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Plane Catches Fire on Runway, Passengers Injured; Pentagon: 'We're in Combat' in Iraq. Aired 5:00-6:00p ET

Aired October 29, 2015 - 17:00   ET


[17:00:15] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Fire on the runway. A jet engine bursts into flames moments before taking off. Panicked passengers forced to flee for their lives with more than a dozen injured. You're going to hear the frantic calls for help. And how close was this to a full-blown disaster?

America in combat. For the first time, the Pentagon now concedes U.S. troops in Iraq are fighting a ground war against ISIS forces, contrary to President Obama's assertions and just days after the first U.S. casualty in the fight against ISIS. Is the U.S. once again locked in a war in Iraq?

Vladimir Putin's power play. Russian warplanes buzz an American aircraft carrier in the Pacific, while Russian vessels lurk near vital data cables in the Atlantic. And now Russia is inserting itself in talks on Syria while stepping up military support for the regime. Is Putin trying to become the dominant force in the Middle East?

Trump's spin. Donald Trump claims victory in the latest Republican presidential debate as all the candidates scramble for a boost in the polls. But Jeb Bush now finds himself facing poor reviews for his performance. Is his campaign now facing an existential crisis?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following two major breaking stories, including the fire on a Boeing 767 that was taxiing at the Fort Lauderdale International Airport. Some 100 passengers fleeing the flames, evacuating down the plane's emergency slides.

At least 15 people are injured, including one with serious burns. And there's also breaking news out of the Pentagon. Top officials are now saying bluntly that U.S. troops are in combat with ISIS forces in Iraq after previously characterizing the American role as an advise- and-assist mission.

The defense secretary, Ash Carter, now says the U.S. commando killed just days ago in an operation to rescue ISIS hostages died in combat.

We're covering all of this and much more this hour with our guests, including Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger. He's a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And our correspondents and experts, they are also standing by for all the day's important news.

Let's begin with that plane that caught fire at the Ft. Lauderdale airport. CNN's Pamela Brown is working the story for us.

Pamela, you're learning new information.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. We're learning that one of the 15 passengers injured during the incident sustained serious burn injuries. And new audio shows how the pilots of the burning plane reacted when they learned what was happening.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Engine's on fire! Engine's on fire!

BROWN (voice-over): Smoke pours from a Boeing 767 as frightened passengers scramble to the emergency evacuation slides. The Dynamic Airways flight was about to take off from Fort Lauderdale Airport to Caracas, Venezuela, at 12:45 this afternoon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Emergency, call the fire trucks.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ground to 119, we are going to do a 180 here (UNINTELLIGIBLE) taxi instructions.

BROWN: The frightening scene happening moments after...

GREG MEYER, BROWARD COUNTY AVIATION DEPARTMENT: Left engine was on fire. The plane was loaded with passengers. They were taxiing -- the planes behind me now, they were taxiing to the north runway to depart for Caracas.

BROWN: Moments before a pilot on another plane on the same runway noticed fuel was pouring from the engine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, Dynamic, the left engine looks like it's leaking a lot of -- I don't know if it's fuel. There is fluid leaking out of the left engine.

BROWN: After the frightened passengers scurried down the plane's chute, some were taken away in stretchers and wheelchairs, while others were able to walk away from the jet.

The Ft. Lauderdale airport was quickly shut down. Stunned passengers on other planes filmed the scene unfolding. Emergency crews sprayed the left wing with foam to extinguish the fire before investigators could move in to find out what happened and why.

So something happened, in answer to your question, from the time that, you know, a particular pilot did his walk-around inspection to when they got to that point that we're looking at footage wise now. You know, a fuel leak is not something that you can readily

determine from the cockpit. It's just not -- it's just not possible to see that until you have a fuel loss situation.

BROWN: Dynamic Airways started just five years ago in Greensboro, North Carolina, and only goes to two international destinations from the U.S., Venezuela and Guyana. Its fleet consists only of Boeing 767s. The plane that caught fire was 29 years old.

[17:05:07] It was a similar scene in Las Vegas last month when a British Airways plane's left engine caught fire on the runway. Thirteen of the 159 passengers were taken to the hospital, mainly from going down the plane's slides.


BROWN: In total 101 passengers were on board this flight. The NTSB is sending a four-person crew to investigate what happened. And Boeing has offered to help with this investigation, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Pamela, thanks very much.

I want to go on the phone now. The public information officer for Broward County Sheriff Fire Rescue Mike Jachles is joining us. Broward County is where the Ft. Lauderdale International Airport is located.

Mike, thanks for joining us. What's the latest you're hearing about how this plane caught fire?


Well, that's going to be part of the investigation that's just under way, but what I can tell you is we received a call at 12:34 Thursday afternoon. Our units quickly responded.

Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue provides the fire suppression service to Ft. Lauderdale Hollywood International. We have our fire station located right on the airfield there.

Our first units were on scene within two minutes. The pilot advised that the plane was evacuated by 12:37, and by 12:38, the fire was declared knocked down. So this was a very rapid, a very quick response.

This is something that we train for very common in aircraft rescue firefighting wheel well fires, brake fires, engine fires and galley fires. These are things that our firefighters go through comprehensive extensive training on.

BLITZER: We're reporting, Mike, that at least 15 people were injured in this plane fire. One with serious burns. Do you have newer information? Can you update us on the condition of those who were injured? JACHLES: Yes, we actually have 15 people that were transported

to Broward Health Medical Center in Ft. Lauderdale. That's the trauma center, which is about five to seven minutes from the airport. In all we actually evaluated approximately 22 or 24 people for injuries.

So there were others that were injured. Now of the one that sustained the serious burns, we don't know who that person is. I don't have that information. I can tell you there were two people that sustained serious but less serious injuries. And then the remainder of those transported what we call walking wounded. They had bumps, bruises, contusions, things like that. And they were transported, as well.

BLITZER: And the injuries were the result of what?

JACHLES: Well, I don't have that yet, but what we are presuming at this point is injuries were sustained during the evacuation process and going down the chute. We see that very often. We don't know what the burn injuries were caused from. However, it's conceivable that, had that person gone out the chute on the left side of the plane where the left engine was on fire -- again, this is speculation -- they could have sustained burns that way. But we don't know, you know, exactly where that was -- where those burns were sustained. But that will be determined with the due process of the investigation.

BLITZER: The Ft. Lauderdale Airport is obviously a very busy, a very important airport. What's the status of the runways there?

JACHLES: Well, I'd have to defer to my counterpart, the spokesman for the airport Broward County Aviation Department. They handle the airport operations. Obviously, when the incident was ongoing, we had our fire rescue resources committed to this incident. And the airport was shut down.

And they have since announced that I believe they're reopening portions or more than that, but again, that's a question for Broward County aviation. I really can't -- can't officially comment on that. I'm just relaying what they said at the last update that they provided to the media.

BLITZER: One final question, Mike, before I let you go. How long did it take to put out the fire?

JACHLES: We received the call at 12:34. And the fire was knocked down, it was out by 12:38. We had a response of two minutes. So we were on the scene within two minutes. So within two minutes our crash fire rescue trucks deployed foam and quickly put out that fire.

BLITZER: It's a pretty unusual event to have a fire like that on the runway, isn't it?

JACHLES: This is the first one that I can recall. However, I've been involved in training, and our firefighters go through training extensively on aircraft fires, whether it's engine fires, brake fires, wheel fires, galley fires. It's something that, you know, you have to be proficient in. And, you know, we have a complement of resources there, along with technical rescue and hazardous materials teams. So we had a commendable response in a very short amount of time.

BLITZER: Mike Jachles, thanks very much for joining us. Mike Jachles is with the Broward County Fire and Rescue Squad.

[17:10:03] Let's get some more now with our aviation analyst. Miles O'Brien is joining us. Peter Goelz is joining us. He's the former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Miles, the pilot in the plane that was taxiing behind this 767 saw this fuel leaking, radioed in, and then within a few minutes we saw what happened. How unusual is this?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: It's relatively unusual, but engines do fail. You know, what the sequence of events is, is very important. That's what investigators will be looking at. Did it begin with a fuel leak? And did that lead to the fire? Or did the engine disintegrate in some fashion? Did that sever a fuel line, causing a fuel leak? Or was it a leak of oil? If it was oil leaking, that could cause the failure of the engine and thus the fire. So it's a rapid sequence of events which probably occurred as the engine was being started.

BLITZER: The pilot of this Dynamic Airlines, he noticed something was wrong, because he radioed in, as well, that they've got a fire, they've got some leaks, right?

PETER GOELZ, FORMER MANAGING DIRECTOR, NTSB: They might have seen something on their digital equipment inside the plane. I mean, this is an older 767, but they might have noticed something in terms of engine pressure.

But there's no question, I mean, that they'll look at maintenance. They'll look at whether the engine ingested something. They're going to look at a variety of things. And the black boxes will help tell the story.

BLITZER: You say it's an older plane. It's 29 years old, this Boeing 767, a pretty common plane out there. Is that an old plane? It's about 29 years?

GOELZ: Well, it's getting on in years. And my understanding is that the engines were an older variant of the Pratton Whitney engines.

BLITZER: So it hadn't been retrofitted?

GOELZ: Well, we don't know that. We'll have to look at the -- at the maintenance records very quickly, and they'll look at the records of the engine extremely carefully.

BLITZER: Could there be a bigger problem here with these older Boeing 767s?

O'BRIEN: Well, you know, old is -- got to be careful talking about old in aviation. Because if you do, in fact, follow the book to the letter of the law and do the maintenance, as you're supposed to, planes can last an awful long time. They're limited by their number of cycles, how many times they talk off and land, the airframe itself. But the engines themselves go for refurbishment on a very strict schedule. If the airline is following those rules, old is kind of a term that is a little different than your old car.

BLITZER: Because sometimes they'll put in new engines, right?

O'BRIEN: Absolutely. Engines get changed out; things get refurbished. To say a plane is 29 years old, there are probably very few things on it that are 29 years old, except for the airframe itself.

So these things get refurbished over time as a natural course. And so having said that, though, as time goes on, an older plane will provide you with a lot more maintenance challenges.

BLITZER: What do we know about Dynamic Airlines? I don't know anything about it, but do you know anything about it? Its safety record, for example.

GOELZ: Well, this is their first incident. They've got five 767s, apparently, and they fly rather unique routes. This one is the Ft. Lauderdale to Caracas-Venezuela route, which had been given up by a lot of the major carriers because of finance problems in Caracas and Venezuela. But we'll know more about it in the next couple of weeks.

BLITZER: Because it's only two routes from Ft. Lauderdale to Guyana and Ft. Lauderdale to Caracas. So it's pretty unusual.

O'BRIEN: It's a small airline, and this will be one of the key things here. When you talk about this, you know, five-aircraft fleet and an airline that's been around for about five years, the FAA, the NTSB will be looking very closely at who's doing the work. How much of this is outsourced? How much of the maintenance are they actually doing? Who's really controlling the operation of that aircraft? Is a key question here.

BLITZER: If you were doing this investigation -- the NTSB used to do these investigations -- what's the most important thing you're looking for right now?

GOELZ: Well, I want to make sure I've got access to the records on the maintenance of the engine and the aircraft. And then you also want to look at culture. You know, when you have only a five-aircraft fleet, how much pressure is there to complete the flight?

BLITZER: Even if there might be a little problem. And a little problem turns out to be a big problem.

GOELZ: And don't have backup aircraft. So I think this is going to be an interesting investigation. Thankfully, no one was injured, beyond the one or two that were badly burned. But this could have been a real disaster.

BLITZER: Yes. Could have been indeed. All right, guys, thanks very, very much. There's more breaking news we're following today here in THE SITUATION ROOM. The Pentagon now saying U.S. troops are engaged in combat in Iraq with ISIS forces.

Plus, Donald Trump claiming victory in the latest Republican presidential debate, speaking out about what he calls hatred between two of his rivals.


[17:19:22] BLITZER: We're following breaking news at the Pentagon. Top officials there now saying for the first time that U.S. troops are, in fact, engaged in combat in Iraq against ISIS terrorists.

Until now they've characterized their role as advising and assisting Iraqi troops. With the death of a U.S. commando in a mission to rescue ISIS hostages has underscored the real nature of this new U.S. mission.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara, Starr is joining us with more. I take it this represents a pretty significant change, Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I think there's some very interesting subtleties here for Americans to realize. What you're seeing is military personnel, military officials in uniform acknowledging what is so obvious to them, and that is that U.S. troops are in harm's way. We've seen the first American soldier killed in action. And of course, it's combat. That is what they are saying.

The politicians not so willing to embrace those words. And the real question now is how far will all of this really go?


STARR (voice-over): Helicopter forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad pounding a Damascus suburb. Bodies retrieved from mountains of rubble. In the north near the flashpoint city of Aleppo, Syrian army units repelled an ISIS attack, according to Iranian state media.

Russia has focused many of its attacks here across western Syria. Part of its campaign to boost Assad's forces. But the CIA director insists the Russians know there is no military solution.

JOHN BRENNAN, CIA DIRECTOR: I do believe, paradoxically, they felt as though they had to strengthen Assad before, in fact, he could be moved out. And despite what they say, I believe the Russians do not see Assad in Syria's future.

STARR: Just as the Pentagon is detailing new U.S. military options for Defense Secretary Ash Carter to send to the White House. It could eventually mean more U.S. boots on the ground closer to the front lines.

ASHTON CARTER, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We won't hold back from supporting capable partners in opportunistic attacks against ISIL or conducting such missions directly, whether by strikes from the air or direct action on the ground.

STARR: From the U.S. military and admission that U.S. troops are already involved in more than just advising and assisting.

COL. STEVE WARREN, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: Of course it's combat. You know, our aviators are conducting combat air patrols and it's the name of the mission. Combat air patrol, so of course it's combat.

STARR: The Pentagon is expected to increase more intelligence sharing and communications support, especially for Kurds in both northern Iraq and northern Syria. A key U.S. goal: help the Kurds in northern Syria isolate crucial areas around Raqqah, ISIS's self- declared capital.

So let's go back to this question: is it really combat? Well, one of the options being discussed deep inside the Pentagon is to put U.S. troops, advisers, if you will, with smaller groups of Syria Kurdish forces, Iraqi Kurdish forces, that sort of thing.

You put U.S. troops with smaller groups of forces on the ground. The smaller the units they're with, the closer they are to the front line, the closer to combat, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, good explanation. Thanks very much.

Let's dig deeper right now. Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois is joining us. He's a veteran of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: So when the Pentagon says today U.S. troops, soldiers, airmen, whatever, they're in combat, but they say the mission really hasn't changed. This sounds like a new phase in this operation against ISIS.

KINZINGER: It does. It seems like -- it's funny to say we're in combat. It's almost like reiterating that the sky is blue. I mean, we know that when we bomb people that's combat. When you have, even on an advise and consent role in a combat environment, that's combat.

And we saw what happened with the Special Operations mission. Obviously, that's very directly combat.

The good thing to come out of this is the fact that I think this -- the Pentagon admitting this, the civilian leadership admitting this, liberates the president to have more options. I feel like he had had his own red line of saying, "We're not going to put boots on the ground. We're not going to engage in active combat." And now he can finally do, I think, what's going to be necessary to push ISIS back, and that may include some ground combat.

BLITZER: You would support ground combat, boots on the ground, as it's called? KINZINGER: Yes, but we need to be careful. Because people

automatically think of 150,000 troops, 200,000 troops. I think you can have small units, direct action units, like we saw with -- with the special operators that can take out targets, capture targets, get information. That's undoubtedly combat. And undoubtedly boots on the ground. But it doesn't mean that we're calling for an occupation of Iraq again.

BLITZER: But it's going to result in more U.S. casualties.

KINZINGER: It will. These men and women, every day they raise their right hand to defend the country. And I've done that, too, and we all know that this very well may cost us our life, and we hope not.

But to defend the homeland and to defend America from these terrible elements that are growing in the Middle East and at a rapid pace, unfortunately, American soldiers sometimes have to be put in harm's way.

BLITZER: It's not just more blood but a lot more treasure also. So the Pentagon has just announced in the past 434 days since Operation Inherent Resolve, as it's called this war against ISIS has started, U.S. taxpayers have spent, already spent $4.75 billion, with a "B," billion dollars in this war against ISIS at a cost of about $11 million a day. People hear those numbers. Almost $5 billion. They say, couldn't that money be better spent here in the United States? Or, shouldn't it be used simply to reduce the national debt?

[17:25:07] KINZINGER: Well, I'd love to be able to use it for that. And if we had a situation where ISIS didn't exist and, you know, we weren't threatened overseas by these growing organizations that are growing faster than we can get a handle on, it would be great to invest that $5 billion in reducing the debt deficit or building roads and bridges.

The problem is the No. 1 job of the American government is to make sure Americans are safe. And we have to use all means to include that.

I'm glad that my brothers and sisters that are flying these fighter jets in the Middle East are able to have laser-guided weapons that can protect civilians as best they can. And they can fly high enough that, frankly, they're not in harm's way from being shot at. That's what technology is, and sometimes that costs some money.

BLITZER: But the thought was over the past decade the U.S. would train and assist the Iraqi military to do this. And they've simply not done it.

KINZINGER: Right. Absolutely right.

BLITZER: Why invest more money if they're not going to step up to the plate?

KINZINGER: Well, because I don't think we have any other option. Unfortunately, this is a problem, a cancer that's going to grow so big that, if we don't have partners on the ground, as flawed as they are, we're going to have to see large amounts of western troops in there. And that's where we don't want to go.

The Iraqis were performing pretty well until we left in 2011. And then we saw the military fall apart. So hopefully we can rebuild that, but I don't think we have any other option, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a disaster right now.


BLITZER: All right. Adam Kinzinger, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: The Congressman from Illinois.

Coming up, we're following the investigation into today's frightening airline fire that sent passengers to the hospital, closed down a very busy airport. And there's also new fallout as crews work to recover the antimissile blimp that got loose, ended up knocking out power to thousands of people. We'll tell you what happened.


[17:31:15] BLITZER: The Republican presidential candidates scattered across the country today jockeying over who's the biggest winner over last night's debate in Colorado.

Let's bring in CNN's Sunlen Serfaty, she's got the very latest for us.

Sunlen, what are you hearing?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, while many of these other candidates are out there declaring victory, Jeb Bush certainly was not. He did not have the debate night that he needed or he wanted to have. And so today he was out telling voters that, no, his campaign is not on life support.


SERFATY (voice-over): Tonight, new momentum for Marco Rubio.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We can't afford to have another four years like the last eight years.

SERFATY: His strong debate performance could be a breakout moment for his campaign.

RUBIO: The Democrats have the ultimate super PAC, it's called the mainstream media.

SERFATY: But Rubio today trying to temper the hype. RUBIO: Well, we felt good about it as we did with the other two

debates. No, the election wasn't decided last night. We're going to have another debate in 14 days and that will replace in people's memory this one.

SERFATY: This after Jeb Bush's performance again underwhelmed after an attempt to zing Rubio backfired.

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I mean, literally, the Senate, what is it, like a French workweek? You get like three days where you have to show up? You can campaign, or just resign and let someone else take the job.

RUBIO: You know how many votes John McCain missed when he was carrying out that fearless comeback that you're now modeling under?

BUSH: He won --

RUBIO: No, Jeb, I don't remember -- well, let me tell you, I don't remember you ever complaining about John McCain's vote record. The only reason why you're doing it now is because we're running for the same position and someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you.

SERFATY: Which Bush today did his best to clean up.

BUSH: That's what leadership is about. It's about fixing problems. It's about solving problems. It's about bringing people together rather than tearing them apart. It's not about the big personalities on the stage. It's not about performance. It's about leadership.

SERFATY: The other struggling candidates did what they could to breakthrough.

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But I want to tell you my great concern is that we are on the verge perhaps of picking someone who cannot do this job.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We had $19 trillion in debt. We have people out of work. We have ISIS and al Qaeda attacking us and we're talking about fantasy football? Can we stop?

SERFATY: And despite being center stage, the spotlight mostly avoided the frontrunners, Donald Trump and Ben Carson seem to play it safe.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Such a nasty question. But thank you, Governor.

KASICH: You're welcome.

SERFATY: Both fading into the background at times providing an opening for another insurgent candidate, Ted Cruz, to stand out by taking on the moderators. SEN. TED CRUZ (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: How about talking

about the substantive issues people care about?

SERFATY: Ben Carson today also taking aim at CNBC.

DR. BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What it's turned into is a gotcha. That's silly.

SERFATY: And is trying to organize the other Republican candidates to push for changes to their next big encounter in less than two weeks.

CARSON: Debates are supposed to be established to help the people get to know the candidates and get to know what's behind them.


SERFATY: So clearly Ben Carson here in Colorado really trying to capitalize over all this unhappiness among the candidates with last night's debate trying to show a little leadership, too. But he would not answer today whether he intends to boycott the next and upcoming debate if those changes are not made -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sunlen Serfaty for us. Sunlen, thanks very much.

I want to bring in our CNN political commentator Ana Navarro, our CNN Politics executive editor Mark Preston, and joining us from New Hampshire our CNN senior correspondent Brianna Keilar.

Guys, actually stand by for a moment. We're getting some new information on this race for the White House. I want to digest it. We'll assess what's going on right after a quick break.



BLITZER: We're looking at the latest developments the political aftershocks from the Republican debate. Donald Trump is campaigning in Nevada today in front of a large very enthusiastic crowd. He proclaimed himself among the winners last night.

Our political reporter Sara Murray is joining us from the Trump campaign right now Sparks, Nevada.

What did he say, what did he do today?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Trump just wrapped up a campaign rally here in Nevada. And surprise, surprise, he declared himself the winner of the debate last night. Now he also weighed on that testy exchange between Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush. Take a listen.


[17:40:05] TRUMP: So who saw the debate last night? (CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: And great book. And who won the debate?



TRUMP: Yes, we did well. Everybody -- I mean, I think there were a few people that really did well last night. Remember what I said about Jeb? And remember what I said about Rubio? OK. Everyone said, oh, no, you're wrong, Mr. Trump. I get no credit for this stuff. I said, they don't like each other. You know, I said it. And you know, people forget.

Last night the heat came out. And I even said, I don't know if you -- I told you, I announced that last night. I told you. A lot of anger there, a lot of hatred, a lot of hatred between those two.


MURRAY: Now Trump actually had pretty complimentary words for most of the Republicans who were on the debate stage with him yesterday. He was not so nice when it came to talking about President Barack Obama. He said he actually believes the president hates Israel. And, you know, maybe it was just coming off the debate in Colorado where pot is legal, but some of the folks in the audience today asked him to weigh in on his views on marijuana policy.

He made a little bit of news here today saying he believes medical marijuana should be legal and saying it should be up to the states to decide whether they want to legalize recreational marijuana -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much for that, Sara Murray in Nevada.

Let's bring back our experts, Ana Navarro, Mark Preston and Brianna Keilar.

Ana, you support Jeb Bush. You've raised money for him. You're a friend of Marco Rubio's, but last night you said you were disappointed in Jeb Bush's performance. How does he recover? Can he recover?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first of all absolutely he can recover. We are still in a race that's very much up in the air. And the fundamentals of Jeb's campaign are strong. You know, he's got great ground game, he's pulling out great policy proposals almost on a weekly basis. His campaign stump retail events are very good.

The debates are the one weak link. So he can turn it around by having a great debate in the next 12 days. You know, the next debate is in 12 days. He's got everything going for him. And more importantly than that he's got the heart, the will, the backbone to do it. And he wants to do it. This idea of whether Jeb's heart is in it or not is poppycock. I know the guy. He's full in.

BLITZER: But, Mark, he's had three debates now to show that passion, that desire, that capability. And take a look at the huge numbers of people who are watching, 25 million in one debate, 24 million, 15 million last night. That's a lot of people watching. Three missed opportunities for him.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: Three missed opportunities. And I think it was perplexing not only for supporters such as Ana Navarro who wants Jeb Bush to win the nomination, but I do think that all across the country Republicans who see Bush as the strongest nominee heading into November are wondering why didn't he bring the fire. He's been told for weeks now to bring the fire. We've been told by his campaign that he's going to bring the fire. And then last night if he had any fire it was certainly doused out.

I agree his campaign is not over. He has the money, he has the organization, he has the background. He needs the fire.

BLITZER: He needs the fire. He needs to get those people excited.

Brianna, you've been following him today in New Hampshire. What is the campaign doing to try to combat this escalating narrative that he may be doomed?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They're emphasizing a lot of what you just heard Ana talk about, that the ground game of the campaign is very strong, that he has the heart. That's something that Jeb Bush himself said today here in Portsmouth.

But talking to Republicans today, Wolf, who back him, what they say is really in Jeb Bush's favor is the money that his campaign is in a situation despite recent cuts that other candidates would be envious of. That the super PAC backing him has raked in $100 million. That they have ad buys already set up for early winter.

And talking to some folks they say, you know what, obviously this isn't ideal. He isn't popping right now in late October. But there are many debates and also it's more important for him to really pop in January ahead of these important dates in February, the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, Wolf.

BLITZER: Brianna, the Republican frontrunners, Ben Carson and Donald Trump, they attract huge crowds when they go out and speak. What kind of crowd did Jeb Bush have today?

KEILAR: This one was, I will tell you, sort of small. I would say in the realm of about 100 or so people. There were a number of reporters, of cameras here, certainly kind of rivaling a large fraction of the supporters who were here in Portsmouth.

It was during the day, I'll certainly tell you that, Wolf, he is -- Jeb Bush as we speak actually getting ready for another event in New London, New Hampshire, a couple of hours from here. So we're waiting to see what the turnout is there. BLITZER: Yes. But, Ana, 100 people, with all due respect, is

not exactly a huge crowd.

[17:45:04] Trump gets thousands of people, Ben Carson, thousands of people. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, they get a lot of people who show up. 100 people on a day after a big debate, that's sort of pitiful.

NAVARRO: I don't -- look, it's the way that it's always been done. It's a typical New Hampshire event. Donald Trump shows up and does one event every so often. Jeb Bush does five events in one day in different towns.

But what Jeb needs to do, Wolf, is he needs to get past this mental block he has where he thinks that performing and entertaining somehow takes away his authenticity and takes away from the presidential nature of the job he's seeking. It doesn't. It is part of the job. I've seen this man project strength and inspiration as governor. He needs to get back to the Jeb Bush I knew as governor and he needs to show us that guy on the stage.

BLITZER: A lot of people said Ted Cruz, the senator from Texas, did well last night and will get a bounce out of this, what do you think?

PRESTON: He will. Look, in the last hour I got off the phone with his Iowa chairman, Matt Schultz, and I said, what did you make of last night's debate, how do you bounce out of Iowa? Iowa is the state that the Cruz campaign -- little knowledge Ted Cruz has to win or has to come in second. The belief now in the Cruz campaign is as they've been talking about but certainly solidified last night they believe they can get the evangelical social conservatives, the libertarian wing and the fiscal wing to come together.

Now we've seen that Ben Carson is really doing well out in Iowa. They think they can take that away from Ben Carson. And Rand Paul.

BLITZER: The fallout just beginning from that debate. And another one is coming up very soon.

NAVARRO: That's Rand Paul's crowd.

PRESTON: Well, he has those libertarians.

BLITZER: Within two weeks our next debate.

Guys, thanks very much.

Coming up, there are new questions and new fallout as the crews work to recover that military antimissile blimp that broke loose and drifted away knocking out power to thousands of people.


[17:51:13] BLITZER: A recovery team and investigators spent today in rural Pennsylvania where a runaway blimp came down after breaking loose not far, all that far away from Washington, D.C., in Maryland, flying all the way to northeast Pennsylvania. It's dangling cables knocking down power lines.

CNN's Brian Todd is here with more on the accident and the fallout.

What are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, U.S. military officials tell us they're investigating how that massive blimp became untethered. They're doing damage assessments and a lot of damage control. Critics are tonight calling this accident a mere symbol of an impractical and costly surveillance program.


TODD (voice-over): Tonight, CNN has learned in an attempt to finish deflating the multimillion dollar balloon left tangled in dense patches of forest, Pennsylvania State Police fired shotguns at it, an embarrassing ending for what some are now suggesting is a Defense Department boondoggle.

CAPT. MATTHEW VILLA, U.S. ARMY: When they were shooting, I didn't want to watch it. You know, it was sad. It's like smoothing your dog.

TODD: Officials at North American Aerospace Defense Command, NORAD, are not saying yet what caused the aircraft which stretches nearly the length of a football field to become untethered from its base in Maryland, drifting more than 160 miles north, tearing down power lines and destroying property before thumping down in northeastern Pennsylvania.

The aircraft was half of a pair of unmanned blimps, each carrying sophisticated classified radar on board. Blimps designed to work in tandem.

CATLIN LEE, MILITARY AVIATION ANALYST: The first one is designed to do sort of broad area surveillance and to look out for threats over the horizon up to about 340 miles. The second aero stat is actually designed to hone in on a potential threat and target and queue it for another weapons system like a fighter jet or a -- even the Patriot Missile Defense System and in both the aero stats, the radar is contained in a pod underneath right here.

TODD: NORAD officials say it was the second targeting blimp which came on Moore. The two aero stats called the JLENS system are designed to detect cruise missiles, low-flying aircraft and projectiles, but tonight critics are calling the crashed white blimp a white elephant.

A 2012 Pentagon report cited its, quote, "low system reliability," and an "L.A. Times" investigation published last month said the program was slow to roll out, inefficient and expensive, costing taxpayers $2.7 billion. The "Times" report says the blimps can't distinguish friendly aircraft from threatening ones. Still some independent analyst defend the program.

CHET NAGLE, NATIONAL DEFENSE ANALYST: That system has been e excruciatingly tested successfully at white sands, against simulated targets, real targets, and it does the job it was designed to do.

TODD: Back in April the JLENS missed its chance to prove that when a Florida man piloted a gyrocopter on to the Capitol grounds in Washington. The JLENS blimps should have been able to see it coming but they were not operational that day.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: That was game day for this particular device and it was in the locker room.

TODD: Why? NORAD officials say the blimps were going through a software upgrade.


TODD: We pressed Raytheon, the manufacturer of the radar for the blimps, to respond to criticism of the program. They referred us to NORAD. NORAD officials stressed the blimps are one year into a three- year test period and they haven't yet determined their effectiveness -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is the U.S. government or the military going to reimburse the folks in Pennsylvania for the damage cost by those power outages?

TODD: It looks like they're at least ready to, Wolf. NORAD officials tell us they set up a claims process where individuals, local organizations can contact their local military base to see if they can recoup some of the losses and they'll vet those claims to see if they want to pay them out.

BLITZER: What an embarrassment that is, the whole story.

All right, thanks very much, Brian Todd, reporting.

[17:55:01] There's breaking news we're following. We're learning new information about the plane fire that sent panicked passengers running for their lives today. More than a dozen people injured.

Plus, a student violently arrested in this disturbing video. She and another teen are facing charges but now the deputy that has been fired for the incident, new questions are emerging. Should the charges be dropped against these two teenage girls?


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news, fire before takeoff. A commercial jet's engine erupts in flames and passengers are forced to evacuate and more than a dozen are injured. I'll ask a former NTSB chief, Deborah Hersman, what went wrong.