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American Airlines Flight 587 Crashes Into Queens Neighborhood After JFK Takeoff

Aired November 12, 2001 - 13:44   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: A little bit earlier, we heard from Marion Blakley, or Blakey, who is the head of the -- the new chairwoman, actually, of the National Transportation Safety Board. Among other things, she talked about the number of people that the Safety Board will have on the site in Queens, or sites, we should say, because there are several different places where the plane came down.

But one of the -- she talked about I think 60 to 100 people will be there. Some of the first people to leave, what are called the go- team. And we've got some pictures to show you of the folks who make up this team leaving Washington from Reagan National Airport, getting on their government plane to leave Reagan this morning on their way to New York.

This looks to be a group of 10, 12, 15 people. We can't see the group. But they are among the very first out of the of the nation's capital on the way to any airplane crash site, and today was no different, when the word came of this crash this morning in Queens in New York.

So many questions; very few answers at this point.

I want to bring in my colleague Kathleen Koch, who's here with me in the studio. Kathleen spends a lot of time covering the airline industry, the safety of that industry.

Kathleen, you and I were talking, among things, about the procedures that might or might not have been in place at JFK, at the airport this morning, when this American Airlines flight took off. What do we know for a fact would have been in place? I mean, clearly all the passengers would have gone through the magnetometers. They would have presumably had their bags searched. What do we know about what likely happened?

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, as you said, they would have had their bags searched, but you have to distinguish between your checked bags and your carry-on bags. Their carry-on bags would have been put through the scanners, checked by screeners who would have carefully examined what showed up on that little monitor. A very different procedure would have been in place for the bags, which were checked into the belly of the plane.

Now, on international flights -- this was an international flight -- the United States mandates positive bag matching. That means if you check your luggage on to a flight, then have you to get on that same flight. If for some reason you don't show up, you walk away, that plane won't take off until your bag is removed from the aircraft. The reason...

WOODRUFF: But how do they know?

KOCH: Well....

WOODRUFF: If you change your mind at the last minute and walk away...

KOCH: They'll check the -- they'll check the manifest. They run down the manifest.

If everybody isn't on, if one person is missing, the flight won't take off until someone gets into the belly of the plane and removes that bag. The reason being is that would foil someone who had put a bomb on there.

However, the airlines have long argued that such a step is not really necessary for domestic flights. They thought that the primary terrorist threat was with international flights. They said doing that domestically would slow things down much, too much. So domestically there is no actual screening or positive bag matching.

Now on this particular flight, there would not have had to have been screening of the checked bags. Only positive bag matching.

WOODRUFF: Would not have had to have been?

KOCH: Would not have had to have been. Now, the FAA...

WOODRUFF: So the bags wouldn't have been screened, but you would have had this so-called positive match.

KOCH: Positive match. But again, the airlines argue that that does not foil a suicide terrorist. And there's great concern that if again a terrorist were to attack an aircraft today, that they would be that type of terrorist.

Now, the FAA hopes by 2004 to have equipment in place at U.S. airports to begin screening every single piece of luggage that goes into the belly of a plane, but we're far from that at this point.

WOODRUFF: Right. I'm talking with Kathleen Koch, and of course, right now, we don't know Kathleen what the cause was. The preponderance, I would say, the very early view is that it appears to be an accident. But no one knows, and the information we have is coming in, in pieces.

There are eyewitnesses who said they thought they heard an explosion. But on the other hand, the FBI is now saying there is no solid evidence of an explosion. So they are going on the view, as you were just telling me they always do in a situation like this, that it was an accident. KOCH: Right. And Judy, that's why these -- the go-team that's heading there right now -- and the NTSB says they hope to have by tonight some 60 to 80 people on the ground. They're going to be very interested in finding the cockpit voice recorder, because that way they'll know...

WOODRUFF: We have the flight data recorder.

KOCH: We have the flight data recorder. That tells you the speed of the plane, the altitude. It tells you what was going on mechanically with the plane. But it doesn't tell you anything about what that pilot was thinking, feeling, what he was saying.

Now, when we get the cockpit voice recorder, we will know what was happening in the cockpit. We will hear the pilot's voice. We will know whether he or she, you know, had detected anything unusual, was having any problems.

WOODRUFF: Now, it's already been reported a number of times from the NTSB and from the White House that there were no unusual communications as far as they know that came from that plane. That means from this plane to another plane or to the air traffic control. But what you're saying is picking up conversation, of course, in the cockpit, which is a different -- a different matter altogether.

KOCH: Right, exactly. And it would now, your cockpit voice recorder, would also pick up whatever was said to the control tower as well as what was just said in in cockpit, between the pilot and the co-pilot.

WOODRUFF: Just quickly, Kathleen, impact on the flying puck of all this.

KOCH: Judy, Don Carty, the chairman and CEO of American Airlines, said that this comes at a difficult time for the airline industry. And I think that's a huge understatement. This comes at the worst of times for the industry.

Barely a week before Thanksgiving, traditionally the busiest traveling day of the year, the day before Thanksgiving. They already said that the traveling was down, travelers were down, the number of flyers, down about 7 percent. I think that we're going to see a huge impact from this. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) estimating that the airlines already were due to lose $5 billion by the end of year. And that's the amount, the full amount of the government cash bailout.

WOODRUFF: And that estimate was before what happened today.

KOCH: Yes.

WOODRUFF: All right, Kathleen Koch here in Washington.




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