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Plane Crashes Into Pirelli Building in Italy

Aired April 18, 2002 - 12:43   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: We have a witness on the telephone who's joining us there from Milan. He was in a building just near the Pirelli building, this is Antonio Fatigusto, he's a journalist actually in a building nearby, Antonio, can you describe for us what are you seeing?

ANTONIO FATIGUSTO, ITALIAN JOURNALIST: Yes. I can. We have heard a great explosion, and now around the work here there is really a great, great confusion. We don't know how many people can be dead, but we can see only black smoke from -- coming from the building. That's all, because really there is great confusion, because it is really not simple to understand what is happening now.

And from another way, it is really difficult to speak, to -- because telephone lines are off so I hear really bad -- your voice really, really bad.

WHITFIELD: Antonio, you are in a building that is near the Pirelli building? You were in that building at the time of the impact?

FATIGUSO: Yes, it was around a quarter to 6:00. Because we have -- at that time, we heard a really strong explosion. And a few minutes later, we have understood that there was really a great impact. We have known that the little plane, Piper, had crashed into the building, the Pirelli building. That's all.

WHITFIELD: Mow I know Antonio, it's an awful lot going on there, and it's fairly chaotic, but Italian authorities are saying there were people trapped on the 21st floor. Those people have since been rescued in an elevator, if I'm understanding that correctly.

And Italian authorities are saying they do not believe this was a terrorist attack. Even though the circumstances seem awfully similar to the New York World Trade Center, I think when people see these images, they immediately think here we go again. This is the same kind of thing.

But instead, Italian authorities are saying very early in the stages here now, their investigation, that they do believe there was mechanical. They have reason to believe there was a mechanical problem on that plane, given that the plane did apparently report an SOS to the control tower, shortly before it impacted the 25th or 26th floors now. Floors one through nine have been evacuated. And then Antonio, apparently, the upper levels of this 30-story building were engulfed in the flames, as you described, the smoke that you have been seeing there. This is a building -- maybe you can tell us a little bit more, since you were in that area about this building, the Pirelli building. It's office space to municipalities, governments. What else?

FATIGUSO: Yes, the local government and the region Lombardy, as have -- no, I want to tell that we are listing some people who work around floor. And they have told us that explosion, but he was but they were not able to say if people could be died there from the impact. Fortunately at the time, the building was empty, because it is usual at that time to stop work.

WHITFIELD: Now Antonio, this is a very central location, this downtown. It's a magnet to commerce there, to business?



WHITFIELD: Yes, I can here you. And this about at rush hour? So give me a sense as to, you know, what rush hour is like there. How many people are crowding that downtown Milan area at this time of day? At roughly 5:45 your time, when the impact happened?

Antonio, are you still there?


WHITFIELD: Yes, you still there?

FATIGUSO: Yes, yes. The line is...

WHITFIELD: OK, I understand. You're on a cell phone there or telephone there. And lines can be pretty tricky, especially in emergency situation when you are dealing with the proximity of -- to the emergency location where you are. So one more time. You were about to tell me that this building is near the main rail station there. It is a real magnet to commerce, to business people there, as well as to tourists. Can you describe for me how busy this area would be at 5:45 your time?

FATIGUSO: Yes, the building is far away from the main station here in Milan. And in front of the main station, there is a large place. And near on the left side -- on the right side, there is the Pirelli building. The area is at this time around 6:00 p.m. is always usual full of people.

But the other people because there is a central station is really close to the building. But fortunately, we don't know -- now we can say -- we know now that nobody has died from this impact. Naturally you can see that.

WHITFIELD: OK, I think we've lost Antonio there. We'll try to reestablish our connection with him. But let me just bring you up to date right now. CNN is confirming, through our sources, that one person was on that plane. We still don't know much about that plane, what kind of plane.

All that we know is it's a piper. And it had been described as a tourist plane. That one person on the plane, the pilot, we don't know enough about the origin of the flight plan. Whether it was coming from Sofia, Bulgaria or somewhere in Switzerland. This information now coming from Italian television through their sources.

They're reporting that it could have come from either one of the places. Now we're hearing from Switzerland. What's the city? From Lugano, Switzerland, that plane originating there, on its way, it was reported moments ago, on its way to Rome. Possibly a mechanical problem then inspired the pilot to issue an SOS call to the control tower there.

And then, we don't know exactly how much time elapsed before that plane ended up impacting the 24th and 25th floors of the Pirelli building, which is the tallest structure in Milan. And it is one of the world's tallest concrete buildings, that building built in the latter part of the 1950's.

Barro Bozzo is on the telephone with us now. He joins us to give us a better sense as to what you are seeing.




WHITFIELD: Hi, can you hear me OK?


WHITFIELD: Al right, very good. Could you give me a sense as to where you are in proximity?

BOZZO: Sorry, I'm the building, 9th floor, the last floor of this building, just in front of the skyscraper, the local government, the regional Lombordia (ph). And what I saw is about two really two floors with all the windows completely destroyed and another windows, very, very big damages.

On the playground, thousands of papers coming from these windows. There are a lot of firemen, and policemen, and cabadabeneri (ph) around. And also, health services and helicopters running around flying around the skyscraper to control what's going on.

According to the latest, we have several sources, the plane that hit the skyscraper was a little piper and tourist aircraft that sent a mayday. Apparently, it was originally flying from Switzerland. And the pilot seems to have -- losing control of the aircraft.

WHITFIELD: Now Prosero, were you able to say if this was a single engine piper? And you said, second question, you said you're on the 9th floor.


WHITFIELD: And we have reported...

BOZZO: Yes, the main floors are the 25th and the 26th floors of the skyscraper. And those floors are the offices relating to the legal affairs of the region, local government. I spoke to a man that is employee -- he works for the region, for the local government. He works on the 21st floor. He heard this strong, strong explosion between 17:45 and 0600. And he said to me that very, very quiet and calm, all the people in the building left the building using the staircases, obviously because the elevator was completely blocked.

I was told -- I heard around, reaching the point that from another member of the local government, there shouldn't be a lot of people in the offices, because according to the time, mainly mostly of the people have left the job at that time. But at the moment, we can't have more information about people inside.

WHITFIELD: OK, now Prospero, do you work in that building? Is that why you were on the 9th building.

BOZZO: No, no, I'm in the building in front of the skyscraper. Where I am is a legal office, is a lawyer office. And I spoke to a lady that works here with in this office. He told to me that he was sending a fax. And her fax is just on the front of the window, looking to skyscraper. And she heard this noise from a typical noise from a aircraft engine. And suddenly, she heard the explosion. She did not see clearly what happened. But she, according to the noise that she heard, she talked to about an aircraft, an airplane.

WHITFIELD: And some witnesses are saying that they actually even saw, those who were on the streets or looking out their windows, actually saw the trail of smoke before that plane made impact a into that building.

BOZZO: I don't know nothing about that. I have my office about 500 meters from here. I heard the explosion. I came out. Reaching the skyscraper, the building, of (UNINTELLIGIBLE), there was already policemen and carbineiri (ph) stopping the people, closing the roads. And there was smoke coming out from the windows hit by the airplane.

WHITFIELD: Now what about the evacuations? What have you been able to see from looking out the window etcetera about people who have come out of the building, those who were evacuated, those who made their way out on their own?

BOZZO: I spoke to a man that was at the 21st floor, working at the moment of the impact. He told me he left very calm and quiet. He was surprised by himself, so calm and quiet. And he told me that also, the other people he met leaving the building, they used the staircases and they were ordniate way, very, calm and quiet. So I do not think there was any injured during the evacuation.

WHITFIELD: Now one more time... BOZZO: I see now sorry -- I'm sorry to reach the window. Hold on a moment.

WHITFIELD: OK, it looks like Prospero has put us on hold there. Hopefully, he'll be right back. He was going to look out the window and take a closer look at something that caught his eye.

Miles O'Brien here on the desk with me here. All this information coming in very quickly. And it's difficult to discern still what kind of piper plane we're talking about here.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN SPACE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we still haven't nailed down whether it was a single engine or a twin-engine. Most of the aircraft in the piper fleet, eight or nine of them are single- engine. There is a twin-engine known as the Seminole, possibly could have been the one involved in this, but the remainder of the fleet is a single engine fleet.

But that gives you a tremendous range of capability, size, amount of fuel and so forth. We know only that the pilot was on board, all of these aircraft are certified for flight by a single pilot. But when you start with the, you know the piper arrow for example the speed would be, you know, 105 knots -- 115 miles per hour, let's say. Maybe 120 miles an hour.

And you go all the way up to the Malibu Meridian, which uses an entirely different type of fuel, essentially jet fuel. Jet A, which is a derivative of kerosene. It -- has has a range in excess of 1,000 miles, can travel almost 300 miles an hour.

So there's your range, just in the single engine category of the piper aircraft. I think what's worth noting here is that there are some reports, which CNN has confirmed, that the plane was trailing smoke, before it hit the building, perhaps indicating some sort of engine failure. We've heard some additional reports that the pilot was having difficulty with landing gear.

I would call that a red herring. The landing gear is not a situation that leads to a crash inside a building, Landing gear is backed up a couple of ways. And the final backup being the capability of cranking the aircraft, landing gear down if need be.

I don't know if you recall this past summer, there were a couple of belly landings, which we brought to you live here on CNN, when there was a situation involving landing gear being stuck up. It's a very -- almost a routine, if you will, in the category of an aviation emergency.

Now distances, still trying to get a handle. I've been asking the people behind us here to get me some distances. The point of origin to Milan, we're told, ballpark is only about 50 miles. Checking into that, but...

WHITFIELD: Sure, from Lugano, Switzerland, which is...

O'BRIEN: This is just a ballpark estimate from our folks at the international desk, sitting right behind us now.

WHITFIELD: Yes, we need a quick little geography lesson there.

O'BRIEN: There's our geography lesson there. And that would -- tell you, let's bring the map up. And that would tell you one thing, first of all, that that plane was fueled up and destined for a trip to Rome. The distance to that, I don't know yet. I'm trying to get that information for you right now.

I apologize for my lack of geographic knowledge here, right now, but...

WHITFIELD: That's OK, I'm along with you there.

O'BRIEN: I should call my nine-year old boy. He'd be able to tell me.

But in any case, the -- that would imply a lot of fuel...


O'BRIEN: ... onboard that aircraft. Probably left with full tanks. Could be...

WHITFIELD: If we were talking about the 50 miles?

O'BRIEN: If indeed that was a 50-mile distance. And then, you know if you're talking about an aircraft with, you know, a 100 gallons of fuel, in the course of 50 miles it might burn 15 gallons.


O'BRIEN: And so...


O'BRIEN: ... the bottom line is you got -- you had the potential of a full tank but they -- we still don't know the distance from Milan to Rome. Somebody out there would know it.

WHITFIELD: Oh, Lee (ph) just yelled 50 miles so.

O'BRIEN: Maybe we could get that. That and now (ph) it's 50 miles Lugano to Milan. I'm trying to figure out how much fuel they might have had onboard for the ultimate...


O'BRIEN: ... journey to Rome and that's a question that remains to be seen. The fact is there's evidence of a big explosion there for a small aircraft. And certainly when you hearken back to the incident in Tampa where there was virtually no explosion, you can see there's a lot of fire here. There's a lot of fuel that burned.

WHITFIELD: OK. Hold that thought real quick because we want to go to Desideria Cavina who is a... UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Rome.

WHITFIELD: Oh, OK, well...

O'BRIEN: Right.

WHITFIELD: ... we got a correction on that mileage there.

O'BRIEN: We got our distances. All right, 50 miles from the point of origin to the point of crash. The total distance from the point of origin to Rome about 350 miles total, and that means it's well within the range of any of these aircraft I showed you right here. The...


O'BRIEN: All the way from the smallest to the largest could have made that hop -- made that flight in one hop. So right now we can't exclude any of these aircraft until we know a little bit more. For example, next time we talk to witnesses, it'd be nice to ask them if they saw it was a single engine. That doesn't narrow it down, it still narrows it down to quite a few. There's only one twin engine. It just discards one Piper...


O'BRIEN: ... product, but nevertheless, these things are unfolding as we speak so bear with us.

WHITFIELD: OK, well let's get Desideria Cavina back on the telephone. She's there not too far from this Pirelli building which is still smoldering after a small plane has crashed into the 25th and 26th floors there -- Desideria.


What I can tell you that we had to move away from the building and we are now heading to the hospital -- for the closest hospitals where about 20 ambulances have been accompanying here people that were injured. What we have confirmed now is that two victims are for sure there in the building. And we are talking -- we've been hearing about 30 to 40 people in this hospital have been hospitalized in the last hour.

Also what we know is that Lugano is about one hour flight away from here for a Piper plane. And this is the distance that we think that the Piper has covered before crashing to the building and also that the Minister of Interior from Italy, Mr. Claudio Scajola, has confirmed now that it was not a terrorist act but an incident.

WHITFIELD: OK. And, Desideria, of those 30 to 40 people who have been hospitalized in the last hour, do we know enough or have we learned very much about the type of injuries? Were these burn injuries, people who may have been on those upper floors, or injuries as a result of trying to escape a burning building? CAVINA: I do know that at least three of the people that have been hospitalized in this hospital where I am now, which is Fatebene Fratelli, the closest hospital to the scene, have reported broken legs and broken arms, which I suppose is from escaping the building while in the rush of escaping the building.

WHITFIELD: And of any of these people who have been hospitalized, I know it's difficult to gain access to many of them, but have you or anyone near you had an opportunity to talk with any of the people who are dealing with fairly minor injuries who are in a position to talk?

CAVINA: Well not among the people that are here in the hospital, but we managed to talk to a few people who managed in fact to escape from the building without being injured. And what they have been telling us is -- everybody has been telling us that there was a huge, huge noise when the plane crashed and the windows shake all over and the debris is all over and rubble all over and a lot of dust and smoke. And, of course, people rushed down the stairs. And as far as we know, there's still one of the elevators who is now stuck in the building and possibly with people in the elevator.

WHITFIELD: OK. And, Desideria, your sources through the international authorities -- I'm sorry, the Italian authorities there are definitely saying that they do not believe that this is a terrorist attack but that it appears as though it was a mechanical problem on that plane. The one person on that plane, the pilot of this Piper apparently made an SOS call into the tower control, reporting that there was a problem. There were some witnesses who have said that they saw trailing smoke before that plane hit the upper levels of that building.

CAVINA: Yes, I can confirm all you just said.

WHITFIELD: OK. Desideria, is there anything more you can add from the location where you are at the hospital?

CAVINA: No, because now there are -- we have -- we have to stay behind, even from the emergency section of the Fatebene (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Fratelli Hospital. So I can still see three helicopters on the scene, and I can tell you there's no more smoke and confirm that there's no more flames coming from the building.

WHITFIELD: OK. Now the scene there at the Pirelli building, Desideria, you had described quite eloquently to us to give us an idea of just how important and significant that building is to the downtown area. It is a true magnet for the commerce down there as well as to tourists. It is a historical landmark in that building given the fact that it is the tallest building in that city.

CAVINA: Yes, I'm sure that everyone who has visited Milan has seen this building. It's right next to the left side of the train station. It's a huge concrete building, as you just mentioned, and it's -- it does host all the offices of the federal Regona Lumbardia (ph), the government of this region, and is very convenient to the city. There's a subway station right next to it, the railway station -- the central railway station, lots of hotels and office buildings next to it. And it's -- I would tell you it's about 10 minutes' walk, 15 minutes' walk to the Dwalma (ph), which is the heart of the town of Milan.

WHITFIELD: Now, Desideria, sources are telling us through Italian television there that two people are confirmed dead. We don't know if one of those two includes the pilot. What do you know, if anything, at this juncture?

CAVINA: Well, actually, all I have as source is what you just mentioned. So all we all have here is that it's confirmed two victims, but we do not know as well if one of the two is the pilot.

WHITFIELD: OK. And 30 to 40 hospitalized just within the last hour.

CAVINA: Yes, in this hospital where I am talking from which is (UNINTELLIGIBLE), which is the closest to the scene.

WHITFIELD: OK. All right, thank you, Desideria. Now don't go far away because we're probably going to be bringing you back in again.

I just want to recap for folks one more time. Thirty to 40 people have been hospitalized just within the last hour. Two people, according to Italian television and their sources, two people have died after a Piper plane crashed into the upper floors of a 30-story concrete building in downtown Milan, the tallest building in downtown Milan.

Authorities are saying they do not believe this is a terrorist attack, even though it appears quite eerily similar to the attacks of the World Trade Center in New York. When people see these images, they may immediately start thinking about what took place in Lower Manhattan. Italian authorities, however, are saying they have no reason to believe that this is a terrorist attack. Instead, they feel they have reason to believe that there was mechanical failure on this Piper plane. An SOS call went into the control tower from the pilot of that plane. Witnesses say they saw a trail of smoke coming from that plane just before impact.

People were evacuated from that building. We don't know how many people were in the building at the time, but the crash took place at the height of rush hour, approximately 5:45 p.m. Italian time, 11:45 Eastern time here in the States. And of the many people who were injured, the 30 to 40 who have been hospitalized, many of them suffering broken bones, arms and legs, as a result of their scramble to get out of the building.

We're still trying to learn more about this developing story, and Miles O'Brien has been here joining me, giving us a better sense as to how to understand or how to surmise any kind of information from the description that we're getting of this aircraft which is simply a Piper. We're hearing that it originated from Lugano, Switzerland and was en route to Rome, which is approximately 350 miles, but it made it as far as about 50 miles before crashing into this building in Milan. And, Miles, you were saying the capability of any one of the aircraft under the umbrella of Piper, they may be able to have fuel enough for carrying out a distance...


WHITFIELD: ... of 1,000 miles or so.

O'BRIEN: Well the range, actually, I'd -- I'm going to check myself on that one. At the very low end of the Piper single engine fleet, the range is in the order of 500 to 600 miles, at the top end, 1,200 to 1,300 miles. There's lots of variables involved in all of that. Your cruise control settings, your altitude, a lot of things to consider.

But at the low end, you have, you know, essentially the Piper Warrior, which is fixed gear, relatively slow plane, docile performer, something that is used very widely among flight schools to train people how to fly, how to learn how to get their instrument rating, would carry a limited amount of what is called 100 low lead fuel, which perhaps counterintuitively is less flammable -- or excuse me, more flammable than jet fuel. Jet fuel, which is based on kerosene, believe it or not, is less flammable. And there is only one Piper aircraft in the fleet that actually uses the kerosene jet fuel, a turbo-prop craft aircraft.

And this Warrior aircraft had, even at the low end of the Piper scale, has the capability of making that run from its point of origin to that's La Carno (ph), which I believe is in that general area to Rome. We're told the pilot, who was alone, and according to Swiss radio is a 70-year-old man, single engine -- single pilot, only passenger aboard, left from an airfield that is frequented by general aviation or private aviation. And he lived near Lugano.

Once again, I want to offer the caveat that I'm offering you Piper aircraft. This is based on the sketchy details which have come out of there. We don't know much more about the type of aircraft involved. But given the parameters of aircraft that Piper makes, if in fact it is even a Piper aircraft, this could be used as kind of a generic term by people on the scene there. Oh, it's a small Piper aircraft because it's low-wing or there are many other low-wing aircraft in the general aviation fleet.

But if that is the case, any one of those Piper aircraft would be capable of doing that flight. The question is how much fuel was onboard, because that's a very significant thing. At the top end, there could be a lot of fuel. At the low end, maybe not so much. But as you see, either way, it was early on in this flight, an intended flight to Rome. And so, there would have been enough fuel to complete that mission and thus you have what you see there, with that building, which is a fairly serious explosion or at least the remnants of a serious explosion.

WHITFIELD: OK. Well, Miles, as we try to figure out a little bit more about the aircraft, let's find out a little bit more about downtown Milan and the Pirelli building. Alberto Riva is a CNN Italian journalist, and he joins us now. You are very familiar with that territory there. This is a historic landmark, a very significant structure there.


WHITFIELD: And it really does stick out like a sore thumb. It's the tallest building in downtown Milan.

RIVA: Yes. It is the tallest building in Milan. It was built in 1958 by Pirelli, one of the largest corporations in Italy. But now it houses the offices of the government of Lombardy, one of Italy's regions, and it has been sold by Pirelli to Lombardy in 1978. And at 127 meters tall, it's the city's tallest building. That translates to about 420 feet. And the area that the building is in is very close to the center of Milan. It's within walking distance of the main railway station. So, it's one of the first landmarks that a tourist arriving in Milan would see.

WHITFIELD: OK. And given that -- this is very much a city where people -- or downtown area where people are on their feet. They're using public transportation; 5:45, Italian time, the height of rush hour, just how busy of an area are we talking about?

RIVA: You have to keep in mind that that building, the building that was hit, houses government offices. So, by five-something, it would have been largely empty; 5:00 being the hour at which most government employees get out. But the area around the building must have been very busy at 5:45 because it's one of the main transportation hubs in the city. There are many subway and bus stations around the area. So, the area around the building must have been quite crowded at the time of the accident.

WHITFIELD: This building has historical significance too, given that it's one of the world's tallest concrete buildings.

RIVA: Yes. Yes.

WHITFIELD: So, it really was a magnificent structure, particularly from an architectural point of view.

RIVA: Yes. It was built by one of Italy's most well-known architects, Gio Ponti. And it came to be one of the symbols of the economic boom in Italy in the 1960s because of the fact that it was named after Pirelli, one of the largest corporations at the time and is still now in Italy. And the people of Milan call it a faction of the Pirelori (ph), which means the big Pirelli one. And everyone in the city is familiar with it. Everyone has seen it. You can see from almost every house in the city. So, it's one of the big landmarks in Milan.

WHITFIELD: Now, you mentioned rush hour there. Most of the people who worked in that building were probably making their way out of the building if they hadn't all right by 5:00. This happened 5:45 Italian time.

RIVA: Yes. WHITFIELD: But given the fact that there were an awful lot of people likely on the sidewalks in that area, they still that a good 30 to 40 people who have been reported as hospitalized, suffering broken bones, consequently from trying to get out of this building...

RIVA: Yes.

WHITFIELD: ... as fast as they could. So there still were a pretty good number of people, but it is a pretty sizable building too.

RIVA: The building houses about 1,200 workers on an average day. It can jump to 2,000, but the average number of people in there at any give moment is around 1,000 or 1,200 or so. So the toll, 30 to 40 wounded, is not high in relation to the overall number of people who would be in the building. But, still, that's largely because of the time of the impact. If the plane had hit, say, just one hour or two hours earlier, the toll would certainly have been higher.

WHITFIELD: Yes. Now, this crash has certainly peeked the interest of Americans here, given what people have gone through, what this country has gone through after 9/11 in New York's World Trade Center. No one wants to make the comparisons, but it looks so similar to the images that -- frighteningly similar to the images that we saw on that day.

Kelli Arena is in Washington and she is joining us momentarily to give a better idea as to why, for obvious reason, American investigators are looking at this rather closely, looking at what similarities may be drawn, even though I must underscore that Italian authorities are saying they have no reason to believe that this is a terrorist attack. They do feel very strongly that there was a mechanical problem in this plane because of the SOS call that went to the control tower.

Kelli Arena in Washington, give us a sense as to why authorities here in the U.S. still want to make some comparisons, take copious notes, try to get a better handle as to what is taking place here and why it is so similar.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, I must say that first of all, U.S. investigators are not involved in this investigation at all. This is well within the jurisdiction of the Italians. But they have been looking at Milan in particular, and of connections to the al Qaeda terrorist organization.

Investigators -- U.S. investigators have long believed that Milan is, in fact, the European base for al Qaeda operations. There were several arrests made there last month and Italian officials say that they found direct links between those men that were arrested and the al Qaeda terrorism network.

Just around Easter time, if you remember, the state department had put out a warning to Americans traveling abroad and mentioned several Italian cities, one of those being Milan, saying that Americans could come into harm's way if they had traveled, to be on alert. So this is a city that investigators have long looked at, have -- as I have said, made arrests in.

But I do need to underscore that I just got off the phone with an Italian official who said that there is absolutely no indication that this was a terrorist act. And U.S. officials here seem to be pretty much on the same page, that there was no intelligence, sources tell us, that was gathered prior to this attack or that would have alluded to anything being specifically targeted at any structure in Milan or in Italy itself.

Also, the level of alert, terrorist alert here in the United States remains on the color yellow. If you remember, we had shades that were, after 9/11, that were assigned to various levels of caution here. And the level of alert, in terms of a terrorist attack, has not changed here and there's no plan to change that. So...

WHITFIELD: Now, Kelly...

ARENA: Go ahead.

WHITFIELD: I'm sorry. Now, once again, you made a very important point there, and let's reemphasize that, that Italian authorities are saying they have no reason to believe that this is a terrorist attack...

ARENA: That's right.

WHITFIELD: ... that they do believe there was a mechanical failure on this plane. At the same time, authorities are taking the precaution -- they're not taking anything lightly. They have closed the Milan airport there, which is roughly about 50 miles away from this crash site. That was described to us as the distance. Their level of alert still remains very high as a result of this act even though...

ARENA: Fredricka, as it should, as it should, Fredricka. Given Milan's history, given it's -- the involvement of several people who have passed through that city, you know, you can never be too careful. And since 9/11, I believe investigators and law enforcement officials worldwide, you know, have learned very serious lessons and don't want to jump to assumptions too soon.

This is very early -- this is in the very early stages of this investigation. So while they have no indication right now, that's not to say that they may not get an indication later on. But we need to report what we know up to this point, and that is that there is no intelligence, there is no indication from anything that they know or have heard from this flight that indicates that this was a terrorist act.

But you are right. They do need to be cautious and they do need to take the necessary precautions to make sure that if in case something does come up in the future, that they have protected their citizens.

WHITFIELD: But, Kelli, that is still so early on in the investigation. Doesn't it still beg the question as to why Italian authorities would be so quick to cancel out possible causes of this crash? Do any U.S. authorities say, you know, is it really -- is now really the time to cancel out any potential causes?

ARENA: I really -- I haven't heard any second-guessing to this point. As I said, the U.S. is not involved in this investigation at all. They are onlookers at this point. If, of course, there were some terrorist connection made and the FBI were asked to participate in an investigation, they would provide any and all help that was necessary.

But right now, this is pretty much an onlooker situation. It's the Italian officials who have full control and full jurisdiction here, and so far, they are saying that they don't have any indication. But it is very early and these things, as you mentioned several times in your reporting, this is very fast-moving. Information is coming in at a very quick pace, much like we unfortunately remember after 9/11, that information poured in at a very quick pace and some of it was unfortunately erroneous.

And so, we're trying to be very careful to make sure that, you know, the facts as we get them are brought to you in a clear and calm matter and not to jump to any conclusions. The focus on Milan as a terrorist hub is a serious one, but that doesn't mean that this -- that there's any connection between past history and today's event.

WHITFIELD: Absolutely. Fair enough. Kelly, stick around. Don't go anywhere just yet.

I want to bring in Alberto Riva again with CNN Italia one more time. I talked about the one airport that is about 50 miles away. But is there more than one?

RIVA: There are two airports in Milan.

WHITFIELD: At least one is closed, we're being told.

RIVA: The largest one, Malpensa, is the one that's about 50 miles from the accident site. And that is the main airport used for international flights. There is a smaller airport that is called Linate, that is about seven or eight miles from the crash site. And that airport is indeed open. It's use mainly for domestic, but also for general aviation flights. And it's much closer to the accident site than Malpensa is.

WHITFIELD: All right. Alberto, hold on for a minute because we want to bring in Pier Cavari, who is also a journalist. You can give us a better sense, Pierre, as to what is taking place at either one or both of the airports in Milan?

PIER LUIGI CAVARI, ITALIAN JOURNALIST: Well, right now, I'm underneath the Pirelli building. There's police everywhere. I can see this -- at least the five top floors have been broken into, and have been smashed. And from information we've gathered here on the floor, apparently it was a Piper which was being flown by an industrialist, a Swiss industrialist, but this is just information we've gathered here on the ground, nothing official. And there's helicopters flying over the building at this moment. And we've got policemen, which have shut off the whole area. So it's impossible to get any closer to the building right at this moment.

WHITFIELD: Now, Pier, one more time, simply because sometimes it's difficult to hear because of the transmission of our distance here, are there other people, as far as you know, still in the building?

CAVARI: Apparently, there's no one left inside the building at this moment. Always from here, from ground floor, there have been reports of three people killed and dozens of hurt. Apparently, the building at this moment has been evacuated.

WHITFIELD: And, Pier, we had reported moments ago that between 30 and 40 people have been hospitalized in the area, many, most of whom have suffered broken bones in their escape from the building. Are you hearing anything more about those injured and whether that number, 30 or 40, is any different from what you're hearing?

CAVARI: I cannot confirm this number, but this is what I can see from here. I haven't got any official news, but these are the numbers, yes. Apparently, 24 or 25 hurt.

WHITFIELD: OK. And you were reporting there are three now who have been killed in this?

CAVARI: Three killed. Yes.

WHITFIELD: OK. Does that include the pilot?

CAVARI: Well, I'm not sure now. I am going to ask this policemen. Hang on a second.


Well, we just spoke to this policeman right now, and he told us that he doesn't know how many people. They do not have an explanation of how many people have been killed in this accident.

WHITFIELD: Or -- yes, or who among those. All right. Pier Cavari, thank you very much. I appreciate you helping us out here. Is there more activity going on right there right now?

CAVARI: No. The situation -- the place has been closed off and the police are just building up barricades and stopping people from getting in. The helicopters seem to still be circulating around the area and the police are just asking if there is any doctors around.

WHITFIELD: And is anyone responding to that plea from the police?

CAVARI: Sorry?

WHITFIELD: You said police are asking people if there are doctors around?

CAVARI: The police are asking people if there's any doctors amongst the people outside here who were...

WHITFIELD: And are you noticing whether anyone is responding positively?

CAVARI: There's no doctors right now around here, the radio as well. The radio was asking if there's any doctors in the area who have been -- go straight to the building. But they're not letting us through at this moment.

WHITFIELD: OK. Pier, I was about to let you go, but I am going to hold on to you for a bit more. Can you tell me a little bit more about what you seeing as it pertains to the building?

We've seen pictures here which appear to be maybe the impact point, but what else can you tell us about how this structure is holding up, if it's buckling? This is a concrete building, but tell me a little bit more about what you are seeing.

CAVARI: The building is standing straight. The structure is standing straight and solid. There's no smoke coming out of the building at all. And the upper five floors, the windows have been smashed into, from this side at least, this is what I can see. But the structure looks solid. It doesn't seem to be moving in any way...

WHITFIELD: All right.

CAVARI: ... at this moment.

WHITFIELD: Pier Cavari, thank you very much for joining us. He's a journalist. He's nearby that Pirelli building, where it is still an emergency response team right -- scene there, where emergency response vehicles and personnel are there trying to bring some calm and even tend to some of those who are injured who are down at the sidewalks.

Pier there has described for us that everyone has been evacuated from the building, but the update now, his sources and other sources are now saying that three have been killed and dozens have been injured. Our report are indicating that 30 to 40 people have been hospitalized. All of this after a small plane crashes into the upper levels of a 30-story concrete building, the tallest building in downtown Milan and one of the world's tallest and most noted concrete buildings.

Miles O'Brien is still with us here, helping us to, perhaps, discern a little bit more about this aircraft.

O'BRIEN: Well, yes, Fredricka, while you were talking, I received a call from our friends at Piper aircraft, Mark Miller to be specific, one of the public affairs people there. And he pointed out that they have no independent confirmation this is a Piper aircraft.

And I should point something out here for those of you not as familiar with general aviation. Piper, in this case, may be being used the way we use a generic term, like aspirin, let's say, Ford or Chevy. Piper and Cessna, the two largest makers of small, single- engine, piston aircraft in the world. And in this case, we are getting all kinds of information in a very distrait (ph) way. It is very difficult to ascertain, given the nature of the wreckage, we can't see any remnants of that wreckage, much less a tail number or any indication as to what sort of aircraft that was.

But perhaps, when they were saying Piper, what they were really saying was small, low-wing aircraft. And to that end and to that point, we've got an additional report, this one coming from Swiss media, which indicates it might very well be a Commander, which is a product made by what was the Rockwell Corporation. It's a single engine low-wing aircraft with similar capabilities and performance to some of the Piper aircraft. And, certainly, as it flew through the sky, if you were far away from it, you might surmise it was a Piper aircraft if you had limited knowledge about general aviation. So, I just want to offer that caveat. We've been showing an awful lot of Piper aircraft here. This is very early in the story.

Suffice it to say we are talking about small, single engine, general aviation, low-wing aircraft, which was clearly identifiable to witnesses, It was a low-wing aircraft with a fair amount of fuel on board, inasmuch as it had just taken off some 50 miles away, headed to Rome. It was an aircraft that probably had 100 low-lead fuel, that type of fuel being fairly combustible and would have had caused a relatively significant explosion, perhaps as much as, well, 50 to 75 gallons of fuel might have been on board there. That would cause a fairly significant explosion.

So when we keep hearing the term "piper," keep that little caveat in mind that it might be like calling a facial tissue a Kleenex in this case. This is a small, low-wing aircraft, piloted by a general aviation pilot, a private pilot. Apparently -- once again, underscore the other big point here -- all indications are leading us toward the conclusion there was some kind of a mechanical problem on this aircraft. Witnesses reporting smoke trailing from the aircraft, flames billowing out of it. And perhaps more important than all of that, that the indication that there was a distress call from that pilot to controllers in the Milan airspace, indicating he was having difficulties. So that's what I have for now.

WHITFIELD: OK, thanks very much, Miles. John Defterios is also joining us now to give us a better sense of what you are seeing there. It's the bottom of the hour now. I just want to recap for you real quick, before we go to John, that investigators in Milan, Italy are now responding to a scene, a chaotic scene there, after a small, single-engine plane crashed into the upper levels of a 30-story concrete building, the tallest building in downtown Milan.

At least three people have been killed is the number we are now being told. Between 30 and 40 people have been injured. The building has been evacuated. The fire is being extinguished and there is still some billowing smoke. This took place at 5:45 Milan time, 11:45 Eastern Time. And this took place just at the height of rush hour there. The Pirelli building is the name of the building. It is one of the world's tallest concrete buildings. It is the tallest concrete building, the tallest building in downtown Milan there. And that building houses many federal offices. We want to go now to John Defterios. Where are you, John? Paint a picture for us as to what you are seeing.

JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: OK, Fredricka, I'm in Rome, which is, of course, the nation's capital. But this took place in the financial capital, the fashion capital of Milan. Let's see if I can fill in some of the gaps that Miles had in terms of the type of plane and what actually happened. We have the same reports that three have been killed, 30 to 40, in fact, injured. It is, in fact, the tallest building in Milan. It happened right around rush hour. So there was quite a bit of chaos on the scene.

I have been watching live the state broadcaster here in Italy. They have been showing pictures throughout. Things have calmed down considerably. There were some conflicting reports of exactly what took place. There were, of course, concerns initially that it was a terrorist attack. But quickly, the Interior Minister Claudio Scajola came on and said it was, in fact, probably an accident. Looking at the size of the plane here and the S.O.S. call made into the airport, that's where everybody's leading right now. The flight going from Sofia, Bulgaria to Rome. It is interesting to note that in that area, it should not have been flying into that airspace. So it gives an indication that there was problems well before entering that sort of space because you would go around Milan to come in to Rome.

There are a couple of other facts that came out. They canceled after-hours trading in the financial districts in Milan because of this, to try to calm down the whole area surrounding the capital city. It is right nest to a train station as well, although there are no reports of injuries there. They did shut down the airspace around the airport, which is about five miles away from the city center. The international airport is, so far, not affected. But it's a good 45 minutes away from the city center.

WHITFIELD: So, John, one more time, Italian authorities are ruling out, even though it is very early on in this stage, ruling out the possibility of this being a terrorist attack. They believe that there was mechanical problem on board. Witnesses have said they saw trailing smoke. The pilot, one person, that pilot on that plane, apparently called and made an S.O.S. call to the control tower. And Italian authorities feel comfortable, at this juncture, saying they do believe it was a mechanical problem that may have caused this crash.

DEFTERIOS: That is indeed correct. There were some conflicting reports initially because some politicians came out when it happened immediately, because of the look of this thing and the fact that it hit the tallest building within Milan, to say they thought it was a terrorist attack. But the interior minister, of course, covers this area of scope, Claudio Scajola said, "probably an accident." So that's what we are going with as of late.

WHITFIELD: John, there are conflicting reports as to what the make of this plane is. All we know is it was a small, single-engine. Do you have any more detail as to what kind of plane we are talking about?

DEFTERIOS: No, the confirmation is not there yet. In fact, Fredricka, I'm monitoring the Italian reports and looking at wires and calling up there to get as much information as possible. But that has not been confirmed yet. So I can't say anything in that regard.

WHITFIELD: You said the airspace has been closed, effecting at least one of the two airports there. Heightened security is still a concern there, worldwide particularly after 9-11. Even in several cities in Italy, there had been some concern just over Easter that there might be some terrorist threats or activity. So security has still been paramount and heightened?

DEFTERIOS: Yes. In fact, as I mentioned before, I do live in the city center of Rome. And near the U.S. embassy. And as CNN reported, the have been a number of threats to the U.S. embassy in the region and contamination of the ground water supply to the area. Very heightened security, not only at the airports in Milan, but the Roma Fiumicino Airport as well. So there has been a clamp-down on that.

And it's been a busy week in Italy. We had general strikes, the first in 20 years, in fact, with millions of people on the streets. That captured a lot of attention. Security was tight for that as well. And there is a general sense that security needs to be cracked down. It has been that way the last three or four months, which is uncharacteristic of Italy. But that hasn't been a high concern. But because of threats to the U.S. embassy, because of the strikes we saw in the past week. That's why I think everybody was on high alert.

So when they saw the plane hit the building, the initial response was this was terrorist attack. About 15 minutes later, the federal government officials came on board, as I mentioned, and the interior minister saying it was, in fact, "probably an accident." There is no ruling out entirely at this juncture, but that's what the government is saying right now.

WHITFIELD: One more thing, John, about the owe origination of this flight plan. We've heard a few different scenarios. But now we are getting confirmation that it was Locarno, Switzerland where this plane came from, as it was making its way possibly still on its way to Rome before having these problems, according Italian authorities, and then crashing into the building. Is this the first you have heard of Locarno, Switzerland? I know you mentioned Sofia, Bulgaria. That was one of the conflicting cities we have heard as well. But now it is Locarno, Switzerland.

DEFTERIOS: It is. That is the original reports were Sofia, Bulgaria, but now the reports that you're saying now is Switzerland. I'm monitoring the television reports here in Italy. They have moved to that as well. I should highlight here, that is an extremely busy airspace. It is a small airport. It's right in the shadow of city center, an incredible amount of traffic.

WHITFIELD: Busy airspace for tourists or for business travel?

DEFTERIOS: Primarily for commerce, Fredricka, because it is the financial capital there. So there are hourly flights back and forth to Rome from Lanzi to Paris, from Lanzi to Madrid. It is an extremely busy hub for business in Europe. That's why I think they took the measures to shut down the airspace. That area, and the latest reports, again, so I can confirm this is that Malpensa Airport has apparently not been effected as of yet.

WHITFIELD: OK. Now as you take a look as to what kind of progress or movement is taking place near that Pirelli building, what are you seeing now?

DEFTERIOS: The situation has calmed down quite a bit. There was fire and smoke billowing from the towers. You had the pictures on air. The situation seemed to have calmed down quite a bit, as the police authorities and fire officials and ambulance authorities have moved in quite quickly to calm the situation down. You can imagine what it's like. If it is any major city in the United States, albeit, New York, Washington, Atlanta, if you have an event like this hit in downtown city center, it created quite a bit of shock.

Milan is the financial capital there. So there was an incredible amount of shock initially. Then you could see the smoke, and then the reports coming out with the fears of it being a terrorist attack. But after the initial attack, when people started to look at the different components of the accident, that's when the government came out and said it was "probably an accident."

WHITFIELD: And government authorities still wanting to make that very clear that they do not believe that this was a terrorist attack, even though there are similarities, just as you explain, the financial capital, a tall building, an aircraft. Thank you very much, John Defterios. Thanks for joining us.

Kevin Michael Buckley is a British journalist. He's in Milan joining us now as well. Kevin, we are hearing the death toll, at this point, is at least three. And somewhere between 30 and 40 people have been hospitalized. What's the latest information you are getting?

OK, we have lost Kevin. Of course, we'll try to reestablish that connection with him. Let me just recap for you at this juncture. It is believed that a plane left Locarno, Switzerland, on its way it Rome. Somehow, Italian authorities say, there was a problem onboard. The pilot of that plane, the only person on that plane, a small, single-engine aircraft radioed in because there was a problem. An S.O.S. call went into the control tower.

Shortly thereafter, witnesses say they saw a stream of smoke coming from behind the plane before the plane then crashed into the upper floors of a 30-story concrete building in downtown Milan. It is a busy office building that holds mostly regional government offices. At least three people have been killed, 30 to 40 people injured. Evacuations took place in that building.

Of the many who were injured, investigators and authorities are telling CNN that many of them suffered a lot of broken bones and injuries because of their likely hurried escape from the building. It took place, all of this, at about 5:45 Milan time, which is about 11:45 Eastern time. It was the height of rush hour. Many people leaving the office building, this building, the tallest building in Milan, just a very close to a very busy rail station, the main rail station there. This investigation is still underway. Investigators are saying they do not believe this is a terrorist attack, but instead, mechanical problems on that plane was the problem.

We want to bring in Kevin Michael Buckley. We will try this one more time. He's on the phone, a British journalist from Milan. Kevin? Kevin, can you hear me OK? All right, Kevin, if you can hear me.


WHITFIELD: Very good. We are hearing three dead, 30 to 40 injured. What are your sources telling you?

BUCKLEY: Here on the ground, the picture is confused. We can confirm three dead, but the number injured is very -- at the moment. Hello?

WHITFIELD: Yes, I can hear you just fine. Information is very fluid. Things are trickling in. I understand the majority of that building has been evacuated. People have been removed from the area taken to hospital, if they needed the aid. One of the airports in the area has been closed. Airspace has been closed down. Security is still heightened. What are you hearing about how they are trying to secure this area?

BUCKLEY: Well, the police are actually fighting. They are doing a very good job at getting people away, although unfortunately, a lot of people are coming to the scene. This is a very busy part of town anyway. The explosion happened -- the impact hit at 5:47 exactly, right in the middle of evening rush hour. So there were an awful lot of people coming to the main station just across from the square from this. It is an enormous station leading to all points northwest and east of Milan. So there are thousands of people that time of day here. Many of them are still here. The station has been closed.

Obviously, we now have thousands of people milling around. Police are very concerned about falling glass because glass windows have been falling from different windows at different buildings across the street. When I arrived, there were still some smoke coming from the 25th, 26th floor, where most of the impact hit, although different parts of the building suffered minor damage, again, just windows. In terms of the number of casualties, it is a very confused picture.

What should be stressed is the Italian parliament did actually jump the gun a wee bit. They announce, in parliament, that the regarded it as a terrorist attack. That shortly was modified to say that they expected, more probably, it was just a tragic accident. Another earlier report suggested it was a small plane flying from Switzerland heading towards a small area north of Milan. It was circling Milan to make its approach. If this is true, then it would have been a very small plane because it is a very small place with a very small airport.

WHITFIELD: What do you suppose the distance is between Locarno, Switzerland and is it Bresso (ph) ?

BUCKLEY: It's not very far, less than 70 miles or. It's not very far at all. Milan is only like 50 miles to the border. From Milan, you can drive to Switzerland in just under an hour. And the thing is eerily reminiscent about all this is we have exactly the same conditions you had, unfortunately, in America and in September, a clear blue sky, beautiful spring-like conditions, and many people out and about.

Suddenly, this bizarre sight of this huge building with a gouging wound in the side of it. Obviously, everyone immediately leapt to that memory. Nothing on the same scale, I hasten to add, but it is very, very fierce. There still is no definite confirmation of what happened. We just have a military helicopter landing in the main piazza in between the building and the main central station here. Anyone who has visited Milan, and many Americans do, will know this place. It is renovated recently. It is a huge open space.

We just had a helicopter landing there with some military special service personnel landing, which suggests that even the people on the ground, the police on the ground, are still not sure what they are dealing with.

WHITFIELD: Now, Kevin, we have been reporting, because our sources have told us, that there was one person on that flight, the pilot. But now, we are learning that there was a pilot and a co- pilot. What are you hearing about how many people may have been on board this small plane?

BUCKLEY: Unfortunately, sometimes the closer you get to these incidents, the more confusing it can be. We have had various people searching around. My guess would be, if the Bresso scenario is true, and we are talking about a small plane like Cessna or a Piper, which only carry three or four people anyway, there are is unconfirmed reports that several maydays were given by the pilot, which, again, would back up the theory that this was nothing more than a tragic, bizarre accident.

WHITFIELD: OK. Stick around, Kevin, for a moment. We are going to try to bring in yet one more phone call here. Lorenza Ghidini, who is of Radio Popolare. What can you tell about what you witnessed? I understand you were close to this scene, as it happened.

LORENZA GHIDINI, RADIO POPOLARE: Actually, we are broadcasting in two hours, since the plane crashed towards the building in piazza. And we have been called by one of our listeners who was just under the Pirelli building. He called up and told us about this crash. He had just a few information. And then many other listeners called us and described to us the scene, which was very depressing because, you know, there has been a kind of September 11th effect in Milan's population, especially in who was in the area when the plane crashed on the Pirelli building.

WHITFIELD: Let me ask you, Lorenza, were people there already fairly on edge, especially after 9-11 and especially after just this spring around Easter? American embassies had put out a warning, particularly to American travelers to some Italian cities, that there might be some potential terrorist activity. And there was already some suspected terrorists tampering with the U.S. embassy in Rome. People there, who were residents of Milan, were they already a bit unnerved about so many incidents, terrorist-related?

GHIDINI: No, not really. I wouldn't say that. No.

WHITFIELD: So when this took place, even though the images are frighteningly similar to what the world watched in New York at the World Trade Center, how do you suppose people reacted initially to the sites, sounds, and the news of this crash?

GHIDINI: Well, sure, they thought of September 11th attacks. But I wouldn't say people in Italy are prepared to terrorist attacks or something like this. It was just that image under their eyes was so similar. And then as the president of our Senate talked about an attack, opening the senate this afternoon - then about half an hour, he has was called by our Internal Affairs Minister, Claudio Scajola, and then the Internal Affairs Minister said this has been an accident. So then they corrected the first statement in the senate. And now, where our government is, the minister talks about an accident.

WHITFIELD: All right, Lorenza Ghidini, Radio Popolare. Thank you for joining us over the phone from Milan. I want to bring Alberto Riva back in from CNN Italia. You are familiar with Milan. You're a journalist. Let's talk about, is it Bresso.

RIVA: Yes. That is what I saw.

WHITFIELD: That is apparently the destination now being pinpointed as the final destination for this small plane, which apparently now, we are told, originated from Locarno, Switzerland.

RIVA: Yes.

WHITFIELD: What is in Bresso?

RIVA: Bresso is actually a very small airport that is only able to take general aviation aircraft that is only small, mostly one engine aircraft. This Bresso airport is located about 10 miles from the skyscraper that was hit. And the flight from Locarno to Bresso would have been a very short flight. It is about, I would say, 60, 70 miles, not more. So even for a small plane, that would have been a fairly short flight.

WHITFIELD: And a fairly common flight path, given this is a very busy commerce flight path, generally.

RIVA: Yes. The terminal area of Milan is very basic to major commercial airports, plus this small Bresso airport and other commercial airports around this area. So especially at 5:00 or around 5:00 p.m., with many flights arriving and departing many nations, Italy, Europe and even the U.S., the area would have been very, very busy with airplanes passing through, leaving, arriving.

WHITFIELD: OK. Alberto, thanks very much. Hold on tight, though, don't go anywhere just yet.




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