, because of that scenario we just laid out. It's a different scenario than an engine out and the pilot able to glide in for some reason. This is a stall of the aircraft. You know, and let's bring in -- Wolf, if you don't mind I'm going to bring in a friend of mine, a person who I've flown many hours with, John Wiley (ph), retired captain. BLITZER: Miles, hold on one second. Before you do that, I just want to alert our viewers, the Reuters News agency is reporting this is an Air France A-340, the Paris-Toronto flight. That would be an Airbus 340, as you had been speculating earlier.

O'BRIEN: Yes. And the person you're just about to talk with, John Wiley, has experience on the A-330, I believe. I don't know if he's flown the 340, but very similar configurations, cockpits and equipment. He flew these airplanes for U.S. Airways for many years.

John, just give us an indication, if you would, on the kind of equipment that would typically be on board. And I know your -- you flew for a different airline, but the kind of equipment that would be on board to guard against wind sheer.

JOHN WILEY, RETIRED AIRBUS PILOT: Miles, you're going to have what's called a predictive wind sheer that's going to looking at the scenarios or the weather in front of you. But one of the things is that we're going to have to ask is, about the airplanes that landed in front of them.

Nobody's going to, especially in our society today, nobody's going to willingly or knowingly make an approach into a dangerous situation. So, what we have to assume is that the information to the cockpit crew was somewhat ambiguous to the point that they felt it was not necessary to break off the approach.

There would have been other aircraft that would have landed in front of them and then possibly when you get into the situation and we've seen this before in accidents, the situation evolves so rapidly and is so dynamic, that escape is impossible.

We see the airplane sitting off the end of the runway, so we also have to ask questions about the runway being contaminated, possibly with water. One of the earlier interviewees that you talked to was talking about heavy rain. That may not have been known to the crew and I'm not sure that, that is exactly germane to the approach, but once they got the airplane on the runway, the ability to stop the airplane, especially if it starts hydroplaning -- you really is a problem bringing it to a stop and in this case, we see that we have a runway overrun.

O'BRIEN: You know -- and you bring up an important point, John, and that is the fact that in the case of these micro-bursts, it can be very difficult to predict them.

WILEY: Well...

O'BRIEN: You can say that the conditions are right and yet plane after plane will go in, in advance of a situation like this and everything will be OK.

WILEY: We have seen that. We saw that at Dallas a number of years ago with the 1011 making an approach. The aircraft in front of them made an approach and landed without any problem. The 1011 comes along and then it smashes into the ground. So, we have to approach the situation again from the point of the view -- we right now are looking at it from a God's-eye view and the investigators will be connecting the dots afterwards. And the amazing thing is, is that once all of the facts are in place, there's a researcher named Sidney Decker (ph) and Decker has made a comment that afterwards, it will be amazing how clear the information was afterwards and how it was so obscure while the process was unfolding.

O'BRIEN: So what do you mean, that hindsight is 20/20 or something more so?

WILEY: More so than 20/20, because what's going to happen, of course, is everybody's going to point their fingers at the crew and they're going to say what they did. And of course, what -- we know what they did. They made an approach in a weather that apparently was worse than anticipated. But we're going to have to answer the question of why that happened. What was the decision-making process and what was their perception of the situation, so that they continued the approach?

O'BRIEN: And all of these decisions feed on other decisions.

WILEY: Of course.

O'BRIEN: I mean, literally, could you take this right back to decisions made in Paris, for example, how much fuel to take on.

WILEY: Well, I'm sure that they had plenty of fuel. Your international flights are carrying tons of fuel as per requirements. So, I would not think that fuel was a requirement, especially on the 340, which has very long legs.

But our problem here, again, is going to be asking, what did the pilot see and what was their perception of the situation? Obviously, we can answer their perception of the situation was that it was safe enough to continue the approach. This is an international crew. These are not rookies. These are not people who have crossed the Atlantic for maybe one or two times.

So, if we look at the history and the perspective, we also find out that often times, very, very experienced pilots wind up in novel situations and then we wind up with an accident.

O'BRIEN: OK. We're making a lot of suppositions here about the weather, of course, but this has the earmarks at least, John, based on what we've seen thus far, of this. Let's talk for just a moment, about some of the other possibilities here, so we don't get, you know, the blinders on early on in this case. What else -- if you were...

BLITZER: Miles. Miles, it's Wolf. I just want to interrupt you for a second, because we're getting a little additional information. And John, this will be interesting to you, as well. We're now being told this was Air France Flight 358, that left Paris -- Charles de Gaulle International Airport at 1:32 p.m., earlier today. That would be Paris time. And it was scheduled to land at Toronto at 4:12 p.m. at Pearson International Airport. An Airbus A-340 flight, Air France Flight 358. Clearly, a daily flight that goes between Paris and Toronto. A very busy route, based on my experience.

But as you point out, John and Miles, these are -- the crews for these kinds of international flights, whether Air France or British Air or United or any of the major airlines -- to get on a transatlantic route like this, you have to be very well experienced.

WILEY: That's true. The other thing that we'll have to look at...

BLITZER: John.

WILEY: ... Is again, breaking down the situation. You mentioned that the flight left about 1:00 their time. So, we're probably not talking about a unusual (ph) issue. We'll be talking about just a refreshed crew, making a normal run. It will have been an entire daytime flight. So, we're not talking about nighttime conditions as being one of the factors either.

BLITZER: So Miles, set the scene for us now. Based on what you know: the weather, thunderstorms, lightning; a plane coming in, approaching landing, veering off the runway and going into this area off the runway. This is Highway 401, Canada's busiest highway around Toronto at Pearson International Airport. You were mentioning wind sheer as a possible cause.

It reminds me a little bit -- and you guys know a lot more about this than I do -- of what happened at Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport only a -- I guess it must about a decade or so ago. There was severe wind sheer that caused what might be a similar kind of crash.

O'BRIEN: Yes, I think there's a lot of similarities to that one, Wolf. We're talking about an L-1011 in that case, Delta Airlines. And as John Wiley just pointed out a few moments ago that, that planes came in before it and had no apparent problems. And it was after that time -- and John, correct me if I'm wrong on that -- that there was a big effort put in place in the United States to add wind sheer detection across the full ramparts of these large airports, because what they discovered in the case of Dallas is that a situation in one little spot in these massive airports does not reflect these kind of -- theses micro-bursts as they're called, which can really affect a pilot and an air crew on the threshold of a runway as we see here, apparently at the end of Runway 24 in Toronto.

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