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CNN Saturday Morning News

Plane Crashes Off Coast of Sicily

Aired August 06, 2005 - 10:30   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a California thing and they're having some fun with this year's bumper crop. Stay with us for the juicy story.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Is that for good eating or is that for good wine?

HARRIS: Good drinking.


HARRIS: You see the friendly waves and rehearsed speeches, but ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes at the White House? CNN's Bob Franken is going to tell you. Welcome back, everyone, to CNN SATURDAY MORNING. I'm Tony Harris.

WHITFIELD: And I'm Fredricka Whitfield. We'll be exploring that story and talking with Bob Franken in a moment. But first, more on this breaking story we're following for you. All on that (ph) Tunisian airliner, well apparently now, Italian news agencies are getting a little bit more information now saying that as many as 35 people were on board that Tunisian airliner. It was on the way to Djerba in Tunisia. It had just left Bari, Italy before it went down in the sea off the Sicily coast. No more now on exactly what brought it down, only that it did crash or go into the sea there. And 35 people were on board. When we get more information on that, we'll bring that to you.

HARRIS: Ever wonder what's really going on inside Washington's power centers? CNN national correspondent Bob Franken knows.

WHITFIELD: He's covered Congress, the White House, Supreme Court, you name it, Federal agencies, all of it there in the nation's capital. So if you want to know anything about anything, taking place right there in Washington, boy, are we building it up for you, Bob. You are in trouble. The e-mails are coming in.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Please stop. You're embarrassing me.

HARRIS: Bob, we appreciate you playing along with our little game here, our little reindeer game this morning as we've got a lot of questions for you. Let's get started. All right? This is -- do you want to start with Bob?

WHITFIELD: Yeah. Every time I hear President Bush say quote, we are not going to leave Iraq until the mission is completed -- this is all coming from Lester in Michigan. What does that mean, Bob, he's asking, is someone in his administration telling him, time is now for a withdrawal plan or just a plain, plan period?

FRANKEN: Well, the president has consistently said that. We do know that there are conversations going on between this government and the government of Great Britain and the Iraqis about trying to come up with some plan. It will be a loose plan that there can be a drawdown of U.S. troops. So this is all something that is a work in progress. It has been something that has been a controversy in progress and continues to be, as you point out, that the president's handling of the Iraq. The polls are showing that it's at an all-time low approval rate. Right now 38 percent, which has been a problem for the administration, worrying there's going to be an erosion of political support a la Vietnam.

HARRIS: Here's a question for you from Terry in Omaha and he writes, as the president's approval ratings continue moving down, how dramatically will it affect Republicans looking toward re-election?

FRANKEN: You know, that's a very interesting question. Thus far, the president has managed to keep very tight control of the Republicans, as evidenced by some major legislative victories he just had in Congress. Some of them like the energy bill have been there for years. However, politicians have to get re-elected. The president doesn't but members of Congress do. And ultimately if this disapproval is reflected back home, you're going to see an erosion of the presidents, the type of thing that a lame duck faces. They don't like to hear the word lame duck here, but president is in his last term.

HARRIS: Bob, I've going to try this here. I was able to pull up one on the computer. Let's see if this technology works. All right. Keep your fingers crossed here.

FRANKEN: Are you using DOS again?

HARRIS: See what happens here. This is a question -- is this Chris in Baltimore? Here's my question. OK. The recess appointment of John Bolton to the post of United States ambassador to the United Nations was a key decision on the part of the president. Given that the appointment was effective immediately, when does the appointment end or come under review by Congress? That's the question. Let's leave it there.

FRANKEN: OK, first of all, I love the term recess appointment. It suggests to me that he's appointed a playground monitor or something.

HARRIS: It does have that feel to it.

FRANKEN: It does have the feel for it. The playground in this case being the United Nations. If everything plays out, the recess appointment would end at the beginning of 2007. The possibility exists that for some reason John Bolton would be removed by the president before that or that his term would be extended by another recess appointment or by some sort of confirmation, so that's a long way of saying, don't know.

HARRIS: Let me follow up on that. That was a good question from Chris. It leads me to this one. When you think about this recess appointment from the president, is there a clear winner here? The president certainly gets his man to the U.N., but he gets a man who comes in under a bit of a cloud, doesn't he?

FRANKEN: Well, the president says that he doesn't really because he has the complete confidence of the president, therefore he has credibility. But you're arguing the point of view and others have made the point, the Democrats primarily, that there is a little lack of credibility because he didn't get Senate confirmation. I guess this is going to be one of those things where we say what we're never supposed to say on television -- only time will tell. Lightning is going to strike.

WHITFIELD: Well, how about I guess part of the concern that many have is that he may not have an ear in the U.N. given that he had this recess appointment. He may not earn or receive the respect that another U.N. ambassador might have had he gone through all of the channels.

FRANKEN: Well, the president has gone to great pains to say he has his ear and he is the representative of the president by extension of the United States. But diplomacy is very difficult. It's delicate. There are 190 ambassadors there. And the question is going to be, if the policies and the tactics used by John Bolton are going to be accepted by the rest of the world body.

HARRIS: Bob, this is from Dave in Quincy, Illinois. Why doesn't the Bush administration listen to our voices, develop a plan for Iraq that would end the violence and return our soldiers home with respect and dignity? The president would tell you that he has a plan. The election process is on going, the constitution-writing process that's under way right now.

FRANKEN: When he says listen to our voices, of course, there's a cacophony of voices in the United States, how do you like that word?


FRANKEN: A babble in the United States and there are a variety of voices, certainly the many critics of the Iraq position say, number one, probably shouldn't have gone anyway but certainly now should, in effect, cut the losses of the United States. The administration says that patience is the watch word, that it would be a huge mistake to back down before the objectives are achieved.

HARRIS: All right. Got another one here. This is from Chris and Nancy. Do you want to read this one? (INAUDIBLE)

WHITFIELD: In unison. The people in the center see the two parties as being more and more controlled by their radical fringes. Who will nominate polarizing candidates and divide the nation again in 2008? What are the chances that a moderate Democrat and a moderate Republican will come together after the primaries -- it's a long question so maybe we should end it there.

FRANKEN: Well, I'll tell you the one thing I have a problem with is the word moderate, because it's a bit editorial. It suggests that people who have other points of view are immoderate. But if the question is, somebody who's considered in the middle of the political spectrum, remember, that was what President Bill Clinton was able to present himself as and was able to get elected twice. And George W. Bush ran as the so-called compassionate conservative. So there are arguments that in fact, that's exactly what has happened, that the moderates, I'll use the word, have won or at least those who present themselves as moderates.

HARRIS: Bob, let me ask you, Bill Frist makes the announcement, what is a week ago now, over a week ago now that he is essentially changing his position back to his former position on the matter --

FRANKEN: Let me check my scorecard.

HARRIS: You need to. Has the president responded in kind and has he, in essence, maintained his stated position that if a bill comes to his desk calling for the expansion of Federal funds for embryonic stem cell research, he indeed, plans to veto that bill?

FRANKEN: That's where he stands now but there's an awful lot of negotiation here. This is a very difficult issue and Frist represents that difficulty. Of course, he's a medical doctor in addition to being a leading Republican, who has strong attachments to the antiabortion movement and the so-called right to life movement. He has decided that as an MD with his knowledge of it, he would come down on that. The president in a conversation with him told him to follow his conscience.

We're also told, however, by members of the White House, those people who speak on background, sources, that they were not at all pleased. I think that they're a little bit nervous about the inconsistencies there, but it's a difficult issue.

WHITFIELD: All right and this is a question, our last question, from Brett takes us back to the classroom. We always love that, don't we, Bob? Going back. If I were Bush, I would not talk too much evolution. Requiring intelligent design in the schools as science is pretty close to establishing a religion in a multicultural USA where not everybody agrees in it and framers said it was a no-no. But then, nobody is supposed to say no to the current occupant of the White House. So in other words, it sounds like he's asking, you know, should the White House even be making any kind of comment or participate in any way about the opinion of whether evolution should be taught in school.

FRANKEN: Well, let's be a little bit fair. First of all, the president made that comment when he was asked by a Texas reporter in a group of Texas newspaper reporters and, in fact, he sort of considered a sly question. What he did, in fairness, is simply to repeat a position he's held not only since he was running for president, but before when he was the governor of Texas, that children should be exposed to a variety of points of view. Those on the other side say that intelligent design, that term is simply a subterfuge, that it is really just a way of introducing religious teaching into the courtroom which is unconstitutional, meaning the classroom rather.

WHITFIELD: Awesome, you did an excellent job.

HARRIS: First time-out out chute.

WHITFIELD: You are the man. All right. From the White House, all week and we see you all the time from Washington. Thanks so much, Bob. Appreciate it.

HARRIS: And let's get the latest now on our breaking news this hour. It is the crash of this Tunisian airliner. Alessio Vinci, our Rome bureau chief is on the phone with us now and he has the latest. Alessio, what can you tell us?

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tony, I just spoke to an aviation official in southern Italy who is telling me at this time that the small ATR-42, it's a small commercial plane, flying from Bali, in southern Italy, to (INAUDIBLE) Tunis, in Tunisia, went down about 19 miles north of Palermo. So we understand that the plane went down in the sea. We understand that there were a total of 35 passengers on board. This is really all we have at this time. Obviously this is a holiday season here in Italy and one should perhaps assume that this plane would be packed with passengers going there on a holiday as well, of course, many Tunisians perhaps returning to Tunisia for their holiday as the Italians are preparing themselves to go on holiday. What we have so far is this small plane, ATR-42 from Tunis Air, with a total of 35 passengers on board, going down about 19 miles in the sea north of the city of Palermo in Sicily. Tony.

HARRIS: All right. Alessio Vinci following this story for us. And Alessio, give us a heads up if you would please, as you get more information on this story. We appreciate it. Thank you.

WHITFIELD: This morning's headlines when we come right back.


HARRIS: Updating our breaking news this hour. A small Tunis Air flight with 35 people aboard went down just off the coast of Sicily in Italy. And that is according to aviation officials and Italian media. The ATR-42 aircraft went down 19 miles north of Palermo, Sicily. A water rescue, we understand, should be either is on going right now or will be getting under way shortly. Again, that is a Tunis Air flight with 35 people on board that has gone down off the coast of Sicily in Italy. That's about 19 miles north of Palermo. We will continue to update this story throughout the day here on CNN.

Other news now, a Russian mini sub remains trapped more than 600 feet beneath the surface of the Pacific Ocean with seven sailors on board. An international rescue effort that includes a U.S. Navy crew is expected to begin around 4:00 p.m. Eastern time. The vessel got tangled up in wires or cords on the ocean floor. Iran is saying no to a European proposal to limit its nuclear development plans. European negotiators offered to help Iran with long-term fuel and nuclear energy support as long as Iran agreed to a binding commitment not to build nuclear weapons.

And today marks the 40th anniversary of the signing of the voting rights act. Civil right leaders are marking the day in Atlanta with a rally and march you see live pictures right now. Many key parts of the act expire in 2007.

WHITFIELD: Let's check in with Jackie Jeras and I know the folks, the large crowd there gathering for that march in Atlanta are hoping for some sunny skies or at least, if there's going to be cloud cover, maybe it's just to keep them cool. It's not to bring rain.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, it will keep them cooler so that is the good news. But yes, it looks like rain is probably going to be happening in downtown Atlanta. It should hold off though until after the noon hour. In fact, much of the southeast getting some wet weather. But knock on wood, tropical storms staying away at least for now. We've got a couple little systems that we're talking about. One could potentially be gaining some strength over the next couple of days. We'll keep an eye on it. Right now it's tropical depression number nine, still about 1400 miles away from the Leeward Islands. It's moving off to the west and to the north and west and we'll just kind of keep an eye on it for you, just to let you know it's out there.

We also have tropical storm Harvey. That one has been gaining strength, packing winds now around 60 miles per hour. Here's Bermuda. You can see it's way to the northeast of there, so not threatening any land at this time. But getting awfully far north in latitude, should be weakening we think over the next couple of days.

There you see all that wet weather across the southeast. We have an area of low pressure near the Gulf coast. That's what's bringing in some of the heavy rain today and really going to bring in some downpours. We also have a cold front that's trying to slip a little farther on down to the south, but unfortunately is going to kind of stall out here and will not be bringing much in the way of any relief from the muggy conditions or the heat. But the heat certainly off across the northeast looking a lot better there.

Across the west a little bit of wet weather popping up later on today across the four corners. Otherwise, dry conditions out to the west and certainly hot especially in the inner mountain west (ph). Forecast high in Billings at 97 degrees, Seattle up there at 81, 72 in San Francisco, 75 degrees in Los Angeles, downtown well be well into the 80s, 106 in Phoenix. We'll see 90 in Minneapolis, 80s across the northeast. Tomorrow's forecast, new cold front making its way towards the upper Midwest. This will bring in a little bit of wet weather and bring another reinforcing shot of cold air. You can see the front stalls out across the southeast. This is going to be a big wet maker over the next of couple days. Fred and Tony.

HARRIS: Sounds like it. Jacqui, thank you. WHITFIELD: Thank goodness for grapes, at least that's what they're saying in California. Wine season rolls out and we've got the first look. I bet you can't wait.

HARRIS: You know that's correct, thank you.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We thank you for those who now will cause them to become your gift of wine.


HARRIS: Yeah, good! It's the annual blessing of the grapes at this winery in Lodi, California. August marks the start of the harvest. With 75,000 acres of wine, grapes, Lodi leads the state in producing budget priced wines. Get this, a recent Gallup poll found that younger generation imbibers, I like saying that, imbibers, prefer wine over beer.

The future of Iraq, security concerns, the push to get a constitution draft and questions about how long U.S. forces will remain there. We'll discuss these issues and much more coming up today at noon Eastern here on CNN.

WHITFIELD: The bodies of two U.S. Marines killed this week in Iraq could return home to Ohio today. Those are just the first of what will be a long string of military funerals. CNN's Brian Todd has our report.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A Marine colonel recent told CNN there's no preparation for looking into the eyes of a father and mother and telling them their son was killed in action. That horrible ritual repeated more than 20 times this week for the families of young Marines killed in separate attacks within the span of three days in northern Iraq.

In downtown Cleveland, city officials trying to offer solace with a vigil service. In this area, the pain is especially severe. One Marine unit, the 3rd battalion, 25the regiment has reserve centers in Ohio where at least 13 of the Marines killed were assigned. At this service, Columbus, Ohio, Mayor Michael Coleman mourns his neighbors and prays for his son, a lance corporal still with that unit in Iraq.

MAYOR MICHAEL COLEMAN, COLUMBUS, OHIO: Stay with them now and forevermore, may we always support our troops, particularly in these difficult times. May God bless them now and forever more. Let us remember them.

TODD: They remember Lance Corporal Timothy Bell of West Chesterfield, Ohio, 22 years old, nephew of a major league baseball manager, killed when a roadside bomb struck his amphibious vehicle near Haditha (ph). A Marine through and through, says his dad, who recalls a final wrenching image of his son.

TIM BELL, SON KILLED IN IRAQ: The last time I saw Timmy is when I dropped him off before he left for Iraq. And as I turned away, he grabbed me and told me, hey, dad, hold on here a second. I want you to wear this ring. But I want it back when I get home. It's a Marine ring. So I guess I'll be wearing it.

TODD: Nineteen-year-old Lance Corporal Christopher Dyer killed in the same explosion told his dad, don't worry, I'm going to come home. Now a father's anguish is almost too much to bear.

JOHN DYER, SON KILLED IN IRAQ: I keep telling myself, he put more into those 19 1/2 years than I have in my 51. I keep wanting to reach back and change things and say, no, son, you can't go into the Marine Corps. I think that would have killed him. He may have lived to be 80, and I think for him not to reach for his dreams would have killed him just as much as that bomb in Iraq.


HARRIS: And let's quickly now get you to the Pentagon and Kathleen Koch. She has new information about the rescue effort to save those seven Russian sailors trapped in that mini sub in the Pacific Ocean. Kathleen?

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tony, apparently the Russians are trying one last time on their own to free this mini sub as the U.S. and British and even Japanese try to race resources there to help them. According to the Associated Press, Russian Navy spokesman Captain Igro Digalo (ph) says that rescue crews have looped cables around this mini sub that's trapped some 625 feet below the surface and what they're trying to do is lift it up and unsnare it from the lines, the cables that have it tangled right now.

Now also word from the Russian new service in Russia that a Russian navy officials talked to the crew around 7:55 a.m. Eastern time this morning and that the crew is in satisfactory condition. Now, of course, this is going on as a British vessel, a small British unmanned submarine is being loaded on to a Russian Navy ship and is about to head out, could be another hour, though, in this loading process but is about to head out to (INAUDIBLE) bay where these men are trapped. Not far behind this British unmanned submarine, are two U.S. submarines. They're all called Scorpios. They have cameras. They have lights. They have maneuvering arms hopefully to be able to free it again. If this effort by the Russians now using these long cables, if this doesn't work, couple of other assets that are on the way, some special underwater atmospheric diving suits that could also be used if the other vessels fail. Tony?

HARRIS: OK. Kathleen Koch at the Pentagon. Kathleen thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Thanks so much for watching this past hour and all morning long.

HARRIS: We'll see you back here tomorrow morning. The TURNAROUND is next, but first, stories now in the news.

And I'm Tony Harris at the CNN center in Atlanta. The TURNAROUND begins in 60 seconds, but first these headlines. Break news, a passenger plane is down in the sea off Sicily.