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'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for August 2

Read the transcript to the Tuesday show

Guest: Michael Goldfarb, Paul McCarthy, Winston Scott, Katrina Szish,

Stuart Matthews

ALISON STEWART, HOST:  And they could call it the miracle in Toronto.  An Air France flight from Paris ends in flames at the end of the runway, more than 300 people on board.  A fire engulfed the plane, but then the amazing news, everyone on board was able to evacuate.

Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

A plane in flames, jammed into a ravine after landing in severe weather.  The crisis from the view of the survivors, and the evacuation that saved everyone's life.

The shuttle “Discovery,” on the eve of the highly anticipated and potentially dangerous spacewalk mission.  We'll talk to an astronaut who has gone where few have gone before.

And not so good friends.  Jennifer, Brad's ex, sets the record straight as far as the truth about “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.”

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

And good evening to you.  I'm Alison Stewart.  Keith Olbermann is on vacation.

And it seems incredible, a packed passenger plane tries to land in severe weather.  It skids off the end of the runway, crashes into a ravine, and bursts into flames.  Yet not only do all 297 passengers and 12 crew on board survive, only 24 were injured, and those were minor wounds.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, a tragedy averted in Toronto.  In a moment, we'll go to the scene for the latest information and ask a former FAA chief of staff for his insight into the investigation.

First, a look at the events as they unfolded at Toronto's Pearson International Airport.

At 4:03 this afternoon, Air France flight 358, traveling from Paris came in to land and slid off the runway.  Still no word on why, but witnesses report a possible lightning strike, and there was a bad thunderstorm over the airport.

According to local radio, emergency services managed to reach the craft within a minute and started evacuating the plane, apparently before it burst into flames.

Within hours, officials came forward with the good news, no serious injuries, all 309 people accounted for.

An amazing end to what could have been a disaster, but still a terrifying situation for survivors.  Olivier Dubos and Roel Bramer, as they realized that their plane wasn't stopping on the runway, that it was crashing.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The pilot was telling us that because of storms, we could not land on time.  So then when we started to approach the airport, the plane was going pretty fast.  And just before touching ground, there was not—it was all black in the plane.  There was no more light, nothing.  And it was going really, really fast.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I sort of thought that we were coming in a little too fast.  But the landing appeared to be OK, until it sort of seemed that the captain wasn't able to apply sufficient breaking power or whatever you call it.  And then all of a sudden, everything went up in the air.  Well, passengers didn't go up in the air, because they were in their seatbelts.  But there was a real roller-coaster going on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And then there were a lot of flames.  The plane stopped, we opened the emergency doors, and basically, there were lots of flames around.  We just tried to escape, sliding on the—from the plane, and running in the countryside.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There was smoke and there was a bit of a noise, but nothing at first.  You just stay in your seats.  I was in the very, very back of the plane, and could see that there was fire outside.  And I was the second person off the plane, down the chute.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I actually, I don't know, I don't know if everybody managed to get out of the plane.  We were all running like crazy.  A lady from (INAUDIBLE) picked us up and took us back to the airport.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Really, all did I was run like crazy.  There was so—there was quite a bit of fire on the ground.  And we seemed to be in a valley, which I guess turned out to be this ravine that there is between the landing way and the 401.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  But I was, really was really in shock.  And we were—actually, we were really, really scared that the plane would blow up, because there were lots of flames.  We were running really fast out of there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So I would tend to think that things ended up OK. 

But I really—I can't tell that for sure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  One minute before we crashed completely, there was no more lights in the plane.  And then it was really, really scary.  Very, very scary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You know what I really want to do?  I'm standing here in a blanket, and I want to go home, because I'm feeling pretty shaky.


STEWART:  And of course, that's understandable.  First-person accounts of what happened today.

Let's go to the scene at the Pearson Airport in Toronto, where Martin Himmel is reporting for us tonight.  Martin, can you tell us what is going on there right now?

MARTIN HIMMEL, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (on phone):  Well, just a short while ago, or in just a few minutes, the airport is finally going to open up again.  It's been shut down since the accident occurred.  The highway, which is a major, major highway just south of the airport, a chunk of it is still closed, because the airplane came very close to going off the runway.  It did go off the runway, but going very close to that highway.  So they've closed that highway.  It was causing an amazing traffic jam in the city.

The airport is slowly getting back to normal.  People are breathing a huge sigh of relief that no one was killed in this crash (INAUDIBLE).

STEWART:  And from the press conferences that have been held there all afternoon, any word on why this plane slid off the runway?

HIMMEL:  All there is right now is speculation.  There's no confirmation at this moment.  They are trying to retrieve the black box.  They will hold off official comments till they have a scientific evidentiary confirmation of what really happened.

What the passengers said was that power seemed to stop on landing.  And that has led to speculation that a power blackout on the plane might have affected the reverse thrust, but that is strictly speculation.  There's no confirmation whatsoever.

What is for sure is that the plane came down during a major lightning thunderstorm.  And so maybe it did (INAUDIBLE) the electric system.  But we have no proof of that yet.

STEWART:  And in terms of authorities on the ground there, who's present?

HIMMEL:  Basically, all forms of EMS, the ambulance services, the fire department, the field Toronto police.  There's been a lot of praise here mentioned for the emergency services.  They were on the scene within seconds and handled the situation quite effectively.  And they were very well prepared, because there is an automatic alert system that goes up here when there's electric activity in the air.

So in a way, they were ready for anything, but of course they did not expect such a crash landing.

STEWART:  We've been seeing these pictures of the flames, and for people who are just tuning into their TVs now, how long did it take them to actually put out this fire?

HIMMEL:  It has gone on for quite a while.  I mean, it—basically, once the plane caught, it took quite a while to put out the flames.  And they're still working on it.  I don't think the flames itself was, at this stage is the fear.  At the initial stage, it was quite a fear.  The plane basically went off the runway and broke into two, and was destroyed.

And miraculously, people managed to get away from it before the flames engulfed it.  And as many people know, a crash landing can engulf a plane very, very quickly.  And it was just a matter of seconds, whether there be many, many deaths or not.  So the flames gave an indication of how terrible it could have been.  But it was not as bad as it could have been.

STEWART:  And that is the good headline out of all of this.  Martin Himmel reporting from Toronto tonight, thank you so much for joining us.

For some analysis on exactly what might have gone wrong with flight 358, let's turn to the former FAA chief of staff, Michael Goldfarb.

Thank you so much for spending some time with us tonight.


STEWART:  A plane like this comes in for a landing, skids like this off the runway.  Can you give us a few probable causes for that kind of skidding?

GOLDFARB:  Well, I think in talking about speculation, every accident or crash has its unique signature, almost its own DNA, of why it crashed.  And normally, it's a combination of things.  So while it was obvious, with the bad weather and the conditions on the runway, when the investigators start to look at this crash in more detail, they'll look at everything from mechanical systems, if lightning had indeed hit the plane, did it distract the pilots at a critical moment of landing, and hence they missed the runway by a significant amount?

So it's so early that normally, whatever we think the leading cause is, turns out to be a contributory cause.  And what actually happened is really yet to be seen.

STEWART:  There's been so much discussion of the flight recorder and the black box, and the kind of information it will provide, a clearer picture.   Exactly what kind of information can be gleaned from the black box or the flight recorder?

GOLDFARB:  Well, the good news, besides the fact of everybody survived, the other good news is that the crew is being interviewed.  They have air-traffic control tapes.  They have the so-called black box, the cockpit voice recorder, the flight data recorder.

And on the Airbus 340, which is a relatively modern, new aircraft, it's the first crash of an Airbus 340, the flight recorders are very, very sophisticated.  So they will pick up every aspect of that plane's final moments.

And then what they need to do is compare that with the narrative of the pilots, and also the air-traffic controllers, and try to paint a portrait of what, where that plane was at critical moments, why was the decision made to land in that weather?  Did the pilots get distracted?  Was it human error?  Was it mechanical, reverse thrusters, or some other factor that led to the crash?

STEWART:  You make it sound like a giant puzzle.

GOLDFARB:  It really is a puzzle, and the work has just begun.  But I think we'll have a fairly rapid conclusion to this, Alison, unlike many other crashes, where we have to search sometimes in the water for the black box, or we don't have, you know, a crew that we can talk to.

So I imagine the Canadian authorities, with the help of Airbus, Air France, and maybe the United States, will come to a pretty rapid resolution of what exactly caused this near-disaster this afternoon.

STEWART:  Let me ask you a little about eyewitness accounts.  We've been hearing quite a few of them.  One passenger said the plane was going extremely fast, and the power shut down completely.  Will these first-person accounts be helpful, or are they just anecdotal?

GOLDFARB:  Well, they're anecdotal.  But then together, they paint a picture that perhaps will lead investigators to understand exactly what was happening.  Normally, the accounts of what occurred aren't the ultimate cause.  But in this case, so many people survived, so many people were involved, I think they'll get a composite, almost like a crime scene investigation, and put it together quickly.

STEWART:  And will they interview everyone on the plane?

GOLDFARB:  I don't think they'll interview all the passengers.  I think once they get a read from passengers, a certain set of passengers who had an angle to see something, if the lights went off, or to understand how to get out of the plane, but probably not interview everybody.

But they certainly will talk extensively to air-traffic control at the tower in Pearson, on a radar approach, as well as the pilots and others.

STEWART:  We've been talking about weather quite a bit, because this plane obviously landed in severe weather.  What particular difficulties are there for a pilot landing in weather where there is heavy rain and lightning?

GOLDFARB:  Well, weather simply reduces the margin of safety and the judgment factors.  I mean, weather alone is not a problem for an Airbus 340 or any major jet today.  And we shouldn't give the notion that because the runway was wet and it may have hydroplaned on the runway, that there's a danger for people who fly in severe weather.

It's the decisions of the pilots, ultimately, whether or not to land the aircraft.  But the weather is certainly one of those many contributors when you put it all together.  Terrible weather, maybe the pilots were anxious to get that aircraft on the ground.  They'll look at whether the runway had a perimeter that was long enough to allow a safety margin if it in fact overshot that runway, and put all that together.

But weather in and of itself, we're past the days of—we have weather radar both in the cockpit and on the ground.  We're past the days when thunderstorms used to be the primary leading cause of aircraft accidents.

STEWART:  You've provided us so much information.  We thank you so much, Michael Goldfarb, the former FAA chief of staff.

The view of the Air France crash from inside the cockpit.  We'll talk to a former pilot about what was going on at the controls as the plane was trying to land.

And later, to outer space, and the looming repair to try to avoid a potential disaster when “Discovery” returns to earth.  We'll talk to a former astronaut about the pressures of conducting an unrehearsed spacewalk.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.



LEE THOMAS, EYEWITNESS:  It was an intense blow-up.  That was where the debris came up and the sparks.  I tell you, I've never seen anything like it in my life.  It sort of semishook me.  You know, you expected it, like somebody was shutting a trunk behind you.  It was that loud in your ears.  And it just—it echoed through your body.  It was quite intense.  Like I say, debris was flying up in the air, maybe 100 to 150 feet above the point.  Quite a large section of something.


STEWART:  And that was the crash of flight 358 from one soul's point of view.

To the rest of us, initially it looked like a disaster.  But it was, after all, a marvel.

Our number four story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the accident that could have been so much worse.

Again, this was the scene today as an Air France flight with 309 people on board burst into flames after skidding off the runway at Toronto's Pearson International Airport.  This, after the plane had managed to land through a fierce thunderstorm.

Now, in a bizarre coincidence of timing, today is the 20th anniversary of another weather-related crash, this one.  And it was deadly.  Delta flight 191 attempted to land during a thunderstorm after a flight from Fort Lauderdale.  Those aboard not nearly so fortunate, 137 people were killed, including one person on the ground.

What can make two different landings have such different outcomes?

I'm joined now by a former airline pilot who has also served as the Airline Pilots Association safety representative, Captain Paul McCarthy.

Captain McCarthy, good evening to you.


STEWART:  What must have happened on today's flight immediately after landing, so that everyone was able to get off alive?

MCCARTHY:  You know, it really has to do with the speed of impact, the angle of impact.  If, as seems certain right now, the aircraft went off the far end of the runway after landing, and traversed 200 meters across flat ground, and then basically fell off a cliff, it's a low-impact, low-speed accident, which is, almost by definition, highly likely to be survivable.

STEWART:  And as we said, everyone on board has survived.  We've just gotten word in, though, now, that 43 people have been taken to the hospital.

Once this plane skidded and landed, what was the captain's role at this point?

MCCARTHY:  Well, that's really the part where you're hands-on completely.  You—at the high speed, you use thrust reversers.  And at the lower speed, the brakes become the primary stopping factor.  They have an antiskid system, like you have in your automobile, so you'll use heavy braking.  You use heavy thrust reversing.  And you'll do everything you can to get the thing stopped and remain on the center line at the same time.

STEWART:  All right.  Once the plane stops, in terms of evacuation, can you describe the difficulty of getting people to evacuate a plane like this, when, I'm sure, the first idea and the first reaction would be panic?

MCCARTHY:  Well, one of the first things you have to remember is, you're going to have smoke, you may have visible fire.  You will lose power, because the engines have been shut down or have failed.  So you're in relative darkness, with only the emergency escape path lighting to guide the people.

Panic is normal.  And it's the flight attendants' job, and apparently quite good at it, to restore order, direct the people to the doors, get them on the escape slides, get them away from the aircraft.  And in this case, it's, I think, a validation of the training that we spend so much time and energy with for our flight attendants and our flight crews.

STEWART:  And sir, my last question to you, I know you've been following this story all day, and you've been joining us here on MSNBC.  What do you think we'll ultimately learn from the events of today and this Air France flight?

MCCARTHY:  Oh, I know, you know, I think that the gentleman from the FAA earlier said that there are multiple causes.  Some people would tell you sometimes 20 different things that we can learn and we can fix to prevent it from happening again, provided, of course, that we do a complete and thorough and open investigation.  And I have past experience with the Canadians.  They will do just that.  So there's a lot that we will learn.

STEWART:  Captain Paul McCarthy, former airline pilot and safety representative, we thank you so much for your time tonight.

And once again, we want to reiterate that all 309 passengers aboard survived.  But now 43 of those passengers have been taken to the hospital.

Of course, we'll stay on top of those numbers for you right here on


We'll have more on the wonder of flight 358 later this hour, including the training, and, let's say, a little bit of luck behind getting all the passengers out alive.

But next, we're in the final hours until the crew of the space shuttle “Discovery” attempts of the first-ever in-orbit repair to the underbelly of their ship.  We'll talk to a former astronaut who's logged more than 19 hours spacewalking.


STEWART:  Still ahead on COUNTDOWN, surviving a crash.  Was the miracle in Toronto this afternoon just down to luck, or down to a finely honed science?

And talking about good science, the crew of the “Discovery” preparing to do what no one has done before, repair the shuttle's belly in midorbit.  We'll talk with a former astronaut about the delicate spacewalk ahead.

Plus, finally, some insight from Jennifer Anniston into why and how her marriage to Brad Pitt fell apart.  I've been losing sleep over it.  Her first interview since the breakup, ahead on COUNTDOWN.


STEWART:  You can't help but think they should have called this mission “This Old Space Shuttle.”  It sounds so much like a home repair.  Step one, try tugging at the strips real gentle with your hand.  And if that doesn't work, jimmy up a sort of a handsaw.

In our third story on the COUNTDOWN tonight: Try it in space underneath a shuttle, skirting the delicate belly in zero gravity with no dry run and little room for error.  A dangerous DIY shuttle mission.  Our correspondent, Tom Costello, on the eve of the first emergency in-orbit repair in the history of the space program from the Johnson Space Center in Houston.  Good evening, Tom.

TOM COSTELLO, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Alison, good evening.  At first, the engineers here at NASA and the astronauts on board Discovery were opposed to the idea of actually doing a space walk and effecting this repair because, essentially, the astronaut's glove does not allow for the kind of dexterity to gingerly pull a piece off from between the tiles.  Still, in the end, NASA became convinced that the risk of not acting is far greater than the risk of trying a repair.


(voice-over):  In NASA's six-million-gallon training pool, astronauts in Houston have been looking for solutions to Discovery's problems in space...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You can reach into the tool caddy and pull out the saw.

COSTELLO:  ... how to remove those gap fillers that are sticking up from between Discovery's tiles, experimenting with both forceps and a modified hacksaw.  Discovery's crew was at first reluctant to try the repair, but after reviewing NASA's plans, agreed.

EILEEN COLLINS, SHUTTLE COMMANDER:  The crew's talked about the EVA, and we are go for EVA on flight day nine.  Go for EVA tomorrow.

STEVE ROBINSON, DISCOVERY ASTRONAUT:  The main tools I plan to use are right here.  I plan to reach out with my right hand and grasp the little piece of material and pull it out.

COSTELLO:  At 7:30 Eastern time tomorrow, Robinson will step into the foot restraints on the space station's arm and ride it around the left side of the shuttle, to a point just underneath the nose of Discovery, to within inches of the problem area.  Astronaut David Wolf has ridden the arm himself.

DAVID WOLF, ASTRONAUT SPACE WALK CHIEF:  The visuals—there's no up or down.  It can be pitch black when you're over the ocean at night.

COSTELLO:  The risk; that Robinson or a piece of equipment might accidentally damage the shuttle's protective tiles.

ROBINSON:  Well, the thing I'll be watching most closely is the top of my helmet here because I'll be leaning in towards the orbiter.

COSTELLO:  On the eve of the operation, President Bush today called Discovery's crew.

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Thanks for being such great examples of courage.

COSTELLO:  NASA's aerodynamic experts believe if the gap fillers aren't removed, they could drag dangerous hot air down Discovery's belly during reentry.  But mission managers believe the fix will be easy.

PAUL HILL, FLIGHT DIRECTOR:  I expect that we're going to pull this gap filler right out on the first try.


COSTELLO:  While he's under the nose of Discovery, Robinson will be out of the line of sight of his fellow crew members.  They will watch him on remote video camera.  If at any time they or Mission Control lose relay radio contact with Robinson, they would scrub the mission and pull Robinson back in to decide where they go from there.

I'm Tom Costello at Mission Control.  Alison, back to you.

STEWART:  Thanks so much, Tom.

We turn now to one of the very small circle of astronauts who've experienced space walks firsthand.  Former NASA astronaut Winston Scott logged just over 24 days in space, including three space walks totaling 19 hours and 26 minutes.  Mr. Scott joins us tonight from Cape Canaveral, Florida.  Thank you so much for your time, sir.

WINSTON SCOTT, FORMER ASTRONAUT:  It's my pleasure, Alison.

STEWART:  First of all, can you just tell us a little bit about what it's like to actually perform a space walk, what it's like physically and even psychologically as you're out there thinking, Hey, I'm space walking.

SCOTT:  Well, I'll tell you what.  Performing a space walk is physically very challenging.  That suit weighs about 350 pounds on Earth.  Now, the weight disappears in space, but the mass is still there.  So you've got to move the 350 pounds of mass, plus your body mass, plus the mass of your tools.  Astronauts easily move hundreds, even thousands of pounds of mass.

The suit also resists every movement you're trying to make.  If you try and close your fist, the inflation of the suit wants to spring that fist open.  So a space walk is physically very demanding, probably the most demanding aspect of space flight from a physical standpoint.  And as you mentioned, there's the psychology of walking in space, also, and I will certainly say that walking in space is not for the faint at heart.


STEWART:  What did you do when you were on your space walk to get yourself, for lack of a better term, psyched up?

SCOTT:  Well, actually, I did the same thing that I've done throughout my Navy career in flying airplanes.  You focus.  You focus on the job at hand.  You train, you practice, and you know the job inside out, left and right, top to bottom, and so on.  And then you sort of tune out other things and focus on yourself.  You psych yourself up and build your confidence.  You know that you can do it, that you can do it well, that you're going to be very successful, and you don't let any other thoughts creep into your mind.  So you've got to be a positive thinker and an achiever, I think, to be an astronaut, and particularly a space walker.  At least, that's what I like to think.

STEWART:  Positive thinking works in all aspects of life, as well.  You heard that Tom Costello, our reporter, report that, initially, this crew was a bit reluctant to do this particular repair mission.  If you were doing this repair mission, what would you be concerned about?

SCOTT:  Well, at this stage of the game, I probably—my concerns probably would have probably been alleviated, just as I think the concerns of this crew have been alleviated.  Probably—and I don't know for sure, but I suspect their initial apprehension was due to the thought that it's possible to do more harm than good.  As John Young used to say, there's no situation in space that you can't make worse.

But after looking at the alternatives, after looking at the simulations that astronauts perform on the ground in the neutral buoyancy lab, I think it looks like a space walk and a task that's doable.  They'll be able to accomplish it and be able to accomplish it very well.  They'll be able to accomplish it safely.  It's not trivial, but I think they'll get it done, and I think they'll do a very good job.

STEWART:  Let me ask you about the timing a little bit.  The current plan is to tack this onto the end of a pre-scheduled walk, so the crew will have already spent four hours-plus out there.  Why would they put such a delicate task at the end of the space walk?  Why not put it first?

SCOTT:  Well, I think you just said it, it's a delicate task.  It's not a task that's going to require a lot of physical strength on the part of Steve Robinson.  They're going to have to place an external storage platform in place first.  That's going to be a bit more demanding, so let's do the physically more demanding task first and do the more delicate, less physically demanding task second.

Also, it speaks to the magnitude of this task.  It's delicate, it's important, but it's not as risky as, you know, one would have you to believe.  So I think it's very important and very appropriate that this task be tacked onto the end.

STEWART:  Winston Scott, former astronaut and mission specialist.  We thank you so much for sharing your expertise.

SCOTT:  It's my pleasure.  Thank you.

STEWART:  Jennifer Aniston speaks out for the first time about her break-up with Brad and that taboo subject.  That would be Angelina.  And is your name Martha Stewart, too?  If so, your 15 minutes, they are here!  Martha Stewarts and everybody else, stay tuned.


STEWART:  The sun no longer shines as brightly as it once did, the stars, they just lost their sparkle.  Ice cream doesn't taste the same anymore, ever since that fateful January day a Hollywood publicist issued a statement announcing the end of Brad and Jen.  Brad, well, we kind of know what he's been up to.  Jen is our number two story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the actress granting her first interview since the break-up.  She did it to “Vanity Fair,” contributing editor Leslie Bennetts landing the prize conversation, which appears in the magazine's September issue.


LESLIE BENNETTS, “VANITY FAIR”:  I think Jennifer has conducted herself with enormous restraint in the last few months, despite constant provocations from the tabloids, and to a certain extent, the way that her husband has conducted himself.  Jennifer has bent over backward not to trash even Brad, let alone Angelina.  And she's only met Angelina once.  Ironically, she went up and introduced herself to Angelina and said—when Angelina and Brad were starting to film “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” Jennifer went up to her and said, Hi, Brad is so excited about working with you.  I hope you guys have a really good time together.

At the very least, there was clearly emotional infidelity.  Jennifer said to me, you know, from the moment Brad started filming “Mr. and Mrs.  Smith,” he was gone.

She's tried really hard to avoid the tabloid gossip media because so much of it is false.  She said to me, I want to have children.  I've always wanted to have children.  I plan to have children.  The plan was always that when “Friends” ended, she and Brad would start a family.  And she said, you know, no man who is divorcing ever gets accused of putting his career ahead of his family, but they said that about her, based on absolutely no truth.

If I had to use only two words to describe how she is now, I think she's still sad, as you would be six months after ending a seven-year relationship, but hopeful.  She's very optimistic about her future.  Her career is going great.  She's got four new movies coming out in recent months.  She's spending the summer filming another one.  And she's got an awful lot to look forward to, and she knows that.


STEWART:  Katrina Szish is the style editor for “Us Weekly.”  Now, they have their own Brad and Jen dish, which will hit newsstands on Friday.  We'll get a little preview of that in a moment.  Katrina, thanks for spending some time with us tonight.


STEWART:  Jennifer Aniston has been silent up until this “Vanity Fair” article, kind of taking the high road a little bit.  Did she need to talk about this publicly?

SZISH:  I think it was time.  She's been portrayed so much as the victim.  Everybody is speculating as to whether she's in her bedroom crying the nights away or if she's dating co-star Vince Vaughn, and even thinking, Gosh, this is the woman who didn't want to have children with Brad Pitt.  And all of those things were rumors that it was time for her to dispel.

STEWART:  Is it a bit of image control, I'm hearing you say?

SZISH:  I don't think it was intentional image control.  I think it was one of those situations where any of us who were hearing all of these things said about ourselves and why a relationship had broken up, we'd really want to set the record straight.  It's not so much image, it's just, like, Hey, I actually have feelings, too.  And instead of letting everybody out there speculate, I'm going to tell you what they are.

STEWART:  All right.  You know, cynics are going to say this is completely publicity-driven...

SZISH:  Of course.

STEWART:  ... that she's got something to flog.

SZISH:  Right.

STEWART:  What does she have coming up?

SZISH:  She has “The Break-Up” coming up that she's working on with Vince Vaughn.  And basically, I think she has a film career coming up.  We've seen her so long as Rachel on “Friends” on the small screen, and now we're really going to meet her on the big screen in a big way.

STEWART:  To the other members of this triangle and that little bit of scoop you folks...

SZISH:  Yes.

STEWART:  ... have—OK, tell us what it is.  This is a good one.

SZISH:  OK.  So first of all, as we know, Brad and Angelina have not, quote, unquote, “publicly announced that they are dating,” except we have learned that Angelina and her brood, Maddox and Zahara, have moved in with Brad in his Malibu home.  And they've been, I mean, basically, you know, spending tons of time together since those fateful pictures in Kenya that we discovered.  They've gone for private jet rides in Angelina's private plane recently.

And the big point is also that Angelina has allowed Brad to get incredibly close to her son, Maddox.  She has really allowed Brad to become the father figure.  Recently, Brad was doing a commercial, and Maddox went with him without Angelina, without the nanny, just the two boys out together.  And rumors said—sources tell us, actually, that when Brad went to get his make-up touched up, Maddox started yelling, Where's my daddy?  I can't see my daddy.  And out of the mouths of babes, I think we're finding something out very—that's a very key point.

STEWART:  All right, I'm going to ask this question for that person sitting home at the couch with the remote, going, Why do we care?

SZISH:  Yes.  I think we care because, basically, we're watching a real-life reality show starring three of the biggest celebrities in Hollywood, and we just want to find out how it turns out.

STEWART:  Katrina Szish with “Us Weekly”...

SZISH:  Thank you.

STEWART:  ... always a pleasure having you on the program.

SZISH:  Thanks, Alison.

STEWART:  OK, so this is an easy segue now into our nightly round-up of celebrity and entertainment news.  Of course, we call that “Keeping Tabs.”  Now, how do you make a marriage proposal really, truly romantic?  Isn't it obvious?  You talk about how badly you need to go to the loo.  On that train wreck of a reality show, “Being Bobby Brown”—oh, it's so bad, it's good—Bobby had a big idea, to propose to Whitney for a second trip down the aisle.  The problem?  Bobby apparently had another trip to make, to a WC.  That left Whitney alone to explain that, quote, “He's had the runs since yesterday.”  Classy.

And as if that wasn't too much information, you know, it actually gets worse.  Whitney charged off to the bathroom when Bobby got back, saying, quote, “I'm about to do the do,” proving once more that a reality show is a brilliant career move.

And for Martha Stewart, it's a good thing, two shows coming out in the fall, including a syndicated daytime show where she plans to fill the audience with more Martha Stewarts.  The media mogul who made good taste into TV is seeking 150 women with her name for a special installment of “Martha,” her daytime lifestyle program.  The guinea pigs—I mean, audience members—do not need to spell their name the same way, just as long as they are called Martha Stewart.  The reason for this Martha fest?  Not disclosed, but we can guess it's some kind of special giveaway involving K-Mart gift certificates all around.  And I'm going to try to get in for standing room only, as I only half qualify as a fellow member of the Stewart clan..

And Tom Cruise is still getting his butt kicked for his very public and sometimes bizarre behavior.  Apparently, jumping on Oprah Winfrey's couch really makes an impression.  This time, the smackdown comes from a very classy lady, Lauren Bacall.  In an interview with “Time” magazine, Ms.  Bacall said, quote, “His behavior is so shocking.  It's inappropriate and vulgar and absolutely unacceptable to use your private life to sell anything commercially, but I think it's a kind of sickness.”  And what does she think of Tom Cruise's acting?  Quote, “When you talk about a great actor, you're not talking about Tom Cruise,” end quote.

Mr. Cruise promptly dispatched his fiancee, Katie Holmes, to engage Bacall in an all-out cat fight.  All right, we made up that part.

When we come back: We feared the worst, but what we got better than we ever could have hoped for.  How in the world did 309 people survive this?  We'll find out in just a moment.


STEWART:  When you lead off the newscast with a plane crash, it isn't often the story comes with a happy ending.  And if you're anything like the COUNTDOWN staff, at the moment you first saw the video coming out of Toronto, you would have had a hard time anticipating the outcome that all 309 people on board Air France flight 358 were apparently evacuated relatively safely, everyone, it seems, surviving, and only 43 wounded were taken to the hospital, some of their injuries so minor, they were released soon after.  And Pearson international airport should be fully open again tonight.  A big sigh of relief tonight that some might call miraculous.  We call it our number one story on the COUNTDOWN.

In fact, it turns out more people are surviving airline crashes than ever before.  Aviation officials say the past year was the safest ever for airline travel, 428 deaths out of 1.8 billion passengers.  And even when crashes do occur, there are many more survivors.  For what makes happy endings like today's in Toronto possible, we turn again to our correspondent Tom Costello.


COSTELLO (voice-over):  From the wreckage of a corporate plane in New Jersey last month, smoke and flames, yet somehow, everyone on board survives.  Kirksville, Missouri, last October, 15 die, yet 2 survive a commuter plane crash.  And Little Rock, Arkansas, nearly six years ago, 12 die but 134 survive a violent DC-9 crash.  The good news?  Plane crashes are rare.  But experts say when they do happen, they don't have to be deadly.  FAA administrator Marion Blakey.

MARION BLAKEY, FAA ADMINISTRATOR:  Most of the crashes, or many of the crashes we have are survivable, if you get out in time and you retard the fire.

COSTELLO:  Very often, that means passengers have less than two minutes before a fuel fire with deadly smoke eats through the fuselage and consumes the interior.  At an FAA test center in Oklahoma City, a simulated plane crash and the challenge to get out of a dark, smoke-filled cabin in just 90 seconds.

(on camera):  Quickly, the cabin begins to fill with smoke.  Passengers should be moving towards the exit, down the track lighting, and trying to stay low, below the smoke.  Thirty seconds now, and the smoke is very dense.  At 60 seconds, the fumes are now toxic, and the temperature is rising quickly.  Ninety seconds, and right now, this smoke could be deadly.  Ideally, every passenger should be off the plane.

(voice-over):  David Palmerton researches cabin safety for the FAA.

DAVID PALMERTON, FAA:  We just can't stress enough the importance of people to get up and get out.

COSTELLO:  And never waste precious time grabbing for your carry-on luggage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I would try to stay low, keep my head down around the top of the seatbacks, using the seatbacks and the armrests in order to get all the way out.

COSTELLO:  And planes are now made to survive crashes, more sturdy, with flame-retardant interiors and newer seats...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The seatback is made to absorb energy.

COSTELLO:  ... that bend and fold forward in the accident, instead of the old seats that would catapult passengers forward, all of it making flying the safest way to travel.  Tom Costello, NBC News, Oklahoma City.


STEWART:  Making air travel as safe as possible is the mission of our next guest.  Stuart Matthews is the president and CEO of the Flight Safety Foundation, a non-profit organization that focuses solely on aviation safety.  Mr. Matthews, thanks so much for taking the time this evening.


STEWART:  First of all, good news out of Toronto.  Should we be at all surprised that all 309 people on board that flight made it out safely?

MATTHEWS:  Well, I was looking at the television pictures, as well, and I must say that it looked rather horrific.  On the other hand, the flames started after the aircraft had come to a stop.  In fact, that's what it appears.  And therefore, as you just said in your previous part, that by regulation, passengers have to be able to get out of the aircraft if half the exits—the exits are blocked, in 90 seconds.  And so they'd be getting out of all the exits, and the flight attendants would have been urging them on and sliding them down the slides.  And that's probably where the accident—sorry, the injuries occurred, going down the slides, more than as a result of the crash.

STEWART:  Now, why does that happen, that people become injured on the slides?

MATTHEWS:  Well, basically, you're sliding down a slide.  You get perhaps burns sometimes, if people are wearing nylons, if ladies are wearing nylons, the friction, things like that, and also when you arrive at the bottom.  But we're prepared to accept something like that, rather than having people burn or something in the airplane.

STEWART:  Now, how long on average, sir, would it take to evacuate a full Airbus A-340?

MATTHEWS:  Well, as I said, they've tested it in simulated conditions and demonstrated that they can get a full Airbus—and I gather this wasn't quite full—but get a full Airbus with passengers and crew off the aircraft in 90 seconds, with half the exits on one side locked or not being used.

STEWART:  We've all seen these crash test dummies when they're testing cars.  What kind of tests are done for airlines to promote that similar kind of safety?

MATTHEWS:  Well, we don't have—there have been tests in the past like this to demonstrate—to really see what's happening on board.  But the way in which aviation safety has been made—has been improved through crashes on the ground is by improving the strength of the seats and the way in which they are fixed to the floor.  We had what are called 16-G seats, which means that 16 times the force of gravity, if a stopped flight at deceleration, that'll still stay where it is, and people are strapped in, so they'll stay—stay with the seat.

STEWART:  And as I understand, about half of all the accidents occur during approach and landing.  Is there anything we're not doing that we should be doing to make approach and landing even safer?

MATTHEWS:  Well, indeed.  We're well aware of this statistic.  In fact, my own organization has led an industry-wide group which has developed everything you ever should know about approach and landing.  And if we could only get that information out to all the pilots of the world, then, indeed, we should make a big dent.  But it's gone to a lot of people.  And as we already heard, there are very, very few accidents taking place today, compared with the very large number of flights.  I think less than 500 people a year in one-and-a-half billion, or getting that—getting towards that sort of number.

STEWART:  And sir, before I let you go, is there anything that I can do as Jill Passenger to make myself safer when I get on a plane?  .

MATTHEWS:  Well, certainly.  What we've seen today I think bears this all out.  Pay attention to what the flight attendants are telling you on the emergency briefing prior to takeoff.  Read the instructions in the little card that stays in every seatback.  And just remember that just because you've flown 100 times before doesn't mean to say that you know where those exits are, or they might be different aircraft, how they work.

STEWART:  I always count the seats to the exits, as well, in pitch dark, right?

MATTHEWS:  Absolutely.  Count the seats not only in front of you but behind you, yes.

STEWART:  Stuart Matthews, president and CEO of the Flight Safety Foundation.  Thank you so much for the great information.

MATTHEWS:  My pleasure.

STEWART:  And that is it for the Tuesday edition of COUNTDOWN.  I'm Alison Stewart, filling in for Keith Olbermann.  Thank you so much for watching.  “THE SITUATION” with Tucker Carlson is all set to go.  Take it away, Mr. Carlson.



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