TRAGEDY ON GUAM
AUGUST 6, 1997
A Korean passenger airliner crashes on the island of Guam, killing all but 30 of its 254 passengers on impact. After a background report on the crash and efforts to rescue survivors, Charles Krause talks with Guam Governor Carl Gutierrez who rescued victims himself at the crash scene.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now, an update on the crash of Korean Air Flight 801. First James Mates of Independent Television News.
JAMES MATES: Eight hours after the Korean Air 747 plowed into this hillside the wreckage was still burning fiercely. The impact had broken the fuselage into six pieces. The tail, with its distinctive Korean Air logo, was the only part still recognizable as an aircraft. There had been several explosions. It seemed inconceivable that anyone could have survived. Yet, 30 did. Some were even able to walk away.
REAR ADMIRAL MARTIN JANCZAK, U.S. Navy: Some of the passengers were thrown clear. And we actually found passengers in this saw grass that's down here.
JAMES MATES: One of the first on the scene was the governor of Guam. He pulled a 13-year-old Japanese girl from the wreckage. She wouldn't let go of his hand.
GOV. CARL GUTIERREZ, Guam: And the one little girl that I found, she wanted me to go ahead and get her mom, who she saw burning. And I just couldn't get there because the flames were too much for anybody to get in there and try to grope through in the dark.
JAMES MATES: All 30 survivors are in hospital. They have told how there was no indication of trouble before the crash, but in the moments that followed there was chaos.
CRASH SURVIVOR: The fire and then the people--some of the people falling out--help me, help--sound--the fire--
JAMES MATES: But while attention was on those who lived, the vast majority of the 254 people on board hadn't made it. Relatives of the dead had rushed to the crash site, some to pray, some to weep. There were similar scenes at Seoul Airport, where grief was mixed with anger at the lack of information about just who had survived and who hadn't. The one thing they'd been told for certain was that no one else will be found alive.
REAR ADMIRAL MARTIN JANCZAK: It's unlikely we will find any additional survivors of the crash, and we have our forensic team and our crash recovery people that are going in to do the actual forensics to try to determine why this happened.
JAMES MATES: Now it is a question of locating the remaining bodies and getting that investigation underway.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Charles Krause spoke to Guam Governor Carl Gutierrez by phone late this afternoon.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Governor, thank you very much for joining us. Tell me--there have been conflicting reports about the number of survivors. What is the latest figure?
GOV. CARL GUTIERREZ, Guam: Well, we as of yesterday, we had 30 survivors, and this morning, we have a little bit of a conflicting figure, whether it went down one, two, or three less, and so we're trying to verify that right now, whether there are twenty-seven, twenty-eight, or twenty-nine left.
CHARLES KRAUSE: What is--why would there be conflicting figures? Is it because of the hospital, or what?
GOV. CARL GUTIERREZ: It's because we have them in two hospitals, and everybody's frantically doing their thing and you know in the operating room and all that, and we just haven't been able to ascertain, you know, some of the reports come out--we don't whether it's official or not, but we'll get them locked in by an hour from now.
CHARLES KRAUSE: The little girl that you pulled from the wreckage, how did you get there so quickly?
GOV. CARL GUTIERREZ: Well, you know, I only live about six minutes drive from the crash site, and when I got there, I figured that there were people there already. When I started driving in on the access road, the people were actually trying to remove the pipes that were ripped up, a fuel line, by the crash, and then I got my security and a police officer, and we ran down there about a quarter of a mile to try to get there as soon as possible, and we heard the screams, and we just went down to where the screams were so we could get to the people and let them know that help was coming.
CHARLES KRAUSE: How many people do you think were trapped alive in the crash, in the wreckage?
GOV. CARL GUTIERREZ: Trapped alive? We found a lot in the wreckage that were not burned but for the most part the center fuselage was where the bodies are charred now--so maybe over a hundred and fifty, sixty people got caught in there.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Now, how were some of the passengers able to survive? Where were they?
GOV. CARL GUTIERREZ: Well, most of them I found were thrown out of the wreckage, and some actually were thrown out and were severely burned on the way out, and as a matter of fact, that's how the little girl got out. Her mom told her to get out and save herself, and she got out, and I found her getting away from the plane, and put her up in--out of harm's way with a flight attendant, and stayed with her, so we were trying to put people into one clearing so that when the medics came it would be a lot easier to administer first aid. CHARLES KRAUSE: So you seem to be saying that there were at least a couple of minutes there after the plane crash where people could escape in a sense?
GOV. CARL GUTIERREZ: Yes, that's correct, but they probably were mangled up in the seats and just could not free themselves, just like the mother and the daughter that were--as I saw it--it was the top part of the first class cabin of the 747 that got ripped off the top and thrown about 25 yards away and were trapped under the seats and managed to--it took us about five hours to six hours to get them out.
CHARLES KRAUSE: What are the survivors saying about the last couple of minutes before the plane crash? What happened?
GOV. CARL GUTIERREZ: The gentleman--a citizen of New Zealand named Barry Fahl--I also had him in close proximity to the little girl and was communicating with him in, of course, English and the others could not, and he said that he's a helicopter pilot and a mechanic, by the way, and worked on Guam and he said that when he--when the plane was coming in for a landing, he felt the landing gear come down, and thought it was--everything was normal--there was nothing happening, and it gathered no emergency alert, and when it banged down, his only description was that they landed three miles short of the runway.
CHARLES KRAUSE: So the reports that there was an explosion before the plane hit the ground, from what you've been told, that doesn't seem to be the case?
GOV. CARL GUTIERREZ: Well, one passenger certainly didn't know that, and he's pretty much adept at aviation matters. He would have known--and he was very lucid.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Do you have any idea yet what might have caused the crash?
GOV. CARL GUTIERREZ: I have no idea, and I don't want to speculate. The black boxes are now in Washington, D.C., and in about an hour and a half, the NTS--the National Transportation Safety Board will be on Guam to make those determinations.
CHARLES KRAUSE: I understand what you're saying, but there have been reports that the landing system at the airport had been out of service for over a month.
GOV. CARL GUTIERREZ: Well, you know, you're talking about the--that was taken off July 8th by FAA, and will be put back on line on September 11th, but every airline, of course, has to--are alerted--they file their flight plan before they take that into consideration, and hundreds of planes have been landing since July 8th without any incident, and as a matter of fact, two Korean airline flights landed last night under the same conditions, so it's really--I wouldn't bet that it was a contributing factor.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Were there other jets that had landed before or immediately before the Korean Airlines plane that actually--
GOV. CARL GUTIERREZ: Absolutely. That was our busiest time of all the hub service of Guam coming in at 1:15 and 3:15 in the morning, and as a matter of fact, we were at the crash scene, and several of them flew overhead to go in and land.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Well, Governor, we're going to have to leave it there, but I want to thank you very, very much for joining us. Thank you.
GOV. CARL GUTIERREZ: Thank you very much.
|Support the kind of journalism done by the NewsHour...Become a member of your local PBS station.|