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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Tragedy in West Virginia
Aired April 6, 2010 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, holding out hope for four men trapped underground -- did they survive the deadliest U.S. coal mining disaster in a quarter century -- a tragedy that's already claimed 25 -- fathers, brothers, sons, men who risk their lives just going to work?
We've got the latest live from West Virginia.
Dr. Phil is here with the emotional toll that dangerous jobs take on the entire community.
And then hijacked at sea by pirates -- Captain Richard Phillips held for five days, until Navy SEAL sharpshooters killed his captors.
He's next on LARRY KING LIVE.
The situation in West Virginia is dire. Four men are trapped after that massive explosion yesterday that killed 25. We don't know if the four are dead or alive. Fourteen bodies remain in the mine. It's too dangerous right now to get them out.
We'll get the latest first from CNN's Brian Todd, on the scene in Raleigh County, West Virginia -- Brian, anything new to add?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not so much new to add in those numbers that you just gave, Larry, but it's kind of the -- the overall situation and the rescue effort right now and why they can't get to those 14 that you mentioned. Those are 14 guys who are -- they know who are dead and they can't even get in to identify them, much less pull them out.
The reason they can't get in is because the physical rescue efforts -- sending the rescuers themselves into the mine -- has become so dangerous. Early this morning, visibility was only at about two feet. It got to be more and more dangerous with the methane gas and the other dangerous gases building up inside. So they decided to pull everyone out. They have not sent in anyone all day. And they have started the drilling process at the top of the mountain.
I talked to the operator of one of the drills and he was pretty much feeling the pressure of what he needed to do. He needed to go in about 1,100 feet. He was just getting up to the mountain when we spoke to him. What they're doing is -- I -- I think they've gone in about a -- a little more than 100 feet so far. One drill at least has started. We think there are going to be more than one simultaneously, because they -- they have a targeted mark that they want to hit, but they're not sure, you know, if they're going to hit that mark. They sometimes hit seams and that throws the drills off.
So they have to drill in with more than one drill to make sure that they hit the chamber -- the area where they think these four miners who are missing might be.
Part of the reason that they're drilling now, also, is to get some of that methane gas out of there -- the dangerous gases -- so that they can then send in the physical rescuers and try that way, as well. It's an extremely dangerous situation.
We covered the Utah mine disaster three years ago, in which a few miners were actually killed going in to rescue some of the others. This is a very, very dangerous situation.
KING: Any investigation started at all or does that come down the road?
TODD: They've started the investigation. What they don't know yet is whether it was coal dust or methane gas or something like that that caused this explosion. They do say to a person, though, any official you talk to, this was an extremely violent explosion. And I talked to a miner who was right near one of the entrances. He wasn't inside, but he was right near it. He said that basically everybody just got blew all over the place. Peo -- it was chaotic, people running around. They didn't know what to do or where to go. It was just an incredibly violent explosion.
The investigation has begun. They just haven't determined the exact cause yet.
KING: That's Brian Todd.
Now let's go, also in Raleigh County, West Virginia, to Gary Tuchman, CNN national correspondent. I know you -- you went down into a mine in Utah a few years ago and you saw a rescue operation.
Give us some of the insights -- what -- what it details there.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Larry, as far as I know, it's the only time reporters have ever been allowed in a coal mine during a rescue. Three of us were allowed in. We provided our video to other TV stations and magazines and newspapers to see.
But the Crandall Canyon disaster three years ago in Utah -- and Brian just alluded to it. Six miners were trapped inside. And we were inside the mine. We had to ride for 30 minutes underground, 2,000 feet underground, about two-and-a-half miles, to get to the point where they were looking for those six miners.
It was so dangerous. And, ultimately, we saw why, because four days after we were in the mine, three of the rescuers were killed when there was a secondary collapse in that Utah mine.
What was sad, Larry, is before we went into the mine -- before we were allowed in, we had to take an hour-and-a-half safety course. One of our teachers of that safety course was one of the people killed a few days later after we were in the mine.
So it is a very dangerous thing to do. And that's why they just don't go in the mine willy-nilly. They drill small holes into the top of the mine, to get some fresh air into there, to see if there are any signs of life before they go in, because the rescuers could, indeed, die.
KING: Would that whole community be described as depressed?
TUCHMAN: Yes. It's very sad. And this is not the first mine disaster I've covered.
And what they all have in common, when you go to these communities, they're very tight-knit because so many people work in the mines and so many generations of families work in the mines. And people here are very sad.
And what's especially sad in this situation is you have the 25 people who are confirmed dead, but not all of them have been identified. And you have four people who are unaccounted for. So there are lots of families here whose loved one is missing, but they're not sure if they've been confirmed dead or they're not sure if they're missing and there's a possibility they could be alive in the mine. So it's very sad, very traumatizing and very confusing.
KING: Is Massey, the company, doing its job?
TUCHMAN: Well, one thing we see whenever we cover these mine disasters, there's some intense anger. And it's to be expected. I mean people have lost their husbands and their sons and their brothers.
But this is the company that's fed them and clothed them and given them money for years. So it's kind of a mixed emotion. I mean this has been a big paycheck for these people. And now, they don't often think they're doing enough. And that's a typical reaction.
In the days and weeks and months to come, we'll see, ultimately, what happens with Massey.
KING: Thanks, Gary.
You load 16 tons and what do you get?
Another day older.
Dr. Phil is here with his take on what a disaster like this does to families and an entire community.
And we'll talk to a woman who lost her brother yesterday -- weeks away from his retirement, next.
KING: Joining us now here in Los Angeles, our friend, Dr. Phil McGraw, host of TV's "Dr. Phil," and "The New York Times" best-selling author.
And on the phone, Jeanie Sanger. Her brother, Benny Willingham, is one of the men who died in Upper Branch -- the Big Branch Mine disaster yesterday. He was just weeks away from retirement.
Did they tell you at all, Jeanie, how it happened to him?
JEANIE SANGER, BROTHER BARRY WILLINGHAM, DIED IN MINE YESTERDAY: We've heard conflicting stories. But they said that -- one story was that he was coming out of the mines. He was almost out of the mines when the explosion happened.
KING: He was 62. He was a miner for 30 years.
KING: Did he worry about his safety?
Did he talk to you about it?
SANGER: He was a very brave man. He was a very God-fearing man. He had given his life to the lord 19 years ago. And he knew if anything happened to him, he knew he'd be in the arms of Jesus.
KING: And, Dr. Phil, as we told you off the air, is here. He's here to maybe answer some questions and also help.
Dr. Phil, we told you -- what do you say?
What do you say?
DR. PHIL MCGRAW: Well, Jeanie, first, I'm so sorry for your loss. I know this is something that -- that you guys lived with consciously. You knew it was a possibility. But when it happens like this, there's just no way to have an appreciation for the finality of it.
I know in that community, you have to have a lot of people around you, supporting you...
MCGRAW: -- and helping you every step of the way. Tell me how that's been.
SANGER: It's been wonderful. The outpouring of love and compassion, you can -- it -- it just satisfies your soul to know that people love you enough. I've had -- we've had people call from all states; all in the community, people that maybe we haven't talked to in a long time are calling and giving very sincere condolences. And Benny was a wonderful, wonderful loving man. Everybody, I can honestly say, everybody that knew Benny loved him.
MCGRAW: Well, you know -- one of the things that I -- I know you're going to deal with and face -- and I know all of you are in a bit of shock right now. And I want you to know that all of us watching right now, all of us around America have you in our hearts and minds. We have you on our prayer list for your loss.
And I hope -- and I can tell by the way you talk about Benny, with so much love and caring and compassion, I really hope as -- as time unfolds here, that you -- you choose to focus on all of the years and all of the days that you had him and not just on the one day that you lost him.
MCGRAW: Because I -- I've read your accounts of him. I've listened to you talk about him. He was -- he was the life of the party.
MCGRAW: He -- and he touched so many lives and lifted so many people up. And sometimes we -- we get so focused on that moment when we lose them that it kind of overshadows all the wonderful times that we had with them. And -- and I know that you'll keep that in your mind and heart as -- as you go through the next days, weeks and months.
KING: Jeanie, have you heard from the company?
SANGER: No, sir.
SANGER: No, sir.
KING: Doctor Phil, what -- why wouldn't the company -- someone talk to...
MCGRAW: Well, you know, Jeanie...
KING: -- the bereaved?
MCGRAW: I can't imagine that -- that somebody hasn't reached out to you to -- to help everybody in the family. And, Larry, as I was just talking with Jeanie about, I've spent time up in -- in this part of the country with these people. And I want to tell you, this is what -- this is what communities and families used to be, before America got in so much of a hurry.
This is a community that hasn't lost touch with one another. And, Jeanie, I bet you'll agree with me, that this is a very close- knit community.
MCGRAW: It's a very religious community. They know the value of a dollar. They know the value of hard work. And they know the value of friends and family. And I -- I can't imagine that the company hasn't reached out to you. But I know that the community has. And I'll bet that's the key to keeping you going one step at a time.
SANGER: Yes, it is. Well, the biggest key, Dr. Phil, is our lord. He has given us the peace that passes all understanding. And I often thought I was a weak person, and then when it happened to us, I realized that God gave me the strength to tell Benny's story. And I pray that it touches someone's life.
KING: Jeanie, stay with us.
We're going to hold you.
Our next guest missed being killed, perhaps by mere minutes. Yesterday he reported for work just as the explosion occurred. He is a coal miner and a preacher.
What he witnessed, after the break.
KING: Dr. Phil remains.
And Jeanie Sanger, who lost her brother, is with us on the phone.
Joining us from Naoma, West Virginia is James Lucas, a coal miner; also a preacher. He was about to go into the Bran -- the Big Branch Mine when the explosion erupted.
First, how are you doing?
JAMES LUCAS, COAL MINER, KNEW THOSE WHO DIED: I'm doing really well, Larry. Of course, my heart and condolences does go out to the families.
KING: And you are both a preacher and a miner.
What happened yesterday?
Were you -- how close were you to going in?
LUCAS: I was probably about an hour from actually entering into the coal mine. I was just reporting to get ready to go to work. And I saw a huge cloud of dust coming out of the mine, which, at that point, the mine ventilation fan was actually running in reverse from the blast.
KING: You worked with many of the men that passed away, did you not?
LUCAS: Yes. I did, Larry. Sad to say, I knew each of those men -- Benny Willingham and the first group of men, I knew them both individually and personally.
KING: Dr. Phil?
MCGRAW: James, this is -- this is Dr. Phil.
I'm curious, as you worked with these men, how -- how conscious were all of you of the risks involved here?
How conscious were you that if something goes wrong, it usually goes wrong in a really big way?
LUCAS: Well, it's something that is kind of always in your mind, but you kind of keep it in the back of your mind. Often -- a friend of mine will always say, if you stick your head between two rocks, something is going to happen. But it's something we had just -- you learn to live with and to deal with.
MCGRAW: Well, as you ministered to these men as a pastor, not just as a fellow coal miner, was this something that -- that these men made peace with, knowing that each day that -- that something could happen?
I mean is this something -- because most of us don't go to work with this hanging over our head -- that something could happen.
MCGRAW: Is this something that the families you ministered to talked about?
Was this something that they dealt with in anticipation that it could happen?
LUCAS: Well, as I said, you know, that -- there's always that fear. I can honestly say that each and every man is aware of the danger. Every day, as we would report for work on our particular section, I would have prayer and ask for God's hand of protection upon each and every man.
I didn't get to have that prayer yesterday. I hope that someone did. But I would like to say is that, you know, there's always hope. And the bible tells us that Abraham who, against hope, believed in hope, that he might be the father of many nations. You can't never give up hope.
KING: Now you -- you said you knew Benny Willingham.
KING: What can you tell Jeanie Sanger, his sister, who is on the phone?
Do you know Jeanie, too?
LUCAS: I -- I haven't had the opportunity...
KING: So you don't know her?
LUCAS: -- to meet her. But I did know Benny. Benny was a good man, a man that lived his life before the other men. And he was a true witness for the lord, Jesus Christ.
KING: How about the irony of about to retire, James?
I mean how do you -- how do you deal with that in your own mind, here's a man about to retire?
LUCAS: I know that is saddening. I myself am 58. I'm a few years from retiring. But I told my brother today, I'm not going to plan on retiring, I'm just going to do it.
KING: Jeanie. Are you going to be with friends and relatives.
Are you going to be with people close by in the days ahead?
SANGER: Yes, sir. Lots. A lot of loving, caring family.
KING: Very important.
Thank you, James.
Thank you, Jeanie.
SANGER: Thank you, sir.
KING: Jeanie Sanger, James Lucas.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta is in Charleston, West Virginia.
Dr. Phil remains with us.
We'll be right back.
KING: Dr. Phil remains.
Joining us on the phone is Jenny Waycaster. She was with us last night. Her son was arriving for his shift yesterday when the mine exploded. He survived. It was some time before Jenny learned that he was OK.
And on the scene in Charleston, West Virginia, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent.
What hospital are you at, Sanjay?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: We're at the Charleston Medical Center over here, Larry. It's the biggest trauma center in this area. And this is the place where patients come -- the most seriously injured -- after mining tragedies. It's about a 15 minute helicopter ride from the mine, Larry.
They were trying to bring two patients here yesterday. One patient actually because of the -- there was a lightning storm yesterday. The helicopter could not make it here. But the -- there is another patient in critical condition in the hospital behind me. So we're looking at this hospital, what its capabilities are and trying to check in on this patient -- Larry.
KING: Is he in the right place for his injuries?
GUPTA: I think so. You know, it's interesting, they -- they're really being very, very careful about not telling reporters a lot of information here. But I can tell you this. When you look at mining types of injuries -- severe injuries like burn, for example, or significant inhalations of these poisonous gases that people have been talking about, there are places that can deal with those things.
This -- this hospital behind me does not have a burn center and this particular patient is not requiring treatment for those -- those volatile gases. So I think for the types of injuries that he likely has, this is the right place for it. And it also means that some of the other types of injuries which we've seen in the past, after Sago, for example, at least with this particular individual, have not happened.
KING: Does it look like he'll make it?
GUPTA: It -- it sounds like it. Again, they've been very -- they've been very careful about giving out information here. You know, and it's interesting, Larry, having covered lots of these types of disasters, I think with -- with this in particular, there's been a real, I think, clamping down of information. You know, we're getting sort of bits and trickles out. There are people who talk about, you know, the survivors. I know you've been interviewing people. But the specifics of exactly what's happening, for example, a little bit hard to come by. I think, in part, that's due to the privacy issues and part it's due to the hospital just wanting to be very careful.
KING: Jenny Waycaster is with us on the phone. We want to connect one more time with her today because she talked to us last night how her son was arriving for his shift and managed to escape being killed. He survived.
Have you spent some time with him today, Jenny?
JENNY WAYCASTER, SON AT MINE WHEN EXPLOSION OCCURRED: I have talked to him. He has spent time with his wife. And, you know, I wanted to give him time, you know. They need it.
KING: How does he feel?
Does he feel -- how does he feel?
WAYCASTER: How does he feel?
He's shocked. He's still shocked. He's worried about the other guys. Benny -- I went -- I went to school with Benny. The other guys, we knew them. The one behind me -- beside of me, my neighbor, his son got killed.
And, you know, our -- our hearts are grieving for these people, you know?
It's -- he didn't . I know you've last night and I didn't either. And it's something that, you know, it's not going through (INAUDIBLE) overnight or should -- I don't know. He's just -- your heart breaks.
WAYCASTER: You know, I've got my son. You know, I -- I thank God I've got my son.
KING: Dr. Phil, everybody knows everybody here. Anything you want to say to Sanjay?
MCGRAW: Well, you know, that's what I've found when I spent the time that I did up there. Everybody does know everybody. And so this has happened not just to individual families, but this is to this whole community.
This is their ground zero, because these are the people that they -- they shop with everyday, they worship with everyday, their kids play together, they -- they marry, they -- they go to -- they go to picnics together. I mean these people really live a community life up there.
So this is going to happen at an individual level, but this entire community is impacted by this so much.
And, you know, I've talked to some of these men up there before about why they do this because, you know, being a little claustrophobic, it would just drive me crazy. They go so far underground in such hazardous conditions.
But, Larry, they take great pride in this. They turned out a hundred million tons of coal in the last year. And -- and this is not just -- they -- they do make kind of double the -- the normal income for up there for doing this, so they're well compensated for it, relatively. But this is a way of life. And it's a pride. And they took great pride in what they did.
KING: Have you noticed that, Sanjay, on your short time there?
GUPTA: No question about it. And I would add that something Dr. Phil was saying earlier, as well, and that is that, you know, we are -- the world is paying attention right now, Larry, because of what's happened over the last day.
But when I sit and talk to some of the miners' families here, they are always waiting and worrying about what's going on here. And it's not just about explosions or potential collapses like we've seen. They -- they worry about the significant diseases. I don't know if you knew this, but 10,000 miners have died of black lung over the last decade. A thousand a year die of black lung because of the sort of work that they do. They're at higher risk for kidney disease, neurological complaints, heart disease.
I mean this -- this is the type of job -- they know and the families know, that even if they -- if something like this doesn't happen, they still have a -- a good chance of having a shortened lifespan. And -- and they could have some significant suffering at the end of their lives because of these sorts of diseases.
You know, we're sitting here, Larry, with this -- with this light on, the camera. And, you know, as we were walking around today, people kept saying, you know, turn on the lights. You use -- you use power, think of us where -- when you do that. This is -- this is why we're doing it.
But to Dr. Phil's point, they -- there is this almost resignation to the risk, which it -- it took a little bit to sort of get my arms around.
KING: Thanks, Sanjay. Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Thanks, Jenny. Give our best to your boy.
We'll be back with the congressman and a mine safety and health expert, with Dr. Phil, next.
KING: We're back. Dr. Phil remains. Joining us on the phone is Congressman Nick Rahall, Democrat of West Virginia. He is chairman of the committee on natural resources, and he represents the district where this tragedy occurred. And in Rochester, New York, Ellen Smith, the owner and managing editor of "Mine Safety and Health News."
Congressman Rahall, what questions are you asking today? This happened in your bailiwick.
REP. NICK RAHALL (D), WEST VIRGINIA: We certainly want to see the investigations at all levels proceed quickly, and in every manner that needs to be investigated. We in Congress can pass laws, but it is most important -- the key is for them to be properly implemented. Since we do not know the exact cause of this explosion, it is important for us to learn through the investigations if it was a failure in law or a failure in enforcement.
But there is certainly a track record. We all know the track record at this particular mine. We know the lists and lists of violations that have been issued over the past ten years for the Upper Big Branch Mine. And we know that the injury rate at this mine has been worse than the national average for similar operations.
So there is a track record here. There's something that's not right. And we deserve to investigate fully at all levels, and that will include a congressional investigation. KING: Thank you, Congressman. CNN's John Roberts interviewed the CEO of Massey Energy, Don Blankenship, earlier today. Here's part of that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: You have ventilation violations. Suddenly, you have buildup of some sort of compound, volatile compound that erupts into this explosion. People may we wondering why this mine was even operating.
DON BLANKENSHIP, CEO MASSEY ENERGY: I think the reason it was operating is that all of the people who are very knowledgeable of mining, whether they be with the federal government, the state government or Massey, had concluded that the mine was safe to operate. And these violations and the efforts on the ventilation are efforts to improve it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Ellen Smith, earlier today you said that this mine troubled you. What did you mean?
ELLEN SMITH, "MINE SAFETY AND HEALTH NEWS": Well, what troubles me about this particular mine is the ventilation violations that it's had. But more than that, it had what we call unwarrantable failure violations. And this means that there was more than ordinary negligence involved. And the mine had almost 50 unwarrantable failure violations in last year. And that's troublesome because when we look at other mines of similar size, we see maybe two unwarrantable failure violations, maybe six in a year, never 48. I mean, this was just an extraordinary amount of these types of violations.
KING: Dr. Phil?
MCGRAW: Ellen, it's Dr. Phil. I just wonder if you could help me, because when I was -- I was talking to quite a few people before I was coming over to do the show with Larry about what I was going to do. And everybody was saying that they had read what you were just talking about. One account said 500 violations, a million dollars worth of fines.
And we're all kind of wondering why was this mine not shut down if it was so much in violation? Because this can't be a surprise, since people were inspecting and -- probably some of them weren't significant, but a lot of them, according to you, were. Why wouldn't they shut a mine like this down?
SMITH: The way the law is written right now is if a mine inspector finds an unsafe condition, they can pull the miners from that section. But it is incredibly difficult under the 1977 Mine Act to shut down an entire operation. However, that said, we saw that at a different coal company, Patriot Coal Company, just a couple weeks ago, where the methane was very, very high, and they withdrew all of the miners. MSHA issued a withdraw order. It is done. We don't know all the details on this mine. But there were definitely troublesome issues. And MSHA had a continuing presence there. They've done a lot of spot inspections in the last couple weeks. It was definitely on the regulators' radar screen. And it could be that they just didn't make the decision yet. But we don't know.
KING: Hopefully we'll get the -- thank you, congressman. Thank you, Ellen. We'll be right back with Dr. McGraw and the man who spent time with the families today. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The men and women who put their lives on the line to save them and the souls of those who have been lost in this tragic accident, may they rest in peace and may their families find comfort in the hard days ahead.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Dr. Phil remains. Joining us from West Virginia, Jason Golden, Red Cross national media spokesman. He spent time with the miners' families today. How are they holding up?
JASON GOLDEN, NATIONAL MEDIA SPOKESMAN, RED CROSS: Everybody's really tired today. Yesterday, there was a lot of emotion. You had folks who were -- you know, they were in shock. Some had absolutely no expression on their face. A lot of anger, a lot of sadness. Today, this afternoon, everyone's really tired. No one slept. But they're going to get through this.
KING: What does the Red Cross do in this situation?
GOLDEN: Well, the main focus that we're working on right now is the mental health aspect. A lot of these folks, they just need someone to talk to. We have specially trained folks who come in here and, you know, understand the psychology of it. It's just a terrible disaster. Sometimes you just need a shoulder to lean on, someone to talk to, tell a story, just make them feel better.
KING: The people who are angry, is it anger at the company?
GOLDEN: There's anger at the company. There's anger at what happened. It's anger at the situation. You know, they know that their loved ones are lost, and they're in danger, and it's just one of the emotions that is just engulfing the entire area. But it's not just that. It's the sadness.
And there's hope. That's very important to understand. These folks have a lot of hope. I met a lady today that showed up just now. She couldn't come yesterday. She's from Charleston, West Virginia. She's a doctor there. Her brother is missing inside. She showed up so positive and so upbeat that they're going to find him alive, and the rest of his friends, it made my day. It's been a very long day here.
KING: Thanks, Jason. Dr. McGraw, in our remaining couple minutes, Hope. Four miners, does hope work?
MCGRAW: Clearly, you have to hold out hope. We have these miracles that happen where we find people. I think for those people that know they've lost someone, this is a way of life. What do you do now? Understand, they're still mining coal in this area. There are mines right next to it. There are still people going underground and mining coal. There's 50,000 people in America that do this. And a third of them are in this area that work underground.
So this is still going on. Can you imagine, with this happening and being on everybody's mind, going to work that day.
KING: And still they go.
MCGRAW: Well, and still they go. It is a way of life. As Sanjay was saying earlier, there's a certain resignation to it. They see their father, their father's fathers that do this, and they accept that their life can be shortened, that their life can end in the blink of an eye.
What's going to happen now, Larry, is you're going to see this community close ranks like you just can't imagine. This is a close knit group. They will close ranks around one another. They'll be there for each other. And they'll get through this together.
KING: As always, Dr. Phil, thank you. Always great having you with us.
He was hijacked by pirates. Captain Richard Phillips is here with details about his dramatic capture and rescue. He's got a new book out all about it, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The American captive of the U.S.-flagged cargo ship off the --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: FBI negotiators are trying to secure the release of Captain Richard Phillips.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The crew is unarmed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is negotiated with Somali pirates.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who have taken the ship captain hostage.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Richard Phillips remains hostage on a lifeboat. The crewmen calling their captain a hero.
(NEWS BREAK) KING: Richard Phillips was the captain of the Maersk Alabama. On April 8th, 2009, when four armed Somali pirates captured his vessel, held him hostage. He tells the story of the hijacking and his dramatic at sea rescue five days later in a terrific new book, "A Captain's Duty." There you see it's cover. His wife, Andrea Phillips, is with us, too.
We welcome them to LARRY KING LIVE. We all know about the story now. A year later, are you over it or do you still think about it, captain?
RICHARD PHILLIPS, AUTHOR, "A CAPTAIN'S DUTY": It's pretty much behind me. It seems like more than a year. And I've reconciled it. I put it pretty much behind me.
KING: President Obama said about this, "I share the country's admiration for the bravery of Captain Phillips and his selfless concern for his crew. His courage is a model for all Americans." Where were you, Andrea, when all this was going on?
ANDREA PHILLIPS, WIFE OF RICHARD PHILLIPS: I was at home.
KING: Were you scared?
A. PHILLIPS: Initially I wasn't, because I kind of knew the tactics of how this sort of played out. It was a hostage situation for ransom. You know, they usually don't hurt anybody. And this was sort of friends in the field that were calling me to kind of reassure me, that this was sort of the MO of this pirate situation.
KING: Captain, did the crew have anti-pirate training? Is there such a thing?
R. PHILLIPS: There is training. Each ship does their own. There is a security program. And we were doing the industry standard and a little above and beyond, because we are in that area so much. So we improvised and used our procedures. And in the incident, the crew went beyond our training and used imaginative and innovative acts to make the positive outcome, and they were integral in the outcome.
KING: How did you end up off the ship and on the small man over board, the rescue boat?
R. PHILLIPS: Well, I was already kept hostage. I was on the bridge with two of my crew, then three. And in the end, just one of my crew, myself. I gave them the option, I would help them get off, since they had lost their boat on boarding. So I gave them the option -- I told them I would help them get off, and once we were in the water, we could do an exchange, if they wanted, for the leader.
They were very upset that my crew had taken the brave action and captured their leader and taken him hostage.
KING: What was it like to interact with the pirates?
PHILLIPS: The pirates, we had no problem communicating. They didn't speak the best English, but our intent and our meanings were very easy to get across. We had more than a few conversations in the boat, the lifeboat. And at times, they acted like they were almost concerned. But that they would always show that they were true pirates and could care less for my life or, indeed, anyone else's, anytime that they felt threatened.
KING: During this ordeal, and they beat you at well, did you ever think that you had bought it, that you weren't going to make it?
R. PHILLIPS: Well, I -- rationally, I decided I was going to be their adversary. I was not going to give in to them and have them bend to their ways. But when I was thinking by myself, in my own mind, I thought, Rich, this is not a very good situation here. The chance of getting out is slim. But I was still going to remain an adversary, remain a person. If they were going to take my life, they were going to take it. I wasn't going to surrender it.
KING: Were you shocked at the way it ended? The sharpshooters hitting them?
PHILLIPS: I was completely. I thought it was something completely else going on. The SEALS did an unbelievable job. They are the true heroes in this story. The job they do, day in, day out, for all us Americans is truly amazing. They deserve the recognition. And it's the one joy I have, is to shine a light on them. They do these things day in, day out and they get no recognition and thanks. And I give my thanks and recognition to them as much as I can. They are the true heroes. I called them titans then. I call them titans now.
KING: Andrea is an emergency room nurse. Did that experience help you a little, dealing with crisis?
A. PHILLIPS: I think it did. I was always hoping for the best, but sometimes, as Richard puts it, preparing for the worst. But it helped keep me calm and just waiting for the next -- OK, you know, what's the next situation I'm going to face and take it, you know, one step at a time.
KING: The book is "A Captain's Duty." Great cover, too. Somali pirates, Navy SEALS and dangerous days at sea. We'll be back with more after this.
KING: We're back with Captain Richard Phillips, and his wife, Andrea. The book is "A Captain's Duty." What are your most -- what's your most vivid memory, captain, of this whole episode?
R. PHILLIPS: Of the whole episode, I would have to say was the time in the lifeboat, the conditions there were pretty hard. The heat was pretty unbearable. The conditions were poor. And just trying to make an escape and getting away from them was my sole concern. I was happy to get on the boat, because it solved three or four of my problems. I just had to extricate myself out of there. So the time on the boat was very difficult. KING: Your book is released just as piracy and the effort to fight it off seems to be escalating. You have some suggestions about how ships should be better protected?
R. PHILLIPS: Well, I have talked in front of two Senate committees, Senator Lautenberg and Senators Kerry's, and I have espoused my feelings, as a ship's captain and a seaman first, that we should have security teams, two men specifically trained. We should have arms allowed on the ships, a few, and training to go along with them, to protect ourselves. We should harden the ships, which I think we're doing.
And we should be given more lethal, non-lethal means, and also better detection methods, because for security, detection is the number one requirement to thwart a security problem.
KING: Have you been out with a ship since?
R. PHILLIPS: No, I haven't. I am due to go back. I made my decision just a few days ago. And I'm going to be back June 1st, to head back to one of the ships that my company operates.
KING: Why do you do what you do?
R. PHILLIPS: Because I think that's what seamen do. Seamen go to the sea in ships. I've been doing it for 30 years. I contemplated retirement. It's been a great life, even before this incident. We thought Andrea and I had a great life. And it's given me an opportunity to raise my family and make a living, and I've enjoyed it. It's hard. It's demanding, dealing with the environment, but it's rewarding.
KING: Are you apart a lot, Andrea?
A. PHILLIPS: It's usually the three-on, three-off sort of time frame of rotation. But when Richard's home, he's home 24/7 on those three months, so it kind of makes up for it. We'd often say, when the kids were younger, he was there from the moment they would get up to the moment they went to bed, for those months at home, and we really would try to do a lot together as a family to make up for those months apart.
But we tried to stay connected, even when we were apart. We had the moon.
KING: Captain, what are the men like who serve on these ships?
R. PHILLIPS: Well, all men are in the Merchant Marine. Men and women serve on the ships. And they're individuals. They're fairly rugged. They take pride in being a professional seaman, which is a true calling. They're there to get the work done. We're basically there for the ship. The ship is our -- the reason why we're out there. So that's why we're there for the job. I would say being independent is one of the key things. And on a ship, there's no extra people. Everyone has a duty to do and everybody has to pull their weight. KING: Are there many women in the service?
R. PHILLIPS: I think it's growing. It is an opportunity for women too, so you do see women also in the Merchant Marine also. I have had chief engineers and chief mates and there are captains out there who are also women.
KING: And do you approach sailing again with some trepidation?
R. PHILLIPS: No, as with some of the things I've learned in this incident, one of the biggest things I like people to come away with, what I've learned, is we're stronger than we know. We can take more than we think we can. We have more ability in ourselves. And when we get into an extraordinary situation, like I was, we get to see that. And that is something Merchant Marines get to do. We're in fires. We're in medical emergencies.
And when you're in an emergency situation, an extraordinary situation, you do the right thing and you come out fairly well, that really gives you a good feedback.
KING: I salute you. The book, "A Captain's Duty." I thank both of you for being with us. Right now, Anderson Cooper and "AC 360" -- Anderson.