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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Miracle on the Hudson; President Bush Says Goodbye
Aired January 15, 2009 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, as you may know, having seen them through much of the day, the pictures are striking, but no less amazing than the reality that 155 men, women and children lived through today.
Look at this. This is what thousands of New Yorkers saw this afternoon, an airliner too low and going the wrong way down the Hudson River, not -- thank goodness -- what it looked like, not a hijacked plane, but U.S. Airways Flight 1549 was doomed, the Airbus 320, both engines crippled, possibly by birds, with nowhere to land but the water.
Now look at the aftermath, the airliner intact and still floating, the landing by a captain with experience flying gliders picture-perfect, the passengers safe, surrounded by a fleet of rescue boats, locally ferries, tugs, Coast Guard vessels.
And, tonight, yet another remarkable picture of the Airbus tied up in Lower Manhattan, a kind of jerry-rigged mooring for a ship built to fly, not float, and land on runways, not rivers.
Tonight, the investigation, what the passengers went through, how birds might have caused it and how, and, for a change, almost everything went right, adding up to what New York's governor today called the miracle on the Hudson.
We begin with David Mattingly. He's downtown on the river with all the latest details -- David.
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Campbell, that twin-engine jet in the water behind me, it was corralled and tied up here by the Coast Guard.
This is where the investigation is going to begin, right here, where that plane is tied up. The first big question they are going to attempt to answer, was it a collision with a flock of geese that brought this jet down?
MATTINGLY (voice-over): Passengers heard an explosion or blast from the engine, and then flames. "Brace for impact," that was the captain's terrifying warning, his on only warning moments before this U.S. Airways jet hit the river.
ALBERTO PANERO, PASSENGER: And, all of a sudden, you just heard a loud bang. And the plane shook a bit. And, immediately, the -- you know, the -- you could smell like smoke or like fire.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The captain came on and said, we're going to dump this plane. Brace for impact, and probably brace pretty hard. And that's what we did. And kudos to him, man. He did a great job. So, we dumped it. And the plane started filling with water really quick. And everyone was just super cool.
QUESTION: How did you get out?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By the luck of God.
MATTINGLY: The image surreal and chilling, a gleaming Airbus 320 resting on the surface, drifting with the current, and slowly sinking.
For the 155 people inside, there were prayers and there was fear, at first, some panic.
PANERO: There was a couple of people who just kind of took charge and just started yelling to calm down and just to get everybody out. And once -- once, I think, people realized that we were going to be OK, everybody kind of calmed down and just tried to get outside of the boat.
MATTINGLY: Here's what we know. According to the FAA, Flight 1549, bound for Charlotte, took off at 3:26 p.m. from runway number four at La Guardia Airport.
Aviation sources tell CNN that, three to four minutes later, the pilot reported one or more birds struck the plane, causing engine failure. The crew attempted to fly back to an airport, but decided to ditch the plane in the Hudson River. The crippled jet glided into the 32-degree water just off the west side of Manhattan.
BEN VONKLEMPERER, EYEWITNESS: I'm in an office building on the 25th floor. A short time ago, I saw a -- what looked to be a very small commercial airplane flying south along the Hudson River, making what appeared to be a very gradual landing. I then saw the plane hit the water. It made a big splash.
MATTINGLY: Ferries rushed to rescue the victims, who stood on the wings waiting to be rescued or were seated in life rafts that were inflated after impact.
Passengers credit the pilots for getting everyone out alive. The captain, Chelsey Sullenberger, is a 29-year veteran with U.S. Airways. He's also a certified glider instructor.
In video and CNN I-Reports, an incredible scene...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you OK?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
MATTINGLY: ... and an unbelievable ending to what some are calling a miracle.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How you feeling?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel like a million bucks, man.
MATTINGLY: The NTSB now assembling a team of about 20 investigators to take a look at this crash. And something they do in every investigation like this, Campbell, is look at the actions of the pilot. Of course, tonight, everyone calling that pilot a hero, saying he did everything right to keep everyone alive.
BROWN: All right, David Mattingly for us tonight with all the latest -- David, thanks.
And you heard a bit from Alberto Panero in David's report. We're pleased to have him on the program with us right now.
PANERO: How is it going?
BROWN: ... good to have you back.
You and I had a chance to talk a little bit earlier tonight.
BROWN: And you said to me, "I can't stop smiling."
PANERO: It's true. I mean, you know, at a moment like this, I feel like I should be upset and crying. You know, it's still a little bit overwhelming. But I can't stop smiling, because I'm so happy to be alive.
You know, it's that feeling that I'm alive. There's nothing that could explain it.
BROWN: A miracle.
BROWN: I mean, you have heard it said a million times today.
PANERO: Absolutely. Yes, absolutely.
BROWN: Walk us through it. Take us back to that moment on the plane when you first heard a noise and you knew something was wrong.
PANERO: Again, you know, we had just taken off.
And I was kind of dozing off. I leaned up on my window. And, all of a sudden, I felt the plane shake and there was a loud noise. And, immediately, you could smell, you know, smoke, just kind of like something was burning.
And, you know, people within the plane kind of started to realize that there was something wrong. I wasn't too concerned, although I was a little nervous, because I thought the right engine was still working. And I thought we were going to turn around and go to La Guardia.
And as soon as he made the big U-turn, I'm like, all right, cool. You know, we're headed back home. I mean, I will have to get on another flight. Once we started going down and going down pretty fast, I realized that maybe not so much.
PANERO: And as soon as he came on and said, brace for impact, that was the moment that, you know, everything kind of got confirmed that we were going down.
BROWN: So -- so, explain that moment, because that was it. You know, those words, it took it to a different level for you.
BROWN: I mean, what did it feel like? What was going through your head?
PANERO: Well, the first thing, for some reason, I thought to turn my phone on, because it has GPS. So, I figured, if anything, even if I was knocked out, they could find me through the GPS or something like that.
Then was, you know, I thought about my family. And I thought about, you know, they're going to have to tell the story, the sad story, and how upset they were going to be that I was -- I was they sure...
BROWN: Young doctor...
BROWN: ... had his whole life ahead of him.
PANERO: Had his whole life ahead. I had just called in the great news that I -- you know, about my residency. And, you know, all of that was just going to go, you know, within -- I called my mom and gave her some good news 25 minutes before I got on the plane.
And, you know, 30 minutes later, I was dead, so -- or would have been. So, that kind of crossed through my mind. And, at the same time, part of me was really trying to stay calm, because I didn't know what was going to happen.
BROWN: So, describe what it felt like, impact, when you hit the water.
PANERO: The impact was kind of, you know, everything kind of gets a little bit into slow motion.
Unfortunately, I have been in a car crash before, not as a driver, but as a passenger, and it felt the same way, just, you know, really forceful forward, backwards. And, then, again, I remember things kind of -- I think the window popped off on the side. Things kind of were breaking, and it got -- you know, the lights kind of turned off. It got real like smoky inside.
And then the next thing, you could see the water just start coming up on the side. But, at that moment, you know, I was expecting to have been killed by that, because I guess you see the movies and...
PANERO: ... and what you imagine in your head. As soon as it hit, I was expecting something to launch forward and kill me or explode or -- you know, death, or whatever I thought it was.
And, when that didn't happen, it was such a relief. But, within the second, it was just like, OK, get your seat belt off and get out of the plane.
And I think that's what everybody kind of had in mind. I'm pretty sure people were yelling, we're all right, we're all right. And I think everybody was kind of just, whoa, I can't believe it.
BROWN: And it was -- it was not much longer after that that everybody was in the life rafts and safe...
PANERO: Correct. Yes, correct.
BROWN: ... and freezing cold temperatures, granted...
PANERO: Yes. Yes.
BROWN: ... but still everybody OK.
BROWN: And, again, you had a chance to talk to your family. They must just be...
PANERO: Yes. They're...
BROWN: I can't even imagine the feeling tonight.
(CROSSTALK) BROWN: Yes. Yes. I don't -- you know, this is one of those things that, like Larry said earlier, that, you know, how can a plane crash bring so much joy? Well, I think this is one of those supposed- to-be tragedies that are going to be like just a happy story that I'm still here. And it's obviously for a reason.
So, I'm hoping, you know, that I just have great things coming up now.
BROWN: Well, I love seeing that smile on your face, Alberto.
BROWN: Safe travels home back to Florida, OK?
PANERO: Yes. Yes. Yes.
BROWN: Good to have you here. Thank you so much.
PANERO: Thank you very much.
We're going to talk more about what the flight crew dealt with, the decisions they made, the amazing landing that they pulled off.
For nearly three decades, Jim Tilmon through for American Airlines. And he is joining us right now from Phoenix.
And, Jim, a forced landing where the plane remains intact, everyone survives is almost unheard of. I mean, some people, as all of us have been, calling it a miracle.
What kind of skill does it take for a pilot to make a landing like this?
JIM TILMON, FORMER AMERICAN AIRLINES PILOT: Remarkable skill.
However, I have to tell you that the training that airline pilots go through is extremely thorough. These are people who really have gone through the mill, you might say. We don't have any junior pilots flying around in airliners today, because of a lot of things. But these are people who have a lot of experience. And experience is what won the -- won the game today.
BROWN: And -- and, Jim, an official who -- who heard recordings of the radio traffic from the flight said that the pilot was extraordinarily calm and methodical.
I mean, I know you say training, but -- but does it ever -- all the training in the world, does it ever prepare you for something like this?
TILMON: Well, I don't know about the preparation, except that you have so much to do. You're busy. You have got to make some decisions. You know you have to make them. I suppose airline flying 101 says, when there's an emergency, the first thing you do is calm down, and remember your major mission is to fly the airplane. It's that simple.
BROWN: I'm -- I'm going to certainly ask you to speculate on this one. I know you can't know. But an aviation source told CNN that air traffic controllers saw the plane clear the George Washington Bridge by less than 900 feet. This could have been so much worse.
TILMON: For a lot of reasons, it could have been.
You have to realize, he was flying in the vicinity of some of the most densely populated areas in the country. And if that aircraft had found anyplace other than that river to land, we could be talking about a completely different story tonight.
BROWN: You know, the pilot was reportedly headed for an emergency landing in New Jersey, when he ditched the plane into the river.
Any idea what -- what would have made him change his mind? I mean, he just had a realization, obviously, that he couldn't make it.
TILMON: Well, obviously, I wasn't there, but I can tell you right now, but experience lets you know something about time and distance.
You understand, just from the sight picture, where you are in respect to the -- the runway. And you can make a pretty quick judgment as to whether or not you're going to make it. And he decided not to try to stretch it. You don't stretch a glide like that. You have no recourse if you don't make it.
TILMON: You have got to pick something that is going to work. And he did that.
His decisions were remarkable. His decisions were right on target. And I can't imagine how he could have done it any better if he planned for it for a month.
BROWN: And it's believed, Jim, that a double bird strike was responsible for the incident. How common are bird strikes? And are pilots required to receive any training to deal with it?
TILMON: Well, they're -- they're more common than the news would -- would report, because, so many times, it's uneventful.
I mean, you know, you knock out one engine, it's not a big deal. You call the tower and say you're coming back. You come back and land. Nobody knows -- the passengers know something is going on, but nobody really knows. It's not a big news story.
But both engines at the same time, that's very, very rare. He must have really struck a very large flock of geese. And I have got to tell you that it happens so fast, until that's where the reactions of the pilot really count. You have to make the right decisions. You have to make them right now and you have to do everything you have been trained to do to make this thing work out.
And his landing, it's probably one of the best water landings I have heard of any time, any place.
BROWN: All right, Jim Tilmon, former pilot for American Airlines -- Jim, so good to have you on. Appreciate your insight on all this. Thanks very much.
TILMON: My pleasure.
BROWN: More on this amazing story just ahead.
And join the live chat happening right now at AC360.com. And check out Erica Hill's live Webcast during the break.
Coming up next: more on Captain Sullenberger, the man who pulled off the nearly impossible today, and saved more than 150 lives.
Later, the possible cause of all this, birds, and why they pose such a threat to lives in the air.
And, after eight years in office, President Bush did give his farewell to the nation tonight. You might be surprised to hear what he had to say. We're going to have that and more on 360.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF KOLODJAY, PASSENGER: It seemed like everyone -- everyone made it out all right. We hit the water pretty hard. But kudos to the pilot. He did a -- did a hell of a job. So, he saved my life. I'm happy and thankful to him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: A grateful survivor in a story with nothing but survivors, amazingly so.
Landing a plane without power is tricky enough, doing it on water, not concrete, without serious injuries, almost impossible. The flight crew did a great job.
We are going to get more now on the captain, C.B. "Sully" Sullenberger, from Erica Hill, who has the details -- Erica.
ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Campbell, I have to say, pretty much everyone we have heard speak out today has echoed the sentiments of that one passenger. Talk about being grateful, they're all praising the captain, Chelsey B. Sullenberger III, although we understand he's known as Sully.
Experience and training were key today. We have heard it over and over again. And, according to his bio on both LinkedIn and his company Web site, this many has plenty of both. Sullenberger has been flying with U.S. Airways for nearly three decades.
Prior to his time as a commercial pilot, he was an Air Force fighter pilot. He's a graduate of the Air Force Academy. He's also served as an instructor and a safety chairman for the Airplane Pilots Association. And he runs his own company. It's called Safety Reliability Methods that -- get this -- actually consults on safety in high-risk industries.
Sullenberger has not spoken out publicly since the crash. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, however, did meet with him shortly after the plane had evacuated, and had this to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: It would appear that the pilot did a masterful job of landing the plane in the river and then making sure that everybody got out.
I had a long conversation with the pilot. He walked the plane twice after everybody else was off and tried to verify that there was nobody else on board and assures us there were not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: A CNN producer also spoke with Sullenberger's wife at the couple's home in California. She did confirm her husband had called her after the crash to let her know he was OK. She said, though, she didn't want to do an interview until her husband actually gave her clearance to do so, Campbell, which, at this point, probably understandable.
BROWN: Yes, I would say.
HILL: Probably need a little time to process everything.
BROWN: Could we have a moment?
Erica Hill for us tonight -- Erica Hill, thanks. We will see you in a few minutes.
The medical angle -- coming up next, what passengers went through in the water and what they will likely be going through in their minds -- Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Gail Saltz joining us when we come back.
Also, Tom Foreman takes us on the flight path and shows us just how few options and how little time the flight crew actually had.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
KEVIN JOHNS, EYEWITNESS: And I saw this aircraft very, very low. And I said, that guy is low. And I looked up and there were flames coming out of the number-one engine. And I knew that the plane was in trouble. I called 911 right away.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BROWN: One hundred and fifty-five men, women and children coming off a plane in the water, icy water, on one of the coldest days of the year. A number have, in fact, been treated now for exposure to the elements, each and every one of them also exposed, obviously, here to serious mental trauma.
Joining us now, 360 M.D. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and psychiatrist Gail Saltz, as well.
Sanjay, let me start with you.
You know, the temperature in the Hudson today, especially, above freezing, just above freezing.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right.
BROWN: Explain what sort of danger those passengers were facing.
GUPTA: Well, Hypothermia, I mean, you have talking about it all evening. That is a real concern. And it can set in right away, with the -- with the water that cold.
And it can progress pretty rapidly as well. You know, you're 20 minutes into your show right now, Campbell. If someone had been in water that cold for this long, they could have profound hypothermia.
Water tends to absorb heat from the body much quicker than air does, which is why cold water so much bigger a problem than cold air. You start -- may start to feel sluggish, lethargy. You may start to lose consciousness.
But I want to tell you what happens in the body as well. If you go ahead and spin that animation, the body sort of goes into triage, protect the heart, protect the brain. Blood sort of gets sort of fused from those areas -- to those areas. And the rest of the body gets kind of cold, turns blue.
But even more importantly is what's happening sort of at the cellular level, at the molecular level. If we can zoom into these cells and then show us a blood vessel as well, you will see these red blood cells going through here. As it gets colder and colder, these blood -- these blood cells tend to slow down, become sluggish, then come to a stop.
And that is what is happening here, Campbell, in a situation like this. That's what can cause organ damage and all these other profound hypothermia symptoms.
Luckily, we -- we're not hearing of anybody at any of the hospitals that took care of profound hypothermia, just mild hypothermia tonight. BROWN: Gail, let me turn to you on this.
You know, some of the passengers -- Alberto, one of the survivors, was here a moment ago -- and they sound very calm. They sound happy and celebratory, relieved. But there has also got to be a lot of other stuff going on here, psychologically, as well, too, huh?
DR. GAIL SALTZ, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF PSYCHIATRY, THE NEW YORK PRESBYTERIAN HOSPITAL AT WEILL-CORNELL SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: You could hear a lot other stuff going on. So, even though he was smiling and showing, look, a lot of resilience, on the other hand, he was saying, what went through my mind is, I'm going to die. And then my parents will be so sad, because my life will have been over.
So, there were a lot of people on that plane who thought, this is it. I'm going to die.
And that, that feeling and the panic at the moment, that is a trauma. It's a trauma for the mind. And, so, some of those people are going to go on to develop real symptoms of panic, of -- of sleeplessness, of depression. And we don't know, we can't predict who it is.
But the people who were most hysterical, so to speak, or maybe sort of seemed stuporous, out of it, lost touch with reality, those are the people we would be most concerned about. And, in addition, anybody who has a past history of some sort of trauma, of depression...
SALTZ: ... or an addiction, by the way, is at higher risk for developing post-traumatic stress disorder.
BROWN: Sanjay, let me also ask you, though, about the -- the physical issues here, because, I mean, this is also a physical trauma, in terms of the impact. The plane hitting the water alone would be pretty jarring to the body. I mean, what kind of injuries are we likely to see here?
GUPTA: That was the first thing that went through my mind, exactly what you're alluding to.
You have got a plane, from what I read, going about 176 miles an hour when it hits the water. If it had just stopped all of a sudden, you cause what's -- what's known as an acceleration-deceleration injury. So, you're accelerating and you suddenly decelerate. Your whole body is -- is traumatized as a result of that, blood vessels within the chest, your spinal cord, your brain rattling around within the skull.
My guess is, based on the fact that people seem to be have -- have done so well so well from this, that the rate of deceleration must have been quite -- much slower than you would have expected. He may have been able to slow the plane down over a period of time and over a period of space, which -- which cuts down on those sorts of injuries.
They also braced themselves, Campbell. You heard that the pilot said that. They planned on protecting themselves from exactly those types of injuries.
BROWN: All right, Sanjay.
And, Gail, let me just finally ask you, is -- is it possible that this could ultimately be a good experience for some of these people, a real positive experience, having come through this?
There are going to be some people, particularly people who helped, who behaved in a way they made sure other people got out, who are going to feel like heroes. And, basically, collectively, they can feel like heroes. And it sort of restores your faith in mankind, if you will.
BROWN: Really life-affirming.
SALTZ: Life-affirming, and, by the way, may switch their priorities in a very positive way, like have gratitude, appreciate every day in a way that you can't get any other way.
So, there could be some real positive effects. And I would add even that, nationally, at a time when we are seeing a lot of systems not work, to see every system in this case work so unbelievably well, I think -- I think it has a reverberating effect...
SALTZ: ... that we can all feel like, wow, things can work, and we can do unbelievably well.
BROWN: All right, a good note to end on.
Gail Saltz and Sanjay Gupta, appreciate it, guys. Thanks very much.
Just ahead: President Bush gives his final farewell address, how he summed up his eight years in office. Were there any surprises, any last-minute revelations? The highlights and the "Raw Politics" -- next.
Also, a terrifying fact of airline travel, one bird flying in the wrong place at the wrong time can actually cause a commercial airliner to crash. What are the odds of it happening to you? And what is actually being done to protect passengers?
Plus, as the U.N.'s main relief compound in Gaza is hit by Israeli missiles, CNN's Ben Wedeman gets inside the war zone, the first Western journalist to get access. He's going to have the very latest on the dramatic day in a live report.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BROWN: Just a short time ago, President Bush giving his farewell address, a tradition dating back to George Washington. Mr. Bush has about 110 hours left in his presidency. His term ends Tuesday at noon.
In a recent poll, nearly three-quarters of Americans said that they are glad he is leaving. So much for leaving them wanting more.
In his final public speech tonight, President Bush took one more swing at summing up his presidency. It was raw politics straight up, starting with a nod to the next president.
Here are some of the highlights.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Standing on the steps of the Capitol will be a man whose history reflects the enduring promise of our land.
This is a moment of hope and pride for our whole nation. And I join all Americans in offering best wishes to president-elect Obama, his wife, Michelle, and their two beautiful girls.
This evening, my thoughts return to the first night I addressed you from this house, September 11, 2001.
Our nation is equipped with new tools to monitor the terrorists' movements, freeze their finances, and break up their plots.
Afghanistan has gone from a nation where the Taliban harbored al Qaeda and stoned women in the streets to a young democracy that is fighting terror and encouraging girls to go to school.
Iraq has gone from a brutal dictatorship and a sworn enemy of America to an Arab democracy at the heart of the Middle East and a friend of the United States.
When challenges to our prosperity emerged, we rose to meet them. Facing the prospect of a financial collapse, we took decisive measures to safeguard our economy. These are very tough times for hardworking families, but the toll would be far worse if we had not acted.
All Americans are in this together. And, together, with determination and hard work, we will restore our economy to the path of growth.
Like all who have held this office before me, I have experienced setbacks, and there are things I would do differently, if given the chance.
Yet, I have always acted with the best interests of our country in mind. I have followed my conscience and done what I thought was right. You may not agree with some of the tough decisions I have made, but I hope you can agree that I was willing to make the tough decisions. While our nation is safer than it was seven years ago, the gravest threat to our people remains another terrorist attack.
We must resist complacency. We must keep our resolve. And we must never let down our guard.
I have often spoken to you about good and evil, and this has made some uncomfortable. But good and evil are present in this world. And, between the two, there can be no compromise. Murdering the innocent to advance an ideology is wrong every time, everywhere. Freeing people from oppression and despair is eternally right.
This nation must continue to speak out for justice and truth. We must always be willing to act in their defense and to advance the cause of peace.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: A final farewell from the 43rd president. With "Raw Politics," the only question that really matters is how did it play? So let's get our panel's take.
Joining me for a strategy session, CNN senior political analyst and former presidential advisor, David Gergen; also, Candy Crowley and Pamela Gentry, senior political analyst for BE-TV, or BET-TV.
David, let me start with you. You heard President Bush tonight. What did you think of his last address to the nation?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It was gracious toward Barack Obama. It had a certain humility to it.
What's so striking, Campbell, in this speech, just as his interview with CNN with Larry King a couple of days ago, he sees reality through a very different lens than most Americans.
To end the central story of his presidency is that of the threat of terrorism of 9/11 and that he protected the homeland over these last seven years. He deserves credit for that. And that he's put us on a successful path to beat back terrorism both in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Most Americans will give him some of that, but I think they feel he's left us with two wars that we aren't necessarily winning, with a nation whose national debt has been doubled under his watch and with an economy that's been careening down, costing us lots and lots of jobs.
He acted as if he'd risen up and smoked the enemy of financial collapse and he's really helped to overcome the financial -- economic problems. That's not what most Americans believe and certainly not what Barack Obama faces.
BROWN: But Candy, I want to pick up on one point David was making, the issue of terrorism, obviously, which Bush wants to be his legacy, combating terrorism. As he went threw what he had done on that front. I mean, was he kind of throwing down the gauntlet to President-elect Obama?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think less that than trying to help rewrite history. I mean, this is a president who is trying to look at the long term. Who still believes that history will treat him more kindly than that first draft of history that's already been written.
I think this was a legacy shaper. I thought his most graceful points were when he spoke about Barack Obama. And I think what we heard was when he said, you know, we have to keep vigilant. Our No. 1 priority should be staying safe. I saw that as less of a challenge as what he believes was the central point of his entire administration.
BROWN: Pamela, do you agree that that's what he wants to be remembered for? Protecting America from terrorism right after 9/11?
PAMELA GENTRY, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, BET: I think that may be very true. But I think what he really will be remembered for, he said in his speech tonight, he sees things in black and white. There are no gray areas with this president.
And so he wants to leave the same way he's done most of his administration, without compromise. You know, he said, "I made decisions. They may have been wrong. I hope that you'll understand that I made them with the best intentions. And he believes that he's done the right thing.
So he's sort of left me with the impression, "I might not be -- I might not be right, but I'm never wrong."
CROWLEY: How about -- what he did say in there was the farthest I've heard him go, which was "I would do things differently if I had a chance -- I would do some things differently if I had a chance to do it over." That's as far as I've seen him go.
BROWN: All right, guys. Stand by. We've got a lot more with the panel coming up.
Is President-elect Obama's cabinet confirmation drive hitting another roadblock? We're going to talk about today's Capitol Hill grilling.
And then later, more on the miracle on the Hudson. We're going to bring you a moment by moment account of exactly what happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: So my fellow Americans, for the final time, goodnight. May God bless this house and our next president. May God bless you and our wonderful country.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BROWN: Just hours before President Bush's farewell speech, the Senate voted to release the second half of the financial rescue package to President-elect Obama. The vote was close, 52-42. It was Vice-President-elect Joe Biden's last vote in the Senate. He formally resigned at 5 p.m. today. It may have been Hillary Clinton's last vote, too. She hasn't resigned yet but is expected to be confirmed shortly as secretary of state.
For newly-minted Senator Roland Burris of Illinois, it was a first vote. He was sworn in today as Obama's successor.
Obama lobbied hard for today's victory. He was unable to sway many Republicans. They basically bailed on the rescue program in droves, including Senator John McCain.
But let's bring back our panel to talk about this: David Gergen, Candy Crowley, Pamela Gentry, for another strategy session.
And Pamela, let me start with you. The Senate vote today not to block releasing the remaining 350 billion. Not just an economic victory per President-elect Barack Obama but also a political victory, because he's not forced to start his presidency with a major veto. Right?
GENTRY: Well, that was really important for him, you know, to get off on a good start. But I think this is going to show how -- how far he'll go in reaching out to members. Because he made a lot of personal phone calls. He made personal visits to the Hill. And he's letting the legislative branch know that they're not going to be left out and he's not going to take them for granted.
But I think he made those -- he extended those olive branches. And of course, it worked with his party. But there were a few Republicans who did come over and support it. So he got a victory on his first day.
BROWN: David, let me ask you about attorney general designee Eric Holder, who seems to be having, possibly, the toughest, or one of the toughest confirmation hearings of all of Barack Obama's cabinet appointees. He was grilled on the Marc Rich pardon today. Let's play a little bit of that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Were you aware, Mr. Holder, of the atrocious record that Rich had in dealing with the Iranians (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and arms in exchange for oil, the Moroccans? Were you aware of this kind of a record this man had?
ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL APPOINTEE: No, I was not. And that was one of the mistakes that I made.
SPECTER: Now, David, Republican senators say that they want more time to question him. Is this a nomination that could be in trouble?
(END VIDEO CLIP) GERGEN: I don't think so, Campbell. I think he'll have more negative votes than he would like, but he handled himself overall today very, very well. Senator Specter did draw some blood with those questions about the Marc Rich pardon.
But Holder, I think, acquitted himself extremely in response to it. He's got strong support from Democrats. He does have a number of Republicans who have been at the Justice Department in the past in his corner.
But let me just come back and say one thing. Today's victory, this was a very significant personal victory today in the Senate for Barack Obama. Had this gone down -- and last night looked like it could go down in the Senate. He would have started out his presidency in a very weakened position.
The phone calls that he made were not just routine. He -- of the seven freshmen in the Democratic class, he got six of their votes. Had he lost them, he would have lost his vote.
Most of those people who went with him today campaigned against the bailout during the recent fall campaign. They got elected opposing it. He turned them around. That is a sign of someone who can get things done. It's a very helpful omen for him as he starts his presidency. It could have been a very different picture tonight, had he not done that.
BROWN: Candy, go ahead. I know you want to jump in.
CROWLEY: I just want to kind of respectfully disagree, because David knows I love him. But the reality was that, had he gotten a bill on his desk that refused him access to those funds, he would have vetoed it. And he would not -- they would not have had the two-thirds vote to override him. And he would have gotten that money.
So here's the argument which he made, and I think which was the most effective when he made it in the Senate caucus. OK, you guys, do you really want to pick a fight that's useless and get us all off on the wrong foot? And in the end, they didn't want to -- this wasn't about, OK, it really is a good idea to do this. This was about, it is futile to hand him his first rejection. It will reflect badly on him and on us.
BROWN: Pamela, let me ask you about another subject. Roland Burris, of course, being sworn in as a U.S. senator today. Are they, to a certain extent, breathing a sigh of relief, I guess, that this thing is not going to be in the headlines anymore?
GENTRY: Well, let's see if it's not in the headlines anymore. But yes, it's a sigh of relief. But I think the biggest relief is probably for the majority leader, Harry Reid. Because you know, he was -- he could have gotten blamed for really poor leadership if this thing had continued to drag on much longer.
I think that, you know, he was caught holding the ball. And I don't think he handled it well in the beginning. And I think probably getting this off the front pages now is a credit. I'm not sure who's going to take credit for making it happen. But I don't think Harry Reid handled it well, and I think he'll have to make sure that, in the future, that these kinds of leadership jobs get done.
BROWN: Candy, let me go back to you and Obama and kind of big picture this, if you will, and wrap it up for us. Because it seems like he has, especially over the last week or so, really tried to lower expectations. You know, he says, "Hey, the economy's going to be bad for a while. And you know, we might not catch Osama bin Laden, but as long as we isolate him, that's OK."
What's the strategy behind this, in terms of preparing people for, you know, his swearing in and the transition?
CROWLEY: I think some of the talking about the economy, and honestly, he has been the grim reaper of the economy for three weeks. And he started beginning to say, listen, this isn't -- this isn't going to happen instantly the minute he was elected.
But over the past couple of weeks, it has just been this dire, dire thing. Part of that was the sales job, to say to Congress, you need to give me this money. But part of it was trying to get some time from the American people, saying, "It is really bad. I am going to need some time to do this."
And I think with bin Laden, that's the other thing. He said during the campaign that he thought that bin Laden was an important symbolic and procedural al Qaeda member that we should go out and get. And now he's saying, well, if we can just sort of, you know, make it so that he's not effective, that's OK, too.
Again, I think that's kind of beginning to lower those "here comes the politics of hope and here comes all of these great promises," because reality is going to, you know, hit the road on Wednesday. And there's a lot of things on his plate, and it won't take place overnight. And he needs the American people to know that.
It's also why we got a lot of talk about, "Listen, we're going to have this trillion dollar deficit, and it's not my fault."
CROWLEY: So there has been a lot of that going on.
BROWN: And we've got to end it there. We're out of time. But Pamela Gentry, Candy Crowley and David Gergen, as always, thanks, guys. Appreciate it.
Up next, more on our breaking news: the miracle on the Hudson River. When did the pilot know something was wrong, and what exactly did he do? Tom Foreman retraces the plane's path.
And later, man versus nature. You may be shocked to hear what caused this plane to go down.
And inside Gaza. We have finally got a reporter on the ground. We're going to bring you the latest news from the front lines.
BROWN: U.S. Airways Flight 1549, resting momentarily in Lower Manhattan. CNN learning that recovery crews are waiting for favorable tides to move in and possibly haul it ashore.
As for where they'll put it, that is up to the NTSB and so far they're not talking. That's the very latest.
For more on how the Airbus got there, and got there safely, here right now, Tom Foreman.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Campbell, this had to be the shortest and most eventful flight in America today. And if you look at it, it even seems eventful.
Look at this: the plane takes off. It's climbing; everything seems fine. Then suddenly, there's this very dramatic turn that's headed back down the river where it will ultimately land.
But all along the way, there were all sorts of little steps happening. And I want to deconstruct those now to give you an idea of the sequence of events.
First of all, let's start with New York City. Here's where they landed over here. About seven miles away is where they started, La Guardia Airport down on runway No. 4. That is when this afternoon about 3:26, this plane was doing 170 miles an hour or so and it lifted off for what should have been an uneventful flight.
It climbed normally to begin with. But sometime between 3:26 and 3:30 p.m. -- a lot of different accounts of this -- that's when they encountered these birds or what we're reporting to be birds. They hit the plane. Many people say the left engine went silent, and then others say the right engine was silent, too.
But we two know what happened next, for sure. This light part over here shows where the plane was climbing. From this point, it was descending. This is only about 3,000 feet. It went this way, toward the west. And over here, the pilot was faced with a choice. He could try to go back to the airport, the original idea, or do something else.
Here's the problem. Look below him. All sorts of people, millions of people living on the west side of Manhattan. He would have to cut back across them to get to the airport.
So instead, as he passed over this bridge here, now about 900 feet in the air, he decides to go for the river. And down he goes into the middle of the river. A good place, if there is such a good place for such a thing, only about a half mile from each shore.
And an important thing happened in this process. This particular plane is equipped with what's called a ditch switch. What that switch did was seal all the ports on the bottom side of the plane as it was going down. That's one of the reasons this plane did not sink like a stone and so many people survived. That and the proximity to shore.
One more thing to look at here. As we widen out, we talk about the idea of bird strikes. It would have been no wonder for such a thing to happen in this area. What we've lit up here is called the Atlantic flyway. This is a region where many, many waterfowl fly back and forth. Some from the Great Lakes region, coming into this area right here. Many pilots have seen them all the time. Do they represent a threat? You bet they do. An average Canada goose, anywhere from seven to 20 pounds -- Campbell.
BROWN: Tom Foreman for us tonight.
As Tom mentioned, at least one bird reportedly struck Flight 1549. The accident could have been catastrophic for this crew and for all pilots. Bird flights are a constant threat. They can also be a deadly one. Erica Hill has more on that.
ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): it is an eerie irony. One of the biggest threats to a plane is its inspiration: birds.
RONALD MERRITT, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): Birds can take aircraft down and they have. This isn't the first time. You're never going to eliminate all birds from any airport environment. The key is to manage the risk.
HILL: Bird strikes, the official term used for collisions between aircraft and birds, are estimated to cause more than $600 million in damage every year, according to the FAA. They're most likely to occur during takeoff and landing and between the months of July and October.
Between 1990 and 2007, there were more than 82,000 reported, though the FAA says that's probably just 20 percent of the actual total. The biggest threat to an aircraft: a bird being sucked into a plane's engine.
MERRITT: Engines are particularly vulnerable in the fact that you can shut down the power source when you're looking at birds that are 8 to 12 pounds. There's really not a component that's going to withstand that type of impact.
HILL: The key, as Merritt mentioned, is managing the threat, one that has grown in recent years. There are more planes in the air and more birds, thanks to wildlife conservation efforts and environmental cleanup.
Airports around the globe use harassment techniques like dogs, fireworks, even falcons, to frighten the birds. Merritt's company is developing radar technology to help give pilots a warning. But as the pilot of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 demonstrated, good training can also make the difference. MERRITT: Typically, pilots have very little opportunity to avoid birds. It's really more a matter of training to deal with the in- flight emergency once that happens. And I think pilots of all air carriers, in particularly military pilots, spend a great deal of time going through those checklists and simulators, practicing what happens when an engine is out.
HILL: Practice that today proved to be a life saver.
HILL: Now, for anyone who may be concerned about getting on a plane after seeing what happened today, I specifically asked Ron Merritt if we should be worried. And he said very quickly to me, no. Definitely not. And don't worry if you see a bird outside of your window.
The fact is, Campbell, while the numbers are high when we talk about bird strikes, the numbers of actual deaths or even real accidents that could cause a human to be harmed, thankfully, are low. A lot of times you don't know about these things.
BROWN: Right. That's what we had heard one of the pilots say. Erica Hill for us tonight.
Next on 360, inside Gaza. CNN's Ben Wedeman becomes the first western journalist inside the war zone. The live report and the latest on the fighting coming up.
And later, out of the air, into the water and alive. Extraordinary images of today's plane accident. It's our "Shot of the Day."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARA SANTIAGO, EYEWITNESS: I heard a boom, and I was wondering what that was. I turned -- I turned around and looked up. And I see this plane -- going. And a puff of smoke, like, just behind it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Tonight, Israel is expressing regret for an air strike that damaged the U.N.'s main relief aid compound in Gaza but insisted Hamas fighters were launching attacks from nearby.
Despite diplomatic efforts to reach a cease-fire, both sides are stepping up the battle. There are reports right now of close combat inside Gaza City.
As we've been reporting, Israel is banning any journalists from getting inside the war zone. That policy has made it virtually impossible to cover the flight from the front lines. But today, that changed, and CNN made it happen. Our Ben Wedeman became the first western correspondent to cross into Gaza. He had to travel from Egypt in order to get in. And Ben is joining us now from the phone from inside Gaza.
Ben, give us the latest on what's happening there.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Campbell, we're in Razla (ph) in the southern end of the Gaza Strip. And what we've heard all night long is that sort of constant Israeli air presence over -- over this town. And about an hour ago, heard a very large explosion.
Basically, nobody ventures out of their home after dark, due to the circumstances. When we arrived, shortly after the sun went down, there were still a few shops open and some people walking around. But for the most part, the town is deserted. People were very afraid to venture outside. There's no running water here.
There is electricity in this particular area. We did go through a few shops. And they do have some food. But basic things like bread are in short supply. So the situation here is very, very difficult.
And Israel continues its operations. Now, it does appear, Campbell, that the focus of those operations with Gaza City itself, which is on the other side of the Israeli sort of front lines. Israel has essentially cut the Gaza -- the Gaza Strip in half, just south of Gaza City.
So the only way we are able to -- we would be able to get from where we are to Gaza City is to hop along a ride with an ambulance. And those are the only vehicles that are allowed to go through those front lines -- Campbell.
BROWN: And, Ben, has -- has what you've seen in terms of the air strikes and the fighting, has it been pretty consistent? Or have there been long periods of not much happening, where as you say, people can sort of go about their lives?
WEDEMAN: Well, of course, the Israeli operations are focused in particular areas. So where we are in Razla (ph), most of the bombing has been along the border strip with Egypt.
And those houses that -- that were adjacent to the border have been, in most areas, just turned into rubble. They're in shreds. And they're staying in U.N. schools.
This particular area we're in, we did have sort of two air strikes overnight. One just about an hour ago, where they did hit -- it's hard to say -- some sort of target about half a kilometer from here.
And another one, which was much closer, that really shook this building, and the windows rattled. You could feel the shockwaves from the explosion.
But there are, sort of, times when people feel more secure. There was this three-hour lull that the Israeli army instituted. Of course, that's a time when people really do rush out, look for water, look for food, go to the hospital if they need to.
So there are times when people clearly feel safer than others. But even those lulls, as I've seen before, are not blanket. They are areas where the fighting continues, where the air strikes continue -- Campbell.
BROWN: All right, Ben Wedeman for us tonight. Ben, of course, as we said, the first western journalist inside the war zone, giving us that live report and update from Gaza. Ben, thanks very much.
Our "Shot" is next. Amazing imagines from today's water landing in the Hudson River.
And at the top of the hour, the latest on what may have caused the ditching and what the passengers went through. How the flight crew pulled off what is being called a miracle.
BROWN: Erica, for tonight's "Shot," on a wing and a prayer. U.S. Airways Flight 1549, the amazing story in pictures and words.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The engine blew about three minutes into the flight. Smoke came out everywhere. A couple of minutes later, the captain came on and said, "We're going to dump this plane. Brace for impact. And probably brace pretty hard."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When he was going on, all of a sudden, the captain came on and said, "And brace for impact." And that's when we knew we were going down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once the captain said, "Prepare for impact," at that point, it was a hushed silence. Heard a couple of cries.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How did you get out?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The luck of God, man. I don't know.
BROWN: What did you think? I mean, just listening to the people and their stories today, it was really unbelievable.
HILL: And amazing how composed some of them were, as well, especially after going through that.
BROWN: Unbelievable. What an incredible experience for all of these people.
Coming up at the top of the hour, we're going to have more survivor stories, from takeoff to splashdown. And a closer look at the role birds may have played in bringing the Airbus down, when 360 continues.