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Three Americans Killed In France Plane Crash; Capitol Police: Too Much Partying On Capitol Hill. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired March 25, 2015 - 16:30   ET


[16:30:01] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Want to bring in CNN aviation analyst Mary Schiavo.

Mary, so many developments today. I wonder what you think is the most important. Is the cockpit voice recorder now in their hands, they now have an audio file, getting information from that?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: I agree. I think it's the most important development for the investigation.

I do think that they will need the flight data recorder, because there's a lot of different theories of what might have happened based on people's interpretation of the facts, based on prior accidents. And so if it was a situation where the pilots were for some reason incapacitated, that flight data recorder is going to give them more clues than the cockpit voice recorder will.

But you could tell from the interview with the BEA investigation chief that they have reviewed some of the conversations, discussions, the voices. He didn't say exactly how much of it they had. Ordinarily, you get two hours, a little over two hours. But he absolutely would not say what they heard in the last 10 minutes of the flight. So it appears they are on track.

And this isn't unusual. That's usually what happens with the cockpit voice recorder. They wait, they analyze it, they try to match it up with other data that they know, for example, air traffic control tapes, and only once they are able to do that and put a timeline on it do they do a written transcript, which is what is they release. They don't usually release the voices.

BERMAN: It now seems that the French president, Francois Hollande, was right when he said that they found the shell for the flight data recorder, but not the inside, not the part that actually holds the data. Is that unusual for a black box essentially to be broken apart like that and how concerning is that? Do you think it's likely they ultimately find these small pieces that hold the data?

SCHIAVO: Well, yes, it's unusual, but the black box is actually in a few parts anyway.

For example, on the voice recorder that they have shown many pictures of, the part that was terribly damaged is the part that holds the relay system that takes the information from the various recorders in the cockpit and feeds it through, and the data -- it's kind of almost like a little stack of files. But the data section was intact.

So there is still hope here. And, remember, in September 11, 2001 on the four planes that were crashed on that day, two of the four flight data recorders did survive those horrific fires. So there is still hope. It's going to be finding it that's going to be the biggest problem.

BERMAN: And it's such hard work up there on that hillside.

Mary Schiavo, thank you so much.

SCHIAVO: Thank you.

BERMAN: The black boxes will be so key for investigators, but until that information is completely analyzed, they are looking closely at the plane's path, especially the final descent. Other similar crashes might give them critical clues. That's next.


[16:36:50] BERMAN: Welcome back to the lead. I'm John Berman, in for Jake Tapper.

Continuing our breaking news coverage in the investigation into the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525, right now, investigators are carefully examining the plane's recovered cockpit voice recorder with the hope that it might contain a treasure trove of valuable information in determining what caused this plane to crash. But they also continue to focus on the flight's path.

CNN's Tom Foreman is in our virtual room.

And, Tom, what can we learn from the path of this plane compared to past airline disasters?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, maybe a lot if you can find similarities.

And let's start by looking at some plane flights just as they are. Here's one we are going to look at, Alaska Air. This was a terrible crash over the West Coast, Flight 261. They had a massive mechanical failure on this flight. Let me bring in a chart here that will show the last 15 minutes of flight.

Let's talk about what this plane did. As this plane lost its ability to be controlled by these pilots, you can see them wrestling with the plane for a moment or two here, but in the end, it reaches this cataclysmic point where they just can do nothing else with it. The plane plunged about 18,000 feet in some 80 seconds into the water, killing everyone on board.

And you can see the signature sign here, when the plane is completely uncontrollable and down it goes. Let's consider another possibility here. This is a Swiss airplane that went down off Nova Scotia. In this case, they saw smoke in the cockpit. They started dealing with it and then it turned into a full-on fire. This was a slowly evolving problem. And they kept trying to deal with

it for quite some time. Let's take a look at that flight pattern. In this case, they were wrestling with the plane and, frankly, it looks like they're wrestling with the plane. It goes on for quite awhile. You can see it from above. You can see they are also looping around dumping fuel, trying to head for an emergency landing and eventually simply running out of real estate and down they go, too, also all the lives lost.

Very different patterns here. And now one more to consider here. Let's talk about this Greek flight, the Helios flight. This went down after the crew was overcome and they had a case of dramatic decompression. Basically, they ran out of oxygen and everyone passed out on board, according to the investigators. What happened in that case?

The plane flew for quite some time on autopilot. And in the end, there was a heroic effort by one flight attendant who roused long enough to try to fly the plane, but really couldn't do anything with it. And the result was that last 15 minutes, look at that pattern, because it's quite different. In this case, the pattern is the plane basically running out of fuel, still on autopilot, drifting down and crashing, too, with all lives lost.

You can see, John, three different flights, all with the same result in the end, a terrible, terrible crash, but very different patterns as to how it occurred.

BERMAN: All right, Tom Foreman, fascinating history right there. I appreciate it.

Want to bring in our panel of experts to sort of discuss these theories. CNN aviation analyst Miles O'Brien is with us. And John Gadzinski, he is a Boeing 777 captain and former director of safety for the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations.

Miles, let me start with you here.

You saw Tom's demonstration there. Does this fit into any of those theories? This sort of falls somewhere in the middle there. It was this gradual 10-minute decline, but fairly consistent decline.

[16:40:10] MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Yes. It's kind of an outlier based on what we just heard.

In the first two cases that he spoke of, Swiss Air and Air Alaska, the crews had long communications with air traffic control talking about their problems, troubleshooting. In both cases, the ultimate investigation was that they spent a little too much time troubleshooting. Both of them should have gotten on the ground faster.

But, in any case, there was a lot of communication. In the case of Helios, there was subtle decompression. The crew became incapacitated and it flew its flight on autopilot pretty much as they had programmed it in. There were fighter jets which came beside it and they were able to determine that was the cause. The crew was incapacitated.

But this one, what you have is a crew that is noncommunicative, which would lead you down to the road to an incapacitated crew. But then what you see is an erratic descent, which doesn't look like an autopilot descent. It also doesn't look like a standard emergency decompression-style descent, which would be a little bit faster.

In that case, if you did in fact have somebody applying pressure on the controls, and dealing with this decompression trying to get the plane down, you would expect them to get on the radio and make a mayday call and you would expect them to turn the plane away from mountains toward an airport. That's why we find ourselves scratching our heads.

BERMAN: John, you are a 737 captain. Is there any explanation how or for why they could be conscious for this 10 minutes and have not communicated with the ground?

JOHN GADZINSKI, BOEING 777 PILOT: Well, if they had an emergency that they are both very intently dealing with, or if the airplane was put in an idle descent where the speed breaks out and the lateral navigation was keeping it on course and for some reason they were overcome by hypoxia, you could have seen something like this.

It is going to be very interesting to hear the cockpit voice recorder because that's going to be one of our first indications. We are going to be looking for -- or the group that is analyzing the cockpit voice recorder is going to be looking for a few things. Number one, were the pilots on oxygen?

You can tell. There's a difference in the sound of how the pilots talk if they have that plastic cup over their mouth, they have the plastic oxygen mask that the crew uses, as opposed to the passengers. They sound different over the radio. They sound different talking to each other. You will be able to hear that.

You will also be able to hear the different types of checklists, if they are talking to each other, what kind of checklists they are running and have an idea of what they were dealing with. Most importantly, you will be able to hear if there was an enhanced ground proximity warning system.

Obviously, if they were conscious and if they were in control of the airplane, that would be a very key bit of information for the investigation.

BERMAN: Yes. Miles, John brings up a great point here. When you listen to the cockpit voice recorder, when you pull this audio, you are not going to get a running narration from the pilots probably, but there are a lot of other things that you can listen for that are informative.

O'BRIEN: Yes. There have been cases -- there's an accident we are familiar with where one of the windshields blew out of an aircraft, which could clearly cause a decompression event, rapid decompression event, some sort of incapacitation or partial incapacitation of the crew.

And certainly, that kind of noise along with the associated warning signs and along with did somebody have a mask on, are they breathing as if they are breathing through a regulator or respirator, all those things will be captured by the cockpit voice recorder. It's good that they have that data and it's good that they are analyzing it, and that will do an awful lot toward shedding some light on what happened here.

BERMAN: Yes, but the flight data recorder, they need that too for the complete picture. And they're still searching for that.

Miles O'Brien, Captain John Gadzinski, thanks so much for being with us.

Coming up: The victims of this crash, they came from around the world, including a mother and her daughter from Virginia. They were traveling together. Today, that young woman's father too distraught to talk -- what we are now learning about them and the other victims. That's next.




BERMAN: Welcome back to THE LEAD. John Berman in for Jake today. More on the World Lead, new information coming in about the 150 people killed on Germanwings Flight 9525 including three Americans. We now know the identities of two of them, a mother and daughter from Northern Virginia.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux joins me from Nokesville, Virginia, that is the hometown of Yvonne and Emily Selke. Suzanne, we are learning so many stories now of so many of these victims.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. This is actually the home of where two of those victims lived. We have been talking -- a lot of neighbors don't necessarily know each other that well because the houses are back in the woods, a real privacy that they want to maintain.

But I was able to talk to a relative and they released a statement telling us, "Our entire family is deeply saddened by the losses of Yvonne and Emily Selke, two wonderful caring amazing people who meant so much to so many."


MALVEAUX (voice-over): This remote crash site high in the French Alps has now become an epicenter of international grief. Today, we are learning more about the three Americans, two from Virginia who lost their lives here, Emily Selke and her mother, Yvonne, who was a 22- year veteran of the government contracting company, Booz Allen Hamilton. Emily was a proud alumni of Drexel University's Gamma Sigma Sigma Zeta sorority. On its Facebook page the chapter posted, "As a person and friend, Emily always put others before herself and cared deeply for all those in her life."

JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: We can also confirm that a third U.S. citizen was on board the flight, but are not releasing the name at this time out of respect for the family.

[16:50:02] MALVEAUX: Among the other silenced here, 34-year-old opera singer, Maria Radner, who was traveling with her husband and baby. Radner had just completed performances in Barcelona with her colleague, Oleg Bryjak, who died alongside her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is tearing a huge gap and there will be scars left over.

MALVEAUX: At this headmaster's school in Germany, they are mourning the loss of 16 young students and two instructors. One teacher was recently married. The other, engaged.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They had plans for their life and that was changed from one minute to the next like a burst the bubble.

MALVEAUX: The school group had just finished an exchange program at this school in Spain. Outside, two students mourned over their final photo with their friends.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): On Friday, we were with them all day on a field trip to the beach. They were really happy because they had never seen the ocean. It's hard to believe.

MALVEAUX: For many of the victims, death came in the prime of their lives, 28-year-old Paul Andrew Bramley from Britain was studying hospitality and set to begin an internship next week. A 29-year-old mechanical engineer, Greg Friday, was traveling with his mother who celebrated a birthday the day before the flight.

Today, investigators scoured the grim scene to identify more passengers whose lives were cut much too short.


MALVEAUX: John, Raymond Selke, who lost his wife as well as his daughter, he spoke with CNN, obviously very distraught. Really does not want to speak on camera. But he simply thanked people for their prayers and for their support and also asked us to respect their privacy -- John.

BERMAN: Our sympathies go out to that family and so many all these families involved in this tragedy. Suzanne Malveaux in Nokesville, Virginia, thanks so much.

Shifting gears for us, coming up, the hallowed halls of Congress where politicians make back room deals and hold booze-filled parties. Now capital police are saying cut it out, but will anything really change? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BERMAN: Welcome back to THE LEAD. It sure looks like a party, but is there too much drunken revelry on Capitol Hill? According to the capitol police, there is. In a letter obtained by CNN, authorities are calling for an end to booze-filled parties over the fourth of July.

They are asking Congress for help to stop their guests from drunkenly teetering on balconies in American flag pants. Want to bring in CNN's Athena Jones. Athena, you know, these parties on the 4th are supposed to be for service men and service women, but they have turned into something much more, shall we say, debaucherous and dicey in terms of security?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Dicey in terms of security and also for some of these party goers, physical safety since we know that drunk people don't always have the best coordination or judgment.

BERMAN: Really.

JONES: Now we are talking about separate events that have kind of merged over the years as they have grown. You have a reception honoring wounded service members and these informal gatherings of members and hill staffers. The police board also wants to prevent incidents that could be embarrassing to Congress. So they are putting their foot down or at least trying to.


JONES (voice-over): The U.S. capitol, one of the most protected buildings in the country.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: This magnificent capitol building, may it ever remain the symbol of democracy.

JONES: And among the most revered where the leader of the free world takes the oath of office. It's also been the site of wild booze- filled parties? The Capitol Police Board says the annual Memorial Day and Fourth of July post-concert receptions at the capitol are getting out of control, even dangerous resulting in falls and injuries.

In one case, a party goer nearly fell from a balcony, according to a source. This is a serious problem given the post-9/11 heightened threat environment at the capitol, the board says in a letter to top congressional leaders.

The officials responsible for protecting the capitol say they want big changes to the way these events are run. The parties, hosted by law makers, their staff and concert organizers, take place inside the historic Statuary Hall and on the upper and lower terraces of the capitol's front, venues often used for official events --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is in the spirit of our great country.

JONES: -- that also offer a perfect view of the concerts and fireworks. Wounded service members have been honored guests at some of the receptions in recent years, but the enormous number of attendees at the parties is making it difficult for police to keep the building secure.

With unaccompanied guests, many invited by corporate sponsors, wandering the hallways and venturing into restricted areas. The board wants to move the receptions to the nearby U.S. Botanic Garden and limit access to the capitol to members of Congress and their guests and staff with offices in the building.

Changes they say would relieve safety, security and respectability concerns, all in an effort to preserve the building's integrity and esteem.


JONES: Now congressional leaders haven't yet made a decision about whether to accept all of the recommendations of the capitol police board, but one source tells us leadership has been mostly supportive of this effort. We also reached out to the concert organizers for their response to this proposal and we haven't heard back yet.

BERMAN: It's the capitol. You got to be careful, right?

JONES: Absolutely. There's lots of marble around there. So don't slip and fall in your party going.

BERMAN: All right, Athena, thanks so much. Check out our show page at for video, blogs and extras.

That is it for THE LEAD today. I'm John Berman. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."