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U.S. Air Force Plane Goes Down in Indian Ocean

Aired December 12, 2001 - 13:27   ET

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


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: The news out of this Pentagon briefing, primarily that a B-1B bomber, the B-1B Lancer, one of those on its way back to base at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean has crashed into the ocean about 30 miles north of Diego Garcia.

These planes have a crew of four, and CNN has learned, while the briefing was under way, that search and rescue crews have made contact with at least one of the crew members of the B-1 that went down. We were told in the briefing by Tori Clarke and by General Pace that the crew does have the ability to eject, so it is possible that all four of the crew members have survived, but, of course, we know -- we don't know that. What we do know at this point is that one of them -- there has been voice contact established with at least one of those crew members.

Again, this is B-1B bomber down in the Indian Ocean just about 30 miles north of Diego Garcia on its way back to this British base there, which has been a place for all of these B-1's to land, be refueled, and take off again. And we heard General Pace describing the mission of these -- the mission of these aircraft right now in the most recent days to circle Afghanistan, to wait for an official, officer on the ground to call them in, to call them in on a target. Our Pentagon correspondent, Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre joining us now. Jamie, what more can you add to this?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm not sure exactly what you've said already, Judy, but let me just say that we've gotten a little bit of good news in the last few minutes. Apparently, a U.S. Air Force KC-10 refueling jet circling over the area has spotted the beacons -- the rescue beacons from the crash side, and has been in voice communication with the at least one surviving crew member.

The USS Russell, a Navy destroyer, is less than one hour steaming time from the site, and is proceeding at its top speed. There's no indication that this was a result of any hostile fire. In fact, while we are told by Pentagon officials that the plane was returning to the British base at Diego Garcia, it's not clear whether it was returning from a bombing run or whether it has gone out, suffered a mechanical problem or some kind of problem, and then turned around and tried to come back.

The crash site, about 30 miles north of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, is a pretty remote spot. There's a very slim possibility that there would have been any hostile fire there. So, no indication of that, and it does appear that there are some -- at least one survivor that is in voice communication with a plane circling overhead.

The B-1B Lancer bomber has a crew of four, and once the canopy blows, on the top of it, if they try to eject, all four crew members eject out in a pattern where they can all four be ejected at once. So, it is possible that there could be four survivors at this point. The search plane has identified at least one, and has picked up voice -- voice communication and a rescue beacon from the B-1 bomber -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Jamie, we did hear General Pace say that their first priority -- what they most hope for now, of course, is to save the crew, and to get to that crew just as fast as they can, so you're reporting that they now have established, not only voice contact, but you said the crew of the KC-10 has actually spotted the beacons.

MCINTYRE: It's a rescue strobe light that they have. These are activated as soon as you hit the water, so even if the crew member hits the water, is not conscious, just contact with the salt water activates the strobe light, and there is also a radio beacon that is activated to help search crews find them. The most promising piece of information, though, is that they not only found the beacon and the strobe light, they've actually been able to talk to one of the crew members on the ground. We don't know what their condition are. We don't know how many may have survived, but it appears at least one has survived the crash, and that's a positive sign.

WOODRUFF: Jamie, these bombers have been part of the Afghanistan effort since day one, and this is the first indication we've had of any sort of problem, isn't that correct?

MCINTYRE: Well, yeah. The B-1B bomber has been criticized in the past as sort of a Cold War relic, a bomber without a mission. It's a conventional bomber, it's not a stealthy plane. It was developed for low-level long-range bombing against the old Soviet Union. But, in recent years, it has found a mission, and in fact, it has been dropping some of these very precision satellite-guided bombs that have been quite effective in Afghanistan and can carry a much heavier load than the smaller Navy carrier-based planes. So, it has proven itself.

Now, the U.S. military, on the average, has about 50 or 60 crashes of planes a year just from normal mechanical problems. And, it's always more of concern that this happens in a war zone. It appears, at this point, that this is simply one of those unfortunate crashes. Now, they expect to lose a few planes a year, what they hope not to do is lose the crews. That's the most important thing, and that's why these planes are equipped with every possible way to give the crew a chance to survive by ejecting, and then being found in the water and picked up. And, there are a lot of forces in the area, so it shouldn't be too long before they're able to get to the site and perhaps rescue any survivors.

WOODRUFF: All right. Jamie McIntyre bringing us the latest from the Pentagon on that B-1B down in the Indian Ocean, but, as he said, the good news is that they have established voice contact with at least one of the four-man crew, which did have the capability of ejecting. Jamie, thanks very much.

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