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Divers Find Crash Wreckage; Major Quakes in Japan and Indian Ocean; "Broken Immigration System"; Backing Mexico's War on Drugs; Michael Jackson Autopsy; Taliban Gaining Upper Hand

Aired August 10, 2009 - 17:00   ET




As divers look for the last of the victims, investigators are looking for answers to the weekend collision between a small private plane and a helicopter carrying a group of sightseers. One hotly debated issue -- the crowded air space along the Hudson River.

Let's go to CNN's Susan Candiotti.


SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): River currents have been so swift, the recovery operation was stalled most of the day. Divers could barely see their hands in front of their faces. They spotted pieces of the single engine plane, but could not retrieve them -- let alone finding the two remaining victims.

Newly released 911 calls revisited Saturday's horror when witnesses called for help.


Where is your emergency?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In Hoboken, New Jersey, in the Hudson River, a helicopter just landed on the corner of 4th and River Street.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you see anybody injured?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh my god, they're probably totally injured.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Oh, it landed or it crashed?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's gone. It crashed.

CANDIOTTI: On a nearby pier, investigators picking their way through a maze of twisted metal that barely resembled the Liberty Tour sightseeing helicopter. A life vest pulled from the wreckage still intact; a piece of the tail section moved aside.

Some pilots say the midair crash that claimed nine lives was an accident waiting to happen.

(on camera): What's the main problem as you see it?

JUSTIN GREENE, PILOT & AVIATION ATTORNEY: The main -- the main problem is you -- you're funneling a lot of airplanes and helicopters into a very narrow and very low piece of air space. And eventually if you do that, you're going to have a collision like what just happened on Saturday.

CANDIOTTI: (voice-over): Aviation Attorney Justin Greene flew Marine attack helicopters in the first Gulf War.

(on camera): If you were signed up to take a sightseeing tour in the coming days and weeks, would you do it?

GREENE: No. I -- I wouldn't. I would not do it. And I -- I would never let any family or friend take a helicopter tour.

CANDIOTTI: Not until, Greene says, new regulations separating helicopters from other air traffic are introduced.

But others say regulations aren't the answer, just more vigilance. The NTSB will weigh in once its investigation is done.

DEBBIE HERSMAN, NTSB CHAIRWOMAN: If you relax your vigilance just for a few seconds the results can be catastrophic. And the Safety Board has seen this time and time again with our accident investigations.


CANDIOTTI: And at this hour, the NTSB is wrapping up a news conference. No hard headlines for you right now.

We're going to quickly show you what a picture of what's happening at this hour. There's a raft out there. They have been out there all day long, since the sun went up. They've got some divers out there. But again, they've been stymied by the conditions beneath the surface of the water.

As we tell you this, the NTSB is saying that it has been very carefully reconstructing the events of that day. It's going to take some time to complete it. Other than to say this, they looked over the last conversation between the pilot of the small plane and an air traffic control tower asking which route he wanted to take from Teterboro, a small private airport here. That decision was left up to him. And the pilot's last audio transmission was: "I'll take the river."

Beyond that, they said, just to show you how busy this particular air corridor is, in the last eight days, 225 aircraft per day have been flying along here on visual flight rules. That's a lot of aircraft -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly is. And we're going to speak to Debbie Hersman of the National Transportation Safety Board in our 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour. Lots of questions we have for her.

Thanks very much, Susan Candiotti.

Let's go back to Chad Myers right now.

He's following the breaking news. Two -- not one, but two earthquakes within the past few moments.

What do we know -- Chad?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: One was a 7.6, not that far from where that very strong earthquake that caused the huge tsunami in 2004; and, also, one not far from Tokyo -- about 100 miles from Tokyo -- both happening within 12 minutes of each other. I still believe that they are completely unrelated, though.

This would be Myanmar. This would be India here. A tsunami watch has been issued for this ocean area as that 7.6 struck at about 20 miles deep. That could be shallow enough to push the ocean floor just enough to make a tsunami.

Also now, back closer to, basically, Japan, right off the shore, about 100 miles from Tokyo, there was a 6.4 right there. And there's a tsunami advisory -- nearly a warning -- a little bit stepped up from the watch there. But they expect that that -- that tsunami might only be a foot-and-a-half, Wolf.

So that would be a way that, if you're right onshore, you could be in trouble with it. But nothing that would go very, very far inland, like we know that the tsunami did back in 2004 there.

So -- so it's such a deadly situation there in 2004. This is nothing, nothing like that.

BLITZER: This was a 7.6.

How big of an earthquake was the one that devastated Indonesia and Thailand?

MYERS: We were over 9.0 on that one.


MYERS: Yes. And so -- and you have to realize that between a 7.0 and a 9.0, it's not just two numbers. It's over and over. It's almost -- it's log rhythmic as you go up from 7.0 to 9.0. It was much, much bigger.

BLITZER: All right. We'll check back with you.

Chad, thanks very much.

MYERS: You're welcome.

BLITZER: President Obama is putting immigration reform high on his already crowded agenda. The pledge to do something about it during a -- came during a three-way North American summit today in Guadalajara, Mexico.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have a broken immigration system. Nobody denies it. And if we continue on the path we're on, we will continue to have tensions with our Mexican neighbors. We will continue to have people crossing the borders in a way that is dangerous for them, unfair for those who are applying legally to -- to emigrate.


BLITZER: The president says he's ready to fight for comprehensive immigration reform, but says, guess what, it's going to have to wait until next year, noting that health care, financial regulation, among other issues -- they take priority right now.

At that same news conference in Mexico, the president said the U.S. will stand by Mexico in fighting the drug cartels despite allegations of human rights abuses by Mexican soldiers.

Let's go to the scene right now.

CNN's Michael Ware is watching this story for us.

The bottom line -- and you spent a lot of time, Michael, investigating -- no matter what they say, the leaders of the U.S.

Canada and Mexico, can they really break these drug cartels?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly not militarily, Wolf -- or certainly not in law enforcement terms. This is not a winnable war on the streets. The power of the cartels is simply too great.

The dynamic at play here is enormous. This is a multi-billion dollar industry that runs through Mexico into the United States. The war that's being fought is primarily between rival cartels for the right to supply America's demand for the illicit drugs that the population wants.

Now, the battles on the streets are raging here in Mexico. Just last month alone, 850 Mexicans lost their lives. And President Obama says that America's had to stand by its partner, Mexico.

But in many ways, that's all that America is doing. We've yet to see America really commit to this fight, because the fight isn't just about a border. It isn't just about building a wall. It isn't just about coyotes smuggling people in or drug traffickers penetrating U.S. territory.

The dynamic behind this entire issue is regional. It begins in the Andes, where there's production of cocaine. It moves to Central America where there's warehousing transshipment. In Panama is the banking and the money laundering. In Mexico are the all powerful Mexican drug cartels and the retail. And in America itself and on the streets of Canada is the distribution.

Less and less of the Mexican cartels relying on American organized crime, but are stepping in to do it themselves. And all the leaders have now gone their separate ways from this North American leaders' summit and we're left with nothing but words in the war on drugs -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's gone on for decades. Presumably, it will continue for decades more.

Michael Ware on the scene for us.

Thank you, Michael, for your reporting.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now.

He's got "The Cafferty File."

He really puts his whole soul -- all of his passion into these stories, you've got to admit -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Oh and it's -- you know, it's very lucid stuff. It brings great clarity to issues that sometimes can be a little befuddling to the -- us lesser mortals. You know, a lot of people suggest that they legalize that stuff in this country. You've got those cartels pretty fast. But that's another topic for another day.

Top Democrats call the protests against health care reform un- American. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer write in a "USA Today" op-ed piece that opponents of this debate "are afraid not just of differing views, but of the facts themselves."

They claim that drowning out the facts is how this country has failed so many times at overhauling health care. Although they say dialogue is at the heart of democracy, these Democrats -- Pelosi and Hoyer -- describe the protests as an ugly campaign that represents reform and disrupts the discussion -- misrepresents reform, I should say.

They point to tactics that have included hanging an effigy of one Democratic Congressman, holding a sign that showed a tombstone with the name of another lawmaker and shouting, "Just Say No!" over those who wanted to have a real discussion on reform.

Pelosi and Hoyer insist that despite the disruptions, members of Congress will listen to their constituents and explain the reform. They say they're confident that their health care plan will stand up to any critics.

Meanwhile, Republicans insist these protests are legitimate. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell calls complaints from the Democrats absurd. He said, attacking people for expressing their opinions "may indicate some weakness in their position."

McConnell says the fact is Americans are concerned about health care reform and the Democrats need to deal with that.

So here's the question: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Congressman Steny Hoyer called the town hall protests against health care reform un-American.

Are they?

Go to and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.

Stand by. I want you to get ready for this story.

A nightmare flight -- dozens and dozens of passengers forced to stay in a cramped smelly plane overnight in the United States of America.

Guess what -- are airlines and the airport now playing the blame game?

Stand by for this incredible story.

Plus, Michael Jackson's autopsy -- the coroner's office finishes its work -- why it's keeping the results confidential for now.

And who's winning the war in Afghanistan?

After a dire assessment by the U.S. military commander there, we'll go to CNN's Peter Bergen.

He's on the ground in Kabul right now.


BLITZER: A new development in the Michael Jackson death investigation. The Los Angeles County coroner's office has now finished its probe into what killed the pop star. The results, though, are sealed for now.

Let's go to CNN's Ted Rowlands.

He's in Los Angeles.

So why are they deciding to keep all this secret, at least for now -- Ted?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, because the LAPD is telling them to, Wolf. For weeks, we've been waiting for the coroner to release the results of the report that they have been compiling for the last month plus. And for the last few weeks, we've been told, well, maybe next week; maybe next week; we're just finishing this report. And then today, definitively, what we have been hearing over the past week or so came out officially from the coroner's office, and that is that, indeed, they have been fini -- they finished this report. They have a cause of death. They're ready to go. However, the LAPD is instructing the coroner's office to continue a security hold on this case, meaning they are not going to release the findings of Michael Jackson's death until the LAPD gives the green light. Presumably that will be when the LAPD finishes its death investigation and makes a decision on whether or not there will be any charges as a result of Jackson's death.

So for now the coroner has finished, but they're not going to release it until the LAPD (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: And we have no idea when the LAPD will finish its investigation, let alone when the prosecutors in Los Angeles will decide if they have enough evidence to go forward with charges.

ROWLANDS: Absolutely. And you -- and you can bet that those two organizations have been -- been collaborating throughout this process. But until, it seems, they come up with a definitive path where they're going to go, in terms of potential charges, the coroner -- and usually they would re -- they, as soon as they're done, they release this and file it. The coroner has been instructed to hold it back until the other entities have completed their investigations. So it may be a while.


Thanks very much.

Are America's enemies now winning in Afghanistan?

With U.S. casualties at an all time high, the U.S. military commander there offers a grim assessment. And a key member of the Senate Armed Services Committee says the U.S. needs to commit more resources -- including more troops -- to the fight.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: My message to my Democratic colleagues is that we made mistakes in Iraq. Let's not Rumsfeld Afghanistan. Let's don't do this thing on the cheap. Let's have enough combat power and engagement across the board to make sure we're successful. And, quite frankly, we've all got a lot of ground to make up.


BLITZER: Let's get some more on what's going on in Afghanistan right now.

And joining us now from Kabul, CNN's national security analyst, Peter Bergen -- Peter, "The Wall Street Journal" has a front page story entitled "Taliban Now Winning." It quotes the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, as saying the Taliban have gained the upper hand in Afghanistan.

Is he right? PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, according to a U.N. assessment that I reported on last week for, 40 percent of the country is either controlled by the Taliban or is at high risk for frequent attacks by the Taliban. That was an assessment that wasn't meant to be for public consumption. It was done by the Afghan national security forces. So certainly the Taliban has presence in -- a strong presence in 40 percent of the country. But it's really limited to the south and the east. This is a rural Pashtun phenomenon. In the north and the west of the country, things are pretty quiet.

BLITZER: Are you surprised by McChrystal's dire assessment?

BERGEN: I am, frankly, surprised by it. You know, I think that the Taliban -- you know, even if you take the outer estimate for the size of the Taliban, it's about 20,000 full-time fighters. You've got 170,000 members of the Afghan police and army. You've got about 100,000 NATO, U.S. soldiers. The Taliban are a major tactical problem. They're not a strategic threat to Afghanistan.

I -- personally, I don't think the Taliban are winning. You could say that they're not losing, which is very important for insurgencies. If the -- if the insurgent feels that they can wait out the -- the governments and the other allies, that, of course -- you know, and the Taliban feel that they time on their side, that eventually the international community will tire of the -- of the war and then they'll take over.

But I don't think they're winning. I think winning is a very strong phrase to use in the context of the Taliban right now. Certainly, they're not losing. Certainly, they have a presence in a -- in a good chunk of the country. But I think winning is overdone.

Is it a matter of the U.S. perhaps sending more troops into Afghanistan to try to get the job done?

Would more troops do it?

BERGEN: I think so. I mean, if you do the math, Wolf, it's pretty obvious. You go -- you know, in Iraq, for instance, you have 600,000 soldiers and policemen in a country that is smaller than Afghanistan with a smaller population.

Here in Afghanistan, you've only go about 170,000 soldiers and police and also 100,000 U.S. and NATO soldiers. You've got to really build up the size of the Afghan Army and the Afghan police.

How do you do that?

Well, you send in more trainers, particularly the U.S. -- skilled U.S. military trainers -- to do the job. And so McChrystal seems to be, you know, planning to ask for more -- for more soldiers. The most important kinds of soldiers to bring into the country are trainers and advisers for the Afghan Army, because that's the best exit strategy -- building up the Afghan Army. Right now, it's relatively small. It needs to be at least double, even triple the size where it is right now.

BLITZER: Listen to what Walter Pincus writes in "The Washington Post" over the weekend: "As the Obama administration expands U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, military experts are warning that the United States is taking on security and political commitments that will last at least a decade and costs -- and a cost that will probably eclipse that of the Iraq War."


Is that something you'd agree with?

BERGEN: Well, I'm skeptical on the notion it would cost upwards of a trillion dollars, which is the cost of the Iraq War. Right now, Afghanistan has cost about $200 billion. It seems inconceivable that we would -- that the United States would spend anything close to what it spent in Iraq.

But in terms of the length of the commitment, I think the United States is going to be involved -- and the international community -- in Afghanistan for decades.

After all, the United States still has bases in Japan, you know, 60 years after World War II. It's very easy to -- it's regrettably simple to get into these kinds of commitments. It's quite hard to get out of them.

And I think that we've already run the experiment twice before, where the United States closed its embassy in -- in Afghanistan in 1989 and washed its hands of the place and we got the Taliban and al Qaeda. And then again in 2001, we did nation building very much on the cheap and we got the Taliban and Al Qaeda coming back again.

I think it -- it's time now to get the situation right in Afghanistan. That requires the right strategy and the right resources. And that is beginning to happen, but is not, clearly, right at the point where it should be.

BLITZER: Peter Bergen is our national security analyst.

He's joining us from Kabul.

Peter, be careful over there.

Thanks very much.

BERGEN: Thank you.

BLITZER: After calling President Obama's health care plan "downright evil," Sarah Palin is now changing her tune a bit. See what she's saying right now. We'll talk about her latest posting on Facebook.

And we're just getting word of some roller coaster trouble at a California amusement park. We have live pictures.


BLITZER: A scary situation atop a roller coaster at an amusement park in California.

Betty Nguyen is watching it for us.

What's going on -- Betty.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Talk about a scary ride, Wolf. A roller coaster in California at the Great America Theme Park in Santa Clara. You see video of it right there. It is stuck. There are passengers still on that roller coaster.

We hear from our affiliate, KGO, that some 32 people may, in fact, be still on that roller coaster. And you're seeing some of them right here. It appears that they're dangling -- at least their feet are dangling. That's the way the ride is set up.

No indication as to how long they've been stuck, but efforts are underway to get them down. Again, a roller coaster is stuck in California at the Great America Theme Park. We'll continue to follow that.

Also, other news to tell you about. A California state prison, where 175 inmates were injured in a riot, it remained on lockdown. Just look at this video. Officials say more than a thousand prisoners are being moved temporarily to other detention centers. Now, a prison spokesman says tensions between black and Hispanic prisoners at the California Institution for Men in Encino may have sparked that riot.

And the family of Eunice Kennedy Shriver has been summoned to her bedside at a Cape Cod hospital. A source close to the family tells CNN that Shriver suffered a setback. The 88-year-old sister of President John F. Kennedy and founder of the Special Olympics has been in the hospital for the past several days -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Betty.

Stand by. We're going the get back to you on that roller coaster that's stuck in California.

Also, stuck on a plane overnight -- passengers forced to stay aboard a hot, smelly, crowded airliner, unable to enter the terminal.

What was behind this nightmare flight?

And the search for bodies and answers after a plane and a helicopter collide -- we're with the divers on the Hudson River. This is a report you'll see only here on CNN.

Plus, China's stolen children -- thousands may be disappearing from the streets. Why parents accuse the police of indifference or worse.


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, divers in the Hudson River find the wreckage of a plane that collided with a touring helicopter over the weekend. We're going to take you into the Hudson River to see the challenges the divers are facing.

It's the nation's secret weapon against drug smuggling along the border and we'll watch it in action right here on CNN.

Plus, volunteers line up as testing of the new swine flu vaccine gets underway at eight sites across the nation.

Will the vaccine be ready for the fall, when the flu season begins?

We're going to visit one of those sites and find out.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


But first, this -- Continental Airlines is now saying they're sorry to passengers who were forced to spend the night on a grounded jet -- from the cramped conditions to the crying babies to the very, very smelly toilets.

Joe Fryer from our Minneapolis affiliate, KARE, has the story.


JOE FRYER, KARE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Rochester International Airport was an unexpected pit stop Friday night for passenger Link Christin.

LINK CHRISTIN, PASSENGER: To make a long story short, we stayed the entire night on the runway in this plane.

FRYER: His Continental Airlines flight was supposed to fly from Houston to the Twin Cities. But thunderstorms forced the small plane to land in Rochester around midnight. ExpressJet Airlines operated the flight and says the crew reached its maximum work hours in the air, so another flight crew had to be flown in. In the meantime, the airline would not let passenger off the plane because TSA screeners had gone home and passengers legally couldn't get back on the plane. Plus the airline says the airport didn't have enough personnel to let passengers sleep in the terminal. So, nearly 50 passengers spent the night on the plane.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody in the plane was kind of move, trying to find positions to sleep in. There wasn't any room. The plane is getting warmer. There were at least two babies nearby me crying and screamed almost the whole night. The smells were getting worse. The bathroom was getting worse. The babies obviously were going to the bathroom.

FRYER: Passengers were finally allowed off the plane around 6:30 a.m. when TSA screeners arrived. Three hours later they left Rochester and flew back to the twin cities on that same plane with the restroom that was now out of order.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think there were a variety of options they could have utilized, not the least of which is to call the manager of the airport, say that we have a situation that's considered an emergency, we need to bring people back in to reopen the terminal, we will pay for it.


BLITZER: Joe Fryer from our affiliate KARE in Minneapolis reporting. And as we reported, the airlines involved are now apologizing. They're trying to explain what went so horribly, horribly wrong, ExpressJet which handles the regional flights for continental said, and I'm quoting now, our priorities are ensuring customer safety during severe weather and following all federal regulations at the airport facility. We apologize for the extended delay and inconvenience these customers experienced.

Continental Airlines said in a separate statement, "We are working closely with ExpressJet to resolve this extended delay as service provided to customers on this flight was completely unacceptable. We are apologizing to our customers and will be offering them a full ticket refund and a certificate good for future travel." And the Rochester airport manager in Minnesota said, and let me quote him, "I would like to take this opportunity to stress that airport staff, Delta staff, and the RST Main Terminal (with vending machines and bathrooms) were all available for the passengers on board flight 2816 to deplane. It is irrelevant that the TSA security screeners were not in the terminal that evening as the passengers would have been able to deplane and remain on the secure side of the terminal. All decisions made to keep the passengers enplaned were made by the Continental Dispatch in MSP." Minneapolis, St. Paul. What a story. Indeed. There are going to be ramifications, no doubt about that.

There's a shocking story coming in from China where thousands of children may be disappearing, snatched off the streets and possibly so. Parents accuse police of indifference or even worse. The Chinese government says it's cracking down. Our senior international correspondent, John Vause, reports from Beijing.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Deng Huidong never stops looking for her son, kidnapped, she says, more than a year ago. Whenever I go somewhere crowded I look for boy who is look like my son. I take photos of boys the same age so I can recognize him if we ever meet one day. Huidong believes he was most likely sold to a family without a son in need of a male heir. The abduction was brazen. His mother Huidong says it was late afternoon, he was playing outside their house just over here with his older sister. She wasn't far away when she saw a white van slowly reversing up.

The doors opened, a man reached out, grabbed her son, and then they sped off in the same direction. She says she screamed for help and gave chase on foot. Further up the road, a stranger on a motorcycle picked her up and together they chased the van. Along the way, they passed a police car and what she says next seems to be beyond belief. The police said, quick, get in. I went with them. We were chasing the traffickers but after only a few moments they took a stunning turn. I asked why but they never said anything. I was crying and asking. But they didn't say anything. Later at the police station, I asked why. And he told me he was off duty. So, it was someone else's responsibility. Repeated requests to talk to the police involved were declined. But other parents, too, complain about police indifference.

Zhang Chunzxiang says her son disappeared five years ago. "The police did not think it was a big deal. It was November. It was not until December when they started to investigate." Chen Fengyi says her 4-year-old son went missing while playing outside the family shop. "They wouldn't open a case file, she said, because no one saw the abduction, nor was there video surveillance." The boy on this security tape is a 3-year-old taken from a square in the city more than a year ago. His father says it took police eight days to start. "They didn't say anything after they watched the video. They just copied it and said it was confidential. I thought they would try to find my child with the video, but I never heard anything for two months." The police in this case did not respond to our request for comment.

Wouldn't it be easier just to hear -- so, we talked to the man in charge of stopping human trafficking in China. He listened to the allegations but wouldn't talk about specific cases. "Generally speaking, people who report trafficking cases won't be treated like this," he told me. "Few cases you have told me were not according to procedure." he says there are over 2,000 children and women trafficked every year.

The U.S. State Department, though, estimates the number of women and children trafficked every year in China is between 10,000 and 20,000, and an official with the U.N. tells CNN that based on anecdotal evidence alone the Chinese government numbers seem low. And in 2005, the committee on the rights of the child concluded that those official numbers refer almost exclusively to women and children rescued rather than those abducted. Chen disputes those numbers saying they're little more than a guess, preferring to talk about changes to police procedure. "There were cases with no witnesses or security video available. Police officers can help look for the missing child and investigate, but the case wasn't treated as a crime. But now they're all treated as crimes." Chen told me police had launched regular nationwide crackdowns with rescued babies shown on state-run television.

There's a new most wanted list of the country's worst traffic efforts. Eleven out of 20, he says, have been arrested. But the parents of missing children say the biggest problem of all is those who buy children are not punish prod viding the child hasn't been mistreated. And the parents told me until that law is changed there will always be a market and traffickers eager to do business.

John Vause, CNN, Beijing.


BLITZER: What a story.

After angry disruptions at town hall meetings and her own criticism, Sarah Palin now says it's time to keep it civil when discussing President Obama's health care proposal.

And tracking drug smugglers from the air. Now drones are now helping fight the nation's drug war and making some surprising findings. It's a SITUATION ROOM investigation.


BLITZER: After an angry protest at a health care reform event, Sarah Palin is now calling on demonstrators to be polite. Let's talk about it with two CNN political contributors, Democratic strategist James Carville and radio talk show host Bill Bennett. She says this in her latest Facebook posting, James. "We must stick to a discussion of the issues and not get sidetracked by tactics that can be accused of leading to intimidation or harassment. Let's not give the proponents of nationalized health care any reason to criticize us." What do you think about her apparent change in tone? An earlier Facebook posting basically called the president's proposals evil.

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Right. And she's talked about death panels, I think. And I'm not sure I would like to hear directly from her what exactly she's talking about, that people are sort of screaming and interrupting people. Doesn't seem to be very clear on that, and we're waiting for some clarification there from the former governor of Alaska on that point, I think.

BLITZER: I think what she was trying to say in her earlier posting, Bill, was that if Obama's health care plans went into effect, she's worried that her elderly parents or her son who has Down syndrome could be in danger.

BILL BENNETT, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Yes. Well, her comments are -- except as a citizen are irrelevant. She's not in charge. She's not giving orders or directions. This is a distraction. The media loves to focus on Sarah Palin. She's not running anything. What's happening is that in these town hall meetings a lot of Americans, not Republicans, not conservatives, a lot of elderly people, people from all political stripes are coming to and they're asking tough questions. And the interesting thing is a lot of liberals and Democrats are saying how dare you be like this? I mean, this is unbelievable given what Democrats and liberals have done over eight years during the Bush administration. But the forums take place, of course people should be polite and civil. But if people get a little angry it's OK, it's America, address the grievances, let it rip, let's have a good, full discussion.

BLITZER: What's wrong with that, James?

CARVILLE: I don't know that so much is wrong but I would point out she is a significant person. She was a vice presidential nominee for the Republican party in 2008, house speaker Newt Gingrich was one of the front-runners, former speaker of the House, echoed her so- called concerns about her fictional death panels or whatever they are. So, these are not minor characters in the Republican Party. These are actual heavyweights of that party. But I do agree people ought to be able to come out and express their opinion, but like the guy who had the opinion, tell his government to get its hands off my Medicare, something is missing there. There's a missing link in some of these people. If you're going to have opinions --

BENNETT: Look, the issue -- the issue -- the issues are legitimate that she raises. Of course the issues that Newt Gingrich raises are legitimate. The issues that citizens are raising, the forum you had earlier Wolf with the Congressman and the doctor is what's going on all over the country. A doctor challenged a Congressman. It got fairly heated, fairly intense. We're talking about taking over one-sixth of the nation's economy. I'd like to quote Barack Obama from last September when he said to followers, argue with them, get in their faces, this is important. It is important. Civility, candor, goodwill, fine, this is very important, but I'm glad people are turning out.

CARVILLE: Want to keep the government out of Medicare, I'll tell you that. A very important priority here.

BLITZER: Well, the argument is that under one of the -- the CBO estimates, and I think the president supports this, they would cut over the next ten years $500 billion from Medicare, and so some elderly are saying why are you cutting from Medicare in order to pay for health insurance for a lot of other folk who is don't have it right now? James, you've heard those debates.

CARVILLE: Yes. And you hear this argument as far as the moneys being applied to other places and the other part of the CBO hasn't been scored and there are about three or four things people say in rebuttal to that, if you will. But the truth of the matter is Medicare is a very popular program. I think the only thing is the United States leads the world in its life expectancy after 65 and 99% of the health care people are over 65 they mitigate from Medicare. It's a good program, a popular program. Obviously, people are going to be looking at it. I think secretary is right. You can't expect to have something like this without debate. But again, it would be better if people knew a little bit more about what they were talking about.

BLITZER: On this issue of Medicare, Bill, there's no doubt there's a lot of waste in Medicare right now and probably a lot of fraud over billing, needless procedures, all that kind of stuff where you could save hundreds of billions of dollars.

BENNETT: Yes. There's definitely problems, Wolf, definitely a lot of waste, definitely a lot of inefficiencies, and we need to fix a lot of what's wrong with the health care system. But James made an interesting point. We've got the greatest health care system in the world, particularly people over 65. They're nervous when you say you're going to overhaul it. And Barack Obama's got himself in a box by saying we're going to insure 45 million new people, we're not going to increase taxes, how are we going to pay for it? The CBO which James cited said it's going to add an incredible amount to the deficit. This is the box. People like their health care. They're more worried about the deficit.

CARVILLE: If I can just --

BENNETT: Can't square into --

BLITZER: Very quickly.

CARVILLE: I never said we had the greatest health care system in the world because I don't believe that. I believe the only --


CARVILLE: -- the only part --

BENNETT: Who's is better? Whose is better?

CARVILLE: By the way, we spend twice as much on GDP than --

BENNETT: What country? Name one.

CARVILLE: Many countries.

BENNETT: Name one.

CARVILLE: Much better. Canada gets much better outcomes than we do, by far, not even close.

BENNETT: Oh, my gosh. Why are those huge -- let me say something. Let me say something.

BLITZER: All right. Go ahead.

BENNETT: Can I get the last word? Why do they have these huge clinics in Plattsburg, New York, and other border towns Canadians stream into to use? Because the health care is so great in Canada? I don't think so.

BLITZER: James will be back in the next hour. We'll continue this conversation. Bill Bennett, thanks for joining us. Good discussion.

Collision over the Hudson. Police release tapes of those 911 calls from that deadly crash between a sightseeing helicopter and a small plane.

And a mistake by a translator overseas gives us some insight into Hillary Clinton's feelings.


BLITZER: Let's check back with Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack? CAFFERTY: Wolf, the question this hour: House speaker Nancy Pelosi, Congressman Steny Hoyer say the town hall protests against health care reform are un-American. Are they?

Mike writes: "Yes, the protests are un-American. We have a lot of people without health care and every day numerous American citizens die needlessly because of it. The protestors have no concern for anyone but themselves."

Rita writes from Florida: "When the Bush administration did anything that was not to our liking, being un-American was the way to drown any criticism. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, they are screaming freedom of speech."

Ron in Florida writes: "The Democratic Congress should force the health care plan down the throats of the Republicans who refuse to participate in reform, apparently finding it more productive to encourage their constituents to shout down civil discussion. President Obama was elected because of his agenda, which is the people's agenda."

Lynn in Oklahoma City: "Jack, Pelosi is full of it. She just can't handle the truth that we the people hate her plan and will not follow her into hell. If she loves this plan so much, why is it there isn't a requirement that all federal employees go on it? I'll tell you why. Because she knows it's -"

Bev in New York: "The behavior is un-American and thuggish and shows to the rest of the world that ignorance is alive and well here in the USA. When I look at some of coverage, most of those clowns are bigots worrying about their own Medicare. None of them has read the plan as evidenced by how fast the euthanasia rumor got around. Even the non-reading Alaskan quitter was willing to repeat that."

Jim in Colorado says, "Being loud, rude, crude and obnoxious have always been American traits. The term Ugly American wasn't coined without a reason."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at, look for yours there among hundreds of others -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Will do, Jack. Thank you.

CNN's Ali Velshi is taking the pulse of health care reform on a road trip aboard the CNN express. He's joining us now. Where are you, Ali?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're in Chattanooga, Tennessee, next to the Tennessee River, where we have been talking to people about health care partially because of what Jack was just talking about. We're trying to get an unfiltered response from Americans. Pulling up on a road from Atlanta all the way to Des Moines, Iowa. We'll get there Friday or Saturday. We're stopping in towns along the way to ask people what they want of their health care system. Here are some of the responses we've had just on our first day.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to be able to afford the best care that I can for myself and my children.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to see my own doctors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to pick my own doctors and everything else instead of being assigned one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we can just take care of that, then I would be pretty happy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want my health care to be affordable, at a reasonable cost.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not going to go to the emergency room every time I get a cough or cold. I'm worried about the big illnesses that can really bankrupt a family.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't want to settle for less than the best, if our life is at stake.


VELSHI: Health care costs are the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in this country so obviously, affordability is a big issue. Quality and access, those are big issues, too, that we're hearing from people. But the one that we're hearing about which is really what's playing out at these town hall meetings is the issue of choice. We had people, as you just heard, telling us they don't want someone making decisions for them about what doctor to see, what type of treatment they get. The reality is that even Americans who are insured today have those choices imposed upon them. They have a lack of choice in some cases but there's definitely a sense that this government option, this publicly funded option, could reduce people's choices and that's part of what we want to flush out through the course of the week. We will talk to people in Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and Iowa when we get there. We will keep bringing information to you about what they're saying.

BLITZER: We'll check in with you tomorrow as well. Thanks very much.

A new weapon in the war on drugs. Watching smugglers from the sky. Is it paying off? We will show you.

Also, reaching for the sky. An unusual fund-raiser to tell you about.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Talk about a sky-high challenge. A British teacher is crossing Britain on a flying bike. They're calling it a flike. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are only two of these vehicles or airplanes in the whole of the UK. The other one, I happen to know, is for sale. I'm pretty sure it's never been done before, and who knows. I like to think this is almost the perfect type of vehicle. I'm a teacher so I got an eight-week holiday. I normally work every summer on a rowing course and that was canceled because of swine flu this year. Suddenly I found I had a month extra on holiday and that meant that I thought wow, I've really got the time. A very good course for diabetes research, juvenile diabetes research, so trying to find a cure for diabetes in children, and it's an obvious charity for me to do because I'm diabetic myself. I've had it for 31 years now so I know what kind of impact it's like on children. Otherwise, without insulin and all of it, I'd have popped my clog to the edge of 6. I would never have had a chance to do anything like this. I'm wondering if there's any chance we can use this lovely field for takeoff. Takeoff and clear-off. That's my motto. I'm pretty much ready.


BLITZER: Very cool. Good luck.

Happening now, breaking news. Divers find another crash victim in the Hudson River, and the plane that collided with the sightseeing helicopter, only on CNN, Mary Snow takes us along on the search that is slow, dark and very dangerous.

And it looks like a video game but it's a deadly serious weapon against drug smugglers on the southern border. Deborah Feyerick gets rare access to a predator catching thousands of suspects by surprise.

I'm Wolf Blitzer at CNN's command center for breaking news, politics and extraordinary reports from around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up first this hour, breaking news. An important discovery in the choppy, treacherous Hudson River. Divers have found the body of an adult male inside sunken wreckage.