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Amanda Knox Murder Conviction Overturned; Plane Crash Investigation Continues; Prosecutor: Co-Pilot Hid Illness from Airline; Could Remote Controlled Planes Be on the Horizon? Aired 6- 7:00p ET

Aired March 27, 2015 - 18:00   ET


[18:00:01] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Search setbacks -- tonight, new dangers at the crash site, why it could take weeks to recover victims and find the missing black box. We're live at the scene.

Remote control -- new calls to explore pilotless planes using new drone technology. Would that prevent crashes like this one or lead to new disasters?

Verdict overturned. Italy's Supreme Court releases a stunning new ruling on the murder charges against the American Amanda Knox, declaring the case is now closed.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: And stand by for more on the breaking news, the Amanda Knox murder verdict overturned. She's free completely right now.

But, first, another major breaking story. More evidence seized a short while ago from the home of the co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, as investigators dig deeper into the illness he apparently hid from the airline. A prosecutor revealing today that a doctor declared Lubitz unfit to work on the day he is believed to have crashed 9525 on purpose.

The exact nature of the medical condition is unclear. But tonight, "The Wall Street Journal" reports Lubitz was suffering depression, citing a source who says he was being treated by a psychiatrist.

Our correspondents and analysts, they are all standing by to explore all the latest breaking angles of this story.

But, first, let's go to our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh. She has the very latest -- Rene.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, another shocking revelation about the pilot who deliberately brought down Germanwings Flight 9525.

A German prosecutor says the pilot did not leave a suicide note and no indications of political or religious motivation. But investigators did make some alarming discoveries. Evidence inside his home suggests he should not have been flying that plane.


MARSH (voice-over): New video tonight shows investigators hauling boxes of evidence from the apartment of Andreas Lubitz. While motive remains a mystery, we now know more about the 27-year-old pilot's past. A German prosecutor says Lubitz kept a medical condition a secret, an unknown illness that could have grounded him and potentially kept him off Tuesday's deadly flight.

CHRISTOPH KUMPA, DUSSELDORF PROSECUTOR: We have found a letter that indicated that he was declared by a medical doctor unfit to work, so we have reason to believe that he hid his illness.

MARSH: Medical leave notes were found ripped in the apartment, apparently never delivered to his employer, Germanwings Airline. Authorities have not stated publicly whether Lubitz's illness was physical or related to mental health issues. But according to a report in "The Wall Street Journal," Lubitz was treated for depression and was excused from work by a neuropsychologist for a period of time, including the day of the crash.

WILLIAM BOSTON, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": That he has been in medical treatment for some time, that he has been treated for psychological problems and that he has not informed his employer, Germanwings or Lufthansa, about the situation.

JACQUELINE BRUNETTI, AVIATION MEDICAL EXAMINER: To withhold information like that is actually a grievous offense and there are fines associated with that.

MARSH: Jacqueline Brunetti is a FAA-certified aviation doctor who tests pilots for airworthiness. She says there is no perfect way to identify a pilot who is at risk, and periodic psychological testing is no silver bullet.

BRUNETTI: If you are tested one day and the next week, something happens, how do you pick that up? There's no way to monitor an airman 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

MARSH: In the U.S., a pilot must get a medical checkup from an FAA-approved physician every six months. If a pilot is unfit to fly, the doctor must notify the government.

In both the United States and Europe, pilots are grounded for a month for observation when receiving treatment from depression. If treatment is successful, pilots can fly while taking certain antidepressants.


MARSH: While pilots are allowed under certain circumstances to fly when taking antidepressants, there are a set of medical disorders that can disqualify someone from flying. That includes schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, if someone is suicidal and actually attempts to kill themselves.

There's a lot more though, Wolf, to learn about the man friends say appeared normal. Of course, investigators are also looking into his financial and personal background -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Rene, thank you, Rene Marsh reporting.

There's another new report out tonight about Lubitz and his mental health. Germany's "Bild" newspaper says he suffered a serious depressive episode around the time he suspended his pilot training back in 2009 and spent a year, a year under psychiatric treatment. "Bild" cites internal documents forward by Lufthansa's Aero Medical Center to German authorities.

[18:05:13] For more on the investigation, let's go to CNN's Will Ripley. He's outside Lubitz's apartment in Dusseldorf, Germany.

Will, what are you learning?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, Wolf, we know the investigation continues to focus on this apartment and specifically what evidence may lie inside.

Just a short time ago, within the last few hours, we saw those investigators bringing out an additional box full of documents. This is after they had swarmed the apartment earlier in the day, retrieving, among other things, those torn-up doctor notes in the trash can that indicated that Lubitz was receiving some sort of medical treatment for what was described publicly only as an illness, although now more and more reports seem to be putting the spotlight on the possibility of some sort of a medical condition.

Neighbors, people who knew Lubitz are telling us that, physically, he appeared fine. He was healthy. He was a marathon runner. He was seen running in the running trails around the neighborhood. No indication of anything physically wrong. But there was a change in his behavior. Listen to what a local pizza shop owner described when he used to go to his business with his girlfriend regularly. Then all of a sudden, it stopped.


RIPLEY: You saw Andreas Lubitz and who you believe was his girlfriend. You say they came in here a lot. What were they like?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): He was very nice, polite, friendly, came in once or twice a week. He often came with his girlfriend arm in arm. When I heard the news, I thought, no, this couldn't be him.


RIPLEY: You heard that man say that he came once or twice a week. But then, Wolf, about two months ago, he says he stopped coming. In the meanwhile, there was a medical clinic here in town that said it started treating Lubitz in February, about the same time that he stopped showing up at the pizza place.

They treated him in February. He came back in March for some sort of a diagnosis. They say it wasn't depression, but investigators here at the apartment trying to put together whatever pieces they can to figure out what was going on in this young man's mind that caused him to do something so horrible that ended up costing 150 lives -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly did. All right, thanks very much, Will. We will get back to you.

I want to go to the crash site right now. More victims' families have gathered nearby, while crews are facing treacherous conditions trying to recover bodies or what's left of them.

Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, is joining us. He is in this remote area in Southern France.

What's it like over there, Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the helicopters stopped working. It's nightfall, so they have lifted the crews out of that mountain area.

Behind me, you probably can't hear it, but I can, are the generators of the police temporary headquarters. Right behind that is the DNA labs where the police and the recovery teams are bringing the victims of the crash and then they are working on them in the lab there to determine who each person is.

So far, we're told, they have identified 16 different victims. There had been more family members coming here today to visit the memorial that's the closest location that French authorities can get them to the crash site. We have also been learning that the authorities, when the families come here, are taking DNA samples from the families to help them speed up the identification of their loved ones.

And, also, the authorities here are bringing in some biometric equipment, fingerprint analysis equipment. Again, this is all designed to help identify the victims that they are bringing off the hillside, but a very traumatic task for the recovery workers, Wolf, because none of them have been trained for this. This is a desperately gruesome and difficult scene for them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What are they saying over there, Nic? Do they expect to be able to identify all 150 bodies?

ROBERTSON: No one here has been as bold to say that at the moment, Wolf.

The description that we are given by the people who are actually there on the mountainside and have seen, witnessed, you know, what's happened there, they do say that there are very, very few bodies that are fully intact, that the aircraft itself broke apart completely. They say, really, that is the nature of the victims that they are finding, very badly broken apart.

However, they say they are determined to bring all and everything of the victims from the hillside that they can gather. But, clearly, in a situation like this, some of that fine detail and determination in these conditions may be very tough, Wolf.

[18:10:00] BLITZER: Yes, that plane smashed into the French Alps at 400 miles an hour. You can only imagine what was happening at that moment.

Nic, we will get back to you as well.

I want to bring in our aviation analyst, Peter Goelz, our safety analyst David Soucie, our law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, and the former pilot, aviation consultant Alastair Rosenschein.

Let's talk about a little bit this flight data recorder, something like this. This is a flight data recorder. They have got the cockpit voice recorder. They still haven't found this, have they?


And the massive intensity of this accident might lead that they will not find it if it came apart. It's not 100 percent invulnerable to the destructive forces of an accident of this magnitude. They do a good job. They survive tremendous pressures. But, boy, it would not surprise me if they did not get it all back.

BLITZER: Correct me if I'm wrong. Usually, they're in the tail, the back of the plane. Right? This plane smashed head on into the mountain.

GOELZ: That's right. They're located in the tail, with the understanding that if the plane is crashing head first into an object, that the energy will be somewhat dissipated by the time it reached the tail and that the boxes would be given a greater chance of survival.

But in just case, it was just tremendous impact.

BLITZER: Based on all the information they have released publicly, Tom, so far, how important is the information on the flight data recorder?

TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think it's important, Wolf. But it's not critical like in many of the crashes that we investigate. I think in this situation, they have a very good idea of what happened and how that plane ended up being flown into the mountain, who did it.

And now it's just trying to determine why, if they can.

BLITZER: David Soucie, how dangerous is that crash site right now? How difficult will this recovery effort now under way for a few days be for those search crews?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Wolf, I'm very concerned. You look at this and I know in their exuberance the inspectors are out there. The investigators are out there. It's getting hot. They are working very hard. It's a real temptation to take off your protective gear.

But, remember, we're talking about a lot of -- I don't know how else to put it, but human remains and debris. There's disease and things like that that may be present as well. So a cut, which normally would just be healed, is a life-threatening thing in these sites. I have done a lot of these mountain climbing ones where you get cut even on the rocks and become susceptible to all of this other kind of debris.

It's incredibly dangerous. We need to really, really give these guys all the credit that's due for what they're going through right now, both emotionally and physically putting themselves in harm's way.

BLITZER: Yes, I'm glad you made that point. You're absolutely right.

Alastair, you were a commercial pilot for a long time. A letter was found from a medical doctor declaring Lubitz, the co-pilot, unfit to work. But it's up to the co-pilot himself to report that to the airline, isn't it?

ALASTAIR ROSENSCHEIN, AVIATION CONSULTANT: Well, not only report it, but take himself off the flight.

You know, from my experience flying, I have known pilots to go to work when they weren't 100 percent fit, sometimes because there was a financial penalty in not going to work. Those sort of things have to be removed. If a pilot is unwell, he shouldn't suffer a financial penalty by going sick, because, after all, we want to encourage them to take the time off work.

It's dangerous flying when you are not well. But in this case, it sounds very much like a deliberate act to go to work when you are unwell. The fact that there were a number of medical notes torn up is -- I believe that to be quite exceptional.

But, you know, we go back to what I said before. Any doctor knowing that they are treating a pilot, somebody in a safety critical industry, is also duty-bound to report this to the airline or at least the medical authorities. You know, it goes beyond patient confidentiality.

Let's get something straight here. The medical records of this pilot will be made known. It will be in the accident report sooner or later. So we will find out whether or not there was something special here. The point is, can we avoid this happening again? The straight answer is, no, we can't.

BLITZER: Stand by, Alastair. Everyone else, stand by.

We are going to take a quick break. Much more, new information coming in. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:18:54] BLITZER: We're back with our aviation experts and the

breaking news that a doctor declared the co-pilot of Flight 9525 unfit to work on the day of the crash. But authorities say he deliberately brought the plane down with all 150 people on board.

Peter Goelz, Reuters is reporting that Lufthansa has now offered immediate financial assistance to the families of the passengers who were killed, 50,000 euros, what, almost $100,000. You have worked with families in a situation like this. Do they take the money? If they take the money, do they forego any opportunity to file lawsuits to collect more money?

GOELZ: No. This is standard procedure now, particularly with the European carriers. The U.S. carriers are a little slower to follow this.

This money is -- there are no strings attached. It's meant to help to resolve any financial difficulties they may have if the head of household is gone. It's free and clear of any future liability settlements that may come. It's simply an act on the part of the airlines to make amends.

BLITZER: That's a good

[18:20:00] Tom, the German police, they left his apartment, Lubitz's apartment, co-pilot, in Dusseldorf with what are described as boxes of papers and evidence.

If you had been involved in this investigation, what would you have been looking for?

FUENTES: Well, you would want to take his computers for further analysis, any phone records, any documentation of his medical visits, prescription medicine, prescriptions in paper form, whether they're torn up or not.

You would want to try to get a history of his mental condition and his physical condition, for that matter, and any other records that relate to his personal relationships. Is there something here that happened with a girlfriend, boyfriend, parent, neighbor, co- worker, supervisor at work, any number of things? You want to know as much as possible about his...

BLITZER: No evidence of terrorism or any link to anything along those lines, anything along those lines. But they would be looking to make sure.


BLITZER: All right.

David Soucie, as you know, the airlines are now scrambling to tighten the cockpit rules, requiring two crew members to be in the cockpit at all times. In this post-9/11 era, why wasn't that already put in place before?

SOUCIE: Well, I listened to what EASA had to say about that.

And the chief of EASA had said the reason it wasn't put in before, and the reason that the United States has it installed is because the purpose of the flight attendant, in his estimation, not in mine, but the purpose of the flight attendant being up there and that second person is that originally they didn't have cameras in these aircraft when they put that door in.

The purpose of them was to verify the identity of someone outside the door through the peephole, so that the pilot remaining didn't have to get up and take a look outside the door. While this is true, they didn't have cameras at the first, the second thing about that is that they eventually did install cameras, yet they retained that procedure of keeping the second person in the cockpit.

His argument is that when they implemented it in Europe, the carriers that had cameras didn't feel the need to add that second person in the cockpit before. But now, clearly, they needed to.

BLITZER: Alastair, how secure are those cockpit doors? Because can you break through them? Let's say you have an axe in the main cabin. Can you get inside the cockpit?

ROSENSCHEIN: Look, with determined effort and with enough time, probably yes.

One doesn't like to comment too much on security issues. But, you know, if a pilot on the flight deck is determined to do what this pilot did, then there's no way you would get that door open in time to prevent an accident. As I said just before the adverts you had there, can we stop this happening again? And the answer is, no, we can't.

But we can reduce the risk, with proper medical checking and by having another person on the flight deck. But a determined pilot who wants to do -- who wants to crash the aircraft can always do that. Their job is to spend their whole time trying to avoid crashing the aircraft. If they want to do the opposite, it's a really straightforward thing to do.

But, no, that cockpit door cannot be opened that quickly.

BLITZER: It certainly is reinforced steel, whatever it is. I don't think an axe is going to do much for that.

David Soucie, there are some people who now say, as a result of what we know happened in this particular crash, maybe the investigators of the MH370 should take another look at the pilot or co-pilot in that mysterious disappearance. There's no black boxes that were found, no pieces of wreckage that were discovered.

What do you make of that argument?

SOUCIE: I think it's a very good argument, because our team at CNN here, we have been working throughout the last year on an algorithm that I have used in accident investigations before. And what that does is, it puts probabilities and likelihoods of

each of these facts, the fact -- an assumption perhaps that someone did get into the cockpit may have rated much lower before. Now it may rate higher because of the fact that there might have been something that we overlooked when we did the analysis originally.

I would suspect that after this -- and we will go back and look at that algorithm again -- that that probability will rise to the top or at least rise up from where it is now.

BLITZER: What do you think, Peter?

GOELZ: I think they ought to go back and look at it.

You cannot have a missing 777 and not -- and give up the search. You have to go back with a fresh set of eyes and look at every piece of evidence. And you have got to focus on the crew.

BLITZER: All right, I want all of you to stand by. We have got a lot more coming up.

Just head, we will explore one potential way to prevent pilots from crashing commercial jets. Would it help if the planes were remotely controlled like drones? We are looking at the possibility and the dangers. The technology is clearly there right now.

And we have more new information surfacing about Andreas Lubitz, the co-pilot, and his mental health. We are going to talk about that and the rules about when pilots should be declared unfit to fly.


[18:29:38] BLITZER: We're back with breaking news, the co-pilot of Flight 9525 declared unfit to work by a doctor on the day officials say he deliberately crashed the plane.

A German prosecutor now says Andreas Lubitz hid -- hid his illness from the airline, but he didn't explain what that illness was.

Tonight, there are new reports here in the United States and in Germany that Lubitz had suffered from depression. But a university clinic in Dusseldorf, Germany, visited by Lubitz denies it, it treated him for that condition.

Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, is joining us now live from Dusseldorf with more.

What are you learning, Pamela?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: I can tell you, investigators digging into his background. They've been in and out of his apartment right behind me here in Dusseldorf, Germany, tonight. They walked out with a big box of evidence. A lot of documents in that box. They continue to investigate.

We know so far what they have and haven't found in his apartment. Authorities say they haven't found a suicide note or anything showing that he did anything for religious or political reasons.

But they did find something, authorities say, it has been a crucial clue, torn up medical notes in his trash bin. Notes from a doctor excusing him from work, even on the day that authorities say he crashed that plane, Flight 9525, into the French Alps.

Now, tonight, Germanwings says it never received a sick note from Lubitz for the day of the flight. Authorities are not saying publicly whether Lubitz's illness was physical or related to mental health issues.

But we do know, according to "The Wall Street Journal" and "The New York Times" reporting, that Lubitz was being treated for depression and was excused from work by a neuropsychologist for a period of time, including the day of the crash. CNN has not been able to confirm that.

In fact, we visited, Wolf, a university clinic here in Dusseldorf where he apparently visited, Lubitz visited back in February and as recently as March 10, according to a statement from his clinic. And the clinic makes it clear that he was not treated for depression there. So this illness remains a bit of a mystery. And we're still trying to learn what it's all about.

We know in 2008 he took some time off from training. He was at a facility in Phoenix, Arizona. Right now Lufthansa is not saying anything about why that is. It only is saying that he was 100 percent fit to fly, and it had no reason to believe otherwise -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Pamela. I'm sure we'll be learning a lot more in the coming hours and days. Thank you.

The deliberate crash of Flight 9525 is sparking renewed interest in an idea that could -- potentially could prevent similar catastrophes. Planes that are piloted from the ground. CNN's Tom Foreman is looking into this part of the story for us.

Tom, this is pretty amazing technology.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really is. Boeing has a patent. Google has conducted a test flight. Big tech names all over the world are looking at this idea of flying planes from the ground, because they believe that can prevent terrorism; it can prevent criminal acts; and maybe it could have stopped what happened in the Alps.


FOREMAN (voice-over): Watch closely. This plane over England has a crew at the controls, passengers in the back, but something extraordinary is about to happen. A pilot on the ground is taking over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ready to take control.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have control.

FOREMAN: This is the $94 million Astraea project by the British aerospace company BAE, one of several efforts around the world to develop planes that can be flown remotely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What you can hear at the moment is the discussion with air traffic that's exactly the same as the pilots would be having if they were in charge of the steering of the aircraft.

FOREMAN: Military success with drones has driven much of the interest. Some efforts are focused on airplanes in hazardous conditions such as hurricane research and fighting wildfires. Analysts say pilotless planes could be a $400 billion a year global business. So why not passenger flights?

First, the airline industry has a remarkable safety record, despite high-profile disasters. Many believe onboard pilots remain the most reliable way to handle problems, and retrofitting planes would cost billions of dollars.

And second, passengers may not be ready. Robert Goyer is with "Flying" magazine.

ROBERT GOYER, EDITOR IN CHIEF, "FLYING" MAGAZINE: I start by asking myself that question, how would I feel getting onto an airliner that didn't have airline pilots up front? And I wouldn't do it.


FOREMAN: There are still questions about reliability in the system. What happens if one of the planes gets loose from this electronic tether? And, just as importantly, what if terrorists take over a ground station? In that fashion, they take control of the plane.

Well, one possible solution to all of that would be to have numerous ground stations that all have to work in tandem with the flight. And even then, what if a hacker interrupts the data stream and somehow gets control of that plane? All of those questions have to be answered. Even though some of those planes are now landing and taking off basically on robotics, this idea of controlling planes from the ground may be a secret to security in the future. But it's one that many industry analysts think is not ready yet.

[18:35:04] BLITZER: Potentially could be a failsafe if a pilot or both pilots, for example, have heart attacks or die or lose cabin pressure. Maybe they could bring that plane to a safe landing just remotely. That technology clearly exists.

Tom Foreman, thanks very much.

Let's talk a little bit more about Flight 9525, the crash and the illness that the co-pilot apparently hid from the airline.

Joining us now Lisa Van Susteren -- she's a forensic psychiatrist; Reichen Lehmkuhl, a pilot and former Air Force captain; Alastair Rosenschein, an Aviation consultant and former airline pilot; and CNN aviation analyst Miles O'Brien, as well.

When you hear this notion that this doctor told this co-pilot, "You are unfit to work," what is the responsibility of the doctor in this particular case to the flying public out there -- presumably, he knew this guy was a pilot -- and to the airline?

LISA VAN SUSTEREN, FORENSIC PSYCHIATRIST: Well, the fact is that there are a lot of communication issues going on here that led to what happened.

We don't know what that illness is. We don't know if he was excused, if he was declared unfit, what exactly it was the doctor saw. But clearly, there is a ball that was dropped. The fact that someone shouldn't be flying on a particular day should be communicated to the airline, and that didn't happen.

BLITZER: And you're a forensic psychiatrist. If you have a patient who's a pilot; and all of a sudden you determine something is horribly wrong. And that guy the next day is supposed to go fly a Boeing or whatever, what do you do?

VAN SUSTEREN: Absolutely, you are compelled -- there are many precedents, legal precedents. One is a famous decision where if you believe someone is in danger of hurting someone else, you are compelled ethically...

BLITZER: Even though the confidentiality?

VAN SUSTEREN: You can break confidentiality when you know that someone else is in danger.

BLITZER: All right. Reichen, let's talk legally speaking right now. Does a psychiatrist, from your perspective, have any room to break that patient confidentiality and report someone who may be a danger to the public?

REICHEN LEHMKUHL, PILOT: Hi, Wolf. Yes, luckily in the U.S., we have doctor/patient privilege or confidentiality. And when that patient who's being treated is purported to maybe be a risk of bodily injury or death to someone else, the doctor here has a duty to report it.

Now in Germany under the law, that's not the case. In Germany, the doctor has discretion to report it. And they can break that confidentiality. But it's up to their discretion, and they have no duty. That can be a problem, but the doctor has to determine, "This is a situation where it's drastic enough where have I to report it." And apparently, in this situation, I guess the doctor didn't feel that it was drastic enough.

BLITZER: I guess so. Alastair, Reuters is reporting and quoting a German newspaper, "Bild," citing internal documents forwarded by Lufthansa's Aero (ph) medical center to German authorities; that Lubitz had suffered what was described as a serious depressive episode around the time he was suspended as -- in his pilot training back in 2009. And it said he subsequently spent over a year in psychiatric treatment. Is that enough to prevent him from becoming a pilot, Alastair?

ALASTAIR ROSENSCHEIN, AVIATION CONSULTANT: Well, obviously not. Clearly not. You know, one has to be compassionate here. People do suffer mental illnesses from time to time. This is a safety critical industry. One has to consider that as more important than in other industries.

You know, this is not unusual. In my experience, I've known pilots to be grounded for depression and then to recover and to go back to work. But of course, it does put you in a high risk group and would require additional monitoring.

BLITZER: It certainly would.

Miles, let me get your thoughts on the psychological pressures all of these pilots are under, especially, we're told, the pilots who fly for these low-cost carriers. They fly so many segments. Talk a little bit about that.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: It's a really tough job, Wolf. And the starting pay is abysmally low in the United States. It's a little better in Europe. But you have pilots who are, you know, really an adversarial environment with the airline management. This has been going on for years, since deregulation in the late '70s and early '80s.

And pilots have been constantly forced to give back economically, have had to change work rules that have made it harder to get good crew rest. They're kind of under siege. And so in that environment, it should come as no surprise to us that they're kind of at wit's end, at a breaking point.

But they're also very reluctant to come forward with problems to a management that has had sort of an aggressive stance toward them. I think the airlines need to stop and look at their most important asset. It's not the airplanes. It's the people in the two front seats that are at the controls. And they should treat them as the asset they are.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right, Miles.

All right, guys, thanks very much.

For more information, by the way, on this crash and ways that you can help those affected by air disasters everywhere, you can visit and you'll be able to impact your world.

Coming up, another story we're following. We're getting a new statement from Amanda Knox on the overturning of the murder verdict against her in Italy. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:45:33] BLITZER: Breaking news from Rome. Italy's Supreme Court just overturned the murder conviction of American Amanda Knox.

In a statement just in to THE SITUATION ROOM, Amanda Knox writes this, "I am tremendously relieved and grateful for the decision of the Supreme Court of Italy. The knowledge of my innocence has given me strength in the darkest times of this ordeal and throughout this ordeal. I have received invaluable support from family, friends and strangers." She concludes by saying, "To them, I say thank you from the bottom of my heart."

That statement from Amanda Knox.

Let's bring in our CNN contributor Barbie Nadeau. She's the Rome bureau chief for "The Daily Beast". She's joining us right now from Rome.

Tell us how this went down.

BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it was a day of heavy anticipation as five judges deliberated for hours and hours, about five hours more than we expected them to come down with a verdict that really no one expected in the sense that we understood they would either uphold the conviction or they could send it back for a retrial.

For the court to completely throw out the conviction, the high court is not how it's generally done. It wasn't sort of in the list of options that we thought was going. But I guess what it does more than anything is underscore the complexity of this case and really just how the case went from acquittal to conviction back to acquittal to conviction. This high court just thought, I guess, fine, enough is enough, let's stop the case where it is. There's just simply too much reasonable doubt to try to get -- to try to uphold any sort of conviction on this case.

We did speak to Amanda Knox's lawyer just shortly after the verdict, after he had talked to Amanda. Let's listen to what he said.


CARLO DELLA VEDOVA, ATTORNEY FOR AMANDA KNOX: For Amanda, this has been a nightmare for her. So, we finally got the right decision. We always thought this was the only decision possible, the acquittal from day one. So, we knew that it was coming.

NADEAU: And what is Amanda Knox going to do now that she's a free woman? Do you think she'll come to Italy where she'll travel?

VEDOVA: She loves Italy. She always says she wants to come back. She never had any revenge about what happened. She has been through a nightmare. So, I think right now she has to stay with the family and try to recover.

(END VIDEO CLIP) NADEAU: So, she's obviously clearly relieved. We spoke to also

the lawyers for Raffaele Sollecito who is in tears of joy over the fact that he is a free man, too. Of course, he would have gone to jail immediately, maybe even tonight had the conviction been upheld, Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbie, stand by. I want to bring in our senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

There was a possibility, had the Supreme Court gone the other way, that the U.S. would have been forced to extradite her back to Italy.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: That's true. I mean, there is an extradition treaty between Italy and the United States. It does cover homicide.

Now, Amanda Knox and her lawyers would have had options in fighting extradition. They might have won. But it would have meant many months, perhaps years, of fighting over that issue. There was no guarantee that she would have won. She might have been shipped back.

But now, all that is moot. She's free forever.

BLITZER: So, it's totally over for her. She can move on. The notion of her going back to even visit Italy from my perspective, I wouldn't exactly be running -- she spent four years in prison there after she was arrested and charged with murdering her former roommate.

TOOBIN: There is an outstanding fine potentially against her. You know, I think there are lots of interesting countries in the world to visit. I think she should pick some other country besides Italy to go.

BLITZER: Yes, I don't think she's going to be rushing back to Italy. I'm sure she had good members before all of this went down.

Barbie, so it's over right now. She can -- everyone can move on. The case is over with. I know that the family of the young woman, her roommate who was killed, they still believe she was guilty, right?

NADEAU: That's absolutely right. Her lawyer said after the course they were shocked by the decision. And the family of Meredith Kercher has been stoic in their grief. They haven't really been out in the media. They haven't given interviews. Very, very few.

They've always believed in their lawyer. They have always -- their lawyer has always been of the mind that Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, along with Rudy Guede, who's already spending eight years in 16-year of prison sentence for this murder, was three involved in the murder of their daughter and their sister.

So, they've got a lot to process tonight. They've got a lot to process in the coming days. But even for them, this truly must be just a sense of closure -- at least now, they can move on. [18:50:05] They have been really in and out of a roller coaster

of the court cases that have gone eight -- their lawyer said yesterday or the day before, it was like, eight times he's been in court for the family of Meredith Kercher. At least at the very least, they may not be having the verdict. But they won't have to come back to court again on this case, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it's over with. Barbie Nadeau, thanks very much.

Jeffrey Toobin, thanks to you as well.

Just ahead, the newest information on the co-pilot of Flight 9525. It is mental health.

Also, the Senate's top Democrat reveals he's calling it quits. Will his handpicked successor rally the party or face a fight?


BLITZER: We have news on two important political stories, including a major breaking story right now.

The House Select Committee on Benghazi incident has just revealed that the secretary of state, former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, permanently deleted all the emails from her personal server, wiped that server completely clean.

CNN's Chris Frates of our investigations unit is joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

So, tell us precisely what is new right now. What happened?

CHRIS FRATES, CNN INVESTIGATIONS UNIT: So, what is new, Wolf, is that as you said, they wiped the server completely clean. This is the server that Hillary Clinton used as secretary of state. It was a personal server but she did government business.

Now, the committee investigating Benghazi has asked Hillary Clinton to turn over those emails. They want somebody to look at that server and make sure that she's turned over all the e-mails that have to do with Benghazi. And she has told them just now that she has erased that server.

BLITZER: So, basically, she had earlier said she had about 62,000 e-mails. Half of which she handed over to the State Department. She said those were business or government-related. The other 30,000 or 32,000, she kept. She said they were personal involving her daughter's, you know, wedding or whatever, stuff like that.

[18:55:04] But now, you're learning that all of those 32,000 other e-mails, they are completely gone. They can't be restored whatsoever.

FRATES: Exactly. And that has the Republicans in Congress quite upset. They feel like there should be an independent arbiter, somebody to look at that server and go through it and make sure she did, in fact, turn over all the official emails that were there. And now, the big question is, if they don't exist, how will they move forward?

BLITZER: When was it completely wiped clean, so there's no possibility of retrieving those emails? Do we know?

FRATES: Wolf, the chairman of the committee, Trey Gowdy, says we don't know exactly. But it happened sometimes after she turned those e-mails over to the State Department. And that has Republicans asking questions, why after two years did she then decide to wipe the server clean after she had left the State Department? Now, there's no way to go back and check. Did she turn over the officials e-mails that she should have?

BLITZER: Did she print out copies, though? Did she have boxes of some of the copies of what had been on those emails?

FRATES: Well, she certainly turned over printed out copies to the State Department.

BLITZER: I know what she had there. What about other stuff?

FRATES: It's unclear if she has any paper documents at this point. But she's not going to turn over her server.

BLITZER: They could subpoena those if she's got boxes full of documents. They could go for that.

All right. Stand by, because --

FRATES: But important to note, Wolf, that she did not turn over any new documents either. And that was requested.

BLITZER: Good point. All right. Standby.

There's another story that's unfolding. A major power shift in the U.S. Senate. The minority leader, Harry Reid, he announced today he's retiring. He's already endorsed the successor to be the Senate's top Democrat.

Our chief congressional Dana Bash has been working this story.

Pretty dramatic announcement.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is. You know, I'm told that he actually made this decision nearly three months ago, Christmastime. He told the staff he wanted to sit on it for a few months, make sure it was the right thing to do. And then when he suffered a bad eye injury in an exercise accident, it cemented his decision that it was time to go.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: The decision that I've made -- BASH (voice-over): Harry Reid made his surprise announcement via

Twitter with this highly produced video.

REID: I'm not going to run for reelection.

BASH: A source close to Reid tells CNN, the 75-year-old who would be 83 at the end of his next term privately told friends he didn't want to be one of those senators who stays too long, which really hit home after being injured in an exercise accident.

REID: This accident is caused us, for the first time, to have a little down time.

BASH: Still, for a former boxer, the decision to leave the political ring wasn't easy, even if he's not quite done fight.

REID: My friend, Senator McConnell, don't be too elated. I'm going to be here for 22 months.

BASH: For 10 years, Reid has been the Senate Democratic leader in the minority and in majority.

Part of Reid's legacy, privately encouraging a young first term member of his caucus, Barack Obama, to run for president.

REID: We'll all be damned.

BASH: Today, Obama surprised Reid by calling into his NPR interview.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's been one of my best partners and best friends. Harry is unique. He's got that curmudgeonly charm that -- you know, it's hard to replace.

BASH: Some of that charm is his candor, which gets him in trouble, like calling George W. Bush a loser and a liar or this.

REID: Obamacare has been the law for four years. Why don't they get a life and talk about something else?

BASH: That scrappy style helped Reid overcome an impoverished childhood.

Several years ago, he brought us home to Searchlight, Nevada, where he grew up with no running water. In the Senate, he rose through the ranks as a masterful tactician, forging close relationships behind the scenes.

REID: We only laugh at things that are funny.

BASH: Like with New York's Chuck Schumer who Reid quickly endorsed in the race for his successor, by passing his own second in command, Dick Durbin.

(on camera): Senator Durbin did, you know, out you a little bit. He said this is the most you ever made your bed. SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Just for you.

BASH: Well, thank you. Thank you.

(voice-over): Schumer's roommate for decades in the notorious Alpha House.


BASH: And at this point, it looks almost certain that Chuck Schumer will eventually be the next Democratic leader, Wolf. He has been making calls all day and feels and other Democratic sources that he's got it pretty much locked up.

BLITZER: Yes, Harry Reid, almost two years he remains on the job.

BASH: That's right.

BLITZER: He's not going to seek re-election.

Dana, thanks very much.

Important note to our viewers, Dana will be back Sunday morning hosting "STATE OF THE UNION", 9:00 a.m. Eastern and Noon Eastern. Among her guests, the speaker of the House, John Boehner. This is a CNN exclusive.

Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. Go ahead, tweet me @wolfblitzer. Tweet the show @CNNsitroom. Please be sure to join us again Monday, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can certainly watch us live or DVR the show so you won't miss a moment.

Thanks very much for watching. Have a great weekend. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.