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American Morning

Authorities Investigate Miami Plane Crash; Bush Defends Secret Wiretaps; Thieves Steal Hundreds of Pounds of Military Explosives; New York Transit Workers on Strike

Aired December 20, 2005 - 06:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, welcome, everybody. I'm Soledad O'Brien.
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Rick Sanchez in for Miles O'Brien.

O'BRIEN: Nice to have you. Thanks for helping us out once again.

Let's get right to it. The nation's largest transit system has come to a grinding halt. Thousands of New Yorkers -- transit workers, rather, are manning picket lines instead of subways and buses. Millions of commuters are going absolutely nowhere fast.

Mayor Bloomberg outraged with the union this morning.


MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK: For their own selfish reasons the TWU has decided that their demands are more important than the law, the city and the people they serve.


O'BRIEN: Live coverage is just ahead this morning.

SANCHEZ: Also ahead, investigators are on the scene today of that deadly seaplane crash off the coast of Miami Beach trying to determine what went wrong. Nineteen people dead, one possibly still missing. CNN exclusive pictures that we will share with you straight ahead.

Also, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon leaves the hospital early this morning. He says he's ready to get back to work after suffering a stroke.

O'BRIEN: And on the lookout for 500 pounds of stolen explosives, everything from detonators to blasting caps. We've got much more on the investigation into that just ahead.

We begin, though, with an emergency plan now in effect as the morning commute here in New York City goes into high gear. No subways, no buses for seven million people who use them every day to get to work. It is the largest transit system in the country that's on strike. Let's get right to Chris Huntington this morning. He's live for us at Penn Station in midtown Manhattan.

Hey, Chris, how's it looking so far?

CHRIS HUNTINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Soledad, right now here on Seventh Avenue outside of Penn Station, which of course is where Amtrak comes into New York, also the Long Island Railroad, traffic is moving well. There are new taxi regulations in play here now. Taxis can pick up multiple fares. There's also a zone fare system, very different than the metered system ordinarily in effect.

Now this early in the commute, it's only 6:00, we've got the meat of the rush hour still to come. Still a lot of folks are getting a jump on this. I drove in this morning at 4:00, Soledad, and it was much more crowded on the highways. And the local radio was reporting considerably more traffic coming in before a 5:00 a.m. deadline that was to be imposed on incoming traffic through the major bridges and tunnels requiring people to carpool up to four people per car. So definitely a lot of folks getting a jump on the commute, as I say though, early, early in the game.

As we all know now, New York City the most dependent on mass transit of any city in America. Seven million people use this system every day. It is not going to be available today. The talks broke down.

Here is what the head of the Transit Workers Union had to say, as well as Mayor Bloomberg.


ROGER TOUSSAINT, PRES., TRANSPORT WORKERS UNION: Transit workers are tired of being under appreciated and disrespected.



BLOOMBERG: For their own selfish reasons the TWU has decided that their demands are more important than the law, the city and the people they serve. This is not only an affront to the concept of public service, it is a cowardly attempt by Roger Toussaint and the TWU to bring the city to its knees.


HUNTINGTON: So you could hear the mud slinging around there. Both sides are really angry at each other.

Here in New York it is actually illegal for the transit workers, for all public employees, to strike. And in fact there are heavy, heavy penalties that these union workers and the union will face. Piling on top of that, the city is also trying to get contempt of court penalties piled on top of that. So this is going to be a nasty battle in court. This is going to cost the city a lot of money in extra police time. It's going to cost retail businesses a huge amount of money in the week before Christmas -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Obviously, in any negotiation there's lots of issues, but what's the main sticking point between the two?

HUNTINGTON: Money, money, money and pensions. The raises offered by the MTA only 3 percent in the first year, 4 percent in the second, 3.5 percent. One of the big stumbling blocks, though, had to do with pensions. The MTA gave in a bit on that, offering full pension eligibility for folks by the time they're 55. But it really came down to the raises. Money was the main issue. The MD (ph) transit workers wanted -- initially wanted an 8 percent raise. They didn't even get close to that from the MTA -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Chris Huntington live for us at Penn Station this morning. It's going to be chaos on the streets. I'm predicting that.

Thanks, Chris -- Rick.

SANCHEZ: Later this morning, investigators are going to try and raise the wreckage of a vintage plane that crashed Monday off of Florida. It was an awful sight. You may have seen these pictures. These are exclusive to CNN, by the way. This plane just breaking apart, bursting into flames just before it hit the water right in front of people who happened to be right there on Miami Beach. You could see the wing actually trailing the plane. Nineteen people were killed. Another person is still missing.

CNN's Christopher King is in Miami. He is joining us tonight with, or I should say this morning, with some of the very latest information.

Christopher, what do you have?


They start off heading to a vacation paradise, but their flight ends in disaster. Authorities say 20 people were on board that flight. It was headed from Miami, going to Bimini in the Bahamas.

We have some amateur video. Take a look at this. This scene was terrifying. This sea plane breaks up as it crashes into the water. A trail of smoke and flames follow it. This happened just hundreds of yards away from eyewitnesses on the beach. The Coast Guard sent out search and rescue teams to the scene. Authorities say at least 19 people are dead. They recovered 19 bodies. Three were infants.

Eyewitnesses were on the scene. Here's what they had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I looked up, and the plane was coming down like it was a ball of fire, and there's, like, a trail of smoke.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What I see is white smoke on it. And smoke and then it got on fire and half of the wing came off. I saw its trail (ph), and it went down in smoke (ph). (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now all this happened around 2:30 in the afternoon yesterday. The Coast Guard called off the search. They're going to resume it this morning at daybreak, and they hope to record -- they hope to recover the airplane's voice recorder -- Rick.

SANCHEZ: Is it clear that there was a 20th person, that they're looking for? Or are they a little confused about the manifest?

KING: Yes, there seems to be a little bit of confusion. It was said there were 20 people before. Then it was said there were 19. But from what the authorities say, that 19 bodies were recovered. One is still missing.

SANCHEZ: So they're going to be out there, possibly, still looking today. Christopher King, we appreciate that information.

A little later, by the way, we're going to be talking with the acting NTSB chairman. That's the investigative body, of course, of the federal government that tries to put these plane crashes back together again, try to understand them. That's coming your way, by the way, in about 30 minutes -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Well, the controversy over domestic spying isn't going away any time soon, the focus now on President Bush as he defends his approval of wiretaps without warrants inside the U.S. Suzanne Malveaux at the White House this morning.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Democrats are accusing the president of breaking the law, while Republicans are reserving judgment but calling for congressional hearings. President Bush is continuing to defend his top secret domestic wiretapping program, insisting that eavesdropping on callers in the United States to possible terrorists overseas is perfectly legal.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I swore to uphold the laws. Do I have the legal authority to do this? And the answer is absolutely.

MALVEAUX: The president says as commander in chief during wartime that the U.S. Constitution and Congress' authorization to go after al Qaeda give him the authority to bypass normal channels. Some constitutional scholars say the president is on shaky legal ground but politically, he may have the upper hand.

THOMAS GOLDSTEIN, CONSTITUTIONAL SCHOLAR: This is a situation in which Congress will probably have to solve the problem, or at least political pressure bring an end to the program. Because no one knows they're being searched, so they can't even bring a court challenge to these sorts of interceptions.

MALVEAUX: Congress is expected to begin hearings on the matter early next year. Suzanne Malveaux, CNN, the White House.


O'BRIEN: George Democrat John Lewis says he'd call for impeachment of the president if it's determined, in fact, that the president broke the law -- Rick.

SANCHEZ: Five hundred pounds of military like explosives are missing. These materials had been housed in a business outside Albuquerque, New Mexico. Now officials are warning people in the state to be on the lookout for any suspicious activity as a result of this find (ph).

We're going to get more on this now. Here's Chris Lawrence.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is something federal officials are very worried about today. The ATF agent I spoke with described it as a substantial amount of explosives, highly energetic, a kind not commonly used in commercial industry.

Officials told us that thieves broke into a research facility about nine miles outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico. And the owner discovered the break-in late Sunday.

They took about 150 pounds of commercial plastic explosive. The military version would be C4. They also took 250 sheet explosives. That's applicable material. Think of rolled dough put in the form of a sheet. They also made off with 2,500 detonators and 20,000 feet of explosive detonating cord.

Now, the ATF tells me the owner has never had any violations and he is cooperating fully.

This kind of crime is not as unusual as you might think. Federal officials tell me there have been about 38 explosive thefts so far this year. But these were military type explosives, and that's what got them worried enough to offer a $10,000 reward.

I'm Chris Lawrence, reporting from Los Angeles.


O'BRIEN: Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, left the hospital today. Sharon had a mild stroke two days ago. He walked out smiling. There are some pictures. Joking with reporters, saying to them, "Apparently, you missed me."

He is a leading candidate for reelection in March. Health now, though, a major issue. Prime Minister Sharon has been the driving force behind Israel's pullout from some of the Palestinian territories. He is 77 years old, and doctors are predicting that he's going to make a full recovery. At 10 minutes past the hour now, it's time for your first forecast this morning. Let's get right to Bonnie Schneider. She's at the CNN Center.

Good morning.


O'BRIEN: All right, Bonnie. Thanks. Cold, unfortunately, for the folks who are going to be hoofing it today. A lot of people.

SANCHEZ: Yes. Thousand of them.

O'BRIEN: Yes. The transit strike is on. We're watching that story and many others, as well.

Still to come this morning, much more on that investigation into that deadly plane crash in Miami. NTSB officials on the scene now. We're going to check in with them this morning.

SANCHEZ: And then, New Yorkers aren't the only ones hurt by the city's transit strike. How it's going to impact the rest of the country. We'll tell you.

O'BRIEN: And there's some new details about how Saddam Hussein evaded U.S. forces after the invasion of Iraq. Talking about things like bicycles and wagons. That story is ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


O'BRIEN: Big news here in New York City: there is a transit strike. No buses, no subways. The strike shuts down the nation's largest transit system during one of the busiest weeks of the year. And it's a pretty cold day if you've got to do some walking.

Word on the strike came a little more than three hours ago. A union official says contract talks were going absolutely nowhere. Rush hour is now underway, and it is going to be ugly. Some seven million people ride the city's transit system each and every day.

It's been 25 years since there has been a system-wide transit strike in the city. That strike, back in 1980, lasted for 11 days. It was in the month of April, a little bit warmer than it is. A lot warmer than it is today for walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. See some pictures there.

Officials estimate that the 1980 strike -- look at these pictures. Pretty amazing. They estimate that strike cost the city's economy just about $1 billion. Depending on how long it lasts, it could cost a lot more, especially talking about the holiday weekend.

Let's get right to Carol Costello. She's got an update of some of the other stories making news this morning.

Good morning. CAROL COSTELLO, ANCHOR: I'm telling you, it will be interesting, because coming to the city now between the hours of 5 a.m. Eastern and 11 a.m. Eastern, you have to have four people in a car. If you don't, you could be fined hundreds of dollars. How they're going to enforce that, I don't know, but we'll be outside a little later to tell you how.

In other news this morning, a man accused of posing as a New York City firefighter and sexually assaulting a woman could be in court this morning. Peter Bronstein as back in New York City last night after waiving extradition from Tennessee. That's where he was caught after several weeks on the run. He's expected to face charges of kidnapping, sexual abuse and robbery. Police say the victim was Bronstein's former co-worker.

There has been another attack on Iraqi police. It happened today in Baghdad. The officers had been guarding a cement factory and were leaving the area when masked gunmen attacked. The officers were wearing civilian clothing at the time of that attack.

Vice President Dick Cheney meeting today with Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, Cheney expressing America's deep sorrow for the October quake that killed tens of thousands of people in Pakistan. Getting a tour today of a field hospital operated by the U.S. military.

And in Los Angeles, a bit of a scare for people on an Air India flight after a tire blew on the 747. It was headed to Germany, by the way. The pilot dumped fuel and 90 minutes later came in for an emergency landing, sparks flying from the aircraft's landing gear but no one was hurt. And that's good news. A scary moment.

O'BRIEN: Yes, a really scary moment.

SANCHEZ: Those belly landings, as they're calling.

O'BRIEN: Terrible.

SANCHEZ: Mayor Bloomberg says $400 million a day. That's -- that's an awful lot of money if he's right.

CARRIE LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Four hundred to $700 million a day is the estimate. That's the per day economic cost of the strike, which of course started late last night. Now, we'll see how long this strike lasts, but obviously, this is something that could be devastating to retailers in the greater Manhattan area.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he was told by Federated Department Stores chairman -- and that's the company that owns Macy's and Bloomingdale's -- that last weekend department stores' sales were off 30 to 40 percent. Remember, the first day of the potential strike was last week, December 16.

So depending on how long this strike lasts, it could be devastating. One group, though, that might not be hit so hard, hotels. Hotel occupancy rates a week -- a year ago this week were actually lower by 64 percent. The week after Christmas, they were up over 90 percent.

So a lot of people come to the city the week following Christmas, but still, no transportation could stave off a lot of people from coming in.

O'BRIEN: I can imagine there are people who are going to just check into a hotel if they've got to be at work. Not everybody can work from home.

LEE: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: They're going to just stay in a hotel.

LEE: Try to stay close to...

SANCHEZ: The numbers, I think, boggle the mind for most people who don't live in New York City. Seven million people who are coming into the city every day. That's more than the population of most U.S. cities.

LEE: It's amazing. And Soledad, as you were saying, in 1980, the strike lasted 11 days. Well, estimate $4 to 7 million per day this time.

O'BRIEN: During the holiday shopping season.

LEE: If it lost 11 days -- I'm not saying it will, but if it does, we're talking billions.

O'BRIEN: It's going to be chaos. I mean, the rules for taxis. How are they going to pick up people? And it's just going to be a mess.

LEE: It's going to be a free-for-all.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it is.

SANCHEZ: Carrie Lee...

LEE: People waving money on the street. Choose me, right? This is the money. This is the city where money talks (ph).

O'BRIEN: That's why she's a financial analyst. She exactly knows. Carrie Lee for us this morning. Carrie, thanks.

LEE: Sure.

O'BRIEN: Carol's got a look at what's coming up in "Morning Coffee" this morning.

COSTELLO: Well, you think the federal Patriot Act is tough? Well, one state in our great union has its own Patriot Act, and if the governor signs it, if you're asked your name, serial number and that kind of information and you don't give it, you could be arrested. We'll tell you more on "Morning Coffee," next.


O'BRIEN: Welcome to "Morning Coffee." Grab a coffee, sit down. Carol's got a look at some stuff happening today. Good morning.

COSTELLO: I do. Let's talk about what's happening in Ohio, because that state may be on the verge of getting the toughest terrorism law in the entire country. That's because Ohio has its own Patriot Act. It calls for people to show their I.D.'s before entering any train station or bus depot. I think most Americans would say, "Well, that's fine."

But here is the provision that could cause the most controversy. Police would be allowed to arrest anyone in public who refuses to give their name, address, or birth date. And that's even if you're just standing around and doing nothing.

Local news reports say Ohio Governor Bob Taft is expected to sign the bill. But of course, it could be held up by legal challenges.

SANCHEZ: That sounds Gestapo like.

COSTELLO: Doesn't it?


COSTELLO: Yes. I mean, you can just be standing anywhere, and some police agent could walk up and say, "Rick, when were you born?"

SANCHEZ: Name, rank and serial number.

COSTELLO: They wouldn't say, "Rick." They wouldn't know you. If he'd say, "Rick," you'd be done.

O'BRIEN: That makes no sense.

SANCHEZ: I'd say, "Wait. You know!"

COSTELLO: That's pretty scary, isn't it? We'll see what happens in Ohio.

Let's talk about Barbie, because apparently, Barbie's being torched by a lot of children.

O'BRIEN: What?

COSTELLO: Malibu Barbie and on and on and on. That Barbie, the Barbie doll. British researchers...

SANCHEZ: Not your Barbie.

COSTELLO: Well, no. British researchers did this study. They say many young girls are having a negative reaction to Barbie. They say Barbie can sometimes instill feelings of hatred and rejection.

SANCHEZ: Really? COSTELLO: Many girls apparently view Barbie torture as a fun way to play. And they're being very creative about it. Barbie torture methods range from burning to mutilation to even microwaving the Barbie doll.

The doll's maker, Mattel, calls it a small study and says Barbie remains popular all around the world. And I just have to share this story, because I think it's kind of a ridiculous study. But one time, I was doing a story with a group of 5-year-olds, and we were talking about body image and how they view Barbie. Remember when that thing was all in the news?


COSTELLO: So we're sitting around. And of course, the 5-year- old girls are not talking at all. I'm saying, "What do you think about Barbie's body?" The little girls are just looking at me like I'm some space alien.

So one of the girls ripped the head off a Barbie doll, and we all started laughing. It broke the ice. We started having fun.

O'BRIEN: Of course. You pop the head off your Barbie and cut her hair.

COSTELLO: Exactly.

O'BRIEN: That's what Barbie's all about.

COSTELLO: This British research team is calling that...

O'BRIEN: Mutilation.

COSTELLO: Mutilation and torture.

O'BRIEN: Interesting study. All right, Carol. Thanks.

SANCHEZ: Thanks, Barbie.

Still ahead, put on the walking shoes. All buses, all subways here in New York, stopped. The latest on the strike right here, for you, on AMERICAN MORNING.


SANCHEZ: And welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. For more than 20 years, John Walsh has relentlessly pursued criminals, working through personal tragedy all along the way. As part of CNN's 25th anniversary series, "Then and Now," Miles O'Brien is going to take a look at John Walsh and where he is today.


JOHN WALSH, HOST, "AMERICA'S MOST WANTED": Welcome to "America's Most Wanted." MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): He's best known as the driven host of "America's Most Wanted." John Walsh began his mission to track down criminals after becoming a victim himself.

Walsh's 6-year-old son, Adam, disappeared from a Florida shopping mall in 1981.

WALSH: He's our only child, a beautiful little boy, and we just want him back.

How many of our children are missing?

O'BRIEN: John Walsh turned the grief over the abduction and murder of his son into a purpose.

WALSH: With 1.8 million children missing, it's damn time somebody did something about it besides me.

O'BRIEN: Walsh's congressional testimony and public pressure helped establish the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. "America's Most Wanted," the fifth longest running TV show in history, has helped capture hundreds of fugitives around the world.

WALSH: Didn't want to be on television. Didn't want to hunt men down. But you know what? My wife always said, said it to me, "Let's make sure Adam didn't die in vain."

O'BRIEN: Walsh has two children, now in college. And still clutching for justice on behalf of his lost son.

WALSH: I don't have any closure. My son was murdered. I say that I have a deep wound that scabs sometimes. Something will break it open, it will bleed. But it never heals.


O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, we're talking about this plane crash in Miami. Terrible videotape to show you and share. We'll be talking to the NTSB investigators about what they're looking for, why they've suspended the search at this time, and what they think caused this horrible crash. That story's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

We're back in just a moment.


WALTER UPDEGRAVE, SENIOR EDITOR, "MONEY": If you're a first-time buyer, you have to think, "What is it realistic for me to buy in terms of how much of my money should I be devoting to a house?" You don't want to buy so much house that you can't afford to contribute to your 401(K). You don't want to push yourself so far that you don't have any money left over to do anything else.

And these days, you may want to consider just buying as much house as you actually need, that you know will be good for at least the next five to seven years.



O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome back, everybody.

We are watching for what could be a chaotic morning in New York City as rush hour gets underway. An all-out transit strike leaves seven million commuters wondering what to do now. We get a live report just ahead.

And trying to raise a vintage plane that crashed off Miami beach. Nineteen people dead. We're going to talk to the man who is leading the investigation into why it happened.

And then, just about 90 minutes ago, Ariel Sharon left the hospital. Will the Israeli prime minister's stroke keep him from doing his job?