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Breaking News

Bodies of USS Cole Victims Arrive in Germany

Aired October 13, 2000 - 12:17 p.m. ET

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

FRANK SESNO, CNN ANCHOR: And we're going to take you now to Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, where you can see an honor guard, a U.S. military honor guard going out to meet the aircraft, a C-131 transport, which has brought some of the victims from the presumed terrorist attack on the USS Cole to Ramstein there to be met by a phalanx of members of the U.S. military Air Force and Navy, we understand.

Our Chris Burns is there and has been tracking this development as the somber business of returning some of the victims to their native land, to the United States for remembrance and burial will take place.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN ANCHOR: They have been flown here to Germany. Tomorrow, they will be loaded aboard another aircraft and taken to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where so many American casualties have returned after other conflicts and other acts of terrorism around the globe.

A memorial service is expected for victims also down in Norfolk, Virginia: that, of course, the home base to the USS Cole.

SESNO: And as the honor guard takes its place by this aircraft, we want to take you to our correspondent Chris Burns, who is at Ramstein -- Chris.

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Frank, a very solemn ceremony that has just began in this cold rain, this evening here in Ramstein, Western Germany. The honor guard here is ready to receive the caskets of the five soldier, the five sailors who died in that blast in Yemen.

They're about to be taken from the plane, given this solemn honor ceremony by this honor guard. They're marching toward the plane. They will be taking the bodies one by one off the plane and loaded each aboard a hearse that will go on to Landstuhl Medical Center, U.S. medical center here nearby, where they will be kept for the night. Tomorrow morning, they will be put on another plane and flown back to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

One of the first, first hearses is driving up to receive the first body. A very solemn ceremony. These are the five -- the first five bodies that were brought back from the blast. The plane flew from Bahrain, the U.S. Air Force base there. They're slowly -- go back up toward the plane. Officials here tell us the two other remains of the two other sailors who are known -- whose bodies have been found have not been brought back because they had not been processed through Bahrain. The intent was to bring back as many bodies as possible, as soon as possible, to their families.

Some 19 other sailors were wounded in that blast. They are to be brought here to Ramstein around midnight tonight local time to be taken also to Landstuhl, where they will be cared for.

A number of local family and servicemen and women and their families are here, women with their children watching the ceremony, coming here to pay their respects.

MESERVE: Also joining us is CNN's Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon -- Jamie?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As we watch this, we're told here at the Pentagon that they're still putting final plans in place for a memorial service that will be attended by the secretary of defense and the joint chiefs chairman.

SESNO: If you're just joining us, you're seeing pictures of a U.S. transport plane bringing back the remains of five servicemen and women from the USS Cole, the victim -- or the target, rather, of that presumed terrorist attack, the second body now being brought off that plane and to a waiting hearse.

And we should tell you that as this mournful ceremony proceeds, officially anyway, the Navy lists still 10 sailors as missing. They are presumed dead. FBI and forensics experts en route to the USS Cole, some already there, to begin their official investigative tasks over the weekend.

MESERVE: Jamie McIntyre still at the Pentagon for us.

Jamie, is the Pentagon shedding any new light on what happened?

MCINTYRE: Well, they still believe this was the result of a terrorist bomb. One Pentagon official I talked to said that, looking at the damage to the ship, the USS Cole, they figured just, not officially, but just roughly that it would take somewhere between 400 and 500 pounds of high explosives on that small boat that was up next to the destroyer in order to create the damage it created.

And there are some Navy divers that are going to be going down and inspecting the damage and looking for the remains of that boat to try to piece together, assist the FBI and other law enforcement officials who are trying to put together exactly what happened.

MESERVE: What happens to the Cole for the time being?

MCINTYRE: Well, they're going to try to salvage the ship, but it is a problem because it has a large hole in the side which would have to be repaired, probably has to be cut out, and then a piece of metal placed over it. The water, the engine room, the main engine room, is still flooded. That's under control, but it's still flooded. And then they'd have to try to pump the water out. It's very difficult task.

For now, the remaining crew, about 250 sailors, are staying with the ship, and two other Navy ships, the USS Haas and another destroyer, are on the scene protecting and assisting the Cole as it -- they do a damage assessment of how they can affect repairs and try to get the ship home.

The crew was due to be home in December in time for Christmas. At this point, it's uncertain whether they will make it back in time, although it's certainly possible.

MESERVE: Any change in policy, Jamie, on fueling ships? Will they still be taken into Aden?

MCINTYRE: At this point, the Pentagon has said there's been no decision on that. That has been left to the decision of the U.S. Central commander, who at the moment is Army General Tommy Franks. The U.S. Central Command is responsible for that area of the world. And it was the decision of the previous Central commander, Anthony Zinni, a Marine general, to begin using Aden in Yemen as a refueling stop, part of a policy that Zinni believed very strongly in, in trying to engage all of the countries in the region there and create better ties between the United States and countries in that region.

Right now, that policy -- there's been no change in it, but it's the decision of the commander-in-chief and the Central Command in Tampa.

SESNO: And, Jamie, as we're seeing the third of the five flag- draped caskets coming off this plane and into the waiting car.

MESERVE: And now the third of five caskets has come off an airplane at Ramstein Air Base into a waiting hearse, five bodies coming back today. This is a ritual that will be repeated in the coming days. The death toll now stands at seven; 10 are missing and presumed dead.

SESNO: A drab and rainy day in Ramstein, the air force base there, for this ceremony, one that we have seen too many times over the years, either by accident or by deliberate act, as the military commemorates those that fall in the line of duty.

Jamie McIntyre, tell us a little bit more about the memorial services that lie ahead in the coming days.

MCINTYRE: Well, there are still -- some of those are still in the planning stage. There are discussions of doing some -- having some services tomorrow at Norfolk, Virginia, which was the home port for the USS Cole. In addition, there is planning under way for a possible -- a larger memorial service on Tuesday of next week that would be attended by the secretary of defense and the joint chiefs chairman at the very least, along with many other top Pentagon officials. But all of that this morning was still being worked out. The biggest concern is for the family members of the fallen sailors who are largely in the Norfolk, Virginia area, but other places around the country as well. They want to make sure everybody has time and is accommodated in trying to attend the memorial. So there may be more than one service.

There's also some discussion of instead of bringing the bodies back to Dover, Delaware, which has been a traditional receiving point for casualties, American casualties overseas, of perhaps bringing the bodies directly to Norfolk, Virginia, the home port of the ship. But these are all things that are being discussed and worked out at the Pentagon today.

MESERVE: Jamie, we've seen this scene at Ramstein Air Base before, have we not?

MCINTYRE: We have, although in the time that I've been covering the Pentagon in the past eight years, we haven't seen it that many times. Of course the biggest casualty that -- mass casualty in a terrorist attack that took place during my tenure here at the Pentagon was the bombing of the Khobar Towers housing facility in Saudi Arabia in which 19 U.S. airmen were killed in a similar situation, in the sense that they were the target of a terrorist attack.

SESNO: And so the sad occasion of returning those who perished, five bodies in this particular case, from this particular transport, back to Ramstein en route back to the United States, complete here. As you can see from the tarmac, it is a gray and rainy day, considerably mournful to this sad occasion.

And something, Jamie McIntyre, if you're still with us, that when something like this does occur, it is felt very profoundly and very widely in the extended family of the military.

MCINTYRE: That's absolutely true, Frank. Particularly in the Navy, but in all the services there's a very strong feeling about the -- that this illustrates the fact that U.S. servicemen and women in all the services put their lives on the line every day, even when it appears they're doing something routine, such as stopping and refueling on the way to take part in one of the many missions that the U.S. has under way.

The chief of naval operations noted yesterday that he's got 101 ships deployed, currently out doing some mission right now. That's about one-third of the Navy's ships who are right now currently involved in some sort of mission: advancing U.S. policy goals, providing presence or providing support.

And when this kind of loss happens, it is felt very deeply throughout the military community.

SESNO: Now, we were told that there were five bodies aboard this air transport. By our count, that were four that came off. So we are -- believe there's one more casket to be removed from the aircraft. We believe that's what we are seeing here now.

MESERVE: Jamie, 10 are missing. What you can tell us about the search for them?

MCINTYRE: Well, you notice that the Navy has said that they are presumed dead. And it is almost certain that the casualty count will in fact rise to 17 once they recover the bodies. These bodies are believed to be in the wreckage of the USS Cole. Until they are recovered and positively identified, the Navy does not list them as dead, but just simply as missing.

This is not a case where the bodies are in the water someplace. There are no Navy divers looking for bodies. It's believed that these 10 missing sailors are in fact in the wreckage.

SESNO: And, Jamie, one thing we should point out is that these sailors who perished: men and women both.

MCINTYRE: This was a mixed-gender crew. And it appears that, among the dead and missing, were two female seamen. And that is one of the things that the Navy realizes is now a possibility, having men and women serving together on their warships.

MESERVE: And now the van holding the fifth body pulls away at Ramstein Air Base.

Jamie McIntyre, the French have been quite helpful, have they not?

MCINTYRE: They say that in times of trouble, Jeanne, that you find out who your friends really are. And many people at the Pentagon were telling me this morning that they were very grateful to the assistance that the French government provided in the early stages after this accident -- after this incident.

You know, more than three dozen USS Cole sailors were injured. And many of them were injured quite seriously. Eleven of the most seriously injured were flown by the French to a hospital in Djibouti. And Pentagon officials told me this morning that they are convinced that saved the lives of several of those sailors: the quick response by the French in getting them to the hospital in Djibouti and getting them quick medical attention.

They are convinced that some of those lives were saved because of that. And the U.S. government is extremely grateful to the French government for that assistance.

SESNO: And at Ramstein itself is Chris Burns, who has been witnessing this very sad occasion -- Chris.

BURNS: Frank, a very moving ceremony here, especially ending now with a fiery sunset at the same time the honor guard are now marching away from the (INAUDIBLE) the Navy and Air Force honor guard, who helped to receive the five sailors' bodies who were taken off that plane. And now they will -- the high person will now drive to Landstuhl Hospital, Landstuhl Medical Center, a U.S. military hospital nearby where the bodies will be kept overnight, and then taken back here to Ramstein to be flown to Delaware, to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. We are waiting -- we will be waiting for the next few hours. In about five hours will arrive some 19 injured sailors in the blast. They will be arriving here and also taken to Landstuhl Medical Center for treatment. And we will be keeping you updated with that as the hours pass -- Frank.

SESNO: All right, Chris Burns.

And, of course, CNN is deployed literally around the world to cover this story and bring you the developments and the news to it as it -- as it all becomes available to us as well, as the crisis in the Middle East.

Up next: "BURDEN OF PROOF," examining more on these recent events.

MESERVE: But we leave you once again with the names of the sailors who perished on the USS Cole.

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