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Breaking News

Singapore Airlines 747 Crashes in Taiwan; No Fatalities Reported

Aired October 31, 2000 - 1:00 p.m. ET

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

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Our story of the hour is the jumbo jet crash in Taiwan. Confusion still surrounding that accident. Airline officials are telling us no one was killed, but survivors describe a very different situation with multiple deaths being reported.

The crew of a Boeing 747 jetliner was attempting to take off from the Chiang Kai-Shek International Airport ahead of an approaching typhoon. It was very windy and rainy.

Singapore Airlines Flight 006 was en route to Los Angeles with 179 passengers and crew aboard. Just after lifting off the runway, the departing plane slammed back into the ground, broke into two pieces and burst into flame. We're getting some raw videotape here. For the first time, these pictures are being seen, so follow along with us.

One survivor says he was surprised the crew attempted to take off in such high winds and heavy rain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN DIAZ, CRASH SURVIVOR: The weather was absolutely horrendous. I couldn't even believe they were going to take off. We got on the plane and we started to take off on the runway. It seemed like we were just getting ready to lift off and it felt like we hit something.

And the next thing we know, the whole plane was shaking and sliding. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the flame right next to me. The whole side started to slip and then it slid to a stop.

There were flames everywhere and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) everywhere, and I ran to the door, and there were two girls trying to open the door. It was stuck. I hit the door with my shoulder, it popped open. And (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and then the slide started to inflate. But we were right on the ground, so I jumped out of the plane, got caught up on the slide, freed myself and one other person. I don't know who.

And we got out and just started running, and then the whole thing blew up.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WATERS: The pictures you're seeing now are running on Taiwan television. Apparently the initial moments there in the previous videotape of the flames erupting with a fully loaded aircraft, jet fuel loaded onto the aircraft for a 15-hour flight from Taipei's Chiang Kai-Shek to Los Angeles International Airport.

We have another survivor also describing what he saw when the plane crashed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were (UNINTELLIGIBLE) taxiing down the runway, approaching takeoff speed. And then all of a sudden, there was a very loud noise. The lights went out. Parts of the plane started to come apart.

We, obviously, realized at that point that we were in a plane crash, and we thought we were all going to die.

Eventually, the plane -- the tail section that we were in turned over several times, and we ended up on our side with all the passengers, basically passengers on one side of the plane were all up in the air. A lot of people were still stuck up there. We tried to get the back emergency exit open. We couldn't do that because that was stuck, couldn't get it open.

So we all tried to leave and tried to make our way to the front of what was left of the tail section, and basically, we got to a certain stage and we could see that the whole plane had broken in two.

So at that point, we tried to get as many people as we could out of the section. There were people still trapped, strapped in their seats. We tried to get those down.

And there was a gentleman, when I got out of the plane, there was a gentleman trapped underneath the tail section of the plane (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the tail was on the ground. And we tried to lift -- obviously, we couldn't lift the tail to get the guy out. At that point, there was smoke and flames blowing from the other section of the plane that was engulfing the tail section.

So we tried firemen there or tried to make understood that we needed something to jack this section of the plane up so we could get this guy out. But it's very difficult to communicate. It seemed like the emergency crews took forever to get there, but I'm sure it was only a few minutes.

It was a very major air disaster.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: There you have it. Two incredible stories of survival from a horrible disaster there in Taipei, Taiwan, from Flight 006, Singapore Airlines. Many people survived this disaster, so hard to imagine when you look at these pictures of the initial explosion and fire that happened there on the runway at Chiang Kai-Shek Airport.

We want to talk now with journalist Jason Blatt. He joins us now by telephone. He is in Taipei.

Jason, what's the latest that you're hearing?

JASON BLATT, JOURNALIST: Well, the latest information that we received, our station, TVBS, has received some footage taken by a tourist on board an aircraft that happened to be taxiing at the time that the crash occurred. Those are the fiery items of footage that you're probably seeing on your screen right now.

Now, according to the latest information from the national fire administration, so far we've had 82 injured passengers, have been taken to any one of four or five nearby hospitals, of which at least one person is seriously injured. That leaves -- there were also 16 persons said to be not injured, so that they're not in the hospital, and another 96 persons who are still unaccounted for. But we assume that they are either on their way to a hotel or on their way to the hospital.

Now, the aircraft is broken into three pieces. The fuselage broke into three pieces. And from the footage taken by the tourist camera, you can see that the fire was strongest at the very front end of the plane.

The rescuers said that when they conducted the rescue attempt, they went in from the back of the plane and managed to get most of the people out.

ALLEN: Jason, Singapore Airlines has said that everyone on board survived this crash. Is that still the case as far as you know?

BLATT: Well, there have been some conflicting reports in the various media here in Taiwan saying that possibly as many as one person has died. But so far, aside from the tales we've heard from survivors of a horrible fiery scene, there's been no confirmation from authorities officially confirming that anyone has died yet.

ALLEN: And weren't there initial reports that this plane might have hit something, and one of the witnesses we just heard from said it felt like the plane hit something. What do you know about that?

BLATT: Well, initially, there were reports saying that the plane had smacked into another aircraft on the tarmac. But just a while ago, the vice minister of transport came forward and said there was only one aircraft involved in this accident and that there was no -- there was no other aircraft involved.

ALLEN: And what else are people, witnesses saying about the weather conditions at that time and what it felt like when they were taxiing as far as the weather?

BLATT: Well, some of the passengers have described to us that they felt a kind of shuddering, shuddering sensation as the aircraft took off. And witnesses said that they saw what looked like a kind of wind shear or something. The aircraft, just after it took off, it just suddenly slammed back down into the runway and burst into flames.

We have a lot of conflicting stories about, you know, about what it was like to be inside the aircraft at the time. But obviously, it was very frightening.

ALLEN: Have you heard about conditions of the crew, the pilot, the co-pilot?

BLATT: No. We don't have any information yet about the crew, but we do know that the fire was most intense at the very front end of the plane, where the cockpit is located. So it's possible that they could have been affected the most severely.

ALLEN: Was the airport -- had the airport at any time during this storm been closed? Were planes continuing to land and takeoff at the time that this plane was attempting to takeoff?

BLATT: Well, that we don't know, but we do know from the footage we received from a passenger aboard another aircraft there was at least one aircraft taxiing right nearby, so when this -- this incident occurred. But we still don't know if that plane was on its way to takeoff or if had been landed. But chances are, it's possible that it could have been either way, because there's more than one runway.

ALLEN: As you said, 96 still unaccounted for. And you report that it's presumed that many have left the scene. How would you describe the scene at this time here shortly after this occurred?

BLATT: Well, within -- literally within minutes after this occurred, fire crews were rushing up to the aircraft. They ran into the rear end of the aircraft and began pulling people out immediately.

So you could say that, you know, there were firetrucks and ambulances on the scene almost at once as soon as this happened.

ALLEN: And this is a typhoon that's been rolling in that's expected to be over Taiwan tomorrow. What are the weather conditions there now as the people continue to work this tragedy?

BLATT: Right now, it's very chilly, and on and off heavy rain, although it's not especially heavy rain for this time of year.

The most important thing about when a typhoon is approaching, it's a lot like when a hurricane is approaching in the U.S. The wind direction -- wind direction tends to change very rapidly, you know, and so that could create conditions that could have caused this kind of accident.

ALLEN: Jason Blatt. Jason, we thank you for talking with us and bringing us information. Again, Jason reported that 82 injured, that there's one known serious injury: 16 people walked away from that crash with no injuries. And looking at the video, it is so hard to believe that, but that is apparently the case.

And again, one of the people you heard from right off the top there, John Diaz -- he was a passenger on the flight -- said, flames shot up right next to me as the plane tried to take off. He couldn't believe that the plane was going to take off in that weather. He even made that comment to his wife over the telephone. But there you have it.

And we continue now with more. Here's Lou.

WATERS: Indications are weather played a major part in this plane going down. You can tell from the videotape we've been witnessing that it's playing a part in the rescue operation which is ongoing. It's the middle of the night in Taiwan. But the weather hasn't gotten as bad as it's going to get, apparently.

Orelon Sidney is in the weather center.

Give us an idea of what it's like over there now and what it's going to be like tomorrow.

ORELON SYDNEY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Oh, thanks a lot, Lou.

What's happening right now is the equivalent of a Category 2 hurricane making landfall on the island. The center of the typhoon is in the southern portion of Taiwan. This is Taiwan right here. Here is the eye of the typhoon. Remember, that's about a Category 2. It's equivalent to a Category 2 hurricane. The problem here is that the most strong winds, of course, will be around the center of the eye in general, but on the outside edge of the eye you have the outer rain bands of the hurricane.

That's a big, big problem, because in the rain bands you can have tornadoes, you can extremely chaotic winds, as well as heavy rain. And wind shear is what the typhoon and hurricane is all about.

So, as this made landfall, you're going to see the center of the storm with winds, of course, about 90 knots. That's close to 100 miles an hour in the southern portion of the island. In the northern tip where Taipei is located, and a rain band moving across could bring you winds of hurricane force and even stronger than the center of the storm. If you get into a very strong thunderstorm in the rain band, you could have winds greater even than the center of the hurricane, which is now making landfall.

The storm center is moving across the island. It is moving off to the north-northeast and expected to continue that track for the next 24 hours. So things will probably be a lot better in Taiwan tomorrow.

Notice the wind speed we're recording is 167 kilometers an hour, again, moving to the north-northeast.

Current conditions out of the airport, the very last hour, reporting north-northeasterly winds at 40 miles an hour with gusts to 73 miles an hour. That's hurricane force gusts.

So, my feeling is that as this plane took off, it ran into some of the outer rain bands. And a couple of things can happen. You can either get very strong downburst winds -- that would equivalent to the Delta crash back in Dallas back in 1985, something like that situation -- or because the winds are very chaotic coming from every which direction at different speeds in a very short period of time, as the plane takes off, it could lose lift. It could simply pick up a very strong tailwind. The plane has no lift, drops out of the air like a rock. That's part of the problem as you try to get into these very, very chaotic thunderstorms and rain in the rain band.

As far as the recovery efforts are concerned, things are going to get probably worse before they get better because, again, the center of the storm is going to be tracking just about in this direction. So right over Taipei, you're going to have some of the strongest winds later today.

Tonight into tomorrow, things will start to clear off as we continue to see the storm bringing in the drier air and the clearer conditions behind it. But today, it's going to be a really bad situation -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Orelon, thanks.

And, again, the plane that attempted to take off in those conditions she described was on a flight -- or supposed to be on flight to Los Angeles. That's where we find CNN's Jim Hill. He's at the Los Angeles International Airport where this plane was going to arrive tonight -- Jim.

JIM HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Natalie. The flight from Chang Kai-Shek Airport here to Los Angeles International Airport would have been about 15 hours. That would put the plane in here, time changes all considered, about 5:30, 6:15 Pacific time late this afternoon, early evening.

What we've been waiting for here is a news conference which officials from Singapore Airlines said they would hold at 10:00 Pacific time. That would have been about 15 minutes ago. There's some confuse, though. The news conference did not go off as scheduled. There's apparently a dispute about where it's going to be held within the Los Angeles International Airport terminal complex. We're told alternately that it could be at 10:30; some say 10:45. But within the current hour, within the hour of 10:00-11:00 Pacific time, we do hope to have official word from people from Singapore Airlines to give us some details on just what took place early this morning.

Now, this is a very popular airline flying between the Near East, or the Far East and the Pacific Rim areas of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and so forth; a popular route with frequent business travelers and a very popular airline for those travelers.

With so many people on board -- 179 is the figure we're being told -- there's a very good chance a lot of people in the Los Angeles area could be arriving, or should have been arriving at 5:30, 6:15 Pacific time this evening. That means a lot of people are very concerned about the fate of their loved ones.

At this point, we do not see a lot of people arriving at the airport asking questions, but certainly a lot of phone calls must be being made at this point. And I think one of the things Singapore Airlines wants to do is to set up some kind of an official system to field all of these inquiries which have to really, at this point, be flooding them.

But, once again, we hope to get a news conference and carry it live from the officials with Singapore Airlines within the hour -- Natalie.

ALLEN: All right, Jim Hill at Los Angeles International Airport.

When that news conference begins, we will bring live coverage of that.

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