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London Helicopter Crash; Cracking Down on Assault Weapons; Fallout from Armstrong Admission; Boeing's Bad Dream

Aired January 16, 2013 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning. A helicopter crashes in the heart of London during rush hour. We'll go live to London, straight ahead.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Boeing's bad dream. The company's much hyped Dreamliners now grounded in Japan after one of them makes an emergency landing.

ROMANS: And weather warnings. A stretch of rain, snow and ice from Texas to Maine could put a damper on travel plans.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans for you this morning. Zoraida off today.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman: It is Wednesday, January 16th, 5:00 a.m. in the East.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BERMAN: We begin with breaking news this morning. That breaking news, a helicopter has crashed into a crane at a construction site in central London, near the Thames River. This is a very busy part of the city. It happened during rush hour. Emergency personnel have raced to the scene right there. You can see it right there, near the Vauxhall Train Station, which I said, again, a very busy site in London.

ROMANS: That's right. And our Zain Verjee was just live on CNN International. She's from the scene. She was telling us exactly what's going on there. She said that two fatalities in this crash. She said someone on the ground in a burning car had been taken to the hospital and she said it had really tied up traffic in that area.

I mean, imagine, in central London, you have a crane on top of a building and then you have a helicopter that crashes into it and what kind of -- you know, just the spread of the flames and the damage on the ground. I'm told Zain is with us now.

Zain, you're there on the scene in London. You were telling me -- I'm sorry, not on the scene. You're reporting the story for me, Zain. Can you tell me what the latest is from your vantage point?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Again, casualties, two dead and two people in hospital. And there was a dramatic scene where the London fire brigades were essentially saying that they basically had to pull someone from a burning car who is now in hospital.

It's a dramatic morning here in lo London. You know, fire balls and plumes of smoke in a major commuter area. Think of something like a major area in New York City or Penn Station just shutting down. That's exactly what's happened.

A helicopter crashed into a crane on a really, really tall building in this particular area. And then what happened was it tumbled on to a major road, crashed on top of two cars. The emergency services got there on the scene pretty quickly and the fire got out sort of within 45 minutes or so. There's a major gridlock and hundreds of commuters are now stuck and they're walking to work.

BERMAN: Zain, we had audio issues at the beginning. It's John Berman here. Just to confirm, you said there are two confirmed deaths now from this incident?

VERJEE: Yes, the officials have come out and said two people are dead. It's not clear whether the pilot -- there is believed to have been only one pilot on board the helicopter -- is one of the casualties. But if you just look at that dramatic video, the burning fire ball on the streets there, it seems unlikely that would he have survived.

But, yes, two in hospital, one pulled from a burning car.

ROMANS: Zain --

VERJEE: Vauxhall is an area, guys, that you'll hear from the James Bond movies, right? This is where the Secret Service is, this is where MI-5 is. The new U.S. embassy, by the way, is supposed to move to this part of town.

But this is the scene today and it's just really lucky that the helicopter didn't crash into a huge building that had been filled with people or a big housing development which is what exists around that.

ROMANS: Right. Zain, what about visibility? There was one eyewitness who said you couldn't see the top part of the crane in the London fog.

VERJEE: That is one of the major questions being asked. Visibility is a problem this morning. Conditions are really bad. In fact, there were a lot of delays around the area for helicopters and planes coming in and out because there was such poor visibility.

This helicopter veered quite significantly off the route. There are a lot of helicopters that go back and forth because there's a huge helipad close to the area and it's busy from like 6:00 a.m. in the morning until 10:00 at night. So it's not unusual to have that kind of traffic. But this veered off course obviously and visibility it seems was an issue.

BERMAN: And, Zain, you told us a little bit about the neighborhood there. I understand it happened. The crane may have been attached to a building which is supposed to be one of the tallest residential towers in the city under construction.

VERJEE: Right. St. George's Wharf under construction. It's such a new building that if you look on Google map, you won't even see the building itself. You just see the foundation of it, you know? So, it's just very recently been constructed.

So the crane was on top of this building and that's what the helicopter crashed into. So that's one of the main concerns now, guys. You'll remember the crane after hurricane Sandy, right, in New York -- well, here's a crane in central lo London with the exact same issue.

Authorities are saying and describing it as being in a very precarious position. So, this crane is unstable. It's unsafe. It may, according to reports, just snap in two and is just dangling there from this building.

A lot of people in the area have been evacuated, obviously, too, and people will so shocked that it could very easily have crashed into, you know, a major commuter area, in it buildings already filled with people.

ROMANS: It's really one of the perils of these big urban areas, especially when talking about rush hour in central London --


ROMANS: -- or you mentioned hurricane Sandy and that crane in New York. You've got an awful lot of people, you've got very tall buildings, you have active construction sites. And a lot of different places, commuters trying to get to work, people working on buildings and air traffic, as well, lining up and down the Thames.

BERMAN: Zain, talk to me about the response mechanisms in place in London. Of course, London went through its own terror attacks. We don't think there's any connection here to that. But the same as 7/11 attacks in London really changed the way it operated after such things.

VERJEE: It did. That's exactly correct. And, you know, we just had the Olympics and queen's jubilee. So, all the security and emergency service responses were right on. Everyone was ready to go if anything happened.

According to eyewitnesses I spoke to just a short while ago, they say that the emergency services responded extremely quickly. They were on the scene right now. They've got something like eight fire engines, four fire rescue units and 65 firefighters on the ground there.

So there -- nothing's being ruled out. We're waiting to get more information from Scotland Yard about this incident. But no one has talked about terrorism, but it may just have been an unfortunate accident that one pilot just took the wrong route and ended up creating awful and dramatic scenes like this that one would never have imagined first thing in the morning waking up to a commute. Imagine you guys going into work, you know, in New York City and this is what you see. This is what commuters are experiencing today. And how people will get to work and how long it will take, no one really knows.

BERMAN: All right. It is a vivid and surprising picture to look at in downtown London.

Zain Verjee, our thanks to you in London. We'll check back in with you as soon as we can. Again, the news is at least two people killed now in a helicopter crash in a very busy section of London. Stay with us. We'll bring you more as it comes in.

ROMANS: Our other big story this morning: the entire fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners grounded by two of Japan's largest airlines. This after yet another safety problem, we're talking about 24 planes total. This time, a passenger jet was forced to make an emergency landing after another possible battery error and smoke in the cockpit.

This is the latest and most serious of incidents with the plane many see as the future of commercial aviation. Federal regulators promised sweeping review of the jet after several issues in the past two weeks for this Dreamliner.

BERMAN: You've been all over this story for a long time. This is trouble for Boeing.

ROMANS: It is. Look, this is supposed to be the future of aviation. This is a very complicated, complex, high tech plane. It started, you know, as sort of an exercise in outsourcing. You know, they had engines and fuselage and electronics made from companies all around the world and Boeing put it all together.

And from the beginning, there were opponents who said when you let go of the manufacturing process, the engineering of such a big complex plane, you're going to have problems. Some of those anti-outsourcing people are saying we told you so.

This doesn't look like it's -- the problem isn't where things were manufactured. It looks like they're trying to work out the kinks of a very complicated high tech jets.

BERMAN: Some tense moments for an important company right now.

ROMANS: Right.

BERMAN: Other news: in Washington, in the wake of the Aurora shooting, Newtown massacre, and the firefighter ambush in Webster, New York -- President Obama officially will unveil his gun control plan today.

Here's what we know about it so far. It calls for universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons, a ban on high capacity magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, and more funding for mental health programs. In the month since the Newtown massacre, the debate over gun control has only intensified with membership in the National Rifle Association reportedly surging.

The NRA is touting some 250,000 new members and vowing to fight the president's plan, saying their Second Amendment rights are under attack.

White House correspondent Dan Lothian is following all these developments in Washington. Hey, Dan. What's the latest?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning. You know, the White House sees these recommendations as a way to hopefully curb gun violence and some of these things the president has backed before such as a ban on assault weapons. The president shortly after the Connecticut shootings came out in support of that. So that's expected to be in the president's plan.

Also pressing for a ban on those high capacity magazines with more than 10 rounds. That's the important note here. The aim here is to cut down on the ability of a gunman to go in and release up to 30 rounds in a short period of time.

In addition, the president will be pushing for universal background checks so that everyone who buys a gun undergoes a criminal and mental health checks. So, this is whether you're buying a gun at a gun show, or through a private sale universal background checks.

In addition, the president wants to request funds be available for mental health illnesses, to make sure there's money there for those things to be treated. And to provide schools with the support they need for enhanced safety.

Now, the president is also expected to touch on some issues that could be done through executive action. White House spokesman Jay Carney is saying that the president realizes that there are limits to what can he do on his own through this kind of action, John.

BERMAN: And, Dan, as you mentioned, the president already facing some fierce opposition from the National Rifle Association and others.

LOTHIAN: That's right. And, you know, we've heard this now for several weeks where the NRA is very concerned about whatever the president puts out there, stepping on their Second Amendment rights. So they're pushing back very hard, releasing a television ad highly critical of the president. Take a listen.


AD NARRATOR: Are the president's kids more important than yours? Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools when his kids are protected by armed guards at their school?


LOTHIAN: This ad is expected to be running on the Sportsman Channel, this is a channel on cable that a lot of gun owners watch. In addition to that, it will be posted online. Clearly, a big P.R. push here by the NRA at the same time that the president is rolling out, rather, his recommendations, John.

BERMAN: You know, that ad hugely controversial overnight, Dan. A lot of time people saying the president's children should be off-limits. Obviously, that commercial puts his children front and center.

Dan Lothian in Washington, thanks for being with us this morning.


BERMAN: And keep it here. Later this morning, Wolf Blitzer will anchor special coverage as the president unveils his gun control plan. You want to join Wolf right here starting at 11:30 a.m. Eastern Time.

ROMANS: All right. Most of America hasn't especially seen it yet, but disgraced cycling legend Lance Armstrong's TV confession to Oprah Winfrey making plenty of waves. We've got the latest on that coming up.

BERMAN: Sure is. And we're following this breaking story out of London, a helicopter crashed near a train station in central London. You can those pictures there. We'll have more ahead on EARLY START.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BERMAN: If you're just joining us this morning -- a helicopter has crashed into a crane in a construction site in central London. This is part of a very busy part of London and it happened right in the middle of rush hour when tens of thousands of commuters were headed to work in the area.

So far, there had been two confirmed deaths, two more people have been taken to the hospital. Again, we will bring you more on this story as it develops throughout the morning.

ROMANS: All right. After the confession comes the fallout. Lance Armstrong admitting to go Oprah Winfrey that his years of angry, angry denials about doping was all one big selfish lie. The disgraced cyclist fessed up during a marathon interview which will now air in two parts, tomorrow night and Friday on Oprah's OWN network.

We don't know the full extent of his Armstrong's confession, but Oprah says she's satisfied.


OPRAH WINFREY, TV HOST: I choose not to characterize. I would rather people make their own decisions about whether he was contrite or not. I felt that he was thoughtful. I thought that he was serious. I thought that he certainly had prepared himself for this moment.


ROMANS: CNN's George Howell is live in Austin, Texas. George, you worked in Austin for a really long time. You've covered Lance Armstrong from the early days, George, in his cycling career. How are people reacting there in his hometown?

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine, good morning.

You know, it is a mixed bag. I was a reporter here in Austin long before this bike shop existed that Armstrong co-owns here in Austin. I even grew up here. This is my hometown, too.

And I remember watching Lance Armstrong come along, watching him win big once, twice, three times and so on. He not only inspired people as an athlete, but also a cancer survivor. He became a real symbol, Christine, for the city of Austin, real source of pride.

But now you can't help but be a little disappointed, feel let down. And that's really what you hear on the streets of Austin. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I actually was not surprised. I had lost a lot of respect for him years ago, because I had a feeling when all of his teammates were coming, these allegations that there was some truth to the rumors.


HOWELL: Yes. So, people are disappointed certainly, but haven't lost sight of the good things that he's done in his career, cancer charities like Livestrong, people say that there shouldn't be a cloud over those things given what's happening now, Christine.

ROMANS: We've heard rumors that he might testify against others. Some sources say he will not.

Any word from anti-doping officials on this?

HOWELL: Well, keep in mind that is what it would take for authorities to reconsider the life time ban against him for Olympic shorts. There's no official word that he would do that at this point. But, again, the World Anti-Doping Agency, they made it clear, that it would take an oath, he'd have to testify under oath and tell them everything that he those about doping. That has not happened to this point. What we're talking about come Thursday is a television interview, far different from testifying under oath.

ROMANS: You know, I think Lance Armstrong is trying to put this behind him or somehow have waged some sort of public redemption campaign. I mean, it's just been months, if not years, of allegations against him. But in the end, you know, we have to hear for ourselves what he said in this interview. But in the he lied, he cheated, and many people say he bullied anyone ho got in his way. I mean, I don't know how you overcome that.

HOWELL: You know, it's tough. And you talk to people here in Austin, it's a source of embarrassment. People are really disappointed, sad about it. But they think about the things -- the good things that he's done as well. They hope that, you know, there's no cloud over those things.

But all eyes were on what he has to say in his own words come Thursday that he did take part in doping.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks, George Howell in Austin.

And this programming note, an updated version of the CNN documentary. "THE WORLD ACCORDING TO LANCE ARMSTRONG" will air Sunday, 10:00 p.m. Eastern, with replays at 1:00 and 4:00. It will include the Oprah interview, pieces of it, and reaction to it.


BERMAN: That should be interesting. Quite a world it's turning out to be.

Federal money for superstorm Sandy victims in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut should be in the pipeline by the end of the month. House lawmakers last night approved more than $50 billion in relief for the states ravaged by the storm. This money did not come easily and it left a lot of homeless cold and confused people waiting.

Final passage comes 2 1/2 months after Sandy pounded the Northeast, wiping out entire communities. The disaster aid package will be considered again by the Senate following the inauguration.

We've had icy, slippery conditions on the morning commute this morning. We've both drove through it today. A winter storm, sleet and black ice posing a threat from the mid-South to the Northeast.

Jennifer Delgado joins us now from Atlanta. Hey, Jennifer.

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi, guys. You're right. You have the rain there, but we're still talking about freezing rain affecting the Tennessee Valley as well as the Lower Mississippi Valley.

Here is the radar for you lighting up with rain. You can see the wintry mix, as well as the snow. As we zoom in a bit for you, for areas like eastern Tennessee as well as into Kentucky, you're going to be dealing with that wintry mix.

We are seeing thing things clearing out to the West and down towards the South, including parts of Alabama as well as into Georgia, including Atlanta. Heavy rainfall some of these locations we're talking another one to two inches of rainfall.

Now, up to the North, snow is going to be the big story. We're already getting that report for areas like New York, as well as into central parts of regions like Connecticut, as well as into Pennsylvania. As we help you time this out for you, for the ice storm warning, it's really going to come to an end about 6:00 a.m. Central Time for areas including parts of the Lower Mississippi Valley. And for regions like Pittsburgh, as well as into parts of New York, we're talking some snow and we're also talking winter weather advisory last until 11:00 a.m. and then for parts of New England, through 4:00 p.m. But talking about the now, some of these locations are going to pick up two to four inches of snow and look for parts of Boston, we're going to be looking for snow through about drive time. We also could see some of that sleet.

To give you an idea how big of an area that's affected by this, we're talking 1,700-mile area with the winter weather advisory right now. Once we get this out of the way, we'll start to see better weather by Friday. But, no, still going to be a little cool through parts of the Midwest, but mild down towards the South. Nice rebound for parts of Texas that had the freezing rain, right?

BERMAN: All right. Jennifer, thank you very much. I give you personal visual confirmation of about two inches in New York City. Thanks a lot, Jennifer.

DELGADO: Absolutely.

ROMANS: Wear your boots to make sure your cell phone is charged in the Northeast on your way to work this morning for sure.

All right. It's a black eye for Boeing. Dreamliner jumbo jets now grounded by two airlines after another -- a new serious incident. A live report on that coming up.


ROMANS: All right. Minding your business this morning. More problems for Boeing. One of its 787 Dreamliner aircraft forced to make a landing in Takamatsu, Japan, overnight -- an emergency landing and evacuation of the plane. This is the plane on the runway.

While in flight, two cockpit alarms went off and a burning smell was detected in the cabin of the ANA flight. The plane was traveling from Ube (ph) to Tokyo. Several people were injured.

All Dreamliners operated by Japan Airlines and ANA have now been grounded. Boeing stock down 2 percent in afterhours trading after this latest incident. Six incidents since the start of this year along with this aircraft. Everything from leaks to battery fires and brake problems.

This is an aircraft that is supposed to be the future of aviation. It's why it's called the Dreamliner.

CNN aviation correspondent Richard Quest joins us now from Seoul, in South Korea.

Why so many problems with this plane? I know there are multiple investigations from authorities into just what's going on.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, there are. The FAA review of design, manufacture and assembly. Now, the Japanese say that they're going to have a review of the aircraft.

Boeing says that all the glitches that you expect in a brand new revolutionary plane, carbon fibers, new avionics, much lighter, much more efficient way of flying. But there are questions and the core question goes as to whether there have been problems in the supply chain. Were the parts, are there issues, have there been something -- is there something sort of smelly under the hood, if you like, that they need to get grips with.

Now, so far, there is no evidence of that, Christine. What we do have is a series of unrelated, uncoordinated issues that affect reliability and, yes, will eventually affect confidence in the aircraft. We're still some way off that, Christine, but clearly, I know for a fact, Boeing is treating this at the highest levels of seniority in the economy.

ROMANS: Well, and they should be. I mean, this is a plane that was valued from the beginning. And it was the biggest experiment in the outsourcing of complicated engineering, right? I mean, you had different companies in different countries all handling different components of a very complex and revolutionary airline. And now, to have these little glitches, the teething -- someone described to me, this is what happens -- they're teething the aircraft. It's still scary for passengers.

QUEST: There's no question. But what I would say on that question, because the core question everyone is really asking, is it still safe to fly? And that really comes to the nub of it and the answer is yes, because the redundant systems, the secondary system, the warning lights, the alarms, they are all working as they are meant to work. That is small comfort to the airlines that don't have their expensive planes in the air earning revenue, but sitting on the ground.

And you're right, it does raise questions for passengers who look at it and think, what am I getting in to on this aircraft?

Overall, Boeing has to prove quite quickly, (a), that there is a no problem long term with reliability, and, (b), for consumers, that their flights will leave on time, will not be delayed and that the plane is as I believe safe.

ROMANS: All right. Richard, we'll talk to you in the next hour. We'll talk about these delays, and what international business travelers should be doing this morning to make sure that these groundings aren't disrupting your travel plans. Richard, we'll talk to you in an hour. Thank you, sir.

BERMAN: Look forward to that.

And coming up, we're going to have more on this breaking story -- the rush hour crash of a helicopter right into central London. You're looking at live pictures.