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Train Carrying Crude Oil Derails in Canada; Boeing 777 from Seoul, South Korea, Crash Landed in San Francisco; Egyptian Situation Updated

Aired July 6, 2013 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Fredricka Whitfield, a look at the top stories we're following this hour.

Flames shot up in the air in a small Canadian town today after a train carrying oil went off the tracks. Now, officials are trying to figure out how bad it could be.

A third country extended an offer of asylum to the NSA leaker. We'll tell you which countries are willing to take in Edward Snowden.

A 911 call took center stage in the George Zimmerman trial, two mothers taking the stand with different interpretations. Which woman will the jurors believe?

A town in Canada is on edge today waiting to hear how many people might be hurt or worse after a huge train fire. The train carrying crude oil derailed earlier this morning, starting a fire that spread to buildings. This video posted on facebook shows all of it happening just moments after the fire erupted. It happened in a small town in Quebec near the border with Maine. There are reports some people are missing.

Jason Carroll joins us live from New York with more on this investigation -- Jason.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's just a terrible story, Fredricka. Details are still coming in. People on the ground said it was like an inferno, black, acrid smoke filling the skies above the small town of Lac-Megantic. Building, we are told, are still burning, emergency crews are still trying to confirm how many if any are injured or killed.

I want you to take a look at some of the video. You can see it there. Some of the video we have from the scene this all happening shortly after midnight, a train carry carrying 80 cars of crude oil derailed, it was center of the Canadian town. It created a chain reaction of explosions. Witnesses on the ground reported the resulting fire may have destroyed as many as 30 buildings in the small town. Scores of firefighters, as you can imagine, at least 30 sent in from Maine are trying to get this fire under control. One firefighter said he felt helpless in the face of it all.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (through translator): at the beginning of the fire, one couldn't do anything but watch. For the security of the firefighters, for the people's security, we have established a perimeter of security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARROLL: The scene of the accident is a town of about 6,000 people. The kind of place as one person on the ground put it, everyone knows each other. Dozens of homes have been evacuated. One thousand people evacuated a half mile perimeter as you heard from the firefighter has been set up to keep people out. Quebec provincial police are asking people to cut back on their water use. Canada's prime minister releasing a statement this afternoon saying our thoughts and prayers go out to the family answer friends of those affected by this morning's tragic train derailment and subsequent fires in Lac- Megantic, Quebec. We hope evacuees can return to their homes safely and quickly.

The Montreal Gazette is reporting the conductor locked the brakes and left. Another conductor was then supposed to take over, but the train may have rolled into the town unmanned. Police, at this point, appealing to the public to help them confirm who is and is not accounted for and we are told a press conference is scheduled 30 minutes from now. So, hopefully we will be getting some more information about the cause of all of this at that point -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: OK. Keep us posted on that.

Thanks so much, Jason Carroll.

Now overseas and breaking news out of Egypt. Opposition leader Mohammed Elbaradei will be sworn in as the country's interim prime minister today. Earlier in the day, he had been summoned to the presidential palace for talks with interim president Adly Mansour.

Bach in 2011 Elbaradei joined protesters in Tahrir Square calling for the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak. Elbaradei served for more than a decade as director-general of the international atomic energy agency and in 2005, he was awarded the Nobel peace prize, which he shared with the IAEA.

Meanwhile, the political uncertainty in Egypt has put the Obama administration in a very difficult situation, should the U.S. cut aid to Egypt or not? Republican Senator John McCain says, yes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We cannot repeat the same mistakes that we made at other times in our history by supporting the removal of freely elected governments. And so I believe the aid has to be suspended, that the Egyptian military has to set a timetable for elections and a new constitution, and then we should evaluate whether to continue the aid or not.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WHITFIELD: As news of Mohamed Elbaradei's appointment as interim prime minister reaches Egyptians, thousands of supporters have deposed Mohamed Morsy are protesting in Cairo.

All right, our senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman is live for us in Cairo.

We want to go that right, Ben, OK?

Ben, what more do you know about that situation and the swearing in?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know it's going to take place tonight. We're already hearing names of his possible members of his cabinet. What's interesting is that we do know that the Muslim brotherhood, which of course at this point is out of the equation, does not like him, but one of the members of the coalition of parties that supported the military takeover, the Salafi Nur party, (INAUDIBLE) the Islamist party has said they're going to pull out and stop supporting that interim government because of the employment of Mohamed Elbaradei.

He is somebody who has very good connections overseas, he has a very high profile but among Egyptians, many people suspect him of having what they call a foreign agenda, of not really representing the Egyptian stream, who is a diplomat with the U.N. for many years and many feel that he's really not familiar with the deep nitty gritty of Egyptian politics the way other politicians were out there. But he was somebody that appeared on the night when Abdel Fattah Al-sisi, the defense minister announced the deposal of Mohamed Morsy. So, no question he has the ear of the generals --Fredricka.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

WHITFIELD: All right, this breaking story coming out of San Francisco. We understand and we have confirmation now that there has been a plane crash possibly upon landing involving a Boeing 777. You're looking at a rather cloudy picture right now of San Francisco international airport. It's unclear too many details as to how the crash happened but we understand this Boeing 777 was operated by Asiana airlines and it did crashed while landing at San Francisco airport. Unclear whether any passengers on board are injured, whether there are evacuations taking place, whether this has constituted in using any sort of emergency slides on the exterior of the airport, but you can see the smoke there from the images taken a bit earlier than that last cloudier image that you just saw. Not really sure how many people may have been on board but this Asiana airlines flight Boeing 777 confirmation of it crashing there at San Francisco airport, of course we are trying to work our sources to find out exactly what may have happened here.

These images right now coming from our affiliate KTVU, I believe. Are these live images right now? OK, these are indeed live images right now. You see the plumes of smoke there. Most likely they have ambulances on the way to that strip, that landing strip where that plane was making that emergency landing. Not sure whether people have been evacuated from that flight. Not even clear how many people may have been on board or its origin of that flight, but making an emergency landing, so all one can surprise at this point is because there was an imagine landing authorities there on the ground in San Francisco may have had some sort of preparedness in place for this landing.

Of course, we are continuing to work our sources to find out what may have happened, what happened prior to this emergency landing and consequently now this crash. These are images taken a bit earlier, clearly the dark plumes of smoke coming from the Boeing 777, that's a very sizeable plane, one that usually has about three rows, most typically coming from Asian countries, possibly South Korea or even China, by use of this Asiana airlines.

Our Richard Quest is on the line with us right now.

Richard, perhaps some of your sources have given you an idea of what may be unfolding here at San Francisco airport. What do you know?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Well, the details are still very -- the pictures are exceptionally dramatic as you're looking at them, at the moment, as to what would have happened when this aircraft basically had the accident upon which we are now seeing.

There will be an enormous number amount of speculation on what would have caused it, the circumstances, but the 777 involved, looking at the list of accidents that have taken place on the 777 recently or at least since it came into operation, this would rank as amongst the worst once we know obviously the fatality and the injury list. Ranking, of course, alongside the British airways the one that came down on Heathrow airport, on that particular occasion of course, the plane was completely destroyed but miraculously everybody survived.

WHITFIELD: This flight, we don't know the flight number, we're still working on those sources but this Boeing 777, this Asiana airlines, you know, likely its origin coming possibly from South Korea, possibly from China or perhaps even Japan?

QUEST: Yes. I mean, I think they're looking at what the information is out of Seoul, probably out of Incheon. We're looking at the moment at the 777 looking at what the registration number of the air draft was at the moment, none of which can be confirmed. And until I do I would be very reluctant to tell you anything about this particular plane such as the manufacturer that time or where did it come from recent flights or anything like that. All that information is available and we're effort at the moment as we continue to watch exactly what might have happened but obviously coming from Inchon, crossing the pacific, crash landing at San Francisco.

WHITFIELD: And Incheon meaning Seoul, South Korea, that's a very, usually a very crowded route from Seoul, South Korea, making its way to San Francisco. Again we don't have any confirmation of how many people are on board.

QUEST: Let's get perspective, Asiana are an extremely well-known, reliable, respectable airline. Incheon airport in Seoul, in South Korea, one of the world's leading airports, regularly in recent years has been voted number one as the airport. Asiana also one of those airlines that regularly is in reviews. Looking at the aircraft trying to figure out whether it's a 777 200 or the exact nature, we'll have those details in the next few moments for you.

WHITFIELD: OK, of course. And you know, as far as we know, Richard, as we continue to trying and get some more information, all we know is this was an emergency landing and this crash taking place so one would be led to believe that a control tower there, San Francisco international airport was ready for this emergency landing, might have already had in place its ambulances, any kind of first responder apparatus in place for such a landing, right?

QUEST: I mean, until we know the nature on this, I mean, if this was an emergency landing that was declared, a declared emergency landing, then absolutely. An airport like SFO is amongst the finest in the world, if not the finest in the world in dealing with these long runways jutting out into the bay and into the ocean, extremely experienced. What we're waiting for details are of course is the nature of was it a declared emergency, did it happen all of a sudden. I beg your pardon.

WHITFIELD: Sorry. I think I don't know that was another voice getting in on this, on your line. You can go ahead and continue, Richard.

QUEST: Yes. I apologize, and yes, I mean looking at the pictures obviously a crash at speed upon landing leading to a serious fuel-fed fire of some description, but also looking at those pictures you can see the evacuation slides have been deployed and therefore we can expect obviously survivors from this incident.

WHITFIELD: OK, very good. Richard, don't go far. You're going to work some of your sources.

Meantime, also on the line with us is congressional correspondent Dana Bash who happened to be in San Francisco, in fact at that airport.

Dana, I understand you were at that airport, were you flying out, coming in? What did you see?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Well, hi, Fred.

We're trying to fly out. What happened was we were coming around the highway trying to get in to SFO and saw smoke and suddenly there was a lot of traffic, everybody kind of, you know, slowed down and we all looked over and saw white smoke on the runway. And I was heading in to the airport to come home to Washington, and suddenly a police officer drove by us and said you have to move over, you can't get into the airport right now.

So my vantage point is from the outside looking in, we can see kind of the plane's, various runways, we've been here probably for ten minutes and we have not seen a plane land or take off so it certainly feels as though everything has stopped inside the airport and it certainly is the case for people like me trying to get into the airport to leave, doesn't look like that's going to happen any time soon.

WHITFIELD: Right. So, you're still in the car. So about, what's the distance of where you are and the vantage point of seeing the smoke and say perhaps the entrance of the airport, are you talking about miles or feet?

BASH: You know, what we're talking about maybe a mile I would say, maximum, but we can absolutely see it coming around the highway to the entrance of the airport. You could see on the runway the smoke billowing up from the runway, from this airplane that clearly had crashed, but it probably happened just before we turned the corner, because everybody was going at regular speed and then suddenly everything sort of stopped. It was quite eerie.

WHITFIELD: All Dana Bash hold on a second.

For people just joining us here, you're looking at live pictures thanks to our affiliate in San Francisco KTVU. You're looking at live plumes of smoke there and if you even see firefighters trying to douse the flames, douse the smoke right now of what is believed to be a Boeing 777, that we have confirmed a Boeing 777, that crashed upon landing there at San Francisco international airport.

Initial reports have been that this was an emergency landing, and if that is indeed the case, most likely the airport had emergency personnel, first responders, ambulances on the runway at the ready for anything to go wrong in this emergency landing but we're still awaiting confirmation of exactly what may have been going wrong with this plane for the result to be what you're seeing live right now. Our Richard Quest is also on the line with us now.

Richard, I'm not sure if you've been able to reach out to any more of your sources.

QUEST: No. I'm looking at the video at the moment. And I can't see the video that you're looking at the moment but I'm looking at other video from the scene at the moment, where we can see quite clearly as I suspect the pictures you're looking at now quite clearly show the aircraft and with smoke coming from the right side of the aircraft, obviously off the right wing, the right fuel tanks. The left side and this would make certain sense, the left side of the aircraft where we can see the slide deployed so clearly the evacuation has been from the left side of the airport, but of course, the plane just about all destroyed on the ground and certainly the main landing gear has collapsed.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And it's unclear how many people may have been on board. It is possible, Richard, as you and I were talking that this flight Asiana airlines may have come from Incheon, an airport out of Seoul, South Korea, making that nearly --

QUEST: Almost certainly. Almost certainly I would say it originated out of Seoul in South Korea, and again, looking at these pictures it's a 777 200 LR that I'm guessing because I can't see an over the wing, but it doesn't necessarily mean it's not. And again, looking at the -- it will take some hours to work out obviously the nature of what has taken place, why this happened, and I'm just -- while you're carrying on talking I'm going to try to look at more information about the aircraft itself and the fleet.

WHITFIELD: OK, very good. So, this Asiana airline flight, this Boeing 777 likely coming from Seoul, South Korea, making that somewhere between 13 and 16-hour flight to San Francisco, reportedly there was an emergency landing taking place here at the San Francisco international airport, clearly something went wrong because in the end we've been able to see these live pictures, dark plumes of smoke, now the smoke clearing up, a white gray smoke.

We've also seen the firefighters what appear to be on a ladder being able to douse the smoke, not sure if we've been able to see active flames there but our Richard Quest by his bird's-eye view has been able to see there are the evacuation slides, emergency slides in place on a portion, on one side of the plane and that perhaps the smoke coming from the opposite end of the plane unclear how many people may have been on board this Boeing 777. But this, you know, is a monster of a flight generally from Soul, South Korea, usually very packed, oftentimes just two flights a day --I'm sorry?

All right. Now, we have the flight number, 214 from Seoul, South Korea, to San Francisco.

Go ahead, Richard.

QUEST: It was flight number Asiana 214 which left Incheon local time at around 17:04 in South Korea time.

WHITFIELD: 5:04.

QUEST: Scheduled to arrive a few hours ago, it was a Boeing 777 200 LR twin jet. We know more about the aircraft itself. The planned distance of the flight was just over 5,500 miles before it crash landed. We don't know why. We can see the route it took on radar. We can the route that it took, the exact routine that it took from Incheon across the pacific in to San Francisco.

So, I know and seemingly an event for a flight looking at the planned route and the mechanism of the route it took and we will be waiting to hear what of course may have been a declared emergency or otherwise we just don't know at this point.

WHITFIELD: Yes. We just don't know, happening just a short time ago, these are live pictures right now if you're just joining us, this is Boeing 777, now we know to be of Asiana airlines flight 214 from Seoul, South Korea, scheduled to land there in San Francisco. We understand reportedly there was an emergency landing. Something along the way has gone wrong. You see plumes of smoke, first very dark, now light gray, white. We saw the hoses from the firefighters there dousing the smoke perhaps there were still flames as well. We understand that some evacuation emergency slides have been put into place so passengers have been able to evacuate that plane but we don't know how many passengers may have been on this flight, whether there had been any injuries.

Our Dana Bash, congressional correspondent, just happened to be in that area. She has been in San Francisco, was scheduled to fly out of San Francisco make her way back to Washington when driving up to the airport, seeing the smoke.

Dana, are you still with us?

BASH: I am, hi, Fred.

WHITFIELD: OK. So Dana, kind of recap for us what you saw and at what point you saw this smoke or what appeared to be some trouble on the runway.

BASH: Well, we were coming into the airport hoping to catch our flight out and what we are sort of rounding the bend to get into the airport complex and everything kind of slowed down pretty fast and that when we turned the corner we had a pretty clear shot of the runway with what appeared to be a plane up in smoke. We could see the smoke blowing. And everybody kind of slowed down at the same time, turned the corner and then all of the traffic pretty much stopped and the police officers were coming by saying you cannot get into the airport. You have to move over. And now, we have been diverted or some other cars been diverted around the other side to get away from the area and needless to say, we've been here now for 20 minutes, maybe 30 minutes and no planes have taken off or landed since.

WHITFIELD: OK, Dana. Stand by.

I have another eyewitness for us on the line with us right now.

Anthony Castorani, you are at a hotel, understand, Anthony. What did you see from your vantage point?

ANTHONY CASTORANI, WITNESS (via phone): Yes. That is correct. I'm actually at the embassy suites across from the airport: And I happened to be plane watching this morning. I'm on the eighth floor, the highest floor here and I was waiting for the airbus from Lufthansa actually, I have never seen one before. So, I'm just doing some plane watching and I was watching this flight come in and I think I identified it as a 777.

I'm watching it and it was coming in, actually looked like it was coming in very nicely. It was nose up 30 degrees and it came in and touched down on the runway a little earlier than I've seen most planes coming in and touching down but the moment it touched down the nose was pitched up, the nose wheel never hit the grouped and where you typically see smoke from the wheels coming down, the initial touchdown, there was a larger plume of white smoke, you heard a pop, and then you immediately saw a large brief fireball that came out from underneath the aircraft. At that moment the aircraft was starting to lift and it began to cartwheel and as it started to cartwheel to its left-hand side, the wing broke off on the left-hand side. You could see the tail immediately fly off of the aircraft. And as the aircraft cartwheel, it then landed down and the other wing had broken off. And there was no fire or fireball with the crash after the initial one. There was a large plume of whiter smoke, after they began to douse it within about 20 minutes, then it began to see more darker smoke, maybe something else ignited within the aircraft. I've been sitting here watching the entire time like immediately after the initial shock where you just kind of gripping yourself with what just happened within about a minute I dialed 911 to let somebody know I had actually witnessed it, assuming that they already knew. When I called 911 dispatched here in San Francisco nobody knew what was going on. They were asking me several times if I actually was sure there was a plane crash and where this plane crash was, and I kept telling them it's at the international airport and finally the calls started coming in and they said OK, OK, now we're getting more calls, see you later.

And they were not prepared. There was nothing on the runway. There was nothing, there was no lights, nothing that we could see that demonstrated that they actually knew this plane was coming in for a crash landing.

WHITFIELD: Interesting.

CASTORANI: It didn't look like it was a plane in distress.

WHITFIELD: So, I'm sorry, Anthony, I interrupted you. So, you said you saw nothing on the runway that would let on that this was an emergency landing. It looked clear, you described this flight coming in, this Boeing 777 as far as you know to be flight 214 from Seoul, South Korea, as you are watching this plane come in for a landing you said it looked good, it looked like a beautiful landing, nose pitched up but the problem is when it did touchdown, the nose wheel did not touch down to the tarmac and then that's when you started to see the problems unfold with the smoke.

CASTORANI: Yes.

WHITFIELD: With the flames.

CASTORANI: That is correct.

WHITFIELD: And then, go ahead.

CASTORANI: There's currently a 747 sitting in front of me that was about ready to get on to the runway and roll out, and it's been sitting there now since the moment of the crash so they knew there was a problem, they would not let another 747 ready to take off.

WHITFIELD: OK.

So, for those of you just joining us -- Anthony, hold on for a hot second. I just want to let people know if they're just joining us what's taking place and what they are looking at, live pictures right now out of San Francisco, San Francisco international airport, our affiliate KTVU bringing us these pictures. And you're now looking at a scene where they have tried to put out possibly flames or at least try to control the smoke of a Boeing 777 that crashed there upon landing. This flight coming from Seoul, South Korea, flight 214 on Asiana airlines, and we understand you're seeing the route right there from Seoul, South Korea, making its way all the way to San Francisco, California.

And Anthony Castorani was at a hotel nearby and he is describing for us, he's on the phone with us right now, he is describing what he saw. He just happened to be looking at the window watching planes come in, was enjoying that. He saw this flight which by his description didn't appear to be in distress, he saw no emergency or first responder or apparatus on the runway as it was coming in.

It appeared it was making a beautiful landing, nose pitched up but then at the point when the rear wheels touched the runway, Anthony is telling us that the nose wheel did not touch the runway. It appears there was some sort of problem with the stability of that plane. It started cart wheeling, he saw actually one of the wheels, one of the wings come off as the plane continued to cart wheel before the second wing came off, and you saw the smoke, you saw fire underneath the hull of the plane.

And Anthony, if you're still with us, at that juncture, all of that taking place just in a matter of seconds, right in plain sight of your view?

CASTORANI: Yes, it happened within seconds, if anything, how long it was it seemed like an eternity at that moment as you are watching something this catastrophic happened, you know, you're not taking it and you are not even timing it, but I'm sure within 10, 15 seconds.

WHITFIELD: And Anthony I hate to interrupt you. But now, we have the tighter view of the remnants of this plane and certainly it looks pretty bad, certainly looks like the mid section of that plane doesn't appear to be there intact. You see the emergency workers around the plane there. We heard a description earlier from Richard Quest that the emergency slides were put into place which indication there are survivors from this plane.

But Richard, back with me now, as we look at this with a tighter view, it does seem to be pretty substantial damage there in the mid section of this plane.

QUEST: From Anthony we heard excellent information from what he saw. I can see close-ups of the aircraft. I can't see the pictures you're showing. This is somewhat bewildering the people who just come down the emergency slides immediately turn back and start taking photographs of the aircraft.

We're looking at on Twitter feeds pictures taken by people passengers after they evacuated from the aircraft. What we can see now from this 777 LR, this plane was delivered in 2006. We now know a lot more about the aircraft. What seems to have happened judging by what Anthony has said, of course, is that there has been a catastrophic landing but not a declared emergency.

So far there's no evidence we're seeing that. Something obviously has happened upon landing, which has caused the main gear to collapse and in doing so we still see the left wing. The right wing is where the fire has been coming from and that is where the smoke has come from and obviously in the process of the accident the aircraft has split apart. What we can't see is the rear tail or at least the pictures I'm looking at cannot see the tail or the rear of the fuselage.

This is a crash landing by any definition and obviously now passengers, there are survivors. We can see the survivors. We can see pictures we've taken and we will now obviously have to work out why, or the authorities, the NTSB who even as we speak will be on their way with a team, a go team will have been alerted, that would include not only people from Boeing, it would include people from Pratt and Whitney, the engine manufacturer of this particular model. It would include just about representatives from the NTSB in Washington, the Asiana Airlines team also will be in San Francisco.

To give you an idea of what they will be doing at the moment, they will have seen the management engineering relations, PR, they will have congregated in an epic room or where a closed loom where information will flow in and flow out as they deal with this emergency.

WHITFIELD: This is very serious situation, terrible to see these images right here because Richard, we are getting a clearer view of the remnants of this plane and we certainly see a number of first responders that have descended there and that rear tail you were talking about, it is nearly nonexistent, unidentifiable from my layman's view and we're seeing the mid section of the plane, the upper portion, the rooftop so to speak of that plane is burned out and you can see the flame retardant around it.

We see the two wings are, Anthony Castorani, who was an eyewitness had described that he saw the breakage of this plane while it was cart wheeling. What we're looking at right now and you can see one of the engines just kind of resting next to the hull of this plane. According to Anthony there was nothing in place that would infer there was an emergency landing even though by definition you're calling it an emergency landing?

QUEST: No, I'm not calling it an emergency. It's a crash landing. This is a crash landing. I have no doubt some of the aficionados will have better terminology, but judging from Anthony said and the fact that there was no emergency vehicles on the runway and there was no traffic if you like, no emergency traffic that have been picked up by anybody else, this plane has crashed on landing and I'm guessing we'll be looking at something like a failure of the landing gear.

It is rampant speculation but those are the sort of things or some loss of control at the moment when the main landing gear touched the runway, which caused the right side of the aircraft wing to obviously impact the ground, the plane to break up and this is what will be investigated. One of the important things here looking at the pictures, the plane will have landed with sufficient fuel on board, even though it's going to a 6,000 mile trip in Seoul, it will have had sufficient fuel on board, which is what you're looking at in the fire for the plane to go to an alternative destination and all the reserves necessary and that's what's been burning that reserve fuel that the aircraft still has on board. Even though much of the aircraft does look to be destroyed, the front of course where the pilots are seems to be in good order. The cockpit voice recorder will give a very good account and the flight data recorder, it's at the back of the plane so it will probably have been damaged but it is solid state in that sense. So there will be very good information for the investigators not only from those flying, but also electronic information that will tell them. This is one accident, one incident that I have almost no hesitation in telling you they will know very quickly what the proximate cause was if not the ultimate cause.

WHITFIELD: OK, and still unclear how many passengers were on board. This is usually a packed flight, any of those routes going from Seoul, South Korea to San Francisco. Thanks so much, Richard.

QUEST: It's a connector flight not only would this have been a flight with passengers direct from South Korea to the United States, but almost certainly a large percentage will have also been connecting Asiana uses the Incheon as a major hub from South East Asia, North Asia, up into Incheon and on to the United States.

WHITFIELD: So often if you're traveling to China to Japan, you are going to stop there in Seoul, South Korea so that's an excellent point making there. Thanks so much, Richard. We're going to let you do a little bit reporting but don't go far.

Still on the line with us is the eyewitness I mentioned earlier, Anthony Castorani at a nearby hotel. But right now, our correspondent, Dan Simon is en route to San Francisco International Airport. And Dan, what are you hearing about this what appears to be using Richard's words, not mine, he's more of an authority on this than I am, but this crash landing of this Flight 214 from Seoul, South Korea.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Fred, at this point, we really don't know. I hate to speculate. When we get there hopefully we'll have a chance to talk to as many witnesses as possible. I can tell you this is generally an airport that has overcast weather and when that happens, traffic really slows down a lot. They reduce the traffic to just one runway normally you have four runways that are operational.

I don't know what the weather was like at the time, but generally you experience a lot of overcast weather at San Francisco International Airport. It is the largest airport in the bay area. You have several airports and it's just a tremendous shock. I travel out of that airport almost every week, you know, obviously without incident. They do a great job there and they have great efficiency at the airport as airports go and it's a huge tragedy.

WHITFIELD: It certainly is. Dan you mentioned, we have got Tom Sater here in the weather center give us what the weather conditions were like. We heard from the one eyewitness said this appeared to be a great day just to watch planes go in and out, that's what he was doing when suddenly he saw this let's call it a crash landing. TOM SATER, CNN INTERNATIONAL METEOROLOGIST: Well, you know, any time there's a situation like this, Fredrikcka, everyone wants to know did weather play a role. Let's put this to rest right now. I'm sure investigators will also find this out as well. Conditions could not have been more ideal for flight. Yes, in the morning hours from San Francisco in the bay area southward to San Diego, we do have a marine layer that kind of moves into the area and of course, with the higher humidity the visibility drops, but that burns off 10:30 in the morning.

The hour before the approach and of course, for this -- current now at 64 degrees the conditions were perfect, partly cloudy skies. The ceiling was unlimited. Visibility was 10 miles plus, so at least we measured at 10 miles. That's the top of the scale so probably even better than that. Humidity again it was ideal, the winds were light so we didn't have any thunderstorms in the area, which could have produced a downdraft or microburst, nothing of the sort.

You can see the marine layer in white, that is the cloud cover and the marine layer offshore. As we look at the radar with the lack of cloud cover, you're not going to have anything of this nature. Let's move on and I want to show you a Google earth to give you an idea of the flight approach and the angle of the approach.

Here's the San Francisco International Airport and you can see the coast here. The flight was Asiana flight will actually come along the coast from the northwest. We're going to spin around a little bit and finally come to an end on this dual area here. The flight comes from the northwest and slides in and around and banks of course to the left, swinging over the water and approaches from this direction.

Conditions could not have been better, visibility again 10 miles plus with unlimited ceiling. So again, this is where we have the problem. It does come in from the northwest and slides into this area. Investigators as you know, Fredricka, are going to pour through the current conditions weather wise for the last several hours, but it couldn't have been better for a flight.

WHITFIELD: Tom, thanks so much. We're going to come back to you. You see the debris from the tail from that Boeing 777 Asiana Flight 214 making its way from Seoul, South Korea, to San Francisco. You're looking at live pictures of the debris field from what appears to be a crash landing. We talked to an eyewitness earlier who was watching the landing of this plane and others and said it looked to be a good day, a good landing for this flight.

When suddenly in his view he said the nose was tipped upward, it was pitched up and the wheels came down and when that plane touched ground with the tarmac there, he said he saw smoke, he heard a pop of sound and then he also saw a big fireball underneath the aircraft, and then this eyewitnesses describing he saw the plane start to cartwheel and started to flip.

One of the wings being knocked off on one side and as it flipped and continued to cart wheel, another wing coming off and now you see the debris field here. We understand there have been some emergency slides that have been deployed. We don't know how many people were on the flight and were able to evacuate. We were able to see the dousing of the flames and the smoke and the first responders now trying to go through, look at, assess what potentially may have happened.

Now we've got on the line with us Jim Tilmon who is an aviation expert and retired pilot and of course, Mr. Tillman, we don't know a whole lot of information. All we've got is that eyewitness account so far and confirmation about the flight number Asiana flight 214 from Seoul, South Korea, to San Francisco.

Based on the description I just gave, there was no, appeared to be no declared emergency, meaning there were no first responders on the runway awaiting this plane according to our eyewitness account and the failures take place, the plume of smoke and the fireball. In your view what would you start to assess may have potentially happened here?

JIM TILMON, AVIATION EXPERT (via telephone): Well, first of all, I'm amazed that anything like that would happen to a 777, one of the safest airplanes in the sky. Secondly, I am really concerned about the debris field as you describe it, because there's a great deal of debris right at the threshold of the runway itself, right as the runway extends out over the water.

The debris being left there causes me to believe that the tail of the airplane struck the ground in some kind of a way that was destructive and destroyed part of the control features for the airplane itself. That would mean that you would have an extremely high nosed attitude and the tail will be striking first characteristic of landing short.

I'm speculating based on what I've been able to see from your perspective and with your cameras and it just seems like there was an awful lot of a problem before the airplane ever got over the runway proper. When you saw that debris earlier, you're not even at the runway surface yet, not quite over that fresh hold.

All those lines that you saw there on the ground were lines that are set up approaching a landing position. For whatever reason you ended up with a very, very nose high situation and you actually had the tail of the airplane strike the ground first, all kinds of things can go wrong and control, forget about it, you don't have any more because they're gone.

WHITFIELD: Of course, this is premature, I need to ask you the question based on your description, do these details lead you to believe that there would be a mechanical problem or would it be the execution of that landing?

TILMON: Execution. That is taking me really further than I am able to go because he could have had a combination of the two things and you know, we don't know really what was going on, except that we never got the message from the cockpit, we never got any indication that there was anything wrong.

All of a sudden according to your eyewitnesses we have an extremely high nose attitude, and that would cause me to wonder, you know, if he was trying to stretch the glide, trying to maintain flight until he did reach the runway surface. That can happen and if that happened at a point like that you end up having the tail, with I has no wheels on it, actually make contact on the ground in a very unusual manner.

And actually the tail looks like it disintegrated there and when that happened, you know, like school's out in terms of being able to control that airplane for the rest of that landing sequence, and so far we haven't heard anything about injuries or any other, I'm hoping we were able to save everybody off of that airplane. The safety measures on board are state-of-the-art.

WHITFIELD: That is the hope. That is the hope that everyone would be able to survive this, but you look at this plane and the burn marks of this plane. I mean, the top portion showing that mid-section nearly burned out completely, and if by the eyewitness account the ca cart wheeling it would lead you to believe the folks on board were tussled around quite a bit.

I realize people have their seat belts on, but Mr. Tilmon, the San Francisco International Airport among pilots, is this one of the more trickier places in which to land because it is right on the bay there, and you are dealing with potential winds that could make any landing anything less than predictable?

TILMON: No, I don't see that as being a factor at all. The airport has its considerations, but they are not considerations that are that unusual for commercial air flight. The edge of the runway over the water is no big deal. You're right there in New York City where they do that every day many, many, many times every day. No, I don't think that's it.

I think we have here something that went totally wrong with the angle of the aircraft as it was trying to land and it's characteristic of an airplane that is being flown by a crew that plants it slow maybe low in the slot and trying to stretch that landing sequence continuing to make proper compact with the runway.

WHITFIELD: That's fair enough. Jim Tilmon, thanks so much. Don't go far. I want you to listen to this next person I'm about to talk to, Christina Stepchuck. She was an eyewitness of this crash. She was on a plane. Christina, you were on the tarmac on the plane when you saw all of this unfold right before your eyes?

CHRISTINA STEPCHUCK, WITNESSED CRASH (via telephone): Yes, my plane was about to depart, when it was about to depart the plane landed and I saw the whole from -- when the plane was in the air to the ground and when the whole crash happened.

WHITFIELD: Describe for me what you saw.

STEPCHUCK: Yes. What happened was when it was about the land, I guess, it looks like the tires flipped a little bit and it rocked back and the tail came off and when it rocked back a lot of the parts from the plane came off and they were all shattered everywhere on the runway and after it rocked back, it rocked to the front and then in my eyes, it just looked like the plane went on sudden brake, which made the plane spun around while the front of the plane is just on the ground sliding all the way through the runway.

WHITFIELD: Were there gasp on the plane? Were the people seeing this on your plane and just struck by the shock of what was unfolding?

STEPCHUCK: Sorry, can you repeat the question?

WHITFIELD: Were you gasping? Were there others on the plane who screamed, were shocked at seeing this crash, this breaking apart of a plane right before your eyes?

STEPCHUCK: Actually, a lot of the windows in our plane were closed and there were not a lot of witnesses. So I just happened to be the one that opened the window and looking outside and when I was looking outside, it all happened so suddenly. So I see a lot of the passengers in my cabin are actually calm and the pilot and all the -- the pilot is trying to figure out how to get us out from the plane and, yes, and we're just like waiting here in the plane to see what we can do to get back to the gate.

WHITFIELD: Wow, incredible, Christina Stepchuck, thank you so much. Again, Christina was an eyewitness to this plane crash. She was on a plane on the tarmac about to take off itself when she was watching this plane as it was coming in and she said what struck her is that it appeared as this plane, this Boeing 777, Asiana Airline 214 from Seoul, South Korea, landing there in San Francisco, according to Christina, what she saw it appeared in her view that the tires slipped.

She said it looked like the plane rocked back as it was landing, the tail came off as it hit the ground there, and then she says other parts of the plane started coming off and it started to break apart and then swing around and that's a fascinating description because as we spoke with Jim Tilmon who is an aviation expert and a retired pilot.

When I asked him just looking at the debris field and just hearing the description of at least one other eyewitness that we spoke to and what they saw as the plane was landing, it was Jim's assessment that potentially it may have been that the tail may have hit the ground with the nose pitched up, that it could be that perhaps that landing was taking -- taking place a little too early.

We've got on the phone with us right now, Mary Schiavo, formerly of the U.S. Department of Aviation. So, Mary, this is an incredible sight that we're seeing right here. So many eyewitness accounts of what may have happened as this Boeing 777, this aviation expert we just talked to said this is one of the more safer planes out there and that this accident would happen. What's the first thing at hand for investigators to piece together what happened, how, and why?

MARY SCHIAVO, FORMER INSPECTOR GENERAL, U.S. DOT: Well, they will have a tremendous amount of information from two recordings from the cockpit voice recording and from the tower recording and also the air traffic controllers were supposed to have eyes on that plane. So, they will have a tremendous amount of information. But I think Jim Tilmon's right, I think for them to come in, San Francisco is -- you know, there are winds and all that sort of thing but the 777 is a very heavy, reliable plane, you know, tens of thousands of planes land in San Francisco every year, so I don't think it's anything specific about the airport.

I think what probably happened is as eyewitnesses explained that they came down too heavy, they didn't have the -- they weren't coming down the right spot on the glide slope on the runway, they had a strike of the tail when they came down and he may have even tried -- the pilot may have even tried to take off again, couldn't do it. Spun around and, of course, lost control of the aircraft. I do think it will come down to a piloting issue.

WHITFIELD: OK. OK, Jim Tilmon you still with us --

TILMON: Yes, I am. Yes, I am.

WHITFIELD: Mary Schiavo kind of echoing --

TILMON: The shot that you have on the air now. The more I see it. We have some indication of what may have happened. You've got all kinds of debris there just at the runway edge and the water meet except that's not really the runway. That's the approach area. You're not supposed to be touching down there with anything and for any contact to be made at that point, it leads me to believe, we've got a real problem with the way that airplane was landed.

And you can see better even here. What you're seeing there now is the markings of almost like saying the runway comes up next. You aren't there yet. Then when you see the blacktop you're looking at the actual runway itself and all types of debris is all over the place there, the parts of the tail are being seen at that point.

It just -- I'm very concerned about the angle of attack as he's approaching and what was going on with the height of the tail over the actual ground. That tail came apart completely before he ever got up to what I considered to be the runway surface.

WHITFIELD: And, Mary, you said there's some vital information that is in that cockpit voice recorder, that data recorder, all good information, that you have a plane that is mostly intact and you look at the debris field. The investigators have a lot to work with at this juncture, but what do you know about Asiana Airlines as a whole? We know this plane was delivered back in 2006, which means it's a fairly young plane.

SCHIAVO: Yes. It's a young plane and the 777 was a reliable plane, since it got the bugs worked out 17 years ago, it had growing pains, a few pains like the 787, but since then it's been very reliable. Asiana has new planes, has a lot of -- has a lot of Pacific Rim Airlines do and oriental airlines do. However, it has been criticized in the past for a variety of things. It has been criticized among other things for piloting skills. It has been criticized for resource management and cockpit discipline and communication. And air traffic controllers probably will have communicated that they were below the glide slope.

WHITFIELD: OK. So, sorry, there was an interruption on your call. So, you said generally Asiana Airlines has new planes, but it has been criticized for some of the piloting skills. It has had a reputation or at least other -- there have been a series of incidents that have called question into the piloting? All right, it looks like we have a little interference with our call right now.

Mary Schiavo, formerly with the U.S. Department of Aviation was with us. I think we lost her temporarily. Maybe we'll be able to bring her back. Richard Quest back with us now as you've been working your sources and you've been working quite extensively for many years now as it pertains to airline and aviation, looking at travel, what are you learning?

QUEST: Looking at various databases, if you take out this particular incident on the 6th of July and you start looking back at Asiana, you're talking about over the three or four incidents in the last 10, 15 years, the last major one being on July of 2011, when a freighter, the 747 freighter, crashed near South Korea, that was -- had two fatalities. In terms of large-scale fatalities for Asiana, you're looking at 1993 when a 737 of the airline went down and 68 people.

But, you know, looking, again, since 1992 in the databases it just really shows one, two, three, four, including today's incident, five incidents, most of them don't seem to have had fatalities. And so pulling those strands together, one can't really say -- one can't come to any judgment as a result of that.

Asiana is a very large airline. It's a well-run airline in the region. And it has an extremely high reputation for service obviously on board. Looking at the pictures now that we're seeing, this is starting to become a lot clearer as to, you know -- you asked the question mechanical or pilot.

WHITFIELD: Yes.

QUEST: No one can come down one side or the other until we've got the final --

WHITFIELD: Sure.

QUEST: -- judgment from the NTSB, but listening to what Mary Schiavo said and listening to what your other guest said, we're looking more toward the flying of the aircraft rather than the aircraft itself.

WHITFIELD: Mechanical or execution was my question and it sounded like Jim Tilmon was laying toward execution and he laid out the many reasons why. In fact, Richard, now as we're looking at the various images of the plane in its current state, take a look at this if you are anywhere near a screen, Richard, and Jim Tilmon, aviation expert.

We have a tweeted-out picture that we received from -- I'm believing he was a passenger, David Un, and his picture shows I guess the number of people who were coming out of that plane. There you go right there. A number of people who came out of that plane and you can see the smoke on the opposite end of that plane.

But unlike the current images that we're showing right now where the top portion of the hull was burned out, here it appears as though people were able, you know, in maybe large numbers, Mr. Tilmon, if you're still with me --

TILMON: Yes, I am.

WHITFIELD: -- able to escape that plane with that smoke. So, perhaps this is a good sign that a number of people were able to escape unharmed perhaps.

TILMON: Most of the smoke and fire seems to be on the starboard side, the right side of the aircraft. That's why the slides, you know, were deployed for the most part on the left side of the airplane. Flight attendants pretty much take care of the rafts so the passengers know the safest way to get out of the airplane in an emergency like this. It appears they did a really good job of getting everybody off of there. There's one slide that I see deployed on the rear portion of the right side of the airplane.

WHITFIELD: Yes.

TILMON: Of the things we've seen here over the past few minutes, number one, the engine on the left wing of the airplane is completely missing. That was -- that came off somewhere in that sequence of cart wheeling. And you had a shot earlier of the landing gear that had completely been ripped off of the airplane, sitting out in the middle of the runway. It says to me that once this tail situation occurred, again, the controllability of the airplane was up for grabs. I mean, it was just going to go where it wanted to go and, you know, you began to just distribute airplane parts all over the place. It's a miracle that people could really get out of it in the way that apparently they did and I'm praying that they all did make it out okay.

WHITFIELD: Wow, extraordinary. Jim Tilmon, aviation expert. Thanks so much. I know you're not going to go very far, but you helped really to paint a picture as we tried to sort things through based on the images we're receiving and the eyewitness accounts. Thank you so much.

Folks if you're just now joining us, my colleague don lemon is going to pick it up here, but we're looking at the remnants of a Boeing 777, Flight 214 making its way from Seoul, South Korea, and crashing at San Francisco International Airport and we're hearing all sorts of eyewitness accounts about how the plane was breaking up upon landing when it seemed as though it was a perfect-looking landing until it appears some saw the nose pitched up and the tail hit the runway and then things started breaking up.

I'm going to bring in my colleague Don Lemon who is joining us from New York and, Don, I'm going to allow you to pick up the coverage from here. Some extraordinary images we're seeing and we still don't know how many people were on board and how many people are able to really walk away as a result of this accident.