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Gulf Air Flight 072 Crashes Just Outside of Bahrain With 143 Onboard

Aired August 23, 2000 - 3:35 p.m. ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: The developing story we continue to follow is the crash just outside of Bahrain of the Gulf Air Flight 072 with 143 people onboard. That's 135 passengers and eight crew members. Information we have is that the plane crashed in about 18 feet of water. It is just after 10:00 in Bahrain, so it is nightfall. A massive rescue-recovery effort is under way. Many vessels at the scene. No word on survivors. We have reports that bodies have been pulled. Debris has been pulled from the wreckage. And there was also a report that this plane burst into flames at the point of impact. We have also been reporting from the Ministry of Information in Bahrain that there was apparently a fire in one of the engines on this plane as it attempted to land on this flight which originated in Cairo, Egypt.

CNN's aviation correspondent Carl Rochelle in Washington learned that this plane was making it's third attempt to land after two unsuccessful attempts. No information on why this plane was having trouble landing, but again we have had word there was a fire in one of the engines; an unusual occurrence if that it is to be a fact, that that would have happened on landing. Perhaps the plane came in contact with birds is one bit of information that could be a possibility.

We want to now play for you an interview that I did earlier with Commander Jeff Gradeck with -- he is a public affairs officer with the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, which is stationed there in Bahrain, and they are taking part in the rescue effort.


COMMANDER JEFF GRADECK, U.S. NAVY 5TH FLEET: The Bahraini government has requested the assistance of the U.S. Navy in the search and rescue effort. At the moment we have three helicopters; two of which, from the aircraft carrier USS George Washington which are participating. We have two small harbor craft from our naval support activity here in Bahrain which are assisting. We have three ships en route to the area also to assist at the moment.

ALLEN: So up to seven...


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We now are going to turn to Donna Winton, she is with the U.S. Embassy in Bahrain. We have a couple -- or some information from her.

Donna, are you with us?


PHILLIPS: My first question is with regard to the rescue efforts, can you tell us what is taking place right now? How you are involved? How the embassy is involved? And if indeed -- if you have found any survivors thus far?

WINTON: Well, the rescue operation, I believe you just heard from Commander Gradeck, is being carried out primarily by the Bahraini coast guard and the Bahrain civil defense rescue squad, with the assistance that he mentioned in terms of U.S. naval forces here, and it's being headed by Creon Prince Sulman (ph) of Bahrain. The U.S. Embassy is trying to actively assist on land as best we can in identifying any bodies that might come out and in contacting -- offering our facilitative assistance in contacting who ever needs to be contacted.

There is not really any firm news at this point that we have heard in terms of survivors. We -- the numbers we've heard are 143 passengers, plus crew. I don't know if you need any other information.

PHILLIPS: You have -- so you have no word at all at this point about any possible survivors?

WINTON: We don't know whether there are survivors or not at this point.

PHILLIPS: So what do you mean by that? You have found -- have you found some of the passengers?

WINTON: When you say, we, I assume you don't mean the American Embassy, because we are not actually doing this, that you know.

PHILLIPS: No, no, the folks -- right. The folks at part of the rescue mission that you are getting information about.

WINTON: Right. The information that we've heard is that bodies have been recovered and that no survivors have yet been found. Obviously, it's still early in this operation and they won't really be able to know until they find everyone, either as survivors or not.

PHILLIPS: OK, and relatives, friends, what is being done to get the information out to them and to try and keep them calm? Obviously, there are a lot of people rushing to the scene. We have been reading reports of that. What is taking place to help keep the calm?

WINTON: Yeah, well it's definitely a very busy scene in that area. And the Bahraini authorities are in control of that situation. And so far, everything is proceeding as well as you could hope given the critical nature of the situation. I am not aware yet if any bodies have been identified. Obviously, if some were, then one would hope that the relatives would be notified before any names were released.

PHILLIPS: Were there any Americans on this flight?

WINTON: We don't have any information to that effect one way or the other at this point. We can't confirm.

PHILLIPS: So what is it exactly that you are doing within the U.S. Embassy? What is your duty right now with regard to this accident?

WINTON: Well, my duty is to answer phone questions from the press from all over the world who has been calling. We have a command center set up as -- the Naval Support Activity also have a Naval facility set up to help facilitate in whatever way is necessary and to pass information back and forth to the relevant and authorities.

PHILLIPS: OK, Donna Winton from the U.S. Embassy in Bahrain, thank you -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Continuing on with CNN's Carl Rochelle, who is a pilot, and joins us again on this story.

And you had said, Carl -- it has been a couple of hours you've been covering this story -- so let's revisit some things you said early on. And one was that you have landed at this airport before. What can you tell us? Bahrain looks like a little bitty speck on our map. But, if I remember, you said it had a nice facility.

CARL ROCHELLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is a full-sized military- capable airport. And of course, it used for all kinds of operations. It is -- I can't describe the exact figures of the size of it. But it's a large airline level airport, no problem at all getting in and out of there. The approaches are flat. That part of the world is very much flat, not a lot of mountains in the area. But there is -- it close to the water. The water is very close offshore. And, as you know from where this plane went down apparently after making a third unsuccessful attempt to get the plane on the ground, it went down on that area.

I was in and out of there a couple of times. I actually flew on Gulf Air. They weren't flying the A320 at the time I was in. At least I don't believe they were. It seems like it was another plane. It's been so long ago. That was during Desert Storm and Desert Shield. And that was back in 1990 and '91. I was flying out of London into Bahrain on Gulf Air. And it was a very nice flight. It's a very comfortable airline and a pleasure to ride on, had no problem at all with the flight, landed in Bahrain and then took another hop- skip on over to Saudi Arabia and then back into the war zone.

ALLEN: So if a plane is coming in and in duress, this would be, perhaps, an ideal airport to try and land into -- except for the water. Is the water an issue at all, that it's surrounded by water?

ROCHELLE: Water would not be an issue. In fact, water makes it a little easier, particularly if you -- if the water is reasonably shallow in. Water only becomes a factor when you are in an airport like La Guardia is, is one where water is a factor, where you have to make your approach over the water, and the runways actually extends in to the water, and if you get to low, you could run into the edges of it.

The water at an airport like Reagan National here in Washington, where it's very close to the end of the runway and you could overrun and run off of it. The water is not that close to the end of the airport runway that you could run off and run into the water. So that shouldn't be a factor. When you have got a problem on an airplane like -- the most important thing you do is get it on the ground and get it on the ground safely, and deal with the problem then.

And that is what the crew was thinking when they are brining that airplane in is: Let's get this airplane landed. Let's get it down and get it -- everything taken care of if there is an emergency onboard. We don't know that there was an emergency onboard. And one of the things that Jim McKenna pointed out when you were talking to him a little earlier is that you don't know which of the particular things about this flight went wrong. Could it be the engines? Could it be a crew problem? Could the crew had some sort of difficulty flying the airplane?

Could it be ingested a bird, a bird strike, or some -- the aviation industry called it FOD, or foreign object damage -- when you suck up something inside of the engine that shouldn't there and it damages it? Could the airplane engine itself have had some sort of uncontained engine failure that caused the fire? Could they have had a problem going on with the engine? These are all the things that they will look at when they look at this airplane. And we also mentioned earlier too that I have ridden in the A320 as a passenger.

I have flown the A320 simulator from the cockpit from the captain's seat. I have flown it with one engine out. In fact, one of the procedures we did in flying it -- and here again, I am a flight instructor. I teach in small airplanes when I teach and I don't have much time to do it because I do this for a living -- but I teach both basic and instrument flight instructor -- and licensed and current to do that -- and one of the things you always want to do is test the parameters of an aircraft.

In a twin-engine aircraft, you want to see how it performs when you fail an engine, so that if that happens and it's a real emergency, you know how the plane is going to react. So you are in the position to deal with it. And that is one of the things that we did in this A320 simulator. We shut one of the engines down while we were in flight. And the aircraft began to yaw, we shut down the left -- the right engine.

The aircraft began to yaw to the right, the side of the bad engine, the good ending pulling it around like that -- took a little bit of the left rudder to bring the nose back around, recentered the control box -- these are the throttles that you see -- the hands-on right now -- he is pushing the throttles forward. And let's see. This is the side-stick controller. And you take that and it moves a little box that is up on the screen in front of him. You put that box over in cross hairs and airplane is dead on. The computer -- you have now told the computer that you want this airplane to fly straight and level by putting that box over those cross hairs, the auto-throttles have taken over. And the airplane flies. And the only way you know that there's an engine out on it, really, is that you are flying slower. And you can look up at the gages, and it will tell you that you have one engine that is inoperative.

And we brought the airplane on around and took it in for a landing. And here again, I am with an instructor who is operating the pieces of this airplane that I don't know how to -- the particular speeds to set. And once we determine the speeds, then you go ahead and program into the automatic system -- brought the airplane around and landed it with one engine, and just brought it straight down the runway with absolutely no problem at all.

So it will fly with one engine. It will fly in the simulator. It will fly in the air with one engine. So you don't know which one of those things that went wrong. That computer-driven system, by the way, Natalie, that is one of the questions I asked, me being an old stick-and-rudder man myself, is: Well, what about this computer? What if something goes wrong with the computer?

And there is redundancy. There are actually, I believe, three computers in it, each one of it individually can control the aircraft. They talk to each other. And if there a problem with one of the computers, they kick it out and the other two take care of it and bring the airplane on in. So computer problem not likely. And anything can happen. But seems like that system seems to work pretty well, Natalie.

ALLEN: Well, your sharing with us this wonderful information about just what a great aircraft this is just heightens the mystery of what was going on, what was wrong with on that airplane. Carl Rochelle, we do thank you.

And just to reiterate, in case anyone is just joining us. We are talking about Gulf Air Flight 072, which crashed on what we have heard was its third attempt to land in Bahrain on a flight from Cairo, Egypt. This would have happened, oh, a little over two hours ago. So it was probably just becoming nightfall there in Bahrain. It's 10:48 there now as this rescue effort is in full throttle - Bahraini coast guard taking part with assistance from the U.S. Navy's 5th fleet, which has ships, hovercraft and helicopters in the area.

No word on survivors, but we do have information that bodies have been pulled and that there is scattered debris there in the ocean -- 18 feet of water this plane went down, just four miles north of the airport in Bahrain.

We will take a break. More after this.



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