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Plane Skids Off Runway; Winter Weather Moves Across East Coast

Aired December 9, 2005 - 07:00   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Miles O'Brien. A developing story this morning out of Chicago. Live pictures of that plane right now, skidded off the runway last night, right into a busy intersection. A child is dead. We'll take you live there.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Carol Costello in for Soledad. Winter weather moving across the East Coast. Up to a foot of snow expected in some places. We'll have the latest forecast for you.

O'BRIEN: And a new kind of weapon is aimed at American troops in Iraq. Exclusive new pictures of a deadly threat, on this AMERICAN MORNING.

COSTELLO: Good morning, everyone. And happy Friday. We're going to start with that incident involving that plane at Midway Airport in Chicago.

O'BRIEN: Yes, good morning. And we're glad you're with us. Soledad is off, has been off for the past couple of days.

And let's begin in Chicago. The big question right now, how much of a factor is bad weather in the crash of that 737? And how much is the pilot's judgment as well? Very heavy snow last night during the landing at Chicago's Midway Airport. Visibility was very low. The runway very slick. The plane slidded off the runway and on to local streets. As you can see from this diagram, not a lot of margin for error there, not a lot of overrun distance. It crushed two cars and it killed a little boy when it ran off the runway.

Sean Callebs live now from Midway Airport with more -- Sean.


Midway Airport has been closed since that crash happened last night, just after 7:00 local time. It is scheduled to reopen right now at this hour. We talked to authorities, and we've gotten no information to indicate that it will not reopen.

You can see back over my shoulder the tail section of that Southwest jetliner. Really a lot of questions at this hour. It's clear and cold right now, but boy, at the time of that crash, it was snowing horribly and that could have had a big impact.


CALLEBS (voice-over): You're looking at Southwest Airlines flight 1248 after it ran off a runway on the northwest side of midway airport outside Chicago, slamming through a fence and into a busy intersection coming to rest on two vehicles.

ABEL ZAPATA, WITNESS: The nose had came out of the barrier of the airport round (ph), and right away the airplane from the front had went down because the wheel had broken off. And from there, I turned around and I ran like a half a block down because I thought it was coming after me.

CALLEBS: The weather was awful at the time of the crash. A driving snowstorm, but we don't know for sure what caused the plane to slide off the runway.

GARY KELLY, SOUTHWEST AIRLINES CEO: It was heavy snow, light winds, plenty of visibility. At this point, that's all the information we have.

CALLEBS: The flight originated in Baltimore, and landed at Midway shortly after 7:00 local time. Passengers described it as a hard landing, but said the plane was slowing down and it ran off the end of the runway, the front landing gear apparently collapsing along the way.

MARIA VELAZQUEZ, PLANE CRASH WITNESS: It was thunderous. It was horrible. It was screeching, and then like a loud thunder.

CALLEBS: Passengers were able to escape, hopping down chutes and out of emergency doors.

As emergency workers descended on the snowy scene, so did federal investigators.

COMM. CORTEZ TROTTER, CHICAGO FIRE DEPT.: NTSB will have their people here. We've been notified by them that they would like the plane to stay in place, and it is out on the street on Central, at 55th.


CALLEBS: Now once again, we know one person, a 6-year-old boy was killed in this crash, 11 others taken to the hospitals, including three from the aircraft who were called the walking wounded. They were able to walk away from this. The FAA was here last night. The NTSB is going to be here this morning, Miles, and they have a lot of work to do, not the least of which looking at the conditions at the time of the crash, and also that short distance on the runway that that 737 had in which to land -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Sean, on a good day that, airplane needs 4,500 feet of runway. Using the instrument approach would of had about 4,900 feet to play with. Obviously a slick runway. They had a tailwind, and the visibility at the time, I'm told, was about 3,000 feet down the runway, which may have been less than required for that approach. So it really was a bad night and really very little margin there.

CALLEBS: Exactly. And one other aspect of all this, the spoiler on the aircraft, once this aircraft touches down, the spoiler engages and is supposed to slow the aircraft down. Well, if there was a lot of snow on the runway, it simply probably would of played against that and probably wouldn't have done the job it should have been doing.

O'BRIEN: Well, yes, the spoiler is activated by the tailspin, and if the wheels are skidding, that spoiler might not deploy automatically. So there's a lot of things to consider here -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Nasty weather in Chicago last night. Well, it's nasty for much of the country this morning, especially on the East Coast. And it's quite cold, snow and freezing rain causing all kind of trouble out there already.

So let's get the latest. Chris Huntington is Secaucus. He's at a truck stop. I think it's still 26 degrees out there, Chris.

CHRIS HUNTINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Carol, you would know better than I. We're just out here shivering and doing the best to be keep up with what's going on. The conditions actually just in last 20 minutes have improved somewhat. Obviously, as these storms pass through, we're going to get surges and drop-offs in the amount of snowfall. It's a little bit lighter right now than it was an hour or so ago.

Already in the couple of hours it's been snowing, we've got several inches of accumulation here in Secaucus. We're about 15 miles due west of New York City. Expected potentially as much as 10 inches here. In this city, perhaps a bit less, but the plows are already out in the city, and spreading salt as well. The morning commute here is well under way. And I had to say along the New Jersey Turnpike, where we are here, an area that would ordinarily be bumper to bumper in rush hour traffic is actually moving pretty well. There is a 35-mile-per- hour speed limit set up and down the Jersey Turnpike, which as you probably know is one of the major arteries north-south in this part of the country.

But I have to say traffic moving quite well. Chances are a lot of folks are cashing in on what they're going to give themselves as a three-day weekend. A lot of schools and closed, and people are probably taking a cue from that and staying home -- Carol

COSTELLO: I think that's a smart thing to do. Chris Huntington live in Secaucus.


O'BRIEN: New claims being made this morning about the drug maker Merck and the pain killer Vioxx. The results from a very important study are now called into question.

CNN's Allan Chernoff is here with more. Good morning, Allan.


At a minimum, this is a serious embarrassment to Merck, which had to pull Vioxx from the market last year, but it also could be a major blow to Merck as it defends itself in thousands of Vioxx lawsuits.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) CHERNOFF (voice-over): "The New England Journal of Medicine" says Merck withheld data from a study that showed Vioxx presented only a minor risk of heart attack. An editorial to be published in the next issue of the "Journal" charges that Merck scientists failed to report three heart attacks in patients taking Vioxx.

The journal in the editorial says, "We determined from a computer diskette that that some of these data were deleted from the Vigor manuscript -- that's the name of the study -- two days before it was initially submitted to the 'Journal'." The editorial concludes, "These inaccuracies and deletions call into question the integrity of the data."

Merck's attorneys, who have been defending Vioxx lawsuits, have argued the company has always been honest about the drug safety.

TED MAIER, MERCK ATTY.: I think it's certainly unfair for anyone to think that this company was anything other than a responsible corporate citizen.

CHERNOFF: The article, Merck says, "described the results of the study as of the prespecified cutoff date for analysis." The additional heart attacks, Merck says, occurred after the cutoff date, and were later reported to the Food and Drug Administration.

Merck pulled Vioxx from the market in September 2004, nearly four years after the journal article, when a separate study showed the drug could double the risk of heart attack and stroke in patients taking it for more than a year and a half.


CHERNOFF: The jury in Houston is now weighing the evidence in the third Vioxx case to go to trial. So far, Merck has won one and lost one, and it's facing more than 6,000 Vioxx-related lawsuits -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Wow. All right, thank you very much, Allan Chernoff.

COSTELLO: In Iraq -- let's talk about Iraq now. Insurgents weapons are getting deadlier. This morning, we're going to show you some pictures exclusive to CNN that will give you a sense of the risks to U.S. and Iraqi troops.

CNN's Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon. She has the pictures.

Good morning, Barbara.


It's scary stuff, but we want everyone to know all of the information in this report was provided to CNN by the army.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) STARR (voice-over): When this vehicle was blown apart by an improvised-explosive device, an IED, debris flew in every direction. IEDs remain the number-one killer of U.S. troops in Iraq.

But look at this picture provided to CNN by the army. It's one of the first images shown publicly of the damage caused by a new type of IED, a so-called explosively formed projectile that can penetrate U.S. armored vehicles. The energy of an EFP blast is focused in one direction, right at the vehicle, leaving the armor full of blast holes. In this case, four soldiers were badly wounded.

Lieutenant General Russel Honore, who trained soldiers headed for Iraq, is one of the few talking about this type of danger.

LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, COMMANDING GENERAL, FIRST ARMY: When the energy is concentrated in a small area, it projects out that metal, and that metal caused -- can be effective against almost any armor, to include the M-1 tank.

STARR: In this photo from may, two explosively formed projectiles hit the door, penetrating the armor. The driver was killed instantly.

Another photo shows an attack against a contractor's armored vehicle by two of the new types of bombs.

Army documents accompanying the photos call these weapons an extremely serious threat. The technology has been available for decades. Much of the information exists on the Internet. But it is new to Iraq.

Here is how they are made: One end of a steel pipe is sealed with a plate, then the detonation turns the plate into a lethal dart, that travels at a rate of more than a mile per second. It can penetrate four inches of armor from a distance of more than 300 feet, according to the Army.

U.S. and British intelligence believes Iran and Hezbollah has now provided expertise to the insurgents to make the weapons. These new bombs have even been packaged inside foam and painted gray to match concrete. And they are set off using infrared devices, much like you might find on an automatic garage door.


STARR: Carol, it's just not possible, commanders say, to make U.S. armored vehicles bomb-safe. You can't hang enough armor on them. They get too heavy. They can't move. And the insurgents now clearly are simply making the bombs bigger and deadlier.

So what is the solution? Commanders are focusing a lot these days on new highly classified detection technologies, trying to find those IEDs before they go off -- Carol.

COSTELLO: It's just seemingly impossible. Look, I know you say the information on the Web site is on the Web site about how to make these explosive devices, but somebody is teaching these people. Where are these bombs being made? Do they know? And who's putting these bombs together?

STARR: Well, Carol, intelligence sources have believed for several months now that this technology has basically come into Iraq through Iran, and through Iran's links to Lebanese Hezbollah, that it is coming into the Shiite southern part of Iraq.

But here is what's even more disturbing, some of these pictures actually show attacks quite in northern Iraq, Baghdad and north of there possibly, so there is great concern that this technology is now spreading to more areas inside Iraq -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Barbara Starr, live at the Pentagon this morning, thanks.

O'BRIEN: Coming up, more on our top story. We'll talk to a former captain of a Boeing 737. This is the kind of plane that slid off the runway there at Midway Airport in Chicago. And we'll have him walk us through that approach and landing, and see if we can get a sense of where the NTSB crash investigation will head.

COSTELLO: Interesting.

Plus, the latest on that custody battle over an 11-year-old girl on life support. This is such a sad story. Is her stepfather trying to keep her alive just to avoid murder charges? His lawyer will be here. We'll ask him. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


O'BRIEN: Live pictures now. Midway Airport, Chicago, Illinois. It's not an easy airport on a good day to get a jet like this one, a 737, in and out of, 6,500-foot runway. That's shorter than Washington National. That's shorter than LaGuardia. Those are all considered the varsity landing zones for airline pilots with jets.

So on a day like today or last night, I should say, probably a bit like today as well in Chicago, there was probably next to no margin for error.

As a matter of fact, there was no margin for error. Let's talk a little bit more about it.

First of all, I'm going to bring in a pilot friend of ours. Jon Regas is a former 737 pilot joining us on the line now from Reno, Nevada, where I'm sure the weather is better than this.

John, as we look at these pictures from last night, let's talk about the weather conditions at the at the time of this accident.

JON REGAS, FMR. 737 CAPTAIN: Miles, this was very tough night in Chicago. About 22 minutes before the landing attempts by Southwest, the visibility was half a mile in snow and freezing fog, with a cloud layer 400 feet about 400 feet above the airport. And most importantly, the runway visual range was 4,500. That's just barely above minimums. Just about 22 minutes after the crash, a special observation...

O'BRIEN: Jon, I want to stop you. When we say runway visual range, just so people understand, we're talking about -- it's very simple. It's how far down the runway a pilot can see once he's on the ground there. And 4,500 feet -- 4,000 would be the minimum to do that approach under those conditions, right?

REGAS: That's correct. There's an automated gadget called the transmasometer (ph), which reports this value to the control tower, and they pass it on and update the pilots constantly.

O'BRIEN: Let's take a look at the runway here. We'll use our Google Map technology. I want to zoom you in on Midway Airport. You can see it's completely hemmed in by neighborhoods, buildings, streets, not a lot of overrun space. Let's go into runway 31. This would be the way they'd be coming in on the approach; 311 means you're headed off into the northwesterly direction. Down the runway we go.

Let's stop right about there if we could, Ted. I want to point out those two white strips there, and that is about a 1,000 down the end of the runway, and that's where the instrument-landing system, which they would have used in bad weather, would take the airplane typically, the so-called glide zone. What that does, however, is leaves you only about 4,900 feet of runway beyond that.

Is that about right, Jon?

REGAS: That's about right, Miles.

And another very interesting thing with that photograph, you'll see all that blackness on the runway. That may be an overabundance of rubber from tires making landing, which further may have compromised the ability of the aircraft to slow down.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk a little bit about the overrun now. That's an important point in this case. This is -- as we zoom in here, that's the end of the runway. This is an area with the yellow Chevrons. That's the overrun area. And here's the intersection. The distance between the end of that overrun and that intersection is all of 284 feet, not a lot of margin for errors. There are ways to arrest aircraft that go off the end of the runway, right?

REGAS: Absolutely. And there are about 14 airports in the United States that have what we call fonollic (ph) foam overrun. JFK and Atlantic City both come to mind. And what happens is the airplane goes on to this special kind of concrete, and it collapses, slowing the airplane down. Anybody who has driven out in the West has seen many truck emergency-stopping areas on mountainous roads and it's akin to that.

O'BRIEN: Let's look real quickly at the live picture, Jon Regas. I want you to help me out with this. I'm trying to figure out if the spoilers or speed breaks were deployed. We want to look in this area of the wing there. I'm trying to highlight that area out. That doesn't really help much, doesn't it? The point I think I see right there what appears to be the spoiler or speed brake deployed. That's an important thing, because that's the so-called reverse, along with the reverse thrust, what slows the plane down quickly. That is an important point here, because on a slick runway, it may not have deployed automatically?

REGAS: That's right. And we've seen this before. American Airlines crashed at Little Rock, Arkansas, and there was a problem deploying the spoilers automatically. Either they hadn't been properly armed, or there was a compromise in the automatic system. However, all pilots are supposed to verify the spoiler deployment, and then do it manually if it isn't done automatically.

One other thing, we're not absolutely sure if those are the spoilers. And one of the procedures after the plane does come to a complete stop, the pilots may retract them to aid the passengers in evacuating through the overwing exits, but we're just not sure yet.

O'BRIEN: All right, all good points, and it is all early. Just trying to give you a sense of the kinds of things, the factors that the National Transportation Safety Board will consider as they begin this investigation this morning.

Thanks very much, Jon Regas, former 737 captain, on the line with us from Reno, Nevada -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Fascinating. Thanks. That was fascinating.

Still to come on AMERICAN MORNING, Andy is "Minding Your Business." We keep telling you to be ready for sticker shock when you get your heating bill, but even Wall Street is stunned about how high prices are now. We'll tell you more about it next.


COSTELLO: It looks beautiful outside. It really looks beautiful, but the snow is coming down and, boy, is it cold, and that means you're going to have to turn your heat up, and that may be nasty things when you get that bill in the mail. Andy Serwer is "Minding Your Business." He has that and a market preview.

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: You're just going to have to dig deeper, Carol.

COSTELLO: A lot deeper.

SERWER: You're going to have to save your pennies. You're going to find a way to pay that bill, because there's no question it's going to cost more to heat your home this winter. We've been talking about that over the past couple of days. The cold weather across the country causing energy prices to soar. Listen to this, natural gas prices yesterday on the markets up nine percent in one day, and that's a huge jump; 55 percent of all American homes are heated by natural gas. And as we mentioned some of those numbers yesterday, could cost on average $1,024 to heat your home with natural gas. There's also talk of higher gasoline prices this spring, so we have quite a situation here when it comes to energy prices and your wallet.

I want to talk a little bit about the markets, though, because the Santa Clause rally is disappearing. It's just not here. We have a sea of red ink to report this morning, down 55 points on the Dow Jones Industrials, and we could have more trouble, more tough sledding, I guess you could say, this morning, because of Merck, which is down three percent in premarket trading. There are more problems with Vioxx as we've been reporting all day, and that of course is a Dow stock. And you can look and see here, this is an interesting screen, because the Dow is now down for the year. Nasdaq and S&P still up a little bit.

But I don't know, I think it has to do with Miles O'Brien jawboning that market down. He really had to jinx it.

M. O'BRIEN: No, no, no, let's set the record straight.


M. O'BRIEN: Andy Serwer came in, and started boasting about how great the market was doing, and all I said was, Andy, you just hexed it. And sure enough, what happened?

SERWER: I think there's a question, Carol...

M. O'BRIEN: This is the Andy Serwer grinch...

SERWER: No, I think we want you to adjudicate who jinxed what now?

COSTELLO: You're going to put me in the middle of this? I don't think so.

SERWER: We still have a couple of trading days left until the end of the year, so let's see how it pans out. We'll wait until the every end.

COSTELLO: So na na na na na na.

SERWER: Or something like that.

O'BRIEN: All right, thank you very much.

COSTELLO: Thanks, Andy.

SERWER: You're welcome.

O'BRIEN: Coming up on the program, we'll take you back out live to Chicago, the scene of that deadly plane crash last night. What went wrong? Usually it's a lot of things. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


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