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F-18 Hornet Drops Bomb, Kills FiveAired March 12, 2001 - 2:33 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: We have a story breaking in the Persian Gulf, if you are just checking in, we are hearing reports of a Navy F- 18 fighter jet -- a Hornet -- flying over a Kuwaiti training area in the northeastern corner of the country, accidentally dropping at least one bomb in a training area into a crowd of people.
Jeanne Meserve is keeping track of developments at the Pentagon in association of this story. What's the latest, Jeanne?
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, we are finally getting numbers from the Pentagon sources telling us that five people have been killed in this accident according to the Associated Press. Four of those were Americans; and also four people injured, two people were treated and released.
We heard from a journalist on the ground in Kuwait that some of the injured are being treated within Kuwait; others are being taken out of the country. This happened about 7:30 Kuwaiti time; it was a training exercise conducted by the U.S., Britain and the Kuwaitis. Some parked vehicles had been left as markers, and apparently, some confusion.
Here you see the type of plane that was involved: a F-18 Hornet. This one was flying off the USS Harry S. Truman at the time of the accident. So one again, the statistics now on the number of people apparently injured in this accident: five people killed, four of them, according to the Associated Press, were Americans, four people have been injured and two people were treated and released from the hospital.
That's the latest, Lou, we are continuing to track it at all sites.
WATERS: I'm a little confused, Jeanne; perhaps you are, too. We are hearing from Miriam Amie (ph) with the German news agency in Kuwait City. She's telling us about these parked vehicles that were hit -- my question is, were they hit with munitions? I believe to a bombing range according to some reports, so the report that we are hearing: that a bomb was dropped into a crowd of people, still is accurate?
MESERVE: This is what sources are telling CNN at this point. At least one bomb was accidentally dropped. The information, as I told you, is very sketchy at this point. We are still gathering from the Pentagon and sources on the ground from Kuwait, but right now, all we know is, one bomb dropped.
We are told that President Bush, who is in Florida today campaigning for his tax cut, is expected to make comments shortly. CNN, I'm sure, will be efforting bringing that to you live -- Lou.
WATERS: OK, Jeanne Meserve keeping track in Washington. We can tell you that this F-18 fighter jet was taking part in a joint military exercise along with forces from Great Britain and Kuwait over this training area. An F-18 fighter jet -- the Hornet -- was flying from the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman at the time of the incident.
And again, Jeanne Meserve's report from Washington: five dead, ten injured; a report from the Pentagon in connection with the incident in the Persian Gulf.
I'm being told President Bush is now speaking in Florida. And we are certain he may have gotten word of this. Perhaps, he may have something to say about it; let's listen to what the president has to say.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you for the invitation.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: We're glad to have you.
BUSH: This is one of these responsive meetings.
Governor, what a good man he is.
The key to our success is pretty simple: We listen to our mother.
And she is still telling us what to do. I'm listening about half the time.
I appreciate the two United States congressmen who are here.
Joe, thank you very much. And, Allen, thank you very much as well. I'm honored to have you both here.
I've had some good visits with both of the members. Sometimes we agree, sometimes we don't agree. But the thing about these two men is that we're going to agree to be respectful to each other, and that's what this country wants. (APPLAUSE)
I want to thank the members of the Rotary. I want to thank the members of the chamber.
BUSH: I want to thank the economic development folks who gave me an opportunity to come and talk about what's on my mind. Walking in, the man from the Rotary said, "Our slogan is create awareness and take action," and that's exactly why I'm here. I want to create awareness about a commonsense budget and I ask you to take action to help me get it passed.
It's good to see leaders of the Florida legislature, members elected statewide on the ticket here in Florida. I want to thank you all for coming. I know there's a lot of local officials here. I always believe the government closest to the people is that which governs best.
So I appreciate you all being here. It was my honor to go to Tyndall today to see the good folks who wear the uniform of the United States military...
... to tell them how much I appreciate their service to the country.
I'm reminded today of how dangerous service can be. We lost some servicemen today in Kuwait on a training accident. I hope you'll join me in a moment of silence for those soldiers and their families.
BUSH: God bless.
I'm here to talk about a budget. And there's a lot of talk in Washington about budgets. But here's what I believe. I believe the people who can best affect the budget are the people who pay the bills in the first place: the taxpayers of America.
Sometimes it seems like we tend to talk to ourselves in Washington. And that's why I like to travel around the country, talking to the people who've got most at stake in the budget negotiations that go on in the nation's capital.
First, let me tell you that good budgeting means setting priorities. And part of my travels around the country is to explain what I think our priorities are.
It is a priority to make sure we pay the men and women who wear our uniform good wages.
It's a priority in my budget to do so.
WATERS: George W. Bush touting his budget and tax priorities. He's down in Panama City, Florida today appearing before a joint rotary club and chamber of commerce meeting. He set aside a moment of silence for the servicemen killed in Kuwait, and that's what we're reporting at this hour. A U.S. Navy F-18 Hornet flying over a Kuwaiti training area dropped a bomb accidentally into a crowd.
We have CNN's Pentagon producer Chris Plante on the line. Chris, what's the very latest on this story?
CHRIS PLANTE, CNN PENTAGON PRODUCER: Well, Pentagon officials are saying at this point that there in fact five people confirmed dead, including four U.S. military. The fifth is a member of the military of a third nation, neither the United States nor Kuwait, but they could not confirmed what country that person was from at this point.
Initial reports also indicate that there are 10 people injured. Four of those injured are seriously injured. Two other people have been treated and released with minor injuries. The accident happened when a F-18 Hornet, as we see on the screen, flying from the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman dropped a 500-pound bomb on the Udairi range, which is a bombing range in Kuwait, obviously missing its target and inflicting these casualties.
WATERS: Do we have any idea, Chris, where these casualties were taken? Was this a group of people too close to the training area?
PLANTE: Well, that's something that's still being sorted out at this point, Lou. It's clear that the bomb didn't hit its intended target. Why the people were this close to the range or why the bomb was this far off of the range is really not clear at this point. That's something that Pentagon officials are still looking into.
Officials with the U.S. Central Command in Tampa are trying to collect the facts and get the information out. I'm told report of parked cars being involved is either erroneous or still a mystery, at least to people here at the Pentagon. But while the facts are still being sorted out, you can you expect that the numbers will probably to change and that various facts will continue to change because, as they like to say here, initial reports are always wrong.
WATERS: Right, but the essence of the story is that it was a practice bombing run and an F-18 Hornet off the aircraft carrier missed its target and hit some people.
PLANTE: That is apparently the case, Lou, yes.
WATERS: OK, Chris Plante at the Pentagon and again, Chris Plante reporting four U.S. servicemen killed in this accident which was part of a joint Kuwaiti-British-U.S. air exercise called Intrinsic Action, again, near the Al Udairi firing range. That's in a desert area 31 miles south of the Iraqi border in northwest Kuwait -- Natalie. ALLEN: And CNN's Jeanne Meserve is covering the story from our Washington news room. Let's check in with her -- Jeanne
MESERVE: As you know, details hard to come by here and some conflicting information. We told you earlier that this was a joint U.S.-British-Kuwaiti exercise. I am now told that British officials are saying they were not involved in the exercise today.
A few notes about this Udairi range that's involved. It is northwestern Kuwait, and United States military aircraft have been operating regularly from airfields in Kuwait since 1991 which was, of course, the date of the Gulf War when U.S. forces expelled Iraqi forces from the nation of Kuwait.
Once again, what we know, somehow ordinance was dropped and it hit people. We are told five confirmed dead, four U.S., one of another nationality; 10 injured, four of them seriously, two treated and being released.
Natalie, back to you.
ALLEN: All right, Jeanne Meserve in Washington. Again, it was a F-18 fighter jet flying from the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman at the time of the incident.
Now back to Lou.
WATERS: And again, that correction, it was a joint Kuwaiti-U.S. air operation. Miriam Amie, a journalist with the German News Agency, has been helping us out here. Miriam's in Kuwait City tonight. What can you add to your earlier reports, Miriam?
MIRIAM AMIE, GERMAN NEWS AGENCY: Well, I was told by military sources here that one of the fatalities was a New Zealander, and he apparently was an observer on the mission. He was observing the exercises, one New Zealander. The Udairi range is in the northwest corner of Kuwait, south of the Iraqi border, about 50 kilometers south of the Iraqi border. That's where the accident happened.
WATERS: Have you been able to determine yet, Miriam, where these observers were stationed in relation to the Udairi target range?
AMIE: What I've been told by the military sources here is that they parked -- the military uses vehicles of some sort in the desert and they use them as pointers and marking devices for the aircraft, for any incoming aircraft. And there was some confusion. I was told that one of the F-18s did in fact drop ordinance on one of these parked vehicles by accident and as you said, it was a 500-pound bomb.
WATERS: Have you been able to determine if this took place in the dark, yet?
AMIE: It was at 7:30 p.m., which is quite dark here in Kuwait at that time.
WATERS: So, there could have been confusion -- I don't understand how parked vehicles played a part in this when it's dark out and there's a bombing run.
AMIE: Well, they're probably used the light. They're probably used for their headlights or their lamps.
WATERS: And it was a release -- do you know precisely how many airplanes were taking part in this exercise and was there any trouble...
AMIE: No, I don't -- no, I don't know how many aircraft were taking place. They were, in fact, coming from different directions and the Kuwaitis had actually participated earlier in the day, before sundown.
WATERS: And they were likewise making bombing runs at same strip?
AMIE: Yes -- well, the Kuwaitis I'm not sure about that. But that Kuwaitis had participated in the exercise earlier in the day.
WATERS: Do you happen to know where that F-18 Hornet is now? After the accident, what happened to the plane?
AMIE: No, I don't, but it most likely went back to wherever it is based, could be on the carrier or one of other air bases in region.
WATERS: Yes, our information is that the plane was from the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman.
AMIE: OK, that could very well be the case. Yes. They do several training exercises. These training exercises are routine. They're yearly exercises and they fall under a 10 year defense pact which Kuwait has signed with the United States which has been in effect since the end of the 1991 Gulf War.
WATERS: All right, Miriam Amie, we thank you so much for keeping in touch with us. Miriam is with the German News Agency. She's in Kuwait City, and our CNN Pentagon producer Chris Plante is back on the line. Chris, you had something new?
PLANTE: Hi, Lou, just updating with a couple of additional details here. It was, in fact, just reported on our air that the fifth fatality is a member of the military of New Zealand. That is being confirmed here in addition to the four U.S. military personnel that were killed in the incident.
It did take place out on the Udairi range, which is a training range and I am told here at the Pentagon that all of the people involved in the accident were in fact out on the range and were there acting as observers, and that the bomb in fact did not stray off the range, but obviously hit in area of the range where it should not have hit, this 500-pound bomb from an F-18 Hornet flying from the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman, which is in the Persian Gulf.
WATERS: You expressed some confusion, as I did, about these parked vehicles. Did you just hear Miriam Amie's report?
PLANTE: I did not hear her referring to that part.
WATERS: She said there were several vehicles, and this incident apparently took place in the dark at night. These vehicles were lined up as pointers, that was her word, perhaps with their lights turned on and that the errant bomb hit one of those vehicles. Does that jive with anything you're hearing?
PLANTE: That is not a detail that I have picked up here, Lou, but it would make a certain amount of sense that they might illuminate an area or at least lay down a line of demarcation with headlights in the desert at night for a nighttime training exercise. It did happen, I assume, just after dark there. It was 7:00 p.m. local time in Kuwait which puts it at about 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time. So there is a certain logic to that.
WATERS: The question I have is about these observers -- you are saying a New Zealander and four U.S. observers killed in this incident -- what is the job of an observer on a bombing range while there is a bombing run going on?
PLANTE: Well, that would vary depending on what sort of exercise they were conducting. If they were demonstrating a new type of weapon, if they were demonstrating a night bombing capability, perhaps, since this did apparently take place after dark there, and it's not uncommon for military observers from third nations to come in and simply observe exercises to see what it is that they can learn as part of an ongoing military-to-military programs that the United States conducts with military members from around the world.
WATERS: So, can we assume then that these observers are all military personnel? There were some early reports of some civilians, perhaps, hit.
PLANTE: Well, that is still being sorted out also with -- as we learned recently with the Greeneville accident, civilians are also often invited to participate or to observe military exercises, perhaps contractors, people that work for arms manufacturers, perhaps people that would be interested in buying F-18s -- it could a whole range of thing.
WATERS: OK, Chris Plante at the Pentagon, we will keep in close touch with you -- Natalie.
ALLEN: CNN's John King working the story from the White House for us this afternoon -- John.
JOHN KING, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Natalie, again, officials here at the White House, much like at the Pentagon, saying the initial reports quite sketchy. They are scrambling here in the White House situation room to get information in from the Pentagon and other sources and to relay it to President Bush who, of course, as we just saw a few moments ago, is traveling in Florida.
Just a few moments ago, he led a moment of silence in recognition of those killed and injured. Administration officials telling us, from what they know so far -- and some of this will be repetitive, so let me go through it -- five dead, including four Americans and one New Zealander, two of the Americans, we're told, are U.S. Air Force personnel. Ten injured, and also four people listed "status unknown," unclear to senior administration officials when that report came in whether those four people listed as "status unknown" are among the injured or whether there are four additional people still unaccounted for.
Again, here in the White House situation room, military personnel trying to gather the latest information. As Chris Plante has been saying throughout this, of course, often the initial information that comes in turns out not to be completely accurate, so we should be careful there, but we are told the administration has confirmed four U.S. military personnel killed, two of them members of the United States Air Force, we are told, one member of the New Zealand military -- which part of the New Zealand military we do not know at this time.
Just a reminder, of course, that 10 years after the Persian Gulf War, still a rather significant U.S. military presence in Kuwait, and Kuwait has cooperated since, of course, Operation Desert Storm 10 years ago to allow that U.S. presence there as a deterrence against the government of Iraq and President Saddam Hussein.
Just a few weeks back, Secretary of State Colin Powell was in the region, trying to rebuild support for the sanctions against Iraq, and there was a ceremony in Kuwait with former President Bush and retired General Norman Schwarzkopf -- excuse me -- there as well, celebrating the end of the Gulf War 10 years ago. So, this tragic accident is a reminder that the U.S. military presence in that region continues a decade after that war ended.
ALLEN: Well, John, we heard from our freelance journalist who has been helping us out from Kuwait, saying that this training exercise was part of a 10-year plan. Any word on how much longer such training exercises are expected to continue in Kuwait?
KING: Certainly not, although it is the view of this administration, as well as the prior administration, the Clinton administration, that there needs to be a continued U.S. military presence in the region, at least so long as the government of Saddam Hussein is in power, and of course, for strategic reasons, the U.S. would like some military presence in the region anyway.
It was during the Gulf War 10 years ago in the previous Bush administration that the alliance was built up, and the United States has military personnel and military equipment not only in Kuwait, but in Saudi Arabia as well, as well as, of course, our Navy vessels in the Persian Gulf area.
ALLEN: John King, again, working the story for us from the White House. John, thank you.
John telling us that of the four Americans who were killed during this training exercise accident, two are U.S. Air Force personnel, so we have five dead, four Americans, one New Zealander, some confusion, as John pointed out, to the status of some that were injured. We had heard earlier that there were four who have serious injuries from this accident, so we'll continue to check that out.
Again, an F-18 Hornet from the USS Harry Truman in the Persian Gulf, apparently accidentally dropping a 500-pound bomb in an area where that bomb wasn't supposed to go. All of these observers were out on the range during this exercise that happened during the dark, at 7:30 Kuwaiti time, in the northwest part of Kuwait.
We'll continue to check out story. We'll take a break.
WATERS: Again, the story of the hour: an accident in Kuwait. Ten years after the Persian Gulf war, attention again is focused there, only this time, apparently, it's friendly fire. A U.S. Navy F- 18 Hornet of the USS Harry S. Truman, aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, accidentally dropping a 500-pound bomb over a training area, 31 miles south of the Iraqi border and into a crowd of people. Five dead, including four U.S. and one other person from New Zealand, apparently. There are 10 others who are injured, some of those critically.
All of these reports still are iffy. We don't have any solid numbers on anything other than the fact that the bomb was accidentally dropped and people were killed in a Kuwaiti-U.S. joint exercise called "Intrinsic Action." That's near the Al Udairi firing range, this took place, that is in the northwest corner of Kuwait.
We have on the line with us a former U.S. Air Force Captain Gentner Drummond who flew for the United States during the Persian Gulf War. Have you been keeping track of what's going on in Kuwait today, Captain?
RET. GEN. GENTNER DRUMMOND, U.S. AIR FORCE: I have, Lou.
WATERS: And what do you think about it all?
DRUMMOND: Well, I think it's a tragic mishap. And before we race to rage and speculative conclusions, we have to step back and understand -- number one, it happened on a training base, so those that were present had some degree of risk. Secondly, it happened at the hands of highly-trained, highly-skilled United States fighter pilot.
WATERS: We're certainly stepping back, Captain, but perhaps you can help us clear up some of the things that we're not too clear about. And the one is the observers on or near a bombing range. Are you familiar with that operation there and what that might be about?
DRUMMOND: Well, I'm not familiar with that particular operation, but the scenario I am. More likely than not, this -- the release occurred by virtue of one of two scenarios. It is possible that on the bombing range, the pilot misidentified the area for the release and inadvertently released its ordinates in the wrong sector.
That's possible, although I think it's more remote -- more likely than not, in fact, was at the correct parameters when he made the release, however, because of some mechanical error more likely than a hung bomb or a misfire or mechanical binding required such a dysjuncture or a space in time that the bomb, when it did release, it released off the target albeit still on the training range, it struck the individuals who were killed.
WATERS: We just saw on our screen some daytime pictures of the training area. Again, it's called the Al Udairi firing range. That's in the northwest corner of Kuwait. But captain, we understand this took place in the dark, 7:30 in the evening in Kuwait. Would that have made a difference?
DRUMMOND: Well, I think it certainly does. The F-18 is capable of daytime and nighttime all-weather bombing. And certainly, the pilot had certain parameters that he was abiding by.
WATERS: What can you tell us about the F-18? What kind of a plane is it?
DRUMMOND: I'm somewhat prejudiced, but I'd say it's the second best fighter jet in the world. Second only to the F-15.
WATERS: Which one did you fly?
DRUMMOND: The F-15.
WATERS: Naturally. Is it is a one-man operation?
DRUMMOND: It is. The F-18 is a remarkable platform, though. It is state of the arts and certainly capable of accurately deploying its armament at the correct spot, which leads us to one of the two scenarios. Either there was some degree of pilot error or there was some degree of mechanical error.
WATERS: Well, we certainly will endeavor to find out for certain what happened here and we thank you so much, former United States Air Force captain Gentner Drummond joining us on the line. And we will continue to follow the story, of course.
ALLEN: And CNN's Jeanne Meserve in the Washington newsroom now has more about where this happened, Jeanne, more about the Al Udairi firing range there in northwestern Kuwait.
MESERVE: Right. We were just looking at some pictures of it. These were taken back in 1996, so now five years old. This range is in the northwestern part of Kuwait, apparently, about 31 miles south of the Iraqi border. U.S. military, of course, routinely operating out of Kuwait ever since Operation Desert Storm.
Let me tell you a little about USS Harry Truman. This is the aircraft carrier off of which the F-18 hornet, which was involved in this accident, was flying from. The Harry Truman has a crew of more than 6,000 people plus its air wing. It's air wing consists of 80 tactical aircraft. It was commissioned in July of 1998 and is now operating in the Persian Gulf.
And as you've just heard, the F-18 hornet is an all-weather fighter and an attack aircraft. It is a single-seat aircraft used by both the Navy and the Marine Corp. The one involved in this accident today, a Navy F-18. To go over once again, the statistics that we have so far, U.S. officials now saying that five people have died. Four of them were U.S. citizens, one of them a New Zealander. Ten people have been injured. Sources say that two of those were Kuwaitis, four of those injured were seriously injured. A freelance journalist on the ground Kuwait says that some of the injured are being treated in country. Some are being flown out of country. This happened at about 7:30 p.m. Kuwaiti time, according to that journalist.
Once again, a 500-pound bomb apparently being dropped. Chris Plante reporting from the Pentagon, our producer there, that it was in fact dropped on the test range, the firing range. But it apparently did go awry for one reason or another and did hit observers that were on that range observing the exercises. Back to you.
ALLEN: Jeanne Meserve in Washington will continue to cover the story from Washington and here in Atlanta. As we get more developments, we'll of course, break into programming and bring it along.
WATERS: And we have one other story we're following, Natalie, and that's the drop in the markets up on Wall Street. The Dow down more than 275 points now, Nasdaq almost down 95 points. We'll have a complete market update at 3:15, just a few minutes from now.
ALLEN: Keep it here for updates. And now keep it here for TALKBACK LIVE, which begins right now.
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