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CNN BREAKING NEWS

FAA: Tail Number on Crashed Plane Senator Wellstone's

Aired October 25, 2002 - 13:24   ET

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

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I want to bring in our senior White House correspondent John King. He's covering the president's stay in Crawford, Texas, the Texas White House.
John, tell us what you have. You're on the phone.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, good afternoon to you from Crawford.

I've been in touch with both administration and congressional sources about this and have now been told by two sources, one in the administration, one a congressional source, that the Transportation Department is telling them that FAA spotters, Federal Aviation Administration spotters, investigating this have spotted the wreckage and have confirmed that the tail number on the plane that has crashed is the plane that was being used by Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota.

We have no other information as to what the scene looks like and the like. But just received that information from two separate sources saying they are being told by the Transportation Department that FAA spotters investigating this crash have seen the plane, the wreckage of the plane, and have confirmed that the tail number is the plane that was being used by Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, who is up for reelection this year.

BLITZER: I just want to be precise, though, John: We don't know whether or not Senator Wellstone was aboard the plane, do we?

KING: We do not, although we also know that Democratic staffers on Capitol Hill and at the campaign committees have been urgently trying to reach Senator Wellstone's staff and Senator Wellstone himself over the past hour or so, half hour or so, and I am told by one Democrat that they have been unable to establish contact with him, one saying that the campaign is in a frantic search to try to reach him. We do not have that information.

And Senator Wellstone, as you point out, he's in a tough bid for reelection against Norm Coleman. He's been crisscrossing the state now for weeks and months, indeed trying to get himself reelected. A very, very tough campaign. Talk a little bit about that -- John.

KING: Well, this is one of the key Senate raise this year, Senator Wellstone one of the premiere liberals in the United States Senate, one of the Democrats who voted against the president on the Iraq resolution. President Bush has been to Minnesota several times. This is one of those races that most believe will help determine if the Democrats have that by the most narrow majority in the Senate right now. And it is one of the targeted races. It is one of the premiere liberals in the United States Senate, campaigning against Norm Coleman, as you mentioned, the former mayor of St. Paul, Minnesota, who was hand picked and recruited by President Bush to run in this race. One of the most high-profile races. We are 11 days from election day.

BLITZER: And I just want to be precise with our viewers. We don't know whether or not Senator Wellstone was indeed aboard this small plane, this King Air plane that has now crashed in St. Louis County in Eveleth, Minnesota. We do know that there were eight people on board, and we are hearing from John King that this is the plane, based on the tail number, that the senator, the Democratic senator from Minnesota, has been using during his campaign.

I just want to make sure our viewers are very, very precise on this point, John. Once again, we don't know for sure that Senator Wellstone was aboard the plane.

KING: We do not know that. Although again, he was traveling today. He was campaigning. Democratic aides saying he was flying as part of his campaigning today. We do not have confirmation that he was aboard this plane. We do know there was an urgent effort to contact him. And I was told just as of a few moments ago that effort so far has been unsuccessful. We are pursuing more information. And I can tell you that congressional aides, campaign aides, people at the White House and throughout the government are urgently trying to get information about this. And I do know that people here at the traveling White House in Crawford, Texas, trying to get information about this as well.

The only information we have right now that we trust, because it comes from several credible sources, is that the federal -- the Department of Transportation is telling congressional staffers and the White House that FAA spotters have reported that they have seen the wreckage and that the tail number matches the plane used by Senator Wellstone. That is all we know right now.

BLITZER: All right, John, stand by.

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