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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Seaplane Crash Kills 19; Spying on Americans
Aired December 19, 2005 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John King. Anderson is off tonight. The tape begins with scenes from a vacation paradise. It ends in a hellish inferno. Caught up close, then beamed around the world.
ANNOUNCER (voice-over): It played out before our eyes. Something goes terribly wrong. A seaplane breaks apart shortly after takeoff. Many eyewitnesses.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On the right of the plane there was a big ball of fire.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: No survivors. Latest live details on what happened.
President Bush again defends the secret wiretaps in this country.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Do I have the legal authority to do this? Absolutely.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: But is that really true? Tonight "360" investigates and the fallout over the NSA rounds out a stormy 2005 for the Bush White House. Can he get back on track in '06?
This is ANDERSON COOPER 360. Live from the CNN studios in New York. Tonight, filling in for Anderson, John King.
KING: We begin tonight in Miami Beach, where people on shore heard the explosion. They saw the fire ball. Then, in horror, they watched a plane with 20 people on board literally break in two and plunge into the ocean. It was bound from a marina in Miami to the island of Bimidi in the Bahamas. As you might imagine, the question now is why it never made it? The investigation is just gearing up. We're expecting this hour to hear from the Coast Guard, also the National Transportation Safety Board. But first, here's CNN'S John Zarrella.
JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was nearly 2:30 in the afternoon, just minutes after a water takeoff from Miami's Watson Island, when something incredibly wrong happened aboard a small commercial seaplane.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We saw a plane and a trajectory coming down. It had on the right of the plane there was a big ball of fire around where the engine is. And the wing is. And it continued down and then saw the wing -- the right wing come off and then we lost it.
ZARRELLA: Amateur video taken by German tourists captures the small plane which was bound for the island of Bimidi in the Bahamas carrying 20 people, two pilots, 15 adult passengers and three infants, break apart and then plummet into the water with a fire ball trailing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All of a sudden we heard it blow up. And, I saw two pieces and it went down into the water.
ZARRELLA: Within minutes, rescuers were on the scene shutting down the port of Miami and beginning a massive search and rescue operation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The area is kind of contained. The fuselage went down into the water. Even though it's broken up somewhat, but it is still basically -- it's not is that strewed all over the place. So they have been able to go in with the dive teams.
ZARRELLA: But as darkness came, officials did not have good news.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There were 20 souls aboard and we have recovered 19 bodies.
ZARRELLA: Officials could not say what caused it the Grumman G73 airplane crash, but the National Transportation Safety Board sent a team of investigators to Miami to investigate. The Grumman G73 owned by Chalk's Ocean Airways is known for being able to take off from and land on water, making it a popular choice for tourist operators traveling to and from Florida and the Bahamas.
ZARRELLA: Now, the search continues this evening for the body of the 20th victim. That one still missing. The command post, you can see behind me, set up there. A unified command post, Coast Guard, National Transportation Safety Board, here to investigate. And the Port of Miami remains closed this evening. That's the entrance and exit for cruise ships and commercial cargo. Remains closed until they can determine that it is, again, safe for boat traffic -- John.
KING: And John, what do we know tonight about the safety record of Chalk's ocean airways, the carriers involved here?
ZARRELLA: Well, what we know comes from the company itself. At an afternoon briefing, they did say that they've been in operation since 1919. And under one name or another, and that this is the first time that they have ever had a passenger -- people involved -- passengers involved in any kind of a fatal accident -- John.
KING: And John, on the scene tonight, dark obviously now. This crash happening in the afternoon hours. Are investigators still working tonight or is all the operations out of the water?
ZARRELLA: well, most of the operations now out of the water. The drivers' out of the water, but we did see a helicopter flying over just within yards of where we are. That was earlier this afternoon, concern being that because of the currents here, that the body of that 20th victim could wash up. And that's why we're being held this far away by the police tape. Because of the possibilities that they might find that body wash ashore here on Miami Beach -- John.
KING: John Zarrella, we'll check in with you throughout the hour. Also waiting for news from the Coast Guard on the scene, perhaps police as well, and the National Transportation Safety Board.
But joining us now on the phone, a man who actually has experience flying that odd old water bird, that's the Grumman G73 Mallard. Multi-Engine Seaplane Pilot Steve McCaughey is in Eureka, California. He joins us on the phone.
Steve McCaughey, you have experience with this plane and you have watched the video of this plane breaking into pieces and plunging into the ocean. As you watch that video, what does it tell you?
STEVE MCCAUGHEY, SEAPLANE PILOT: Well, it looks like we had a wing failure on the right side. I think that's fairly evident. The investigation will definitely lead to a lot more in depth answers to the question, but it definitely appears from the path of the airplane that there was a wing failure on the right side.
KING: And tell us about this specific airplane. Americans travel quite frequently by airplane, but very few, I would imagine, have been on this very different airplane. Tell us about it and specifically tell us about what makes it different in terms of safety and in terms of inspections.
MCCAUGHEY: The aircraft has a very good safety record. They were produced in very low numbers. And, they've been operated by private individuals and select airlines. The particular aircraft has a tremendous safety record, as does the airline and Chalk's itself has undoubtedly the best safety record of any u.s. airline, which is very much to their credit with being the oldest airline in the world. But very safe airplane and very reliable and has a great romantic history behind it.
KING: And what is a pilot thinking and what is he or she looking for, just prepared for takeoff? When all the passengers are on board, you're sitting on the water. Is debris in the water? Is that a potential factor here? What are the things the pilot's looking for? How is the checklist, if you will, different than a commercial airline pilot who would be on a runway at an airport?
MCCAUGHEY: In operating seaplanes, first and foremost, we are looking for water traffic, any traffic that may be an issue for us on the water. The seaplane avoids all other traffic first and foremost. The port of Miami's the busiest cruise ship port in the world and the pilots there have a lot to contend with, but they have done so over many years and a very good respect. And, we're looking for obviously floating debris. We're looking for boat traffic. We're looking for the cruise ships and Government Cut per se; and, but we can do so in a very safe manner and we can obviously operate as Chalks has for many years in a very positive way.
KING: And is there any different safety routine the passengers go through? You mentioned a pilot would go through. What about the passengers?
MCCAUGHEY: Yes. The passengers, we'll do a briefing for the passengers. Obviously, we'll let them know that we are operating on water, which they're aware of. They will know what flotation devices are. They'll know the egress, which is very easy in these aircraft. Because of their small size, egress is very rapid in these aircraft and very good cabin doors that are very easily debarked from if there is an issue. And this issue, you know, obviously there was nothing that the passengers could have done. Looks like an impact issue more than anything else. But, the passengers are very well briefed and most of the time obviously without any incident.
KING: Pilot Steve McCaughey, who has flown this airplane, thank you for your insights tonight from Eureka, California.
And now for more insight on the challenges the crash investigators face, we're joined by a former vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, Robert Francis. He joins us from Washington.
Mr. Francis, let me start with the question I just asked the pilot, Steve McCaughey. You have seen this video. I want to slow it down a bit. As this plane breaks into pieces, what does that tell you?
ROBERT FRANCIS, FORMER NTSB VICE CHAIRMAN: Well, I think what Captain McCaughey said is a possibility. It's a little difficult for me to tell that it's the right wing. It certainly doesn't appear to be just an engine, but I think we are going to have to wait until the NTSB has a chance to look at the wreckage; and clearly given what's happened here, what we have seen happen, and the fact that the water isn't terribly deep there and there isn't a lot of sea running, they should be able to recover the wreckage fairly quickly.
KING: You see that fireball -- I'm sorry. Go ahead.
FRANCIS: And they'll -- they'll have a good idea as to what they're looking for.
KING: When you see that fire ball and then the thick, black smoke, does the smoke itself tell you anything?
FRANCIS: I just tell me I think that it's a fuel fire, and that would be the only conclusion I'd draw.
KING: Now this is a plane built in 1947. In terms of clues, does it have a traditional black box? Will they be able to recover equipment that should tell them what happened or at least what was going on in the airplane? FRANCIS: Certainly. You know, in the '40s, they didn't have recorders that are anywhere near the capability we have now. I would be surprised if it has sophisticated recorders in it. I mean, it might be. There are people that put sophisticated recorders in airliners such as this, but it would be kind of unusual.
KING: You have been watching and listening to eyewitness accounts flow in throughout the afternoon. Many them say they heard an explosion. I know often first impressions are wrong in these cases, or conflicting. But does the explosion tell you anything? Does that offer you any clues?
FRANCIS: Well, I think that when you look at the pictures that are here and you hear what people are saying, certainly, I'm sure that the FBI, which has a role to play in any NTSB investigation as long as they want, they're going to want to be convinced that this was not a criminal act before they withdraw from the investigative process.
KING: Well, let me follow up on that very point. In the post- 9/11 world, Americans are accustomed to the heavy security when you go through an airport. In this case though, a charter carrier like this, am I correct in saying the passengers do not have to go through the same screening? The bags do not have to be screened like they would be at a commercial airport?
FRANCIS: I would be surprised if a commercial airliner operates in this country without having the TSA security measures applied to them.
KING: Take us back to your time as the vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. Seaplanes, relatively uncommon to most Americans. Any different in terms of you investigate? Anything you can tell us from prior investigations that might help here?
FRANCIS: I don't think that this -- the process, the overall process will be much different than it was for the TWA investigation off Long Island. That, you know, there's been an accident in the air. The airplane has come down in the water and it will have to be recovered. I think this will be, obviously, considerably simpler. It's a much smaller airplane. The water's nowhere near as deep, so that I think that the recovery -- it's not going to take place overnight, but it should be fairly -- within a few days, they should be pulling up wreckage that's telling them something.
KING: Robert Francis, the former vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. Sir, thank you for your thoughts and insights tonight, from Washington.
FRANCIS: You're welcome.
KING: Thank you, sir.
And here's a look at some other news making headlines at this moment. President Bush says the Constitution and the bill passed by Congress after the 9/11 attacks, both give him the right to authorize the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans without a warrant. In a news conference today, Mr. Bush also criticized senators who blocked the renewal of the Patriot Act. Critics of the president say he has stretched his powers too far. More on this later.
In Memphis, Tennessee, a man accused of sexually abusing a woman after posing as a firefighter to get into her home, agreed to return to New York City, where police say the crime happened, Halloween night. Peter Braunstein could be arraigned as early as tomorrow morning on charges of kidnapping, sexual abuse, robbery and burglary. His run from the law ended Thursday, after he stabbed himself in the neck during a police confrontation.
In less than two hours, New Yorkers might be stuck without public transportation. Union and Transit Negotiators are meeting at this moment to avoid a midnight bus and subway strike, though neither side has sounded optimistic. About seven million people use the New York City transit every day.
And in Detroit, Michigan, a single engine plane with an emergency landing on a freeway. The pilot managed to merge into traffic and then get out and push the plane to the side of the road. Remarkably, no one was injured.
Again, we're awaiting a briefing from the National Transportation Safety Board and the Coast Guard on that crash in Florida.
And when we come back, he saw it up close and very personal. As a day at a beach became a day he'll never forget.
A break first, from New York, and around the world, this is "360."
KING: More now on the seaplane crash just off of Miami Beach. We are anticipating an update shortly from the NTSB and the Coast Guard. But first, an eyewitness account.
Frank Amodeo saw the crash, and we spoke with him just a short time ago.
KING (voice-over): Frank Amodeo was an eyewitness to this tragedy this afternoon from his office in Miami. Frank, about what time of day and exactly how did you know what was happening?
FRANK AMODEO, WITNESS TO CRASH: Well, it was about 2:30, this afternoon. And our offices are located just a short distance from Government Cut. And I just happened to be looking at my computer monitor, which faces the window and looked up and saw a gigantic ball of fire. That appeared at the time -- it almost looked -- from where it was coming from, behind a condominium building, that something had actually struck the condo. Luckily, that wasn't the case. But I saw the big explosion. Big ball of fire. And then, the -- I saw the plane spiral down to the water.
KING: Now, you say you saw the big explosion. When you first noticed this, you first noticed the ball of fire and then you heard an explosion or there was a secondary fire?
AMODEO: No. It was altogether. I mean, I just -- I looked up, saw the -- you know, the explosion which was, you know, which then caused this big ball of fire. I mean, we could almost feel, you know, the building rattle somewhat from the explosion. And then, you know, and then again, the plane plummeted right into the water.
KING: We have seen the video -- Amateur video shot by tourists that we have now at CNN that shows the fire ball and then you see it separating, essentially from the plane as if the wing or engine came off the plane. Obviously, still waiting for the investigation. Could you see it clearly from where you were, the separation?
AMODEO: No, I couldn't. Like I said, I mean -- I saw what either was the wing or most likely the actual body of the plane that went down, but I didn't -- part of it, like I said, happened on the backside of that condo so I wasn't able to really see, you know, to that extent. But it -- you know again, I did see it, you know, go down.
KING: You have a breathtaking view out your office window. I assume you see these flights going by every day. What were you thinking when you saw this?
AMODEO: You know, we do. I mean, we see the planes and the cruise ships going in and out of the port on a daily basis and, you know, I mean unfortunately, when I first saw it, of course, my first thought was, you know, it was very reminiscent for me after watching, you know, the planes hit the World Trade Center, and that was a first thing that went through my mind. Luckily, you know, that wasn't the case. But it was just a, you know, a tragic scene for all of those families involved.
KING: Frank Amodeo, in Miami, an eyewitness to this today. We thank you for sharing your observations with us tonight, thank you.
AMODEO: Thank you very much.
KING: A forceful, sometimes stern President Bush held year-end news conference today. He blasted whomever leaked the secret domestic spy program to the media. But how does he respond to critics who say that program goes too far?
And a developing story off Miami Beach. We'll have the latest on today's fatal seaplane crash. At least 19 confirmed dead. Any moment, we'll be hearing from the National Transportation Safety Board and the Coast Guard, and we'll bring it to you live. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KING: Sharp words today from the president. At his year-end news conference, Mr. Bush fiercely defended his decision to allow the National Security Agency to spy on Americans without a court order. He lashed out, as well, at suggestions that the policy gives him the power of a dictator.
Democrats, in the meantime, fired back; and Republicans, some of whom disagree with the president on this, they're lying low. In a moment, the big question -- Is this stuff legal? First, though, from the White House, CNN's Suzanne Malveaux.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Bush defended his top secret domestic wiretapping program, insisting that eavesdropping on callers in the U.S. to possible terrorists overseas is perfectly legal.
BUSH: I swore to uphold the laws. Do I have the legal authority to do this? And the answer is, absolutely.
MALVEAUX: The debate over the president's legal authority is at the heart of what's quickly becoming a very heated controversy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is the president. Not a king.
MALVEAUX: Shortly after the September 11th attacks, the president said he green lighted a government program, to wiretap calls in the United States of suspected terrorists, without a warrant from a special court as required by law. The president says going through the normal channels to get permission for wiretapping under some circumstances is too slow.
BUSH: To save American lives, we must be able to act fast, and to detect these conversations so we can prevent new attacks.
MALVEAUX: The president says as commander in chief during wartime, both the U.S. Constitution and Congress's authorization to go after Al Qaeda, give him the authority to bypass normal channels.
Some constitutional scholars say the president is on shaky legal ground, but politically, he may have the upper hand.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a situation in which Congress probably will have to solve the problem, or at least political pressure bringing an end to the program. Because no one knows they're being searched so they can't even bring a court challenge to the sorts of interceptions.
MALVEAUX: While democrats are accusing the president of breaking the law, Republicans are reserving judgment, but calling for congressional hearings. Mr. Bush is focusing on who may have leaked his top secret spying program to the press. BUSH: It was a shameful act. For someone to disclose this very important program in a time of war. The fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy.
MALVEAUX: The president says a small number of lawmakers were briefed on the program at least a dozen times. But the ranking Democrat of the Senate Intelligence committee Senator J. Rockefeller, released a letter to the vice president he had sealed two years ago, which expressed his reservations about the program, saying given the security restriction associated with this information and my inability to consult staff or counsel on my own, I feel unable to fully evaluate, much less endorse the activities.
(on camera): Congress is expected to begin hearings on the matter early next year. Suzanne Malveaux, CNN, the White House.
KING: Political uproar aside, the central question is whether or not the president's secret domestic spying program violates the law. Mr. Bush has invoked the constitution and Congress in defending his actions. Is he on solid ground? CNN's Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin is here, to help us clear this out.
Let's just begin simply with the president's explanation that he needs to move quickly and needs to get the wiretaps right away, so he won't go to the secret court in most cases because he needs to move quickly. Does that hold up?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: You know, I don't think it does, John. The FISA law has a provision that says if you need to work really fast, as you sometimes need to do in intelligence matters, you can go after you've done the wiretap and get retroactive permission to -- retroactive warrant. So, that argument, I think just is factually not supported.
KING: Well, the other argument is did the constitution and or the resolution Congress passed after 9/11 that gave him the power to launch military strikes in Afghanistan, give him the power to do this? I have a copy of that resolution here. This is the resolution they passed, essentially authorizing the president to use all military force to respond to the 9/11 attacks. Is it in here somewhere?
TOOBIN: It's not obviously in there. And you've had many members of Congress, especially democrats saying, we didn't think in authorizing the use of force in Afghanistan, we were authorizing domestic spying. But now you're starting to get into the area where the president at least has a -- as the lawyers would say, a colorable argument. That, you know, he can make the case. And remember, this is part of the larger context of the Bush presidency, where especially Vice President Cheney has said, look, it is time for the president to push back, to assert the powers of the presidency in a way that recent presidents haven't. The question is, whether that's correct under the law.
KING: Well -- you -- let's get into that a little bit more. He's in a separation of powers fight with the Congress from time to time. In this case, there is a court that provides oversight and he did not go to that. His critics just say that this is a president who wants to do this. He wants to exercise this power. If I'm John Q. Citizen, and I don't like this, anything to do about this?
TOOBIN: Well, that's another problem about this, that it's very unlikely that this will ever get resolved in the courts. Because we have rules in the courts called standing. Only certain people who are directly affected can challenge government action. The people who are tapped in these circumstances, almost certainly will never know that they were tapped. So they can't bring a case. So this is really going to be resolved politically, not legally. In hearings, in outcry and I just want to focus on something you said earlier about Republicans lying low. You know what it is like in Washington. You covered it longer than I have. This instant reaction. You know, the Republicans come out with a press release, defending their president all the time. I didn't get any of the press releases today. I think the Republicans are worried about this.
KING: They're not defending him and they say he has some answers he must give. That is true. Jeffrey Toobin, our senior political analyst, thank you for joining us tonight, help sort through this. It's a tough one.
And more on President Bush. A look at 2005, the ups and downs at the White House and Mr. Bush's hopes for the new year.
Plus, our developing story out of Miami Beach. The terrible aftermath of a terrible crash. Heartbreaking pictures of a plane that went down just moments after takeoff. We're awaiting a news conference from the National Transportation Safety Board and the Coast Guard. We'll bring it to you live. This is 360.
KING: Up next, more on what may have happened aboard that seaplane that crashed off Miami Beach. In just moments, the National Transportation Safety Board and the Coast Guard are planning a news conference. But first, here's a look at what else is happening at this moment.
It's back to New York for the man that allegedly sexually abused a woman on Halloween after posing as a firefighter to gain access to her home. Peter Braunstein, on the run since the incident, was captured in Tennessee last week. Today a Memphis judge cleared the way for Braunstein to be extradited to New York. He's expected to be tried for kidnapping and possibly other charges.
In Texas, more fugitives apprehended. This time, thanks to some good old greed and carelessness. Thirteen men and women on the run from the law in Louisiana have been caught, mainly because they tried to cash in on federal aid after Katrina. The problem is, that meant giving FEMA their addresses. Most were wanted for parole or probation charges. Their crimes range from stalking to sex offenses.
A company near Albuquerque, New Mexico, has reported about 500 pounds of explosives stolen. A Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms spokesman says the explosives, detonators, and other material are, quote, "military-like, but not military issue." While authorities say this kind of theft is not uncommon, they're offering a $10,000 reward for any information.
And Michael Jackson is fighting to keep The Beatles or at least his 50 percent share in their song catalog. The rights to more than 200 Beatles songs are what is securing $200 million in loans for Jackson. His lawyers are in talks to keep him from defaulting. The loans come due tomorrow.
We want to take you now live to Miami Beach, the National Transportation Safety Board and the Coast Guard briefing on the tragic crash off the coast today. This is Mark Rosenker, the acting chair of the National Transportation Safety Board.
MARK ROSENKER, ACTING NTSB CHAIRMAN: I think it is a good example of state, federal and local officials all working together to try to save lives and to understand what happened here today.
The team that we brought in just arrived from Washington, D.C. a team of 13 people, two more on their way from Washington on commercial flights. We had two already here from our Miami office and two more field investigators coming from two other field offices in the United States.
We're going to meet with the local authorities and in particular, the United States Coast Guard and a salvage team in working to raise the aircraft tomorrow morning to begin the investigation on the aircraft itself.
The team that we brought with us today includes experts in operations, systems, power plants, structures, human performance, survival factors, and transportation disaster assistance. I'd like to introduce my colleague, Bill English (ph), who is the investigator in charge from Washington. He will lead the technical investigation.
Tomorrow we'll begin the process of gathering records, maintenance records, flight records, on the accident aircraft and the operator. We'll also be attempting to retrieve the cockpit voice recorder and get it back to Washington for a reading.
I'd also like to make sure that you know that we will be holding periodic briefings to update you on what has happened, what we are doing, and what we have learned in the process of investigating this accident.
And finally, we have a telephone number and I would ask that you could help us in sharing this telephone number to the people in the Miami area. Anyone who could help us as a witness who might have still photographs or video would be extremely helpful in our investigation.
Let me give you this telephone number. It is area code 305-597- 4613, extension 13. Let me give it to you again, area code 305-597- 4613, extension 13. And please leave a message on how we can get in touch with you and what information you might have to help the National Transportation Safety Board in this investigation.
I'll be able to take a few questions, and then tomorrow, as we continue through the process of this investigation, be able to give you a more full briefing on where we are.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) going to be 19 investigators?
ROSENKER: We have got more than 19 investigators. But each in different aspects of this investigation. We even have five -- four support investigators in Washington that will be looking at our weather conditions and some other areas.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) data recorders did this plane carry?
ROSENKER: In this case, we are looking for a cockpit voice recorder.
QUESTION: That's all?
ROSENKER: That's all in this case.
QUESTION: What do we know about this plane? Do we know how old it is?
ROSENKER: Right now, I can tell you that it was built in 1947. It's 58 years old.
QUESTION: Is age going to be a factor in this investigation?
ROSENKER: We'll be looking at everything in this investigation. Nothing is off the table.
QUESTION: While you investigate, will Chalk's be permitted to fly their other planes?
ROSENKER: There is no reason -- Mr. English?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That will be a decision by Chalk's and the FAA.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) have you been able to determine...
ROSENKER: We have a copy of the security video. We're examining that right now. We may have to do some significant enhancement to learn even more. But clearly, it is going to be a helpful bit of information as part of this investigation.
QUESTION: Where is the security from?
ROSENKER: The United States Coast Guard.
QUESTION: Sir, could you tell us where the flight originated from?
ROSENKER: It came from Watson Island.
QUESTION: Doesn't Chalk's fly out of Fort Lauderdale (OFF-MIKE)
ROSENKER: In this case particular case, I believe it left from Watson Island.
ROSENKER: It was on its way to the Bahamas.
QUESTION: Do you have any information that it originated in Fort Lauderdale and stopped in Watson Island?
ROSENKER: I can't answer you that at that time.
QUESTION: How unusual is it in your experience for a plane to make (OFF-MIKE)
ROSENKER: Not unusual at all. There are a number of these types of aircraft. There are actually older aircraft that are flying as well, not necessarily this type of aircraft, but older aircraft.
QUESTION: Do you know anything at this point about...
ROSENKER: Let me -- one at a time, please.
QUESTION: Do we know anything at this point about the flight records (OFF-MIKE)? I know you are going to look at that...
ROSENKER: We are gathering that right now. So unfortunately, I don't have any information on that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just one or two more.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) put out a flight plan or not?
ROSENKER: In this case, it would probably have a flight plan.
QUESTION: So if this one did not have one, we understand (OFF- MIKE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll check on that.
ROSENKER: We'll be looking and checking to see where we are in the flight plan and all the additional records that are part of this flight, as well as all of the maintenance records and operating records of the company itself.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) required a flight plan?
QUESTION: Were the bodies themselves recovered in the fuselage? And if that's the case, how does that matter for your investigation?
ROSENKER: The -- I don't have all the details on how the bodies were recovered at this point. We just got on the ground. We know that 19 bodies have been recovered and one is still missing. I understand the Coast Guard has suspended its search at this time.
QUESTION: Can you clarify the 13 individuals (OFF-MIKE)
ROSENKER: Well, right now, we have 13 on-scene. Actually, we have more than that, 13 came from Washington, we have two that are here from our Miami office on-scene right now. Two more are coming in from our other field offices and a number of support people, four to five people out of Washington that will remain in Washington supporting this investigation.
I have to leave right now. We're actually going to go out and take a look at the site. And tomorrow I'll be giving you a much more detailed briefing. Thank you all very much.
KING: Mark Rosenker there providing of the National Transportation Safety Board providing a few details, essentially laying out how he hopes the investigation of the seaplane crash -- 19 confirmed dead, a 20th believed dead. Mark Rosenker of the NTSB laying out how he expects this investigation to unfold beginning tomorrow when he said investigators will try to pull more debris out of the water, looking primarily first for the cockpit voice recorder. Joining us now, CNN's John Zarrella who is on the scene in Miami Beach. And in Washington, the former National Transportation Safety Board vice chairman, Robert Francis.
John Zarrella, I want to begin with you on the point, Mark Rosenker asking the public to help here, asking for any photographs, any video they might have, and releasing a phone number. As this unfolded throughout the day, obviously it was in the middle of the afternoon, a lot of eyewitnesses were there. Were there investigators during the daytime, local investigators trying to grab all of this?
ZARRELLA: Well, not that we know of. Primarily, a lot of what we saw out here, of course, many of the individuals on the beach who saw this. Of course, the videotape that we obtained which very graphically, tragically, dramatically shows this plane hitting the water. Somewhat -- some of it on fire.
The fuselage then followed by the wing, you know, clearly the two pieces that separated in flight. But that's the kind of material, as he had pointed out in the press conference, that the NTSB is looking for because of how invaluable it is. Because so oftentimes, what an eyewitness may think they saw is not really what they saw. But here you have very vivid, very graphic, real evidence and there even are some still photos out there because of the numbers of people who were here on the ground.
So, the video, the still pictures, will be able to corroborate what the eyewitnesses are telling them. But clearly, that's something they want to get their hands on as much of that as possible -- John.
KING: And Bob Francis in Washington -- John Zarrella, you stay with us. Bob Francis in Washington, Mark Rosenker saying a cockpit voice reporter (sic), that's all, in terms of what investigators hope to retrieve from the water. Because this is an older plane -- it is a safe plane by most accounts, but because it is an older plane, in terms of the data that you can get on a cockpit voice reporter (sic), how much can you learn from that and what would you be missing in the sense that if this were a more modern plane?
FRANCIS: Well, the cockpit voice recorder only tells you what the pilots were saying or -- in the cockpit, number one. And number two, there's a lot of very sophisticated investigative work that can be done listening to engine noise, listening to fuselage noise. So that the people in the laboratories in Washington, when they get the cockpit voice recorder, and assuming it's in good shape, can potentially learn a great deal.
Now, it would be nice to have the flight data recorder that tells you what actually was happening to the airplane. But that wasn't installed in the airplane. It's not required. And, that's unfortunate. Accident investigators more and more are going to need recorders to do good investigations. And that's coming but it hasn't come yet in some of the smaller aircraft.
KING: Let me stay with you for a second, Bob Francis. Mark Rosenker laying out the team, the number of investigators involved, how he expected to go forward. It sounded like a pretty routine explanation of how many people, what would happen next, but you're a pro at this. Anything jump out?
FRANCIS: Not particularly. It's a pretty traditional way of starting, you start with a full team of everything that you might need as expertise. And then, as you go through, for instance, if weather is not a factor, you can let the weather person go. If airports isn't a factor, you can let the airports go.
But, you know, they have got structures and engines and power plants and operational factors, all of the traditional things that are likely going to be important. And I would add that the maintenance is not included, I don't think, in those 19 that he mentioned.
But he did say that maintenance records are a very early thing that the board will want to look at and particularly for an older aircraft, although these Grummans are notorious for being built like tanks so. So it's a good, strong aircraft, and it was -- new engines were put on in about 1970, much more powerful engines, turbo engines.
But that required the FAA to give them a certification saying that those engines could be put on that airframe. So -- and they've been operating for a long time so I think that from point of view, there is probably not concern. But maintenance is always a question.
KING: And, John Zarrella, help our viewers understand the scene. It is dark where you are now. But Mark Rosenker saying the Coast Guard has suspended the search for now, for the one missing. Nineteen bodies were pulled from the waters today. We could see the divers in there, quite dramatic, this afternoon, during this search. Describe this scene, how deep is the water and you're surrounded by office buildings and the beach, I assume. ZARRELLA: Yes. And I would say that that's one of scary things. And I don't know if Mike Miller (ph), our cameraman, can you pan off a little bit to the left, Mike? I hate to ask that (INAUDIBLE) -- you can see this high-rise condominium right here. And you know, that's really just a couple of hundred -- few hundred yards from where the plane went in the water.
So, you can see that the besides the fact that you may have had eyewitnesses up in those apartments, up in those condominiums, it's frightening to think that it only missed that building by just a few hundred yards.
In the distance behind me there is a command post set up, but you can see, John, it is literally pitch black out there, the reason why they have shut down the operations here tonight and will resume in the morning. There's just no way you can put divers in the water out there right now, 40, 50 of feet water -- John.
KING: John Zarrella for us tonight on the scene. Bob Francis, the former vice chair of the NTSB for us in Washington. Gentlemen, thank you both for your insights and your help tonight.
And changing gears now, in China, 2005, was the year of the rooster. At the Bush White House, it was the year of -- one of term two. A very rough year for the president, a failed Supreme Court nomination to a leak scandal to Katrina, 12 months that no White House would wish for. So how much damage did it do, we'll take the measure coming up next on 360.
KING: One of the recent presidents who George W. Bush most admires is Ronald Reagan. At this point in the Reagan presidency, "The Gipper" was still in the glow of "it's morning again in America," era of optimism. For Mr. Bush, his fifth year has been quite simply a downer. Can his recent PR offensive launch a comeback?
Here's CNN's Tom Foreman.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Bush often says he doesn't pay attention to approval polls. But on radio, in a news conference, and in speeches, he's clearly tried lately to make more voters share his view of Iraq.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our strategy in Iraq is clear, our tactics are flexible and dynamic. We have changed them as conditions required and they are bringing us victory against a brutal enemy.
FOREMAN: 2005 was a hard year for George Bush. His Social Security reform was trashed, a Supreme Court nominee thrashed. He's faced Katrina, gas prices, a party scandal, a conservative revolt and now headlines about secret spying on Americans.
It's not an impossible amount of bad news according to Democratic analyst Paul Begala.
PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: But Iraq makes everything worse because Iraq goes at the central pillars of his presidency, that he is competent and strong in defending America, that he is trustworthy and honest.
BUSH: I George Walker Bush do solemnly swear...
FOREMAN: It was once much better. At the start of the president's first term, 57 percent of Americans approved of how he did the job. 9/11 came and it jumped to 90 percent. The U.S.-led coalition invaded the Afghanistan. His ratings stayed up. Iraq was stormed, another strong year. But in 2004, with the war running on, the bottom collapsed. Even as he won re-election, half the voters disapproved of his performance. This autumn brought the chill of a record low, 37 percent approval.
And that doesn't even show what analyst Amy Walter calls "intensity levels."
(on camera): And what are those intensity levels showing you?
AMY WALTER, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: There's a more intense disapproval rating for the president than there is an intense approval for the president.
FOREMAN: So even the ones who like him are not that crazy about him?
WALTER: They're not liking him at the intensity level that people who say they dislike him are at.
BEGALA: He has more time left in his presidency I believe than President Kennedy had in the entire time in the White House.
FOREMAN: So he has time to recover?
BEGALA: An enormous amount of time, absolutely. He's got to fix Iraq.
FOREMAN (voice-over): The president was asked about his hopes for next year.
BUSH: I hope the world is more peaceful. I hope democracy continues to took root around the world. And I hope people are able to find jobs.
FOREMAN: But it all starts with the biggest uphill battle for support his presidency has known.
Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.
KING: "On the Radar" for tomorrow, a judge in Pennsylvania expected to hand down his verdict on teaching Intelligent Design, evolution and what little girl dinosaurs were made of. OK. Two out of three. This is perhaps the most covered trial since O.J., or more appropriately, since evolution went to court in the Scopes monkey trial back in 1925. These things are never quite settled, are they?
Also tomorrow, Ariel Sharon expected to leave the hospital after suffering a stroke. The Israeli prime minister is far and away the favorite in elections next year. He is running as the head of a new political party. Today, his old party, the Likud, chose a new leader. His old nemesis Bibi Netanyahu.
And in Great Britain, last-minute preparations under way for the biggest wedding since Charles and Diana. This time it is Elton John and his longtime companion, David Furnish. The civil partnership ceremony takes place on Wednesday, the first day such arrangements are legal. The pair held a joint bachelor party tonight in London's swinging West End.
Next, we'll devote an entire hour to where things stand in Iraq 1,000 days and counting after the conflict began there. Where things stand for the Iraqis and where they stand for this country.
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