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THE SITUATION ROOM
Navy Jet Crashes Into Apartment Building; More Trouble for Marion Barry; Santorum's 3-Year-Old Daughter Hospitalized; Coast Guard Sinks Japanese Boat; Bill Murray Throws Out Cubs First Pitch; President Adds Politics To Women's Forum; Sharp Slowdown In Hiring
Aired April 6, 2012 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: Now: breaking news. A Navy jet slams into apartments in Virginia Beach, sending flames and black smoke into the air. The two crew members ejected and survive. An urgent search is under way on the ground.
You will hear gripping accounts by witnesses, one who saw a parachute deploy from the stricken jet and rushed to the horrific crash scene, another who found a pilot, his parachute hanging from the apartment building.
And more trouble for Marion Barry, the D.C. city councilman and former mayor who was once caught on tape smoking crack. Now he makes shocking remarks about Asian-owned businesses.
Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Joe Johns. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Breaking news, a horrifying scene at a crowded apartment complex in Virginia Beach as a Navy jet crashes into buildings there, shooting flames and thick black smoke into the sky. The crew members ejected and were taken to the hospital. Now an urgent effort to account for all of the people on the ground.
Our Brian Todd has the very latest details.
Brian, what do we know?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Joe, the very latest from fire and rescue officials in Virginia Beach, we know that at least six people have been injured. That includes the two crew members, four others on the ground injured and taken to local hospitals and at least one of them we believe is a policeman treated for smoke inhalation.
These injuries not believed to be life-threatening. I will show you some of the pictures, the horrific-looking pictures from this event first and then we will talk location. But you see some of these pictures here of the aftermath and the aerial view of this apartment complex that the FA-18D fighter jet from Oceana Naval Air Station crashed into. This occurred just after noon according to Navy officials at about 12:30 p.m.
Virginia Transportation Department cameras showed some of the images that you're seeing here, thick black smoke emanating from the scene. Now let's talk location. We have a map here and we will just play this for you here. This is Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach.
It's about two miles from Oceana to this apartment complex. Now, what we are told from the local battalion chief there is that there are about eight apartments to each building in this complex, and that at least five buildings were hit.
From our own forensic view of this from the aerial footage, we know that at least these four building here, one, two, three and four, were hit. This one looks to maybe be a part of a fifth one here, but again crews are combing through this wreckage now, getting an assessment and, please, we have to caution you the early assessments on injuries and casualties very, very early in the process.
They are still combing through this wreckage right now. This complex on Birdneck Road, it's the Mayfair Mews complex on Birdneck Road, just about two miles from the Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach. Now we will show you kind of where this is in relation to the Atlantic Ocean to Virginia Beach.
We will continue playing our Google Earth map here, zooming back over here, about a mile and maybe even less from the beach here, Virginia Beach and downtown Virginia Beach right about here. Also worth noting that this is the area of spring break, early April, late March. Spring break going on and a lot of vacationers in Virginia Beach, and when you talk about what could have potentially happened here, very, very frightening story.
According to Tom Riley, the battalion chief from the Virginia Beach Fire Department, his main concern right now, and you can see it in the video, his main concern is the fibers from the smoke. Top priority, he says is containing the smoke. We just heard a witness on our air say he came upon the scene fairly early and he said it was really this thick, oily smoke and he said if you have been in this area and you have been around some of these mishaps with these fighter jets, you know that's a very distinctive type of smoke that you can potentially inhale and it can be very damaging.
Also worth noting here, Joe, one witness named Amy Miller was on our air a short time ago. She said she works just around the corner from this apartment building where this happened. She said she saw flames underneath the right wing of this FA-18D fighter jet as it was coming down.
She also then heard two explosions. She also told us there is a school nearby. So again, when you talk about that school nearby that was avoided, the potential casualties in the downtown Virginia Beach area, you realize just how frightening an incident this was, but again, early assessment on casualties, six people hurt including the two crew members taken to area hospitals.
One of them, we are told, is a policeman treated for smoke inhalation, again, a very early assessment of those injuries. This could very well change in the coming hours, Joe. JOHNS: Brian, just taking everything that you have reported here and putting it together, it sounds like that kind of smoke would make it very difficult for the authorities to get any kind of a door-to- door assessment of who might still have been inside the building.
TODD: That is correct.
Police were still going around to other buildings in the area looking to see who was home and who might have been around at the time, but as you see -- and you can see from this video that we're seeing here, a lot of these buildings and the things that the fire crews are actually having to touch and sift through still just incredibly hot to the touch.
You have got foam there and not clear exactly how dangerous that might be to navigate through, but the smoke inhalation, we heard it from Tom Riley, the battalion chief of the Virginia Beach Fire Department, say his top priority right now containing the smoke. His main worry is the carbon fibers from the smoke just being inhaled by people who are around that area and that includes of course the first- responders who are really risking their lives just going through this trying to find people.
Very early in the process still, Joe, and just clearly some harrowing images we are seeing here.
JOHNS: I would imagine very difficult to assess just how long it will be before they think it's safe to enter and try to get that assessment.
TODD: That's right. It's probably several hours before it's safe to enter some of the areas that were hardest hit by this crash.
You have again smoldering smoke and flames all over this apartment complex. It does look like a fairly small area contained, but again you have at least two or three floors of each building. And we're told five buildings were hit. One of them looked completely devastated, looked like it had just been gutted. So that building, again, very hard to assess who was in there at the time and as you said, it might take hours for them to be able to sift through it.
JOHNS: Great reporting there. Thanks so much. Stay on the story, Brian, and we will definitely be getting back to you.
Let's turn now to CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, who has been all over the story since it broke.
And, Barbara, this is an area where the Navy has a very large presence. So, watching that, and do you have any updated developments from the Pentagon?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Joe.
I think the question a lot of people are asking as you point out, large presence, what was this aircraft doing flying over a residential area? The Navy operates an FA-18 training unit in Oceana, and what they do is they train for carrier landings where they get enough training on land and then they go out to sea and they learn how to land and take off from an aircraft carrier at sea.
And then they are off to war over the last 10 years. So there have been a number of flights in the Oceana area. Some residents had been talking today about seeing more flights in recent weeks. In fact, they are seeing more flights because one of the airfields that they have used south of town has been closed for maintenance, so they are doing more flights at Oceana, but for years now they have operated in and out of Oceana even with the development growing around the region.
So what happened today, very unusual and very difficult situation in a populated area. This aircraft ran into trouble within seconds of takeoff. It impacted the ground, hit the ground about two miles off the runway. That gave the pilots very little time to react, perhaps just a few seconds.
They were able to eject most likely at a very low altitude, and of course, as we have talked about all day, military pilots are very trained to try and steer away from civilian areas in the United States where they're operating. They do everything they can, no matter what is going on in an emergency to try and steer clear. By all accounts today, they tried to avoid that school and , thankfully, at least the early reports only some people hurt, but those search parties go on, Joe.
JOHNS: Obviously, this is something that people don't normally think about, but a low-level ejection from a fighter jet could certainly cause tremendous hazards. Can you talk about that a little bit?
STARR: Oh, absolutely.
This is not -- you know, ejecting from your fighter jet at the best of times is an extremely dangerous procedure, especially in combat, which is what it is designed for, basically. You have a rocket charge under your seat and you pull the handle and the cockpit cover flies away and you are basically launched into the air at an altitude that you then deploy your parachute and you are able to float down to the ground.
But if you're going to have to eject at a low altitude, you don't have that parachute distance to float down. So the pilots were at tremendous risk, a very unusual procedure, if that's how it all unfolded, and basically very significant damage on the ground.
There would have been damage anyhow, but they didn't have time to dump all their fuel, clearly, and that's what you began to see unfold on the ground. The fire, the fuel damage and the debris field spread out over such a large area because the plane, by all accounts, never really achieved any altitude. It just went straight in -- Joe.
JOHNS: Barbara Starr, thanks for that and we will be looking to you for future developments. Let's turn now to a witness. She says she was watching the jet in the sky when it crashed.
And we want to talk to you a little bit. Are you on the phone there?
JOANNA HIGHET, EYEWITNESS: Yes. I'm here.
JOHNS: All right. Now, Joanna Highet, you were there with your 2-year-old child, and you were watching this thing and pointing it out to her, but you didn't think this was some type of a plane in distress. Talk to me a little bit about that.
HIGHET: That's right.
I was pointing the fighter jets out to my daughter, and I immediately saw the pilot eject. I saw the parachute and at that point didn't really pay much attention to the jet itself, in fact, don't really recall what I saw as far as the plane is concerned.
I watched the pilot go down and immediately afterward, in about 10 seconds, a black plume of smoke came up. That's when I thought something was awry and I had originally thought it was a parachute exercise and then at that point realized something must have gone wrong and the pilot was ejecting.
I was with some friends that live in the house where I was taking the photo from and they obviously said that's not routine at all. And there were other fighter jets in the air, and they began circling around and the smoke just started billowing up pretty quickly at that point about -- this is about 30 seconds after I heard -- we heard an explosion, but nothing that would indicate anything that crashed.
I mean, that's why I never thought anything was wrong initially. There was never any impact noise. We didn't hear or feel anything, but knew at that point something was really wrong. We jumped into her car and drove around the corner to the apartment complex. She lives literally 300 meters from there. And that's when we saw lots of black smoke and the entire building that we came up to had been already engulfed and it was a little strange to see that it was so filled with smoke so quickly.
JOHNS: Ms. Highet, now, as I understand it, you took a picture with your iPhone while you were watching this plane. How close were you? We did have some other reports earlier on CNN that someone saw fire under the right wing of the plane shortly before it crashed. Did you see anything like that?
HIGHET: No, no, nothing like that.
I saw -- there were multiple fighter jets in the sky. That one was definitely much lower. Maybe that's why it caught my attention. Even when I saw the parachute come out and -- I never saw any fire, no flash, nothing.
JOHNS: What was going through your head? HIGHET: Well, you know, I was excited that Katie, my daughter, could see the parachute. I don't know if she really caught that part or not, but as soon as the smoke came up, it was definitely a feeling in the pit of my stomach that something wasn't right, although I still was questioning if it was nothing major because I hadn't heard any impact. I hadn't felt anything.
So I had no cause to be seriously alarmed, but as soon as we heard the minor explosion and then approached the apartment building in the car, we knew things were seriously wrong.
JOHNS: How much do you know about the area? Is it your understanding that on a typical day people will be inside those buildings?
HIGHET: You know, I'm not from here so I don't know much about the area, but the friend that I was visiting, the first thing that she was saying when we approached was that it was spring break.
She knows that apartment complex fairly well, said it's a real wide mix of people, a lot of families and that with spring break occurring there were more apt to be people at home. We saw people running to the building and there were not any authorities there at that point, no firemen, no rescue workers.
And we were all concerned that were people there to get out, was there help on the scene to help with that? It was a little disturbing.
JOHNS: Absolutely. We have seen a lot of pictures there of people in the area apparently helping the authorities for sure.
Thanks so much, Ms. Highet, for that
HIGHET: You're welcome.
JOHNS: We appreciate your picture and we are glad that you're safe there.
HIGHET: Thank you.
JOHNS: Fascinating and a good sign at least for now that authorities are saying no one was killed in this horrible accident, though, using Brian Todd's caution, still very, very early there on the scene and the authorities have not really been able to get in and go door to door and find out what's what.
We will hear from more witnesses, including a man who actually found one of the ejected crew members on his back porch and another man who saw the crew eject and found one of the seats.
Plus, what's a pilot supposed to do in a crisis like this? We will talk to a former Navy pilot about emergency protocols.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) JOHNS: We're getting extraordinary eyewitness accounts of the disaster in Virginia Beach where a Navy jet has slammed into an apartment complex. One resident, a retired rescue squad member once again became a first responder.
Pat Kavanaugh tells our affiliate WTKR that one of the ejected crew members landed on his back porch. Check this out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAT KAVANAUGH, WITNESS: I was in the apartment, and I heard this pretty big, loud booms, so I got up from the couch and went to my back door and when I looked out I saw a pilot on the ground, parachute hanging from the building, facial lacerations, and I ran outside to see what I could do to help him.
I'm retired rescue, and I didn't know the plane had hit the building until I saw the smoke. We had to get a bunch of neighbors together to get them out of the area and pick him up and take him to safety.
REPORTER: Was he able to speak at all? Was he saying anything?
KAVANAUGH: He apologized very much for hitting our complex. I said don't worry about it. Everything will be fine. Let's get you out of here and get you to safety.
REPORTER: Were you able to move him without any issue?
KAVANAUGH: No, I checked him over. Like I said, I'm retired rescue, did a body survey on him. He was in shock, still strapped to his seat, so a bunch of neighbors, we just picked him up and dragged him to the other side of the parking lot away from the fire until rescue could get on the scene.
REPORTER: There was a second person in the aircraft. Did you see the second person come out?
KAVANAUGH: We did not see the second pilot, and I didn't know exactly where the plane had crashed, but I knew we had gas lines in the building, so we had to get -- get him away from where we were. I kept hearing secondary explosions going off. I don't know if that was fuel, gas lines in the apartment or what. I knew we had to leave.
REPORTER: So when the pilot came down he was still strapped to his ejection seat?
KAVANAUGH: Still strapped to his chute and the seat.
REPORTER: That's unusual because they generally separate from those. They were taken off.
KAVANAUGH: He had something on his lower half of his body, something heavy because he was heavy.
REPORTER: And you and some neighbors were able to get him out.
KAVANAUGH: We were able to pick him up and dragged him on the other side of my apartment complex, away from the flames until we could get more people -- EMS on the scene to strap him up and take him out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNS: Another witness who lives very close to the scene of the crash tells what it was like when the plane went down.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEITH GUTKOWSKI, FOUND EJECTED SEAT OF PLANE (via telephone): I was actually in the house. My wife had come out to just check to see what the weather was like outside, and when she walked outside of the condo she heard -- she heard the jet, and then just saw it almost fall out of the sky. It did come down with its nose up and it was almost at a -- at an angle pointing towards us.
The actual crash site is probably 75 yards from where we are and the ejection seat came over. It hit one of the oak trees and took a few branches off of that and then it slammed into our fence at the condo and went through the fence into the home next door.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNS: So what are the protocols when a fighter jet is in danger of crashing? I'll ask a former Navy pilot exactly what happens in an emergency like this.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
JOHNS: Our breaking news: a Navy jet slams into an apartment complex in Virginia Beach, sending flames and smoke into the air. The crew members ejected and survived.
Next, an urgent effort to account for everyone on the ground. Let's go now to CNN's Chad Myers in Atlanta.
Chad, you've been watching this closely and I've been keeping up with your reporting.
CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Joe. You know what? A very populated area for the naval air station to be right in the middle of Virginia Beach here, the big boardwalk. Everybody knows about Virginia Beach, and then the rest of the area called Hampton Roads, but you have Norfolk, and Chesapeake and Suffolk, and this entire area now much more populated than when the naval air station Oceana was installed.
Let's fly you through what happened today. We'll get you right to where Virginia Beach is. We'll start this all over again so you can get an idea for where the crash happened to the beach, one mile -- from the end of the runway to the crash, two and a half miles. So not a lot of time at 200 and something miles per hour, this plane's going about 200 knots as it left here, run way 5R, taking off toward the beach and leaving the naval air station.
At some point, something catastrophic happened here where the pilot at some point knew that this plane wasn't going fly. If you follow a straight line, it will take you right here, to this side of the map, way over here. But at the very last moment we know the plane began to tilt to the right, kind of just using it to the right and that plane did not go in a straight line, it curved off to the right and it landed right there in the Mayfair Mews Apartment complex and right through that little area right there.
From the airport, a straight line takes it north to Mews and as the pilots ejected the plane tilted to the right and so did the plane kind turned off to the right, and as the plane lost its altitude right there into the apartments -- Joe.
JOHNS: So for people just joining us, this is something that happened very, very quickly, just upon takeoff. Chad, I'd like you to just stay right there.
I'm going to bring in Max Carey, a former Navy pilot.
Max, we basically want to know from you, when something like this happens, you obviously go through a checklist, a series of protocols. What were the pilots thinking about when this plane started listing there right after takeoff?
MAX CAREY, FORMER NAVY PILOT: Joe, they -- they've practiced this so many times. They've drilled this for hours and hours and hours and hours, what do I do in this situation? What's my emergency procedure? What are my cues? What do I look at? What do I touch?
And there is a sequence in a matter of seconds and they'll go through 20, 30, 40, as many as 50 cues instantly to make a decision. Now, in this situation, right after takeoff, a very unforgiving environment, they would have had very little time.
What most don't realize is that jet when the engines are not firing at full power is like a stone, and it drops out of the sky. I'm sure they did everything they could to save the aircraft and based on the cues, they had to eject where they did.
JOHNS: Now, that's the next question. Obviously, it's very early and we certainly don't want to get into too much of a speculation game here. But based on your own judgment, do you have some sense as to what could have happened?
CAREY: Well, based on the trajectory of the airplane, it would be my guess that they lost power. Had they lost control it would have rolled more abruptly. There would have been different activity with the airplane as it headed to the ground.
So, my guess is they lost power and they started to fall and there is a very, very brief envelope of time when you can still save yourself and your crew by getting out of the player plane and that's what they did. Please know they would have considered the fact that there were buildings around and they would have stayed with the aircraft as long as possible. Every pilot goes through a moral process prior to their own personal process.
JOHNS: We've heard reports on CNN earlier today that there was fire seen under the right wing of the plane. What does that tell you?
CAREY: That tells you that they were about to explode. That's the most frightening thing for a pilot. You're sitting on 10,000 pounds of jet fuel which is essentially kerosene. They were sitting on 10,000 pounds of kerosene, and that was the other consideration that would have been pressing heavily as they made their choices.
JOHNS: I have a picture I want to show you of the plane as it was going down. You were talking about the fuel there. If they were dumping fuel at the same time, doesn't that potentially create a serious problem?
CAREY: Well, I don't know that they were -- I don't see fuel being dumped there. I'm not sure that they were dumping fuel. They were sitting on the fuel.
I mean, obviously, that's what propels the aircraft, and it was ready for takeoff, they probably had fuel full when they came off.
So, hard to say whether they decided to dump fuel before the crash. I would think not.
JOHNS: Now, for our viewers who aren't familiar, this isn't the average sort of garden variety gasoline we're talking about. It's much more combustible, correct?
CAREY: It is highly combustible. Essentially, it's just like kerosene. The same characteristics as kerosene, but it is highly explosive and as you can see burns very dirty, which is really unfortunate.
Blessings, blessings, pilots, both pilots alive due to the quick reaction, and fortunately blessings on no one killed on the ground. That's a miracle, Joe.
We've also gotten reports that at least one of the two Navy personnel who ejected from the plane was seen on the ground with the seat from the plane still attached. What does that suggest?
CAREY: Well, the part of the seat that was attached is intended to be attached. All of the mechanics of the seat worked properly and it allowed the parachute to blow itself literally with an explosive charge off the back of the pilot.
So that part of the seat worked perfectly. The parachute would deploy and the canopy blossomed and the part that you see is simply a survival kit, which has essentials should he land in the water or enemy territory for some ways to survive until a rescue could take place.
JOHNS: These are very well-known jets. They're the very same jets, as I understand it, that the Blue Angels Air Acrobatics team flies. People know them well. What's it like to fly a plane like this?
CAREY: You know, it truly is indescribable. We used to call it the e-ticket ride at Disneyworld. Your first landing, you land on the carrier deck and you go from almost 200 miles an hour to zero in three seconds.
And your gloves are rolled down your wrists and your socks are rolled down your ankles and your eyeballs are in the back of your head and you go from standing still to 200 miles an hour in 3.1 seconds and your socks roll back up and your eyeballs recage. There's nothing quite like it.
JOHNS: Need for speed. One thing I think we'll see in the coming days in all likelihood is questions about whether such jets ought to be flying over populated areas like the Hampton Rhodes area there in Virginia. In your view, is there any problem with it? Have we seen a lot of accidents or for the most part is it safe?
CAREY: I think if you track the accident rate, it's actually very safe and accidents are very, very rare. And there is an enormous commitment within the military environment, particularly the carrier Navy, naval aviation for protection and for maintenance of aircraft and to avoid those situations.
If you look at the statistics, you will see it's very rare. The last time I was in Pensacola Beach and the Blue Angels were performing there was a loud noise as it came over and crossed over the beach.
And the woman complained and her husband turned around and said, what's the matter, dear? Don't you like the sound of freedom? This is the sound of freedom and this is what we must do.
JOHNS: Max Carey, thanks so much. Appreciate you coming in.
CAREY: My pleasure and once again, blessings and thank God.
JOHNS: We'll have much more on our breaking news, the crash of a Navy jet into an apartment complex in Virginia Beach. Fiery devastation at the scene. Rescuers searching for possible victims on the ground.
And President Obama already has a strong lead among women voters. Can Democrats take advantage? James Carville and Will Cain are standing by for a "Strategy Session."
JOHNS: A health scare for Rick Santorum's family. Mary snow is monitoring that and other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Mary, what do you have?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Joe. Well, Rick Santorum's 3-year-old daughter, Isabella, is in the hospital, that's according to a campaign spokesman.
She suffers from a chromosomal condition called trisomy 18, which results in health and developmental problems. Isabella was also hospitalized in January with pneumonia. The campaign says the Santorum family is requesting prayers and privacy.
A dramatic end to a bizarre odyssey for a Japanese fishing trawler. It's the boat you see burning here. It was swept out to sea in last year's tsunami and has been drifting in the pacific ever since. But as it approached the coast of Alaska, the coast guard deemed it a hazard so yesterday a cutter opened fire on it and sank it.
Just who is that rounding the bases at Wrigley Field. It's none other than comedian Bill Murray having a little fun before he threw out the first pitch at the Cubs season opener against the Washington Nationals.
Check this out, Murray says his slide into home plate may have actually been a collapse. The "Saturday Night Live" alum is a Chicago native -- Joe.
JOHNS: Thanks, Mary.
A White House women's conference gets very political. Details of president Obama's warning about the Republican agenda.
Plus, the new jobs numbers and their impact on the race for the White House. James Carville and Will Cain are standing by for a "Strategy Session."
JOHNS: A heavy dose of politics injected into an Annual White House Conference on Women with President Obama saying Republican policies would reverse progress that his administration has made.
White House correspondent Dan Lothian has more on that. Dan, what's going on over there?
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, this is the third year in a row that the White House has held this conference. The president from early on in his administration has talked about making issues about women and girls a top priority.
So today his administration releasing this 55-page report that they say show cases some of the achievements that various agencies in this administration have done that will benefit women.
But as you know, any time you talk about something like this during an election year where the female vote is so important, it's hard to escape questions about politics.
LOTHIAN (voice-over): At home, the president is surrounded by women. He has strong views on the recent controversy over the all-male Augusta National Golf Club.
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He believes, his personal opinion, is that women should be admitted.
LOTHIAN: And when it comes to science and engineering, closing the pay gap and health care, the president defends his administration's effort in tackling the challenges facing women.
Even though he told an audience at the White House Conference on Women and the Economy that the recent partisan debate on the issue was oversimplified.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Women are not some monolithic bloc. Women are not an interest group. You shouldn't be treated that way.
LOTHIAN: But there's no question the Obama administration and his re- election campaign realized the value of the female vote. In key swing states, he holds a 54 percent to 36 percent advantage over GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As we get closer and closer, both parties seem to wake up and say, my gosh, we need to capture the women's vote and this is important and it almost appears as though it's an afterthought.
LOTHIAN: In his appeal, Romney has been making the case that the president's policies have hurt all Americans including women.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I talked to women who express how much it's costing to fill up the tank of gasoline and to get to and from work and take kids to school and it's getting prohibitively expensive.
LOTHIAN: And the Republican National Committee seized on the mixed jobs report to take a shot at the president's pitch to women, saying in a statement, quote, "Across America women are feeling the pain of the weak economy, in the job market and at the kitchen table."
While the president's aides insisted this focus on women had nothing to do with politics, they were left on the defensive after their motives were questioned.
CARNEY: We're focusing on women because there are a number of issues that are important with regards to women in the economy, women safety. Women in education that are very distinct and important and we are proud to host the conference.
LOTHIAN: Now the president today told the women that when his critics are talking about things like repealing health care reform or doing away with Planned Parenthood that this would directly impact them.
But he also seemed to be acknowledging some of the political pressure that he's been under pointing out that even in victories, sometimes things don't always move forward. Sometimes they move backward if you're not fighting for them.
But, Joe, I can tell you that expect to continue hearing from Republicans, that narrative that this administration, what we have done has hurt all Americans.
But women in particular and going back to that statement from the RNC that I referenced earlier, they pointed out that in their words, women deserve better and that in November, the president will be held accountable.
JOHNS: Dan Lothian, thanks so much for that reporting from the White House.
A sharp slowdown in hiring. The latest jobs numbers are much lower than expected. What that means for the economy and the campaign in our "Strategy Session" next.
And the latest on our breaking news, the fiery crash of a Navy jet into a Virginia Beach apartment complex.
JOHNS: Going back now to our top story of the day, that is that F/A- 18 fighter jet that crashed into the apartment building in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
On the phone right now is Virginia Beach Mayor William Sessoms. Mayor, can you hear me?
MAYOR WILLIAM SESSOMS, VIRGINIA BEACH, VIRGINIA (via telephone): Yes, I can.
JOHNS: You are at the scene right now as I understand it. What can you tell me?
SESSOMS: No, I just left the scene. What a sober -- two buildings partially destroyed and perhaps, either two or three buildings that are completely demolished.
I'm happy to say the buildings that they were able to get through for the partially destroyed one, I am happy to say we didn't find anyone in them.
I don't know what to expect with the other buildings at this point. We haven't been able to get into the area. They're destroyed, but the heat has prevented firefighters from getting in there.
JOHNS: So Mayor, how many buildings have they been able to get into and determined that there was no one there?
JOHNS: And there are how many buildings left?
SESSOMS: I believe, and I can't tell you specifically. I know there are no more than five. It's either four or five, but because of the way they were demolished, I couldn't tell you, but it's either four or five buildings.
JOHNS: Is it your understanding that these buildings were occupied by people presently living there as opposed to some of the buildings perhaps being vacant?
SESSOMS: I would have assumed all of the buildings were occupied. Therefore, I feel very blessed that we didn't have any casualties found in the first two buildings. I don't know what to expect with the other buildings until they get in there in a few hours.
JOHNS: Can you give us an update on the number of injuries, as you understand it?
SESSOMS: Right now, again, as it stands now, the two pilots were transported to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries and other than that, some very minor other issues have gone to the hospital.
But to report specifically right as we speak, we've been very blessed with no serious injuries whatsoever, but we still have three more buildings to get into.
JOHNS: OK, then. I didn't quite hear you correctly there. What you said nine nonlife-threatening injuries, correct, Mayor?
JOHNS: OK. There's been some controversy, as we understand it about whether these jets ought to be flying in and out of Oceana Air Base. Can you sort of bring us up-to-date on whether there's been a move in the community to get rid of the air base or whether people -want it to stay?
SESSOMS: Well, first of all, I'm more concerned right now about, you know, our search and rescue going on. I will give you a general answer to your question.
The Navy is a major part of our city, and as a city, we have always worked diligently with the Navy so that it can stay a big part of our city.
JOHNS: Got it. And do you have a sense as to how long it will be before those other buildings can be searched?
SESSOMS: I would hope this evening at the very latest. The Navy has been working with us and they brought over a special truck, which allows some special foam to be put over the smoke, which is toxic. And once that is knocked down and the heat is somewhat reduced, we'll be able to get people in there obviously in the next few hours.
JOHNS: All right, Mayor William Sessoms of Virginia Beach, Virginia, we thank you for jumping on the line and giving us an update.
SESSOMS: Thank you very much.
JOHNS: More on the breaking news just ahead, but first, the latest jobs numbers, which is much lower than expected. What that means for the economy and the campaign. James Carville and Will Cain coming up next.
JOHNS: The latest employment figure shows a sharp slowdown in hiring last month. Employers added only 120,000 new jobs in March, half as many as February. The unemployment rate dropped from 8.3 percent to 8.2 percent, but that may be due to people leaving the job market.
More now on our "Strategy Session" with CNN political contributors, Democratic strategist James Carville and Will Cain, the columnist for theblaze.com. And James Carville, I'll start with you.
These numbers do look a bit bleak for at least what we are expecting here at cnnmoney.com. How does the administration spin this to make it look not worse than it is?
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all, I don't think that they do and there's an expression in baseball that you're only as good as tomorrow's starting pitch and you're only as good as next year's job number.
By comparison in July of 2004, the economy created 73,000 jobs and President Bush went on to win the election. I don't think you should tout good numbers when you have them and I don't think the opposition should tout bad numbers.
Because the numbers change month to month and the public know how to feel about this so I wouldn't spin it as good. I would say there was a need to do more, and I would have said the same last month, too.
JOHNS: Will Cain, do you think this is a home run for Mitt Romney who's running for president now? Do you think he can use this?
WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, I love James and I come through right here. Let's not spin these numbers at all. I mean, they're not very good. You can't put a happy face on them, and they're half of what everyone was expecting or half from what the numbers were last month.
That doesn't mean we should predict doom and gloom and say Republicans can run out and say Obama's ruing the economy this month, they might be different next month. What's more important is the trend, right?
We've been adding jobs in the last several months and we dropped this month. What does that mean going forward? Does that show a trend slowing down? I don't know. I'll tell you it looks wobbly right now, we'll see what it look like a month from now.
JOHNS: I want to take you to a piece we saw from Dan Lothian just a little while ago. This issue of the gender gap. The administration certainly, James, appears to be instigating, if you will, pushing women's issues at a time when it's pretty clear that Republicans are running a big gender gap with the president. The question, though, from the campaign trail, you hear people saying the biggest issue, the biggest women's issue is the economy at least that comes from Republicans.
JOHNS: Do you think Republicans can make that case?
CARVILLE: Well, look, they can make the case. It doesn't mean the president can't make his case either. The Democrats, the last time we lost the women's vote was probably 1988. So the president won it by 13, I think in 2008.
He's obviously going to win it this time. But he has to win it because they don't do that well with men. This is an election year, and by the way, this is the third year in a row they've done it.
But I don't think there's anything wrong with the president drawing a contrast, nor do I think there's anything wrong with Romney talking about it either. It's the necessary part of the election-year politics.
JOHNS: Will Cain, do you think the president is instigating?
CAIN: Yes, I do. I think James is right. It's been a 30-year trend for women to skew Democratic, but that doesn't mean the president hasn't tried to enhance it.
I think we had the last month that was rich, where the president was saying women weren't an interest group. Over the last month, we've redefined the access to mean free in terms of birth control.
We've redefined religious liberties debate over contraception into a war on women. I think it has created some kind of a gap, typical for history even though women are skewing Democrat for some time.
For Republicans, they'll have to somehow spin that back to the truth, which is there is no war on women in any form or fashion.
JOHNS: Well, the other question, James, go ahead.
CARVILLE: He'll have to tell Senator McCowski, and the Democrats think the contraception is the good thing and the Republicans don't like contraception. Women that don't like contraception should vote Republican. The women that do should vote Democratic.
It's simply that, but there's nothing wrong with the president again, trying to draw some blood on this issue and there's nothing wrong with the Republicans fighting back and it's a good part of election-year politics.
JOHNS: The Romney campaign has been -- go ahead.
CAIN: I was going to say, we can pull it down into simplicities like that, if you like contraception vote for Democrat, and if you don't like contraception, vote for Republicans. I guess, I can in turn say, if you like liberty vote for Republicans and if you don't like liberty, vote for Democrats.
JOHNS: Well, the other thing very quickly, I just want to get you both on the record on this. Ann Romney has been out there trying to sort of help Mitt Romney on the campaign trail with this gender gap problem. Do you think that works and I'll ask you, James Carville, do you think it works?
CARVILLE: No. They're going to try something. Get a guy's wife to say that he's good, that's not very --
JOHNS: All right.
CARVILLE: -- very persuasive argument to people.
JOHNS: OK, all right, I'm going to cut you guys off because they're telling me I got to go. Thanks so much to you both, Will Cain and you, James Carville.
CARVILLE: Thank you.