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U.S. Department of State
96/04/03 Daily Press Briefing
Office of the Spokesman
 
 
 
                          U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE 
                            DAILY PRESS BRIEFING 
 
                                 I N D E X  
 
                          Wednesday, April 3, 1996 
 
 
                                             Briefer:  Glyn Davies 
 
 
FORMER YUGOSLAVIA 
  Crash of Aircraft Carrying Secretary of Commerce Ron 
    Brown in Mountains of Croatia .........................  1-10  
  --Secretary Christopher to Return to Washington D.C......   1  
  --Objectives of Secretary Brown's Mission to the Balkans.   2  
  --General Michael Canavan Leading Investigation at  
      Crash Site...........................................   2  
  --Difficulties Inhibiting Initial Investigation..........  3,4 
  --Release of Aircraft Manifest...........................  1,3,4-6 
  --Establishment of State Department Task Force...........  1,7-8 
  --Activities of Ambassador Peter Galbraith...............  8-9 
  --Effect on U.S. Economic Reconstuction Efforts in Bosnia  9-10 
 
 

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING

DPB #52

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 3, 1996, 6:46 P. M.
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

MR. DAVIES: Welcome to this briefing. I'm sorry it's so late. Today has been a very sad day -- a very sad day for all of us in public service.

I wanted to do a couple of things for you, and then I'll take your questions. My main purpose is to update you on our efforts to establish the facts, as best as we can establish them at this stage, relating to the crash of the aircraft that we believe to have been carrying Commerce Secretary Brown and his party from Tuzla to Dubrovnik this morning.

The crash, we believe, would have occurred at some time around 8:00 o'clock in the morning, Eastern Standard Time. You've heard what the President had to say at the Commerce Department. You've heard what General Howell Estes said in his briefing at the Pentagon.

I can report to you for this Department that Secretary Christopher is returning to Washington tonight. He made the decision actually some time ago to do this. He decided this morning that he really ought to be here and made that decision before we even had many of the facts, but he decided he should come back and be in place here in Washington and cut short his trip out to California. He obviously is very shocked and saddened by the reports as we have them.

I also wanted to say how grateful we are at this stage to Croatian authorities for their fine work. They've been very helpful to us. They continue to be. Their police and special forces, their search and rescue forces, have been first-rate in assisting us.

I also wanted to let you know that we've made a decision about the manifest. We do have a manifest of the aircraft. We've got the names. We've been in touch with all of the families in one form or another. Our Bureau of Consular Affairs has taken a lead out at the Task Force in this building.

We've decided that we want to give the families one night to deal with this. Therefore, we're not going to release the manifest at this stage.

This is a bit of an unusual case, of course, because it's so far away, and we have so few facts at this time that we didn't think it would be fair for us to release that list of names, and then, of course, subject them to a great deal of scrutiny.

I wanted quickly to review for you what Commerce Secretary Brown was up to in the Balkans very briefly, since that's gotten a bit lost here. He was doing a terrific job leading a business delegation representing companies specializing in infrastructure, transport, energy, tourism and financial services, trying to promote foreign investment to generate long-term economic development in Bosnia and Croatia. The mission was designed to be an affirmation of U.S. support for Bosnia reconstruction and meant to demonstrate American interest in reviving the Bosnian economy and confidence in Bosnia's future.

As to the facts on the ground -- and this goes partly to explain my delay in coming out here -- reports are still very sketchy. There are a number of Croatian officials who are at the crash site, which is just north of the airport. There have been varying reports of a possibility of a survivor or two. I can't confirm those reports at this stage.

There have been some reports that the Croatians have been able to actually get a hold of nine of the sets of remains from the crash site. We've been unable to confirm that, because for the most part there's been very little in the way of Croatian officials coming back to Dubrovnik with the results of what they've been up to.

Our military is on the ground out there. In fact, there's a General Officer, General Canavan, who I think was mentioned in General Estes briefing, who is the Commander of the Special Operations Command for Europe. He is on the ground there. He is en route to the site. He's got with him on the order of about a dozen U.S. servicemen, and he has, of course, Croatian officials accompanying him.

I can't yet confirm that they've reached the crash site. They're trying to get there, but General Canavan is there. He is kind of the advance, if you will, of the official American presence to deal with this.

With that very sketchy information, because that's all we can really confirm at this stage, I'll go to your questions.

Q If you can't give us the manifest, can you tell us how many were on board and how many were from government agencies and how many were from the private sector, and was there anybody from the State Department on board?

MR. DAVIES: I'm not even in a position at this stage to give you very much detail there, except to say there were, according to the manifest that we have out of Tuzla, 27 civilians and about six crew. What I don't have for you right now and can't give you is any kind of a breakdown of those civilians -- how many were government, how many were from the private sector. That is information that obviously we'll try to get to you as soon as we can, and I would look for it tomorrow morning.

Q Why were the Croatians able to get to the crash site so much sooner than the Americans?

MR. DAVIES: The Croatians, as I understand it -- first off, there were some Croatians actually in that area -- police forces, if you will. This is all very sketchy and reported. It's difficult to confirm it. They were able to get up there, first of all, because they're there, and because we really had virtually nobody there except for Ambassador Peter Galbraith and a couple of other Embassy officials who were at the airport waiting for Secretary Brown's plane to arrive.

The initial reports, as General Estes made clear, were that in fact the plane might be down in the water, so that was where we directed our search-and-rescue efforts initially; in other words, to the area right near the airport in the Adriatic.

It was after a couple of hours that we began to get the reports that wreckage had been spotted in the hills about three miles north of the airport, and that's when the effort turned to examining the evidence there.

The problem is, of course, they're seven hours ahead of us. The weather has been horrid. It's been raining. The sea has been extremely choppy, which inhibited the initial effort to check out the reports that something might have happened in the water. They went up there. They tried to land, as I understand it. They simply couldn't, given the terrain, the weather, the lack of daylight. That's when the focus turned to trying to get a U.S. party from the ground from Dubrovnik airport out there, and that's what's happening now.

Q We monitor the area and that airspace quite thoroughly with AWACS and other things. I mean, was there no indication that the plane had gone down from our own AWACS aircraft? I mean, it sounded like people are standing around on the Tarmac looking at their watches, saying, "Gee, it's awfully late."

MR. DAVIES: I wouldn't jump to that sort of conclusion, and I can't speak for the Pentagon and what kind of information they might have had from AWACS aircraft or from the National Military Command Center.

I can assure you that the instant, obviously, the people in this building and people in the Pentagon began to get an inkling that his plane was late, all energies were directed to try to find out what was happening with his aircraft.

As in all situations like this, you get conflicting initial reports. It's very difficult to figure out what the facts are, and it took some time to do that. We had these mitigating circumstances -- very few Americans on the ground, bad weather -- the weather continues to be terrible, and then, of course, nightfall.

Q Glyn, at what point would you sort of start to be concerned? Fifteen minutes, half an hour, an hour? At what point did the U.S. Government start to be concerned?

MR. DAVIES: What I don't have at this stage is any kind of a -- I mean, I can't go back and give you a minute-by-minute breakdown on what everybody's activities were from the point at which we noted that this plane was late. But Ambassador Galbraith, I think, was the very first person to phone back here -- I don't have a precise time on that -- to indicate that the plane hadn't yet arrived, and that he was concerned about it. That sort of started the ball rolling from this end.

I can't speak to what various people may have had on their radar screens. I just don't know.

Q Do you know what time he phoned?

MR. DAVIES: I don't. I don't have a specific time. I do know that it was along about -- well, shortly after 9:00 o'clock, I think, in the morning, to my knowledge. I first learned of the possibility that something might have been amiss shortly after 9:00 o'clock this morning.

Q Anticipating your decision on the manifest, our aviation reporter has asked me to asked this question: Ever since Pan Am 103, the State Department has been badgering the airlines in plane crashes to release the manifest promptly. How do you square your decision with that policy?

MR. DAVIES: I'm not certain I agree that we've been pressing airlines to release manifests publicly, early on. Here, my history is perhaps not precise. But we've often, in these cases, tried to get the manifests in our hands from airlines early on; sometimes that has proven difficult for various reasons, but I don't know that we've pressed airlines to make public disclosure of airline manifests early.

Q Filing break?

MR. DAVIES: Sure, filing break.

Q Just for the record, then, there would have been about two, perhaps two and a half, three hours of daylight between when this plane crashed and when the sun set; correct?

MR. DAVIES: I think part of the problem today out in the area has been a lack of light of any kind given the low overcast, the fact that it's been very dark.

Q It crashed at approximately what time?

MR. DAVIES: We think it may well have gone down at around 8:00 Eastern Standard Time.

Q Which would be 3:00 p.m. there?

MR. DAVIES: Approximately. That's right.

Q The sun wouldn't set before about 6:00 this time of year?

MR. DAVIES: That's right, if you can see the sun, which it's not clear --

Q There would be daylight through the clouds before it got dark?

MR. DAVIES: That's correct.

George.

Q Do you have any idea when you're going to release the manifest tomorrow so that we don't have a lot of people standing around waiting?

MR. DAVIES: Sure. I don't know. It's obviously my interest to help you out and to do it as early as possible. I will do everything I can to get it out before our normal briefing time of 1:00, and as close to our opening of business as possible.

Q Can you put the announcement on the phone message for tomorrow?

MR. DAVIES: To give you a time when we would do that?

Q Yeah.

MR. DAVIES: There's still some work to be done that relates to the Privacy Act. Here's our problem: We haven't yet had American officials at the scene who have been able to confirm any facts about survivors, any facts about numbers of casualties.

I don't know that we've even had an opportunity yet to actually eyeball a tail number and confirm this beyond a shadow of a doubt. So there's some work to be done, I think, between now and tomorrow morning. And tomorrow morning, as soon as we can, we'll release it.

Q Can you walk us through the process in terms of what will happen with the remains, or if there are any survivors? Will they be taken to a U.S. base in Germany or --

MR. DAVIES: I just can't. It's just too early to be able to tell you precisely what will be done. I understand that the Pentagon will make an effort to get as many assets as they can to Dubrovnik so that they'll be able to do a lot of the work there. I just can't confirm now how precisely it will work; where remains will be brought initially.

There is, of course, a hospital in Dubrovnik, and I think that that hospital is on alert and is engaged in this as well.

Q Two questions. Exactly who did Galbraith telephone here in the State Department with the warning that the airplane might be missing?

And then the second question is: At the time the airplane was supposed to land at the airport, was the weather condition such that it was safe for a landing; in this case, an instrument landing?

MR. DAVIES: Your questions about the aircraft -- to take your second question first -- and the instrument landing and the beacons, and so forth, you would have to direct to the Pentagon. I'm just not competent to tell you when it's safe to land or fly or what-have-you.

In terms of the phone call, I can't tell you exactly who got the first call from Ambassador Galbraith. I was in a meeting up in Under Secretary of State Tarnoff's office when I learned of it. At that point, it was understanding that Ambassador Galbraith was talking to Under Secretary Tarnoff.

Acting Secretary Talbott was also in that meeting. He became engaged immediately in the whole process. Acting Secretary Talbott has, from our end here at the State Department today, run our efforts. He's visited the Task Force that we've stood up that will remain up overnight. He's directed the assets of the Department as we move forward here.

Q So they interrupted the meeting you had with Tarnoff and Talbott, etc., and brought the news in? Exactly how? Roughly around 9:00. Was this the first news the U.S. Government had of this?

MR. DAVIES: I can't confirm that it was the first news the U.S. Government had of this. All I can tell you is, from the standpoint of this Department -- and actually me, personally, since I'm the most reliable source for you here today -- that was when I learned of it. It was my impression that it was at that point that we were getting the initial calls.

Q (Inaudible) level morning meeting --

MR. DAVIES: This was a senior-level morning meeting. It's a standard meeting that was occurring and a number of people were present. That's when we got the word -- the initial reports which were very sketchy, contradictory. It took a number of hours to hash through this.

Is this a follow-up?

Q Since it's not immediately evident from our vantage point here, can you tell us exactly what the State Department is doing during this crisis? For example, what are they doing in the Op Center? What is the joint Task Force --

MR. DAVIES: Sure.

Q -- what were they doing sitting around the table? Are they calling families? Or is the Defense Department calling families?

MR. DAVIES: The State Department has taken the lead. Again, our Bureau of Consular Affairs -- Assistant Secretary Mary Ryan has been, herself, very much engaged in talking with the families of the people on the manifest.

The Operations Center was the initial point of contact. We stood up a Task Force this morning, I believe before noon. I don't have a precise time.

On the Task Force are a number of elements of offices, not just in this building, but also of departments around town; so we have people from the Commerce Department, people from the Pentagon on the Task Force.

We have from this building people who work on consular affairs, European affairs, legal affairs, public affairs. All of the kinds of people you would expect are gathered up there around the table in the Task Force. They're taking calls from Dubrovnik. They're taking calls from the National Military Command Center; from EUCOM and other military installations in Europe.

They are talking to the families and they're doing everything they can to gather this information so that we've got it straight.

Steve.

Q Is the formal position of the Government that Secretary Brown is presumed dead?

MR. DAVIES: That is the formal position of the Government, that the aircraft that he was on appears to be the aircraft that has gone down in the mountains in Croatia.

What we're doing now, of course, is trying to confirm as many of the facts as we can about this.

Q Can you walk us through, if you know, what steps occurred here? The Control Tower lost communications with the aircraft, as I understand it, shortly before it was supposed to land. Did the Control Tower communicate with Ambassador Galbraith then that there was a problem, or did he just call because nobody showed up? Do you know what --

MR. DAVIES: I can't give you all kinds of color and detail about Galbraith and his activities. I can tell you that at one stage Ambassador Galbraith was actually in the Control Tower and that he was doing the best he could to kind of divide his time between gathering information from Croatian authorities and reporting it back to Washington, getting instructions on how to proceed. So he's been kind of all over the place. He's spent a lot of time with Croatian officials, obviously, to stay hooked into their effort that they're directing -- the search and rescue effort -- because this is on Croatian territory and they have the lead in this search and rescue effort.

Q Glyn, my colleagues say that the tentative itinerary released by the Commerce Department showed that Secretary Brown was due today to go to Zagreb, not to Dubrovnik. Do you have an itinerary or can you explain why and how that came about? I know he's not your Secretary.

MR. DAVIES: I just can't. I don't have a detailed itinerary for the Secretary of Commerce. I can't tell you exactly what it was he was at the time up to.

He was, I think, to have been in Zagreb in coming days to meet with officials there. I don't know what precisely took him there.

Q Presuming the General gets there soon, would he be the first American to eyeball the scene -- he and his group -- the first Americans? Has anybody gone in and taken a look at it from the air, or is this the first Americans that would be up there?

Also, does Galbraith have any plans of going up there?

MR. DAVIES: I'm sorry?

Q Does Galbraith have any plans of going to the scene?

MR. DAVIES: Ambassador Galbraith is staying in Dubrovnik for the time being to direct efforts; now that General Canavan is there, and he's on his way to the site, the U.S. military has that end of it. So they are now trying to get up to the site, and they may well be there at this stage. I checked just before coming out, and we couldn't yet confirm from Washington that they were there.

Q But has anybody seen it from the air on the ground before then?

MR. DAVIES: I don't know. That's a question for the Pentagon. We don't have aircraft that are up there, so I can't confirm that.

Q What impact will this have on the economic reconstruction efforts in Bosnia?.

MR. DAVIES: We hope that it won't stop them, of course, because the economic reconstruction efforts are very important out there. Secretary Brown's mission was extremely important. He was out there, for instance, to negotiate a bilateral investment treaty with Croatia, so he was engaged in trying to expand trade opportunities for the United States in that part of the world -- all part of our effort to try to reintegrate the Balkans back into Western Europe and into the world economy.

This was to have been, I think, on the agenda for his meeting with President Tudjman on Friday. So we hope that this won't set things back, and we obviously will take up the fine work that he was engaged in.

But, as I said, for the time being, all we know is that he's missing, and we've presumed that it's his aircraft that's gone down, and we're going to continue to search and see what we can find out and perhaps have more for you tomorrow.

Anything else?

Q Do you know what time the Croatian rescue team actually reached the site?

MR. DAVIES: I don't. I don't have any specifics on that. They've been up there for some hours, and I think by now there are quite a few Croatian officials up there, and we, of course, will be joining them soon -- General Canavan -- but I don't know precisely when they arrived on the scene.

Q Thank you.

MR. DAVIES: Thank you.

(The briefing concluded at 6:58 p.m.)

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