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Breaking News

Coast Guard Official Holds News Conference on Crash of Alaska Airlines Flight 261

Aired January 31, 2000 - 10:40 p.m. ET


CARL ROCHELLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: All right. I understand that we're about to have a news conference now. Let's go that and we'll come back.

JIM MORET, CNN ANCHOR: Carl, we're going to -- we're going to a Coast Guard news conference. Let's take that live for you right now.

QUESTION: ... you believe there could have been some sort of a runaway trim motor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's certainly not impossible, but this late in the flight, most of the accidents, or I should say most of the incidents would happen...

CAPT. GEORGE WRIGHT, U.S. COAST GUARD: ... to find people. We're actively searching for survivors. And I think at this point, we will open it up for questions.

QUESTION: Captain, Dave Lopez with Channel 2 in Los Angeles -- we're on live right now. How long can you keep up this effort to try to find a survivor? I mean, it's been a couple of hours now. I mean, theoretically, I know you have a lot of hope. But theoretically, how long can you really keep this up?

WRIGHT: We'll keep this up until there's zero chance of finding anybody alive. And in 58 degree water temperature, people can survive. There's been miracles. So we're not going to quit until we're positive that there's absolutely no chance.

And we're -- we are also back flowing (ph). That's when I told you how many cutters were on scene and planes were on scene. These seven Coast Guard cutters en route can keep out there just as long as we have to make sure we find survivors.


QUESTION: ... any bodies yet? We're hearing reports from two to seven bodies have already been recovered. Can you fill us in on what you've been able to find out there other than debris?

WRIGHT: I would like to emphasize that we're searching for survivors. It's a search-and-rescue case. There has been a victim -- it's my understanding there has been a victim recovered. And it's difficult for me to say anything more.

As you know, this is a far way away from my current location. And that's all I would like to say about that.

QUESTION: You're apparently calling it still a rescue operation. But as far as things like a salvage operation goes, what kinds of depths are we talking about in that area?

WRIGHT: Absolutely it's a search-and-rescue operation. And our whole rescue coordination center has been focused on getting survivors. As far as anything else down the road, we're looking at it. We're making sure we have vessels en route that can recover wreckage and debris. And -- but right, we're still focusing on survivors.


QUESTION: What is your definition of "zero chance"?

WRIGHT: My -- the definition of zero chance is until we conclude, as the search-and-rescue lead for this operation, that nobody could possibly survive. And that's based on -- that's based on the water temperature. And we're going to go way beyond that, until there's no chance.

QUESTION: Captain, how many men are out there actually?

QUESTION: Who reported the crash?

WRIGHT: The crash was reported to the Coast Guard this afternoon by a park ranger on Anacapa Island, and that was the first word we got that there was trouble.

QUESTION: Did he actually see the crash, captain? Do you know if he actually saw the plane go down?

WRIGHT: I don't know. We haven't been able to talk to him directly. So I don't know exactly if he saw the plane go down or not. We haven't been able to re-establish communications with the ranger.

QUESTION: With all the equipment and men you have out there, have you been able to see any large wreckage of the plane? Is that possible yet or is the water too deep?

WRIGHT: There was debris to surface. It is being recovered. It is -- but I don't have a list depicting all the sizes of the wreckage.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Captain George Wright is being asked now if there are any other witnesses and if anybody could help out if they saw anything unusual. That's part of the question right now.

WRIGHT: ... something good for later on down the road. We haven't been focusing on that right now. I'm focusing on saving lives, and that's really the first priority. Good point. I'm sure that that will come up later. But we're not working on it right now.

QUESTION: How large is the search field and how large is the debris field?

WRIGHT: All I can say right now is it's fairly large, but I don't have the exact dimensions.


QUESTION: Let me ask you a question. This question is -- you said that you were going to look until there's zero chance. But what are some of the things that somebody might be able to point to as a positive? If there's going to be a survivor, what...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question is being asked, what positive signs must be seen out there if anyone is going survive with this?

WRIGHT: The -- there's always hope that there would be a survivor out there. And since the get-go, when this search started, that's all we're looking -- that's our No. 1 priority is looking for survivors.

I'm hopeful. I'm always hopeful. We have seen miracles happen in the past with recovering people that seemingly can't survive for long periods of time. And I don't -- I'm not trying to get anybody's hopes up. But we're always going to look as long as we possibly can until there's zero chance of knowing someone has survived.


QUESTION: What did your search involve? Can you talk about...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Being asked what the search involves.

WRIGHT: Right now, there's aircraft that are doing search patterns over the area that -- well, you can see in the chart behind me the area up in the pink area. There are -- aircraft will be running search patterns that are basically expanding in distance. We know what the drift rate is for anybody that possibly came off -- off out of the craft. So we'll calculate where that debris field and where survivors would drift, and that's where we'll move our search pattern in that way.

And boats are doing the same thing.

QUESTION: Captain, how many people are out there, captain?

QUESTION: It's pitch dark out there. Are you confident the equipment can pick up...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The captain's being bombarded with a number of questions. He's asked now just how difficult is it with the darkness setting in and how many lights can actually illuminate out there. WRIGHT: Yes. We have helicopters equipped with infrared that can sense body temperature on the surface of the water. And they will be out there and they'll be looking all night long.

QUESTION: Captain, the number of people out there, captain...


QUESTION: ... the swells, you know, the ocean, anything. What is -- what's hampering the search?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Question now about how difficult is the water out there.

WRIGHT: Good visibility. It is not beyond the capability of any of our vessels to be out there. And I've got no reports of anything that would hamper it.

Of course, marine (ph) layer could hamper air traffic. But we -- it's not happening now.

QUESTION: Captain, there was a report that seven bodies were found. Captain, there was a report that seven bodies were found. Is that correct? I mean, you mentioned one body totally. But can you clarify were there seven bodies actually found?

WRIGHT: No, I can't clarify that. I told you our priority is looking for survivors. One victim has been recovered.

QUESTION: What about wreckage...


QUESTION: ... any wreckage has been found? What have you recovered wreckage-wise?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A question about wreckage...

WRIGHT: The -- not (UNINTELLIGIBLE) at Port Hueneme, our intentions are to bring any wreckage and debris to the facility in Port Hueneme. That's a seaport where we can get ships in, two or three cutters that can bring the -- any wreckage that we find into the port and bring on it to the dock. I don't know what that is right now.

QUESTION: Captain, do you have divers already in there? In other words, were there some divers already into the water looking? Is that correct?

WRIGHT: I do not know if we have divers in right now.

QUESTION: You haven't ordered them by any chance? If there are divers out there, they weren't by your orders: Is that correct?

WRIGHT: I'm not aware of that. We can get that information and get that back to you. QUESTION: OK, I'm sorry. That's it for Captain Wright.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is going to be the end of the news conference. Now, Captain George Wright is going to go back to the main nerve center, if you will. And he is going to be leaving the podium right now.

Again, you heard...

MORET: We just heard from Captain George Wright of the U.S. Coast Guard, telling us that this is still considered a search-and- rescue effort. Excuse me. Thank you. And they are actively searching for survivors. They will keep searching for survivors until there is what they call zero chance of recovering a survivor. But he said at 58 degrees of water temperature people can survive. He said there is always hope. Finding survivors is their No. 1 priority. They have seen miracles.

A U.S. Navy airplane and helicopter participated in the search- and-rescue efforts Monday night, this from our Jamie McIntyre and Chris Plant (ph), our CNN Washington correspondents. A Navy P-3 Orion anti-sub warfare airplane, an H-60 Seahawk helicopter squadron from -- helicopter squadron HC-5 responded to the Naval air station.

So indeed, this is both an operation from the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard.

We will continue our coverage on this special edition of CNN "NEWSSTAND" of the crash of Alaska Airlines Flight 261.

When we come back, we'll talk with CNN aviation analyst Susan Coughlin and Carl Rochelle.

We leave you also going into the break with the 800 number for relatives and family members, which we remind you is an automated number.


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