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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

War in Iraq: Constellation Rescue

Aired April 1, 2003 - 04:13   ET

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

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go to Chris Plante now at the Pentagon for an update on a plane mishap aboard the USS Constellation.
Chris, what happened?

CHRIS PLANTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Anderson.

It was an S-3 Viking, an in-flight refueling aircraft, flying from the aircraft carrier USS Constellation. It was the last plane to come back to the aircraft carrier at the end of flight operations at the end of the day. It made a safe landing, caught the cable on the deck, as it's supposed to do. And then instead of turning right to go over and park where it would normally park, it, for some reason, veered to the left and went off the left side of the ship. Apparently a brake problem or some sort of a mechanical problem. At this point there's no indication that it was pilot error.

It snagged, as it was going over the side of the ship, on safety netting, which is set up along both sides of the flight deck. Gave the two pilots enough time to eject. They punched out, found themselves in the water. And as is usually the case during flight operations, an SH-60, the helicopter you see on the deck of the aircraft carrier there, was airborne flying alongside the ship just in case something happened and they have to go into the water.

We see the swimmer there with his snorkel and mask on the deck. He jumps out of the helicopter and goes into the water and picks the -- picks the two crew members up and brings them back aboard the helicopter.

Now normally when you find crew members that have punched out of an aircraft, they're stunned, they're dazed, they're confused and sometimes they even fight the swimmer in the water. So these swimmers are trained to basically subdue the swimmers. This swimmer found himself a little bit of an usual circumstance when he reached to pilots there in the water.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Saw the wreckage and hovered over the wreckage and looked for the survivors. First we did not see any survivors and then we saw two survivors. Patrick Vias (ph), who is our hoist operator in the back, he saw the two survivors. And about the same time, one of them came up on the radio and told us that he was right behind us.

(END VIDEO CLIP) PLANTE: So there you have it, it was the first fixed wing airplane lost in this conflict. A number of helicopters have gone down, largely in accidents, but this was the first fixed wing crash. Two pilots OK, the plane is a loss, but it could have been worse -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, it certainly could of, Chris. And looking at those pictures, I'm reminded, we got word today out of Nasiriya that apparently on Tuesday, last Tuesday, four Marines were killed when their tank, apparently the pilot of the tank was shot. The tank then fell over the -- a bridge crossing over the Euphrates and the three others on board actually drowned. It was just a horrible thing. And it just jogged my memory of that looking at those pictures of luckily the pilot there being rescued.

Chris Plante, at the Pentagon, thanks very much.

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