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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Washington Heats Up Over Patriot Act, Presidential Powers and Spying on People; Plane Crashes Outside Miami, 12 Confirmed Dead

Aired December 19, 2005 - 15:00   ET

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


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Life and limb versus civil liberties, protection versus privacy, constitutional authority versus outrageous power grab, that last phrase comes from a Democratic critic of President Bush's unflinching endorsement of warrant-less eavesdropping on Americans engaged in suspicious communications with people in other countries.
It's no secret that secrets and spies and leaks and the war on terror took over the president's nine and final news conference of 2005. At one point Mr. Bush bristled when a reporter asked about uncheck presidential powers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is the check of people of being sworn to uphold the law, for starters. There is oversight. We're talking to Congress all the time. And on this program to suggest there's unchecked power is not listening to what I'm telling you. I'm telling you we have briefed U.S. Congress on this program a dozen time.

It's -- this is an awesome responsibility to make decisions on behalf of the American people and I understand that. We'll continue to work with the Congress, as well as with people within our own administration, to constantly monitor a program such as the one I've described to you, to make sure that we are protecting civil liberties of the United States. To say unchecked power is basically ascribing some kind of dictatorial position to the president, which I strongly reject.

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD, (D) WISCONSIN: Then they say the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act does not do the job. Well, that simply has not been demonstrated. That court virtually always give a warrant. And if it's an urgent matter as Senator Levin pointed out, they can start tapping right way for 72 hours, and they don't have to seek that warrant for 72 hours. There's every contingency provide for, the president does not have a leg to stand on legally.

They need to back off on a program like this and come to us and say, we need this authority, or we need this change in the FISA program. We will have a debate, we will discuss it, and we will act. We will not tolerate a president who believes he is the sole decision maker when it comes to policy has this country should have in the war against terror and the policies we should have to protect the rights of completely innocent Americans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

The outrage goes both ways. Feingold is a leading opponent of a renewal of the patriot act due to expire in 12 days. President Bush can hardly contain his frustration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: It is inexcusable to say to the American people -- we're going to be tough on terror, but take away the tools necessary to help fight these people. By the way, the tools exist still to fight medical fraud in some cases, or other -- drug dealers. But with expiration of the Patriot Act, it prevents us from using it to fight the terrorists. That is just unbelievable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: Getting word now on a plane down in Florida. Tony Harris working it from the newsroom.

Tony?

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, Kyra, just trying to sort all of this out for you. Let's go right to these pictures. This is out of Miami. The south end of Miami Beach, where apparently a hydroplane, there's been some kind of accident here.

You see an ocean rescue is under way, teams are in the water. Divers are on surfboards. The Coast Guard Petty Officer James Judge is on the line with us from Miami.

James, help us sort out what we're seeing here.

PETTY OFFICER JAMES JUDGE, U.S. COAST GUARD: Yes, sir. Approximately 2:30 p.m. we had some information that a seaplane went down. The Coast Guard small boat and the local rescue station -- I guess it was some sort of aircraft in the area, it was a seaplane, possibly, and a commercial seaplane, carries approximately 10 to 15 people from what we've been told.

HARRIS: OK.

JUDGE: In fact, it carries to and from the Bahamas.

HARRIS: So this type of plane can carry as many as 10 to 15 people?

JUDGE: I can't confirm the exact number, but that was what I was told.

HARRIS: All right. So, obviously what we're seeing right now is a rescue operation, is that how you would characterize this?

JUDGE: Yes, sir, I would characterize it as search and rescue.

HARRIS: Have any survivors so far been recovered?

JUDGE: I do not have any information on that right now.

HARRIS: OK, no information. Give us a sense of what we're looking at as we go back to pictures. I see you have divers in the water on surfboards. I see that there are a couple of vessels out there as well. Give us a sense. I think I saw a piece of the aircraft in question here on a break wall. Is that accurate?

JUDGE: What I have been told, I've told you everything I know. Exactly what I'm finding out is what you're finding out, I'm seeing it on the news. I'm at the command center trying (INAUDIBLE).

But what I'm seeing right now, is it looks like we have local law enforcement on the scene. And it appears that there's civilian people trying to help out as well. Looks like a diver right there that you are covering looking for -- trying to help out. Hopefully the Coast Guard -- we can save somebody today. This is a tragic event.

HARRIS: Sure. James, we can't see from that picture how far out in the water are those teams right now? How far from land are we?

JUDGE: Sir, I don't know. I can't tell you that. I don't have an accurate number.

HARRIS: I appreciate what you've been able to give us. This is a story that is just in and still breaking and developing, all at the same time.

But let me recap what we know steer me in the right direction if I go too far a field here. This is a seaplane, correct, James? That has gone down and we have seen a bit of the plane on a break wall. We've got divers in the water right now. They're on vessels and also on surfboards, as well. And to the best of your knowledge, this information came in to you how long ago?

JUDGE: I got this information about 15 minutes ago. This is just breaking.

HARRIS: OK. This south end of Miami Beach, is that correct?

JUDGE: That's -- I can confirm that right now. I can get back to you, though.

HARRIS: I don't want to -- I have to tell you that these pictures are coming to us, aerial pictures, are coming to us from our Miami affiliate WFOR.

James, I'm going to let you go. Coast Guard Petty Officer James Judge.

James, if you get some more information on this, please give us a call. We'll be in contact with you so we can update this story.

JUDGE: Absolutely, sir.

HARRIS: OK, James. Thank you.

Kyra, that's the scene right now. We're going to continue to work this and get you some more information.

PHILLIPS: Tony Harris, thank you so much.

President Bush has acknowledged he authorized spying on Americans. What exactly happens when the National Security Agency eavesdrops on a conversation? Brian Todd has an inside look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Experts say, any time the National Security Agency decides to eavesdrop, the operation is highly sophisticated.

GEORGE BAUREIS, FMR. FBI COUNTERTERROR AGENT: It truly is the cream of the crop of technology in terms of the capability to listen to anything, anywhere, at any time.

TODD: Former FBI Counterterror Agent George Baureis worked extensively with the NSA for years. Baureis and other experts say there are essentially two ways to monitor a suspect's communications. One is the more traditional method of planting listening devices.

BAUREIS: The other type of eavesdropping would be basically intercepts that are coming from open airspace that are going through satellite communications, or actually targeting of databases.

TODD: In this age, cell phones and other telephone signals can be monitored by satellites. A former NSA employee says the networks that operate cell phones and computers have built capabilities into them, that allow intelligence agencies to monitor calls and e-mails.

The NSA can use one of its sophisticated satellites to pick up a call, send the signal down to one of the various NSA listening posts around the world. But James Bamford, author of two definitive books on the NSA, says communications can also be monitored using microwave frequencies or tapping undersea cables, then, an NSA analyst takes over.

JAMES BAMFORD, AUTHOR: NSA analyst would eavesdrop or listen to the communications, write up a report, and send it to whoever asked for the information whether CIA, FBI, White House, Pentagon, whoever.

TODD: The analysts who can be linguists or code breakers, run signals through computers. But often as one NSA linguist showed our David Ensor, a few years ago, getting right information depends on human intuition.

EVERETTE JORDAN, NSA LINGUIST: You have to listen for irony. You have to listen for sarcasm, for tension. You have to listen for rhetorical statements being made. You also have to listen for humor.

TODD: We asked one expert how important is it for the method to be kept so secret. The damage done when it was made public, intelligence agencies were monitoring bin Laden's cell phone calls. Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS: The infamous Dr. Germ, thrown prison for being the direct of Saddam Hussein's bioweapons program, now is as free as a bird. We'll go to Baghdad for that story coming up on LIVE FROM.

And ridiculous, that is what one prominent African-American is calling Black History Month. A fight over the February celebration. We'll debate it. Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Just want to give you an update now, Kyra, on breaking news happening now. I apologize. I thought we -- never mind.

But it's a situation that is developing out of Miami. And the fact of the matter is, it is setting up to a real tragedy. The pictures that we have live, thanks to our affiliate WFOR in Miami.

We learned from the Coast Guard, just a short time ago, that a seaplane -- the Associated Press -- is describing it as a propeller plane, carrying as many as 17 passengers, crashed just off Miami Beach. And the Associated Press is reporting that there are fatalities.

Kyra, we have seen divers on boats, divers in the water presumably looking for victims trying to rescue anyone who can be rescued at this point. Again, this is right off of Miami Beach. And as many as 17 people were on board this propeller plane, this seaplane, that has gone down.

I can tell you, Kyra, a short time ago I saw a piece of the plane on that break wall. But we haven't seen that shot again since as the helicopter pilot is focusing his attention, her attention on activity going on understandably in the water right now.

We want to bring in Chad Myers -- if he's ready -- to give us the scene, if there were any weather conditions in the area at the time, Chad.

But just to reiterate again, as many as 17 people have gone down in this propeller plane just off of Miami Beach.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: There were some showers. The area there -- what tells me this area was under VFR, or visual flight rules, because the helicopters are in the air. If the weather was truly bad the helicopters would not be able to be over this area.

And you're seeing on the picture there is a sheen on the water. That sheen on the water tells me that there is fuel leaking out of some vessel, whether the boats that are there, that's a possibility. Probably more likely that is airplane fuel leaking from that fuselage that at times you can even see.

I want to show you where this is now. Yes, here are the showers across parts of the viewing area here around South Dade, Miami-Dade, into up into Port St. Lucie, also into Ft. Lauderdale. But, if I get you down to where this plane actually is, it's right here, the cruise ships dock right here. And this is the cruise ship canal, that comes out and the plane is there on the break wall, right there along South Beach. If you come out of that, ever out on that boat canal you know exactly where it is.

HARRIS: Yep, yep, yep.

Chad, I tell you, we haven't seen the shot again but I did see a piece of this plane on the break wall that you were just referring to.

If you were with us a short time ago as this story was breaking for us, you heard from a Coast Guard Petty Officer James Judge. He is back on the phone with us.

James, is there any additional information that you can share with us at this time?

JUDGE: Right now, we can confirm there were 16 persons on board the aircraft. Two of them were pilots. There were 14 passengers. The captain of the port closed -- ordered government cut closed at 2:45.

Six bodies have been recovered so far, unfortunately.

We have three floating assets on scene right now. We have a 41- foot rescue boat, 27-foot rescue boat and the Coast Guard cutter Sitkinak, that's S-A-T-K-I-N-A-K. And a Coast Guard HH65 Dolphin helicopter is en route.

HARRIS: OK. And I'm going to ask you to just to recap that. I'm trying to make noted as furiously as I can here; 16 people on board. How many confirmed fatalities at this time, James?

JUDGE: I can't confirm fatalities.

Obviously a medical doctor would have to confirm that. But we have six bodies recovered so far.

HARRIS: Six bodies recovered so far.

JUDGE: Yes, sir.

HARRIS: OK, once again, how many people do you have working this scene right now? How many assets? You mentioned assets available to you now, on the scene?

JUDGE: We have three floating assets on scene, Coast Guard assets, we have a 41-foot boat, we have a 27-foot rescue boat, and Coast Guard cutter Sitkinak, is on the scene.

HARRIS: James, are you aware, Chad Myers was just talking about conditions in that area, are you aware of any difficult conditions in that area right now?

JUDGE: No, sir. Not at this time I'm not aware of anything. It's a little -- looks hazy outside. But besides that the water on the TV that I'm looking at, appear rather calm.

HARRIS: Just to sort of reset this story for us, what time did you get, the Coast Guard, get initial indications that there was a problem?

JUDGE: The Coast Guard received a report at approximately 2:30.

HARRIS: OK. I hear your phone ringing off the hook. But just again, 16 people on board this seaplane that has gone down. Six bodies have been recovered so far. And I know your teams are working on a rescue/recovery operation right now.

James, thank you for the information.

Coast Guard Petty Officer James Judge on the line with us right now.

JUDGE: Thank you, sir.

HARRIS: Kyra, we mentioned just a moment ago, looks like a real tragedy just unfolding before our eyes here, live television. And out thanks to our affiliate in Miami for these pictures, as horrible as they are right now, the story is unfolding for us there in Miami.

PHILLIPS: So far, we're be told six bodies recovered in that crash at that small plane. Let us know, Tony, as you get more information. We'll continue to check in with you. Thank you so much.

HARRIS: Sure.

PHILLIPS: Also, still ahead on LIVE FROM, everything you wanted to know about God, but were afraid to ask. A new book aims to answer some of the basic questions. But we want to hear what you want to know about God. E-mail us the livefrom@cnn.com. The author joins us in this hour. Not too far away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Continuing to follow that story, that small hydroplane that went down just off Miami Beach. A propeller plane, carrying at least 17 passengers, and two crew members, we're told, getting reports of fatalities now. Keith Otero with the Miami Fire Department on the line with us now.

Keith, are you guys involved in this -- well, we don't know if it's a rescue or recovery, at this point, right?

CHIEF JAVIER OTERO, MIAMI FIRE DEPT.: No, this is definitely still a rescue. We have rescued seven patients, perhaps eight, I don't have the latest count. We do have two confirmed DOAs, but this is definitely still a rescue.

PHILLIPS: So, you're saying that those seven, possibly eight, people that have been recovered are still alive?

OTERO: Yes, they're being treated. PHILLIPS: That's great news. We didn't have that news to this point. But there were bodies that were dead on arrive, you're saying. Do you know how many?

OTERO: There are two confirmed DOAs, that I know of.

PHILLIPS: OK.

OTERO: We have basically two locations where we're working at. I'm on the beach, we are also working at the Coast Guard. Patients are also being brought to the Coast Guard base in Miami Beach.

PHILLIPS: Do you know if this was a commercial flight, or a privately chartered flight?

OTERO: I'm not -- I'm not sure. They normally run between here and the Bahamas it's a private company that does passenger flights between here and the Bahamas. I don't know what other routes they do.

PHILLIPS: Was this flight leaving Miami to head to the Bahamas or coming back from the Bahamas to Miami?

OTERO: Based on the reports from the people that saw it go down, it seemed it was coming into Miami Beach.

PHILLIPS: OK, so possibly leaving Bahamas, coming back in.

Just trying to confirm information, possibly family members waiting for this aircraft to arrive. So that helps us if we think that possibly this plane was coming from the Bahamas to Miami.

Can you tell us, Keith, if indeed there were 17 passengers and two crew members, do those numbers sound right?

OTERO: That is the report that we have, from Chalks (ph), is that there were 17 passengers and two crew members.

PHILLIPS: The seven to eight people that were found alive, were they able to get out of the airplane, and they had come -- they had been able to get out and basically come to the top of the water? Were these individuals that your divers were able to go down and actually help them egress from the aircraft?

OTERO: We have recovered some on our own, the Fire Department Ocean Rescue probably has helped on that effort as well. There have been private boats out there that may have picked up some of the patients also. And we have a mutual aid assignment from the Miami-Dade Fire Department, as well. So they will be helping us as well in the rescue as well. We have some divers in the water as well.

PHILLIPS: Do you know if thee divers are still pulling out people that could be alive?

OTERO: I -- I'm probably about a 1,000 feet from the scene, so I'm not sure what the divers are doing right now. But as I said, this is still -- we're still in a rescue mode. PHILLIPS: I was told your name Keith Otero. Is it Javier? Did I get you --

OTERO: Javier, yes.

PHILLIPS: I apologize, I got --

OTERO: They misunderstood when I said, chief, I believe.

PHILLIPS: OK, no problem. Oh, chief, instead of Keith, is that right?

OTERO: Yes.

PHILLIPS: I apologize, Chief. I should be calling you, Chief. My apologies, Chief Javier Otero on the line with us. Miami Fire Department talking about this mission right now in the water.

If you're just tuning in, a propeller plane carrying 17 passengers, two crew members crashing just off of Miami Beach here.

And so, chief, you know seven to eight people definitely still alive, you were able to get out of there. Divers down there trying, of course, to recover more bodies. You believe two individuals -- well, you have confirmed two deaths upon arrival.

Do you have any idea what happened? Did this aircraft crash into anything? Was it a fuel issue? Do you have any idea how it went down?

OTERO: I don't have a lot of good information on what happened before the incident. I spoke briefly to the incident commander, but I'm mostly dealing with trying to disseminate information that I have as far as what we're doing now.

You know, the history of what happened before it, I think, will probably be able to piece that together better later on. I don't want to speculate on what happened.

PHILLIPS: Chief, who else is assisting you? Is the Coast Guard with you, any civilian divers out there helping you?

OTERO: We do have the Coast Guard. Of course, first responders with us, Miami Beach Fire Department, Miami-Dade Fire Department responded with a full assignment. They're now helping us in the rescue effort. Coast Guard is definitely also working with us. And we do have a command post at the Coast Guard. Some patients will be brought to the Coast Guard as well.

PHILLIPS: Chief, will you be involved in trying to pull that plane up out of the water? Tell me how protocol goes. Do you first try to get all of the bodies out of the aircraft and then pull the aircraft out of the water or will the aircraft stay submerged?

OTERO: That, I think is something that will be taken over by other entities. The fire department will be involved in the rescue operation. That's more on the recovery stage. I'm not sure -- this is probably done by a private contractor.

PHILLIPS: Chief, what can you tell me, what exactly are the divers doing right now? It looks like they have pulled ropes from the boats that are in the water there, and it looks like the ropes are -- they're trying to attach it to something. Did you tell me technically what they're doing?

OTERO: At this time, they're stabilizing the plane, you know, not only to make sure it done move from where it's at but also makes the operation a lot safer and the chance of recovering anybody a lot better.

PHILLIPS: How are the conditions underwater? Is it pretty clear?

OTERO: I'd be speculating if I told you. I haven't been in the water, I haven't talked to directly to any of the divers. I know the water condition, when they first went in, were a lot worse. I did hear on the radio one of the lieutenants reporting that the water conditions were improving.

PHILLIPS: Chief Javier Otero at the Miami Fire Department. Sir, thank you for your time.

OTERO: No problem.

PHILLIPS: The chief is running operation there's with the Miami Fire Department along with Coast Guard. Good news to report, Tony. Seven to eight people pulled out of that aircraft alive, according to the chief. He can confirm two individuals that have died in that airplane crash.

Have you been able to get more information while I was talking to the chief?

HARRIS: Kyra, first of all, I appreciate so much that you were able to clear up that situation in terms of the bodies recovered and that sort of thing, because so often when we hear bodies recovered, we assume that that means that there have been fatalities. And great work and a great catch on your part to clear that up.

I've just been able to pick up a couple of other tidbits. You had it all there with the chief. This is a plane owned by Chalks Ocean Airways, that is the company that owns the particular aircraft in question here.

The company, as you heard from the chief, flies flights regularly to and from Bahamas and into Miami. Chalks Ocean Airways a little bit of history on the company was founded in 1919, it's floating planes takeoff from the water, as you see a picture here. This is from the company's website.

And Chalks Aircraft, how about this, is just an aside, just a tidbit here, have been featured in television shows like "Miami Vice" just a little bit of information on the company we've been able to dig up in the few minutes we've had since you've been talking to the chief. Again, a great catch, great work with the chief in clearing up the number of bodies recovered and folks still alive and the number of people -- particularly making the point this is still very much a rescue operation.

PHILLIPS: And Tony, we're continuing to follow these live pictures from WFOR, one of our CNN affiliates there, in Miami. You can actually, it's sort of eerie, make out part of that aircraft there.

HARRIS: You sure can.

PHILLIPS: The water is pretty clear. If folks are just tuning in, this propeller plane, carrying 17 passengers, two crew members, crashed just off of Miami Beach. We are looking at these live pictures.

The Chalks Ocean Airways plane, we're told it crashed into the water just shortly after 3:00 p.m. And we, as you mentioned, were talking to the Miami Fire Department's fire chief, Javier Otero, and he was able to confirm seven possibly eight people, rescued, still alive, getting medical treatment right now.

Two people, he did confirm, dead on arrival. And, of course, he said they're still trying to get people out of the water and trying to get them out of that aircraft that, as you can see, is submerged.

Chad Myers monitoring the weather situation. They said it was a little hazy, Chad.

MYERS: It was.

PHILLIPS: But you actually, you have got the flight tracker on board there.

MYERS: I do. We'll get to that right after I show you where the location of this plane is, Kyra.

I just checked all of the weather ops from Fort Lauderdale right on down into North Beach, South Beach and Miami Airport, and there were low ceilings for a while this morning but about three hours ago. And the weather's been improving all morning long. Obviously, good enough now for helicopters to fly around.

But if you've ever been to Miami or, for that matter, even close to those cruise ship docks, you go out here through the causeway. And the cruise ship docks come right through here, and then they're rip rap all the way out here from the South Beach, the new big hotels on South Beach right through here.

The plane is actually located just inside that rip rap or that break water that is right through there. And we're even seeing some pieces now of the plane that ended up on the rip rap, ended up on that break water.

So it looked like he was actually inside that canal or it's a channel, I guess, the big channel where the cruise ships come in and out right there by South Beach.

Now flight tracker behind me now, it's a little bit difficult to see. This is kind of a dark shot, but when we get the flight tracker, you will see that Miami Airport is still open. They are still taking planes in and out of the airport.

And, boy, you can really see that eerie shot, Kyra, you were talking about there, how you can even see what you can probably make out as the wheel.

Here's Miami Airport. Planes still coming in. The planes are landing in from the west. Hard to see because it is such a dark shot. But planes are still also taking off, and making the left hand turn up the East Coast--Kyra.

PHILLIPS: And conditions -- do we know what the weather conditions are right now? One petty officer from the Coast Guard there saying it was a little hazy.

MYERS: It was.

PHILLIPS: But it didn't look like weather--possibly there was some light rain. I wouldn't think that weather would have played a part in this, Chad.

MYERS: It was -- yes, it was clearly not IFR weather. The weather was a about mile and a half visibility ceilings for a while at about 500 feet, which means that the lowest deck of all of the cloud cover was about 500 feet. And clearly this plane has a lot of space between the ocean there and 500 feet.

So there was something else going on. You know, clearly, when the plane skidded off the runway there, we knew, in Chicago, a couple week ago, we knew that weather at least had something to do with that even though it may turn out to be different.

This one I'm just not sure that weather has anything to do with this crash at all.

PHILLIPS: And these live pictures coming to us via WPLG. You can actually see now part of...

MYERS: There it is.

PHILLIPS: ...the aircraft. Yes, right there on the rocks. You can see part of the plane there. And you could also see, like I said, disturbing shot of the plane in the clear waters there.

If you're just tuning in we're following a breaking news story right now.

There's actually a wide shot, Chad, of the area that you were talking about specifically. That kind of gives us an overview of the beach. And so the canal is on the opposite side.

MYERS: Correct. PHILLIPS: OK. So you know this area, right?

MYERS: I do, right.

PHILLIPS: OK. So is this a popular area to kind of hang out and beach it?

MYERS: You know, actually, more of a popular area to sit out there and do your best to walk through some of those rocks and go fishing off the end of there. So there were probably quite a few eyewitnesses out there at this point in time. At this hour, people would be getting off work walking out there through the South Beach and throwing their fishing poles in the water through there, yes.

The whole area here--I don't know the width of the channel there where the boats come in and out. But as you go through there in a cruise ship, it's at least a couple, a couple of football fields wide.

And the good news that I'm seeing on some pictures here is that the fuselage appears to be pretty much in one piece. And that could have left more air for the people as the--was going down. You know, you hate to see the plane break up into many pieces, and it doesn't look like the fuselage wasn't in too, too many pieces.

PHILLIPS: Well, it seems pretty amazing that even seven to eight people survived this plane crash.

You can see the Coast Guard Search and Rescue helicopter there. You know, this is what the Coast Guard trains to do. So if anybody is alive and they're able to pull someone out there, these are the folks that will be able to do it. They always have divers on board, medics on board when they come to a scene like this.

We're going to continue to follow these live pictures from our affiliate WPLG out of Miami, Florida. Seven to eight people rescued from this plane crash, two dead on arrival. We're talking 17 passengers, two crew members, a flight possibly from the Bahamas to Miami.

We're on the story. We'll bring you more information as soon as we get it. Quick break, we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: If you are just tuning in we are following breaking news coverage right now. These pictures coming to us via WFOR out of Miami. Not quite sure if these bodies that we're seeing on the stretcher are that of individuals that are dead or alive. We'll try and monitor these.

We, of course, want to -- well, looks like that body is completely covered. So that is not good news.

We're going to move away from that photo or that live picture there and go to these live pictures via WPLG out of Miami. A Coast Guard helicopter right now, search and rescue inside that helicopter usually a rescue divers and medics, of course, hoping that they're going to be able to pluck a live individual out of the water there. And, of course, take them straight to the hospital if, indeed, they're still alive.

We talked to the Miami Fire Department Chief, Javier Otero, bringing us some good news. He said seven to eight people, he believes, alive, survived this plane crash that we have been following right now off of Miami Beach. Two confirmed individuals have died in that plane crash.

We don't know a lot about what happened. But we believe the plane, a small propeller plane carrying 17 passengers and two crew members, was coming from the Bahamas into Miami.

The chief was telling me this is a common route. This private aircraft, this Chalks Ocean Airways plane makes a regular trips to and from Miami and the Bahamas.

Petty Officer Dana Warr on the phone with me right now. U.S. Coast Guard hopefully with some more information to what's taking place right now on this search and rescue.

What can you tell us?

CPO DANA WARR, U.S. COAST GUARD: Hi, there. Well, the latest information we have, there was 18 passengers on board. So far, the information we have is 12 bodies been recovered by responding units and divers are in the water. We have aircrafts flying around. We have Coast Guard boats in the water. We have assistants from other agencies with the state and local agencies, as well, trying to find any survivors.

PHILLIPS: Now, you said 12 bodies recovered. When I was talking with the Miami Fire Department, with the chief of the Miami Fire Department, Dana, he said possibly eight survivors. Two found dead on arrival. When you say 12 bodies recovered, is that possibly eight of those survivors, two of the dead, plus some others?

WARR: Twelve bodies, those are 12 deceased people that we have found are and are bringing into the coroner's office here in Miami Beach.

PHILLIPS: OK, so you're confirming 12 passengers have died in this plane crash.

WARR: Correct.

PHILLIPS: OK. And do you know if the pilots were able to get out of that aircraft or the -- are the pilots two of the deceased?

WARR: We don't know -- we don't have any information on who we are picking up. We're just, you know, we're responding, trying to find any survivors, if there are any. You know, we have a security zone in place. We've shut down the port of Miami, our government's cut -- government cut to all commercial traffic. And we slowed up some cruise ships just so they won't interfere with our search efforts. But right now our priority is, you know, our response, trying to find survivors. And you know, when we find any, any deceased, any bodies, bring them into the coroner's office so they be identified.

PHILLIPS: So, Dana, you were saying -- are we sure about these numbers? Eighteen passengers, two crew members? Are those -- you feel pretty strongly about those numbers?

WARR: Our numbers and what I've been hearing consistently in our office is 18 total.

PHILLIPS: Eighteen total.

WARR: Right. And that -- that's 18 and there's two pilots, 16 passengers. And of those 16 passengers, there was reported there were three infants.

PHILLIPS: OK, three infants. Do you know if any infants survived?

WARR: No, I don't. We haven't found -- to my knowledge, we haven't found any survivors yet.

PHILLIPS: OK, so all right. So it could be -- so possibly, the Miami Fire Department's chief, when he said seven to eight people still alive -- you have not heard that yet?

WARR: I had not heard that.

PHILLIPS: OK. All right. So we're getting conflicting reports. All right, why don't you tell me what the Coast Guard is doing right now? I see you've got at least one helo airborne and you've got some divers in the water. Tell me what you're doing right now. You're using ropes to try and stabilize that aircraft underwater so it doesn't move. Tell me what the Coast Guard personnel are doing right now.

WARR: Well, we're coordinating this effort. You've probably seen on the screen several other law enforcement agencies representing, in the assistance. You know, our state agency, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, have responded with several boats. Miami Beach Ocean Rescue has responded.

Miami Beach Police Department has responded. You know, we just have countless people scouring the area for any survivors. And we also, you know, we have units, we have the divers with the assistants from Miami Beach down in the aircraft looking around. You know, our number one priority right now is, you know -- are the people.

PHILLIPS: Now, Dana, do you know if this Chalks Ocean Airways plane was coming from the Bahamas to Miami or leaving Miami going to the Bahamas?

WARR: It was leaving. I actually saw the aircraft take off. I was standing on the base, on the docks at the Coast Gourd base here at the end of the government cut, watched the aircraft as it was going to the air. It had just taken off the water. Nothing looked out of the ordinary. I didn't hear anything out of the ordinary. Didn't think anything of it. I've seen this aircraft take off and land numerous times in government cut here.

And shortly after, I saw a dark, black plume of smoke. And then immediately after that, the search and rescue alarm went off here on the base and our rescue units from station Miami Beach were running down the pier, jumping in their vessel and going as fast as they can out to that area.

PHILLIPS: Wow, so you actually saw this aircraft take off from Miami, headed to the Bahamas and you actually didn't see if it crashed or exploded. You saw it take off and the next thing you knew -- did you turn way and then saw the smoke? Or kind of tell me -- when did you take your eyes off the aircraft once it took off?

WARR: Well, I've seen the aircraft, you know, this particular one, come and go in Miami and really didn't think anything of it. It took off at 2:30. I just -- I was doing some things. I knew it was 2:30 when that aircraft took off. Nothing out of the ordinary crossed my mind. Didn't hear any loud noises, any explosions afterwards.

I was walking back into the building. And out of the side of my eye, saw a dark cloud of smoke rising from just the outside of government cut there, where the entrance of it -- and then I heard the SAR alarm, the search and rescue alarm, go off. You know, just had a feeling that something wasn't right. Soon found out that that particular plane had crashed.

PHILLIPS: Wow. We're actually seeing some of those bodies that have been recovered. And they are being covered up and taken away, taken to the coroner as we speak. Meanwhile, we see the other divers and the rescue boats there in the water still, like you said, searching for survivors.

We're talking with Chief Petty Officer Dana Warr, who's on the phone with us now, U.S. Coast Guard. He's telling us 18 total were on this small propeller plane, this Chalk Ocean Airways plane that taking off from Miami, heading to the Bahamas, when something went wrong.

We haven't been able to confirm what went wrong. But Chief Petty Officer Warr actually seeing it take off and then the next thing he knew, just seeing a dark plume of smoke. And so the rescue bells went off and immediately the Coast Guard responded to the scene. Right, Dana?

WARR: That's right. You know, this is a tragic event. And, you know, our thoughts and prayers go the families of the people involved in this. You know, it really gives me, you know, chills to know that I saw this aircraft and think that everything was OK and just seconds later, you know, Coast Guard personnel are responding to this tragic event.

PHILLIPS: And Dana, this Chalks Ocean Airways plane, I mean, this is a common route. I mean, this airplane goes from Miami to the Bahamas a number of times throughout the day, right?

WARR: I don't know how frequent it goes to the Bahamas and if it just goes to the Bahamas. I do know it go there's from time to time, and I know it goes there quite frequently. You know, like I said earlier, I've seen this aircraft come and go. And I think Miami has grown around this aircraft. It's kind of, you know, that centerpiece that you see the aircraft going down government cut next to the cruise ships from time to time. It's something that, you know, is part of Miami.

PHILLIPS: Now if somebody is watching this breaking news and knows a passenger that was on that flight, a flight that took off at 2:30 Miami time there, who do they contact if they're wondering if their loved one is one of those 12 deceased?

WARR: Well, we are running the operation out of the Coast Guard base. The Coast Guard is running that. And we're bringing anybody we found, survivors or bodies, to the base and we're -- they're being met by the Miami Beach Coroner's Office. So if they do have family, they can contact the coroner's office or the representative with the airline that they were flying.

PHILLIPS: All right. Chief Petty Officer Dana Warr over there with the U.S. Coast Guard base there in Miami. Dana, thanks so much for your time. We're going to continue to follow this breaking news story via our affiliate WPLG, bringing us these live pictures right now.

What you're seeing is the aftermath of a Chalks Ocean Airways plane that was taking off from Miami, possibly heading to the Bahamas. Twelve people confirmed dead. The search is on to find other bodies, hopefully alive. We'll be right back after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Continuing to follow the breaking news out of Miami, Florida. These pictures coming to us via WSVN, one of our CNN affiliates. A propeller plane carrying 18 total crashing just off Miami Beach. What you're seeing right now is an ongoing rescue and recovery operation. We can tell you right now 12 bodies have been recovered, 12 people found dead so far. The search is still on.

Rescue workers -- rescue divers, rather, hoping to find individuals that have survived this crash. We believe that this plane was taking off from Miami, headed to the Bahamas. You've got the Miami Fire Department that's on the scene. Also, the U.S. Coast Guard.

We want to bring in another person on the phone with us right now. Sidonee Bosin, she's director of homeland security at the Port of San Francisco. But Sidonee was also a 20-year veteran with the Coast Guard, that's actually how I had the chance to meet her.

And Sidonee, thanks so much for letting us give you a buzz, because I know that you know about these sort of missions all too well. You've had to respond to scenes like this. The Coast Guard got the call. Kind of take us through what Coast Guard divers and helicopter pilots and crews are doing right now. You flew helicopters for almost 20 years.

SIDONEE BOSIN, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Right, I did, Kyra. The first, like, the Chief Warr was saying -- the first thing, they just launch out whatever assets they have closest. And it looks like they had a number of small boats on scene from the pictures that I was seeing.

They had really good multi-mission or multi-unit assistance with the Miami Fire Department and other units in the area. The air station that's one of the largest, busiest Coast Guard air stations in the world, is there supporting them. So they've got plenty of Coast Guard in the area.

PHILLIPS: Now, for the helicopters for that we see that are airborne, kind of take me through the mind of the pilot and the crew. I mean you've flown missions like this. Is the object to be looking possibly for survivors from the air? And if indeed you spot someone, you've got divers that can descend and pull those bodies out, right?

BOSIN: The first priority is always to find somebody alive and rescue them. Having a helicopter in the air gives you such a better view because you can look down into the water. You can look down where the boats don't get that height of eye. You can look under the rocks, if anybody could make it to the rocks.

So it really gives a good viewpoint. Easier for them to see than from on the water. And if they locate somebody, they have a rescue swimmer that they are going to be able to deploy to rescue that person. The rescue swimmers are EMTs, so they're able to start treatment as soon as they recover somebody and then get them to better first aid.

PHILLIPS: Now, tell me about the crews. When you fly out to a scene like this, are there -- there's divers and medics in the crews, right, Sidonee? Or are the divers also trained medics? I can't remember how the crews are laid out.

BOSIN: Well, in a normal helicopter configuration, you're going to have two pilots, you're going to have your flight mechanic and you'll have your rescue swimmer. And your rescue swimmer is not going to be a diver. Normally they're going to be an EMT. And so they will go in the water, but they're not supposed to actually go inside a sunk object.

PHILLIPS: Got it.

BOSIN: It sounds like on scene, they've got the fire department and the fire department's going to have divers. And there are other divers in Coast Guard as well, so they've got a lot of assets there.

PHILLIPS: So the fire department -- how does the fire department and the Coast Guard communicate? I was talking to one of the chief petty officers there at the Coast Guard base and he said, "As soon as that plane went down, the alarms went off and they responded." How do you -- how does Coast Guard coordinate with the fire department?

BOSIN: Well, I can't speak for Miami, but here in the Bay Area, the Coast Guard works very closely with all the first responders. So really it's just picking up the phone and immediately getting the assistance that's needed.

PHILLIPS: So now we can see a number of the divers there at the scene. So many more than we saw initially. You know, how -- it's got to be a delicate process, no doubt, to when you come across a body, Sidonee.

What is the proper protocol on how you handle the deceased? We've already had confirmation, 12 people have passed. So the possibility that there are any survivors inside that aircraft are pretty slim right now.

But you know, how do you respectfully go about -- you know, trying to, I guess, get the remaining bodies out of the aircraft? It's got to be difficult.

BOSIN: Well, it is. But for me, we never consider them dead when we got them. We always did everything we could to revive them if they were unconscious. We just consider them unconscious and hoped that we could revive them or get them to more advanced medical care and they could be revived.

PHILLIPS: We're going to continue to monitor this. Sidonee Bosin, thanks for your expertise. Sidonee, I appreciate it. We're going to continue to follow this breaking news story. Not good news thus far.

We've been told now by the Coast Guard 12 bodies have been found. Not alive but there were 18 passengers, including the pilots aboard this Chalk's Ocean Airways plane when it crashed leaving Miami, right there on the beach.

We're going to continue to stay on the story. Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM" now. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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