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Two Planes Nearly Collide Midair; Veterans Affairs Scandal Continues; Interview with Veteran Who Experienced Delays in Receiving Health Care from VA' AP Report: Air Force Unprepared in Event of Nuclear Attack; American Professor Survives Falling 70 Feet in Himalayas; CDC Investigating New Outbreak of E. Coli

Aired May 23, 2014 - 07:00   ET


RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Moments later we know that the controller seems to realize the mistake and scrambles to get both planes clear of each other. Take a listen to the instructions from air traffic control and to the pilots just seconds after they were in the clear.


TOWER: 601, just stop your heading, stop the turn right there, sir. United 601, stop your turn. Stop your climb and stop your turn, United 601.

MARSH: The two planes came within nearly a mile of each other. The roughly 300 passengers on both flights may not have been aware of the close call, but the pilots were left with questions as to what went wrong.

UNITED 601 PILOT: United 601, you know what happened there?

OTHER PILOT: You all basically crossed directly over the top of each other. That's what looked like from my perspective. I have no idea what was going on up there in the tower, but you know, it was pretty gnarly looking.

UNITED 601 PILOT: I'm guessing he was supposed to give us left turn.


MARSH: All right, so clearly they are listening to the audio, even the pilots weren't clear exactly how they got themselves in that position. We can tell you this is the fourth incident in recent weeks you have passenger planes getting too close in the skies. Just to give you a little bit of perspective here, the latest numbers from the FAA from 2012 show planes got too close nearly 4,400 times a year more than 12 times a day. Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: That is a sobering number. Rene, thank you very much. Let's discuss this further. Let's bring in David Soucie, CNN's safety analyst and former FAA inspector and also the author of "Why Planes Crash," applicable especially in this situation. David, good morning, thank you so much for coming in. Why, oh why, first off, you heard Rene, the fourth incident in recent weeks. The numbers that she's telling us, why are we hearing about this at least it seems so much more often?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Well, simply because it's happening more often. The airspace is getting more and more crowded. It's getting more and more difficult to maintain separation. It's a very complex system as how much space there needs to be between aircraft at varying times, at varying stages of the flight. So it's very difficult to maintain separation, and then you add amore airplanes to it.

BOLDUAN: Let's talk exactly about the specifics of this situation. You have two planes, both of them taking off, and this is where it all went wrong right around Houston's intercontinental airport. You have 400 feet of altitude between them at one point, and the closest is less than a mile. That's a problem. That sounds scary to someone who has no idea how to fly a plane. How close is this?

SOUCIE: It's extremely close. You're literally within 15 to 30 seconds from an impact if this happens.

BOLDUAN: Can I ask a dumb question, where would the impact, where would it happen?

SOUCIE: At this point it's hard to see from this graphic because they're not going up and down this way. You can see here at this point when he was told to make a right turn, I think there's an animation here.

BOLDUAN: Let's go here. There you go.

SOUCIE: As that turn happens, that means they're on a colliding trajectory, they're coming to each other. When he says stop your turn, stop your climb, he was either climbing up towards the aircraft, but in this case climbing up toward the aircraft and on an intersecting path at the same time. So this is defined as a near midair collision because the pilots are the ones who reported it. A loss of separation is where hard data says the aircraft are that close. In this case we have both. We have the pilots reporting it, saying we're too close. What happened up there? And then you have a lot of separation, in other words, the FAA has verified they were within the loss of separation area.

BOLDUAN: How much space should be between the planes? Everyone understands there are more planes, airspace is very crowded especially around the huge airports, but what is -- how far apart are they supposed to be?

SOUCIE: The bubble should be around five miles. There shouldn't be anything closer than five miles. And as far as the altitude above each other, there should be -- it depends. There's a lot of different things. If you're in a reduced vertical separation minimum, RBSM, that area is going to be different. It's going to get you a lot closer.

BOLDUAN: Regardless, they were way within that bubble. SOUCIE: Absolutely. They definitely had invaded each other's space.

BOLDUAN: One of the pilots described it, you heard him. He said that looked pretty gnarly is the way one pilot described it. They did not collide. They made the turn, they made the correction. What we hear, and it seems we hear this very often with these near collisions, there was some kind of miscommunication or problem coming from air traffic control. Is that often the main reason behind these problems?

SOUCIE: Well, we have to balance this a little bit, Kate, because what happens now -- what used to happen is you used to get three deals. If you have this on your watch and you're an air traffic controller, you only get three of those in your whole career, and then you're fired.

BOLDUAN: They have like a three strikes and you're out?

SOUCIE: Absolutely. But what that did is it made people want to hide it and not say anything about it, and so may not have been discovered until pilots called and made a big deal.

BOLDUAN: So is there punishment for this, is there discipline, is there fallout?

SOUCIE: Actually, there isn't now, and that's a good thing because now they're being reported. They're free to say, hey, I was in a tough situation. I messed up, so I'm reporting it now. So partly this amount of new reports is partly due to that. However, I wouldn't say that it's entirely due to that. There is definitely problems with our airspace, with how things happen around airports particularly.

BOLDUAN: Let's be honest, David, it's not like there will be less planes in the air as time goes by. That's something you focus on a lot, on how to make this a better system.

Real quick, I want to ask you, because we don't have any more time, per usual, you had an exclusive meeting with IKO. This is that international governing body we've talked about so much having to do with the missing Malaysian airlines 370 flight. You had a meeting with them talking about really what's going on, what has happened in the search. What's the big headline out of that meeting?

BOLDUAN: The president of the United Nations aviation branch, which is IKO, what he had to say to me that was most striking, really, was the fact by September they will have flight tracking systems. But he also said in the next 20 years this airspace will double. The number of airplanes will double. So this problem is not going to go away unless we do something.

BOLDUAN: That would be great news for people who don't want to see what's happened to the Malaysia Airlines flight ever happen again. That tracking is a possibility.

SOUCIE: That satellite tracking and satellite control, airspace control is the only thing that is going to start preventing these kinds of things. BOLDUAN: They've been talking about it for years the maybe, finally, we'll see some progress on it. He would be the one to be able to push that.

SOUCIE: Absolutely.

BOLDUAN: Thank you, David. Thank you, as always. John?


Now to the scandal that has rocked the Veteran Affairs Department. CNN broke the story and has been investigating treatment delays at VA hospitals for months now that may have led to patient deaths. There are new calls this morning from two high-profile Democrats from VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign. The secretary says he has no plans to do that. He's reaching out to veterans in an effort to regain their trust now. CNN's Michelle Kosinski live at the White House. Michelle, good morning. What's the latest?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tough talks continues to flow from Capitol Hill. House Speaker John Boehner saying we haven't just let these veterans down. We have let them die, saying that the allegations coming out are appalling, that they point to the systemic failure of the agency and that somebody needs to be held accountable. He hasn't called for the resignation of Eric Shinseki, though he says he's getting a little closer. Others, as you mentioned on Capitol Hill, have called for that.

And for the last six months Shinseki has declined to give an interview to CNN that broke the story. He has answered one press question, saying he has not offered his resignation. And now he has addressed veterans across America although he did that in writing in an online letter that, in fact, listed a long string of accomplishments of the VA. But Shinseki says he does take the allegations seriously and if they are proven to be true, then the VA will act. John?

BERMAN: Michelle Kosinski, thanks so much.

This is such a serious issue affecting so many people's lives. Joining us now to talk about this is army veteran Barry Coates. He experienced the delays we've been discussing. After asking a VA clinic for a colonoscopy for more than a year and suffering with severe stomach pain, Coates found out he has late stage colon cancer and is now fighting for change at the VA while fighting to get healthy. Barry Coates and his wife Donna join us now. Barry, let me ask you right off the bat, how are you feeling today?

BARRY COATES, ARMY VETERAN: A little tired. Just had a chemo treatment just Monday.

BERMAN: So when you first started noticing symptoms, you went to the VA. How long did it take you to get an appointment?

COATES: When I first started noticing these incidents, it occurring and having pain, it took from January of 2011 to December of 2011 to have the colonoscopy. BERMAN: That's 11 months, Barry, more than the 14 days that we're constantly told you're supposed to get in to be tested or see someone, isn't that true?

COATES: Yes, that is true.

BERMAN: And what reason did they give you for this wait?

COATES: They said the standard wait time -- originally started in January, like I said, of 2011, complaining with the complaints I had and I was recently going through outpatient clinic in Rock Hill, and I went there in various stages in January, March, and then in May. And all three occasions the doctor referred to her notes and said "may need colonoscopy." I transferred to a Florence outpatient clinic that June, and upon seeing him the first time he immediately set me up a consult to see a GI surgeon at the VA upon, and upon that I'd seen her on the eighth month, and she also seen me and delayed me two more months, and on the tenth month returning to see her again she met with me and she initially set me up for a consult for a gastrologist department to have a colonoscopy done.

Upon doing that, I waited to receive the appointment in the mail. And when I received it two weeks after her appointment, I'd seen on the 10th month, it was scheduled for April the following year, which was six months out from the date that I had seen her. And I knew I couldn't go that long, and I had already been suffering to that point up to about six months. And so the basic thing I could do was call the department that schedule that and ask them whether any earlier appointments. And they said no, this is the standard wait period right now is six months out for veterans to receive colonoscopies.

BERMAN: That is a long, long time, and your life is on the line while you're waiting here. Based on your experience with the VA over the years, is this a problem with bureaucracy? Is it the problem of oversight, or is it a problem of not enough doctors or quality of doctors?

COATES: I think it's a little of both. It's a little bit of both oversight of quality of care for veterans to receive. And, also, it's not the problem they don't have enough staff, it's just they have too many people funneling into one area to have treatment, and they should outsource a lot of what they do to overcome the backlog of what they have which would probably have benefited a lot during my time of 2011 if they had outsourced and had that taken care of.

BERMAN: Donna, we look at this and we know it's not just Barry going through this. It's you. This is a family issue as you're dealing with this health issue. You've heard the secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki say he's not going to resign right now. Do you think he should?

DONNA COATES, BARRY COATES WIFE: I definitely think that he should resign. When you have committed yourself to be an overseer of the veterans and you failed the veterans, then I think that he should go ahead and step down to give someone else an opportunity, because apparently it's not working with him in charge. BERMAN: Donna Coates, Barry Coates, thanks so much for being with us. We wish you both the best of luck as you move forward in the best of health. Thanks so much. Michaela?

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: All right, John thank you. Let's take a look at your headlines at this hour. A shake up in the Obama administration. This after the president is expected to nominate San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro to become housing secretary. President Obama will then tap Sean Donovan, his current housing chief, to run the budget office. Castro has been touted as a rising star among the Democrats, a potential candidate for vice president in 2016.

For a consensus between the White House and Congress, the Republican- led House passing a bill to end the NSA's bulk collection of Americans' phone data. That would keep records in the hands of phone companies and require a court order to gain access to them. This vote marks the first legislative attempt to reform since NSA leaker Edward Snowden came forward last year. The Senate is working on its own reform bill.

Well, looking at the calendar Memorial Day weekend is upon us. And 36 million Americans will be traveling for the unofficial start of summer. Many certainly are keeping a wary eye on the prices at the pump. Miguel Marquez is breaking it all down for us, taking a little road trip. He's singing the blues.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And 36.1 million people will be on the roads and about a third of them are right in front of me. That's a little bit above where it was last year at 35.5 million, but way below where it was before the recession, about 44 million travelers. At its lowest point in 09 it was 30.5. Gas prices just a hair above where they were last year about $3.65 a gallon, but at the depths of the recession they were at $2.42. So when times are tough, gas is cheap. AAA saying 88 percent of travelers will be traveling by car, about seven percent by air, the rest other -- ship, boat, sled, slay. I will be on a magical flying carpet, or towel, beach towel, at the ocean if we can ever get there. Back to you.

PEREIRA: All right. I love it. I like that he's going on a magic carpet/beach towel.

BERMAN: I would expect nothing less.

PEREIRA: I know John Berman wanted to see this video again, that is why we are showing it to you. All caught on tape. It's very scary. A man makes a dramatic rescue catching a 1-year-old baby that fell two stories out of a window, that man is being hailed a hero this morning after witnesses say the baby apparently, I don't know how this happened, climbed onto a window ledge during a thunder storm. You can see it is just a torrential downpour there. The baby was teetering near the edge. Thankfully though you can see towards the end of the video the baby is put into the arms of a woman who seems very, very grateful.

BERMAN: An amazing catch. Amazing presence of mind. By the way, we say a 1-year-old. That's a big kid, that is not an easy catch. BOLDUAN: The video shows, the man comes from across the street. It wasn't --

PEREIRA: If you were walking a long and saw that it would be worrisome.

BOLDUAN: It would stop you. I sure hope so. Thank goodness for him.

All right let's take a break. Coming up next on NEW DAY, a failed nuke test highlights a major flaw in securing our nation. Are officials prepare for an attack on a nuclear missile silo. We are going to talk about the scary details ahead.

BERMAN: Plus, an American climber falls 70 feet on a Himalayan mountain, actually in the Himalayan mountain and this entire ordeal was caught on tape. That I believe is called a crevasse. How did he survive? That is coming up.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY everyone. A distressing report, really, about a doomsday scenario obtained by the Associated Press. It says the United States Air Force is woefully unprepared in the event of an attack on a nuclear missile silo. It is the latest embarrassing security and training lapse for the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is joining us now, live from the Pentagon, to break down this report. Barbara What does it say?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning Kate. The majority of Air Force personnel do their job very well. This report brings to light another shocking failure.


STARR (voice-over): At a nuclear missile sight terrorists infiltrate, security forces struggle to respond and fail. It was all a test last summer here at Maelstrom Air Force base in Montana. Security personnel at a nuclear missile silo failed a crucial exercise in keeping control of their silo and the simulated capture of a nuclear weapon. The cover of this 17-page report doesn't even begin to tell of what's inside. It sounds like a shocking failure in military security.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two, one, turn.

STARR: The finding? Security personnel failed to take all lawful actions necessary to immediately regain control of nuclear weapons. The results, the Air Force team may not have been able to prevent theft, damage, sabotage, destruction, or detonation of a nuclear weapon. Former Air Force missileer, Jeffrey Green, says it's likely someone didn't follow procedures.

JEFFREY GREEN, FORMER AIR FORCE MISSILEER: What it doesn't mean is that there was any physical loss of control or threat of physical loss of control of a nuclear weapon.

STARR: Officially the Air Force will say nothing. The report only came to light because the associated press obtained it through a freedom of information act request. The Air Force security group commander was replaced, the unit went through retraining and passed the exercise several weeks later. Green says standards remain high because there's just no room for failure with the nation's nuclear weapons.

GREEN: A failure can mean missing required action by a second. It can mean responding to something, a moment or two late.


STARR: Now the Air Force, the nuclear forces, they have had clearly some disciplinary, some morale problems in some of their units. But this is a part of the military like no other in the nuclear force there's simply nothing you can do except have perfection.

PEREIRA: Barbara Starr reporting, thanks so much for that.

Want to show you some really incredible video. An American professor is recovering this morning after this. He fell from 70 feet into an icy crevasse while hiking in the Himalayas. Alone and battling hypothermia, a broken arm and several broken ribs, he somehow managed to claw his way out. But his ordeal is far from over. This morning he's sharing that incredible story. Here is CNN's Jason Carroll.


JOHN ALL, PROFESSOR, WESTERN KENTUCKY UNIVERSITY: I fell in a hole. Thankfully I didn't keep falling that way.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Trapped alone 70 feet below the ice. The professor John All was broken, bruised, and fighting for his life.

ALL: My right arm is seizing up. I can't use it anymore.

CARROLL: While conducting climate research, All was hiking alone on a Himalayan mountain when he plunged into a hidden icy crevasse and probably landing on a ledge just three feet wide, his face bloody. All suffered several broken ribs and a fractured arm. From the terrifying fall. But like the survival drama 127 hours the professor made a lifesaving decision to climb out. His camera in tow.

ALL: That hurt bad but I got to get out. It's funny the amount of damage the body can take and still function pretty well. The pain was wonderful, lets put it that way, because I was, at least, alive to feel the pain.

CARROLL: It took around five agonizing hours, All making his way to the top with an ice ax, eventually reaching his research teams camp, where the professor was later rescued.

ALL: It happened so quickly. I was thinking, oh god, thank god I stopped. And that I'm still alive because I didn't -- I expected to keep going until it was over. And to hit the ledge, catch that little piece of ice, saved my life. CARROLL: All's family still can't believe he made it out alive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He could have been a goner for sure if you look at it from the video, he could have kept on going down. I don't see how you get out of that. You look up, you see the sky. I don't know how you get up there if you don't have one of your arms functioning.

CARROLL: Jason Carroll, CNN New York.


BERMAN: That is the grisliest selfie video I have ever seen. What presence of mind to shot that.

PEREIRA: And this desperation to survive. That just shows you.

BOLDUAN: He makes the point when he looks down, thank god he stopped. That he did not go any further.

PERIERA: The fact that he could also get out and then get to help too.

BERMAN: Broken arm, the arm hanging there. That guy is hard.

BOLDUAN: Much more hard core than us three, well you are pretty hardcore.

BERMAN: Like that? No. You saw my stand-ups, they don't look like that.

BOLDUAN: Glad he's on the road to recovery now.

Up next on NEW DAY, cheating death. A Florida woman narrowly escapes a fatal crash in her brand-new car. The video you're going to want to see and it's hard to believe.

BERMAN: On inside politics in Mississippi, this is a big wow, a political blogger is accused of sneaking into a hospital and taking pictures of a senator's ailing wife. Was the opposing campaign in on this plot? We'll discuss.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY.

Here is a look at your headlines. Two planes, both people avoiding disaster with seconds to spare. The near collision over Houston's George Bush intercontinental airport. Apparently no one on either plane knew that the planes were coming so disastrously close to one another. The planes were within about a mile from each other, really just second away from crashing. It is at least the third near collision we've heard about in this last week.

More concerns this morning over food that could make you sick. The CDC is investigating an outbreak of E. Coli, this one linked to raw clover sprouts from Idaho producer Evergreen Fresh Sprouts. There are also listeria contamination worries connected with Walnuts, sold by Sherman Produce. And some hummus and dips.