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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Plane Lands in Chicago Neighborhood

Aired December 8, 2005 - 20:58   ET

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


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Some breaking news to tell you about. You are looking at some pictures now coming to us from our affiliate WFLD in Chicago. You can see there in the background what we believe to be a Southwest Airlines 737, and, according to reports here, 98 people on board. This plane skidded off the runway because of all of that snow, and likely a slick runway. Of course, this has not been confirmed, but you can see the weather there.
This 737 slid off the runway, apparently went through a fence that surrounds Midway Airport. This is not O'Hare. This is Midway Airport. And now that plane is sitting on Central Avenue.

We want to go to Jonathan Freed, who is in our bureau there in Chicago. He's going to tell us the very latest. Jonathan, what are you hearing from where you are?

JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Heidi, I can tell you that within the last 30 minutes is when these reports started to come down. We've been told that a Southwest Airlines plane that was trying to land at Midway Airport, which is west of the city of Chicago -- Midway is not O'Hare, which is the main, the larger airport here in Chicago, that people may be more familiar with. Midway, of course, roughly 15 miles or so to the west of downtown.

This plane was trying to land, and it's been snowing here all day long. If you look out the window, you can see that there are several inches on the road, and visibility is not great. This plane, Heidi, we are told by the Chicago Department of Aviation, slid off the end of the runway, went through a fence and out into traffic.

Now, Midway is surrounded on all sides by a very busy and populated area. We, not too long ago, were at the arrival end of this runway a couple of months ago. And the planes just screamed right down over this area, residential and business.

So it is not surprising that there is not very much forgiveness at the end of the runway, that when you go through the fence, you are just in the neighborhood.

We are hearing the same things that you are, Heidi, that the numbers are approximately 98 people. We've been told by the Chicago Department of Aviation that nobody on board the plane itself was injured. And we are told that the aircraft struck at least one vehicle on the road, but we are waiting to get more information on that. COLLINS: Jonathan, quickly, you know the area. How busy is that Central Avenue that runs around Midway? I mean, is there potentially quite a bit of traffic there?

FREED: There is potentially a lot of traffic there all the time and probably very slow-moving traffic tonight because of all the snow.

COLLINS: And also...

FREED: So, to hear that this aircraft struck only one car, Heidi, I think that would be a miracle if that is the case.

COLLINS: Yes.

FREED: We don't want to jump to conclusions and we're anxious to see what the situation actually is.

COLLINS: Exactly. That's why I'm asking about the usual traffic there. And, let me ask you this, Jonathan, I know that at least, at least my reports are showing about 400 planes coming in and out of Midway. Those flights have been canceled. Any idea why this plane was flying and allowed to land?

FREED: Well, really it varies. There are -- the assessment is made as to whether or not the weather is sufficient to allow instrument operations to happen, all of these commercial airliners flying under instrument rules and the decision would have been that most likely at that time the flight was probably still under conditions where it could continue but I do not know that for sure and I need to check on that 400 number as well -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Jonathan, also I want to put this out there. We are learning from the Associated Press that this flight was coming from Baltimore to Chicago. Also, very preliminary reports again attributed to the Associated Press that the nose gear of this plane, again, a 737 Southwest Airlines jet, the nose gear apparently collapsed as this plane was coming down. So, you were mentioning obviously a hard landing. That would certainly be the case. Are you hearing any of those reports there -- Jonathan?

FREED: Well, what I can tell you is that the Chicago Department of Aviation told us that the flight did originate in Baltimore. As for the nose gear, we can see from the video here that the plane is angled down. That wouldn't be surprising if the plane were to have crashed through a fence that damage would have happened to the nose gear.

I can tell you that it wasn't necessarily -- we shouldn't necessarily assume, Heidi, that it was a hard landing. It just might have been a landing. I should point out that I'm a student pilot myself. I am -- I am close to getting my pilot's license. Of course, I'm flying smaller planes but the principles are the same.

And, we shouldn't jump to a conclusion that this aircraft made a hard landing. It is possible that just given the conditions of the runway and visibility that the pilot simply could not stop the plane in time. It may have touched down softly enough but they just may have lost control of it. We don't know what the condition of the runway was.

COLLINS: Sure and that's not to suggest that the nose gear collapsed because of a hard landing. I was actually looking at the possibility that that's why it may have skidded off the runway but you are absolutely correct. We are not going to speculate in this case.

Let me just go right ahead, Jonathan, while I still have you and remind people what has happened here in case they're just tuning in. We're looking at some video coming to us live out of WFLD Chicago.

Midway Airport, you are looking at a 737 Southwest Airlines plane that we are hearing had 98 people onboard skidded off the runway and apparently went through a fence surrounding Midway Airport and onto the road. This is known as Central Avenue near Midway Airport.

Again, I believe I have that flight number. This is coming to us again from Southwest Airlines. Flight 1248 left Baltimore around five o'clock and obviously on its way to Chicago and made this landing. We've got a couple of eyewitnesses who are going to hopefully tell us a little bit more about what they saw. Let's go ahead and go to that now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was a ton of passengers on the plane.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where were you seated?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Toward the front.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What happened?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know. We couldn't see outside because of the snow.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Was anybody hurt?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think anybody was hurt inside.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're here so stay out of our way if you don't mind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've all got to go this way everybody to the last guy, everybody.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: All right, so you heard a little bit of video there from -- sound I should say from what sounded to me like someone who was on the plane. I'm trying to get a little bit more information about that now but she said they couldn't see very well outside and obviously experienced what was indeed a likely frightening experience.

I want to go ahead and go to Chad Myers to talk to us a little bit about the weather. I mean, boy, we can certainly see a whole lot of snow coming down. Chad, what is the situation there best you can tell?

CHAD MYERS, CNN SEVERE WEATHER EXPERT (by telephone): Heidi, at that point, the delays were over three hours at Midway and four hours at O'Hare. The snow was coming down hard. Temperatures were below 32. The runways were frozen.

Now, we do know that they had taken time to go ahead and de-ice the runway, of course de-ice every plane that was leaving but the snow was coming down so hard that many times that grind that they put down can't keep up with the rate of the snow and the rate of the snow was coming down as hard, almost one-quarter mile visibility at times and temperatures right at 30 degrees so that snow coming down was actually packing on the runway and making for a very slick stopping surface for the plane.

COLLINS: Right and obviously, Chad, you know, we mentioned a little bit earlier why this plane was flying and so forth. Commercial airlines pilots are instrument rated meaning that they don't just look out the window and try to find the runway.

I mean these are professional pilots who are trained to land planes and fly on their instruments and on their instruments alone, so this would not be a completely unlikely scenario just one that is obviously complicated by very, very poor weather there. Chad any idea when the snow is expected to let up in this area, Chicago?

MYERS: I mean literally, Heidi, this is going to be over in 45 minutes. The snow is now into Milwaukee. It's into Joliet but quickly pulling out of Joliet. We have what's called a wraparound situation and the people from Cincinnati, although that's much farther east, they're already seeing the end of their snow because the dry (INAUDIBLE) is heading into Cincinnati, much drier air in the upper levels. That dry air punching into the snow will stop that snow from happening.

Chicago never did get into that dry air. They're into the tail. You think of a comma and the top of the comma is where Chicago is. The top of that comma is the snow that's still coming in. In fact, there's even a little bit of wind off the lake and that lake can actually enhance the snow a little bit.

Typically, we think of lake enhancement over by South Bend and on the other side of the lake but when the winds are actually coming in from the east or from the southeast there can be an increase in that snow activity simply because the lakes are still very warm.

It's almost like if you've ever sat by a lake and I know you have because you used to live in Minnesota and that lake would almost seem in the morning that steam would come off and that steam would rise into the storm and that steam actually causes a lake, we call a lake enhancement snow, sometimes we call it lake effect snow but it's really a lake enhancement snow and really you can only see maybe a quarter mile even in the video that we're seeing right now.

COLLINS: Right. All right, Chad, thank you for that.

Also, I want to quickly correct something. Just a moment ago we listened to someone who called themselves a passenger. She was not a passenger on this particular aircraft that we're looking at on the screen. I want to make that clear to you. This was probably someone who was in another plane and was able to see just a little bit out the window of what went on, not a passenger from this 737 that Southwest Airlines jet.

I want to go back to Jonathan Freed in Chicago telling us a little bit more about what he's hearing there -- Jonathan.

FREED: That's right, Heidi. Well, we know that this flight originated in Baltimore. We know that it slid off the end of the runway here at Midway Airport, went through a fence and hit at least one car.

And, if I could circle back to something you said before and I think that you were right on when you were talking about how these pilots being instrument rated are I'll say very cool customers.

These are guys that can fly these large aircraft, these heavy aircraft as if they didn't have any windows. In order to get to this point in your game, you have to be able to fly that plane based simply on what the instruments are telling you and that is a skill that is very difficult to master.

And so, the people that were at the controls of this plane, just by virtue of the fact that they're able to have those jobs at all, should have had those skills, so it's going to be interesting to see what factors contributed to this accident.

Usually in aviation the accidents don't result because of one specific thing. There is usually a root cause that leads to a chain reaction of events that leads to an outcome and it isn't necessarily any one person's fault or the fault of any one thing.

It's sometimes how all of those pieces come together and that's why it usually takes a while for investigators to really get the full comprehensive picture of why an aviation accident occurred.

COLLINS: You're absolutely right. In fact, I'm not sure I remember any type of crashes or even incidents like this that came from just one specific problem or malfunction. Obviously here the weather is looking like something that really only complicated matters.

Let me go ahead and once again tell people what we are looking at. We are looking at a 737 Southwest Airlines jet that has slid off the runway in Chicago. This is Midway Airport, not O'Hare, and apparently that plane then went through a barrier fence that surrounds Midway Airport and ended up in the middle of Central Avenue, a street that goes around the airport.

We have been hearing some reports about a car that it may have run into or the car then hitting the aircraft. We are not sure of that either. Apparently this happened at 8:15 Eastern Time, obviously 7:15 Central Time, Southwest Flight 1248 is what we are hearing, originating in Baltimore, coming into Chicago's Midway Airport.

We are going to take a quick break, get some more information for you and be back in just a moment. Stay with us everybody.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome back to CNN's continuing coverage of this breaking story.

Here is what we know at this moment. At approximately 7:15 p.m. a flight, a 737 passenger aircraft, Southwest Airlines Flight 1248, a flight which left Baltimore at approximately 5:00 p.m., attempting to land at Chicago's Midway Airport, not the O'Hare Airport, but at Midway Airport, slid off the runway.

It went through a fence, one of the barrier fences. This, of course, Midway Airport is in the center of a very busy area. The plane slid through one fence and actually crossed over onto a street, onto part of Central Avenue, according to the Federal Aviation Administration's regional office in Chicago.

We are just getting now this new report in. The Associated Press -- according to the Associated Press, at least one person was seriously hurt, not aboard the flight but in a vehicle on the ground.

Apparently, this plane pushed, actually crashed into a vehicle that was on the ground on Central Avenue at the time of this incident. It is not clear whether the plane hit the car or the car was unable to stop and hit the aircraft.

We are looking into that. One person in that vehicle was seriously hurt according to the Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford. He told that to WMAQ-TV, an affiliate there in Chicago.

This is a fast developing story. As we said, it happened under an hour ago and we continue to watch these developments. The conditions on the ground were treacherous to say the least, Midway Airport reporting 8.3 inches of snow before 7:00 p.m. The snow is falling hard and it is falling fast there.

CNN's Jonathan Freed is standing by in our Chicago bureau. Jonathan, what have you been hearing?

FREED: Anderson, I can confirm that this flight originated in Baltimore, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation, left around 5:00 p.m., 1248, we have got the right flight number. And, by all intents and purposes, it certainly appears to be a 737 that slid off the end of the runway at Midway.

Midway, for those of you that don't know, unlike O'Hare, O'Hare is the large airport that people will perhaps more often flying in and out of Chicago through. Midway is really in the middle of this dense area, a residential area, commercial area and there is -- the streets are right up against the edge of the runway property.

So, when that aircraft went through the edge of the fence that was it. It was in the neighborhood at that point, Anderson, and to hear that it hit only one car, if that is indeed the case, only one, it would be a miracle given what's going on this evening, slow-moving traffic, the type of snow that's been coming down today.

COOPER: And, Jonathan, what you're seeing on the right-hand side, we're showing you as many images as we have in this video, we actually saw what looked like a gurney being moved toward the passenger aircraft. We don't know whether that was just a precautionary move or whether there was some injury aboard the plane.

In other types of instances where we've had planes going off runways there have been injuries but, again, at this point we have no information about anything that has happened onboard this aircraft to the passengers. We do not have any information about their condition. The plane itself is certainly intact.

I'm told that right now we have Lillian Chacon who is on the scene who is with WFLD television. Lillian, what can you tell us?

LILLIAN CHACON, WFLD-TV REPORTER: I'm actually with WFLD here in Chicago and I am at the scene. I am looking at this crippled airliner. It's a Southwest 737. It made a hard landing on approach here in heavy snow.

I was actually able to talk to a woman, one of the passengers, one of the survivors who tells me she was in the front part of the plane when this thing made a hard landing, crashed through a fence and apparently crushed at least one vehicle on the ground.

There are -- there's a triage on the ground right now. There's numerous response vehicles. We don't have any count on injuries. We are told that there is a car involving -- with a dad and a child that was hit by this plane.

As you mentioned, this is a posted (ph) size airport well within the neighborhoods here on the southwest side of Chicago. When this plane crashed through that fence it was in a neighborhood. A lot of the people came running onto the scene told me that they felt their houses shake. Now -- hello.

COOPER: Yes, we're listening to you Lillian.

CHACON: Yes, I'm sorry. I'm hearing some sort of beeping. Let me wrap up before I lose my cell by telling you that they are still in the process of evaluating the injuries. The people actually onboard this aircraft do not appear to have been severely injured.

The aircraft is largely intact but there do appear to be some injuries on the ground, possibly a car that was on 55th Street off the northwest side of Chicago's Midway Airport, heavy snow still falling making the rescue that much more difficult. We've also heard the Jaws of Life are in action behind me so again this scene still developing here off the northwest side of Chicago's Midway Airport. COOPER: Lillian, as long as your battery lasts, I just want to ask you a couple of questions. First of all, as far as you know are the passengers still onboard this aircraft?

CHACON: They -- we have seen some of them actually leaving the plane on foot. I was able to talk to one woman who said that most of them were able to slide down the chute and come off the plane. We are told that some others are being removed by ambulance and also by bus.

We're not far from the actual terminal to the plane but our initial count is that there are 98 people onboard. At this point, we don't know how many are injured. We don't know the extent of their injuries and we also know that at least one vehicle on the ground was involved.

COOPER: Now, you mentioned there may have been a father and child in that vehicle. We don't want to go down the road of speculation. How do you know that -- how have you gotten that information?

CHACON: From listening to the EMS, the radios. The people are running past me with their radios on and that's what I've been listening to and that's why I'm -- I'm literally looking at the plane. We're very, very close to the scene. We're not able to move because the emergency vehicles are in place and we don't want to do anything that slows down somebody's rescue.

COOPER: Absolutely. There has been some conflicting information exactly what street this vehicle may have been on or what street this plane crashed onto. I had heard Central Avenue.

CHACON: It's on 55th, 5-5 and Central.

COOPER: OK, so you're at the intersection of 55th and Central.

CHACON: Yes and the plane is actually nosed out through the fence that borders on 55th. It's the northwest corner of Midway Airport. It slid off the runway on a hard landing.

COOPER: There was a man who identified himself as an aircraft mechanic who told WBBM-AM Radio that the plane's nose gear had collapsed and that at least one of the engines was damaged. Can you see that from where you are?

CHACON: I can confirm that. I'm looking at the nose. It's sitting on the ground. The cockpit door is not open. We're told that the chutes that open up over the wing that's where the passengers were being deplaned.

COOPER: So, the nose of the aircraft you're saying you can confirm is, in fact, on the ground.

CHACON: I'm looking at it as we speak.

COOPER: And what about one of the engines can you see any of the engines? CHACON: I can't see behind the fire equipment to see the engine. We did -- we have been moved back at least once because of fears that the fuel might ignite. We are also hearing the Jaws of Life so we know that there is at least one entrapment that they're working on.

COOPER: Are you smelling fuel in the air?

CHACON: No, at this point I'm not but there's frankly so much snow in the air we've got close to eight inches on the ground here so and snow is still falling.

COOPER: Yes, have there been other, I mean how has Chicago been dealing with this snow today? Have there been other accidents? There have been three deaths so far reported in other parts of the country.

CHACON: Traffic was brutal. A lot of people found themselves with three and four hour commute times heading home, you know, numerous spinouts and that's what we were out covering.

We happened to stop into Midway to find out about cancellations and delays and were literally 15 minutes away when we started hearing the security radios crackle and we headed over here.

COOPER: Lillian, when you have to go you tell me but I'm just going to keep asking you questions because you're right now the closest person we have and you are actually seeing the scene. We've had accounts of as many as ten ambulances. Can you describe the scene that you are seeing around you?

CHACON: At least ten ambulances. Let me tell you it's called a plan two. Here in Chicago a plan two means ten ambulances are dispatched in addition to fire and police. And so, we're on a corner. We got here so fast. We're watching all of this unfold.

Now, what I -- what I don't want to do is impede anybody's rescue or draw attention from some of the rescue personnel, so I am going to get -- get some additional coverage here and I am going to lose my battery.

COOPER: OK. Lillian, we will let you go then and we will...

CHACON: I'm going to sign off from Chicago.

COOPER: Lillian Chacon from WFLD, Chicago, appreciate you joining us. We will no doubt check in with you a little bit later on.

Jonathan Freed, standing by, we also have Chad Myers, severe weather expert. Chad, I want to bring you in here, Lillian talking about more than eight inches of snow having fallen in Chicago before 7:00 p.m., clearly that played some -- must have played some sort of a role in this incident.

FREED: Well, I believe it did, Anderson. I also believe that the wind possibly made some effect on it as well. The winds were out of the east 13, 16, 18 miles per hour all day long and that was actually warm enough. The water there on Lake Michigan warm enough to pick up some of that moisture and turn it into lake enhanced snowfall.

We hear so much about lake effect snow around Buffalo but this can actually happen in Chicago from the other direction if the winds are out of the east and, in fact, the wind is out of the east.

I find it a little bit ironic that the plane was landing from the southeast to the northwest because that would not be into that wind. That would actually be with the wind. This is a pretty short runway. We're only talking about 6,522 feet.

That's pretty quick. If you fly into Chicago Midway Airport as soon as you hit the ground the brakes are on and you're thinking to yourself, oh my gosh, did we land short? It is a fairly short runway compared to major runways in Atlanta and LaGuardia and into Newark.

COOPER: A lot of people don't...

FREED: So, you really have to slam your brakes on to get that plane to slow down and clearly there wasn't enough runway for this plane to stop.

COOPER: A lot of people don't realize Midway is the fastest- growing airport in North America. Some call it the busiest square mile in all of aviation.

FREED: Right.

COOPER: I mean this is an airport smack dab in the middle of a community.

FREED: No question and with eight inches of snow on the ground, no matter how quickly the crews try to get out there in between planes to clean off the runway they probably with the snowfall that was coming down at quarter mile, half mile visibility at times there is no way for that airport to be clean the entire time.

Sure they come out. They back the planes up for a little bit. They take 15 minutes. They clean the plane. They get that blind down but, you know, 30 minutes later that runway could have been completely covered in snow again and clearly it was.

They're not only using brakes. Clearly there are brakes like we use on our car but they also use the reverse thrusters to slow those planes down but it wasn't enough to keep it from being up there on the northwest corner there.

COOPER: Chad, we have an eyewitness to this incident, Tom Fitzgerald, who joins us on the phone. Tom, what did you see? Tom, you're on the air. What did you see?

TOM FITZGERALD, EYEWITNESS (by telephone): Hello.

COOPER: Hey, Tom, this is Anderson Cooper in New York.

FITZGERALD: I can't hear you.

COOPER: Can you hear me now, Tom?

FITZGERALD: Hello.

COOPER: Tom, we'll give you one more try. Can you hear me now, this is Anderson Cooper, you're on the air?

FITZGERALD: I can barely hear you.

COOPER: All right, what did you see, Tom?

FITZGERALD: What did I see?

COOPER: Yes.

FITZGERALD: Well, like I explained to the other man at approximately 7:15 I was bartending and I heard two loud booms and approximately five minutes later people were running. Ambulances were coming up ad down the street. And we have a security camera.

We thought it was an automobile accident and we looked out the window and we saw the tail section of a Southwest Airlines laying across the street on Central Avenue. That's on the south side of 55th Street and almost on the south side of the intersection right by the red light.

And, I walked out there and naturally there was fire engines and ambulances and police and all kinds of other vehicles around there. The traffic was still moving at that time. They blocked off the area and the police are escorting people off away from the property.

I heard but I didn't see it but someone said the plane did land on two automobiles and I've seen people coming off the tail section (INAUDIBLE) car and people are walking off the back end.

And, I think on the other side they said they were sliding down the slide or something like that. I didn't see it but I can see people coming off the back end of the plane and it was pretty well smashed up, laying right across Central Avenue going westbound.

And, it was pretty hectic. It went through a steel wall and steel beams holding the wall up and it tore apart, you know, went through the wall, I guess apparently slid off the runway and right onto Central Avenue.

COOPER: Tom Fitzgerald, we appreciate you joining us telling us what you know. The pieces of information now are...

FITZGERALD: Can you speak up? I can hardly hear you.

COOPER: Tom, I'm going to say good night to you. I appreciate you joining us. Thank you very much.

FITZGERALD: I can't hear you.

COOPER: Tom Fitzgerald, joining us, telling us what he saw of this incident in Chicago. As I said, the pieces of information are coming in, in drips and drabs from eyewitness accounts, from reporters who are on the ground.

You can see in that picture very clearly from WFLD, an affiliate there, the plane sloping down. We've had reporter Lillian Chacon from WFLD telling us that she can verify the nose of the plane is on the ground.

Earlier, a man who identified himself as an aircraft mechanic told WBBM-AM Radio that the plane's nose gear had actually collapsed and that at least one of the engines was damaged. The jet appeared to have been -- appeared to have hit a vehicle.

We have a report from Lillian Chacon she had overheard on an EMS radio that at least one person was in that vehicle and was seriously injured. There had been a report on the EMS radio, unconfirmed that there may have been a child in that vehicle as well.

The location we are talking about is on Central Avenue at 55th Street in Chicago. There you see the site of the accident, an overhead map of Chicago's Midway Airport. That really for the first time I think gives you just a real sense of the community which surrounds this.

I mean this -- the runway ends and then there are pedestrians and there is traffic and there is -- there are homes and city life all around this one mile square area -- this one mile square area.

It is very clear to see how a plane leaving the runway going through a barrier wall would very quickly be on a street, Central Avenue, 55th Street. Apparently one car was hit, a report from several sources of an injury in that vehicle, at least one injury in that vehicle.

Lillian Chacon also reporting that she heard the Jaws of Life being operated behind her seriously as we spoke. It is not clear exactly -- it's not clear if there have been any injuries of passengers aboard the aircraft.

She had talked to one passenger who was able to leave the aircraft through one of the devices that -- one of the chutes that had opened up. A number of passengers have left as well. There have been some reports, according to her of passengers being treated for injuries. We do not know at this point how serious.

Jonathan Freed is standing by. Jonathan Freed in Chicago, as well. Jonathan, what are you hearing?

FREED: Well, Anderson, I can bring you a little bit of quick analysis that I've done here. I am a pilot myself, of smaller planes, not of jets. And I have the printouts here, that I got done up in the last couple of minutes, of the airport diagrams of O'Hare and of Midway.

And if we could put up the Midway shots that we had before, where you can actually see the layout of the runway, I can try to paint a bit of a picture for you. Right, there was that one and there was the overhead one as well. If the runway at Midway, planes usually try to land, of course, into the wind. And the runway -- I'm looking at runway 31, which means a heading of 3-1-0, which basically means northwest. And that runway at Midway, there are two of them. One of them is about 6,500 feet long. The other one is about 5,000 feet long oriented, heading from the lower right to the left side the screen that we're look at now.

Now, compare that to O'Hare, there are two runways oriented in the same direction. The longest one at O'Hare is 13,000 feet long, Anderson. And the other one is 10,000 feet long. Now the shorter runways are obviously sufficient for normal aircraft operations. Otherwise, Midway would not be in business. But we don't know what happened tonight.

And of course, we don't want to speculate, but clearly, longer runway -- there's a saying in aviation, runway behind you is of no use. And the more -- the more runway that you've got ahead of you, the more chance you have to stop the plane before you run out of that runway.

So we don't know what happened yet. It's probably going to be awhile until we actually do, but just a quick comparison. The runways at Midway took to be roughly half the length of the runways at O'Hare. Anderson?

COOPER: Let's just remind viewers at half past the hour, exactly what we do know at this point, because we do not want to go down the road of speculation.

What we do now is the flight, Southwest Airlines flight, 98 people onboard. Coming in from Baltimore. Left Baltimore around 5 p.m. It's a Southwest Airlines flight, flight 1248, landing at approximately 7:15 Chicago time, 8:15 East Coast time.

From several -- from one report -- actually, one passenger was quoted as saying there was a hard landing before the plane skidded. There is also a report from an aircraft mechanic, who told WBBM a.m. radio, that the plane's nose gear had collapsed and that at least one of the engines was damaged.

And what Lillian Chacon from WFLD Chicago has told us is that she has seen, she has seen the nose of the aircraft on the ground, which would seem to jive with the report that the plane's nose gear had collapsed.

We do know that number of passengers have been able to get off of the aircraft. We do not have any reports. We have no reports, no information about any injuries that may or may have not occurred to passengers on board the plane.

We do have reports from at least two sources that there has been at least one injury in a vehicle that was either hit by or ran into this plane. That happened because the planes, when it skidded, it went through a barrier wall, went through a steel reinforced wall, according to one of our witnesses, Tom Fitzgerald. And rested, landed, ended up on the south side of the intersection at Central Avenue and 55th Street.

We have one -- one report from Lillian Chacon that the jaws of life are being used, possibly to extricate people or someone, or anyone who may be in a vehicle. We don't know. There is one report that it's just one vehicle that is hit. There was another report of a possible second vehicle.

But again, these are early reports, and we're trying to give you as much information as we can, as it is happening. Important to consider the -- as you can tell from all these pictures, I mean, the snow is continuing to come down in Chicago. It has been coming down very hard over the last several hours.

Chad Myers, our severe weather expert, is standing by. He's been monitoring this weather all day. Chad, we're talking some eight inches at least before 7 p.m., before this plane touched down the runway.

MYERS: Right. The snow had been going there for almost five hours now. And at an inch now, or an inch and a half an hour, it had started to pile up. And the problem is -- the airport has trouble keeping up at some point in time.

I mean, you have to realize, even if you go out and try to shovel your driveway, if it's snowing that hard, in an hour, there's going to be two more inches on top. So you're going to have to go back out there again.

Well, they try to do this, and a lot of times the planes, as they take off, the jet wash will wash away some of the snow. But this is -- kind of a heavier snow.

Just from some of the pictures where you could see the plane and the nose down, you could see how much snow is already accumulated on that plane. You can see it right there. I mean, you can hardly see where the door jam hits the fuselage itself. So there may be an inch and a half of snow on top of what they already had since this crash happened.

I do want to address that the nose down, gear down problem, though. If this really did go through that fence, and clearly it did, and possibly come in contact with a vehicle, that nose gear is no match for a fence or for a vehicle. It probably broke. The nose gear probably broke, clearly after making contact with something, not while on the runway. Although we don't know that yet. We'll have to talk to the pilots to see if that happened.

COOPER: Yes, and Chad, two pieces of information we're getting. One, Midway Airport has closed at 9:16. We've got, just learning thought the Midway Airport has closed. We're also getting -- these are some new pictures that we are getting in. We're actually seeing this from a different angle.

There you see a firefighter actually sort of hoisting himself up, holding onto a speed limit sign. Behind him there, you can clearly see the aircraft with the nose -- the nose down. It looks like a tight shot of some firefighters working. We had a report of jaws of life being used. It looks like they are working on a vehicle.

It is hard to tell and I don't want to speculate about what they may be doing. But these are the first shots we're getting where you clearly see from a different angle, that airport -- that aircraft nose on the ground. And just how close it is. I mean, there are traffic lights around it. There are stop signs around it. That is clearly on the street, Chad.

MYERS: It also appears that it you look at the rear of the airplane, that it's not sitting at a 90-degree angle to the ground. Maybe that is because one of the other landing gear, the right side or the left side of the main gear has gone down as well.

We heard a little bit about the engine being damaged. But if you kind of take a look, maybe in this view. You can see that, right there. The back wing, that is not parallel to the ground. So the plane is maybe even broken in half a little bit. Clearly it's all in one piece, but there has been more damage to this plane than possibly we can see from the angles we've been seeing them. I do want you to know though that the main door was open and it looks like they were getting people out of that main door.

COOPER: Yes, and we have heard from passengers already on the ground and we do know than one witness said that it appeared one engine seemed to have broken, which might account for the lopsided nature of the plane. We're also getting some eyewitnesses reports on the ground on tape coming into us right now. Let's play those.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Live a couple of blocks away?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, on 56th.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What happened?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, like -- when I -- we heard it on the news, so like -- we came over here. And the plane, and like we seen the plane, like -- the plane was like, really, really close. And then all you could see was like, a car under the plane, with like headlights. Because all you could see was the headlights on the car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The headlights were still on?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. And then the one guy -- and we've seen one of the guys off, you know, from the plane. He was just like, yes, like right when we hit, we felt like, a shook a little. And that was it. And then he said he got out, and he said like, there was people that crept around to the car and like, they died.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How badly damaged was the car, could you tell?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, you really couldn't like, see it that much. It's how -- like -- it's how far it was under the car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You talked to somebody who got off of plane?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, one of the passenger guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did they tell you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was just -- I was -- we were like, what happened? And he's like, -- well, like, we went through the wall. And then that was it. And like -- they got us all out and they said, right when we got off of plane, there was like a car like right under it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did they say whether they felt an impact?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, like a shook and that was it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The plane shook.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Just an eyewitness report. Jeanne Meserve has been working her sources, talking to people at the FAA. Jeanne, what have you learned?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, they're saying many things that you've heard reported elsewhere but now coming officially from Laura Brown, the spokeswoman from the FAA, saying that this flight, flying in from BWI to Midway, Southwest flight 1428, did slide off runway, 13-C on landing.

It went through a fence across a street, hitting a car. She says no reports of injuries on the plane at this point in time. But there may be two injured in the car. She did not have any details on how serious those injuries might be. She says that the nose gear on the plane did collapse at some point during this incident.

The FAA Web site now saying that there is a ground -- excuse me that Midway is closed. Laura Brown says that a ground stop was imposed not too long after this crash. But because of the weather, the visibility was simply so bad, that flights that were bound for Midway but had not yet been -- had not yet taken off, were held on the ground at their points of origination.

Some of the flights that were in the air and headed for Midway have been diverted to other airports. But again the weather conditions clearly very severe at this point in time. Visibility being one of the reasons, at least, that they impose that ground stop from Midway. Anderson?

COOPER: Jeanne, I just want to keep you on the line. Reporter Lillian Chacon from WFLD Chicago had heard on an EMS radio that there were two injured in that vehicle, possibly a father and child. And she had heard jaws of life being used. To your knowledge -- to your knowledge, I mean, you said your report from the FAA was perhaps two people. Do you know if a child is involved and do you know if they are still in that vehicle?

MESERVE: No, Laura Brown, the spokeswoman, had no details about who those people might be, how bad those injuries might be. Whether they still were in the car or not. She's still in an information- gathering mode as with. By the way, she also said, 98 passengers, five crew members on that aircraft.

COOPER: Ninety-eight passengers, five crew members?

MESERVE: That's correct.

COOPER: All right. And no reports, though, at this point of any injuries on board the aircraft?

MESERVE: That's according to Laura Brown of the FAA. But of course, these are early reports. Things can change.

COOPER: They certainly can, and we're very mindful of that. Jeanne Meserve, thank you, appreciate it. Keep working the sources.

Again, let's just review. Lillian Chacon from WFLD, Chicago affiliate, who is on the scene, has reported she has seen the nose of the aircraft clearly on the ground. We have now seen that in several pictures as well. This plane departed from WBI Airport, landing at approximately 7:15. Clearly, the landing did not go as planned. As many as eight inches of snow on the ground when this plane was attempting to land. It went through a barrier wall. It has now ended up, and as you see it now, it is at the south side of intersection on 55th Street and Central Avenue.

At least one vehicle has been hit, and we have reports of two injuries inside that vehicle. We don't know the status or how badly those injuries may be.

According to the Chicago Fire Department spokesman, Larry Langford, he told WMAQ-TV that one person was seriously hurt in that vehicle. One person at least seriously hurt. We are trying to check out any more information.

And we're trying to get a sense of the status of the passengers. Because we have heard from Lillian Chacon of WFLD. She had talked to one passenger who said there was a passenger on board this flight who had been able to get off the flight through one of the slides that deploy in a situation like this. And we have heard from eyewitnesses, but we don't have a sense of whether all the passengers are OK, whether they are all off, which is certainly what we hope, or whether some of them are being treated.

We saw at one point, a gurney from an ambulance moving toward the aircraft. But we simply don't know at this point what the status of any of the passengers may be.

There you see on the right side of the screen, just an overview from a map of Midway Airport. You really get a sense of how enclosed, surrounded it is on all sides by people's homes and people's businesses.

It is a very busy airport, the fastest growing airport in North America, according to Midway. And there is a lot of activity going on there. Although right now, there has been a ground stop, Midway Airport is closed. That happened at approximately 9:16 p.m. East Coast time. We're monitoring this, not only with Chad Myers and Jeanne Meserve, but also, Jonathan Freed, who is in our Chicago bureau.

Jonathan, you're a pilot. You know about this sort of thing. This has happened before -- not necessarily at Midway -- but overrunning a runway is not entirely unheard of.

And I clearly don't have...

FREED: Pilot...

COOPER: Go ahead, Jonathan.

FREED: Can you hear me now?

COOPER: Yeah, I got you now.

FREED: Sorry. OK, great.

No, you're right about that, Anderson. Landing is one of the most difficult maneuvers that any pilot will learn to do. It's usually the one that takes the longest. And instructors will tell you, we can explain what you have to do, but ultimately, the student pilot teaches themselves how to land. It's all about muscle memory and really just feeling your way down onto the runway, knowing what you have to do.

It's very tricky. And under the best of circumstances, it's very tricky.

And I only fly small planes. I'm not checked out on jets by any means, but the principles are the same. And to have to do it and to be in the mind of the pilot who had to put the aircraft down this evening under the weather conditions that we have tonight, takes a tremendous amount of concentration. And we all want to know exactly what was going on and what they were dealing with.

I can tell you as well, Anderson, if we put the shot of the -- the overhead shot of Midway up again, the FAA has confirmed for us that it was Runway 31 center, that -- now we're seeing the end of it there. You see where the S in site of accident is. That would look to be the end of Runway 31 center. And that runway is about 6,500 feet long.

And if you were to compare it to O'Hare, which is a much larger airport, a similar runway oriented the same way is about 13,000 feet long, another one about 10,000 feet. So just emphasizing that Midway is a smaller airport, really surrounded by those densely packed and populated neighborhoods. COOPER: It certainly is. In 1998, Midway served 11.4 million passengers on some 278,517 flights. It broke a record, which was previously held in 1959. That record again was shattered in 1999, it served more than 13.5 million passengers. It is the 47th busiest airport in the entire world.

Laura Peters is standing by. She is on the phone, a witness. Laura, what did you see?

LAURA PETERS, EYEWITNESS: Pardon?

COOPER: Laura, what did you see? This is Anderson Cooper, you're on the air.

PETERS: Got off of work, right by Midway Airport, I go from the hotel center to 55th. Took about 45 minutes, very bad.

I crossed the intersection. I stopped for a few minutes. Next thing you know, the whole building shook. Because I drive far from here. The whole building shook. And we were naive, because when you live by the airport for 40 years, you know, you feel a little boom or whatever. It doesn't matter.

Next thing you know, we were saying, well, somebody saw some lumber off a truck outside, because everybody's sliding, but it wasn't that. Somebody came in and said there's an airplane right like in the middle of the street, which is like right out the door. I could see the tail and the whole plane and everything from here.

COOPER: How far are you from the aircraft now?

PETERS: I'd say one building.

COOPER: And what is the scene like around you?

PETERS: The police won't let us out right now.

COOPER: The police won't let you out right now, yeah...

PETERS: Because we're right like in the police zone, but when it happened, there were no police. There was no ambulances. There wasn't anything. We went outside to the corner. And the plane had no lights on. There was no fire. And that was that simple. The whole building shook. And we're very lucky, because you know, it was one building away.

COOPER: That must have been incredibly eerie to...

PETERS: Forty years, nothing like this has happened through those gates.

COOPER: That must have been so eerie, to go out and not have there be fire trucks and ambulances at that point, and just no lights, and just see this aircraft in the road.

PETERS: I don't know. Right now, there's a lot of ambulance, police. There's no people anymore. And...

COOPER: Did you see passengers -- did you see passengers getting off the plane?

PETERS: There were. There were a lot of people getting off the back chute, off the back.

COOPER: And how did they seem to you? Did they seem relatively calm?

PETERS: They seemed calm, because all the lights went out in the plane, but it doesn't look like, you know, your major crash, where it's in pieces. It's in one piece. There's part of the back -- the back tail is separated. But all the people seem to get off OK. They're all coming out the back chute.

COOPER: And when the people got off the aircraft...

PETERS: But there's a car. There's a car underneath. But I don't see how, because I just came from that corner, and there were like massive cars waiting to cross. So, a godsend only had one car get hit. And there were like tons of them all around.

COOPER: Laura, did you see -- have you seen the car underneath the plane?

PETERS: There is -- yeah, there is one car, but there probably should have been way more than that.

COOPER: And...

PETERS: This is a busy corner.

COOPER: To your knowledge, I mean, I don't know, if you saw this with your own eyes, was the car trapped under the plane?

PETERS: Yes, it is. That's what they're doing right now. So like where we're at, they won't let us out, because it's a little neighborhood bar. Right? Like, we're one building away from this gigantic plane. So they're not letting us out, because they have to take care of the plane. We might be here a long time. I don't know.

COOPER: But you saw -- I just want to -- because there have been conflicting reports. You, with your own eyes, saw a car trapped or crushed by this plane?

PETERS: No, it's underneath. There's people -- there's three people passed away in that car. The police came by and told us, there's three in that one car. That's all they could see right now.

COOPER: And to your knowledge...

PETERS: It's pretty horrendous, because when this first happened, and you run outside without any policemen or firemen, and you see this plane in the middle of an intersection that you have seen for 45 years, all I could just -- it's like -- it's like a 9/11, but no explosives, thank God.

COOPER: And people were getting off calmly. How were people -- were people noticing this car under the plane? Were passengers -- where did passengers go?

PETERS: You couldn't -- you can't see the car under there. That's what happened after the police got closer, they could see the car. But that's only one for now. There's -- they're still out there. It's very traumatic.

COOPER: I can imagine. Laura, I appreciate you taking the time to speak with us. Laura Peters.

PETERS: I appreciate talking to you too, because like I said, like when I first saw this, it was like -- it's something you've never seen your whole life. I would always see over the years, things on TV. Well, this is like one building away from me. And that airplane is still in the middle of the intersection. Very traumatic.

COOPER: I can imagine. Laura, I appreciate you joining us. Thank you so much.

We are getting a number of reports like this. We talked to Mr. Fitzgerald a short time ago, who told us similar things. It is still not clear -- there you see a gurney, it is waiting. It's just not clear, A, the status the passengers at this point. Laura Peters reporting, she saw a number of passengers using one of the evacuations slides to get off. She says that they appeared calm as they were getting off. We are hearing other reports as well. One passenger told WMAQ-TV, quote, "it got really bumpy, and then a big crashing sound. Everyone is very calm," this passenger said. "Everyone around me seemed very OK. There was no chaos." That was from a Katie Duda (ph), who was a passenger aboard this plane.

Let's hope that the passengers on board the plane now have had a chance to call their loved ones to assure them that they are fine. But the status of the people, persons or people inside this car, that appears to have been run into by this plane, that remains unknown.

You really get a sense from these pictures, which is the first time we are seeing them, of just how hard it continues to snow there, Chad Myers. You know, 8.3 inches is the amount of snowfall I had seen on some sheets before 7:00 p.m. Central Time. But it looks like it is still just coming down hard.

MYERS: It sure is. And the wind is out the east, although, on some of the pictures you are seeing now I have been noticing how the snowflakes have been coming straight down. For most of the day, the wind had actually been coming from the east, picking up some of that Lake Michigan moisture, and pouring it into -- this is the kind of lake effect kind of thing that Buffalo gets all the time. But it's an east wind, where Chicago typically doesn't get a lake effect, because the lake effect will go to South Bend or it will go to Fort Wayne or go the other direction. But when the winds are out of the east, it actually starts to pile up in Chicago. And Chicago had this lake-enhanced snow, if you will, just a little bit of extra moisture in the storm from the lake that enhances the amount of snow.

I do want to go back to Jonathan Freed at some point in time, and ask him about the direction of the landing. Because at the time of the landing, the winds were out of the east. And the plane seemed to be landing from southeast to northwest. That seems a little odd to me, because you want to land -- typically, the FAA wants to land planes into the wind. That slows your apparent ground speed, so you don't have to brake so hard. And if the wind was really 12 miles per hour, as it was shown on the observation at the time of the crash, typically the plane would have to be going 24 miles per hour faster. A little bit of difference because of the cosign and the sign of the angle, but let's not get into that.

Let's say you have to go 20 miles per hour faster; you would think that the storm, with the wind coming from the east, the plane would want to be landing from the other direction. Maybe that's not an opportunity. Maybe that's not a possibility. Maybe O'Hare was in the other pattern, I'm not sure. But this plane tried to stop on a very short runway -- Jonathan went into this -- how this runway is only 6,500 feet, where the runways over at O'Hare are nearly double that, so you have a lot more braking room.

I've flown on Southwest a couple of times, and some of the passengers talked about this hard landing. That's pretty typical. A hard landing is when the pilot gets that plane to the ground, and he gets the brakes on and he gets the reverse thrusters going, and he stop that plane. It's almost a square mile farm plot. You got (INAUDIBLE) Nebraska, and all the roads are one mile across -- one mile east, one mile north, one mile south. That's what this thing is. It's a one-mile plot, and the runways are actually making an "X" in that plot. And so you don't get any extra room.

I'm kind of surprised that Midway never did anything like a softer catch fence. We hear about the hard catch fence that it hit. Or like a sand trap, like the Formula One race cars might go into and would catch these planes, maybe slow them down a little faster. But there was just no room for this to occur. This is a very small place. You're landing literally, Anderson, you're landing a plane in a neighborhood when you land into Midway.

COOPER: And there was an incident back in 1972, December 8th, the crash of United Airlines flight 533. It actually hit the branches of trees on the south side of 71st Street, hit the roofs of a number of neighborhood bungalows. It plowed into the home of a woman by the name of Veronica Kucilich. It killed her, killed her daughter Theresa. The plane burst into flames. A total of 45 people died; 43 of them were on board the aircraft, including the pilot, the first and second officers. Eighteen passengers survived in that.

We're just getting some reports now, Chad, that all the passengers aboard to our knowledge -- well, it says, according to the FAA, all passengers have been bused to the terminal. The FAA investigators, of course, are on the scene. NTSB will on the scene, and that NTSB is going to be in charge of this investigation. But even just getting to this scene has got to be difficult. I mean, look at that snow coming down.

CNN's meteorologist Rob Marciano is standing by in Pittsburgh out in the snow, where it is pouring down there as well. Rob, just give us a sense, the conditions out on the street.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's been snowing heavily now for about an hour and a half. And it started from a stop, basically. It wasn't a flake or two to begin with. It really just started coming down in sheets. And you know, almost to the point of an inch an hour, which is considered to be heavy snow. And you can see it coming down in these lights.

So Chad mentioned this earlier, too, that, you know, the jet wash of an airplane can typically, at the early stages of a snow storm, sweep away some of that snow. But you know, this at least here in Pittsburgh, is very packable snow. Pretty high in moisture content, and it would be more difficult to do that.

Visibility also an issue. You can see just from the camera between me and the camera, about six feet here, how much snow is coming down.

Now, let's pan over -- by the way, we're at Pittsburgh at the Southwest point, Point State park, where three rivers meet. We're looking now over the Allegheny River. And on the other side, you can see through the snow, the lights there -- that's about a quarter mile away. So safe to say that we're looking at a quarter mile visibility.

I have the luxury -- my brother is a 757 pilot for an airline, and he explained it to me this way, as far as what visibility does to a pilot when they land. Obviously, when visibility is low, they're landing on mostly instruments only. And when visibility is at about half a mile, they don't see the runway until they are 200 feet off the ground. When visibility is at a quarter mile, roughly 100 feet off the ground. So basically, you see the lights, boom, your wheels are down.

The other thing I found interesting that he told me, is -- and this, all meteorologists know this, that when pilots report on turbulence or forecast turbulence or get on the horn and the pilot says, listen, buckle up, we have got turbulence coming up -- well, they don't know that from a meteorologist. They know that mostly, at least clear air turbulence, from other pilots that report it in front of them. That's how they -- that's how they forecast turbulence.

And what I found odd as to how they close runways -- they do it basically on braking. The runways are crowned, and they're grooved to get rid of moisture. Snow is a different issue. As far as braking and how slick a runway is, that also is done by pilot reports. Braking is either good, it's fair, it's poor, or it's nil. Meaning, you're not braking at all. And those reports don't come in until a pilot actually experiences. So, I mean, some would argue -- and we are not saying that this is the case -- that if the runway gets slick, at some point, it's going to get so bad that a pilot is going to run into a bad situation before he can tell other pilots. And tonight, the weather here in Pittsburgh certainly not good for driving or flying. And I assume earlier this evening, and in Chicago conditions were very similar.

COOPER: They certainly were, indeed. There were a number of flight delays all day long. I'm just getting some new information, though, I just want to pass along to our viewers. According to Wendy Abrams, the city Department of Aviation spokeswoman, no passengers aboard this aircraft suffered injuries. Again, no passengers aboard the aircraft apparently suffered injuries. This according to Wendy Abrams, the city Department of Aviation spokeswoman.

But again, these reports are just coming in in drips and drabs. We're trying to piece them together as we continue to broadcast live. So again, it is certainly good news if that does bear fruit, and we're going to continue to watch that.

What we do know, however, is that there was at least one seriously hurt person in a vehicle on the ground. According to an EMS radio, there were actually two people in that vehicle, perhaps a father and child. That according to Lillian Chacon of WFLD Chicago, our Chicago affiliate. But again, we also had a witness, Laura Peters, who said she saw a vehicle underneath the aircraft, and that would jibe with what Lillian Chacon was saying, that jaws of life were being used by firefighters who were on the scene, trying to get into that vehicle, to get anyone out who may still be trapped inside.

But we have just been told that the passengers themselves, all of whom apparently have exited the aircraft, have been brought to the terminal, and are no doubt, you know, being debriefed.

We have one report, another quote from a passenger, a woman by the name -- identified herself only as Katie (ph), told NBC 5, local station there, she said, quote, "We were just landing. We were in a holding pattern because there was a lot of snow on the runway. It was a little bit rough, she said, but it was nothing out of the ordinary. It got really bumpy, and then we heard a crashing sound, and the next thing I knew, it looked like we were in the middle of an intersection."

We'll continue to follow this, as we have for the last two hours or so.

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