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THE SITUATION ROOM
Airliner Goes Down in Hudson River
Aired January 15, 2009 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
GOV. DAVID PATERSON (D), NEW YORK: Upon information and belief, there is an heroic pilot who saved himself and approximately 154 other passengers this afternoon.
We have had a miracle on 34th Street. I believe we have now had a miracle on the Hudson. This was potentially a very tragic incident. This pilot somehow, without any engines, was able to land this plane, and perhaps without any serious injuries to any of the passengers.
The effort was assisted by ferries in the water. New York Waterways ferries, the Circle Line, also the Coast Guard got involved. The agencies of the city and state collaborated. Our Department of Environmental Protection will now help as part of the investigation. The NTSB will be here shortly to have a full investigation of the plane, the runway, which has been shut down.
And -- but I think for all the times that we have had to appear at these press conferences in rather dismal circumstances, this is a day to realize how blessed this city is, and how all of us are as New Yorkers and to the families and those who survived, there was a retired policeman named Wendell Fox (ph) from Charlotte who I spoke to.
And he said that he participated in these types of rescues and he had never seen anything this magnificent as coming off of a plane into the water and looking up and seeing all those ferries coming to rescue them.
There was another passenger whose name I won't give, but says that his brother died in the attack on our country on September 11, so he is no stranger to tragedy. But he said he's a very blessed person today.
So, I think that, in simplicity, this is really a potential tragedy that may have become one of the most spectacular days in the history of New York City's agencies, its coordination, and the greatness of the people who work here and all they did for those passengers who are now, tonight, going to go home to their families.
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: Governor, thank you.
I should point out that we have our borough president, Scott Stringer, and speaker of the City Council, Chris Quinn, with us, as well as Chris Ward, who's the executive director of the Port Authority, and, of course, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, Fire Commissioner Nick Scoppetta and OEM Commissioner Joe Bruno here with us. I probably missed a whole bunch of people, but I apologize. We have the chief of the PAPD police here as well.
But I think what you're seeing, the reason there's so many people here is we know how to respond. We know how to work together. And clearly in this case, people benefited.
I will be happy to take a few questions.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) since you said you talked to the pilot, what did he walk you through as what, what he felt, what happened?
BLOOMBERG: He did not. He was very careful in what he talked about. And I think that's the kind of training that you would expect of a veteran pilot. They don't speculate.
They're going to talk to the National Transportation Safety Board, NTSB, and that's exactly what they should do. What he did talk about was to assure us that he had walked the plane a couple of times to make sure that there was nobody left.
And, after that, he's going to wait and talk to the people that he should have. I must -- I might also point out that the plane itself is now down and about Battery Park City and is tied up to a peer. And eventually it will be pulled out and they will do a complete investigation on every part of it.
QUESTION: Mr. Mayor, several witnesses that I spoke to said that about several minutes into the flight, they heard a big boom, a crash. And, so, the question that they had and the question that I have is, is there any indication that there was any kind of terrorism or (OFF- MIKE)
BLOOMBERG: There is absolutely no indication whatsoever.
As a matter of fact, people are about as sure as you can be without pulling the plane out of the water yet that there was nothing other than an accident that may have had to do with both engines for reasons that the NTSB will decide failing at exactly the same time, a very unlikely occurrence in a two-engine plane. Generally, if they lose one engine, they can fly just fine.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) There had been some reports of birds hitting the engines. Did you hear those? And what credence is being given to that?
BLOOMBERG: I did not -- I have heard lots of speculation. But credence is not something that is up to us to give or to withhold.
The reason air travel is so safe is that the National Transportation Safety Board does a very thorough, careful, scientific investigation. Their results take time, days, sometimes weeks, sometimes months. And based on that, we constantly improve the safety procedures for airplanes and for airspace and for airports. And we just should not be speculating, and we're not going to.
QUESTION: Mayor, can you tell us how the -- what happened to the infant upon impact and what if any...
BLOOMBERG: We don't know. But apparently there was no -- one of the passengers said to me the pilot said over the intercom, or one of the crew, said over the intercom, brace yourself. And I can only assume whoever was holding the baby did it.
But the baby was certainly not injured. So, there's no indication of that whatsoever.
Pardon? The baby is in New Jersey. So, we have -- as the police commissioner points out, so we haven't had time to talk to...
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) the injuries, how serious they are? Are they from impact injuries? Are they from hypothermia?
BLOOMBERG: We have absolutely no knowledge.
Basically, the people who went to the hospital were very few, and they were in stable condition, did not appear to the EMS that talked to me to be seriously injured. But for safety reasons, they sent them.
QUESTION: Mayor, can you talk a little bit about what the pilot told you as far as the chronology?
BLOOMBERG: He did not discuss it at all. He's waiting to talk to the NTSB. And that's what he should do.
QUESTION: This flight was going from La Guardia to Charlotte.
BLOOMBERG: That's correct.
QUESTION: One witness that I spoke to said three minutes into the flight, only three minutes, the captain came on and said there was an engine failure and to brace yourself.
BLOOMBERG: Well, the plane is just, you know, two miles out of La Guardia. It would have been a time frame just about that. As soon as they take off, they were heading south. He managed to, I'm told, tried to turn around and land it on the Hudson. But all I can tell you for sure is he landed on the Hudson and it would appear that he did a masterful job and everybody got out safely.
I thought it might be interesting, you might want to hear from Alan Warren, who is the harbormaster for New York Waterways. Circle Line and New York Waterways had their ferries out there. They jumped up right away and probably saved an awful lot of lives.
ALAN WARREN, DIRECTOR OF FERRY OPERATIONS, NEW YORK WATERWAY: OK. I would just like to -- Warren, W-A-R-R-E-N, Alan, A-L-A-N.
QUESTION: And your title?
WARREN: I'm the director of ferry operations for the New York Waterway.
I would like to recognize Arthur Imperatore Jr. is here with the company. His family owns the company.
This is not the first time that we have come and did something like this. I just want to commend my crew members back there. They're the guys who really did it, NYPD, New York Police Department, Circle Line, and all the other maritime companies, U.S. Coast Guard. And I'm glad no one got seriously hurt and there's no fatalities.
QUESTION: You heard the plane. You saw the plane. What did you do?
WARREN: As soon as my guys saw the plane, four boats were on site immediately. My office dispatched as many boats as we have at that time.
At this point, I'm guessing 14, at the most on site, as others were bringing passengers to -- to the terminals. Office personnel came down. We helped set triage up in Pier 79 here in our Port Imperial Ferry terminal in Weehawken. Assistance from all the public agencies and...
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, so, there you have it.
We're going to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
This has been a dramatic, dramatic story that we have been covering.
I'm Wolf Blitzer here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The breaking news right now, let me recap for our viewers in the United States and around the world who are just joining us.
Dozens, dozens of airline passengers, they may be in shock, at least some of them still, but they are all alive, after their flight went down in the ice-cold Hudson River waters of New York City. Aviation officials believe the U.S. Airways jet hit one or more birds, disabling the engines.
Just a short while ago, the airline confirmed that 155 people were on board the plane, and everyone survived. It all happened within the past three hours. Flight 1549 took off from La Guardia Airport in New York en route to Charlotte, North Carolina. And just minutes, minutes later, passengers heard a bang. Some say it was only 30 or 45 seconds after takeoff.
They heard that bang. The plane shook. We're told you could smell smoke. The pilot issued an ominous warning. Brace for impact, he said. Witnesses say the pilot seemed to be in control of the plane as it then went down gradually into the river. Rescue boats arrived quickly. Passengers were pulled from the aircraft as it bobbed in the water and began to sink.
This is certainly every plane passenger's nightmare, your plane going down, the passengers fearing the worst. Right now survivors, though, they're relieved. Still, they paint a harrowing, harrowing scene.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALBERTO PANERO, PASSENGER: At first, there was a little bit of a panic, but there was a couple of people who just kind of took charge and just started yelling to calm down and just to get everybody out.
And once -- once, I think, people realized that we were going to be OK, everybody kind of calmed down and just tried to get outside of the boat, and -- you know, and get to safety.
JEFF KOLODJAY, PASSENGER: The engine blew about three minutes into the flight. Smoke came out everywhere. A couple minutes later, the captain came on and said we're going to dump this plane. Brace for impact, and probably brace pretty hard.
And that's what we did. And kudos to him, man. He did a great job. So, we dumped it. And the plane started filling with water really quick. And everyone was just super cool.
QUESTION: How did you get out?
KOLODJAY: By the luck of God, man, I don't know.
KOLODJAY: We exited out the front. For some reason, I guess the back exit was closed. And that's where the water started filling a lot quicker than the others. So, we made it up front. And, man, that was cool, huh?
QUESTION: ... people on board? KOLODJAY: There's a couple ladies got some bad leg injuries and everything. But, all in all, I give my hat's off to the pilot. I think, all in all, I asked around, and I think there was five life rafts and I think everybody made it on. So...
QUESTION: What did the pilot say? Why did he have to do the emergency landing?
KOLODJAY: Just I guess an engine blew. And no engine, so, it was bad, man.
QUESTION: How strong was it when you hit the water?
KOLODJAY: It was pretty bad.
QUESTION: How did you get here?
KOLODJAY: Our boat sank over there. And...
QUESTION: What is it, a raft?
KOLODJAY: There were some life rafts that we all hopped on. And then these ferry guys reacted real quick. And...
QUESTION: Have you been dry the whole time?
QUESTION: You didn't get wet the whole time?
KOLODJAY: My legs are soaked. If you look at my pants, man, they're frozen.
QUESTION: How were rescued, then?
QUESTION: Did you get into a life raft first?
QUESTION: How many people -- 22 (INAUDIBLE) you said?
KOLODJAY: There was 24 rows, 25 rows full of -- the plane was 100 percent full. Everyone got out, I think. Some people are hurt, though.
QUESTION: Did you get into a life raft first?
KOLODJAY: I'm not going and sound like a big guy, but it was my priority to make sure that the women and children got on first. So, after that, we all did. So, everything was cool.
QUESTION: And then you got onto a ferry?
KOLODJAY: Yes. After that, we let all the women on the ferry first. And then...
QUESTION: Were you on the wing, though?
KOLODJAY: Yes, I was like two or three seats behind the wing.
KOLODJAY: I don't even really know, man. The flight was so short.
QUESTION: What did the captain say to you?
KOLODJAY: He goes -- it was pretty scary, man. Like, I thought he was going to say circle back to La Guardia, because I have flown out of La Guardia a lot. And I knew you can come around this way and circle in on that runway over there. And he goes, just brace for impact.
PANERO: I mean, within -- within a couple of minutes, all of a sudden, you just heard a loud bang. And the plane shook a bit.
And, immediately, the -- you know, the -- you could smell like smoke or like fire. And, immediately, the plane basically just started turning in another direction. Although it didn't seem like it was out of control, we knew something was going on, because it -- like, we were turning back and, you know, nothing was happening. The smoke was still -- you could still smell it. No one knew what was going on.
All of a sudden, the captain came on and said, and brace for impact, and that's when we knew we were going down and it seemed like into the water. And -- and -- and we just hit -- and we just hit. And, somehow, the -- the plane you know, stayed afloat. And we were all able to get -- get on the raft.
And it's just incredible right now that everybody's still alive.
KOLODJAY: There's a couple ladies got some bad leg injuries and everything. But, all in all, I give my hat's off to the pilot. I think, all in all, I asked around, and I think there was five life rafts and I think everybody made it on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, so some of the survivors of that plane crash.
Fred Berretta also survived the plane crash. And he's now in our New York bureau.
Fred, you must be totally relieved. I'm sure you're grateful to that pilot and everyone else.
FRED BERRETTA, PASSENGER: Absolutely, Wolf. Thank God. And I thank the pilot. He did a great job. It was just as good of a landing I think as you can make in a river.
BLITZER: And you never want to land in a river unless it's one of those sea boats or sea planes.
But, in this particular case, this pilot clearly knew what he was doing. And we tip our hats off to him. His name, by the way, is Chelsey B. "Sully" Sullenberger III. he's a veteran U.S. Airways pilot. And hopefully we will get to talk to him at some point.
But, Fred, let's talk about what you remember happened. The plane is full. There are 150 passengers on board, the two crew members, the three flight attendants. And then all of a sudden you take off from La Guardia. You're heading to Charlotte. Pick up the story.
BERRETTA: Yes, it was a fine takeoff.
We were delayed a couple of minutes, took off, and everything was very calm, as usual. I was actually just kind of closing my eyes and trying to take a little bit of a nap. And kind of right into that, I heard the left engine make a very loud noise.
BLITZER: Can you describe what the noise sounded like?
BERRETTA: It was just kind of a bang, and then silence, with a bit of a kind of a sputtering, puffing type of noise. I was actually sitting in a position where I could see the engine, so I knew that it was failing. And then...
BLITZER: What row were you in?
BERRETTA: I was in row 16 on the window seat.
BLITZER: On the window, 16-A.
BLITZER: All right. So go ahead. So then all of a sudden you hear this loud noise. You're looking out the window. What do you see?
BERRETTA: Just saw some smoke. And it looked like you could kind of see maybe flames, or it just looked like there was something more going on with the left engine.
We then began to smell a little bit of smoke, so, again, knew that that engine was gone. And then we were listening very attentively to see if the right engine was making noise and didn't hear much out of it either.
BLITZER: So you assumed the same thing happened to the right engine?
BERRETTA: Didn't really know. We heard just the one bang. And we were asking the passengers on the right side of the plane to see what was going on over there.
And then it seemed like a few seconds went by. The pilot made a left turn, a gradual left turn. We were over the water. And he said, prepare for impact. And that was all that I recall him saying. And there was a lot of silence at that point.
BLITZER: All right. So, your -- at that point, do you think you're just gliding or is there any power coming from those engines?
BERRETTA: It pretty much felt like we were gliding. There wasn't really any noticeable engine noise at all. We were making a gradual descent.
But we were, you know, still quite low, as we had only been in the air for maybe a few minutes after takeoff.
BLITZER: So what was it like inside? All of a sudden that belly of the plane, he says, prepare for impact. You land on the waters of the Hudson River. What's it like inside that cabin where there's 150 passengers, three flight attendants and there were two -- a pilot and co-pilot up in front?
BERRETTA: Well, you know, people started praying, and there was just a lot of silence. And, you know, the realization that we were going in was hard to really take in, I guess, at that moment.
Once the pilot told us, prepare for impact, we knew we were going in. We were kind of hoping we were going to make a runway. But it was pretty evident we were going in the water. And then it didn't seem like very long of a time when -- and then we hit the water.
BLITZER: All right, so then what happens? You hit the water. Do people start to scream? I know there are a lot of people you say praying. But was there a sort of panic that developed?
BERRETTA: I don't recall panic really at all. People were amazingly calm.
The only shouting I heard were toward the folks in the exit row. There were people telling them to get ready -- this was before the impact -- to get ready on the doors. And they did a great job, whoever was in those rows. They got the doors open very quickly.
And, you know, we hit the water. It was a very, very loud noise. The plane was jacking around quite a bit. It felt like we spun in a direction, although it's really hard to tell what was going on at that point. And then everyone kind of looked up and the plane was stabilized. That was a relief. And we were all just in a rush to get off. BLITZER: So what I have heard from other passengers is that they managed to get the doors in the front, the emergency exits in the middle and the doors in the back of the plane open really quickly. Is that right?
BERRETTA: That's right.
They were all open, and people were moving out quickly. And I was part of a group that initially went out onto the left wing. And, unfortunately, I had failed to grab my seat cushion, so I had to grab a seat -- find a seat cushion. We were standing out on the left wing.
It seemed like that was getting overcrowded. So, a few of us, we were kind of directing people to go back in the plane to go up to the right front, where that raft was -- had a little more room on it. So, we kind of went back in the plane and went up to the right and exited there.
BLITZER: Was there an actual raft in the frost of the plane? Or was that the emergency chute that had opened up?
BERRETTA: The emergency chutes pretty much functioned as rafts, which I think made everybody pretty happy.
BLITZER: All right, so you're now standing on the wing of this Airbus 320 in the middle of the Hudson River. It's about 20 degrees outside. The water temperature's, what, 30 or 40 degrees. It's frigid. I don't know if you had a coat on or just a shirt. What were you wearing?
BERRETTA: I had put my coat and topcoat in the upper bin, so I just had my shirt and tie on.
And a few folks seemed to have their coats. But, yes, it was cold. I think an initial thought when we walked out onto the wing was to see if the plane was sinking rapidly or would float. And it seemed to be stabilized, so that made us all feel pretty good.
BLITZER: And so you're standing there. Some of your feet must have been wet by then. You were getting wet even as you were waiting for boats to arrive?
BERRETTA: That's right.
Yes, all of our feet were pretty much in the water. It was quite cold. And, you know, we were worried about the folks that had gone in the water first, you know, trying to think of a way to get them out, in light of the fact that at that particular moment, the boats hadn't arrived yet.
And we were just hoping that the boats would get there quickly. And they did. It was amazing. It just seemed like few minutes and the boats came. And they were able to -- I believe a couple of divers got in the water and got some folks out of the water.
BLITZER: And so how many people from your vantage point did you actually see swimming in the water or just floating in the water, if they had those life vests?
BERRETTA: I think it was about eight, maybe 10 folks on the left side of the plane. I don't know about the right side.
Then, once I moved to the right side, and I was in the front chute, raft, the -- it seemed like the raft toward the aft, toward the middle section of the plane had started to sink for some reason. And, fortunately, I believe the boat was able to get to those people first, because they were pretty much going into the water.
Our raft was tethered to the plane. And we had a bit of an exciting moment. We were trying to cut the tether, because we were worried the plane would sink and sort of drag us down with it. So, we were able to get a knife off the -- one the rescue boats and cut that tether. And then we were in good shape at that point.
BLITZER: So you were floating. Did you ever say to yourself, Fred, you know what? It's -- this is it?
I think that certainly went through my mind, that this probably very much could be it, and was sort of just weighing what the chances were of surviving a water crash. I felt better about us going in the water than the pilot trying to make the airport and perhaps not making the airport, but was worried the plane would pull apart or break apart in the water, which it didn't do.
And I just want to say to that pilot, thank you. It was just an incredible execution. He was very calm and made a great landing.
BLITZER: You didn't -- you -- had a chance to thank him personally or see him?
We were told by the mayor of New York that he had said he did a thorough check of that plane, walked from the front of the plane to the back of the plane, checked all the lavatories, or whatever, to make sure that he would be the last person leaving that plane. We're talking about the captain, "Sully" Sullenberger III.
BERRETTA: That's right.
As I said, when I left wing, I needed to go back in. I wanted to get to the front, and I ended up being behind a woman who was struggling to walk. So, we were some of the last ones off the plane. And I saw the pilot and the flight crew.
And I looked back and saw no one else and was really grateful that everyone was off the plane. And the flight crew did a phenomenal job. They were very calm. They all stayed on the plane and let the passengers get off. They made sure that we had life vests. They did a phenomenal job.
BLITZER: Did you exit from that emergency exit in the middle of the aircraft or the front or the rear?
BERRETTA: Initially, I went out the left emergency exit, and was standing on the wing, but realized that that was getting overcrowded.
So, myself and a gentleman to my left realized that, and we were directing people to go to the front of the plane, because there was more room on the rafts up there. So, as they started to do that, then myself and I believe another fellow got -- went back in the plane to go up front and ended up in the raft that was on the front right of the fuselage.
BLITZER: And we all know, all of us who have flown, there are special instructions for those people sitting in the emergency exits, the emergency rows. I take it one of the passengers from that -- those two emergency exits, they actually opened that door themselves?
BERRETTA: I believe that's right, because, as I said, the passengers were shouting to them, get ready on the doors. I saw one gentleman put his hands on the door as we were just about to hit the water. And as soon as we hit the water, the doors were opened, so -- I believe on both sides of the plane. Those passengers did a great job.
BLITZER: We know some of the passengers, and there were 150 passengers on board, were taken to local hospitals, whether in Manhattan or in New Jersey. Did you see any of the injured passengers, if you want to describe some of the injuries to us?
BERRETTA: I saw -- there was a woman who had a gashed leg. I don't exactly know how that happened. And I saw a man with a cut on his head. And there was folks that had blood on them. I didn't honestly see a lot of injuries. I was amazed that there weren't more.
BLITZER: Well, we know some folks were treated for hypothermia, the ones that were in the water themselves. In that -- those kind of frigid water temperatures, you can't stay in very long. Within a few minutes, you're going to be suffering from hypothermia. Did you see some of those folks?
BERRETTA: I did. And we were worried about them. And I'm just really glad they -- they got out of the water. Most of the rest of us, our hands and feet were -- were pretty numb.
But the folks in the water took the worst of it. And as far as I could tell, at least on the side, at the pier that we were taken to, everyone seemed to be in good spirits and seemed to be OK.
BLITZER: Are you from New York, from Charlotte, North Carolina? Tell us what happened as soon as you got -- you realized you survived. I'm sure you wanted a cell phone to call some loved ones.
BERRETTA: I did. I am from Charlotte and I was on my way home from a business trip, and called my wife and reached her. She was picking up my children at the bus stop, was glad that she hadn't seen the news first. So, I got to her first, and then started just making some phone calls.
And a lot of folks sent me e-mails. And I'm real appreciative of all of those. BLITZER: Did you ever break down and start to cry out of happiness?
BERRETTA: No. But I can't express the -- the gratitude and elation that I have and I know every passenger on that plane has, just grateful to God and grateful to be alive.
BLITZER: And one final word. If the pilot and co-pilot are watching you right now, what do you say to them?
BERRETTA: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. You guys deserve awards. And I hope somebody gives you a great big award for your performance. And I'm glad I was able to meet you in person.
BLITZER: You know they train for these kinds of emergencies all the time. And you know what? It worked. And we're all grateful that it did.
Fred Berretta of Charlotte, North Carolina, go home. Go home to your family and be grateful that you and your fellow passengers and everyone on board, 155 people, are alive because of outstanding work on the part of that pilot and crew. Appreciate it very much.
BERRETTA: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Abbi Tatton is checking out what we're getting in.
It's a dramatic story. The I-Report, video, the pictures, the eyewitness accounts, Abbi, share some of that with our viewers.
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this played out this afternoon in the Hudson River, adjacent to Manhattan, with millions of people watching.
And we're getting their photos coming in every minute at ireport.com. One of the latest is this one here. You can see the plane almost totally submerged. We're now right in Lower Manhattan. We're near to ground zero, Battery Park Pier, this photo taken by Neil Marshad (ph).
Bear in mind at this point we're about five miles away from 48th Street, 50th Street, the area around where the plane went down. Neil says that he watched the plane float down the river, watched it guided in by fire boats and tugboats, who pushed it over to the land, to this area near where the water taxis pulled up.
Another photo we want to show you is this one that we got in earlier that we have been showing you for the last hour or so, taken very soon after this plane went down into the Hudson River. Take a look at this. It's taken through a telescope.
Julie Pukelis, who you are going to hear from in just a moment, attached a camera to her telescope from the 46th floor of her office building. And what you can see here is people lined up along the wings, at least 20 of them, waiting to be rescued -- Wolf. BLITZER: Let's talk to her, Abbi, Julie Pukelis. She took that picture.
Julie, where exactly were you when you managed to get that amazing shot of that U.S. airliner that went down in the Hudson River?
JULIE PUKELIS, EYEWITNESS: I'm actually -- from my office window, I was able to take the picture, which is at the corner of 57th and Seventh Avenue, so, very close to the river.
BLITZER: So, you were in a high-rise. What floor were you on?
PUKELIS: Forty-sixth, the top floor.
BLITZER: You were on the top floor. So, you had a clear view of the Hudson River.
PUKELIS: I did, yes.
BLITZER: All right. So walk us through. It's about 3:25, 3:26 Eastern time in New York City. You're working, wherever you're working. What happened?
PUKELIS: Well, we -- it was amazing. It was actually very quiet for the moment.
And then I think what you heard from everybody is about the same so far. But, after watching the plane, we saw it descend -- it was quite quickly -- over the Hudson. And it touched down almost parallel to our office building. So, we were able to see everything.
And, immediately, a co-worker tried to call 911. Obviously, the phones were, I assume, tied up. And we were unable to get through. So, I mean, all we could do was watch in awe and concern the whole time. The rescue crews were quite impressive. They were there -- the ferries were there within seconds.
BLITZER: So you actually saw the plane -- the belly of that plane hit the water of -- the waters of the Hudson River?
PUKELIS: Yes. We watched it coming in for at least a good 15 seconds before it actually touched down.
BLITZER: All right. So then it touches down.
And then, at what point -- how long did it take for the doors to open and for those folks to get out there and start standing up on the wings -- and we're looking at the picture you sent us -- hand on those emergency chutes, which quickly became rafts?
PUKELIS: You know, I can't tell. It was moments. It must have been minutes. We were watching the entire time. And immediately the ferries, like I said, were -- they approached. And luckily that the ferries were parked right there.
We saw -- we looked up the telescope, as you can see through the picture. And everybody was already on the wings looking quite calm, which is -- which was amazing.
BLITZER: What did you use to take this picture, your phone?
PUKELIS: No, actually a camera. We were looking through a telescope and the camera is at the front end of the telescope.
BLITZER: Oh, so it was a real camera?
BLITZER: And then you sent it to us. And we're grateful to you for doing it.
BLITZER: One of our iReporters, Julie Pukelis, took this amazing picture.
How long that, would you say, it took between the time the ferries arrived and everyone seemed to be off that plane -- 155 people?
PUKELIS: Gosh. I would say it couldn't have been more than 15, 20 minutes. People were on the plane immediately -- right away. The rafts you could see were already sitting down in the water -- helicopters, everything.
So the main problem, our concern, besides extremely cold temperatures, was how fast the plane was moving. So not only were they -- people standing on the plane waiting, they were having to deal with the plane floating down the water, which is very concerning.
BLITZER: Julie, were you watching this with a lot of co-workers?
What I'm trying to get is a little bit of what was going through your mind and your friends' minds as you saw what was happening not far away in the middle of the Hudson River?
PUKELIS: Well, you know, I think we were trying to be as optimistic as possible. And we -- we assumed it was just a mechanical malfunction. And -- but as quickly as everybody approached all of the emergency crews, we -- it looked promising. It looked like everybody was going to be OK.
And once we saw that it was actually a commercial airline, we were concerned, because we figured at first, it was a jet -- maybe possibly smaller with fewer passengers. But dealing with that many people that quickly was quite a feat, I imagine.
BLITZER: You're absolutely right.
Julie Pukelis, thank you so much for sending us that amazing picture...
BLITZER: ...from the west side of Manhattan. Into the Hudson River.
Wow! What an amazing picture it was.
We've got some other pictures from the Associated Press that are coming in, as well. And I want to just show you these pictures. And they speak for themselves.
You see that raft now on top of that US Airways Airbus 320 as it's sinking. And you see the rescue ships -- the ferries surrounding it. But you can see how -- but you can see the tail of that plane -- that US Airways plane, Flight 1549 -- that had just taken off only minutes earlier from LaGuardia en route to Charlotte.
There you see -- this is later, much later, as this plane is really starting to sink. And you see the waters -- the frigid waters of the Hudson River now above a big chunk of that plane and getting above the doors and even the cockpit windows -- getting very close to the cockpit windows.
And there you see another shot. The left wing is now up. But the right wing of that plane is clearly submerged. And by then, all the folks are out of the plane. And in this picture, as well, all the folks are out of the plane.
These are amazing pictures that they'll be talking about for a very, very long time. You can see in the waters some of the life vests that came out of the Hudson River. Some pictures, as well. People tried to grab some of those life vests and the seat cushions as they were leaving the exit rows, the emergency exits and front and rear doors, as well. People grabbed for whatever they could as they did.
I want to bring in someone who witnessed this crash.
Joining us now is Ben Vonklemperer.
Ben, where were you when you saw what was going on?
BEN VONKLEMPERER, WITNESSED PLANE GO DOWN: I was on the 25th floor of my office building, which is located just a few blocks north of Times Square. For those who know the city, it's the corner of 48th Street and Broadway.
And so I was looking out my window west across the Hudson River toward New Jersey, you know, when I saw a -- an aircraft come into the right side of my frame. So right away I sort of knew there was something wrong with this picture, because you generally don't see airplanes, you know, over the water there.
I watched the plane probably for about five to seven seconds as it headed south at a very low altitude, obviously, over the river. And the only way I can really describe it is that it looked like any other routine landing of any plane, except for the fact that it was landing on the water.
I didn't see the plane, you know, shaking or in turbulence in any way or with smoke or anything coming off the plane. You know, granted, I was, you know, five cross town blocks away. But I didn't see any landing gear engaged, nothing like that. The plane obviously didn't look like a sea plane, so, you know, obviously something looked very wrong.
But, on the other hand, it might sound strange to say, but only part of me thought immediately that this was an emergency, just because of how gradual and how slow and how calm and how nearly parallel this plane was to the water.
And, you know, the first 30 seconds to a minute after I saw it, I was obviously immediately speaking with my colleagues in the office about it. And, you know, I heard a rumor it was part of a movie shoot. It just -- it almost looked -- it looked so strange and so calm and so controlled, that it didn't immediately look like a disaster.
You know, but, of course, within a few minutes, you know, you hear a lot of sirens in the area and, obviously, their response.
But it was basically -- it was just a plane landed in the river. It was basically just as simple as that.
BLITZER: Could you see the tail where it says US Airways along the side of the airplane?
Could you see it was a commercial airliner?
VONKLEMPERER: What I could see was a plane that looked to my very untrained eye like a commercial airliner. And it just -- I saw a flat belly of a good sized plane moving toward the water and that's what -- you know, with no landing gear, no pontoons, no nothing. That's what made me think that something was very wrong.
My eye was focused on the tail of the plane when it hit the water. And it made -- you know, there was obviously a big white splash that sort of traced the back of the plane that emanated up out of the river.
The splash was probably -- you know, probably two or three times the height of the tail fin. And then the plane -- you know, it hit the water. Very quickly, it continued to a point where I could not see it -- you know, there being -- at that point, there being another building between where I was and where the plane was.
So I didn't -- I didn't see any of the immediate emergency response, though, you know, within a few minutes, I saw ferries that you normally see operating in the river moving toward the area where the crash was. Within a couple more minutes I saw, you know, ferries returning from that crash site back toward the New Jersey side.
On the New Jersey side, you could see a number of, you know, response vehicles down there. There's sort of a cliff on the New Jersey side where it is, across from midtown Manhattan. The sirens were engaged and so forth.
But this -- the only way I can say it is if you want to land a plane on the water, this is exactly how to do it. I don't know, you know, how much more complicated to make it than that. I mean my hat is off to whoever flew this plane. And, you know, obviously, my heart goes out to everyone who was involved and, you know, thank god everyone is OK
BLITZER: Yes, 155 people are alive right now because of the great work of the pilot, the co-pilot and the crew and all those rescue workers who rushed -- who rushed to the center of the Hudson River to make sure that everyone got off safe and sound.
Some injured. But you know what, they're all alive. And that's almost miraculous when you think about it.
When you were watching this unfold, Ben, what was going through your mind, as you started to see people escape from those emergency exits and start walking out to the wings of those -- of the plane?
VONKLEMPERER: To be honest, when the plane came to rest, I could not see it. What I saw was the splash. And what I saw was the plane continue south along the water. You know, it was probably considerably closer to the Manhattan side, as opposed to the New Jersey side.
But I didn't see the plane come to rest. So I was obviously extremely scared. I didn't know whether the plane had -- had submerged or whether it was still on the surface of the water. So that I can't really speak to.
BLITZER: Ben Vonklemperer.
Thank you very much, Ben.
Thanks for joining us and sharing your story with us.
We appreciate it.
VONKLEMPERER: Thank you.
BLITZER: All right. A lot of eyewitnesses sharing their information with us and it's only just beginning.
Mary Snow is on the scene for us in New York -- and, Mary, it's freezing in New York, one of the coldest days so far in a long time. The frigid waters of the Hudson River behind you.
Set the scene for us on a day that we saw what I would call a miraculous survival of 155 people.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And, Wolf, the governor of New York, David Paterson, calling it the miracle on the Hudson. These currents are very strong.
We're going to pan our camera little bit behind me. We are downtown in Manhattan. And we're about a mile-and-a-half to two miles from where the plane impacted -- crashed into the water.
Our producer, Shirley, is overseeing reports just a little north of where we are that the plane has been secured and that it is moored along a pier. She says it's about halfway submerged.
The Coast Guard had been saying more than two hours after the plane crashed that it had nine Coast Guard vessels trying to stabilize this plane and bring it in. You can see some of these emergency vehicles behind me. I know it's hard to see, because it's dark. But I'm sure you can see the emergency lights in there.
You know, we had aviation experts earlier saying that the aviation fuel was helping it keep afloat. And I can tell you, Wolf, that the smell of fuel is very strong. And again, we are about a mile- and-a-half to two miles away from where that plane first went down.
These currents so strong, as passengers talking about getting out of that plane -- we now know from Mayor Michael Bloomberg that among the passengers was an infant. And passengers have been taken to both hospitals here in New York and across the river here in New Jersey.
The mayor saying a short time ago that everyone on board is believed to have been accounted for. Right now, the number is at 155.
But, you know, Wolf, also officials were talking about the hard work that a lot of these crews did along the waterways -- New Jersey Waterways ferries going to the scene -- racing to the scene. And people were able to get out of the plane going onto ferries and life rafts.
BLITZER: Amazing. Amazing work all around. They get trained and trained, Mary, for this kind of work. Hopefully, they never have to do it. But when they do it, they do it well. And we appreciate that, of course.
All right. Thanks very much, Mary.
We'll get back to you.
Brian Todd has also been looking into this story.
It's truly an amazing story of what happened -- Brian, as we learn more and more details, you know, we can just be grateful that all 155 people are alive.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. And now we're getting just more compelling accounts from passengers about how quickly this all unfolded, how frightening it was and how the actions of that pilot likely saved everybody on board.
TODD (voice-over): Only about three minutes into the air, passengers say, and they heard a loud bang. The plane shook and the pilot gave them a warning.
JEFF KOLODJAY, PASSENGER: The engine blew about three minutes into the flight. Smoke came out everywhere.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on, let's go inside. KOLODJAY: A couple of minutes later, the captain came on and said we're going to dump this plane, brace for impact -- and probably brace pretty hard.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean we just -- I mean we just hit. And somehow the plane, you know, stayed afloat. And we were all able to get -- get on the rafts.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it's just incredible right now that everybody is still alive.
TODD: Passengers say once the Airbus jet hit the Hudson River, there was initial panic.
KOLODJAY: There was a lady with her baby, I remember, on my left hand shoulder. And she was trying to crawl over the seats. And I just remember saying, you know, women and children first.
TODD: Incredibly, all of the more than 150 passengers and crew members were reported to have made it out safely. Passengers have high praise for the pilot.
KOLODJAY: Kudos to him, man. Good job.
QUESTION: How did you get out?
KOLODJAY: By the luck of god, man. I don't know.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have got to tell you, I've flown in a lot of planes. That was a phenomenal landing.
TODD: US Airways Flight 1549 was headed to Charlotte, North Carolina. But based on preliminary reports, officials tell CNN, shortly after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport, the plane likely hit a bird or a flock of birds. Experts say that's a significant problem at New York area airports, where proximity to water means seagulls, geese and other birds are everywhere.
TODD: Now, former NTSB investigators, air traffic controllers and other experts tell us it was near miraculous that this plane didn't break apart. They say on this Airbus 320, Wolf, the engines are below the fuselage. They would have been the first parts of the plane to hit the water. Again, credit to that pilot. Whether those engines were dead or not, he made an incredible landing.
BLITZER: And, Brian, I know you're speaking to a lot of experts, pilots. They say there was an advantage in landing in the water -- the waters of the Hudson River.
TODD: Right. General Don Shepherd, our military analyst, a former Air Force pilot, says a couple of key things to take in mind here. The Hudson has very smooth water -- no big waves. It cuts down the chances of the wings touching it first and the plane cartwheeling.
And, also, the proximity to the city was an advantage. All those ferries and rescue boats were so close by, some got there within seconds, as you heard a witness say. That was key.
BLITZER: Take a look at these live pictures. You see -- you see the boat -- excuse me -- the plane right there. It's tethered to the side of the river -- the Hudson River right now.
They managed to tug it in. And it's still afloat -- barely as you can see. But it's tethered to the side there. And that's that US Airliner -- that A -- that Airbus 320, that US Airliner Flight 1549 from LaGuardia to Charlotte. But it's in the Hudson River right now. That's a live picture that you're seeing of that Airbus right there.
Abbi Tatton is getting some more iReports coming in and some dramatic pictures and accounts -- Abbi?
TATTON: Wolf, these are pictures from the highway adjacent to the Hudson River right at the moment that the plane was going down. From Lou Fermansky (ph), who said he was just sitting in traffic. He was in the right place at the right time and saw the plane flying low along the river.
He said that there was no unusual noises, no flames. He said, in fact, it was very graceful. But he was extremely worried, he said -- seeing a plane flying so low around Manhattan -- that this was about to be another terrorist attack.
Of course, we know that it wasn't. This had a happy ending.
But Lou Fermansky (ph) recording these pictures, sending them to CNN's iReport -- saying that this was very peaceful as he watched it happen and watched it land along the river -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right...
TATTON: All these pictures coming into CNN's iReport -- iReport.com.
BLITZER: I can only imagine, Abbi, folks seeing that plane flying at a low level over the Hudson River between Manhattan and New Jersey saying to themselves -- remembering what happened on September 11th, 2001 and saying to themselves, oh, my god, what is happening now?
A major US airliner is flying at that level near New York City or in New York City. You can only imagine the worst. And, as we say, thank god there was -- that it was -- it could have been a whole lot worse.
And Jeanne Meserve, our homeland security correspondent, has been watching this, as well.
They must have been real nervous at the beginning -- and, as we've been telling our viewers, Jeanne, everybody got out alive.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I'm sure they were tremendously nervous.
The preliminary word from various agencies is that a bird strike may have caused this. This is no small problem. By some estimates, if a bird and a plane collide at 130 knots, a four pound bird hits with more than two tons of force. And at twice that speed, the same bird carries a nine ton punch.
For that reason, manufacturers are required to build engines with some rather robust standards. We have some video here from Pratt & Whitney. A bird carcass is being thrown into an engine to test it.
Now, the plane that went down today had General Electric engines. But under FAA regulations, all engines have been to be able to withstand the ingestion of birds of a certain size without it causing catastrophic damage.
Birds are a persistent problem around airports in this country and around the world, though various things have been tried to try to influence their behavior. Some examples -- food sources have been removed from around airports, loud noises have been broadcast and there have even been experiments where balloons shaped like predators have been put aloft to scare birds away -- owls, for instance, hoping that those will scare away smaller birds.
BLITZER: And, if, in fact, it were geese or birds that did this damage today -- you know, we don't know for sure. But that's the preliminary -- the preliminary assessment. All those precautions they take obviously don't always work.
MESERVE: No. I mean these are birds. And nothing can be 100 percent effective. You can't stop a flock from flying by an airport, for instance.
So pilots are being trained to be alert to the presence of birds. In some cases, they might be able to maneuver around them. In addition, pilots are trained to cope with the consequences of a bird strike -- an engine failure, for example.
But one expert tells me pilots get minimal training for the loss of all engines, because that is something that happens very, very rarely.
BLITZER: Yes, well, it happens very rarely, but, you know, it happens. And it apparently happened today.
Jeanne, thanks very much.
Deborah Feyerick is working this story in New York.
What are you picking up -- Deb?
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, law enforcement officials initially treated this as a level one mobilization. They had no idea what was happening. No one knew what had caused this plane to go down, whether it was some catastrophic mechanical failure or whether it was terrorism.
But New York City's mayor, Mike Bloomberg, says that this was not terrorism. The law enforcement source that I spoke to said that the pilot attempted to return to LaGuardia Airport once this happened. In fact, controllers there were told stop all departures and actually began preparing both arrival runways in order for an emergency landing. But the pilot was not able to bring that plane back around.
Again, if even one engine had been working, the plane could have returned to one of the airports -- either LaGuardia or in New Jersey, at Newark Airport or Teterboro International. But, in fact, he landed in the water there.
Law enforcement officers tell me that the quick response, in part, was because of where this happened. This was by the Intrepid Museum on 48th Street in the Hudson River. There's a highway there. And 911 calls were coming in from people -- from motorists on the highway, along with people working in buildings, saying that a plane was in trouble -- a plane was in distress.
And so when that plane went down, many ferries that were in the water had been alerted by the New York Harbor. There were police ferries, but there were also these commercial ferries, like the Circle Line, which goes around Manhattan.
Those ferries were able to get to the plane immediately before it began drifting and they were able to take a lot of the people on board so that -- to get them out of the water.
Again, people that I spoke to on the scene -- law enforcement officials saying that the pilot in this case a hero because of the way he landed this plane, kept control of the plane at all times, never seemed to be at a loss and landed that plane gently enough, certainly, so that people could get out, do so calmly.
And you've got to give a lot of credit to the flight crew, because, again, they do train for these situations to get people out those doors. I've actually done an emergency landing -- a simulation. And those doors are very heavy. But the most important thing -- because when either smoke hits you or the turbulence, your heart begins to race and the adrenaline kicks in -- the most important thing is to really stay as calm as you possibly can.
Clearly, that happened in this particular case. All those lives saved -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And really amazing, amazing work.
What a great story, in the end -- although a disaster, as apparently the birds did it in the engines.
And all of a sudden, that plane has to make an emergency landing. The pilot on top of the situation, deciding, you know what, the safest place to try to glide -- apparently he had to glide that plane in, Deb -- was right into the center of the -- of the Hudson River.
These are live pictures our viewers are seeing. You can see the tail. It's not submerged from the Airbus. It's been tethered to the side of this -- of the pier here in New York along the Hudson River.
They were trying to effectively drag this plane from the center of the Hudson River and get it to the side, to save it from going to the bottom -- because I guess they're going to have to -- they want to get the so-called black boxes, and make sure they've got all of that.
They want to take a look at the engines to see if, in fact, it was a bird or a flock of geese or whatever it was. They've got some serious investigating to do. And the national transportation safety board, the FAA, they'll all be on top of this, Deb, as we take a look at this story.
I want to go back to Brian Todd right now.
He's picking up some more information -- Brian.
TODD: Just some more on the NTSB, scene, Wolf.
We are told that they should be arriving on scene a short time from now. I think we heard from Mayor Bloomberg. He said that they're going to get there probably about 10 minutes from now, maybe 7:30 Eastern time. They were rushed there from Washington, D.C. .
You know, a couple of things they're going to be looking at -- placement of the engines, you know, the way the plane landed.
Again, you know, we're told by experts that these engines -- the engine placement was potentially disastrous for this plane. In some of the other older planes -- the MD-80, the LT-11 -- the engines are higher in the plane. They're kind of back toward the tail and higher up. And this kind of calamity would not necessarily have led those type of planes to break apart.
This type of plane was much more vulnerable to breaking apart on the water. Again, you know, the more we hear about this, really, the more of a testament it is to that pilot.
BLITZER: An amazing pilot.
We've got to congratulate him.
All right, Brian.
Thanks very much.
Tom Foreman is also working the story for us -- Tom, you can show us how this takeoff from LaGuardia -- you know, the sort of route it took, eventually winding up between New Jersey and Manhattan, in the middle of the Hudson River.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, it was amazing. And it took a very short period of time. Let's take a look at the big map up here on the wall. This is Manhattan right in the middle here. This is the crash site over here. And that's LaGuardia Airport.
As the crow flies, it's about seven miles away. But this is actually where they came down.
Let's look at this flight pattern. They took off from over here at 3:26, sometime around that. And you've heard yourself, Wolf, many different variations exactly when this happened -- 45 seconds later, three or four minutes later.
But nonetheless, this is the actual flight pattern. You see them taking off here, gaining altitude, gaining altitude. And right here it changes.
You see the light orange over here and the dark red?
That's where they started going down. Now, they've turned west. They're headed toward the river. Presumably this is the part where they're trying to say we're going to go back around to the airport. But instead, they head south and go this way.
You mentioned that a lot of people were calling in saying they knew it was in trouble. That's because it was flying past Yonkers here, the Upper West Side -- many, many places where there are lots of commuters. Even on one of the bridges there that they maybe passed only about 900 feet above, but a little bit off to one side. Finally, down in the water.
In terms of places to go down, this would be one of the better places, obviously, because there's nobody out there. And also, because it's only about a half mile to each shore. So they weren't way out in the middle of nowhere.
These are the hospitals they started taking people to afterward.
But just as importantly, Wolf -- when we talk about this question of a bird strike and how that could have happened -- take a look at this wider map of this area.
Bird enthusiasts in this country know that the whole Eastern Corridor over here is known as the Atlantic Flyway because there are a tremendous number of birds that migrate along here -- some even coming in from the Great Lakes region over here. There's lots of marchland, lots of water up here.
So you do have enormous flocks of geese and ducks and all sorts of shorebirds coming into this area.
That all possibly, as the investigators get here, as Brian mentioned a moment ago, as they put it altogether, they'll see if all of that came together in that first three to four minutes of this flight, making the whole flight be over in less than six minutes.
Quite an ordeal in a very short period of time -- Wolf. BLITZER: And you heard Jeanne Meserve and Brian Todd and other experts telling us, Tom, you know what, this is a real serious problem, these birds that are flying near these airports. And they do all sorts of -- take all sorts of precautions. But there's no real precaution. When a bird wants to do what it's going to do, it's going to do it.
FOREMAN: There's nothing you can do about it, Wolf. And one thing that you might notice when you're a passenger on a plane, notice how clean runways are. Runways are kept very, very clean because even a small item ingested into one of these enormous jet engines can cause real problems.
So you can imagine how much trouble you'd have if you run into a flock of geese or other big birds -- as many of the shorebirds are. They get ingested into an engine, that's a lot hitting those spinning blades in there. And they can cause real trouble really fast.
BLITZER: And people have been e-mailing me, Tom, and saying why don't they just put some screens in front of those engines to prevent birds from coming in?
But go ahead, tell our viewers -- I assume you know -- why you can't put a screen in front of a jet engine like that.
FOREMAN: I -- frankly, Wolf, I don't know. My only guess is because it would impede the airflow to some degree.
BLITZER: That's right. Yes.
FOREMAN: And you just can't do that. Plus, everything that caught on that screen would then be blocking the airflow to the engine and slowing down the turbines. That's my best guess.
BLITZER: I think you're right.
FOREMAN: We'll find out.
BLITZER: All right. Stand by, Tom Foreman.
Mary Snow is on the phone for us, as well.
She's watching what's going on -- Mary?
SNOW: Well, Wolf, we're downtown about a mile-and-a-half away from where the plane just crashed. And here we are seeing emergency boats on the water. The plane, we're told, is moored against a pier down here. And there had been about nine Coast Guard vessels trying for -- up to about two hours after the crash -- to stabilize that plane.
The current is very, very strong along the Hudson River in this frigid weather. And we're hearing now that the plane has been stabilized.
But, you know, Wolf, one of the thing that aviation experts have said is that the fuel had been keeping this plane afloat as it drifted down along these currents downtown.
BLITZER: CNN's Mary Snow, with that story.
And it is a frigid, frigid, cold day in New York. There's no doubt that this has been a traumatic experience for a lot of people -- first and foremast for the 150 people on board the US airliner -- the US Airways plane. A hundred and fifty passengers and five crew members, the pilot and copilot, as well. A hundred and fifty-five people are alive thanks to some astute work on behalf of the pilot, the copilot, the flight attendants and all the rescue personnel who got to that scene so quickly.
What an amazing story.
There's been some other news that I don't want to neglect. And I want to share some of that with our viewers right now.
In less than an hour-and-a-half, President Bush says goodbye to the American people. He'll deliver a televised farewell address from the East Room of the White House. You can see it right here on CNN, 8:00 p.m. Eastern -- a little bit more than one hour from now.
We've learned now Mr. Bush will acknowledge setbacks and say he would have done some things differently, if given the chance. He'll also say he always acted with the best interests of the country in mind.
I'll be anchoring our coverage around the president's farewell address to the nation -- 8:00 p.m. Eastern, one hour from now. I think you're going to want to hear what President Bush has to say.
Other news we're following, he doesn't get sworn in until Tuesday, but Barack Obama could already celebrate a key victory. The Senate today rejected a measure blocking the release of the final $350 billion of the government's bailout funds. Some critics aren't happy about how the first $350 billion was spent. President-Elect Obama requested the remaining money to get frozen credit moving again and ease loans to cash-strapped consumers and businesses.
Obama's transition team says he'll use at least $50 billion to reduce foreclosures.
Israel's prime minister, meanwhile, is apologizing for an artillery strike on the United Nations' compound in Gaza earlier today. He says militants fired on Israeli forces from the area and Israeli troops responded. Three people were reportedly wounded. The compound and the warehouse were engulfed by fire following the attack. Thousands of pounds of food and other humanitarian aid are said to have been destroyed.
President-Elect Obama is hoping for another victory, this one in the House. House Democrats today unveiled an $875 billion economic stimulus plan. They say it will fulfill Obama's promise to create or save more than three million jobs. Among other things, it would provide a $500 tax cut for most workers and $1,000 for couples. It also includes billions for public spending on roads, bridges and roads. And that's it for us. Stay with CNN.
Tomorrow, here in THE SITUATION ROOM, a special interview with the president-elect, Barack Obama. Our John King will interview the president-elect in Ohio tomorrow. That interview will air in THE SITUATION ROOM.
I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting.
Let's go to New York and "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou?