tv 60 Minutes CBS May 6, 2012 7:00pm-8:00pm PDT
and captain josh wilson fly the air force's most expensive fighter jet, the f-22 raptor. but both of these iraq war veterans say there's a serious flaw with the jets and have taken the extraordinary step of risking their careers by appearing on "60 minutes" without permission to blow the whistle. >> we are waiting for something to happen. and if it happens, nobody is going to be surprised. >> pitts: there had long been
suspicions that sheriff hodge was dirty, but nobody, not even federal agents, could prove it. that's when two local journalists, both in their 20s, launched their own investigation. they soon discovered poking into the affairs of a powerful county sheriff can be risky business. ( gunshots ) why did you feel compelled to buy a gun? >> you do have a credible threat against your life, and it seemed like a pretty reasonable thing to do. samantha also purchased a gun at the same time. >> i thought if something happened, i would go down with a fight. >> ready. ( whistles ) >> cooper: michael phelps is just three medals shy of breaking the all-time olympic career record. he told us he almost quit swimming altogether after dominating the beijing olympics in 2008. >> i would do nothing. like, i would just wake up at, you know, 11:00 in the afternoon. just wouldn't leave the house, just sit around and play video games.
i was so lazy. i probably went through, like, a depression phase where i was just, like, "what am i doing?" >> cooper: tonight, this epic olympian shows us what he's doing now and why he decided to get back in the pool. >> i'm steve kroft. >> i'm lesley stahl. >> i'm morley safer. >> i'm byron pitts. >> i'm anderson cooper. >> i'm scott pelley. those stories tonight on "60 minutes." sponsored by:. >> glor: good evening. gas prices have fallen 15 cents in the past month. "the avengers" turned in the biggest movie opening ever, $200 million. and america's largest corporations made record profits last year. the new fortune 500 list is revealed tomorrow on cbs "this
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the air force is its f-22 raptor, a sleek stealth fighter jet that the pentagon says can outgun and outmaneuver any combat plane anywhere in the world. but for all its prowess, the raptor has yet to be used in combat. it was designed to go up against an enemy with a sophisticated air force, which means it sat on the sidelines during the wars in iraq and afghanistan, leaving its 200 pilots to fly mainly training missions. but the raptor-- the most expensive fighter jet ever-- has been plagued by a mysterious flaw that causes its pilots to become disoriented while at the controls from a lack of oxygen. tonight, you will hear from two of them who have come to believe the jet is endangering their lives and those of the people in communities they fly over. they are so concerned, they have taken the extraordinary step of risking their careers by appearing on "60 minutes" in uniform and without permission to blow the whistle on a plane
they love to fly. when you hear about the f-22, it's always in superlatives: the newest, fastest, stealthiest, highest-flying, most gravity- defying, enemy-killing combat machine in the sky. >> captain josh wilson: it's invincible. it's the bottom line. >> stahl: its pilots are highly- trained and competitively chosen, the elite jet jockeys of the air force. >> major jeremy gordon: i firmly believe in the aircraft. >> stahl: major jeremy gordon and captain josh wilson are with the virginia air national guard, based at langley air force base near norfolk. they're two of only 200 pilots qualified to fly the f-22. >> wilson: its ability to... to go up in... into lethal force where we need it, it is absolutely unmatched. >> stahl: josh has been flying it for two years, jeremy for six. what makes it unique when you're flying it? >> gordon: the ability to know
what's going on all the way around you all the time. >> wilson: it is just a phenomenal, phenomenal machine. >> stahl: both flew combat missions in the iraq war. major gordon was awarded the air force's highest honor for heroism, the distinguished flying cross. in air force evaluations, he was called "a superstar, flawless." captain wilson was called "a superb officer with intense warrior spirit." >> wilson: it was, you know, kind of a surreal experience. >> stahl: josh says that during a routine f-22 training mission in february, 2011, he suddenly realized he was losing control. >> wilson: several times during the flight, i had to really concentrate, immense concentration on just doing simple, simple tasks. and our training tells you if you suspect something's probably going on, go ahead and pull your emergency oxygen and come back home. when i did make that decision to pull the emergency oxygen ring, i couldn't find it. i couldn't remember, you know, what part of the aircraft it was in. >> stahl: so this emergency ring
was exactly where it should've been? >> wilson: uh-huh. >> stahl: you just couldn't figure it out. >> wilson: i couldn't figure out. i did not know where it was. >> stahl: the air force says josh's extreme disorientation resembled a condition called hypoxia, or oxygen deprivation. in training, pilots in that state can have trouble even identifying a playing card. >> gordon: the onset of this is insidious. some pilots will go the entire mission, land, and not know anything went wrong. there was a publicly announced incident of a jet in alaska hitting a tree, and the pilot was not aware that he ran into a tree. >> stahl: he didn't know he hit a tree? >> gordon: that's correct. >> stahl: after josh's incident, his symptoms were so severe, the air force sent him to a hyperbaric chamber. hyperbaric, like the bends? this is the first time we've heard that pilots are going into hyperbaric chambers.
>> wilson: we've had several. >> stahl: even pilots who never had a physiological incident in the air had problems on the ground in the days after they fly the plane. >> gordon: amongst f-22 pilots, there's a term called the "raptor cough"... >> stahl: the "raptor cough?" >> gordon: in a room full of f- 22 pilots, the vast majority will be coughing a lot of the times. other things-- laying down for bed at night after flying and getting just the spinning-room feeling-- dizziness, tumbling, vertigo kind of stuff. >> stahl: i had heard that other pilots, because of their fears of crashing from their own vertigo, whatever, that they're taking out additional life insurance policies. >> wilson: they are. absolutely. we are waiting for something to happen. and if it happens, nobody's going to be surprised. i think it's a matter of time. >> stahl: after a rash of similar hypoxia incidents, the air force took the radical step of grounding the entire f-22 fleet in may of 2011.
the pentagon revealed there had been 14 of these events in the previous three years, a rate described by its own scientific advisory board as "unusually high and unacceptable." >> wilson: we've got two theories with the jet right now. on the one hand, we're not getting the quality or the quantity of oxygen that we need. on the other hand, they're thinking contaminants. somehow, we're not getting what we need or we're getting poisoned. >> stahl: the air force launched an investigation that focused on the plane's on-board oxygen- generating system, or "obogs", which takes air from outside the jet, passes it through the engine and through a chemical process to produce a concentrated oxygen that the pilots breathe. but with the investigation still under way, the air force put the plane back in the air last september, even though, as chief of staff general norton schwartz told congress, they still didn't know what was wrong.
>> general norton schwartz: we have been unable to identify a single engineering fault... >> stahl: they didn't find the problem. they didn't find the cause, they didn't fix it and they sent the plane back up. >> wilson: and we were eager to go. we couldn't wait to get back in the air. >> stahl: well, wait a minute. they didn't find the problem? >> wilson: no, they didn't. >> stahl: why were you eager to go? >> wilson: because we're pilots. >> stahl: the air force justified the decision by giving pilots two new items to wear while flying, which were put on display at a recent news briefing. >> general charles lyon: this is a pulse oximeter. >> stahl: major general charles lyon is director of operations at the air force air combat command. >> lyon: the pilots fly with these. they're right on their arm. they look at them and they check them, and if there's any indication of an abnormal oxygen rate, we terminate the flight. >> stahl: the second was a charcoal filter designed to block contaminants the pilots might be breathing, and collect them for analysis. but less than a month after the planes began to fly again, another pilot suffered hypoxia.
this was you. you had the first incident, right, in october? >> gordon: yeah, it was actually me and my wingman both had incidents on the same sortie. >> stahl: jeremy's jet was torn apart and analyzed, but there was no smoking gun. pilots were told to keep flying so the air force could gather more data. here's an email that we have seen from one of your fellow pilots. "i feel i'm in the most expensive group of lab monkeys ever assembled." >> gordon: i haven't seen that one. >> wilson: we have been... >> stahl: you feel like a lab monkey? >> wilson: we have been told that we are data collectors. our job right now is to go out and collect data. >> stahl: after jeremy's, the incidents seemed to escalate in number, or pilots reported more often. the count is now 11 in the seven months since the grounding ended. does that sound like a lot to you or not? >> gordon: it's an astronomical occurrence rate. this is totally just me in ballpark, but probably unprecedented in flying that
many physiological incidents in that amount of time of the same type and same aircraft. >> stahl: the air force has confirmed that they have never seen such high rates of hypoxia in any other aircraft, with 36 of the 200 pilots reporting an incident, or 18%. on monday, the air force invited us to an f-22 media event at langley air force base and admitted that, even after calling in nasa and the navy's deep divers unit to help, the root cause of the pilots' hypoxia remains a mystery. general michael hostage is head of the air combat command, which runs the f-22 program. is there any consideration now in the air force to ground the plane again to find out what's going on? >> general michael hostage: at this point, no. i don't see a reason to stand the plane down. >> stahl: but general, the cases still come. do you have a feeling that the pilots are getting concerned?
>> hostage: i know they're concerned. >> stahl: and yet you're going to keep flying it? >> hostage: yes, ma'am. ideally, i want the risk as low as possible. i'm not able to drive it as low in this airplane as i am with others because of this unknown circumstance, but i have driven it down to a level where we believe we can safely operate the airplane. >> stahl: why is it taking so long to find out what the problem is? >> hostage: well, if i knew what the problem was, it would be gone. i just have not found the problem yet. >> stahl: in your opinion, is the f-22 safe to fly? >> gordon: i'm not comfortable answering that question directly. i am not comfortable flying in the f-22 right now. >> wilson: i am currently not flying the... the aircraft. >> stahl: in a rare show of defiance for air force officers, both men informed their command in january that they were going to stop flying. the air force says there is an inherent risk in flying, period, any of these planes. >> wilson: yes. >> stahl: kind of sounds like, "man up, guys. there's a risk.
come on." >> gordon: absolutely, there's an inherent level of risk, just like there's an inherent level of risk of driving. >> stahl: you mean, if there's a mechanical risk? >> gordon: there's a mechanical risk, or even an enemy threat where i'm trained to deal with that threat. but this is something strapped to my face under which i have no control what's coming through that tube, which means there may be a point when i don't have control over myself when i'm flying. >> stahl: to make matters worse, some of the pilots began coughing up black sputum. air force doctors cut into oxygen hoses, found, as this doctor's photo shows, black residue, and determined that the new filters that were supposed to be protecting pilots were shedding charcoal and pilots were breathing it in. have the doctors spoken out? have the doctors come forward and said, "our pilots are having serious issues here. we have to find the cause, and until we do, these pilots shouldn't be up there"? >> wilson: absolutely. >> gordon: yes. >> stahl: they have?
>> wilson: absolutely. >> stahl: well, just last week, the air force quietly removed the filters. they plan to install a new filter, date undetermined. so, where does all this leave our two pilots? two weeks after jeremy stopped flying, he was called in. >> gordon: i was asked to make a decision that day whether i wanted to fly or find another line of work. >> stahl: fly or you're out? >> gordon: that was it. >> stahl: at that point, jeremy's air force doctor put him on "do not fly" status for medical reasons. in josh's case, he's been reprimanded for not flying, his salary cut substantially, and he's been summoned to a hearing next week. the pilots could face further disciplinary action for speaking to us, which is why this man was seated just off to the side throughout the interview. he's congressman adam kinzinger of illinois, an air force pilot himself, who josh and jeremy went to with their concerns in order to gain protection under the military whistle-blowers act.
so congress passed a law for just this situation? >> congressman adam kinzinger: yeah, congress granted protection to whistle blowers in general and specifically military to say, if you have a concern, you know-- not something obviously little, but something pretty big and serious-- you have... >> stahl: like this. >> kinzinger: ...like this-- you have a right to talk to your congressman because just because you join the military doesn't mean you give up your right to citizenship. >> stahl: kinzinger thinks the air force is wrong to punish any pilot who doesn't want to fly for health reasons. and josh and jeremy are not the only raptor pilots choosing to stand down. >> wilson: there have been squadrons that have stood down over concerns. and there's been threat of reprisals. there's been threat of flying evaluation boards clipping our wings and doing ground jobs, and, you know, in my case, potentially getting booted out of the air force. so right now, there's an example being set of, "hey, if you speak up about safety, you're going to be out of the organization." >> stahl: for the air force, grounding the raptor again would
be an embarrassment. originally, the plane was touted as being more trouble-free than older fighters. do you both want to see the air force ground this plane right now? >> gordon: i want to see the jet fixed, like, a root cause identified. >> stahl: but do they have to ground it to find that out? >> gordon: i don't know. i really don't know. >> stahl: do you think they should ground the plane? >> wilson: i think we grounded it for a reason, you know, back a year ago. we haven't done a single thing to fix it. so i think we need to reassess why we got back in the air in the first place. >> stahl: do you think that a majority of the pilots would agree with you? >> gordon: i think a vast majority, even... >> stahl: a vast majority? >> gordon: ...even though it's a silent majority. >> go to 60minutesovertime.com to hear why these air force pilots decided to speak out. sponsored by viagra. ♪ [ male announcer ] you're at the age
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>> pitts: prescription drug abuse has become an epidemic in america. few places have been hit harder than kentucky, a state that's also been ravaged by addiction to crystal meth. in whitley county, kentucky, in the heart of appalachia, matters were made worse when the man suspected of being at the center of the drug trade was the county's top law enforcement
officer, sheriff lawrence hodge. there had long been suspicions that sheriff hodge was dirty, but nobody, not even federal agents, could prove it. that's when two local journalists, both in their 20s, launched their own investigation. they soon discovered poking into the affairs of a powerful county sheriff can be risky business. >> adam sulfridge: you know, you're 20 years old, and you're taking a shower one day and getting ready for class, and you get a call from a federal agent because there's a credible threat against your life. everything about it is just so surreal, you know. you don't... you don't think a whole lot about it. then, later that night, you start thinking, you're like, "geez, somebody wants to kill me. that's a little odd." and it's the sheriff. the sheriff wants to kill you. ( gunshots ) >> pitts: this wasn't exactly how adam sulfridge had pictured a career in journalism. adam was born and raised in whitley county. in 2009, he was a sophomore at the local college and needed a job. the county's daily newspaper, the "times tribune," had an opening. and soon, adam had his first assignment and dangerous enemies. why did you feel compelled to buy a gun? >> sulfridge: you do have a credible threat against your
life, and it seemed like a pretty reasonable thing to do. samantha also purchased a gun at the same time. >> pitts: samantha swindler, then 27, was managing editor of the "times tribune" and adam's boss. >> samantha swindler: we were reporting on people involved in the drug trade. and people who were all hopped- up on oxys, i don't know what they're going to do. i thought if something happened, i'd go down with a fight. >> pitts: samantha was exotic by whitley county standards-- born in new orleans, educated in boston. she'd tangled with public officials as editor of a small newspaper in east texas. she saw familiar signs in whitley county. >> swindler: there are problems in this community with the good ol' boy system, corrupt politics, that kind of thing. >> pitts: it seems to me, in many ways, that this community's strength is also its weakness, in some ways. this is a nice, polite place where people have polite conversations... >> swindler: people are very proud here, and it's a good thing, but it's also a bad thing in the way that it doesn't allow you to see the things that need change.
>> pitts: whitley county, kentucky-- population: 35,000-- is tucked in the state's southeast corner on the border with tennessee. people here take pride in the natural beauty of cumberland falls, and in historic sanders cafeé, birthplace of kentucky fried chicken. there is also poverty. the median income is $26,000. drug addiction is rampant. throughout the region, red signs identify homes once used as meth labs. and then there's prescription drug abuse. oxycodone flows in so freely, they call this stretch of i-75 "the pill pipeline." in 2002, lawrence hodge was elected sheriff of whitley county on the promise he'd clean it up. the sheriff's raid on one meth lab was covered by the local cbs affiliate. >> lawrence hodge: when i knocked on the door, the smell was already knocking me down. we're glad to shut it down. it put a dent in our drug problem here. >> pitts: but early in his tenure, there were rumors, talk
around the county the sheriff had gone bad. >> todd tremaine: from about 2004, he just went downhill and was corrupt, involved with drug dealers, taking payoffs, extorting money from defendants. >> pitts: todd tremaine, a special agent with the bureau of alcohol, tobacco and firearms, says the f.b.i. and state police tried building a case against sheriff hodge, but couldn't penetrate his inner circle of drug dealers, crooked politicians, and police officers. >> tremaine: he was very insulated. >> pitts: what do you mean, "insulated?" >> tremaine: there was a lot of fear of what lawrence might do if they cooperated with the federal agents or state police. >> pitts: he was untouchable? >> tremaine: yes. >> pitts: editor samantha swindler had heard similar stories, and suspected sheriff hodge might have a weakness, a paper trail. so she checked the department's evidence log. >> swindler: there were months when nothing was checked in. i knew that this wasn't right, because we had arrests every day in this area, particularly related to drugs. and when it's related to drugs, you know there's probably a gun. and it wasn't there.
>> pitts: but to mount a serious investigation of the sheriff, samantha needed help. why would you hire a 20-year- old? his only journalism experience is working on his high school newspaper. >> swindler: well, when you say it like that... ( laughter ) >> pitts: well, it's true. >> swindler: well he was smart and he knew about the community and he cared about local government. >> sulfridge: my aunt overdosed. and the first question i had was, "i wonder if she got her drugs from somebody that the sheriff was, you know, protecting." >> pitts: adam went to work, combing through years of case files. he noted arrests where drugs and weapons were seized by the sheriff's department and should have been logged. it was tedious and time- consuming. >> sulfridge: at that point, i was working up to, like, 70 hours a week. it was... it was insane and it wasn't healthy. but i was, you know, just driven. i knew i was on to something and i couldn't stop. >> pitts: what he was on to was a series of felony cases involving guns and drugs in which deals were cut and sentences mysteriously reduced. what's more, the defense attorney in each case was
sheriff hodge's close friend, ron reynolds. one case involved this man, rick benson, a retired social worker. in may 2004, sheriff hodge and his men raided benson's house. in addition to drugs, they found 17 guns. benson had a previous felony conviction on drug and weapons charges, so was forbidden to own firearms. you knew that you'd go to prison. >> rick benson: probably for the rest of my life. >> pitts: we're you scared? were you anxious? >> benson: oh, yeah, i was terrified. >> pitts: because? >> benson: my world was over. >> pitts: during the raid on the house, sheriff hodge found benson's bank statement. there was $600,000 in his checking account alone. despite appearances, this self- described meth abuser was a millionaire, heir to a publishing fortune. the night of his arrest, benson says sheriff hodge offered him a deal. if he cooperated, the sheriff would see that benson was represented by his old friend, attorney ron reynolds. >> benson: i had heard of ron. >> pitts: and his reputation was?
>> benson: he could get things fixed. he said, "i'll guarantee you misdemeanors, with no jail time, but you'll have to move out of kentucky." >> pitts: did you think he was on the up and up? >> benson: well, no. if he was on the up and up, he wouldn't have been able to do that. >> pitts: how much was his fee? >> benson: $150,000. >> pitts: $150,000 is a lot of money. >> benson: the rest of your life in prison's a lot of time. >> pitts: rick benson says he was also forced to pay the sheriff $10,000 in cash and make a donation to the sheriff's department of $25,000. >> sulfridge: that's enough to make you say, "okay, what's going on here?" but then whenever you see the actual cashier's check in that file, where he donated $25,000 to the sheriff's department as a condition of his plea agreement, that's just... i mean, that's crazy. >> pitts: with information on that case and others, samantha and adam pressed sheriff hodge for an interview. he reluctantly agreed. >> sulfridge: he was just all relaxed, leaning back in his chair, you know, being that good 'ol boy. >> pitts: the sheriff thought this was a field trip? >> sulfridge: yeah. you know, you got this... this little out-of-towner girl and
this 20-year-old college kid. we played along. we played nice for a very long time. let him lie. >> pitts: in the course of the interview, legally recorded without sheriff's hodge's knowledge, adam asked him about the guns seized from rick benson. but the sheriff's answers didn't match the facts. he claimed the a.t.f., the bureau of alcohol, tobacco and firearms, had them. >> hodge: i don't even know who rick benson is. >> sulfridge: he was a big case. >> hodge: oh, that's a.t.f., yeah. how many guns were they? >> sulfridge: 17. >> hodge: on rick benson? >> sulfridge: yeah. >> hodge: they would've took those. i tell you, you probably need to have an a.t.f. agent here with me if you want to talk about that. >> sulfridge: so i need to ask them if they got those guns? >> hodge: well, you just need to ask them about the whole case. >> pitts: so when the sheriff said he'd given guns to the a.t.f., you knew he was lying? >> sulfridge: they never took the guns. they never even opened a case in this situation. and once we had that, i mean, you got a heck of a story. >> tremaine: i was like, "wow. i can't believe he just said that." and he just kept lying, lying, lying, and i was giddy. >> pitts: what do you make of
that... that two 20- somethings... >> tremaine: right. >> pitts: ...with pens and notebooks could do what seasoned law enforcement officers couldn't do? >> tremaine: they weren't dangerous to him. i think lawrence was thinking, "hey, kids, let me show you how the sheriff's department works," you know. "here's the jail and here's barney and, you know, everybody from mayberry." but they caught him off guard because they'd done their research. >> pitts: the reporters then filed what's called an open records request, requiring the sheriff to show where benson's guns were stored. but six days later, adam received a startling phone call. >> sulfridge: "the sheriff's department's been broken into." and, you know, that gets you out of bed real fast. >> swindler: that was my "we got you" moment. i knew that he had staged it. i knew it. >> pitts: sheriff hodge claimed guns, drugs and other evidence had been stolen. the office was trashed, but the doors showed no sign of forced entry. >> tremaine: it was just made to look like a burglary so they could explain for why the drugs and guns had been missing. and they had been missing for several years. >> pitts: so what was sheriff
hodge doing with these guns and drugs? >> tremaine: guns-- gave them to political friends, sold them, traded them for oxycodone. >> pitts: he became a drug addict. >> tremaine: yes. he was a very serious drug addict. he had a very bad addiction with prescription pain pills. >> pitts: adam and samantha's interview with the sheriff and the phony burglary gave law enforcement the break they needed. the man who once thought himself untouchable was now feeling the heat. days later, an undercover officer recorded sheriff hodge threatening to kill adam. >> sulfridge: he said, "i'm going to f-ing kill him." and the informant was, like, "no, you're just mad." and he goes, "no, you don't understand, i'm going to kill him. i've already been by his house. i know where he lives." >> pitts: despite the threat, the "times tribune" continued to publish damaging allegations against the sheriff. and a state audit suggested he may have been stealing money from the department. >> swindler: he was taking money and cashing it and...during convenient times like before a three-day weekend or right before his wife's birthday.
>> pitts: by may 2010, the people of whitley county had had enough. they voted sheriff hodge out of office. six months later, he was indicted by a state grand jury. the most powerful lawman in whitley county led away in handcuffs in his uniform. but lawrence hodge still had influence. around the same time, two local thugs, friends of the sheriff, drove to adam's house. >> sulfridge: the passenger in the vehicle gets out, approaches me without saying a word, puts his hand a little bit into his waistband, and i just quickly pulled my pistol. >> pitts: you had your pistol on you? >> sulfridge: at that point, i didn't go anywhere without being armed. he saw that it had left the holster. i didn't point it at him or anything. and he explained that they were out looking for junk metal on my dead end street, and that they would be going now. >> pitts: you pulled a gun. were you prepared to use it? >> sulfridge: well, you never pull a gun unless you're prepared to use it. >> pitts: following that encounter, federal authorities compelled adam to leave town under their protection. already facing state charges,
lawrence hodge was also being pursued by federal investigators. central to their case was attorney ron reynolds, the sheriff's accomplice in the shakedown of rick benson. reynolds turned on his old friend, implicating the sheriff in the extortion scheme. lawrence hodge had no choice but to cop a plea. >> tremaine: the prosecutor told him, "we could put you in prison for a very, very, very long time. our case is solid. you will be convicted." you could see that he was defeated. >> pitts: last may, two years after samantha and adam launched their investigation, former sheriff lawrence hodge pleaded guilty to extortion, distributing drugs, and money laundering. he was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison. he declined our request for an interview. that's mostly from the work that the two of you did, right? >> swindler: yes. >> pitts: samantha and adam's reporting also led to the conviction of 15 of lawrence hodge's associates. both journalists have since left the "times-tribune." samantha lives in oregon, where
she's editor and publisher of a small weekly. adam, just a year out of college and unemployed, remains in whitley county. what went through your mind when you saw sheriff hodge in handcuffs, in his uniform? >> sulfridge: you know, a lot of people thought i'd be jumping for joy and, you know, all elated there that the sheriff got arrested. and it's really not. it's terrible that this happened. i hate to see it for my community. i hate to see that plastered all over the place-- you know, whitley county synonymous now with a corrupt sheriff. i don't like that. i think... i think the real story should be that a bunch of people here came together and, you know, cleaned it up. teamwork. when it comes to preparing for your financial future, it helps to have a team that performs well together. pacific life offers life insurance, annuities for lifetime income, mutual funds and retirement solutions.
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>> pelley: now, cnn's anderson cooper on assignment for "60 minutes." >> cooper: in three months, michael phelps will climb onto the starting block for his final races at the summer olympics in london. when we last interviewed him on "60 minutes" in the fall of 2008, he had just made history, winning eight gold medals at the beijing olympics. phelps was riding a worldwide wave of awe and popularity. it seemed there was nothing left to accomplish. so why continue swimming? phelps has often wondered the same thing over the last three years. it's been the most difficult period of his career. he was photographed at a party with a marijuana pipe, and it may surprise you to hear that his passion for swimming seemed to have faded. but now, as he approaches the last lap of his career, with another olympics in sight, michael phelps is once again training hard, once again ready to make history. it's 6:20 on a saturday morning in march.
virtually alone on the streets of his native baltimore, a groggy michael phelps is off to another grueling daily practice in his 16th year of olympic training. he hasn't been this committed since the beijing games. >> michael phelps: after beijing, i mean, there's countless times where i've just wanted to be, like, i don't want to do this anymore. i don't want to go to the pool every day. >> cooper: so now, is it... is it hard getting out of bed in the morning? >> phelps: no, because, one, we're so close, and two, because i'm actually enjoying it. i'm swimming well again. >> bob bowman: ready. ( whistles ) >> cooper: with the london olympics looming, phelps has been rejuvenated. physically, over the last year, he's become more powerful than he was in beijing. he's focused on weight training like never before. gone is the grumpy, disinterested swimmer of the last few years who desperately wanted to trash his alarm clock. back is a sense of urgency.
bob bowman is michael's longtime coach. >> bowman: ey-oh. >> cooper: how does his shape now compare to the way he was a year ago? >> bowman: oh, much better, much better. a year ago, on a scale of one to ten, was a two. this is a nine, eight or nine. >> cooper: two? >> bowman: yeah. oh, yeah. >> cooper: i mean, that... >> bowman: that was a low, really low. >> cooper: how worried were you? >> bowman: very worried, at that point. >> cooper: what was the fear? >> bowman: that we had so far to come, he couldn't get back. michael! >> cooper: it's hard to imagine michael phelps not being in shape. but after his exploits in beijing, he stopped training and started living. >> michael! michael! >> cooper: by early 2009, phelps had a decision to make-- retire for good, or jump back into the pool for a fourth olympics and years of early morning workouts. >> bowman: i thought it was a 50/50. i really didn't have a feel for whether he would come back or not come back. >> debbie phelps: i'm like, "either do it or don't do it." >> cooper: even his mom debbie didn't know what her son was going to do. >> debbie phelps: it's like, "come on, you know, do you want
this? do you want to go an extra four years?" that's a long time. >> cooper: but you hoped he would go forward. >> debbie phelps: absolutely. >> michael phelps: it was hard, because i didn't know if the passion or the fire was still inside of me. and it took a while for me to actually realize it myself. bob couldn't tell me, my mom couldn't tell me. they couldn't help me find it. >> cooper: it didn't help when, in january 2009, newspapers around the world published a photo of phelps with a marijuana pipe. the photo tarnished his image. >> michael phelps: i mean, that was probably, like, the lowest point in my career. i think being able to see how it affected the close people around me, i think that was the thing that hurt the most. >> cooper: how do you mean? >> michael phelps: telling my mom that. i don't ever want to tell her something, like, bad, like that that happened. >> debbie phelps: i asked my three-letter word, "why?" or, "what were you thinking? who were you with?" it's like, "come on, michael. get with the program here." >> michael phelps: it was just
stupid. you know, it... it... i put myself in a bad position. and i probably went through, like, a huge, like, depression phase where i was just like, "what am i doing?" >> cooper: while paparazzi staked him out, phelps was suspended from competition for three months by u.s.a. swimming. >> michael phelps: i would do nothing. like, i would just wake up at you know, 11:00 in the afternoon. just wouldn't leave the house and sit around, play video games. i was so lazy. >> cooper: it wasn't until march of 2009 that phelps came to a decision about the london olympics. >> phelps: i don't know what it was, i don't know what struck it. but i just woke up one morning and i was, like, "let's do it." >> bowman: one minute... >> cooper: yet, even after announcing he was a go for london... >> bowman: just get in, just get in. >> cooper: ...phelps seemed to stick only a few toes in the
water. >> bowman: get in! >> cooper: he regularly skipped practices, unheard of for phelps, who, as a teenager, went six straight years without missing a single day of training. his apathy infuriated his coach, bob bowman. when he was missing in practices, he would just miss one or two? >> bowman: oh, no. i think the fall of 2009, he missed months. >> cooper: months? >> bowman: maybe six weeks. >> cooper: for bowman, the bottom came one saturday in the summer of 2010. >> bowman: this was about a week before the nationals, and i normally have a major practice, something that's going to be really important. so we show up on saturday morning and he's not there. that did not make me happy. and then, later, i found out that he was in las vegas for the weekend. >> cooper: i assume he wasn't going to vegas to do, like, dry land training? >> bowman: no, he wasn't doing any special training. although i think he was at a pool. >> michael phelps: maybe it was we watched "the hangover" or something. like, we watched the movie and
we were like, "man, we just want to go to vegas." >> road trip! >> phelps: so a couple of us just got up and went to vegas. >> cooper: your motivation is "the hangover" to go to vegas? i mean, that's not... >> phelps: ( laughs ) i know, right? but that's... that's kind of like what i would do. you know, i wasn't in tune to everything that was going on in the pool. so, you know, if... if i wanted to get up and just play golf one day, i would just get up and play golf. if i wanted to go to vegas, i would just get up and go to vegas. >> cooper: did you feel guilty, or did you feel like...? >> phelps: no. >> cooper: no? >> michael phelps: not at all. i was having fun. i was pretty much just escaping the pool. >> cooper: to compensate for the times michael played hooky, phelps and bowman have had to get creative. this is like a treadmill for swimmers, allowing bowman to fine tune michael's strokes. >> bowman: let's see if you can keep one goggle in on your breath, instead of checking the weather. it's cloudy. >> cooper: and inside michael's apartment, an unusual
contraption-- a chamber he sleeps in that simulates high altitude in order to improve his endurance. he doesn't want anyone to see it, but he was willing to talk to us about it. >> michael phelps: once i'm already in my room, i still have to open a door to get into my bed. so, that's kind of strange. >> cooper: so, it's a tent that fits over the whole bed? >> michael phelps: it's just like a giant box. so, it's like the boy in the bubble. that's what it kind of is. >> cooper: what altitude are you sleeping at right now? >> michael phelps: about 8,500 to 9,000 feet. >> cooper: so you actually want him to spend as much time as possible... >> bowman: i want him to spend as much time in there as possible. >> cooper: i love the idea that you're... that you're trying to just keep him in the chambers. >> bowman: sometimes, i'd like to lock him in there, right? most of the time. >> michael phelps: it's something that is helping. i am 26 and i don't recover as fast as i have in the past. >> cooper: "how much is left in michael's tank for london?" that will be the question of the olympics. can he win multiple gold medals in london? >> bowman: oh, yeah. oh, for sure. >> bowman: how many? i don't know.
that's up to him. >> michael phelps: i kind of feel like my old self again. i'm swimming times like i used to. i'm swimming races how i used to. so, everything is kind of coming back to me, what it was, i guess, before '08. >> cooper: every race in london will be compared to what he accomplished over nine days in the summer of 2008. >> michael finishes first... >> cooper: have you been able finally and fully absorb what you did in beijing? >> michael phelps: probably not. >> cooper: even now? >> michael phelps: no. >> he's magical. he is superman. >> michael phelps: i guess i probably do get, kind of, like, choked up, like, just thinking about all the memories, and thinking of exactly when i touched the wall, what was going on in my head. >> michael phelps! ( cheers and applause ) >> michael phelps: but probably, deep down inside, i probably really don't know and won't feel what it really meant until... who knows. >> cooper: phelps is not one to dwell on past achievements. when we asked him to bring out all 16 of his olympic medals
from athens and beijing, we were in for a couple of surprises. these are all the ones from athens? >> michael phelps: uh, minus one, yeah. >> cooper: wait a minute-- so, you're not sure where your other gold medal is? >> michael phelps: there are a couple of options of where it could be, but i think when we were traveling, somebody was holding onto it, so... i actually, like, never bring these out. >> cooper: so you never just like sit around the apartment with all your medals on? >> michael phelps: no. that's not one of my normal activities. but then, i have eight more. these are... it's kind of... >> cooper: wait a minute. so, your eight from beijing are in there? >> michael phelps: yeah. >> cooper: is that like a travel purse from your mom or something? >> michael phelps: i guess it's like a make-up case wrapped in just like an old... >> cooper: wait a minute. you keep all your medals in a ratty old t-shirt? >> michael phelps: yeah. here are the other ones. these are the ones from '08. >> cooper: have you ever had them all together? >> michael phelps: no. >> cooper: he is just three medals shy of breaking the record for most olympic career
medals, a mark held by this woman, former soviet gymnast larissa latynina. she's convinced michael will surpass her record, and told him as much in russian. the two recently met for the first time ever for a photo shoot. michael has been posing with other women. this was for "sports illustrated's" swimsuit issue, an afternoon with model bar rafaeli. what's it like posing with bar rafaeli in tiny bathing suits? >> michael phelps: pretty nice. pretty fun. ( laughter ) so, it was, all around, a great day. >> over here, michael. >> cooper: with the olympics approaching, michael and his mom are once again in demand. during fashion week in new york in february, his mom was asked to walk the runway for charity. ♪ ♪ michael has added seven sponsors since beijing, including head and shoulders. it's estimated he's made $40 million so far over his career.
>> michael phelps: it's kind of strange seeing myself right there. >> cooper: there's also a new michael phelps video game, a swimming race that forces players to get off the couch. oh, i'm beating you. >> michael phelps: yeah, but you got to make sure you keep your stamina up. >> cooper: why? >> michael phelps: you're going to die at the end of the race. >> cooper: i'm way ahead. oh, wait. ( laughs ) >> michael phelps: yeah, see, i told you. >> cooper: but i don't understand. right at the end, you just moved right through me. >> michael phelps: i got the stamina. i can close. >> cooper: with an eye on his post-olympic career, phelps and his foundation have taught thousands of kids to swim, many in urban neighborhoods. >> michael phelps: do it for ten laps. >> cooper: drowning is the second-leading cause of accidental death among children. it's unlikely there will be another michael phelps anytime soon. this epic olympic story will finally come to an end in london, unless, of course, his
mom has her way. >> debbie phelps: i want to go to rio in 2016. >> cooper: you do? >> debbie phelps: i do. he told me he'd send me there on vacation, he told me. but you know, i was, like... i'm like, "come on, michael just a 50 freestyle." >> cooper: you want him to compete in rio? >> debbie phelps: i do. i've never been there before. >> cooper: ( laughs ) what happens if your mom... you know, after london, after 12 months goes by and says, "you know, i've always wanted to go to rio"? >> michael phelps: we'll go watch. >> cooper: no chance you'd compete? >> michael phelps: no. once i retire, i'm retiring. i'm done. >> cooper: when he retires, michael phelps will only be 27 years old. so much of his life has been spent in the pool, he's practically grown up there. after the olympics, he wants to see what the rest of the world has to offer. >> michael phelps: i've been able to go to all these amazing cities in my travels, and i haven't been able to see them at all. i see the hotel and i see the pool, that's it. and i'm just going to go and do whatever i want to do and... >> cooper: your face lights up when you talk about it. >> michael phelps: because i'm excited, because, you know, it's
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