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AMERICAN MORNING

Air France Plane Missing; GM Files For Bankruptcy; Abortion Doctor Killed

Aired June 1, 2009 - 08:00   ET

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


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Also developing right now, in just moments, General Motors expected to file for bankruptcy. It will be the third largest bankruptcy in U.S. history. In a moment, we will break down what it means for General Motors, its employees and, you, the taxpayer.

GM's bankruptcy filing not bringing down overseas markets. Japan's Nikkei Index jumped more than 1.5 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng was up by nearly four percent. London FTSE also at positive territory, as our Dow futures on thoughts that maybe the recession is beginning to ease just a little bit.

Attorney General Eric Holder ordering increased security for a bunch of unnamed individuals in abortion facilities, after Kansas doctor, George Tiller, was gunned down at his church in Wichita. Tiller was a long-time target of anti-abortion activists. A suspect is now in custody charged with his murder. We are live in Wichita with this developing story today.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: First, though, it was once the heartbeat of American. But as we speak, General Motors is about to file for bankruptcy. It's part of a re-organization. The U.S. government will get a 60 percent equity stake in the new company. It will cost Uncle Sam, the taxpayers, another $30 billion. GM is also expected to cut 20,000 jobs and to close down about a dozen plants by the end of the year.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick is live outside of a GM plant in Warren, Michigan. And Deb, today's bankruptcy filing will lead to job losses for many people in the GM family.

What is the mood like there? And what is the hope for the future?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, there's nothing but hope here, because that's the only thing really that's left. They knew that this was coming. They saw the writing on the wall. So this is really the end result of all of that. You have GM workers who have been here for decades, generations of families have passed through here. Now, no one knows exactly which plants will survive. Eleven of them scheduled to close, three more to remain idle. There's a lot of uncertainty, a lot of anxiety, a lot of resignation and moral on the whole is low.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You don't know what to expect. I mean, it's about time that things are happening. It's been a long time coming, but I have seen a lot of changes in my lifetime through General Motors, and it's like, it's just an un-seeable situation. You don't know what's going to happen. Hoping we will be going for the better, you know? And we've been giving up a lot of concessions throughout the years and stuff. And people say, well, the taxpayers are paying all the loan. Well, I'm a taxpayer. I'm paying it back. And this is my job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FEYERICK: Now, what's likely to happen with this bankruptcy is that GM is going to be streamlined into a much leaner company, the more profitable parts like Cadillac and Chevrolet. Those will survive as the new GM. The rest will be liquidated, sold off. Brands like Hummer and Saab and Pontiac. The government says it has no plans to micromanage GM. It's not going to be involved in day-to-day.

For example, it's not going to be creating and running ads for GM. What it will do is it's likely going to have a big influence on who is on the board of directors. And that, an attempt to keep an eye on what will ultimately be overall a $50 billion investment. U.S. taxpayers now own 60 percent of the company with Canada bondholders and the union holding the rest.

Kiran?

John?

CHETRY: A lot of uncertainty out there. Still, at least, hopefully, in the restructuring and in the bankruptcy filing, there will be a plan that works for this company.

Deb Feyerick for us this morning. Thank you.

ROBERTS: And helping to clear the way for potentially smoother and quicker GM bankruptcy, a majority of those holding 27 billion in GM bonds agreed to swap that debt for a stake in the new General Motors, but not everyone is on board with that debt for equity spot.

Earlier, I speak with Debra June. She is a small bondholder who six years ago, invested $70,000 in GM bonds.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEBRA JUNE, GM BONDHOLDER: It's horrible. You're wiping out common people that saved money. I'm not a corporation.

ROBERTS: No. You're a school teacher, we should point out, right?

JUNE: Yes.

ROBERTS: So $70,000 is a huge amount of money to you.

JUNE: It is. It is. And it's a shame. I mean, what they're doing, they are saying 10 percent and this and that. I don't know what they're doing!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Nearly $6 billion of GM's unsecured debt is held by individual investors like Debra June. But there can be a silver lining or maybe we should we say a green lining for some folks.

Our personal finance editor Gerri Willis is here now with that.

Hi, Gerri.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: Good morning, guys. Yes. Look, if you own a GM car out there, one of your biggest issues is definitely that your dealership may be shut down. That means you may have to travel further to get to a service center. And many times get your car fix maybe longer.

Find a new place to get your car serviced. Go to GM's dealer locator tool on their Web site. But, hey, if it's just routine maintenance like, maybe you need oil changes, go to an independent shop for that. John, our source as "Consumer Report" says it's cheaper to do that than to go to the dealership.

ROBERTS: All right. So what happens if you want to make -- what do you do at least. Where are some suggestions if you want to get a good deal on a GM car?

WILLIS: Well, you know, the world is your oyster here. The time is right to buy that car. Incentives on GM cars -- historic levels.

Let's take a look at some of those deals out there. You can see the '09 Cadillac Escalade, $4,500 cash back deal. 2009 Chevy Tahoe up to $7,000 cash back. '09 Chevy Impala up to $6,000 cash back. And, of course, we know, they are standing behind those warranties. The government will do that. Plus, low interest financing and all those before dealer discounts, which, depending on where you live and the type of car you want to buy and your dealer. And as we've mentioned, warranties not a problem because the company is going to stand behind them, the government is going to stand behind them.

ROBERTS: So what is the best strategy for getting a rock-bottom deal?

WILLIS: Well, the strategy is this. First of all, find a dealership that's going out of business. The deal you get is more dependent on how the dealer is doing than how GM is doing. Dealerships going out of business will be more desperate to get cars off the lot.

Call the dealership first. Pick up the phone. Don't go there. And know the incentives so you know how to negotiate when you're there. You know, the world is your oyster, as I was just saying, John. These deals are going to be fantastic. Wait a few months until these dealers are really desperate, and you'll get the deal you want.

ROBERTS: All right. Gerri Willis for us out there this morning. You know, unfortunately, a lot of people hurting but there are maybe some deals to be taken. WILLIS: For consumers, yes, it can be good news.

ROBERTS: Thanks, Gerri.

WILLIS: My pleasure.

CHETRY: That's what's going to eventually bring it back, by buying cars eventually down the road.

By the way as Stephanie Elam said earlier, it's the breaking news that we all knew about, but it is now official. General Motors filing for bankruptcy protection in New York court today. This coming to us from CNNMoney.com.

And CNN's chief business correspondent Ali Velshi is live in Toronto. He is also following the impact of all of this for us this morning.

So, again, Ali, as we said, the breaking news that we all knew about. But General Motors officially filing for bankruptcy protection this morning.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, at one point, it was America's biggest corporation. Certainly, its biggest employer. And this really means that they have tried everything they could to have stayed out of bankruptcy.

The government says, the senior government official told us that they have worked very hard to do that, but it hasn't worked. So the filing has been made. We'll hear from the president later today, and then from the CEO of GM at around noon.

This bankruptcy could last about 18 months. More plants will close. Probably at least 11 will close, another three will be idled. That might mean 20,000 more workers out of work between now and the end of 2010. There are going to be some car lines discontinued. We already know about that. Pontiac, Hummer, Saturn, Saab. Hummer and Saab may still be sold to someone, but GM is going to start to produce a small car in the United States. Something that just really hasn't been a big part of their repertoire here in the U.S.

Doing a little bit more of what Ford has done, becoming a full line car manufacturer, but this will take a long time to weed out. And there will be a lot of people who will lose their jobs, a lot of dealerships that will close. And, certainly, all of those people who are invested in General Motors and many of us are because it's in almost every index fund or, you know, mutual fund that people have. That money will be wiped out as well.

Kiran?

CHETRY: Yes. And, you know, the unemployment situation affects all of us as well. It's hard, you know, to see a recovery around the bend when you know that so many more people are going to be out of work, having trouble making mortgage payments, having trouble just living. And has there been a plan in place to try to redirect some of these workers into other fields, other jobs? VELSHI: Not in an organized fashion. You know, the auto industry has been laying off workers for some years. And they do offer retraining programs through the union. Some of those retraining programs are less effective, because what happened is when factory town shut down, there just aren't jobs. There aren't houses to be able to sold. Everybody's house is for sale.

So they haven't been all that effective in doing that. The pensions of those who get pensions from General Motors will be protected under government plan and they will be moved into the new company. So that will be there. But, ultimately, for autoworkers losing their jobs in the United States, this is not a great time.

The idea will have to be to retrain into some of those areas, Kiran, that you and I have talked about over the last couple of years that are still growing -- in education, in health care. Things like that. But there's no big mass movement to try and figure out what to do with these workers who are going to be laid off. This is a really, really troubling time.

Kiran, something that's very important is that the manufacturing base of this country was really built on the auto industry. It really helped develop a middle-class in this country. And this is the backbone of that breaking. A very tough time for this to be happening.

CHETRY: You know, coming up in just a few minutes, we're going to be speaking with the mayor of Lansing, Michigan, Virg Bernero.

You were here with us on set, Ali, when he had a -- we had a very lively debate about that, about this shift from being a country that makes things to a country that sells things we don't make, and the impact that that has. So he's going to be joining us with more on what the future holds for so many of these people who relied not only on General Motors as their sole source of income, but also just their entire community.

Ali Velshi for us in Toronto, thank you.

Also a reminder, President Obama is going to be addressing GM's bankruptcy this morning. In about 11:55 Eastern Time, you can see that live on CNN as well as cnn.com/live.

ROBERTS: General Motors filing for bankruptcy and hoping for a new lease on life. But what will life be like on Lansing, Michigan, where the carmaker has been a cornerstone of the economy for more than a century? We'll talk with the outspoken mayor of Lansing Virg Bernero coming up.

And we're following breaking news calling on CNN's global resources to get you the latest information in the search for Air France Flight 447. 228 people on board that plane, controllers losing contact with the crew last night. Now a suggestion the plane may have been hit by lightning.

It's 11 minutes after the hour. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Following the breaking news this morning. An Air France passenger jet en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris with 228 people on board is missing. Air France said the airbus jet sent an automatic signal indicating an electrical fault while going through an area of thunderstorms and strong turbulence.

It says the automatic message was received late last night signaling an electrical circuit malfunction. An Air France official suggested that perhaps the plane was hit by lightening. A spokesman for the Brazilian Air Force says that they are searching for the plane in an area around the island archipelago of Fernando de Noronha. That's about 1500 miles, north northeast of Rio de Janeiro, which was the point of departure for this aircraft. It's about 230 miles off of the northeastern city of Natal.

Air France says the flight Air France 447 was carrying 216 passengers and 12 crew members. The airbus 330, 200 model, left Rio de Janeiro last night at 7:00 local time. It was expected to arrive in Paris at 11:15 local. That's 5:15 Eastern Time this morning. All of these reports of electrical trouble coming at about 10:00 Eastern last night.

Kiran?

CHETRY: Attorney General Eric Holder is now ordering increased security for a group of unnamed individuals, abortion facilities after late-term abortion doctor George Tiller was shot and killed at his church in Wichita, Kansas. There's a picture of Dr. Tiller.

The man accused of killing the controversial abortion doctor is being held without bail. 51-year-old Scott Roeder is now charged with first-degree murder.

Ted Rowlands is following the story for us from Wichita.

We also had a chance to speak earlier to another woman who owned and operated a women's clinic that provided abortions. And she said that this didn't come as a surprise at all. That it was not a matter of if, but when. That there's a big target on their backs.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN GENERAL ASSIGNMENT CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kiran. Dr. Tiller, specifically, for the last 20 years has had that target. His abortion clinic was bombed back in 1985, and, since then, he has been the target, not only threats but violence. He was actually shot in the early '90s in both of his arms.

That said, his murder in a house of worship at his church on Sunday has shocked people on both sides of the abortion issue.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROWLANDS (voice-over): Dr. George Tiller was shot and killed in the foyer of his church where he was serving as an usher. His wife, witnesses say, was singing in the choir. MICKEY COHLMIA, REFORMATION LUTHERAN CHURCH MEMBER: It's heart- wrenching that something in our community could happen as evil as this in his church.

ROWLANDS: Dr. Tiller was one of only a few physicians who performed late-term abortions and was a long-time target of anti-abortion extremists. In 1993, Tiller was shot in both arms while leaving his Wichita, Kansas, clinic. Police say the suspect in Tiller's killing was arrested about four hours after the shooting on Interstate 35 near Gardner, Kansas. At this point they believe he acted alone, but say they're monitoring the Internet as part of their investigation.

DET. TOM STOLTZ, WICHITA, KS POLICE DEPARTMENT: There's a lot of information pouring on the Internet right now between the pro-life and pro-choice groups and unfortunately we don't have the luxury of law enforcement to focus only on this case. We have to focus on a bigger picture. So we have a whole other facet going. We'll be investigating it.

ROWLANDS: While most of the reaction from both sides of the abortion debate condemns the murder, Randall Terry, a veteran anti-abortion activist said, "George Tiller was a mass murderer."

Dr. Tiller was 67, married with four children, and ten grandchildren. A family statement says, in part, "We ask that he be remembered as a good husband, father and grandfather and a dedicated servant on behalf of the rights of women everywhere."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROWLANDS: Police say only one shot was fired inside the church. They were able to get 51-year-old Scott Roeder because of a vehicle description from witnesses at the church when they arrested him. They say a firearm was not found in his car. In his car, though, in the back window, was a single rose which is a symbol for anti-abortion activist.

Roeder is expected to be arraigned or at least make his first court appearance as early as today here in Wichita.

Kiran?

CHETRY: Ted Rowlands for us this morning. Thank you.

ROBERTS: General Motors files for bankruptcy, pushing Michigan into the unknown. In a moment, we'll talk to the outspoken mayor of Lansing, Virg Bernero, about its impact and the American dream there.

It's 18 minutes now after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Just minutes ago, General Motors filed for bankruptcy. The goal creates a leaner and more nimble GM. More than 20,000 workers will be laid off. More than a dozen plants will be shut down. So what does it all mean for Lansing, Michigan, where the carmaker has been a cornerstone of the economy for more than a century now?

Joining us now is Mayor Virg Bernero. He is the mayor of Lansing, Michigan.

Mayor, it's good to have you with us. What are you thinking this morning about all of this?

MAYOR VIRG BERNERO, LANSING, MICHIGAN: John, it's like a punch in the stomach for us here at Lansing. And, look, this is an American tragedy. This is -- communities all across this country. It's the inevitable result I guess of free trade, which is unilateral disarmament.

You know, we've build bridges for companies to come in here and sell their goods, and they built walls. And we've put up with it. The unholy alliance of Washington and Wall Street has colluded to really steal the American dream. They've outsourced the American dream. The American standard of living is what they've been pushing overseas and taking our jobs.

These other countries didn't steal our jobs. We gave them away. And, so, yes. It is a punch in the stomach. We're fit to be tied here. Lansing may end up OK. I don't think we're on that list of closures because we have two of the latest, greatest plants in the GM arsenal. But for many communities, it's absolutely devastating. And it is the American dream slowly, perhaps not so slowly, leaking away while Wall Street continues to get theirs.

ROBERTS: Mr. Mayor, is this really all about giving away the store? Or is this at least partially because you've got some big companies here who failed to look into the future, failed to build cars that people really wanted to buy, failed to adapt. We're sandaled with these legacy costs through deals that have kept on crafting with the autoworkers that were just unsustainable.

BERNERO: You know, what's -- John, what's a legacy cost is my father, 84 years old, who worked hard every day of his life and thousands like him who earned their pensions and got health care because our government didn't provide it.

The government is for those other companies, for the competitors they provided health care. So that's, again, part of that unfair playing field. You know, you can try to blame the company, you can try to blame the union. I'm not saying you are, but people have.

And the reality is, look, we're certainly no more -- we're as productive as any people on the face of the planet. We created the whole process that other countries learned from. We are -- we're making excellent cars, better cars than ever before. Cars like the Chevy Malibu, the Cadillac CTS. We're making more hybrid vehicles, GM, than any other company on the face of the planet.

The fact is it's an unleveled playing field. It's a race to the bottom that's been set up. And if you look, John, industry after industry in this country, whether you're talking about textiles or steel or electronics or furniture, all of these jobs have been outsourced. Could it really be that the managers and the workers in all those fields are incompetent compared to the competition?

I tell you, it gets back to free trade. We have set up a field that is unfair. That puts the American worker at a disadvantage. You know, the Japanese government puts their workers first. The French government recently put their workers first with Renault. We need a policy that puts American workers first. Who is putting the American worker first?

ROBERTS: All right. Well, they're not about to negotiate free trade agreements at this point. What they are trying to do is get General Motors into and out of bankruptcy.

What do you think the company is going to look like when it gets out of bankruptcy?

BERNERO: Well, look, it's going to be leaner. And let me say, John, I appreciate -- look, I appreciate the president's commitment. My hat goes off to the president for honoring his commitment and his belief in this industry and investing in it, another $30 billion. That's wonderful. And we appreciate it.

It's going to be a leaner company. It has to be now at this point. And I hope that they will rise like a Phoenix out of the ashes and be competitive. I know we can be.

But I just tell you, John. I hate to sound like a one note Nellie, but if we don't address the issue of the playing field. You know, if the rules are not the same, if the starting point and the finishing point is not the same, how can we win? It's like playing any game. You've got to have one set of rules with the refs fairly enforcing it. And the refs are the WTO.

ROBERTS: Well, there is one point that I wanted to ask you about on that front. It's not exactly to that point, but it's similar to it.

Early in May, it was discovered that part of GM's plan for becoming viable after it comes out of bankruptcy, should it go into bankruptcy, would be to import more cars that it builds in China. Congress rebelled against that. Looks like GM has got the message for now, but can you see a time, maybe six months, a year, five years down the road where it says, hey, if we want to remain viable, we got to start importing more cars from China. And what would that mean for American workers?

BERNERO: Well, of course, John, you've hit on it. And that's why trade is so central to this. You know, where is the viability plan for the American public? Where is the viability plan for communities like Lansing and Detroit and all over this country? Where is the viability plan for the American worker? That's the viability plan we need. It makes no sense to save the company but hurt the worker, and send the jobs overseas. That's not getting us anywhere. We've got to put the "P" back in GDP, gross domestic product.

Countries are judged by what they produce, not just by what they consume. We've become a nation of consumers. And it's Wall Street and Washington that fed us this path that wanted us to believe that we're a post manufacturing society. There is no great modern economy in the world that is post-manufacturing. You've got to have manufacturing. You've got to have your people making something. That's the viability of a country. And so we need a viability plan.

And, again, it's going to come down to fair trade. And this was a big issue when NAFTA for example was debated. People tried to put in environmental standards and human rights standards so that we could compete. It's both the moral way to go and the economically smart way to go. Otherwise, you're putting in motion a race to the bottom.

We don't want our workers to be paid the level of a third world peasant. We want the third world peasant to be raised up to the level of the American. Unfortunately, Wall Street doesn't see it that way. Wall Street would rather move to countries where they can exploit the people and exploit the land. And, unfortunately, they've colluded with Washington over the years and they've gotten it their way.

Their way doesn't work for the average American. Their way is not the American way. And the American dream is under siege right now. The American way of life is under siege because of the fair trade, the things that have been given away.

I took an oath of office to the constitution. Not to the WTO or to the U.N. Charter, and we need to remember that and put the American worker first.

ROBERTS: Mr. Mayor, I'd love to talk to you all morning. Unfortunately, though, we don't have the time. It is great to catch up with you. Of course, we will continue to visit with you in the weeks and months to come.

Thanks very much. Appreciate it.

BERNERO: Thanks so much, John.

ROBERTS: All right. And a reminder that President Obama will address GM's bankruptcy this morning at 11:55 Eastern. You can see that live on CNN and cnn.com/live.

Kiran?

CHETRY: All right. Well, we have breaking news this morning. It's the search that's continuing now for the missing passenger jet with an airbus 330, with 228 people on board. Air France is now saying that that plane crossed through an area, when it was leaving Rio de Janeiro, heading to Paris of thunderstorms, strong turbulence. They're talking now about the possibility of lightning strikes. We're going to speak with a pilot who knows the airbus, coming up in just a moment.

Also, Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor -- she's getting set to meet with Senate leaders on Capitol Hill. And still facing criticism for some things that she said years ago. We're going to be speaking with two people who clerked for her and know her very well.

It's 27 minutes past the hour. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Twenty-nine minutes past the hour now. And we are following breaking news. An Air France passenger jet. It was en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, 228 people on board. It's missing.

Air France says that the airbus jet sent an automatic signal indicating there were some electrical problems while going through strong turbulence. They also say this plane crossed through a thunderous zone with strong turbulence. And they talk about the possibility of an electrical circuit malfunction. Also that possibly this jet was struck by lightning.

Joining me now on the phone now is Captain John Cox, former U.S. air flight captain, president and CEO of Safety Operating Systems.

John, thanks for being with us. this morning.

JOHN COX, PRESIDENT & CEO, SAFETY OPERATING SYSTEMS: Good morning.

CHETRY: So when they talk about the possibility of lightning, isn't getting struck by lightning fairly common, and what are your thoughts on whether or not it could bring down an airbus?

It's very unlikely that a lightning strike would actually bring the airplane down. Commercial airliners are designed to take lightning strikes. They are tested for it. There's quite rigorous testing. It is not uncommon for aircraft to be struck by lightning in the course of a year's flying. It's not uncommon for airplanes to experience that. And so for this airplane, as modern and as well-designed as the 8330 is to be considered, widely to be brought down by lightning, I would find that very hard to believe.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: All right. According to the latest information we have when this flight left Rio about 7:00 p.m. local time last night, about four hours later is when this automatic signal indicating electrical problems happened while going through strong turbulence, according to Air France. What does that give you, if any indication, on what might have happened?

COX: Well, one thing to understand is the electrical problems, the fact that they received that signal says that there were part of the electrical system was certainly functional. And what they have not specified is what sort of message that was. If it is a routine sat com message the way they would communicate with air traffic control, and they may have put in the remarks section that they had experienced some form of an electrical anomaly.

But the A-330 like all modern jets has very redundant systems of electrical, hydraulic and pneumatic. All of the systems in the airplane are redundant. And so the loss of one part of it does not necessarily create a full-blown emergency.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: John, hi, it's John Roberts, Kiran's partner here in New York, speaking with you now.

Even if you did lose power in that aircraft, it can still fly, it can still fly to a potential dead stick landing, could it not?

COX: It could but also recognize that the engines do not require electrical power. Once a jet engine is running, it will run based exclusively on fuel and air. It already has the ignition, because the fireball within a jet never actually shuts off. So even electrical problems, unlike your car that could shut the engine down, with a jet engine, it would continue to run.

ROBERTS: And as we saw with U.S. Airways flight 1549, even if this aircraft lost both engines, you can still control the aircraft?

COX: Absolutely, absolutely. And we have seen this type of aircraft actually do a dead stick landing in a company called Air Transat. A Canadian carrier had an A-330 that lost power on both engines and they were successful in getting it to the airport in the -

CHETRY: We are getting a little bit of information from an Air France news conference that took place in France and done in French. We are getting translations on that. But a couple of things they are saying, that this was a new plane, the Airbus 330. That there were experienced technical experts on the place, a highly experienced crew on board. They went on to say clearly there has been failure in the aircraft. They also said some of the messages they got showed failure of several components. They also used the words crisis and serious situation. Right now. What does that indicate to you?

COX: If they have a serious situation and they have advised air traffic control, they are probably going to initiate a divert to somewhere, and that would indicate that the seriousness of it. Which would concur with potentially why the Brazilians have chosen the area of the Atlantic to search that they have. They may very well have advised them, air traffic control, of a desire to land at a different airport.

If there were problems with the systems on the airplane, they would - they would depend on the emergency systems or redundant systems to give them the navigation communication and the ability to control the airplane to a landing.

ROBERTS: And John, you know, as we saw with U.S. Airways flight 1549, Captain Sullenberger and his copilots put that aircraft down in just meticulous fashion in the Hudson, you could do that in ocean as well but, you know, if that's a completely different landing environment, is it not?

COX: It is. Open ocean is quite, quite difficult. In the times that it has been tried have had mixed results. It has been done successfully. There was a DC 930 in the late '70s that was an open ocean ditching down in the Caribbean and it was successful. They did have some fatalities on the airplane. But then you look at the Ethiopian airplane which was a hijacked condition. There have been a few, but the idea that they would have to ditch an A-330 is pretty remote. I think that they would be much more, the crew would be considering much more a landing at a diversion airport.

ROBERTS: Right. John Cox, it's good to talk to you this morning. Thanks for sharing your expertise about the Airbus A-330. Appreciate it.

COX: My pleasure.

ROBERTS: She may be judged harshly in the Senate but two people who have worked closely with Judge Sonia Sotomayor are singing her praises and telling Senate leaders why she belongs in the Supreme Court. They will make their case live to us coming up next.

And big cars, big salaries. An inside look at how GM went bust. It's coming up now on 36 minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC PLAYING)

CHETRY: Welcome back to the most news in the morning. A big week for President Obama's Supreme Court nominee. Judge Sonia Sotomayor goes to capitol Hill to make her case for confirmation. In the meantime, two of her former law clerks are among many trying to convince senate leaders that she belongs and that she would make a great justice. Those former law clerks Lisa Zornberg and Adam Abensohn. Thanks so much. Did I say your name wrong?

ADAM ABENSOHN, GRADUATED GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL: Abensohn.

CHETRY: Abensohn. That's great. Nice to see both of you this morning. Thanks for coming in.

ABENSOHN: Thank you

CHETRY: So you guys had a chance to work with her and share your recollections of what she was like both personally and professionally. I'll start with you, Lisa.

LISA ZORNBERG, GRADUATED FROM HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: Well, the judge is a fantastic person to work for. And professionally and personally, she is a brilliant woman. She is a mentor. She has a fantastic personality. And as clerks, you know, we spent an intense year in the chambers working with her day-to-day and got to know her very well and we became part of her family. And she is as brilliant a judge as she is a fantastic and amazing woman and her personal stories by now well known but she is terrific.

CHETRY: Adam?

ABENSOHN: She's, more than anything, incredibly hard-working and incredibly conscientious. But beyond being a mentor, you know, with all of her clerks professionally, she's -- personally she has been a big part of our lives. During clerkship we went to the Yankee games with her and various social events but -

CHETRY: She's a proud New Yorker, right?

ABENSOHN: She's a very proud New Yorker and within chambers, I mean, she works around the clock and she is fantastic at her job. CHETRY: It must be interesting for the two of you to know her so well and then to hear some of the criticism that is out there which, in evidently comes when you're nominated to the highest court in the land. She has been getting a lot of criticism though for particular comments that she made at a Latino Conference at U.C. Berkeley back in 2001 where she said, "I would hope that a wise Latina woman would more often than reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

What did you make of those comments, Lisa, and the criticism she is taking because of it?

ZORNBERG: Well, in terms of the criticism, what it says to me is that a lot of people still don't know her record. She has a 17-year record as a federal judge which needs to be looked at and should be looked at. And in terms of that one comment that has gotten a lot of press, I view it as a comment that is taken out of context and that read in context really just says what many people acknowledge is totally noncontroversial which is that life experience is a benefit to the process of judging cases and decision-making.

And that you don't leave your life experience at the door, that diversity on the court is a good thing. That's not a new comment or not a controversial comment. And I think that the senate confirmation hearings, the judge will have an opportunity to address that herself.

CHETRY: Adam, did you find anything that made you think twice about that where she said "hope to reach a better conclusion than a white male?"

ABENSOHN: You know, Lisa talked about the judge's record and both of us work very closely with her over the years of our clerkships. Never once did either of us, I think, see anything to suggest that she was anything other than fair-minded, even-handed. And I think the point really was that it is good to have judges of different backgrounds on a court. They bring different perspective. The judge's perspective isn't only informed by the fact of her background ethnically she has also been a corporate lawyer. She has been a prosecutor. She's a graduate of top schools. And all of that is going to contribute to her working effectively as a justice. I don't think anything ought to be controversial about the fact that her diverse background is going to add to her work as a justice.

ZORNBERG: And if I could just add, we have worked day in and day out in chambers with the judge. We've watched her judge. And what we know from that is that she sticks very closely to the rule of law. That's the kind of judge she is. She's moderate. You hear "The Wall Street Journal" has said the same thing. "Business Week" said the same thing but her colleagues on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals said the same thing. She is a rule of law judge. And as her clerks, that's how she approaches cases. She starts out saying has the Supreme Court addressed this? Is there binding precedent that I, as a judge, must follow? She is very respectful of her role as a judge and she follows and applies the law.

CHETRY: How do you think the confirmation is going to go? ABENSOHN: Well, if it's handled fairly, I think she ought to be a shoo-in. It's hard to imagine someone with better credentials and qualifications for this job. I can only hope it doesn't get sort of side-tracked by all the sort of rhetoric and nastiness because she really deserves better than that. She's had a long distinguished career in public service.

She is as qualified for this as anyone could possibly be. And she will do an outstanding job, you know, as a justice for the country, as a role model for countless people. I think we're both hopeful that she will get through, as she ought to.

CHETRY: And then you guys can say I knew her way back when. Lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court is hanging in the balance. Well Lisa Zornberg and Adam Abensohn.

ABENSOHN: Abensohn.

CHETRY: Abensohn, it's so nice to meet both of you.

ABENSOHN: You, too.

CHETRY: Thanks so much.

ABENSOHN: Thank you.

CHETRY: John.

ROBERTS: New safety concerns this morning about a Florida-based airline that operates flights for Continental. Why one former employee of GulfStream International Airline said she fell compelled to pray for her passengers. It's coming up on 44 minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ROBERTS: And we're updating the breaking news now. There's new information on the passenger plane that vanished over the Atlantic. Air France said it received a message from the lost plane signaling an electrical problem and say that it may have been struck by lightning.

Brazil's Air Force now confirming its planes have started searching for the jet. It took off from Rio de Janeiro at 7:00 local time last evening. It was due in Paris almost four hours ago. 228 people were on board. 216 passengers and 12 crew members.

Our Rob Marciano is down in our weather center in Atlanta. He's tracking what the weather was last night. Rob, Air France officials say that about 10:00 Eastern last night, this flight 447, an Airbus A- 3309 encountered an area of thunderstorms and very strong turbulence. I guess that would have been up there off the northeastern shoulder of Brazil. What was the weather there like last night?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN, METEOROLOGIST: Well, that is getting into an area that is called the inter tropical convergence zone. It's an area that kind of brings the entire globe that has thunderstorms throughout the year. The only difference is it kind of migrates from north-to-south, depending on the season.

All right. So here we go. Here's the area where they are searching for the plane itself. And all this cloudiness that you see spanning in the entire Atlantic, that's the intertropical convergence zone. That's where winds converge and when winds converge, they have to either go down or up. There is ground and water there. So they have to go up and that creates a thunderstorm. And obviously, this patch right here is pretty intense. So that would be difficult to go around and there are other thunderstorms there.

We have lightning detection that's on here now. Most of the lightning detecting is ground-based so you don't see a tremendous amount of it here over the water. There's a couple of satellites that detect it but, for the most part it's just ground based. And I should note that, you know I think one of the pilots said that, you know, airplanes get into lightning and thunderstorms all the time so that shouldn't be too much of an issue but most lightning that we see on a daily basis is cloud-to-cloud so they are up in it, for sure. That certainly could have had some sort of factor in this whole deal. John, back up to you.

ROBERTS: Yeah. Aircraft get hit by lightning all the time, Rob, but Air France reports that an automatic signal was sent up by the aircraft at about 10:00 last night indicating the failure of several components. So this mystery beginning to unravel but still a lot of dots yet to be connected. Rob Marciano for us. Rob, thanks so much.

MARCIANO: Sure.

ROBERTS: A Florida-based airline is facing serious safety questions this morning. The former employee who said she prayed that her passengers would survive their flight. It's a story that you'll see only on CNN. It's 49 minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Welcome back to the most news in the morning. There are some new accusations of some safety problems this morning directed at Gulfstream International Airlines.

Last week, our Allan Chernoff told you about inexperienced students sitting in the cockpits of commercial flights for the Florida-based airline. Well, Allan is now back this morning with some new developments. He had a chance to speak to some former and current Gulfstream International employees about what the working conditions were like there. What did they tell you?

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And well they are worried about the safety for their own passengers. When that happens, you know, you have a problem. When we board a commercial flight, we expect an airline to properly maintain its planes and TO comply with FAA safety rules to prevent pilot fatigue. But former and current employees of Florida-based Gulfstream International Airlines, which operates Continental connection flights in Florida, say the airline often violated those safety principles to save money.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARY HEBIG, FORMER GULFSTREAM INTERNATIONAL AIRLINES EMPLOYEE: That's why I left.

CHERNOFF (voice-over): Mary Hebig remembers the day three years ago when she knew she had to quit her job at Gulfstream International airlines, a flight whose pilots she had scheduled had lost one of its two engines. It was the second time in two weeks a plane's engine had failed.

HEBIG: And I was just praying that everybody got back safe. And I thought, if they get back safe, I am out of here.

CHERNOFF: Hebig is one of 10 former and current Gulfstream employees who have told CNN of serious safety concerns at the Ft. Lauderdale based airline.

HEBIG: I couldn't sit there night after night and know that there was an accident waiting to happen.

CHERNOFF: To passengers in Florida and the Bahamas, Gulfstream appears to be Continental Airlines, since it operates Continental connection flights. Continental Airlines told CNN, "we expect our partners to adhere to the highest safety standard." Yet former Gulfstream mechanic Dan Brisco says maintenance standards were the worst he had seen in 30 years as an aviation mechanic.

DAN BRISCO, FMR. GULFSTREAM INT'L AVIATION MECHANIC: I saw parts flying off the airplanes, engines starting to shut down in flight and engine failures, and landing gear collapses, all traceable directly back to maintenance or improperly completed maintenance.

I saw the landing gear on one Gulfstream Airplane collapse on the runway in Tampa due to a lack of maintenance. The pilots have been complaining about their problems for a long time. They said well it's working now, that's good enough.

CHERNOFF: Gulfstream declined to appear on camera. In a statement, the company said "to the extent such events have occurred at Gulfstream, they had nothing to do with improperly-completed maintenance. We have an outstanding maintenance program." Yet the Federal Aviation Administration has just cited Gulfstream maintenance for using inexpensive air conditioning compressors designed for cars.

The automotive air-conditioner compressors were not approved for use on aircraft charged the FAA. Gulfstream claims it used the proper parts but concedes it didn't install them according to FAA approved procedures. Gulfstream is also confronting FAA findings that it violated flight rules.

(On camera): To prevent pilot fatigue, the FAA has strict limits on pilot flight times. Eight hours within a day and 34 hours within a week but current and former employees of Gulfstream say the understaffed airline often pressured pilots to work past those limits, even when they were clearly fatigued.

(voice-over): As a crew scheduler for Gulfstream, Hebig knew when pilots were up against their flight limits, but she says dispatchers often would change logs or previous flights, shave pilot hours to make it appear that pilots were legal to start, legal to finish in the words of the Gulfstream flight operations manual.

HEBIG: They were fudging the books to make it legal.

CHERNOFF: Pilots who complained too much, Hebig and other company veterans say were let go and that led other pilots to comply.

HEBIG: They knew that if they spoke up, they would be fired.

CHERNOFF (on camera): And that actually happened to some people?

HEBIG: Yes, it did. And these are family men, they work hard.

CHERNOFF (voice-over): Gulfstream told CNN no pilot has ever or even could be pressured to exceed FAA hour limitation. Yet, an FAA investigation found multiple cases of both pilots and dispatchers working beyond their allowed limits.

For that, as well as alleged maintenance violations, the FAA has proposed a $1.3 million fine against the airline. Gulfstream, which is challenging the findings and the proposed fine, told CNN, "occasional errors can sometimes occur when flight times are manually entered into computer systems, but none were made intentionally."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHERNOFF: Gulfstream itself has not suffered any fatal accidents on its commercial flights but the airline has come under scrutiny recently because former Gulfstream pilots were involved in three of the most recent fatal accidents on other commercial airlines in the U.S., Kiran?

CHETRY: Great report, Allan.

CHERNOFF: Thank you.

CHETRY: Thank you so much. And for more information on this allegations of shoddy maintenance and pilot schedule abuse at Gulfstream International Airlines, you can check out Allan's blog, it's linked to our web page at cnn.com/amfix. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Coming up on us at the top of the hour right now. Before we leave you, a quick update. Still we don't know the fate of those 228 people on board the Air France jet that was flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, France. All we know right now is that this plane is still missing and that there is a possibility that they ran into lightning and perhaps strong thunderstorms over the Atlantic ocean.

ROBERTS: Yes. Some strong turbulence as well. Reports of several electrical circuits that were out according to Air France. So we'll keep on watching this to see how much more we can unwind of this whole thing and find out what happened to that aircraft.

And also, GM makes it official, filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Some 20,000 people will lose their jobs and 12 plants are going to close. The government takes now a 60 percent ownership stake in General Motors and we the taxpayer are in it for $50 billion. So everybody has got a stake in finding how this whole story comes out in the end.

CHETRY: That's right, we're going to hear from the president about this and he's going to be addressing GM's bankruptcy this morning, coming up at 11:55 Eastern. You will be able to see that on CNN and cnn.com/live.

ROBERTS: And continue the conversation on today's stories, go to our blog at cnn.com/amfix and let us know what you think about everything we talked about this morning.

CHETRY: Meanwhile, we want to say thanks for joining us on this AMERICAN MORNING. We'll see you right back here tomorrow.

ROBERTS: Right now, here's CNN NEWSROOM with Heidi Collins.

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