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CNN LARRY KING LIVE

JetBlue Flight 292 Makes Emergency Landing At LAX; Hurricane Rita Continues Path Towards Texas Coast

Aired September 21, 2005 - 21:00   ET

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


LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Thank you, Paula, we'll take it right from here on this unbelievable breaking story.
(BREAKING NEWS)

KING: What you're looking at is a JetBlue Airbus 320. It is circling over the airport at LAX, Los Angeles Airport. It took off from Burbank heading for New York. Flight 292 was scheduled to land in New York at 11:30 tonight. It took off at 3:17 California time.

JetBlue and Airbus are communicating on all levels. A spokesman for the airline has said they are still expecting a very safe landing. The jet -- the plane -- well, let's check in with Arthur Wolk. He's our aviation attorney and as well as a jet pilot. He's famed all over the country in situations like this and tragedies, non-tragedies and thank God safeguarding tragedies.

Arthur, what's the problem?

ARTHUR WOLK, AVIATION ATTORNEY (by telephone): Clearly, the problem is that the nose gear has twisted. As soon as the aircraft left the ground, the wheels instead of being fore and aft like they have to be to land, they've turned 90 degrees.

So, obviously when the airplane touches down you're going to see that nose gear touch the ground and either it's going to break off or it's going to bend and the nose of the airplane is going to come down and touch. You'll probably see some sparks out of it but this will be a safe landing. I can guarantee you that.

KING: Why?

WOLK: First of all because this is not a crash. Don't misunderstand this. This is an emergency landing. Pilots are trained to make emergency landings and the main gear looks to me to be down and because of its position probably locked, so the landing gear, the main landing gear will remain intact and down and that keeps the fuel tanks away from the concrete.

It keeps the engines away from the concrete so that the chance of a significant fire is virtually in my judgment and my anticipation not probable. So, I would suspect and I really feel that people should be confident this will be a safe outcome. There's more likely to be injury with people coming out the slide than there will be from this landing in my opinion.

KING: They will come out of slides?

WOLK: I'm sure of that, yes.

KING: All right, another thing, JetBlue is an airliner that has live satellite channels, CNN being one of them. Would you imagine they have those channels on now in the plane?

WOLK: That depends, of course, on their policy. It's kind of like the, you know, the airport CNN. Whenever there's an airplane accident they don't show that at the airport.

But, I would hope that anybody if they're able to see CNN would hear this conversation that they really should not be terribly concerned, just listen to the flight attendants who will give them the appropriate instructions to follow those instructions because they will be important for them.

And not to be worried, not to be frightened because this is not going to be, in my opinion it's not going to be a crash. It's going to be an emergency landing and everybody will survive.

KING: Arthur, since the landing gear did not go up when the plane took off how do they know it's locked?

WOLK: Well, it doesn't matter if it doesn't go up. It matters if it comes down. There would be indications in the cockpit as to whether the gear is locked. Now, I'm looking at that nose gear, as you have, and it looks to me like it may be down and locked.

Now, you have to understand that it's not designed to survive it being crooked like that when it touches the ground and so it's likely the first thing that will happen and, of course, the nose will be lowered much -- as late as possible at the slowest possible speed but you're probably going to tear that's called a bogie (ph), those wheels they're probably going to be torn off.

They're going to be bent and it's possible given the fact that it's not designed to do it this way that that nose strut, that's the thing sticking down from the nose, will collapse. That should not be of a major concern.

And, there will be sparks because it's aluminum on concrete or asphalt, depending upon the runway, and it's going to make sparks and that will look frightening but that will be short lived as the airplane slows down and the fire trucks will be following it very rapidly and they will put foam in the area to dissipate any fire.

Now, one of the things that's happening now is the pilot is burning off fuel and that's for two reasons. One is, of course, you don't want too much fuel in the airplane when you touch down because in case a fuel tank were to be breached you don't want that fuel to mist with the air and cause a fire or explosion.

The second thing is you want to reduce the landing weight of the airplane because you can land the airplane more slowly the lighter it is, so you want to get as much of that fuel out the airplane that you possibly can for safety reasons, to avoid fire and to let you land as slowly as possible.

And then when you land slowly like that you'll be able to keep that nose off the ground as long as possible so that the air speed will bleed off and hopefully when you put that nose finally on the ground it will be slow enough so it will do the least damage.

KING: Joining us now on the phone is George Davis. Captain Davis is a pilot with United Airlines and he flies the Airbus. Are you trained, Captain Davis, to deal with a bent front wheel?

CAPT. GEORGE DAVIS, UNITED AIRLINES (by telephone): Larry, you're only trained to deal with landing gear emergencies as specific as they have been in history. We practice a lot of different simulations, if you will, of things that have happened in the past.

So, right now what these guys are going through is they're talking about what they've got. They've got the landing gear in the front that's cocked. My best guess right now is that they're going to plan on that completely collapsing because that would be the worst case scenario.

KING: The scene you're seeing on the right is not this plane. That's just a JetBlue plane taking off and landing. That was this plane earlier as it took off and the front wheel cocked. The back two wheels are fine.

Thelma Gutierrez of CNN in Los Angeles, where are you, Thelma?

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm here at CNN, at the bureau, Larry, and I just wanted to let you know that the city of Los Angeles is on tactical alert right now in order to prepare for this landing. We, as everyone else, have been monitoring this situation for nearly three hours now.

We can tell you that at LAX things seem to be moving normally that planes are going in and out of the area, things moving smoothly in that area. Seventy-five to 100 firefighters and paramedics, we even saw a medical chopper out there on standby at LAX on the runway.

Now, JetBlue is based in Long Beach. They were supposed to land there but decided to land at LAX instead. Of course, the runways there longer, wider, a much better place to make an emergency landing.

Again, rescuers ready. They are in position. Fire trucks are along that runway and, again, the tower is in communication with the fire chief and so they're ready for anything that may happen. Again, we're just waiting for that Airbus to land at any time now -- Larry.

KING: We are not forgetting hurricane -- we're not going to break for commercials during this and we are not forgetting Hurricane Rita. We'll get you an update on that.

And there was that tornado problem in Minneapolis. We'll get you an update on that.

Is Jacqui Jeras with us at the CNN Weather Center? JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hey, Larry.

KING: All right, Jacqui, can you quickly, because we got this plane thing, give us an update on both Rita and the tornado?

JERAS: OK, I'll give you the tornado because it's easy. The warning has expired as of the top of the hour. We've had some reports of some damage in the area, mostly just some trees down and there's also been some hail the size of golf balls. But for right now, the warning has expired but they are still under a watch through ten o'clock local time.

On to Rita, unbelievable story here today, this thing just exploded and is now the third most intense storm in recorded history, winds now 165 miles per hour. That keeps it in the category five range. It's just under 600 miles now east/southeast of Galveston. That's where we're expecting it to go somewhere in that vicinity. It could be a little off to the west of there.

It should stay a very powerful hurricane, a five, maybe dropping down to a four. We tend to see fluctuations in intensity with these storms when they get so high like this. It's hard for them to maintain that strength, so we could see it drop down a little bit but we also could see it pull back up.

Best estimate at this time is that it's going to be making landfall somewhere on the central Texas coast probably overnight Friday and into Saturday morning. This is a huge storm too by the way. In fact, the tropical storm force winds extend out about 350 miles across wall-to-wall and the storm is pretty much covering the entire eastern gulf.

With those winds extending out that wide, even if it doesn't directly hit Galveston, they're probably going to be within the hurricane force winds. This is also going to be a hurricane when it gets near Austin, Texas and still a tropical depression with gusty winds and heavy downpours as it heads towards Dallas, Texas -- Larry.

KING: Wow. Sam Champion is in our studios here. Could it veer north? Could New Orleans be threatened or is that very unlikely?

SAM CHAMPION: It's a little unlikely. I won't even say very unlikely, Larry, because we're watching the steering currents and right now most of the forecast models agree on that east Texas coast but if there's any delay in the storm or a delay in the weather patterns that move, sure, it can still steer and that's why we tell people to watch it very carefully, the wide version of that landing cone.

KING: Back to our JetBlue Airbus still attempting to set up a landing at LAX. Joining us on the phone is the former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board Jim Burnett. What is NTSB? Do they do anything in advance of this, Jim?

JIM BURNETT, FMR. CHAIRMAN, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD (by telephone): Well, ordinarily, Larry, we don't have notice in advance. This reminds me of the crash in Sioux City in which Captain Al Hanes (ph) did one of the great aviation saves in which I sat at my desk and waited for the plane to, we thought would crash, so sometimes you get some advance notice.

The NTSB personnel may be en route to the scene. It's even possible that someone may be on scene already and, of course, there's a possibility that this will be investigated only as an aviation incident, not as an accident. That depends on whether there's substantial damage to the aircraft. I think the NTSB will investigate it one way or the other.

KING: Captain George Davis, Arthur Wolk, our other attorney and jet pilot as well, Captain Davis is with United Airlines and flies the Airbus. He's saying there's very little worry here do you agree?

DAVIS: Well, I think -- I won't go that far. I very much hope and expect that there will be a successful outcome and that there will be no life-threatening injuries. There may be some injuries involved in the evacuation.

Now, however, this is a risky and unpredictable situation and assuming that we have the best of airmanship and nothing else goes wrong, which is an assumption that you really can't make, there should be a very favorable outcome.

KING: Would you be allowing the passengers to watch this on CNN in their satellites in their seats on that plane?

DAVIS: Well that's a problem that I think during my time we didn't have. I think one of the critical things about this is whether the cabin has been correctly prepared for the emergency and with good flight attendant training and good performance on the part of their flight attendants they should be.

Now, it strikes me that watching this on a monitor would not be conducive to the passengers paying attention to the briefings that they need to do, so I would rather hope that they're not doing so but others might disagree.

KING: So, you would shut it off?

DAVIS: I would.

KING: Arthur Wolk, who are they talking to those pilots?

WOLK: First, I'm sure they've already talked to their folks in maintenance to see if there was anything they could do to address the situation. They're probably talking to somebody in flight operations to see if there's anything that as the flight crew might be suggested to them in terms of the procedures they might use, although I'm sure Captain Davis would confirm that you're trained to do what you're trained to do.

You use the emergency checklist in the airplane. You go through it as many times as you need to do to give yourself confidence that you've done everything you can do and then you do the best job possible and that's why they call the guy in the front left seat captain and that's because he is well trained, well skilled and disciplined so he can do this job the way the checklist says he should do it.

Fate is, of course, an issue but still in training it takes an awful lot of the chance out of this and I am -- I really do want to reemphasize this is not a crash. This is an emergency landing and I wouldn't want to frighten anybody into thinking, either the loved ones or those onboard, into thinking that this should be anything other than a successful outcome.

KING: Sam Champion, you want to add something?

CHAMPION: Yes, Larry, I mean these things are about as tall as a person, these wheels in the front of the plane, right, so how does it get, captain how does it get turned in that position? Because when we see them in the tape or on their pictures it's turned almost completely sideways. How do those things get turned like that?

DAVIS: Well, what happens a lot of times with landing gear emergencies is there's two things. It could be a mechanical malfunction. It could be a hydraulic malfunction. What is, in fact, turning that wheel right now could have been a result of a landing gear door not opening properly to allow the landing gear, the nose landing gear to reenter its compartment properly and the wheel could have been bent.

Something in the wheel well could have turned the gear as it was trying to come up. Something could have hit on the runway or in the air shortly after takeoff, could have hit the landing gear to cause it to be cocked like that.

The bottom line is, is that those guys do not have a safe up, this will be called an up indication. It's part of our after takeoff checklist and you verify that the landing gear is safe up and locked and they did not have that, which is why they knew right away that they had a problem.

KING: Jim Burnett, I was on a flight once from Miami to Chicago. The wheels would not go down, this is as we approached the wheels would not go down so the pilot had to manually crank them down. Then we flew over the tower so they could tell us if the wheels were down.

And then when we landed, we all had to bend over in our seats, hold onto our knees. T here was foam on the runway, fire trucks along the side and it turned out we just landed and the wheels were down and we had no hydraulics and they had to tow us in, et cetera. Will there be the same thing here? Will there be foam, fire trucks along the side, Jim.

BURNETT: Well, that's the captain's decision. I thought I heard a report that they were foaming but apparently Captain Hanes in an earlier interview had not received that report.

The important thing I think, Larry, to understand is that a lot of the risk in this whole thing is behind us because that trouble shooting process has caused accidents, either because both members of the flight crew focused on the gear and no one flies the airplane.

Or, you know, Senator Heinz, it was a much smaller plane but Senator Heinz was killed in a collision that occurred because they were trying to fly alongside and see what condition the gear was. So, there's a lot of risk in that process and with this plane apparently that should be a risk that's now passed as it's prepared, actually prepared to land.

KING: Captain Davis, is this scene helped by perfect weather?

DAVIS: Absolutely. I don't think it's as big of a problem as I heard earlier that the sun is in their eyes. We have shades that we can use, which diminish the amount of light that enters the cockpit from a certain angle, but very, very important that they have good visibility.

They're not distracted by having to fly on instruments right now and they have a visual horizon in their peripheral vision to the left and right and in front of them and that's a huge thing right now. They are -- they are extremely fortunate to have good weather for this.

And I want to emphasize, Larry, if I might this is what they call a deferred emergency and I believe someone said it a few minutes ago, you know. They are not on fire. They are -- they have fuel. They have flight controls that are working and this is the kind of thing where it just takes an intense amount of crew coordination, we call it, in the aviation industry and they're doing that with each other.

They're doing that with the flight crew in the back of the airplane talking to the passengers, making sure everybody is doing what they're supposed to do and that they're totally ready to do and this is going to take some finesse to get that nose of the airplane down smoothly.

KING: Captain Davis, they must have plenty of fuel because they were going from Burbank to JFK, right?

DAVIS: Absolutely which is why it took a while for them to burn it off, now they need to get the airplane light enough so that it doesn't pick up so much length of the runway longitudinally along the length of the runway. They don't want to eat up all that runway but at the same time they want to be so light that they get so slow that the nose gear comes slamming down onto the pavement. It looks like they're getting pretty low right now.

KING: Captain Davis, you fly that plane.

DAVIS: Yes, I do.

KING: Do you like it?

DAVIS: Absolutely, it's a wonderful airplane. And, Larry, I just want to correct one thing. Your producer, who is a good friend of mine, I am a first officer. I think he promoted me just out of niceness. I'm the first officer though. KING: Based on this broadcast you're promoted. Does this manual, will he -- will the pilot be talking to the Airbus people?

DAVIS: Oh, no. This is -- this is simply right now they are only talking to Southern California approach or what we call SOCAL approach and then they're going to (INAUDIBLE).

KING: It looks like he's coming in.

DAVIS: Yes, it's coming -- they're going to be talking to Los Angeles tower right now.

KING: Now, does it look to you like he's landing?

DAVIS: Absolutely.

KING: All right, let's watch this all together. Tell me what he's doing, Captain Davis.

DAVIS: Well, right now they're getting down to their final approach speed. Their flaps are probably fully configured. They're doing their standards call outs. They're telling each other, you know, we're at 1,000 feet, instruments cross-checked and when they get down to 500 feet the pilot not flying verifies that the flaps are in full configuration. And now they're simply -- this is simply aviation at this point, no more talking. They're just hand flying the aircraft.

KING: Now, remember that front wheel is bent.

DAVIS: No, it's just -- it's just cockeyed Larry.

KING: Cockeyed, well I call it bent. Let's see what happens.

DAVIS: Right now he's probably going to try to keep it off as long as he can without letting it go too high as well. There's a lot of finesse required here.

KING: He hasn't touched yet.

DAVIS: He has just touched in.

WOLK: Yes, he has.

KING: OK.

WOLK: He's holding the nose off.

KING: The nose is not touched?

DAVIS: No, holding it off as long as he can.

KING: OK.

DAVIS: There is a chance, Larry that once that nose gear touches it may turn towards the runway, the length of the runway or the tires may blow now and catch on fire but the gear may still stay intact.

KING: Is that a fire we just saw or is that just what?

WOLK: You have fire right there.

DAVIS: A little bit of tire is being burned up.

WOLK: And notice, Larry, he's keeping light on that nose wheel and that nose wheel is holding up pretty well right now. The fire is not necessarily dangerous right now. You're not near a fuel tank.

KING: Is he almost stopped?

DAVIS: He's very close to being stopped and actually, Larry, if you notice one thing. It appears that they had a cocked nose wheel but they did not have an unsafe down indication. That nose gear did stay down and locked, great job.

KING: Boy. Now how will they evacuate the passengers, Captain Davis?

DAVIS: Well, right now they're assessing the condition of the airplane from the outside. We don't have a good view of the outside of the airplane so we're asking at this point, tower, the fire crews to assess the bottom of the airplane, the sides of the airplane. Are there any flames, any reason to risk lives by having people jump out the slides because people do get hurt coming down those slides.

KING: The runway was not foamed was it?

DAVIS: It did not appear to be.

KING: And no fire engines along the side?

DAVIS: Oh, yes, they're there.

KING: Now they're there but I mean they weren't lined up along the side.

DAVIS: No, they follow the aircraft in trail about the back 45 to 50 degrees behind the winds so that they're not a distraction to the pilot.

KING: All right what, Captain Davis, did he do to prevent that when the front wheel touched down to prevent that plane from swerving?

DAVIS: Well, he's steering the aircraft at first with his rudder. Those are the pedals that we have on our feet. At high speeds that is what controls. Now, one thing I do not know was whether he had nose wheel steering, which we have when we taxi the airplane at slower speeds. I'm not 100 percent sure whether that was a factor or whether that was usable or not.

But the bottom line is here that those landing gear struts are able to take a lot of abuse because the tires, as you can see, have totally collapsed but the strut itself remained intact and that's what saved that airplane.

KING: Thelma Gutierrez, a sigh of relief at the bureau?

GUTIERREZ: Oh, my goodness, I can't tell you. In fact, you can almost hear people clapping. One thing I wanted to say, Larry, is that one of the local stations was monitoring the air traffic, the pilot talking to the maintenance crews on the ground and one thing that they said is that that pilot appeared calm and casual the entire time.

As they were preparing for approach they were talking to the passengers. Everything appeared to be very calm on that plane and, you know, you kept on raising the question as to whether or not those monitors would have been on and whether people onboard would have been watching CNN.

And, someone at JetBlue said absolutely not that as they approach for landing, as we all know, those of us who have flown many times, that those monitors are turned off and full attention is given to those flight attendants.

KING: Remember Carl Rochelle, folks, worked for CNN for a long time? He's a pilot, aviation expert. Carl, what's your read on this?

CARL ROCHELLE, AVIATION EXPERT (by telephone): Larry, it looks to me like they've done exactly what they should do. This is all something that they have trained for for years and years. Hopefully they never have to do it.

And I shouldn't be at all surprised if they haven't seen some similar setup in their simulator testing when they go back through and do their recurrent training a couple of times a year.

You have a nose wheel that is cocked to one side. You know you're not going to be able to steer it. It's probably going to drag. The configuration you want to get in and burn as much fuel as you can out of the aircraft and get it light so that it can't put the minimum amount of weigh ton the wheels of the aircraft when it touches down.

And, as you saw, they land with the nose high and keep the nose in the air as long as they can because you get the effect of aerodynamic braking, the wings, the body tilted up like that helps slow the airplane down. You want to get it as absolutely slow as you can before the nose wheel actually touches down.

And, of course, it's going to drag because it is sideways. There is tiller steering. There's a little steering wheel, if you will about the size of your hand usually off to the left side of the captain, captain only, and he can actually steer the nose wheel.

Well, if a nose wheel is cocked to one side that obviously isn't working or something is wrong there, so they're not going to be able to do that. So, they're steering with their rudder pedals until they slow down and when they slow down they can actually steer with differential braking. There is a brake under each one of the rudder pedals so the captain can either left foot or right foot and if the plane starts to veer to one side or the other he can do the virtual braking to try to control the direction of the aircraft.

But, it actually is -- it is not -- it's an emergency of course. Anything can happen but, Larry these captains are trained to do that. It is part of something that they hope they never have to do but they are prepared to do it and, as you can see, they are able to bring it off successfully.

KING: Carl, the door is open. George Davis, Captain Davis, what are they deciding now, whether the passengers should what?

DAVIS: Well, the captain's in charge, of course, and he has already assessed, I'm sure, while we've been talking. The airplane is probably in good enough shape. They would have immediately blown the slides. They have to do what we call disarming the doors if they want to be open the doors without blowing the slides.

The slides are to help people get down in an emergency situation where they have to get off the airplane quickly and this is appearing to be not one of those situations thank goodness.

So, right now they're probably going to bring some kind of a vehicle to the airplane. There it is right there as we see and they're going to help the people to exit the airplane that way. It's much safer to do that than going down the slide.

KING: OK, so they'll go down stairs?

DAVIS: Right.

KING: Jim Wells of the L.A. Fire Department is on the phone. What was the fire department's duty here and what were they prepared to do, Jim? Jim, do you hear me?

JIM WELLS, L.A. FIRE DEPARTMENT (by telephone): Yes, I can hear you, hello, can you hear me?

KING: OK, what was the fire department's role here and what were you prepared to do?

WELLS: Our role was to be prepared to deal with a catastrophic type of incident that could occur as a result of a nose gear problem with this JetBlue Airbus. We had over 150 firefighters and paramedics deployed to the Los Angeles International Airport.

We train constantly for the worst type of scenario, something that could really go very wrong and this was one of those times that it could have gone wrong but fortunately this aircraft landed around 6:20 Los Angeles time without too much of a problem.

We were concerned about the integrity of the aircraft in case the nose gear would collapse. We were concerned about the integrity of the fuselage if the aircraft would have a catastrophic landing. We were also concerned about the number of individuals that were on this aircraft that would have to be rescued in case there was a catastrophic landing but this was not the case.

But, once again, being at the ready, being prepared to deal with this type of situation is what the Los Angeles Fire Department is all about. We train constantly for this type of situation. It's mandated that we train for this type of situation and we are at the ready to deal with and mitigate this problem if it had occurred. but, once again, it did not.

We were hoping that this type of thing wouldn't occur but, once again, when hope fails, when hope fails we have the expertise of the firefighters. We have a rapid response that you can see and we have trained personnel that are ready to deal and mitigate any type of situation that happens.

KING: Jim Burnett of the former National Transportation Safety Board, JetBlue doesn't have gates at LAX, therefore we can guess they don't have maintenance at LAX. What are they going to do with this plane and will NTSB get involved?

BURNETT: I would think that the NTSB will be involved investigating this. From the sound of things it's an incident rather than an aviation accident. It's not unusual that planes land at airports where they don't -- where the company does not have facilities and they have ways of dealing with that and I'm sure they will. It's not something I think we need to worry about a whole lot.

The plane will be available for inspection by the investigators and they will be looking not only to the failure, mechanical or otherwise, of the wheel but the performance of the airmen involved and the performance of the flight attendants and how well the cabin was prepared and there will be a lot to learn from this, both in terms of improving aviation safety and documenting things that go well.

KING: Arthur Wolk, obviously you were right. This was a very safe landing. That runway will not be used for a long time I guess while they look at this. Why were you so confident?

WOLK: Well, because it's a procedure that I've been trained for that pilots are trained for and these are disciplined folks. They know what to do. It appeared that the gear as down...

KING: By the way, hold on Arthur, people are coming off the plane.

WOLK: Yes, they are and by the way that airplane is going to be off that runway before you know it. The nose gear struts there they can jack it up, put it on a tug and they'll move that airplane off the runway pretty quickly and examine it.

You know I learned that there was a service bulletin, Larry, on that nose gear steering problem, some type of "O" ring problem that results in that nose wheel cocking and it had apparently occurred before. So, I think that's where they'll be looking as to whether or not that maintenance had been performed.

KING: George Davis, you know anything about that?

DAVIS: Yes, Larry, that is true. We all fly a little bit different versions of these airplanes, so I don't know that the exact problem would have applied to this JetBlue aircraft or not.

But, you know, when problems do occur they alert the entire industry, especially the airlines themselves and all the pilots that fly those particular airplanes to be on their guard for certain malfunctions.

The maintenance crews are especially aware of these things when they come in for their routine checks to make sure that these problems don't occur. I have no idea. I wouldn't want to speculate right now that that would have been what happened tonight.

KING: Now these passengers are going to be what bussed somewhere would you guess Arthur?

WOLK: Yes, they'll be bussed to someplace and be briefed I'm sure. They'll want to know, just as Jim Burnett said, how they were briefed in the cabin and things of that nature.

I think that most people will be very complimentary. There was an awful long time for them to be briefed and I'm sure they were well briefed. As you can see from that landing that nose wheel or that nose strut is right on the center line of that runway. It couldn't have been better. It was about as perfect as it gets for any landing, whether you call it an emergency landing or otherwise. It was about as good as it gets. I'm really proud of that crew.

KING: Jim Wells, the fire department leaving now? I guess Jim Wells has left. I guess fire department -- there's nothing's going to happen to this plane now, right, Captain Davis?

DAVIS: Do you mean...

KING: A fire breaking out or anything.

DAVIS: I don't believe so Larry. If you notice, when they first walked up to the airplane, they didn't start letting passengers out immediately. The fire crews and the rescue people had to go on board, No. 1 to assess the safety of the airplane itself, the integrity of the inside, making sure there's no fumes, nothing unsafe of that nature. And then they had to make sure there were no people that needed emergency assistance immediately. They're always the first to go. And I believe the first people that came out were walking and so that's a really good sign.

KING: There might be some people out there with some psychological difficulties there.

DAVIS: Well, I think that whenever you're in what -- a near- death experience, so to speak, even if it's only perceived and not actual, you can suffer some post-traumatic stress disorder. And that's a real problem for lots of people.

However, I think, and am hopeful for them, that seeing this go so smoothly will give them a sense of confidence that their lives were less in danger than they may have perceived it. Which is another reason why I felt so confident and wanted to express that confidence. So, if they were speaking to loved ones by any chance or were watching CNN, the fear factor in their hearts and their minds would not be so strong as to paralyze their own concerns for safety.

KING: If you were just joining us, this is LARRY KING LIVE. We intended to cover just Hurricane Rita tonight. A very dangerous storm. And we will get to it in a little while. But we have dispensed with commercial breaks to carry this landing to a successful conclusion.

There are 139 people on board this plane. Flight JetBlue, flight 292, JetBlue, comparatively new and very successful airline. I think the most successful airline in the United States. Flying an Airbus from Burbank to JFK. Had the problem as soon as they took off, circled for quite a while and eventually landed safely.

And about that quite a while, as an impatient person, Captain Davis, what took them so long?

DAVIS: Well, Larry, they simply had to burn the gas. This airplane is not built with a fuel dumping mechanism. Some of the Boeing aircraft, the larger ones, like the 767s, the 777s and the 747s, have the ability to dump fuel because they take off so heavy and their safe landing weight, their safe landing weight is so much lower than their typical takeoff weight. The margin is a little different with smaller airplanes.

I know this doesn't look like a small airplane, but relative to some of the really large, heavy aircraft, it's on the smaller range. And this is just not built that way. So, that's the only way -- time was the only way that they could burn that gas out.

KING: And we've been calling you captain, you're First Officer George Davis, although, based on your work tonight, United will promote you. Everyone seems to be coming off quite calmly, Arthur.

WOLK: Yes. It looks like that, thank God for that. Thanks to that crew's magnificent performance. I'm sure it will be something they can tell their grand children about. That's bit and that's so fortunate. I'm so happy for them.

KING: And we imagine, Jim Burnett, the flight attendants did quite a job as well.

BURNETT: Sounds like they did, Larry. And deserve their credit for success tonight also.

KING: I think we're time, since nothing's going to develop now except just people coming off, we'll take a break. And when we come back, we'll get you caught up on what eventually happened with the tornado, the tornado warning was taken down in Minneapolis. We'll get you up to date on Rita. And if anything occurs at L.A.X. we'll go back there.

We want to thank everybody for cooperating on this, including the folks at CNN as we have done 35 straight minutes without a break. We'll take that and come back and talk about Hurricane Rita.

Again, if anything develops back at L.A.X., we'll go right back there. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back on LARRY KING LIVE. And to discuss Hurricane Rita, we have here in New York Sam Champion of WABC-TV. Their esteemed weather man. At the NASA Goddard Space Center is Dr. Marshall Shepherd, PhD research meteorologist at the center. At State College, Pennsylvania, is Ken Reeves, senior meteorologist and director of forecasting operations for Accuweather. And with us in Galveston, Texas, the most threatened area, is Anderson Cooper, who has moved on from New Orleans.

First, let's get a quick update at the center in Atlanta with Jacqui Jeras -- Jacqui.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hi, Larry.

Well, the tornado update here is that that is expired now. There was a touchdown reported in Brooklyn Park. Still some severe weather around the suburbs, just severe thunderstorm warnings. No longer a tornado threat at this time. But that threat will continue through at least 10:00 tonight.

As for Rita, an unbelievably powerful category 5 storm. Winds are 165 miles per hour. It's the third most intense storm in recorded history for the Atlantic basin. And it's just under 600 miles east/southeast of Galveston. It's pushing to the west. We're expecting it to take a turn to the northwest. Once we get into maybe late Thursday and into Friday. And that brings all eyes into the central Texas coast with possible landfall on Saturday.

A huge storm Larry, this thing going across 350 miles with tropical storm force winds. So we've been talking a lot about Galveston. Even if Galveston doesn't get the direct blow, they're probably going to be seeing at least hurricane force winds and significant storm surge.

KING: Anderson Cooper in Galveston, our much-traveled Anderson Cooper, our weary Anderson Cooper. What's the preparation situation there?

COOPER: Well, a state of emergency has been declared for this area. There's a mandatory evacuation. And people really do seem to be heeding the warnings at this point. I mean, when you consider it -- what, this is Wednesday evening, there are still several days to go before this storm hits and yet, all the stores are really closing down here in Galveston today. You can still get ice cooler, we still have loaded up on gasoline, but those stores are shutting down about 20 minutes after we left. The line of cars out of Galveston just stretches for miles and miles and miles. It is very slow moving. But it really seems like, Larry, people have learned the lessons of Katrina. The leadership here is working very hard to try to get as many people to leave as possible, and to warn those who remain that they are going to be on their own, Larry.

KING: Are there levees in Galveston?

COOPER: No, there are not. There sort of barriers elsewhere in the Houston area, I'm told. But around Galveston -- I mean, you know, this is a strip of land right on the Gulf. So, you know, there's a cool breeze right now coming off the water. There a nice tide just coming in, a few small waves. It's actually quite beautiful and pleasant considering -- especially when you spend a couple of days in New Orleans, this seems like a vacation.

But we all know, you know, in a very short amount of time these things can change rapidly, Larry.

KING: Dr. Shepherd, how bad will this be?

MARSHALL SHEPHERD, NASA GODDARD SPACEFLIGHT CENTER: Well I tell you, Larry, the tank is full, if you look at the Gulf of Mexico and the sea surface temperatures. We have some new views from our Aqua satellite which can measure the sea surface temperature. And as you can see here as you see Hurricane Rita moving across there, those waters are very warm. Those reds are mid and upper 80s. So, there's quite a bit of fuel supply.

And remember I said before when I was on that there's are like big heat engine, and they're running on 90 or 92 octane fuel this year with the SSTs being so warm in the Gulf.

KLING: So, the question for Ken Reeves, senior meteorologist for Accuweather, how bad?

KEN REEVES, ACCUWEATHER: Well, it's going to be very bad, Larry. This is a very powerful hurricane. I'm trying to quantify it for people. The kind of damage you're going see is probably on the Texas coast is going to be equivalent to what we've seen in Southern Mississippi and southern Alabama from Katrina. It's going to be that huge storm surge.

Even if it comes in between Palatious and Galveston, as we're indicating, there's probably in Galveston, going to be a storm surge that could easily swamp the wall, which is protecting it from the Gulf. And certainly, the water will come up from behind as well.

So it looks like it's going to be a very nasty next couple of days in Galveston.

KING: Sam Champion, you said before we went on, this is the third strongest?

CHAMPION: Yeah. And Jacqui pointed out at the top, it's the third strongest. But at a -- she's at 898 milibars now, and that's how we measure the pressure. So, that's the third strongest in recorded history for the Atlantic basin.

Now, the more important thing though, is this is two of the strongest in history in the same month, Larry. And it was thought before that when a hurricane went through an area, that it may take the energy out of the area and you wouldn't see another strong one right behind it. Well, we have got a strong one right behind it.

We're going to learn a lot from these storms.

KING: Is weather changing?

CHAMPION: You know, that's an interesting question. And Max Mayfield, I saw an interview with him, where he thinks -- and I tend to agree with him -- that we go through cycles in the planet that we don't quite understand. We've got about 200, 250 years of records of weather. And I think there are cycles in the planet that we haven't quite got our finger on yet.

KING: Before we take a break, let's check back with First Officer George Davis of United Airlines looking over this scene at L.A.X. What's your read on it now, George, as we look back?

George, can you hear me? George.

DAVIS: Yes, sir.

KING: Were you on another phone, George? Had you left us, George?

DAVIS: I think my parents were calling to find out if that was me or not.

KING: Yes. And see if you were promoted yet.

DAVIS: Right.

KING: What's the aftermath of this? Most passengers off now.

DAVIS: It looks that way. It look like some of their people -- they had plenty of time, obviously. They knew where they were going for a long time. JetBlue had -- their company had plenty of time to get the mechanics, the administrative people here. So I'm sure that now, you're just going to see a lot of cleanup. They want to really take care of this airplane and make sure that it is unscathed in any more condition.

And they're going to try to get off the runway safely as they can. They really do, honestly, it seems odd to think of this right now, but they really need to open up the runway again, because they have a lot of late night departures that are full of people heading to the Pacific and the Orient and so they need to get that airplane, that runway clear.

KING: Do the pilot and first officer file long reports now? What happens? Are they interviewed? What do they have to do?

DAVIS: They -- you know, Larry, I guess, I've been blessed to never have to go through something like this. But I've had friends that have had to. And it is a little bit tiring.

They are taken to a place. And they are interviewed. And it's certainly not a hostile thing, obviously, but it's a matter of fact finding.

I'm sure as your earlier guest was talking about the NTSB is going to weren't to talk to them only because this is an incident. Fortunately it wasn't an accident, but they are going to want to find out exactly what happened.

And the purpose of all that is so that we can all learn more so that this type of thing doesn't happen again.

KING: And the flight attendants also are interviewed?

DAVIS: Absolutely. The entire crew will be interviewed.

The passengers will be interviewed, but mostly on just a fact- finding type of thing by the media. But the entire air crew will be interviewed by the FAA for sure.

KING: We'll take a break and be right back with more on this unusual edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In our remaining moments, we're going to be doing both weather and the situation in L.A.X. Thelma Gutierrez of our L.A. bureau, you have an update.

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Larry, as I was watching those people leave the aircraft, you just wonder had was going through their minds. I mean, it had to have been the most frightening 3-and-a-half or so hours. 139 people -- passengers -- and six crew members for a total of 145 people who were circling above Los Angeles for the better part of three hours.

They had left Burbank 3:17 this afternoon, local time, heading to New York. And had to circle above Los Angeles until they were able to finally land at L.A.X.

They landed safely. One of our colleagues called a spokesperson at JetBlue and she said that they said, we are extremely happy and at the same time, she heard this big round of applause go off, people breathing a collective sigh of relief. Of course, that they had landed safely.

KING: Television in the 21st Century takes you anywhere a live. Jim Burnett, will NTSB investigate?

BURNETT: They're not required to, Larry, but I'm sure they will given the high profile of this and the fact that, you know, JetBlue is an organization that doesn't have an accident history so it will give them an opportunity to review their procedures and if there's a value in learning about things that went right and of course the initial the failure and perhaps the only failure will need to be pinned down to see whether there's a design issue there.

There's been an issue raised as to whether there was a service bulletin that may relate to this chain of events. And if there was a service bulletin, why wasn't this directed by the FAA? Was there -- did the FAA conduct itself properly? Did the airline properly respond to the manufacturer's service bulletin? So all of those issues will be very important, relevant issues.

But I think everyone at the NTSB and everyone in aviation safety is thankful that we still have a chance in November to have had four years without that category aircraft disaster.

KING: There are passengers being bused off the field.

First Officer Davis, will all Airbuses now have to be checked for something?

DAVIS: Larry, that's an interesting question. It really depends upon, I believe -- now Mr. Burnett might be able to correct me on this. But I believe it depends upon a mutual finding by the FAA and the manufacturer about whether something like that is necessary. There are many things that happen that cannot be necessarily attributed to anything other than just sheer chance. And other things are definitely a cause of, or a result, I'm sorry, of manufacturing. So that has to be determined at a point after this.

KING: Jim, you agree?

JIM: The NTSB will, hopefully, will not treat this as sheer chance. It will treat it as a failure of some sort, and the failure has to be identified. And if there were steps that could have been taken to avoid the failure, those need to be identified and they need to be corrected. So -- of course, one thing the NTSB can do is to make recommendations to the FAA or other regulatory bodies, including those of -- that may be in other countries to correct any problem that's identified. That's not necessarily going to happen, though. That's the reason we'll have an investigation, in order to determine what needs to be done.

KING: Because, Jim, the airbus is built in, where, Britain and France, right?

JIM: Well, yes, principally in France, with participation by other European nations, and especially in the development of the systems that are used on the airplane, the components. And, of course, that will come into play with this landing gear system.

KING: And does the United States have the right to tell them what to do with their airplane?

JIM: Well we have certification standards here, but we don't -- the United States, the FAA uses that very conservatively, and everyone tries to act cooperatively in these matters. I don't really anticipate that there would be a collision of power in this vain, and I would anticipate that everyone would work together to solve the problem.

KING: How many airbuses, do you know, First Officer Davis, what percentage of American flights each day are airbuses?

DAVIS: You know, Larry, I, sir, do not know. I know that they over the number of years, recently, they have become much more competitive with Boeing, and, I believe, it's forecast to be in the very near future, if it hasn't happened already, that the number of airbus aircraft are going to overtake the number of Boeing aircraft in the skies.

KING: Checking in with Anderson Cooper, because he's going to have yeoman like duty at the top of the hour with Aaron Brown on his two hour show. Things are right now calm in Galveston, right, Anderson?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, Larry, they are pretty calm in Galveston. I mean, you know, we have this emergency -- state of emergency, a mandatory evacuation, but it is very orderly at this point. I mean, there are still two days, before the storm is supposed to hit this area, if it does hit this area. People are boarding up their businesses. And the line is very long of people waiting to leave. There are going to be more people leaving tomorrow. They're going to convert the bridge into Galveston, which is a two-way bridge. They're going to have all lanes exiting heading north, so everyone can just get out, no one coming back in.

KING: Thanks, Anderson. We'll see you at the top of the hour. We'll be back with our three panelists for a wrap-up here. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Ken Reeves, conceivably, how far into Texas could Rita go?

REEVES: Well the main concern is going to be, Rita's storm surge could make it about a mile. We could see some rain all the way back as far as 300, 400 miles inland. But the concern, Larry, would be, is if it moves into Northern Texas and kind of stalls for a little bit, there could be some massive flooding, if that takes place.

KING: And, Dr. Shepherd, there are no mountains in that part of Texas to slow it down, are there?

SHEPHERD: No. It's wide open coast land, and, certainly, as the storm makes landfall with all of that energy, as we know, inland fresh water flooding is typically one of the more dangerous parts of a storm, so it's certainly something that we'll have to keep your eye on.

KING: Sam Champion, you mentioned during the break that your parents were evacuated today? CHAMPION: Yes. My parents have been living on the Texas coast for a awhile. Just moved into a new house in Rockport in the past month, and we moved them out today to San Antonio, which we feel will like will be kind of dry and out of the way. They said there was a lot of traffic on the road, and a lot of people getting out of the way the same way they were today.

KING: What do you fear the most in this?

CHAMPION: For my family personally, now that I know they're OK, you know, I just fear a little wind and rain for them. For the entire Gulf Coast of Texas, what I worry about is we're going to really get a chance to test how building codes are along there. There's going to be a lot of wind damage. There's going to be a lot of water damage. It will be interesting to see if we get the height of water -- there's a 17-foot wall around part of Galveston that was built, because they are one -- they've seen of one of the worst hurricane disasters in history. Probably the worst. And we'll -- just to see if the water makes it over that, and how powerful this storm is when it hits along the coast.

KING: Jacqui Jeras, what do you fear the most?

JERAS: The storm surge, just like Sam said. If it stays at a Category 5, storm surge easily could be over 18 feet, and that would likely make it over that wall.

KING: Is New Orleans going to get a lot of rain?

JERAS: I don't think so. I think it's going to be far enough off to the west that it shouldn't be a problem for them.

KING: Dr. Shepherd, what's your biggest worry?

SHEPHERD: Well, yes, certainly the surge, but, again, people underestimate the freshwater flooding. That's been shown statistically to be one of the more dangerous aspects of a storm. This storm is very large. It will produce a lot of rainfall on top of the surging water. So I think we have to keep an eye on that as well.

KING: Ken Reeves, the federal government ready, do you think?

REEVES: Well I guess that remains to be seen. They've been stretched rather thin. And the problems going to be, Larry, here at AccuWeather.com we're worried about where it's going to make landfall. And that could really stretch them even further if it effects much larger part of the coast line

KING: Sam, do you think they're going to be -- everybody on troop for this?

CHAMPION: I hope so, Larry, because, you know, and you pointed out in your shows, it was a big thumbs down on the way it was handled in Louisiana. I think everyone's trying to prove a point that they are ready to go, and I think the folks on the Texas coast will benefit because of that, and I hope we find out that that's true. That the folks are evacuated, they're evacuating early. Texas doesn't like mandatory anything, and they had a mandatory evacuation. And people seem to be listening. So I hope they are.

KING: Dr. Shepherd, could anything avert this?

SHEPHERD: Pardon me.

KING: Could anything avert this? This can't dissipate, can it?

SHEPHERD: Well, certainly, you know, this is nature taking its course to some degree, but, you know, we're trying to use the technology that we have to the best of our ability, along with our partners at NOAA, to try to at least understand these things better. Intensification processes are an area that we have a ways to go with. So we're trying to understand them as best we can to give people warning

KING: And, Thelma, a wrap up from L.A. on the incredible past hour.

GUTIERREZ: And what an incredible hour it was, Larry. 145 people now on the ground, safe and sound, in Los Angeles, after an amazing landing. And quite a dramatic moment.

KING: Thank you so much, Thelma. And thanks to everyone, thanks to our pilots, our experts from NTSB and, of course, our weather experts as well for this -- could only be described an incredible hour of live television. As you saw, 139 lives plus crew at stake, land safely. Unbelievable.

Standing bye now, here in New York, is our man Aaron Brown. And down in Galveston tonight, Anderson Copper. This has become our nightly two hour feature, the Brown/Cooper report. What an incredible television. They've got lots more coming, and lots more coming in Texas -- Aaron.

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