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Typhoon Most Likely Contributed to Singapore Airlines Flight 006 Crash

Aired October 31, 2000 - 11:15 a.m. ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Singapore Airlines Flight 006 in its way from Taipei to Los Angeles has crashed; it's a 747 and we understand that some weather might be involved.

To help us understand a little bit more what might be going on, let's bring in Michael Goldfarb, former FAA chief of staff.

Michael, thanks for joining us.


KAGAN: Anything -- can you add to this? We know it's a 747. We know that there was typhoon-like conditions in the area at the time.

GOLDFARB: Yes, I mean, obviously it's very early. And, you know, one question clearly comes -- weather and taking off in those kinds of wind conditions; usually planes are held on the ground and don't take off.

But, you know, it's so early, Daryn -- obviously, as information comes in, I'm sure the story will change many times. But if, as reported, it's truly a tragedy. The 747 is a great plane; Singapore is a great airline and we're just going to have to wait over the next several hours to get more data.

KAGAN: Singapore Airlines does have a good safety record?

GOLDFARB: They have a good safety record, and it's actually a preferred airline for going from the West Coast to the Pacific Rim. Many Americans like both the service and the way those planes are maintained. It's a relatively new fleet. I don't know how old this particular 747 was. But, once again, we'll just have to wait and see.

KAGAN: Right, as you said, information is early and coming in.

Now, The Associated Press reporting that this is a Boeing 747. The image that comes to mind for me is, that's a very large airplane.

GOLDFARB: Yes, it holds, you know, full capacity -- several hundreds of people. We don't know what the load was on that particular flight. The 747 is used worldwide. We've had some problems, as you know, with the TWA 800, which is a 747 -- a center fuel tank problem. There's been other wiring problems with those planes.

But early reports here seem to point pretty directly to the weather on takeoff. So, certainly, a contributing factor, if not, necessarily, the reason for the crash.

KAGAN: OK, Michael, stand by; we're going to bring Flip back in to, once again, tell us what weather conditions are like in Taipei now and what it might have been like at the time of the crash -- Flip.

FLIP SPICELAND, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I have quite a bit more information for you, actually. If you were noticing on the news graphic that you just saw, you could clearly see the mountains that run up the center of the island of Taipei -- right up the middle.

And we are told, on the eastern side of those islands, because of this strong easterly wind wrapping around the center of this typhoon, that they've had as much as 300 millimeters of rainfall. For those of us here in America, that's about a foot of rain.

KAGAN: A foot of rain in what amount of time, Flip?

SPICELAND: Over the past 24 hours.

KAGAN: OK, so a lot of rain.

SPICELAND: Very, very heavily at the time.

Let me show you this graphic because this is what we're used to looking at here in the United States. The specifics on the storm, giving you the latitude and longitude, and I'll try to do some translation for you here. You can see that it's 233 kilometer west- northwest of Port San Vicente. This was, as of the last update, which was 5:00 a.m. this morning our time, here in the U.S.

The wind-speeds were at 167 kilometers, that's 104 mile-an-hour wind-speeds associated with it; and it was moving to the north- northeast at about 26k, and that's at about 17 miles an hour, which is very, very rapid movement to the north-northeast.

So what I was telling you when I was with you last time was you can clearly see in the loop the turn to the north and even back to the northeast. Sort of coming into the island from the back door. So it was, and is, a very, very ferocious storm and I'm sure that, within the last hour or two, things have been very nasty.

Look at the dark orange area here in this enhanced satellite photography, the most recent one we have out of the area. That's about as bad as we show on this satellite photography.

KAGAN: All right, Flip, thank you very much; want to bring Michael Goldfarb back in here.

Michael, those seem like some very severe weather conditions. It would seem surprising that any kind of airliner would try to take off in those kind of conditions. GOLDFARB: Well, you know, a 747 can handle, Daryn, winds at 20, 30,000 feet because there's a lot of maneuverability. But on critical takeoff, where there's less margin for error, that kind of wind does create the wind shear. And, you know, there are wind-shear alerts warning systems -- low-level wind shear alert warning systems at most major airports here in the United States and at the large international ones as well.

But I'm just surprised anything was taking off in that kind of weather, if it is as reported.

KAGAN: Well, you bring up the term "wind shear," and I'm also seeing it on the wire copy in the early reports that are coming to us here at CNN.

For those of us that don't fly, who aren't pilots, what is wind shear and how does it affect planes?

GOLDFARB: It's a sudden -- it's almost an unanticipated, sudden downdraft of convective weather so the wind is -- and that's the danger, it's insidious. It's not something you're in and, you know, you say, well I'm in wind shear and it gets worse. It hits suddenly and it's almost, like, pushes the plane down towards the ground. So it can't get any lift at a time when it's, you know, if it's coming off the runway and trying to reach V-1 and trying to, in effect, get airborne.

It needs all of its thrust to get airborne; and it can't really recover from such a dangerous downdraft. We've had, here in the United States we've had, at Dallas-Fort Worth a Delta plane that, either on landing or takeoff, I'm not sure, suffered wind shear. But since then pilots avoid weather and the airlines don't fly in weather like that.

KAGAN: Our reports saying that because there was some type of wind shear, that eyewitnesses say that the plane fell flat to the ground, bursting into flames. When I hear the severe weather, it also concerns me when I think about rescue efforts.

GOLDFARB: Yes. Well, I mean, certainly now, if you want to look at where this goes, rescue is the first -- first thing, hopefully trying to find survivors.

But the plane was out of control, Daryn. At a point of that velocity of wind, I mean, there's really -- it doesn't perform aerodynamically, it literally, you know, pancakes to the ground or whatever might have happened.

KAGAN: And again, we don't have information on survivors or fatalities, but depending on how high that plane was as it was trying to gain lift, it does not bode well for people who were on board that plane, I would think.

GOLDFARB: Right. I would think that's the case. Any kind of crash with that size of aircraft -- and once again, this is speculation here. There could have been a mechanical problem on takeoff or any other number of things. As we often find out on these crashes, that what we think in the beginning is never truly how it ends. But at this stage, the weather certainly seems to have contributed.

KAGAN: Michael, anything else you can add that we haven't covered here?

GOLDFARB: No, I think we just need to wait and see over the next several hours, Daryn.

KAGAN: All right. Well, we'll be checking back in with you.

Once again, to recap what we do know here, it's a Singapore Airlines flight. It's Flight 006. It was taking off from Taipei, Taiwan earlier today. A 747 headed to Los Angeles, California. It crashed as it was trying to take off. Weather at the time of the crash was very bad, as Flip Spiceland telling -- explaining to us: typhoon-like conditions.

Don't know yet on survivors, fatalities, or on exactly what factor weather played in this crash.

We will, of course, continue to monitor the situation out of Taipei and bring you more as we have it.



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