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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Another Deadly Day in Syria; Fighting in Libya Intense; Plane Crashes at Reno Air Show

Aired September 16, 2011 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, HOST: Thanks very much. Good evening everyone. Keeping them honest.

Tonight, another deadly day in Syria and the Syria regime continue to spread lies about what is really happening there. Lies about the video that we see nearly every day, lies about what we hear brave human rights activists tell us nearly every day.

According to a pro democracy group, at least 46 people were killed in several cities today, 46 people. The six-month long government crackdown is not letting up. But the Syrian ambassador to the U.S. says there is no crackdown. He says we got it all wrong. Some of this is truly mind bending stuff you're getting tonight. Here's what he told. The Syrian ambassador to the U.S. told CNN's Hala Gorani today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

IMAD MOUSTAPHA, SYRIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: Out of the list that was announced by the so-called activists in Syria, that killed people, 500, at least 500 have come out and said, we read our names in the lists of the killed and the fall. We are alive and kicking. These are blatant lies. This is the problem we're facing today in Syria, a massive campaign of disinformation and lies.

HALA GORANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If we cannot go in and substantiate these numbers, prove them or disprove them or disprove them in fact. How can we, who can we believe? Why won't the government let us?

MOUSTAPHA: You were invited.

GORANI: I was invited. But not allowed to circulate inside Syria.

MOUSTAPHA: Incredibly, historically, unprecedented brutality that is being committed in Syria against innocent people, against civilians, against policemen and the Syrian military. Never reported -

GORANI: I have to say that's not true at all. We have a reported on the deaths of the security forces. And we know about a number of the people have been killed over the last several months have been security forces. But a large number have been civilians, demonstrators, pro democracy activists and children. So, who are these armed gangs that materialize?

MOUSTAPHA: They are well known. We have published their names, their photographs. These are the leaders of - that you would to call the leader of Syrian democracy and freedom.

GORANI: I love to see this.

MOUSTAPHA: Here are they. The first one is Islamic emir (ph) of Hamas. The third one is the leader of the freedom of democracy movement in Syria, Ayman al Zawahiri. The leader of al-Qaeda three days ago gave a speech in which he emphasized two things. He was bragging about September 11th and he was asking the Mujahedeen of the Islamic world to go join their Syrian Mujahedeen brothers to fight on the Syrian regime.

GORANI: So you are saying, you are saying that what's happening in Syria is some fundamentalist Islamist extremist armed movement that is trying to destabilize (inaudible)?

MOUSTAPHA: If you are talking about the armed groups, absolutely. If you are talking about peaceful protesters, as of day one, and let me repeat this, we believe their demands are legitimate and we are addressing their demands in a comprehensive way.

GORANI: One of the thing you said in a radio interview a few days ago, not a single demonstration in Syria has started from anywhere other than a mosque. Now, I was in Syria in June, as you know. And that's not true.

MOUSTAPHA: It is true.

GORANI: There were demonstrations at Damascus University. In Aleppo University, there were demonstrations. A sky news team filmed the demonstration in Aleppo that were started nowhere near a mosque.

MOUSTAPHA: It's untrue.

GORANI: Why would everyone is lying?

MOUSTAPHA: No, they are not lying.

GORANI: About Syria. I don't understand.

MOUSTAPHA: Look, look, look, this is, let us being respectful and reasonable. Everybody knows, everybody, inside Syria and outside Syria. That religious group, have started those demonstrations from mosque. Not every mosque wads demonstration. I would say out of the three or 4,000 mosques in Syria, 70 or 80 mosques were at the epicenter of the demonstrations.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Talked to Hala in a second about that, a pretty extraordinary interview. Before do, I want to point out that what you heard is nothing new. In interview after interview, the Syrian government has twisted the truthful let's hear what the ambassador to the United Nations said last month.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: The United Nations high commission for human rights accused your government, and I quote, "of a pattern of human rights violations that constitutes widespread or systematic attacks against civilian population which may amount to crimes against humanity". They go on to say you are intentionally going after children. They say "children have not only been targeted by security forces but they have been repeatedly subject to the same human rights and criminal violations as adults, including torture, with no consideration for their vulnerable status."

I mean, how can children be targeted and then returned to their parents? Do you deny that's happening?

BASHAR JA'AFARI, SYRIAN AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: Absolutely. Children are not targeted by the police neither by the army. But let me let me comment on what you have just said. The report of the high commissioner is unfounded and biased. She didn't reflect any of our, my government's points of view in the report. She didn't even go to Syria. She just relied on reports coming from Syrian refugees in -

COOPER: Sir, back in April, you yourself said that there no international commission needed to come to Syria or was allowed to come to Syria because your government was perfectly capable of being transparent and doing your own investigations. But that certainly does not seem to be true.

JA'AFARI: No, no, absolutely. I'm sticking to my words -

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: The Syrian ambassador to the U.N., after not allowing human rights delegation into Syria. You heard him say children are not targeted. Since the uprising began six months ago, the government said one thing time and time after time, the video tells a different story. Some of the images you're going to see are difficult to look at. But they were shot by activists and others. We can't independently confirm the reports because as Hala pointed out, the government won't allow us to travel around the country. They won't allow us in the country right now.

The government says it is not targeting children. Yet a 2-year- old girl trying to escape with her family last month in the coastal city was shot and killed, a 2-year-old. She wasn't a threat to anyone. She couldn't even hold a gun. They say they're not targeting children. But this is one of the most sickening images to come out of Syria over the past six months.

Another innocent child, 13-year-old boy named Hamza. He took part in some of the demonstrations. His family said he was kidnapped, tortured and killed. His body returned to them. The signs of torture shown in the videos. Hamza became a symbol of the uprising for so many. And did these kids look like armed gang. They took in the streets to protest Hamza's death.

Again, the Syrian government continues to say one thing in the videos, shows something else entirely. They say we haven't reported the bloodshed, another lie. Sadly, as we've been reporting for months now unarmed protesters in homes and cities across Syria. The cries have been met with gun fire and bloody chaos. As we've been reporting, security forces have been throwing protester to the ground. Beating and kicking them. We see it right there or loading somebody into the back of the car after beating them. There's video like this.

We're showing you protesters in the streets and government snipers shooting anyone that tries to help them. As the men try to recover the victims, they are fired on as well. We've seen it time and time again. And even ambulance workers are being targeted. Foreign human rights group and security forces are showing no mercy. They are even attacking the people who can heal the wounded.

Lots to talk about. Joining me now, Hala Gorani and Razan Zaitouneh, a Syrian human rights activist.

Razan, first of all, to hear him claim that the only demonstrations are occurring in mosques, first in Hamas, one of the few places that people can actually gather without being attacked so that's traditionally why they come out of mosques. But he didn't answer about the demonstrations that have occurred at the universities and elsewhere. I mean, did he say anything that was truth?

RAZAN ZAITOUNEH, SYRIAN HUMAN RIGHT ACTIVIST (via telephone): All that he said is lies, actually. I'm sorry to say that nothing of what he said is true. First of all, he said 500 persons who got killed. We mentioned their names, turn to be alive. This is just lies. We have now about the 3,000 people who got killed. We have their names, their videos of after they got killed, their photos. We have all of that reported.

Second, yes. Protests started from a mosque because it was the only places people can gather without got arrested. But after that, they are now in the squares of the cities. They come from the universities. They even have the protests in hospitals, in the bar associations for lawyers, the protests are everywhere now.

COOPER: Hala, when I interviewed the Syrian ambassador to the U.N., he couldn't even named the armed groups that he said were supposedly causing all this chaos in Syria. During your interview, all of the sudden now, it is an Al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri who is in hiding just because al-Zawahiri said something in one of his long rambling missives from Pakistan.

GORANI: Right. And he gave me this fold we are a set of four pictures of individuals that the ambassador says are responsible for fomenting this, for encouraging these extremist armed gangs. So this is an attempt that at least trying to identify people in order to give some proves and some weight to this narrative that we've heard from the beginning, Anderson, that these are armed gangs that are terrorizing the country. Armed gangs that materialized all of a sudden as the Arab uprising have swept across the region. COOPER: Razan, I want to play you something the ambassador said about (inaudible) the Syrian human rights activist who died after being arrested by authorities recently. His body was returned to show signs being badly beaten, tortured. I want to play you what the ambassador said to Hala.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MOUSTAPHA: Why on hell would the Syrian security abduct a person, kill him, and then give his body, dismembered, and eviscerated to his family and tell that we did it?

GORANI: Well, human rights groups would say that's to intimidate others. Is that not happening?

MOUSTAPHA: This man was killed by groups that want to further tarnish the image of the Syrian government because they believe this is their historically unprecedented opportunity to attack the Syrian regime and topple it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Razan, we have seen time and again, this regime returning the tortured bodies of people even children to the families and then forcing the families to say that their child died of natural causes where their family member died in natural causes. Explain Razan why the regime does this.

ZAITOUNEH: They want to send a message that everybody will continue in this way, will continue to protest. Will continue to say we don't want to be under the control of al-Assad family anymore. They could to have similar faith.

COOPER: So, they want to send a warning. And Hala, what's interesting about that is, you know rationally you might say, why would a regime show the evidence of their crimes to family members and others but I mean, dictators do this time and time again. This is how you scare people. This is how you make people live in fear.

GORANI: This is the way to dissuade people to come out on to the streets. Those who continue tied know they're doing it. Know that they are risking their lives by doing so. And it is perhaps in cities like Aleppo and central Damascus where there are, we've seen fewer demonstrations certainly in Aleppo, where there is truly a level of fear. That's one of the factors playing in. Because when you see these you tube videos, it might energize a subsection of the demonstrators and it might really be a cause for concern for others. So this is something that we've seen in Syria but in other countries in the region as well, Anderson.

COOPER: And Hala, when you pointed out that you were there. You weren't allowed to travel around without government minders. You weren't allowed to go to where the protesters were. I reported from Syria years ago, even when there wasn't this kind of demonstrations and I had a government minder every second of the day with me. The ambassador totally tried to ignore that and to said, no, no, no that's not the case and moved on to another subject. I mean this guy in his slick suit and you know for all his fancy talk, I mean it was just lie after lie after lie.

GORANI: Right. But it was better to be there with the restrictions than not to be there at all because we had actually an opportunity to speak with some of these demonstrators. They were young university students, by and large, internet savvy, tech savvy guys who know how to upload a video to you tube without getting caught.

But we had an opportunity to speak to some of these protesters. And they are an absolutely no way that did the description provided by the ambassador, that they were extremist armed gangs.

GORANI: Razan Zaitouneh, I appreciate your taking the risk and talking to us tonight. Thank you Hala Gorani as well. Thanks for your interview. Fascinating.

Well, let us know what you think, we're on facebook. Follow me on twitter at @andersoncooper. Yes, will be tweeting tonight.

Up next, breaking news. We are going to take you inside the battle from Libya. Opposition forces attacking loyalist strongholds. They're still holding out. Fierce fighting today. We'll get a live report from our reporters on the ground and we'll talk to Fareed Zakaria where there Islamist as long as it's extremely maybe taking over the government there, the new government.

And up close tonight, Sea world going up against federal investigators who stay park willfully put its whale trainers at risk. Remember one of the trainers was killed in front of a live audience. It's one show many people of course will never forget. We'll have the latest coming up.

And Isha Sesay is following other stories for us tonight. Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, 360 follow tonight. A motorcyclist trapped under a burning car, total strangers risk their own lives to rescue him. For the first time, we're hearing from the survivor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just wanted to thank all the heroes that put their lives on the line to save mine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESAY: That and more when "360" continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Breaking news out of Libya tonight. A day of intense fighting. Opposition forces entering pro Gadhafi towns trying to get the upper hand. We are learning tonight, their attempt failed in Moammar Gadhafi's home town of Sirte. Anti-Gadhafi fighters, they've pulled out after a day of brutal street fighting. The man claiming to be Gadhafi's spokesman saying tonight, that their supporters have enough equipment and weaponry for a long war. Just yesterday, look at what CNN's Ben Wedeman witnessed in another town.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The rebels told us the town was safe but it wasn't. We're in this town that is partially under the control of the rebels. But there are other parts of it that still remain loyal to Moammar Gadhafi. The situation is very fluid at the moment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: The battle rages on. Ben Wedeman joins me now live from Libya. And in Sirte tonight, Phil Black.

So Ben, you're with opposition fighters in the south of the country. What's the situation there now?

WEDEMAN: Well, what we've seen is a steady sort of advance by these fighters. Their goal is to get to the city of Sabha, that's the biggest town in the south and a stronghold of Moammar Gadhafi. They say there are a lot of members of Gadhafi's tribe there. And they also believe that two figures, Moammar Gadhafi himself and Abdullah Sanusi, his brutal and notorious intelligence chief, may be in this area.

So really, that is their goal, to establish the control of the new government in Tripoli down here and to get these two men. And it is expected that it is going to be quite a fight when they get to Sabha itself, because not only is this stronghold for Gadhafi, but it is an area with there are lots and lots of weapons. And in fact, on this air base we are, which was (inaudible) and find the rebels to stay before yesterday, we saw warehouse after warehouse of ammunition, tank shells, mortar rounds. And it is expected that Gadhafi's forces have even more of that in Sabha itself, Anderson.

COOPER: Phil, Fighters went back into Gadhafi's home town of Sirte today. Is that city finally under the control of the transitional council or is it unclear right now?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is not even close, Anderson, really. The fight is expected the Islamist to be easy. They thought they'd go in there to be a few hours of relatively easy fighting at the end of it, they would control Gadhafi's home town. It didn't happen, when we follow the men, what we saw was intense chaotic urban street fighting with pro-Gadhafi forces resisting them very, very fiercely. The rebels said they didn't expect anything like this. They went far for it. What they were also banking on was the local population rising up in their support that didn't happen. And so, as a result come the end of the day, they were nowhere near control of the city itself. And so they pulled back to the outskirts, which is where we are now.

COOPER: And Phil is NATO playing a part in this fight for Sirte? BLACK: We've seen NATO striking Sirte in recent weeks. They've admitted they've done so today. We saw a number of large explosions that realistically could possibly have only come from NATO.

But despite the softening out of the pro-Gadhafi forces, which is as I say, it's been going on for some weeks here, it still wasn't enough. The rebels say they'll go in again tomorrow. But they are little nervous. And I think that without this popular uprising, they think this could be on for some time and they are really worried about the civilian casualties that could take place as a result of a really prolonged urban battle for Sirte, Anderson.

COOPER: Ben, where are, I mean no one I guess knows for sure but where did they think Gadhafi is now? And is it possible, he could slip over into Niger as some of his family members have?

WEDEMAN: Specifically, they believe he's probably or maybe in the oasis of Tartan, that's about 70 kilometers or rather 70 miles to the south of Sabha. It's a huge oasis, lots of vegetation there. And it puts him in an ideal situation. If he wants to flee the country as for instance his son Saadi did, to go to Niger, to go to Chad, you have to remember, this is a vast country. We're right in the middle of the Sahara dessert. There are lots of smugglers tracks. In fact, this part of Libya has traditionally lived on smuggling so it would be very easy for him, if he decided to, to take those dessert tracks assisted by smugglers into one of those neighboring African countries.

But they do believe that he is still within Libya itself. As I mentioned before, the fact that Abdullah Sanusi who is a blood relative of Moammar Gadhafi, is in this area, they believe he was in a town not far from here, just about seven or eight miles. That he's gone to Sabha further to the south. But the fact that he is here is an indication that Gadhafi may not be too far away, Anderson.

COOPER: Fascinating stuff. Ben Wedeman, appreciate and stay safe. Phil Black as well, thanks.

Another concern on Libya, the threat of Islamic extremists infiltrating the new government, is taking over. I talked about that earlier with Fareed Zakaria who has GPS here in CNN and editor at large of Time magazine.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: How concerned are you good b growing Islamist influence in the regime in Libya?

FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: I think it is a concern. Clearly there are some Islamic groups that are very well organized. And it seems to follow the same pattern that in Egypt and perhaps all over the Arab world. It's not that the Libyan people are strongly Islamic. It's the Islamic parties are strongly organized.

COOPER: Because under Gadhafi, they were some if the only groups even though they were outlawed, they were the only groups that actually were viable. That actually did stand in opposition. ZAKARIA: The two reasons. One, there is a real fervency of belief. These guys are hard core. The second is it was easy to organize in the mosque. Because the one place you couldn't really crack in even in the dictatorship was mosque. And that's true in the entire Arab world.

But what isn't clear is whether the fact there is this minority, perhaps you know 20 percent, 30 percent, but very well organized, will be able to take over the political system. My sense is that the Libyan opposition is pretty broad, pretty diverse. And it would be a stretch to imagine that these Islamist parties would be able to take over.

COOPER: I mean the Islamist party at this point they are claiming they're not looking to take over. They're not looking for power. But they always say that. And it is hard for any group to not want to take power.

ZAKARIA: That's right. They say they want to be democratic. The leader of one of then said if a woman is elected president, that's fine with us. We want to have you know, not a secular country but that's what he implied. It's tough to tell because there are some Islamic groups that are pretty democratic. And then there are the Iranian ones. What I can say is there is a lot of suspicion in Libya about those statements. A lot of Libyan friends of mine them have said, don't believe what these guys say. Don't believe the disclaimers. They really want to take over the whole country.

But the key is not whether they want to do that. The key is will the rest of Libya said is the (audible). This is a revolution that has been pretty bloody. People have paid a lot for this revolution. And they aren't going to sit idly by and watch some Islamist party take over what they worked very hard for shed blood for.

COOPER: Sunday night at 8:00, you have a special on. What is it about?

ZAKARIA: It's basically trying to figure out the jobs problem in America. But it seems to me this is the big problem we face and what we try to look at, why is it so bad? And it turns out it is not just this recession. We've had problems creating jobs really for a decade, maybe more. Over the last decade, net job creation in America is zero. We not created a single job.

COOPER: Over the entire decade?

ZAKARIA: Over the entire last decade.

COOPER: So, you talked to CEOs? You talked to business leaders?

ZAKARIA: What I did a lot of these talks to CEOs because I taught you know here are the people, who are always called the job creators. So, let's start to Jeffrey Immelt of GE. I talked to CEO of Dow chemical, the guy who runs Starwood Hotels and other people, Kay Bailey Hutchison. But really kind asked these guys, what would it take to hire people? For a simple example, Anderson, if you let in tourists, when we let in tourists, they spend a lot of money. One of my guests calls them walk stimulus program. Why not let twice as many tourists as we do? We make it very hard for people to come to this country and visit. The more people who come here, the more jobs there are in the hotels, airlines, everything. And yet we're alone among countries that make it very hard for people to be tourists.

COOPER: Interesting stuff. Thanks.

ZAKARIA: Pleasure.

COOPER: Don't miss Fareed's GPS prime time special. Restoring the American dream, getting back to work. It's this Sunday night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN. Looking talking to CEO, business leaders about how to create jobs in America, how to get more jobs created get hiring's.

Still ahead on "360", Sea world Orlando set to fight the federal government before a judge over allegations that is put its employees in hazardous situations which led to the death of that whale trainer by a killer whale.

Also, had the young man whose life was likely saved, by strangers? Man, this video is just incredible. Strangers who rescued him from underneath the burning cars speak out for the first time. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That car could have blown up at any time. Just how brave they are. It's crazy. I'm forever in debt to them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Breaking news right now. A plane has crashed into the stand at an air show in Reno, Nevada and there are reports of multiple deaths. The Reno Gazette Journal reports 60 people have been injured, 30 of them seriously. The accident at the Reno national championship air races, just a short time ago.

Joining me now, on the phone, Mike Draper, P.R. Rep. for the air show. Mike, what happened?

MIKE DRAPER, SUPERVISOR, R&R PARTNERS: Anderson, plane in our limited plot crashed into the box area which is the area right in front of our grand stands, our box seat area at about 4:00, 4:15 today. There are mass casualties. Local emergency personnel are on the scene. And all the protocols at the air races and local emergency personnel are being followed. They don't plan for situation like this. I'm looking to get more information for you.

COOPER: Mike, there is a preliminary report that it was a P-51 mustang aircraft. Can you confirm that? DRAPER: It was. It was a plane called "Galloping Ghost." It was piloted by a gentleman named Jimmy Leeward. We can't confirm the status of the pilot or anyone for that matter, but we're working on it.

COOPER: Do you know the circumstances under -- did he clearly was having trouble in the air? Do you know why it crashed?

DRAPER: It was about a lap or two into the unlimited race. We don't know why it crashed. The pilot did call in. He did pull out of the lap, which is what they do. They usually pull up, directly up to clear the race track.

But outside of that, we don't have any details as to what that. The course of action, the FAA is on the scene, as well as the National Transportation Safety Board. They will investigate and I'm sure are investigating right now to determine a cause. We don't have anything yet.

COOPER: You said it was your unlimited race. What does that mean? Unlimited class?

DRAPER: Exactly. The race is broken up into -- the events are broken up into six weight classes. The unlimited class is our most recognized class. The engine, it is the gold race out here. And today still was a qualifying day. Tomorrow is -- tomorrow and Sunday is when they begin the championship races, but this is the qualifying key.

COOPER: I'm putting up a picture of a P-51 mustang for our viewers. It was not this one, but this is to give our viewers a sense. At this point, have all the -- those injured -- we're seeing video right now that we've seen off YouTube of the incident. We have not seen this. We're literally showing it to you as we got it.

DRAPER: You are probably seeing more than I've seen. It is a very large race field. Just about 15 miles north of Reno, Nevada. As a matter of protocol, the grandstanders here -- the National Guard out here anyway in helping the assist emergency personnel keep the area clear. There are people still being escorted out of that area with various injuries.

COOPER: So you still have injured people on the scene.

DRAPER: As far as I can see right now, it does appear that they're still being evacuated.

COOPER: And it looks as if just from the video, we're hearing people in the crowd saying oh-oh so it looks like they could tell something was wrong seconds before the crash. So clearly the plane was deviating from the flight path pretty clearly that folks in the stand who hadn't even heard the mayday call could tell something was going on.

DRAPER: It was. The protocol for the planes, any time there might be any sort of discrepancy or problem with the plane, is to pull directly up so they clear the course out of the way of other planes. That is something that happens, you know, on a regular basis, as a precautionary measure. But it was clear this one was pulling up and was in distress.

COOPER: And I just now heard for the first -- just so you know, we've been showing this as we've been getting it. And you can actually see just in the left-hand corner of the screen, very quickly, the plane coming almost, I believe I just caught hit the last time we looked at it. Just coming almost straight down. I think it is not the plane -- it comes almost -- there you see it.

DRAPER: I didn't witness the accident myself. I was in a meeting, but I think that's pretty accurate.

COOPER: And so do you have any sense now of fatalities? Are there fatalities?

DRAPER: I don't know. Well, we're being will that there are likely fatalities. But emergency responders have not confirmed the status of any of the folks that they've taken from the field. They're taking them to a local hospital.

COOPER: Do you have any sense right now, how many people are still on the scene?

DRAPER: I don't. I know there is a report out there about the number. That's a whole lot more the average. I mean, not the number. I have no idea of the number. That's more information than I have right now.

COOPER: Listen, I appreciate you being on with us. And please, we'll continue to contact you as events warrant. Thanks very much for being with us.

DRAPER: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: I'm so sorry for what's experience there and let's hope those injured people get the medical aid they need. We'll continue to follow that story. We'll take a short break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: If you're just joining we are covering breaking news. A situation right now, officials are reporting mass casualties after a plane crashed into spectator in an air show in Reno, Nevada. The P-51 Mustang crashed into an area in front of the grandstand at the National Championship Air Races and Air Show.

This is a file picture of a P-51 Mustang just to give you a sense of the aircraft involved. Joining us now on the phone is retired airline pilot, Jim Tillman. Jim, what kind of an aircraft is this?

JIM TILLMAN, RETIRED AIRLINE PILOT (via telephone): This is a fabulous airplane, Anderson. It's the airplane that was the hero during World War II. It was the favorite airplane for the Tuskegee airmen. It has a great record in terms of combat and a very high performance, very fast airplane. Sad to see one of those go down.

COOPER: So, Jim, I don't know if you've seen this video. We just got it. If we can play that, we're going to show you a slow motion of the crash. The person stood up. There you can just see the plane right before that person stood up.

We'll try to rewind it. You can see the plane really heading, it looks, almost straight into the ground. We were told by Mike Draper who does, one of the producers of this, who did public relations for this event that there was a mayday call. That the pilot attempted to pull up, but clearly at this point, what do you think went on?

TILLMAN: Well, it sounds like a mechanical failure of some kind. Let's face it. This is a World War II airplane and it look like an airplane has been very well maintained. And it will fly forever as long, Anderson, as long as you take care of it.

But it sounds from what you're just telling me now, like he had some kind of a mechanical difficulty. That he could not do anything about. Seeing an airplane fly into a crowd like that means he completely lost control.

There was no way. These guys, when they do have to go in like that, they don't go into the crowd.

COOPER: We know the plane was flown by a man by the name of, I believe it was -- Jimmy Leopard it was name I wrote down that Mike said. He had time to do a mayday call. Are there parachutes in these planes?

TILLMAN: Well, they may very well have had a parachute. He was at low altitude. I mean, let's face it. The whole air show is done at a very low altitude, generally. And the chances of his being able to get out with the -- besides that, I'm telling you that if he had had enough time to exit the airplane.

He would have had enough time and control to avoid, allowing the airplane to go into the stands. So there is a lot we don't know. But these are not guys that are likely to allow an aircraft going down to head into people.

COOPER: How dangerous are these air shows?

TILLMAN: Well, you know, that's a matter of opinion and everything else. Let's put it this way, Anderson. You don't do this kind of story every day. And yet we have air shows constantly around the world. It does have its hazards.

So does NASCAR, you know? So those types of problems that are likely to come up and when they do like this, they'll be catastrophic. But I don't consider the air show as an air show to be a dangerous thing. I mean, let's put it this way. At that arena, I would have taken my grandchildren there.

COOPER: A plane like this, with that kind of a fall, the plane itself has to be just obliterated. TILLMAN: Yes. You won't find a lot of pieces of it left. It's a high performance airplane moving very, very fast. If it hits anything, it will be the end.

COOPER: The FAA we're told is already on the scene. Are they automatically at these air shows?

TILLMAN: Generally, they'll have people that are involved. They want to make sure all the safety precautions are taken care of before the fact. They won't be very far away.

COOPER: I misspoke. The pilot's name was Jimmy Leeward. The plane itself was called the "Galloping Ghost". It crashed -- the crash was approximately 7:15 Eastern Time, 4:15 local time in Reno. At this point, what is the next step?

Obviously there are still casualties on the ground. There are still wounded people there. They're being dealt with and attempting to get them. No doubt they've set up a triage area and trying to prioritize people and get out those, as quickly as possible. Get everyone out as quickly as possible. But in term of the investigation to this crash, what is the next step?

TILLMAN: Well, they're going to examine everything. That's what the NTSB does like everyone else in the world. They're going to conduct an investigation and look at everything that happened with that airplane over the past few weeks and months and even years maybe.

All the records with the airplane. They'll be looking at the pilot. The pilot's background. What it was like that day? They don't leave any stone unturned. They look at every single factor. Obviously the weather looks like t was certainly no factor here in this accident.

But, you know, we don't just take anything for granted. The NTSB may take quite a long time before they finish their investigation. But rest assured, Anderson, they will do a good job of it.

COOPER: Now local radio report witnesses saying the plane simply disintegrated, as we were talking about. Anything else we should know about this aircraft? About what you think went on?

TILLMAN: Well, all I can say is that it performs extremely well ever since World War II. And there's been a great airplane to have at air shows. Its sound, it has a very distinctive sound. It has a very beautiful presence, as you can tell.

It is a tremendous airplane. But I'll tell you now, the NTSB will do a forensic on this airplane and they'll look at every part, every rivet, and everything else. They'll find out what went wrong if they can possibly do so.

COOPER: Well, again, right now the priority, of course, is trying to get aid to those on the ground who have been injured. We do not have real figures of how many. We are told the term mass casualties has been used. It's not clear -- the producer of the event believes there are fatalities. We don't know how many at this point. How many are simply injured and to what degree those injuries are. We'll try to get you more information as we get over and take a short break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: If you're just joining us, breaking news tonight. A plane has crashed into spectators at an air show in Reno, Nevada. A spokesman says, there are, quote, "mass casualties." I'm not sure of the actual number.

The P-51 Mustang crashed into an area in front of the grandstand at the National Championship Air Races and Air Show. You're about to see the crash on the left-hand side of your screen, the plane heading straight down from the top of your screen straight into the ground.

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are on the scene, along with members of the National Guard who are already on site for the air show. As I said, there is no word on the exact number of casualties at this point.

We're going to continue to follow that. We also have a "360" following another story, words of gratitude from the 21-year-old college student whose life was saved by a group of strangers. You've probably seen this amazing video earlier this week.

In Utah, bystanders joined together to lift a burning car off Brandon Wright who was trapped underneath. He had been riding a motorcycle, which crashed into car and on fire. The crash happened when a BMW pulled out of a parking lot in front of Wright who was on the motorcycle.

One bystander dragged him out from underneath. He is now in the hospital recovering from leg and pelvis fracture, burned feet and smoke inhalation. His foot was on fire when they first pulled him out that vehicle. Today, Wright spoke to reporters from the hospital bed. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRANDON WRIGHT, ACCIDENT VICTIM: I just wanted to thank all the heroes that put their lives on the line to save mine. I'm forever in debt. I can't thank them enough. I would like to meet all the people that rescued me. I hope I can.

That car could have blown up at any time and how brave they are, it's crazy. I just am forever in debt to them. I came to for about five seconds while I was under the car. I screamed a couple times. I've threw up some blood. And that was lights out again.

I woke up to a man in a green shirt just kneeling over me and trying to get me to talk and keeping me awake. I would really like to meet him, too. He did not let me close my eyes and go back to sleep, really. Without him, I don't know if I would have hung in there. I've always thought that life is extremely precious. But having this experience just makes it that much more precious to me. I should have died several times, really.

I should have died when I hit the pavement. I should have died when I hit the car. I should have died when the car burst into flames, but I didn't for some reason. And that just makes life that much more precious to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Brandon also said he usually wears a motorcycle helmet, but wasn't that day because he was just going a short distance, in the computer lab at Utah State University where he's a graphic design major. He said when he gets better he'll definitely get another motorcycle and the best helmet he can find. Just ahead, we'll have more. We'll take a -- actually, let's go to the news here with Isha Sesay. Isha, what are you following?

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, in Arizona, officials have lifted a lockdown at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. The security scare was triggered by a report of an armed man entering a building. FBI agents and local police were dispatched to the base. No details yet on whether there was actually a gun man.

Researchers in Australia have identified a new species of dolphin. They discovered the pod not in a remote lagoon, but rather in plain sight in a bay near Melbourne, the country's second largest city.

U.S. stocks have a five-day winning streak. The Dow added 76 points. Both the Dow and the S&P are up of 5 percent for the week, their best weekly advance in more than two months. Nasdaq had its best week in more than two years.

And Anderson, there is now world peace in the NBA, sort of. Los Angeles Lakers forward Ron Artest has changed his name to Meta World Peace. Yes, that's right. His publicist says Meta in the Buddhist tradition means loving kindness and friendliness.

An interesting choice considering the athlete formerly known as Artest was suspended in 2004 for jumping into the stands and punching fans during a brawl. That's a serious name change.

COOPER: Well, maybe it's a whole new him. If you're just joining us, we've got a number of stories we're following. We're going to take a short break and update you on that plane crash at the air show in Reno. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: If you're just joining us, breaking news tonight. A plane has crashed into spectators in an air show in Reno, Nevada. A spokesman there says there are mass casualties. We don't have an exact number. Often those early reports are inaccurate. A local TV station ABC 7 is reporting at least seven dead. Maybe as many as 30 injured. A short time ago, I spoke with Mike Draper who is a PR rep for the air show. We'll play that for you shortly, but as you can see right there, the plane crashing.

A number of planes were passing by horizontally in what they call the unlimited event. Different types of aircraft. The aircraft was involved with this was a Mustang -- and it comes down vertically, the P-51 Mustang.

The pilot of the aircraft did put out a mayday call. You can see the plane right there coming straight down. He tried to pull up according to Mike Draper, but was unable to. Eventually the plane went nearly perpendicular straight down into the ground.

Again, mass casualties being reported by Mike Draper who is one of the producers, who does public events, public affairs for this air show. This occurred around 4:15 local time, about 7:15 east coast time, so an hour, 1:45 ago. Let's listen into an affiliate in Reno.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After we got here, as I said, there were about eight ambulances that were on their way out when we first showed up. There were several more that were leaving after we arrived.

There were probably a couple of dozen other trucks, fire trucks, helicopters out here. As they started to thin out, we could see a little more of what the scene looked like. There was a lot of crime tape around.

There was what look like scrap metal all over, between basically between the runway and where the grand stands are. It looked like scrap metal spread out for probably 50 yards from where we were sitting. That's what it looked like from where we are at anyway.

COOPER: Excuse me. I'm trying to get more information online. Again, no firm reports of fatalities at this point. There are various number floating around though frankly, at this early hour, it is too soon to give you an accurate number, but mass casualties being reported by the press rep, Mike Draper.

The plane was being flown by a pilot by the name of Jimmy Leeward who, again, was able to give out some sort of a mayday call. You could tell just from hearing people in the stands on this video. Let's listen in.

You can tell people are aware there is a problem. People are saying, come on, come on as if rooting for the pilot to pull up out of this. But that may not was going straight down. And given the speed it was traveling, probably very little of the aircraft left.

The FAA is already on the scene, as well as NTSB officials, who obviously will be investigating the cause of this crash. Again, right now the priority is on trying to help those who have been injured. Some of them reportedly severely injured.

When I talked to Mike Draper, which was about 30 or so minutes ago, there were still ambulances on the field. There were still trying to attend to those who had been injured. It is not clear at this hour if all those people have now been attended or if they've triaged on site.

Tried to get the most badly hurt out and are still dealing with those who are less injured at this point. It is still the early hours after this. People are still being escorted out of the area with injuries, according to the last we heard from the spokesman for the air show. We'll continue to follow this event.

It is now 9 p.m. on the east coast of the United States. We'll have Piers Morgan in a moment. But I just want to give you up to date information on a breaking news story that we have been following for the last 30 minutes or so. A crash at an air show in Reno, Nevada. A plane crashing into spectators near the grand stand at the air show. A spokesman says there are, quote, "mass casualties," though we do not have an exact number. Local TV station ABC 7 is reporting at least seven dead. They report as many as 30 injured. Some of those are seriously injured. But again, we do not have an absolute figure. Members of the National Guard, which were on site any way for the show, were also assisting the response. The FAA has people there as well as the NTSB. People are still being escorted out of the area with injures, according to the air show spokesman. That's as of about 30 minutes ago. The FAA says multiple FAA inspectors were observing the air race at the time of the crash, so they are already investigating this. We are going to continue to update you. Now we toss it over to Piers Morgan.