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Southwest Jet Skids Off Runway at Chicago's Midway Airport

Aired December 8, 2005 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you very much for joining us, our viewers who are just joining at the top the hour.
Here is what we know. We are watching a breaking news story that is developing moment by moment. What you see there, the picture there is of a -- a Southwest Airlines -- a flight from Baltimore to Chicago. It left Baltimore at approximately 5:00 p.m., landing in Chicago 7:15 Central Time. It is Southwest Airlines Flight 1248.

The flight, obviously, encountered problems when it tried to land. We do not know exactly the nature of the problems. There were at least eight inches, 8.3 inches of snow on the ground at the time this plane tried to land. The nose of the aircraft is now on the ground.

This plane overshot, skidded past the runway, went through a barrier wall, and ended up where it sits now, on the street, on the south side of intersection Central Avenue and 55th Street.

According -- the latest report we have is that there are no reports of injuries to any of the passengers on board this plane. According to Jeanne Meserve, who talked to the FAA, there were 98 passengers aboard this flight out of Baltimore, five crew members as well aboard this flight -- no reports of injuries to any of them.

We do have reports of at least one seriously hurt person who was in a vehicle that was apparently hit by or ran into this plane when it crossed -- when it passed through the barrier and ended up on the street. There has been an EMS report of a father and a child who may have been in that vehicle.

But we have -- we do know that there was one seriously hurt -- hurt -- one seriously hurt person in the vehicle, according to Chicago Fire Department spokesperson Larry Langford, who told that to WMAQ Television.

Obviously, this whole area has been cordoned off. Central Avenue, 55th Street have been shut down in this area. The NTSB are -- are on the way. The FBA (sic) investigators are on the scene as well.

And we have seen a number of firefighters as well trying to use, according to Lillian Chacon of WFLD-TV in Chicago, she heard the jaws of life being used, perhaps, on that vehicle, which, according to one witness, Laura Peters, is -- is underneath or in the vicinity of the -- the nose of the aircraft.

The -- the plane itself seems to be somewhat lopsided as well. It is not parallel to the ground. So, Chad Myers pointing out, it may not just be the nose that was injured, the landing gear the nose broken, one witness had reported that the plane -- not only had the nose gear collapsed, but at least one of the engines was damaged.

We have some eyewitness sound now,of some people who saw what happened and the -- the aftermath. Let's go to that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And as I looked on the corner of 55th and Central, there was -- there was the airplane in the middle of the street.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It had just happened?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It had just happened probably within a minute before.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what did you see then?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then, I saw a -- a small car. It was hit right motor -- it was hit on the right motor, and then the people was evacuated on the left side of the plane.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell me about the evacuation. How did that...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The evacuation appeared to be very calm. They were -- everybody was walking normally. It was not -- they were not rushing or anything. It was just...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were they going down the slide?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, no. It was just they were walking down the -- apparently, landing in the front, just all the way down on the ground, so they probably were just walking down.


COOPER: Midway, of course, is a rather small airport which is surrounded by neighborhoods, by homes, by streets, as we have see.

Jim Dent is a pilot of 17 years. He joins us out of Fort Lauderdale. He has flown in and out of Midway.

Jim, what kind of -- how difficult is it landing at Midway?

JIM DENT, FORMER PILOT: Well, it's not what you would consider a real great airport. But it is -- it is good enough to land. And they should not have had any problem landing, although you can see the weather's pretty inclement right now.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, the report we had is 8.e inches of snow on the ground before 7:00 p.m., which is about 15 minutes before this plane landed.

What kind of -- when there is that much snow on the ground, what do you have to take into account, as a pilot?

DENT: Well, you -- like you were talking earlier, you do get braking reports. They do go out and send a vehicle out on the runway. And they do measure that. Plus, you have airplanes that have landed before you.

Whenever you're flying in weather like this, of course, you have to be very precise on everything that you do. You -- you have a very small area of tolerance. And if you're carrying maybe a little extra speed or if you're carrying a little bit of extra altitude, and then when you brake out and see the airport, trying to put the airplane on the ground, you can sometimes get into a little bit of problem.

Normally, the airplane should have no problem landing at Midway and stopping. But I can say, with the weather and the snow, if you're not -- if you're not right on all your numbers and you're not flying very precisely, you can wind up having a problem like this.

COOPER: Jim, just hold the line for a second.

We're just getting a report, this from WGN. The number of people who may be injured in this seems to have just grown, three children, two adults. We're now being told, according to WGN, two cars were involved. There is one critical injury, one serious injury. We do not know if that is the child or the adult.

Again, according to WGN, three -- three children two adults, one critical, one serious, are -- were injured by this plane as it crossed over to the street. Previously, we had gotten a report about one car being involved. We're now being told by WGN two cars may be involved in this.

Again, we had heard jaws of life being used, according to one of our reporters from WFLD, who was on the scene. As she was speaking, she heard the jaws of life being used. So, this is a very fluid situation, the reports coming in.

That is the first we have heard that there may be two cars hit, and the number of injured people and critically injured people has just grown. We are joined -- we continue to be joined on the phone by Jim Dent.

I mean, Jim, the -- the runway on this, I -- you only have about 5,800 feet to land. That's -- that's -- that's not a lot.

DENT: No. It's -- it's not a lot, but it is -- it is -- it is well within the airplane's capability to land on that -- that length of runway.

You know, your margin of error, like I said, goes down significantly when you have inclement weather like this, you have a lot of snow, and then you're landing on a runway that is -- is, you know, just barely minimal, that -- to get in and out of where you're using -- you know, you're using the -- you have got be -- everything, like, say right on.

So, in something like this, where you're maybe carrying just a little bit of extra speed on the approach or you're a little bit high (AUDIO GAP) you can actually get into a problem like this.

COOPER: Jim, I'm just getting some information, too, this from -- let's see. It's from Wendy Abrams, a spokeswoman for the city's Department of Aviation.

This flight -- the -- the pilot apparently noticed that the flap indicator light was on. That -- that apparently helps the -- the plane reduce speed as it -- as it gets ready to descend. According to Abrams (ph), officials did issue a standby alert, sent emergency crews to the runway, but the pilot engaged a secondary flap, which -- which allowed them to land this without -- actually, I'm sorry. This was an event that -- that took place a while back. So, I'm actually misreading that. So, just -- there have been other incidents, though, at -- at this airport.

I mean, it has got a reputation of sort of being tricky.

DENT: Right.

Well, what you're probably referring to is the spoilers on the top of the wing. You notice, when you land, you will have a set of airfoils that pop up on the top of the wing. And what that does is, that dissipates the lift on the wing and allows the airplane to settle onto the runway firm (AUDIO GAP) If the runway was icy and the -- and the wheels not spin up, then that will -- those will not automatically deploy, at which time the pilot has to manually extend those, which takes a little bit longer time.

So -- and this is just, you know, purely speculation. They could have deployed normally. But that could have been one of the problems, if they didn't automatically deploy and he had to deploy them manually.


COOPER: Well, let -- let me ask you. The -- the -- the front wheel apparently broke. Whether -- it's not clear whether it -- it broke on landing or whether it broke as it went through the barrier.

As you see the plane now -- and I'm -- I'm not sure if you're near a television, if you can see the plane -- it doesn't seem like the -- it's not just that the nose is on the ground. The plane seems to be -- the wings are not parallel to the ground. What do you read into that?

DENT: Well, there could be a ditch there or a rut.

And, also you -- you -- it could have broke part of the main landing gear when it went off the runway. It probably snapped the nose gear or twisted the nose gear back, and then maybe one (AUDIO GAP) gears could have twisted back also. That's a possibility.

COOPER: How...


DENT: The airplane looks -- the airplane looks fairly well intact. So, you know, like I say, the passengers should have been fine.

They probably didn't suffer any -- any -- you know, any undue force on them, because the plane was dissipated most of its speed when it ran off.


I one to read you one passenger. We got this quote in. Stanley Denn (ph) said: "We weren't slowing down. It looked like the runway wasn't plowed at all. The runway looked just like the grass. I couldn't really tell if we were on the runway or the grass. It was really bumpy. We were kind of going for a while, until the impact, when we hit maybe I guess a little of a barrier fence, when through that, and ended up in the middle of the street, with cars and stuff riding past us and everything."

As a pilot, once you have landed, and -- and -- I mean, do you realize instantly upon landing that you're in trouble?

DENT: Well, no.

You -- you know when you're carrying a little extra speed and you know when things aren't quite going right. But, usually by that time, it's too late to really do anything. You're just kind of hanging on at that point.

COOPER: So, once the plane has touched down...

DENT: Probably...

COOPER: ... there's not much more you can do; you're just kind of sliding?

DENT: That's -- that's correct. You're -- you're -- you're basically just steering the airplane and -- and doing everything you can to get the airplane slowed down and stopped. And you're basically at the -- at the mercy of -- of forces at that time.

COOPER: And -- and, then, how quickly can you get all the passengers off the plane, assuming that they are not injured?

DENT: Well, you can get the passengers off probably in anywhere between 60 and 90 seconds.

The flight attendants and the -- and the crews are very well trained. So, they know how to get people off and get them out of there.


COOPER: Wait. You can -- you can get all the passengers, you can get 98 passengers off a plane in -- in 60 to 90 seconds?

DENT: Yes. That's part of certification.

When the airplane goes through certification, you have to go through a process with the FAA to evacuate an airplane under a certain amount of time.

COOPER: That's remarkable. Ninety-eight passengers aboard this plane, according to the FAA, five crew members -- and what -- what -- you know, if -- what do investigators on the scene now, what are they looking at?

DENT: Well, they're going to, of course, pull the voice recorder and the flight recorder out of the airplane. They will start -- they will send those off and have those analyzed.

And what they will do is -- that's one of the advanced versions of airplanes now, so they have more sophisticated flight recorders. So, they will be able to map the entire -- the entire landing sequence, speeds, vertical, acceleration, deceleration, touchdown point times. Everything will all be mapped out. So, they will have an exact -- they will have an exact replica of exactly what happened. And they will be able to pinpoint the -- the problem pretty quickly.

COOPER: For -- for a pilot, this has just got to be a -- a nightmare time.

DENT: It's not a good time for the crew. I -- I -- I don't envy them right now. That's for sure.

COOPER: Jim, I -- I want to play just something, a short interview we did just a short time ago with -- with another eyewitness, Tom Fitzgerald, who -- who saw the plane from -- from his vantage point. Let's -- let's listen.


TOM FITZGERALD, EYEWITNESS: Approximately 7:15, I was bartending.

And I heard two loud booms. And, practically, five minutes later, people were running. Ambulances were coming up and down the street. And we have a security camera. We thought -- we thought it was an automobile accident. We looked out the window and we saw the tail section of the -- Southwest Airlines laying across the street on Central Avenue. That's on the south side of 55th Street.

We are in almost the south side of the intersection, right by the red lights. And I walked out there. And, actually, there was fire engines and ambulances and police and all kinds of other vehicles around there.

The traffic was still moving at that time. They blocked off the area, and the police are escorting people off -- away from the property. I heard, but I didn't see it, but someone said the plane did land on two automobiles. And I had seen people coming off the tail section of a car, and there were -- people were walking off the back end. And then on south -- I think, on the other side, they said they were sliding down the slide or something like that. I didn't see it.


FITZGERALD: But I could see people coming off the back end of the plane.

And it was pretty well smashed up, laying right across Central Avenue, and west, on the -- going westbound. And it was pretty hectic. It went through a -- a steel wall, and it had steel beams holding the wall up. and it tore apart -- you know, it went through the wall. So, I guess it apparently slid off the runway on right out on to Central Avenue.


COOPER: That eyewitness, Tom Fitzgerald, spoke to him just a short time ago.

We are also joined on the phone, Jim Dent, a pilot of 17 years, calling us out of Fort Lauderdale, just talking about this scene, as he sees it.

Also, we have Jonathan Freed, who is standing by in the Chicago bureau.

Jonathan, you're a -- a licensed pilot as well. Do you have any questions for Jim?


I'm curious to know, Jim, generally speaking, at Midway -- I have never landed there. How much play have you got? I mean, the runways there are roughly half the length -- the ones that are oriented the same way as -- as the one that was used tonight, roughly half the length of what you have got at O'Hare.

On a good day, how -- how much -- how much latitude have you got, landing there in a plane like a 737?

DENT: Well, like I say, the -- the airport is -- has sufficient runway to land a 737 on with no problem.

It gets complicated, of course, when runway contamination and you have reduced visibility. The airplane is certified to land in that length of space. It -- it's not desirable. I mean, all -- most pilots would like to have 12,000 feet of runway. I wish every runway I landed on had 12,000 feet.

But, you know, you -- the airplane's certified. It should do it. You should be able to land it and you should be able to stop it with no problem. Like I was saying earlier, it's just one of those airports, like La Guardia and Washington National, where, when you land at these airports, you have to be precise and right on everything. And, of course, when the weather deteriorates and the runway conditions deteriorate, you throw things into the equation that makes it a little bit more difficult and -- and a little more -- more challenging.

COOPER: Jim...


FREED: ... I guess it's important to -- to point out that, although we're talking about these runways being shorter, that doesn't mean that they're unsafe.

I mean, there -- there are so many operations every day at Midway. It's well established the planes can do it. It's just that, when you're dealing with shorter runways and you begin to deal with conditions that -- that are not ideal, precision becomes a much more important factor.

DENT: That is absolutely correct.

When conditions are ideal, Midway is no problem. When conditions deteriorate and becomes like it is right now, where visibility is reduced and the runway is contaminated, then, of course, it becomes very in -- incumbent upon the pilot to be very precise in his flying and make sure that he lands on the -- on the designated spot at the end of the runway and gets the airplane on the ground and stopped in the period of time.

It's -- it's -- it's a lot more challenging and it does elevate the blood pressure a little bit.

COOPER: Jim, in a situation like this, would the pilot stay on the scene? I mean, once all the other passengers are gone, once the other crew members are gone, where does the pilot go? Does he have to be interviewed now?

DENT: Yes.

The Southwest Airlines pilots are a member of ALPA. And, of course, what they will do is, they will go basically right to the hotel. And the ALPA rep will -- will get somebody with them. And, normally, they don't like to -- you know, they have had a very trying experience. And -- and, you know, they -- they will interview them in the morning. There's really not much they can get out of them right now.

They do, do a blood test on them, and they do, do an alcohol test right away after every accident. It's required that the -- the crew have a drug test and an alcohol test. They will do that. But, then, basically they will go to a hotel, and, the next day, they get debriefed.

COOPER: Jim Dent, we appreciate you joining us with -- with your expertise on this.

Just for our viewers who were getting -- you know, viewers continuing to join and viewers watching from around the world, I just want to kind of bring us all up to speed on -- on what we know, try to separate as much fact from -- from -- from fiction and from hearsay.

Well, you see what we know right there. A plane is now in the middle of the street on the south side of intersection of -- of Central Avenue and 55th Street in Chicago, just outside the barrier of Midway Airport. This is Southwest Airlines Flight 1248, which left from Baltimore at about 5:00 p.m., landed in Chicago at Midway Airport around 7:15 p.m. in -- Chicago time, Central Time, about 8:15 p.m. East Coast time.

Whether it was the snow, we do not know. There was 8.3 inches of snow on the ground reported at Midway Airport. The plane continued, was unable to stop, went through a barrier at the -- the airport there in -- in Midway, went through a steel-reinforced barrier and ended up on the street.

There are no reports of any injuries of -- to passengers on board that aircraft, 98 passengers, five crew members, including the pilots, on board that aircraft. We are told they have all exited the aircraft at this point -- Jim Dent telling us they can get off the plane in about 60 to 90 seconds.

Apparently, people were calm. It was done orderly. The evacuation slides were inflated toward the rear of the aircraft, one witness seeing a number of passengers leaving at the rear of the aircraft.

The FAA has said that the passengers have been taken to the terminal, where they're being -- being kept, no doubt will have been able to call their loved ones, no doubt are being interviewed about what they saw and what they heard.

The -- the scene that seems to be ongoing right now, besides just the -- the investigation, is -- is that there were at least -- the latest report is, according to WGN, two vehicles were hit by this plane or perhaps ran into the plane when it came to a stop. We don't know the exact details.

According to WGN, three children and two adults have been injured, one critical, one serious. In that mix, we are told now there is one female and -- and there are actually four adults. So, again, these numbers just continue to change. We want to be as careful as possible.

WGN earlier had reported three children, two adults injured in the crash, possibly in two vehicles. I'm now getting a report of one female and four adults. So, that -- that doesn't quite jive. That clearly is incorrect.

We're staying with the -- the -- all right.

As far as we know, it is three children and two adults, according to WGN. The last report we had was that one was critical, one was serious. And, again, this does involve two cars.

We learned that about 15 minutes ago. Previously, we had been told that there was just one car.

We also talked to a -- a -- woman, Laura Peters, who is now in a -- in a -- a business about a -- a block or so away. They're kind of trapped in there, because this whole area is kind of shut down, to be secured. But she actually heard the crash, wandered over there, saw the passengers disembarking.

There were no lights on in the aircraft. There were no emergency vehicles at that point, because it had literally just crashed through the barrier wall and came to a rest. And she saw -- she says she saw at least one vehicle pinned under the front of the aircraft.

The -- as you can see from that picture, the aircraft is sloping downward. The -- the front landing gear apparently has broken or broken off or is bent. The nose of the plane is apparently on or very close to the ground.

And we have one report from an eyewitness, a man who described himself as a mechanic, calling in to WBBM Radio, saying that not only was it the nose gear that had collapsed, but at least one of the engines was damaged. But we haven't heard any more reports about that. So, will continue to try to suss that out.

We are watching this, of course, with Chad Myers, who is tracking the severe weather, which has been moving through this entire area. We are also watching it with CNN's Jonathan Freed.

CNN's Jeanne Meserve has been talking to her contacts at the FAA, who -- who say that -- confirmed basically all the information that we had been getting in bits and pieces.

This all occurred on runway 13-C over at Midway Airport.

And, again, I mean, the -- the key point is that, of the 98 passengers and five crew members, the latest information we have is that there are no reports of injuries to any of them. And -- and all the -- the passenger accounts that we have heard thus far seem to indicate that -- that everyone was calm when this was occurring, and that, you know, it was bumpy, but it was not -- there were -- there were not people screaming, and the evacuation of the aircraft were orderly.

I want to read you one passenger's statement. Stanley Denn (ph) said: "We weren't slowing down. It looked like the runway wasn't plowed at all. The runway looked just like the grass. I couldn't really tell if we were on the runway or the grass." He's talking about when they were coming in for the landing. "It was really bumpy," he said. "We were kind of going for a while, until the impact, when we hit maybe I guess a little of a barrier fence, when through that, ended up in the middle of the street, with cars and stuff riding past us and everything."

And when you see that overhead map of -- of Midway Airport and just how surrounded it is by -- by homes and by small businesses and by streets, I mean, that's the site of the accident right there, the corner of 55th and -- and Central Avenue. It is -- if -- if only two vehicles were involved in the accident, it -- that is -- that is a -- a remarkable thing, because that is a -- you know, it is a throughway. It is a heavy trafficked area, and it was 7:15 p.m., and a -- a lot of people coming home from work.

So, I'm told that we have Steve Cowell, a former pilot.

All right. Steve Cowell is on the phone. He's a former pilot, trained with Southwest Airlines.

Steve, as you see this plane now, what goes through your mind?

STEVE COWELL, RETIRED PILOT: Well, I feel badly -- I feel badly for everyone concerned, the -- the flight crew, the passengers, as well as just Southwest Airlines. They're just a great airline. And, in terms of safety, they have just got a terrific record.

COOPER: When you hear Midway Airport, when you hear 8.3 inches of snow on the ground, and you see the plane in the street, you know, put two and two together for us.

COWELL: Well, first of all, Midway Airport, in the best of circumstances, is a very difficult airport to land in.

Most passengers that have ever flown into Midway realize that, oftentimes, the pilots make a very firm landing just to plant the airplane on the ground and get a landing assured. But, with snow on the ground, it's just a -- it's just a very difficult landing to make, especially at an airport with runways as -- relatively speaking, as short as Midway's.

COOPER: You say yet -- in best of times, you have got to plant the plane quickly to -- to -- to make that firm landing. In -- in snow that deep, I mean, can you plant it that hard?

COWELL: Well, generally, what you want to do is -- yes, you can.

There's -- although you may have 8.3 inches of snow on the ground at one place, the runways may or may not have had that eight inches of snow throughout the whole length. So, I would call that really into -- into question.

But, yes, you can. It's your job as a pilot to, first of all, make sure that you have a -- a good, firm, safe touchdown, so that you get spoiler deployment and adequate main wheel spin-up. In other words, the tires begin to rotate to effect the braking system of the aircraft.

COOPER: And, once the plane is on the ground, and -- and -- I mean -- I ask this to -- to -- to Jim Dent, another pilot -- I mean, how quickly do you realize, as a pilot, that, you know, you're not in control of what's -- what's happening?

COWELL: You have got a good feel for the airplane once it's on the ground.

And, if the airplane begins to veer, of course, you're controlling the -- the thrust, reverse-thrust capability, and you have got the ability to use some differential reverse-thrust techniques in order to help keep the airplane straight.

But it -- the airplane, as best I can tell, was, you know, straight on the runway. Unfortunately, it just didn't stop in the distance that normally it needed to stop in.

COOPER: And -- and, at that point, there's not much the pilot can do?

COWELL: There's not much you can do. You're just -- you're just pretty much along for the ride, in a manner of speaking. You do the best job you can as far as braking, but you can only do so much.

COOPER: And then what do you do? I mean, you -- you have gone through the barrier fence. You're -- you're -- you know, I guess you have -- I mean, from -- from our early reports, hit two vehicles. Do you get on the intercom? How -- what is the -- what is the procedure?

COWELL: Well, the -- the procedure, once an accident does occur is -- of -- of course, the -- the flight attendants are aware of it. You're aware of it. You're making a call to the passengers to either -- depending on the situation, either remain in your seat, you know, or you're hopefully making that call.

If not, you're then calling for an evacuation. And the flight attendants are very well trained to initiate an evacuation, should they not hear anything from the cockpit.

COOPER: And -- and -- I mean, Jim, Jim Dent, was saying it takes 60 to 90 seconds to -- to get all the people off the plane. That amazed me.

COWELL: Well, actually, airplanes have to be certified to have a complete evacuation within a certain period of time.

This airplane is a real traditional Boeing aircraft, and it's certified with every seat in that cabin full. And certain passengers are told to act as though they're disabled. And, yet the airplane, in order to be certified, has to have a complete cabin evacuation within a certain amount of time. So, 90 seconds is very realistic.

COOPER: And, in terms of -- we are -- we're told the FAA investigators are on the scene. NTSB will be on the scene. They will be in charge of this investigation. Why -- why -- why NTSB, not FAA?

COWELL: Well, first of all, the NTSB is the accident investigation board charged by the government for, you know, major transportation systems.

The FAA is in charge of operational aspects. The NTSB makes -- can make recommendations to the FAA, which they may or may not be able to adopt. But it's the NTSB that has the various experts, in everything from operational to weather to airport operations aspects, that can help put together exactly how this incident/accident occurred, and make recommendations on how to prevent this from happening in the future.

COOPER: Steve, if you would, just hold on the line with us.

I just want to play our viewers some of these -- the eyewitnesses who we have been hearing from.

You're looking at a live scene outside Midway Airport. We're going to listen to -- to Laura Peters, who actually arrived on the scene right after -- heard the crash, arrived on the scene right afterwards.

Let's listen.


LAURA PETERS, EYEWITNESS: Got off of work, right by Midway Airport. I go from the hotel center to 55th. It took about 45 minutes -- very bad.

I crossed the intersection. I stopped for a few minutes. Next thing you know, the whole building shook, because I drive far from here. The whole building shook. And we -- we were naive, because, when you live by the airport for 40 years, you know, you feel a little boom or whatever, it doesn't matter.

Next thing you know, we were saying, well, somebody dropped some lumber off a truck outside, because everybody's sliding. But it wasn't that. Somebody came in and said, there's an airplane right, like, in the middle of the street, which is like right out the door. I could see the tail and the whole plane and everything from here.

COOPER: How far are you from the aircraft now?

PETERS: I would say one building.

COOPER: And what is the scene like around you?

PETERS: The police won't let us out right now.

COOPER: The police won't let you out right now. Yes.

PETERS: Well, because we're right, like, in the police zone.

But when it happened, there were no police. There was no ambulances. There wasn't anything. We went outside to the corner. And the plane had no lights on. There was no fire. And that -- that was that simple. But the whole building shook. And -- and we're very lucky, because I -- you know, you have a -- it was one building away.

COOPER: That must have been incredibly eerie to...


PETERS: ... 40 years, nothing like this has happened through those gates.

COOPER: That must have been so eerie, to go out and, you know, not have there be fire trucks and ambulances at that point, and just no lights, and just see this aircraft on the road.

PETERS: I don't know. Right now, there's a lot of ambulance, police. There's no people anymore. And I don't know...


COOPER: Did you see passengers -- did you see passengers getting off the plane?

PETERS: There were. There were a lot of people getting off a back chute off the back.

COOPER: And how did they seem to you? Did they seem relatively calm?

PETERS: They seemed calm, because there was -- all the lights went out in the plane, but it doesn't look like your -- you know, your major crash, where it's in pieces. It's in one piece.

There's part of the back -- the back tail is separated. But all the people seemed to get off OK, they were all coming out the back chute.

COOPER: And then when the people got off the aircraft...

PETERS: But there's a car -- there's a car underneath. But I don't see how because I just came from that corner and there were like massive cars waiting to cross. So a godsend, only had one car get hit. And there were like tons of them all around.

COOPER: Laura, have you seen the car underneath the plane?

PETERS: There is -- yes, there is one car. But there probably should have been way more than that. It's a busy corner.

COOPER: To your knowledge, if you saw this with your own eyes, was the car trapped under the plane?

PETERS: Yes, it is. That's what they're doing right now. So like where we're at, they won't let us out because it's a little neighborhood bar right -- like we're one building away from this gigantic plane, so they're not letting us out because they have to take care of the plane. We might be here a long time, I don't know.

COOPER: But you saw -- I just want to -- because there have been conflicting reports, you, with your own eyes, saw a car trapped or crushed by this plane?

PETERS: No. It's underneath. There's people -- there's three people passed away in that car. But the police came by and told us there's three in that one car. That's all they could see right now.

COOPER: And to your knowledge...

PETERS: It's pretty horrendous, because when it first happened, and you run outside without any policemen or firemen, you see this plane in the middle of an intersection that you've seen for 45 years, all I could -- it's like a 9/11 but no explosives, thank God.

COOPER: And people were getting off calmly. How -- were people noticing this car under the plane? Where did passengers go?

PETERS: You can't see the car under there. That's what happened after the police got closer they could see the car. But that's only one for now. They're still out there. It's very traumatic.

COOPER: I can imagine. Laura, appreciate you taking the time to speak with us, Laura Peters.

PETERS: I appreciate talking to you, too, because like I said, like when I first saw this, it was like something you've never seen in your whole life. I would always see over the years, things on TV. Well, this is like one building away from me and that airplane is still in the middle of the intersection. And it's very traumatic.


COOPER: Well, very traumatic indeed, as you can imagine. For our viewers who are just joining us at the half hour, I just want a recap of where we are. On the phone with us is Jim Dent. Actually, no, I'm sorry, on the phone with us is Steve Cowell, a former pilot, who has trained with Southwest Airlines. We also have Jonathan Freed who is standing by in our Chicago bureau.

But here's what we know. This is the live picture you were just looking at and this is the multiple screens that we have been looking at on and off now for the last two to three hours or so. This plane, Southwest Airlines 737, Flight 1248, left Baltimore at 5:00 p.m., tried to land at Chicago's Midway Airport. At approximately 7:15 local time it tried to land. That's 8:15 East Coast time. At least 8.3 inches of snow has fallen at Midway Airport. Whether that amount was on the runway, we do not know.

One eyewitness on board the plane said that he couldn't tell any difference between the grass and the runway because it looked like there was as much snow on both of them, there was a field of white, according to this witness who was on board the aircraft.

The plane tried to land, it could not stop, it went right through the runway, past the runway, through a steel reinforced barrier and has ended up where you see it now on the street, the south side of the intersection, Central Avenue and 55th Street, where, apparently, it slammed into or was hit by two vehicles, which, as you can tell, that is a street. This is a community, there are homes, there are businesses here, and there is traffic going all around that airport at all times of day and night. And at 7:15, you can bet there was traffic there. At least two vehicles are involved.

WGN has reported three children and two adults have been injured. We do not know the exact level of those injuries. The last report we had from WGN was one critical and one serious. We do not know if those were any of the children or the adults, but three children, two adults, according to WGN, have been involved -- have been injured in this crash.

The pilot, the flight crew, the passengers, are, according to the latest reports, all safe. Ninety-eight passengers aboard this flight, five crew members. According to Laura Peters, who you just heard, they exited through the rear of the aircraft, within 60 to 90 seconds is the certified requirement. They exited through evacuation slides, which were deployed with the last word we had from the FAA is that all the passengers and the crew members have been taken to the terminal.

We do not know their status at this point, nor do we know if there were any injuries, slight or serious passengers. But we have no reports of that. So you see gurneys there, on the lower left hand side of your screen a gurney from an ambulance, a stretcher, but it is not being used and that certainly is a good sign.

We do know Jaws of Life were being used. We know that because Lillian Chacon from WFLD, our Chicago affiliate, told us that because she actually heard the Jaws of Life. Laura Peters says she saw one car actually underneath the front of this aircraft, underneath the nose of this aircraft.

WGN says two cars have been involved. We don't know if both were actually crushed, but firefighters were on the scene. The last we talked to Lillian, which was about an hour ago, were on the scene trying to get people out of those vehicles. I assume at this point now they have been able to.

But again we're trying to get as many live reports and live information as we can to give an accurate sense. But you see that snow and you get a sense of how hard this stuff is coming down.

Jonathan Freed, you've been watching this really since it happened. Anything new to report on your end?

FREED: We are still looking for the latest information. The last that we heard, Anderson, I can tell you that despite the snow we are seeing, that O'Hare Airport was still operating this evening, albeit with delays. Midway, of course, has been stopped for several hours now.

Anderson, I don't know if Jim or Steve, our two pilots are still with us. But if they are, I have a subject I'd like to bring up that maybe they could explain for our viewers. Do you know if they're still with us?

COOPER: I believe we have Jim Dent with us.

Jim, are you on the line, or is it Steve?

COWELL: Steve Cowell is here.

COOPER: Steve, OK, Steve, thanks very much. I'm sorry, it has been a hectic couple of hours. Steve is a former pilot who has trained with Southwest Airlines.

Jonathan, go ahead, you had some questions.

FREED: Great, thanks, Steve. Steve, maybe what we could do is explain to people what a go-around is. And the basic set up for you, of course, is that when a pilot is lining up to land, if he doesn't like what he sees, if it doesn't feel right or look right, he has the option to go around and try it again.

But I'm wondering under circumstance like tonight, if you're piloting a large aircraft, like a 737 or a 727, with weather the way that it was this evening, is it possible under situations like this that you might not have been in a position to go around and that you would have no choice but to actually land the plane?

COWELL: Well, first of all, let's talk about a difference between a go-around and an aborted landing. A go-around actually is really what a lot of people may or may not have been through during their flight experiences. When a pilot is making an approach to a runway, if they are somehow taken off-speed or they have a set of circumstances like I did one time in Detroit, where I actually had deer running across the runway just before landing, what you're going to do is you're going to go ahead and you're going to apply additional power to the airplane.

And it's just like another takeoff, and inside the cockpit, you go through all your checklists, you coordinate everything with the controllers. And you come back around and you set yourself up for landing again.

An aborted landing really is quite different. You've actually gone ahead, you've continued with the approach to the point where you've actually touched down on the runway. At that point in time, you can think of it as a touch and go, for those viewers that may be familiar with light airplanes practicing landings.

It's not done very often in commercial airplanes these days because of one major factor, this airplane, the 737 700, has gotten an automatic spoiler deployment system. And once those spoilers, those panels on the top of the wing, pop up, you're on the ground.

And a pilot would have to make some very quick moves to go ahead and bring those spoilers back down and then go ahead and apply additional thrust to land. This airplane has got a very automated landing system. The spoilers are usually set to be deployed automatically on landing.

The brakes are set to automatically engage at a certain level. And once the pilot touches down on the runway, there is a sequence of events that takes place, fairly automatically, that are going to provide what normally would be a very safe landing.

Unfortunately, in this case, with a very short runway and a very slick runway from some snowfall, an aborted landing really probably wasn't the best option to make. COOPER: I want to -- we just got some more eyewitness accounts, I want to play that for our viewers and you will be seeing it at the same we are seeing it for the first time. Let's watch.


ABEL ZAPATA, EYEWITNESS: And I heard a noise that was that really that close to me, and I came over here. And I see the lights on top of the plane, and I looked, I was right here on this corner. And the nose had come out of the barrier of airport. And right away, the airplane from the front had went down because the wheel had broken off.

And from there, I turned around and I ran, I (INAUDIBLE) back down because I thought it was (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you see people inside the car that had been struck by this?

ZAPATA: No, I did not see the street right here (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then what did you see there?

ZAPATA: I ran away. But when I was looking back, I had seen the plane had stopped over there on top of the field.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you see any people evacuated from the plane?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. How fast was the plane going, do you think?

ZAPATA: Around -- from a distance, 20, 25 miles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You saw it first through the fence?

ZAPATA: Yes. It came down and right away had burst out (INAUDIBLE).


COOPER: That was a witness by the name of Abel Zapata.

Steve Cowell is still on the phone, a former pilot, trained with Southwest Airlines, a 737 pilot.

Steve, I just want to read to you also what a couple of passengers have also told various news organizations and just tell me if any jumps out at you. Once again I've got three different passengers here. Katie told NBC 5 that everyone was pretty calm on board the plane during the ordeal.

She said, quote: "We were just landing, we were in a holding pattern because there was a lot of snow on the runway. It was a little bit rough, but it was nothing out of the ordinary. It got really bumpy, then we heard a crashing sound. The next thing I knew I looked, we were in the middle of the intersection." Again, Katie Duda (ph) told WMAQ, it really got bumpy, then a crashing sound, everything was calm.

Another passenger by the name of Stanley Denn (ph) said that it didn't feel like the plane was really slowing down. And it didn't look like the runway had been plowed at all he said. The runway looked just like the grass. "I couldn't tell if we were on the runway or the grass, it was really bumpy. We were kind of going for a while until the impact, when we hit, maybe I guess, a little barrier or fence. We went through that, ended up in the middle of the street with cars and stuff riding past us and everything."

Steve, that man, Abel Zapata, said that the wheel had broken off, do you think that's true?

COWELL: As far as the nose gear is concerned, I don't want to speculate at this time. I'd rather leave that up to the NTSB. But what I am fairly certain is that the airplane touched down, had a normal transition once the nose gear was placed on the ground. And the nose gear does tend to be the weakest of the three landing gear.

So if it does meet an obstruction or has a -- you know, once it went off, I'm certain that that's probably when the nose gear collapsed.

COOPER: OK. Steve, if you can stand by, WFLD, our affiliate in Chicago, is interviewing some witnesses. Let's watch.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... kind of makes you feel like packing and going.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Marie Velasquez (ph), thank you very much for talking to us. A compelling story. And as we say, the scene very much the same here right now. As a matter of fact, you're about to see a freight train pulling up behind me. That's right, there are train tracks directly behind us, separating us from the crash scene.

So our view of it is going to be blocked for the time being. But a number of police cars still here, still a lot of ambulances, although they are not needed. They did call an EMS Plan 2, which means that 10 ambulances were called to the scene. The four people that were trapped inside the car have now been taken to Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn, a suburb just south of Chicago.

They are described in serious to critical condition. So that's the scene right now. The airport has been shut down. I should mention that. We were told that the airport was officially shut down at 9:00 tonight, although it seems there were no more planes landing after 7:15 when the plane crashed or the plane went through the wall.

Midway will remain closed until 6:00 tomorrow morning. Exactly where the flights that were headed into Midway are going to be diverted, we don't know. They could go to O'Hare potentially. I don't know if O'Hare is open. Frankly, we have not had an opportunity to make that call yet. But O'Hare does have a lot more snow-fighting equipment and is obviously a much bigger airport than Midway.

If they're not going to O'Hare, they may perhaps be landing in Milwaukee, which is about 90 miles north of Chicago. And we are told is getting considerably less snow than we are here.

COOPER: I will also just point out that all day long there have been a number of delays and canceled flights, more than 400 incoming, outgoing flights were cancelled at Chicago's airports throughout the day. At Midway, back when it was open before this incident, there were delays averaging two to three hours. This plane apparently circled because of delays as well.

We're joined by the scene now, WGN reporter Chuck Coppola joins us.

Chuck, WGN has been having a lot of the information first from the ground, from the scene. What's the latest you know?

CHUCK COPPOLA, WGN REPORTER: Well, I can tell you that one of my colleagues at WGN talked with one of the passengers by cell phone who was in one of the shuttle buses after being taken off the aircraft.

She told us that there were, so as far as she knew, no injuries amongst the passengers on the aircraft. So far as we know, the only injured involved five people on the ground. They were in an automobile, three children and two adults taken to Christ Hospital in nearby Oak Lawn. Their injuries, as my colleague from WFLD, described as serious to critical for at least two of the people taken to the hospital. Don't know the extent of the other injuries.

Presently, the police and other emergency personnel here on Chicago Southside are still working the scene, keeping people at bay. There was concern earlier of some jet fuel that may have spilled and may ignite. However, there has been no fire. There was no explosion. There were initially approximately 10 ambulances called to the scene.

We saw some of the ambulances pulled into the area where the shuttle buses were, where the 90-some-odd passengers were taken off. We saw two of the ambulances and paramedics from those ambulances go to the buses and start checking to see if there were injured amongst the passengers. We did not see them doing any sort of medical work though on any of the passengers at the time.

Presently, the police here in Chicago Southside are going to hold a news conference momentarily to give us a little more information about this. But I can tell you that this aircraft, this Southwest Airlines Flight 1248 from Baltimore to Chicago Midway, came in approximately 7:15 this evening, it was at the height of a very, very severe snowstorm here in Chicago, it was taking people hours to get home from their work, during the commute.

And as you mentioned earlier, there were a number, hundreds, 400 to be precise, flights canceled in and out of O'Hare and Midway Airport here in Chicago, and flights at Midway were running about three hours behind at the time.

So far as we know, airport operations were not shut down at Midway at the time of this accident. However, since then, it has been shut down, Midway Airport on Chicago's Southside is closed.

That's the latest from here, I'm Chuck Coppola, reporting live near Midway Airport.

COOPER: Chuck, if I can just ask you one question. The injured, five people in total. Earlier reports said three children, two adults, one critical, one serious. Do you know were they all in one car? We have also heard reports that there were two cars involved, do you know?

COPPOLA: Firefighters on the scene told us two vehicles were struck, one was an unoccupied vehicle that was parked. The other vehicle, with the people, the three children and the two adults, was a car that was on the street traveling at the time of this accident. That's where all of the injuries happened so far as we know.

COOPER: We had also heard from Lillian Chacon over at WFLD that firefighters were using the Jaws of Life on that vehicle. Can you confirm that? And I assume all those people have been taken now to the hospital.

COPPOLA: Everyone, so far as we know of, from this incident, has been taken to the hospital, who is going to be taken to the hospital. We also know that this vehicle, according to one witness who came over, a neighbor, told me that it was a vehicle that was struck by one of the aircraft's engines, but other than that, I cannot tell you -- I cannot confirm whether the Jaws of Life were used to extricate the people from the car.

COOPER: Have you been able to see that vehicle? Because we had an eyewitness, a woman, Laura Peters, who said that when she heard the crash, went over there before crews had arrived, when all the lights were off, she says she saw -- or it wasn't clear whether she herself saw it or whether she just heard that a vehicle was trapped underneath the nose of the plane or the engine of the plane. Have you heard that? Have you seen anything like that?

COPPOLA: Personally, I have not seen the vehicle. This information is coming to us from a fire department source, a Chicago firefighter on the scene who told us about the number of injured and where they were injured in this vehicle. The neighbor I spoke with who rushed over after hearing this tremendous crash of this 737, crashing through the fence, then its nose gear collapsing and the aircraft coming to rest near 55th and Central Avenue on Chicago's Southside, the neighbor rushed over and told me that it looked as though this vehicle had been struck by the aircraft's engines, one of the engines. She did not specify which side.

COOPER: And how active a scene is it now? I know the whole area has sort of been secured and shut down. What are you seeing around you now?

COPPOLA: I'm sorry. I could not hear that last question, please repeat.

COOPER: Yes, how active a scene is it there now? I know this whole area has been secured.

COPPOLA: I can tell you it's very active right now. I'm being told that I have to rush over to a news conference right now because we're about to hear the very latest.

COOPER: All right. Chuck Coppola from WGN, appreciate your reports, thanks very much.

We, of course, are going to bring you that news conference as we get it. Chuck is on his way over there. You're looking at some pictures from WGN taken a short time ago. You really get a sense of how much snow is falling, you can tell by the amount of snow that is already on the top of this aircraft as it has been sitting there now.

This of course happened at 7:15 Central Time, that's 8:15 East Coast time, so it has been well over two hours at this point. We're closing in on the third hour. There are still large numbers of police and firefighters and crash scene investigators from the FAA on the scene.

The last report we had from the FAA was that the NTSB, who will be in charge of this investigation, were on their way to the scene. We don't have any updates on that, but I imagine as soon as we get this press conference, we will hear the latest as the FAA knows.

The FAA had told us that a car -- they -- at the time, they only knew that one car had been struck by the plane. We now know that two cars apparently have been struck, according to Chuck Coppola from WGN. But all the people who were injured, these five people, three children, two adults, all of them were in this one car. I can only imagine the horror of that scene.

On the phone we have two pilots who are joining us, Jim Gugger is a pilot for Continental, has flown 737s, he now flies 777s, and he has flown into Midway. We also have Jim Dent on the phone with us.

Jim Gugger, appreciate you joining us. What's it like flying into Midway?

JIM GUGGER, CONTINENTAL AIRLINES PILOT: Well, it has been a lot of years since I've flown in there. But it's somewhat of a challenge for a pilot. The runways are quite a bit smaller and you do have quite a bit of traffic surrounding the area from both civil aviation and then you've O'Hare not too far in the distance as well.

So it can be somewhat more of a challenge to pilots than maybe some of the larger airports.

COOPER: And, Jim Dent, as you're listening to this and you're watching the coverage, what are the questions you need answers to?

DENT: Well, the main thing I would want to know, what appears to me is the condition of the runway on landing. I think that's probably where most of this is going to center on, as to the adhesion of the runway to the airplane.

Like the previous guy had said, the wheels have to spin up to deploy the spoilers. If that doesn't happen, then basically what happens is the airplane is like on a sheet of ice, it's just skidding down the runway. And with as much snow is falling and the ability to keep up with keeping the runways clean, is probably where they're going to center their investigation, on the adhesion of the runway.

The pilot could have made a perfect landing and hit the spot, exactly at the right spot, but if the runway was contaminated to a point that the airplane couldn't adhere to the runway, then it is just going to slide down the runway and go off the end.

COOPER: Jim Gugger, James Burnett (ph), a former NTSB chairman, said that investigators -- he told the Associated Press, investigators will likely examine such factors as weather, instrumentation, engines, and runway operation, in particular whether snow removal was adequate.

As a pilot, what are the questions you need answers to?

GUGGER: Well, again, obviously -- well, keep in mind that most accidents occur when a combination of things come together to cause them. And as you already -- as we already discussed, the airport itself can be somewhat of a challenge.

And you throw in the poor weather conditions, as the previous pilot just mentioned, any time you have a slick runway like that, you're just adding more and more concerns into the whole arrival. And these things can all come together and cause something like this.

Obviously, they're going to have to do a complete investigation as to how it occurred because you really should be able to prevent these things from happening. But, you know, again, all these things come together to bring about this type of situation.

COOPER: And, Jim Dent, when you're flying into an airport, Midway, or wherever it is, I mean, how much of landing that plane is just the pilot and the feel he or she has for the aircraft?

DENT: Well, that's basically the whole equation right there. Southwest has very advanced landing systems in some of their 737s, they're called HUDs, which is heads-up display, which really allows the pilot to concentrate on flying the airplane right on down until landing.

I don't know if the 737 was equipped with that. But all of the newer generation 737, which this is definitely one of them, have the advanced instrumentation and everything else. So it's basically the skill of the pilot. It's all in his -- really, his hands.

Once he breaks out and has runway contact, it's up to him to make sure he gets the airplane on the runway it's supposed to be on.

COOPER: We are waiting on a press conference by officials on the scene to tell us the latest information. The latest information we have in terms of injuries is that, according to the latest reports we have, 98 passengers, five crew members, no reports of injuries among any of them. There are five injuries, one critical, one serious, three children and two adults who were in a vehicle which was actually struck.

One report from WGN says -- an eyewitness says they were struck by one of the engines of the aircraft. And -- but again, it seems like the nose of the aircraft is now on the ground.

Jim Gugger, I mean, how strong is that front wheel, that front landing gear of the aircraft? I mean, there was one eyewitness report -- one eyewitness who told the television station, a guy by the name of Abel Zapata, said that it had broken off. Is that even possible? I mean, or is it more likely it was just bent? And would that happen on landing or would that happen as it goes through the barrier?

GUGGER: There's no question that could happen as the aircraft struck a barrier of some sort. I don't know what was at the end of the runway there that it struck. But it's very unlikely that it occurred during the landing. I would have to speculate that that occurred as it hit the barrier at the end of the runway.

COOPER: So, Jim Dent, it's very unlikely that upon landing -- oh, I'm sorry, Jim Gugger, it's very unlikely that upon landing something would happen to the front landing gear, more likely, it would happen as it goes through a barrier?

GUGGER: Absolutely, yes. I mean, I certainly wouldn't rule out the possibility, but most likely that it occurred at the end of the runway.

COOPER: All right. Jim Gugger, a pilot for Continental, you've flown on these planes and you've flown through Midway, I appreciate you joining us very much.

We're almost at the top of the hour and we are going to review what we know. But just very briefly, I want to bring Chad Myers, our severe weather expert.

I mean, Chad, when you look at the fact that, you know, 400 incoming-outgoing flights were canceled at the Chicago area airports that day, and all the snow, how big is this weather system moving through the region?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, it's huge now. And now we call Chicago in a deformation zone, it's actually in an area where the snow is not ending, it's almost spinning in place and so the snow is going to continue for a few more hours. That same thing is going to happen in Detroit, right on through even into Buffalo, New York, kind of draw a straight line right to Schenectady and into, basically, New England.

But even you, Anderson, in New York, could pick up eight inches of snow and the heaviest could be tomorrow morning. So we are going to have to kind of push this storm forward a little bit.

I did want to touch on a little bit about the FAA Web site. I've been a little bit about where these planes are going. Obviously there are loved ones in the airport or driving around Midway, waiting for their loved ones to arrive at Midway. That is just not going to happen. And it's probably not going to happen in O'Hare, either.

The arrival rate at O'Hare right now, 30 planes per hour. That's ridiculous compared to how many planes should be trying to come into O'Hare right now. They're getting diverted to other places, they're being canceled. There are going to be in airports, sleeping in airports all night long, trying to get into Chicago. It's just not going to happen.

Some will go to Milwaukee, some will go to Peoria, some may go to Indianapolis. But it's going to be a long night for anybody trying to fly tonight. And tomorrow morning may not be all that much better.

COOPER: We're also waiting for airlines to -- or the FAA to release a number -- a toll-free number that people can call for information about anyone who was on this flight, if they're waiting for information. They have not yet released a number. And we're anticipating a pres conference really any moment now where we're hoping that at the very least they will give out the number, because I know there are a lot of people who, you know, probably have loved ones aboard this flight among the 98 passengers or five crew members.

But again, just to reiterate. As far as we know, there have been no injuries on board this aircraft, it was just those five people inside that car. And, Chad, as we reach the top of the hour, I'm just going to sort of regroup, remind our viewers who are just joining us at the top of the hour of exactly where we stand, what information we have, and where the scene is now, where the investigation will go now.

And as I say, we are anticipating a press conference any moment now where we hope to hear from the FAA or certainly from the NTSB who will be the lead investigators on the scene. They were on their way -- FAA investigators were already on the scene as well as, of course, firefighters and police and local and state officials.


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