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tv   NBC Nightly News  NBC  April 2, 2011 5:30pm-6:00pm PDT

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hand. nice. later tonight it's the wondercon masquerade where everyone is invited to dress up as their favorite character. it runs through tomorrow if you missed it today. midair scare. a southwest airliner forced to make an emergency landing after part of the plane opens up at 34,000 feet. into the sea. radiation from that crippled nuclear plant leaking directly into the pacific ocean. friendly fire. nato forces hit the wrong targets in libya. more than a dozen are killed. and it's a wonderful life. one small town rallies around a favorite son on the road to the one small town rallies around a favorite son on the road to the final four. captions paid for by nbc-universal television good evening.
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it was a very close call. 34,000 feet over the skies of arizona last evening. when a large hole ripped open atop a southwest airlines jet full of passengers. the oxygen masks we hear about on those routine preflight safety announcements became lifesavers to passengers as the jet suffered a sudden decompression, exposing the interior of the plane to open daylight. dozens of the airline's 737s are grounded, temporarily taken out of service by southwest itself. and investigators are racing to learn what happened and whether there may be a larger maintenance problem with the fleet. nbc's tom costello covers aviation for us. he's in our washington bureau now. tom, good evening. >> reporter: hi, lester. nearly 80 southwest 737-300s have been taken out of service as southwest looks for any signs of the kind of cracking that may have caused this hole to open up
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midflight. 118 passengers on board along with five crew members. they all got off alive, one flight attendant and a few passengers passed out from a lack of oxygen as air was sucked out of the cabin. investigators on the ground in yuma, arizona, today looking over the southwest 737 that made an emergency landing late friday, after a five-foot hole ripped open midnight mid-flight. passengers described a loud bang, then a rush of air escaping from the cabin. >> and bam, i mean, just incredible noise, and then while you're trying to process what just happened, then oxygen masks come down. >> not everyone was getting their mask on. some were having problems, people were passing out. it was not good. >> reporter: flight 812 had just reaches cruising altitude after departing from phoenix, bound for sacramento, when suddenly that large section of the airliner's skin ripped open, right over the passengers' heads. the pilot quickly descended then
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made an emergency landing at a military base in yuma. >> i thought we were going down, i really did. it seemed like we were dropping pretty fast. >> anytime you have a rapid decompression of on an aircraft, it is a big deal, just from the standpoint of safety. it is a startling event not only for the passengers, but the flight crew. >> reporter: the plane involved, a 15-year-old 737-300. another southwest plane had a hole open up in the roof nearly two years ago at 30,000 feet, forcing an emergency landing in west virginia. that led to several faa air worthiness directives. airlines were ordered to inspect 737s for signs of metal fatigue. two years ago, the faa fined southwest $7.5 million for failing to conduct timely crack inspections on its 737 fleet. we talked to the ntsb on the scene. >> we will be looking at everything. right now we are here to look at this accident, and if we find issues related to this accident that could be applied to the rest of the fleet, we will make
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that point known. >> reporter: and metal fatigue has led to tragedy. in 2005, a chalk's airways plane crashed on takeoff from miami when its wing ripped off. 20 people were killed. in 1988, the top of an aloha airlines plane tore off in flight. a flight attendant was sucked out of the plane to her death. metal fatigue is caused by the constant movement on the skin of the airplane, the constant contraction and expansion, every time the plane takes off for or lands. and those cycles are more important than the age of the aircraft. this aircraft was 15 years old, with nearly 40,000 cycles. >> as you know, there are an awful lot of 737s in the sky, a lot of them doing a lot of short hops, takeoffs and landings as you described. what's the word on the airplane right now? >> yeah, this is a workhorse for the industry as you well know now, but it is aging. southwest has been trying to remove or get rid of these 737-300s and replace them.
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the faa says that in the united states right now there are a total of about 288 737-300s in service. worldwide, about 1,000. >> tom costello in washington, thank you. greg fife is a former ntsb investigators. we just saw him in tom's report, he joins us from the newsroom at our affiliate kusa in denver. greg, i think a lot of people looking at this, a three-foot hole in an airplane, how much danger were these passengers in? could this plane have crashed? >> no, not from the standpoint of this type of failure in the fuselage itself. the big thing is, if there was a structural compromise where -- like aloha where you lost a very big chunk of that airplane. but in this case it ripped open a three to four-foot hole. there's what's called tear straps under the skin to prevent that rip from propagating even further. from that standpoint they were never in danger of crashing this airplane. >> we have seen these incidents before, as tom pointed out. has the industry underestimated the toll that age and repeated landings and takeoffs take on airplanes?
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>> i don't think they've underestimated it, lester. i think we have to be very cautious, because we know from history, there's been aging aircraft issues and, of course, this is an older aircraft. however, we also have to look at the fookt that this is a new event. it could be something totally unrelated to the process of aging aircraft but more to the inspection now. because there are more xprensive inspections and the mechanics could actually do damage by doing some of these inspections. we have to wait until the ntsb does their investigation. >> at 34,000 feet, you have to get oxygen on in a hurry or as we saw on that flight, people start passing out. we heard the government pulled air masks from lavatories for security reasons. might they revisit that decision now? >> i'm not sure they will because i think security is more highlighted than safety with regard to -- these are rare events as far as a rapid decompression or explosive
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decompression. i think from the standpoint of security, they're more concerned about the bad guys doing something bad in a lavatory, with an oxygen generator as we've seen the damage that can be done from valujet. i think if there is an event like this, whoever is in a lavatory at the time, will have to find their way to an oxygen mask. but because it's such a rare event, i think the odds are against this happening again, where somebody would be compromised as far as their health is concerned without a lavatory oxygen generator. >> greg fife, good to have you on, thanks for sharing your expertise with us. there were two other air scares in the past 24 hours, a delta flight from atlanta landed safely in little rock after hitting a flock of birds. and an american airlines plane lost cabin pressure when flying washington to chicago. some passengers fainted. the plane landed safely in dayton. now, to libya. a friendly fire accident that has left a dozen rebel fires dead.
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a nato air strike accidentally targeted the forces fighting against moammar gadhafi. this as the u.s. is ending combat missions in libya. nbc's chief foreign correspondent richard engel is in benghazi with the latest for us. >> reporter: this was the deadliest case of friendly fire in this conflict so far, but it has not created a major backlash and angry reaction, as rebel leaders realize that they still need western air support. the rebels' front line is slowly advancing through the desert near the town of brega. nato air strikes clear the way, targeting gadhafi's tanks and jeeps. jeeps that look just like the ones used by the rebels. friendly fire on this chaotic highway battlefield may have just been a matter of time. witnesses say a nato jet today destroyed a convoy of vehicles killing at least a dozen rebels. but the rebels may have
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triggered it. witnesses say the rebels who have a tendency to shoot wildly in the air, fired anti-aircraft guns at the nato aircraft which shot back. the rebels quickly buried their dead in makeshift graves nearby. the opposition leadership in benghazi called the incident unfortunate but did not condemn nato. >> we feel sorry for the families who lost their children in this particular attack, however, we think it is necessary for nato to keep doing what they are doing because the benefit is much greater than what has happened today. >> nato says it's investigating the attack, which comes as the united states is preparing to end its combat missions over libya. the pentagon has said, as of sunday, american aircraft will continue to gather intelligence and refuel fighter jets, but no longer drop bombs. it ends a critical phase of the combat operation. and avoids the risk that american troops will cause
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civilian casualties, always a significant danger in an air campaign without troops on the ground to identify targets. as of now here in libya, the deadline for u.s. aircraft to stop flying bombing missions has passed. however, u.s. planes will remain on standby in case they're called for for emergency support. >> richard engel in benghazi, thanks. turning to afghanistan and another day of deadly protests. nbc's peter alexander report on the latest upheavals in a country where americans continue to serve. and die. >> reporter: in the southern city of khandahar, thousands of protesters stormed the streets today, unleashing a second day of deadly riots. the demonstrations fuelled by the burning of a koran, by american terry jones, the radical pastor of a fundamentalist church in florida who sparked worldwide condemnation after threatening to do the same last september.
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the violence started friday, where protesters killed seven foreigners at a united nations compound. it comes just three months before the americans are scheduled to begin handing over security to afghan troops. a process set to begin this july and end in 2014. >> in many places in afghanistan, security is much better, but in a lot of the critical areas, the challenge is huge and we're not going to make any improvement between now and the time we're going to leave. >> reporter: while most attention has been focused on america's intervention in libya, as well as nuclear fears in japan, still 100,000 troops are fighting in afghanistan, where the dangers have not diminished. since the war began, 1,410 american service members have lost their lives in afghanistan. 75 service members this year alone. on thursday, six flag-draped coffins arrived at dover air force base, carrying a staff sergeant from florida, a specialist from california, and a pfc from arizona.
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the fallen all members of the 101st airborne division screaming eagles, suffering its deadliest tour since vietnam. among those lost, frank adamski of connecticut, home just last month to celebrate his daughter's first birthday. he died in an ambush a day before turning 27. and private jeremy falkner of georgia who was due home this month. >> i know he would want us to think he died for the right causes. and that's the idea that i have, that he didn't die in vain. >> reporter: nearly ten years into america's longest war, the sacrifice endures. peter alexander, nbc news, new york. as many as 1,000 people may be dead in the power struggle that is tearing apart the west african nation of ivory coast. a roman catholic charity and the international red cross are reporting the killings which took place in a town where a thousand u.n. peacekeepers are stationed. ivory coast has been embroiled
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in a civil war for many years but held elections last november. the president at that time was getted but is refusing to give up power. forces loyal to the candidate who won the election are trying to oust him. for the first time in nearly two years, there was deadly violence today in northern ireland. a young catholic policeman was killed when a bomb exploded under his car. police blame ira dissidents. that have been targeting police officers. omar was the site of a horrific attack in 1998, an ira splitter group detonated a car bomb that killed 29 people and injured hundreds of others. international outrage over that attack spurred on the ira peace process. back here at home, president obama had a busy saturday placing calls to house speaker john boehner and senate majority leader harry reid pressing them to agree on a $73 billion series of cuts from this year's budget. the government faces a shutdown on friday without a budget settlement or another extension of the deadline. meanwhile, the president's political advisers say he could
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file with the federal election commission as early as monday and begin raising money for his reelection campaign. but those same advisers say that could be delayed until the budget impasse is resolved. david gregory will have much more on this tomorrow morning on "meet the press." assistant majority leader senator dick durbin of illinois will be among david's guests. still ahead this saturday night on "nightly news" -- troubling news from japan. investigators discover a source of radiation from the damaged nuclear plant leaking directly into the ocean. how dangerous is it? also ahead -- where is spring? from a major league hailstorm in washington to a heat wave in the west. and tonight forecast for dangerous weather tomorrow. hoop dreams. getting a hometown hero's family to the big game. we'll be right back.
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another setback to report tonight in the effort to gain control of the fukushima nuclear power plant in japan. highly radioactive water continues to leak directly into the pacific ocean. officials now know where it's coming from. nbc' lee cowan is in tokyo tonight. >> reporter: they are the latest images from the crippled nuclear power plant. steam and smoke can still be seen rising from reactor number four. but it's what's going on near reactor number two, in that hole the worker is pointing to, that is the most immediate concern. japan's nuclear regulator says
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that highly radioactive water flooded that compartment and it was seeping into the ocean from an eight-inch crack. engineers hope to seal the leak, but since there's so much water, so far, that hasn't worked. experts say the radioactive iodine will disperse quickly once it hits the ocean, posing no significant health risk. the real threat is to the workers on site who still have to battle to stop it. today japan's prime minister arrived in the disaster zone. the first time he's set foot in the devastated landscape since in tsunami rolled ashore three weeks ago, and the view is unsettling. there are so many bodies being recovered, 12,000 at last count, that identification in many cases is impossible. local cream tore yums, the custom here in japan, are either destroyed or overloaded. some bodies are being shipped to tokyo's crematorium, where buddhist monks now gather to offer blessings for those they've never met.
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>> we want to be with them, those who lost their loved ones. >> reporter: it is a grim procession, more than 20 bodies a day coming here. outnumbered only by those who come to pay their respects. they arrive every few minutes, strangers bringing flowers and earnest offerings to those who have lost so much. their bodies, this woman lamented, are just so far from home. out of all that is lost -- and there is plenty -- dignity, it seems, still stood strong. lee cowan, nbc news, tokyo. when we come back, what's behind all the wild weather this weekend. and there's more on the way.
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the baseball season started this week, which is supposed to mean spring is here. but with snow in the east, record high temperatures in the west, many are asking what's going on. kristen welker reports. >> a rain and hail delay. >> reporter: this is spring in the nation's capital. the nationals game delayed due to hail. a powerful end of the week storm walloped the northeast. more than a foot of snow fell in parts of new hampshire and maine where they had to remove it in time for the upcoming red sox minor league game. in new york and new jersey they were also digging out, this after a winter that brought record snowfalls, a staggering 178 inches in some parts of new york alone. in florida, it was heavy rain that wreaked havoc. as many as nine tornados touched
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down, and powerful thunderstorms pounded the area, leaving two dozen homes damaged. the conditions even creating problems for nasa. officials are now conducting extensive inspections on the space shuttle, expected to lift off later this month. >> the reason we see these changes this time of year, the jet stream pattern starts to change as we head into spring. we see widespread severe weather outbreaks. >> reporter: the weather has also been extreme out west, where record highs were set today from the sierras to southern california. phoenix topped out at 100 degrees friday. meteorologists say with another system expected sunday, people in the nation's midsection to the east coast should brace themselves for more severe weather. kristen welker, nbc news, los angeles. arizona congresswoman gabrielle giffords is making an amazing recovery, according to daniel hernandez, the intern credited with saving her life when she was shot in tucson in january. hernandez has talked to the congresswoman several times on
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the phone while she recovers in houston. meanwhile, the youngest to die in the shooting 9-year-old christina taylor green, was honored last night in tucson. a ten-foot silver statue of an angel was unveiled just beyond the little league field where christina once played. up next here tonight -- with the final four taking the court, how one mrair's hometown pitched in to make sure his family could be there.
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we leave you tonight with
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the story of a small town that's seen some pretty tough times but still found reason to make one family's dreams come true on this special night, when the final four take the court. our report from nbc's janet shamlian. >> reporter: stan howard isn't a rich man, unless you count his wealth in friends. >> i don't really consider myself anything but a mailman. that's all i am. >> reporter: the father of ten has delivered mail for years in this small indiana town. so it came as a surprise when residents started making deliveries of their own to him. >> he says, give that to you and use it for whatever. >> thank you. >> reporter: howard's son matt is the star forward for the butler bulldogs and a hometown hero in connersville. when butler made the final four, the howards weren't sure they could afford the trip and never considered asking for help in a town that itself was struggling. >> we haven't had too much to smile about here in connersville for a long time.
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>> how do you like my flag? >> reporter: matt howard brought back that smile. you can see it all over. connersville decided his family had to see him play. a rally had neighbors opening their hearts and wallets. a dime here and a dollar there. >> we've had to empty that money box down there twice a day. i mean, it gets full in a hurry. >> reporter: the full court press was enough to raise thousands and get the entire family to the game. tonight the howards are in houston, almost in disbelief. >> i feel like i shouldn't be here and i'm going to wake up and find myself back at home. that's really how i'm feeling. but some day i'll look back on this and think, wow, look at what happened. >> they are watching matt courtside, knowing connersville is watching, too. >> it's beyond money, it's beyond words, it's just a priceless experience, and we just want to take it all in and be a part and enjoy it with him. >> reporter: a hard-luck town comes through with an assist to help deliver on a dream. janet shamlian, nbc news, atlanta.
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that's "nbc nightly news" for this saturday. i'm lester holt reporting from new york. i'll see you tomorrow morning on "today" and then right back here tomorrow evening. "today" and then right back here tomorrow evening. good night. -- captions by vitac -- right now, at 6:00, a gaping hole in a southwest plane opens up new questions about the


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