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CNN NEWSROOM

Blue Angel Jet Crashes During Air Show in South Carolina; More on Blacksburg Shootings

Aired April 21, 2007 - 16:00   ET

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


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, ANCHOR, CNN NEWSROOM: At this hour, live pictures right now of a solemn remembrance. Virginia Tech's slain victims. Ryan Clark being honored by friends and family near his hometown in eastern Georgia. We'll take you there live in a moment.
From the CNN NEWSROOM, I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

We'll begin with the latest on the expanding investigation into the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Standing by live at Blacksburg, Virginia, CNN's Brianna Keilar.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT, BLACKSBURG, VIRGINIA: Fred, investigators are trying to figure out if there's any connection between gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, and Emily Hilscher.

She appears to have been the first victim in this rampage here on the Virginia Tech campus on Monday. And according to a search warrant, investigators are looking at her cell phone and also her laptop.

Meanwhile, here on campus, a lot of members of the community, students, still flocking to that makeshift memorial on the drill field right at the center of campus.

But we've also seen some signs of normalcy returning to the campus. We've seen some people running, playing Frisbee, riding bikes.

And we also have seen, oddly enough, some people washing dogs. This was part of the veterinary school's biannual fund-raiser here. It's called the Doggie Wash.

And they thought about canceling this, but ultimately decided to continue with it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We didn't want people to be alone. So, our students who are having a hard time can get out here and play with the dogs and wash them. And it's for a good cause, you know.

We really like the whole community aspect of it. And we're a community, so we don't want to cancel community activities.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: So, those doggies there getting their $10 shampoos, their $5 pedicures. And all of those proceeds going to a very good cause, the Hokie Memorial Fund.

Certainly, Fredricka, this is one of these few light moments we're seeing on a campus that's just still very heavy with grief.

WHITFIELD: Well, Brianna, let's talk about how students and faculty are preparing for next week when classes resume as normally scheduled.

KEILAR: We've talked with a lot of students. And this may be surprising to you, but they say, you know what? We're going to come back. We're going to finish out the school year. We aren't going to just take our grades as they stand right now.

Of course, there are some students who obviously will choose to do that. But we understand there are going to be a number of services on campus tomorrow.

So, certainly, a lot of people dealing with this by going to church and looking to a higher power to make some sense of this and gather some strength before they go back to school on Monday.

But at this point, we've heard from a lot of students throughout the week that they're going to be back - Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Brianna Keilar, thanks so much from Blacksburg, Virginia.

Now, several hundred miles south of there, Virginia Tech's marching band arrived in the town of Evans, Georgia, today, to pay tribute to one of their own.

Twenty-two-year-old Ryan Clark was among the first to die in the shooting rampage on Monday. A tribute right now is taking place there in his hometown.

With that story for us, CNN's Nicole Lapin - Nicole.

NICOLE LAPIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT, EVANS, GEORGIA: Yes, Fred, we're really focusing on the life of Ryan Clark today. He went here to Lakeside High School.

We're right outside Augusta, Georgia. We're in a small town. But you know what? Ryan Clark had some really big dreams.

He went away to Virginia Tech. He was a senior. He was all ready to graduate in May and turn 23 years old.

He was ready to graduate, not with one major, not with two majors, but with three majors. He wanted to go on and get a Ph.D. He wanted to go into neurosurgery.

Basically, this guy wanted to change the world. And now, everyone who ever came in contact with Ryan Clark is right there sitting in the gym of his high school, remembering those big dreams, remembering his big heart.

More than 1,500 people expected to attend this memorial service - friends and family. And you know what? We were in there for a moment and you can feel the energy. You can feel the passion.

Everyone we talked to said, this is the kind of guy who was always laughing. He was always smiling. He loved life. He was the kind of guy that would open the door for you.

Also, you mentioned his fellow band members arriving here. They drove overnight so they could support him, as well.

He played baritone horn for the Virginia Tech marching band. So, they're expected to also play the fight song and some other music that the family picked out for them to play.

And speaking of the family, they just arrived here to the memorial service, obviously devastated, including his twin brother, Bryan. He is - keeps saying, womb to tomb. But you know what? His twin brother reached that destination much too soon.

And the story has certainly touched so many pockets of the country. But it's really, Fred, until you see those pockets of the country, that you really realize the impact. You see the void. And that's what we're feeling right now in Evans, Georgia. That are feeling that impact and they are remembering Ryan Clark today.

WHITFIELD: All right, Nicole.

Let's take a moment to listen in to the memorial services taking place right now in Evans, Georgia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will be the M.C. for this ceremony.

At this time, I would like to introduce Pastor Charles Goodman, pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church here in Augusta, Georgia, to provide opening prayer.

REV. CHARLES E. GOODMAN, JR., PASTOR, TABERNACLE BAPTIST CHURCH, AUGUSTA, GEORGIA: Let us pray.

Oh, gracious God, it is now that we come at this moment full of pain and of anguish. But God, we still say that we trust you.

So, God, now as we are at this moment, we're asking that you would touch our heavy hearts, lift up our downtrodden heads.

And, God, we pray now that the memories that we have will continue to sustain us. God be with us in these proceedings.

God, thank you for this family. Thank you for these friends. Thank you for this school.

And God, we're searching for you. And, God, we believe that if we keep looking long enough, we'll find you.

So, God be with us, guide us and lead us, as the journey as we go forward.

In your name we pray. Amen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Pastor Goodman.

At this time I have the distinct honor and privilege to introduce as flag presenters, and also introducing, providing a letter to the mother, Ms. Nancy Bobbitt (ph), representative of U.S. Senator Johnny Isaacson, and Ms. Jennifer Hayes, representative of U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss.

Thank you, Ms. Bobbitt (ph). Thank you, Ms. Hayes.

I would now like - I would like to introduce the Lakeside High School chorus ensemble, under the direction of Ms. Stacy Branch (ph), Lakeside High School chorus teacher.

They will be performing "Sing Me To Heaven."

(LAKESIDE HIGH SCHOOL CHORAL ENSEMBLE SINGS)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dr. Maya Angelou, the world renowned poet, educator and historian, contacted Lakeside High School yesterday to express her deep, heartfelt sentiments.

She stated that this tragic event has touched her on many levels, as a parent, a grandparent ...

WHITFIELD: You're watching a special memorial service that is taking place for 22-year-old Ryan Clark. He was one of the first victims in the Virginia Tech shootings taking place on Monday.

His service here, this memorial service, is taking place in his hometown of Evans, Georgia. Many members of his marching band, where he was a baritone horn player, are there in attendance.

We're getting a chance to hear from a lot of people who knew and loved this 22-year-old college student.

In the front row are his parents and his twin brother, Bryan. They just received flags from representatives of congressmen in Georgia.

Let's listen in right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When great trees fall, rocks on distant hills shudder, lions hunker down in tall grasses, and even elephants lumber after safety.

When great trees fall in forests, small things recoil into silence, their senses eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die, the air around us becomes light, rare, sterile. We breathe, briefly. Our eyes, briefly see with a hurtful clarity.

Our memory, suddenly sharpened, examines, gnaws on kind words unsaid, promised walks never taken.

Great souls die and our reality, bound to them, takes leave of us. Our souls, dependent upon their nurture, now shrink, wizened. Our minds, formed and informed by their radiance, fall away. We are not so much maddened as reduced to unutterable ignorance of dark, cold caves.

And when great souls die, after a period of peace blooms, slowly and always irregularly. Spaces fill with a kind of soothing electric vibration. Our senses, restored, never to be the same, whisper to us. They existed. They existed.

We can be. Be and be better. For they existed.

Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ryan's mother, Ms. Lakita Clark (ph), asked a family member to look into her heart, search her love for Ryan and come forward during this memorial to share some words of love that she feels and felt for Ryan.

That family member is Ms. Shanika Gray (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His smile was his trademark wherever he went. A room would brighten when Ryan came in, because the first thing you saw would be his grin.

A son and brother so precious, a friend so true. Whatever he had, he would share it with you.

A thought, a deed, a kind word for a while. But always, oh, always, he would share his smile.

Our heart are breaking, our thoughts are going wild. We've lost our friend, we've lost our child. But only for a while.

Why is gone? God only knows. But oh, what a treasure, a smiling rose.

WHITFIELD: We're getting ready to listen to members of the Virginia Tech marching band. Ryan Clark was a member of that band, and about 1,500 members of the band have traveled to Evans, Georgia, to help pay their respects and pay homage to their lost fellow classmate.

(VIRGINIA TECH MARCHING BAND PLAYS)

WHITFIELD: The Virginia Tech marching band there. A bittersweet tribute in celebration of the life of Ryan Clark, a life cut short along with 31 others at Virginia Tech this past Monday.

This memorial service taking place for the 22-year-old college student, Ryan Clark.

We're going to take a short break for now. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Some new, disturbing details are being released about that deadly shooting at NASA's Johnson Space Center.

Let's go straight to CNN's Susan Roesgen, who is live in Houston.

So, the bottom line, we understand that the gunman was angry about a recent review, employee review. Right?

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT, HOUSTON: That's right, Fredricka, a poor performance review.

Really, the story gets more complex as we get more of the details now. You know, yesterday, we knew David Beverly, the NASA engineer who was killed by this disgruntled coworker, as just a tragic victim.

Today, top NASA administrators and the Houston police say David Beverly was a hero.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHIEF HAROLD HURTT, HOUSTON POLICE DEPARTMENT: Despite being critically wounded, Mr. Beverly attempted to block the suspect from reentering the office by pushing his desk against the door.

Unfortunately, the suspect was able to take advantage of Mr. Beverly's weakened state and forced his way back into the office, again firing at Mr. Beverly, shooting him more times.

We have learned one thing at this point. It is that heroes just don't fly in space. Sometimes, heroes work in the next cubicle to you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROESGEN: The police say, Fredricka, that David Beverly was trying to protect Fran Crenshaw, a secretary who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. She was tied up, but she survived. She's OK.

The gunman, Bill Phillips, as you've mentioned, had had a bad performance review that he had received from David Beverly by e-mail back in March. The police say that he was a loner. They described him as a troubled person, as odd.

But nobody here thought that he would do something like take a gun, as he did. He bought this gun apparently just three days ago, brought the gun to work yesterday, confronted David Beverly and said, "You're the man who's going to get me fired."

Apparently, it was the poor performance review that pushed him over the edge. He shot David Beverly, but he did not hurt Fran Crenshaw, the secretary. She's OK. And she was able to tell police exactly what happened in those last few minutes - Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And so meantime, Susan, now, what about security there? We know that anyone who enters the campus there has to have a special ID.

But when it comes down to someone packing a weapon, are searches conducted so as to try to uncover anything like that on that campus?

ROESGEN: No, not really, Fredricka. You know, I specifically asked Mike Griffin, the NASA administrator, about that, and Michael Coats, the director here of the Johnson Space Center.

They said, look, we have 10,000 vehicles that come through here. We don't search every vehicle. They only do, apparently, random weapon searches.

They also don't have metal detectors, they said, except in the Mission Control building, which is very important, because, of course, that's where they direct the return of the space shuttle or crews, as they did just last night, in fact, from the International Space Station.

So, they say they do have metal detectors in that building, but not in any of the other buildings.

But they said that they are going now, after this shooting, to review all of their security procedures - Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Susan Roesgen, thanks so much for that update out of Houston.

We'll have much more in the NEWSROOM, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: This breaking story we're following out of South Carolina. We understand that a member of the Blue Angels precision flying team was involved in a crash during an air show today. And we understand that that aircraft went down in a neighborhood, near the city of Beaufort, South Carolina.

And initial reports are indicating that there are several houses that are on fire as a result of this plane going down. You are looking at file tape right now of the Blue Angels, which often carry out precision air shows in various visiting cities around the country. And this particular show taking place near Beaufort, South Carolina, where these reports are now coming in that a crash involving at least one of these aircraft has taken place. And as a result, a number of homes are now on fire there in Beaufort, South Carolina, as a result of this accident.

We don't have a whole lot more information about exactly what took place or what kind of precision moves make have been taking place, or what part of the air show this accident took place. All of those details are still being sorted out. But this information right now, coming from our affiliate out of Savannah, WSAV, that this accident involving at least one of the aircraft of the famous Blue Angels, has taken place, and as a result, this accident has then led to an even bigger problem on the ground, with a number of homes that are now on fire. You are looking at live -- you are looking at right now a website of the Blue Angels, and you can pull up the kind of information that you see right here, about the kind of engagements that they schedule around the country. Lots of folks have marveled at the acrobatics in the sky that the Blue Angels carry out. Sometimes their wings just inches apart, while they are in the air, doing these kinds of precision maneuvers.

But sadly, today, we are learning that an accident has occurred, something very rare for this team of precision aircraft. We're continuing to work our sources to get anymore information about this accident that has taken place.

On the phone with us right now is Scott Houston, which apparently was an eyewitness to the accident.

Scott, tell us what you saw.

SCOTT HOUSTON, EYEWITNESS TO BLUE ANGEL CRASH (via telephone): Actually, we were just watching the show, from a boat in the river, and at the end of the show, there were six airplanes went down below the trees. And when they came up at the other end, there were only five, and then a big cloud of smoke. And then one of the Blue Angels circled the area for about five minutes before he departed, and I guess landed there at the Beaufort Air Station.

WHITFIELD: Do you recall, Scott, what kind of maneuvers you were seeing when you were eye witnessing the six aircraft before suddenly you only saw five?

HOUSTON: Yeah, they were actually -- it was the end of the show, and we believe they were just preparing to go land. They weren't doing anything, in particular. They were just flying in a close formation.

WHITFIELD: How long had you been watching them?

HOUSTON: We watched the whole show from about 1:00.

WHITFIELD: The span of time, like, 30 minutes? Or 45 minutes of watching?

HOUSTON: The show lasted about 30 minutes.

WHITFIELD: OK. And -- can you give me an idea of the proximity? You were in a boat. How far away were you from what would be, like, the landing strip area of where the show originates?

HOUSTON: Probably about a mile from the actual runway.

WHITFIELD: Did you hear anything when suddenly it went from seeing six aircraft to five?

HOUSTON: No, we didn't hear anything. It just -- it was a large cloud of black smoke came up from behind the tree line.

WHITFIELD: And then, what about these fires on the ground that we understand that there are a number of homes. Can you give me an idea of the area that these aircraft were flying over? Is it heavily populated or what?

HOUSTON: You know what -- I have no idea what's over on the other side of the trees. You couldn't see anything. And I'm not from this area. I really couldn't tell you exactly what is there.

WHITFIELD: OK. All right. Scott, where are you now and what are you seeing?

HOUSTON: We are actually on our way home, we are in the boat, several miles away from the area.

WHITFIELD: All right. Scott Houston, thanks so much for taking the time to give us an account of your view.

Scott was just describing that he was in a boat in a river, and saw the sixth aircraft, Blue Angels aircraft doing their precision moves, went over an area of trees. And then suddenly he only saw five. Soon after, saw a large cloud of black smoke. And initial reports are indicating, and as you are looking at file picture right now of successful air precision shows involving the Blue Angels. He was able to indicate to us that this black smoke was seen.

We are also getting initial reports in that a number of houses on the ground are on fire, as a result of this crash of at least one aircraft involving the Blue Angels.

Our Jacqui Jeras is checking her sources to see if weather could have been a factor in what appears to be a horrible accident, taking place there near Beaufort, South Carolina. We are continuing to work our sources. We're going to take a short break right now and be right back with more.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Hello, again, I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta. This breaking story we're following out of South Carolina.

We understand from reports that there has been a terrible accident that has taken place involving the navy Blue Angels during a precision show that was taking place in Beaufort, and around Beaufort, South Carolina. Eyewitness accounts that at least one aircraft has gone down, and as a result, now, there are houses that are on fire, as a result of the accident.

We don't know how the pilot may be doing. Traditionally, during these aircraft shows, involving the Blue Angels, they use six aircraft. And this year, they have a very busy schedule with something like 66 shows scheduled in 35 locations. This is just the beginning of their touring season, this year.

Our Jacqui Jeras is in the Weather Center to give us an idea, perhaps, if weather might have been a factor. We are just trying to eliminate some of the possibilities as we continue to look for information on what may have happened here. JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, at this time, Fredricka, doesn't appear that weather could have been a factor. Skies were partly cloudy. You could see from the pictures there it was relatively clear. Certainly much more blue sky than anything else out there. And the winds have been relatively calm.

We don't have a lot of what we call sheer in the atmosphere, either. Winds have been coming in, kind of variable, but generally in out of the east-southeast. Very light, around three miles per hour. It's been this way all day. So, not really anticipating that weather was likely an issue in this case.

WHITFIELD: All right. Thanks, Jacqui. We will continue to check back with you as we continue to work our sources to find out exactly what may have taken place over the skies, there in Beaufort, South Carolina.

Sources are telling us -- and at least one eyewitness just told us a moment ago that he actually watched this sixth Delta jet formation, and just as these jets seemed to clear a canopy of trees, then suddenly, this eyewitness tells us he only saw five aircraft. And then soon after saw a plume of black smoke.

This accident taking place there in Beaufort, South Carolina, not far from the Marine base of Camp Lejeune, there, in the Beaufort, South Carolina area. Although, traditionally, the Navy Blue Angels' jets, their place of origin is Pensacola, Florida.

But right now, a show taking place in South Carolina. They had yet another planned stop in South Carolina in about a couple of weeks, traditionally, this kind of show attracts thousands of people, spectators, who come out to see the precision of these jets, who sometimes the wing tips are just inches apart when they carry out these incredible acts of acrobats, over -- in the sky there. Just with many spectators down below.

Initial reports coming out of WSAV that an accident involving one of the jets has taken place there. We don't know anything about whether the pilot was able to eject. We are continuing to work our sources to get more on that. And we are also trying to find out a little bit more about the house fires taking place on the ground.

Gerald Popp is on the phone with us.

And I understand, you, too, are a witness to what took place? What did you see?

GERALD POPP, EYEWITNESS TO BLUE ANGEL CRASH: Well, they were flying over, in formation, in like four or five squadrons. And one of the other aircraft took off to the south, over the Broad River Bridge. And as he turned -- you know, that is their normal flight route in this area -- I just seen him go down lower than the trees. And the next thing I seen was a big, black, you know, cloud of smoke.

And my neighbor across the street, he has a scanner. And his son is one of the fire departments, he came out and said, you know, one of the Blue Angels was crashed near or in a residential neighborhood.

WHITFIELD: Now, George (sic), have you watched these precision air shows before -- involving the Navy Blue Angels?

POPP: Yes. I live approximately a mile away. But I'm on the water, so, my view is spectacular. Everybody goes to the show, I just sit on the water. I have a little river running behind me. And, I mean, you can sit here all day long and watch the show.

WHITFIELD: Yeah, and I mentioned earlier, Beaufort, being near Camp Lejeune -- confusing that North Carolina base with Parris Island, which is what I really meant to say, with the Marine base there.

POPP: Yeah.

WHITFIELD: Because the Navy Blue Angels has been an organization that has helped promote Marine, as well as Navy air precision, and those tactics from the remarkable individuals that fly these Navy Blue Angels. You are in a big military --

POPP: Yes, ma'am, that is correct.

WHITFIELD: You are in a big military town.

POPP: Yes, it is.

WHITFIELD: You know, one that very much celebrates and embraces the capabilities of the Armed forces overall. So, to have an air show like this, really does attract hundreds, if not thousands of people, right?

POPP: Thousands, thousands. Yeah. The traffic was so bad this morning, we couldn't even leave. My wife had to wait nearly 3:00 o'clock just to get to the show. That's how many -- I mean, there was literally thousands of people.

WHITFIELD: Yeah, so, Gerald, give me an idea of, you know, what people generally were seeing in the sky. We talked to one eyewitness who talks about having watched the show from his boat, for about 30 minutes before this accident took place. Were you able to pay attention to the lapse of time?

POPP: Repeat that again, please?

WHITFIELD: We talked to one other eye witness who said he had been watching the show for about 30 minutes before he noticed that suddenly one aircraft was missing. About how long had you been watching before you saw that something had gone wrong?

POPP: Probably about five minutes. They normally fly in tight formation. They are always in sync with each other. When four flew right through the valley right here, because it's in, like, a meadow, sort of, but it's all river.

WHITFIELD: Yeah. POPP: When they flew through, one took off, like I said, to the south, southwest, and he was heading out towards the Broad River. If you look at a map, you will see, compared to the air station, to the river, he heads out that way, and he does a big wide loop. And as they are doing their stunt, I believe that is the scare tactic, you know, where you are watching four planes take off in the air. And the next thing you know, one just flying right over that tree top level, and scares the be-Jesus out of you.

WHITFIELD: And, you know, Gerald, as you describe that, we are also looking at file tape, which is showing so many different kinds of maneuvers that you very much described. Everything from the kind of formation, where all six planes are together, to the fact you have the planes looking like they are going to hit each other head-on. It's an incredible scene to see. At the same time, it's hair raising, isn't it? When you watch the air shows?

POPP: It's absolutely, beautiful and spectacular. I'm happy to be a United States citizen. And, it's the greatest thing in the world.

WHITFIELD: So, where you are now? Is there any activity that you are able to see right now, that can you describe for us?

POPP: I'm -- I can see highway 21 that runs toward the air station. I'm on a little island. I live on a little island. And all units from Sheldon -- this is -- Beaufort County is massive. All the units from Sheldon (ph), Dale (ph), Lebeko (ph), the Marine Corps Air Station, Parris Island, Lady's Island, St. Helena Island, all response have left, even Beaufort. So, everything, every unit in Beaufort County has went to that crash site.

WHITFIELD: And, approximately how far, do you think, in miles, from the crash site are you?

POPP: From the crash site? I'm probably five, 10 minutes away.

WHITFIELD: OK. Is there a way that you could perhaps describe for us what potentially that crash site could be? Because we are hearing initial reports that houses may have been impacted, and that there are fires that are involving at least one house. Do you know much about the neighborhood, or the area?

POPP: Well, the area that they described is near a military -- like, Laurel Bay (ph) housing, is all for military. And it is between Laurel Bay (ph) and the air station, it's all straight line, but they have sill civilians living all in between there. So, it could have happened, you know, it's -- I mean, I have no clue on how, you know, what kind of casualties or anything, if there is any.

WHITFIELD: So, potentially, the area, where we are hearing of reports where the houses are on fire, you are saying this could be an area where there is a mix of military and sill civilian housing?

POPP: Yes.

WHITFIELD: Given the fact that Beaufort is really just a few miles away from Parris Island, the U.S. Marine Corps. It's a training base, as well as, you know, regularly assigned duty base.

POPP: Yes, ma'am.

WHITFIELD: Are you military, by the way?

POPP: No, my grandfather retired from the Marine Corps, and I was born and raised here. I've been here my whole life. My wife's father in law, he's ex-military. Basically, we're on a bunch of islands, and it is all military, unless you are locals.

WHITFIELD: That is a very tightly knit community, a military community, one where economically, it relies a lot on the military base there, as well.

POPP: Yes, ma'am that is correct.

WHITFIELD: Well, Gerald Popp, you have been incredibly helpful, thank you so much. An eyewitness to what appears to be a tragic accident taking place there involving the Navy Blue Angels as they were flying, carrying out their precision maneuvers there, right there over Beaufort, South Carolina, a big military town. As Gerald was helping to describe, that being very close to Parris Island.

And now, the investigation is being carried out now, trying to

Over Beaufort, South Carolina, a big military town, as Gerald was helping to describe, that being very close to Parris Island. And now, the investigation is being carried out now, trying to figure out how many homes have been involved in what we are understanding to be a fire there on the ground.

We're going to have much more from the NEWSROOM right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Welcome back to the NEWSROOM. I'm Fredricka Whitfield, along with Rick Sanchez. We are following, now, a terrible accident that reportedly has taken place outside of Beaufort, South Carolina.

Really, in the skies, right over Beaufort, South Carolina, with the precision team of the Navy Blue Angels, carrying out an air show there which attracts thousands of people, traditionally, when they travel across the country.

At this stop, particularly a lot of people, because this is a military town, given that it is right in the backyard of Parris Island, South Carolina, which is a big U.S. Marine base.

And so what we understand is that at least one of the six aircraft has crashed. We don't know anything about the pilot on board. But we understand, reportedly, on the ground, there are houses in the area that are on fire, and Rick, I spoke with a witness earlier who described the location, where he thinks the fires have taken place, kind of a mix of military and civilian homes, which is typical in that area. RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR, CNN NEWSROOM: Let's go ahead and do that. You want to take a listen to that first? We have a lot of information we have to share with you. We should share with the viewers, this is a developing story -- if you are just joining us -- and that means there's going to be a lot of information forthcoming that we are trying to get for you right now. We have folks back here in the NEWSROOM who are making phone calls. We have people we expect phone calls from, so we could possibly put them on the air, with you as well.

Let's go ahead and take a listen to this sound.

WHITFIELD: This is eyewitness Gerald Popp, moments ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

WHITFIELD: Now, George (sic), have you watched these precision air shows before -- involving the Navy Blue Angels?

POPP: Yes. I live approximately a mile away. But I'm on the water, so, my view is spectacular. Everybody goes to the show, I just sit on the water. I have a little river running behind me. And, I mean, you can sit here all day long and watch the show.

WHITFIELD: Yeah, and I mentioned earlier, Beaufort, being near Camp Lejeune -- confusing that North Carolina base with Parris Island, which is what I really meant to say, with the Marine base there.

POPP: Yeah.

WHITFIELD: Because the Navy Blue Angels has been an organization that has helped promote Marine, as well as Navy air precision, and those tactics from the remarkable individuals that fly these Navy Blue Angels. You are in a big military --

POPP: Yes, ma'am, that is correct.

WHITFIELD: You are in a big military town.

POPP: Yes, it is.

WHITFIELD: You know, one that very much celebrates and embraces the capabilities of the Armed forces overall. So, to have an air show like this, really does attract hundreds, if not thousands of people, right?

POPP: Thousands, thousands. Yeah. The traffic was so bad this morning, we couldn't even leave. My wife had to wait nearly 3:00 o'clock just to get to the show. That's how many -- I mean, there was literally thousands of people.

WHITFIELD: Yeah, so, Gerald, give me an idea of, you know, what people generally were seeing in the sky. We talked to one eyewitness who talks about having watched the show from his boat, for about 30 minutes before this accident took place. Were you able to pay attention to the lapse of time? POPP: Repeat that again, please?

WHITFIELD: We talked to one other eye witness who said he had been watching the show for about 30 minutes before he noticed that suddenly one aircraft was missing. About how long had you been watching before you saw that something had gone wrong?

POPP: Probably about five minutes. They normally fly in tight formation. They are always in sync with each other. When four flew right through the valley right here, because it's in, like, a meadow, sort of, but it's all river.

WHITFIELD: Yeah.

POPP: When they flew through, one took off, like I said, to the south, southwest, and he was heading out towards the Broad River. If you look at a map, you will see, compared to the air station, to the river, he heads out that way, and he does a big wide loop. And as they are doing their stunt, I believe that is the scare tactic, you know, where you are watching four planes take off in the air. And the next thing you know, one just flying right over that tree top level, and scares the be-Jesus out of you.

WHITFIELD: And, you know, Gerald, as you describe that, we are also looking at file tape, which is showing so many different kinds of maneuvers that you very much described. Everything from the kind of formation, where all six planes are together, to the fact you have the planes looking like they are going to hit each other head-on. It's an incredible scene to see. At the same time, it's hair raising, isn't it? When you watch the air shows?

POPP: It's absolutely, beautiful and spectacular. I'm happy to be a United States citizen. And, it's the greatest thing in the world.

WHITFIELD: So, where you are now? Is there any activity that you are able to see right now, that can you describe for us?

POPP: I'm -- I can see highway 21 that runs toward the air station. I'm on a little island. I live on a little island. And all units from Sheldon -- this is -- Beaufort County is massive. All the units from Sheldon (ph), Dale (ph), Lebeko (ph), the Marine Corps Air Station, Parris Island, Lady's Island, St. Helena Island, all response have left, even Beaufort. So, everything --

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: That was an eyewitness account from Gerald Popp, who called into us moments ago. He lives there in Beaufort, South Carolina, and talked about what he was watching, just like thousands of other folks, who turned out to see this precision air show by the Navy Blue Angels.

SANCHEZ: Sometimes best way of telling these stories is to say what you don't know. And in this situation here is what we don't know. We don't know whether the pilot was able to eject before impact. That's important. This is an F-18, usually referred to as Hornets. But it is the F- 18, which is what they usually fly in these formations. It does have an ejection system on it, so the pilot would have been able to eject.

Here's what else we don't know -- and this is a very important part of the story and this is one of the key questions of course, that we're going to be asking as you look at the very same plane that I was referring to. And that is what did it make impact with? There was an original report, right Fred, that said -- and we're a little careful with a report like this, just coming in from an affiliate. We'll give you the information, but we're trying to check on it. That it may have gone into a neighborhood. Now, what do they mean by neighborhood?

WHITFIELD: Well, yeah, and according to our eyewitnesses, they indicated that the plume of smoke, that they did see, did come from a neighborhood that is both military and civilian. Again, these are eyewitness accounts and our affiliate in Savannah, WSAV, reported initially that fire had taken place involving at least one house on the ground where an impact, involving an aircraft, may have taken place.

SANCHEZ: That would certainly be a much more perilous situation, especially if there were people in the house at the time.

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