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NTSB Investigating Deadly Flight; Metal Fatigue on Engine; Trump Tweets About Daniels; Legislation to Protect Mueller; Ending Russia Investigation. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired April 18, 2018 - 06:30   ET



[06:31:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Federal investigators are trying to determine what caused a deadly midair engine failure on a Southwest Airlines flight. One passenger died after shrapnel from the engine smashed a window and nearly sucked her out of the plane.

CNN's Polo Sandoval is live in Philadelphia with the latest.

The details are so harrowing, Polo.


Operations here at Philadelphia's airport, of course, have resumed. Meanwhile, the NTSB revealing that they've already found out that one of the fan blades on that damaged engine was missing. They're also seeing early signs of what they call metal fatigue at the location where that blade was attached. That essentially is a weakening of material after repeated stress.

It seems to be, Alisyn, that investigators are slowly getting closer, saying definitively what went wrong.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of a sudden we just heard this loud bang, rattling, and then it felt like one of the engines went out. The oxygen masks dropped.

SANDOVAL (voice over): A terrifying scene onboard this Southwest flight from New York's La Guardia Airport to Dallas when passengers say they heard the engine explode midair. Just 20 minutes after takeoff, part of the left engine breaks apart, damaging the fuselage and shattering this window, partially sucking a woman out of the plane.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Injured passengers, OK. And are you -- is your airplane physically on fire?

PILOT: No, fire, no fire, but part of it's missing. They said there's a hole and someone went out. SANDOVAL: Passengers desperately trying to pull Jennifer Riordan, a

43-year-old Wells Fargo executive, back into the cabin and resuscitate her.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Passengers right next to her were holding on to her. And, meanwhile, there was blood all over this man's hands because he was tending to her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We made every effort that we could possibly make to save this woman's life.

SANDOVAL: One scared passenger livestreaming this video to document what he thought were the last moments of his life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel just so like really lucky to be alive. All I could think about as I was going down in that plane was, you know, how my life was being taken away from me.

SANDOVAL: Others scrambling to send final messages to their loved ones.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My wife is in her third trimester with our first child. So I spent a lot of my time trying to articulate what I wanted my final words to be to my unborn child.

SANDOVAL: The "Navy Times" reporting the heroic pilot is one of the Navy's first female fighter pilots. She safely got the plane to the ground in Philadelphia after declaring an emergency. The aircraft rapidly descending from more than 32,000 to 10,000 feet in just minutes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The flight crew did an incredible job getting this aircraft here on the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Professionals through and through. And, you know, we're alive because of them.

SANDOVAL: Southwest Airlines says the plane was last inspected on Sunday, but investigators inspecting the damaged aircraft found one engine fan blade was missing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's very unusual. And so we are taking this event extremely seriously. This should not happen. And we want to find out why it happened so that we can make sure that the preventive measures are put in place.

SANDOVAL: Last year, the FAA issuing a directive that would have required inspection of the fan blades. In 2016, a Southwest flight from New Orleans to Orlando was also forced to make an emergency landing after experiencing engine failure.


SANDOVAL: And the NTSB says these kinds of cases are, of course, extremely rare. If you look back, this is the first fatality aboard a U.S. carrier in nearly a decade. The first in-flight death for Southwest Airlines. The airline, by the way, Chris, promising now to take a closer look at the engines on all of their fleets in the next 30 days, trying to see if they can, of course, prevent something like this from happening again.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Right. Polo, you are right, that statistically they are very rare. But you have to look one level deeper. And one of the reasons they are very rare is because of the focus on safety and maintenance. And if they're showing muscle --


CUOMO: Metal fatigue --


CUOMO: On this and that there was a blade missing, it's going to raise serious questions for this airline about how they're maintaining because if something goes wrong in the air -- this is the exception, right? This pilot having the presence of mind to divert --

[06:35:11] CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh.

CUOMO: Land safely with only half her power. You know, that is unusual. So you've got to get it right, otherwise it's deadly consequences.

CAMEROTA: She is remarkable. I mean and the collected voice that you hear her calling into the tower and telling them what the situation is. All the -- all the passengers said that she was like that the entire time, keeping them updated, cool as a cumber. And that it was a rough landing and they didn't know even after they landed if they were still going to crash into something because it was so chaotic. And she pulled it off.

CUOMO: Navy fighter pilot, fighter jet pilot. Sometimes training pays off.

But, look, let's be honest, they got lucky. Federal investigators are on the scene. They have to find out what happened here in Philadelphia because that's the only way to make sure it doesn't happen again. We're going to talk to the head of the NTSB, next.


CUOMO: All right, you can't have a plane engine wind up like this and not know why it happened. It could have been catastrophic. Investigators are digging into this midair engine failure on a Southwest Airlines flight. One passenger was killed after shrapnel from the engine smashed one of the windows, partially sucked her out of the plane.

[06:40:13] Joining us now is Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Metal fatigue is what is being pointed to early on. A missing fan blade. Metal fatigue. Is this something that you agree with? Is this something that should have been known in advance under visual inspection? How do you size this up?

ROBERT SUMWALT, NTSB CHAIRMAN: Well, good morning, Chris.

And, you're right, metal fatigue is a -- is an issue in aviation. There should be inspection techniques and procedures in place to detect something like this. What we want to find out is why was this not detected ahead of time.

CUOMO: And let's talk about that. Why wouldn't it have been? How should it have been? Is this where the visual inspection of the pilot, or is this about engineering, is this about maintenance, is this about liberation? What are the factors?

SUMWALT: Well, it's definitely not something that somebody could detect just looking at the fan blade from outside. This was an internal metal fatigue area. So even a careful maintenance inspection from outside of the fan blade would not have detected it more than likely. So what we want to look at is, what procedures should be in place to be able to detect something like this before it becomes catastrophic.

CUOMO: So when you look at the destruction to that engine, it looks like something exploded. But is this really just about how fast it was going and the pressure on the medal and once some starts to comes off, a lot comes off? Or could it have been some kind of explosion? We're using the word "shrapnel" to explain what took out that window and partially suck somebody out of the plane.

SUMWALT: Well, you know, I think -- I think the word explosion is -- the engine did not explode. A fan blade, as you've reported, did separate and the engine is -- the fan section is rotating at several thousand RPMs. And so when that fan blade liberated, you know, it did shrew shrapnel in many different places.

So this was not an explosion in the sense of a--

CUOMO: Right.

SUMWALT: Of a -- like that sort of an explosion, but it was what we would call, by the way, inside the fuselage, it would have been an explosive decompression --


SUMWALT: With all of that air rushing out of the airplane very quickly.

CUOMO: Right. All right, I get the difference. So, I mean, again, I know, I'm no aerospace engineer, but it does remind of when like a combustion engine throws a rod or something like that. The engine doesn't explode, but the piece of metal banging around in there at such high RPMs makes it blow apart in the way that that engine did. That's basically the relatable analogy here?

SUMWALT: You got it. That's right. CUOMO: All right. So part of the fuselage was found like 70 miles away. What does that tell you about what the pilot had to deal with here?

SUMWALT: Well -- yes. And really what was found was 70 miles away was a piece of a cowling, which, of course, is the external part that has the painting on the side that says Southwest Airlines. That's what was found. So more than likely when the -- when the engine fan blade separated --

CUOMO: Right.

SUMWALT: It caused the cowling to separate and end up in this small town northwest of the airport.

CUOMO: So, it is easy to heroize the pilot here. And we should do that. Navy fighter jet pilot. Obviously showed remarkable calm. Put this plane on the ground. Found a different path for it. Put her down safely. Bravo. Brava, in this point.

But, however, we need to know if there are other planes that have this same kind of fatigue. We know that this airline has had a similar problem in the past. So what do you do now to make sure that this isn't repeated without this type of heroic ending?

SUMWALT: It's a great question. And as I did speak to the CEO of Southwest last night, Gary Kelly, and -- about 8:15. And he did tell me that Southwest will begin an aggressive ultrasonic inspection campaign for their entire fleet. So that will be something that will be important.

We want to look at this very carefully and see if there's other things that need to be done immediately to insure the safety of the rest of the fleet.

CUOMO: But you will oversee the results of their inspection or somehow check it along because, you know, not to be cynical at all, but, you know, this business is in the business of keeping planes in the air and using them as much as possible. That can often come as a balancing test with safety and taking time on the ground to look at these things. So you will oversee that process in some way?

SUMWALT: Well, to be clear, Chris, the regulator in this case is the Federal Aviation Administration.

CUOMO: Right.

SUMWALT: We're investigating the accident. So Southwest will be a party to our investigation.


SUMWALT: We will want to see what they're doing. But the responsibility for the oversight is that of the FAA.

[06:45:03] CUOMO: All right, so that's where we have to keep track of and make sure they're doing the right follow-ups so we don't see this again.

Mr. Sumwalt, thank you very much for taking us through this. Appreciate it.

SUMWALT: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: All right, President Trump is being described as apoplectic over the FBI raid on Michael Cohen. What has him so upset? We dig deeper on the details, next.


CAMEROTA: OK, President Trump tweeted just moments ago about this Stormy Daniels' case. The president is reacting to the release of a sketch of the person that Daniels claims physically threatened her in a parking garage. The president says, quote, a sketch years later about a non-existent man, a total con job. Playing the fake news media for fools, but they know it.

It comes -- this comes as CNN learns that the president is, quote, apoplectic about the FBI's search of his personal lawyer's home and office, Michael Cohen.

So let's bring back John Avlon. Also joining us, CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large, Chris Cillizza.

How does the president know that this suspect doesn't exist? I mean how does the -- how can he say definitively that no man ever approached Stormy Daniels in a parking garage? How does he know that?

[06:50:05] JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He doesn't, obviously. But, I mean, we have the president of the United States tweeting about a sketch of somebody who came up to a porn star in a Las Vegas parking lot and told her to sort of hush up and threatened her child, allegedly. The whole thing is just so absurd. And let's not lose sight of that fact.

Of course, the president, you know, can't know either way. I suppose he could know if he had a hand in something like this. But there, frankly, not a ton of evidence he did. It's just -- we're all just rolling around in the gutter here this morning, Mr. President.

CUOMO: Look, the answer to the question of why and whether he's in the gutter is, just look who you responded to. Cillizza, look who he's trying to placate. Look at the narrative of what base it is that he's playing to. This is an obvious play. The problem for the president is, you can't claim to be a victim of negative news when you create the cycle. He's got Abe with him this morning. He's got Mike Pompeo in the news --




CUOMO: For what should be seen as a very bold move.

CAMEROTA: Great point. We had no Stormy Daniels in our show, until now.

CILLIZZA: That's right.

AVLON: You're welcome.

CILLIZZA: And, by the way, he just took that picture, that sketch and said, hey, 52 million people who follow me, take a look.

CUOMO: There it is.

CILLIZZA: I don't --

CUOMO: Lucky for you, it bears no resemblance, Cillizza.

CAMEROTA: Or does it?

CILLIZZA: Yes, I know.

CUOMO: Unless we put glasses on him and then we need to know where he was.

CILLIZZA: He does not have -- no blue glasses there.

The thing that I don't understand is -- and I -- maybe I do, is that people will try to ascribe this, I think, like always, to some sort of grand strategy. He's trying to distract from something. He's trying to get you to look at the shiny object. But this is a bad storyline for him. There's no -- there's no good out of the Stormy Daniels storyline for Donald Trump. So him bringing attention to it to me is somewhat baffling.

I do think, just to echo John --

AVLON: There's no --

CILLIZZA: I do think it is really important. This is the president of the United States saying that a woman is making up a claim that she was harassed, threatened with -- with certain -- almost certainly he has no knowledge of that. I don't think we should lose sight of that.

CAMEROTA: Yes. OK. So yesterday we had on Senator Chris Coons who described to us his optimism about a bill, a bipartisan bill, that he was sponsoring to protect Robert Mueller. So there had been enough signs that the president was agitated and upset about Robert Mueller's investigation and could be looking to somehow have Robert Mueller removed, that Republicans and Democrats got together in the Senate and tried to -- and created a bill to protect Mueller. And he felt, Chris Coons, that I want was going to move steadily ahead.

Well, not so much, OK? So Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says, no, no need to protect Robert Mueller. Here is McConnell on his decision not to bring this bill up for a vote.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, MAJORITY LEADER: There's no indication that Mueller's going to be fired. I don't think the president's going to do that.

And just as a practical matter, even if we passed it, why would he sign it?

Well, I don't think he should fire Mueller, and I don't think he's going to. So this is a piece of legislation that's not necessary, in my judgement. And I'm the one who decides what we -- what we take to the floor. That's my responsibility as the majority leader. And we'll not be having this on the floor of the Senate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you be shocked if he did fire him?

MCCONNELL: Yes. I don't think he should, and I don't think he will.


CAMEROTA: There you go, John.

AVLON: Yes. OK. So nothing to see here.

I don't think he should. I don't think he will. But I'm not going to do anything to stop it. Says he's seen no sign that the president will fire Mueller. Well, then he's just not paying attention. This is a dereliction of duty on the party of Mitch McConnell. If he thinks it will be bad for the country, if he thinks the president shouldn't do it, if he, you know, then do something about it to make it more difficult.

CAMEROTA: Does that make a good point, the president would never sign it, so it's all an exertion in futility?

AVLON: Actually, I disagree with that. Look at the -- look at the numbers. If you've got every Democrat supporting it and presumably a large part of the Republican caucus, because they realize it would be a constitutional crisis, it would be bad for the country, it would be bad for them in midterms, I think you could hit that threshold if Mitch McConnell took it seriously.

Look, you've got two bipartisan bills moved together because clearly there's signs that the president would do this. And yet Mitch McConnell is saying that he's going to stick his head in the sand and ignore it. That's inviting the constitutional crisis that the members of the Senate want to avoid.

CUOMO: Well, what he also wants to avoid is getting sideways with Donald Trump --

AVLON: That's right.

CUOMO: Because he wants to motivate his agenda -- AVLON: (INAUDIBLE) --

CUOMO: And he knows that Trump is an active enemy would put the agenda underneath his own political opportunism in the moment. So that's the play he's making.

Jim Comey added to the stew on this by saying, well, no matter what lawmakers do, if you wanted to end these investigations, you'd have to do a lot of firing. Here's the sound.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What happens if Mueller gets fired and Rosenstein gets fired, does the investigation go on?

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I think most likely it goes on. I think you would need to fire everyone in the Justice Department and the FBI to stop that investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, you can just fire those two guys -- but you can fire those two guys and you can put somebody in there who's a toady (ph) and he goes, yes, we looked, there's nothing.

COMEY: That's possible, but I -- knowing the culture of those organizations the way I do, I can imagine U. S. attorneys' offices picking it up, FBI field offices picking it up. I think it would be very hard to shut that down by firing.

[06:55:12] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hard to fire the FBI director too.


CUOMO: Fair point.

Cillizza, a shot across the bow here or is that a practical consideration?

CILLIZZA: Well, I mean, I think part of it is that Comey, throughout the book and in his public statements has said, I believe in the FBI. I believe in our culture. You know, I believe in the Justice Department.

It would be much more complicated if Donald Trump took that course. For sure U.S. attorneys' offices could pick it up, but it would slow down that investigation, if not hamstring it significantly.

CAMEROTA: OK, Chris Cillizza, John Avlon, thank you both.

CUOMO: All right. So, President Trump confirming what "The Washington Post" reported, which is, CIA Director Mike Pompeo met secretly with Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang. Will that pave the way for a summit between the North Korea leader and Trump? Details, next.


[07:00:11] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have had direct talks at extremely high levels with North Korea.