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Breaking News

Rescuers Rush Survivors of Singapore Airlines Crash to Hospital

Aired October 31, 2000 - 11:36 a.m. ET

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

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Continuing our coverage now of the crash of Singapore Airlines Flight 006, it is now early Wednesday morning in Taipei, where that crash took place just over an hour ago. Once again, a 747 Singapore Airlines Flight 006, headed from Taipei to Los Angeles, crashed as it was trying to takeoff in some very difficult weather conditions, typhoonlike conditions, perhaps high winds. We do know there was strong rain, and of course, the darkness of night at the time.

Want to bring back journalist Jason Blatt. We talked with him earlier in the hour. He is a journalist with TBS, and he is in Taipei.

Jason, we did have early reports that as this Singapore Airlines flight crashed, that it had run into another plane, but now we're hearing conflicting reports on that. Can you clear that up for us?

JASON BLATT, TVBS REPORTER: That's correct. According to the vice minister of transportation and communications, just held a press conference a few minutes ago near the scene of the crash at the Chiang Kai-Shek International Airport just outside of Taipei. Now, according to what he said, there was no second plane involved. There was only the Singapore Boeing 747 involved in the crash.

Now, the latest figures that we have is that there were 159 passengers on board, but 20 crew, for a total of 179 people on board.

Now according to the latest reports we've received from nearby hospitals, at least 18 survivors have been delivered to the hospital emergency room for treatment. Now, 10 of these survivors are said to be foreign nationals, and eight of the survivors are said to be local Taiwanese. But there are certainly more people on the way to the hospital. So we expect the number of survivors to go up.

KAGAN: So, Jason, that's very good news, because that's the first indication we would have that anybody would have survived this crash?

BLATT: That's correct. Well, according to what witnesses have told us, shortly after the airplane took off at about 11:18 p.m. local time, it didn't get very far and it fell back down onto the runway. So this is apparently an incident where the plane wasn't very high up. But after it came back onto the runway, it burst into flames. Now, fire crews were dispatched immediately, and the flames are already under control. We were already seeing footage of the fire being put out, and most of the work is concentrating on pulling survivors out of the wreckage and getting them to hospitals nearby.

KAGAN: Jason, we're actually able to see those same pictures that you're talking about in terms of the rescue efforts, but we're also able to see from the pictures how dark it is and how the rescue workers are all bundled up, and that rain is still coming down very strongly.

BLATT: Yes.

KAGAN: How would that hamper rescue efforts, if you could talk about the weather's like in Taipei right now?

BLATT: Well, right now, the weather in northern Taiwan is rainy and windy, because there's a typhoon on the way. That's expected to pass over Taiwan in several hours time.

Now, usually, when a typhoon is coming, the weather is exactly like what you're seeing right now. The wind tends to change directions quite rapidly or spin in little circles. It's chilly, and you know, the heavy rainfall on and off, and so on.

But it's different from a normal rainstorm in that the wind direction, I think, tends to change suddenly. And as the typhoon gets closer and closer, of course, obviously, then the wind speed really starts to pick up.

So right now, probably they're not facing too much problems in rescuing people because the rain really isn't that heavy.

KAGAN: All right, Jason. We'll have you stand by. I want to bring Flip Spiceland back in to tell us a little bit more about the weather conditions right now in Taipei.

FLIP SPICELAND, CNN METEOROLOGIST: What we have learned since I was with you last is that it's expected to continue on this northeasterly movement. What has happened apparently is it is -- the center of the storm is just now moving right along the southern coast, and then it's expected to remain right along the eastern coast. And the mountains may help to tear it up, but just a little bit.

The center of the storm, if you look very closely here -- we'll try to follow it. See the white dot here? Now, watch as it comes up here right to the southern coast, and then it's expected to remain right along the east coast before moving on out that direction.

That's not real good news because that means that the island will continue to be racked we the ferociousness of the storm for at least another 24 hours. You saw by the pictures that there was very heavy rainfall, as Daryn pointed out, and pretty blustery, too. The winds not, frankly, as strong as I thought they would be from what you could tell in the pictures, although the rain slickers were being whipped about. But what we are telling is with this projected path, we expect bad weather in Taiwan, and specifically in Taipei, for about another 24 hours -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Flip, thank you very much. Want to recap some of the good news that we've been getting in on this plane crash. Good news in that it's encouraging that there have been survivors taken to a hospital, at least 18 survivors. There were 179 people on board this flight, Flight 006, Singapore Airlines -- that was going from Taipei to Los Angeles -- 159 passengers, 20 crewmembers. And the word we're getting from journalist Jason Blatt, who's on the scene for us for TVBS in Taipei, saying at least 18 of those people have been taken to local hospitals and that they do continue to pull more survivors out of that wreckage.

To help us understand a little bit more about what might have gone wrong with this Flight 006, let's bring in our Carl Rochelle, who helps us understand some of the aviation matters when we have this kind of news.

Carl, thanks for joining us. We know that it's a 747, and actually, I don't know if you can see, but we can show you we have a model of the 747 on the set with us here in Atlanta. I don't know if that helps you explain what might have gone wrong or how a 747 handles these kinds of situations.

CARL ROCHELLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, I actually have a model in my own hand.

KAGAN: OK, there you go.

ROCHELLE: I keep a stock of these on my desk, of various and sundry aircraft, just in case, and you're in a situation now. This is -- it appears that it may be wind shear, and the final decision on exactly what caused the aircraft to go done is, of course, nothing that's going to be found out later on.

But let's look at the aircraft itself: Boeing 747 jetliner. All airplanes fly basically on the same principle: It is the relative wind going across the wing, coming from fore to aft across the wing here that determines the ability of the wing to generate lift.

Now in a wind shear situation -- let's put that down and show you a diagram that I have, if we can get the camera to shoot in on this. This is from the FAA. It's something called the Airman's Information Manual and the dotting is a little -- oh, good, you can see very well now. This is sort of what happens when you get wind shear. You get wind moving in from two different directions, and the wind meets. The wind is pushing in one direction, it's meeting another wind about 180 degrees off. And what you get is a wind shear and a microburst.

The microburst is this air coming down at really supremely fast speeds. It can exceed a thousand, 2,000, 3,000 feet a minute. Now, if you look in the diagram, you can see the airplane as it starts on this side, the aircraft goes up and across, and then it begins to go back down again. That is the effect of the wind shear. The airplane flies into it. I'll put that away for a moment. And...

KAGAN: Carl, is that -- Carl, just a quick question. Is that the kind of thing a pilot can see?

ROCHELLE: No, you cannot see wind shear. Now, modern airports, what they have done to try to warn pilots is -- there are a couple things out. There's one using Doppler radar that actually senses the motion of the air, and that helps pilots identify. There's another situation where they put wind socks. You've all seen wind socks at airports. They put wind socks at several different places around the airport with the remote indication of the wind and the wind speed at various and sundry points around the airport, and they feed that information back into the control tower, and they tell pilots if there is a wind shear alert out there, if they know it.

Now, when you have a lot of very volatile atmospheric phenomenon, as is going on now with the typhoon approaching the area, these things can be generated at some point. Clearly, the airplane was not far past takeoff.

So it is in this situation where it is most vulnerable, because an airplane needs a certain speed of air across the wing to fly. If that speed is, for instance, say, 135 or 140 knots, you can add the wind that is blowing toward the wing. You can subtract that from how much you need. So if you've got 30 knots on the nose, you can fly with 110 knots on the ground.

But if you're trying to fly with 140 knots and suddenly you lose that wind off of the nose, and if you have it instead on the tail, it doesn't help you. You could lose 30 knots, 40 knots or more of lift, and then the airplane would just settle down to the ground.

It has happened before. There are a couple of incidents, one out of Louisiana a number of years ago, on takeoff. I believe it was a Pan Am -- it may have been a -- I believe it was a Pan Am that took off and never was able to get out of what's called ground effect, and that is when the airplane is close enough to the ground that it actually generates extra lift because you lose -- well, without going into a great deal of explanation on that, it wasn't able to get out of that particular realm. And it wound up, when it hit an object that was higher than the plane was, it actually crashed.

This could be a case of wind shear. It could be something else, but it's a concept that pilots are taught about. They're taught to look out for it, but you don't always know it's out there until you head in it. And they do their best.

KAGAN: Well, Carl, let me pick your pilot's brain here for just a second, because it's certainly possible that the pilots on board this plane did not know there was wind shear. Yet, all you have do is look at these pictures and look at the weather reports that Flip was showing us out of Singapore and see that the weather conditions were very severe. Is it unusual for a 747 to try to take off in these kinds of conditions? ROCHELLE: No, without the wind shear in there, it would not be a problem. What you are looking for when you take off is you are looking for visibility and being able to see far enough down the runway that you can take off safely, and there are certain parameters that are set up by the federal aviation regulations in this country -- and I'm sure that Taiwan has figures of its own -- how much visibility you need to take off, and how much ceiling you need to take off, and how far you can see down the runway.

But remember, once an airplane gets in the air, the ground, the wind on the ground doesn't make any difference anymore. You either take it on the nose, nose wind, or you've got wind on the tail or crosswind from the sides, but you turn the airplane to deal with the wind. It's in that very vulnerable point right when it is trying to achieve its takeoff and fly out.

If it had had enough speed on, it have flown through the wind shear. That's why most airplanes are most vulnerable in takeoff and landing when they run into this condition.

But the weather alone, by itself, wouldn't dictate a 747 or even a 172 Cessna. Clearly, there are winds that blow fast enough that would blow you off the runway, but the pilot would have known that. He may have even had wind straight down the runway to help him take off when he started, and then it reversed and went around in the opposite direction, and that would be your wind shear, and that's what would cause the airplane to go down -- could cause the airplane to go down.

KAGAN: Carl, as always, you help us understand matters of aviation when these kinds of situations pop up. Thank you for your expertise, really appreciate that.

Want to bring Jason Blatt in one more time. He's on the ground in Taipei, Taiwan.

Jason, of course, since this plane was heading toward Los Angeles, a lot of people in California probably really wondering about survivors. And you were the first to bring us that information that there are indeed survivors of this crash. Anymore information you can give us rescue efforts?

BLATT: Well, right now, I'm sure that you can see the pictures. Crews are still working fervently to pull people out of the damaged aircraft. According to information that we've got from our reporters at nearby hospitals, right now, so far, the total is at least 18 survivors have been brought to hospitals nearby the international airport. Now, eight of these are local Taiwanese people and another 10 of these are said to be foreign nationals, although we don't have any specific statistics on what nationalities they are.

But the vice minister of transportation just had a press conference at which he said, we do expect more survivors to be brought out, and our reporters are still witnessing more and more, you know, ambulances arriving, bringing more people in for treatment. So this is a very good sign. KAGAN: Certainly an encouraging sign when the early reports we had of this plane slamming to the ground and exploding into a fire, it did not sound good at the time. Have officials given any indication about why they are hopeful that even more than 18 survivors will be pulled out and saved from this wreckage?

BLATT: Well, right now, officials are declining to speculate about anything about the cause of the crash or about how serious it will eventually will be, but they are stressing that rescue crews were dispatched immediately, at once, as soon as this incident happened, and they were starting to battle the flames with, literally within minutes. And so far, as we know right now, the flames are already under control. And people and equipment are being brought out of those aircraft.

We can see live pictures of ambulances with carts of survivors on them. So, so far, things are looking better than we initially expected.

KAGAN: Again, very encouraging news out of Taipei.

Jason Blatt, journalist with TVBS, want to thank you for those reports. We'll bring you back if we can have you get some more information.

Right now, I want to bring in Lee Dickinson, former NTSB investigator.

Lee, good to have you with us.

LEE DICKINSON, FORMER NTSB INVESTIGATOR: Yes.

KAGAN: Any information you can give us, any insight you can give us about the crash of the 747?

DICKINSON: Me? Myself?

KAGAN: Yes, you yourself.

DICKINSON: I'm just hearing information that you all are reporting. I heard Carl Rochelle just recently talked about wind shear and the phenomenon, what effect it may have, and how pilots respond to it, so I'm picking up information as we speak.

KAGAN: Well, maybe, just from your former -- your former experience with the NTSB and looking at previous crashes, you can give us an idea of how a 747 does perform in a wind-shear situation.

DICKINSON: Well, as Carl indicated, any airplane is going to have major difficulty if indeed you're flying, especially takeoff or landing, in wind shear. Now, that's a different story if you run into wind shear when you're at an altitude of 30,000 or 35,000 feet.

But we have to keep in mind that it's already been mentioned that there was bad weather. And I have been told that some of the footage that people are looking at now shows that the weather is pretty bad as we speak. Whether or not that means that there was wind shear going on at the time that this airplane was taking off, we don't know that yet. And obviously that is something that's going to need to be -- have to be checked out as the investigation moves forward, is in addition to other things.

As I've said before, we have to -- the investigation will have to look in a number of different areas and not just focus on one thing because it looks like that may solve the puzzle, if you will, today.

KAGAN: The other -- another factor, of course, would be something mechanical that could have gone wrong.

DICKINSON: Well, again, that's speculation. The airplane -- there's no question that the history of the airplane, its maintenance, its inspection work, all the work that's been done on this airplane -- it's my understanding it's a 747-400 series -- the history of that airplane itself will be checked out, the pilots in terms of their training, the type of training that they've had, how recently they have gone through recurring training and the like. That's another area that will be looked at. Obviously anything that could have been mechanical, that will come up in the investigation itself and be examined, as well as other issues that need to be studied, in addition to looking at the weather, since that seems to be an area that people are focusing on right away.

KAGAN: Lee, how does altitude play into this? As we mentioned, this crash took place very soon after this plane was trying to take off. That can make a big difference in terms of survivors if it didn't happen at a higher altitude?

DICKINSON: Again, the most difficult time, especially if you have weather problems, or in this case if indeed its wind shear, wind shear problems would indeed be on takeoff or landing.

I was involved with the -- and Carl mentioned it earlier -- Carl Rochelle mentioned it earlier -- with a Pan Am 727 that was taking off from Kenner, Louisiana in June of 1982. That's almost 20 years ago. That was a well-known and documented takeoff -- wind shear takeoff accident. And, matter of fact, that scenario was used by a number of other pilots and the flight -- the safety folks to help pilots train how to deal with the wind shear phenomena. That scenario was used. So there have been a number of documented accidents that have specifically been explained by wind shear.

Unfortunately, what happens when an airplane takes off, it's -- obviously, it's as heavy as it can be, it's fully loaded with passengers, fully loaded with cargo...

KAGAN: Fuel.

DICKINSON: ... or with fuel. Correct. So it's trying to get lift, get off of the runway. And if indeed you run into a situation where you have a microburst or a wind shear, what happens is you may have what's known as an increasing headwind, which increases the air speed. As you fly through the downburst of the microburst itself, then all of a sudden you have of what's known as the increasing tailwind, which now drops your air speed and it plays havoc with the pilots who are trying to fly the airplane.

But, again...

KAGAN: Lee, want to thank you very much. We want to drop in now -- thank you for your expertise. That's Lee Dickinson, a former NTSB investigator.

We want to go to ETTV. These are pictures and sound coming to us from Taipei. We have English translation. We'll go ahead and listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): ... outside burns on their skin. And there is no critical injury or life-threatening injuries for these 18 passengers. And they're -- and, again, we are at Taoyuan Shen Tabi (ph), Chow May Shing (ph) Hospital.

Right now, again, there are 18 passengers sent to this hospital; eight are Taiwanese and 10 are not. And the names again, Le Ming Liao (ph), Paul Bin Shen (ph), Cai Eching (ph), Ling Quam Quay Shram Uling (ph), number five they do not have the names, but the last name is Shi (ph). Next one is Ou Sho (ph), seventh one Trophu Sing (ph), and the eighth one is Siatien Su (ph).

And so far in this May Shing Hospital, other than these eight Taiwanese passengers, 10 are non-Taiwanese passengers. And, again, most of the injuries are outside burns and there is no life- threatening injuries.

And, again, tonight at 11:18 at Chon Chen Hospital (ph) north runway, Singapore Air accident -- and they've -- the injuries have been sent to Linco (ph), the nearest hospital near the airport. It takes about 10 minutes from the airport to this nearest hospital.

Again, 18 passengers are in this May Shing Hospital, the closest hospital to the airport; eight are native Taiwanese, Taiwanese passengers, 10 are not. Most of them suffer outside burns.

And we want to bring you the newest update once we get new information.

KAGAN: OK, we've been listening to ETTV, giving us that latest information from the Singapore Airlines crash that took place just over an hour ago.

We have on the line with us right now James Boyd, who is with the airline.

Mr. Boyd, can you give us the latest information, please? Hello.

KAGAN: All right, we'll work on getting Mr. James Boyd on the phone with us.

From those latest pictures we were able to see from inside that hospital, that was very encouraging news. Once again, we're learning that there were at least 18 survivors from the crash of Singapore Airlines Flight 006. We know there were 179 people on board that flight, the 747, when it crashed about -- almost two hours ago in Taipei, Taiwan. The plane was going from Taipei to Los Angeles.

I believe we now we do have that representative from Singapore Airlines on the phone with us right now.

James Boyd, are you on the air with us?

JAMES BOYD, SINGAPORE AIRLINES SPOKESMAN: Yes, I am.

KAGAN: Can you give us the latest and the most current information you have on the crash that took place?

BOYD: Yes, I can confirm it. I'd like to clarify some information...

KAGAN: Please do.

BOYD: ... that was reported earlier. You're reporting at least 18 survivors. I need to confirm that there are no fatalities. There are 30 injuries that are reported from Singapore Airlines Flight 006 from Taipei to Los Angeles, which experienced an aborted takeoff at 23:18 local Taipei time. The aircraft is a Boeing 747--400. The flight makes that run every day.

The information that we have received states that there are no fatalities but there are 30 injuries that are reported.

KAGAN: That would be excellent news. So you're able to report here that everyone survived that crash?

BOYD: According to the information that we have received from Taipei, there are no fatalities. There are 30 injuries that are reported. We are also told that the injuries are not life- threatening. So the injured are being attended to in local Taipei airport-area hotels -- I'm sorry, airport-area hospitals.

KAGAN: Hospitals. So you've been able to account for all 179 people who were on board that plane?

BOYD: I'm reporting a different figure of 161 passengers...

KAGAN: Hundred and sixty-one.

BOYD: ... aboard the 747-400. And I am also informed that there are 30 injuries. But once again, there are no fatalities aboard that aircraft.

KAGAN: And that is excellent news, as I said. But just to get the numbers straight, 161 passengers, and then how many crewmembers?

BOYD: The Boeing 747-400 typically flies with a crew of 17.

KAGAN: Seventeen. So to do the math real quick right here, that would be 178 people on board that flight? BOYD: Approximately, yes.

KAGAN: Any indication, sir, about what went wrong?

BOYD: You know, naturally, there's an investigation that's ongoing. I don't have additional information as to the exact cause of the aborted takeoff or the incident at this point. As soon as that information is available, we will be making it public.

KAGAN: All right, James Boyd, Singapore Airlines, really appreciate that latest information, sir. Thank you for joining us.

Just to recap very quickly, Singapore Airlines Flight 006 did crash as it was trying to take off at 11:18 Taipei time, just about two hours ago. According to that representative from Singapore Airlines, everybody on board of that flight did survive, all 161 people.

Just getting that information into us here at CNN. Of course, still a lot to learn about this crash, but the good news, apparently at this point -- 30 people were injured, but everyone on board that flight did survive.

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