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Barksdale Air Force Base Spokesman Holds Press Briefing

Aired February 2, 2003 - 16:49   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to go away to a press conference. I'll come back to you later, David Mattingly. Thank very much.
We're going to go to Barksdale Air Force Base, Lt. Colonel Larry Hahn is speaking. Let's listen in.

LT. COL. LARRY HAHN: I'll give you a brief statement and then try to answer a few questions.

As far as Barksdale Air Force Base, in Bossier City, Shreveport area Louisiana's involvement in the crash, safety investigation and recovery operation said of the Columbia accident and crash, we currently have two initial response teams that remain in the field in the Lufkin, Texas area, and those two teams consist of about 60 personnel, consisting of explosive ordinance disposal, security forces, fire expertise, contracting personnel, legal and public affairs expertise.

Those teams are out there in direct support of all the civil agencies, FEMA, National Transportation Safety Board, local emergency response teams, and directly supporting them with whatever they need.

Currently, since the last time I was able to talk to the media yesterday, we have had FEMA request our explosive ordnance disposal teams to go out to certain debris fields and debris sites in order to perform safety actions of some of the pyrotechnics associated with the Shuttle Columbia.

We also have FEMA, National Transportation Safety Board and NASA personnel here on Barksdale Air Force Base that are utilizing some of our office space with computer and communications support in order to organize and coordinate their efforts in this safety and crash investigation.

That concludes the brief statement. I'll allow a couple of questions.

QUESTION: Can you just go over the list of your personnel. You said security forces...

HAHN: Explosive ordnance disposal, security forces, fire, contracting, legal and public affairs, and there's probably a few others in there, but that's the basic flavor of the teams.

QUESTION: Can you give us any idea of when we'll start seeing the debris coming through here?

HAHN: I'd have to refer you to NASA on that. They're still trying to get coordinated on what they want to do with the debris as far as collecting it some where they're going to be assembling it.

If it's here at Barksdale, we're prepared to support them in any way necessary in order to assist in their investigation.

QUESTION: Has NASA indicated to you that they want to collect it here? I mean, have they requested storage?

HAHN: They -- yes -- they have made those requests and we're ongoing in helping their efforts and supporting them in trying to determine what's best for this process and for them to get the job done.

QUESTION: So at this time, you would say it is going to be reassembled here?

HAHN: No. I can't say that. And, again, you'd have to refer those questions to NASA.

QUESTION: But they have requested storage space for the debris here?

HAHN: They have requested that for here, and we are prepared to try to support them in that effort if that's to be the case.

QUESTION: What about remains?

HAHN: Remains, you'd have -- all questions with remains need to be referred to the NASA public affair said folks.

QUESTION: But have they requested brining the remains here?

HAHN: In this particular area, it's also very sensitive, and also we could be considerate of the families and the survivors out there of that, and best refer those questions to NASA's public affairs.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) why here and not some other place?

HAHN: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Why this base?

HAHN: OK, as it's been relayed to us and it would probably happen in any kind of an emergency situation similar to this, or natural disaster, what they try to do is find the most centrally located government facilities that would have at least some or all of the support infrastructure that would be necessary in order to help assist in the recovery or assistance to the local and civil authorities with a situation like this, and Barksdale was just -- was the kind of facility that was centrally located and had some of the things that they would either need or might try to use.

QUESTION: What are those things that they need?


QUESTION: If you can just follow-up and tell me what those things are that they might need, that are here.

HAHN: OK, I'll tell you what, I'll answer that question in a second. Your question?

QUESTION: Was -- do you know of any other sites that they have requested near...

HAHN: No, I don't. You'd have to refer that to NASA.

To answer your question, I know that some of the things -- because this is very similar in some respects to an actual aircraft accident and safety investigation and things that we've seen in our country in the past, we have a large runway here for large transport aircraft to be able to land at. We have some ramp space that aircraft like that could be able to park at, or at least get fuel and transit in and out of here.

We obviously have some communications-type support facilities and infrastructure that would help with those matters, as far as sensitivity or any security concerns that they would have. Security is obviously another nature, in the times that we live in today. So we can also afford some of that with respect to those things, and that's probably just a general picture.

QUESTION: And you have dig hangers here as well. The B-52's -- your bomber wing was deployed in the fall, right? So you've got space.

HAHN: We do have hangers here, I'll answer that. But Barksdale is not just strictly or totally or solely involved in the Columbia operations. We also have other real world commitments and our daily training and ongoing operations that we have to be able to support and be ready to support if the time or the need arises.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and what are they finding with that?

HAHN: Those -- OK -- that's just the flavor of the experts that we sent out on those teams, and that's kind of a typical cut that we would send for a general cross-section of ability, that those folks might want to have in some kind of disaster scenario.

Right you, I don't know of any personnel with fire expertise that are being utilized directly, and as far as any problems or direct association to the stuff out there, I could refer you to the Lufkin folks there or NASA.

QUESTION: How large are those hangers, and would you have the capability to reconstruct, as they talked about, this shuttle?

HAHN: Well, first of all, we're only supporting FEMA, NASA, National Transportation Safety Board and all the other agencies out there involved in this, so we would not be doing anything as far as, you know, direct involvement, such as reconstruction and stuff.

We do have hangers and the like that would be able to house, on a temporary basis, because of our other commitments and things to that effect. But anything more specific with respect to that, I'd ask you to talk to NASA.

QUESTION: Would you talk for a little bit -- has NASA request any of your individuals to help with the investigation, or is this strictly collection?

HAHN: This is strictly their so when it comes to the safety and the accident investigation.

QUESTION: When were they deployed, your guys?

HAHN: Sorry, repeat the question?

QUESTION: When were your guys deployed?

HAHN: Our folks were initially deployed yesterday, before noon sometime, at the request, a formal request that was made by the Texas state police through the office of Emergency Preparedness in order to help civil authorities during an emergency.

Since then, that basically is passed, and they are now working with FEMA as for as any direct tasking associated with this disaster.

I'm sorry?

It's approximately 100 personnel.

QUESTION: All together?

HAHN: Yes. I'm probably not capturing them all, but the main ones are the ones that I've listed. It's -- yes, there are some FEMA included in that number.

QUESTION: Do you have any debris here yet from the accident?

HAHN: Ma'am, those kind of questions we need to refer to NASA, with respect to all that. But my understanding is no debris has been removed from the debris field itself, unless it was a direct danger to the public.

QUESTION: Can you explain again what the explosive detection guys would actually do in the field (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

HAHN: Sure. What they've been asked to do, the Space Shuttle Columbia had many different pyrotechnic devices on there, or explosive devices. Some of it was life support, such as signal flairs or signal smoke, those kinds of things. Some of the parachutes had an automatic deployment device which is explosive in nature.

Some of their escape hatches had the ability to be blown off in an emergency, in order to rapidly open up the vehicle. All that stuff is out there. It obviously represents a danger, and our folks had the expertise to get out there and make it safe. And that's what they're doing.

QUESTION: Do you know if they have deployed -- if they have -- I'm not sure of the right word, exploded any of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

HAHN: Not all of the time that they need to make any of that safe requires them to explode it. But no, I can't confirm that.

QUESTION: In your experience, if -- let's just say, a scenario when it was to come here, would they bring it piecemeal? Would they wait until they had gotten most of it? How would that happen? Will that happen?

HAHN: For me, that ventures into the realm of speculation. I'm not going to do that, not for this. I want to stick straightly (ph) to how Barksdale's supporting this effort.

QUESTION: Can you say how they would bring it in, like what type of...

HAHN: Well, first of all, I don't really have the safety expertise, so I don't want to speculate in that area.

I'm not sure that really length of time is an issue that we wan to get into at this point. They're still trying to get themselves formulated and organized and coordinated, and until they do that, then they'll be able to better answer that question.

We're here to provide them with as much support as we possibly can, and meet all of our other taskings.

QUESTION: Did you say they are -- are they looking to other basis, or no?

HAHN: Well, I know, for instance, they're operating ought of Lufkin as well, and I'm sure that NASA -- I'm sorry, I mean Johnson Space Center and Kennedy Space Centers, they've probably got ongoing teams working there as well with whatever data and stuff that they've collected from the situation.

QUESTION: Do your know if the setup there would be similar to what it is like here?

HAHN: I'm sure that that's going to be different from, as far as command and control perspective, you know, here they're actually on the ground, in the field, trying to do, you know, actions ongoing, I mean physically, hands-on. I'm sure the folks in the back are working things that are more analytical and scientific with respect to that.

QUESTION: Do you think that the aircraft -- it would be like on any, involved in any kind of surveillance, in terms of mapping the debris field or any thing like that? Is that anything that...

HAHN: That's a question for NASA, as for as -- Barksdale has no aircraft with that capability, that could provide that kind of support, so you'd have to refer that one to NASA.

QUESTION: They have requested space for debris. You do not know which they will deliver it, or if they will deliver it?

HAHN: I have no specifics with respect to all that. And NASA would be the best ones to ask that question -- or answer that question.

QUESTION: How many of your guys are in Lufkin? Did you...

HAHN: Approximately 60 personnel consisting of the two teams that are there, about 30 each, roughly, from Barksdale Air Force base, the 2nd Bomb Wing, as well as receiving support from our (UNINTELLIGIBLE), headquarters, and we have received some help from our sister wing, the 917th reserve wing.

QUESTION: You said 60 total.

HAHN: Approximately 60. I don't have the exact number.


HAHN: No, I think what FEMA has done is stage Lufkin as a base of operations. So that's why I referred to that there, because it was more -- it was closer to the debris field and centrally located. But they're obviously going out wherever they need to be, wherever that debris has been found.

QUESTION: Do you know if they'll be using Barksdale as their central place to put the space shuttle back together, or to try to figure out what happened?

HAHN: Well, I expect we might know some detailed information, with respect to that, as soon as NASA and the NTSB gets that all figured out. But we don't have any specific timeline. And we're, obviously, working with them. And as soon as they make their final determinations, then I'm sure that either we could relay that or they'll relay that to you. But they'd probably be the best source and the first source.

Thank you very much. I appreciate it.


HAHN: The approach there is when NASA is ready, if they want to conduct any kind of press conference, personal interviews, those kinds of things, that Barksdale will assist them in getting the media on to the base for those activities, and then, of course, back off. These days we have security as a concern, as well.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Do you think anything will be coming in today?

HAHN: I think rather than to continue to hammer away at that one, refer that question to NASA and they best be able to answer it. Thanks. Have a good day.

COOPER: You have just been listening to Lieutenant Colonel Larry Hahn at the Barksdale Air Force base in Louisiana. Just sort of an impromptu press conference; Barksdale becoming the central focal point right now for a lot of the investigators, searching for debris. A loft of debris being brought to Barksdale. Although some reporters were asking him about human remains. Obviously a very sensitive topic, one we're all handling very sensitively. He declined to comment directly on that. He said you'd have to refer those questions to NASA, understandably.

He did say that they have sent out the -- representatives of the military, from Barksdale have sent out some explosive ordnance disposal teams at the request of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. That in response to various pyrotechnic devices that may be lying amidst the debris, flares and the like, that FEMA has asked these disposal teams to deal with and to try to secure.

He was also asked why Barksdale Air Force base, why has that become sort of the epicenter for this investigation? He said very simply, because of its central location. And in event like this, authorities look for a centralized location that also has facilities, hangars and the like, to be able to handle this kind of event.


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