msnbc | February 18, 2010
>>> details on that small plane crash in austin , texas. kxan is reporting that two people are unaccounted for. rescue efforts are under way. it's no word yet if the two people are from the plane or people in the building. as you can imagine, a small plane hits a building, people are going to run out of there. and we're not sure if they're trying to account for folks who were in that building or if this -- if these two people that they're saying are unaccounted for are the pilot and a passenger of that aircraft. emergency officials are on the scene. it's a seven-story building. one witness describes it, he was working near there, describes it as a huge fireball. and it went right into the building. again, this is a man who was quoted near -- he was working near highway 183 and says that there was a huge fireball that went right into the building. the fire chief there says that the department has gone into a defensive position, meaning that firefighters have been ordered to retreat from the building because of danger. so we're working to get more on this one. but you see that black smoke on the horizon there from the building itself. what we've been able to find in this information, and we hope certainly that it is accurate, is that this building houses a realty company, a scientific investigation , therapy, massage building as well. perhaps a professional education center. these are some of the businesses listed at that address where we're getting the reports from kxan . a small airplane has crashed into that building. and the fire department is set to be in a defensive position. and that they are retreating from the building because of the danger. so i don't know if they are fearful of an explosion at this point depending, obviously, on what's in that building and what's housed there. the emergency management assistant director says that, quote, we have no idea right now if there are any patients or how many. referring to whether there are any people in that plane who are injured. we've got this report that there are two people unaccounted for at this time. so we're working to get more details on this. hopefully we can get someone on the phone. we're working on getting someone on the fire department . again, just to reset this. so you'll know what we're covering. this is in northwest austin at an office building where a small plane has crashed into a commercial building . the emergency officials say it is a seven-story building. they have no idea right now of injuries. but two people, according to kxan , unaccounted for at this time. a witness there says that he was driving near 183 when he saw a small plane very low flying over the highway. he said he saw it and then banked heavily to the right before heading into the building. and this witness described seeing at that point a huge fireball. this is according to the statesman. that's what you're looking at. the newspaper's website where they are streaming in video, i imagine, from a traffic camera or something affiliated with their newspaper. usually you have traffic cameras around these areas, especially big highways like 183. they're feeding in their video on their website. i know we're working to get someone on the line from the fire department hopefully to get some more information. who do we have? i'm sorry. i'm sorry, i believe we have someone live on the line? don compton, are you there, don?
>> yes, ma'am.
>> tell me what you see, what you know.
>> actually, i am not on scene. i've got a pio en route . what i know is that we have a small private plane that crashed into a building, causing that building to catch on fire. our initial units did some preliminary rescues. they're in the process of setting up and fighting that fire now. we had reports about ten minutes ago of two people from the building unaccounted for. so they were working on trying to figure out where they would be in the building and trying to find them. so it is an ongoing process right now. i do have a pio and some more units en route . and we can give you some further updates, maybe a little further on this situation.
>> before we let you go, i've got to ask you, there's a report from fire chief rhoda mae kerr that firefighters are in a defensive position, meaning that the firefighters have been ordered to retreat from the building because of danger. what can you tell me about the danger there? are they expecting an explosion?
>> i don't know that it's so much an explosion but probably some instability in the building. if you've got a quote already from chief kerr, she is actually on scene and much better to answer any calls or questions that you might have from there.
>> right. this is what the statesman, the paper, there is reporting. but let me ask you because we're looking at what i believe is a traffic camera of the scene there. you've got traffic still flowing on both sides. any word on if they're going to block off -- that's highway 183 , right?
>> probably not the main highway. we may block off some of the frontage roads and some of the other roads around this building. we try not to shut down those main arteries of traffic because that causes almost more problems than it fixes.
>> well, it looks like the black smoke is sailing across 183. i imagine it makes it tough to drive through. that if this picture is giving an accurate detailing of the visibility, one side of 183, you can barely see if you're driving.
>> in that case, you know, there would be a call on whether they feel it's too unsafe for the drivers to actually drive through there.
>> authorities report it's the echelon building, seven stories. do you know any more about the building?
>> no, ma'am, we don't have all of that information. we're very preliminary into this. like i said, i've got a pio that is on scene that will be doing some further updates as we go along in this incident.
>> all right, dawn, thank you very much. i greatly appreciate it. i think we have someone on the line who works in the building. sir, let me get your name.
>> yes, my name is ben , i actually work in the building next door to the building.
>> ben , you work next door. what did you hear and see?
>> what i heard from my employees in the building was that there was an explosion and that they have been told that there had been a plane crash .thirdhand. so i don't know that that is, in fact, correct.
>> and your building is next door. do you know anything about the building that the small plane hit?
>> well, i understand that there are some -- obviously, there are other officers in there including -- i've been told there's an irs office in that building, but i don't know that that is correct.
>> how close are you right now to where this is all happening?
>> caller: i couldn't get that close. right now i'm about half a mile away. i was able to drive by on 183, as you were just talking about. you can see significant holes in the side of the building, and there's flames coming through the windows.
>> so you still see flames there?
>> caller: not from the angle that i am at, but i'm not at the same angle i was at before.
>> but when you were driving near there, you actually saw -- and how long ago was that, ben ?
>> caller: i would say about ten minutes ago.
>> about ten minutes ago. again, back to this area, because we're hearing that it's the echelon building, that it's a seven-story building. and we're looking at both taped and live images. and it's hard to tell if any of these buildings are really tall there. it looks like just a regular commercial kind of business area.
>> caller: that is correct. there's, i believe, four or five buildings in the echelon complex. none of them are that tall. it's not a huge, huge office complex by any stretch.
>> all right, ben , thank you very much for getting us that information of what you were able to see, working very near there. greatly appreciate it. be safe, ben . thank you.
>>> we'll be back with more on this breaking news out of austin , texas. and the rest of the news we're covering for this hour on msnbc live . * * you've