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Transcript : DoD News Briefing : Lt. Gen. Howell Estes,Director of Operations for the Joint Staff

Presenters: Lt. Gen. Howell Estes, Director of Operations for the Joint Staff
April 04, 1996 9:35 AM EDT

Thursday, April 4, 1996 - 9:35 a.m.

General Estes: Well, good morning, ladies and gentlemen. You've just seenthe U.S. ambassador to Croatia and the Croatian prime minister with a pressconference from the site. And what I will try to do is give some amplifyingremarks, if I can, on the facts that we know from the search and rescuestandpoint. The ambassador and the prime minister obviously covered a lot ofthe detail there, but I think I might be able to add a few more comments fromthe military's perspective to be of some help.

Let me just again use a couple of slides which I think might be useful indescribing the overall incident again. Obviously, we have confirmed now wherethe crash site is. It is about three kilometers to the north-northwest on thetop of a hill, as you heard Ambassador Galbraith describing. The photo that Ishowed you yesterday again pretty accurately describes the location.

I think with a picture of a T-43 here, I know there's a lot of questions --you heard questions asked of the people there about the black box issue. Ithink it's safe to say that we have done everything humanly possible on themilitary side to ascertain whether this aircraft had flight data recorders orvoice recorders on board, and the answer we get back continuously from peoplewho are responsible for this aircraft is that it was not equipped with either.What the Croatian prime minister is describing as black boxes, I cannot tellyou, but information we have is this aircraft was not equipped with what youwould consider black boxes, the voice data recorder or the data recorderitself. The reason is that the aircraft was procured as a training aircraftoriginally, and so when it came it was not equipped with that from the factoryas normal aircraft of this kind that are used for commercial uses would comewith those kinds of recorders.

If we get any definite information that changes what I've just told you, we'llget back to you as quick as we can. And I know this is an issue which seems tobe a difference between what they're saying there and what I'm telling youstanding here, but I want to let you know what I'm being told, and we've doneeverything humanly possible on the military side to be sure our information isaccurate.

There are boxes on the aircraft, however, that could be instrumentation boxesthat literally are black. They're shaped in the form of a box. It'snavigation equipment and things of that kind that somebody might construe asbeing one of these type of black boxes. In fact, the black boxes that are onaircraft are actually orange cases, not black cases, and so that might be wherethe discrepancy is coming from. But we'll continue to pursue this, and if Ihave any additional information that I'm -- is made available to me, I'll besure to get it to you right away on that issue.

Okay. Next slide, please.

I've elected to use, again, a chart to describe where we are, where the searchand rescue and the forces involved -- in fact, we have U.S., Croatian, French,and German up there. We've had some help from the Spanish and the UnitedKingdom as well in assisting the Croatians and ourselves with the recoveryoperations.

I mentioned yesterday that Brigadier General Mike Canavan is the on-scenecommander. He spent most of the night last night and the early part of todayat the site. He has come down from the site now and is back down atDubrovnik's airport. He has been replaced by another senior individualon-scene as the on-scene commander. We have in the neighborhood 30 people atthe crash site carrying out recovery operations.

The manifest issue -- again, you heard this discussed with the ambassador andthe Croatian Prime Minister. There is a slight discrepancy. We have confirmedthat there are no survivors and recovery of remains is in progress.Thirty-three remains have been recovered. And so you look at the number of --saying 35 on the manifest versus 33 remains, there appears to be a discrepancy.We can only say that the search has been extensive. It has continued, as youknow. A number of checks of the area have been made, and we'll continue untilthis issue is resolved one way or the other.

Q: Was the crew member a lady?

A: The crew member that survived the crash, that died enroute -- I can confirmto you, was a member of the crew and it was a lady. She did die enroute to thehospital. They got her into an ambulance, got out of the crash site which is avery difficult process in and of itself, and did take her enroute to thehospital, but she died as you can see from the slide here enroute.

Q: Do you know if she was in the tail section?

A: I don't have any additional information on that.

The interim accident investigation board, the mishap board is on its way. Youheard the Croatian ambassador say it had just arrived. Again, he has betterinformation than I because he's there at the scene. We've been trying to getthe team in since very early this morning, European time. They've had a numberof weather problems at Dubrovnik, but it looks like the team is now on theground and will very quickly move up to the site to begin the investigation.And we've already talked to the last issue about the flight data recorders andvoice recorders.

I think with that, I'll go ahead and take your questions, and we'll go fromthere.

Q: Has Secretary Brown's body been recognized or otherwise positivelyidentified?

A: I think what I need to say about that is that the recovery operationcontinues and we know that there are no survivors, and the objective is now toget that done. The issue of positively identifying remains is not somethingthat's normally done on the scene. Those people are up there to do therecovery operations. And so once that process has been positively completed interms of identification, the information will be made available.

Q: General, what did the air traffic controllers say when they realized thatthe plane was off-course?

A: I have no information. Again, this is something that the -- this issomething that the accident board will get copies of as to exactly what theconversation was that transpired between the tower and the aircraft. That'snot been made available to me, obviously. Those things are what we would usethe term impounded because they are protected so that nobody could tamper withthem or lose them or whatever so that they could be made available to anaccident investigation. And I, in my position, have not sought out thatinformation. That's for the accident investigation to pursue, not for me.Yes, sir?

Q: Can you release the manifest now?

A: It's again, not my position to release the manifest. This is obviously avery sensitive issue. They want to ensure that the families, the loved ones ofthe people who were on board the aircraft have been notified. Once that iscomplete for the series of people -- obviously, Secretary Brown's family hasbeen notified, but all of the dignitaries that were traveling with him, themembers of the Commerce Department, the Croatian families involved, and theU.S. service members crews -- once we are sure that is complete, I feelcertain you'll see the transcript of the -- the list released.

Q: [Inaudible] -- from the State Department?

A: It will be a simultaneous release. I would think, with the U.S. servicemembers released here, the Croatians releasing the names of their lost members,and then the Commerce Department probably releasing the remainder of the namesat the State Department.

Q: I would like to ask you a little bit about the approach, I don't want youto tell me what caused the crash. I understand you can't do that. He wasflying an ADF approach or an NDB approach. NDBs my understanding can beeffected by weather, specifically lightening. Is that being considered as afactor in the investigation of what caused the crash?

A: Well, I think everything that you can come up with is going to beconsidered in trying to determine what caused this accident. That's thepurpose of the accident investigation team. I can guarantee you that they willbe extremely thorough in their analysis in trying to determine the causes ofthis accident.

Q: General, are you -- first of all, are you standing by your statementyesterday that there was no communication prior to the crash indicating anydifficulty whether it be off-course or any other problem? And secondly, onepress report today referred to this beacon issue, that this is old technology,40, 50-year-old technology and it's outdated. Can you speak to that?

A: Well, I think to answer your first question, yes, I stand by my statement.I have no conflicting information. You heard the Croatian ambassador

-- or the Croatian prime minister and our ambassador make virtually the samestatement. They've been at the crash site. They saw no evidence that therewas anything strange about it from the standpoint of the issues that you raise,and so, I have no conflicting information to what I told you yesterday.

In terms of the technology of the beacon, the NDB approach, it is a kind of anapproach that's been around for awhile, 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 atDubrovnik with no difficulties. And in fact, as you know, some landed thatmorning and early afternoon prior to Secretary Brown's aircraft scheduledarrival.

So, we have no reason -- if we thought it wasn't a safe approach, we wouldn'tallow our aircraft to use it. I guess that's the easiest answer. David?

Q: Some may think they had a radar track for this plane. I mean, did you havethis plane on your AWACS tapes? And if so, do we now know the exact route thatplane flew?

A: David, to answer your question specifically, I have not seen that. Isuspect that since we had AWACS flying, that there will be a tape availablethat they had, but I cannot guarantee you that. I don't know that for a fact.And I just -- because of all the other things going on and the concern for therecovery operation is where we've been focused. I haven't gotten into thatissue, nor will I. That will be something for the accident investigationboard. Mark?

Q: Is it true that the remains will go from Dubrovnik directly back to Doverand then will the military fly the remains from Dover to individual states forfamilies --

A: Mark, this is an issue -- I think, you know, there is some discussion andyou all have heard it, that the remains will go from Dubrovnik back to DoverAir Force Base in Delaware. I think that that is a decision that is yet to bemade. There are a lot of considerations that need to be taken into account,and once that decision is made we'll get the information to you.

One more.

Q: There were reports yesterday, General, suggesting that perhaps somenavigational equipment, some radar or whatever, had been removed from the areaof the airport by the Serbs during the war. Do you know if that's true ornot?

A: Yes. I don't have any confirming evidence that that's the case. We knowwe had a navigation aid at Dubrovnik airport which is a valid navigation aidfor which we have a published approach. And so, whether there was additionalthings there at a previous time I think is -- I can't confirm or deny for you,but it's almost irrelevant because they did have a valid navigation aid whichthey were obviously using to land.

Q: There's been some report suggesting that the pilot was using some visualreckoning and identified the wrong ridge, one ridge over, went in the wrongvalley. Is that a theory that seems plausible to you so far?

A: It doesn't seem plausible to me as a pilot. I mean, when you're flying aninstrument approach, you fly an instrument approach until you have completecontact with the runway and are safe to land. Then you transition from yourinstruments to a visual approach. You don't come off your instruments untilyou have visual siting of the runway. So, I find it hard to believe that ifthey 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 pilotwould do.

Thank you very much.