Return to Transcripts main page


Family of Airplane Thief Speaks; White Nationalists Plan Rally on Sunday; NASA Launching Historic Mission to the Sun. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired August 12, 2018 - 03:00   ET




CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Security concerns in the U.S. after an airline employee steals a plane and crashes it. We also hear from the man's family, who says they're shocked by what he did.

A U.S. capital on edge as white nationalists prepare to rally. We look back at last year's ugly display of racism in Virginia.

And NASA is preparing to launch a spacecraft straight toward the sun.

Live from the CNN Center here in Atlanta, I'm Cyril Vanier. It's great to have you with us.


VANIER: So the man who stole an empty commuter plane from the Seattle airport and then died in a fatal crash about an hour later has been identified as Richard Russell. His family called him Bebo.

Airport officials say Russell worked for about three years on the ground crew, which included baggage handling and moving aircraft. He also had clearance to be in secure areas of the airport. A spokesman for his family offered this statement.


MIKE MATTHEWS, FRIEND OF RUSSELL FAMILY: We are stunned and heartbroken. It may seem difficult for those watching at home to believe but Bebo was a warm, compassionate man. It is impossible to encompass who he was in a press release. He was a faithful husband, a loving son and a good friend.


VANIER: Russell entered the cockpit of this twin engine turboprop and made an unauthorized takeoff right at evening local time. Two military jets scrambled and gave chase.

Several times Russell executed dangerous aerial stunts. You're seeing one of them right there. Running low on fuel, the plane crashed on Ketron Island about an hour later. For the latest on the investigation, here's CNN's Dan Simon.


DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A law enforcement source tells CNN that the 29-year-old Horizon Airline employee has been identified as Richard Russell. We can tell you that Russell is somebody who kept a very active online presence. He recorded YouTube videos, talking about his job.

He also had an online blog where he mentioned that, a few years ago, he and his wife operated a bakery somewhere in Oregon.

He did work in ground support at the Seattle airport, so what does that mean?

We know he loaded and unloaded luggage. He would also tidy up aircraft and it also involved riding a tractor or driving a tractor, where he would put an airplane in the right place for takeoff. That is apparently what he did yesterday before getting in the cockpit, firing up the engines and then having a successful taxi and takeoff.

That is very difficult to do under normal circumstances because of the protocols in place. I want you to listen now to the CEO of Horizon Airlines, who spoke out earlier today.

GARY BECK, CEO, HORIZON AIR: Normally you would request clearance for pushback, from either your own tower or ground control. You'd then speak with ground control all the way out to the runway.

They would turn you over to the tower, who would then clear you for takeoff. And I believe -- in fact, I know that he did communicate on the ground frequency and all of the communications for the entire flight were conducted on that frequency.

You're right, there were some maneuvers that were done, that were incredible maneuvers with the aircraft. To our knowledge, he didn't have a pilot's license.

So, to be honest with you, I mean, commercial aircraft are complex machines. They're not as easy to fly as, say, a Cessna 150. So I don't know how he achieved the experience that he did.

SIMON: I spoke to a former co-worker who worked with Russell. He's shocked that he did this. He said he had a very good sense of humor but he wasn't shocked that he had gained the knowledge in terms of how to operate the aircraft, he said, because being on the tow team, you learn certain things that other employees might not know how to do.

When you heard the conversations he was having with air traffic control, what went through your mind?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I recognized the voice first. And it was before I could put a face to it. And then, you know, I saw some people posting "Rest in peace, Richard Russell." Then I figured out it was him. And I listened to his voice more carefully during the audio after that. And it was heartbreaking. You could tell he was in pain, kind of

seemed a little delusional. And I was just shocked to see that someone who was so nice, so helpful and caring, actually, he cared about his job, to do such a thing and, you know, end his life. So it was a little sad.

SIMON: Now as far as what is happening now, I can tell you that, over at the island where the crash occurred --


SIMON: -- there are dozens of investigators there. They're trying to retrieve those black boxes, the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder. But what evidence those boxes might yield, we don't know. We already have a ton of evidence because of the conversation between Russell and air traffic control.


VANIER: Earlier CNN spoke about the security risk of this incident with aviation analyst Les Abend. He has more than 30 years experience as a commercial airline pilot. He said another incident of this type is unlikely. Here's part of that conversation.


LES ABEND, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Just listening to the recorded transcript, it was just absolutely chilling to me that this man could maneuver an aircraft with limited experience or no experience in an airplane. And I'd be glad to discuss that later, what might be plausible in that scenario.

But let's reassure viewers that this is a one-off situation. This is not an epidemic. The security procedures are still in effect. You know, this was a disturbed man.

As an airline pilot, there were many things that I had to go through in order to be hired by the airline. There were many steps involved just to get on with the airline. And my medical was very important. The airline gave me a medical review. DFA gave me a medical review throughout my 34-year career.

The ground folks not so much but they require what they call a SIDA --



ABEND: -- which is a security identification display area. In other words they have to display this badge to other employees and to appropriate authorities, whether it be TSA, there isn't make any difference, law enforcement.

They have to go through a vetting procedure first with the airline, in and of itself, their hiring procedures, then go through a security procedure, fingerprints. They have to go through an entire criminal background check. They have to see if they are tied to any terrorist organizations or potential terrorist organization. So there is a lot of vetting involved.


VANIER: All right, let's turn to U.S. politics. The right wing extremists who organized the white nationalist rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year is producing an encore. On Sunday demonstrators are set to hold what they call a white civil rights rally on the anniversary of last year's Unite the Right protest. This time, supporters plan to gather in the U.S. capital directly across the street from the White House.

Members of 40 anti-racism groups, called the Shut It Down Coalition, also plan to protest in the same area. Meanwhile in Charlottesville on Saturday, there were no signs of white nationalists as hundreds of students and left-wing activists marched against racism.

They also paid tribute to Heather Heyer, a young anti-racism activist. She was killed last year when a car plowed into a crowd of counterprotesters. CNN's Kaylee Hartung was with the crowds on Saturday.


KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For about three hours on Saturday night we saw students from the University of Virginia and members of the Charlottesville community marching through the streets. It was an eruption of the anger and outrage that so many of them feel because of the failure they perceive by the institutions that they believe should have supported them a year ago, namely the University of Virginia and law enforcement.

Now this weekend there's a heavy law enforcement presence. You can see an example of that behind me. Some of these people protesting telling me they don't feel any safer this weekend than they did a year ago.

They feel this increased presence, this preparation is essentially an overreaction, a remembering nix recognition of the failures last year, the law enforcement's lack of ability to control the violence and protect them, some going so far as to say they believe law enforcement protected the white supremacists that marched into this town.

As I said, this march through the middle of the streets of Charlottesville but it began on the University of Virginia campus in front of the rotunda, the most iconic building on campus.

But these students say they were given strict security measures that they were supposed to abide by. They did not want to abide by them, by an institution that has failed them.

We're unsure where this leads next as the march conclude as they tried to get near Emancipation Park, the park where General Lee's statue still sits. They said we'll be back tomorrow -- Kaylee Hartung, CNN, Charlottesville, Virginia. (END VIDEOTAPE)

VANIER: Let's talk all this over with Mo Ivory, she's an attorney and professor of law at Georgia State University.

Also joining us is Chris Faulkner, Republican strategist.

Mo, I turn to you first. This was such a trauma for this country. What happened in Charlottesville, obviously the death of Heather Heyer and also the way a relatively young president, who was still sort of proving himself to the nation, Donald Trump, at the time, handled this.

A year on, how do you feel Charlottesville has affected the conversation on race?

MO IVORY, GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY: Well, you know, the problem with this president is --


IVORY: -- he just doesn't want to talk about race in its right context. He does tend to spend a lot of time throwing out a lot of racial tension and then firing up his base in order so that tension will continue.

But he doesn't throw out anything that would soothe people, would help our country heal, would deal with Charlottesville. It was the first time today that we heard him even say all races should come together.

But it's a year too late, really. It's something that he should have been doing when Charlottesville happened and when, unfortunately, Heather died in that. And I just don't think he's stood up and taken the role as a president could and should have to address these things.

He continues -- he spent most of this week criticizing NFL players, another racial issue. He spent time criticizing and calling LeBron James, a man who just opened up a school in a neighborhood that needed it so badly, "dumb."

So we continue to see our president not do what he always could turn and do --


VANIER: You see that as racial, by the way?


VANIER: Because not everybody does.

IVORY: Well, I think the people who support him, his base, doesn't, because it's a -- he's given free rein for people to say whatever they want, to feel comfortable inside of their racism.

So because he's so comfortable in it, the people that support him feel they can also be comfortable in it. And so they say, well, it's not race, it's about standing up for the flag, whatever. We all know what it's about and it would be great if he could just admit that.

VANIER: Chris Faulkner, same question to you.

How do you feel Charlottesville has affected the conversation on race one year on?

CHRIS FAULKNER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: One year on, it's still unfortunate we're still having this discussion, quite frankly. The discussion in terms of whether or not 400 idiots are getting together tomorrow in Washington, D.C., to air their ignorance, which, you know, God bless them, it's their right to do so and that's why we live in the United States, is so people can have their free opinions, as ignorant as they might be.

It's just unfortunate the level of, quite frankly, the level of coverage that we're giving this, the amount of discussion. Because that's exactly what they want.

VANIER: You think the conversation is illegitimate?


FAULKNER: In what regard?

VANIER: You think there's no good reason to have it?

FAULKNER: No, the conversation on racism in America is absolutely legitimate and should continue because it hasn't yet been completed, nor will it probably ever be completed.

VANIER: Surely you remember -- one of the reasons this conversation was so long is not just because there was a death, it's because of the way Donald Trump reacted to it.

All right, let's bring up, in fact, the president's reaction to Charlottesville one year ago.


TRUMP: Excuse me, excuse me. You had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people -- on both sides.


VANIER: Chris, I think that's the reason we're talking about it one year on. Because there was a right and a wrong thing to do. And as a journalist, I usually don't say this. It's not up to me to say what's right and what's wrong.

But the inability of the president to condemn neo-Nazis, that shouldn't be difficult and I think that's the reason we're talking about it today.


VANIER: Certainly, I understand people's level of comfort with the way Donald Trump uses his large microphone to address people on very important topics. It upsets a lot of people because it confronts a lot of things that, quite frankly, as a society, we're not comfortable talking about.

It's really uncomfortable to be, quite frankly, a white person and talk about race because you immediately already feel like you're in the hole.

VANIER: As the president --


FAULKNER: The conversation we absolutely need to continue to have as a society, because it's the only way we're going to actually move forward.

VANIER: Let me read to you, Mo, the president's tweets on this. You referred to it earlier.

"The riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division. We must come together as a nation. I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to all Americans."

This is the kind of tone we didn't really hear a year ago.

Do you think this rights that wrong?

IVORY: No. I mean, I don't think any of Donald Trump's tweets, you know, right his actions. And so what we don't need are more tweets. We just need some action. And so for him to say this doesn't really line up --


VANIER: A year ago we were saying the president needs to find the right words to put on this. And many people felt that he didn't find the right words. Now maybe he is.

IVORY: Well, I don't believe -- I don't think so. Somebody wrote that, it was proper for him. He hasn't been in D.C. for the last week. And he's been running away from conversations that have been coming up, from all of the things that are going on in D.C. as it relates to numerous issues.

So I think this is just a tweet to say, look, he said something about it, you know. Let's just take it.

But his actions mean more than his tweets ever will. And so I just wish that he would -- it would have been, to me, very appropriate for him to have a press conference today, for him to talk about, you know -- to pay homage to Heather on the anniversary of her death, to speak to her mother, to maybe have some people behind him that stood up, that were there at that rally, trying to create peace. But he didn't take that opportunity. So, to me, his tweets don't

right the actions that we've been waiting for so long for him to perform.

VANIER: Now, Chris, I want to tell you about this. The Russian meddling effort attempted --


VANIER: -- to use race to divide Americans. I want you to listen to this.


REP. TOM GARRETT (R): Let me give you some breaking news here, though, back to Charlottesville. I sat in a closed session briefing probably two months ago about Charlottesville with the director of the FBI, amongst others, and asked if Russian intermeddling had to do with fomenting the flames of what happened in Charlottesville.

I was told, yes, it did.

I asked, "Is this information classified?"

They said, "No, it's not."

I've waited until today. But this is what happens. The Russian intermeddling is seeking to pit Americans against Americans.


VANIER: This is from Republican congressman Tom Garrett. He was breaking that news with one of my CNN colleagues earlier today.

What does that tell you, Chris, about the United States, the fact that Russians, foreigners, saw race as a divisive issue that they could exploit to their advantage?

FAULKNER: Well, I don't think you have to be Russian to recognize that race can be a divisive issue in the United States. Americans recognize this every day. We see this in politics, in commerce, in sports, in religion.

So whether or not the Russians meddled or tried to meddle or inflame those things is immaterial in terms of we have existing racial tensions in the United States.

Is it upsetting that foreigners tried to exacerbate those?

Absolutely. It's upsetting when Americans domestically try and exacerbate those racial tensions.

VANIER: Is the president one of those?


FAULKNER: One of what?

VANIER: One of those people who exacerbates those tensions?

FAULKNER: The president is someone who speaks very frankly. In fact to Mo's point earlier, you have to really pick your narrative here. If you are upset with the way the president tweets, you can't decide, hey, I don't like this but then when he does say something that actually is conciliatory and actually is a step towards peace, then you can't say, well, someone else wrote it for him.

I mean, let's be intellectually honest here and say that the president, anyone you talk to in the White House, whether they love him or they hate him, he writes his own tweets. And whether it makes you cringe or whether it makes you happy, he's the author of his own stuff.

IVORY: Chris, I would say that's fine, if he wrote that tweet, that's great. It doesn't really make a difference to me if he wrote it or someone else wrote it.


FAULKNER: That's fine.

IVORY: I really do think that his actions and everything that he's done as president to create an environment, whether it's Mexicans he's attacking or Muslims he's attacking or if it's a House member, Maxine Waters, or if it's an NFL player or if it's an NBA player, he doesn't discriminate as to who he's going to attack on any given day.

But he has made race a forefront of his -- galvanizing his base. And we can't walk away from that --

FAULKNER: Let's not pretend racism started when Donald Trump became president.

IVORY: No, not at all --


FAULKNER: You are, basically trying to say somehow racism got worse since he's become president.

IVORY: No, I think that what racism has gotten is just more -- it's given people the ability to feel like they can say anything they want anytime, because the president does.

And I think that there's a level of decorum, a level of respect that we've had for each other. I'm not saying that race hasn't always existed and, even under President Obama, that there wasn't racial tension.

But Donald Trump has taken it to another level. And it would be a lie and it would be unfair to say that he doesn't use race every single day to build up his platform, to continue to stay in the news, to be this fiery figure that he wants to be. And it's not really anything new. He's done it before. He has a

history of racial -- sort of profiling, if I would say it, and pointing the finger, particularly at African Americans. And so I don't have to read the history down for you, you know what it is. So to say that he fans the flames of racism as president is absolutely a fact.

VANIER: Chris, last words real quick.

FAULKNER: I think that the history of racism in the United States is extremely complicated. I think that the struggle we, as Americans, are facing today is really more of a struggle with the First Amendment. The First Amendment guarantees us the right to say what it is that we feel, obviously, with exceptions for slander and libel.

The challenge becomes when someone says something that is so abhorrent, so offensive to the vast majority of us, myself included, they're still protected under that right of freedom of speech.

IVORY: Yes, they are.

FAULKNER: And we have to acknowledge that and we have to realize that that's part of the burden of our democracy, is to be OK with protecting the rights of the minority even if that minority is something we find offensive or hateful or inciting of violence because, quite frankly, our country was founded on that freedom of speech. Any infringement upon that is a terrible idea for all of us involved.

IVORY: Chris, just a reminder, the president represents not just that minority but all Americans. And he should remember that. He's not in the office just to protect that minority that you're talking about.

FAULKNER: I don't think he's ever said he's in office to protect that minority.


VANIER: I'm going to have to go. I want to thank you both for coming on, Chris Faulkner, Mo Ivory, thank you very much to both of you. Thanks.

Torrential rains wreak havoc in Southern India. Floods and landslides have killed dozens of people and forced mass evacuations. We'll have the latest forecast when we come back.

Plus NASA is bolding going where no spacecraft has gone before.


VANIER: And it is set to launch that mission in just a few minutes. It's exciting, you won't want to miss it. Stay with us.



VANIER: Firefighters are battling a blaze in Southern California from the sky. And the good news it seems to be working. Containment for what is known as the Holy Fire has jumped to 36 percent in the last day.

Since starting Monday, the flames have consumed nearly 9,000 hectares and forced 21,000 people from their homes. But some of those evacuation orders have been lifted as firefighters continue to make progress.

Southern India, on the other hand, is still facing a grim situation, this one from heavy monsoon rains. Officials say at least 27 people have died in flashfloods and landslides and thousands of others have had to evacuate their homes.

Monsoon rains are expected in India this time of year so that, to some extent, is normal. But authorities have opened the shutters of water reservoirs to prevent potentially disastrous breaches.



VANIER: After a 24-hour delay, NASA is set to go where nothing manmade has gone before. Any minute now, the Parker Solar Probe is expected to lift off. You are watching live pictures and the beginning of that window to launch this probe, the very beginning of that window is 3:31 am, six minutes from now. Our Lynda Kinkade has this coverage.


LYNDA KINKADE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): NASA's next mission is aiming high. It plans to launch the Parker Solar Probe, which will fly closer to the sun than any spacecraft before it. The journey by a robotic probe about the size of a small car is literally one of the hottest in science.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to have you very, very close. We're going to have you actually touching the particles of the sun.

KINKADE (voice-over): It's a seven-year mission with a price tag of $1.5 billion. That will bring NASA about 6 million kilometers from the sun's surface. The craft is designed to withstand searing temperatures, which could reach more than 1,300 degrees Celsius.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not only have we had to go flying very fast, entering the sun's atmosphere, but we also had to go reaching with millions of degrees temperature. So we have this special heat shield. It's going to be around five inches thick and that thing is made of special materials.

KINKADE (voice-over): The probe will eventually swoop into the solar corona, the outermost part of the sun's atmosphere known for its magnetic charges and solar winds. There, energized particles are whipped into space, which interfere with certain technology systems back on Earth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The sun is a mix of a lot of particles, high energetic (ph) particles, that they affect our communications systems. So when we get a massive storm happen on the sun, they may kill (ph) in our satellite or a power grid here on our own planet.

KINKADE (voice-over): It's the first time NASA has named a mission after a living person, astrophysicist Eugene Newman Parker, who pioneered the study of solar winds -- Lynda Kinkade, CNN.


VANIER: Launch window opens in three, four minutes from now. And it lasts 60 minutes. The countdown has begun. This may happen as Natalie Allen and George Howell are back on air in about 30 minutes. We'll keep an eye on that.

Now one more thing: the literary giant, VS Naipaul, has passed. He will be greatly missed. He received the Booker Prize in the early 1970s, 1971 to be precise. He was also knighted by the queen.

His wife says the 85-year old died at his home in London, surrounded by those he loved. He wrote more than 30 books, including "A Bend in the River" and "The Enigma of a Rival." He won the 2001 Nobel Prize for literature. I should have mentioned that first.

That's it from us for now. Thanks for joining us, we're back with the headlines in a few minutes.