Return to Transcripts main page
CNN BREAKING NEWS
Plane Crashes Into N.Y. Home
Aired February 13, 2009 - 02:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We again just are -- are continuing to try to pick up bits and pieces of information. And -- and as we've said repeatedly, and I -- it just bears repeating again, at 2 a.m. right now on the East Coast, often the information that comes in early is -- is fragmented and sometimes contradictory and sometimes inaccurate. So we're being careful about what we have been reporting to you.
State troopers have confirmed to us there were no survivors aboard this crash. We can say that now. We feared it for an awfully long time this evening, but didn't want to say it. But that has now been confirmed by New York state troopers. No survivors; 48 people aboard this plane -- 44 passengers, four crew members.
One lady who often takes this flight but was not on it tonight was reporting earlier -- commented earlier that usually there's two flight attendants aboard this flight and two people in the cockpit. So again, that's the four crew and 44 passengers.
The -- the plane actually seats many more people than that. It's about 74 seats onboard this aircraft. It's a Q400 Bombardier aircraft. We talked to -- to one of our guests earlier who was saying that it is -- it's actually manufactured in -- in Canada, and is -- is an aircraft used to bad weather. And there was, apparently, bad weather. Two different reports on exactly descriptors of the weather: cloudy, foggy, rainy, snowy. A little bit of steel -- sleet and rain, said one official.
Let's bring in Jenny -- Jenny Harrison, who is actually monitoring the weather for us down in Atlanta.
Jenny, what can you tell us about the weather conditions at the point -- at the time of the crash, which was around 10:17 p.m.?
JENNY HARRISON, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, actually, Anderson, at about that time, conditions in Buffalo were turning very, very (INAUDIBLE).
Let's start out with the wind, because the wind conditions were very strong, certainly, in Newark, New Jersey, but not particularly strong in Buffalo when the plane was actually coming in.
But this -- if you're not clear where Buffalo is, it is right here, just on that sort of northeastern portion of Lake Erie. And you can see in the last few hours, though we have had a very wintry precipitation. In fact, in the last couple of hours, it has turned over to mainly snow. We were talking about trace icing, whether that could have actually been a problem. But in actual fact, trace icing, according to all the regulations, is not considered an issue unless it is encountered for an extended period of time. And that is considered an hour or more.
So when you think that the conditions in New York were clear, then obviously the plane was not encountering this wintry precipitation until it actually came close to Buffalo, there as you can see, just off the coast of Lake Erie.
But certainly the winds, Anderson, were fairly strong, obviously, throughout much of the Northeast, throughout the day. At one point, there were actually 30,000 people in Buffalo without any power because of the strong winds throughout the day. There were nearly 300 reports of wind damage throughout the day across the Northeast. So at one point, 400,000 people without any power at all.
So there have been some very, very strong, gusty winds throughout the day. But certainly, from the information I've been looking at, there's nothing to indicate that there was anything particularly untoward with the weather. There was just this wintry precipitation really impacting Buffalo. As I say, pretty clear out of Newark, New Jersey. But at that point, the winds were strong. But coming in to Buffalo, winds were at about 20 kilometers an hour. So -- in miles per hour, those are fairly light winds. Just obviously, there could have been some crosswinds and some high gusts -- Anderson.
COOPER: Thank you very much for that. It's -- it's -- it's good to -- to kind of give a sense, the overview of the weather in that area at the time. There have been very strong winds around the New York City area, and no doubt around Newark Airport as well. Today, a lot of flight delays, a lot of flights being canceled.
This flight, actually, apparently was delayed and was supposed to leave around 7 p.m. Not sure what time it actually did take off, but it did go down, we know, around 10:17, according to one eyewitness.
Jim Tilmon, retired pilot and aviation analyst, we're lucky enough to have him on the phone with us.
Jim, as you continue to just hear from these eyewitnesses and the weather reports, what are your thoughts?
JIM TILMON, FORMER PILOT: Well, what I've been able to see, has not indicated any strong wind at the time of the crash. Actually, it was just the opposite at the time of the crash, from what I've been able to see, is winds less than 10 miles an hour, which really kind of sets up the scenario that we were talking about, with the kind of weather condition that we had been describing before.
But once again, for those that were not with us a little earlier, we cannot allow ourselves to speculate that this was the cause of the airplane at this time -- of the crash at this time. There are lots of -- lots of factors that are involved. And incidentally, this airplane, I -- I've -- I've been a passenger on this type of airplane many times. And it's one of the smoothest and quietest and best-designed airplanes of its kinds that I've -- I've ever -- ever ridden on. So I -- I don't think -- I mean, you know, of course -- you know, here I am speculating now. But I would -- I have some serious doubts that the airplane itself made a major contribution to this.
Now that being said, if they had mechanical problems that we reported earlier, that's another issue.
COOPER: Just to -- to recap, it's just a little bit past 2 a.m., and for viewers who are just joining us, who have not been -- maybe coming home, just turning on the television, just want to quickly recap what we do know, and -- and perhaps even more importantly, what we don't know at this point, because we don't want to go down the road of speculation.
The -- the headline, of course, the tragic headline, 49 people have lost their lives this evening, a short time ago. It occurred around 10:17 p.m., when this plane slammed into a house in -- in Clarence Center, very close to Buffalo, New York. It was very close to coming into Buffalo. That's where it was landing.
It's a plane that took off from Newark Airport, Flight 3407, was supposed to leave around 7 p.m, was slightly delayed. Finally crashed at 10 -- 10:17, as we've said. It was a Q400 Bombardier aircraft. Seventy-four seats; there were 44 passengers, four crew members. All of them perished.
We are told now by New York state troopers that -- believe there was one person in the house at the time of the crash. We don't know if that person is the fatality that occurred on the ground, but we do know there was one fatality on the ground. We can't confirm whether or not that was the person in the house at this time.
So again, 49 people in all have perished.
We wish we could tell you this was a rescue operation that you're witnessing. But it is not. At this point, authorities saying this is not a rescue operation. They have been battling the flames, which we have been watching now all night long on some of these images that were taken earlier. Huge flames -- one report says as high as 40 to 50 feet, both from the -- the impact into this house.
No reports that the plane was on fire before it hit the house. But -- but witnesses on the ground report hearing strange engine noises. This is a community which is used to hearing planes flying over. It's a -- it's a place very close to the Buffalo airport. One witness we talked to said it was something he had not heard before. He described it as sort of a -- a -- like a -- a power saw almost, a sound he didn't normally associate with -- with an aircraft.
Very little communication, we're told, by authorities, from the plane, though they did complain of mechanical trouble. You just heard the weather report. One woman who was on a plane flying around the same time said that it was cloudy and foggy, rainy and snowy, but not too bad. It was a little bumpy on her flight, but we don't know exactly the -- the situation for this flight, which actually did go down.
And witnesses report the plane nose-dived into the house, and essentially flattened the house. And the images you see -- that's the tail of the plane you see there.
Jim Tilmon, what do you make of the fact that the -- I mean, it -- it's such an eerie image, the tail of that plane intact, sticking out of the ground like that.
TILMON: Well, it's like the airplane kind of burrowed itself into the ground.
And I should tell you, too, Anderson, there are certain things we do know. We know the airplane is very sophisticated, with one of the latest types of flight-data recorders that -- that's designed for any aviation. And that's -- because of that, the NTSB will be able to take that information back to their headquarters and decipher it. And they can tell you exactly what was going on in terms of the airplane itself, what the engines were doing, what the airspeed was at the time, what the -- any mechanical malfunctioning that was going on at the time and all of that.
And there's a cockpit recorder that will also tell you what the crew was actually saying and what the sounds were, and warnings that were being -- going off at the time and all that.
I suspect that in the final seconds of this -- the flight of this aircraft, they were very, very busy, and maybe even confused in the cockpit. Because something happened so suddenly, with so much catastrophe, that they just had their hands really full.
COOPER: It -- it must be -- I mean, it's -- obviously, it's a pilot's worst nightmare, it's a crew's worst nightmare, it's a passenger worst -- worst nightmare, but you said it -- it all goes -- it all happens quickly.
TILMON: I'd -- I'd say that this accident started and ended catastrophically in a matter of seconds. I really -- I really don't think that there was much more time than that, from the time that -- that they encountered something really awful, and the time this disaster struck.
COOPER: A blessing, perhaps, in some small way. But clearly, a lot of questions remain to be answered.
How quickly from the time -- how does this -- this -- this investigation, this crash investigation work? I mean, from the point where -- all right, they -- they've -- when they put out the flames, and -- and we're told now, authorities saying just a short time ago, they have the flames more or less under control -- what -- what are the steps for the investigation?
The NTSB arrives, I assume, in the morning. How does that proceed?
TILMON: Well, they have what's called a Go Team, Anderson. And the Go Team is made up of people who are specialists in each one of these areas.
They'll be someone there that is the -- the expert in terms of human factors, to determine everything from what these pilots had for breakfast that day, right down to the -- the last moments of the crash.
They'll -- they'll be an expert on engines, that will be there to examine the -- the remains of the engines, to determine exactly what they were doing prior to the accident, and look at the flight-data recorder to learn what those engines doing in terms of the power and the thrust and all that.
They -- they -- they -- every single aspect of this flight will be thoroughly examined by people who are specialists in each one of those areas. And then, of course, they will meet from time to time.
Generally, what happens is they -- they will start off with some press conferences, where they kind of (INAUDIBLE) information, the only things that they know. But NTSB is one (ph) to be extremely careful about the information they put out. So they're not going to let you hear anything that they can't really document. And if there is something that is suspect, maybe it would give you that. But there will be a series of these preliminary press conferences that you will have privy to.
Then they'll shut down the operation in that -- in the crash area, and move all of their investigation back to their headquarters, where they'll simply go over all the documents and paperwork and conversations and interview people, and that sort of thing. It may be months before they'll come up with the factors that contributed to this accident.
COOPER: Jim, I'm -- I'm not sure how to ask this question, or even if I should -- answer it if -- if you think it's appropriate.
In crashes in the past, when there are fatalities, is it the impact that people die -- I mean, is it -- is the impact that kills people? Is it the fire afterward? Is it the smoke inhalation? Do we know?
TILMON: They'll literally be able to determine that, generally, if there's enough left of the bodies to determine that. But there is a way for them to determine exactly what caused deaths on the airplane.
And I would say, in this particular case -- I mean, this is something -- a lay position. I -- I'm -- I'm not your medical expert, for sure. But I -- I would -- I would say that impact was perhaps the most -- the most intruding factor to the fatalities on this airplane, because this thing had to hit really hard and bury itself in the ground.
COOPER: Jim, if you could just pause, we're joined by -- by Congressman Chris Lee, whose district this crash has occurred in.
Congressman, we read your statement just a short time ago. Clearly, your thoughts are -- are with the victims of this and their families and -- and the first responders on the scene right now.
REP. CHRIS LEE (R), NEW YORK: Very much so.
I was -- I had come -- came back from an event here in Washington, D.C., to hear about the news, and what really strikes home is the fact that this crash was roughly a mile from where I actually reside in Clarence. So it's a -- it's a very sad day to hear what is transpiring.
COOPER: What -- what can you tell us about -- about this area? You know, how densely populated it is. I know 12 homes in a surrounding -- around the house that has been destroyed has -- have been evacuated.
LEE: Well, it's -- it's a very residential area, and it -- the flight path goes right over our -- literally, right over our neighborhood.
So it is -- I had spoke to one of the FAA people at the tower in Rochester who was in -- online within -- in Buffalo, and they said that the plane had gone down about four or five miles out, so -- which makes sense of -- with the proximity of that crash would have -- is about right.
So it's -- it's a very residential neighborhood, and I've -- at least what I'm hearing right now, there may have been one fatality on the ground as well.
COOPER: That -- that's the -- what we have been told, one fatality on the ground.
We -- we haven't been able, and I don't know if you have any information, but we haven't been able to confirm whether or not that fatality was the person in the house. We're told there was one person in the structure at the time of the crash.
LEE: Yes, well I -- I -- I'm not sure if you've already spoken to, but I did speak directly with the CEO of Continental Airlines, Larry Kellner, and he had confirmed the 48 crew and passengers, and the one on the ground.
But that's -- that's the most information I've been able to receive as well. But we're -- what we have done is posted on our government Web site emergency numbers that people can call into to get information through Continental. And if you don't have those already, I can -- I can at least give you a Web site that they can go to.
COOPER: You know, if you could give us the Web site -- we've been putting the phone number for family members up on the screen, and -- and giving that number out. And -- and that number is 1-800-621- 3263.
What is the Web site?
LEE: It's -- it's my Web site here in the -- the district which people live. It's just chrislee.house.gov. And on there there's various numbers that they can call into.
COOPER: There -- there's -- we've been getting some questions from people about exactly the site of this -- of this crash. The report I have is that it was 6050 Long Street, which is not far from the Clarence Center fire hall, 6050 Long Street. And I only give that out in case there are people out there who are concerned about their homes or -- or their friends' homes in this area, just to give a precise sense. Because it really only seems to be one house that was destroyed in this.
LEE: Sorry, I've got a different address...
LEE: ...that I just got confirmed. I spoke to the Clarence supervisor about 10 minutes ago...
LEE: ...who had just been there on the ground. He -- he's given me, and I'm -- I'm -- hopefully, this is the right number, because obviously there's a lot of information going around. But he gave me 6038 Long Street.
COOPER: OK. That's good to know, because the 6050 I had was a -- an -- an initial report, and as we've been saying over and over the last hour or so, the initial reports are often, you know, sketchy and -- and incorrect.
So you've been given 638 Long Street as the address of the crash.
LEE: 6-0-3-8, yes.
COOPER: OK. We'll try to just double -- you know, just reconfirm that independently. But I appreciate that update very much.
At this point, is there anything else you want people to know about -- about the investigation, about what -- what your expectations are for the hours and days ahead?
LEE: Just that we've -- through our staff, we've been in -- in touch, not only with the FAA, but also the NTSB. And I know that you've got representatives on their way -- on their way there now, and we're trying to do whatever we can do to try to support the -- the families.
So as we have any more -- more information, we'll try to pass it along to you as well.
COOPER: Congressman Lee, I appreciate your time, and I appreciate you talking to us on -- on what is a very difficult night.
Thank you very much, Congressman.
Again, we -- there was a press conference -- we're anticipating another press conference in about an hour and 40 minutes. Again, this is a very fluid situation. They may decide to have another one sooner, so we of course are going to be on -- up all night following this story and bringing you any developments as warranted.
But we want to play you the press conference that -- that they -- they did have, which I -- took place, I'm estimating, about an hour and 15 minutes ago or so, so some of the information now is dated.
We can tell you now that the -- the -- the fires are under control, we are told. The scene has been secured. And they have now confirmed there are no survivors aboard the aircraft, and there is one fatality on the ground, as the congressman was also just reconfirming.
But it -- it's still worthwhile to just give you a sense of what occurred about an hour and 15 minutes ago, the last official word we've had from authorities.
Let's listen in.
QUESTION: Did the airplane report any trouble?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is also unknown. There's -- there's an extensive investigation in progress as we speak, and most of that is very sketchy at this point.
QUESTION: Do you know what the last information was they had from air-traffic control on that plane?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was very little if any communication before the -- before the crash.
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) were taken to the hospital? Who -- where were those people? Were they on the plane? Were they residents? Where -- two people were taken to the hospital. Where were they from?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The immediate residents of that house, obviously, were injured.
QUESTION: What time was this plane scheduled to land, and what time did the crash actually occur?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have the plane crashing approximately 10:20 p.m.
QUESTION: And what time was it -- was it scheduled to land at the airport?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Probably 10:25. QUESTION: What do you guys do from here, in terms of investigation and fire suppression and -- and rescue effort? Is this a rescue effort at this point?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not a rescue effort. We're in the overhaul mode, if you will. The scene is still very hot. Buffalo Fire and the airport firefighting equipment are assisting us in cooling the scene down. The local fire department did an excellent job of bringing the surrounding area under control, keeping damage to a minimum.
County executive, do you have anything you want to add at this point?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I -- I will tell you it's operating under a limited state of emergency, with the unified command under the county, and we have emergency personnel from the NFTA, the county, the town, state police and the sheriff all coordinating their efforts.
Right now, there are some fires still going, so the scene is not safe for any personnel at this point.
QUESTION: Have residents been evacuated?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We did evacuate approximately 12 homes, and they pretty much went to neighbors' houses. There's no one in any shelters.
QUESTION: Is there a HAZMAT concern? Is there a HAZMAT concern?
UNIDENTIED MALE: There was a HAZMAT concern early on -- concern early on. We had a significant amount of fuel left on that aircraft. However, that has not become an issue. The HAZMAT teams have been returned to quarters. That is a non-issue at this time.
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) can you tell us what the -- what the NFTA is doing with regard to families who are waiting at the airport?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The families right now are at the US Air Club at the Buffalo airport. They are coordinating with Continental Airlines as to what further directions they will be offered.
It was a Continental Express, operated by Colgan Air. That's C-O- L-G-A-N. It was a 74-seat Bombardier aircraft, a Q400 Bombardier.
QUESTION: ....flight number?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) -- The tail number on the plane was 3407.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We -- we'd also like to give out at least two phone numbers.
If anyone with a family would like to call, they should call 1- 800-621-3263. I'll repeat that: 800-621-3263. If the media is calling for questions, they should refer their calls to 713-324-5080. I'll repeat that once again for the media: 713- 324-5080.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to give Supervisor Blusty (ph) an opportunity to speak on behalf of the time -- Scott (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Dave Bisnet (ph).
First, our -- our thoughts and prayers are with those who were on the flight, with their families as well with our residents who were on the ground on Long Street. This is an incident in the town of Clarence, and we are very mindful and thankful of our first responders, the -- the fire and police who have been there, and all these (INAUDIBLE) who have worked together: State, county and NFTA and local agencies. And we just want to say thank you to all of them for their hard work and efforts, knowing that this event is still ongoing.
For Clarence Center residents, for additional information regarding Long Street -- again, for Clarence Center residents only, please contact my office if you have questions: 716-741-8930. Again, for Clarence Center residents only, questions regarding Long Street: 716-741-8930.
Again, our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the crew, the passengers and our residents on Long Street.
QUESTION: ...flight number?
QUESTION: Tell us what's going on at the scene right?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right -- right now the scene is being secured. Firefighting operations are pretty much expired, and the state police have secured the area. And we're awaiting investigators from the air -- airlines, as well as federal personnel.
QUESTION: How many (INAUDIBLE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One seriously damaged. There were some peripheral (ph) to some of the neighboring homes of that address.
QUESTION: We heard that that house was leveled. Was that true or not true?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's seriously damaged.
QUESTION: What can you tell families out there who are watching this right now, live, and listening to this live, in terms of their loved ones and in terms of hope? What -- what do you tell them? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is clearly a tragedy. Everybody is -- the supervisor has already mentioned, our prayers and -- and thoughts are with the families that have been involved. I would ask the town to be patient with the situation overall. Please do ask your questions, but be mindful of the fact that this is a huge operation. We've got a lot of things to take care of here in a short term so that all those answers can be (INAUDIBLE)
COOPER: Just to give you -- for clarity's sake, that occurred about -- I'm guessing, about an hour and 15 minutes ago, that press conference.
We're joined right now by Chris Collins, who is the Erie County executive. We saw a brief interview with him from our affiliate probably about 20 or 30 minutes ago, but I just want to get an update from him.
Chris, thank you for joining us.
Someone described your reaction to going out to the scene. Tell us what you saw when you went out there.
CHRIS COLLINS, ERIE COUNTY EXECUTIVE: Well, when I was out there, the scene was under control. The firefighters were still putting out the fire from when the plane hit the ground and exploded. But they were being careful not to disturb the plane, knowing that there would be an investigation.
The -- the area is secured, which the FBI requested immediately. And so the -- the scene was under control, but still smoldering fires, and the firefighters were still putting water on the scene.
COOPER: The -- the plane only burst into flames upon hitting the structure, is that correct?
COLLINS: We don't know that for certain. But certainly, there was a -- a massive explosion when it plowed into the -- into the home.
COOPER: I know there's been confirmation that -- that all those aboard have -- have perished, and that there was one fatality on the ground.
Do we know if that fatality was inside -- the person who was inside the house at the time the plane hit it?
COLLINS: Yes, up on the second floor. And two other individuals in the house did escape the home.
COOPER: Can you -- we've gotten two conflicting addresses on the home. And -- and just for clarity's sake, can you confirm the correct address?
The Congressman Lee just told us it was 6038 Long Street. Is that correct? COLLINS: That is correct.
COOPER: OK, I just want to make sure that we give -- it was 6038 Long Street. Because I know a lot of people just want to be -- get a sense of exactly where it is, in case it's someone they know or -- or -- or someone they don't know, if it's not in the area they think it is.
At this point -- I mean, someone said that you described the area as -- as surreal, and that you could smell burning -- burning fuel. Just -- can you -- can you fill it in, what it was like?
COLLINS: Well, I mean, there are -- there are -- there are clearly, I mean...
COOPER: I think we may have lost Chris. Chris, are you there?
COLLINS: I -- I'm still here. Can you hear me?
COOPER: We've lost Chris Collins, with the Erie County executive. Obviously, it's a busy night for him.
We do have on the phone Kathleen Dworak, who is an eyewitness.
Kathleen, are you there?
KATHLEEN DWORAK, WITNESS: Yes, I'm here.
COOPER: We're going to try to get Kathleen back, and we'll also maybe try to get Chris back as well.
Jim Tilmon has also been with us, retired pilot and aviation analyst, who has been lending us his expertise in terms in trying to understand exactly what -- what occurred.
Jim, are you there?
TILMON: Yes, I am.
COOPER: All right. I'll just continue going on.
Just to give you kind an update on what we know at -- at this point, the -- that is the image which will stick in many people's mind, of course, the -- the tail of the aircraft sticking up out of the ground. It's an image we have been watching throughout this evening tonight. Firefighters still on the scene. The scene has been secured. We heard from Chris Collins just a short time ago, and the scene has been secured -- I'm sorry, I'm having a slight problem with my earpiece. Just trying to get some more updates.
I don't know, Atlanta, if you can hear, but I'm not hearing you.
The weather conditions, as you can see, it was raining there. But some conflicting reports about what the -- the conditions were during the -- during the actual flight. One person who was on a -- a similar flight, a flight very close by, said that there was -- that there was -- it was cloudy, it was foggy, it was rainy and snowy. Another described it -- an official said there was just a little bit of sleet and rain.
That airport, though, some people have told me it's -- it's a little bit difficult sometimes to fly in, that it's sort of in the midst of a lot of lights in a -- in a -- in -- in a populated area. It can sometimes be -- be hard to find for officials.
But at -- at this point, we don't know much about exactly what happened onboard that aircraft, and we're still trying to get -- get a sense. But a lot will be determined, a lot will be figured out in the -- in the hours and -- and days ahead.
According to -- to our aviation experts from that black box that's onboard that plane, from the -- the -- all the -- the flight data that we -- we can find.
There's still so much, of course, we don't know. We're told that -- Jim Tilmon was -- was saying that by his account, by his estimates, all of this happened very quickly. This plane, we know, went down at 10:17, slammed into this house, killed one person inside the house. Two other peoples have been taken to the hospital. But all onboard, all 48 souls onboard that plane have been lost.
At this point, the investigation is under way. Officials from the NTSB are said to have been -- are already on their way, and we are awaiting a press conference which should occur in about an hour -- in about an hour and a half.
Kathleen Dworak is an eyewitness who -- to the crash.
Kathleen, I'm sorry...
COOPER: ...about the -- the communication problem.
What did you see? Where were you?
DWORAK: Well, we live about a quarter to a half mile away, sitting in our house. The house shook.
We opened the door, looked out, and you could smell this acrid smoke. Got dressed, went down, saw massive flames, about 50 to 100 feet in the air. And it was clear that there was going to be no one alive coming out of what we saw. Clear.
COOPER: And -- and did you say you -- you heard it first?
DWORAK: Well, we heard the planes go overheard. We heard -- I heard a sputtering of a plane, and about 15 minutes before this, I looked outside and saw that the trees sort of had a glistening. So it was clear that there was icing going on in the area. I heard a very low plane. It was sputtering. Then, you know, a few -- just a few minutes later, there was a -- a loud noise, and it shook our house, which is about a quarter to a half mile away.
Did you actually go over to the site, or did you stay where you were?
DWORAK: Oh, we -- we went over to the site, opened the doors, smelled smoke. We looked out, I saw a -- a large red glow. Got dressed, went down and there was just massive, massive flames. Massive. We were there pretty much before the rescue people were there.
COOPER: And -- and how quickly did the rescue people get there?
DWORAK: Oh, very quickly. People were running from all over. The plane crashed just -- just a short bit away from the Clarence Center Volunteer Fire Department. And emergency vehicles were starting to come in.
But -- I mean, it was -- the flames were incredible. And there was also explosions on the ground. And when we heard the explosion on the ground, the flames started to come towards us. Then we left.
COOPER: So there were -- there were more explosions after the initial crash?
DWORAK: Absolutely. Because we were standing there looking at the flames, seeing this site, and there was an explosion. And then a lot of the spectators then felt that we needed to -- to leave the area.
COOPER: Do you know where the explosion occurred? I mean, was it -- could you see it in the aircraft? In the house?
DWORAK: They were all one together. So it was all on the ground. From what I could see, the house was no longer standing, and the explosion was right at the plane-crash site, after it impacted.
COOPER: I mean, you -- you've clearly never seen anything like this. What -- what -- what's been going through your mind?
DWORAK: Oh, well I'm -- it was very frightening. Clarence Center is a very friendly, warm community, and it was very sad to see.
But it was -- it was clear to me that this was -- there weren't going to be survivors from what we saw. That was clear.
COOPER: Yeah, it's just got to be a horrific thing for your community. What do you do - what do you do now? I mean, do you stay up watching? What happens now?
DWORAK: Well, I'm not sure. Probably just stay up and watch this. It's a very close knit community and you hear the - I can hear the fire trucks going by and hear the emergency responders go by and there isn't much we can really do. I mean, there's still smoke. I mean, our whole neighborhood still smells like smoke. So, I think it's going to impact us for quite a while.
COOPER: Yes, no doubt about that. Kathleen, when you said about the explosions, was there just one extra explosion, or there were several?
DWORAK: Well, when we got there, we - I saw - we saw and heard one large one, on the ground, when we were observing the site. And then it made the spectators just all - because we - the wind was whipping up and we just felt, you know, we gotta get outta here. And, but there was definitely explosions once the plane had hit the ground.
COOPER: Kathleen, I know it's been a surreal night for you and I appreciate you talking to us. Kathleen, it's been difficult. Thank you very much.
DWORAK: Thank you.
COOPER: Berkeley Brean, an affiliate reporter, is at the command center. I want to check in with Berkley.
What's the situation there?
BERKELEY BREAN, REPORTER, WHEC NEWS: Well, Anderson, we are waiting for the police and the fire and the investigators to talk with us again. They've scheduled a 4 a.m. press conference here in what was, in the town of Clarence, a library. It is now turned into a massive media center.
What I've just been listening to, just as I've been listening to you as well, is the cockpit, the voice recorder, of conversations between the pilot and air traffic control. And it was difficult to understand but what I did hear, at one point, is air traffic control say, we've lost communication. It didn't sound like anything dramatic when I was just hearing this communication for the first time. But I did hear air traffic control say, at point, lost communication. That's obviously when the plane crashed or had some kind of catastrophic failure.
COOPER: So, you have actually heard the pilot of this plane that crashed, of 3407, talking to the air traffic control? You've heard the tape?
(AUDIO GAP, GARBLED)
COOPER: Ah, Berkeley, I think you're breaking up a little bit. Are you still there?
(AUDIO GAP, GARBLED)
COOPER: All right. We'll try to reestablish communication with Berkeley. Think we still have Chris Collins, who is the Erie County executive on the phone. Chris, if you're still there I apologize for our communications problems before. You were describing when you went out to the crash, I mean, not only what you saw, but the smell of it all?
CHRIS COLLINS, ERIE COUNTY EXECUTIVE: Well, (AUDIO GAP)
COOPER: OK, we - sorry, we just lost Chris again.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: International control?
COOPER: Obviously, it's a chaotic scene, where both Berkeley and Chris are. We'll try to get both back.
A couple questions to pursue and we'll talk again with Jim Tilmon, who I think is still standing by with us.
But interesting, the - our eye witness Kathleen Dworak, talking about these other explosions. At least one other explosion after the plane had already hit. Jim, I don't know, are you still with us?
JIM TILMON, FORMER PILOT: Yes, I'm still here, Anderson.
COOPER: What do you make of that, Jim? The idea of a some sort of a secondary explosion. Is that just fuel, probably?
TILLMON: Well, no, I doubt seriously that it was fuel. It might very well have been an oxygen tank. You know, we have a few oxygen tanks on board for emergencies and that sort of thing. I don't know what it was, but the first thing that came to my mind was is the kind of thing that could explode under those circumstances.
COOPER: There is also, it seems they already have - that one reporter was saying they already have tapes of the communications between the cockpit and the air traffic controllers.
TILMON: That is highly unusual, Anderson, I've got to tell you. I can't remember a single commercial accident where they actually had a chance to hear the tape from the tower to the cockpit this early in the investigation. So, there is something very different in the way they're handling this, because I've never heard of such at thing before. That is something that (AUDIO GAP)
COOPER: We're trying to confirm this, independently. There is a report that there is a cockpit recording, the last transmission from the pilot to the control tower. But, again, we're exact - we don't want to do - you know, give out any information that is incorrect. And we don't want to go down the road of speculation. But, again, there is a report, right now, that this is out there. And we are trying to follow up on the accuracy of it, and of course, as soon as we determine it is accurate we will bring that to you, when we can.
What, at this point, Jim, for those who are just joining this, what are the big unknowns? I mean, what are the first questions that have to be answered. Obviously, what happened, but more detailed than that? TILMON: Well, the flight data recorder is going to be used for a lot of the information. It will tell us whether the flaps were down. It will tell us whether the gear was down. It will us what the airspeed was at the time of the -that this incident started. It will give us the duration of the incident. How long did it take from the time that something happened, before the actually struck the ground? It will tell us just about everything you could imagine.
And of course, the cockpit voice recorder will tell us what sounds are being made in the cockpit. What were these -what were the pilots saying to each other, if anything at all? What are the warning signs? You know, you have warnings of all kinds, airspeed warnings, and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) warnings, that the cockpit will have sounds talk. So, they're going to have people who are trained, skilled, at analyzing all of this data, to actually reconstruct, to the best way we know possible, what happened throughout every single second of the last few minutes of this flight. When they get finished it will be almost as if you were riding with them at the time that it happened, because you hear and - everything. As a matter of fact, with the latest versions of some of these flight data recorders, they can literally plug that into a computer and the software they have will allow us to actually see the picture, of the aircraft and it's condition. What it was doing in flight, perhaps, before it struck the ground.
So, there is a lot of very, very fascinating (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and tapes that is now aboard all these aircraft.
COOPER: And in terms of the investigation, we heard Chris Collins, early on, saying that firefighters and first responders were very careful not to disturb the scene, or tried to disturb the scene as little as possible, per instructions from the FBI. Obviously, that is a prudent move. This is really, in some respects, will be investigated as crime scene, if you will, in terms of securing the area and just trying to keep everything for NTSB investigators, to examine it.
How - I mean, the people who are there. The people who have perished, I mean, how much is this crime scene - is this scene just preserved as is?
TILMON: Well, it's extremely important because the people that are there now, the first responders, have no way, no frame of reference to determine what's really important and what's not. That's why they do this as a standard procedure, simply secure the area. Make sure nothing gets disturbed unless is absolutely necessary. And a fire hose that blows something from one place to another may disturb some of the things they need to know. They need to know the positioning of everything. They need to know the condition of everything. They need - they need to really reconstruct the accident the best they can. So, yeah, that's a very prudent move and kind of standard procedures. It usually in these things - it is, you're right, Anderson, it is a crime scene until that portion of the investigation has led the investigators to know that it doesn't look like this was an intentional thing, or a crime thing, or a terrorists thing, or whatever else. Then they turn the investigation control over to the investigators who have been trained to deal with accidents, like the NTSB.
COOPER: Again, I'm just getting another report in, and I'm listening to you, at the same time I'm sort of reading my BlackBerry and following updates. There are more, now, reports coming out that there is a tape of the communication. It has already been sequestered. I'm trying to find out if what I'm hearing about the information on the tape, I can report, because I don't want to release any information that's not completely accurate.
I'm literally sending an e-mail on this, hold on.
Uh, and how long does this investigation take, Jim? Obviously, it depends on the situation and, you know, some of these big crashes that it has taken years. But on a scene like this, on a flight like this?
TILMON: Well, it's impossible to know, right away. But I'd say, I would not be surprised to seem something in the six- to nine-month range. And in terms of the cockpit recording, the cockpit conversation, I can tell you that, you know, the airways are free in this country and you can simply monitor the air traffic controllers, and the airplanes and everything else on radios that can easily purchased in a number of different places. It's quite legal and everything to do (ph). And some people do sit up and monitor it, and even record some of what is being said. That's just - it's really very surprising to me that the FAA would release a tape like that this early in the investigation, so I suspect this is coming from another source.
COOPER: Jim, let me try to get confirmation on this. Berkeley Brean, is a reporter, an affiliate reporter, who is at the command center.
Berkeley, do we have communication with you again?
BREAN: We do.
COOPER: OK, this tape that you say you've heard, whose tape was this?
BREAN: Well, Anderson, I -it was a -I've just talked to other people here, other reporters, who also heard the tape, and they say that it is the recording between air traffic control and the pilot. I was listening to it in a - or at least the cockpit, I should say. And I was listening to it in a live truck outside. And, again, it was difficult to discern a lot of the conversation that was going back and forth. But the one thing that I could clearly hear was towards the end of the recording. It was obviously somebody in air traffic control saying, either "I've lost communication" or "we've lost communication."
COOPER: And do you -
BREAN: So, that's what I heard.
COOPER: And do you know what has occurred with this tape? Is this, obviously, the authorities know about -was this a tape recorded by someone else listening in to radio traffic? Or is this an official tape that they released?
BREAN: Well, as far as my sources tell me, here at the command post, it was released by the FAA.
COOPER: All right. We're trying to obviously follow that down, right now. But you're station, for instance, doesn't have a copy of this? I mean, you guys haven't been playing this?
BREAN: We do not have a copy of it, right now.
BREAN: Correct. But we were able to listen to it in the satellite truck of our sister station here, just outside Buffalo. And that's where we were able to hear it.
COOPER: All right. We'll continue to follow up on that.
Chris -- I'm sorry, Chris Collins, is that who we have?
COOPER: Hey, Chris. I'm sorry we've had some communication problem. I appreciate you coming back.
COLLINS: Yeah, not a problem.
COOPER: Chris Collins, Erie County executive.
Do you know anything about this tape that Berkeley Brean was talking about?
COOPER: OK. At this point, where do you - how soon do you think NTSB investigators arrived? Do you know?
COLLINS: They're due in at 6 o'clock tomorrow morning - or, this morning. And we'll be on the scene, you know, shortly thereafter.
COOPER: OK. And in terms of the actual scene, are they the ones in charge of when you can remove the plane and get secure this scene even more?
COLLINS: Well, they're going to be in charge of reconstructing the accident. Our own commissioner of health will be involved in other aspects of identification of individuals, and - so it will be a coordinated effort.
COOPER: And at this point you're planning on having a press conference, I know, at 4 o'clock. Who is going to be speaking at that press conference?
COLLINS: I'm not sure, at this point, who exactly. There may be several of us available depending on the questions. We've tried to keep this so that the person closest to the information, for the question asked, would be the one to answer it.
COOPER: And in terms of, I mean, there are dozens of family members, no doubt, who are already waiting at the airport. What do you - do you want people to - is there a center that you want people to go? Obviously, you want family members to call the 800-621-3263, number. Do you know how many family members you have, currently, at --you know, waiting in Buffalo?
COLLINS: No, I suspect they're all gathered now at the designated location near the airport.
COOPER: Chris, is there anything else you want people to know at this point?
COLLINS: No, other than, you know, everything is under control in our county. It's a very close-knit community that, you know, all of us are devastated by this, and are thinking of the families and our thoughts and prayers are with them.
COOPER: Well, that is certainly true and we echo that sentiment. Chris Collins, the Erie County executive.
It's going to be a long night and a long day and many days ahead for you. Appreciate your time tonight and all the efforts of the first responders, who by all accounts responded extraordinarily quickly. One blessing in all of this was that there was a firehouse very close to the crash scene, which enabled people to arrive very, very rapidly on the scene, by all accounts. And we talked to a number of eyewitnesses who confirmed that, as well.
The -again, I'm just waiting confirmation on the -what is reportable on this tape that - and if there is any lead on that from Atlanta. Folks, let me know, as soon as you know.
Again, word that there is -some reporters on the ground, there, have already heard a cockpit recordings from the plane to the air traffic controllers and I'm just -we're trying to bring those to you as quickly as we can, once we get -
All right, I'm being told we can report what is on the tape. Apparently -and Jim, I suppose you are standing by to hear this as well. We don't have the actual tape. But what I'm told, and this is a summation of -actually, I'm just trying to get this up here. That apparently, the tape, the flight crew informed air traffic controllers that -uh, that they were shooting to SW runway, runway 23, working a number of the -the air traffic controllers were working a number of aircraft.
First officer, no sign of stress in her voice, the airplane was cleared for approach, and then shortly -later, about 17 minutes after 10, the controller comes back on, you can hear the stress in his voice, they've lost radar contact. Radar asks if other planes can see anything. No one responds. Controller mentions that there may be an airplane down. Plane that - and a plane that takes off soon after it went down, says that there was ice in the area.
Berkeley Brean apparently has more on this tape.
Berkeley, what are you hearing?
BREAN: Anderson, just talking with other people here. Apparently there was no official mayday call, no distress call according to this tape. What you can hear on this tape is air traffic control calling out to other planes in the area, asking them to look for this downed plane, giving them the rough location of Clarence, which is east of Buffalo. So, it would have been obviously, on the flight route. And then air traffic control, after that, from what I'm told, puts out a call for all emergency crews -in other words, call the state police, call the fire. It's obviously gone down in the Clarence area, which again, is a town, essentially a suburb of Buffalo, to the east. So, that is more information we're getting from this recorded call from air traffic control to what amounts to other planes in the area, as well.
COOPER: I'm told Tom Vetter, a photojournalist who just left the area is talking with us. Is calling in with us now.
Tom, describe what you have been seeing.
TOM VETTER, PHOTOJOURNALIST: Well, as of right now the area is completely blocked off. There's only a few ways to get back to the scene. So, it's completely blocked off by emergency personnel. So, it's not easy to get down there as of right now.
COOPER: How -- what are the weather conditions right now, where - at the scene?
VETTER: Well, I just drove in from Buffalo, which is about normally a 20-minute drive. And it took me about 45 minutes. So, pretty icy, pretty slick; sort of a rain, sort of a slushy-type of snow mix right now. And it's a little dangerous driving. But it is sort of a normal Buffalo evening.
COOPER: And again, how close were you to the scene?
VETTER: I was able to get up within reach of the scene, but as of right now it's just completely blocked off so we can't really get in there to see what's happening at this moment.
COOPER: Tom Vetter, appreciate you talking with us.
I want to bring in Jim Tilmon, retired pilot, aviation analyst, who has been helping us over the last several hours.
Jim, what I'm hearing from this tape. And, apparently, this is a tape recorded by a web site which monitors air traffic control.
TILMON: Oh. Right.
COOPER: And so a number of people have access to this. I have now a rundown of this tape. Apparently around 12:50, in the tape, Flight 3407 is being vectored for the ILS, cleared down to 2300 feet, for ILS 23. Then at about 15:30, on the tape, it is cleared to the ILS and later cleared to contact tower.
Uh, I don't know what this means.
"F/O, working the radio, no noted stress in F/O's voice". I assume that's the flight operator.
TILMON: That's the co-pilot, Anderson, there.
TILMON: The first officer is that voice. And I can tell you, I can visualize the tape, the transcript from that tape. It's very routine.
COOPER: OK, and then, around 17 minutes, radar begins calling 3407 with no response.
COOPER: So, that's about a -less than two minutes after the plane was cleared to ILS, and later cleared to contact tower. Then aircraft, on approach, report RIME icing which is a, quote, "threat to flight". Then aircraft reports seeing runway while on final, indicating visibility was not bad.
Now, I don't know if that was the actual airplane - I assume that's other aircraft that are on approach to this airport, that are reporting this. And that, KBUF - "KBUF airport sits in the sea of lights and be difficult to find," this e-mailer writes to me.
That's all the information that I have.
TILMON: Let's just go over what you just told me, which is a lot of information.
What the routine would be is that the New York center, would control that airplane until it got in the general vicinity of Buffalo. At which time they would turn the airplanes over and hand it off to the approach controller. The approach controller was the one that was telling them they're cleared to 2300 feet, and you're cleared to ILS, on runway 23. Which would be consistent with that position, being over clearance, because it lines almost perfectly with runway 23 at Buffalo. Now, after that time, the next communication was something like, radar contact lost, which is what is a standard way for the air traffic controller to say I don't see him anymore.
Now, remember, there is not visuals capability from that approach controller - I mean, yeah, that approach controller and the airplane. He's sitting in a dark room, looking at a radar scope. (AUDIO GAP) That is not a pleasant feeling for that air traffic controller. He doesn't know where that airplane is. And if he hears nothing more from it and he tries to contact it, he has to make the horrible assumption that that airplane is down. Now, he would know where the last contact was with that airplane, because he know that position on his radar. So that is why he would direct the emergency crews to the Clarence area.
But it sounds like everything was routine there. There was nothing that would cause anybody to be upset until, of course, they lost radar contact.
COOPER: Jim, I want to bring John Wiley, who is also an aviation expert, who --
John, you actually e-mailed me the content on this tape. I wasn't sure, at that point, when you e-mailed it to me, whether or not I could talk about it. And I wanted to wait until I had confirmation, because at this point, you know, there's loved ones watching. I don't want to do anything in appropriate.
But, John, you've heard this tape. Describe what you hear on it.
JOHN WILEY, FORMER AIRBUS PILOT: It's a regular approach, a routine evening in Buffalo. Obviously, the weather is low enough that it's not making visual approaches. So the aircraft are being maneuvered in the clouds for an ILS, an approach that gives you both vertical and lateral guidance to the runway.
The first officer, a female voice on 3407, is working the radios, which would indicate that the captain is flying the airplane. And -or maybe the female voice is the captain, we don't know exactly who is flying the airplane. But approach clears 3407, for the approach. They are outside the marker, of which is defined as a navigation point. The first officer, or the pilot, responds, the female pilot responds. Shortly after that, you hear, and there's no stress in her voice, that I can hear.
But shortly after that, probably about two minutes after that approach control comes back on with a routine challenge. And that is, Continental 3407, approach. There's no response. They then vector a Delta aircraft through the final approach, of course, because apparently the approach course is closed while they're trying to find out where 3407 is. Approach continues to call 3407 and later on in the tape you can hear 3407 mentioned, and that we think we've lost an aircraft.
COOPER: So, what - I mean, walk us through this. What does this mean to you?
WILEY: It's unusual. There was a report later on of rime icing, rime icing will accrete fairly rapidly at low altitude and with these temperatures. And that changes the changes the shape of the airfoil. It changes the shape of the wings.
COOPER: What does rime mean?
WILEY: If you have a crash - I'm sorry?
COOPER: I'm sorry, what does rime mean, rime icing?
WILEY: Well, there are various types of ice. There's clear ice, there's a granulated form, which is called rime icing. There are small, little granules of ice that rapidly build up on the surface of the aircraft.
COOPER: Got it.
WILEY: Obviously, there's not going to be any ice left, after the crash and after the fire. So they will be looking for other indications if ice was in fact a factor for this crash.
COOPER: But the indication that there was rime icing, that is from another plane that was in the area?
WILEY: There was another plane that took off shortly after that, that asked for an unrestricted climb to get out of the ice, yes.
COOPER: I see. OK, so what else - as an experienced pilot, what do you take away from what you heard, from the flight crew?
WILEY: There is, right now, no explanation. It's going to be difficult to find out if ice was a factor, with the fire. The airplane, up until it turned on final, there seems to be no problems. There's no indication of stress in the voice of the female pilot, indicating that they have an abnormal or an emergency with the airplane. The next thing you know, approach control was trying to find the airplane with no success.
COOPER: John, I'm told we're going to have a copy of this - of this recording to play for our viewers, shortly. We just wanted to have some other people listen to it, just to confirm the authenticity of it. Because, again, in a situation like this, you know there's a lot of folks watching, a lot of folks who may have a personal connection to this. And, just want to make sure everything is done right.
In terms of this airport, John, there was some indication that sometimes it's a hard airport to fly into?
WILEY: When visual conditions, when you're coming into Buffalo, yes. It's a difficult airport to find in the sea of lights. They would have probably popped out of the clouds. Other people are talking about that they're picking up the runway 1500 feet above the ground. That would put them about three or four miles out on final approach, which would indicate that visibility is not that bad. So, we have a problem here. We have a complex situation trying to figure out why this airplane, which should have been able to intercept this navigation, to land on the runway. All of a sudden drops out of the sky and crashes.
COOPER: And according to this recording no visible stress in their voices?
WILEY: I didn't hear any stress noted on the voice of the female pilot. There is obvious concern on the voice of the controller two minutes afterwards.
COOPER: And I guess we can't really judge much by whether or not there's stress in the voice of the pilot, because if you listen to Captain Sullenberger in the Miracle on the Hudson, that US Air flight, just listening to that tape you wouldn't hear much stress in his voice. And, yet, clearly that was a very stressful situation. So, a flight crew can be going through a stressful situation without it being recorded, correct?
WILEY: But if there's an abnormal - if there's a problem with the airplane, they would have been classified as either an emergency or an aircraft with an abnormal. They would have given priority in the pattern if they had an abnormal condition on the airplane. There is not mention of any abnormality or any abnormal procedures going on.
COOPER: So, from this tape - which again, we're trying to get to play for our viewers as quickly as possible - there's no indication of something gone wrong?
WILEY: There's no indication of a prior problem, no.
COOPER: Until, suddenly, from an air traffic controller's standpoint, they can no longer communicate with the aircraft?
WILEY: They no longer have the aircraft on radar and they are no longer communicating with it. What happens is, is that when you get on the approach, when you cross what's called the final approach pitch, you generally change frequency from the approach controller to the tower controller. The tower controller then clears you to land. They had cleared 3407 for the approach. They had instructed 3407 to contact tower, shortly after that they lose the contact with the aircraft. There is no contact with the tower and that's when the approach control comes back and starts asking 3407 where they are.
COOPER: And how do we know this? And where is this tape from?
WILEY: It's an archive from the ATC net.
COOPER: And just anyone can listen into it?
WILEY: I was able to download it earlier this evening as I was monitoring a number of forums, aviation forums. And yes, so I was able to listen to the tape. It appears to be an authentic tape.
COOPER: What are the main questions you have that you need -that you want answered at this point? If you were asking the questions of an NTSB investigator, or what are you going to be looking closely at?
WILEY: Well, the history of the aircraft, of course, is one thing. And from what I understand, and I haven't been able to research a number of sites, but it appears to be a safe aircraft. So now, again, we have a problem with what appears to be a routine flight, suddenly disappears off the radar scope and there are no survivors.
COOPER: And how quickly an -I mean, in your experience, how often -how long do these investigations take?
WILEY: We will see, probably the final report will not be out for maybe a nine months, or so.
COOPER: Nine months?
WILEY: This is a painstaking process, as your former pilot has talked about. They will be going through everything. They'll be going through the pilot records. They'll be going through all the aircraft records. They will be listening to the tapes. They will bring in a real cadre of experts. Propulsion experts will be looking at the engines. Air frame experts will be looking at the airplane to find out the condition of the airplane, what's left of the airplane. The angle that the airplane struck the ground. As your former spokesman said, they'll be able to take the cockpit voice recorder, they'll take the flight data recorder, they'll be able to reconstruct all of this and put together a fairly complete picture of exactly what happened. But it will be painstaking and it will be a long process.
COOPER: Jim, I just want to recap for our viewers, who are just joining us.