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Plane With 7 Rescued American POWs Onboard Takes Off for U.S.

Aired April 19, 2003 - 08:50   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Here is a live picture of Ramstein Air Base. The American flag being flown by two American heroes aboard a C-17. Those the two pilots of the Apache helicopter there went down, returning home today.
HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: This is a scene I have not seen before, a flag waving out of a C-17 like that. Usually it's in a parade on a car.

COOPER: As it's taxiing for takeoff.


COOPER: But that, of course, Chief Warrant Officer David Williams and I'm not sure who -- I think...

COLLINS: Before it was he and Ron Young, Jr.

COOPER: Yes, I think that is still Ron Young, Jr.


COOPER: Yes, I think that is. Both chief warrant officers of that Apache helicopter that had hard landing there. They are taking the American flag down as they, I assume, have to buckle in.

COLLINS: I would hope.

COOPER: I would think even they have to buckle in for takeoff.


COOPER: As I guess FAA rules require.

COLLINS: At least close the top, right?

COOPER: You would think so. You would think so. The C-17, on board that C-17, Shoshana Johnson. We saw her being loaded, still lying on a stretcher, a big smile on her face, however, waving a V for victory sign as well as waving to the crowds. A small crowd, but a crowd, nevertheless, of Americans working and either at the base or who are loved ones of those working at the base, a big military base there, Ramstein Air Force Base.

COLLINS: And in speaking or in mentioning Shoshana with her 2- year-old daughter, there are other POWs who have children, as well. I just, boy, I can't imagine how excited they must be to see those kids and the other parent, whether it be the, you know, the husband or the wives, trying to explain this situation, especially when they didn't know anything other than they were missing in action and then later found out that they were prisoners of war. How do you explain that to a child? And those days in between, just incredible relief, I'm sure, that they are all feeling.

COOPER: Also, what a difference, you know, a week or so makes. You think back to those pictures that we ultimately saw of some of the POWs being held that were broadcast on Iraqi TV and really throughout the Arab world, at least, not so much here at home. But compare those pictures, the expression on Shoshana Johnson's face, for instance, when she was being held captive...

COLLINS: Oh, yes.

COOPER: ... to the expression we just saw a short time ago. She's being boarded on this plane or even the expressions yesterday when all seven gathered on a viewing stand at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center waving to the crowd. We heard Chief Warrant Officer David Williams speak briefly, just talking about the, praising the medical care that he and the others had been receiving and thanking Americans for their continued support and their continued prayers and thoughts.

COLLINS: That's right. And speaking of, we have Matthew Chance, who is standing by to tell us more about those thoughts -- Matthew, are you there?

What are you seeing?

We're seeing some pretty fantastic images here. The plane getting ready to take off?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean we're just seeing it taxiing, begin its taxiing along the runway to the position where it will be taking off. It hasn't taken off yet. It's scheduled to take off at the top of this hour, so just in a few minutes from now.

It's going to be a very long flight, indeed, about 13 hours, we understand. And that's beyond the range of this C-17 military transport aircraft, which means there will have to be, we're told, a midair refueling operation, using one of those KC135 refueling tankers. They'll be doing that at some point over the Atlantic Ocean, I expect, before they go head on in to Texas.

To Fort Bliss they're going first, where the five members of the 507th Maintenance Company, including Shoshana Johnson, will be getting off. And then they'll go on with the two Apache helicopter pilots on to Fort Hood, also, of course, in Texas.

COLLINS: Matthew, we are looking at the plane here. And we're wondering, it looks like it's second in line. Is there somebody ahead of this plane? I mean are these guys not going to be able to take off first? CHANCE: You know what? I can't see from here, from this vantage point. It's gone out of my line of sight.

COOPER: Oh, there it is.

CHANCE: But I can tell you that, I mean this is an extremely busy U.S. Air Force base, U.S. Air Force base at Ramstein.

COLLINS: There we go.

CHANCE: There are many, many, many planes here taking off and landing every 10, 15 minutes. So it could well be second in line.

COOPER: We now have a better visual of the aircraft as it is taxiing. It looks like it's about to hit the runway. On board not just the seven, but a number of support personnel, as well, escorts, probably some public affairs officers, also, no doubt, some doctors or medics just in case there are any medical requirements for any of these seven.

Shoshana Johnson really, it seems, at least, the most physically in need of medical care. She's still on a stretcher. Although she was able to stand yesterday when we saw them on that reviewing platform out at Landstuhl. We know she was shot, apparently one bullet that passed through both of her ankles. She had received some medical care while in Iraqi custody. Obviously, it has been much more and better care now.

And there you see it. Seven Americans about to return home.

COLLINS: As we've been saying, five of those former POWs will be heading first to Fort Bliss and then the other two, the Apache helicopter pilots going on to Fort Hood. Let's just take a look here.

Obviously hearing the cheers of the crowd and the onlookers there at Ramstein Air Force -- Air Base, I should say, in Germany.

COOPER: There's a C-17 aloft, a lumbering aircraft, slowly returning home, but what a homecoming it will be. A lot of people waiting or will be gathering to wait over the next couple of hours in Fort Bliss, Texas, as well as in Fort Hood, Texas, where those two Apache pilots will be heading after landing in Fort Bliss initially. Also, as we've been reporting all morning long President Bush expected on Sunday to spend Easter services with service members at Fort Hood, Texas, at the military base there. The question right now is whether or not he will be able to alter his schedule at all to meet with the two chief warrant officers, the two pilots, in order to actually meet with them.


COOPER: No word yet on whether or not that is going to happen. The White House says they would like it to happen, apparently, but no word on whether or not it will.

We're not sure exactly what time they're going to touch down in Fort Hood.

COLLINS: Right. Yes, they were saying, or Matthew, at least, was telling us that I think it's going to be about a 13 hour flight, in air refueling they're going to get from a KC135. I mean it is going to be a torturously long flight, I'm sure, for them.

COOPER: Yes, the anticipation has just got to be extraordinary, not only of the family members waiting on those bases, but of the seven on board that...

COLLINS: They're probably already there, don't you think?

COOPER: Well, I would...

COLLINS: Just waiting.

COOPER: Well, I don't know. You never know. But the anticipation, I mean I just, you know, we've all been on long flights. But, you know, what a flight, to know what is waiting on the other end, all the significance and it's, it's just, it's a good day.

COLLINS: It is a good day.

COOPER: It's a good day here in the United States.



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