Reaction to the Ron Brown Tragedy
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KWAME HOLMAN: With clearing skies over Croatia today came the first daylight view of the hillside crash site near Dubrovnik Airport. Croatian and U.S. soldiers from the Bosnian peace implementation force brought out bodies one by one. Discovery of two previously uncounted passengers, nationals of the former Yugoslavia, brought the confirmed number of dead to 35. The Air Force, which operated the military-outfitted Boeing 737, will be joined in investigating the crash by a team from the National Transportation Safety Board. The United States Ambassador to Croatia, Peter Galbraith, was at the scene today. He confirmed reports of wind, hard rain, and fog at the time of yesterday afternoon’s crash.
PETER GALBRAITH, U.S. Ambassador, Croatia: The weather yesterday, as the plane flew in, was terrible. In fact, people in Dubrovnik say that this is the worst storm in a decade. I can say secondly that the plane was not where it should have been, and it seems to have flown not along the coast but along a valley one ridge over.
KWAME HOLMAN: Back in Washington, Pentagon officials shared what they know about the crash thus far.
LT. GEN. HOWELL ESTES, Joint Chiefs of Staff: I know there’s a lot of questions. You heard questions asked of the people there about the black box issue. I think it’s safe to say that we have done everything humanly possible on the military side to ascertain whether this aircraft had flight data recorders or voice recorders on board, and the answer we get back continuously from people who are responsible for this aircraft is that it was not equipped with either. The information we have is this aircraft was not equipped with what you would consider black boxes, the voice data recorder or the data recorder, itself. The reason is that the aircraft was procured as a training aircraft originally, and so when it came, it was not equipped with that from the factory, as normal aircraft of this kind that are used for commercial uses would come with those kinds of, those kinds of recorders.
REPORTER: What did the Air Traffic Controllers say when they realized that the plane was off course?
LT. GEN. HOWELL ESTES: Uh, I have no information. Again, this is something, this is something that the accident board will, will get copies of as to exactly what the conversation was that transpired between the tower and the aircraft. That’s not been made available to me. Obviously, those things are, are what we would use the term “impounded” because they are protected so that nobody can tamper with them or lose them or whatever so that they could be made available to an accident investigation and, and I, in my position, have not sought out that information. That’s for the accident investigation to pursue, not for me.
KWAME HOLMAN: General Estes acknowledged the airport lacked a sophisticated instrument landing system because it had been destroyed by Serb shelling. The Secretary’s plane relied, instead, on a non-directional beacon or NDB system to land.
LT. GEN. HOWELL ESTES: In terms of the technology of the beacon, the NDB approach, uh, it is a kind of an approach that’s been around for a while. There’s no question about that, but it’s still a very valid approach. We have a very definite procedure we follow. It’s a safe approach. Many aircraft have landed at the airport there at Dubrovnik with no difficulties, and, in fact, as you know, some landed that morning and early afternoon prior to Secretary Brown’s aircraft’s scheduled arrival. So, umm, we have no reason. If we thought it wasn’t a safe approach, we wouldn’t allow our aircraft to use it.
REPORTER: Suggesting that the pilot, was he using some visual reckoning and identified the wrong ridge, went one ridge over, went in the wrong valley, is that–is that a theory that seems plausible to you so far?
LT. GEN. HOWELL ESTES: It doesn’t seem plausible to me as a pilot. I mean, when you’re flying an instrument approach, you fly an instrument approach until you have complete contact with the runway or it’s safe to land. Then you transition from your instruments to a visual approach. You don’t come off your instruments until you have visual sighting of the runway. So I find it hard to believe that if they were flying the approach, were on course, that they would have been doing, trying to fly around visually. It’s just not something an experienced pilot would do.
KWAME HOLMAN: With the bodies recovered, the final list of the dead was released today. They include Secretary Brown, along with 11 other Commerce Department employees, many of them young staff members who came to Washington after working in the Clinton Presidential campaign.
[ON SCREEN: FLIGHT MANIFEST: RON BROWN; KATHRYN HOFFMAN; DUANE CHRISTIAN; CAROL HAMILTON; BILL MORTON; CHUCK MEISSNER; GAIL DOBERT; LAWRENCE PAYNE; ADAM DARLING; STEVE KAMINSKI; NAOMI WARBASSE; KATHY KELLOGG; JIM LEWEK, Central Intelligence Agency; LEE JACKSON, Treasury Department; DRAGICA LENDIC BEBEK, Interpreter; NIKSA ANTONINI, Photographer; NATHANIEL NASH, New York Times; CAPT. ASHLEY DAVIS; CAPT. TIM SCHAFER; STAFF SGT. GERALD ALDRICH; STAFF SGT. ROBERT FARRINGTON, JR.; TECH SGT. CHERYL TURNAGE; TECH SGT. SHELLY KELLY]
KWAME HOLMAN: An analyst from the Central Intelligence Agency; a Treasury Department official working on reconstruction in Bosnia; two nationals from the former Yugoslavia, an interpreter and a photographer; and Nathaniel Nash, the Frankfurt Bureau Chief for the “New York Times”–the six members of the Air Force flight crew; and finally the delegation of twelve business leaders who were the focus of the trip to explore potential U.S. investment in the rebuilding of war-torn Bosnia. They were: Barry Conrad, Barrington Corporation; Paul Cushman, Riggs Bank; Robert Donovan, ABB, Incorporated; Leonard Pieroni, Parsons Corporation; John Scoville, Harza Engineering; Stuart Tholan, Bechtel; David Ford, Interguard; Frank Maier, Enserch; Walter Murphy, AT&T; Robert Whittaker, Foster Wheeler Energy; Donald Terner, Bridge Housing Corporation; and Claudio Elia, Air and Water Technologies.
[ON SCREEN: FLIGHT MANIFEST: CONRAD; CUSHMAN; DONOVAN; PIERONI; SCOVILLE; THOLAN; FORD; MAIER; MURPHY; WHITTAKER; TERNER; ELIA]
KWAME HOLMAN: A bright warm day in the nation’s capital contrasted sharply with the somber mood of official Washington today. Flags flew at half mast throughout the city, including at the majestic Hoover Building, home of the Commerce Department. Shortly before noon, the President and First Lady motored the short distance from the White House to St. John’s Church for a private memorial service to the 35 who perished on the hillside in Croatia. Afterward, the President consoled mourners. Then the President spoke briefly.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: We just had a very moving memorial service not only to grieve but to celebrate the life of Secretary Brown and the other employees of the national government, our military people, and the business leaders who were on that mission. We thanked God for their lives, we prayed for their families, and we came together in our grief and rededication. And, uh, we pointed out that it was 28 years ago on this day that Martin Luther King was killed in Memphis, working for what he believed in. Today I spoke with the parents of one of the young women who died, who worked for the Department of Commerce, who said they had spent their careers as schoolteachers, raising their daughter to believe that she could make a difference and that she ought to try, and they were very proud that she died doing what she believed in, trying to aid the peace in Bosnia. And so that is how we are trying to think about this very difficult thing on this beautiful spring in Easter Week. Thank you very much.