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Breaking News

Singapore Airlines Flight 006 Survivors Report Fatalities, Injuries

Aired October 31, 2000 - 12:02 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Jeanne Meserve in Washington. A welcome to our international viewers as we cover a breaking story: A Singapore Airlines jumbo jetliner bound for Los Angeles crashed today in Taiwan. It happened just after the Boeing 747 took off in severe weather from the international airport in Taipei. Officials say 179 people were onboard Flight 006 and some survivors are reported.

One of them, John Diaz joins us now on the phone from Taipei.

Mr. Diaz, you were on the 747, describe to us what happened.

JOHN DIAZ, SINGAPORE AIRLINES CRASH SURVIVOR: Well, the weather was absolutely horrendous. I couldn't even believe they would go on to takeoff. We got on the plane, we started taking off on the runway, it seemed like we were just getting ready to liftoff and it felt like we hit something. And the next thing we know, the whole plane was shaking and gliding. It burst into flame right next to me. The whole side started to split, and then it slid to a stop.

There were flames everywhere and smoke everywhere; and I ran to the door and there were two girls trying to open the door and it was stuck. I hit the door with my shoulder, it popped open, and I helped get the folks out and then the slider started to inflate, but we were on the ground; so I jumped out of the plane, got caught up in the slide, freed myself and one other person, I don't know who. We got out and just started running and the whole thing blew up...

MESERVE: It blew up?

DIAZ: ... it was just, like, flames and everything.

MESERVE: It blew up? Can you explain that to me?

DIAZ: It seemed like it. There were flames just all over the place.

MESERVE: A Singapore Airlines spokesman just told us that he believed, at this point, there were no fatalities. Was that your impression as you left the aircraft?

DIAZ: Oh, there were tons of fatalities. There were people burning on the flight. I only saw about 20 people -- I only saw about 20 people that -- clearly I don't know -- they put us in a room. But there were lots of fatalities. The plane split in half.

MESERVE: It split in half?

DIAZ: Yes, the tail end of the plane broke completely off from the plane and it slid around. Some of the people that were in the tail are with me right now. Some people got out of tail but there were a lot of fatalities.

MESERVE: Was it your impression that the plane ever got off the ground?

DIAZ: It seemed like it was either getting right off the ground, or -- I don't know, it's just like, it all just happened. It seemed like it was right as it was taking off when it -- it was like we hit something.

I mean it was -- I don't know; maybe that was the wind sheer and we hit the ground, I have no idea. But it was -- it was a nightmare.

MESERVE: Can you describe to me what you heard? Did you hear engine noise? Did there seem to be any problem with the engines that you could detect?

DIAZ: No, there didn't seem to be any problem with the engine, but there's a typhoon that's around here. Winds must have been somewhere about 60 kilometers. I mean the wind was -- and the rain was just unbelievable. I almost didn't get on the flight. I told my wife I can't believe they're going to take off, but they kept saying this was all right; so we all just got on the flight.

MESERVE: Mr. Diaz, did you sustain any injuries, or are you OK?

DIAZ: My lungs are a little -- seem a little -- I'm having, you know -- seem a little burned and I think -- I thought I had broken my arm, but I'm bruised from head to foot, I guess, I don't know.

MESERVE: Mr. Diaz, with me is Carl Rochelle, he's a pilot and knows something more about aviation. He wants to ask you a question here.

CARL ROCHELLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Mr. Diaz, you said there was a typhoon. Were there any thunderstorms, any things associated with it?

DIAZ: I didn't see -- there is such heavy rain. The rain right now is just falling -- heavy wind, heavy, heavy rain. I didn't see any thunder or lightning.

ROCHELLE: Was the wind shifting from side to side and different directions?

DIAZ: The wind is just blowing like crazy, shifting everywhere. I mean the wind is just unbelievable -- it's sheets of rain. I'm originally from New Orleans, so I'm used to hurricanes and that's what it seems like right now. It seems like a damn hurricane.

ROCHELLE: When you felt the bump -- when you felt the bump, did it feel like it ran into something, like the airplane began to stop or slow down or was it a bump underneath...

DIAZ: It felt like it hit something. I mean, it felt like we hit something.

ROCHELLE: Was there a sound?

DIAZ: Yes: bang! And then there were flames just all over the place. I mean, right next to my seat the carriage separated from the -- right next -- I don't know, and flames shot up right next to me and some poor fellow, not very far from me got, I guess, jet fuel splashed on him because he just got -- he lit up like a torch.

ROCHELLE: What were they telling you onboard the aircraft before you took off? What did the flight attendants tell you? Did the pilot ever give you any warning about severe weather?

DIAZ: Nobody said a word about anything. I actually asked -- I mean, I, as a matter of fact, from my hotel today, this morning I started having the concierge call to see if the flight was taking off. I actually called my travel and said, I don't know, there's a typhoon approaching.

When I got to the airport, I couldn't believe it. the conditions were so bad, and I asked them to -- is this flight going to take off? Are you sure you're going to take off? They said no, we do this all the time; it's fine.

MESERVE: Mr. Diaz, even in the final moments was anything said to the passengers onboard?

DIAZ: Nothing was ever said to the passengers. Was anything ever said to you guys about -- nothing was ever said. I'm with a few other people; there weren't very many survivors that we saw, and we kind of saw everything, huh, guys?

MESERVE: I gather, Mr. Diaz, you are there with some other survivors. Do any of them want to speak to us on the telephone as well?

DIAZ: Yes, hold on a second. It's CNN.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello?

MESERVE: Hi, can you tell me your name please?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello?

MESERVE: Hi, this is CNN, you're on the air, can you tell me your name, please?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, my name is Paul Blanchom.

MESERVE: And give me your rendition of events -- what happened as this plane tried to take off?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we were taxiing down the runway, approaching takeoff speed, and then all of a sudden there was a very loud noise, the lights went out, the plane started to come apart; we, obviously, realized at that point we were in a plane crash, and we thought we were all going to die.

Eventually, the plane -- the tail section that we were in turned over several times and we ended up on our sides with all the passengers -- basically, passengers on one side of the plane were all up in the air. A lot of people were still stuck up there. We tried to get the back emergency exit open. Couldn't do that because that was -- we couldn't get it open.

So we all tried to leave and we tried to make our way to the front of what was left of the tail section. And, basically, we got to a certain stage and we could see that the whole plane had broken in two. So at that point, we tried to get as many people as we could out of the section. There were people still strapped in their seats. We tried to get those down.

And there was a gentleman -- when I got out of the plane, there was a gentleman trapped underneath the tail section of the plane. He was actually underneath the tail. The tail was on the ground. And we tried to lift. Obviously we couldn't lift the tail to get the guy out.

At that point, there was smoke and flames blowing from the other section of the plane and it was engulfing the tail section. So we tried to get (UNINTELLIGIBLE), tried to make understood that we needed something to jack this section of the plane up so we could get this guy out. But it's very difficult to communicate. It seemed like the emergency crews took forever to get there, but I'm sure it was only just a few minutes. It was a very major disaster.

MESERVE: Where are you now exactly? And I gather you are with Mr. Diaz and perhaps some other survivors. How many of you are there and what condition are you all in?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, there were people with second-degree and third-degree burns. There was one woman who died while we were in the emergency room, or whatever room it was. There were people hurt, who were, you know, bleeding, cuts and bruises. One woman was receiving CPR. I don't know what happened to her but it didn't look good. The total number of people in the emergency room was about 20, including several of the stewardesses.

MESERVE: OK, so you have gone to hospital then. Can you describe...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sorry?

MESERVE: Can you describe the loud noise that you said you heard as the plane went down the runway?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I really wouldn't. I really don't want to talk about it at this point.

ROCHELLE: Sir, it's Carl Rochelle in Washington. Can I just ask you, how long was it -- if you can even keep track of it -- how long between the time you heard the noise and felt the bump and the airplane actually broke apart?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was about a minute.

ROCHELLE: That long?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was about a minute until the plane came in two. Well, it felt like a minute. I mean, I'm, honestly, not looking at my watch at this stage in the game, you know.

ROCHELLE: Surely. But the airplane continued to go down the runway after the bump -- the airplane continued to go down the runway after the bump, and then -- for a period of time -- and then it began to break apart?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I stood on the runway trying to get this guy out from underneath the tail section, yes. It was me and I guess the emergency crew. The captain of -- maybe one of the stewards on the plane. We were trying to get this guy out, but we couldn't.

ROCHELLE: Did you recall looking around...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe I'll put you on with somebody else.

ROCHELLE: I'm sorry, did you recall looking around and seeing how far down the runway you were? Were you close to the end of it?

DIAZ: We were at the end of the runway, yes. I don't think we were off the runway, but we were way the hell down there, because it took a while for them to get to us.

ROCHELLE: Is this still Mr. -- is it Paul Blanchom?

DIAZ: I don't know -- what is the question again?

ROCHELLE: What's your name?

MESERVE: Who's speaking to us now?

DIAZ: My name's John -- this is John Diaz again.

ROCHELLE: Oh, John, you're back, OK.

MESERVE: John, we just heard your acquaintance here talk about the response time of the emergency crews. Did it seem to you that they arrived promptly on the scene?

DIAZ: When I -- I said that it seemed it took a while for them to get people around the plane. I mean, I ran a good distance. We all did -- ran a good distance from that plane before we got -- trying to pick up. To me, I asked them, I said, it seemed like it took a long time, they said yes; but then, you -- we really don't know. I mean time at that time -- everything was in suspended, like, animation. I -- we just didn't know what was going on. MESERVE: And when you were picked up, you were...

DIAZ: We had no idea. It seemed like it did take some time.

MESERVE: And when you were picked up, were you then taken to an emergency room for treatment?

DIAZ: We were taken into a room right at the hospital -- right at the airport. And we sat there for a good hour, in there with all these people and stuff; and then, finally, they had ambulances coming and they got us to this hospital. I mean, they jammed about six of us -- six or eight of us that weren't very badly hurt into this hospital -- you know, into this emergency vehicle, and the guy was a maniac. We had to keep telling him to slow down because he was driving like a fool. I didn't want to go through a plane crash and then die in a car crash.

ROCHELLE: Mr. Diaz, can I ask you the same question I asked your colleague? Did you get a sense of how long, in time-wise there was between the time that you heard the noise, felt the bump, and that the airplane actually began to break apart?

DIAZ: It was fairly immediate. When we heard that noise, that thing, all hell started to break loose. And I'd say we felt a real bump, then there was another one, and then we were sliding and skidding all over the place.

ROCHELLE: So it actually felt like you went...

DIAZ: I was in the front section of the plane.

ROCHELLE: It actually felt like you went airborne just a little bit and then slammed back down into the runway?

DIAZ: It did. I was in the front section of the plane. The other people were more in the back, were all the way in the tail section. And I was all the way -- I was in the very front seat.

ROCHELLE: I wonder if you could elaborate a little more, because the authorities continue to say no fatalities. Your sense is that's not correct?

DIAZ: Oh, man, there are definitely fatalities. There had to be fatalities; definitely fatalities. One gentleman was so distraught he used my phone to call -- the two people he was with died. He watched them burn in front of his eyes. There was jet fuel all over the place. That plane broke in half. If there are no fatalities -- we only saw -- there were only 20 of us. Maybe they were all in the plane and they got out, but I think there were fatalities.

ROCHELLE: What are the authorities...

DIAZ: I know there was a woman who -- I think a woman died in the room where we were. They were trying to give her CPR.

ROCHELLE: Mr. Diaz, what are the authorities saying to you? Are they telling you anything about the fatalities, about -- what happened about...

DIAZ: No, we just got out. We're actually taking a cab back to my hotel. I'm going to bring these people into our hotel in Taipei.

ROCHELLE: What hotel are you staying at, sir?

DIAZ: The Shangri-La Far Eastern Plaza Hotel.

ROCHELLE: OK, thank you.

MESERVE: Can you talk to me about the quality of the medical care? Did it seem to you that the hospitals in Taipei were ready to handle this magnitude of an emergency?

DIAZ: Yes, it seemed like -- they were all hustle and bustle. There were a lot of camera crews there. Seemed like there were more camera people than doctors, as a matter of fact. But they were doing what they could. The people that were injured were getting treatment quite quickly once they got to the hotel.

But there was not a very many people that got to the hospital. It was just the group of us that were in the -- that we saw. I guess two or three ambulances left before us and -- so we don't know about those guys, but there weren't a lot of people at that hospital.

MESERVE: And Mr. Diaz, those were who were injured, can you describe the injuries they sustained?

DIAZ: There were a lot of cuts, there were a lot of burns. One gentleman, he looked American, was very severely, severely, severely burned. And there were a lot of burns because there was jet fuel all over the place.

MESERVE: John Diaz, thank you for joining us on the telephone.

DIAZ: This rain is unbelievable here.

MESERVE: It's still raining, then. John Diaz, thank you for joining us.

A Singapore Airlines jet went down on takeoff from Taipei. It was en route to Los Angeles -- Singapore Airlines Flight 006. We have just heard from someone on the plane that the situation was very grim. He describes an attempted takeoff with noises, bumps, flames, a plane breaking apart and he claims there were fatalities, although a spokesman for Singapore Airlines has told us, at this point, there are none to report.

We will, of course, continue to cover the story. We'll be back in just a moment.

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