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'The Situation with Tucker Carlson' for Sept. 21st

Guests William Gray, Matthew Doyle, Paul McCarthy, Michele Finn, Chris Johnson


TUCKER CARLSON, HOST:  Thanks, Joe.  We have Hurricane Rita, enormous and growing Hurricane Rota, covered from every possible angle tonight.  We‘ll have live reports from the Gulf Coast, and we‘ll talk to a storm chaser who just came back from flying into the center of that storm. 

We start with a harrowing scene at Los Angeles International Airport tonight.  Jetblue Flight 292 had trouble with its front landing gear shortly after taking off for New York from Burbank‘s Bob Hope Airport. 

The Airbus 320, which was carrying 146 passengers and crew, circled L.A. for three hours to burn off fuel before making its approach. 

Millions of Americans sat glued to their sets, saying silent prayers.  The pilot made a perfect landing at LAX, dragging the flaming front gear you see here as the plane skidded to a stop.  No one was hurt in that incident. 

We have a passenger who was on the plane.  NBC Universal employee, Mike Miceli, joins us now by phone. 

Mike, you there?


CARLSON:  Well, I think people were watching this and saying prayers for you, the millions of people watching this unfold.  Couldn‘t help but wonder what you thought, since you were on Jetblue, and you could see this on your television.  I mean, that just sounds so surreal.  Did you watch the coverage of it as it was happening to you?

MICELI:  Yes, we were on.  We watched—I was watching MSNBC, as was most of the people around me.  It was kind of—it was surreal.  That‘s the right word.  It was kind of in disbelief. 

But the pilot was really—was great.  About 10 minutes after takeoff, he alerted us that there was an issue with the landing gear not performing correctly, and they were able to send a signal via satellite to a technical crew in New York, who was able to see that there was an issue.  They thought it might just be a sensor, but they had us fly to Long Beach to do a flyby very low so that the technical people, via binoculars, could see the issue.  They could tell.  Go ahead. 

CARLSON:  I‘m sorry.  What were people saying on the flight as this was happening?  Did anybody start to lose control and freak out on the plane?

MICELI:  No, nobody really lost it bad.  I mean, there were definitely nervous people, a couple of people, you know, comforting others, holding hands, hugging, the people they were—their loved ones, next to them.  But nobody, you know, got out of hand, and I think that‘s to be credited to the pilot and the flight crew, who I think handled everything, you know, just better than could ever be expected. 

CARLSON:  Did you think at any point that you might not make it?

MICELI:  Well, you know, you don‘t want to, but to see the landing gear on television and to hear the commentary about things that could happen: it could break off, and this could happen, that could happen, you know, you know, you can‘t not think that, you know, this could be a pretty rough ride. 

CARLSON:  You had a long time to think about it, too.  I mean, did you

what did you think?

MICELI:  Yes.  Well, you think a little bit about family, and then you put things into perspective, and then you hope things work out.  You know, the tough part was really about two minutes to go, the really major anxiety of actually landing and going through that experience, and smelling—you know, you smelled burned rubber. 

CARLSON:  Did you call anyone from the plane?  You all are flying pretty low.  I imagine your cell phone and Blackberry must have worked.  Did you call your family.

MICELI:  I was able to send an e-mail, so I sent an e-mail.  And as soon as we landed, I called my wife.  But I did send an e-mail right before we landed. 

CARLSON:  Were people on their phones on the plane?

MICELI:  Excuse me?  Say again. 

CARLSON:  Were people talking on their cell phones on the plane?

MICELI:  No, I don‘t think—I heard a couple of ringings as we landed, so people had some on. 

CARLSON:  What did the landing feel like?

MICELI:  It was really smooth, actually.  It was—you know, you could tell that the nose was up for a considerable amount of time, and it was almost like we thought—I thought it was even down, I think, before I think it was down.  But then you could tell, you know, when the nose finally came down, and you could start smelling rubber.

But it was very, very smooth.  It was not a hard landing.  It was very, very soft.  I mean, he really put it down about as soft as I think anybody could have expected. 

CARLSON:  Well, I‘m sure you‘ve seen the pictures by now, so you know that the whole front of the plane, the whole landing gear was just for a moment engulfed in flames.  It was like a blow torch.  Did you have any sense of that when you were on the plane?

MICELI:  No, we didn‘t.  No. 

CARLSON:  Did you know the person next to you on the flight?

MICELI:  No.  Actually one of the guys that I work with was traveling in the seat in front of me.  There were three of us from NBC Universal on the flight. 

CARLSON:  Did you talk to the pilot on the way out when they opened the door to the cockpit?

MICELI:  Yes, he was congratulating people and saying thanks, et cetera, as we walked out, so we just said thanks. 

CARLSON:  How excited were people that you were safe?

MICELI:  Oh, right after we landed, of course, there was a huge applause, and people, you know, yelling, in exuberation, really relief that we were OK.  And hats off to the pilot and the crew again, they really did a fantastic job. 

CARLSON:  Yes, I can‘t wait to interview that pilot.  I hope somebody does.  Now we talked to one of your colleagues tonight, one of your co-workers, who said he was hoping to catch a later flight to New York tonight.  Is that in your plans?


CARLSON:  Good for you.

MICELI:  No, I‘m on my way home with my wife, and then we‘re going to talk about, you know what—tomorrow I‘m going to figure out what I do about going to New York, but tonight I‘m going home. 

CARLSON:  God for you.  I think that‘s wise.  Congratulations, Mike Miceli.  Boy, that was dramatic. 

MICELI:  Thanks.

CARLSON:  Thanks. 

Well, nobody in the news business, nobody in the news business knows more about airplanes and what can go wrong with them than NBC‘s Robert Hager, who joins now by phone. 

Thanks for coming on. 


CARLSON:  Now what—do we have any idea how this happened at this point?

HAGER:  Well, some mechanical issue, with letting—trying to retract the nose gear.  It must have happened when the nose gear was in the down position, as he took off, and he tried to retract it.  And it wouldn‘t retract. 

And he‘s getting a signal that indicated to him that the wheels were sideways.  This is an unusual problem.  It‘s not the ordinary kind of landing gear problem. 

So just to carry on with the scenario of what happened then, first they thought that probably this was a problem with the sensors, the indicators in the cockpit, and that the landing gear must, in fact, be OK. 

But they—so they flew low over the tower at Long Beach, as it happened, because it‘s a little easier with the traffic patterns to get down lower against the control tower there, and the controllers looked at it from the tower, and they confirmed that the wheels were in this odd, very unusual position.  They were sideways to the runway, the front landing gear. 

And so then, they spent three hours burning off all the fuel, because it‘s important to get rid of all of that highly explosive fuel if you fear that something might happen on landing.  So he‘s out over the Pacific burning off that fuel. 

At the time, I‘m sure there must have been many discussions over the plane‘s radio of how to handle this.  They would have been on the phone with Jetblue, and with a mechanical department there, with the manufacturer, Airbus. 

And so they decide how they‘re going to bring it in, and that is that they bring it in nose high, set the main gear down, and hold off on letting the nose gear down until the very end of the run down the runway, and then let it down very gently. 

So that decision was made.  Having made that, they made preparations like even moving some of the passengers to the rear of the plane, and some of the hand-carried luggage from the overhead racks as to make the rear of the plane heavier, at least get weight off the front end, where that front landing gear is.

And so then comes the moment of truth.  We bring that plane in, gently touch down, and here you‘ve got to say it was just a remarkable, remarkable job of airmanship.  In this day of automation, it came down to human hands-on flying this plane, and the crew did a wonderful job of it. 

They landed on the main gear, as they planned, held that nose off for maybe 15 seconds or longer.  Used almost all the runway they could, and then, calculating just how much runway they had left, and that they were at the lowest possible speed they could be, then they put that front gear down, very gently, and it held. 

I mean, as you saw, the tires blew.  You‘ve got that fire from the heat of the tires blowing.  But the main thing is that the gear, the nose didn‘t swerve off to one side.  The plane didn‘t tip, as it might have.  All kind of things could have happened at that point. 

CARLSON:  And what about that?  I got an e-mail from a friend of mine saying—who‘s a pilot—who said that this landing was just—was as you said, remarkable.  I mean, this guy really knew what he was doing and did an amazing job. 

But what if he hadn‘t?  I mean, what could have gone wrong, specifically?

HAGER:  The main thing, I believe, would have been if the nose had veered to one side or the other, as you suspect it might not have been too unusual to imagine that that could have happened with the wheels facing sideways.   So it can‘t get the traction to keep the plane going forward. 

If the nose had veered to one side or the other, the plane would have either catapulted off the runway into the rough terrain there, could have upset, or it could force a wing down.  The wing hits the ground, and then it could flip. 

So then you get—oh, then all kinds of things could happen.  The plane breaks open.  Just the impact would be enough to cause heavy casualties. 

But then moreover, the wings break open, and the fuel is in the wing tanks, and there‘s still plenty of fuel left, even though they burned off all they could.  The fuel explodes, and you would have had a terribly serious situation. 

CARLSON:  Well, thank God.  Thank God we didn‘t.

HAGER:  Thank God.

CARLSON:  Robert Hager, NBC News.  Thanks a lot. 

HAGER:  OK, Tucker. 

CARLSON:  Now on the other big story today, Hurricane Rita.  It has

already entered the record books.  NBC Weather Plus meteorologist Bill

Karins joins us now for a look at the storm‘s strength and where it‘s going



You‘re now looking at Rita, the third strongest hurricane ever recorded in this modern era.  This pressure, at 897, is amazingly low.  Hardly ever do you get below 900.  This system right now is actually stronger than Katrina ever was. 

Just to give you some kind of rationale of how strong this storm is, it‘s only about 550 to 600 miles away from the coastline now.  You can see how impressive it is, covering at least half of the Gulf, clouds all the way up to Pensacola, all the way southwards down past Cuba and down into the Yucatan. 

Everyone wants to know about that forecast path.  And it has changed ever so slightly.  A minor little tweak.  We have now taken Corpus Christi southwards down to Brownsville, Texas, out of this yellow cone of uncertainty, I like to call it.  This is the potential strike zone within this yellow. 

This is going to get more and more narrow over the next 36 to 48 hours.  We have not taken western sections of Louisiana out.  If anything, it has shifted slightly to the north.  I‘m talking only 10 or 15 miles, but that‘s going to mean a big difference when we actually talk about the size of the eye and where the worst is. 

There‘s Houston.  Galveston is located below the “O” and the “N” in “Houston.”  That—if this track held true, this means the right eye wall of the storm, the strongest winds, the worst storm surge, would be heading into the bay there outside of Houston and also right over the top of Galveston.  So this would be the worst case scenario. 

As far as intensity, we‘re thinking Category 4.  So in other words, we think the storm is going to peak over the next 12 hours, and then it will probably maintain itself through most of tomorrow and hopefully slightly weaken, at least down to a Category 4 before landfall. 

Now, if everyone hopefully can remember Katrina only about three or four weeks ago, peaked at a five, made landfall at a four, and you saw the devastation from a Category 4 storm. 

CARLSON:  I‘ve noticed that, Bill.  These storms do seem to weaken as they approach land.  Why is that?

KARINS:  Well, not all do.  It‘s been a recent trend, though.  Dennis did earlier this year.  Ivan did last year.  But Charley did not.  Charley rapidly intensified just south of Tampa.  And that‘s why the devastation was so bad there. 

What‘s going to happen here is the water is just a little bit cooler right around the coastline, and the cool water actually doesn‘t help the storm.  That‘s the fuel for the storm.  The cooler the water, the weaker the storm.  The warmer the water, the stronger the storm. 

A that‘s why, Tucker, the water is just a little bit cooler in the western gulf.  We‘re hoping that‘s the trick that will knock this down a notch or two. 

CARLSON:  All right.  Bill Karins, NBC Weather Plus.  Thanks. 

Still ahead on THE SITUATION, Katrina‘s strength was historic.  The world‘s leading authority on hurricanes said Rita could be just as bad.  We have a dire forecast from a man who knows.

And while most people are running from the storm sensibly, some people are flying directly into it.  We‘ll talk to a storm chasing pilot who just flew through Hurricane Rita.  Stay with us.


CARLSON:  Coming up, we‘ll talk to the mayor of a Texas town that finds itself directly in Rita‘s projected path. 

Plus, is there an explanation for this unusually devastating hurricane season?  Are Katrina and Rita only the beginning of it?  We‘ll tell you as THE SITUATION returns.


CARLSON:  Here‘s some troubling news.  Hurricane Rita‘s rampage could be even worse than the Gulf Coast now fears.  My next guest says this storm is trouble with a capital “T,” and he should know.  He‘s been called father of hurricane prediction.  He is Dr. William Gray, professor of Colorado State University‘s Department of Atmospheric Science. 

Dr. Gray, thank you for joining us. 


CARLSON:  So give us—I mean, you have historical perspective on this, having studied hurricanes for decades, 50 years, I think.  Give us some perspective on Hurricane Rita.  How big and how bad is it?

GRAY:  Well, this is an unusual storm.  There‘s no question about it.  It looked a lot like Katrina when it was forming.  Now it looks more like Carla. 

I actually—I can‘t believe it‘s been 44 years since I flew into Carla in the Caribbean in the gulf right before it came in, in 1961.  And this looks like a track very similar to what Carla did, and Carla did tremendous damage.  I don‘t think Carla was quite as strong as this storm, though. 

So I see this as, oh, an awful storm, an awful one, probably will eclipse Andrew in the damage it does.  You know, up until this year, Andrew was the most destructive storm, and then Katrina beat it out by a large amount.  I can‘t see this storm coming up to Katrina‘s total damage, because of the breaching of the levees there, but...

CARLSON:  But it‘s in the same league as Katrina. 

GRAY:  I think this is going to be a terrible storm, probably the second worst damage producer this country has ever seen. 

CARLSON:  Well, that is terrible news.  I know you‘re famous for predicting hurricanes accurately, but is there some chance, I hope, that you could be wrong?

GRAY:  Well, I hope that I will be wrong, too.  Yes.  The—now there‘s a lot of talk about, you know, it‘s unusual to get these two major storms so strong in the gulf, and everyone is asking, “Gee, is this unusual?  Is this a sign of global warming and humans are causing that, and so on?”

I don‘t think that it is.  It‘s a surprising fact, but if you go back to 1915, there was a Category 4 that went into both New Orleans and Houston.  Isn‘t that a coincidence?

CARLSON:  The same storm went into both cities?

GRAY:  No.  Two different storms.  Just like Katrina and this storm here, Rita.  So...

CARLSON:  Isn‘t it true, doctor, there have been more hurricanes in the past couple of years?  And there have—there‘s a spike. 

GRAY:  There have been in the last 10 years.  The Atlantic basin has seen a lot of storms.  We have seen 43 major storms since 1995. 

Now, we were very lucky, though.  In the first nine years, from 1995 through 2003, we had 32 Atlantic basin major storms, and only three of them hit the U.S., when the long-term average is about one in three, one in three and a half,.  So we have been very lucky. 

Then we were very lucky earlier.  From the late ‘60s to the middle ‘90s, we just didn‘t have as many landfalling major storms.  So in a sense, people don‘t realize how lucky the U.S. has been in comparison to the landfalling storms of the 1930‘s ‘40s, and ‘50s. 

CARLSON:  Dr.  Gray, I beg your pardon?

GRAY:  Well, I say in a way, the climatology‘s sort of averaging itself out.  We are in this active era in the Atlantic basin for major storms.  And we think it might go on another 15, 20 years.  We don‘t know.  But if the future is like the past, it will go on another decade or two. 

Now, the question is, has the globe warmed some?  Yes.  The globe has warmed some the last 30 years, and the last 10 years.  But the other global storm basins, the activity, if anything, has slightly gone down.  So people shouldn‘t interpret...

CARLSON:  Well, some people will always interpret that for political reasons, of course. 

GRAY:  ... it‘s due to global warming. 

CARLSON:  But doctor, let me ask you one last question.  This storm is predicted to make landfall in about 48 hours from now.  Almost exactly 48 hours from now. 

GRAY:  Yes. 

CARLSON:  At what point will we know what kind of storm it‘s going to be?  If it does lessen, become weaker, when will that happen?

GRAY:  Well, it will probably weaken.  My best estimate is it‘s a five now.  It will probably come in as a four.  But that doesn‘t make any difference.  It‘s going to do tremendous damage.  Even if it weakens to a Category 3, it‘s still going to do tremendous damage. 

So we‘re going to—I can‘t see it coming in at anything weaker than a Category 3.  But probably my best guess would be Category 4. 

CARLSON:  All right. 

GRAY:  It may weaken some, but that‘s only the center.  That is only the maximum wind, central pressure in the center.  These outer winds that spread way out can do tremendous damage, too, and cause the wind surge to be large.  So I would say we should not concentrate so much on how intense this center is, because that fluctuates... 

CARLSON:  Right. 

GRAY:  ... up and down with the wind and so on. 

CARLSON:  The wind. 

GRAY:  It‘s these outer winds that can do so much damage over such a broad area, and drive a larger surge than a smaller, intense storm can. 

CARLSON:  Dr. William Gray, one of the world‘s foremost experts on hurricanes.  I hope you‘re wrong this one time.  We appreciate you coming on. 

DR. WILLIAM GRAY, UNIVERSITY OF COLORDo:  I hope I‘m wrong, too.  Yes. 

CARLSON:  Thanks. 

Coming up on THE SITUATION, America held its breath as the pilot of this damaged plane executed a perfect landing.  We‘ll tell you just how difficult a feat it really was.  Stay tuned.



DAVID PAULISON, ACTING FEMA DIRECTOR:  I strongly, strongly urge the Gulf Coast residents to pay very close attention to this storm.  It‘s a huge storm.  It‘s in warm waters, and there‘s the potential for it to increase more.  The—they have to be prepared. 


CARLSON:  That was acting FEMA director, David Paulison, speaking earlier today, but are Texans prepared for what‘s turning out to be the third most intense hurricane on record?

Matthew Doyle is the mayor of Texas City, Texas.  That‘s located less than 15 miles from Galveston.  He joins us now live on the phone. 

Mayor Doyle, thanks for coming on. 


CARLSON:  This storm sounds awful, I‘m sorry to say.  You obviously know that.  Is anyone going to be in your town when it hits, do you think?

DOYLE:  Well, our emergency management people, and our essential protection folks will be, unless it gets too ominous.  Then we‘re going to probably go ahead and pull everybody out. 

CARLSON:  Are you going to stay in the town?

DOYLE:  No, sir, I‘ll be leaving sometime tomorrow. 

CARLSON:  Are you confident that citizens of Texas City will all be gone by the time the storm hits?

DOYLE:  What we‘ve done for the first time, the legislature let us have a mandatory evacuation by law.  We have declared that.  It starts at 2 this morning in our traffic plans, really started at 6, but the phase in the city starts at 2:00 and runs until noon tomorrow.  And hopefully those that haven‘t already left, and a great deal of them have, will go ahead and go. 

CARLSON:  Give us a sense of where exactly Texas City.  We know you are near Galveston, 15 miles away.  How far are you from the water?

DOYLE:  Well, in certain parts, we‘re right on the water.  We have the levee system that surrounds our city.  It was built after Hurricane Carla.  And it hopefully will give us a little protection, but in the surges that some of the models are showing, it will be difficult for it to hold.  It will hold, hopefully, but it will come over the levee. 

CARLSON:  What does that feel like for you?  You‘re the mayor of this city.  I am sure you love it.  You‘ve probably lived there awhile.  Knowing that parts of it could be devastated, really devastated.  What does it feel like leaving your city, knowing it‘s going to be very different when you come back?

DOYLE:  Either way, it will be different.  But if a Category 5, top four, to five comes through, it will be a completely different city.  That‘s true. 

Construction on the coast has improved over the years.  We‘ve got some older parts of the city, but we‘ve got a lot of newer parts.  And with the levee system, hopefully we will be able to absorb most of it, and be able to come back and clean up. 

The good thing about Texas City is it‘s a resilient city.  The folks here will come back and work hard to clean it up.  And the city workers and the folks here are ready to come back in.  We‘ve got our plan put together.  We‘re ready to go. 

The only thing that is a big concern is what has been talked about previously, as I was listening to your show, is that the surge, the storm surge is the thing we are worried about most. 

CARLSON:  Is there any industry there that might cause environmental problems if it were hit hard by the storm?

DOYLE:  Most of that is already closed in.  They have shut it down. 

Everybody‘s shut down.  So I don‘t think that‘s going to be a big concern. 

CARLSON:  We hope not.  Mayor Matthew Doyle, mayor of Texas City, Texas, located on the coast.  Good luck, Mr. Mayor. 

DOYLE:  You all think about us and pray for us, we appreciate it. 

CARLSON:  We will. 

DOYLE:  Thanks. 

CARLSON:  Coming up next on THE SITUATION, a miraculous landing by a Jetblue pilot at LAX tonight.  We‘ll tell you just how difficult it was and how he was able to pull it off when we come back..


CARLSON:  Suspense and drama this evening on a Los Angeles runway.  Americans were riveted to their sets and the passengers on the plane were riveted to their sets as a plane carrying 145 passengers and crew made a perfect landing with its front wheels locked and sideways.  The pilot of the jetBlue airliner headed to New York‘s JFK Airport from Burbank is simply put a hero. 

Here to help us understand how tricky that landing was, retired airline pilot and former safety representative for the Airline Pilot‘s Association Captain Paul McCarthy.  He joins us by phone from Boston.  Thanks a lot Mr.  McCarthy for coming on.


CARLSON:  You were obviously a pilot for a long time.  You said you flew for Delta.  You must have some sense on how these pilots felt.  They must have been sort of scared weren‘t they do you think?

MCCARTHY:  Scared probably isn‘t the right emotion.  When you know you have a problem, the beauty here of modern technology is that the long range cameras actually gave him a very good idea of what the problem was.  Once you know what the problem is you create a plan and then you go ahead and fly the plane and it looks like it worked out perfectly in this case.

CARLSON:  Everybody who has talked about this, former pilots, passengers on the plane, it seems very calm but things could have come out very differently isn‘t that right?  I mean this could have been a disaster.

MCCARTHY:  Yes, really there were three things that could have happened. 

What you saw and what you‘re seeing right now was kind of the intermediate.  You have a small fire as the tire burns up.  The best case would have been the wheel would have what they call castered (ph) and it would have turned around like a normal landing gear.

The worst case would have been if the landing gear assembly, the strut, would have collapsed and the airplane would have been down on the nose of the fuselage.  That would have been, as I say, a worst case scenario.

CARLSON:  What happens at that point?

MCCARTHY:  Well, what happens at that point, the same fire you‘re seeing out of the tire now gets into the fuselage and you begin to jeopardize the overall integrity of the aircraft.

If the pilot doesn‘t put the nose down correctly if the nose does collapse and you have problems with the fuselage, you could end up looking very much like you saw in Air France a couple of months ago.

CARLSON:  This looks to the novice, me, like a perfect landing was it technically a perfect landing and was it hard to execute for the pilot?

MCCARTHY:  You know, believe it or not it wasn‘t that different from an ordinary landing.  You land the airplane.  You keep it on the center line and then the trick is letting the nose down where you still have control over the vertical speed of the aircraft and it looks like he gauged it just about right, about 90 or 100 knots or maybe 100 miles an hour is when you have to gently lower the nose to the ground.

CARLSON:  And we learned tonight, or I learned tonight that the Airbus 320 is not capable of jettisoning its fuel.  Why is that?

MCCARTHY:  Well, it‘s a case with an awful lot of airplanes, not just the Airbus but the Boeing airplanes as well.  The aircraft that are designed for what you‘d call short to intermediate range flights have really no need. 

The reason you use to jettison fuel was if you lost an engine and these aircraft are more than capable of flying on one engine with a full fuel load and so to reduce complexity and, quite frankly, ease of manufacture and ease of maintenance they‘ve done away with the fuel dump system on the smaller aircraft.

CARLSON:  What do you think?  The most striking thing about this whole story I thought was the fact that the passengers in the plane had actually a lot of information for once.  They were able to watch the coverage of this unfold on cable news, on television.  If you were the pilot, would you have kept the televisions on in the cabin?  Was that a wise move?

MCCARTHY:  That‘s a very hard question.  That goes back to some accidents we had 15 or 20 years ago when they used to have pictures in the cockpits so the passengers could watch what was happening from the pilot‘s point of view and we had that in a couple of accidents, one particularly in Chicago that would have argued, no it‘s not a good idea.

But here, the passengers knew what was going on.  They saw the video and that probably helped keep things under control back in the cabin, so it‘s something I hope that we‘ll be looking at as aviation safety folks as an aftermath of this incident.

CARLSON:  What happened in Chicago?  I don‘t remember that.

MCCARTHY:  That was an American Airlines aircraft that lost control in Chicago and the passengers actually would have had a pilot‘s eye view of the accident as the aircraft went in.

CARLSON:  That‘s horrifying.

MCCARTHY:  Yes, so that‘s a balance you have to make when you have this type of entertainment system back in the cabin of the airplane.

CARLSON:  And finally, when you‘re a pilot do you worry about losing control of your passengers bluntly put?  I mean someone flipping out and charging the cockpit.  I mean do you worry about keeping people calm?

MCCARTHY:  You know, you worry about keeping people calm because the passengers are your responsibility.  That‘s why you‘re there is to make sure those passengers are safe and they‘re in all respects taken care of. 

And, if I can avoid anxiety to the passengers while still keeping them informed, I will.  I‘ll never lie to them.  I‘ll never not tell them what‘s going on but I don‘t want to unnecessarily alarm people either.  And, in this case, it looks like this particular flight crew was able to balance that very, very well.

CARLSON:  It seems that way.  Captain Paul McCarthy thanks a lot for joining us.

MCCARTHY:  Thank you, Tucker.

CARLSON:  Well, for my next guest it‘s not a good flight unless there‘s turbulence.  Commander Michele Finn and her brave crew just returned from a surveillance mission around Hurricane Rita in a plane.  Commander Finn, thanks a lot for coming on.  How was your trip?

CMDR. MICHELE FINN:  Actually it was a pretty good trip.

CARLSON:  Flying into a hurricane was a good trip, well tell us about it.  I mean was it—what did the hurricane look like?  We‘ve been seeing representations of it all day on the tube but when you actually look out the window and see it what do you see?

FINN:  Well, obviously it‘s intensifying so, you know, we are up at flight level 410, 41,000 to 45,000 feet.  It looks a little bit different to us than it does for our NOAA P3s or the Air Force C-130s.

We climbed up to 410 right away, started flying to the south around the storm, headed down to the western tip of Cuba, shot the gap between Cuba and the Yucatan and then started weaving our way back up the western side of the storm and it was a pretty—pretty moderate flight for us.

CARLSON:  For you, yes.  When we last spoke to you, you had just taken a look at Katrina from the air.  How would you compare these two storms?

FINN:  They‘re very, very similar from my point of view up at that altitude.  When we were flying it was obviously intensifying.  The aircraft that were lower were reporting pressures dropping and, you know, it was just—it was obviously increasing.

CARLSON:  So, it‘s a scary looking storm then?

FINN:  It‘s a very scary looking storm and this one has hit me personally.  I went to school at Texas A&M at Galveston, so I have lots of friends and acquaintances still in that area.

CARLSON:  Now, I know that when you‘re up in the air you drop devices into the storm is that right?

FINN:  That‘s right.  I actually have an example right here.  This is kind of a mock-up.  The ones that we actually dropped aren‘t clear plastic.  They‘re actually cardboard.

We drop this device out in the storm.  We actually released about 28 of them today and this parachute will fly up and start slowing down the descent and this instrument will measure pressure, temperature, wind speed, direction as it drops from the aircraft up at flight level 410 to 450 down to the surface, send that information back to the aircraft and then we package the information and send it back to the meteorologists at the hurricane center.

CARLSON:  So, who‘s the guy with the job of tossing those things out the window at 40,000 feet?

FINN:  Actually we had two birthday boys tossing them out today and actually they don‘t toss it out of the window.  We have a pressurized drop tube in the back of the airplane, so they drop them out every 15 to 20 minutes.

CARLSON:  What‘s the turbulence like as you‘re flying around the storm?

FINN:  We only encountered slight turbulence, very, very, very slight turbulence today.  I‘m expecting it to get a little bit more interesting tomorrow and Friday.

CARLSON:  These storms are so huge and so powerful, I don‘t need to tell you.  Are you ever concerned about the structural integrity of the plane?

FINN:  No, I‘m not.  We basically when we‘re flying up at flight level 410 to 450 my job is to avoid all of the major convection at our altitude and we‘ve got a great radar.  I‘ve got a meteorologist that backs me up avoiding that weather.  And, as far as the plane goes, we‘ve got great maintenance technicians working on it, so I really don‘t worry about my aircraft.

CARLSON:  So, the plane can handle a pretty rough ride then?

FINN:  That‘s right but the goal is to not make it go through any—any major turbulence.

CARLSON:  What‘s the roughest you‘ve had?

FINN:  We‘ve had a couple, a couple hits of moderate turbulence where we—we lose a couple hundred feet, lose and gain a couple hundred feet but that‘s really usually pretty short lived.

CARLSON:  Boy, if I dropped a couple hundred feet in a plane I‘d be concerned.

FINN:  Well, our co-workers on the P3 pretty much experience a little bit more glory and a little bit more activity down at lower altitudes.

CARLSON:  Boy, you‘re brave, Commander Michele Finn thanks a lot for coming on.

FINN:  Thank you.

CARLSON:  Good luck tomorrow by the way.

FINN:  Thank you.

CARLSON:  Still ahead on THE SITUATION, it‘s almost impossible to imagine a more devastating storm than Katrina but we‘ll talk to a man who says we had better start imagining it, a shocking look at Rita‘s potential impact on the gulf coast when we come back.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If you‘re on the coast between Beaumont and Corpus Christi, now is the time to leave.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don‘t want to be left behind.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes, I just want to get off the island and be safe, be with my family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Two more people.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  People loading up their whole families.  They‘re getting out early.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We are not assuming anything.  We are going to be hooked at the hip with emergency managers to make sure that we‘re all prepared.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It‘s battening down the hatches, pulling anything in that can fly or float.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We hope and pray that Hurricane Rita will not be a devastating storm but we got to be ready for the worst.


CARLSON:   A Houston, Texas engineering firm has assembled a chilling worst case scenario model of what could happen if a category five hurricane landed a direct hit on the gulf coast of Texas.  In addition to the toll on human lives the impact on the region‘s crucial oil economy would be devastating.

I‘m joined now by Chris Johnson.  He‘s the president of Dodson and Associates, the firm that built that model, Mr. Johnson thanks for coming on.

CHRIS JOHNSON, DODSON AND ASSOCIATES (by telephone):  My pleasure.

CARLSON:  So what kind of destruction could Hurricane Rita bring?

JOHNSON:  Well, the storm surge itself could cover about 369 square miles assuming a category five hurricane hits the city of Houston and Galveston just right and that land area is about twice the size of the city of New Orleans.

CARLSON:  So, are you saying that the actual city of Houston, which I realize is enormous geographically but could there be parts of the actual city of Houston that are affected by the storm?

JOHNSON:  Well, quite a bit actually.  The southern, southeastern quadrant of Harris County would in a large degree be covered with water.  That‘s basically the Houston ship channel area that includes a lot of the petrochemical industries and the Port of Houston, the Johnson Space Center just to name a few.

CARLSON:  Now, I know that having recently driven through there, there are a lot of petrochemical plants in that area.  What would be the effect of the storm on them?

JOHNSON:  Well, I‘m sure that many of those facilities have levee protection for high water from river flooding and some storm surge.  The question that‘s out there is how high are those levees and what condition are they are in? 

We saw in the example with Katrina in New Orleans that the levees were not high enough and in the cases of many facilities it‘s very rare to design a levee to the height to withstand a category five storm surge.

CARLSON:  I wonder why though.  I mean this is an area, Galveston anyway, famously was the location of the worst natural disaster in American history.


CARLSON:  And so, I mean you would think that physically the building codes, for instance, would be, you know, to such a point that buildings would be able to withstand, you know, a pretty rough storm, you know.

JOHNSON;  Yes, it‘s a—it‘s a risk analysis when you look at something that‘s very, very, very rare occurring.  Unfortunately, the way that that needs to be assessed is to recognize the potential for harm should it actually occur.

CARLSON:  Right.  But if, I mean residents, you know, residential buildings are one thing but if you‘ve got a petrochemical plant, you know, you‘ve got to be thinking about your responsibility to all the people who live around that plant and you‘ve got to be building and taking precautions accordingly, so you‘d think these places would be able to withstand anything, is that a wrong assumption?

JOHNSON:  Well, again, it gets back to what‘s reasonable expense and how much protection do you need?  And that‘s everybody‘s question about, you know, do I evacuate or not?  Do I carry this much insurance or not?  It‘s a risk based decision and facilities plan for something that is rare but they don‘t plan on total protection from anything that could ever happen.

CARLSON:  Well, as someone who plans for a living what would you do?  Would you evacuate if you—are you evacuating by the way?

JOHNSON:  Well, I am—I‘m in my home tonight but I live in Spring, which is on the north side of Harris County.

CARLSON:  Yes.  And, finally, is this going to affect the rest of the country‘s oil supply?  It seems like there are a lot of oil refineries down there.  Are we going to feel it economically do you think?

JOHNSON:  Well, I‘m not an economist.  I‘m not a petrochemical expert but just a hydrologist and hydraulics engineer.  But looking at about 36 chemical plants and five oil refineries and recognizing the refinery capacity along the upper Texas coast is in excess of the entire state of Louisiana, I would think that we‘re at a larger impact from a worst case scenario coming up through Galveston than Katrina did for us.

CARLSON:  That is just—this could be worse than Katrina.  That is just -

I think that is shocking to such an extent I don‘t think most people really believe it and I hope we‘re all wrong that it‘s not worse but it sounds like it really could be.

JOHNSON:  Well, one of the points of good news is, is in Katrina you‘ve got a situation where it took several days or weeks to drain the water off.  In our case, we do have some slope and water will drain off given a little time.  So, we may not see the duration of inundation that we saw in New Orleans but we certainly do have the high property values, the industry and the pure square mile coverage probably in excess of.

CARLSON:  All right, Chris Johnson, president of Dodson and Associates joining us tonight from Texas, thanks.

JOHNSON:  You bet.

CARLSON:  Still ahead on THE SITUATION, Katrina was supposed to be a once in a generation storm but here we are just weeks later faced with another huge category five that could be as bad or worse.  Is there a reason for this terrible hurricane season and could it get worse, answers when we come back.


CARLSON:  Two monster hurricanes in just three weeks and the season is still far from over.  Is this a sign of things to come?

NBC News Chief Science Correspondent Robert Bazell looks at what might be causing this destructive phenomenon.


ROBERT BAZELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF SCIENCE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It looks to be a record.  In recorded history, two storms as powerful as Rita and Katrina have never hit the U.S. in one season.  A coincidence perhaps but scientists say ocean temperature could be a big factor.

DR. DAVID ADAMEC, NASA:  If you think of a hurricane like a car there‘s a lot of parts that make it go but the sea surface temperatures and the heat that‘s provided by the ocean that‘s the gasoline that keeps the whole thing going.

BAZELL:  In the gulf, there is a lot of fuel right now.  To measure sea temperature researchers use buoys that transmit readings directly, as well as remote sensing satellites.  Those readings have found record temperatures in the gulf and Atlantic this year.

ADAMEC:  The sun was having an easy time reaching the sea surface there and just warmed u the water and just made it ripe for a lot of strong, intense hurricanes this year.

BAZELL:  The big question will the trends continue in future years?

(on camera):  Scientists say that one season, even like this one, cannot indicate anything about climate change but those same measurements show that in the past 50 years the oceans have warmed by one degree.  That may not sound like much but experts say it is a lot of energy.

(voice-over):  Indeed, recent studies show that worldwide the number of category four and five hurricanes has doubled with that one degree change, a source of worry.

DR. STEPHEN SCHNEIDER, STANFORD UNIVERSITY:  At the moment we‘ve only warmed up one.  What happens when we warm up three or five, which is projected in the next several decades to the end of the century?

BAZELL:  Warming that many experts say results partly from humans releasing greenhouse gasses. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That was a floating casino barge just literally lifted up and was dumped on the other side.

BAZELL:  Possibly creating even more violent storms in the future.

Robert Bazell, NBC News, New York.


CARLSON:  Still ahead on THE SITUATION we‘ll look in on the NBC Weather Plus satellite for the very latest position and the strength of what quickly has become a monster hurricane, Hurricane Rita.  Stay with us.


CARLSON:  There it is, Hurricane Rita.  It started as a tropical storm, not taken seriously by some.  It is now today officially the third strongest hurricane ever measured in that region, sustained winds of 165 miles an hour, 140 miles wide.  Experts say this is as big and destructive as it looks. 

It‘s aimed directly at the gulf coast of Texas and including its vulnerable petrochemical plants there.  This could turn out to be not simply a human disaster but an environmental disaster as well.  We‘ll be covering it.

That‘s THE SITUATION for tonight.  Thanks a lot for watching.


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