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Koran Airliner Crashes in San Francisco; 2 Confirmed Dead; Airport News Conference on Boeing Crash

Aired July 6, 2013 - 20:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. It's the top of the hour. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

We're bringing you a special breaking news coverage about the airliner crash at the San Francisco International Airport. Two people now confirmed dead, upwards of 60 people still missing, unaccounted for in the words of the fire chief, when a Boeing 777 crash landed at the airport a few hours ago.

We've just learned in the last hour about those two confirmed fatalities and we also heard that many, many people, upwards of 60 as I said, are not accounted for right now, right now. Listen to the Fire Chief in San Francisco.

CHIEF JOANNE HAYES-WHITE, SAN FRANCISCO FIRE DEPARTMENT: We have accounted for 190 people that were transported here to a safety zone here at San Francisco International. And I'm told, and again, these numbers are fluid, out of those 190, there are approximately 82 at this time that are, have been transported or are in the process of being transported. We do have some numbers that are -- some passengers that are unaccounted for and that is something that is a work in progress. We're still putting those numbers together at this time, so upwards of approximately 60 people at this time.

BLITZER: Upwards of 60 people unaccounted for. Let me recap. For our viewers who may just be tuning in, what we know right now. As I said, two people confirmed killed in the crash. At least 130 people are being treated at local hospitals, but there are at least 60 people unaccounted for. We also know there were 291 passengers on the plane, 16 crew members. A total of 307 people on that aircraft.

People who were on that plane have shared some pictures with us. This is what they saw. Smoke pouring out of the plane. Flames in the windows. People jumping down the emergency slide, rushing away from the plane. Others just simply jumping out of those emergency doors.

Earlier we heard from the National Transportation Safety Board, the NTSB. That group will be leading this crash investigation here in the United States. Listen to what the Chair, Deborah Hersman, said just a little while ago here in Washington.

DEBORAH HERSMAN, NTSB CHAIRMAN: 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 plans. We're going to be supported by a number of team members here in Washington, D.C. They're in the process of collecting information on 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 who are 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. Those 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 Administrator Huerta of the FAA. We're 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.

BLITZER: Deborah Hersman, the Chair of the National Transportation Safety Board on her way to San Francisco right now. We also have audio from the air traffic controllers just after that Boeing 777 crash landing. The audio is short, it's a short clip, but you can hear an official saying "emergency vehicles are on the way." listen to this.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

(Inaudible)

214 heavy, emergency vehicles are responding.

(Inaudible)

Emergency (inaudible)

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BLITZER: San Francisco airport officials also tweeted in the last hour that the airport has re-opened two of its four runways. It had stopped all flights in and out of San Francisco immediately after the crash. So let's go to the airport right now.

CNN's Dan Simon is joining us with the very latest. You're inside the terminal there, and the most disturbing information, obviously we're all thrilled that so many people got out and many of them are okay. Did any of them need to go to hospitals, many of them have gone to hospitals, about 130 or so, and some are reportedly in pretty critical condition.

But we're especially worried about what the Fire Chief there says, upwards of 60 people, Dan, unaccounted for. And I'm not exactly sure what that means. Did she give us any explanation?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: She did not, and I asked her, do you suspect that those 60 people are dead? And she said, "not at this time." So that raises the question, is she just not telling us something that she already knows or might there be some kind of accounting error, Wolf? And so that's -- we're just going to have to kind of wait and see how things play out to see what is going on with those 60 people who are unaccounted for.

I should tell you that we're standing here in the international terminal, and if you were just, you know, to come here, you would think it was just a regular Saturday afternoon. People with their luggage, people now soon going to be boarding their planes. As we know that traffic has resumed here, airline traffic.

But I should tell you that clearly is the headline, Wolf, is that 60 people are unaccounted for, and I have to tell you that all the reporters in that room, including myself, were very surprised to hear her say that. It came sort of at the end of the press conference. Earlier at the beginning of the news conference, she said there are some people who are unaccounted for, and she didn't give a specific number. Then at the very end, we asked her how many and then she said 60. So it came as a surprise. Not only because she sort of said it at the end, but also we were under the impression after seeing some of the accounts from passengers, people who were tweeting that, you know, it appears that everyone got out okay or at least most people got out okay. That's what some of the tweets said. So it came as a big surprise to us when she mentioned that number.

So we thought we might be dealing with some kind of miracle here. Everybody remembers the situation in New York, the miracle on the Hudson. Everybody got out okay. We thought that the injury count may, in fact, be small, but here you have 60 people who are unaccounted for, but we don't want to go, draw any conclusions at this point, any firm conclusions in terms of those people, but obviously, Wolf, just doesn't look good.

BLITZER: She also said, maybe the mayor said it, mayor of San Francisco, there would be another news conference at 5:30 p.m. Pacific time which is 8:30 p.m. here on the East Coast, in about 20 minutes or so. Is that still on?

SIMON: At this moment it is. I know these press conferences have gotten pushed back, so I wouldn't be surprised to see that happen again, but they -- the officials told us at the outset that there would be briefings every hour. So at this point, I would assume that that will take place, but we'll just, again, have to monitor the situation and hopefully they'll tell us more about those 60 people.

We should also reiterate, Wolf, that of the 307 people onboard that plane, 291 passengers, 16 crew, 190 of them were able to get to the terminal. So nearly 200 got out on their own volition, were able to board buses, get to the terminals. That would suggest that they were in pretty good shape if they were able to do that.

I think the most worrisome number is the 48 people who are originally transported to the hospital from the plane, itself. And then of course the 60 people who are unaccounted for. So, again, we're here at the airport we're just going to continue to monitor the situation. And we'll, of course, update you with any new numbers we get.

BLITZER: And she also said two confirmed fatalities. Two people confirmed dead, but obviously the fear is that that number could go up based on what we know about these upwards of 60 people who are unaccounted for. Have they released the names of the fatalities?

SIMON: They haven't, Wolf. And obviously we don't know if their loved ones have been notified. And of course, we wouldn't report their names until we had, you know, assurance that, in fact next of kin had been notified.

And so at this point we don't really have any of the passengers' names of those who have been injured or critically injured in this mishap. So as soon as we get some of that information, we'll, of course, pass it on.

BLITZER: And also the 16 crew members who were on that plane, including the pilots and the flight attendants and everyone else, 16. Have they said how many of those 16 are either in the category of unaccounted for, category of people who have managed to get to the terminal, people who were in the hospital? Have they broken down, in other words, the 16 crew members?

SIMON: You know, that's an excellent question, and at this point, they haven't. They've just given us the raw data, if you will. That, again, it was 190 who were brought here to the terminal, 82 of those taken to the hospital. These are just raw numbers that we're getting. We don't know if, in fact, some of these people who are unaccounted for were part of that flight crew. We're just going to have to, you know, unfortunately we're just going to have to be patient and learn the information as they tell us. We're sort of at their mercy because, you know, of course they're the only ones that have it at this point.

BLITZER: And if it's on schedule, in about 20 minutes from now we'll have live coverage of that news conference with all the authorities who spoke to us, who have been briefing us including the mayor of San Francisco, the fire chief, the FBI agent in charge. He says, by the way, there's no indication of terrorism at this point.

Alright, standby. Dan Simon, our man on the scene in San Francisco.

Earlier I spoke with a passenger who was on that flight, Elliot Stone. He's 25 years old. He was in Seoul, South Korea, with family members and friends at a martial arts event. He told me once that plane touched down, it was chaos. He said he saw several people who appeared to be very badly hurt. Listen to him describe the moment that plane landed.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) ELLIOT STONE, PASSENGER: It seemed like we were a little bit high, and, like, we could see the tarmac down below us. And so we were coming down kind of sharp, and then right when it started to coast, like, for the landing, all of a sudden the engine was all like he YEEEEEEE like you sped up (inaudible), like the pilot knew he was short and then just BOOM! The back end just hit and flies up in the air and everybody's head goes up to the ceiling and then it just kind of drifts for a little bit, probably a good 300 yards then tips over, fire starts. Everybody's, you know, pushing the doors out.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BLITZER: Elliot Stone was on that trip, part of a martial arts trip with family members and friends. He says they are all safe. They are all holed up in the airport right now. Authorities not letting them leave. Apparently they want to be interviewed by authorities. So 108 people who were not necessarily -- who did not have to go to the hospital, they are still inside that airport waiting, awaiting questioning.

By most accounts, the Boeing 777 is considered very reliable, a jet frequently used on long-distance flights, overseas flights in particular. This case the plane had flown a little over ten hours from Seoul, South Korea, to California, to San Francisco.

Let's bring in our CNN International Anchor Richard Quest. He's a real authority on aviation. He's joining us from our London bureau. Richard, talk a little bit about this plane. I've flown the 777 on many occasions. You've flown it on a lot of occasions. Give us a little background, because the track record, the safety record, is excellent.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN, INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Oh, beyond. I mean, it's absolutely superb. The 777 was introduced in the early 1990s. United Airlines of the U.S. was the launch customer. More than 1,400 orders have been received for the variants from the 200, the 200ER, the 200LR. The aircraft we're talking about today is a 200ER which stands for extended range. Boeing kept putting larger tanks in, and auxiliary tanks and extra tanks so the aircraft could go further.

And now, of course, there's the next variation, there's the 300ER and Boeing is talking about making the 777X, which will be an even larger version. They're taking orders and they're starting to look at that.

Now, more than 60, I think it's 64 airlines around the world currently use the 777, but the beauty of the aircraft is its large capacity, 300 to 400 passengers, extremely low operating costs and immense versatility.

So you'll get British Airways and American flying it across the Atlantic where you need large capacity. You'll get Qantas flying it out of Australia, you'll get Oceania flying it across the Pacific. Because it gives that balance between low cost and high fuel efficiency at the same time large passenger numbers without going to the jumbo jet. In terms of incidents just looking at the screen here, we're talking about two incidents. The worst so far has been the British Airways incident in 2008 where the plane basically pancaked at the end of the runway because of a fuel problem, ice in the fuel which caused the engines to stop running. They never really fully got to the bottom of it, but they did come up with various ways round it including heating the engines, and heating the pipes and all that. So I don't think that's going to be relevant.

But Wolf, if you're talking about aircraft that passengers love, that airlines adore flying, and that has an excellent safety record, the 777 is way up there.

BLITZER: What do we know about Asiana airlines? The airline that obviously at the focus right now?

QUEST: Yeah. Asiana is the, is in South Korea. Second airline. The national carrier, of course, is Korean Airlines. And then you have Asiana which is the commercial carrier. Now, interestingly with Asiana, if you look back over since the early 1990s, it's had five incidents.

We can take some of those -- this is the worst by a long way. There was a 737 in the early '90s in which there were multiple fatalities. There was a freighter that had multiple, that had two fatalities. And there was two other incidents. Now, five fatalities over 12, 15 years. I want to put that in perspective for you. If you take a U.S., one of the major U.S. carriers, they have a similar number of fatalities over the same -- or a similar number of incidents over the same period, but they are a lot larger.

So what does one make of that? I suspect not much at all at the moment. These five incidents have to be put in perspective. This is by far and away the worst. In terms of U.S. aviation, what we are looking at here today in terms -- if these numbers are starting to look as they, God forbid, seem to be coming forward, you go back to 2001 with the American Airlines crash over New York. And then you've really got two commuter incidents, a Comair and Continental Airlines in 2006 and 2009 was the Continental one (inaudible). And now you have this one. So this is by far and away the most serious incident in the United States for some years.

BLITZER: At least it's encouraging that so many people did manage to escape that plane. Let's not lose sight of that.

QUEST: Absolutely. And we've seen that before. We saw it with Air France in Toronto. If you remember the plane, the (inaudible) the plane the way it landed, it was an A340, landed in terrible weather. The entire plane was gutted by fire.

We were all convinced watching the live pictures this was going to have mass fatalities. In the event, everybody got off. So there are occasions, the plane is designed not only to fly but to get people off in a hurry. And I think what we're going to see in this incident, again, God forbid the number of fatalities rises to the sort we may fear. But we are seeing 190-plus, 230-plus did get off the aircraft. And that's the blessing of the way these aircraft are built and constructed.

BLITZER: Yep. That's a good point. Richard, don't go away. I want to continue our analysis of what happened. Mary Schiavo is going to be joining us as well.

Once again, upwards of 60 passengers, crew members unaccounted for in this plane crash in San Francisco. What happened? What went wrong with flight 214? Our coverage continues in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

Something happened before it hit. I didn't see or hear it, but it caught the other fishermens' attention and they all looked down. What I saw was, it was coming in to land at the last minute. You could see the front end pop up and then slam down. And then it went from there and then eventually became the big explosion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Emotional sound, emotional account of the deadly plane crash earlier today. We're continuing our breaking news coverage. We should also note, by the way, that a National Security official as well as the FBI agent in charge of this investigation in San Francisco says there's no indication, at least not yet, no indication whatsoever that terrorism might have played a role in this plane crash in San Francisco.

Let's bring in a guest right now. Francis Zamora is joining us, Francis Zamora from the Department of Emergency Management in San Francisco. When the fire chief, Francis, says that upwards of 60 people remain unaccounted for, they did say that two confirmed fatalities, what are they, what's going on with these upwards of 60 people unaccounted for? What does that mean?

FRANCIS ZAMORA, DEPARTMENT OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT, SAN FRANCISCO: Well, thank you, Wolf. You know, what I can tell you is that, you know, there are two confirmed fatalities as the fire chief said. In the information that we have, there are four passengers right now unaccounted for. And so, obviously as you know, in an incident any number that we get are always subject to change, so, you know, the first responders have responded and what we can confirm at this time, is there are two deaths that are confirmed as well as four passengers unaccounted for.

BLITZER: When you say four passengers unaccounted for, why would the police chief, excuse me, the fire chief say upwards of 60 are unaccounted for?

ZAMORA: You know, I would defer that question to the fire chief, however, what I can tell you is that, you know, that there are multiple injuries and that they have been transported to area hospitals.

BLITZER: Because the numbers that they released, we're standing by for another news conference, I assume we'll be hearing more from the fire chief Joanne Hayes-White. But what she said was that 190 self- evacuated. Of those, 82 were taken to hospitals. 108 are still in the airport, they didn't need to go to hospital. Earlier, 48 were taken immediately from the aircraft to local hospitals. Two confirmed fatalities. If you do the math, 307 people onboard, 291 passengers, 16 crew members, we still don't know about 67 people. So what I'm curious, Francis, is how do you get to four? Can you do your math for me?

ZAMORA: You know, obviously when there is an incident like this, the numbers that we get are always going to be subject to change, and so right now that is the information that we have here at, here at our Emergency Operation Center.

BLIZTER: So, just, I want to be precise. So of the 307 people on that plane, you have accounted for 304 of those people? You have four unaccounted for? But you know precisely what happened to 304 people?

ZAMORA: What I can tell you is that we have two confirmed fatalities along with right now four passengers unaccounted for.

BLITZER: But I did the math. 303, if you subtract 4 from 307, you get 303. So you -- do you know that 300 -- what happened to 303 people?

ZAMORA: Again, you know, with incidents like this, numbers are always going to be -- the numbers are always going to change. We're always going to try to figure out what's going on, and so really what the important thing is that, you know, we are taking care of the response and making sure that the appropriate resources are getting to where they need to go.

BLITZER: Well I assume you guys are doing the best you possibly can. Francis Zamora, thanks very much. Once again, we're standing by for another news conference. Supposed to happen in about five minutes at the San Francisco Airport. Maybe the fire chief, Joanne Hayes-White, will elaborate on what she said an hour ago when she said upwards of 60 people remain unaccounted for.

The former Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation is joining us now, Mary Schiavo, she's an aviation expert. She's joining us from Charleston, South Carolina. Richard Quest is still with us, another aviation expert joining us from London.

Mary Schiavo, these numbers are very disturbing. What do you make, first of all, of this discrepancy, this person, Francis Zamora from the Department of Emergency Management, saying four unaccounted for. The fire chief saying upwards of 60 unaccounted for. That's a huge difference.

MARY SCHIAVO, FORMER INSPECTOR GENERAL, DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION: Well, it is a huge difference and it's very disturbing because presumably the airlines, at least U.S. carriers, are obligated to keep track and keep very careful records and account for the passengers. They may not have exactly the same procedures with a Korean carrier. And the problem can be as if -- and I hope this isn't true, because I did work the Pearson crash that Richard mentioned earlier, and there the plane looked even worse than this one and eventually all were accounted for and all lived.

But what also could be a problem is if people aren't accounted for, and we hope and pray this isn't the case, but if they are still on the plane, they will be waiting for the NTSB to arrive. They will not be disturbing that until the NTSB gets here, so we just hope the discrepancy is not still at the plane. And like I said, there's reason to hope for good things at this point because when I worked on the Pearson one, the Toronto crash, there was literally nothing left of that plane and yet everyone did survive, fortunately.

BLITZER: I want Richard to weigh in on this as well. I'm going to show our viewers the rear of that plane, the tail. And you can see it. It's open. They've covered it up now with some, some sort of cloth or whatever. But we're going to show you, there it is right there. You see that it's covered. But Mary Schiavo, you see the tail of the plane, and you see how it opened up. And the tail sort of disappeared, crashed or whatever. What does that say to you about the folks who were in the rear of that aircraft?

SCHIAVO: Well it obviously doesn't say anything good. I mean they would have absorbed such tremendous forces. And this plane coming in, and from the eyewitness accounts, it sounds like it might have hit one of the seawalls at the end. You know, there are lots of reasons for that. But the forces, and especially if you're at the speeds that the plane lands at, in fact, they said it was coming in faster than normal. It would just be a tremendous amount of force. And simply even the bumps along the runway, passengers would be hitting their heads, there would be lots of closed head injuries and wounds in that way and those can also cause fatalities. It's very serious. But the forces on the body just cannot be, you know, you just can't overstate how bad that can be. Particularly if the pilot was trying to recover and at the last minute gave full throttle attempting a go-around which was hopeless at that point since apparently the landing gear was already damaged.

BLITZER: And we're showing our viewers, now Mary, I don't know if you can see it. Richard, I hope you can see it, all that stuff on the runway there. That is the tail. That's the tail.

SCHIAVO: Right.

BLITZER: Of that Boeing 777. All of that wreckage right there. You can see what's going on. You see folks walking around there as well. This is videotape that we shot earlier. They're walking around looking at that tail.

Richard, help me question Mary Schiavo.

QUEST: Yeah.

BLITZER: You're an expert on this subject. Go ahead and ask her what you want.

QUEST: Mary, are you hearing anything, and this is just chatter that's out there in the big wide blogosphere, twittersphere, whatever you want to call it. Are you hearing anything about the ILS system at San Francisco airport? The Instrument Landing System? Whether it was operational today?

SCHIAVO: Yes, there's lots of talk about whether that was operational, whether there was a possibility that the pilots had not properly readjusted or set their altimeters and their other instruments coming in. And whether they were getting proper readings off of the ILS.

And then also, of course, there is the issue of, there will be the issue in the investigation of the configuration of the runway and the seawall at the end which is, of course, necessary. But on the pilot chatter lines, obviously there's lots of talk about what might have gone wrong. Such as the ILS having a problem with improper settings on the altimeter. Improper or not good crew resource management.

In other words, if you were below your glide slope and below where you needed to be on your map.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Right. And there are diagrams out there, aren't there now, showing that substantially 214, Asiana 214 was at a steeper rate of descent today than traditionally if we compare it to what she said. It means nothing, of course, because there are still the PAPI lights at the end of the runway, the reds and the whites which should guide the pilots safely down to the center line on a correct glide slope. But it is out there at the moment that this -- I think what this shows Wolf, what Mary and I are talking about, is that any attempt to try and pass what happened is doomed to failure bearing in mind the complexity that we are now talking about.

Whether it's instrument landing systems, whether it's glide slopes, whether it's the manner in which the approach and the degree at which the approach -- all these sort of issues will be swirling and these will be the things that Deborah Hersman and the NTSB will be getting to grips with. And thankfully, they have all the information because the plane, even though it's wrecked as we see it, and tragically so, the important stuff is there for the investigators.

SCHIAVO: Right, and already, I mean, the radar tracings even from the air traffic control tower and the approach control, the radar tracings will give exactly the coordinates on the plane and the altimeter. But I do think it's important to throw out all these possibilities. Because this is what the NTSB does. They throw out what might have gone wrong and then they test theories.

And, you know, sometimes people can come up with theories that the NTSB misses, and so I think it does help to fully air the possibilities and we don't want anything missed. Because the whole reason for the NTSB is so this never happens again. So, they will be exploring all things. Then sometimes those pilot chat lines are very, very helpful and they're quite a buzz right now.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, hold on for a moment. Richard, stand by. Mary Schiavo, don't go away. Once again, we're standing by for a news conference. We hope to get some more information. We desperately want clarification on what the fire chief in San Francisco said an hour ago that upwards of 60 people are still missing from this crash scene.

We don't know what that means. Just a few moments ago you heard it live here on CNN. A spokesperson from the Department of Emergency Management in San Francisco says four people are confirmed still unaccounted for. Four unaccounted for. Well, that's a huge difference between upwards of 60 and four. Let's stand by. We'll go to that news conference in San Francisco.

We'll also monitoring the reaction, what's going on in Seoul, South Korea. South Korean television is all over this. We still don't have a statement from Asiana Airlines about what happened in this disaster in San Francisco. This plane crash. Our special coverage continues in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KRISTINA STAPCHUCK, WITNESSED CRASH: So what happened was when it was about to land, I guess it looks like the tires flipped a little bit and then it rocked back. And the tail came off, and then when it rocked back, a lot of the parts from the plane came off and it all shattered everywhere and the runway and then after, it rocked to the front and then in my eyes it just looked like the plane went on sudden break which made the plane spun around while the front of the plane is just on the ground gliding all the way through the runway.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Dramatic sound. We're continuing our special coverage. We're standing by for a news conference. You see over there they're getting the microphones ready. We anticipate that officials in San Francisco including the mayor, the fire chief, the FBI agent in charge, others will be briefing us once again with the very latest information. We're anxious to get clarification. The fire chief told us an hour ago upwards of 60 passengers, people on that plane remain unaccounted for right now, two confirmed fatalities. We need clarification on what's going on as far as those 60 people.

Because a little while ago, you heard a spokesperson from the Department of Emergency Management in San Francisco, Francis Zamora, saying that they know of only four unaccounted for. So these are significant discrepancies. Hopefully we'll get some clarification momentarily. We'll have live coverage of that.

But in the meantime, let's bring in Todd Curtis, he's a former Boeing aviation safety engineer. He publishes airsafe.com. Thanks very much, Todd, for joining us.

Let's start with this plane, the Boeing 777. They got an excellent track record. This version designed for long-haul flights. Trans- Atlantic flights. Trans-Pacific flights. As far as you know, have there been any major or even minor safety issues involving this specific 777, this kind of plane?

TODD CURTIS, FORMER BOEING AVIATION SAFETY ENGINEER: No, I'm not aware of anything with this particular aircraft, or for that matter, with any of the 777s on the Asiana fleet. And it's unclear at this point whether or not this is a problem that is unique to this particular aircraft or something to do with the operational procedures of this airline. That will come out during the investigation.

BLITZER: The plane lost its tail and it's got an opening in the back of the plane as we've seen. The fuselage pretty much intact except for that fire. What does that tell you about how the plane hit?

CURTIS: Well, from the debris field that's on the runway, it was clear that the tail section, the two horizontal stabilizers plus the tail fin separated shortly after it hit the ground. And the section at the rear that looked as though it were torn curtains, it actually looks like the rear pressure, the pressure bulkhead which means there are some serious, serious structural damage to the rear part of the aircraft. It's unclear whether that translated into damage to the cabin floor, possibly to the seats.

BLITZER: If you're sitting in the rear of that plane, what does it mean?

CURTIS: Well, the brunt of the impact appeared to be in the rear part of the aircraft. And if any part of the cabin would have problems with structural integrity, problems possibly with the doors opening, it would be the rear part of the aircraft. But again, until we get some word from the investigators or from the passengers or themselves, it's unclear how bad the problem was in that part of the 777.

BLITZER: Hold on for a moment because I think this news conference is about to -- oh, this is a separate news conference over at the San Francisco hospital. While we await the major news conference, let's listen in.

RACHAEL KAGAN, SPOKESWOMAN, SAN FRANCISCO GENERAL HOSPITAL: OK. One more time. All right.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Game.

KAGAN: Are you good?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Go.

KAGAN: He's waiting -- I'm waiting for him. OK.

Good afternoon. Rachael Kagan with San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center. I'm giving you the 5:00 update on the patients from the Asiana Airlines accident here at San Francisco general. Our grand total so far today is now 34 patients. Of those patients, 11 are children and 23 are adults. We have five in critical condition from the original ten you may recall that at the 2:00 update we had ten critically injured patients. Five of those remain critically injured. Five -- the other five have been upgraded to serious. For the rest of the group, getting up to a grand total of 34, we do not have condition breakdowns yet. They are being assessed, but we do know that their injuries vary. They, not all of them will be admitted. Some are in good condition and they will be treated and released. Some will have more serious injuries and will be admitted. We have had three waves of patients today. The first ten people critically injured. Then 17 people with a mixture of injuries. And then seven people also with a mixture of injuries. Again, 34 total. Eleven children and 23 adults.

We also wanted to let folks know that we do not need volunteer translators. Please, we appreciate everyone's effort and impulse to come and volunteer to translate, but we do not need that. We have a sufficient number of translators. We -- if people want to do something, they could go to their local blood bank and donate blood which is always a good idea. And this might be a good time to do that. But we are prepared here and we are treating all of these patients and we don't need the extra translators. Thank you, though.

BLITZER: All right. I want to go over to the San Francisco International Airport. That news conference is beginning right now. Let's listen in.

DOUG YAKEL, SFO PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER: -- SFO today. I want to start by kind of reconfirming some of the facts and then we'll provide some updated information on passenger numbers for you. So, again, this morning at 11:27 a.m., we had an incident involving Asiana flight 214, this is a flight that originated in Shanghai and continued on through Seoul Incheon Airport on its way to San Francisco.

It's a Boeing 777 aircraft, and our manifest count, the number of individuals onboard the aircraft, 291 passengers and 16 crew for a total of 307 onboard the aircraft. And as I mention, we do have some updated information on the status of those passengers and crew and for that I'm going to turn it over to Assistant Deputy Chief Dale Carnes. Dale?

DALE CARNES, ASSISTANT DEPUTY CHIEF: Good evening. Of the 307 souls onboard, we had 181 total that were transported to local hospitals. Of that 181, 49 were serious and were in the initial victims transported from the scene. An additional 132 were transported later on into the incident after being triaged as they were the more minor to moderate casualties. We've also accounted for 123 people here in the terminals of the airport. They were uninjured and have remained in place. And at this time, we do have two confirmed DOA passengers on the aircraft.

YAKEL: So those numbers add up to 306. We're still working to confirm the last one. As Dale mentioned, we've got 123 individuals uninjured, still on site at the airport being processed as we speak. I'm going to turn it over now to FBI special agent in charge, Dave Johnson. Dave?

DAVE JOHNSON, FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Thank you. At this time, we continue to work with the NTSB on determining the exact cause of the incident. There is currently and continues to be no indication that terrorism or any criminal act contribute to the incident. We are offering all resources necessary to help with the event. We continue to keep the flight's passengers, crew and their loved ones in our thoughts. Thank you.

YAKEL: I just want to finish by talking a little by about the status of the airport as a whole. As I mentioned in the last briefing, we've got a total of four runways at SFO. We've re-opened two of those four runways so we are operating. Limited arrivals and departures at SFO currently. We would recommend for any passengers that are traveling through SFO to check with their airline for the status of their flight before coming out to the airport today. Thank you very much for coming. Our next briefing will be held at 7:30 tonight in the same location. Thank you.

BLITZER: All right. There you have it. New numbers coming in. And Dan Simon who was listening together with me, Richard Quest is listening. Apparently the upwards of 60 unaccounted for, if you listen to the numbers that were just provided here, no longer operative. And maybe what we heard earlier from the Department of Emergency Management, four unaccounted for is more realistic. Clearly what we just heard from Dale Carnes, 181 taken to local hospitals. Of those 181, 49 serious. Another 132 also treated in hospitals.

And, well, you know, I just want to be precise on this because we didn't get into it, 123 in the terminal. Dan Simon, if you're with me, help me. Are we still talking about 60, upwards of 60 unaccounted for or four unaccounted for? Because I'm still confused and unfortunately Dale Carnes didn't stick around for questioning. It seemed a little uncertain to me. Maybe, Richard Quest, were you listening carefully to those numbers?

QUEST: Of course. All right. Let's go through these numbers and check them with each other, Wolf, as we go through them. Three hundred and seven souls onboard. That's the phrase that the aviation industry uses to describe people on an aircraft. Three hundred and seven souls onboard. Hundred and eighty one transported to hospital. Of that 181, 49 are serious, and 132 walking wounded. So we've got 181 taken to hospital. Hundred and twenty three are in the terminal and they remain in the terminal. There are two fatalities which the gentleman who forgive me, I didn't hear his name, but the gentleman said he added it up for us. He said it comes to 306.

BLITZER: It makes 306 when you include the two fatalities.

QUEST: Correct. It's 306 including the two fatalities. We know there are 307. It would appear, I mean, one hesitates to have sort of the heart rise in optimism in these things, but it would -- because obviously it can be so uncertain. But it would appear, listening to these numbers that we've just heard, that there's only one person unaccounted for.

BLITZER: That's right.

QUEST: And we could, and we could, and I only put that very lightly, be looking at a very similar situation to the Pearson Air France Toronto incident that Mary Schiavo and I were talking about earlier where thank God everybody got off or at least, you know, this is looking incredibly more encouraging...

BLITZER: Very encouraging.

QUEST: ...than it was ten minutes ago.

BLITZER: Right. Basically you heard him say 306 people accounted for.

QUEST: Yes.

BLITZER: You know, that's very -- two dead, two confirmed dead. When we heard earlier from the fire chief saying that there were upwards of 60 unaccounted for at this late stage after several hours of the wreckage on the ground. My heart sank. I'm sure yours did as well.

QUEST: I am guessing, because I've got the earlier numbers here. And I know it's a numbers game. I am guessing that the discrepancy has arisen from twofold. Firstly the number of people in the terminal, and that numbers -- of people that have gone to hospital. And that's why they talk about unaccounted for. They get them off the plane, they see who needs to go to the hospital, they get them on their way and in the melee, in the -- of the moment, you start to lose sight of the numbers. And it's only these few hours later. So, the discrepancy of numbers seems to be those people who've been transported to hospital.

BLITZER: Yes. And right now basically we have one person on that plane, one person of the 307 people on that plane unaccounted for which is obviously a lot better than upwards of 60 unaccounted for. So, that's very, very encouraging. And you could almost say looking at that wreckage, looking at the flames, the fire that occurred, this, you know, we talk about miracle on the Hudson. This could be another miracle.

QUEST: This is -- this -- if these numbers are right, and please, God, they are, then -- and, you know, this is not to detract from the people who may have lost their lives, but you're looking at a textbook survivable accident where there was terrific impact that removed the tail. So lord knows what those people at the back of the plane suffered. And the ferocious fire that destroyed the fuselage from the cockpit to the back of the left wing, and still we end up with these exceptionally good numbers of -- which just shows, Wolf, this idea that, you know, people have got to listen to the evacuation messages.

When you hear the, you know, when you board the plane, and we all yawn and put up our newspapers. You're learning there how to get off one of these aircraft in exactly these situations. Where's the emergency exit? How many rows is it to the exit? What's my closest exit? These are the sorts -- this is the sort of information that these passengers had to use today.

BLITZER: And just to be precise, Asiana Airlines says 141 of those passengers on this flight are Chinese. Seventy seven South Koreans. Sixty one Americans. The flight originated in Shanghai. Continued on to Seoul. And then continued on to San Francisco International Airport. Let's bring in Dan Simon. He's at the airport as well. If these latest numbers, Dan, and I don't want to get overly upbeat, or accurate, one unaccounted for, that's very, very encouraging.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, absolutely right. You know, the story has dramatically changed. You know, I just spoke to the deputy fire chief as that news conference ended, and I said, listen, I just want to be totally clear about this. Just want to make sure we're clear that you have one person who is unaccounted for. And he said, yes. That's what we believe at this time. So you have 181 who were transported to local hospitals. And then 123 passengers who made it here to the terminal. That adds up to 304 passengers. You have two people who are confirmed dead. That leaves one person at this point unaccounted for, Wolf.

And that's why we said last time we spoke with you that the fire chief, she wasn't clear at all about how, you know, she could account for those people or why those people were unaccounted for. We asked, do you suspect those people are dead? And she said, not at this time. So, clearly you either had some sort of accounting error, or in the confusion of it all, in the chaotic scene, they miscounted. But nonetheless, we can just say that we can all be very glad in terms of how this is unfolding and we're expecting another news briefing in about an hour from now. These are going to continue throughout the night. One every single hour -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And I must say when we interviewed Francis Zamora from the Department of Emergency Management and said there were four unaccounted for, I was very encouraged, obviously that's a lot better than upwards of 60 unaccounted for. But now it's, they're saying one passenger or crew member unaccounted for which is obviously very, very encouraging as well.

All right. Everyone, stand by. We're going to go to South Korea in Seoul, South Korea. Our own Diana Magnay is standing by. New information coming in from there. Our coverage continues in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're continuing the breaking news coverage on this Asiana flight that originated in Shanghai, China. Continued on to Seoul. Made it to San Francisco. And crash landed at San Francisco International Airport. We just heard from authorities in San Francisco, only one of those passengers or crew members now unaccounted for. An hour earlier the fire chief in San Francisco Joanne Hayes-White said, upwards of 60 passengers unaccounted for. That's very, very encouraging news. Two confirmed fatalities. One person still unaccounted for.

Let's go Seoul right now. CNN international anchor Diana Magnay is standing by. What are you hearing from South Korean authorities over there, Diana?

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, they're sending a team of four inspectors over to San Francisco this afternoon from the South Korean aviation and railway accident body. They are apparently specialists in the flight deck. And they'll be going obviously to inspect the debris and work alongside the other inspectors from the NTSB and Boeing and Asiana. And there has been a hotline set up for worried families. Asiana has set that up. I think the numbers will appear on your screen. If you're dialing internationally in Seoul. And Asiana said that has been obviously very, very busy this morning as South Koreans wake up to this news.

A little bit more information for you, Wolf, about Asiana. It's the second biggest carrier here. And as we've been hearing from Richard, there have been accidents in the past, but not necessarily more than any other aircraft. And it's considered, I'm sorry, carrier. And it's considered really well known for customer service. If you look at the customer reviews which I've been doing just now. You know, that's something that this airline is well known for. But, yes, shocking news, but at least not as bad as what we thought it was a few hours or a few minutes ago, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Much better news, obviously our heart goes out to the families of those killed. The two confirmed fatalities in this crash. One person still unaccounted for. Hundred and eighty one people taken to local hospitals. Hundred and twenty three apparently OK. They're in the terminal right now. Apparently they're still in the terminal and they're being questioned by U.S. authorities. They want to get to the bottom of this. The NTSB. The FBI. The FBI, Diana, saying there's no indication that any criminal activity or any terrorism played a role in this. I assume Korean authorities are making the same point.

MAGNAY: Absolutely. Yes. No indications from this side either that there was anything untoward apart from, you know, whatever it was that caused this crash. No terrorism or anything like that, none of that being mentioned over this side, either. I think it's important to remind viewers, though, Wolf, of who was onboard. It was a plane coming from Shanghai with a large number of Chinese onboard. Hundred and forty one Chinese. Seventy seven South Koreans. And 61 U.S. citizens. And then a few individuals from other countries. Obviously, you know, many people around the world extremely worried about the condition of their loved ones now.

BLITZER: But at least we heard some very, very encouraging news just a minute, or a few minutes ago that only one, only one of those people of the 307 onboard, 291 passengers, 16 crew member, only one remains unaccounted for. Very, very encouraging. An hour earlier authorities said upwards of 60 unaccounted for.

Diana, thanks very much. We're going to continue to follow the breaking news coverage in San Francisco. That's it for me this hour.

My colleague, good friend, Don Lemon, picks up our special coverage from New York. Don, happy to throw it to you and I'm really, really pleased that only one person unaccounted for. Because like you, like all of our viewers, when they said, the fire chief in San Francisco, upwards of 60 unaccounted for several hours after this crash, all of us were so, so depressed.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Absolutely. I started going through my head saying unaccounted for, missing, maybe there's a distinction. But the news certainly seems to be better now. Wolf, thank you. Great coverage.