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Germanwings 9525 Went Down in the French Alps; Remembering Victims of Germanwings Crash. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired March 24, 2015 - 20:00   ET


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The other thing that the Cruz people are sort of pushing back on and something that I kind of understand about is that a lot of Republicans who oppose Obamacare take it because they effectively don't have any choice because it's the law of the land.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST, OUTFRONT: Yes. Of course it is something that's a fair point but of course, it's tough when you're the face of repealing Obamacare.

Dana Bash, thank you so much. And Anderson starts now.

[20:00:22] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. Thanks for joining us tonight.

Tonight, new information we are just getting in about the crash of an airliner flown by millions of people every day all around the world, The information that could shed light on the crash today of Germanwings 9525. As you probably know, it went down in the French Alps on a flight from Barcelona to Dusseldorf, Germany with 150 men and women and several children on board.

Wreckage of the airbus A320, thousands of small pieces of it scattered across the mountainside. Now, the plane descending 27,000 feet and nearly eight minutes and apparently flying straight into the ground. And tonight, there is new focus on a key safety feature on airbuses that can sometimes, under rare conditions, put them into a descent that can hard to stop.

Airbus knew with the problem. And in fact the European aviation safety agency, the equivalent of America's FAA issued a warning about it nearly four months ago.

Rene Marsh has been working her sources on this. She joins us momentarily.

But first, how this tragedy unfolded.


COOPER (voice-over): 10:01 a.m., local time, Germanwings flight 9525 takes off from Barcelona after a 26 minute delay. The plane bound for Dusseldorf, Germany, immediately flies out to sea over the Mediterranean and starts to climb. Around 10:27, it hits its cruising altitude after 38,000 feet. But just about three minutes later, right around the time, flight 9525 is back overland in France, something goes wrong. It starts to lose altitude very quickly, in a span of about eight minutes; it drops nearly 27,000 feet to 11,400 feet. It's now deep into the French Alps.

MARY SCHIAVO, FORMER INSPECTOR GENERAL, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION: You just don't descend. As a pilot, you have to request the descent. You have to request to change altitudes. And since we know they didn't do that because air traffic control did not know, had not communicated with them that they were talking to air traffic control, they could have told them about any problem they had on board. So whatever caused this caused the pilot to be unavailable to communicate or have no time to communicate.

COOPER: As the plane goes further into the mountains, it continues to lose altitude. At 10:53, Germanwings flight 9525 crashes in the French Alps, 150 people were on board, 144 passengers including two infants and six crew members.

The crash site is extremely remote. Those first on the scene describe the plane as obliterated. The largest pieces of wreckage no bigger than a small car, the chance anyone survive slim.

I'm concerned with the death and suffering that's being brought to so many people, German Chancellor, Angela Merkel says. My thoughts are with those people who have lost somebody. We'll do everything to get the help that they need in these difficult hours.

Nearly half of those on board were German, including 16 students from the same high school. A vigil started earlier in the day by fellow students. Grows as night falls, the hope of any of their classmates survived fading.

And into the crash site, one of two black boxes is found. Hundreds continue to work on both the recovery effort and to try and figure out exactly what happened to flight 9525.


COOPER: Well, more on that piece of air but safety technology can sometimes turn dangerous. It uses a pair of sensors to figure out if the plane knows it's pointing too high for the plane to keep flying, then steps in automatically to force the nose back down. When the problem occurs when something goes wrong with those sensors, the result, obviously, could be terrifying.

The aviation correspondent Rene Marsh joins us now with more.

So you're learning about the safety alert regarding the type of plane. What's the latest?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION GOVERNMENT RULE REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you, Anderson, just for context, we know that these worthiness directives, they are relatively common. Many are oftentimes issued for an aircraft. So that alone isn't a red flag. But in the absence of knowing exactly what went wrong on board this airbus A320, we started looking into the background of possible problems that we've seen in the past.

So this is this is the actual document. This is the air working its directive and issued by the European aviation safety association -- administration. So we know their concern according to this document stems from an A321, which, that is the same family as the A320. It is just slightly larger.

The problem was that there were two, what's called an angle of attack probes on the airplane. Essentially, what these two probes do is measure the angle of the plane to the horizon. If those two pieces of equipment are not functioning properly, you could have the situation where the pilot is getting the wrong indications inside of the cockpit. And based on that wrong information, the pilot is then entering his or her commands. But again, that's based on wrong information. And you have a situation where this plane could go out of control.

So that is something that is being looked at. That was brought up in the press conference today. And the CEO of the airline did make reference that all the software updates and the maintenance has been completed on this particular aircraft.

[20:05:40] COOPER: What about the history of this kind of a plane?

MARSH: Well, we know this specific aircraft is about 24 years old. So it is an older aircraft that's being said, it's not something that when you look at it, you say, look, this plane should not have been flying. Yes, it's an older aircraft. It had many hours on it, but still, many aircraft out there are still flying at this age. So we don't believe at this point that age will be an issue.

We also, though, that it underwent a maintenance tech just yesterday and it underwent a larger maintenance check in 2013. So it really just makes this mystery even deeper because you know it had been looked at by these engineers the day before, Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Rene, appreciate it. Joining us now is our panel of aviation expert, aviation correspondent Richard Quest, veteran airline captain and CNN aviation analyst, Les Abend, former NTSB chair Deborah Hersman and CNN safety analyst David Soucie, former FAA accident investigative and author of "Malaysia Airlines 360, why it disappeared and why it's a matter of time before it happens again."

Richard, what, at this point, makes sense to you?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Very little because the nature of the plane, it was in cruise, the safest part of the flight, and it was flying in extremely sophisticated airspace, the control. And it was a first class airline, first world airline. Germanwings, owned by Lufthansa. And to Rene's point, maintained under the offices of Lufthansa tactics which is the industry's standard.

COOPER: So there is no difference between Germanwings and Lufthansa wings and other planes.

QUEST: Germanwings has been a child of Lufthansa going backwards and forward for years. It's now a crucially important part of Lufthansa. So no, it's Lufthansa group through and through.

COOPER: Les, to you, does anything make sense? I mean, what possible explanation is there for this?

LES ABEND, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: There's a lot of disturbing things to me. The lack of communication Richard and I were talking that during just prior to when we got on air. You know, what I would like to know is what the communication was like all the way up to the point that we had our last contact with the aircraft. That's not being talked about at this point in time probably because that information isn't quite available for the public.

But that being said, something caused this airplane to come out, to leave cruise altitude, and I have a feeling, my gut says the crew was compelled because of an energy situation. What that emergency situation was, I don't know. It wasn't fast enough to do an emergency descent, which you would find in explosive depressurization which you would know right away.

COOPER: That's the thing. I mean, this was an eight minute descent. It is not exactly plummeting or anything like that.

ABEND: Right. And this is a descent rate that may be a little bit steeper than normal but not really a whole lot. I've done this rate of descent on a normal approach, or a normal descent rate into Heathrow coming out of the topic, the descent point and to - from altitude. So, this was nothing abnormal about it. We are fear of speculation when we get to this point with the angle of attack, indicators that Rene Marsh was talking about. I mean, we don't even know if these were the factors. And that's a scary factor, but we even don't know if that was a factor.

COOPER: So let's not put too much emphasis on that, certainly.

ABEND: Not at this point in time.

COOPER: Deborah, if it was some sort of mechanical issue, I mean, one of the biggest questions is whether it was a problem specific to this aircraft or to this fleet, to the A320 fleet in general.

DEBORAH HERSMAN, FORMER NTSB CHAIRMAN: That's right. And investigators are going to be looking very closely at that. One of the reasons why they really want to get those reporters as fast as possible is because they're trying to figure out if there's an air worthiness issue not just for this specific airplane, but for the fleet. If there are larger implications, if there are inspections that need to take place or if there is any additional information that operators need to have.

COOPER: David, when you look at the debris field, I mean, the lack of fire, the lack of smoke, and I don't know if that's the pictures are old, but does it tell you anything?

[20:09:49] DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Well, it does tell me that it was a singular point of primary impact. It appears to be two scattered points, meaning, that the aircraft did kind of skim or break apart just before it hit its main scatter point.

But at this point, this type of accident, what's happening in this realm is that the aircraft not only explodes as it hits the ground, but it kicks back. There's a kickback effect. And those debris pieces that are coming back are intersecting and colliding with the aircraft that's going forward.

Now, this all happens within a matter of less than a second, but it all happens together. And that's why you see these horribly shattered pieces of aircraft debris. The good side of this is the fact the passengers on board would have had no idea, no clue what was coming other than they were descending. They may or may not have known from the cabin announcement whether to prepare for impact or not.

But the only good side of this is that it happened in less than a second. Certainly not ability to recognize what was actually happening to them on board.

COOPER: But David, you're saying not only, so the plane, as it impacts the ground, breaks apart. But also, those pieces that, as it moves forward, the pieces that have broken off then bounce back and hit the aircraft?

SOUCIE: Right. It's kind of a splash back effect if you can imagine something hitting solid, it kicks back from that. It almost makes a reverse push backwards. So most of the investigations I've done in this type of terrain, most of the debris field is backwards from the direction it was going in the first place.

So those pieces that hit the ground come back at the rest of the remaining part of the aircraft and intercept and actually have these collisions massive as they are bouncing back in the aircraft, the back of the aircraft still coming forward. So this happens so instantaneously.

And people always ask me, why are there so many little tiny pieces? Well, it is because it's literally bouncing back and colliding with itself. And that's what creates this massive debris field and explosion.

COOPER: And David, just in terms of a debris field like this on a, you know, mountain slope, it's got to be incredibly difficult to work this kind of a crash site.

SOUCIE: It's very similar to an air crash. I worked up in Castor, Wyoming, and it was snowing then. We had snow. We had debris. We had everything on the ground. We couldn't actually find the accident. We found a spot where we suspected it had hit. I was dropped off in a helicopter because there was no place to land. There were some search and rescue coming up in snow cats. They won't have that advantage here. They can't take snow cats or snowmobiles up to the area because it's already muddy and it is already difficult to get to. So that is going to be tough that night in Kasper. Because of that rain and investigating, we were able to find it during the snow but the helicopters couldn't go back and get us. So the search and rescue team and I stayed the night there to make sure that we saw what we could. But there was no way to get out of there. And so that's one of the things I'm glad about is they stopped this quickly.

COOPER: We're going to have to --

SOUCIE: Pull the investigators right away.

COOPER: Yes. We're going to have more on this. We are going to take a quick break. We are going to continue the conversation throughout the hour and check in with our Nic Robertson who is at a staging area high in the Alps.

We will also look closer what may have been going on inside that cockpit. Today, its expose more other theories as the crash investigation gets under way.


[20:17:00] COOPER: The breaking news tonight in the crash of Germanwings 9525, a problem with safety equipment aboard airbus just like the one that went down today that can sometimes make them descend suddenly and there is nothing the pilot can do to stop it unless they shut off some of the flight control computers.

Now, the problem surfaced back in November on a Lufthansa flight and European authorities issued a bullet in to address it. Now, whether it played a role in this case, it's too early to say. Recovery operations get back under way tomorrow. And Nic Robertson is at one of two staging areas. He joins us now. What's the latest, Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, the team is down for the night. They are expecting to start early in the morning. It is about three-and-a-half thousand feet here where it is just a couple of degrees above freezing. The crash site is above us in the mountains. It is about seven miles this way. And of those altitude, what has been pouring as rain here, the concerns that the recovery teams that they will be pulling a snow ritual, hamper efforts, that and the fact that the whole side is so steep there. That the wreckage side is over, you know, several hundred meters. That's a concern.

Access, we are told, is really only by helicopter. We've seen those helicopters sitting on the ground here throughout the day. And the question when daybreaks in the morning is how low is the clouds and will the helicopters be able to fly and get access to the site?

The rain has been coming over some of the high mountain passes here. It has been particularly strong, also that, if it is falling rain or snow again at the crash site, that also worry, Anderson.

COOPER: And obviously, concern for families is have they been able to cover any of their loved ones. Have teams been able to recover any of the passengers?

ROBERTSON: Yes. From what we understand so far, helicopters have only been able to fly over the site. Although, we do understand that one black box has been recovered and taken away. But as far as landing to try to get to some of the victims, that hasn't happened. The French air accident investigation team is expected here soon.

That's a seven-member team. They will have a member or a couple of members of the airbus investigation team with them. That's the BEA, the French airbus investigation team is leaving the search here and expected to be joined by the BFU, a three member team. That's the German air accident investigation team.

But it is the French who will be leading the team, but of course, so much concern to bring the victims off the mountainside and hasn't started yet, Anderson.

MARSH: All right, Nic Robertson, appreciate the update.

Now, we discuss one possible theory of the crash at the top of the program. There are others as well.

As always, at this stage, more theories than hard facts, the White House was quick today to discount the possibility of terrorism. Not everyone is. That said, even ruling out a deliberate act leaves several other leading possibilities.

Tom Foreman has been exploring them. He joins us now - Tom.


We've talked to pilots on this type of aircraft. We talks about accident investigators, and they have said the passengers on board this plane or during the descent may have not noticed anything really unusual because the descent wasn't that fast. And that sort of does away with one of the first theories we've been hearing so much about here. The idea maybe this was simply a catastrophic failure in the air, something like a wing or tail fell off of this plane.

If that happened, it would probably come down much faster. It would be spread over a bigger area than the debris field you've been showing for some time now. So that theory is not getting a lot of credence right now.

Here's another theory. Is it possible that they in fact came in under control? If you look at the pattern of flight here, all of these experts we've talked to today said this looks like a deliberate act. Like there was a decision to either set the auto pilot to come down gradually like this or the plane was being brought in gradually, potentially while the pilots dealt with some problem they knew they had and just ran out of geography here. They had no more time in space and hit the mountains.

But if that's the case, if they had enough control to do this on purpose, then why all these experts ask, did they not try to turn and make it to some of the other airports, which were not really that far away. They would have at least had a shot at.

So Anderson, those are some of the real questions that are out there right now.

COOPER: Is it possible they didn't know they had a serious problem? FOREMAN: You know, that sounds like a crazy idea. And yet, everyone

we've talked to today said yes. It's absolutely possible. There's a phenomenon called control flight into terrain. And what that means is that the pilots are in control of a plane and for some reason, they don't realize what they're doing.

Maybe there's a problem with instrumentation that gives them the wrong sense of their air speed or the attitude of the planes pointing up or down, the altitude of the plane. Maybe they become so fixated on a given problem that they lose what's called situational awareness. And they don't know that they're flying into the mountains until it's too late to do anything about it -Anderson.

COOPER: Terrifying thought, that. Tom, thanks very much.

You know, just ahead, I'm going to talk to a French mountain guide who actually saw the crash site in the Alps. He was about to get off there.

Plus, try to hold on to hopes of bracing for the worst, the latest in Barcelona, where flight 9525 originated and where some of the families of those who are on board waiting for word.


[20:26:25] COOPER: Tonight, breaking news. Crash of Germanwings flight 9525 in the French Alps. An Airbus A320, carrying 150 people believed to be known survivors. We learned tonight European safety officials flagged official problem with the key safety feature on airbuses. The glitch that can sometimes under very rare conditions put them into a descent that can be hard to stop.

And to give a better idea of what the crash site actually looks like, we spoke by phone short time ago with a local mountain guide Jean- Louis Bietrix.


COOPER: What do you actually see when you got to the site of the crash?

JEAN-LOUIS BIETRIX, LOCAL MOUNTAIN GUIDE (through text): When you arrive on the site of the crash, you see almost nothing at all. The plane completely destroyed. It is in pieces.

COOPER: How far was the debris spread out?

BIETRIX (through text): You see debris scattered all over the mountain across roughly two or three hectares, five or seven acres. And it's true that it is tiny debris and the biggest bits are as large as one square meter (10.8 square feet) or two square meters (21.5 square feet) maximum. The plane really did disappear.

COOPER: So it looks like it completely disappeared, you were saying. Because from the images we're seeing, you don't see any large pieces at all. Did you see any large pieces? BIETRIX (through text): No, just tiny pieces.

MARSH: What is the area like where the plane crashed? How difficult is it to get to that site?

BIETRIX (through text): yes, it's very difficult to access it. There is no road. There is no path. It's mountainous terrain and it's on a 60 or 70 degree slope at the bottom of a big mountain. The plane clearly hit the mountain head on and disintegrated.

COOPER: Jean-Louis, thank you very much for talking with us.

BIETRIX (through text): Thank you.

COOPER: Families of the crash victims are gathering at airports in two cities, Barcelona where the flight originated this morning and Dusseldorf, its destination and both airports tonight, obviously, at heartbreaking scene.

Our Karl Penhaul joins us now from Barcelona.

Obviously, the airlines have a lot of things going on. I know you've been trying to get some answers about the crash. What are you learning?

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Absolutely, Anderson. We've been trying to push Lufthansa on a few key questions. Because this afternoon, one the European vice presidents of Lufthansa came to a press conference and said, this plane was in great working order. It had a routine maintenance check only yesterday, but it was only the pressure from reporters after it was calling their spokesman in Germany by phone saying, we have heard that maybe the plane was grounded yesterday. Then finally they tell us, well, yes, there was a routine maintenance check and that was clear but it was also grounded, that very same plane for several hours yesterday, because there was a problem with the door around the nose landing gear.

What that problem was, well, the company still hasn't specified to us except to say that it was not a safety issue. But that's exactly what it was. Fast forward then to this morning, and that plane, again, it was late taking off by about 26 minutes. And again at the press conference this afternoon, we've pushed the Lufthansa vice president, why did your plane take off late? She said, I didn't know. It has taken us now more than 13 hours to get that simple answer from Lufthansa.

Only a few moments ago, a spokesman in Germany says that he believes that the reason that their plane left late was not a technical issue at all. They believe that it was a flight control issue. That is was a control tower that told Lufthansa to start that plane up a little later than was scheduled, but as I say, the sense right now that Lufthansa, we are having to push them really hard just to get some simple answers, Anderson.

COOPER: The families of the loved ones of the victims, I mean just a horrific time for them. A horrific wait for them. I understand, they may be moved to France, those who are now in Barcelona?

PENHAUL: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it is a tragedy that transcends nations and transcends generations because there are a number of nationalities on board. Lufthansa, again, working through to tell us exactly who was on board. We know there were Germans on board, we know there were Spaniards on board, we now know there were Australians, there were Colombians, possibly Argentineans on board as well. We still haven't got the final list. And as for age, while we know there were two babies on board. We know there were two opera singers on board. We know that it was 16 German schoolkids there who had been on an exchange program with a Spanish school not far here from Barcelona, but what Lufthansa is now telling us, around 150 family members and friends gathered here at Barcelona in the course of today and now Lufthansa studying the possibility of whether it is practical and advisable to take them to France tomorrow during the day so they can be closer to the recovery operations.

Right now, those 150 family and friends spending the night in three hotels close to the airport. They do have support from medics and also from psychologists as well to help them through what Lufthansa is calling this very dark day. Anderson?

COOPER: Dark indeed. Karl Penhaul. Thanks for the update. Joining me again, CNN aviation correspondent Richard Quest. Deborah Hersman, president of the National Safety Council and former NTSB chair. And CNN safety analyst David Soucie, he's a former FAA ex-investigator and inspector. Richard, with a descent, an eight minute descent from 27,000 feet over the course of eight minutes. You would think they would have had time to communicate, but do we know much about where there was communication?

QUEST: The nature of this descent suggests that basically the plane was told to descend. That it just continued to do that until it hit the ground. The fact that there was no mayday from the cockpit or warning or emergency call from the cockpit, but also crucially, Anderson, the ground was calling the plane constantly. This is very controlled airspace. You suddenly start leaving your altitude and heading down without telling your people what you're doing, you are going to get people asking, hey, what are you up to? And that happened again and again and again. Now, the fact they didn't respond to that suggests that something quite obviously dramatic was happening, whether they were conscious, whether they were able to at that particular point.

COOPER: Deborah, I mean you heard a witness a moment ago who actually climbed the scene, talk about the lack of large pieces of the aircraft. Presumably, it makes it harder to reconstruct what happened.

DEBORAH HERSMAN, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL SAFETY COUNCIL: Absolutely. But the black boxes are going to be the biggest single piece of evidence to support what the investigators are doing. Once they have the black boxes, that will really provide them the road map of what clues are the most important to them. If they're looking at engines or control surfaces or certain parts to the aircraft that they have to try to locate. The black box data helps them pinpoint that. So, they're not looking for a needle in a hay stack. They can get very specific very quickly.

COOPER: David, how plausible is it that pilots were both conscious and functional and yet so consumed with some on board situation or emergency, they either didn't realize they were flying into the Alps and certainly as Richard was talking about, weren't able to respond to any incoming calls?

SOUCIE: You know, it's highly unlikely because of the fact that it was eight minutes going on there. So to be responding to an emergency for eight minutes and especially in that controlled manner, it's highly unlikely that that was the case. And especially, again, because the air traffic controllers were calling them as well trying to make contact with them. Of course, we don't have all that information yet as to what that communication was back and forth completely, but that indicates to me that there was some kind of incapacitation either by the pilots or that there was some kind of failure in the communications system or perhaps there was a nefarious act of some kind going on, and they were prevented from making that. But I don't think that this would go on that long.

COOPER: Richard, during the break, you were talking about the angle of attack. What does that actually mean?

QUEST: This is the issue that 320 there was as identified. But in certain situations, the plane automatically thinks it's going to stall and therefore begins its own descent.

COOPER: This is what Rene Marsh was talking about at the top of the broadcast.

QUEST: In this situation, what airbus has identified is the plane starts to do it itself and you can't stop it.

COOPER: And it starts to do it itself because it - the sensors believe that the plane has stalled?

QUEST: Correct.


QUEST: The plane believes that the sensors, the angle of attack indicators have stalled and the plane is about to fall out of the sky, completely erroneously, and therefore the envelope protection starts the automatic descent. Now, there's been several incidents of this where descents have begun, pilots have not been able to stop it. Airbus has now identified the situation and come up with a workaround. You basically switch some of the computers off and confuse the plane and you take back control. Is this one of those situations? We don't know. You know, there is a descent. It seems to be, but what we don't have in this situation is the callout. Mayday. Coming. We're going down. The descent. We're trying to --

COOPER: And it seems a controlled descent. I mean over the course of eight minutes, it's not as if this is a plane plunging out of the sky.

QUEST: This didn't plunge out of the sky. This float into the ground.

COOPER: Terrifying. Everybody stay with us. We're going to continue this after the break. Also, we are learning more as Karl Penhaul mentioned, about the passengers on board the flight including two acclaimed opera singers who were on their way home after performing in Barcelona. I'll talk to a friend and a colleague of one of the singers.



COOPER: Candlelight memorial tonight in Germany. Tonight's breaking news, recovery efforts are set to resume at daylight in the French Alps where German Wings Flight 9525 went down. Airline officials believe there are no survivors. 144 passengers, six crew members were on board the Airbus-320. Searchers have recovered one of the plane's data recorders, as we mentioned, but the cause of the disaster still very much unknown tonight. Back with Richard Quest, Deborah Hersman, and David Soucie.

I mean, obviously, at this point nobody is suggesting foul play. There's no indication of that. All the bags, but all the bags that were in the cargo area, they would have been rescreened going through Barcelona. No matter where other passengers went.

QUEST: It's more complex than that. It depends where they're going from and where they're going to, what's the point of origin was, what the destination is. Any bags that were going to end up in the United States are screened multiple times. So, you know, you're talking, remember, German Wings is point to point. It has a certain amount of hub and spoke connectivity. But the core principle of German Wings as set up by Lufthansa is that it's not a hub operation. It takes people from one city to the other. That's the idea of German Wings.

COOPER: What is German Wings? And where else do they normally fly? Why does Lufthansa has - German Wings?

QUEST: Because it had to identify the problem of the hub and spoke. Lufthansa itself is too expensive. Its costs are too high. So, they introduce German Wings and they said, German Wings will fly from Manchester to Dusseldorf. It will fly from Barcelona to other German cities, but not to the hubs. The hubs, Frankfurt and Munich, they will still be for Lufthansa, the main airline. It's a cost-cutting mechanism to try to reduce costs for the airline.

COOPER: And a number of flights have now by this airline, by German Wings, have been canceled out of Dusseldorf. A number of the crew members felt unfit to fly. Not necessarily about their aircraft, but just based on their reaction to this crash.

QUEST: Yes. And we don't know the full reason why these cancellations have taken place, but the later reports suggest that they're distressed by what happens. Which is entirely understandable.

COOPER: Deborah, government officials are always very quick to rule out terrorism whenever they can. At this point, how can they be so sure?

HERSMAN: You know, I think there's always early indications that you might see. The reports. People taking credit for things. Or events that go wrong. I say it's very challenging to rule anything out at this stage without examining, fully examining the evidence and looking at the recorders, but there are a lot of sources of intelligence and I think the government officials are going to rely on those to put out the best information possible.

COOPER: David, earlier, you said that you don't believe passengers on board the plane would have known perhaps that anything was wrong. Wouldn't they have seen though, I mean, realized the plane was heading down in an area where it wasn't supposed to be heading down?

SOUCIE: Certainly they would have noticed that it's descending and it would have been in the middle of the flight. So they would have known something was wrong coming forward, but there wouldn't have been any traumatic I know we're going to crash kind of thing. Because at this point, they are looking down at the sides. Maybe for the last few seconds as they enter that canyon. They would have realized that something was going to go terribly wrong. But I think that during that descend, they may not have had any questions about it, other than why are we descending but at that point of the impact, that's what my point is, is that at that point of impact, there was no suffering, there was no painfulness. It was within seconds, within a second probably. That is when this occurred. So, I don't think there would have been pain and suffering at least.

COOPER: David, and other crashers, TWA Flight 800, they basically reconstructed the entire aircraft. In a situation like this where you have such small pieces, will the black boxes be enough? Do they actually need to go through that whole process in a crash like this?

SOUCIE: Well, in a crash like this, the black boxes will have to be enough because that's pretty much all you're going to get out of it. Even small components like such as the flight management computer, the flight management - flight controls, those type of little devices, even the e-prompt chips, what we've talked about before on MH-17 and some other accidents, those tiny little chips are damaged and fragmented. There's not going to be any evidence really unless there's just pure luck that secured something like that. But typically in this kind of an accident, you wouldn't go back and do a reconstruction.

COOPER: All right. David Soucie, thank you for being with us. Deborah Hersman as well and Richard Quest. Always, we are learning more about the passengers on the board of the doom flight. And we want to tell you about and including two opera singers, who'd been performing at Barcelona. We are going to speak to a friend and a colleague of one of those singers next.



COOPER: As we reported, at least 67 German citizens are believed to have perished on Germanwings flight 9525. The victims include 16 high school students returning from an exchange program in Spain. In their town and across Germany, obviously, the heartbreak is immeasurable. Dusseldorf was the final destination of the flight. CNN's Frederik Pleitgen is there with the latest. Fred?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Anderson. It's -- certainly, I would say Germany at this point is a country that's in shock and also somewhat in disbelief. One of the things that we have to keep in mind is that this is a country that absolutely prides itself on its ingenuity, on its high technology, and that certainly was something that extends also into aviation as well. People here would not have had a second thought about getting on a Germanwings flight. But of course here in the early stages now, it's all about the victims. And as you said, especially those 16 high school students who were on the flight, the town they were from is only about an hour and a half away from where I am right now here in Dusseldorf. It's a place called Haltern, a very small place. 37,000 people live there.


They nominated the mayor of the town to speak for everybody there because the people at the school didn't want much of the media attention. He said it was an absolutely devastating time for that town. The hardest that he'd ever witnessed, and of course, everybody there is in an absolute state of shock. And you could see how people were laying down flowers in front of the school, were lighting candles, and people breaking out into tears again and again. And that's certainly something that happened in a lot of places in Germany today, and especially around here, around the Dusseldorf area. We've been talking about those two opera singers who were killed, two infants who were on the plane. This is by far the worst catastrophe in German aviation history, Anderson.

COOPER: It is just awful. Fred Pleitgen, appreciate your reporting, thank you. We are learning more, as I said, about the people on board. They include two acclaimed opera singers, Oleg Bryjak and Maria Radner had just wrapped up a series of performances in Barcelona. They were on their way home. Bryjak, a bass baritone, has been affiliated with the Dusseldorf opera since 1996. He performed on stages all over the world. Luis Fernando Piedra is his colleague and friend. He joins me tonight.

I'm so sorry for your loss.

LUIS FERNADO PIEDRA, FRIEND OF CRASH VICTIM: It has been a little bit difficult for all of us here in the opera house (inaudible) in Dusseldorf, and the main problem is I am going to tell you, as grown- ups, we know that sometimes it's going to happen to all of us, but the sadness with which it happened is, one can describe it only as staggering.

COOPER: What kind of guy was Oleg? Tell us about him.

PIEDRA: Well, the Oleg I knew was a very sensitive person. And it's very easygoing professional, and very nice and caring friend. And he used to take all situations at work and all personal situations with a certain calm, that's actually irradiated a little bit of comfort for everyone around him. That's the way he was. Very easygoing and very sensitive to people.

COOPER: And professionally, I understand he performed in more than 30 operas. He traveled the world for work. As a singer, as an opera singer, what was he like?

PIEDRA: That's right. Paris, Zurich, London, Los Angeles, Chicago, you name it. Everywhere, where there was a very big opera house, he was there. And he's been singing through his career, very, very big roles that are really demanding. We're talking about Father in "Hansel and Gretel," Telramund in "Lohengrin," Iago in "Othello." Magnifico in "La Cenerentola." We're talking about high caliber things. People in general sometimes ask us, where do we actually have microphones? And the point is that we sing without microphones in front of 2,000, 3,000 people. I remember there was a scene in which he interacted with me as he was singing, and I was always -- the entire production, I was kind of amazed, big as the voice itself and how he was able to project it like laser beams above (ph). It was very surprising.

COOPER: Luis, again, I'm so sorry for your loss, and I appreciate you spending some time with us to tell us a little bit about Oleg. Thank you.

PIEDRA: Thanks to you.

COOPER: We'll of course continue to follow the airliner crash. Up next, if there's one thing we know about newly announced presidential candidate Ted Cruz is that he despises Obamacare. So the question tonight, is why is he signing up for it? Find out. Also tune in at the top of the hour for the premier of the CNN special report, "Atheists: Inside the World of Non-Believers." Kyra Phillips speaks with Americans who lost their faith but haven't stopped searching for answers to life's big questions.



COOPER: A lot more happening tonight. Amara Walker has the 360 bulletin. Amara.

AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson, Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz has made it his mission to get rid of Obamacare, but he says he will sign up for it. Cruz is losing the insurance he has though his wife Heidi's job at Goldman Sachs since she's taking an unpaid leave during the campaign. Here's what Cruz said to CNN's Dana Bash today.


CRUZ: We'll be getting new health insurance, and we'll presumably do it through my job in the Senate. So we'll be on the federal exchange, like millions of others, on the federal exchange.

DANA BASH, CNN: So you'll be getting Obamacare, effectively.

CRUZ: It is one of the good things about Obamacare is that the statute provided that members of Congress would be on the exchanges without subsidies, just like millions of Americans.


WALKER: The White House said 9,800 American troops will stay in Afghanistan through the end of the year instead of a planned drawdown. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani asked for the timeline to be adjusted.

Members of Congress are dismissing a report that the Israeli government spied on U.S.-led nuclear talks and gave them information. The report in the "Wall Street Journal" said Israelis eavesdropped on the talks and then leaked selected intelligence to try to rally opposition to the deal.

Angelina Jolie has had surgery to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes. Her grandmother, mother, and aunt all died of cancer, and she has a gene mutation that puts her at an even higher risk.

And take a look at this. In Louisiana, two elephants keeping a truck from overturning on a highway. A sheriff's deputy got a call about a stranded 18-wheeler and were shocked to find the elephants doing this. The elephants were on the truck being transferred to a circus in Texas. Those are some hard-working elephants, and we thought we had a tough day at work.

COOPER: Wow. I hope they're doing okay. Amara, thank you so much. That does it for this broadcast. We'll see you again at 11 p.m. Eastern for another edition of "360," hope you join us for that.

The CNN special report "ATHEISTS: INSIDE THE WORLD OF NON-BELIEVERS," hosted by Kyra Phillips, starts now.