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CNN NEWSROOM

Boeing 777 Crashes in San Francisco; NTSB Press Conference

Aired July 6, 2013 - 17:00   ET

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


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Don Lemon here in New York, I want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

The folks who are watching CNN International and other networks as well, we are following breaking news here on CNN. The breaking news is that a large commercial airliner has crashed and burned just a short time ago at San Francisco International Airport. You're looking at a number of pictures there, some of them live, other pictures that were taken from passengers who were fleeing that plane. It is a passenger plane. It is a Boeing 777. It's from Asiana Airlines which is a large South Korean airline.

The plane took off from Seoul and was headed to San Francisco International Airport and on its approach. That's when this horrible incident happened. Here's what we know, according to the FAA, they are calling this, quote, "a crash landing." We're not making up that term. The FAA is calling it a crash landing. The tail broke off the plane. Top of the fuselage, if you look at it there, burned. Pieces of the wings and other part -- parts flying off the plane.

Look at this plane, do you see a tail? No, the tail of this plane fell off, came off, believed to be on impact here. How many people on board? We're not exactly sure. We're waiting to get more information. There should be a press conference at any moment here at the top of the hour, we're waiting on officials in San Francisco to come up to the podium and give us that press conference and we'll carry it live for you here on CNN. You're not going to miss it.

And then at the bottom of the hour, in about 29 minutes, there will be a news conference in Washington, D.C., from the NTSB, the National Transportation Safety Board. The coast guard has transported one person linked to this incident in San Francisco to Stanford Hospital. Again, that's according to the coast guard. The person we spoke to at the coast guard would not provide any information on the patient's status. Again, news conference at 5:30 Eastern time, where we will get more information on that.

To CNN's Dan Simon first, who is in San Francisco with the very latest. Dan, what are you hearing there from San Francisco, in San Francisco?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via the telephone): Well, hey, Don, I'm actually in the international terminal at the airport. We just had the very first briefing from officials here at the airport. They really couldn't provide a whole lot of information. They basically confirmed what we already know at this point. They tell us that they're going to be having press conferences every hour, so we should expect to have another one at about 6:00 Eastern Time. In the meantime, as you can imagine, it's jam-packed here in the terminal as all traffic, airline traffic, coming in and out of the airport has come to a complete stop.

Passengers, of course, have a lot of questions. They want to know when they can sort of get on their way and, of course, everyone is wondering what exactly happened with this crash. The official couldn't provide us any information in terms of how it happened or how many people were on board. He did say that there is a process that they're following and that right now is to secure the scene, to secure the scene so they can gather evidence in terms of how it happened. He couldn't talk about any potential fatalities or survivors, so hopefully all that information will start trickling in, again, at 6:00 Eastern Time -- Don.

LEMON: And, again, the people are going to want to know where was this passenger, where did they find the passenger who was transported, if it was a coast guard, does that mean that passenger was in the water? It's all very interesting, and, Dan, we're waiting a press conference there. Supposed to happen at any moment now. Are you able to see beyond the terminal, to see any of the emergency people, that personnel that we're looking at now?

SIMON: Well, let me just make clear, the news conference just happened and so that's what I just reported to you.

LEMON: OK.

SIMON: So, the next one will occur in an hour. I'm not really able to see much, you know, we're standing in the international terminal. This is where the information is going to come from. This is where the officials are going to be holding their briefings, but as I said, you have a lot of passengers here who are waiting to find out the fate of their flights, when they'll be able to get out of the airport, and at this point it's not clear when traffic will resume. Everything has come to a complete halt, as you can imagine -- Don.

LEMON: OK, Dan. A lot of people talking to me. Thank you. Dan, and just so, you said, the news conference just happened now. Report to us again exactly if you can recall -- everything that you can recall in that news conference in San Francisco, I don't care if you said it, you can say it again. News conference just happened in San Francisco, Dan Simon, what did you hear at that conference?

SIMON: Right, this was from Doug Yakel who is the Public Information Officer for the airport. Basically it was to address reporters to let folks know that he is there, that we should direct inquiries to him and at this point they have a process going forward, and that is, number one, to secure the scene, to preserve any type of evidence, to make sure that anybody who requires medical attention has already gotten it. That's where they are at this point as far as the scene is concerned.

The next thing is, in terms of the immediate briefings, he wanted to let everybody know that going forward for the next 24 hours or so there will be news conferences every single hour. He wanted to make that very clear. So, they want to keep the public informed because obviously there is an incredible amount of interest in terms of what is happening here. So, the next news conference I would imagine will occur at an hour from now at about 6:00 Eastern Time. Where hopefully more information will begin to trickle in -- Don.

LEMON: OK. Dan, great reporting. Thank you, Dan. Stand by. Our Dan Simon is there at the San Francisco International Airport.

A witness, his name is Anthony Castorani saw the plane as it approached San Francisco's International Airport. He talked to CNN moments ago. Listen closely -- OK.

We'll hear from him in just a short time here, but you heard what Dan said. They're going to update people as often as they can, at least once every hour on the situation there in San Francisco. Let's listen to that eyewitness now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANTHONY CASTORANI, WITNESS: Actually looked like it was coming in very nicely. It was pitched up nose up maybe about three degrees. And as it was coming in, it came in. It 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 still pitched up. The nose wheel never hit the ground yet. And where you typically see smoke from the wheels coming down on that 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 you could see that the aircraft was, again, starting to kind of 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 cart wheeled, it then landed down and the other wing had broken off. And there was no fire or fireball with the crash after the initial --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOUG YAKEL, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, SFO: We want to thank our police --

LEMON: OK, I want to go to Doug Yakel, airport spokesperson. This is the news conference I was telling you about. Let's listen in.

YAKEL: We are still on scene addressing the incident, we don't have any numbers in terms of the passenger count at this time. We are working on that. We also don't have any information at this time as to the status of those passengers, so we're continuing to work the situation. The airport SFO is currently not accepting any arriving or departing traffic. We are also working on addressing that situation. My best advice for passengers who are traveling today through SFO is to check with their airline to verify the status of their flight. That's all the information I have at this time. We will hold another press conference at this location in one hour, at 3:00 p.m. I'll be happy to take any questions.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What is your name?

YAKEL: My name is Doug Yakel, I'm the Public Information Officer at the airport.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What do you know so far --

YAKEL: Sure.

LEMON: OK. Doug Yakel airport spokesperson, that's the press conference I was telling you about, and the one also that Dan Simon was reporting on as well, talking about the passengers, the investigation, exactly what they're doing and how they're going to update the situation for the public, the people who are watching at home and also the people who are affected on this. Once every hour, at the top of every hour at least they're going to update what's going on. They don't want to give away too much information.

Of course, the federal officials are handling this, the folks there in Washington, the NTSB and the FAA and that's what we're waiting on a press conference from, the NTSB at the bottom of the hour here on CNN. I want to show you this. This is a united plane, a united airline plane, let's take a look at that. So, this plane really very close to this Asiana plane when it crashed and burned. Very close to it. I would imagine this plane was about to take off when the other plane was coming in.

And this plane has been sitting there for the past two hours or more since this crash happened and they are just starting to move this plane to get it back to the terminal at least so that these people can get off the plane, off the tarmac, and try to make alternative plans. But can you imagine sitting there for that long? And also the people on that plane who witnessed all of this, not knowing if the debris -- how close that debris was going to come to them and possibly hit them. So, that plane has moved now towards the terminal.

Again, all of this still unfolding in San Francisco. And that is that plane, sitting on the tarmac at San Francisco International Airport, the top of the plane, the fuselage, is burned. The wings pretty much had intact. Most of it intact. You can see some of the pieces of the wing there have fallen apart, and I would imagine some came completely off when this plane crashed.

The wing on the right side of the plane is still there. The one on this side as you can see from this passenger photograph, is gone. This was taken from a passenger who left this plane fleeing and also tweeted out this picture on twitter saying that, you know, I can't believe the tail section of the plane is gone. The plane is smoking, and people are leaving the plane.

I want to go now to CNN's Richard Quest, who is live now in London. Richard, you heard from Doug Yakel, the airport spokesperson, what do you make anything of his thoughts? And also to Dan Simon who had a much more thorough report on the press conference. RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR (via the telephone): I think what we're seeing now at the moment of course is the fog of confusion. And they are concerned first and foremost, you know, basically accounting for passengers who were on the plane, those who survived, those who may not have done. And that is what's going to be. We will not really get much more information. In fact, I'm -- you know, the speed with which they have given a press conference, bearing in mind this incident only happened two or three hours ago, is a testament to the preparation that the authorities have at major airports like SFO for these sorts of incidents.

Looking again and listening and seeing exactly what people are saying now about what may have happened and how this all transpired. And it does now, if you look at the pictures and the pictures of where the debris field is, as Jim Tilmon was saying earlier, if you look at where the plane clearly touched the ground, it is in the -- what's called the displaced runway area. It is the end of the runway. It is often -- it is the bit where you have the yellow arrows which clearly you're not supposed to touch anything down because the runway may not be strong enough or whatever, it's not geared for that.

So, the plane definitely clearly made contact with the runway before the threshold which is the piano keys which is further down the runway. And in doing so either because of altitude, attitude of the aircraft, speed or whatever was going on in the cockpit at that time then it, of course, the tail split off. And the plane spun round, whether it was once or twice, we'll know once the report comes out before the gear, the main gear, collapsed. It lost one of its engines. The fire broke out. And that fierce fire, that fierce fire, is absolutely lethal in any survivable accident.

And this will be classed as a survivable accident. And in any survivable accident, it is the ability to get the passengers off the plane. And, remember, Don, when they certify a plane, any plane, any passenger aircraft, you have to be able to -- you have to be able to evacuate the aircraft within 90 seconds with up to half the doors being inoperable either for fire or other reasons.

LEMON: Yes.

QUEST: So, this plane, this 200-er has been designed to get everybody off the plane within 90 seconds providing -- even with some of the exit doors inoperable. And that's what the investigators will also want to see, how did they manage to get the people off the plane and how can they improve that in the future.

LEMON: Richard, there are a couple of things that I want to talk to you about, number one, officially, from officials they're saying that the flights were diverted, most of them to LAX, we know that there are closer airports than that. But LAX, why LAX, because it's a bigger airport?

QUEST: Oh, that's an easy one. First of all, for the sort of traffic that might have been going into SFO, LAX is badly, LAX is an alternate, so planes can easily get down to LAX certainly they're coming across the pacific, you would just change your course very slightly. But what you need hugely for flights, you need immigration, customs, and the ability to handle large aircraft. If you've got some -- if you've got half a dozen 777s, a-330s and a-340s, 74, 7800s, you've got a couple of planes on the way from Australia, you want maximum space and maximum space means LAX just 400 miles or so down the road. It's got the capacity. It's got the immigration. It's got the customs. It can handle the aircraft.

LEMON: Yes, perfect, thank you, Richard. Thank you very much, common sense prevails there, because people were saying, they wouldn't go to LAX because LAX is too far. It makes sense now.

It's the perfect time to talk about the size of this airplane and what we know about this particular aircraft. It's a 777 or triple 7, it can carry a lot of passengers which are between 305, 440 depending on how it's configured. It crosses the oceans. The newer models can fly more than 8,000 nautical miles without stopping to refuel. 777 cruises about 43,000 feet, entered the commercial fleet back in 1990 and more than 60 commercial airlines have them in their inventory. What do you know about this particular -- about a 777?

QUEST: The triple 7? It is the queen -- it is the workhorse of the oceans these days. Where you need -- where you need large numbers of seats so you're not -- you're not going to use a 330. Where you need large numbers of seats but you don't need an a-380 or the 737, it's the 777. It came into service with the United Airlines who were the large customers. I mean, one airline CEO said to me when he brought it into service, it's a game changer. You have the series 200 of the plane. That's not so much in use, being sold anymore. It's now the 300 series which is an even longer version, and Boeing only last week -- sorry, last month, at the palace air show, Boeing has announced that it is going to consider and it will look to make a larger version of the 777.

Not the 787-10, but they are going to look at making a 777-x which is an even larger version of that plane. It is Boeing's -- it is at the moment one of Boeing's if not Boeing's single most successful aircraft, most popular aircraft. Airlines can't buy enough of them.

LEMON: Richard, as we await for this press conference at the NTSB at the bottom of the hour here, as you know and as you report when these airplanes come into existence, when they test them and then they go on the market, there are always issues. Do you remember any issues with the 777 that would hint at a problem here?

QUEST: No, no, not at all. No. I mean, let's scotch this now. The 777, I mean, there are -- I'm just looking at -- if you just look roughly, rough ballpark numbers, 1,400 of them have been ordered in various variations from the 777-200 right the way through the freighter version. Most of them are of the -- most of the models that have been ordered have been in the 200-er which is what we are looking at with Asiana today or the 300-er, the er standing for extended range, the beauty of this twin-engine aircraft when it has ETOPS certification at extended operations over water, when it has ETOPS at 180, it can literally go from Asia to the United States from Australia to the United States. So, this is a workhorse aircraft. And it doesn't surprise me, if you look at the orders to put this in perspective, the orders just this year alone for the 777-300er is about 33 orders for the plane. So, I'm not expecting, I mean, this isn't speculations, I'm not expecting this to be, you know, the sort of teething problem that you might be talking about with a new variant or a new aircraft, not a bit of it.

LEMON: OK. Richard, don't go anywhere. Richard knows a lot about this as you can tell. I'm going to need Richard throughout the hour as well. Just so you know, a lot of this information is just coming in. Richard is talking to me. My producer is talking to me and people are handing me things and I'm trying to deal with this as smoothly as possible here, but I'm also getting a new statement in from the -- this is from the NTSB -- this from Boeing? There it is.

"Boeing extends its concern for the safety of those on the Asiana Airlines flight 214. We're preparing to provide technical assistance to the National Transportation Safety Board as it investigates the accident."

So, again, that is coming from Boeing and we just got that information in as well. So, bear with us here. We're getting a lot of information coming in from multiple sources throughout the world, again, we have the worldwide resources of CNN on top of this story including our Richard Quest there in London. We also have a reporter in Seoul, South Korea, where this flight originated. We have aviation expert Jim Tilmon who is joining us as well, a reporter in Washington who is reporting on the NTSB and the FAA portion of this. The official portion and what they're doing.

A reporter at San Francisco International Airport who's actually inside the terminal now. Eunice Bird is on the phone now. Her father was -- Bird Rah is on the phone now. Her father was on that Asiana plane and took these photographs. So, Eunice, first off, how is your father? These pictures are unbelievable. How is your father doing?

EUNICE BIRD RAH, FATHER ABOARD THE 777 BOEING (via the telephone): Hi, Don. My father is doing fine, thank God. He's doing all right. We've been actually texting for the last hour and a half, two hours, and from where I'm sitting right now, I can actually see the wreckage right in front of me, and the line of fire trucks and medics is -- the width of it is the size of a football stadium. And it just makes the plane look so small, and I actually am right next to the hospital where ambulances have been going back and forth as well to and from the wreckage, and the pictures -- it's just heartbreaking and the most -- I think one of the most scariest things of this entire situation is that the authorities or SFO.

Nobody has contacted the families of the passengers on board or the crew, and that frightened me a little because I was at work when I just happened to look up at the TV and I noticed that my father was on that plane and that's how I found out and I texted him and he said he just, you know, waiting and he's usually a very articulate man, you know, he texts me a lot of things, and when I ask, you know, if he's OK, if he's injured, what other injuries there are, he wasn't able to tell me in detail and I think most of it was because he didn't want me know the full-on details of what's going on around him.

LEMON: So, Eunice, let me ask you this, you said that you have saw -- you have seen ambulances going -- taking people off the plane or out of the area. Have you seen people being transported?

RAH: No, I see the ambulances coming back and forth the freeway exits that leads directly to the airport coming off the only exit here to the nearest hospital which is clearly a couple of miles down the road.

LEMON: Eunice, you told my producer that your father knew it was coming. What did you mean by that?

RAH: So, I asked him, you know, what happened. And he texted me saying the flight was landing too low and tried -- the pilot tried to raise the plane at the last minute but was too late. I knew it was coming looking outside and saw that the plane was going too low. We hit the runway from the back part of the plane and bounced very hard. Lost control for a few minutes before it was stopped.

LEMON: Again, did your dad say or did he appear to think that most of the passengers made it out OK?

RAH: He did. I asked if there were any serious injuries and he did say some, you know, like I said, I don't think he wanted to tell me all the full-on details that was going on. But, I mean, my heart really goes out to the families who aren't able to get in contact with the passengers on board including the crew. I mean, I think the authorities or SFO should at least reach out, you know, try to organize this a little more in reaching out to the families.

LEMON: Eunice Bird Rah, her dad was on board this plane and sent in these incredible pictures. We're glad your dad is OK, Eunice. We're glad that you're OK, thank you. Thank you for getting with us here on CNN. Again, these are pictures all coming from people who were on board the plane, some of them coming from CNN I-reporters, look, this is an incredible picture. Can you imagine being on this plane and having to escape that? And that's exactly what happened. Eunice's father sent out this picture. There's also another gentleman who was on the plane at the time sending out a picture as well. This is about as graphic as we have seen it, as up close and personal as we have seen it on any of the coverage here. Jim Tilmon, if you're able to see this picture --

JIM TILMON, AVIATION EXPERT (via the telephone): Yes.

LEMON: -- Unbelievable.

TILMON: It's a major step, Don, I've never seen anything quite like it. I suppose one of the most amazing shots is the one that's up now where we don't see any activity whatsoever -- so somebody did a really good job of getting the people off of that airplane, that's what it appears right now. But you look at this picture and you can clearly see the flames inside the airplane through the windows, and that's the interior materials inside the cabin of the airplane that are obviously burning. And you can see that there were two main burn holes on the top of the airplane and gives you the impression of those with a real fire inside. But apparently everybody was out, because you look at this picture, you don't see anything like a passenger anywhere. And I don't believe they're still on board.

LEMON: At the bottom of the hour when we get this NTSB press conference, what can we expect from that?

TILMON: Not a whole lot, because the NTSB is extremely careful about what kinds of information they've released early on. They will give you some great general information and that sort of thing, but they don't answer questions that are specific to exactly what happened, exactly what the cause was and all those types of things. They can give you information about data that they do have a handle on. They may or may not be able to give you information about the passenger count and that sort of thing. But their reputation is incredibly trustworthy because they are so careful about what they say and when they say it, so I don't expect that you're going to hear anything terribly newsworthy out of that conference. It will be helpful, but they're very quiet until they have some facts.

LEMON: What do you make of Eunice whose father was on the plane? She said he knew it was coming. She felt he knew it was coming because he said the plane in his estimation was coming in too low and then the pilot tried to get the plane back up in the air at the last second.

TILMON: Well, it's consistent with what we've been circulating throughout this time, that for whatever reason, and who knows what that reason was, it was much lower than it should have been at that point in the landing sequence. And the only reaction is to try to get some altitude to level this thing out and reach the runway safely and that would require raising the nose, throwing on the power and doing all kinds of other things at the last minute, but apparently it was a little too late, too little. And that's what happened apparently, at least it seems that way. Especially you look at the debris, you can see that there was a stick made by the aircraft just prior to the time they even got to the threshold of the runway, nevertheless the runway itself.

LEMON: Jim Tilmon, stand by. Thank you very much.

We want to get live now, live pictures on the ground, CNN's Dan Simon at San Francisco International Airport. Dan, we listened to that press conference just a short time ago. You were there. What information are you getting in?

SIMON: You know, basically they just wanted to confirm the information that we already know, that there was this crash and that they wanted to tell us the process going forward, and that is, "a," they want to secure the scene and, "b," to let the media know that there are going to be briefings every hour on the hour, so you can expect the next press briefing to be at 6:00 Eastern Time.

Meanwhile, Don, I'm outside of the international terminal, and it looks just like you normally expect on a Saturday afternoon. People are standing around with their luggage, people waiting to be picked up. I can tell you inside there are a lot of people just waiting to see the status of their flights. I can also tell you that the friends and the family of the victims on board, they have reportedly been taken to a private area on the second floor of the international terminal where they're awaiting more information about their loved ones.

At this point, Don, we simply don't have a lot of information in terms of how it happened, the number of victims or casualties, hopefully we'll going to get some more information at the top of the hour, but we're standing by here at the airport awaiting all those details. We'll send it back to you.

LEMON: And Dan, not a lot of information about injuries and whatnot, just that you should call the carrier as far as if you are waiting for someone on another plane, but, again, they're not really talking about the extent of injuries and such.

SIMON: That's exactly right. At this point they're being very guarded with the information. If, in fact, they have that. You know, the public information officer may not be the best equipped person at the moment to relay everything that's going on, he may have to confer with some other folks. So hopefully, again, at the top of the hour we'll start getting some of those details. Inside, you know, I can tell you just in terms of the people I've talked to, some of them relayed, you know, seeing that fireball, seeing all of this smoke, and they, of course, are wondering what's happening as well.

But they want to know when they're going to be able to get out of here. We basically have two stories unfolding at once. You have the crash and then you have all of these passengers, thousands of passengers who are essentially stranded right now at the airport because all traffic going in and out of the airport has come to a complete halt. And there's been no word in terms of when San Francisco International Airport will reopen.

LEMON: Dan Simon on the ground at San Francisco International Airport. Dan, stand by. We'll need you as well.

I want to get now to Washington, D.C. and the former NTSB investigator Robert Francis is joining us now, he's in our D.C. Bureau. Mr. Francis, thank you so much for joining us, and, again, this press conference will happen at any moment now. You've been watching the situation here, what is your assessment, your best assessment of what may have happened and what we will hear at this press conference?

ROBERT FRANCIS, FORMER NTSB CHAIRMAN: I think it's really unfair for anyone to try to do an accurate assessment of exactly what happened. Obviously the plane crashed when it landed on the runway. And beyond that whether it's the pilot or the aircraft or something on the runway, that just remains to be seen, and the NTSB will be coming out there, and they will look at the recorders and eyewitness will be important. But I think anyone that's trying at this point to speculate on what caused this is getting a little bit early in the process.

LEMON: It's a little premature at this point to do that. It appears, though, that the passengers were taken off of this plane, got off of this plane, evacuated fairly quickly. FRANCIS: It seems that way, and it's a tribute to a lot of work that has been done in the aviation industry over a lot of years in terms of emergency evacuation and the doors and the slides and who goes where and what the flight attendants do and flammability of fabrics and strength of seats. So, all of these things are pluses that have come about over the past, what, 30 years maybe?

LEMNON: OK. Robert Francis, stand by, I have lots more questions for you.

But, again, I want to tell our viewers we are following breaking news on CNN. I want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

LEMON: The breaking news is a major commercial plane crash-landed at San Francisco's airport. We're waiting to hear about terrified passengers. We don't know how many could be injured.

Here's what we do know right now. Asiana Airlines flight 214 had flown across the Pacific from Seoul and was preparing to land when something went terribly wrong. The plane crash-landed on the runway. A fireball erupted. Parts of the plane rocked and broke apart. Huge plumes of gray and white smoke rose up. The plane's roof, what's left of it, now charred with a large gaping hole in it. The plane's tail, in pieces.

We're waiting to hear about the passengers and we have a press conference with the National Transportation and Safety Board. It should happen at any moment now.

In the meanwhile, I want to get to Robert Francis, a former NTSB vice chairman.

As we were saying, it's a little premature to say what happened or guess what happened to this plane. But the passengers were evacuated very quickly. We are looking at huge damage to this plane.

One of the passengers, his daughters said he expected it, Mr. Thompson -- he expected it -- Mr. Francis, excuse me -- and it appeared to him the plane came in, and it was really low. It came in too low and he tried to pull it back up when this happened. Does that make sense to you at all? What do you make of that?

FRANCIS: I make sense that that could have happened, but until the investigators get there and start to look at the flight data recorders and the cockpit voice recorders and whatever film was taken, I don't think that one passenger is in -- unless he's a very experienced pilot and had a unique perspective, I don't think that you can draw conclusions like that at this point. There are so many different things that could have caused this.

LEMON: And for this 777, where are the flight data recorders? Is one in that tail section?

FRANCIS: Both the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder are in the tail section of the aircraft.

LEMON: And so if this is -- does that contribute, another possible problem, a bigger problem, because the tail section of that aircraft broke off?

FRANCIS: I think that would be a very remote chance. Those recorders are really tough. They are geared to go through accidents. They are geared to withstand fire. So, I think that I'd be very surprised in this case if there were not good data from the recorders.

LEMON: In all of your years in your investigating here, as you are an NTSB investigator here, I'm sure you've dealt with similar problems, similar issues, similar crashes, similar accidents, I should say. And how quickly afterwards were you able to determine what caused a particular crash once you get the flight data recorder and the voice recorder and the cockpit recorder?

FRANCIS: You know, it's hard to say, depending on how good the data is. And there are lots of other things that are done by the safety board other than just the recorders. They'll be wanting to get witnesses to the accident and interview them. They'll be looking obviously at the wreckage of the plane, what happened to the landing gear, where did to it come off, where does an engine come off, which direction does it go, how did the fire start, et cetera. So, there's so much to be done that you're not going to have good information on exactly what happened here for at least some days.

LEMON: OK. Stand by, because I'm getting some new information here on CNN.

You can hand that to me. Thank you very much.

This is just in to CNN -- and we're being told now -- this is confirmed -- there were 291 passengers on board that plane, 291 passengers. 16 staff members were on board the Asiana Airlines flight 214 from the International Airport in Seoul, South Korea, to San Francisco. That's according to a public spokesperson, a public relations spokesperson for Asiana Airlines in Seoul. Again, 291 passengers on board the plane. 16 staff members were on board this flight, flight 214.

Getting more information now. John King, from a senior White House official -- this is from CNN's John King -- the president has been made aware of the situation, and his team will update him as new information becomes available.

We'll continue to stay in constant contact with our federal, state, and local partners as they respond to this event.

I want to get back now to Robert Francis, who is a former NTSB vice chairman and an investigator.

So, as they are preparing for this press conference right now, take us behind closed doors. What are they preparing for now? What are they doing before they come out and speak to the public about what they know? FRANCIS: Well, they're getting their team ready to -- ready to leave, and there are certain people on call, on duty, as it were. And when there's an accident, those people will check in with the board and they'll get their team composed. And then I would assume usually it means the team going to hangar six at national airport and flying out to the accident site in either an FAA or perhaps a Coast Guard aircraft.

LEMON: And so at this point -- it's supposed to be at the bottom of the hour, so it's a couple minutes late. I would imagine not unusual when you're dealing with this, this is -- right?

FRANCIS: Well, that's true. And I would guess --

(LAUGHTER)

When I'm speaking like this, I indicate when I'm guessing. I would guess that the go team has been composed and may already be on their way to hangar six. There will be somebody at the NTSB headquarters who will be doing the press conference and saying who's going, who's the board member on duty that will be going with the team, and maybe the composition of the investigative team.

LEMON: All right. Thank you. Stand by. I want you to listen to this with me, Mr. Francis. This is an eyewitness, and it's new in to CNN. Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED WITNESS: And I saw it coming in. I was just watching planes come in, and this one I saw that it looked normal at first. It was taking the same angle that they always come in like this and the wheels were down. And then I knew something was wrong about three or five seconds out. I said -- I started calling to my fiancee, I says, this doesn't look right, this doesn't look right. And the wheels, they were too low too soon. So, this is the runway. It came in like this. And I was just watching the wheels and it just hit like that, and the whole thing just collapsed immediately. It never really had a chance. It was, like, a really blunt, blunt trauma to the whole plane. It just pancaked immediately like that. It collapsed and then it slid. And then after a while it started to slide and pivot. I guess it was counterclockwise. And then the wings caught on the -- on the tarmac there. And then they flew off. And it was just about then the whole inside of the cabin went orange. And I went --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Hmm. So, again, that was a passenger that was on board that plane.

Robert Francis, again, as you listen to that, still your assessment too early to figure out exactly what's going on. But a lot of the eyewitnesses, a lot of people that were on the plane were saying the same thing.

FRANCIS: Well, that will be one of the prime things that will be of interest to the NTSB. Eyewitnesses are very important. They're not always the most reliable, but eyewitness information is then checked against other information that they have, whether it's damage to the aircraft, but particularly with the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder. So, you're trying to put together all the information that you can get from any sources. If somebody's taken a photo, they're very much interested in that. And then they will put it all together as part of their analysis that they will ultimately do to determine the probable cause of the accident.

LEMON: Uh-huh.

Stand by, Mr. Francis. Appreciate that.

It's -- I want on just update our viewers because some people may just be tuning in. If you are, we are following breaking news here on CNN. There's been a major catastrophe in San Francisco at the international airport where a large commercial plane has crash-landed at that airport. 291 people on board that plane. We don't know exactly the extent of the injuries, if any. 290 aboard people on that plane. 16 crew members -- or as they say in Seoul, they're telling us, they call them staff members. We call them crew members here in the U.S. They say staff members on board this Asiana Airlines flight 214. Again, that's according to a spokesperson at the International Airport in Seoul, South Korea.

Some of the pictures that we're getting in now are from people who were fleeing that plane as it was burning, as it was on fire. Many of them, we are told, made it to safety. And, again, we don't know, again, exactly the extent of the injuries, if there are any. We are getting a confirmed report, though, from the Coast Guard that they transported one person to a hospital. We don't know the extent of that person's injuries as well.

A lot of the pictures that you're looking at are coming from CNN iReporters who were either at the airport or who were very near the airport.

One young lady said her father was on the plane. He texted her, and he also spoke with her and he said he saw it coming. He felt a jolt on the plane. He felt as if the plane was coming in too quickly and the pilot tried to bring the plane back up, to put the plane back into the air, but there wasn't enough time. Again, this is according to someone who was on board the plane, and that is his picture that he sent in to his daughter right there. His daughter is Eunice Byrd Rah (ph). He was on that plane. She spoke to us moments ago here on CNN.

A press conference from the National Transportation Safety Board was supposed to start at the bottom of the hour here on CNN, but I imagine they are trying to get all of their information together before they come out and give the news media information. Of course, they want as much accuracy as possible.

If you look at this picture, you can see the engine still on the right side of the plane. The one on the left side is not there. Where is it? People have been asking me on social media and asking others. We don't know. The officials can tell us that. I would imagine it's somewhere close to the airport, and that it's at least partially intact.

According to National Transportation Safety Board former vice chairman, Robert Francis, who's here with us as well, he said part of the information, much of it, if not most of it, will come from the flight data recorders, the cockpit recorders, which are located in the tail section of the airplane, which was broken off as well.

This is from the San Francisco Airport Air Traffic Control, just in to CNN as they are talking to this plane. Listen --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOWER: 214, San Francisco tower, (INAUDIBLE) to land.

PILOT: (INAUDIBLE) 214.

TOWER: 214 heavy emergency. Vehicles are responding.

PILOT: (INAUDIBLE)

TOWER: Asiana 214 heavy, San Francisco tower.

PILOT: (INAUDIBLE)

TOWER: Air heavy 214, emergency vehicles are responding. We have everyone on their way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Again, air traffic controllers speaking to that plane, talking about the situation happening there. We'll have more on that in a moment as we get more information and more recordings here in on CNN. It should be ready very shortly for you, so stand by. We'll get that on the air for you as soon as we get it.

Let's go to Rene Marsh in Washington. Rene is in Washington. Robert Francis is in Washington as well.

Rene, still, the press conference has not started. It was supposed to start about 13 minutes ago. Hasn't happened yet. Are you getting any word?

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. We did get some word that they've pushed that back to 6:00, but that's not even a hard time. That could change again as well. I would imagine they are gathering their go-team. And they're getting ready to go over there as well. But the last check we got was that this press conference will happen at 6:00. But, again, that could change.

And, you know, one of the folks on our air, one of the experts, they hit it right on the head. We don't expect anything groundbreaking to come out of the press conference. Nevertheless, it will be information that we will hear directly from the NTSB, who is leading this investigation, so we will be listening very closely to that.

And, Don, I just want to talk a little bit about that recording that you just played there. I mean, it was a little hard to hear the pilot, but you could clearly hear the tower letting the pilot know that help was on the way. So clearly, in those few minutes leading up to this crash landing, everyone was -- seemed to be aware that something was going terribly wrong. We are working on turn around another piece of audio in which you're going to hear some of the other chatter between traffic control and the other planes that were in the vicinity at the time. So, we'll hear how they had to rearrange things very quickly to make way for this plane that was coming in for that crash landing -- Don?

LEMON: Rene, stand by.

I would like to get Jim Tilmon back up.

Before I get Jim back up, can we roll, again, the air traffic controllers, the portion that we have. And I want Jim to listen to that. And then we'll talk about it. Let's get it back up. Can we play it?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOWER: 214, San Francisco tower, (INAUDIBLE) to land.

PILOT: (INAUDIBLE) 214.

TOWER: 214 heavy. Emergency vehicles are responding.

PILOT: (INAUDIBLE)

TOWER: Asiana 214 heavy, San Francisco tower.

PILOT: (INAUDIBLE)

TOWER: Air heavy 214, emergency vehicles are responding. We have everyone on their way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Jim Tilmon, 214 heavy, what does that mean?

Jim Tilmon, are you there?

OK. No Jim Tilmon at this point.

Robert Francis, explain to us in layman's term what that means, 214 heavy?

FRANCIS: 214 is the flight number. Heavy is an aircraft that's bigger than a 757. 737, 757, 767 are all -- none of those are considered heavies. 777s, A-380s, those are considered heavy. And that's -- that's for air traffic controllers really to give them an idea of where they should be putting the aircraft.

LEMON: So, as we were listening to that -- basically, I mean, that's after the incident happened, they are saying -- they are trying to get as much emergency personnel -- that's really what that transmission this was all about. They are trying to get as much emergency personnel to this plane to help them out as quickly as possible?

FRANCIS: Absolutely. And these people that are being called have been trained to do exactly this, the emergency vehicles, the fire vehicles. That's their business.

LEMON: Yeah. Let's talk, again, about -- as we wait for this press conference. And I want to tell our viewers here, we'll be on the air this evening rolling coverage, until we get to the bottom of it, as much as we can, within this day to figure out exactly what's going on. But we'll have live coverage for you here on CNN throughout the evening. And don't go away, because you're going to get all the information that you need here.

So, back now to Robert Francis, former NTSB vice chairman and investigator here. We're waiting, again, for the press conference. We heard from our Rene Marsh, 6:00. Possibly, they're scheduling it for 6:00. But this is being pushed back again to get as much information as possible so the NTSB can come out with some knowledge and authority about what they know at the particular moment that they speak.

Mr. Francis?

FRANCIS: Yes? Yeah, I could see you were talking, but I wasn't hearing anything.

LEMON: OK. You weren't able to --

(CROSSTALK)

FRANCIS: I can't lip-read.

(LAUGHTER)

LEMON: OK. OK. Sorry, you couldn't hear it. What I was saying is that the NTSB, the press conference has been pushed back to 6:00, and possibly later. I would imagine that they are gathering as much information to speak with authority, as much authority as they can when they come out to address the public.

FRANCIS: But I think they're going to be limiting themselves to pretty much what they're preparing to do. I don't think you're going to find them talking very much about the accident and what happened. I mean, they've got to be very careful not to get into a speculative mode. So they're going to be very sure about what the information is they have before they say anything.

LEMON: OK. Stand by, sir.

We want to go to Diana Magnay, who's live now in Seoul, where this flight originated.

Diana, what are you hearing, as morning and the sun starts to come up there?

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Don. Well, there has been a countermeasure task force set up by the ministry of land and transport here in Seoul as they are investigating it, as Yana Airlines, the airline responsible, also said that it's investigating.

We know that there were 291 passengers on board that flight, which left Seoul's airport yesterday Seoul time at 4:53 p.m. in the afternoon, and 16 staff, so 307 people altogether on board. Asiana Airlines is Korea's second-largest airline, second to Korea Air. Incheon is its major hub. It has flights to San Francisco every day. The flight time's a little over 10 hours.

But as you can imagine, it's early in the morning here, just past 6:00 a.m., so it will be some time before we'll get reaction from passengers. But many, many people on board that 777.

I'll just tell you a little more about Asiana's fleet. It has 12 of these 777s. Commissioned in 2006, the airline, itself, is running since 1988. It's known here really for its good service. It's had five incidents, we've been hearing from Richard Quest, since 1992. But it is difficult to make any assessment when we know so little about why this particular incident happened or to make any judgments on Asiana's safety record, per se.

So that is the situation in Seoul right now as people wake up to this news of that flight which originated from Seoul's International Airport yesterday afternoon -- Don?

LEMON: All right. Diana, thank you. Appreciate it.

We'll be getting back to Diana throughout our coverage here on CNN.

Again, rolling coverage here on CNN until we deem necessary to go off the air, at least with live coverage. But stick right here and you'll get all the information.

As I've been telling you guys, we have been awaiting word from the National Transportation Safety Board. They told us over an hour ago they would hold a press conference at 5:30 eastern time. It is now 5:50 eastern time, 5:51 to be exact and, still, the NTSB has not come out to give that briefing. We're told they may do it at 6:00 eastern time. But according to Robert Francis, a former NTSB vice chair and investigator, it's not unusual. They're trying to get as much information as possible. And he would imagine, as he said, the go- teams may be already in place and they were working on this particular situation, this particular incident.

Again, the information, a lot of it is coming in to CNN and we don't want to speculate. There are a lot of rumors and inaccurate information coming across on social media. We're not going to put it on the air on CNN unless we know it is true.

We do know for sure, according to the Coast Guard there in San Francisco, that they had taken one person to a hospital. Not exactly sure of their condition.

We also know that all flights in and out of the airport have been to cancel. Although, word is coming in that they're about to open -- they haven't opened -- at least two runways to get some of the congestion out of the way.

We also this plane came in from Seoul, South Korea, a routine flight that happens daily into San Francisco International Airport.

The weather, according to our meteorologist, according to Jim Tilmon, who is a meteorologist and aviation expert as well, the weather would not have been an issue in this particular situation.

As a matter of fact, we're going to get to our Fredericka and Tom Sater, down at the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta. They are standing by with more information on the weather situation.

And as we have been reporting, it doesn't appear the weather would be a problem, so investigators might have to look elsewhere.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Don. I'll let Tom speak to that.

But we heard from eyewitness accounts earlier. They said it was a clear day. It was a beautiful day to watch planes. That's what they were doing. And when they saw this plane, flight 214, coming in for a landing, they say very clearly they saw it hit that sea wall right there at the San Francisco Bay, which is where the airport is.

But you describe the conditions. And are their accounts right? It was a clear day. It appears to be a great day for flying.

TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: The first time any incident like this happens, the first thing everyone thinks of, thunderstorms.

WHITFIELD: Sure.

SATER: Micro bursts, downdraft, wind shear creating problems. Really, the conditions could not have been better.

We'll just break them down. When you have visibility at 10 miles- plus, it doesn't get any better. There are two elements, visibility and ceiling. The ceiling is unlimited, which means it was mostly sunny skies. We had a light wind eight miles per hour. Good landing conditions. The strongest wind we could find was 13, but that was 10:00 p.m. the night before. There are absolutely no problems weather wise. And, of course, they still have to make a report on this. And also the flight weather observations for every flight elevation they were at.

Now, this is the Marine layer. And, of course, our aviation specialists have been talking about this. You know, on the west coast, from San Francisco down to San Diego the Marine layer moves in, visibility is reduced. That burns off at 10:00 to 11:30 in the morning.

Here is the radar, Fredricka. Closest thunderstorm activity, if there is a thunderstorm, is well out at eastern parts of Nevada. I mean, we're not looking at really any chance of rain in the past 24/48 hours or the future forecast, which is good. Because as we break this down -- this is for investigators -- the conditions could not be better for the next three days as well.

But you brought up an interesting point. That wind was coming to land -- and this is something we could find on Flight Aware as well. This is quite interesting. The flight comes in from the northwest. This is the way it came in, from this direction. It comes in from the northwest, flies along the coast. Once it makes its way to San Francisco -- and we'll put this into motion for you -- it spins around and banks to the left and approaches the runway from the southeast.

WHITFIELD: And it generally does that because of the potential wind shears or just because of the topography there?

SATER: Well, I think part of it is -- and I'm not an expert on this -- but part of it is the layout. You can see how they brought out the runways in this direction. There is a prevailing wind that comes in from the northwest. A lot of times -- and we had it today -- this prevailing wind creates a little lift in the nose. Sometimes it's only 7 miles per hour. It wasn't great and they can handle this. But sometimes there is a little bit of lift. Obviously, this is where we had impact.

The question is, now that we know weather is not the case, what caused this plane -- was it operator error or was it some mechanical failure or what have you.

But conditions, they should be able to put this to rest, right now, it was not weather.

WHITFIELD: Of course, Don, you've seen the images that we've been looking for two hours. But when you talk about the stone seawall and eyewitnesses saw that tail hit that seawall and then start to break apart, people on the ground, eyewitnesses are able to say that they see this debris field that spanned that seawall to the location where that plan has landed. So if you listen to what a number of the analysts are saying, they're also saying this might be a relatively easy investigation to piece together just by looking at the debris field. Of course, there are other factors that come into play.

SATER: Right. Don Also mentioned, too, once they find the box -- which, I believe, Don, you mentioned is in the tail. And, of course, they're looking in this area. And they also have crews in the water now obviously. So we'll be watching this closely.

WHITFIELD: Tom Sater, thanks so much.

Back to you, Don.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: OK, guys.

We need to get to Washington and the press conference, the NTSB. Let's listen.

DEBBIE HERSMAN, NTSB CHAIRMAN: I'm the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. I'm here with our team at Washington Reagan Airport. We are launching to the crash that occurred at San Francisco international airport earlier today.

We had a Boeing 777 Asiana Flight 214 that was originating in Seoul, South Korea, destined for San Francisco. They were coming in on runway 28 left at San Francisco International Airport and they crashed on landing.

We have a number of investigators who are launching with us here from headquarters. They are being led by investigator in charge Bill English.

We have a number of subject matter experts who are going to be leading specific teams. Those teams are going to be focused on operations, human performance, survival factors, the airport, airport operations, and they're going to be focusing on the aircraft, the systems, the structures, and the power plants.

We are going to be supported by a number of team members here in Washington, D.C. They're in the process of collecting information of air traffic control operations, on weather and on maintenance issues. They will be able to gather information while the rest of our team is en route to provide us with that information when we land so we can hit the ground running.

We have three investigators based on the West Coast. They are deploying right now to the accident scene to stake it down in advance of our team's arrival from Washington. The three investigators are based in the L.A. area and they should arrive in San Francisco in the next couple of hours.

I have spoken to the Administrator Huerta of the FAA. We are getting very good cooperation from the Federal Aviation Administration, from Boeing, and from other participants.

We are working now with our counterparts in Korea, the Korean Air and Accident Investigation Board, and we will invite them to serve as a participant in our investigation.

We're leaving now. We should arrive in San Francisco in just a few hours and then we will get to work when we arrive.

Happy to take any questions.

REPORTER: At this point, what do you -- what do we think happened? Do you have any sense of that yet?

HERSMAN: The question is, at this point, what do we think happen? Obviously, we have a lot of work to do. As you know when our teams arrive on scene they work to collect information. We'll certainly be looking at the aircraft to find the cockpit voice recorders and flight data recorders are functioning at the time of the accident. We'll be looking to get information from them as well as document the accident scene.

It is still too early for us to tell. We haven't left Washington yet. Once we arrive in San Francisco we'll have a lot better sense of what is going on and be able to provide additional information. REPORTER: Any chance of pilot error?

HERSMAN: Are there any other questions?

(INAUDIBLE)

HERSMAN: The question is, is this a relative new aircraft? This is a Boeing 777. I mentioned that Boeing will likely be one of the parties to our investigation and we work very closely with S.T.s (ph), who have expertise to bring that to the investigation.

The 777 has been around for a while, carrying several hundred passengers. We'll certainly be looking at everything when we get there.

We have not determined what the focus of the investigation is yet. We have to get on scene to really begin to collect the factual information to do the documentation and to draw on our experts. We'll be putting together information while en route.

One more question.

REPORTER: Is there any chance this is pilot error?

HERSMAN: The question is, is there any chance that this is pilot error?

As I said before we haven't left Washington yet. We still have a lot of work to do. We will be looking at everything. Everything is on the table at this point.

We have to gather the facts before we reach any conclusions. NTSB's investigations are very thorough and we will gather information and provide that information to the media as soon as possible.

Thank you all very much.