Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Killer Oklahoma Tornadoes; IRS Troubles Turn Nasty; Violence Flares as Protests Sweep Turkey; Workers Locked Inside as Fire Burned; New Details on Deadly 747 Crash; Senator's New Escape to Deserted Island

Aired June 3, 2013 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The death toll just rose again from the latest round of killer tornadoes to hammer Oklahoma. Authorities now say at least 18 people were killed, including an 8-year-old girl whose body was found today near the Deep Fork River. Oklahoma City was hardest hit by the twisters that barrelled through the state Friday night, less than two weeks after a monster tornado struck.

Since the storm passed, residents of Oklahoma City have been dealing with a new threat, flooding. Eight to 11 inches of rain drenched the area. Officials say the floods swept some victims' bodies up to five miles downstream. A painful and all-too-familiar process is just beginning for the latest tornado survivors, the search, the cleanup, and the early tally of how much was lost.

Here's CNN's Rene Marsh.

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the task for officials here in Oklahoma today is finding the missing, and they are vowing to search and search until everyone is accounted for.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BOBBIE STEENBERGEN, SURVIVOR: This was the bedroom.

MARSH (voice-over): Bobbie Steenbergen rode out Friday night's tornado in the basement of a neighbor's house, but when she returned above ground, the place she called home in El Reno, Oklahoma, was gone.

STEENBERGEN: I guess it was our time. So, you know, we just have to take it one day at a time.

MARSH: Now she faces the same task that so many other people in the heartland are facing. They are picking up, clearing out, and starting over.

STEENBERGEN: I have so many great friends and relatives that are helping us get through this.

MARSH: The severe weather system broke out Friday, tearing a path of death and destruction across the Midwest. In Oklahoma, three storm chasers died in pursuit of a tornado. Floodwaters swept people away in at least three states. The search continues for some people who sought shelter from the twisters in storm drains, but likely drowned and were swept away.

MARC WOODWARD, OKLAHOMA CITY FIRE DEPUTY CHIEF: It's a recovery. At this point in time, this being that this happened on Friday night, the likelihood and the chance of a survival of this would be slim.

MARSH: Neighborhoods are in ruins, schools heavily damaged, cars smashed and trucks toppled. This will be a long recovery process, but with a little help, Steenbergen says a fresh start is possible.

STEENBERGEN: You have to have faith and hope and just, you know, not worry about the future so much. Plan for the future, but not worry about it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH: The pile of rubble that you see behind me, it used to be a school. They say that they will rebuild. They are actually speaking with officials from Joplin, Missouri, to figure out the best way to rebuild so that if and when another tornado blows through here, this structure is safe -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Rene, thank you, Rene Marsh on the scene for us.

Colleagues, meanwhile, are trying to figure out exactly how storm chasers who are used to dodging twisters were killed this time in Oklahoma. Crews found the wreckage of three storm chasing -- their storm chasing truck, it was crushed like a tin can, twisted beyond recognition.

CNN's severe weather expert, Chad Myers, is in El Reno, Oklahoma, right now, where the three men died.

What a sad story this is. What do we know, Chad, because I know you have been investigating?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We know that the storm made an erratic left turn after it developed into a very big EF-3, and I don't mean a big EF-3, because it isn't a 4 or 5, a wide EF-3.

Sure, maybe the winds were only 150 or 160 miles per hour in that 3, but I believe that it was almost a mile wide of that wind circulating around and these men were caught in that circulation for some reason we still don't know quite yet, but a lot of experts I talked to think chasing, at least some storm chasing is out of control.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TIM SAMARAS, STORM CHASER: As you're watching Mother Nature at work and all the associated dynamics, fantastic. It's absolutely fantastic.

MYERS (voice-over): Veteran storm chaser Tim Samaras made a living getting inside the storm, studying tornadoes and their fury for the past 25 years.

SAMARAS: The safest place to be is right here in this vehicle.

MYERS: The 54-year-old researcher and two others from his team, including his son, were killed Friday when a tornado crushed their vehicle near El Reno, Oklahoma. His brother was shocked.

JIM SAMARAS, BROTHER: I just couldn't ever think it would happen to him because of his level of expertise, years of being able -- of doing this.

MYERS: Tim wasn't the only storm chaser in trouble that day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No! No, no! Turn now! Go south! Fred, if we don't stop, we're going to die!

MYERS: The erratic track of this storm, its sudden left turn, caught many off guard. This map shows just how popular storm chasing has become. Each dot represents a vehicle.

MIKE EILTS, CEO, WEATHER DECISION TECHNOLOGIES: You put yourself 100 yards from debris flying, you put yourself in pretty grave danger.

MYERS: Mike Eilts knows a lot about tornadoes. He was part of the research team that the movie "Twister" was based on. He thinks storm chasing has gone too far.

EILTS: It's no longer pictures of tornado that people want. It's video of debris or buildings blowing up or trees being blown around. People are taking I think big, big chances.

MYERS: But it's not just scientists and videographers, thrill seekers hoping to capture chaos up close. Tornado tours are big business in these parts.

PHIL RECTOR, CROSS TORNADO TOURS: Just like people go to see the whales and everything else, they want to see tornadoes. They want to see the big winds. So, that's what we do, is we take them out.

MYERS: But for meteorologists and researchers, on-the-ground measurements are vital, because so much still needs to be learned when it comes to violent weather.

EILTS: We still don't know everything about tornadoes, and it's really important to go measure, because you can't measure it with a radar. You can see things aloft. You can't really measure what's going on, on the ground. So, very dedicated people that have risked their life to do that, there's value created by that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MYERS: And, Wolf, I don't know if you can tell from here, but it's very windy today. For the past couple of days, the wind has been out of the north bringing in dry air. The wind today has shifted. It's out of the south, at least 30 miles per hour at times, bringing the humidity back up. Tomorrow there will be severe weather west of here and Wednesday it could be right back here in this location in Central Oklahoma. The heat, the humidity, and more dry air coming in from the west will clash and more severe weather is expected the rest of this week.

BLITZER: Severe weather. Are you saying, I just want to be precise, potentially more tornadoes in Oklahoma, Oklahoma City, and the area around there, which has seen such destruction over the past two weeks?

MYERS: Well, there's no way to predict this far out, 48 or 72 hours, whether Wednesday or Thursday will be a tornado day, but there certainly will be severe thunderstorms, towers going up 40,000, 50,000 feet high making wind and hail for sure.

There's a special kind of ingredient you need, that sheer, to get the tornado to go, but somewhere in the Plains, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, somewhere here there will definitely be tornadoes on the ground this week. I'm certainly not going to tell you it's going to be Central Oklahoma. That's just too small of a spot. There will be bullseyes across the West here, but probably not here. We will have to watch it.

Obviously, part of the problem with Oklahoma City getting hit, Moore getting hit, Moore is getting bigger, Oklahoma City is getting bigger. You put a bigger target, it's going to get hit more times.

BLITZER: Yes. What a sad, sad story this is. Chad, we know we can always count on you for the latest information. Chad is on the scene for us watching this developing story. Thank you.

All right, this just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Look at these aerials, these live aerial pictures of a wildfire burning right now. Look at this in Evergreen, Colorado. That's only about 30 miles west of Denver. Evacuation orders were just issued for some residents to leave immediately. Authorities say they are in danger right now. We're following this developing story. We will have much more information as soon as it comes in, but we're watching what's happening in Colorado, not far from Denver right now.

From Denver, from Colorado, let's go to Southern California, where a wild fire is raging right now as well. At least 29,000 acres are scorched. As many as 1,000 homes have been threatened. It's in the Palmdale area. That's north of Los Angeles.

CNN's Dan Simon is on the scene for us.

Dan, what's the latest? Set the scene for us?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, Wolf.

This is one of the half-dozen homes destroyed by this wildfire. You can see all the charred debris behind me. You can also see all this charred vegetation, all these charred trees and bushes. As you said, this fire consumed nearly 30,000 acres. It was a fast-growing blaze that put a lot of people and homes at risk.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MONIQUE HERNANDEZ, VICTIM: The flames were 200 feet high. It was horrible. We couldn't breathe. It was nothing but smoke.

SIMON (voice-over): More than 2,000 firefighters are now fighting this massive fire that doubled in size within 24 hours.

HERNANDEZ: I lost everything I own. I don't have any resources to rebuild my things over again.

SIMON: Monique Hernandez was not one of the lucky ones. She lost her home. But hundreds of properties have been saved. Firefighters using every tool in their arsenal to fight this fire on land and by air around the clock.

NORM WALKER, INCIDENT COMMANDER: We have put everything that we have into this, including night air attack.

SIMON: The weekend's winds really complicated the efforts, as did the terrain, which is steep and rugged.

WALKER: And this is an extremely old and dry fuel. 1929, that's how old that chaparral is.

SIMON: The outlook is ominous. Take a look at this national fire interagency map. Almost the entire state of California is above normal for potential wildfire threat.

DARYL OSBY, L.A. COUNTY FIRE CHIEF: This summer, we're going to have a very volatile fire season. Our fuel moistures typically don't get to the critical stages until the fall when we have Santa Ana wind events, but we project that those fuels will be at that critical state no later than July this summer.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIMON: Well, the good news is that crews are getting an upper hand on this fire. This fire is now said to be about 40 percent contained. You can see one of the helicopters making a water drop. We have been seeing helicopters all day long.

But, Wolf, the bottom line is this promises to be a very active wildfire season. This is just sort of a preview, if you will. There's going to be a lot of fires throughout the West Coast, a lot in California, and crews are trying to get residents to be proactive, to clear the brush around their homes to try to alleviate some of that risk -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dan, we will stay in close with you, Dan Simon on the scene for us, these fires in California.

Up next, thousands hit the streets in a major city clashing with police, and you won't believe what started all of this.

And President Obama's press secretary, Jay Carney, responds to a congressman's provocative charge that Carney is a -- quote -- "paid liar."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama's press secretary refused to hit back this afternoon after a top Republican congressman called him, and I'm quoting now, "a paid liar."

CNN's chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is keeping track in this nasty turn of investigation of targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In an escalating fight with Congressman Darrell Issa, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney declined to take the bait.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not going to get into a back and forth with Chairman Issa. I am not interested in a back and forth with the chairman.

YELLIN: So, White House allies are slugging on his behalf.

ROBERT GIBBS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Darrell Issa should call Jay Carney and apologize this morning.

YELLIN: On Twitter, former White House senior adviser David Plouffe brought up a decades-old accusation of illegal behavior by the former businessman. Issa is chairman of the Republican House Oversight Committee. He started the spat on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" by calling Jay Carney:

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: Their paid liar, their spokesperson, picture behind, he's still making up things.

YELLIN: Issa claims Carney misled the public about the IRS scandal when he said Tea Party targeting was driven by the IRS' Cincinnati office.

CARNEY: Apparent conduct by IRS officials in Cincinnati. Lying IRS employees in Cincinnati improperly scrutinizing 501(c)(4) organizations.

YELLIN: That's what the IRS' internal audit found and Carney says it was the basis for his remarks.

CARNEY: Those are the findings of the audit conducted by the independent inspector general, correct? Those are the findings, right?

YELLIN: Now, the Democrat helping Issa investigate the IRS issued a statement saying, "No witnesses who have appeared before the committee have identified any IRS official in Washington, D.C., who directed employees in Cincinnati to use Tea Party or similar terms."

So where's the foul? Issa says he's still interviewing IRS officials and the smoking gun is yet to come. Meantime, the new acting IRS commissioner appearing before Congress pledged to repair the agency with their help.

DANNY WERFEL, ACTING INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE COMMISSIONER: Where are the weaknesses and how do we fix them? And it's really not just me and the inspector general. It's a partnership with Congress.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: Wolf, now, senior Republicans are cautioning Darrell Issa to stay away from personal attacks as his investigation into wrongdoing at the IRS continues.

I should point out that this week Congress will be holding no fewer than six hearings into wrongdoing at the IRS. New acting Commissioner Danny Werfel's top-to-bottom review of the IRS is due in two weeks -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Pretty nasty stuff going on right now, even by Washington standards. Jessica, thanks very much.

From the president on down today, Democrats and Republicans are sending condolences to the family of U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg. He died this morning.

A statement from the president says the senator -- quote -- "improved the lives of countless Americans with his commitment to our nation's health and safety."

Senator Lautenberg was 89 years old, the oldest member of the Senate and its last surviving World War II veteran. In the Senate today, his desk is draped in black with a vase of flowers. Back in New Jersey, even Lautenberg's political opposites had some nice things to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I think the best way to describe Frank Lautenberg and the way he would probably want to be described to all of you today is as a fighter. Senator Lautenberg fought for the things he believed in. Sometimes, he just fought because he liked to. Today is a sad day for the people of New Jersey.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He was a very, very decent, a decent guy, Senator Lautenberg. Although the senator was a Democrat, the governor, Chris Christie, is expected to appoint a Republican as a temporary replacement.

Then the governor will set a date for a special election.

Our deepest, deepest condolences to his wife, Bonnie, and the entire Lautenberg family. Her name was dragged into the spotlight during the David Petraeus scandal, but now Jill Kelley today, just a little while ago, has filed a lawsuit. Coming up, we are going to tell you about her explosive allegations.

Also, we're live at the scene of a deadly fire. Why were the workers locked inside while their workplace burned?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're following some new legal fallout from the scandal that forced the resignation of the former CIA Director David Petraeus.

Jill Kelley, the woman often described as a Tampa socialite and who complained she was threatened by Petraeus' mistress, filed a lawsuit today here in Washington. She is accusing unnamed federal officials of wrongfully searching her personal e-mail and giving out what she says was false information to the news media.

Let's bring in our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

Jeffrey, you have been going through the court papers, the documents of this complaint. Jill Kelley's essentially saying the FBI violated her privacy. What specifically is she alleging?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, just to refresh people's recollection, remember the chronology here is right after the 2012 elections, just a couple days after, General Petraeus announced that he was quitting the CIA because he'd had an extramarital affair with a woman named Paula Broadwell.

That affair had come to light, at least in part, because Jill Kelley had received a series of what she regarded as threatening e-mails and went to the FBI to complain about it. The FBI discovered that those were being sent by Paula Broadwell.

In the immediate aftermath of the resignation, this, of course, was a big salacious story, and Jill Kelley's name leaked as the person who reported to the FBI that she had been receiving these threatening e- mails. In this complaint, she says that the FBI should never have disclosed publicly that she was the complaining witness, and she says the FBI treated her as if she were a criminal and disclosed her personal information and that's why she filed this case.

BLITZER: Does she have a chance against the FBI in this lawsuit?

TOOBIN: Based on my initial review of the law, I think it's very remote.

I mean, first of all, she went to the FBI and disclosed these problematic e-mails. And so there was not a question of them sort of going into her e-mail without her permission. The real gist of her complaint is that her name should never have become public. And she doesn't identify who was the person who leaked her name to the press.

As far as I know, that's not -- that's never been -- that's never been revealed. I don't think the Privacy Act, which is the federal law under which she's suing, gives her a right to sue the federal government on this ground. You can certainly be sympathetic that her name was dragged through the mud, but as far as I'm aware, there's never been an award of damages for this kind of disclosure.

BLITZER: And, briefly, Jeffrey, what rights do people have as far as their privacy is concerned when they notify the FBI of an issue like this?

TOOBIN: Well, you know, I think like a lot of things in the electronic age, it's kind of murky what exactly your rights are, but here, what makes this a little easier than most is Jill Kelley herself went and turned over her e-mails and said, look, please help me out here.

Now, the FBI did eventually identify who sent them, but they also behaved in a way that she said was inappropriate. This is an evolving area. I don't know for sure whether she will win or lose this lawsuit, but it's awfully hard to sue the government, and most people who sue the government wind up losing.

BLITZER: We will see how it plays out. It's going to take a while.

Jeffrey, thanks very much for that.

Still ahead, riot police, tear gas, and thousands of protesters flood a major city. We're going to show you how a peaceful protest led to these clashes.

And a U.S. senator tests his survival skills again. We have the video.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now: unrest, violence, and thousands of people injured. Can the leader of a key U.S. ally hold on?

New details on the cause of a deadly 747 crash and the heavy cargo that apparently brought down a plane.

And a U.S. senator and his two sons escape to a deserted island to test their survival skills. Stand by for the video of their adventure.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Very dangerous situation unfolding in Turkey right now, challenging the leadership of a key NATO ally and a member -- and a U.S. ally. Police clashed today with anti-government demonstrators in the capital, Ankara. Protests that began more than a week ago are now spreading across the country. A medical group says one person has been killed, more than 3,000 people have been injured in the past two days of unrest.

CNN senior international correspondent Ivan Watson is joining us now from Istanbul. Ivan, we're seeing thousands of people still on the streets. It's, what, after 1 a.m. right now. This reminds me of what we saw in Tahrir Square in Cairo, what, two years ago. You were there, as well.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. There are some bizarre similarities. I'm going to get out of the way so you can see. It's thinning out a little bit. It is after 1 a.m. in the morning.

It's been a predominantly peaceful day here in Istanbul, but we're hearing about some clashes taking place not too far from where we are right now between riot police and scattered groups of demonstrators.

More ominous, hearing of bigger clashes in the Turkish capital, Ankara, as well as in the border town of Antakya. That's near the Syrian border, which has been a very troublesome area for months now.

The biggest labor -- one of the biggest labor confederations, unions, in the country has announced it's going to launch a 24-hour strike tomorrow. I've had tourists operators calling me, saying what is that going to do to our business, and the Turkish stock market dropped 10 percent today. So it shows that all this unrest is having a major impact now, starting to have it, on the Turkish economy.

BLITZER: I'm sure a lot of tourists are thinking twice about visiting Turkey right now. So what started all of this, Ivan?

WATSON: You could argue that a mountain has really been made out of a mole hill. It started with a protest, a couple dozen people a week ago that didn't want some trees to get bulldozed.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WATSON (voice-over): They are the biggest antigovernment protests Turkey has seen in a decade. An explosion of anger exacerbated by the Turkish police, who've been criticized for excessive use of force.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are like monsters. They can't do that.

WATSON: It's hard to believe it all started barely a week ago with this. A couple dozen protesters camped out in a central Istanbul park. They held a peaceful sit-in, protesting government plans to bulldoze one of the last green spaces left in the city center.

Riot police cracked down, hitting protesters with tear gas and pepper spray, and then something in Turkey snapped. Demonstrators began attacking the police, outraged by the behavior of the security forces.

(on camera): You can see here how the Turkish riot police are going after gatherings of people here in Istanbul's Taksim Square, in the heart of the city. Come on over here.

Ordinary civilians being caught up in what's taking place here. An old lady knocked on the ground by the water cannon.

(voice-over): Suddenly, it wasn't about the park anymore; it was about the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has big ego. He has this Napoleon syndrome. He thinks himself as an ex-sultan controlling all this Middle Eastern politics. He needs to stop doing that. He's just a prime minister. And he needs to remember that we people elected him.

WATSON: Turkey's prime minister has responded with characteristic defiance, ridiculing the protesters and defending a decade in office, during which his political party has won many elections.

RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, TURKISH PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Tayyip Erdogan is a dictator? If you are the kind of person who can call someone who serves their people a dictator, then I have no words for you.

ASLI AYDINTASBAS, COLUMNIST: You have a prime minister who has done great deeds and he really does run the economy well, but you also have this paternalistic style, "I know what's good for you, and you -- I, as your father, can decide on the poor, the rich, the city, and the constitution." So I think people are just wanting to have a more -- more inclusive form of democracy in Turkey.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATSON: Now, Wolf, I think that the past couple of days and these recurring images of police cracking down on demonstrators has pretty much hurt the image of the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has tried to portray Turkey as a model Muslim democracy to those Arab countries over the last two years, the Arab countries of the Arab Spring, where people rose up to overthrow their dictators. In fact, he urged people like Hosni Mubarak, the president of Egypt, to listen to his people. And now some of those same words are being thrown back at the Turkish prime minister himself by his own citizens -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ivan Watson watching what's going on in Istanbul. Ivan, thanks for that excellent report.

Americans, by the way, in Turkey are being warned to stay away from protests in Turkey for their own state. The secretary of state, John Kerry, says he's concerned about all of this violence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: And we are concerned by the reports of excessive use of force by police. We, obviously, hope that there will be a full investigation of those incidents and full restraint from the police force, with respect to those kinds of incidents. And we urge all people involved, those demonstrating and expressing their freedom of expression and those in the government, to avoid any provocations of violence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The State Department is also warning that even protests that start out peacefully can turn confrontational, possibly escalating into violence. We'll stay on top of this story. A key NATO ally, Turkey, has got some major problems right now.

Coming up, a huge plume of smoke and a horrible, horrible way to die. Who locked dozens of workers inside this burning plant.

Plus, we now know what caused a huge cargo plane to fall out of the sky and slam into the ground.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: At least 119 people died in an explosion and a fire at a poultry slaughterhouse in China. Some of them reportedly trapped by locked gates. This is a horrific story, raising new and urgent questions about working conditions in China.

Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, is on the scene for us in northeast China.

Nic, what do we know? What happened?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the stories that are emerging from here, people are saying that some of the doors when they were trying to escape the building, there were about 300 workers inside the plant almost 24 hours ago to the minute when the fire began. About 100 managed to escape, some of them with very harrowing accounts.

And what they've been saying is that, as they tried to get out, only one exit was opened. Several of the doors were locked. People have described an explosion, and then the place filling with black smoke, the lights going out.

And if I just step out of the way a little bit here, you can see what looks like large pieces of crumpled paper. That's actually the twisted and burned metal roof.

The plant here stretches a couple of hundred yards parallel to the road and goes back inside sort of further behind that destruction that you can see for about another 100 yards. There were about 54 people injured, 119 accounted dead so far. And the death toll potentially could rise.

Just a few hours ago we were talking to a man who said his wife had come to work in the morning. He hasn't seen her since. He'd been to all the hospitals, and he was trying to get information about her here.

The rescue workers were going inside the building, pulling out by hand and by groups of them the big pieces of sheet metal to try to see if there was anyone left underneath, but that rescue operation does seem to have really slowed down in the last few hours. And at the moment now, it just seems to be more of a recovery operation, rather than a rescue that's going on.

The police authorities say that they have detained some of the plant -- some of the managers responsible at the plant here. Not clear how many people are actually detained, but the Chinese authorities say a full investigation is ongoing at the moment.

But we're watching people here, local people, walk by on their way to work in the morning. They're all shocked. They tell us they are just stunned at what happened here. They saw -- they can see this, and it really has them worried, Wolf.

BLITZER: Why they have to keep the doors locked is beyond me. All right, Nic, we'll check back with you. Thanks very much, Nic, reporting from China. A horrific, horrific story.

We're also learning right now more about the cause of a fiery 747 crash that killed Americans in Afghanistan. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has this story for us. Barbara, what are we learning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is a tragic war zone accident that is being watched not just by military services, but by the aviation industry around the world.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): The Boeing 747 flew for only seconds before it crashed at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. It was a horrifying scene.

Now a new report from Afghan civil aviation authorities suggests the commercially-owned plane's heavy cargo load suddenly shifted, causing the plane to rapidly fall to the ground.

GREG FEITH, FORMER SENIOR NTSB INVESTIGATOR: You want all the weight basically centered so that it's easy for the pilots to control. If you have too much weight at one end of the teeter totter, you can't get the other end down, and that's basically what's happened here.

STARR: When the cargo jet took off from Afghanistan for Dubai last month, it had five armored vehicles on board, each weighing about 13 tons. They were strapped down in a precise way to keep the load balanced. On cargo flights, if straps break and the loads shift, disaster.

What investigators are going to have to really try and find out is how this aircraft was loaded initially, who loaded it, how much knowledge did these folks have in loading it.

STARR: U.S. government aviation experts are assisting the Afghans. The report notes investigators will now look at cargo loading activities and examine recovered components. They want to know if the straps broke first, causing the vehicles to move, or if the plane was loaded wrong, causing tons of armored vehicles to shift position.

FEITH: The fact that the crew was unable to control the airplane was a result of some other failure, and that's the tragedy here, is that the crew really didn't have the ability to salvage a very bad situation.

(END VIDEOTAPE) STARR: And the entire seven-man crew was killed in this accident. It comes as the U.S. military increasingly is relying on these commercial cargo planes to remove tons of equipment as the war in Afghanistan winds down -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr with that report. Thank you.

Up next, he may be the only United States senator who could definitely compete on the show "Survivor." We have the video of Senator Jeff Flake's new island adventure.

Plus, a new response from the Taco Bell restaurant chain to this disturbing photo.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: One U.S. senator has found the ultimate getaway from Washington politics. We're talking about Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona. He took his two youngest sons on a survivalist adventure over the Memorial Day weekend, and now they're sharing their really amazing videos.

You may remember Senator Flake tested his survival skills on a deserted island nearly four years ago, but then he did it solo. Brian Todd is here, has some of these pictures to share, share with our viewers.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I will, Wolf. He told us after that last trip four years ago, he was determined to share the experience with his kids. Senator Flake has just returned from that survivalist trip with his youngest sons, and he spoke to us about the adventure.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): They speared crabs in the surf, spearfished off breathtaking reeves, subsisted on what they caught, plus coconuts for four days. They marooned themselves on a deserted Pacific island and lived to make a most excellent video out of it, complete with a music track from Imagine Dragons.

This isn't "Survivor," and while this guy may look like Matthew McConaughey, this isn't Hollywood's latest summer Blockbuster, either. This is Jeff Flake, Republican senator from Arizona, on a survivalist trip last week with his two youngest sons, 15-year-old Tanner and 13- year-old Dallin.

(on camera): What was the inspiration for this?

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: That four years ago I took a similar trip about 20 miles from here, just to a different island and stayed for seven days and seven nights. My first thought after getting off that island was where is a cheeseburger?

My thought was this would be a lot more fun.

TODD (voice-over): Just getting there was ambitious. From Phoenix to Hawaii, to Kwajalein Atoll to the tiny 1,000-foot-wide island of Biggarenn, it was 10,400 miles round trip. What did they bring with them?

FLAKE: We brought no food and no water. But we brought some de- salinator pumps to pump sea water.

TODD: Plus, a lobster trap that was lost to a shark. One of those apex predators also provided the Flakes with their most dramatic moment.

FLAKE: I speared a grouper, a big one. And it wriggled -- wiggled the spear out of my hand. And I had to dive down about 20 feet to retrieve the spear with the fish on the end of it. By that time, four sharks had closed in on the fish. We were about 50 yards out. And we didn't want to lose our meal. So we grabbed the spear and Dallin and I hightailed it for shore and -- with the sharks in pursuit.

TODD: They made it back safely.

Sleeping under the palms and stars in hammocks might seem to most of us like the best part. Nope.

FLAKE: The best part was actually every night we had to pump water for about an hour, and both boys would sit down with a pump in their hand, and the lead would be put in the ocean and we'd just watch the sunset. And there were no cell phones, obviously. No texting. No distraction.

TODD: Flake and his wife have five children. The two oldest are married. The middle one is in college. During the last campaign cycle, Flake wasn't around much and promised this trip to his two youngest boys.

(on camera): What does your wife think of all this? Is this going to be a Flake family tradition from now on?

FLAKE: You know, she was obviously worried about the dangers. But she valued the time that I'd be able to spend with the boys more than the risks there. And so she was a good sport about it. She says I'll go back to that island when there's a hotel on it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: In fact, Senator Flake says the last time he did this four years ago he got some very good advice from his wife. She suggested he keep a journal and share it with the media to quell any skepticism about the trip.

That's because that came just around the time that then-South Carolina governor Mark Sanford was caught lying about a supposed hiking trip and the Appalachian Trail when Sanford was really in Argentina with his girlfriend.

Wolf, Senator and Mrs. Flake, or Congressman and Mrs. Flake at that time, didn't want any such rumors swirling about his survivalist trip to the Pacific. BLITZER: He also tells a pretty amazing story about how aggressive the sharks were.

TODD: Unbelievable. The sharks that pursued them to shore with their fish. He said they kind of took shelter in a tidal pool, and the son got the fish into the tidal pool. They were protected from the sharks by a rock formation. He said the sharks actually physically came up to the rock formation, rested their heads there, looking at them looking at the fish. They were that aggressive.

You've heard stories like that in the Pacific where sharks are very aggressive. It will be a pretty good story for the kids to tell.

BLITZER: I'll wait until there's a hotel myself. Brian, thanks very much for that report.

Let's take a quick look at some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

The U.S. is sending a Patriot missile battery, F-16 fighter jet and about 200 military planners to Jordan. The equipment is for a military exercise, but given concern over Syria's civil war, there is still a chance it will stay longer. The military planners will work with the Jordanians to develop a response to a humanitarian crisis for the use of chemical weapons in neighboring Syria.

New executive orders for President Obama targeting any global financial institutions that help Iran with its currency transactions or people who do business with its auto sector. It's the latest U.S. attempt to isolate Iran in order to stop the Iranians from building nuclear weapons.

Just in time for summer vacation, the Walt Disney amusement parks raised daily admission prices over the weekend. Disney World in Florida now costs $95 for adults, $89 for children. California's Disneyland is slightly less, $92 for adults, $86 for children. With meals and souvenirs, a day at Disney can cost a family of four around $500.

A picture going viral on the web is giving Taco Bell officials a case of indigestion. The company's just issued a statement promising -- and I'm quoting now -- "swift action against those involved." The statement also says Taco Bell believes the photo is a prank, and the food was not served to any customers.

In a minute, Jeanne Moos has the story of a fast-thinking percussionist who had a little problem.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: As all of us know, lots of things can go wrong when you're singing or playing the national anthem. Jeanne Moos found one you don't see every day, though.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Oh, say can you see? The kid playing the cymbals? So what's a 13-year-old to do, suddenly one cymbal short?

All eyes were focused on Andrew Pawelczyk, practically see his thoughts racing. His desperate but well-executed salute to the flag cracked up classmates at Eisenhower Junior High in Darien, Illinois, especially the girl playing the big bass drum.

(on camera): Just to be clear, Andrew didn't drop the cymbal. The thing broke.

(voice-over): They have leather straps you hold onto. Note how Andrew is left holding the strap.

(on camera): You have about ten seconds there. What did you consider? What were your options?

ANDREW PAWELCZYK, JUNIOR HIGH BAND MEMBER: I considered running and getting a new pair. And then I considered trying to pick it back up, without the handle.

MOOS: But with various war veterans in his family history, Andrew opted to salute and ended up bathed in Internet glory. "Dude nailed it." "That was the greatest save in the history of saves."

HEIDI PAWELCZYK, ANDREW'S MOTHER: His parents are really proud of him.

MOOS: Musicians lose control of their cymbals all the time. Losing a cymbal is no reason to reach for Cymbalta.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Depression hurts. Cymbalta can help.

MOOS (on camera): The thing about Andrew is that he used his head. Actually, so did this guy. But nobody's saluting him.

Andrew says he wasn't embarrassed, but his mom...

H. PAWELCZYK: Yes, I was mortified. But you know, what's he going to do?

MOOS: "When in doubt, salute," someone commented.

(on camera): Let's all salute patriotic symbolism.

GRAPHIC: CYMBALISM

MOOS: Let's see it.

(voice-over): He may seem klutzy, but he's a symbol of turning fail into win.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: Andrew, good job. Andrew says he's only played the cymbals three times in his life. His mom says he's always great in a crisis. He came through.

Playing the cymbals, by the way, not easy. I did it at Kenmore Senior -- Kenmore West Senior High School outside of Buffalo. I played the kettle drums. Cymbals not easy at all. Good work.

Thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.