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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Air France Jet Overshoots Runway in Toronto

Aired August 2, 2005 - 18:30   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: When you heard the eyewitness accounts -- when we were speaking with Olivier Dubos, a passenger who survived this crash and he described what happened after the plane stopped, there was a small opportunity for people to escape and they did. What went through your mind?
JENNIE ZIESENHENNE, FMR. DELTA FLIGHT ATTENDANT INSTRUCTOR: Well, what would go through my mind is that the flight attendants were probably doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing and that is, giving them the commands of where to go, to release their seat belts, to get out of the aircraft.

And this is why our training is so important, is that because this is an unexpected emergency. It's easy for people to go into shock and not to move, but we have to be able to be trained and ready to go in a split second. And this is exactly what it sounds like that this crew did.

BLITZER: How long would it normally take for an Airbus 340 -- this is the plane that crashed, I don't know if you're familiar with this type of aircraft -- how long would it normally take for a plane to crash, to stop, and for the crew to get those doors and those chutes in place?

ZIESENHENNE: Well, you know, really depending on the speed of the airplane, I wouldn't know an exact number, but, you know, you've got maybe five minutes from the time it touches down -- or two to three minutes until it -- until you can start releasing your seat belts, because we're trained to wait until the aircraft has completely come to a stop and then, to assess the conditions and then start to get the people out.

And actually, the FAA runs like, you know, kind of in perfect conditions, evacuation procedures and you're supposed to be able to get everybody out in 90 seconds. And that's really, really fast. And that's banking on the fact that people are able to move. You didn't -- it sounds like there were not a lot of injuries or anything on the aircraft, so people were mobile and they could get out. And I think that's the wonderful, wonderful thing is that everyone was able to get out like that.

BLITZER: We heard from the passenger who survived this air disaster, Olivier Dubos, Jennie, who said that the crew did not give them any advance word upon -- as the plane approached landing, to get into an emergency sitting situation or to take some sort of action. There was no advance warning to them that there was going to be a serious problem. What does that say to you? ZIESENHENNE: Well, that means -- we're trained in what is called an unanticipated emergency. And that's exactly what this is, because you're not expecting it. But at as a flight attendant, as you're coming in for a landing, you're going to be thinking, well, if something should happen this is the door I'm operating, these are the people I'm evacuating.

So, flight crews are always thinking on takeoff and landing, what they should be doing if something should happen. And since this -- it sounds like something happened as they were landing, literally on the runway from some of the eyewitnesses that I've heard on CNN. But I think that, you know, again, this is what we are trained for. This is -- actually, this is what a flight attendant's job is, is to be able to evacuate, to assist in an emergency.

BLITZER: All right. Jennie, I'm going to have you stand by, if you're kind enough to do so. Jennie Ziesenhenne is a former Delta flight attendant instructor, who has been very helpful in giving us some perspective. But I want to bring in on the phone now, Roel Bramar -- and I hope I'm pronouncing your name correctly, Roel -- who himself is a -- was a passenger aboard this Air France flight 358. You were sitting at the back of the plane, Roel. Tell us what happened as this plane landed on the ground.

ROEL BRAMAR, PASSENGER ON FLIGHT 358: Wolf, if I may call you by your first name...

BLITZER: Please.

BRAMAR: ... I see you often on TV. We -- the plane seemed to land OK, but I had the feeling that the -- because of the weather conditions, the pilot had to bring down the plane in a fairly fast manner. And anyway, the plane overshot the driveway and that was the first really scare. I mean, the plane went just up and down like a roller coaster.

Then when we came to stop, sitting with a friend of mine, just came back from France, jumped up and headed for the emergency exit. And then the stewardess was there. You can only evacuate from the right of the plane, because there seemed to be a lot of flames on the left-hand side. She opened the door and I was the second one off the plane. I jumped. You don't think, you jump.

And the second scare came when we saw the flames. Then, of course, running through the fields as quickly as possible to get away from the disaster scene.

BLITZER: They usually tell you, Roel, that when you jump down shoots, you jump down one of those shoots and slid to the ground, that you are supposed to take of your shoes. Is that right? I don't know if...

BRAMAR: I didn't have my shoes on. So, she didn't have to tell me anything.

BLITZER: You didn't what? BRAMAR: I didn't have my shoes on. I -- you know, sometimes you take your shoes off during a flight, so I didn't have my shoes on and I think the most important thing is that you jump feet first, yes.

BLITZER: You jump feet first. And was this an orderly -- based on what you can tell, you were the second person off the plane...

BRAMAR: Yes. Well...

BLITZER: ... Was it fairly orderly or was it chaotic?

BRAMAR: Well, that's very difficult for me to say. It looked orderly, but when I got to the bottom of the chute and looked around and saw the flames, I only thought of one thing, is to just get out of there as fast as possible. And I just ran like crazy through the fields, over rocks and whatnot to make the distance as big as possible between the plane and myself.

BLITZER: You were concerned, understandably, that there could be an explosion that would shortly follow it.

BRAMAR: Yes. Yes.

BLITZER: How many minutes did it take for those fire balls -- I don't know if you were looking back at the aircraft directly...

BRAMAR: No. No. We saw already the fire out through the window. When we came to full stop, we already saw fire on the left side of the plane.

BLITZER: You did see fire already?

BRAMAR: So, yes and there was some smoke in the plane. Not a lot, but it was a bit of smoke. So, nobody had to urge me to run as fast as possible.

BLITZER: Did -- as you were getting off the plane, what was going through your mind, because we spoke earlier with Olivier Dubos...

BRAMAR: Yes.

BLITZER: ... Another passenger who survived this crash, all the passengers and crew members, thank god, managed to survive. What was going through your mind as you saw what was unfolding?

BRAMAR: Well, twice. When we hit the ravine -- in other words, when we overshot the driveway -- the runway, I thought that looked to me pretty much the end. And then the second time is seeing those flames around the plane, I was -- yes, my biggest concern was that the thing might explode, and that there wasn't enough distance between the plane and myself.

BLITZER: Well, did you actually think it was almost over for you?

BRAMAR: I would say, you know, I don't know how much you think at a time like that, because you're just -- you're running. But on those two occasions, I can't say that I was particularly happy.

BLITZER: No, I don't blame you. Obviously, you're not happy at all. Who can be prepared for this kind of situation? But you're obviously very happy right now.

BRAMAR: Well, I'm very happy. My son came to pick me up at the airport and for a few minutes, he knew about the crash, but didn't know that I'd survived. So, those were a couple of difficult minutes.

BLITZER: Well...

BRAMAR: Until I got a hold of him on my cell phone and -- and from what I gather, there's no fatalities. So, it ended OK in a way. I can't wait to go home and have a hot bath.

BLITZER: It ended excellent. Roel, what were you doing? You were just visiting Paris?

BRAMAR: Yes. Actually, Olivier Dubos and I are neighbors and his sister was getting married near Lyon in the south of France and so we just went over for a week, for the wedding.

BLITZER: So, the crew really did an excellent job saving the lives of the passengers. Is that a fair assessment?

BRAMAR: Wolf, I can't actually say that, because being at the end of the -- the back of the plane and being the first one off, it's difficult to say. But it didn't look to me that they lost their cool.

BLITZER: They were there -- and did the crew stay on board -- or you don't know this -- until the...

BRAMAR: As I said, Olivier and I were actually the two first ones off the plane and we just ran like hell. You don't spend a lot of time looking back.

BLITZER: And...

BRAMAR: I mean, there were other people coming continuously off the plane. There was a -- people were running with us and so on, but I certainly don't know what was going on inside the plane.

BLITZER: And you did seem to think -- correct me if I'm wrong -- that lightning may have struck this aircraft?

BRAMAR: Well, the reason why, is that the lights went off as we landed. So that seemed to me a bit of an indication that there was possibly something wrong, because normally the lights don't go off when you land.

BLITZER: But you didn't hear or feel lightning...

BRAMAR: No. No.

BLITZER: ... Really touch the plane? BRAMAR: No. No. But it -- I just had that feeling that -- I think the captain was on purpose bringing in that plane fast. Now, whether it was to escape the weather or whether there was maybe a little damage to the plane, I can't tell.

BLITZER: Because it was your sense that he was descending more rapidly than a normal flight? Is that what you're saying?

BRAMAR: Possibly descending more rapidly, but certainly approaching the runway, I would think, with more-than-normal speed.

BLITZER: And then all of a sudden...

BRAMAR: And then maybe as a result, tried to bring in the plane fast, which he probably had to. As a result, he didn't have enough distance to apply the brakes and we ended up in the ravine. I mean, but that's just my personal sort of...

BLITZER: That was just your impression. Olivier didn't seem to think that the turbulence before the landing was more extraordinary than had occurred on many of his flights?

BRAMAR: No, not really. Although there was a lot of lightning around us.

BLITZER: You could see the lightning, but...

BRAMAR: You could see the lightning, and...

BLITZER: But was the plane, like, going up and down? Were you being kicked around inside that cabin?

BRAMAR: Oh, when it hit the ravine, we...

BLITZER: No, not when it kicked -- when you got to the ravine, but before, as you were approaching the runway?

BRAMAR: No, no, no, everything was fine. We approached the runway. Even the landing itself was fine. It was just -- all hell broke loose when it -- I mean, as far as moving around and -- and -- not that I see anybody flying through the air, but it was a very, very rocky landing in the ravine, that is.

BLITZER: And now, I think you especially and your fellow passengers fully understand why these flight attendants and these crews on all these aircraft, they always say, strap yourselves in, low and tight....

BRAMAR: Absolutely. Absolutely.

BLITZER: ... with the seat belt, make sure there's nothing in the aisles. There's nothing in the overhead.

BRAMAR: And don't take your seat belt off until you come to a full stop. I mean, it sounds a bit -- a bit, you know, I'm being -- overdoing it a bit maybe, but, you know, we thought we'd had a good landing. I mean, some people were clapping and whatnot. And then it -- then it happened. So, yeah, you -- you're right, those safety measures are not for the fun of it.

BLITZER: And it makes sense to listen to those flight attendants as they explain the emergency procedures and not sort of simply read your newspaper or read a magazine or doze off.

BRAMAR: Sure.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: These are life-saving maneuvers.

BRAMAR: I had no problem listening, because one of the French attendants was particularly cute, so I had no problem watching and listening.

BLITZER: All right. Well, that's encouraging. Roel Bramar, it was kind of you to spend some time with us, and congratulations to you and all the passengers aboard this aircraft for surviving what clearly is a horrendous situation, but we're grateful that you can join us. I'm sure your family is grateful as well.

Thanks very much. And go back and relax a little bit now if you can.

BRAMAR: OK, thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Roel Bramar, a passenger aboard Air France Flight 358, surviving this crash, together with 296 other passengers and 12 crew members.

We're going to continue our special coverage, but we'll take a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Approaching almost three hours ago, Air France -- Air France Flight 358 from Charles de Gaulle International Airport outside Paris, scheduled to land 4:12 at Pearson International Airport outside Toronto -- actually at 4:03, 4:03 Eastern, the plane did touch down on a runway, but overshot the runway by about 200 yards, and the plane then crashed into a ravine, a wooded area not far from Highway 401, which runs on the outskirts of Pearson International Airport.

The good news, all 297 passengers, the 12 crew members, all -- all survived; 309 people onboard this Airbus 340. Minor injuries as described for 14 passengers. All this according to the Greater Toronto Airports Authority.

We heard earlier, earlier, during that brief window when the people could escape, 309 people could escape, there was a brief period before the flames engulfed the cabin, the smoke engulfed the cabin, the doors were open, the chutes were open and everyone got off that plane alive.

Here's an eyewitness, a passenger who was aboard the aircraft, Olivier Dubos, who spoke with us just a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OLIVIER DUBOS, PASSENGER ON AIR FRANCE FLIGHT 358: I don't know if it is possible that the plane got hit by lightning, and then you can't feel it. But what is for sure is that a minute before touching ground, there was no more light in the plane. The light was totally cut off.

BLITZER: The light was totally cut off before the plane touched the ground, is that what you're saying?

DUBOS: Yeah, all the lighting was off in the plane, just a minute before we touched ground.

BLITZER: What was the last word that you got from the crew before the crash? Before the plane smashed and the tires smashed onto the runway, and then veered off, overshot the runway, really, by some 200 meters, what was the last thing the crew had told the passengers?

DUBOS: We didn't -- I mean, I saw that -- we didn't hear any official announcement. It just -- there was like a big silence from just when the plane stopped. We were rushing to the emergency exits.

BLITZER: So, in other words, you didn't get any -- you didn't get any advance -- you didn't get any advance warning that there was going to be a serious problem like this?

DUBOS: No. That's for sure. We didn't get any advance notice.

BLITZER: Olivier, where are you from? What were you doing on this flight?

DUBOS: Oh, I was actually coming back from a week of vacation in France. My sister being -- getting married over there. And I was coming back to Toronto, where I work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Olivier Dubos, speaking with us earlier, a passenger who survived this crash of Air France Flight 358, together with the other passengers and crew members.

Christopher Williams is a photographer who was working at the scene for CTV, and is joining us now on the phone. Christopher, thanks very much. Tell us what you saw when you got there.

CHRISTOPHER WILLIAMS, CTV PHOTOGRAPHER: Well, I was about five minutes away. I received a call that there had been an incident at the airport. Immediately looking to my left, you could see a large plume of smoke, clearly a large fire.

When I reached the airport, you could see the -- basically, the front third of this Air France jet in a ravine area, which is located towards the end of runway -- what they call 24 Left at the Pearson Airport here. The rear two-thirds of the aircraft was fully involved in flame and smoke.

BLITZER: Did you see passengers jumping off this plane?

WILLIAMS: I did not. I was some distance away. My understanding is that the passengers evacuated within a matter of 30 to 50 seconds.

BLITZER: There were some reports -- and we spoke to some of the passengers who survived -- who said they ran as quickly as they could once they got off that plane, and they ran toward that highway, Highway 401, and actually tried -- some of them tried to hitch a ride to get out of there as quickly as possible. Did you see or hear about any of that?

WILLIAMS: I heard accounts that passengers had to quickly get away from the aircraft. Part of the thing which is so incredible about this is, this aircraft, as they landed in a ravine, now, not only would there be the debris from the aircraft that would be there, these people would have literally had to scramble up a ravine, which is approximately 15 to 20 feet in some points, which would have obviously been rain-slicked at the time. There was an incredibly violent thunderstorm and lightning that was occurring at the time that this plane landed. So how these people escaped is absolutely a miracle.

BLITZER: I think this -- this will be one of the stories, one of the great stories, the survival of these 309 people onboard this aircraft, especially the pictures that we're showing some of the tape from earlier, some of the pictures of what the flames, how the flames engulfed this Airbus 340, Air France Flight 358.

Once you got there and saw what was going on, Christopher, you were an eyewitness to the aftermath, what was going through your mind?

WILLIAMS: Well, it's the typical controlled chaos. I mean, you have emergency vehicles responding from all corners of the city. Actually, what you would call the mutual aid, where additional resources from other municipalities are brought in to deal with the situation. So it was a controlled chaos. You had basically security people. You had employees from the airlines. Basically, it was a well- choreographed, well-rehearsed disaster plan. I think that they really should be credited. Absolutely phenomenal.

BLITZER: It goes to show you that people can survive plane crashes. And in this case, 309 people are alive thanks to the safety procedures onboard this aircraft, as well as the efficiency of the crew in getting those doors open, those chutes open, and allowing those passengers within a matter of a few minutes to get off that plane. Some of the eyewitness accounts, some of the passengers we've been speaking with, Christopher, have told some dramatic stories about what was going on.

Christopher Williams is a photographer who was working this story for CTV. Christopher, thank you very much.

Jennie Ziesenhenne is back with us. She's a former Delta flight attendant instructor. You've been listening to these eyewitness accounts, these passengers, the stories of survival; 309 people are alive right now. Perhaps in earlier situations very similar to this, without those safety procedures in hand, Jennie, these people would not necessarily be alive.

ZIESENHENNE: That's true, Wolf. It's really amazing, the training that kicks in for something like this. And I think that we've all learned from some other of the -- of accidents that have happened, and unfortunately they were not as lucky as this. But this is just truly phenomenal that they were able to evacuate everyone safely.

BLITZER: Because it really was a brief period of escape before the fire has really engulfed this cabin and would have prevented any additional escape.

What do you say now, especially, and our viewers around the world who are watching, to those passengers who are simply ignoring all the instructions that you're giving, you and your colleagues, Jennie, when you try to give them some of those emergency procedures before takeoff?

ZIESENHENNE: Well, you know, it's really -- you only have seconds to respond. And I think something like this shows where people that have been on the flight say, well, we landed, and immediately it burst into flames and there was smoke. So if people could just pay attention, it's about saving their lives. And I know that they go, oh, we've heard it over and over and over again. But you need to know where your emergency exits are, because you're disoriented when there's smoke. So you need to know whether you need to go forward or backwards to get to your nearest exit, which one is there. It's one of those things where you just have seconds to respond. And that's the most important thing, is to be aware of your surroundings. And that's all that we're trying to do, is to quickly educate people on what kind of aircraft that they're on, because each aircraft is different.

BLITZER: I guess, Jennie, one of the bright spots of this crash was it happened in daylight, because we heard that the lights went off in the cabin. As the plane was approaching the touchdown, the landing on the runway, the lights went off. Had this occurred at night, it would have been so much more difficult to get those passengers off the aircraft.

ZIESENHENNE: Yes. People are certainly able to see as long as the smoke is not there. Once the smoke is there, it's difficult even in the daylight. So the remarkable thing is that they were able to get most of the people out.

When you have a situation like this, and all of the cabin lights go off, actually emergency lights in the flooring should come on. Those are to guide you towards the emergency exits. But if the plane starts breaking up, then you have the additional problem of then trying to find your exit, or just literally going out the hole in the fuselage.

BLITZER: So button this up for us, Jennie. As someone who trains flight attendants to deal with these kinds of emergency situations, give us your thoughts on what we have learned as a result of the crash of Air France flight 358. ZIESENHENNE: Well, to just -- to be aware that when a flight is coming in, that if -- you know, that is one of the most dangerous times, is takeoffs and landings. Things can happen then. To pay attention to what the flight attendants are trying to tell you, the information that they're trying to give you about the airplane. Because you only have seconds, really, in a situation like this to be able to respond. So luckily, everyone responded like they were supposed to. And it was just a phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal ending to this.

BLITZER: A happy ending indeed. Jennie Ziesenhenne, thanks very much for that.

Let me just recap for our viewers: 297 passengers are alive, 12 crew members are alive, 309 people onboard Air France flight 358, after a crash landing at Pearson International Airport outside Toronto from Paris. Only 14 minor injuries, passengers for minor injuries, according to the Greater Toronto Airports Authority. The aircraft overshot the runway by about 200 yards, wound up in a ravine. The flames eventually erupted, but the passengers by then were off the aircraft.

That's it for now. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Our coverage of the Air France plane crash in Toronto will continue at the top of the hour with ANDERSON COOPER 360. Plus, Anderson will join us live from the African nation of Niger with a special report. Thanks very much for joining us.

END

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