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Japan Airlines Jet Bursts Into Flames Landing At Tokyo Airport; Two Killed In New York Crash Being Investigated As Possible Terrorism; Congress Faces A Race Against The Clock. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired January 02, 2024 - 05:30   ET




ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Thanks for being up early with us. I'm Kasie Hunt. Just after 5:30 here on the East Coast of the U.S.

But we have breaking news this morning in Tokyo -- a Japan Airlines jet that burst into flames as it collided with another plane at Tokyo Hanada Airport. These terrifying pictures with an almost unbelievable ending. Officials say all passengers and crew successfully evacuated from the plane.

CNN's Will Ripley is live for us in Tokyo with more. Will, what can you tell us since we last spoke?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kasie. We do have some new information.

One extraordinary piece of information is that there were 367 passengers on this one plane, including eight children under two years old, along with 12 crew members. And all of them had about 90 seconds -- around 400 people had around 90 seconds to get off of this plane successfully before it was completely engulfed in flames. This is the latest reporting from Japan's national broadcaster NHK.

And if you just think about that -- think about when you've ever been on a plane and it is packed and every seat is full, as this flight was, flying from the tourist hotspot of Sapporo in northern Japan's Hokkaido Island coming into Tokyo, likely packed with international tourists, with Japanese people who were celebrating the holiday weekend. This is one of the very busiest travel days as people are returning home.

Haneda Airport, about 20 minutes from where I'm standing -- one of two major airports that services Tokyo. It is an international transit hub.

And so, this Japan airliner full of people as it lands shortly before 6:00 local time this evening and shortly before 5:00 a.m. Eastern time -- I'm sorry, I should say shortly before 4:00 a.m. Eastern time. There's a 14-hour time difference here -- 14 hours ahead of the United States East Coast. This flight collided with a Japan Coast Guard aircraft that had half a dozen people on board.

One of those crew members on the Japan Coast Guard aircraft escaped. Five of them are unaccounted for right now.

So these two planes somehow ended up in the same spot on the same runway at Haneda Airport and there was a fiery, violent collision. Passengers inside the plane have started to post on social media. They could look out their window. They could see the engine on fire. You could hear the screams inside the cabin as people realized that something was terribly wrong. And yet, those 12 crew members to safely evacuate, in a matter of seconds, 367 people, including eight children under two years old. It's just -- it's just extraordinary.

And this -- adding to the tragedy of this situation is that the Coast Guard aircraft was actually going to be taking off from Haneda. The Coast Guard has a base near Haneda Airport. They were supposed to fly to a military base to help with the hurricane (sic) relief efforts because the death toll here in Japan continues to climb upward from the hurricane (sic) -- the 7.5 hurricane (sic) that rattled the central western coast of Japan just hours after this nation rang in the new year.


So a very difficult time for Japan and these pictures are very, very scary to watch. But the outcome --

HUNT: Will, I don't want to interrupt you here --

RIPLEY: -- everybody onboard that Japan airliner -- just amazing.

HUNT: I just -- you mentioned a hurricane. I think we're -- it's the 7.5 magnitude earthquake --


HUNT: -- that just occurred.

RIPLEY: Sorry, sorry. Yes, I should have said --

HUNT: Don't worry about it. You are in the thick of breaking news coverage.

RIPLEY: I've been -- I've been working --

HUNT: I --

RIPLEY: -- straight through. You know what it's like when you're a little sleep-deprived, don't you?

HUNT: Absolutely. I absolutely do.

And can you bring us up to speed on what the latest is on that earthquake because quite frankly, the pictures we're seeing out of there as well have just been devastating?

RIPLEY: Yeah. So, look, when the ground started shaking so violently on the west coast of Japan, of course, the first thought that people had whether it was here in Tokyo or whether it was in the towns closest to the shore that felt the shaking most violently -- the first thought that people had was could this be another 3/11.

That, of course, March 11, the day back in 2011 when the earthquake -- massive earthquake, 9.1, caused a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant after huge tsunami waves -- some of them well over 100 feet tall -- crashed into the east coast of Japan. And some communities that are along that area remain uninhabitable to this day as a result of the nuclear meltdown -- the leaking from the reactor. And so, that triggered a lot of fears here in Japan.

Now, in the end, the tsunami -- the major tsunami warning that was issued -- the first one, by the way, since that disaster well over a decade ago -- it turned out to be much smaller waves. And yet, still, this is an extraordinarily devastating quake for Japan, which has some of the most stringent building codes in the world.

And the pictures that we're seeing of roads caving, houses flipped over, and dozens of people killed, it just speaks to the fact that this first -- these first couple of days of 2024 are very trying, indeed, for the people of Japan. A very resilient people though, Kasie. They've been through a lot of disasters in the past and they know how to get through this. They come together and they help each other out as people do in the United States as well during hard times.

HUNT: Yeah.

RIPLEY: And that's exactly what we're seeing right now. It's very sad that this Coast Guard plane was on its way to help the earthquake victims when this collision happened.

HUNT: Yeah. And as you know, five unaccounted for from the Coast Guard plane while everyone from that passenger airliner was safe.

Will Ripley, thank you very much for that report and I'm sure we'll be back with you as developments unfold this morning.

But we do want to go now to yet another developing story. Two people are dead in Upstate New York after a fiery crash that's now being investigated as possible terrorism. The crash took place outside the Kodak Center in Rochester where about 1,000 people were attending a concert. As people were crossing the street, one car hit another car sending both into a group of pedestrians and two other vehicles. First responders found at least a dozen gasoline canisters inside the car that caused the crash.

Let's bring in CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem on this. Juliette, good morning to you.

What do you make of this? We don't have a lot of details about it but there were at least a dozen gas canisters in his car. As someone who considers and analyzes these types of situations all the time, what are you thinking about when you hear that?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST (via Webex by Cisco): (Audio difficulty).

HUNT: I think -- I think we may have lost Juliette Kayyem's audio. So she may be still with us. Juliette -- can we hear Juliette yet?


HUNT: There she is. All right, Juliette, if you can hear me, we were just talking about --


HUNT: -- what those gas canisters may have meant or what you would think about as someone who is analyzing these kinds of situations.


HUNT: We don't have a lot of details, again, about why these canisters would have been in the car.

What are -- what are your sort of -- what's your analysis of the situation?

KAYYEM: So, so far -- I assume you can hear me now. So far, there's three pieces of evidence that I would -- we would continue to look at through the day because there's not an innocent explanation for them -- that this is just a random (INAUDIBLE).

The first, of course, just massive amounts of canisters of gas or oil that would easily ignite that have been used in terrorist incidents before to create a major explosion.

The second is we understand from law enforcement that this was a rented vehicle by a person who had their own car. So he rents a vehicle and then fills it with these canisters. Once again, there might be an innocent explanation or a non-nefarious explanation for this but it certainly is odd enough behavior that you would put these pieces together.


The third is, of course, an investigation is being led by the Joint Terrorism Task Force up in New York. That is likely due to the fact that there -- that there was this kind of explosives as well as the rental. And then they're going to determine essentially who the person is who was driving the car and what the motive -- if there's a potential understanding of what a motive may be.

HUNT: Yeah.

Juliette, what is the location outside this concert tell you about it?

KAYYEM: Yeah. So it's what we would call a soft target by a hard target. So, the hard -- the concert hall -- presumably, it's a sophisticated one like this -- is going to have extensive security in terms of cameras. In terms of how you enter -- the kind of security you have when you enter. Lots of law enforcement presence depending on the nature of the concert.

But a concert is one you, in preparedness efforts, you kind of don't worry about because you know how to fortify it. This is on the outside where things become softer so to speak. That there is fewer law enforcement. There is probably not much in terms of investigations of the car. Some concert facilities may look into cars before they can get close to the facility. We don't know what their security posture is.

So that's the kind of thing that also they're going to learn in Rochester -- sort of how close could it get and why.

But the Kodak Center is in -- I know the center. It is in sort of an area that has public commerce as well as public streets. It's not one of these isolated facilities where you have a half-mile drive, say, to get to the stadium. So it would be hard to fully fortify. So those are all the aspects that they're looking at now.

I have to say I've been doing this a long time. I'm not the first -- you know, I don't -- I don't scream terrorism but the combination of the amount of explosives he had with the rental aspect, which we know from previous terror incidents is a tactic used if the person thinks they can try to get away, is suspicious. It just honestly is.

HUNT: Yeah.

Juliette Kayyem, thank you very much for getting up quickly with this breaking news --

KAYYEM: Thank you.

HUNT: -- and also for your caution. Always appreciate that. See you soon, I hope.

KAYYEM: Thank you -- yes.

HUNT: All right.

After a contentious and historically unproductive 2023, Congress is going to be returning to Washington this week. They've got a long to- do list. Lawmakers are set to tackle a number of divisive issues that they frankly punted into the new year. That includes immigration, Ukraine funding, preventing a government shutdown. There's also the Biden impeachment battle as well as an argument over renewing government surveillance powers.

Then they also have to reauthorize the FAA and the farm bill. The first funding deadline is set for January 19. Lawmakers return to work will likely become a mad dash. And this, of course, all with the 2024 election looming as well.

Let's bring in national political reporter for the Associated Press, Michelle Price. Michelle, good morning. It's always great to have you. The election is going to mean that all of these fights -- always difficult, especially over things like immigration -- are going to be all the more difficult as this -- as they get underway here.

MICHELLE PRICE, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: That's right. I mean, usually, an election year is not the time where you see folks on different sides of the aisle coming together and deciding to work together. They have political motivations that kind of entrench them in their positions.

And this Congress is coming back at a time when they have seemed pretty far apart on some of these contentious issues, including this push -- this impeachment inquiry that was launched at the end of December right before they left. That's not exactly a thing that kind of smooths over the relations between Democrats and Republicans.

HUNT: Michelle, this Congress has been historically unproductive. I feel like we say this a lot. But this graphic -- I think that we can put up on the screen -- will kind of show you just how few bills have been passed -- there you go -- in the 118th Congress. That's the one we're in. I believe it's just 27 bills and we're halfway through.

Obviously, some conservatives would take issue with us using this as a -- as a metric for the productivity of government. But when we're looking at things that they need to do, like actually fund the government, et cetera, it's pretty basic stuff.

What do you see as the possibility for, say, a government shutdown here early in the year or some of these other crisis-to-crisis governing things happening in the next year?

PRICE: Yeah. I mean, even if you're not looking at a new achievement in lack of achieving things -- just looking at where we started a year ago tomorrow, we had Kevin McCarthy starting the first of 15 votes to become speaker. As of a few days ago, he's no longer in Congress because he struck this deal that members of his own conference were unhappy about to fund the government.

So those deadlines are starting to kick in. The first one is January 19, so we could see a partial shutdown if they don't get there.


The issues that his conference was upset about -- you know, those haven't gone away and it's unclear if Speaker Mike Johnson has any plan to get his folks on board. And whether -- even if he does, if they can agree with the Senate.

You know, one of the things -- one of the big issues we saw as we wrapped up at the end of December was the ongoing push to strengthen border security. To do something about the asylum seekers. To fund Ukraine and Israel aid. There are some signs of some movement there. But when it comes to funding the government this is an area where it still seems like they're far apart.

HUNT: Yeah. Well -- and honestly, that immigration issue, in particular -- the border security issue has become so politically explosive. If anything, it's going to be more difficult to solve that now than it would have been before Christmas.

Michelle Price of the Associated Press. Thank you very much for being with us this morning. I always appreciate your time.

All right. Up next, Ron DeSantis has bet it all on Iowa. Now the caucuses just two weeks away. How he's stacking up against the competition -- of course, former President Donald Trump. That's next.


HUNT: Welcome back.

We are following breaking news in Tokyo where a Japan Airlines jet burst into flames after colliding with another plane as it landed. Officials say hundreds of passengers and crew successfully evacuated before the jet became fully engulfed in flames within just minutes. But we're told that the people on a Japanese Coast Guard plane that they collided with may not have gotten out.

We're going to have much more on the latest on this on "CNN THIS MORNING" in just a few minutes.


I want to get now, though, to this. Israel's military announcing they'll begin pulling thousands of troops out of Gaza this week in preparation for a new case -- phase of the conflict. A senior U.S. official says that this indicates a gradual shift to a lower-intensity military campaign. And it could also mean that thousands of Israelis forced to leave their homes near the Gaza border could soon be allowed to return.


YOAV GALLANT, ISRAELI MINISTER OF DEFENSE (through translator): In accordance with the recommendations given by the IDF and the defense establishment, we will soon be able to return communities home in areas within a range of four to seven kilometers north of the Gaza Strip.


HUNT: All right, CNN's Jim Bitterman joins us now from Paris with the latest. Jim, good morning to you.

This drawdown announcement comes after the military said they were expanding operations just a handful of days ago. What does this tell you about the next phase of the war in Gaza?

JIM BITTERMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it's going to be different, Kasie. The fighting is still going on. We got a report from AP this morning that indicates this fighting in and around the southern Gaza city of Khan Yunis, the second-largest city in Gaza. Meanwhile, these troops, like you mentioned, are going to be withdrawn. There's two brigades of reservists who have been stationed in the north and central part of Gaza -- they are being withdrawn and demobilized. And then another three brigades of regular army who are also being withdrawn.

It should be said one of the things that -- one of the pressures on the Israeli government is the pressure of the economy. Because when you take this many troops -- and each brigade represents about 4,000 troops. When you take this many troops out of the Israeli economy and commit them into the war that means that the Israeli economy suffers, especially in a country the size of Israel.

So they will be returning home.

Another thing that will be happening later on this week is that Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to stop in Israel on a Middle East tour and probably reinstate the U.S. position that Israel should shift the phase of this war away from the massive bombing campaign that we've seen and more towards targeted operations -- Kasie.

HUNT: So, Jim, the other story in Israel that we're following is this unprecedented ruling where Israel's Supreme Court -- they struck down a key part of this controversial law stripping the judiciary of its power to overturn government decisions. It's called Reasonableness Law.

What do you see is the impact of that and how that evolves next?

BITTERMAN: Well, it should be said that this was an amendment that was proposed nearly a year ago and it was something that had not a lot to do with the Gaza war. But once the Gaza war started and we had this war cabinet put together -- composed -- in order to keep the government functioning during the war, opponents of Prime Minister Netanyahu -- who was, in fact, the proponent of this change. The change in the law, by the way, would weaken the judiciary in judicial oversight over the government in Israel.

So, Netanyahu proposed this. But now, within this own cabinet, he's got opponents to that change. And, in fact, now the Supreme Court has ruled that -- by a vote of 8-7 -- that, in fact, that change is not going to happen. So it's a blow for Netanyahu and some of his --

HUNT: Yeah.

BITTERMAN: -- proponents have said that, in fact, this should be something that will weaken the military effort, although there may not be a whole lot of connection there -- Kasie.

HUNT: All right, Jim Bitterman for us in Paris. Thank you very much for that.

No shortage of news. Republican candidates prepping their final pitches because there are just two weeks until the Iowa caucuses. The first-in-the-nation contests are going to kick off the primary season and, of course, set the tone for elections ahead. The calendar now flipped to 2024. The general election is within view.

Let's bring in CNN national political reporter Daniel Strauss. Daniel, good morning to you.

Ron DeSantis went to a sports bar yesterday in Iowa. He has staked his whole campaign here. He says he's working hard out there.

What do you -- what do you see -- where do you see him standing in what's going to be his last stand here in a couple of weeks, most likely?

DANIEL STRAUSS, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Yeah, and he's not beating around the bush about it. He is saying and telling supporters that he wants them to help him defy the odds. And this is a precipitous change for DeSantis if you think about where he was before he launched his campaign in the early days. He was the very much heavyweight in this primary among all the Republican candidates, except for Donald Trump, and now he is really grasping for prominence in this primary.

But I wouldn't count him out quite yet simply because look, this is a lot -- to me, this is a lot like past campaigns where there has been one candidate who has worked the ground very hard, gone to every county in Iowa, and has turned out ahead. I think about Rick Santorum in 2012.


So it's not an ideal situation for DeSantis but at the same time, all is not lost.

But, at the same time, let's also keep an eye on Nikki Haley who keeps gaining ground both in Iowa -- or both in New Hampshire and nationally. And it wouldn't be a surprise if she overperformed in Iowa once the caucuses actually come.

HUNT: Yeah -- no. I mean, look, Iowa is an expectations game as much as anything else. And you had Trump earlier -- last month, I guess, saying don't sit at home and say I think we'll take it easy, darling. It's a wonderful day. Because he's trying to make sure that his supporters actually get out to the polls.

Daniel, you mentioned New Hampshire. Chris Sununu, the governor of New Hampshire, was on with Dana Bash over the weekend basically telling Chris Christie to get out of the race because the one chance to take Trump down is Nikki Haley winning in New Hampshire and he's in the way of that.

What did you make of him coming out and saying that now?

STRAUSS: I mean, it just shows where the larger Haley orbit is in this primary. I mean, they want to see unity among the anti-Trump vote and the Republican voters who are completely disinterested in voting for a super-conservative candidate. And for much of the race and the last time he ran in 2016, that was Chris Christie. Christie has always looked at New Hampshire as his springboard within the Republican primary.

So the fact that a popular Republican governor who has endorsed Christie's chief rival among the anti-Trump wing of the Republican Party is saying that Christie should flat-out drop out really shows the calculus that the Haley team sees as their path to victory in New Hampshire.

HUNT: And it really does seem like he's taking the opposite attack (PH). He's been working -- he's been working really hard. He's added more events in New Hampshire and he's got a seven-figure ad buy. A lot going on there.

Daniel Strauss, thank you. Love your tie this morning.

STRAUSS: Let's go blue.

HUNT: We're saying goodbye because I'm going to go talk to Coy Wire next about a Rose Bowl win. So --


HUNT: -- go blue. Thank you.

Because, up next, then there were two. College football's national championship game is set and my top-ranked Michigan is going to take on number-two Washington after a pair of New Year's Day thrillers.

Coy Wire has this morning's Bleacher Report. Coy, good morning to you.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Congrats to you, fine lady, and Happy New Year.

There was a lot of --

HUNT: Happy.

WIRE: -- controversy before the college football playoff who should get in, who was left out. But in the end, it's the top two teams advancing.

We start with the granddaddy of them all, the Rose Bowl. Number one Michigan, number four Alabama -- the two winningest programs in college football history needing overtime to determine a winner.

The score was tied at 20. Michigan with the ball first and Blake Corum takes the second snap of the possession and breaks a few tackles and more than a few Crimson Tide hearts along the way. A 17-yard score. That would mean that Bama was going to have to match.

But it was time for the Wolverines' defense to shine. Fourth and three, Michigan swarming Jalen Milroe and the designed QB run. They sacked him five times on the night as Kasie I'm sure would be glad to tell you.

A 27-20 win. Let the celebration begin.


BLAKE CORUM, MICHIGAN RUNNING BACK: It was a team effort. It was a team effort. What are you going to do when adversity hits? We had some adversity today -- a little sloppy -- but we came together as one. You know, I'm my brother's keeper. I know my brothers had my back. And I told them if we score -- if we tie this game and get overtime we're going to win, and we came out on top. I'll see you in Houston.

J.J. MCCARTHY, MICHIGAN QUARTERBACK: And I have superstitions. Like, I cannot like they do with the Stanley Cup. And I didn't touch it all week and I just was waiting for this moment to, you know, put it in my mouth -- yeah.


WIRE: Watch out for the thorns, kid.

The other semifinal was the Sugar Bowl. Number two Washington led by Heisman Trophy finalist quarterback Michael Penix Jr. Four hundred thirty yards passing, two touchdowns. In control the entire game -- up 13 in the fourth.

But Texas started chipping away and found themselves with a chance to win with a second to go. But, no -- Washington coming through. Elijah Jackson making one of the biggest defensive plays in Huskies history, knocking down that pass on the fourth down and sending Washington to the title game with a 37-31 win.

So it will be the second-ranked Huskies facing number one Michigan next Monday night. I'll be in Houston for that national championship to bring all the action that starts kicking off at 7:30 Eastern.

Finally, the Ched-Z -- the Cheez-It Bowl Citrus Bowl mascot -- the hero we didn't know we needed, Kasie. He emerged from this giant box and then he -- it was antagonizing people on the sidelines all game. Check him messing with the security there. I mean, is this not one of the best mascots you've ever seen?


Forty-three bowl games this season so you kind of need something to make yours stand out, I guess. And there you go. We had a good one for you, Kasie.

HUNT: It does seem like it's the season of mascots. Did anybody try to eat the Cheez-It?

WIRE: No. Actually, he held up a sign that said "Not edible" unlike the Pop-Tart Bowl mascot who was edible -- eaten by the --

HUNT: Apparently.

WIRE: -- winning team.

HUNT: Apparently so.

Well, Coy, always great to see you on a day I can say --

WIRE: You, too.

HUNT: -- especially, that Michigan beat Bama.

WIRE: Go, blue.

HUNT: Just icing on the cake. Go, blue.

Thanks to all of you for joining us. I'm Kasie Hunt. Don't go anywhere. "CNN THIS MORNING" starts right now.