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The Situation Room

No Indication That NYC Crash Related to Terrorism; George Pataki Interview

Aired October 11, 2006 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much. We're watching this breaking news story closely here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We want to continue our coverage, welcome our international viewers as well.
As you can see, we're bringing in the feeds from Manhattan. If you are just joining us, here is what you need to know. A small aircraft crashes into a high-rise apartment building. Police and our correspondents are at the fiery, smoky scene right now. A U.S. fighter aircraft are also taking to the skies right now. How could this happen five years after the 9/11 attacks?

Should a plane be able to get this close to the heart of the city and the buildings where people work and live? We're asking serious security questions this hour as we continue our breaking news coverage. We begin with all the horrible developments. A very eerily familiar scene in New York City. Smoke pouring from a 50-story residential building on Manhattan's Upper East Side after a small plane crashed into it a little more than an hour or so ago.

The White House and the FBI say there's no indication -- repeat, no indication this is a terrorist attack. But U.S. fighter aircraft jets are scrambling right now purely as a precaution. This is standard operating procedure. Just moments ago, the New York City fire department confirmed at least one death. Scores of firefighters have responded and they've apparently gotten the flames under control right now.

But the investigation clearly is only getting started to what precisely happened and how this could occur five years after the 9/11 attacks. Mary Snow is on the scene, Anderson Cooper is on the scene for us. Anderson, let's go to you first. From your vantage point, tell our viewers what you see and hear.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR (on phone): Wolf, I'm about two blocks away from the building itself. I have a clear view of the impact site. The flames, as you said, have been put out at this point. It has now begun to rain, which adds another layer of problems for emergency officials who cordoned off an area of about a block or two all around this building. They've asked media to move back even further, another block to about 74th street.

They say they may be holding a press conference within this hour. We of course will bring that to you as soon as it happens. At this point, there is one person, one fatality that we know of, that the impact zone, the building is now charred black in the area about a three-story region from where what we believe was a plane entered the building. Witnesses report seeing a part of the plane. Some eyewitnesses have said the tail section falling off. There are images that we've seen, probably you're airing, of debris in the street at the bottom of this building.

But there's probably about a two-story hole. The windows are gone and a number of windows on either side of what must be the impact zone have been blown out as well. It looks like the smoke and the fire reached up several more stories, but at this point we don't have word of anyone who was inside the apartment itself or apartments.

It looks like at least two apartments have been heavily damaged, perhaps more than that. And there's no information about anybody who may have been on board this aircraft. At this point, it is very early in the investigation. There are a lot of firefighters, a lot of emergency officials on the scene. They have it very much under control. But as you know, it is a methodical operation at this point. They're just sort of trying to cordon off the area, just help keep this situation as well in hand as possible, Wolf.

BLITZER: Anderson, hold on for a moment. Mary Snow is also there. Mary, have you spoken to eyewitnesses, and if you have, what are they telling you?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on phone): Wolf, I have spoken to a couple of people who were in the area, one person who was in the building. And what they've reported was hearing a loud explosion. They're describing it as incredibly loud, louder than perhaps a car crash. And then flames that came in.

And as you mentioned, this is eerily familiar for New Yorkers. Many people had a flashback to 9/11 when they saw that hole in the apartment building. This is a 50-story building, Wolf. And it is estimated that this happened on the 36th or 37th floor. The first 10 or so floors of this building are medical offices. And some people were on the ground when they heard this explosion. They described people, running, scattering, and panic on the streets when the explosion happened.

I did also speak with one worker, a housekeeper, who said she was on the 33rd floor. She smelled the smoke, she did not know what happened, got to the staircase and came down and only later found out what had happened. But she did not know of anyone up in the area where she had been in that building.

BLITZER: Is this the part of the building, Mary, that faces the river, the East River along Manhattan's East Side or does it face the inner part of Manhattan?

SNOW: It faces 72nd street. And just to give you perspective, this is between York Avenue and right on the East River. And it is facing 72nd Street where it happened.

BLITZER: And so if in fact this was an accident as opposed to some pilot deliberating trying to go into this building, is this an area where fixed wing small planes generally would be allowed to fly? SNOW: Well, right along the river. And there also are heliports along the East River. But there are a lot of questions of why it would have been that low.

BLITZER: Anderson, if Anderson Cooper is still there -- Anderson, give our viewers around the world a sense -- you're a lifelong resident of New York City. This part of Manhattan, what it's like.

COOPER: Well, this is the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It is a residential area. There are some small stores, small delicatessens and the like but it is not a big commercial district. This is really sort of a key residential area in New York. Especially a lot of the older families, older residents in this area, now apartments actually here are somewhat of a value, of course, ridiculously expensive by other standards. And so there are a lot more young people now moving into this area.

This is a relatively new building, I believe it was built in 1989 or in the late '80s. It was a red brick, as Mary Snow said, it's 50 stories. There may have been medical offices on the ground floors. Clearly it is a complex or throughout most of the buildings in this entire area. You were talking about the impact zone.

It faces north, Wolf, so it is not facing the river. So it is sort of surprising to me as a resident of New York that an aircraft or a helicopter would -- and at this point, we simply do not know what it was -- would have hit in the place that it did, if it was facing the river. It would seem to make more sense, if this was some sort of aircraft traveling along the river. As Mary said, there are heliports along the East River. There are also seaplane ports. I've taken seaplanes from one or two locations all along the East River. They take off from the river.

So it is not terribly unusual to see small aircraft and to see helicopters traveling along the East River in this area. But it is highly unusual that an aircraft or helicopter would have been traveling in the direction that this impact is. This is really between buildings, in a sense, if you can kind of get a sense of it.

I'm also now seeing flashes inside the apartment and in the apartment below where the impact was. I can only assume that some sort of police investigators or fire officials taking photographs inside the apartment. There's clearly someone with a camera right now inside that building. I don't know if you have a live shot, but they seem to be photographing the scene. It could be a fire investigator. They often do that, try to get a sense of exactly the story of the fire as it spread.

But this point, it's just very strange to see where this impact zone is once you're actually on the scene. It doesn't make that much sense that there was an aircraft flying right over Manhattan. That's just something that you don't see very much. Occasionally helicopters, news helicopters, traffic helicopters, police helicopters. But it's a strange spot, Wolf, for some sort of aircraft to have hit this building. BLITZER: We can see, and if the viewers take a look in the lower left-hand corner of the screen, you see the live pictures coming in right now showing the destruction. There's a close-up of a firefighter clearly inside that building. That's the destruction. That area where you see that firefighter almost in the middle of your screen right now. They're obviously investigating, they're wearing their masks, their face masks to make sure that there's no kind of problem from inhaling some of this smoke that clearly is still there.

Do we know, Mary Snow, if everyone in that building has safely been evacuated?

SNOW: We don't know 100 percent. We had some of our producers on the scene talking to people around that building, and they believe that everyone was out, but that is not confirmed. We don't know for sure whether or not everyone is out.

BLITZER: We are getting this word, Anderson. The NYPD, according to Reuters, the news agency, now saying at least two confirmed dead in this incident in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. At least two dead, according to Reuters, quoting the New York Police Department.

From your vantage point, are people coming in, going out of that building, Anderson?

COOPER: We -- the last report I had was from one of our producers who had spoken with the concierge of the building, the doorman of the building, who had been asked to help in the evacuation of people from that building. It is my understanding -- and, again, I haven't been able to independently confirm this -- that people have -- that as far as authorities know, everyone has been evacuated from the building.

Given that this happened estimated time around 2:42 this afternoon which is about an hour-and-a-half ago, it would be very surprising if all the people had not been already evacuated from this building.

As you can tell probably from the live pictures, the impact zone is dead center or just a little bit off center from the center of this building. There are, obviously, a number of emergency stairwells throughout this building since it is a relatively newly constructed building. It looks like it's been built in the late 1980s.

So it doesn't seem to be a situation where, you know, there was any cutoff of routes out of the building. You can also see lights still on in a number of -- or in two apartments at least, so it would seem that the apartment building still has electricity of some sort on the upper floors, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right.

Mary, describe the scene on the ground where you are. I take it at least some of the reports suggested there was at least some of the wreckage that did come down. What's it like there where you are? SNOW: Well, right now, as Anderson was saying, too, this area has been sealed off by police, fire department, Office of Emergency Management, and they're keeping us back a bit from the scene right now. But it is being sealed off and they're trying to move everybody away from that exact building and get a clearing, so to speak.

BLITZER: You don't have a clear shot to see that. By the way, the Associated Press now joining Reuters and saying that the NYPD says at least two confirmed dead.

Anderson, a couple of the nearby hospitals to this location, we've checked. They're telling us they've not received injured patients coming in, emergency patients coming in from this incident. Are there ambulances that you the can see? We hear the sirens behind you.

COOPER: Yes, Wolf, there are -- actually what you are hearing probably behind me is a parked car. The alarm just went off. There are a large number of emergency vehicles. I saw one ambulance leaving the scene, but I simply don't know if there was somebody in it.

From my vantage point, I don't see any ambulances where I am, but I'm now about two blocks -- I'm on 74th Street -- from the impact zone. So there certainly are so many emergency personnel on the scene. And, I mean, I can now clearly see, and as you were talking about before, firefighters inside that apartment.

And as you said, we also, on this end, have not heard nothing about the area hospitals, the two hospitals that we've talked say they've received anyone from this location.

You know, there are a couple of dangers, of course. Obviously, anyone who was inside the aircraft, it would be very difficult for them to have made it out of this. Obviously, anyone inside the apartment building at the time, that is another potential source.

And then falling debris and falling glass -- as you know, in these kinds of instances, that can often injure people. This happened, as I said, in a residential area, very possible there were people on the street as this debris, which we've seen littering the street at the base of this apartment building.

So there's a number of places that people could have been injured. At this point, we simply don't know and we're trying to wait for some official confirmation.

BLITZER: And I just want to update our viewers who may just be tuning here in around the United States or around the world, a small plane, just about an hour or so ago, crashed into a 50-story, residential apartment building on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

This is a building -- for those of you familiar with Manhattan, I'll give you the address: 524 East 72nd street. That's near York, right along the East River. It's a building called the Belaire Condominiums. It was built in 1988. It has 183 two and three bedroom apartments valued as high as $1.5 million, which is not unusual for a two or three bedroom apartment in New York City.

Our homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve is watching all of this, checking in with her sources.

What are you picking up, Jeanne?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, officials from the Department of Homeland Security say there is no indication of a terror nexus at this point in time. One official tells me that there's no specific or credible intelligence indicating an imminent threat to the homeland at this time. No additional protective measures are being taken at this point in time.

An aviation source in the New York area does tell me that they're now canvassing local airports trying to figure out what plane this is, trying to figure out if one of those airports had a plane that's overdue or knows of some other potential thing that would give them identity on this plane and who might have been involved inside it.

The FAA says that the initial reports are that the pilot of this aircraft was not in touch with Air Traffic Control, but this pilot does not have to be because he was flying under visual flight rules.

There is, along the East River, a corridor that's been in place since the 1980s. Pilots are allowed to fly in that under visual flight rules, which means essentially see and be seen by other pilots. Clearly, this pilot was strayed from that corridor since he hit a building. There's a similar sort of corridor along the Hudson River in New York.

The Department of Homeland Security, at this point in time, monitoring the situation, letting local and state officials do the principal response. However, some component agencies of DHS are responding, including the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard has sent a cutter and a couple of small boats up the river to see if they can be of any assistance at this point in time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeanne, thank you.

Our justice correspondent Kelli Arena also checking with her sources. What are you picking up specifically as far as the FBI is concerned?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we did get an official statement from FBI Headquarters saying that the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force from New York is responding from the scene. As Jeanne just said, DHS and FBI agreeing there is no indication of terrorism at this time, no intelligence previously suggesting that an attack was being planned, and no claim of responsibility, nothing at all at this time, although it is still very early, Wolf.

FBI usually does dispatch teams in situations like this just in case there is any evidence of criminal or terrorist activity so that they have agents on the scene that can respond and start an investigation immediately. It's just standard operating procedure. Right now, they're in an assist role. If there's any indication that this was a terrorist attack, obviously, FBI would become the lead agency on the scene.

We also heard from ATF. They are also on the scene, Wolf. They sent a team over, specialists in fire and explosives. They are also helping with the investigation, once again in an assist role -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lots of people already involved, a lot of nervousness as a result of this, understandably so. Kelli, stand by.

Jeanne, stand by as well.

Barbara Starr is monitoring this from her vantage point at the Pentagon.

Barbara, the U.S. military take something action as well.


Within a few minutes of commanders seeing this event unfold on television, they made a crucial decision. In fact, Admiral Timothy Keating, the commander of the U.S. Northern Command, the commander of NORAD, the Northern American Aerospace Defense Command, told Kyra Phillips on CNN just a short time ago that he saw the even unfold on TV, on CNN.

He -- pardon me. He looked at it and made the decision to put fighter aircraft in the air. What they have done, fighter aircraft are in the air at this hour over a number of U.S. cities, the admiral says, strictly as a precaution.

They have no reason to believe either in the military at this hour that this is anything other than an accident. But they're taking the precaution obviously in the wake of September 11th, in the wake of the national security environment in which we all live.

They will not say how many cities. They will only say numerous cities. They will tell us you that it is fighter aircraft that are now in the air conducting these patrols. Part of it clearly is also for public reassurance, to know that those fighters are up there. I think that is certainly part of the decision process that the military went through.

But they did take very rapid action to make sure that the public knew fighter jets were in the air over numerous cities. I think it is safe, Wolf, to assume that both New York City and Washington, D.C. are two of the cities that the military is now patrolling.

BLITZER: And I just want our viewers to know that this is standard operating procedure over these past five years. NORAD, the U.S. military, they've had exercises, war games, if you will. If a situation like this develops, they have a series of steps that they would normally go into. And I assume the admiral is simply beginning to operate as if this were a serious problem.

STARR: Well, that's right, Wolf. This is a precaution. I think the feeling in military command centers is they simply can do no less. Until they have the absolute knowledge from law enforcement, from anti-terrorism officials, this is the route that they have to go down.

In the wake of September 11, you know, there were several cities -- New York and Washington being two of them, of course -- where there is restricted flight space for commercial and general aviation. They patrol regularly, as does the Coast Guard, to ensure that aircraft don't wander into these secure airspace areas. We're not sure, of course, what happened in this case, but certainly, something has gone terribly wrong.

And until they know, they are now activating those procedures, as you say, as a precaution, both for serious national security reasons -- although they think it's an accident, they've got to be sure, they've got to take a precaution -- but they also clearly wanted the news media to get that word out to the public very quickly, so that there would be confidence amongst the public that everybody was taking this event very serious, very rapidly, that all the appropriate response measures had been quickly put into place -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Barbara, we're going to get back to you. Thanks very much.

Anderson Cooper is on the scene for us.

Anderson, I assume the mayor, Michael Bloomberg, the police commissioner, Ray Kelly, other top New York City officials are being briefed, they're being brought up to speed, and at some point, we're going to be hearing from them, I would guess sooner rather than later. But so far the statements that we're getting have come in from the spokesmen of various New York City and federal agencies?

COOPER: That's right. The mayor is on the scene, other officials, of course, on the scene. It's likely -- we had been told that there would be some sort of a press conference within the hour. I've been told about half an hour, and that was about 20 minutes ago, so we're still trying to wait for that.

Obviously, they're still trying to figure who it is who's going to speak in these situations. Usually the mayor would start off, then we'd hear, probably, from the Fire Commissioner, Nicholas Scoppetta, as well as some other emergency officials.

But the statements that we have been hearing from federal officials thus far, just indicating, again, and it bears repeating, no evidence at this point of any kind of terrorist attack. At this point, it seems to be some sort of a pilot who was operating under visual flight rules and, for whatever reason, had now slammed into this building.

BLITZER: Are we still uncertain, Anderson, based on everything you know, everything we're hearing, whether this was a small fixed wing -- or as they call it a general aviation plane -- or might it have been a helicopter?

COOPER: On the scene we are not being told anything new. What we have heard from various eyewitnesses, from at least two eyewitnesses, they say they saw some sort of fixed wing aircraft, not a helicopter. But, again, there are sort of conflicting reports and eyewitness testimony, as you know, is often fallible. So at this point, we cannot confirm what exact type of aircraft this was.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by.

The governor of New York state, Governor Pataki, is on the phone with us.

Governor, update our viewers on what you're hearing.

GOV. GEORGE PATAKI (R), NEW YORK: Well, Wolf, I think you're been reporting it accurately. There was no prior indication, no prior intelligence, that there was any type of a terrorist threat of this nature pending anywhere in the country. And there is no current information from the investigation at the site saying that it's anything other than an accident.

You know, it's too soon to say definitively what happened here, but people should understand that -- certainly I understand that since September 11, when something like this happens, there's a high level of anxiety and people reflect back to September 11 -- but as I said, and as you've been reporting, there was no prior intelligence and no current information that this was anything other than an accident, although the investigation, obviously, is continuing.

BLITZER: And can you confirm, Governor, it was a small fixed- wing plane, presumably with a pilot, maybe somebody else on board? Do we have that kind of specificity?

PATAKI: Well, I have spoken with Secretary Chertoff and with our Port Authority, who run all the airports, but at this point, they have some idea, but they don't want to put it out until they are absolutely certain. They don't want to speculate at this point.

BLITZER: On the type of aircraft?


BLITZER: Without getting into the specificity that you don't want to get into, along the East River, planes, small planes can fly, as well as helicopters. This is not, as is the case here in the District of Columbia, in Washington, D.C., a restricted airspace zone?

PATAKI: That's correct. They have to fly above a certain level. And this plane, obviously, when it got near Manhattan, was below that level. But it's a very murky day. I'm sitting in my office, where I can see the office building and, of course, look out over the East River. I can barely see the other side of the river. So there are planes, helicopters, small planes that do use that corridor on a regular basis.

BLITZER: Is that a good idea? Given the history of New York City and 9/11, to allow small planes and helicopters to be flying over Manhattan?

PATAKI: Well, I think you have to do two things. You have to, one, make sure that whatever steps on the ground can be taken proactively to make sure that helicopter space or general aviation space, those are the small airports with the small planes, are secure, and that you do have confidence in who is taking off in those planes.

And then, as you know, New York has been at level orange since September 11. We understand the unique nature of this great city, and that it will always be a target for those who hate American freedom. And we've taken, I believe, the appropriate steps. But always, when there's an incident like this, the FAA, I'm sure, will be taking another look.

BLITZER: Do we have any idea, Governor, whether or not this building, it's called the Belaire, it's a 50-story residential condominium, mostly, a building on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. If this building happened to be at the wrong place, and this was simply an accident, or if this building may have been targeted?

PATAKI: Well, as I said, Wolf, we just don't know definitively at this point. But there's no indication, nothing to indicate, either in prior intelligence or in information that's been recovered to this date, that this was a deliberate act. The investigation will continue. I'm sure in a very short period of time, they'll come to a conclusion, the experts will come to a conclusion on that. But certainly at this point, there's no indication that it was anything other than an accident.

BLITZER: The last reports we received, Governor, had at least two fatalities, at least two deaths as a result of this incident, according to the NYPD. Are those the numbers that you're getting?

PATAKI: Well, obviously it was a horrendous accident, if in fact it turns out to have been an accident, as is currently what the information is leading towards. And there have been fatalities. But beyond that, it's just going to take a while to get all the specific numbers and details.

BLITZER: Is there a specific role that New York state does, as opposed to city of New York?

PATAKI: Oh, yes. Like, all the airports are run by the Port Authority, which is a bi-state, New York state and New Jersey entity. And one of the first things I did was check with the Port Authority, and they confirmed that all of the aircraft that have taken off or landed from any of the major Port Authority airports have been accounted for and are continuing to be accounted for.

BLITZER: Do La Guardia and Kennedy and Newark, the major airports in and around New York, are they operating, as best as you know, on schedule?

PATAKI: Yes, they are. As far as I know, they are. Obviously, as you indicated, the federal authorities have taken steps to put air cover over some of the cities in the country, simply as a precaution. But I don't have any indication that the airports are doing anything but functioning under their normal, normal schedule. But there is, obviously, we have taken steps, and the security level has been significantly heightened, even from the normal level orange conditions, until there is a final determination as to what exactly happened here.

BLITZER: We are now being told, Governor, even as we speak, that this small plane took off from Teterborough, which is a small airport in New Jersey, at about 2:30 p.m. Eastern, 2:30 this afternoon, and it could carry as many as four people, this small plane. That's the information that's just coming into the SITUATION ROOM here on CNN.

PATAKI: Well, I just hope that as that additional information comes forward, we will be able to confirm that it was an accident. In the meantime, you know understanding people's concerns post-September 11th, we do need to continue to be vigilant.

We do have to continue to watch out for any unusual activities. But when an incident like this happens, have confidence that New York has the finest emergency responders anywhere in the world, and that whatever can be done by the local, state or federal authorities to protect the people of New York is being done.

BLITZER: You've flown in and out of Teterborough, I'm sure, on many occasions, a lot of the private planes that used to fly into the bigger airports, they use this small airport in New Jersey now when they have business in New York City. Give our viewers a little sense of this airport, Teterborough.

PATAKI: I have flown in and out of Teterborough, certainly, 100 times, at least. It is a very fine small airport largely used by private planes for private transportation. I don't know the mileage outside of New York City. It's in northern New Jersey. And there are regular helicopter shuttles back between Teterborough and New York City, but it's a fine airport.

It's a way to bring private planes into the metropolitan area. And I hadn't heard that before you reported it, but if that's the case, I'm sure the authorities will be taking a look to make sure that Teterborough, as well as the major airports, and all the airports in the state and metropolitan region, are as controlled as can possibly be.

BLITZER: I have one final question, Governor, I know you got to go. NORAD making a decision to scramble fighter jets not only over New York, but other major cities around the country as well. They're not being specific which cities that -- they're saying this is being done purely as a precaution.

Is that a good idea?

PATAKI: I think it's a very good idea. Until we know for certain that what appears to be the case, that this was not a deliberate act, you have be prudent. You have to -- in this post- September 11th world, if you're going to err, err on the side of caution in doing more to protect the people than less to protect the people.

But having said that, I just hope that understanding the anxiety that exists whenever a plane hits a building in New York City, that people understand that they have the finest responders, the finest homeland security efforts anywhere in the country, and that they should have confidence that they can go about their lives with the optimism that New Yorkers are entitled to have.

BLITZER: Governor George Pataki of New York State -- Governor, thanks very much. We will check back with you as this story continues to unfold.

And still lots, lots of unanswered questions.

Let's bring in Jack Cafferty. He's in New York.

Jack, you're watching together with all of us. You have been living in New York for a long time.

What do you think?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, I -- you know, it's a busy place, Wolf. And -- and, periodically, these kinds of thing, unfortunately, happen, assuming that this is an accident. And it looks now like that's what it is.

In 1945, a military guy flew a B-25 right into the side of the Empire State Building. He was trying to get to Newark. The weather was bad. Slammed into there, killed about 14 people.

When I was working at WNBC Television back in the late '70s, our radio helicopter went into the Hudson River, killed a woman named Jane Dornacker, who was a radio traffic reporter. There are three airports here, big ones, that handle -- two of them handle international flights. There are a couple of regional airports as well, Westchester, very busy, a lot of private jets in and out of there, Teterboro, just across the Hudson River in New Jersey, where this flight apparently originated.

So, I mean, it's -- the skies are full of aircraft of some kind or another all the time. You can look up in the sky on a day when there's decent visibility, and you can see a half-a-dozen things flying around, whether it's helicopters, or commercial jets, or whatever.

And, then, when something like this happens, of course, we're all, you know, knee-jerk response, flash back immediately to September 11. Everybody holds their breath, wondering if this was another attack.

The tall buildings of Manhattan, which is an island, have proven an irresistible target for terrorists. But there's also a potential hazard for ordinary air traffic, particularly the amount of traffic we have in this city. And New York City is not the only city where these kinds of conditions exist.

So, the question, I supposed, if you wanted to ask one, is, in light of fears about terror attacks from the air, what restrictions ought to govern non-commercial air traffic around and in close proximity to large U.S. cities? I mean, maybe they have got to figure out a way to -- to keep the nonessential stuff out of these flight paths.

You can write to us, if you're so inclined, Or go to

You know, it's not the first airplane that's hit a New York City building, and it probably won't be the last. I guess, Wolf, we can be grateful, one, it wasn't a terrorist incident. And, two, miraculously, apparently, only a couple of lives have been lost. If that's the case, that's really good news, because, obviously, the potential -- fly an airplane into a high-rise apartment building, the potential for deaths would be a lot higher under different circumstances.

BLITZER: You're familiar with that scene on the Upper East Side, where this...

CAFFERTY: Oh, sure.

BLITZER: .. where the 72nd -- 71st and York Avenue?

CAFFERTY: Well, you know what that is? That's hospital row.

I mean, right along York Avenue, on the East River are all, or a good number of the major New York City hospitals. Both my daughters were born at New York Hospital. There's a hospital for special surgery. There's Rockefeller University. There's the Sloan-Kettering cancer hospital, biggest and probably the best cancer facility in the world.

And this thing hit an apartment building at 72nd and York. It was very close to all of those hospitals. I mean, the apartment building, presumably, in the middle of a workday, may not have had a lot of people home.


CAFFERTY: Those hospital rooms are full of patients, and nurses, and doctors, and lab technicians. I mean, you know, we might have dodged what could have been a much worse situation.

BLITZER: It could have been worse.

All right, Jack, stand by.

I want to go to Kelli Arena. She's getting some new information right now, our justice correspondent -- Kelli.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, just got a phone call.

There were indications from first-responders on the ground there in New York City that some sort of mayday call was made by the pilot of that plane, indicating that there may have been a fuel problem. This, of course, you know, just reports from on the ground. It is a chaotic scene there, too. This has not been officially confirmed.

But at least some first-responders on the ground, that's what they have been told, Wolf. We're going to continue to make calls on that.

But, of course, this would definitely back up the thinking, the general thinking that this was an accident, that this was not terror- related, that this was not done on purpose. This was a pilot in distress.

BLITZER: So, potentially, what could have happened, a small plane takes off from Teterboro in northern New Jersey, and starts flying, develops a problem. A mayday call comes into the FAA, to the air traffic controllers. And, unfortunately, the plane winds up in the side of this 50-story building.

ARENA: That's right.

And this mirrors what we heard earlier on CNN from an eyewitness who happens to be a pilot, who said that, as he was watching that, the plane was banking very oddly to the right. He said, in his estimation, from his experience, the guy was in trouble. Whoever was flying that plane was in trouble.

As I said, Wolf, I'm going to try to get official confirmation for you as soon as possible.

BLITZER: Kelli, thanks very much.

Allan Chernoff is on the phone. He's getting some new information as well.

Allan, first of all, where are you in New York?

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I'm at the corner of York and 74th Street.

And I have spoken with a few eyewitnesses, and also with one doctor from New York Presbyterian Hospital. He happened to have been in the emergency room at the time of this event. He said that one woman -- he believed that she was in her 50s -- was brought into the emergency room. He said that she was conscious.

Now, that hospital is really just around the corner from where the apartment building is located.

BLITZER: And that whole area -- I take it -- you're at 74th. This building is on 72nd Street. I take it that whole area has been cordoned off?

CHERNOFF: That's correct.

But there are hundreds of police officers, firefighters here, and, of course, hundreds of reporters and camera crews combined as well. BLITZER: We are expecting, though, to hear from the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, very soon. What are you getting from your vantage point, Allan?

CHERNOFF: Well, I can tell you this.

I mean, we -- the whole afternoon, since this happened, we -- of course, we immediately think of 9/11. And the contrast is quite stark, no panic here whatsoever, people really walking around casually, police officers just standing around.

I mean, it was the immediate response, of course, the firefighters rushing in. They pretty quickly got the flames out. You could see the smoke pouring out of the building.

But it seems to be very well contained. And it's really no sense at all here of panic. And anyone on the scene pretty much would not feel that this was a terrorist event.

BLITZER: It was very impressive to see how quickly the New York City Fire Department, Allan, managed to get up into that apartment building, and get to the actual apartments where this small plane had crashed into the side of the building, and begin to put out those flames, because, at one point, the fires were spreading and spreading.

But they moved very, very rapidly, climbing those stairs, and getting inside that building. I don't know if you were there at the scene at the time. But -- but you could see the -- the New York firefighters literally at their best.

CHERNOFF: Exactly. Well, that's what they do here.

I mean, I'm standing on York Avenue now. And you look up and down the street, it's a canyon of high-rise apartment buildings. That's where people live in Manhattan. And when they're fighting a fire in Manhattan, that's typically what they have to do.

BLITZER: If this is a 50-story building, and those apartments that were destroyed maybe are on the 30th floor, that's a long way to be walking up those stairs, with all that heavy equipment. And, clearly, they got in.

Stand by for a moment, Allan.

Anderson Cooper is on the scene as well.

Anderson, I take it you have someone who is an eyewitness?

COOPER: Yes, Wolf, this is -- what is your name?


COOPER: Louis.


COOPER: Tell us what -- what happened. Where were you in the building?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually, I was working on the 46th floor of the building.

You know, what happened was, we heard a lot of noise. We looked out the window, because we had a view from both sides of the building. We look out the window, and we saw, like, a little -- a small airplane.

COOPER: So, it was definitely an airplane?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it was an airplane.

COOPER: About what size? Can you -- did you know?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Probably like two engines, one engine, a small plane.

You know, we look out the window, and I saw the airplane coming towards us. It was me and a couple of workers that were with me that time. I just stood there. I -- you know, I was just scared.

COOPER: How far below you was the aircraft?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like two or three floors below us.

When the -- actually, the airplane was coming towards us. And I don't know if he really tried to avoid hitting us, or he wants to really hit the building. So, what he did is try to make the turn, and hit the middle of the building, not far -- not far away from us. It was like probably two apartments next to us, like three floors down. He hit the building. And what we saw was a big explosion.

COOPER: Did you feel the impact? I mean, you were several floors above.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, actually. Yes, actually. Yes. The building shakes. It was very scary.

So, what we did, we just ran to the -- to the elevator. We wait there for two like minutes or something like that.

COOPER: How many people were with you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was actually four of us.

And, you know, when we're in -- like, in the elevator, we went through each floor, just to see if there was more people, like, in the apartments, and, you know, yelling and screaming. And we got no answer.

So, when we got like to the 42nd or 43rd floor, all we saw was smoke and fire in the hallway.

COOPER: There was smoke in the hallways at the apartment...


We seen in the apartment and in the hallway, there was already fire and smoke. So, as I told my friend, I was like, just go down. Just get out of here. We went all the way to the first floor. In the lobby of the building, there was a lot of smoke. And, on the street was pieces of metal from the airplane.

And that was it. We just went through the back of the building. And we just got out of there safe.

COOPER: Obviously, you have never seen anything like this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, never. Never. I was really nervous.

Like I say, I thought my life was over. And all I thought was about my son, you know, my baby. But that was scary.

COOPER: But the elevator was still working, so you were able to take it all the way down?


COOPER: But no other people were on the floors that came into the elevator?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. No. I don't know if you -- I don't know if there was people like in the -- on the apartment where the airplane hit. I don't know. I...


COOPER: When you -- when you saw the aircraft approach, I mean, what -- what did you think? Did you see anyone in the aircraft? Did you see the pilot?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Yes. Yes. We saw the pilot.

Yes, we saw -- yes, actually, we saw the pilot. But I don't know -- I don't know if he -- I don't know what happened, to tell you the truth. I don't know. We just saw the airplane coming towards us. And that was it.

COOPER: Well, I'm glad you made it out, Louis. Thanks for talking to us. I know it's been a difficult experience. Thank you.

So, Wolf, that's just one of the eyewitnesses that we're starting to hear from. As the hours progress, no doubt, we will hear more and more.

You can see the apartment building just right up. I don't know if you can pan. It is literally two blocks south of where I'm standing. I'm on 74th, just off York Avenue. We have been watching fire officials inside the apartment taking pictures, beginning their investigation of exactly what happened, what sort of an aircraft it was. Officially, there has not been confirmation of exactly what sort of aircraft it was. At least, I haven't heard that from this ground. Maybe, Wolf, you have heard. I know you heard that the aircraft took off from Teterboro, which is an airport in northern New Jersey, used mostly by private aircraft, also by some helicopters.

But it is a very odd location for an aircraft to have hit a structure. As you were hearing from Governor Pataki, there is this air corridor along the East River, also along the Hudson River. It is not unusual to see helicopters, small aircraft, seaplanes, landing and taking off from the East River.

But the fact that this impact zone wasn't facing the river -- it is actually facing the north of Manhattan -- it is odd that an aircraft would have been flying in that direction or in between buildings.

Again, we're -- it is early days in this investigation. Fire officials, emergency officials are on the scene. We're waiting for some kind of a press conference, either from the mayor or the fire commissioner, Nicholas Scoppetta, or Ray Kelly, the police commissioner.

We will certainly bring that to you as soon as that happens -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And, you know, Anderson, Kelli Arena, our justice correspondent, was telling us that she has one source suggesting that there was a mayday call from the pilot, saying that there was a problem with the aircraft; he was losing control.

And that may explain why this small plane that was capable of carrying, we're told, up to four people, crashed into this building, where it crashed. If the plane was wobbly going up the river, the East River, the area around there, and he couldn't control it, the pilot, he or she, maybe that explains the -- why the plane crashed where it did.

We heard the man you just interviewed, Anderson, the eyewitness. He was what, on the 40th floor, above the crash area. The crash area, we're told, is around the 30th floor. He was very lucky to get into an elevator and make it down to the bottom, because they say, if there's a fire in a building, the first -- the worst thing you can do is actually get into an elevator.

COOPER: I know. I was actually surprised to hear him say that he was using the elevator, and that he tried to have the elevator stop on each floor.

You know, obviously, we can't, at this point, confirm what -- what he has said. But, certainly, it's an indication that the structure of the building...


COOPER: All right, Anderson, I want you to hold on. Anderson, hold on for a second.

Tom Verducci of "Sports Illustrated" is joining us on the phone.

Tom, what are you picking up?

TOM VERDUCCI, SENIOR WRITER, "SPORTS ILLUSTRATED": Well, I'm hearing that the New York Yankees have been told that early indications are that it may be the plane that belongs to one of their pitchers, Cory Lidle.

They're waiting to hear confirmation on trying to match up the tail numbers. Cory Lidle does fly his own personal aircraft out of an airport in New Jersey. And, according to sources with the Yankees, he was scheduled to leave New York to fly home for the off-season today.

So, right now, the Yankees are waiting for confirmation on that, that it might have been Cory Lidle's aircraft.

BLITZER: Do you know Cory Lidle, Tom?


He was a guy who was traded to the Yankees during this season from the Philadelphia Phillies. He just pitched in their last playoff series against the Detroit Tigers. The season ended for the Yankees on Saturday. The players spent the next couple of days cleaning out their items and personal belongings at the stadium, and started heading for their respective homes in the last couple of days.

BLITZER: All right, hold on one second, Tom.

Kyra Phillips is also getting some related information.

Kyra, what are you picking up?


I'm being told also, Wolf. I'm getting -- I'm hearing exactly what Tom is hearing.

I'm actually getting mix-minus in my ear. So, I'm going to take my IFB out for a minute, until we can fix that. I'm hearing an echo.

My source telling me that he is also being told -- this is an aviation source with knowledge of air traffic control and also the investigation, that the owner of that plane, the pilot of that plane was the Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle.

Just to give you a little background to how he became a pilot and that it was actually a concern on behalf of the Yankees that he had a plane. He had been a Major League pitcher for nine years and a pilot for seven months, I'm being told.

He earned his pilot's license last off-season, bought a four-seat airplane for $187,000.

And here's what I can tell you about the airplane, a Cirrus SR-20 built in 2002 with fewer than 400 hours in the air, I'm being told.

And, as you know, we were talking about how -- and Tom can probably talk more about this. It's sort of a player-pilot -- it's kind of a sensitive issue for the Yankees.

You remember their captain, its captain, Thurman Munson, was killed in the crash of a plane that he was flying in 1979.

Lidle, we are being told, acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies on July 30, said that his plane, however, was safe. When that conversation came up, evidently, this is what -- how Lidle responded to it. And he was talking about how this plane that he purchased actually had a parachute in it.

From what I understand, our Miles O'Brien has the same type of plane. And that's what he has found so fascinating about this aircraft, is the fact that it has a parachute on it.

And Lidle had actually been quoted, saying 99 percent of pilots that go up never have engine failure, and that 1 percent that do usually land it. But, if you're up in the air and something goes wrong, you pull that parachute, and the whole plane goes down slowly.

Lidle, 34 years old, lives in West Covina, California. That's about 25 -- or 20 miles or so east of Los Angeles.

My source now close to the investigation here, an aviation source with knowledge of air traffic control and the investigation, saying that he, too, believes that Cory Lidle was the owner of that plane, and also the one piloting that plane that went into that building in Manhattan -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Kyra, stand by.

Kelli Arena is getting a little bit more information as well.

Kelli, what are you picking up?

ARENA: Well, Wolf, I am told that the FBI did receive information from the FAA that there was indeed a distress call, that the information is that there were two people aboard that private aircraft.

I'm hearing the same information that Kyra is, that it was -- Cory Lidle who one of those people, although, of course, the FBI would not be the agency to confirm that information. We would have to get that officially from another agency.

But there was indeed a distress call, so, there was some problem aboard that aircraft.

BLITZER: The indications -- so, we have multiple sources reporting that this plane belonged to Cory Lidle, 34 years old, a New York Yankee pitcher.

Tom Verducci, are you still on the line? VERDUCCI: I'm still here, Wolf.

BLITZER: This comes only a few days after the Yankees were eliminated from the playoffs.

VERDUCCI: Yes, it really does.

And, actually Cory Lidle was one of the people who was quite outspoken in support of his manager, Joe Torre, who only yesterday was confirmed as coming back for his last year on his contract for next season.

Cory did not play a big role in the playoffs. He did pitch in relief. But, in his short time with the Yankees, he had become a very popular teammate among the players on the team, looked forward to free agency this winter, and -- and liked the fact that the Yankees were a good fit for him. And I think he anticipated coming back to the Yankees.

And, as was reported, this is eerily similar to the Yankees in the way -- at least the reports of Thurman Munson, when his plane went down practicing takeoffs and landings with his own private jet.

It is something that scares a lot of teams, Wolf, when players get involved with these off-field activities that are dangerous. But Cory was a guy who was very passionate about flying, and wanted to continue doing it, and really enjoyed it.

BLITZER: Did you know -- was this an issue before today, this -- that -- was it widely known that he was a pilot, and that the Yankees weren't happy about that?

VERDUCCI: Well, it was widely known. It wasn't anything that anybody was certainly trying to hide.

Cory was fairly outspoken about his love for flying. And the Yankees did not have a huge problem with it. You know, players, not that they fly their own planes, but, in this day and age, where players make a lot of money, a lot of flyers players do not fly on team charters, especially on off days. They will lease airtime on jets, and have a pilot fly them.

A lot of them do fly on their own on smaller jets. Cory was one of the few, though, who actually was piloting planes himself. But the Yankees were well aware of it.

BLITZER: Kyra, you -- if you're still there -- Kyra Phillips is getting a lot of information on this as well.

Kyra, talk a little bit about this small plane. You said it was a Cirrus SR-20. You're familiar with this aircraft?


Cirrus -- it's Cirrus design SR-20. Still trying to figure out this echo in my ear, Wolf. I apologize. So, I will keep putting it in, in case you want to ask me a question.

And I believe we are working on getting a graphic put together to kind of tell you a little bit more about this plane.

But it can carry up to four passengers. We don't know how many people were on board this particular aircraft, possibly owned and operated by Cory Lidle.

But that is the fascinating part about it, is that has a parachute. And, so -- and, if you see the animation -- and I know we're working on putting this together -- it's pretty fascinating how, when you're flying, that you can actually deploy this parachute as a safety measure.

And a lot of people talk about this in the aviation community, about abilities to eject from aircraft, or safely egress from an aircraft, if indeed there is a problem. And that is why this was such a popular plane, and I believe why our own Miles O'Brien has the same type of plane, is...

BLITZER: All right.

PHILLIPS: ... because this is one of the features that adds to the whole safety angle.

And it gave, according to Cory Lidle -- and when he's been quoted, and when he's had conversations about flying, that this was one of the things that he loved about this aircraft, and how he tried to assure his teammates or anybody within the Yankees that was concerned about him flying, he talked about how safe his plane was. And he talked about this feature on the aircraft.

Once again, he bought..


BLITZER: All right. Hold on a second, Kyra. I'm going to break away for a moment, because Jacki Schechner is getting some exclusive pictures of this aircraft.

Jacki, show our viewers what you're picking up.


These are exclusive photos coming in to CNN from Rick Dembow, a freelance photographer. Here, you can see a photograph of the wing from that plane, more wreckage photography. You can see, again, from freelance photographer Rick Dembow, exclusively coming into CNN.

He sends us this photo as well. You can see the wreckage on the building, again, a picture of the wing there coming in from a freelance photographer exclusively to CNN. You can see more of the wreckage here. You can see that within the midst of this building on the East Side of Manhattan, Wolf, more of these photos, again, coming in. You can see the plane there in the bottom of the photo. You can see the wing, the wreckage on the street in Manhattan, on the East Side -- Wolf, these photos exclusively here at CNN.

BLITZER: Jacki, thanks very much.

I want to bring in Miles O'Brien, our CNN anchor, who is also a pilot.

You're familiar with this plane, the Cirrus SR-20, Miles?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I own a Cirrus SR-22, which is, if you were to look at the two airplanes, they would seem identical. The only difference is, mine has a little larger engine.

And Kyra is connect. The Cirrus SR-22 is the only airplane that comes equipped standard with a ballistic parachute. It has a little rocket motor on it. And, if you get in trouble, there's a lever you can pull on the ceiling which will send that parachute up, and bring the aircraft and its occupants down to safety in trouble.

Now, in this scenario, however, it appears -- and I have had it confirmed from other sources -- that the pitcher Cory Lidle was on board, along with an instructor. They left Teterboro Airport, which is in New Jersey, about nine miles from the scene of this crash that we're seeing right now, presumably stayed low, below the controlled airspace in New York on the VFR, visual flight rules, corridors, which are open to general aviation, helicopters, that sort of thing, very heavily trafficked pieces of airspace, very important to stay attuned to the traffic situation.

They were turning right at the spot where the VFR corridor, visual flight rules corridor, ends, and where La Guardia airspace begins, making the turn back to the south.

And I am told by at least one source, Jim Campbell of the Aero- News Network, reporting that radar tapes seem to indicate that there may have been a near miss shortly before the crash. In other words, they may have gotten a little closer to traffic than they liked, might have had to do some kind of evasive maneuver, might, in that process, have lost control of the aircraft.

Another potential scenario here is -- and I have flown up and down this river. You don't fly fast when you're doing it. The rules don't allow you to do it. Secondly, why you're there, you're there to look at the -- the spectacular view of Manhattan. So, people fly slowly. And that can be dangerous. When you're flying low and slow, you can get into a situation which is -- aviation people know that they call it a stall, which means that there's not enough wind going across the wings to provide lift, and the plane can spin, and crash very quickly.

The situation here might have occurred at such a low altitude that they may not have had enough time to deal with the problem and pull that parachute quickly enough. So, that's what the NTSB go-team will be looking at right now, those sorts of things.


O'BRIEN: Of course, this little airplane doesn't have any black boxes. There's no cockpit voice recorders. There's no flight data recorder.

This is the kind of thing that the investigators will have to...

BLITZER: All right.

O'BRIEN: ... piece together using the radar tracking investigation...

BLITZER: Miles...

O'BRIEN: ... if there was a mayday call, that kind of thing.

BLITZER: ... stand by for a moment.

Kelli Arena is getting some important additional information -- Kelli.

ARENA: Wolf, I'm told that information coming into the FBI is that is believed that Cory Lidle was the pilot of that small aircraft. In fact, I am told that responders to the scene found his passport in the street at the scene there. I'm also told updated information. It is believed now that he was the only person aboard that aircraft.

BLITZER: And because that conflicts with what Miles was just hearing, that a flight instructor may have been on board that small plane as well.

ARENA: That's right. And we had heard -- right.

We had heard earlier that they believed that there was two. Again, Wolf, you know, this is a very fast-moving situation. You know, updated, at least now, is that they believe he was the only person on board. What they can say for sure is that his passport was found on the street of that crash site.

BLITZER: Well, let me bring back Miles.

Miles, are you still there?


See, I got to say, Wolf, that -- the fact that he is alone in that plane, or was alone in that plane, that makes a little more sense to me, as a pilot, because let's just say that, for example, that there was a near miss with an aircraft, or he was working on some sort of problem with the aircraft, because we have heard reports there might have been some sort of radio call indicating a problem with fuel. If, in fact, he was alone in that airplane, and he was concentrating on trying to fix whatever was wrong, he might have had his head buried in his instruments, doing whatever needed to be done to try to take care of that problem, and might have forgotten the cardinal rule of flying, that, when you're in trouble, first thing you do is aviate the airplane.

And it's possible that he got himself too low, and pointed in the wrong direction in that scenario. Once again, that's deep into speculation, but a single-pilot scenario in a place like that, with all that traffic involved -- you're flying low and slow. There's not a lot of margin for error. Things can go wrong very quickly. And it is pretty unforgiving in a scenario like that.

BLITZER: According to a story that just recently appeared in "The New York Times," Miles -- this will be of interest to you -- Cory Lidle earned his pilot's license only last off-season, a year or so ago, bought a four-seat airplane for $187,000, the Cirrus SR-20, built in 2002, with fewer than 400 hours in the air.

Was he qualified, based on what you know, the complexities of flying in and around New York, taking off from Teterboro, was he qualified to be in a plane by himself?

O'BRIEN: Well, I will give you a two-part answer on that.

It -- legally, if you have a private pilot's license, and you're able to fly under visual flight rules, you are legal to be in that airspace. On this day, with the ceiling at 1,800 feet, which was very low -- that didn't allow much margin right there. Visibility was good, but the cloud deck was very low. And flying into that very densely flown piece of airspace alone, I can tell you right now, I wouldn't take my family on that flight.

And I have several hundred hours in an instrument rating. I think it's a very tricky place to fly. And it -- while it is legal, it is also a place that's very unforgiving of mistakes.

BLITZER: Well, you -- you're familiar with the Teterboro Airport, Miles. I assume you have flown in and out of that airport yourself on several occasions.

Would -- would authorities there, you know, give him any sort of warning that this is not necessarily a good idea to be taking off by yourself? Do they, in other words, have any responsibility for giving an admonishment on a day like today to fly by yourself with a -- with a pilot's license less than a year old?


Now, one of the -- one of the cardinal rules of aviation is the pilot in command, is -- is the pilot in command, and makes decisions for him or her self. Air traffic controllers provide advisories, and, in the case of restricted airspace, will try to keep you out. We have all seen what has happened over the skies of Washington vis-a-vis that. So -- but, basically, there is nobody there at the ramp saying -- you know, checking his documents and his flight log, saying, you know, I don't think you are -- you're up to flying, you know, around the -- the Hudson River and the East River corridors today on this -- with this weather and this traffic scenario.

It is up -- it is up to the pilot's discretion to make, you know, judgments as to what he or she is safe doing. And this is one of the keys to -- to safe flying, is knowing your own personal limitations.

And it's difficult sometimes, when you get fixated on, you know, seeing the sights of the city, or making -- getting from point A to point B. And you want to do it. And you are, you know, a person who is an achiever type of person, has that mentality, that mind-set. You can get yourself in over your head very quickly. I constantly try to remind myself of this as I make decisions about whether to go or not go.

BLITZER: And you are a much more experienced pilot than Cory Lidle.

Miles, stand by.