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Breaking News

Alaska Airlines Flight 261: AA Spokesman Holds News Briefing Outlining History of MD-80 Fleet

Aired January 31, 2000 - 11:00 p.m. ET


CATHERINE CALLAWAY, CNN ANCHOR: We continue CNN's coverage of the crash of Alaska Airlines Flight 261. The MD83 crashed this evening off Point Mugu, California about 20 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

Hello, everyone. I'm Catherine Callaway at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

JIM MORET, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Moret reporting from Los Angeles.

Four hours after the crash of Alaska Airlines Flight 261 off Point Mugu near Los Angeles, several bodies have been received. There are no signs of survivors at this time. U.S. Coast Guard ships and helicopters have been searching the waters and will continue doing so all night, according to the Coast Guard. Officials say the plane was carrying 83 passengers and five crew members when it fell from 17,000 feet and was lost from radar about 20 miles northwest of the Los Angeles coast.

The plane, an MD83, part of the MD80 series, originated in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and was to land in San Francisco and then proceed to Seattle. But its pilot requested to land in Los Angeles because it was experiencing mechanical difficulties, an Alaskan Airlines official said the pilot reporting having problems with the stabilizer trim shortly before the plane crashed.

Several cutters are en route to search the debris field along with night searching Coast Guard helicopters. Alaska Airlines says there were no prior problems with this specific aircraft. The FAA also says the Seattle-based Alaska Airlines has a very good safety record.

Let's check in now with CNN Correspondent Jennifer Auther, who is at Point Mugu at the location of the search.

Jennifer, what's the latest?

JENNIFER AUTHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, what we can tell you from here at Point Mugu is that those helicopter combat support units are still up and searching for any possible survivors, although as you just said we haven't heard of any survivors. The HCF5 is up and HH60 Seahawk helicopter search and rescue units. Both of those have night vision capabilities. There's also a P30 Ryan (ph) surveillance helicopter that is up here from Point Mugu and that's what they're doing. They're going to continue with this search. The U.S. Coast Guard is the lead agency in this search and they are telling us that they are going to continue not giving, they're not going to be giving up the search that is going on out here.


MORET: CNN's Jennifer Auther.

Captain George Wright of the Coast Guard held a news conference just a few minutes ago and they said that they will be actively searching for survivors and keep doing so until they identify zero chance of survival. The waters he identified as being 58 degrees and he said that people can survive. There is always hope. That is their number one priority. They have, in fact, seen miracles happen.

Now let's go to Catherine Callaway in Atlanta.

CALLAWAY: Carl Rochelle joins us now from Washington, a pilot himself, to talk a little bit about what happened before that plane went down. We heard earlier that the pilot had reported, reported some problems with the stabilizer trim. But Carl, would that be enough to bring a plane of that size down?

CARL ROCHELLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A problem with the stabilizer trim, Catherine, alone would not be enough to bring the airplane down. Now, here again, what was the problem with the stabilizer trim? But the stabilizer is the device, there is a vertical stabilizer and a horizontal stabilizer. I believe we're talking about the horizontal stabilizer. And that is the device that you use in the tail end of the airplane to make the nose go up and down. It just lets you climb, it lets you descend and it lets you stay in level flight.

But when you pull back on the control yoke to climb, there's a lot of force on it. So the way you deal with that force is you adjust a trim. And there's a tab in the back of that horizontal stabilizer and you trim it in the opposite direction of, in other words, if you're stabilizer goes this way, you turn the trim this way so that it runs to the opposite direction to sort of help hold that stabilizer in the position you want it in and properly trim with the aircraft. You can take your hands off of it and it'll fly in a climb, in a descent or in level flight by itself.

It is a very valuable tool.

CALLAWAY: And it could indicate a much larger problem, then?

ROCHELLE: But it could be. I talked to, just a little while ago to a retired airline pilot. He was qualified in and flew the DC9 and he also said that he couldn't sense anything strictly with stabilizer trim that would cause the airplane to come down. But his thought was, and my thought, too, that perhaps this could be a symptom of a larger problem, something else wrong with the aircraft that manifests itself in a stabilizer problem. But here again, we don't know the details of that. The thought was that they may have even called up the Alaska Airlines company frequency. Now this here is a little inside baseball, if you will. If they detect a problem with the aircraft, even though they would call the air traffic controller and say I've got a problem and perhaps even describe a little bit of the nature of it, they would likely call a maintenance base on the company radio frequency, an Alaska Airlines radio frequency, and say folks, I've got this kind of problem and what do I do about it, because very often there are trained mechanics who can give them a fix to deal with the problem that they have.

I don't know that that happened. Here again, it's very early and these are the kind of things we'll learn for sure at some point down the road. But there may be some more details about what the problem was that will come out as they begin to get into the investigation. But the National Transportation Safety Board discourages an airline from putting out a great deal of information about any crash situation beyond the factual information like what kind of plane it was, how many people that were on board, what it was doing, what they know about it.

So there may be some more details that will come out when the National Transportation Safety Board gets on the scene, establishes a base and begins to gather information. And they're very good about telling us what they can in a factual nature. What they won't do is tell you what they believe caused the crash. They'll tell you what they discovered in terms of what was going wrong with the aircraft, but certainly the only problem that we know of, the only one that was reported at this point is some problem with the stabilizer trim on that aircraft and there were reports that it was lost from radar scopes at 17,000 feet and, in fact, that very well may be the case.

But I would point out to you the EgyptAir 990 where initially I was told that the aircraft, I was told by the FAA that the aircraft just disappeared from the scopes at 37,000 feet and that's what they thought until they were able to get radar data from other radar stations that were looking at it and then they were able to track it down to as low as 10,000 feet off of the surface of the water in that area before they finally lost the radar picture.

So the primary signal that the radar would be picking up would be the one sent by the transponder, an electronic radar enhancing device in the aircraft, and that would have made the picture stand out on our radar scopes. That may be what they lost at 17,000 feet if, in fact, that was even lost because again, this is preliminary data.

CALLAWAY: And would that craft normally be flying at 17,000 feet?

ROCHELLE: No. It would be flying -- at 17,000 feet it would either be in a climb or descent phase. The normal cruising range of those aircraft is roughly in the 30,000 plus -- I was flying on a DC9 a couple of days ago and I think we cruised at 34,000, 37,000, somewhere along in that area. So they're up in the 30,000 foot range unless they're in transition or on a very short hop between a couple of very close in airports. So probably on its way down to Los Angeles when it went off the scope.

CALLAWAY: You know, Carl, earlier there has been reports from the scene there that it crashed upside down. Have you heard any more about that?

ROCHELLE: I have not heard that and we were sort of at a loss to understand that unless someone actually saw the airplane crash, unless there was an eyewitness who witnessed the airplane go into the water. Hard to tell that the plane went in upside down. There'd be no other way than someone seeing it like that and again, because airplanes fly in three dimensions and that's what makes flying an airplane a little different from driving a car, it is both up, down, sideways all at the same time, depending on the angle that you look at an aircraft, it can look like it's doing things that it actually isn't.

I've been surprised a time or two myself when I was in, when I was flying an airplane and saw another airplane and what it was actually doing versus what I thought it was doing the first time I saw it.


ROCHELLE: So it's a trained eye and even a trained eye can miss it a little bit at times. But I don't know who made that report.

CALLAWAY: But certainly that was unconfirmed, I should reiterate that that was an unconfirmed report.

Before I leave you, Carl, let's talk a little bit about that area there. We know that it went down 20 miles northwest of Los Angeles. You have flown in that area, is that right?

ROCHELLE: I have flown over that area. I have not personally flown in. I'm an east coaster and most of my flying is up and down the east coast of the United States and I think I've flown, personally flown aircraft oh, into the Midwest a time or two, but not all the way out to California, although I have ridden on a number of our nation's very fine airlines up and down that part of the country. So I am familiar with the California coastline.

CALLAWAY: Right, so if it's 20 miles northwest of L.A. what does this tell us about where the plane was heading at the time? Was it making, was it turning back around to the airport? There were certainly a number of airports in that area or is it --

ROCHELLE: Well, he had asked, he had asked permission to land, to divert his flight to Los Angeles International Airport. You hear it commonly referred to as lax, Los Angeles International Airport. And he had to get down. So I'm not sure exactly where he was in relation to the airport when he asked for permission to turn in and land. He may have been so close that he had to make a turn or two to get there. You can't just take an airplane from, say, 30,000 feet and get it down to ground level very quickly. It's a misnomer. Most people think you can push the nose over and dive and all that does is build up speed that you have to get rid of when you get to the end of the dive.

So you have to slow the airplane down and bring it around and lose some of that altitude to get yourself in position to land at whatever airport you're trying to get into and this may very well have been what he was trying to do. It may have been a vectored approach that took him out over that area.

See, one of the things we don't know yet is what kind of communications there was. The only communications we have been told about was when they said that they had a problem and asked to go into Los Angeles International Airport and we haven't been told of any contentious communications with the, with the air traffic controllers or the tower beyond that point. It may be that both the pilot and the co-pilot were so busy trying to deal with whatever the problem was in the airplane that they didn't have time to talk to anyone else at that point. But that will also give us more information.

CALLAWAY: All right, Carl. Carl Rochelle in Washington.

Now, back to Jim.

MORET: And we're joined by telephone by Jack Evans, a spokesperson for Alaska Airlines.

Mr. Evans, you held a news conference a little over an hour ago. Bring us up to date on the latest, if you could.

JACK EVANS, ALASKA AIRLINES SPOKESMAN: Well, Jim, first I'd just like to let everyone know that our heartfelt condolences go out to the friends and family of those passengers that were on aircraft Flight 261.

At this point we are still assembling information about the flight. What I can tell you is that around 4:36 P.M. we lost radio contact and radar contact with this aircraft. It was being diverted to Los Angeles. The pilot had reported a problem with the stabilizer trim. And this aircraft has no history of stabilizer trim problems, but that was what was reported. And at that point the plane disappeared.

MORET: You indicated in the news conference that the plane was last serviced just a couple of days ago, January 30th.

EVANS: Absolutely, yesterday. That's correct.

MORET: What was the nature of that service, if you know?

EVANS: I don't know at this point. I'm trying to get the records of the service as we speak. So we should have that information very shortly.

MORET: And on January 11th of this year you had a more extensive check known as an A Check, which was concluded on this plane. Was that a routine check?

EVANS: Correct. That was a scheduled check that occurred on January 11th of this year. It was an A Check. Previous to that, the aircraft received a more substantial check, a C check, in January 13th of 1999 and that was also a scheduled check.

MORET: Is there anything unusual in the plane's maintenance history that you've been able to uncover so far?

EVANS: At this point I'm not aware of anything that was unusual about this aircraft. It was an aircraft we acquired in the early '90s. I believe it was manufactured in 1992, had completed, you know, a typical set of cycles, approximately 14,315 cycles, which is one take off and landing. And so at this point we don't have any indication of what the problem could have been.

MORET: Could you verify the number of people on board? The latest figure we'd heard was 88 people, among them 83 passengers, five crew. Is that the latest information that you have, sir?

EVANS: That is correct. That is the latest information that we've received.

MORET: And you were sending passenger assistance teams to various locations. What's the nature of that?

EVANS: Correct. Our passenger care team is compiled of hundreds of Alaska Airlines employees who are going to all the points where passengers from this aircraft may have disembarked and are there to meet friends and family members and provide any assistance at all that they can provide since they are the more priority at this point.

MORET: Now, sir, of the five crew members, we understand two of them were the pilot and co-pilot, is that correct?

EVANS: That's correct.

MORET: And do you have any information on the level of experience, how long they've been with the airline and their experience with this particular plane?

EVANS: Not at this point but I do know that we are in the process of assembling that information so I should have that for you shortly.

MORET: Jack Evans, spokesman for Alaska Airlines. Thank you very much for joining us by phone tonight.

Now we go to CNN Aviation Analyst Susan Coughlin, who joins us also by telephone.

Susan, anything you've heard tonight that raises some questions or are many questions answered? And specifically, the NTSB is sending a team in the next couple of hours to this location and they're actually leaving with some information.

SUSAN COUGHLIN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, they are leaving with some information but not a heck of a lot of information. There's a preliminary conversation with air traffic about a possible stabilizer trim problem. As Carl Rochelle pointed out, that might have been an indication of -- it might have been a larger problem that they were unaware of. It's really hard to say. But the NTSB has a very sketchy information and obviously what they're going to want to do is see if there were any additional conversation between the air traffic controller center that was vectoring them into the airport and had given them clearance to lax instead of San Francisco to see if they can more fully understand in the absence of the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder what the circumstances might have been about the emergency that the crew was experiencing.

But obviously now that underscores the importance of recovering the recorded data from the aircraft and hopefully when they get to the actual recovery of wreckage that will be one of the first things they focus on. They'll be hampered a little bit if the water depth is great. It always makes it more difficult but the NTSB has an amazing way of assembling assets to complete the job.

MORET: And for the purposes of putting the pieces of this puzzle together, the NTSB will basically be looking to everyone who was in contact with the plane in a material way with respect to maintenance and so forth?

COUGHLIN: They will be looking at maintenance records. They'll be actually interviewing the mechanics. They'll be gathering the training records of the crew. You asked about the experience of the crew, how much time did they have overall, how many hours in this aircraft, who was flying the plane, when was their latest training, what their 72 hour history was, anything that with the -- whether weather, whether air traffic controller, with operations, with the mechanical status, the engines, the systems, hydraulic systems, electrical systems, anything that might lend information in putting together the final moments of this, of this Flight 261.

MORET: And some of that information will be provided by if not the flight data recorders then certainly the conversation between the pilot and whatever area was controlling the plane at the time he identified some problems with the stabilizer trim. And wouldn't you also know the location, the attitude, perhaps, or the altitude of the plane?

COUGHLIN: Well, it depends on when the air traffic controllers lost that transponder data. They might be able to pick it up from another facility. But yes, they will be wanting to interview not only the controllers that were having conversations but also to go back and try to capture whatever recorded conversations were there as well as recorded radar data and there are a number of facilities in the area that might have been capturing that data on their own, on their own data, on their own radars that the FAA will try to capture again to put together a more complete picture of what the final moments and what the difficulties were that this crew might have been encountering.

MORET: CNN aviation analyst Susan Coughlin, thank you for your time.

Let's go back now to Catherine Callaway in Atlanta. CALLAWAY: Flight 261 was leaving Puerto Vallarta, Mexico on to San Francisco and then on to Seattle from there and joining us now from the San Francisco airport is Greg Lefevre. Greg, what's the latest there?

GREG LEFEVRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What we are hearing now is that Alaska Airlines has dispatched hair teams, as they call them, to a number of the airports along the system where folks may have wanted to meet passengers on this plane. As we know, the plane was, originated in Puerto Vallarta, was to stop here in San Francisco and so a care team from Alaska Airlines will be set up here as well as in Seattle.

And it very well could be that the passengers on this plane were destined to other connecting destinations on the Alaska system. And so Alaska will dispatch its employees and counselors out to those various areas.

At the same time here at San Francisco Airport, the airport itself, the officials here at the airport have their own clergy and mental health care workers on staff here. The clergy are on call and they are also assembling here to counsel and to speak with anyone who was scheduled to meet these planes, this plane.

CALLAWAY: We have to break and interrupt here to take you live to an Alaskan Air press that are going on right now. Let's cut in now and see what's going on at the news conference with Alaska Air.

EVANS: ... people from our command center as well. Again, Alaska Airlines Flight 261 from Puerto Vallarta to San Francisco went down in the water late this afternoon, approximately 20 miles off Point Mugu, California. The flight carried a total of 83 passengers. That's a change from before -- 83 passengers and five crew members, two of whom were pilots, three of whom were flight attendants.

The crew radioed a problem with the stabilizer trim and the plane was diverted to Los Angeles. Flight controllers lost radio contact with the aircraft at approximately 4:36 P.M. Pacific Standard Time and the Coast Guard was dispatched.

The plane, an MD80, had no history of stabilizer trim problems. The tail number is 963. The full plane number is N963AS. It was manufactured in 1992. Some of the background on that aircraft itself, let me provide that to you as well. The aircraft was powered by two JT8D Pratt & Whitney engines and as I told you before, the aircraft was routinely serviced yesterday, as early as yesterday, as recently as yesterday.

I still haven't found out exactly what kind of servicing occurred, but I will have that information for you as soon as possible. It also went through two major checks, an A Check on January 11th of this year and last year at this time about a C check, which is a more extensive check.

It is one of 35 MD80s that Alaska Airlines operates out of a fleet of 88. Just some general information on the MD80. It's one of the most successful airplanes in commercial aviation history, as well as the 737, which is the other aircraft type we operate. Douglas Aircraft, McDonnell Douglas and Boeing have delivered 11,091 MD80s from 1979 to 1999 and more than 11,080 of those are still in service with more than 50 domestic and foreign airlines.

The first MD80, then known as a DC9 Series 80 or Super 80 made its initial flight on October 18th, 1979. Less than a year later on September 13th, 1980, Swiss Air took the first delivery. The airplane entered passenger service the following month and TWA took delivery of its first MD80, and MD82, on April 18th, 1983.

Some of you asked for information on previous fatal accidents that Alaska Airlines has experienced so let me read those to you and I will have this information in printed form for you shortly.

We have experienced two fatal accidents since 1970. Both involved Boeing 727 jet aircraft. The first occurred on September 4th, 1971 and it occurred when a controlled flight hit a mountain slope in Juneau, Alaska about 28 miles west of the airport. All seven crew members and 104 passengers on that flight were killed.

The second occurred on April 5th, 1976 when a Boeing 727 operated by Alaska overran the runway after landing in Katchekan (ph), Alaska. One of the 50 passengers on board later died of a heart attack.

In addition to those two fatal accidents, you may find in different databases three other accidents that are referred to which were, didn't involve loss of life of passengers. The first occurred on June 19, '87 when an Alaska, when Alaska aircraft Boeing 727 experienced what's known as a total whole loss, meaning the aircraft was completely destroyed, that occurred when it was being taxied empty -- no passengers were on board -- by two mechanics and it struck a jet way at the Anchorage International Airport. Neither mechanic was injured.

The second event occurred in early 19, in the early 1990s. I don't have the specific year, I'm sorry, when an individual jumped the perimeter fence at Phoenix International Airport and ran in front of an aircraft that was in the process of taking off. It was later determined by authorities that the individual had planned on committing suicide.

And then the third incident occurred just three years ago, September 1997 here in Seattle when a nose gear collapsed on a Boeing MD80 on landing causing minor injuries.

Let me just review my notes here and see if there's anything that I haven't provided. Just briefly, let me review again, the aircraft here had a total of 26,540 -- I'm sorry, 26,584 hours of service completing 14,315 cycles, in individual cycles of take off and landing.

Alaska Airlines operates a total fleet of 88. Thirty-five are MD80s and we are the nation's 10th largest carrier.

Again, I would like to repeat for friends and family that may be listening and just learned of this accident, we have established a phone number for friends and family members only. That number is 1- 800-553-5117 and we are doing our best to maintain that phone line and get down names and numbers for passengers, friends and family that may have called.

I will do my best to try to answer any questions you may have. Again, this is all the confirmed information I have at this point and I'd be more than happy to take your questions and try to get some response to them.

QUESTION: What was yesterday's service? Do you know where the service check was?

EVANS: I do not have that information, no.

QUESTION: Why? You should know that, shouldn't you, by now?

EVANS: Well, there are people that know that in the company. I've been in the process of trying to get this information together for you guys. I don't have it right now, but I will have it as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Are you saying it was routine?

EVANS: My understanding was it was a routine check but I don't have any information other than that.

QUESTION: Could you explain the stabilizer trim?

EVANS: I can't, but I can find someone that can for you.

QUESTION: Jack, the FAA is saying two things. They're saying the crash occurred at 3:45. They're saying the flight had 60 to 70 passengers. Are they just -- is there any reason (unintelligible)?

EVANS: I can't explain the discrepancy. All I can tell you, again, is that we were told that 4:36 is when we lost radio contact with the aircraft and that the most current passenger count for that aircraft is 83 passengers.

QUESTION: Another question was the point that it was a single based crew.

EVANS: I don't have that information at this point. We are, I do know that we are in the process of assembling the crew information.

QUESTION: It is a single based crew when you have (unintelligible)?

EVANS: It's possible. I'll have to check on that for you.

QUESTION: Where was the last C check?

EVANS: The C check for this aircraft would have been performed in Oakland, California, I believe.

QUESTION: Do you have any information on the pilot or the captain, their flight history?

EVANS: I don't at this point but I know we are collecting that information.

QUESTION: Do you fly 727s anymore?

EVANS: We do not. Our fleet consists of two aircraft types, 737s and MD80s. Of the 737s, we fly a mixture of 737-200s, which are a combination aircraft used primarily in the state of Alaska, 737- 400s, which are other major narrow body aircraft that we fly along the, alongside the MD80 and then we've just begun acquiring 737-700s.

QUESTION: Do you know about how many passengers were planning to come to Seattle?

EVANS: I don't have that information. I know that we are quickly assembling the passenger manifest and that information should be included.

QUESTION: Do you know what, how many people were planning to travel to San Francisco and to Seattle on that plane?

EVANS: No, I don't.

QUESTION: Yes, who's back there now? Can you describe (unintelligible)?

EVANS: Well, there, we actually have employees at several locations collecting information. Right here the mood is pretty somber. There obviously are crew members on board that people here know well and people are just in shock. They want to know what's going on. They want to know the same things I'm sure everyone out there wants to know and that is what happened and was my loved one or friend on board? And they're trying to assemble that information.

QUESTION: Did the stabilizer trim, did that, is that involving the rudder or the elevator?

EVANS: You know, I don't have that information. I just don't know and I can, but I certainly will try to find out for you. I have been in contact with the aircraft manufacturer to see if we can get that information for you.

QUESTION: You say people here know the crew well. Do you know if it is a Seattle-based crew (unintelligible)?

EVANS: You know, I don't know if it's a Seattle-based crew. I just know that people here know the crew. So, you know, we -- they're employees and every crew that goes out there are people somewhere in the company that know those individuals.

QUESTION: Any reports of this plane having mechanical problems or reporting problems with the speed?

EVANS: Yeah, I'm not aware of any problems. I have posed that question if there was any problems that may have been the cause for the maintenance that occurred yesterday. But the only information I got initially was that it was routine maintenance.

QUESTION: So you didn't know what was serviced yesterday? I know you didn't know where it was serviced, but what was serviced yesterday?

EVANS: I don't know exactly what was -- I just know that it was, I was told early on that it was routine.

QUESTION: Routine service?

EVANS: Correct.

QUESTION: Do you know if routine service is done in Mexico?

EVANS: You know, I don't know. I don't know.

QUESTION: How about then the time that the flight left and the time the flight landed? Any other...

EVANS: I don't have that information.

QUESTION: Will you get the passenger list tonight some time?

EVANS: I don't want to speculate on when it will be available. I know we're working to get it out as soon as possible.

QUESTION: (unintelligible)?

EVANS: You know, I don't know. I have to check and see what the protocols are and I'm sorry.

QUESTION: The routine check was not taking, if it occurred in Mexico then where would be the most likely place that a routine check would take place?

EVANS: Well, it wasn't, again, it wasn't a check. It was a servicing and I have no idea where it would have occurred. It could potentially have occurred at any station that we operate. We have line mechanics at a number of locations throughout the west coast. So I'll have to check on that for you.

QUESTION: Do you know where it came from before it landed in Puerto Vallarta?

EVANS: No, I do not.

QUESTION: And again, the new number of passengers is 83 plus five crew members?

EVANS: That's correct.

QUESTION: Give me more about the difference between an A level check and a C Level maintenance check.

EVANS: I just know that a C Level check is a more intense check and a more invasive check than an A Level check, but I don't have that information. But I have asked for that to be prepared for me.

QUESTION: Does a C Level check involve taking parts of the airplane apart, the engines, the stabilizers and anything like that?

EVANS: That I don't know.

QUESTION: Are you providing a place at the airports for friends and family to congregate?

EVANS: Yes. Yeah. Right now we have locations established for friends and family at the airports, I believe, in Los Angeles, in San Francisco and in Seattle.

QUESTION: Jack, how are you handling (unintelligible) I guess? I mean have you got your observation center people working on that or are you getting calls from people who don't know but suspect that they had a person on that plane?

EVANS: Correct. I mean the phones have been ringing off the hook. We have a number of people here at our reservations center here in this building, at our command center, everywhere answering telephones. And, you know, we all, we all want information. I want it as badly as any of you and I will get it for you.

Any last questions you want me to take up?

QUESTION: On the passenger list, 83, is that the definitive number now, 83 passengers?

EVANS: That's the latest count I have. I don't know if that is absolutely the most definitive number, but as soon as we -- as soon as I can tell you absolute certainty that is the final passenger count, I will provide that to you. OK?

CALLAWAY: And that was Jack Evans with Alaska Airlines reviewing the history of the MD-83 involved in the crash of flight 261, saying it was one of 35 MD-80s out of a fleet of 88 with that airlines.

Let's go now to Carl Rochelle in Washington to talk a little bit about the history of this aircraft. It was manufactured just a few years ago, and 1992, in fact. What about the age of this plane?

CARL ROCHELLE, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: It's the young airplane, Catherine. This is not old at all for an airplane. Some airplanes, the 727, they don't even make any more, and I rode on one of those the other day. There are airplanes flying that are 20, 30, 40 years old. So an airplane that was made in 1992, it's a seven- year-old airplane. It has -- we have the numbers on how many hours it has on it, 26,584 hours and 14,315 cycles. A cycle is a takeoff and landing cycle.

It had just gone through rather substantial maintenance. Airlines -- air transport-level aircraft are taken care of under what's called progressive maintenance. In other words, they have an established schedule that at each one of these maintenance schedules, certain things are done. An A-check would be the lightest of those scheduled maintenances, a D-check would be the heaviest.

So it underwent a C-check, which is almost the heaviest that you can undergo, back in January, and an A-check just a short while ago. So it has been looked at very carefully, and the maintenance on it is up to speed. So age not a problem, maintenance should not be a problem. And apparently they discovered nothing that would keep it from going back in service, and if they did, they fixed it.

So that's all we know until they probe a little deeper into that.

CALLAWAY: And Carl, in general, the MD-80 series has not had a history of problems.

ROCHELLE: No, it has not had a series of problems. There's -- it is an extremely reliable aircraft. The MD-80 is a mutation, if you will, another generation of the old DC-9, which has been around for a long time, it's a very stable airline -- airliner. The MD-80, the MD- 82, -83, there's an MD-90. And now Boeing, which took over McDonnell Douglas, has -- is building that same airplane and calling it a 717. So it's still carrying on, even though it's now a Boeing aircraft.

So that gives you some idea of how reliable that aircraft is. A lot of airlines like to fly it. It is good for short hauls, it is good for medium hauls, it's quite reliable and reasonably easy to maintain, and user friendly. So it's a good airplane, excellent airplane.

CALLAWAY: Carl Rochelle in Washington, thanks.

We'll take a break now. We will continue our coverage of Alaska Airlines Flight 216 in just a moment.


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