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Breaking News

Singapore Airlines 747 Crashes in Taiwan; Number of Fatalities Unknown

Aired October 31, 2000 - 1:43 p.m. ET

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

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: We're continuing our coverage of the Singapore Airlines crash in Taiwan about 2 1/2 hours ago. Shortly after takeoff, the plane hit the runway and broke into three parts and burst into flames. We're still watching carefully to determine whether or not people died aboard that flight.

The earlier report from Singapore Airlines said no one had died in the crash. We are about to get the first official press conference here with an update from the airline.

Let's listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

JAMES BOYD, SINGAPORE AIRLINES: ... for the Americas, and we're here to give your some information on Singapore Flight No. 6, which this morning has an aborted takeoff. The time exactly was 2318 Taipei time. I've got some specific information to pass on to you.

I can confirm that Flight No. SQ006 from Taipei to Los Angeles, with 159 passengers and 20 crew on board, had an incident on the runway during takeoff yesterday, Taipei time, 31 October at 2318 hours local time at Taipei's Chiang Kai-Shek Airport.

The aircraft operated is a Boeing 747, 400 series. The flight commander on board the aircraft reported hitting an object on the takeoff run. Rescue operations are currently in progress and have been for some time.

I can confirm to you -- and this is updated information from previous statements that were made earlier today -- that there are 68 people who are injured who have taken to local Taipei airport area hospitals.

There are 16 passengers confirmed as not injured. The status of the remaining passengers is still being confirmed. Of the crew, one cabin crew member has been hospitalized. The three technical crew, which would include the cockpit crew, are not injured.

We will be providing more details as soon as they're available. The information will be rolling out as soon as we have it. I can anticipate that we can reconvene perhaps in an hour, and we'll be happy provide an update on whatever information is forthcoming from Taipei and Singapore at that time.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: There are reports that there are six dead. Can you comment on any fatalities?

QUESTION: Why was the flight aborted?

BOYD: What we can say at this point is the information that has been confirmed here. It would be premature and irresponsible for anyone to speculate in terms of cause at this point. Once again, as additional information is received, we'll be passing that on to you.

QUESTION: What about people here in L.A.? What should they do if they have people on that flight?

BOYD: There is a specific number for folks here to call here in Los Angeles. I'll pass that on to you.

QUESTION: Do you have a passenger list, by the way?

QUESTION: What does that mean here? That's not a proper area code. Is that Taiwan?

BOYD: It's the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Singapore area code.

The family assistance number, the number for folks to call on further information on passengers is 800-828-0508. That information will also be on the Singapore Airlines Web site. And we'll also be posting additional information in terms of these statements, as additional information is made available, on the Singapore Airlines Web site.

QUESTION: Mr. Boyd, have you...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Some people are saying that there are no fatalities right now. Can you talk about any fatalities?

BOYD: Unfortunately, at this point, we are still trying to confirm information about passenger injuries and any potential fatalities. Once again, it would be premature for us to speak to those issues at this point. As soon as additional information is available, we will make it public.

QUESTION: Should relatives come to the airport?

BOYD: The best thing for relatives to do at this point is to call the 800 number that was just previously given to get additional information. Once again, as information is made available on the specific nature of this incident, we will be making it public to you.

QUESTION: What's the address of the Web site?

BOYD: The Web site address you can reach is www.singaporeair.com.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... family members if they want a flight to Taiwan.

BOYD: Once again, once again, from the information that we have received from Singapore, the flight commander did report hitting an object in the takeoff route.

QUESTION: Are you going to fly relatives to Taipei?

BOYD: Naturally, we will be doing everything that we can to assist relatives of the passengers on board the aircraft. Specific details of what that will entail will be announced shortly.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Do you know how many Americans were on board?

BOYD: Once again, we'll be making additional information about the passengers on board, the passenger list, et cetera. That will be made available very shortly. Once again, at this point, we're able to confirm the information that's been read in this statement. We will be making additional information available as soon as we have it.

Thank you very much for your patience. I would...

(CROSSTALK)

We'll be happy to reconvene with you in about an hour's time with any update on information that we receive from Singapore or Taipei. Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Can we set a time...

WATERS: James Boyd with preliminary information from Taipei. Let's see if he's going to answer something else here.

BOYD: It would probably be best to say about 11:45, because that's about an hour's time.

WATERS: All right. They're just working out details of the next information we'll get in about an hour. But this preliminary information indicates, from the pilot, that the plane hit an object on its takeoff run, about 10 seconds into the takeoff -- the plane hit the runway and broke apart and burst into flames.

The latest information, 68 injured, 16 walked away. That's the number we had before. But the status on the rest is being confirmed, and that's what the airline is about right now, trying to confirm the status of those folks still unaccounted for. We should know more in an hour if Singapore Airlines makes good on its promise to return to the reporters there in L.A. and pass that information along.

We have Carl Rochelle, our aviation correspondent, in Washington. Carl, a new element here, the hitting an object on the takeoff run. We can add that to the mix. Of course, we're not speculating what caused this plane to crash, but that is certainly a significant detail in this story.

CARL ROCHELLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, that is a significant detail, and I had talked to John Diaz -- you have heard some of the sound from him being played back on CNN. He was one of the survivors. And I talked with him along with Jeanne Meserve a couple of hours ago, and he said that as the airplane was in its takeoff roll, there was a bump, like they had hit something, and hit some sort of object. And we were all thinking perhaps the airplane had gotten airborne and slammed back down because of wind shear or something along that line.

But his thoughts, what he observed, he said he heard the sound and he felt in the plane like it was hitting something. And this is what the pilot says that happened.

So, you know, we'll know more, of course, when we hear from the cockpit voice recorder, and hear the readout from the flight data recorder. But that is sort of leading you away from the wind shear idea that people were talking about before.

Wind shear, of course -- weather certainly was a factor, if in no other sense than seeing something that was on the runway, but the captain didn't say exactly what was hit. We don't know whether it was another aircraft or an airport vehicle that was crossing the runway in front of him. It could have been almost anything, but this is what the pilot is calling it, something in the runway that he hit.

WATERS: So the plane did get off the ground and essentially belly-flopped?

ROCHELLE: Not necessarily off the ground, Lou. It may have been. We don't know at what point it was in its takeoff roll. Look at a couple of things. One is that the airplane is still on the runway that it started taking off from. Even with a 10,000-foot runway, you would think he would be more than halfway down the runway before he would begin to come off the group, maybe even two-thirds of the way down before. Because, remember, he's heavily loaded for takeoff on an international flight. he has got all the fuel on board to take him all the way to Los Angeles without a stop.

So he's moving along pretty rapidly, and well down the runway before he starts to lift off. He may never started the lift, and certainly if he hit an object on the runway, he couldn't have been very far in the air. But it's sort of like stubbing your toe, if you will, if you hit something like that, it would slam the airplane back down on the ground.

Don't want to take you too far in saying what it is, but this is what it looks like now.

WATERS: You have seen the fiery pictures moments after the plane hit the deck. With the report from Taipei that the fire was up front, now you just said the plane was fully loaded with fuel for a 15-hour flight to L.A. That would account for the flames, by why the fire up front? What do you know about the 747-400 series? ROCHELLE: Well, in almost all of those aircraft, where the fuel is, the majority of it is in the wings. It is what's called a wet wing, the wing tanks are actually sealed and become part of the wing, and fuel is pumped into the wings. The center fuel tank, and remember we heard so much about the center fuel tank during TWA 800, for a flight of that distance the center fuel tank is probably filled.

Some models of the aircraft, and I am now sure whether this one does or not, have a secondary tank, if you will, back in the tail section, that they can pump fuel back and forth on it. And I'm not sure whether that model did. But most of the fuel on this aircraft would be in the forward section from the wing forward and, of course, if you think about an object going forward and it suddenly stopped, where does everything go? It wants to go, you know, the ball that is on the back seat wants to fly up in the front, or the soda that you are trying to hold in your lap now spills all over you. But, you know, when you stop something suddenly, everything tends -- those objects tend to go forward, and that would throw the fuel off. And of course, that is where it's broken up. The fire is there from the engines themselves. Because, on takeoff, your engines are probably about 80 percent of the capable power that they can get. It is in takeoff power mode. So you have got each one of these engines has a controlled fire inside of it. That is the way a jet engine works.

Once you have it broken out and all over the runway like that, there are plenty of things there to ignite the fuel. That's why it's forward.

WATERS: You are a pilot yourself, you've seen the pictures, the picture are unsteady because the cameraman can't get a decent tripod beneath that lens. When you see weather like this, what -- same question that we asked Charles Feldman earlier, would you fly in that kind of weather?

ROCHELLE: Well, it all depends, Lou, on what I was flying. If I was flying an aircraft that was capable of dealing with that kind weather, and a 747 should be, yes, I would probably go ahead and fly in that weather. It depends on get thereitis or get homeitis, we call it, how badly you feel like you have to make that flight.

Yes, this is a time where the knuckles get all white and everybody is very concerned about taking off I guess. But this aircraft should have been able to handle that.

Now we talked a great deal about wind shear, but wind shear is more associated with thunderstorms, and that kind of severe weather, as long as the weather is on the nose, or fairly close to the nose, it should not be a problem taking off.

Remember, once the airplane leaves the ground. Once the wheels go out of contact with the ground, wind is all relative. You can turn into the wind and if it is 250 knots on the nose, all it means is that the airplane is going to be going slower through the air.

If you recall the experience of flying through a jet stream, you actually look for the jet stream on your tail. You can get 150 knots or more of wind on your tail, which can increase your speed in flight by an immense amount; and conversely, if you are going in the opposite direction, you want to make sure that you aren't at an altitude that gets you in the jet stream because you have to subtract that much wind off of your nose.

So the mere fact that there is wind out there is not going to keep you from flying. The gusty wind is a little difficult t4o deal with at times. But remember, you have got an experienced crew, you have got a very heavy aircraft, which gives you a lot more stability than you would have with a light airplane.

Yes, you are rolling the dice a little bit. But if I were a 747 captain, I probably would have gone ahead with the takeoff as intuition. But I guess, remember, going back to what the captain -- what we are told by the Singapore officials in Los Angeles that the captain reported hitting something in the runway, in which case weather is not a factor at all in this, except for perhaps reducing visibility.

WATERS: That brings a whole new dimension to the story, which we're continuing to following. Carl Rochelle in Washington.

Natalie, what's next?

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Jim Hill will be at Los Angeles International Airport today waiting for information to come in. We are not getting too much at this time, huh, Jim?

JIM HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we heard just a short time ago from James Boyd, the spokesman for Singapore Airlines here in Los Angeles. First and foremost, he did not confirm any fatalities on this particular mishap. The numbers he gave were 68 people injured, and 16 not injured, with the fate of the rest unconfirmed, as he put it.

The numbers on board, he said, 159 passengers, 20 crew members. He did say that no one within the cockpit crew was seriously injured in that.

But at this point, Singapore Airlines not confirming any fatalities, only injuries.

The airline also gave a 1-800 number for people to call that are concerned about the fate of loved ones. That number is 1-800-828- 0508; once again, 800-828-0508. Also the company said, at its Web site, www.singaporeair.com, there will be constantly updated information. Boyd also told us that perhaps, in the next hour, he may hold another news conference to update information as it becomes available.

Interesting point, Boyd called this an aborted takeoff. He did not call it a crash, he called it an aborted takeoff, pointing out that the pilot reported striking an object as the airplane was in the takeoff sequence.

So this is obviously continuing to unfold minute-by-minute, and within the next hour, perhaps we'll get some more official information from the spokesman here in Los Angeles.

The 15-hour flight, which took off shortly after 11:00, 11:18 local time at Chiang Kai-Shek Airport, would have been scheduled to land sometime between 5:30 in the afternoon, and 6:15 in the evening Pacific time, West Coast time here in Los Angeles.

Once again, Singapore Airlines, a very popular flight, a popular airline for business commuters who do a lot of Pacific Rim travel. So there's a good chance that quite a number of people in the Los Angeles area are interested in this particular flight, where they may have loved ones or family on board -- Natalie.

ALLEN: All right, Jim Hill, we haven't been able to hear the number of Americans on this flight. It is still early on, and the rescue continues, according to Singapore Airlines. So many people, dozens of people, still unaccounted for. We don't know if they're OK or not.

WATERS: That is essentially what Singapore Airlines is working around right now. They stepped out to give us preliminary information, they are promising another meeting with reporters in about an hour or so. We'll be covering that live. And we will be continuing to follow this story.

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