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Russian Passenger Jet Crash Took The Lives of 224; New Poll: Carson Surges Into Lead in GOP Field; Interview with Flooding Survivor. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired November 2, 2015 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:06] JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Good evening. John Berman here in for Anderson.

Tonight, breaking news in the plane crash that took the lives of 224 men, women and children, 25 children over Egypt's Sinai desert. A heat flash seen by an American satellite high overhead. Infrared sensors detected this sudden flash of heat and that could speak volumes about what happened to that Russian airbus. There's that and there is also fact that the airline owes employees two months pay and there's much more including an ISIS-affiliate claiming responsibility. A whole lot to cover here.

First, CNN aviation correspondent Rene Marsh joins us with the breaking news.

Rene, tell us about this satellite and just what it picked up.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well John, CNN has learned a flash was detected by a U.S. satellite over Sinai around the time the metro jet aircraft crashed. This from CNN's Barbara Starr who has confirmed this with Pentagon sources.

Right now both the military and U.S. intelligence community are reviewing this new information to determine what it means. Was this flash part of the plane breaking up, or was it something else? They are trying to also determine whether that flash happened on the ground or mid-air. All things, John, they don't know just yet.


MARSH (voice-over): About 23 minutes after takeoff a Russian passenger jet suddenly disappeared from radar. The plane was cruising above 30,000 feet when according to the Web site flight radar 24 it experienced sharp changes in altitude in a matter of seconds. There were no distress calls from the cockpit, no sign of bad weather in the area, no indication anything was wrong. But airbus a-321 with 224 souls on board shattered in the air, according to investigators breaking into pieces before crashing to the ground. No one on board survived.

What caused this aircraft to suddenly crash to the ground? One of the first questions was this a terrorist attack? Islamic militants have been battling Egyptian forces in the Sinai

Peninsula for years. And Russian planes have been the target of militant attacks in the past because of that country's long-running conflict with Islamists in Chechnya. And what about ISIS? The group did claim responsibility for the attack on twitter, but American intelligence officials say so far they see no sign of terrorism, though it's not being ruled out either.

JAMES CLAPPER, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: We don't have any direct evidence of any terrorist involvement yet.

MARSH: The Egyptian military says militants in the area of the crash don't have the type of weaponry that could bring down the plane above 30,000 feet. So was it a technical problem?

The ex-west plane's co-pilot told Russian state-run media he complained about the condition of the plane before the flight. But airline said they have no records of complaints from the pilot or the crew. And the airbus passed its routine inspection before takeoff, according to Egyptian authorities.

Investigators have recovered the black boxes from the wreckage which is strewn over eight square miles. They have also recovered the bodies of the victims. According to investigators most passengers were found with their seat belts on which could mean the pilot told passengers to fasten their seat belts knowing they were in trouble.

In St. Petersburg mourners gathered to remember the victims, releasing balloons into the air, remembering the 224 lives lost, 25 of those children. The youngest victim, this 10-month-old baby girl. Her mother posted this picture from the St. Petersburg airport before the first leg of their journey to Egypt.


BERMAN: The sad image to see right there.

Rene, what are you hearing tonight about the possibility of the NTSB joining this investigation?

MARSH: Well, John, the NTSB could participate. We know that the engines on this aircraft. They are U.S.-manufactured engines and because of that the NTSB is entitled to participate if they wish to. Now, its force tells meet NTSB has made contact with Egyptian officials. They have expressed to them that they are ready to participate. However, at this point the NTSB is playing a wait-and- see role to see exactly the direction of this investigation before they make a decision as to whether they will dispatch a team there.

[20:00:11] BERMAN: All right, Rene Marsh for us in Washington, thanks so much.

Much more on this heat flash in just a moment. But, first, in Russia authorities have raided airline offices searching for evidence. And as we mentioned reports have surfaced about finances at that carrier.

Matthew Chance is in St. Petersburg right now and joins us.

Matthew, what are Russian officials saying about the two months' wages owed to these airline employees?

[20:05:13] MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. This airline MetroJet appears to have had some financial difficulties. The country's labor ministry here says that two months wages were owed to staff members of the -- of the airline MetroJet. They are also investigating other aspects, whether the maintenance was up to scratch, was the psychological cancelling and testing of staff members and pilots was up to scratch as well. But there's no suggestion at this point that -- that financial problems could have led to, you know, shortcuts and maintenance or anything like that.

And, remember, that, you know, all Russian airlines at the moment, because of the economic situation in the country are suffering some economic strain. And so, it's not necessarily a factor but it's one of the considerations that the investigators are looking at as they try to piece together what happened to this -- this flight.

But the emphasis is still very much at the moment at this point in Russia on identifying the bodies. They have been flown back or 114 of them so far have been flown back from Egypt here to St. Petersburg. There's another plane due back in the next few hours, bringing more human remains back to this country, so there can be more identified and funeral arrangements made.

BERMAN: Matthew, looks like you're standing right in front a memorial at St. Petersburg airport where the plane was due to land. What's the mood there today?

CHANCE: Yes. It's -- it's very sad. And, you're right. This is the memorial that's been springing up over the past three day and even now there are people here that laying flowers, lighting candles and these children's toys to remember the fact that 25 of the people on board the plane were just children, and so it's deeply sad event.

Russia has had more than its fair share, I think it's fair to say, of airline disasters. It's affected by terrorism. There have been maintenance and technical problems that have led to casualties and deaths as well, but this has particularly touched people in this country perhaps because it was a tourist flight. These people have gone to Sinai for some winter sun at start what have is going to be a very long winter here in Russia. There were families. There were couples on board. There were children, and it's really struck a chord in this country. And so, yes, they want to get this -- get some closure on this. But they also want answers. Was it terrorism, or was it technical failure? And the investigators have to answer that, John.

BERMAN: Twenty-five children onboard.

Matthew Chance at St. Petersburg, thank you so much.

Let's bring in our aviation expert. CNN safety analyst David Soucie, former FAA accident investigator. Also pilot and CNN aviation analyst Miles O'Brien.

And David, let's start with the breaking news tonight, this infrared activity, the heat flash detected by a U.S. satellite over the Sinai Peninsula at the time of the incident, what does this mean to you?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: It means a lot of things, John. And what's most important is did that flash start on the ground, or did it flash happen in the air? Very conclusive. If it happened on the ground, it could indicate that there was some sort of missile launched. If it happened in the air, that means there may have been something on the aircraft as far as incendiary devices goes. But it is too early obviously to conclude anything, but those are extremely important points. So we will look forward to hearing the results that have.

BERMAN: Miles, if it was in the air, do that in and of itself indicate it was an incendiary device or could you get a heat flash from, you know, an engine somehow malfunctioning and exploding on its own?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Yes, that could happen. I think the number of flashes is the key here. If there was a missile launch you would get an infrared signature for that to launch itself. And you get a second flash, a second infrared signature for the impact itself, possibly even a third when the structure struck the floor of the desert as further fuel might have exploded. So the number of heat signatures is crucial. If in fact only one was detected, that in some respects might steer one away from a missile launch and on to some idea of an explosion on board the aircraft.

BERMAN: There's been so much focus on a missile, but there are other ways, you know, as we've learned over the decades to take down a plane with an explosive device. I mean, there is a bomb that could be in the suitcase or something that fuselage, Miles. So is the focus somehow too much on the possibility of a missile when it could be something in the air?

O'BRIEN: Well, when you think about what it takes to bring down an airliner at 33,000 feet, it is a surface-to-air missile battery which is guided by two radar systems and a lot of sophistication of technology and people to operate it. It's unclear whether ISIL has that level of sophistication.

You know, surface, you know, a shoulder-mounted surface-to-air missile is one thing, that's a degree of simplicity, but this airplane was flying too high to be struck by such a surface-to-air missile, (INAUDIBLE) as it were. So, you know, when I - certainly bringing down an airliner if you're a terrorist, it's a little simpler in many respects, requires a lot less technology if that device is on the aircraft.

[20:10:27] BERMAN: David, what do we know about security in Sharm el- sheikh in Egypt where this plane this, flight originated from? Do they have in-depth security procedures there?

SOUCIE: They do. I spoke with Jal Hadair (ph) who used to be with the international civil aviation organization just moments ago and he told me that he was there when they started that security system there that they do have screening. They have screening that actually tests for the barometric triggered devices on every bag as the bag goes through, they barometrically change the pressure on the bags before they are loaded on the aircraft to test to see if once it's altitude it may trigger a bomb (ph). So if there was that type of device onboard the aircraft, it would have had to come into the aircraft in some other way because the security for baggage is very good at that airport.

BERMAN: Miles, what do you make of the news that we're getting out of Russia right now, that the employees that the airline are owed two months pay? I mean, we're hearing from Russia, obviously, there's a lot of problems at a lot of companies right now they are not being paid. But does that raise red flags about how stringent the employees may have been in screening?

O'BRIEN: Absolutely. Not only might they be plain old lacks because they have not been incentivized by a paycheck, but it is quite possible there is a lot of disgruntled people who are working for that airline, I should say. So, security is only as good as the people who staff the airline, and who has more access to an airplane on the ground than the employees of the airline. And if they are not being played, that opens up a whole distinct avenue of investigation which is unusual, to say the least.

BERMAN: David, one of the things we heard back in 2001, this plane's tail struck the runway when it was landing at one point. The tail was damaged but then it was repaired. Nevertheless, could a strike like that years ago somehow contribute to a malfunction a decade and a half later?

SOUCIE: It absolutely could, and here's how. People say, well, it was repaired according to the structural repair manual, that's true. No doubt in my mind what it was. What happens in that type of repair when it's that extensive, and I have to honest, I don't know how extensive it was, but if it was to the point where it was document the as a structural repair, that means the structural repairman was used. So in that case, you're talking about metal on metal being repaired. Now, in the metal on metal occurred, it has to have the right type of insulation or sealant to make sure that the sealant and the metal doesn't erode itself or you end up with the situation like in the Aloha Airlines accident where it erodes over age and eventually cracks and breaks. So, that is an area of concern. There's no reason to think that that is the case at this point, but it sure definitely could be.

BERMAN: All right. Just one of the things they are looking at. Again, the focus tonight on the heat flashes, the infrared detections from a U.S. satellite. I'm sure there will be a lot of questions over the next few hours there.

David Soucie, Miles O'Brien, thank you so much.

Next, a closer look at what the black boxes can tell and more on what to make of the airplane's sudden change in air speed and altitude. Richard Quest joins us. He has some thoughts on why we could get some answers sooner rather than later.

Plus, we have more breaking news, new presidential polling just out that could turn the race between the two leading Republican candidates upside down. New numbers that one of the candidates is going to like a lot and the other is Donald Trump.


[20:17:36] BERMAN: Again, the breaking news in the crash of MetroJet 9268. An American satellite picking up a flash of heat at the time of the incident. Now it's unclear whether it happened while the plane was airborne or after it hit the desert floor.

In addition, the airline was two months behind on paychecks which as you might imagine has sharpened the focus on any corner-cutting when it comes to spending money on other things such as safety.

Now, as for the wreckage, Egyptian investigators have possession of the flight data and cockpit voice recorders from the airbus. They are said to be in good condition and ready to be analyzed by experts in Cairo. The question as we have been discussing tonight, what will they say about what brought the plane down. Black boxes have come a long way over the years and have unlocked a whole lot of mysteries.

However as "360's" Randi Kaye found out, they do have limitations.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the sound of a pilot in trouble.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eleven heavy, we are starting dump now, we have to land immediate.

KAYE: That was the pilot of Swiss air 111 minutes before he crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 1998. Everyone on board was killed. When crash investigators found the plane's black boxes at the bottom of the ocean, they looked intact, so they were stunned to learn this.

LARRY VANCE, DEPUTY CRASH INVESTIGATOR, SWISS AIR FLIGHT 111: Both the recorders stopped recording about six minutes before the aircraft actually hit the water.

KAYE: Leaving investigators to wonder why they suddenly lost control of the plane. It was a fire they later found in the jet's entertainment system. But it took putting the plane back together, all 2 million pieces of it, back together.

Bottom line the so-called black boxes aren't perfect. Even when they are found to be in good condition, they may not reveal the cause of the crash. On a plane they are tucked inside an insulated case surrounded by stainless steel designed to withstand temperatures as high as 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit and catastrophic impact.

After TWA flight 800 went down in July 1996, just 12 minutes after takeoff from New York's JFK airport, the plane's black boxes were recovered, with hardly a scratch on them, but they offered little.

PETER GOELZ, FORMER MANAGING DIRECTOR, NTSB: Both the voice recorder and the data recorder terminated their operation within a nanosecond of each other when the explosion took place.

[20:20:00] KAYE: Still, despite all the conspiracy theories, investigators figured out an explosion in the fuel tank cautioned the crash and shut down the recorders.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Indianapolis center, do you get ahold of American 77 by chance?

KAYE: On 9/11, 64 people died on American Airlines flight 77 when it slammed into the Pentagon. The two black boxes were found in the wreckage, but the cockpit voice recorder was too charred to offer anything of value.

GOELZ: It flew in with such force and the fire was so intense that nothing could have survived that impact.

KAYE: So did the Russian MetroJet simply break apart in mid-air, or was it something more sinister? With the plane's black boxes recovered and said to be in good condition the hope is they may provide answers as to what brought down this doomed jet.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


BERMAN: Digging deeper now into how to interpret what is on those recorders as well as evidence from the wreckage. Just before the breaking news on the satellite information came out, I spoke with CNN aviation analyst Richard Quest who has covered more than a few of these investigations.


BERMAN: So Richard, the plane's black boxes, they have been recovered and they are being sent to Cairo right now. A lot of mysteries and a lot of questions but you think many if not all of these questions will be answered quickly in the.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: I think the likelihood is that the black boxes will tell us the cause of why this plane suddenly decelerated, very fast. This wasn't just a gentle deceleration. It was almost the equivalent of hitting a brick wall. It went from 400 knots almost down to 90, 60 knots, quite extraordinary. And the rate of descent at one point, 6,000 feet a minute, it tells me that whatever happened was dramatic and catastrophic. And we also know -- now, by looking at the parameters on the black boxes, what were the engines doing? What were the flaps doing? What were the control surfaces? What were the pilot's inputs? And what were the pilots saying to each other? That's why I think it's going to give very, very strong clues.

BERMAN: You say 20 minutes into the flight, which is roughly when this all happened, that's a very unusual time for accidents, for crashes to take place. Why is that?

QUEST: Because it's known as in the cruise phase of flight, the early cruise phase of flight, and that's a very, very safe section of flight. The plane and the pilot are under the maximum stress at takeoff and landing. And if you look at statistics, about 40 to 50 percent are on landing, 30 odd percent are on takeoff, but only eight to nine percent of accidents are in the cruise. A lot like fatalities because it is almost always fatal. When there is a major incident in the cruise, it is almost always bad. And that is why it is the safest part of the flight, the plane's on autopilot, the pilots are monitoring not flying and that's why it's so unusual.

BERMAN: All right. Richard Quest, thank you so much.


BERMAN: More on the breaking news. When we come back, this heat flash spotted by a U.S. satellite and what that could all mean, a CNN military analyst, a retired air force officer joins us along with one of the leading airline safety advocates.


[20:27:07] BERMAN: All right. We continue to follow the breaking news on the crash of MetroJet 9268. The latest, a flash of heat picked up by U.S. satellite and what it might reveal about this disaster. Was it a sign, an infrared signature of an explosion on board or maybe a missile launch or was simply sadly the impact itself on the Sinai dessert?

Joining us CNN military analyst and retired lieutenant air force lieutenant Rick Francona. Also former transportation department inspector general Mary Schiavo. Currently, she represents victims in the families in transportation accidents.

Mary, we just got this news in right now, this infrared detection, a heat flash. What does it say to you? Does this increase the chances that this was somehow terrorist-related?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, it could. But, unfortunately, it could also be the signature of a plane that had lost a structural member and it caused fire. For example, I remember I worked on (INAUDIBLE) air crash in Florida. And in that case the wing tore off and as it did that the fire started and exploded. So it could be a missile, a bomb on board starting in an explosion and a fire or the plane itself having a structural problem and a fire ensued or the plane impacting the ground?

BERMAN: Colonel Francona, we have you on the phone right now. You know a lot about U.S. satellite surveillance in systems. You say you know the satellite system that detected this heat flash, and you suggest that it does mean that it saw some kind of explosion.

RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST (on the phone): That's right. Detected explosion and now trying to determine exactly which explosion will require a lot more effort. Now, they have the capability to determine almost exactly where that was and what altitude it was. So with more refinement of the data, they should have a lot more information.

This system has been used for years. I mean, it's been around for decade. It's very effective. It's a constellation of satellites constantly circling the earth looking for just this kind of event, an explosive event, primarily designed for ballistic missile launches, but it can also be used for an explosion in the air.

BERMAN: So we're waiting to find out if what you say is true, colonel, we should be able to find out relatively soon. The satellite should tell us whether the explosion is on the air or in the ground. That is something we should hear soon.

FRANCONA: Exactly.

BERMAN: Mary, we are also waiting to hear about the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recordings being analyzed in Cairo. We could get information from them soon. But in the meantime, you always point out there is a lot that can be learned, Mary, just by investigating the crash scene and the degree that is now strewn about the desert floor.

SCHIAVO: Well, that's right. And here we have three, two definitely, maybe three debris fields to look at. So it's clear that something happened to the plane to break it up in the air, and the debris field to me looks similar to the debris field of TWA 800. And in that case there was a flash in the air at explosion. TWA 800 was a mechanical failure, its center wing tag

[20:30:00] exploding, but then the nose of the plane went one way and the rest of the plane went the other, and it did pitch up before it finally crashed, something that they believe happened here.

BERMAN: And, Colonel, again, back to the satellite imagery here, one of the things this will tell next to immediately is if there was a flash from the desert floor itself. One of the question is could this have been some kind of surface-to-air missile? A lot of people say it's highly unlikely to begin with, because it's hard to imagine anyone in the Sinai Peninsula having such a device that can hit something at 31,000 feet.

FRANCONA: Yes. There's a difference in the signature of a surface- to-surface missile, which would give a much brighter signature and easily detectable by this system. A surface-to-air missile doesn't give off that kind of a flash. I would be hesitant to say they could detect the launch of a surface-to-air missile unless it was a very large system, but they certainly could detect the flash.

Now, if they are able to detect the launch of a surface-to-air missile system and then it did in fact, the aircraft, you'd actually see two flashes.

BERMAN: Interesting. Mary Schiavo, what about the patterns on the ground? You talk about sometimes on the debris you can see explosive residue or you can see, depending upon what kind of a seating chart, find the source of where the explosion took place.

SCHIAVO: That's exactly right. I was actually a little dismayed that they were already sending -- and God rest their souls, I can understand why they would want to -- but they were already sending their remains home. It's very important to examine the persons as well, because they, too, can have a pitting pattern, you can find explosive residue, you can see if they were able to have breathed in any soot or any debris, and then also on the ground, part of the debris, at least from what I'm seeing from the pictures on CNN, part is burned and part is not. The part that is not burned you would assume would have separated before the aircraft, before the final impact with the ground, so there's lots that can be learned just by the pattern on the ground, and investigators are trained to do that and compare that to prior accidents, where they looked at those patterns and learned from those patterns.

BERMAN: All right. Mary Schiavo, Colonel Rick Francona, thanks so much. Much more on this breaking news coming up. Plus, we have breaking news in the Republican primary battle. A new national poll shows Ben Carson at the front of the pack. Plus, there's new drama tonight in the battle to control or regain control of the debates. There's a mutiny inside of a mutiny that the candidates who are rising up against the Republican Party now rising up against each other.

Also ahead, an incredible story of survival. Imagine being trapped in your car in raging floodwaters like these. How calm do you think you could stay? Kerry Packer, the man you will meet in a few minutes, this guy will amaze you.


KERRY PACKER, FLOOD SURVIVOR: -- top, it didn't, so you can see I'm floating down some sort of creek.




BERMAN: No shortage of breaking news tonight, including on the campaign trail. A new national poll just released by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal shows Ben Carson now leading the Republican field at 29 percent. That's six points up on Donald Trump. He's at 23. Marco Rubio at 11 percent, and then Ted Cruz at 10. There's Jeb Bush at 8 percent.

This poll was conducted mostly before and a little after the Republican debate hosted by CNBC, a debate that has sparked a mutiny of sorts. Almost as soon as the debate was over, many of the candidates slammed the moderators for what they called gotcha questions, and they vowed to do something about it.

Over the weekend, representatives from nearly every Republican campaign met in Washington to craft a joint letter to send to the television networks, laying out a list of demands for the upcoming debates. The letter, which they planned to send this week, basically cuts the RNC out of the process, so like we said, this was a mutiny, but tonight there is new drama, an apparent mutiny within the mutiny. A number of candidates are saying they have other plans. They are not going to sign on to the letter, they don't want to be a part of it.

CNN political reporter Sara Murray joins us now. First the polls and then the mutiny, Sara. This new poll from NBC and the Wall Street Journal, this is the first time Ben Carson has been out front outside the margin of error, this is a big deal.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think that's right, and, look, I think this starts to tell us we could be seeing the beginning of a trend. People might be getting over the moment they had with Donald Trump. And at the very least, more voters might be saying what they have been saying to me on the campaign trail, which is that they like Ben Carson has the outsider appeal that Donald Trump does, but they see Ben Carson as someone who is more sincere, more relatable to them, his values align more closely with their values than Donald Trump's do, and I think we saw that early on when the polls started moving in Ben Carson's direction in Iowa, and now the question is will this trend continue for Ben Carson, or is this just kind of a flash, a moment?

BERMAN: Now to the debates. It's 8:39 p.m. Eastern time, do you know where your debates are? What's going on with this, and where does Donald Trump stand, among other things?

MURRAY: Well, you know, total pandemonium at this point. They all got together. For the most part they had this meeting and they were going to send this letter, and this was going to allow candidates to negotiate directly with the networks, and Donald Trump today basically decided he was going to do that without the help of any of the other campaigns. His campaign said we're just going to negotiate directly with the networks, thank you, and after that, a number of other candidates came out, John Kasich, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina and said, look, we don't all really heed to band together and sign on to this letter. We're adults, and we're running for president, and we can just show up and we can debate.

And when you look at the things they were demanding in this letter, they weren't going to move the needle hugely. The candidates didn't want over-the-shoulder shots and they didn't want you to be able to see their notes, they didn't want candidates questioning one another. They wanted to make sure that the room was cool enough, and it was below, you know, 67 degrees. These were not huge game-changing demands here, but it just means that either the RNC will be back in when it comes to debating or each of these campaigns will go on their own to the networks and bring their own demands.

BERMAN: Sara Murray, thanks so much. A lot to talk about with our panel. Joining me political commentator and former Obama administration official Van Jones. Amanda Carpenter is here, the former communications director for Ted Cruz and now a contributing editor at the "Conservative Review," and chief political analyst Gloria Borger.


Gloria, first, this new poll. One time, one poll with Ben Carson out in front, that's a revelation. Two polls showing him out in front, that's a trend.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It is, you have a new front runner. And what's important about this poll is that half of the people polled pick Carson as either their first or their second choice, and that's the first time we've seen that happen, so we do know that Carson has very broad support. What we don't know is how deep it is and how solid it is. In previous polls, we've seen voters say, you know, I like him, but I could change my mind. Trump voters are devoted to Trump. Carson voters were a little softer. We have to see if they start solidifying now behind Carson, the way Trump supporters are behind Trump.

BERMAN: Amanda, one other thing that we're doing, Gloria is doing the math of first and second choices, I'll do the math between Donald Trump and Ben Carson. If you add up their support, it's over 50 percent. Way ahead of the so-called establishment candidates right now, so, you know, these newcomers are just running away with it right now.

AMANDA CARPENTER, FORMER TED CRUZ COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Yes, absolutely, John, and that's something that's been shown in many polls, not just this poll, and so if you're the other candidates, you really have to dig deep and ask yourself, what are Donald Trump and Ben Carson doing that I'm not? Certainly there's a theme that both of them are rebukes to political correctness and aren't afraid to speak their mind, but also they are two men that have demonstrated excellence in their respective fields, so I think the other candidates need to show voters a little more, show a little more in their background about why they are qualified to be president and not just another elected official. All these people have been elected to office other than Donald Trump and Ben Carson, so they need to dig deeper into their biographies and profiles and show voters more.

BERMAN: Van, one other thing here, we look at Donald Trump's number, he is at 23 percent. A lot has been made and a lot will be made if this is the beginning of the end of the Trump phenomenon. But 23 percent is not a bad floor, and he hasn't slipped a lot from the last NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, he's actually only down two points from last month. He seems to be fairly stable. So is that something he can sort of hang his hat on right now?

VAN JONES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: He can. In other words, it's not like people are leaving Trump and going to Carson. People are leaving establishment candidates and going to Carson. And if you're a Democrat watching this, this whole process is just bewildering. First of all, you have a mutiny inside a mutiny about a debate, when in fact, you know, Anderson Cooper on CNN threw very hard questions at Hillary Clinton, asked her if she would say anything to get elected, and she just answered the question and moved on. He asked Bernie Sanders, you're a socialist, how are you going to be elected? He answered the question and moved on. They didn't melt down about it. You have this party that say they are the toughest party, they want to take on Putin, but they cry about a debate, and then they can't get their act together.

And then you have these characters. Ben Carson is even more bewildering than Donald Trump as a front-runner. I mean, I just don't understand the appeal of a Ben Carson. I don't understand -- I didn't under pet rocks. I didn't understand parachute pants, and I don't understand the nae nae dance, and I don't understand Ben Carson. I don't get it.

BERMAN: Amanda, let me put it to you then, as someone who works in the Republican business, as it were. I keep hearing that Ben Carson is doing things we're not seeing. Ben Carson is on Facebook and Ben Carson has people communicating with voters in Iowa one-on-one, and there's a groundswell that we don't necessarily see sitting here in New York or Washington.

CARPENTER: Sure. I think Donald Trump and Ben Carson have a larger network of grassroots support on the ground than some of the other candidates like a Jeb Bush per se. Ted Cruz does for that matter as well. Go back to how this goes with the debate controversy. I think one of the saddest things about the CNBC debate is that Donald Trump and Ben Carson weren't pressed on their economic plans as the two front-runners of the Republican Party. That's a debate that conservative voters wanted to see happen, and the longer that these two guys aren't really questioned about the policy or what their policies are -- some of them haven't even really fully unveiled plans yet -- the longer they are going to coast, and that's not good for anybody.

BERMAN: Gloria, where are we on this debate thing? And what does this tell us? To me it tells us you have 14 candidates, however many, who have 14 separate agendas and want to do their own thing, and this idea there is consensus is just bull.

BORGER: It's ridiculous, and the notion that they were all going to sign on to one letter having different agendas was just never going to happen, this is like herding cats. The folks who are polling in single digits want to be up on the big stage. Donald Trump doesn't want to be attacked. Ben Carson wants to be allowed to state his policy positions in a certain way, and so they are all, you know, they are all over the place.

The one thing I would say about Ben Carson, his appeal is that he's an outsider like Trump, but he's the anti-Trump in that he is so likable and positive, and people like that about him. When they see him on that debate stage or when they see him before a group, they like his persona. He's welcoming to voters.


BERMAN: All right. Gloria Borger and Amanda Carpenter and Van Jones. Thanks so much for being with us. Gloria, stick around. We'll have a preview of your special report in just a minute. Do not miss "Bush versus Gore, the Endless Election" at the top of the hour.

Up next for us, a survival story. What would you do if all of a sudden you're floating down a river in your car? We're going to show you what one man did to stay alive.


PACKER: Although my car almost tipped over on its top, it didn't.



BERMAN: Tonight, an incredible story of survival. In central Texas this weekend, deadly flooding and tornadoes killed six people. One man who lived to tell his story is Kerry Packer. One minute he was driving and the next he was floating down the river in his car. He used his cell phone to record this amazing video.


PACKER: So it's flooding here.

BERMAN: An understatement from a remarkably calm Kerry Packer, who was driving over a bridge when the raging waters lifted his car, carrying him away, trapping him inside.

PACKER: So can you see I'm floating down some sort of creek in the middle of this weather. I called 911 and they told me to roll down my windows and stay in the car, and hopefully they will be here soon.

BERMAN: Kerry floated for nearly half a mile.

PACKER: Love you, guys.

BERMAN: Kerry took this video planning to show his wife later. His car was filling up fast and was on the verge of tipping over when this happened.

PACKER: My car, which is no longer visible under the water, was swept into Reinhart (ph) Creek, and I was very, very blessed that it didn't flip over, because it almost did, and as it was sinking I grabbed on to this tree and climbed up.


BERMAN: That's right. Kerry grabbed a tree branch as it was floating downstream. He pulled himself out of the car and climbed up nearly 20 feet. From his perch, he took this picture of his car, almost completely submerged. He was in the tree for almost five hours.


BERMAN: When Packer was eventually rescued, none worse for the wear, he joins us tonight from Austin, Texas.

So Kerry, your car gets swept away, you are trying to stay safe in a tree for hours, yet you say you weren't scared during any of this. In fact, you were so calm and collected, you thought, you know what, if I have to die, this is a cool way to go. How did you stay so calm during all of this?

PACKER: I mean, honestly, I did think it was kind of funny. It was kind of a funny ironic situation that I was in. I guess just realizing that there's -- there's not much worse that could happen to me than I could die and this is a pretty good way of dying if I had to die, so, you know, that's all that was going through my head, just taking the situation as it came.

BERMAN: You're floating along in your car. Again, you're in this tree, and then you decide to film the whole experience on your phone. What made you decide to do that?

PACKER: The biggest motivation was, you know, I kind of wanted to send something to my wife, so I -- I took that video, and then I just texted it to her without any explanation, and I just said "I love you and Isabelle," our daughter, "very much." And I wanted to just scare her, you know, to see what she would do because we kind of tease each other this way, so that was the biggest motivation.

BERMAN: How was that received? Because in my house, that would not get many laughs?

PACKER: She obviously wasn't happy about it. She honestly didn't believe that the video was real when she first got it, so when she called me, she -- she says what's going on here, kind of skeptically, you know, and after I explained what was happening, she was fine.

BERMAN: After you explained that your car got swept away and you were hiding out in a tree with rushing floodwaters beneath you, then she was fine.


BERMAN: So you were able to take this video and you were able to call your wife and you were able to call a television station and do an interview from a tree. I know you're getting a lot of props for being heroic and calm here, but the truth is your phone was the real hero here.

PACKER: It truly was. I mean, honestly, my phone, before I bailed out of the car, I stuck it in my pocket. The phone went into the water with me, and then hours of torrential rain on it, and it kept working. I had a great signal. I was able to send full videos to my wife without any signal problems, so thanks, iPhone, thanks, Verizon.

BERMAN: You mentioned your Boy Scout training. Do you think your Boy Scout training made a difference?

PACKER: It made a really big difference, honestly. I mean, I've been in so many other situations where we were in freezing cold temperatures, camping, stuck on top of a mountain when it just all of a sudden started snowing on us without any proper gear, and so particularly with the part of keeping myself warm and keeping myself calm, I had experienced those things several times, so I just went back to that. BERMAN: Well, Kerry Packer, I got to the say, next time I get into a

near death experience, I want to be with you, so Kerry Packer, thanks so much.

PACKER: You're welcome. Thank you.

BERMAN: Up next, hanging chads and recounting ballots by hand. 15 years later, the lessons learned from Bush versus Gore, the endless election.



BERMAN: 15 years ago, we all got a quick lesson in hanging chads. Remember all those ballots that had to be recounted and then not in Florida after the 2000 presidential election? It is hard to forget even 15 years later. Tonight, chief political analyst Gloria Borger takes us back and talks to those who lived through it. Here's a preview of her special report, "Bush Versus Gore, the Endless Election."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stand by. Stand by. CNN right now is moving our earlier declaration of Florida back to the too close to call column.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Beads of sweat start popping out on my forehead.

25 very big electoral votes in the home state of the governor's brother, Jeb Bush, are hanging in the balance. This no longer is a victory for Vice President Gore. We're moving it back in the too close to call.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I could actually feel sweat as I realized that this was wrong. We had to correct it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And so did every other network, within minutes.

TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS: NBC News is now taking Florida out of Vice President Gore's column and putting it back in the too close to call column.

DAN RATHER, CBS NEWS: Bulletin, Florida pulled back into the undecided column. Computer and data problems.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We pulled it back until we can examine the data and see where we are.

RATHER: This knock-down, dragout battle drags on into the night, and turn the lights down. The party just got wilder.

BROKAW: We don't just have egg on our face, we've got omelet all over our suits.

The numbers started going back and forth, and we couldn't trust any of them, and I finally ran out of ways to explain to the audience what was going on.

RATHER: The chaos factor just went through the roof. There's always chaos, and now we've reach the abnormal. Now we've reached a land where we've never been.


BERMAN: That's just a sampling of what's ahead next hour, "Bush versus Gore, the Endless Election" starts now.