Return to Transcripts main page


Plane Obliterated, 150 Presumed Dead; Plane Plunged Nearly 27,000 Feet in Eight Minutes. Aired 7-7:30p ET

Aired March 24, 2015 - 19:00   ET


[19:00:10] ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: OUTFRONT tonight. Breaking news, the mystery behind the deadly crash of German airbus flying with good weather with no distress call. What caused the plane with 150 people on board to fall out of sky?

Plus, 45 minutes into the flight at cruising altitude the plane plunged nearly 27,000 feet for eight straight minutes. What was happening in the cockpit?

And tonight a CNN exclusive, the presidential candidate Ted Cruz of course has led the fight to repeal ObamaCare. Well, guess what? He just admitted he's signing up for it. Let's go OUTFRONT.

And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, the breaking news, the mystery crash of Flight 9525. We now know the German airbus with 150 on board plunged tens of thousands of feet in just eight minutes. The plane is obliterated to use the word of a local official. Debris and tiny scattered pieces, scattered for miles. The question tonight is what caused this deadly crash. One of the black boxes has been recovered just hours after it crashed into the French Alps. It was on a very short flight from Spain to Germany, just two hours going from Barcelona, Spain to Duesseldorf. At midflight the airbus 8320 was cruising at 38,000 feet. The weather good. The plane had just been inspected yesterday. Within minutes it went into a steep drop and then disappeared from radar. It crashed.

Tonight, the crucial question, if the plane was in trouble, and it took full eight minutes to drop before the crash, why was there no distress call from the cockpit. No comment from the cockpit at all.

Fred Pleitgen is live OUTFRONT in Duesseldorf, Germany where the plane was scheduled to land of course earlier today. Almost half of those on board were German. And Fred, what are officials saying about the cause of this crash now?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, I think at this point in time they're saying that a mystery is probably the best way to describe it. As you said this was a plane that was very modern, that was in very good condition at least a according to the technical specialists at Lufthansa and at Germanwings. And also the plane was in cruising altitude and the weather really was by no means averse. So, what they're trying to do right now, they're trying to get specialists to go to the area where this plane crashed. The big problem Erin of course is that it's in an area that's very hard to reach. It's mountainous terrain. It's very rugged terrain, rough terrain. They're having trouble eve trying to get the remains of those who were killed out of that area right now.

They haven't even started looking at the debris at the wreckage yet. One of the positive things that has happened is that as you say, the black box has been found. Now, one of the things that we have been looking at is possibly safety records of this plane might have had before. And there was some speculation there that there might have been technical issues with the plane in the days leading up to this crash. And that is something actually that looked on to has confirmed to us. They say that there was an issue with the front landing gear of the plane. But they say this has absolutely nothing to do with what happened today. They say there was a strange noise coming from there but they said that their technicians had looked at that and that the plane has flown since then as well. So, at this point in time, it really is unclear what caused this crash. Certainly a Lufthansa, the investigators, German politicians and of course the relative of those who were killed very much want answers -- Erin.

BURNETT: Tragedy and of course such a mystery. And no distress call at all with so many minutes going by as this unfolded. Fred Pleitgen, thank you very much. And the cause of the crash as Fred saying still another mystery. We are learning new details though about those crucial final moments. The moments that led up to flight 9525 plunging from the sky and crashing in such a remote area of the French Alps.


BURNETT (voice-over): 10:10 a.m. local time. Germanwings Flight 9525, an airbus 320 with 144 passengers and a crew of six on board takes off from Barcelona Spain leaving 30 minutes late for the scheduled two hour flight to Duesseldorf, Germany. Approximately 10:45 a.m., the plane is cruising at 38,000 feet when something seems goes horrible wrong.

THOMAS WINKELMANN, GERMANWINGS CEO (through a translator): The airliner then left this height after one minute and it went straight down.

BURNETT: In fact an online flight tracker recorded the flight dropping nearly 27,000 feet in eight minutes.

KEITH WOLZINGER, COMMERCIAL AIRLINE PILOT: If the airplane was in controlled dissent and caused an airspeed, it seems like they were in control for at least a portion of that.

BURNETT: 10:53 a.m., the plane disappears from radar. The crew never makes a distress call. One witness reports hearing a low rumble like an avalanche. These images show the debris, the plane described as obliterated. The largest pieces no bigger than a small car. The wreckage scattered across remote mountains terrain.

All 150 people on board believed dead. Among them, 16 German teenagers, classmates traveling with two teachers and two infants. The mountainous location is slowing rescue operations. Hundreds of first responders are being flown in by helicopter. To get there they may have to ski the remaining distance. Germanwings, the low cost carrier of Lufthansa airlines, its CEO reported the plane's pilot was experienced and had worked for the company for more than 10 years.

WINKELMANN (through a translator): The model airbus is yet actually flown with over 6,000 flight hours.

BURNETT: Grieving families gathered at Barcelona airport to await word of their loved ones. Most of the 144 passengers were from Germany, Spain or Turkey.


[19:05:42] BURNETT: And OUTFRONT now, Sandrina Bolsse she heard flight 9525 just before it crashed. Sandrina, thank you for being with us. It must have been so hard to process what has happened today. What did you hear?

SANDRINA BOLSSE, WITNESSED PLANE CRASH: In fact, it was 11:00 this morning we heard noise and we think it was an avalanche but it wasn't an avalanche. But you know it's the first thing you think in a mountain. So, I called the captain of the police in Barcelona and he asked me if it's an air crash. And I say, we don't know where it is. We don't have anymore information at this moment.

BURNETT: Your husband saw the plane. You heard it. He saw it. What did he see?

BOLSSE: In fact, he was skiing at this moment, he was on top of the ski right of us. And he saw a plane and say it's not high.

BURNETT: Did your husband see any smoke, Sandrina? Did he notice anything wrong with the plane other than the fact that it was flying too low?

BOLSSE: No, nothing.

BURNETT: And what was the weather condition? We keep hearing Sandrina that it was perfect flying weather. The weather was good. What was it like where you were on the ground?

BOLSSE: This morning wasn't bad. No wind. And no. Nothing --

BURNETT: All right, Sandrina. Thank you so much.

BOLSSE: You're welcome.

BURNETT: Safety analyst David Soucie is OUTFRONT with me now. And David, you know, the word that's been used by an official is obliterated to describe the condition of this plane when you look across that bare face mountain. You just heard Sandrina, the witness say the weather was fine. There was not any visibility issue on the ground. Officials of course also said this. Can we rule weather out?

DAVID SOUCIE, FORMER FAA SAFETY INSPECTOR: You know you can rule weather out as far as being a direct cause of the aircraft, of the accident. Because it's just so peculiar that the aircraft would have made this controlled dissent without any kind of -- she said there was no smoke coming from the aircraft, nothing like that. There was no Squawk 7700 on the Ident which is the transponder, which would automatically it's called a smart transponder. And when the engines lose power, it automatically sends out a 7700 Squawk saying the engine has lost power. That didn't happen. It seems like the aircraft was just intentfully driven down this perfectly straight and controlled path.

BURNETT: And you talk about, you know, intentfully the straight and controlled path. And you use the word peculiar which it is. I mean, it's a mystery, this plane plunged from the sky for eight straight minutes as you point out in a controlled intentful manner. Yet, there was no distress call. The pilots never communicated with the ground. What do you make of that?

SOUCIE: What I would classify it as a controlled flight into terrain meaning they know that they are flying but they don't know that they are flying into the terrain. And so, it is controlled situation. This happened a couple of times the last one of serious note, one of the most serious accidents of all times was back in Miami out in the Everglades when in 1972 an L-1011 was diverted have been flying around looking for the cause of this landing gear that wasn't coming down properly. The entire flight crew was so fixated on trying to figure out why this landing gear wasn't working that they forgot basically to maintain and to look out the aircraft and see why there they were flying and it slowly dissented in a similar manner. Because the autopilot had disengaged. And so, the aircraft continue to dissent until finally it was too late, they got the proximity warning. So, there's no way to do anything at that time. So, to me, it appears that this is something that is a possibility in this. Obviously, we don't know enough to make that conclusion now. But these are the types of things that the investigators will be investigating finding out.

BURNETT: All right. Well, David, I know you'll be back with us later in the program to go through the debris field on exactly what happened to figure out when and how this plane broke up into so many pieces. David Soucie, thank you very much.

And next, we have more on the mystery of the Flight 9525. Because this plane was inspected one day ago. It was flown by an incredibly experienced pilot by an incredibly well regarded airline. So, how could it suffer such a catastrophic failure?

[19:10:05] Plus, the jet dropped nearly 30,000 feet in just a matter of moments. What was it like inside that plane? So controlled, what was it like for those passengers. And we're going to show you the startling images from the crash site. The wreckage from the airplane. The obliterated airplane covering a mountainside. And our experts will tell you exactly what they think happened today.


[19:14:11] BURNETT: Breaking news, tonight investigators are going through one of the black boxes recovered from the deadly plane crash over the French Alps today. All 150 on board believed dead. Officials say, Airbus a-320 which was flying from Barcelona to Duesseldorf was, quote, "obliterated." And the question tonight is, why did this plane, which was at its cruising altitude of 38,000 feet make such a sudden dissent. It plunged nearly to 27,000 feet in only eight minutes. The weather conditions were good. There was no distress call from the pilot.

Karl Penhaul is OUTFRONT from the airport in Barcelona where that flight originated. And Karl, what are you learning about this plane tonight and its maintenance record and when it had been inspected?

KARL PENHAUL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It depends who you asked, when we asked Lufthansa and Lufthansa's held a couple of press conferences in the course of the day, they're trying to tell us that this plane was in perfect shape. It was a plane that ended service in January of 1990. According to Lufthansa, flying first for Lufthansa -- low cost affiliate Germanwings and the Vice President of Lufthansa Europe came to us this afternoon and said, there was a routine maintenance check on that plane only yesterday. I don't believe that they've been quite as transparent as maybe we need them to be. Because it's only under pressure from reporters' questions later that Lufthansa's spokesman said, that this very same plane was grounded for several hours yesterday in Germany because of a problem with the door that closes around the nose landing gear.

That same spokesman said, he didn't believe that problem was a safety issue. He suggested that perhaps it was just a rattle, a noise on that door. But then on to that this morning, the plane departed 26 minutes late. Now, we have been asking since this morning, more than 12 hours ago, why did your plane leave 26 minutes late? Was it a technical problem? Was it simply a timing problem or a passenger issue? They have said that they don't know what the problem was. That was the response from the vice president of Lufthansa. So, we are asking this questions not getting fast answers although Lufthansa of course still insisting that as far as they are concerned their plane was in good shape and it had a maintenance check only yesterday -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Karl Penhaul, thank you very much. As we said, live from Barcelona tonight. So, what could have caused this plane to make that dissent? After it took off, right? It went off to its cruising altitude, everything seemed normal at that point. Then right after hitting cruising altitude, the steep plunge started.

Tom Foreman is OUTFRONT. And Tom, how might this dissent have felt for passengers? Because while it was so steep, I think the one thing that has been shocking to learn as we even been starting to cover this disaster is that it was not uncontrolled and it was not as steep as it may seem.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it might not have really felt like much of anything here. We talked to a pilot who flew these kinds of planes a long time ago. And he said, look, this number of feet being lost in that amount of time, few might have felt like nothing more than a fairly steep approach to an airport. Nothing to excite people until this cabin until of course if they happen to look out the window and they saw they were actually among the mountains instead of flying over them as they had hoped. Then of course that would have excited an awful lot of alarm there. So, that's what it would have felt like inside. And that also tends to do away with the theory that there was a catastrophic collapse in ear of the plane. Like a wing came off or a tail came off. There's sort of gradual dissent here.

Even though somewhat rapid suggest it didn't happen. It also makes you wonder if they had like a fire in the cockpit or something that disabled the crew, maybe they started the plane down but then they passed out. It's possible that that could be the case but again they have oxygen masks right there. So, those things suggested the first theory. The idea of a catastrophic event doesn't seem so likely. So, then you start looking at other possibilities like, what if they had a problem and they thought they could handle it. That would account for this long slow approach here. Many of the analysts of pilots we've talked to today have said this looks like a crew trying to bring a plane in very carefully. Get it down lower and control it maybe a lower altitude and that somehow they ran out of time and real estate to get it all done. Is that the case? Could be, but again if they were doing this, they had that much control, then why didn't they swerve off at some point away from these mountains and try to hit one of several airports that would have been probably within range if they had turned for them. Maybe not but they could have tried. And there's no sign that they even tried at all -- Erin.

BURNETT: There's no sign that they tried at all, there's also no distress call. There's no communication at all that they may.

FOREMAN: Exactly.

BURNETT: We don't know what's on that voice recorder from that cockpit yet. So, we don't know what the crew was doing to your point where they were incapacitated, where they were focused on fixing a problem. We just don't know. But it is pretty interesting that there was no distress call.

[19:19:03] FOREMAN: Yes, it is. And it raises another possibility, a third one, which we've been talking about all day. Which is called controlled flight into terrain. C-fit is the term that you hear in aviation circles. And it's a common term because it's something that does happen. Which is basically that a crew is either getting some kind of false reading, for example the P-2 (ph) tubes that tells them their speed and frozen over or there's something that gives them the false into their altitude. Or and this has happened, crews simply become so fixated on dealing with some smaller problem that they lose their situational awareness. Where they are in the sky. And by the time they realize that they have flown into the mountains or lost the altitude, they have no time to correct it. And people say, can that really happen? You know, this is the reason why we urge people not to text and drive because it's hard to imagine that simply looking at a phone would make you miss a truck in front of you and yet people do it all the time. And there's a version of this which happens to pilots and it's called C-fit. And that's one of the other things they have to consider in all this -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Tom Foreman, thank you very much.

And OUTFRONT now Anthony Roman, a licensed commercial pilot, retired A-320 pilot Dan Duke and our aviation expert correspondent Richard Quest. Thanks to all of you.

Richard, you just heard this, I mean, one of the things that stands out, I mean, there's many things that stand out about this is very strange. But what appears at this point to be a very controlled dissent, steep but controlled. Not overwhelmingly steep and yet no communication with the ground, no effort to find another airport. Nothing.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: And that's what's going to be the perplexing part as we cover this story. Because very similar to 370, you can come up with any one of scenario. Tom Foreman came up with some, Karl Penhaul came up with some. But none of them fully explain the situation.


QUEST: The good reason here for example, yes, there was no distress signal in this eight-minute dissent but air traffic control because this is some of the most --

BURNETT: This is very densely packed.

QUEST: Very densely --

BURNETT: You have a lot of airport and a lot of plane.

QUEST: So, it's not like they were just wandering their way through. They were being called out. So, they were non-responsive in the cockpit. So, even if they were fixated on solving a problem, Erin, they didn't respond to any of the calls that were coming in and that's really interesting too.

BURNETT: And Dan, what do you make of that? They didn't respond to calls, they didn't make any on their own, what does that in your mind open up to what was happening in that cockpit? Were they really in control of the plane or was auto-pilot in control of the plane? Were they incapacitated?

DAN DUKE, RETIRED UNITED AIRLINES PILOT: We'll have a lot of investigation to tell us that. But I feel like they might have been incapacitated. A lot of the things that you have been taking about, that it was a fairly stable flight, it wasn't an emergency dissent, it was a controlled dissent. And the first thing that would have happened in almost every scenario that I can envision, is that you would have turned toward an emergency airport. You want to get away from the mountains. So, if you had a depressurization problem, you might have turned away from the mountains. If you loss an engine, your procedure is to land at the nearest airport. So, there must have been some sort of incapacitation of the crew. And whether that was on their own doing, were they focused too much on the problem and not enough on the big picture, or they were overcome by a smoke or something like that. It's a real good question to found out the answer.

BURNETT: Certainly that point, they were overcome by smoke, I mean, we're talking about all the possibilities of what might have happened at that cockpit, but we have not raised the question yet, which is a crucial one, that everybody wants to ask, which is, could something nefarious have happened? What do you think, Tony?

ANTHONY ROMAN, LICENSED COMMERCIAL PILOT: Yes. I think it's real possibility. Although, certainly, we don't know. Incapacitation seems to be the leading theory right now. Simply because the pilots didn't react in a way that would be considered normal in a circumstance such as this. So, what you have on several possibilities, criminal intent by a passenger or a crew member. The other possibility is some catastrophic failure, an explosive decompression. But the pilots are trained to dawn those masks. But at 38,000 feet you have mere seconds to get that oxygen mask on. Could the problem have been so great and so startling and so physically overcoming because an explosive decompression is actually a physical event on the body. It feels like you're being kicked in the stomach.

QUEST: I mean, I agree with you. We're talking about an event that happens after the planes finishes its climb, 38,000 feet. There's a small window. Whatever happened, they certainly were able to initiate the dissent. Thereafter, thereafter, they become incapacitated. But they are in a position to begin the dissent.

[19:24:01] BURNETT: Dan, what's your take on this? The possibility that something, that this wasn't just a random act. The possibility that this could have been something nefarious?

DUKE: I think that's really too early to say but I think what Richard said is exactly right. They did initiate the dissent in a controlled manner like you would expect and the airplane performed exactly as you would expect it to have performed.

BURNETT: All right. Well, thanks very much to all three of you. I appreciate it.

Next, snow and frigid temperatures are moving in on the crash site now. The window for recovery operations is closing. Plus, new images from the crash site. We'll going to show you the wreckage, it spread across literally inaccessible terrain. They can't even get all the way to it. We're going to show you.

And yesterday Ted Cruz, you know, he announced he's running for president. Well, guess what, today Ted Cruz admitted he's signing up for ObamaCare. Fair to say that's pretty shocking, right?


[19:28:52] BURNETT: More on our breaking news story tonight. The mystery of Flight 9525. We do not know what caused Lufthansa owned Germanwings Flight 9525 to dissent about 27,000 feet in eight minutes. It then crashed into a mountain. The debris field which is believed to be the final resting place for 150 human beings was described by a German official as a picture of whore. In a moment we're going to talk about these pictures and talk about what exactly what they tell us about what might have happened to those onboard, what they might have felt an experienced. I want to first go to Nic Robertson. He is live in France. He's

just seven miles from the crash site. Search efforts are expected to resume when it gets light where you are Nic a few hours from now. And I know that they say, look, weather was not an issue in this crash but it is an issue now for the recovery.

NIC ROBERTSON CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. It's raining here right now. The anticipation is that higher up it's going to be snowing. Right now we're at a round about three and a half thousand feet. It is about three degrees centigrade, above freezing. So, by the time you go up in the altitude where the crash site is, you'll below freezing. The rain will be snow. That's the concern. It will be falling on what is already very, very difficult terrain making it difficult not just for the recovery but to even see what's on the ground. See where the debris is. See where the victims of this crash are. And the concern is that if during the daylight hours it stays below freezing at that site than any of the recovery teams going in will need specialist equipment not just because the terrain is steep but because the ground will be frozen and icy and dangerous and we're told really that the only way in to this site at the moment is to go in by helicopter. There isn't at this time of year reliable land access, a very remote area, Erin.

BURNETT: And, Nic, they are sure at this point it seems there are no survivors or there were no survivors, initially even.

Looks like he didn't hear that question. I'll put that to my panel here.

I've got Les Abend, CNN aviation analyst, Boeing 777 captain, along with David Soucie, CNN safety analyst and author of "Crash: An Accident Investigator's Fight for Safe Skies".

So, David, to this question of any possibility of anyone surviving the initial impact, the image -- the single clearest image we have of the debris field, let me show it to you. What do you see in this in terms of what happened? In terms of whether anyone could have survived the initial impact?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Well, you can see how widespread it is just from this view. You can see some of the pieces that are largely as I've been saying before, the largest pieces about the size of a small vehicle, a small car. The biggest pieces that you see there are most likely the center parts of the wings, the two window areas.

But most of the debris that's in colorful pieces, the pieces that have red are from the tail of the aircraft. These aircrafts are painted in manner which only has color on the tail. So, those are the ones that survived, which is typical of an aircraft actually of this type.

BURNETT: And we're going to talk about a few of those pieces in just a moment. But, David, when you see this, you hear about the size of the debris itself and what happened. Is it your belief that this plane crashed in air or it broke up in the air, or it broke upon impact with that mountain? And if so, did everyone in your view die on impact quickly, suddenly?

SOUCIE: Yes, at this point it looks as if it was from the impact of the ground. There's two scatter points which would indicate it hit once and broke into two, a second section. That second section had a second scatter point. So, that's when this would have happened.

Now, the fact they're all small pieces indicates to me that it did hit all one place in a solid hit, and that when that happened, the debris comes back out at you. So, it's kind of a ricochet effect because the ground is frozen. So, it's like hitting concrete basically. And so, those parts come back, as they come back as the rest of the aircraft is going forward, it literally takes all those pieces and makes them into small pieces.

So, it's not just a rapid explosion that you might think. It's actually as it hits and comes back. So, it's all instantaneous. This is in less than a second all of this happens.

So, the passengers would not be aware of anything that happened at all. It would have been so surprising and so shocking. They would have had no idea what happened to them at all.

BURNETT: That's the only thing to be grateful for in all of this. Of course, in that descent, as they approach that mountain, we may never know what they knew or what they thought might happen.

Les, there's some larger pieces, all right? Not many, but as we just heard, the size of a small car and it was a European official saying that. So, we're talking about small pieces here, was the largest piece. We have one piece, a fuselage with four windows. Three of these windows seem to be intact.

We'll show everyone this image. This is what we're looking at, right? You've got four windows, three of them seem to actually be intact, I emphasize that word. What does this picture say to you?

LES ABEND, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: David could speak a little better to this. But to me, this might be the last impact area of the airplane. This is a spot that obviously didn't take a lot of the substantial damage. You know, this looks like the interior of the fuselage, like David mentioned.

You know, it's hard to speculate right at this point in time, but it's definitely an interior piece of the fuselage.

BURNETT: And perhaps towards the back of the plane which would make sense if it hits nose first. That's where you see the bigger pieces.

ABEND: Exactly.

BURNETT: David, we also have a picture of plane. You talked about how about this -- the way the Germanwings planes are designed. There's not much color. You have some red.

We have some red, just piece on the ground that has red, the Germanwings color. What are we looking at? What does this tell you, this entire piece?

SOUCIE: This appears to be the left side of the tail or the rudder of the aircraft, where there's an orange and red stripe that goes around to the back there. So, that's what this would be.

And again, the tail is the least susceptible because it's the last thing to arrive at the accident scene basically.

[19:35:03] So, most of the energy has been absorbed by the aircraft and by the destruction of the aircraft. So, it would be typical to find larger pieces of the aircraft towards the aft of the aircraft.

BURNETT: Les, what would it have felt like? As a pilot, if you're descending at this rate, 27,000 feet in eight minutes, what would it have felt like to passengers?

ABEND: Yes, let's address that, because we're using the terminology plunge. And this airplane didn't plunge. I think David spoke about it to some degree. It seemed as though it was a controlled dissent. When we start to --

BURNETT: Sharp but not terrifying?

ABEND: No, it wasn't even that. I mean, I've done that rate of descent, just at the top of descent, to begin our arrival into a particularly airport.


ABEND: So, the passengers would have felt a slight nose down attitude. Their ears would sense they would were starting to descent. I don't think they would have sense anything abnormal. Nothing that would have alarmed them.

BURNETT: Until they saw mountains around them.


BURNETT: All right. Thanks very much to both of you. I appreciate it.

And next, the plane that crashed today was an Airbus 320. This is used by a lot of airlines in the United States. We're going to look at its safety record, coming up.

And 16 students and two teachers from a school in Germany were among those lost, leaving their classmates, their town, their parents in horrible mourning.

And tonight, Ted Cruz, you know, he's made his cause in life repealing, quote, "every bloody word of Obamacare." But guess what, he's signed up for Obamacare because he lost coverage from good old Goldman Sachs. Our report is coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [19:40:27] BURNETT: Breaking news: technical advisors from

Airbus are now on route traveling to the accident site in the French Alps where an Airbus A320 jet with 150 onboard, inexplicably, it was a mystery, peculiar, these are the words being used to describe how this could have happened, just a drop from normal cruising altitude, crashing into a mountain today.

The A320 is plane model used across the world, all the time, every day in the United States. According to Airbus, the A320 series takes off or lands every 2.5 seconds every single day.

Miguel Marquez is OUTFRONT.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Worldwide, more than 3,600 Airbus A320 are flown by more than 400 airlines, chartered companies and private entities. Eight American carriers combined have more than 450 A320s in their fleet. Among the biggest, JetBlue with 130. United had 97. Delta and U.S. Airways, 69 each.

In the short to medium range world, the A320 is second only to the Boeing 737, which is delivered nearly 8,000 of its ultra popular medium size planes.

Airbus says every 2.5 seconds, a plane from one of its A320 family is taking off or landing somewhere in the world. The plane identified as Germanwings Flight 9525 had been in service since 1991. When it took off from Barcelona, Airbus says it had approximately 58,300 flight hours in some 46,700 flights.

The jet climbed to 38,000 feet and according to flight tracking radar, rapidly descended until its signal was lost at about 6,800 feet. No distress call was ever heard.

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: This plane was 24 years old. And -- but it was being maintained on a very strict schedule even an enhanced schedule for older planes.

MARQUEZ: Three months ago, it was a similar story with AirAsia Flight 8501. That plane was just six years old and logged about 23,000 hours in the air.

Shortly after taking off from Indonesia, the pilot asked air traffic control if he could ascend to 38,000 feet. The request was denied. The A320 is certified to fly up to 39,000 feet. It's absolute limit, 42,000 feet.

In its history, there had been 12 A320 crashes that were deadly, resulting in 980 deaths on the planes or on the ground. The first crash shortly after the plane started service in 1988. Air France Flight 296 skimmed the top of trees during an air show demonstration flight. The cause, the flight by wire system and pilot error.

In 2007, Tam Airlines Flight 3054 crashed on landing in Sao Paolo, Brazil. A reverse thruster had been deactivated. The plane unable to stop crashed into a cargo terminal, 187 passengers and crew died, plus 12 on the ground, the deadliest crash for an A320, cause likely pilot error or mechanical failure.

And who could forget the 2009 ditching of the U.S. Airways Flight 1549, on takeoff from New York's LaGuardia airport, the plane collided with a flock of geese. Both engines failed. Captain Sully Sullenberger successfully landed the plane on the Hudson River. All 155 aboard survived.

Miguel Marquez, CNN.


BURNETT: Joining me now, our aviation correspondent Richard Quest, also the anchor of "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS".

So, you say that this crash is very disturbing to you for a couple of very specific reasons.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. First of all, it's a first world airline. Germanwings part is one of the most respected airlines in the world. Second of all, it's flying into the most sophisticated controlled air space in the world. You know, air traffic control, euro control, everybody is watching it.

And finally, it's in the safest part of the flight, the cruise. We had numbers last week which show that most accidents happen take off and landing. They don't happen in the cruise.

Put these factors together, Erin, and you end up with this incident which I think is deeply troubling.

BURNETT: And on top of it, air traffic control seem to be on top of it. They noticed the plane was coming down. They kept saying, why are you coming down, why are you coming down, why are you coming down? And they got no response.

QUEST: From Barcelona, from El Prat Airport in Barcelona, which I've been to many times, heading up towards Germany, out over the coast and up that way, if you deviate from you flight plan, you can cause chaos because of so much air traffic in the region.

BURNETT: Right. Now, what about this issue about the plane? We always hear about, and whenever we hear about an Airbus crash.

[19:45:03] There's been questions about it's so automated, they're so proud of it, right? In the France crash off the coast of Brazil, it was that automation maybe that was part of the problem.

Are the planes too automated? Do the pilots know how to fly when something goes wrong?

QUEST: There's not a huge difference in the level of automation between a Boeing and an Airbus.

BURNETT: OK. QUEST: Where the difference is, is that the Airbus with it

what's called envelope protection, will suddenly do things in it feels you're doing it wrong or you're going into an unsafe environment.


QUEST: So, if the pilot takes the plane into an unsafe environment, the plane just won't let you do it. That's the big discrepancy between Boeing and Airbus. But that's the philosophical difference.

Now --

BURNETT: When things go horribly wrong, how can you trust the plane?

QUEST: It doesn't matter whether we're talking about Boeing or Airbus. The core question is, are planes too automated and are today's pilots not trained to hand fly the aircraft in extremes?


QUEST: And the truth is they're not. I know several CEOs that are saying, we will add hand flying into our regular training and upgrading of pilots. A couple of CEOs have said it they're doing it every single time they go into the flight simulator. Hand training is part of the routine now.

BURNETT: Right. Because when you need it, you don't have time to think.

QUEST: You need to be able to fly the plane yourself. The one thing pilots have not learned to do is to fly at altitude, fly at speed can play by hand at the same time.

BURNETT: All right. Richard Quest, thank you very much. That's pretty terrifying for every airplane passenger.

OUTFRONT next, 16 German teenagers returning home from an exchange program in Spain. Two hours away, time for the crash, one hour away at from seeing their families. Their story ahead.

And Senator Ted Cruz makes an incredibly startling admission to CNN.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, you will be getting Obamacare effectively?

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is one of the good things about Obamacare.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [19:50:36] BURNETT: And we're back with our breaking news

tonight: 150 people killed when a passenger jet crashed in the remote region of the French Alps today. Among the dead, 16 students and two of their teachers from just one German high school.

They were heading home, they had a week-long exchange program in Spain with another school.

Fred Pleitgen is at the airport in Dusseldorf where that plan was supposed to land, families are already arriving to greet them. They were only about an hour away on scheduled time from landing.

And, Fred, that is a town, a school, so many families. All the children on the same plane, they are devastated.

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, absolutely devastating. And you know, Erin, the more we find out about the identities of the people who were killed on that, on that plane, the more we -- we discover the true magnitude of the tragedy that took place here in, on that flight. As you said, there were 16 students who were on the flight. They came back from a week long exchange. They're in Spain, just on the way back, two teachers as well.

And the community that they're from is place called Haltern, which is about 1 1/2 hours north of where I am right now. And that entire community is absolutely devastated. They went out today. They nominated a spokesperson. He's also the mayor of the town. He came and he gave a press conference where he really had a lot of trouble holding it together because the entire town there is really in a state of mourning.

There's flowers that are being laid down in front of that school. There are people who are obviously coming by, lighting candles. So, it really is something that has gripped that entire community, and it's really only just some of the many tragic things that we're finding out.

There's also two opera singers who were also on that flight. One of them was traveling with her small baby. One of two babies who was killed on that flight. So, the more we piece together the identities of those who were killed, the more of the magnitude of what happened on that flight becomes real and it certainly is something that has plunge this country, Germany, really into a state of shock tonight, Erin.

BURNETT: A state of shock. And each one of those stories shows you how significant every single human life is.

Thank you so much, Fred.

And next, Ted Cruz -- you know he's called Obamacare the most unpopular law in the country. He hates it, detests it, wants to repeal it. But guess what, he is signing up for it. And next, you will hear from his very own lips why he says that is perfect sense.


[09:56:42] BURNETT: So, tonight, Ted Cruz, signing up for Obamacare. Do you think I live in an alternate universe? Did you think you did not just hear what I just said? Well, guess what? The newly announced Republican presidential candidate who quickly rose to fame in the Senate for railing against the president's health care plan is now going to be on the president's health care plan.

And guess how we know? Because Dana Bash asked him and here's what he told her.


BASH: You and your family have been getting your health insurance through your wife's job. Her company has been Goldman Sachs. She has now left that to help you with your campaign.

So, where are you getting your health insurance now?

CRUZ: So, she's taking on unpaid leave of absence from her job. And so, we're transitioning. We'll be getting with new health insurance and we'll presumably do it through my job in the Senate. So, we'll be on the federal exchange like millions of others on the federal exchange.

BASH: So, you will be getting Obamacare, effectively?

CRUZ: It is one of the good things about Obamacare is that the statute provided that members of Congress would be on the exchanges without subsidies, just like millions of Americans. So, there wouldn't be a double standard.


BURNETT: He calls it the exchanges. Interesting. He didn't want to use the word Obamacare when it came to himself. How surprised were you?

BASH: I honestly didn't know how he was going to answer that question. And so, the answer is I was surprised and you could tell that I was by the way I followed up.


BASH: The irony is just kind of unbelievable that you have made your name fighting against Obamacare and you now are going to sign up to get your insurance through that very process, Obamacare.

CRUZ: Listen, it was the case before Obamacare that federal employees could get health insurance through their jobs. That's not a new development. So, yes, I'll get my insurance through my job like millions of other Americans. That's not a shocking --

BASH: Will you take a subsidy from your job which is the federal government? CRUZ: We will follow the text of the law. I strongly oppose the

exemption that President Obama illegally put in place for members of Congress because Harry Reid and the Senate Democrats didn't want to be under the same rules as the American people.

BASH: That means you are going to take a government subsidy?

CRUZ: I believe we should follow the text of the law.

BASH: The law that you want to repeal?

CRUZ: Yes, I believe we should follow the text of every law, even laws I disagree with.


BURNETT: That was amazing.

BASH: I was obviously very surprised he answered that way.

But I should also give you a little bit of a postscript, especially in that last answer. I was trying to get out of him whether or not he was going to accept -- I call it a subsidy, you can call it an employer contribution like we have working for a big company. Those who work for the federal government get it as well. And, but there's from taxpayer money because they work for the government.

Many Republicans who oppose Obamacare on principle say, OK, I'm going into the Obamacare exchange but I won't take the employer contribution. He didn't have an answer for me there, but afterwards, the spokeswoman said the answer is no. If in fact he goes into the Obamacare exchange, he's not going to take it.

BURNETT: So, he would turn that subsidy down.

BASH: Exactly.

BURNETT: But interesting what he had to say he'll follow the law even though as you point it, that is a law he so adamantly wants to repeal.

BASH: It is.

And, you know, the other thing that the Cruz people are sort of pushing back on and something that I kind of understand about is that a lot of Republicans who oppose Obamacare take it because they effectively don't have any choice because it's the law of the land.

BURNETT: Yes. Of course, it's a fair point but, of course, it's tough when you're the face of repealing Obamacare.

Dana Bash, thank you so much.

BASH: Thanks, Erin.

BURNETT: And Anderson starts now.