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The Situation Room

"Heroism in the Hudson"; How to Ditch an Airliner; Hailed As Hero; Obama Planning Dramatic Moves; Military Combats Bird Strikes;

Aired January 16, 2009 - 17:00   ET


JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It's like we say in Texas, when you come to a wall and you're not sure if you can carry it, throw your hat over it, then you have to climb it, right?
So he's going to have to climb over that wall because he's committed himself to that job.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We've got to leave it right there, guys.


BLITZER: Next time, Bay.


BLITZER: Thanks very much.

And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, new details on that crash landing in the Hudson River and the heroic efforts which saved the lives of all 155 people on board.

And a new mystery -- where are the plane's engines?

There's two of them and they're missing.

A CNN exclusive -- President-Elect Barack Obama sits down with our chief national correspondent, John King, and jumps right into controversy over embryonic stem cell research. Our analysts, James Carville and Kevin Madden, they're here to talk about that and more.

And we'll also get an inside and exclusive look aboard Air Force One. The president's pilot tells us of the desperate hours after America was attacked on 9/11 and the scramble to get the president to a safe location.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Growing praise today for the pilot and crew who safely brought down a crippled airliner, along with the first responders and citizens who helped rescue 155 people from New York's frigid Hudson River. Investigators are now interviewing the crew and preparing to lift the plane from the water. They're also searching for both engines.

Federal authorities have just given a briefing. You saw it live here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's go live to our senior correspondent, Allan Chernoff -- Allan, what are they going to -- what are they -- first of all, when are they going to hoist that -- the plane?

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the game plan is to lift that plane at 10:00 tomorrow morning. Right now, as we speak, there are divers in the water rigging the plane up. And you can see one of the wings sticking out of the water. The plane is tilted, so the bulk of the plane is in the water right now. They're rigging that up. They're going to be working at least through midnight. And you can imagine how tough that is -- freezing water, a very strong current. So it's been slow going.

The hope had been to get the plane out today. Now, it will be 10:00 tomorrow that they'll make the attempt.

We also learned within the past hour that both engines are off the plane now.


KITTY HIGGINS, NTSB BOARD MEMBER: Both engines are no longer attached to the plane. And we -- you could see that the left engine was not attached as the plane was pulled into the -- to its current location. And the divers were able to tell us that the right engine is also no longer there.

So we've got the New York Police Department working with the Corps of Engineers and using side scan sonar. And they're out there now trying to locate the engines.


CHERNOFF: The NTSB also is hoping to interview the pilot and the co-pilot tomorrow. They had been planning to do that today. It didn't happen. Tomorrow will be the interview with the pilots and they'll be talking to air traffic control.

NTSB also says what they want to do here is celebrate what went right. So often they look into what went wrong. Here they want to learn from what went right -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They're calling it a miracle on the Hudson.

All right, thanks very much, Allan, for that.

As we say, the emergency water landing -- a lot of people have concluded it was a miracle, as the passengers credit the pilot of the US Airways plane for saving their lives.

CNN's Brian Todd is here -- Brian, successfully ditching a plane like this in the river, in the frigid waters of the Hudson River, that's an extraordinarily difficult thing to do.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very, very difficult, Wolf. That's why experts say that it's so fortunate this is such a rare occurrence.

What to do when the engines fail at low altitude and options are fading fast -- we went through that with a pilot, starting with a look back at one attempted ditching that ended tragically.


TODD (voice-over): A ditching gone bad -- not due to pilot error. This deadly 1996 crash in the Indian Ocean occurred because the plane had run out of fuel, lost power and the pilot was fending off hijackers as he tried to ditch in the water.

But the video shows the disastrous so-called cartwheel effect if the aircraft doesn't hit the water just right.

CAPT. RORY KAY, AIRLINE PILOTS ASSOCIATION: If you don't touch down perfectly level with the water -- in this case, the right wing is up, the left wing is down in the water, it's obscured by the splash -- that you are precipitating a catastrophic structural failure.

TODD: Captain Rory Kay has been flying commercial aircraft for more than two decades. He didn't want to speak specifically about the Hudson River landing because of the ongoing investigation. But he took us through the progression of ditching a plane that's lost power.

In lightning quick time, he says, you've got to figure out if you can land on open ground safely. If not, head for open water.

KAY: I start navigating toward it, trying to plan how long I have before I touch down.

Do I have five seconds?

Do I have 45 seconds?

And I will plan the rest of the flight path of the aircraft accordingly based on that.

TODD: Then, Kay says, the landing gear has to be retracted to avoid tripping the plane in the water, deploy the flaps to reduce speed, keep the wings level.

Kay's flown the Airbus 320. He says in this cockpit, a so-called e-cam screen at the very center gives pilots an electronic checklist of what's gone wrong. But once the engines are shut down, you're flying the plane with the joy sticks on the side and the screens in front of each pilot.

In the Airbus 320 cockpit, he says, there's a unique feature on the top panel -- the ditching switch.

KAY: A ditching switch is used to close all the exterior holes on the aircraft prior to touchdown -- holes that would be associated with pressurization and avionics radio equipment cooling.


TODD: Closing those holes just before a water landing, Captain Kay says, gives you more buoyancy. It allows you to remain afloat longer.

We just heard that NTSB news conference a short time ago. It's now unclear whether this aircraft had that ditching switch, and if it did, whether it was deployed -- Wolf, that could have been a key factor here.

BLITZER: From the other experts you're speaking to on this whole issue, what are the -- what are some of the other dangers of a plane landing on water -- not a sea plane, but a regular huge commercial jetliner?

TODD: They say one very key factor here is current. This pilot yesterday had the advantage of landing on very smooth water. But they say often in these water ditchings, you're landing in oceans. You've got to try to avoid smacking head-on into the waves, try to land parallel to these troughs. That's much easier said than done. And you don't always have the advantage of daylight when you're landing in the water.

BLITZER: We tip our hats to the pilot and co-pilot.

TODD: Absolutely.

BLITZER: What an amazing job.

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much.

The New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, hails the plane's pilot, Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger, as a hero.


MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK: Hemmingway defined heroism once as grace under pressure. And I think it's fair to say that Captain Sullenberger certainly displayed that yesterday. And his brave actions have inspired millions of people in the city and millions more around the world.


BLITZER: Captain Sullenberger is being been praised online, as well.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

What are you seeing online -- Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, at some point yesterday evening, a Facebook fan group was set up for Captain Sullenberger. And at this point, it's grown to more than 32,000 members. And messages coming in from all over the world.

New Yorkers telling him: "Thank you, you're a hero."

I've seen dozens of airline workers -- airport workers like this person from London's Heathrow, calling him "a superstar." And people from around the world -- more than 40 different countries, we count, from Brunei to the Netherlands, weighing in on this Facebook page.

This 29-year veteran of US Airways, Captain Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger, is quickly becoming a household name -- not just his name, but his company was one of the top 10 Googled searches today. This is the Web site there.

And not surprisingly, people are trying to cash in on this a little bit. You might have seen the "Sully" is my co-pilot products, which seem to be all over the Web at this point.

We haven't heard from Captain Sullenberger himself. He is working with investigators right now. But his wife said earlier today that she's overwhelmed by the praise -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He's an amazing man, indeed. We praise him ourselves.

Thanks very much, Abbi, for that.

By the way, he's a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy. He received a special award back in 1973. He was one of the top cadets there. So this guy has got an excellent track record and we're all grateful to him.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty.

He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: This thing happened in an amazing city, too. I mean, New York deserves a big pat on the back. This plane goes down 200 or 300 yards, arguably, from one of the most densely populated areas in the entire United States. And within seconds, there are boats converging on this thing, the ferries, the Circle Line, the fire boats. I mean it was -- it was just incredible to see how fast people in New York City responded to this thing. And in 32-and-a-half degree water, if those people had been exposed to that for any length of time at all, this thing would have had a much worse ending.

So, yes, the pilot did a great job. But the people that saw the plane hit the water and responded almost instantaneously are very much as responsible for the successful outcome of this as anyone.

BLITZER: Well said.

CAFFERTY: It was pretty amazing.

Look at that picture.

BLITZER: Yes. It's amazing.

CAFFERTY: That's -- that's just -- I mean it's just unbelievable.

All right, home foreclosures are up last year 81 percent in one year. That is a 225 percent increase since 2006 and it's a new record.

If that doesn't get your attention, try this. More than three million foreclosure filings issued last year. More than 860,000 families lost their homes.

Some say that number is on the low side and this year things may get worse.

Efforts to stop or even slow the housing crisis have failed so far. The two government-sponsored mortgage agencies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, temporarily suspended foreclosure at the end of November.

What happened? Foreclosures in December were higher than they were in November. The experts are now predicting we could see another three million foreclosures this year.

And the rest of the problem is tied to collapsing housing prices. The S&P/Case-Schiller Home Price Index says that home prices, on average, have declined 21 percent nationally from their peak. And in some of the worst hit areas -- places like Phoenix, Arizona -- the prices are down as much 40 percent.

What that means is that, in many cases, people who can no longer able to make their mortgage payments also are unable to sell their house for enough money to pay off that mortgage. The houses are worth less than what is owed on them.

So it's an absolute dead end street for these people.

The question is this: What should the government be doing, if anything, to help homeowners?

And there's an argument that some people will make saying the government shouldn't be bailing out homeowners. But I see one of the banks gets another $20 billion today. We're pouring all this money into Wall Street and the financial sector. The beleaguered homeowner is -- is kind of left out in all this.

Go to and you can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: These foreclosure numbers are so depressing, Jack, do depressing.

CAFFERTY: It's terrible.

BLITZER: Terrible.

CAFFERTY: It's horrible.

BLITZER: All right, thanks, Jack.

One-on-one with Barack Obama -- the president-elect sits down for an exclusive interview with our own John King. They go in depth on presidential priorities, the challenges ahead and Mr. Obama's personal take on this historic transition.

Also, a bird strike suspend of bringing down the US Airways plane. The U.S. military has a new system designed to prevent exactly this kind of disaster.

Plus, inside Air Force One with the pilot -- recounting one of the most dangerous missions ever aboard Air Force One -- flying President Bush into and out of a war zone.


BLITZER: Just four days until the inauguration of Barack Obama and we're now learning the next president is planning some sweeping action his first week in office.

Our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is joining us now from the White House.

What are you hearing -- Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they're talking about hitting the ground running almost immediately with some dramatic action.


HENRY (voice-over): Barack Obama back in the battleground state of Ohio, mingling with workers who make fasteners and energy-efficient wind turbines.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Made in America by Americans.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT-ELECT: That's great. You guys are doing great work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much.

OBAMA: Daryl (ph), thank you very much.

HENRY: Instead of selling himself as a candidate, he's pushing his economic recovery plan.

OBAMA: And it's not too late to change course, but only if we take dramatic action as soon as possible. The way I see it, the first job of my administration is to put people back to work.

HENRY: But top Obama aides tell CNN the incoming president will also move quickly on other fronts his first week in office.

CNN has learned one option under serious consideration is an executive order raising fuel-efficiency on automobiles -- a move that would please environmentalists, but put more pressure on the car industry.

On the eve of the election, Mr. Obama promised energy reform would be his second priority after the financial crisis.

OBAMA: We have to seize this moment, because it's not just an energy independence issue, it's also a national security issue and it's a jobs issue. And we can create five million new green energy jobs.

HENRY: Senior officials also revealed the Mideast crisis has shot to the top of the incoming president's immediate agenda, which may include quickly appointing high profile enjoys to the region -- something he teased this week to "USA Today".

OBAMA: I will announce a team and an approach that allows us to get engaged in the Middle East on day one.

HENRY: Aides privately say Mr. Obama is also likely to flex his muscles early with other executive orders -- not just closing down the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo, but also potentially banning the use of torture. That would undo a key part of President Bush's legacy -- the CIA program of enhanced interrogation of terror suspects.


HENRY: Now, CNN has also learned that the president-elect is considering a speech to a joint session of Congress in mid-to late February. The topic would be the economy. That's a sign that he is already planning to use his bully pulpit early and often -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll watch together with you, Ed.

Thanks very much.

Let's get back to our top story now -- the airliner which made that extraordinary river landing may have been disabled by a collision with birds. For military aircraft, bird strikes can sometimes be just as dangerous as hostile fire.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence.

He's been looking into this story for us -- all right, so what's the U.S. military, Chris, trying to do to deal with this potential disaster out there?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, right now, the Air Force is just testing this system. But it's got the potential to be deployed anywhere and reduce these kind of crashes.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): Up until a few years ago, birds were crashing into Air Force jets about 5,000 times a year -- doing $35 million of damage annually.

MAJ. GEN. FREDERICK ROGGERO, AIR FORCE CHIEF OF STUDY: We can't afford that. We need to save that money.

LAWRENCE: The Air Force chief of safety says in both military and civilian flights, most bird strikes occur near the runway, during takeoffs, as in this video, and when the plane is coming in for a landing.

Now, the Air Force is developing a radar system to drastically change how the control tower detects birds.

ROGGERO: Right now it's just visual. The radars that they have in the tower are not going to pick up the -- the flesh and feathers.

LAWRENCE: The new system is small and mobile, and it can detect exactly where the birds are in relation to the plane.

ROGGERO: At the last minutes, if an airplane is coming in and on this radar they see, you know, flock activity, they can then warn the pilots who are coming in that there are birds in the area.

LAWRENCE: After a bird strike, the remains are supposed to be sent to the Smithsonian for identification. But an FAA study found that only a quarter of the bird strikes are ever identified down to the species level. If scientists could increase that number, they could relay the information on migration patterns to airports. And bird strike experts say those airports need to make themselves less attractive and eliminate nearby feeding and nesting areas.

RON MERRITT, BIRD STRIKE EXPERT: Birds are like teenagers. They want three things. They want a place to eat, a place to hang out and a place to breed.


LAWRENCE: Which obviously sometimes conflicts sometimes with where we want to fly.

Now, the Air Force system right now is currently being tested at five air bases around the country. Each unit costs $300,000 -- a far cry from that $35 million that it is costing in some of these crashes. And eventually that technology could be shared with some civilian airports, as well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence, thanks very much.

Chris is our new Pentagon correspondent.

We welcome you to Washington, Chris.

As someone who used to be a Pentagon correspondent, it's a great beat. Have some fun. Do some terrific work, as I know you will.

Chris Lawrence here in Washington with all of us.

LAWRENCE: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: That's good news for CNN. Bird strikes have caused some catastrophic crashes over the years. Back in 1960, an Eastern Airlines plane struck a flock of startling -- starlings and crashed into the Boston Harbor, killing 62 people.

Two years later, all 17 people aboard were killed when a United Airlines flight struck birds over Maryland.

In 1995, an Air Force radar crashed in Alaska, killing 24 crewmen after geese were sucked into one of the engines.

Then, there are the close calls.

In 1995, this Continental jet hit a flock of geese approaching Seattle-Tacoma Airport, breaking the nose cone and the radar inside. Fortunately, there were no injuries.

So what are Barack Obama's top priorities and what's important enough for an executive order?

Barack Obama reveals his game plan in an exclusive interview with our own John King. James Carville and Kevin Madden -- they're here to discuss.

And inside Air Force One on 9/11 -- President Bush's pilot recounts the single most nerve-wracking day of his career and how he scrambled to keep the president of the United States safe.

Stay with us.




Zain Verjee is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Zain, what's going on?


Well, Circuit City is out of options. The nation's section biggest electronics retailer says that it has no choice but to liquidate and close down. Merchandise in all 567 U.S. stores will be sold. Circuit City filed for bankruptcy protection back in November, but wasn't able to find a buyer or a refinancing deal. About 30,000 people work for Circuit City.

Car rental company Hertz is taking a hit, as well. The company announced today that it will 4,000 jobs worldwide in the first part of this year. Hertz blames a falling demand for rental cars.

Now, despite the dismal news from Hertz and Citibank, too, the Dow finished up 68 points today. The market rebounded from an earlier drop of 100 points. And the outgoing and incoming secretaries of State put their heads together. Take a look at the this photograph. It was snapped yesterday while Condoleezza Rice met with Hillary Clinton about the situation in Gaza. You can see there, Wolf, in the picture that Secretary Rice is explaining the significance of the table. And that table is actually in her conference room. It came from the 1983 G7 summit. And the plaque that Rice is pointing to marks the seat of the French president.

And on a sad note, a well-known American painter has died. A museum spokeswoman says Andrew Wyeth died in his sleep last night. His work was celebrated by presidents. John F. Kennedy actually gave him the Presidential Freedom Award and President Nixon held a private exhibition of his work at the White House. Wyatt was 91 years old -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He was a great, great, great artist, indeed.

All right, thanks very much, Zain, for that.

2003 -- the president of the United States is flying into a war zone.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the element of surprise was gone. So we basically had -- we gave him about two-and-a-half hours on the ground, with the concept that once he was in the airport area, that way the terrorists and such could get information that he was there.


BLITZER: The most dangerous part of that journey aboard Air Force One. You're going to hear about that in my exclusive one-on-one interview with the pilot.

And more of John McCain's -- John King -- excuse me -- John King's interview with Barack Obama -- what he wants Congress to do and what he'll push through with an executive order.

Stay with us.


Lots of news happening today right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, Barack Obama only a few days away from becoming president of the United States. He tells CNN about the moment that choked him up and why he says you should be worried about part of his economic stimulus plan.

Also, we're taking you inside the cockpit of Air Force One. The pilot reveals the president's midair hiding place on 9/11.

And President Bush's farewell and the legacy he leaves behind -- will the economic crisis trump everything else?

You know, James Carville has something to say about that. He's standing by live.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


It's a CNN exclusive -- President-Elect Barack Obama is sitting down with our own chief national correspondent, John King, for an exclusive, in-depth, one-on-one interview. Mr. Obama offering a detailed preview of his priorities, including lifting the federal ban on embryonic stem cell research.

But is that something he'll do on day one by executive order or wait for Congress to act?


OBAMA: If we can do something legislative, then I usually prefer a legislative process because those are the people's representatives. And I think that on embryonic stem cell research, the fact that you have bipartisan support around that issue; the fact that you have Republicans like Orrin Hatch, who are fierce opponents of abortion and yet recognize that there is a moral and ethical mechanism to ensure that people with Parkinson's Disease and Alzheimer's can actually, you know, find, potentially, some hope out there -- you know, I think that sends a powerful message.

So we're still examining what things we'll do through executive order. But I like the idea of the American people's representatives expressing their views on an issue like this.


BLITZER: We're going to have much more of that exclusive interview -- in fact, the entire interview and our debriefing of John King. That's coming up ahead in our 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour. You're going to want to see this interview.

Let's talk a little bit more of what we just heard President- Elect Obama tell John King.

Joining us now, our CNN political contributor, the democratic strategist, James Carville, and the Republican strategist, Kevin Madden.

Is that smart, to ease the ban or lift the ban on embryonic stem cell research with Congressional action?

Because that could take time...

CARVILLE: Right. BLITZER: Or on day one or two, sign an executive order and say, researchers, go at it, find cures for whether Parkinson's or other diseases?

CARVILLE: Well, just a little civics lesson here. If he issues an executive order and the next president comes, then he can issue an executive order revoking an executive order. If you get it through an act of Congress, then 40 United States senators can (INAUDIBLE). So a piece of legislation is obviously more powerful. And as a president- elect says, you would have the validation of Congress.

What they may do is have an executive order and get an act of Congress, also, which is very possible. But you would always prefer to have something done via an act of Congress than you would executive order, because it's much harder to overturn an act of Congress.

BLITZER: It's a fair point.

So you say it might even be worth it -- a delay of a few weeks or months in order to get the Congress on board?

CARVILLE: Absolutely. Because once you have that even if the Congress does, just say a president that supports stem cell research, you need two thirds or 41 senators to block it.

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think it has a lot to do with how Barack Obama wants to spend the political capital he has right now. Does he want to waste some right now on a very divisive issue among Republicans and Democrats up on Capitol Hill or does he want to put this in the court of the Congress and let them act rather than him really testing the boundaries of presidential authority right now?

BLITZER: Let's talk about the farewell address we heard from President Bush last night. First of all, what did you think?

CARVILLE: You know, I had a little more sympathy for him last night than I did after the press conference he had earlier in the week and I was not a big fan of that. I'm obviously not a fan of President Bush's. I've been a very harsh critic. I think he's got to Senator Frist who is a Coca Cola conspirator ...

BLITZER: He did a commercial.

CARVILLE: I think he has an admirable record in many ways on Africa and some other things. I thought his tone in the speech was much preferable.

BLITZER: Speaking of Senator Frist on, he's the former Senate majority leader, he says, "Given the president's work in trying to help people in Africa, AIDS victims, malaria, a legacy of President George W. Bush will be that he saved ten million lives around the world. His critics ignore it, but name another president about whom one can say that with such certainty. It is what historians will say a decade from now looking back, the bottom line is George W. Bush is a healer." Remember Senator Frist himself is in position. MADDEN: And I think James' kind remarks right here show he got the intended audience. He acknowledged his critics yesterday. He talked about understanding why they may have criticism for him, but there were areas where he's going to have an enduring legacy like PERPA, the President's Emergency Relief Plan for Aids and with creating a beacon of democracy in a place in the Middle East where there hadn't been one before. There is going to be a very robust debate today, tomorrow, 20 years from now about that legacy but the president did the one thing that he believed was the standard that he had to apply to the presidency. It was keep us safe.

CARVILLE: Just one point, too. Senator, Dr. Frist spends his vacations in Africa, operating on people. He is literally I mean by a Democrat, Republican, anyone's estimation, he's an expert on this.

BLITZER: He's a cardiologist.

CARVILLE: He's a heart surgeon. He does every kind of piece of surgery over there and takes his children there so he really knows his stuff.

BLITZER: He's personally committed as well. Now David Frum who was a speech writer for President Bush. He was on ""AMERICAN MORNING" earlier today. He was asked what he thought the legacy of President Bush would be and among other things he said this.


DAVID FRUM, FORMER BUSH SPEECHWRITER: Iraq will be a huge component, then the second big component will be this economic crisis the country is now going through.


BLITZER: The jury on Iraq might be in or out some say, the economic crisis is a disaster at least right now.

MADDEN: I would point out that the trajectory on the Middle East and Iraq, will be I think eventually he'll be -- it will serve him favorably but I think Americans will look back on the economic security and the national security implications of his presidency and unfortunately, he's going to get some of the blame for that. Too much of the blame. I think often times presidents get too much credit and when things are bad they get too much blame. That's going to be something I think that is going to be remembered right away. People are going to put it in the context of whether or not this economic collapse that we're going through right now was his fault.

BLITZER: I think the critics will always say no matter what happens, if there's a robust democracy in Iraq and Baghdad one of these days, they'll always say his handling of the war was an enormous blunder given the casualties and the cost. It need not have gone that way.

CARVILLE: Paul Kennedy, the imminent academic at Yale writes about empires, wrote of all places on op eds page in the "Wall Journal Street" that America's influence was declining and contributed a large part to our overstretched military. This was an unthoughtout (ph) thing. It was a bad idea. It may not turn out to be as bad as some of us feared, but this was not, this country overstretched itself and Mr. Kennedy pointed that out in a very unlikely place.

BLITZER: What would you like to hear, Kevin, from President- elect Obama, he'll then be president, after he's sworn in on Tuesday in his inaugural address?

MADDEN: I think I'd really like to hear a focus on solutions. I think often times what's really frustrated the American public right now is that we're too focused on the differences. We're too focused on the margins and we have to look at the common good and what brings us together. At a time when there's so much anxiety right now and that anxiety is not broken via ideological lines but instead it really has to do with the bottom lines people talk about at their kitchen table. Talking about those solutions and moving forward collectively with those solutions, I think that's really what I'm interested in hearing.

BLITZER: Same question to James.

CARVILLE: I think he has two speeches. I think you have the inaugural and you have the state of the union. I think the inaugural will be somewhat lofty and sweeping. I think the state of the union will be more specific.

BLITZER: That will go forward a few weeks later.

CARVILLE: That will go forward a few weeks later. I think that two different speeches with a different mission. I think the state of the union will be much more specific and much more solution oriented. This will be much more rallying the nation and talking about our challenges.

BLITZER: You're both getting ready to spend the next few days in Washington?

MADDEN: I haven't left with the other exitice (ph) of Republicans to Las Vegas.

BLITZER: James, I know you're going to be here.

CARVILLE: I'll be here but I'll probably be in traffic.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by. We're going to have James back in the next hour. I want you to react to the interview that John King has with Barack Obama. A lot more coming up.

Hard times and tough choices. Barack Obama says he plans to lay it out for the American people.


OBAMA: No spin, play it straight, describe to the American people the state that we're in and then provide them and Congress a sense of direction.


BLITZER: The president-elect only days from power speaking candidly in an exclusive one on one interview with John King.

Plus, the country under attack and he's responsible for the safety of the commander in chief. The pilot of Air Force One takes me into the cockpit and recounts the tenth hours in the air on 9/11.


BLITZER: An exclusive account of flying Air Force One. The president's pilot tells of the desperate hours after 9/11 and the scramble to get the president to a safe location, and a secret and very dangerous flight into a combat zone. Stand by for that.

Let's go to Jack first. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack?

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: What should the government be doing if anything to help homeowners? We are watching people by the millions go into foreclosure in this country and it's not getting any better.

Dina writes from Virginia: "Right now my husband and I are working so we can pay our mortgage but who knows what the future holds? I'd like to government to mandate that mortgage companies be more flexible when homeowners have to deal with the unexpected like unemployment, death of a spouse and illness. The first course of action should not be foreclosure."

Barbara in North Carolina, "Why should we all have to pay for the mistakes that those homeowners made? Some of us rent, we get hit with the taxes and the ones who made mistakes get our money. Where's my payment for not going in over my head?"

Ron in San Diego: "Instead of giving the money to the banks, the federal government should offer refinancing directly, a direct loan program for distressed homeowners at a fixed rate. That way their payments would be a lot lower and as a result, they wouldn't be in danger of losing their house."

Mary in Indiana: "As a realtor who works with people going into foreclosure in northern Indiana, the big need is for job creation right now. Elkhart County has an unemployment rate of 12.4 percent due to lack of manufacturing jobs right now. Other than jobs, I'd like to see a loan modification system that makes sense for owner occupants, not for the person who's summer beach house is in foreclosure."

Linda in South Carolina says: "Mandatory refinancing of ARM mortgages that should not have happened in the first place."

John writes: "Why not give each eligible voting American $250,000. Tax them on it. Create a mandatory mortgage payoff and purchase of an American automobile. Instant stimulus package. Why give more money to the people who screwed it up the first time."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog and look for yours there among hundreds of others -- Wolf?

BLITZER: We will do that Jack. Thank you.

My exclusive, inside look at Air Force One.


BLITZER: Correct me if I'm wrong, there's another plane, the doomsday plane.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a lot of emergency actions for the president that are still sensitive and classified.

BLITZER: Would the president of the United States be on that other plane?


BLITZER: We're going to hear from the president's pilot about that doomsday plane and a lot more including the desperate hours on 9/11.

And an exclusive interview with the president-elect. CNN's John King asks Barack Obama if he's really plan to give up his cherished blackberry.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: When America was attacked on 9/11, he scrambled to fly President Bush from Florida to a safe location at a time when no one knew what was safe and what wasn't. And there was the harrowing top secret flight with the president into Iraq's combat zone. Air Force One pilot Colonel Mark Tillman has flown three presidents. He'll retire Tuesday from the U.S. Air Force. That's when President Bush leaves office as well.

In a CNN exclusive, Colonel Tillman invited us on board the world's most famous plane and revealed some of its most extraordinary capabilities. I began by asking about those desperate hours after the terrorists struck.


BLITZER (on camera): September 11, 2001, it started as a normal day in Florida, then what happened?

COL. MARK TILLMAN, AIR FORCE ONE PILOT: It was Sarasota, Florida and the intent was we had been in Jacksonville the day prior. We were going to depart Sarasota and as the first plane hit the towers, the calm started coming alive on the aircraft. Everybody on our aircraft, we were out at the plane pre-flighting. We started getting information that there had been a terrible accident in New York City. We started seeing it on the television and at that point, we just started working with the staff, getting more and more information as to the amount of planes that were hijacked, where the planes were, then it slowly started working into getting the president back to Washington, D.C. as soon as possible. And then as the scenario started to unfold, we realized getting him back home wasn't the answer right away. We needed to move him around in the country to figure out exactly what the entire plot was to make sure the president wasn't a part of that, that he wasn't the next target of the day as such.

BLITZER: So as a result, you made that decision, you're not going to go from Florida right back to Washington. You had to call inaudible and go someplace else. Talk about that.

TILLMAN: Yes absolutely. When we left Sarasota, our intent was to head back to Washington, at least get him to the east coast and land him somewhere so he could be close to Washington so once we got the all clear and it was safe to get him back in. The problem is at the time, there were many airliners that were still flying in the United States. At that time, there were airliners that were hijacked. Sadly, they had been taken over and we were unsure of other airliners. So the FAA was constantly giving us information. The president was in full contact with everyone he needed at the White House, the vice president, et cetera. So he was getting information channeled to him here on Air Force One. So as a threat scenario would develop we would counter it. The concern was that we may be a target. So I took him out into the Gulf of Mexico just because there were no airliners out in the gulf and then we started working to find a location so that he could land and address the nation and let them know that you know basically what the status of the nation was as it was my understanding.

BLITZER: How long could you have stayed in the air if necessary? What kind of capability without aerial refueling?

TILLMAN: On that day we took off with a little over seven hours worth of gas. So I basically could have taken him anywhere in the United States and landed, but the first location, Bartsdale Air Force Base, once we landed, we filled the plane up with gas. So I had 14 hours worth of gas so I could have taken him halfway around the world if needed.

BLITZER: That was Louisiana.

TILLMAN: Yes sir.

BLITZER: By the way, do you have the capability, does Air Force One this 747 have the capability for aerial refueling?

TILLMAN : Yes it does, most definitely.

BLITZER: Has it ever happened?

TILLMAN: We have not. We have not air refueled with the president on board. We have not. BLITZER: But if necessary you could.

TILLMAN: Absolutely. We're trained and the plane is ready to handle that if necessary.

BLITZER: All right. So you refuel in Bartsdale then what happens?

TILLMAN: After Bartsdale, then we are still waiting to get the all clear for Washington, D.C. So my goal was to take him to locations that I knew had underground capability. Because we still weren't sure what the entire plot was against the president. We all just assumed that since we had the president, there was an excellent chance he was part of a plot to harm him or the staff.

So when I took him to the next stop was Offut Air Force Base in Nebraska. The goal again was to get him underground so everybody could figure out exactly what needed to be done. He no sooner got underground talking with the military leadership then he decided to came back. Came back on the plane then we rushed him back to Washington, D.C. at that point.

BLITZER: You flew back right here to Andrews Air Force Base.

TILLMAN: Absolutely. We came right back across the country as fast as we could go. We had fighter support throughout the day. They all joined up on us and they escorted us into the Washington area.

BLITZER: F-15s, F-16s?

TILLMAN: We had F-16's from his guard unit. Initially when the president' guard unit in Houston, when we went over the Gulf of Mexico, the fighters joined up on us. Houston Center basically at that point told us that the air space was ours. So we were just flying with F-16s on our wings and they were protecting us.

BLITZER: Was that the most nerve wracking day in your history as a pilot?

TILLMAN: Absolutely. Because there was no -- we had no idea what -- we had all been trained for different emergencies for the president. And just no one had ever trained for the fact that the country, it sounds kind of bad, but the country was in chaos at that point.

BLITZER: Correct me if I'm wrong. There is another plane, I guess they call it the doomsday plane for continuity of government to get the top leadership out of the United States up in the skies. That has nothing to do with Air Force One?

TILLMAN: It does not.

BLITZER: Are you familiar with that plane?

TILLMAN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: I don't know what you can tell us about it. What would be the scenario that would get that plane to take off?

TILLMAN: There's a lot of emergency action operations for the president that are still as expected sensitive and classified. So I can't really talk about their mission would be. My mission is to basically keep him safe, get him to different locations to ensure the continuity of government remains the same.

As far as the doomsday machine or the E-4, their mission is, well, basically the press as well. Their mission as well is also the continuity of government also. The interrelations between us is all sensitive and classified.

BLITZER: Would the president of the United States be aboard that other plane?

TILLMAN: On September 11th, he could do everything he needed on Air Force One. So the goal was to keep him on this aircraft. And still maintain the continuity of government. We were able to do that.

BLITZER: Was there ever any consideration to using the other plane?

TILLMAN: To use the E-4?


TILLMAN: No, there wasn't. He was able to accomplish -- basically once he got on here, we were able to establish the column links we needed and he was running the country from Air Force One.


BLITZER: Flying the president into a combat zone. Colonel Tillman talks about that first top-secret trip to Baghdad, and the tough part, getting him back out of Baghdad. More of the exclusive inside look into Air Force One and what happened. That's coming up.

Also, an exclusive interview with President-elect Barack Obama, only days away from making history.


OBAMA: The notion that I now will be standing there and sworn in as the 44th president, I think is something that hopefully our children n take for granted.


BLITZER: The president-elect sits down with our chief national correspondent, John King, for a candid in-depth interview, talking about his plans, his priorities and sharing more of his personal reflections on this the eve of this historic inauguration. The full interview coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM only moments away.

Plus, new details emerging of the splashdown of that US Airways jet in the Hudson River. We have details of the investigations. It's now in full swing.


BLITZER: The top-secret and very risky trip into the Iraq war zone. More of my exclusive look inside Air Force One with the president's pilot. Colonel Mark Tillman.


BLITZER (on camera): There was the other flight you took and that was that first secret trip that President Bush took to Baghdad back on November 26th, 2003.


BLITZER: Still a very, very hot zone as they say, flying into Baghdad. Especially without a whole lot of advance notice, was pretty dangerous.

TILLMAN: It was dangerous in the fact that we were bringing the president of the United States into a combat zone. At the time there were quite a few military aircraft that were going in and out of the region. My challenge was to come up with a plan where no one in the world would know that the president had left Washington, D.C., or in this case had left the ranch, and had gone into the combat zone. The challenge wasn't so much to get him in there, because we easily fooled everybody and got him in there. The challenge was once he was on the ground and everybody knew he was there, to get him back out again. We worked very hard to make sure he had minimum time on the ground. He accomplished his mission, which as explained to me early on was the goal to meet with the United States service men and women and thank them for everything they've done. And actually serve them Thanksgiving dinner. He accomplished his mission. It was amazing what he did taking care of the military.

BLITZER: But landing a huge 747, like this one, and everybody knows Air Force One, in a war zone like that, that must have been an enormous challenge because we heard all these stories about these corkscrew landings. You've got to have a small area and get down really quickly. You didn't do it on that day, did you?

TILLMAN: On that day basically there was a cloud deck over the top of the airport. As we were flying in there, we knew we could gradually descend because no one on the ground, that was the fear, someone on the ground seeing us. Because of the cloud deck no one could see us. We stayed above the clouds until just prior to the airport. The challenge was as we were flying into the airport, my man on the ground was calling to the plane saying, you've got to get here fast. The cloud deck is actually moving off the airport. They'll be able to see you. We accelerated and came on in. It was basically one descending turn, completely blacked out in the darkness to come in and land. And it worked out perfect. The president was behind me in the jump seat, was talking to me the whole time and looking around the area. Very interested in how we were doing it and constantly with us. It was very nice to have the commander in chief right behind me when I'm taking him into a combat zone. BLITZER: You say the return, the departure potentially could have been even more dangerous than the surprise landing?

TILLMAN: Absolutely. The element of surprise was gone. So we basically had -- we gave him about 2 1/2 hours on the ground, going with the concept that once he was in the airport area, that way the terrorists or such could get information that he was there. And they could set up for our departure. So we spent minimum time on the ground and then we got full of gas and then we basically climbed out very steep climbing out. The president was up here in the cockpit with us for the majority of that. And then went downstairs. The problem was that a lot of the folks on the ground at that point we were afraid knew that he was -- had actually served the troops and was in the region at the time.

BLITZER: How worried were you about that?

TILLMAN: I was worried in the sense that I had the president of the United States with me. And I had really no military support because I had fooled the military as well. So I relied totally on the defenses on the aircraft and basically the defenses of the commanders on the ground who were given very short notice to set up a perimeter to protect the president. The amazing part of the military is, you give them notice, they're trained for it, they push the perimeter out immediately, gave me whatever kind of distance I needed to basically climb out steep. And they made it happen on Thanksgiving Day with no knowledge that they were supporting the president of the United States. We're the military. So you tell us what to do, we make it happen, and we protect it.

BLITZER: I remember when I was on Air Force One as a reporter covering President Clinton. I was the white house correspondent, flew with him on Air Force One very often. Whenever there was any serious turbulence, I would always say to somebody sitting next to me, hey, nothing can go wrong. We're on Air Force One. The president of the United States is on this plane. And I felt reassured. Did you always feel like that?

TILLMAN: Absolutely. One of the presidents, pilots years ago, said he will get the president home safely because he has a wife and kids back home, too. So I had the same mentality. I don't think about the president being downstairs. I know similar to an airline pilot, I've got a lot of cherished people in the back. I go out of my way to make sure I do everything perfectly and make sure that everyone gets home safely.


BLITZER: All right, we've just taken inside the cockpit of Air Force One. We're going to take you through the rest of the plane where the president, his staff eat, sleep and work. More of my exclusive inside Air Force One interview -- that's coming up Monday, Monday right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I think you're going to want to see that.