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Two Dead in London Helicopter Crash; Dreamliner Nightmare; Cracking Down on Assault Weapons; NRA Ad Calls Obama "Elitist Hypocrite"; New York Gets Tougher on Guns; Sandy Relief Bill; Fallout From Armstrong's Admission

Aired January 16, 2013 - 06:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Rush hour horror. Stunned commuters watch as a helicopter crashes near a London train station.

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

ROMANS: And guns in America. The president set to unveil his plan to combat violence from guns in just a matter of hours.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans. Zoraida Sambolin off today, resting her voice we hope.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. It is Wednesday, January 16th. It is 6:00 a.m. in the East.

We're going to begin with a developing story out of London where a helicopter hit a crane and crashed into a construction site this morning right by the Thames River. This is a very, very busy part of the city. It happened during rush hour.

Emergency personnel on the scene right now, two people have been killed and two more have been taken to area hospitals. Joining us now on the phone from London is CNN's Dan Rivers. He is live at the scene of the crash. Dan, what is the latest right now?

DAN RIVERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): OK, so we've got two dead, one critically injured, and eight more with minor injuries. Helicopter hit a construction crane that was building a skyscraper in a very busy part of the city, just to the south of the Thames. It's actually near in the new U.S. Embassy is going to be built.

There is a kind of intersection, a big road intersection, a main railway line going through there. It's frankly incredible that more people weren't killed or injured. This is right in the middle of the rush hour. The helicopter hit the crane and then fell to the ground.

Eyewitnesses this morning said they heard a huge explosion. We've seen amateur footage of lots of debris on fire on the road below. Frankly, incredible this wasn't worse. At the moment, it appears that the crane was shrouded in morning mist and fog and that may have contributed to the cause of the accident.

Obviously, we don't know for certain, but there is no suggestion at the moment other than that. No suggestion that this is terrorism.

BERMAN: At the current time, Dan, what is the situation in London? Has this tied up traffic for thousands?

RIVERS: It's complete mayhem in South London, yes. The police have shot all the major roads around here, so there is nothing moving south of the river in the Vauxhall area, a complete gridlock down here. But they were amazingly quick to respond.

The area that it happened is pretty sensitive as well. It's where MI- 6, where the fictional James Bond worked, the secret intelligence service, that's just around the corner. But on any normal day, there is an enormous place presence here anyway. That may have helped them get there quickly.

BERMAN: All right, a chaotic morning in London this morning. Dan Rivers, our thanks to you.

ROMANS: Another big story we're following for you 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 grounded 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 incidents, with the plane many see as the future of commercial aviation. Federal regulators have promised a sweeping review of the jet after several issues in the past two weeks now.

BERMAN: President Obama taking action today. He says to try to prevent future mass shootings he is officially unveiling his gun control plan. This is what we know about it. 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 a month since the Newtown massacre, the debate over gun control has only intensified with membership in the National Rifle Association reportedly surging. The NRA has touted 250,000 new members and the NRA is vowing to fight the president's plan saying, their second amendment rights are under attack.

White House correspondent Dan Lothian is following the developments. Dan, break down this plan for us here.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, John. This is a much-anticipated plan and some of it according to sources is what the president has backed in the past. For example, the assault weapons ban shortly after the Connecticut shooting.

Some members of Congress said that this is something that they would push for. Again, the president and the vice president both came out in support of that. So that according to sources is on the president's list of recommendations.

In addition to that, he hopes to press for a ban on those high- capacity magazines, and a new part of this is with more than ten rounds. That's important, because it would limit the ability of a gunman to be able to fire off multiple rounds, such as 30 rounds in a shorter period of time.

And then universal background checks for anyone purchasing a gun would have to undergo not only criminal checks, but also mental health checks, whether you are buying a gun at a gun show or through private sales.

And then, you know, finally, one issue that's been talked about, mental illness, everyone agrees that's a component of this debate. So the president wants to make sure that there are funds available to treat mental illness.

So the president is pushing some things that need Congressional approval, but also will be doing some things alone through executive order. White House spokesman Jay Carney saying that the president realizes that there are limits to what he can do on his own within the existing law -- John.

BERMAN: And we talked about the NRA's opposition. Overnight, they released a new ad that has generated an enormous amount of discussion and controversy.

LOTHIAN: That's right. And you know, the NRA has been very critical because there are concerns about whatever is put out. These federal regulations could impact their second amendment rights. So they are coming out with this very critical ad at the same time that the president is rolling out his package going after the president, calling him hypocritical.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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: Now that ad will be running on the "Sportsman Channel." That is a cable channel that has a lot of viewers who are gun owners. It will also post it on the internet. And it's not just this opposition, not just coming from the NRA, but there is a sheriff out in Oregon who says that he will not enforce any federal regulations that he believes will be offending constitutional rights of his citizens -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Dan Lothian in Washington. Thanks for being with us this morning. You want to keep it here because later this morning, Wolf Blitzer anchors special coverage as the president unveils his gun control proposals. Join Wolf right here starting at 11:30 a.m. Eastern Time. ROMANS: All right, New York is already taking the lead on combating gun violence and if a freshly signed gun control bill is enforced, it could be one of the toughest places to buy, sell or own a firearm. Cracks down even harder on assault weapons banning any semi-automatic with a detachable magazine and one military style feature, it limits magazine clips to seven rounds instead of 10. Most gun licenses have to be renewed every five years and background checks will be required at all gun sales, including private ones.

BERMAN: Two people were killed when an apparent domestic fight erupted in gunfire. This happened at a community college parking lot in Western Kentucky. A third victim, a female in her teens, was injured and transported to a local hospital. Police now have two people in custody.

ROMANS: And it was a chaotic scene at a business school shooting in downtown St. Louis on Tuesday. A student reportedly shot a financial adviser in the chest before shooting himself. Both men were taken to St. Louis University Hospital. They are expected to survive. Police are still not sure what the motive was for the shooting.

And a big package of federal aid for Superstorm Sandy victims, finally approved in the House. Lawmakers passed the bill, which directs more than $50 billion to storm-ravaged states in the northeast. That's on top of the almost $10 billion in flood insurance already approved. Final passage comes two and a half months after Sandy pounded the region wiping out the entire coastal communities. The disaster aid package will be considered again by the Senate following the inauguration.

BERMAN: So it is some icy, slippery, dangerous conditions this morning for the morning commute. A big winter storm, sleet and black ice posing a threat for the mid-south to the north east. Jennifer Delgado is in Atlanta with an update on that. Hi, Jennifer.

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi, John. Hi, Christine. You're right. This is our storm system we're talking about still extending from parts of Louisiana all the way up towards Maine. As we show you on the radar, the rain, wintry mix and, of course, the snow.

But we start off down toward the south. I want to point out, for areas like Eastern Texas as well as Central Texas, still looking at a bit of that wintry precipitation. It's really going to be affecting parts of the Lower Mississippi Valley as well as the Tennessee Valley region.

As we go through the morning hour and then about 6:00 local time, we are going to see an improvement. As we move up toward the north, we have snow coming down for parts of New York as well as into Pennsylvania. And a lot of this is really going to be accumulating in an area just north of Interstate 80.

Now we'll help you kind of time this out maybe if you are heading out to work right now for the ice storm warning, parts of Louisiana as you can see for Mississippi. That goes until 6:00 a.m. and then as we move up toward parts of the Mid-Atlantic region, this will last until 11:00.

This is where we're talking the snow, and parts of New England, 4:00 p.m., and for Maine, it looks like up until 10:00 or 11:00 tonight. The snow we're talking 2 inches to 4 inches and then some areas of the north, including parts of Connecticut as well as up towards Boston, 4 inches to 6 inches of snowfall.

And we're talking a lot of rain still for parts of New York. You saw it there this morning. Hopefully you have some Wellies.

BERMAN: All right, Jennifer Delgado, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

So most of America hasn't even seen it yet, but disgraced cycling legend Lance Armstrong's TV confession to Oprah Winfrey making plenty of waves. We'll have the latest coming up.

ROMANS: Plus the search for life on Mars. This latest discovery has scientists hopeful.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. Lance Armstrong, he finally fessed up. He told Oprah Winfrey telling her that he lied all those years when he denied ever using performance enhancing drugs.

But the World Anti-Doping Agency not impressed. Officials say nothing short of a full confession under oath will get them to reconsider Armstrong's lifetime ban from competition.

CNN's George Howell is live in Austin, Texas, with some more reaction to what Armstrong said. George, you're from Austin. You have ties to the community down there. I was talking to people from there yesterday who said frankly they felt betrayed and devastated by what Armstrong has done.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, good morning. It is sort of a mixed bag though, you know, and I did. I got to work in Austin as a local news reporter, long before this story existed that Armstrong co- owns here and I grew up here, I went to school here, it's my hometown as well.

So I remember what it was like watching Lance Armstrong come along. I mean, this is a guy who not only inspired people as an athlete, but also inspired people as a cancer survivor. For the city of Austin, Texas, he was a real source of pride and inspiration.

So now, you know, looking at it, you can't help but be disappointed. Some people are angry about it. But when you talk to people on the streets of Austin, you get a sense that they haven't lost sight of the good things he has done throughout his career as well. Take a listen.


DAVID WAINWRIGHT, AUSTIN RESIDENT: It's sad, I mean, you know, he's -- he's our Austin boy, and we're -- again, I'm saddened about it. I don't like it. You know, people make mistakes. He made some mistakes. But as far as like tarnishing the legacy that is, if at the very least what he's done for cancer, I have no problem with him continuing on in that role.


HOWELL: You know, here in Texas, John, you know, there is a saying, no one likes being taken for a ride. So, you know, a lot of people feel like they were taken for a ride here. For years Lance Armstrong has told people that he did not take part in doping, but now the world awaits this interview on Thursday where he will say in his own words that he did, indeed, take part in doping.

BERMAN: There are huge repercussions, not just for Lance Armstrong, not just on the people who are on the receiving end of his what some call attacks when he was denying using performance enhancing drugs, but there's also ramifications for sports in general. And word that at least one Olympics official is speculating that cycling could now be dropped from the games.

HOWELL: From the International Olympic Committee (AUDIO GAP) I want to quote this. He says, "The only way cycling is going to clean up its act is if all the people say, hey, we're no longer in the Olympics and that's where we want to be so let's earn our way back into it."

So, there's this idea of taking cycling out of the Summer Olympics once or twice so, you know --

BERMAN: All right. We have this programming note. That was George Howell. Our thanks to him in Austin.

We'll have much more, of course, on Lance Armstrong and the repercussions here. A new version of CNN documentary, "THE WORLD ACCORDING TO LANCE ARMSTRONG," will air Sunday at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, with replays at 1:00 and 4:00 a.m. It includes the Oprah Winfrey interview and the reaction to it.

ROMANS: And will Americans think that he just made some mistakes or a complete fraud? I mean, were those mistakes or was that Lance looking up for number one in manufacturing, you know, Lance as the king of the world?

BERMAN: We'll reserve judgment until we see the interview.

ROMANS: All right. Sixteen minutes after the hour.

Let's check the morning's top stories. Two people dead, two others injured after a helicopter crashed into a crane atop a new building in London. Te chopper plunging to the ground near a major transit hub during rush hour.

On strike, New York City school bus drivers are walking the picket line. The citywide strike affects more than 150,000 students who were scrambling this morning for alternate routes to and from school today. At issue for the driver's union, the city's plan to privatize school bus contracts. BERMAN: Water on Mars? Could be. NASA says the Curiosity Rover discovered rocks in the Red Planet that were once saturated with water. The rover sent back pictures of rock with deep veins and mineral deposits. Those are indications that water did flow in the surface of Mars a long, long time.

Next, Curiosity is expected to drill into the rock to collect samples for analysis.

ROMANS: And what's most telling is the graffiti they found on those rocks. Just kidding!

An Englewood, California, man has experienced his own version of reality TV. He was watching a high-speed chase on TV, when all of a sudden the car with cops in hot pursuit passed right in front of him. Look, he's watching it on TV and then it passed his window. Police eventually arrested the driver led them pursuit. They said the driver only a boy who declined to reveal his age.

BERMAN: It's like excellent in cinematography. That's something you see in a Scorsese movie.

ROMANS: Why is he taking pictures of the TV? That's another question all together.

BERMAN: Seventeen minutes after the hour right now. Time for "Early Reads", that's your local news making national headlines.

And we're going to start from this, from "The Oregonian," where the Linn County sheriff says he won't let his deputies enforce new gun regulations that he considers as unconstitutional.

ROMANS: Constitutional (INAUDIBLE).

BERMAN: Linn County sheriff, his name is Tim Mueller. He wrote a letter to the White House in protest. The letter written to Vice President Joe Biden was posted on the agency's Facebook page.


SHERIFF TIM MUELLER, LINN COUNTY, OREGON: You can ban every firearm out there, and it's not going to fix it. People that are going to commit these kind of heinous acts, they're going to find a way to do it.


BERMAN: It is worth noting that law enforcement officials are often on the vanguard of fighting gun violence and many of them are widely supported of new gun measures.

Our affiliate KION reports that Mueller does think treating mental illness is helpful. But he says harsher sentences are the way to go. At least one other sheriff in Kentucky who also says that he will not comply with any new gun laws. ROMASN: reports that President Obama has ordered all presidential vehicles to display a protest license plate beginning this weekend. The plate carries the phrase "taxation without representation." Of course, it refers to residents of D.C. They pay taxes but don't have a vote in Congress.

The White House says after living in Washington for four year, the president recognizes the unfairness that D.C. residents face every day. The license plates will be displayed on the presidential vehicles for the duration of Mr. Obama's second term.

BERMAN: Bill Clinton used the license plate. George W. Bush took the license off the car. And President Obama did not put it back on, and there was a lot of criticism he received from inside the D.C. community that he wasn't supportive enough of Washington, D.C. rights.

So this is throwing of a bone, I think.

ROMANS: For an expanded look at all the top stories, please head to our blog, You can follow us all on Facebook and Twitter. Just search for EarlyStartCNN.

BERMAN: And it is a black eye for Boeing. Dreamliner jumbo jets now grounded by two airlines after another serious incident, another one. We'll have a live report, coming up.


ROMANS: Minding your business. More problems for Boeing. One of its 787 Dreamliners taken -- had to make an emergency landing in Japan overnight. Two cockpit alarms went off and a burning smell was detected in the cabin on this ANA flight. Several people injured. All Dreamliners operated by Japan Airlines and ANA have been grounded.

Six incidents since the start of the year with this particular aircraft.

CNN aviation correspondent Richard Quest, he's joining me now from Seoul in South Korea. Richard, why so many issues with this plane?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: If you listen to Boeing and the experts in aviation, they will say they are teething problems that always happen with this new aircraft. But there are critics who say there's something more going on.

This is a revolutionary plane, new carbon fibers, new way of assembling it, Christine, and they say that something has gone awry in the supply chain or manufacturing of it. That is why we have an FAA investigation. We also now have a Japanese regulatory investigation, and the Japanese ministry authorities saying today that today's incident was more serious.

Now, the plane performed as it was supposed to, there were warning signs and alarms, but certainly the airlines will be saying to Boeing, what's going on? ROMANS: Certainly. As someone said to Twitter, I would prefer in the airline wasn't teething at 30,000 feet. I like those kinks to work out before, I'm flying on it.

Should people be scared to get on a Dreamliner?

QUEST: No, I don't think so, because as I say, the systems work as it is. There is a difference, there's a fundamental difference between the safety testing that's done on this plane, that's being tested up the wazoo over many, many months, and the operational day in/day out testing that happens only once the plane starts flying.

But here is something that does -- is worth thinking about. You have now got two airlines, JAL and ANA, who have half the fleet in the air, currently grounded and you've got United Airlines, Qatar, and a few other airlines that are getting their 787s.

And in the hours ahead, we're going to be wanting to know whether those airlines still flying the Dreamliner also plan to do so, if they don't, why not? And when the Japanese planes will be flying again.

It is an extremely confusing environment if you have one set of airlines saying they are grounded and another set of airlines saying they're still flying them.

ROMANS: How disruptive is this for travelers?

QUEST: By and large, almost nonexistent. The airlines will swap in some -- JAL and ANA have canceled some flights, swapped in other aircraft, absolutely minimal. This is not at the moment an issue of disruption.

ROMANS: All right. Richard Quest, thank you for that, sir.


BERMAN: So, three months all alone at sea. Coming up, we catch up with one of the most determined competitors we have ever met racing around the world all by himself, in a sailboat.