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American Morning

Escalating Attacks in Middle East; Gaining Control on California Wildfires; Shuttle Discovery Lands Safely

Aired July 17, 2006 - 08:59   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news. Violence escalating in the Middle East this morning. Hezbollah firing rockets into northern Israel, and Israeli troops briefly crossed the border.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Firefighters getting the upper hand on a pair of big wildfires we've been telling you about in southern California. The rain is on the way, but that could be some bad news as well.

S. O'BRIEN: And as we've been telling you all morning, the shuttle Discovery coming home.

We're standing by for the landing, which is going to happen in just a few minutes. We'll bring that to you and much more ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING.

Welcome back, everybody. I'm Soledad O'Brien.

M. O'BRIEN: And I'm Miles O'Brien.

Thanks for being with us.

We start with rockets landing in Haifa, Israel, this morning. Sirens heard there several times both before and after we saw the strike.

CNN's Paula Hancocks live now from Haifa with the latest -- Paula.


Well, it has been a very busy few hours. There have been a tremendous amount of rockets hitting Haifa and around Haifa. This is the third largest city in Israel.

Now, we know there also have been barrages of rockets hitting other northern Israeli towns. At this point, we know that part of one building has collapsed in Haifa where one of those rockets landed. We know half of the building collapsed and that part of it caught on fire.

We understand at least two people have been injured in that particular rocket attack. But the other rocket attacks, as far as we know, have not resulted in any casualties. Many of them have actually been landing in the sea. Now, you can see where these rockets are coming from. This is north that we're pointing towards now, and Lebanon is about 25 miles or 40 kilometers away. And this is where the majority of the rockets have been arriving from.

We know, also, that -- I mean, usually at this time of year and this time last week this place would have been heaving. It's a seaside resort. The port would have been full of boats. But at the moment, you're really only seeing gunships patrolling the sea and that bay alongside, and also going alongside Lebanon -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Paula, you can't help but get the impression that because these are sort of inaccurate rockets, that whoever is firing them on the other side of the border is kind of, by trial and error, homing in on their desired target.

Do you have the sense that the more -- there must be a lot of concern that more are on the way.

HANCOCKS: That's right, yes. I mean, we did have a barrage of rockets, then only about 20 minutes later we had another siren and a barrage of rockets.

Now, those sires are supposed to give you a minute warning for the residents of Haifa and other northern Israeli towns to get inside, to get into bomb shelters. Although, to be honest, I can't see a single person on the street at the moment, bar the journalists. So everybody is in inside already.

So, what the Israelis are doing as well is making sure they have a censorship, that we can't show live pictures to be able to show exactly where these rockets are hitting. Because the military, undeniably, is very worried that Hezbollah will be able to target a particular area, see where it lands, and then be able to home in.

Now, everyone is assuming in the military that they are trying to hit military targets. And there are in a place like Haifa many military targets, as it is the third biggest city, in Haifa.

So, yes, everybody is expecting more rockets. The Israeli military says they are carrying out airstrikes to target these rockets launchers. And as soon as rockets are launched they try to home in on the rocket launchers themselves to try to destroy that, but at this point it doesn't appear to be working too well -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: So, just to be clear with our viewers, then, we're not showing live pictures of these strikes because -- out of fear that those same pictures would be viewed in southern Lebanon and could be used by Hezbollah?

HANCOCKS: That's right. It's a censorship issue. They don't want the live pictures to be shown of rockets incoming and then landing in a particular area of Haifa, because then whoever is firing these rockets will know exactly if they direct their rocket launcher in that particular area where it will hit. And the Israeli military is very worried that they will be able to home in on particular targets. And at the moment, they do seem fairly random. This is what is scaring most of the people up here in Israel, the fact that these rockets appear very inaccurate and it is so random when and where they actually hit -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Paula Hancocks in Haifa.

Thank you very much -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Escalation in Lebanon, word that Israeli troops crossed the border for a targeted operation. Not long ago we heard celebratory gunfire in Beirut as well.

All that's happening where Alessio Vinci is standing by with more for us.

Alessio, good morning again.

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And good morning to you, Soledad.

Those celebratory gunfire because Lebanese television, as well as many Arab television networks here, have been reporting for the last hour or so that an Israeli F-16 jet had been downed and showing pictures of debris falling off the sky. The Israeli defense forces denying that one of these jets had been shot down. As a matter of fact, we are hearing reports also it could be either a missile or an unmanned drone that had been hit.

That said, in the streets of Beirut today, not just in the southern parts of that capital where Hezbollah support is strong, but throughout this town, including very closely here, thousands of people shooting their guns in the air, perhaps in a way that only in this part of the world they do, basically to celebrate what they deem as being positive news. But again, no confirmation, at least from the Israelis, that they have indeed lost a plane.

Also reports this morning that the Israeli ground forces have entered into southern Lebanon. The Israeli defense minister, Amir Peretz, confirming that he is -- that the Israeli forces are trying to create a buffer zone in southern Lebanon, that a small unit has entered briefly the southern Lebanon in order to attack a couple of Hezbollah positions, but that right now there are no ground forces in southern Lebanon. That unit only carried out its operation and then returned back to Israel.

And then, of course, airstrikes throughout the night and throughout the morning here in Lebanon. It was hit not just the capital, Beirut, and the port, but also an army base up in the north about 80 kilometers or 50 miles north from here. It is the first time that the Israeli military has -- has attacked a Lebanese army barracks. And we understand there are six soldiers killed and 28 wounded.

Back to you, Soledad. S. O'BRIEN: Alessio Vinci for us this morning.

Alessio, thanks for the update.

Talk of a cease-fire is coming from several directions outside of Lebanon and Israel this morning. Is a diplomatic solution a possibility?

Let's get right to Paula Newton. She's live for us in Jerusalem this morning.

Paula, good morning.


Certainly the United States, Europe, many moderate Arab countries would like to see a solution to this, but it doesn't look likely until at least the end of the week. It's a two-pronged approach here right now.

The first thing is, how do you stop the fighting? And that seems to be some type of European approach that would see the two Israeli soldiers now being held by Hezbollah turned over to the Lebanese government, and in turn then turned over to the Red Cross. These are only ideas at this stage.

In the meantime, Israel will continue with its aerial bombardment. The first thing is, how do you get Israel to stop that, even though they say they are determined to break Hezbollah and coincide with that diplomatic activity later in the week? They feel -- the Israeli defense forces feel that pretty much by the end of the week or the weekend they will have cut out 50 to 60 percent of Hezbollah's capability.

In the meantime, Soledad, though, the other approach is, what do you do then once you have a cease-fire? And the key here -- and President Bush and certainly British Prime Minister Tony Blair seem to have the same approach here, and that means getting some kind of a multinational force on the ground, U.N. sponsored.

Just to point out to everybody again, the U.N. is already on the ground in Lebanon. About 2,000 troops are there. But, you know, we're getting reports that they are finding it hard to protect their own safety in that corner of Lebanon right now. And they are pleading with Israel and with Hezbollah to make sure that their soldiers stay safe in that area -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, it seems like there's a lot going on at a time when it's hard to make contact. I mean, one of the biggest problems has to be, Paula, that, you know, who do you negotiate with? Condoleezza Rice on her way to the area, but, you know, who is she going to sit down and really talk to?

NEWTON: And that's the problem. And that's why she is delaying her arrival here. Certainly they have to make sure that there are enough partners on all sides to reach out to. The key thing here now, Soledad, is to see some kind of capitulation on the side of Hezbollah, to say, look, yes we will talk, yes, we will hand over the soldiers. Something, anything, to give them -- to give diplomacy a chance here. But I think we're still several days away from that -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Paula Newton for us this morning.

Paula, thanks -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: First the fires, and now the worry about the floods. Rain is in the forecast in southern California, where those two huge wildfires have now merged and eaten up more than 80,000 acres of tinder dry land. The concern is that rain will lead to mudslides now.

CNN's Sumi Das live now from Morongo Valley, California -- Sumi.

SUMI DAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Miles.

Well, crews here at this command center are preparing to begin their 12-hour shift. These firefighters may have a little help battling the blazes today.

Thunderstorms have been predicted. There's a chance of them later this afternoon.

We spoke to a National weather Service meteorologist who said that there's a 40 percent chance. And he thinks he may increase that to an 80 percent chance. The rain, of course, is welcome, provided there isn't too much of it that falls within a short period of time, and provided it doesn't cause flashfloods.

What is not welcome is lightning and, of course, erratic winds. The lightning is how these fires got started in the first place.

Now, the Sawtooth fire is 70 percent contained. The Millard fire is 20 percent contained. Those two fires merged on Friday, but they're still being treated as separate incidents because they cover such a large area.

Also, there's a portion of the Sawtooth complex, 800 acres in the northwest corner that has been split off. That's called the heart zone. That's being treated as a third fire, and that is where firefighters are going to focus their efforts today.

This is an area that is difficult to access. It's steep terrain. There are no roads. It's very rugged terrain.

I want to tell you a little bit about the damage that has been caused as a result of the Sawtooth fire. That is where we are seeing all of the damage.

There are no structures that are threatened as a result of the heart zone, and no stretches that are threatened as a result of the Millard fire. Fifty-eight homes, 191 vehicles have been destroyed. And also, there has been one fatality. The body of 57-year-old Jerry Guthrie (ph) was found late Saturday. He had been missing since Tuesday, when he made a phone call to his wife from Pioneertown, his home in Pioneertown. Coroners have not yet confirmed the cause of death, but it's believed to be fire-related -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: CNN's Sumi Das in Morongo Valley, California.

Thank you very much.

At least 20 are dead, dozens more injured after a tsunami smashed into a beach resort in Indonesia following a powerful underwater earthquake, and at least three aftershocks reported after. The six- foot wave caused extensive damage to homes, restaurants and hotels along Java island. At least 40 other people are missing. Thousands of people are now sleeping -- excuse me, fleeing the island's southern coast.

Let's get to the forecast now. Chad Myers at the weather center.

Hello, Chad.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I guess all we're interested in right now, Miles, is the shuttle landing. And they're actually going to make a loop coming through here, rather than come and then turn in and go up from the south and from the southeast. They're actually going to make the loop go off shore, turn back around and land right here, because of this, because of the rain showers that are now off shore.


M. O'BRIEN: All right. Thank you very much, Chad Myers.

Let's bring the shuttle home. We've got a couple of people to help us out with that.

CNN's John Zarrella is right there along the shuttle landing facility there, the 15,000-foot landing strip. I could land my plane sideways on that thing it's so big.

And, of course, Eileen Collins in Houston.

And I want to bring in some fantastic pictures we're seeing from the head up display camera which is stationed right in front of where the pilot sits.

And Eileen, I'm hoping you can see this well. I want you to guide us through what we're seeing here. I believe on the left here -- is that speed over on the left?

EILEEN COLLINS, ASTRONAUT: OK. The speed is on the left.


COLLINS: And you have the altitude. M. O'BRIEN: And this is the altitude over here, right?

COLLINS: Altitude on the right. That's correct.

M. O'BRIEN: OK. And what they were trying to do here -- I want to call your attention to this. I have flown the simulator a couple of times. Basically, there's a square there and a little kind of dot, and you want to line those two things up, right?

COLLINS: That's right. You've got a velocity vector which looks like a little airplane, and you're flying -- the pilot is flying that -- the commander is flying it to put it right over top of a guidance square. And if you can keep that airplane over the guidance square, that will keep you on the correct trajectory to make the landing.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. So it's just like a video game, right?

COLLINS: Well, a little bit. But, you know, what the crew is going through right now is the change in their weight.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

COLLINS: I mean, they were going from zero weight to their -- you know, a little bit more than their normal weight. So this is very difficult for the commander to fly.

M. O'BRIEN: I believe it says 1.3 or 1.2g there. That means just about what we'd feel on gravity here, right?

COLLINS: That's right. You know...

M. O'BRIEN: But you are feeling that, I bet, right?

COLLINS: Yes, 1g is your normal weight, 1.1, 1.2g is -- you know, it's about 20 percent greater than your normal weight. And you've got that helmet on, you've got the suit on.

Now he's coming through the clouds here.

M. O'BRIEN: Where -- 14,000 feet, 290 knots. And look at him. He's trying to -- what he's doing there -- watch how he tries to keep the airplane and the dot lined up.

There you see the kind of electronic representation of the runway. Tell us what is going on in your mind right now and what you're trying to do.

COLLINS: Well, he wants to see the runway. He's ready to break out of the clouds, and it's going to be a big sigh of relief when that runway shows up, which should be here at about 11,000 feet.

OK. This is the ground camera that you're seeing.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. So that means they have broken out of the clouds because they went to the ground camera, or this might be an air-to-air shot. I'm not quite sure. But they were just about to come through the clouds when they switched to this shot.

Now he's got a view of the runway. And I want to remind people, we're talking about something that is on the order of 15 to 20 times steeper than a commercial airline landing, right?

COLLINS: That's right. And it's about a 20 degree glide slope. And at 2,000 feet, he's going to start a pre-flare maneuver. He'll very gently bring the nose of the shuttle up. And the pilot, Mark Kelly, will drop the gear. And we're shooting for a landing at about just over 200 knots.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes. You know, it looks a little murky there. They had a high cloud deck (ph), but it's still perfectly good weather for landing there.

OK. So now we're at 2,400 -- 2,300 feet and about 300 knots.

What's he doing now? Here he is in the flare, right?

COLLINS: OK. This is the pre-flare maneuver. You see those two triangles to the right and left of his guidance.

He has to pull up the nose and follow those triangles. And, of course, he's looking at the runway. He's got lights called a ball (ph) bar. And he's got to keep the red light on the white bar to stay on the inner glide slope.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Landing gear down. We've got about 15 seconds to landing.

You want that landing gear to work, don't you? A good thing it works every time, huh?

COLLINS: Any -- there's actually quite a bit of redundancy to get the gear down. If the primary system doesn't work, you have backups.

OK. And here he is looking down the runway, shooting for about 205 knots. Looking really good. Very smooth landing.

M. O'BRIEN: Just greased it. This is -- right now...

COLLINS: His drag chute.

M. O'BRIEN: And I remember the time I flew it in the simulator, you have to kind of push the control stick forward to get the nose down. If you don't do that it will slam down. And you want to make sure that nose goes down softly, too, right?

COLLINS: That's right. Touch down at 205, and then at 185 knots the commander will just make a very gentle input into the stick to bring the nose gear down. And you want to keep that structural load low on the -- on the nose gear.

M. O'BRIEN: You bet.

COLLINS: And it looks like did he a really nice job here.

M. O'BRIEN: John Zarrella, you're right there. You heard the sonic booms. You saw it just come in.

What is it looking like there to you?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Miles, we did. We didn't get a good look at it until the very last minute because of that low deck of clouds. We heard that double sonic boom.

And, in fact, a minutes before that, Miles, before the touchdown, there were some folks on the other side of the runway firing off compression guns to chase the birds away, which, of course, is always a big concern, I'm sure. But, boy, that was picture perfect. Just smooth coming in, but, yes, we didn't catch it until 45 seconds before actual touchdown because of that low cloud deck -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, that twin sonic boom, though, is quite a sound. It really does wake you up, doesn't it?

ZARRELLA: Yes, no question about it. Everybody up here for a second was going, "What was that?" People that weren't familiar with it. It was that twin sonic boom. About three and a half minutes before touchdown we heard that twin sonic boom.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome back, and congratulations on a great mission expanding our knowledge and experience with orbiter repair and bringing the space station back to a full crew complement. We have no immediately delta (INAUDIBLE) landing, and we will meet you on Page 5- 3 (ph).

M. O'BRIEN: All right. No immediate deltas. That means changes. Deltas mean changes in space talk.

Let's listen to Steve Lindsey.

STEVE LINDSEY, DISCOVERY COMMANDER: ... and enjoyed entering and the landing. And we're going over to flight desk three (ph) now.

M. O'BRIEN: All business as Steve Lindsey, the commander, brings the space shuttle Discovery in after about a four million-plus mile journey to a nice smooth landing there.

Eileen, on a scale of one to 10, what would you give it?

COLLINS: Oh, this mission is easily a 10. They accomplished all their objectives, plus more. A very safe launch and return. And I'm very happy the shuttle program is back on track, and we're going to hopefully fly another 16 missions before the shuttle program is over.

M. O'BRIEN: I was asking you about Steve Lindsey's landing, but he is an Air Force colonel, so you have to give him a 10, right? Isn't that how it goes?

COLLINS: Oh, he definitely got a 10.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

What in -- as you think about this aggressive schedule that lies ahead, Eileen, Discovery, for example, needs to be ready as that backup rescue craft for the next launch at the end of August.

COLLINS: That's right.

M. O'BRIEN: It's going to take a lot of -- it's going to take a lot of work to get it ready, and then, of course, get Atlantis launched and off to the space station in time.

COLLINS: That's right. In fact, Discovery not only will back up Atlantis at the end of August, but it will also fly the next mission in December. So hopefully two missions by the end of this year, and then a total of 15 missions to the space station before the end of the program. And possibly a mission to the Hubble space telescope. And we're still waiting for a decision on that.

M. O'BRIEN: Now, you know, I think this mission did an awful lot toward bringing that to a decision that would make a lot of astronomers happy. I think there's -- the chances are probably pretty good you'll see a Hubble repair mission. I bet you would like to sign up for that one, if you could.

Hey, let me ask you this. As we look at a replay of this, what -- right now inside, what -- is the crew just positively euphoric?

COLLINS: I would say the crew is very focused. I mean, what -- you're going through a lot of physical changes right now. I mean, you're very heavy.

I would imagine the crew in the mid deck is unstrapping and they're -- they really need to get moving right away. If you just sit there, you're not going to feel very good. You need to get out of your seat, you need to start moving around.

Of course, the commander and pilot have to stay in their seats because they have a lot of switch throws they have to secure, the system, shut down the auxiliary power units. They need to stay cool. It is cool in the morning in Florida, but you're going to start heating up with the sun shining into the cockpit.

So they need to be very focused on their physical health, get out of the seat as soon as they can. And hopefully we'll see them do a walk-around here in another hour or so.

M. O'BRIEN: You know, the interesting thing, we'll see them in about an hour. And it's interesting to me the actual peak heating for the aluminum frame of the space shuttle occurs about now. There's kind of a lag built in.

So, as you sit there, one of the first things they do is that convoy crew comes up there. They'll attach some cooling ductwork on the tail end there to keep it nice and cool because it actually builds up heat over time. As you're sitting there, are you feeling that heat at all? COLLINS: No, you really don't feel the heat from the shuttle inside the cockpit. The heat that the crew is going to feel is just the greenhouse effect from the sun shining through the windows into the cockpit.

But as you're saying, Miles, the avionics -- of course the orbiter is still hot on the outside. The avionics are heating up.

This convoy crew needs to hook up the cooling units and the crew needs to start turning things off, because you have a very limited amount of cooling in the shuttle. And in 15 minutes or so they are going to run out of cooling.

M. O'BRIEN: And so they're going to want to make sure they are staying on top of that checklist and get outside.

Hey, let me ask you this. Did you ever feel kind of a little sick at the end of a mission, a little woozy?

COLLINS: Actually, I've always felt really good at the end of the mission. If anything, you know, for me it's adapting to space that's a little bit harder. Coming back to Earth, I've always -- although I feel very heavy and I get very thirsty and very hungry, I actually feel pretty good. And it's good to be back to Mother Earth again.

M. O'BRIEN: Have you had some -- without naming names, have you had some experiences where people didn't feel so great?

COLLINS: Well, some people don't feel great. And I think the reason isn't really coming back to Earth and being under the gravity. I think it's, as we talked about earlier, that fluid loading, where we drink all that salt water about one hour before landing.

M. O'BRIEN: Oh, I see. Yes.

COLLINS: Sometimes that doesn't sit very well with the astronauts.

M. O'BRIEN: So, it may not be the best thing for every astronaut to load up on those fluids and that salty solution there.

COLLINS: Well, I think what you've got to do is, as you fly your second mission, you'll learn, well, maybe I need to drink a little bit more, maybe I need to drink a little bit less. But the salt water is important to keep the fluids to your brain so you don't get light headed after the mission with gravity again.

M. O'BRIEN: All right.

As we look at the replay, Steve Lindsey keeping the little airplane lined up with the little ball just perfectly. All you kid who like video games, pay attention. You could be an astronaut some day.

Now, there's a little bit more to it than that. Stay in school, too.

Eileen Collins, thanks for talking down the shuttle with us.

John Zarrella, at the shutting landing facility, we'll check back with you later.

Thank you.

It's good to see the mission come to a successful conclusion. I've got to tell you, I hold my breath every time these days.

Thanks very much -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Oh, that was fun. I was holding my breath, too.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

S. O'BRIEN: But what a perfect landing.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, he did well.

S. O'BRIEN: Wow, that was -- that was very, very nice. Nice to see. Nice to follow all morning.

We continue to keep a close eye on the breaking news out of the Middle East this morning. Several rockets apparently launched by Hezbollah have now slammed into the Israeli city of Haifa. We're going to take you there live for the very latest.

Those stories and much more as we continue right here on AMERICAN MORNING.

Stay with us.


S. O'BRIEN: The TWA 800 explosion is still considered one of the most mysterious crashes in U.S. aviation history. After an exhaustive four-year investigation, a fuel tank explosion was blamed for the crash. The conspiracy theories linger, though.

Joining us this morning is former FBI assistant director and current senior advisor for counterterrorism to Governor Pataki, James Kallstrom.

Nice to see you. Thanks for talking with us.


S. O'BRIEN: I know that this was your job for a long time. It also had a big personal affect on you, as well. You lost a very close friend in this crash.

What was it like to be investigating the crash and mourning the death of a close friend all at the same time.

KALLSTROM: It was different. It was strange. It made it very personal right off the bat.

Of course it became very personal anyway when you get to know the families and you get to relate to the victims and the kids and the teenagers, the French club from Pennsylvania. You know, people with a whole lifetime ahead of them.

S. O'BRIEN: The details.

KALLSTROM: The married couples, the -- you know, the grandparents, the happy people going to Paris for a good time. You know, it's just a tragedy.

S. O'BRIEN: Just a terrible tragedy. Ten years have gone by. It's almost hard to believe. It doesn't -- in a way, it doesn't seem that long.

KALLSTROM: You know, to me it just seems like a couple of years ago. I mean, because it was the case that I'll always remember of all the thousands of things I was involved in.

I think because of the tragedy. The fact that we all fly, right? We put ourselves, our families our kids on airplanes. So we can relate to being on an airplane that has a catastrophic event like that.

Awful, awful tragedy.

S. O'BRIEN: Ten years later, why was -- why has the main recommendation, which is replace the oxygen tanks with nitrogen, why hasn't that been done?

KALLSTROM: Well, a lot of things have been done about inspections of the wiring and things. I think, you know, 10 years ago -- and I'm not an aviation expert, but I'm told that that technology, you know, to push the oxygen out of the tank, was big. It weighed a lot, and it cost an awful lot of money.

So you're talking about, you know, not having 40 or 50 seats on an airplane. You know, in the airplane industry that is teetering on bankruptcy every day, the good news I think today is that technology, from what I understand, is small, much more -- much more available, you know, from a standpoint of how much it costs. And the Boeing company apparently is going to start putting it in all the new aircraft.

S. O'BRIEN: So, theoretically, you could be close to putting it in, and yet, the bigger question would be, well, are you going to retrofit?


S. O'BRIEN: I mean, obviously, you have all the older planes.


KALLSTROM: Right. I think the good news is there's a lot of things other than that that have been done by the industry, the FAA. The NTSB has made recommendations. Inspecting the wires, for instance, those that you can see, which was never done as they extended the life of these airplanes.

S. O'BRIEN: Conspiracy theories and theorists ran rampant with this crash. Maybe more than in other crashes that we have seen. And it took a long time to come to some conclusion, which may have fueled that. But why do you think that was the case?

KALLSTROM: Well, I mean, we had Pierre Salinger, the press secretary to President Kennedy, for openers, you know, standing up and waving a document that was the ramblings of someone on the Internet for months talking about the fact he had a report from French intelligence. That didn't sit too well with the French families. And, you know, people watching their televisions would have to say to themselves, how could a U.S. senator, how could a press secretary to the president be saying such a thing?

S. O'BRIEN: They are very, you know, what you might categorize as, you know, conspiracy theories, kind of crazy people, and then rational people.


S. O'BRIEN: Rational people who went with a theory that a missile brought that plane down. Very rational.

KALLSTROM: Well, there were a lot of -- absolutely. And I'm not discrediting all the -- all the people that still believe that. You know, they have to believe it.

I'm disappointed that we couldn't convince everybody, but we don't live in that type of a world. But we looked at every piece of this plane, multiple times, multiple eyes. The best experts in the world. The best missile experts in the world. The best forensic scientists. The best metallurgists.

You know, we looked at a million pieces over and over again. Soledad, there was no evidence that it happened.

So we ended up having to prove a negative. Then NTSB had to figure out -- and they've come to, you know, a much higher standard of their opinion of what happened recently. You know, it apparently was the low voltage jumping -- the high voltage jumping over to the low voltage and setting off one of those fuel probes that took this vaporized mixture and blew it up.

S. O'BRIEN: You mentioned that this is something I think everybody can relate to, because, of course, we all travel. We all send our kids or travel with our kids on airplanes, and, you know, no one -- lay people really don't kind of how it stays up in the air, to a large degree.

KALLSTROM: That's right.

S. O'BRIEN: Are we safer flying today in the wake of this crash? KALLSTROM: I think so. I think the things that were done made us safer.

I would love to see this -- you know, this oxygen get out of the tanks, this process of the nitrogen replacement.

S. O'BRIEN: The nitrogen replacement.

KALLSTROM: I think we're only a short time away from that. The question is, will we refit the older aircraft quick enough?

S. O'BRIEN: James Kallstrom is a former FBI assistant director.

It's nice to have you. Thanks for talking with us. We certainly appreciate it.

KALLSTROM: Thank you. And nice to be with you.

S. O'BRIEN: Thank you -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Top stories straight ahead, including the escalating crisis in the Middle East. The northern Israeli city of Haifa getting slammed by several rockets this morning. We'll take you there live ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.