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THE SITUATION ROOM
Plane Hits IRS Building in Texas
Aired February 18, 2010 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": Thank you.
Happening now, breaking news -- a plane hits a building in Texas and one man's apparent sickness and anger are exposed to the entire world. We have shocking new details coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. They are emerging right now. This was truly a fiery crash.
Another breaking story we're following -- United Nations' watchdogs say Iran may be working on a nuclear warhead right now. It's the strongest warning yet from international inspectors about Tehran's nuclear intentions.
And they're promising to go after every sacred cow and every dollar of wasteful spending in their mission to reduce the federal debt. Former senator, Alan Simpson, and former White House chief of staff, Erskine Bowles, they talk about their tough new assignment and why they may be turned into scapegoats.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Authorities say there's no reason to believe this was an act of terrorism, but the image of a flaming building hit by a plane was chilling and horribly familiar.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY KVUE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were in the FBI building next door with the Online Trading Academy and the entire building shook.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I saw something fall out of the sky and the a big fireball kind of shoot out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was a major wakeup call. You never know -- you never know when something like this is going to happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Here's what we know right now. A federal official tells CNN the pilot may have intentionally crashed a small plane into a building in Austin, Texas, where the IRS has offices. At last word, one person was unaccounted for. But it appears everyone else, except the pilot, got out alive.
We're told that the pilot set his own house on fire before flying into the building. A federal official identifies the pilot as Joseph Andrew Stack. Stack apparently left a suicide note on the Internet. A message on a Web site registered to him rails against the government and especially the IRS and it declares that violence, in his words, "is the only answer."
Lisa Sylvester is pulling together some of the threads of all of this for us.
Let's turn to Lisa -- all right, Lisa, tell us more.
What do we know?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Joseph or Joe Stack, as he called himself, posted his political manifesto online. Now, Wolf, this was a guy who was a software engineer who, at one time, he was a student in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. And he had a lot of financial setbacks in the '90s and then a gain after the dot-com bubble burst.
The note was on the Web site for his small software business called Embedded Art. And in it, he railed against, as you mentioned, the Catholic Church, calling it "corrupt;" against President Bush, calling him "a presidential puppet." But most of all, his venting is against the government system, where he says there is taxation without representation.
I'm reading a quote here now. Quote: "While very few working people would say they haven't had their fair share of taxes, as I can, my lifetime, I can say with a great degree of certainty that there has never been a politician cast a vote on any matter with the likes of me or my interests in mind, nor, for that matter, are they the least bit interested in me or anything that I have to say."
Now, his big gripe, though, specifically, was a provision in the IRS tax code. It was a change made back in 1986, Section 1706. And this section, it essentially reclassified some technical workers of making it harder for them to qualify as independent contractors. Instead, many of them would now fall under the category of an employee.
And this provision has been controversial because there's some debate over whether companies were then less likely to hire these independent contractors unless they went through a third party or broker of some sort.
Now this rant of his was clearly written as a suicide note. And in it, he finishes the note by modifying the famous quote by Albert Einstein. And here's what it says. His quote: "I saw it written once that the definition of insanity is repeating the same process over and over and expecting the outcome to be suddenly -- to be different. I am finally ready to stop this insanity. Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS Man, let's try something different. Take my pound of flesh and sleep well."
And, at one point, he represents an audit. And we know that the building that was targeted is where nearly 200 federal tax employees worked -- Wolf. BLITZER: What do we know about his personal background -- married, single, kids, age?
SYLVESTER: He was married. In fact, this was his second marriage. He makes reference in his note about a divorce. There was also a child that was apparently pulled from the house. We're trying to figure out if that was his biological child or perhaps his stepchild.
And, you know, this was an interesting character. I mean he, at one point he had played in a band. Some of his band mates are telling CNN that this was -- seemed so out of character, that he didn't really talk about a, you know, an anti-government message, that he liked to talk about music and that he was a talented musician.
But, you know, clearly this is a guy who was very, very angry -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very disturbed.
We're going to learn a lot more about Joseph Stack in the coming hours.
Lisa, stand by.
A lot of people are wondering why it's still apparently so easy for a plane to slam into a building over eight years after the September 11th attacks.
I'm joined now by CNN's national security contributor, Fran Townsend, former homeland security adviser to President Bush; also, Tom Fuentes, a CNN contributor and former FBI assistant director.
Is there an easy answer to that question?
Why is it so easy for someone to get into a small Piper Dakota, whatever this plane was, load it with fuel and slam into a building?
FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, this has been a concern for all the Homeland Security secretaries that have run that -- that department, Wolf.
It's very difficult, though. If you imagine all the screening measures you might put in place and someone could get past them, because, of course, what you've got is the fuel on the plane. If someone diverts suddenly and decides to slam in the plane, it's matter of seconds.
And even if you had jet fighters scrambled, you couldn't have stopped it. And so you -- you don't want to put unnecessary measures in place that wouldn't have made a difference.
BLITZER: I'm sure at the FBI, they've been worried about the -- these kinds of incidents for a long time.
THOMAS V. FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Sure, Wolf. I mean they had this guy that flew the plane into the front lawn of the White House a couple of years ago and couldn't be stopped.
BLITZER: That was in the Clinton administration.
BLITZER: It was more than a couple of years ago. I remember that because I was the White House correspondent.
But go ahead.
FUENTES: Well, the same principle.
It couldn't be stopped then. That should have been the wakeup call that if there was an effective measure that could be taken, it would have been taken. The fact is, there is no effective measure. There is no way to stop this. If a pilot takes that plane and diverts it from normal flying, he could have filed a flight course. He could have done any number of things. The amount of time it takes to veer off course and crash a plane is seconds and there's no way. He could have been followed...
BLITZER: So what you're saying is even if there had been TSA officials at some private little airport near Austin, where he took off from, and even if he had gone through metal detectors, once he's flying solo in a small plane like that and decides to go into a building, there's really nothing anyone can do?
FUENTES: If you had a jet fighter plane from Top Gun following him at the time he veered off course, maybe they could get a rocket launched soon enough to stop him. Short of that, you're not going to be able to stop this.
BLITZER: I -- I guess the -- the other option, though, is more thorough background checks for pilots.
FRAGOS TOWNSEND: That's right. And the sort of -- I think you'll probably see some Congressional oversight and -- and administration look at what is the mental health standards, how often do we check that, what are the backgrounds. You know, the FBI does monitor Internet postings, but is there -- what's the likelihood they would have put it together with this pilot before he took off?
Probably not good.
I would say that -- Tom references that incident during the Clinton administration. There are a whole number of counter measures that are now in place that would make it very difficult for that plane -- a little plane -- to land on the White House lawn anymore.
BLITZER: Well, yes.
FRAGOS TOWNSEND: But that's protected quite differently than the rest of the country. But, typically, anywhere else in the country, it is very difficult to stop a -- pilot who'd want do this.
BLITZER: Hold on for one moment, because we have a -- an eyewitness to the plane crash joining us now, who was also involved in the rescue efforts, by the way, Robin DeHaven.
Am I pronouncing your last name correctly?
ROBIN DEHAVEN, WITNESS/RESCUER: Yes, sir.
BLITZER: All right.
DEHAVEN: Robin DeHaven.
BLITZER: All right. Robin, let's talk a little bit about what you saw. Pick up the story.
Where were you?
What were you seeing?
DEHAVEN: OK. I was doing my normal work day. I was heading north to do a -- replace a window up in North Austin. And I saw the plane flying up there. And it seemed out of the ordinary because the airport is about 20 miles southeast of where I was.
And as the plane -- I thought it was a toy plane at first, by just the odd nature of it being kind of low and -- and the kind of erratic flying, like -- like it was trying to come in for a landing or something. And I saw it turn and start heading -- heading down, like it was diving, to come in for a landing, but there's no landing.
So I knew it was going to crash and...
BLITZER: Did it look like, Robin, did it did it look -- excuse me for interrupting.
Did it look like that plane was deliberately heading toward that building or was it just some random crash that was happening?
DEHAVEN: It looked like they were -- they were trying to aim. Like, at first, you know, I -- I didn't know anything. It looked erratic, like he was aiming for something and was trying to go down. It was flying slow like it was preparing for -- for a crash landing by -- by its behavior.
And then after I found out it was the IRS building, it seemed a lot more deliberate.
BLITZER: Was that well-known...
BLITZER: Was that well known that that building housed about 200 employees of the IRS?
DEHAVEN: I did not know it was even an IRS building until eye -- eyewitnesses there that were at the crash site told me it was an IRS build.
BLITZER: How intense -- how close did you actually get to the building from your vantage point?
DEHAVEN: I -- well, during the rescue -- the rescue, I actually entered the build.
BLITZER: You did.
So how -- how intense was that fire?
DEHAVEN: I did not actually -- I was not near fire. It was filled with smoke.
When I arrived, I pulled into the parking lot and they said they needed -- people said they needed my ladders on my truck, because there was people stuck on the second floor.
And so I pulled over near to the building where I could see the people. We pulled my ladder off and then I -- I tried to secure it to the building. And I could not do it very well. And the people were kind of in a panic, wanting to get out quickly, of course.
And so I climbed up into the building with them, with just smoke and no flames yet. I did not even see the remnants of the plane at this point. I just knew it hit this building and -- and I was worried about the people...
BLITZER: So you're...
DEHAVEN: -- not the plane.
BLITZER: You -- you actually got involved in the rescue operation in your own way, is that right?
DEHAVEN: Yes. Yes. I climbed up into the building and then we -- we tried to secure the ladder in a safe place to get everybody down. In the process, we broke out another window to a better spot where we could do this.
And then we moved the -- the ladder to a secure area near a ledge and it propped against the building and I helped all five people out of the building.
BLITZER: Well, good for you.
DEHAVEN: Physically -- physically held their waist and -- and when I put their arm around their back, so -- so they would not fall out as they climbed out the windowsill, which was maybe waist high. But they had to climb up over a windowsill and onto my ladder.
BLITZER: Robin, Tom Fuentes, a former assistant director of the FBI, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM with us. And I want him to pose a question to you.
Tom, if you were an FBI agent -- you were an FBI agent for a long time -- but they sent you immediately to Austin to this building to -- to start investigating what happened and you came upon Robin and he's an eyewitness, what would you ask him? What -- what kind of question would you try to get him to answer?
FUENTES: The same thing you just asked, what did he see, what was the aircraft doing, did it look like he was trying to make an emergency landing, did it look like it was deliberate, was he gaining in speed or diminishing speed?
As an eyewitness, you would be looking for that kind of information. As an investigator arriving at that scene, the first individuals in charge of that location would be the rescue people.
Are they able to save lives prior to that becoming a crime scene?
That's going to be the first concern.
And, of course, now, you're going to have an investigation at that scene. The evidence response people will have to wait until it's safe, the building is determined to be safe enough to enter and cooled off enough to be able to go in and get the residue to determine was it only the fuel used to -- to operate the aircraft?
Was there other gasoline or incendiary devices on that aircraft already?
You know, you had the individuals in London and Scotland a couple of months ago that loaded up gasoline in the car and tried to detonate it in front of a disco.
So did he have extra gasoline on that car, which may have been used for that kind of purpose?
These are all questions that you'll want answered.
BLITZER: Those are all good questions.
I wonder, Robin, have you been interviewed by authorities on the scene, based on the fact that you were not only an eyewitness, but you got involved in the actual rescue?
DEHAVEN: No, I have not. I've only been interviewed by news people. I -- I arrived about 30 seconds after the plane crashed and no emergency people were there yet. And then the -- the building was not really engulfed in flames yet, just filled with smoke. And I guess after I left and got the people down, the fire department came and it really engulfed in flames later, I was told.
BLITZER: Let me read a statement that we just got in from Governor Rick Perry of Texas. And I'm going to read this statement in full: "In true Texas form, first responders and everyday citizens responded to today's plane crash with selfless acts of heroism, securing the area, evacuating the building and controlling the fire and are to be commended."
He goes on to say: "My office continues to communicate with local, state and federal officials on this incident, which is currently an open criminal investigation. With details still emerging, it is important to refrain from speculation and let the law enforcement experts determine what exactly unfolded."
If you were still, Fran Townsend, working at the White House right now, what would you want to know, as far as a federal official reporting to a president of the United States is concerned?
FRAGOS TOWNSEND: Well, the first thing you'd do is talk to the secretary of Homeland Security, the Transportation Security Administration.
Are there random measures we can immediately put in place until we better understand the facts -- the answers to the questions Tom mentioned?
And we can put them in place right now to give people comfort that we're doing extra screening, that we're looking for copycats -- other people who may be mentally unstable and may use this in a -- as an excuse.
And so what you want to do is put some extra security in place right now to protect the flying public.
BLITZER: You know, Robin, I think that the governor was referring to you and several others who were there on the scene when he commended the first responders and everyday citizens. That would be you, that had -- that engaged in selfless acts of heroism. You were not afraid. You rushed into the building, even though you saw the smoke.
What was going through your mind?
DEHAVEN: My -- my Army training. I spent six-and-a-half years in the Army and two -- two tours in Iraq -- was -- was going through my head. And I figured I -- I could do something.
I'd -- I've had some -- some experience in triage and -- and battlefield with IEDs and RPGs and gunfire. And -- and that's the first thought was maybe I could help, because I'm more used to dealing with traumatic situations like that. I have a clear head and a calm head -- to try to help those people. And luckily I did.
BLITZER: And thank God you did.
And we want to thank you for your service.
Did you think for a moment, when you saw what was happening in Austin, Texas, you were back in Iraq?
DEHAVEN: No. Just that -- it's home. It still feels like home. You feel like you're helping your neighbors more than somebody in another country. It just -- it felt a lot more comfortable.
BLITZER: Robin DeHaven, thanks very much for joining us.
Appreciate it very much.
DEHAVEN: You're welcome. BLITZER: Robin DeHaven is to be commended for what he did.
Guys, don't leave. We have more to discuss.
There's a lot of other stories that are happening right now.
There's reason for President Obama to be worried seriously about Iran, even more than he already has been. We'll get reaction to a stern new warning from U.N. watchdogs that Iran may be developing a nuclear warhead.
What, if anything, will the United States do about that?
We'll continue to watch that story, what's happening in Austin, Texas and a lot more, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty for The Cafferty File -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: So Tiger Woods has decided to talk just in time for the Masters. Imagine that.
Woods is scheduled to speak publicly for the first time tomorrow at PGA headquarters at Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. But there will be no questions allowed and only a select few members of the press will be permitted to attend.
Woods will say what he has to say about the total collapse of his personal life and his professional career and then walk away, presumably expecting that to be the end of it -- no questions, no need to admit more than just the barest minimum and then, bingo, right back to the business of playing golf, making millions and rescuing television's anemic ratings. A piece of cake.
My guess is it's not going to work.
If he has looking for forgiveness, at some point, he's going to have to ask -- humbly and with some sense of contrition. He's going to have to answer questions sometime about why he decided to throw away his marriage and family life and, arguably, throw away the most successful career in the history of sports for a few stolen moments -- well, a lot of stolen moments, actually -- with a bunch of bimbos.
In other words, he's got to convince the sponsors, his fans and his fellow golf professionals that he's something besides an artificial, superficial spoiled athlete. If he doesn't do that, I think, it will be a short comeback.
Here's the question -- how can Tiger Woods rehabilitate his image?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thank you.
International fears about Iran's nuclear program just got a little bit hotter. The United Nations top nuclear watchdog says Tehran may be secretly developing a nuclear warhead for a missile right now. It's the first time the International Atomic Energy Agency has issued such a strong warning about Iran's nuclear intentions.
Our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, is getting reaction to this breaking story for us.
You've -- you've got some comments, I take it, from senior administration officials -- Dan.
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. I just got out of a briefing with four senior administration officials reacting to that preliminary report, saying that this -- this news is disturbing -- this pattern of Iran, what they have been doing with their nuclear program is disturbing. It underscores, one official said, the concerns that everyone has about their nuclear program.
And Robert Gibbs, who is traveling with the president now through Colorado, says that this, again, just shows that Iran is not living up to its international obligations.
Now to kind of to get the bottom line on all of this, one official said two points.
First of all, that Iran, at least according to this report, is having a lot of technical problems with its nuclear program. So whatever it may be trying to do, it will take some time.
And, secondly, that there's been this increasing lack of cooperation with Iran and the nuclear agency that's been trying to find out what they're doing, whether it's for peaceful purposes or it's for a nuclear weapon -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It just got a little hotter, this whole story.
All right, thanks very much, Dan.
We'll check back with you.
We're also going to continue to watch what's happening in Austin, Texas, where that plane crashed into that building housing about 200 employees of the IRS.
Stand by. We're going back there.
Also, a former hero of the right receives a rousing welcome at the annual CPAC convention here in Washington.
But what about the future?
How do conservatives plan to return to power? And President Obama creates his controversial National Debt Commission. I'll spoke to the co-chairman. One of them says -- and I'm quoting -- "all the things you cherish are being wiped out."
BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now.
What else is going on -- Lisa?
SYLVESTER: Hi there, Wolf.
Well, eight American missionaries who were detained in Haiti since late January are back on American soil. They were released by a Haitian judge after presenting evidence that they did not intend to break the law. But they could still face child kidnapping charges for trying to take 33 children out of the country. Two other Americans considered to be at the center of the plan are still behind bars in Port-au-Prince.
A federal judge today sentenced former New York City police commissioner, Bernard Kerik, to four years in prison. Kerik earlier pled guilty to tax fraud and six other felonies. He also admitted to lying to Bush administration officials when being vetted for a possible nomination to serve as secretary of Homeland Security.
The Dutch diplomat who led UN-sponsored climate change negotiations is stepping down. The announcement comes just two months after the close of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, which failed to produce a breakthrough on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. One hundred ninety-three nations are due to reconvene in Mexico this summer to try to reach a binding accord.
And the woman who accused three Duke University lacrosse players of rape nearly four years ago was arrested on attempted murder charges last night. Crystal Mangum is also accused of arson, identity theft and resisting arrest, among other charges, after a fight with her boyfriend. Back in March 2006, Mangum claimed to have been attacked at a lacrosse team party at which she was hired to perform as a stripper. North Carolina's attorney general later found no credible evidence that the attacks ever occurred -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Stand by. I'll get back to you, Lisa.
So what, if anything, could have been done to stop a disturbed pilot from flying into a building?
We're digging deeper on the breaking news of that fiery crash in Austin, Texas. We'll take a hard look at a small plane and the safety records, what's going on and whether psychological evaluations should be required for pilots.
BLITZER: We're standing by for a news conference on that small plane that crashed into a building in Austin, Texas. We'll bring it to you live.
Stand by for that.
We're told that federal law enforcement officials are looking very closely at the pilot's apparent grudge against the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS has offices in the building. At least one worker there hasn't been accounted for. Authorities believe the pilot, identified as Joseph Stack, intentionally flew into the building after setting his own house on fire earlier in the morning.
Police are searching an airport hangar and Stack's car for explosives. Stack was a software engineer and he apparently left a suicide note on the Internet. In his six page message, he rails against the IRS and the federal government.
Some witnesses to the crash describe it as a very disturbing wakeup call.
So what can we learn from all of this?
Our Brian Todd is asking some tough questions.
He's here with a guest who may have some answers.
What's going on -- Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a big question coming out of this is how preventable are crashes like this? Today's crash brings to mind other noticeable incidence, intentional and accidental, where small planes slammed into buildings.
To discuss this we are joined by Raymond De Haan. He is a flight instructor with a company called Aviation Adventures in Virginia. He's been an instructor for 17 years and before he was a commercial pilot.
First of all, Raymond, let's talk about other notable incidents. You've got the incident where this man crashed into a building in Austin. New York, October, 2006, baseball player Cory Lidle crashed into a high-rise building in New York City killing himself and another person. That was accidental.
You've got Milan, Italy in April of 2002, where a private pilot crashed into the Pirelli Tower. That was ruled most likely accidental. Then Tampa Bay, Florida, January of 2002. A 15-year-old flight student crashes a plane into the Bank of America building. That was ruled a suicide and intentional crash.
Let's first talk about the intentional crashes. Today and also in Tampa in 2002, what's to prevent? From your perspective as a flight instructor, what is to prevent a private pilot from getting in his own plane and just slamming into a building from a security standpoint of these small airports?
RAYMOND DE HAAN, FLIGHT INSTRUCTOR: If the airplane is a rental aircraft, I would say that there is a group of people that will dispatch an aircraft on the airplane. There is definitely some scrutiny there before we hand out the keys.
TODD: If the plane is owned by that person like today's was - not so much.
DE HAAN: If the airplane is parked in the hanger, somewhere in the airport, they don't meet up anywhere else at the airport. Anybody can take off. Depending where you are in the country, you can fly anywhere you want.
TODD: Should there be more psychological screenings for people applying for their private pilot license and going through classes to maybe detect suicidal tendencies?
DE HAAN: I think that will be very hard to do actually.
TODD: Is it more often kind of up to the instructor like yourself? You mentioned have you done some of your own screening of flight students?
DE HAAN: I have in the past pulled the plug on someone's screening because I didn't like what I see at that point and I reported it to the FAA, this person will not go -- continue training. But there are -- I don't know how many times you can see it and how many times we can catch something like this happening. It is up to the people that we see and to the flight instructors and the people that hand out the keys to make that decision, I would say.
TODD: Let's talk about the unintentional accidental crashes. You mentioned after the New York crash in October of 2006, Cory Lidle, the rules changed for flying around municipal areas, especially New York City, right? It's monitored.
DE HAAN: Yes, with the new rules in New York - in the New York area, and it is monitored and it is a tight area to fly. And I would say that I would not go over to East River, but fly over the Hudson River, for example.
TODD: But, a place like Austin, is it almost impossible to have that kind of monitoring like have you in New York after the Lidle crash?
DE HAAN: Austin is a mid-sized airport. There's not the same amount of monitoring taking place as there is in New York, Chicago or Washington. And it is -- pretty tough to see something like this happen and be able to catch it on time.
TODD: I want to talk to you about another type of monitoring. Reagan National Airport has different rules for small planes, private planes that want to fly in and land at Reagan National.
We've got an animation here showing kind of the flight path into Reagan National. You've got just some knowledge about this being a flight instructor in this area. What do the small plane pilots have to do to be able to land at Reagan National Airport?
DE HAAN: The pilot as well as the passengers, as well as the aircraft itself wanting to fly into Washington area and as in this case, national airport, will have to, first of all, pick up a federal officer somewhere in an airport outside this area.
TODD: You have to land at an airport outside that restricted flight zone and get some screenings, too, right?
DE HAAN: Absolutely. The airplane will be screened. The people will be screened and if everything is OK then you can continue your flight to the national airport.
TODD: Is that practical to do at other airports? This is clearly a -- special situation, nation's capital. They've got to protect it after 9/11. Is it practical to do that kind of screening at other airports?
DE HAAN: Not to this level, absolutely not.
TODD: All right, Raymond, thank you very much for your expertise. Wolf, some things to think about as we kind of mull over what happened today and how it can be prevented in the future. Some things may slip through the cracks.
BLITZER: Yes, a lot of people are going to be thinking about it, especially law enforcement authorities, aviation experts. Lessons to be learned. Thanks very much, Brian. Thanks very much for that analysis.
Let's talk more about the ways that this crash could potentially have been prevented. We are joined now by Peter Goelz. He's the former Managing Director for the National Transportation Safety Board.
Peter, thanks very much for coming in. You saw -- last several hours, we have all been watching this. What goes through your mind? Could anything have been done to prevent this kind of horrible tragedy?
PETER GOELZ, FORMER MANAGING DIRECTOR, NTSB: I think it is awful tough to try to screen from this. You know, suicide and aviation communities a little more common than people might imagine. Couple of times a year this happens and maybe one or two more times you think it might be. But in this kind of event, I don't think there's anything that you can do to prevent it.
BLITZER: Air traffic controllers, is there anything they can do to monitor a situation like this?
GOELZ: If they are flying in an uncontrolled air space or if they are not responding, I think if a pilot is bent on self- destruction that they're going to be able to accomplish it.
BLITZER: They're probably -- correct me if I am wrong, it might be more mental evaluations for people to get a pilot's license? Are there any such things to begin with?
GOELZ: Well, you know, you have your annual physical, flight physical. You can probably add a certain component to the physical but that's only once a year in which you have -- that's assuming that the flight surgeons who give the physicals are really skilled in this area. I think it is an awful tough question. I think that -- I am not sure whether there's much more than is being done now.
BLITZER: Does it make any sense when you go to these private airports where there are a lot of private planes, no real security, they are going on board. Does it make sense to impose greater security at these private airports for private corporate jets, for example?
GOELZ: Well, I think that's been an issue that's been debated since 9/11. The general aviation, business jet community, and -- put forth proposals. They've implemented some. I think that could be looked at again. I mean, the real question here is I think is, that was a pretty destructive accident. Was there any accelerants in the plane? I was very surprised at the destruction that plane caused.
BLITZER: Yes, I was pretty shocked because it's a pretty small little plane.
BLITZER: So maybe the guy had some extra stuff inside to make that fire even bigger.
GOELZ: Yes, that's what I'm worried about.
BLITZER: Peter, thanks very much. We will know more I'm sure in the hours and days ahead.
GOELZ: Thank you.
BLITZER: Two veterans of the political wars here in Washington have agreed to take on what could be an impossible job. President Obama has tapped them to head his commission on reducing the federal debt.
Just ahead, the former Senator Alan Simpson and former White House Chief of Staff, Ernstein (ph), they explain why they are prepared in their words to have their skin ripped off.
BLITZER: They have started a news conference in Austin, Texas. The police chief says this appears to be an intentional act. Let's listen in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As the Federal Bureau Investigation gave them the opportunity to first right of refusal to take lead on the investigation. The Austin Police Department, the FBI, and other entities are involved in the investigation, I want to reiterate what I did earlier this morning, that this appears to be a singular act by a singular individual. Appears to be contained to this facility and there really truly is no cause for alarm. We are very lucky. We have been blessed that things could have been a lot worse. And so, again, we want to stress the fact that this appears to be the act of a single individual and this incident is contained here in the city of Austin to this building.
At this time, I want to call up Congressman Michael McCaul of the 10th Congressional District to say a couple of words.
REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R), TEXAS: Thank you, Chief. I just want to say today in the city of Austin, we saw a deliberate and intentional attack against the federal building. It is a -- something that expose ad weakness we have seen since 9/11 that airplanes can't fly into buildings.
And when you look into the devastation behind me, this was a Piper Dakota. One of the smallest private aircraft manufacturer. When you look at the devastation behind me, almost bringing down the entire building, it is really extraordinary.
I want to thank the police chief, the fire chief of Austin, and the EMS and FBI, and all federal agencies, what was a great response to a very tragic episode t really minimize loss of life and injury. When you look at this building you see how bad it really could have been had the response not been better.
But they executed well together and as -- they should. I think saving a lot of lives today and prevent a lot of injury to life. So I want to thank all of the partners here and now I will turn it over to the fire team.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good afternoon. I am Rhoda May (Kern), the Fire Chief for Austin Fire. And I just want to give you a brief update. The fire is primarily extinguished. A few small remaining pockets of fire in there that maybe some file cabinets, some collapsed areas, but the fire is extinguished.
The conditions now allow us to -- we are currently doing a thorough search for any victims or people unaccounted for. We will continue to remain on scene throughout the night probably into tomorrow and provide whatever assistance we can to any of the other agencies.
And I, too, want to say thank you not only to Austin Fire Department and APD and EMS because they - and all the agencies that are represented here. They did a fabulous job of working together and truly showed that the unified command works. I want to say thank you to everybody.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What about the one person that is unaccounted for?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will get to that in a minute. At this time, I would like to call Special Agent in Charge, Royce Curtain who was the Special Agent in Charge here in the city of Austin, Federal Bureau of Investigation.
SPECIAL AGENT ROYCE CURTAIN, FBI-AUSTIN: Good afternoon. Thank you, chief. Good afternoon. I'm the Assistant Special Agent in Charge with the FBI in Austin. Headquartered in San Antonio Division of the FBI. I will be reading from a prepared statement. I will not be taking questions following my statement.
Due to the fact that this is an ongoing and very active investigation, I'm very limited as to what could be said regarding the specific details of this incident. I will therefore provide you with what I can and as I said, I'm not taking any questions at this time.
The investigation as chief, the congressman and the fire department had said, it is a joint cooperative effort on behalf of the FBI and APD, DPS, Texas Rangers, Austin Fire Department, Austin Travis County, EMS, National Transportation Safety Board, FAA, ATF and many others. All of the FBI's personnel from Austin RA mobilized and responded immediately along with our joint partners due to our close proximity to the incident scene.
The FBI San Antonio has dispatched our evidence response team to the crash site for evidence processing, recovery and reconstruction. Additional FBI investigative personnel have initiated 24-hour command post at San Antonio where all investigative activity is being coordinated.
I will now relate the facts of the investigation as to what we know at this time. At approximately 9:40 a.m. this morning, the single engine aircraft departed from George Town Municipal Airport here in Texas. At 9:55 a.m., witnesses reported seeing a low flying aircraft moving in a southerly direction near the Echelon Office Complex in Austin, Texas.
Approximately one minute later, at 9:56 a.m., the same aircraft crashed into building one of the Echelon Office Complex causing extreme damage and fire to the seven-story structure.
EMS first responders report 13 individuals were treated, two were critically injured and remain hospitalized at this time. We have unconfirmed reports that one individual assigned to the affected build which was impacted is unaccounted for. All indications at this point are that the pilot of the plane was Joseph Stack of Austin, Texas.
However, I must caution you that a forensic confirmation of this identification remains pending.
There have been ongoing reporting and speculation regarding other incidents and details regarding the life and activities of Mr. Stack prior to this event which I'm not able to speak to or address at this time as the investigation is continuing to confirm and corroborate those reports.
Again, the FBI is not able to speculate or relate any other details due to the ongoing nature of the incident. Victim/witness specialists are on scene to assist individuals affected by this event. As this incident happened early this morning, again, it's still early on in the investigation and we will update you and the public as appropriate when facts allow.
The FBI requests that anyone with information which may be helpful in this investigation please contact our 24-hour command post at telephone number 210-650-6199, and also please refer all media inquiries to the San Antonio FBI media representative Eric Vasses at the same phone number, 210-650-6199.
I would also like to echo my sentiments to the chief and all of our first responders for an exceptional response to this tragic event which again highlights the effectiveness and the ability of a joint cooperative effort to address matters with our city. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, at this time address the emergency of medical response, I'd like to call up Ernie Rodriguez, the director of the Austin Travis County Emergency Medical Services.
ERNIE RODRIGUEZ, CHIEF, AUSTIN TRAVIS COUNTY EMS: My name is Ernie Rodriguez. I'm the chief of EMS for Austin Travis County EMS. This morning we received our 911 call stating that an aircraft had crashed into the building. We immediately responded.
Approximately 24 personnel in an assortment of equipment, ambulances, command vehicles and special response units. We treated 13 people on the scene. Out of those, two of them had critical injuries. And we transported to the hospital with critical injuries. Most of the injuries were burn type of injuries or heat inhalation injuries.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With that, we will open it up to questions. Again, the FBI will not be answering questions. We will try to answer questions but obviously because it is an ongoing investigation it will be very limited in what we can say.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Chief, can you consider this a domestic act of terror?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I personally consider this a criminal act by a lone individual.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How do you make that definition? How do you (INAUDIBLE) domestic terror versus criminal act?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it is a person that attacked a building. What his motivations are will be released at a later date. But at the bottom line, it's a criminal act by an individual and you can define it any way you want. I'll let you define it.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you have any concern that there's an explosive device (INAUDIBLE) at the airport?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. We have cleared the airport. That location has been cleared by the Austin Police Department. So that vehicle is cleared. And that location has been rendered safe. UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can tell you that there is nothing there that would meet that definition.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we can tell you that that individual, Mr. Stack, is connected to both this location and that location. That's part of his residence that was on fire early this morning.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) tax returns affected by this?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that's wishful thinking. That's a good question but wishful thinking. I don't anybody has to worry about --
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Has the pilot's body been recovered now, Chief?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, it has not. As the Chief (INAUDIBLE) indicated earlier, part of the issue is safety. We have to wait until the building is rendered safe. And they're still waiting for the water to subside, to come out of the building, and then they will conduct a methodical search.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have -- I am aware of one person, one federal employee that is unaccounted for. That federal employee's family has been contacted. And they are aware that they are unaccounted for. And we'll just say that the prospects are not very positive for that person at this time. But we cannot confirm their status because we have not search of the building.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Sir, are saying that -- Chief, that the pilot is dead? Is that what you're telling us?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you hear me say that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I -- no, his question was about the federal employee that is not accounted for. The pilot has not been accounted for. The pilot's body has not been recovered. And we have not been able to find any other body at this time. So --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Excuse me. There's two people unaccounted for.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. The pilot, Mr. Stack, and the federal employee whose name I will not be releasing, are not accounted for at this time.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How many people were in the building?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have not -- I do not have this information.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Chief, can you tell us if the pilot ever visited this IRS location? I know that --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's part of the investigative process, and I'm not going to go into that detail.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Why are the injuries so low? How did he keep the plane so low?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I think we're very fortunate that the response quite frankly was tremendous, and I'm extremely proud to be a member of Austin Police Department to have great teams like we do here with the EMS and with fire.
The people of Austin are blessed to have, I believe, some of to best first responders in the nation. And I believe that the response, one, and secondly, fortunately, I can just say that some folks might have seen this aircraft coming and yelled out some warnings.
And I believe there were some heroic actions this morning on the part of federal employees. As the days unfold, and we can recreate this incident, that it will really be a testament to humanity, the good things about humanity, and what makes us I think special people so.
BLITZER: And that's the first picture -- just want to interrupt for a second -- of Joseph Andrew Stack, 53-year-old. He's believed to have been the pilot who flew that small plane into that building in Austin. Let's go back to the news conference.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need like great security. We have that at the federal buildings. Again, private aircraft -- this can happen. And it's vulnerability, a weakness, that we hope that the terrorists don't exploit.
If a small aircraft can do that kind of damage, a larger aircraft like a Gulfstream could do even greater damage. So this is something that -- I'm on the homeland security committee, ranking on the intelligence subcommittee, something we'll obviously going to take a look at in terms of how we can better protect not only federal buildings, but the American people.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you respond to that question about whether or not this is an act of terrorism?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you know, it depends how you want to define it. I think any time -- it's like a (INAUDIBLE) when you kill 13 people at a military installation, that's an act of terrorism. I think when you fly an airplane into a federal building to kill people, that's -- it depends how you define terrorism, but it sounds like it to me. UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I mean would you be terrified if you saw a plane coming at you in a federal building?
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Well, Chief, why are you not defining it that way?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because I think motivation is what we have to look at. The bottom line terrorism and criminal misconduct and -- street criminals commit terror every day in our streets and our neighborhoods. So I'll let you choose what to call it. I call it a cowardly potentially criminal act, and there is no excuse for it.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What I'm getting at here, if it's an act against the government, would you guys define it as terror? It's not for us to do, but it is you all's job.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think that's going to be up to the investigation once they are done with the Federal Bureau of Investigation taking the lead. It'll be up to them to make the final determination.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Chief, are you guys investigating whether or not this aircraft had any other explosives or any other type of --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That -- the forensics investigation and the crime scene investigation and all the details that go into that will be part of whether he had canisters of fuel on there or had explosives. That will be part of the investigation.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How many other offices are in that building besides the IRS?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't have that number.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The house fire -- was it caused -- people said they heard explosion. Is it possible --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's under investigation, and obviously Austin Fire along with the FBI and arson investigators are --
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you assess the damage to the building? Is it a total loss?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's extensive damage, but obviously, it will take structural engineers to make that final determination.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, guys.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you think the impact the IRS office specifically? Was that the (INAUDIBLE)?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pretty close to it. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that is --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pardon?
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is there still a danger about the building --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't. (INAUDIBLE)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, there's no further danger. It's been assess by the engineers. We wouldn't have any firefighters in there if we thought there was a danger of structural collapse.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Chief, what was the cause of the house fire?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's not being released yet. It's still under investigation.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is the house fire being looked at?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do not. I do know that there was a second alarm so I'll say about 45 firefighters.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is this the end of general aviation as we know it, do you think?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. Absolutely not. I don't -- I think, as the police chief said, this is not a reason to panic. It's an isolated event. It's not tied to overseas' terrorist organizations. Then we have to be very careful about how to balance that. But I think it's an issue obviously that Congress needs to look at in terms of protecting not only federal buildings, but the American people.
BLITZER: And so there you have it. The news conference from Austin, Texas, local authorities, they're saying this appears to be intentional. This crash into building, a singular act according to the police chief of the facility targeted. He insists no cause for alarm.
It looks like the incident is over with, although two individuals are unaccounted for. The pilot believed to be Joseph Stack, 53 years old, and one federal employee who worked in the building unaccounted for.
We're going to have much more on what's going on. We'll take a quick break. Jack Cafferty and the rest of the news coming up.
BLITZER: Let's get back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack?
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is: How can Tiger Woods rehabilitate his image? He's going to speak for the first time publicly about those events of last November tomorrow morning at 11:00.
Nick writes: "That fact that Tiger has the morals of a goat, and I don't mean to denigrate goats, has nothing to do with the skills and abilities as a professional golfer. His lack of integrity in his personal life, not to mention the lack of taste in the women with whom he consorted, might be of concern if it carried over to his honesty in the game. But so far as we know, it does not. Perhaps these revelations concerning his low-life persona will cause him to drop his antics of cursing and throwing clubs on the golf course and show more respect for the game."
Frank in Chicago says: "All he needs the do is walk out and say he acted like a jerk and that he's paid a big price -- his family and his reputation. He is no different than Kobe, Clinton, Spitzer, Jordan or a million other people famous and not. If his sponsors choose to stick with him, that's their decision, and it's my decision whether I buy their products. It is that simple."
David in Pennsylvania says: "His family needs to judge what is unforgivable and what is not. Tom Watson really nailed the problem for which Tiger should apologize to the golf fans of the world. He's increasingly petulant, spoiled and just plain bratty behavior on the golf course. I for one am tired of the second coming of the savior act. The fans pay his way whether he likes it or not. He ought to treat the game and the fans with some respect."
Deb in Oklahoma writes: "He's a disgrace to the sports and his family. Retire from golf."
T writes: "He doesn't have to, given enough time, everybody who's gotten rich off his talent including his wife will beg him to play him to play golf again. He doesn't anyone an apology except his wife. At this point, I think the game needs him a lot more than he needs the game."
And Ryan and Illinois suggests: "He doesn't need to rehabilitate his image, just change careers: Long nights, cheap women and lots of money. He would really feel at home in the U.S. Congress." -- Wolf?
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thank you.