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American Morning

Fourteen Marines, Iraqi Civilian Killed in Attack South of Haditha; American Journalist Found Shot to Death in Iraq

Aired August 03, 2005 - 07:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And a story breaking within just the last 10 minutes out of Iraq. Grim word now that 14 Marines and an Iraqi civilian have been killed in an attack south of Haditha. We've got those stories ahead, on this AMERICAN MORNING.
Good morning. Welcome, everybody. Lots to cover this morning.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: We start with breaking news in Iraq.

O'BRIEN: Let's get right to Barbara Starr. She's at the Pentagon for us. Barbara, this news coming to us in the last few minutes or so. What do we know?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, this news indeed just breaking at the Pentagon now: 14 U.S. Marines and their civilian interpreter were killed earlier today in Iraq near the city of Haditha in northwestern Iraq. Their vehicle, an amphibious assault vehicle, which does travel on land, apparently hit by an IED, an improvised- explosive device, 14 U.S. marines killed at once in this attack, according to the latest word now put out by the U.S. military.

Soledad, this could not come at a more difficult time for the U.S. military. There are discussions ongoing with the Iraqis about what areas of Iraq might be secure enough to turn over to Iraqi forces to allow U.S. troops to eventually come home. Northwestern Iraq, where this took place, of course, remains very much an insurgent stronghold -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: And as you point out, couldn't come at a worse time because there's that's the report about seven marines killed. What do we know about that report, Barbara?

STARR: Soledad, Indeed, this happened on Monday. Another attack against U.S. Marines near Haditha, near the same area. The attack that is yet to be fully explained. Six of those Marines were killed almost instantly in an initial attack. They were on the ground conducting a ground patrol. They were snipers. They came under small arms fire from insurgents. That means guns and rifles. Not explained how this all happened, because when troops are outside their armored vehicles, they are wearing a lot of protective gear. Five of the Marines killed in an initial attack by small-arms fire. A sixth marine found some distance away dead. Sources telling us, when the bodies were found, all the Marines were stripped of their weapons, their radios and other gear.

There is a great deal of concern at this time as the investigation continues that those Marines might have had their position compromised by Iraqi security forces who maybe had insurgents inside those forces -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: God, what a terrible report. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us this morning. Barbara, thanks.

STARR: An American journalist was found shot to death in Iraq this morning. An official says the body of Steven Vincent, a freelance journalist, was recovered in the southern city of Basra. Let's get right to Aneesh Raman this morning live in Baghdad for us.

Aneesh, what do we know about the death of Mr. Vincent?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, good morning. We're just now piecing together exactly what took place. We know that Steven Vincent was in Basra for some time researching a new book. Police say that early this morning, just after midnight local time, Vincent was abducted by gunman, along with his Iraqi translator. The U.S. embassy saying some hours later his dead body was found there, saying nothing more except that his family has been notified.

But Western officials on the ground giving us a little bit more info, saying that he died of multiple gunshot wounds, his translator also wounded. She is recovering now in the hospital. This is a stark reminder for journalists throughout Iraq of how dangerous the situation is here. Vincent was well aware of it. He's a freelance writer. He's been written in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Christian Science Monitor." Most recently an op-ed in "The New York Times" a few day ago about Basra.

Last year, he wrote a book called "In the Red Zone," where he traveled Iraq, chronicling his journeys traveling in the country post- Saddam. And he was asked by "Front Page" magazine last December about what it was like to travel Iraq without security, completely on his own, and here's what he had to say. He said, quote, "I managed to stay safe by slipping below the radar screen, so to speak, blending in with the Iraqi people. Nowadays, I'm afraid that even that incognito approach would prove impossible, with terrorists paying criminals to find and kidnap foreigners."

So these are chilling words now, Soledad, in the aftermath of this incident. It has injected a great deal of concern among journalists to re-evaluate the difficulties that exist in covering the story -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, one would imagine, because really, it has been quite a while since a journalist has been killed in Iraq. What's the impact been immediately after Vincent's death?

RAMAN: Well, it's important to note that most of the Western media that are here, ourselves included, travel with security. We plan where we're going to go well in advance in terms of the timing that we'll be there, when we will leave. And freelancers often, not in any sort of defiance against the violence, but in a desire to break through that bubble and see the real Iraq, do travel on their own, especially freelance print journalists, throughout the country. And it's a question of where. Basra was thought to be safe. Now it's clear it might not be as safe as people assume -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Just terrible news. All right, Aneesh, thanks for the update. Appreciate it -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery and outside it this morning, this is the scene. Live pictures now. This is a helmet-mounted camera from either space walker Steve Robinson or Soichi Noguchi. I'm not sure which right now. As you see his view, using -- you see that tool in the foreground there. That's called a PGT, powered-grip tool, Which is basically like a cordless drill that you would use at home. As they finish up this first task of the space walk, which is putting on this storage shelf, space walk began a little more than two hours ago, this external storage shelf, the first task. But the important task lies ahead, maybe sooner than we think, because this has gone pretty well, and so has the effort to move the space station robotic arm in place for Steve Robinson to begin that effort.

Could happen 8:00 a.m. Eastern, might happen a little sooner, because that arm-transfer process has gone on so well.

Just to remind you what we're talking about here, the team, as you look at those pictures -- what a view as you're doing your work up there. Astronaut Steve Robinson will move very close to the belly of the Space Shuttle Discovery to remove a couple of so-called gap- fillers that are sticking out, and he will either pull it out, or as you can see here, this is a shot in Houston just yesterday. If it doesn't pull out so well, he has a fashioned hacksaw there that he can use to do just that. And remove that bump from the belly of the Space Shuttle Discovery, which is an important thing. It should be a simple task, but you don't know.

S. O'BRIEN: This is the demo from Houston, that was what they were showing yesterday?

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

S. O'BRIEN: You know, I've got to ask you a question, because now that I've seen the live picture of him working in space on something else and the picture from Houston, which is just a demonstration, it's even scarier, because that's tough to do for those folks in Houston who are not in space, who are not sort of moving around and with those massive gloves on. I mean, how risky is this?

M. O'BRIEN: Well, there's a lot of risk involved to it because, as you know, if he does have to use the hacksaw, he certainly could cause damage to the tiles themselves as you're rubbing them along the surface.

And in addition, if you pull too hard on the gap-filler, you might very well pull a tile out. That's a bad thing, too. So you've got to be careful. Now here's the risk if they don't do anything.

As the shuttle comes in Mach 25, eight times faster than a speeding bullet, enveloped in thousands of degrees of plasma, that little bump you see there in the back right-hand section of the screen there, creates a little hotspot, kind of like a blowtorch being focused there. And it might exceed the ability of those tiles to beat back the heat, and that is the concern. Would it cause a repeat of Columbia? No one is willing to go that far, but since they know about it, and they can go pluck it out, the thing to do is to do just that.

S. O'BRIEN: All right. It looks like it's going to be very tricky. Steve Robinson is the astronaut who's now charged with the task. He's only done space walks twice before. This will be his third?

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, but they do a lot of training in that underwater tank, but you're right.

S. O'BRIEN: No, I believe that. But, I mean, is that considered a lot of practice? Is that considered not so much practice?

M. O'BRIEN: Well, he's now a veteran, I guess. He's officially become a veteran. Steve, like a lot of these astronauts, he is an overachiever: Phd in mechanical engineering from Stanford, became an astronaut in '95, first shuttle mission in 1997, flew with John Glenn in October of 1998. When he was a kid, built his own hang glider out of spare parts, and to test it out, jumped off a cliff. So this is a guy, he's used to taking risks.

S. O'BRIEN: OK, that makes me feel better, frankly. All right, I get that, he can do it. We're looking forward to that coverage. Of course we're going to continue to follow that story as it happens.

M. O'BRIEN: And also, we're going to have complete coverage of that plane crash in Toronto. Canadian investigators now are opening their inquiry.

Air France is going to hold a news conference later this morning. There were, of course, strong winds, we now know, heavy rains. Lightning strikes also reported by folks on the ground happening on Tuesday afternoon at Pearson International Airport. The plane's maker, Airbus Industry, won't speculate, though, on why that jet skidded wildly off the runway and then burst into flames.

It brings us right to Jeanne Meserve. She's live at that airport, Pearson International Airport in Toronto.

Jeanne, good morning to you.

Obviously, the investigation only just getting under way. But is there any immediate speculation as to what caused this crash?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Reporter: There is a lot of speculation, Soledad, and it centers around that very severe weather that Toronto was experiencing yesterday afternoon.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About 11:05, we've got an aircraft started off the end of the runway. You will not be landing on runway 24 (INAUDIBLE). Your approach (INAUDIBLE) is canceled. MESERVE (voice-over): Planes were diverted from Toronto's Pearson International Airport Tuesday after Air France Flight 358 attempted to land in stormy weather and ran out of concrete. The Airbus A340 overshot the runway, ended up in a ravine, and burst into flames.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had come to a complete stop. So it's not like you think anything else is about to happen, even though we had a hell of a roller coaster going down the ravine. But as soon as there was some smoke and fire outside -- I can't tell how the other people reacted, because I was at the very, very end of the plane, the absolute last seat of the plane, and so, you know, all I could think of was get off.

MESERVE: To witnesses, indeed to all the world, it looked like a catastrophe, but miraculously, all 309 people on board the plane got out safely.

STEVE SHAW, TORONTO AIRPORT AUTHORITY: The aircraft was evacuated very rapidly. The emergency services responded very quickly. And at this stage, we're very satisfied, of course, that there are no fatalities.

MESERVE: Passengers escaped with their lives and had chilling stories of survival.

AHMED ALATOWA, SURVIVOR: When we come to London, the airport, so everybody (INAUDIBLE) to the captain. They think that everybody's OK. But when he -- after that, we feel bump, bump, bump, bump, then the fire comes beside me, the window, we see the fire, and the wing is gone. The tire is gone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The stewardess at the back say, there's fire, fire, fire. Move, move, move, move. And then they put the toboggans down and we all slid out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't think you'll jump. And when I got to the bottom of the chute and looked around and saw the flames, I only thought of one thing, is to just get out of there as fast as possible.

MESERVE: After hours of uncertainty, family members were reunited with loved ones at the airport, overcome with relief that this time the worst did not happen.

MARK JOHNSTON, WITNESS: When you see smoke like that, you know that that's not good. I thought, oh, my God, that's bad. People are going to be dying on this.


MESERVE: I talked to one of the passengers who got off of that plane yesterday. He had high praise for the flight crew and praise for God. He said he doesn't usually go to church, but he will be going this Sunday.

Soledad, back to you.

S. O'BRIEN: I would bet there's a whole bunch of people who would say the same thing.

Jeanne, let me ask you about the pilot. What's known about the pilot at this point?

MESERVE: Well, air France is saying he's a veteran, 57 years old, something like 15,000 hours of flying time under his belt, 1,800 of those hours on an Airbus A340, certainly someone with a lot of experience. The copilot too, someone who's spent a lot of time in the air. Certainly the crew is someone they'll be looking at. They'll also be looking at the aircraft. The A340 Airbus has a good safety record, no fatal crashes involving passengers at all? But of course right now, all the speculation on that weather that was so serious here in Toronto.

O'BRIEN: Jeanne Meserve for us. Jeanne, thanks for the update.


S. O'BRIEN: We're getting more on that crash landing that...

M. O'BRIEN: I'm sorry, go ahead.

S. O'BRIEN: I was just going to say that ended so well.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, I feel like I'm back in pilot-training class with Chad, though.

S. O'BRIEN: With the downbursts?

M. O'BRIEN: Tailwinds, all that stuff, yes.

S. O'BRIEN: So they teach you how to survive that basically?

M. O'BRIEN: Well, no, but they teach you how to land in those situations, and it's really important you watch your airspeed, because that can change, and can put you in exactly that position where you go off the end of the runway if you don't watch it.

S. O'BRIEN: Gosh. Well, as we mentioned, really ended very well. We're going to talk this morning to some of the lucky survivors, who will tell us what they saw.

M. O'BRIEN: Plus we are keeping a very close eye on what's going on 220 miles above us right now. Discovery repairs under way. I'll talk about what's going to go on this morning with the first American woman to go on a spacewalk. She'll be with us all morning to guide us through this. That's coming up on AMERICAN MORNING.


S. O'BRIEN: Passengers on flight 358 to Toronto applauded when their plane touched down in a driving rainstorm, but suddenly, the plane was skidding out of control and right off the runway; 297 passengers, 12 crew members went for the emergency exits with the jet already in flames. There's been both praise and some criticism for how the crew handled the panic in the cabin. Everybody, though, got out safely, scrambling up the muddy embankment. Forty-three people reported injuries.

John Abedrabbo was a passenger on flight 358 on Tuesday. He joins us this morning.

Nice to see that you're fine and you're well. How are you feeling today?

JOHN ABEDRABBO, SURVIVED CRASH: All right given the circumstances, I guess.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, good.

All right, well, let me ask you a little bit about where you were. Where were you sitting on this flight?

ABEDRABBO: I was somewhere in between the middle section and the front of the aircraft. I was in 17-B, which is three rows down behind first class, on the left-hand side of the plane.

S. O'BRIEN: OK, so pretty close up to the front. Did it seem like a normal landing to you?

ABEDRABBO: Oh, it seemed like a very normal landing. I mean, aside from seeing the clouds, the dark clouds outside, it wasn't very bumpy; it was just going down very normally. We just thought it was going a bit faster than usual, but you know, that was just us passengers sitting back there making a comment that he was going a bit fast. But it seemed like a normal landing. He was going down, and he touched down normally and without any hitch, and people started clapping. A couple of seconds later, that's when things just -- all hell broke loose basically.

S. O'BRIEN: Describe that for me. What do you mean? So you land, people are clapping. You're getting ready to get off the plane, and it just keeps going.

ABEDRABBO: And as soon as it touches down, the front of the aircraft touches down and it lands, people start clapping. And then for some reason, the front of the plane took a nose dive, and the plane just start rattling and go skidding up to the front first and then sideways. And then we saw the left-hand side engine basically scraping the ground, the grass at the time, and just going up in flames. We saw the flames shoot out of the engine. And then for...

S. O'BRIEN: What were people doing on the flight? I mean, as that's going on, fire is coming out of the engine, it seemed like a perfectly fine landing has now skidded out of control, what were people on board doing?

ABEDRABBO: We actually did not know what was going on. We thought he was going to slide for a little bit, and then the aircraft would come to a complete stop, and then we would go on our way. But it took a few seconds for the aircraft to slide to the front, and then sideways again and come to a complete stop. That's when we saw the left-side engine was actually up in flames. And the crew sprung and opened the doors for us. And people started, like, getting up and filing out, and trying to leave.

S. O'BRIEN: Were people screaming? Was the crew calm? Did they know what's going on? Did all the emergency procedures that you run through that take place on the flight that often, frankly, people ignore, were those being followed?

ABEDRABBO: As far as I know, yes. From where I was sitting, I couldn't see the rest of the plane, so I don't know what everybody else was doing in terms of the crew. But the passengers were, to an extent very -- getting out in a calm manner. And the crew was up in action because I saw a couple of the crew members up front directing people where to go and which gate to leave from. And obviously, they opened the gates as well to let the chutes out. So, yes, I think they did a good job.

S. O'BRIEN: So the chutes come out. You then jump on the chute and slide out of the plane. And then what happens?

ABEDRABBO: Well, the chute came out, but it didn't actually deploy properly. They were intermingled for some reason, at least by the time I got to them. They were all jumbled together. So we had to jump right on the grass itself, which wasn't terribly bad, I guess, because the plane was tilting to the left, and it was in a ditch. So the jump was maybe a couple of meters; it wasn't that deep.

S. O'BRIEN: OK. Then you jump out of the plane without the chute essentially. And then what happened? It was pouring rain, wasn't it?

ABEDRABBO: It was pouring rain at the time. Actually, I didn't know what to do. But I saw a whole bunch of people filing away from the aircraft going into the woods, which seems to be odd for me. But I guess people trying just to get away from it, because we saw the fire -- the engine on fire, and we thought, if this thing blows up, we'll all roast. So people started to walk away going towards the woods. There was what seemed to be a bridge, I guess that was under the 401 Highway, to kind of take shelter from the rain. Waited a little bit down there until somebody told us to get up on the highway to wait for emergency crews to come and get us. And we waited up there on the highway for about another 15 minutes. A passing bus happened to have a lot of space on it. He let us on, and we waited there for a bit longer. By the time, another bus came and got all the other passengers and then we left to the airport terminal again.

S. O'BRIEN: Are you going to fly again? This seems like an incredibly close call to ever want to get on a plane again.

Abdalla: Well, don't know if lightning strikes twice in the same place, but God knows.

S. O'BRIEN: So to speak, because, as you know, weather is one of the issues that investigators are now looking into. John Aberdrabbo, thanks for talking with us.

ABEDRABBO: Thank you.

S. O'BRIEN: Really terribly scary to hear that story, but we're glad to see that you're fine -- Miles.

ABEDRABBO: Thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: What a story. Glad he's able to tell it.

Still to come on the program, we're "Minding Your Business." Andy has news of a huge merger between two sneaker giants. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: The real question is, what does Adidas stand for, right? And you can't answer that, right?

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: No, I can't. I'm not going to talk about that.

Andy Serwer here to talk about the big sneaker merger.

SERWER: Indeed. A giant step in the sneaker wars this morning. Adidas, based in Germany, the number two in the business, is buying Reebok for nearly $4 billion. Reebok, the number three. It's all about challenging the number one, which, of course, is Nike. And in this business, it's all about who's got the big stars? Well, first of all, let's do the market share. Even when you combine Reebok and Adidas, we're going to do the math for you -- 12 plus 9, 21 percent. So still Nike is going to be on top.

Who's got Reebok shoes on? Yao Ming. Yao Ming. And interestingly, Adidas also has the '08 Olympics. Allen Iverson wears Reeboks, Curt Schilling does. Also, Jay-Z and 50 Cent.

Adidas has a big soccer presence David Beckham. Also teams like the New York Yankees and University of Tennessee. And when they do the '08 Olympics in Beijing, interesting that they're going to have Yao Ming with Reebok there to combine that. Could be really interesting.

And I don't think the people in Beaverton, Oregon, which is where Nike are -- is, are quaking in their boots. But, you know, it's a big challenge.

M. O'BRIEN: Or their sneakers.

SERWER: Or their sneakers.

M. O'BRIEN: Will they keep both brands?

SERWER: I think they will, yes.

M. O'BRIEN: And I think it's Adi Dassler, isn't that what it's...

SERWER: You can answer that question?

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, yes.

SERWER: Who was the founder of Adidas?

M. O'BRIEN: All right let's talk about the markets.

SERWER: Let's do that. Yesterday another good one for inventors, Miles, text stocks and utility stocks, kind of strange bedfellows, leading the advance. Let's look and see what we've got here. The Nasdaq was up about 22. The Dow up, nice advance, 60. Price of oil, though, continues to streak, $62.31, and we're just going to keep showing that chart every day until it turns down maybe, because that's difficult. Futures this morning are lower, though, sad to say.

M. O'BRIEN: Maybe we could have them put it in upside down one morning.

SERWER: That would be encouraging.

M. O'BRIEN: That wouldn't help with the pump, though.

SERWER: That wouldn't be realistic.

M. O'BRIEN: And we want to stay real here.

SERWER: Keeping it real.

M. O'BRIEN: Keeping it real.

Andy Serwer, as always.

Still to come, the delicate task at hand for NASA astronauts. We'll ask the U.S. record holder for space walks about today's unprecedented job. He helped cook it up, as you look at live pictures now. Space Shuttle Discovery docked at the International Space Station Alpha. The risky repair mission coming up soon. Stay with us for more AMERICAN MORNING.